Down in the shadow of the valley (cont.)
I have begun to imagine my life not as a winding river of time, or a path through the snowy woods; not as a succession of candles on short-bread for every birthday, nor a merry-go-round of Easter and Christmas. I don't count my life with years at all.
I count it with Highways.
In the deepest recesses of my memory, the temporal trench of my little-girlhood, lies Richmond. There I was born, and there I lived with Father, Mother, and Brother. In Richmond, we were very still all the time. We hardly moved at all. We didn't walk a whole day for anything, and that's very difficult for me to imagine, today. Father had a car to move us, but I don't remember his car. In fact, I only really remember three days from that period of my life: the day Jacob was born (and immediately died, returned to life, and struck the tenuous balance he has bravely held for so long), the day the bombs fell on the west, and the day Mother was shot protecting our bessies. After Richmond, there are only Highways.
Interstate Five was our first new home. I liked it better than a house because instead of being fixed in one place forever, it was in many different places at the same time. It stretched out endlessly, and living on it meant you had to keep moving. That made me feel constantly busy, like an assembly-line worker. Every day we had a plan: walk the I-Five. But as fast as we moved, I-Five would have already arrived wherever we were heading. I loved that Highway. It formed in my young mind the concepts of destiny and God. I grew up fast.
Jacob often got sick. Father and Brother had to take turns carrying him for hours, so I walked without any help. Most of the time, they were too tired to talk much, but I had started to teach myself. My backpack held the only possessions Father had packed for me: my favorite baby books, some of Mothers old novels, and a dictionary. Eventually, I traded away the baby books and novels for some shells for Father's gun. He hugged me and cried.
We weren't alone. We shared the I-Five with many other movers going in both directions, and with hundreds of thousands of cars dead in the roadway from when the Island's Pulse silenced all our machines. Father traded with other families, and sometimes we'd all camp together in big groups. Once, what looked like a whole traveling zoo of bessies, jimmy-goats, and horses roared around us. Father hailed the riders. That night, we drank milk and ate fresh meat. One of the families we met moved with us all the way down to Chehalis. They had a boy named Jacob too--Jake, actually--and he was my best friend on I-Five. His father, a doctor, knew which foods our Jacob should eat more of to keep from getting sick.
One day, Father and the doctor had a fight about where to move. The doctor heard rumors that things were bad down south: Before submerging mysteriously into the Pacific, the Island of Death had obliterated parts of California and Nevada, and some militant cult was seizing what was left. The doctor wanted to take his family back up north. Father said he was a stupid man; that Washington was naturally the next target, especially with the cluster of revitalized military bases, PSNS, Bangor, Seabeck, and Bainbridge--fabled as the few functioning installations on the coast--all huddled together in conspiracy against the Island. Fire would surely rain down on those waterways soon, he said. California, on the other hand, was not a threat anymore. It was simply sitting there, half-empty, it's vast San Joaquin Valley sparkling with life. A man could farm that land. The doctor was not convinced. He warned us that a farmer on dead soil is a farmer shit-out-of-luck. He left with his family, with Jake.
We moved on south into Oregon. Here, the military was active. Newly built trucks and caravans passed us occasionally--the armored men inside waved us back in the direction we'd come, but Father pressed onward. In Salem, we met a soldier squatting at a vacant truck-stop. Father helped him fend off some raiders. The soldier wore an Olympia uniform, but he was alone. He agreed to accompany us toward California. A few nights later, as we came down a range of hills outside Albany, we encountered the first blockade we'd ever seen on Interstate Five.
It was a military blockade. The soldier spied it from a mile away using his night-vision farsights. He admitted he was a deserter feigning ligeancy, and that he'd be lethally injected the following day if anyone recognized him. He said that the order to partition off California was recent; the blockade must have been imposed within the past couple of days, and that with some luck, Interstate 101 was still clear.
Father trusted him. The soldier led us West, parallel to (but out of sight of) Highway Twenty, dodging caravans and squads. I was lost without Interstate Five. The more distant it grew behind us, the worse my sense of direction and time became. I was in free-fall. Then, weeks later, the ocean showed up as a sliver on the horizon. At night, it was as black as the land, but infinitely flat. The sliver slowly opened up to us--the dark Pacific fed by Alaskan currents. We had reached New Port, a graveyard city which had once witnessed the Island of Death itself rising out of the cold waters like a split-second volcano of metal and sending out a ballistic hail over the States.
But that was fine with me, because now I was anchored again. I had a new life-line, a new time-line, a new cable to pull me.
I had Interstate 101. Current Mood: anchored