There's a couple lying on a riverbank, drinking red wine from plastic cups. It's pretty late - maybe half past midnight - and there's a city bustling above them with no idea of their presence. The man is lying on his back in cool grass, with the woman resting her head on his chest. A chill cuts the air, and though the city's dull glow reflects off the water, the night is darker than they'd planned. They probably picked this spot hoping that the sounds of water flowing over rock would soften some of the words that needed to be said, but the river's pretty quiet tonight, hanging on their every word. The couple talks about foolishness. They talk about errors in judgment. They talk about former lovers. They aren't drunk yet, but that time's coming.
-Linda, Lynchburg, Virginia
There's a particular burn. From a particular tequila. On a particular Thursday night. In a particular Tennessee hotel room. With a particular scent on newly-showered particular skin.
In ten or fifteen years, when I look back on these days and nights, there will be lots of details I will have lost. Tonight will not be among them.
In a valley nestled between ancient mountains, cars drive up and down this two lane blacktop, largely unaware of the river meandering its way downstream next to the road. Most drivers pay little attention to where the river came from, where it's going, or what's carried along in its chilly currents.
I slow the station wagon down, pulling off next to a rusting steel-truss bridge. Getting out and walking through knee-deep weeds down to the bank, I stare at the water, watching a failed relationship float downstream. It flows over forgotten ambition, swirls through eddies of misunderstanding, gets caught on a broken promise, which in turn is hung up on a little white lie, which has gotten stuck on an infidelity sticking out of the slow moving water, all of which are stuck in the mud of centuries-old mountains, washed long ago into this riverbed.
I see myself floating down this river too, flowing unwittingly into this confederacy of abandonment.
-Linda, Swain County, North Carolina
We all do it. We huff and we puff and we blow down house after house, car after car, town after town. We drive as fast as we can, up and down these nearly fotgotten, ancient two-lanes, paying next to no attention to the consequences of radial tires on cracked asphalt.
But even with my busy-girl blinders affixed firmly in place, there's this one thing that settles me. One thing that, when it appears on my horizon line, keeps me feeling like there might be a course I'm following after all.
There's a kiss on these lips that I've come to love.
-Linda, Northampton County, Virginia
It's a hot and sticky morning as I steer somebody else's '66 Malibu though the July-dry fields of Nelson County. The Tye River's down to a trickle, neither of us in any hurry to get anywhere important.
Under a one-lane bridge, Alice dances by herself in a dress made of dragonfly wings. Sunlight catches, crackles and shimmers off both her and the ankle-deep water. If her movements were any slower, they'd be imperceptible to the human eye.
Lost in the wrong memory, I'm still wearing last winter's blinders. Radiohead moans through this ancient and tinny dashboard speaker. "Just because you feel it doesn't mean it's there." My own cavalcade of loneliness crosses over her bridge, unaware of Alice and her anonymous coruscation.
-Linda, near Nellysford, Virginia
Dear Janet,The stereo's a piece of crap. Nothing works but the cassette, and all my cassettes were taped off some ex-boyfriend's father's scratchy albums, so essentially there's no music newer than about 1988. Which, sometimes, suits me fine. "It makes no difference how far I go, Like a scar the hurt will always show." Garth Hudson's wailing saxophone and my weeping are usually pretty much indistinguishable anyway. "It makes no difference who I meet, They're just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street." I push the stop button, put in the earbuds and hit shuffle on my sister's iPod. Tom Waits offers his advice: "Well, go ahead and call the cops, You don't meet nice girls in coffee shops..." Tapping on my shoulder, Kate asks, "Are you ready for the weekend?" I guesses I'm about as ready as I'll ever be.