Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lonely Nights: a fiction piece

He's not from around here and he knows it. Cars splash by, their wipers frantically racing across the windshield, and then disappear into the night. He walks the muddy streets with timid caution, as if at any moment they might stop short and drop off the edge of the world. Under the overhanging roof of an illuminated gas station he stops and unwraps his tattered road atlas. He knew he was in Wisconsin, not too far from Duluth and the Minnesota border, but there were no signs nearby that could tell him where exactly.

He doesn't have much, just a pack and what's on his thin, wiry body. He looks older than how he thinks he feels. He lies about his name, changing it to suit his particular attitude. See, when you're moving so much its tough to tack down at any specific point who you really are. It's like your identity becomes fluid, or flexible, and each town is a chance to be someone else, so he just goes with it. He wants to go home, back to Oklahoma, but he's afraid of marrying someone from high school and becoming his father. So now he just smiles at pretty girls in the street, hoping they will remember him, or at least ponder his existence for more than a fleeting glance. He has more than once fallen in love with a diner waitress in a small, empty town, and then vanished quietly along the painted lines of the nearest highway.

It's getting late, dark, and cold. He asks the clerk, who's outside smoking a cigarette, if there is a campground or park nearby where he could put down his tent. She tells him to try down by the lake, so he walks in the direction she pointed and occasionally ducks under buildings and large trees for a break from the rain. It's nights like these that he thinks most about Oklahoma, about the little town he knew so well that he had to get out. It wasn't that he disliked the place or anything, he just can't stop moving, not even for a few days. He remembers how earlier that year he stayed in Missoula for a close to a week and woke up in the middle of the night with a convulsing need to be somewhere else. He packed up his tent and walked through the night to the next town.

The RV Park by the lake has a sign that reads "No Tent Camping," but he is wet and tired. There is a covered picnic area with tables and he sits there looking out at the lake as strings of lightning flash across the night sky. He sees a small building, a public restroom, and as rain hammers down on the roof he shaves his chin in the murky, scratched mirror and then washes his hair in the sink with a bar of soap. He wonders where he will sleep. He doesn't want to wake up to a policeman rapping on his tent like back in Mackinac City. He really doesn't like policemen; they always see him for something he isn't.

But all he wants to do is sleep. He walks out into the rain towards a grassy pier which juts out in the bay and finds a lone picnic table. He crawls underneath where the ground isn't so wet and unpacks his bedroll. The table encloses him like a cocoon but he doesn't feel trapped. In his pack is a half loaf of bread and he rips off a chunk and leans back, resting his weary head. He thinks about Oklahoma, about home, but he knows it'll only last till the morning when the sun rises and burns away the night's dampness. 

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