I’m Coming to That

So there I was thinking I was the prodigal returning—three thousand freaking miles in a car stuffed with everything I owned, which wasn’t much because my ex’s lawyer wasn’t just good, he was damn good. Isn’t that the way it goes? Your wife dumps you for a hot-shit realtor, and he hires a hot-shit lawyer, and next thing you don’t even own your goddamn dog. I was the one who walked him and took him to the vet, then the day after the divorce is made final my ex calls and says she’s on her way over to get Lucius. For a moment I didn’t know who the hell she was talking about because that dog never answered to anything but Spike.

I know it’s her as soon as she pulls into the cramped parking lot below my window: brand new Lexus she makes sure to park beside my Datsun, only it’s a tight squeeze and she’s scared of scratching the paintwork, so it’s a couple of minutes of lurching backward and forward before she kills the engine. By then I’m in front of the TV with the sound way up and maybe she knocks but I don’t hear a thing, and it’s not until Spike starts barking that I yell, “Yo, I’m coming.” First I help myself to a soda from the fridge, and its coldness pours through my chest and settles under my heart, and isn’t that just too freaking ironic? That’s what I’m thinking as I swing open the door, and there she is, all hard eyes and sharp jaw because she’s pissed as hell at me for making her wait, but even I have to admit she’s looking good. Tan and slim like she’s been working out, like without me she’s turned into a better person.

The moment the dog sees her he goes hide under the sofa. I step back and take another swig of my soda, say, “If you want him, come get him, sweetheart.” Janie must have been expecting trouble—like I said, it wasn’t like she’d ever made any effort with him—and she gets out these fancy dog treats. Spike’s such a sucker he falls for it, and next thing he knows she’s scooped him up and she’s holding on tight, her goddamn diamond glinting away on her finger, and Spike’s moaning and wriggling like crazy. You’d think she’d just take off now that she’s got my goddamn dog but instead she stands in my doorway and pulls a face, says, “What’s on earth’s that smell?” The Mexican couple downstairs were gearing up for lunch and my place reeked of garlic, but what’re you going to do? She couldn’t help rubbing it in. She stares past me into my apartment and sighs, “Christ, Pete, is this really the best you could do?” Which is another thing that’s ironic because she’d left me nothing, her and her goddamn hot-shit lawyer. I swallowed some more soda, only it left my mouth sour. I said, “Leave me Spike, for fuck’s sake, he doesn’t even like you. Come on, don’t you have a heart?” She was already turning away but now she looked back and snapped, “You bought him for me, remember? For my birthday.”

So she took the dog and my shithole of an apartment felt like one goddamn empty shithole. I sat on the camp chair I’d got set up in the living room and stared at the TV, then I stared at the stains on the carpet, then I stood at the window and watched the traffic humming along the road until the lights changed. I drank the rest of my soda watching some homeless guy washing people’s windshields whether they wanted him to or not, a shit-eating grin on his face so they wouldn’t get mad, and I wondered how the hell I was going to keep paying for this place without a job. Maybe I couldn’t. Maybe I was going to end up homeless like that guy with his goddamn squeegee, only he had a gig already, washing people’s windshields, and I didn’t even have that.

I’d had two interviews in two months, which wasn’t bad, only it felt bad. I’d sat through the second one in the suit I’d got married in saying all the right things about dedication to systems management and being a team player, and they gave the job to a kid just out of college, like eighteen years’ work experience didn’t count for shit. Watching that homeless guy I thought, Is that going to be me? Then I thought, Fuck it, I’m better than that, and it sounded like something you tell yourself just so you’ll feel better.

The inside of my head was all churned up with worry so I made myself gaze at the hills in the distance—there they were, a purple blur between the dirty concrete of the low rises across the street, but this time instead of calming me the sight of them just made everything seem worse. Maybe it was the exhaust coming through the window, or those lovely hills being so far away, but next thing I knew I was staring down at the blacktop of the parking lot and gripping the window frame hard, like someone who’s about to throw up, or about to send himself flying out onto the air because it wouldn’t hold him. And maybe I would have—my whole body was tensed and hard like I could feel it, those few seconds of falling, of beautiful weightlessness.

The trouble was, I was only a few yards up. Knowing my luck I’d have broken a leg or paralyzed myself, so I just stood there thinking how life was one big joke and the joke was on me. I stood there long enough to picture the plastic bottle of painkillers in the bathroom cabinet, long enough to think, Hell, wouldn’t that be an easier way to go? The warm hum of Percocet percolating though my body, the gentle wrapping up of all I was? Then there was a snap across the air—a car backfiring, a gunshot maybe, it was that kind of a neighborhood—and I threw myself down on the floor. It took a few seconds for the sounds of engines and horns to wash in again, and I lay there with my cheek on the scratchy weave, breathing in the stink of some previous tenant’s cigarettes. That’s when I knew: I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to live this shitty life I’d ended up with.

Half an hour and I’d jammed my car with garbage bags of clothes, some DVDs I’d fought Janie over just to piss her off, stuff like that, then I got behind the wheel and drove north. It felt weird taking off on a weekday afternoon, like this was just a shopping trip to the discount store over on Stroughton, but I kept going like a goddamn bird migrating back to its nesting ground, past the mall and the airport, past the edge of the city, up I-5 into Oregon and Washington, then I was in the mountains of BC, whole days piling up behind me, and soon there was so much space between towns it was like us humans had only just shown up and started ruining everything with our strip malls and fast food restaurants. That’s when the trip started to feel epic: the mountains huge against the sky, a cigarette between my teeth, the Black Keys coming fast and hard out of the speakers, and all around me everything lit up by the hot gleam of the sun.

I realized: I didn’t give a fuck about Janie ditching me and taking up with her hot-shit realtor. I didn’t give a fuck about being let go from my job because my unit wasn’t being sufficiently productive. That was all over and done with. Out here it was just me and the road home to Fairbanks. Hell, I could cut loose and vanish. Maybe I already had—who knew I’d left? Who knew I was coming home? Not one goddamn soul. I could change my mind and take off east, or drive down to fucking Mexico or something, except I didn’t because I understood what this whole trip was about: going back to where I belonged. By now I was far enough north that the air rushing through the windows smelled of earth and pine and had a chill to it like winter was coming, never mind it was only July. Up here the air felt thinner, cleaner, everything standing out sharp-edged and new. God it felt good, just the way I’d imagined.

Tuesday afternoon it all went to hell. In northern BC the road was lumpy with frost-heave and all those bumps and dips shook my cheap-as-shit iPod player so hard it broke apart and the car was swamped with a ferocious hiss. I snapped off the volume and felt around on the floor amongst bags and burger wrappers and empty cans, but all I came up with was bits of plastic and my iPod with its screen all futzed up. Like a goddamn flip had been switched, I was mad about everything again. Not just the empty feel of the car with the music gone, or my fucked-up iPod, but my fucking boss who’d blamed me for losing clients when it was the fucking recession, and Janie who couldn’t act like a decent human being but had to go have sex with this realtor guy in our bed, and when I turned in, there was the stink of his hair gel on my pillow. I mean, fuck, there are limits. If he could pay for her goddamn divorce lawyer, he could pay for a goddamn hotel, right?

There I was going over it all over again, cranking up those old arguments we’d had or should’ve had. Hundreds of miles went by and I was still at it, like I could make Janie understand that she’d wronged me, she’d cheated on me and taken me for everything I had, even the dog for fuck’s sake, after I’d left Alaska for her and her career. I kept at it like I could make everything come out right when in my heart I knew she didn’t give a damn about me any more, she was down in California with her fiancĂ© realtor guy and the thought of it—the two of them registering for the wedding, her trying on dresses—well that pissed me off more than ever because here I was with everything I owned in a goddamn compact car.

I tried to make myself think about other things but really, what the hell else did I have to think about? Those first days I’d been in the groove, sliding the car around turns, touching the gas just so, but now it all felt wrong: my foot heavy, my hands damp on the wheel. Driving felt like work but I kept going and those arguments kept knocking around inside my head. I drove fast and careless, riding the asses of RVs heading north, passing them when it was tight, cutting curves, hammering down the straight stretches, driving like it was all I could think of to do until I saw a bear lying bang in the middle of the road and I jerked the wheel hard enough that the tires shrieked and the car slew around like a boat. Only it wasn’t a bear, just the shadow of a bush across the blacktop, and I felt like a prize dumbass. I drove away with my arms stinging with what was left of my panic, and I kept thinking, But I saw the crook of its snout, I saw the bump of its ears, so how come it wasn’t a goddamn bear?

A few miles farther on I crossed a bridge, and there was a guy in a clown suit fishing from it—big shoes, red nose, the whole shebang, I swear—and I thought it was nuts, of course I did, a guy in that get-up way out here, but not long after that I came around a bend and there was Janie getting out of one of those huge RVs. I swear it was her, even down to the Minnesota t-shirt she sleeps in, or used to. I jammed on the brakes so hard the car spit gravel from its tires and suddenly there was the stink of burned rubber everywhere, but when I got out there was nothing on the roadside. No Janie. No RV. That’s when I started worrying I was losing my mind. And wouldn’t that be fucking perfect after losing everything else?

At the next gas station I made myself stop even though the tank was half full. I took a leak then took a good look at myself in the bathroom mirror. There I was, crazy-eyed and messed up, my hair all over the place and my face grimy with stubble, my t-shirt blotched with ketchup from meals at the wheel. I hung onto the washbasin and wondered what the hell sort of future I was going to have if I was out of my mind. I splashed water on my face and it felt so good I bent my head under the tap and let the water gush over my tongue, like it was going to wash away what was wrong with me. It was so cold my teeth hurt and when I stood up the whole place swam and I had to grab for the wall. I was broken, I heard myself think, goddamn broken, and no wonder after all I’d been through.

When I came back into the gas-station store, water still dripping down my face, no paper towels because it was that kind of place, the old guy behind the counter grunted, “I got better things to do, you understand, eh?” I nodded like I understood and I handed him my card for the gas. He gave me a slit-eyed look and slapped down the pen and the slip to sign like he wanted me out of his sorry-ass gas station, like I was a disgrace to the place when it reeked of engine oil and bleach and the flooring was so old a dull path had been worn across it from the door to the counter, like customers never veered off to look through the shelves of chips and razors and canned beans. The old guy didn’t even hand me back my card, just flicked it across the counter at me. I walked out of there without a word. He followed me, shoving the door closed and sliding the bolt as soon as I stepped outside. That made me feel like shit: this guy, this dumb old guy running a gas station in the middle of the fucking Yukon, even he could tell I was crazy and what did he do? He locked the door on me. I spun round and glared at him. He was watching through the glass to make sure I left. Then he flipped the door sign to CLOSED and shut off the lights like the evil old fucker he was.

It didn’t occur to me to look at the time until I started up my car: nearly midnight. I’d been driving for seventeen hours straight, like some sucker from the Lower Forty-Eight who doesn’t get how the light plays tricks on you this far north and just keeps going, like the night’s going to get dark when it won’t do that for weeks yet. At least I wasn’t crazy, just so fucking tired I’d been hallucinating. That made me feel better, anyway.

I had a fridge pack of Cokes jammed in with my bags on the passenger seat, three cans left, and I drank them one after the other. All that caffeine and sugar helped things slip back into place. No more bears in the road, no more clowns, no more Janie getting out of RVs. My head felt light and fragile, and before long I was gassy from all that soda and my gut ached like I’d drunk battery acid. To make matters worse, the road had really gone to shit now and the car was lurching and bouncing and I had to hold the wheel real tight. I pictured how it would be to misjudge a dip and get flipped over, or miss a turn and hit a tree, or for a moose or a bear or some other huge animal to walk out in front of me and the car tumble off the road, and how maybe I wouldn’t be found for days or even weeks, and the thought of it made me feel sick. But at least I wasn’t arguing with Janie in my head any more. There was that.

So then I come around a turn and there’s the last of the sun shining on the side of a great gray mountain and one tiny patch of snow burning like something from another world. The sight of it makes me feel small and pathetic but hopeful, like I’d left the past behind and a better future was somewhere ahead if I could just get there in one piece, that same feeling I’d had as I took off through the mountains before my iPod player got shaken to bits. Just when this whole trip was starting to feel like yet another bad idea, there was that dot of bright snow and there was that hopeful feeling, and I kept watching until it slid away behind me and finally blinked out of sight behind a spur of rock, and the night, such as it was, lost a little of its light.

Somewhere deep inside me a miniature version of myself was all hopped up on caffeine and dancing frantically, but my head felt huge and heavy as rock and my eyes slow and aching. Time juddered—my head weirdly at an angle, a tree suddenly closer, a pullout by a river just head where there hadn’t been one a moment before. I braked and steered sloppily onto the dirt, then I killed the engine and the silence settled in. It felt like the world was still rushing past, carried by the wash of the river. I smoked a cigarette and stared out at the mosquitoes jiggling just beyond the window. Before long I fell asleep and had crazy dreams about bears coming at me from the trees, and my car breaking down and the whole continent being empty of people except for me, panicky stuff that eventually woke me up. My watch said four a.m. but the light didn’t look any different. I started the engine and took off just as pissed as I’d been the day before, and it was like I hadn’t slept at all, like my thoughts had never slowed down.

I felt like shit that day, my head all fuzzy and my mouth dry, and when in the afternoon clouds piled up like mounds of dirty sheets, that felt about right. The rain started in from one moment to the next. It thrashed down so viciously it was like the windshield was melting. All the wipers did was give me blinks of the road. Even going thirty was way too fast. I hit puddles that my tires shuddered across, the car slipping around like it was on ice. Some fuckhead of a truckdriver came up on my tail and sat there so I had to lean away from the glare of his lights in my mirror. Other trucks came raging at me hard and fast, lights shattering in the rain, light everywhere, coming so fast they broke apart the air and my car got shoved around and rain slammed against my windows. I prayed like I believed in something, that’s how chickenshit I was. Then, like a goddamn fucking miracle, buildings appeared alongside the road, all ghostly in the downpour. Not another hallucination but some tiny roadside place called Burwash Landing: a gas station, some cabins. A sign for a lodge.

I’d been sleeping in the car since I left—hell, after that, even the Burwash Lodge looked like luxury. A bed, a TV, a bathroom, never mind that the toilet ran and the carpet was old and thin. I lay down on the bed and watched the news while the rain came battering down, but it felt strange to be indoors and soon I couldn’t bear it. For a few minutes I stood at the window as the drops shattered and bounced against the ground, then I went downstairs and poked around in the small store they had set up next to the lobby, a weird mix of snacks and fishing lures and toothpaste and postcards saying Yukon!

I bought a bag of chips and wandered through the lobby looking at the stuffed moose head on the wall, and the stuffed caribou head, and the stuffed salmon, and the payphone, for crap’s sake, like that was a trophy too, eating my chips and licking the salt off my fingers. On the wall beside the front desk they had a map of the Yukon pinned up and Burwash Landing was nothing but a dirty smudge where everyone had put their finger. I knew home wasn’t too far off, but looking at the map I realized: I’d be there tomorrow, easy.

I finished my chips and tossed the bag in the trash. I kept glancing at that payphone. Now I had no reason not to call Mom. I hadn’t told her I was moving back home—Christ, I’d left on the spur of the moment, and for the first few days there’d seemed plenty of time to get around to it. Then I’d hit Canada and my good-for-shit phone didn’t get service, and that hadn’t seemed like such a bad thing: no one knowing where I was, no one caring, no one expecting anything from me. But now—now I might show up in Fairbanks and Mom wouldn’t even be there. Since Dad died she’d stopped taking trips pretty much, but it would be just my luck to come all this way and find the house locked up and her gone to Hawai’i or something crazy.

When she answered her voice was so small I almost didn’t have the heart to tell her, so as soon as we’d done the how-are-you stuff I blurted out that I’d gotten a divorce, and Mom said it was a crying shame, a divorce in the family for heaven’s sake, and the way she went on you’d have thought I’d been busted for selling crack to kids, but that was Mom—now that Dad was gone she was worse than ever with the whole religion thing. Then I had to tell her my company had downsized me out of a job and she broke right in with, “You got fired too?” like it was my fault when the recession was hitting everyone. She said, “Pete, you’re forty-three, you need to settle down to something,” and that’s when I told her I was just across the border and would be in town tomorrow, and she got all quiet. I couldn’t bear it and said, “Listen, this is a payphone and I’m running out of change—I gotta go. I’ll see you sometime in the afternoon, OK?” and hung up.

I was sweating like I’d been working out and my hand was stiff from where I’d been holding the phone. I bought another bag of chips and stood in the restaurant watching the rain pound the lake, everything gray and foggy, and when the waitress asked me did I want something I said, “Yeah, a beer, whatever you’ve got that’s cold,” then I sat there and drank until I felt better.

At the end of the next afternoon I pulled up in the drive where Mom’s car should have been. I rang the doorbell for the hell of it then I peered through the glass in the door but nothing moved. I couldn’t believe it: she’d gone out when her youngest had driven three thousand fucking miles to get here, like she had better things to do. All of a sudden coming home felt like just another dumb idea. I’d forgotten what it was like: for years Mom had been just a voice on the other end of the phone except for coming to my wedding and one visit after that that hadn’t gone too badly. I’d had a wife and a house and a job and a dog, I’d been happy. I’d blotted out what it was like growing up: Mom not coming to school concerts, Mom picking me up from friends’ houses so late even I worked out she was the reason I didn’t get invited back. I was the youngest of five, the kid no one could really be bothered with because nothing I ever did was new. Except for now, I guess, with the divorce.

A squirrel skittered up the spruce in the front yard then clung there eyeing Mom’s bird feeder like it was working out some sort of Mission Impossible maneuver to get to it. I rang the bell again, good and long, and somewhere close by a neighbor’s dog yipped. I was just letting myself get really pissed when I thought, maybe she still kept a spare key in the painted flowerpot in the shed, and maybe she expected me to just let myself in—that had been the drill back in the day.

Around the backyard was a new wooden fence taller than me. I knocked at the gate like a dumbass, then swung it open. Birch trees, black spruce, the lawn lush and a little long, everything pretty much as I remembered it except that on the far side where the shed had stood there was nothing but a rectangle of dry dirt. Lying nearby in a heap were the flat sides of a plastic replacement someone was about to put up. It looked more like a kids’ playhouse than anything useful.

So much for that. I sat on the deck in one of Mom’s chairs and lit a cigarette. Before driving north I hadn’t smoked in years but it felt right, like I didn’t need food or sleep, just nicotine and gas-station coffee. Now I took a good long drag and batted the smoke away with my hand, like Mom was watching from inside the house and was going to get pissy. For some reason, though, sitting there smoking on a plastic chair on her deck the tobacco tasted sour. After all those miles on the road, passing moose and bison and even what I swear was a bobcat, this all felt so goddamn tame I couldn’t hardly stand it. Was this what I’d come back for? There’d been that blind urge to get as far away as I could from Janie and what she’d done to my life, the crazy joy of taking off into the north where towns were small and you could feel the immensity of this whole goddamn continent all around you with its mountains and forests and lakes, like you belonged to it and that meant something. But had I thought any further than that? For sure I hadn’t imagined myself on Mom’s deck tipping ash into her geraniums while I waited for her to show up.

Behind me the door opened and a man bellowed, “What on earth do you think you’re—” I jerked around. An old guy with thinning gray hair, his face sagging around the jaw, his eyes watery. Father John. My oldest brother. His mouth opened with surprise, and I’m sure mine did too. I said, “Hey, I had no idea you were in town.”

He’d been seventeen when I was born and now here he was, an old guy while I was still just middle-aged. It didn’t help any that he was in a faded t-shirt and baggy shorts that made his skinny old-guy legs look even skinnier. I hadn’t seen him out of his priest gear for longer than I could remember. Christ, come to that, I hadn’t seen him in years. He hadn’t come to my wedding because it wasn’t a church wedding and I wasn’t flying him out from Ohio or wherever the hell he was posted to officiate. Since then I’d only spoken to him at Dad’s funeral—and of course he ran that show.

Now he rubbed his face as though he needed to get rid of something, then he let his hand drop. “Pete—good to see you.”

For a moment I thought he was going to come close and I’d have to get up and we’d hug, but he folded his arms across his chest and watched me take a final drag on my cigarette. I stubbed it out on the bottom of my shoe. “Didn’t Mom tell you? I’ve come to stay for a while.”

He got this strange smile on his face. “So, things didn’t work out, huhn?”

I dropped the hot butt into my palm. “Or for you. Or is this just one of those many vacations you priest guys get?”

“I’m still recovering, Pete. I’m on extended leave.”

“For what?”

He was staring off across the yard, then he put his hands on his hips and started swiveling them with his knees bent. “I had complications after my surgery. They’ve given me another eight months to recuperate. Lots of physio, that kind of thing.”

“You got to be kidding. And they’re paying you?”

He turned toward me. “Getting over an operation like that takes time. I’m no spring chicken,” and he smiled like it was a joke and I was supposed to laugh.

“An operation like what?”

“My back.” He grimaced.

“Shit, isn’t that a sweet deal—eight months of vacation?”

“Hardly a vacation, Pete, recuperation. Besides, someone needs to take care of Mom. There’s lots she can’t do at her age.” He jerked his chin toward the garden. “The shed floor had rotted. Can you imagine if she’d put her foot through it?”

Something just didn’t smell right and I pulled another cigarette from my pack and lit it. “Wow, you can do things like put up a shed, even with a bad back?”

His mouth pulled tight like he was about to spit. “It’s a kit. I’m considering selling them. Wood’s no good, it rots, but plastic, now that’ll last you forever.”

“A new career? Bit late, isn’t it?”

“You just don’t ever change, do you? You never let up.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “that’s me, all right,” and I blew out a lungful of smoke.

One thing about the Church, everyone played their cards close to their chest. He’d been moved from parish to parish, or it seemed that way but who knows, maybe that was normal, not letting anyone get too settled. Then a few years ago he’d gone off to one of those places where priests are sent to get their heads back together and I was never clear why—Mom mentioned something about the stress of the job getting to him. Even then I’d wondered: Had he done something bad? Was he was of those problem priests? I mean, he was my brother but even I thought there was something a little creepy about him. Or maybe not creepy exactly, but off, like he was always playing a part so you’d never know who he really was.

While I smoked he did a few knee-springs and spun his arms around, and it looked more like he was making it up than actual exercises some therapist had given him. “So you and Janie finally got divorced,” he said on a huff of breath, like he was really working out. He whirled his arms around some more then pinned them, one after the other, across his chest. When he’d finished with that he leaned on the back of a plastic chair and fixed his old-guy eyes on me. “Would it help to talk about it?”

“With you? Are you kidding?”

“I’m trained in marriage counseling. It’s part of the job.”

“Give me a break. What the hell would you know? A bunch of guys who’ve never been married. Christ, who’ve never even had sex—”

His eyes were still on me, curious and hard. I was the one who looked away, like I was the one with something to hide, and doesn’t that just beat all? I stared at the patch of dirt where the shed used to be and took a last drag on my cigarette.

“It comes down to people skills, Pete.”

I blew out the smoke in one long stream. “Oh yeah, your people skills are rock solid.” I stubbed out my cigarette and lay the bent butt by my shoe with the first. “Like not answering the door. Mom told you I was coming, didn’t she?”

“You know, she’s pretty upset with you right now.”

“Where is she? She go out some place?” I stared off across the yard, like she was hiding amongst the trees, then I looked back at him. “Christ, did you tell her to go out?”

“How do you think she feels, you telling her out of the blue you’re divorced and unemployed and showing up here like you have a right to? This is her house, Pete. You’re forty-three, she’s done looking after you.”

Sitting there in that plastic chair made me feel like a wuss so I got to my feet. And there I was, for once in my life, staring down at him. His hair was thinning and in the sunlight his scalp was pink and greasy. I said, “So what the hell do you think you’re doing here? You’re old enough to retire. Or is that the point? You fuck up, they move you around, then they put you on leave until you call it quits and you’re out of their hair for good?”

His face bunched up and he got this loose look around his eyes. Then something in him pulled back and he said softly, “So much hate—must have been a bad break-up, Pete. What’d she do—cheat on you?”

That’s when I hit him. Granted, it wasn’t my best idea, but I was too tired to think. I slugged him hard on the cheekbone and his head snapped back, then he spun and fell heavily like he couldn’t be bothered to save himself, arms wide, handrail splintering, landing flat on his back in the flowers Mom had growing around the deck.

He didn’t move for so long I thought maybe I’d killed him, like that would be my goddamn luck. I thought about smoking another cigarette, even got it out of the pack, but after a few moments I threw it away. I came up and used my foot to shove his shoulder, then I crouched beside him. His eyes blinked open, hard and blank as an animal’s, and from under his breath came a spit of words. I said, “What?” and leaned closer, and he said it again, his breath hot on my ear, his whispers like a voice from far away, and I thought maybe he was saying, “Curfew,” or “Curse you.”

I shivered, like some part of me warm and alive with blood had been ripped out and tossed away amongst the trees, then I got to my feet, said, “What the hell?” He just stared back so I walked out of there, the gate snapping closed behind me, and I sat in my car with my hands on the wheel like I was going somewhere when there was nothing in front of me now but the unyielding garage door.  

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