Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Chapter Ten

Browsing through a neighborhood weekly in Fall River, Massachusetts, Rae had found a remarkable rental for us. Although we'd only intended to stay in the area for a few weeks to watch the autumn colors, the four-room furnished flat near La Fayette Park was so snug and comfortable that we decided to brave ourselves on into the winter months.

The rooms were on the second floor of an old building that creaked in the wind, sounding like an old person climbing a flight of stairs. The rooms smelled of apple cider, the closets and bureau drawers whispered secrets of hidden lilac sachets, and the enormous bathroom had tiled floors and a large enameled bathtub mounted on articulated claws.

Rae had more experience with snow than me. Being close to snow country and having a tidy nest egg at the time, we were feeling expansive and romantic as well. My expansiveness was enhanced by a few modest successes with stories--another nice note from Robley Wilson and an acceptance from Clint McCown at the Beloit Fiction Review. Rae was expansive about the prospects of visiting some of the Revolutionary War sites she'd read about as a youngster.

She'd been out shopping for dinner things and I, arriving at a natural break in my work, thought to get some necessary maintenance out of the way. When Rae returned with the groceries, cheeks reddened from the wind as though they'd been slapped, her eyes dancing with the pleasure of being out in the first stages of snow, I had the entire kitchen table covered with my paraphernalia.

"What is that?" she asked.

"The guns." I had a .38 and an ugly-looking .375 magnum in component pieces. Rae's 9mm had already been cleaned, oiled, and wrapped in chamois, ready for storage. The machine-like pungency of gun oil permeated the kitchen. "I thought I'd clean them and get them out of the way before we got on to cooking."

"I can see that. What I'm asking about are those--" She hitched her head toward three boxes the approximate size of boxes of large wooden matches.

"Just what it says on the label. Ammunition."

"Bullets, you mean?"

"Rae,what's this about?" I reached for a box and shook it. "Shells. All right, bullets."

"Three boxes of bullets."

"Exactly." I saw a collision coming, but I had no sense of how or where to apply the brakes.

"How long have you had those three boxes of bullets? How long have you been carrying them around?"

I thought I was beginning to see an opening. "No need for concern. I bought them in Virginia. Didn't have to show any ID, and the name I signed was different from anything we've used."

Rae shook her head. "And you think that makes them all right?"

"They can't be traced."

"Screw their being traceable." She swept the boxes off the table with a vicious arc of her hand.

"Will you tell me what this is about?"

"What this is about is, you want bullets in your life, Howard Camden, you've got no room for me. I don't want bullets in my life. Bullets have a way of getting into guns, which have a way of being discharged. They have a way of tearing holes in people and things. There are a lot of people in my life I'm not happy with or disappointed in, but I don't want holes in them."

I felt holes being augured through me from the way she stared, hands on hips, her chest rising and falling in controlled phases. Even as she bent on her haunches to retrieve the boxes of bullets, her eyes remained fixed on me. Stuffing the boxes in her coat pocket, she cinched her belt tightly about her waist. "I know you see irony in things, Howard, and that's one of the things that draws me to you. See alll the irony you want in this, but don't you go laughing at me, not now, not about this." She started toward the door. "You can laugh all you want later, but not about this. You hear me, Howard?"

"Where are you going?" I asked her.

"I don't know," she said. "Somewhere practical to get rid of these."

I stood. "You'd better take me with you."

When she nodded, I could see the tension quit her, but the repugnance for the things in her pocket remained. "Get your coat then," she said, "and be sure you take a scarf."

We stayed on in Fall River throughout the worst of the snow season, making frequent trips into Vermont and
New Hampshire taking turns , learning how to drive in the snow and how to put on snow chains. In a cheap-but-outrageously-expensive motel near Stowe, I asked Rae if she would consent to marry me and she shoved me into a snow bank. I got a good deal of my own work done during that time, and Rae developed a passionate interest in Thomas Jefferson and Dolly Madison. We did not speak about the bullet incident for some considerable time and when we did, I was not in any way disposed to laugh.

Thinking about those months in New England, reliving in my mind the apartment in Fall River, and recounting the incident with the bullets is some bittersweet comfort to me. I describe those times now to ease myself through a difficult transition. Here I am at the same kind of emotional odds with myself as I was when a part of my life had ended and I stumbled into another.

The difference is that this time I am not alone by choice.


x said...

You won an award! Go see Postcards From Bloggerville. It has a catch.

Lori Witzel said...

Warning: I am feeling Massively Sorry for Myself on account of further adventures this morning with the End-o-dontist and a woozily snarly bout with pain meds.

That said, saw this, thought of your Bear, and was able to smile (owowow):

I am thinking about your comment, and have been testing Cafe Press, at least before the present Bicuspid War.

One last woozy bit:
If people used to use cuspidors for spittin', would a bicuspidor be appropriate for two-fisted spitters? Or is a bicuspidor what the dentist tells one to spit in?

Must. Lie. Down.

San said...

Hey there, Shelly. I wandered over from Lori's place and find myself in the tenth chapter of a Shakespearian stage direction.

Not a bad place to be in on a January afternoon.