I’m driving in the blur of night when suddenly I smell smoke. There are so many different kinds of smoke, I think. White smoke, black smoke, gray smoke, blue smoke. Cigarette smoke, cigar smoke. Billowing smoke, curling smoke. Thick smoke, wispy smoke. Even when it’s invisible we still call it smoke.
I’m driving in the blur of night when suddenly my engine is on fire. The flames are bright orange. I’m in the Arizona desert at 4:00 am and I have two choices: I can dump what’s left of my bottled water on the flames – try to get it out quickly – or save the water and let it burn. How does one get into such a situation? What does one do?
I imagined the last part. There are no flames. There’s not even smoke. Just the smell of smoke.
I punch myself hard in the ribs. When fading behind the wheel, a solid shot to the midsection—knuckles between ribs—is far more effective than a slap to the face. The slap wears off faster.
I coast to the side of the road. Put my flashers on. Now I feel safe. The smoke isn’t coming from the car. For a moment I sit atop the hood, back on the windshield. I’ve covered hundreds of miles since I left San Diego. I’ve climbed 4,000 feet above sea level. Yellow lights flash : stars fall above.
Two days before, in San Fran, my cousin told me a story about breaking down in the desert. “Slept with my dog beside the car,” he said. “Woke up to the most beautiful blue sky. Then I looked a little closer: there were four jackals atop the hill, watching me. The dog stepped toward them. He didn’t understand they were different from him.”