13.5.11

Sunfire, Sunset.

It's not quite as monumental as returning to my novel-in-progress or finishing my poem about the Krebs Cycle, but at least I'm getting back to writing. This short story (850 words) is part of a writing circle: everybody submits a story element, and then everybody writes something that uses each of those elements. The list of contributions was:

- A cemetery at dawn
- A party
- A smelly shoe
- An inescapable sense of longing
- A person with a tic
- OUTRAGEOUSLY COOL SUNGLASSES (sic)
- A radio
- A flat tire

Here's another submission from the group, for comparison's sake. (The rest haven't been submitted yet.)

And here's mine! Unsurprisingly, it's about a road trip...

Usually, I love the sunrise. In the city, it's like watching a world being born. In the country, it's a nearly religious moment. But out here, there's no picturesque vista, no profound metaphor. It's just ugly and depressing, only that now you can see it better than before. It doesn't help that the only people you see up this early are the ghouls, gleefully scrounging for their treasure before anyone else shows up to challenge them. They ignore me, because they think I'm one of them. But they can have this salvage yard and all its wrecks to themselves. I'm not here to bicker with them over pulled stereos like so many puppies fighting over a smelly shoe.

I'm here for something far more valuable than that.

I'll have to hurry, though. I can't afford to find her after these scavengers have turned her into a pile of scrap. It can't help but catch their eye, after all, and then they'll descend upon it, chatting and laughing as one of them holds up a part, and everyone comments on its quality, its relative worth to them, and its market value. If the dollars add up, they'll toss it into their basket, and it'll be one more piece of her I'll never see again.

You'd think it wouldn't be too hard to find in this mess. Cars are almost kneeling down before me on long-deflated tires, prostrating themselves to afford me a view of newer additions, those still able to maintain some semblance of poise.

The sun rises a bit higher, and the morning's lateral shadows begin their retreat to their undercarriage homes. In the light, I see a familiar flash of a wild yellow and black tiger-striped trunk in the distance, and smile. If there was any doubt that it wasn't my car, those disappear when I see it from the front. Only one car would have a giant pair of sunglasses fitted over its headlights. Only one car would dare.

I almost say hello to it when I'm in earshot, but I stop myself. It would be awkward to start up a conversation, when I'm planning to leave as quickly as possible. The treasure hunters behind me are having a jolly old party here, but this place still feels like death. My beloved steed isn't convalescing - it's lying cold on the stones, waiting for the flies to carry it away, bite by bite. I look again at the scavengers, suddenly ashamed of my comparisons. I'm being too hard on them. Once I've gotten what I need and found my peace, hopefully I'll look upon them with a kinder eye.

I drop the spare key out of my palm, and slide into the driver's seat one last time. Out of morbid curiosity, I try to start the engine, and the starter fires frantically without result, an uncontrollable spasm. "Listen to that. Like a nervous wreck," I mumble to myself. Gallows humour.

The longer I sit in this seat, the more anxious I get. The things I've done with this car, the places I've been... I'll never have that same rush of freedom in any car I ever drive again. Without this car, I'm less of an adventurer and more of a simple motorist. Maybe someday, I'll be able to have fun driving without thinking of this magnificent beast... but not any time soon.

Only now do I realise why I was so scornful of everyone else here -- because I'm here for the same reason. It's almost unforgivable, what I'm doing, stealing a bit of power from something greater than myself, and trying to claim it for my own. But it would also be unforgivable of me to forget any of this. I need something I can keep with me, to remind me of these days... and their conclusion.

The sunglasses must stay. To pull those off their mounts would be too much of a dishonour -- and besides, don't the other scavengers deserve to discover a bit of mystery in their searches? Let this car inspire wonder just a while longer. I don't need anything quite that essential.

The rearview ornament? Cliché.

The dashboard figurine? It was always a bit too wobbly for my tastes.

The owner's manual? Too impersonal.

My fingers drum on the gear shift for a moment before I realise that I have my answer. At my right hand's side, the interface through which I spoke to the beast -- and the means through which it spoke back. And together, we spoke to the world. It's an indelible part of this car, and an indelible part of me, too.

A few good twists, and it's in my pocket, and just like that, I'm no longer visiting a grave. Now, it's merely a faintly ridiculous car whose days are behind it, while mine lie ahead.

I get out of the car, take one last moment to appreciate its majesty, and then kneel down and push the key down into the oil-soaked earth. I stand up, turn around, and head towards the exit.

I took the bus here. I think I can hold my head high enough to walk home, now.

It'll give me some time to think about what I'll be driving next.

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About The Author

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.