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Hope and Sand

Ryan Priest

    “The city is coming to eat our souls.” Alvin Thomas said from the driver’s seat. The couple had parked alongside a dirt road intersecting a super highway. Strewn along the side of the road were billboards; WAL-MART COMING SOON and a McDonald’s restaurant had one for its grand opening. “I have to get out of here Lex.”
    “And go where?” Alexis McKnight was seventeen and one of the only three teenage girls within ten miles. The two were together out of necessity. Young people had to stick together. There was love there too though, the type of love that can only be shared between two lonely souls cut off from the rest of the world.
    Now that the city was coming they’d be outcasts no more. But now Alvin wanted to leave. None of this made any sense to Lex. She seldom understood Alvin the first time around. He seemed to have a way of wrapping poetry around every word. The rest of the world was going to love him.
    Their town had been buzzing about the news for months. A big plant was being built and bringing in hundreds of new families and businesses. This is what they had waited for their entire lives, to catch up with the rest of America.
    The town was called Anderville and at last census held a population of one hundred in its limits. Most of these were people living at the very outskirts, the rest were trailers. A gas station with an attached mini-store, dust and desert winds were all they had.
    “Come on Alvin, where do you want to go?”
    “I don’t know if it exists really. I want to go where no one can find me.” He said keeping eyes fixed on a certain patch of rocks. Lex tried to see what was interesting him so much but she couldn’t make it out.
    “People aren’t such a good thing. Think of everyone you’ve ever known, have they ever really done anything good for you? I mean in relation to what you’ve had to give up to please them.”
    “I can think of one.” Lex smiled up at him.
    “Yes, but I mean everyone else, people as in the rest of the world. All those faces that sweep in and then sweep out again all the time. Now they’ll be here forever.”
    “There will be jobs. We can get a house of our own like you said.”
    “Things will begin to cost a lot more. As is everyone’s got the same amount of money around here. No one is made to feel poorer than anyone else. That changes when people come into play. All they care about is making one another feel bad about himself.”
    “You see a lot of that when you lived in Tucson?” Lex had lived in Anderville all of her life but Alvin’s mother had moved in three years before.
    “Nothing but.”
    “Don’t you think you might be being a little hasty? I mean, the factory isn’t even finished yet. We have no idea what types of folks it’ll bring in.”
    “There’s only one type.”
    “Maybe you’ll like them when you get to know them.”
    “That’s just it, I don’t want to get to know them. I don’t want to have to acclimate myself to a whole different life.”
    Lex gave him a troubled look.
    “Acclimate means make myself accustomed to, to get used to.”
    Alvin was always reading books. He ordered them out of huge catalogues he had sent to him in the mail. He knew all the special deals to get good rates. Last time she checked he was only averaging a dollar a book. This gave him a bigger vocabulary than Lex. He didn’t hold it over her though, at least she didn’t think he did. Sometimes she didn’t know words and it was better to have him tell her the word than pretend she knew what he was talking about. Through Alvin’s influence alone she had learned more than she ever had in school.
    “I’ve watched them my whole life, people, they talk a big game about how everyone likes one another. How much they care for each other and the like. What they really do is use each other. ‘What can you do for me,’ and that sort of thing. You’re only worth as much as your use. They keep themselves believing this is civilization and they want you to believe it too.” Alvin could hold her attention forever.
    “You don’t believe it’s civilized?” Lex asked. Alvin always said the corner stone of any discussion was questions and answers. He said that that way everyone ended up on the same page. Alvin says, Alvin says, her parents were already sick and tired of her constantly quoting him. She couldn’t help it though, he was more than a boyfriend, he was like a mentor to her.
    “I believe ‘civilized’ is a word people have created for themselves. Do I think it is evolved or better? No. Do I think it’s necessary for our growth as a species? No.” Alvin always took things to their extremes. He wasn’t content to only look at the now, he always factored in the past and the future as well.
    “What do you mean?”
    “I mean that I don’t think we’re meant to be raised in massive communities. We’re stripped down from day one and refitted as we go on in hopes that one day we’ll be another of the faceless civilized people making someone else rich.”
    “Alvin who’s they? The government?”
    “The government, the postman, the bartender, the soccer mom, all of them. It is a self sustaining ideal that they’ve all become trapped in. They have this faith that better decisions are being made, have been made, by others thus freeing them from any personal responsibility.
    “They always look to someone else or something else to teach them how to feel and what to think. No one ever stops to just think for himself anymore. No one has anything to say anymore and even if they do it’s not heard.” Alvin sighed slightly. “Like screaming inside a soundproof cell.”
    “If not big cities then what?” Lex asked. She went looking into her purse for a pack of cigarettes. A habit she’d picked up off of Alvin.
    “Take one of mine.” Alvin lit two cigarettes in his mouth and handed one to her. “And to answer your question, I’m not really sure. I know I can see it, in my head, see it so real I think I can touch it but then a voice comes in and reminds me that I don’t have enough time. That this will take generations and generations to accomplish.”
    “What’s it? What do you see, a utopia?” Lex noticed Alvin give her a sort of proud smile as she used the word ‘utopia’. The smile made her beam.
    “I guess you could call it that. I see thousands of people all happy. Not just indulgent but content where they are. They’ll do only what they want to do and the opinions or actions of others won’t matter because every man will have found happiness within himself. The new discoveries won’t be made in plastics factories or hospitals, they’ll be made in people’s houses. Triumphs of the mind. If we as a people really knew what we were capable of we wouldn’t even need hospitals anymore.”
    “What are our full capabilities?”
    “What are anything’s capabilities? Infinite. But as I see it our limits are neither being pushed nor even met by people.”
    The dust picked up quickly and circled the car. This happened from time to time. The earth seemed to rise up and collect you reminding you where you came from. The two watched it in silence. Lex didn’t know if she should believe him or not. He was always going over the ills of the world in this way or that. That’s what she loved so much about him, he didn’t ever settle. Everyone else in Anderville had at one time or another settled for less than they’d wanted out of life. That’s why they were all out there in the middle of the desert. Now whatever crimes they’d committed against the rest of the world were paid for and they were being asked to rejoin.
    “I am leaving this place Lex. I am going to take this car and just drive off into nowhere.”
    “How will you survive or eat?”
    “If there’s no work for an honest man to be found then I guess I won’t be that honest.” Alvin smirked. It always drove her crazy when he did that. She wondered if it was really safe to love someone that much. Whether it was or not she couldn’t help it so she just went with the flow.
    “What does that mean?”
    “In a word, steal.”
    “I thought you didn’t steal.”
    “I never said that. I said I don’t take what belongs to someone else.”
    “Isn’t someone’s food something that belongs to them.”
    “What? A strip of bacon? The hog might have something to say about that. The grain and cornstalks don’t get to choose who eats them. Tell me, if you aren’t a part of society, if you don’t live under the auspices of that assumed code of conduct then what laws really apply to you?”
    “Well none but you still have ethics.”
    “Yes, and is it ethical to walk into a store and open a bag of potato chips to eat when you have no other food?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Then think it over.”
    “I guess it’s not ethical. The store is owned by someone who paid for those chips.”
    “Yes, he paid a man who paid another man to pick the potato from the Earth to process and bag. However if I was walking through a potato field and I picked up a spud to cook for dinner would that be akin to stealing?”
    “Because the Earth gives us our nourishment. Now if someone is going to go dig up all the potatoes before I can find them simply so he can chop them up into pieces is it ethical for him to charge a price to eat them when you’re after the food and not the special taste?”
    “So what does that mean?”
    “That it’s ethical to retake the potatoes?”
    “No. It means that ethics cannot be played by one side alone. When it comes to survival your ethics don’t matter as much as your reality. So I won’t weigh myself down with foibles.”
    “Traditions, ways of belief that are old or outdated or simply weak.” Alvin thought for a second, “I’m not sure if it’s in the definition that they’re outdated but coming from my viewpoint you can’t have one without the other. I’ll have to check on that.”
    “If you go you won’t graduate.” Lex said and they both shared a smile. Alvin as smart as he was, happened to be a failing student. They shared a school with the rest of the county bussed in from all different directions. Among them Alvin had the worst grades, straight Fs. Earlier in the year he’d decided it was stupid to do any work simply because a teacher had told him to. From then on when handed any assignment Alvin would demand a logical reason why he should do it. After a while the teachers had stopped even asking him for work. There was no way he was going to graduate but he didn’t seem to care.
    “You’re serious about this aren’t you?” Lex asked looking out the window.
    “Yes. I can’t stay to watch everyone here sucked up into that impartial, indifferent mass of...mass of,” Alvin searched his head for the right word. He always said that there were many words for many things but always a right word, one that fit better than any other. Alvin said the true gift of communication is finding the right words at the right time. “Normality.” He said half-sure, then nodded, “Normality.”
    “You just said you liked that no one here felt any different than anyone else. You said in your utopia that every man was happy with himself. Doesn’t ‘everyone’ mean normal?” Lex said hearing a crack in her voice. She wanted to convince him not to leave. Alvin always said he could be persuaded if he was ever proven wrong in one of his beliefs. The problem was doing it.
    “No, that is not normal. It is extraordinary. When you reach that place in yourself where it doesn’t matter about fitting in anywhere, where normal doesn’t matter, then you exude this light and brilliance that is simply extraordinary.”
    “Are you that way?”
    “Then how do you know?”
    “Because I can see it in your eyes when you smile. When I know you’re happy you glow. That is how I know there’s something better out there for all of us, when I look in your eyes.”
    Lex couldn’t breathe for a moment. His words had come like a swift kick in the stomach. She was crying openly now but couldn’t tell if it was out of pain or joy. “I love you Alvin.”
    “I love you too Lex.”
    “Then stay.”
    “I can’t. If I did I would be settling and you are too good for a man that settles. Don’t think this hurts me any less than it hurts you.”
    “You’re not crying.”
    “It is not my style. Besides I want you to remember me like I am now, calm and collected maybe even a bit poised.” Alvin smiled at her and put his arm around her shoulder.
    “Then take me with you.”
    “What?” Alvin sat back. “You don’t want to go with me. You said yourself that you’re excited about the rest of the world coming to Anderville.”
    “I’ve never seen the rest of the world. I won’t miss it. I love you already and I can’t bear to lose you.”
    “That isn’t fair to yourself or to me. Never let someone else control your actions with their feelings.”
    “Do you want me to go with you?”
    “I will refrain from answering that as it might unfairly sway your judgment in one way or another. If you were to go, it would have to be for yourself and no other reasons.”
    “I want to be where you are no matter where that is, is that a good enough reason?”
    “I suppose it is but Lex, I couldn’t live with myself if I drug you into this with me. I don’t really expect to come out of it. I’m really only giving it a noble attempt. I couldn’t stand to see you whither with me and watch that glow leave your eyes.”
    “You don’t ever want to settle for less than you want. Well I don’t want to settle for the rest of the world. You know that happiness you spoke of in me. It’s only around when you are near. It’s all for you, only you and if you go it will go too.”
    “You don’t know that.”
    “You say you’ve watched people your whole life. Have you ever seen a glow in a single one of them? It doesn’t take people to make me happy. It only takes one person, you.”
    Alvin was silent for a moment.
    “We’ll stop by your house so you can get things you’ll need. Then we’ll stop by my house.”
    “We have enough gas?” Lex asked
    “We’re not American anymore, we’re savages, we don’t pay for gas.” Alvin smirked as he started the engine. Lex suddenly felt a wave of freedom blasting across her face. They were really doing it. They were going off together. She couldn’t have asked for more.
    Alvin leaned over and kissed her one last time and they were gone. Lex took a look at the roads, the trailers, the dust and realized it was all she’d ever really known before.
    “We’re never coming back, are we?” Lex asked feeling somewhat indifferent. They were onto something bigger now, more important.”
    The car made its rounds and then it was on the super highway barreling towards an unknown horizon. The driver and his passenger with locked hands and beating hearts ready, for what they didn’t know, but ready.

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