She had parked herself on the edge of the fountain in the middle of the campus green and watched out of the corner of her eyes for him to come near, then she had stood suddenly and caused him to bump into her, although it had been a harder bump than she was ready for, and she had dropped her notebook full of sketches into the little fountain. He had then suddenly lost his composure and splashed around the fountain to retrieve her drawings while she laughed so hard tears came down her cheeks. They have been together since. An overhanging branch, heavy with rain, slaps the windshield and makes her jump. She must focus on the task at hand. She pushes to reach the highway.
She can’t decide whether to cry or laugh. She is racing to save the world, but she must first save her sons from Frank.
God, how has she managed to get mixed up with him? How could she have put herself in this position of having to rescue her own children in the middle of the night? How could she have allowed herself to put her faith in this mortal man, when God had anointed her? The car fishtails as she navigates another turn. She must make the creek before it floods.
Then again, she remembers their first meeting, when they were both students at the little college they had attended way back when. She had noticed then that he was attractive enough, with his full lips and his almost oriental-shaped eyes, his cavalier mustache. He had been considered a prize catch by the other girls Lara knew. She had waited for him that early autumn Monday to come strolling from his engineering class, alone, seeming older than most of the other students, but he wasn’t. He was just wiser looking and filled with confidence.
Sometimes, she wishes he would disagree, that he would take some sort of stand and they could have a big fight and get everything out in the open, but he avoids fights with as much vigor as she employs with her spiritual work, although he avoids hearing about that even more. The wipers swish and squeak. She should be nearing the creek soon, but these wipers are so worn out, she can’t see where the road is, much less where the next turn might be. Frank has promised to replace those wipers too, but he hasn’t, of course. He seems to be exhausted when he comes home from work, too tired to do the few chores she asks him to do, or to talk with her about her day. He just falls into his beat-up wingback he picked up from some wealthy aunt or somebody, the chair he acts as if it was some sort of rare treasure, and sits drinking a scotch and starts going on about his boring, tedious day at the office. But the minute she tries to tell him about what she has done, about her discovery of new nuances of meaning in her cards, about how she has traded a trance reading for some eggs, or about the beautiful patch of paw-paws she has found and harvested, he will just sigh the same sigh he breathes every night and stare at the floor.
But there is a sense that she gets about him that his heart just isn’t in it. He doesn’t understand why they need to live here on this farm, why they need to get back to the primitive ways. Oh, she has explained it to him any number of times, all right. He should know. When she had been Marie Antoinette, in a previous life, Lara had come to understand the need to return to a more primitive life without the corrupting influence of society. But Frank seems more like he is just going along with her, as if it is easier to go along than to disagree.
The tires slide in the mud and sparse gravel of the lane, but she doesn’t slow down. There is no time to waste. If she can make it to the highway by the Colvin’s, she will be okay. Once she is on pavement, she can relax.
But her thoughts go back to Frank. Of course, it isn’t that he doesn’t care about those things; he works, leaving every morning before daybreak for his tiny office in Charlottesville and coming home tired and sad looking. And even then, if there is any light, he will sometimes do something around the yard, working on a chicken coop with the two boys straggling along behind him carrying the hammer and nails. Or sometimes he will take his old .22 and go out to kill a squirrel for them
She has to hurry, or they will be trapped there on the farm, and God’s will must be done. The car sways past the fields and along the fence rows, sending a sound of crunching gravel, muffled by the constant drumming of the rain, across the farm. The rain falls hard, and already the road is becoming slippery, as it always does when it rains the least little bit. A low rumble of thunder wanders from somewhere in the distance. Lara squints into the darkness. This is Frank’s fault. It’s all his fault. Her children are in terrible danger, and it’s all his fault. She told Frank that they needed to call the county to add some rock to the road, but he put it off, just like he puts off everything. It amazes her how he can be so lackadaisical about things, as if nothing matters. It doesn’t matter to him that the road is in danger of becoming impassable every time it rains. It doesn’t matter that the house is falling down around their ears, that it is drafty and cold in the winter and blistering hot in the summer. It doesn’t matter that there is too little food to put on the table. Lara swerves around a bend in the road, just avoiding the huge boulder the boys call Elephant Rock.
“Where we goin’, Mother?” Dale’s voice is thin, almost tired sounding. “I wanna go back to bed.” That is more like a whine.
“Go to sleep in the back seat, Honey. We’ve got a long way to go.” She looks in the mirror to address him, but it is too dark to see. She can’t tell if she feels exhilaration at their escape or fear for what may lie ahead. But they haven’t gotten away yet. They still must make it to the highway. She starts the hulking Chevrolet, pulls the gearshift down, and steers towards the gate. She doesn’t turn on the lights right away, thinking she will be less conspicuous without the lights until she is on the gravel road beyond the fence, but she can’t see well enough even to discern where the dirt drive is.
“Shh.” Lara puts her hand on his head to guide him to the back door. A low thunder grumbles outside. “He’s in the car, I told you. Come on now.” She unlatches and opens the door, minimizing the ever-present creak as much as possible, although they are far enough away from Frank that it perhaps doesn’t matter. Outside, the rain comes in a steady stream, small rivulets washing past the backdoor and around to the yard. It is early-morning April cool, and she huddles her arms together. A wet breeze stirs. She looks up, but there is no moon, no stars, just the hint of heavy shadows from black clouds somewhere in the night. Heavy drops pour from the sky. Louis darts across the soggy yard over to the rusty station wagon.
“Where’s Dale?” Louis rubs his eyes as he walks through the worn kitchen, his too large shoes scuffing along the linoleum that has cracked and settled in conformity to the sagging, see-saw floor below it. The drum stove is out, cool, and the room has grown cool and damp as well. The room smells musty, old, and Lara is not sorry to pass through it without having some chore or other to take care of. Her thoughts race, falling over each other. She must take the boys away; this much she cannot deny.
The voices have told her and no one else. No, if anyone would know, it is Lara. And Lara knows it is time. Louis is pulling over his head the tired, faded tee-shirt she has gotten out for him, and then his socks and tennis shoes. His short blond hair sticks up from sleeping, and his eyes still have a puffy look from waking up, but he is ready. A streak flashes across the sky, farther away now, and the thunder rumbles, low at first, growing to a crescendo, then gone. “Come on.” Lara reaches a hand toward him and he puts both hands out to be carried, but she shakes her head. “No, you can walk. Come on.” She leads him to the edge of the bed and he lets himself fall to the mattress, bouncing off the bed and onto the floor with a slight “sprong.” “Shh.” Lara picks Louis up now, although her eyes are trained on the door at the far end of the hallway. But Louis is awake now and squirms to be put down. She sets him down and leads him past his father’s room and down the rickety stairs through the darkened house.