Throwback Thursdays! We’re bringing back some of our favorite pieces from the last 30 years of Scribendi.

Yesterday Gone
Nicholas A Donato – University of New Mexico – 1992

The steady whirring of Red’s snow tires wound down as Peter slowed to take the Camuel exit from I-40

onto eastbound Route 66. Nor too many years before, this was the highway going up Tijeras Canyon to, what was then called South Highway 10. Now, it was just a frontage road used by slower traffic and teenagers trying to avoid the police. South 10 was now South 14, but to Peter’s way of thinking this was still the only road leading to the place he was going.

“Red,” a 1965 Dodge four-wheel-drive pickup, had faded paint and a front bumper that twisted down on the passenger side. A menacing tilt of her expansive hood completed Red’s intimidating snarl. Peter liked the look of a battle-scarred veteran that she had about her, but he knew that she was as solid as the chunk of Detroit steel that was her mother. With her new V-8 engine and snow tires hardly broken in, Red had soul.


Peter had left his house in Albuquerque a little before

5:00 a.m. The street lights still glowed and he could hear a street sweeper a few blocks away. Trees were indistinct silhouettes, unearthly shades of black-green under the lights. He’d slipped out the back door wearing a checkered flannel shirt, a red down vest, an old pair of jeans stained with pitch, and a well-worn pair of hiking boots.

As the street sweeper moved away, a predawn quiet muffled the usually noisy city, and the cool spring morning called an invitation to Peter. If the morning called to Peter, the mountains to the cast fairly sang. He let his mind dance a ballet to the mountainsong while his body, on autopilot, fumbled with the keys in his pocket. Climbing into the driver’s seat, he stepped on the clutch, turned the ignition, and smiled as Red growled at the prospect of a trip to the mountains.

Last night he’d tried again to explain to Bernie why he was going today, but she just didn’t, or wouldn’t, get it.

“I have to face my past, you know, … sort of own it,” he’d said.

“What do you expect to gain?” Her face solidified into that you’re excluding me and it’s not right look that he’d learned to recognize over the years. “You’ve been straight for more than five years now and you still practically live in the past. You still go to NA and AA meetings; you still call those people all the damn time; you go to their conventions; you have newcomers calling here all the time: when are you going to start living your own life again?”

“Look, the last time I was doing what you call living my own life, I was nearly dead. I had gas gangrene in my left arm from shooting some bad dope. My liver was distended. I was puking blood every morning, and my skin was a lovely shade of gray.”

Bernadette’s face darkened at this reminder. “Yes, but that was years ago. Now you’ve got a successful business. You’re healthier than you’ve ever been, and you’ve got a family that loves you. But that’s not enough-is it! The past is past, Peter. Yesterday’s gone.”

“Come on, honey. You know that I love you, and I’m grateful for all the beautiful gifts that we’ve been blessed with, but I need to do this. I have to go back there, confront the past, or bury it, or something like that. I’m not even sure why.  I just know that I have to go.”


Down the alley, Road, right again at Edith, left at Lomas and they were on the highway going east.

As Red climbed the succession of long grades and short slopes east of the city, Peter tried to scan the sides of the canyon. He saw only shadowy shapes and indiscernible depths, but he knew from experience what it looked like. The four lanes of blacktop that were the old highway lay a short way up from the bottom of the north side of the canyon, foothills rising on the left shoulder and on the right dropping away into the bottom of the deft in the mountains. To the left the terrain was brush, scraggly juniper trees, and rocks. The rocks, ranging in size from pebbles to boulders, were tawny, yellow sandstone. To the right, in the bottom of the canyon, were a few more trees, tall dead-looking grass and Interstate 40. Like evil portents, the pounding of thunderous eighteen wheelers and the whining assault by 1hyotas gave notice that neither the new highway nor the quiet morning would be given quarter. The bottom of the canyon was cut twenty feet deeper than the grade of I-40 by an arroyo with a small intermittent stream, bends of which Peter thought he could just glimpse in the predawn dimness.

Five-fifteen, Peter opened Red up a little as he rounded the last of dead man’s curve, racing the sunrise. At the junction he turned south on Highway 14, and at once rolled down the window to let the mountains in. Clean and cold, the air rushed in like a sweet-smelling storm. Moistened by the night’s light rain, and laden with the scent of wet pines and earth, the wind made Peter shiver and smile.


Bernadette had still been asleep when he’d left the house, her tall figure described by the blankets that enfolded her. Peter had watched her sleep for a moment as he leaned over, supporting his weight with arms placed on either side of her, and kissed her warm neck just below the car. He had thought of their nine years of marriage and the fruit born of it, as he’d slipped from the room. He’d been twenty, and she eighteen.  He’d been working at a convenience store, and she’d been pregnant. They hadn’t exactly come up with the quintessential recipe for a perfect marriage, but somehow it had worked-in fact, it had been just about the only thing that had, until he’d started his painting business three years before.

Their first child had been born about a month after they were wed. A year and a half after Seth, Candice had come along. They were now nine and seven, and both beautiful.

Three turns past the ranger station he came to the place where he’d nearly “bought the big one” in Clidc Seibert’s car.
“Pizza? It would be stone cold by the time we got it up here,” Clide had complained.
“Not in your car. Not with me driving.” Peter had punctuated his statement with a shot of Wild Turkey. Clide’s parents, who had more money than brains, had given him a 1966 Mustang. It had a 302 boss engine, and it was fast.
“I   could make it round-trip in forty minutes.”
“Even you’ve never made it to town and back in less
than an hour, and besides, the pizza wouldn’t be warm if we made it in thirty-five minutes.”
“You order the pizza and I’ll roll a number for the road.” It was funny, Even after he’d lost control and spun out on that curve, Clidc had still let him drive the rest of the way up the mountain. He’d finished the trip by hitting a cedar sapling in the driveway. The results had been a large dent in the passenger side door and a sideways cedar sapling. They’d told Clidc’s parents, and the insurance company, that the car had been damaged by a hit-and-run driver in a parking lot. Actually, the hard part had been convincing his mother that Peter didn’t know what had happened to the tree.

Shaking his head at the memory, Peter watched Ccdro Village come into and pass from view. Surrounded by the cabins and shacks of social dropouts and earth mothers on every side was a bean field where an old man, who was probably the only productive citizen in Ccdro, had been toiling for over twenty years-twenty years that Peter knew of. He couldn’t be making much of a living. In fact, the old man’s continued presence over the years was the only evidence that allowed one to believe that he could make a living at all on his five-acre stake.
As a boy he had watched the old guy. Every spring he spent days on his beat-up tractor, with its mangled plowshares, preparing the field and planting it. Then, he sweated away the summer, protecting his livelihood from parasites, weeds and other predators, sometimes hoeing, sometimes spraying, always sweating. Next the harvest, what little harvesting was necessary (the high altitude and short growing season made the old man’s crop meager, a joke to the other locals). Finally, the old man would be out on his ancient, blue tractor, early in the winter, turning under old stalks and fertilizing’. Getting ready for next year. The other citizens of Cedro had, for the most part, no electricity, gas or running water, and their main source of income was welfare, supplemented by the growing and selling of marijuana.
Peter wondered who was right, the one working for nothing or the ones working at nothing.  Probably both, or maybe neither, he was just glad he’d figured out the answer for himself; what everybody else did was their problem.


He’d been killing flies one ‘day, pulling their wings off and smashing them.
“Mommy, I was smashing flies. Isn’t it bad to kill things?”
“Well, yes, but flies are pests. It’s okay.” “Will God put me in hell?”
“No, honey, you’re a good boy, don’t worry.” She gave him a squeeze. She was wrong. He’d heard what the minister on TV had said.


Strange, the things you remember: It was 5:32, a false dawn was brightening toward daybreak. Leaning forward and craning his neck, Peter was rewarded with the sight of a clear sky, obscured only by the wings of impatient crows, flying into the warmth of the rising sun, their blackness absorbing the blue-white fire growing above them. As he passed the turnoff for Oak Flats, Peter rolled up his window. He’d be there soon and he wanted to warm up a little before he started walking around.
Here the highway was its original width-narrow. Up a hill and around a corner that was just negotiable, even in good weather, Peter crested the ridge and headed down into the valley where he had grown up. The valley ran cast-west for about a mile here, sweeping north into a little pass at its western extremity, and at the eastern tip leveling and widening into grassy fields which spread to the south.
Red was topping the ridge on the west end of the valley. At 7,800 feet this was one of the highest places in the Manzano Mountains. It was known for its dense ponderosa pine trees, now standing tall and dark, a vertical abyss in the dawn. The valley and surrounding area were considerably lower and filled with piñon, cedar and a few alligator junipers, interspersed with shrub oak and an occasional ponderosa lording it over its sylvan subjects. Peter took his foot off the gas and let Red coast down the long slope of highway, into the valley.
Past the Blarney Stone Bar and the Ponderosa Restaurant and onto State Highway 222, he was almost home. As Red passed Salvador Gallegos’s feed and liquor store, it struck Peter: that made three places to buy booze, all within a half mile of each other, supplying a population of maybe five hundred people, and all of them were turning a good profit. He laughed as the thought came, “This must be what you’d call a wet county.” Peter hung a left and headed up “first-gear hill;” on Lovato Road­ Red could make it in second.
He half heard and half remembered the familiar ping and clatter against Red’s undercarriage accompanied by louder intermittent clangs of small stones as he bounced along the gravel road. Trailing dust and, with the gravel making a crunching sound under Red’s tires, they arrived at the corner of Alley and Lovato.  Nine years after he’d moved to the city, Peter was back.


Thirteen years ago, after getting busted, Peter had gotten his GED, taken the AC1 been accepted to the University of New Mexico, and told everyone that he was reforming. He’d even thought it might not be so bad; at the university he’d finally use that brain of his, dope would be easier to find, and the only thing he’d really miss would be growing pot. Just like everyone else, his family, his mother, and the probation officer, he had bought his own line of crap. As soon as he’d been let off probation, he started dealing again and moved back to the mountains. He’d learned his lesson though, no more dealing in firearms and no assaults-with •witnesses. His lips twisted in a cockeyed grin as the thought came, “Time sure flies when you’re full of shit.”


Hefting the old, army surplus knapsack, with water and a first aid kit in it, Peter stepped out of the truck and strolled into the ten-acre piece of this valley that was still his. The sun was rising through the trees on his left and the day shift was on duty. A chipmunk sized him up before scurrying down the back side of a stump.
Meadowlarks warbled in the background, and a blue jay shot across his path, its raucous laughter trailing behind. This land \Vas all that was left of the eighty acres Peter had grown up on.  His family had moved here when he was nine years old, after his father had been killed in an accident. There had been five kids.  Peter was the oldest, Marie was next, then Tom, David, and Eddy. They had raised horses, goats, hogs and chickens. This menagerie was completed by dogs, cats, rabbits and just about anything else that could be considered a pet.  Peter laughed as he thought of Fred.
In this neck of the woods, the ground stayed frozen solid for two or three months out of the year. So when Fred, Marie’s pet hamster, had died in December, Marie had wrapped him in a rodent burial shroud of toilet paper, put him in a shoe box, and stuck the whole thing in the big freezer out on the back porch, to await the spring thaw for burial.  Somehow though, every time it got warm Marie forgot to take poor Fred out to bury him.  Each winter Peter had taken perverse delight in taking visitors (especially Marie’s friends) out to meet Fred during his three-year tenancy of the freezer.


As he headed down toward the old, dry creek bed, Peter thought of the gully-washers he’d seen there. His uncle, Ron, had been visiting one August. Uncle Ron and Peter’s brothers were standing out on the back porch watching the storm. The fat drops were pelting the ground •with such force that it created a second storm, splashing skyward. The space where the storms met, a band rising two feet from the ground, was chaos. A thousand rivers ran downhill, away from the fogged-up porch windows. They had watched.
Before they could hear it above the storm they could feel it.  But it was one of those undefined feelings that kids often have and adults rarely admit. Then as the rain slowed Uncle Ron came alive.
“Do you hear that? Let’s get going.” With that Ron was out the door and slip-sliding his way through the trees, down to the old creek bed. The boys didn’t have the slightest idea what Ron was doing, bii.t figured it must be good. Out they charged. Tom, the second oldest, kept falling in the mud and looked like an adobe snowman by the time they reached the creek bed. Tom always fell.
They arrived to find a brown, rainwater river, and Ron pushing the biggest rocks he could find into it …a dam! yeah …             nd the resulting pond.  Now four pairs of small hands joined the excitement. Stones rained into, emerged from, and spanned the water. The flow past the dam slowed to a trickle and the kids practiced feats of navigation in Peter’s rubber raft.


The creek bed and the small meadow through which it sliced were still thick with the shadows cast by the stand of trees on the surrounding hillsides. Peter had forgotten just how long after sunrise it took to warm and brighten the lower areas, between the hills. The heavily wooded parts stayed in shadow nearly always and wouldn’t really get warm until around lunch time. He walked up the hillside south of the meadow. As he moved above the treeline and into the open field at the top of the hill, the sun warmed him.
Peter found a nice soft-looking dump of grass with the morning’s dew freshly burned away by the sun and sat. He listened to the noisy spring morning. There were at least five different wild birds shouting at each other and at the sky. A rooster crowed a late good morning, and the dog network was alive with ne\vs. A barely audible bark would sound, answered by closer ones until the news passed by and faded off into the distance. Peter studied the cracks of the thirsty earth in front of him. He contemplated the way it sucked and pulled at moisture until it was gone, ultimately pulling itself apart.
People were passing on the gravel road now, off to work in the city. Their cars roared by like low-flying jets, making a crackling white noise, as they churned the gravel and dust. Peter stood, slipping his right arm through the strap of his knapsack as he rose. Shrugging the other strap over his left shoulder, he headed east toward the house where he’d grown up. Some people named Bailey lived there now. They’d said that he could walk around the place today. They should be gone to work by now.
The memories became stronger.


The bus lurched to a stop and the squeaky doors swung open. Peter, who was an expert at it; had 1ched his way almost all the way up the aisle already. With the careless agility of a seven year old, he swung On the stainless steel post, down to the third step and out into the afternoon sun. As he marched home, the thought came. What if Dad, was there? What if it was all a big mistake and he had come home? Maybe he would be home today …and maybe it would be another long afternoon of swearing never to hope for anything again.
The memories came faster.


Most of his mother’s friends didn’t stick around long after meeting her five kids. Bill had been an unfortunate exception. As his Audi 100 LS skidded to a stop, the kids on the porch could hear Bill give a torturous tug on the emergency brake. Peter tossed away the small branch he was holding and headed into the house. His hand was reaching for the doorknob as the big man grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.
“What’re you trying to do? Bum down your mother’s house? I saw you throw that goddam cigarette, you little bastard!”
“I didn’t have a goddam cigarette;’ Peter spat.
“Don’t lie to me you little punk,” had been the alcohol-scented response. The “Fuck you” had barely left Peter’s mouth before the big man dosed it with his fist. Peter had stayed in the woods a long time.


“Yellow mad-dog,” Brad exclaimed, “right on, I hate that shit that’s heroin based.”
“Me too,” Peter lied (he hadn’t known there were two kinds). “I like MDA with an amphetamine base. I only have one fix but I stole a bunch of spikes for it,” Peter said as he pulled out the syringe and several spare needles. He lined up all the stuff: syringe, needles, cotton, water, alcohol, spoon, and trash can.
Peter and Brad sat across from each other.  Between them the spoon, an old soup spoon with a peculiar bend in its handle, was resting on a plate.  Peter took the small vial of dirty, yellow powder from Brad. Carefully unscrewing it, he placed the lid on the rust-colored carpet with manic reverence. Hunching over, he held the vial between his thumb and second finger, lightly tapping a hesitant beat, closely monitoring the dosage.
As the pile in the bottom of the spoon grew, he sought to gauge its size with a mind that had but a tenuous grasp on proportion.
Peter took the syringe and eyed it, looking for blood. There was none, it was clean. He peeled the plastic and foil away from one of the large, twenty-one-gauge needles, and steadied his left hand on his thigh. Then, with his right hand he fitted the needle securely on the end of the syringe. Placing the point in the cup of water, he drew back on the plunger.
Peter turned his body to the left, as he held the rig up at eye level, squirting it at the ceiling until it contained exactly forty units of water. Then he sprayed those forty units into the base of the pile in the spoon. He lifted the spoon and swirled the contents, lost in the dissolution of the drug. He pinched and tore a little cotton off a large ball and rolled it into a tiny one which he dropped into the spoon. The little wad of fiber swelled in the fluid.
He wiped his palms on his jeans.
The surgical steel point placed on top of the cotton, Peter watched as the spoon was drained and the syringe filled. Holding It up to the light and tapping it, Peter pushed the plunger, squeezing the air out. He set the rig down and, looping his belt around his left bicep, pulled it tight, placing the end under his left thigh so it wouldn’t slip. Clamping his left hand in a tight fist he picked up the syringe with his right and studied the veins of his forearm.

It never hurt as the sliver of stainless steel was inserted through the skin, a little burning maybe. Then there was that welcome give as it penetrated the blood vessel wall. Peter tried not to shake as he drew back on the plunger once more to make sure he had the vein. A mushroom cloud of blood darkened the solution in the barrel of the syringe. He slowly pressed down with his thumb and leaned forward, releasing the tension on his belt.
It was good. Peter fought to maintain his equilibrium and remain upright long enough to pull the needle from his arm, swabbing with the alcohol completely forgotten in his haste to grab the trash can. As warmth and vibration took him, his stomach heaved its contents into the can. Even after he was empty his body continued with its attempts at purification.


He stood there, sweating. The mountain air had lost its crispness. His bowels seemed to be turning, while the planet stopped. His right hand was on his left forearm, fingers tracing the veins there. He had been clean for over five years, and now standing in front of the place where he’d grown up, he desperately wanted a fix. As the desire waned, mental pictures of his life today played across his consciousness: Red, the old brick house, Bernadette, Seth, and, most vivid, his daughter’s smile. Peter turned to go back to the truck.