I’m tired of these constant arrivals and departures, but you’d think being anywhere would feel better than this. How many hours had passed since the sun’s lid had dropped and the glassy moon rose like a monocle in the night’s eye when at the top of the hill, the farmer braked his pickup—didn’t even pull over, just stopped in the road—and motioned for me to get out, so I got out, and he was gone? How deep was the dark spelling absence? November never felt this cold. But it was only October. Popping my corduroy collar to cover my naked neck, I waited until my last ride’s taillights faded out and his engine’s rattling disappeared from my ears before beginning my walk, which, if we’re going to be honest, is really a continuation of every walk I ever took.
So maybe that’s the problem: always traveling, never arriving.
But don’t you need at least one starting point—someplace you one time arrived at—to always be departing from?
A fat chunk of moon rode obscene and gloating above the unsteady black ridge of shagbark marking where the sky ended and the world’s ornament began, but for all its silvery showboating, it was dark out here in the boondocks. My feet had to do the seeing: the shoulder sloped but the road was flat, so as long as I stayed upright and didn’t stumble, my path was steady, true.
But then through the cragged lattice of trees, I spotted the world’s last light, in the shape of a window, which meant there was a house, and the house had to be yours, and the window—a bedroom window. Our bedroom window. Isn’t that something? But where was the house? Where was the driveway to the house? The black of the earth and the black in the sky and a light in each but only one light to guide me. Is it foolish to walk in a straight line?
Is it foolish not to?
And for all of that, you’d think I’d remember: what comes next? A blind stumble through briar? A barked shin ascending the porch steps? Groping for a doorknob and a key? Time fades. And I am my own worst biographer. Surely these things happened. But did they happen to me?
And the sad truth is, being equipped with memory—the ability to remember, to access the record of what you have done and can’t undo—is not unlike time travel. Just ask Billy Pilgrim. Just ask a madeleine. So maybe what happened was that I saw your light, your beckoning window-shaped beacon piercing through all I cannot see standing in my way … I saw your light and stepped backward in time to the horse pastures of your youth, to our singular autumn visit to your one-eyed aunt’s homestead in the hill-country, stepped backward in time to one particular late-day walk amid fence posts and road apples, just us two in a field with the scent of animal and the low sun’s light catching your eyes and igniting, though that’s not really the word, is it? More like the light collected within the caldera of each eye, as if that’s where the light belonged, where it’d come from all along. The light of the setting sun originated from and returned to the wellspring of your eyes, each hazel iris a bright planet of candied orange—what horrible and mesmerizing twin worlds you were, that you possessed and possessed you—and you aimed those terrifying worlds at mine and I stepped backward in time and shamelessly in love and fell into your eyes and fell forward in time too to awake in the morning-blue light of October like a faded work shirt of weathered weave and just as cold, if not comfortable. I’d survived the night’s darkness and arrived, waking in this bed that I couldn’t kid myself anymore was ours. Just yours. Your bed. Your window. Your house. But I can borrow, right? We can share. Nope. The sheets beside me were vacant but warm still in the shape of your body and you, freckled shoulders and chestnut tresses, you were sitting at the mattress’s edge brushing out your hair. Your nightgown a silk slip suggesting your body without revealing your body and making me ache to the bones. The curls of your hair rising and collapsing with your brush. There were papers on your desk and bottles on the bureau and I wanted so badly to stay in this moment and space—the denim light, the brass bedpost scepters—was willing to beg to not be turned away. But your spine was an iron truss, your movements all intention—all wakeful and business—and I knew there’d be no lingering now. This moment, in fact, was already over. No more touch. No more taste. No more losing myself in the fragrant abundance of your hair. Your caramelized eyes and tannin curls. It was over. And once that truth clicked into place, I knew: going anywhere—moving anywhere, toward anywhere, one foot in front of the other—going anywhere was better than staying here.
—Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, including The Opposite of Prayer (forthcoming April 2018). He’s exhausted by the mouse chorus of souls following his heartless kitten through the understory. www.douglaswmilliken.com