- Pulling Visits
This morning when I woke up I thought, It's been a while since I pulled a visit. Lancaster it is.
I rented one of those city share cars, a Mini. Now I'm cruising out here with the window down, even when I pass through the layer of oil refineries that circles the city. The sky is splashed with pale sunlight. The clouds are like milk curdled in coffee, and the wind is warm. The road rattles under my thighs where they rest on the sculpted seat. It's Monday morning, Memorial Day, and traffic is light.
Last night Mark told me he thought we've had a good run. I clutched the phone to my ear. My long legs were bent like mantis arms, flopped open on the white and worn love seat that bears our impression.
"Why change things now?" I asked. "I like you. You like me. We have fun." I thought he was joking the way we do, love wrapped in meanness, dissipated with a laugh. I kept my tone light.
"Jennifer," he said. And I realized he wasn't joking, that he'd planned this for this holiday weekend, when I knew he'd be home with his wife. His annual fishing trip is today, the one he takes with George, his best friend from high school. He told me about it. He gets back by five. They grill. Rub the fish in lemon and butter and Old Bay, let the fat drip onto the coals and spit and burn and the charred bits make the rest that much better. There are beer and potatoes to round out the feast. When he first told me about the tradition a couple years ago, I could taste the fish flaking apart in my mouth, feel the heat in my stomach. "Stop," I begged. I tried to change the subject but he wouldn't let me. I heard every detail: the mourning doves' calls, the [End Page 463] sun setting while the coals still glow, the same stories as funny as they always were. Once the kids ran in circles on the lawn already dampening with dew, but they're out of the house now.
I know I'm getting close when the buggies start cropping up along the narrow up-and-down of the back road I've chosen. There's a thrill to being pitched over the top of one of the curving steep hills, the way my stomach loses its moorings for a moment. 'Fifties ranch after 'fifties ranch flickers by, interspersed with ancient-looking stone farmhouses—the kind with crooked floors, cold plaster walls and hidden passageways, and in those walls, through those passageways, thread stories of escaped slaves, murdered girls, forgotten treasure. I pass a couple of ruins by the side of the road, tucked into the trees so that you'd think they were real houses at first glance, but then you'd see the way vines crawl over and through empty holes where windows were, the room half-disappeared, broken off. In front of one of them is this Amish guy pushing himself along on a scooter in its shadow. Every few minutes there's the flicker of horse's hooves seen from behind a black buggy, an orange safety triangle winking, and then someone's beard whipped by the wind, three laughing people on one narrow seat, a bonnet tied loosely. Every time I drive out here and see their stolid progress as cars swerve around them, I think, how fragile they are. How stubborn.
I pass through a spasm of outlet malls, back into the countryside, and I'm almost there. I glance at the directions, but it's not hard to find the neighborhood. Surrounded by farm fields that are rich green with early summer, Foxcroft Estates' pastel houses stand out on the hill like candy teeth. Even so, the patina of age and permanence is just starting to creep in, as if family histories could be starting to grow here. Some trees have thickened from saplings to solidity. The asphalt is no longer ink black, but a shade paler than charcoal...