We’d gone to the caves, a linked collection of massive sandstone cathedrals in which one might worship the powers of the river over rock; and take drugs in a communal environment. Granted it was a weeknight, but we were all in various states of worklessness, so what day we got high was generally less important than how high and where. But as it turned out we had a party pooper amongst us, and well before we’d even “peaked” on the lsd we’d all imbibed, we were pushed to return home. Not dressed for it she said; chilled, she whined. The caves were always within a degree or two of sixty, no matter the outside temp which was hovering in the freezing range that night. She had gotten there without freezing to death we’d argued, but without effect. Having one miserable wretch in our company would ruin the evening for us all, so we climbed back out through the clawed sandstone hole that skirted an enormous concrete slab the city had poured the last time they’d tried to keep us from entering, and wandered to my car for transport.
Mine was the only vehicle on the road by then. The few other “cave dwellers” we’d seen wandering the halls earlier had already gone. Barbiturates make for a short night and it was obvious once we’d crossed their path that they were reds suckers; giggly, stupid, prone to walking into each other and various walls.
The Fury didn’t want to start, naturally. It was always a threat when visiting the caves in winter. Young people, old crappy cars; if you were the last one out there would be no one to jump your battery, and miles to walk before reaching a civilization with its lights on. Luckily we were six, and our combined karma, wrapped in our multi colored aura, accentuated by a smattering of shouted vulgarities made all the difference. The Mopar 383 roared to life, its broken motor mount allowing the engine to rock up and leftward each time I pressed the pedal to the floor, moving the entire car in a way that never ceased to make me laugh.
Up the hill we whizzed, the tires barely gaining traction on the slippery slope, but happily bouncing off the curb when necessary. At last we reached the light, waited for the green and zipped onto the freeway. It was then that all became quiet and the universe spun.
I knew where I was, and as I had to constantly work the pedals and wheel, the shifter and clutch, I was well in touch with my inner driver. But once placed upon the massive stretch of pavement that crossed the mighty Mississippi before meandering across the entire city, my driver gave way to my gawker.
It was cold, that was for sure; cold enough to continually frost the inside of the windshield, in spite of the fact that I’d repeatedly told my passengers to hold their breath until we were in the home driveway. That it was 15 miles off was not my problem; mine was to be able to see well enough to get us there intact, and though Cully kept going after the glass with an ice scraper, the resultant interior snowstorm was making it increasingly difficult to do just that. Particularly as the handmade snow was so beautiful, so sparkly and multicolored, so hard to keep one’s eyes off of.
Eventually the windscreen stayed clear and I could bring our speed to near the limit, up from the somewhere in the teens I’d been keeping it while hoping the blizzard would end, the planet would stop spinning and the road would quit its undulating. At last there was silence, and a stop to the shuffling in the seats. We rode transfixed, each staring into a separate space and time, each paralyzed in their own special way. I felt the hum of the engine. No I mean I FELT the hum of the engine, and while contemplating that existentialism noted that there was an unusual, all-sense throbbing within the vehicle. It grew light, then dark, then light, then dark. In the light, everything around me grew larger, and in the dark, the opposite. So light large, dark small, light large, dark small. It went on for miles as my mind raced to determine just what the anomaly was. Surely it wasn’t some sort of space vehicle attempting to tractor beam us into their examination room, though we were near the airport so anything was possible. I could barely contain my excitement, my fear, my curiosity, my lack of concentration. We were flying down the road in a silver/white bullet, making light and dark music, wah, woo, wah, woo. Somewhere in the middle of that melody I noticed the runway landing lights; hard to miss really, as they’d switched on to direct an incoming jet which screamed damn near overhead at that moment.
It was like a fireball had burst through my brain. The lights, the streetlights, the speed; we were passing under streetlights every 10 seconds, and with each pass met light, then dark, then… God I was so silly, why didn’t I realize… In fact I thought about just that for a few more miles, the properties of lsd, the loss of reality, the expansion of fantasy, the wow and the groovy and the… There was my turn, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. It was like we weren’t on the road at all before that moment and suddenly we’d been thrust into a rocket ship and set alight just as a huge sweeping right turn would force us into the lean hard left and scream like you’re on a rollercoaster position.
No big deal, made the turn, still no cops, and hardly any traffic either. I saw virtually nothing for the next mile or so, as the mist crept onto the windshield and I had to run through my memory rolodex to discover what exactly one was to do when the mist crept onto the windshield. It was hard to concentrate on that. The mist was beautiful, as nearly everything was, truly, and there was probably nothing I wanted to do more at that moment than admire the beauty of the mist. All that was ruined of course, once I’d seen the blinking green light that signaled the last of the city road and the entrance into the dungeon of doom, the 6% downward slope that would bring us to the Minnesota River, across the tiny bridge and down the country lane to our humble yet landfill worthy abode.
I needed to lean over the huge steering wheel so as to keep an eye on the path. It did twist a bit and the safety of my passengers was my utmost priority; at least in those lucid moments when I remembered I had passengers.
The bridge scared me a bit, but then it always scared me. Many a motor vehicle had had its door handles removed on the little Cedar bridge. It was exactly two cars and a gnat’s ass wide, probably built for model T’s and roadsters around the time Dillinger was put to rest a few miles downstream. The American cars of the sixties were wide, so meeting a car on that span was likely to incur some expense, or at minimum, a high blood pressure condition.
It was for that reason that I gunned it across the bridge. I didn’t see lights coming, and by God I wasn’t gonna wait around to see them either. Most of the occupants of the Fury approved of my maneuver, though one was screaming something I couldn’t identify, and attempting to remove flesh from my interior shoulder with her nails. The only issue with the gunning, beyond the loss of blood flow in my right arm, was that it made the braking all the harder once we’d reached the other side and our home island, and the wall of fog that had been constructed in our honor.
Somehow, call it radar, I was able to get the car off the paved road and onto our stretch of gravel that traveled between two legs of the river toward the Black Dog power plant, without making our tour bus a submersible. Still, once I’d stopped, the world vanished and only the swirl remained.
We sat there for a few minutes, or so I think, smothered in liquid cotton; a mass on the move, following the river as if needing to feed to stay intact. An owl crossed our path as the entire group sucked in a deep breath and held it, hoping to store that moment for an eternity. As the raptor passed, wingtip vortices twisted behind, tiny tornadoes searching for earth they might lightly furrow. I was drawn in as if a speck of cosmic dust within sight of a black hole. I could suddenly see each single water droplet, a maze of teeny bubbles, each sporting a tail like a billion sea comets. And within each tail was another web of water molecules, each trailing an appendage, each appendage another labyrinth of… The overhead light flicked on, destroying the vision and yanking me backward into dread reality. Cully had gotten out, followed by Mark and Sparky. They were impatient; something to do with more drugs, and beer if I recall. They would direct me, seeing as how I couldn’t see past my nose and my nose was at least 4 feet behind the front wheels of the car.
Our island was a strip of land a couple miles long by a half mile wide. It served little beyond acting as a foundation for two bridge abutments. It was farmed, but never seriously; the chance it would flood was too great, and even the silty loam that covered the little strip was not so fertile as to reward a farmer well enough to take that risk. The house Cully had rented for us had been a migrant shack; tin walls, marine plywood floors, all gussied up to appear as if a real house. It did have heat, though it was a wall heater in the living room, incapable of warming the entire building, particularly if one wanted privacy during the practicing of the bedroom arts. On those occasions in the dead of winter, one would expect to wake with a layer of frost covering the comforter.
The girls settled in for the ride as the car had a heater whereas the road did not. It was a risk of course. There was a chance I would misstep and plunge into the icy waters beside us, but in all things hypothermic, better a chance than a certainty.
It might have taken an hour to transverse the 3/4ths of a mile, inch by inch, step by step. My guys became distracted now and then as the lsd worked its magic and the world lit up with the colors of the rainbow. Not that I was any better, admiring the shine of the little chrome strip atop my dashboard, debating as to whether my leg had the power to hold the clutch in for the rest of my natural life. I thought about my poor sweet mother, lost in her own fog; of our meeting in the swirl, both oblivious to the outside, both peering inward as if there were some answers there that might make our lives more livable. I thought about the time…
Bam! Bam! Sparky was banging on the hood, warning me that I was only a few feet from the ice flow and the octopus’ garden beyond.
Finally I slid the beast into the drive, just short of the rusting brass bed frame Cindy had found under a pile of rubble in the unusable garage. I swear I saw one of its finial lions growl, but then thought perhaps it had only been a yawn. Surely they were just as tired as we.
I have to admit a certain pride washed over me. I’d led the children to the Promised Land. I’d driven stoned out of my mind, and had delivered nearly every person that mattered a whit to me safe and sound to our hovel on the flood plain. But there was no time for celebration. Kris, my everlasting true love of the moment, sidled up to me and said “let’s do it”. Being 17 I was certainly all for that idea, though on my way to the bedroom where we might have some privacy and a coating of frost, I wasn’t so sure I could concentrate long enough to maintain an erection much less help her to orgasm; yet, what was I to do but make a valiant attempt at both.
This is the moment lost. I remember this entire story as if it happened yesterday. I swear, I can still see the owl grinning at me as he flew across my fog enshrouded frame. But from the moment I entered the private space, there is no light that will penetrate that darkness.
If we did have sex, I have no doubt it was amazing. Kris was quite a, you know, sex personage. If we didn’t, through fault of my own, I am sure it was humiliating, at least in the few moments I had wherein I could remember my name and count to ten.
I think fondly on those times, in spite of the fact that I should have been killed that 43 years’ worth of nights ago. It was an adventure, one I’d tell my grandkids if I’d had any, once they were adults of course and beyond the age that they might get stoned and take a magic carpet ride so as to follow in grandpa’s footsteps. And I remember Kris fondly as well. There’s a mystery attached to her memory. One that serves me either way I imagine it.