Path of Totality – my long-lost novel

Inside the umbrage of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, I would like to point out that America’s last great eclipse was thirty-eight years ago, its path crossing the Pacific Northwest on February 26, 1979. That event is the catalyst for an extraordinary and otherworldly reunion that occurs under a Montana sky at the moment of totality. Thus why I titled my novel “Path of Totality.” Twenty-one chapters written, maybe fifteen to go. I think it might be time to work on it again, even though I’m about to take songs into the studio to make a singer-songwriter album. Everything seems to be happening at once.

1979-Feb26-LIFE-The Moment of Totality

As part of my celebration of this astronomical ecliptic event, I am including a short blurb about my novel and posting the first 3-1/2 pages to introduce my main character, and bring him back into the light.

Short synopsisIn 1978, a wounded Vietnam Vet/Ojibwe Indian, at the brink of self-destruction, is mysteriously reunited with a childhood friend, a Caucasian girl. They had known each other for eight short days during a momentous summer in 1962. Their reunion ignites an adventure of healing through the crosswinds of space-time, with the help of two older women living an otherworldly existence in the hallowed lands of Montana.

The Boy in the Photograph

Chapter One

Sunday, August 13, 1978

From inside the old ‘66 Chevy Impala you could hear the tires whirring over blacktop along Southern Minnesota’s Highway 14. Not because the windows were rolled down, but because there were rust holes in the floorboard behind the front seat. John turned up the volume to the 8-track player already cranking out Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watch Tower.” He wanted to drown out the whirring in his head that was something else entirely: choppers over jungle.

He turned south on 22 to bypass Mankato’s neurotic city traffic and avoid a lot of gear shifting. His leg was acting up again. He had trained his left foot to toggle between the clutch and brake pedal, but frequent stops and starts wore down his mental focus, and his patience. Eventually he’d have to cut over to westbound 60, which would take him to the godforsaken town he was headed for near the Iowa border. He peered through horn-rimmed sunglasses at the map sprawled on the seat beside him. The upholstery underneath had split itself in shreds like post-harvest cornstalks. The wind whisked through side-opened window vents and tousled his wild Indian hair, loosening more and more of it from the leather tie that had been his half-assed attempt to feign civilized.

The Chevy slammed over a bump, and the glove box flew open.

“Shut your fuckin’…” John leaned over and pushed the glove box cover three times before it latched and stayed closed, but it had already spilled its guts onto the floor, adding to the crinkled-up cigarette packs and Burger Chef wrappers. He was used to the stupid unhinged mechanism, and he’d had his fair share of bumps in the road. Just couldn’t handle sudden movements of any kind, no matter how familiar. He was the one that was unhinged, despite how long it had been since Vietnam.

Americans were discarding their memories of the war as fast as they could. And while everyone forgot, more and more Vets were crossing their line of demarcation, a decade’s passing since their time of service, since they had come home from Vietnam to this foreign country. Some of the older vets at the VA hospital described it as some kind of mystical anniversary, consecrated by a runaway locomotive crashing into a long-abandoned station, moving faster than a speeding bullet. It’s as if no time has passed, no time at all. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. And there was damn sure no light at the end of the tunnel. Demarcation Day was the day you realized to the core, it was never gonna get any better.

Today was John’s twenty-ninth birthday. Of little consequence now, because last Monday he had crossed over the line, and it was like getting wounded all over again. His runaway locomotive had rolled in right on schedule: ten years to the day since his return from Vietnam. No lights, no cameras, no pats on the back, no nothing. Just nothing, and nothing more, ten years of nothing. Birthdays didn’t mean shit. And this fucking trip, he didn’t much care if he was coming or going.

He pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket, shoved it into his mouth, pushed in the lighter below the dash, then glanced back at the map. He traced the red line he’d drawn to his destination, paying little attention to his driving. John was dressed up, at least for him, a wrinkled beige shirt and a polyester tie that hung loose around his neck. A moth-eaten wool suit jacket was draped over the front seat, out of style and out of season. He suddenly yanked the tie through his collar, and twisted it around his hand like a boxer’s wrap. He fisted the map, punched a hole in it. He would never travel this road again, so what the fuck? He tossed the map and the tie on the floor with the rest of the junk just as the lighter popped out. He lit his cigarette on the tiny hotplate. Whatever doubts he had about leaving his buddies to travel this far into unknown territory was alleviated only by the slim chance he might be getting some money.

He almost hadn’t noticed the typewritten note on the VA hospital bulletin board. His policy was to read just the hand-written scraps of paper, because those were from vets, mostly advertising vehicles for sale. John was hoping to find a small trailer and an electric coffee maker at a good price. When he received his latest government check, he got the idea to expand the hideaway where he and four other vets lived to include a kitchen with electricity, so he could make real coffee for them, and not the instant kind anymore. But there were no trailers or coffeemakers for sale.

The note had caught his eye, way up in the right-hand corner, his name in bold print: Looking for John Goodsky, please contact regarding inheritance. A phone number just below it. The lawyer refused to give him any information over the phone, other than the deceased had left him a package.

A warm wind howled through the narrow window vents and buffeted John’s face. The smell of earth was changing. The city to the north had infiltrated the air, John’s senses attuned to it. He was all-too aware that his prescription sunglasses didn’t hide the American Indian that flowed in his blood. He glimpsed his legacy each time he happened to see himself in the rearview mirror. His full wide mouth like his mother’s, and straight nose, all visible below the shadow of the brown frames he wore, a dead giveaway. Above the dark lenses his forehead creased with the ceaseless strain of too many memories, the Vietnam giveaway.

There was a mixture of white blood in him, but it was Ojibwe that claimed half of who he was. What he kept hidden to the outside world was the unusual color of his eyes, a charcoal-brown, like the dark fur of a timber wolf his mother used to say. She had told him, one day he would allow someone to look into them, and it would be that person’s spirit who would cause his eyes to spill the accumulated sap of maple trees in the lost woodlands of his people. He had let someone look into them once, when he was a boy, after his mother died, but he wouldn’t let himself remember, protecting that memory from what he had become.

John looked at his weathered hands. They gripped the steering wheel so tight the reddish tone of his skin had drained from his knuckles. Though he was only twenty-nine today, he, John Goodsky, was lifetimes old. He pushed in the cigarette lighter again.

* * *

Copyright 2020 Tysa Goodrich

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