A Dark and Winding Road

Around nine o’clock, I pulled my sleeping bag out and unrolled it on the bed which was covered in old blankets and dust and mouse poop, and slept with no trouble at all. In the morning I guzzled a litre of mineral water and drove on the dark and winding road back to Route 11, where there was a Burger King. I ate breakfast there. In addition to my breakfast sandwich and coffee, I purchased several Whoppers which I figured I could heat on the wood-burning stove for lunch and dinner, should I decide to stay another night. I also bought a six-pack of beer, a family-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and a pound of Twizzlers from the gas station. And I bought the local newspapers and a magazine called Fly Tyer to stare at while I chewed. On my cell phone I found one missed call from my wife. I happily ignored it.

Back at the cabin I shook the dust off the blankets covering the bed because I wanted to lie down in the light from the window and read Fly Tyer and eat Twizzlers. Something flesh colored caught my eye amid the blankets. At first I thought what I’d seen was my wife’s old diaphragm—a Band-Aid colored thing which I’d always hated looking at. Then I thought it might be an old prosthetic arm, or a doll. But when I pulled another blanket back, I saw it was a dildo. A large, curved, Band-Aid–colored, rubber dildo. My first instinct of course was to pick it up and smell it, which I did. It only smelled faintly of rubber, anonymous. I set it on the sill of the window and went outside to collect more firewood. I was determined to start a real fire. Was I perturbed to find the dildo? It only peeved me the way one is peeved when one hears his neighbors banging pots through the walls. And it seemed at the time more like vandalism than evidence of any kind of sexual activity. It seemed like a prank. Outside I was happily surprised to find a large store of dry logs in the crawl space under the cabin.

Once I’d gotten the fire roaring, I sat down and cursed myself for having forgotten to buy a corkscrew from the gas station, since late morning by the fire seemed like the perfect time to sip my wine. I swore aloud. The friend who had given me that bottle was an old college classmate. I’d slept with his girlfriend one weekend senior year while he was visiting his parents, and I never told him. His girlfriend’s name was Cindy and she was half Pakistani and liked poppers and farted in her sleep. She was the last girl I slept with before my wife. So that bottle to me meant more than good wine. There was no way I was sharing it with my wife. I considered driving back down to the gas station, but there was no guarantee they’d have a corkscrew. Plus I was too scared to leave the fire burning unattended. There was no fire extinguisher, and the plumbing was shot. Not being able to wash my hands was the only real drawback to the place. I relieved myself outdoors, watching the smoke tuft out of the metal chimney like a choo-choo train. Afterward I used sanitizing gel on my hands and sat in the armchair again.

I’d gotten lucky the night before, but after I smoked that joint that morning and saw my fire burning, heart still banging with fury about the impenetrable wine, Cindy’s brown legs hanging off the bed, I knew I was in trouble. My thoughts turned to the primitive longings of early man, and I searched in my heart for some remnant of primal wantonness, and since I was looking, I found it. I rolled another joint and smoked it and removed my shirt and fed the fire apprehensively and sat on the bare floor of the cabin and growled and rocked like a baby and crawled around on my hands and knees. But the floor of the cabin was filthy. I found a broom and swept. Whoever was going up there and doing the dildoing had no regard for cleanliness, I thought to myself. I cleaned until I was hungry, and fed the fire again and put one of the Whoppers on the iron stove. The special sauce melted and the bun burned on the bottom, but when I bit into it, it was all just chewy and lukewarm and reminded me of my elementary-school cafeteria and that low-quality food that I so desperately wanted to comfort me, but didn’t.

The cabin hardly looked any cleaner after all that sweeping. In fact, I probably stirred up more dust than I swept out the door. I sneezed and drank a few beers and relieved myself again and used more hand-sanitizing gel and sat in the armchair. I smoked another joint. That last one was a mistake, since after just a few minutes I was picturing my unborn son crying over my grave fifty years into the future, and I felt the gravity of his woe and resentment toward me, and I despised him. Then I imagined everything bad he’d say about me to his own children after my death. I imagined my grandchildren’s bitchy faces. I hated them for not worshipping me. Had they no idea of my sacrifice? There I was, perfectly wonderful, and nobody would see that. I looked up and saw a bat hanging from the rafters. I went to a very dark place. The oceanic emptiness in my gut churned. I pictured my old body rotting in my coffin. I pictured my skin wrinkling and turning black and falling off my bones. I pictured my rotting genitals. I pictured my pubic hair filling with larvae. And after all that, there was infinite darkness. There was nothing.

Just as I considered hanging myself with my belt, there was a knock on the door of the cabin, and a girl’s voice called out, “MJ?”