Eliot adjusted the brim of his straw hat to shade his eyes. The sun was draining. He leaned against the hood of his blue Thunderbird, fifth generation. Its engine purred, the car idling on the side of the road for over an hour, its radio tuned to an FM station playing mariachi.
“We’re going to be late,” said Eliot checking the time on his cell.
A woman was napping where the sand met grass a few yards ahead. She opened her eyes at the sound of Eliot’s voice. In a sudden breeze, her white dress seemed to float as she rose to her feet.
“I hear water,” she said. “Behind the trees.”
“Says no trespassing.”
“Heard the old man’s been dead awhile. Don’t think he’d mind.”
“It’s twelve-thirty, c’mon.” Eliot opened the passenger side door of the Ford.
“I’m going to look.” She spun around, the dress a whirlwind, and brushed past the first layer of jungle.
“Suz–” Eliot waited. “Suzanna!” She slipped out of sight. Eliot closed the door to the car, crossed his arms and buried his toes deep in the sand.
So much for the great escape, he thought. They hadn’t even made it a hundred miles. The couple was due for lunch with Eliot’s cousin who had a cabin in what, so far as Eliot could tell, was the middle of nowhere. In exchange for the keys, Eliot would buy lunch. It would be a quick affair, Eliot had planned it. He would pretend to save room for dinner, nibble at an appetizer, grab the check (and key), then hit the road. He had run through the event six or seven times on the drive. He hadn’t even noticed Suzanna had pulled over until she was already out of the car.
Eliot checked the time: twelve-thirty-eight. The jungle was still. He twisted the keys in the ignition. The engine grumbled to sleep, music fading. Slipping on sandals, Eliot slogged towards the trees.
Wind whispered through the jungle. Sunlight danced on the leaves. A bird, unseen, cawed from its perch, while in concert crickets chirped. With heavy step, Eliot maneuvered through the tangled mess of twig and vine carpeting the forest floor. He batted at mosquitos whizzing past.
There was no way they’d make lunch, he had conceded that. Now all he wanted was to be out of the woods. Ahead, the crowning sun adorned the treetops. A clearing, Eliot thought. He marched in desperation, muttering the mantra of a madman: goddammit! goddammit! goddammit!
* * *
Beyond the clearing, Suzanna climbed a boulder, which was smaller than she remembered. The boulder stood on the edge of a brook. Suzanna wondered how deep it was. As a child, Suzanna and her sisters had sneaked onto the old man’s lot every summer. They used to chase each other and tried catching butterflies. They hid from — and later, with — the neighborhood boys. In all that time, though, she had never set so much as a foot in the water.
Suzanna slipped out of her dress, laying it on the rock. Route 41 was only a mile away, but she heard no cars. The sun was sinking on the horizon. Nightjars were waking. Fireflies luminesced. From the edge of the boulder, the jungle offered infinite serenity.
In the stone, Suzanna noticed an inscription. She swept her big toe over the letters, dulled by years of erosion, and read:
LOST, NOT FOUND. a.d. 1903
A twig crunched. Suzanna spied Eliot limping out of the jungle.
“Suz?” She hated that he called her that.
“I cut my leg.” He panted, catching his breath. Suzanna leaned forward, stretching out her arms, diving into the stream.
Twilight was Suzanna’s favorite time of night. Against cobalt sky, life glistened. Cars cruised along the highway, wheels humming soft along the pavement. Brake lights streaked through the air at 70 miles an hour. It reminded Suzanna of a club in Wynwood, where she and Eliot had met. Eliot had approached her, trying to introduce himself, but she was unable to hear him over the acid house pumping from the DJ’s speakers. They spent the rest of the night dancing, watching, communicating through only the slightest of gestures as they held each other close and swayed to the rhythm. This enigmatic suitor, Suzanna thought, was enchanting. In silence, their future was limitless.
A few months later, she moved into his apartment. There silence shifted, stale. Nights were lost on the couch in a flood of blue light emitting from their TV screen. Days were lost to the quotidian trivialities of office politics. Life itself became simply unexceptional. However vague her dreams and ambitions had once been, Suzanna mused, they had always felt achievable. Now, they were nothing but fading fantasy.
Suzanna’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the wheel tighter. Periodically, she glanced towards the GPS routing the Thunderbird to the nearest walk-in clinic. Eliot snored in the passenger seat, his leg propped on the dashboard, drool trickling from the corner of his mouth. Although the cut on his leg was mostly clotted, they decided to have the wound properly dressed. How quickly dreams can die, she thought, and their great escape was over.
“Hey!” said Suzanna.
“What?” asked Eliot, waking.
“You’re doing it again.”
“Mumbling. Something about work.”
“Fuck work,” said Eliot.
“Fuck work,” said Suzanna.
“How much longer till we’re at the walk-in?”
“An hour. Just under.”
“I’m going back to sleep. Do me a favor. If I start mumbling again, don’t wake me this time.”
“No, I need you to keep me talking. I’m drowsy.”
“You wanna pull over and take a break?”
“I want you to drive.”
Eliot looked at his leg.
“I know you can’t, obviously.” Suzanna adjusted her grip on the wheel. “Just keep talking to me so I don’t fall asleep, okay?”
“Sure.” Silence lingered. “What do you wanna talk about?”
“Did you ever tell your cousin we weren’t making lunch?”
“No.” Eliot pulled out his cell.
“Wonder how long he waited before he gave up and left.”
Eliot texted in silence.
“I think I’m gonna quit.” Eliot froze.
“I hate my job.”
“Everyone hates their job.”
“His job. Her job.”
“Nothing. I’m gonna give my notice Monday.”
“How we gonna pay rent? You’re thirty, white collar, have no unique skills beyond a predisposition to correct grammar. Cream of the unemployed crop. Bet you’ll get a six-figure offer by the end of the week.”
“You could be supportive.”
“Supportive? How ’bout we actually make a decision together?”
“It’s just an idea.”
“Well you haven’t thought it through.”
“There’s always something.”
“No there isn’t — do you watch the news? You have security, it doesn’t get any better than that. Anyway, you’d be stripping by March.”
Suzanna slammed on the breaks. A car screeched, trying to avoid rear-ending the Thunderbird. The passing driver leaned on his horn, offering unfriendly advice. Suzanna unbuckled her seatbelt.
“What are you doing?” asked Eliot.
“Going for a walk.”
“On the highway?” Suzanna stepped into the darkness.
Rex leaned his foot heavy on the gas. Aside from a Thunderbird pulled over on the side on the road a mile back (the driver had told him a tow truck was on the way, freeing Rex from responsibility), the road was his to claim as he pleased. Rex flicked a switch, the roof of his Mustang collapsing away, wind erupting. Shuffling through the glove compartment, he produced a pair of black Ray Bans. As sexy as Lauren Bacall, he thought, admiring himself in the rearview, giggling.
On the horizon ahead, a silhouette materialized. Rex pulled over.
“Need a lift?”
“You don’t even know where I’m going,” said Suzanna.
“I know the nearest thing in five miles is the only gas station for another ten miles.”
Suzanna relented, thanking the bearded Good Samaritan.
“So where are you headed?”
“I don’t know,” said Suzanna after a moment.
“Everyone knows where they’re headed.” Suzanna remained silent. “How’d you end up out this way?” asked Rex.
“A friend.” Rex doubted this.
“Where’s your friend now?”
“Heading home probably.”
“Don’t you want to go home too?”
Suzanna turned her back to Rex. She tried to count the passing trees. When that proved more challenging than she thought, she closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. She wondered about the engraving on the boulder. Did the person who was lost even want to be found? Maybe there was something to remaining hidden.
Suzanna had spent her entire life knowing where she was, what she was, who she was. In fact, she couldn’t remember a time that she hadn’t known. It was almost as if, before Suzanna was old enough to realize, someone had decided it all for her. Her life, it seemed, had been nothing but living up to the expectation of others: of Eliot, of family, of friends, even strangers like Rex. Any moment she expressed doubt, she was told that tomorrow would sort itself out. Thirty years later, tomorrow had always been exactly like each day before. What did one have to show for a life like that? A gravestone, probably, with a meaningless epitaph, an entire life lived in so few words. That may have been all right for some, but for Suzanna, it was no longer enough. She slipped off into a deep sleep.
Darkness enveloped the senses. Ghosts of the Past haunted her dreamscape and, in trepidation, she peered over her shoulder towards the emptiness behind her, shaking. Roaring memories streaked across night sky, leaving nothing but fast-fading trails of dust in their wake. Brief sensations of life both familiar and foreign flooded her soul. “Whose life is this?” she begged. Only the wind would answer in hymn. She fell to her knee in genuflection to an unknown voice of Reason, and called out, “Guide me, please! Find me, please!”
Mountains of rock erupted from beneath the grass, in insurrection to order, in answer to her pleas. Olympus was crowned Palace of the Gods before her very eyes, and so she searched for Perseus (he would know her well enough) in sable Uncertainty.
But the Palace was empty. The rocks fell back into the ground from whence they came, the tide rising, sea of grass returning, a limitless labyrinth with no walls, no borders, horizon the only indication of a possible end.
She took a step forward to quench the untenable urge for freedom. A light appeared, miles ahead. She took another step. A second light appeared, just past the first. A third step, a third light, and she took off running with no idea of where she might go. As always, tomorrow came with a start.
* * *
Suzanna woke with the rising sun in a place she had never seen before.
A rusting sign beckoned her forward, promising the world. In her stillness, Suzanna’s shadow anchored further into the ground, a permanent monument to what had once been. Suzanna nestled her toes into the dirt, kicking aside a white rock. She was alone. The air was stale. Silence reigned. Above, clouds closed in like vultures circling the damned.
The inscription — lost, not found — illuminated her soul. Lost, not found. The Carver was Left Behind. Could she suffer the same fate?
She wondered if she had the strength to bear it. Before her lay opportunity; behind her, mistakes long past. Only in the present could her future be born.
She wrenched her leg free from gravel, driving her foot forward. The rusting sign inched closer. Golden letters glimmered in the sun as the clouds parted. Suzanna thrust her other leg forward, and the sign slid towards her. Each step became easier, the sign always nearer, and the déraciné smiled. Finally, she knew hope. Every moment, she was closer to finding home.
Oliver Bell is an artist from Taos, New Mexico, with strong ties to Southern California. Though his specialty is in video art and photography, his practice includes a variety of media. He recently presented his first solo show at ETC Gallery in Venice Beach, California. More of his work can be seen at www.olliebell.com.
Andrew Rodes is an American writer. A 2013 recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Residency, his prose appears in Glyph and Alliance of Women Film Journalists among others publications. His produced scripts include the short film The Boston Post (2013) and the award-winning public television series Spare Change (2006-2007). He is currently developing multiple screenplays.