by Ryan Dawley

Why not just try it out?
– I should.
– Seriously?
– Yes, I’m serious. I should.
– But you’re not going to?
– I don’t know…
We’ve been driving since daybreak, he and I, morning a lifetime ago,
distant as childhood. We’ve had this conversation before.
– …if I can.
– Well, when was the last time you tried? Can you even remember?
– Wish I could.
I can’t. We woke up in the middle of nowhere, flushed, yawning,
beyond dry fields the reddest sun. Since then we’ve been steadily putting
nowhere behind us. My father owns the deed to an empty house on the coast
and has offered to let us sleep there for a while. All we have to do is get
ourselves from one side of the country to the other.
– Let me get this straight, you’re saying pain is preferable to
– Not incorruptibility. Passionlessness.
The glare, trapped below a belt of clouds, spreads blindingly across
the skyline. Scrub brush, earthmoving machinery, the horizon seen from a
conveyor belt. Everything passes by quickly. No luck silencing him.
– But is continuing on in this fashion making you any smarter?
– If anything, the opposite.
– More sociable?
– Nein.
– And can you afford to keep this up?
– Can anyone?
Drifting past crops neither of us can identify, past billboards
addressing trends, past the erosion of frontiers and the hollowing out of
interiors. He pours the remaining litre of vodka into a half-empty bottle
of Orangensaft, and I drink. This bottle is not what we’re talking about. I
don’t have a problem with this bottle. If anyone has a problem with this
bottle, it’s him. I should know. I’ve been his best friend since the
– Even though it eats at you night and day?
– Well…
– “It’s poisoning my inspiration. Sabotaging…”
– I know what I said.
– “…my creativity. Draining my will to…”
– Shhh.
On NPR: “Beyond Darwin: The Galapagos,” the first of a three-part
series on religion and genetics; Where He Leads Me by John Samuel Norris; a
profile on James Merrill and his Ouija board sessions; Divertimento in
B-flat Major by Hadyn; a review of Race to the Center of the Earth by Lazlo
Fidele Obongo, concerning Brazza and Stanley’s race for the Upper Congo; Two
of Us by the Beatles; a report from a Reuters correspondent on fair-skinned
Nepalese girls smuggled across the Indian border and sold into prostitution;
Alexander Nevsky, Opus 78, Cantata for Mixed Chorus and Orchestra with
Mezzo-Soprano by Prokofiev; a biographical sketch of Marshal Gilles de Rais,
medieval serial killer and inspiration for Bluebeard, with readings from
works by Huysmans, Bataille, Perrault; Just The Two Of Us by Bill Withers.
– So you won’t even consider…
– I told you, it makes me feel alive.
– But wouldn’t you feel alive either way, with it or without it, since the
condition itself, the being-alive-ness, is not really what’s in question
here, but the quality of that condition?
– You know what I mean.
– But do you know what I mean?

– Do you?

I do. I know everything he’s going to say. He will start by pointing
out that if I make a decision soon enough, today, this very minute even, I
can be back to normal in no time. He will provide evidence to support this
theory, medical, statistical, biological, epistemological. He will
enumerate exactly what I’m missing by continuing down this reckless,
foolish, inconsiderate, juvenile path (a wife, children, a house, a car, a
garage, a boat, a dock, a yard, a flower bed, a pair of skis, a second home,
a plane, a hangar, a second wife). He will recommend I seek professional
help. He will offer to stand by me in this my darkest hour, will promise to
see this through to the bitter end, an end which will most likely contain
some sort of convenient new beginning. He’ll finish by saying something
nifty and vague like, “It’s the best of all possible solutions.”
– Ah hah! I disagree. What you’re suggesting isn’t technically a solution.
– It’s not?
– No. To my thinking it’s more like a substitution. It’s just something
else to do. It substitutes not doing for doing.
– You really believe that?
– It doesn’t matter if I believe it or not. It’s the truth.
The sun, fixed somewhere directly above us, behind innumerable
clouds. Despite the music and the static, the wind through cracked windows,
the hum of four tires on endless pavement, the humming in my head which is
really more like ceaseless questioning, the silence grows. I was afraid we
would arrive, he and I, at the edge of the western world without having
covered any significant territory at all. So I blurted out some useless
phrase – it’s time for a change of lifestyle, it’s time I made an effort to
change – something silly like that. But then he started doing the same
thing, talking to hear himself think, dispensing advice, which is easy
enough. Easier than looking in the mirror.
We both know it’s not going to happen. We both know change is
– So that’s it? Case closed?
– Alright, shut up and listen to me for a second. Assume that change is
– It isn’t?
– Let me finish.
Lands’ end. The ocean approaches. Shadowy figures on the beach
huddled around a small fire. A smile spreads across his face, and mine, for
different reasons. I park, cut the engine, reach into the backseat for my
coat, whatever was behind us fading.
– Assume that change is possible. Assume that change, sought after, hunted
down, digested, can become part of you, like anything else. Can take up
space inside of you where that anything else once lived. Can force anything
else to take flight, thus cleansing you of anything else and leaving, in its
place, change.
– Yes?
In the darkness he lights a cigarette, and I smoke. A sliver of
orange beyond the darkening waters.