Eugene’s face said nothing of the optimism he felt. His jaws were set; his blue eyes stared fixedly forward at the patch of tarmacadam illuminated by the headlamps of his car. He had been driving for several hours, but apart from the ache of muscles in his lower arms, and the numbness of fingers gripping the steering wheel with intense purpose, he felt no tiredness at all. His head was clear, mechanical, simply processing sensations.
The most notable of these was the steady rumble of the engine as it settled into its top speed. He had not dared to force the Skoda in the early hours of the evening when the car kept pace with the trucks and the holiday-seekers on the long, straight motorway; it was only as night fell that he pressed his foot further onto the accelerator and heard the car announce its reluctance through angry vibrations. These eased as the Estelle reached its limit of ninety miles per hour.
The landscape on either side of the car continued to pass. It was flat, green, unpunctuated by landmarks of note, and even if he had seen what was beyond the narrow beams of light it would have offered little distraction. As it was he was too occupied with thought to pay attention to his surroundings; he let them drift passed, whilst he meditated on the steady humming of the car, and counted the passage of miles.
The mountains when they came reared suddenly to his sight. He had noticed a blur on the horizon, a dark that was much deeper than the one that surrounded him, but he had not thought to question its purpose, nor comfort himself that his journey was now approaching its end. This denial made the surprise all the greater; it was as though the hills had appeared on the instant. He looked about him and there they were, overwhelming him, dwarfing his existence.
He relaxed his foot. The car rattled once more; then it settled into a low rumble. This rumble carried him along, his, the only car, the darkness upon him so intense it made him quake with excitement. He did not miss the turning, though it was poorly posted; he eased the Skoda into its lower gears, heading down into the lane, before following its passage slowly upwards, skirting a towering mountain as the road wound around its cliff-face.
To his right was ever a fall, invisible now in the night, yet always present, reminding him that he might disappear forever with one turn of the wheel. Despite the bleak intensity of his focus it was not death, however, that drove him on through the long hours. The chasm was but an echo of what he had left behind, and as he pressed forward, his car clinging relentlessly to the road, he knew that his purpose would soon be revealed.
He stopped the car by a small mountain stream. All was silent now except for the steady rush of water as it splashed its descent, caressing the mossy granite before falling on and down. Eugene turned off the lights of the Skoda, the better to hear the sound, and he did not pause in the car though the pitch black startled his senses. He opened the door, the stiff metallic groan echoing alien in that remote place, and he stepped out.
His direction, as it had been since he had set out early in the evening, was clear in his head. The harsh prickles of the gorse held him close to the mountain, and he climbed quickly, feeling his certain grip in the give of these rough plants. He guessed that the night would soon give way to dawn, and this inevitability forced him to climb on, though his body, long aged with his living, began to issue its many familiar complaints.
He reached the clearing, his fingers thick with thorns, and his light, linen jacket, too casual and city-formed to resist the piercing cold of the wind. He stretched out his arms, reaching the extremities of their length, and leant his head back that he might feel the full force enliven him. There was no doubt remaining in his mind as the press of moving air resisted his call; this was indeed the spot, and he exhilarated his confidence, waiting for the moment.
When it came he recognised it straight away. The soft singing called his name endlessly in a single utterance, speaking from the earth, and vibrating its sound from the deep, granite roots of the mountain. It brought an ecstasy of warmth to his aged form, kindling his soul and firing him with unchanging promise. He closed his eyes in the bliss of this reward; then he opened them slowly, fighting his anticipation as he prepared to see her once more.
The voice that called him ceased its cry as he looked, and his name, so deliciously sounded, seemed to drift now, washing away on the wind. He did not regret this loss, however, and when the woman before him smiled sensing his pleasure, he felt that the sun would ever rise, and she would ever be present, welcoming him. He craved nothing more and he reached out his hand, her face so close he could touch its warmth, just as he could taste the blossom of her scent.
“You are beauty”, he said, whispering to the parted ruby of her lips, the crystal darkness of her eye and the dazzle of her flowing youth.
He knew, even as he spoke, that she was gone. He was alone again, suddenly old, decayed, fired by his search, yet exhausted now that he must begin again. He stood alone upon the hill, much weakened by his efforts, knowing that his quest was ever futile. But he did not give up, did not forsake perfection found. He returned instead to his trusted car and travelled on, certain that dawn would come each day.
©2011 Padraig De Brún