“The Slug’s having a party this weekend,” he says. “I hope you’re going.”
“Maybe I will,” she says.
She does not. Nine years later, she will drive across the ravaged plains to California, eight generators and a box full of parts rattling behind her, only at night with the headlights off, praying not to meet a deer, a child, an abandoned car wreck. During the day, she will hide the truck in a barn, a drainage ditch, the ruin of a house, crawl underneath it and try to sleep. It is no worse than the Yangtze, she will think, when the bullets were coming for her; it is no worse than the smuggler’s cargo plane, where icicles grew on their hands and they threw the corpses into the atmosphere over the Pacific. Now, dirt in her mouth, hiding in water and machinery. She will know she has no choice but to accept the changes, will come to understand her time in New York as a respite from that, a few small years of peace, and she will be glad she did not fool herself then into thinking it would last, only get better. All things come and go, people come and go; and there, under a truck beneath a pulsing gray sky, she will wonder what became of Robert Lord Townsend, regret that she did not go to that party, balance herself on tiptoes, and kiss him when she had the chance.
Two bouts with malaria, a gunshot wound, lone survival of a plane crash, and seven years later, she will have the chance again, at a gas station half-buried in the sand of the Arizona desert. She will be trading forty-six yards of PVC piping for three gallons of petroleum. He will be leaning against a rusted phone booth, smoking, pretending to ignore the owner’s warnings to put it out. In the dark, the dust, the change the years have wrought, they will almost not recognize each other. Then the cigarette will fall from his fingers, the gasoline spill across the pavement, as they run toward each other, their laughter making idiots of them both.