Nothing in Evan’s life moved, not even the rocks. He came from York, a seventeen hour drive if you drove the speed limit, which he did. York was a place of matching curved driveways leading to houses identical in shape if not in size, neighborhoods like hands where each finger lay perfectly against the last. It was a clean place, York, and productive. The early risers there built online industries and internet storefronts and digital marketplaces, all of them apocryphal until the power cord was plugged in.
Evan left York his first year of college. He didn’t tell anyone that he wouldn’t be back. It was either a Monday or a Wednesday or a Friday at nine a.m. when he stood up in class and abandoned his notes on his desk. He’d gotten in his car and kept driving until the road signs looked different. It took him fifteen hours, long after his home town radio station had turned to static. Then he got out by the side of the road and walked into the trees to pee, and he’d driven another two hours to Elevation. In those two hours after the road signs turned from green to blue he’d sped, then, for the first time in his life. We don’t really enforce the speed limit, but he didn’t know that.
He told me, later, it was the first time he’d felt his heart pound since he was nine.
Which was funny, because when I met him was the first time I felt mine stop.
Everything about Elevation surprised Evan. The roads surprised him because they jerked around hills and crawled through crevices and gasped up inclines. The old buildings perplexed him, some of them repurposed into shops or houses, some of them collapsed on themselves, lungs that wouldn’t breathe again. He was bewildered when our phone systems went down with no warning or explanation. He didn’t understand how his car was such a commodity or why we only had strawberries in the store when strawberries were in season.
But the thing that bemused him the most were the boulders. Back in York, he said, they didn’t move.
“You mean, while you’re watching?” I asked. One was moving right now, in front of us, as we sat on the hood of his car and shared a battered bag of potato chips. The boulder’s progress was so slow as it crept up the hill that it was hard to tell it was moving at all. It was only when you realized where it had begun that you saw how far it had come.
“Not at all,” he replied. He held his thumb and forefinger in front of his face to measure how far the boulder had moved.
“Maybe they move when you’re not watching and you just don’t notice.”
Evan replied, “Nothing moves in York unless people move it.”
“That sounds boring.”
“You always know where things are,” Evan said. He scratched his arm, which was already browner and leaner than when he’d first arrived. He still didn’t look like he belonged here, but he looked slightly less improbable than before. In front of us, the boulder slid and groaned across the grass, leaving a flattened trail behind it.
Evan, I learned, was good at rules, but only when they were written down. Elevation was full of laws that moved as often as the boulders, and if you didn’t keep your eye on them, it was hard to tell they’d shifted. A few months after he’d come to Elevation, Evan didn’t realize that the leftmost parking spot in front of Jim-Joe’s had been claimed by T. W. Fenton, cousin of the sheriff.
It was a long, green evening made gray by creeping mist, and T. W.’s big silver truck was nearly invisible in the shimming light in the parking lot. I arrived just as Evan was saying, “There isn’t a sign saying it’s restricted.”
W. didn’t bother to dignify this comment. He just smacked his fist off Evan’s face, sending him into the dirt and gravel of the lot. He waited a moment to see if Evan was going to stay down, and when he didn’t, T. W. kicked him in the cheek and then placed a boot on Evan’s chest. Evan was already gasping for breath. There was gravel caught in the folds of his t-shirt and his skin was chalky from the dust.
“What are you doing, girl?” asked T. W.
I was already climbing inside Evan’s navy blue coupe. I wasn’t good at driving, but I knew how to put a car in reverse. “I’m moving his car.”
W. removed his foot from Evan’s chest. “Your girlfriend just saved your life.”
Evan didn’t move, but the boulder beside the store did. It shifted as if to get a better view. I revved the engine too high but got Evan’s car out of T. W.’s way, and then I got out to help Evan up. Neither of us looked at the silver truck as it roared into the space the coupe had left behind.
Evan leaned on the top of the car, his chest still heaving. Only one half of his face looked like him. “Can’t drive,” he said. “Can’t see. Everything’s still moving.”
Everything was moving around us — the truck, the rocks, the shifting mist — but I understood what he meant. I sat him in the passenger seat and I drove him back to his place, a back room apartment behind the hardware store. Every gear was negotiable, but Evan didn’t wince at my driving. He just said, ”I never thought I’d miss York.”
His apartment was dark and brown and small, space only to turn but not to stretch, and it smelled of his detergent. I moved his clothing and magazines off his bed, and then I kissed him. His mouth tasted of dirt and blood, so he was becoming one of us after all.
Later, we stood in the shower together, eyes averted, and shared his bottled soap. It was bright green and smelled of deliberate muskiness. The bottle was nearly empty; he’d brought it from York.
He squeezed some out into his hand; the container sputtered as he did. He spread the soap slow and careful over my shoulder blades and then he traced a line down my spine. At my feet, the water was murky from the blood in his hair.
“There must be something in between,” he said. “Between York and Elevation. Maybe I drove too far.”
I could hear it in his voice, even if I couldn’t see it; he was shifting, moving, on his way somewhere else. I replied, “You’re what’s in between York and Elevation.”
He was quiet for a long moment, nothing but the sound of the shower raining on our backs. He said, finally, “I want to know if the boulders would still move, if I took one back to York. Maybe they used to move there too.”
But he didn’t want to go back, and we both knew it. He wanted something impossible. A country that only lived inside him. It wasn’t a place you could drive to; it was a place that you made.
But in the morning, the boulders had moved, and he with them.
Author’s Note: inspired by the Ringing Rocks in PA.
photo courtesy: Peter Nijenhuis