[This is one in a series of stories/essays I’ve written this past year. They are very personal and possibly universal. Comments appreciated.]
He was driving over the Sepulveda pass on his way to class. His Jeep was speeding with the flow of traffic.
Music was blaring. He liked it. Peter Gabriel. What was the song? He knew it, knew it well, but he couldn’t grasp the name. It was from NEW BLOOD, the symphonic album Peter Gabriel put out a couple of years ago. It was a compilation of his songs orchestrated with strings and brass, no guitars and no drum kits.
“The darkness still has work to do” he sang loudly. What was that last line? He often had no idea what the actual words were, but he sang the vowels and consonants with abandon. Without abandon? Whatever. “The darkness still has work to do, the knotted cords untying.” Yes, that’s what it was ‘knotted cords untying’. That’s a good line.
He put on his turn signal and shifted over to the left lane to avoid a slow truck climbing the hill. He wondered what his knotted cords were that still needed untying. He had a visceral sense of the knot in his stomach, but not words to describe what they were. He sang, “The signs of my undoing had been there from the start.” He knew that. He wondered if it was all planned or fated? When you set up a person with all of the flaws he possessed was fate simply inevitable?
He sensed on his right there was an erratic driver. For him, driving was an act of listening, intuition, mind reading, what used to be called ESP. Part of his brain was listening to every driver on the road near him taking in their thoughts, their feelings, trying to anticipate what they would do before they did it. This was his form of defensive driving. The car coming up quickly to his right was erratic. Slow, fast, trying to figure out the lane. Was this an aggressive driver, someone in a hurry, or just pissed off? Or, was it someone who was so unconscious and on auto pilot that they weren’t really paying attention. He tuned into the driver and realized no, it was fear. The driver was afraid of the road and responded by being wild and uncontrolled. Driving with fear was the worst and cautious fear was even more dangerous than fast fear. He edged past the driver and put another car between his and her. He knew it was a young woman who was fear driving. He checked to be sure he wasn’t just being sexist, projecting, no it was a young woman.
“In the Blood of Eden,” he sang, “lies the woman and the man the man and the woman and the woman and the man.” He stopped to wonder how the song went from darkness to the woman and the man. This blended with him and the woman driver. How was Peter putting these things together in this song? Brilliant. He thought of hearing this song when Peter Gabriel played the Hollywood Bowl. That was a great concert, best he had ever seen, heard, attended, no experienced.
His thoughts went to tonight’s concert. The crew was setting up for the concert in his theatre. He’d have to work it tonight. He got a sense of agitation, something was going on, there in Santa Monica. He tried to key into it as part of his brain was telling him it was just an association with thinking about the Peter Gabriel concert nothing more. He tried to see what was the matter. He sensed the producer of the concert was pissed off about something. Well, he was always pissed off. That’s not worth a worry. No, it was something with the construction workers and the baseball team around the entrance to the parking lot. He wondered if he should call. He tuned in and felt that his staff would work it out.
God, he was scattered. He needed to focus. He would need to write something in class today and he had no clue. He was so far from the book he was writing. He tried to key into where he was last working, have some idea with the book. The problem was the narrative voice. He’d never developed one. Being a playwright and an essayist, he’d never really needed one. But this novel needed a narrator, someone to help tell the story, to explain, but he knew that he tended to over explain.
A car merged in front of him and slowed down quickly. He had to put on the brakes hard. He had been watching this old man, sensing him, as he entered the freeway, but he had not anticipated him pulling in front of him. He simultaneously braked to not hit the old man in the Volvo while checking to make sure the guy in the black car behind him was paying attention and not spaced out or looking at his phone. The black car was slowing. He checked to his right, but he already knew there was a pickup truck there in the lane beside him.
He felt his feet in his shoes, his hiking boots, depress the brake pedal. He shifted his foot back to the accelerator and wiggled his toes. He wasn’t going hiking today, he just liked the shoes. They made him feel more rugged, athletic, like a guy who would hike the AT or the PCT. Is that what they called the Pacific Crest Trail? Was this a knotted cord?
And then, he was hiking with a heavy backpack over a mountain, the ocean was off in the distance to the left, the sun behind him to the right. He figured it must be the Pacific. He felt good. He took a long breath. The air was slightly chilled. This was him and not him.
He was back driving and thinking about hiking. He had to get out and away sometime soon. He needed a drivabout: get in the car, tell his wife he’d be back in a few days and drive. Driving and hiking. Of course there wouldn’t be camping, he might like the shoes but he wasn’t in for sleeping on the ground, no showers and being cold. But time away. Time to focus.
He needed to figure out what he’d write this morning. New ground or old ground? Something from the first book or the second? He thought about Fred from the second book, then Tom from the first. They were very different. Perhaps the narrative voice could be like Tom talking to his higher self, future self? no higher. Whatever that meant. His critic chimed in loudly, All knowing narrator, what the hell is that? And yet, he felt like there was some part of him that made sense of all of this better than he could.
A Tesla changed three lanes to the right and pulled within inches from the car in front of him closing the gap from four car lengths to one and half. He tried to key into the Tesla driver and found nothing. Teslas had recently supplanted in his mind BMWs and Lexus drivers as the biggest assholes on the road. He wondered why he couldn’t connect with the driver of the Tesla. Who was this person? Then the tesla pulled to the right cutting off the car next to him and sped away.
He had to merge into the turn lane to go from the 405 to the 101.
This is all a mess. I should be back at my desk outlining the first book. Trying to reengage with it. Why am I going to class? I have nothing new to say, I’ve missed the last few, working too much, he shouted in his brain. I guess I need to return to the pack.
I don’t really write plot. Just situations that express thoughts.
Then, he was in a pill box, shining the machine gun, making sure that it was in working order. It was mid-day. The attack should come that night. The French and Americans would storm the hill. Though he knew that they wouldn’t come during daylight, he still scanned the horizon trying to see movement, hear sounds, sense the energy of the attacker. He took aim on a bush about 75 meters away. A flutter. Probably, a bird. Maybe a scout. It was too early for an attack. He caught a glint of something shiny. He squeezed the trigger in and out for a short burst, ten bullets streaming loudly from the muzzle toward the shrub. He heard a scream and saw a figure fall to the right.
“In the Blood of Eden, the union of the woman, the woman and the man.”
God, I’m really distracted, he thought, too much going on in my head.
He took the Laurel Canyon exit.