dog remembers his death one turn from his birth: blood-brother gnawing at the root of his umbilicus, spokes in his wheel. dog does not lag, won’t follow the mule trains, won’t eat dirt, won’t come when he’s called. If dog has a problem, no one solves it; just dog himself.

Sun is dog’s worst enemy—makes him pant, ignites his fur, distorts his vision; heat, in the midday desert, wriggles. The landscape squirms. dog tries to squint but squints are useless. Needs a hat; would settle for shade. Only Man wears hats, carries doctored water—stinks; dog knows, having sniffed the empties, having shoved his muzzle into trash heaps. Scraps sustain him. As do lizards. Food is food; dog’s not particular, so he survives.

Howling mitigates loneliness; dog communes with the cruel coyotes. Does not mate, for they are dangerous—more than once he has felt their fangs. But when the moon creates a vacuum, as it tugs the phantom tide, dog mingles echoes with his brethren-of-the-wilderness.

Ears perked, dog detects a distant rumble, gains higher ground, then scans the vastness, eyes suspicious of a dust-devil’s dance, its path too straight, its noise atypical; dervish winds recite their prayer wheels less mechanically. dog hears engine-knock, old gears in a staid complaint.

"Road" does not describe what he who drives is bent on following. From horizon to the perch (where dog is crouched) extends a blaze, a scrawny scar through an expanse that forms a shelf above the canyon; seldom traveled, the route shows signs of leading… nowhere.

Curious, dog decides that he will wait for the intruder. Time is relative; slack or hurried, now is now at either pace, and dog has ticks that he can masticate, fleas to rout; their bites crave scratching. From his knoll, dog keeps a lookout, while he grooms.

Laboriously comes the Datsun, with its roof-rack lance (odd load), a canvas sleeve concealing something curious (contraband?)—Driver: weary. (dog spies gray, behind the bug-guts-splattered windshield as it passes); brakes applied, both car and occupant disappear in a dust-plume veil, which slowly settles—pings and hisses sing accompaniment.

Veins resembling gopher trails mark forearms, wrists, and hands, his burnished skin a crinkled parchment of translucency; Driver tarries… sags and slumps behind the steering wheel, drags thin fingers down his temples, claws his cheekbones, rakes his whiskers, smoothes the wattle at his throat—its flesh rejuvenated fleetingly while the pressure keeps it taut, but, once released, the vintage wrinkles reconvene.

Seventy, on this very day, the thirtieth of September, he has journeyed sixteen hours to reach the precipice where he stands—or, rather, sits, his bones exhausted, eyeballs bleary from the medians, mile on mile of cleaving grimly to the dotted yellow lines. He sighs… He rests… He hears the droning—that reverberates in his skull from the motor’s whine—subside to silence, feels the buzz, in his limbs, disperse, perceives his context: d�j� vu; when was he last in Arizona... steeped in extracts of aridity... salt-lick sweat, dried spit, and sage?

A sluggish horsefly springs the trap of canine jaws. dog chews and swallows, pleasure evident in the flip-flop thuds of his metronomic tail, which stirs up dust, then stops abruptly. dog, alerted by a “click,” holds still. The car door opens; Driver exits; the car door slams.

Once, when in his twenties, Driver drove to the selfsame canyon—all alone, as he is presently, albeit spry, which he is not—in search of self through physical challenge; ‘tests of strength forge noble character,’ he believed… when he had strength enough to spare. He now conserves. He now appreciates more those processes that he used to take for granted. Ambulation is a blessing—when accomplished free from aches. To tie one’s shoelace is a triumph that recalls bygone dexterity. And to bend that far unsupported seems miraculous; youth be praised.

Upon his second trip—last before this—he likewise traveled solo. In his thirties, almost forty, he felt fit, free, unattached. Loves lost had proved the heart a fool for putting faith in vows of loyalty. Oaths of ardor-everlasting were revoked, or never made. The words "I do" had neither crossed his lips nor those of any Other who extended him affection, then withdrew it, parted ways—advising Soul to keep itself for a lifelong partner.

These treks, nonetheless, were telling, each become a kind of symbol for his purpose: self-expression—born in solitude; truth conveyed… ‘aesthetic truth,’ whatever that was… truth in fiction’s coat of motley. He wrote stories, after all, few based on anything strictly real. Yet he wrote honestly; Driver owed this to the desert, which had taught him—through its tumbleweed austerity—to hone his words.

Cactus spines are leaves whose points protect, give shade, save moisture; they are also barbed. dog spends his days avoiding them; picks his way; approaches Driver with the cunning of a predator. Stealth comes naturally; trust is learned�must be inbred. dog scoffed, refused—hence dog's uncompromising status as a renegade-cur.

TEN STEPS TO ASSEMBLY

1. un-zipper carrying case, laying its contents on the ground,

nose into the wind.

dog slinks in closer.

2. sort bracing wires, front from rear from side.

dog climbs an outcrop for its vantage. Driver’s scent taints the dry-heave breeze. dog breathes it in, his nostrils flaring, sampling, sniffing an analysis, understanding, through olfaction, what his eyes might misperceive:

3. making certain that the pip pin is completely through the hole,

attach control bar.

pheromones feeble/mixed with pungent perspiration/shoes and socks on the verge of foulness/shirt, pants, underwear stale/breath rank. A vegetarian he is not; dog knows a carnivore when he smells one—Driver’s diet no less evident than the fear his pores secrete, a fume of mortal dread escaping, faint yet definite, irrepressible, an effluvium of anxiety more pronounced as the old man toils.

4. checking thoroughly to insure they are not twisted,

attach the nose wires.

Driver, fretting, tries to reconcile the parts with the text in hand. Not that it matters much. Same outcome. Still, it’s too soon to get careless. And, "if a thing’s worth doing…" Driver strums the cables; makes them hum.

dog ducks from sight, then keeps his head down, skirts a boulder, imitates Snake—albeit dog detests that creature’s pitchfork tongue and carrion leer, resents the disproportionate power of its venom, having twice been struck: once on the face—it made him crazy; once on the paw—he limped for months. When struck a third time, dog will know himself dispatched.

5. now attach rear wires.

Driver paces himself. It is hot out: ninety-two at the rim and rising. At the canyon’s base it is liable to be a stifling hundred-and-five. Good for convection, bad for blood pressure. Driver mops his varicose brow; he is not well. (dog knew, first whiff; the old and the sick leach a telltale sweat as if they’re drenched, soused, steeped, or pickled in mortality’s brine. dog yawns.) Driver swoons… kowtows to sunshine—rays relentless—bows to gravity. But the ground, on impact, jars him semi-conscious—memories stir:

"Nothing is real"

"And nothing to get hung about"

Remnants of some lyrics—a Golden Oldie—drift to mind from years long past when corn-silk hair reached stalwart shoulders, when muscles sprang, when he could hike from dawn till dusk without a respite—or a nap—and feel refreshed once on the trail again next morning.

"Strawberry fields..."

They were primordial, Driver’s former expeditions to the Colorado, marked by verdant spring-fed flora, gargantuan cliffs, unending sky.

"... forever"

With post-pubescent anthems sung to bolster self-reliance, Driver heralded his passage as a sacred rite.

6. nose still down, set control bar upright,

rotating crossbar clear of the sail.

Somewhat recovered, Driver recommences work. (dog stirs, resettles; those who disregard siesta-time are fools.) The plateau bakes. The scrub brush rustles in a dragon’s breath of hellish dehydration. Driver gropes for his canteen to slake fierce thirst. He drinks… recalls… relives the moment when exhaustion once before had sapped his body, primed his mind, prepared his then-young soul for the throes of revelation: "BE AN ARTIST," was the dictum, Driver’s Burning Bush, his Calling—though the Word came not from God but from the Muse. His choice was "write." Not at the outset; first came drawing, painting, sculpting, then came prose—said false starts banished once the pen lay claim to hand. He paid his dues: endured rejection, exercised discipline, fortitude, style, endured rejection, celebrated words, endured rejection, overcame critics, dry spells, blocks, because each process was a pregnancy, each book its author’s child.

But that was then, and this is now, and Driver’s zest for life is spent, his offspring stillborn—or abandoned, never published—or out of print. Thus all for naught? Life begs the question; death resolves it. (dog advances.) Driver, focused on his manual, fails to notice.

7. raise king post and attach the upper front wire.

dog closes ground. He keeps his chest low, haunches hunched, his aspect threatening—if uneasy; Man is fickle, homicidal—trust not them that kill their own; Man has forsworn his common bond with Mother Nature.

Driver fidgets. Unaware—yet vaguely cognizant—of a presence, he feels tense—but lacks the wherewithal to translate this correctly. (dog has paused, persists in stalking, though, with the use of fine-tuned senses, checks for weapons: knives, guns, laser-arms—none, makes a strip-search with his snout) while Driver wrestles with components he compares against a diagram, then steps back to view his handiwork; stopping short, he stares at dog (who cocks his head in pert assessment; friend or foe? He licks his chops, as if aroma were a palpable phenomenon.) Driver pales: UNSUNG AUTHOR DISEMBOWELED BY RABID DOG IN ARIZONA; he can read the grisly caption ipso facto. What an end. Not quite the obit. he’d envisioned. Barring terror, he might just laugh; "the best laid plans…"—except defenselessness is serious.

Standoff.

Draw.

It’s said that prey gives its consent before it perishes. Driver balks. dog drops his menacing disguise and wags his tail. Each keeps his distance—Driver none too fond of animals, nor dog of humans.

8. part tubing, and, being careful with the fabric,

unfurl wings to their respective ends of the crossbar.

dog observes. He seems content to let this madman flirt with sunstroke unimpeded.

Driver, ill at ease with scrutiny, shams indifference, carries on, allows his fear to be distracted by this canine’s incongruity; come from where? A pet? He doesn’t look it. Wild? Or just some stray, who, from necessity, has unlearned his former tameness—much like Driver?

9. fasten each wing to the crossbar using wing bolts. Attach the tangs.

Then lower wires to the bolt and tighten the palm grips securely.

Driver moils; he is unused to such exertion, grits his teeth—what few are left, his partials shifting in sardonic misalignment, fights to breathe. Those things involuntary once—digestion, heartbeat—tax his stamina now as if they each depended on his will. He has to think to keep on going—yet another liability, one more strain as age makes despots of the body’s vital signs.

Shadows pass. A pair of vultures navigates updrafts, trailing ghosts along the rim. Their outstretched pinions play arpeggios on the rock face, silent chords, a solemn dirge to which the ill, the maimed, the elderly soon must listen. dog has heard it, lamely danced to its forlorn, circadian rhythm, known its beat as an hourglass-murmur that drained his heart.

The nylon ripples.

10. adjust turnbuckle (upper side) until the lower wires are taut.

Sight down the keel tube,

turning the turnbuckle (fore then aft) to a one inch flex.

Driver follows the instructions as best he can. The wind cooperates. After bucking from a gust, the craft lilts calmly, unperturbed—a landlocked manta, grounded kite, or outsize leaf; a mantling bird, the glider waits, trimmed and impatient, for its maiden voyage.

The canyon waits.

Driver ventures, on wobbly legs, to the nearby drop-off. Its depth is dizzying. Sans support, he feels a vertiginous pull toward this monumental void. He staggers back. He stoops. He kneels… then braves the edge, once more, by crawling—a ridiculous precaution when reminded of his aim. Arthritic fingers clutch the crags with both a frail and fond tenacity. If he leaves this earth—attempts to—is he destined to recycle—dust to dust; he understands Body… ash to ash; but what about Soul—and is one’s consciousness allied to Spirit or Matter?

The canyon calls.

A stitch of insupportable pain possesses the pit of Driver’s groin. He doubles up as with hilarity, keeling over on his side, his thighs yanked spastically toward the bone-yard of his ribcage.

dog draws near.

A mask of enigmatic rapture sets the cast of Driver’s features. Mirth or misery? Paralytic, under the glaring sun, he passes out.

dog peers, his nostrils gaping as he closes to investigate, risks a nudge, then looks around, alert to danger. All seems passive—most of all Driver, whose appearance apes the trance of rigor mortis. False alarm; despite his blackout, Driver’s fate is to revive. But first he dreams:

of foreign lands and populations, places visited, people met, in town or village, male or female, possibilities missed or spurned, of ways and means and strange theosophies that he could have learned to follow had an egocentric bent not fixed his course, prepared his step, propelled him from, instead of to, a life embraceable by some Other… Who?… by someone, somewhere willing… Had their paths not crossed; not yet? Was there a woman once with whom he might have altered destination—not The End, per se, but when and where and how might well have changed… had he but seen beneath the guise that blinds perception by obscuring one’s beloved with an image of oneself? He saw himself… and sees himself, albeit younger, as he spies an apparition clad in chips of silvered glass reflecting earth and sky, so near; and yet the distance fails to close no matter how intense he struggles—strides retarded, slowed like an insect’s crawl through amber… stuck… congealed; the dreamer stares at Her whose iridescent image smiles so sadly, shakes her head—in disappointment or admonishment?—turns away, and, with an entourage of wishes unfulfilled, recedes… fades… vanishes… leaving Driver like a carapace, frail and brittle, in her wake, a fractured reliquary scarcely able to budge—except to blink, which reawakens him to the omnipresent Now…

… and to surroundings whose severity seems to mock him for evoking a mirage of supple character—juxtaposed to one like his, so stiff he has not danced Fandangos for a lonesome quarter century, maybe longer, if the count includes those years between those years, the empty spaces—white as the hairs in Driver’s beard.

dog growls; it is a warning.

Driver stiffens, nerves on edge. His sidelong glance discerns the mongrel… who, intent upon some target, disregards all else, attacks!

The scorpion writhes. When its contortions stop, dog snorts, then wolfs it whole.

A lull prevails… wherein both dog and Driver sense a subtle bond. Not master-servant, "Man’s Best Friend," but rather something more coequal, an impression of  two separate trails, having crossed, now poised to merge.

The canyon idles.

A trifling zephyr toys with the glider’s outspread wings—a basking butterfly. Swallows arc and kamikaze-dive beyond the brink. Mourning doves coo. A pair of lizards vies for territory, demonstrates push-ups, gullets blushing. Red-tail hawks, in silhouette, patrol the heights.

While doubts assail; for it is one thing to intend an act, quite another thing to commit it. His attention fixed on the soaring birds, Driver reconsiders flight. Aloft without the slightest effort—he cranes his neck—so high, so gracefully—

dog looks, too

—designed to roam the four-winds' firmament free from stress... Yet, to follow their example—strapped to this pseudo-pterodactyl—set to launch himself—to plummet—clear the precipice—sans experience—rise—or tailspin—trusting—trussed—relying on faith to break his fall—or a stroke beforehand, if he’s lucky… Driver weighs the pros and cons; why not just jump?

Why not, indeed. There is a protocol; his is not some half-ass adolescent suicide. Since his malady—undiagnosed—he has arrived at an ideal scheme. It is a rarity to select the time, place, means of one’s cessation; Driver will not waste this precious opportunity.

dog concurs. Or would concur were he not otherwise distracted; that Driver stands (as he is doing now) and walks (which he does shakily), dragging his odd contraption forward (when his strength seems all but lapsed) is so incredible dog looks on as if bemused.

Nothingness, evidently, less grotesque than the threat of injury, Driver, strapping on the harness, suffers second thoughts: what if… what if… what if the fall—inevitable—fails to bring a quick fatality? He might glide instead of nose dive… crash in a bush or shrub… or flip. To end up crippled, splayed pathetically, belly up like a hapless tortoise, then await whatever—insects—to devour him inch by inch presents a specter Driver looks upon with horror.

The canyon gapes.

A sprawling chasm where perspective loses meaning, a mammoth maw, the grave that Driver must ‘transcend’ evokes Eternity, dreamless sleep; perched at its threshold, he confronts his own oblivion.

He has to pee.

And with that urge, the situation strikes him comically. Driver chuckles… ironically, at first (the body will perform its functions)… then hysterically (at this clownish plot to exit on-the-wing)… then egotistically (at The Reaper’s role upstaged by self-abandonment)… then serenely (life acknowledged as a blessing others share, and that there comes a time for yielding them their turn).

The canyon quakes.

Or is it Driver’s trembly legs, as they support the hoisted glider? Lungs expanding, pulse rate speeding, Driver shuffles, lurches, LEAPS; swept up in a rush of wind—and adrenaline—he is airborne!

dog barks wildly, flees the cliff-edge in a race of fits and starts, beholds the glider’s upward spiral with a disbelieving gape. ‘Man does not fly,’ is dog’s experience; Driver’s feat is unintelligible. Yet the evidence, as it banks and climbs through dehumidified space, is irrefutable. dog bears witness in a state of awe.

The canyon spins.

His senses reeling, Driver circles; scans, as referent, the horizon; battles gamely for stability; feels possessed by the planet’s curve. Earth is a sphere, learns every schoolchild; to belong, straight lines must bend. And in their bending must, eventually, overlap? Beginnings, ends; does not each reaffirm Life’s timeless pirouette?

The glider falters… torpidly lists… appears bereft of all momentum—wingspan flaccid, harness lolling; doldrums disengage the breeze. From brisk ascent to stagnant hover, Driver’s craft accepts the shift… then, with a pang of resignation, simply drops.

dog YELPS, gives chase, bolts down a switchback—baying, slobbering—at a loss to grasp his anguish, unaware of why he cares, except he does.

The canyon looms.

The glider swoops, stayed from disaster by a sudden twist, midair. Too sudden. Wings collapse…

"No one I think is in my tree"

"I mean it must be high or low"

… enfold…

"That is you can't, you know, tune in, but it's alright"

… and Driver’s fate…

"That is I think it's not too bad"

… at last is sealed…

"Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to..."

 

Haggard, panting hard, his burr-strewn coat awash with lather, dog arrives upon the crash site worse for wear—and more perplexed; for he who leaped perchance to rise, perchance to soar, accomplished neither, yet, in failing, falling, dropped to earth, is nowhere to be found. dog’s search is vain. He nuzzles wreckage: severed cable, shredded nylon, knots of aluminum; sniffs a skin-and-bones integument—Driver’s corpse. But that which captured dog’s attention, piqued his interest, spurred his empathy, has deserted, is no longer, was, might yet, in future, be.

dog hears a sound all too familiar; the rattlesnake strikes.

 

* * *

 

Published by CreateSpace
ISBN-10: 14404552857
ISBN-13: 978-1440452857
Copyright ©
2004 by r. muir. All rights reserved.

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 © r. muir

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