Michael De Rosa

Drowned Lands

               The air smelled of burning wood and it whistled, coming through the gap in the window and its dangling weather strip. He and Sylvia were on their way, heading north along The Taconic State Parkway towards her parent’s house in Ancram for the weekend. The sky looked a bluish-grey from the passenger window; a bleak shade over the dirty mounds of snow and ailing deciduous trees that Sylvia watched fade to a starless-black in passing. She had now noticed that–besides a brief conversation about where the cheapest gas was–they hadn’t spoken since they left the city. She gently pulled at her hair that had entangled itself around the two metal extension bars of the headrest and, straightening out her thick blue cardigan that the seatbelt forced behind her hips, turned forward from the indistinct drab.
               “So do you think we’ll be able to get over to see your family this spring? I haven’t been to Boston since I was a child.” Sylvia said in her soft voice. “I’ve the best idea for a gift for your father.”
               “I don’t know. Most likely, yeah.”
               Sylvia was leaning her head on the dashboard, her thick hair waveless, falling down over the defective air-vents as she inspected his big eyes that were focused on the road ahead. She smiled.
               “I found a first edition collection–from 1882–of Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poetry. Do you think he’d like that? I’m not really familiar at all with Swinburne but it’s a really pretty volume.”
               “My father is hard to please, honestly. Do you see the way this asshole is driving in front of us?”
               As he went to pass the car, the bright-red taillights filled his eyes; it faded, turning to a pale white from the dashboard’s under-glow as they pulled away. Veering away from their brief conversation, there was silence once again. Sylvia listened to the whistling air.
               “We forgot the wine, didn’t we?” he asked.
               “We did. Don’t worry, my parents don’t really drink,” she said.
               “Well either way, I think I’d like to get a bottle.” He said, “Do you mind?”
               Sylvia looked towards him and said, “No, that is absolutely fine.”
               They continued north on The Taconic for a quite a while, eventually crossing the Putnam County line into Dutchess County. Sylvia told him that the ride back, Sunday morning, would be much nicer in the daylight. She knew that he was frustrated, in a mood, and that he wanted to relax this weekend. The thought of ceremonial introductions and small talk bothered him greatly. If it were up to him, a quick dinner with her parents in the city would suffice. They drove on in silence until the Columbia County line.
               “This is the exit coming up, right? Route 82?”
               “Yes-yes. Look over there–on your left!” Sylvia enthusiastically said, “That’s the West Taghkanic Diner! Do you remember me telling you about it?”
                She pointed towards the diner’s outdated sign. A fluorescent Native American head with its feathered headdress hung over the diner’s front door.
               “Yeah, I remember,” he replied. “I can’t really get a good look. We are going east–the other way on 82, right?”
               “Yes, east,” she said.
               As they pulled onto the exit ramp, he sneered as he looked over towards the diner.
               “Ha–are the local thick skins proud of how they defiantly keep that sign up?” he asked.
               Sylvia let out a heavy sigh.
               “I’d rather not do this right now,” she said.
               “What’s that?”
               “You’re right,” she said, “it’s offensive but I’d like to stop you now before we get to my parent’s house–before you go on another one of your cynical rants. ”
               “Okay,” he said.
               They continued along 82 until turning off onto a back road heading further east, cutting through the wooded hills and past a small farm with its faint barn light fading out before the road. They came out from behind the hills and passed the woods, where Sylvia looked over at the moonlit Drowned Lands. The brown switch grass bent under the heavy snow and the water that slowly moved in the warmer seasons now stood still. All she saw was a snow-covered valley, flat and barren, illuminated by the moon, encircled by the wooded hills. As they passed over the tiny bridge that crossed Punch Brook, Sylvia almost spoke—instead she rolled the window down and let the cold air rush in. He was yelling at her but she couldn’t hear a word; the whistling air turned into a roar. She pressed her palms against the warmer curve of the inside and curled her fingers over to grip the cold exterior as she thrust her head out into the night. Looking back through the clumps of pine and scattered birch, she watched the brilliant snow—the Drowned Lands disappeared. She moved back inside.
               “What the hell are you doing?” he yelled, “Could you roll up the window, it’s fucking freezing.”
               “Anything for you—of course,” she returned with a sharp turn towards him.
               “What’s that look for?” he asked.
               “Sometimes you’re just terrible—really terrible.”
               “Terrible? I drove all the way up here for you, in the freezing cold, and I’m terrible?”
               “Drove all the way up here for me?” she said, “We’ve been living together for eight months and in those eight months you’ve not come here once. Not any of the dozen times that I’ve taken the train up, by myself, have you come.”
               “This is absolutely ridiculous. Do you hear yourself?”
               Sylvia ran her hand down her face and cleared her throat.
               “It’s up there on the left. That’s my house,” she said.
               The snow crunched and pebbles rattled under the car as they pulled into the unevenly plowed driveway. It was a somewhat long driveway lined with a few knee-high snow banks here and there.
               “Pull over there. Please”
               He parked the car adjacent to her father’s truck, kept the engine running, and left the lights on, pointed towards a dirty snow bank in the neighbor’s yard.
               “Do you love me?” Sylvia asked.
               “Of course I do.” He said with the car still running, “You know—we forgot to stop and pick up a bottle of wine for your parents.”
               “Is this why the car is still running?”
               Sylvia looked him in the eyes. He said nothing and looked towards her with a relaxed indifference—and an evasiveness that moved his eyes away from hers after a just a few moments. She un-clicked the seatbelt, sank into her seat, and let out a heavy sigh. She rose again.
               “I’m sure that there is a liquor store open back in New York,” she said.
               “You know, you can be a real bitch sometimes.”
               With that, Sylvia opened the door and stepped out. She rounded the car and shuffled through the high beams on a patch of ice. As she stepped onto the small path leading to the front door, she heard the salt crunch between her feet and the squares of shoveled slate.

Michael De Rosa is an American writer currently living in Manchester, England. The Blue Lake Review and Offline Samizdat have published his work.
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