A jumbly but intriguing contemporary quest novel, with science-fictional trimmings, in which a decidedly shady 93-year-old lady, near death but just sprung from a nursing home, takes a desiccated middle-aged history teacher on a journey haunted by echoes from the past and introducing a strange love. ``Jack'' Rabbit, the ``freeway flyer'' (he taught at three L.A.-area community colleges), has tracked down ancient Lucy Boomer, who seems to have been a secretary (and quite possibly something else!) to five Presidents. In the nursing home, Lucy mentions diaries. The price to Jack? Take Lucy home to Iowa to die. Caring for a frail, incontinent Lucy is harrowing, and in Nevada, Jack will pick up Ahna, a young woman who insists on ``no weirdness''--but who seems charged with some powerful weirdness of her own. The odd trio manage a journey with a series of motels and burgers (Lucy's favorite food), disappearances of Ahna, and grim vigils by Jack. Lucy does die in Iowa, and that's where the past converges with the present (although, increasingly, there have been intimations). Jack has discovered Lucy's old home and a disintegrating shack once a ballroom; Lucy's old photographs reveal and conceal; and in a candlelit motel room, Jack wrestles with time and reality: ``the past is all invention.'' Finally, it is Ahna who is the ``connection,'' and, months later, Lucy buried, the lovers salvage a present. First-novelist Hill, against a contemporary background of highway wastelands, presents an inventive vision of the past as undertow into which his characters--not at all grounded, in any case--slip and slide.