The Run.

The Run.  Or: Two Lovers Flee In The Night From The Strange And Frightening World They Live In.

In the night we ran, we ran away fast, speeding til it hurt, the exhaust jetting out, accelerator pressed against the floor of the car.  The street lights streamed behind us through the windows, their fluorescent light burning lines onto the pages of our eyelids.  We drove so fast that no one could find us.  We drove so fast.

We sat back and we thought about the way the wind against the car sounded like a great river, or a waterfall.  And our hearts pounding staccato.  Like drums.

Beat.  I watched her and she got up and she left with me.  And I watched as her life merged seamlessly with mine.  As if the addition of fear and abnormality was easy but also meaningless.  And we didn’t talk as I drove.  Just watched the street lights as they passed.  Until there were no street lights any more.

Beat.  He said softly when I woke up.  Come Now.  It’s Time To Go.  And there weren’t any other words to describe it.  Just going.  We drove and we drove as the night deepened and we never, ever looked back.  We were strong.

Beat.  The petrol lasted the drive.  We surged out of the city and nobody saw us.  And when we reached the great dark, empty roads outside it, there were no other headlights that passed us by.  We were afraid to look back into the bright city, afraid of what we would see.  And so the cool night sped past us, chilled, frantic air between us and what we lived before now.  And we let that space become wider and wider.

And then the night began to shrink away and when the trees became visible, spiking the horizon, we stopped and we knew we were finished because the petrol tank was empty.  We left the car in the middle of the dusty, broken road.  We sat on the crisp yellow grass with our backs against the splintery bark of a tree.  We watched the night collapse into day.  Then we dug a hole underneath the grass and crawled into the warm earth to lay, like rabbits, away from the sun.  Then no one could find us, and we waited, feeling one another’s breaths on our cheekbones, for the night to come again.

We tried, but after long our tired hands curled into muddy fists and the dirt beneath our fingernails reached deep enough to hurt.  And so we stood and looked at our shallow concave of earth.  Then we sat by the roadside hand in hand, waiting for someone to come by.  We wept onto one another’s shoulders and when one seemed weak the other was always strong.  We waited there until the sun hurt our eyes and the noise of the car metal groaning in the midday sun hurt our ears.  And we could sleep in our stupor no more.

 

BELOW:  inspiration for this post was gained from about the first ten seconds of this song.  The rest is meaningless to me, but nice.

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Rock and River

You keep asking me what changed.  Is that your question of the week, or something?  Why didn’t I want to keep running for my life, changing towns, changing identities every time things got hard?  Why didn’t I want to keep up my lonely, scared existence?  Good question, lady.  Tough one, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you, alright.  It was a lot of things.  It was the way the university campus looked nice no matter what the weather was, the kind lady next door who kept wanting to invite me over to dinner, the cat that always scratched against the windowsill, the trees in the garden, the rent on the apartment, my reflection in the mirror, that time I made a girl cry, the dream I had the night before.  I’ll start with the dream.

It started out and I was in the city, running.  Running towards the outskirts, like always.  Then I was out of the city and I felt relieved, but I thought I might not be far enough so I kept going.  I came to a big river with forest all around it.  All the city noises were gone, even though I hadn’t really gone very far.  There was only the wind in the trees and the sounds of birds and insects.  Nothing sounding like voices.  That was nice.  I thought I could stay there maybe, but it was still too close.  I was afraid that if I climbed a tree or something then I would be able to see skyscrapers somewhere on the edge of the forest.  So I built myself a raft out of wood and vines.  It didn’t take very long and when I took it out to the river it stayed afloat.  Before I climbed aboard I took off my shoes and my shirt and rolled up the bottoms of my jeans.  Became a new person, sort of, without all those clothes, trying to look fashionable or whatever.  Then I got on the raft and floated down the river.

There was sun keeping me warm and I could collect fruits from trees overhanging the river to eat, cup water in my palms to drink.  My hands became all sandy and brown from clutching the wood of the raft all the time.  I rubbed this brown all over my face, my chest, my arms.  Somehow I felt cleaner that way.  I was there for a couple of days, just floating down the river.  I was never hungry, never worried.  I slept in the sun or stretched out like a cat sometimes.  I loved the motion of the raft on the river.

I watched as the landscape around me slowly changed.  I had drifted out of the forest, into bushland where the river was smaller and the muddy banks around me were slippery and steep.  Then the banks became baked rock with perfect footholds, canyon-like and full of shapes.  The forest noises of insects and birds and wind in the trees had gone.  There was nothing except the sound of the river.  Every sound I made echoed and echoed.

I left my raft made in the forest.  It didn’t fit there and I didn’t want to travel any more.  There was a place where I knew I wanted to stay.  There, the river joined another river.  I had heard that river for a while, sometimes seeing glimpses of it snaking through the landscape.  And now this was the place where it joined me, in front of a triangular slice of rock.  There was a flat space on top where I could lie in the sun.  There was a little nook below where I could shelter from the rain.  All around me was water.  I could see for miles.  What did I see?  Nothing.  Nothing but baked rock, maybe a few trees in the distance.  I could yell and the sound would travel for miles and miles and no one, not a single person, would hear it.  I did yell.  I shouted and screamed as loud as I could.  I sang and I yelled meaningless, gibberish words.  Things I’d never said before.  Things I never planned to say.  I shouted and I sang because I was alone, more alone than I ever had been before.  More alone than I could ever be in real life.

I built a fire on a bed of twigs and dried leaves.  I burnt branches and watched the embers travel, the sparks swarm in a cloud when I blew on them.  I compared their light with the light of the stars in the sky.  I couldn’t tell which I liked more.  I slept curled around my dying fire, feeling its warmth on my belly like a feeling inside of it, some emotion I couldn’t understand.

In the morning I admired the mist on the river and broke off shards of rock to throw and watch disappear without a sound.  I dipped my feet into the mist and liked how soft and cool it felt.  I played with it in my fingertips and made animal sounds to hear them echo.  I painted my face with dirt and laughed to imagine what my reflection might look like.  No one to see.  No one to care.

When the midday sun came out, bright and strong, I bombed into the river and let it wash the dirt from me, tug at me like playful hands, rip at my jeans, comb my matted hair.  I loved the feeling of the water on my eyelids.  Then I opened my eyes under the water and watched the mandala of the sun on the ripples above me.  I think it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  I didn’t want to share it.  I wanted to keep it mine.  It was my secret.

I lay myself out to dry on the flat rock, let the sun brown my skin and bleach my hair.  Then I climbed and climbed and felt the strong muscles pulsing underneath my skin.  I crossed the left river and explored the land, running up mounds of dirt, sprinting across bushy scrubland, eating my fill.  Then I crossed the river again and fell asleep on the warm, flat stone.  When I awoke it was night and I told stories to the stars in the sky.  I tried to tell them about my past life, but they didn’t believe me.  I didn’t believe myself.

But then one day someone else floated down the river.  She came from the opposite side and she had made a raft just like I had.  Her skin was browned and her face was covered with the juice of fruit she had just eaten.  She climbed onto the rock and met me there.  We spoke a little.  My words were disjointed and I couldn’t remember how to say much.  Even when I’d practiced to the stars, I hadn’t used normal words.  I couldn’t remember a lot, but I think she understood.  She said she couldn’t remember much from her past life either.  So we didn’t talk about that.

She had very dark hair.  Still some clothes, all tattered like my old jeans.  She spoke in a low voice.  A quiet voice.  We didn’t ask each other’s names.  What use was a name?  I was boy.  She was girl.  Names wouldn’t have meant a thing to us.

I told her she was beautiful.  That was the first thing I said.  Then she shook her head and said her face was too bony, too many pimples, her mouth was too big.  I said no.  She touched my face and she said I was beautiful.  I sort of realised I’d forgotten what beautiful looked like.  I had really old memories of bad haircuts and picking at pimples in the mirror.  But my face was smooth to her touch.  I must have changed, become a different person, morphed in appearance somehow.  She said she thought she recognised me from somewhere.  From somewhere in the forest or the muddy bushland, perhaps.

There was nothing to teach her.  She knew it all already.  She knew how to talk to the stars and how to see the mandala in the river.  We told each other stories.  In her eyes, I saw the sparks from the fire.  I don’t know what she saw in mine.  One day it rained and we sat together under a ceiling of rock with our hands clasped, watching as a pale screen of water tipped from the ledge above us.  We let our feet catch the rain and wash off the dirt and dust, cool the hardened blisters.  I felt the touch of her hand on mine.  I knew nothing of her except girl.  She knew nothing of me except boy.  There wasn’t anything else to know.  There weren’t any words and there didn’t have to be.  She asked if I was alone before.  I said no.  Alone only has meaning when you remember there are other people out there, somewhere.  Secretly I hoped no one else would ever come to disturb us.  No one ever did.

She lay next to me when we slept under the stars.  I shared my fire with her, but we had our own warmth and didn’t need its heat.

I remembered something from the past one night.  Something about other people and danger.  I woke because I was scared.  And when I woke she clasped my hand and listened to my confused words.  And she helped me remember that now we were the only ones.  No one else belonged to this world, our world of rock and river.  It was only ours to share with each other.  So I went back to sleep and didn’t dream of the past, but of her and of the river.

But it was only a dream.  And when I awoke, the world hurt, it hurt so much.

When I awoke, I felt the light filtering in through the smudged window and it was cold and grey.  Only hours had passed, only hours.  I reached across and could not find the hand of the girl.  She was gone.  She never had been there.  Maybe if she had been there, but then gone away, I might have felt better.  But she never existed, never existed at all.  The rock and the river and the forest, the mud and the sun.  It was never there and I never lived that life.

I couldn’t work out what was real, at first.  I sat there, on my hard bed, not even able to look up at the grey light coming in through the window.  I heard the city, I heard the people next door, I heard my own angry breaths.  Swallowed salt water, rubbed at my face with shaking fists.  Sat for a while, for a very long time, like I do sometimes when I’m having a really bad day.  But eventually I got up and I washed and dressed and shaved and made my little bed in that cramped apartment.  I kept my eyes to the ground all day and I didn’t speak to anyone.  I did the right thing, I did what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t look at anyone, I didn’t meet anyone, made no friends, found no lovers.  So I’d never have to leave again, never have to get hurt again.

So, you asked me what changed my mind.  The dream helped.  Someone said something I can’t remember once, about dreaming in colour.  I dreamed that dream in colour, so then I realised that my world was grey.  And after that, I suppose, then I realised I couldn’t run away any more.  So I didn’t.

 

BELOW: this song helped me write it.  Basically on repeat in the background.  Bon Iver is great.

Every Morning I Run Away

This one still needs some finishing touches.

I run in the mornings.  I wake up when it’s only dark and put on my clothes and debate with myself whether to leave my torch at home.  In the end I always keep it in my pocket but I never use it.  Then I open the door and go out and shut it again and lock it.  Now I’m outside and if I look up there’s a sheet of stars above my head.  They’re like hundreds of strings of fairy-lights except you can’t see the wires.  Then I carefully step back and put the key in my pocket.  There is no sound.  I feel as if the world is empty, except I am the only living organism and if I stay still long enough I won’t even be that.  So I don’t move for a long time, my chest barely moving when I breathe, my heart beating very, very faintly so that sometimes I think it’s not beating at all and I must be immortal.  But then something moves out there, a pair of headlight eyes or a cat hiding its misdeeds under a bush.  Then I move.

I start off slow just in case my legs aren’t working this morning.  I run out of the street and then out of the next street and the street after that.  I don’t even turn corners because I might get lost if I do.  But I know where I’m heading and I’ll go there in a straight line.  It’s where small hills like acne on the earth stand in front of bigger and bigger hills like the nose and eyes and ears of the earth.  The earth doesn’t have a mouth, but in my dreams one appears on a rainy early morning, a jagged fissure that eats the towns and the cities and crunches people with boulder teeth.  If I keep running towards the nose of the earth I’ll be far away when the mouth opens up.  Then I can watch.

I run for a very long time.  I run straight towards the acne hills and watch as they get bigger.  Today my chest isn’t hurting so bad so maybe my heart has stopped and I’m immortal now.  The streets become different the longer I run, the houses no longer sitting side by side, whispering in each other’s ears, now shouting distance apart with yards big enough for whole other houses.  Dogs bark at me and it startles me so much that I skip and jump like an Irish dancer until I’m on the other side of the road.  By this time, the night sky is beginning to lift slightly, like the crown of shell you lift away to peel a boiled egg.  It reveals a Tuesday morning underneath a chilled Monday night.

I think of the North Pole.  There are no towns and cities in the North Pole.  Maybe that’s where I’ll run to after I reach the acne hills.  In the winter the sun doesn’t rise at all and there is constant night, like a boiled egg waiting to be peeled except that nobody peels it for weeks and weeks until the spring comes and they crack the shell and search through the white and make the luminescent yellow yolk into the first sunrise.

Carlos went up north.  To the North Pole.  He had a small, prickly black beard like a clump of steel wool and eyes that were so light they could have been fairy-lights in the night sky without the wires.  But he doesn’t have anything now.  That’s because he is dead.

I had a dream last night where everybody in the world stood on the same flat plain and cracks began to move through, slowly first, and then faster, faster until they were coursing everywhere like a stampede of animals.  And everybody became divided with their own piece of flat land and a black, black sea around them.  And then one by one each piece of land teetered a bit, cracked in half and sunk along with the people they held.  I watched and around me people were toppling into the water everywhere.  Nobody made a sound, as if they were too frightened to scream.  Or as if they expected it all along.  Until my own piece of land, which was the only piece left, teetered on its little axis.  I watched sadly as it cracked down the middle and I lost my footing and plunged into the dark night of water.

The sun has risen now.  It will be another day before I will go to sleep wondering whether the mouth of the earth will eat me up before I wake.  I am beyond the houses, but now that the sun can see me, I am afraid.  I tell myself to run, run fast into the mountains.  Hide away and watch the city safe from a distance.  I pick up speed because today I am going to do it, I am going to keep running and running, run away from my house and my bed and the door and the key in my pocket that thump-thumps against my thigh as I run fast.  I run until my lungs claw for air and my toes feel bloody against my worn socks.  But the acne hills are still far away.  They are too far, they are out of reach and I am afraid because for all my desire I am still a civilised man and I belong in my house and my bed.  The fear puts a stopper in my throat and I can’t breathe and I can’t run any more.  I turn back and wish I was blind to walk the same route, where the houses begin to sit next to one another, the dogs bark and the cars flash in the new sunlight, and by the time I put the key in the door there are angry tears on my cheeks.  The stars have abandoned me.  The sight of my unmade bed and my room makes me feel sick.  I sit down and peel off my running shoes.  My feet are raw like meat and I stifle my cries as I walk.  Every day a new layer of scabs, blisters and burns.  Trophies in my collection.  Shameful.

Every day I run away, away to where the mountains are bigger than the houses or the streetlamps or the city buildings.  But I always run back again.