I round a bend on this street that has no name, somewhere on the high plain northeast of Mecca, when suddenly a figure materializes out of the blowing sand on the roadside. As I draw closer the figure takes the form of a man. He holds out his hand, steps into the road, then flags me with a couple of fervid waves and an odd lack of urgency in his expression. For the sake of curiosity and an interesting story I pull over. The passenger window is down so he leans his head in.
“What time you got?” he asks, as though we are casual acquaintances who run into each other occasionally, a certain formal familiarity in his tone. I look at the stereo clock.
“Two-thirty,” I tell him.
He pulls up the arm of his jacket, and likens my time to the one on the face of his preposterously large digital watch. He weighs the two, then implicitly stares down the road, first one direction, then the other. While his thinking cap is on I survey his characteristics.
His sunglasses are obtrusively large, near goggle size, and even though it’s upwards of eighty degrees in full sun his neck is wrapped in a thick scarf. It is safe to say he is entirely covered in dust. He is an authentic, postmodern grape of wrath. His face is gaunt and bony, resembling a botched clone of Harry Dean Stanton, but his accoutrements suggest The Gyro Pilot from The Road Warrior.
“I’m meeting someone at three in Joshua Tree,” I say. This is a quick lie that falls out of my mouth like a skeleton’s bone.
This fabulous notion encourages my imagination to no end, for in that post-nuclear, gas-starved, desert-holocaust myth, Mel Gibson portrays the nitrous-powered, outlaw-hero Max, a just man pursued across the wasteland by haunting memories of his murdered wife and child; a lone man whose options continue to be reduced by circumstance and fate; an adaptable man who pushes on, driven by his past through a world where there is nothing left for anyone to live for. In the end Max is betrayed by his countrymen, his allies, duped into driving a loaded tanker truck out of a besieged Outback refinery and into a pack of bloodthirsty barbarians, a tanker supposedly filled with gasoline, but is instead a decoy weighted with sand. In the final scene Max is alone once again, left on the side of a deserted highway with nothing but a wrecked diesel rig and a handful of worthless time.
In the beginning, though, Max is temporarily snared in an elementary trap involving The Gyro Pilot and his pet snake, a thought that jolts me back to consciousness and the man at hand.
“Which way you headed?” he asks, finished with his lengthy assessment of the roadway.
“I’m meeting someone at three in Joshua Tree,” I say. This is a quick lie that falls out of my mouth like a skeleton’s bone. For the first time I notice a suitcase and a typewriter case on the gravel at his feet; he could pass next to a phone booth at a bus depot.
“I’ve really gotta get goin’,” I insist, once again as if we are old buddies, a queer hint of resignation in my voice. He senses my apprehension and backs up.
“What time you say it is?” he asks again. I check to be sure I’m not mistaken.
“Two-thirty,” I confirm, eager to be on my way past this most strange of individuals. He looks at his watch a second time, and once more scans this lost desert highway.
“Well,” he says, “I’ll just wait here for my friend.”
I sense he is having a sort of internal conversation that I am not privy to, but have just taken part in nevertheless.
I pull away and he goes back to standing by his bags on the edge of nowhere, looking at his watch and then to the expectant future. I’m still unsure whether or not I am on the correct road, and although I’m satisfied that my existence has finally been confirmed, for some odd reason I feel that the testimony has been given by my own ghost.
. . . . .
You dream of a silent, unknown companion, concealed and constant, genderless yet human. Perhaps you are walking with someone, a friend or a lover, but your desire of intimacy is soon forgotten when you realize you are not walking as two alone.
An anonymous yet familiar future strides alongside, and you would swear it was your past, but this confusion, this shame at not knowing the difference, is why you continue to walk in solitude, side by side by side. . .
This is the third in a series of eight excerpts from the chapbook “Spread Out Across the Lowering Sky” published last year by Sun Wolf Press and available for sale here for the first time.
Each edition is comb-bound and of very high quality. This is a limited edition; written, edited, designed, printed and constructed by R.L. Buss and Sun Wolf Press.
There are 20 copies now available from a first edition print run of 25. Each one will be signed and numbered by the author beginning with number 1. The edition is illustrated, and the book’s themes of journey, discovery, human awakening and acceptance as Buss travels from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time are rendered in the author’s wholly original voice. Don’t fool yourself…it’s kick-ass.
If you decide to invest your hard earned money in this title you would be supporting both an independent writer and diversity in publishing when you buy just one book. At the low price of $15, which includes domestic U.S. shipping right to your front door you would be investing in the future of American Letters.
Please contact stating your interest, or return to read more excerpts in the near future.