First Maps

Prehistoric maps were unfeigned, exquisitely etched in the ephemeral soil, by the dead, using sharp rocks, elegant index finger bones, and black pointed fire sticks. This evolved into engraved hieroglyphics that measured the quintessential metrics of here to there, the distance between life and death.

After my preventative mastectomy, I grew disoriented. My support system was mother, and Jack Daniels. Levi worked away from home, a lot back then, “Damned promotion,” he’d say. “I’ll give you a call.” He did, twice.

When Levi and I met, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other or sleep apart. When we’d camp, it was in the high Sierra Nevada’s. At sea level, it was Point Rey’s, near the waves, and of course our favorite, the Mendocino Headlands.

Predictably, we’d spin a cocoon out of one of our REI sleeping bags. We’d become chrysalis, emerged as Cecropia Moths. We’d fly in a trajectory, far away from our campfire, flames to starlight.

By the light of our fire, we’d chat. Finger our vintage diagrammatic hand-me-downs, some patched, and others with shredded pages. Oh my, how we loved all the wrong streets and the thrill of being lost. It was so exhilarating way back then.

On the shores of the Pacific, we’d discuss the philosophies of heroes: Lennon, Cobain, and Morisette. We all agreed that the world’s topography was aristocratic, not all destinations essential.

We postulate that contemporary, Quick-Stop, cartography is exclusively eye-candied chroma, littered with expensive marketing ads, as well as choreographed off-ramps that point to inky tourist traps, soaked in the pheromone stink of new money. A gas stop here and there, pulped and pleated, wherever’s.

“Cassidy, our first cross-country trek was to your aunt’s funeral, remember?”

“How could I forget Levi, US 70 took us through Dorothy’s Kansas, in a love tornado? I knew then we would marry.”

Levi agreed, “We knew who we were then. We even said the word––forever.”

Forever was before his emotional affair—before he broke the news, he’d changed his mind about having children. I echoed the question, “Forever, forever?”

But, the ever-alert charmer doesn’t hear me. He’s not present. Levi is out discovering and exploring strange territory, where compass and sound aren’t necessary. He’s acting out the role of a savage, lusting new valleys, hollows, and contours.

Again my voice quivers, softly, half-heartedly hoping he listens, “Where are we now?” I ask.

Only the wind in the dark acknowledges my words, carries them off and away from him.

Later we enjoy S’ mores, and more regional brandy in Styrofoam cups, we howl and poke fun at our maps lost pages. On this we agree, “At least they have their own directions.”

Fashionable in the rouge of a late night campfire, my expression is fear and anger. I’m lit. I am breaking China on the floor again. Only this time I shatter it on the basement floor of my fuddled skull. “Where did we go wrong?”

I remind myself that the best of directions aren’t perfect, and ours are senescent. Lately, the places we’ve been or plan to visit, need Scotch tape. Our destinations, hinged paper cuts awaiting the heart, frayed and absent even the most sentimental dead ends.

I’m aware that our internal latitude and longitude is leaf-thin, and adrift, our dreams archaic wind-born diversions and detours. But it was never meant to be this way.

Thea lives in his iPhone. Zillow and GPS take me there while he’s dreaming. Forensic texts make them both seem younger, more exciting, so much, more…

Our diamond, allotrope stars now gone, felt so close that first night of flight. But of course, that was pages of yesterday’s ago. In the black silk of tonight, they appear light-years apart.

Of late, our topography has grown obsolete, yet neither trashes the old tracings, yet. Some sit in stacks, on shelves, tattered directions, patiently awaiting the toss.

With time, we’ve become empty and forgotten X marks, like Rhyolite, Nevada and Tennant, California, ghost towns of what was.

“Wake up, Levi,” I slowly mouth.

But I’m afraid it’s too late. A petrified forest of charcoaled sticks and scratches in the dirt won’t point us to where we started, direct us how to live, or die.


Dan A. Cardoza’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have met international acceptance. Most recently his work has been featured in Cabinet of Heed, Cleaver, Entropy, Gravel, Montana Mouthful, New Flash Fiction Review and Spelk.