Big Canyon’s sweepers and the cool-down of Middlefield Draw were not self-significant, but symbolic of Surtch Pherther’s fleeing and pursuing. In between, he must have passed the road to Silvervale, crossed that windswept basin from which routes bear toward the cardinal points, junction-swung south toward Witt and then diverted, and nearly dangled his toes in Keetstone Lake. Must have…
For almost a year, Surtch’s “significant” hadn’t resembled itself, couldn’t stand, had no bones, just evaporated. All he’d get when seeking it lately was silence, and voids that should have been memories of moments lived. He’d always believed that significance didn’t have to be sought, but simply realized. That was before. Now he merely wanted for something–anything–to be meaningful.
He was fleeing mundanity, the middle of the week, swelter in the City of Contradictions, many motorcycling fails, and long days for which for years he’d been malcompensated. He was fleeing abusers whom he’d generously served for too damn long. Surtch was fleeing a fucking mindquake that had swooped in swiftly and silently nearly a year back and had not relented.
As for pursuing, it wasn’t everything opposite. That would have been overambitious. Under the oppression, he had to pursue piecemeal. He still could reason, at least through the simple: He wanted to want, just had to remember how, wanted to feel alive, to feel anything… Surtch wanted connection, something else he’d always believed didn’t have to be sought, but simply was embedded in living. Suddenly, yet again, preconceptions and reality were very different things.
On a rare whim, he’d aimed for north Middlefield and O’Mahoney’s Grill, an old diner in a new place, and he arrived to only one car in the lot. Up to the entrance he stepped, and through the vintage doors.
“Evenin’, hon. Sit wherever.” With tangerine curls and lipstick, and eye shadow and outfit of emerald, Sis (by name tag) could have been of another time, seemed unreal. Surtch wondered if the notebook in her apron and the ear-perched pen were just props or were additional props.
He took a spot near the door at the green marble counter and plucked the menu from its holder. He knew the routine.
“Can I getcha somethin’ to drink?”
“Yes. Coffee, please.”
“Mud comin’ up.”
He replaced the menu and skimmed the jukebox pages at the nearest selector. It held mostly modern songs and many others that didn’t belong. Surtch wanted time machine tracks, to transport him, maybe to Rick’s Garden Party or to go a-Walkin’ After Midnight with Patsy or, better yet, to sittin’ a while on The Dock of The Bay with Otis and gazing longingly at dear Patti’s Old Cape Cod, gazing, as he would, wistfully into an era he hadn’t known, peopled with his grandparents in their prime, an era of scrap drives, war bonds, and ration books–yeah, he’d always thought he was born two generations late. He settled for a weary Summertime with Janis.
Sis returned with a steaming pot and filled Surtch’s cup in a torrent. “Somethin’ from the grill?”
“A Reuben with fries, please.”
“Suits me.” To the kitchen she hollered something about whiskey and frog sticks.
Yeah, Surtch knew the routine: During his wave-tossed youth, he’d spent innumerable nights and wee hours at the mottled pink and gold-glittered counter of since-razed McHenry’s Place, a holdout from the heydays of the ‘40s. He had downed untold gallons of mud, Reubens with fries, and on Sundays, bowls of turkey soup with homemade noodles and with hard rolls for sopping.
He’d lost a fortune in quarters to the pinball’s siren song, scrawled numberless pages of free verse fine and fair and flawed, countless times fallen hopelessly in love with none-the-wiser young women, and of course, pondered the inscrutable, and interrogated mute Purpose. He’d lugged out more mental baggage the last time he left than he’d packed in on his first visit, the contents all questions. At McHenry’s he’d been a restless youth of madness, often self-destructive, fleetingly suicidal, but mostly wild and wide-eyed and wonder-full.
At O’Mahoney’s, Surtch tossed in the last of the Reuben and slurped the dregs of his second cup. Oh, what he wouldn’t have given for a taste of that madness now. Sure, it had been turbulent, but at least it had been alive, a far cry from the raped-up void into which the mindquake had flung him. He paid the check, thanked Sis, and glanced around once more before stepping out the door to the empty lot. It was late evening, and the shadows were long. “They’ve been this way for fuckin’ ever,” thought Surtch. He wondered when the hell the sun would get around to shining again.