County land, stretched under the storerooms of heaven. The drear of March, raked by maple and ash, gilded with the town’s light from the north. Gasps of fog sliding from west to east and the stars persisting in the kindling sky and the wind is lake-drenched.
I watch her go. Sometimes it seemed our intersecting dropped through a weak seam in the underpinnings of real life and we would be hallucinations buried in someone else’s slumber, wilting in waking and longing to be dreamt again, every word of ours an archetype and every kiss incandescent. Our scent must have carried. Less than a moon cycle: a narcotic union and now, nothing. Just a dampness to be toweled from the back of the neck. Her taillights chirp ablaze and I squint. The sleeper will not have our dream again.
The equinox is all mud. Mottled tracks of it, half-frozen in the fields. Streaks of the stuff basted over the roads. If you weren’t careful, a tire could catch some and you’d might as well be on ice. It’s some fuck-early time and I drive on through the mud of my places, sure on the road and nothing else for certain.
MOLASSES HILL RD flashes at the corner as my headlights swing sidelong and I make my old turn up the route that ends in the sky. My favorite run, a landmark for out-of-towners, that highest and farthest perch before the Milky Way that coughs meteors up to fizzle apart in your beloved’s eyes. It was in the newspaper headlines when that car crossed the only eastbound Kenworth on the highway last winter and spit its load of drunk teenagers all over the road like shattered facsimiles of people who shrieked in the dark and tried to get up but couldn’t. The first deputy there was me and I held a sleeping girl’s head off the asphalt and counted the puffs coming out of her nose and didn’t know until hours later that those had been her last. Another girl was all broken apart but lived. She was the one I stayed with in the hospital until her mother came. I thought that was good policing but got cursed out fiercer than anything by the sergeant and that was the last day I ever thought of myself as a young man.
All the things it has been, now it simply waited, an idiot’s mecca. A decision. Waiting as perhaps it always had through our pasts for this morning.
A freight line laid down through crimps in the terrain runs across my road about halfway to the upper stop sign. The crossing arms are dark. A slatboard utility hut losing its paint hugs the edge of a stone pull-off and my car is shadowed there when the lights wink out. I cannot see it now but I know the little building’s wall still announces THE WORLD IS MAD in black spray paint but I don’t think it is. I think the good work just is and always has been done at the verge of light and obfuscation and my labor is nigh among these sacraments: the declining gloom, the rail’s anonymous vector through everything familiar, the whys running ever afield but for those who drink of the cup.
Hewn rock intoxicates my gait and I recede from the crossing. The next junction isn’t for two miles. I don’t need to go very far and it seems arbitrary to keep walking once the road is blinded. Here, the pines swaddle everything real dense save for a rift that glissades down the hillside far enough to grant a view of halogen and argon effervescing through the empty miles to town. Half the people I’ll ever meet lie sleeping in that hum of quiet light and some of them I love enough to forget why I’m here and try once more but it’s all been tried and love is amnesia. They can be shown everything and still they’ll only know what they’ve already decided. Goddamn, that’s anybody.
There were a few who really got it. I liked metaphors and sometimes I used to compare those people and myself to the radio towers I could see in spades from up here. Cadences of scarlet along the hem of the sky, baleful. Solidarity scattered across the darkened plain. It seemed sacred. Like radio towers in the night, I’d say, and those few knew how I’d meant it. Or I thought of them as characters in an old classic who showed up ironically and endeared themselves and then departed from expectation just enough to be wonderful, the best kind of cliché, and whatever we were we always would be in print. Lovely, tidy people in my head.
Howling. Far off but it’s only a minute, and it breaks in and sings the impend of the train and other destinies, and the echo with choral inversions of its heralding peals from the valley below. My lungs are snapping air. There is magic here, for what age of men has not known this archaic exchange? A fellow in the dark and the checkmate hell-cry of something coming. Fear has come too, that of thresholds and the void between one footfall and the next but not of righteousness and what may be named transgression. I have bled for strangers—can I not for myself? Ought is become nothing more than zero when any choice a man can live with hounds after him, and I am treed.
One thousand tons of industry buzz in the rails. The bell is dinging a hundred yards behind me and so the arms must be down and flashing at no one or maybe delaying a good old boy headed to milking who thinks he’ll be on his way soon. Soon the farms will be awake. Day will brim and spill through skeltering meridians of snow fence, shadows moored, drawing in. The highway will carry the people below.
The headlights have broken the corner now and harrow the pines black and tunneled. The sky is gone. I have a body but I cannot see it.
And this is the undying dawn on which they’ll sorrow. I do not know what morning will be on the day I wake into or if only sleep awaits such a question. The buzzing is now a delirious wrecking rhythm and tears are jettisoned past my grin and rain on the line. Hold on. They say a soldier thinks of his mother at the end—no one else—but I’ve never killed anyone until now and a womb is a strange thing to imagine with the rails fighting me off. I grip them in my letting go. The engine is still howling. I will come undone under the storerooms of heaven. Let go. A wail runs out of me and carries forth my mother’s songs and a haggard choking awash in light and I am a nameless mammal pissing and dying under a train.
Matthew Fleming is a new writer originally from western New York State. He currently lives in Colorado with his wife and son.