Short Story – Automobile Country

Pines like sawteeth shrouded in dusk and my beautiful white wine sadness. In the darkness the buoy of a bus stop, a side road diverging. This is as close to home as they’ll take me after the last bus home is long gone. I am the only passenger and as the bus slows to a halt I’m compelled to bid the driver farewell. To thank her for the silence we’ve shared. But I step off saying nothing and she resumes her solitary journey. I linger a while to watch the windows fade like a shipful of lanterns.

I take off my heels and walk barefoot, sleepward bound. One foot on the asphalt, one foot on grass. A car races by like some primordial creature, aluminum clad. This is automobile country. The modern wilderness. A desert of weeds and concrete where man was not meant to walk. The trees spared, not to be seen, but merely forgotten. I could lie down to die right here by the roadside. I could cover myself with gravel beneath the unseeing smile of a billboard and surrender my flesh to the kingdom of roadkill. Passing drivers taking my sky blue gown for discarded plastic.

Or I could walk. I walk. Summer-night-warm knots of asphalt pressing against my right sole. Paper-stale, gravel-fed blades of grass grazing the left. I raise my left arm to let my fingers strum the chain-link fences. Fledgling treelets reach through the links, brushing against my arm. Beyond, factories and storehouses paint the sky with their crude geometry. Silent sheet metal cathedrals to which the eighteen-wheelers pay pilgrimage.

But for now the road lies deserted, spreading, coiling undisturbed on the landscape like an unobserved bedroom dancer. Yet grave as roman ruins. A letter from some arcane machinery language scorched into the earth at a scale too large to be read from this barefoot perspective. In the distance, I spot the shape of an overpass.

Two smears of sharp yellow are briefly plastered along the road and another car hurtles past, its taillights soon a laser pointer aimed at the gown blue sky.

I notice now that one distant roadside shadow has assumed the shape of a head and a body. Little more than a speck yet but slowly approaching. We will meet under the overpass. Two lone wanderers sharing a starlit road. Perhaps we will become lovers. Perhaps, killer and prey. Perhaps we will pass one another neither pausing nor saying a word but exchanging a glance replete with this mutual secret of slumbering concrete. If there was such a thing as destiny this would be it. A wind-up doll approaching a mirror. A murmuring, innocent madness. Some wine, an inclination to pine and the beautiful summer night sadness.

I lift my face and watch the void through which we are wildly spinning. When I turn back ahead I am closer. Close enough to discern the beams that unsung carry the higher road on their iron shoulders. Close enough to read the words on the truck being ferried across the gorge. And close enough now to tell that the stranger is dressed in white. Of course they are dressed in white. They always were and forever will have been meant to be dressed in white. Everything’s heavy with meaning now. Saturated. Not as symbols, not anymore, but infused with that more primal, unpronounceable Truth which will fade in the light of the morning.

Facial features are claiming their places now on the front of the stranger’s head. Still just as a pattern of shadows and deeper shadows but now and then pierced by the pinprick white of an eye. The stranger is nearer now to the overpass than I am. We will not meet below it but under the half of the sky that is mine.

My wrist is yanked backwards. A branch has snagged itself in my bracelet. I stop to untangle myself and when I turn back to the road the stranger is gone. I walk on. I pass the area where we would have passed one another. I pass the point where the shades of the overpass turn into textures and I pass the turn where the fence slips out of my fingers to follow the lateral road. I pass the border where the sky sky turns into concrete sky. I emerge on the other side and I stop and I turn. Up the macadam slope run two rows of holes, notches of grainy darkness. I could dig my feet into those footsteps. Follow a strange path in pursuit of a stranger, with no reason and no excuse but wanting to see what might happen. Or I could walk on home and carry with me forever the mystery, sweeter perhaps than any answer could be. The tall weeds beside me wave back and forth to dissuade me, or maybe encourage.

I hesitate for a moment, then make the wrong decision.

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