Denver was becoming acutely aware that at this moment in the road trip, where a second wind might have kicked in, not even the slightest of breezes was blowing.
â€œI know! Lets not go, letâ€™s go somewhere else, we can drive to Tennessee or California, or Texas!â€
â€œWe have to go. Nickâ€™s expecting us, and I just donâ€™t want to let him down,â€ James said. Actually, he was the person most excited for the trip. He had spent all night procuring an eighth of an ounce of the finest pot east of the Mississippi.
â€œI donâ€™t know if Ill be able to stand drinking tequila and speaking foreign languages all day. I got so annoyed last time when everyone decided that Turkish was a natural part of every personâ€™s core knowledge. They all think Iâ€™m an idiot,â€ Denver warned. Jamesâ€™ friends were all over-educated, upwardly mobile (whatever that meant) American expatriates located in the New York environs, hunkering down and waiting for the Euro to get better before they made it official. Or, to say it another way, spoiled. Or, yet another way, pretentious bourgeois cowards. Thatâ€™s according to Denver, of course. She loathed being patronized.
â€œThen drink wine.â€ James offered, as Tristan und Isolde melted into â€œHey Judeâ€.
Denver killed the next twenty minutes telling James about the terrible dreams sheâ€™d been having in the days leading up to their trip, hoping to garner some more sympathy and perhaps even effect a change in plans.
â€œThey arenâ€™t really sequential narratives, more like cinematic stills in which I can both spectate and participate. And Iâ€™m not really in a specific setting, but just, like, a genericâ€¦..environment. My face appears in these three-quarter profile shots, Laocoon-like, with this expression that is just the stillest agony youâ€™ve ever seen or felt, and then, my teeth begin to soften, dissolve, and crumble, coming out in sawed off shards, juicy bloody bits of gum and gristle still clinging.â€ Other variations of this dream included coughing accompanied by a flurry of teeth tumbling into her cupped hand, or lifting a pear to her mouth, and, as she tore into the soft fragrant meat, her teeth would stay there, lodged in the pear skin. The act of eating, an inherently additive act, became one of subtraction.
â€œSo textbook,â€ observed James. â€œCouldnâ€™t be more predictable if you tried.â€
â€œWell I didnâ€™t try,â€ she said flatly. â€œItâ€™s a dream.â€
â€œWell.â€ James said.
And, after a few minutes of silence:
â€œItâ€™s not an anxiety dream, if thatâ€™s what youâ€™re thinking,â€ Denver asserted.
â€œOf course it is. Fear stems from anxiety. And I mean, you were the one that announced it as a nightmare, which must, you know, imply some aspect of fear. And, I think we both know you arenâ€™t exactly overjoyed to see these people again. Maybe a little scared, huh?â€ James argued. Then a quick and sloppy caveat. â€œBut you know there is no reason to be scared, you know I think you are twice as intelligent as any one of them is.â€ She inhaled and sighed.
â€œMaybe. Iâ€™m going back to sleep. Iâ€™ll try to dream more originally this time.â€ She turned her shoulders in onto herself, and cradled her body against the door. James stared straight ahead, and then glanced over at Denver to see if she was looking at him. She had pulled most of her white cotton shirt up over her face to block out the light. It threw her profile into a stark snowy relief that resembled the frosty Appalachians that swelled around the empty road. The soft space revealed beneath her rib cage made his eyes momentarily go out of focus. He reached over and stroked her stomach with a fond finger. She emitted a murmur that diminuendoed into a soft appoggiatura, announcing her descent into a drowsy, uncomfortable slumber.
An hour fifteen later, Denverâ€™s mouth opened wide to expel raspy, hoarse air frantically on the car window, condensate that exploded like a plump, round firework in a glass sky. She twitched, sat up, and after re-acclimating herself to the waking world, she turned to him and breathed,
â€œAlligators, in a lake, one swam right up from under me, then past me. Its knobbed back touched my foot. I was with my sister. And I couldnâ€™t scream out to her.â€
â€œSo no more teeth?â€ he said warmly, part hoping to make light of their little squabble earlier, part trying to stick the knife in deeper.
â€œAre you kidding me? Of course there were teeth. Alligators.â€ she said, more emphatically.
â€œRight, but not your teeth.â€
A little while later, while wallowing in passive aggressive silence, Denver decided to take her frustrations public.
â€œWhat will happen to us in ten years, do you think?â€ She wasnâ€™t sure what she was trying to start.
â€œWhat is the point of asking that question?â€ James asked.
â€œWell. What else is there to do now? I just want to know. In case I should jump ship or something. Do you even think itâ€™s even possible for people to desire each other after sustained familiarity?â€
â€œWell, weâ€™ve been together six years, havenâ€™t we? I hate it when you talk like this. Donâ€™t worry about stuff like this nowâ€
â€œIâ€™m not worrying, just wondering. I mean, weâ€™ve been in a car for only a few hours, and weâ€™re sort of at each otherâ€™s throats.â€
Part of her was annoyed that he was taking her completely seriously, and kind of scared that he wasnâ€™t immediately denying all possibility of such an eventuality. She wanted him to say she was crazy, and that no matter what happened, they would always be hot for each other. Yet another part of her was annoyed that if he was taking this seriously, and thus believed it could and would happen, then why wasnâ€™t he willing to discuss it. Aging was inevitable. She had no tricks up her sleeve and she didnâ€™t work out enough. She knew she took her youth for granted. But what was her alternative? Waste all her time preparing for her an unattainable ageless future, whittle the hours away on a treadmill under fluorescent lighting, squander paychecks on hundred dollar ounces of whale fat cream, or best, let someone slice her face up and re-arrange it like one of those moveable picture puzzles? She remembered from her history class in college a noblewoman, probably a Medici or something, who had killed over six hundred young maidens, stringing them up by the feet, slitting their throats, and draining their blood so that she could bathe in it. She believed that it would make her young-looking again. Denver lacked that kind of commitment. It would be wrinkly old age for her, she thought to herself. After a pause, she said, still trying to engage James on the subject,
â€œWeâ€™re both going to get saggy and fatter. It happens to everyone. My skin will get all sponge-like, the little pores on my face will become larger holes, my eyes will recede into flaps of skin. Itâ€™s going to be gross. Your ears will probably grow at least three inches, and the hair in them three inches more.â€ What extinguished desire? She imagined that after ten years they might both look at each other and feel as if their partner had mutated into some beastly, albeit vaguely familiar, creature. And even if warped appearances didnâ€™t snuff out amorous feelings, wouldnâ€™t mere desensitization eventually get the job done?
James didnâ€™t understand inquisitive anxiety as opposed to real, worry-inducing anxiety. So he wasnâ€™t willing to discuss it, even as an intellectual topic of conversation. After a bit more driving, he finally spotted something by the side of the road near Wingdale, N.Y. James pointed to Denver.
â€œLook, just like you wanted. Texas!â€ A neon sign read â€œRosemaryâ€™s Texas Taco.â€ They pulled into the driveway of the psychedelically colored house, whose lawn was littered with old urns, carousel creatures, and Playskool playhouses. Wind-mill sculptures and wind-chimes chattered casually. The trees on the property were all hung with strings of beads and cut glass.
When they got out of the car, Denverâ€™s spirits lifted. Up against the slush-stained white fender, Denverâ€™s skirt lavished the side of the car as James sidled his face up to hers.
â€œWeâ€™re going to have a wonderful weekendâ€ James whispered conciliatorily. â€œIâ€™m not going to let an alligator touch you. Not one nibble.â€