Dust to Dust
Eddie dreams that he is surfing on the tail of a comet in the inky black of outer space. The rock, dust, and ice are substances from his fragmented world; he talks and gestures to them like they were his only friends. His hand is raised in pontification when a field of meteors, space trash, upsets his ride and sends him freefalling among the debris. As he plummets into the atmosphere of an unknown moon he sees Carlton, his boss, claiming the comet perch. He awakes, shivering from this dream; it is 3:58 in the morning. The room is black, except for the liquid crystal red of his digital alarm clock which will not sound off for three more hours. He stares up to a dark ceiling, tinged with a faint red glow. He mutters to himself until he sleeps again.
The waking hours find a groggy, pissed-off Eddie driving to work. Through retail strips of fashion stores and pharmacies, auto repair shops and grocery stores, he leaves the floor of the San Fernando Valley bounding toward the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. It’s a short journey through the low hillside community that is attached to the Santa Monica Mountains. Dried bougainvillea leaves blow onto the dirty windshield of his old Cadillac convertible. Canyon dust collects like a layer of stucco, broken stems crackle under worn tires as he maneuvers his busted up ragtop onto Mulholland Drive, the ridge that separates the congested city of Los Angeles from an expansive suburbia called “the Valley.” From this vantage he sees freeways and boulevards crisscrossing the flatlands where minutes earlier he began this journey. It is a pristine day, the often grungy Valley sparkles like a box of jewels.
Until yesterday, desert monsoon weather, atypical of the coastal strip, pervaded the southland summer for weeks. Thick clouds hung over the Los Angeles Basin like steel wool. Heat and humidity filled the air like perspiration. TV weather reporters were bewildered. Power consumption swelled causing frequent blackouts. Eddie looked at the subtropical weather as if it were from another planet or a plague, either way, a bad omen.
The meteorologists are equally baffled this morning because the dank weather conditions have quickly receded during the dark hours of the morning. As if someone had thrown the switch on a big fan, powerful winds are blowing the clouds out to sea, leaving a bright blue sky and a sun that looks like fifty thousand watts of a Hollywood spotlight.
Jet airplanes take off from Burbank Airport like falcons heading straight up into cloudless skies. Eddie floors the heavy old Cadillac, speeding on a stretch of two-lane road, as if he were racing those jets to work.
A grassy bluff crowned by fences and trees stands like a wall on the right side of his pretend raceway. The Cadillac speeds along dodging dog walkers and joggers. There is a routine stop sign and then a right turn takes Eddie winding down the roads of the Hollywood Hills. The newly paved road ratchets like a spiral staircase through a neighborhood that pretends to be rustic countryside in the midst of metropolitan Los Angeles. Elm trees, cypress trees and palm trees cast broken shadows on a collection of rebuilt front porches and fences. Newly built woodwork is purposely battered by new homeowners to look a hundred years old. In this neighborhood, bridges cross over streams made of water runoff from the electrically timed sprinkler systems. Mailboxes sit on posts not eight feet from the front doors of these houses. Porsches and Mercedes park on circular driveways.
Eddie smirks at these scenes. He has taken to smirking a lot lately. He smirks at incongruity, at insincerity, at disingenuous people. He smirks at people who have achieved goals for which he yearns. He smirks at his junior level job and its junior level pay. And when friends get in his face about his smirking, Eddie smirks at them.
Eddie’s Cadillac barrels down a steep grade when one of those large vehicles built for desert excursions lurches from its garage. Breaking out of his reverie, Eddie swerves the car like a bronco in full gallop lurching from a snake. The car slides into the oncoming lane, brakes grind noisily; it is hard to slow down all that heavy horse power. Having avoided this catastrophe, he angrily looks into his rearview mirror and yells,
But the hairpin turn causes him to lose site of the aggressor’s car behind a corner house and a dying Manzanita tree. Driving slowly he waits for the SUV to emerge so that he can illustrate his displeasure to the driver. But after a few moments Eddie guesses that the offending hillside resident has taken the opposing route.
Consumed in narcissistic rage Eddie drives on. He does not want to be late, there is friction at the office. Friction which he unknowingly instigates. Fantastic dreams aside, his boss has been particularly hard on him. Perhaps it was the weather. He really smarts from having been passed-over for promotion. He’s been at the company for three years, calling messengers, making sure packages are delivered, ordering lunches. Once in a while, when someone is on vacation, he gets to schedule appointments and talk to clients on the phone.
“Eddie, I’d like to give you a promotion, but we don’t believe the manager position is a fit for you,” Carlton, the boss, said with a human resource accent.
“That’s absurd,” Eddie angrily replies. “Everyone who knows me knows that I know how this company works backwards and forwards and that my greatest asset is the ability to follow a project all the way through.”
But it is all pretty academic. While the company’s owners appreciate Eddie as a talented and hard worker, it is unlikely he will become more than the junior partner’s right-hand man. His effect on the other employees is troublesome. He gets results by bullying the secretaries and messengers. Most people who have worked at the company more than a month would rather not be in the same room with his whining, sarcasm and mean-spirited comments.
As Carlton says to the other business partner, “he’s very young to be so contemptuous.”
Negative energy consumes Eddie as he approaches the flatlands. Waiting to cross Franklin on his way to the Miracle Mile he lowers his radio because he thinks he hears a siren. But there are no ambulances or fire trucks. No siren. A different sound develops like so many decibels of metallic scraping, like a carpenter’s rasp against metal amplified by a terrestrial sound system. Waves of scratchy sounds echo thinly. Suddenly it is cold.
There are surprisingly few cars crossing through the intersection. The air feels heavy on his skin. He shakes his arms and wipes his palms. He turns up the radio but gets no reception. He changes channels, blips of radio announcements cut off as if the transmitter power had been cut. The static is harsh. He shuts off the radio and metallic noise resonates through the streets. From deep within his body comes a shiver of a fear. A strange uneasiness crowds out any more thoughts and feelings about his job. He anxiously looks around. The sky is creepy, dusky like the sky of an eclipse approaching full term. The atmosphere is monochromatic; highlights dissolve into shadows. This is his worst childhood nightmare—walking out of the house to find that the world is black and white.
The traffic signal changes and he crosses into a neighborhood of homes with concrete porches, straight driveways and front lawns. Parents getting children ready for school are looking into the sky with a shocking intensity. There appear to be statues in many of the yards. Eddie doesn’t remember so many statues. He wipes his eyes and shakes his head figuring he’s imagining things. A little boy wearing his father’s hat looks directly into Eddie’s eyes and starts to cry. Eddie scowls and drives on.
The air is dark and thick. The sky that was cerulean blue moments earlier has taken a yellow shade like infiltrated smog. Winds scream like turbine engines then stop leaving echoes of scraping metal. Another gush of wind blows leaves and chunks of earth, bones and feathers into his open car. He considers stopping to pull his top up, but the neighborhood is crowded, dense with cars that stack at the curbs like livestock shoved into a pen. He drives slowly.
The Cadillac picks up speed then screeches to a halt behind a dozen stopped vehicles. Eddie reverses and then moves forward around a crowd of automobiles squeezing between cars that are stalled in the opposing lane. The sky becomes thicker, a hazy ochre, but not dark. It looks like the sands of desert ruins in Egypt. Cars stall as exhaust systems clog from the dust. Drivers cough and wheeze. The cars fill with this thick atmosphere lose detail and blend with the environment. Eddie is horrified to watch people evaporate into sand. Eddie’s heart is pumping rapidly. All around him people are turning into barren hills of this strange inert substance.
The earth has come to a standstill and there is no panic. Only in Eddie’s heart. He is thunderstruck by a revelation of apathy. His only concern is that he arrives at his destination in one piece. The old clock on the dashboard keeps regular time, while all around him the world is disappearing. Deep within, he tries to conjure the feeling necessary to understand what is happing to the people around him. Perhaps naively, he imagines that everything will be fine when he reaches his destination; or wakes up from this dream. But he knows if this were truly a dream, he would be awake by now. “This is real, oh my God, it is real.”
He guns the engine and speeds away hoping to outrun the surge of this plague. Block after block cars and trash cans and houses dissolve into mounds of sand. He watches whole brick apartment buildings morph into smooth stone structures. Eddie’s car chokes from the dust and stalls at Wilshire Blvd. The last vestige of his reality has quit. The familiar buildings have turned to stone filtered by hazy grit. His car corrodes around him. With trepidation he steps into the hazy desert terrain. The air smells of halitosis, like ten thousand people breathing on him.
He trudges toward his work place on Wilshire Blvd. The vaporous cloud of dust swirls around him. An eerie whisper of pain buzzes in his ears. Every step creeks and crackles. He is walking on gravel and bones. All sounds stopped. The featureless buildings begin to drip like yellow candle wax. He trembles at the aloneness in a desert completely void of ambient sounds. Not even wind.
Wondering why he hasn’t evaporated like everyone else, he makes a three hundred and sixty degree turn. The world is two dimensions and he pops up like a blemish on its flat face. It is so flat he can see the curvature of the planet.
At the horizon, the ocher color of atmosphere is receding under the black, star studded sky of the universe.
Without the sky’s reflection of blue ocean, the sun’s intensity casts a huge shadow of Eddie that connects to the source of another shadow two hundred yards in the distance. It is now an achy and blistering walk. Wishing the plague would take him, Eddie wants to lie down but his legs keep moving toward that distant object. At one hundred yards he notices that this object is green and stands about three feet tall. At fifty yards he sees a pink spot on the green. And a few feet closer he realizes that it is a rose bush. Hope stands alone in his monochromatic desert.
Eddie breaks into a run toward that living plant. He doesn’t feel scared, he feels hope. Though he has no more room in his mind for hope, he wonders how this rose has escaped the curse. Perhaps, underneath that rose is life. Maybe friends are living underground. He hopes they will let him in.
Eddie approaches the rose bush and kneels as if in worship. He reaches for the last remaining flower on earth. With his palms up he feels a surge of energy stretch through his arms like the power of Zeus. He cups the pink rose, relieved to be holding something organic. The metallic sound returns with a loud scream. It is Eddie’s scream. The stalks freeze on the bush and turn to rock. The rose disintegrates to dust in his hands.
A cold bitter wind oppresses Eddie’s stiffening body. Numbness overcomes him like a narcotic injection. Like a thousand pounds of heavy flesh, his body falls hard thudding onto the solid bed of earth. The body blends into the earth’s crust, frightened eyes protruding from the dust, staring at a million blinking stars. The eyes recede to become part of the cold and inert rock floating through space, gazed upon by the surviving universe.