showing some trace of asthma. Helen’s presence was like that of a domestic cat that should never be brought along in any vehicle, being too high-strung to have sense, too apt to spring between the seats. The sun had burned through the clouds again. It was still high and brassy in the sky. Neal swung the car onto a street lined with heavy old trees, and somewhat more respectable houses. “Better here?” he said to Jinny. “More shade for you?” He spoke in a lowered, confidential tone, as if what was going on with the girl could be set aside for a moment, it was all nonsense. “Taking the scenic route,” he said, pitching his voice again towards the back seat. “Taking the scenic route today, courtesy of Miss Helen Rosie-face.”
— 66 — “Maybe we ought to just go on,” Jinny said. “Maybe we ought to just go on home.” Helen broke in, almost shouting. “I don’t want to stop nobody from getting home.” “Then you can just give me some directions,” Neal said. He was trying hard to get his voice under control, to get some ordinary sobriety into it. And to banish the smile, which kept slipping back in place no matter how often he swallowed it. “Just let’s go to the place and do our errand and head home.” Half a slow block more, and Helen groaned. “If I got to I guess I got to,” she said. It was not very far that they had to go. They passed a subdivision, and Neal, speaking again to Jinny, said, “No creek that I can see. No estates, either.” Jinny said, “What?” “ Silver Creek Estates. On the sign.” He must have read a sign that she had not seen. “Turn,” said Helen. “Left or right?” “At the wrecker’s.” They went past a wrecking yard, with the car bodies only partly hidden by a sagging tin fence. Then up a hill and past the gates to a gravel pit that was a great cavity in the center of the hill. “That’s them. That’s their mailbox up ahead,” Helen called out with some importance, and when they got close enough she read out the name. “Matt and June Bergson. That’s them.” A couple of dogs came barking down the short drive. One was large and black and one small and tan-colored, puppylike. They bumbled around at the wheels and Neal sounded the horn. Then another dog—this one more sly and purposeful, with a slick coat and bluish spots—slid out of the long grass.
— 67 — Helen called to them to shut up, to lay down, to piss off. “You don’t need to bother about any of them but Pinto,” she said. “Them other two just cowards.” They stopped in a wide, ill-defined space where some gravel had been laid down. On one side was a barn or implement shed, tin-covered, and over to one side of it, on the edge of a cornfield, an abandoned farmhouse from which most of the bricks had been removed, showing dark wooden walls. The house inhabited nowadays was a trailer, nicely fixed up with a deck and an awning, and a flower garden behind what looked like a toy fence.
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