a novel



A new work to come

Turning the pages of his life while his country turns away from itself, Hogan Cutter awakens to a new reality. After struggling in an unstable world that offered no opportunity or purpose, through the pain of youth and fleeting moments of joy, Hogan overcomes mountains and ocean in a desperate escape to find himself.

I took a drive out of town, past streets I can’t remember ever walking on, and sat quietly passing everything there. My radio was off cos my radio was gone, taken a couple of nights earlier in one of those off-beat streets. Drove a morning’s ride from here, past hilltop and valley, and weaved my motor along and round thick tree-lined minor roads. With every tree I passed I felt good.  It was an impulsive decision just to take off, a desperate need to get away, go to the far side of the county where people don’t look at strangers too much. I wanted some distance from what was familiar, some forest tracks and lots of emptiness. I was alone but I knew my way around the land up here cos sometimes when the music and the drugs clashed I’d take a drive, anywhere away from urban civilization. Every now and then civilization drills into my head and I think I’m goin’ nowhere. A kind of madness I try to walk off. I’ve been up here a couple of times, a good drive into what I like to think is the unknown. Here they have all kinds of forest, trees, plants, I don’t know their names but I sure appreciate just being in amongst them. I’d walk with nothin’ to say, and nothin’ fillin’ my head, I’d inhale deeply till my head got fuzzy, then exhale to the last breath, in, out, in, out. Just gettin’ away is good, with no shit looks from any neighbor.

In those woods there’s a flat clearing, an area for open fires and canvas shelter and around it  a cluster of cabins usually rented out for kids from schools or clubs - their introduction to the wild side, I suppose. I spent some quiet time in one of the cabins, which felt like I was boxed in with all this nature. It was a solid structure and made me feel protected.  I lay there visualizing what I soon was heading for with pictures of it one minute and shredding others the next as my thoughts interchanged quickly. I should have come here years ago before Ben… Maybe if Mom had taken me I would have seen things differently.  It’s taken Ben to shake and turn my ass around. It’s all down to my Italiano friend with the Americano accent. I don’t know what Doc would have said about me drivin’ off and hiding out in no man’s land. I don’t think he would’ve seen any progress in that. I can hear him now; he had his beliefs, had to follow his professional script and there wasn’t much room for any deviation. He said I had insight, I even checked the exact definition of that word and I liked it. Yeah, I think so. Insight and reflection.

There’s a pool of water up here, it’s a lake to some, but it ain’t my idea of one cos it ain’t natural. It’s got a name and that ain’t pretty. I’ve seen me looking across it and even imagined it cool and tried to breathe it in. It’s only about a thousand yards wide and double that up north south. I thought I was the only one standing alone with boots sinking in the mud and listening to animal squeals when I heard a crack, then a pop! pop! The trees around this water shook as the birds took off and there was a small flurry of movement and a voice of triumph. I crouched myself and scanned from bank to bank. Some son-of-a-bitch was standing behind water reeds and he’d got himself a fish. I could see how he had waded in crazy fashion, almost to his knees, and with gun and excellent aim taken his shots. That’s fishin’! Something to be proud of. It’s all about results, method means nothing.

The echo of gunshot disappears and there’s a hushed stillness as far as I can see. My breath is low as I lie, half-crouched and waiting. No one knows what’s out of sight around here, people with guns…you gotta stay smart! I wait some more for a kind of release cos I believe any sudden intrusion in these parts can jerk the plant life just as any sudden bang can tense me up. It’s a magical feeling when things begin to stir again and high up in the trees I hear a call come out and then another. I feel like I’m part of this forest where the small eyes of its creatures are focused on me and I’m dreaming a bit and I don’t know how far away happy or sad is. It’s like my time there has been broken and I quietly turn back.

‘You’re as firm on the planet as anyone’. I must have been pretty shaky that day with Doc as he was trying to reassure me of something, he said that I counted, I had a footprint that no one could wipe away. But it did tell me how a careful eye could see me and I’ve taken that on board. Always look beyond your capabilities. I should have told Ben he didn’t need to sign up and go through a training course just to feel some worth. Ben, did you know, you didn’t need to. I’ve been walking in amongst the trees and seen things to question and that’s good. I’ve heard inner conversations full of conflict and fight and I don’t know who’s doin’ the talkin’ cos it ain’t me. It’s not the first time I’ve heard their talk, they’ve come to me like unknowable intruders full of pretence and full of shit, always on standby to halt you dead in your tracks.

There have been days when my skin felt stretched and tight, like it was being pulled hard, about to give and rip. You can’t imagine the feeling of being skinned and all that held you together emptying onto the floor. It was not something to get used to but I guess I did up to a point. Here, though, in the back woods away from my life in Main Street, I let the time slip by with only a little something I brought to keep me safe from bad things. I’ve heard how, if Ben had not been killed, if instead he’d been injured, lost a leg or both, how, if he was lucky, the army would take all his trauma and soothe it away. They’d take him back to nature, sort of, and he’d get acquainted with Mother Earth and her animals. Sounds good, in that kind of background, in the backyard of America, you get encouraged to make a connection with the animal kingdom. And there you’d stay awhile. Neat! You’re a young guy with too few options, insecure as hell, and you’re kind of mugged right in front of your neighbor to join a band of brothers, hey man, it’ll be fun and moral. Frickin snake oil salesmen selling a heroes  badge. In reality you’ve become a hostage to someone else’s plan, and you struggle to keep it all together. You’re frickin lost, man, with body all beaten up and head full of scars. Now tranquillity awaits and they’ve got horses for that.

Yet I liked the story, it seemed tender and humane on the surface. When you lie amongst the trees with the leaves rustling in the wind, everything that kept you alive out there on the streets seems to change. The blood rushing around the body kind of eases off. Ben never had the chance to be with a horse, to come up close and stroke the animal and I’m sorry about that. No, Ben left the world intact and how I wish he hadn’t. He could have taken the loss of an arm or a leg but instead he lost his life. That’s what’s been told to family and friends, that much I think I know which means I know fuck all! So, it’s good to come off the highway and take another turn and lie down and dream of better things.

Traces of snow could still be seen on higher ground when I headed home, I was movin’ on back again to familiar territory. Like I had been released from my reservation and now I had to return to all that was waiting. Dad isn’t there and Mom doesn’t see me the same. She doesn’t want to find my eyes on her, I unsettle her it seems. That’s how we are and I can’t see it being different, but I can take that. Sure, there’s pain and sorrow but I can’t find any rage, rage has maybe gone? In the forest everything was cleaner - air and sky - and the green looked greener, and perhaps the few people I met saw me better.

It seems the days now are getting more into perspective, I have a focus and I’m alive. I’ve created something in my mind and the pieces are coming together. I have no anguish and no uncertainty. I’m on a mission like a NASA rocket with systems ready, ignition on and thrust waiting to explode full blast. No turning back, no change of heart, it’s all lift-off. That time up in the woods was the best therapy, I didn’t hug a tree but I sort of communicated with it. My world changed and my body’s chemical flows were returning naturally. Maybe what the doc was trying to say all those years was to find my star in the sky and follow it. He had his, and his colleagues had theirs, and Hogan, year after year, had not. There was something in the drive back from the high ground and me glancing in my mirror at where I’d been, another angle and view, something about it I had come to know.

I gotta do right and that right will be satisfied with my dirty money. Whatever, if bad does good I’ve won. Wherever someone comes from, if good triumphs in the end, it doesn’t matter. I believe that. I will always believe that. I’m driving slowly back listening to nothing. It’s like I’m gone.