Chase Scenes, first half (1)

This is another artifact. I can feel when one gets caught up in me, physically, in a layer of my skin that feels sore in a continuous dull sheath around my body. I have thought, at the onset of the feeling, in the past, that I could not physically soothe it without clawing through myself, and I didn’t know what I would find. I shivered like there was an old man in me, right below the surface. If I bled myself he would seep out and dry onto paper his real voice, when, every so often, I feel him struggling to whisper through my skin. An ink wash of some time out of sorts.

Jacky never had hair on his chest but in front of the late afternoon sun, the last time you saw him in daylight, standing by the car in a gas station parking lot, the sun painting his edges white and the down on his chest shimmering like its own worried breeze, the two of your broken magnets turning aimlessly around the asphalt and wind burned plastic, one hundred miles from Los Angeles. Jacky’s car had coasted into the gas station in disgrace alighting two more held breaths in Barstow amidst the drift of folks who looked like they had been thrown into a window looking over Los Angeles. Men with fossilized comb marks in their hair stood against walls in the shade with a waxy hopefulness that came from greasy night sweats flash drying on their skin at sunrise.

The landscape across Barstow was inscrutable from the view in the day. It was all dust and the wind of cars passing on the road. The aspirations of its sky were only to exist in the way that a house at the edge of a brushfire silently watches, into and across the edge of nothing and holding back a sea of life. Barstow held it westward and faced the desert.

Jacky checked you into Arne’s Royal Hawaiian Motel and went back to the road and evaporated in the sun. You looked into the grasses erect in the cracks of the dry swimming pool and pulled tight the oil cloth curtains. Two curtains never block out the light like one can, and through the glow in their joint you knew the white sun faded to brown and waited long for Jacky to deliver you from Barstow. A real painting hung over the shared nightstand showed a monastic seashore, green light shown through a wave lapped high and thin by an offshore breeze and in a second hand a crude swimmer was drawn out of scale with a marker. A shark fin and face bobbed inscribed with ink pen beyond the breakers. In motel after motel, days after nights, something has always happened before you arrive.

You wanted to be a maestro, with all threads of your fate in a crisp mosaic outline that inside you now was a smooth formless effluvium around which you slept in an effort to coagulate it into a dream. In a vision of the divine proportion constructed with Jacky, and without him, a matrix of possibilities and associations rolled beneath you, people who knew people who had known the roads that you had drawn in pen between the highways in the roadmap books from Jacky’s glovebox, each point in the map had the same weight, whether found or created, real and remembered or falsified. You couldn’t conjure anything solid to put beneath Jacky or Barstow. The geography of the past wasn’t swept back in an absence, because it was there, but its existence beyond you was in a facet of reality for which you had no mechanism for understanding. Real voids had that same weight, and each had a name, the housekeepers would never come, the air conditioner would never hum, Jacky and Los Angeles sank into the ocean of the in between. You knew what was missing and where to find it, just not where to put it, or when.

When you awoke in the locked room, laying between the two beds like a crime scene, Jacky sat in the vinyl chair under the window with his hair in his fingers and his thumbs in his ears. His shoulders, ringed by the stretched out neck of his tee shirt, were purple from the sun, in the dimness.
In the morning you saw Jacky walk down the far open staircase and through the courtyard wall quickly into the parking lot through the curtains parted. The way the sunlight through the insect screen clotted with hair of the desert’s dead caused him to shimmer out of the day sent you deep alone into the spiral of the room, into the shadowless conscience of the fluorescent light and you lay down in the shower compartment to wait for him to find you.

Time in the bathroom was paneled with mirrored tiles meeting at plastic rosettes, pink marbled plastic surfaces like a tongue across the roof of your mouth reproduced to swim with you. Through a play of reflections the glow of the day filled the room in name only. Sleep is narcotic. Night and Day as a cadence slipping away, became Jacky and Alone. Each time he returned to the room he wore the day as a sediment on his skin. The sun had blown ripples of flesh and thick horny swaths the color of sausage casing over his body. You spent the first times in the bathroom prodding his shell and running your fingers together over it in the fluorescent light, believing it wasn’t real, confused with reflections of the peeling ceiling in the panoply of mirrors.

You spent all of the time in some form of sleep. There are several, each a pact to limit the intake of the senses. Some sleep is told through dreams, other told by one who watches you sleep, but by its very nature you tell none of it. You sample consciousness like an infant. You pulled with all your muscles to open your eyelids and felt their fleshy edges bound.

The room was a space capsule hurtling beneath the days, with Jacky flickering in and out of dreams in parallel universes. When you returned from the milky way of mirrors, Jacky would be an old man filled and covered with a long life in the Barstow sun, shoes and jeans worn to cloth air, and you a child lent his youth forgotten.

The way your eyes turned to gum, a pliable youth contained in the all over yielding flesh of a rump, the softness of inaction and apathy, made Jacky’s intermittent but repeated returns to the motel room and to you in the bathroom occur in a single unbroken action, the grout imprints on your flesh changed and rotated in the mirrors and overlapped into a spiraling grid of cities forgotten in which all times happened at once where every move laid your hands upon ghosts. You shaved your chest, awake for a moment while he was out so that the way the smooth skin pricked beneath the gauzy tee shirt made you feel the character of sick and weak. It was Jacky’s skin that undulated and flaked and fissured and scalloped as you continuously picked at the growths and peeled away sheets of wrinkles and wads of scar tissue that replaced themselves like the layers of paint in an old house, each more grotesque and less becoming of the Jacky you knew. You had a responsibility to him in those inward spurts of time, and he in turn was burdened with supplications that made the space of your sleep and constructed your deliverance from Barstow. Those precious obsidian imprints that you saw in his eyes when he lost himself in the mirror endless as you flayed him, but didn’t dare stir up or covet. The two of you were separate people falling at different rates.

Jacky smelled like different things or scenarios when you faced him in the bathroom. Him sitting in the sink, you leaning against the wall, the back of his head in the mirror behind him, and your face over his shoulder, then his face in the mirrored wall behind you, and on and on, the scent of pomade, leather, wet denim, a discussion beneath a street light, the desert dust on the elbows of a chino shirt, engine grease money and sweat. But he didn’t speak. No words and no sounds hung in the stretch of days in Barstow in the motel room. There were sounds from before, a conversation outside of Amarillo in the car about Los Angeles that hung across your skin as a vibration yet to reverberate back to the ear, a memory in waiting, and the sounds of the air sucking through the car windows. There were sounds and voices still hanging in the air of the room from arguments and tedium that you were late to, you couldn’t hear those either, only feel them when you touched the glass of the window in the dark.

What kind of catalyst would you need to initiate the wash of life back over you. You blamed the stillness on Jacky. He took from you the hours and days that you lay drying. He took things that were not his before and made them his to establish the story that would let you out. His burden was the limbo that whispered at the end of his role that he bore, not with an absence of feeling, but a maniacal focus on the feelings that lurk in future moments, which he held chronostationary with each that he stood by the road with his hip out. People dried up in front of him, blew away into the desert, and he woke you with slight hope in his salty breath.

Your eyes were black when he drew you out of the room, lighter than a recollection, and he hobbled with his tight skin, a paper man, and you both got in the car. There was a low green cloud of light that wended its way around the motel buildings and the gas station from the dark. In his silhouette you could see his lips pulled over his teeth and the smoothness where his nose had been, and as the night air painted the car out of the city light you rolled down the window and felt the coldness that focused your eyes in crystal. The mountains black against the luminous black sky barely distinguished themselves. The glow from the console just dipped Jacky’s fingertips on the steering wheel in its green meniscus. You sat back out of the light. Everything stayed still as you moved north along the valley. When you got out of the car you were shoeless in the gravel and the wind gently blew your loose clothes away from your body, the costume and setting of a child’s night trauma.

We aren’t going to Los Angeles.

You were shivering into a future that had not immediate past, as if you had slipped through your own skin like a last breath, a long leaking kiss over the weeks or months stalled out in Barstow. Jacky wore those hours and his own. He was the vessel of your life. You told yourself that in this moment you were old, but that time had built other yous, you just couldn’t find them here or now.

You and he faced the dark on the hood of his car in the night. Jacky’s voice was silent. It was a pure evocation of the past, as silent words and looks only can be. You augured his breath. It secretly whispered simple names for the memories of yours that he housed. It grew louder by indivisibly small increments as he slowly mouthed airy tendrils and your name, Jack, a hesitant filament blooming forward into future reminiscences. The name was emptily alien, as if it was inhaled. It was the epiklesis that would summon something other than a person, the cool lunar breeze and the summer fog of stars. Jacky’s voice never quite captures the fullness of the moment as you chase it. It echoes back to you the thought you just had, the chill you just stifled, from the silence of rock chasms and sand dunes in night. When the words drift away you don’t search for them. When he follows them you will leave him in the desert. Yet here you are, you and he, silent night and long day, in each breath a length of time.

Once his breathing stopped you made a decision. He would disappear. You felt the world race and stop. You had made a promise to yourself that you would leave and see what happened. It wasn’t an opportunity, it was just a will, and you didn’t think it through. You stole his red car from the dust and were on the highway in very early evening, a bright summer evening. The vacant attentions of dry sweating blank back sides of Las Vegas casinos made you feel thin and oblique.

You stopped where you could just breathe, in Wann, at a chain bookstore, and looked in a guidebook for some place hidden to camp. A bookseller referred you to some public land off the highway. You rolled down the windows on the farm roads, the two lanes, that’s what you did on those roads and you pitched Jacky’s dome tent right next to his car.

You didn’t have a fire or dinner. It was silent and the sun went down unceremoniously. Darkness in a tent is doubly dark. In the darkness you heard voices without lights in the scrub, then drums and a fire glow arose, then you laid awake. You counted to two hundred and breathed and they didn’t stop. You rolled out of the tent and put on his boots filled with sand, slipped out the tent poles and pressed the tent in a pile on top of Jacky’s effigial remains in his trunk, and rolled like water running down the wheel ruts with the headlights off until you reached the main road and then even a bit longer, until you saw the first oncoming headlights far off, and lines flashed between empty stretches of asphalt.

You drove through your sleep on Interstate 15. You beat on the steering wheel and listened to his hissing cassette tapes for one hundred fifty miles and slept in a tidy motel in Beaver, Utah filled with brown lamplight and stars over a dark parking lot. Planets hung blue in pairs above the horizon. You held the phone against your head and thought of calling him, thought of wanting to speak aloud, but he wouldn’t be there in this long silence. That couldn’t be your concern. Enveloped by the room you fell into the new distance from him, greater than the immediate miles of darkness you had unspooled, and slept with your feet on the wall.

You left early and left the bed made, you slept on top of the bed clothes and left the lamps on. They show through the curtain and the milky condensation. Jacky’s car was still there. It looked blue in the morning. It didn’t matter to you if it was the same car or a different car, his, someone else’s. What had mattered quickly seemed like a weight in your thoughts, like a lead apron draped over the breathing of days. He hadn’t been anything more than passage to this moment. What mattered now were the uncertain, shimmers in moments.

You began not far from where Interstate 70 split off, a huge divergence in flat open space, and you were heading due east. It was still early, still before breakfast, if you had been hungry, or aware of it, instead of aware that every other wash of feelings that a body could have pooled into the room you holed yourself up in at the Book Cliffs Lodge in Green River. The sun and air were hot but they looked cold, they were clear and pure but you believed them dusty. It is easier to think everything else is corrupted and ruined. You pulled to the oil cloth curtains and leaned back in a chair in the enormous room.

You tried to nap. It was too early and regardless of the solid curtains and doubted lamps, it was too bright and you felt your white eyes on display. You lay on the floor underneath the table, held its wood cabriole feet and looked beneath the bed. There was a note stuck on the carpet. Someone had written “blood stains” on it. You found more notes around the room. Some merely described the things they were stuck to, others might have pieced together a history of deficiencies so local and anaesthetized that you wanted to be sure not to be recorded among them. The objects or their losses didn’t have significance. They had to be named in order for them to pass, and you wanted to take names as you ran, and you didn’t want to tow a suite of new visions with you.

You had been in the room for hours without eating or seeing the sky and were impregnated with motel grog that you felt in the back of all of your senses, the back of your throat, the back of your eyes, the inside of your skin. Night woke you. You dialed Jacky’s number from a payphone in a cloud of white light. A lantern hung from the wall above it that made your hands yellow. A different voice spoke. It had a southern accent, it sounded tired and ceramic, from a room full of hard surfaces, and narcotic, like the mouth and lips were gauze, all in one word.

Yes. And you hung up. You bought a huge bag of corn tortilla chips and a jug of orange juice and shut yourself back in the room.

When the lights at the road came up and the joint in the oil cloth curtain went from orange to diaphanous turquoise, you pushed open the door and walked along the row of cars parked outside the windows, each for each, and around to a detached building with more rooms. It smelled like paint and carpet. Only a few lights were on in the double breasted hallways and they had red dimpled glass shades, like a pizza parlor dipped in night’s blood, and each door, below the peephole, had a sticky note with the same handwriting on it as the one in your room. Each one listed what was missing from the room. You read down the hallway until you could piece together a rather complete picture, from what was missing, of what embodied the minimum semblance of living. The room was what made you exist. It was the least you could tumble into and allow yourself to fall asleep for six hours. You never touched the bedside table, or turned on the teevee, but its absence, a blankness there, would have awakened an uneasy misalignment in your charade of wholeness. When you returned to your room to get sick on tortilla chips and orange juice, you sat wondering what was missing from this room.

In the morning you drove across Colorado. Your upset stomach caught up with you in a mountain pass before Denver and when you sneezed in the thin heights you shat yourself and threw your underwear away in the pit toilet at a scenic overlook.

You drove through the tabletop of the country into central Kansas, determined not to be stuck in one geographic spot for longer than it took the sun to pass between clouds in the enormous sky, and stopped way off of the highway to camp at Tuttle Creek State Park. The campsite by the reservoir was quiet. Before setting up the tent you walked to the water next to the dam and skipped stones until your knees started to burn and then went back to set up his tent. The sky was plastered with a single cloud but the air was bright beneath the trees. There were two girls there. Their tent was already pitched and one held a guitar but didn’t play it. They were about fifty feet from his car and they looked small. The wind was gathering into a mass. It filled the trees and the reservoir and hauled over the ground beneath the trees like a tide rushing. You cooked a can of red beans directly on the camp stove in the shelter of the open car door and when one of the girls asked you to join them for dinner you declined and crawled into his tent. It was dark and the wind had the greatness of an unseen bear. Wind in the dark, they are inseparable then. The tent leaned until its surfaces touched you in his sleeping bag and you thought about every time that you and he camped in the cold how he told you about camping in the Blue Hills outside of Boston, in the snow, and he slept in his underwear so that when he got up in the morning and put on his clothes he would have the warmth to look forward to.

Whoever told you that just wanted to see you in your underwear.

He thought he would die. The zipper didn’t work on the sleeping bag. It still didn’t. Kansas is the middle of the universe. You could feel it being drawn into the earth. From the middle you are equidistant to every final destination. When the wind stopped the moon showed through the tent and you drove further east into eastern Missouri and morning sleep in a hot motel room with dead flies on the pillow. The next day you drove one thousand miles as it all fell away behind you.

In Atlanta things look familiar. Things made you look familiar. You arrived in Atlanta late at night and slept on an old mattress on the concrete floor of a warehouse by the railroad tracks south of downtown. You ditched the car in a university neighborhood where a porchful of punks invited you to squat in the house with them. It didn’t quite fit you, but you weren’t quite you anymore. You are Jack. It fit around you like a smell. You were given the room with the only air conditioner. It sounded like the sick wind over coastal gas refineries. Here or there, through its whir, only the drowning voices rang through to you. All that summer passers-through escaped the disease of southern heat on your floor. You heard them tell stories but you only listened to the air conditioner and its medicated breath. It made a space around you.

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