By dark we have driven out of the storm and make good time. We pull into El Paso around midnight and get a room. I’m sorry that tomorrow we’ll only be one state away from Arizona. I go out for a pizza and when I get back to the room Jill is on the phone. She talks for a while longer and I try not to listen as I pull off some melted cheese for Laney. After Jill hangs up we sit on the bed and eat.
“I told mother we’d be there tomorrow night,” Jill says.
“She’s going to call her friend about a teaching job.”
“That should help.”
Laney acts like eating on the bed is the best idea anyone ever came up with. She talks to us in unintelligible sentences that roughly equal the length of what we have just said, then laughs to herself at the meaning.
“I told her you tried to kill a pig today. Know what she said?”
“No.” I pick up the piece of crust off Laney’s paper plate and take a bite.
“She said, ‘Did he get the meat?'” Jill laughs and tosses her plate into the pizza box. “Like I can see you in the middle of the highway cutting up a pig in an ice storm.”
She stops laughing and stares at me, then folds the pizza box so it will fit into the waste basket.
“I’m going to take a bath,” I say, and start to unbutton my shirt.
“You know the thing I liked best about Mississippi?” Jill says. “When we went out to the river to shoot the gun. I’ve still got a scar where the ejector thing pinched my hand.”
“That was a good day.”
“I could have shot that pig,” she says, and gives me a look meant to be intimidating. I smile at her while I take off my pants.
I stand in the shower for a long time soaking up the heat. The phone rings, I think, but it could only be the pipes knocking. When I get out Laney is tucked into the bed, fighting off sleep. I pick up the dog and set him next to her. He groans and tries to move but I push him back into place. Laney sits up and gives me a hug. She has a strong grip which always surprises me. I promise myself to always be patient with her.
I sit next to Jill on the other bed and we share whiskey mixed with tap water as we watch Laney fall away.
“I won’t miss Mississippi,” Jill says. “Couldn’t buy beer on Sunday.” She hands me the plastic cup and leans back against the headboard.
“That’s not so bad,” I say. Jill is staring at the dark paneled walls that soak up all the light in the room. Her face is as lost as anything I’ve ever seen.
“Jimmy wants more time,” she says. “I told him you were doing pretty good with her.” She doesn’t look away from the paneling.
“Mother gave him the number.”
“He’s getting ambitious, isn’t he?”
“Said he was worried about the weather. With Laney and all.” Jill stands up for a second and then sits back down. “He is the father,” she adds.
I nod. “Tell him we brought our own orange juice bottle.”
“To Laney a father is some big dopey man that smells like bourbon,” Jill says. She takes the cup back and gets up to fix another drink. “What a future.”
When Jill comes back I turn off the light between the beds and crawl under the covers. We lay there for a long time listening to highway sounds and watching headlights move across the wall through the cracks between the curtains. A TV goes loud in the next room. I feel the bed move when Jill throws the cup and hear it bounce off the dresser somewhere close to the wastebasket. Jill moves over me, pulls her t-shirt off, kisses my chest and works her way down. She makes circles around my navel with her tongue.
When we begin to make love it’s rough, Jill bouncing up and down, throwing her body at me, shaking the bed, knocking my breath away. I think about a girl in the class I just finished teaching. She didn’t say ten words the whole time, just sat in the back being beautiful and shy, her face very pale but with dark, dark hair. She wrote a paper about how she grew up on her grandparent’s farm. There was a creek that went through a little wooded valley. One day her grandfather was cutting firewood and dropped a hickory on himself. The cows they kept shouldered their way in close to look at him. She told about cranking the chain saw, how it shook in her hands, and about cutting out a section of trunk that had her grandfather pinned down. She had to keep shutting down the saw so the old man could explain how to make each cut without binding the chain. He talked to her the whole time, even while she dragged him to the truck and drove him thirty miles to the hospital.
When Jill and I are through we lay there for a while, and then I hear her sleeping. I think about how quickly things change. How one day you’re going along and suddenly you have a girlfriend and a daughter, and can’t even remember how it really happened. Like that, I know that I’ll never remember what the voice of the girl with the chain saw sounds like. I’ll never get to meet her grandfather, never see her farm, or her closet, or her bed. I sit up and can just make out Laney, how she’s kicked the covers away again. I reach over and fix them back.