I maneuvre my Schwinn Ten-Speed Racer around all the established potholes, black ice and rotted roadkill that lay in my path. A mass of gray stony sky looms above, mirroring the stretch of road that lies before me. I have become too familiar with these two miles or so of bleak service road that connects North Edison to South, and more importantly, connects me to Durham Road and The Galaxy Diner. As I make my descent down the sloping asphalt, my bike begins to pick up startling speed, making the twenty-something air temperature feel more like forty-fucking below. I sit rigid and hyper-alert, letting the winds pound against me. Tears run down my cheeks and solidify into a salty paste that sting like hot wax on my skin. I tighten the drawstring of my hoodie and button the top button of my fleece-lined Lee corduroy jacket, momentarily navigating the bike with my knees. As I cruise through the turnpike underpass, I let out a strategically timed scream to hear the sound of my voice echo into the abyss, as if convincing myself and anything else with ears that I am, for the moment, still very much alive.
Near where I grew up there’s an abandoned quarry. For over a century bluestone was mined there. A deep open pit cut into the earth; steep walls of dark basalt criss-crossed by fine veins of quartz, caverns and sink holes and shelves of hard rock. Forty years ago the quarry stopped being profitable, so the mine owners turned off the pumps, removed the equipment that still worked, and let the ground water rise. Within a few months the quarry had turned into a lake. The rising tide submerged the void, and what was left behind was forgotten and drowned beneath the surface. The mining company planted some trees, put up a few picnic tables and walked away. Because of the height of the quarry walls on one side, the lake stood sheltered from the wind that whipped over the land, the skin of the water still and inviting, a dark blue pearl in an amphitheatre of stone.
I remember being ten, eleven years old maybe, and running around in the summers when my old man was drunk off his ass on the couch in the frontroom, and my ma would open the back porch door and tell me to get out of the house for a couple of hours so she could get some peace and quiet. I would round up some other neighborhood kids—it didn’t really matter which ones, though usually Benzo and Pooce were along for the ride—and just run out as far as we could get from the block without interfering with anyone else’s turf. At that time, 1960, 1961, there were still a lot of what we used to call prairies around—empty lots. The lots could fool you if you weren’t careful. The grass in them was tall, tall enough that from the street it looked like you could just run right across them to the alley behind. But, really, there was a slope down from the sidewalk and another back up to the alley so the middle of the yard might be four feet or more down. You could run into one and be up to your armpits in weeds and get yourself a broken ankle to boot. That was something you learned as a little kid running through the neighborhood. So, when we’d come across a prairie on one of our runs, we’d be careful, especially if we didn’t know it real good, to go in sideways, one foot at a time, or better yet find a big rock or a stone and throw it in and see how far down it went before we jumped in. This was also true in cases of snow. Just something we learned.
I stare into the fire, tendrils of heat swirling around my face.
It is the first time I will do this. I had anticipated growing inherent wisdom, like that of the elders, but here I am at a ripe age and still rendered witless by the task ahead of me. Adulthood is a farce.
This work has been deleted at the request of the author.