Folly hadn’t spoken since we visited her abandoned town, except to ask if we could sleep outdoors instead of in the big empty Best Western motel that was situated just outside of Chandler’s Folly. I admit, it was sometimes creepy to inhabit a completely empty place meant for hundreds of warm bodies, beds all made up and ready for customers, the neon sign “Vacancies” still automatically lit at night, an ice machine miraculously still full of ice, and what seemed like miles of empty, gaudily-carpeted hallways.
Life was a lot creepier for Plato and I, before Folly found us. Now there were three of us, which was so much better. Now I had someone who could talk back, though Folly often chose not to. Plato was a good listener, and a good dog, but his language skills were lacking.
When the world ended, poor Folly had wandered in the woods, completely alone, before she stumbled upon me and Plato. Talk about creepy. No wonder she couldn’t remember her real name. She couldn’t even drive, being only eleven. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen. That was almost a year ago. My birthday was in two days. Maybe the three of us could celebrate somehow. Birthdays were big deals in my family with cake and the whole thing. I tried not to think about it. I set up the tents and got a small fire going. Folly liked to roast things on an open fire, even plain bread or peaches.
The motel was perched on the edge of the green belt and only a ten minute walk from the campsite. Folly turned up as I was cutting up some cooked chicken for Plato. She brought a box of macaroni and cheese and three Creamsicles for our dinner. Sometimes Plato ate better than we did.
So we sat around the fire after our mac and cheese and after me, Folly, and Plato had eaten our Creamsicles, and talked about birthdays. I wasn’t even bothered that talking to Folly was the same as talking to Plato, meaning I expected nothing in return, really, except I know Plato loved me and Folly was just a kid I didn’t know.
I asked her about her birthdays, just to be polite, and as usual Folly didn’t answer until about half an hour after I asked the question. I wondered if she ever had bouncy castles at her birthday parties; that seemed to be a thing parents did, rent these big inflatable things in red and pink and blue that kids could jump on. So a half an hour later she said, “Yes”, and then went into the tiny pup tent she liked. So much for that conversation. It was weird, but maybe her forced solitude got her comfortable being alone; anyway, I didn’t see much of her for a couple of days.
On the morning of my birthday, which was four days after Folly unravelled after being back at her home town, I awoke wondering if we should go back one more time. She really needed to find her house and her name and her history. It was painful to remember, sure, but without memories of my mom and dad and two sisters and our lives, I don’t know how I could have gone on. Folly maybe needed that too.
So she was grilling some breakfast toast over the fire and I suggested we go back to Chandler’s Folly again, now that we knew what to expect. I didn’t talk to her like she was a stupid kid, what was the point in that? She was the smartest person I knew, even if she was the only person I knew.
She actually spoke. She said, “Come with me?”
So I walked with her back to the Best Western motel and beyond, to what looked like a car dealership. I was curious about this. Maybe her father or mother had sold cars? What was the connection?
She led me to a monster of a motor home. Something called a Thor Venetian. Pasted on the door was a red bow, the kind you might find on a small, wrapped Christmas present.
I looked at Folly. She had her usual blank expression, except for a slight air of impatience. So we went inside.
Well it was like a fancy dollhouse, but cosy, you know? Lots of faux suede and tile in muted tones of beige and white, clean and new. I was interested in the driver’s cab, but she nudged me along until we were at the built-in dining area where, I swear, an iced, two layer birthday cake sat in the middle of the faux marble topped table.
There were unlit candles in the cake. The icing was chocolate.
“I made it,” said Folly. “Duncan Hines.”
“You are smart for a kid,” I told her.
“I’m not a kid,” she said.
This was one of the longest conversations we’d ever had.
But I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. The cake was exactly like the boxed cakes my mother used to make for my birthday. Yes, stale and dry and delicious. The icing came from a package that didn’t even need refrigeration to stay fresh, but it tasted good anyway.
We ate the cake, and gave some to Plato. We washed it down with cold milk. We didn’t sing Happy Birthday or anything.
At the end of the day, as I sat by the fire trying to figure out if we should travel in my red Jag from now on, or in this mammoth motorhome, I realized that I myself had barely spoken since Folly had shown me the cake. She had said nothing more, and now snored in her pup tent.
The sky was again a canopy of stars, which seemed to get brighter every night, framed by spikes of tall spruce and cedar.
Sometimes, I realized, words had no meaning. No purpose. No use.