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Chapter 9: To the Wine Country

Posted on September 10, 2017 by Nora Parks

An hour after Philip and Colin part ways, Colin is standing on a strip of dead grass in the faculty parking lot, holding a small box of personal belongings. The rest of his things he gave away or dumped or put in a storage locker he may never return to. He is asking himself how this moment came to be. He glances up at the building where his office awaits if his efforts fail. He walks towards his car – a gold Toyota Camry left to him by his ex-wife who took the Volvo and the dog and all of their son Sam’s love and respect. He likes the Camry; it’s anonymous, although not quite invisible. On the dashboard is yet another parking ticket.

Colin stops to check the mailbox in his apartment complex. The building, ten stories high, always evokes in him an Orwellian fear; buildings with so many rooms and stories can easily be repurposed for human internment. He shudders a little, thinking about how many years he’s lived there, trapped in a box.

After stopping for a burrito, he drives north through the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up Waldo Grade towards the rainbow tunnel where the last wisps of fog are beginning to burn off over the scrabbly cliff faces of the headlands. The skies are sunnier here, but strong winds roar in from the ocean towards the warm interior valleys, pushing Colin’s car around from lane to lane like a toy boat.

He continues north through Marin County where Katherine once found temporary respite from their marriage in a $1,400 per month converted redwood wine barrel where she lived inside like a perimenopausal budgie before making the great migratory flight across the Pacific to live in upcountry Maui with her Taiko drumming teacher and his llamas. She remains there today, giving consultation on harmonizing, binaural beats and chakra care from a tropical paradise begotten, like all Anglo-Saxon paradises, by violence and disease.

Colin turns east onto Highway 37 from the 101. The land becomes broad and flat. Levees made of sludge dredged from the shipping channels of the San Francisco Bay hold back the tides. Cows graze under tasting room billboards and the towers linked by power lines that have a frighteningly human quality. Thickets of anise and pampas grass offer unobstructed views of the still-green hills to the West and Mt. Diablo in the East Bay. The openness of the sky and the quality of light make Colin nostalgic for the Moors where he spent summers with his aunt. But the hills to the north and the oaks that dot the hillsides remind him of Perugia where he had spent a few summers in his youthful years teaching at a preparatory school and frolicking with a local farmer’s daughter.

The small red-winged blackbirds that flit about in the tall grasses, and ground squirrels that perch on the splintered wooden fence posts, remind him that he has not written a word in months.

To the south, an old farmstead sags, postcard perfect amidst a stand of prickly pear cactus. Rusted tractors and balers poke up through the marsh grass. At some point during his absence, or maybe he hadn’t noticed, the farm received an historic landmark designation, immunizing the dilapidated compound against all building safety codes – what the millennials called “ruin porn.” This explains the three tour buses he’s stuck behind.

Colin makes a left turn north, past the raceway on the left, and continues along 121. The grapevines are still in bud, the hillsides are still green, despite the dryness of the winter, and the yellow Banks roses that grow in thickets along the roadside make an unambiguous proclamation of spring. Stands of eucalyptus on either side of the road threaten to topple over at any minute, shedding piles of sloppy peeling bark. Driving through this section of road is a date with Fate.

As he drives through this pastoral landscape, the urge to roll down the front window and breath in the scent of warm, nectar heavy air overcomes him. Immediately a golden hash of acacia pollen piles up on top of his wipers and blows into the car, and he sneezes so violently, he has to pull over until he can see clearly again.

At the intersection of Broadway and Newcomb, he is yanked from his euphoria and lands smack dab in the middle of an after-school traffic jam. A crazed looking woman in a green minivan screeches out onto Broadway from the school turnaround, veering into his lane, nearly forcing him into oncoming traffic. His life passes before his eyes in the chrome bumper of a potato chip truck. Colin honks. The driver of the minivan flips him off, while the kids in the back wave their arms and yell at him through the tinted windows.

His heart beats madly as he maneuvers through traffic to get behind her so he can take down the numbers on her plates. Out of nowhere, an old red Jaguar convertible sputtering blue smoke from the tailpipe cuts in front of him. The woman, who does resemble Bette Davis, sings, “Dancing in the moonlight! We were dancing in the moonlight,” out the window. As if the scene weren’t strange enough already, a rather odd looking man of about seventy rides a tricycle across the intersection, laden with vegetables.

Jaywalking teenagers create an entirely different and more complex set of traffic hazards. Each and every one is on a cell phone, paying no heed to the mortal dangers of automotive life as they stare and type onto tiny screens. Colin feels as if he’s witnessing a mass sleepwalking event.

He no longer sees the minivan and no longer cares. At the next stoplight, the single lane divides into two. Stopped at the intersection, the red Jaguar is to his right and the potato chip truck, mysteriously, in front of him. With her black cataract sunglasses and three, no four white terriers in the front seat of a car one rarely saw on the road anymore, this woman in the Jag is inexplicably familiar. On her finger is a rock the size of a small meteorite. He races through his mental files but nothing comes up.

She turns to him, winks, and continues to sing loud and out of tune through the open window. “Everybody was dancing in the moonlight.” She blows him a kiss, steps on the accelerator, leaving a cloud of black smoke behind her.

To be continued…

 

 



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