A drive thru taco sign floods an empty parking lot in a pool of astral moon. A jittery spectral presence after Motel 6 fever dreams, in crumpled chinos, you’ve worn that Black Flag T-shirt for two weeks straight. A Gatorade and a cigarette, furtively you watch headlights on the highway, horizon quivering geometric orbs of amber. An inky, soupy blackness. Hollowed and begrimed. A bruised cheek was squashed pulpy fruit. Grief is a reminder of the depth of love, but emotional air raids left a bombed-out ruined heart. Dumpster diving with dirt-bags. Cold water bathing in fast-food restaurant bathrooms. You spoke about star constellations with some vet called Pablo at El Monte bus station.
That wintery day I took you to Coney Island and it was deserted but you were so happy, as though the place had been closed to all other people and it was yours alone. You weren’t bothered you couldn’t go on the rides, just glad it was free of crowds and noise and heat. I stood shivering as you sat and sketched, as always baffled by your choices. You drew the deserted wooden boardwalk. An overflowing trash can. A discolored mangled awning. There was a sturdy calmness, intent focused eyes and a steady hand. A quiet purpose and resolve to your time. You had a backpack of pencils and pads that you always carried around.
When the Greyhound finally arrives you manage to get a backseat spot and shrink within yourself, not just within clothes that appear to be getting bigger, but within your frame of body. You are an atom traveling through space, a speck of dust in a mote of light. Land rushes by. Sycamores and white alder strummed by night breeze. A row of pastel colored bungalows. Sunlight always returns to the room, birdsong will be heard again. Avoiding eye contact you waited for her to stop shouting and everything to cease spinning. You watched her chipped cherry red varnished nailed hands flailing and prodding in that Laundromat. A chattering mind but you barely mumbled a word. Her hair smelt of burritos.
When you used to draw it was never trees or birds you were interested in old motels or gas stations. I’d sometimes take you out with me in my work truck and even when we were out at farms with fields full of animals you would wander off and start sketching some tumbledown outhouse or an old car on bricks. I sensed that your thoughts stopped racing when you were drawing, that there was something to focus on. It was an interface with the world but on your terms, you could interpret it without a rush of words and strange inexplicable facial expressions. Free for a while from strife and expectation. Leonardo da Vinci in Ohio. Sun parched lawn and chain-link fence. Your bedroom wall had Transformers posters and your pictures, but it was a house of slamming doors.
Electric pylons and sagging telephone wires splinter pale gray dawn. Breakfast was ketchup flecked cold french fries. You studied some art installation made from mangled bicycles. A woman in dungarees said you looked like River Phoenix. After sleeping on a patch of discarded office carpet you watch a stray cat eat tamales. Outside that Japanese restaurant garlanded with red lanterns that elderly man was only trying to help you. Where do you sail after a shipwrecked life? Some stoned skater kids try to get you to steal a six-pack of Miller. Sneakers on the power lines. You ride a freight train to Pittsburgh with hair billowing and eyes squinting in the wind.
Will Fricker was born in London and has just completed his first novel.