The world was painted blue. When we crested hills, ahead on the low horizon in a clearing of clouds, the last light of set sun glowed through, sickly salmon colored. But the otherwise impenetrable shroud of clouds was deep cerulean and the landscape was filtered through that same blue light.
In the periphery, the grass was tinted a pallid sea glass and the trees were bruised blurry cobalt shadows. The road stretched on and on to that sometimes visible disappearing day, its usual asphalt grey surface hued livid.
Like riding under darkening water, monotone, then something bright flashed by my leg. Did something spark? Again a few minutes later, brighter in the growing dark. I saw Josh flinch and let loose a free hand to wipe his jacket sleeve. And then I saw them. In the periphery, bright lights twinkling softly before becoming sudden streaks as we passed. Or splattered glowing on Josh’s jacket as he would later tell me. Lightning bugs. Maybe that’s what hit my face. Did my forehead glow? Another one streaked by my leg, like sparks from the engine.
Every luminous flash brought back a memory, lightning bugs have that affect. The memories fade in and out as fast as the little sprites flicker their lights, half there and gone so fast no trace of them is in grasp unless you trap them. I can’t hold a mason jar and ride at the same time. These memories just have to go on their way, I’m going forward.
A few dozen more miles and the last light was almost gone into night, the lightning bugs were nearly all bedded down and my mind was quiet. Here and there a lone sign or a small town, the soft glow of a lonely light or closed gas station, eerier each as the darkness grew. But even in the pitch black, I know this road. Like the lines on my hands, it has become engrained so deeply into me that the slightest change stands out, that I know what mile marker I’m at without any aid, that I don’t need any light to travel by.
And then I saw a memory long since faded. In the eerie outer glow of a night watchman’s green blue light, the outline of a horse flashed by a few yards back from the roadside. A white horse, or I wouldn’t have spotted it in the gloom. I know that horse. It’s grown, but I know it from before, when we spooked it and it ran with us, excited. It never even looked up this time. I suppose that’s the way, eventually you stop looking up, eventually the excitement of youth gives way to a more tranquil nature, eventually you know things like the sound of passing motorcycles well enough not to be stirred by every one, eventually you stop reacting with excitement to every little thing and slip into a wiser sort of reserve. But I remember that horse, and I remember how she ran, all wild and loose and manic.
And I began to wonder what else changes with age, what gets taken for granted and lost versus what becomes more exciting for a knowing ability to hone our reactions and curiosity through experience. And I began to wonder about memories and what has faded and how well I know the lines on my hands. I know the life line, but where do those tiny branches lead? Where would they have led?
I know this road, but I do not know every off shoot, every dirt road. From experience, some lead to interesting things and long ago places. Others not so much. The last lightning bugs flickering drew my eye to the swiftly passing periphery, the place where experience waits, and I had never realized how many off shoots there were to this road. Where do they go? What unknown might be there?
If we lived a thousand lifetimes, could we ever see all that is in the periphery, all those fine details, know all there is to know? Or is it only there for that moment and will it be gone by the time time comes available to look more deeply, to see what is really there? Is that the great irony of it all, that it is always unknowable this side of the veil? That it exists not in a place, not on a side road, not in the periphery, but in a vanishing moment. In a flash it changes from the tangible to recollection, proof it was ever there and details of its face fade with flash blindness, faster and faster into a wide open dark where everything exists out of reach, where the light of dead stars still shimmer and the beam of a headlight guides you forward through the dark.