“The babe,” says Andrew with a shrug, continuing his report. “I got lucky—the next song was a slow one, and I threw myself into Annie’s arms. Really. I wanted to see what it felt like. It felt—” Good. “Normal. And I am not blowing this, the first night, for some guy’s wife.” He laughs briefly, at himself. “See how well I’m taking the meds.”
“Beautifully,” says Warren.
“OK. Annie forgave me for sounding patronizing, and we stayed for the second set. They did some great covers—‘Respect,’ that kind of thing. And the lead singer—Viki—would say something like, OK, now Tommy’s gonna help us on this number, and some contractor in a T-shirt who’d been dancing his ass off would stand with her at the microphone and belt it out, pitch perfect. And I thought, that’s what I want to do.
“At the break we went back out for air. And discovered that the little roadhouse, with its tiny, steamed-up windows, was in the middle of a blizzard. You couldn’t see the other side of the road.
“Shit, said Annie. We’d better go, she said, apologetic, as if I were going to argue. She drives a Honda hatchback the size of rickshaw. It’s good in snow, she said of the car. And she’s a good driver, she uses the shift, the mirrors. I manned the towel on the windshield. We hadn’t gone more than a few miles—we were starting back over the mountain—when we came upon a dead deer stretched across our lane. I expected her to duck into the other lane, around it, but if we skidded, we were dead, so she stopped. An SUV chugged by us, spraying snow, half burying the deer.
“We should move it, said Annie, sounding apologetic again.
“Stay in the car, I said, as if I knew what I was doing.
“Be careful she said, and just as I got out there, in my loafers, a big pickup stopped behind us. A young guy got out—need some help, he said. Sure do, I said, feeling right in the middle of Prairie Home Companion. We each grabbed a back leg of the deer and dragged it off the road. Ten-point buck, he said, dusting off the head. You want it?
“Was he crazy? It must have weighed as much as her car.
“You guys OK? called Annie.
“He wants to know if you want the deer, I said into the car window.
“No, she said, as if it were a normal question. He can take it. You might help him put it in the truck.
“He had a tarp for the truck bed, which was covered with snow anyway, and we slung the deer onto it. There was hardly any blood—the thing died of a broken back—but I did have a flash, just a second, even in the snow and with my neck soaking wet, of piling the bodies into Carlos’s pickup as fast as we could, of trying to get away with our dead and wounded so they wouldn’t get their balls cut off—but I took a deep breath and looked at the kid in front of me, no beard, a contractor in training, took care of his truck, and I said thanks, thanks for stopping, and he said no problem, and we headed for our vehicles.
“Annie leaned out her window and called to the kid, we’re going to need a push. He waved OK, and when our tires spun, he came up behind us and, very gently, pushed us. Where the deer had been, the snow wasn’t so deep, so she got some traction and we roared up the hill in first gear, the kid behind us, ready to push.
“After what felt like five minutes, we got to the top and started down, and she gave a huge sigh, like expelling a balloon full of tension.
“You all right? I said.
“She nodded, her eyes on the road. She was thinking, hard, and then I remembered. Her house was about 15 minutes from here, on a dry day. My hotel was 15 minutes past that, same dry day. Tonight, we were looking at an hour to the hotel and then a half-hour for her to get back home. Alone. It was one o’clock, and snowing.
“Listen, I said, I’ll sleep in the car. I’ll sleep on the porch. I’ll sleep in the doghouse. We can’t go back to Schuyler.
“It might not be so bad there, she said, closer to the river. Lower elevation. But we have to decide before the parkway. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up my hill, but if we take the parkway, then we can come at the house from the other direction, down the hill.
“I vote parkway, I said.
“Me too, she said. Miserably. She didn’t want me at her house. She wanted to be by herself, she didn’t want to worry about some mental case in the attic. And I would spend the whole night thinking about not jumping her. But we couldn’t go back to Schuyler.
On the parkway, we came up behind a plow and followed it. Fifteen miles an hour, for five miles, but our path was clear, we could relax a little, until her road, which hadn’t been plowed. Someone had been through, a bigger car, but she had traction on one side so we inched down the hill, slithered into the driveway.
“Her house is small and painted in the colors of Mexico. The dog is weird . . . like having a small fox in the house. Chloe. Apparently Chloe had never expected to see Annie alive again. Chloe sat down, pointed her nose at the ceiling, and howled. I thought, maybe I will sleep in the car.
“Do you want a cup of tea, Annie asked. In the kitchen light her eyes looked burned out, with dark circles under them, and what I wanted was to sit her on my lap, but also I wanted her to stop doing things for me, so I said I would make her a cup of tea.
“She took the dog out into the yard. There was a red teakettle on the stove, so I put some water in it and turned on the gas. It looked safe enough, so I went outside with them. Annie was shoveling a little path in the yard, toward a bird feeder, so Chloe could get out there and squat. Then she came back onto the deck and stood with me under the roofed part by the door. Everything—bird feeder, fence, trees—was larger than life, rounded up with snow, which was still falling, with a kind of hissing, breathing sound.
“Again, except for the snow, the place felt as remote as a house on the outskirts of a Cuscutlano mountain village. Facing west, we couldn’t see any other houses. There was no sound except for the snow, and the only light came from the house. We stood farther apart than we’d been all night. She was as skittish as the dog, which was now hopping through the snow, looking for mice, I guess. I had a cigarette and we watched the snow change the planet.
“Back inside, the dog was still wired. I was pouring water over a tea bag and Annie was moving something in the living room. OK, Chloe! she said, and the dog started running. Annie’s bedroom is in back of the living room, and the dog ran in from the bed, through the living room, through an orange plastic Hula Hoop Annie was holding, then around a rocking chair and back toward the bedroom. I had been going to ask her why she kept a Hula Hoop next to the fireplace tongs. She was smiling at the dog and saying, good dog, Chloe, good girl!
“Chloe did it again. Bed-door-hoop-rocker, 40 miles an hour, with this completely demented look on her face.
“Do you want your tea? I said.
“Come in for a minute and stand over there, she said.
“So I stood near the alcove where Annie has her desk. And Chloe did it again, Annie raising the hoop a little and cheering her on, as if the dog had done something wonderful. At first Chloe wouldn’t go near me. She reached the end of her run, panted a little, looked at me. Get Andy! said Annie, and Chloe ran away from us entirely, back to the bedroom, where she turned around on the bed three times in about three seconds, a fox dervish, then charged back out to the living room. This time she tapped my foot with her paw before she ran away.
“So I became part of the course. Chloe did this four more times, Annie cheering her on, raising the hoop, me not saying anything, not wanting my voice to throw the dog off, Chloe jumping through the hoop, tapping my foot, circling around Annie to race back into the bedroom, turn circles on the bed, and so on. It was two o’clock in the morning. Finally Chloe stopped, panting, her sides heaving, then drank about a quart of water.”
“What were you thinking while the dog ran around?” asks Warren, sounding genuinely curious.
“—Not much. Well . . . I was glad when Annie told me to stand near the desk. Made me part of the game. The dog was funny, and Annie was smiling, not looking so worn out. Out of the snowstorm, in a tiny house with two skittish females . . . I guess I was happy.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer