The bright red paint of tomorrow

Fog on Tongariro crossing as seen on bicycle tour of New Zealand.

Here, the nights are cold. The streets are empty.

With head low and collar high, I watch my breath rise in darkness then orange, darkness then orange, between lamp posts ripe with fluttering moths. A stray cat freezes at my coming, one paw dangling as it looks past me, through me. I turn to return the favour, but the creature is gone, vanished to paths and plots no one can follow.

My shoes crunch past the one-window police station, shuttered as it always is. Farther ahead, the local fire tanker sits red and perfect thanks to a crew with nothing but time and polish. I heard the siren once, back when I first arrived, and it pierced this town like glowing eyes. It must have been a test, because a good many people were disappointed. The truck gleamed for days afterwards.

This is where the street lights end and the sky begins. Above me is the great tapestry where a million needles have passed. I wonder not at the stitches or even the pattern, but at the pure light that must surely shine behind the blackened cloth. Whatever it is, wherever it is, it thrills me til I have to look away.

A lorry whooshes past and I catch myself, heels teetering on the curb. The trailer looks like a casino in this small town, rumbling after an engine on the midnight run to anywhere. It leaves nothing in its wake but highway and pasture and a fence that’s seen its day. I hear the bleating of sheep, huddled and complaining because they know no other way.

Maybe I should pity them, alone in the chill night air, but I don’t. Tomorrow they’ll be fine and the grass will be gone.

Home is close now. I see the wooden building where I live and work, its outline sharp against the purple snow of the volcanoes beyond. To this Prairie boy, they’re the stuff of fairy tales. I’ve crossed them twice, but the will to conquer their ancient summits eludes me still.

I’m not afraid.

I need those peaks from the ground. I’m lonely here, lonely despite myself, and as I turn my key, they’re all that remind me I’m not alone.


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