A short story on the nature of passion, projection and inspiration.
The El Camino roared past him. He saw the car, heard the car, felt the car. The engine must’ve been built for a train. Then he saw through the window the delicate profile, the long black hair, blowing everywhere, long and flowing like the darkest rivers of the underworld, the longest black hair in creation. Then he saw the license plate. County Screven, state of Georgia, county of mystique, state of tight and breathless desire. He didn’t know there was a County Screven but there are so many goddamned counties in Georgia that there might as well have been a Screven, but there was only one girl from County Screven with an El Camino and he was in love and knew he would forever be.
Sounded to him like redneck math. Scrix plus scrun equals Screven. Used in that rural part of the state for peculiar math unique to the isolated culture, like calculating how many gypsies can fit into your dreams–screven times eleventy-four. Scarecrows to cornfield ratio is best arrived at by scrine to the moonteenth power. So forth.
The rumored reason there are so many counties in Georgia is because it used to be that a county couldn’t be larger than a day’s travel by buggy. The real reason was probably something simpler and stranger, like a syphilitic governor dropping a mirror and reading the future of the state’s administrative divisions in the fissures and cracks.
He had seen her in a split second that stretched into infinity. That profile and that hair and the El Camino and the sonic rumble, and in that split second he loved her so passionately that it was all physical ache and trance and seizure and loss of sensation. The car was gone. He had been left in the dust, humming along on his generic moped. He had tried to catch up. He had throttled the bike as hard as he could, but it just whined louder and stayed at the same speed. A moped like his would be hard-pressed to catch up to an El Camino girl like that.
The El Camino is a complex polymorph invention built by men of uncompromising vision, a precious glimpse of mechanical evolution, all pick-up truck and muscle car. El Camino means ‘road’. The road connecting desire to satisfaction, enlightenment to happiness, the road to fortune unruffled by evil winds and majesty untouched by the limits of time. Some theories of existence and reincarnation state that unless you find a girl in an El Camino with jet black hair inspired by the raging river Styx, you were forced to return to lower forms of life. It was an existential certainty that insects and lichen and barnacles had never found a girl in an El Camino, not one from Screven, not from anywhere. He was sure she had not seen him on his moped with his helmet and tweed slacks and his saddle shoes and his bow tie. He realized that the root word of moped is ‘mope’. Although he did not feel he was a street moper, the engine roar and piston thrust and combustion and all that wild hair and painted nails on steering wheel had shown him that he had been moping all his life and had just come to realize it. There was something about the El Camino that had showed him his life of draconian desuetude, which was a fancy way of saying extreme uselessness. The girl from Screven in the El Camino had turned his mind into a puddle of hopeless poetry.
He could’ve sworn her radio had been playing the song “I’m in love with my car,” but it was hard to tell because it was right at the part when it’s all drums and guitar and cymbal crash and hound-howl.
There were other cars on the road, lesser modes of transit helmed by lesser humans and it made him sad. In fact they had all been traveling sadly on that road that day, except that before the girl in the El Camino from Screven had streaked by nobody had noticed.
“I’m in love with my car”. Definitely the song. But he was in love with the girl from Screven.
Our man in tweed pulled to the side of the road. He checked to make sure his belongings were still in the compartment under the seat, nervous that some preternatural magnetism possessed by the girl from Screven had pulled his meager possessions out of his moped–indeed out of all the cars she passed– had ripped everything out, off, up and over into the El Camino’s capacious pick-up bed, she being a source of energy to which all men and molecular activity are forced toward.
His stuff was still there, although it had shifted considerably, which made him believe his suspicions valid. He didn’t care. She could have it all anyway. He got back on his moped and drove, wondering what the girl from Screven had dreamed of when she was a child, what she would reflect on when she was older, not that she would age noticeably, a couple of smart gray streaks in that ebony hair the only indication of time elapsed. He imagined meeting her under different circumstances, that is, instead of not meeting her at all because she had blasted by him in an El Camino at speeds that would be dangerous for mousy women from non-Screven counties, he would instead catch her eyes across a vegetable stand in some breezy outdoor marketplace, on a bright summer morning and she would lead him on from garden item to garden item before submitting at the peaches, let’s say, and then after finding out they had everything in common they would sit on a nearby piazza and have tiny coffee drinks, and spend the next three days together and then an exhilarating two days apart thinking of the three days together and then marriage. Little boys and little girls from Screven would run up and down the house, go to college and then come to visit with their grandchildren from Screven.
The moped bucked through a pothole and he fought to maintain control of both the moped and his wife of thirty years, the girl from Screven. A car in front of him was being pulled over by a police cruiser and he imagined it was the girl from Screven being pulled over and that the cop was a friend of his and he could get the girl from Screven out of a ticket and she would see just how in love with him she was as they spent the three days together, two days apart, the rest of their lives together. He swerved to miss the police cruiser, living his life over and over in fifteen second intervals with the girl from Screven by his side.
If he thought even for a moment that there would not be other suitors, other red-blooded men whose desire had flooded every level of reason and passion, from brain to loin, then he was dead wrong. Cars next to him had begun to accelerate in the direction of the girl from Screven. The traffic became dangerously competitive. The lanes ceased to exist. A car approaching from the opposite direction made a sharp U-turn and joined the pack.
“C’mon, damn you!” he yelled to his moped. “Find some power deep in that motor and you will be able to ride in the flatbed of an El Camino for the rest of your life.”
The moped did all it could, but it wasn’t enough. It buzzed along at a moderate pace and he knew that he should’ve gotten the bike with the bigger engine but at the time he couldn’t have foreseen the girl from Screven and how important it would have been to pony up the extra cash for the extra horsepower.
A parade of deviants with cars full of trash and spank magazines went flying by. A married couple joined the fray in the hopes that if they got their hands on the girl from Screven then they could convince her she’d be happier living in their underground whipping chamber than she would be in the El Camino. Masturbators and flunkies and acrid ex-convicts and men who had inherited fortunes and squandered them and ne’er-do-wells of all shapes and sizes tried to overtake and destroy the other cars in their haste to tame the girl from Screven, who at that moment was painting her lips in the mirror and shimmying in her seat to a heavy metal tune and heading off to paradise as the crow flies, she being the only one who knows the way.
“Come on, son-of-a-bitching moped, come on,” he gritted, skipping his feet along the road to gain even a little acceleration, wishing he had spent the extra cash on heavy boots instead of saddle shoes. The other cars disappeared over a hill, out of sight, closing in on the girl from Screven. He had never felt so helpless. The moped slowed a little bit as it tried to negotiate the top of the hill. He loosed his bow tie, thinking that in some way it was responsible for wind drag and every little thing had to do its part.
As he topped the hill he noticed a sight at first unrecognizable because of its bright wash of unexpected color. Red and blue lights stretched across the highway. Cop cars everywhere. Speed trap. The perverts and miscreants were lined up on the side of the road, their cars being searched, some being handcuffed. A just world is working for the good of the good, he thought to himself as he hummed by the cars, thinking slow and steady wins the race, thinking that beauty comes in the form of luck and even providence has to have its creature vices like rolling dice and sending girls from Screven forth in El Caminos with absolute freedom. One man was pulled from his car with his pants around his ankles, one of the amassed sorry sons of bitches beaten by the universe’s well-orchestrated plan to bring the girl from Screven into the arms of our man on the moped.
She was gone. The road was deserted. Just as well, he said. Let the girl from Screven exist in the perfection of his imagination. He realized that she may very well have had her own life, apart from him, and again, he got sad. But from the sadness a budding happiness. He felt good and realized if she had been in his life for those few seconds only to give him a glimpse of possibility then it was a gift and he needed to understand it as such.
Humming along, passing bland store fronts, Chinese buffet, a movie theater, car repair and a chiropractor. Convenience store.
He saw it. The El Camino was parked at the side of the building. Oh heat, oh fire of the sun blazing in the chest, oh everything, oh shaking, oh going to crash, oh just missed, oh passing, oh stopped, oh think.
Keep going or venture into the store? Didn’t he need something from the store anyway? Gum or incense or ginseng or motor oil or a huge soda. How about a girl from Screven. Park the moped. Don’t be a piddling spineless wretch for once in your life. Park next to the El Camino, license plate from Screven County, bumper sticker saying home of the National Mullet Toss championships (the fish not the hairstyle), the strongest mullet-tosser being the girl from Screven’s robust father, who by throwing fish to uncharted parts of the county had won the heart of the most eligible daughter in town and together they had conceived the perfect being, who right now was inside the convenience store buying the six-pack of beer that they would share as they sat under the stars in the back of the El Camino.
Once inside he tried to be cool, to give off that air of being intent on needing something and showing confidence that he would find it. It didn’t take him long to realize the convenience store was empty save for the Indian fellow behind the counter with a smile on his face.
He turned to the bathrooms. the cashier seemed to understand, nodded and winked. He walked over to them. Men’s room closed–orange cone in front of the door in case there was any doubt. One unisex bathroom. The gods were showing their due diligence. Facilitators and enablers, they were.
“I would like to buy this foil-wrapped bouquet of flowers,” he said.
“Very good sir,” said the Indian behind the counter.
Standing in front of the women’s bathroom with the flowers. Any minute now. The minutes went on and on and he became concerned that the girl from Screven may have been struggling with some type of colitis. Did the girl from Screven have Crohn’s disease, or some type of ‘stone’? He had to consider for the first time in his life that the girl from Screven might actually be human. Maybe she fell in, he thought. It occurred to him that he was completely justified in walking into the bathroom. The men’s room was out of order, after all. An honest mistake leading to an honest love affair. The richness of life distilled from its random possibility.
The bathroom door opened. The girl from Screven emerged. The longest and blackest hair he had ever seen with her nails painted to match. And she was tall and slim. And she had a beard. And she had a chest matted with black hair, as dense as the Black Forest. And she came out of the bathroom adjusting her balls in the tight leather pants that she was wearing. Then stopped. The man from Screven stared at him, looked down at the flowers in his hand.
A quizzical silence passed before the man from Screven, after running his black fingernails through his heavy black beard, muttered, “All yours” and walked out past him.
With nothing else to do he walked into the bathroom, pulled the flowers from the stems and dropped them one by one in the toilet. He flushed, dumped the stems in the trash can and stared at himself in the mirror. And he laughed. And he was glad, because he knew that he had seen the girl, that she did exist and that she was somewhere in the place of the things that sit untouched, riding into the sunset of worlds that wait joyfully to be conquered.