On the Highway of Dreams
Random was sitting in the backseat of a ’64 Chevy Nova station wagon. He was trying to drive and could just see out the windshield, but steering felt awkward. He could see the steering wheel in the front, but knew he could not use the brake from where he was. He recognized the road. It was highway 9, and he was winding over the low rugged hump from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz. The interior of the car was dripping and on the floor were puddles of water. His body was enveloped in the sultry air that filled the car. Each breath was heavy as it entered his lungs. He became aware that someone was sitting next to him and turned to see who it was. It was Essie, but her form was unclear. She was having difficulty fitting on the seat next to him. Suddenly he realized in a panic that the car was full of water and he had to take a breath.
Random woke up sweating in the quiet dark. His heart jack hammered away at his ribs, and he could not get air into his lungs. He wobbled out of the car and stood bent over, hands on knees, trying to slow down his thoughts and his breathing. The panic faded and his breathing eased.
Slowly his thoughts calmed as he leaned back against the car. Memories of the last time he had driven that road came floating up still mixed with the dream images. Essie was beside him, her eyes wide. Every now and then she would put her foot on an imaginary break. Then putting her small sturdy hand on his forearm, she would gently say, “Don you tink you should slow down a leetle beet.”
Random remembered the Nova. It was white with red naugahide bench seats. Essie had joked that “No va” means won’t go in Spanish, but that car went. It was solid metal the way they made them then. It felt heavy and boat-like on the winding road, but the engine was good. They had bought the car together, their first major purchase as a couple, part of their weekend escape plan. Every month or so they would go camping for the weekend. He realized it had been a couple of years since they had done anything like that.
After looking up in absent wonder at the speckled streak of stars in the country dark sky, he got back into the seat. Trying to remember the shape of Essie in his dream, he fell asleep. Almost immediately he fell into another dream. It was a story about slaves on the Orinoco River where Essie grew up. He was on an old style riverboat with the big wheel turning behind. Only instead of high-stakes gamblers and cabin boys, there were poor people and farm animals crowded into large dark rooms. Again the feeling of stifling air heavy with moisture made him feel uneasy.
He was in a large room filled with noise and squalor. There were many native peasants, children and farm animals moved restlessly about in the dimness. A monkey perched on Random’s shoulder, and Essie stood next to him.
There was an explosion, and the riverboat began to list and sink. In the panic and chaos, he and Essie were separated.
“It was the abolicionistas who blew up the boat,” the monkey chirped into in his ear, “Because the boats carry supplies to the mines.”
“Where is Essie can you see her?” Random shouted in the smoke as he staggered on the tipping boat. It was all so real. He could feel the smoke and heat.
“You will need to come with me if you want to survive,” said the monkey as they fell together into the warm river, and Random swam as hard as he could to escape the undertow of the sinking paddle wheel as it disappeared under the current.
He could hear an announcer’s voice (his dreams often had announcers) over the sound of swirling water and cries of panic saying:
“Esmeralda de Orinoco: a river, a woman and a struggle for freedom in the jungles of Venezuela.”
He woke up with a start. A large shiny raven stared through the windshield at him, and croaked, “Tegethnot!” at him and in a whirl of black and fluttering push off into the air and was gone.
“Tegethnot?” Random muttered to himself, “What the hell is my mind up to?”