The Sleeping Lady
Each week, several times a week she would drive the road. Climb to the top of a grade, engage a blind turn where it peaked, drop down into the flats below to cross marshlands with a central, uneven ridge, like a woman lying supine, stretching up and out before her. Every week, the days and small series of towns blending into one along this path she would drive, up and down and up and back again, wearing a track through time and space, the rhythm of life's routines.
She knew the route well, mapped it in her head complete with landmarks, the scars in the road to avoid, the bumps requiring a brake tap here, a small swerve there. She knew the parks and the marsh where long-legged, still birds would suddenly become airborne, as though an invisible force spread their wings and lifted them, beating skyward. Lifting them as she drove by, in the asphalt grooves.
And then there was the four-way stop. Halting cars from all directions at the edge of one of the quaint small towns that punctuated the grooves. A church. A library. A grove of silent, sentinel redwoods crowding out the light. And a restaurant with a marquee that read, invariably, "Lobster rolls. Beer. Wine."
It looked like a Cape Cod house even though Cape Cod was a continent and an entrenched culture away. A worn white boarded frame building with a small front porch and trellises sporting distinctly un-Cape Cod-ish flora. It invited by its look and its marquee a promise of a careless afternoon spent in aimless, privileged wanderings in the sea air, to end serendipitously in this rambling whiteboard restaurant for a lobster roll and some wine, perhaps over laughter at the unfamiliar nothingness and satisfaction of a day just passing.
An attractive promise for her, with a life of must-do-this-next from wake until sleep, little chance for wine and a lobster roll on the porch in the sea air as the sun set on an ambling peaceful day. Indeed, the sign reminded her, daily and more often, that to be sitting outdoors, drinking wine in the waning light of evening would be an unfamiliar and welcome moment of no must-do-this-next in the offing.
She never drank wine outdoors in waning light, feeling the unfamiliarity of nothingness. Wine was for the dark inside when the time had passed for driving or thinking or anything beyond winding downward even more deeply, yet more numbly. How could it be that every day, the corkscrew found more space to turn? Was there a bottom? When would she feel the pain? Sleep came first, instead.
Always, the evening sun shone when she approached the four-way stop, the sign inviting, "Lobster rolls. Beer. Wine." All in the incipient shadow of the looming, tree-carpeted mountain of a sleeping lady. And always, she stopped at the four-way after she read it, feeling the sign call her, then took her turn in this direction or that, depending on the duty, on the next that must be done. Stop. North. Stop. South. Stop. East. Stop. West.
But some day, she promised the sign, promised herself, promised the sleeping lady mountain, felt the rhythm in those grooves promise to her, she would turn before the four-way stop, while the sun still shone. Pass under the marquee, sit on that porch with a glass in hand and a brilliant dusky-painted sky before her. She would know when she did it that that was a day of unfamiliar nothingness and the satisfaction of a day just passing. One of these days.
"Look, Mama," he said, as they approached the familiar four-way, yet again, on just another day. "It's closed. 'Thank you for all the good years,' it says." He said. She read. And rolled on, just a few feet more, a small distance, to the four-way stop. Where she paused in the growing shadow of the sleeping lady as the sun fell away into nothing.