Lot’s Wife, Chapter 3 (a Nanowrimo novel)
Well, the real world got in the way of my grand plans to write a nanowrimo novel. But here is Chapter 3 in any case. This is lifted from a chapter I wrote, and liked, in a collaborative Nano novel a couple of years ago…and was in my mind as I started this new one.
Rain pours down, glowing like yellow bullets in the headlamps, smashing into the windshield, and the wipers, on high, extra high, wash against the glass, past E’s lower-lip-biting face, over and over and over, thwack thwack thwack thwack like the sound of some manic drummer, some heartbeat, some constant beating against the night, an endless fight against the rain that will not let up, that comes harder and harder and so hard she thinks she must be drowning in it by now today. Eiko is shaking, cold, hands cramping against the wheel. She leans right up against it, her nose almost touching the leather of the wheel, so that she can see better, so that she can get under this rain, get closer to wherever it is she is going–she doesn’t even know where. Just away from where she had been. She wants to escape where she has been–the sirens, the shouts, the sounds of collapsing buildings, the shattered glass, the falling masonry, the million pieces of paper that floated down around her.
She keeps looking in the rear view mirror, her eyes flashing up and to the right, but no one is following her. There is nothing but dark back there, an empty universe of inscrutable black, but she can’t help herself, can’t help checking, verifying, assuring herself that she is alone. She doesn’t even know who would follow her, or why, but she can’t help herself, can’t help checking. The manic windshield wipers keep flailing thwack thwack thwack thwack in a losing battle against the rain. She’s crying, wipes at her tears.
Was she driving away from the noise? From these memories? Dreams? Images of a crumbling city? She didn’t know, didn’t have time to think, could not remember.
She knew only that she had to keep driving, driving away from what was behind her, that if she let her mind wander, at this speed, in this dark, with this rain, on this windy, unknown road wherever it was, she was lost. If she thought too much about it, she would lose control of the car. She would smash into the dark trees that flashed at her from either side of the road, reaching out at her as her headlight poured into them, those trees that flashed for brief seconds, one after the other, again and again, trying to slow her down, get in her way, and then flying past her as she kept speeding along. The road was getting worse, smaller – one lane now, bumpier, winding more, and she shifted down, and up again as she tore around the bend, and there was a big thunk from beneath her, and she was momentarily weightless, head flung up and back, everything seemed to stop, even the wipers, and she hung there, waiting waiting waiting for something, feeling a sudden sense of relief, a sense that the end might have come, that this dark panic in her gut might melt away, might be washed away with warmth and calm that she knew existed somewhere, had once felt, and she waited for the cramps in her shoulder and neck muscles to loosen and relax, waited for sleep, sleep with no more of these dreams.
The car landed, and she bounced up and down again, and back into position, nose inhaling the leather of the steering wheel, teeth cutting into her lower lip.
The paved road had turned to gravel, and now she could hear the rocks and stones bouncing up from below her, hitting the undercarriage of the car like bullets, an asynchronous rat-tat-tat-tatat percussion to go along with the constant thwack-thwack-thwack of the windshield wipers that continued their assault on the windshield in front of her.
She turned another corner, felt the car skidding under her, sliding towards the trees, and she shifted down, spun the wheel, as the tail of the old Mercedes got away from her, fishtailing right, and then left, the full nature of her momentum, now beyond her control. This was it, she had time to think, we think we are in control, pointing in one direction but a false move and everything we are doing is undone, beyond our control, not under it. We don’t control these machines. And she felt something welling up in her, fear that was already there in her throat now took over her whole body, this is it she thought, maybe I won’t have to run anymore. But whatever she did–she could not have told you if you asked, and if you did she would smile and giggle a little, and say, I have no idea! Ha! I was so scared! – but, somehow, somehow she managed to get the car straightened, and she realized she was crying, the tears coming down like the rain outside, with no windshield thwack-thwack-thwack to wipe them away.
She wiped at the tears no more than a second–her hand covered her eyes one beat, a moment so short the wipers made only one thwack, maybe two–and then she opened her eyes, clear of tears.
And saw him standing in front of her, illuminated in the road, standing tall, taller than any man she had ever seen, dressed in white, drenched with the rain, but just standing there.
As she slammed on the clutch and the brakes she had time to study him, as the car slowed, and began to skid straight ahead towards him.
She did not have time even to spin the wheel – not that it would have made any difference – and as the fender hit his legs she watched his face, a kind face, crumple in pain and exertion, his fine features that reminded her, for some reason, of the black-and-white picture of her father standing, legs spread, hands behind his back, in military at-ease pose, outside their house in the mountains in Akita Prefecture, with his linen shirt and pants, and wire-framed glasses. The body hit the windshield, bounced into the dark, and the car, suddenly was stopped, and silent, except for the windshield wipers, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turned the wipers off and jumped out of the car, the wind and rain hurling abuse at her. She slipped in the mud, grabbing at the hood of the car as she raced to get to him.
He was lying on his back, lit by the bright lights of the headlamps, drenched.
He must be dead, she thought, and she knelt beside him, crying again now, and took his face in her hands, wiped his black hair from his eyes. Hello, she said, hello hello please hello are you all right hello … she had never killed a man before. She thought she might be sick.
Hello, he answered, eyes still closed. Yes, he said, I think I am OK. I think so.
He lifted his left arm, flexed his fingers, then lifted his right arm and flexed that hand too, eyes still closed. Hands work, he said. Let’s try the legs. Left, then right, he lifted them, nodding. Yes, he said. Feet OK now. Oh, I will have a headache.
Stay, don’t move, Eiko said. What’s your name?
Daichi Okada, he answered.
Don’t move, Okada-san.
He did, he moved, he sat up.
Yes, he said, I will have a headache. He opened his eyes and looked into hers, a gentle smile on his face. He felt his forehead with his hand, tapping and pressing it, then the top of his head, the back of his head.
“All my parts are in the right place,” he said.
Eiko laughed and cried at the same time, and she hugged him and kissed his neck, and then realized what she was doing, and pulled back, bowing her head. I’m sorry, she said. I’m just happy you are alive.
I know you from somewhere, he answered. And touched her cheek, briefly.
Did he really do that, she thought to herself. Yes, yes he did, he did touch my cheek.
She studied him, and yes he looked like her father from that picture. But he can’t be her father. Her father has been dead seven–no, eight–years, and he had gray hair when he died. This man is in his thirties or forties. She tells him she does not think it’s possible that he knows her, and he replies, What do you mean, exactly, by possible?
Unsure how to answer him, she helps him to his feet – he groans, but nothing seems broken – and helps him to the passenger seat of the car. He is drenched, his back is covered in mud from the muddy dirt road. She opens the trunk and finds two towels – why did she bring them, she wonders – and gives him one, closes the door, and then installs herself in the drivers’ seat, using the other towel to dry her hair.
What were you doing out on the road like that?” she asks.
Well, it’s my road, a private road, so really I should be asking you that question.
She does not answer but instead starts the engine again, starts the windshield wipers. She doesn’t know how to answer, except to start driving again, which she does, and he doesn’t complain.
“I was looking for an Epiphany,” he says.
Again she does not answer, she’s not sure what this man means, what he wants, why he was out on the road.
That’s my dog, he says. Epiphany. My wife named him that, it was a joke.
She liked to tell people on the phone that I was out looking for Epiphany. But of course, Epiphany is always escaping. That’s the nature of that dog. I’m always chasing after it in the rain. Always looking for an Epiphany.
But that doesn’t quite make sense, Eiko answers.
I know, she was a sweet woman, my wife. She’s dead now. She thought it was funny, even if the article messed up the joke. She died in
the war. I miss her. And if Epiphany wants to spend the night in the rain, that’s her problem.
What war? Eiko thinks but does not ask.
Up here, he says, just a little further, on the left. She slows, and he guides her into the driveway, a small opening in the trees that she never would have seen. This pathway is even smaller than the small road, and the branches of the trees actually caress the side of the car as she continues on, another layer of percussion in the night drive jazz show she’s been listening to since she can remember. Thwack-thwack-thwack rat-tat-tat-tatat shish-shish-shish-shish … They drive, slowly now – she feels safe, and whatever she was driving from is far behind them – down this little winding drive, until finally they come out into a clearing.
Her headlights illuminate a little shack with a kerosene lamp burning in the window, and beyond it she can see rocks and the sea. The rain has stopped, she realizes, but the wipers are still on, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turns them off.
Come in, he says, Let’s have some warm coffee and pie.
A dog barks, runs at them, tail wagging.
Epiphany, Eiko says. And the man says, Yes.
He opens the door to the little shack, and she feels the warmth inside: books lining the walls, Brahms wafting from unseen speakers. She steps inside. It is small, open, with a little kitchen, and a loft with a ladder and a bed; two chairs by a desk and piles of books, a microphone on a stand. She is shivering, cold and wet deep in her bones, but she feels the cold (and the fear, and the panic) seeping away. Epiphany curls up in the corner, and Daichi Okada closes the door.
Coffee, he says. And pie.
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