Below is the first two thousand or so words of A Vast Eulogy, a short story about how a young woman while attempting to discover who she wants to be stumbles into another world…
“Renee, you need to come home.” The phone line can mask many things but not the almost hysterical sobs that coat every word.
“We’ve talked about this, mom.” Renee sighs. “Look, okay I know it’s not easy to make friends but your daughter can’t be your only friend. I need room to breathe and figure out who I am. And you know I don’t mean any disrespect, it’s just I can’t. I’m not capable of mimicking your life and I don’t want to.”
“So you’re working in the middle of the night behind a glass window that they claim is bulletproof but we both know they are too cheap to have actual bulletproof glass. What happens when you get robbed and… he has a gun…?” Her mother drops the phone. She can hear her mother sobbing, her head resting on the wall that creates the corner of the modest kitchen. The cracked vinyl floor hangs in Renee’s mind like an echo. The texture of it and the memories of baking cookies and sneaking her vegetables to the family dog, Knob. When her mother brought the puppy home, Renee made a series of sounds and the only one that resembled a word was Knob. She was three at the time. Knob proved to be better than her father but still he couldn’t stay.
They say after high school it’s all downhill and Renee found that to be true, very quickly. Four months after graduating, Knob passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. It was a night that was especially hard for her. The longing for her father was strong and Knob protected her from the nightmares. She knows he took them on and fought for her and didn’t make it. She has a tattoo of his paw print on her hip. Knob is always by her side.
After a few moments, she hears her mother pick the phone up. “You’re doing what you promised you wouldn’t do. You know that, don’t you?”
“No. That’s not what this is and you know it, mom. We’ve talked about this. I’m not dad. I told you I was leaving and why and it’s only temporary. I promise it is. I just have to find my own path.” She can feel the anger rising in her. She wants to scream at her mother, again.
Her mother interrupts. “And you think you’re going to find it at that little shit shop?”
“Mom please.” She’s trying to keep her voice level. She knows that her mother is just worried and isn’t really angry. There’s no reason to snap at her. “Mom, look it’s late and we both know you need your rest. You’ll feel better in the morning. You can call me when you wake up. It’ll be like I’m home. We’ll sit and have coffee and chat a little.”
“Could we do that video thingy?” Her mother’s voice perks up like a child asking for entrance into the cookie jar.
“Yes of course mom. I really have to go. The fog really rolled in, I gotta take it slow on the way to work.”
“Okay honey, you be safe. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“See you later, mom. I love you.”
Her mother returns the sentiment and they click the end call button at the same time. She slides her phone into the front pocket of her hoodie, adjusting it to make sure that it won’t slip out. Then she takes her blue and white rectangle name tag and pins it above her left breast. Again taking the time to make sure it’s straight and level. She’ll have a total of ten, maybe fifteen interactions with people during her six hour shift but it’s the principal of the whole thing.
In the bathroom, she brushes her teeth quickly but efficiently. She swears she did it when she got up but the mention of her father left a bad taste in her mouth and she couldn’t recall exactly if she had brushed or not. The last of the minty fresh toothpaste is exiled from her mouth and she taps her worn out brush on the edge of the sink. Looking in the mirror, she adjusts her tight bun ensuring none of her pesky brown hair has tried to escape.
“Mom really has nothing to worry about. I’m a capable woman.” She’s thinking of the other night when a young skater punk pointed to the Skateboarding Prohibited sign and began to grind along the curb outside her booth. When she came out the rear door and he saw her standing there, all five feet and ten inches of her, he hauled ass out of there. Just another case of “look at the little lady all safe behind the glass.”
She wouldn’t say she’s a big or imposing girl. She’s an athletic twenty-five. Athletic. That’s the word her boss, Randy, always says. He’s nice and means well but his mouth doesn’t exactly have a filter. He hasn’t been rude, only that he says things that most probably wouldn’t. It makes her uncomfortable to have to describe people in detail but Randy, oh no problem at all. He’ll give anyone any detail they want and some they don’t. There was an instance a few weeks ago where a young college girl hadn’t paid for the gas she pumped. And Randy described her down to how her pants fit. “Officer, you know what I’m saying when I say that she had these jeans on that fit squarely. Oh man, the pockets were *nicely* seated in the center of her plump cheeks.” Every adjective gets an exaggerated pronunciation. Thankfully the policeman didn’t favor that sort of talk but Renee believes it was mostly for her benefit.
She smiles in the mirror. Then snaps her head around and rushes through her one bedroom apartment, switching lights off as she goes before scooping up her keys and locking the door behind her. The outside air hits her hard. A push of dense humidity. She likes the first floor apartment, easy to get in and out of. Though working nights is troublesome since she has to sleep during the day when her upstairs neighbor is doing yoga and other exercises while her husband is out pretending to work the job he was fired from weeks ago. The lady, Candice, doesn’t seem to care about much besides her advanced internet yoga.
The fog lays over her familiar surroundings. It’s enough to disorient her but at the same time she’s reminded of early mornings as a child—Christmas and the like—when she’d jump in her parent’s bed and they would hide beneath the covers. She would have to grope around to find their heads and hands. She thinks the world is allowed to hide under a blanket whenever it wants, there’s plenty to hide from.
The engine of her early nineties Ford Ranger turns over easily. The gear shift sticks so she has to really jerk into drive before releasing the brake and coasting down the hill. She isn’t sure why or how she started doing it but she won’t press the gas until the very last second. Just before the rising of the hill. Maybe it’s the freeing feeling she is struck by or maybe it’s a subconscious thing. She can almost hear her father saying, “Coast whenever possible—saves gas. It does.” She slams her hand down on steering wheel, cursing aloud. Again, punishing herself for thinking of him.
The street rises and turns toward the left before forking outward, there’s a light that guards the juncture. Another car approaches from the opposing direction but she manages through the light just as it turns from green to yellow. Now, the road is fixed on another hill that rises deeper into the foggy summer night. A few more twists and bends and she is entranced by the routine of the drive to work.
She takes her eyes off the road for a split second to hit the radio, it has cut out. Ahead of her a solitary street lamp glows into the night and through the fog illuminating a change in the scenery. A change to the road. It quivers and rises as her truck passes under the lamp. The road has blended with an otherworldly entity. And the lamp reveals the entrance into that entity, it forms a tunnel. She doesn’t notice the change because she is preoccupied. Even if she was paying attention she wouldn’t believe her eyes.
The road has become a tongue and the street light is the uvula of an entity that doesn’t call this world home. It is an intruder and Renee has returned the favor, unaware.
A bright light shines through the windshield, washing Renee’s face and waking her mind from a slumber she doesn’t recall entering. Yawn and stretch. “Oh fuck! I missed work.” She shuffles around for her phone but it’s gone. It’s not in her pocket. Quickly she unbuckles her seatbelt and leaps out of the truck, searching under the seat and around the truck.
The ground feels softer than it should. She looks toward her feet and almost falls backward. “Sand. What the—”
The truck is neatly nestled in a small sand dune. One of many that she can see. The view is brilliant. The urge to panic is knocked away by bewilderment. Sand rises and falls and glides and glitters under a somber blue sky with a falling sun. The light is quietly bright, the kind that speaks of evening to her mind. Morning sunlight is often too loud and inviting. This light, early evening light, is more of a soothing light that lets you go about your business. The morning sun is one that makes demands. Often, the demands are awful.
*How can anyone say life is awful when there are views like this?* She shuts her eyes gently and inhales deeply. Letting the calm take hold of her. There’s no use for panic.
She scans the land, looking for some landmark, a place to go. The question of how she arrived here doesn’t cross her mind, it might later but now she’s too enchanted by the view to care about what has happened. She’s locked in on what’s about to happen.
Quickly, she kicks her sneakers off and tosses them in the bed of the truck. The sand is delightful between her toes. It’s warm and fine, not coarse. After a few steps toward the horizon, away from the truck, she reconsiders leaving her sneakers and turns back to scoop them up. Her pointer finger rests in the left and her middle finger holds the right. She tells herself, okay and suddenly a loud crash seems to float through the air toward her. She wonders if it’s possible for someone to throw sound because that’s what it is like. Seconds later, another crash. It’s not thunder, she knows that much. It’s something… else.
The truck begins to shake and the ground rumbles with it. The sand dunes are shifting around her. Renee tumbles backward and gasps as her truck is swallowed by the sand.
The sun sets. Renee looks toward the light source and sees it’s not setting, it’s being hidden. A mountain is forming between her and the sun. The desert goes dark. The mountain is enormous and she knows it’s impossible to climb. She has no desire to try but she’s not quite sure how she knows or why she feels this way. It’s just something that is not meant to be conquered. It’s not sinister, though it is the source of the crashing pulses. She isn’t sure how she knows that either.
She wonders if it is trying to speak to her.
The outline of the mountain is beautifully illuminated by the falling sun. She turns around quickly realizing what it is trying to convey—within the clutch of darkness is where she should be focusing. Darkness hides a lot. The light isn’t an answer to her query but a distraction.
She looks away from the mountain, squints her eyes and finally is able to see. There is enough light beaming around the mountain to show her that the desert does have an ending. The horizon is shaded like the space between the two pages of an open book. The spine holds it all together. The horizon isn’t where the sky ends and the land begins. It’s where two ideas fold into each other.
She sees and is walking toward the truth.
*Land is below your feet and sky is above.* She thinks of this while stepping across the horizon. She has one foot on the sand and one on the sky but the blue sky isn’t really what she thought it was.
The sky is an ocean and the sun has fallen behind the solid ground. It shines through the cracks and the crevices. Gravity follows her like a stray dog. She looks back, gazing on the flaws of the solid ground, remembering fondly nights spent staring up at the stars.
“I’m never going to look at the sky the same,” she says with a smile, wiggling her toes in the shallow water.
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