Fiction · 09/16/2020

Because We, Too, Must Run

I’ve hit the face of God head on. The rain falls and falls in the black night. The moon slivers white on the horizon. The highway a grey thread, unspooling. I sit in the car trying to talk to my wife as we return from an aborted dinner in the city. And there it is. Silver light bounding from the field. Silver light flashing through the air. A thud. Then the bump of tires rolling over something.

“What was that?” my wife asks.

“I have no idea,” I reply, checking my rearview mirror. Nothing but the dark constellation of rain behind us.

“Should we stop? We should stop,” she says, looking over her shoulder.

“It’s too dangerous,” I say. “If we stop, we’ll be killed. Besides, it’s dead or gone by now.”

We pass the remainder of the drive guessing what it might have been.

“A deer,” my wife says.

“Too easy,” I reply. “Besides, that doesn’t explain the flash of silver.” The rain pounds the car. The wind howls outside. We sit in silence as each searches for the flicker of an answer. “A giant bunny!” I joke. “An escaped stormtrooper!” We laugh, happy that humor has jockeyed through the cracks of our fight at dinner.

“A refugee snowman!” my wife continues. “Don Johnson in his Miami Vice suit!” The last one nearly sends us off the road with laughter. But then a silence follows that neither of us has any idea how to handle.

My mind returns to the woman with whom I’d had an affair the year before, the woman whose ghost still haunts my marriage. The argument had gotten so heated at dinner, my wife had suggested that maybe it would have been better had I chosen to leave, to be with the other woman. Just imagine what different lives we might be leading now, she’d said. What different people we might have become. I sat for a long time staring at my steak after she’d said that, trying to imagine that life. How do you know? I asked. What if we’re just our same miserable selves but with a different person? My wife took a long sip of her wine. When she looked at me, I couldn’t tell if she hated or loved me. I guess we’ll never know, she said, then excused herself to the bathroom.

When we arrive home, I run inside for a flashlight to examine the car. My wife stands in the doorway with the dogs, while I stand in the rain, panning the light across the bumper of the car. “I don’t see anything,” I start to say. “Wait! There’s something here.” My wife steps closer as we both examine the tuft of light grey hair caught in the seam between bumper and car. The hair is tinged with white and a hint of rust-colored red. The dogs push open the screen door and run wildly about the car, stopping and sniffing at the bumper but also beneath the tires, catching the scent of what must have been a coyote. The smell, so strong, so certain, it’s difficult to pull them away.

That night I lie in bed thinking about the coyote. The beauty of its jump. The grace of that flash of silver in the night. How easy it was to love when the possibilities were endless. Now it’s merely a tuft of hair stuck to a car, a scent I can’t catch. The spirit never comes as we would have it. I close my eyes with the hope of sleep but it’s slow to arrive. So slow that I’m not sure when it is that I find myself bounding across an open field, the stars splayed above me, the wind singing in my ear. Chased by rain, I run faster and faster until the darkness opens, and I see the road before me. I leap. Only then, as the wind carries me in its long arms, do I understand its song.

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Peter Grandbois is the author of eleven books, the most recent of which is the poetry collection The Three-Legged World, published in a Triptych edition with books by James McCorkle and Robert Miltner (Etruscan 2020). His work has appeared in over one hundred journals, including The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Prairie Schooner. His plays have been performed in St. Louis, Columbus, Los Angeles, and New York. He is a senior editor at Boulevard magazine and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. You can find him at www.petergrandbois.com.