Follow @covillanueva c.o. villanueva in time and space: 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Whose Woods

It was night and snowflakes hit the windshield. John felt for the wipers, but his hand accidently turned on the brights.

Three hours earlier, John had been fired from his post at Dartmouth. "Unethical behavior," is what the chancellor said.

"Fuck you," John thought.

“That’s making it worse.” Rebecca rubbed sleep out of her eyes and sat up. "Turn off the wipers," she said as she looked at the trees they passed, noticed them all turning white.

“It’s getting hard to drive in this stuff,” John said.

“Hey, I need to pee,” she said.

"Why didn't you go back there?" John said just before he lifted his foot off the gas and tapped the brakes.

“What was it?” Rebecca asked.

“I saw something.” John sped up this time, ignoring the snow.

"Slow down," Rebecca said. More snow seemed to cover the road.

John dug into his pocket for the lighter. He took the joint out and sniffed it. "Here we go," he said. He lit it and took a drag. “Whose woods are these?” he said. “I’d like to know.”

“What?” Rebecca turned to look at the baby who was sleeping.

John didn’t answer but kept pushing the gas. He could see how the trees and the headlights made a tunnel, and he could taste the beer on his breath. It was an old taste, like a dirty sock. It wasn't fresh, it wasn't raw.

“Be careful,” she said. “Will you please be careful?”

“What?” He rolled down the window and the wind blew in hard as he flicked the joint. Red cinders became fireflies that flew into the backseat. The baby cried.

Rebecca turned around to check the baby and turned to John. “Asshole,” she said.

John looked at her and thought of something good to say but couldn’t. Instead, he had wondered how long they would last without chains.

Bang. A loud noise.

"What the," John mumbled as he turned his head back toward the road. He had already missed it with his eyes, but his car hit it. He slowed and then stopped in the middle of the road. Suddenly, the night was quiet.

“I think I hit something,” he said. He put the car into reverse.

“What are you doing?” Rebecca locked the doors.

“I want to know what we hit.” He turned the steering wheel to the right and braked, but it was too late. The back tires slid off the road. He shifted and pumped the gas.

“Come on,” he said. The wheels just spun.

“What did we hit? What did we hit?”

“Shut it, will you? Will you just?” John cut the ignition but left the lights on.

Rebecca was quiet now and staring ahead into the woods on the other side of the road. The trees, with snow tracing the labyrinthine branches, looked like great white hands reaching toward them, for them.

“It's scary.” She turned back to look at the baby who saw hands, too. “I love you,” she said to the baby. “I love you.”

The man got out, left the door open, and the door ajar alarm was ringing. It rang loud into the night and then a dog barked. The man looked down at the wheels in the mud puddle and then looked up. He could see the moon, the snow looked like little white parachutes invading from the sky. He glanced across the road and thought he saw a shadow move across a tree trunk. He walked back and leaned inside the car.

“Did you see that?” he said.

“What?” she said. “I really need to go.”

“Then go,” he said. “Just go.”

He moved toward the woods to find something, anything to help get them out. John noticed Rebecca open the door and sit next to the car. He looked into the darkness and the dog barked again. The dog was somewhere inside it, John thought. The dog was deep within the woods, his bark echoed between the trees, but also above it. John looked back and saw Rebecca climbing into the car. He could see a stream flowing toward him, downhill, and then collecting in a little puddle just before the woods began.

John looked down and found one good branch. He bent over to drag it back but slipped and fell. He pushed himself up and dragged the branch back to the car. He came to the back left tire and crouched down in front of it, he pushed the wood under the car, he stomped it in place. He stood up and again, the dog, it howled into the night, into these woods.

“Whose woods are fucking these?” he said. He wiped the sweat off his face, but his hands were muddy.

The dog barked, squealed, and there was panting, John thought, then quiet.

John opened the trunk. He reached inside and found a rag to wipe away the the dirt, but his fingers remained black. He looked at the backs of his hands, his fingers spread in the dim light. They looked like they’d been dipped in ink. Then he noticed Rebecca through the back window - what was she doing? He watched as she leaned up from her seat, her body was twisted and her shirt pulled up, the skin white, her black hair made her head and neck invisible, her face just a smooth mask, her torso a ghostly fog over the baby. She was squeezing her breast for milk.

John got inside the car but didn’t start it. He listened to the snow and realized it made a sound, ever so slight.

“It’s so quiet,” he said. “It’s like an endless army of tiny white ants, this snow.” He turned the key and the car awoke. He drove over the branch and back on the road but braked. He had stopped the car so that they all sat there, again as still as robots, motionless and staring ahead into the road. John squeezed the steering wheel. It felt leathery and tough.

“What are we doing,” Rebecca said. “Let's just go.”

“I hit something,” John said. “I know I did.” He stepped outside the car and moved back into the night.

Rebecca locked the doors and crossed her arms. She listened to the softness of the snow, the eerie quiet, and then looked outside her window, into a blackness that seemed would never fade to light.

“It’s darkest just before the dawn,” she thought. Then she saw a shadow move between some trees.

“Where are you, John?” she said. She could see her breath. She looked back at the baby. He was sleeping. Finally the man returned and knocked on the glass.

She opened the door. “What was it?” she said.

“It was dead,” he said. John slid into the car.

“What was dead?” She felt warm, his warmth, his hot breath on her face.

He started the car.“The rabbit,” he said.

Later, they would find the motel and Rebecca would curl into John, and they’d lie together till dawn, her dreaming of them all dancing on the road with the trees, the shadows, and the white hands stretched out and leading her, and him dreaming of the rabbit, shivering in the cold, shaking snowflakes from his winter coat, wondering where to search for food, walking, hopping, running, into the night, then disappearing into the darkness. And the baby, the baby would wake them with cries, his cries for milk.