by Tim Gilmore, 1/21/2017
“I never knew about Night Sweats,” Lane says. On this dead-end road off the western wind-up of Highway Avenue, he taps the crushed hood of his car with a swollen foot.
Ringing the mass grave of battered automotive carcasses, pines reach straight and tall, impersonally evergreen and present, as though sentry to an overarching plan that could explain the mangling chaos if only the trees cared to interpret it. Each of these butchered bodies leaves behind its own life history.
“The last four nights of not drinking,” Lane says, “I woke up six or eight times a night, bedsheets soaked.”
He lay cold and clammy, the sweat pooling at parts of his body he didn’t know had sweat glands, the back of his neck, his thighs, his chest and his stomach drenched.
Some cars that check in at Sprint Towing’s storage yard at the dead end of St. Andrews Street South never leave. The stripped corpses of 1950s pickups, 1970s muscle cars, and a long discarded hearse park permanently.
“It’s the body detoxing,” Lane says.
The sheets and pillows stunk like garlic somehow soured. Every hour and a half, he flung himself out of bed, stood naked and trembling in the scalding shower, and skimmed the rancid sweat from his skin.
A wind bends the pines and Lane looks into the heights. The trees seem at once to know something we don’t know, and to know nothing, and in both ways to dwell transcendent.
The pines have nothing to tell us. The pines are all that needs telling.
And they have no more memory of the accident than Lane does.
The witness who heard the collision and came down from his second floor LaSalle Street apartment found Lane standing beside the car, jabbing his key at the closed door. The airbag had filled the driver’s seat. How Lane stood outside the car was a mystery. He’d sped his silver Ford sedan into the back of a parked pickup. Steam hissed from the crushed hood.
“Got to get this car back home,” Lane stammered.
Now a sleek and rusted blue Corvette appears down the road in the distance. Four burly young men push the dead windowless car amidst the carcasses and pines.
At the steering wheel, an orange young woman with a blond ponytail pointing pertly from the back of a ballcap yells, “Be with y’all in a minute!”
An older woman in elastic pink pants and a pink blouse leaves a nearby open-doored office, looks back over her shoulder, and shouts to someone out of sight inside, “Well why not? If it was the gun shot that one feller, I suppose it was the truck caused the one drivin’ it to crash.”
A sickly yellow sunset sifts through the pines from the railroad track, West Beaver Street, and the miles of junkyards on the other side. Currents of air churn softly through the failing light as though they’ve tens of thousands of years’ experience or more.
Lane keeps rubbing his knee. Even in his loose dark jeans, his right knee looks bigger than his opposite thigh.
“One half of me’s swelled up twice the other,” he says.
He’s tried to account for how much he drank that night. Most nights he put away a liter-and-a-half jug of burgundy and three or four glasses of bourbon, but the other night he lost count. After the wreck, he vomited for 18 hours.
He tells me he feels like his car took over and drove him straight through death.
The orange young woman from the blue Corvette walks toward us from behind a nicotine-yellow motor home shell. Clipboard in hand, she opens the driver-side door of Lane’s car, and when she bends over to the read the Vehicle Identification Number, half her thong’d rump falls out of her jeans. I count the rust spots on a farm tractor.
Since 1973, towed wrecks at the dead end of St. Andrews Street South have leaked gasoline and oil and coolant and steering fluid and battery acid and beer and blood into this earth. The ground doesn’t store the pain, unless it raises it up the pines, then filters it through the jaundiced sunlight.
“What are you drinking tonight?” I ask.
Lane scoffs, still looks dazed. “What I drink every night.”
“Burgundy and bourbon?”
He shakes his head slowly, his upper lip twitches, he mutters, “Green tea.”
I think better of making a joke about his becoming a tea-totaler.
He initials the orange woman’s clipboard.
“It’s too bad this story’s so didactic,” I say, but the pines are all that needs telling. They’re the real story. They haunt me phantomwise.
Nearby, something gives way with a loud metallic thunk, followed by a tired and weary hissing of steam. A sudden wind sounds in the trees like a 1970s’ laugh track.