You are reading Fiddleblack #12
The long line into the drive-in wrapped around the corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot and extended some ways toward the horizon line there on the state route until after some ten or fifteen minutes the snakewound cars began to creep through the two stoplights and past the bend, past the derelict farm homes and rotting red barns and sixes of cats stood Bastet-like on the tops of short old dog houses, crossbar fences, and even on an old mound of dead tires that had built up from sometime decades ago when the trees were thinner at their trunks and much younger in their branches and now criss-crossed over the roofs and wires run across the street where their car turned slow into the drive-in lot. Behind it was an old Ranger rusted at its tail-gate, paint gone flat, unwaxed or washed, and out from it jogged a big-titted girl in short shorts, her pale legs shaved but showing with small follicle dots and her red hair dirty in the closing sun. She went behind the truck and looked for something. A shirtless man driving got out and touched his hand to the back, pushed lightly. The girl got in the driver’s seat and limped the truck along, its lights still on but otherwise dead with the man’s bare arms muscling it down the inlet, a half-mile of cars behind them watching.
In the car, Eddie eased off of the brake and followed, paying at the gate and turning into the lane for screen one and after some minutes deciding on a row, parking in the place for cars, right beside a fat family of a woman and three children and no father and a cooler between them full of Miller Light cans and juice boxes and some Cokes turned upside-down in the ice. On the screen as they parked there was a film clip about the sustainability of drive-in theaters. It was shot with a mock-grainy stock effect. It showed scenes of drive-in theaters literally being wiped to white then patches of desolate field.
They got out of the car and walked to the concession line, a low hum of subwoofer sound playing from the PA, matched to an action movie trailer and undercutting the many people there, the families and couples and dates. Behind them in line, a college couple were slung in each others arms, hands switching from holding elbows to fitting in back pockets to tossing cigarettes on the ground, and the girl in the couple had black hair, narrow eyes, some sort of Asian, he figured, with lots of makeup and pretty cleavage and an ugly boyfriend with a bird’s beak nose whose cut knuckles said that he probably shoveled mulch or loaded stones or hammered something somewhere, and the sound bright that night from a train passing nearby was a magnificent thing against the film starting and the many people in the crowd and the few cars still coming in and all the good life there, alive and standing with blood running all around through living veins that could have hummed.
They picked at popcorn and nachos and drank diet soda and the film played and he looked at the gray sky gradated almost purple-black at parts and there weren’t stars but a shape of lights went by, maybe a plane and maybe not, and it was beautiful to see a sky over a small piece of country while he sat in this sea and not far away he once lived and not far away he once was someone set against the same sky and perhaps this was a way for a man in the future to look back at himself and consider whether he is still alive or he has passed on. And maybe this was a way for a man from the future to look back at himself and put a hand to the glass, touch texture and loop backward. Who was he then? A figment? Is the he that he is now just as abstract to the him ahead of the present? Is there a way to even look?
At one time, Eddie’d taken to going on many long drives on backroads at night, which, in some fugue state, mattered all the same to an LSD dropper, a pot smoker, or a fucked up drunk lying half-awake with a headache on a couch. It was all the experience of leaving yourself, if even for a moment, and remaining someplace beside, someplace just as visceral and real. In this duplicate place one would be shed of his stress and physical weight and one would be his true self, id and ego and in an ungoverned state.
Driving, this could be dissociative too. Looped drums masked with fuzz-laced noise went on and on over the stereo, the same track playing for ten, twenty minutes at a time. He’d panned the speakers to the rear of the car so that they might talk more easily with the louder sounds away from her there in the passenger seat, her hair just bleached white and cropped into a piecey mess.
She said very little. They drove and it rained lightly, the kind of summer rain that called worms to surface, yellow light to sky. It was quiet when he rolled the windows down. He turned the stereo up a little. Echoed from the back, they were a broadcast unto the landscape and from the landscape to them they were a vessel that carried agnostic space to the future. They were not the hope their friends assumed of themselves. They were not the hope of their generation’s hope. They were not the assumption they’d made for each other.
A guitar arpeggio began over the drums, softly chromatic, a lone goose entered the road and he slowed the car to let it pass and she put her fingers to the inner points of her eyes and ran her fingers down her cheeks, over her sinuses, and he thought back as the goose crossed and his stomach was warm and whole, filled with tortilla, and the passing goose did not look or make haste and after it crossed it took up its wings and flew off past the houses there beside the road.
Three streets down rows of card tables draped in vinyl coverings ran for half a block and the smell in the air was all baked beans cooking with pork salt and hamburger grilling and hotdogs and even the cool smell of macaroni salad magnified by the sheer amount of different Tupperware containers that had been opened by all of the mothers in the hot summer sun with their same foods and their hair done and their children grouped on other sides of the street, laughing and throwing foam footballs, shooting squirt guns, throwing their bikes down on the pavement to run through the green yards under perfect blue sky that ran above as far as any eye could see and until the horizon itself was matched with the roofs, the trees, the edge of the hill they were on.
Eddie was there and somewhere his mother was one of those mothers and somewhere his father was with other fathers at a row of motorcycles where they all gabbed like women about their bikes and their fantasies to ride away from the business park and the city and the ages they’d unwillingly reached.
He had friends in the neighborhood who had not come. He had walked alone to get something to eat and to get lost there on the surface of the land at a place where he’d missed school buses and gone home sick and once driven so fast he may as well have died for trying. It dawned on him suddenly that before leaving, he’d forgotten to pull the VHS tape from the VCR, where at the TV he was previously watching something he’d dubbed from a rental—a middle-aged woman on a park bench, both of her breasts pulled from out of her top, a man beside her suckling, her hand masturbating him, and all the evidence there at home in the family room, and he looked at the crowd to really find his mother and father, and the pressure in the atmosphere dropped and he turned across the street and ran home and burst in to remove the cassette and instead he rewound it and watched again and there on the couch he lay until he was hungry again and then he left.
In a stark city apartment, eggshell walls and lacquered floorboards, Eddie put on a tight olive sweater that hugged his neck at the collar. He pushed his penis between his legs and pulled on a pair of underwear he’d bought under the complete mental guise of a man buying a woman a gift, and he brought a low-rise pair of jeans as high as they’d go on his hips and he let the sweater waist fall and in the mirror with his eyelashes done and his face done and his hair done, he was an absolute monster and this was him at his lowest, he thought, and he put on her peacoat from way-back-when and it still smelled like her hair and all the places she’d been, and he could not bear to look anymore.
After a few hours of driving, Eddie refueled the truck at a crowded gas station, watching a distorted screen play a news report while he pumped and the anchors were fake and the station was fake and the gas station itself was an outpost, as far as he was concerned, far from anything tangible or remotely, truly alive.
Although it may not have been needed, he used his four-wheel drive to navigate the hilly road from the town to the cabin. He had some beer and a bottle of tequila in the backseat, along with some chicken and a can of beans and a bottle of champagne and a bottle of orange juice and a lime. He had the girl in the rear of the cab, her head against the back passenger side door, and her skinny jean legs long and sprawled like bent branches from where she sat to the seat behind him, and she slept as she had been since they left the university library. He’d picked her up on account of her needing to go from there to someplace, and she’d fallen asleep because he had to make her do so and he was gentle and peaceful when he decided this and did this for her and even as he drove he used the rearview mirror to see her there, her mouth open and her pretty dyed hair swooped across her forehead and her fingers frozen in time.
The woman from the cabin was on vacation for a week and he was there as a paying guest, and as a hand to check on the livery while no one was home, and their lodgings against that Georgia creek were so beautiful when the sun reached six o’clock, when whole rays shot down through bare woods until they were dithered in the reflecting light from the water. He cooked with chicken with lime juice and red pepper and salt on a small grill the woman had left him. He ate the beans from the can. He mixed the champagne with orange juice in a plastic cup for the girl. He put one of the beer bottle necks into her while she slept, and with this she slept a little longer.
At home on Facebook, he got a message from an old high school friend:
Hey, Eddie. Saw you’re still living in town. That’s great! I just moved back here after living in Boston for a while. It was cool, but I just didn’t like the city. Anyway, I’m trying to reconnect with people that were cool from back in school. Not a lot of my college friends are still around. You up for a beer or two?
He wrote back, yes—of course he wanted to meet up. He’d once saw a woman at the grocery store, the first girl to ask him out in grade school. She looked fat in the face, emptied somewhere, he guessed, in her soul by a worthless man. He wanted to say: Hey, how are you? Oh, yeah, well I guess I look different. No, I’m—
He’d said nothing and moved to another aisle. He replied again, the message: Cool, let’s hang out sometime.
He started to think this was some sort of dance, going back and forth from this time to that. For a few moments, he’d almost convinced himself that a given moment could be greater than another, as if one could weigh times and subtract stress and factor perceived responsibility and yield some kind of number that was in itself a way to quantify happiness. But he reread the message. He could still hear that drum loop. There was time and there was time forgotten and there were those that mixed the two and there were those that simply got old and drank a beer and died, and there were simply those who had the alien ability to traverse mental states, and he was the kind to help himself to whatever memory was needed when he needed it. He was one to self-soothe, because there was no solace in beers with an old friend and there was no hope for his generation and all of his fragmented memories formed a singular truth and somewhere on that great span was his true self whom he could never reveal for fear of being judged unforgiving by bending arcs of honest stray light.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.