Dark Road

She is driving down a road in the dark. Not the kind of suburban dark you find maybe in the neighborhood where you grew up, the kind with porchlights illuminating quiet lawns and a comfortable light on every corner. Not an interstate highway at night with tall fluorescents glowing down blue and pink and yellow all at once and the taillights of the trucks ahead guiding your way. No. She is driving down a road in the dark, with only her headlights to show the next turn. It's a gravel road, or maybe dirt, her windshield has to fight with the cloud of dust that has picked up and swirled around her as she presses onward through the night. Other roads lead off to the sides; she doesn't see them, though, not until she's right upon them and the mist of the gleaming dust shows to her left or right a break in a log fence or a smaller 2-tire track leading off into the blackness.

The instrument panel in its greens and reds and luminescent blues lights up her face enough so that someone on the side of the dark road could see pockets of pale skin beneath her chin and cheekbones and eyes, but little else. The radio is on playing softly because it's harder for her to see, somehow, if the music is loud-all her senses should be focused on the darkness ahead and behind and between and the chance that there are Things out there in the dark that catch a glimpse of her quietly shining face as she passes. The music of the radio mingles with the sound of her tires on the gravel or dirt and her breathing is in rhythm with the beat of the song and the rotation of her wheels; her heart beats in time with the whisking of the air conditioner, and she can be free to notice her surroundings.

She looks out, cranes her neck to see beneath the roof of her vehicle, out the window and up to the sky. On a really dark road the stars are a blanket-they don't twinkle as individuals, but rather pulsate as a whole. It is a shimmering throw of light, clusters and washes and depth that makes her head swim and can only be seen for a brief instant before her eyes must go back to the dark road. If it's chicken country, after a break in the fence and a sign with Tyson or Pilgrim's Pride and the name of the rancher half-obscured by grime or overgrown weeds, she can look up to see the long houses perched flat and dead on their hills; even on a dark night the chicken houses are lit up, daytime simulated to encourage mating and laying and to give the residents the illusion of time passing faster than it is. Plastic curtains on the windows diffuse the false day and cause it to stream no further than a few yards down the sloping hills, and so the chicken houses cannot disturb the night or mask the stars from view. But if it's timber country, she has to deal with the mills: standing behind tall fences, elevators rising up like spaceships on the launchpad, reaching into the black with a few glaring beams up the side of the tower; they pierce her eyes and disrespect the stars and make the air feel mean. The mills seem like they belong somewhere far away, not in this quiet land, breaking through the perfect dark, spewing and blinking over empty truckyards-smoking and working, it seems, even at night.

She is getting lost driving down a dark road. Not the kind of lost where she's made a wrong turn and can easily go back to the corner, stop, look both ways, and continue the way she should have gone. Not the kind of lost where she's missed her exit in the great honeycomb of interstate beneath the gigantic green exit billboards and encouragements to merge and drive friendly signs that flip down when the bridges and overpasses have been sheathed with ice. No. She is getting lost in the dark with a deep yearning in the pit of her stomach for the minutes gone by as she gazed up at the unimaginable stars and for a brief moment forgot she was driving. And she can't turn back. Not because there is any sort of physical barrier; it would be easy as anything to slow to a crunching halt on the gravel and make a 3-point turn to head the other way, her backing lights shining a harsh white on the fence behind her as she pauses for a second horizontal to the road before shifting out of reverse.

She can't turn back because it is dark. She is the only light and the darkness has already swallowed up where she's been, and there is no choice for her but to press on with her gut pinching in protest but her foot on the gas unrelenting because behind is done, it has been broken and resealed and she cannot pierce it again. Maybe she's been driving wrong for only five minutes or so, confident that a paved highway will materialize out of the nothing in front of her, that her tires will thump up onto raised asphalt and a dusty marker will show her a number she recognizes-270, 88, 379-so she can follow it somewhere light. Maybe she's been wrong for a while now, too concerned with moving forward to stop and find out where she is, and the damage irreversibly done. She glances at the gas gauge and wills the needle to move back towards F, all the while driving faster, recklessly in the new unfamiliar night, now more aware of someone seeing her face by the light from the dash because she is pushing through night where she's not meant to be, secret night, and there are Things.

She should be more frightened than she is, and yet she's hoping-secretly, somewhere, beneath the urging of her whole body-that her car will run out of gas and she will be trapped in that different dark until morning, forced to get out and lie on the roof or in the bed of her truck and let the dangerous stars suck her in and the dew fall on her bare arms and the whistling of wind past her ears lull her to sleep until the bright, hot sun of morning. She knows she will have to stop soon; until then, she is content to wrap herself in the fear and softness and mystery of the dark road and let it help her to forget where she was going or why it mattered and focus instead on the now and the here and the faraway stars and the worlds beyond her own where someone might, just might, be looking back.

About the author:

whitney pastorek wears capri pants and often spends time upon her skateboard.