The car was a red car and the red car made a dust trail. The air was cold, and the tree branches were brittle. It was late in the fall. The road and the thickets of bush were dry, and the road let loose dry billows of dust that spewed out when the car’s thick tires grinded over it all.
The dust billows rose with the black exhaust of the car and together they made an allergenic cloud that spread down the dirt road thirty feet, and the red car was still clean and red while the marshes and the shades of brown and grey clung to the amorphous fall wilderness, which grew in the background of the red car like a tapestry.
The man clutching the wheel was David. He had just received his license yesterday. David’s hair was brown and dull. His hair parted outwards in a teenaged-blasé way. The coat he wore was leather and it was new. His teeth even looked new: flawless in color and straightness. The cotton white shirt imitated his blasé attitude tenfold, as the three top buttons were not buttoned, revealing a cheap trifle hung from his neck.
He liked wearing the cheap trifle. Thinking of it created a restful place in his head, some anonymous pit-stop. It reminded him of the beach where his mother lived, and he thought about how he used to visit there.
But it was always by bus. She never visited him.
He did not know why the cheap trifle reminded him of his mother, but it did. It was just a silver necklace. It had sharp and menacing edges that glinted thirstily in the sun’s light. The necklace was like many other things in David’s life. Things that could not be explained save one cold hard sense that David had about them, and the sense alone would give meaning to the thing. Things infinite as the look of the day, like this, the way it was now, shining through the naked oaks and dressed pines. The day seemed already in its ebbing afternoon hours at 10 A.M., and the winter already brought into fall; those winter days when the sun abruptly moves into evening and dark, and in between that movement there is something about the texture and color of the sun that looks hurried and thrown on, thrown on just as quick as it will be thrown off, thrown off when the hours quickly pass into evening and the yellow sun becomes orange and then dips behind the trees and the crest of the Earth.
The texture and color of the sun seemed to David over-bleached, and soft, like a boiled egg; the texture suggested a reality in which he was perennially disaffected by his own hardships and mistakes. This to him was the emblem of maturity. That there was always a way to change things. That life was lived and decided as weightlessly by the moment, by the fast-changing color of an egg in the sky.
All this, the winter sun, and the first trip he was taking in his red car, and the cheap, silver necklace, all this converged into one feeling, the feeling of a new age. A new and somewhat confused happiness, some feeling that David could not probe was there, nonetheless. Was sensed by him.
His hands reminded him of gargoyles, and they were shrunken and bizarre, more like growths than hands. David constantly was alerted of their presence on him, because he had to look at the road, and in his line of sight was the arc of the wheel manipulated by his hands. His hands looked as though they were being sucked in by his wrists, and they vaguely formed a triangle shape. The thumbs and pinkies arched inwards to create a grotesque pyramid shape, and while the palms were small and shriveled the fingers were long and clumsy. At an angle hanging off the wheel, the thumbs took on a stubbiness like the tail on a bulldog. He frowned when he thought of them. When he was unhappy, it was like falling into a dark pit. David felt cramped and queasy and afraid when he thought of his hands. He moved his arms a bit and could not see them anymore, and then laughed.
David looked in the mirror and smiled appreciatively to himself. He enjoyed the sudden control of driving. This feeling of being a tyrant unto oneself, of having a sense of command over a piece of large machinery.
The car relied on his aptitude so as to avoid destruction. David relied on the car in order to get where he had to go. On the open road, there are no frustrations. Needs are satisfied swiftly. The need to get to the next curve in the road is swiftly accomplished; the need to get to the end of a mile is also satisfied swiftly. The need to get to his destination, satisfied—all at the will of his own, albeit mutant, hands. At his own hands. A big metal hunk of death machine, turning with David’s will to turn.
But driving had a strong cerebral aspect to David. The rules of the road were not set in stone. He knew that he would have to one day improvise. Drive defensively. Too many other cars like big monstrous judgments from the good lord, barreling, towards then away from him, testing him.
But for now, David serenely led the red car down the dusty road with easy confidence, and the cloud of dust and the exhaust trailed behind the car ten feet.
He was thinking these thoughts about himself the way a boy would think when left alone with nothing else, and he was getting so lost in thought that David began to mumble, and then, the red car hit a pothole, and a slight bump was felt under the vehicle, and David swerved but was fine. He stopped the red car a few yards up, continuing to mumble; and the tire-grinded dust and the exhaust all slowly settled back to the ground, and the dust wafted lightly down.
“Dammit, David,” he swore to himself loudly. “Why do you do that? Why do you act so stupid?” His ugly little hands were twitching at the thumb. He kneaded his dull brown hair with his hands. Out of nowhere, David’s body took on the rolling of a big wave, and he began to shiver the way a wave would shiver and scatter on the sand and then froth up after it hits.
The hands rolled around on the wheel painfully, and that pumped the blood through the wrists, and that pumped a sort of frustrated energy to the brain, and when the hands rolled quicker because of sweat the body rolled, and the body shivered with frustration, like a wave swelling, more and more, aching to crash, but never crashing, only the heaviness of the wave looming and narrowing. One small irritation sparked bigger irritations, each aching to crash. Each spasm had to be fought by him to keep from turning into a hernia. He stepped more into discomfort the more he thought of settling the discomfort.
David realized he would be better just not thinking of discomfort at all, but he could not do that. The pain bullied into him. It made itself seen and touched as though it were a figure sitting next to David, hanging on him, like Coleridge’s Albatross.
. . . . . . .
In the alone wilderness, and among the wilderness of himself, he rubbed his hands on the wheel, until they were red, and grotesque, trying to soothe the anxiety that left him shaken.
He thought, did it come from him receiving his license? This? Did the anxiousness start when he turned [insert age]? As David’s whole body rocked in his seat, the padded seat of the red car squeaked like a parasite. A small, indiscriminate parasite or bug that fed off his anger with each squeak. The squeaks were high-pitched yelps that ripped through his eardrums. He wished to be rid of the squeak of human imperfection, of imperfection in the carseat’s design, evidencing the bad constitution of its metal, of his flesh; he wished to be rid of it.
“Calm down,” The crazy squeak, squeak, squeak of the seat. “Calm down.”
. . . . . . .
When he said that it was like confirming the danger of it. The hurt of it that would come if he went too long without it.
David went rigid as a pole, dipped his head, calmed down, he calmed down. It was a slow process, one of control, of focus. He summoned up those things as much he could, and he calmed down.
He slowly shoved away the strange needs of a mind in panic, and repeated various mantras he had learned, inward talk, muttering them all in his brain at once. The need to stop the ‘squeaking.’ The need to see weird and frightening things when he closed his eyes, such as fat, expressionless eyes staring back at him or people bleeding from their faces. The bleeding people ran and screamed on a bridge, he opened his eyes and closed them again, and they were screaming in a desert. He knew that all of them knew something about him he didn’t…and there was the overbearing need to be swathed in blankets. For he was suddenly very cold.
Thoughts were bugs that were crawling on his skin. “Fuck God. Fuck God,” David repeated, as though he had to.
He said it again, wondering why:
“Fuck God. Fuck God.” His lips moved the same exact way for the same exact syllable until David clenched his mouth shut and screamed into his hands. It wasn’t working. He bit his hands and he yelled. He shut his eyes. He shut his eyes. He thought of an anchor: this was his secret way to calm himself, and not even his mother knew it. He regarded the anchor happily and secretively.
He thought to himself: well, an anchor was a heavy thing.
He thought, an anchor always did its job. It never changed. It grew old over time, yes. But the staunch attitude of an anchor was not lost, never lost.
Despite his airless, ephemeral stresses, he got lucky. David imagined himself like an anchor, dragging across the sands of the deep, halting entire ships, stilly lying in the water, until it is brought up, only to be plunged in again, brought up again. He realized the intensity of now was dust against the whole thing, like dust on the ever-winding road. His eyes went to lazy slits. He struggled not to think of what he needed to think.
David expanded out onto the seat of the red car like pus. The fat wave yielded and deflated. David expanded the way the sand flattens out a footprint with one salty wave. A wobbly pretense of nervousness still clanged a bit, as the marble, in the tin can that was his stomach. David reassured himself more, more. He thought of his mother, and the ocean; the constant assuring nature of the sea. Of the surface of it bobbing on and on for miles, so that one could almost make out the curvature of the Earth.
Sweat, expanding down the neck of David’s shirt. His smooth shirt was suave and lax and sweat-addled, at the same time. David tried then to think of his shirts, but he thought of his medications, instead, and his heart beat out less certainly, and the anchor soon dissolved, and he felt on the edge of a cliff. Soon David could feel nothing but the shaking of his heart soaking through the white of his shirt.
David started the car eventually. But first he looked for his medications. He looked on the dashboard, but he knew he’d never find them anywhere. He pulled out his two red bags and dirtied his clothes when he threw shirts and all in the dust looking for his medications: each clean shirt flung into the dust gave David a release of anger by making a frustrating situation even more frustrating because he was ruining the shirts and he knew it, and by doing so, he cared less and less; since everything was all screwed up anyway, what was another pain to deal with but more proof of the cruelness of God? What was another ruined shirt but a reminder of the pain that God can give?
“Oh, God, why you are so cruel?” David muttered, confirming the thought; and then he winced animatedly because he had to be ashamed. Or because he was ashamed that he wasn’t ashamed.
David believed in God because it meant not having to mount a horse that high himself and he scoffed and babbled with liberals about atheism and nihilism and the menace of capitalism and to most of his friends he pursued interests that were particularly stamped “out there.”—And he liked this phrase, because it was simple yet identifiable.
He looked also in his glove compartment and was startled when a map contorted like an accordion burst from it, but no medications. Another wave gathered in David’s belly. His stomach clenched, and when David noticed the heaviness of the clenched muscles he felt the rest of his body clench again too and mysterious veins that had not been seen before now emerged humorously on his forehead, and his hand was claw-like and pumping scarlet when he reached over to the passenger seat, spotting the medications tucked away under the seat, and he laughed wryly and loudly and angrily and dramatically as he grabbed them and pushed his spindly fingers into the small tube, barely able to pinch two white tablets between his fingers and shove them down his throat. He started the car and was gone and he deflated again and a great sigh summoned up from David’s lungs, and he knew it had not gone away after all.
Again, he streamlined down the rustic terrain, in the red car. He was off again; as the road stretched on and separated the grass and brush from the dirt and corrupt pavement David’s mind stretched, and he thought of the same things he had before.
He thought inwardly, of himself, and inexplicably brief pictures of his mother pierced through. After thinking of his mother for a while, he gained a certain momentum: the car, time and his heart all beat the same hands forward on the same clock.
He collected shards of another personality: a smooth yet purposely offbeat one, a partyready one. Night came.
. . . . . . .
The night condensed and blurred everything, and everything was all shadows except the moon, whose holes and orifices shown clearly, like halos, or weird pimples, or large craters, which was what they were. The monotony of travel oppressed him; his partyready personality grew less fresh and wearier, time became indistinct. The more control he had on the road, the more bored he became, the more he itched for conflict.
He thought a bit more of his mother’s hair tossing in red, on the beach; more of the pills stacked neatly in the seat, ready for him. David was responsible now, made things easily done, didn’t dwell on things now. He no longer thought of himself, did not worry about himself, and when he did think of himself it was to build his temperament into more something expected.
But he thought of his own mother, as well, thought of her hair tossing in red on the brownfaced beach that seemed to glow like his mother did. His mother, her build, like an arduous painting or marble, filled with the lovely crevices and nuances of a thing prepared and sculpted and perfected. His mother, perfect, centered, correct, beseeching wisdom like a painting, untouchable like a painting; yet she touched all it seemed to David. She was a fortress: she was the singular definition where all other definitions would darken and lose scope. She seemed more distant, and Godly, the more that David thought of her and was away from her, and he admired his mother for that. It seemed to David that she was there not only for him but for the whole World; that she knew and understood the whole World, and sometimes he felt selfish when he hugged her, or told her why he was depressed. He felt like he wasn’t using his Mother correctly, or in other words, completely utterly.
There was something he didn’t get, and she did. David sighed at the thought of his mother’s soft clutch. David felt as though he would never, ever see his mother again, no matter what happened. David’s mother as this sort of universal beacon of comfort somehow made him angry and he did not know how long he had thought that way of it. It didn’t seem right. It didn’t explain everything. Mothers as sources of empathy, understanding, were not mothers, but clichés. David hated his Mother for giving him such shallow feelings for her, for where was the love in that? He hated her, and he was happy, happy because he meant it, something, for the first time.
. . . . . . .
The teen brushed off his weariness, for he was becoming queasy with boredom. He took two other white pills spasmodically. David slapped a half-smile on his face.
Within seconds, though medically speaking it would take longer than seconds to work, he felt the pills alleviate him. David pictured the pills like two muscled men, exactly two, with handlebar mustaches, and pronounced chins, wearing tights like in those old movies where they get in fights and hold up their fists in that funny oldfashioned way, but, instead of each other, pummeling up his bad feelings of queasiness into dust. Flattening him down prone, to sleep. Wrapping him in blankets and taking away the bad pictures of the people bleeding. David scoffed at his thoughts, embarrassed at their puerility, though no one was around to witness his thoughts. He pictured his body becoming more and more healthful, stable; suddenly he was so happy, so healthful and young, that he felt likely to cry. Everything was working out so well.
David’s shirt swelled the gap between the collar even more, in even more of a teenaged blasé way. Between the collars was the silver necklace hanging there. He thought of the beach, which lay expansively beyond the wiry stacks of trees and their tusks. It was the place he was to go, the beach, his mother, it was beyond the treetusks that were all dim in the night and looking fake, like projections onto a screen. There was a train crossing ahead. He looked at it, his eyes squinting.
“Huh. Cool,” Excitement ran in David’s veins. The old and dusty road had reworked itself from one long line of pavement and woods into a crossing for it. His personality screamed adventure; the personality that had David’s hand dangling out the car window while speeding, that had him buying these red cars. Something else in him also listed off worries and hesitations, and his mother choired somewhere on in the hesitations, and David held his head and scowled, and dropped his head to the accumulating shadow in his red car. This something else seemed more natural but it was also private, and when he thought of private matters it was almost like the unhappiness. Like squirming in a pit. He did not want that, and he felt the grip of sweat and nervousness more palpably. David laughed to himself, without reason, as if to release some new compression of energy.
The car had been speeding up for some time, very slowly. David had not noticed this: he continued to press his foot to the pedal with ease.
It seemed definitively abandoned, for maybe a few years even. Green, toothy weeds and grass protruded up from the wooden planks and the metal tracks. The pebbles were dusty for the speeding belly of a train had not sent the low wind whooshing around the pebbles or the metal tracks. No wind from a train like a rocket had come to polish the stones here or polish the rusty XING sign. Everything was dust. No train nay anything had cleared the strange tepidity of air, which seemed to congeal on the car windows and soak into the wilderness around David. At the tracks at night the air was like a sauna. His face and body held the primal solitude of a man who knows his death and has no other concern. David stopped the red car on the train tracks and, looking vacuous, instinctively parked his car there. The car had groaned when he stopped; thick, ugly tracks were printed on the road.
. . . . . . .
“Oops,” He said. David laughed, selfmockingly, the façade contained even in isolation. It was as guttural a thing as putting the car into park.
“Well, I suppose I’ll wait. I am kind of tired, anyway.” He sighed, afraid to ruin his good work by putting the car into drive. The selfmocking, breathy façade came out again, as though David were constantly stretching while he was speaking. David did feel sleepy, though. It seemed too complicated to start up the car, at least right now. There was still time, so, he contrived to place his hunched hands on the lever, heaved the lever backward, and the seat moved down, and he lay, and slept. An owl was in a tree nearby, watching him, and gave a contrary hoot before flapping down to grab a mislaid field mouse.
Fear was a bellow from the train. Fear was quick and hopping in David and the train quickly horned out like his fear. It was quick and hopping and severe. And David, for one brief shake and rattle of time, realized he had felt it, the entire trip: fear had nipped at him while he had driven. He had scratched it like something that had bit him, and left it alone, and the itch temporarily had quelled somewhat but did not fully disappear. The itch, the fear, had been slightly and sickly infecting his mind. Only now was the first time the fear had been so close and felt so dire.
But the close fear quelled in a flash after David was fully awake in his car, his red car. The intense feeling had gone so fast that David had now fully forgotten it. He brushed the silver necklace with an absent, contorted hand, but the look on his face was purposeful.
David thought of his mother. He thought of trying to get her, and of being with her. His mother embodied the moon in the lurking night—it was the only lighted thing, giving clarity to those who looked at it, the only clear and purposeful thing. He groaned when he thought that. “Fuck God.” But, he brushed the urgency away, brushed his mother away curtly but kept the purpose of her, and forgot his needs, and his nervousness, as the train chirped out mildly in his ears.
David cackled in the silence, then paused for a few minutes, then cackled again, as he, again, realized the position he was in. So easily could he decide not to move the car. So easily could he decide.
“So easily fucked.” He said. Through big teeth entrenched in big gums. David laughed again. It was a strange thing, doing the unexpected. So many nights David had felt queasy with tedium and routine. The more of a pattern he was in, the more the pattern looked like bars on a cell. He had time. He wanted his mother, but he had time to breathe in the idiosyncrasy: the wild abandon of youth: something so intangible in the wet clutch of his medications, something that morphed and altered as David felt the pills go down and change him. Something that was not a necessity but an evil and wasteful enjoyment clutched David, and David clutched the seat, and felt his bones cave. The seatbelt was wrapped tightly, viciously around him. His eyes rounded in sudden fear: the train was closer, or was it? Was David just imagining that it was closer, or had it actually gotten closer, had it actually moved nearer to him, on the tracks?
The horn of the train gave another muffled yell, which dispersed its sound across the winding wild treefilled hills and the many staunch wooden poles of trees around him. The poles brayed and bent, it seemed, but it was again the yell that did this, snaking across the twisted branches, but this time it was a roar, and a roar not only because of the train’s diminishing distance from David but because David himself heard the sound rattle in him. A thick web of doubt unraveled over him, the strings pointing several different ways to several different choices, strings toppling and crossing each other, the right thing to do suddenly banished from David’s mind.
He gawked at the key in the ignition, moved his hand there. The fingers twitched, searching for meaning in the gesture, searching for something. His pupils widened over the irises like an ink blotter, and David dimly cricked his neck while his strange hands shook; and he gawked also at the gas pedal, and his leg and foot over it were like a useless and heavy log, and he did not move at all but for cricking his neck again and looking down at the seatbelt and doing nothing. The roar of the train. He had just taken his pills.
“This should not happen.” David said.
He had somehow forgotten that the queer white capsules he had been taking had nothing to do with curing his nervousness. It was his mother’s prescription. She had had a retiring case of something or other when David was younger, and had never thrown away the pills, and they sat in her bathroom closet, until David had one day snatched them, wanting a change. Wanting something that was big, something that boiled in him but could never be found in any part of him or anything else, because it was insatiable and always moving.
David was abruptly divided of his whole self: the panic of death, the running metal on metal of the train that seemed to have already destroyed him, now clamored in his chest, which heaved nauseously. The blasé teen, the airhead, the class clown, the jock, the stoner, the goofoffer, the token homosexual, the hardworker, the criminal, together howled furiously in his head like the men and women who bled from their eyes. “My pill, my pill, my pill,” repeated David, and with his words the howling of these individuals.
He did not hear himself. His lips wagged flabbily, transformed the words into ghastly mumbles, and he mumbled and breathed out, but this time did not calm. Web upon web was being woven, made of paths: one path led into a labyrinth of delirious schemes to escape involving force fields and prayers (maybe if he wanted enough not to die, it wouldn’t happen); also, he tried to ignore the train, the fear, and focused on the moonlighted leaves and trees, wishing to forget; he tried to move one part of him only, then another part only, and never moved the two together, then, hearing his chest beat into his jaw, he tried to move every part of him at once.
He grappled with whether he should deal with accepting his fate or continue to rescue himself; and also, not mindful of it, estimated the minutes till his demise, then seconds: David from this acquired some makeshift reassurance, some solace of knowing at least when. He tried to remember what he had forgot, but the very maze of the other thoughts tumbled down over a pragmatic answer, and it was too much effort to still the thump of his heart and remember that the ignition key and the gas pedal were the two elements that would save him. The train gnashed, roared.
However, through the confusion was the simplicity of his destination. He did not need to have any plans but road plans for it. It was his goal, his simple and straight goal; it was not like creating a persona for the personae, one to please one culture, another to please another group. Seeing it in this way was as simple as getting up and going; David seeing himself took time and effort that he did not have. What was important to him was not important to him. His values and virtues were all nice words, and yet, to poor David they were all abstract and unattainable traits, to be given to others and not to him, others worthier than he; so that he could be alone and be ridiculed for being alone. And that was the way he saw it, possibly.
But he thought of the sand, of ocean, of his mother, of the simplicity, and accuracy, of getting up and going, and that cleared David’s mind enough to remember the necklace. He groped at it, the sharp, primal edge that could free him somehow, but, then, felt the responsibility of saving himself stay his hand. The load of life, his life, dragged him down. His arms seemed to collapse like an old building, and his body collapsed, and David slouched in his smug, sad cotton shirt, as though shot.
“I’m not ready for this. I shouldn’t have to do this. What if I fail, what then?” And he gave up, without reason, and blindly demanded his pill, and his hand crinkled in need of it. My pill. My pill.
The train was so close that its sound filtered into the car now, the red car, shaking the seats; and David’s savage hands burst forward, looking for his pill:
“My pill. My pill! My pill!” The headlights of the train clarified the insanity and pain and fear in David’s face with one damning beam and the beam spread further the closer the train came, proliferating the shadows of the wooden poles of trees. It lighted blindingly into David’s red new car. David opened his eyes to the light and to the furious hosanna of the train, and his eyes were as pale as his skin.
As lights and convulsing Earth swam violently about him, and as the train coughed out sparks when it tried vainly to halt against the red new car, and seconds before the train would give a fatal monstrous thrust into the bare frame of the car, David ripped the sharp metal necklace off of him, stabbed it into the seatbelt, cut through the thing and went hurtling out the window. He hit the dirt; a perturbed quiet drummed in the shadowy wood, anticipating collision, a collision itself echoing in the quiet, the trees then suddenly peacefully still…and in the twilight wood there then was a smash and cacophony that blew the birds from the trees, and the wings rustled together out of the oaks and the pines.
The racket tore open the wilderness. David eyed the blur of the Amtrak with no expression. David’s mind sloshed, and his legs sloshed gaily from side to side, and the pants and the elbows of his shirt were patterned with dirt, like the tires of his red new car.
Looking at him, looking at David, you see not shock but nothing—you see a struggle to understand the experience, to comprehend its depth, and then he fails. Because everything is an object to David. You can see that. But you can also see the creation of depth out of David’s mind; the formulation of depth and webs from nothing, the formulation of something simple into something complex and unanswerable. Or maybe none of these things are what David is experiencing. Maybe he is just confused, as he sits on the ground, looking unworried and looking at the train, and hearing the horrible scratching sound of the metal wheels of the train. The big sound grows, grows into the wilderness, soaks up all the feelings of David and all his thoughts, and is so loud that it clogs time itself. The screeching and the cackling and the sparks blow the past out of existence, make the group of seconds that David stares into space on that patch of dirt and rocks seem not like seconds but a wedge of some different time, some purgatory without memory and without feeling; and once you left, you felt no different, but everything was. David threw the ridged necklace to the ground wearily, though it had saved his life, and got up.
He immediately thought of a moral for all this, because his mother had said always to get the most of a unique experience, and this was sensible enough advice.
So, David walked on, limp and restless, and for the moment had forgotten anything had happened, because it was the easiest to do. There we go, there’s the moral: forgetting is always the easiest to do. We forget, and then whatever had happened before loses meaning and weight. We move on, without learning from or facing what happened. People sometimes try to forget, and don’t succeed, and are sad their whole lives. Others don’t mean to forget, and they don’t even know what sadness is, because they don’t remember when they had been sad in the past. Forgetting is such a thorough entity, it is in all of us: one could cultivate an entirely new life by just erasing the old one. David thought of this, or didn’t, and the ocean both in and before him pulsed, and he thought it would be a good idea to forget as slick flames bobbed behind him, feeding off the odd piece of car scrap, drenched in gas.
“Who am I?” He said.
The red remainder of the car jerked away, and it was another quartermile before the train completely stopped.