“Those are the lights on the head of death,” he said softly. “Death puts them on like a hat and then shoots off on a gallop. Those are the lights of death on the gallop gaining on us, getting closer and closer.” A chill ran up my back. After a while I looked in the rear-view mirror again, but the lights were not there any more.
I told don Juan that the car must have stopped or turned off the road. He did not look back; he just stretched his arms and yawned.
“No,” he said. “Death never stops. Sometimes it turns off its lights, that’s all.”
Sometimes your past catches up with you.
Maybe you see it coming and you’ve got the time to pull over. Ease into the break down lane. Take a moment. Enjoy the view. Sometimes the past is a gauzy summer time meadow with blue mountain flowers and butterflies. Ah, yes. That’s nice.
Hold the moment. Press it in a scrap-book.
Next sign : SLIPPERY WHEN WET
Maybe you see it coming and – oh wait! That’s not some idyllic trinket that you want to gently rub when you’re feeling nostalgic. It’s a body. Rotten, one eye missing, tongue dangling from its lip-less mouth. Quick! You’ve got the time. Change lanes. Fly right on by. Nah, they didn’t see you. You were going too fast.
What does it matter anyway? They’ve been dead to you for a very long time.
Next sign : LAST GAS 100 MILES
Sometimes you find the past in the breakdown lane with its hood up and the blinkers on. Sometimes you pull over and lend a hand. Change a tire. Drive for gas. Sometimes the past broad sides you. One second you’ve got the green light – the next, it’s all jarring impact, screaming metal and broken glass. Pain, blood, the swirling cherries of an ambulance. One second, you have the green light – the next, you’re in an emergency room, heavily medicated, thinking – did I just kill some one?
Next sign : SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY
Sometimes you go looking for the past. Long drives by yourself down old familiar streets. A phone number written on the back of a business card. A song that you thought you had forgotten but find again on a juke box in some out-of-the-way bar. A message on your answering machine that you can’t bring yourself to erase. Sometimes the past doesn’t remember your name or your face. It’s just a blur that flies on by in the car pool lane. Two seconds of recognition – one – two – and then red tail lights shrinking away.
Next sign : LANES MERGE.
Tonight, I’m blinded by head lights in my rear view mirror. Some tail gating asshole is breathing down my neck with his high beams on. He keeps surging up to pass – no other traffic in either direction – only to fall away at the last second. He’s done this three or four times now – engine roaring, toying with me like a devil and I’m starting to lose my cool.
When I hear her voice. Darkness in front of me, a growling light at my back and her voice, a phantom in the passenger seat, saying:
“Do you know where you are going?”
Light fills the cab of the truck like a flash grenade. Why won’t he pass?
Asshole falls back.
Her words in my mouth.
“Same place as always …”
Asshole guns it. A roar from the depths of Hell at my back.
“Absolutely no where.”
The radio clicks on by itself as I brace for impact.
Image: Pulp illustration by Roy G. Krenkel .