These Hundred Trills

By Rachel May

Rte. 385: Colorado on the Nebraska Border

The wrong road, I had to drive three hours north, through nothing: flat land, no trees, ripples of air against the pavement, toward the horizon, where there was more of nothing. Only the slightest arch to the land, anywhere. No cars. No trees. And the sky, the way the sky was the same size as the earth, and I was in between, in all this nothing, so I might have been nowhere. I might have disappeared. If I became a nothing in the land, if my car veered off, if my dog and I laid dead in the middle of some brown field (no corn yet, only March), well who would know? Maybe no one, maybe ever. It felt like being in forever, in this infinity. Too much space on all sides. Route 6, I should not have turned onto Route 6. Not even a gas station or a little madman-sign saying, Jesus Lives!, nothing like this. I stopped the car. Veered back, u-turned, shot for 385, which, barren before, felt like rescue now. When when when when when when will I reach it. This landscape is the feeling of total darkness, in a room with no light, a very large room, and you cannot find its edges, you cannot find the wall. No crack of light beneath the door to guide you. No way out. Wait, three eighty-five is coming. And then: there is three-eighty-five, and there is a truck heading north. See? A truck on the horizon. Blip of white heading north. It will be alright now. I turn right, heading north, for route eighty, and on three-eighty-five, everything is different. There are hills, and little clumps of grass or weeds with raspy looking stems and heads, and fences, and cars passing every few minutes, and the land goes up and down, and there are trees, even: whole clusters of trees! This land has a way of tucking a person into its sweet spots, to land in the lulls. And as I dipped into one, I saw a herd of elk walking toward me in the field, certain of their steps, oblivious to me, led by a buck, the dark stripes on their faces, the white spots on their rumps.

Rte. 385 North:

Riding up 385 was nice once I no longer believed that I would die. To my right, there was a station wagon with a purple top crunched into the side of the hill. It looked like it had been there for at least thirty years. A 1970’s model. It was rusted, no glass in the windows, and the grass had grown up around it. A part of this place now.

On the radio, the Ag Report: How much a cow could sell for, live or dressed. How much for wheat. How much for corn. All of it down fifty points or twenty points or some-odd-number of points. Just, down. At the little town I drove through like an interlude in all this land, there was the sign: Find your corn stove$ here!

Then, on the radio, came a story about Osama Bin Laden, and his brother Solom, and how these men were charismatic, how what they did fit with the pattern of their lives. A pattern of pilots and aviation disasters involving Americans. So, then. We’ve unpuzzled something. This man says that if Solom were alive, he would have stopped Osama from doing what he did. Would have convinced him not to do it. I am beginning to find “if” statements tiresome, derailing, these little spastic detours that stop (dead-ended) nowhere.

I force myself not to change the station, but to listen. I want to be unafraid. I want to accept this. Because I was there.

When the story is over, I turn back to my dog. She sleeps. We’ll be there soon, I tell her. She snores. I think about stopping to see the cranes, annual migration through the Plains. The red stripes across their faces.

When I see them an hour later, the best surprise will be their sound: These hundred trills in the brown field, curling up into the air. Fanciful, the way the notes will rise together and overlap and leave off and start up again. The way the notes lift up and up, amplified purrs. My dog will dart at them, and as I call her back, the cranes will lift into the air. Not like the sound of geese rising, but soundless. I love the silence of that flight. I love that grace.

Rte. 385 to Rte. 80 East (found):

Once I find it, I am a little disappointed. All that traffic! I miss my little nowhere-road. Miss the bellies in the land, where the houses fall. Where the cars rest. Where the cows sleep on their sides.

Feeding lots. There was that. No good. Made me want to go veggie again. Cows huddled in dirt pens. A single cow standing on a pile of dirt above the other cows, as if to have some alone time. That’s all it could get in that pen. Poor cow.

We drive East, then, my dog and I. We’ve missed a day’s work back home. It doesn’t matter, though, because there is the sky, with the sun setting now, going all yellow in the fields. Orange undertones in the grass.

I tell myself this story to remember: If I see a swath of land that goes on and on forever into nothing, remember that there is no nothing.

Six hours later, back home in Lincoln, my brother laughs when I tell him, how this drive took twelve hours, how lost we were. He laughs awhile, his funny giggle-laugh, and then says, Oh, that sounds just like you.

It is. It is me.

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About Rachel May

Rachel May's writing has been published in Meridian, Fugue, Sleepingfish and other journals. She lives in Massachusetts and is at work on a novel.

One Comment

  1. Joseph Sunman
    Posted March 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Why did you think that you were going to die on that road? Also, did you go on this trip just to see what you saw, with no true destination in mind? I think thats interesting what you said about nothing, how there is no such things as nothing. But, in that same sense, isn’t everything nothing? I mean, what is the purpose of anything, or more directly anyone’s life. So for instance if I see that large swath of land, it isnt nothing to me because I can see it all and enjoy the solitude, but at the same time I am nothing, so does that in turn become nothing as well. I suppose this is more of a “whats the point” question. Also, it seems sort of like your story has an underlying theme of “the grass is always greener on the other side”, maybe.

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