She travels slowly along a road to nowhere’s middle, and there is a man.
The man stands in a large graveled turnabout against a backdrop of agricultural ordered green. To the distant right of the turnabout, he has parked his car, nose against the green. The car itself is an older sedan of battered gray that speaks of lessened circumstances and roads unintentionally traveled. She puzzles over the distance between the man and his car, but then she realizes that he has parked in hopes that others might view that portion of the turnabout as an official parking lot. Certainly if she were going to pull into the turnabout and linger, she would swing past the man and pull in neat and parallel next to the gray sedan.
He has given thought to the flow of traffic through his space.
This small bit of hopefulness touches her.
She tries to judge his age . . . 45 perhaps, maybe 50. He is of average height and slightly less than average weight, his posture so determined she can read the vertical text of the anxiety that straightens his spine. He is neatly dressed. His silvering hair is neatly combed. From his pocket, he pulls a white cloth with which he tends to the items arranged on the small table beside him.
At first, it is not clear what the items on the table are; she has only a sense of tangled gleaming curves dark and burnished in the glow of the late-afternoon light. Then she sees the meticulously carved wooden sign which stands beside the turnabout’s entrance . . . Hand-Crafted Lamps . . . and the table-top tangle resolves itself into a small assortment of lovely wooden fluidities. Even from this distance, it is clear that the artist is indeed an artist.
She studies him as the traffic slows to a crawl and he stands alone beside his offerings.
He looks, somehow, surprised to be standing to the side.
Surprised and fearful.
In the late-afternoon sun, his fear shimmers like moted glitter in the dusty air.
She wonders how he came to be here.
Here on the side of the road.
Here on the way to the middle of nowhere.
Here filled with hope and despair in equal measures.
She wonders at the road that has crumbled to gravel beneath his feet. She aches for him, but traffic is heavy and she does not want to be late, and what could she do anyway? She does not need a lamp. She travels slowly past him, and he watches as she does not stop.
Each shrinks in the vision of the other as distance grows.
She thinks of him during the time that passes, wishes for him a bit of magic beside the road.
Several hours later, she is traveling the same road, this time headed home. Her daughter is beside her in the car now, filling the air with tales of running through the middle of nowhere. It’s growing dark, and as her daughter speaks, she watches the left side of the road for the turnabout in which the man stood with his lamps.
She imagines the lamps glowing dandelion-yellow against the push of darkness, small bits of incandescent hope defiant against the fade to black. She can see them so clearly, soft fairy lights held aloft by sculpted wooden grace. In her imagination, she stands within a dandelion-puff of light and runs a finger over burnished glowing curves as she stares up into a night colored in shades of secrets and bruise. She wants that bit of soft-lit golden magic within the purpled dark.
She wants to know the story of the man.
She needs a lamp.
There is the turnabout, just ahead.
Empty but for shadowed gravel.
She laughs to herself at the foolishness of her vision . . . one cannot plug a light into the darkness itself.
The man is gone.
Somewhere along a road to nowhere’s middle.
She heads home.