“I don’t think so.”
“Walk from here? Walk where?”
“I don’t know, sir. I’ll find out in the walking.”
He would not remain behind the wheel, and when I took only one bag from the trunk of the car, he said, “You can’t just walk away with only that.”
“It has everything I need,” I assured him.
“What trouble are you going to?”
“Maybe not trouble, sir.”
“What else would it be?”
“Maybe trouble,” I said. “But maybe peace. I can’t tell. But it sure is calling me.”
He was crestfallen. “But I was so looking forward …”
“So was I, sir.”
“You are so missed in Pico Mundo.”
“And I miss everyone there. But this is the way it has to be. You know how things are with me, sir.”
I closed the lid of the trunk.
He did not want to drive away and leave me there.
“I’ve got Elvis and Boo,” I told him. “I’m not alone.”
He is a hard man to hug, with so much ground to cover.
“You have been a father to me,” I told him. “I love you, sir.”
He could say only, “Son.”
Standing in the lay-by, I watched him drive away until his car had dwindled out of sight.
Then I began to walk along the shoulder of the highway, where intuition seemed to lead me.
Boo fell in at my side. He is the only ghost dog I have ever seen. Animals always move on. For some reason he had lingered more than a year at the abbey. Perhaps waiting for me.
For a while, Elvis ambled at my side, and then he began to walk backward in front of me, grinning like he’d just played the biggest trick ever on me and I didn’t know it yet.
“I thought you’d have moved on by now,” I told him. “You know you’re ready.”
He nodded, still grinning like a fool.
“Then go. I’ll be all right. They’re all waiting for you. Go.”
Still walking backward, he began to wave good-bye, and step by backward step, the King of Rock and Roll faded, until he was gone from this world forever.
We were well out of the mountains. In this California valley, the day was a mild presence on the land, and the trees rose up to its brightness, and the birds.
Perhaps I had gone a hundred yards since Elvis’s departure before I realized that someone walked at my side.
Surprised, I looked at him and said, “Good afternoon, sir.”
He walked with his suit jacket slung over one shoulder, his shirtsleeves rolled up. He smiled that winning smile.
“I’m sure this will be interesting,” I said, “and I am honored if it’s possible that I can do for you what I did for him.”
He pulled on the brim of his hat, as if tipping it without taking it off, and winked.
With Christmas only days away, we followed the shoulder of the highway, walking toward the unknown, which is where every walk ever taken always leads: me, my dog Boo, and the spirit of Frank Sinatra.