The Hinterland: A Travelogue, Part 4
A stripped TRUCK WORLD.
A stripped TRUCK WASH.
A truck, splayed bare, ashen, untouched.
I have to piss something awful so we pull into a rest center, and I run in while he keeps the car idling, ready to scram. The amenities weren’t particularly intact after the abandonment. Hadn’t even bothered to repair the crater left when the meth lab/Auntie Anne’s Pretzels went up in flame, as they still do, even in days such as these. Still, safer than stopping at the highway’s edge, which, although lacking any discernible shift in elevation or cliff-form, anything edge like, especially given that the tarmac and grass had long lost any cogent distinction, still marked a divide almost cosmic in terms of the safety and motion it offered. On the highway, space and time are identical: both belong to passage and not a damn thing more. Off the edge of the highway, space is identical to the elderly, to their insatiable hunger for time, for all the wet of youth.
In the stall next to me, a man is talking on his phone, loud, fighting the bad reception and the sound of his small generator. “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU… YEAH. YEAH, I’M TAKING A SHIT RIGHT NOW. JUST THOUGHT I’D GIVE YOU A CALL.” It’s always nice to be thought of, I suppose.
The voice goes silent, then several raccoons scurry from his stall through mine. Another bad omen, but in a different system, an older one. By any tally, things aren’t looking good. I let out more of a gasp – alright, shriek – than I’d like to admit, start to wonder if there was a guy at all or just a few raccoons that had stolen a phone. Or looted a Verizon store. They have the masks already, so they say. What a ridiculous thought. As stupid as shit, as stores.
Something had taken a dump, that much was clear. The reek was tremendous. Dante-esque, my father would have said. Inferno-esque, I would correct. Calling a smell Dante-esque when you mean hellish is like calling a machine Michael Bay-esque when you just mean robotic. Why not just say robotic? Because, he said later when we had just this discussion, not all robots go to pieces and come together again, like hands in prayer do. Jesus, Dad, I would say. Jesus-esque, he corrected. So caught up I was with envisioning this exchange to come that I didn’t even pause to trade stares with the raccoon smoking a Virginia Slim out the bathroom window, clutching it between both paws, sucking in so hard the furred body swelled out, a tumor ripe for harvest.
Outside my father was nowhere to be seen. The car, gone. We hadn’t fought, even if we had disagreed about the material on which the fox was floating. Wood, he said. Granite, I insisted, even adding Duh. But hardly worth taking off and abandoning me, especially in Dante-esque raccoon territory. I called his phone, got no answer, left a pissy message. He texted me quickly back: Can’t answer phone, coming back in a minute sorry. What the hell.
Within five minutes, there he was, pulling back into the parking lot with me seated behind him. Needless to say, I was slightly alarmed. I hadn’t realized just how much I needed to trim my beard. It looked ridiculous, obtuse, ahistorical even. It had to be cut, brought back to sensibility. At least the sides, with all their obscene Civil War flair, on the wrong side of the conflict no less.
Unlike the beard, though, the situation was simple enough. I imagined what my dad had told the other me about why they had to double back. Probably about how they actually should grab some coffee here, because it could be a lot of miles before they found somewhere else that wasn’t all hazlenut and shitty brown water that only aped the appearance of coffee. The other me, nervous about the deception, had surely overdone it, doing a pantomime of me, picking at a hangnail, scratching itself, making an off-hand comment about how the car windshield had been subsumed into the form of yet another screen of data and how this was surely dangerous for commuter safety because, well, if you’ll drunkenly sext someone on one screen, it’s hard to insist on sobriety – or non-erection! – in front of another.
He was finishing a bad joke about sexting as I tapped on his window. He froze. Our eyes were level with each other. Unlike the beard, the eyes looked decent in their terror. As I flung open the door, a flicker ran through the mass of it, the mouth shuffling through a few options – a hooked beak, a cleaver, a rabbit’s warren – but I didn’t give it time, pulling it free and pinning it under me beside the car. It writhed and dripped and started singing broken snippets of my favorite songs, messing up the same words that I did each time, papering them over with mumbled vibrato as I would.
Dad, mind tossing me that hammer? I asked.
We were back on the road within two minutes.
I’m really sorry about that, son, he apologized.
He paused. Still, it sure is nice to hear you sing. You don’t do that much anymore.
The old familiar reek of acrid vanilla and old marrow was already creeping up from the trunk. Everything – and I mean, everything – goes faster with imitation.
I sang, making up the words as we went along.