Road: Short Story

Thoughts. Thoughts. Thinking, always thinking. What man worth his weight doesn’t know what it means to be strangled under a pillow fluffed by errant thoughts. What man doesn’t know what it means to lie dormant like the stone, being eroded by the tides of oceanic pressure in the form of stray thoughts. Oh, it begins the same way. A passing fancy. Innocuous enough. Maybe you read a street sign with a name you’ve never heard. Somehow you’re back down Alice’s Rabbithole wondering why the world is so dark, and intimidatingly damp.

So you do what the sane man does. You chase your drugs. Your drug isn’t something quaint and stupid, like weed or even something harder. That’s a mongrel’s respite and everybody knows it. You don’t drink, you’re a Yankee goddammit, imperious and cold. You’re told. No. Your drug is music. What else could it be?

What else could take you out of yourself and for that blessed hour hover about, unanchored by filthy, meandering thoughts. A great many things, you have it on good authority. There are hallucinogens which allow the temperate to engage with machine elves, you have heard. There are vapours in caves which drove the Oracles, and perhaps Seidkonar to divine madness in which past and future bled as one. Sure.

But that would involve a degree of trust. And you, you my friend are all out of that. Aren’t you?

You are indeed. You trust some things. But trust is such a strong word. Isn’t it? It implies submission. Submission is a dirty word. It has such foul connotations, has it not? Loathsome, are they not? You submit to this, submit to that. Sure – you submit to the music, but when you slid the disc into the player, it was a choice. Wasn’t it?

Oh, you could bandy about the meaning of Will. Is it free? Is it a power? And there you would be, your own abyss looking back. In the rearview mirror. Here again it begins to settle itself upon you. As you hear the familiar sound of “Do It Again,” a track on a Queens of the Stone Age album you’ve been listening to since High School, it all falls in line.

All this yah-yah about cars and driving, getting away and only get one life. There was a song you recall. Not the name, that you don’t remember. You remember the stuff, the substance. The couple that never returned. Oh, it’s a likely story. Isn’t it? They’ve been singing that song forever. The Kingston Trio sang the MTA. They got that from an Irish song. The Irish got English from the Saxons, and on and on it goes. Still. Did it have to matter that the truth was bitter? That the old couple died in a ditch? The romantic notion of their never returning, it’s so sublime.

Isn’t it now?

What’s to stop you? Your toes touch the tip of the gas with just enough leftover to switch to brake. Your spine is cupped by the contour of the seat. You’re in control. Aren’t you now? Who’s to say you have to come back? Who’s to say they miss you at work?

You can be the man who never returned.

You can be like the man in the Twilight Zone. The road can never end. Sure, it ends in death. But isn’t it the same, sheltering in place? You can hide in your life, and you’ll die the same.

The seizing thought drains the blood from your face and hands. It leaves you cold as it ever does. You need air. So down the window goes. The breeze is sharp, it cuts your ears. You can almost hear voices in the shriek. What they say, you can’t recall.

Your foot feels heavy. The hand on the speedometer gives you that sweet and subtle stiff armed salute. 88mph is what you’d like to see. And so you shall.

Who’s to say what’s best, in a world without meaning? Who’s to say you won’t find yourself. So you howl with the wind as the corridor of trees along the bypass becomes a blur. Where does the road end? Does it ever? From the tip of Maine to the bottom of California, where is the end of the road?

Who’s to say? Roads so long a man could drive forever. And that’s just what you’ll do. No honour, no duty. No anchor to keep you from being swallowed by a different sea. The sea of thinking is a sea of torment, but the sea of indifference is a placid mistress. One you can bend with, not bend to. But that? That’s just a thought, and sometimes a thought is just a thought. But not for you: you just became the man who never returned, and in a week’s time, nobody will give you another thought. Perhaps the way Mother Earth intended all along.

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