The sublet she and Dench were in now was a nice one, a fluke, a modern, flat-roofed, stone-and-redwood ranch house with a carport, in a neighborhood that was not far from the hospital and was therefore full of surgeons and radiologists and their families. The hospital itself was under construction and the cranes bisected the sky. Big-jawed excavators and backhoes worked beneath lights at night. Walking the dog, she once watched as an excavator’s mandibled head was released and fell to the ground; the headless neck then leaned down and began to nudge it, as if trying to find out whether it might still be alive. Of course there was an operator, but after that it was hard to think of a creature like that as a machine. When a wall was knocked down and its quiet secrets sent scattering, the lines between things seemed up for grabs.
The person who owned their house was not connected to the hospital. He was an entrepreneur named Ian who had made a bundle in the nineties on some sort of business software and who for long stretches of time lived out of state—in Ibiza, Zihuatanejo, and Portland—in order to avoid the cold. The house came furnished except, strangely, for a bed, which they bought. In the refrigerator they found food so old it had dust on it rather than mold. “I don’t know,” said Dench. “Look at the closets. This must be what Ian was using. With hooks this strong maybe we don’t need a bed. We can just hang ourselves there at night, like bats.”
With Dench she knew, in an unspoken way, that she was the one who was supposed to get them to wherever it was they were going. She was supposed to be the GPS lady who, when you stopped for gas, said, “Get back on the highway.” She tried to be that voice with Dench: stubborn, unflappable, keeping to the map and not saying what she knew the GPS lady really wanted to say, which was not “Recalculating” but “What in fucking hell are you thinking?”
“It all may look wrong from outer space, which is where a GPS is seeing it from,” Dench would say, when proposing alternatives of any sort, large or small, “but on the ground there’s a certain logic.”
There were no sidewalks in this wooded part of town. The sap of the stick-bare trees was just stirring after what looked like a fierce forest fire of a winter. The roadside gullies that would soon warm and sprout pye weed and pea were still just pebble-flecked mud, and KC’s dog, Cat, sniffed his way along, feeling the winter’s melt, the ground loosening its fertile odor of wakened worms. Overhead the dirt-pearl sky of March hung low as a hat brim. The houses were sidled next to marshes and sycamores, and as she walked along the roads occasionally a car would pass, and she would yank on Cat’s leash to heel him close. The roads, all named after colleges out East—Dartmouth Drive, Wellesley Way, Sweetbriar Road (where was her alma mater, suny Binghamton Street?)—glistened with the flat glossy colors of flattened box turtles who’d made the spring crossing too slowly and were now stuck to the macadam, thin and shiny as magazine ads.
HOSPICE CARE: IT'S NEVER TOO SOON TO CALL, read a billboard near the coffee shop in what constituted the neighborhood’s commercial roar. Next to it a traffic sign read pass with care. Surrealism could not be made up. It was the very electricity of the real. The largest part of the strip was occupied by an out-of-business bookstore whose plate-glass windows were already cloudy with dust. The D was missing from the sign so that it now read bor ers. In insolvency, truth: soon the chain would be shipping its entire stock to the latrines of Swaziland.
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