He lays in the Dark, awaken by sudden sobriety. The muted snoring of the occupants of other campsites in their pop-up campers passes by, but he does not notice. In the first second of consciousness, his thoughts float toward her. His one-man tent offers shelter from the wind and rain, but not from the sounds of the earliest morning hours, nor from the nagging memory of his last encounter with her. Memories of last kisses played back to the tune of Allen Toussaint. The Dark of the Wisconsin forest chokes out the light of his bike-headlight-turned-flashlight as he flicks it on inside the tent. Pupils adjust, his heart cannot. The pale light reveals streaks of browned blood lining the inside of the enclosure, a reminder both of the earlier morning drunken bicycle crashes on the way home from a Sturgeon Bay bar, and to how difficult it is to operate tent zippers while intoxicated. How does one return to a memory? He has spent days on this bicycle adventure scheming ways to win her back, writing foolish love-letters home, and evenings trying to forget she exists. As he moves inside the tent, searching for something other than cycling shorts to wear in opposition to the early morning chill, he remembers his knees and elbows bear the scars of that short ride. Fresh scabs crack. Chagrin passes over his face. No one is there to witness it.
The rustling of the cheap plastic tarp which nightly protects his bicycle seems to echo through the woods. Echoes too loudly now, as he searches for a water bottle which is gripped tightly by it’s jealous cage. Turning down the claustrophobic path, gripped by damp pine needles and the sight of her driving away, he knows that the pursuit of sleep again is fruitless. The weak stream from an iron-stained porcelain drinking fountain fills his pink and green plastic bottle too slowly, and he wonders how to finally purge thoughts of her from his mind. The air is Dark, cold closes in as he points his feet toward the beach, towards the bay. The woods open quietly to a roughly paved road, overhead branches yield to whatever starlight the illumination of the nearby town allows to be seen. No wind breathes as he climbs down to the beach; no waves lap at the white rocks. The bay is quietly glassy. Reflections, and the lights of Sturgeon Bay are only barely holding away complete Darkness. He sits down. The rock is cold and uncomfortable, but at this moment, he is content to wait. Wait for the sunrise, and for peace of mind.
The sunrise is not nearly as elusive as peace has become. Red horizons begin to encroach on the Dark, enough light to see circular disturbances spread across the surface of the water, betraying movements of fish beneath the surface. The wait seems torturous, Dark red hues yield to the warmest orange so slowly it seems not to be occurring at all. He cannot control the sunrise, anymore than he can author his own thoughts. Brighter orange and yellow begin to pierce the subdued hills on the opposite shore; it is a premonition of the start of his journey home. Sunrise is nearly here, the seconds preceding it’s arrival pass in what approaches agony. He does not know, at the very moment the sun breaches the tiny pine trees, that while he is thinking of her, she is thinking of him. He cannot know in these moments, and those that follow, that his return home will bring them back together. He rises from the white rocks, grasping a smooth, flat one to carry home. One to carry home to her. One that she will save and cherish, without knowing why. The risen sun warms his back as he turns to climb up the grassy bank, shadow stretched out, freakishly elongated. A Dark silhouette before him.