18 November 2018

Disappeared (Part 15)

“Seeker knelt at the edge of the prairie, retching his guts out with volcanic intensity. Slow poison and spiritual exhaustion had taken their toll. His arms trembling with the violence of the possessed, sheer force of will kept his head from dipping forward into the foulness polluting the ground. Behind him, roiling smoke besmirched the horizon of the sea of grass that once held his heart. Seeker could feel the heat even at the miles he had put between he and it. He spat. Pain radiated from the stone behind his breastbone.”

Those words were written over a year past, chronicled here in a grim story of an interior movie playing in a weary head. It was not a movie suitable for children. Censor and critic that I am to myself, my daughter would not be viewing it now, perhaps never. She was not quite ready, in my estimation, to know the Seeker. Ah, no. That is not quite correct. In my estimation I was not quite ready to reveal myself as the Seeker. The journey east would begin in hope, not despair.

Daddy and daughter a reverse Lewis and Clark. We loaded up our wheeled canoe on a warm July morning with St. Louis, Missouri as the destination on the first leg of this expedition. Our cat, King Pepe, served as the bobcat analogue to me as the Seeker. He was in much better shape than the cat in the movie and was not long for his carrier once we hit the highway. He would have made a good figurehead for our vessel if high velocity wind and common sense had not dictated that we not speed down the road with a cat strapped to the hood.

Off we went in a curious mix of trepidation, curiosity, and (in my case) melancholic relief.

In the rear view is a horizon smudged with smoke. The sun merges with the orange line of the horizon, liquefying itself among the flames consuming the grass. The city is a hologram of fading light as the wheels find their lead on the river of asphalt leading out of town. My daughter does not see the flames. I am grateful we will not discuss the burn.

Our first wicket is St. Louis, Missouri. Gateway to the West, as it fancies itself. The gateway will now operate in reverse, a door is swinging the other way. The road rolls up behind us across the state. Upon arrival, the city greets us with indifference and humidity. King Pepe awoke in a nervous state. Saucer-eyed, he struggled a bit during the effort to get him into the cat carrier. There was no such angst upon opening the hatch. The cat quickly sized up the hotel room, finding a perch on the windowsill looking out over the St. Louis night. I felt some kinship with the animal. I realized I had been shallow breathing, almost sipping the air, on the entire drive across Missouri. Setting down my suitcase loosened something in my torso, and my breath came out all in a rush. Shaking, dizzy, my shoulders rose. I gulped the air. For the first time in days, it did not smell of smoke. If anything, I detected a faint mineral aroma that spoke of cool water rushing over stones.

In the east the river carried on as befitted its nature. Or should I say rivers? Duality was present. A river existing in my mind and the river existing in the corporeal world. The vision was in my head, this movie of double exposures, simultaneously playing, but slightly off congruency. I heard things, too. Water over stones, leaf litter rustling in the breeze. Bird calls. In the spaces between burbles and trills I could hear the faint susurrus of my heartbeat. This is the earth reminding us that we are alive, and gratefully so. The comfort to be had in such moments is amplified in its power to sustain.

The Mississippi River lies not far from the hotel. Its presence can be felt even when out of eyesight. It may be that the river’s voice could be heard without the noise of the city constantly talking over it. Also, there is the arch. The Gateway Arch looms over downtown, a silver parabola etched against a sky of purplish anthracite. My daughter wishes to see it up close, as do I. This may be the last time either of us will be here. Timing and history are not lost on us. There must be a way to carry a positive parting memory of this time in the heartland.

We trekked through the streets and across a frenetic major arterial road. It was surprising amount of traffic for being later in the evening. Overhead across the way loomed the arch. An alien obelisk of stark light on metal. I looked forward to garnering some good pictures once we arrived at the base. The riparian aroma, fecund and earthy, wafted off the Mississippi, filling the night and our lungs. The knot in my diaphragm loosened up, I think in anticipation. But it was not to be.

Construction and renovation were underway at the base of the monument. Fencing stood between us and getting within Frisbee tossing distance, never mind actually touching the arch. My progeny huffed a sigh of disappointment. So did I. The metallic taste of sly irony spread across my tongue to coat the back of my throat. We had come far with open hearts and earnest hopes that would not be fulfilled. This was a familiar feeling. To my credit I took it in stride. My daughter did the same. This was minor. This was a trifle. The road still lay open, with promise of its own. The brilliance of the arch convinced me of it. We took some pictures, my daughter and I, then turned our backs to the river to make for room and sleep. The river before us would be crossed in the morning, and the gateway would fulfill its legacy.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...