"Lawn Man Love" by Karen Brown

Karen Brown

Karen Brown

Karen Brown's first collection of short stories, Pins and Needles, was the recipient of AWP's Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction and published in 2007 by the University of Massachusetts Press. Her work has appeared in The O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and in journals that include The Georgia Review, Epoch, American Short Fiction, and Five Points. She studied creative writing at Cornell University, and the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she is currently a visiting instructor.

Lawn Man Love

Lacey went home with Jack Castle on her eighteenth birthday. It was August. She hadn't seen him for weeks, and then the trees were full of blue-black beetles, and the heat fanned like oil off the car bumpers, and Jack drove his Ford truck the color of mud into the Mobil station lot where Lacey sat waiting with her mother for service. They had been to lunch, and then shopping, a rare outing. An attendant with a surly look pumped gas. In the back of his truck Jack had two big dogs shorn almost bald, their long, pink tongues hanging out, breathless from the heat and too many bugs. Lacey watched him pull in and drive around to the back, and she left her mother with an excuse of using the ladies room. Mary Gail raised her eyebrows, but said nothing, her DTs so bad her cigarette shook ash all over the upholstery. Lacey met him coming out of the men's room wiping his hands on a gray paper towel. It was the same as the first time she'd seen him. A smarting feeling, like being slapped, and then a queasy happiness afterwards. She blocked his path. Jack's eyes narrowed in on her Lilly Pulitzer dress.

“Well, there you are,” he said. Wonder of wonders.

“You don't recognize me,” she said, and he pulled her in to him and kissed her right there in the back of the Mobil station, with the open bays and the men lounging around the parked cars waiting for service.

“It's my birthday,” she said. “You'll have to give me a present."

“What do you want?” Jack said, sly, but sweet.

And Lacey decided to leave with him in the brown truck, even though she knew it was wrong, because suddenly everything in her life seemed to be happening in the order that it should—the smell of the truck's sun-cracked seat, the dry air hitting her in the face, and her mother, poor Mary Gail, waiting for her with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner on, filling the long silver car with cigarette smoke, disappearing in the rearview mirror.

Jack lived in a ranch house in Granby, a Connecticut town of the same proportions and appearance as the one Lacey lived in. But the house was a rental, and the screens were torn and mended with black electrical tape, and inside there was little furniture, and a smell of damp and blocked drains and pine-scented cleanser. Lacey wondered, briefly, how he could stand living this way, but knew better than to ask. They had sex on a mattress in one of the bedrooms, and she imagined herself, guiltily, as a victim of abduction, with the black electrical tape binding her wrists, and her cries silenced by Jack's own insistent mouth. Afterwards she sat on the floor by the window and smoked one of his Lucky Strikes. While he slept, Jack Castle looked so much like her dead brother Jimmy that she kept her eyes averted. She blew smoke out into what seemed to be the boughs of a crabapple, those knotty, dwarfed things with their awful, hard fruit. She counted silently to five hundred and twenty-three, and stubbed the cigarette out on the sill where there were others, a small pile that had grown sodden from what her father called summer rain showers. She wondered how she would get home if she were to leave now.

And then Jack sighed, and flung his arm over the edge of the mattress. Lacey froze. She counted to fifteen. “What are you doing?” he asked her. His voice was groggy and not Jimmy's.

“I'm looking out into the lovely suburban evening,” she said.

Jack sat up and slid to the edge of the mattress and looked out the window. Lacey felt caught in a lie. There was nothing outside but the sad lawn and the tree and maybe some silvery sense of the moon on the tar road. Across the street was a line of similar ranch houses painted different colors. “A white house is fine, said Mr. Pine, but there are fifty white houses all in a line,” Lacey said. She glanced over and Jack wasn't looking out the window at all.

“What?” she asked, annoyed. “It's from a book I read when I was little.”

“Who's Mr. Pine?”

“He lives on Vine Street, and can't tell which house is his. So, he plants a little tree, and all the other neighbors like the idea so much that they plant a tree, too.”

Jack shook out a cigarette. He was still looking at her, and Lacey asked him to stop. In the growing dark she saw him smirk. The match lit up his face, the cup of his hands. “So Mr. Pine does what?”

“He plants a bush.”

“And the neighbors do the same?” Jack exhaled and watched the smoke float out through the screen.

“Of course,” she said.

“So he brings in the heavy explosives? A bull dozer?”

Lacey stared at him.

Jack stared back and said, “You get to look at me, but I can't look at you?”

“He paints his house purple.”

“What are we talking about?” he asked her. “Is this some sort of metaphor?”

Lacey laughed. Not many people made her laugh, and she appreciated it, but felt a little sorry, too. “Oh, don't make me laugh,” she said. “Or look at me, Mr. Pine.”

Jack's face softened. “My father smoked these in Vietnam. I have a photo of him sitting in a bar in Vung Tau on R&R with a pack on the table.

“Are you trying to be like your father?” Lacey said.

“Do you always randomly quote from children's books?”

Lacey thought she should now tell him that the only reason she was with him was because he resembled her dead brother. But she couldn't bring herself to do it. For some reason she cared what he thought of her. “A hole is to dig,” she said.

Jack leaned over and kissed her. She tasted the cigarette, and the slight sourness of his breath. She felt his unshaven chin, and the rising need to be held in place by the wrists.

“A kiss is to give,” she whispered. “Hands are to hold.”

She did not count while they had sex. She fell asleep on the opposite side of the bed, far from his warm limbs and torso. At some point during the night a car's headlights swung across the wall like a lighthouse lamp, and she awoke. A car door slammed and someone came up to the window and breathed against the screen. “Oh Jack,” the person sang. “Oh Jack.” It was a woman's voice, and Lacey wondered if she could see inside. The woman stumbled around amidst the low shrubs under the window. She tried to knock on the old screen, but seemed to lose her footing and fall forward and her whole hand came through. Lacey heard her exclaim. The hand was white and thin. The woman flexed her fingers, and balled her hand into a fist. “Yikes,” she said, and withdrew it. She tried the front door, tapping too lightly to awaken anyone, and then she left. The car moved away slowly, like a car driven in a procession—a hearse, or a parade convertible. Lacey stayed awake after that. She watched the window whiten. She felt oddly relieved that she was just one of many, that she could not be, to him, a person of interest.


In the morning Jack stared at the broken screen as he dressed. “Did we have an attempted escape here?” he asked. He stepped into his pants.

Lacey pretended to be surprised and a little afraid. “Maybe someone tried to break in.”

Jack shrugged. “I doubt it,” he said. But he looked at her with new interest. “Maybe they wanted you,” he said.

Lacey got up and followed him into the kitchen. She had the sheet draped around her like a Grecian. “What would they want with me?” she asked him.

She sat at a small card table, and Jack made coffee in an old plug-in percolator. The two dogs ran around in the backyard, huffing and barking, wanting to be fed, and Jack grabbed cans of dog food from a shelf. The kitchen cabinet doors had been removed and the items on them were exposed: mismatched cups and bowls, boxes of Minute Rice, and Instant Mashed Potatoes, and Wheaties, all on faded shelf-paper.

“Mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough,” Lacey said.

They had coffee in two turquoise-colored mugs. Jack eyed Lacey's ring. It had been her great-grandmother's, a large garnet in an old ornate Victorian setting.

“What about that?” he said. “Is it worth anything?”

Lacey smiled. “I don't think so,” she said. The ring was heavy, and a little big for her finger. Jack leaned back in his chair and two of the legs came up off the ground, and Lacey remembered Jimmy doing the same thing, rocking back, perusing everyone.

“You remind me of someone,” she said.

Jack thumped the chair back down. “Well, I get that a lot.” He didn't seem too pleased about it. His expression turned dark and brooding. Then he stood and took the roll of electrical tape from a kitchen drawer.

“What are you going to do with that?” she asked him. She said it lightly, playfully, so that he turned and stood over her, spinning the roll of tape on one finger.

“What do you think I'm going to do with it?” he said.

“I'm only noting that look on your face. Maybe you're going to restrain me, and steal my ring,” she said.

Jack seemed not to know what to think. Then he laughed. “I don't need tape to do that.” He looked at the roll in his hand and shook his head. He went into the bedroom and Lacey heard him patch the screen, and then he came back into the kitchen. “Let's get out of here,” he said.

He hooked a trailer loaded with a large lawn mower up to the truck and they drove the five miles back into the town where she lived. Lacey thought he was taking her home, and she grew quiet and stared out at the familiar roadside vibrant with the lilies her grandmother used to pull over with a spade and steal. Every so often she felt Jack's eyes on her.

“You're pouting,” he said, his voice full of laughter.

Lacey turned and gave him one of her looks of incomprehension, the kind she gave parents, or teachers who underestimated her. “The edged steel by careless chance, Did into his own ankle glance,” she said. “And there among the grass fell down, by his own scythe, the mower mown.”

Jack grinned. He had a way of driving, hunched over the wheel, as if he were trying to see the road as it passed under the hood. “What's that?”

“Marvell,” she said. She snaked her hand into his pants pocket, looking for a cigarette.

Jack patted his breast. “Up here,” he said. His eyes were completely serious, she noticed, whenever she touched him.

Instead of taking her home he brought her with him mowing lawns—first the McKay's house on Penwood Pond, where she sat in the truck in her wrinkled dress listening to the radio, watching him ride the mower with his shirt off, sliding down into the seat when Mrs. McKay and Vanessa pulled into the driveway in the Jaguar, popped the trunk and dragged Lord & Taylor bags up the long walkway to the front door. After that, they drove up into her own neighborhood, past Maple Hill and onto Sycamore, where he cut the Danielson's lawn, and Bryan Danielson came out and stood in the driveway in his khaki pants, with his hair wet and brushed back, and she could tell from his expression that he recognized her. He started across the newly cut lawn, and came up to the window of the brown truck and stood there, his green eyes cold, unsmiling, waiting for her to say something.

“Go away,” Lacey told him. She swatted at the air in front of him.

“What are you wearing?” he said. He shook his head. His voice was the only thing she always liked about him—raspy, sarcastic, almost a drawl. He turned from her and surveyed the lawn, watched Jack swing the mower around the side yard to the back. “This must be a new one,” he said, his face averted, the sun on his hair, lighting up all the waves in it, the reddish gold streaks.

Lacey eyed him. She wanted to light another cigarette, but did not trust her hands to reach for one. She hated his soft white shirt, his shaved cheeks, the way his hands were planted carefully, calmly, in the pockets of his pants.

“Go away,” she said, intending her voice to stay the same, disappointed in the slight quaver in it that he would hear, and pick up on, and goad her with. But then Jack came around the other side of the house, swept up to the curb where the truck was parked, the mower's engine loud, drowning out any talk. He left the mower idling and jumped off and walked up to the side of the truck. Bryan stepped back, and Jack leaned his wet torso over Lacey to grab a cigarette, his hand brushing along the top of her leg, his face turning to place his mouth on hers. He smelled of cut grass and oil. His mouth was salty, and soft. He moved away and she felt the wet imprints of him on her skin, and she saw that Bryan watched Jack walk back toward the mower, knew that he found the way he moved familiar, that when he turned once, the cigarette in his mouth, the two of them looked at each other. Jack smiled, his eyes squinting, threw his head of hair back a little in greeting. He released the mower's throttle and took off back over the lawn, and Bryan continued to stare at his retreating back, and though the drone of the mower faded, Lacey saw that he was dumbstruck by the resemblance. Lacey was relieved to see that he could not speak again because of it.

Bryan Danielson had been Jimmy's friend. When Jimmy died Lacey and Bryan were in Bryan's bedroom, where his baseball trophies glinted in the darkness, and the cricket noise came in through the open window, and his sheets smelled of fabric softener. His parents were gone on a family trip to the Maine coast, and he had plenty of time to urge her out of her shirt and shorts. As an older boy he knew that their bodies touching, that liquid feeling, was something she had not thought to ward against. Afterwards, she decided that being in love broke through all time and place and barriers of clothing, and she knew she was in love with Bryan Danielson when he made the same claim, fervently, in her ear, his voice breaking. That was before they knew about Jimmy dying, or perhaps just at the moment of his death. Once they knew it was as if nothing had never happened between them.

Lacey watched Bryan as Jack finished the back yard. He had his hands out of his pockets, brushing back his hair, looking away from her. He was in law school now, she had heard, home for a visit this summer. He was thinner than she remembered, and maybe angrier, she couldn't say for sure. Something about her always made him angry. And then Jack was back, done with the mowing, and Bryan looked at her, his eyes no longer inviolable, and Jack pushed the mower up the ramp into the back of the trailer, climbed in and started the truck up, and Bryan still stood there on the lawn, frowning now, and Lacey said nothing to help him, not a word of rescue. She was almost giddy with spiteful happiness. They pulled forward and drove to the end of the street, and she saw Jack glance into the rearview mirror to check on Bryan, who was still there, watching their progress.

“Boyfriend?” Jack asked, seriously, without sarcasm or hidden jealousy.

The truck engine whined up the hills, and Lacey nodded. “Old one,” she answered, almost ready to tell him about Jimmy—how four years ago he'd driven his powder blue Corvette into the tree in front of the library. How the little local parade that began at the high school continued down Tunxis Avenue anyway, the marching band, and the girl scouts in their white gloves, and the boy scouts with their pressed short pants, and the town council members in open cars, all passing the scarred tree, the remaining debris brushed hastily to the curb.

“If I remember correctly you live around here,” Jack said. He pulled up in front of Lacey's house. There was the imposing stand of hickories, the blustery shrubs, the mica shining in the stone wall. Her sister, Ivy, was probably at the neighbor's house, babysitting. Her father might have been out of town. Mary Gail's car was missing from the garage. Across the street the neighbors were lining up redwood picnic tables in preparation for the annual neighborhood picnic and lobster bake. Lacey invited him in. The house was never locked, and they went through the front door. Jack took off his grassy boots and stood on the beige carpet barefoot. All of the drapes were closed.

“I suppose there's no smoking,” he said. He seemed cowed somehow by the dimness of the rooms.

Lacey felt the fluttering of sadness she always did coming into her house.

“Smoking is allowed dans la maison du désespoir,” she said.

Jack squinted at her, and then lit a cigarette. Lacey handed him an ashtray made of tin, hammered into the shape of a leaf. “I made this,” she said. “In summer camp.”

He followed her down the hallway to her bedroom, where he leaned in the doorway. His Jimmy-presence changed everything. The sun through the curtains still left a scalloped shape by the bed. Everything was still arranged on the white bookshelves, on top of the bureau—a book she had never finished reading, a glass mug some boy had won for her playing skee ball in Rhode Island, peacock feathers, her grandmother's rosary in a mother-of-pearl box. In the closet, smelling of cedar, were clothes that somehow didn't seem hers anymore, boxes of shoes she did not want to ever wear, her ice skates. On the wall behind the door hung the life-sized poster of Elvis when he was young and smooth-faced and sadly beautiful. Lacey sat down on the bed. Jack came into the room and sat by her feet on the floor. He took her ankles in his hands. He kissed her bare knees.

“Get some clothes,” he said. “You won't look so pretty in mine.”

Lacey, grateful, found a bag and filled it with shorts, and T-shirts. “Don't you have anything warmer?” he asked.

“Why? Where would we be going?”

“The question isn't so much where as how long.”

Lacey nodded, solemnly. She left her room and went to the hall closet and sorted through the boxes for her winter clothes. Mixed in were Jimmy's—the little velvet shorts from when he was a baby, the corduroys with patched knees from when he was five. Ivy had taken the other clothes, the newer one—the jeans and shirts he wore up until he died. Lacey didn't want any of Jimmy's belongings. She had the duplicate, the actual thing, standing behind her now, urging her to get a move on.

They went out the front door, and Jack stood looking out over the front yard, his hands on his hips. “You need your lawn cut,” he said.

Lacey tugged on his arm. “No,” she said. “No sir.”

They left and drove the trailer back to Granby. It was late afternoon, and the sun shone plainly on the row of gray roofs, into the squares of back yard grass. Lacey didn't feel her life had taken a turn for the better. She dreaded sleeping on the mattress below the taped-up window, dreaded the return of the woman with the white hand. Jack went to the grocery store and came back with two bottles of wine. He cooked spaghetti, and the dogs, Lowell and Hero, came in and sat at their feet while they ate, waiting for crumbs.

“My father had a way with women,” Jack said.

Lacey had found candles in a drawer and had melted them onto a plate. They sat in this light, and the rest of the house dissolved around them. The windows were open, and the night came in like something alive and breathing. In the candlelight Jack looked less like Jimmy—a reprieve for Lacey after a long day of seeing him.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Lacey said. “A way with them?”

The wine made her disparaging and mean. Jack stared at her over the candles' flame.

“You shouldn't drink,” he said.

“You're right. I might end up like my mother.”

“We don't want you to do that.”

Jack stood and led her into the darkness beyond the candlelight. The night sighed through the window. “Let's go for a drive,” he said.

She told him to go without her, and he gave her a sideways look.

“Do I need to get out the tape?” he asked.

“Oh, I asked you not to make me laugh.”

Lacey couldn't tell where they had sex. It might have been a closet, or the bathroom, or the couch. It might have been outside on the little lawn under the crabapple. His face was unshaven and rough, and he sighed and swore at her and scraped her skin raw with his chin. She was occupied with his mouth, and the taking off of clothes, and the darkness they bumped into, here and there. Was that wet grass under her feet? She couldn't tell. After, her body was sore, as if she'd tumbled down a hill, or over into a ravine like a body used and abandoned. She put on her nightgown in the bedroom and wondered if she was bruised.

She awoke on the mattress. It was still dark, and there was the sound of an engine, its low rumble distinctive and heavy and she went to the window and watched Jack back a car out of the garage and stop in the driveway, where the engine's idle echoed off the house's asbestos shingles. It was two a.m. The car was white with blue stripes. She went out into the driveway into the beam of the headlights, and he opened the passenger door for her, and she climbed in.

“So, what is this?” she asked. She half-believed she was dreaming.

“It's a '65 Shelby,” Jack said. Then he backed the car out of the driveway.

“Hold on,” she said. “I'm in my Christian Dior.”

“We're going to the races,” Jack said, laughing.

“When I was little,” Lacey said, “I used to have nightmares about being on the school bus in my pajamas.”

Jack looked at her and looked away, smiling. “Well, now it's really happening.” He drove the narrow back roads, where the tires slid on the curves, and the chugging engine took over the flat fields and the car flew past the ghostly tents, the big barns lined up, their sides marked with fluorescent graffitti. Lacey felt the speed on the skin of her face, in her hair. Jack drove intently, both hands gripping the wheel, too careful to be good enough to win any race, though she knew, somehow, that Jimmy would have. She had driven with him once in the Corvette, and he had handled the car expertly, as if its speed was the means to find the thing he looked for in girls' bodies—tenderness, the climax to sex and all its softness mistaken for love.

Jack drove to Day Hill, where the tobacco tents billowed up under the moon, and he parked, and told her the story of the old car races, of his father's Camaro, and how he took him as a boy to watch him race, one of the girlfriends always there to hold his hand.

“It was loud and dusty,” he said. “It smelled of the fertilizer they sprayed on the tobacco plants. His girlfriends' hands were soft and as small as mine.”

Lacey turned in her bucket seat and watched him as he talked, waiting for Jimmy's scowl, for his eyes to darken, but it never happened. He pulled her close and encircled her with his arms and talked on about the past and his father, until his life and Jimmy's became so separate she could no longer compare them.

“Once,” Lacey said, “my friend and I fell asleep out here somewhere, in a car with two boys.”

She'd awoken in the front seat, her head pressed against the shoulder of the boy she was with. Morning mist clung to the hood of the car and the windshield, and the boy had to flip on the wipers so they could see out. The car faced a dead end, barbed wire and a field already full of light and tall grass and waving flowers—Queen Anne's Lace, Black-Eyed Susan, wild purple Lupine.

“The radio played “Ma Cherie Amour,” she said.

Pretty little one that I adore.” Jack chuckled. “Did you have your pajamas on?”

Sitting in the car at the dead end, she had shivered. The boy pulled her to him, and she had smelled the stale cologne on his neck, along his collar, felt the outlines of his ribs under the thin cotton shirt—Richard or William, she could not remember his name now. The other girl had sat up with a start in the back seat, her shirt unbuttoned, her hair over her face, and Lacey turned to her and they had begun laughing uncontrollably, to the point of tears, silencing the boys who busied themselves with defogging the windshield, lighting cigarettes, and zipping up their pants.

Now she slid over and straddled Jack's lap, her back pressed against the steering wheel. He kissed her, her face held between his hands. She did not want him to stop, and when he did she said, “Don't,” and he looked at her, his eyes blue, and questioning, like Jimmy's, and she felt a wave of loss and tried to turn away, but he held her there, the hardened palms of his hands cradling her face, and he stared at her, suspicious. “What?” he asked. Lacey felt that he wanted an answer, that he'd been waiting for it all this time, and his patience had finally run out.

Lacey climbed off his lap. She closed her eyes and found she could not count.

“A dream is to look at the night, and see things,” she said.

Headlights appeared then, and she heard the gravel crunch, and a car angled off and pulled alongside them. It idled with its rumbling sound, and through the rear window she saw other cars approaching, each turning off, lining up between the flat, tented fields, aiming their headlights into the lush tobacco plants—Chevelles gunning 327''s, 418 Pontiacs with dual quads, a Barracuda, the back tires thick and hopping in the gravel. Then car doors opened, and people got out.

Lacey watched in astonishment. She began to laugh. Jack smiled at her. He reached into the back seat and grabbed a jacket.

“Put this on,” he said.

It was black leather, and heavy. “You've got to be kidding me,” she said.

Someone had beer in their trunk, and they passed them out and sat on the car fenders, drinking. There were people Lacey knew from town—boys she'd been with, boys she had only heard about, who'd graduated high school years before and remained mysteries, boys who'd fought and been arrested, who married young and cheated, alcoholics, carpenters and vegetable stand owners, and mechanics, soldiers with dishonorable discharges, boys in crew cuts with lovely eyes, boys with scars, ones who were regularly kicked out of local bars. She was the only girl present. She leaned on the car in Jack's leather jacket, and drank and listened to the boys joking back and forth, none of them looking at her, as if she wasn't really there.

Everyone heard the Harley-Davidsons' approach, heard them racing around the curves of the back roads, saw their headlights bend and arc, but no one moved from where they leaned or sat. There were four of them, all of Bryan Danielson's friends on their Christmas and birthday Harleys. Lacey remembered when Bryan got his, the year after Jimmy died. The bikes were brand new, spotless, hardly used. They pulled up into the group of cars and parked the bikes, cutting off the engines, the silence filled by their boot steps on the gravel shoulder. Everyone still lounged on the car fenders, watching Bryan and his friends' approach, and she continued to drink her beer, ignoring him like everyone else.

“Someone going to race here?” Bryan asked. His voice was soft, with its raspy sound. He took a beer out of the pocket of his jacket pocket and wrung off the top. She felt his eyes on her and glanced at him in time to see the slight sway of his torso, the way he shifted his feet to keep his balance. One of his friends stepped up beside him and bolstered him up with his shoulder.

“You've got some nice bikes. What about you guys racing?” someone else said.

“I want to see the Shelby,” Bryan said.

Lacey saw Jack smile to himself and look up, first at Bryan, then over at her, his Jimmy-eyes unreadable in the dark.

“I'm ready,” he said, quietly. “Just needed an audience.”

Someone else volunteered to race him—a boy with a blue GTO.

Lacey stepped away from Jack's car. “Wait a minute,” she said. But it seemed she was still invisible. Jack slid into the driver's seat and started up the Shelby, backing it out slowly into the street. Everyone cleared away. The two cars idled side by side, their headlights lighting up the pebbled black tar, the yellow line. And Jack looked over at her and winked and smiled with Jimmy's mouth, his hair smoothed back, his bare arm resting on the driver's door, Jimmy's hand, the fingers long and curved and beautiful, dangling there against the shimmery paint.

A finish line was decided on, and people climbed into their cars to drive down the road and wait. Lacey and Bryan were left on the deserted shoulder—Bryan chosen, somehow, as the one to start the race.

“Winner gets the prize,” Jack called out over the engine noise.

“I assume that's you,” Bryan said. He stood beside her, the only one there who knew why she was with him. “His ghost is wearing me out.”

Bryan's eyes were still on Jack behind the wheel of the Shelby, lingering, almost needy. The car engines revved up, escalating, thunderous. He walked out into the road between the headlights, and raised his arm. Lacey counted to three and Brian let his arm drop. The cars took off, their back wheels spinning, sparks shooting out of the dual exhaust, and Bryan turned and watched them go, the beer still in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Lacey's leather jacket, her nightgown, collected the road dust. She watched the taillights and imagined Jack's car spinning out of control into the tobacco fields, its fender breaking through the tent posts, one after the other, like matchsticks, coming to rest in the middle of the green plants. She felt an awful fear for him, and then she stopped thinking, and turned away.

Bryan walked over to her, laughing, shaking his head, his eyes full of sadness.

“Can you believe we're doing this?” he said.

They could not look at each other without the truth marking their expressions—horror, grief, the inexplicable loss. His face was the same one that stared up at her from the pillow of his boyhood bed when Jimmy was still alive and the world had different plans for them. He stepped closer and took her hand. His mouth on hers tasted of bourbon. And she saw then that as long as she kept trying the sadness became something else—a gift, a blessing.