Di pauses, looking inquiringly at Beddy. Void stays hovering where he is, and she pulls the door closed, but in that space of time before it does he says, “Go ahead. I’ll be here when you get back. I’ll always be here.”
Beddy looks back at the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Di looking at her. Then she looks back at the door, too.
Beddy steps off the porch and onto the driveway where Connie has stowed her car next to hers, even though she was parked down the center. Connie’s tires are almost touching the border of her dead front lawn.
The back of Connie’s car is stamped like a spy’s passport with bumper stickers, spreading beyond the normal canvas of the bumper and out around the license plate, up over the trunk. They are full of winking, jaundiced wisdom, and Beddy likes to play a game where she lands her eyes on one and see if it applies to her current situation, the way one bends one’s life to fit the fortune in a cookie. Today’s is “We are the granddaughters of the witches you could not burn.”
Connie opens the trunk and throws in her jacket. In the right corner, Beddy can see a wide-mouthed gallon glass jar, wrapped in a beach towel.
Like a cannonball ready for the cannon.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“I wasn’t lying,” Connie says.
“I have to ask but I’m afraid to,” Beddy says. “Whose….you know…is in it?”
Connie slams the trunk.
“Well, I wasn’t about to muck around with someone else’s.”
“Oh God,” Di says, joining up with them. “It’s yours!”
“You’d prefer it wasn’t?”
“Yes. Well, no. I don’t know. You’re just a biohazard of a person.”
Beddy is the biohazard. She pulls her hoodie over her head, feeling the world is watching her, rapt, waiting for her to freak out, consoling themselves by watching her freak in.
They climb inside Connie’s car, which smells like her bear hugs, which smell like her cigarettes, which smell to Beddy like a haunted Christmas. She likes to be pulled into the nook where her friend’s shoulder meets her neck and inhale deeply. Connie smokes imported Italian cigarettes and follows each with an Indonesian clove chaser because, as she says, “What’s life without dessert?”
She lights up dinner as they sit in the driveway, then she starts the car and pulls out, Beddy glancing back to see if Void is watching her through the window, but the blinds are pulled.
Saying Connie is a profoundly bad driver is a qualitative, as well as moral, statement. Every move is irritatingly blithe and insensitive.
On the way to the Spelling Semifinals, she jumps two lanes without signaling.
She makes the off-ramp just as it becomes the shoulder, and grinds over the drainage grate.
She darts through a gas station, using it to circumvent an intersection.
On any other day Beddy would be gripping the oh-shit bar until sweat cooled her wrist, but today she herks and jerks submissively in the backseat. It’s only when she notices a familiar pattern of landmarks that apprehension sets in.
“Where are we going?”
“I told you. Joey’s spelling contest.”
“I mean where is it being held?”
“The junior high,” Di says.
“No thank you,” Beddy says instinctively, as if refusing a gesture.
“Babe, the venue is already set,” Connie says, hearing only what she said, not what she meant.
The car slows to a stop at a light. Beddy looks out her window and sees a child of around eight in the car next to her in the right backseat. The girl returns Beddy’s gaze with a kind of passive fright. And the longer Beddy stares at her, the more she thinks she looks like her, and because the girl has a chubby face and upper body and arms, and flat, dull red hair, and because Beddy is fraying, she goes from thinking the girl looks like her to deciding the girl actually is her at a younger age. It is only when the light changes and Young Beddy’s lane becomes lubricated first and the car she is in rolls forward and she puts her open hand against the window that the spell is broken: she only has four spread fingers. Her index finger is missing, and the fogged print it leaves on the glass is striking in that absentia. The girl is not Beddy at all.