There was nothing but the road. It was barely visible because the only hint of light was no more than a hole in the darkness somewhere unreachable ahead. Anything else that might have been was lost in a deep and endless night that stretched from the horizon to my feet and back beyond, into a past which might have held non-dark or non-road or anything else that was not rapid silence and an endless placing of the next numb foot forward onto cold still concrete. There was nothing but the wind, somehow the same as the road, cutting so cleanly that it could not be felt except by the absence of blood.
There was nothing but the road. There was no thought, no memory, no anticipation, no hope. There was no despair either. It was not until all thought of being picked up had been cut away that I saw the car.
I saw no headlights, heard no motor. The car stopped for no thumb or sign, but simply for me. Or rather, it slowed to a crawl, because I did not stop for it.
After a while I became aware of shoelessness and blood, voices, and a faint warmth from one side, but even then my thought was not to get into the car, but simply that I was too tired to continue walking. I went where the open door led. It was so easy.
I could not feel the seat either, because it was so soft. The car too was dark, but warm, with muted green lights making a comfort of the dashboard.
My traveling companion is a cat: huge and gray and soft and warm and, when I opened my eyes and looked down, sleeping in my lap. The driver told me its name and said, I always take him with me, although some day he’ll probably go off on his own. You know how these things go. And that I did, although I’d never had a cat.
My light clothing, which did nothing to blunt the wind, is well suited to the car; but the warmth comes to me indirectly. There is only the cold leaving my body: first face and fingers and toes, then inward to the core, trickling slowly until there is nothing more than a warm blankness. I feel as if I have been draped in silk, but there are no shoes or socks and there is blood.
The driver is beautiful. Even aesthetics cannot tell why, but I would gladly stay in the car forever, or at least until we arrive where she is taking us. (I had forgotten where I was going.) She smiles at the cat, and then at me, and the smile is mostly unreadable, friendly and sad. At first I didn’t want to pick you up, she tells me. You seemed so determined to go back. But I had to make the offer.
I can’t remember where I was going, or why the road was so hard, or where my shoes went. I remember my other name, but you never forget that. I remember the cat now, too: I had seen it happily riding a kite in a picture when I was a child. I do not remember the picture, though; just the cat. I wanted a cat like that. After I leave her and the car, I will find it—perhaps this one after it leaves, as they always do eventually.
I look at her again, and she smiles back. There is no more road now, and no shoes but no blood either. There might be more later if I go back. I am lying down now and the cat sleeps on my chest and she sits across from us. I think about ghost ships for a while.
“You’re dead,” I’ll tell her.
No, she’ll say. I’m not. But everybody dies.
For Emily Dickinson—