Three People in Line at the Echo Cluster
One look up and down this street, in all this sunshine, and I connect with it. Some towns are nothing. You climb down out of the van or step off the bus and your feet hit the street and you feel empty. Alone. You walk around, you go into a diner or a pizza place, but no one shows up. Nothing moves you.
Other places, like this one, like Lewistown, they come out of the corner swinging. Beat-up but coming at you. Unafraid. Or so afraid that fear doesn’t even matter anymore. On the far side of fear, you know what there is? You know what’s out there? Courage. Or death. Or both.
Outside the doctor’s office in the afternoon light, the ultra blue sky makes me feel forever in my bones. The high ridges rising a mile or so away/ the Appalachians looking down on the lazy Juniata sparkling in the midday gleam. There are places with soul and there are places with none. The soul places are rarer, of course. Harder to find in a world like this one. But they are there. And today we are here. On the streets of Lewistown trying to score some pills. Like a lot of other people around here. Trying to score some pills. Trying to find a way straight into the heart of tomorrow somehow.
Arle leans against a parking meter as I lean against the Honda. In the glass door of the office, I can see my reflection. I see me standing there bigger than ever before in my old Woolrich coat. I’m an imposing figure in a way, I guess, but probably only to a six-year-old or something. To most older kids and to the grown-ups who are my peers, like it or not, I am just another Dad looking shabby, thick, and tired. Arle is fit in her skinny jeans and her button-up shirt. She’s got good boots on, caramel suede with blood red laces. Her forever legs and her long ginger hair, they pull you in, they pull a man’s eyes in. A woman’s eyes. Then they stare too long, but I understand. I cuckold their moment before they have to wander off away from their dirty thoughts, back into their bullshit days of working or scrolling or whatever.
I fit in here though and I know it. I feel that in ways that promote inner growth unexpectedly, and suddenly. I have been down lately/ crashing through levels/ smashing into floors that turn into ceilings that turn into floors again. In a series of soundless frames you can watch me if you want: passing out in a kitchen, hitting the linoleum, slamming through the rotten floor and then down into another kitchen, like some old Atari game.
50 Floor Drop.
Down Daddy Down.
Landing on this street, in the pixilated 2 o’clock sheen, I plop down on my feet, in my dirty boots and my 1940s deer hunting coat and I am wearing my giant Dickies work pants from Walmart that are many sizes bigger than what I wore just a few years ago, and I wipe myself off, brush off the dust from the wild ride that got me here, and take a deep breath of hard luck town.
It tastes like mountain stream. Like Coors Light. Like a Coors Light on a Saturday morning in the woods at the park as Little League games are kicking off and you are vert fucked up and lost.
But it also tastes like the flush of a bird. Like dank pigeon dust or clean grouse sparkles. A familiar scent just before my lips and then the country smokiness of a mountain-ish place. Pennsylvania/ real true Pennsylvania/ far from the big cities/ far from the money and the lights/ it smells like Lebanon Bologna and burning wood/ and it tastes like toasted cigarettes and cave damp and republican pancakes.
All of this comes to me as I lean up against my filthy car on this Lewistown street, my wife saying nothing, me saying nothing, as my kid is inside trying to save herself from everything closing in at once.
From the moment I first met Arle, I was fascinated with her. She had always seemed to me to be gentle and soft. Quiet. Under-spoken, perhaps. On social media, where I had never heard her voice but often saw her face, I would stop at her photos of herself and try to understand the timbre and the tone. It couldn’t be a deep voice, I thought. But that would be cool. That would be hot.
I imagined she spoke in a slower voice, not spitting words out with no regard for the pacing or the cadence of the sentence drop. In my mind, based on pictures of a person I had never met but often wondered about, I heard a voice that sounded like a sweet mountain girl singing down in the crick bottom. Watching her from my deer stand high in a hemlock, I would pant at her natural movements down in the forest. It was as if she was born in the woods, born to a couple of deer up above Reedsville, up by Bird Rock, on the high ridge over the highway. Slipping out of a doe into a bed of pine needles, I felt like I had maybe been watching her all of my life. I had never felt that way about anyone before. I’m still not sure I did her any favors by becoming her man.
Look at me now. Oversized rural sack of wino blues. Big country bag of frozen pizza guts. Red and black flannel faded rocker running from nostalgia and shaking with an unshakable fever. Fever from living. Fever from life. Fever from fingering my trigger on a cold winter morning up in a tree. Fever from desire. Fever from fantasy. Fever from the imagined voice of a digital face. A slight smirk and a tight striped shirt.
I could smell the bobcats on the trails up the rockslides at the end of town.
Under her shirt.
I could smell the rattlesnakes fucking in her small town smile.
I could hear her say my name if I closed my eyes while I was supposed to be writing.
Then I would dream of everything going my way for once.
Then I would unsnap my pants.