I’m not a good driver of horses. A black horse, a white horse, a chariot? No. The Greeks got it all wrong. I don’t want to pick between the two. I want to be one with both. Or rather, I want to feel myself feeling the experience of desire. Take strawberries. It’s not that I want to consume them, to enjoy the momentary taste. I love wanting them, I love the moment when I’m reaching out to take one in my hand, knowing its ripeness can be mine.
Miranda says it’s a mistake to wish for specifics. I shouldn’t ask for strawberries, I should just pray for something to happen. Besides, I’m always asking for the wrong thing: horses or berries or jewel-tone skirts. Sometimes I wish everything golden: the trees outside, the voices of the birds, even the curve of her shoulder. There’s a certain stage of moonlight that seems gold in November.
Miranda arrived at late morning. I’d asked her to wear her gold threaded skirt. She’d matched things from there: a blouse I could barely see under her coat, a decorative pin. I met her at the door.
The Beltway was filled with people going somewhere. I had no idea what they wanted. We turned south and went over the bridge. From there we climbed back up into construction, into a confusion of lanes, and headed west on 66.
Miranda sat beside me. As the road turned again, her form seemed nothing but curves: her shoulder, her waist, her knees. Instead of the road, I watched the folds of her skirt. They provided another set of directions.
We went over a nameless river, and I missed my turn. We had to go all the way to Haymarket. We lost the radio waves. Too far in the country for any signal to travel. There were horse farms everywhere, paddocks with goats and llamas. She said she wanted music, so I handed her my phone. “I can’t get it to do what I want while I’m driving. I can’t read the tiny instructions. Try getting Pandora to work.”
I watched her fingers dance across the touch screen, navigating menus. “I think I can make a new channel,” she said. “What would you like?” I told her I wanted the Rolling Stones. Her fingers tapped a few icons. The next I thing I heard was, “So if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy and some taste.” The sound was a little tinny, I patched it into the speakers. We kept driving along 29.
Pandora determined we needed something else. She gave us Led Zeppelin. I touched the sign of a thumb pointing down. She gave us The Who instead.
What struck me then was the difference between the landscape and the song. It was all apple orchards and half burnt barns. The planks hadn’t been painted. Signs suggested we stop for antiques.
Charlottesville’s streets were teeming with boulevardiers. I saw two with bowlers and canes. Women with parasols, an organ grinder crossing at the light. Some people actually wish for this world. It used to be my home. We drove through town as fast as we could, and headed for Monticello.
If you’ve ever read Thomas Jefferson’s garden book, you know he kept track of the weather. When the first peas came in, how many cups of strawberries were gathered, when the last frost arrived. He would spend whole winters planning next year’s garden. He had to give detailed instructions in case he was called away. He wanted to find a grape that would survive the climate. He wanted new kinds of apples. And maybe next year a vine covered walk, where he could stroll even in summer.
We parked in the lower lot and went up the gravel path. I knew the place from plate drawings: where the gardens would be, and the smoke house. The flat fields below, the vines on the slopes, a formal lawn behind the house. He’d crafted the landscape he desired.
We went inside the house. Things were kept as imagined. Spinning wheels and tables, a writing desk faced with leather. It wasn’t what I wanted. I led Miranda back out across the trimmed lawn. We looked towards Montebello, towards the declining sun. It was windy along the ridge. Her hair was moving in the southern light. I wanted to touch her then, in that light, but wasn’t certain I could. Her shoulders matched the golden curves of the hills.
“Desire” first appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.