Ineluctable

She stands on the deck outside the house, the gathering grouped round. Orange and yellow leaves skitter down from the wind-rattled trees, clicking against the wooden benches and rails.

“Once we go in, you must all be on your best behavior. Get past whatever your differences are.”

Everyone nods. Twelve heads in unison.

She eyes him, long, waiting.

‘What?’ he asks with his eyes.

The others follow her gaze. He wonders if they know. He smiles.

Her eyes warm in return, and one eyebrow arches in sly rejoinder, then she resumes before the others see.

“Now,” she says, drawing the others back to her, “inside. Welcome.”

—–

He enters the house, hesitant. The others ignore him, forming their klatches and couplings over chess boards and decks of cards and other diversions. He wanders, listening here for a moment, then there. Nothing appeals. He wonders where she has gone.

As he loops back from the other side of the room, he finds her in an alcove under the stairs, legs splayed and a homemade entertainment spread on the floor before her. Two paths, as if in a more dangerous and somber Game of Life, stretch and wind across the cardboard cutout. At distant intervals, the paths turn back upon one another, then gerrymander away again in wild, twisting ribbons. She rolls dice, then moves one of her two game pieces nine spaces. She shrugs, studies the widening gap between the pieces, then sighs.

“I haven’t seen this one before,” he offers.

She glances up, coy and distressed at once. “No, you wouldn’t have. I made it up.”

“Oh,” he says. “Tell me.”

She hesitates. “It’s a very difficult game.”

“I can only imagine.”

She rolls again. Three. She slides the other piece ahead, dismayed.

“Yes. You see,” she says, sighing once more, “it’s about making things align. Before it’s too late. Before the game is over.”

“Align?”

“The pieces on the paths.” She glances at him again, pleading almost, searching for a sign of illumination.

“I don’t understand.”

She leans forward and points to the path on which she has just moved her game piece.

“This one is the path my life has taken.”

It twists more wildly than the other. The spaces are filled with symbols of dire consequences and few rewards.

“And this,” she says, pointing far ahead to the piece on the other path. “This is the path my life should have taken.”

*********

They had traveled across their first three states, deep into the night. As the others grew weary, he retreated to himself, pondering the terrible news of the day.

She bristled.

“Sometimes,” she reminded him, “sometimes I am just as frustrated with you over the things you will not do for yourself.”

They rode in silence, past Lafayette, through Lake Charles, wending toward the fading light of Texas.

There was confusion, a strange buzzing in his ears, a heightened sense of irritation from afar as he weighed his options.

When the call was finished, one chuckled: “Do you know what her name is?”

“I do,” he said, stoic. “I knew before you even asked.”

They did roadside tourist things. They tried old means for capturing new meanings. They wondered in awe at the smallness of their lives. The mammoth locusts cleared from the pavement before them, making way, as if for a grand and noble procession. Then, after hours of the most sacred songs, one finally offered, gently, sadly, “I think I understand now.”

He nodded in silence.

He awoke as the car slowed, then made a hard return to what had already passed.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, disoriented.

“A hundred years,” one said when they finally stopped. “It waits, tucked inside, for a hundred years.”

One wept.

One stood, shaken, wrestling with the tug of something primal, knowing now what must be done.

But he remained quiet, apart, sensing what was coming.

“Don’t you dare,” she finally said. “Don’t you dare.”

He waited until all was silent beneath the celestial river of light, shivering, frightened, an island in the ocean of wilderness.

When it was time, he closed his eyes. “This is what I wish for you,” he whispered. “All of it.”

She stirred with sadness, then anger.

“I don’t understand,” he countered. “I’ve done what you asked.”

“I’m afraid, too!” she screamed. “You always forget that.”

They lay quietly together for many, many hours, terrified of saying anything else.

When he awoke, there was an assemblage of odd and perplexing gifts: a diamond in the rough, the remains of a secret visit, the missing piece of the puzzle. All three left for each of them, it seemed, and for entirely different reasons.

He voiced it, finally, his frightening plan. The one who heard it, who knew nothing of her, was cautious. “Maybe it is time,” the one said. “Sometimes we have to start over somewhere else.”

Later, as they waited to meet the promised salvation, another one pointed out the wayward creature.

“A road runner,” this one said. “Lost, apparently.”

“How strange,” he offered. “And yet.”

And he knew then that there would be no such salvation. Complex mysteries do not traffic in Hollywood endings.

“Kicking your ass, isn’t it?” one asked.

He nodded, thankful for the darkness.

“And just think how far you had to come for it,” the one added.

“Yes,” he muttered. “I already have.”

Someday, perhaps, unknown others will watch the fragments in the hushed flicker of 18 frames per second, black and white, herky jerky Super 8. They will read lips and make guesses, crude and misshapen conclusions, about that dawn. Lost, of course, will be what was said outwardly by those three, off camera, and inwardly by them, to those who know best how to truly hear.

“If you blink, you’ll miss it,” one said.

He kept his eyes on the road ahead, trying not to look back or into the eye-numbing expanse to either side. In time, he forgot it altogether, his mind filled with the fog of more mundane subjects.

After an hour had passed, the notion startled him with its return to consciousness. “Did we miss it?” he blurted.

“No,” the other said. “It’s right there, in fact.”

Indeed, it was.

“As always,” she whispered. “Still here.”

-October 8, 2008.

—–

All images and written content are copyright 2008 by Eric Plaag.

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One Response to “Ineluctable”

  1. “Fate gives you two choices… the one you should have taken… and the one you did!”

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