52. Charlotte Pipe
As near as I could tell, Charlotte Pipe weren’t nothin’ but trouble, and not the sort favored by most young men. “That girl’s a botheration,” her father said. The thing about Charlotte, as I found out the hard way, is that she’d had a notion to make a noise, which was all right as long as she made it somewhere else. Titsup is a small town, and her noises were just too damn big. I’d had eyes for her once, and she had ’em for me, but one of us had to go. I wonder what ever became of her.
I was fuming mad. Traffic was so backed up it took me 10 minutes to get onto Route One, only to go nowhere one foot at a time. Like everyone else in that parking lot, it was only a matter of how late I was going to be. I didn’t know if you’d wait for me, there at the dawn of time before cell phones were a thing. I don’t think I could have salvaged anything but if i’d been there 5 minutes earlier, I’d at least have seen the back of your dress as you walked out the door.
50. Already There
I had been wandering, lost and alone, for too long, directionless in an obscure landscape. The road had forked and forked again. There had been companions, but we had lost track. I was tired, hungry, cold, and near the end.
“There’s a place where it is always light,” she whispered, appearing before me out of my despair, “with no place dark, but brightness everywhere.” I wanted to believe her, and hoped that my wanting would make it true.
“Can we go there, you and me,” I asked. She smiled.
“Oh, my love,” she sang, “we’re already there.”
49. A Hitchhiking Story
A stringbean of a cowboy picked us up in a red El Camino, a crumpled straw hat roosting on his head. He gave Annette a slow sideways perusal, then turned his eyes back to the road. I asked him about the saddle and guitar in the back, and he offered to play a song. We stood in the dust at the side of the road as he sang a lonesome tune. He was a terrible guitarist and a worse singer. Before he drove off, he shook my hand.
“I’m Shorty Tallman,” he drawled.
Of course you are, I thought.
Once we loved each other, he thinks. That was when there was a then, now there’s just now. And now gets pretty crowded. There used to be space for love, space for the two of us and love. Things get complicated, and sometimes there seems scarce energy for much else. Even the words seem to take up too much space. I used to be able to just open my head and they’d scatter across the page. Somewhere I’d lost, or misplaced, that skill of racing along heedless of the editor’s voice telling me to stop, or at least slow down.
I changed into my flying suit and stepped into the gondola. I’d never done anything like this before, but the Professor said there was nothing to it. “There’s nothing to it,” he said. “I believe you,” I answered, mindful of the wind out of the east. We cut loose the ballast and drifted slowly into the morning. The professor pointed out salient features in the landscape as it passed beneath us. “How do we know when we get there,” I asked him. “Ah,” he answered mysteriously, stroking his goateed chin, gazing into the rising sun, “that’s the crux, isn’t it?”
46. The Chase
I don’t remember who he was, just some third grade knucklehead. I had chased him across the school yard, across the pitted asphalt of the four-square courts, around the back and through the door into the building, neither of us breaking stride. A teacher called after us, kids cheered and laughed, and we kept running. We ended up with him on his back in the grass, me keeling on his chest, my fist poised for a punch, both of us panting. But whatever had inspired my madness now didn’t seem worth the blow. “Asshole,” I muttered, and rolled off him.