Amy Alley and Tom Gamble

Inspiration Piece: Tom Gamble, author

The eyes are the first thing he notices. Every time, without fail, it’s the eyes. Over the years he’s tried to decide their exact color, yet it always eludes him. Sometimes goldenrod, sometimes a burnished hazel, now and again soft tan or perhaps burnished brass. The dry, burnt skin of his fingertips brushes across her cheek lovingly, knowingly, and he settles on wheat warming in the summer sun, fingers sliding slowly away and to back to his side. With a heavy sigh he tears his eyes away from hers and returns them to the road ahead. A breeze rolls in from the west, carrying with it a soft spray of sand which flushes through the open window at his side and begins to settle. Dust motes dance across his vision, sparkling in the afternoon rays that continue to pour in from above and beyond, though whether he sees them or not, he can’t be bothered to care. The only sign that he’s noticed any change at all comes as his fingers return to her cheek, brushing away the new patina of dust and sand from her coy visage.
Those eyes… Those deep, knowing, impossible eyes. As many times as he’s wondered what color they are, a thousand times more he’s wondered just what they’re hiding. The expression on her face is soft, yet stern; full, pouting lips parted just so, as if about to reveal whatever secret she’s kept hidden inside. Wide, cautious eyes searching for something, something unseen and possibly unknowable. Her soft, auburn hair frames her face just so, tresses blown gently from her cheeks, ornamented above by a lily the color of a robin’s egg. The petals hang across her forehead, soft and supple as her skin.

He can’t remember how long he’s had the picture, but it’s always resided upon the center of the dash, just above the old broken radio; a dusty altar which he always returned to and never strayed far from, like some devout friar reluctant to leave his abbey. In this case the abbey was a rusted, battered old pickup and the friar didn’t even know the name of the saint he prayed to every day, though that didn’t make him any less devout. As his gaze finally rose from the still-frame shrine he caught a reflection on the hood which bled into the heat haze forming on the horizon ahead.

Miles of dusty asphalt stretched out ahead of him, and countless more lay behind him, and somewhere along the endless stretch of dusty black top, a bleak town, a threadbare motel and more questions than he cared to answer. Not that any of that mattered anymore; he’d learned long ago how easy it was to wear out a welcome… Life was simpler by far if he left as soon as the questions began, sometimes earlier still.

His chest heaved with another sigh as he turned his gaze from the cracked road, across the parched landscape beside it and up towards the clear blue sky above. The horizon wavered and shimmered, a silvery mirage obscuring the separation between the two. Somewhere along that desolate stretch of highway he’d find what he sought, or so he kept telling himself. It was either that or give up, pack it in, maybe even simply fall to the ground and lay there, unmoving. He’d contemplated that option enough times, more than he liked to admit, even to himself when he was alone with his thoughts. Sometimes he would stop the truck of his own volition, other times it would break down, now and again he ran out of gas or blew a tire, but always and every time he would simply accept it as the way things were meant to be. Inevitable, unchanging, unchangeable fate. He wouldn’t leave the truck, wouldn’t make the slightest move from his seat even, except to perhaps readjust the picture of his dear saint where she sat, coy and shy and knowing upon his dash, and wait for the end to come.

In these visions sometimes it took days, sometimes it took only hours, but the end always came the same way. The desert winds would pick up, bringing with them the dust and sand and grit and stone, hot and dry and arid. It would creep in, slowly at first, but soon faster, ever faster, until it had completely filled the cab and buried him beneath it, and left him entombed within those rusted metal walls like some automotive mausoleum. It would be a fitting end, given past events, which is why every time the visions came to him he didn’t fight them, didn’t lash out at them or push them away, simply waited until they passed, until the spectre no longer lingered behind his shoulder, and his mind was his own once more. Then, as always, he would look to the picture plastered to his dash, his little saint and her bright eyes, whatever color they might be, the faded flower in her hair, the soft pouting lips, and he would be himself again.

Why hadn’t he simply succumbed yet? Why did he continue on, town after village after town, mile after mile, always moving and never resting? He knew the answer, or at least believed he did; though it was only a half truth, something forming yet unformed, which danced through his mind now and again, especially when he was feeling most listless. He closed his eyes and watched it dancing there behind them, a wraith with limbs like tendrils of cool, grey smoke, dancing on some unseen breeze, much like the one that took her hair and brushed it from her face. The ghostly vision shaped itself slowly but surely, forming spindly arms, lithe legs, a long flowing mane which continued to slowly dance in the breeze, and in the middle of what would be the face, two bright fires that shone like cut topaz, which burned straight through those eyes of his and made his breath catch in his throat. His eyes flashed open once more, darting from the highway to her again, as if suspecting that this time, just this one time, he would catch the slightest hint of movement, the tiniest change in expression… But no, as always she remained

the same. Slightly sad, a tad aloof, yet consoling and lighthearted at the same time, as though about to finally reveal her secret if only he were able to hear it. A dust devil picked up beside the road ahead, sand scattering across the hood of the truck and scrabbling over the windshield. The dry, cracked corners of his own mouth quirked up into a smirk, then parted, mimicking her own as his eyes widened. The wind didn’t seem as harsh now, and he barely felt the sand as it drifted through the open window. He knew why he kept going, what drove him on, why he didn’t simply allow himself to be entombed within that desert expanse like some modern day pharaoh. Lovingly, he brushed the latest accumulated dust from her soft skin, the flower in her hair, the long flowing tresses which framed her face so perfectly, then shifted into gear and rolled off down the highway once more.

Response Piece: Amy Alley, artist