Dusk when the plane lifts, and I look down at the country below. Cross hatched land in colors of brown and green, a dull red barn with a silver roof. This flight is carrying me back to where everything began. Home, though that word is a complicated one for me. Above the clouds, now, and they move in puffs, wisps of cold and moist touching the tip of the airplane nose, and still we move forward. Strips of white move across the lake, which will be frozen soon, and the snow looks smooth, though I know it isn’t. It sustains us, this air, goes unnoticed, even when we fill it with particulate and smog.
The first time I drove to Albuquerque to see her, I was twenty. I remember the skies reaching for forever, and the clouds on the horizon, the desert red sandstone mesas, and the sun going down. Driving through Santa Fe, stuck in traffic, the interstate full of semis, dinner of rellenos, the Indians on the plaza selling bread, red chile ristras hanging from adobe walls. The small house at the end of the road, meeting her mother, drinking hot cocoa and speaking of days in Durango. Her father coming home, happy to meet me, he said. And our drive later through the city that night.
My memory holds us in a convertible, though I never owned such a car. In that memory, she wears a scarf and it flows behind her as we drive, and she has sunglasses, though it is night. Or perhaps that was the sunny afternoon we headed north from Las Cruces, the pecan orchards in neat rows spreading out to the foothills.
And later, in the small apartment with high ceilings where she sat curled on the couch drinking tea, the TV never on, and how I wanted so much to be a part of all I would never understand. How I looked at her, filled with a yearning to fly and be grounded all at the same time.
And the night that lingers most, the ice cold San Luis Valley, Kahlua and coffee, twenty below, and Caroline outside in the warmed up car, waiting as we said goodbye. My cold hands, the sweat, and if I think real hard I can still taste the Kaluah on her lips.
Dark now, and we’ve passed through the air space of two states. Down there, not far from the lake where we once walked and fed the swans, she is sleeping, her son down the hall, in that cold December city where once we walked through snow falling, holding hands as we made our way down 16th Street, and even then I knew that my love for her would always haunt me. And I wonder if she ever thinks of me now, if she ever fully knew how I felt? And where is that love now? Hunkered down like a soldier in a bunker, hiding from itself and all that hovers to devour it. Like a potato in the cellar, it’s eyes growing, reaching, bending. As for her, she lives alone, and is lonely, as she was always destined to be, the curse of her own independent will. And this plane will not land there, but will pass overhead, the night so dark that not even our shadow will glaze her rooftop.
Daryl Farmer is the author of Bicycling beyond the Divide: Two Journeys into the West. His recent work has appeared in The Whitefish Review, The Potomac Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, and Fourth River. He is an assistant professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he teaches creative writing and literature.