by Michael Salinger
The girl was making baby footprints on the passenger side window. She contrived a fist and pressed the pinky side of her right hand against the cool wet glass leaving the impression of a 2-1/2 inch sole stamped, dripping in the condensation, then she took her thumb and added toes. The tracks didnt lead anywhere just a little barefoot motif randomly covering the transparency that separated her from the elements as she rode along in the Packard. It was a trick she had picked up riding the bus to grade school a couple of decades earlier, something she had forgotten til that instant. There was no particular reason for her to remember the pastime, just one of those random synapse firings that occur when the mind has gone blank for a moment. The appearance of an old western on the boob tube, already in progress, when the live feed to the baseball game has been killed by some squirrel giving up the ghost in a transformer placed in a Wisconsin soy bean field. The mind wont tolerate dead air, unless youre some kind of Buddhist monk or something, and she had gone to Catholic schools.
"Yknow," she said, speaking to the windshield as much as the driver, "I wish I were in love."
The radio fizzled out right in the middle of a cut from Miles Bitches Brew as the convertible entered a long tunnel, white noise rustle from the dash-mounted speaker cutting to the front of the line on the frequency. Neither of the two reached over to turn down the volume. Pink and aquamarine tiles flashed by on both sides of the art deco catacomb stretching to a vanishing point lazy curved in the distance where the two rows of steel-caged light converged into a point. The reflection of the overhead incandescent bulbs scrolled across the hood of the car split into a V shape by the winged nude ornament, breasts thrust forward piercing the oncoming night air like a film of tracer bullets being played in reverse.
The driver spoke, "Well Toots," he said. "The way I see it, love is a tourist trap you got to be a little gullible and bored to stop for it. I aint sayin stupid, just a little bit naive and lookin for a diversion to save ya from the bullshit of everyday existence. I mean a lot of people that otherwise have their shit together are out there lookin for it. Its like the Loch Ness monster."
The girl rolled her window down a crack so she could smell the diesel aroma that was spewing from the tailpipe of the Greyhound bus in front of them.
"The things been rumored to exist just about forever, I think some saint back, hell 1500 years ago or so was the first to say he saw the son of a bitch. Made a woodcut of some sea monster bigger n a house with horns and a forked tongue smoke out the nostrils the whole shebang, and people been lookin ever since. Not just crackpots, you got your scientist out there with sonar and all kinds of equipment. The shores are lined with people, with telescopes and binoculars, on the weekends they bus the bastards in. I mean, these cats just want to believe that there is something out there, they devote all their spare time to catching a glimpse of a myth. Some folks just aint got nothing better to do. Theyre obsessed."
The girl listened, watching the ceramic tiles whiz by, freezing sections of them into snapshots by picking a single tile and following its passing with a quick glance. A couple times she noticed some graffiti that she recognized as English but flashed by too fast for her to read.
"Theres a couple photographs of the thing floating around, Nessie, they call it Nessie now. Started out as a sea monster, now its Nessie like its some kinda big ass pet. And these photographs are so fuzzy; hell they could be a stick or some kinda watersnake blown up all grainy. But thats all they need, circumstantial evidence, its enough to keep the saps coming back and dropping cash. Theres a whole cottage industry built up around something that hasnt even been proven to exist. Ya got your Nessie fuckin T-shirts, your Nessie post cards, Nessie this and that. Folks makin a buck off other folks need to be convinced in something bigger than themselves. And the people that think they saw it? There aint no way of talkin them out of it cause theyre convinced. Hook the assholes up to a lie detector and theyd pass with flying colors. I guess they aint hurtin nobody, live and let live I guess."
A gray four-door passed by in the right lane, the little Chinese boy in the back seat had his face pressed against glass so that his nostrils flared up like some side show pig-boy, his bottom lip pulled down like a blind on a closed shop door.
"And what the fuck ya gonna do if ya catch it? I mean it aint like you can put a leash on the son of a bitch. If it does exist its sure spent a lot of time hiding. I dont think it wants to be found, throw a noose around its long-ass neck and its gonna be pretty pissed. I mean, if its out there its a wild animal. People gonna get hurt. Then what, blame it for doing what comes naturally? Theyll drag the fucker outa the lake and stick it in a tank so P.T. Barnum can charge ya two bits to look at it. And itll be in there, all crumpled up and sad looking. No way girlie girl, people aint got no business messin with something like love. They wouldnt know how to treat it if they found it. Christ, look how we boned King Kong."
Buddy Rich was pounding out a drum solo when the auto emerged from the tunnel.
The girl looked over, "Yknow Misha, talking like that aint no way to get laid."
Michael Salinger is a four-time captain of the team representing Cleveland in the National Poetry Slam which twice reached the finals. His collection of prose and poetry, Sunday Morning and Other Writings, is forthcoming from Burning Press. "Babyprints" is excerpted from a novel in progress, The Packard Chronicles.