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Moses Goodreau and the Matter of the False Idol

Part IV: Nowhere All at Once

Moses needed a gun. He wasn’t partial to packing heat, but with his girlfriend kidnapped and at least four other parties bearing down on this strange idol, he’d have to adjust. Stepping out into the street, Moses hailed another cab. It was a noticeably grungier vehicle than the bright yellow taxi he’d ridden in earlier, a faded red sedan with a flickering light crudely bolted to the roof that read “Best Taxi.” The driver rolled down the window and flashed a toothy yellowed grin.

“Where to, Mac?”

“Hammond drive,” Moses said as he got into the car. He’d barely closed the door before the taxi sped off into the brightening dawn. Ironic, Moses thought, usually this was the kind of shot that was saved for the end of the movie, the triumphant hero and his girl Friday settling into the back seat as the music swelled and the camera panned upwards. Funny how that always happened. Funny how a lot of things that had happened to Moses recently “always happened”. The strange idol, the beautiful woman, and the pulse-pounding hard- boiled chase for the unobtainable…thing. It was funny, but Moses didn’t laugh. As the cab ferried him across the sprawling concrete strip that pierced the heart of the city, Moses thought about what he’d have to do, about the men who would probably need to die. Would they be family men? Moses supposed not.

They’d been driving an awful while. The road just seemed to continue on and on. He’d been sure that they were only a few minutes out from the city but he’d been in the car for what felt like a long time. He cleared his throat.

“Hey.”

The cabbie kept his eyes fixed on the road and made no move, no gesture to indicate he’d heard Moses. Moses tried again. “’Scuse me.”

The cabbie made no response. Moses reached up through the seats.

“Hey Buddy, you there?” As soon as Moses’ hand brushed against the cabbie’s shoulder the driver turned, quickly but with a stiffness that Moses found odd. He flashed Moses that same toothy grin as before. “What can I do for you mister?” he queried, coyly raising an eyebrow.

“Shouldn’t we be in the city by now?” Moses asked.

There was a beat; a moment of silence and then the driver wordlessly turned his attention back to the road and started to whistle. Something was definitely wrong, very, very wrong, and Moses was about to increase the fervor of his enquiries when it started to rain. There was something soothingly distracting about the rain, about watching the drops scurry down the car window. When Moses had been a child he would race them, selecting a favorite droplet with his index finger and tracing it down, guiding it to victory against the others. Now it was different. The water warped the window, making it into a kind of funhouse mirror, distorting and entangling the taillights with the industrial edifices and the never-ending road. Suddenly, Moses felt very unsure of where he was or in what direction the cab was traveling. A moment ago, he could have sworn that the sun was rising but now it looked like it was setting. Supposedly they’d been traveling to the city, but there was nothing in front of the car, nothing but road and rain. Moses turned around and saw the skyline receding into the distance.

Suddenly, he felt the cab slow to a halt. He looked out the his window; on the road there was a small restaurant, a wood, one floor affair with flickering neon green letters that read “Loucura.” Moses had never seen the place before. As he left the taxi, he remarked this to the driver, who shrugged and said:

“It’s where you wanted to go.”

Moses should have argued, said something, anything. But he felt strangely numb. He paid the driver, who tipped his cap without making eye contact, and walked inside.

The first thing Moses noticed was the smoke. It was thick and bilious, instantly enveloping him like the embrace of a long lost lover. Moses inhaled. The air was rich and the place smelled of smoky wood and drink. Moses relaxed. He’d been under such tension these past days. This case, the dead cat, the lost idol…all this running. Here was something he could appreciate: a dark place somewhere he couldn’t be found. Moses fantasized of curling up in a corner booth and just waiting this all out. The idea of letting the smoke drift over him like a blanket, of being washed out to sleep by a gentle tide of steady booze was so intoxicating that he could scarcely focus his thoughts.

“Janine!” he thought to suddenly himself, and an icy cold determination flooded through his veins, reinvigorating Moses, propelling him towards a bar stool which he slammed his weight down upon with purpose. A tall, tan man in a dark shirt stood behind the bar polishing glasses. Moses brought his palm down on the counter. Without turning around the man said:

“Can I help you?” Moses thought his accent might be South American, but it was hard to tell.

“I’m here to see Big Suze,” Moses said. The man behind the counter turned and stared briefly into Moses’ eyes, sizing him up. He chuckled. “You must be Mr. Moses.”

“I might be.” Moses narrowed his eyes. “What’s it to you?”
The barman chuckled again, a rich, hearty laugh that sent smoke rushing towards Moses’ face like a wave racing towards the shore.

“It is not important to me, Mr. Moses, but it is important.”

The barman led Moses behind the counter and ushered him towards a long passage with a bend in it. As they made their way down the hall, away from the soft warm glow of the bar and into the dim flickering neon light Moses tried to remember why he was here, or where here was.

“Big Suze,” the Barman helpfully supplied.

“Right,” said Moses.

Big Suze was the go-to-gal for a piece in this town. She was a large Albanian woman with one blind eye and a penchant for arms trafficking. Years ago, Big Suze was married to Little Marty. Little Marty was a small ruthless man who through sheer determination and cutthroat dealings had sectioned off for himself a small portion of the city’s arms trade. Unfortunately for Marty, he was as ugly as a bag of possums that had been decomposing for a week, so he ordered himself a bride from a catalogue. Marty was doubtlessly expecting a big-boobed, submissive twenty-year-old with a better grasp of cooking than English. What he got was Big Suze. In a little less than a year, Marty was dead and Big Suze had taken over the family business, doubled its size, and whacked about a quarter of the competition. She also owed Moses a favor. Big Suze was not to be messed with. Moses knew she wouldn’t think twice about having anybody who looked at her wrong kneecapped, but she was good for her word.

Moses and the barman reached the door. As Moses stepped into the room, he caught a whiff that reminded him of when he’d last returned to Janine’s apartment. He should have guessed. Big Suze’s chamber was garishly plush. Purple carpeting and gold leaf wallpaper surrounded him. There were several high backed leather chairs and a fireplace full of burning embers, replete with an ornate set of diamond tipped fireplace tools. A shovel, brush, and pair of tongs all rested gingerly in their ornate holder. The poker, however, was currently lying on the floor, covered with the same dried blood that was caked on the head of Big Suze’s prostrate corpse.

Moses wheeled around, but the Bartender had already left and locked the door behind him. Suddenly, a figure rose from one of the leather chairs turned away from Moses and emitted a familiar throaty laugh.

“You’re a little late, Mr. Goodreau. I’d have expected you to be here at least an hour ago.”

“Oliver,” Moses growled.

“You’re surprised?” Oliver chuckled. Moses held his ground and took Oliver’s measure. He was wearing brown loafers and a well-tailored grey pinstripe with flecks of blood on the lapels. His hands were gloved and Moses watched silently as he examined his suit.

“Well,” Oliver said nonchalantly, “in the pursuit of anything worthwhile there’s bound to be some collateral damage. I’m sure you understand, Mr. Goodreau.”

“Collateral damage?” Moses boiled.

“Yes. It’s a shame too. I just bought this suit a month ago.”

Moses dug his heels into the carpet and sprang forward. Oliver let loose a high-pitched squeal and leapt aside, drawing a small pistol from within his coat pocket. Moses went tumbling into the feet of the chair, his head cracking against one of the solid oak legs.

“Surprising, Mr. Goodreau! Always surprising! Yet, predictable enough.”

Moses cursed and rose to his feet slowly.

“Steady, Mr. Goodreau. Don’t try anything else foolish. It would be very unpleasant for you.”

“What did you want with Big Suze?” Moses spat.

If Oliver heard him, he paid no attention, beginning to circle Moses steadily. The scent of Suze’s body was beginning to grow unbearable. Moses tried to prevent himself from gagging as the stench overtook him.

“You Americans are so peculiar about your guns, aren’t you? It’s a very holy relationship you’ve got there.”

Moses made no reply.

Oliver continued, “It’s all very odd to me. There’s something incredibly phallocentric about it. I mean it’s undeniably…” He wrapped his fingers around the barrel of the revolver tenderly and raised an eyebrow. “Well, you get the idea. I thought this might turn you on.”

“You freak,” Moses spat.

“Come now, Mr. Goodreau, let’s be a little open minded. In your cultural lexicon, the gun is so much more than a tool of death, it is The Gun! Instant masculinity, just add water. It’s a sacrosanct right here, isn’t it? The right to procreate, the right to bear arms. It’s all very… difficult to separate to a foreigner like myself. Over there we’ve got a lot more clarity.”

“What are you talking about?” Moses said, reeling. His head had begun to ache fiercely and there was a dull pounding that seemed to emanate from somewhere deep inside him, not his head but a lower place, a mysterious well beyond the flesh and soul that couldn’t be pinned down.

“Oh no, I rather like it here. It’s much more fun to dance in this liminal space you’ve carved out for yourself. Shades of grey and all that.”

“What do you want?!” Moses weakly shouted.

“You don’t know?” Oliver smirked. “I want you to save the day, Mr. Goodreau. I want you to find this Idol and play us all against each other. I want a clever solution to this mystery and I damn sure want to be surprised. Satisfy me, won’t you?”

The smell of the body was growing stronger and the pounding in Moses’ head was unrelenting. He was going to be sick.

“I suppose it’s only sporting that I give you a fair chance though. Don’t disappoint.”

Moses’ vision began to flicker, the room around him warped and swayed, bending just out of existence in his peripherals. Suddenly, he heard a soft thump and felt something land in front of him. Moses’ hands fumbled about, his soul burned, and his limbs went numb. He was drowning in the air. As his fingers sunk into the carpet, feeling for the object that had landed in front of him, Moses knew that these next few breaths would be his last. Then, he found it. His hands wrapped around the butt of Oliver’s gun.

And he breathed. And he breathed again.

Moses could feel something new surge through him, his blood began to course evenly through his veins, the valves of his heart began to open and close, and the machine- apparatus that was his body was once more functional. He examined the gun. It was a .45 caliber revolver. Moses knew these packed quite a kick and was surprised at how heavy it felt in his hand. He let the weight of the gun carry him out the door, stopping briefly to look at the face-down body of Big Suze.

“What an ugly, useless corpse,” Moses thought

As he walked down the dimly lit hallway he wondered what he was supposed to be doing there and thought about how odd it was that he had thought the corpse useless, and how it was even stranger that he was striding ahead so confidently with no idea of where he was going.

It was hard to remember. He was sure there was something, something he needed to get. And someone. He was sure of that. There was someone he needed to help, someone who needed rescuing, who needed a hero. Who needed a man with a gun and a will and the capacity for terrible, monstrous action. He was capable of this. Moses knew he could be that man, the kind of stranger stepping out of the shadows to dispense justice. Yes, that was his purpose.

Yes. That was it.

As he stepped out of the bar, a battered old red car with a flickering neon sign on top that read “Best Taxi” pulled up. The driver leaned out the window and flashed Moses a toothy, knowing grin.

“Where to Mac?” he asked.

To be continued in Moses Goodreau and The Matter of the False Idol: Part V

Fall

I brought in
fall’s leaf
a few days ago
meaning to study
its red-orange
fire color,
the deep russet hue
running like hot veins
with pulsing blood throughout. Now, it’s dried up,
curled like stiff, cold fingers, rusty, crumbling.
The tree outside
empty; an eggless woman.

Spring

Lying in grass,
millions of soft prickles
lining my belly,
coating my clothing
with damp incense,
I see the liquid yellow
of ants crawling,
catching smooth sunlight,
hastening away
into their round pillars of dirt.

I stroke one blade,
rough on the underside,
and it leaves tiny patterns
on my fingerpad,
shallow grooves, small rivers
in the skin.
I hold it in my mouth,
against my tongue,
feeling emerald sandpaper,
coarse earth.

One light whistle
trickles into heavy air.
A bird cries,
replying,
confused by the call.

Kellen

I tried to write your name in the stars but I just couldn’t make them align. No matter how hard I tried,
or squinted my eyes,

nothing would take shape.
They continued shining brilliantly in their far-away place.

I tried to sing your name out at sea,
but it was cold
and the words were choked in the breeze. And as the waves tossed and turned
I eventually learned
that in my quest
the horizon had escaped me.

I tried to plant your name in the earth but it would not take root.
No amount of care and attention could soften the stony and sterile dirt. My light had gone to waste on a flower already withered in its place.

I tried
and I tried
to make things happen
that were not divined.
What a silly, futile waste of my time.

Texas Dust, Maryland Soil

What do we do with the body,
the poem sits on my polished desk. Do we
set it in dirt, or strike a small match?

What did they do with his body,
I ask from across the coast.
Did they burn him? Bury him in Texas?

I watch letters scatter, like dirt slags
slung in a pen’s long, senseless edge
on a flat page. No one answers.

Texas meant nothing to him. Maybe
red dust clinging to clothes, the bleached
cow skulls, soil-stained, from the desert.

Maybe red smatterings shroud his rigid body,
grinding meaty flesh from cheek bones, coating
sullen eye sockets and dead finger skin, his clothes—

No one answers. Silence scrapes along the dirt
beneath my feet, linoleum floor, clay brick paths
broken twigs scattered along the hill, grass, dampened soil.

We are rooted by the shifting earth, feeling the unstable backs
of leaf-powder, broken grass, glittering beetles, soft worms,
sharing breath with our bodies, until we cannot resist, and
forget the miles in-between Texas and this Maryland knoll.

Note: The italics come from “As From a Quiver of Arrows” by Carl Phillips.

6 AM in an Asphalt Jungle

Feet bleeding, I marched through the Red-
Light district alone with shoes in hand

and cigarette in mouth, unlit, as I had lost my lighter
my only pick-up line in a sparse arsenal

for the girls who had long since gone home
to their mothers or lovers and all I could see then

was the curbside garbage and the roaches skirting
through alleyways and gutters like me but not lost

like me and my biggest regret was not forgetting
my address but how to ask for directions

another pick-up line for the girls
who had long since gone home

The Old Peculiar

The two girls, the ones he’d met in Keld, were walking across the green toward the pub. They had come up the road which wound out of town and on to Richmond. He could see them through the window of his small and tidy room above the pub. They were waddling, and he thought of ducklings without a mother. Two girls, not over twenty, he’d guess, all alone to hike across the country. Like he had set out to do. They were alone, like he was; but of course that wasn’t true because they had each other, whereas he…well, he had a bath and a cup of tea, he thought with renewed appreciation for hot water and its capacity to repair most of a day’s aches. He stretched the arch of his foot and it cracked. Even at the halfway point, it was enough to make anyone waddle, he guessed, hiking day after day.

His joints were still sore from the long walk in the rain, several days ago. He was rubbing his thumb along the pointed bones of his hand when he thought that maybe the girls wouldn’t mind company. After crossing the green, they had disappeared into the pub and must be ordering drinks, food at least. He closed his fingers around the mug and brought the tea to his lips. No, he couldn’t do that. He remembered how the one girl, the slightly prettier one, had stared at him when they met in a pub at Keld. He grimaced. He had spilled too much sugar in the tea. The girls shouldn’t be bothered; they’d want a bit of space after the day’s hike.

Long shadows began to stretch across the room. He could see rivets of dust spiral upward into the last rays of the day. This is how loneliness looks, he thought. Dust collecting in sunshine while your room creaks and the pub below livens without you.
There was a bar adjacent to his, and he would go down to it. He would walk outside, within view of the girls – he could see they had chosen a picnic table – and if they saw him, they could ask for his company, if they wanted it. If not, well, he might find some locals in the pub.

He finished his cup of tea in a final gulp and stared at the dregs. Some people studied tea leaves. He traced his finger along the bottom rim of the cup and wondered what his fortune might be. Rain tomorrow, probably. A few blisters and the continued needling in his pinky toe. It was a good fortune, if not a bit painful, because it reminded him how much the human body could feel at one time. Besides, such aches and creaks were physical, tangible, easy enough to remedy with a bath and a hot tea, maybe a pint later.

The sun was hazy and soft and warm-looking across the town green where school children chased and tumbled each other before clamoring toward the closing ice cream parlour. How late it stayed light in Northern England; it was nearly eight.

He found his boots and pulled them over his last fresh pair of socks. He would ask the innkeeper if laundry was available. The day had been sunny, so his boots were again dry. There was nothing worse, he had learned, than putting wet boots onto aching feet just to go down to dinner. He really should have brought a pair of shoes to slip on after each hike, but it would have been that much more to carry. He remembered watching the girls sling on their gear this morning. They had struggled under colossal packs as large as themselves. The pretty girl had boasted that she was carrying a third of her slight bodyweight. When he had asked why they didn’t ship their luggage ahead of them, the second girl had said that they wanted to do this right. He admired them, but reckoned he had packed better. Then again, they had comfortable, dry shoes to wear every night, he suspected.

He zipped up his fleece and made his way down the narrow, creaking staircase that fed into the bottom of the pub. There was a door at the bottom of his pub which connected to the adjacent pub. He crossed into this next pub and relished how the sameness of English pubs was always interrupted by unexpected guests. Here, there were several hikers crammed into a booth, and he guessed they were Americans because they cackled easily and wore brand name apparel. They saw him staring and waved him over, but he just smiled weakly.

“Thought I might have a bite outside,” he said.

They cackled in response and said something about it being too cold.

He approached the bar and ordered a Guinness and made his way outside. It was chilly in the shade of the pub, but the air buzzed with local chatter and somewhere in the distance he thought he heard a brass band. This was summer for the English, he reminded himself, and they knew to make the best of it. Only yesterday he had seen an old man, shirtless, bending over his garden, then wiping his brow to say, “Blazing in’it?”

He glanced over to the girls and saw that the pretty one was shivering as she clutched her half-pint of ale. He remembered how the both of them had chugged Strongbow last night. They had had steaming bowls of chili that they had covered with cheese and spooned into their mouths like explorers digging up some treasure. They had tilted the tall cans of cider across their lips into their long throats and gulped rapidly, like it was a contest. He remembered that the pretty one stood a little hesitantly and spoke with the cautiousness of the newly tipsy. The girls had giggled, guffawed, then made their way to bed.

They were waiting for food, he could tell, because they kept looking over their shoulders to glance at the pub door. The pretty one tossed her hair and glanced in his direction. She whispered to her friend who looked blatantly at him. They made eye contact and waved. He walked over to their table. The girls did not stand up, and he did not sit down.
“Hey,” the second one said. “Hello,” the pretty one said.

“I saw you both walking across the green. I’m in a room above this pub. Are your feet hurting you? You were waddling a bit,” he said.

To his relief, the girls laughed.

“Yeah, we’re staying like two miles out of town.”

“I think it’s just a mile,” the pretty one said.

“Yeah, but it’s two miles here and back.”

The pretty one shrugged, smiling coolly at him. “You’re lucky to be staying over the pub.”
He scratched his cheek, a habit he recognized in himself as a nervous tick.

“Yes. It’s a bit out of my price range, actually. Not really a luxury, but a luxurious price.”

The pretty one laughed.

The other one chimed in, “Yeah, we’re staying at Dale’s Bike Centre.”

“Really? I tried that one, but they were full up. It must have been you.”

“It’s not bad, but we’re the only people there who aren’t bikers.”

The pretty one ran her finger along the weathered grooves of the picnic table.

“It’s not like on the website.” She looked up at him. “The website said it wasn’t just for bikers, that hikers were welcome. But, they’ve been having some sort of bike conference and we feel like oddballs.” She giggled, widened her eyes. “Two lady hikers in a boy bikers’ den.”

He was then keenly aware of the long shadow he cast over their table and wished they would ask him to sit. She had said oddballs like something foreign, forbidden even. He wondered how it felt for her to be in a different country all alone, if she felt like an outsider and an oddball for the first time, or if it was a regular occurrence. Which of these two girls had more friends at school? Which of them knew better how dust collected in the late afternoon sun? The other one spoke, and he assumed she got along well with whomever she met.

“It’s really not that bad.”

The pretty one shrugged and zipped her jacket up to her chin. Then the woman from the pub came out with the dinners and set them before the girls who let the steam rise from the plates and engulf their faces in hot, savory vapors.

The pretty one looked guiltily at him. “I think I’ve gotten steak and ale pie nearly every night. But, it’s hot and hearty and goes well with cider.”
The other one pushed the crust around with her spoon. The pies came with coleslaw and a side of mash.

“You know,” he said, “I don’t think the English quite know what a vegetable is.”

The girls chuckled and invited him to sit down. They refused to have him watch while they ate so they flagged down the woman from the pub. He ordered lasagna and asked for a small salad in place of the chips. When his food arrived, they ate in silence and drank with gusto. The pretty one finished first and complained that the other one hadn’t shared the potatoes. He poked at a radish and lamented that the English proclivity for either fried or mushy food robbed vegetables of all their charm. But it was a meal, and at the end of the day he would have eaten nearly anything.

“They have Old Peculiar up there, at the other bar. There’s a sign advertising it. My riding teacher drinks it, in America.” The other one had spoken in the heart of the meal, as if agonized by prolonged silence.

He wrapped his fingers around his beer and used the drink to pause. It was an odd thing to say to anyone, but to him it stung by association. Peculier, she must have meant, not peculiar. But she had omitted the forgiving ul sound to emphasize the hard c, cutting him with the back of her mouth. He wondered if being in his late thirties was distant enough for her to classify him as old.

He finally decided on commenting that he didn’t much like Theakston and returned to the mush remaining on his plate.

After pushing the rest of her pie to one side of its bowl, she tried again “You’re from Australia, right?”

He swallowed. “New Zealand, actually.”

“Oh, cool. What part?”

“Wellington. I spent a bit of time in London, though. I have some family there. I’ll be visiting them after Robin Hood’s Bay, I suppose.”

He drained the last of his Guinness. The other one asked if they should go another round with the drinks. The pretty one shook her head and said something about having a hard enough time walking back to the Centre as it was.

“What part of America, did you say?”

“We probably didn’t. Maryland,” the other one said. “It’s near D.C.”

He nodded, started thinking about his own home and its bare floors the color of ash, the sound they made under his father’s shuffling slippers. He imagined his father without him like a pinball, slowly bouncing from one room to the next, crying out at each obstacle he hit, searching for his son and caretaker. His father, who had protested the trip, might no longer be lucid upon his return. Or maybe his father woke one morning and decided to walk out, without bothering to close the door behind him, and just began to walk until he hit something more than the empty rooms in the house.

The other one was going on about how different D.C. was from Reeth. He thought of how easily one could know nothing about fellow dinner companions, regard them as mere passersby on the trail. The pretty one tilted back her glass, tried with the tip of her tongue to persuade the last drop of ale to slide down the glass into her mouth. They were growing tired and the night began to grow louder. In the distance, they heard the brass band.

“That sounded like a band or something,” the other one said.

“It was a brass band, wasn’t it?” The pretty one looked to him. “They’re popular around here, aren’t they? The guidebook said.”

He nodded, folded his bony fingers under his chin and examined the town’s horizon which now teemed with locals laughing and leaning and living. Somewhere shining instruments glinted under the last of the sun, and they ought to find the parade, he decided. He suggested so to the girls. The pretty one pushed herself up from the table and hobbled inside to use the loo, as she called it in her crass mid-Atlantic voice. The other one nodded fiercely, as though they had no other destiny but to find the throbbing brass heart of this small English village.

The pretty one returned, yawned, and agreed to search for the band.

They walked up the green, following the way they had come into town that afternoon. The pretty one talked at length about how her feet hurt and the way irresponsible mining practices had scarred the Swadale hills which rose up at the north of the town. She was a wealth of vaguely relevant and pretty observations. She told them, at least a dozen times, that her shoulders ached, that her body had discovered new ways of hurting that she would have never thought possible. But walking three days with the River Swale as their only compass was, she said, worth a few less toenails.

The other one pointed out a bakery whose sign boasted the best cheese pasties in all of North Yorkshire. He thought he should try one in the morning as his pub was only at the bottom of the green and it looked worth the walk up hill. The girls said they were planning on eating breakfast at the Bike Centre; it would be too much trouble to add two miles to tomorrow’s hike. He found it odd, but he realized how, being in Reeth as the sun set on locals burning off an early summer night, he felt like he had not just reached the halfway point of his walk but the end. It would be a good place to end: body still mostly in health, shuffling through the Swadale twilight with two young friends to find a brass band.

“I think they’ve stopped playing,” the pretty one said, halting suddenly.

He and the other one likewise stopped and listened. They heard distantly the rattle of plates and silverware from a nearby café, a cheeping bird, and a lawn mower spluttering to life, but no brass band.

“Maybe it’s only a rehearsal,” he said.

The girls nodded. The other one said, “They’d probably let us watch it, though, if we told them we went out of our way to find them?”

“Yes, maybe.”

He felt his hopes drop to the bottom of his shoes, but the girls pushed ahead. At the corner of the town there was a collection of artisans’ stalls. They were closed now, but each had a sign announcing lessons, commissions, and demonstrations. They paused in front of a glassblowing shop, and the other one said she knew how to blow glass, but it seemed she knew how to do most anything so long as you yourself didn’t know how to do it. In the windows, colorful orbs dangled on fishing wire so thin it must have been to draw attention to the craft’s delicacy. The pretty one pointed out several pieces she would like to hold, as if to hold them would be enough to make her realize that they were breakable.

Around the back of the glass shop there was a taller building which housed lumber for building cabinets and chairs. Again, the other one boasted of her woodworking skills, and he saw the pretty one roll her eyes. Did they fight often while hiking, he wondered. On one side of the building, the large garage door was open as if in preparation to bring in more wood. They called out and when no one answered they walked into the storage room.
They breathed in the smell of sawdust and cedar and stain. They ran their fingers over the smooth, swirling sides of the hardwood. Woodworking, he thought, was a good solid craft. He wished he could build something that had only the purpose to be sat on. If he followed mathematics and cut precisely, he would have a reliable chair that one would have to go out of one’s way to break.

The pretty one kicked at a pile of sawdust and yawned. He noticed that she was capable of sharp bursts of interest that would quickly subside into boredom. Perhaps she was just tired. He had only known her for a day and some. They left the woodshop at her request.

She wanted to watch the clouds change colors. It was an hour until sunset, but he noticed that something had shifted in the air – a darkness. A more total absence of light began to engulf the individual shadows. He realized there was something a bit sinister about walking around an unfamiliar town with two young girls. Perhaps he shouldn’t have suggested searching for the band. It was foolish to hope so eagerly for a brass band in a Yorkshire village. He shouldn’t have considered these girls his friends, for surely they did not consider him a friend. He was certain that to them he was old, odd in his angularity. He could see them grow cautious in the fleeting light: the other one stiff with squared shoulders; the pretty one with her hand shoved into her pocket, fingers brushing against a tube of pepper spray. He had not imagined that, though he now wished he had.

At the top of the town, looking into the valley, the pretty one shook her hair and declared how tired the sky looked. Sunset, she said, was the color of a yawn. It was time to leave, to go to bed, to sleep, and then to wake up for the next day. They were at the base of the green when the girls finally made to say goodbye. They said that they’d probably run into him tomorrow; maybe they could have lunch along the trail. He nodded, smiled at the possibility, but knew it was foolish to hope for reunion when he did not even know their names. The girls waved goodbye and waddled back the way they came.

The Electric Company Cut Our Trees Down

I grew up on a farm near the Mason-Dixon.
We lovingly called it the Valley of Death
because nothing grew, but it was our land.

When friends from Catholic school would walk
with me through the woods, I would joke
yea that we walk through the shadow of the
and then we would howl into the skies

like we were damned souls in the Bible, fated
to be turned into pillars of salt, or pecked clean
by vultures. And like the shadows we thought
were wolves, we marked the trees with knives
o
r trampled circles into the grass. We knew we would die
in this Valhalla again, again, but still we cut the grass
into beds and breathed smoke circles up to the stars
where they would dissipate, shapeless into the night.

First Friend

Tadpoles born in the storm gutter
House half-constructed, like me
House with a mud lawn, a broad imagination Time ticking in a bucket on the porch Backyard with old woods & doors
between the jaws of barking trees;
A white-foot cat, half-ghost
His robin, bleeding from the throat
A colony of quiet wasps living
in the shell of my head &
a mean one under your hand
Frogs & toads
Grouping in the rain pools, confidently native spreading themselves like secrets in the lawn I stepped on your favorite
under the bar of the swing set
Flat in the grass & awed by your tears
I stole your pony toy in my sock &
thought about it
for years.

Editor’s Note

One night during my sophomore year, when I was overwhelmed with homework and annoyed by the glare of fluorescent dorm lighting, my roommate suggested we take a walk. It was nearly midnight, but I agreed, and we headed outside to frolic across the dark campus. In the moonlight and cool air, I breathed easier and the frustration I had been feeling melted.

This nighttime walk became ritual. Nearly every evening for three years, my roommate and I have headed out, late at night, for an escape into nature. Outdoors, under open skies, I forget the essays I am writing, the tests for which I am studying. I focus instead on cool, damp grass under my feet and rough tree bark against my hands, and I find peace in the solitude of an empty campus.

In this issue of The Collegian, we decided to explore the solitude that can be found in nature, and we discovered that it comes in many forms. Sometimes it surrounds with the serenity of a midnight stroll, and sometimes it overwhelms with crippling loneliness. I hope that the work on the following pages allows you to meditate on your own experiences of solitude and what you find in the natural world.

Cheers,
Aileen Gray