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, wont follow the mule trains, wont eat dirt, wont come when hes called. If dog has a problem, no one solves it; just dog himself.
Sun is dogs worst enemymakes 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 waterstinks; dog knows, having sniffed the empties, having shoved his muzzle into trash heaps. Scraps sustain him. As do lizards. Food is food; dogs not particular, so he survives.
Howling mitigates loneliness; dog communes with the cruel coyotes. Does not mate, for they are dangerousmore 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-devils 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 settlespings 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 throatits 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 standsor, 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 droningthat reverberates in his skull from the motors whinesubside 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 canyonall alone, as he is presently, albeit spry, which he is notin 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 blessingwhen accomplished free from aches. To tie ones shoelace is a triumph that recalls bygone dexterity. And to bend that far unsupported seems miraculous; youth be praised.
Upon his second triplast before thishe 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 waysadvising Soul to keep itself for a lifelong partner.
These treks, nonetheless, were telling, each become a kind of symbol for his purpose: self-expressionborn in solitude; truth conveyed aesthetic truth, whatever that was truth in fictions 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 himthrough its tumbleweed austerityto 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, refusedhence dog's uncompromising status as a renegade-cur.
dog slinks in closer.
dog climbs an outcrop for its vantage. Drivers 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:
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 oneDrivers 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.
Driver, fretting, tries to reconcile the parts with the text in hand. Not that it matters much. Same outcome. Still, its too soon to get careless. And, "if a things worth doing " Driver strums the cables; makes them hum.
dog ducks from sight, then keeps his head down, skirts a boulder, imitates Snakealbeit dog detests that creatures pitchfork tongue and carrion leer, resents the disproportionate power of its venom, having twice been struck: once on the faceit made him crazy; once on the pawhe limped for months. When struck a third time, dog will know himself dispatched.
Driver paces himself. It is hot out: ninety-two at the rim and rising. At the canyons 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 theyre drenched, soused, steeped, or pickled in mortalitys brine. dog yawns.) Driver swoons kowtows to sunshinerays relentlessbows to gravity. But the ground, on impact, jars him semi-consciousmemories stir:
Remnants of some lyricsa Golden Oldiedrift 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 respiteor a napand feel refreshed once on the trail again next morning.
They were primordial, Drivers former expeditions to the Colorado, marked by verdant spring-fed flora, gargantuan cliffs, unending sky.
With post-pubescent anthems sung to bolster self-reliance, Driver heralded his passage as a sacred rite.
Somewhat recovered, Driver recommences work. (dog stirs, resettles; those who disregard siesta-time are fools.) The plateau bakes. The scrub brush rustles in a dragons 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, Drivers Burning Bush, his Callingthough 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 prosesaid 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 authors child.
But that was then, and this is now, and Drivers zest for life is spent, his offspring stillbornor abandoned, never publishedor out of print. Thus all for naught? Life begs the question; death resolves it. (dog advances.) Driver, focused on his manual, fails to notice.
dog closes ground. He keeps his chest low, haunches hunched, his aspect threateningif uneasy; Man is fickle, homicidaltrust not them that kill their own; Man has forsworn his common bond with Mother Nature.
Driver fidgets. Unawareyet vaguely cognizantof a presence, he feels tensebut 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-armsnone, 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. hed envisioned. Barring terror, he might just laugh; "the best laid plans "except defenselessness is serious.
Its said that prey gives its consent before it perishes. Driver balks. dog drops his menacing disguise and wags his tail. Each keeps his distanceDriver none too fond of animals, nor dog of humans.
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 canines incongruity; come from where? A pet? He doesnt look it. Wild? Or just some stray, who, from necessity, has unlearned his former tamenessmuch like Driver?
Driver moils; he is unused to such exertion, grits his teethwhat few are left, his partials shifting in sardonic misalignment, fights to breathe. Those things involuntary oncedigestion, heartbeattax his stamina now as if they each depended on his will. He has to think to keep on goingyet another liability, one more strain as age makes despots of the bodys 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.
Driver follows the instructions as best he can. The wind cooperates. After bucking from a gust, the craft lilts calmly, unperturbeda 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 crawlinga ridiculous precaution when reminded of his aim. Arthritic fingers clutch the crags with both a frail and fond tenacity. If he leaves this earthattempts tois he destined to recycledust to dust; he understands Body ash to ash; but what about Souland is ones consciousness allied to Spirit or Matter?
The canyon calls.
A stitch of insupportable pain possesses the pit of Drivers 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 Drivers 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 passivemost of all Driver, whose appearance apes the trance of rigor mortis. False alarm; despite his blackout, Drivers fate is to revive. But first he dreams:
and to surroundings whose severity seems to mock him for evoking a mirage of supple characterjuxtaposed 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 spaceswhite as the hairs in Drivers 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, "Mans 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 gliders outspread wingsa 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 efforthe cranes his neckso high, so gracefully
dog looks, too
designed to roam the four-winds' firmament free from stress... Yet, to follow their examplestrapped to this pseudo-pterodactylset to launch himselfto plummetclear the precipicesans experienceriseor tailspintrustingtrussedrelying on faith to break his fallor a stroke beforehand, if hes 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 maladyundiagnosedhe has arrived at an ideal scheme. It is a rarity to select the time, place, means of ones 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 fallinevitablefails 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 whateverinsectsto 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 Reapers 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 Drivers trembly legs, as they support the hoisted glider? Lungs expanding, pulse rate speeding, Driver shuffles, lurches, LEAPS; swept up in a rush of windand adrenalinehe is airborne!
dog barks wildly, flees the cliff-edge in a race of fits and starts, beholds the gliders upward spiral with a disbelieving gape. Man does not fly, is dogs experience; Drivers 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 planets 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 Lifes timeless pirouette?
The glider falters torpidly lists appears bereft of all momentumwingspan flaccid, harness lolling; doldrums disengage the breeze. From brisk ascent to stagnant hover, Drivers craft accepts the shift then, with a pang of resignation, simply drops.
dog YELPS, gives chase, bolts down a switchbackbaying, slobberingat 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
and Drivers fate
at last is sealed
Haggard, panting hard, his burr-strewn coat awash with lather, dog arrives upon the crash site worse for wearand 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. dogs search is vain. He nuzzles wreckage: severed cable, shredded nylon, knots of aluminum; sniffs a skin-and-bones integumentDrivers corpse. But that which captured dogs 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
© r. muir