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Off Planet

Blue day, red day: it’s the kind that coffee doesn’t have a chance of helping and the grains crawl one by one back into their bag whimpering. The stove glares at me because I’ve yet to wipe its face clean from sweet and sour something; and the right rear tire of the car is flat. I gnat over it until I realize this isn’t my car, and had to park down the block because this wreck was already here from last night, and glump, glump, glump! How much longer will I be lost? At work everyone talks in a foreign language, and my brain falls out through my ear when I try to understand it all—blab, blab, blab; what’s this gray thing on the floor?—and I kick my brain under my desk hoping no one will find it there, least of all me. I tell myself I’ll understand it all better later, but the clock takes too long running sideways, and I forget that I’m supposed to remember something sooner than later and vice versa until the clock stops playing at string theory and falls into a puddle of tears.

Not the only one slugged by the practical, this weekend a bunch of us go off planet as far as a hundred miles into the desert. Rueben’s half Native American, and says he knows this spot that’s really cool to hang out, though he can’t say “cool” like it’s done on TV and we doubt him. Pita and Phil—P-P to everyone because they’re Siamese lovers—drive their truck, bringing camping supplies and Carla with them. YouTube must have shut down for the day for her to go anywhere far from online. I go with Ruben and his friend Spike, whose hair is too short to effectively be spiked and makes him look like a stubby kiwi with an ugly cut in it. Roger rides his bike with Kimmy. Roger has heavy springs on his bike and wears a cloth hat that looks like a helmet, while she’s definitely a biker chick, tattoos and all—beats all the girls and many of the guys at arm wrestling; cracks walnuts in her armpits—but no one can get away from calling her Kimmy. I think she likes it.

This cool place is literally out in the desert: the top of a small plateau with a large fire pit; the ground about beaten hard and bare by centuries of feet, and the mountains are deceptively far-near. The stars gather quickly to watch us fools as we collect fuel and start a fire. The air smells of wood, makes the night warm and welcoming, and we tell ghost stories until we remember we don’t know any.

A pair of moths flutters about the flames.

“Any rain dances done here?”

“There are glyphs over there.”

Rueben takes my hand, and leads the way. On a concave rock there’re faded lines of yellow, red, and a little blue disappearing with the darkness.

“What do they say?”

“Turn back white man.”

Spike’s already drunk. Nobody laughs.

“It’s a sacred place, but we’ll be okay if we don’t mess it up.”

Back at camp, we find Roger trying popcorn over the fire. More pops in the flames than in the pan and we shoot finger guns as it goes off.

“Corn, Mr. Dillon?”

“Hey, isn’t popcorn a sign of fertility?”

“Naw, that’s eggs and fruit.”

“Where’d you get the pears?”

Pia cuts more pieces to put in Phil’s mouth one by one.

“My aunt in Oregon. The apples are from Washington.”

“How many aunts do you have?”

“Enough to make Christmas good.”

“Men are apples, and women are pears.”

“Fruit maybe, but I can’t see eggs. Weren’t geeks and nerds called eggheads?”

“Which one are you?”

Spike drools when he grins.

“What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

“He brought his brain.”

We eat burritos heated on hot rocks, while Kimmy tries cooking one over the fire on a stick. It drops into the flames and burns really well. She eats it, anyway.

“You cook like this at home?”

“Don’t bring an appetite when you visit.”

Kimmy slugs Roger.

“Don’t burn the paper in the fire.”

“They taste better with a fast swig of wine.”

“What goes best with burritos: red or white?”

“Hey, today’s Shari’s birthday.”

“Where’s the cake?”

We build a cake from nearby stones and use a torch for a candle, which Shari can’t blow out even with everyone’s help.

“Sorry, you’re stuck at twenty-three.”

“Should I be happy?”

“Maybe, today’s Lughnasadh, July 31st.”

“That’s tomorrow, but we can still bless someone’s fields, if you want to.”

“Drop dead.”

Spike passes out thanks to more of Phil’s beer.

“What does anyone see in him?”

“Who’s seeing him, anyway?”

In silence Carla stirs the fire with a stick. Is she crying?

“I hate being from a small town.”

“Not enough malls?”

“I want to be more.”

“Migrate, or is it emigrate?”

“Leave, and find out.”

“Don’t be like Spike.”

“Where’d you go?”

“San Francisco, Portland, Seattle: get lost there, have a mini-job, a cat and a ratty one-roomer; read big gloppy books—19th century literature—while sipping gunky coffee; carry protest signs and not be afraid when I vote; be any place that has more life.”

I nearly cry because it sounds so delish.

“Mars is still clean.”

“Naw, we trashed it with those rovers. Tracks all over the place now.”

Roger throws more wood on the fire. We hum, and then begin to dance in the shadows of the flames. Nothing serious until Rueben shows us how. We each take turns, even Spike, who wakes up just for a couple of minutes; then together. A few howl, then we dance on in silence, the firewood popping to the beat.

We roll out our sleeping bags, and watch the stars whirl about their business.

Phil and Pia are already cuddled up. Roger snores until Kimmy rolls him over.

“I didn’t know there were so many.”

“Huh? They’re always there. All you have to do is look.”

We do, and I watch them move. They’re different colors, too, and we point to the ones we plan to vacation on. Jon Serrie’s got nothing on this sound.

“Does blue mean they’re leaving, and red mean they’re coming closer?”

“I ride the comets; visit all of them.”

“Pack a lunch.”

“What kind of colors do they have there?”

“All of them.”

We want to go.

Things grow quiet; some crickets and a coyote wake up. I think Rueben wants to make love, but seems more afraid of me then I’m of him. I wouldn’t mind, but he doesn’t ask, and I don’t offer. He isn’t handsome, but clean and with a good smile: someone you could easily get an okay from the parents to date when you’re fifteen; a tieless, shirt top-buttoner with clean fingernails and combed hair. In the morning the stars are gone and have taken the fire with them. We dismantle Shari’s cake and clean up the desert, and I feel I’m landing.

Monday I’m back at the practical with the clock still whirling sideways on its way to inside out. I find my brain still underneath my desk and put it in. It doesn’t fit any more and I flip it back out, and come in late for work because it’s no longer enough.

copyright © 2012 by mari t.


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