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11 months ago

Reflections

Selected Writings & Artwork by Harriett Copeland Lillard

A Journey not Measured

A Journey not Measured in Miles - Rash and smoked cigarettes alternated with the waitresses’ cheap perfume. This was Rash’s night, at this particular beer joint and they had saved his booth at the back of the room. He sat down, facing towards the front, so he could observe everything. It annoyed him to have his back to a room; it made him feel cut-off, vulnerable. No one would bother him here or take the liberty of joining him. They knew who he was and their natural deference to his position as the local banker insured his privacy even in the midst of a crowd. He began to drink – seriously. The snorts sucked surreptitiously out of the bottle at odd moments during the day served only to calm his hands AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA and make the survival of the day at least a possibility. A tremulous feeling of well-being began to envelop him; the edges of everything began to soften. He leaned back and let his gaze swing in a slow circle around the room. A group of men were playing dominoes in a small room off to his left – their voices and laughter rose and fell following the course of the game, interspersed with the crack and rasp of shuffled dominoes. The bartender followed his ritual of washing, wiping, drying, mixing, opening, squirting, and shaking behind the long, old-fashioned bar with its worn brass foot rail. That rail, like the local whore, had known the weight of many a cowboy. The two waitresses on tonight competed with each other in the asswiggling department as they passed between the tables. A few couples got up occasionally to dance, but the sawdust on the floor was inhibiting. Anyway, this was more a beer joint than a honky-tonk. People came here mainly to drink, talk, and eat fried catfish and onion rings. Rash wondered indifferently when he had eaten last; he couldn’t recollect. His stomach hurt a lot now and he had no appetite. One shot of whiskey eliminated any transient hunger he might feel, and multiple shots finally dulled the pain in his gut enough to erase the haunting thought of dying with cirrhosis. As he looked around the room at the groups of people, relaxing and enjoying the innocent diversion of a few beers and good catfish, he questioned in passing why he had never been able to enjoy the easy fellowship of friends. He always felt uncomfortable, as if something were expected of him that he could not give. The cold hand of an overwhelming sadness caught at him; he ached with longing for warmth and communion with someone, anyone, and his eyes filled with tears. He had brought with him a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, not to read it – it was too dark in the beer joint – but just for company. Something to touch and warm his soul in the darkness. He sat there drinking, thinking of Milton’s blindness and how it had sharpened the vision of his mind’s eye. A paradox it was that one blind could see so clearly. Lost? Lost? Yes, everything was lost. Paradise or hell – he didn’t know or care or believe in either. He saw himself there in the darkness with absolute clarity – a burned-out, middle-aged drunk, a local joke. The thought of people laughing at him filled him with helpless rage. The liquor suddenly tasted like gall and he thought he was going to vomit on the table. She had been gone now for over a year. Not a moment of any day had passed that she was not there on the outskirts of his memory. He treasured and relived the hours they had spent together. They were his only reality, nothing else mattered. The bank and his other life limped along outside 33

A Journey not Measured in Miles - Rash him – they didn’t need him, or he, them. He could see her now, laughing with her head thrown back, her agile mind, “quick like a fox” he always said, responding to his subtle humor. God! How he missed her. He had never kissed her, never touched those warm breasts, never felt the length of her body against him. A despair, deep and dark, swamped him. He felt as if he were dying. He wanted to die. Black, empty loneliness. He thought of Milton’s “slough of despond.” He was there – he was drowning in the cold slime. Alone, afraid, Godless. The clatter and din of the beer joint suddenly intruded on his thoughts. He was suffocating, drowning. Didn’t anyone see or care? He struggled to his feet, frantic to escape. To where? How? He didn’t know. He just knew he must leave this place. He could see the doorway across the room; it seemed a mile. His legs were indifferent to his efforts to walk, but somehow, after straightening his hat and tucking the book under his arm, he AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA made his way across the expanse of sawdust floor, threading his way through the tables, lightly touching the backs of chairs for support as he went. Rash had deteriorated over the past year. He often forgot to change his clothes. The once crisply creased trousers and starched shirts were often rumpled and dirty. He seemed not to notice. Ruby would tell him to change, or maybe his wife, if he made it home. And he would obey sheepishly, like a little boy. Thoughts of sex had ceased to exist for him, except in memories of regret. Now he stood by the car in the parking lot. He was confused. He couldn’t remember why he was there. Where was he going? He looked back at the building he had quit only seconds before. Had he been there? Yes, now he remembered. He had suddenly wanted to leave for some reason. He thought he had forgotten to pay – well, no matter, they would put it on his tab. He had tabs in beer joints over a three county radius. When he left in such states of disrepair, the cashier simply paper-clipped the tickets together and kept them in the cash register. Occasionally, when he was sober, he would make a pilgrimage to all his haunts and pay off his accumulated tabs. Without trying the door, he fumbled through his pockets for the keys and came up empty-handed. He leaned over clumsily and peered through the window. He could see them glittering in the ignition, hanging there seductively like a woman’s long earrings. He often left the keys in the car, the doors unlocked, tempting fate – he hoped somebody would steal the goddam hearse. He struggled with the heavy door and staggered forward, dropped into the driver’s seat. In the rearview mirror, he could see the low dark outline of the building. The lights at the corners of the building cast a pale, dingy glow on the parking lot. The music was barely audible, but it represented some tenuous link to humanity that he suddenly hated to leave. Looking at life through a rearview mirror – that seemed to be his fate. He smiled at the thought. A couple left one of the parked cars and passed across the mirror’s vision. They were walking with their arms around each other’s waists, their heads close together. Suddenly, the woman threw back her head and laughed. The man dropped his hand from her waist and squeezed her ample ass. She reciprocated by dropping her hand and playfully pulling his pants up his crack. Turning the keys, Rash felt the powerful motor roar to life. This car was the only potency still left him, and he at once loved and hated it. Driving it fiercely down the road through the darkness was a kind of mechanical masturbation. Now that everything between his legs was dead, it was the closest he could get to the physical sensation. Managing the concentration required to maneuver the crowded parking lot in his state of drunkenness was a major ordeal, but he accomplished the task with a small degree of self-satisfaction. The exit from the parking lot presented a 34