There is the echo of a scream in the car, which is odd because Albert would never scream. He has words at his disposal like so many little construction blocks – what is the point of crying out when you can instead build a comprehensive case of how and why your distress is the fault of whomever’s within ranting range. Besides, all the distress he remembers is being tired, very tired as he sat alone in the office. He may have prescribed himself a few days off. That must be it. A big yawning cry for help and Ambien to the rescue.
1b. Turns out there is no way back to the office.
1c. The landscape keeps changing. It may hide a truth. Perhaps it only exists in between forms. Albert knows he is not stupid: if he never found any answers it’s because the problem was systemic. And the world he knew never changes.
1d. He throws his gun in a ditch. His gun is in the car’s glove compartment. Albert stares at it like it’s a slapstick gag in an old cartoon. He throws the part of him that fired it in the ditch along with the gun. Performs an autopsy on the bloated corpse: it’s dead, Jim. It follows that the gun should be dead too, and far away from him as he finally drives away again. Albert does not dare open his car’s glove compartment. As long as it’s Schrödinger's it’s not Checkov’s, if you will.
1e. Roads lead to dark roads. A world of lost highways sounds like a logistical monstrosity.
1f. There is the echo of a scream and Albert still cannot hear himself screaming. Those little construction blocks are soundproof.
1g. Being lost does not bother him. The fact that he is not bothered by being lost does not bother him, either. The fact that he is not bothered by not being bothered by being lost bothers him. Perhaps he should try descending a few more layers of this.
1h. Maybe the thing about fairy tales that’s always captivated him is the their resolution – the very basic fact that a resolution exists. He pictures himself writing a man’s life on a sheet of paper and he knows that there’s no way in hell he could ever wrap it up. It doesn’t look like Campbell’s ABC, it’s fucking House of Leaves in here and without the part that says it’s a love story.
1i. As Albert drives, thoughts occur less frequently to him. Is this the freedom Phil yearned for, that different world inside your head which Chet sometimes mentioned after his third beer? There is a dark, deep sea past the gates of reason and the fact does not bother him. The fact that it does not bother him bothers him a big fat lot, though. For now.
1j. Something about this whole situation should be horrific, perhaps.
1k. There is the echo of a scream in his car but there is also a roadside diner coming up and Albert feels like getting himself a beer.
Place is called the Silver Palace and, true to form, if a restaurant needs to tell you that it’s a palace it’s because it is, at most, a rat-plagued hovel. However – and, one suspects, for lack of competition in this endless expanse of highways – it is packed. Albert walks past an Elvis statue by the entrance. Smoke fills the air. No-one is holding a cigarette. A man with a full head of white hair stares at him from across the crowded tables and ultimately gives him a bashful nod as a manner of greeting. Albert blinks and reaches for his glasses. It turns out – wait for this – it turns out it’s Dale Cooper.
“Albert!” says the man who disappeared some thirty years ago and then disappeared again on this side of the turn of the millennium, for equality and good measure. Some people got a lot of nerve to say anything, really.
“Seriously?” says Albert, for his part.
Cooper holds the hand of the nebulous figure of a blonde woman sitting next to him in some form of reassurance and rises from his seat to invite Albert to join them. His expression is going through something of a journey, which is interesting, Albert notes, surprising himself with his detachment, because the last time they met neither of them seemed to be able to move a single facial muscle. He lands on “apologetic”.
“Are you… did you come all the way here for me?” he asks, gesturing to the self-appointed palace and perhaps to the lonely world of highways beyond, all journey and no destination.
Hearing that, Cooper tries on a little smile. It comes out sadder than it used to, or maybe his smiles were always sad, and Albert never noticed, or forgot.
“That’s good,” he says, and sounds like he means it.
He did not come here for him, he stopped looking. Of course he did, and a while ago, too. An old dog can’t learn new tricks but can very well be beaten into knocking it off with his old ones.
Albert shakes his head and sits at their table, taking in the shifting features of the woman. The moment the smirk on her thin lips brings a name to his mind – Laura Palmer, of course, because who the fuck else in all the worlds – is when he notices that Cooper is just as indefinite, yet always incontrovertibly Dale Cooper. They are sitting in front of dark red curtains, which should be hysterical for reasons he cannot quite pinpoint, sipping their coffee, their faces changing imperceptibly and constantly. Albert looks down at his hand but it looks like the same old wrinkly thing he’s had all his life.
“It’s my day off,” he says eventually, to clarify, and flags a waitress to order his beer at last, make it an IPA.
It feels like he should be overcome by a great wave of emotions that are not in any rush to get there, and may in fact be petering out a few hundred miles away from the diner. There used to be a time when he was shaken by the intensity of even just the thought of this reunion that felt always on the horizon, but that time is in the past, his feelings are in the past, there are only walls left here. They’re not always an inconvenience, walls – one may be reminded of the parable of the guy who got himself an open-space penthouse and endured the smell of fried onions deep into the night. Sometimes barriers are necessary. Albert can sit on one side and Coop on the other one and they can lean on the conversation without stabbing themselves on each other’s sharp edges, simply existing like people who don’t have jagged open wounds that’d need to fit together like a bloodied puzzle.
“I still owe you a proper autopsy, ma’am,” he tells the woman.
“I’m free all afternoon,” she laughs.
“Albert, I believe that given the circumstances, therapy is rather the customary choice to analyze one’s inner workings.”
“Oh, sorry, I must’ve misread a cue here. We’re looking for normal? I can do normal. I’ve done normal all my goddamn life. I’ll go drive my normal car with its normal screaming and do my normal taxes.”
“There is no screaming in your car,” says Laura Palmer with sudden, chilling authority.
Albert cocks his head. “Say what?”
“It is backwards. You are driving toward it, to a reunion.”
“I’ll drink to that,” he says without batting an eyelash.
They could be friends. The people they are now could be friends, is what Albert catches himself thinking as their small talks broaches greater topics and scuttles back to the familiarity of the inconsequential, careful not to overstep their common ground. It is a surprisingly pleasant sensation.
There is, however, at least one ragged issue jutting out, and no amount of sublimated detachment or whatever the fuck can sand it off. Cooper perceives it, or comes to Albert’s same conclusion through his own convoluted reasonings. As their thoughts overlap, the air changes – the shift comes easy to this place. Believe it, now: it is a palace. It is a place of symbols, and of mystery. Cooper seems to know the part he must play on this stage; he stands up with slow, deliberate movements and bridges the short distance to Albert’s seat. He leans over. There is, in this script, the possibility of a kiss, but Cooper hesitates, acknowledging that it may not be welcome here and now, and Albert finds himself agreeing, offering his cheek instead. Laura oversees, as master of ceremonies.
At the end of this ritual comes the secret, shared from lips to ear:
“My mistakes were not about you.”
And Albert can only let out the breath he was holding in a short, hoarse laugh. “Yeah, shit, Coop, I sort of figured that out already. Nice to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, mind you. While you’re at this, isn’t there something else you might fancy saying?”
Of course there is. But he cannot even come close to wording an apology in his head, let alone give it breath. Not when their truce is still so fragile, not when the horse that has been evoked observes their little human struggles with distant white eyes from somewhere behind the curtains.
“...see you around,” he says instead.
“You are an unrepentant asshole.”
“And that, Albert, remains our little secret.”
“Say, let’s play it like this. I’ll be around. You find me, I’ll buy you a drink. The lady’s invited too.”
Cooper smiles – effortlessly charming, as usual, but there is some real warmth in there, presence and intent for once.
“It’s a deal.”