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Winter 2003, Volume 20.2

Fiction

 

Laurie Marr WasmundPicture of Laurie Marr Wasmund.

The Hunt


Laurie Marr Wasmund (M.A., U of Denver) lives on the eastern plains of Colorado. Her fiction has appeared in Cimarron Review, South Dakota Review, and Southwestern American Literature. In 1994, she was named an Associate of the Rocky Mountain Women's Institute.

 

On I-80 the day after Christmas, driving through a blizzard, Carl whistles "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"; he croons "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." From the back seat, Marielle watches him. Everything about Carl is fringed—his heavy suede coat, leather gloves, the gray-white beard and shaggy hair. He is Santa after a run-in with a wind generator. She tries to superimpose her father's face—which she has never seen—on Carl's. Yet she only succeeds at wiping away Carl's features, leaving his face as blank and bland as the flesh on a thigh.

"More rapid than eagles his coursers they flew," Carl chants. "And he whistled and whipped them and called them by name. On— "

"Give it a rest," Tandy, Marielle's mother, says, sounding truly tired. "Christmas is over."

This is their first holiday as a family, as Carl calls them. He's always saying, "Let's go as a family," or, "How's my little family?" as if Marielle is a toddler or mentally lacking. Tandy, always fickle, plays along, treating her daughter as if she is five, not fifteen. Whenever Marielle complains, Tandy asks, "Why do you have to ruin everything?"

Now, Tandy says, "It's getting worse."

"We'll make Cheyenne by dark," Carl says. "Just don't start riding me about driving too fast."

"Am I the one who wanted to drive all the way across the state to look at a horse? I didn't ask for a horse for Christmas, you know. You got us into this."

"Let me know if you want to ride it back. The cold might simmer you down some."

"It hasn't ever shut you down," Tandy grumbles.

Carl laughs and pats her tummy. She's been wearing the top button of her jeans loosened for a month. He starts to sing again: "What Child is This?"

 

Marielle once asked her mother where her father was, and Tandy answered, "He's still in Rawlins. Probably in the penitentiary."

"Really?" Marielle asked, thrilled. "What for? Murder?"

"He sure killed my heart."

Marielle's grandmother, Beth Anne, told her that her parents' marriage lasted just long enough for her to be conceived. When she was younger, Marielle thought that meant years of wedded bliss before fiery, tragic heartbreak. Then she learned that conception takes place in a nano-second—that sperm just swims right up there and clamps in and the cells explode overnight. Now she knows her parents' marriage was the domestic spin-off of the old travel joke, "Look, zebras! Ah, you missed `em!" A stupid, foolish trick.

She has no pictures of her father. Tandy told her she tore them up, but Marielle doesn't believe her. Surely somewhere photographs lie in a box in Carl's house or a drawer in Grandma Beth Anne's. Marielle envisions prints of Tandy and Peter Reeves on horseback, bonded at the hips, or leaning against Peter's Chevy with jacked-up rear end, rebellious, teen-aged glares on their faces. She has rummaged through Tandy's drawers, finding silk stockings and garter belts and Premsyn and birth control pills prescribed by a doctor fourteen years ago, which she stole. But someday she'll find all the pieces, open the right doors, and the past will rise up and offer all its answers. Her father will lay into Tandy for raising their daughter as a hostage of Tandy's romantic screw-ups. Seven schools in ten years. No home, except a rented room or trailer in a one-street town, until Carl came along with his ranch in Jackson and his bags of money.

Carl plans to name the baby Tobin—they already know it's a boy—and to teach him to make saddles, which Carl's father and his father's father or someone used to do when Wyoming was a territory. He has a whole history to give to Tobin.

 

They are stranded in Rawlins. Carl stops at a motel after the trailer nearly jack-knifes on the interstate. They have been silent the last miles, and no one speaks in the parking lot while the snow quilts a blanket of gray on the windshield. Marielle knows her mother would have driven through mountains of jagged ice to avoid Rawlins, where Grandma Beth Anne waits out her widowhood, and where Peter lives.

"I'm sorry," Carl says. "We'll be out of here by morning."

"Shit, Carl."

"There's nothing I can do." He pats Tandy's knee. "We'll sneak you out of here at daybreak. No problem."

"Maybe not for you."

Tandy slams the door as she leaves. Carl lets Marielle out and locks the truck. Outside the office, Marielle reads the bulletin board postings by the light of the Pepsi machine. Most advertise New Year's dances and country western bars; a scrap of paper tacked to one corner lists, "Registered Charolais bulls. Artificial insemination from $700." She thinks of the glass vials in the biology lab at the high school, of all the smelly, off-colored liquids poured and swirled and ogled under a microscope. The thought disgusts her, and she turns to watch a string of chili pepper Christmas lights over the motel lobby entrance sway in the freezing wind. The lights are coated with ice. Tandy shivers, and stomps, and complains, "This is miserable," but when Carl comes out of the office and puts his arm around her, she shrugs him away. Their room has two queen beds, a T.V. set square in front of the mirror on the dresser, and identical pictures of grainy-faced mountain men shooting muskets at a herd of scattering buffalo. A gold plaque attached to each frame reads, "The Hunt."

Carl stretches out on the bed. "This is nice enough."

"We could have stopped miles back," Tandy says. "We could have stayed in Rock Springs."

"I didn't know it would get so much worse."

"You could have used common sense."

"I was too busy driving."

Marielle goes into the bathroom and locks the door. She winds both bathtub faucets until the water gushes out. She sits on the toilet and tries to comb through her hair with her fingers. There is no mirror in the bathroom, where she can search for her father in her face while trying to overlook what has come from Tandy—the wide eyes and thick black hair, slight overbite and smooth, fragile cheekbones.

She pushes the stopper on the bathtub and fills it. She unwraps the miniature soap bar and rubs it without lather over her legs and arms. Sometimes at night, she breathes her father's name, wondering when those words will ever sound familiar, without mystery. Someday she'll ask her mother, Why did you ruin everything? Maybe at her high school graduation, when Tandy wants to hug her, or her wedding, when Tandy kisses the groom on the lips. Or when she and Tandy find themselves back on the street. Sometime when Tandy isn't expecting it. Marielle climbs from the bath and dries on the rough, white towel. By the time she returns to the other room, Tandy is alone, sitting on the bed, watching the muted T.V. "Feel better, precious?" she asks.

"I used all the hot water," Marielle lies.

"That's all right. I don't think I can stay awake for a bath."

"Where's Carl?"

"He went out to lock up the truck."

"He did that before we came in. I watched him."

"I don't know, I don't know," Tandy says. Marielle listens with her for the sound of the engine. "You're having fun?" Tandy asks. "I guess today wasn't much fun."

Marielle waits, letting the silence torture Tandy.

"We'll have fun tomorrow. Tomorrow will be fun," Tandy says. "Carl says I don't have to take the horse he's chosen. I can choose whatever I want. You'll help me, won't you?"

Marielle hears it at last: Carl starts the engine and backs out of the parking space. The trailer rattles behind the pickup—it must be inching along the ice—out of hearing.

"You know, I really hate him." Tandy covers her face.

"At least he's rich."

"Do you think that's all I want? That's not what I want. I just want to be happy, for once. For one day, even. For one minute."

"You were happy with my father, weren't you?"

"You're happy with anything in pants when you're sixteen."

Marielle peeks out the curtains. Tandy never answers questions about Peter Reeves honestly. The tracks from Carl's truck are already filled with snow. "Remember Gene?" she asks. "Remember how stiff his socks were when he took them off? Like he hadn't changed them for two weeks."

"Or more."

"And the one with the Harley?"

"Who?"

"Dec, short for Decadence."

Tandy laughs. "I'd forgotten. He used to tell me stories about his Vietnam days that I'd read in Reader's Digest. I haven't had the best luck with men." She reaches over and switches the bedside lamp through its settings, from dim to bright. "I used to think about how much I hate Carl—or any of them—and it would scare me, but now it's not even so much a thought as a reflex. Like a jerked knee."

"So why do you stay with him?"

"What choice do I have? I have to think of this baby."

"You never think of me."

"Oh, come on, Marielle. What do you have to bitch about? You were just saying how bad all the others were."

"Maybe you should call my father while you're here."

"Why?"

"Maybe I should meet him. You know, it would be nice to know my father."

"He's not worth it, believe me."

"He has to be better than Gene or Dec. You loved him once, didn't you? You were married."

"That was too long ago to remember. In fact, I don't want to remember that far back."

"Why do you always act like he's a monster or something?"

"Listen," Tandy says. "I don't want to see Peter Reeves. I don't want you to see him either, understand? We were kids back then, and we were stupid. All right?"

"Then, I'm just the product of some stupid mistake on your part?"

"Of course not," Tandy relents, her voice cracked. "I have to get some sleep now." She pulls off her boots, folds up her jeans and sweater, turns out the light.

 

I-80 is closed by morning, but worse, during the night, Carl slid into a telephone pole coming back from the bar and bent the wheel on the pickup. When he tells Tandy, who lies in bed, the blankets slipping from her bare shoulders, she says, "Oh, God, Carl, we don't have to stay, do we?"

"Maybe we can go to your mother's."

"And listen to her tell me every damn thing I've done wrong in my life?"

"She'd love to see us."

"You go on ahead. I'll stay here, thank you."

Carl looks to Marielle, but she shrugs. "Let's get some breakfast," he says.

"You two do that." Tandy pulls the pillow over her head.

In the motel restaurant, Carl smokes and taps a plastic-coated "Dessert DeLITE" menu against the table in time to the canned music. "Funny thing was, I hadn't even been drinking," he says. "I never had an accident all those years I drank heavy, before I met your mom. The truck just knew how to carry me home. I don't know what happened last night."

"It was slick," Marielle says. "There was a foot of snow."

"I've driven worse." He looks out the window. "I hate letting Tandy down like this. Damn it, I wanted to do it right this time."

"Nothing's ever right with her."

"Now don't you get ornery. She's an angel, that gal is. She's just going through a hard time."

Marielle stands abruptly. "I'm going to the Ladies'."

As she passes the pay phone outside the restroom, she drills her fingers into the refund slot and finds, for the first time in her life, a forgotten quarter. She turns the quarter over in her hands. It's fate. It's a sign, a ray of hope in a long darkness. When she comes from the restroom, she opens the phone directory which dangles from a blackened chain and locates her father's name. She drops the coin into the slot and dials.

A woman answers, says, "Hello?" twice before Marielle asks, "Is Peter Reeves there?"

"No, not just now. Wait a minute. He's just coming up the yard."

Marielle leans weakly against the wall. She tries to plan what she will say, "This is your daughter, Marielle," or, "This is Marielle, Tandy's daughter." Or maybe she should simply say, "Daddy." She considers disguising her voice and announcing, "Tandy's in town. At the Bucking Horse Lodge. She wants to see you. Tonight, eight o'clock." Just when old Carl has stripped down to his union suit and is watching T.V. On the phone, she hears the woman's voice again, saying, "I don't know. Some girl."

"Hello?" a man speaks. His voice isn't smooth and deep like Carl's, but rough and edged. "Hello?" he says again, and the woman calls out, "Now, don't you tell me she's not there after you tracked up my floor."

"Well, I don't think she is," he replies. Marielle covers her face with her free hand, as if he can see her. He coughs, then says, "Hello there? Sorry, last chance, sweetheart," and immediately hangs up. Marielle clasps the phone against her shoulder. She imagines the woman fetching a mop, rinsing it in the sink and bending over to clean the floor. She sees Peter come up behind the woman. "Jealous?" he'll ask. "Of women with clean floors," the woman will say. Then she will cackle as he kisses her neck. Marielle lets the phone swing, and it brushes against the wall. She hates herself for her timidity—not even brave enough to speak to her father. She sits on the floor, dizzy, her head on her knees. From here, she can see Carl's legs stretched under the table in the restaurant, his black boots moving with the music.

 

Tandy lolls in bed the next few days, watching monster truck rallies beamed by satellite from unbelievably sunny locations. Carl brings her meals in Styrofoam cartons from the motel restaurant. Marielle walks through Rawlins, past the old territorial prison. In restaurants, she watches for men who might be Peter Reeves, but none of the cold-faced ranchers and cowboys appeal to her.

I-80 reopens, but complications abound with the truck; the axle was damaged. On New Year's Eve, Tandy sits by the window in the room and studies the traffic spinning through another storm. Carl watches a New Year's Gala on television. Marielle reads a novel called Angelique's Secret Dreams she found stuffed behind the seat of a booth in the motel restaurant. Angelique's encounters consume pages and pages, with much lashing of tongues and elastic body parts.

"I want to do something, Carl," Tandy says.

"What?"

"I don't know. Go somewhere. It's New Year's Eve."

"Well, it has to be close enough to walk."

"There's a list of dances on the bulletin board outside the office," Marielle says, without looking up. Her mother has not yet noticed the book, although Marielle leaves it spread-eagled on the nightstand.

"What?" Carl asks.

"Well, that's a great idea, precious," Tandy says. "Carl, go look for us."

Carl returns with the bulletin board, which he lays on the table before Tandy. "I couldn't decide, and I knew I'd never remember where," he says.

Tandy chooses a dance which is said to be Rawlins' Wildest New Year's Party. She wedges herself into her sleekest jeans, a shirt with silken galloping horses embroidered across the back, and gleaming boots. Around her neck, she ties a soft black scarf. She taps Marielle's foot as she passes and says, "Change into something prettier than that."

"I'm not going," Marielle says.

"Oh, yes, you are," Tandy says. "Come on, haven't you had enough of boredom?"

"What will I do there?" Marielle asks. "Meet the man of my dreams in Rawlins, just like you did?"

"Hey!" Tandy snaps.

Carl looks up from studying the papers. "That's enough, Marielle," he says. "Get up and get dressed. We're going to this thing as a family."

The dance has started by the time they arrive. A revolving crystal ball rains red and blue dots over the crowd. Tandy and Carl dance the first slow tune, pressed close, boots gliding across the wooden floor in perfect time. Carl dips Tandy when the music stops, holds her there, kisses her. A few of the nearby dancers applaud. What an act Tandy puts on when she wants, Marielle thinks, as if she loves Carl. It's all show, all lies.

She sits on a bench along one wall, holding Tandy's beer between her legs and sipping Carl's Coke. When a man asks her to dance, she starts and dribbles Coke down her hand. He's tall and lanky, hatless, and wearing a jean jacket. He has light eyes and blond, soft-looking hair that sweeps across his forehead. He dances like a dervish, spinning Marielle out, then gathering her in to safe, sure arms. The room begins to swirl. She can't remember where she was sitting.

"My name's Dirk," he yells. "What's yours?"

"Marielle."

"So, is your last name Monroe?" he asks, and laughs.

She decides to let it go, and they dance three straight, the last one a waltz, which Dirk dances lightly. She watches for Tandy and Carl as Dirk moves her clockwise around the dance floor, but she doesn't see them. They're probably necking on the bandstand, just in case all of Rawlins hasn't yet noticed them. Dirk says, "Let's go outside and cool down."

His arm around her, Marielle is caught up in a swarm of people pushing toward the door. She glances back once for her mother, then figures Tandy would just smile and wave her away. Go on, honey, she'd say. Have some fun. Anything—as long as you stay out of my way. Outside, Dirk propels Marielle through the wind to his truck. He starts the engine, saying, "By the time she's warmed up, we'll be cold." He pulls a six-pack cooler from under her feet and offers her a juice-sized can. "Harvey Wallbangers," he says. "Already mixed."

She drinks. "Shake it first," Dirk says. "Otherwise, it tastes like shit." He takes hers, covers the hole with his thumb and gyrates it. When she puts it to her lips again, she can taste the salt of his skin.

"Are you here alone?" he asks.

"I'm with my mother."

"Who's she?" he asks, and Marielle wonders if he wants her name. She answers, "The woman in the green shirt—"

"Yeah, I saw her. Wow. The old man's lucky."

"He's not my father," Marielle says. "And she's no prize."

He takes another drink. "Are you cold yet? We could drive to get the heater going."

"I'm not cold."

They prowl Rawlins on snow-packed streets glazed carnival colors by the holiday lights. Dirk runs red traffic lights and stop signs, and guns the truck around corners, sliding sideways toward storefronts and fire hydrants. "I work at the penitentiary," he says. A bank sign flashes the temperature—four below, Fahrenheit, even more, Celsius—into the darkened cab.

"Are you a warden?" Marielle asks, hopeful.

"A what? No, food services."

Marielle imagines him offering last meals on plastic trays to dead men walking. It seems so perfect—this beautiful, free man giving sustenance to the pale, shrunken prisoners. An angel of mercy, a beacon in the last dark hours. Actually, Dirk tells her, he makes deliveries. He never sees the prisoners. As he talks, Dirk wanders farther from town until they travel along a two-lane road.

"Do you know where Wayland Road is?" she asks.

"What's there? A party?"

"That's where my father lives."

"Your father, huh?" Dirk says. "You know, you can't be too careful around here. There's a break-out about once a week from the pen, the security's so loose."

He clicks on a spotlight mounted next to the side mirror, and slides it over the fields, ricocheting light off cattle dulled by winter and looming, black bluffs. The beam skims the tops of barns, tunnels through the blowing snow, glimpses eyes in the ditches and beside frozen ponds. He parks the truck and dims the headlights, but not the spotlight. His arm circles Marielle's shoulders.

"What more could you want?" Dirk asks. "New Year's and somebody that looks like you." He kisses her, but it's more like an assault than a kiss. She can't move her lips under his. She thinks of Angelique—who is always pulsing with pleasure, heaving with passion—and just feels squashed. She sits up, wipes his kiss from her face. How could Dirk—who looks like he could be one of Angelique's lovers—be so revolting in contact? Dirk releases her, says, "We gotta do something about that gear shift."

"Maybe not."

"Well, if we don't do something about that gear shift, we can't do much about mine."

"What's that?" Marielle asks, seeing movement in the beam outside the truck.

Dirk focuses on the animal, limber and quick, black against the snow. "Lean forward," he says.

He pulls a rifle from the rack behind her head. He crawls from the truck, sending a gale of icy air into the cab, and adjusts his light. He aims and shoots. "Hot damn! Got him."

"What was it?"

Dirk straddles the barbed wire fence and crosses the field. Marielle squints at the animal, motionless against the snow. After Dirk picks it up, she sees the blood it has left on the snow, a pooled blackness. She feels a sudden wave of heat in her face, as if all the restaurant food she's eaten in the past few days is working its way up her throat.

"It's a fox," he calls and swings it by the tail. Tossing it into the bed of the truck, he crawls inside and kisses her on the mouth. "You just might be good luck," he says.

"You can't do that," she says, remembering something, from somewhere, a paragraph from one of Carl's Outdoor Life magazines, a National Geographic special. "It's illegal to hunt with lights."

"It's a fox," he says. "There'll be hundreds more in the spring. Watch, here's to eternity." He twists the spotlight upward, into the sky, flashes a wide circle and brings it back to the ground. "That'll travel forever, just booking through the stars and clouds and planets." He rolls down the window and yells, "Go, you son of a bitch!" He grins at Marielle, takes another Harvey Wallbanger from the cooler, shakes it violently, and holds it to her mouth.

"No," she says.

"It's New Year's Eve, baby. Drink up."

"I don't want to."

"I don't have nothing else. I have to stay clean, working at the pen."

"It doesn't matter."

"Suit yourself." He yeehaws and shines the light into the stars again. "Here's to eternity."

"What if it hits a black hole?"

"What?"

"A black hole will suck it up."

"Now you're talking my way, baby." He brings the light down and scans the ground once more. "I'll be damned. Look there."

Another fox pads across the pasture on feet as quick and light as hummingbird's wings. It loops around where the first fox died. "Leave it alone," Marielle says, her throat tight. She rolls down the window, throws the drink outside. "It's wrong."

Dirk takes his stance outside the truck. Marielle reaches across and fumbles with the light, searching for the switch. Just as he fires, she jerks the silver handle and sends another burst of light toward eternity. "Damn it!" Dirk shouts, and Marielle hears a high keening, a tattered yelping. Dirk grabs the handle, directs the light back toward the wounded fox. "I would have had it clean!" He runs toward the fox. Marielle covers her ears, whispers, "Oh, no, oh, no," to herself. She hears the thud of the fox as Dirk tosses it in the back.

He climbs into the truck and shuts off the spotlight, then the motor. "Why'd you do that?" he asks. "Why in the hell did you do that? I had to stomp the little bastard to death."

"I told you to leave it alone." She can smell the skunk-like scent of the foxes on him. A dark streak runs down one leg of his pants.

"Who the hell are you? Miss Animal Rights?" he asks. "Maybe I'll hang those foxes around your pretty little neck. From here," he grabs at her left breast, "to here." Suddenly, his body is on hers, and his tongue in her mouth, and her back jammed against the handle of the door. "Stop it!" she cries. She grasps the cooler of Harvey Wallbangers and beats at him. "I'm fifteen," she says.

"Yeah, but you're not from around here."

He jerks on the zipper of her coat and somehow squeezes both hands inside. Her knee catches against the gearshift, and something metal scrapes the nape of her neck. She cannot breathe. She hits him again with the cooler. She wants to mar his Hollywood looks, to break every bone in that lean body. She wants to hurt them all—every man her mother has ever dated.

"I told you, my father lives here." She wedges one hand between her chin and his neck, pushing up against his Adam's apple. "He's Peter Reeves. He lives on 128 1/2 Wayland Road. You know him?"

Dirk's hands are down near the fly of his pants.

Marielle shoves her hand flat against his mouth, then curls her fingernails into his skin. "He's my father. Let me go!"

"Ouch, you little bitch!" Dirk sits up, and Marielle sets the cooler on her lap, rubs her face where his lips have bruised her. She reaches inside her coat and finds that a button from her blouse has popped. Dirk starts the truck, and she sees the snow has thickened. He drives unnecessarily slowly. Marielle clutches the handle of the door and searches for the lights of nearby houses—she'll jump if she has to—but sees only shabby sheds and haystacks. "My father owns a thousand acres," she says suddenly.

The windshield wipers slap against the snow.

"It was homesteaded by my great-grandfather and passed down to him. My great-grandfather used to make saddles. He taught my father how to do it, but my father raises Charolais cattle. He sells them all around the country, and the bulls go for $700 a piece." She waits, then faces him. "I'm surprised you don't know him. Everybody does. He's an important man. Worth knowing."

Dirk makes a wide turn onto a road even blacker than those they have traveled tonight. "So sue me. For picking up a piece of trash like you and putting it in its place."

Marielle stares into the blackness. Right now, Tandy is dancing with Carl, his baby unfolding inside her, his kindness and love smothering her like snow. For a moment, she understands her mother. She sees how so many wrong steps taken can make a person start running wildly, still in the wrong direction, just to keep ahead of the ugliness and pain. She sees that Tandy's leaving Peter—or any of them—wasn't just restlessness or heel-grinding disdain, but a knowledge that she was wrong for him, and he was wrong for her, and wrong for the baby she carried. In other words, that no matter what was said or what anyone did, they were all wrong for each other, and there was nothing but misery ahead.

"My mother loves horses," she says. "She rides, she has since she was a kid on Grandma Beth Anne's ranch." She puts her hand against the glass pane of the truck's window, as if seeing her grandmother's home. "She's getting a new horse, but she'll let me ride it. She always does."

Dirk turns on the heater. Burning air blasts across Marielle's face. She raises her voice, as if she needs to fill the dead space of the cab with words, even the dark sky outside, where Dirk's beams of light twist toward nothingness. "She's married again now. He asked her to marry him on the Fourth of July. We were sitting by the creek, throwing sparklers in just to hear them fizz, and he lit a sparkler and waved it and called, `Marry me, Tandy, my love is an eternal flame.' He's dopey like that, like a little kid, but he's sweet. My mother's going to have a baby. After all this time, a little boy named Tobin. She's so happy."

She wishes it were true—for gentle, old, stupid Carl's sake, at least—so she says, "It's true, you know."

Dirk brakes the truck and says, "Get out."

Marielle has forgotten him. "What?"

He motions toward a string of mailboxes along the side of the road. "This is Wayland Road. Your daddy's great big place, remember?"

"You're leaving me here?" Marielle looks around her, at the darkness, at the falling snow, then back to Dirk, who grips the steering wheel and stares straight ahead.

Slowly, she opens the door. The cooler falls from her lap onto the road, but Dirk doesn't wait. The engine roars, and the truck fishtails down the road, leaving a patch of black exhaust on the snow. A fox bounces from the pickup bed, lands a few feet from her. It looks as if it has been struck down while running, its paws outstretched, its tail extended from its body. "I'm sorry," she whispers to it, then shouts, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" She leans against the mailboxes and vomits, then whips around, suddenly afraid that an escaped convict might be just behind her, his approach masked by the wind's howling.

Sobbing, she cups her hands and blows into them. The air paralyzes her lungs, and her cheeks, wet from her tears, feel as if they are shrinking, drying and cracking in the wind. She wipes her nose across her sleeve, rubs her eyes to focus them. Her feet ache already, and she wiggles her toes to keep the blood flowing. A few lights reach her from Wayland Road. It looks like a trailer park—the homes are close together. She tries to read the names on the black mailboxes, but she cannot tell if they're marked. She begins walking, thinking of Carl, with his Old Man Winter beard and his face burnt to leather from years of working the ranch in wind and sun and his all-accepting love for her and for Tandy. He has told her more than once not to walk far in winter, to always keep a ten-dollar bill handy, to phone in case of emergency. But Carl isn't her father, and she has choices. She could choose any home—she could stop at the first, because her ears are pierced by pain and her nose is numb, or she might go to the one where lights shine from a kitchen with friendly wallpaper and oven mitts hanging from tea hooks. She might head toward I-80 instead—she feels its thrum at her back a few miles away—and hitch a ride west; she might never return to Tandy. Anything is possible now that she's here. Peter Reeves might invite her in, lavish her with praise and sympathy, hug her so that the bruised feeling she carries inside—as well as on her arms and thighs from Dirk's assault—will fade. Chances are less that he'll be like Carl—big, slow and safe. He might be just another Dirk—fox hides strung along the fireplace mantel and empty Harvey Wallbanger cans littering the floor, his wife wearing sexy underwear and cowboy boots. He might feel the same as Tandy—ready to slam the door in the face of his past. It could be just another mess.

Still, she walks toward him.

 

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