Light danced across the smooth surface of the ceiling, at once thickening and congealing into blobs of apparent stasis, and in the next moment running back and forth, flickering to and fro. For periods, as the train kept a predictable sway it was as if he were sitting just above the anchor of a perfect metronome of textured light and lateral movement. But in the moment, even as he began to be convinced that as the train rocked from side to side this thick light rolled in and out in time accordingly, a blockage of the beat would surface, a staccato thunder that pushed the dance awry.
Still, the ordering, and retreat from that ordering gave him pleasure.
Fitz turned to view the land rushing by. The wheat fields shimmered in an implausible golden light which appeared as quite the opposite to that which filled the ceiling of the carriage. The fluid light up there failed as a probable reflection of the light of the land. For that light, the light below, was obtuse, blunt in its enormousness. It frightened him, yet it heralded his destination. The fields of wheat parted as a wave, letting the train slip through on an unimpeded and glistening surface. Perhaps, he thought, with every iteration, the movement of the train and the wind that pushed it on buffed the wheat and its light; perhaps, one day, the fields would be so light that they would fade from view. It was possible, wasn’t it, that too much light could be just as concealing as too much dark? But darkness was given to us as lack – as the absence of some thing – and for now there was not yet enough light to conceal.
For now, the darkness would have to be content with standing for absence. The time had not yet come for the light to take its place.
His dogs looked up at him from the floor with love, their eyes wide open and then twitching as the train jerked. They still didn’t have names. Their image in his mind was enough. He’d fallen into communion with them six years ago when he’d been asked to clear a small copse of spruce on an Indian reservation north of Old Wood, Minnesota. During the day, he would fell the skinny trees, working from the top of the hill to the valley floor and the strays would follow him. At first, they worried him for food, but after a few days, and realizing that he had no mind to encourage their begging, they began to regard him as an equal. Perhaps his company was preferable to the children of the reservation. Or perhaps they recognized in him a kindred spirit; a being who refused ownership and stillness. He didn’t bother to check with the elders if it was okay for him to take them. They left with him in the back of his truck.
And then he began to feed them.
He was grateful to have left the cities of the East, with their grey spires and legions of people. They’d worked for him once. But hope had gone. Over the past year his mind had turned to the possibility of a new start, to an expansive time and space not governed by the daily dance of picking a route through a multitude of bodies. If it weren’t for those feelings, perhaps he would have felt sadness at his ejection from the Institute. Instead, he felt a buoyed. Selling his possessions followed. What use for an old truck when he became a company man in the oil patch? No mortgage tied him down and within three months of his dismissal he was travelling towards Jean, a spot on the map, a promise, a chance.
His father had worked the land. Fitz thought of him and found himself wishing that he could draw on his advice now. The man seemed to learn the world through his hands. Through the caress of machines and of the soil he managed to turn dull substrate into vitalized forms. Fitz doubted he could do the same. That inclination, possessed by virtue of repeated engagement with the world of things wasn’t available to him. He was a novice and would have to accept that there would be a lot of work to be done if he were to make it in oil. It was possible though, wasn’t it, that a hereditary threat might connect them, their Nordic genes in common summoning the habits of their ancestors; summoning their collective memories of creating something from nothing so that his hands might already know, already know the solution of the task to come?
In the midst of that fantasy he dozed and dreamed of drilling, of using the control panel to thrust the needle into the earth, to burrow into the soil in search of the black gold. He knew what they looked like, the panels. Like a video game controller with a joystick and rows of switches. In time he would do surgery on the earth and with practice his mastery of this type of material making would spread to the rest of his life. The future appeared, tableaus of times to come where he would be a master, a fashioner of earth and a diviner of oil, able to impart his knowledge of doing to the product of his seed, all fashioned by his fashioning, all awakening the land with their touch.
The wheat and its light were getting stronger and stronger and the sky was now an impossible blue. All topography, for now, had evaporated and he slumbered in the knowledge that soon he was soon to arrive.
He’d been in Jean for three months now and the apartment already looked old, yet the block wasn’t even finished. Outside was a building site. The view from the window still pleased him but the absence of workers for the last few weeks worried him. He’d been one of the first arrivals in the block, and in the bar the regulars joked with him that he might also be one of the last. He’d not struggled to find work here but the idea that he might now work as a driller brought a flush of shame to his cheeks. He’d stopped mentioning it at the labour exchange because the looks he received showed him that to ask was pointless; impertinent, almost. People took it as an affront, as an unwanted reminder that things might not return to the way they were. The price was too low for new wells to be drilled. But wells always needed servicing and that meant water pipe. So he categorized pipe, the repetition akin to the typing of keys in the city. But there were rumours the price would rise soon. It’s amazing how quickly things can change, they said.
Trucks surrounded him when he arrived. Huge trucks, always a Ford or a Chevrolet. But he decided that he didn’t need one, that it was better to spend his savings on furnishing his apartment and on a small saloon car than to invest in a truck that he wouldn’t need until the winter. Now, he wasn’t so sure. At night, his knee told him that winter was coming. It ached and throbbed. He’d thought that he could afford a down-payment on the truck before the snow arrived but the warehouse job didn’t pay as well as he expected. And the dogs stopped him from getting a second job. At the end of the week, after five days with only each other for company from the early morning until near sun-down, the dogs were impatient, nipping at each other. Sometimes they’d shit on the floor and they’d begun to chew the wooden feet of the bed he’d bought. He needed to work the same number of hours, for more money, and meet a woman who worked nights, who could come and let the dogs out during the day and spend her nights off with him. But that wasn’t likely. The women left in town didn’t have any interest in him. He’d been told that money filled their minds. And there were still plenty of company men around. The inertia of investment kept them on the payroll, an invisible hand from above that kept them tethered to the life they, and he, lusted after.
In the bar, the servers didn’t show him much attention. The ones who did were old. Or they were new arrivals too, yet to be familiar with how to recognize the guys who had made it. Tonight, he thought he’d visit the strip club again. On arrival he hesitated at the door. The bouncer was a relaxed guy so let him stand in the doorway while he decided whether to pay. They talked about the weather, how long it would be until the snow. And the oil price. He’d changed his mind. He didn’t want to go in. But one of the girls strode over. It was a quiet night and she wasn’t dancing. She smiled at him as she approached and reached out her hand at waist level. She pulled up his shirt and stroked his belly.
“Coming in, Hun?”
The touch was too much tonight and the image of Lisa suddenly revolved in his mind. She looked immaculate, as she always did, as always a statue did.
That night he dreamed of her for the first time in two years. She ran around and around him, just like she did when they were kids and they’d play by the creek, her white dress billowing in the wind and her laughter tinkling like bells in his ears.
He felt a tongue on his cheek and he already knew it wasn’t hers. It was one of the dogs waking him up for a piss.
He took them out into the night.
He’d left the apartments a year ago after the warehouse had closed. The deposit couldn’t be returned because of the damage the dogs had done to the skirting and to the electrical cables running around the floor. His bed and furniture hadn’t gotten him much.
In some ways he preferred this life. He was living in the camp. Everything was controllable. For 25 dollars per night he had hot water, fresh sheets, constant heating or air conditioning depending on the season, and access to a microwave. The cooking facilities were the one thing that bothered him. There was only so much you could do with a microwave and he missed being able to prepare vegetables properly on his days off. For five bucks a day, Larry, the manager let the dogs out. They couldn’t stay in the trailer but there was a shed for them at the limits of the camp. It was right by the water pump so there was power there during the winter for an electric heater so they didn’t freeze. The dogs liked it here. They virtually walked themselves when he had time to take them out. Even with all the industry there were plenty of crickets and deer for them to chase.
He was sad that he’d sold the car but it was either that or get his knee looked at. He could work without a car but not without a knee. So, for six mornings per week, he was picked up in a repurposed school bus and deposited wherever the road needed to be built.
He didn’t have anything against roads but there never seemed to be a point at which he could be satisfied with the thing he’d been a part of building. Of course, they always went on and on and so didn’t have the finishedness of other objects of labour. That was obvious. But it wasn’t that. It was just that they seemed so meagre, but a scratch on the landscape. The trucks that used the roads seemed bigger than that which they travelled on. When a truck got too old it was replaced with a better one. When these roads got worn away, as they inevitably would, they’d be resurfaced with the same poor gravel that had been kicked off into the fields surrounding them by the tyres’ path.
Today, he was tired. The earth was hard, the sky steely. In the distance, there was the sound of a flare. It was like a jet plane taking off. But he couldn’t see it. It must be over that hill. So, they were drilling again? The price must have come up. Before, this would have excited him. But he turned back to the road. No, he needed a rest. A nap, perhaps. Strange.
He turned to the field, walked five paces and fell down.