Tuesday, August 5, 2008
PROMISED LAND - Chapter 2
CHAPTER 2I could tell you all the details of discussions and promises and arguments and make-up sex that led to me making this trip alone, two weeks behind her. Maybe I will another time, if anyone is interested and if I can even remember. Perhaps not. Stories kind of tell themselves somehow, and that one just isn’t around for some reason. It was more a time of blurry action, like swinging a sling around to build up momentum before letting fly a stone. For whatever reasons, Jude went on ahead, and I stayed to wrap up what needed wrapping up, and struggled with desire for her and my reluctance to leave The City. Especially for someplace that seemed to be the edge of the map. Of course, I didn’t mention that to her during our recent whispery sessions of passion & promises. That would have been rude, to say the least. I’m nothing if not polite. So I’d answered my own question, I think, reflecting down the long hall to history back and dragging myself through it. It was the purest and most basic of motivators; simple desire, for my sex partner, my mate, my companion. Desire is what drove me here. Whether it was love, or loneliness, habit or compulsion, that sparked this particular drive, was the question that I was coming here to answer.As I tried to ignore the eternal battle between the throbbing membranes at either end of my spine, Helena, the small town capitol of Montana, appeared in the distance, a tiny and shimmering sea of lights in the morning’s darkest dark, just before dawn. As I approached civilization, sleep deprived and road weary, I felt myself to be a crossover between John the Baptist, coming out of The Wilderness, and some futuristic cosmonaut, dropping out of a worm hole, back into the space time continuum. I pulled Jude’s scribbled map to the ranch out of my pocket, and tried to smooth the crumpled paper with one hand as I directed my mother ship of a beat up Chevy, onward, towards the object of my desire.Once you make that right turn, just past Three Forks, and head up Highway 287 from Interstate 90, you start to realize where you really are. The road narrows, and the immense country side swallows the limits of imagination. The giant expanse of the land is simply overwhelming. Once through East Helena, and into Helena proper, it’s a little less daunting. It’s a real town. Not the Deadwood look-a-like I pictured, as though I had driven into a movie set, but a smaller sized, northwestern town. Unlike lower Manhattan, it apparently closes up at night, and I rolled through the streets like a ghost.The other side of town, across Interstate 15, where 287 becomes highway 12, is even more rural, and I wondered what the hell was out here that was worth driving almost two thousand miles. “A mailbox on the right. A blue one. About 7 miles outside of town. It says, ‘baths – 25 cents’ on a little sign, nailed to the post.”Now, I’ve done a lot of crazy shit and been to some pretty weird places, but these directions smacked of a scavenger hunt, and I imagined all the scavengers out here, just waiting for me to stop on this two lane road in the middle of nowhere, and get out to read a sign promising cheap bathing facilities. Jude had hand written these directions, however, so I did my best to follow them to the letter. Low & behold, the mailbox, blue & boasting baths, appeared on the right, next to some scrabble that could be a path. “Take a right and go 5.3 miles to the last gate.” The last gate.Great.To what? The last gates of hell? And what were the first gates keeping in or out or locked in between? I turned the wheel and headed down the scrabble path, wheels grinding on the sand & stone surface, lights bouncing on the unending stretch of more path, quickly becoming obscured by the rising dust. Moving slowly along, I noticed a lack of dust just ahead, and slowed in time to see a lack of road.In fact, there was a complete lack of ground ahead. The path or whatever it was simply dropped out of sight. I stuck my head out the window and peered in to the night, finally turning off my headlights and allowing my eyes to adjust to the dark. The road simply vanished about 20 yards ahead. Slowly, I began to see it pick up quite a bit further on, and realized it must pass through a culvert of ravine of sorts. I inched the car forward, trying to raise as little dust as possible and looked out the window again. The culvert was about a dozen feet deep and easily thirty feet wide. If I got stuck there, no one would see my car, except from the air. My odometer said I still had several miles to go. What the hell, I thought. I’ve come this far. I can always make a new start as the guy who lives in an old chevy, on the bottom of a culvert. I apparently would, at least, have some road side traffic to entertain me, probably tractor drivers or hide collectors or open range hobos, looking for cheap baths. I inched the car towards the edge, letting gravity pull me in and hitting the gas at the bottom, taking advantage of that motion to propel me up the other side. My tires spun, spitting dirt and gravel as I started up the other side, my car beginning to turn sideways. At the last minute, I popped over the edge, back on to flat ground. I paused to catch my breath, and headed onward, in to the open plain.I passed through two or three open gates. Wide arrangements, providing breaks in long cattle fences that disappeared in either direction, hanging open, pulled all the way back against the fences they divided. At last I came to a closed gate. My odometer read four point something miles, so I knew this was not the last. Taking a look around as best I could through the dusty windows, I decided the coast was clear, and climbed out of the car to open the gate. As I lifted the latch and swung it back, I saw a sign on the gate that read, “If you open this gate, please close it after you pass.” Wondering if this meant passing through the gate, or passing in to the next life, I hoped for the best, returned to my car, and drove through. I got out on the other side and walked back to the gate. As I closed it, I could have sworn I heard heavy breathing nearby. I turned back towards my car, and looked out of the corner of my eye as I walked. There were several sets of eyes, reflecting what little light there was, staring at me from several yards away.The human body amazes me. It has a whole network of automatic mechanisms we rarely experience. Many of them came in to play at that very moment. My heart beat suddenly raced to a staccato drum roll. My ass seized shut and my testicles jumped up inside my body like some marsupial child, returning to the depths of its mother’s pouch. The taste of iron crossed my tongue, complimenting the dry fear in the rest of my mouth. A cornucopia of reactions ensued. Thankfully, none of them involved the releasing of waste materials or the staining of garments. Thanks for small wonders.I made it back to my car under these watchful eyes, and dropped it in gear.Slowly, so as not to piss off Satan, his little helpers, or whatever the fuck was out here, I continued on my way. As my odometer rolled to 5.3 miles exactly, I arrived at the last gate. It, too, was closed, but just on the other side, were a couple of low buildings, just to the right of the gate. This time I opened it, drove through and closed it, as quickly as possible and pulled my car to the side. The first building was a small house, its roof slanted up in one direction, apparently to face the sun and make use of its warmth and light. Across the road from it was a windmill tower, with some sort of box at the bottom, I supposed held a battery or pump. Past the house was a small trailer, a tow-behind thing, like an Air Stream, but covered in wood, with its front and side a collection of antlers and bones, oddly visible in the meager light. Visions of the Texas Chainsaw Massacres danced through my head. The door to the Trailer of Bones flew open, and a figure burst out it, running at me. As I stepped back, it launched itself at me, tackling me and taking me straight to the ground.It made strange sucking noises and I could feel its hot breath and wet mouth on my neck. It made noises all of a sudden.“I thought you weren’t coming, you asshole!” Jude was apparently glad to see me. “Did you have any trouble finding it?”“A piece of cake, sweetheart. Child’s play.”“I’m so fucking happy to see you,” she said in to my neck, then kissing me, long, deep and hard. “Come inside. We’ve got a lot to talk about.”Very little conversation was had as the sun began to rise over the giant hills of Montana. I cannot, for the life of me, remember a single word. -The light of day, as so often pointed out in story, verse and song, can and often does, change everything. I awoke in the little trailer, basically a bedroom with a stove and some shelves in the corners, and looked around.The dreamlike quality things often have after, say, three days without sleep and a nap of a few hours, lent itself well to this place. The walls were almost Byzantine in their compulsive coverings of nearly every surface. Art projects, animal bones and antlers, carvings, paintings, pieces of hammered metal and colored glass, pages of books with passages circled or crossed out, all of it danced in the shafts of sunlight through the tiny windows, whose panes had once been painted a variety of colors. Jude was nowhere in sight, which meant in bed, I guess, as there was little else in the room and the windows were too high to see much through, unless I actually made an effort to get up.Eventually, I staggered out side, squeezing my eyes almost shut against the bright light, and sat on the steps to the Trailer of Bones. Looking around, the menacing feeling of last night’s arrival was gone. The ranch around me was fairly bare, except for the main house by the gate, the windmill, and the Bone Trailer. A little further up the hill was a structure like a lodge, one large room of a building, with a series of windows facing south, the same as the main house. It was built on hillside, with some sort of concrete slab beneath, and a small room built under the main part of it, backing up to the hill. To one side of it was an old school bus. On the windshield of my car was a note.“Go meet Boyd. He’s in the room under the bunkhouse.” Boyd was the owner of the ranch and an artist, I’d been told, who had given up his connections to the world outside, except as they served the ranch.I figured the lodge shaped building for the bunkhouse, and headed for the room beneath it. I carried a small pouch of fresh tobacco I’d brought with me. It was considered good manners to bring an offering, and tobacco was the currency of these hills, dating back to the time before time, when the Blackfoot had never seen a white man’s face.I raised my hand to knock on the door and noticed it was slightly ajar. As I hesitated, a voice from within said,“It’s open. Come in.” Creepy.I opened the door and stepped into a small and cluttered room. Light filtered in through small windows on both the front, and side walls, and I immediately recognized the decorating technique so clearly demonstrated in the Bone Trailer. Shit was everywhere. Carvings, saw dust, chisels, knives and about a kazillion ashtrays, all brimming with what looked like marijuana roaches. Boyd sat a table or desk or something, mostly buried in books and carvings and the damned roach butts. He hardly looked up. “Jude said you were coming. I wasn’t sure if she was just trying to convince herself, but here you are.” I was convinced that I actually was there, so I responded.“Yeah, I made it. Everyone calls me ‘D’. Nice to meet you.” I put out my hand.“Um hmn.“ Boyd’s eloquence was obviously a thing of legend. He didn’t bother to turn all the way to face me, but gestured towards a small carved statue on the table right in front of me. I let my hand drop.“Whatta you think that is?” he said, squeezing a sidelong glance at me that quickly slid from face to feet and back again. I picked it up and turned it in my hand. It appeared to be a fat or pregnant woman, naked with arms crossed over her head, and a hole that ran through her stomach, like a smooth gap, worn by years of repeated rubbing. It was less then a foot tall.“Some kind of fertility symbol?” I ventured. “No, I mean, what is it really?” Not wanting to be rude to my new host, I pondered the statue, as well as the man asking the question. I’m nothing if not polite.“It feels like soap stone, recently carved, I’d say. Within the last few years, at least.” I hoped this was what he was looking for, that this wasn’t any more of a weird test than it had to be.“No, that’s obvious. I mean, really. What is it really?” He turned to look at me now. He was a tall and rangy man, his hair long and pulled back, more grey than dirty blonde anymore, with a square, set jaw and piercing blue eyes that stared in to me like x-rays. He just looked at me, without expression, unflinching. I imagined this is how he looked at the previous owners of all those bones and antlers, before he committed them to his displays. I decide to cut to the chase. I, too, had a brain and an attitude, and wasn’t about to back down easily, host or no host.“Fine. It’s a collection of sub-atomic particles in motion, held together bya unified field of energy.” The basic definition of matter seemed to be irrefutable. I stared back. A smile spread across his craggy face. I wasn’t sure I liked it.“Ah, but does that unified field of energy have consciousness?” Wow. This shit was deep, and this man was obviously no rube. He was asking me for acceptance of God, based on a little statue, within three minutes of our meeting. He’d walked me down this path like he was selling potatoes, and let me look into myself, into the existence of a collective soul, and now he just sat there grinning. Hardly what I expected from folk art people in the middle of nowhere.“Let’s find out”, I said, and tossed him the bag of tobacco. “What else do have to smoke?”“Everyone thinks that, because I roll my own and never empty the ashtrays”, he said sheepishly. All threat seemed to be gone from him instantly, as though he’d been a grinning boy in a mask, all along. “Can’t get that up here, these days, anyway.” He pulled along carved pipe of horn and wood from inside his little table, and began to pack it with the tobacco. He lit it, and drew deeply, like someone smoking weed, and passed the pipe to me.I took it and drew deeply myself, letting the sweet tobacco, so different than American cigarettes, enter and fill my lungs. I held it as long as he did, and let out a rich cloud of blue smoke which joined his in the filtering light of the little room. My head seemed to float a little, the edges of the room to soften. I felt a big hiccupy warmth spread through my throat and mouth, slowly moving down to my stomach. It felt good to relax my body after days of the attention road trip require. I smiled without meaning to. Boyd handed me a piece of heavy paper, the kind school kids use instead of canvas, for their arts and crafts.“You should stay for a sweat”, he said. “It’d be good for Jude, too.” He turned back to his little desk and began carving again. I looked down at the paper he’d handed me. “Stay as long as you want. There’s plenty to do.” It seemed to close the conversation, as though he knew I was beginning to drift on the smoke, still exhausted from my drive. I had questions of my own, now, but I let them drift for the time being. I examined the colorful markings on the paper, trimmings around some text, laid out in the middle, like a greeting card.It read, “No matter how you rationalize it, we were all conceived in a moment of passion.” Questions, indeed. I went outside to look for Jude. I didn’t want to disturb him any further. I’m nothing if not polite.