The Long Way Home

Lighthouse-Trail--by-Jacqueline-PenneyDave steadied himself and shook his head clean of the cobwebs that were still weaving their way through his membranes; the stubborn remnants of too many sleepless nights. And that’s when a flicker of recognition disrupted his blank stare, casting a preternatural shadow over the blank stretch of vanilla sky. Her motion was fluid as a Thelonius Monk song in the middle of the night as her lithe body orchestrated a list of wicked ideas. He tangled up inside her walk as she drew closer to him now, his desperate eyes sipping at her mad science.

Sam.

She was walking along with her head down, lost in the mysterious thoughts a beautiful woman gets to keep to herself. Her feet supplied the rhythm to the crazy rhyme of legs that swept the space between; they were deliberate and honest steps of a purpose to which Dave could wholeheartedly relate. Her hair had been loosed from its shackles and it was throwing itself at every part of his most insatiable curiosities. And then she looked up and met his eyes with hers, and then Dave felt his legs go weak and his heart go fast and his world go peaceful.

Her smile. It was a miracle of impossible wishes come to life, a crush of mayhem in its galavant. Her eyes were a plunge into the deep end of the universe, tearing apart the darkness in a magical ripple. And when they came together it was in that union where Dave understood what his life meant, what it was always going to mean.

They collapsed into each other, an embrace that filled them with the wanting of forever. Each time they touched, it brought Dave back to that kiss in the middle of the street with the heavens pouring down on top of them; the night when their love had introduced its plans to stick around.

“Oh baby, I missed you.” Dave said.

“I missed you more . .” Sam said, loosening their clench just enough to grab some face time with the man of her dreams. The kiss they shared went long and true, same as always.

“So, how was Alexandria?” Dave asked, as he stole Sam’s carry on bag from her and they moved through the Hartsfield terminal to the baggage claim area.

“Ugh, those people wouldn’t know how to figure out the square end of a box if they were sitting inside of it. And sometimes, I think they’re doing just that. They’re waiting for Godot . . I swear they are.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad.” Dave smiled.

“No Dave, it was worse. And don’t think I wasn’t feeling the irony, starving for an original thought . . . inside a think tank! And the hilarious part of it all was they talked down to me as I pitched the public disclosure options to them . . as if I’m a fucking hair stylist asking them how much they want me to take off or leave on!”

Sam had spent the week at a seminar in Virginia as part of a broad, intra-agency collective headed up by Governor Phillip Blake of Maryland. Blake was busy making enemies in high places- including the White House; criticizing Washington’s lackadaisical approach to a series of seemingly random attacks across the country and around the world- the latest of which involved a passenger biting an airline attendant on an Air France flight. Sam came to learn that piecemeal truths had been doled out by Presidents and Senators and Prime Minsters alike in order to quell mass panic. She wasn’t worried about what she knew. She was worried about what she wasn’t allowed to know.

Dave watched Sam ramble on for minutes at a time without coming up for air. Every now and again, she would stop in mid sentence and apologize, but he shushed her apologies and urged her to tell him more. He knew she had to release the poison that a week’s worth of bureaucratic arm wrestling had wrought. It was this part of the job to which Sam detested- playing chess with doctorates in cardigans whose best ideas conveniently ignored the realities of an ever changing world. Recently, she had begun talking herself out of a long term future of the same. She had brought up the idea of cutting back on her workload and maybe opening a bistro with Dave.

” . . .so, this woman looks me right in the eye and says We really don’t feel as if you appreciate the disruptive nature of a completely transparent approach to an as yet unclear threat . Dave, I wanted to punch her in her self indulgent face and go How’s that for nomenclature you stupid bitch!? 

“That wouldn’t have been good for business, babe.”

“It wouldn’t have been good for anyone . . . other than me.”

“Hey, is that yours?” Dave asked, as a black leather valise rounded the turn and came into view. And then he spotted the reggae peace sign luggage tag, “Yeah it is.” He grabbed it and they were off.

“So, what did you do while I was busy wasting my time on the taxpayer’s dollar?” Sam asked.

“Oh, you mean the strippers? We rented a hot tub and turned the washing machine into a still. I cleaned up after myself, no worries.”

“Strippers are the modern day Florence Nightingales, that’s what I say.” Sam laughed. “And as long as you cleaned up after yourself, because I don’t do glitter.”

“Are you kidding? That shit never goes away.”

“Hmm, neither does alimony.” She smiled.

“Well played, Catwoman.”

“Thanks Batman. Where you taking me for lunch? Make it good . .”

“Don’t I always? Okay .. don’t answer that.” Dave smiled.

Dave steered his silver Dodge Ram onto I-75 and moved due North as Sam began turning every billboard they passed into a song. They talked about anything and everything before Sam got around to asking Dave how he’d spent his week. He advanced a few piecemeal truths of his own while navigating through the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta before nabbing a spot right in front of their destination.

“23rd and Stanley . . ooooh, this looks adorable.”

“I was thinking smart, sexy . . intelligent as all get out, but I’ll take adorable.”

They were seated at a table for two perched by the front window. A bright yellow sunflower swam across the space between them as they slinked their hands around it and crossed them in a lover’s clench. Sam did a cursory examination of the restaurant as the waitress handed them their menus and took their drink orders.

“Baby, where did you find this place?” Sam asked.

“You like?”

“Love. I love.” Sam said.

“On a scale of 5 Seconds of Summer doing an IKEA opening to Jim Morrison launching a comeback tour at Place de la Concorde?”

“I would say . . Al Green at the Apollo.”

“You’re giving it a nine without having taken a bite out of it?” Dave asked.

“When it’s right, I just know.”

“No argument there.”

The space was small but smartly used. Creme colored wainscoting wrapped the bottom half of the walls while the upper half was painted in soft marigold. Black and white pictures and paintings and framed album covers wrapped the rectangular shaped space in a warm, familiar hug. Bell shaped goblets hung upside down over each table, their amber tinge suffusing a personal warmth across them. The long stretch of hardwood floor worked in concert with the tin ceiling tiles to create a gumbo of music and laughter and shared conversations.

“Remember when we were sitting in that little Vietnamese restaurant over in Duluth?” Dave said.

“Saigon Cafe . . ”

“And you looked at me and said . . Someday, you’re going to run a restaurant.” 

“I knew you would, baby.”

“Well, you’re looking at it.” Dave said.

“I definitely want the Pimento cheese grits, and the . . . what did you just say?”

“You’re looking at the owner.” Dave smiled.

“No.” Sam said.

“Yeah.”

“Like . . you’re the owner, as in you own this place?” Sam said.

“By the power vested in me by Merriam Webster, I am.”

And then her eyes focused, and then she spotted her lighthouse painting, and the black and white photograph of the two of them running out of the church as newlyweds and their autographed copy of the Bill Withers classic Still Bill. Sam got up from her seat and moved into Dave’s lap and laid one on him. They settled into the perfect song and parked themselves there as the midday patrons pretended to look away and a rush of laughter and good feeling filled the place.

“Hmm hmmmm.”

The pair removed their lips from each other to find their waitress had returned, and she was busily extracting a pen from her bunched up dark chestnut locks.

“Umm, the owner told me to tell you this meal was on the house.” Sam giggled.

“There’s only one girl who gets the house special . . so I’m guessing you are the much talked about Sam.” The waitress said.

“Am I much talked about?” Sam asked shyly.

“Oh . . myGod. Dave talked about three things all week. Getting the place done on time so he could surprise you .. making sure we had fresh Twinkies on hand because a deep-fried Twinkie is your guilty pleasure, and of course, he talked about you . . when he wasn’t talking about you.”

Sam gave Dave a juicy kiss before standing up to shake hands with the pretty waitress, who was worth her weight in soul.

“Michelle.”

“Where you from Michelle?”

“Mm, everywhere. For the time being, we live right here in the Highlands.”

“What does your husband do?”

“He’s an NFL front office executive, which is why we have a rotating zip code. We’re all about the Falcons, for the time being.” Michelle laughed.

“The Falcons . . way cool.” Sam said.

“Mind you, last year it was the Cowboys. Three years ago it was the Raiders, and now the Bears are said to have him in their sights. I’m bracing myself for ten months of winter. On the bright side, I would be able to see my Royals every time they come to town.”

“Are you from Missouri originally?”

“I am. And I tell hubby all the time that he picked the wrong sport.” She laughed.

“He picked the right girl, that’s what counts.” Dave chimed in.

They placed their orders and then Sam had to know the details of the week her husband spent in stealth. He told her how his sister Mary had found the place a month ago when scoping out possible locations for an art gallery. When she took a closer look and found a working kitchen, she put in a call to Dave as she wrote the check.

“Mary is our not so silent partner and we’ve been getting the place ready for close to a month now.” Dave said.

“That explains all those late nights . . and here I thought Vera Farmiga had finally come to her senses and I was gonna have a fight on my hands.”

“The official grand opening is next week, Sam.”

“I have to call Jennie. She has to be here for it.”

“She already knows.”

Jennie was Sam’s friend. She had introduced her to Dave back in the day, which guaranteed her free meals for life and Godmother status should it ever come to that.

“I changed my mind about that rating.” Sam said.

“Oh?”

“This is Jimi at the Fillmore on the world’s last day.”

“Now that would be a beautiful fire.” Dave said.

“I do believe Imma have my way with you tonight, bossman.”

“I do believe you’re right, Scarlett. I do believe you’re right.”

Dave woke with a start. He allowed his brain a few moments of muster before opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings. He was tucked into the corner of the treehouse he had borrowed for shelter the night before. And then he heard them, the dead, rousting about below his perch. Their inhuman moans had most likely dislodged him from his sleep.

The reality of this cold and brutal world began to seep into his reality with each crackling synapse. Rebecca and the loss of every good thing . . the walk to Sam . . . the desire for some little sign of hope, a sliver of mercy to show itself.

He thought long and hard on the secrets to survival in this place, and he realized how similar it was to the world it had replaced. Back then, it was all about believing that the daily trudge possessed transcendent gains. Dave knew his walk wasn’t just to Sam, but to everything they had come to believe. Together.

He gathered his things and steadied himself until he was back on solid ground. There were two of them. A man and woman, both had been in their early twenties from what he could gather. She had been wearing an indigo blouse and jean shorts and he a dark brown t-shirt and slacks. Dave wondered if they had been a couple or if they had ‘met’ on this forgettable B side of things.

Once they saw Dave, they began making up the twenty five or so yards that separated them. Dave could see how so many of the living had gone victim to these creatures because their lumbering efforts were a deception to those who didn’t understand the danger they presented, or who didn’t take it seriously enough. For one thing, they probably walked faster than the average Walmart customer. And the fact it was easy to get caught up in their Frankenstein march didn’t help either. He took turns putting them down and then he wiped his blade on the grass and placed it back in its sheath.

As he made way for the treeline that stretched out in front of him, his eyes locked into a billboard playing scarecrow over a vacant parking lot. Billboard watching was a habit he’d picked up from Sam, one of the many things that became a part of his everyday thanks to her. The billboard had been left to die, just like the rest of the world. It had been a sell for West Pine Toyota. Most of the come on had been weathered badly and some of it had been completely disappeared by weather and time, but Dave was able to piece it together again from old memories of a road trip, with Sam.

Because life is one big road with lots of signs . . . you want to make sure you choose the right one! 

And then his eyes settled on how the sign read in its present state. It was so obvious, now that his eyes were no longer jaded to the piecemeal truths of a buttoned down existence.

life is one big road with lots of signs

Bob Marley’s Wake Up and Live coursed through his veins. What a thing, to be in the middle of nowhere and to know it was the somewhere he was meant to see. His brain contained a million different images of Sam, where that song had served as background music to a world they were busy making. There were the lazy mornings and the last call dances, the car rides and ski trips and the beach getaways. And to each one, his brain fixed itself on that smile of hers; the one that could light up the moon all by itself. The one that convinced him to pay attention to signs and to believe in magic and to never quit on love.

A million different images to a million different memories of the one true thing. As Dave started walking again, he knew there was no quitting that. Not now and not ever. If the lighthouse didn’t pan out, he was gonna turn the world upside down to find her. And if that didn’t work?

There was always Jimi at the Fillmore.

 

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42 thoughts on “The Long Way Home

  1. Where do I even start?
    For one, you are soooo full of shit. You said you don’t do details? You do details like a boss!
    **”Her hair had been loosed from its shackles and it was throwing itself at every part of his most insatiable curiosities.”
    **”A bright yellow sunflower swam across the space between them as they slinked their hands around it and crossed them in a lover’s clench.”
    Gorgeous, caramel-smooth writing.

    OMG, Cayman. I could see it all. You know I’m rooting for these guys…for love!
    I squealed out loud at the lovely bones you threw to Mary, Jennie, and myself. In fact, my son emerged from his room (right outside my office) to see what I was giggling about. Oh yes, I’ve done a stint or seven as a waitress. You’re wicked wonderful and I’m honored to have my avatar serve Sam and Dave in happier times.

    The lighthouse. Oh, the lighthouse. It’s time for Christy, er, Sam….

    • I’m making a shirt up….”I do details like a BOSS”, lol.

      Seriously, I’m impossibly hard on myself, I’ll admit that much. I looked at what you wrote and I wanted to do the same. It really is a creative pool of energy, it really is.

      Remember what I told you? About writing being the thing, the only thing and nothing but the thing? I didn’t mean to imply the other stuff doesn’t matter because it most certainly does. What I was saying is, it can never ever matter as much as the writing. The writing is what does it, it takes you where you need to go- in mind, body and in the goals you may have. Writing is a beautiful fire.

      I wanted Sam and Dave sitting across from each other. You inspired that idea with a comment you made once. So as I was thinking up ideas for this entry, I thought to myself….these two HAVE to do that. I want to know what they’re like when they sit across from each other.

      Christy is probably gonna post in a couple weeks. And umm, how’s Rebecca? Just wondering…..

      • Them sitting across from each other…that is how I see them, too. That way and at their lighthouse.
        Rebecca? Well she is impossibly difficult with her linear thinking and love avoidance issues. I’m trying to get inside her head, and she is so young and cautious to let anyone near-least of all an over-eager writer/waitress. I’m trying to coax her into our little party.

        “The writing is what does it, it takes you where you need to go- in mind, body and in the goals you may have. Writing is a beautiful fire.”

        True. So true. Bravo, Boss 😉

        • ‘Becca is wanting the love that Sam and Dave have, and she wants it yesterday. When you’re young, you think you’re going to just download the love of your life as if it’s the latest app and of course, that’s not the way love works. She has the soul, but she lacks perspective, and that’s what makes her difficult to wrangle. I do not envy your task, but I trust you’ll bring it. Fo . . . wait for it . . . sho!

  2. Dammit Pilgrim. I was so happy with Sam and Dave and the restaurant I figured all was okay. (like I fell asleep). Your writing is mesmerizing. It’s like a song you can’t get out of your head. You words move so well through the scenes it’s like being there. MORE PLEASE

  3. Since this day turned in to a crazy 24 hours, I’m gonna have to quote one of my favorite writers:

    “This is Jimi at the Fillmore on the world’s last day.”

    I’ll be back with favorite lines. But dude. Nailed it. Totally. Soooooo good.

    • Jimi at the Fillmore on the world’s last day….it just was like….’How do I describe the capo di tutti capi of best Goddamn things ever? Oh yeah…..

      So a working title, if we were to put this in book form? I really, really, really love your Marley sequences. I think my Jimi fires run quite well with them. So it’s Jimi and Marley and that sets a mood, a tone… it speaks to a mindset that never went out of style. The counterculture gang went the suspender and stock investments route, but that music and what it meant? It was the truth then and it’s even more of the truth now. Jimi and Marley were the real deal thang and the fact they went early makes their music that much more important.

      I’m probably making no sense, because I do that sometimes. I’m right in the middle of it and I’m like WTF? But seriously, it’s a trip. A journey. And it’s not SIMPLY to a place or a person but to a belief, constructed out of heart and soul. The kind of thing that’s transcendent.

      I love this story. Can you tell?

      • Yep. I can tell. So do I. Something happened after Sam’s last story…it flipped a switch in you or sumthin… and I’m so freaking happy about that. It’s totally selfish, because I benefit from your storytelling and beautiful words, and I’m privy to the thought process behind them, so yeah….I’ll keep inspiring if it means I get to reap the rewards. Hee hee hee.

        Hey, meant to ask…speaking of Jimi and fire. Did you notice how in my first story, Jimi Hendrix appeared in my opening dream and took the place of Bob the Dog while on the car stereo “Fire” by Hendrix played? And one of his lyrics…Move over Rover, and let Jimi take over…? That was a little fun play on words egg.

        Music and its power and the era of these iconic musicians in the days past….plays in big time in my next story. Can’t wait!

        • Yanno, it WAS like that. I went through a long rut, looking for the muse, looking to figure out how I lose myself in a story. And then this story happens, and it’s like I’m in the eye of the storm and I’m culling the wind and it’s just taking me. It’s a very good place to be, and it’s been a while. A long while.

          Of course. That’s what I’ve been surfing on. Jimi’s all about fire. Jimi and fire? DO get along quite well. Jimi . . . okay, enough Seinfeld-isms. Jimi’s too cool for that.

          I cannot wait to read your next entry, Chainsaw Christy. Hey….CC.

          I cannot wait to read your next entry. Oh, did I just say that? Yes . . yes, I did…

          • Yanno, it WAS like that. I went through a long rut, looking for the muse, looking to figure out how I lose myself in a story. And then this story happens, and it’s like I’m in the eye of the storm and I’m culling the wind and it’s just taking me. It’s a very good place to be, and it’s been a while. A long while.”

            It’s indeed a very good place to be. I had to come back to read…the idea of Sam and Dave sitting across from each other has been buzzing around in my head lately. Funny how a story from back in November still tugs at my mind.

            Letting Sam ramble, listening, 23rd and Stanley (So witty w the Marley?), the eyes, the embrace, the black and white photo, the grits, the waiting for Godot (Beckett, no, Irish, no?), the signs, the deep fried Twinkies, the notion of forever… Well it’s just achingly beautiful. I don’t think I could ever tire of your words.

            She was walking along with her head down, lost in the mysterious thoughts a beautiful woman gets to keep to herself. Her feet supplied the rhythm to the crazy rhyme of legs that swept the space between; they were deliberate and honest steps of a purpose to which Dave could wholeheartedly relate. Her hair had been loosed from its shackles and it was throwing itself at every part of his most insatiable curiosities. And then she looked up and met his eyes with hers, and then Dave felt his legs go weak and his heart go fast and his world go peaceful.

            Her smile. It was a miracle of impossible wishes come to life, a crush of mayhem in its galavant. Her eyes were a plunge into the deep end of the universe, tearing apart the darkness in a magical ripple. And when they came together it was in that union where Dave understood what his life meant, what it was always going to mean.

            They collapsed into each other, an embrace that filled them with the wanting of forever. Each time they touched, it brought Dave back to that kiss in the middle of the street with the heavens pouring down on top of them; the night when their love had introduced its plans to stick around.

            Perfect. Fucking perfect, Mr. Thorn,

            -anna

            • You ever feel as if you’re not writing a story, a passage or a thought? As if something comes over you and moves you there? And you look back and it makes go “I wrote this?”. And yes, you know you DID write this, but still…

              This passage comes from wanting to experience a moment like that with a girl who was gonna make that moment happen. All of it.

              The feeling I get when i read this is a good one. The feeling I get when I know I have that moment and that girl? Way better.

    • Good to see you (?).

      You’ll notice the little question mark I left there. It’s cause I’ve gone with a few different nicknames for ya, but I’m feeling KJ. I didn’t want to write it there, in case you don’t dig it. It’s a habit of mine, nicknames. You’ve been Bahstan, 4am, and I’m sure there probably was something else. But KJ…if it’s okay with you, I shall dub you KJ.

      As for the props you send my way, it means everything to receive that kind of love from you. You’re a hell of a mother, writer and advocate for God’s finest creatures. I’m very humbled by such praise. Seriously. Thank you.

        • I think I’m gonna go with Bahstan when we’re knee deep inside a hostile Red Sox/Yankees showdown….IF that ever happens again. When did things get so chummy between these two clubs?

          Anyways, KJ is gonna be my go to nickname for you. It’s all about enjoying the little things, and I do enjoy me the little things.

          Thanks…..KJ.

          PS- Yep, feels right.

  4. “They collapsed into each other, an embrace that filled them with the wanting of forever. Each time they touched, it brought Dave back to that kiss in the middle of the street with the heavens pouring down on top of them; the night when their love had introduced its plans to stick around.”

    I loved this!
    Thank you.

  5. Way to give us back story, and then some. I read this (the first time) shortly after you posted it. I’ve since read it at least three more times. I’m slow at commenting, for which I apologize. Words are kinda of failing me of late. It’s complicated.

    What I said about character driven regarding the Hunger Games Trilogy — you have that in spades here. I’m with John on the restaurant scene. It was so delicious (pardon the pun) I wanted it to go on forever. (And I totally want some pimento cheese grits, is that even a real thing?) And to be in the same company with Michelle and Jeannie? I am honored, and a bit giddy, so thank you. I would absolutely be your sister and back you in any adventure you chose, even the zombie apocalypse. Of which, by the way, being as insomniacal as I am, would make for a superpower on your Twitter posse. I should add that to “screaming like a banshee” on my posse resume.

    • Mary, all due apologies but I want to comment on your post. As I write this, I am crying. And I’m pretending it’s my fucking contact lenses and I don’t think my daughter is buying it.

      I told you this already but I don’t mind repeating myself. I am in love with the way you write. I am. Because it is so very real. It comes from the love you have for the most important things, and the pain that comes when you lose them.

      Here’s to Tomas. And to Bic lighters. And to the understandings that go deep and far, and forever.

      Love and peace, Mary. Much of it, and always.

      PS- I’ll comment on what you wrote here, but I can’t right now. When you hit me, you knock me out. You’re so good at it.

  6. I was thinking about something… it’s interesting how Dave doesn’t give much after thought to the two he “took out.”
    “He took turns putting them down and then he wiped his blade on the grass and placed it back in its sheath.”
    Like he wiped his hands and was done with them. Very matter of fact, very unemotional, very little detail given. Mechanical was a term that came to me. I wonder if that was by design. It’s interesting how Dave is changing in this “new world” similar to the ways many of TWD characters evolved into the ways they did.
    His past memories have such color and vibrance, and his current situation is just kind of grey.
    I’m probably over-analyzing, but that stuck out to me in the days since reading.
    I wonder what Sam would have done.
    Hmm.

    • No, you’re right. Dave has jumped the shark on his belief in humanity. Rebecca’s death changes him. The living are evil and the dead are a legitimate danger to his ultimate goal- Sam and the lighthouse. So he’s more than willing to shoot first and ask questions later if you can piece together a couple nouns and marry them to a verb. And if you’re already worm meat? Well . . sorry but.

      Dave has changed and there’s no going back.

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