I slip my vision out of her and open my eyes. That was dangerously addictive, but I’m not going to spy on her again, because I promised her I wouldn’t. That was the last time.
I decided that at last I was leaving there forever. I ran to the home I lived in, put all absolute essentials into a bag, ran away to the highway and stood there with a sign saying “New York”. Soon a truck stopped, bound for Boston, and I climbed aboard. Escape at last! Never should I go back. No more need to hide! My mood soared above the truck. The driver was taciturn, which suited me perfectly. Physically immobile but inside aflame, I let the hours and the miles and the land slide by, through the afternoon and onward, as the truck thundered east across the heartland of America, the sun swung low through the giant sky behind us and the shadow of the truck ran away upon the road ahead…
And now this tour van streaks along, some years later in a very different chapter, its engine pounding smoothly as its shadow runs beside us. I seem to feel the turning of the earth and the planets, and enormous hidden powers all converging on the coast here—ghost trucks thundering up the highways of America from every state, intent on some explosive goal I cannot now escape.
Alaia’s still asleep. I check the time: in another twenty minutes we’ll be there. I rest my head back. Evelyn must have turned on the radio, but hasn’t tuned it well. Unadjusted, it sputters through a spree of signals, snatching fragments up or ripping through a no-man’s-land between stations: heated talk, bland voices, earnest weather, urgent traffic; surges of classical or twangy country music, cut with advertising jingles; and wastes of crackle, wheezing, cryptic blips or dirty foundry roars. Voice, noise or music, all is random and detached, but makes its own sense somehow. “All the way down the east coast!” shouts a distant, raucous voice. “All the way down the east coast… Come back fat as a rat!… Why be a loser when you can be a winner?…” Another shimmers in, chilled-out, from many miles away: “For the next thirty minutes, I’m going to give you a special phone number, where you can call me, so I can send you a special gift, this week. Get your paper and pen ready, because I have a special phone number…” Montage: truck-stops and isolated diners on the highway, a cellophane wrapper blown across a lonely intersection, stabs of preaching through the babble, unreal city… What exhilarating multitudes of detail in the world, and how prodigious their minuteness of unfolding. A low electric growl like a worm out of mud comes, rises to a hum, to a whine and a squeak, before vanishing to dogs’ or even bats’ realms of hearing.
A sign—“Asbury Park 5 miles”—streaks by.
Then through the crackle comes a strain of faint piano, transporting me to something so long-lost and forgotten, from my childhood or another’s, that it fills me with wordless vivid sadness and magic: hiding in the shade of a square monastic cloister, where a sunlit fountain softly plays and chuckles at the centre, I flit down one long side of the square, on my tiptoes silent past twenty cracked columns, till I near the open door of a chamber in a corner. I creep to the door and peep within. An old man plays on an ancient yellow piano, never looking at the keyboard but up towards the ceiling, with the sweet tender smile of past hopes, past loves and faded glories long vanished, now revisited a thousandth time but never quite recaptured—a swelling, yearning, faded music once acclaimed but now forgotten, played with a lyric grace and fond regret that slows the blood and saps the will. He’s the composer, I realise. Around him, collapsing stacks of books and papers, scores and jottings, broken metronomes, bric-a-brac and knick-knacks rise from the floor and up the walls on every side, as if they hold up the ceiling. The old man has lived here a lifetime, clearly. Here he plays, all day and every day; and here he’ll die, in one year or twenty, unchanged. Here, in this place of tranquillity, I start to feel my energy and hope draining out, sucked away by a heavy past that isn’t even mine: if I don’t watch out, I’ll enter, settle in an armchair and take root, and then surely petrify and very soon be cobwebbed…
Stirring, I shake my head, bump it on the window and come to life.
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