Rating: PG-13 (language)
Summary: The devil was in the details, of the icy wooden fence posts and telephone poles, ingrained in the snowflakes, and seeping from the slush under the tires.
Notes/Disclaimer: This was written about the middle of October, and reading it now makes my throat stick. I intended to post it after I got it beta’d, but between busy betas and a busy writer, it simply didn’t happen. For further notes on the content of this, please see the end.
There was a certain poetic emptiness to the scenery that slid by the bus windows in January nearly no matter where they were, but it never became quite so haunting as when they drove through the Midwest. The windswept fields in hues of tan and brown with the piles of snow drifted up to the fence posts, utter lack of life and energy that seemed such striking contrast to when they came in the spring or summer. Jimmy shifted his weight on the seat and fiddled a little with the bottle cap he'd left between his fingers over twenty minutes before. His drink was still untouched, his cigarette yet unlit, and his mind couldn't bring itself over that last hurdle of his will to lay a finger on either one. Instead he fidgeted with the bottle cap, his eyes half open against the glare of the fading sunlight. Up north it was dark so soon, so quickly that he found himself sitting in the bus windows as if hoping to catch every last drop of landscape and soak it in for the long hours of night. Back home he had loved the night with it's heated, comforting darkness like a warm blanket wrapping around him and holding him close but there was a chilly disinterest in the land and temperatures here. Even the fun and excitement of so much snow and cheer had long ago evaporated when they had first tried to make snowballs for a snowball fight and the wind blew the snow so it sifted like grains of sand between his fingers. Wasn't snow suppose to hold moisture? Was it suppose to sting their faces and their eyes in cruel accomplice to the winds that drove through their barely adequite winter garb? Jimmy wasn't sure, but something didn't quite seem right about such a thing. The fields were barren (not a word usually in Jimmy's day-to-day vocabulary), barren like a woman fading away after years and years of struggling with hope that she would have a child. It was so strange compared to the summer when the fields were ripening and rippling like waves in the fiercely blowing winds. Empty? Perhaps, but full of life and promise, hope for the food and sustenance they brought to the world. The breadbasket of America... Jimmy wasn't so certain now. It was hard to believe that every autumn the world here turned into such a bleak and bitter canvas.
Jimmy had heard a poem once or twice, something about Elizabeth and Leicester but he couldn't remember who they were or what the poem was, but the feel of the words, the sound of the words, the way they tasted and turned in his mouth as he moved it silently sent a small shiver down his spine. He reached for his hoodie and shrugged it over his heavy shoulders, the movement rousing him a little from his reverie. As if that would keep out the kind of chills that reached inside his spine instead of outside. There was stirring on the bus, the late afternoon stirring of the hungover, exhausted musicians that he had beaten to wakefulness by over an hour. Some days they barely made it up before the sun went down, up here in the frozen north. The idea it got worse as you went further yet over the Canadian border brought a sound akin to a muffled whimper to his throat, and the noise alone startled him enough that he lapsed back into counting the telephone poles and straining his eyes for something, anything alive. Anything to stir and stumble out of that unforgiving, frozen ground, something to prove that the icy winds hadn't taken every last bit of life out of the world.
Someone was stirring and shuffling and cursing, and the sound brought the tiniest of smiles to Jimmy's lips, just enough to curve the line of his mouth slightly upwards at the corners. Brian, likely, and his suspicion was confirmed as he heard the familiar press and hum of the coffee pot whirring to life. It wasn't the fancy gourmet one that ground the beans fresh and made the coffee all at a single press of a button, it was Brian's little mostly-manual coffee pot that made black, thick coffee that Jimmy knew he really only drank when he wasn't happy about where he was. The shuffling crescendo grew until Jimmy could feel the heat (residual body heat and warmth reminiscent of blankets and bunks and bad dreams of home) he generated where he bent over Jimmy's shoulder to look outside. Another muttered oath and some sort of curse that had something to do with children and entrails and getting lupus. Clearly, Brian had been up for hours with another House marathon on his portable dvd player and headphones again, unable to sleep and trying not to think about California's sun and sand and golden-haired girls. Then the heat floated away and Jimmy let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. They didn’t share a bunk anymore, and Jimmy had left the headphone splitter jack in the snow a state or two ago.
The color seemed leached from the ground and the sky, blending with the dirty snow that was spit up from the friction of the tires that turned it to a frozen, muddy slush, permanently trapped between a liquid and a solid. It turned the sides of the bus a terrible spattered brown and caked itself in the wheel wells, freezing solid whenever the bus stopped long enough to cool back down and making their drivers swear and huff as they chiseled and kicked to break it loose. The caravan was mere warm bubbles on the interstate, blips that generated their own heat signal on winter’s radar. Jimmy shifted his weight as he heard Brian stirring the milk into his coffee and tried not to think about the hot, caffeinated sludge that somehow made Brian always feel better instead of more sick. "...You're doing it again," Brian's voice seemed intrusive to Jimmy's ears despite how much his hoarse tone had warmed in speaking directly to Jimmy. Or maybe it was his words that had Jimmy's hackles up again, defensive and denying that he was so persistent in sitting silently by the window as the world slid quietly by. Brian felt it wasn't healthy for Jimmy to sit and stare at the landscape, at the snow and the rain and the wind as if it was trying to tell him some kind of truth about the world, some kind of truth about *Jimmy*. Brian didn't think it was healthy at all but Jimmy just sat quietly and shrugged as if the weight of the world was hovering on his shoulders, not quite certain whether to settle or find another pair to burden.
"I am not," Jimmy had the grace to sound a little petulant, the tone itself enough to let Brian know that Jimmy knew well enough he was, but didn't really care enough (or wasn't prepared enough) to leave just yet.
"That swill? No thanks if I want muck I'll go scoop it off the tires with a shovel and bucket."
Brian wrinkled his nose and settled down beside Jimmy, lending body heat but keeping the bad dreams to himself. He had enough bad dreams for the two of them, and if he was having them on Jimmy's behalf he was okay with that. As long as only one of them was miserable there was always the other to cheer them up... Or try, as Brian hadn't had much luck with Jimmy and his window. Jimmy moved instinctively into the warmth, but Brian could never tell if he did that because it was Brian or if he did that because it was something alive, something that denied the frozen tundra it's triumph over flesh and blood. Jimmy shivered a moment later and pressed back against Brian, prompting an arm around his waist.
"It's not even smug," Jimmy sounded vaguely accusatory with perhaps a touch of tired disappointment.
"Winter has what it wants and it's not even smug, it's just.. so *cold*." The words were painfully redundant but Jimmy hadn't been attempting to be particularly eloquent. This kind of climate was foreign enough to him he barely knew the necessary adjectives, much less was able to get creative with what ones he had. Brian refrained from pointing that out though, and Jimmy was pathetically grateful for his discretion. He didn't like it when his inability to understand and embrace his environment was pointed out, not to mention when it was pointed out that he didn't like it for sheer 'creep' factor. (It was a simple explanation to say but as Brian had once pointed out, much to his own regret in the moment, the devil was in the details) "Wind like this could drive a man to drink, if it didn't drive him mad first," he added softly, spotting a farmhouse and it's outlying buildings... all abandoned and in utter disrepair. "I'm not so sure if one would make it long enough to start drinking." Jimmy heaved a sigh and closed his eyes, fingertips pinching the bridge of his nose and massaging gently in attempt to ease tension he had only just realized had crept up on him. The devil was in the details of the icy wooden fence posts and telephone poles, dancing in the etching of the snowflakes, and seeping from the slush under the tires.
Brian reached up and around with the hand that wasn't around Jimmy's waist and cupped his cheek, his palm warm and fingertips heavily calloused but no less gentle for their rough texture. "James..." he murmured into his ear and felt the deceptively slim shoulders sag, tension draining from the heavily developed muscles and leaving Jimmy almost as lifeless as the world he'd been watching for hours. Brian kissed the tip of one industrial, then the shell of Jimmy's ear in quiet affection, well use to the odd things that set Jimmy ill at ease as much as anyone ever could be. "Breathe easy, old friend," He murmured and tucked the taller man a bit awkwardly into his shoulder in hopes Jimmy would allow the gesture. The drummer's frame slid down a little as he let himself be turned away from the cold, bluish light that filtered in around the black-out curtains he'd cracked open a foot or two, and rested his cheek against Brian's clavicle to close his eyes. The familiar strike and flare and smell of sulfur helped him breathe again as he more smelled than heard Brian light a cigarette for each of them with the box of matches he always kept in his pocket and a moment later he felt his own hand lifted and the filter being snugged between his index and middle finger to replace the bottle cap that seemed to have gotten stuck there. Breathe, drag, inhale, exhale. Brian didn't mind the smoke that wafted up and over his face, sticking to his skin and filtering into his hair as he could feel the nicotine set Jimmy a little more at ease. The bottle clinked and sloshed slightly as Brian moved it away, out of sight and out of reach and his arm moved back around to hold Jimmy loosely to his side. Breathe, drag, inhale, exhale. Easy. Jimmy closed his mind to the shivering emptiness that beckoned outside the glass and savored the wholesome warmth holding him and the killing heat in his lungs, letting both sear and char the reflection of the landscape off the inside of his eyelids.
Shantih, Shantih, Shantih
Notes/Disclaimer: Please note that this was partially inspired by reading through The Wasteland, by TS Eliot. I make no attempt her to interpret or to give insight to that masterpiece itself through this. Still, as Eliot himself said, "genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." I have my moments of pretention but I'd like to lay at your feet here that this piece has merely been inspired by the emotions the piece invoked combined with my own experience with midwestern winters. I've noted with care what part and what line I have used as a part of this piece that belong to The Wasteland with utmost respect for TS Eliot. Any citations or translations I've taken from this site:
Citations and translations are as such, with my own notes in bold and what I’ve cited from the site in quotes.
Part 3, The Fire Sermon
I have included a reference to line 279. "V. Froude, Elizabeth, vol. I, ch. iv, letter of De Quadra to Philip of Spain:
In the afternoon we were in a barge, watching the games on the river. (The queen) was alone with Lord Robert and myself on the poop, when they began to talk nonsense, and went so far that Lord Robert at last said, as I was on the spot there was no reason why they should not be married if the queen pleased."
Lines 290-291 I have quoted directly to try carry the feel for the piece throughout.
Part V, What The Thunder Said, Line 433.
"Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. 'The Peace which passeth understanding' is a feeble translation of the conduct of this word. "