From A Distance
Nick slows the car to a halt at the sight of a bump in the road, an impromptu speed-bump, certainly something to slow you down, It’s a grey lump like a beached whale, something out of place. But his throat has gone so dry he’s knows she’s more than that, he knows, even from a distance.
She doesn’t look like what he’s searching for, his headlights holding the night up for examination, metre by metre. He’s looking for a contrite figure swiftly restored to smiles and hugging by squeezes of forgiveness and Savlon. He’s looking for a happy ending, his daughter back in her bed, this endless, terrible night closed down,
Another bitter lesson to learn. His daughter isn’t who he wants her to be. She might still be there, under the tawdry line of trash-ups she’s chosen for herself, that perfect little girl might be hidden intact inside the gaudy painted Russian dolls of her teenage years. More likely not, the chemicals have hard-permed her brain, the insane appretites consumed all the sweetness in her.
He pulls over into a layby, making and not making a decision. As long as he sits in the car it might not be Sophie up ahead. It could be a pile of old blankets left by a tramp. It could be some covering dropped from a load on a car roof. He could even cope with abandoned kittens – just not Sophie – alive or dead don’t let it be her.
Yet someone had to go and check. Whatever lurked in that bundle wouldn’t be improved by something flattening it, separating it further from everything it used to be. He had to be big and strong enough to get it out of the road, whatever it was,. Dig even deeper into his reserves, however drained, if not for his little girl then for his image of himself as her father.
He directs the car headlights along the road and puts his hazard lights on trying not to scream at his safety conscious self, not to acknowledge how late it is for such care. What if he’d stayed with her mother, insisted on more regular contact, risen above the hurt when Sophie said she hated him? Could he have changed the contents of that huddle ahead, even from a distance? His heart flails at him, insisting he could even as his head shakes, knowing he couldn’t.
There is a body in the blanket, he can make that out from here. He walks towards it. A body in a blanket that looks sinisterly dark and wet in places. His mobile beeps but he ignores it as he lifts the edge of the material. A flash of red – the colour of her brilliant, contrary hair. Such innocent hair designed to dance as she skipped along, to stream out behind her on the swings, to make her out as different, so special. He can still taste it from all his greedy kisses on her small head.
This smells different, like something raised from the earth, a sour ripening. Nick pulls the blanket clear and sees the rear legs of a deer. He grunts as he releases his held breath. It’s nice someone had the decency to cover it but why have they left it in the road? Nick squares his shaking shoulders, grabs the blanket and slides the body to the verge.
He walks back to the car and slathers his hands in antiseptic gel. He can’t think about what he’s feeling, he doesn’t want to know if it’s relief or regret. He picks up the missed message: ‘At your place. Where are u? Sophie x.’ He’s on a journey he wouldn’t have chosen. He’s on a road he never wants to visit again. He’s about to go home and try to change the direction of all their lives.
I've been here for years now, this metropolis of urbanites, stuck wandering the streets. I always walk, map in hands; never trusted electronics, and I always like the feel of the ink, the paper, the sensation of looking down upon these little squares and lines like a god. I see others doing the same, with little headlines beaming into their retinas, instead of little buildings. I wonder what motivates people to read...perhaps you understand more than I do.
Authenticity, even if it came from the bowels of a machine. Each step, each metre, each mile, kilometre, adding up into the total of life, a summary of my worth in the great cosmos. Very poetic for an ex-deliveryman, I know, but hey, this whole writing thing isn't so bad, and it's nice to be the one putting the ink onto the paper, for once. So, I would wander the streets of Vancouver, searching for my calling, waiting for some moment of enlightenment, or some other hammed up, abused concept that so many writers seem to crap out. Perhaps I was waiting for a good cup of coffee. Perhaps that's all it takes, a cup of joe.
Well, it wasn't in the nicest place, nor was it the best coffee I had, but on a soggy morning, downtown, in some new dive I'd never been to before, I saw my salvation. I sauntered to the counter, decrying my dirtied state, when I saw her working behind the counter. I won't go into detail; sometimes mystery works better than any flamboyant prose could. So, starting off as a lost, unemployed guy, wandering the streets, I found my new goal. As I sat, transfixed by this woman's beauty, I saw her reading the paper. A woman of intellect, clearly. How could I match that?
So, now you see here, this is why I practice my pen for the first time in years, this is why I have entered the world of the literary; to carve myself out as an intelligent man, to forge a new life, so I can be worthy of this lady. I still go to that coffee place from time to time, sometimes reading a paper, sometimes a book. I've been reading into quantum physics lately, and the concept of space-time intrigued me; the way that distance can be tied to our perception of the passage of time is astounding, and I can only wonder if that was involved. Perhaps thoughts work at the speed of light, maybe that's the reason we have yet to understand how the human mind works, but once more, I must digress...
Time, combined with the properties of light, to create a tangible concept of distance. So, I look ahead into the future, the furthest frontier of all, that mystifying and complex human construct, to find my goal, to find my calling. Perhaps I'll be hired as a food critic, and one day, I could go back to that hidden dank cavern, give it a stunning appraisal, and perhaps, one day, I may be able to work up the courage to talk to her.
I realise this is a rather unorthodox application letter, and that you may have been approached by far more qualified persons seeking the journalist role; however, you now know my motivations, and I assure you that if you hire me, I will be the most diligent and faithful reporter you could ever hire, because I have nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain by working for you. Looking ahead, I can only wish you a pleasant tomorrow, and look forward to hearing back from you...
Ruth is a specialized biologist in the behavior of wolves. She received a scholarship to write a book about these animals. Ruth argues that through the howl communication can be established between our species and theirs. The secret of the wolf is the title she intends to give the book. This is the reason to meet alone in a cabin in the woods. After her second divorce, and having no children or close family, wolves became her only passion; to a colleague she confessed that she prefers their company to that of humans - "Wolves do not lie," she said.
She got up at five thirty in the morning, had breakfast and went to the forest with a camera, a tape recorder, a compass, and supplies in a backpack. There is a fog that covers the sun and seeps through the trees submerging the forest in a vaporous mass that reminds her of a dream. Ruth moves without fear of the unknown territory as if she walks in her garden.
It is now nine in the morning and Ruth can barely see a foot ahead. However, she remains calm, despite feeling tired. Suddenly, in the distance, she begins to hear howls of wolves. Ruth connects the recorder and moves in that direction. Occasionally she howls too, convinced that she can already communicate with them. However, after a few minutes she stops hearing the animals and decides to have a rest. She leans against a tree, drinks water and eats a sandwich. A little later, she is taken by sleepiness and lies down.
Ruth is now a three year-old girl, blonde, with blue eyes. She wears a green dress and rose shoes. She moves through the forest as if she were playing in her parents’ front yard. She’s not afraid of anything, because she knows that animals, like people, are good and friendly. Suddenly she hears a howl and replies in the same way with her childish voice. The howl increases in intensity and Ruth feels it getting closer and closer.
Then, from the fog a wolf appears. It is a male of gray fur and orange eyes, with sharp teeth and a woolly tail.
The wolf sits down two meters from her.
“Don't approach. It is very dangerous to walk alone in a forest,” says the wolf.
“It’s not. Everyone likes to play with me,” says Ruth.
“You are a defenseless girl and I can eat you.”
“Wolves don’t eat girls, only lambs.”
“And you are a lamb.”
“I’m not, I don’t have fur.”
“There are lambs without fur and those are the ones that wake up a large appetite in hungry wolves.”
“I don't believe you, wolf.”
“Wolves don’t lie. And there is a kind of wolf that attacks you sweetly. He tells you it's a game and you believe it. Those are the most dangerous.”
“If any animal attacks me, I would tell my mother.”
The wolf laughs, too.
“Are you sure? Sometimes girls attacked by wolves become so ashamed, so frightened, so lost, they aren’t able to tell anyone. They keep the secret to themselves, and because they are very young, eventually they forget.”
Ruth shakes her head.
“I don’t understand anything you're saying. Let's play?”
The wolf rises and starts prowling her.
“No. Listen carefully, girls attacked by wolves can forget what happened to them, but are left with a wound inside.”
Ruth is rattled and she doesn't know what to say. For the first time, she’s afraid of the wolf.
“I don't want to play with you anymore. You are bad.”
And she screams for her mother.
“Not worth calling for your mother,” says the wolf. “She’s at a motel with a friend. And as for your father, he’s in a business meeting. You are alone, Ruth. Another wolf will appear and catch you. Now you are lost, but one day you may heal the wound if you have the courage to face it.”
Ruth opens the eyes. The fog has disappeared and the forest shines in the sun. She looks at her watch and it is eleven. She doesn’t know if she slept, if she hit her head on some tree and passed out or what happened to her. She can’t remember anything. However, she’s anxious, with a pain somewhere deep in her chest. For the first time since she arrived, she feels alone and lost. She gets up with difficulty, consults her compass and starts back.
As soon she enters the cabin, she locks the door and grabs a knife. She goes to look through the window for some time as if a threat is hidden in the forest. Only then she turns on the computer and tries to start the book, but she can’t concentrate and gives up. She spends the day doing nothing, walking back and forth. Suddenly, she starts crying. When she calms down, she prepares dinner, eats quickly and takes four tablets to sleep. Then she throws herself into bed.
Ruth is again three years old and is in the nursery waiting for her mother to pick her up. She wears a green dress and pink shoes. The teacher comes to tell her that she has received a call from her mother to say that she can’t come. In turn, her godfather, Mr. Gabriel, will come. Ruth doesn’t care, she likes him very much. In ten minutes, her godfather appears, gives her a kiss and takes her to his car.
“Ruth, your mother is working and asked me to stay with you until dinner. Let's go to my house.”
“Are we going to play?”
“Yes. Today we will play a new game, but it's a secret. We won’t tell anyone. Do you promise?”
“Good girl. Look, I brought you a gift.”
Ruth opens the box that is offered to her.
“A stuffed lamb. Baaah.”
The car enters a fog and for Ruth everything turns gray.