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289,998

The held breath

The held breath

Flatland is one of those small oddities that the peripheral pop culture strange force keeps just this side of obscurity. A small book written by Edwin Abbot in the late nineteenth century, it describes how a two-dimensional creature would perceive reality, and how we three-dimensional creatures would seem both incomprehensible and godlike. The narrator’s extra dimension of perception makes his voice appearing inside a hapless two-dimensional character; floating him off of Flatland’s surface enables the poor extra-mortal thing to see inside the bodies of his fellows and experience a literal and figurative depth he has no way to describe upon his miraculous reappearance. Fellow Flatlanders can only assume he has cracked.

The book has stuck with me since first seeing it on Cosmos over thirty years ago. I remember the special trip to the Fort Worth downtown library, sitting at a table lit in the high 1970s fluorescent light so much brighter in the basement, and hearing the strange Victorian narration in my head. The book was part of adult mystery and the confusing task of figuring out what was important.

Little Blue is the 1990 Civic LX sedan my dad bought for me as a combination high school and college graduation present, with the college graduation assumed. I fretted the research and looked for weeks in the sun-blasted outer-loop asteroid belt of southwestern Loop 820’s car lots. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and the price of gas was in the popular consciousness for the third time. Big Three whining and denial placed Japanese cars like the Civic under import quotas, which simply pushed the price up. Everyone remembered such stars as the Pinto and Vega, and looking at the Ford Escort only made me think harder about Roger and Me. My salesman was a good ol’ country boy, accent thick as the humidity. He thought I was making a good decision, of course. You kin never tell whut crazy shit them Aye-rabs’re gonna go, he said as I pressed hard on the carbonless forms.

I have not thought of Flatland on previous six-figure odometer anniversaries. What introspection or fascination with zeroes makes me take a picture of the car about to roll to 290,000? I think of where the car has been, which correlates exactly to where I have been. I have to think about where all those miles have gone, and where they have somehow taken me. Most are back and forth between things: school and my parents’ house, college and my parents’ house, work and the place where I was when not at work. All cars suffer such milk runs, spinning out their limited lives. But some miles are poured on, days of sucking down the tank as the climate changes and the next world is revealed.

Times past I pulled over at the right moment, took the picture I had anticipated, and continued on. I was late for work or had somewhere to go. Tonight the number isn’t quite the anniversary, but I have nowhere to go, nothing to contrive anxiety, only myself to look after. There is plenty of time to sit in the driveway and take a smeary cellphone picture. The car has been many places but is still the same. Whoever signed those papers and drove it home in that spectacular heat made a spectator by the perfect silent air conditioning is long gone. I wonder where he is.

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