I open the car door and toss a handful of pamphlets from the New Hampshire Welcome Center into Todd’s lap. They slide onto the floorboard or lodge between the console and the seat, and he begins to fish for them.
“Read that one,” I tell him and point at a cheaply printed and hand-folded piece of green paper that has come to rest under the brake pedal. “ I think we should go.”
He shakes it open.
“America’s Stonehenge,” I say. “It is an arrangement of rocks in Salem that looks like an ordinary granite wall, only the locals cash in on some old mystic hooey stories and claim that it is in some way aligned with the movement of the stars or the site of Celtic sacrificial rites. And they have snowshoe trails and an alpaca farm, because why wouldn’t you want to raise alpaca next to your big fake megalith?”
“Looks stupid,” Todd says, missing the point, as he does lately.
It’s November and not nearly as cold as it will be and too early for Todd and me to be as stir crazy as we are. We’re driving from Boston to Vermont to visit his parents because we don’t do much together these days except drink and argue, and on those fronts we have run out of steam. Todd throws things. Last night he threw a plate, and this morning it lay across the floor like a map of the world, complete with topographical streak of creamed spinach. I swept it into a dustpan and set it on his nightstand, and it was shortly after I did that that he emerged from our bedroom and asked me if I wanted to have lunch with his folks and take our sweet time getting there.
He has a temper he regrets. It’s a wild animal, but I know how to trap it most of the time. If he’s drunk, the ways I fall short anger him, but sober they make him sad, so I try to be smaller when we’re drunk and fake an earnest interest when we’re sober.
“I thought a couple of roadside attractions would be fun,” I say.
“Fun ones would be fun. Kitsch has its place, but Fall in New England commands sincerity, don’t you think?”
I think Todd is an asshole. Most of the foliage is gone and a slick mat on the roads. Dead leaves smell rotten. New Hampshire isn’t fun. It’s an unsmiling place where people are so lonely and bored they see faces in the mountainsides.
“Would you be interested in driving across a covered bridge, then?” I ask.
His parents greet us at the front door, and we trade hugs. I hand Todd’s mother a bottle of Kahlua as a gift and she rubs the small of my back affectionately. She asks Todd to help his father carry the Christmas decorations up from the basement even though Thanksgiving is still two weeks away. “While you’re here and I’m thinking about it,” she says.
I follow her into the kitchen, where there are carrots already on the cutting board, waiting to be peeled and diced, and I tackle this chore because I always do, while Todd’s mother rearranges the half-cooked roast so that my work can be dumped into the pan and the pan can be slid into the oven.
Todd steers the ship of conversation over cards. He runs down the checklist for the wedding with his parents with an efficiency I’m incapable of, and while he does he holds my hand like it’s an object that can’t grab back, like an apple or the handles of a shopping bag.
Todd’s father deals us each fives cards. I’m one card away from a flush, and the card I trade back gets me nothing good in return. Todd says I should have taken more of a risk and traded out my three low cards in hopes of getting a high pair back.
“The drive was really pretty,” I tell the table, and to Todd’s mother I say, “Have you ever heard of America’s Stonehenge in Salem, New Hampshire?”
“It’s some New Age-y pile of rocks she threw a fit about visiting,” Todd says.
“I think it’s a tourist trap,” Todd’s father says.
“So? What’s wrong with a fun, cheesy tourist trap?” I ask.
Todd’s mother shuffles her cards in her hand, then says, “That mystic stuff is never very interesting when you look too closely at it. It’s just rocks before you add a story to it, and if you show someone a picture you took of it, it’s just rocks to them.”
I say, “We all buy into less fun stories every day.”
I was pregnant once, but I didn’t know it until I miscarried. I fell down drunk on a Boston sidewalk during an argument with Todd over my level of interest in his friend Mark’s stories. We didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy, but Todd talks with his parents about trying to have children when our honeymoon is over. I’m on birth control and am the only one in the room who knows we’re all staring at the only family we’ll ever have. We will have these cards and this smell of pot roast and these half empty bottles of merlot until no one expects my womb to produce anything at all.
As we drive home, dusk comes on. Todd leaves the headlights off, which I usually remind him not to do. Dim light is spread thinly in front of us, and the radio is off. Up ahead a large herd of deer is eyeing the roadside. He slows as we pass them and stops the car in the middle of the road yards ahead.
“That’s beautiful,” he says. “That’s why the drive is worth it.”
He reaches across my lap and opens the glove compartment.
“Would you get the camera and take a picture of that?” he asks.
“Todd, the traffic.”
“There is none. Take a quick picture,” he insists.
I begin to roll down the window, but Todd says, “No, get out of the car and take it.”
“They’ll run at me,” I tell him. “I’ll scare them and end up trampled.” In their rearview mirror I see eyes reflecting the red brake lights. They are watching us, waiting for instinct to kick in and tell them whether to stay or leave.
“Don’t be stupid. You’ll be fine. Just get out and take the picture.” He reaches across my lap again and opens my car door. I suck in my stomach so that his arm doesn’t make any contact with me.
“And get as close as you can.”
I swing one leg onto the pavement. When I was little, my grandfather usually ended our visits by telling me to stay out of harm’s way. I wonder which way that is.