What is it that drives the man who is given to motion, that keeps him whole in February on a northern road in a savage wind? Walking backwards (or being blown) grinning the grin of a man in pain, he holds out his gloveless thumb.
For a long time after he gets into my car he trembles. He cups his hands over his chapped and swollen face. From the caverns where his eyes are buried, water streams.
"This feels good," he says at last. His voice is slow, monotone.
When I ask him where heís going, he shakes his head. How can you name a place you havenít been to? I hand him the map, point out where we are. He studies it for miles, says, "I guess Iím not far enough north."
What is it that feeds him, that keeps his gut from twisting around its emptiness until he doubles over under some highway bridge?
"Yesterday I didnít feel good, so I bought five grapefruit," he volunteers. "I ate three right away, and I feel better now."
What else? Is that all?
He reaches inside his jacket to the place close to his breast, takes out a plastic bag, empties it on his lap: a mound of folded papers, covered end-to-end with bold blue ink. Nothingís crossed out.
"I am a fiction writer," he says.
"Thatís nice. Thatís great. Will you read me something?" I feed him.
"Yes I will." He takes a paper from the top of the heap, unfolds it. "This one is called Babysitting With Patty. I think if I can type it up itíll really be good. It is good." He says this quietly, almost shyly. Here is how it goes:
|Patty is in another room sewing. A manís watching T.V.|
He wants her to join him.
"I will come if you make popcorn," she says.
"I like to make popcorn. Where is the pan?"
"The pan is under the sink."
"I found it. Thank you. Where is the oil?"
"The oil is in the cupboard."
(And so forth and so on, a litany of small talk underlying unwritten sexual tension, until they finally pop their corn and sit down.)
| "There now. Arenít we comfortable?"
"Yes, I love you. I am having fun. Thank you."|
He stares out the window for a while, then adds, "P.S. They were married and they have two happy children."
After a suitable silence, I clear my throat and thank him.
"This is the fourth time I have written it," he says. "One I lost, one I threw away, and one was taken from me. And now," (he refolds the paper, opens my glove box, places it in there), "I want to give this to you, because you have given me something."
Let nobody laugh. Let no one confront him with the elements of fiction. He has put his words into the air. He has placed them in my glove box. Wind-stripped of all else, words are what heís left with, anchors in the nowhere place where his road veers north.