It was a bad night to be out driving but William didn't have much choice. He had to keep driving eastward, to his hometown.
Rain drummed on the windshield and seemed to mock him and his condition. William found it creepy that the rain followed the patterns of his thoughts, growing stronger as his mind pounded with remorse and easing while he found more comfortable things to dwell on. At least he had some time off work -- his boss awarded it for diligence -- which would do wonders for his blood pressure.
The rain subsided but William's mind pitifully staggered. What kind of husband leaves his home to drive thousands of miles and forgets to say Goodbye to his wife? What kind of father is so cold as to leave on a trip without even hugging his little girl?
The rain beat down harder, angrier. Road signs drifted by ominously on the Nebraska highway; they told him it was too late to turn back, that his wife and child would have to get by without him. Port Jefferson was the his destination. Finally, after 30 years, he was going to visit his mother's grave. She was so dearly loved by William and now he had the chance to be a little closer again.
Whenever William thought about his hometown he got a tingling sensation down his spine and he shivered. He didn't know why, really. He got a mental picture of his home, although blurred by time; he could see the dark blue wood panels making up most of the house, his bedroom window on the second story, a single tree in the front yard and the thorny bushes surrounding it. There was no fence in the front yard and it made the entire picture look awkward and naked, as if thieves had stolen that part from his memory but left it in his soul.
William tried to imagine various fences and gates guarding the yard: dark blue ones, matching the house; stout white ones; even a row of hedges, but none of the combinations would complete the memory.
The rain was shifting often; sometimes fierce, then dwindling and then ferocious again. William wondered if the downpour as a whole was changing or if he was simply driving through different layers. He decided that the rain was constant and this made him complacent. But he didn't know why.
William spotted a pair of headlights in the distance. He hadn't passed a car for hours. The approaching lights grew more intense, making William's eyes dilate painfully. He squinted and tried to focus on the roadside, holding his left hand up as a shield for his throbbing, teary eyes. Still, the light enveloped him, encased him in a mold of stagnant energy. William couldn't move.
The light evaporated just in time for William to helplessly watch himself drive over the edge of a ditch. Everything fell silent as the car drifted through the air. The passenger side was the first to hit ground. William went unconscious as the car rolled upside down and rocked until stopping. William squinted again, at the sun beaming off his side-mirror. It felt good, like he was scratching an itch behind eyes, but the sensation rapidly became numb. Numbness spread from his pupils to his eyelids, and from his eyelids to his entire face. Soon, his whole body was numb, like his skin was about six inches thick and made of rubber. William enjoyed the tingling that followed for hours. With a blank, stale smile, William watched the sunlight on the ground recede out of sight. He watched the stars develop and fade away in his mirror.
Later, he watched the sunlight appear on the ground again and patiently awaited its visit in the mirror. When it came, William was in ecstasy. As the sun began its departure, William looked over to the interior mirror for his own reflection but it wasn't pointed at him; a tree was in the mirror, not William.
William pushed open the door and crawled out of his car. The first thing he noticed was the sky; it was a reddish orange hue, as if the sunset had bled into the rest of the sky. He admired the color for a moment and then started out of the ditch. The climb out was effortless. At the edge, he looked into the distance and saw a house. It seemed to balance on the skyline, a silhouette on the warm horizon. The cogent heat from above gave him energy; he had to walk to the house.
Parts of the house slowly came into view. The window on the second story reflected a rosy glow from the sky. William remembered staining the wallpaper in that room with crayons, and his mother yelling at him for it. There was a full clothesline out front, with a particular pair of jeans on it. They were William's favorite pair, although almost completely ripped in half. The damage occurred while he was on top of a fence trying to escape the neighbor's hound, unsuccessfully. William's mother was standing behind those jeans, making sure they were securely fastened to the line. She found the jeans to be improper but allowed William to wear them anyway (with a grimace here or there).
William smiled when he saw the fence around the yard. It was a modest fence made of a metal that seemed to contain the sky in it. Not the ordinary sky, but the present one, exuding an inspiring surge of warmth.
William opened the gate and entered the yard. There was love here, and William cried when he felt it. His mother walked to him and wiped the tears from his cheeks and kissed him. She smiled when they embraced, and cried. William would say goodbye to his lovely wife and child, in time.
Dragon's Breath Magazine Copyright © 1991, 1997 Lip Think Press. All rights reserved.