PULLING OFF 252
For people who want their straight lines to be straight, life itself is the problem. –Natalia Ilyin
When light changes speed, it changes direction and when summer began edging toward another part of the world, when wind changes and starts coming from the south, lowering the muscle of summer, and the back of the leaves turn against the wind, when Elvis has “expired” the day before, something finally starts or something finally ends.
The numbers hurt as August ticks by. Landscape getting seared, and hours you lay in wait. But the universe is about to make a correction. Thinnest edges of a trip to still sustain you, a girl who was resolutely connected to water, the Origin, the Sea. Gathering things as if for a hunt on the way out the house for the Morris Minor, flight risk, deployed, squealing on the way out. Vamoose, baby.
Our car some silver on the wind, And at latitude 40.02508 and longitude 75.22706 the minor moves on the Schuylkill expressway with three blood-related inhabitants: mother, brother, yourself. Executing a great escape. Sound hovers off the top of the road from cars driving east to the Atlantic, snatches of the King out dashboards, WFILfm- It’s Now Or Never…- Sometimes drivers, they cry into a Kleenex. Or you think maybe they do. Or that someone somewhere must be. The world was and is and people were and are. The brother does several crude drawings of holy men en route to nowhere. Flint tools. The mother you see moves out of her old skin and leaves it behind when past the Jersey state line. And more sun is predicted. You smell the sea. And as if fallen through an opening in space & time, suddenly there.
Everything salt litter: entire roadways, fences, up the sides of motels, windshields. All of humanity is here. Sweating & seething, teething & toning. Something speeds faster than the three of us: Ours was a giant shadow you could not see but knew was there, us washing in. Let the sun evaporate it. A wraparound light that envelops and you hope it’s enough, so shiny even more like the water than the water itself. The light that fills the world. Daylight on the skin and only there to go, basted in salt spray. Coppertone, Sun-In, Tastee Freeze and two vanilla cones in one day! Thirst. Instant tan. The brother and you body surfing the waves all the way out, lifting up and down, hitting the sand hard the way back in. There’s no past apart from right now. It’s painful to be without form and then shaped for a moment but you’re getting to like the highest rogue waves. The original blueprint. It floats by, bobbed up & down, hurled to the surface again & again. How rare for a message in a bottle to arrive safely somewhere. Something they have to find their way to. Words no one knows but the sky when it’s miles out at sea. We will arrive where we should be. It rises back up again with a force but you can’t pull it in. The sky handing back a base of salt, seeds of light, white awakening. In the bloodstream. Soaked and dried and burned out again. Salt on your lips, red cheeks, wharf rat hair. Becoming the sun yourself. The image merges with the original. At last.
Shells. Tiny pink conch. Too small to hear anything out of. You bend down, grab it up to your eyes. Whirls and smooth spirally circles which have no straight sides & no angles. Hot sun & burning shells, shells on fire. Flames enclosing the whole. Perfect cowlick swirl no one can take away. Shell: where everything makes sense inside of itself. This shell found you, so you can’t be so bad. It’s tiny, but it’s there, and real, and in your hand now. It’s the best one you’ve ever seen. It is a find.
Soon, too soon, no sun; you’re trying to get a little shadow under a white sky, the sky: a giant white blood cell. Time to go. Reality returns. Intervention of reality. Something drifting from somewhere else now nearer than before. Truth of the way things are. How cold the sky is, this color too of your mouth opening up toward it, a black hole, a cave entered so thoroughly no one ever came back. And in what light there is almost everything is taken away but the white sky we have turned into.
Day you leave. Delay factor. At the last breath, the last second. Pack, unpack. Extra day or leave now. The day a cut line. Retrenched, prehensile… A sense something is running across its own path. First there’s a fixed moment- a second or two you might stay awhile more… but worn down to a uniform gradient, you’ve abandoned the world to the devil. There’s no place left to run. The world pulls down. The universe is pulling away from you. Even low tide lays down and waits for reality. Beginning to seep back, already late for what can’t appear. You are stock characters caught in stock dramatic situations constantly chased away from one town to the next. With only the most basic of hard facts: She compresses a lifetime into a few sentences: We have to go back. You know. A wire mother. People are lining up & never coming back. Herding them in an orderly procession.
You picture Elvis, demons. Think of your 6’4 father. Dark hair of a man swinging on stage to his demons, shouting him on from behind and sometimes all around. Only time had passed in the dream. In the car now, the brother coloring in the lines a vague airstrip to somewhere-. He knows where everything is for an instant but not what to do with it. Caterpillar trucks whoosh by rocking the car shell —All you need is love and the Beatles sing it & when you’re supposed to believe them you don’t. You can’t. You did once, but that’s over. The fullness of dusk hits you in your belly. Paths cross. 1,000 mph is the speed of the shadow of the moon moving during a solar eclipse, 150 miles across the width of that shadow’s path & 150 the miles your house is from the water edge, too. The trail returns to where it began, T-minus one mile. The final approach.
Then something happens.
At the 252 Exit she didn’t slow. That round beetle was going to slake past like a close pass-by of an asteroid, keep going to get away, no 252, and at the last possible second veered right onto that ramp then off the side of the road to a complete halt. As if a map stopped here & this is off it. Near the edge of the observable universe. A cellophane standstill. How the hands are splayed across the steering wheel, gripping them as if she’s hit upon some truth in the turn-off. It stands off by itself blinking, the 252 sign, agitated electrons, & when seen from side to side or up & down it sifts straight into the atmosphere and tells the colors, an appearance held together by its opposite: blinking light: dark, light, dark, light. Trance. Declaring its independence beyond the highway signs, from the metal green mile markers to guide us there, “Home.” How many things hold so little. I have the shell in my pocket, that’s right, it burns. I have the shell in my pocket, that’s right, it burns.
The whole world collides. Phlegm streams down her face like a bad 70’s blue flick. How anyone can tell their entire story without saying a word. She screamed the street down. The birds howl out. The sky is falling in Philly. When you have enough, you’ve had enough. The layers & years that accumulate. Someone weeping in a corner, into the endlessness that’s there, yet I can’t tell who, what. But then she shook it off. Her mouth pinched to a sharp point. Wherever you happen to be, the world is organized outward from that. Mother, training ground. You look back toward Jersey, the road light, the part of the sky the ground holds up at the horizon, then see the dark, the road to the housing developments, horse shows, rotary club smugness, and it’s as if the four directions take leave of each other. Once that exact moment passes, the smidgen of hope, escape for good, you start going up Upper Gulph Road slowly, pulling gravity against its will.
The slo-mo skid into the driveway, your stomach contracts, may as well be a roller coaster at the beginning of first drop. Things we can’t name but have come back for. Wheels singe by under you, the white picket post fence metastasizing the lie rolling by. Strange-weed, pollens of weeds, house sparrows, pyrex, crème cookies, night’s edge of nowhere. Things that can tell you the whole story in a single glance. More dark is predicted. Overpowering the ambient light. And suddenly you are still, skin of your house a looming morass & porchlight blasts on but it’s still what’s called a sniper’s moon were it Vietnam, on the news inside with the father passed out, obtunded, about to pass on. Your incisors all shining with radiance under a sniper’s moon. The mother- sacrifice, martyrdom- sits, smoking, watching blue smoke rings slide up the air. The biggest difference is the predator kills its prey, while the parasite leaves its host alive. It’s night, and the dark gets darker. Everything here is stalled. We sit at the precipice of the world in a kind of veering, a silence that could scream us off a ledge. Thing we have never spoken of. All you want is to say what is. Dark matter, thought to account for 85% of all the mass in the universe, seems to attract itself through some unknown force. Your shells burn & make their own light. You can change the direction of light, but maybe not here. Collapse light into earth under your house & make the foundation real.
You close your eyes and try to imagine what it looks like when time goes by a lot faster: Walking in, edging around the corners of ming vases, tripping across senile oriental rugs. Statue, marble, male & broken. At once tall & afraid. What had been supported will cave in. The fresh cut flowers sprouting fangs as they’re walked in the house. The remains of four dismembered bodies in tomorrow’s paper. You believe if you hold still here, in this driveway, a solar eclipse will come, because any given spot on earth plays host to one every 300 years. Or you could get out the car into the resuming darkness. No one moves. More time for pictures: your father getting skeletonized, underground. Maggots lifting his body off marrow with their jagged-toothed mouths. There’s only one way to walk out into the night. The Dark Side. Sign Up Now. Even in not knowing, we know. He is not long for this world. It’s the same theory as a black hole in space. No one can see it, but by watching the environment and reaction to things around it, you know it’s there. Blood is thicker than water. A man’s home is his castle. Or, Vertical, he’d say, as he balances into a room. I’m vertical. Your years of it all, first memories, switchblade dreams, wanting nothing more than to march out to this same driveway and smash a J&B scotch bottle, to make it all just disappear, tiny marks the size of a child’s fingers and no one, not even the smallest child can disturb them and their trajectory. When they tip that bottle back to their mouth, it’s a choice, not a disease. Swishing it around in the mouth, a small sea forming there. You don’t know what he thought he couldn’t come back from. Saturated.
Someone makes a move to open a door. Then retracts the move. You sit & wish something would break. Would hit. A large body that twirls through the solar system every x number of years. And blast this all apart. Everything please burst. Sometimes leaving a soul behind on the earth is the best thing a body can do. The spirit is so unsafe in the body that it leaves. Dead. In three years. Flat-lined. And you keep repeating it just how it sounds: deaddeaddead. Thank you and good night. Laying in the bright fun baby blue plaid Vegas blazer, his fingers steepled, five burned out candles in the casket light, orange stained hands, lucky strikes. Shaken but not stirred.
Living by the Great Salt Lake, Cheyenne Nimes is a cross-genre writer currently working on poetry/nonfiction hybrids. Work is forthcoming in The Shell Game, an anthology on forms (University of Nebraska). South Loop Review, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, Kenyon Review, Jellyfish Review, etc. are recent homes, and work is forthcoming in Threadcount and Entropy.