Sam calls Zoe and tells her the meeting went well. She sounds excited—genuinely—then she says good for him.
“Thanks,” he says. “I’ll be home soon.”
He wonders what she sees. She’s looking out their window, maybe, or at the shadow of the fan, cast long over their ceiling. It’s morning.
“Last night was brutal,” she says. “I kept waking up.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry,” he says. “You’ll get used to it. Everything will be alright.”
She says: “Okay.”
They say: “Love you, Love you too; Goodbye, Bye.” He lets her hang up first.
Before entering the station and leaving the city, he looks around at the cabs and the people and the dogs and he follows, with his eyes, the steam billowing up from the tops of buildings. He grew up here. His neighbors in New Buffalo don’t know that. He and Zoe haven’t been there long.
He sits by the window on the Amtrak home. He looks out at little lakes and woods before passing Gary, Indiana—junkyards and modern ruins, boarded up windows of theaters behind grand stone columns built 100 years ago, and after a couple hours he’s in Michigan, standing on the station platform, looking over toward the parking lot. Kids clamber to the top of the snowbank there, throwing one another down the side. When he left last night, there wasn’t any snow at all. He calls an Uber. He waits ten minutes. Within a few seconds of his wait, one of the children seems to emerge as the game’s champion. The champion grapples with one girl, hip tosses her, she tumbles down. The younger kids, he simply flings one-handed to the bottom. After about six minutes of this they consolidate their power, they all charge at once, and they depose him. The champion loves every minute of his overthrow, giggles and shrieks as he finds himself overrun, completely lost to laughter by the time they send him sliding down the back of the hill, the side Sam can’t see.
The driver, once the car arrives, is also taken by the snow.
“You smell like that fresh smell,” says the driver. “That cold smell, like when somebody comes in from outside.”
“Ha,” says Sam. The car seemed old but was clean, save a collection of old, annotated newspapers in the pouch behind the front seat.
“All this weather came in today,” he says. “How about that? Cold out there. Hurts to breathe when you shovel in the morning.”
“You bet,” Sam says. He tries to think of something he can buy for Zoe. It’s her birthday next week. Turning out of the station, Sam sees a coyote a few hundred feet down the train tracks. It’s gnawing on what looks like a seagull. The wing it isn’t chewing on is flapping, still—haplessly, pointlessly, a resistance symbolic more than anything else but of course the seagull does not know this. He is glad Zoe isn’t with him to see. Maybe he’ll buy her a dog, a big dog.
He googles: Are coyotes just scavengers or will they eat living things
The driver asks, “Remember last year around this time that guy killed those two kids with a tire iron?”
Sam looks up.
“Yeah. The guy wasn’t from here.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“Neither were the kids. He came down from Battle Creek and they were up from Chicago, on vacation.”
“It might have been the other way around.”
“You’ll be safe with me,” says the driver. “Between the two of us, look.” He produces a handgun from under the seat, displays it, points it up toward the sunroof. “Any maniac tries to come get you when you’re with me, I’ll get him with this. I’ve got hollow tips in here.”
“Oh,” says Sam. “Wow.”
“Google this video of a guy shooting a hollow tip bullet at the tree in his yard.”
“Do you know hollow tip bullets?”
“Google it on your phone, it’s called like hollow tip tree explosion or hollow tip obliterates tree.”
Sam takes out his phone, opens his text thread with Zoe.
“I can’t find it,” he says.
“Maybe it’s just hollow tip tree, like they named the tree that. I don’t know.”
“I’ll have to look later.”
“A hollow tip bullet can blow a huge hole through your chest. Through anyone’s chest. I didn’t mean to say your chest. It can blow a hole through anybody’s chest. My chest.”
He taps the back of the passenger headrest with the muzzle of the gun, then turns down a road Sam has never seen before. Barely a road at all. Near the dunes, sandy, but there aren’t any houses peppering the beachfront. Out the window, Sam can see the lake through the tree line. The sunset shimmers orange across the lake, over Chicago.
“Where we going?” asks Sam.
“More scenic,” says the driver. “Don’t be afraid. Did I freak you out talking about the kids?”
This man is probably going to just take Sam home and drop him off, and Zoe will look through the window at Sam getting out of the car and see nothing bad happening, see nothing happening at all. If Sam were to text her beforehand that he thinks the man is dangerous, she will worry. And she’ll continue to worry, even after everything is over with. He knows where we live now, she’ll say.
And so they continue along the scenic route, and Sam continues to wait for an overture to signify something awful is about to happen, though he hopes no such overture will come.
She will worry anyway. Even if he doesn’t text her. The simple presence of a car will make her worry; the car will turn into the driveway and in the few seconds between seeing it and seeing Sam, she won’t know whose car it is, and she’ll worry. And she’ll be a little beaten up by that worry, even when he greets her, even when they hug and open wine and sit down together. They didn’t think the worry would stick out here. And it won’t, right? They’re still new—next week it will be her birthday and she’ll be happy. And she’ll have a dog. And she’ll be happy in the summertime, she’ll get the garden going she’s been talking about, and she’ll have her dog and she’ll make friends and the friends will walk over from down the road for cookouts and fires and they’ll wear t-shirts and each of their t-shirts will serve as a little piece of where they came from, a relic from that former life brought to this idyllic one. NYU Volleyball; Annoyance Theater Improv; Chicago Park District; Lansdowne RFC NY; but the shirts could all say not anymore, not anymore, not anymore, we don’t need those things and places any longer, it’s nice here, we only did those things then to wear these shirts now, and we’ll sip beer while we don’t pay attention to the children, who are, by the way, having fun but are totally safe, getting the bottoms of their feet wet with clean mud and trekking down to follow the creek to the beach. We gotta check them for ticks later though. He hopes for all that. He’s still hoping. So is Zoe. They’re hoping and hoping, and it worries her. And it worries him. Because it was supposed to be nicer out here. It’s true. It was as if right when they moved in, the crows set up camp in the woods by their house. They scared all the other birds away. He’s fine with the crows. He’s fine with the cold and coyotes tearing birds’ wings off and he’s fine with the drive and the hollow tip bullets and the tree on YouTube, except these things make her worry. He wants to eat the things that make her worry, so they sizzle down to nothing in his belly. He loves her. He wakes up each morning because he loves her. He loves her and loves her. She’s exactly his height, she parts her hair in the middle, it’s black; he imagines she’ll put it up when she works on the garden, when the summer comes. He hopes she takes to gardening. He’d like to sit on a chair and drink something, anything, and watch her plant one bulb, just one.