Susan tells Bucky that just because she's a woman with tattoos and red
hair and just because she still rides a motorcycle (an old black Harley
with tassels off the handlebars long enough to walk big dogs and saddlebags
large enough for loot), this doesn't mean she's a woman who still steals
cars. She points out evidence like a defense lawyer, ticking things off
on her fingers: she has a degree now, her own apartment, a steady job
as a lab tech in the hospital. She draws blood on the Psych ward where
they don't let just anybody go, you've got to be good with them.
I don't care what things you learned in jail, she says. And I
don't care for your sweet talk. She scratches with her shoe in
the dust that covers the sidewalk outside her apartment building.
I draw the line and past here, Mr. Christopher Columbus, are
just like on those old maps.
On one side of the line is a crumpled beer can. On the other is
a dead mouse, four paws up in an attitude of surrender. Susan
is still in her uniform, carrying a bag of groceries. Bucky has
just stepped out of the bushes with the haircut of a man who
seen a decent mirror in a long time.
Well, he says, pretending to misunderstand. To start with, I'm
Susan rolls her eyes. Not Colum-bo, someone else entirely
Second, I hear Columbus is in deep water these days.
speaking, I mean.
Since when did you get educated.
With this Navajo guy in for manslaughter. Wanted Columbus' balls.
You'd know if you ever came to visit.
No, she says. You can't make me feel guilty. Say what you want,
Bucky. I am still not stealing a car with you.
Come on, he says. I know you. Who are you fooling? Bucky grins
that grin of his, each side of his mouth turning up by itself.
First the right. Then the left. Then both at once and she can
see he's gotten his teeth fixed while he was in there--a long
line of silver stretched along his gumline is like a snake made
out of tin-foil. It's only been three years, he says. Three years
and I remember us in Florida just like it was yesterday, Suzie.
Remember Tallahassee? Remember the speedway? Remember Miami Beach?
I drove all around that ring and people were cheering me, babe.
He holds his hands out to her, calluses up, to offer his memories
in case she can't find hers.
Susan rearranges the groceries in her arm and digs in the pockets
of her white lab coat for her keys while avoiding his eyes. First
the right pocket. Then the left. She thinks of him driving races
on the weekends, the smell of oil and exhaust, the sun on the
back of her neck like a warm dream.
For old times, babe, he says. Look, you even pick the car. And
bring that cat, you still got him? With the tail? What's his name.
Whiskers, she says.
Whiskers, Bucky says. That's right. Bet you never rode in a hot
car with a cat before.
Yeah. You've got me there and oh, it's so convincing.
Look, he says. I'll stick my nose right up that fat furry butt
if it will make you feel better.
Such a macho, manly man you are. Did your Indian like that?
Manly men. Or noses, for that matter.
As a matter of fact... That grin again.
Oh, you. Knock it off.
Come on, he says. Give me a break here.
I've got a life now, Bucky.
I haven't seen you in forever. Now I'm seeing you. Run with me
Three years isn't forever. It's just three years.
What's that supposed to mean, he asks.
I don't know. She thinks it was just something to say. Look, take
this will you? She hands him the groceries, checks her pants
and purse and checks her coat pockets again.
You looking for these? He holds up her keys in one thick paw.
Fingernails are bitten down to the quick.
Now cut that out.
I hope you got beer, he says. I haven't had a beer in a long,
Three years, huh?
See? You read my mind. He shakes his head in fake admiration.
You know me better than my own mother.
Your mother's an old bitch, she says. That woman, she thinks,
could use a steadily increasing diet of Lithium and Thorazine.
When the phone rings now and there's no voice on the other end,
just static, when The Plain Truth comes in the mail, she
knows someone still blames her for the way Bucky turned out.
Well, hey, he says, spreading his arms wide. On that note, I rest
my case. He makes no sense to her. He never did.
Upstairs, she's got Budweiser in cans, but he's not being
Bucky pops the top and wanders around the place, picking up and
examining the leaves of plants in the windows, looking at the
walls and the ruffles that run along the bottom of the furniture.
He hums to himself, quiet expressions of amazement. The plants
are ferns. The couch is pink. The carpet, carpet
is beige. The vase has flowers in it, real ones, and there's a
tapestry on the wall of a big, white unicorn with wise eyes,
in front of a rainbow.
It's her place. All hers, she thinks he's thinking, not a trace
of him to be seen anywhere. The cat is nowhere. It's never around
when she needs it. Outside a dog is barking.
You know what you need, Bucky says.
A picture. Picture of me.
Susan looks at her shoes. White nurse shoes with a blue heart
on the sole. To throw darts at, maybe?
Maybe, he agrees. Maybe so. Just so long as you have one.
She does have one, actually. She carries it in her purse but
want him to know. She takes it out and looks at it sometimes,
in the long afternoons on her days off. The sunlight comes in
through the plants, then, and all that green light reminds her
of Florida. Where would I put it.
Over your bed.
Next to your alarm clock, so you see me every morning.
Maybe there's somebody else I see every morning when I get up,
How do you know? Maybe there is.
His name is Gary. Gary Sheppard. She can't make herself sound
convincing, and she's not sure, suddenly, if she wants to. Gary
Sheppard is a favorite patient on the unit. He's the quietest,
most relaxed paranoid schizophrenic she knows. He sits with his
arm out for her and doesn't flinch when she pulls the rubber tube
too tight or complain when she can't find the vein the first time.
You mean a German Shepard, maybe? Bucky sits on the couch and
puts his feet up on the glass top of the coffee table. The
rattles in the fake brass frame and she feels like it's a noise
from somewhere inside her. He finishes off his beer. The dog
is still barking and then, suddenly, it stops. Bucky laughs. Come
for a ride.
She sighs. He is a large-bore needle, climbing in under her skin
ready to mark her with blue ink, ready to draw blood, and she
sits there, arm out and waiting. Bucky carefully studies her
VCR from across the room and she knows he knows she's looking
at him. Her own life seems transparent, somehow. Weightless like
those dust-ruffles, puffing in the humid breeze. She does have
memories. They're slung around her neck like heavy gold chains.
They're spelled out in the lines of ink on her body that the two
of them made together once. The Harley signs and the heart with
his initials. The great bald eagle spread across her back in blue
from shoulder to shoulder and beneath it, the treasure chest,
open and overflowing with all the riches they were someday going
to have together.
She gets up and gets another own beer for herself, tosses him
another. She sits down again and neither of them says anything.
Bucky drains his beer and leaves the can on the coffee table,
then gets up and goes back over to the window. Whiskers chooses
that moment to make an appearance. A liar and a whore by nature,
he struts out of the bedroom like he hasn't been hiding, like
he's just been sleeping or something and then just needed a snack.
She's not fooled. They're somehow in cahoots, she thinks. Like
it's all on TV and scripted somehow--you'll stand here. Mr. Bucky,
then the cat will come up to you and sniff your feet.
Whiskers sniffs Bucky's feet, then looks up with those slutty,
mournful eyes of his. He meows to be picked up. Bucky reaches
down, and scoops the cat up in his arms. Making sure she's
he presses his face down into the cat and makes farting noises,
like someone would tickle the pink, round belly of a baby.
purrs like nobody's business.
See? Bucky emerges sniffling. Clumps of cat hair stick to his
eyebrows. Even the cat remembers. Tell me that you don't.
I remember, she says. I never said I didn't remember.
Well, then. He sneezes. She looks at the cat and thinks baby.
They steal an old Mustang with more rust primer than windows and
a hood bent up and over to hold an oversized, turbo-charged
Gotta love a Mustang, Bucky says, like he's been planning this
one for years. Faster than a cat with a firecracker up its ass.
He looks at her expression. I mean a rat! I said a rat!
Susan shakes her head, and wonders aloud about this sudden
of posteriors in Bucky's thoughts.
Bucky, grinning, slips a flat strip of metal down between the
window and the door and jerks the lock up in one swift motion.
Susan wonders if they had classes on this up in St. Albans. All
those men with shaved heads and striped clothing, sitting in a
circle of folding plastic chairs and sharing secrets.
The seats of the Mustang are deep and black and they suck her
in. Bucky says Don't forget your seatbelt, babe, and as she clicks
the strap across her chest she thinks that seals it. No return.
The neighborhood is small and the streets are dirty.
Tell me about your bike. Bucky says, as they pass where it's
Twelve hundred cee-cees, she says. Highway pegs and the jug's
dipped in chrome and rebored, zero to sixty faster than this piece
of junk I can tell you that.
Bucky whistles, swivels his head as they pass it by like it was
a tall, thin blonde. Sweet, baaaby, sweeet! he says, admiringly.
The sound of the pistons knocking as Bucky checks out all the
gears between one stop sign and another. A few lifeless trees
marking the curb with their ambivalence. Newspapers blow from
one side of the street to another. They catch on fences, wrap
around posts, converge on and absorb puddles.
An old man perched up on a mailbox watches them go. Susan waves
her hand out the window and the old man breaks into a
grin and tips his dirty baseball cap goodbye.
Pete Drucker, she says to Bucky. One of my regulars. She sighs.
I guess we'll be seeing him in again soon.
Out of the neighborhood, onto the highway. Susan shows Bucky her
new tattoos--the willow tree across her cleavage, the face of
a clown crying on her right shoulder and the unicorn, down on
her leg near the ankle that shows through the white stockings
they make her wear. She bends down, takes off her shoe to show
him all of it, but instead he looks down the front of her shirt.
For a long minute, she lets him.
Been a long time, he says. Been a long, long time. She turns and
looks over at the Howard Johnson's they're passing. She's not
sure what to say. He rolls down all the windows even though it's
starting to rain, turns on the stereo and it's the Dead singing
about trucking. Susan buys them both Long John Silver's at a
and they eat it on Route 40 as the rush hour traffic out of New
York dwindles. They unbuckle the seatbelts and sword-fight with
the plastic forks, him looking down the front of her top and
to steer all at the same time. Then he lets her win and plays
dead, swerving into the other lane for a second with his head
down on the wheel, driving blind.
He's the same old Bucky, she thinks then. He hasn't changed at
They pass several New Jersey State Highway Patrol cars going the
other way and they try to look nonchalant when they do. One'll
pass and Bucky will watch the mirror for a few minutes after it's
gone. He even waves to one as it goes by them and the cop waves
back. Only then the black-and-white swings around in a gas
crosses over through a gap in the median where only he can turn
around and starts to follow them a few cars back. No sirens. No
lights. No commotion. Quiet. But Susan can feel sound coming from
that car in waves right inside of her like she would feel a drum
beat. Words, like she's a receiver tuned in to the right frequency
and a large over-comforting voice is talking calm and regular
into her ears they way she talks to Gary Sheppard. Everything
will be fine. This won't hurt a bit. Everything's fine. Re-lax.
All right, she says to Bucky. Pull over into the Ames there like
we're shopping. Let's knock it off before he knows. She looks
at the side of his face and she can see a spot he missed shaving.
Naaah. He's looking in the mirror.
Bucky. Don't let's fuck this up.
He's quiet for a long moment and the radio is between songs. Then
he says I've been cooped up for a long time, Suzie-babe. He says
it real quietly and reasonably. I've got three years of steam
to blow off.
He shows her the old pistol stuck down in the top of his pants.
It's a small gun, no grip, rust starting on the parts she can
see. Then he covers it up again and grins. That silver in his
teeth again, flickering...
You asshole, she says. She says it real quietly. She can see the
way his hands get tighter at five and eleven o'clock on the
wheel. She can feel that long familiar something inside of her,
that feeling of something vital, leaking away somewhere. She felt
it thirty-two months ago, when the old butch nurse at that one
clinic said she could go home. She'd looked out the window, at
all those protesters looking in and hating her, and for
an hour--she could not remember just what street that place was
At the light, the cop is right behind them, close enough to read
the writing on the rearview mirror on Susan's side. She can hear
the sputter of the cop's radio for real, then. She watches
that happens next with eyes bigger than headlights.
Bucky throws the car into reverse, steps on the gas pedal, and
hits the cop car hard enough to pop the cop's airbag. The car
jerks and there's a crunch, and then the sound like someone hit
in the chest blowing out all their air at once. There's the
of that unfolding, inflating plastic. There's a moment of absolute
silence, when Susan looks at the guy in the Jag in the lane right
next to her. The guy is caught in the middle of talking on his
car phone and looks at her with his mouth open and words still
on his tongue. She wants to cry.
Then Bucky runs the light and everything snaps into motion. He
pulls into the oncoming traffic, dodges a Jeep and a blue Saab
and he sideswipes a red van. Horns are blaring. The siren starts
up. There's the sound of squealing tires and a crump and Bucky
drives across the median kicking up turf. He gets on the Turnpike
going north on the southbound lane and he starts singing that
Grateful Dead song, though the radio is now playing The Beatles.
Yessirree I'm truckin', he says.
You're not just an asshole, Susan says back. You're a fucking
asshole. She hits him on the arm and on the side of the face.
He doesn't react to that, he doesn't budge, but his shoulders
set themselves a certain way like they did when she used curse
words at him. She remembers that gesture real well.
Truckin' with Jesus A-men Praise God, sings Bucky, making up his
own lyrics. I got the music and the music's got me, and he says
that as if it's some sort of explanation.
I think I'm gonna be sad, sings the radio back. I think it's
and Susan thinks isn't that too crazy. The window is blowing rain
and her white lab coat is soaked now. Her name tag that has her
picture and full name on it followed by her credentials is torn
off and blown into the back seat where there are piles of
wrappers and the Long John Silver's boxes, rolling back and forth
like yellow, orange, and white sand dunes in the wind as Bucky
swerves from lane to lane in tight traffic, stomping on the
He clips the tail of a white stretch limo, overcompensates into
a Chevy Citation and bounces between a station wagon and a car
with a big black bird on its hood. There is glass breaking behind
them. There is the heavy thump of combustion. The radio sings
she's got a ticket to ri-hide, and Susan, bracing herself on the
dash, thinks Jesus just shut the fuck up. Watching Bucky while
he dips and swerves, she sees a twitching now in the corner of
his mouth, a jerking in his hands on the wheel and the gearshift.
He's working hard and out of practice, she realizes. He's working
hard to show her he hasn't changed a bit, that he's still the
same old, wild Bucky, and that no one can ever make him any
And suddenly, it's like a door is open for Susan. On one side
is that strange fondness she's been caught up in, a young version
of herself looking strange and eager like a Jehovah's Witness.
In her young mind, she realizes, nothing can touch Bucky. No other
car on the strip comes close, shines as brightly, moves as deftly
into and out of the pit. Like the lightning flashing ahead of
all the thunder on its tail.
Now, though, that fondness is over there and she's on this side
of the door, a different side. A side that's all her own. She
can see the strain in Bucky's face, the shaking of his hands.
She sees sweat coming off of his balding head and running down
into the collar of that worn flannel shirt. She can smell burning.
He wants the old her, that same old Suzie-babe, with the tube-top
and the high heels and the Jack Daniel's. He wants her to fall
into his lap, giggling with excitement and the thrill of the
But she's strapped in her own bucket seat. A horn blares, another
car swerves, a VW Bus falls over on its side in a flurry of sparks
and then it's out of sight, behind them, gone. Susan thinks of
the day of Bucky's very last race, when his car lost a tire and
he killed a man. It wasn't his fault. Nobody blamed him. But when
his car stopped rolling and he climbed out okay and still not
knowing, he waved to the crowd and gave them a thumbs up only
no one waved back. No one was even looking.
Still on the Turnpike, speeding through the marsh now. She can
smell it, that smell of swamp, that smell of home. If this was
Florida then around the next turn a gator would be waiting in
the water, motionless like a log. But this is New Jersey. The
gator is an old spare tire, a floating diaper, a piece of a door
off a refrigerator that washed up against the road once and stuck.
Why... Bucky says. Why didn't you ever have that baby?
Something black smears across the window on his side then, oil
maybe, and he has to lean out of the window to steer. So he can't
hear her answer, which is good because she doesn't have one right
away. Baby, she thinks. Baby. The letters that make up the word
vibrate around in her head, clink from side to side with the
of the car. Bucky swerves left and dives across three lanes. He
crashes through a tollgate and there's the sound of wood cracking
and a ringing that says they didn't pay, and then he gets back
on the right side of this road. Off to one side is the
Off to the other is swamp and cattails. Susan can see a long trail
of oil-smoke going up behind them when Bucky swerves right. She
knows what that means. She thinks Bucky does too. They swing
a curve and get onto a dirt access-road that runs out into the
marsh itself, and individual things freeze in her eyes in minute
detail. Something lies dead on her side of the road. A crow looks
on, undisturbed by their passing. The cattails that flick by,
taller than the roof of the car, are green and brown and a faded,
dirtied white like old pictures. White, winged things burst from
their tops, loft into the air, curl around like cigarette smoke
in their wake.
Because, she thinks to the radio. She imagines herself saying
the words. Because something made out of a part of you and a part
of me then would have been so heavy I would have drowned. It rains
more down in that state then anywhere else in the world, Bucky.
It rains every day during the week and then it rains on Saturdays
too. But they drive on, wrapped in the sound of the motor and
the static-filled music of old bands.
Bucky hangs out of the window and Susan stares at the dashboard
in silence until they pull around a corner doing ninety and
a gate. She sees it first in her freezing vision, through the
tiny part of clear windshield that hovers before her, that the
tall gate is closed and locked to metal poles that are cemented
deep into the ground. She sees Bucky see the gate and then he
stands on the brakes hard and the Mustang bucks hard and
is spinning. The car pushes its nose down deep into the dirt and
raises its trunk toward the sky and throws them around. Trash
from the back seat spills over them like water. Bucky hugs the
steering wheel. Susan is pitched forward and she hits the dash
before the old seatbelt catches her. She hits hard, and thinks
she might have cracked a tooth.
The engine dies. Dust is everywhere. Far away, she can hear
Fuck, says Bucky.
He tries to open his door but it won't, then he climbs across
her, shoves the door on her side and runs up to the gate. He jerks
it back and forth. The heavy chain rattles against the metal bars
and the thick, heavy padlock swings in the air. Susan gets out
of the car and imagines jail. The smell of mildew and sweat.
shouting somewhere, like they do on the unit from time to time.
She imagines being locked behind thick rock and iron in a place
where everyone watches you use the toilet.
She wonders who she will recognize, who might recognize her.
Son of a bitch! Bucky yells. He kicks the gate and punches it
with a fist. Don't do this to me!
To you? Susan thinks.
Then Bucky takes out his pistol and shoots the gate. The shots
crack out into the air and seem so small, like the snapping of
old, brittle sticks in a fire. She doesn't say anything, she just
stands there watching him empty the gun. He clicks a few times
after all the shots are gone and there's the smell of burning
sulfur, hanging there in the air around them.
She holds onto her lip and it bleeds into her hand. Small dots
of red fall onto her wet, white coat. Small drops of red that
make her think of that time in the clinic. This time he's here
to see it, she thinks. This time it's more than just some nurse
I don't know, handing me pads. She looks down at her shoes and
stoops to tie the one she unlaced to show him the long, golden
tail of the unicorn.
You're bleeding, Bucky says.
She doesn't say anything.
I said you're bleeding.
I'm bleeding, she says, looking up. I hear you.
Without taking his eyes from her Bucky sinks down to the ground
with his back up against the gate. He puts his head into his hands
and then takes it out again and looks up at her. I wanted
better than this.
Lot of good it does.
I'm really sorry, Suzie. I wanted us to get out.
She thinks of those men and women dressed in stripes, walking
in circles, all their hands chained together. Out of where, she
Out, he says. Get away. Together.
Is that what this is all about, she thinks. Oh, Bucky, you've
got it all backwards. She looks at the high grass, at the
hovering in the air above it, and feels much older than she has
felt before, as though she is his mother now, not that woman in
the curlers and the bathrobe, that some sort of baton has been
passed over and now she has to run with it.
Christ, Bucky, this isn't high-school anymore. We're not
Where the hell would we go?
I'm so sorry, he says again. He puts his head back into his hands
and it stays there. She can see brown spots across his scalp that
weren't there when he had more hair. In the Mustang something
catches with a woof! and a black smoke crawls out from under the
hood. She holds her breath, closes her eyes and plunges back into
the car, feeling around with hands, opening her eyes only when
she grasps something. A plastic fork. An air-freshener shaped
like a tree. Then it's there, between two fingers, her work ID.
Then it's in her pocket and she's out.
I'll tell them it was only me, Bucky says, still by the gate.
I'll wait for them and they won't go chasing through the marsh.
They won't bring in helicopters. You'll get out. He does not look
at her and his voice is muffled, but she still hears him, and
him saying that opens up that door inside of her again. She is
standing on one side and that old her is just over the threshold.
The black smoke winds along the ground. The sirens are closer
now, screeching like hungry birds. Somewhere off in the reeds,
something small splashes.
Then, deciding, she steps through that door and takes the slim
hand of memory, and the old her rises up and walks into the new
like something out of Star Trek--two hers in the same space-time,
an amalgamation of distinct individuals beamed into one spot.
She goes over and touches the top of Bucky's head without saying
anything. The hair there is fine, shaggy, and thinning, warm like
she imagines the head of a child to be. She picks up the pistol
and throws it as far out into the reeds as she can, and then,
kneeling, takes Bucky in her arms for a long minute.
Then she rises sprints back up the road, picks a spot at random
and moves into the marsh careful not to bend down too many reeds,
to leave any kind of trail. Old habits, coming back to her easily
now. Running, hiding. She steps her white shoes out into the
It comes up to her knees and half of that is muck, she'll never
see those shoes again. Bugs scatter. There's another old tire
and plastic garbage bags here. The water is green and brown and
pieces of what looks like mold floats on the surface.
She crouches down and listens to the sirens spiral in, to the
cars arriving. She feels the dark water seeping into her clothes
and pressing against her skin and it makes her remember the feel
of the abortion, the cold hands of the doctor, that long piece
of hard, frigid metal turning deep inside her like a key. She
imagines the marks it left like a tattoo. A tattoo of gigantic
proportions marking her in a place where she will never see the
shape. Somewhere that door shuts and both of her, the new and
the old, are on the same side, arms around each other.
She looks through the reeds to where Bucky is. They've pulled
him to his feet. The Mustang is all in flames now and Bucky is
shaking his head as the men are putting him in cuffs and asking
him questions. No, sir, he says, loud enough for her to hear.
Only me. No, I'm telling you, sir. Sirs. They push him hard
the hood of the car and then two of them walk out to the edge
of the swamp, looking. She crouches down lower. They're
coming in, searching; she can see that in the way their bodies
lean outward, ready. Then one of them, the older of the two,
his head, points at his shiny boots and shrugs.
They walked Bucky right past where she was hiding, to put him
into the back of one particular patrol car. They were so
of boots, jingling of keys and cuffs and what-else, she could
almost have touched him if she wanted.
She didn't. But in her mind that day she did. She reached out
from between the cattails and she brushed a spot on Bucky's ankle
as the police took him past. Under her imagined finger, in red
and blue and gold inks, sprouted a tiny tattoo of an eagle. The
very same eagle that's spread across her own back from shoulder
Weeks later on the unit, she can still imagine how beautiful it
would have looked. Beak open, wings spread. Poised and ready to