--THERE’S A CROWD OF YOU
Pop says we’ve been living in this abandoned rail car since before the dawn of mankind. My father’s a person of contradictions because he also says our race is not merely human, our race is always moving, evolving, that it’s stupid to even use the label race at all.
He claims we were once tad poles then apes, pharaohs then gunslingers, rum runners then executives, and now we just happen to be vagrants.
When I look around me, if I holler or run miles in any direction, I come back without much reason to doubt him. It’s just snow-covered nothingness. The nearest town is three hours over rugged terrain.
On the top of Ivory Hill, I can shout and whatever message I yell tumbles down the snow-encrusted valley and boomerangs back to me, frozen and husky, my words the same, only older-sounding.
Still I don’t like knowing there’s nothing else, no God, no chance of me ever meeting my mother. It’s sickening to think this is all there is.
Pop says my mother died when I was a tot, that she stepped on a rusty nail and her leg swelled up and then the rest of her, too, and that was the end. Sometimes I think: well, if a person can die from a piece of dirty metal, anything must be possible, the truth is untrustworthy, and God can’t be real because he would never be so petty or cruel, and when I share this, Pops says, “That’s right, son. Now you get it.”
On occasion visitors show up, usually people who’ve fallen off course or else drifters who know exactly where they are and what they’re doing, but not necessarily why.
A few days ago Mel and Robby arrived out of nowhere, acting like they knew us, like they were relatives. Robby is part Eskimo, part Native American Indian, but mostly he’s made of whiskey. His sweat and breath reek of booze. Even his eyes have a topaz tint to them.
Mel is all Indian. She’s a nice lady, slow moving and gentle, the way the infirm are. She showed me how to braid my hair and gave me a turquoise clip to use and keep.
Yesterday we walked out to Ivory Hill together and I held her hand and pretended she was Mother. Mel might have suspected what I was doing because she drew me into her chest and squeezed until I could hear our two hearts bumping against each other.
When I asked her about God, Mel said she knew about my mother’s death and Pop’s ideology.
“But is he real?” I asked.
She said, “Close your eyes and ask.”
So I did. I shouted, “Are you there God?” and as in past times my words flew but bounced back and hit my lips like a blunt kiss.
When I opened my eyes, Mel was gone. She was gone but her prints were there and her heart still beat next to mine.