Old man driving, any exit will do

This old guy in a Dodge Charger, being pulled around the Lower Hudson Valley by 300 horses, a man without a compass, a man without a wife, drinking too much, eating too little, up half the night, nothing ain’t right.

Next day back on the road, I guess you could say lost, Bob Dylan whining from the stereo, Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime… How does it feel, to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone…

He’s not re-enacting an old fantasy, this is reality, and he really is lost; although when he thinks about it, lost has been found and now found is lost. Write that down, old man. Instead, that midnight in a gin and tonic, he writes down, A dying man dreams. Some are beautiful. And then they stop.

In the Turnpike Tap Room an even older man inquires, Is one ever too old to be a struggling writer? To which the younger old man replies, Is one ever too old to die? The old drunk is looking for his brain. I’m not sure I understand your meaning. The younger old man can no further elaborate than put flesh on the older old man’s bones.

Excerpted from Notes for ‘A Million Miles Away in Fishkill.’

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Indestructible atoms

A man lives alone in northern New Hampshire. He is seventy years old. His second wife died two months ago. They had no children. A son from his first marriage died many years ago at the age of twenty-three.

Chest pains wake him at four in the morning. He sits up in bed and looks out the bedroom window. It’s a picture window with no blinds. Moonlight illuminates a grassy slope leading down to a river. He can hear the sound of the river through the open window. Beyond the river, a woodland of birds, quiet now, and beyond that, two tiers of mountain ranges fading into darkness. It begins to rain.

During the day he sits in front of the window and watches a variety of birds flying in and out of the trees down by the river. Squirrels venture close to the house. An athletically beautiful doe often crosses the river and approaches the house. Once he saw a fox run along the bank of the river. He loves living here.

The nearest neighbor is three miles away. The nearest hospital is fifteen miles away.

The pain in his chest is severe. Is this it? he says to himself. It occurs to him that he should at least have a dog or a cat.

He gets out of bed and goes into the living room—the irony of living room amuses him—and fills a shot glass with Jack Daniel’s. Down it goes. A biting shudder followed by a smoothing calm. He pours another shot and sits in an armchair and watches the rain. He’s not worried about his fate.

He misses his wife—and always, every day, he misses his son. His son would be forty-eight now. Hard to believe. Twenty-five years of life he didn’t have.

When he saw his son’s body in the coffin all those years ago he touched the young man’s chest. It was as hard and hollow as a barrel. This is not my son, he said to the funeral director. I don’t know where he is, but this is not him. The funeral director nodded politely.

The man talked to an Indian guru about his dead son. “Don’t worry about your son, man, your son’s all right.” The guru told the man he would see his son again. “Imagine both of you walking along together, totally happy, knowing and seeing all, and that walk will last five minutes or five thousand years.”

The man didn’t understand what the guru was saying but he would love to take that walk. In reality, though, he doesn’t suppose his son is anywhere. So what he wants to know is: How do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Death—No, that’s not it, that’s e.e. cummings—what he wants to know is, what happens to the billions of indestructible atoms that make up the human body and mind?—Indestructibility must count for something. To put it bluntly and simplistically, he wonders if, in fact, or even in fantasy, he will “see” — an ambiguous word for some kind of reunion or communion or sense of presence — his son again. His head and all the science say no, but his screaming heart says yes.

During these reflections his chest pains subside. Half the whiskey is gone and now he has a taste for coffee. It is five in the morning. The rain has stoped. If he sits up for another hour he will see the sun rise over the furthermost mountain range and he will see the birds and the squirrels begin their day. Perhaps today he will see the fox again.


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