In bed, in the half light glow of scattered clocks, my mind feels itself, runs its fingers under my skull, over my brain membrane for the—
Tonight, the night that Brian arrives, my mind fingers find nothing — no crack, no tear, no fragile flesh or bone — that could make easy an escape for what I’ve buried there.
I don’t know that Brian is on his way.
The windows are open. Cool air circles the room and chills my scalp without penetrating it. I pull the many quilts up to my chin. I turn to my side. Outside, a car rolls down the cul-de-sac, turns at our dead end without stopping, headlights making striped shadows of the blinds and sliding them across the far wall of my room. The car retreats back up the—
Sleep is an impossibility.
Because there’s a beat to the night you’d have to be dead to hear. It’s impossible to hear it over the beat of your heart. But you can feel it. A low—
I’m sweating now because I know he’s out there. I throw off the quilts and swing my legs over the bedside. I grab a shirt from the floor and put it on. I don’t bother with pants or shoes. I leave the house barefoot.
He’s sitting in the driver’s seat of my minivan and staring at the windshield. The green glow from the dashboard reflects off his face. His hair is longer, wild now, and only blue at the tips. Dark bags hang below his eyes, which scare me. From inside, soft music plays, the imperceptible—
I open the passenger door and a wall of sound hits me. The music is blaring. I sit down and shut the door behind me.
Brian doesn’t look at me. I notice my keys dangling from the ignition. I’m not quite sure how—
“Brian, what are you doing here?”
He doesn’t answer.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
He doesn’t respond.
Finally, he looks at me. Into my eyes, as if he’s been afraid to look to see what he’d find there.
As for his own eyes—
“What are you doing here?” I ask him.
“I…” He searches my eyes. His lips part, but strands of saliva pull them back together.
Something is bothering me. I focus on the music. What the music is say—
In the back of my mind, there’s a thump, a flutter, a flap. A blur of blue wings.
“Are we okay?” he asks me.
“Are we okay?”
“Yes. I don’t see why not.”
He doesn’t take his eyes off me now. He’s really looking into me.
“But I took you here,” he says.
“And you were right to.”
“Was I though?”
He looks away.
As if he can’t look at me anymore.
“What is it?” I ask him.
He doesn’t answer.
“If you’re looking for forgiveness, you already have it. You were right to take me here. You can go.”
“Are you happy?”
He takes his wrist and cracks it, puts his hands back on the steering wheel. The music still plays, it crawls over my skin but doesn’t penetrate any deeper. Just an uncomfortable feeling, like dry wind hitting from all directions. Sanding my skin—
Blood on a window. Jesus saluting before crowds, crowds saluting back. An empty cove at night and someone sobbing.
“Turn this off,” I tell Brian.
Brian doesn’t turn it off.
I reach for the dial, but Brian stops me. He turns up the volume. The speakers distort the bass, rattle within, there’s a growing scream and a ring in my ears.
I close my eyes. Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe. It’s only—
I feel CD cases beneath my feet and open my eyes. At the top of the pile is an album with the cover art of an upscale LA pool, the pool full of orange-fire clouds, and the sky an empty expanse of technicolor waves.
The music bumps against me.
Trying to get in.
“Get your things,” Brian says. “We’re leaving.”
“You know where.”
“You know why.”
I look at Brian. I look at the album cover. I look back at Brian.
“Don’t come back here,” I say. I get out of the car and slam the door behind me, effectively shutting the music down to a barely audible thump. The sky is clear, the stars are out, a gentle breeze sweeps in from the far end of the—
Back inside the house, I tiptoe past my parents room and back into my room. I lie down. I get back up. I lie down again. He’s still out there, I know. I still hear — no, feel — the faint bump of music. I bury myself in blankets. I twist myself in blankets. I free myself of blankets. I pace the room. From a plastic vial on the dresser I throw back a couple of pills without water. I sit down on the bed. The nerve of him, coming back here. What does he think—
A turntable turning. A white record sleeve of a housefly atop a pill. Black hair falling over black—
I look at the clock by my bed, the one clock labeled: “this time.” It says this time is just past midnight.
No. No. No.No.No.NoNoNoNoNo—
I open my closet and take out clothes, shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and stuff it all in a duffle. I throw on a jacket and pants and, outside once again, I throw the duffle in the back of the van.
I sit down in the passenger seat.
Brian nods to me. I nod back. I can barely hear him start the engine over the music. The music which reaches inside and sings—
“Destruction leads to a very rough road
But it also breeds creation”
—and it’s pulling at my lungs.
We back out of the driveway, Brian leaving the headlights off until we round the corner. The house, my home, the cul-de-sac disappears behind—
Sleeping houses, dormant streets, a stray cat prowling the night. I roll down the windows and the cool air slides right through us. My elbow on the sill, I drink in the night that suddenly, I realize, finally tastes like—
“And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar
They’re just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn’t save the world
Though it’s long been autumn.
We roll out onto the 85, an empty highway of minimal lights, cutting through the rich suburbs of Cupertino, Saratoga, Las Gatos, and finally San Jose where 85 ends and drops us on the 101 heading south. The wind rips through the windows but I don’t roll them up. Low dark hills on our left, telephone polls and starlit lowlands on our right, and behind us the music trails—
“Dream of Californication
Dream of Californication”
The scent of garlic hits us. We get off the 101 for Pacheco Pass Highway which takes us east, first through farmlands, then winding mountain roads, first climbing, then gliding though still winding, and through the breaks in the hills a black reservoir opening up on our right, the road flattening out—
Ahead, the roar of semis pummeling through the night, passing north to south and south to north, a slow curve pulling us up onto this flatland, this flat stretch of Interstate-5 with nothing in sight but the blurred brights of passing headlights, red taillights in the distance.
The road is straight, the straight road is—
Her hands, her nails chewed raw by her teeth. Blood in a sink and eyes like night.
This is the straight road, truly straight, unbearably straight, pulling us straight toward—
Lights behind us, following us. Raccoon eyes, following us. A beheaded rat on a back.
—the mountains. Rising in the South. Rising out of the darkness into a darkness of stars. A line of little lights below, moving, leading into them, the mountains.
I lean out the window and eye the horizon. A sudden wall of rain hits the windshield, my face, and then it’s gone. The sky is clear but for one cloud, now far behind us.
Lights behind us, following us. Raccoon eyes—
No. I think we really are being followed. There really are lights behind us.
Our own lights tear through the dark. Road signs for Grapevine. A climbing road interrupting the straight road. We rise into this winding road, passing semis on our right, climbing, climbing, gears grinding, peaking—
Then the gliding fall with swinging curves, and then there it is. You see it.
The valley of lights.
And we’re falling into it.
“It’s the edge of the world
and all of Western civilization.
The sun may rise in the East,
at least it settles in the final location.
It’s understood that Hollywood
The lights. The bright scattered sea of lights. Falling into these—
We don’t stop in Los Angeles. We don’t stop at all because I have to see it.
I have to see the place where all this started.
Also, we’re definitely being followed. No italics. It’s not me, I swear.
The blackness turns a smoky gray, red light rises like distant fire in the East, palm trees emerging as black silhouettes. The western sky is still dark, but changing.
Through downtown LA. Through Anaheim. We take the 22 into the City of Orange. Down Glassel Street. Through—
Brian pulls over.
“This it?” he asks, both of us looking right.
I don’t nod. He knows this is it. The white pillars of the University touched red in the light of the rising sun. The grounds still covered in shadow.
Behind us, somewhere, another car pulls to the side of the road and waits.
“Keep going,” I say, finally, to Brian.
So he keeps going.
And the car behind us, too.
“And if you want these kind of dreams
I think, finally, it’s time for another song.
I click NEXT.
join man next month for the final part, the final season, the thrilling final stretch of MANWITHOUTATINDER