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At around four in the morning, the sky began to
change from starry black to a bluer haze. The morning
birds had not yet begun to sing, but they would soon.
Emmit had been timing the mornings for a week. The metal
plant where he had worked for six months went on strike
ten days ago, and he decided he would have to have
everything timed perfectly. Otherwise, Irene would nag
him about being disorganized. She had already harped on
him about lack of planning and acting out his whims when
he told her they were leaving. She liked to plan things
months ahead of time, especially when it involved both of
Emmit had considered going without her; it wouldn't
be so hard for him to prepare without her noticing. She
was too self-centered to notice many things he did or
thought. His guilt, however, had made him think twice
about abandoning her.
He watched her sleep for a while. Before the strike
began, he was still able to feel admiration, if not love,
for her while she slept. This last week and a half,
however, they had been forced to spend whole days
together. Irene only worked part-time night shifts at
the pharmacy, so they ate every meal together, did
everything together until evening, when she would go to
work. Only then would Emmit’s nervous stomach leave him
alone. He was able to relax during the evening and go to
bed easily. She would come in shortly after midnight and
wake him up, dropping her keys and banging around in the
bathroom, making entirely too much noise for one person.
The closer they came to the departure, and the more time
they spent together, the more Emmit disliked his
They had been together three years, since college,
where they had met playing in different bands at the
school pub. He was a drummer for a rock band and she was
filling in on violin for the house Celtic band. Their
last year in college, they lived together. Then, he
agreed to move north with her to her hometown to be
closer to her family. Her mother had Parkinson's
disease, and Irene wanted to be able to help her father
care for her.
Emmit had always wanted to travel, but had become
dependent on Irene and was afraid that a long trip
without her would strain their relationship. So he went
north and found work as a labourer in the town's metal
plant, while she worked part time at a Shoppers Drug
Mart. She had told him the move would not be permanent,
"just until mother passes away." She knew he was afraid
of permanence. She felt she was doing him a favour;
providing him with a way of easing toward settling down.
Six months later, he had no job, no sense of home, and a
girlfriend who annoyed him even while she slept.
His stomach burned every time he argued with her to
get his way. Emmit was sure it was an ulcer, but refused
to see a doctor or even to drink the chalky pink
concoctions Irene would bring home from the pharmacy for
him. In his mind, to do that would be giving in to her,
and that would be worse than the pain. He tried avoiding
the arguments, just lying to her or doing things without
her consent, but then his burning stomach was replaced
with a pounding headache and tightness in his throat,
symptoms of a guilt she had imposed by expecting so much
of his love. In the weeks leading up to the strike
deadline, his ailments had become so severe that he could
only stand being around her for short intervals. The
last week had been almost unbearable. His stomach almost
burst when they argued about her job at the pharmacy.
"You can't just expect me to quit. What are we
going to do for money? We're not exactly rich, Em."
"Do whatever you have to do, Reeny. Ask them for a
leave of absence, tell them you're pregnant or
"Don't you ever think about me, Em? You come in
here telling me that we're leaving, but you won't tell me
where we're going, or why, you won't fucking tell me
"What do you want? I'm sorry."
"Well, tough, because I am, but I have to do this.
Jesus Christ, Reeny, do you even remember what it is like
to be free of responsibility for five minutes?"
"No, but you sure do."
"I'm twenty-five. I shouldn't have to be
responsible. People like you find it easy to--"
"To what, Em, and what kind of people am I,
"Never mind. Look, the situation is this: I am
going. I want you to come. If you can, let me know. If
you can't," he had swallowed back some acid, and lied to
her, "then I will be heartbroken, and it will be
extremely hard to go, but I will go. I have to. At
least for a while."
"Fine, Em. If that’s the way you want it, I’ll ask,
but goddamnit, grow up. You know I need more notice.
Don’t you ever do this again; I hate ultimatums.”
Now, once his decision to leave was final, just
her presence made him nauseous, conscious or not.
He went into the bathroom to get ready. He laid out
his clothes (a habit she had infected him with), brushed
his teeth and shaved in silence. He turned on only the
hot water, because the cold water pipes rattled, and
Irene would wake up if they did. The bathroom mirror
steamed up almost immediately, and he had trouble seeing
himself as he shaved. Then, he climbed into the shower
and turned on the water. As the water warmed, his
stomach calmed a little. He concentrated on the feeling
of each stream hitting against his skin at different
spots on his chest and face. Calcium had built up on the
old shower head and caused the jets to jut off at
unsuspected angles. He soaped up and rinsed his hair,
but stayed in the shower even after rinsing, until his
fingers began to wrinkle. She would be awake when he
left the solace of the shower, and he wanted to avoid too
much contact before they were in the car. Finally, a
knock on the bathroom door broke his silence.
"You're going to use up all the hot water! Or did
you think I wouldn't need a shower, now that we're
nomads?" The burning came back at the sound of her
voice, and made him wince.
He called back, "I was just getting out," followed
by "bitch" under his breath. He grabbed a towel off the
rack and walked into the bedroom still dripping water.
She would probably criticise his drying technique while
she undressed if he had stayed in the small bathroom.
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, naked, looking at
him contemptuously. Her eyes were barely opened. She
was hung over from the night before, when she had drunk
too much during dinner at her parents' house.
"How come you didn't wake me? We could've showered
together." He shrugged and threw a towel over his head
to block his view of her. Her voice moved closer while
he feigned drying his hair. "And just because my sister
is subletting the apartment doesn't mean you can drip all
over the rug. We'll get mould."
He pulled the towel from his head when he felt her
cold hands on his chest. She kissed him, her breath
smelling of rotting fruit and cigarettes. He forced a
smile, and she told him to pack any clothes he had missed
the night before while she showered.
he grabbed her night bag from the foot of the bed
and pulled the last of his socks and underwear from the
drawer. He could hear Irene singing something in Gaelic
from behind the bathroom door. She had a beautiful
voice, but his stomach burned despite the pleasant tune.
He sat on the end of the bed after getting dressed and
counted in his head the missed chances he had to sneak
out the door and down to the car while she washed. he
reached a dozen by the time the water shut off.
She walked out in her housecoat and asked him if he
had done what she had asked of him. he nodded and
carried their four bags to the front door.
"Are we going to eat breakfast first, or at least
have coffee?" She was putting on a sun-dress. "Is it
going to be nice today?"
He looked out the window. The birds had still not
begun to sing, and although the sky had brightened, it
was still a deep blue. He could see dark clouds forming
in the distance. "No. I think it's gonna rain. we can
get coffee on the road. I don't want to get caught in
She sighed and tossed her housecoat in the hamper.
"What difference does it make? We'll be in a car,
Emmit." The burning was getting worse, and his head was
aching by now.
"Still, I'd rather get going," and with that, he
took two of their bags out to the car.
After Emmit had loaded all of the bags into the
trunk, Irene walked out and sat on the stairs of their
building. She had her sunglasses on, despite the
overcast sky, and looked a little like Marilyn Monroe
must have before the dye job.
"You going to the beach?" Emmit asked dryly. She
glanced in his direction and pulled the sun-glasses down
in 1950's Hollywood starlet dramatics.
"Too much wine, dear. I should be all right after a
coffee." She lit a cigarette, taking a long first drag,
and looked out across the sky, exhaling a sigh.
"Remember the trip we took last year to my aunts? It was
just like this. I think I like cloudy days more than any
other kinds." He grunted and stayed leaning against the
rusty door of their Buick Skylark. She looked at Emmit
again, ignoring his visible impatience. "Aren't you
going to come and sit with me, dear?"
"Actually," he said looking at an imaginary watch on
his wrist, "I thought we'd be gone by now. You couldn't
wait until we stopped for coffee to have your cigarette?"
She smiled and walked over to the car, exaggerating
her swaying hips. "Darling, you know how grumpy I am
without my morning coffee and cigarette. If you insist
on making me wait for one, at least allow me the pleasure
of the other," she said, rubbing his chest and continuing
her act. Emmit turned his head away to avoid the smoke
smell. A lot of guys at the metal plant chain smoke, and
the smell never bothered him. In fact, he had smoked for
a while during college. Nevertheless, her brand made his
nose sting and his stomach burn. He had tried not to be
a hypocrite, but finally had to ban her from smoking in
the car three months ago.
"Why do you always blow that shit in my face?" he
grumbled and pushed her away. She took a step backward
and put her hands on her hips, straight out of Gentlemen
"I never knew it bothered you, Em. You know, some
boys like it when they’re flirted with." She paused.
"You used to love it."
"Yeah, well, I don't anymore, I guess." He hated it
when she called him Em, and he hated it when she treated
him like a teenage boy; so condescending and
She put the cigarette out and they climbed into the
car. The plan was to drive as far as her aunt's house in
Thunder Bay, about an eight hour trip, and stay there a
night before heading west to Manitoba the next day.
Emmit had fought against setting a final destination,
preferring just to drive, but gave in after Irene
threatened again not to go along. He chose Vancouver,
assuming that would appease her while still getting
himself as long a trip as possible.
He started the car up, then turned to her. "Are we
sure we have everything?"
She didn't turn to look at him, but nodded a second,
adding with a push of her sunglasses, "Everything except
coffee." He nodded scornfully back and pulled out of the
When they reached the corner of the block, she asked
him if he had left the apartment keys with the landlord.
He slammed on the brakes and the car stopped with a
screech. As he was doing it, he imagined what it would
have been like had her seat-belt not been on. Her head
could have slammed into the windshield, if not killing
her, at least
shutting her up for the rest of the day. She may even
pass right through the windshield, if he could get the
car going fast enough.
"Goddamn it, Reeny! I asked you two minutes ago if
we had remembered everything. You couldn't have said
anything then?" The burning was fierce, climbing into
his throat and choking his words.
She yelled back, more surprised than angry, like a
child who has been caught looking at her father's skin
magazines. "We didn't forget anything, Em. You did. I
had nothing to do with dropping off the keys!"
"Who has the keys? You do! You were the last one
out of the fucking apartment. How can I drop off the
keys if you have them?"
She threw her sunglasses onto the dash and asked him
to turn the car around. "Please," she added meekly when
he didn't start immediately.
While she dropped off the keys, he sat fuming in the
car, unsure of whether he was angrier at her or just smug
that he had been right. Infallibly and inarguably, she
had been in the wrong, and she knew it. This took some
of the edge off his burning stomach. She would never
admit it, but she didn't need to. This had been his
first victory since she had conceded to the trip.
In the five minutes it took Irene to leave the keys
with the landlord, Emmit searched the radio dial for
something to listen to before they were too far from the
city to get a frequency. There were only a few radio
stations this far north of Toronto, and once the car was
three hours down the highway to Thunder Bay, there would
be no frequencies except the CBC, and all the tapes in
the Buick were Irene's. She had memorized all the Gaelic
words, even though she didn't understand them, and would
sing along with whichever reel or jig happened to play.
Emmit wanted to delay this for as long as possible. His
stomach needed a break. The three or four Northern
stations may only play top 40 music and country, but even
that would be better than her voice this morning.
Besides, he thought, if she can't sing, she won't forget
that we're mad at each other as easily. It was always
more difficult to stay angry at one another when he was
the only one playing along. He decided on a top 40
station that played bubble-gum pop. Neither of them
really enjoyed the music, which meant she wouldn't be
able to sing along, and he would have a break from her
for an hour or so.
When Irene returned, she smelled of smoke again and
looked as though she had been crying. She sat down and
looked out her side window, away from Emmit. He pulled
out of the lot again and asked her what was the matter.
"Nothing, Em. Just go."
"Come on, what's wrong? You were crying and you've
had another cigarette. You didn't cry on that old
woman's shoulder again, did you?"
"No Em. Drive please."
He was silent for about a block, then muttered under
his breath, "Goddamn landlord knows more about our dirty
laundry than I do."
This time she shouted her plea, "Please, honey, let
it go." Her voice cracked like she was going to start
crying again. Emmit felt he had pushed her too far.
Maybe her hangover was worse than she had let on. Maybe
she felt ill enough to stay quiet most of the trip, or at
least until they stopped for coffee in Seault Ste. Marie.
They drove without speaking, with the bubble-gum pop
playing quietly, until around twenty minutes before
Seault Ste. Marie. The radio station had begun to fade
by then, and Emmit leaned over to look for another.
Irene sighed loudly and asked him to leave the radio off
until they reached the coffee shop. His stomach had
relaxed considerably by this time, and he wanted to avoid
"I thought maybe we'd try to wait for another hour."
Irene turned sharply and spoke in a whiny tone that
made Emmit's throat tighten. "Baby, I don't feel well,
and those clouds are making me nervous. I really need a
coffee. Please stop soon."
Emmit's anger grew again, but he held back, not
wanting to have her crying. Instead, he turned the radio
off and accelerated to about thirty kilometers over the
narrow highway's limit. He looked straight ahead and
furrowed his brow. He noticed her glancing nervously
between the speedometer and the road, but said nothing.
In the distance, a low rumble of thunder could be heard
over the car's engine. It would probably be raining on
the other side of their coffee stop.
They stopped at nine o'clock at a coffee shop just
before Seault Ste. Marie. Irene rubbed Emmit's arm in a
conciliatory gesture. She spoke, barely a whisper, and
asked him if he wanted her to get the coffee.
"Medium," he said sternly, but did not avoid her
hand. Instead, he rolled down his window and looked up
at the darkening clouds.
Irene did not take long. She didn't stop to have a
cigarette, as Emmit thought she would have. She put the
coffee in the car's cup holders, then kissed him on the
cheek. She whispered "sorry" into his ear. He did not
answer her, but reluctantly held her hand as they
returned to the highway. He had been enjoying the
silence that their tension had brought, and vowed
silently to continue, despite the detente. She could sit
back and assume the mortars have stopped, but his eyes
and ears were still alert; he would not be caught off
An hour later, the rain started. Irene tried the
radio again. Emmit rolled his eyes and swallowed back a
"I wish there were some stronger radio signals on
A nod from Emmit.
"Even the CBC refuses to play music during the day.
At least if we had Radio 2, we could get some classical
or something. I mean, really, how many people need to
hear a radio documentary about paleoscatology?"
Another nod from Emmit. He tried rubbing his temple
as well. Subtlety, he hoped, would work better than
"You know, dude, I've heard that damn documentary,
like, a dozen times this year.” She was playing another
role, this time Valley Girl. Emmit's burning was boiling
up into his throat. He felt like vomiting and winced as
the acid worked it's way into the back of his mouth.
Irene didn't notice, and continued on. The rain was
falling heavily by this time, hitting the windshield like
"I mean, gawd, it's not like we're in the tundra. A
girl needs her radio. Maybe we should listen to some of
our tunage." She smiled at him and started digging
through the cassettes in the glove compartment.
"Babydoll, Em, do you have any tapes in here?" She
tossed tapes over her shoulder as she spoke. Emmit
leaned forward and looked at the sky. The clouds had
darkened to an almost black wall. He turned and glared
at Irene, who was reading the tracks off the j-card of
one of her Gaelic tapes and mispronouncing each title.
"Arnet- too it... Aqua-Feltiva... haha... Aqua
Velva..." She looked out at the sky. "Well, Babydoll, I
guess we won't be picnicking today." Then, she looked
over at him, eyes wide and mouth open, feigning a Eureka,
followed by a sly grin. She cuddled up to him and pushed
the cassette into the deck. "Unless you want to make
love in the rain... dear?"
"No," he said curtly. What he had wanted to say was
"No, and if you don't quit your chattering and method
acting and mispronunciations and your goddamn fucking
annoying bullshit, I'm going to turn this shit box in
front of the next semi that passes us, and put us both
out of our misery." She was pouting at him now. Trying
to tease him into her game. He fought back the urge to
yell at her, and instead lied. "I'm not feeling well,
Reeny. I think I may be a little hung over too. Maybe
we should just keep driving. There are sandwiches in the
back. You can have one if you want." He hoped the lie
would work. She stopped pouting, so he spoke again.
"Maybe if the rain lets up, we'll stop in Lake Superior
"But we won't be there until, like, dinner time at
"I'm not hungry, Reeny. What do you want me to do,
throw up?" Actually, he was coming very close to this as
"All right, Em, but promise me we'll stop in Lake
"Yay!" she smiled, and reclined her chair.
She hummed along with the Gaelic, but at low volume
enough that Emmit's stomach did not get any worse. He
was more preoccupied with the heavy rain. She could take
his concession as an end to his coldness if she liked,
but the chances of them making it to Lake Superior Park
in this downpour were slim.
By the time they reached the edge of the park, it
was half past seven, and the clouds had combined with the
falling light to make seeing the road very difficult.
The rain had been at a steady downpour since early
afternoon, making a two hour drive last just under five
hours. In this time, Irene had gone from giddy and
singing to silently reading the thick novel she had
brought to nervously watching the clouds become a thick
black wall to finally pleading with Emmit to pull over at
a truck stop to allow the rain to let up. Through this
stretch, Highway Seventeen becomes very narrow and has
very little traffic, save for semi trucks and the
occasional SUV. Emmit, who was also worried by the lack
of visibility, was becoming increasingly agitated by
Irene. The needle on the gas gauge was creeping closer
Irene pointed to the needle. "Em, please stop at
the next truck stop so we can gas up and get some food.
This is crazy. We can't see anything."
"I will, Reeny. The next one I see..."
"Yeah, you said that already, but you passed two
just a ways back. Why didn't you stop then? the rain is
only getting worse and I'm getting hungry."
"Well then, what are you waiting for?"
Emmit breathed heavily before speaking. He wanted
to slap her. He closed his eyes for a second to gather
his thoughts, opened them, and tried not to say anything
that would worsen his nerves. " The other two gas
stations you saw had no restaurants, and besides, they
were about a hundred kilometers back. I will stop at the
next place I see. We are fine for gas. I'm pretty sure
there is a gas station just around the corner. We are in
the park, there should be all kinds of little places."
"But how can you tell, Em, when you can't see
"Trust me for once. Why don't you try taking a nap
or something to relax. I'll wake you when we get there."
"I can't sleep now. I'm too nervous," she said.
"Well, then how about you just be quiet for a
Irene's jaw dropped open again, this time in
earnest. Tears welled up in her eyes and she began to
shudder. "You son of a bitch."
Emmit realised his mistake as soon as it had left
his mouth. "Baby, I'm sorry, but my nerves are--"
"Never fucking mind your nerves. I've put up with a
lot of shit from you this week. Why do you think I am on
this wild goose chase for your identity, Emmit?"
"Irene, please." His head was pounding so bad he
could barely see, and he was having trouble breathing
through the ball in his throat. Semi trucks roared past,
their headlights making his windshield a solid block of
light. He clung to the wheel tightly. Irene turned away
from him and wept for a long time. She stopped as they
came to the top of a long hill. Ahead, the red and
yellow beacon, barely recognizable in the raindrop
smeared darkness, indicated a Shell gas station.
"Finally," Emmit breathed. He could barely contain
his excitement. All of his ailments from the long day
had accumulated and ganged up against him when Irene had
started to cry. By this point, they were reaching a
crescendo of pain, causing him shortness of breath and
lack of vision that threatened to keel him over in the
The Buick pulled over onto the exit, and Emmit
steered it under the shelter of the pump area. He rolled
out of the car and to his feet. He spit out the fluid
that had been welling in the back of his mouth, and saw
that it was coloured a pale red. Great, he thought, on
top of everything else, I could be dying. He lifted the
nozzle from it's cradle and placed it in the car's dry
tank. The sound of the heavy downpour created a
deafening rumble under the shelter. Irene stepped out of
the car after checking her face for traces of tears. she
called to Emmit over the din of the rain that she would
wait for him in the diner. He nodded, and tried to
apologise for the last hour of the trip, but she had
already begun walking toward the restaurant portion of
Once the tank was full, Emmit replaced the nozzle
and drove the car into a parking spot next to the
restaurant. Then, he ran through the rain to the cash
desk inside. When he entered, the old woman behind the
counter asked him if he was the man "with the pretty girl
who was cryin'."
"Umm, yes. Yeah, that's me."
She handed him a key and told him that theirs was
room seven, "just around the side of the restaurant." He
looked at her quizzically, so she continued. "Your lady
friend said that you'd be staying the night. It's
cheaper here than just up the road further into the park,
an' this rain is not going to let up until morning.
Surprised you got this far, really.
Apparently there's zero visibility just this side of
Seault Ste. Marie. Your lady friend said youse are
coming from Sudbury?"
"Yeah. I think here is actually worse than there.
At least now."
She nodded and asked him if he was paying for the
room with the gas. He paid her for both with his credit
card, then walked into the restaurant. Irene was sitting
near the back of the small diner, smoking a cigarette and
drinking a beer. He sat down and tried to speak, but she
raised her hand and said coldly, "We'll talk about it
once we are in the room. I just want to eat." The
waitress came then and took his order, a garden salad and
a ginger ale. The two ate in silence, then ran through
the rain again to room seven.
Emmit sat on the edge of the double bed while Irene
went into the bathroom. He could hear her urinating,
then turning on the water for a shower. She stayed in
the shower for a long time. Meanwhile, he undressed and
looked around the room. It looked as though the decor
had not been changed since the seventies: beige and white
blankets, orange pillow cases, matching orange curtains
with moth holes eaten though them. The rug was an awful
light green and had cigarette burns peppering it. There
was a small television that didn't appear to work sitting
on a scratched up armoire at the foot of the bed. Emmit
lay in bed, waiting for Irene to come out of the
bathroom. He wasn't angry any longer, but his head still
pounded, and the ulcer burned in his belly fiercer than
it had all day. he had to swallow back blood or bile
every minute, it seemed.
Finally, Irene emerged, wearing a pale blue
housecoat that was visibly too large for her small frame.
She no longer shook, and seemed to have pulled her
emotions together. She was still visibly angry, though.
her brow was wrinkled, and she walked to the bed almost
forcefully. She sat down, looked at him unflinchingly
and began to speak.
"Emmit, I came with you on this trip because I know
this is something that you have to do. You need to feel
free-- God knows why-- and I will support you in that,
even though I don't understand it, because I love you.
We have both been through a lot the last year or so,
especially you, what with the move and your job and I'm
sorry for that. I too have to do things for me sometimes
and the move was just that. I also realise that today
has been really hard. We've had bad luck and we were not
really well prepared." Emmit's burning was unbearable
now. He wanted her to shut up and leave. He wanted to
mouthful of his blood and bile into her face, the blood
and bile she had caused him, and order her to fuck off.
She continued, "But for Christ's sake Emmit, I do not
deserve the kinds of shit you have heaped on me today.
You've been a complete bitch since we woke up, hell,
maybe even before we woke up, I don't know, and I've had
to take it all. All of it, Em. And I've tried to be
graceful and cheerful. I tried turning you on, I tried
singing, I tried everything, but you will not relax and
enjoy yourself. I mean, this is your trip. I am doing
this for you and yet your acting like a spoiled child who
doesn't want to go summer camp because he always goes
there." Another role. Emmit bit down on the insides of
his mouth. She could play vixen or starlet or sweet
school girl all she wanted, but he didn't need another
mother. He clenched his fists and dug his nails into the
palms of his hands. Still, she continued, "Emmit, if you
really didn't want me to come along, you should have said
something. I would have understood. I'm not saying I
wouldn't have been angry or upset, but I would have dealt
with it. I don't know. Maybe you wanted this trip to be
some kind of fling. Maybe you were bored with me and you
wanted to sample some other life, some other girls. The
point is, Em, taking me along with you for your little
mid-life or quarter-life crisis or whatever the hell this
trip is, was stupid if you didn't want me along. And
furthermore, I will not be told to shut up by you or by
anyone else. I was nervous, just like you, and I'm sorry
that I don't deal with nervousness silently like you do.
I talk. You know that. But goddamn it Em, you may as
well have slapped me in the face or pushed me out of the
car back there instead of telling me to shut up. It
couldn't have hurt any worse. Maybe," she paused and
swallowed as though she were about to start crying again,
“maybe we've just outstayed our welcome for each other.
Is that the case Em? Do you want to end this? Because
if you do, you could have found a gutsier way to do it."
Emmit's fingers were cramping from holding his fists
so tightly. He swallowed back another load of bile. He
wanted to shut her up. He wanted to drive his fist into
her mouth, shatter her teeth, reach through her and tear
out her vocal chords; anything to make her voice stop.
He just wanted silence from her. His head was pounding
so hard that he could feel the blood pulsing through the
veins on his forehead. He closed his eyes once again,
trying to force the lids overtop of themselves. He heard
a whimper from the his girlfriend's direction.
Then Emmit felt his muscles tighten automatically,
and he lunged toward her. His hands grabbed her
shoulders, instead of driving through the front of her
face. His lips hit hers, and he was kissing her deeply.
His tongue was pressing against her teeth and he could
feel her tears against his cheeks as his arms pulled her
as tightly to him as they could. Then, as quickly as
they had tightened, the muscles in his arms went limp.
He pulled away from her and opened his eyes. The look on
her face was unlike any he had seen in three years. Her
forehead was stretched as if she were in shock; her eyes
glared at him in some awkward form of anger, yet they
were glazed over, a look of love mixed with hatred; her
mouth was misshapen in an odd frown of disgust.
He felt something pop inside him, then, as if a rope
that had been stretched to its breaking point had
snapped, fraying filaments of itself all over his
insides. his head stopped aching instantly, leaving a
void in his skull that he could not fill with a thought
or an emotion. The burning in his stomach subsided
quickly. His bowels filled suddenly, and he felt an urge
to run to the bathroom. His legs would not respond,
however, and instead his mouth opened and words he could
not control spilled out.
"I took you on this trip because I wanted to ask you
to marry me. I want to marry you. I want to marry you."
The words echoed around the room. Both Emmit and Irene
were in shock by this point. The words had come out of
Emmit's mouth, but he did not remember moving his lips to
form them. Then, another wave of words spilled out of
him. "I was going to ask you in Vancouver. I was going
to buy the ring there. Oh God, Irene, I wanted to
surprise you, but you seemed so afraid. You seemed so
afraid of me." The involuntary words stopped again. This
time, Emmit regained control of his mouth and bit down to
keep anything else from escaping.
He knew these words should have horrified him. Only
a few hours ago, he had wanted to drive into oncoming
traffic. He had wanted desperately all week to escape
from Irene. Minutes earlier he had wanted to tear her
face apart. Now, the horror that these words should have
brought was absent. His stomach didn't tighten, his head
didn't pound, his fists were no longer clenched. he felt
no apprehension or fear or disgust. In fact, he felt
nothing, except for the void in his mind where his
sensory-motor skills used to be, and the pressing of his
bowels. Irene's mouth closed as well, and her tears
began to flow again. her forehead lost its wrinkle, and
her eyes lost all their hatred. She tried to speak, but
only crying noises would come from her throat. She
wanted to ask him if he were serious, or if this were
just another way of hurting her. She looked at him,
studying his features for a sign of mocking or a sinister
smile. She could see only his tear ducts welling up, and
a kindness in the shape his mouth had taken.
This time she exploded onto him, sobbing and
pounding at his back with her fists, kissing his cheeks
and lips, then digging her nails into his shoulder
blades. After five minutes of this explosion of emotion,
Irene fell limp in Emmit’s arms. She rolled over next to
him on the bed and looked up at him with a look of
complete fulfillment. She opened her mouth to speak
again, but burst out laughing. Through the laughter, she
managed to stutter that she would have to call her
parents to tell them and that her aunt had
to be told not to expect them. He nodded, leaned over
and kissed her forehead, then stood up next to the bed.
"Where are you going, baby?" she asked.
"I have to use the bathroom now." He said, finally
regaining control of his mouth. "I haven't gone to the
bathroom in a long time, have I, Reeny?"
"Are you feeling okay, Em?" she asked, rubbing his
"Yes, I think its just nerves. The storm took a lot
out of me."
"Okay, Emmit. I'll call Mom and Dad. Do you want
to talk to them?"
"No," he said, and walked slowly to the bathroom.
He closed the door quietly behind him, dropped to
the floor, and went completely numb. He felt his bowels
release, but could not pull himself up to the toilet.
Instead, he stared dumbly at the old fashioned porcelain
sink and the mirror above it. He could see in the mirror
the top of the bathroom's door-frame, painted black, but
chipped from years of neglect. He wanted to reach across
the room and push his fist through the glass and watch as
drops of blood flow along the cracks his act of violence
would cause. He tried to will himself to his feet. If I
could get to my knees, Emmit thought to himself, I could
propel myself forward and inertia would do the rest,
maybe slam into the sink, maybe the mirror, maybe the
wall. But he couldn’t. His legs would not respond.
Beyond the door, he could hear Irene's muffled voice as
she excitedly told her father that they were to be
married. As he listened to her speak, the desire to
throw himself into violence drained from his nerve
endings, and he waited.
Emmit’s mobility returned once Irene had finished
talking to her parents. He stood up, used her damp towel
to clean the floor, dropped the towel and his underwear
into the trash can next to the toilet and stepped into
the shower. he turned the water on as hot as his skin
would bear, and let the water run down his chest.
"No, the was no way out and no one can imagine what the evenings in prisons are like"
Camus, from L'étranger