Journeying

It was already six when Evan showed up at the house. They’d meant to leave at five, but Sarah’s phone needed charging and Evan’s keys were at the bottom of his laundry basket. He got inside, hugged her in a perfunctory kind of way, and sat at the kitchen table while she flitted from room to room, taking a bag from bedroom to kitchen and then hurrying it back in to add something else. It was seven by the time they left, throwing the bags in the trunk and scooping up an armful of snacks on their last swing out the door.

They played music for the first hour of the drive, humming or singing along. Some of the time they just sat in companionable quiet and listened to the voices buzzing from the car’s speakers. Sarah drove. She promised Evan that when she got tired they’d pull over and switch. He was glad, because he didn’t like driving much anyway. It was dark out, and their headlights hollowed a patch of night before them as they went. He was easily spooked and more easily anxious, so he watched comfortably as Sarah navigated the twists in the roads and the stoplights blinking to yellow as they approached. They were on the highway within half an hour, and from there the way was smooth and plain. There were no more turns and no more interesting buildings at the side of the road.

Highway at night

When the radio played the song they both loved, they threw their voices into it. Their singing filled the car, thin and wavering as it was in their imperfect voices. On the flat straight highway the notes bounced and rocked. They wailed the last soaring word and fell silent as the next song began to sprinkle pinging notes into place, and their song faded out. Sarah, without looking, turned down the volume and said, “I love that song.”

“Yeah,” said Evan. “I know. Me too.”

“The ones I love best, the songs I mean, they’re the ones that I feel like really say something. You know what I mean? Like the songs that have lyrics that make sense to me, or that I relate to. That sounds dumb, but you know, the words that I feel like I could’ve written. If I were any good at writing songs.”

“Exactly.” Evan smiled. “I know exactly what you mean. Things mean more to you when they have to do with some experience, or feeling or whatever, something that you’ve lived. Some kind of common perspective, kind of.”

“Right,” said Sarah. “That’s what makes something really meaningful, right? Something that people have in common. Right. But like, not that you have to have the same interest or situation in common. You can feel the same way about a situation, though.”

Evan said, “You know, I always wanted to write songs or something like that. It’s like poetry, I don’t know. Because you said, I mean what you’re saying is exactly what I always really loved about songs or movies or whatever. Movies, actually. I would love to write movies, the kind of movie that you watch and then it ends and you just feel understood. You ever watch a movie to make you feel like that?”

“Just last week, when we watched that one online, that gave me that feeling at the end. I totally know what you mean. When you see something, and you hear it saying something you already know. Except in a new way, maybe. Or like you have the same problem in the movie and in the movie they find the solution and watching it makes everything make a little more sense for a while.”

“Right!” Evan’s voice rose. “You so know what I’m saying. You should help me write a movie. We could do that, you know. Make something that helps people understand their lives a little better.” He settled back, quieted a bit. “I mean, okay, I know that sounds crazy. But we could, I think.”

Sarah smiled at the dark highway ahead, and signaled right. “Yeah. Okay, anyway, I’m going to go to that gas station at the next exit, I want to switch for a little. Or maybe I just need to stretch my legs.”

Evan nodded, though she couldn’t see. She pulled into the gas station, filled up the car, and leaned over to his window. She said, “Actually, you know, I think I’m fine. Just needed to get out of the car for a minute.”

She went around to the driver’s seat again and started up the car. She sat, staring out the windshield, for a long moment until Evan’s voice pulled her out of her reverie. He said, “Right then, let’s go. We still have a long while to go.”

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The Tambourine Men

You can tell that they’re coming by the music seeping into the air, the notes lingering like a scent that you can almost recognize. You’ll follow it just to know, because otherwise it nudges at a corner of your brain, reminding you to notice it. When they arrive, you can just follow the stream of people headed toward them, the crowd clustering around the sounds.

You can try to push up to the front if you like, but people are so tightly packed that you’re risking an elbow to some of your softer parts. Everyone stands still, locked in place, reaching for the music that chimes and jangles through the mob of people. You can feel it rising through your bones and spreading through your blood until the melody runs through your veins and makes your heart beat faster.

You can hear them play for a while, and then they go. It seems like forever when you’re in the middle of it, the music stretching like some vast landscape where the grass rustles and the streams murmur, the leaves swish against each other and the birds offer an occasional cascade of notes. The sweetness of it fills your chest with a warm pressing joy.

You can listen to it rapt, your lips moving without your realizing it, your eyes closed. When your eyelids blink open you see the men on stage as they play. They are wearing buttoned shirts and jeans, and their eyes are open. They stare at the people, eyes searching, lips parted. They look entirely ordinary. Your eyes slip shut again and the sound builds again to a glorious height. It stretches again forever. The music surrounds you, overwhelms you, drowns you in beauty. When it ends the silence is emptier than anything you have ever heard.

You can tell when they’ve gone by the sudden absence of people who are usually there. The old lady isn’t at the grocery check-out line anymore, the librarian is missing, the banker who eats a sleepy lunch at the corner diner has left the plastic stool empty and you can see the dimple on the cushion where he’s sat every day for twelve years. You can watch them go, but that’s boring. Men with suitcases trundling behind them walk in a little clump. It’s more interesting to watch the trail of people following them.

You can count them, but you’ll get tired before you reach the end. They link their arms together and walk on, some with bright sure steps and some dragging their feet, undecided, still thinking of the leftover burgers they abandoned in their refrigerators.

You can watch them all and wonder, and ask yourself if you should go too. They’re all listening, all straining for the music, and humming along with the sound. Together the caravan of people builds into a great round well of song, so many voices twining together. They walk endlessly, singing, dreaming.