Bez sits in the dirt and gravel with her back against the rusted iron post that pokes like a metal finger out of the ground in front of the old tackle shop. She takes her sketchbook and pencils out of her bag and opens to a blank page, while I poke around the building itself. We are not here to fish, which is a good thing, as the shop doesn’t look like it’s been open in a thousand years. I peer through the dirty glass into the dark interior. There is enough light to see empty shelves and bare counters, abandoned boxes in corners and faded and yellowed posters on the walls. I try the handle of the door, not expecting it to turn, and it doesn’t.
“You should try the back door,” Bez says. “Nobody breaks in the front these days.” I do as she suggests, walking through the brown grass along the dirty white cinderblock wall of the building, and sure enough, the window of the back door is broken out. I start to reach through the pane to unlock the door, but realize that if someone else has already broken the glass to unlock the door, they were unlikely to have locked it again upon leaving. The knob turns in my hand, and I push the door inward.
The dust is thick, and covers everything with a layer of dimness and it feels as though it is absorbing what little light comes in through the glass. My footsteps are muffled, and there is a low hum which drifts through the air, almost inaudible but there when I stop moving and hold my breath. I feel like I’m walking through an empty dreamscape.
We left early this morning, just at dawn, and headed north in Bez’s car, bringing nothing but art supplies and a camera. It has been a long and difficult week, and a spontaneous decision to leave town for the day seemed like exactly the sort of thing that would help to press the reset buttons in our heads. We are directionless wanderers when we travel, taking exits when it feels right, eschewing freeways for narrow blacktop, feeling a sense of triumph when the cell signal has faded.
There is no more sure way of finding yourself than becoming lost.
I walk behind the counter of the tackle shop, following footprints in the dust that have been left behind from a fellow explorer. There is a small pile of discarded cigarette butts on the floor behind the counter, and an empty potato chip bag. I kneel down and pick up the bag, but I leave the cigarettes behind. They seem like they belong to the art of this place, whereas the bag feels like an intruder in the scene, much as I myself am. I will leave nothing here that doesn’t belong when I go.
I look through the window and watch Bez for a few moments. The sunlight warms my face through the glass, and it feels good. I have been cold a long time, and a little warmth should always be appreciated. I know that when I leave this old shop, I will go out to my friend, and I will kneel down next to her and give her a long kiss on the mouth. Warmth that is taken must be shared, and there is no one I would rather share it with than Bez.
I start to turn from the window, but as I turn I see something at the corner of the frame, resting against the wood. I bend down to get a closer look, and see that it is a fish hook, curved into a J-shape, a barb on the tail, and an eye on the head. I reach down and pick it up, and twist it in the sun. It is an artifact, and I feel like an archaeologist, searching the dirt for clues of another time. How long has the hook been there, I wonder. One year? Ten? I think about taking it with me, but it would feel like grave robbing if I did, and so I set it back down in the window and leave it there.
When I go back outside, I find that Bez has fallen asleep against the rusted post, her legs straight out, her arms crossed over her chest, her hat pulled down low over her eyes. She has been driving all day, and her sleep recently has been as troubled as mine, so I do not wake her. Instead, I sit cross-legged in the dirt beside her, and I think about how it felt in the pre-dawn darkness of my room, waking from a thin and restless sleep, finding Bez’s warm hand pressing lightly against my stomach, and feeling her breath against my cheek as she whispered into my ear:
Let’s go for a ride.