PAPOTAGE

My troubles all started with Parmesan cheese.

And they ended with Parmesan cheese.

My life up to now has been one big cheese cycle.

The first grade of Saint Joseph's School was the first Parmesan cheese incident.

The last Parmesan cheese incident just happened, and what just happened is the reason why I'm a free man out here on Highway 93, a flower in my hair, hitchhiking to San Francisco.

It's all pretty clear now. Amazing how clear things can get at night in the desert. The moon, a big silver dollar, so much light there's a shadow of me across the pavement. A long shadow. My feet here on the gravel, my head all the way over there on the center line.

George Serano told me once that you can tell how you feel by how your shadow looks. Tonight in my shadow there's something about my head and my shoulders, my arms too. The way my hair is sticking up, and my T-shirt on my bicep, the daisy I picked in Twin Falls poking out the side of my head. Something inside coming out that makes my shadow look, that makes me look, I don't know, full, I guess.

Like this moon. Moon's so bright I can see the lines in the palm of my hand. I can see my bloody, bit thumbnail. If I took my dick out, I could see every aspect of it. My ass too. I ought to just pull my pants down right here, one hundred and fifty miles north of Reno, Nevada, and show that big old moon my big old moon.

Just my luck, some trucker would come along.

Just my luck.

And quiet.

Quiet as church. Not Mass or Our Mother of Perpetual Help devotions, but quiet in the empty Saint Joseph's Church. The quiet of the votive candle flame. The blue and red and yellow stained glass lying on the pew. Close your eyes and take a breath. What you smell is Catholic: oiled wood, beeswax, gold frankincense and myrrh.

The desert's even more quiet. The perfectly still sound of everything alive. Even the pavement, its dark ribbon going over the edge of the horizon, is alive. The horizon too, slow, sloping flat, every now and then an outburst of lava rock making a jagged edge. Sagebrush a darker shade of silver than the moon. Close your eyes here and take a breath, what you smell is sagebrush and bitterroot, what you smell is everything that's possible.

Two cigarettes ago, just as I sucked the yellow flame into the end of a cigarette, a coyote yelled out a big old lonesome, but not a sound since. Not even crickets or frogs. Just my tennis shoes scraping gravel. And my breath.

Maybe there was a nuclear bomb, and now I'm the only person who survived in the whole entire world.

That might not be so bad.

After seventeen years of breathing, I, Rigby John Klusener, do hereby declare there sure as hell are a few I could live without.

Why else do you think I'm out here on Highway 93, my thumb stuck out pointing to California?

 

Tom Spanbauer is the author of Faraway Places, In the City of Shy Hunters, and The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon, winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association award for best fiction, and the recently published Now is the Hour, from which the above has been excerpted. His very-American novels have been published in more than ten languages.