- Driving Lessons
August along I-80. A flat landscape of low, dead grass broken occasionally by scuffs of white rock. The sky is high-blue, and if it weren't for the wind pitching a fit, it would be hot. The wind's so wild it sucks the heat out of everything—makes me feel flat and light when I step out of the car, as if I might, suddenly, lift into the air. Instead, I stretch, try to glare back at the sun that's reflecting off the hoods of cars parked at the Buford Trading Post in Buford, Wyoming: Population 1. For the past hundred miles or so, I'd leaned into sleep, trying to forget where I was and where I was going. Trying to forget, even, who I was going there with—forget the man I'd lived with for years who'd been driving me for two days from our bare-swept apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, where surely the new tenants have arrived by now, have begun placing their chairs where we placed our chairs, their bed over our bed—a palimpsest, if memories left any physical residue. Perhaps it's truer to call it a revision.
It's easier to revise than to forget entirely. The sign advertising this establishment, for example, claimed the population of Buford was 2, but as we drove closer the signs were patched over with little crooked 1s: someone had died, and recently. The memory of the death had traveled only so far. Not surprising in this wind. It whittles at my brain—deepens the hole in my gut. I walk slant against it into the trading post, which is actually a gas station and trinket shop, about the size and shape of a country chapel—narrow and tall. An old woman whose face resembles the landscape works the register, unsmiling. I wonder if she is the one who is left. I wonder if she's bereft, or if [End Page 1] that death was a relief. Maybe both. I assumed it was a married couple, but now I think of the various possibilities: siblings, cousins, friends, a mother and daughter. To live one's entire life out in a place with only one other person surrounded by miles of grass and rock and sky. It would have to be with the right person or else it would be purgatorial. Perhaps even with the right person it would be purgatorial. I look up and see the man I'm with walking out of the post with a receipt, the wind almost ripping it out of his large hands, and I suddenly wish he were dead. I realize this isn't a normal wish, but I've tried to leave him so many times and failed. I can't see how else I might escape him.
My grandmother is driving—this is how I imagine it—through the desert at night on a one-way trip to California. The stars are high up, offering only a distant solace. There's an order, though she's not arrogant enough to think she knows what it is. At least, the universe is keeping its secret for now. It's 1945. She won't birth my mother into the world for another decade. Her infant son is sleeping in the back seat. She keeps thinking of his father, who was brutally handsome. She shakes her head, chiding herself, thinking that she should have seen it earlier, how his beauty could be a kind of weapon, but she was young, and he was so insistent, and she was impressed with his cheekbones, his sly smile, his thick black hair, how his skin shone with gold. How he chose her, made her belong to him. And then, once she was his irrevocably (a child, a marriage), how he changed. That kind of beauty on that kind of man is a Trojan horse. I think you know what I mean.
Around 2 a.m., I walk downstairs in my pajamas to the driveway where my father's car is parked, the driver's seat door wide open and his...