“What do you know of the mountain pass?”
The man and the woman behind the counter gave each other a look. They were married. It was obvious, and not just from the matching silver bands around their third fingers. Same age, fifty or sixty from the white in their hair and the wrinkles on their face. Living together for years had made them look alike. The look they gave each other, and the way they shifted their weight ever so slightly to their right foot as they made it was so perfect it could have been choreographed. In a way, it was. Pat and Patty, how do you like that. And they had owned this roadside stop, this wooden home built into the mountain, for what felt like forever. Built it with their own hands. Stocked it with their own produce. Lived upstairs.
He wished he knew as much about himself as he did about them.
“Why do you ask about the mountain pass?” Pat asked. He took the dinner plate, now cleaned except for a few smudges of gravy, back to the sink as Patty brought him a piece of pie.
seventh piece. eighth?
The pie was strawberry rhubarb, which might have been his favorite. It certainly tasted good going down. The way it coated his throat. Filled his grumbling stomach. He was hungry, oh so hungry, like he’d never be full again.
“This pie is delicious,” he said, scooping up the last bite of crust.
Patty smiled at him, glad for the compliment. But wasn’t there something else, in the way her eyes wrinkled at him? What was it? He was sure he should know.
But that didn’t make any sense, so it couldn’t be true.
He sat back a little, making the fresh vinyl wrinkle. New seats. New counter tops. Shiny, bright lights. Everything so new for a little house and diner and shop built into the side of the mountain next to a winding road.
mountain. I must do something with the mountain.
“You look like you’re getting hungry, champ,” Pat said. The plate he put in front of him was filled, practically overflowing, with a good old-fashioned comfort food breakfast. Scrambled eggs covered in cheddar, three slices of bacon, four slices of heavily buttered toast, breakfast potatoes all mixed in with peppers and onions, and just as he was beginning to wonder Patty came over with a large cup of coffee and a stack of pancakes.
He looked out the window because something told him he’d see it was wrong, all wrong, but it was morning outside. His car was parked out front. Birds were tittering in the trees. There was no sun, but surely it was behind the mountain.
mountain. something with the mountain.
“What do you know of the mountain pass?” he asked around a mouthful of bacon.
Pat and Patty gave each other a look.
“Why do you ask about the mountain pass?” Pat asked. He tried to reach for the plate but it was still half full. He was veritably wolfing it down, and yet his stomach felt no fuller. It grumbled for more.
“I must go through the mountain pass. It’s the next leg of my journey.”
Patty filled up his coffee cup, already empty, and set the pot on the counter. “Do you want to go through the mountain pass?”
no more wants. no more needs. all has been left behind in the weeds.
“I must go through the mountain pass.”
Patty put a hand on Pat’s arm, silencing him. An unspoken conversation went on between the two. They were married, obvious from the rings on their fingers, and the way they spoke to each other without ever opening their mouths. He wondered what they were talking about.
“You should have more coffee,” Patty said, filling his cup. Again? How many times? It was heavy and dark and everything he ever needed.
no more needs.
“What do you know of the mountain pass?”
Patty sighed, and he wondered if he was in trouble. He was a child about to be scolded, and he didn’t like it. Because…because it wasn’t true?
No, no it’s not true! I’m a grown man, I have an apartment and a car and a handful of streaming subscriptions. Somewhere my girlfriend is waiting for me. But I don’t know her name. And I don’t know mine…
no more possessions, nothing to take. all has been left behind in the lakes.
“You must be ready for some lunch, eh?”
A plate was put before him. Like the other plates. So many other plates. He could see them all now, why could he see them?
He looked up to Pat and winced. Pat was not Pat. Pat was not human.
“What do you know of the mountain pass?” he asked, trying not to shake.
Not-Pat and Not-Patty gave each other a look with their many eyes.
“Why do you ask about the mountain pass?” Not-Pat asked, his voice now the sound of falling rocks.
not a single memory to heavy the load. all that is left is you, and the road.
“That is the way the road goes,” he said. “That is the way I must go.”
No more food appeared in front of him. Not-Pat and Not-Patty did not return to their white-streaked hair and wrinkled faces. He wasn’t quite sure where their faces were, anymore. These were the real them, he realized.
“That road is nothing but a misery,” Patty said. “The things that live on the other side of the pass…they are not kind. They will not feed you. They will not let you rest.”
“But I must go.”
“Do you even know why?”
Her voice, the sound of worlds breaking apart, was tinged with sadness and fear, and Pat put his blackened hands around what might have been Patty’s shoulders.
“We’ve done what we can.”
“It’s not fair.”
“Of course it isn’t.”
He was remembering a little. Not exactly how long he’d been here, but that he’d been here for a long time. Meal after meal. Pleasant conversation. A delay. One that wasn’t allowed.
“I must go to the mountain pass.”
Pat nodded while Patty cried black tears into his shoulder. “I know, champ.”
They gave him boxes of food. Boxes and boxes. Told him to eat it as fast as he could. Before he reached the pass.
“We…we always try…” Patty said.
“Once you’re though the pass, drive fast. Don’t stop. You’ll want to.”
He nodded and shook his hand, but he didn’t know who this was. Why had he stopped in front of an aging building built into the side of the mountain? He
not a single memory
Must not be important.
He got into his car, unaware of anything but the mountain pass.