What Happens When…

“Now how the hell am I s’posed to answer a question like that without sounding like an asshole?” he said, eyes blazing, nose flaring, hairs in the nostrils, old gray hairs coming out of the ears, tattered gray hairs hanging over his ears.

“Why do you write.” he stated, scoffing. “Why do you write.” he repeated. “You may as well ask why do you breathe, why do sleep, why do you eat. But no, it’s not like that I suppose.” His eyes softened a little, and he took a hand off the wheel to scratch at an ear, a bald spot on a scalp, a bit of grizzled neck. His hand moved around like that from place to place, as if checking to make sure the requisite pieces were all there, and then, upon confirming that they were, realizing they were plagued by a certain distinct itch.

“It’s not quite like that,” he continued. “You see, it is not so dire, so rote, as some writers would have you believe. Many of them – liars all – will tell you tales about how their soul would spontaneously combust if they had to stop. Rilke. What a bag of gas. They’re all drama queens. You can choose not to. It’s not like breathing at all, in that way. I wouldn’t just up and die. You know, it’s not like that at all. But it’s maybe more like, ‘why do you walk sometimes up the street to the bus stop instead of getting a ride.’ You see? There is a choice in the matter, but it is a thing we do. And once you do it, why wouldn’t you? It’s just as well that you don’t – but it’s fine if you do. Once I wrote a story a day for a year. It was horrible – terrible – a god-awful year. It was a year I’d never repeat. I wouldn’t wish a year like that upon my worst enemy. But it was fine, in the end. Most of what I wrote had no bearing upon my career; mostly it did nothing for me. But that’s the point – it was just a thing I did. Like walking to the bus stop. It was nice, sort of, in a way.”

He looked in the rearview mirror to see if she was getting this. She was fast asleep. In her hand was one of those smart phones. She had headphones on. How old was she?  What age are third graders?Had she even asked the question? How old was she, anyway? He remembered when her mother had been that age – how there had been less screens to look at then. People talked more, listened more, read more, wrote more. It was a different time. Now, as the fog of old age settled in upon him, everything seemed mysterious and vague. There was nothing concrete about the Truths he had discovered over the years. His little girl had grown up, now her little girl was growing up, if you could call it that. She was being raised by screens and yet she was pleasant enough, she was coming out fine, she was cute and pleasant and good to be around just as children always were. But he would start talking and then he’d look in the rearview mirror to see if she was getting this and she’d be fast asleep. He wondered whether the change was in her, or in himself. Had he begun to ramble? Did lines crisscross and wander through decades of thoughts in an indistinct path from point a to point z? Was there any point at all? And what was a point but a point in space? There use to be telephones, and before that, the telegraph. Hadn’t they once sent letters via the pony express? Hadn’t thoughts once traveled so much shorter distances than from here to the stars and back, and yet, hadn’t they traveled so much more slowly? And then, there were the cavemen, and everyone knew everyone – but anybody else was a stranger, or an enemy, or at least suspicious. Now I’m suspicious of everyone, not just the strangers, but my tribe. My daughter, her husband, their daughter. They are all strangers. They seem to interact with me, but there is a secret intelligence they are privy to which I do not know. They are enemy spies. Every once in a while they peer out from behind their screens, but their faces remain aglow.

The street was blanketed in leaves. They were all brown, and yellow, and red, and orange, and some of them had spots of green, and some of the green ones had spots of other colors. As he drove, the leaves fell down in front of him, and flew upward behind him. His car was a time machine. Forward in front, backward behind. He wondered if he put it in reverse if he could go back to a time with curly-wired house phones. The leaves in reverse would erase the internet. He could just keep driving backwards, and all the leaves in front of him would rise up into the trees, and all the leaves behind him would fall to the ground. But wait. Nothing would change then. He’d still be pummeling towards oblivion, the winter of his discontent, the end of days. All that would change was his perspective. And he didn’t want that.

“Christ”, he said out loud. “Anything but that.”

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