In another room, she finds a painting that just looks like a bunch of trees, like a forest or something—but then she notices a little bitty cabin in the distance, just barely visible between the trunks of the trees. The light in the painting is something she can’t describe. It looks like nighttime where they are standing, but it looks like daytime in the distance where the cabin is. She stares at the cabin for a long time, her mind filled up with the shape of it, the peacefulness of it. It looks like a place she would like to go if she knew how to get there.
She pulls her eyes away from it. She knows if she looks at the painting too long it will make her sad about the way things are.
In the gift shop she finds something for Maury—a ballpoint pen with a horse and carriage inside that move back and forth when you tilt it.
Look at this magic pen I got for you, she says and tilts it in front of his eyes so he can see. His eyes focus deep, like he would like to put himself on the carriage inside that pen.
Go on, she says, handing it to him. You can keep it. It’s a present. Who knows, maybe today is your birthday.
AT NIGHT they find places to sleep. Structures they can barricade, rooftops onto which they can climb. They look at the stars, and she makes up stories about what’s happening on the different earths going in circles around those different suns. Maury falls asleep easily, as though it were his natural state and wakefulness a chore to maintain. She herself has trouble sleeping. These are the times when she wishes she knew how to play a harmonica or a guitar or a jaw harp. She remembers the lighthouse, her magazines, pulling in the nets in the morning, circling the island like it was the perimeter of everything. And then her mind crowds with other things—a noisy parade of memories that frustrate her because of the way they play themselves out. These memories—it feels like she’s back there in the moment, like she has the moment to do over and make different choices than she made. But she can’t, because they’re just memories and they’re set down permanent as if they were chiseled in marble, and so she has to just watch herself do the same things over and over, and it’s a condemnation if it’s anything.
She’s taken to sleeping with her head on Maury’s chest. The sound of his heartbeat steady where other things are calamitous.
Daylight they drive.
I sure wish you could read, Maury. I mean, have a look at that lake.
The road opens up and they are driving along the shore of a shimmering body of water. Through the trees, she can see the sun scintillating on the rippled surface. It widens as they drive and the opposite shore retreats until they can barely see the houses and docks on the other side.
Look at the pair of us, she says. It sure would help if one of us could read.
She looks at him, his eyes far gone in the horizon.
Hell, she says. Who knows? Maybe you can read, you just can’t speak it out loud. Either way it don’t do us much good.
She would like to see people swimming out there in that lake. Getting their enjoyment out of it.
I mean, that’s a beautiful thing right there, she says. I bet it’s got a beautiful name to it too. Like Crystal Palace Lake or Lake Sparkle Heaven or something like that. And I bet that sign right there would tell us if either of us could decipher it.
Nope, she says. You and me, we’re not privy to the secrets of language. Good thing I got taught a few songs when I was little—and lucky for you I’m blessed with the voice of an angel. Watch out, dummy, I’m gettin ready to let go.
Take me out of the ball game!
Take me out of the crowd!
Buy me some peanuts and snapplecracks!
I don’t care if I ever go back!
So it’s hoot, hoot, hoot for the home range!
If you don’t care, it’s a shame!
Cause it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
Of the old ball game!
When the tank is half full, they stop at each gas station until they find one where the pumps are still working. She likes the smell of the fuel burning her nostrils.
On a narrow two-lane road, they encounter a station wagon going in the opposite direction. A hand from the driver’s window waves them down and the two cars pull up next to each other in the road, their noses inverted. Temple keeps a hand on her pistol and rolls down her window. It’s an older man and a younger man in the front seat, and in the backseat two women and a girl. The girl looks at her over the tops of the seats, her thumb in her mouth and a sooty-faced doll choked under her arm.
The family is coming from Lafayette, headed through Baton Rouge to Slidell—heard there was a redoubt there, and it was getting tough where they were coming from.
The girl’s eyes, sleepy and hypnotic, meet Temple’s and for a moment they are locked.
Listen, the driver says, leaning closer to Temple through the window and lowering his voice. You have any shotgun ammo? We’ve only got a handful of shells left.
What kind? Temple asks.
All we got’s twenty.
Hey, your girl like bingberries?
She’s never had any.
Here, says Temple, handing the remaining quarter tub of berries through the window. Fresh picked a couple days ago.
We sure do appreciate it, the man says, taking the tub. She’s never gotten very much to cherish.
It’s nothin. I had my fill and this dummy of mine don’t even like em. But make sure she don’t eat em all at once, they’ll give her the runs.
Where you headed?
He tells her she should take Levee Road north to the 190 instead of staying on this road.
It’s a few miles out of your way, he says, but it’s safer. We just came across the Atchafalaya. There’s something on the other side. Some kind of town. You don’t want to go through there unless you’ve got no other choice. We saw some things.
What things? Slugs?
I don’t know what they were, the man says. Big is all I know. I wasn’t inclined to slow down and get a closer look.
She thanks him and looks again at the girl in the backseat, the tangle of blond hair on her doll.
All right then, I guess we’ll be going, the man says. It’s a beautiful day for a drive. Beautiful day.
The cars pull away from each other, and she can see the station wagon receding in the rearview mirror, stretching taut the reflection of her own journey, like going back in time as though hours were roads with two directions.
Marshland, long stretches of mudflat and barren reeds set asway by the hot breezes, a body here and there, festering in the muck and lit upon by carrion birds. A meatskin, finding himself stuck, unable to move, up to his neck in the mud, arms floating out crosswise as though he were treading water, motionless, nothing even to jaw at in this place of swamp and brittle grass. They come to a small rutted road leading off to the right. She supposes that’s the Levee Road the man told her about, but it’s in bad repair, a small shack toppled over onto it—she can see it in the distance.