We used to sit in the dank swampy storm culverts below the tracks not far from our home. Kiley generally didn’t last long with the abundance of daddy long leg spiders that spun clingy curtains across our paths. Dax followed me most places, and stayed there, perhaps against his will, I can’t remember. Our dog Xanadu shadowed us, regardless of the elements or imminent danger.
In the culvert we would imagine terrible things. We would pretend that a F-5 tornado was ripping through the sun-bleached corn fields towards us. Barn roofs were being lifted into the bruised sky and cars were flying like dizzy birds into the vortex of it all.
We would hear the growl of thunder approaching and conduct dreadful thought experiments. What if the world was coming to an end? We’d peer out the ends of the culvert, which showed us a two-way kaleidoscope of bending trees, snapping branches and waving corn. The bit of sky that we could see would be threatening—purple with licks of heat lightning. Xanadu would become agitated that we were lingering. Surely we should be making our way back to the safety of our home.
My grandmother told us if we were ever trapped outside and saw a twister, we should head for the culvert. Even on sunny days we would climb into the cool coil and lean back with our feet stretched out over the stagnant water at its bottom.
We always stayed in the culvert until our thoughts scared us out of there. Then we’d take off at break-neck speed, leaving the disturbing thoughts (and usually Kiley—sorry!!) behind. All was forgotten when we barged in the unlocked front door of our home and slammed it behind us. Heaving and panting, bent over in half, there would be a pot roast or stew that would infiltrate our nostrils and bring calm.
But what if?
What if everything that was familiar to us was gone?
What if the colours bled out of the earth and the sky grew grey and there were no shadows because there was no sun?
What if giant stands of trees, so symbolic of life and palpable history, suddenly uprooted and fell to the ground like broken skeletons?
If you were left in a desolate landscape void of life and hope where days and months blended into a blur of relentless suffering and starvation—could you? Or would you selfishly save yourself and walk into the darkness with a gun? Would you walk away from your husband and your son and your life, because you truly believed that love could no longer conquer all?
The Road, based on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction novel by Cormac McCarthy, has occupied my thoughts and quiet spaces for two days now. My friend Heidi had posted a Facebook status update that said she had watched the movie and cried almost as much as when she read the book. I was curious to see what made her cry—what moves someone to tears is usually a better indicator of substance than what makes a person laugh. Everyone can laugh, but crying is a bigger investment—especially by books.
Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron and kid wonder Kodi Smit-McPhee breathe life into The Road. Need an injection of misery? The movie is like the greyest sky, arthritic pain and Jann Arden on repeat.
After an unnamed cataclysm, a boy and his father are left in a post-apocalyptic world, walking south on a road that they hope will lead them to some imagined utopia, far from the scarred and ravaged earth they have come to know.
There are no birds, no crickets, no flowers, no children. The only interruption to the eerie silence is distant eruptions and thunder that vibrates their bones. Packs of nomadic cannibals scour the devastation like ravenous lions. Naked, wide-eyed, humans, more bone than flesh, are kept locked up in basements as a living food source. The father insists that if they are to be captured, that the boy should shoot himself. He shows him how to place the gun, pointed upwards against the roof of his mouth, and pull. The father is frantic in making his son promise this.
They walk for months. The father and son become “each the other world’s entire.”
I have a latte with the barista at Jimmy’s on Portland, still thinking about The Road. “Life is a series of squares and circles.” The barista is confident of this. He describes his next tattoo to me in great detail. It will be of a snake, eating itself. “It’s a symbol of re-birth, and that’s what we’re doing here on earth. Eating ourselves, moving about in squares and circles.” I almost believe him.
In The Road the circle becomes a line. But the boy has skin of steel and a heart that believes they will find more good people, like themselves. If they can just make it to the coast.
“Are you carrying the fire?” The boy learns to ask.
The fire. When all that we ‘have’ is gone. When all that we are left with is what is inside us.
The mother’s fire had died down to embers and couldn’t ignite again. She was gone. The father found guttural courage to forge ahead, for his son, who could still see colour in a dead earth. The father’s love in The Road is unstoppable and fierce. He demonstrates how raw hope can transcend misery.
The Road is undeniably bleak and uncomfortable to watch because it brings our worst fears to the surface. Would we have the strength? Could we ignore a suffocating grief within ourselves and promise hope to someone else when we’re not even sure if it’s possible?
Beauty does emerge. And the love between the father and son does conquer all.
The Road that was at once a line becomes a circle in the end.