We hid the Volkswagen with vines of kudzu. Me and the Man Who Only Said Rain yanked them from the ground and threw them over the dented hood like ropes. In those three days they would grow into every nook of the car, rendering it invisible.
The car chase was lights. It was hollow, shallow-eyed, and so-help-me-god-wailing through the quiet brick streets of Old Town Bowling Green with sirens sticking to our tracks. I drove while he twisted in shotgun, his feet banging the dash, shouting, “Rain! Rain!”
Rain for the helicopters that traced us through the trees. They ducked in and out of the wide valleys as town cleared into rounded hills, looping rivers, and caves. Rain for how he said, “Rain!” The Rain that meant, Right! Straight! Turn, Jesus, Turn! My teeth clattering and knees knocking long after the chase died down. Long after, we heated the can of Texas baked beans over a butane stove. “Rain,” he said, patting his gut as he shuffled away from the clearing to grab more wood. The road right behind. Cars without mufflers ripped past, but their lights hung there through the leaves. “Rain,” he said, and then was gone.
It was rain for the four months we spent dipping in and out of interstates, following a winding, manic, but exact path from Venice to Point Reyes, then north still through the craggy coast, blurring out west to Idaho, then further. Push through the Rockies in a night. Speed to Bozeman, then hug 111 East through Medicine Bow. See the ramshackle church with the ten old men planting geraniums in the rocky soil. See the dirt on their knees. Their yellowish-sunken eyes. Rain for their sore joints. Rain for the bone-thin cows, their hooves crunching the twice-burned cheatgrass. Rain for the man in Maine, standing off on the shoulder, wrapped in a thick blue blanket. Rain for the way he stared at the passing cars and hissed through his busted teeth. Rain! Rain! Smear your broken words all over the windshield. Over the hundredth crusty highway diner. Over the silent men hunched in the torn leather booths, their eyes focused on their hands, picking at the dead, frozen skin around their jagged fingernails. The icy switchbacks. The sleet-covered bends that turn from gravel to dirt to ice to road then back. My hair long and tangled. My eyes deep in my head. Looking into the side-mirror, shaken by the desperate old man staring back. His face like yours. He speaks a different language but uses the same words.
I noticed his teeth before we hit the fawn in Albuquerque, on our second night in the bushes outside of Bowling Green. We’d run out of beans and ate Spam with our hands. That night I saw him peel back his gums to wrap his incisor around the pull-tab of the tin can. Yellow and black. Crooked and rotten. Covered with shadows in the orange-red light.
Imagine the years and miles between this swampy camp and the warm home where he first fell away from the world. He showed me the photo while we were sleeping in a Walmart parking lot outside of Denver. He turned over from six hours of a raspy cough and slid the morphed, soggy square from his wallet into the yellow overhead light. The girl’s pink dress was splotched with mud, leaves were stuck in her hair. Her arms crossed over her chest and she hung a wet, gnawed pencil from the side of her mouth. She crooked her head and squinted at the bright camera flash.
“Rain,” he said, and I understood. She was the point from where the rain came. It started with her then poured onto everything else. The bats in Trinity cave. The capsized semis off I-70, dragged to the shoulder and half-buried in snow and ice. The gas station burritos. The mechanically separated chicken. Your stomach turning inside out. Shitting in truckstop bathrooms so lonely you miss home. The home with two brick chimneys. The fiberglass porch. The Christmas tree by the curb that’s still waiting for the garbage men to whip by in their noisy truck and toss it into the hydraulic compressor that sends the dogs barking. The dogs barking in the March rain that falls hard, down in sheets over the hacked and cornless Minnesota plains. It was all Rain. And her, this girl, the daughter, she was the start of it all. Her tiny hands cinched around a glowing glass jar.
It wasn’t the big words like God, and Power, and Love, but the small ones like It, But, Who, and Why. He lost these words first, lost them when he worked for a pork processing plant as a printer repairman. Lost them when his daughter was eight. Left for good when she was ten. Ripped away from Warren, Indiana the morning after Halloween, the morning after the pink dress. Indiana because of his license plate. Warren because of the dunes that shoot high above the road. Because of the power plant smokestack that hangs over the interstate, and spits thick, white clouds over the lake.
His words sunk through those clouds. Crashed right through the floor so that, in the last year, he’d stutter in front of the bathroom mirror, pulling out his hair and biting his tongue. His wife behind him, stroking his hair as his torso folded over the fake marble counter. His head in his hands while his metallic alarm clock buzzed through the hall. It sounded miles away, as if ringing deep underwater. He couldn’t say little words. He couldn’t say You, or Me, or Him, or Her. He couldn’t say his wife’s name. He could only babble out words like God, and Defiance, and Crime, and Angels. Pontius and Columbus. Lost Love and Fucking New York City. Everything else slipped through his hands as the dog barked at the towel falling from his waist. Now he was kneeling, naked on the tile floor of their little bathroom, trying to gather the tiny shards of something that slipped from his hands and shot a loud, sharp crash through the sleepy winter cul-de-sac. In his dreams, people threw open their windows to a red light and howled. His wife, running in a red velvet coat through a field of autumn leaves. The sun caught her hair as it broke into flames.
His wife’s name was August. She cut hair at a nursing home. Last night, the night after her husband fell to the floor naked, she rose from bed to use the bathroom. In the dark hallway she saw a tiny black hole in the middle of the carpet, darker than the blackness of the hall, leaking soft, muffled music. She heard someone laughing and whipped around to see a crow on the windowsill, tapping its beak against the glass. She turned back to the black and swirling hole. Little lights shone through and she felt a warmth on her skin. She heard rain pouring and a soft piano churning a smooth, sleepy melody that rose up and rested inside her. She felt heavy. She closed her eyes.
It was morning when she opened them. The big tomato sun crawled over the soy fields. Karen growled at racoons through the screen door. That dog. The day her husband’s father died, he came home with this ratty terrier-corgi-pitbull mix. He found it half-starved and full of ticks in a cornfield and now he held it like a child. It shit on the couch and ate the neighbors’ chickens. It gnawed at the wooden banisters. It chased the warblers from the backyard and got itself stuck under the fence. Her daughter stirred in the next room. Her daughter was yawning now. She would want a kiss. A hug. A waffle. A ride to school, and yet, the longer August stared at the hole, the more she wanted to dip just a toe in and let herself fall.
August! August!, they’d cry. The voices of the old women from the nursing home. Their faces blurred into watercolors. All of them in a big park, underneath a big umbrella. In the dream, she is always carrying the umbrella, herding these nervous, spry, old women down the brick path as they break out and run through the rain. They melt when it hits their skin. They moan, hiss, and melt into rabbits. They run to the murky lake and jump in.
August! August! She heard them through the hole too. The hole that, six months later, covered the house. One in every hall. Every room. Even the attic, one that spat down sprinkles of rain onto August and her husband as they slept together in the master room. Their daughter. She saw them too, watched idle-eyed as her Mom ran back and forth from the Home Depot, buying stacks and stacks of four-by-eights, lashing them to the Sonata, cutting them to size with the screaming circular saw, then nailing them over the windy holes. At first, when she thought there was hope, she’d escort her deer-eyed, stuttering husband over the tiny dark holes that he somehow couldn’t see. Down the stairs to the kitchen. The kitchen to the porch. The dog jumping and nipping at their feet. August! they cried through the wood-paneled kitchen walls, and over the gravel streets. Over the crashing lake waves, her name coming back through it all.
“And the fawn died when you hit it?” asked Dr. Susan over the Vipassana room’s aggressive AC unit. She scribbled notes into the margin of her spreadsheet while I reclined in the slippery leather chair.
“Not right away,” I said, trying to push myself back up. She pursed her lips, fidgeted with the volume of the Tibetan flute on her grainy desktop speakers. She took a deep breath.
“But he left you right after?”
I nodded. “He was covered in blood, and we stopped so he could wash his hands. The vending machine ate my quarters, so I walked back to the car and realized it was gone. Going North, I think, back the way we came.”
“D.,” said Susan, leaning in “what would cause someone to do this?”
Everyday this question was thrown at him by his family and strangers and neighbors. Everybody peeking in through the windows. His slack mouth. His glassy eyes. And, last September, they all saw his wife jump from the mudroom and tackle him against the stairs. She held down his arms and dripped spit onto his face as she hissed, “Why are you so fucked-up? Why? Why? Why?”
The man in his boxers and wool slippers, wordless, with jumbled, choppy bits of air falling from his mouth as his wife’s hissing and crazy strength broke, and she fell limp over him. Her legs and arms slackened as she buried her head into the nook of his bony shoulder and both of them remembered. Eleven years ago, when they first fell in love while watching August’s family friend’s cabin in Wisconsin for the winter. Twenty-five, drinking wine, lighting candles on the docked pontoon boat. Wearing moth-eaten pink leg warmers and old wool mittens that smelled like Russian cigars and sweet blueberry pipe tobacco. Cutting up deer sausage and washing it down with hot apple cider. At night, woozy off the third bottle of sangria, they climbed under the hundred-pound quilt, tangled their arms and legs, their fingers and toes, and fell asleep to Ghostbusters on the VCR, pine logs popping and cracking in the stone hearth.
Even then, when the night would turn, he’d wake with his heart twitching under the quilt. He’d brush it off, jump to his feet in the pitch-dark house, and walk out barefoot onto the icy patio to stare down at the choppy black water of the lake below the hill. There were egrets on the island in the middle of the lake. They laid their eggs in the treetops. At night he could see their white feathers twisting in the bare crowns. He laughed, told himself he was looking at migratory birds on a small island in a man-made lake. Still, the gangly branches became fingers and the white birds became like eyes. He stopped laughing and his feet went numb as the birds took flight in a low circle around the island. Their wings skimmed the water and blurred into a single line of motion, then someone started screaming. He realized it was August snoring in bed.
At thirty it started to grow. A child. A daughter who was hungry and would not stop wailing. The dog, who jumped up on his dresser and nearly ate the white, gold-trimmed box holding his father’s ashes. Working as a printer repairman in Warren because the rent was cheap, August said, so if they lived there for ten years they could move somewhere more cultured like Denver or Asheville.
One night, the man saw God while driving home from work. He was in a dark car speeding down the highway and had just passed God smoking cherry tobacco and flashing his brights at the man whose hands clattered behind the wheel. Then he was back in time. Passing their house on Dewey Avenue, blurring the golden porch lights out into the country, into the flat, husked fields of corn stumps and soy leaves, where he opened his eyes and was standing on top of the landfill. He saw the nuclear stack, lit by the town’s yellow glow. He saw the pig factory. The metal warehouses with cement loading docks. The four-legged shadows herded across the yard into the large sliding doors. He saw his office. Saw the printer’s green light, blinking on and off, showing that, yes, the toner was full. The toner is full, he heard himself saying in a voice behind. When he moved his mouth to speak, he found that it opened and closed on hot air, straining to make the smallest sound.
He lit a cigarette, took one puff, then threw it to the ground. He lit another and threw it down too. Ten cigarettes before looking up from his feet and realizing that it was snowing, that he forgot his galoshes, and that his leather shoes were warped and soaked in the puddle that had grown around his feet. For the first time in his life, he thought, What the fuck am I doing? My wife. She’s at home. Probably with our girl. Trying to braid her thin white hair as she screams and throws Barbies across the room. And what is a child? At first he thought it was nothing, but a child is not nothing. It kicks and screams and makes heat with its body. When August led him into their pitch-dark room years ago, wearing a robe that slipped off her body, exposing her smooth back of moon-white skin that reddened around her navel as she pressed against the hard angle of the wooden dresser. When she coaxed him in and took his hands from behind, demonstrating how to dig his long fingernails into the soft skin of her back. When her double-jointed arms twisted backwards and her pale shoulder blades stuck out like wings.
Then he was slumped in the mud, cursing God, Sweet Jesus, Buddha, Allah, The Great I Am, The Holy Immaculate Conception, and The Demented Wandering Ghosts of the Pilgrims. Lashing himself at the white light of Chicago, across the lake, under the clouds, reaching out through the straight-shot, dirt paths paralleled by corn and dusted farms, by the whole flatness of the land, curving up, and then crashing into a single point which disappeared inside him.
The man lost his words two years after that shatter on the hill. After he was finally fired from the plant for smearing his face in pigs’ blood, he sat home and all day stared out from the rusted screen door. By now the house was covered in holes. They grew in the toilet. They grew in the shower. They grew in the oven. All over the house, on every floor and every wall, and he would feel the warmth coming out, his eyes darting around, looking for the draft. These are dark times, said the voice behind him, and, when he opened his eyes, his family had somehow gathered around the table. They were eating pork chops and Karen was growling at the squirrels on the roof. The man sprung up and tripped over a piece of wood on the floor. August shot across the table, spilling her glass of wine. She pushed him back into the armoire, saving his foot before it sank into the hole by the kitchen.
The daughter, Joan, saw that her dad was sick. She understood that no one understood. Not the doctors who laughed as he left the room and not the psychiatrist who told her mom it was a side-effect of erectile dysfunction. Joan knew about dysfunctions. She knew that some were reversible and others were not. She knew about witches and magic and cellulite. She memorized pages out of a pocket dictionary while Mrs. Mulholland threw erasers at the students who farted during detention. Joan learned swears and would share them with Sammie and Johnny by the pencil sharpener during class. “Asshat,” she’d say. “Horse-ass. Pansy. God-damn-shithouse. He-he-he-he.”
She watched Rapunzel in class and that gave her the idea. She stole her mother’s money, walked across town to Walmart, bought dozens of glass jars, and carted them back home in Sammie’s Radio Flyer wagon. She hid them in the bushes, snuck them out to the marsh where, in the September chill, she’d overturn rocks and soggy logs, find bugs in the warm dirt then pull them up and into the jar. One day she found a black widow underneath a leaf and hid it under her father’s new bed in the guest room. The next morning, even though he still didn’t speak, he ran downstairs and cooked himself eggs, and turned around with a light in his eyes. He ran across the living room and lifted her off the ground. They spun in circles over the plywood-covered floor while Karen nipped at his toes. He lifted her up too and pressed her mangy fur to his face.
That day, on the bus, she made herself a promise. No one asked where she went. Her mom cut hair until late at night and would come home, walk right past her dad, into the kitchen, microwave an old pizza, then climb up the stairs to her bedroom. Her dad would turn and try to face her, but his eyes were red and dry and he stuttered so hard it sounded like a slamming door. This wouldn’t do. She would catch enough bugs to make him right again. Hop the night bus to Densworth, to Levenston, to Gary, scour the abandoned buildings and gray, leafless marshes, go to the dark buildings, and find the centipedes that glow. The millipedes that fly. The neon green cocoons and beetles that rip themselves apart in the abandoned church over the musky chamber organ. And the strangers. Pushing her along, from bus to bus, stop to stop, throughout another tangled, rusty town. A toothless man in a pawned denim jacket. A bald old woman whose arms burst into smoke as she pointed the way through the yellow light of another city bus.
Towards the end, August had to know that things were coming. She stuck the dog in a kill shelter, and even then, the old women still wailed her name. The holes had gotten bigger and louder. Instead of music, they spat out icy rain and sideways wind, whipping her hair, nearly ripping it from her scalp. The old women at work called her Hun now. It was Hun this, and Hun that. Hun, Hun, Hun, like they were each other’s lost daughters. These women, left without brothers or sisters. Their children, filing them into the industrial brick tower and plugging their noses at the musky skin and damp furniture. At the flower-print walls, filled with the music of Hun. And she heard the music with those razor shears in her right hand. With a woman’s full head of messy hair falling into her hands and becoming something new, dark, gray, and lovely.
And now that the dog was dead, he would have to leave. Halloween was in a week. Yesterday, she stopped repairing the holes, and now waited for the man to fall in and be gone. Like Joan laughing at the Barbies that she threw into the hole beneath her bed. Those knobby-kneed plastic legs torn apart in the bullet-fast rain.
Joan learned the word Hell while watching her mother wake in the night to pull the plywood away from the holes in the upstairs hallway. She learned that Hell is a thing under things, that it’s the lowest thing under all the things, and that when you can’t get any lower, that’s Hell.
There were dozens of jars hidden underneath her father’s bed. Joan was out until ten or eleven every night. Gripping a flashlight in her teeth, she trundled around the frozen marsh, and struck down on the six-legged things with her butterfly net. The jars jutted from under the sheets, packed so tightly that every shuffled step across the creaky floor to his twin bed chimed with the ring of the jars. One night, she crawled along the floor and peeked through the darkness to find his eyes wide open, gazing past her as she looked straight into them. He stared into the corner, breathing hard between gritted teeth, while the white box crumpled in his shaky, web-veined hands.
The night before Halloween, she noticed a small glow as she pushed back the door to his room. It was a tiny light, barely noticeable at first, but growing as her eyes adjusted to the dark. The holes on the wall stretched it in all directions. The light flared up, then died down, then flared up again. She understood. The day before, she found fifty frozen lightning bugs in the basement of an abandoned library. She thought they were dead but now their light filled the whole room. They made the velvet curtains green. They made the bed float. Above all, they sucked away his wrinkles. Whitened his yellow teeth and his thinning, gray hair. Now, full and long and brown, twisting past his shoulders, spilling onto the floor, wrapping around the jars as he floated in the soft, golden light.
What she didn’t know is that he saw God again. The night before, he was back in his dark car driving down the same highway, zipping in and out of a frosty dream, his hands static, pushing further and further away from home. Driving south to Gary, he saw God rip past, speeding in the opposite direction, windows down, his long beard trailing out. God was humming to an old country song on the AM radio about a red house, a big river, and losing your mind on a long drive to Mexico. When the man turned, he saw that the black car had become a black bird, and that it was flying past the fields and the dark grain. When he looked again, it was just a car, weaving between the orange cones laid along the shoulder.
“Good God,” she said as she pushed back the front door and saw her father evaporating into smoke and rain. He was holding the white box and pouring water over his head in the house cluttered with jagged, hacked-up plywood and trash. The smoke flying from his arms. His hair bursting into steam. Turning to face her and looking straight through. Static. Then she knew he had fallen in.
He had shot up, spun around the dark room, and realized there was a violent storm smacking the branches against the house. The gutters creaked, bent, broke, and slapped water onto the sidewalk. Someone was screaming out in the storm. He heard what he thought were the shingles being torn from the roof. He jumped out of bed and sprinted into the hallway where he saw the hole for the first time. There was a dark gap in the center of the floor. Darker than the light in the caves. Rain splashed out. It soaked his face. He choked on air.
Just then he became aware that his daughter was sleeping in the next room, and that he loved her, and that he wanted to tell her he loved her, but he was right on the brink of the hole. He would play this part back for years. Sometimes he would think he tripped, but other times he would have to admit that he dangled his slippers off the edge, took a deep breath, then let himself fall.
That morning he awoke with an empty, overturned white box tipped out the window, his father’s ashes already scattered onto the wet lawn below. August’s mother’s pearl necklace. Her collection of seashells from Indonesia. Out the window already. Out! Out! Out! Stuck in the air as he found himself ripping the TV from the foot of the master bed and tossing it down as well.
He smiled and went back to the closet. With lips trembling, he pulled out his will and threw it into the gutter. Also his wallet. Also Joan’s baby shoes, and his wife’s grandfather’s Bible. Burned. It exploded into flames as it fell from the window then it began to rain. He grabbed the sofa, ripped off the cushions, then kicked in the frame until it caved. Two men fought in the street below. The sofa crashed. The two men shook hands. The sofa collapsed into a heap and stirred his father’s ashes. It fell through the ground, and the men became birds and then were men again.
Things were going right. His father’s station wagon waited, polished in the street. He ran around the house and adjusted tiny things that no one would ever think to move. He threw a paper clip on top of the armoire. He off-centered the flower painting and carved his name into the bottom of a cabinet door. He opened his eyes and was sobbing, then opened them again and was not. Today was the day. He bit his nails. Hummed a song that sounded like the world splitting open into light. He burned the coffee. Cracked an egg while backing into the fridge door. The time was 2:36 pm. It was Halloween, and his daughter would be home soon.
August got the call in the middle of cutting Lara’s hair. She knew the call before it happened, knew it that morning as Joan ran onto the bus in her paper mâché spider costume. She was in Dr. Baxter’s office now, sitting across from him in a muddy pink dress, clenching her fists, and scrunching her little red face. The two men, standing behind Dr. Baxter in grey suits, talked about how certain costumes were a violation of code. August walked in, picked a twig from her daughter’s hair, and closed her eyes. Thinking that, after she drives her husband out, she and Joan will build a house on her mother’s old ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains and pick blueberries on the green summer peaks.
“She threw a tantrum,” said a man.
“Hurt a boy,” said another.
“Uncontrolled child,” said the third.
“A wild girl. A big notion. A dark room. That is a great burden.”
August opened her eyes, and saw the three men hunched over her daughter, their backs extending, their stern faces rotating on their necks like globes. They were all bald, and stared slack-mouthed at August as if her face was falling off. They wanted to eat her daughter. They wanted to burn the paper mâché spider suit and watch the colors run off.
She smelled the coffee burning back home. Heard the egg drop to the kitchen floor as an old woman barged into the office and told Mr. Baxter that the boy was being rushed to the hospital. That he fell out of a tree, that his leg was broken. “There’s much worse,” August heard herself saying, realizing months later that Joan had pushed Sammie Gringhoff out of the big oak tree, that his tibia fibula had snapped in half when he crashed to the pavement. But now, she felt the dark things behind these banal men and women, and Joan rushed out of the office, and only then, while speeding through the red light at Gary, did she realize that her daughter was holding a jar. It was almost winter, and still something was glowing inside.
They opened the door to a camera flash. The man swaddled them, wrapped them both up in his big arms and barrel-body. Crying, babbling, he lifted his wife and daughter into the air, and sang a song about a Western river that, to them, sounded like a cat scratching at his throat. The house reeked of scorched coffee and August saw the egg splattered across the white tile floor. He kept singing, all the windows open, a big breeze pushing the smell of autumn into the nooks of a house that had been dark for years. For the first time, August saw the boards in the sunlight. She understood how insane it looked, how incomprehensible it would be to anyone who would see them. They would think she had a horrible rat infestation. Or was living during the apocalypse. Or was drilling secret caves in the ground to escape the black plague.
August saw the man’s father’s car, shined and oiled in the street. She saw the pile of trash through the window, saw the glittering mess of fabric, gold, and shattered glass covered in a fine gray dust, and the white box tipped over on its side, open and soaking in a puddle. His eyes were puffy, full of tears, and his nose was running with clear snot. He missed his dog. He choked on his breath. He hugged them once, then walked away, sat down, stood up, then hugged them again and, watching him tousle Joan’s hair, she knew.
He turned to her, with Joan in his arms, with the rain shooting out of the holes louder than ever, Hey, he tried to say, you are still my wife, and I want to walk through the park with you.
“Rain,” he said, testing the word on his lips as he and August stood next to each other in the doorway of Joan’s room. It was time. The man pushed a blonde strand of hair back from Joan’s face as she slept, and he turned to face his car in the dark street. He stood shaking, looking at his daughter one last time. Then August led him up to the guest room and, after he was too nervous for sex, they lay next to each other in the twin bed, naked and breathing. Their eyes were open. Her leg curled over his body. But then she was hot, and she lifted it and laid herself straight in bed where she could hear her heart beating through the hollow box-spring mattress. She coughed, turned over, and pretended to sleep.
His dreams that night were filled with explosive light and tiny stresses. He dropped his keys in a sewer and watched himself grow old through a puddle while trying to fish them out. He woke up. The sky was turning. His stomach was jelly. Shivering, he sat up and pushed off the heavy quilt.
When we hit the fawn, it splayed out on the road in all directions. It crawled to the shoulder, then crumpled. It was breathing, but still. The man ran out of the driver’s seat and bent down next to the little thing. I don’t remember what he said. I was in the car. My knees were shaking. It was late. It was dark. The road was empty. The man held the fawn and pressed its head to his body. It shivered. It bled. I imagined it was full of soup. That it was losing soup. That it was losing nothing but soup, and would soon jump up, and spring back into the woods. But no. It crouched there and bled.
The man would leave the next day, and I would run out, see his dented car rounding the slight hill, driving back north, and, standing barefoot on the hot blacktop, I knew exactly what he meant. He meant Rain. He meant Soup. He meant I held the fawn as it leaked onto the road, and just for a second the man wasn’t a man and the fawn wasn’t a fawn. They were only lights, little blue lights paired in the quiet exchange of warmth. They circled around each other and made these ringing sounds, like the afterglow of an iron bell struck. The man had to know how much he was giving, because his light was so big, and became so small. Because the deer was already dead. It was more than dead. It was nothing. Yet he held it, pressed his head into its fur, and whispered words I did not hear and never will. He stayed there long after it died. The coyotes were out, howling, and hungry. He smelled like menthol cigarettes and lonely bathrooms and old beef jerky and the only word he knew in the world was Rain. The word he carries like a duty. Like a penance. Like a weight that jumps up and flares in hot shades of blue, and I have to squint because I have never seen anything so bright.