February 6, 2012
Mary lived in a garage apartment behind a two story house with a porch swing. She had a mattress on the floor in the corner of the room, and two windows on each wall looked onto the yard — where children’s bikes were thrown — and back to a field that sloped down to a stream where trees grew up along it so, at night, they looked like a wall, stretching as far as could be seen, and high and blocking the sun as it rose in the morning.
There was a pool table in the room at the top of the stairs that had been the family room for the people in the house, but since they rented to Mary, no one, the children or their friends, were allowed up there.
“Charles,” she said. “Get out of here.”
But I leaned against the doorjamb and smiled at her.
Two boys were playing in the yard, one about a year older than the other, I thought, but they looked so much alike they could have been twins.
“Fix it yourself.”
“Uh uh. Mom said you fix it.”
“Mom doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
She took a dress from its hanger, slipped into a pair of canvas shoes, pulled the dress over her head and shook till it was on. On the dresser was a picture of us. She looking the other way. Me holding her hand and smiling. A parrot was caught flapping on her shoulder.
Outside, the boys stared at her. When we got to the car, the older one punched the younger one and they tumbled on the ground, wrestling, until their mother stepped onto the porch and yelled for them to stop.
Cattle were out from the barns, standing still except for their tails against their backs, and the smell of shit was sucked in by the car speeding past. When we climbed hills, at the top, there was always that feeling of near weightlessness, then I settled back in my seat and counted my toes.
“Pull off here,” I said, pointing.
“I know,” she said, and followed the access road to another road that cut beneath the highway. She kept at it, down that road, to a dirt road with a combination-locked barbed-wire gate.
“Three to the left, fourteen to…”
“I know,” she said, and I closed my eyes and waited for the car to start rolling again.
When I opened up, dust was all around the car, and trees flew past, gravel popping hard against the doors, everything in a blur except the sky in a thin line above the trees. An old house lay collapsed on its foundation out in the field and, beyond it, the runway stretched to the horizon.
Small yellow flowers grew in cracks I could see even from the car. Mary pulled to the ditch, cutting the wheels away from it, and we jumped the fence and walked toward the runway.
All afternoon we drank with the sun hazy in the sky. The planes skidded, their wheels catching against the asphalt, and then there would be silence and I could feel my pulse. When the bottle was empty, and lay finished on the grass, she said, “Get the car.”
“What?” I said.
We laughed, hiccuped into our hands.
“The car,” she said. “Bring it.”
I pointed. “The fence,” I said. “The ditch.”
So, I stood, and, stumbling, made my way through the field, the light golden off the grass, and took the keys out of my pocket. The car slipped back before I could get it into gear, then lurched forward, bouncing hard against the ditch, the barbed-wire cutting against the metal, then pushed through.
She stood, arms waving, pulling them toward her.
“Easy does it,” she said, then opened the door and pushed me to the side and we bounced over the field slowly toward the house.
On the way home, the town was a few lights scattered across the plain and the wind whipped my hair into my eyes, but she pulled hers back, and wrapped a rubber band around, and drove with her face clear.
“You need a haircut,” she said.
I mumbled into the sound of the engine and she let it go at that until we pulled into the driveway.
“I’ve got scissors,” she said.
We climbed the stairs, still staggering, then she took a chair from her room and dragged it across the floor, her dress falling across her shoulder, leaving that breast exposed.
“It looks like an eye,” I said.
“Kiss it,” she said, and I bent from the pool table, the wine still dry in my mouth, and did.
Her bathroom was dark — there was no light in the fixture — and the light from the stars was so dim I could see my hands but hardly my feet. I ran water in the sink. I pressed what was left of my hair against my scalp, and stared, eyes closer than ours had been in the house, and blinked. There were places on the skull I could see skin. Nicks and cuts. One side higher than the other.
Her dress was in a pile in the middle of the floor. She had the lamp and light both on, and the screens were rolled tightly at the tops of the windows, so we couldn’t see out, but anyone outside could have seen in.
“The boys,” I said.
“It’s all right,” she said, and pulled me toward her.
When I woke, the lights were off and the moon had risen. At the windows I saw the shadows of two figures crouched low and kneeling.
“That’s not her,” said one boy’s voice.
“That’s him,” said the other, and they jumped from the roof and landed on the grass.
All night I lay, eyes closed, hands folded against my stomach. Near dawn I heard the sound of the diesels gearing down for the climb over the hill and cardinals swept past the windows then, as the sun rose, I wrapped myself in her sheet and stood thinking about the day before.
In the bathroom I drank long gulps, the water running down my chin and spotting the sheet. With the window closed there was a silence the room didn’t have and I closed my eyes and cursed my bald head, but when I opened the door she sat on the edge of the mattress, some of my hair in her hands, and said, “I found this.”