Deep twilight I pull into a truck stop outside Maple Creek, Saskatchewan for a leak and a go-joe. A man sitting in a booth writes furiously in a journal; untouched raisin pie and coffee arrayed before him; maple walnut ice cream melting into slow brown rivers forming a small glacial lake. A mammoth fork leans in the cold goo.
His attention is utterly focused on the language. I recognize his state immediately. Pausing in the scribble to re-read a previous entry, he is oblivious to me, the restaurant, the world. He sets-to again, pen slipping through the black muddle, finding sense, the thrill of the hunt, losing sense, recaptured, triumph of abstractions.
“Language is a tailor’s shop where nothing fits,” Rumi said.
I stand at the counter for a few minutes, styro-coffee in hand, sipping, watching him shop for clothes. He never moves his eyes from the journal, not even to glance away during pauses.
I wonder what it is he writes so passionately? Is it poetry? Is it great creeping sadness fiction? Is it pioneer gestures and a town is born? Wisdom or gloss? I weigh my need to know against my personal embarrassment if he should tell me FO or find some physical way of saying it. Interrupted reveries have unpredictable ripples.
I sit on a red vinyl stool watching him in the mirror behind of the counter. He fits nicely between the shakemaker with its three swirling talons that torture milk and a showcase of inverted pies. It goes Talons-Writer-Pies in an even row.
I look away when the waitress offers me a refill. We exchange pleasantries, a moment later when she departs and reveals the writer, his coffee cup is being emptied; his pie plate holds a loose brown smear and a warm fork, nothing more.
I turn on my stool to watch him. Our eyes meet for the briefest moment before his fall back to the gaping hungry pages. His hand works the cup handle, rattling sometimes. The sound of the clacking ceramic cup seems to bring him into the here and now and he stops for a while.
His hand snakes, his spoon and saucer do a lively highland fling, a calm settled moment, cup resting quietly in saucer. He grabs the cup by the lip and pounds it into the saucer, which shatters and falls off the table. The waitress approaches reluctantly.
“Are you okay?”
He looks at her, smiling, and says, “Whatever happens next is what I will write.”
The waitress picks up the saucer shards, pallid against the dark stained carpet. The writer watches her with extreme intent finding a word for every nuance, every gesture, thought, flex and aura; consuming her, clothing her in language to take away her nakedness, to save her from wildness, wilderness.
An ominous shiver shimmies up my spine as I realize I am in grave danger of becoming part of “whatever happens next.” Should I flee now? Get up and walk back to the rental car, disappear into the vanishing point? Or stay and become included in some bristling mind’s embattled journey?
It was at that moment I knew “whatever happens next.”
As the glass door zizzes shut behind me, I hear someone clapping. In the parking lot I glance back to see the writer standing, applauding, chasing me with his eyes, the happiest laughter on his face. He bows ever so slightly just before I look away, forever.
August 5, 2002