this one time they were sitting in the hookah bar (closed now) taking turns passing the mouthpiece to each other, breathing in deeply and trying not to cough, as if it was a game that they each had to win and when they weren’t listening to the glowing hot coal crackling on the tinfoil they were talking about driving up 81 and not coming back but maybe now that he's thinking about it he was really the only one who was thinking about the not-coming-back part and yeah, he guesses the bit about her being there with him was a big part of it as well and he said to her maybe i’ll be a truck driver and she said why would you want to be a truck driver and he said i’d like to be on the road by myself or with someone else sleeping in the back of the cab so they’d be ready to take over the wheel when the sun started to rise again but she didn’t hear what he was trying to say and instead said wouldn’t you have to be away from your family a lot and he said yeah i guess so but think about how much of the country you could see and you also would get paid for it although not very much and he breathed in the vapor again deeply and blew it in no particular direction, letting it pour out of his mouth and out of his nostrils and handed the mouthpiece back to her.
that october when the leaves were changing they did finally drive up 81 like they wanted to and even though they were going because she wanted to see her boyfriend at penn state he still got to see her asleep in the passenger seat when the sun went down and he kept driving kept listening kept hoping something would be different by the time they got there and why the hell did he agree to that trip in the first place, she basically said drive me up to pennsylvania while they were sitting together in the big dining hall huddled on the small two person table with the crowds swirling around them as they were drinking the mediocre coffee and eating the mediocre breakfast food and he said yeah ok that sounds fun and she said what are you gonna do while i’m hanging out with my boyfriend and he said i dunno do some hiking probably and on the long road north she still thought he was just going hiking and that she was just catching a ride but when they got to pennsylvania in the middle of the night he said have fun and she said i’ll text you and he did stay in a hotel just nearby (just in case) and paid way too much for a room with two beds because nothing else was available and he thought well okay maybe this will come in handy later but it never did and so the next morning he packed up his things and ate the continential breakfast he earned and made sure to check his phone for any messages but since there were none he got back in his pickup truck with the smooth although cracked leather seats and drove up through the rolling mountains and every so often he would check his phone or glance over at the empty seat next to him and a couple times he got out by the side of the road so he could take pictures of the truck next to the beautiful vistas against the even richer-colored leaves and he still doesn’t know why he took pictures of the truck against those vistas and not himself but it seemed like the natural thing to do at the time so he kept driving around aimlessly turning down highways when a road sign had an arrow with an interesting town name in that direction and sometimes there’d be a cute town and sometimes just some old structures that looked like houses or maybe barns and some of them were so covered in ivy or so collapsed in on themselves it was hard to tell what they were at all and he wasn’t afraid of getting lost at all since he had his phone and a road atlas which was kinda out of date but the interstates never really change which were the important ones anyway and when he got bored of seeing the same beautiful countryside and taking pictures of the same beautiful vistas (each one an excuse to check his phone) he decided to go see the highest point in new jersey because it was close by (kinda) and which admittedly isn’t all that high but there is a big obelisk up at the top and he laughed when he first saw it because wow were these new jerseyans so self conscious about their flatass state that they went and put up this grandiose tower at the one hill that happened to be just a little taller than the other ones but he would admit it did look pretty cool as he crested the hill in the truck and he did still get a picture of himself at the bottom of the tower and so yeah, he guess he did end up doing some hiking since he had to walk up from the parking lot to the base of the tower which was like 100 yards but it was a little rocky and mostly uphill and when he was driving back through that flatass state he went to go get gas since he was just about on empty and was confused at first when a guy came up and started doing it for him but apparently it’s illegal to pump your own gas in new jersey and the guy asked him what kind of gas do you want and he said uhh regular please since he kind of forgot that there were different kinds of gas and he said ok and then he handed him his credit card when the gas stopped flowing and he put it in the machine and put the gas cap back on and then gave the card back to him wrapped in its receipt and he waved as he drove off towards pennsylvania again and when she finally texted him that she’d probably be ready to leave in a few hours he slid down behind the wheel in the smooth leather seat because he was already in the parking lot, waiting, and he thought he guess he should liea down in the back seat or something but he didn’t at first because he didn’t want to get out of the car in case she was standing at the window of her boyfriend’s apartment staring at the truck and he thought that’s ridiculous she’s not looking at my car right now so he got out and stretched a little bit and then got into the back seat and kind of just scrolled through facebook or something on his phone and also maybe slept a little since it had been a long weekend and then after it had been a couple of hours he texted her and said ok im here and she said ok so he got out of the backseat to go walk up to the apartment but when he was halfway to the building she came out and so he kind of just stopped and waited for her to get to him and then they walked back to the truck together and they got in and he put the car into drive and since the “hiking” was done and the weekend was over they drove back down the way they came and he thought to myself wow i’ll have been in 6 states by the time we get back to virginia tonight and he was gonna tell her but then didn’t say anything and they actually didn’t say very much at all on the way back and when they finally got home she got out and he said see you later and she said thanks again and he said of course and he watched her walk back to her dorm building and go inside.
I’m at the part where when my eyes get to the end of a line, there’s a little bit of delay as they race down and over to start reading the next one. There’s a little bit of delay. I have to wait for my eyes to catch up to the beginning of the next line. I’m at the part where I gotta pee but I don’t really want to give up this table and if I got up I’d probably want to take my bag with me or at least put my computer in my backpack. I’m at the part where she comes down the stairs and walks up to my table and says why are are you doing your homework in a bar and I’d say where else am I supposed to fucking do it since we both know I can’t do it at home and also the radio station is still too damn hot since the AC went out again I just gotta find somewhere to sit. I also need to pee. She’s at the part where she walks over to get another drink and in the time that she’s standing at the bar, flirting with the cute bartender with the long blonde hair, I’m thinking okay if I just close my computer really fast grab my backpack and then sprint to the door I can be out of here before she even knows I’ve gotten up but now she’s turning around and we’re smiling at each other as she’s sitting back down. I imagine a bead of sweat rolling down my forehead. She’s watching the salsa dancers learn how to salsa dance. I get up and say to her I gotta go use the restroom.
We have a ritual. At the end of the day, when it’s still light out, when the sky is clear and bright, when the wind’s blowing cool and clean in just the right direction, I walk out of the back of the brewery, shut the door behind me, walk over to my car where it overlooks the field, cup my hands around my mouth, and belt out the loudest MOOOOO I can muster. Two or three--or if I’m lucky enough and loud enough--as many as six or seven cows look up from the grass. We make eye contact. We understand each other. After a little while, the cows go back to eating and I get into my car and drive away.
They don’t even need to MOOOOO back; I already know what they’re thinking. Sometimes, the cows are on the other hillside and too far away for them to hear me, and if I walk out of the brewery after the sun has set, then the cows are wherever cows go when it gets dark out and wouldn’t hear me there either. One time, when it was very hot and sunny out, I shut the door behind me and walked over to my car where it overlooks the field and saw the cows clumped together in the grass under the shade of a big tree. I cupped my hands around my mouth and belted out the loudest MOOOOO I could muster and a few still looked up. I got in my car and started to drive away and thought about how the cows at the edge of the shade would probably have to get up and move when the sun started to set and the shade started to shift. Maybe by then they’ll get up and walk together to the bottom of the hill where the gate meets the dusty road, close the gate behind them, turn towards the brewery, belt out the loudest MOOOOO they could muster, then get in their cars and drive away.
They started knocking down the building today. The apartment building that I lived in before they told me I wouldn’t be able to renew because they’re knocking it down. They said they’re building newer, denser, taller buildings. They told me I could still renew into a different unit but the rent would go up. I told them to get lost and got a different apartment across town. I drove past the building and they’ve already started knocking it down. The building that was right next to the street and I could look out of my window at the two bus stops, one right outside and one across the street. I was really close to two bus stops one of them had a box for newspapers that was always full of trash. I saw through the building. The glass is all gone and I could see the bare two by fours with cables exposed. I got off the bus and walked across the street by the other stop and walked up into the building and unlocked the door walked into my bedroom collapsed on the bed and thought I really like having this tree outside my window and I really like being able to see the sunset come through my window blinds and get chopped up onto the wall over there and only a few months later I was standing on the other side of the street where the bus stop was looking at a building falling apart. There’s a big fence around the whole place chain link with tarp on it so it’s harder to look through. The whole place, the entire north half. I thought oh god I hope they don’t destroy the tree too they can have everything else because the tree was really close to the building and these things always begin with the trees getting knocked down.
Here are the things I brought went I went back home. I brought both of my pairs of pants, my neatly-folded T-shirts and rumpled button-downs with sleeves still rolled up. I brought as many pairs of clean socks as I could find, and even a few pairs that I didn’t have time to wash yet because you never know when you could use a couple of extra pairs of socks. I brought a slim paperback novel that my friend lent to me since I hadn’t had time to read it yet and the four or five copies of Poetry magazine that were sitting on the coffee table because my roommate sure as hell wasn’t going to read them and at least I’d think about reading them or maybe just look at the covers even if I didn’t actually get around to opening them.
I brought the blanket I got from the farmers' market whose tag promised “authentic mexican” despite the validity of that claim, it's a damn good blanket that’s sturdy and warm with a nice pattern. I brought it because we have a lot of memories to make together. And although we’ve made plenty of memories together already, I brought my angry dusty boots because I was worried that if I left them alone in my apartment they’d stomp on all of my schoolwork and homework assignments, delicately scattered all over my bed. For good measure they probably would have tried to kick over my computer too, but with them safely on my feet I had nothing to worry about as I sped north in the dead of night with a cold cup of yesterday’s coffee in my hand as we all waited together for the roaring sun to rise in the distance again.
Car dashboard reads fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit this morning as I drive to work. I’m watching the clouds and the sunlight through the clouds, and I’m thinking of Mitch, who’s on his way North. He left a few days ago for his round-the-country road trip and as I’m driving to work right now watching the clouds and the sunlight through the clouds, I imagine that I’m him. The cool air streams in through my cracked windows and I’m thankful for the button down that I picked up off the back of the couch this morning with the sleeves still rolled up.
It’s weird how gone-and-not-gone he is. Our friend group follows his updates on his Instagram account and we chat with him over SMS and other messaging apps. Someone mentioned we should do a video call at some point. Gone and not gone. I wonder if he’s seeing some clouds like these wherever he is now. He was in Boston recently, and the last post on his Instagram is from Newport, Rhode Island. And it’s only a matter of time until the already-cooling bright green fields he’s driving past are smooth and bare and the shining sun landing on the colorful brick buildings is replaced by neutral grey cloud cover and quiet falling snow. He’s on his way North, after all.
I imagine I’m in one of those colorful brick buildings covered in quiet falling snow having driven for a long way through countryside but instead I’m putting the car in park and grabbing my coffee and backpack and hitting my head on the door on my way out and fumbling with the keys to lock it.
There is a place near our houses called the swings. Spencer and I would sit and wait there all the time during the summer, though once senior year started for us we went less. The swings were more than just the two long pieces of rope stretching up into the branches with a bit of wood or a knot on the end. The swings was the place in the woods and a state of mind, whether or not it was possible to actually do any swinging there.
When we first started to go, we did do a lot of swinging. The best swing hung over the gravel wash in the creek, and for a long time had a solid piece of two-by-six as the seat. The best way to do it was to grab the swing and then climb the tree up on the flat ground. The higher we climbed, the farther we’d swing. If we climbed high enough, we could jump off the swing at the other side of the creek like Tarzan, free-falling onto the flat-packed ground.
Most of the time we’d be there with our brothers or friends. The swings were a landmark, a known gathering place, and a reference point. Tucked into the woods between a four-lane and some standard matching suburb houses. Thin paths crisscross the woods there, from us and from all of the other people coming to wait around. Cracking across branches and fighting through thorns made the waiting so much sweeter.
We did so much waiting at the swings. Spent long summer days there. We would sometimes bring food and stolen beer there and wait for the whole day. We waited together most of the time, but sometimes I just went by myself to look at the rope swaying gently in the wind and to hear the soft murmuring of water over the rocks. If I listened hard enough, I could even tune out the road noise of the highway behind me.
One time, Spencer and I rushed to the swings during a hurricane because the water level was bound to be high and we didn’t want to miss our chance to see the swings like that. I still had my running shorts on from practice. As we got there, we squished through the mud in our bare feet since we left our shoes in the car and we could feel the mud squirt between our toes. After carefully making our way across the fallen-tree-bridge over the rushing water, we admired the tiny river that the creek had sprung up to. Roaring replacing murmuring.
Before the leaves changed, we celebrated Oktoberfest there, just the two of us, splitting a halfway-decent pumpkin beer from the back of my dad’s fridge. We were hurrying along the fall, we were bringing on the cold weather.
Once it came we put on jackets and huddled together like penguins. No fires, since the smoke would be too visible even in the setting sun. Came from class or from practice and waited until it got dark. Then went home.
It didn’t freeze very much that winter. It freezes even less nowadays. Still, when we could see our breath in the air and knew it was time, we met at the swings to huddle together and watch the ice while we waited. We talked a lot about what would happen next, and sometimes we talked enough to distract ourselves, but we never stopped waiting. I still am.
Spencer was never going to college, he knew that from the first day. Despite warnings from parents, relatives, and friends, he would enlist in the Marines after graduation. Spencer and I didn’t talk about it much because I knew he already talked about it with other people more than he wanted to. I just nodded slowly when he would be motivated to say something about it. It didn’t happen often. I was going to one of the big state colleges on the other side of the state.
Days ticked away, and as the future got closer the waiting got harder. Slowly, the world was falling apart and we were watching it live in 3D. Everything was starting to get so much warmer than it used to be. The trees started budding, and the world started to get loud again. Angry loud. Spreading around, leaking out. More water back in the creek. More wildlife coming to drink it leaving tracks. Making eye contact with each other through the leaves. Even the deer seemed angrier.
Then, we were all waiting together across the country. Waiting for the first Monday in November and Spencer and I at least knew that something was going to be very different. The world would fall apart. It had already started by that spring.
We should’ve done something besides just wait. Nobody told us what we were supposed to be doing. Sitting there felt desperate. By the time the end was right in front of us the swings weren’t even hanging anymore. Fallen down in the wind or taken down by angry neighbors. Soon, we’d both be taking things down and packing bags, getting ready for a completely different world ahead of us.
I drank a halfway-decent pumpkin beer in my apartment alone today and wished Spencer a happy birthday, scratchy blanket draped over my shoulders. He won’t get my message for a few hours, still sleeping on base in Australia somewhere. I drank it in the dark. I’m hurrying along the fall, I’m bringing on the cold weather.
I have some tapes in a shoebox sitting in my closet. In high school, my friend’s dad had a really nice home recording setup so we would sneak into the basement with the lights off late at night to record tapes of music off Spotify or whatever other source we could find. Sometimes we’d introduce the next tracks but sometimes we’d just talk into the microphone about nothing. The idea was to record music to listen to later in the car, since I didn’t have bluetooth or an aux cord then. On long car rides, I would put in the tapes and listen to the music and young voices making jokes and telling stories as quiet as possible. I can still hear the darkness in the background.
Tapes are the most human medium. You have to be careful with them, more so than CDs definitely more than digital music. Tapes degrade. Each play scrambles the magnetic field just a bit, losing just a tiny bit of quality each time. CDs stay basically the same provided they don’t get scratched, and even vinyl can retain most of its original quality if cared for. Tapes forget.
Maybe someday I’ll have replayed these old tapes enough times that they’ll be unrecognizable. Maybe at some point the soft hiss will swell and swell and cover everything. Will I too, have forgotten our dark whispers in the basement by then? Soft hiss must be a peaceful way to go.
Have you thought much about what happens next? About when costs of gas and food start to rise? Meat, avocados, and chocolate will be the first to get expensive. I have a plans for a rain barrel. It’s made out of a cheap black trash can and some mesh, so that I can water the garden and mosquitoes won’t grow in the collected rainwater. Do you know where you can purchase a wood stove? I pulled the blinds closed against the blinding sun today. I guess I should be appreciating the light in the mornings. There’s less of it every day, now that we’re past the equinox. What will you listen to in the car or at home when the cell coverage is too spotty to stream? Do you have room to save your playlists to your phone? A leaf is falling off the reddening tree and I think about how many will follow. Do you know how to use a gas mask? The fall is approaching.
Making a birthday cake over a campfire for a fourteenth birthday. The dutch oven worked well, although we were technically making brownies. Birthday brownies. That was before the fall, late summer. I remember thinking it was funny how the two candles — ”1” and “4” — were squished into the crust over the flame. They started to get soft, to melt. It didn’t take long. After the singing and cutting and eating, we wandered into the field to play football and watch the colored clouds in the setting sun. This was before the fall, early September. The trees were not yet changing, the air was not yet chilling. I did not think about how much would be lost.
I knocked a pint glass over onto the table. The connection between the back of my hand and the cool glass, then a delay, and then the clunk of the emptying glass hitting the table. The two-thirds of beer that was left spilled out onto the wood and dripped through the cracks between the leaves of the table. Through the cracks and slowly dripping onto the floor below. I felt my internal reflex jump, telling me to get up and get a towel or napkin or something but instead I just sat and watched the still-effervescent pool spread out on the hardwood and felt the drops splash onto my bare feet from under the table. The beer front reached a piece of paper, some shopping list or school assignment or something, and jumped into it, soaking the page in brown sweetness like some virus or mold. Briefly, I thought of using the page to soak up the rest of the mess or else sweep it onto the faux-hardwood floor. Then I could mop later. I thought of crying, and since it wasn’t milk I would’ve been in the clear, as the saying goes. I thought of picking up the table, lifting it over my head, and drinking the remains of the beer off the table in one go, shaking it a bit at the end to get the last drop off the edge. I set the nearly empty pint back upright, and watched the remains of the beer and foam run down to the bottom of the glass. I picked it up and took the last sip.
The bands last night were pretty good. One was from Philly and the other was from around here, I think. The Philly one was doing this punk kinda sound but also had some psych stuff going on as well. Before them, the first band was almost too loud for us to figure out what they were doing, but the sense I got was either loud distorted blues rock or just some kinda metal. Outside I could see the people checking IDs or making a show of checking IDs and then putting on wristbands or making big Xs on the hands of the people who came. Inside, the rest of us stood around behind the merch table, removing our earplugs to shout small talk into each other’s ears and occasionally waving people down as they entered so they could give us their five dollars. In the back behind us there was this row of chairs pushed up against the wall so when it was slow I stood up on them and took pictures. Walking back and forth on the row was like walking across the rocks in the creek near my house where I grew up because the chairs weren’t quite the same height just like the rocks and the threat of falling was in the back of my head the whole time. Even on the chairs I couldn’t quite see over the crowd so I put the camera straight up in the air above my head and pointed the lens toward the bands and hoped for the best.
When I walked into work today the office was brighter than the light coming in through the window behind me. I thought about walking over to the row of lightswitches and turning off the harsh overhead fluorescents but there are other people working here and I don’t know what their opinions are on good light vs bad light vs not enough light at all. In any case I’d probably fall asleep if I turned out the lights and I have incidents I need to respond to and I wish I had more coffee in my thermos.
Mitch is in South Dakota now. He says it’s flat and cold. Apparently when the cops pull people over there they offer to have you sit in the cruiser with them while they ask all of their questions. It gets cold up there, he said, and I guess it’s also easier to smell drugs and alcohol on somebody if they’re sitting right next to you. Before that, it was Kansas City.
After clearing the queue of incidents I get out my laptop and start working on stuff for class. Every so often, I turn around to stare into the overcastness and imagine myself sitting in a cop car on a long, straight highway in South Dakota.
Sitting in the Target waiting to get a flu shot, dragged along by roommates. Said it would be about twenty minutes. The four of us are sitting in a row on the benches next to the family restroom. A few people came to use it while we’ve been sitting here. Staring off into the void, the liminality is starting to get overwhelming: the repeating, regular overhead lights & black domes for cameras. Some of the cameras looked like they are looking at other cameras. Cameras watching cameras.
There’s always a hushed significance in Target. Like something significant might be happening two ailes over between all the brightly colored products and I’d never know because everything in Target is reduced to a sanitized, corporate glow. Everything under these lights looks washed-out and desaturated. Maybe someone’s lying dead over there. Maybe two people are fucking over there between shopping for toothbrushes & toilet bowl cleaner. Surely the cameras would see it.
I imagine myself floating above the aisles like some kind of ghost or some kind of cloud just suspended and still. There’s so much open space up there above it all & I imagine getting caught in the soft air currents that I know are churning up above and floating over to the clothes or maybe in the other direction to all the food.
I look down at the five dollar coupon I got for choosing to get a free flu shot at Target. I know I can’t use it for beer; I already checked. After we all get our shots, I’ll walk around with the rest of them just looking for something to blow five dollars on. Maybe I’ll buy a notebook to write this story down in.
Yesterday between homework assignments I made myself a snack: homemade bread that my partner made last week which I toasted to a solid crunch, a generous helping of yellow german mustard—the kind that comes in a little glass mug shaped with a tiny handle and a plastic cap—and some hard salami that I cut into small slices and then cut again before setting them on the mustard so that I had little half-moons of meat on top all facing in the same direction and as delicious as it looked, I set the toast on its plate down on the table so I could get a tiny glass of beer to go with it among the different growlers me or my partner brought home from work this weekend I went with the metal one that had beet beer in it and when I walked back to the table I had to shoo away the two cats whose noses detected the commotion and all of the flavors and textures worked perfectly together with the salt and umami blending and the crunch of the toast undercutting the chewiness of the salami and the sweetness of the beer on the other side.
As I ate I watched the sun drop behind the leaves and roofs across the street from me and the sky turned to a gradient from the bright yellow to the pale blue to darkest blue on the other side of the building that I knew was there although I couldn’t see it and there were no clouds anywhere as far as I could tell.
This weekend I went to Sinkland Farms with some friends. Standing among the rolling hills with the mountains in the background, for a little while we just stood there in the breeze looking over everything not saying anything and not moving at all. But the trees had not yet changed. We picked out pumpkins to carve, carrying them with both arms back from the field dotted with them and stashed them in the car after we bought some hot cider and sat and enjoyed the fresh air and blue sky and I got a chili dog as well. And we watched the festival-goers play the festival games—a few where you had to throw or kick a ball through a hole in a tarp and one of the hammer ones where you have to try to get the slide to go up and hit the bell. The “ding!” of the bell carried; we could hear it occasionally no matter where we stood around the farm.
We spent the most time in the corn maze. After we walked under the entryway arch, mostly turned right whenever we had the option but weren’t going anywhere in particular. When we got to the bottom of a hill in the maze, we turned back and looked but saw nothing but corn. Corn and a clear blue sky. We couldn’t hear the cars on the road. We couldn’t hear the “ding!” of the bell. We certainly couldn’t hear the hiss of the air brakes on the buses that we take to class on Monday mornings as they stop to pick us up. Someone said are we lost? and we stayed standing like that for a long time.
sometimes i see someone sitting in class or pass someone on the street and imagine that we are the only two people that exist. not in a romantic way and not even only for people that i like. imagine it: choose a person that's sitting near you and if you need to, feel free to walk over to the window or open the door and look down the hallway so that you can find someone to look at and imagine yourself with and then imagine every other human being disappears in an instant. like a bubble popping. you’re looking at them and they maybe glance up at you and so you look away and pretend you were really just inspecting something interesting that’s on the wall behind them. but then, go back to imagining it. what would you do? what would you say? or, more interesting: what do they do? what would you do and say together? notice your similarities, either physical (blonde hair, only one earbud hanging in ear, possible stain on pants) or mental (tired-looking, knowing, lost) and think about your differences as well (long hair/short hair, wrinkled forehead/not, blackshirt/redshirt, slouched/not). sometimes it is easier to imagine this than to walk up to this person and start a conversation. i am not going to ask you to imagine that situation. look back down at your book, sitting on the desk in front of you. notice your hand draped resting on your leg. it does not feel like your hand. it is too cold, to foreign, too uncomfortable. look at their hand. it is sitting on a laptop keyboard, holding a pencil. think about how it must be difficult to type like that. after a while, get up and walk out of the library after you’ve packed up all your things into your backpack and shrugged on your larger-than-necessary coat and turned around to take one last glance at all of the people inside.
Yesterday, an hour outside of Houston, on a halfway-gravel halfway-pavement country road called Longpoint Road, on a sun-bleached white concrete driveway, in a full suit I’ve not worn in many months, I’m standing and looking out over the ranch next to my dad and two brothers. This will be the last time. It is impossibly quiet and there are low clouds covering the whole sky to the horizon in every direction and I can see all the way to the horizon in just about every direction. We are stopping here to take one last look at my grandparents’ ranch on our way back to the airport at which I will get onto a flight and then drive two more hours home to Blacksburg. Walking quietly through the house like we’re ghosts or else it’s a ghost house and we are changing back into our regular clothes out of our suits. We are talking about how people get the internet out here. No broadband: instead many people use point-to-point antennas for a thin wireless connection over the heavy Texas air but it works. We are walking out to the barn, built after I was born that I ran circles around in as a child before it was packed full of stuff. Stuff that now is going to be emptied out and sold, probably. Or else given away to the neighbors. Lathes. Workbenches. Jacks. A Tractor. And mountains and mountains of parts. My grandpa was an “experimental machinist.” We are standing at the door to this blue barn and my dad is trying the house key in the lock but it’s a different key and the whole place is looking at us even the clouds especially the clouds. My brother is looking out over the fields and saying he wishes he could get one last look at the cows. But they are off somewhere else on the property probably hiding probably cuddled together under the mesquite probably preparing for the rain too. We walk a circle around the barn looking in the windows. We are looking out over the fields again and either the clouds are snuggling down to the ground or there’s a fog rolling in. We are walking back up to the house and the roar in the distance is getting louder and the wind is getting stronger and a branch knocks against the barn behind us and now we’re running awkwardly and the raindrops are coming quicker now and sideways and now we’re really running and I’m pointing up at the roof where there’s an antenna pointed off into the distance and shouting at my dad and he sees me and sees it is also pointing and nodding his head and we don’t stop running until we’re safe under the porch.
Before we got to the motel we stopped at a Five Guys ten minutes before it closed because we were coming from the airport and everything else was already shut down for the night but we just needed something to eat because between here and the motel there was a whole lot of nothing no towns or restaurants or even gas stations really. My dad and my two brothers and I walked into the bath of fully-lit fluorescents and we were the only people in the restaurant besides the two or three or four people behind the counter or in the back somewhere and we could tell that they were already cleaning up or actually almost done cleaning up but here we were and we wanted two burgers and a couple of hot dogs and some fries and we could see the pain in the cashier’s face but we left a big tip. We would have said we had no choice or we are going to a funeral and just flew into town but neither of those sounded like they would’ve worked in our heads so we just dropped the twenty in the tip jar and went and sat down in a booth. We neatly cracked peanut shells back into the small tray of peanuts. After a while, one of the employees walked up to the microphone under the PICK UP HERE sign and called the number that was presumably on our receipt but we didn’t bother to check because it doesn’t matter when your order is the only one in the whole place. We ate our food as quick as we could without making ourselves sick and my dad was the slowest one out of the four of us but he couldn’t just finish it in the car because he was the one driving so in the meantime the rest of us did our best with the mountain of fries still in the brown paper bag and kept going up to the soda fountain to fill up our cup of water because we only asked for one between the three of us and we kept stealing sips from each other while we weren’t paying attention. We wiped down the table as best we could with the paper napkins and one of my brothers grabbed a handful of ketchup packets and stuffed them into his hoodie pocket just in case and once everything looked nice we grabbed the bag of extra fries and waved at the people behind the counter and the manager locked the door behind us. Extra fries in hand we drove across the low rolling moonlit hills and didn’t see a single thing at all until we got to the motel on the other side.