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 synopsis: In 1978 a soul-wounded Vietnam Vet—who’s half Ojibwe Indian—is mysteriously reunited with a childhood friend, a Caucasian girl he’d known for eight days in the summer of 1962. Their reunion ignites an adventure through the crosswinds of space-time with the help of two unearthly women developing and teleporting photographs from the girl’s long lost camera.

PART I
The Boy in the Photograph

Chapter One

Sunday, August 13, 1978

From inside his ‘66 Chevy Impala, John could hear the tires whirring over blacktop along Southern Minnesota’s Highway 14, not because the windows were rolled down, but because there was a new rust hole in the floorboard behind the front seat. He turned up the volume on 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 city traffic and avoid a lot of gear shifting. His leg was acting up again. John 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 scratched lenses of his horn-rimmed shades at the map sprawled over upholstery shredding like post-harvest cornstalks. The wind whisked through the side-open vent windows and tousled his wild Indian hair, loosening more and more of it from the leather tie that’d been his half-assed attempt to feign civilized.

The Chevy slammed over a bump and the glove box flew open, spilling all its guts to the floor—crinkled empty cigarette packs, old Burger Chef coupons, and John’s The Portable Poe paperback.

“Shut your fuckin’…” He leaned over and hit the metal lid three times before it latched. He was used to the stupid unhinged mechanism, and he’d had his fair share of bumps in the road—just didn’t tolerate sudden movements of any kind, no matter how familiar. He was the one that was unhinged, despite how long it’d 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 the day they’d come home from Vietnam to this foreign country. Some of the older Vets at the VA hospital described it as a 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’d 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 breast pocket, shoved it into his mouth, pushed in the lighter below the dash, and glanced back at the map. He retraced the course to his destination, paying marginal attention to his driving. John was dressed up, at least for him, a wrinkled beige shirt and a US Army-issue necktie 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’d 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 only 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’d gotten the idea to expand the hideaway—where he and four other Vets lived—to include a kitchen with electricity, so he could make real percolator coffee, and not the instant kind anymore. But there were no trailers or coffee makers 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 long distance number just below it. The lawyer refused to give him any information over the pay phone, other than the deceased had left him a package..

A warm wind howled through the vent windows 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—a dead giveaway. Above the dark lenses his forehead creased with the ceaseless strain of too many memories—the Vietnam giveaway.

There was 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 from the maple trees in the lost woodlands of his people. John had let someone look into them once, when he was a boy, after his mother died, but he wouldn’t let himself remember, protecting his heart from what he’d become.

John looked at his weathered hands. They gripped the steering wheel so tight the reddish tone of his skin had drained from the 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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