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Matchstick Cats

Mark and Trev were surrounded on the bed of the truck by old wooden beams and bits of furniture – debris of a life that wasn’t theirs – and had positioned themselves amongst this so that they were looking backwards, watching the road unfurl behind the vehicle. Trev always insisted on facing backwards rather than ahead: he spent most of his life looking backwards, now, spent most of his life reliving old memories, on some subconscious level aware that they were slipping away from him all the time.

Forty miles to California.

As they bounced along the road, whilst Mark stared out at the featureless mountains in the distance, Trev was reliving an event that occurred sixty-four years ago in a kitchen in Oklahoma. He had become again that six-year-old boy smelling freshly baked bread and watching his mum slice a piece off for him to taste. Memories like these would float up from the depths of his mind randomly. He couldn’t control when they came, and the rest of the time he couldn’t access them, like a dark veil had drifted over them, so when they did come, he clung to them and wrung them dry, sucked the marrow from them, took in every detail. With the passage of time, the details of these memories had become worn and faded like an old photo. He focused hard, trying to remember the smell of the bread, the items on the kitchen counter, what was playing on the radio, his mother’s face. He was trying desperately to will himself into the scene –

–and then the sound of the truck bounding over a pothole distracted him from the memory, and he forgot what he was thinking about. As quickly as it had surfaced, the moment was lost again.

He turned to Mark. ‘Where we going to?’


‘Why we going there?’

‘You said there was work there – remember?’

‘Oh, okay.’

‘I don’t know where we’re going after.’

‘What you mean “where after”? There is no “after”. If I said we’re going to California, then we’re going to California. I must have known where we was headed back then.’

‘You said the same thing about Elk City, and we kept going on after that.’ Mark paused. ‘Do you even know where we started from?’

‘Course I do,’ Trev said, ‘Tulsa.’

‘Nah, we didn’t start in Tulsa,’ Mark shook his head. ‘Your memory’s gettin’ worse.’ He looked back out at the hills.

When Mark looked back, he saw that Trev was already lost again in some distant memory. The old man’s clothes hung over him, caked in dust and dirt. 

Only thing he remembers clearly now is the road, Mark thought. An endless road. The place names blur together for him. He doesn’t remember the journey beginning. He probably can’t imagine it ending neither. His world’s a reel of road, endlessly unfurling in front of his eyes, never stopping.

I could ditch him at the next town, he thought. They’d been all over the country. Tulsa. St Louis. Atlantic city. Santa Fe. Pueblo. 

Can’t stay on the road much longer, he thought. No person can live like this, constantly shifting from one place to another, all in the hope that they’d find work. Even work picking cotton, that would have been enough. But they never did find anything. Yes, Mark thought, I could bow out at the next city, settle down, find something. Won’t be much, but there’ll be something. Trev’ll continue on, probably, and he’ll be fine.

But then when he looked back, he noticed Trev’s overcoat had come undone at the top and was beginning to slip down over his shoulders. Trev had fallen asleep, completely oblivious. 

Mark leant over and buttoned the coat back up. Only after it was done up did he return to staring out over the side of the truck at the unspooling road.

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