XVII — How much further are we going?
How much further are we going? She isn’t really asking me. Just thinking aloud. The steering wheel sways gently side to side in time with the music. We pass along gravel roads skirted by pine woods. The rolling ground stacked over with brown dry needles, dry cracked branches fallen from the dark green canopy. We’re going up around this bend a while, then down a hill and that’s pretty much it. What is it? It’s a ten star hotel! That I doubt. You never even took us to a no-star hotel. The track starts down the shallow hill. The wood falls away to the left and reveals the scale of the wilderness around us. A clearing here and there. A patch of open grass maybe freed up by a lightning strike. A fire. Re-growth. The endless cycle that some might call nature. They have remote towers in places like this where some lone man or woman spends the summer months watching out for grey white plumes of smoke rising up, sometimes fifty miles away. She isn’t listening to me. Then they call in a plane to fly over the smoke to assess what’s going on. Sometimes they do that and sometimes they let a fire burn. The plane calls in another plane to drop a suppressant on the fire or, if it’s warranted and safe enough to do so, a team of fire-fighter parachutists complete with shovels, beaters, blankets. It’s a complicated situation.
Fires have been catching fire for millions of years before men were around to beat them out. Accepted logic is that it’s a good thing. Re-growth. New species. Released nutrients. Space and so on. But if there is no fire then that particular patch of forest maintains a quiet, shady existence. The deer creep past unseen. It doesn’t matter what happens. Either way works. Drop man in to the picture and sometimes that fire has to put out. It’s a reasonable thing. Maybe if the fire eats its way round and down and round down the mountain to the outskirts of town. Stands up on itself and waits for the weather and the wooden buildings to come together. Watches people sweating up ditches with tiny spades and barrows dragging away wooden food. But as with the patch of scorched forest: if the town burns, it re-grows. It re-seeds. So what’s the point of the fire towers? Why not just stand back and see what pans out?
It’s not man’s way, I tell her. But it could be about embracing the arrangement of things as they descend together. Something about throwing all the bones up and letting them fall and scatter and making sense of the shapes. There are watch towers stood on the hills. It’s jungle land. People don’t want their houses to burn. Take your feet off the dashboard. I don’t like it when she puts her feet on the dashboard. She says she doesn’t have any shoes on so it won’t do any harm. Maybe, but I don’t like it. She asks me why not. Don’t you like my feet? Your particular feet don’t have anything to do with it that I can tell. I just don’t want them on my dashboard. She looks out the window and wriggles her toes. But she doesn’t take her feet off the dashboard, which is walnut veneered and shiny as hell. I’m the one who shines it. She rubs her feet around laughing to herself. The wax shine is becoming blurred. The light breaks up in a million different directions. I tell her I wax the wood veneer all-round the car once every week and then I try not to touch it. I explain that inevitably I do touch it either by necessity or a chance passing of the hand as I reach for something or other. So I then I polish it again and so on. It doesn’t give me any pleasure polishing it and when I have polished it, I feel nothing. It’s just that it needs to be polished. I look at the deep shine. I look at the swirl of deep dark browns and streams of beige black. No irritation from having to polish it and no pleasure from having done so. Nothing.
As I reflect this to her, I realize that the polished wood and me have no relationship at all, other than being in the same proximity. And that proximity as far as I can tell rested on the chance purchase of a car that a neighbor, who had walked across to me one day from his garden; asked me if I wanted to make an offer.
The car is black, shiny, old and large. With a large trunk and so much leg room in the front that, if the passenger puts the seat back and stretched out their legs and feet as far as they could, there was still another foot of space between them and the bulkhead under the dashboard.
She remains cheerful. She wriggles her toes around some more. Small feet. The walnut veneer disappears under toe shaped smudges. Look. Do you want me to pull under those trees over there and kill you? Why would you want to do that? It’s just one of the options open to me. You have your feet on my dashboard. I don’t want them there. I could park under those trees and kill you and then your feet wouldn’t be on my dashboard. I could polish it. It’s an option amongst many. I’m trying hard to decide what part I play in that. She leans on to my shoulder and asks: have you any better alternatives? I suspect the innuendo and the way she looks up at me from under her eyelids. Coy, or an attempt at coy. I reply: not really. That’s the one I’m going to choose: the one I described. Why would you choose such a destructive course of action? She takes her feet off the dashboard. Tucks them under her seat. Sits back in the seat and folds her arms. It would be destructive for you. Or at least for your body. And your family and so on. But on other terms it may be beneficial. Universal terms, that is. Not that I believe the universe has any innate purpose beyond itself. Woah back up! Sorry. I should have said ‘beyond itself’. I didn’t mean to convey any character on it. The girl begins a low down moan of faux despair. She has heard this a million times, so she tells me; a million times. Well look at this way: sometimes there are areas of order and sometimes areas of disorder. The two go hand in hand but you can’t predict when one is gonna flip into the other. Well, not with the precision you believe in. The road tracks round to the right and up another slight incline. But seeing as your body even in a really really basic sense represents some kind of order, then killing you, breaking up the body, would flip this little part of the universe into disorder. The universe might like that! And don’t you think it’s odd that given the slightest nudge, anybody, any living thing slowly or rapidly depending on the conditions slips into some state of decayed disintegration. Disintegration, I emphasize. Bits seeping out. Molecules flying off with other molecules, turning green turning black, gases, flaking nails, changing shapes. It’s like the universe abhors a body. Slightest opportunity and it runs that body back into little bits. Too organised. All I would do is speed that up a little. Doesn’t take much to get it back to a less ordered state. You see, and I stop the car here to turn and look at the girl to emphasize what I am about to tell her and the car crunches to a halt on the gravel track; throws up the dust. This is what I tell her: your despair is a significant move in the right direction. There’s an uneasy look creeping onto her face and she says nothing. That feeling you starting to feel: that’s the beginning of a universal state of affairs and let’s face it: we all want to be at one with the universe, don’t we! This is your chance! You want to be at one with the universe. And your self? You don’t have one, by the way. But apart from that you just have to give up this thing you call life. You have to let go of the history of all your beliefs and all of history’s values that even at this precise moment are convincingly animating that lump of matter that you call your body which, let’s face it, just last week was a dozen cans of cheap hot dogs, a waffle, some donuts – I recall seeing you eat a donut – and a liter of fizzy shit. She squirms around a little. They’re not, of course. Animating your body, I mean. You may have that conviction and I won’t be able to shake you out of that. Just thought I’d mention it. This girl with dark hair, slim figure. Finely defined and contemporarily attractive face in a flowered dress and with bare feet is at a point in the universe that splits off in two or many directions. Up above the car, a single buzzard circles. He says to the universe with the piercing, melancholy cry that buzzards do: here I am. For now. The sky is blue. The sky is still and warm. The green forest is alive. There is a pause………………………………………. It’s about trying to bring order into disorder. After all the millennia, that’s the only thing that joins up all the dots. But it’s a struggle against the tide, against the hoard of clay giants running against you. The cut on the front of the philosophy book that d—— everything inside it. A girl sat on the edge of an old photograph. Looking inwards. Looking into the distance. Everyone else focused on the best man. The girl focused on a different version. A finite version that will not be realized. The girl looks out of her photo to the boy sat in his photo. The boy was still sat staring into the distance, with the cloth sack at his side; holding the top with his right hand; turned slightly towards it. His sister may have been dead beside him. A bag hiding her dark hair and fine features that were now caved in, blown out, falling apart. At one with the universe or moving that way, at least. She had been under the bag for ten years. Twelve years? Five years more than I reckoned with. Laying in a meadow. Laying in a forest clearing. When the boy removed the bag to look at his sister’s face he didn’t register the scene.
There is a difference between being next to the living and next to the dead. When humans come close together, infinite opportunities all split off to different outcomes and all of them feedback on themselves and then you can feel the life around you. Being close to another living human, you feel all those different possibilities just waiting to split off. Most often we just choose the easiest dimension to slip into and the moment we do, all the other dimensions may collapse. Or they may have been created there and then. They swirls and swell and fill you up and the human face registers one opportunity or one path over another. Even in a photograph. It’s no surprise that photographs follow us like trails. Or rather: we leave them as trails for history to make use of. However: look at a photograph of the dead and the trail stops there. The infinity of versions collapse to one outcome. No chance of life. No path leading onwards and that diminishes your potential to live. And that, of course, diminishes you. When I look at the boy, I wanted an outcome for him that was different. But his sister had prevented that. She determined his path, his becoming. A point in time just before all the versions split off in a billion directions. A billion different outcomes collapse onto themselves, to one. The final reckoning. I look across at the girl sat by me with the dark hair.
I rewind the scene so that she still has her feet on the dashboard. She squiggles round her toes and smudges the wax veneer and then she looks at me for a reaction, bursting out with mischief and life. Her legs and feet are stretched out towards the bulkhead under the dashboard. I try to bring the pieces back into order and force a different version upon the universe. And the universe yields. You’re not easy to live with, she says. Are you? The way you talk. The way you are. I’m not sure what you’re about. I tell her it’s about something like teasing this ball of twine out into all the little threads and a million colors. Or maybe it’s a Werewolf. She takes her feet off the dashboard. Tucks them under her seat.