drove. Called his best friend from a motel with a swimming
pool. I don't know if I can go on.
Everybody thinks that, his best friend said.
He had a wife and some kids. With every state line they became
more like lace drapes in a window, with every state line he
had to remind himself to miss them. He didn't know how hard it
In New Mexico the clouds had stretched across the sky like
blown sugar. In Oklahoma he poured a jug of water into his
engine. He pretended his car was a great paintbrush, that he
was leaving a black creek behind him.
He watched the news, the free movie, the scrambled porn
channel oil painting, turned the volume up to hear the uh, to
hear the oh, to hear the yeah, you like it.
The nights were fine. They were dark, they were the bottom of
something. At twilight he pressed his stomach into the railing
outside his room, swallowed what he was missing into the
watered down sky.
At a Golden Griddle in Alabama he met a woman at the counter.
Bought her a cup of coffee and watched her stir it one way and
then the other. She pressed her finger into some spilled
sugar, told him she was missing the part of her tongue that
recognized sweet. At that, his eyes filled.
Back in his room she stood at the foot of the bed and
undressed. Her thighs were toned, bits of pubic hair peeked
out the sides of her underwear. She bent, crawled up the bed,
straddled him. The air conditioning kicked on, light came
through the windows lazily, he thought of his middle daughter
holding something up, saying Can you open it? He fucked the
woman, those were the words he used when confessing to his
best friend days later. He didn't tell his friend about the
scar he found over her heart, a scar that had teeth, didn't
tell his friend that she asked for money and he gave her
everything in his wallet, that he'd asked to braid her long
black hair and she'd laughed at him and walked out and left
the door wide open, him on the bed naked and sweating and
empty every which way there was to be.
He kept driving. Veered toward the Gulf and rented a room a
block from the beach. Kept his shoes on as he waded into the
water for fear of jellyfish. It felt natural to be pulled by
the tide, to be tempted in that way to let it take him, and
then for the tide to finally let go and push the other way. He
stood like that for some time, dipping in his fingertips at
one point and tasting the salt. He saw a shark's fin on the
horizon and it wasn't until later that he realized it was
probably just a sailboat.
On the way back to his room a teenaged boy said Hey man, you
got any change? and then, You want a date? He brought the boy
back to his room, sat on the bed and waited while the boy went
into the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the water. He
put the TV on, some kind of soap opera, interrupted by a
weather report hinting at a tropical storm in the next day or
so. The bathroom door opened and the boy walked out, wet hair,
no shirt, drips of water running down his neck, hands shaking.
His heart filled and he stood up, put his hands on the boy's
shoulders to try and calm him. Don't worry, he started to say,
and the boy punched him in the sternum. It wasn't a hard
punch, but he guessed that it was supposed to be enough to
knock him down, so he played along, landing on his stomach,
clutching at his chest, moaning, trying for breath. He reached
into his pocket and pulled out a twenty, held it in the air
like a small green flag. The boy took it, backed away from
him, called him a pervert and then a motherfucker and then a
perverted motherfucker, opened the door so hard that it
slammed into the wall. He could hear the boy's boots on the
metal steps outside, then as they ran across the parking lot.
Only then did he push himself up onto his knees, wipe the
carpet bits from his face. The weather report was showing an
animation of the tropical storm growing until it covered half
the state. The weatherman assured him that it wasn't a
definite, but that he had to be prepared.
He sat on the bed for a while, watching families walk by his
open door with towels and snorkels and baggies of sandwiches
and cookies, looking in at him and then looking quickly away.
He walked to the 7-11 on the corner, bought a pint of rocky
road and a couple moon pies. On the way back to the motel the
sun was an orange yolk sliding down the sky. He forced himself
to look into it, but after a short time had to look away.
Back in his room he thought, for a second, about hanging
himself from the shower rod. Ate both the moon pies and
started on the ice cream, turned on the evening news. Someone
had been abducted, a small girl with saucer eyes and messy
hair. In the morning he'd drive north, make another state,
maybe two. He finished the ice cream in four large spoonfuls.
It slid down his throat and iced his heart. He pulled the
covers up to his belly, wondered what he could leave of
himself behind and all he could do without, thought of how his
wife often had lipstick on her teeth, how it made her look
like she'd just bitten into something alive, something that
bled. At a commercial break he picked up the phone, dialed
home, hung up when he heard his daughter's voice, small and
distant, singing Hello, Hello, Are you there?