“Ahhhhlllahh,” I say to wake myself up. I crank my body upright, put my feet over the side of the couch. The room is cold, the fire dead. I stretch, go to Jay’s room.
“What’s up?” he croaks.
“Craaaap, man. Get back to bed.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I put a pot on the gas stove, go to the living room and begin building another fire until the kettle blows. Jay’s in the kitchen, setting us up for coffee.
“What d’you want for breakfast?”
“Your kitchen, man.”
“Cakes and eggs it is. You check to see if we have any turkey bacon in there?”
I open the fridge, rummage around, take out the eggs, take out the plastic container filled with thin pink strips of something once gargling and grain fed. I say the word free-range out loud and Jay asks pardon and I say never mind.
I return to the living room, light the fire, go get my coffee. Leaning against the kitchen counter, I watch the patch of mist that’s still perched in the lot next door.
“Dreams, dude,” he says.
“Tell me about it.”
“I have no friggin clue.”
“True that. You were in mine last night.”
“Yeah.” I give him a summary, dredging up the details until they’re all put into place.
“But I’m sure it has some meaning or other.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I have no friggin clue.”
at the crack
you got dreams going on
bursting through the seams
wean yourself of the means and explanations
weeds plucked from subconscious plantations
the scenes that move slack
like the butter that rolls
through the olds
the misty lotions that flutter
from your fingers
thick with moss
just as lost
yourself a coin and retire to the pot
fill it up with piss
your night goodbye as
the light of the day
stretches out your eyes
with the trumps of your
don’t your rump get sick
of all that steaming bullshit…”
I hear the mad crackle of pancake batter sloshing into a puddle of butter. I listen to Jay, wanting to add my two verbs, but know I can’t sustain the rhythmatic. I look through the cupboards, take out figs and a plastic container of nuts. We munch until breakfast is ready.
Half an hour later we’re loaded up in the van, stomachs appeased, clothing thick and rustic and ready for the wild climbes. Jay pops in a tape, turns on the stereo. The speakers slurp out long, demented refrains. He thumps the old silver box a few times, curses and clicks it off.
“It’s gotta warm up with the engine,” he explains. “You think they would’ve rigged it to a different power source, like the friggin battery or something aside the engine.”
“They probably didn’t get around to developing dual tapedeck dash V8 systems til the later models.”
“But chrome on a cracker I want some beats, hey. Check out the radio for me.”
I can’t find anything. On the highway we roll down the windows, taking it like sailors, wind hard against our lugging path.
We pull off route 245 into a gas station whose buildings slope at queer angles. Tom’s Rural Market the flaking, blue-on-white sign proclaims. I get out, walk into the store, seeking coffee. It’s free and looks like water from a rusty tap. I stuff two bucks in the tip jar because I feel guilty with their implied generosity.
Next to the pump, Jay is rapping with a stooped old man dressed in blue coveralls and a matching blue baseball cap. The way he talks is about as oblique as the rural market. I lean against the van and listen to them, waiting for my coffee to cool.
“…Yes and Toby my boy he left jus last week for Brack Rock. Brack Rock and he got back not two days afterward and he said the jewels up there in them alder patches, just past the clear cuts, he said they’re wide with fruit, some sort of elder beasts. Elk, I think he said, but you boy’s’re looking for smaller game now, ain't that right?”
“Not really,” speaks Jay. “Though don’t you have to have a license for big game?”
“Not especially no, not for the elder beasts up past Brack Rock, in the white alder. Nobody’ll complain if you down a buck or two but I got to warn you, them alder patches’re no candy store – they’re wide with all sorts of elder beasts, but they got smaller game, too. Once I heard there was a wild hog, a feral boar running around up there. You boys eat pork now, don’t you?”
He looks at me for an answer. I look back, blowing steam from the Styrofoam cup. I try to shrug, but his gaze pins me froze. His eyes are misty and bloodshot. The sky is overcast and it sheds a fuzzy brilliance over him. I open my mouth and push out a Sure do.
“That’s right. Poooork. But them boars, they ain’t no ham, 'least not the one I heard about. No, aren’t no pork chops up past Brack Rock that you don’t end up having to really hunt. I heard about that thing, had one tusk if I remember right. Real beast, something mythological. I heard them stories and I read them stories too. Not much slips past me. Sunt supiris sua jura. That’s Latin. That’s a Latin phrase, but you were just asking for directions now weren’t you.”
“Yeah, but every little bit helps.”
That’s Jay, able to steer any stream, ford any rapid, handle any man. The old guy chuckles at him and puts his hands in his pockets, staring at the gravel.
“Well, I think you should take Brood’s Pass all the way to Junction 10… Yeah, Junction 10, and then follow that til the rocks to your right split in two, like a cord of wood just toppled over… there’ll be these two bluffs off to your right, like I said, looking like something spilled, and about three miles on ahead there’s a little dirt road. Take that. Take it wherever you want, it’ll lead you as far out as you want to go, and straight back home when you’re good and ready. That’s a good road. None of this superhighway chicken shit. A real good road, that one, forged long before people felt the need to pussyfoot on about traffic violations and speed limits and cutesy little green mile-markers. That’s a good road.”
“Well, thank you, Tom,” says Jay, a little glimmer in his eye. The man looks both of us in the face and nods his head. I really love the way his back stoops. There’s something regal about it. In the van I mention this to Jay and he agrees.
We follow the route to the pass, the pass to the junction, the junction down miles of shadowy new growth encased in diaphanous webs of moss and fog. I post watch for the landmark old man rural market spoke of, seeking the ‘two bluffs that look like something spilled” – whatever that’s supposed to mean.
It’s half an hour before I spot a single, monolithic scrape of granite poking from the forest like a proud thumb. On its far side I make out a little cleft – though nothing like a bluff, let alone two – leading on to a stack of boulders that only in the remotest sense possible appear like they’ve spilled out of somewhere and came to rest against this lonesome unhune titan.
“He said three mile past, right?”
“You think that’s the chordwood thing he was babbling about?”
“When speech of old men heeding
Interpretat'n needs be exceeding,
--to quote the Bard.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Another couple of miles, I’m thinking.”
We don’t clock it, but my guess is ten miles later Jay spots a tire-grooved path leading off into the forest, orange with the naked clay exposed by whatever rude trafic careens through here.
“You think that's the manly road?”
“Predating pussyfoot traffic cops and the kindly saint R. McNally?”
“I don’t know man,” he says, slowing down and pulling the van over to rest slantwise on the road’s shoulder. “We best ask the eightball.”
“Trust our lives to a toys-r-us divining sphere and the vague digressions of a senile old hick?” I give the words time to sink into Jay some, adding, "Or we could skip all the confusing shit in the middle and shoot ourselves in the foot right now.”
“Hand me the eightball.”
“I’ll do it.”
I reach beneath the passenger seat and withdraw a purse-sized satin pouch. Loosening the strings to bare the black plastic ball, I hold it aloft with the infinitely curving number on the upside.
“Verily, oh machination of wisdom and consequence, is this path before us the greatest path of all pre-columbus antiquity?”
“Don’t be a dick, man.”
“Dude, Jay, I want to warm things up. Like my composition instructor told us, circumstantial details lend fuller momentum to the flesh of a story. They act like handrails to steady one as they climb the stairways of knowledge.”
“Do you want me to backhand you? Hand me the damn thing.”
“Here, look. The ball declares ‘Question Fallacious Please Rephrase.’”
“Just find out if this is the one, Tom. The day’s getting on.”
“Alright.” I shake the ball, ask: “Is this the correct road for our trip to follow at this time?”
“‘It Is Decidedly So.’”
I have yet to figure out how Jay can manipulate the 8 cylinders and 350cm of that clanking engine into handling the bulwark of the van like a hotrod, but he does so effortlessly, gravel flung out behind us like grey shot; tires, shocks, and frame lurching down the dusty and now oracularly endorsed pathway into, we presume, the Brack Rock Wilderland.