“Six More Miles” by Alex Acks (8129 words)
This story unfolds in the heat of an American Southwest sun, in the lingering touch of a passion, of a love, that hasn’t died so much as cooled. The story focuses on a relationship, a marraige, between Micaela and Bill, who anchor the story with their perspectives. The piece opens on Bill, who is home only to find that Micci is not. He is a singer, a country music man who spends most of his time on the road, returning to Micci but also leaving a part of himself out there, wandering. Faced with her disappearance and the signs that she’s been taken by a demonic bull, Bill heads out to try and track her down. What follows is, for me, a story very much about bargains and bargaining. In the “deal with the devil” sense of the word, in the “stage of grief” sense of the word, and just in the sense that people make bonds and agreements and connections. Marriage itself is a sort of bargain, and it informs the story in how Bill and Micci interact and circle around the wrongs that they do each other. And in that they’re both trying to make bargains and break them, and are ultimately tied to them all. It’s a heartbreaking and tender story that doesn’t go for an easy or a clean answer. The story recognizes the mess that tragedy makes of lives and offers only the tidiness of grief and absence.
Okay, and the demon bull (demon cow?) is pretty awesome. It helps to embody the idea of death, which is also omnipresent in the story. Death is one of those things that push people to want to make deals. That push people to look forward and look back and ask questions that they can’t really answer. Questions like “Was it worth it?” Or “Would you do it all again?” These are the clauses and stipulations in the deals that the characters seek to make. To blame each other. To blame themselves. There’s a moment in the story where one of the characters acknowledges that there’s no real fault to some of what happens, but that too is a sort of bargaining tactic. A way to try and convince themselves that somehow it’s the world that has broken its contract. That they were supposed to have more time, more comfort, more stability. And yet the story shows that the world doesn’t make bargains. People do. And the bargains that people make mark them and change them. Shape them. Shatter them. The story is a slow journey that begins with Bill but shifts midway through to Micaela. To reveal what’s really going on. To make this not just a story of a man trying to win back his woman.
[SPOILERS] There is a moment early on in the story where Bill has stopped at a super sketchy gas station and the man says the tea has run off, only to amend his statement and say that the machine “just don’t work.” And that becomes for me one of those moments that crystallize the story. The question throughout for Bill is whether or not Micci ran off. Because it seems like she has. Only she really hasn’t. Their relationship stopped working in the same way her body did when she got sick. And the characters are left to slowly figure that out for themselves, to make peace with the way their lives and their deaths have gone. Not at all how they expected but that’s the nature of bargains. Sometimes they’re down to luck. And I just love how the story resolves these characters, how it brings them back to the start, to almost the exact same image, only to also leave them in a completely different place. It’s a lovely and wrenching story and you should definitely check it out!