- Salisbury Cathedral
After twenty-two nights sleeping in city parks and on train station benches, Dale got a room in Holyhead, Wales. The room was furnished with a dresser, a bed, and a lamp. The lamp sat on the dresser and had no shade. The bed was narrow and had no sheets or pillows. Beyond a barred window, rain fell on the street.
He set his camping stove on the dresser, lit it, and balanced a pan of water on the burner. His student ID, phone card, and passport were spread out to dry beside the stove. He cut an onion with his jackknife, yellow flesh falling away in layers from the white core, vapor rising up into his eyes. The stove was running out of fuel, and the water wouldn’t boil. He gave it five minutes, then dumped a soup packet and half the raw onion into the pan and ate it cold, masking the taste with pulls from a bottle of vodka. He set the onion scraps on the dresser next to his passport.
After he scraped the pan and licked his spoon, Dale twisted the lamp’s hot bulb off and sat in the darkness on the corner of the bed. He looked through the bars and the window’s wet glass at a homeless man standing on the sidewalk across the street. The man was trying to light a stub of cigarette but failing. Dale found his tobacco and rolled a cigarette by feel, hardly turning from the window and the man. The man gestured and talked to himself and sometimes waved a soaked book of matches in the air. Sometimes he fell backwards, reaching out for a wall or fence that wasn’t there. Dale watched, lifting the bottle each time the man fell over, drinking again when he pulled himself upright.
By the time the vodka was gone, Dale had smoked five cigarettes. He reclined on the bed and flicked the lighter on and off. He had never smoked cigarettes so casually indoors before. He rolled another. He smoked half the cigarette lying on his back, ash falling across his face, then set it on the dresser without crushing it out. The rain droned outside. The smoke rising from the dresser smelled like burning plastic. He fell asleep in his clothes.
In the morning, Dale walked in the rain to a store that sold fuel for his stove, then wandered his way over to the Holyhead train station. From a padded bench he looked out the window. He watched giant Dublin ferries head west from the harbor, colorful garbage rising and falling in their wakes. The ocean and sky were huge and gray, meeting in a fuzzy line. Dale lay on the bench for hours, ships leaving but none arriving.
At three in the afternoon he got on an eastbound train marked for Salisbury, [End Page 51] England, the stop nearest Stonehenge. There was only one person in the smoking car, an old man wearing a red wool jacket with leather elbow patches and a leather collar. The man was staring straight ahead, not smoking. Dale set his backpack on the aisle seat two rows behind the man, then squeezed past it and sat down so he was sandwiched between the pack and the window. The train started up. He watched long street signs with words made of bunched-up consonants appear, then blur, then disappear. Dilapidated brick buildings gave way to wet green fields, and then another night.
Pressed up against the window, Dale’s head appeared doubled, his real skull connected with another reflected skull at a seam above the left eyebrow. Not moving from that position, he closed his eyes for a while before opening them again. The crack in the seats in front of him perfectly framed the old man’s ear; the ear had a patch of white hair growing on its upper rim where most ears are bare. Dale stared at the ear until his eyes watered and he had to blink. He stood, leaned out over the seats, and tapped the man on the shoulder.
“Have you ever been to Stonehenge?” The...