31.1.11

A Boring Tale With A Predictable Ending


     A small road in the mountains traces the course of the shallow meandering river. The gravel state-highway bends in and out alongisde the current following it back upstream between two pine-covered hillsides. Downstream the water rejoins a larger estuary just after it passes through a dying mill town that hasn't employed any mill workers since the 19th century. Dilapidated grey and light brown factories dot the banks of the larger river downstream, and pole barns collapse quietly into the clearing. Every man-made edifice is made of wood and is quietly being reclaimed by the woods.
     The tortuous road connects the small town of Abisqua to the interstate on the other side of the wide coniferous ridge. It takes about forty minutes by car to reach one end from the other, but the current record was twenty-three flat going downhill from the highway back to the town. It has been a year and a half since that record was set, and the title-holder has since died, tragically, in a violent collision with the nursing home. By some accident of chance, none of the residents got hurt in the accident.
     The crash demolished the cafeteria of the home, and the fire department condemned the entire structure. As a temporary measure, the town relocated the two dozen suddenly homeless seniors to the only building big and warm enough to house them all, which was the supermarket, which dated to the nineteen eighties and was now over a hundred years old. The old folks are sleeping on cots in the aisles, and have milk crates for night stands, where they keep their soaking dentures and meds.
     It was awkward at first for the townsfolk to have to ask an arthritic grandmother to get out of bed so they could get to the Hamburger Helper, but as often happens in these circumstances, people adapt. The owner of the store was a little bit resentful, since there was little he could do about the old folks stealing coffee yogurts in the middle of the night, but he adapted too. He stopped stocking batteries, and he put the liquor behind a locked display case. He had a TV set and some plastic chairs set up near the deli counter. And he even installed hand rails on the shelves after one old lady slipped in the middle of the night in a puddle of yogurt on her way to the bathroom and broke her hip.
     Some of the shoppers have developed relationships with the various elder people whom they now see regularly, and some families have reconnected with their estranged grandparents. While they shop, parents have taken to leaving their children with the group of seniors who congregate by the deli counter, where the old people tell the younger generation about the wars they fought and about the wolves in the woods around the town.
     For the past month or two since the crash, out of respect for the deceased, no one has attempted to break his record of twenty-three minutes. There has been an unspoken moratorium on racing generally, and most of us have found better things to do with out time, like drugs.
     Heroin mostly, but whatever really. We are so bored we could claw our eyes out with the needles that we reuse and reuse, but that would make shooting heroin hard and would damage the needles.
School for me consists of a meditative trance state. I am there only in the name that is dutifully entered into the attendance sheet, and the body that I transport from classroom to classroom. All of my concentrated energy is given over to waiting for the day to end, so I can focus on waiting for the weekend, and on the acquiring and comsumption of heroin or whatever drug is in town at the moment. And my friends are just like me, but so is most of the student body.
     Right now, for instance, I am at the wheel of my uncle's Buick on the way home from a drug deal. It is a Tuesday night around not very late on a frigid day in December. We're returning from the nearest town, which is like ours but poorer and bigger. I turned off the highway and I'm rounding the first bend of the road into town. My foot lets off the gas, and the car drifts sloppily through the contour. The snow hasn't fallen very thickly on the road yet. I urge the pedal down again firmly for the ensuing straight and then less cautiously. The wheels spin easily in the loose powder.
     There are four of us in the car. We have all been drinking but not too heavily. The two girls in the back are passing malt liquor back and forth, singing along dreamily to the Top 40 hits on the radio. The following left-hand curve approaches, but I let off the gas late and turn early. The car carves a gentle drifting arc into the corner and I lay back into the gas on the exit catching the understeer and pointing the nose back down the straight.
     The singing has stopped and we're all watching the road now. "Are you alright to drive, man?" the co-pilot inquires.
     "Yep," the engine revs and the tires squirm as I give more power to the back wheels than they can translate into acceleration. We're not even going very fast, and the mounting engine noise is muffled by the snow and the velvet crush of the snow tires churning through the fluff.
     One of the girls chimes in nervously from the backseat, "Are you trying to break Dan's record or something?"
     "Yeah," I answer.
     "Cool," says the other girl. My knuckles are as white as their glow-in-the-dark faces.
     The next corner approaches and I delay braking and turn in early to give the car space to slide. We brush through the apex, the nose of the Buick full of powder, and I open it up on the exit, like a fucking pro. Snow is vommitting from my back tires; the engine whines loudly and then the torque balances out with the traction, the engine noise falling back down again as the car picks up momentum. It starts to sail along through the soft, quiet darkness. It feels like a sleigh, and I can picture the team of 190 horses gallopping ahead of us. I sense the unease growing in my passengers. I take my hands off the wheel and mime whipping the reins of my draught horses in the darkness before us, "Whupiiiisshh, Whupiiiishh; Run, my stallions! Run, you beautiful beasts of burden!" I scream at the windshield.
     Meanwhile the radio station has cut to commercial, and some joker is shouting about a blowout mattress sale this weekend only. I let this move me, like other people let pop and rap inspire their gym workouts. We're going at a good clip now down a straight stretch; the headlights illuminate the rapidly approaching row of tree trunks that line the edge of the road, guarding the embankment that leads down to the frozen river. I have the good sense to realize I'm going too fast to negotiate the bend, so I reach for the hand brake and give it a good tug as I wax the steering wheel smoothly with my left hand. "Before you know it, these deals will be gone!"
     The more skittish of the girls in the back lets out a shriek when the car goes perpendicular to the roadway. The boy riding shotgun grabs the door handle and reaches out with his left arm for the dashboard to stabilize himself for the crash. About fifteen yards before the road drops off, the snow tires regain their footing. I am quick to apply liberal amounts of gas pedal and let the momentously slippery drift carry us off into the next straight.
     I laugh maniacally. "Aaaaahhaahhaahhhhhhaaahha," and then, as I correct the oversteer, hysterically, " ahahhahhhhhhhhhhhaaaa."
     "Stop driving like such an asshole, you stupid fuck," one of the chicks yells forward, suddenly less than happy with her chosen social milieu.
     "Faster, horses! I'll whip you all to death! I'll rip your dicks off with a saw and feed them to the wolves, now Run you depraved animals! Sprint!"
     "Shut the fuck up and slow down!" commands Mark, in as authorative a voice as he can. The problem is that he's never even tried to be serious and responsible before in his life, and his own attempt sounds foreign to him.
     "It's family style cooking for the whole family!"
     "I'm begging you for the love of God, Fly, Fly, Flee before my savage whip, base spirits! Save yourselves before I flay you alive!"
     "Stop it! You're going to kill us!"
     "Aaaaaahhhhhaahhah!" Tears are streaming down my contorted face.
     "Jesus Christ! You're scaring me, Taylor. Did you eat some fucking acid back in Tuckston? Pull the fucking car over."
     "Yes, yes!" I lie.
     "Goddam it, pull over dude, you're a shitty mess right now," Mark insists.
     "I'm a messenger," I say, as eerily as I can manage, which isn't hard through the laughter and the tears I'm choking back. I can't even see the road anymore. The speedometer indicates we're doing fifty miles an hour, but I'm assuming that about ten of those are the result of tire slippage. All three of my companions are pissed and screaming now, Mark hoarsely and angrily, the girls in a shrill hysteria, "SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN! STOOOOPPPP, TAYLOR! STOP! PLEASE, TAYLOR, STOP!"
     "It's a great night out for the whole family!"
     The car's right wheels edge off the road as we round another bend. I yank the wheel back to pull her back onto the roadway, my heart all on a sudden blasting a goddam hole in my chest. The Buick lurches heavily back on the the snow-strewn surface and swings into a counter-clockwise spin. All four of us are instantly terrified and vociferating this emotional state to each other like teenagers who know they are totally fucked. Our four voices are harmonizing in a deafening acapella wail of terror and sadness. Within seconds the car slips between two twenty-year old pines along the side of the road, trunk first, losing contact with the Earth as it clears 10 feet of steeply sloped river bank, before reuniting with the surface of the world again. When it touches down, it is at a steep enough angle to catapult the hood of the car up and over backward. Our bodies for the moment are fixed in high-gravity attraction to the seatbacks and headrests, our breath is taken away, and 50 miles per hour of automotive force get compacted into a crash landing as gentle as a prison guard at Abu Grahib.
     The trunk is crushed totally by the initial impact, and the roof of the car crumples under the weight of the vehicle as it topples over and comes to rest in the frozen, shallow riverbed. None of us was wearing seatbelts. We're scrunched against the roof of the car in horribly unorthopedically correct postures. I didn't even have time to adjust to the horror of losing control before being forced to face the consequences of a very long chain of less-than-responsible decisions. My face is in my own lap, and I can't feel my left leg. In the back the girls can be heard crying constrainedly. The co-pilot isn't stirring. I manage to worm my neck and skull out of the auto-fellating position and find a way to crawl out through the shattered windshield into light projecting from the halogen highbeams.
     I slump over in the ice and flecks of tempered glass, bleeding from everywhere. The situation begins to impress itself on my drug-fucked consciouness. I'm calling out to my friends in the car. In muffled and pained voices, I can hear the girls calling back. I put my hands out in front of me to block the halogen lights blinding my eyes, but I can't see anything but the painful blue shrieking at me. I call out, and they cry, and Mark is silent.
     I crawl around the side of the car towards the back. It becomes apparent that the girls are not going to get out without rescue personnel. The back of the car, having landed first and taken the full force of the subsequent toppling, is half its original size. I can't even picture where the two girls could be. As I sit contemplating this seeming paradox, I notice, by the ambient light from the front, that there is a stream of dark liquid trickling out from the car. Blood. Oh God how could there be that much blood coming from the car? On my knees in the snow, I watch it approach in a narrow growth, black against the dark gray snow-covered ice. This line deviating now and then from an otherwise straight course touches my left knee, and the current parts in two and it continues intently downstream, one branch pouring between my legs and the other along the outside. My hand reaches out to touch it, and picks up a fistful of black, wet snow. I bring it to my mouth and swallow the shaved ice.
     "It's chocolate," I hear myself saying, "It's fucking chocolate!"
     The girls begin making depressing noises again that make me think they're not going to be fully functional after this, even after many surgeries and years of physical therapy, to say nothing about their psychological well-being. I tell them jubilantly, "It's just chocolate. Hahahahahah."
     A piece of something catches my eye, poking out from under the roof of the Buick. My head draws closer. Adjusting slowly to the darkness my eyes perceive the end of an antler. "It's fucking chocolate," I say again to no one, as I inspect the bone. Then I realize that the antler is made of chocolate, and I snap off a point, and I bite into it with glee. It is rich and hazelnutty, at least 75% cocoa, but probably more like 80%. Every part of my mouth is savoring the melting brownie aromas mixing with my saliva. I snort the bloody snot that is beginning to run from my nose.
     "We crushed a shocorate reindeer, guys. It's bleeding chocorate all over ther place, you guys haf to get out here and taste this delishious chocolate. Holy shit," I say chewing. There is nothing in the world that has the consistency of solid chocolate in the mouth. Well, almost nothing.

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