Raindrops as big as walnuts hit the windshield violently, as we keep moving forward into the unknown, surrounded by what seems like absolute darkness. Every few minutes, a large bolt of lightning hits the ground somewhere near, and the vast farmlands and meadows of Michigan light up, revealing for a split second whatever lies as far as the eye can see. The flatness of the landscape allows for a mystic glimpse that makes me feel as if I was being offered a preview of the beauty, so that I would feel tempted to come back during the day to do justice to it.
I squint hard, trying to make sure I am staying in the lines of the road that is nearly flooded under the insistent rain. My friend is telling me about his lab work, about brain tumors, and mutated rat genes, and DNA scanning. The combination of the darkness of the narrow road (that could be leading to infinity, for all we know), the fascinating weather, and the intricacies of the science I hear, makes this late night trip seem surreal.
We turn left off of Schellenberger Road, to a gravel pathway leading to a tobacco colored farm house. The lights are on, with silhouettes of people showing through what seems to be the kitchen windows. There are several cars parked outside, facing the empty lands. I pull up next to the red car. Once I turn off the headlights, we are left in engorging darkness, the only light being the frail sparks of a fire left to survive through the shower.
My friend’s friend, the owner of the farmhouse, comes outside to great us. He gives my friend a side-hug, and approaches me to shake my hand. I introduce myself, but cannot see the face of the name I was told in return, until we reach the dim light of the front porch of the house. We pass through the living room into the kitchen, where six people are sitting around a crude wooden table, playing a board game. There is a large pot full of chili staying warm on the stove, a plate of shredded cheddar next to it. A fat cat brushes against my legs as I am offered a drink. I responsibly refuse, thinking of the weather and the hour-long drive back home. They respectfully don’t understand. My throat is dry and itchy, so I ask for water instead. The water from the tap tastes faintly of metal.
For a few minutes, the game has stopped in acknowledgment of our arrival. Everyone seems nice and friendly, but there are no proper introductions done, so I only learn (and quickly forget) people’s names when someone else is referring to them. We are all standing up, somewhat squeezed uncomfortably in the tiny kitchen. Brief conversations of what I do take place, but no one is too interested. We all move into the living room to play a made-up game of charades. I sit on the larger couch smelling densely of animal, next to a loud gay couple, who I gather are Jewish: they joke about the hostility of the dog, which is no where in sight, saying it must be either homophobic, or anti-semitic, or both. Another cat walks in and takes its place between me and the larger of the two men. The crowd is loud and dramatic. Politically incorrect jokes, often about the Holocaust and homosexuality, keep flying around, the larger, louder, and seemingly hyperactive one of the gay couple making most of them.
The game is not entirely engaging, and definitely not what I had envisioned this party would be, so my mind wanders and I start looking around the room we are in. There is an old iron stove standing on a stone deck, like an island in the middle of the hard wood floor. In one corner there is an old sewing machine, which has been turned into a desk, with old spools of thread of various colors framed on the wall behind it. On the other side of the room, the wall is covered with a large wooden bookcase. Despite being chilly, the room has a cozy feel to it. I find out later that an old woman used to live here, who had recently died.That’s how they had moved here. The young man who had greeted us at the door says he doesn’t mind the long commute every day, even in the heavy snow of Michigan. His wife’s car, however, is simply useless in the snow, he admits, but two pairs of snow tires should do the trick, responds the man with the baseball cap. Otherwise, he seems to be the only one who doesn’t speak much.
I leave the game to look for the bathroom. I walk through the kitchen again, and pass the open door of the bedroom. The large black dog referred to earlier is lying on the bed, its eyes watching me. There is a baby fence blocking the doorway, but I doubt that that would be high enough to prevent the dog from jumping over. I try to ignore the feeling of worry rising up, and continue to the bathroom. The shower curtain is drawn to hide the tub, but I get curious, and even though it must be rude, I peak through the side. The tub is old and rusty, and in dire need of replacement.
My friend and I join in on the game every now and then. I make a few good guesses, but tell only some of them. Soon, we are tired and bored, and covered in small mosquito bites, so we head out. As we walk through the porch, I see fireflies. Only as they increase in number, we realize they are not fireflies but ashes being blown from the fire burning earlier. Despite the rain, possibly because of the heavy wind, the fire has grown instead of diminishing, and its ashes fly high into the dark sky, and deep into the woods, away from the farmland.
We return to the narrow, endlessly straight roads we came from, only the wind and rain are much stronger this time. We drive over flooded patches on the road, wondering if we’ll get stuck, but staying calm nevertheless, and talking of random things, of food, of our new lives, of the future, asking each other about our pasts, looking for commonalities and differences. The lightning continues to light our surroundings every now and then – something you don’t seem to get used to, something that fascinates you each time.