Matter

 

by Leslie M. VanExel, Jr.

 

“Oh, please.  Oh, please.  Please, please, please.  Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  You know you don’t want to do it, so just don’t do it okay.”

                He was staring hard.

                “You know you want to stay where you are.  Just do what’s best for all of us.”

                The needle hovered slightly over middle.

                “Good boy.  Good.  Good.”

                The temperature gauge had been slowly rising ever since he had gotten out of the Salinas area.  Going straight into the hills and far enough away from the coast, the temperature had climbed just as steadily as the altitude.  Initially, he had been surprised that his car did so well.  Being a 1972 piece of Americana had its drawbacks; overheating was one of the more common.

                “Just stay there.”

                He had reached about mile 500; more than half way in a round trip that led him along the coast.  The decision to head inland had stemmed initially from a desire for adventure; the newborn wide-eyed excitement that came from not knowing.  Now that the heater was blasting more hot air on top of the already very August hot air, he had his doubts on the value of curiosity.  His eyes were constantly drying out, and the tears came not only as a bodily reaction, but in an attempt to show the Gods that he did, in fact, fear them with true and honest tears.

                The heat and the fear of possible major engine failure made the Salinas decision all the more bitter.  An old engine wasn’t something to punish; with an odometer that could only read ninety-nine thousand, he realistically had no idea how many miles were on this recent purchase.  This ignorance was not bliss.  He watched the forest of rolling hills lumber by.  Dead grass coated them like the steam that hovered above one’s own flesh after a shower, and he felt as though he would join their lifeless dormancy.  Patches of trees existed, anchoring the hills to the earth, the grass to the hills, and his ass to the grass.  Their existence meant that other things could also exist.  If they could survive in this environment (even for a short period of time), then his car still had a chance.

                A blast of hot air cleared his mind and made the Dodge shutter.  He watched the needle creep farther along the numeric scale from zero to despair.  The powder blue car rounded the hill and started downward, and he felt more acutely the vague sense of hopeless struggling as the needle continued higher toward the 250 degree mark.  He knew that when it finally arrived, things would become far too interesting.  His bare feet were being slow roasted by the heater, which worked amazingly well, but only when it was amazingly hot. 

                The heat was making his mind wander.  Wander and wish, he could only dream of the heavenly virtues of Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean it caressed.  It’s turns and bends taking on a glistening aspect, made most precious by the slippery cool breezes that accompanied each dip and bend.  Dreams of the marine layer made the stagnant fury of his present condition worse, but he couldn’t help it.

                The cold rush of pleasant memories was flooding over him.  He had felt as if he stood in front of a mighty industrial refrigerator, door open, feeling the cold splash upon his feet.  It wavered like the fog had danced about his ankles the night before, caressing and embracing his goosebumped legs.  His skin had wept with dew, and he felt clammy and rubbery.  That misery had been relatively displaced and became a glorious scene of yesteryear.  Last night the cold had sucked at his breath, now it was the fondest desire his mind could imagine.

                He wished for more imagination.  The trip to Santa Cruz had come to conclusion in conversation over the falafels he had recently grown so fond of.  The talk of potentials had captivated his person and gave him the temporary relief of recalling memories.

                “What do babies in the womb dream of.”

                “I wasn’t aware that they did.  How could they?”

                “How do you mean.”

                “Well, aren’t dreams the assorting and mental conclusion of the day’s memories?”

                “Maybe.”

                “What do babies know if they haven’t even been born yet.  What memories could they possibly have?”

                “I don’t know.  But whatever they do know, I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

                “How’s that.”

                “Well.  How do you think?”

                “Not sure, well, okay.  With words, but I assume I didn’t always.  I mean, before I knew what talking was, I’m sure I didn’t think with words.”

                “True.  How did we think before we used words.”

                “As babies?”

                “Yeah.”

                “I don’t know.  Maybe as visual imagery, or more likely with all the senses.”

                “Yeah, I think it would be some pure form like that.  Like more perfect than our thoughts now.  More precise.”

                “Yeah.  You’d think it was more exact.  Like we only use words to convey a general meaning.  No matter what words we make up, we can only convey a representation of our true thoughts.  Even visual and auditorial stimulus can’t really convey true thought.  Movies surely can’t.”

                “Totally.  Like this bottle… and this bottle.”

“Yeah.”

                “I could call this a ketchup bottle but that doesn’t clarify exactly what it is.  This is also a bottle, but if you look at the two they aren’t the same, no matter how similar.  You could never get exact enough with words to convey the true form of this bottle.”

                “True.  Words just give a general meaning.”

                “Yeah.  The more words I use to describe this bottle, the closer my description will get, but no matter how hard I try, I can never truly convey the exact identity of this bottle.  Even if I mapped out every atom and molecular bond, there would still be a certain subjective emotional perspective built in that our words and symbols can’t convey.”

                “Like its true form to you is different from its true form to me, and even if you could convey it, it wouldn’t be the same.”

The true form of the creeping temperature gauge caught his attention.  It wavered right under 250.  Right under the area where bad things occur.  He could hear that possible snapping of metal as a dislocated fan oscillated wildly and came to rest within his radiator.  This was but one possible scenario.  A blown head gasket could silently spew steam and oil about the underside of the hood.  This was another possibility.  All of them would result in the same struggle and eventual slowing of the car to a stop in the middle of nowhere where it would probably remain until some law enforcement sponsored tow truck driver removed it with a brutally high price charged to his person.  That also would be one reality.  One possible reality.  One probable reality.

                You will not.

                He turned the radio off so that he might be submerged in the calm of  wind and engine noise.  So that he might be alerted when that reality flowers before him.

                Not if I can will it.              

“But does that need to be reality.  Does reality need to be only what we can imagine.”

                No, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t this time.

                “It’s weird to think about, but we are truly limited by our own imagination.”

                “How so.”

                “Well, if when we learn language, and our thinking starts operating in pure word form, or, at least in a manner that could be in word form.”

                “Yeah.”

                “Then we lose the pure thoughts that we once were capable of.”

                “I can’t even imagine, realistically, how we used to think.”

                “Exactly.”

                “Once we lose and forget it, we are bound in this mode of thought.”

                “Yes.  We have successfully limited ourselves to something we can’t even imagine.”

                “Yeah.”

                “You know, they say that the smartest thinkers can only use about ten percent of their brains.”

                “Yup.”

                “Well, do you think that that’s only because of stuff like this.  Like, we limit ourselves in thought, and that’s a huge limitation, what if we do the same thing with stuff like ESP.”

                “Hmm.”

                “I mean, what if we could fly.  Everybody could.  Like in the movies.  We just learn that we can’t so we don’t.”

                “Yeah, but how come you don’t see kids popping out of the womb and flying around.  No one’s told them that they can’t fly.”

                “Maybe if they did see someone fly, they would try harder to imitate.”

                “By learning.”

                “Yeah.”

                “We learn my imitation?”

                “Yeah, but more not than often.   We learn basically what we can’t do, not what we can.”

                “Very true…”

                “By learning, we limit ourselves.  And not in the basic sense of learning like addition, history, or psychology, but like humans can’t make themselves invisible, but they can camouflage themselves.  Two plus two is four.”

                “True.  A theoretical math Ph.D. could spend a career trying to prove that two plus two isn’t four.”

                “A lifetime to prove what we may have already known before.”

                “I think that once we learn that it can’t be, we will never accept that it can without an obscene amount of proof.”

                I can create my reality.

                “Everyone says that we can’t do this and we can’t do that.  What about the people that can bend spoons, read minds, break light bulbs, that kind of stuff.”

                “Freak show stuff.”

                “Exactly.  See.  We’ve already labeled it as something that may be fake, impossible, improbable.  It’s been classified as false; that’s how we deal with everything we don’t quite accept.”

                “Yeah.  Those guys are real, but whoever thinks about it.  Like, how many people consider what’s real and what’s not.  It’s probably more like you get told what’s real and what’s not and just accept it.”

                “That’s what school is good for.  Defining boundaries.”

                “Kids learn stuff, and they’re taught by society to accept it.”

                “Young kids learn really quick, too.”

                “That’s just the way their brains are geared.  Like how they learn language.”

                “Perhaps like language, for kids, if they don’t learn it by a certain age, their brains lose the capacity to learn it.”

                “Once you pass that time, then you can’t learn it.”

                “Or at least you will never come close to mastery of it.  Like the girl raised by wolves.”

                “Yup.”

                I will create my reality.

                “I think humans are capable of almost anything.  It’s our capacity to speak and reason that ultimately is what restricts us.  We think we’re so smart, but we’ve been stifling ourselves and don’t even know it.”

                “Yeah.  I’m totally stoked I came up here.  This and the falafels made the drive worthwhile.”

                Worth?

                “Yeah, I can’t talk like this with everybody.”

                Is it worth my being stranded?

                “I don’t think so.”

                The temperature gauge stayed over 250 and he had been smelling radiator fluid for quite some time.  He had slowed down to fifty, but wouldn’t stop.  Couldn’t stop.

                “If I stop, it’s over.”

                He stepped on the gas.  The Dodge hesitated, unsure of this new plan of action, then surged forward.  It ran best hot, and the speed steadily increased past eighty.  He had been going downhill and the car naturally wanted to go faster.  He had let loose the reins and allows this beast, crazed by gravity, to run wild and free.  The temperature stayed the same.  Heat was fusing his face into contortion, and he gripped the wheel tighter.  He was pushing hard against the gas petal, feeling it restricted against the floorboard.  He gripped tighter and pulled on the steering wheel.  The engine screamed as the speedometer edged past a hundred, its pitch changing erratically, as if switching from falsetto to baritone.  He would not let up.

                The temperature stayed at 250.

                “I wish we could harness just a little more of that potential.  A little more of what I think we could do.  Imagine what we as a species could achieve.”

                Yes.

                He didn’t think of the passage of time, merely of the passage of space.  He watched the hills ebb and flow like the tide, but did not see them.  Paying only enough attention to stay in the lane, he thought only of the car and his fingers grasp on the wheel.

                The speedometer needle was stable over one hundred and eleven.  It gave him more stability.  More faith.  He thought he felt the temperature gauge move upward again when he felt the first kiss.  A quick peck on the cheek.  The light breath of the ocean’s mouth across his ear.

                The sea!

                The highway had cut in and now had been heading back out toward the coast.   This was the first proof.  His doubts of modern topography evaporated as he felt that familiar scent.

                “The sea!”

                The air temperature dropped as if he had passed through a seven eleven door with the fly fan cooling his forehead.  The coolness was definite.  A reality.  He pulled his back away from the seat to feel the rush of cool air on his sweaty skin.

                “Thank you.”

                As the gauge slowly began to recede, he felt revived.  The responsibility of being stuck on the side of the road had been lifted and peace returned to his countenance.  He let his foot off the gas, the engine coughed, then the shrieking subsided.

                He couldn’t quite recall how long he had been charging in the car, or how fast he had been going, but that didn’t matter.  The cool air mattered.  How the engine could have survived the heat of being maxed out when it had been overheating way below that speed really didn’t matter.  The sea mattered.  The why’s and how’s of his journey faded and blended into a clouded memory, but none of that mattered.  The mind just tends to exaggerate anomalies. He had just been the audience to his own drama, but that thought didn’t matter.  The clouds mattered, the sky mattered, and as he relaxed back into the cool dampness of the seat, the cold air in between his fingers is all that mattered.