eek. it's called 'Going Nowhere.'
Title: Going Nowhere
Author: Candle Beck
Category: MLB, Oakland A’s
Pairing: Barry Zito/Mark Mulder (you must trust me on this)
Disclaimer: They’re not even in the same hemisphere as me. I’ve also been stealing lines from John Darnielle like it’s my job. sigh.
Archive: Go, take, enjoy.
Feedback: As cool as Kim Deal.
Summary: The boys get themselves lost.
By Candle Beck
We’re out here, New Mexico. January, killing time before we have to report again. It’s in-between down here, steady almost-warmth every day, the constant blare of the sun, and then desperately, savagely cold at night. It’s dry, itchy dust-dry, rasping across our skin.
Mulder drives with his elbow out the window, his forearm badly sunburned. His shoulders are too, from that day near the Texas state line, running shirtless across the alkali flats, leaping after the Frisbee. The burn looks painful, angry, but he doesn’t say anything about it. I try to think that my hands are ice, freon, liquid nitrogen, absolute zero. My handprints press white on the lobster-red span of his back, and he hisses, twists away.
There are dented soda cans under my feet, clinking dully together. Candy wrappers, granola bars, Styrofoam coffee cups smashed down among the maps on the door. We eat fast food and at diners, waxed plasticky tile, checkerboard patterns of gray and yellow. The desert goes by and it all looks the same. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas. But we never get to Texas, it’s not far enough west for us.
I’ve been biting my nails, sucking on Jolly Ranchers, my tongue sour apple green.
I watch him dive into motel pools, the straight gold arch of his body, craning, arrowing, vanishing into the water that’s pale electric blue, like the color your heart turns after a walk-off homerun. Vibrant, scored with blinding patches of white. He comes up out of the pool, his hands slippery on the ladder rails, flips the water out of his eyes, his form streaming, drops caught like tears on the ends of his short hair, tracing the muscles of his chest and stomach. I can see his skin tighten as the air hits. He dives again and again, for hours.
Somewhere outside Tucson, we started getting just one room wherever we stopped.
Eighteen-wheelers scream past like earthquakes in the middle of the night, rattling the bed, our wallets skittering off the night table. The holocaustic smell of diesel follows us everywhere, the air horns howling, the roar of tanker trucks that come blasting out of nowhere. We talk with truckers in bars and gas stations, leaning on scratched counters, squinting against the cigarette smoke, our eyes leaky and bloodshot. These men are powerful, two-weeks unshaven, their arms huge, handguns in their glove compartments. They’re headed to New Orleans, Atlanta, Jersey, Toronto, hauling avocados and splintered crates of oranges and children’s clothes and thousands of reams of writing paper. Some of the truckers recognize us, get us to autograph their logbooks, but most don’t, only listening to ballgames on the radio, knowing our statistics but not our faces. They ask us where we’re going, and we tell them a different lie every time.
Mulder buys cassette tapes, four for a dollar, in used record stores where we’re the only customers, the teenaged clerk bored and reading a magazine, painting her fingernails fire-engine red. Neither of us know these bands, but the bargain is too good to pass up. We’ve got unknown music filling up the space between us, shuttling through the wasteland.
Mulder hasn’t said my name for three weeks now.
In the backseat, clattering together, we’ve got a bunch of gear, the Frisbee, our mitts, a pebble-skinned football, a basketball losing its air, getting flat, an old canvas bag sagging with a clutch of baseballs. This stuff lives in Mulder’s car, always comes in handy. We pull the car over, play games out in the desert. We go walking in the small towns at night, looking for the local high school, parking lot lights and a split-wood backboard, a skewed, netless rim. We hurl grounders at each other on the asphalt in places where there’s no grass. The ball skims, hammers towards me, starts out white but loses its color with every scuffed collision with the pavement. Without grass to muffle the speed, cut down the ricochet, fielding becomes pure self-defense. Our bodies are scattered with sick contusions. When the ball hits bone, a shin, a wrist, the hard cage of a rib, you can see the stitches, imprinted on the skin. We’re throwing way too hard, but neither of us will be the first to say, hey lighten up.
We didn’t come down here for any particular reason. Just started driving one day, surprised to find our road trip duffel bags in the trunk, busting with clothes, as if this was something that we’d planned. South of Monterey, whipping down Highway 1, we passed a sign that read, ‘Nevada and points east.’ Mulder took the exit without asking me anything, and I nodded, good good, let’s go.
Because we had nothing better to do. Because the season was months behind us, nothing to tie us down. Because the winter rains had come to the Bay Area again, the sky a dense northern gray, the fog thick enough to stuff into a suitcase. Because we were tired of seeing the same stuff every day. And now we drive and all we see is each other and the desert, and I try to believe that it doesn’t count as running away if there’s no one chasing you.
Past Santa Fe, near the Rio Grande, there are two-by-four crosses on the side of the highway, nailed together with bent metal like a crucifixion, chipped white paint, names and dates written in ash, Spanish prayers. I pull the car over. Mulder’s asleep, his mouth slightly open, breathing heavily. The ground at the shoulder is gritty and loose, my weight unsupported. I go sliding down on my heels, walk over to the solitary grave. There are dried flower stalks at the foot of the cross, dead western blossoms. I try to work out the Spanish, my eyes narrowed against the sun, digging backwards to my high school language classes, the defiant laughter of the Mission District, my teammates chattering away with dark eyes. ‘Santa Maria, we . . . we ask you . . . for forgiveness?’ I don’t know that word, it could mean anything. Then Mulder’s voice, rusty, calling to me, “Hey, what’s going on?” He’s half out of the car, his arms on the roof, the steel branding him. The highway is as empty as the horizon in both directions, as far as I can see. I shrug, walk back up the bank, get back in the car. Fasten Mulder’s seatbelt across his chest before I fasten my own. Keep driving.
We’re pretty lonely, all the time.
In Nevada, it was nothing but country music and bad mariachi bands. Kris Kristofferson singing hoarsely about drinking himself into oblivion. Johnny Cash singing about prison. Patsy Cline, Hank Williams. Hank Williams Jr., forever chasing his father. Steel guitars and harmonicas. We didn’t go to Las Vegas. We talked about it, and I reminded Mulder that I’d been born there. He snorted and said I should be better at poker, then. We angled over the tall hills on our way towards the dam, as high as we could go, Vegas huge and sprawling bright down in the valley, crowding the edges and getting bigger every day, the crystal triangular spotlight at the top of the pyramid casino spearing upwards, a shaft of light.
Outside Barstow, before we crossed our first line, neither of us had eaten anything all day, drinking coffee and soda, smuggling our hunger, hollow-eyed. Mulder was trying to fix a fresh cup poured from the Thermos, steering with his knee, his eyes flicking from the road to the task at hand. I didn’t offer to help. He ripped open one of the little packets of sugar, stolen by the handful from some coffeeshop, with his teeth, the sugar bursting on his hand and face and neck, not a speck of it landing in the cup. He swore viciously, careened the car up and over the shoulder. As we came to a stop, I was laughing at him, and he told me to shut the fuck up, brushing sugar off his collar. It was past midnight, the moon was pink. I reached out, drew my thumb across his face, said, “look at you, you’re a fucking mess.” Stuck my thumb in my mouth and tasted something sweet and dark. Mulder looked over at me, dusted, tiny diamonds catching like stars, his eyes black and reflecting the dashboard lights. I swallowed, leaned over, pressed my mouth to his jaw. I licked him clean, his head falling back with a shuddering gasp, my tongue on his throat, sugar and sweat, the salt of his skin trembling, like something I’d always known, my hunger rearing up inside me, ready to take me down. Mulder let me lick away the traces of sugar, but when my hand crawled across his stomach, crumpling his shirt, he shoved me off him, pulled in a few unsteady breaths, said, “knock it off, dude,” and started the car again, not looking at me.
For days, all we talk about is baseball. We talk about spring, when all the world will be green. The next time we come down to the Southwest, we won’t be alone, not like we are now. We find sandlots everywhere we go. We can sniff them out, like drug addicts seeking dealers in shadowed pocketed city parks, the only sixth sense we have. We sit on the peeling bleachers, splinters in the palms of our hands. No matter how small the town is, there’s a baseball field somewhere, the grass crabbed, the bases locked away for the winter, square holes in the ground marking out their absence. No matter how small the town is, there’s at least a jail, a bar, a church and a baseball field, because this is America, after all, and that’s all you really need. We talk about the game like it’s a friend we used to have who moved away when we were kids. We talk about the game like we’re still expecting a postcard from it, like we don’t know where it’s wandered to.
I’m having trouble sleeping. I don’t know if I should blame the desert or Mulder for that. At least the desert will take the blame if it’s offered.
Walking around the campus of a holiday-break-deserted community college in Taos, we befriend a stray dog. He (all stray dogs are male, we decide) is underfed, scraggly brown, hopping manically around us, fitful barks. Mulder names him Juan Carlos. I name him Feller, for no other reason than that Rapid Robert is on my mind today. The dog answers to both, snapping at our heels as we sprint across the fields, spinning in the air, waving a stick, galloping after us, bounding, one long afternoon with the sunlight turning our outlines into halos. He won’t leave, but we have to, so Mulder throws the stick as far as he can, and we both duck into the car, slamming the doors, half a block away when Feller comes trotting back with his prize in his mouth, looking for us excitedly, as if our disappearance is just a new game that we’re playing.
We’ve been on this trip for close to a month now. It’s the longest I’ve gone without seeing the ocean in years. My body aches for it, my eyes wide scanning the edge of the world. I want to throw myself off a cliff, cartwheel in the air, erupt into the water. I want to swim out, as far as I can go, saving nothing for the swim back. The Pacific’s got a hold on me, like the ocean is a magnet and my heart is lead. All these miles we’ve put between us and the coast, and it’s still the only thing I see when I close my eyes.
Nobody knows where we’ve gone. We left our cell phones behind, we don’t check our messages. We send no postcards, make no collect calls. There’s going to be hell to pay when we get back, everybody surely worried sick about us, but right now the lives waiting for us are far away, twice-removed and I’m not thinking that this is a clean break, I’m not thinking that this is the perfect crime.
A day or two after whatever didn’t happen on the side of the highway outside Barstow, somewhere beyond Needles, the place where we finally escaped from California, Mulder came to my motel room, knocking at two in the morning, strolling in nonchalantly, but I could see the anxiety filmed on his skin, jittery in his eyes. We weren’t honest with each other, because we never had been before, but I knew what he was doing there. He ran his fingers through the dust on the dresser, readjusted the rabbit-ears antennae of the television, the screen wickedly blurring with static. He didn’t look at me. He asked if he could have one of the Cokes I had in my backpack. Asked if he could borrow my Walkman for the night. Asked if he could see the tattered Sports Illustrated I’d picked up a couple of days before. I gave him everything he asked for. He stood there with his arms full, and I lifted my eyebrows, licked my lips, asked, “You see anything else around here you want?” He let his eyes find mine for the first time, his gaze furious and confused, something like desperation, and the junk he’d been holding crashed to the floor, tangled and shattered, and he came for me, his hands too tight on my shoulders, dragging me forward, kissing me like being wrenched free, and then we were fighting out of our clothes, wrestling onto the bed, force and violence and trying to prove which one of us was stronger, no time to learn anything new, no time to figure anything out for myself, because I was a long way from home and going nowhere, and this was just about the last thing I wanted to happen.
It should be simpler than this, right?
There are abandoned silver mining towns everywhere we go, scattered like spare change. Boarded up, sometimes converted into tourist attractions, little kids running around firing cap guns at each other, re-enacting duels, dying dramatically on the dirt road. I like it better when the places are empty, haunted. It’s like we’ve stumbled upon some secret, caught deeply in the past. Our footsteps echo on the wooden sidewalks, the smoked glass storefronts, the painted signs faded illegible. I can feel the ghosts here, the riches and wonders. I want to find a mineshaft, kick through the rotted planks hammered up over the entrance, crawl down into the cool dark. I want to go far beneath the earth, bury myself away. Maybe Mulder will come with me. Maybe he’ll call me crazy, leave me alone. Either way, it’ll be still and quiet and I won’t be able to see my hands in front of my face. Going blind sounds all right, these days.
The skin is peeling on Mulder’s shoulders. How long have we been out here? Pieces of his old skin stick to the palms of my hands, wind up on my tongue. He’s shedding, becoming something new. Every seven years, all the cells in a person’s body are renewed. In another year or two, he won’t be the same man I first met all those seasons ago. I’m already a different man, though he doesn’t seem to notice.
I’m short of breath, almost constantly. Even just sitting in the car, rolling away, I have to struggle to pull down oxygen, my lungs weak. The desert air is hard, scrapes down my throat. In the mountains to the north, there’s dry snow on the ground and I get dizzy, have to sit down until the world rights itself again. Mulder lets me take my time, paces around, his hands in his pockets. I’m not strong out here, I’ve got no power.
Mulder sleeps on his stomach like a dead man.
I keep time by motel alarm clocks, cancerous green numbers, warning-light red. I’ve seen so many hours pass, seen every minute go by, and the nights are all the exact same. It’s always cold at three in the morning, always silent at four. It stays dark until seven or eight o’clock, these brief winter days. The dawn slips in like a river, trickling, washing through. Fresh and newly saved by the light, but then Mulder rolls over and reaches for me, muttering inarticulately, and I can feel myself falling from grace all over again.
In Phoenix, we knew our way around, so we didn’t hang around there too long. We headed north, up into Utah, looking for empty highways, the two of us wind-burned and sand-scarred. The landscape all ripped by atom bomb tests, the press of time. The rock walls crowbarred open, jagged slashed-throat grins. We slept out, one night, when two in the morning came around and we were still over a hundred miles from the nearest town. Out in the government’s property, driving right off the road, seven miles into the black. Both of us uncomfortable, bent in our racked-back seats, our legs too long, crammed against the dash, the steering wheel. Too cold outside to sleep on the ground, but after a couple of hours shifting and cramping, I shouldered open the door, spilled out, Mulder jerking up. I lay there on the ground, staring up at the alien sky, black as crude oil, so many stars I could almost breathe them in. I heard Mulder’s door open and slam back, heard the crunch of his feet. He came to stand over me, peered down. “What are you doing?” I shrugged, desert sand in my hair. He got down on his knees beside me. “Aren’t you cold?” I was. The air icicled, brittle in my chest, blew out as white gusts. Mulder hovered his palms over me for a second, like he would perform a levitation or an exorcism, get thee behind me, and then placed his hands on me, low on my stomach, his thumbs brushing my belt. He inched up my shirt and the wind attacked the revealed skin, making me gasp quietly and suck in a sharp breath. Mulder ducked his head down, his mouth on my stomach, the only warm spot in the world. I let myself go loose, spread out my arms. Heat shivered through me in bolts, raising goosebumps that Mulder licked off. Mulder’s hands were moving quickly, unbuckling my belt, working open the fly of my jeans. He lifted his head, briefly, to hike one of my legs up and over him, and then settled back down in the cross of my body, his hands slipping high under my shirt, his fingers freezing and his mouth was so hot. I didn’t touch him, didn’t close my eyes, just blurred and shook and looked for the North Star.
We keep making mistakes, keep getting lost. Neither of us can read a map for shit. But we’ve got no destination, so it doesn’t really matter.
The highway’s gray, endless. It streaks forward in the windshield, like it’s being pulled away from us. I don’t want the desert to end, I want to keep moving until there’s nowhere left to go. We’ve put the ocean to our backs and there’s nothing to stop us now. Mile markers flood by, the signs green and brown. I know the silhouetted shape of New Mexico like I was born here, like I’ve been traveling these old roads my whole life. We’re way far deep into the American West, and this is the last stretch of land in the country that can kill you.
We’re stopped for gas in Clayton, ranchland, and Mulder, reaching for the Squeegee to clean the windshield, cuts his arm on a sharp metal corner of the pump. He swears, snaps backward. His arm is bleeding, the soft pale flesh of the underside, and I worry for a second about tetanus, gangrene, whatever it is you get from rusty metal. But it’s not his pitching arm, so it’s okay. I fish napkins out of the glove compartment, wrap them around his forearm, squeezing tight until he says, “Ow, man, not so hard.” The blood seeps in a red line through the white, smears on the heel of my hand. When Mulder’s not looking, I lift my hand, touch my tongue to the blood on my palm. It tastes raw and metallic, vampiric, a weirdly good taste, though it turns my stomach a bit. Next time he kisses me, maybe he’ll be able to taste it too.
I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired.
In the motel room, it takes a while for us to get the day wiped off our bodies. The long miles, the creeping dust, the scent of smoking metal, it all coats us, a veil that makes us foggy and unclear. He pulls a wet washcloth over me, my shoulders and chest and arms, the cotton rough and chafing, coming away brown. I push a hand through his hair, feel the grit between my fingers. He shakes his head, bent over me, raining a cloud down, and I screw my eyes shut, sneeze. We roll around dirty on the first bed, ruining the pillowcases and the sheets, then we stumble to the shower, come back warm and damp and collapse in the second bed, the one we’ve kept clean.
We’re not talking about it. We’re pretending it’s not happening.
I wonder if it’s still raining in San Francisco.
We heard church bells in Arizona. We’d stopped to get sandwiches and candy, a wide spot in the road called Franklin, population 492. The bells echoed through the clear air, the sky sheer like blue glass, reverberating the sound back down to us. I took a pull of soda, said, “I didn’t know it was Sunday.” I’d lost track of the days awhile ago, just after we’d left California. They slurred together, no way to tell one from the next. I was always half-asleep. Mulder checked his watch, the untanned strip of skin underneath hidden, looking strangely vulnerable when he took his watch off at night. “It’s not,” he told me. We left the little store, walked down the middle of the street. There were no cars, no kids on bikes, nothing. Our arms kept bumping, drinking out of glass bottles. We followed the sound of the bells, ringing solemnly over the dried-out town. When we got to the church, clapboard white and shedding boards like a lost bet, we saw that it wasn’t a sermon, it was a funeral. We took off our caps as the long hearse floated slowly past, watched the people come out of the church in bunches, dressed in black, their arms around each other’s shoulders.
When Mulder says, “I guess we should start heading back tomorrow,” I just reply, “Yeah, okay.”
It’s more straightforward, going home. Time gets chronological again, and I miss the confusion of not registering the passage of days. Our trip out was random, spiraled, corkscrewed. If our route was traced on a map, it would look like a modern art painting, directionless scrawls, loops and fast retreats. But we know our way back.
Now it’s gotten fiercer, between us. Now we don’t have much longer, running out of time, and we’re tearing, pushing, shoving each other down. He’s got me up against the wall, scraping my face on the plaster, his hands flat overlapping mine, our fingers interwoven. I’ve got him pressed into the bed, his hands clenched on the headboard, pieces of wood snapping off. I bite his lip too hard, swelling it up the next day, making him look like he’s been in a bar fight. He leaves bruises all over me. We draw blood, use our hands as bandages. We pant and curse and rip the buttons off shirts. We fall asleep still punishing each other, we fall asleep drowning like strangers, already regretting this. We wake up and reconstruct what happened the night before by the marks on our bodies. I can’t really remember anything too clearly. We don’t talk much, not hardly at all. He pulls the car over and we fuck by the side of the road. In the bathrooms of taverns. Ill-lit behind truck-stops. Everywhere we can get away with it, a bunch of places we can’t. We’re taking as much from each other as we can, because maybe this is why we came down here, after all.
Our lives are holding their breath, waiting for us to return to our right minds.
We’ve been averaging ninety miles an hour all trip, but now we drive the speed limit, even a little under. It’s still too fast. The state lines are only a day or two apart, and we’re not as far east as we supposed we were. We’ll be back home by the end of the week.
Leaving New Mexico, the sky breaks open, as gray as an away uniform, and we wait out the rain delay at a Greyhound bus station, studying the schedules and fares, figuring out how far we could get with the money in our pockets. Mulder produces an orange from somewhere, peels it and gives me half. When we end up in the men’s room fifteen minutes later, we both taste like citrus, sharp and clean, his hands are sticky in my hair and I’m on my knees, one hand on the graffitied wall, the other holding Mulder down, the bone of his hip hard in my palm.
West of Flagstaff, we get drunk on cheap beer and almost beat the shit out of each other.
We go past the training center in Phoenix, taking the long way to tack a few more hours on. We’ll be back down here in a few weeks for spring training, but I find that I’m not really looking forward to the season. This terrifies me.
Mulder’s arm is wrapped around my chest from behind, his forehead pressed hard to the back of my neck, his breath ragged and scalding, and my name is torn from him, the first time he’s said it in so long. I feel like weeping, I feel like running until I find a place where I might be healed.
An afternoon’s drive from the border, Mulder says, “Maybe we can . . .” He stops there, and I don’t bother finishing his thought, because it doesn’t matter what he says while we’re still in Arizona.
Maybe we can keep up this double life. Maybe we can sneak it past our teammates, our friends. Maybe we can still come find each other. Maybe it’ll get easier. Maybe after we’ve gotten our wind back, after we’ve gotten out of the desert, after baseball has returned to us, after we’ve swum in the ocean once more. Maybe it’ll start making sense. Maybe somewhere, sometime, we’ll start being good for each other.
All of which is true right now, but I know that this will just be one more thing that we never talk about, once we get back to California.
wow, okay. cool.
oh, who's feeling optimistic? anyone? folks whose teams aren't stuck in the middle of the division like flies in honey? folks whose team is looking to sweep the tigers . . . hmmm.
you know, the tigers would be a lot cooler if they called themselves 'los tigres.' aight, i'm starting a petition.
anyway, realized a little while ago that this is gonna be the first year when i don't vote for the all-star game at a ballpark. i'm gonna have to do it online, it's gonna suck. well, not really. but it's always a good time, filling out the all-star ballot at a game. last year we were at busch stadium, cubs-cards (little story about how mark prior not only threw a beaut, but went three for three with a double. ah, pitchers who can hit), this unimaginable midwestern summer heat. taking like five of the ballots and stacking the vote (no morals, my friends, none). voting for eric byrnes for no particular reason other than wanting to holler, 'i was saying boo-yrnes!' at the tv. we always have our greatest arguments about all-star voting. because, sorry and all, but i don't care for your lies about switch-hitting center fielders who aren't batting their weight, no, that's not just a slow start, that's a CAREER THAT SHOULD HAVE ENDED IN 1998.
i won't name names. cos then people will start to call me mccarthy again.
trying to educate the masses. strange vibrations around this place, weird possibilities. we've got about five weeks left here, we've been saying goodbye every night. it's like leaving high school all over again. this whole thing, 'and you were my closest friends for the past eight months and now i probably won't see you again for half a year at least.' it's draining, i tellya.
to hell with it! as scaggs has been quoted, 'finally i said, fuck it, i'm too old for this. so i bought a goddamned boat and went to cuba.'
havana! you're on a raft made of inner-tubes and duct tape, halfway between cuba and key west. you left at two in the morning, you didn't know there was a hurricane coming. hey, we need blankets, water, food. whatever you've got to offer. we've gotten this far.
i'm off to the globe, of shakespeare fame. i'm gonna be a groundling, it's gonna rock.
hmmm. this from the mountain goats new album: 'we are what we are, get in the goddamn car.'