It’s autumn. I am sitting at my desk under the glow of a yellow lamp, and outside leaves are falling from an aspen tree. I watch them out the window, drifting, their veins turning in the wind—a grey wind, if it had a color—and I follow them as they tumble over the rounded stones down by the river.
A squirrel sits on a stone, stuffing its cheeks. A woodpecker, too, is searching, hammering away at a dead fir. And beyond them, near the stop sign on the highway, a bearded man is standing on the side of the road. His shoulders hunched, his collar turned up against the wind, he raises his thumb to a passing car. California, the license plate says, the couple inside bound, no doubt, for someplace sunny and warm.
Thirty. That’s where I’d place his age, the man with dark, distant eyes. His eyes are sounds. They resonate, and I strain to hear. Listen:
I hear my mother’s heartbeat, the first sound I ever knew. It is constant. Pure. The only thing pure. And then, thinking back, I hear the sounds of movement. I hear the pneumatics of train doors in the dark, their whoosh-whooshing echoing through the train car in the shadow of the Carpathians, and a woman with a shawl over her head curled in a corner of the cabin, fearing the wind. I hear, too, boot heels on the aisle floor of a greyhound bus, somewhere south of Albuquerque, the tap-tapping of a policeman as he searched with his flashlight, and a slumped over Mexican man in a suit jacket handcuffed and hauled away. And then, later—much later—I hear the ringing of tires along the asphalt of Interstate 80. Nebraska, I think it was, headed west, hay bales in the distance looking like buffalo long gone, and then the Platte River, the Oregon trail, the notion that somewhere out there beyond the Wyoming tempest rolling in—the rumble-thrack of thunder, the pat-patting of raindrops—was a lush green valley of soundless calm.
Are sounds a way to measure dreams?
Turning from the window, now, I look back at my desk, another application for a job that doesn’t feel quite right. The man, though, pulls me outside once again, where he stands on the road under a broad sky rimmed by the mountains beyond. His hands are in his pockets, not far from where his heart might be, were it not still with a girl somewhere back down the road who broke it one too many times.
I watch, now, as another car passes. And the dream passes with it.