I’d forgotten about this piece. It was cobbled together from bits I’d written and never finished; hence the name. Some pieces fit together naturally, while some were coerced to fit.
I love it for the same reason I did then: I liked the individual components that it’s stitched from. I felt at the time that I needed to turn them into something larger, rather than letting them exist on their own. Little did I know that you can do whatever the hell you want, as long as you’re doing something.
Gus Smith, February 2021.
“Did you hear, she’s leaving?”
“Oh yeah? When?” I asked, but by then he’d rolled up the window and started down the road. She was an ex of mine. He must’ve thought that that piece of information was an appropriate cap to a conversation; he must have thought it wouldn’t mean much to me.
Maybe it shouldnt’ve meant much to me, or at least not as much as it did. But with that phrase I was left, with that phrase and all the questions that came with it, with those I was left in the red dust kicked up and swirling, watching his car, the last of the late-afternoon crowd, drive off. You can’t see the cars after the fence ends, after they pass through the gate; the road snakes up to the right, into the trees. You can hear them, though. Long after they disappear from view.
Closing time at the lake has always been one of my favorite times of day. On weekdays, I’d sit in the boathouse and read, or write, or sleep, or simply get lost in the tiny expanse before me, just small enough for me to really believe that it’s mine, that I control it, maybe because no one else wants to; still, it’s mine.
At closing time I’d sweep and organize and generally do everything that otherwise wouldn’t simply fall into other, grudging, hands, but would instead just never get done. They were the forgotten jobs, started and finished long after the last car had passed through the gate and out, out of sight and then out of earshot. The jobs done miles away from anyone, in any direction; the jobs done by me, and only me, for three years. The jobs done alone—alone in both the spatial and temporal aspects of the word. I’d sweep and organize and the sun would hang above.
The light was always a sepia-tone yellow, not perfect only because its beauty was somehow unbelievable. Even my memories of closing time are cast with a golden filter. The same unforgiving sun that burned and blistered my feet standing on the dock watching one- or two-o’clock patrons is the sun that framed the five-o’clock expanse in yellow light.
It’s also the same sun that dries out and burns the red dirt road until the close of my working day is made even more otherworldly by how much, in the hellish heat and thick dust clouds, I imagine it resembles the surface of Mars. It’s this red dust that’s kicked up around me as I’m left here.
I knew the boy who died on the road to the lake that day, early that morning, though I wouldn’t realize that until days later. We’d played football together in elementary school.
That morning, I ran into my boss. She asked me if I knew the boy who died. Immediately, reflexively, I told her no. I figured it was a kid from the local high school, dead in a crash coming up the mountain late at night, slate wall soon to be spraypainted with his name, rightfully so. Always a friend of a friend.
The trains come at night, and the planes in the day.
From the lake, the planes seem to always fly out and over, coming from behind the boathouse by which their sound is muffled or from the woods by the road, from where their sound is easily is easily confused with an approaching car, approaching but still a half-mile or so away, or with the the deep bass sound, so deep it’s more felt than heard, like that deep bass sound I’d grown up thinking was the movement of the clouds, though I’ve never heard it anywhere else, the sound, only in my hometown. The planes fly out from behind and from left-behind over the lake, over the fountain in the center, seemingly always to the same point over the far shore of the lake, disappearing fast behind the trees.
Helicopters fly in same as the planes, but cut the circle of the lake not like a plane’s route does, not like a diameter, but more like a secant straight or arced, over the boathouse but towards the near-right shore. Out to the other lake, the reservoir, actually big enough to earn the title “lake” unlike the water that sits before me. Out to the lands of a single gated road and a thousand paths leading nowhere, or first leading away from this massive lake that no one seems to know about, and then, nowhere. Nothing flies in from the left shore; nothing flies out over the left shore.
Trains you don’t hear until they arrive, yet their horns can be heard even as they fade away. At night, late at night and early in the morning, the horns of the trains take on a different, more shrill, sound. Frantic. Scared, almost.
Storms always come from the far shore, first becoming visible, then an hour or two later, audible; then the silence sets in, and nothing but the fountain can be heard, but then even the fountain’s noise is muffled by the great and imposing and indifferent presence, and then the wind can be seen on the far side of the lake equally disturbing the uneven ripples of a calm water’s surface, the visible wind traveling fast in past the fountain and when it hits it’s like it carries with it all absorbed noise from the silence before, and those still there, still at the lake, those who have hung around awaiting or just simply denying the storm’s presence do not even attempt to talk, because there’s a sense of incredible volume in the wind. While spoken word might be heard, it is rarely understood in the shadow of the thunderheads. Usually, though, I’m alone to watch the fronts.
I remember spending time at the house of a good friend of mine in the late summertime. My memories of the place are always dark. As in night-time darkness, literal. And for whatever reason we were always moving through, through the dark rooms to get somewhere else. But that’s only like two or three memories or separate occasions, that “always”.
And I guess it wasn’t truly “always” in the first place. I have one memory of a night there, two or three AM and we were coming back into his house under his open garage door, through the garage, through the mudroom, into the kitchen, coming in from a walk in his development.
Taking a right from his house and walking down the road a bit revealed that he lived in the last livable house on the street; each house after his seemed like a full house but missing more and more crucial parts. At first, windows without shutters or borders and garage doors with sockets above them, missing lamps; then houses missing front steps, front doors opening to a five foot drop; then houses missing lawns; then unpainted houses without windows at all, skeletons of houses. Before long all that’s left is the indents in the concrete roadside, where grass meets asphalt. Indents where driveways of future houses will be. By then the streetlights had been on for hours, but the light of the last streetlight had disappeared around a bend behind us. The builders hadn’t bothered to put up street lights, down here. And so we walked, into the woods where everything on Earth seemed darker than everything in the sky.
And then we were back. Through the grass, under the second garage door, on the left side of the house. A sudden left into the mudroom and a sudden right to avoid walking straight into the laundry room. Following the kitchen counter on the right to avoid the leg of the island’s tall chairs unseen in the darkness of these nameless hours. Losing the counter where the wall opens up to the dining room on the right, finding a guide again at my right side—the fridge—but losing it just as quickly as the wall disappears into the hallway to the foyer, but reappears in the form of the wall when we make the archless and smooth transition from kitchen to den, and finally finding the door to the basement on my right. He opened it, went down, but I waited.
This was her house, but the floor plan was backwards.
I’ve been coming home late more and more these days. Always things to be done in the valley or things to be avoided on the mountain.
When you leave the valley to head up the mountain at a certain hour of night, depending on the season, the skies’ll be dark and will feel cold. After the state route escapes the farthest reaches of the city it lays you out on an open stretch facing the mountain. Here the sky is brighter than the Earth, especially at the horizon, where light can be seen subtly suggesting another city on the other side. But I’ve made the trip enough to know there’s no such city; I’ve stopped wondering where the lights come from.
The stretch continues until the base of the mountain, where there’s a stoplight. On a night like this you can read it from nearly a mile away. It’ll turn from red to green, a long green, to red, and back to green long before I even start slowing down.
I’d never seen myself as an artist when I was younger. I was good at defining edges, usually, but it was the middle I had problems with. I never wanted to fill it in, and I never knew how. The scene presented on nights like this is what I’d have painted: the sky on top, and my headlights as the edge of the bottom border, and the stoplight’s single green dot in the middle as my attempt to fill in the space, an attempt I’d have begun but would’ve quickly stopped, realizing it was pointless.
After the light, around the first bend to a straight section where a small valley runs below; in the day you can see a dam and its abandoned pump house, and I know I’ve been down there, but I don’t remember when. Around another wide curve, where the towers play out in front of you, only their lights visible, pointing at the sky. Down into a dip and back up, where I got caught in a blizzard at five in the afternoon, when it used to really snow. Up and around, now hugging the towers’ mountain, past the rocks where the kid’s name is still spraypainted, the boy who died. There’s a stretch here to which I don’t relate anything, but soon it passes where the one-lane tunnel opens in the hillside on the left, and where the concrete retaining wall marks Martino curve, on the right.
In elementary school we used to say Martino’s minivan impacted so hard into the mountainside’s slate wall that they just built the retaining wall over it instead of trying to pry it off.
Here, route 437 forks off and up, along the left side of the mountain, and I follow it, and it’s lonely in the way a home is lonely when you’re the only one in it. Cars travel together, headlights of the car behind always ending at the back bumper of the car ahead. The lead car always with highbeams on. But tonight I drive alone, and home’s just a few miles away.