Darrow tried to sleep in the backseat, but he was too petrified. His knee shook arrhythmically to the beat of his anxiety and the occasional road bump. All he could see of Josef was the back of his wide head, but from the mood of his straight neck he imagined him glowering at the road. Josef reminded Darrow of the not-that-smart thug in mob movies. He was exactly the kind of guy Darrow should be scared of, but since he had no respect for him whatsoever, he dismissed him as a nonbeing. The car might as well have been driving itself.
He wished Max were here. He had no one to bounce ideas off of, no ideas of his own to start with, and they were going to be in fucking Grundenwaldenwhatsitcalled in no time.
Darrow began to sweat, steaming in his clothes like a microwave chicken in a bag. Usually, if he needed to work out an intractable problem and there was no one there to work it out with, Darrow talked to himself. But he imagined from the look of Josef that he would not take kindly to Darrow soliloquizing in his presence.
Darrow tried to think in his mind, to listen to the pitter patter of his internal monologue. When I get to the town I’ll say…fiddlesticks clarinets trombone swirl crescendo!—stop music stop music stop, when I get to the town I’ll walk up to the man in charge and say—image of man in charge clouding out all thought; he’s Santa Claus!—I’ll say, I’m Darrow Bezel eldest son of Dick Bezel and ancestor of the Schmuck, mucky duck fuckface. Fuck!
Darrow clenched his whole body — eyes, anus, fingers, knees — suppressing the desire to erupt in speech. The thing with speech was, you didn’t have the clutter of mental images and song fragments and dumdadum sounds and low-grade murmurs of “you are a worthless piece of shit” contending for your attention; you just had your own voice, loud and clear above the fray.
He held his breath. Darrow didn’t think he’d ever wanted to say something out loud this badly before. Sweat leaked off his eyebrow. What if he died from suppressing words? Can’t you die from suppressing urine? Or did it just make you infertile? Either way, fuck fuck fuck.
Josef cleared his throat. How Darrow longed to do the same.
He saw a sheep passing them on the road. Lonely, without a flock. That’s what Darrow would be if he got to Grundenwaldenberg and didn’t manage to fix the curse and heal his family, a lonely retarded sheep on the road to nowhere.
“Fuck,” he said aloud, and the sound of his voice soothed him beyond compare.
“Fuck,” he said again, to the same effect.
He peered up at Josef and found the man stiff as ever. Hallelujah! Maybe he was mostly deaf. Okay, okay, okay…
“My name is Darrow Bezel and I’m an alcoholic, huhmmph, and the eldest son of Dick Bezel and an ancestor of the Schmuck. I come to your town bearing the full weight of history on my shoulders. My great great grandfather, the Schmuck, dishonored your town and my name and brought a curse down upon my family’s heads, and I am here to beg, please, that you call off your curse; let us be.”
“My name is Darrow Bezel and I’m an addict, and the firstborn son of Dick Bezel,” Darrow started again. If there was one thing Darrow was good at, it was soliloquy. But this was by definition an unwitnessable event. When Darrow had had occasion to be overheard, it hadn’t gone well—the observer always concluding at worst that he was a schizophrenic, at best that he was arbitrarily narcissistic and annoying. But Darrow didn’t care what Josef thought.
“Yes indeed I am Darrow Bezel, the heir apparent of Dick Bezel—” Darrow began again. At the third start, Josef actually turned around to the young, smelly man to see if his eyes were rolling back in his head—maybe this is what “speaking in tongues” was? Josef hoped so, for from what he’d heard the middle Bezel sibling say, Darrow completely one-hundred percent totally utterly misunderstood the nature of the Bezel curse. That simply wouldn’t do.
“It has befallen me, you see, to bear the weight of history, and now I come to meet my fate and take what comes and make it right with guts and butts not butts but as a mutt from nowhere, see, it is now my true duty—destiny rhymes better!—to bring together my family in the light of day not night and I will do it easily, merrily and freely. And no more blood will spill, except what has already been taken from my brother, and now he will pull through when all is well and light’s returned, and I will say, no, no, t’wasn’t I but all who parted the clouds of doom and brought back the fruit of the loom so that love could sprout and rekindle its flame in the absence of shame.”
“You are mixing your metaphors, Mr. Bezel,” Josef declared.
Darrow scowled. He didn’t much care for constructive criticism.
“Why is it that you think your family has a curse?” Josef asked, cracking his knuckles on the steering wheel.
Darrow didn’t answer. Josef wouldn’t understand. They sat silently for a few minutes.
“And how is your brother recovering?” Josef added.
“What would you know about the curse?” Darrow asked.
“You just spoke of it. Never mind,” Josef said, turning his head so momentarily Darrow could see Josef’s black eye in the rearview mirror. “Maybe you have it backward and it is not you who is cursed; have you thought about this?”
Darrow’s knee went back to shaking. No, he hadn’t, because that was ludicrous. If he wasn’t cursed, who was? Darrow wasn’t on a mission to help solve world hunger, for Christ’s sake (though at a later date, he promised himself silently, he would be). He was trying to save his family. He resolved to give Josef the silent treatment and went back to looking at the increasingly rural landscape. Rows of what might have been wheat flashed past and he tried to focus on the center of each aisle. It was like monotonous visual Morse Code: wheat, ROW, wheat, ROW, wheat, ROW. As he was directly in front of each long line of wheat, Darrow couldn’t see how long it was—it was a blip, one specific piece of wheat, hiding the stretch that continued behind it, but as the van curved, Darrow could make out the whole length of the field, with its straight and perfect grid of fertility tended by machines and men.
Darrow supposed a lot of life was like that: when you looked at it too closely it seemed solitary, unique, but if you pulled away there was a whole system, calculated for its purpose.
Whatever that meant.