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ISSUE:  Winter 1997

She’s not used to having him around in the daytime. Now and then, turning a corner, or glancing up as she enters a room, she’s so startled to find she’s not alone that her hand flies up to her heart and she lets out a gasp, imagining for the moment he’s an intruder. About the third time this happens, he says, “For God’s sake, Angela, it’s me. Who did you think?” Then he stomps out of the house.

She’s sorry she hurt his feelings; a husband has a right not to be treated like a stranger in his own home. Still, it’s a relief not to have him underfoot, if only for a little while. She hopes he’ll take the car, drive to the mall, go on one of his indoor walks. He knows some people there, other walkers.

Is it her responsibility to keep him entertained? Now that he’s retired he seems to think so. Brochures displaying everything from the sands of Oahu to the skyscrapers of Hong Kong litter his night stand, like silent reproaches. Angela will not fly. “The only way I get on an airplane,” she tells him, “is if it’s a medical emergency and one of the kids needs me. Even then it would take a couple glasses of wine.”

Apparently her comment about the wine starts him thinking. He proposes several elaborate travel schemes, all hinging on his ability to render her unconscious. Sometimes he leans toward pills to get the job done, but recently he checked out a book from the library called Your Hypnotic Powers. Honestly, being married to him, she thinks, is like living with a child. “You could go to sleep in the airport,” he says, “and wake up under the palm trees.” His eyes are alight with the prospect of working such an enchantment.

“Why don’t you just hit me over the head with a hammer, Forrest? That should do the trick.” He, of all people, should know what a worrier she is. She could never relax on a vacation such as the one he’s proposing. “There are people who depend on me,” she says. Surely she doesn’t have to recite for him the long list of friends, relatives, neighbors, and members of the parish to whom she contributes time and attention. Last year the bishop recognized her as the outstanding lay person. “Dogooder’s award,” Forrest called it. According to him, she does too much, and from a health standpoint maybe he’s right. Twice she’s been operated on for cancer, and though the last time was four years ago, the doctors have yet to pronounce her completely cured.

“Call Sissy,” she says, “ask her to go to Mambo Bambo or wherever with you.” Their daughter, she suspects, is the one who’s been encouraging him in these plans anyway. Sissy likes to tell anyone who’ll listen that her father has earned “the right to enjoy himself; she seems convinced her mother wants to prevent this from happening.

“Maybe I will call her,” he says, as if this is a new idea for him. Angela’s seen the long-distance bill and knows the two of them have been talking behind her back.

When the lady whose job it is to take communion to the sick and shut-ins of the parish decides to visit her niece in Florida for the winter, the priest asks Angela to take her place.

“It’s only temporary,” she assures Forrest, who rolls his eyes. “It’s really a sort of honor to be asked. And when I’m finished, we could drive down to the lake for a few days. Spring is so pretty there.”

“We’ll see,” he says. He’s sitting by the picture window in her kitchen where he spends more and more of his time lately. Angela thinks it’s sad for a man his age to be at such loose ends, as if he hadn’t any more idea than a 20-year-old where true contentment lies. She’s tried involving him in the church, but he’s never shown much interest in the life of the spirit. To her chagrin, he remains unbaptized after all these years and rarely accompanies her to mass. When they married, she regarded his unbelief as a challenge, a cross to bear; she had taken up the burden eagerly, confident of his eventual conversion. Now she wonders if it’s heresy to accept that certain people—earthbound people—simply lack the religious impulse. To her son and daughter, whom she raised strictly in the faith, she used to say about their father, “There are many ways of being good and serving God. Your father is a good man in his way.” And, truly, she believes this.

“You like the lake,” she reminds him. “Remember what fun you had fishing with Harold Gray?”


Harold Gray is an unfortunate reference. Two years ago he ran a plastic hose from his car’s exhaust to the window and died. The police told Forrest that people who attempt suicide in this way usually botch the job. But Harold always knew how to do things. Just like Forrest. She studies him as he sits in the window, watching the birds at the big feeder he built in the back yard last year. There’s not much to see out there; all the colorful birds are gone. After a summer and fall of being bullied by blue jays, the drab sparrows and starlings finally have the yard to themselves, though it’s sad to think what a cold price they pay for the privilege.

What’s going on in her husband’s head? she wonders. What, for example, is behind this sudden urge to travel? She could shoot Sissy, first getting him all excited about a trip, then begging off when he asked her to go with him. Not that Forrest would ever blame the girl, who claims she’s in the middle of studying for her real estate license. According to their daughter, there’s a property boom in New Mexico, where she lives, and she wants in on it.

“She’s got a new boyfriend,” Angela says. “I’ll bet you.”

Forrest regards her blandly, like a man who doesn’t need to bet. She realizes he’s got some further piece of news from Sissy—a hot flash from the Land of Enchantment—and is trying to decide whether or not to let his wife in on it. “She did mention someone,” he allows.

“Tell me he doesn’t make pottery and live in a mud hut.”

“As a matter of fact, he’s got his own business. Land sales, I think she said.”

“That explains the real estate license, doesn’t it? When will that girl learn? A man doesn’t want a woman who tries to be involved in every part of his life.”

“Some men might.”

“Why, Forrest, you know perfectly well you would have hated it if I’d tried poking around in your business affairs.”

He shrugs, meaning he knows she’s right but won’t give her the pleasure of owning up to it.

“It’s the truth and you know it,” she says. “You took care of business, and I took care of the house. That’s the way we did things.”

She tells him about the sick people she’s been visiting, the ones she takes communion to. “The way some of them tip their heads back and open their mouths to be fed,” Angela says, “makes me think of baby birds.”

“You don’t say.” She’s not surprised he mistakes her remark as an expression of sentimental piety. “Meals on wheels for Catholics,” that’s how he refers to her new job. Still, she tries to keep in mind what a nun once told her: “It’s not for you or me to know what word or gesture might drop into the heart of the unbeliever and take hold there.” She’s always done her best to set a good example for her husband, though that wasn’t her intention just now. Rather she’d been picturing her newest flock, the wheelchair-bound and bedridden communicants whose faces have begun to crowd her thoughts at night before she falls asleep. They close in on her—their bruised-looking eyes shut tight, mouths gaping, necks straining, in attitudes of almost rapt hunger, unlike anything she’s experienced as a Eucharistic minister in church, where the faithful wear devotion as if it were a mask. Angela supposes she should feel uplifted by the undisguised yearning she’s witnessed in hospitals and sickrooms; it should be one of the rewards of the job. Instead she finds it vaguely unsettling.

“I have to read their charts,” she tells him, “because some of them try to receive communion when they aren’t able to swallow. They end up choking.”

This seems to interest him as a practical matter. “You should try breaking off a little piece of the bread and dipping it in water. Then it would slide down their throats.”

She could have used his advice the other day. A man with tubes running in and out of his body had coughed up the consecrated host. There it lay in a soggy wad on his chest, soaking through his hospital gown. She didn’t know what to do, so she grabbed some Kleenex from a dispenser beside his bed, scooped up the mess, and deposited it in her purse, fighting back the urge to gag. “It’s all right,” she assured the mortified patient, “these things happen.” When she got back to the parish rectory, she handed over the Kleenex with the host to the priest, who dropped it unceremoniously into the trash. “Don’t worry,” he said to a surprised Angela, “our Lord is used to traveling anywhere.”

She wishes He hadn’t traveled in her purse, however. It’ll have to be thrown away, along with most of its contents, because there’s no telling what disease that patient might have been carrying. “I wish I were a better person,” she tells Forrest, “but I can’t help it—being around all these sick people makes me nervous about my own health. For one thing, I keep imagining the cancer’s coming back.”

“You should quit,” he says.

Of course. Every problem, he seems to believe, has a pat solution. Afraid to fly? Take a sedative. Afraid of death? Don’t think about it. The only problem he can’t solve is the problem of his wife. That one appears to have him completely baffled. “You don’t listen,” he sometimes tells her. “You don’t listen worth a damn.” She assumes what he means is, you don’t listen to me. Anyway, she has no intention of quitting her new job.

One morning when she gets up he’s waiting for her at the kitchen table with a map of the city spread out in front of him. Based on what he’s been able to put together of her recent visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and private residences, he claims she could plan her itinerary more efficiently, thus saving time and gasoline. “Look here,” he says, “you’ve been going like this—in a zigzag. Why not take 435 toward Lee Summit, then swing north on the traffic way?” With a yellow marker, he traces a wide arc on the map.

“O. K.,” she says. The simplicity of the plan appeals to her. “Fold it up and leave it next to my purse.”

“Just look at it,” he says. “Doesn’t this make better sense than what you’ve been doing?”

“I believe you,” she says, going to get the milk for their cereal.

“But look at what you were doing!” Apparently, the more he studies the map the more her stupidity amazes him.

“I’m in a hurry, Forrest. Show me later.”

He’s shaking his head over the map. “Zigzag, zigzag,” he mutters.

“I get around just fine, I’ll have you know.”

“Like a chicken with its head cut off.”

“Will you just be quiet?”

“Like a damned ninny!”

“For heaven’s sake, Forrest! What difference does it make which way I go as long as I get there?”

“Fine, you do it your way.”

When she’s ready to leave, he’s nowhere in sight and neither is his map. All right, she thinks, he’s got his feelings hurt again, though the unfairness of his doing so makes her mad. Didn’t all the insulting things that were said come straight from him? She must remember to tell her son about this incident next time they talk on the phone, sometime when Forrest is not around. Her son, Alton, unlike his sister, still recalls how aggravating their father, and his moods, can be. “Your father’s almost 71,” she’ll tell him, “and all of a sudden he’s as touchy as a new bride.”

The end of the day finds her returning from a far-flung suburb of the parish with darkness coming on and a light rain falling. The rain may be changing to ice on her windshield, but probably that’s her imagination. She thinks of pulling into a gas station and calling Forrest to tell him dinner’s going to be late. She won’t though. She can hear him now: “You’re where? What are you doing way out there?” She already knows she made a mistake; it would have been more practical to head this direction first, then work her way back home. Why can she never think of such things beforehand? “Because you’re too busy all the time.” Forrest’s voice comes to her unbidden, as clearly as if he were sitting beside her. “Busy, busy, busy.” The word buzzes around in her head, mocking all her good works.

It’s been an upsetting day. First there was her visit to the cancer floor where it always frightens her to go. All she wants to do in that place is escape. Today she gave communion to a man not much older than her son. He had a smudge on his cheek the color of a raspberry; it looked harmless, like someone’s careless thumbprint. Bending over him, she felt the urge to wet a handkerchief and rub it off. But she knew better. One of the nurses had told her: melanoma.

Even more disturbing was the home call she paid to the Wetzels in the afternoon. Angela has not seen Greta Wetzel at mass for some time but remembers her as a big, bustling woman—a good worker when she served on the church cleaning committee, though determined to do things her own way and inclined to go off in a sulk if anyone crossed her. Now, dying of emphysema, she must feel life itself has crossed her; she’s fallen into a permanent sulk, punctuated by fits of anger. This much Angela gathers from the husband, who arranged for the visit.

“Does she want to receive the Eucharist?” Angela asks.

“Oh, yes,” he assures her.

Nevertheless, when Angela pronounces the words—”Body of Christ”—and offers the host to Mrs. Wetzel, she flatly refuses it. “No,” the sick woman says, shaking her head slowly back and forth, “no.” Angela, host in hand, remains frozen in a posture of bestowal. She’s never had anyone reject communion before.

“Greta, please, don’t do this,” her husband says.

“No, take it away, I don’t want it.” The woman’s eyes burn, her chest heaves with the effort of breathing. Though she’s weak and horribly shrunken from her former self, a powerful negative energy clings to her and lends authority to her words. Lying there, she makes a sort of spectacle, at once fascinating and appalling, like one of those dying planets or doomed stars Angela has read about, which instead of exploding or cooling gradually, collapses in on itself and smolders.

Mr. Wetzel apologizes to Angela at the front door. “I shouldn’t have brought you out here. It’s just that, well, I thought if the opportunity was presented, she might give in.”

“Of course, it was worth a try,” she says, trying not to let him see how the episode has shaken her.

“You shouldn’t take it personally,” he says. “She acts that way to spite me. She’s mad because I won’t give her cigarettes. You believe that? Smoking’s what got her in this fix to begin with. I tell you, there’s not a more stubborn woman in the world.”

Is it Angela’s imagination or is Mr. Wetzel’s distress over his wife’s obstinacy colored by a certain pride? Oh, well, let the poor man find solace where he can. As for her, it seems she’s been skirting death all day—snagged in its orbit—zigzag how she will. Now she only wants to get home. She would even be grateful for someone to tell her the best route.

Next morning Forrest sits by the picture window reading the newspaper. “It’s supposed to be 70 degrees in Albuquerque today,” he says.

“Sissy must miss the change of seasons living in a place like that,” Angela says. “Spring wouldn’t be anything special to look forward to.”

“San Antonio’s going to get up to 83,” he says.

“Oh, that’s just too hot for this time of year. Don’t you think? I wouldn’t like that.”

“Eighty-three and sunny, it says.”

“I hope Alton’s protecting himself against the ultraviolet rays.” The next time she talks to her son and his wife she means to tell them about the young man she saw in the hospital the other day.

“It was 91 in Needles, Arizona yesterday. Ninety-one!”

“Mmm.” Her thoughts are still scattered between Texas and New Mexico. What does she care about Needles? They have no child in Needles, thank God,

She doesn’t like to think of Sissy and Alton living so far away, and in places so different from where they were brought up. Sometimes she wonders if the spots they’ve chosen don’t amount to a tacit rejection of home.

Forrest, meanwhile, has left the temperate climes and is forging his way toward the arctic rim. “International Falls; 17 degrees and snow,” he reports. “Eau Claire: nine degrees and wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour.” Next she’ll have to hear about the natural disasters— flooding in the Northwest, mudslides in Southern California. Then maybe he’ll favor her with an astrological forecast. The stars say, you are going on a long journey. Ha.

His parents and both sets of grandparents were farmers, and Angela supposes that’s why he’s always been fascinated with the elements. But to her, talk of the weather “ranks just above whistling or chewing gum as a means of passing the time. “What about here, Forrest?” she interrupts. “What’s our forecast?”

“I did that already,” he says. “You weren’t paying attention. Mid-30’s, chance of snow showers.”

“And I have to go all the way to Gladstone.”

“You should take the by-pass, get off just after the river.”

When she’s ready to leave, he’s still at the window with the paper. She has an idea. “Why don’t you drive me today? Make yourself useful.”

He laughs silently at her jab but doesn’t budge.

“I’m serious, Forrest. You know I don’t like it when the streets are bad. C’mon, or can’t you drag yourself out of that rocking chair?”

“I’m ready,” he says, putting down the paper and clapping his hands on his knees. “You ready?”

“I’m standing here in my coat, Forrest.”

“Let’s go.”

After that he doesn’t wait to be invited. Whenever it’s time to leave, he’s already in the car, warming it up. For better or worse, it looks like she’s got a driver.

Despite his earlier admonitions to take the simplest, most direct routes, he himself prefers unbeaten paths, she notices. He delights in confusing and surprising her. “Know where we are?” he’ll ask. Often she doesn’t. Then they’ll turn a corner or crest a hill, and all of a sudden, right in front of her, there’s a well-known landmark—St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Stone Arch Bridge, the old Monkey Ward’s building—but looking unfamiliar somehow, because they’ve approached it from a different angle. “Now do you know where you are?” he’ll say, as pleased with himself as if he’s conjured the scene before them out of thin air.

Sometimes even he gets confused as to their whereabouts. Or so she suspects. “Admit it, Forrest, you’re lost. I’ll never make it to Mrs. Reilly’s by two o’clock!” A twitch of his shoulders, a slight adjustment of his seating position, these are the only hints she might be right. Otherwise, to look at him, you’d think he had all day to get where they’re going. He drives slouched in his seat, his left shoulder up against the door, one hand lightly fingering the wheel, lips pursed in a soundless whistle—everything about him calculated to frustrate her own sense of urgency. “What’s the big hurry?” That’s his attitude.

“With your clientele, it’s not like they’re going anywhere.” Then he reminds her they haven’t been late for an appointment yet, which is true. Her days are much better regulated since Forrest took over the driving.

He waits without complaint in the lobbies of nursing homes and hospitals while she makes her rounds. When they visit people’s homes, he stays in the car or takes a walk. Once an old lady whose invalid sister is among Angela’s regular communicants spots him standing beside the car in front of her house. “Would your companion like to come in?” she asks.

For a moment, Angela doesn’t know what the old lady’s talking about. “Oh, that’s Forrest, my husband,” she says. “No, he’s all right. Really, he prefers to wait outside.”

“I just thought he looked cold,” the woman says.

“That’s very kind of you. But the truth is, he’s not a Catholic. The rituals make him a little uncomfortable.”

“What a shame. And yet he drove you here. That’s good of him! You tell him next time he can come in the kitchen and sit with a cup of tea. He doesn’t have to bother with the rest of it if he doesn’t want to.”

“I’ll tell him.” She doesn’t though; it would make her self-conscious having Forrest around while she performs her sacramental duties. Is that wrong? she wonders. To exclude him from a possible occasion of grace because it’s easier for her?

“Do you ever think you’d like to go with me into the sick people’s rooms?” she asks him.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“No reason. I didn’t think you did.”

“One saint in the family’s enough,” he says.

If only he knew how unlike a saint she feels. How little charity is in her heart when she ministers to the dying; how much pity and fear is there instead. But he’s not the most observant or sympathetic man. Nor can she detect in him any consciousness of his own mortality. He seems to regard these trips they take together around the city as a kind of lark. Angela, meanwhile, offers them up as penance, hoping to shorten her soul’s stay in purgatory. Purgatory—that middling state where she most often pictures herself in the afterlife—seems such an inevitable stop along the way to eternity she can’t understand the Protestants’ refusal to believe in it. It’s the sort of place Angela can almost imagine getting to by bus or train. Heaven and hell, by contrast, seem rather far-off and fanciful destinations, and when she tries to think about them very hard her faith wavers. She cannot quite traverse the vast spaces involved. Maybe her spiritual wings have been clipped by living too long with a skeptic; sometimes she believes so.

One day Forrest pulls into a taco place for lunch. “This kind of food doesn’t agree with me,” Angela informs him.

“You should try new things.”

But the burrito she orders utterly defeats her attempts to eat it. Every time she picks the thing up something falls out. She ends up sawing at it with a plastic knife and fork, while Forrest watches, a big, . silly grin on his face. “It won’t be so funny if this makes me sick,” she says.

“Alton loves this stuff.” He eyes his own order suspiciously.

“Heaven knows why. It’s not how I raised him.”

“That’s probably why.”

She looks at him. Sometimes his acuteness surprises her. “I guess that’s right,” she says.

The restaurant is full of boys belching at each other and girls swinging their hair around. There’s a high school down the road and they must come here for lunch. At first Angela feels conspicuous— they’re the only old people—but none of the kids pay them any mind. We’re invisible to them, she realizes.

Forrest seems to have caught a certain friskiness in the teenagers’ manner. He reaches across the table, spears part of the burrito with her plastic fork, and tries feeding it to her. She gives him a look like “What do you think you’re doing?” and he relinquishes the fork.

What is she doing here, in this unlikely place, with this unlikely man, on her way to visit yet another deathbed? The breathtaking conviction sweeps over her that it’s all wrong somehow—ridiculous and accidental. Her son and daughter don’t need her anymore. The sick people she visits don’t need her; not really. If she didn’t tend to them, someone else would, and probably more effectively, or at least in a more cheerful spirit. And what of Forrest and her? What had that old lady called him? Her companion. Quaint phrase. But were there ever two people more ill-matched? Yet he imagines he’d like to travel halfway around the world with her. What would they think to talk about once they were alone under those palm trees he dreams of?

“Forrest, what did you ever see in me?” she asks.

“That’s tough.”

“Try anyway.”

“Let me think. You had a funny way of walking.”

“That’s not true. I was the most poised of my sisters. The three of us used to go around the house with books on our heads. Do you believe we actually did that?”

“You didn’t have any book on your head the time I’m thinking of. You were walking across Volker Park, going very fast, with your head down. It looked like you might bump into something and never know what it was.”

“I was in a hurry, I guess.”

“So what else is new?”

“Okay, you saw me in the park. Is that all?”

He flushes slightly. “I wished you’d look up.”

“At you, you mean? This is before we met, I take it.”

“Must have been.”

“Did you ever tell me that before?” she says.


“I don’t remember it.”

“I do.”

Sissy calls to let them know she’ll be out of the country for a few days; she’s going to Cancun with her new boyfriend, the land developer.

“How well do you know this person?” Angela asks her daughter.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, in a foreign country like that, you’ll be completely at this man’s mercy. Are you sure you can trust him?”

“What do you think he’s going to do to me, Mother?”

“Sissy knows how to take care of herself,” Forrest puts in.

“Ha!” Angela says.

Her daughter’s voice comes to her across the miles with cold formality: “I just called to let you know where I was going. As a courtesy.”

“Have a good time, honey,” Forrest says.

“Doesn’t it bother you, her going off with some man?” Angela asks after they hang up.

Forrest pretends to ignore the question, puckering up in one of his silent whistles and staring off into a corner.

“I think it’s trampish,” she says. “And don’t tell me times have changed. Or she’s in love. That doesn’t make it right.”

“I wouldn’t try to tell you anything, Angela.”

“It doesn’t show much consideration for her father, is all I can say. Not three weeks ago she told you she was too busy to take a trip. But she can find time to go off with this . . .this stranger whose name we don’t even know. Forrest, we don’t even know his name!”

“Joe, it’s Joe . . . something. Hell, Angela, will you relax?”

“What if there’s an emergency and we need to get in touch with her?”

After she makes him call Sissy back to get the boyfriend’s full name and address, as well as the address and phone number of the place where they’ll be staying, she begins to feel bad about what she said to Forrest, about how his daughter would rather go off with her boyfriend than him. She knows why she said it: his unruffled manner in troubled circumstances never reflects even a fraction of her own anxiety, and this apparent unconcern on his part makes her lash out at him. Still, it was a mean thing for her to do. “You know what that girl’s problem with men is,” she says to him later, under the guise of enumerating Sissy’s faults. “She can never find one she loves and respects as much as her father. And that’s the truth. I give this Joe person about six months. Tops.”

Mr. Wetzel rings up to request that Angela bring communion to his wife again. “I think she’s ready now.” He speaks almost in a whisper. “She hasn’t got long.” Then he’s weeping, but softly so his wife won’t hear. Angela says maybe the priest should see her, but Mr. Wetzel says, no, his wife never had any use for that priest. Angela believes it, she’s heard the priest on the subject of Greta Wetzel. Angela agrees to come first thing in the morning. “I’m dreading this one,” she confides to Forrest.

She has a hard time sleeping that night; it’s like a weight is pressing down on her chest. She has to prop herself up with pillows just to get a good, deep breath. Forrest sleeps flat on his back, without even a pillow, his hands folded on his stomach. Except for the steady rise and fall of his breathing, he might be posing as his own corpse. Where does he travel in his sleep? she wonders. Down what tree-lined boulevard, village lane, or mountain pass? Is she with him? Does he take her hand and say, “Do you know where you are now? Do you?” Or has she forfeited that privilege? Watching him, she feels abandoned, left behind, balked at the beginning of some journey she hasn’t the courage to undertake.

In the morning when they get up, everything outside is covered with ice. “Just look at it!” Forrest says. “The paper never said anything about this.”

“It’s like something out of a fairy tale,” Angela’s thinking, a reprieve, a dispensation! No visit to Greta Wetzel’s, after all. Not today. Maybe never. Who knows, by the time the streets are passable. . . . She won’t allow herself to complete the thought, not only because it’s a terrible one but because it might break the spell, cause time to lurch forward again; the sun might come out and the weather start to thaw. She holds her breath, listening to the crystalline trees brushing against the roof and windows.

Down in the kitchen she feels inspired to make a big breakfast. She’s ravenous. “Forrest,” she calls, “would you like bacon or sausage with your waffles? Or both? Forrest?” Now what’s he up to? Was that the front door she heard open and close a minute ago? When he finally appears in the kitchen, huffing and puffing, his face looks red enough to melt ice. “Your breakfast is cold,” she informs him.

“I got the chains on the car.”

“What on earth for?”

“You’ve got an appointment, right?”

“Forrest, are you crazy? No one will expect us in this weather.”

“I thought you’d be dressed by now,” he says.

“Did you really put the chains on the car?”

“Yes. The engine’s running. Let’s go.”

“I’m going to call Mr. Wetzel right now and say we can’t make it.”

“We can make it, Angela. I can go anywhere with those chains.”

She wants to say, “Why are you doing this to me? You’re not even the one whose job it is.” But all that comes out is, “Forrest, if we end up in a ditch somewhere!”

“Take baby steps,” he advises her, as they shuffle side-by-side down the walk to the waiting car. On the front seat is a brochure open to a picture of a beach with sun-swept dunes in the foreground and a lavender sea shimmering behind. “Cute,” she says. “Very funny.”

He’s right about the chains getting them through though. They work like a charm, and it helps that no one else is on the road. Forrest, she reminds herself, usually knows what he’s doing.

“Mr. Wetzel will certainly be surprised to see me.” Her anxiety about braving both the weather and Greta Wetzel has begun to be tempered with a sense of virtue that she’s doing this thing at all.

“Forrest, would you really like to go off somewhere like this?” She means like the beach in the brochure.

“Yes, I would.”

“Don’t look at me, please, look at the road.”

“Okay. Are you having second thoughts about flying?”

Flying? Her heart sinks. She had wanted to say something to make him happy, to reward him for his faithful service of driving. She’d forgotten about the flying part. To be loosed from the earth! To put her life in the hands of unseen others! No, she couldn’t do that. “What about the pill you mentioned?” she says. “Does it really knock you out?”

“Sure. Or hypnosis is even better. No side effects.”

“You’re kidding about hypnosis.”



“It doesn’t even take an expert. I could probably hypnotize you myself.”

“You could not. I’d laugh in your face.”

“You’d have to cooperate. You’d have to be in the right frame of mind.”

Angela’s not sure she possesses the right frame of mind to relinquish her conscious will to Forrest. “Anyway, we’ll see,” she says.

They come to a steep hill that leads up to the Wetzels’ house. Angela imagines sour Greta Wetzel waiting for her at the top of the glassy incline, like a damsel in a storybook who, deep down, wants to be rescued but, in her perversity, is compelled to invent obstacles. Angela says a prayer for the woman, that she will be open to grace, then says one for herself, that shell make it through this. But she forgets to pray for the car. It starts to slip on the road; the car fishtails.


Just then, the chains catch—Angela can feel them taking hold. She can actually feel it in her chest, as if a string around her heart has suddenly been pulled taut and is drawing her onward. “Up we go,” Forrest says. The car is at such a tilt all she can see is the sky.


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