Here's one. Well, it's a rough draft of one. I wrote it in two sittings. I think it's pretty clear where I stopped and picked back up.
The guy stands next to a big cottonwood. The giant trees are everywhere and the cotton floats all around on the wind like homeless birds, some landing in the weeds or in the cactus. Some of the bigger pieces are stuck to the guy’s skin where he is greasy from all of the bug repellent. He glistens in the sun. I love the way he looks with those fluffy white pieces on him. I want to wear him like a shirt. I want him to cover me from the cold.
The guy approached me a little while earlier in the park near the small grove of trees. He was juggling these long black sticks three and then four at a time. I was there hoping to find the creek a little deeper than usual. I was just passing through the grassy area on my way to the creek. It had been raining more than usual and it was time to splash around in the water. But when I saw the guy juggling in the grass I couldn’t help just stopping to watch him. When he saw me he came over.
He said, “Do you want to learn?”
“No,” I said.
“You just looked kind of musical,” I said. “The way your body was still but your hands were quick. I liked it, is all.”
He got this odd smile on his face. The guy had a bag with him, for the juggling sticks I guessed. He reached in and pulled out a bottle of water, taking a drink and making a pronounced show of how good the water tasted. His hands were brilliant and clean.
“Do you want to go for a walk or something?” I said.
“Do you want to walk through the trees?” he said. “Across the creek.”
“That’s where I want to go,” I said.
So we crossed the river and walked around in the brush. There weren’t any houses over there, not yet. The sun was starting to go down and the bugs came out of their hiding places. The guy pulled an aerosol can out of his bag and sprayed himself until he dripped. He offered the can to me, so I just held out my hands to him. He sprayed enough into my palms. I rubbed them together and wiped on my arms and bare shoulders. I held my hands out again, got some more spray, and rubbed my calves and thighs. My skin felt smooth and good.
When we got far enough away from the river I stopped and turned to the guy.
“What’s your name?” he said.
I told him, “Jane.”
Jane is not my name.
I said, “I don’t want to know your name.”
I tried to make a move out of saying this. I blinked in an awkward way and turned my head a little bit. I know that guys like that, the pretend silly girl. I appeared sweet. I can do that well. So then he kissed me when I did my little dance. That was what I wanted.
And now here he is with the cotton all over his skin, looking like an old teddy bear falling apart. I want to say that I love him just to see what happens. I know that in a little while it will all be over, and for us to have the silly fleeting romance would probably make the whole thing complete. As he kisses me, his hands work up and down my back, then up around my neck and face. He brushes some hair out of my eyes and he lightly runs a finger down the back of my neck. I pull his hips closer to mine. He does have really great hands, but he is gentler than I want him to be. I want him to cup his hand around my neck. But he is a juggler, like a musician, careful with his instruments and tiny in his own way. See what I want from romance? I want to burn shit down. Right now I want things to be sickly and perfect.
He steps away, tripping a little bit over his bag. The guy reaches down and takes another sip from his bottle of water. Everything he does seems planned out far ahead of time. He comes to me again and starts to kiss me.
“Take off your belt,” I say.
He looks nervous, but he listens to me. He looks nervous and apologetic like a young boy. For a second I wonder how old he is. Then I look at his clean and strong hands. Like a fool, he hands me the belt after he has taken it off. I smile and laugh inside a little, then I feel bright.
“Tie me to this tree,” I say.
“What?” he says.
“Tie me,” I say, “to this tree.”
“But why?” he says.
“Do it,” I say. “Come on. We’re here.”
He looks confused and I can tell that he isn’t just putting on a show. With one hand he holds his shorts up and with the other he carries the belt to the tree. I stand in front of that tree and put my arms around it. The cottonwood feels better than the guy does. It is bigger and thicker. I hug it until he wraps my wrists together and locks the belt.
“That’s not tight enough,” I say.
And so he undoes it and retries. The second time around he gets it tight enough so that I can’t escape from the tree.
“Now what,” he says.
“Save me,” I say.
I can’t see him because of the size of the tree, but I can tell from the moment of silence and stasis that he is thinking about his life in general. Then I feel his hands on my wrists and things getting looser.
“No,” I say. “Not like that. Make it real.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he says.
“I want you to save me like I am tied to this tree,” I say. “Now make it real.”
“Can we just take a minute,” he says. “What is this, anyway?”
“Help!” I scream.
“Are you okay?” he says. “Whoa, hey.”
I think that the guy is starting to get it. He seems to panic a little bit and move around. Every time he goes back to undoing the belt from around my wrists I stop my pleading and just tell him no. Then I become a trapped young girl again and yell in a way that should make him feel like a savior.
He runs around the tree and looks at me.
“Help,” I plead. “Get me loose!”
I look over my shoulder to make it seem like someone is coming.
I say, “Get these ropes off of me!”
He looks at me with these eyes. These eyes! There is chaos in there. I glance toward his bag, and he goes there. He looks back up at me as he digs with his hands in the big bag.
“They’re coming,” I whisper in his direction. “Save me with your sword.”
He pulls out one of his juggling sticks, this big black thing, and runs to me. The guy looks behind me and ahead of me, then he goes to the belt and starts hitting it with his stick.
“Say something,” I say. “Talk to me.”
“I’ll save you,” he says.
“Louder,” I say.
“I’ll save you,” he says again.
Then suddenly my arms are free and the belt is on the ground. The guy comes around, looking different from before. He grabs me and kisses me a little. He picks me up and carries me to the next nearest tree, where he lays my body down on a small clearing of dirt and starts to undress me. This is, more or less, satisfying for me. He is on top of me for a while, looking like he can’t believe what he is doing. I look at the sky and think of drifting on the air currents and then settling on this person’s sticky arm, where I burrow myself deep.
When he is finished he looks at me and then gets up. The dirt has stuck to the parts of his body that were repelling insects.
“I need you to take me somewhere,” I say.
“Jane,” he says.
“I need you to take me somewhere,” I say. “Okay?”
In his truck we roll down Second Street until we get downtown. I watch the buildings as they go past. Within those buildings are people, strong people and weak people. They’re all separated. On a rooftop somewhere there has got to be a kid who climbed the maintenance ladder. He won’t find anybody from way up there.
Last week I found a newspaper on the ground. I took it as a sign. In the obituaries was my name. I knew that I was alive for the most part, and I knew that my name is not exactly a rare one, but still I was shaken by the whole thing. There was a part of me, somehow, in that paper. Somewhere I’d lost just a little bit of myself somewhere else in town and died, from old age or from gunshots, and then been written up in the tribune.
What you do after that? You wander around and you make dreams come true. People tell you to live sometimes. I thought about that when I saw my name in the newspaper. Since then I have been walking the streets looking for things that are meaningful. But I know that life is not meaningful forever, so I look for things that will be meaningful for a little while and then no longer meaningful. I look for the things that will resemble life, things that can just pick up life and hold it for a little while until they dissolve.
The guy’s truck is not a good one. It is old and dirty and full of junk. It is an automatic, and I think that that makes sense when I watch the guy drive with overwhelming timidity. I am bored with the guy’s truck. I don’t know exactly where we are going, but I see a classic-car show in a parking lot next to the movie theater.
“There,” I say. “Just drop me off.”
There is a big sign that says “Classic Cars 2009.” It hangs from the movie theater next door and has an arrow that points to the parking lot. The guy pulls over his truck and I step out. He rolls down the window.
“Hey,” he says. “What about? I mean, how can I reach you?”
His truck is a sore near this magnificent parking lot full of fine automobiles.
“It’s time,” I say. “Go on.”
The sun is almost completely down now. It looks as though I have gotten to the car show just before it closes up. Some of the drivers are getting into their cars. Two or three have driven off of the lot and gone home. I walk around and admire the machines. They are all sparkling and old as stones. They are older than I am. The men, they lean against the cars and look at them just as the passersby do. Some have their hoods up to reveal their massive engines. Some don’t.
I stop next to an orange car with a yellow interior. Two men lean against the side of the car and watch me watch the car. One tells me that it is a Woodie.
“1931,” the other one says.
“That’s old,” I say.
“Older than most,” he says.
The car has a spare tire above the front wheel rim. It looks very much out of place there. I run my hand along the wooden panel on the doors, and I can see one of the men get squeamish.
“Don’t touch the Woodie,” the other one says.
I don’t know exactly how to act at a car show, so I leave the men and keep walking. I don’t have anything to ask the guys with the Woodie car anyway. Car knowledge is something that I have never had.
A man touches my shoulder, so I turn around and face him.
“You look a little lost,” he says.
“I’m just looking at the cars,” I say.
This one is short and hairy. He has a thick beard and chest hair that crawls out of his shirt. His arms are big and his hands are dirty with grease.
“Let me show you my racecar,” he says.
It is just a little car, over in the corner of the parking lot. The thing is bright white, and has all of the accessories that I imagine a racecar has. There are roll bars, an American flag pasted on the window, big seats that sink low into the car, big headlights, a little wing on the back.
It is not a classic car, and I tell him so.
“Yeah,” he says. “It was made in ‘96.”
“Can you bring a car like that to a classic show?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he says.
I keep looking at the car. He does not really say anything while I go around and around. The seats look so deep inside the car that they appear to be sitting on the ground underneath.
“I want to get inside,” I say.
He opens the door and lets me in, then he goes around and gets in the driver’s seat. I feel so tightly hugged in the seat that I am afraid to try to move. The seatbelt clicks when I really strap myself in. I can barely see over the dashboard. It’s a good feeling overall, like I’m being held by some larger-than-life mother. The guy looks at me and then buckles his belt as well. He puts his hands on the wheel and then brings one down to the gearshift. His legs are just long enough to reach the pedals below. He makes some racing noises as he pretends to drive.
The keys are in the console. I take them out and hand them to the guy.
“Let’s go,” I say. “Take me somewhere.”
He looks around in a cautious way and puts the keys in.
“It’s dark anyway,” he says. “Yeah, let’s just go.”
The car grunts to a start. It is a great roar as the guy puts it into gear. He goes slow as he weaves through the other parked cars and out to the street. As we are stopped, waiting to pull into that street, a man comes running up from behind us. He is yelling. The guy looks at me and then pulls out quickly into the street. He shouts as he does this.
“Who was that?” I say.
He finally gets to talking now.
“The thing about racecar driving,” he says, “is that it’s all instinct. You have to know when to punch it and when to take it easy. You have to be aware of what’s around you. A lot of drivers have co-drivers now, I think, these guys who tell you where the turns are coming from. A good driver doesn’t need any of that co-driver stuff. You just know.”
“This isn’t your car?” I say. “This isn’t your car. Okay.”
“How they did it in Two-Lane Blacktop? That’s how I do it. Did you see that?”
“I was just thinking about it, I think,” I say.
“Well,” he says. “It’s just like that. Just like that.”
He is going very fast down a main road, weaving in and out of other cars and other drivers. I start to feel a little excited with it all.
“It’s not all about speed,” he says.
“No,” he says. “Most think that it is. But it’s more about instinct than speed.”
He drives through a red light.
“But,” he says. “But you do have to go really fast too.”
We drive and drive and drive. The guy whoops from time to time and speeds up. On the highway we are mostly alone. I think that no one can see us. I say this out loud just to hear how it sounds in the air. The guy agrees with me and turns the headlights off for a few seconds and then turns them on again.
“Stealth,” he says. “We call that stealth.”
“Who does?” I say.
He thinks about it.
“You and me,” he says.
The road is supposed to be free. That is how it is talked about all the time. It feels that way for a little while, but then it is really a slow death. You can drive really fast, still it takes a lot of time to get anywhere. Sometimes it is little more than a waste. The guy and I drive until morning. We do not talk about much except for the car. I listen to him talk about what he dreams racing to be. He is probably right. We are all racing in a way.
In the morning we find a small town and pull over into a diner for some breakfast. We sit down in a booth and look at each other across the table. His hair is dirty. He might be the shortest man I have ever known. At least he is the shortest man to ever drive a car in front of me, especially in the sunken racecar seats. This amazes me somehow. I suddenly don’t know how he can even see the road from a perch like that. Maybe he wasn’t even thinking about the road.
I say, “I had a short grandfather.”
“What does that mean?” he says.
“I had a really short grandfather,” I say. “He married a taller woman. Then they had my dad, who was taller than his dad but still pretty short. My dad married a much taller woman, and they had me. I’m pretty tall.”
“How tall are you?” he asks.
“Almost six feet tall,” I say.
“Do you mind short men?” he says.
“No,” I say. “Weren’t you listening?”
“Yeah,” he says.
He looks around for our waitress, but nobody is really around the restaurant. The sun is about to come up and thinks are mostly empty around the town.
“Do you think we should’ve waited before seating ourselves?” he asks. “I thought in these places you’re just supposed to sit down somewhere. It’s morning already. Shouldn’t there be people in here, the old people who drink coffee so early and just talk?”
I am not really listening, but I look into his bearded face. I try to see through the hair and into his skin. I consider instinct for a brief moment.
“When my dad died I wrote the notice for the paper,” I say.
“He was skiing when it happened,” I say. “He hit a tree. I think that the sun must have blinded him or something, because he was a good skier. I don’t know for sure though.”
“And you wrote it in the paper?” he says.
“Yeah,” I say.
“That’s rough,” he says. “Man, in the papers, those sad little pages. Like you could ever fill in a life in a small box like that. Not even a page.”
“I know,” I say.
“What did you write?” he says.
“I remember when I was a girl,” I say, “that my dad took me one time to California. We had a small shack on the beach for a little while. We walked inland and into a vineyard. He told me not to tell anyone what we did. We just got a bunch of grapes and walked out to the beach. The grapes smelled so good, and the smell just kind of flooded out when you bit into them. I lay on the beach and ate grapes while my dad waded around in the water.”
“So what did you write?”
“I don’t remember much else with him,” I say. “My parents divorced pretty early on. I didn’t see much of him. Why I was asked to write about him is so strange.”
“What did you write?” he says again.
I look at the short, bearded man.
“Don’t leave me,” I say.
“Tell me what you wrote in the paper,” he says.
I look at the racecar outside and think about being held in the sunken seats.
“Let’s just drive forever,” I say.
“Tell me,” he says. “Okay, but tell me.”