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.