HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse
Issue 8A Journal of Letters and Life

No Thoreau
by Nicholas Rombes
Author's Links

What ends in horror at the bonfire begins when my professor sends me deep into the far forest because we nearly fought in her office and she became frightened to have me around.
     It takes me two days of driving through the Monogoshan State Forest to get there, and I don't even remember a single thing about it except for the crunch of gravel beneath the car tires. Two days. And then the clearing in the woods at the end of the road, and then the trees in rows.
     This may have been--like she said--an orchard at one time, but now it's little more than an opening in the forest that was already being reclaimed by the wild. Most of the apple trees are pathetic: dead, black, twisted shapes amidst the riot of tall grass and saplings. But a few are still live, barely, their sparse white blossoms dangling in the spring breeze. Her uncle's orchard, she had said, where she used to come as a child, before the state bought the land.
      I pull up and cut the engine. The cabin is overcome by swarming vines. I step out of the car into the sun. A small tree grows through the rotten wooden boards of the front porch. The tree has pinned the front door shut. I go around back, wading through the waist-deep weeds, yellow something-or-other collecting on my pants, the sound of insects filling my head, and enter through the rusted metal door in the rear. The floor inside is mushy with moss. But things aren't so bad. Some of the vines have crept through the windows and a few small holes in the ceiling, true, and there are even some trees that have grown up from beneath the floor and have pushed their way through the gaping holes in the ceiling.
      I go back outside. The big faded barn in the back is empty, leaning over on its side like parallelogram. Geometric graffiti is everywhere, spray painted triangles, indecipherable words, grotesque portraits of what look to be butchered bodies. The work of a real death-metal crew. But where do they come from? How do they get out here, miles from anywhere?
      And why am I here? Because she banished me, her temptation. That's not what she said, of course. "To retrieve something from the cabin. Would you do that for me?" She knew I was desperate and that I would come. But I was not always desperate. I was not always ironic, like her. I used to be kind, I told her, to hold out hope for others and for myself. I used to despise people who are like I am now.
      Day passes. I unpack the car. I've taken up residence in the cabin. At night I shut my eyes, and try to re-create the circumstances that led me here, my conversations with her, try to pinpoint the events that led to this, her foot touching mine beneath her desk, her lingering gaze, her sudden laughs, the way she talked about punk rock.
      At night I lie along the wall beneath my blankets and smoke, the room around me full of trees, like those scenes in Where the Wild Things Are after Max is sent to his room without supper. "That very night in Max's room a forest grew . . . and grew . . . and grew until his ceiling hung with vines and the walls became the world all around . . ."
     The next day and the next I roam the orchard and the surrounding white pine forest, like Daniel Boone with cigarettes. I trap animals for food and live off the apples from the few fruit-bearing trees that remain. After a week, and then another, I don't think my car will start, but I don't even try it anymore. I don't know how much longer I can stay out here. I used to hate Nature because I misunderstood it. But I'm starting to see now, to understand. I've read too much to believe there's a hidden order to Nature, or to believe that it's somehow purer than what I left behind. It's not. It's no more anything than anything else, no more anyplace than anyplace else. And I'm beginning to understand that, to see it even. How long, I wonder, would it take to come to complete control, complete understanding?
      Yet I'm no isolationist, no transcendentalist, and I miss the idea of comrades. I have no thoughts against anyone in my head.
     I am no Thoreau.
     I am not a Kaczinski.
     The past few nights I've heard them over at the barn, blaring their punk, smashing bottles, laughing, cursing. "Holidays in the Sun." "Anarchy in the U.K." Where have they come from? I keep my lantern off, and wonder how long it will be before they discover me; I imagine them coming upon me, at first thinking me a rolled up carpet in the corner, then seeing my eyes, my face, and the one of them making a joke about killing me, and then another one poking me with a stick, then with some barn siding, then one calling me an old drunk, then one kicking me, then another one, then coming in with a tire iron . . .
      That's nearly how it happens.
      Except there are only two of them tonight, drunk out at the mammoth bonfire behind the barn, setting off firecrackers and M-80s. The fire consumes the night; they must have fueled it with planks from the piles of old, unused barn siding. I watch them for a long while.
     Why do I reveal myself to them? Because I'm lonely, I want to see their faces. I want them to see mine. Perhaps they think I'm a ghost, unreal, a hallucination, a trick of drugs or the night. I can't account for what makes them throw the firecrackers at me, or for what makes him pick up a small stick and aim it at me like a pistol, or what makes the girl egg him on, what makes her say "Get it," when urging him to come for me. Not "get him." The bonfire is a painted inferno, defying gravity, its flames leaping in the wind and snapping like a flapping sheet.
      They taunt me. But I hold my ground. I protect myself. The boy's movements are broad and lumbering. He must be stoned. He can't focus, and when I get too close he lunges for me, misses, falls to the ground, and cuts his head on a rock. In the firelight the deep red blood spreads across his face like war paint or an SOS.
      "Christ," he says, standing up unsteadily, wiping his forehead, gently rubbing the blood between his fingers. He flickers in the light. Black leather jacket, torn jeans. He flickers like he's not even there. He takes off his jacket and in the firelight his T-shirt says "The Sex Pistol." No "s." A misprint, I think. Or else the "s" is lost in a shadow or wrinkle.
      The fire roars close by, shooting little yellow coals into the sky, casting everything in a dull orange glow. The boyfriend eggs me on, getting braver, edging closer. Suddenly I'm the center of his world.
      "What the fuck are you?" he demands. Not "who" but "what." He lights a firecracker and tosses it at me stupidly. It goes off at my feet, illuminating a little circle of earth in a bright white split second supernova atom bomb. He advances, inching me towards the fire until I feel it on my back and the backs of my legs, searing.
      "What are you?" he asks again, louder. But it's his face that's a mystery, his face that's inscrutable, unreadable in the shifting fire light. Behind him the girl holds herself still like a shadow. What's in the duffel bag slung across her shoulder? She lingers there in the outer reaches of the firelight, even more frightening than him, less easy to read, less sure of what she wants to do. In my mind what's in her duffel bag is what I was sent out here to find.
     Then he makes his sudden move, when my eyes are on her.
     That's when he comes for me, full force, furious, his fleeting face distorted like a melted painting. I step aside, brush him off, and he trips into the fire, arms outstretched, screaming. The fire hisses.
      The girl stands there, focused, focused on the fire, as though if she looks hard enough he'll come back. But he won't come back.
      She is someone's daughter. Flareout jeans, low and tight around her smooth hips. Her navel deep and full of shadow. Indian feathers in her hair. Melting mascara streaming down her cheeks. A pierced eyebrow that flashes in the firelight like a spark. She holds the duffel bag close against her tense body, like she's ready to do it, ready to leap, ready to leap with her little body of secrets, ready to end it all and find him in there, in the coals, the ashes, in the white hot truth.
      She makes a move like she's really going to do it, then stops, faces me, tense and tight, ready to fight or run. But I'm patient. I have to be, now. I must be very careful not to hurt her. I slowly back away from the fire. I stand back in the shadows where she can't make me out, and where I will wait for her to move.
      But I don't have to wait long before she calls out something. Is she sobbing? She calls out something again, a choking name. Maybe his name. Or the name of some other boy. She backs away from the fire, slowly. The forest behind her shifts in uncertain light. Shadows open and close. She takes something from the duffel bag. She holds it out in front of her. She takes aim.
      And it's because I can't see what it is in her hand that I'm the one who flees. I find my keys. I start the car. The girl watches me go. I'm driving through the woods in the dark like a maniac, the shaking trees in my headlights as pale as death. I can barely hear a thing. The sound of sound has come apart. When I get back I'll tell the professor that she can fuck her Sex Pistols, and her foot games, and her David Lynch posters, and her stale irony.
     I step on the accelerator. It gets quieter. The harder I press the softer and quieter it is. Who am I kidding? I'm not ever going back.

HomeArchivesSubmissionsCorpse CafeCorpse MallOur GangHot SitesSearch
Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.