We Slink into the Wilderness
By Muna Mir
This piece chronicles a drive upstate across the Taconic, feeling each bend in the road, looking for familiar trees out of my window.
The road to the estate winds like a string around my finger, curving between white pines that stretch to meet the sky. The house looks the same as I imagine it must have when they lived here, wealthy and isolated from all but the wind.
The other day I visited a museum where paintings hung in gilt frames. Clouds blow gently and dew rests on baby-soft leaves. It was a history painted by the winners who got to live outside the confines of the concrete jungle and feel the sun kissing their skin.
The water is silent, rushing miles below my feet, too far away for me to hear, but I imagine it. I feel the sun kiss my cheeks and it brings a soft, angry feeling to the base of my throat. No matter how many times I blink, the light continues to wash over me, and it must have been Phaethon’s fall that punctured the heavens and let warmth glaze the valley.
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I stare into the sky, with the heat on my face, and remember faces belonging to people whose names I’ve long since forgotten. The sunset burns over mountains and glades, a match dropped on an oil-soaked horizon.
The city lies loud and brash and dimming in the distance. Swerving up roads and around bends that push me into the passenger door, we slink into the wilderness, cutting through the earth until the only sound left is the hum of rubber on asphalt.
I’ve always liked this part of the drive where highway erodes mountain, and trees loom from above cliff faces and grassy hills. The cars zoom after each other, racing to stay above the speed limit, like ants crawling between panes of glass.
The mountains could fall and crumb by crumb dirt would rain onto our metal machine until our wheels would spin in the ground and churn up the soil that covers every window. Breath would grow shallower until four people became none and there’d be no oxygen left. I watch the tunnel become road and the world opens up into fields of corn and grass and trees and I can breathe.
My father turns the knob of the radio and it jolts to life full of static and scratchy voices. Sound reaches into each corner of the car but beyond the windows the air stands still. The guardrail that trails our path is a barrier of sound and life; the woods remain quiet. Clouds crowd together above the treeline and the sun lights them a painful, fluorescent white. I stare at them static in the sky long enough for my head to hurt and it is instinct that turns me away.
I close my eyes until the glare staining the walls of my eyelids fades to black. The music in my headphones crescendoes and for one second my life does too.
We miss the driveway to the house twice: the highway stretches on forever, winding around and around until I feel pressure in my throat and an overcast of pain in my temples. We drive on roads that grow emptier at each intersection until we reach a fork in a dirt road and my mother’s confidence wavers alongside the signal on our GPS. Everything is gray and barren here. I can’t hear the highway anymore and I think for one minute that maybe there isn’t a highway. Maybe we have been on this dirt road forever, alone and astray, maybe we always will be.
We go straight over a little wooden bridge, and each muscle in my body tenses. The bridge holds, and I force muscle after muscle to unwind as the car continues to amble along on gravel and dirt. The trees here lie naked, thin, and tall. They bump up and down in sync with the car and I watch them until we turn and the house comes into view.
There used to be a pool around the side. It sits now filled with concrete and covered in goose shit; puddles of ice form in the dips.
My mother comments on the temperature, asking how I’m not cold. I am, I say, freezing. The hike we had planned has been discarded, I was careless and haven’t worn the right shoes and my coat is thin and flimsy and my skin is not thick enough to protect me from anything.
This piece took root when I decided to scribble down a collection of feelings I had during a weekend spent upstate this winter. I drew inspiration from a number of personal essays and memoirs I’ve read over the past few months, and have tried to focus my efforts on building atmosphere and emotional tension.
Muna Mir is currently a struggling senior, trying to make her dreams of nerding out about books for the rest of her life a reality. Her favourite topic of conversation is the portrayal of women in classical literature but she will more than happily digress into discussing her cats if you give her the opportunity to. She can be found listening to Hozier, Mitski and Taylor Swift while trying to cover up plot holes in her stories.