Eric and I were barely speaking, not that we were angry with each other; it was just that we had no room for communication. We had shriveled up, lost our vital fluids in the heat of the desert. Spiritually shrunken, physically desiccated, yet still walking, still moving forward. The universe reduced to moving from one streetlamp to another. All I knew, all I could see, was contained in the bright circles of light, thirty feet across, illuminating a deserted street. To either side there were shadows of some other reality. Uncertain and unimportant, they faded in the distance. My goal was the next spot of light, and then the next beyond that.
Pressing forward, head down, glancing up, and sometimes back, checking to see if Eric was still there a few yards behind me. Then, suddenly, she was there. Up ahead, in the future, two spotlights away, I could see the figure of a woman standing, waiting. I slowed but continued walking forward, disappearing from the one light, moving forward, and reappearing in the next light, closer each time to the future woman. Then the future became the present, and we shared the same harsh halogen light.
She was wearing a black dress of sequins, light bouncing from her shoulders, breasts and thighs, sparkling… and fingering a long strand of turquoise beads. Her face, heavy in make-up, framed by black, teased, shoulder length hair- was smiling, but sadly. She was probably forty years old, maybe older, with tracks of the world on her face.
As I approached her, I instinctively nodded my head, and I could see her bright red lips forming words- words I couldn’t hear, although I should have been able. She blinked and smiled again; I noticed that she was holding a shoe by its strap. It was missing the heel.
Heel-less shoe swinging,
turquoise beads swinging,
thousands of bright micro lights flashing,
and wordless lips moving.
Then I left the light, and headed into the darkness between the spots. At the next streetlight I looked back, and there in my past, now captured by the halogen circle, I could see Eric sharing the spot with the sequins dress, and then he too, moved forward. For the next few minutes I looked back periodically, to see if I had really seen what I thought I had seen. Four streetlights back I saw a sparkling figure disappear from one spot, but then never appear in the next spot down. I waited, but nothing showed. Eric came next to me, and he looked back as well. We both waited. He managed to ask where she had gone, but I just shook my head and turned away.
Another few blocks there was an empty lot, covered in tall grass. I thought that if we went to the back wall, we could lay undiscovered, and maybe even fall asleep. There was a narrow trail in the tall grass, I lay my sleeping bag directly on it, well covered from the road. Eric placed his bag in the same trail, and we lay there head to head in a footpath, not speaking for some time. Then Eric asked a question.
“Did you hear what she said?”
I thought about it for some seconds. Remembering the lips forming words. Bright red, moving shapes, parting, closing, then opening again, but no sound. Why hadn’t I heard?
“She said, ‘I hope you have better luck than I.’”
I lay on my back, looking at the stars above me, I listened to Eric’s words, and I listened to the soundless words of a vanished spirit. I thought about events, and the meanings that we place upon them, and I finally thought about compassion and empathy.
I answered Eric, that yes, I had finally heard.
Edited from On The Road, Again. A journal of hitchhiking in the Western States, 1968