The Night Is Feral by Rene Vasquez
The Night Is Feral by Rene Vasquez
The night is feral, released from the bonds of its eternal cycle. I am locked in the apprehension that the stars, too, will break loose and rain on me their flaming, razor points. I’ve been driving too long, too far, and I don’t even know if you will be there when I arrive. You were gone so quickly and you took the known world with you. In your rush, and I am sure it was not your intent, you took from me all certainty about anything. I lost my influence over the world, and as far as it now concerns me, the world is free to do whatever it pleases. But as I shook off the initial dread of the consequences of that, it occurred to me that it has freed me as well.
And what is it I am free to do?
To drive, I think, for now.
And I have been driving since I found your note.
It was the ellipses that have me coming to you.
I don’t remember what you wrote. The words blew off the page, sucked into the void left by your absence. But the ellipsis remained, like a photo negative of Orion’s belt. And these three black stars, calling me into the night, are all I remember from your departure. I am susceptible to temptation, eager to glean magic from the smallest things.
And I am the smallest of things beneath this massive Kansas sky. The landscape is flat and vast as my bewilderment. From horizon to horizon, sunflowers flank the road I’m on. I have seen nothing so straight and certain in all my life. But this is only a slab of tar, no potential metaphor laid out before me.
I know I’m running out of time, and even if I drive through the night, you will remain out of reach.
I know I have yet to find the road that will take me to where you are.
I continue on I-70, deeper into Kansas, farther into a future re-written as I drive. The sky fills with impassioned clouds. I drive without thinking. I fight the urge to take my hands from the wheel to let fate truly guide me. I struggle to keep my eyes from closing, struggle to stay attached to the present moment.
The clouds swirl and fill the distance. The fields are bathed in amber light. I scan the sky for a warning. Thunderheads tower at the horizon, grow black and heavy at their bottoms. I hear the growling percussion of thunder. The road has emptied of everyone but me, though this may have already been the case all along. It is true I haven’t seen another car since I crossed the divide.
I count the distance from the thunder to its source. I subtract that number from the days I have left. I come up with a negative and I ponder how that can be. Surely, I shouldn’t do math in my head, not while I’m driving, not when I should be paying attention to the road.
I drive straight into the storm, knowing that my freedom lay in the ambivalence of my current state. As long as I keep driving I can avoid the fact that I am nowhere.
I am restless and convinced of my momentum.
By now, the only real thing was what, at any given moment, is being illuminated by my headlights. I take my left hand from the wheel, twist the lever to extinguish the lights. Before me, there is only darkness. I continue at the same approximate speed, my foot lifting only briefly at the moment the world disappeared. I drive fast into the void, finally, a metaphor acknowledging my predicament. There is no physical sensation of movement or place, there is only an assumption of both. I try to feel the road, anticipate its future…but my mind moves ahead, sees only my own future, wrapped around a post or slammed beneath a truck. I switch the lights back on, the world reappears in a halogen glow. The road is straight as it was before it disappeared a moment ago. No tragedy averted, only that rush of one’s possible demise. But to live, we must ultimately be cowards, in love with what we know, more than what we don’t.
Eventually, I will stop driving. Eventually, I will sleep. Eventually, I will accept what inevitably had to be.
In my small apartment, I generate the atmosphere. The low from the open window, the high from the fire romping in the hearth. Little storms begin to build, anticipating your arrival.
I think it is you who controls the weather, unknowingly and without malice. And to be in your presence required preparation, or at least consent to suffer some damage. When you entered my apartment the barometer plunged and the little storms began to grow. And the storm growing inside me threatened to blow down the walls that were my only defense against drowning in your deluge. But from the start, I recognized the inevitable. You would seep through the cracks, blow through the attic, fill my presence until I could no longer breath without you.
But now you are a ghost. Though perhaps it is you I have been driving into. Have you been transformed, from that metaphor churning beneath my sheets, to these storms shrouding and churning at the horizon?
Everything is the same story, told over and over.
And we wish that it will be different—if only just once, and this wish is the hope that maps our future and animates our soul. And our soul is that thing we entrust to hold the deepest dread of our inescapable loneliness.
But I did escape this fate; my hope grew big as this sky I now drive beneath. And hope filled the space of each unrequited moment. In the space of my small apartment, in the ragged nest of my bed, we rewrote the story of the world.
A tiny vermillion spider crawls downward on the outside of the windowpane. It disappears into a crack at the sill. I am somewhere in Missouri. I sit at a small table, contemplate the empty chair across from me. The waitress comes to take my order. She smiles when I order a full stack of pancakes, knows that I am from somewhere else, unfamiliar with how big things are here where I am now. She asks if I am waiting for someone. She asks as if she knows. Through the window, I see the clouds again massing. They are ominous and beautiful and they call to me to come closer.
Can it really be that you have been transformed to the elements? Is that why you left so abruptly? Is it that you didn’t have a choice? I feel you now. I feel you as real as I felt your breath, months ago, when you whispered to me that you loved me. And the longing and the terror are just as real, here now, beneath these towering cumulonimbus.
I pay my bill. I walk to my car, and for a moment, I feel my feet burrowing into the blacktop. I am paused within this moment and I can do nothing but succumb to it. My body wants to give up, my feet want to go no farther. What do I expect to find if I keep driving?
I expect to find home, I expect to find where you have taken it.
My mind is growing increasingly fragile. Everything seems to be turning to glass. The air fractures like crystal; I drive through the fissures at eighty miles an hour.
And this is how the world goes.
It crackles all around me like the thunder churning in the clouds you have become.
Before the world changed, when the windows rattled and the lights flickered each time you entered my room, I saw what you would become. I saw it in the way the air bowed and rippled and hummed in your presence.
This is the legacy of that inception; amplified a million fold. The sky churns, the thunder rolls. The horizon is shrouded in gunmetal blue.
On the radio, I hear staticky warnings of the hell that will befall us in our failure to repent. And at the apex of the preacher’s frenzy, just as he is poised to combust, a voice breaks through with the terrestrial warnings of funnel clouds and driving rain.
I had a dream once. I had it on the night that separated me from my childhood. In this dream, I saw you for the first time. You shimmered and glowed like there was lightning inside you. And if you were dreaming me too, you did so from a place not of this world. But who am I to question the possibility of anything.
In this dream, I made a wish; that I could overcome the rules of dreaming, and touch you, if only for a moment. And in that moment, when my hand touched yours, my childhood and my innocence released me forever to the uncharted world.
Is it strange to say that I searched for you every day from that moment? Is it odd that I would take that dream to be a sign, or a call, or a premonition? But I left something out, perhaps the most important thing. In my dream, at the moment that our fingers parted, everything, including you and the world I would wake up to, was ravaged by a tempest of swirling wind and driving rain.
When I think of you now, as I drive deeper into the strangeness of this landscape, I cannot remember a time when you were not woven into my being. I carried the residue of that dream in every smell and every taste and every experience that stimulated my senses. And when I finally found you, you occupied and filled my space with such ease, as if you had been there always. You placed your things in cubbies and corners and under my feet as I stumbled, half asleep, in the cozy darkness of our hallway.
I am almost to the other coast. I have never seen the Atlantic ocean. I have driven too far, too long but I finally know I will never find you. You are gone and I cannot go to where you now are. I left the massive storms behind me on the plains, but still, I felt you in the buzzing of ions stoking the atmosphere.
I drive through North Carolina. Everything seems otherworldly, so different from where I started. All of this has been like a dream that I only began to wake from somewhere outside Knoxville. It is still dark, though morning will come soon. I look for a place to park. The ocean is momentarily illuminated by my headlights. I slow down, I see a driveway and an open gate.
I pull into the lot, park, get out and drop a few dollars in a kiosk. I walk past yellow posts strung together by slack chains swaying nearly imperceptibly in the breeze from the ocean. I continue walking; across the dunes, down to the beach, which fades in deepening shades of grey to the water. I sit, slip my bare feet into the soft, damp sand. The brightest stars are still visible in the pale dawn sky. I sit and stare across the water to the far horizon. I feel the air settle behind me; the storms dissipating in the stillness of the arriving light. The sun pokes a tiny arc above the line separating the ocean from the sky, I shield my eyes and I feel the salty warmth moving across my skin.
I hear the last faint rumbles of thunder in the distance, the waning calls from decaying storms. I drove for days through the tumult of your memory, pushed against the temptation to let your dark squall engulf me. I feel something building inside me, but it is not the stormy remnants of your presence. Somewhere in the humid nowhere of Tennessee, I let you go. And as I sit here at the edge of the world, witness to the startling beauty of this new day, what I feel is the emptiness in me filling with hope; and I realize, just now, that you didn’t take home with you when you departed. You left it, and me, behind, left me to make sense of the dead space and cold air that filled our apartment in your absence.
I stand up and brush the sand from my clothes. I look one last time at the vast and unfamiliar Atlantic. By now I hear the noises of life. I walk back to my car, exit the lot onto the highway which is now teeming with cars. I glance up at the cloudless sky.
I know that in a few days I will be home again and I will sit at our kitchen table and sob with the unimaginable despair of missing you. I don’t know what torment you endured, what storm inside you finally stripped your soul of hope. I wish I had known, I wish you had told me, I wish you had burrowed your head into my chest and let me weather that storm with you.
I had a dream once.
I cannot say that I would change a thing, but there is nothing I would not give for one more wish.
Copyright Rene Vasquez 2019