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BRB was driving to New Morning Market with her daughter when she heard a rustle from the trunk. The child, almost three and stunning in a way that made BRB think she wasn't hers, turned in her car seat. To their left Mount Tom Pond shone poor and beautiful. Fat men in beige sat in the center, ice fishing. At the farm stand across the road they sold the daily catch, broodstock Atlantic salmon, largemouth and calico bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch, sunfish. [End Page 155]
"Don't turn around. Don't stop. Keep driving."
At first she was more startled at who the man in the trunk looked like than the idea that there was a man back there at all. The third seat was down to accommodate skis, and it was through this aperture that the stranger crawled, holding a knife that glinted like a knife in the sunlight.
"What the fuck!" she said.
Swiftly and roughly the man moved the skis to the side and adjusted himself beside her daughter's turquoise car seat. The child said, "Momma?" and began to take rapid little breaths that BRB had never seen before.
The fucker looked like Joe. It wasn't him but God did it look like him. Same red bull face of a man who not enough women had wanted to fuck.
"You better put her at ease. I'm Uncle Jim, right."
BRB's heart banged in her chest. She wasn't wearing a bra. In the rearview, she saw her daughter's face, terrified, and so very close to it, she saw three-quarters of the man's face. Pockmarked, pedophilic.
The child's hands reached forward in the air.
"Baby, baby, it's OK!" BRB was crying. She laughed. "It's Uncle Jim! Holy shit, Uncle Jim! When did you get here!"
The child snuck a look at the stranger then turned her eyes back to the rearview mirror. The man had moved the knife over to the top of the car seat, the blade pointing inches above the child's blond head. BRB nodded at her daughter, smiling madly. "Baby, it's OK, it's Uncle Jim, it's, it's Daddy's other brother." To the man: "What the—are you doing here, Uncle Jim!"
"Just passing through."
"What do you need?"
"Just keep driving till everyone settles down. What's the kid's name?"
"I heard a lot about you, Madeline, from your daddy."
Hearing the kid's name on the stranger's tongue made vomit rise up in BRB's throat. It tasted like the cracked wheat bread she'd eaten for breakfast. She swallowed it down. She wasn't sure if she was more scared that it was a stranger than if it had been Joe.
At home her husband would be sitting down now, after having done the morning dishes. He'd be opening a laptop and texting her the shopping list. Since the arrival of the kid, they'd gotten into the habit of telling [End Page 156]
each other when they arrived somewhere. Here. The other would write, Yay.
BRB didn't know what to do. She did not feel heroic but gutless and scared in a way she had never conceived of being. She'd imagined disease, accident, sudden obliterating terrorism to strike her down. But not this. A stranger holding a knife to her daughter's Maxi-Cosi Mico.
Out the window, the lake gave way to dingy evergreens. It would be rural highway, no stoplights or storefronts, for nine more miles.
"Where are we going, Uncle Jim?" BRB said. She could not make eye contact with the man. She figured she would pass out if she did. Her daughter, though, was staring at him. Still scared, but more interested now. Generally the child was afraid of nothing, except shitting in the toilet.
"For a little drive, sweetheart. I'll show you the way. Just keep steady on this road for a while. You won't wanna make any sudden movements."
He turned the...