Assignment of Blame
listen to this story
Your car grinds dust, spins it through the passenger window, coats my hair–stopped.
“What?” I say. You point up through the windsheild. A thing in our way. Big.
I was awake or thought I was, but did not glimpse its shadow on the horizon, did not notice your shoulders jerk as they must have before you slammed the brakes.
“Did we lose the road?” I am careful. Do not say you. Did you lose the road. It’s something I’ve been practicing with my therapist–wording sentences without blame in mind, not even at the back of my mind, no possibility of blame. Instead, observe. State what is. Formulate neutral questions.
“I don’t know,” you say. From inside the car, your head is cut off and the angle of its shadow makes it appear your neck is talking. Disconcerts. I step out of the car and ask again. I want to see your mouth enunciate the words, erase the image of a talking neck from my brain before it’s what I see from now on.
“I don’t know,” you say again, this time through your mouth. You are staring up at the thing. I am staring at it too. Here is our first encounter, I think. Relationships have these pivotal moments. My therapist and I have discussed how they do. Events that drive two people apart or hold them together. She has written a book.
“Traditionally, couples accelerate encounter through marriage, having children, starting a business together. A mutual project.”
I told her we were trying to adopt, that we both wanted a girl and it was hard to find a baby that reflected or at least approximated both our gene pools. Really, neither of us like kids, but I didn’t want her to think I was avoiding encountering the you of you.
Your hand swings at your side. When I reach, you raise it away as if to touch the towering hull.
“Don’t–” I say, not sure what I mean, only that it seems better to hold still, to stay close to one another.
“How would I?” you say, assuming–what? That I thought you would make contact? That you couldn’t possibly? That its limitations are visible to you, to any moron?
The sun glances off the metallicky surface. Shines directly in your face. You squint. You are dogged. Your whole body reflects this, poised, your lips parted, your arm still raised. Reaching.
You were always good with those 3-D puzzles. “See the eagle?” you’d ask me. “Sure. Right there,” I’d lie. Right there. It’s amazing. Infinite eagles diving from crested peaks.
“Wow,” I say into the glare. Heat shrivels my eyeballs behind closed lids. A hundred yards beyond a car rushes by. We are not on the road, not close to it really. Of course we’re lost. I only asked so you’d know something at the same time I did.
Let’s go, I think. Your hand dangles above you, gravity defiant, moving upwards, away instead of dropping like how we’re supposed to, closer and closer to earth. How gravity works.
I turn and let myself plummet into the passenger seat.
Now that I know where to listen, I hear more cars. One by one. You can measure time in their passing whoosh. People don’t drive this stretch unless they have to–and people that do, speed. Orange billboards warn of scorpions, thirst, flat tires, sunburn. People don’t veer off to contemplate a glow.
“Let’s buy a sandwich truck,” I yell through the broken driver’s side window. “We can drive through the desert with pastrami on rye and bottles of water. Help people keep from getting trapped.”
“What are you talking about?” you say. “Did you see this thing?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Right there. It’s amazing.”