ENGINES
Genanne Walsh

Here is where I went wrong:

I thought he drove everywhere. But come to find out that isn’t true. Driving takes you through places without them touching you. He does it for a living, drives everywhere. He has strategies: loosen fingers on the wheel, release shoulders, lean back, and you’re somewhere else. Smooth sailing.

He walks, though. At night. Through the dark. Down wide streets and empty lots and narrow alleys. It’s a prelude to sleep, supposedly, though sometimes it takes all night. Waiting for your soul to catch up to your body? I asked, and he looked at me like I’m crazy. Good for the back, he replied. A tricky back, from all that driving.

I only found out because one sleepless night I was pulling snails off my basil and tomato plants by the light of a gibbous moon, listening to the faint slurp of the pull, then the crackle of shell under my left heel. A dark figure wove through the trashcans in the back alley, then stopped, fingers brushing the brick sill, to look in through Janet Thompson’s kitchen window. Hey, I whispered, too soft, though he seemed to hear and moved on. A slow and steady artful dodger.

I know his faint limp and the high heel sound of those ridiculous cowboy boots. So it’s not like I followed a stranger into the night, wiping fingers sticky with snail slime on my jeans. I left a faint trail of shell shards and translucent ooze behind me.

He was heading toward the center of town, and together—me ten yards back, silent, though at some point he must have guessed my presence—we took turns peering into windows and trashcans, and paused under cypress trees to peer up at tangled black limbs. It was a ghostly trek; no dogs barked. We skirted backyard swimming pools and front yard pinwheels, circled around cats and crunched abandoned beer cans underfoot. I looked back at one point and my trail was gone. A beer can had crumpled itself tightly to his boot heel. He stood on one leg trying to shake it off, then gave up and started walking with it, limp greater now.

I drew abreast. Soul catching up...? I asked. You know this part. And he looked at me like I was crazy. Him! At me!

Here’s the thing: we’re both out there in the night, coveting different things. Or maybe the same things. What difference is there, among all the things he wants and everything I want and cannot have? Snails and bad backs are just handy excuses we cling to. We want it all: the sweet tomatoes from the vine, the secrets hidden in garbage bins and beer cans, the glowing pools, the pantries lit like stages. The people inside, seamless.

We are engines powered into the night by our own volition.

 

Genanne Walsh lives in San Francisco and is at work on a novel. Several of her short pieces have appeared on the McSweeney’s website.

 

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