Alice Hatcher’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Notre Dame Review, Fiction International, Lascaux Review, Fourth Genre, Contrary, Chautauqua and Gargoyle, among other journals. Her novel The Wonder That Was Ours will be published in September of 2018. Hatcher lives in Tucson, Arizona. Her work can be found at http://www.alice-hatcher.com.
Last Journey to the Sea
by Alice Hatcher
When I paid the asking price of two-hundred pounds,
the Dublin mechanic leaned against a cluttered workbench and appraised your carcass,
so much rusted metal destined for scrap, your bald tires and bent wiper blades,
wiped his hands on an oily rag, handed me a worn key, and
with a pity reserved for gullible Yanks,
wished me a safe journey and turned his back to finalize the deal.
You were beautiful, or at least befitted the occasion with
your battered doors and gaping rust holes,
–clouds metastasizing across a pale expanse of peeling paint–
punctured muffler unequal to the task of breathing, and
your cracked rearview mirror, a window into a fractured past,
refusing false hopes of clarity or coherence at life’s end.
You were daring, too, leaving the garage with an exuberant lurch,
your frame creaking on strained suspension,
worn brakes screeching in defiance at every stop light, and
bald tires sensitized to every stone and pothole,
worn but undaunted by the iron gates before St. Jude’s Home for the Aged.
A nun cloaked in fusty black muslin surveyed your herniated muffler, and
perhaps moved by your metallic death rattle,
dispensed cautionary advice about the dangers of undue exertion,
about the dangers of a doubtful car.
But when my grandfather surrendered his cane,
you cradled his shrunken body and swathed him in familiar scents,
traces of cigarette smoke and spilled whiskey, and
the chip shop curries embedded in your upholstery–
antidotes to the ammonia clouding a convalescent home, and
traded without hesitation for your trailing exhaust.
Before a slum haunt from the dissolute days of my grandfather’s past,
You waited patiently beside the curb,
your rusted hulk comfortably camouflaged amidst urban decay,
the latticework of hairline fractures across your windshield
complementing the shattered bottles blanketing the road, and
the oil dripping from your undercarriage
mingling in communion with the filth glutting sewer grates.
As my grandfather toasted the dim specters of departed friends,
You protested, by your very presence, the imminence of gentrification,
until shadows lengthened across the pavement.
Then you received us, slightly staggering, and
with your alternator belt keening for a vanishing world,
began your last journey to the sea.
When your fuel gauge quivered and dipped, I bought one last liter of petrol,
an indulgence paid for the promise of redemption.
You did your part to speed our journey,
Surrendered the weight of a hubcap, your last vanity, to roadside heather,
Offered up a radio with a face bubbled and warped by an ancient ashtray fire,
indiscriminately ecumenical in its offerings of an elegiac Elvis,
the tolling bells of an electric Angelus, and
unbroken reels circling back, always, to an uncertain beginning,
Carried us past the no trespassing sign,
beyond all hope for repentance or repair,
down to the misted shore.
We listened to the wind, hesitated before the tide,
daunted by cold and encroaching darkness, until
your votive tail lights dispelled our gloom.
Strange creatures we were, returning to the sea,
treading through flooded tide pools and over sharp stones,
guided by dying headlights.
Until my grandfather stood on the edge of eternity,
his naked feet sanctified by swirling seaweed,
his solitary thoughts turning to celestial dreams.
As our forms dissolved in darkness, I turned to look at you,
confirming our journey’s end,
with the tide surging through your wheel wells, and
corrosive salt cleansing you, pulling you
in tiny increments,
into the icy sea.