It was another long night of keeping watch without a fire. The roads were dangerous. He could smell olives on the trees, mingling with the scent of damp earth. The air was hushed and expectant, as though before a squall. Distant noises reached his ears: the rustling of the branches and leaves, or the steady footsteps of someone’s approach? The moon above was gone, with only the stars to accompany him till morning.
He is sitting in a car, the windows rolled down, the humidity pouring in, sweat pooling on his back. Mostly he tries not to think, keep his eyes on the road ahead. It’s these long glass moments, that’s where he has no control.
So many yesterdays spent lying against each other, impressing their silhouettes against their nascent forms, shuddering and trembling at the faintest touch. She says, hand clasped in his, I am not just a thing, an idea someone had. We are possibilities, infinities.
The moments shiver as they pass and sometimes hold themselves still. In memory they are glacial. The world looks ready to crumble, to slip into oblivion, without questions, without answers, as incandescent as her smiling face.
He needs a shot of salvation, taste of the sacrosanct, to get through the ends of the day. Those moments when he’s left with only himself and his thoughts. Survival’s the thing people find difficult. Living on a knife’s hard edge, tilting over and trying to fall, convinced of complete betrayal of existence.
Western Swing on the transistor: right or wrong, I’ll always love you; I’ll get mine bye and bye. The deluge of the moment that doesn’t quite cut clean. It festers and spreads, a pestilence no quarantine can hold. Memories he cannot escape. Like the tangle of their bodies, it never had that sort of finality.
He ties her in knots, leaves her hushed with anticipation and the heavy weight of knowing…
He was so many things: the breath of morning sunshine upon her face, the caress of the wind, the sky forever beginning above, and the darkness that is not there and then suddenly whole.
It is surreal to be separated from the cataclysm, standing and watching in a passing thought, empty of everything. The rain pours and then dries slowly away in the returning sun. She never felt the lightning, only heard the echo of thunder, long after the blinding flash had turned her eyes to dust.
His memories sometimes don’t feel as if they were his own, a warren of underground byways that lead to dead ends. He stays crouched in some lost corner of those suffocating dark bowels, laughter clattering down the damp hallways twisted with the running pipes.
One day I will understand this, he tells himself, there will be no more useless hysterics. But he remains dead before his time, forever caught in the undertow, trying to surface, to plunge above to the sparkling moonlight and be released from the serpentine bowels of that dark water.
Sometimes he wishes that he was a leopard, a beast of majestic instinct alone, without doubt, without remorse. He is always stealing reflections, taking them on and off as needed, to keep the conversation flowing and avoid that moment where questions might arise.
Sold again, sent across the river in shackled and bitter silence, the sun barely hanging in the sky. You can feel the city laying over itself, falling still as night slips closer. The snipers stay crouched by their windows deep into the night. A disturbed progression makes its way across a snow strewn field; the rites of the living and the rites of the dead.
It cannot all be just waiting, he tells himself.
They used to sit beneath the sunrise staring at the crested sky, intangible in its very presence, looming over their contorted bodies. She would whisper something to him and he would think to himself, you are slipping through my fingers.
She fled, his twisted and gnarled ruins, leaving him to wander without escape. He talked endlessly to strangers, to whomever he would meet, because he could not bear the silence that persisted, hanging on. Sorrow and joy, he thought, were the same bird flying for the sun.
He could still flee, he told himself, to some lost distant place. There he would think he was away from harm, her memory like a ghost in the mist as he sacrificed another to her name.
They were having that conversation again. I cannot fathom it. It is beyond fathoming, I think. But those last moments. I can imagine them. Yes.
Words, it seems, are empty vessels, shattered and left to ruin among the smoldering remnants. What can be said? In the end, what can be said, spoken down vast hallways clinging to grim silence, echoing and sterile, falling dead?
They peered, one looking over the others shoulder at what was left. An effigy of destruction. There were words spoken, and gestures, a hand tenuously reaching out in the fragile morning light.
The past cannot be reached. We are mutes, screaming through the flames.
As a child she had imagined becoming a sailor, embarking on age of discovery for those lost places, abandoned in derelict buildings filled with lepers and the undead. There amongst the detritus and refuse of the living she would toil through the drawn out days. Only drowning men would know of her, the hollow terror of their eyes as they slipped under would haunt her dreams for the rest of time.
Life would offer its strange and terrible symmetries.
Everything becomes ruinous and crumbling, she thought, like the tide washing over land. She remembered those moments: the feel of grass, wet with dew, on her hands and the taste of oranges in her mouth. And the monotony that always followed, that bled out, the inevitable entropy. Day to day these things seep through her and leave her empty.
She longs for the crash and slap of the waves, the spray wetting her face as the wind blows. To lose herself, slip through and find a time to study the intricacies of existence. See the universe unfolding before her, terrifying and splendorous and undeniable. No one could bring her back.
He dreamed he saw Catalina, the breeze stirring her hair, a clear sky above and the hot sun. Perhaps it was in Nicaragua, the volcanoes looming in the distance. The smell of her is overwhelming as he reaches for a strand of her hair.
In the evening, the sun nearly done its rapid descent, he sits to himself on a bench in the main square of the sleepy town. As they do everyday, the birds flock to the trees, small crow-like things, a cacophonous symphony. There is heaving laughter around him, those gathered at the day’s end to share a tale. All he can hear are his own screams, as he batters helplessly against the walls, while the air just seeps out. His heart, he thinks, is corrosive.
Maybe it was Granada. He can remember the volcanoes and the heat, the way the clouds would roll across the sky in the afternoon. There was a quiet intersection, pink and turquoise buildings, two old women crossing slowly and a child playing across the street. He can see it all as it was in that very moment, a careless glance as he went on his way, now preserved, all fluid drawn off, unlikely to decay.
The sound of the waves on the shoreline, echoing deep into the night. He sits alone in his hotel room listening, sweat collecting on his back, the blasting tops of the waves illuminated by moonlight in his mind’s eye.
“It’s a hard way to make a living,” Otis Redding says, a momentary tune singing in the back of his mind as he wanders down a crowded street. The clouds hang low in the sky so that he is dim in the pull.
Later, a breath of cigarette smoke and laughter, dissolve into the night.
Sometimes he awakens in a sweat, the darkness in the room like the sea. His dreams have him floating through a murky wake, the light of only the moon seen clearly, almost near enough to reach, so that he stretches his arms up, a desperate clawing feeling rising in his throat as he sinks further. Even awake, as he stares around the empty room, he can still feel himself sinking and the moonlight disappearing.