We stop on the side of a highway so that I can throw up. The whole drab country is a disappointment. When I imagine you here, I see strangeness, smalltown strangeness, a whispering of some unjust murder in the pines. I look at my driver mid-wretch and explain, “this place is so miserable and God-forsaken even the wind is trying to get out of here in a hurry.” “The birds won’t shit on it,” he says and we laugh for a while and then go back to throwing up.
When I picture you here, I see you wayward and quiet, serious-faced and anxious-eyed, with a way of smiling that always makes you seem off somehow. Some doomed horse farm with the only green the scrub along the fences. An absolutely pathetic display of downhome hard-heartedness, the kind of town Richard Hugo may have written of had he ever been so masochistic as to turn those sad eyes this way. How could you have ever survived this madness? 1930s in every direction. I wonder what life may have been like had you lived in some time when getting out was not an option. Maybe you did, but in the movements thereafter, I see more necessity than daring. Maybe you would’ve been happy without other options. Maybe an obvious path was what you really needed. Certainly would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.
“Alright, that’s enough of that,” my driver says and walks bowlegged back out of the ditch. I light a cigarette and move back to the top of the hill.
“Barfed on a rattlesnake once.”
“You did, did you? Do you get carsick often?”
“Oh I wasn’t carsick, I was just drunk.”
We crawl back into the car, he sprawls across the front seats and I across the back. A silence like no other here. Try to imagine I hear anything, even the bad things you spoke of. Maybe if I move here I’ll find a young man who will become an old man like you and I’ll get him to safety before all the sadness has time to kick in. I’ve heard they grow people like you in these parts, strangelings with brain slightly slanted like a loosely hinged screendoor. If that’s true maybe I really need go no farther.
He comes awake when a car passes us at such a clip it rattles the whole vehicle. We had fallen asleep with our legs hanging out the open doors and he sat up, looking wildly into the dark. He has this, I guess, reoccurring dream of a ghost in his arms that he can’t help or even really feel but he knows is there.
“Are you haunted?” he asks me through a gap in the front seat. I turn on my other side.
“No,” I say. “Not at all.”
It’s time to get moving. We toss the beer cans into the ditch and shut the doors and get on our way again. About twenty miles on down the road, we’d been driving without another car in sight when an ambulance and fire truck and several police cars come screaming down from an overpass and blaze past us in a blinking, blinding flash.
“What the hell?” we ask.
Another couple miles, and we see the problem: a single car partially embedded in a light post. Someone on the other side of the road pulled over a little ways away, gaping. This might be the biggest traffic jam this state’s ever seen. They wave us to the far side of the road and then we continue, the flames undulating in the dark horizon at our backs then growing fainter, then dying altogether.
“Fucking ghosts,” my driver says with derision. I don’t know what the fuck he means by that.
“Yeah,” I say and light cigarettes for us both. “Can’t take your goddamn eyes off of them for a second!”