Trajectory

(Many thanks to Gurrier for beta!)


Lennox is washing dishes. He's wearing his mom's pink rubber gloves and has his hair tied out of his face in a ponytail. His mom is sitting at the kitchen table with her Star Weekly, supervising--this whole scene is her idea of punishing Lennox for stealing a pack of cigarettes from her purse the day before. Every time he stops to try and itch his nose or take a breather, she looks up at him over the tops of her reading glasses and says, "ah ah ah!"

It's Sunday evening. In the living room, Lennox's dad has the TV tuned to the CBC, where the Long Bay curling team is playing in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Worlds. Lennox doesn't even like curling, not really, but it's killing him to be missing this game. It's still just a semi-final, but nobody from Long Bay ever competed in the world championships of anything before, and it is not likely that they ever will again. Besides, Cutter's dad is up there. Somebody Lennox actually knows.

"Come on," his dad says from the living room. "Come on...oh."

His mom clucks her tongue as she turns the page of her paper, which is her way of reminding him he's missing this for a reason. Lennox grits his teeth and scrubs harder at the roaster.

They both look up when the doorbell rings. Lennox's mom narrows her eyes at him. "I'll get it," she says, and pushes herself to her feet. Lennox sighs and goes back to his scrubbing.

He hears her voice change when she opens the door, going all kind and sweet and motherly, and fuck, that means it must be Cutter out there. And does she give Lennox time to get the stupid rubber gloves off before she brings Cutter into the kitchen? No, she does not. She is heartless.

"...hungry?" she's saying as they come in. "I've got plenty of roast left from dinner--it'd be no trouble to heat it up." She's giving Cutter this shiny-eyed look, like at any minute she might try to hug him. A lot of people's moms look like that around Cutter these days, and Lennox knows he hates it. There's no avoiding it, though--everybody knows what's going on with Cutter's mom. Everybody knows everything around here.

Cutter shrugs uncomfortably. He's got his hands jammed in his jacket pockets, his eyes on the kitchen floor. "No thanks," he says.

In the living room, there's a sudden roar from the television. Lennox's dad shouts something inarticulate at the screen, his socked foot pounding the floor.

Cutter's shoulders tighten. "Can uh, can James come out?" he says.

Lennox lets the roaster slip into the soapy water and turns a pleading look on his mom. She scowls, but her eyes settle on Cutter's face and the scowl slips away. "Oh for god's sake," she says. "Fine. But don't think you'll get out of this tomorrow, mind."

*

It's quieter outside, and cooler too. They kick through the wet grass in Lennox's back yard and step over the rusted metal fence to the lane. Lennox starts down toward town--it's Sunday night, the Husky's the only thing still open--but Cutter doesn't follow, so he stops and frowns at him.

"Come this way," Cutter says, jerking his head uphill.

Lennox's frown deepens. The only thing that way is Pickerel Road and then the highway. But Cutter doesn't offer any explanations, so Lennox shrugs and follows him.

Gravel crunches beneath their feet. Lennox hears the tinny noise from other people's television sets, all of them tuned to the CBC. He hears the distant moan of metal on metal from the train yard by the mine; the rumble of a big truck on the highway. It's nearly dark. When they get out to Pickerel Road, the wind is cold and wet, coming straight up off the lake. It smells like skunk.

"Where the fuck are we going?" Lennox asks finally.

Cutter stops walking. They're almost at the on-ramp--Lennox can just make out the sign at the junction: King's Highway 17.

"I'm leaving," Cutter says. He's squinting out at the highway, his hands still shoved in his pockets. Lennox can't read the expression on his face at all. "I'm going to Calgary, I think. You want to come?"

Lennox blinks. "When?"

"Now," Cutter says, like Lennox is an idiot.

Lennox takes a breath. Lets it out. He looks at the highway, at Cutter's face. "You are not," he says.

Cutter shrugs and starts walking again. When he gets to the end of the on-ramp, he stops and sticks out his thumb.

Jesus Christ. Lennox takes a step toward Cutter, stops and looks back toward town. He has school in the morning. He's still got French homework to do, for god's sake. But Cutter's clearly gone mental with stress; Lennox can't just leave him out there.

A long-hauler speeds past on the highway, followed by a string of three cars in a row. The last one slows and then stops and Cutter spits on the gravel shoulder, gives Lennox a look and then jogs up the road toward it.

"Jesus Christ," Lennox says out loud. He has to run flat out to catch up.

*

That first ride turns out to be Bucyk's Uncle Piotr, on his way home from the Legion. He drives 40 miles an hour with his right-hand wheels on the shoulder. He tells them about hopping trains in Poland, makes them listen to a bunch of really dirty limericks and leaves them at the end of his road a mile out of town.

"Fuck," Cutter says.

Lennox wraps his arms over his chest and shivers. Cutter's face still has that same weird expression, though, so he doesn't say anything.

The sun finishes setting. The wind gets really cold. They walk for a while, then spend a while sitting on a flat rock sharing Lennox's last smoke. Four cars go by in all that time. Nobody stops.

"What's so great about Calgary?" Lennox tries, after a while.

Cutter just shrugs.

By the time a car actually pulls over for them, they're both so cold and sick of waiting, they just get right in. The driver is a grim-looking guy with a bushy mustache and a denim jacket that has a half-naked girl painted on the back. He tilts the rear-view mirror so he can look at them, nods a greeting, and steps on the accelerator. The car lurches onto the highway with a squeal of rubber on pavement. The guy doesn't say anything at all.

Lennox gives Cutter a sidelong look. Cutter pretends not to see him. Lennox pinches him. Cutter thumps Lennox's thigh with his fist.

"You boys want to do some drugs?" the guy asks.

Lennox glares at Cutter. "No, that's okay," he says. "But thanks, though."

The guy is fumbling in the glove compartment. He seems not to have heard. He also seems not to be looking where they're going much, which is bad because they're fucking speeding, and there are high walls of cut granite on either side of the highway here. Lennox widens his eyes at Cutter again. Cutter is flushed and staring at his own fists where they're clenched in his lap, and he doesn't look up, and Lennox fucking hates him.

The guy sits up again. He tosses a little bag of something to Lennox. "Coke," he says. "Or I got pot if you boys want. Or meth. Or heroin. Bunch of stuff--you take your pick."

Lennox holds the bag between two fingers like maybe it'll bite him. "This, uh. This is great," he says. "Thanks."

"Cool." The guy puts both hands on the steering wheel again. He's bobbing his head like there's music playing. But there isn't any music playing.

Lennox holds the bag of coke out to Cutter. Cutter shakes his head. Lennox puts it in his lap. Cutter throws it back.

"Oh!" says the driver. "My friend lives up there." And then bam, they're turning off the highway and onto a little trunk road that climbs up into the darkness between a bunch of trees.

"Well," Lennox says. "We're uh, we're going that way, so you could just let us out. If you want."

The guy grins underneath his bushy mustache. "Nah--this'll only take a minute."

They rumble over the gravel for what seems like forever. Then the car lurches over the top of a rise and pulls up to a stop. The sudden silence seems really loud. When his eyes adjust, Lennox sees they're parked in front of a double-wide trailer. Otherwise it's just trees all around.

The guy gets out of the car, then stops and pokes his head back in again. He grins at them. "You boys aren't gonna try to steal my car, now, are you?"

Lennox and Cutter laugh, breathlessly. Lennox shakes his head.

The guy smiles and pats the roof of the car before he straightens up again. They watch through the windshield while he walks across the gravel lot and bangs on the trailer's front door. Lennox takes advantage of the guy's turned back to kick the bag of coke under the passenger seat.

"Should we try and steal his car?" Cutter whispers.

Lennox gives Cutter a look. "Um, no?" he says.

Cutter scowls. "So what do we do?"

"I don't know," says Lennox.

They look out through the windshield at the trailer, where the driver is bouncing up and down in front of the door. After a moment, he seems to get tired of waiting for somebody to answer it, because he lifts a cowboy-booted foot and kicks it in.

Cutter shoves the car door open. He grabs Lennox's arm and pulls him out too. They're halfway to the road by the time the yelling starts.

*

It takes them twenty minutes to get back out to the highway, and all that time, Lennox keeps expecting the sound of that engine behind them, maybe a bullet in his back. But nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then there's the highway stretched out in front of them like a miracle of civility and not-getting-shot and Lennox feels like he could kiss the fucking pavement. Hell, he does kiss it. He needs an excuse to let his trembling legs collapse anyway, right now.

But when he straightens up, Cutter's not even looking. He's walking backward up the highway with his thumb stuck out again, his cheeks still flushed and his jaw set. Lennox closes his eyes for a moment, then he heaves himself to his feet and starts after Cutter.

"Come on," he says, once he's caught up.

Cutter sniffs and wipes the sweat from his face with his shoulder. "I'm still going," he says.

"Cutter. This is stupid. You don't even have any money. You're going to get killed."

Cutter doesn't answer. There's a muscle jumping in his jaw. He looks pissed off enough to cry. Lennox doesn't know what to say to him.

A car passes by on the highway, the wind in its wake blowing up into their faces. Lennox shivers. "Cutter," he says again.

Cutter swallows. "So go home, if you like it there so much. You probably wouldn't make it on the road anyway." He flicks his gaze to meet Lennox's, just for a second.

Lennox narrows his eyes. "I wouldn't make it?"

"Yeah," says Cutter. "Because you're soft." He spits into the ditch.

"Oh, right. So what are you--Clint Eastwood?"

Cutter shrugs. "At least I don't have to ask my mom's permission before I leave the house at night."

"Yeah," Lennox says, "Well, at least my mom still knows if I'm even in the house or not."

There's a moment of silence. Lennox feels his neck heat up, and then his face. It's times like this that make him suspect there's something really wrong with him--like, maybe he's going to turn into a serial killer one day, develop a liking for really sharp knives and a taste for human flesh. "Sorry," he says to Cutter's chest.

Cutter sniffs and shrugs again. It sounds like maybe he's crying. Lennox is afraid to look.

In the woods, an owl hoots, long and low. The wind stirs the tops of the trees. A van passes by on the highway, and then a motorcycle, trailing guitar rock into the night.

"Look," Cutter says. "I just...I can't be there. I can't be there when it happens." He takes his other hand out of his jacket pocket and uses the heel of it to scrub viciously at his eyes.

Lennox takes a breath and then just lets it out again. He lowers his gaze to the gravel at their feet. They've stopped walking, he notices.

"You could stay with us," he says, even though he's sure that isn't what Cutter meant.

Cutter laughs, but he sounds like he's still crying. "You live two blocks from me. I want to be in, in California. Or Mexico, maybe." He takes a breath, wipes at his eyes again. Another car passes them on the highway and doesn't stop. Cutter sniffs and stoops and comes up with a rock. "Or fucking Edinburgh," he says, and he throws the rock hard at the car's retreating tail-lights.

And because this is the kind of night they're having--because this is Lennox's own personal brand of hellish luck--there's a crunch of breaking glass, followed by a squeal of brakes and then the sound of the engine reversing.

Cutter looks at him, his face pale and damp, his eyes wide. Lennox swallows. That's about all they have time for, though, before the car stops beside them and a uniformed person gets out of it. The light pooling from the open door is just bright enough to let them make out the O.P.P. insignia painted on the side of the car. Then a high-beam flashlight hits Lennox in the face.

"Well, shit a brick," says Constable Price, after a moment. "That was easy."

*

At the station, Lennox's folks are already waiting. Constable Price releases Cutter to them, because there's nobody else to release him to. She didn't say anything all the way back to Long Bay, but she isn't blind. Lennox figures she saw Cutter's face. And she lives here, too. She gets the same gossip as the rest of them. At any rate, she doesn't mention the broken tail-light.

Back at home, Lennox's mom looks at them with her arms crossed over her chest. "Bed," she says finally. "Go on."

They know better than to wait around for her to tell them twice. Cutter leads the way through the living room to Lennox's bedroom. The TV's still on in there, though the sound is turned low. It's a news broadcast. There's a story about the game in Edinburgh today.

Cutter's already pulled the sleeping bag out of Lennox's closet and spread it out on the floor. Lennox gets undressed and gets into bed. Cutter lies down on the sleeping bag. Lennox turns off the light. He hears his mom moving around, locking the doors and shutting off the lights. The clock by his bed says it's not even midnight. He can't make himself believe it.

He rolls onto his side and looks at Cutter. Cutter's eyes are open too; he's watching the sky through Lennox's open window. "What was the score?" he says.

Lennox swallows. "8 to 7. After an extra end. Long Bay won."

Cutter laughs, and shakes his head, and squeezes his eyes closed. "Jesus," he says.

Lennox reaches a hand off the edge of his bed and closes it gently on Cutter's shoulder. Cutter doesn't shrug him off so he leaves it there for a while.

"Want to try to get to Halifax tomorrow?" he says finally.

This time when Cutter laughs, it sounds better. Real. "Fuck you," he says.

Lennox grins and rolls onto his back again. The furnace rattles into life in the basement. Eventually, they fall asleep.


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