Claire flicked the turn signal of the U-Haul truck and pulled into a rest area in northern New Mexico. She grabbed her phone and opened the cab door.
“We’re stopping already?” Ruthie asked.
“I told you. The managing partner is conferencing me at noon. This truck’s too loud to hear anything on the road.”
“That’s the third time today.” Her aunt dug in an oversized burlap bag, pulled out an atomizer, and spritzed the cabin with lavender. “Your stress is contaminating my aura. I’ll cleanse the truck while you talk. But hurry. I want to make it to Roswell tonight.”
“You’ve made that clear.”
“Don’t judge before you see it. You might have fun, you know.”
“Right.” She slammed the door shut.
Claire was 55 years old and practiced corporate law in Chicago. Divorced, no kids, she hadn’t had time off in forever. So when Aunt Ruthie, who made a living as a psychic medium, told her the spirits suggested she move to Flagstaff, Arizona and asked Claire for help, on impulse she’d accepted.
The trip so far had been no vacation.
Ten minutes later, Claire opened the cab and slid into the passenger seat. “Roswell will have to wait. It’s out of our way and my boss wants me back.”
“Driver’s choice. Too bad.” Ruthie pulled onto the highway and headed south.
“Come on, Ruthie, turn around. I can’t afford to lose my job. I’m too old to find another.”
“The universe provides everything you need if you let it.” Ruthie tuned the radio to a country station.
“The firm would say billable hours do that.”
“And yet somehow I’ve always had plenty.” Ruth hummed to the music.
Claire looked out the window at the high desert landscape in early April bloom. When she was behind the wheel, her mind could focus on the signs and traffic and the speed limit. As a passenger, all she could think of was how the job she’d been so passionate about twenty years ago now felt as confining as her blazers and hose. She hadn’t recognized the woman in the rest stop mirror. Whoever it was looked exhausted. So depleted she was bitching at a 70-year-old woman.
Claire felt tears start to fall.
“Oh, honey,” Ruthie said, patting her arm. “Was I too mean? I’m sorry. It’s just that you seem so unhappy.”
“I feel so confused.”
“Tell me more.”
“I go to work and it feels like I’m playing a role. Pretending to be someone, but I can’t even say who.”
“Sweetie, you’re in transition.” Ruthie rustled and pulled an index card out of her burlap bag. “Read this.”
The quote was by Carl Jung. “‘We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.’”
Claire crumpled the card. “Great. My life is a lie. What do I do?”
Ruthie paused. “Jung also said this: what you did as a child that made the hours pass like minutes holds the key to your earthly pursuits.”
The truck rattled on the southwestern highway. She’d spent her childhood feeling invisible among a pack of brothers and parents struggling to survive.
Then she remembered. Her sixth-grade science teacher had taken the class to the country and set up a telescope to watch an eclipse. Claire had been in awe. Time had disappeared as she slipped into something bigger than her mind could comprehend. Her shoulders relaxed.
“Stargazing,” Claire said. She put her phone in the glove compartment and closed it. “I loved to look at stars.”
They made it to Roswell, and Claire had to admit the UFO museum was a kick. Afterward Ruthie drank coffee and drove till midnight. She turned onto a dirt road somewhere in eastern Arizona and parked under a grove of Pinon trees. The closest lights were miles away. Wrapped in blankets, they lay on the dusty ground and looked up. Millions of stars glistened against an ink-black sky.
Claire was looking back in time, into deep space.
Claire saw a shooting star. The night air chilled her lungs. She felt small and full, all at the same time.
“Let yourself receive,” Ruthie said in a quiet voice. “Receive their blessing.”
The next morning, Claire woke early and went for a walk alone to watch the sunrise. They arrived in Flagstaff and found the condo Ruth had bought sight unseen based on the vibe she’d picked up online. The place was cozy, two bedrooms and one bath, with a view of the mountains. A neighbor about Claire’s age introduced himself and offered to carry the heavy things. They unloaded the truck in an hour and spent the day arranging Ruthie’s new home.
Claire and her aunt relaxed on the patio at dusk, sipping white wine, bare feet stretched out.
“You haven’t checked your e-mail today,” Ruthie said.
Claire waved to the neighbor grilling next door. “I can’t bear the thought of Chicago.” She hesitated. “Can I ask something?”
“You can’t move in with me,” Ruthie said, as if she’d read Claire’s mind. “I’m sorry, dear. But it’s not that easy. The truth of my evening is not the truth of yours.”
“You’re right.” Claire nodded, throat tight. “I just hoped –”
It was too soon to know what her evening truth was, but one thing was certain. She’d felt dead inside when she left Chicago. A seed of life renewed itself inside her now. She’d go back to her job, but it wouldn’t be as the old Claire, and it wouldn’t be for long.
Claire refilled their glasses. “A toast to you.”
Ruthie shook her head. “Let’s toast to something bigger. To stars and road trips. To aunts and nieces connected by a great mystery.”
Their glasses clinked. Claire drank deeply. The smell of wild sage blew through the night air.