The road narrows all the way to the horizon, a slender gray snake on the red.
|The wind rushes through the open windows and whips the strands of his hair around his head like a sharp-edged red halo. The slender needle on the speedometer edges toward 90; gravel sprays up from beneath the tires as the car swerves around a bend in the road. The radio is mostly static. All around, the desert expands to the horizon, dusty and dry and red and gray. The fine red dust sifts through the air and coats everything—hair, clothes, tongues, fingernails.
“Don’t you love me?”
He doesn’t respond, but a muscle in his jaw tightens.
He stands still in the great vastness. Some hundred yards behind him, his car sits silent and waiting, the sleek silver of its coat tarnished by the desert’s dust. It would be quiet but for the wind—the wind, unhindered by any obstacle for miles and miles and miles, free to rush thundering over the flat ground with the mighty energy of a stampeding herd, to playfully tug his clothing in every direction, to try and knock him flat on his back. He plants his feet wide and crosses his arms and refuses to be swayed. It buffets at him and slides over his skin, trying to coax him into playing, but his eyes are flat and emotionless as mirrors.
The solitude, the sheer sensation of being alone, presses down on him sharply, until he has to scream or jump or fall or die, just to cope. It fills him from the throat and presses against the back of his teeth; it rushes to his fingertips, tingles in his palms, swells in his spine and brims in his skull. He cannot move.
He’s slicing peppers when the lock clicks and the door swings open. “I’m home!”
“Hi,” he says, looking up from the cutting board and smiling.
A thud, keys jangling, rustling as a newspaper is rifled through briefly. “God, I’m tired. Aren’t you going to ask me how my day was?”
Silent for a moment, he concentrates on the knife and on slicing even, consistent strips. “How was your day?”
“Terrible. Sean wanted me to submit the review two days earlier than I thought it had to be done, so of course it WASN’T done, so I was working on it all day, I didn’t even get to leave my desk for lunch…”
He tunes out without realizing it, focusing on the soft snick of the knife slicing skin.
Lying on the hood of the car, his legs dangling down to the dirt and his spine stretched awkwardly, he contemplates the sky. The heat of the metal seeps through his shirt to warm his skin. The clouds scud the sky, white and feathery as angel wings, majestic and aloof, moving with such visible urgency as though on their way to some great event in the sky. He links his fingers behind his head; his elbows fall wide to either side, opening his chest, letting him breathe the hot dry air deep into his lungs. It’s good to be able to breathe.
“I’m not in the mood.”
He doesn’t say anything but rolls over and away, lying on the cold side of the bed and staring blankly into the blackness.
“I had a really bad day, okay? Is it too much to ask for a little support instead of just trying to get a fuck?” The sudden burst of accusation surprises him into turning back over.
“What the hell do you want from me?” he snaps, straining to see in the darkness and failing. “I don’t know what to say to make you feel better.”
“You could just be there for me!”
He wants to respond but the words build up on the back of his tongue and stick there, trapping him. Abruptly he kicks his way out of the blankets and goes into the kitchen, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
The lighter clicks once, twice, before he manages to produce a flame. The tip of the cigarette glows ember red as he sucks in a breath and lets the smoke curl in his lungs. Then he purses his lips and breathes out a thin, spidery tendril, almost too pale to see against the colourless sky.
He wakes up early and, stretching and feeling rather fuzzy around the edges, stumbles into the bathroom for a piss. He turns the hot water knob on the tap and lets it gush over his hands, watching the steam rise and creep furtively over the surface of the mirror. Shaking his hands dry, scattering droplets across the fogged mirror and countertop, he leans across the counter for a towel, the edge digging into his ribcage, and looks down.
There is a condom wrapper in the trashcan. Not one of the ones he buys.
A dull roaring begins in his ears and spreads into the back of his skull. He drops the towel and turns around. He doesn’t think or see, doesn’t have any conscious control over his feet taking him toward the door, over his fingers curling around his keys.
The shapeless sleeping figure in the bed stirs. “Where are you going?”
Over his hand wrenching the doorknob and tugging open the door.
The car’s engine roars eagerly to life, rumbles down the street, and fades slowly into the distance.
The road narrows all the way to the horizon, a slender gray snake on the red. He could turn back now. He could go home, back to the deceptively cozy apartment, and demand to know what’s going on. He could be irrational and furious, and rightly so.
Or he could get back in his car, let the radio turn to static, and drive into nowhere.