Form: Vignette

Next Step: Tomorrow

Next Step: Tomorrow

The waiting is hardest when it’s for that flash of inspiration that will lift you out of the morass and give you an idea for action.

Action to change your life, create something moving and brilliant with your art, and set some relationship right. Sometimes you feel it’ll never come. But something always comes, if you listen for long enough you always hear something.

The trick isn’t getting inspiration but not forgetting it, because life stuff floods your attention and zaps your energy. I’ve often forgotten an idea for something really great I could do, something that would make a difference because soon after, you know, life happened.

Then two days or two years down the line, when I’ve parked my car somewhere I can see the horizon and don’t want to drive home because home is chaos, then – right then – an old idea or inspiration rears its head, and I go home with a little more hope for tomorrow.

Waiting for the Update

Waiting for the Update

I couldn’t escape into random news surfing this morning, because my iPhone had decided to run a half-hour long update so with “exciting new features to iPhone, including the ability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, more diverse Siri voices, new privacy controls, skin tone options to better represent couples in emoji, and much more”. So I had no buffer between myself and the five zillion demands that assault me every morning from the moment I open my eyes until I close them, from kids to looking for a job to kissing my husband goodbye and pretending we still have some semblance of a romantic marriage. But once I was able to gulp down my first cup of coffee, my brain began spinning scenarios anyway for how I could get everything out of life before it was too late: make more money, make more love, make more art.

Losing Your Place On Earth

Losing Your Place On Earth

“Please, don’t say that about our son,” she had said.

“Well, I said it,” he replied and left for work.

Driving alone for 8 hours through the desert gave Jon plenty of time to regret what he had said, though. Not the feeling that he sometimes did not want an autistic son who had a habit of getting up in the night. Especially the nights when Jon was desperately in need of sleep from the last watch as a state trooper looking out for the lonely highways and byways of Arizona.

That particular feeling was genuine. But he regretted that he had said it out loud.

No. No, that wasn’t right. He also did regret the feeling itself. Little Michael needed all the love he could get if he was ever to have something remotely akin to a normal life. And Jon did love him.

Except for the times when he wished that his son wasn’t there.

Michael was still too young to understand, of course, and maybe he never would. The psychiatrists put his chances of ever learning to talk at about 50-50. Jon knew he had committed a cardinal sin, though, by saying what he felt that morning out loud, in front of his wife and oldest daughter who was just as dead-tired as he was, from being up all night.

So that was the question, Jon thought, as he made ready for his routine turn at Gila Bend back towards Yuma. At the last minute, though, he decided to go directly south on the 85. He didn’t feel like driving home just yet, although his watch was almost over.

Jon turned on the radio and listened to the pundits who hadn’t much to talk about. Obama’s win had been pretty clear.

They droned on, while Jon’s thoughts about what had happened that morning were the only noise in his head.

I regret every damn word, dammit. But …

But he didn’t feel like calling Carrie and saying he was sorry. Not yet. Even though he knew those kinds of remarks hurt her more than she let on. The problem was an insane work schedule, two kids – one of them handicapped, or so he thought of it. The only way you could sometimes carve out a niche for yourself was by being angry.

Still, it was not right. Jon decided he had to tell Carrie … something when he got home. He didn’t know what, but at least a decision had been made.

That was when he heard a loud ‘crack.’

Gunshot.

Jon hit the brakes.

The patrol car came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no one but him. And no other vehicles.

But that sure as hell sounded like a gunshot …

Jon got out of the car and carefully surveyed all directions.

Nothing.

Nothing in his world now but a few cacti and the usual horde of dusty creosote bushes, and then in the distance, haze-shimmering mountains.

He was about four miles from the road fork towards Tucson, but otherwise, there were no other roads nearby. None meant for normal vehicles, anyway.

Then he heard another ‘crack.’

Instinctively, Jon ducked low at the side of the patrol car. In the next second, he had his gun ready. But there was still no one to see.

The shot, if it was that, had come to his right, he figured. It had come from somewhere from out in the sea of small, spindly desert bushes. That much he was sure of. It didn’t sound as though somebody was shooting at him in particular, but that he could definitely not be sure of.

Jon reached in through the half-open front door and pulled at the radio’s mike. “This is 477 – reporting possible firearm discharges on highway 85 at Cameron’s Tank, approximately four miles out of Ajo.”

He filled in the rest. He couldn’t see anyone. But he would stay in the area to investigate, and they would send 436 which was the nearest unit, for backup. Maybe it wasn’t needed. Maybe it was just some kids, borrowing their dad’s car, going out in the desert to have fun shooting at cans.

Jon put down the receiver and narrowed his eyes against the desert haze.

Then another ‘crack’ came. This time he was sure it was gunfire. He had heard that sound too many times.

Jon crouched quickly and crept to the tail end of the car. He had pulled it over and stepped out to the driver’s side, so he had asphalt to his back and maybe another car passing by at some point. But on the passenger side, there was just the desert.

He felt fairly sure he wasn’t the target, but he could become soon enough by accident.

It was like he had been in this situation before and the crazy thing wasn’t that he was in somebody’s line of fire. He had been that often enough.

The crazy thing was that it never seemed to stop.

The Frozen Horizon

The Frozen Horizon

I went out of my rented room the next morning wondering where to go next. I didn’t want to leave the farm, but I knew that I didn’t really belong here. I stopped at a fence looking at the white plains stretching away toward the hazy mountains on the other side. The whiteness was new-fallen snow with no features. It was as if there was nothing on that plain, living or dead. If I went out there, would I become part of the whiteness, too? Is that what my future looked like?

Paris Nowhere

Paris Nowhere

From the truck window, she had noticed the warning signs about how you now had so and so many miles to go before there would be another gas station. Or anything else.

When they finally reached a lonely gas station, the first she had seen for hours, the desert around it looked like bleached bone.

There was a single motel behind the gas station. It was so small it looked like a rundown house somebody once had lived in, had it not been for a rusty sign in front.

“You sure you want to stop here, miss?” the truck driver asked in his gruff bass.

“Yes,” she said.

“It’s only an hour more to – ” he started.

“I like it here.”

“Suit yourself.”

He dropped her off and there she was.

The woman took in her surroundings. Yes, this looked very much like the end of the earth, with the shelter-like excuses for houses, the white desert, and its endless pockmarks of sun-shriveled bushes.

A man appeared at the porch of the ‘motel’ – just under the rusty sign. He was there so suddenly that she began to doubt if he had been staring at her all along, and she had missed until she blinked the dust out of her eyes.

The man made no move, so she began to walk over the gravel parking lot space, directly towards him.

He was of an indeterminable age, with whiskers of hair on a bald head, unshaven, and a rugged hawk-like visage. His clothes were grubby – jeans and a t-shirt. She wondered what impression she might make on him.

As she approached him she wondered what he was studying the most – her lithe form, which could still draw the attention she wanted when she wanted it (and sometimes when she did not want it). Her long and dusty blonde hair. Her little rucksack that was way too small for any expedition into this part of the world.

Or was he studying the dark hollows under her eyes; or the red in them. She could feel his gaze, steely and intense, even if he himself looked like he could be swept away in the rising wind at any moment.

Something had blown up from the south, but it was not the merciful vanguard of a storm. It was hot desert air rearranging itself and making her feel like she was walking through the exhaust from so many open ovens.

When she reached him she noticed just how small and shriveled the man looked, not unlike the pockmark bushes around the motel. She was taller than him and even though she stood on the ground and he on the porch, he had to raise his gaze slightly to look her directly in the eyes.

It was the first movement he made that she was aware of.

She felt a brief sting of doubt, but then she reminded herself why she was here. She had nowhere to go back to. So it did not matter if he was hostile. She would just go … out there.

She thought of the desert.

Her distracted reverie was broken by the hard, raspy voice of the old man:

“Welcome to Rex’s motel, miss.”

A Thousand Reasons

A Thousand Reasons

It’s stupid to try to walk through the desert from Painted Rocks to Tucson with only half a bottle of water in my handbag. But I’m doing so anyway. 

I’m still hitching … even if there will never be another car …

*

I didn’t want to blow the money that I took from him on a plane ticket back in Miami. If I first set foot in an airport with a plan only to go to Phoenix – or perhaps as far as LA – I knew I would let panic seduce me and spend them all on a ticket for the San Juan Fernandez Islands or someplace else so far away nobody knew it existed. But I would not feel safe anyway once I got there.

I didn’t want to rent a car, either.  He’d find out for sure. He still supplies those underage flicks to Mr. Fed. He’d have access to databases or credit cards and whatever he needed to track me in 60 seconds, just for 60 seconds extra whack-time – or worse: Real-time.

That’s just the problem. I am paranoid. So cash is the only option. And staying low …

When then?

Taxi across the South? Might as well have doled out for that plane.

Bus? Forget it. Too much info you have to give, too slow, too many mamas with screaming babies.

Last and least traceable choice: Hitch it.

So I did. Across five states.

*

In Orlando, I was picked up by a middle-aged man with thinning hair and sweat stains all over his back. He chattered ceaselessly for the next 100 miles about his ex-wife, his purebred canary that he had recently sold for 500 dollars, and some high school buddy who he was going to visit in Shreveport.

He was rambling, maybe overjoyed by finally having someone to talk to? Maybe afraid that if he stopped, I would leave again? So if he could just hold my attention for the next mile and then the next and … then I would not just be some dream he had had in a twilit 1-room condo in a Vicksburg suburb, which he swore he’d leave behind for good. He was going to change his life now, turn everything around, he said. I guess that made us kindred spirits.

I was deadly tired from hiding that day. So when some primeval instinct had assured me that the chattering hermit would be no threat, my eyelids gave in. I dreamt, briefly, almost blissfully, of water that turned into green swirls while my dad and I sailed to the lighthouse in the dinghy a summer’s day that might as well have been as phantom-like as the imaginary high school friend whom the driver, Mr. Fitzgeorge, – (yes, that was his name) – kept babbling on about.

I thought I was … close to making it. Until a few days later. Somewhere in Nowhere.

When Jeremy found me.

We went through it all again. And then I made a choice.

*

I got off near the Rocks and slammed the car door into his nose and heard the bone crack like those shells you sometimes step on the beach – old and left behind by life long ago, all brittle. My skin is prickling from the heat and my throat feels like I swallowed sand.

And sand is all there is … all that surrounds me and this river of forgotten asphalt, my only tenuous umbilical cord to a life of shopping sales and strangling predictability. The empty sky plays prism and focuses the sun right down on me. It must be trying to scorch me away from the earth …

*

… like Tim sometimes scorched ants with a fireglass on the veranda way – way – back in our house in Glendale. He always laughed when I said he shouldn’t hurt them.

‘They’re just ants … ‘

Strange. I minded him hurting the ants, but not the day when Tim broke Rory Mcpherson’s collar bone, pushing him off his bike because he had called me a whore again. It wasn’t the last thing Rory would break. It wasn’t the last time I’d be called a whore, either.

I was only 11 years old. There was plenty of time for things to break and to get their proper names.

*

I don’t have the guts to walk right through gravel and sand and cactus anymore… not after what feels like ten miles of zigzagging, trying to avoid anything that moves behind rocks, and seeing only more rocks … so I’m back on the road.

And his car is gone. He is not coming back for me.

But nobody else is coming this way, either. It must be a back road. Nobody who wants to see damn scratches on stones comes this way …

Still … it’s a road. So why aren’t there at least one car here every hour? – or every two hours? – or  … ?

My head feels like all of those gazillion small cactus sprouted inside it. I feel –

Oh, wait … there’s a new car up ahead now.

That’s the only problem with illusions. They always leave you disappointed.