Milepost 226

Milepost: 226

I barreled down the highway, snow flakes pounding soundly against my windshield. I could not see but the road ahead. The yellow line dashed between me and the other side, the bees zipping by madly in search of nectar for a starving queen. The black asphalt soaked into the vacuous night and I trembled as white and black superimposed. Cheyenne loomed bleakly ahead - Salt Lake City, Winnemucca - which was it? Where I was seemed to have faded away lg ago; only the shopping list of destinations along the way remained.

Lincoln, Des Moines... New York, I must get to New York!

Somewhere back there I had lost the sun. Flashes of Daniel were shooting through my head: his over-anxious eyes, his neurotic complexion - his specious self-confidence. Reno. What was a boy like him doing stranded in Reno? He belonged in the Sacramento valley, baking coolly under the hot sun and nodding to himself as girls that pleased him walked by casually. Sitting in computer labs he would have talked up local surfers about intellectual property rights, atomic energy watchdoging and the unnecessary evils of the current administration. Such a world he lived in, that he could imagine it so understandable, so controllable - so predictable. I had found him working automobiles and bicycles under the shelter of local Reno punks. His eyes were loving and naivee at once; soft and tender, two delicate sphere ready to give their hearts away. If only he were here now, here in the darkness with me.

I had to hold my attention on the road, on the light. It was fading from my eyes; dark was becoming darker and I feared all light was slipping away.  The hum of the engine numbed my mind.

‘No! must hold on. Something, anything. Not darkness! Not ending! The miles, the miles – Goddamn these fucking miles!’ Panting softly I turned my head sharply from side to side and then gazed purposefully out the front windshield. ‘It’s ok, I can hold on. I will hold on. Only a few more miles and then I can stop. Then I can rest for the night, I’ll start again tomorrow, fresh.’ I smiled, satisfied - I would be ok.

Milepost: 227

‘I’m not getting anywhere, I’m never going to get home; I have to keep driving. I can make it further, I don’t need to stop just yet. Why the hell would I stop now, I’m making good progress?’ I sat back, reassured, I would go the distance. Maybe tonight I would make it all the way to Salt Lake City – or was it Winnemucca? I gazed out the windows again, the snow seemed to be thickening. I tried to breathe deeply, to draw out the tension and relax my taught chest. My eyes I let rest; the lids allowed to sink softly, their lashes teasing each to meet. Highway sped under our vehicle, cold air blasted passed sealed windows – I kept my gaze straight ahead.

The holler of the wind almost drowned out the rhythm of the engine. I glanced dark shapes in the surroundings: little monsters begging me to join them on the side of the road; to discover them; to know them: desolate, abandoned – boulders and bluffs blanketing a broken world. The little incandescent bubble of my car had become a telescope into their savage wilderness. Rocks and canyons called to me through the lens, snow shifted the focal point, darkness distorted the image, and temptation mounted. But only by joining them could I have learned the answers to their ancient mysteries; I continued steadily on my narrow trajectory. It had been like this as far back as I could remember: nights scraping the miles away, nights counting down time and keeping myself reassured enough of the providence of my trip to realize its self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to concentrate on nothing, circumvent my perception - wear down those miles.

“You can’t beat the miles.” Shelton’s voice sounded in my head. ‘What a motherfucker!’ I though. ‘He’s sitting comfortably in Virginia while I’m stuck here in this shit.’ Shelton was unlike Daniel. He was aware of the world, genuinely confident; one could easily imagine him at the wheel of a jeep or pickup truck - comfortable; his hand lain leisurely on the window frame. Where Daniel had love and hope, Shelton had grit and determination. If come upon a turbulent river, Daniel would sit and admire its beauty, trying to think of a suitable name for it - Shelton would do so while swimming across it. I had picked him up long ago, in warmer days in Pennsylvania; on the Appalachian Trail. It was dusk, and I, looking for a campsite, had seen him walking on the road with a full frame pack and a long, red beard: the image of a mountain man recently found to civilization. At that point it was exactly halfway down the Trail; he had spent a little under two months getting there - he knew about miles. Instead of continuing on to Georgia, he fitted his pack in my car and we headed off together, to California. But I lost him long ago, to blindness and uncertainty.

Milepost: 228

Eyes blinking, they searched for a motel sign on the side of the road. Out here one saw a post every so often for something decent. But most of the time they were just for exits that led to nowhere; marked with ‘No Services’ on top. I knew then why the Mormons called it God’s Country: one needed a God in a place like that.

The last good exit was a ways back; who could remember at which mile?

'That’s right, we’ll stop. We’re going to stop, it’ll be ok. Maybe in ten miles… maybe in twenty. I hope it’s not too expensive. The next probably won’t be for forty more miles. Maybe they’ll have a pool, I could use a swim,’ eyes dimming, consciousness fleeting.

The darkness drifted by calmly; white flakes fell still from nether regions. The yellow bees kept to their mission; the engine hummed softly and the road sang a lament for the traveler, who graced its each mile for only an instant. I thought again of Daniel, and of Shelton. Their words keeping me afloat, I looked for that motel sign - that indicator of day’s end and night’s rest. I thought of the day I just had, what I could remember of it – what I wanted to remember of it – and wondered what tomorrow would be like. What would the next twenty minutes be like? The twenty minutes after that? And the day after tomorrow?

Beyond that all thought of thinking ceased.

'I hope they have a pool.'

Milepost: 229

'Well, only 2000 or so to '

Jesse Strock
Nassau, NY (2003)