Somehow their marriage got caught in the car engine and it blew up. First it ground to a halt, then it smoked, then came the fire and the explosion. The explosion was a muffled thud, a sound like a sack of cement or maybe an overstuffed chair pushed out a window and landing in an alley. She felt the thud drifting into her chest as she stood on the soft shoulder and then she saw it illuminate Hal’s face with a purple powdery light, a light full of recrimination.
She had made the car do this.
The first day of vacation and the car was dead and now they were in this emotional alley, scattering their stuff everywhere as they pulled it out of the car and threw it behind them and saved it from the fire which caught her long hair on the right side of her face as she was grabbing at a canvas bag of crackers and magazines. Pouf! Her hair just went up. Went up like tinder. Went up like a curtain.
She backed out of the car, caught her jacket on the window handle, looked at Hal for help and saw in his crushed-can face the reflection of her head half on fire and half not.
It was a funny thing, this deadly laugh. The laugh was full of hate, and it ended their marriage, but it was the richest, most intimate and revealing sound he had made in three years of bedrooms and bathrooms and kitchens together. If he weren’t laughing at her and hating the failure of their marriage and riding this awful sound away like some kind of magic carpet, he could have had her with it all over again. She would not have succumbed to it. Nothing like that. But she would have danced with this man and squeezed him and tried to get him to make some other gorgeous, powerful wicked sounds out of sheer, perverse sexual fascination.
But her perversion was all used up.
And her head was on fire, so she stuck it in the canvas bag and fell down and rolled on the ground until the fire went out. Then she just lay there a while, gasping.
Well, she could imagine him saying, this vacation is over. He would be bitter but relieved. Not going on vacation had its advantages. There would be work he could do at home, TV programs he could watch, and money he would not spend.
And normally she would have (had the marriage not already ended just like the vacation) argued just the opposite. She would have concocted some way to go on. These get-aways were crucial.
But not this time, no. Crucial, but in a different sense.
The countryside around them had collapsed into this alley. She just sat there a bit. The sounds he was making weren’t really words, and she wasn’t really hearing them, and she didn’t really care.
The people who stopped to help loaded them up in their van and drove them deeper into the alley where they found a hotel and she found, though it was late Saturday afternoon, a hair salon where a man and a woman working together carefully put her right. It was amazing to see this soothing couple’s four hands wash, cut, comb, spray, pat. They were a flight of birds. With scissors in their hands , they were storks. With spray bottles, puffins. With brushes, owls. With shampoo, cockatoos.
They nested their fat breasts on her head until it hatched.
The cracks in the shell were runny, dripping, and the being that came out was huge-eyed and soft-beaked with skin as thin as mist and down on its skull. It was her, this thing above the smock. Her.
She loved herself.
The high walls of the alley collapsed in her chest with a soft rumble of feathers. Hal and the car and the fire and the thud disappeared in this thick, weightless cataract.
Of course they wouldn’t accept any money. Instead, they said she could pay them by coming to their house for dinner. And Hal should come, too. But he wouldn’t. He’d stay right where he was in this dreary hotel until the insurance man called. Fact was, he said, he couldn’t stand to look at her and her awful haircut, much less the people who gave it to her.
So she went alone, her wings as light as wax paper, her twiggy legs wobbling, her eyes the size of the world.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund