The snake inhabiting the cavity of his stomach never slept, but when it
finally demanded feeding- when he could feel its venom rising up in his
throat-he took off with some flimsy excuse.
in the mood for rum raisin," he'd say. Or "I'd better fill the
tank before the station closes."
..... Although she never questioned his
coming or going, it seemed necessary to continue the pretense of a legitimate
errand. He wondered what her response would be if he said, "The boys
are waiting for me to blow open the safe inside Standard Federal."
Or "My mistress only rented the motel room for two hours, so chop-chop."
course, Tom," she'd probably murmur, her head bent over the partly
scoured sink, the open fridge, her laptop. "You should get going."
..... Because that- or something very much
like it- was what she said every time.
..... You should get going.
..... She positioned herself so they seldom
made eye contact. Her skill at this was astonishing. There were things
they saw in each other's eyes that could not be ignored, so better not
to see them. Better to occupy separate planes whenever possible.
anything?" he sometimes asked before sliding out the door. She never
answered. What could she ever need from him now?
..... He could smell sulfur from her burning
match before he reached the door-as if he ceased to exist within seconds.
At some point, she'd stopped urging him to quit and resumed smoking herself,
although never in his presence.
..... And both of them were serious drinkers
now. He'd stopped placing the empties in the recycling bin last fall when
the neighbor's son knocked it over playing touch football. The kid, who
came running over, looked on in amazement at the explosion of glass glinting
in the autumn sun.
have been some party, Mr. Bodie."
..... Regret at his hasty words swept over
the boy's face before he finished speaking. They cleaned it up together,
the kid growing quiet as the same wet label turned up again and again
on shards of glass. What host only offers one brand of whiskey to guests
at a party? And there were no parties at the Bodie house lately, were
..... Later, splinters of glass flattened
a bicycle tire and twinkled maliciously from Jo's waffle-soled shoes as
she lay on the sofa or on their bed, not even bothering with the sham
of a book or TV. He remembered when she'd been strict about taking their
shoes off at the door, stern about shoes on the bedspread.
..... On his worst days, he drove out to
the spot before dawn, stealthily backing down the driveway. If he looked
up, something he tried hard not to do, Jo's face would be at the window,
the street lamp illuminating the pallor of her exposed neck and shoulders.
Had she always been so white?
..... But at some point every day, he found
himself in the car headed in that direction. Sometimes he didn't realize
his trip to the dentist or barber or his office had been hijacked until
the landmarks popped up in front of him like funhouse props. First came
the store advertising live bait in shaky black letters, then the rusting
Chrysler plant, next the denuded field looking brown and scraggly or covered
with filthy snow, then the check-cashing place that never seemed to close.
..... The final marker was a deserted storefront
church, its façade covered with advertisements from the days when
there were events to promote. The posters were in tatters now, looking
like signal flags for an auto race, offering a counterfeit gaiety to the
..... After the church, the rubble cleared,
and the object of his trip stretched before him, its metal teeth glistening
if the day was fair. When traffic was sparse, which it often was, he pulled
over, his eyes focusing on the barren stretch of land.
..... Until last year, he'd avoided this
route into the city, going miles out of his way to escape the disheartening
blocks of abandoned houses, potholed streets, boarded-up businesses. Entire
sections of the city had disappeared and what remained here seemed unlikely
to last another winter. Yet it did, contrarily defying expectations and
fading in increments each year, growing smaller-but still there.
..... The train track, for that's what the
metal teeth were, crossed the wide, arterial street, then quickly disappeared
into the muted grays and browns of a bend in the landscape. He could sit
for hours, and had on many days, without seeing a single train pass. After
investigation, he discovered only four trains a day traveled this stretch.
And often only one carried more than a dozen cars. The morning run at
..... The train that killed Karin pulled
fourteen cars and was traveling at a speed of forty-five miles per hour.
It hit the suburban bus, one of the larger ones in the fleet, and propelled
it forward for a quarter mile before the bus detached itself and spun
away, flipping twice before coming to a stop.
..... Karin was the only passenger still
onboard at the end of the route. Dozing perhaps, she'd probably sunk so
low in her seat that she went unnoticed by the novice driver. At least,
that's what the investigators concluded.
..... The only witness to the wreck, a man
in a northbound car waiting for the train to pass, told the police detective
that the bus had smashed through the gate at a speed equal to or exceeding
that of the train. There was no vacillation in its plunge, not hesitant
lurch to mark indecision. The witness admitted sheepishly that he'd ducked
instinctually, fearful of the flying metal and glass, only looking up
after the train carried the bus several hundred yards beyond him and when
the horrible grating and squealing sounds subsided.
..... By now, Tom was well-schooled on transportation
vehicles and knew everything there was to know about this particular intersection,
what bus routes passed through it, what the freight trains carried, how
bus drivers and engineers were trained, how many accidents each year involved
the two vehicles.