Driving at top speed down a five-lane expressway, I glance in the rearview mirror. A semi is on my tail, the driver perched in his two-story cab. And there’s no room to pull over. Gertrude is cowering just out of view. I feel her clutching at my seat back with her do-it-yourself French manicured nails.
Some years ago, heading toward LA on the I-405, two cars ahead of me, a red pick-up truck from the opposite direction catapulted over the median strip and ricocheted in front of me. Greenish-yellow radiator fluid mapped out like a slick inkblot. The next lane over, a bulldog leashed to the truck bed skidded to the left. I slammed on the brakes, and what seemed like slow motion at the time, squeezed through the wreckage. It wasn’t until the next exit I exhaled.
I’m not that skillful a driver and days later I pondered, how was it I’d managed to dodge disaster with such precision. (This being years before Gertrude made her appearance).
In general, she doesn’t perform well under stress. Or while I’m mindlessly clicking on anything akin to technology. And she’s prone to avoid crowded venues, although I suppose for others a sleek three-point basketball shot might stir the creative juices.
But the symphony is another story. Just as I’m staring off at the cello player plucking staccato on the strings, she rustles the program and floods my mind with revisions and metaphors, and perhaps even the bare bones of a novel.
And the opera. Midway through Act III, Tosca is leaning over Cavaradossi’s lifeless body. There’s a crescendo from the orchestra, the reedy sound of an oboe, and a poem begins to form. Something about a shard of glass and the trickling of blood down a legal-sized page. Soak it up quickly, or the thread scabs over before curtain calls.
I love to cordon off the world and listen to a New Yorker fiction podcast. Jonathan Safran Foer reading Amos Oz. It fills my mind with the rhythm of words, and the echoing sound of vowels and consonants strewn together. Inhaled like a bed-time story.
And morning walks. Halfway up the trail to Bishop’s Peak, I stand in wonder. A luscious grove of native oaks, dry moss hanging off twisted limbs. The other day, I swear, I heard the roar of a mountain lion. Or maybe it was Gertrude.