“Honey, I’m going out for a ride. I’ve got a proposal on Monday and need some space to think!” David calls to his wife, grabbing his car keys, backpack, cell phone and laptop. He walks to the garage, slams the door shut.
He opens the passenger door of his car, and drops the backpack onto the seat, walks around the car, and stops to examine a miniscule smudge on the driver side mirror. Taking his seat, he gently runs the tips of his fingers over the edges of the covers of his alphabetized CD’s. Which one? A smile settles on the outer corners of his lips. Chopin will do. He opens the garage door, starts the car and inserts the disk. He honks at his son Ben and the other rug rats playing basketball, blocking his way. He pulls out and drives into the country.
He drives while pondering the proposal. He makes good use of his nearly flawless recall, regurgitating every paragraph, every clause, and every word. Ideas flow and as Chopin’s harmonies crescendo to a climax; he too reaches his zone, and runs out of gas. “Damn!” he yells, and pounds his fists on the steering wheel.
He looks in his rearview mirror. Thank God, no cars. He jerks the car into neutral and hops out. With the driver’s door open, his feet firmly on the road, right hand guiding the steering wheel, left hand bracing on the door frame, he pushes his precious baby out of harm’s way. He is victorious, panting and disgustingly sweaty. He grabs the cell phone. It’s dead. He flings the phone down on the seat. He sits back in his car. Slowly, the temperature rises. A drop of sweat travels down his neck, and continues down his back. Where are all the cars?
He looks around and sees nothing but fields and trees. If I stay I’ll bake. He looks at his watch. It can’t take more than two hours to walk to Yorkville. He tosses his laptop and his dead phone in his backpack, grabs two water bottles from the trunk, and leaves his car.
The smell of melting asphalt fills his nostrils. It is peaceful; a light breeze offers a welcome yet momentary relief. The cries of birds accentuate the tranquil silence. He walks at a comfortable pace, his body rhythmically moving forward as his mind once again drifts to the proposal, to his zone.
As he marches on perspiring, thinking, a large gloomy shadow crosses his path. What was that? He looks up and sees a bird gliding, circling. Is it an eagle, a vulture, a sign? He whispers: “Low blood sugar?” He settles under the nearest tree, and rummages in his pack. He finds a disfigured, partially liquefied Hershey’s bar. He is repulsed, but lightheaded; he devours every last bit of that chocolate mess. He licks his fingers clean, opens his second and last bottle of water, takes a voracious drink and spits it out. The water is warm, disgusting. He re-seals the bottle. It is time to move on.
The road circles up a lush hill. Yorkville is just past this hill. There are maples, wispy birches, and the occasional fragrant pine. Canopies almost meet, branches reach for branches; allowing only soft, diffused light down onto the pavement. The temperature is a good ten degrees cooler. Even so, on foot the incline is pure torture; his concentration is repeatedly interrupted by the sadistic antics of a psychotic squirrel. He stops and listens. Something is again scurrying up above. He winces, gently rubs a growing bump, right in the middle of his bald spot. If nature thinks that this is funny, I’m not laughing.
The hill is unforgiving; his laptop must have morphed into a pile of bricks. Panting, now hungry, he makes a steady, labored progress, as his strength slowly drains away. He is close to the summit when his world, strangely silent, starts spinning. Madly blinking; he tries to steady the oscillating trees. His arms outstretched, he seeks the support of a tree trunk. His hands succeed; he digs his nails deep into the depressions in the rough scaly bark, and closes his eyes. Make it stop!
He feels a stiff pain mounting deep inside his torso. The pain! He releases the tree trunk, and blindly staggers backward. The world is a blur. The pain! He stops and clutches at his chest. He sinks to his knees and with tightly closed eyes pants for breath, each inhale deeper, faster. I can’t breathe! He is trapped; as if caught in the coils of a merciless python, becoming conscious of nothing but lack of oxygen and agonizing pain.
Gradually the pain eases, his lungs fill. Air! The world stops spinning. He is shivering and at the same time soaked in his own sweat. He slowly straightens, removes his backpack. With shaking hands he finds the bottle, unscrews the top and takes a deep sloppy sip of warm water and swallows. His mind drifts back to this morning. He can hear Ben: “Daddy, you missed my game on Friday.”
David answers: “Buddy, I’m so sorry; I’ll be there next time!”
Ben replies: “That’s what you always say, and you never show up!”
Ben’s reply echoes in his head. He puts his hands upon his temples, and lets out a long groan. He wills himself to walk.
Weary, his feet unsteady, he descends the hill. Looking ahead he sees a house. He blinks; he blinks again, the house remains solid. He runs. He hears a dog and runs faster. Breathless, his heart pounding, he rings the doorbell. There is no answer. He presses the button again, and again. The dog is beside itself barking, but otherwise the place is silent. How can this be? Why? He feels his strength sucked out, as if by the force of a powerful vacuum cleaner. He is numb. Should he wait, should he walk on? He downs the rest of his water. I’m so close now.
At the foot of the hill the terrain becomes flatter, kinder. Where is Yorkville? Am I lost? Where are all the cars? Where are all the birds? He yells: “Somebody, help me!” and receives deafening silence in reply. As he strides on, a breathtaking sunset, bursting with gorgeous shades of orange, fills the sky. Immune to that beauty, he feels the temperature sinking, along with his hopes. His mind drifts miles away entranced by Ben’s teary, innocent eyes. His body walks on, a mere human machine, pushing forward.
Shivering, marching, he is slowly cloaked in darkness. He stumbles, he whispers: “God, please help.” Bent over he staggers to the middle of the road, drops down to his knees, his backpack still upon his back, and sobs. Panting, shaking, and now violently sobbing; he is deaf to the world, blind by the vigor of his tears; he fails to notice the distant humming of an engine…the approaching headlights…