The fluorescent light inside the 24-hour Texaco shimmered with the sickly blue iridescence of skim milk, making the soft drinks in the most garish cans—Fresca, Tab—look as refreshing as motor oil. JD snatched up a six-pack of Pepsi and a bag of Fritos. Did he spy the slightest hint of flirtatiousness in the cashier's dull brown eyes as she rang up his gas, snacks, and the pack of Marlboros? He was about to ask the time when the song coming softly from her radio caught his ear.
"You go your way, baby, and I'll go mine . . . now and forever, till the end of time. . . ."
"That was Linda Ronstadt with 'It Doesn't Matter Any More,'" a too-familiar voice announced as JD swiftly pocketed his change. "Before that you heard. . . ." He snatched up the paper sack and marched out to the pick-up. As he climbed into the cab, the lid on one of the battered cardboard cartons in back flapped sadly in the breeze.
JD lit a cigarette and drove away in silence. Starting out after a full shift was less than ideal, but the highways would be empty, and he wanted to put as much distance between himself and Flagstaff as possible before sunrise. Sleep wouldn't come easily for a while anyway, though an odd sense of relief crept over him slowly as he watched the lights of civilization receding in the rearview mirror.
When he'd told her he was leaving, Mona had stood staring out the bedroom window, arms folded across her chest. She didn't nod or make a sound as he promised to call all the guests himself. But when he offered to pay for the dress, too, she'd shot him a cool look.
"Whatever," she said, like a weary mother grown accustomed to her teenager's lies. "Thanks for ditching me before I bought the shoes."
He'd known the proposal had backfired weeks ago when she'd brought home that dress, now hanging abandoned in the closet. Like Mona, it was long and trim, simple but pretty. Hardly a wedding gown at all. "Everything else made me look like a dollop of whipped cream," she'd laughed when he tried to politely register displeasure with her selection. They hadn't exactly allowed time or money for extravagance. And besides, Mona added, she'd be damned if she was going to spend a sweltering June afternoon looking like Scarlet O'Hara when JD had accepted his boss' offer to host their reception—on the back patio of the Barrelhead—without asking her first.
JD sighed, blowing a stream of smoke out the window. Why had he ever told her to answer that classified ad? Because the opening at KCTS had been for a receptionist. Not a DJ. When they'd arrived from Akron two years ago, he'd quickly grown weary of coming home from the bar to find Mona wide awake after sitting around the apartment playing her records all day. A job would diffuse that restless energy.
It had done anything but. JD had never taken notice of his girlfriend's low, unaccented speaking voice, but Randy, the station manager, did. And when he finally grew exhausted of reprimanding Doc Watson for showing up late and lubricated with Jim Beam for the graveyard shift, he'd turned the slot over to Mona. From midnight to six, she was free to play all the Nina Simone, Gram Parsons, and Hank Williams she wished. Her failure to stick to the slick California sound favored by the station didn't ruffle Randy. Most folks, including the sponsors, were asleep at that hour.
But the demands of planning a wedding at the last minute should've cowed her back into the docile creature who'd sat quietly at his side on their cross-country odyssey. At least, that had been JD's silent prayer. So he'd waited until just three months ago to ask her, on Valentine's Day. Instead, she'd met the challenge with the same passion and spontaneity that ignited her broadcasts, convincing the printer who made bumper stickers for KCTS—"The Cactus"—to whip up the invites, and securing the modest chapel of the community college for the service. She'd even gotten the pastor to reduce the rental rate in exchange for on-air promotion for his pet charity.
JD's mind flashed back to Linda Ronstadt's resignation ringing through the Texaco. What was Mona playing now? Maybe "It's Too Late" by Carole King. Or perhaps she'd set her anger to simmer with Aretha Franklin or the Rolling Stones. "You're So Vain," he thought with a smirk, and flicked on the radio. Nothing came out but crackling static. She was already out of range.
"It Doesn't Matter Any More" appears on Linda Ronstadt's Heart Like a Wheel (Capitol Records, 1974).