The black racer, a good eight feet long, had gotten tangled in the plastic deer netting he'd put up last winter to try to save the arborvitaes. He knelt down close to it, stared at its small, lifeless fist of a skull. Its eyes and mouth were wispy slits and its coiled middle was a black cable, sun-faded already. The last foot and a half of its tail, completely free of the netting, must have thrashed mightily in animal frustration. You could still make out the swish marks in the dirt. The ignominy of it: goddamn; like this?
The accident happened more than a year ago, but any trigger could bring him back: a certain kind of ancient oak. A makeshift cross planted on the embankment of the interstate. A black Jeep.
So why not a goddam snake?
Though he could sometimes think of Evanthia's eyes, it was a bitter pleasure to do so. Watery, gray/green; like a pool in the woods. And her small, full, fleshy O of a mouth. He could sometimes brood over their history together: the many good years; their one, beautiful child, Anna, growing up, going off, marrying Gil and having the two kids. And then, what he thought was solid, middle-aged contentment. Sometimes he could allow himself to remember.
He couldn't, without agony—rage— think of Rick. Bastard son of bitch brother. Insecure, competitive, failure at his own three marriages, failure at everything that had any kind of meaning. Yeah, he made lots of money for a big bank. Yeah, he was suave.
Pushing fifty, Evanthia got into the bastard's car after a Fourth of July party—he himself had to work and couldn't go. Both of them were legally drunk. Way out in the country, nowhere near where they should have been at 2:37 a.m., they drove into an oak tree at seventy-nine miles an hour.
He'd always trusted Evanthia. Still did, fool that he was. That is, he still tried to believe there could be an explanation the universe was holding on to, and might yield up someday.
He rolled his lower lip up over his bottom teeth, bit down hard. Oh, Christ, or had he been a fucking—what was the word, the "literary" word she'd have used—cuckold? Ugly word. Fittingly so. Was that what he was? A cuckold to his own fucking cut-throat, win-at-all-cost, back-stabbing brother?
No, the eyes of the dead snake did not just open. Fool.
What the hell had he come out here for? Nothing. He came out for nothing.
Tomorrow, Anna and Gil would be arriving with little Dev and Helen for a weekend visit. Maybe he should get rid of the corpse; it might scare the kids. Then again, maybe they'd find it interesting to look at, to examine close-up. Maybe they could learn something.