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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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                                                   FLASH

                                                   by Roberta Allen











STARS

In the White Desert where our inventive Egyptian guide spoke about a deadly snake that could leap thirty feet in the air, where the novice leader from California told us to sleep anywhere we wanted, where I, the only one in the group without a partner, was left to fend for myself but, like the others, who were soon out of sight, was also without a tent, I was unexpectedly blessed. At dusk, a rarely seen jackal, a nocturnal creature as delicate and transparent as a glass figurine, suddenly appeared like a vision and, before it vanished, suckled the string of my sleeping bag cover. While I was handling the still moist string, the fat British magistrate, who had been on my case since the beginning of the trip, came running to inform me that the jackal was probably rabid, which meant that I, too, would probably get the disease. Her prediction, however, failed to spoil my night alone with the stars, which either lowered themselves or lifted me up. While the stars and I stared at one another, I was safe from the imaginary leaping snake and the real horned viper, from scorpions, beetles, and larger creatures that left tracks in the sand next morning around my head, and neither heard the screeching sounds nor saw the flashing lights of 4-wheel-drive emergency vehicles and whirring helicopters that arrived in the night to transport the violently wretching members of the group, who had eaten the same stew I had eaten, prepared by the Bedouins, even before I knew I was protected by the stars.



 

INSTEAD

It’s not easy to write about my first trip to Panama because I went there with a close friend I didn’t speak to for nearly a year afterwards and although I want to write honestly about the trip to Panama--the casino in Panama City where she gambled and won, the oil-slick water on the way to the island whose name I forget, the mountain of garbage above the quaint village of wooden shacks and glorious flowers growing in profusion, the giant frogs leaping in the dark, the vultures devouring a dead dog on the beach below her hotel room--I don’t want to say anything bad about my close friend, anything that might endanger our friendship because, in retrospect, I was probably as crazy if not crazier than she was, since we are both independent and strong-willed, which is probably why we both prefer to travel alone, something we should have taken into consideration before blindly embarking on a trip to Panama. This is why I am writing, instead, about an earlier road trip I took through the Southwest with my ex-boyfriend (who was then my boyfriend), a trip that was nearly as disastrous as my first trip to Panama with my close friend, but I can write about this trip because my ex-boyfriend is unlikely to take my story as seriously as my close friend would, especially now that he has another girlfriend, who still worries about his friendship with me but this is irrelevant to the story I am about to tell except to say that my ex gives me a lot of slack, meaning
that because he still cares he allows me to say and do things that might anger or hurt someone else, though he may complain about my exaggerating certain details, to which I will reply that this is only a story,
but I am not exaggerating when I say that my ex liked (and still likes) to move quickly and cover a lot of territory in a short period of time whereas I preferred and still prefer to visit only a few places and get to know them well, but because he had a limited number of vacation days--he did not have the luxury of wealth, poverty, or self-employment--he could not stay as long as he pleased. Being the more experienced traveler and a decade older than my ex, I felt I should decide where to go but since he had lived in the

Southwest and he was the driver--I had let my license lapse since I had never learned to drive despite passing my test in Tennessee years before just by turning on the left and right “blinkas” when driving around
the block--my ex decided that he should plan our itinerary, which infuriated me, as we whizzed through Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, stopping at spectacular canyons, one after another, whose names I
had hardly learned--and have now completely forgotten--before we were back on the road and on to the next, at speeds that almost made me believe the sights might vanish from the earth if we didn’t get to see them
fast enough. The place that wasn’t The Grand Canyon but was not far from it, where I would have stayed the longest and might even have communed with God or Nature, its myriad pink spires and steeples reminding me of Cappadocia in Turkey and the Pinnacles in Western Australia and the strange volcanic forms in the White Desert in Egypt, did not move him the way I was moved though he might dispute this point. He would agree, however, that he wanted to stay longer in Las Vegas, where our plane had landed and where we had rented a car, but for me, staying longer was never an option, so appalled was I by the garishness, the

ugliness, the crowds in the casinos, by all those gamblers like my father “losing their shirts,” I wanted to leave as quickly as possible, a thought I also had in Panama, especially towards the end of the trip I can’t write about, when I was stuck in the water after snorkeling, unable to climb back on board the motorboat
we had hired, and my close friend, along with the boatman, tried to lift me over the side, nearly dislocating my shoulders while, at the same time, I was stung by a Medusa, the same kind of jellyfish that would sting me and leave two enormous welts, one on each thigh, when I returned alone the following year to a different part of Panama, on what I hoped would be a better trip than the one I had taken with my ex-boyfriend and the one I had taken with my close friend.

 

 

SURPRISE

I wish the tall, blonde, emaciated drug addict I saw last year in the same spot in the filthy bus station in Puerto Limon wasn’t coming my way and that I wasn’t as attracted to him as I am, which I imagine to be the reason why he’s heading towards me, knowingly, as though he can read my mind and see the fantasies I can’t even let myself imagine much less carry out, which is why I am surprised when he only asks for money.


"ADVENTURE PARADISE"

I barely remembered my trip to Grenada seven years ago until someone asked me for information, which made me think I had something to say about the island but it turns out I have nothing to say about Grenada though I do have something to say about “The Senator” I met there, who was not a senator but a retired CEO who looked like a senator, but it turns out I don’t even have something to say about him since I didn’t go sailing with him around the Caribbean, after he invited me, though it probably would have made for a good story and is something I probably would have done, had I gone to Grenada a few years earlier, and met him, although, after sailing around the Caribbean, I probably would have felt used or, for some other reason, sorry about accepting his invitation, but since I didn’t accept it and didn’t have to feel sorry afterwards, I have nothing to say about Grenada or The Senator, who, by the way, was married, or about the divorced American expat I almost forgot who gave me a huge discount on a bungalow in this “adventure paradise” when he heard I was coming alone. We were swimming in the bay one afternoon when I told him I had a boyfriend at home and he tried to bully me into swimming with him all the way out beyond the bay to the violent breakers, something I would never do, especially with a man whose spastic strokes barely kept him afloat, so, instead, I watched him from the shallows until his head, no bigger than a dot, disappeared in the fearsome foam and I wondered--but only for a moment or two--how he’d make his way back.




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