The Paved Road

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The first thing that I saw / When I woke up this morning / Was bad news on the TV I left on the night before / It’s the same old, sad story / Somebody shot somebody / Most of the time the victim / Was a junkie or a whore.

 

The Weather Channel was made for days like Tuesday, so, naturally, Eddie Sylva never took a look at the forecast. He was preoccupied by dread. He had a dental appointment at nine for a root canal. Doctor Torrence made no promises but was going to try to save Eddie’s upper incisors, either that or he’d fit him with a bridge in a few weeks. He had good insurance, the doctor noted, so what was the harm in having two options and trying the one unlikely to work first?

That wasn’t exactly the way Doctor Torrence had phrased it.

Eddie was lying flat in the chair, and Doctor Torrence was obeying that tried and true practice of drilling like hell until Eddie, his mouth full of metal instruments, started grunting and his hair stood up, or sure felt like it did. Then the doctor let him swoosh some water around in his mouth and spit. Eddie was thinking about things that might be worse – saddle-bronc riding, for instance – and staring out the window while Torrence labored to save two teeth.

Snow started falling. Within a few minutes, as Eddie watched helplessly from the chair, it was snowing hard. Studying the snowflakes as they cascaded outside the window preoccupied him. It didn’t alleviate the pain but at least seemed to make it less noticeable.

By the time Eddie got himself together, relying on the novocaine, the women out front were canceling appointments and closing the office. Eddie got in his truck and went to CVS to get some pain pills and cans of soup because that was all he was going to be eating (drinking?) for the rest of the day. Driving home wasn’t easy. Thank goodness his Silverado wasn’t automatic. Driving in the snow was easier that way. Keep it over-geared. Don’t let the wheels spin. By the time he reached the road to the house, three inches of snow covered the dirt and gravel. Getting to the house did require a little wheel spinning.

 

Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

 

Eddie heated a bowl of broth in the microwave. Yum, yum. He poured it into two coffee cups after he quickly realized it was less messy that way. He put his cups on the coffee table, leaned back in the recliner, supped and washed down a pain pill. He picked up the novel he was reading, Swag, by the recently deceased Elmore Leonard. Doctor Torrence had warned him against drinking coffee, and since the broth had the opposite effect, pretty soon he nodded off to sleep.

 

By the time I had my breakfast / It was snowing in Milwaukee / And when I ate my lunch / Shots rang out in Labrador / All that rang at my house was an offer of new credit / Which I deserved about as much / As any drunken troubadour.

 

A chill awakened him, that and a series of beeps from the home alarm system, which he had neglected to deactivate while putting the soup away. He typed in the code and realized the beeping had been a result of the system switching to backup power, which, in turn, meant the electricity had gone out.

Duh. Eddie was drowsy. He wasn’t thinking straight. The pain pill probably had something to do with it. By now it was mid-afternoon. He opened some blinds and fetched a flashlight from the washer/dryer room and found some candles in the kitchen. He wasn’t worried much about the refrigerator because the house was becoming a refrigerator itself. He’d still have soup because the stove was gas and didn’t require electricity. His phone was on the kitchen counter, less than half charged. He shut it off in case he needed it later and remembered there was an old phone in the closet that just plugged into the land line. The remote phone needed electricity. He wondered how long the power would be out, and just in case service didn’t return soon, decided to venture out one more time for provisions.

Bad idea. It was the kind of heavy snow that occurred once or twice a decade in these gently rolling Carolina hills. He backed out of the garage and felt the tires sink into the muck. He shouldn’t have turned it downhill because, when he shifted back out of reverse, it bogged down. It looked like more than a foot was on the ground, and it was still coming down heavy. He got out of the truck and went back to the garage, where his Mazda had the advantage of front-wheel drive but the disadvantage of lightness and lack of power. He backed out the other way and proceeded to get it stuck halfway down the lane. He trudged back to the house realizing there he would be staying for a while.

Eddie Sylva sat in what was mostly darkness, illuminated only by a candle next to his inoperable lamp. Similarly unavailable were the refrigerator, washer, dryer, television, phone (he hadn’t been able to find, or uncover in the darkened closet, the old one), uh, stereo, laptop, printer, clock, toaster, and undoubtedly various other electric devices of lesser renown. He could see his breath. A huge quilt covered everything but his head, which wore a Houston Texans stocking cap of unknown origin. Someone must have left it at the house. Inexplicably, he couldn’t sleep, so he squinted and read a Dick Francis novel, having finished off Elmore Leonard.

Reading was fundamental. Nelson DeMille was on deck with, perhaps, a William Manchester biography in the hold. Eddie felt like Abraham fucking Lincoln, scribbling on the blade of a shovel with chalk. He’d read somewhere that Lincoln did that, huddled out on the Indiana frontier in the family log cabin. He didn’t much care for living vicariously, though. It was strictly by necessity. He wasn’t as honest as Abe but was in the neighborhood of being as cold. It was eerily quiet, the house absent the various electrical hums that normally went unnoticed. Eddie noticed their absence. He missed the single beep that signaled the opening of the front door. He even got up and opened it. Yes! A beep! A goddamned beep! Praise the Lord for emergency power. He wished to hell he had more of it, as much as his late grandmother would’ve wished he used the Lord’s name in vain less often. He prayed, though, not for selfish items such as the resumption of modern conveniences but for shit like forgiveness, world peace and the continued glory of the United States of America. Maybe, if Jesus was suitably impressed, He’d unzap the electricity, but he knew the Son of God had plenty to do, and living up to the Old Man’s legacy was a bitch. Eddie also hoped Jesus had a sense of humor. Like millions, he was banking on that. He figured he had a chance to get through the Pearly Gates if he could only get St. Peter to crack a smile. Just a smile. A grin.

All Eddie had to sustain him was the distant drip of the shower faucet, which he had opened just a mite to keep the pipes from freezing. At some point in the midst of deluded religious images, Eddie realized he had either fallen asleep or this was the weirdest, and only weird, novel of Dick Francis’s career. Being asleep, and realizing, asleep, that he was, was a new experience. Cold air was an hallucinogen.

Sunlight returned in the morning, more noticeable than normal because the snow reflected it. The sun had no effect on his electricity, though. The water was still running, affording him the luxury of flushing the toilet. He took a pain pill. He heated some soup, not that broth bullshit, but real soup with noodles and tiny chunks of chicken. Once that pain pill kicked in, Eddie was of a mind to eat a few saltines, even if he did have to crumble them in the soup. It wasn’t love, but it wasn’t bad. He turned on the iPhone for a few minutes, just to check the weather forecast and reply to his mother’s text message inquiring to make sure he’d neither frozen to death nor caught his death of cold.

Fine, Ma. Comparatively.

IMG_0049Even though it still was twenty-five degrees, some of the snow was melting, thanks to God’s blessing of ultraviolet light. Eddie figured that, by noon, he might even be able to get one or both of his vehicles moving again. He decided he’d go exploring, maybe see if the power lines connecting his house to relative convenience had fallen. He opened the blinds in his bedroom – he’d remained in the recliner all night – and put on jeans and work boots, a tee shirt, flannel shirt and parka. Layers. He found some gloves in the utility building, then returned to the house, got his pistol out of the closet, and loaded it. A hungry coyote might be out there, a pack, even. A couple hundred yards behind the house, he failed to note the presence of a snow-covered limb and fell heavily. His mouth hurt. Great. Here come the false teeth. He sat on a tree stump to get his breath back and wondered where the hell the tree went. He looked up and found a squirrel staring at him. Eddie shot it. Perhaps that would give the coyote something to munch on instead of his leg. He went on a killing spree, stalking another squirrel, then a rabbit, and, finally, a cardinal. He killed four timid creatures with his six shots and trudged back to his house, confident the carnage would distract the pursuing beast. Or beasts.

It was survival of the fittest here in the land of Lincoln.

 

Well, the woman that I loved / Didn’t quite return the favor / And the woman that loved me / Left me tinged with regret / As I ruminate about the state of my sad depression / My life seems no more worthy than an empty silhouette.

 

Bundled up in the house was a depth, perhaps the death, of loneliness, and it made Eddie recall that he’d once had a wife. He’d at least have someone to cuddle with in the darkness, not to mention bitch about why the vehicles were stuck, why they didn’t have a generator, and why couldn’t they build a fire? It had been years since they’d used the fireplace. A loveseat was in front of it.

Theirs, his and Michele’s, had supposedly been an amicable divorce. They had mutually driven each other crazy, mutually recognized it and moved on with their lives. They’d even worked together, that is, until Eddie’s job had been eliminated, and now Michele was remarrying a co-worker, Brady Arndt, an agreeable sort who, unfortunately, Eddie knew, he would henceforth find discomfort in being around. The snow might have provided an excuse not to attend, but now it was melting ferociously. A few spots in the lawn were starting to appear under the trees. When Eddie walked back to the place where he had fallen, water was rushing down into a chasm and, beyond, the creek. The squirrel carcass was gone, either eaten or washed away. The grim resignation he associated with the impending nuptials weighed heavy on his shoulders as he sat, melancholy, on the stump. He trudged wearily back to the house, carefully mounted the still-icy steps, and found electricity coursing once again through the wires and circuits of home sweet home.

The next afternoon Eddie drove to Spartanburg for the marriage of his ex-wife to his ex-friend. Brady slapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. They lied to each other about keeping in touch. His one conversation with Michele was brief.

“You okay?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah. I’m fine.” He tried to say the four words without inflexion, but the lack of inflexion was an inflexion itself.

At the reception, Eddie felt distant. He was distant from the job he’d held for sixteen years and distant for the stigma of being yet another lifer cast off because he could be replaced so cheaply. He was a symbol of all the others’ career mortality, and they regarded him as if he were bad luck. Maybe he was. Lacking the camaraderie that had seemed so effortless, Eddie put his effort into getting drunk and succeeded adequately and, thankfully, not spectacularly. He managed to make a small spectacle but not altogether an ass of himself. Then he drove home even though he had no business doing so. No one had even suggested that he find a room or spend the night on their couch. Maybe, as he wobbled out of a banquet hall, someone said to someone else, “Well, I sure hope he makes it home all right.” Probably not. Eddie was old news. All the way home, as he relied on cruise control to abide the speed limit, and it made driving a bit more difficult because no one else did, he toyed with the notion that he was worth more dead than alive.

The next morning, Eddie made his way for a third time to the stump overlooking the wash. He packed his heat again and thought about the snowy safari of small, defenseless animals. He thought of everything he had killed: two squirrels, a rabbit, a red bird, a marriage, a career. The next logical quarry was himself. He looked at the pistol, which he’d never wanted but felt he should possess in the event of a burglar, a home invader, or some other maniacal intruder. He’d proven he could kill, even if it was a silly bunny rabbit, and that he was a decent shot, even if it was a scarlet bird. He didn’t figure he could miss himself, particularly if he stuck the pistol in his mouth.

He got over it. He’d just keep on doing what he was doing, what he’d always done, all that he could do, in spite of that liberal-arts education that had been supposed to provide all those options.

Besides, Eddie Sylva was a practical man, and it would be such a waste of dental work.

 

Like any man I yearn / For some measure of fulfillment / My ambition lies far beyond / Just paying all the bills / As I wonder how the hell / I can make my fortune / My life’s nestled in a valley / Surrounded by hills.

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One thought on “The Paved Road

  1. Pingback: Paydirt and Paved Roads | 'Well, pilgrim ..."

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