1.7.2014 Journal Prompt

Photo from Heartlands
Photo from Heartlands

January 7, 2014: He wasn’t really lost.

One Reply to “1.7.2014 Journal Prompt”

  1. He was lost. As lost as any man can be. Miles from anywhere, and clouds closing in, and no roadside signs ttheir arms flung wide to point him backwards or forwards, or lights spaced at intervals to show the way. Just where two roads cross, he was. And he was lost.

    That’s not something he’d ever admit. Oh no. He had a roadmap, you see, and he’d tell you that you can’t really be lost if you have a map, not really. And he opened the flapping sheet of the map and peered at the roads running all ways and the names in writing so small that he wished he’d brought his glasses. And some places were familiar, he thought; but then they weren’t. And no matter which way up he held the map, he was, when all’s said and done, most certainly lost.

    Married with two kids, and a mortgage on the house, and a car that held a loan, and a job that was safe enough. And he’d been happy once, in that way that the married man can be happy. There were few surprises in his path and few shocks; it was a steady road ahead.

    In some parts of the country there are roads that are so straight they have cruise control in their cars. You can take your foot off the pedals and your hands off the wheels and just let the car go. Straight as a ruler, if ever rulers were longer than mile on mile. Straight as a finger pointing and you follow the line of that finger to as far as can be seen, all the way to the mist-blue horizon. And that’s what his life was like and the driving was easy and he switched to cruise control, took his foot off the pedal and his hands off the wheel.

    The collision took him by surprise. A girl in a café and he’d only gone in to escape the sudden sullen rain. And they got to talking across a shared table and two cups of cheap coffee that they neither of them dared drink. Before parting they exchanged phone numbers. Looking back he wasn’t sure if he’d asked for hers or if she’d just gifted him it.

    He hit a dog once, with his car. Years back, it was. On a road in the middle of noplace. It wasn’t his fault. It ran out in front of him and he braked and clipped its trailing back leg. The sound of fright-full thunder in that collision and the dog yelped. He got out of the car and ran after the dog, without really knowing why. It did not look hurt, but he chased it all the same. Across a heavy field and into a wood, and the distance between him and the dog stretched till he could no longer see it.

    Then, just as he was thinking to turn back, he came across it, lying on its side and panting, and still. It’s back leg looked crooked and unnatural, and there was some blood, hot and wet and dark as molasses.

    Some collisions don’t show the hurt that they have done, not right away. The dog could not even stand when he reached it, though it had run for almost two miles after being hit. It was the same with the girl in the café, her number tucked into the pocket of his wallet. The hurt from that collision would take its time in showing itself.

    If ever you’d asked him, he’d have told you he was lucky and that he loved his wife and his two kids, and his house and the car. He’d say life was good and he had no complaints. But he called her number, for no reason that he understood, and that was the start of something. It was like a bump in an otherwise too straight and too even road, or a bend in the road where a bend might be the only diversion, the only distraction. And now, three months along that road and he was lost, only, he didn’t know that he was. He had a map after all, and a man with a map can’t really be lost.

    No man means to hurt the people he loves. No man looks to have his own heart broken. It was a senseless collision brought about by chance or the universe playing with itself. And soon enough there’d come a day when he’d know, and want to turn back, and he’d think that must be possible, that he could just spin the wheel and go back to where he’d lost his way. And maybe he could and maybe his wife could give him a second chance, but the road would never be so straight again nor ever so easy.

    He carried the dog the two miles back to his car and laid it on the back seat and he drove to the nearest town. He found a vet to tend to the dog; whatever it took, he said. But there was more damage than could be seen and in the end the kindest thing was to put the dog down. He paid the vet’s bill, even though it wasn’t his dog. It was the least he could do. Then he asked for directions back the way he had come.

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