Sep 13, 2005

Certain places we go

I watched the sun burn red into her face around the sunglasses. Her dog looked at me. A bee crept down the white inside of a red plastic cup until it fell fluttering into old flat beer, making little rippling noises as it died.

Where do you want to go? she said. Not now, she said. Eventually. When you end up somewhere, where do you want it to be?

I had a friend once who dreamed about Pittsburg. He’d only been there once, stranded with a car swerved off the edge of some embankment and he staying a night with a friend of a friend and waiting for help. He woke up early in the morning and brushed his teeth and stole a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator. He took a sip, and remembered, wondering how he’d forgotten, that orange juice always tastes funny after you brush your teeth. So he went out, walking through the deserted factory district for a few hours before buying a cup of gas station coffee and going back. After that, on certain days, he’d talk about Pittsburg and how he’d like to go there, sometime.

She says she wants to go to Europe, spending a year here and a year there and then she’ll end in Tuscany. She says she guesses she’ll just have to marry rich and I laugh because she’s already married and living in a low rent apartment above a crazy lady neighbor who badgers other peoples children into chores, makes up gossip and sings old love songs to birds. The dog likes my laugh and comes to put his head over where I can scratch it.

My housemate downloaded this program, a digital map of the globe. He pulls back on the control, lifting lifting out from the ground and into thin space until he can see the earth as a blue circle on his screen, continents etched in green. He types in an address, and hitting enter we plunge down in, rushing in at a speed giving me vertigo. I see the mountain range spilling south towards the gulf and then the growing articulation of trees and rivers and buildings and we keep falling forward fast until I ask him if we will crash into the dirt and send up a digital puff of exploding dirt. He laughs, and the screen slows to a hover over a street corner covered in trees and he points to the intersection and says see, that’s where we live there. Later he’ll go to see the Himalayas and the contours of capitals and sites of world wonders but between each he will pull back up to see the circle and come in again to see our street corner from the sky.

The bee stopped and was still, floating upside down.

I saw the American desert a few times, just driving through. The first time we crossed at night to avoid the late summer heat and I heard the nightly rise of the wind that erases again the tracks of other days. I told myself, that night watching for the lights of little shacks with their short waves and their water piped in, the story of John the Baptist eating locust and standing in some desert river preaching a kingdom to come. The first summer of college we drove down there and I saw the sand and the sun rise over nine shadowed valleys and I thought that every morning looked like a resurrection.

Her dog yawned, head on my knee. I looked at the side of her face under the sunglasses’ shadow where the skin was white, around her eyes.

I think about the desert a lot, I said, even though that wasn’t really an answer to her question.