By Benjamin Blake
I step out onto the small metal stairwell, and the cold October air wraps around me like an icy blanket.
I shiver, light a cheap cigarette, and exhale, watching the blue smoke drift towards the dotted stars in a spectral-like cloud. I had sat and watched the squirrels scamper about the sprawling oaks, and disused telephone poles in the same spot earlier that day.
A car engine growls to life across the street from the dimly lit corner bar, and the inebriated shouts of intoxicated patrons punctuate the quiet of 12:30 AM.
I can’t help but wonder how long I’ll be around for—if years, weeks or even days. Mason is a nice place in a kind of off-center way. Tall deciduous trees line the still streets and lazy meandering rivers flow with easily startled deer grazing along their banks, in contrast to the dented pickups, discarded soda cans (or “pop” as the locals call it), and seedy looks from haggard inhabitants.
I’m missing over-glamorized and undernourished Los Angeles. I have a handful of good friends I abandoned when I moved out here. The colder nights are most definitely welcome, though, and I do hope I can see a winter through. I’m waiting in anticipation for four-foot roadside drifts and frozen lakes with children colliding on the knife-sharp blades of skates.
My cigarette is close to burning into the filter, so I take one last lungful, and let it fall from my hand over the safety rail and watch the ember spiral down like a falling star. It hits the asphalt with a trail of sparks.
I turn and walk back inside, leaving it to die amongst the soda cans and weather-beaten corpses of its cousins.
I lasted two weeks. Cohabitation didn’t suit me. The constant complaints, the disdainful glances thrown like daggers at every whim. She had taken to sleeping on the sofa in the apartment living room. For some reason had sacrificed her bed willingly.
I stuffed my clothes into my battered suitcase, shook her awake, and told her I was leaving. She was kind, or eager enough, to drive me to the Greyhound station come morning. We said our farewells, and I boarded the bus.
Over two-thousand miles passed beneath the tires of the coach. Bitter, black coffee, riding with carnies and stray Amish, sleeping sitting up, fleeting smoke breaks, towering neon signs promising FOOD and GAS. Loneliness. Companionship. The lightest dusting of snow on the roadside in the Rockies, a shack of a store somewhere in Utah its walls adorned with countless skulls of slaughtered animals. Las Vegas felt different when you’re broke, misplaced luggage, a newfound freedom.
But nothing felt as good as the morning sun spilling over the edge of the desert just across the California state line. It’s diffused through the scratched Perspex window, bathing me in its fire-like glow. I was home.