Ventured

Creative Nonfiction
Tracy Lyall


Photo Credit: Hannah Swithinbank/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

The ancient T-Rex and Brontosaurus, a Route 66 beacon jutting out to the highway from beyond the grave. Was it Big Bang? Our oil, our fossil fuels from you giant beasts have taken us many miles across this America, the bold and the beautiful. I drive for you. You Godzilla of city-crushing monsters we long to pet and adore. Your bone oil is brewing beneath the surface of the earth like a stew. Like a golden black curse, killing earth and destroying families.

Mothra’s outfit is sewn out of canvas and he flutters off to the side, kicked out of theatre like an angry gay man watching the play die.

They are trying to revive Route 66, bring us all out to play, to drive, to live and roam the American dream again. Fill the Grand Canyon up with water like a giant backyard pool party, barbecue with tiki torches, the wife, and kids. Your buddies and one—only one—wife, you know, the one you’ve loved since high school, sweetheart letters in a photo album next to prom and a cheap backyard wedding in an old suit and dresses suitable for evening wear. That one. The one you forgot, turned your back on, and rode away on a motorcycle with a fake blonde to drown out the pain. The one who drank and cried, took a job, quit a job, traveled and overdosed

—only to not care anymore
—so you could come back
—calling her ugly
—the wear and tear
—calling her washed up
—her dying dreams
—calling her broken
—no shit, really?

This highway wouldn’t exist without the dinosaur; its bone dust ground to petrol for man’s steel machines—the oil, the petroleum, and gasoline.

Like the stuffy stairwell up the dinosaur’s belly into the gift shop, you think you can buy time, buy a souvenir of a time gone and recollect like a tourist. As if you weren’t the one responsible, as if you weren’t the bully kid who kicked the chair out from beneath the little freckled girl who fell on her face, busting her lip, and knocking out her teeth.

So you can call her ‘ugly’.

Driving, driving

—to the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. Check my bag in at the front door and walk past the Snuffleupagus head mount on the wall and up the stairs. Red and black, brown, burgundy spines of books pieced together, the vertebrae of literary dinosaurs melting in tar pits of film images gone plastico. The black type words strategically placed, line after line, letters and letters, the dots on pale white pages I long for. As if I’ve created a narrator in my head, the voice you gave me in silence. I hear your words alone in dusty aisles. Buried beneath cinders and dollar sections, stupid titles and possible relics. Where are you now? Failed writing etiquette or the history of sea lions or crappy detective novels with boring, depressed main characters who die by page three. Working at CVS or all-night diners?

I’m walking through your tunnel sculpture, the creak of wood beneath my heel. I close my eyes and touch spines.

I never told my mother I was on a journey for a mate, a lover, a cross-country husband hunt—anything outside that mundane hot and humid hell-town—beyond the traffic and views, sweat, oppression, and fear. I give her my license plate number “in case I go missing.” She says no one would take me. In case I never come back. Except to pack up my belongings. No one knows I’m here.

After coffee at Intelligentsia, five-dollar espresso and university culture, trying to find a reading, a closed-down theatre, black coal on a Sunday afternoon, after Whole Foods and green machine smoothies—two-day socks and suburbs.

The mountains are always in the background, always landscape for a silent sprawl, lava of highway and clusters of homes to hide our wads of body. Bags and chain link fence. Driveways and gay parrots.

F— you god, f— you and your little dog too. Your sick joke of life, I proved you wrong—I drove off smiling with clothes, paintings, CDs and camping gear.

Look away.

I walk away and come back twenty minutes later. His long curly brown hair beneath a baseball cap, white T-shirt. ESP. Wishing he could read minds.

A stack of books in my hand, I set them down.

“Do you mind if I take a picture?”

He doesn’t but it’s intrusive so I say maybe if you turn.

They say you traveled cross-country to Maine once, had a breakdown.

The fishing boats, the docks, and the eerie cold water—dead fish frozen beneath the surface as the lighthouse scans the sea. The cliffs are dry and water calm. I heard you went looking for Stephen King and his fictional, mystical town. You found donuts and snow boots, old trucks, and lonely wives. The ratio of male/female was 100 to 109. You were looking for an angel, someone to take back home. God wasn’t listening because his damn yippy dog was all the noise.

So in the middle of the night on the edge of town, you jumped off a cliff into the green sea—and didn’t die, did you sweetheart?

Dove into the freezing water, thought about that punk rock song “People Who Died.” Died. You shivered and rose up. Holding your breath. Tried but gradually resurfaced. Then slept in a ball on the beach, digging beneath the sand like crab, it kept you warm.

You lived. You came back.

Ventura, was it? Return to the hills, the smog, the crowd, like pushed to the edge of a dark bar. Your back is against the wall—body stench, bathrooms, and stale beer. Your shoes stick to the floor. Your mother calls, you lie in bed for days peering up over the windowsill, watching gulls fly through the end streets, the roar of ocean just outside. Someone knocked your mailbox down with a bat, tossed beer cans in your yard.

She says you’ll be fine, invites you over for dinner, and tries to hook you up with the frumpy neighbor. Now look at you, not dead and hanging out with your mother who suggests more night school and another job. Kick your shoes off, get rid of that old dog, it’s stinking up your apartment.

I took your picture. You stood nervously then sat back down again, looking at me as if asking, “Can you read minds?” It’s too soon; we’ve just met. Sit down again. I am over your shoulder, an amber glow. Books, shelves of books, and a black light overhead, radar knobs and dials like submarine. Submerged deep beneath a hundred-year city, black-and-white silent movies, quiet beauty, freak shows and gay parades. Smog sun. Cemeteries on a grey day.

This is it, this is your only life—let’s just live.

It’s three p.m., the rental car is parked in the lot down the street. Where have I been? Asleep, having babies, working jobs I loathe, and looking for a guy like you—like high school, mid-life prom. Let’s go. We ‘um,’ we go stupid… I walk away with your image in my camera—three of a hundred or so. Pay for the dollar books under my arm, get my bag from baggage check, hoping you ask about me. I call a day later but it’s too late. Look back one last time at the mannequin by the front then drive to the mountains to camp out, got there too late and had to rent a hotel room. One of the attendants is chasing away a cat who’s bothering tenants. I tell her I will watch her and she spends the night in my room. Quick to leave in the morning while I drink coffee, hunt donuts, count the cars in the parking lot next door, watch the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada worming its way through the mountains. Bikers eat at cement tables outside the gas station.

You’re still alive.

We’ll meet again.

pencil

Tracy L. Lyall was born in Houston, Texas during the time of roller-disco and cool, cigarette-smoking tomboys, she spent her early years traveling on greyhound buses and experiencing life, much of which became the basis of her writing/art/photography ventures. After working with underground zines her writing spanned into journalistic media. Published by university presses, magazines, and small press, she actively hunts the ‘big time’ while raising a series of fiction and creative non-fiction novels along with two joeys, degrees, paintings, photography, and running an online literary zine. She currently resides in a dungeon. Email: yedicat[at]yahoo.com

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