forever. Everyone was high. Everyone was stupid. Everyone had guns.


AT TWO O’CLOCK in the morning Ray sat upright in bed, his heart racing. He wiped at his eyes and found them wet. He put a palm on his chest, tried by force of will to slow his breathing, fumbled for the TV remote. He clicked through the channels, found an old movie about a man and a woman, carnival sharpshooters who end up robbing banks in cowboy outfits. He didn’t recognize anyone in it, but it was good enough to keep him occupied. He liked how they were with each other, high in love the way you could sometime be, but he didn’t get the cowboy outfits. Of course they were doomed, that was the movies, but he couldn’t think of a lot of bank robber stories that ended up with they live happily ever after. Not a lot of any kind of stories. He wanted a drink but couldn’t see getting up to get it, and he knew it wouldn’t help him sleep or stop the nightmares. He wanted a cigarette, too, and thought how it was great you could tell yourself you were becoming a better person by staying in bed and doing nothing.

He tried to remember the dream that woke him up. There was something about a house floating on a lake and somehow the house turned upside down. Someone he loved was in the house and he was screaming, or trying to scream. The place was familiar, like some place he knew or had seen, but not the same. That’s how it was in his dreams. The places were put together from bits and pieces of real life but reassembled in a crazy way that made him uneasy.

He couldn’t think who would have been in the house. All he could bring back from the dream was that feeling of being helpless and desperate, but there was no one he’d feel that way about in his waking life. It made him jealous of his dream self, this other him with this other, richer life of strong connection and the kind of love that made you frantic.

After the movie ended (they killed each other, but it was the only way out), another movie came on, something with Danny Kaye. He muted the sound and drifted off.

He was standing up on the bleachers, after gym and Mr. Hughes blowing that fucking whistle to make them all deaf. Him and Pete Quirk and Pete’s little brother Davey, who everyone said was re tarded, but not to his face because he went six- two in ninth grade. They were high, drinking Mr. Pibb, which sucked but was the soda they had at the Indian’s store, the only place they could get to and then back before fourth period, and now they were standing up on the bleachers and watching the girls come out of the locker room in their black and white leotards. Pete said, what the fuck lame school has black and white colors, and Davey snorted his Mr. Pibb out of his nose, and they all laughed even more at that. Davey and Pete jumped off the bleachers and walked out, enjoying the loud, echoing bang of their feet hitting the boards and the girls all watching them go, butRay slouched back on the bleachers and watched one of the girls pull herself up onto the balance beam into a handstand. She was small, dark, her eyes clear and focused, and she held herself straight, her back like the blade of a knife under the green lights of the gym. Ray moved down crablike over the bleachers until he was just a few feet away from the beam as the girl rolled over to stand upright, the muscles in her legs standing out, taut as wires, her hands frosted with chalk. Her body turned in flat circles, described fluent arcs that in Ray’s eyes, half- closed by dope, seemed smeared against the bright blue of the mats.

She launched herself off the beam, and he held his breath when she came down, pulled into himself in a sympathetic motion when her feet hit the mat. She held her hands up over her head then but looked down at her own feet while her friends clapped and one of them, the tall red- haired girl he knew was Claudia, whistled and smiled and called out to her. Go, Marletta. Ray smiled, full of expansive good humor fueled by Pete Quirks hash, and he wished she’d look up and see him so he could say it, too. Go, Marletta. But when she did look up, finally, her smile wide and her feline eyes flicking over his and then away, he couldn’t get anything out. His dry lips worked, clicking, but she was gone that fast, head down, dark hair hiding her profile, and he sat a long time and looked at the small white handprints she’d left on the beam, and he repeated her name to himself, the way her friend had said it. Marletta.

The next day Ray drove up 611, through Doylestown and up into the country, following a map Manny had drawn on the back of an unpaid electric bill. The rain had slowed. He passed an ice cream stand with a woman smoking a cigarette under the shelter of the awning, talking animatedly into a cell phone, and it made him unaccountably lonely. He glanced at his own cell phone as if he expected it to ring. Someone calling just to say hello. It brought back that feeling he had had in Theresa’s kitchen, that weight in his stomach, emptiness and a feeling of tears forming just behind his eyes. He put on the radio and found the college station from Princeton, drifting in and out with the effort of carrying all the way from Jersey. It was something he had never heard; a guitar drifting and echoing in a way that made him think of someone alone in an immense and empty space in the middle of the night.

Above Ottsville he followed a forking exit onto smaller roads lined with farms being cut up into developments. Patches of trees, their branches moving in the rain. He slowed, found a rusted mailbox and a gravel drive leading off over a low hill, and kept moving around a slow curve. There was a turnoff into the field, and he pulled off and stopped.

He grabbed his bag and got out, stretching as if he had come a long way, though he had only been in the car about forty- five minutes. The quiet, the unfamiliar greenness of things, made him feel he had made a long trip to a strange place. In the distance there were long fence lines and horse barns. A country of people whose lives he couldn’t imagine. Getting up early, to do what? Feed the fucking horses. Tinker with farm equipment, maybe. The engine ticked, and water dripped from the trees. He looked up and down the empty road and then walked off into the field, up the hill along a line of trees.

He kept to the left of a screen of maples, moving quietly and staying aware of his position, ears straining. He began to sweat immediately, his legs getting wet from the high grass. There was nothing to see except the trees and the fields on either side of him. He looked at his watch and back down the way he had come to where his car was just barely visible now and began to hear a dog bark somewhere.

Near the crest of the hill he stopped and swung the knapsack off his back and kneeled down to rummage in it. He lifted the pistol out and quietly racked the slide, putting a round in the chamber and then putting it back in the bag. He took out a pair of binoculars and picked up the bag, moving slowly up the hill. Finally on his right a farm house came into view, partially obscured by pines. A dog was tied up outside to a stake in the ground, barking itself hoarse at nothing. There was a Ford pickup collapsing in on itself by the side of the drive and a kids’ swing set with just the chains hanging, the swings long gone, the chains pinging off the rusted poles. There was a black barn with the doors rotting in.

Ray squatted by a tree and put the glasses to his eyes. The lenses fogged up, and he wiped them with the tail of his T-shirt. The wind picked up, and rainwater ran out of the leaves over his head, soaking his back. A man with a black T-shirt, a leather vest, and a ponytail came out of the house with a beer can in his hand. He threw the can at the dog and lit a cigarette. The dog sat and watched the man expectantly, his ears back. There was a blue van in the driveway and a motorcycle next to the rotting porch. One of the windows upstairs was broken, and a curtain hung through where the glass was gone. After a minute a woman with wild hair and thick hips came out wearing a green T-shirt and shorts and carrying two bottles of water. The guy with the ponytail took one and dumped it over his head and into his eyes, and the woman smoothed back his hair with her hands.

Ray ran the glasses over the house, the van, the yard. He could hear thunder far away, and the rain began to pick up again. He went into his bag and came out with a thin plastic parka and put it on and then settled onto a tree stump and picked up the glasses again. He smelled the faint, acrid odor of charcoal burning. The rain on the parka made popping noises close to his ears. He let his mind drift, thinking about de cades ago when the house was new and someone brought a young girl here to show her where she was going to live. Someone thinking this was the place they would get old and die and maybe being okay with that. Christ, but he was getting strange in his old age.

After a while he walked back down the hill and along the road, back past the driveway and along a fence that bordered the other edge of the property. The ground was more exposed, open to view from the neighbors, and he walked just to the crest of the hill. He sat down in the wet grass and made sketches of the layout: the house, the barn, the dog, the tree line. This side of the hill had a view of a valley dotted with houses, stands of trees. Six or

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