To drive up 165 past dark, and know where he was going, was to need a huge, overwhelming current of air.
All of the windows were wide open.
Rain had fallen earlier, droplets from the windshield still whipping into the battered Fury, stinging his left forearm. The land is flat, soggy, lined with swamps. For a stretch beyond the city limits the four lane is unlit, then the remnants of a small town along the bayou appear: offices, daycares, veterinarians, machine shops and finally an anomalous brand new hospital in ghostly relief from blue ground lights.
Right up there, past that, a small two-lane branches off. This is the old highway, with overhanging growth, tagged for use mainly by oil exploration companies and highschoolers on the way to Moon Lake.
Mac is going slow, his temerity toward outlying regions manifest with a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing. The dim headlights are inadequate for long periods over the shoulderless asphalt; here, civilization's broken white centerline is a necessity. At the Moon Lake turnoff he loses some traction, sliding crosswise to a halt at the base of the silty dirt road leading over the levee and into the trees. He waits a while, just watching, the intensity of the headlights fluctuating with the engine's idle.
He drives on, ascending the levee slowly and descending even more slowly into the unilluminated river bottom. Whether it's good or bad to have seen no other travelers at all out here Mac isn't certain.
At some unseen point, the day's showery heat ceases and actual coolness pockets each corner the car turns, borne on river breezes over intermittent grassy pastures. Headlights cross sagging barbed wire and a visibly disintegrating barn; everything here is going backwards. This two-lane, older than even the old highway, leads eventually north to Arkansas, curving steeply, dangerous for the inattentive or uninitiated. Mac drives slowly enough.
All along Mac's left side--the west--are slivers of moon. He passes one dim turnoff, and silently begins a count. On down to the third possible detour, a branch dirt road completely indistinguishable from the others. This is the right one. The necessary one, rather. He turns the Fury's wheel, grudgingly.
Across a second levee and all remnant light is formally extinguished. Vegetation grows denser, laden with earthsmells; before him the landscape provides only this dim road and the patched barbed wire fence alongside.
At last there is a break, a shallow field lined on both sides by oaks from a once-upon-a-time plan. Utterly lightless against the far black backdrop of the river sits the long desiccated main house. What remains most solidly is two brick columns, no signs or warnings of any kind against trespassers. That this is private land is known to Mac, and he treads lightly.
Once before he has been here, with his brother John. They parked John's first car here just beyond the gate and walked the impossibly rutted logging road for a prescribed distance into the woods, smelled the river, and turned left. After an argument over interpretation of directions they became lost and arrived at their destination three hours late. It was nearly dark when they gained the car again. Mac has not been here since but the path is not something he could forget.
He kills the engine and sits a while, inside the car. The ticking of everything is enormous, the engine, the trees, whatever animal footsteps. Within a vision seldom given to metaphor there comes the likeness, neither warm nor chilling but vaguely astonishing, to the one movie he has revisited whenever given chance, such as reruns on Cooper's cable, of a Vietnam story where the captain was sent miles and miles into a dense jungle to retrieve a guy left up in there years before.
The music: Boo-boom. Boo-boom.
Mac leaves the car. Reluctantly. Being outside that shell is like shedding every piece of clothing he's ever worn at once. Jumping off a skyscraper would be more palatable at the moment. He sets out on the long-remembered trail, every sound overloud and betraying.
After a while it becomes easier for his eyes to perceive the larger objects, and the smaller ones, such as snakes, are probably better left unremarked. He begins to smell the river. Each successful step, each forward unit without mishap, leads him to feel marginally more capable.
This is the last thing to be done.
He makes the turn, the right one that John had not made when they were teenagers. A trail lies there, more a tunnel through vines than a trodden path.
A fluttering of wings, and he freezes, trembling, glad not to be able to see himself in a mirror. Standing perfectly still, it is as if his eyes keep moving forward. In motion again after a long silence, he passes a long disused cemetery, the toppling stones a little whiter than the available light should seemingly allow.
Finally he is descending along the edge of a slight bluff, a dropoff into an old river channel. The overall terrain is surrendering, down toward the new path of the river. The earth falls beneath, the trees rise above.
Ultimately comes a small opening, then a clearing, a shack on a knoll, and a small boat tethered to a drifting wooden dock on the river.
In his adolescence Mac's father was both never there and never actually gone. The three of them, the children, came to regard him as a fact, a curious visitor more or less, no ogre as the mother would have it, but no baseball diamond pal either. At most there would be fresh fish, surplus from his river catch to be sold to the market on the west bank. For a while he lived on a houseboat and later they learned he had moved to the shack on old plantation land where heirs who now owned a computer company allowed him to keep watch in exchange for rights to squat. It may have been Connie who disliked his absence most; she would say once or twice to her brothers "At least he never lies. Have you ever heard him to lie?" While their mother kept odd hours for a movie-ticket seller.
And now Mac is there, undetected, observing the dim interior light through the grimy-paned window in the paintless wall.
He walks around, pets the friendly hound, goes down to the boat, looks at the scrub garden. He is capable, reverent, yet has no kinship with any of this.
There is one thing to do before he leaves.
At the window he does not knock, he looks in. A television set is on. The contents of the room are sparse, worn and necessary. The television is the source of the light. A dim outline of legs comes out from the wall to the left of the window, perhaps a couch there.
Mac has seen what he came to see, and is about to step back when he perceives a dark box to the side of the television. He recognizes a VCR. He waits, looking for the first time at the images upon the screen. He notes the proceedings of pornographic videotapes, lingers only a moment, then the hound is re-trailing him across the yard.
But he has forgotten the one thing, and returns quietly to the door. Because she had spoken less than abusively of her father at times, he leaves a clipped copy of his sister's obituary in the handle of the screen door.