Sunday, January 30, 2005
A Visit to the Land Fill
In the late afternoon, after getting off from work Ian would stop off at the land fill located close to his home; it gave him a chance to unwind. Most people would think of going to a bar or turning on the television after a long day. Ian liked to walk through the piles of tossed out rubble while he looked at discarded computer pieces for a computer he was building. He could tear out a mother board or anything else as long as it fit into his back pack. The owner of the land fill didn't mind his wanderings and the little that he removed made no difference in the overall scheme of things. He paid a token admission fee of one dollar and had to sign a “waiver of claims” form in the event he was injured while on the property. Ian parked his truck to the side and well off the main entrance so it would be out of the way where he put on a pair of heavy weight overalls on top of his blue jeans. He sat on the truck’s tailgate and changed out of his tennis shoes and into a pair of beat up steel toed work boots. Ian put on his back pack and walked up to the office. The young woman who sat behind the window recognized him and smiled casually. It occurred to him that he must look like some kind of bum, complete with five o'clock shadow.
“ ‘Evenin’ Ma’am.”, his East Texas accent was not too thick, having been raised in the New York until he was twelve before his family moved to Houston. It was a pleasant and respectful tone that hinted ever so slightly of his being taken with her. “Here ya’ go.”, handing her a dollar bill. He folded his wallet, sliding it in to the front pocket of his jeans through the snapped opening of the overalls. He stood holding the bill until she took it. The exchange was brief and yet longer than when he paid for his soda at the local Stop and Go. He knew that he shouldn’t stand around gaulking at her and all the same he had a need to explain.
“Here’s your receipt.” She reached to hand him the small piece of paper, while putting the dollar bill and the carbon copy in the cash drawer. It only took half a second more for her to look up at him.
“You know, all this time I’ve been coming here and I never thought to introduce myself. Ian, Ian Rogers.” He smiled and continued with the formality. “I apologize for having forgotten my manners.” Ian didn’t mention that his wife had passed away or that he’d been living alone for going on six years. It had been some kind of cancer, the kind that couldn’t be treated, pancreatic cancer had taken away the love of his life.
“I’m Valerie.”, not sure how to reply. It was a rare day when anyone said a word to her other than to grumble for her to open the gate or some other such necessity. Those who came to the land fill were not looking for social contact; it was more like flushing a toilet or something as they dumped truck load after truck load of no longer wanted junk. People came with their trucks laden full of trash, things they couldn’t get rid of in a garage sale. They normally didn’t even notice that she was there, other than to pay to use the dump. She looked him over, this time with a shift in perception. He wasn’t particularly tall, just under six foot with an average build. She couldn’t help but notice that his eyes were fixed upon hers. “How old, mid fifties. That sprinkle of gray in his beard and the deep lines in his face…”, she thought to herself.
“Pardon me if this sounds a little strange.”, trying to figure out how to arrange his words so that he wouldn’t come off like a total idiot. “Are you that beautiful or did you cast a spell on me?” Ian smiled a boyish grin in her direction and stepped half a step backwards so that she wouldn’t feel like he was encroaching on her space. He didn’t know why he had said it. He was a natural flirt when it came to saying something to a pretty woman. He would wink at the young woman at the gas station where he stopped in regularly. The girl who worked at the Stop and Go store always smiled back when he rambled on about how she looked like his youngest daughter. There was something about her, an indescribable characteristic that had found a spot deep within. Because he had felt awkward when he was around women and considered himself out of step when it came to expressing compliments, he often quipped a short joke up just to have something to say.
“It must be the spell.” Valerie laughed out; not figuring that he could be serious about her being beautiful. She wore her company blue shirt that was too large for her with tan slacks; not exactly cover girl wardrobe material. She had on a modest amount of make up and her hair, thick and full bodied, was pulled back to keep it out of the way while she worked. On top of all that she wore a black long sleeve sweater because the air conditioning duct in the office was directly over where she worked.
“That must be it then.” Ian smiled again as he tucked the receipt into his pocket and walked toward the large open pit. A dump truck that was leaving slowed as it approached the gate; a billowing of dust from under its wheels filled the air. Ian ducked and shut his eyes until the cloud past and he could breathe. He wasn’t sure if it had been the dust or his petrifaction which had caused his lungs to contract at that particular moment. He looked over his shoulder; she was still there, looking at him. He stumbled and nearly fell down the embankment as his knees scrambled to find sure ground. He thought to himself how odd it was that he would have such feelings.
He walked along the crest of one pile of junk and followed it around to a point where he could no longer see the office. Once away from her presence he concluded that his mind might return to a more stable attitude and he could get on with the business of finding what he was looking for. His boots lifted and moved various objects to expose the next layer of junk. He had become quite adept at zeroing in on electronic trash and was able to recognize the sound of certain plastics and thereby speed up the process.
He found what seemed to be a discarded “two eighty-six” that appeared to be intact. Taking his back pack off and opening a small tool pouch, he quickly cracked open the oyster and removed its pearl. The case was of no use to him; Ian was after the green wafer boards. He could always find a use for the memory chips and cables. He was surprised to find that there was some kind of specialty board. It looked much like a Sound Blaster board; but different than any that he had run across. Ian took his screw driver and removed the pair of screws which held the board in place. He held it up close to his face and looked it over once it was free, “Sure is a strange looking hollow tube. What’s it do?”, he thought to himself. He then stowed it carefully in his pack.
He sat for a while on the stack of trash with the sun at his back, glad that Central Day Light Savings Time was once again on his side. It gave him an extra hour to play after work. Ian looked around the land fill as another treasure hunter was pulling on something that was in the pile of trash a little ways off; wondering what specific items where on his “treasure list”. Ian had found his prize relatively early as he sat on top of large empty plastic five gallon bucket at the top of a long ridge of junk. He took his pack off and handled each piece of treasure. He was particularly interested in the strange looking board. He wanted to take it to work and show it to a friend of his who knew more; maybe it was a fancy board for 3-D games or some such thing. Ian’s finger tip lightly rode down the length of a cylindrical item that was attached to the printed circuitry, not quite touching as he knew better than to get body oils and acids on it. “What the heck is that for?” , he asked himself out loud. Even more curious was that it seemed to be warm, as if it had been used recently and still cooling down. It made no sense. “How can it be warmer than. . .”
The fellow that he’d been watching had been tugging away on a length of cabled wire that was stubbornly resisting all efforts to extract it from the pile. It would be a nice gesture to help him out as he got to his feet and worked his way down the incline of broken water heaters and rusting air conditioners. It would not be prudent to jaunt his way down, even with the heavy material of his overalls the sharp metal could easily tear into him. He placed each step carefully and made it to the base of the pile; looking for the other surface miner.
It was much the same as when he had been hiking in the Big Bend National Park with his daughter. She had been only a small child then, maybe six or seven years old. They had taken one day away from the rest of the family to build on their relationship. As they walked along the rocks and cactus plants she would observe things on the ground that caught her attention.
“What’s that stuff?”, pointing to a small dark patch of something organic that was splattered across a flat piece of rock. She got down into a low squat and poked at it with her walking stick. Ian enjoyed watching her expressions as everything was a new experience.
“Buzzard puke.” It was a simple answer and yet it had pricked her imagination. It was the kind of statement that would come in handy later when she wanted to irritate her mother. The rest of the day they spent pointing out more buzzard puke and laughing each time the words came out. “Buzzard puke!” They made it to the top of a small grouping of rocks where they could see the entire Chisos Basin. It had been a successful trek; even difficult, making sure that each step landed on a solid piece of earth. On the way down they had some added adventure. The steep angle of the loose rocks that had built up on the sides of the small mountain begged for them to practice sliding ; like surfing only a little more hazardous. He held her close as they careened down the slope of rocks at break neck speed. By the time they got to the bottom Ian had lost the camera. All that was left was the cheap piece of shoelace material that it had been attached to, hanging from in his back pocket. It was not a really expensive camera, all the same he would have liked to have the pictures it contained. These memories surfaced as he worked his way around the piles of trash.
“That’s strange…”, thinking out loud to himself. “… I coulda’ sworn he was right over there a minute ago.” Ian climbed over a mountain of matted roofing shingles, making sure to avoid the nails. “Oh well, I guess he was able to get it on his own.” He looked around again wondering where the stranger might have gone; after all it was not a very large place. Ian dismissed the thought and decided it was time to head home. He made his way over to the dirt road that ran down the middle of the fill. It would be easier to walk on the hard pack surface of the road rather than plotting his every step through junk heaps. Half way to the gate he turned to check once more, still wondering how he could have missed meeting the fellow, the one who had been pulling on the cable. There; in the same spot as he had been before, was the same man tugging on the end of the stubborn cable. Ian stopped in his tracks and could not figure out what had happened. It was not possible that he could have missed him and yet, there he was.
“ ‘ You need some help over there?” He let the question drift out in the direction of the tug of war; wanting to go help while at the same time not wanting to intrude. No answer came and Ian finished the walk back to the gate. He showed the pack to Valerie, giving her a cursory glance at best. “ Nice haul, huh ?” It was more of a statement than it was a question requiring an answer.
“If you say so.”, came her reply. She had no idea what he had shown her as he continued on towards his truck unbuttoning his overalls. “Ian, will I see you again tomorrow?”, she threw in while he was still within ear shot. The sound of her voice teased the hair inside the channels of his ear; not sure if she was saying goodnight or hurry back.
“I come here often. I suppose so.” Ian was afraid to look back. The sound of her voice reached inside to a place where he was reminded of his inability to deal with such feelings. He placed the boots behind the front seat onto a layer of plastic that protected the small bench seat from dirt and moisture He waved in the general direction of the office without looking as his truck headed out of the land fill parking area. While he waited for the light to change, his mind was flooded with glimpses of Valerie’s face. The images were incomplete at best, portions of a smile, a crease that accentuated the line of her cheek, the shade of her skin blended with the shadows cast by her hair; drawing his thoughts and his fears out so that they lay adrift and scattered. A dump truck behind him gave a blast of its horn, one of those earth bending air horns like fire trucks use to clear out lanes of cars on their way to a disaster. Ian bolted forward, acknowledging the green light, the one that had been that way for more than a few seconds. It was not at all like him to day dream at a traffic light.
Ian made his way through the winding streets of the subdivision and home. He could hardly wait to get inside as he parked in the driveway. Dan Dunlavy, his neighbor from next door, was parking his car on the curb next to Ian’s driveway. Dan was a retired computer geek and he was just now getting in from the local community college where he taught a course on computer basics three days a week.
“Get anything good?”, Dan asked, knowing of Ian’s late afternoon forays into the junk yard. He waved while getting out on the passenger side since the driver’s side door no longer worked properly. With a little effort Dan could pull the door panel, re-attach the linkage rod to the door handle and have it the way it should be. He closed the door, making sure not to lock it, the passenger side lock linkage was also messed up.
“Yea, come take a look.” Ian found it difficult to contain his enthusiasm as he grabbed his backpack from behind the seat. Dan held his hand up to signal “time out” as he glanced inside the mail box and then, after determining that there was nothing there, cut across the yard toward Ian’s house. Dan always kept his lawn mowed so short that it never prospered under the hot Texas sun. The soil was hard packed, more like concrete than dirt, making it even more improbable that the St. Augustine turf would ever flourish. There was a noticeable difference as he got to the property line. Ian’s grass was lush and full, having been maintained and fertilized regularly. His lawn mower had been set to allow for maximum growth. Dan hesitated for a moment as he noticed the difference; lost his momentum and then blinked before the distraction wore off.
Ian was opening the top of his backpack and had already reached in for the most curious looking board; the one with the strange looking tube and coil of wire. “I found this one a while ago, got the rest of it in here too.” He was sure it had to be something worth sharing as he held it out for Dan.
“So, when did you start breaking into research labs?” Dan chided him as he gave it a quick once over, not having a clue as to the boards purpose. “What kind of interface is that?”, pointing to the harness that did not appear to be compatible with anything, IBM or Apple.
“I was hoping you could tell me.” Ian smiled as he handed it to Dan. “Notice anything unusual?”
“Hold on a sec’; let me have a look see.” Dan worked it over with a journeyman’s eye; following the printed lines of silver, the curious coil, the coil that was radiating heat that could be felt from several inches away. Dan held the card so that his fingers were suspended above the coil without saying another word, at least nothing that was intelligible. His eyebrows lifted and fell enough to express his bewilderment.
“Neat huh?” Ian was about to show Dan the rest of the computer boards when he was distracted. Across the street he thought he saw the form of a woman floating in mid air. It was the same as when he had left the junk yard to look back at Valerie.
“What is it? Did you see something?”
“Tell me you don’t see that?”, pointing to the image, the same image he’d seen earlier at the dump.
“I see that John has pulled into his driveway and that his garage door opener is working, that he is pulling into his garage.” Changing from talking with Ian, “Evenin’ John.” Dan waved at John in return as the garage door closed and he disappeared from view.
“Then you didn’t see a a woman dressed in blue floating in mid air in front of John’s garage?” Ian’s hand was outstretched but beginning to drop a little as his mind worked to put the puzzle pieces together.
“I thought you Mormon’s weren’t supposed to drink hard liquor.”. Dan was a card carrying Catholic and they had discussed their individual faiths over the several years that they had been neighbors; carefully avoiding any spirit of contention.
As quickly as the vision had appeared to Ian, it just as quickly vanished. “I tell you that I saw something strange; no, really.”
“Damn!” Dan cried out, moving his fingers from where they had floated just above the strange coil that was now glowing red hot. “Sorry”, waving his fingers about in the air to cool them, “didn’t mean to swear”, placing his fingers to his tongue and then blowing on them. The coil cooled on its own and returned to its original color.
“What do you suppose it is?” Ian held the board up, turned it over and then back again.
“You got me on that one.” Dan looked down at his finger tips once more. “What was it you saw, a ghost or something?”
“Who knows, maybe it was just my imagination playing tricks on me.” Ian closed his eyes for a moment and tried to picture in his mind what he thought he had seen. He was looking across the street at John’s driveway, then there was something that looked like a piece of transparent blue and yellow material; some kind of floral design. It looked like it was a woman’s dress, or at least that’s what his mind saw, only there was no woman in the dress, just the form of one. It took only a moment to conjure the image, all the while his eyelids along with the rest of his facial muscles tightened up. Ian opened his eyes and took a breath of air to clear his thoughts.
“I have some papers to grade. Let me know if you figure that thing out.” Dan walked back across the yard, his one elbow bent to keep his fingers up. Dan looked across the street and then back to Ian. A light hearted smile crept upon Dan’s face as he pretended to take a sip from an imaginary bottle while his arm was crooked; shaking his head for effect.
“G’wan!” Ian whisked his hands toward Dan in sweeping fashion. In the back of his mind he recalled the musical, My Fair Lady. “I ask you sir, what sort of word is that?” His daughter would never have let him get away with such a word. She had watched the show on DVD so many times or had listened to it on CD enough that she knew each line, each nuance well enough to have fun with it. It was a source of merriment for them to jerk a line from the shows they were familiar with during their everyday conversation and insert it; knowing that the other would pick up on it and they would both laugh. What would his daughter think about a floating dress in the middle of John’s driveway? “G’wan!” Ian walked to the back door and let himself in, all the while letting Professor Higgins chastise him for having ostracized the language. “This is what the British population, calls an elementary education…” The door closed behind him as he was lost in thought still holding the curious green board.
Ian placed his knapsack on the table in the nook on top of a stack of unopened letters before tossing a couple of chicken pot pies in the oven. He would have something resembling a meal in thirty minutes. He read his email, mostly spam, and then read the news on CNN and Fox. He was going through the motions of being home. The house was not much of a home with all the kids grown and off on their own. He turned on the local “oldies” station to have some noise. He took the morning paper, the one that he’d placed inside the front door when he left for work, and read over the front page. There was nothing new, only things that he already was aware of. He went back to the kitchen nook and sat down to take a good look at his newly found treasure.
“Okay, so tell me what you are and how you work.” Talking to the inanimate object was supposed to be a sign of some kind of old people’s irrationality; if so, then he’d been suffering from it since he was a child. In his youth he had taken apart a radio to see how it worked. It had worked fine up until he took it apart. The more Ian studied the strange looking coil the less he understood its purpose. He had a set of magnifying lenses that he could wear that would let him bump the power as much as eight times. There was adequate light from the overhead chandelier as he traced the micro circuits the went out in all directions. To the best of his reasoning; the coil was not served in any way because all of the leads were dead ends. It derived nothing from being placed on the board; nothing, and yet it worked. “What the heck.”, he bit down on his lip and clipped the coil from off the board completely.
“Ian, will I see you again tomorrow?” The words filled his mind as if he had on a good pair of audio headphones. The sparkling lights emanating from the crystal baubles of the chandelier danced their rainbow patterns on the wall. He was reminded of the floating vision from earlier as the prisms dispatched the refracted light. As Ian enjoyed the effect he noticed that one by one the dots of light were all blue and yellow.
“That’s impossible!” Ian stood up and looked around to see how such a trick was being played on him. “Light can’t do that!” The coil on the table began to glow; except now it was glowing shades of blue and yellow. He placed his hand above it; the air was chilled several degrees. Ian sat down as he picked up the coil.
“Ian. . .”, he could hear his name being called ever so softly, “. . .now, isn’t that better?” He hadn’t noticed it but the radio station was playing, “The Magical Mystery Tour”, the first cut on the album of the same name.
The following day was not as busy as Ian would have liked. He had too much free time and his mind was pulling up fragments of thoughts. “Ian, will I see you again tomorrow?”, the words kept repeating. He found himself trying to remember how she sounded, how she looked. It was unsettling as he found himself being desirous of her company. His truck turned down the dirt road and he was at the land fill. He sat there for a few minutes as if he had been awakened from a dream; no, it was real. He got into his jump suit and walked to the office, half way hoping that the other woman would be there.
“That will be one dollar.” Ian was relieved to hear a stranger’s voice as he forked over the entrance fee and breathed out some of his stress. He looked down the road the led to the center of the land fill. Walking with a brisk pace and kicking up dust with each step he went directly to the place where he had last seen the guy tugging on the stubborn cable. When he got there he studied the spot and could find no hint that anything had been agitated. Rusted steel shelving units from a small strip center that had been demolished lay as they had for several months. Pine pollen coated everything with a bright layer of yellow dust. Only places which had been disturbed recently lacked the powder. Ian shook his head as he recollected the previous evening; quite sure that he had not hallucinated it. He then began walking toward the area where he thought he would be more likely to find the kinds of treasure that had printed circuit boards.
The climb made his legs work and kept him agile. It was like being a kid all over, playing in somebody else’s back yard. He would reach down and pick up something once in a while, study it for a moment or two and toss it like a rock skipping across a pond to the other junk pile. Old lug nuts were a favorite as they bounced and ricocheted off other junk making a huge racket. He found a box of paper clips that had rusted together and a box of ball point pens. What he would do with a whole box of red pens he had no idea; but they were the only thing of value that he could find so far. The pens all worked as he tried them on a piece of scratch paper so he placed them in the back pack. He had been walking around for the better part of an hour when he heard his name.
"Ian, is that you ? " Valerie called out, standing at the door that led into the office at the top of the road. It were as if she had known him for a very long time, next door neighbors or something. He lifted his arm to wave and then walked to where she stood. He didn’t like to shout back at people, that is unless he was in his truck. When he was disturbed with the way somebody drove down the street Ian could be rather hostile in nature; unkind words flowed like poetry from his lips. His wife used to accuse him of being a Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde when he got behind the wheel. This was different; he hadn’t a clue as to what to say.
“Hello, Valerie.” Ian was slow to meet her eyes with his own. She was just as attractive as she had been the day before, maybe ever more so now that she had called his name out first. He was reminded of how he felt when he was a boy in school. His teacher, Mrs. Eggplant, had called his name and smiled at him. It wasn’t like he could put his finger on. When she spoke his name it touched his soul as surely as a surgeon opens a patient’s chest and massages his heart.. She had a soft spoken way with all the children. She would sit in the middle of them all to read a story or teach them a lesson, never raising her voice. Instead, she would sit quietly until they were all ready to turn themselves over to her entirely and then she would continue. Ian had always had a crush on Mrs. Eggplant even though he had never been a good student, he had never forgotten how he felt when she greeted him. When Mrs. Eggplant would play the piano during singing time Ian could see only her face. Her features made him think that she looked like one of the angels on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
He remembered misbehaving at times just so that she would come over to him and quietly remind him, “Ian?”, placing her hand gently on his, “Ian, that’s much better.” While the rest of the class sang he would get lost studying her face. Ian thought about it and then realized that her name wasn’t Eggplant at all, never had been. That was how he heard her name as a child; it was some Scandinavian name that only sounded like Eggplant.
“Did you find anything good today Ian?” There was a flirtation of sounds; or at least that is what he had imagined. He looked back into the land fill area, mostly to keep from looking at her.. There on the side of the junk heap was a man tugging on a piece of cable as if it were a projected image on a screen. The angle was such that it could not be coming from anywhere but from within the land fill. He had already been down and investigated for himself; there were no mirrors or flat surfaces that could be used for such a cinematographic effect. His distraction was long enough for Valerie to notice.
“I'm sorry.”, pointing in to the general location of what he now perceived to be some sort of holographic apparition, “Do you see that man down there pulling on a piece of cable?”
“I hardly ever notice what goes on down there.” Valerie's answer was simple enough and yet it didn’t answer his question. Ian looked at her and forgot what he was thinking about. Her blue eyes were there in front of him, almost as if they were commanding him to forget about the rest of the world and be there with her only.
“I was joking about it yesterday; but I think you really did put a spell on me.” Ian tried to look away only to find him self wanting for her to reach around him, to hold on to him with her arms and never let him go.
“What's the matter Ian? Do I have that much power over you?” Valerie's voice was different now, much more direct as she toyed with his mind. What the hell was going on? Ian felt the pit of his stomach twisting in confusion as reality and the unknown met head on.
“Are you, real?” The words came out of Ian's mouth. His thoughts became muddled and confused.
“Real? Ian, have you been reading too much Sci-Fi in your spare time?” Valerie's breath was warm on his ear as she whispered so gently that he had to close his eyes to hear.
“I suppose you’re right on that point. I grew up on Heinlein and Bradbury; always looking for the fantastic among the mundane.” Ian smiled as he thought about the many characters from the books he’d read. The lines on his face seemed to soften as he slipped into his past, momentarily enjoying the carefree years of his youth.
“Who’s Heinlein?” She asked, having no apparent idea who the author was. It really wasn’t so unusual for a non sci-fi reader not to know who Robert Heinlein was. Ian had placed Heinlein’s work above all others. It may have been because one of the first sci-fi books that had been truly fun to read had been, The Past Through Tomorrow – Future History Stories. Ian had read the book so many times that he had to go buy another when the pages started to fall from the binding.
“Robert Heinlein, one of the best when it comes to sci-fi. You must not have read much sci-fi at all have you?” Ian regained his composure as the conversation moved into an area where he had more than a casual knowledge. There was a certain flexibility afforded by sci-fi that permitted modest leaps of faith when it came to environment or technological prowess. On the other hand, good sci-fi relied on the human spirit, the developed traits to identify each and every character so that they became as real as your next door neighbor. It was no different than the old western movies that had delighted him on Saturday afternoons at the local movie house. The hero riding into town on a horse could as easily been arriving in a space ship.
“I never was a real fan of sci-fi. I thought of it much like I do comic books, if you know what I mean?” Ian found himself in a defensive mode. He could not imagine how he could explain the appreciation he felt for some of the comic strip art that he enjoyed. Ian had a copy of The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta standing next to Michealangelo and Degas on the book shelf. He considered them as equals in their own right. Ian shook his head and started to walk away. “Well, I can see that your limited exposure to the arts needs to be rounded out. Would you let me take you to dinner some time; let me introduce you to some other forms that you might enjoy?” Ian winked at her as he said it and finished it off with a smile so that it wouldn’t sound as if he was snubbing her.
“I’ll have to think on that; but thanks for asking.” Valerie placed her upper lip over her tongue, which then covered her lower lip in such a way as to leave off the rest of the thought. Ian wanted to know more about her, mostly he was trying to figure out why she was so appealing to him. There was something about her, something he was having trouble understanding. It was almost as if she was a composite of all the attractive women that he had known. He had seen a comical movie, Condorman, about a cartoonist who had drawn the woman of his dreams into his work. In the movie the woman’s likeness was, in actuality a spy and so when they met the story line allowed for the cartoonist to become a master spy; eventually winning the heart and the woman of his dreams.
“I better be going now.” Ian forced his eyes closed so that he could turn away and get to his truck. His pulse was rapid as he worked to control his breathing. He put the key in the door lock and got in without changing his clothes. As soon as the engine was running he put it in gear. When he looked in his mirror he could only catch a fragment of blue material, floating in the air, a human form; but without anything solid to hold the shape. The tires left a cloud of dust as they spun, finally catching hold of solid ground. Ian turned his head to look back, not trusting the mirror’s image. The office was empty now, nothing.
Ian pulled off the road after having driven only a couple of miles. His thoughts were going off much like a string of firecrackers; a flash here and there mixed with lots of noise without much meaning. He turned the motor off and sat while gathering all of the events together. He retraced his going into the junk yard the day before, finding the odd computer board, his acknowledged infatuation with, with what? Ian wasn’t even sure that Valerie was real or some kind of holographic image. If she wasn’t real then what was she? He turned the motor back on and decided to investigate a little more.
The traffic was heavy with so many people headed home after work that it took a while to find a spot in which to cross over. Steubner-Airline had once been a farm road that led into the boonies. Now, with suburbia stretching its tentacles farther out, it was a main artery. The feeder road that led back into the dump ran along side of a driving range that had a beer shack that also served burgers. Ian pulled into the oyster shell parking lot and locked the truck. After getting a large Dr. Pepper and an order of fries he then began to walk down the dirt road. The darkening sky was closer to night than evening as the huge driving range lights illuminated the contrasting lush green grass that was now off to his left. There was a mesh wire draped along the side to prevent stray golf balls from leaving the range that also prevented people from accidentally wandering into the path of one. Ian strolled casually along the middle of the road enjoying the over salted fries that were now beginning to cool from the chill in the evening air.
“Ian, have you been reading too much sci-fi?” Valerie had asked earlier. Ian let the thought run free as he could see the gated entrance to the dump. During the day he never paid much attention to how they would secure the area at night. It was much like the way he had seen used car lots lock their units up at night. They had used a large pipe, three or four inches in diameter that was on a pivot that could be swung across and then padlocked to a fixed post on the other side. It wasn’t meant to keep people out, at least not entirely, mostly to prevent the passage of vehicles either in or out. Ian looked about and could see no signs of anything going on. The moon was nearly full as it hung there against a gun metal blue sky; larger in appearance because of its position low on the horizon and, with a piece of the Texas Piney Woods as a backdrop, it looked like it was sitting on a pedestal carved out for just such a purpose. Ian was never one to let the beauty of the moment escape without acknowledging the Creator’s hand in the mix.
“Thank you Sir; You’ve outdone yourself.”, speaking while nodding his head. Ian wondered to himself how many of those hurrying on their way home had missed the masterpiece because they were too busy watching the tail lights ahead of them. Ian got to within about fifty yards of the entrance. The same type of pipe used to block off the road had been used along both sides of the road; also to prevent vehicles from simply going around the gate by jumping the shallow drainage ditches that ran along side the dirt road. They were solid and suspended about a foot and a half off the ground; perfect for sitting on while he finished off the French fries. When he was done he folded the cardboard container and slipped it into the back pocket of his blue jeans. Just because this place was a dump didn’t mean that he should toss a piece of garbage on the side. He could place it in a trash barrel later on after he had enjoyed his Dr. Pepper.
Ian listened and watched, turning his head slightly after a few moments for a different angle. Except for the sound of a light breeze passing through the tops of the pine trees, a most calming sound if any there was, Ian could hear nothing to indicate the presence of anyone. He looked down at his hands that now appeared ghostlike as the moon’s light peaked through a passing cloud, not entirely covering the bright orb, only limiting its intensity.
Ian wasn’t particularly afraid of the setting. He had grown up only a block from an old Revolutionary War cemetery on a scary sounding street, “Seaman’s Neck Road”. Some of the stones had been knocked down by vandals or broken when a tree limb had fallen. The boys had taken the time to read the dates and inscriptions out of respect for those buried; that and a strange feeling, a need to be attached, in some odd way, to the history which had woven itself into the plots of dirt. Behind the cemetery was a thicket where they had hacked out paths and even built a tree house. They felt at ease spending hours late into the night in that tree house; the hallowed ground spread out under them with the assortment of grave markers quietly reminding them of freedom’s price. Not surprisingly, Ian did much better than most of his peers in Early American History. He could remember his mother emphasizing, “Where you walk to school today, Indian children used to play.”, as poetry from her lips reinforced bits and pieces of Long Island’s part in the struggle for independence.
The night air began to catch up with his lack of planning. Normally Ian would have had sense enough to wear a light jacket this early on in Spring. He felt a shiver run the length of his back and down again. His shoulders shook off the feeling and he drained the last few drops of his soda. Ian walked the short distance to the gate where he carefully surveyed the area in front of him. He looked into the booth, the booth where he paid his fee, the booth where he glimpsed something unexplainable in his rear view mirror. His hand reached into blue jean’s pocket. Ian had brought along the coil from the computer board, not understanding why; only following through with the hunch that it held answers to some of his questions. The booth was empty with only shadows from the trees against the naked walls. Ian eased himself over the gate, carefully avoiding contact with the rusting pipe. The coil temperature spiked causing his hand to release it to the ground. Ian reached to pick it up; but, was distracted as he heard his name being called out softly.
“Ian, you’ve come back?” A quiet voice arrested Ian’s forward movement, freezing his footsteps so that his bent leg was caught in mid stride. It hadn’t been said in a manner meant to be alarming; if anything it was sensually beckoning him. Ian looked, his neck turned in such a way that his view was obscured by his own shoulder. Valerie was standing a few feet from the booth, closer to the road that led down into the junk yard. Ian could not understand how he could have missed seeing her as he had taken time to look the area over prior to hopping over the gate. “Ian, its all right that you came back, its all right.”
Ian’s mind was drowning in familiar sounds that didn’t fit. “Its all right, its all right”, was what his wife would whisper into his ear when he would wake from having a terrible dream in the middle of the night. It wasn’t as if it sounded the same, it was exactly the same. “How can this be, that voice, I know that voice from so long ago.”
“Ian, I can explain all of this.” Valerie walked to within arm’s reach of Ian. “Come, sit over here. This must be quite overwhelming for you.”
“Who are you?” Ian straightened up, squared himself with respect to her apparent position, for he wasn’t even sure that she existed, at least not in any reality that he could understand. “What are you?”
“Ian, do you remember the first time we met?” Her voice was soft and relaxing.
“I suppose you mean the other day when I came in and paid my dollar to walk the yard?” Ian swallowed as he thought how incredible an impact she had on him that day.
“No, think back.” Valerie’s smile matched her eyes as they surrounded Ian. “Can you remember?”
“Remember, remember what?” Ian began to feel a bit uneasy with the open ended question. Had he met Valerie in high school, college or during the course of some everyday event? All the same, it made sense; there was something so intimate that made him feel at ease, as if she were a familiar spirit.
“I have known you forever. Do you understand, forever?” Her eyes met his, looking deep inside his soul.
“You, uh,” Ian was staggered at the suggested thought.
“That’s right Ian, you recognize the truth even if it doesn’t all fit” Valerie’s voice smoothed the deep wrinkled lines on Ian’s forehead as she spoke. “We have always been together. Remember looking into the mirrors at the temple and how it looked as each image reached out, one upon the other until the images disappeared into eternity?”
“But that was…” Ian felt tears welling up in the corners of his eyes as he thought about his wife. They had been married thirty two years until she was taken from him by the cancer.
“This is how I looked before I came down the first time, try to remember.” Valerie turned around slowly as the black sweater, the blue work shirt, the tan trousers blended to become a shimmering light blue and yellow floral print dress. “Each time you had a pleasant thought a part of me came back, to guide you back to me. I am all of those thoughts and more for you now.”
“But how is this possible. Did I die and not know?”
“Not exactly. This was one of those “Twinkling of and eye” kind of changes. A few moments ago you were there, now you are here.” Ian looked down to find that he was no longer wearing his work clothes. Instead he had on a sleek fitting tuxedo. It was much the same as the one he’d worn to his daughter’s wedding.
“What do we do next?”, Ian’s voice trembled as he became aware of the import of the situation.
“We go home, together.” Valerie lifted her arm for him to take, as if at a grand ballroom waiting to be led to the dance floor. The two of them rose, their spirits giving off beams of light into the night sky as they were sealed up into the heavens.