Lately I was listening to Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Several years ago, soon after I bought their hits CD (“Blank Generation”, “ Love Comes in Spurts,” “Down at the Rock & Roll Club” with Robert Quine’s great guitar work), when he was young enough to hop on the bed and I worked a job that usually got me home for supper and bedtime stories, Hank started babbling about horses. In the liner notes (Remember those?) Hell and a young Tom Miller (later Verlaine, of Television) are described as 13 year old runaways from a Delaware boarding school. They were caught trying to burn down a field in Alabama. Huh? Alabama, horses, herein lies a tale.
I had been let off on I-65 at the last stop in Tennessee, Lynchburg, where they make Jack Daniels, mid-March, leaves already lime and yellow coins out, even the next day further south in green fields silver with rain and standing cows some dogwood and redbud like my mom and I would drive out through The Cove to see on a certain mountainside in Pennsylvania every May I was in town. Pretty soon, another guy got dropped off too, which, though nobody likes this, we made the best of with the usual dumb banter passed between two guys who’d rather not be together but realize it’s neither’s fault. We quickly got a ride from a guy who lived just over the border in Alabama. He wasn’t going very far, but he offered to take us to his place for dinner and then drop us off a little further down in Alabama before his wife got home. We had steak.
Good to his word, the guy left (leave and let are interchangeable where I come from, and in this case, I’d argue, even in Standard American English) us off past dark at a ramp where we’d decided to try to hitch-hike through the night. Soon we saw the stars occluded by slowly massing clouds and distant western lightning. We could feel the night get heavier and thicker and decided to walk up to the bridge over the interstate which, thankfully, we could see about a mile ahead. It was obvious that we could get there more quickly if we cut across a field than if we walked on the shoulder. Staying dry was becoming the priority over getting somewhere. I don’t think either of us really cared to get where we were going in any real hurry anyway. I know I didn’t.
Across the field, as we hurried, I kept feeling presences, like the one I felt was a ghost hitch-hiker following me through Independence, Missouri the autumn before but turned out to be some anthropomorphic shapes of lit up limestone and shadow near 3:00 AM. There were mufflings of the soft ground, near indistinguishable snorts in the night’s gather of rustling storm. They weren’t branches in the new wind, nor were they cars, more like restless pockets of warmth. Vulnerable as we were, it was easy to imagine threats. We stumbled on tussocks. Soon lightning wavered off like a horizontal spider leg in the closing western night and crossed in maybe a dozen bicuspid arcs in the surrounding air near level to our heads. Whinnies and snorts broke out all around us. The lightning flashed again, this time close enough to illuminate the horses off whose backs it was reflecting. They stomped a bit and twisted, crowding up restless in the night. A few flashed momentarily, as though their manes were luminous comets, eyes alive as ephemeral planets, spooked, but giant flesh lacunae of dark thrilled and awed in the shared charge of night, who recognized us, I’ve always thought, as some long estranged brothers, giddy and like them.