For Deus ex Machina, a Flemish literary magazine, author Roderik Six went on a journey - maybe even a quest - to meet one of the icons of modern literature. What follows is a strange and somewhat dubious report of his trip to New Mexico.
A decision – rains – subways and airplanes – nightfall
I wanted to meet Cormac McCarthy, so I left my home.
Heavy rains, falling in the dark. The moon: a ghost behind the clouds.
Vagrants hiding in corridors, barking dogs, harsh metallic voices echoing through abandoned hallways – the smell of stale coffee and urine and human decay. Nothing less than a graveyard for the living dead; every few steps a tomb built from blankets and cardboard.
Never flown after dusk before; for hours on end I spend my life in a cold tube protruding the night. Drones of darkness. Dry, artificial air.
Sleep. A tunnel, still. Wavering stars and drippings on the hull. A nudge. Muffled snoring underneath thin plaids. I ask for water – a female, dressed in blue, curved tightly, offers me a cup. An attempt of a smile.
New Amsterdam - light, shimmering down skyscrapers – punk – on the road
We land: fragile fingers pinching my biceps, eyes filled with wet terror and apologies, pressure on my thorax. Swallowing and a squeaking backlash. Instant headache.
Suddenly everything is narrow and everyone wants everything right away and ruffled luggage falls on seats, and I try to relax, to postpone, to delay and I am aware of life and the patience it demands. Sometimes all you do is wait.
No, not sometimes. All the time.
I walk through customs. Well, I try to.
Sir, your luggage?
Exactly, sir. Where is your luggage?
I didn’t bring any.
How do you mean? Where are you from? Please follow us sir.
(I come bare. It’s hard to explain.)
The city is grand, an iron fire, glass flames reaching for the heavens. A humbling reflection – this is what you are: a faint, distorted shadow of an insect. Corridor on corridor on corridor, like cattle herded through a concrete jungle. No drivers though.
Sharp as a razor, the roaring sound splitting skulls, drenched in alcohol, banging the thick air. A boot, pins and pink mohawks, energy and pain and broken glass. Teeth scraping pavement. Again: a boot and a crack – lightning through my brain, something that looks like silence. A distant humming. Again: wavering stars.
I wake up in a car. Certain things are lost, certain things I’ve gained. Like a driver, and a soft girl in the backseat.
You kinda lost yourself in there, she whispers, and her words caress my cheeks. Not enough, I think, but I don’t argue and lean against her breast. Her hair smells like vanilla.
We have a long way to go, always a long way to go.
Prisoner of the road – a girl, a horizon – the sun
If we’re gonna do the Kerouac thing, then someone should have brought dope. Dope and Miles and Coltrane.
The car swerves. Before us the air trembles. I’m thirsty. The girl passes me a beer. Sweat on her cleavage. Too much light – I miss sunglasses. This is not what I came for, but I can’t cut loose, can’t say no; I move to the backseat. She tastes like salt.
Nothing but lines. Dotted white, chrome – slightly bent – silver and gold in the distance – a soft cheekbone. Copper.
A slain raccoon on the slope; flies buzzing around it and a few yards further, an eye, eaten by worms. Dead trees, stretching their bare arms towards a distant god.
Past the desert, the south – a job – a knife
We drive for days. Silent. The girl sulks in the back. The driver drives. Quietly. Every decade I look at the signs, the billboards, the cactuses, and I listen to the rumble of thunderclouds. But no rain to be seen. Suddenly, in a craving rush, I miss the flood, the hosing, the fat drops of water; the absence of drought and dust.
Some time later – four days? a month? – I find myself sitting at a bar, staring into a glass filled with bourbon and, apparently, missing the tip from my left ring finger, the wound neatly stitched. It itches.
Too bad about that. Saves you ten on a manicure though, the bartender grins. Did a nice job, I’ll miss you, now that you’re leaving.
I frisk my pants for money. In my back pocket something long and cold. A switchblade, tattered with brown, crusty marks. It feels heavy, like a burden; my first luggage. Now, I am no longer bare.
Careful son, no need to repeat yourself. You got away this time. Now hurry on – I’m closing the joint.
Outside: horses. A stampede of horses, unsaddled, galloping through the street. No riders. Only the sun and a whirlwind of dust.
Getting closer – a garden in New Mexico – a boy
From the gutter I saw a rusty star. Later on, a rock, shaped like a camel.
Pale light, disappearing behind the horizon.
Coming down the road, in the dead of night, the thick scent of lilacs. I squat at the edge of his dark lawn, the rustling bushes tickling my back. And I wait. In limbo.
The moon covers the earth with riddles.
Living ash hisses by, scraps of dark flesh like black lighting.
Numb. A boulder resting in crisp grass.
Parched wind scratches my cheekbones, the corners of my eyes. The tears make me shiver – I’ve never been so close to being nothing. To being.
With the first gauzy grey I finally stand up. Blood fills the void in my legs, I clench my teeth and fists in order not to stagger. Again: wavering stars.
A screen door flaps open and unleashes a small dog that barks and jumps and licks drops of dew and pisses in the flowerbeds. Behind him, still standing in the doorway, a boy in pajama’s, rubbing sleep from his eyes and yawning with the pleasure of youth. The dog sniffs his way to the front of the house but the boy remains on the porch. Then, barefooted, he wanders onto the grass, the hems of his flannel trousers grow dark with dew. Oddly enough, he doesn’t notice me, me, standing tall by the border, and turns towards the old oak that, during the night, haunted the lawn with his ghostly shadow. And he stares up. Looks at the branches, the leaves trembling in the morning breeze, and with one pale skinned hand he strokes the bark. I decide it’s time.
The first meet – a conversation – coffee
I’m looking for your father.
The boy doesn’t turn around. Keeps caressing the live wood. In the distance I hear the dog barking. Birds fly over. I pocket the switchblade, no need to startle the boy.
He’s still sleeping, the boy says, still showing me his frail back, the delicate skin between his tender shoulders. But he’ll be up soon. You want some coffee?
That’s kind, I’ll wait on the porch.
I’ll bring you a cup. It’s cold outside, and you’ve been out here all night, hiding. Watching the dark. Do you think you can see so much darkness that you become black on the inside, that your inner body becomes charred?
Maybe. You have trouble sleeping?
Sometimes. His typewriter keeps me up. But that’s not the reason. Usually I love the ticking and the little bell at the end of each sentence. But other nights, it’s like a woodpecker hammering my skull; every stroke a lashing, every bell a needle in my ear. Anyhow, I’ll put the kettle on.
While I’m standing on the porch, the sun rises and turns the dew into a frail mist. The heat will be here soon, probably overwhelming, but for now I’m still shivering. Without a word, the boy hands me a cup of hot coffee, and disappears back in the house. I fold my fingers around the hot mug, feel an itch where my nail used to be and take a sip.
Soon. Any time now.
The second meet – a diner - closure
Finally he appears. Old and pale and tired. He stands beside me and looks at the lawn, the oak and the sun. The dog comes running and frolics around his legs, begging for a pet. He ignores it.
You’re not coming in.
His voice is soft but decisive.
I’ll get my jacket, and we’ll go for a ride, grab some breakfast. My car’s up front. Be there.
When I step out of the shadow, the sun hits me like a blast wave. Instantly I start sweating and the fatigue grabs hold of my lungs – breathing feels like inhaling wool.
In the diner the air conditioning is soothing. A blonde waitress feeds us pancakes, bacon and coffee. Outside there’s nothing but asphalt. On the parking lot an old woman dressed in salvation army rags is pushing a cart filled with tins and blankets. She raises her hand to the heavens and shouts. I can only imagine her curses.
We are strange animals. Nothing more.
He continues chewing his food methodically. In awe I watch his jaw moving.
What happened to your finger by the way?
Can’t remember. I believe it had to be done. Hurts like hell though.
Some things are necessary. Most are best left forgotten.
For a while we sip our coffee and stare out of the window. There’s nothing outside, except the trembling heat above the grey concrete and beyond that the desert and the blue horizon, but we stare anyway.
Finally he sighs, gets up and pays the waitress. While he waits for his change, he turns to me.
A rainbow – new fruit – exit
As we turn on the driveway, the dog comes running. He barks furiously and hops around in circles, weeping and howling in between barks.
With a frown he steps out of the car. Slightly bent, he hurries towards the back of the house. I can hear the sprinklers wheeze. The lilacs, still. In a flash a rainbow appears in the thin rays of water. Then it disappears again. I trail behind him – I can hear him panting.
And then it’s there. The swaying shadow on the lawn.
He drops to his knees. Nails grabbing hold of the earth. His face contorted, as if being exposed to a great heat.
I step beside him on the lawn and walk towards the oak. It takes a century to reach the tree. With my arms up high I embrace the boy – his knees dangling against my chest – take out the blade and cut him loose. Then I lay him softly on the grass, and leave.
author: Roderik Six.Illustration: Sven Verhaeghe.