I lie on the bed in a mud-colored, cigarette-smelling motel room in Sedona, Arizona. It's March. It was warm this morning in Phoenix, but here it's cold and rainy. The air is damp, even inside. I am cold and tired; I am shivering as I miss Chicago. I want to go home, now. I don't even know why I'm here.
My husband is studying a print on the wall. It's a view over Sedona, and, finally, I realize how this place must look on a clear day. The town is surrounded by high, red mountains in the Westerns I saw when I was a child. I can imagine the huge rocks, obscured now by the rain and the fog, and how beautiful they must be when the sun is shining in this valley.
The T.V. is on and showing an enormous pile of dead animals; the reporter is saying that hundreds of cats and dogs have become landfill in the desert. I am horrified. I want to change the channel, but I can't find the remote. Tens of thousands of dogs and cats are put to sleep every year because people don't want them anymore. I think about my cats back home in Chicago and I feel like crying.
The old horror movie in my head starts rolling again. The pictures of people buried alive, frozen soldiers--like grotesque statues--in a snowy forest, skeleton-like corpses in mass graves: all these images I have carried with me since my childhood.
My mother never told me a fairy tale. Maybe she was too tired. Maybe she didn't know any. Her memories became my bedtime stories. I listened, frozen in my bed, and macabre images were etched in my mind. I didn't want to hear, but I couldn't stop; I thought that if I knew every horrible detail these things couldn't happen again. It was magical thinking that never really worked.
I'm not good at having vacations; I start feeling strange after the first day in a new place, as though I have lost my identity. Odd and fearful thoughts demand my attention. I get obsessed and restless.
It was not like this when I was young and lived for the intense weeks, once or twice a year, when I was able to turn into a carefree tourist in Spain or Italy. During those weeks I didn't have a past or a future. There was only now.
A few years ago, when Miami wasn't popular, I decided to go there hoping that the old intensity would come back to me. I dreamed about the hypnotic roar of the sea at night, warmly-lit sidewalk cafes with strong coffee and the scent of brandy, long dinners late at night, early mornings on the beach listening to sea birds.
Maybe I tried too hard, maybe I was too old, maybe it all had been a dream. The old Art Deco hotel we stayed at was quiet and introverted, like a once-famous actress sinking into oblivion and senility. Old ladies sat in the hotel lobby like a row of crows in the rain. They hung their heads, slowly moving their yellowed fingers to scratch or to smooth a wrinkle on their skirts.
My only comfort was the sea; it smelled of life, and its voice was familiar and soothing, like Lake Michigan. One late afternoon I stood on the beach, facing the silvery water, watching my husband swimming. A small, dark cloud suddenly obscured the sun, and, for a moment, I couldn't see him. A squeezing fear stopped my breathing. When the cloud passed, I saw him again in the shimmering water.
Wherever I looked in Miami, I saw old women sitting in chairs, and I felt an odd sadness. I didn't want to see the inevitable. I didn't want to imagine my own body turning into a shadow and fading away. I looked away from the old women and I consumed more dark rum than was good for me.
We left Miami early in the morning and leaving was like dispelling a curse. Heavy rain fell in Naples, rain that was like a wall of water, and it was like a cleansing bath.
Sedona is not like Miami; old people seem only to travel through the town, couples mostly, driving their vans with clenched teeth. There is an unmistakable desperation in their eyes, as if they are hurrying through their final years, hunting souvenirs and taking pictures that will give their lives meaning and importance.
I can't sleep. I know that I have to leave Sedona early in the morning because one more day like this will make me suicidal. I take a few painkillers; I want this angst to go away. I want to sleep without sinister dreams about the past or the future. I want to make my nocturnal journey in the land of the eagle, flying soundlessly in the dark, and finally resting my wings when the first light strokes the red tops of the mountains.
I'm almost asleep; the wings of an eagle are growing in my back. I can feel the wind against my skin as I soar, higher and higher, free of the unreal world between past and future, the time that is never now.
Marja Hagborg is a Scandinavian-born slacker/artist/writer living in Chicago. A few of her stories have been published in totally unknown magazines.
Marja's story Howling Alone In Albuquerque is also available in VerbSap.