Chapter 1: It's All I Can Do
As the bright, golden dawn sifts through the window and into your vision, tinted a glowing orange by the blood-raw pink of the backs of your eyelids, your dreams melt away before they can implant themselves on your conscious mind. You open your eyes, feeling not so much renewed as invigorated. You are not just awake; you are awake for a reason. You blink a couple of times, rapidly adjusting to the sunlight that pours in through the unfamiliar window in this stranger’s house. The floating specks of dust sparkle in the bright beams that wash through the room as they dance before you, never drifting towards the ground. You want to be like them, you think, somewhat irrationally, in your newly awakened, semi-coherent mind. You are filled with the desire to keep running, to keep searching, to tear down these walls that now hold you inside. You have no idea where you are, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t want to hide in here; you want to keep searching for him. You have to.
“Are you awake, child?” A voice calls from another room, soft but strong enough to carry clearly through the door. It's difficult to determine from the sound of the voice alone whether your host is a man or a woman. They sound somewhat aged, though. You would have thought so even if they had not addressed you as “child,” despite the fact that you are fully grown and had a son of your own. No, you correct yourself, you have a son of your own. Somewhere.
“Yes,” you call back in answer. You do not know whether you can trust this person yet or not, but they appear to have set you up in a comfortable bed in a nicely furnished, if somewhat minimalistic, room. Perhaps a guest room; it is fairly small, but very clean. The huge window covers almost all of the East wall, and the off-white colour scheme enhances the brightness of the room. Supposing that you should probably thank them for their hospitality regardless of their intentions, you call out, “Thank you,…?”
A few seconds pass wherein your companion refrains from providing their name as you were intending they would, and you wonder if perhaps they’ve left, before you hear them respond, “You’re welcome, child.”
You consider saying something like, “You’re very kind, Mr. …?” or “I really appreciate it, Ms. …?” but you don’t know which address to use and don’t want to risk offending them. So finally, you simply ask, “What is your name?”
“Yucca,” is the reply.
Great. What kind of name is that? That really doesn’t help. You climb out of the bed, slightly dismayed to find yourself still in yesterday’s dirty clothes instead of having changed into underwear or even perhaps a set of this stranger’s pyjamas, and open the door. Yucca, as you had correctly assumed, appears to be well into her seventies, if not her eighties. She is clearly a woman. Her silver hair cascades over her frail shoulders, and her warm smile is formed by what were most likely once well-shaped lips that have thinned and creased with age. The crows’ feet at the corners of her cerulean eyes are endearing and somewhat reassuring in an odd and unfounded way. Despite her advanced age and her tiny frame, however, she is not that much shorter than you. She stands very straight in the doorway as she continues to smile warmly at you. You don’t so much relax as feel slightly less negative. The urgent energy and need to keep running still thrums through your veins as if your body is bracing for a sprint. You clear your throat, which feels surprisingly less unpleasant than you had anticipated. You recall feeling rather parched yesterday. “Yucca. It’s – It’s nice to meet you.” You actually are tempted to stay, but you need that sunlight back on your face as you continue to traverse the country in the pursuit of all that matters to you. You don’t know how long it’s been by now. Time melted away as the days all moulded together what feels like a long time ago, but you refuse to acknowledge that he is gone. Your travels may have roughened and weakened your body, maybe even your mind, but not your motivation. Your love for your son still burns strong. No amount of time could ever rust that. So, you say, “I must leave.”
Yucca reaches out and places a warm, bony hand on your shoulder as she looks up slightly to meet your eyes. She says in a gentle voice, “Child, you do not have to leave.”
“No, no, I think you misunderstand me. I must leave,” you say in a voice that is slightly harder than you had intended.
She surprises you when she responds, “No,” with a firmness and finality to rival your own. “You were passed out on the outskirts of the desert when I found you, child. So, I pulled over and brought you here after checking that you were alive. The fact that I was able to lift you with barely any strain is not so much a testament to my strength as to your malnourishment. I was on my way home anyway. I stayed with you in here and waited on the side of the bed with a glass of water. Your eyes fluttered a few times, which I took to mean that you were awake enough to drink. I sat you up and held the glass to your lips. You were so disoriented. You held your eyes open but just stared down at the rim of the glass. When I prompted you to drink, you ignored me, even after I tried shaking your shoulder. So, finally I pulled your jaw open and tilted your head back as I fed you the water. Luckily, your body seemed to know enough to swallow it on reflex. But your mind… I gave you several more glasses after that. I expected the water to wake you up a bit more, but you just fell back asleep shortly after. Although, I am glad to see that it seems to have done you at least some good. Well, getting out of that desert heat is probably a part of it, too. But nonetheless, child, you are in no condition to leave, let alone on your own.”
“No, NO,” you protest, a hint of panic bleeding into your tone. You must find him. You try to fit past Yucca and the doorframe without actually pushing her, but she keeps moving to block your path. “Damnit!” You finally bark out as you turn to face her head-on. You know that some of the wildness that you’re feeling must be showing now, whether it’s in your eyes or your voice or just the way you’re now behaving altogether, because Yucca startles for a moment when she catches your determined stare.
She recovers quickly, however, and places both hands firmly on your shoulders, grounding you, trying to steady you. “Stop. Please.” She manages to sound both commanding and imploring. “What is so important?” she asks sincerely.
“My – My son.” Your voice breaks a little, and so do you.
Her eyes soften in compassion at the pain reflected back in yours. “I see,” she says softly. She guides you back into the room and over to the bed and gently presses your shoulders down until you’re seated on the edge. You barely even register that you’re being maneuvered to sit for how naturally it comes to you to comply to her guiding hands.
Yucca brings a chair over from the corner of the room and pulls it before the side of the bed to face you. As she sits to meet your eye level, she takes your calloused hands into her fragile ones, and smiles slightly at you when you meet her eyes at the touch. Her smile seems wistful, as though she is trying to see through your eyes and into the life behind them.
You feel a bitter resentment arise in you as you take in her compassion. You do not deserve compassion, and this stranger has no right to be assailing you with it. Not after letting him disappear. The thought that he left because of you continues to quietly torment you. You try to assure yourself, you always try to assure yourself, that it was not because of you. That you had always been a kind and loving parent, that you would have given your life for him and had always tried to make no secret of the fact. When you cried out to whatever higher presence may have been listening to please return your son, and their answer, if any, came only in the form of his continued absence, you couldn’t help but feel like some punching bag for that power, whether it be God or the Universe or Fate or whatever else was out there tossing you about in the wind, raining blow upon blow down on you and beating your soul into capitulation. At times. But at times when you prayed for him with your mind clear of doubt and guilt, his continued absence didn’t feel permanent. The lack of an immediate answer to your entreaty didn’t feel like a taunt then. Without the terrifying doubts over whether or not you even deserved him, his continued absence was an encouragement to only continue searching, to only search harder. But right now, your mind is not clear. You cannot bear this. You cannot bear this kind stranger’s compassion and apparent need to protect and nurse you back to health. You yank your hands out of hers but make no move to stand. You are surprised at how exhausted you feel. “Let me leave, now.” Your voice comes out as determined as you had intended, if a bit too low and menacing.
“No,” Yucca answers back almost as fiercely. She places a hand on your knee in what is commonly a comforting gesture, but her fingers dig into your jeans and her palm is snug against the bone in a gesture that can only be interpreted as commanding. Stay. The command is wordless and you hear it loud and clear. In a much softer tone she continues, “Tell me about your son. Where is he?”
You sigh in defeat. There is no way that this woman is letting you leave, and the fact that you just know that you would be too weak to fight back, even if you were to put effort into doing so despite the fact that she is a kind, elderly woman, is testament to the fact that she is probably right to insist you stay, at least for now. “The streets he wanders are nameless,” you mutter.
Yucca’s brow creases in confusion and she asks tentatively, “You mean… you lost him?”
You nod, staring at your hands that rest in your lap.
“I’m sorry,” she says softly. A few seconds pass before she asks, almost more tentatively than before, “Why… What is so urgent, then, if I may?”
You snap your head up to look disbelievingly at her. “He’s lost, not dead.”
“Oh,” Yucca says with unconcealed surprise, her kind eyes wide. “I misunderstood you, then. I’m sorry. When you said that the streets are nameless, I thought – well, never mind.”
You nod in understanding. “You thought of the nameless streets of Heaven.”
“Yes. I am sorry. Will you… Will you tell me about your son?”
You sigh once more in resignation. “Fine.” After all, it’s not like you can continue your search at the moment, and, well, he is the only thing on your mind. You wax poetic about how great he is until you run out of words.
Yucca listens attentively. When you finish speaking, she asks, “Tell me about your search for him?”
You are grateful that she doesn’t ask you about his disappearance directly. “There’s not much to tell,” you lie.
“Child,” she says sternly, as if you actually are a child whom she is calling out on a lie.
You huff an exasperated breath. “Yeah, yeah, alright,” you finally concede. After all, you know you’re just going to be reliving your journey over and over again in your mind while you’re holed up here. You might as well bring Yucca along for the ride. It’s all you can do, really.
Chapter 2: Only to Be with You
“I really don’t know where to begin. It’s mainly a blur, now.”
“How long have you been searching?”
“Ever since I lost him.”
“And how long is that?”
“I don’t know. Honestly. I feel like I’ve been all over the country. Everywhere I went, I was thorough in my search. You found me in the desert, so you know that even remote locations were not exempt.” You chuckle humourlessly. “I even went so far as to climb mountains when I encountered them, just because of the faint, ridiculous possibility that he may be at the top, and the feeling that any place that I didn’t search would almost certainly be where he was, no matter how unlikely it seemed. In the beginning, I ran through towns and fields. My search was frantic. As time passed, my pace seemed to slow to a crawl. At least, that was how it felt. But I was still determined. I searched even in places that I was not supposed to. I scaled the walls of areas that were forbidden to the public. And despite my efforts, I never found so much as a trace of him. That is not to say that I didn’t encounter others, though.”
“You made… friends?” Yucca seems uncertain of the word. You can’t really fault her; you don’t know whether you would deem the people with whom you had spent some time on your journey “friends.” Some were more like miracles. Some were the farthest thing disguised as such.
“I suppose. Not really, though. There are a few that stand out. I remember one…” You can’t help but smile at the memory. “I had been so lost. Not just physically; I was running out of money by this time, and my hope was thinning out just as fast as my resources. It had been around this time that I first dubbed my journey “too long.” I was certain that he was gone for real by this point. I had been on the bank of a creek that ran through a verdant forest, leaning against the trunk of a towering white oak as I marvelled at the glittering reflection of the setting sun’s dimmed gold that danced off the surface of the water. It was beautiful; so serene. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be standing there looking at it.” You laugh self-deprecatingly. “I kept telling myself that I should be searching, not wasting time with distractions. I berated myself pretty heavily and didn’t even realize that I had begun to speak aloud until someone came up to me. I was startled at first, not having heard him over my own voice, when I felt his hand on my shoulder. He looked at me with deep concern, and I found myself lost not only in his beauty but in the kindness that he wore so openly and conveyed so easily. His eyes were kind and beautiful, like yours.” You smile amiably at Yucca as she smiles and rolls her eyes in fond amusement. “He asked me what was wrong, and I told him that my son had run away and I had been searching for what had to be weeks, if not months. As I recounted my story to him, I began to cry. It was just too much, and I was exhausted and the seeds of hopelessness were beginning to set in. He wrapped me in a tight embrace and held me. I slumped my body against his as I shook and sobbed, and eventually he gently lowered us to the ground with his back against the tree, and seated me in his lap with my arms around his neck. When I whispered, “Thank you,” too sincerely grateful for this unexpected comfort when I desperately needed it to be embarrassed that I had just broken down in front of this beautiful stranger, he brushed the tips of his fingers down my face and wiped my tears with his thumbs. It felt like… I don’t know… healing. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’m not sure which one of us did it first, but our lips were suddenly sealed together. It was the only affection I had felt in weeks, maybe months, and I suddenly felt like I had been starved. It was sweet as honey, but still my guilt persisted. I felt like I was betraying my mission, like I was letting down my son by straying from my path. But the more we kissed and languidly touched, the more brightly my desire burned until it demanded realization. When our bodies were one, I felt like he had to be some sort of miracle. Truly. I mean, what real person does that with a stranger they happened upon in the woods?”
“I have to say, child, as lovely as that must have been, it sounds more risky than romantic.”
“It was, in a way,” you concede sadly. “Well, it was romantic until the illusion was ruined. He seemed very genuine, especially in the way he spoke. But, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.””
“Corinthians 13:1,” Yucca says, sounding slightly surprised and maybe a bit impressed.
You nod. “He said all of the right things, and treated me so tenderly that I believed that his actions were borne of love. He held me for a while afterwards, but when he made to leave, I stopped him and asked him where he was going. He chuckled affectionately and answered that he was going back home to his spouse before it got much deeper into the night. He kissed me once more and left. Just like that. I didn’t know what to make of it. I wrapped myself up in my clothes and the blankets from my knapsack, and despite how warm I was all bundled up in the summer night, I suddenly felt colder than I ever had before.”
“I’m sorry,” Yucca says softly.
“It’s alright.” You shrug. “That moment hurt, but the moments that preceded it were very much needed, I believe. I wish that he had been honest, but those who are lost tend to simply be grateful for any light, even if it leads them in the wrong direction.”
“And do you believe that he led you in the wrong direction?”
“Well, he left in the wrong direction,” you answer dryly. “I do wish that we could have been more than just a brief respite from my sorrow and from his real life, though,” you say more seriously.
“I understand. You said there were others? What happened after him?”
“After him, I kept searching. I was on my own for a very long time. I deliberately avoided others, but I prayed to try to keep my loneliness at bay as much as possible.”
You smile. “I thought you would’ve guessed that.”
“Just because you know the Bible, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you believe in God. A lot of atheists and agnostics are fairly well-versed in Scripture.”
“That’s true. And to be honest, I’m not even sure if I am properly religious. I have my ideas of what Heaven would be like, but I’m not sure I fully believe it exists. So, I suppose I fantasize. The idea of a place where all are equal as one is attractive, as is the idea of a loving God. A God who loves its children so much that it allowed its son to carry his own cross of death for their sins. I can’t imagine ever loving anyone more than my own son. And yet, God supposedly loves us humans on at least the same level as Jesus. It’s a profoundly touching thought.”
“It is. God is an “it” to you?” She doesn’t sound offended, but slightly amused.
You smile lopsidedly and shrug. “It doesn’t have a body, right? It’s an omnipotent presence. Sure, Jesus called God “our Father,” according to many lines of the Bible, but God and Jesus both refer to God as female at times, or compare God to a mother. Besides, “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.” So, according to Genesis 1:27, God is both male and female. Though personally I don’t believe it is either. I think it probably transcends human traits such as those.”
“Hm. Interesting. I appreciate you sharing this with me, child.” Yucca releases your knee and pats your arm as she stands. “I am going to fix us something to eat, but I’ll be back up shortly. Or you’re welcome to join me in the kitchen.”
“No, thank you, I’m actually feeling rather exhausted. I’d rather stay here if that’s alright.”
“Of course,” Yucca says cheerily. “The food should do you good. You’re clearly in need of it.”
“Alright then. Thank you. Not just for the food. For, well, everything. For listening. For insisting I stay to rest. Thank you, Yucca,” you say, looking at her as intently as she had looked at you before.
She brushes her hand over your head and down the back of it fondly before smiling at you as she turns to leave the room.
You don’t know how much longer it will take, but you know that, as long as you don’t stop searching, no matter how many rests you may take, eventually you will find what you’re looking for.
Chapter 3: Nothing to Win and Nothing Left to Lose
“So, how long did it take before you finally spoke to someone?” Yucca asks, seated once more before you, each of your hands and laps occupied with a plate of sandwiches.
“I don’t know. It was quite a long time. Don’t ask me for specific times or places,” you say, laughing a little. “But I do remember who the next person was who had an impact on me. I was in even worse shape than I had been when I met my previous… friend. But, believe it or not, this woman seemed to be faring just as badly as me, if not worse. She didn’t find me like the other man had; we sort of found each other. I was walking on a beach, at the edge of a lake. It was night, and the moon and the stars shone brightly, away from the city. There wasn’t much sand, but there were many rocks. I continued walking along the shore until I came across a sort of cave. Although it was very dark inside, I noticed the moonlight glinting off a pale surface. I stepped inside, and saw a woman wearing a simple white dress, her eyes sunken and her features gaunt. She looked sort of unnerving, but also strangely beautiful. She looked… haunting. I approached her, and I noticed that her arms were covered in scars, but I didn’t mention them or look at them for too long. I asked her what she was doing there, alone in a cave at night. She asked me essentially the same thing. So, I told her my story. I was less emotional; perhaps I was too exhausted to be. And then she told me hers. She didn’t tell me the entire thing that night. Or for a long time, actually. But she told me parts. She told me that she’d been living on that beach, sleeping in that cave, ever since she had been evicted. I would later find out why. She told me that she would go into town and would write to her mother to wire her money so that she could buy enough food to survive. We ended up conversing for the rest of the night. I was grateful for her company, but she was very clearly not entirely right. Perhaps she had just been through too much. Her eyes were lifeless, and gazing at such a seemingly hollowed out person felt sort of like a stab to the gut, you know? And yet, at the same time, it was sort of cathartic. Like, at least that wasn’t me yet. It was a terrible, but sort of comforting, thought. We finally fell asleep around mid-morning, and I ended up staying with her another day and night. I didn’t have much objection to it; I was beginning to feel fairly close to her, but I knew that I would have to leave and be back on my way soon. A day or so later, I told her that I needed to go and keep searching for my son. She beseeched me to stay with her. She told me to trust in the Universe and have faith.” You scoff derisively. “She told me that I had absolutely nothing to go on in my search, so until I had a sign from the Universe, I was squandering my efforts. I don’t know what possessed me to believe that she sounded reasonable, but I ended up listening to her when she said that I should spend my time waiting for my precious sign with her. I became increasingly anxious to the point of it being almost physically painful the longer I waited. So, eventually, inevitably, she sought to calm and comfort me. And it worked. For a long while. I think she needed the physical comfort almost more than I did, at times. We were both drowning as we tried to pull the other to shore and away from the storm of the real world. The cave became our world, just as we had become each other’s. We gave each other everything of ourselves, and although she seemed happier, I wanted more. I needed something else. I needed him back. I needed my son back. But I didn’t want to leave her. I felt safe with her, even though I knew that she would not wish to follow me on my journey. She perceived that I was growing restless once more, and she became absolutely devoted to trying to make me happy. She just gave and gave everything of herself. It was like she didn’t even really care about herself. But no matter how much she gave, she wasn’t what I wanted, what I needed. I do think that I loved her, and that she loved me, in a sort of messed up, codependent way. My hands were tied at this point, and I felt beaten down in spirit. There was nothing worth anything to gain from staying with her, but at the same time, what was there to lose, really? I had already lost all that mattered. And if I didn’t find him, I would only be losing her as well. So, I waited with her as my days and nights dragged on without him.”
Chapter 4: Outside Is America
You both finish off your sandwiches and Yucca takes both plates and sets them on the dresser. She resumes her seat silently, waiting for you to continue.
You swallow your last bite before continuing. “I made the decision to leave one night after a terrible dream. A nightmare, really. I suppose everything that I was feeling, all those ugly, tormenting thoughts and emotions, just decided to culminate one night in my head. It was awful. It was terrifying. And it was so vivid. It began as a cacophony of gunfire, and all around me the air was ablaze in the red-orange glow of angry flames. To add to the hellishness, there were swarms of locusts raining stings and bites upon the terrified people running for their lives in this place. It was… apocalyptic. A plague of locusts, rampant war… The atrocities in that dream were horrific; to be perfectly honest, I think I might have been dreaming of some approximation of something like Hell, since the place was sort of rife with religious imagery. Some of the atrocities included people being sort of, well, crucified. It got worse when the wood caught fire. Everything seemed to steadily to grow worse. There were people battling with each other at first, but then the fighting seemed to grow more vicious, as if the people’s strength were increasing to the point where I didn’t even think some of them were people. It didn’t entirely make sense, since it was a dream, of course; some people did overpower the creatures. Though, many people ended up covered in fresh, bright blood. Fighter jets swarmed overhead. There were children there, along with the men and women. Bombs tore the sky. I woke up, mercifully, when I was struck with a bullet in the dream. I felt panicked, covered in cold sweat while my heart nearly palpitated right out of my chest. Over to my side, my companion was soundlessly asleep. I moved right up against her and held her for comfort, but I knew that the next morning I would be resuming my search. The guilt and fear had morphed into panic and terror, if that dream was anything more than an ill-timed fluke. Or well-timed – perhaps even overdue. I knew that tomorrow I would be alone again, having abandoned her embrace and instead run back out blindly into the arms of America.”
Chapter 5: She Will Suffer the Needle Chill
You pause for a moment to breathe deeply before continuing. Leaving had been difficult, the memory of that day as bittersweet as the memory of the last time you parted ways with a lover. Though, this one was more painful, since you had actually come to know this woman as a person, as someone more than a passing comfort. You had come to learn that the scars on her arms were a product of the habit that drained all her money and caused her to become homeless. You had learned that she looked haunted not because she was homeless, or a recovering drug addict, but because of what she had endured early on in her life. You had learned that her mother wouldn’t allow her to stay with her due to her addiction, despite the fact that that was now in the past, but that her mother did provide her meagre sums of money out of guilt for not having been there for her when she needed her most, as a scared and broken child who felt too threatened and ashamed to reach out for help after she was brushed off by her mother the first time she had bravely tried to. You had come to learn that she didn’t tell anyone until she was safely away from him, fifteen years later. She told her mother over the phone. She left a message, because her mother refused to speak to her for years after she kicked her out. Her mother called her for the first time in over five years in tears over her daughter’s confession. It was the first call she had returned out of hundreds. However, her mother only offered her excuses as to why she could not take her back when she received notice of her eviction. This woman, this friend and lover of yours, was not the hollow, lifeless shell that you had initially assessed her as despite her obvious physical beauty. She was, for lack of an English word, kintsugi.
“It was difficult, the next day,” you say at last. “It was overcast, and the grey dawn barely filtered into our cave. I woke before her, and I considered leaving then. Just like that. But, of course, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I remembered how frightened I had felt when I had suddenly awoken to an empty house, unable to locate or contact my son, even with the aid of the police. I felt betrayed, and then that reversed into guilt. It was just a maelstrom of hurt. I couldn’t do that to her. I was anxious to leave, so instead of waiting for her to wake up, I woke her gently with kisses all down her arm, then back up to her neck and face. When she groggily opened her eyes, and turned to me with a smile so full of genuine contentment, I ached with a guilt that was usually only reserved for times when I managed to wholeheartedly convince myself that it was my fault that my son disappeared. I smiled in return and kissed her, just on reflex of seeing her gazing at me with such warmth and love and, and trust.” Your voice breaks a little on the word “trust.” “We pulled apart and I told her that I had to do something about my son. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to get going. I began to thank her for being so wonderful to me, but she shushed me without a word. Her eyes welled up, and I could tell that she was trying to hold back her tears. She went rigid in her shoulders, her entire being screaming silently for me not to leave her once more alone. I felt my own eyes prickle with tears, and I let them fall. At least I could show her that this was also difficult for me. She kissed the tears as they rolled down my face, and I caught her lips once more in mine, tasting the bitter salt of my tears and the sweetness of her mouth. She moved her mouth against mine with purpose and passion, conveying everything she was feeling clearer than words ever could have, and I responded in kind. It was a fervent, poignant tangle of mouths and limbs and hands as we said “I love you” with the sparks that our touches ignited in each other’s veins. Neither of us could bring ourselves to speak, so we surrendered to each other’s touch for the last time and allowed that to be our goodbye. We held each other for what felt like the briefest eternity afterward. I wanted to hold her forever, and though it felt like I honestly stayed wrapped up in her arms for hours upon hours, the longer we embraced, the more my mind violently protested the idea of letting her go. I think she could sense my hesitation and hoped that it implied a change of heart. So, when I finally managed to bring myself to let go of her, she was sort of hurt all over again. I didn’t want to leave her like that, but I couldn’t take the time to comfort her just to break her heart and crush her hope again. I watched the storm of emotion blow up in her eyes, feeling helpless and torn. I forced myself to leave, though, finally. It didn’t even feel real… All of that outpouring of emotion, everything we’d built between us, and I was just… just floating away from it, just drifting along the shoreline away from all of that. The sky quickly became black and heavy with rain, and it struck me as a mirror of the storm in her tear-reddened eyes. They were the last thing I saw before I turned away from her and that cave for good, before I left the only shelter and company and happiness that I had had in a long time. That cave, that beautiful, broken, superlatively and exquisitely imperfect woman, was home. When I was with her, I was almost content enough to accept where I was. But it wasn’t the same. She wasn’t really family; I wasn’t really home. I couldn’t just stand still there where I was. If I ever wanted to truly rest, I had to keep running.”
Chapter 6: You're All that's Left to Hold on to
“I’m sorry,” Yucca says with soft sincerity.
You wave your hand dismissively. “It’s fine.” You pause as you try to think of what to say next. There wasn’t much else about your journey that really stood out after that. You sigh. “All that really mattered after that was finding him. I mean, that was all that mattered in the first place, but… I was alone, again. I… I didn’t always have the best relationship with him. The guilt that that fact brought seemed to fester within my mind the longer I had to endure my journey with only myself for company. I traversed much terrain over the course of… I’m not sure how long. I think the solitude, and the fact that I probably didn’t eat and drink nearly enough for the amount of energy I burned while walking drove me a bit mad, gradually. I became almost automatically driven to keep searching. That was all I did. Desperation probably had something to do with it, too. But I feel like my desperation was exacerbated by my waning stability, you know? I kept walking when the wind whipped against my face, when rain and hail beat down upon me, and through the desert heat, as you know. I still had absolutely no idea where I was going. It didn’t make sense. But I had already come so far, you know? It was like there was no going back. Like I’d broken past some sort of barrier and after I’d passed it I was set on automatic on this path. Almost like I couldn’t change my mind. He was all that I had left to hold on to, and I didn’t even have him; he was my only light, but a light that I had to chase. It wasn’t the hope of reaching that light that drove me to keep on, though. It was fear, a desperate need to break free from the darkness. From not only the guilt, but the mourning that I could gradually feel myself losing myself to with each passing day, each passing failure. I needed him, on a fundamental level. I tore across the land in an almost frantic search, just as I had in the beginning.” You pause.
In the space of your silence, Yucca asks, “If I may, what did you live on? You mentioned before that your provisions were running low, but that was a while ago.”
You fidget uncomfortably and rub the back of your neck as you sheepishly admit, “I, I stole, mostly. I just – I needed to find him. I tried to refrain from doing so as often as I could… I guess, I sort of saw it as necessary for, for the greater good. It’s selfish, I know.”
“I’m not judging you at all, child,” Yucca assures you. “I was merely curious.”
You nod in acknowledgement and appreciation of her words. You sigh through your nose before you decide to continue. “He was… He was always central, you know, to me. I mean, for a child, for someone who was relatively new to my life, he had already staked such an indelible claim upon it. It was like with him lay my entire sense of purpose. I had a job, I had friends, I had other family… but all of a sudden, the significance of all of that paled in comparison to him. I know objectively that, like those other facets of my life, he was merely a link in the chain, but with the disappearance of that one link, the entire chain came undone.” You mutter quietly, “I came undone.” With a sigh and a shake of your head, you say more clearly, “Even though I was searching for him, actively searching, I was growing ever impatient. It felt like waiting. Maybe a part of me was waiting, hoping he would just fall back into my arms as naturally and as surely as the day falls into the night. He never did, though, of course. Slowly, I could feel not only my sanity, but myself being stripped away. My hope had seen better days, and was no longer what motivated me to keep going. My search had just become my entire reality at that point. Madness, I guess, desperation, maybe, were what kept me going. But my hope never faded entirely. He remained my focus, my faint and distant hope. He was all I had left to hold on to, and I held as tightly as I could with my empty hands.”
Chapter 7: Sleep Comes Like a Drug
The two of you sit in companionable silence for a few moments before you decide to get up and stretch out your back. You settle back onto the bed, lying prone but with your head turned to the side to face Yucca. “I’d been in the desert for… I don’t know, maybe a week, maybe two before you found me. I don’t think it took long for the heat to get to me. I was hallucinating within days. I don’t remember what those images are called, but I know there’s a word for them. My first desert dream was of my son. His clothes, for some reason, were torn in ribbons and in bows, and that made the dream all the more convincing for its imperfection. Here I thought my hope had finally been realized, but when I understood that it was just a cruel trick of the heat, my hope was completely crushed, bent and destroyed. I cried. For what felt like hours. I think I passed out after, because I remember waking afterward with my cheek nestled in the scorching sand. When I came back to myself somewhat, I knew I had to punch a hole through my darkness. It was enveloping me, draining me. I didn’t see him again – not in desert dreams, at least. I saw him in my sleep, but that was actually sort of comforting, because it never felt that real. It was just sort of a balm for my waning spirit. But with the end of each night I was harshly thrown back into my life without him.” You susurrate softly, “It felt like dying a little each day.”
Yucca looks at you with sympathy in her solacing eyes. After a couple of moments, she asks, “What were your other mirages?”
Right. Mirages. That’s what they’re called. Not “desert dreams.” You huff a laugh under your breath before answering, “I saw the last woman I’d loved, the one from the cave on that beach. I knew she was only a des – a mirage, but how I wished she wasn’t. If she’d been real I would probably have been tempted to follow her, go back to her, if only for a time before leaving again. Maybe I would have tried to convince her to follow me. I liked seeing her… I knew she wasn’t really there to rescue me, to liberate me from my loneliness and ever increasing hopelessness, but just the sight of her image lifted my spirits enough to give me the faintest amount of hope, the faintest amount of faith. Just a reminder of love amidst that expanse of isolation – it was the greatest gift I could have been given at that time. I wanted her to be real so much, Yucca. But it was clear as the naked heat of the desert that she could not slake my desire for love, for her, for any kind of meaningful human contact any more than the desert heat itself could. So, I continued with only mirages for company, and it occurred to me for the first time that I was as lost as my son, if not more. Physically I didn’t consider myself lost, but I was losing my mind, losing my resolve with every dream I awoke from of him and with every vision I gazed upon that wasn’t her. It did comfort me to see them, but at the same time it also hurt, for it reinforced that I was no longer with the love of either of them. Their images were fires that simultaneously warmed and burned.”
Chapter 8: Angel or Devil
“You found me during that time. I don’t remember you maneuvering me into your car. Had I been awake? Had you awoken me?”
“I tried to, but no. You opened your eyes briefly and muttered some incoherent words, but I’m not surprised at all that you don’t remember, child. I saw you from a distance. You were quite far from the road, but seeing a person collapsed in the middle of the desert was a sight that called quite loudly for help, or at least for investigation. You were shaking, I noticed, when I was bundling you into my car. Probably from malnourishment. I brought you here and fed you some water, as I mentioned, and got you out of that heat. I considered undressing you, or getting you to undress, but I didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing so, and I don’t think it would have done all too much to bring your temperature down, anyway; your T-shirt looked breathable. Jeans, though… How could you stand to wear those in the desert?”
“Madness?” you offer dismissively.
Yucca glares at you playfully, a look of unimpressed amusement.
You smile at her in response. “Thank you,” you say sincerely. “For bringing me here. I, ah, I’ll admit I was pretty disoriented and kind of nervous when I woke up this morning. I mean, I didn’t know where I was or how I arrived, I didn’t know who brought me here… or why. If you’d turned out to be, well, something other than the kind person you thankfully are, I would have been easy and vulnerable, weak in body and mind. But I’m glad we crossed paths. I was broken, or well on my way. At the very least bent. I hadn’t even fully realized how sore my throat was and how dry my mouth was until you soothed them with water, nor how much I needed to escape that dusty heat, and how good it would feel to be indoors again until you took me in.”
“I’m glad I could help you, child,” Yucca says humbly.
You smile again. “Me too.”
“You needed the rest. In fact, it’s approaching evening. Would you like anything else to eat before we part for the night?”
“No, thank you. I don’t want to overdo it and get sick. I think I’m in rather dire need of a shower, though.”
“Oh, yes, of course.” Yucca gets up and offers you her hand.
You take her hand and allow her to help lift you from your position stretched out on your back to a sitting one. You use your own hands to push yourself off the bed and onto your feet. You follow Yucca out of the room and down a short, nondescript, beige hallway to a bathroom. The bathroom is fairly modest, about half the size of the room you were just in, but a shower stall occupies one wall.
“Everything you need should be in there. You can wear the robe that’s hanging on the back of the door. It’s clean. Oh! Here.” Yucca turns to the wall at the end of the hallway that’s occupied by a sole door. She opens it and pulls out a red bath towel, which she places in your hands.
“Thank you,” you say as you turn around to step into the bathroom, shutting the door behind you as Yucca nods and also turns away. You undress and shuffle your clothes into a sort of puddle with your naked foot. You place the folded towel atop the lid of the toilet and open the glass shower door. You turn on the spray, angling it towards the tiled shower wall, and test it with your hand. You adjust it to your satisfaction and step in.
Chapter 9: I'll See You Again, When the Stars Fall from the Sky
The water is on the cooler side, which you enjoy for a handful of moments before setting it warmer. You relax under the water as it pelts your back. As you wash, your thoughts drift, predictably, to wondering where he is. Why he left. Whether he knows you’re searching for him. If he knows how much you’re hurting, and begs your mercy as you beg his. If he even misses you. You begin to cry silently, your tears falling down your cheeks and onto the tiled floor to mix with the drops from the spray as they all run down the drain and back out into the sea. You wish you could join your son as easily. Run, run to the ocean. Run to the sea, you think to them hazily, not really making full sense, but that doesn’t matter because you know what you mean. Run home. Your mind feels as cloudy as the shower stall that’s fogging with steam. Your tears ebb as you finish washing, but the cry wasn’t as cathartic as it should have been. You feel empty inside, your heart a world of darkness that can only be lighted with his return. You think to the people you’ve known and lost, loved and left behind, over the course of your life thus far, and all of that grief combined pales in comparison to what you feel when you think of your son. Maybe your seemingly endless, directionless search for him is madness, but it’s as if the earth compels you to scour it in search of him; he cries to you from the ground. You shut off the water and the gasket on the shower door makes a rubbery suction sound as you push it open and step out onto the frayed and faded purple bathmat. You pick the towel up off its seat and dry your face. As you continue to towel yourself dry, you also continue thinking. That’s really the only word for it – you’re not mourning, not brooding nor lamenting. You’re thinking. Thinking about how strange today has been. You almost don’t believe it’s happening. In fact… it might not be. You remember how vivid the mirages and hallucinations had been. Why should this be real? It doesn’t make sense. Sure, you might have lost a ghastly amount of weight, but there’s no way that that frail, old woman could have lifted you into her car. She’s about as thin as you. Furthermore, even if what little body mass she has is pure muscle, there’s the question of why. It’s just too serendipitous – hell, it’s miraculous; just when your sanity, at the least, and quite possibly your survival at the most, were on the line, this stranger with a bleeding heart decides to take pity on you. And she not only welcomes you into her home and gives you shelter, food, and water, but spends the entire day listening to you paint an account of the memorable parts of your journey, of its roses and thorns? That’s going far beyond the call of duty. What are the chances that you would meet someone who genuinely seems to care about you, a complete stranger? The nature of the kindness you’ve received today suddenly hits you and makes your heart ache with overwhelming gratitude. Attempting to reconcile the feeling with the grief that still ravages your heart, however, also causes your head to ache. You wrap the towel around your body, tucking the top corner beneath the top edge to hold it up so your hands are free to carry your discarded clothes, and walk back into the guest bedroom to find a set of pyjamas laid out on the bed. The sleeves and pant legs are a bit short on you, but they’re otherwise comfortable. You climb into the bed (which Yucca appears to have remade) and pull the covers up over yourself. You stare out the large, uncurtained window at the almost full moon and the surrounding stars. I’ll see you again, you think to him as you gaze out at the clear night. You just want him to come home, to run to his parent like the droplets of water inevitably run back to theirs. Come home. Come back to me. Run back to me. Run… Run to the ocean. You shut your eyes, which have begun to burn with unshed tears, and eventually your pleas to him are snuffed out by the welcome numbness of sleep.
Chapter 10: Like Nails in the Night
You’re back in the desert. You don’t feel the heat; you don’t feel much of anything. You can see, though. You can see that it’s the dead of night, and that the stars above you stud the sky in droves. Through the darkness, you can make out the figure of a boy in the distance. You know it’s a boy because, somehow, you know who it is. You watch him as he walks further away, but never goes beyond the horizon or leaves your sight, though he seems to walk for ages. You’re startled when he suddenly collapses to his knees with a blood-curdling cry. You run towards him, but as you near him he suddenly stands and begins running. You quicken your pace to match, then exceed, his, but just as you reach out to halt him, he flickers like an apparition. There’s darkness where he was, then suddenly he’s back in your vision, running, then a bright flash of white so brief you wonder if you imagined it, then he’s there before you once more. When he reappears, you notice something different, though. He’s carrying something. He disappears again before you can distinguish what it is. When he suddenly rematerializes, he’s facing you. Your heart stutters in your chest and your blood runs cold when you realize what he’s holding, and that it’s aimed at his own head. His eyes are fixed on yours and his mouth is set in a grim line. He looks… determined.
“Don’t,” you plead.
Something in his eyes shifts, becomes colder. “Why not? Why should I listen, when you never did?”
“W – What?” Your voice trembles in time with your heart. You knew it. You failed him. You tried so hard, and still you failed. He left because of you. You loved him so much, but who were you to think you knew how to love? How to care for someone like him? You had waited so long for him, and still you weren’t ready when you were finally blessed with his existence. You never deserved him. You tried so hard, so goddamn hard, to deserve him. You tried to be there for him, to help him become the epitome of everything you knew he could be. You tried to build him up, tried to give him all of the love you felt, but your love only tore him down. Of course it did – it was yours, and what of the things and people you’ve loved and tended has ever flourished? You know you don’t deserve him, but still you implore, “Please.”
“This is your fault,” is the last thing he says before he pulls the trigger.
You still hear the gunshot ringing in your ears when you jolt awake, trying to catch your breath, your eyes wide, your heart frantic, your body shaking and sweating, and still surrounded by darkness with only the light of the stars to barely illuminate the shadows of the night.
Chapter 11: Hear Their Heartbeat
You take in a series of shuddering breaths to calm you. You run your hand down your face to rid it of its sheen of sweat, and you rub your neck to the same end. You inhale deeply and shut your eyes. When you reopen them, you exhale slowly as you emerge from the covers of the bed and make your way over to the window. You kneel on the floor before it, sitting on your heels, so that you can lean your forearms on the sill. It’s raining, and the wind is faintly audible past the pane. It isn’t the rain you see, though, nor the wind you hear. Your vision suddenly blurs, and you allow it to, not bothering to blink away the tears. You’re crying because it’s his laughter you hear in the wind. There were good times. Most of the times were good, actually. He’d always told you he loved you, and you’d always believed him. It was just a nightmare. It wasn’t him. Those weren’t his words. And he isn’t dead. In the rain, though, you see his tears. There were times when he told you he hated you, but it was only ever in a fit of childish rage not uncommon to those his age, and you never believed him, though it hurt you just to hear it all the same. “I’m sorry,” you whisper as a tear catches on your lip, tasting of salt and sorrow. “Whatever I did… I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Your voice breaks and you begin to sob softly. After a few moments, it’s as if a dam breaks, and you do your best to control the volume of your cries. You bury your face into your arms as you shake and shudder and your eyes and nose soak your sleeves. You’re oblivious to the fact that you’re crying into pyjamas that belong to someone else. By the time you finally realize it with a pang of regret, your sobs have subsided and your tears have stopped. There was your cathartic cry. You feel so much… lighter. You raise your head to look out the window and notice that it must be approaching dawn, for the blackness of the sky has taken on a bluish tint. You gaze out at the sole tree that adorns the landscape. Its branches remind you of hands reaching up towards the heavens, poised as though to catch a falling star. You’re taken back to teaching him how to play catch. You smile this time. As surely as you can feel the beat of your own heart, you know that his beats as well. I love you, my son. I promise I will find you, you vow as you continue to gaze out the window as the rain continues to pelt and streak the pane; you know he is out there, somewhere, forever just out of reach. Tomorrow you will continue your journey.