Something New...Amid the Same-Old
Well, there is a lot I could write about right now, but at this moment, time is not something I have. I eventually hope to blog over the past few weeks, the coronavirus issues, and what I think of a few things. Then again, you probably don't want to hear those.
Here, however, is something I wanted to share, and I would love to know your feelings.
On Sunday, I finished off nearly three days of self-isolation, partly because I didn't have to work or go out. I blasted my way through the first draft of a book, "How the Story Ends."
It is a story that I've been brewing in my mind for nearly two years. It's about how long I have to do that, before it feels ready and right for typing it out. My friend Beth has seen this, but no one else has. I'd be interested to see if this makes sense to you...
Chapter 1—Two-Dollar Novels
The GPS spoke, but its robotic voice was merely a suggestion. For Jhana, the road stretched out before her, direction and destination what they would be. At this time, however, there would be no need for direction, or a map. This highway, familiar to her, would soon present the off-ramp she desired, and back into lands more intimate.
The Jeep Wrangler, old enough to be a little sister, made its indifferent hum. Black with streaks of mud and grime, scratches from a continent over, the nameless hulk rolled in the slow lane, while the life of its human swung, jostled, creaked and made noises not of its own doing.
Camping gear piled in the back, bags of clothes for all climates, containers for food and drink, plus the all-important steel briefcase were in their disordered places. Up front, Jhana’s cloth bag rode shotgun, while her iPod played jazz, Mingus, live shots from a time gone by.
She scanned the road, then the instruments through her shades, as a pilot: all levels looked good, Charles and his combo of the time getting competition from the CB mounted above the rear-view mirror. The usual chatter, garbled language, howls and palaver from the professional roadrunners was company. Not that Jhana needed them, or any lesson...she knew more than most.
Then came the exit, the number not the one she knew of her youth, after the Department of Transportation decided to replace numbers with mileposts. Still, through the blue of the mountains, and the rainbow colors of the valley, it all looked the same, as was the name...Sorel.
Turn signal on, Jhana slowed, and took the sharp turn, down and to the right, while a ravine promised death and disaster hundreds of feet below. So many foolish motorists, and a trucker or two met their end here; the guardrail still hadn’t been replaced after the last one, according to the update from Maura.
A two-lane road, potholed and cracked, its yellow and white lines in full fade, awaited her. The right turn, and Jhana cruised along the local highway; normally excited, Jhana was the opposite. She was in no hurry, for once.
Town was coming, but before that, the valley opened slightly and presented itself. Past the outer rural homes with short setbacks, old farms and farmhouses seemed planted in strange places, along the high side to Jhana’s left and on her right, along the wide expanse of fields, a patchwork of green, brown and somewhere between. But for one spot: on the left, a house was missing, its foundation all that remained. The barn and outbuildings were still there, with a now-accustomed reserve role for its current owner.
Jhana slowed, and turned the Jeep right, down lane of stone and dirt. The vehicle took it in stride; bumping down the farm path, past aged wooden fences and those of barbed wire, she drove on, through the weathered covered bridge, and stopped on the other side.
Parked beneath overhanging trees, Jhana slid out, and stretched. Her picture would be one for the curious: at thirty-two, Jhana was taller than most women. Her long, frame was tanned from being out in the sun, her thick, out of control hair more blonde than brown for the same reason. The tresses were tied into twin braids, which hung well down her back. In once a man’s shirt with the sleeves torn off, a brown suede vest, and green bush shorts, cuffed rolled well up her thighs, Jhana’s long legs ended in gray wool socks and brown Red Wing boots. Around to the back, Jhana pulled out the suitcase, and took a walk.
Through the short grasses, Jhana passed through the rough ground with an easy stride. These fields she’d walked, run, played and lay in. Those ghosts, still living walked for followed beside her. Jhana conversed with these old friends, not of the good times, or the old ones; but of what would come.
Past small fishing ponds obscured by their depressions and rocks, Jhana passed these, down the abandoned rail line sheltered by more trees of many kinds. Jhana knew them all, but did not pause this time. She had to get moving, at least for a little while.
Up the side of a hill, steps cut into the stone and earth, Jhana climbed. The exercise, nor the case or heat of the afternoon bothered her; walks such as these were life, and her “friends” followed along.
The hill behind this one was not high, but just enough for the vantage point, and a grab for wifi service. A little breathless now, Jhana made the top. Setting the case down, Jhana unlocked it, and revealed its contents.
Jhana powered up the MacBook Air, custom-fit into the padded case by an enterprising intern. A folding headset mic removed from its place under the cover, Jhana plugged into the USB port, checked for service (three bars, good enough), and opened the audio program.
A quick test of the levels, and Jhana turned to look down upon her hometown. “’Jhana’s Reports from the Road,’ she spoke in an easy voice, “coming down in three, two one...”
She looked over the valley once more, the fields, and in the distance saw her storybook hometown. “Over the past eight years,” she said. “you have heard me tell tales of the places I’ve been, the people I have met, and things I have seen. You’ve heard everything, from all parts of this country, and others. The reports I will be sending you in the coming days will be different—for I will be reporting on the place where it all began.”
Jhana spoke without notes, extemporaneous in her speech this time. Her numerous reporter’s notebooks, dog-eared, stained, loaded with pen and pencil notes, erased, excised and circled would not be needed today. For hours, even days, Jhana knew what she would say today.
“It’s ironic,” Jhana continued, “that home was the place I clung to the most, throughout the early days of my life, all the while knowing I had to leave it. It is hard to believe, however, that is has been fourteen years, since I left high school that I have truly come home. I wonder what I will find.”
Jhana signed, off gave the standard outro for National Public Radio, and stopped the recording. A quick snip of the ends, normalization, a brief listen and Jhana saved the file, then sent it off via email. How I ever got this job, she thought, I’ll never know.
And yet, Jhana was aware that here was where it all began, not only her life. Her path was marked out at first, then Jhana turned, and took the path much less traveled.
The case packed, Jhana then sat down on a knoll, pulled her booted legs beneath her, closed her eyes, and breathed. A breeze came up, and Jhana felt the wind, not enough to move her tails, but went through her shirt.
She moved her hands along the leather thongs about her wrists, adjusted the one about her neck with the tiny silver ring, inhaled, exhaled, and sat. Almost half my life ago, I last sat here. It feels the same, but all things change, despite our best efforts against it. It does not matter; I remember what I once was, and what I am now...
Jhana didn’t remember the hike back to the Jeep, aware, however, of those who were with her, the voices, and the physical closeness of the invisible friends. Talking to herself was a custom to Jhana, and she didn’t care what anyone heard or didn’t hear; that was no one’s business but hers.
Back on the road, Jhana switched off the CB in favor of the radio. Turning the knob, she passed what a songwriter once called static and fanatics to a strong carrier signal. Darden Smith (with Nanci Griffith in the background) was singing about two-dollar novels, and the people who lived their lives in them.
Jhana grinned. Gotta go up there, she told herself, he’d never forgive me if I didn’t. As Darden keened on, and Nanci helped out, Jhana turned back into her old neighborhood.
After more of those scattered old homes, a few with new siding and out-of-place SUVs in the driveways, Jhana passed into a suburb. The homes were newer, but not always better: cookie cutter models shoehorned into once-good farmland, with well-cut lawns and trees. Then some larger, older houses, once held by established families, nearly all since died out.
The roads were better here intown, and Jhana turned again to follow the highway down a straight stretch. The big old houses gave way to slightly smaller ones, but each with character, and space to which belonged backyards, and views of fields, some still being used for their early purpose.
People, men, women, and a few kids passed along as she drove. Jhana could not identify most of them; time had obscured past images of neighbors and friends, but that could wait, even the ones she would see. Before her, the next goal lay in sight.
Three houses, the last three of one block, caught Jhana’s eye, and excitement returned. The furthest on the corner, white still, but now sided and better kept; the first, painted sun yellow with white trim, that too looked different, but Jhana expected this.
The one in the middle, made Jhana’s heart pound. Painted midnight blue, two white columns flanked the old, heavy door. The upstairs bay windows looked out, and the third floor attic shutters, now repaired.
She turned into the driveway, and parked behind the red Honda CRV. As Jhana shut down the Jeep, she could look down the strip of grass that bisected the homes, and see the trees, the tire swing, and the fields beyond.
Bag over her shoulder, Jhana walked across the lawn, up the stone steps (carefully treading on the fixed one), and stood on the porch. The lounge chairs were the same, the plants hanging in the pots, and from here, Jhana could see the world before her, as she’d done so many times before.
The screen door creaked, and Jhana turned. A forty-something woman, her long curled hair as red as the Honda, in a hot pink shirt with the collar missing and black tights stood there, her body as wiry and toned as Jhana’s.
“Hi,” the woman greeted, with a familiar grin.
The two came together, and embraced. “Hi, Mom,” Jhana whispered in her ear, “I’m home.”