Oct 23, 2009

Clear in the morning

I used to park my truck towards the sun, or towards where the sun would come up, so when I walked out of the Wal-Mart in the morning at the end of my shift, the windshield would be beginning to thaw. It was cold that Winter, my senior year. There was a blizzard when I went to take the GRE and I fishtailed off the road into a field of snow. I remember I sat there shaking, afraid of what hadn't just happened, watching the vortex of these fat flakes, suddenly still, gentle and drifting, and I remember the how the heater roared, loud now that I was stopped, forcing stale air up the inside of the windshield to melt the flakes as they fell to the glass. Each one, bloated by lake effect, would for a moment be perfect. Then each would collapse upon itself, becoming a spot of water.

Winters started early there, and the darkness was heavy. It never lifted and lasted from the early gray through to depressed afternoons and evenings that seemed to buckle under the weight of Winter. Winter there lasted late into the year, and Spring was just an oscillation of false hope and ice that covered everything.

The mornings, though, would sometimes be clear. They had a sharpness and they hurt to breath. My eyeballs would be dry and burned from the fluorescent lights, body achy from the forklift and four hundred, five hundred boxes, but in the cold, the iced-over world would seem new, and clear, and it would be, in a way, wonderful. Going back to school from work, I used to try to avoid the janitor. He always tried to give me the gospel again. He and I were the only ones on graveyard shift and I was his mission field and he didn't believe me when I said I believed. In the mornings, though, the security guard came by on his rounds and I sat with him once, and we had coffee in the quiet before the cafeteria opened. My voice was hoarse from not sleeping and he was quiet, sitting there, but I asked him about his tattoo. It was old, fading out blue, a death head, a skull with wings. I asked him was that a tattoo, which was a stupid question, and he said yeah. I asked him was he a biker, because the skull was Hells Angels, and he was bearded and had a face that looked like battered sky. I liked him and wanted to have him talk to me. It'd been a long time since I talked to a man. We sat there and we were silent and I just wanted to say, tell me a story. I asked about the tattoo though, and he looked at his coffee, the little cup tiny in his hands, and he said that was a very long time ago. Then we were silent, and I felt like I'd offended him. I tried to say something else but he shook his head. It wasn't, he said, somewhat defiantly, something he was proud of. It was stupid and a very long time ago.

I don't remember seeing him again after that. Maybe I stopped going to sit outside the cafeteria and watch the morning rush of tousled kids with crusty eyes and instead went home to shower, and sleep, and try to write a thesis. I remember the cars would be parked in the driveways, running, heaters on, warming up. I parked in the back of the parking lot, by a light pole, pointing the truck East at the optometrist and the Chinese buffet where the sun would come up about a half hour before I got off work. The frost and snow would still be on the window, but softened a little by the morning. I didn't have a scraper since I wasn't from the North and used instead an old library card that wasn't any good, anymore. I'd hold the edge at an angle, catching the edge of the glass, slicing the frost off in a big sheet.

The mornings were good, though. My heater was good. When I clocked out I'd take off my apron and I'd buy a quart of orange juice with the pulp in it. I'd buy a little bacon if I'd been paid. The sun would slant up over the trees by the time I was leaving, and the morning was like a single key played on a piano in an empty room, all possibilities, interesting possibilities, and possibly even in tune.