“In the Distance” By: Derek Rose



Few realized how quickly the world was converging on itself. In fact, few believed the world was converging at all. The earliest reports were dismissed, labeled as too ludicrous to consider. But then earthquakes began threading their way along fault lines. Then thunderstorms swelled and partitioned the sky with forks of lightning. Then there was the fisherman in Alaska who said he could see Russia’s shadow looming on the horizon. That’s when everyone realized it was true: the continents were drifting back towards one another, wandering across the earth until they collided. Eventually, it was decided the new continent would be named Uniterra.

To his credit, Dad was one of the first to believe the continents were drifting. He called me as soon as he heard about it, asking if I would go with him to the coast, so we could be there when the continents first touched.

“It could help us reconnect,” he said that day; his voice tinny and distant over the phone. “You know, father and son together for that historic moment.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” I replied, apathy resonating in my voice.

After several more phone calls from Dad and a lot of coercing from my wife, Jenny, I finally gave in.

On a humid summer morning, I made the hour-long trek to my childhood home in Abilene, Kansas to pick up Dad. He was sitting on the front porch when I arrived, swaying in an old wicker chair, a suitcase at his side. I had expected the image to evoke a slight sense of nostalgia, but the house was in such terrible state it was hardly recognizable. Patches of roof-tile were stripped bare. The rain gutter dangled carelessly from its hinges, and the paint was chipping in a way that made the walls look like they were coated in a pale blue bark.

Dad hobbled off the porch, lugging his suitcase behind him as if it were lined with cement. Frail and hunched, he was a whisper of the man he used to be. He smiled, though, and spoke softly—a shy attempt to rewind the years and lessen the gap between us.

“How was the drive?” He asked.

“Fine. I can take that bag from you,” I said, gesturing towards it.

“No, no. I’ve got it.”

He grunted as he lifted the suitcase into the back of the car, and grunted again when he climbed into the front seat. I hopped in on the other side and set off. Just enough of the rear window was exposed so I could see the house shrinking into the plains as we drove away.

It was a nineteen hour drive from Abilene to the coast of South Carolina, so instead of making the trip in a single shot, Dad made me promise to stop at a motel along the way. There was a strained silence in the car for several miles until Dad said, “You know, I’ve never been to another country. I’ve never even seen the ocean.”

“I know, Dad.”

“I’m glad to finally have the opportunity. Thank you for this, son. I really do appreciate it.”

“Don’t mention it.”

I fiddled with the radio, but every station came up dead.

“It probably isn’t how you wanted to spend the next few days,” he continued. “And I know it won’t make up for lost time, but—”

“Really, don’t mention,” I cut in.

I could feel him glancing at me, but I kept my gaze fixed on the unraveling road before us.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to be a parent,” he said, slowly. “We make mistakes, we screw up. You might not see it now, but one day you’ll know how hard it is.”

“I do know how hard it is…or at least I will soon,” I said. “Jenny’s pregnant.”

The only sound was wind rushing against the side of the car.

“I’m going to be a grandfather?” he asked, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, but not bringing it to his eyes. “I’m going to be a grandfather.”

“Due in February, and I’m going to be a damn better father than you ever were.”

He opened his mouth as if to protest, but relented, and turned to look out the window. We drove in silence as the sky slipped into darker shades of gray, and then it all turned black. It was a peaceful drive for the rest of the night. A garden of stars bloomed above the unlit highway; a crescent moon winked from behind the clouds.

Dad was asleep when I pulled into the motel parking lot; his head slumped against the side door and illuminated pink by a neon vacancy sign. I tried nudging him awake, but his eyes stayed closed. I carried him and his suitcase inside. There were two twin beds in the room. I placed him gently on one and slid into the other. We lay there in the darkness, father and son, separated by a small wooden coffee table, but the distance felt like so much more.

Dad’s bed was empty the next morning—his sheets a twisted mess, his suitcase gone.

“Dad,” I called. “Dad, are you here?”

No answer. I got out of bed and checked the bathroom, but couldn’t find him. I peeked out into the hallway. Nothing. Slight panic setting in, I went downstairs and scanned the lobby. Still no sign of him. I rushed outside to check the car. And there he was, plopped in the passenger seat, examining a large map of the world, unfolded like an accordion in his lap.

“Looks like Morocco might be the one,” he said.

“What?” I asked, slightly panting, but visibly relieved.

“I think Morocco is headed straight for the coast. Either that or Western Sahara.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Maybe we should just get on the road.”

It started to rain as we passed the border from Tennessee to Georgia. A light mist rose above the sweltering highway, as if someone had clapped chalk out of two erasers. In the distance stood the silhouette of a rundown Ferris wheel, there was nothing else around it—no tents, no other rides—just an open expanse of land.

“Remember that Ferris wheel?” Dad asked. I shook my head. “I took you there once, a long, long time ago. You couldn’t have been more than five or six. About this high off the ground,” he said, leveling his hand by his knee.

“You took me here?” I asked, stunned. “We’re a thousand miles from home.”

“I know it’s a ways away, but it’s true. There used to be a fair here every summer. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to the coast.”

“Why’d you take me?” I asked, stealing glances at the rusted, weed-entangled structure.

“On a whim, really. Thought it would be a nice trip for the two of us.”

“Mom didn’t go?”

“No, she stayed back home. It was just the two of us. You and me.”

It wasn’t long past the Ferris wheel that I spotted a blurry figure standing on the side of the road, waving and gesturing enthusiastically in the steady rain. I slowed as I got closer; he wore a bright yellow rain poncho and beaten leather flip-flops. At his side was a small burlap sack.

“Where you headed?” I yelled to him out the window as we got closer.

“Same place you’re headed,” he replied. “To see the continents meet.”

His words stirred me a bit; I’d partially forgotten what the purpose of the trip actually was. The hitchhiker told us his name was Raffy and hopped in the backseat. He had a weathered face and an unkempt beard, but his eyes were young and revealed that his true age was around twenty-five.

“I’ve been hitching for weeks now,” Raffy said. “Started all the way back in Oregon. I think you folks will get me the rest of the way to the coast though. Out in Utah, one guy said he’d take me straight to the coast in one shot, but I turned him down. I think part of the experience is hitching with a bunch of different people, taking several routes to end up at the same point. Where did you start from?”

“Kansas,” Dad and I answered simultaneously.

Maybe it was because we were travel-weary or maybe it was because we just liked the way Raffy spoke, but Dad and I didn’t say much the rest of the drive. We just let Raffy turn his stories out, one after the other.

“I read in the paper the other day that there’s a group in Turkey who want their own country,” he said. “They already started dividing up boundaries, marking their own territory…land of unity my ass.”

“What do you mean land of unity?” I asked.

“You know, Uniterra. It means land of unity.”

“I thought it meant unified land,” I replied.

“No, no, no. It’s land of unity. I swear it.”

“What’s the difference?” Dad asked. “They mean the same thing.”

“Oh no they do not,” Raffy said, suddenly growing serious. “Unified land means it’s just one giant piece of dirt that’s connected. Land of unity means everyone is joined together—mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And no matter what the name means, it’s silly to argue and draw boundaries, especially now we’re all coming together. Imagine a map of the world without lines or borders, just one single entity.”

I caught Dad’s eye in the rearview mirror.

We smelled salt in the air before we saw the water. For several miles we drove with the windows down, the afternoon sun burning behind us, letting the scent coat our anticipation. After coming to the top of a slight hill we saw the sand and the ocean and the hundreds of people on the beach—setting up tents, making fires. We parked the car and headed down there; Raffy thanked us and soon lost himself amongst the crowd.

I took off my shoes, rolled up my pant-legs, and walked towards the water, but Dad put his hand on my shoulder.

“Not yet,” he said. “Not until we see the continent.”

“Okay,” I said.

We sat around for several hours, watching the people and listening to the tide lap off the bank. Darkness unfurled itself like a ship’s mast over the ocean. Dad and I lay on our backs, watching the night sky drip with stars.

“You know, there’s more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth,” I said, cupping a handful of sand and letting it slide between my fingers.

“That can’t be true,” he said. “Look at them, spaced out and strewn across the sky. Sand is all packed together,” he said, picking up a handful for himself. “I’ve got the whole universe right here in my palm.” He funneled his hand and poured the sand between us.

“And there it goes.”

“It’s crazy to think the continent has been moving beneath us this entire time,” I said. “We’ve been drifting just as much as anyone else, but it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe that’s proof the world is filled with entropy. ”

“I think that’s the exact opposite of entropy,” Dad said. “Nothing in this world, nothing in this universe, is random. It’s all for a reason. And it all comes back around to meet again.”

The sun eased me awake the next morning. Dad was already up and, for the briefest moment, it felt like he and I were the only ones on the beach; the others were either still in their tents or asleep on the sand. We walked into the water and shivered as its icy lips kissed our ankles.

Ahead of us was a cloudless sky the color of sherbet ice cream and, in the distance, the silhouette of another continent, slowly growing on the horizon. People lined the other coast, their shadows waving gently. A golden thread of sunlight stretched across the ocean, us to them.

Soon the others around us awoke and clamored into the water; some waded up to their knees, some to their chests, and some swam out to meet the great mass of land.

I took Dad’s hand and pressed my fingers into the empty spaces between his—two coastlines locking into place.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” he said, tears weaving down the lines of his face.

“Yes, it is,” I said. “Yes.”

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