I finally stopped looking for the next town, gas station, isolated house off some baked dirt road or cracked concrete driveway. Desert extended past the horizon as afternoon stretched unending arms farther than my travel OD’d eyes could see.
In the stillness of suspended day, miles of white sand lay flat in glaring light, smooth, silent, broken only by dried woody remnants of plants here. Further on gently swollen silken dunes abounded, then the vast muscular mountain formations shoving thick, massive shoulders out of the impassive surface.
We’d been warned it could take hours to get through this part-that we should make sure the tank was filled,the radio functioning, plenty of liquids with us. We hadn’t been told of the way the afternoon itself expanded, took over the senses, overwhelmed reasoning until any memory of night and coolness we may have started with that morning burned away in midday glare. We hadn’t been informed of the way our mouths would stop moving in the heat, how our minds would stop seeking the right word, phrase, sentence that would keep us connected, how hearts would shrink smaller and smaller trying to protect our soft, moist interiors from the heated air, from each other.
The asphault road, black and thin, snaked a path through sand fields, between shoulders of granite, past occasional dart of ground squirrels foraging for any sign of succulence that could still be ingested, swallowed savored even if for an instant. I kept driving even though I felt your wanting to stop, pull over, identify the animals, observe their movings into and up out of the earth. Not yet, I almost prayed, not yet. If we could get through this part, we would be allright kept moving in and out of my mind. Just get through the monster afternoon. Get under the shade of sundown, the dark of the star-punctured night, the coolness of some air-conditioned diner. Must be just up ahead of us. I’m sure of it.
We weren’t alone on the road.Not alone like we were sitting next to each other. Traffic was light in both directions. The random sighting of a car or a truck jarred open small blooms of hope inside me. We could do this! It can be done! We are not forsaken. Look-that couple looks perfect, don’t they? She is laughing, his smile wide, window framing faces open to the day, lips shining.
I keep driving, eyes on the road, seeing the faint trail of vehicles throwing themselves through brittle air. I keep quiet, still, steering clear as possible from potent chemistry of hot metal, fuel, razored will of fragile-skinned humans. Urgency to be out of beating heat, to be moving, gone, in motion through this stunned expanse of swaying earth, heavy wind, sluggish planet in endless spin. Spinning in this surprise of a universe, nothing to grab hold of, nothing to break a fall with, to anchor to, just the spinning itself to huddle around, a fetal thing trying to get back inside it’s own body, it’s own beginnings, it’s own spark, itself a match being struck against the abrasive surface of life.I hear tires beneath us , blind in their circling frenzy.
I wish now we hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave. That we had held off, waited a couple of hours, days, weeks. Waited for heat to disintegrate into hazy wind.Maybe if we had taken more time, napped through afternoon heat,left after dinner we would of made off at sunset, taken turns at the wheel, slept in shifts. We may have stayed oblivious to teeth waiting beneath the surface of that hot afternoon. We could have missed most of the mute terrain, slid lightly past the bully of stark beauty, prevented the stunning of our slow minds, the shimmering indifference salting our heads, the taunting of our small driven hearts.