He sees his hands on the wheel and the road splayed out before him, beneath the dawn. He sees blue pastureland and wind-blown grasses that turn colors and darken like the back of the neck of a house cat when you stroke it, and he sees those same grasses flash and wave and rise and roll. He tilts the mirror so he can watch the debris-trail. The car dips when the road dips and it bounces as it flattens and then it bobs on the crests so that the rosary jangles and winds itself around the cardboard pine tree like a May Pole of onyx and silver and green twine that spins in the rush of the crosswind that bears on it the smell of good wet earth and bovinity.
The car drifts and sways. Every window is wide open and the newspapers blow around the back seat and on the floor and sometimes right out the window along with the junk mail and the Whopper boxes and the crushed and empty packets of Kents. Everything swirls. Scraps of paper and partially crumpled grocery receipts that hover and spin before deciding to leap from the window of the speeding blue Chrysler. He watches them tumble and fall behind him. Sometimes they rise when they catch a thermal, shooting up into the sky and diving back to the road before settling into the light, see-saw landings of poorly constructed paper planes.
He holds the jittery Chrysler with both hands and leans into the wheel and stares out over the vast expanse of the hood. The color of it. A rare shade of blue that seeks to mimic those places he’s only read about in books. Acapulco. Fiji. Cancun. Faded now. Sun-bleached. All that show-room lacquer washed out by a cold Kentucky moon. The promise of it. The largeness. The leg-room, hip-room, head-room, the you-could-fuck-a-donkey-back-there room. Slowly stolen. Methodically filled. She kept every little tidbit. All the things she held. Anything she couldn’t swallow, sell or redeem. Tossed over her shoulder. Dropped. Laid down gently. Tucked and nestled. Layers and layers of momma. Her hopes and dreams and fears. If he was clever he’d of gathered it all up and pressed it together to form an effigy he could burn. If he was born, how she used to say, half–artistic instead of half-autistic, he’d of emptied the car of all her cast-off trash and made a great soup of papier mache and cigarette butts and built up a statue from her refuse and in her likeness that would make for a perfect testament to her being and her life.
The wheel shimmies in the grip of his fingers and the tires hum and the paper objects pop and crackle as they come loose in the crosswinds and peel away, layer after layer, exposed to air and light once more. When they gave him the keys he held them in his hand like some totem unearthed from a tomb. She kept every key to every trailer she ever lived in, and all the diners where she hustled pancakes and eggs, and the Dollar Depots, and the Howard Johnsons and PO Boxes in five zip codes. Her life fanned out before him in a dazzling array of aluminum and brass. Cabins and Motels. Storage lockers and sheds. A key for every secret place. She kept. The weight of them. The colors. Coppers and silvers and reds. The teeth and their textures. The beaded chain. The St. Christopher medallion. Her nail clippers. All that clicking and clacking and drunken fumbling at broken handles and tumblers worn down to buttery nubs. Her late night jinglings. The gouges and scores that mark the slippages where the tips missed their holes and glanced off like skids, each tiny scratch the story of a broken nail, a bruised knuckle, a sleep-shattering jangle of passages and passings, hasty exits, evictions, elusions, escapes.
The key-ring sparkles and clicks. It hangs from the steering column and sways gently as the Chrysler rocks with the highway, pushing eighty now, the roaring road-wind at hurricane strength, the heavier relics from the depths of her strata beginning to separate and rise. They said they found her parked on the side of the road with her head slumped over the wheel, like a hundred times before. A late night phone call. A bus ride to the morgue. A fat man chewing a toothpick led him to cold room and stood before a locker with a heavy steel handle and asked him if he was ready and he thought that he we was. The fat man with skin the color of gum stuck to the bottom of chair looked him over to see if maybe he saw something of the woman in his face, and maybe there was recognition of a likeness or maybe it was the rote gesture of one resigned to perform such grim procedures, but he nodded and switched the toothpick over to the other side of his mouth and then he popped open the hollow chamber and rolled her out on a drawer.
He rolls. He glides. He coasts and drifts. He lets the wind work its magic on the load. The road is empty and the sun is low. The car is alone on the road that goes for miles in a straight line so that he can see the entire stretch of it in one long and continuous strip of garden-slate blue bisected by a hair’s width of pale yellow that sometimes breaks in the passing zones where already the heat shimmers and inverts the image of the long highway and makes him believe he’s driving upside down with his feet toward the sky. She was lying on the steel table with her mascara smeared and her lipstick smudged like a ten-dollar whore. She looked sunken and deflated, flat as a map and sadder than he remembered and much older than she was and dead to the world she despised. He signed some papers and paid some money and there was only her purse and a manila envelope heavy with what felt to him like a sack of old coins. The keys to her car.
It is a car that goes. It is a car that moves and sounds and feels like nothing that could ever be made by robots in some small Asian nation. It is a car actually made of steel. Made by hands. The steering wheel vibrates and it drives like a boat but it’s solid as a battleship and just as deadly, and he aims it west out of Kentucky toward one of the blue places he’s seen before in the pages of the National Geographic magazines he used to slip under his coat in the offices of balding men with advanced degrees who she’d go to for prescriptions to things that would help her sleep or keep her awake or make the voices stop telling her to never let go of those things that prove she’s alive. To prove she’s here. And she was here, and she raised him by herself but she didn’t raise him right or he wouldn’t have wound up in those places where they put boys who can’t control the things they do with their hands. Steal cars. Huff paint. Smash bone. She felt like a rag doll when he held her. She felt like a child. He was already bigger than his daddy by the time his was sixteen and should know better than to hit a woman, that’s what she told him, but even then she wouldn’t give up the keys.
It was parked out behind the Sheriff’s trailer between a chase-wrecker and a back-hoe and as soon as he saw it he knew he had to drive it fast and far. It was gloriously beautiful on the day she won it at the bingo parlor. It was shiny like the sea in some photograph and it was clean, it sparkled in the sunlight and gleamed under the moon and for a little while it was dazzling and perfect. But over the years it had become one of those weird cars you see sometimes in the back of the Wal-Mart or parked at edges of rest stops in places like Winnemucca or Barstow, lonely places where strangeness and squalor blend in. You see them on the roadside with fogged up windows and an eerie light glowing from within and there’s always some shadow moving about and maybe a radio going on the AM band but what strikes you is the garbage, all the empty bottles and newspapers and wax paper cups, layers and layers of trash, and you wonder how it got to be this way. Why they just don’t pull up to a dumpster and empty the damn thing. You wonder why, but you know why. You know it’s not about the opportunity or the will. You know it’s not laziness. You know it’s not about the mere inability to let go. It’s about holding on.
The paper is flying within the vortex that speed and wind has created inside the cluttered confines of the Acapulco Chrysler. That was his name. He gave it that name when he was a boy. He sat there parked in the driveway steering, like he’s steering now. Going someplace. Anyplace.
Strips of paper catch on the rearview mirror and flutter there for a moment before zipping out the windows like they were sucked from a gaping hole in the roof of a plane. Some blow around the dashboard for a moment, others get caught in his hair. Grocery lists torn from the rings of small spiral notebooks. The pages from those free insurance desk calendars. The cellophane ribbons from cigarette packages. Dog hair in tiny clusters. Cookie fortunes. Lottery tickets. The confetti-like sleeves from drinking straws. Photographs flash by and pictures torn from the pages of fashion magazines. Coupons. Hand-written signs for lost pets she never owned or knew. Cardboard tickets for carnival rides. Mimeographs. Carbon paper. Bingo cards. And letters – in her sweeping cursive hand, and others typed out perfect on the old Remington that folded up neatly into a nut brown case beneath her bed, letters to lawyers and doctors and governors and movie stars she fancied, and the envelopes they came back in, refused, along with blank job applications and rental agreements and hundreds of cancelled checks, some bad, some good and all mad to escape the screaming sarcophagus that hurtles past every unnamed pull-out where she rolled to a stop and slipped off into her dreams.
The car seems to go faster as its load lightens and the pieces of his momma slip away one by one. The red needle gently pulses between ninety and ninety-five. He sees things long buried catch the rising sun and throw the light back at him. Chrome-shine and translucent buttons, Bakelite and stainless steel, wind-swept designs in molded plastic and space-age foams. As a small boy he would stare into his distorted, funhouse reflection on the shiny doors of Acapulco Blue. He’d watch himself in its quarter-panels as he ran back and forth alongside her when she was new, how he’d get taller in some places and midgetized in others, how he could see himself inside the deep, crazy blueness which he imagined was how the sea looked in places where coral reefs and whispering palms and baby powder beaches rim the shifting aurora-borealis light shows of shallow lagoons.
He drives and he drives and it all comes loose and the sound of the engine drowns out the rush of the wind and he hears the valves clacking and the eight pistons pounding and the air pumping through the carb like an army corps of drums. He sees steam rising from the hood and blowing back over the windshield. He sees papers flying out behind. His vision is obscured by a blizzard of papers. He can’t see the road ahead. He sees dappled sunlight. He sees gum wrappers and packages of cigarettes that go back four brands. Pall-Malls, Chesterfields and Kools. Crackle, sparkle, pop. Whip, whip, whip. All going the way of the wind. There’s not much left now. The heavier residue. What won’t rise or blow. He hears the bottles roll and clink. Rye and brandy and Schnapps and Cokes. He hears the tinkle of real tin cans. Tabs. Frescas. The gentle rattle of a thousand pop-tops like shells on the beach in the ebb of the tides.
Miles and miles of road and wind. Cloud formations that rise and extend, up and over the horizon like signals made with smoke from some distant fire built for him by a giant man he’ll never know. Who knows him. He drives through the nights with the windows open and doesn’t sleep and doesn’t eat and speaks only when he’s counting – light-poles, big-rigs, road-kill and all the gallons of gasoline the Chrysler consumes on this last journey to the sea. And the number is two-twenty-six. Dead deer and Peterbilts. Possums, coyotes and cats. Volvos and Freightliners, lost dogs and Macks. Roadside crosses and withered wreaths of pink carnations and faded five-by-tens. Names of cities. Fuel depots. Motels, RV parks and KOA’s. The dream of America. He sees it all in a flash.
He wakes to the sound of birds. He sees them from where he lies, across the barren back seat of the Chrysler, with all its familiar smells. He sees them through the smoke-stained window. Shapes in the sky. Swooping, wheeling, diving and turning, gulls and pelicans and terns. The sky is gray and the sea is the color of the deep places in the ponds he swung over on braided ropes as a boy. The Pacific. A dull and stagnant green. He hears the roar of the surf. The hiss of it. He hears the birds. The sound of ocean and birds comes in through the windows he’s never closed the whole three days of the ride. An echo-like sound. All the earthbound voices. Momma used to sing him songs. In the good times he was a good boy. In the good times she was his mom. A soft wind rises. It blows in through the Chrysler. A cool and gentle breeze that brings the salt of creation right back home where it belongs.
o O o