Chapter 4.3V

Double-J turned back to the road, resumed walking away from his derelict car. Annie followed. They walked quickly, their motivation rising as the temperture fell, their footfalls srunching loudly in the crisp air. Moments later, Double-J spoke.

Didn’t see Biscuit at practice tonight.

Bernie said he had to get home. And can you stop calling him that?

It’s just a nickname. Kinda cute, if you ask me.

Well he hates it.

That’s his problem.

They walked in silence for several steps, scrunch-scrunch-scrunch-scrunch. Then Annie spoke.

What are you trying to prove?

Nothing. Well other than Biscuit’s a little thin-skinned, but —

Who I date is none of your business.

Double-J stopped, threw his head back, laughed loudly. You — huh huh huh (shaking his head) — you. Every time I think you can’t get more full of yourself, you surprise me.

Annie had turned to him, spoke sharply. You were the one who dumped me.

Double-J laughed again, put his hands on his knees. Again — why should you surprising me surprise me? Bunny —

Annie snarled at him.

— I never dumped you, there was nothing to dump, we never had a relationship.

So that night at the river —

We had our fun.

You USED ME!, her words shooting at him, spit flying from her mouth like venom.

Double-J stared at her, both of them silent. Around them was cold stillness, the sound of their breath as audible as the steam that rose from their faces.

Let’s go, Double-J said, resuming his walk down the fire road, passing Annie then suddenly stopping as he was hit hard on the side of his face. He staggered, nearly fell, needed a moment to collect himself, figure out what had happened.

Annie had slugged him, a hard right cross to his chin, a punch delivered with precision and power learned through years of martial arts training. He turned to her, began to speak angrily, What the —

She rushed up to him, snarled in his face, said tersely Do NOT call him Biscuit, and DO NOT call me Bunny!

She followed with a scream, EVER!, that echoed in the cold night air.

Chapter 4.3U

Double-J turned to Annie, slowly. And I really don’t think your dad getting elected is going to change anything.

Do we need to do this again Annie replied with an exasperation that was both visible and audible. If he wins — when — our family won’t be able to sell land to the state for the bridge, it’s the law. The Beacon’s gone over this already, and my father’s answered.

Double-J laughed bemusedly. You don’t think you’re father’s got a plan to get around the law once he’s in power?

Annie waved her arms dismissively at Double-J, turned from him, looked back down at the town. She saw the snow-covered outline of a children’s baseball field in the distance, metal backstop opened onto a field of white.

You played Little League, right? she asked.

Yeah.

And my father was your coach, right? She saw him nod. How was that?

Double-J looked down, snorted a laugh. It was great. He was great.

Took you for ice cream after you won the championship, right?

Double-J stood up straight, stared directly at Annie. If you think the memory of a hot fudge sundae’s going to change my opinion, you’ve got another thing coming.

Chapter 4.3T

Double-J helped Annie out of the snowbank, and they resumed their walk down the fire road, away from the derelict car. Their pace slowed, noticeable quiet moments now between the scrunch-scrunch of their feet in the snow.

The road ascended a hill, and when they reached the top they could look down at Bark Bay, the dots of light in the town more numerous with the holiday season, the river a thin black snake slithering through the midsection.

I’ve always liked this view Annie said, motioning down the hill.

Huh, Double-J said, then stopping, continued, What do you see?

Hmmm Annie said, stopping as well and looking down thoughtfully. I see — everything. All the people I’ve ever known, all the places I’ve been to — the schools, the Auditorium, movie theater, restaurants — the dance studio, Gabin’s gym — all the friends I’ve ever met, all the people I’ve loved. And what I like about it, is that I can see it all, take it all in from up here. So many pleasant memories. She turned to Double-J. It’s — beautiful.

Double-J snorted. Funny. I see — over there, just past the edge of lights — there’s the remains of one of the old shipping docks. You know, back when Bark Bay was this big lumber port, like they tell us in school. Back when it was — whatever the hell it was called —

Georgetown.

Yeah, right. So there was the Revolution, and the town didn’t want to be associated with the crown anymore, so some genius — they never did figure out who to blame — he comes up with the name of Bark Bay because of all the logs coming down from upriver. So the town gets a stupid name, and a couple decades later the lumber industry turns to more productive ports, and that’s the beginning of the end, isn’t it?

Double-J was now gesticulating broadly with his arms. The town survives, becomes a summer retreat, yachts replacing shipping vessels. Then — he now motioned straight down — electricity comes, we need a power source for all those lights. So — he now motioned behind them, past the hill, past the end of the fire road — they build a hydro-electric dam, which gives us all the power we need, but has the unfortunate side-effect of shriveling our once-mighty river. The bays that nature had built over thousands of years now dry up overnight, so there goes the yachting industry.

So you know what I see from this view? A series of petty dreams dashed on the rocks of reality.

Chapter 4.3S

Annie stopped, feet together and body upright once again, stared directly at Double-J. Do you know that the origin of that word is?

Double-J stopped, turned to her, was about to speak but stopped as Annie continued, It comes from a Dutch word, fokken, which not only means — what you think, but it also means to strke, to hit. It’s a violent word, it even sounds violent, all those consonants surrounding a weak guttural vowel, almost like they’re crushing it. Every time you use it, it doesn’t sound like you’re talking, trying to communicate, but more like you’re attacking. So yeah, your language bothers me.

That’s not what I’ve heard replied Double-J. It’s actually an anocronym for an Irish law against adultery. When people got caught fooling around, they’d get charged — he now stood upright, lifting his chin — ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.’ That’s the reason the word’s got so much power, it has it’s origin in the law, it’s associated with control.

I think that’s bogus Annie replied.

Double-J laughed. You know, you sound like a prude when you reject the truth like that.

Annie sighed. And you sound like a fucking jerk.

Double-J’s eyes widened reactively. Then he smiled, laughed, walked over to Annie, located a snowbank free of visible dirt behind her, and shoved her into it.

Annie fell, laughing, balled snow with both hands and sat up, flinging both at Double-J, who turned with a laugh as both balls of snow splattered against his back.

Chapter 4.3R

Annie walked swiftly, her feet scrunching angrily in the snow. Double-J followed her silently, not moving as she hurried past him, finally following her when she was several feet ahead.

Double-J lifted his head, called to her. Didn’t know my language bothered you so much. Annie grunted affirmatively, not turning back to him. I always talk that way.

Not in practice you don’t Annie replied.

Just playing by the rules Double-J replied. Over the years I’ve learned to pick my battles with authority, and I’ve learned language isn’t a battle they’re willing to lose. So I let Coach Dan and everyone else win that one.

Annie laughed. You’re the only person who thinks Coach Dan is an authority figure.

Double-J had caught up to Annie, was now walking beside her, could see her face staring intently ahead. We all think it Double-J said. I’m just the only one with the guts to say it.

You say lots of stuff Annie replied as she continued her intent walk forward. And your language is hurtful. It’s got nothing to do with authority, it’s how you trest people.

They’re just words Double-J replied. If you — and he now paused for emphasis, staring directly at Annie — CHOOSE to be offended by them, I can’t control that.

Chapter 4.3Q

Double-J walked swiftly, eyes focused on the road in front of them, the sound of his rear foot wrenching from the snow behind him followed immediately by the sound of his front foot plowing down into the snow in front of him, scrunch-scrunch-scrunch-scrunch, no space for silence between footfalls.

Annie caught up to him, and Double-J quickened his pace, now almost running.

Someone’s in a hurry Annie said.

Someone’s fucking cold Double-J replied.

Hold on Annie said, suddenly stopping, her feet snapping together and her body straightening, as if standing at attention. Double-J kept walking several places, scrunch-scrunch-scrunch-scrunch, was ten feet away from where she had stopped before he turned with a heavy sigh.

What the fuck’s going on?

Exactly. Ever since I got in your car, you haven’t uttered a sentence that didn’t contain an f-bomb. I told you before, I could get myself home, you didn’t have to give a ride, you CHOSE to do so, just like you CHOSE to go down the fire road, and CHOSE to drive so goddam fast, just to get a reaction out of me.

Double-J stood still, looking blankly at Annie, his breath visible in the cold air. Annie was staring at him, her face intent and focused, body leaning forward, right arm pointing at Double-J, left arm pointed back in the direction of his abandoned car.

Now I’m SORRY about what happened, but like you said, there’s nothing we can DO about it except call for help. We’ve got a good half-hour walk in front of us, and I’d like to make it as little unpleasant as possible. So I don’t know what the HELL’s bothering you, but whatever it is, STOP taking it out on me. GOT IT?

Got it Double-J said, holding out both palms towards Annie. He nodded his head in the direction they had been walking. Let’s get the — let’s go.

Chapter 4.3P

Annie watched Double-J a moment as he stared down at his car, lying derilict in the snow bank on the side of the road. She heard the fading sounds of the cooling engine, the sound of Double-J’s breath, and — nothing else. She sensed something was not right, was confused by her confusion. Then it came to her.

Never been out on the fire road in winter, she said. I’m used to hearing all the sounds of nature — crickets, tree frogs, cicadas, birds, animals rustling in the grass. But this time of year — nothing.

Save for the occassional fucking deer said Double-J. Annie nodded.

We’re about a mile in said Double-J, suddenly turning in the direction where they had come. The Johnson house is just a little down the road from the turnoff. You’re good with them, right?

Sure.

Let’s go, Double-J said. Snow’s let up, means it’s getting colder. He began walking down the fire road, Annie hurrying to catch up with him.

Chapter 4.3O

Annie could smell the hot, acrid odors of exhaust fumes and motor oil, rising above the cold scents of snow, mud, and evergreens. She heard fading knocks from the engine in front of her. She sniffed hard twice, was relieved at not detecting anything burning.

You OK asked Double-J, akwardly holding the driver door open as it pressed down on him. She saw steam rising behind him in the fading light.

Yeah she said, pushing herself over and up before stopping.

You’re buckled in Double-J said, with the hint of a withdrawn question.

Annie reached down, released the seat belt clasp. Good thing she said, considering what happened. She grabbed the steering wheel with her left hand, pulled herself up and over, Double-J grabbing her as soon as she was in reach.

Ah — careful Annie cried, her legs thudding into the steering wheel. Double-J released his graps of her, turned his attention back to keeping the door open. A moment later, she extended her left leg out of the car, swung over and to get her right leg out, then pushed out of the car. Double-J let the door slam shut as soon as they were both clear.

How’s it look asked Annie, following Double-J into the road. They looked back at his coupe, wedged deeply into a snowbank that rose several feet higher in the space between the stalled car and a pair of tall pines ten feet away.

We were going to hit something, and this seemed like the least worst option at the time, Double-J said. Annie nodded. Don’t see any visible damage, but we won’t know for sure until I get it into the shop.

You’re going to need a tow Annie said. The car was perpendicular to the road, rear tires not touching any surface, only the right front wheel touching the road.

Double-J nodded. Shit.

Chapter 4.3N

Why do you call him that asked Annie. You know he hates that.

Bernie’s got to learn to not let stuff like that bother him replied Double-J. He just —

Ah!

Annie saw the deer first, called out as it leapt onto the road. Double-J stomped on his brake pedal, pulled the steering wheel hard to the right, the front end of the car veering to the side, the deer leapt again, the hoof from one of its rear legs thunking into the car’s hood, impact not forceful enough to alter the trajectory of the car as it ran off the road, straddling the peaks of the foot-high snow bank left behind by recent plowing, loose snow flying in the air, the whole scene resembling the inside of a snow globe that had been thrown violently against a wall.

Double-J pulled hard left, the left front wheel catching a firm patch of snow and twisting the rear of the car forward, to the right, the car finally stopping abruptly, the right side wedged deep into a high snow bank.

Annie looked out her side window, saw only white flecked with dirt and pine needles. She looked over at Double-J,eyes wide and staring at his dashboard, every light illuminated now that the engine had stalled. It was the first time she had seen him look confused.

Annie quickly patted her legs and torso, her hands finding everything she hoped to find and nothing she feared might have appeared.

Are you all right? she asked.

Double-J shook the dazed look from his face, turned to Annie. Yes. Are you hurt?

I’m fine. She breathed heavily a few times, saw her breath rising in the cold. We need to get out of the car. Double-J nodded silently, left arm reaching for his door handle.

The driver’s side of the car was elevated above the passenger side, making it difficult for Double-J to keep the door open. He got out slowly, cautiously, seemingly waiting for some unexpected event. Positioning his feet carefully in the snow, which his car had scarred flat, he held the door open with his left hand, and reached down into the car with his right towards Annie.

Chapter 4.3M

Moments later, Double-J’s coupe drove out of the school parking lot, the rear of the car swerving in the snow and ice as if under separate control, like two men dressed in a pantomime horse costume, rear legs walking left while the front legs walked right.

A little over a mile later, Double-J steered his car onto an unmarked dirt road.

You’re taking the fire road? Annie said, her tone suggesting she was not asking a question but rather commenting on his most recent driving decision.

Road’s frozen Double-J replied. This will save us five minutes.

I’m in no hurry.

Double-J sighed. Well I am.

Annie turned to him, examined his face, saw the impatience and agitation with which she was all to familiar. She looked down at the speedometer. I’d like you to slow down.

Double-J shrugged, shook his head.

If someone else comes down the other way —

I’ll see his headlights Double-J said. Though I don’t think you have to worry about that, only a goddam fool would take the fire road.

Annie sighed, turned away from him, looked out the passenger window. Light from the headlights reflected off the barren gray trees along the road in front of them, the reflected light coming back into the car, allowing Annie to see herself in the window glass, the image of Double-J at the wheel behind her. She saw enough of his face to see the agitation had gone, had been replaced by a calm look she had seen earlier that afternoon.

You were great with Butch today Annie said. Double-J making no reply, she continued You were really patient with him.

He’s really trying Double-J said. That’s what I like about him, he’s sincere. He never has a hidden agenda. Not like Biscuit.