"Hey, hey, we're the Monkees."
Ray starts and then grins, slowly. It took me twenty kilometres to think of that one--without Dief in the car to assist me, I'm rather slower at the First Lines Game than I ought to be. I suspect Ray forgot we were playing.
He taps his fingers thoughtfully on the wheel, opens his mouth to reply. And that's when we hit the ice.
Black ice--invisible until your tires are nearly on top of it, slick and deadly as an oil spill. We hit it at a hundred and twenty kilometres per hour and I can feel the precise moment when Ray loses control of the car. The tail spins out. Ray is swearing steadily. I see a bright light, headlights approaching, the long wail of a horn in the air. And then we are spinning, and Ray's eyes are wide, and my teeth are clenched and I think this, here--this is how it will end for me.
I take a breath. The moment expands. At the heart of it, I sit and know nothing at all, save that I am a coward.
Inuvik. My first year of formal schooling. Academically, I was all right--I had been the sole benefactor of my grandmother's formidable intellect for nearly five years by then. But recess left me baffled. There was a game that preoccupied most of my classmates; it was called "Chicken Tag" and involved a great deal of running and screaming and other ridiculousness. At first, I stood in the shadow of the school and watched the others play. On the third day they sent Margery Poulin to ask if I wanted to join in. I remember the challenging look on her face, the cluster of my classmates behind her. I remember the pinch of fear in my chest and the sudden fierce longing for my books. I curled my lip. "No, thank you," I said. But I was lying.
Another lie, in the breathing darkness of the barracks in Red Deer. My class of cadets was on a field exercise at a military base, learning the intricacies of orienteering and compassless navigation. In the bunk next to mine lay a good friend--David Ducharme. He was bright and quick, could shoot a moving target at nine hundred yards, knew Russian and English as well as his native French, could recite much of The Wasteland by heart. "Have you ever wondered about it, Benton? About whether you might be...you know." But even in the darkness I felt a hundred eyes were watching, a hundred ears perked waiting for my response. I rolled over, looked away from him. Clenched my hands into fists at my sides. "No," I said firmly, "No, I haven't."
Prince Rupert. My first posting after graduation. Anna Kristjansen took Americans to fish in Maramack Sound, crouched by the tiller of her family's boat with her pale hair tangling behind her. I loved her fiercely, though she hated books and liked Led Zepplin, and once threw a pop bottle in the ocean. For two years I memorized her scent and her laugh and the cadence of her speech. And all that time I was lying through my teeth, because not once did I actually speak to her.
The memories come quick as thought--so many small proofs. I am a liar. That is the truth. Godel again, the circular logic, the paradox at the heart of me. And now with the yellow line on the wrong side of the car and a dauntingly large set of headlights bearing down, I can't remember what I thought I was defending. I turn my head somehow, moving against centrifugal force, and I see Ray's eyes squeezed closed, his pale lashes on his cheek, his familiar jaw clenched tight for impact. And I see his face in the crypt again too, then at the diner, then wet and frightened on a sinking ship. Of all the lies I've told in my life, this one is the biggest. I have time for an instant of bitter regret. And then the moment implodes, and the semi is upon us.
"God, Jesus, fuck. Fraser."
I blink. I can blink. I can breathe, too, and move, and hear things. I hear Ray, in fact, which means he is intact, which almost sends me reeling again. "Ray," I say, and look at him. He is still behind the wheel, his fingers clenched so hard I can see his knucklebones through his skin. Past his white face I see the road and the field beyond it, looking peaceful and undisturbed. We are on the opposite side of the highway then, on the gravel shoulder, facing back the way we came. Distantly, I can see the cloud of snow blowing up in the semi's wake.
I swallow. "Are you okay?"
His chest is heaving. His eyes are wide, the pupils nearly swallowing the iris. Adrenaline, I think. That will be what's responsible for my shaking hands, too. I clench them in my lap. Ray loosens his deathgrip on the wheel, scrubs his face with his hands. "Yeah," he says, muffled, "You?"
I take a quick internal inventory. My ribs feel bruised from the seatbelt and I think I bit my lip, but yes, I am fine. I tell him so. He nods. His face is still buried in his hands. His shoulders are shaking--he's laughing. "Jesus," he says, "Jesus Christ, Fraser." He lifts his face and smiles at me, and his eyes are warm and alive, and his mouth...looks lickable. I lick my own lips, reflexively. I can't look away from him. The car fills with the sound of our rapid breath.
Ray swallows. "Jesus Christ, Fraser," he repeats, in an entirely different tone. And then my seatbelt is undone and I am across the car and I am pressing my bruised mouth to his. "Mmmph," he says. His hands are on my shoulders, resting there; his chest moves against mine.
I shift closer, kiss him again, slower. His eyes fall closed. I cup his face with my shaking hands and he moans, his arms lifting to circle my body, his lips parting under mine. I push my tongue into his mouth, and he holds me harder, his fingers digging into my back. His tongue moves up to meet mine and he tilts his head a little, lets the kiss deepen, shifts so he can get his knee up against the outside of my hip. I groan into his mouth and slide one hand down over his jaw and his throat and his ribs beneath his jacket, and I feel like I've been granted a reprieve.
"'I am as light as a feather,'" I murmur, against Ray's stubbled skin, "'I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry..."
Ray huffs a laugh near my ear. "Fraser," he says gently, tangling his fingers in my hair, "You are a freak."
And as I slip my hand beneath his t-shirt, I can't help but smile and agree.
Fraser quotes from Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"