"I plain miss the girl. That's all. Ain't it fair to say it, if it's true?" Bobby cut a look at his brother as they crossed the yard to the pickup parked aslant in the gravel. He didn't want to sound too totally lovelorn, but God, apparently he was. Ben, two years older and so much smarter, his fingers on his future, going to mechanic's school at night, brother to Bobby's heart and soul, with an American flag kerchief tied around his greasy hair that Claude said needed cutting. Ben would help Bobby drown his sorrows, he'd help figure how to get DruAnn back.
"Shit, Kathy P." Bobby shook his head and continued to let it hang with what he loathed admitting. "Big waste of time."
"You know it." Bobby hauled himself up into the passenger seat, eyed briefly behind him the tarp-covered pickup full of roosters in their cages. He heard their rustling. The bird sounds spooked him. They were so rangy and hateful they didn't need blades strapped to their skinny ankles.
Ben gunned the engine and brought Bobby back around to shaming. "Don't shit me, man. Kathy didn't come across with even a little bit?"
"Not enough to matter. Nothing everlasting."
Everlasting—a word of DruAnn's, for sure. He couldn't shake her. Didn't seem to want to.
With Ben pulling them away from the homestead, Bobby's head branded full with his last image of the place. Things on their porch were so incongruous and industrial: an old dishwasher, a dirty rototiller, a high school desk—the kind made of plastic and metal and wood laminate, all of one convoluted piece. Thick plastic sheeting hung from the porch roof down both sides to shield you from the wind some when going in and out the door. Tar paper and green speckled shingles—what you'd suppose as roof material —these covered the exterior walls of the place.
The front seat of Ben's pickup had the cruddiest springs imaginable. They pinched Bobby in the ass through his Levi's. Rollicking down 460 with Ben in his pickup made Bobby feel like they were kids again on the Tilt-a-Whirl, Ben in control, Bobby along for the ride, secondary. Yet, he was the one nursing a broken heart, and the hurting of it filled up the truck's cab. He pulled his second can of Bud from the six-pack between them on the seat, popped it and offered it, but Ben waved it off.
"Let me get these birds down to Lonnie's, and then we'll make a true project of you forgetting old Drusy-girl," Ben said.
"Don't want to forget; I want her back. Somehow." Bobby tilted half the can's contents down his throat, hardly tasting more than metal and the bubbles and the sting in his throat.
"Back with her?"
"Yeah. I mean, I guess. Would that be so bad?"
"You sound whipped, boy."
"You call it whipped if it's what I want?"
Ben shrugged. His love life revolved like his careers. He delivered mail, worked landscaping, attended a gas station, sold some pot, arranged cock fights in middle and eastern Kentucky. Just as he dated Grace and Diane and Geneva, then quit. Took up whatever and whoever was on spot when he crumbled off his most recent ride, watery legs and dizzy and not at all too serious.
"Girl's a girl. What's so special about Dru?"
"C'mon, you know her."
"I know her to look at her. I've seen her in our kitchen, beaming up at Claude. She's chatted me up a time or two, while waiting on you. Don't mean I know what of her you can't do without. We got a couple hours. So convince me of her all-fired importance."
Bobby felt like he had to belch, like heartburn might be taking up residence. He looked out at the low lying clouds, grey and full of wet and huddling to make something of themselves. "We'll hit rain before too long." The birds in the back seemed to cluck a low murmur of agreement, which made Bobby remember ghost stories he'd been told—of fortune-tellers reading the future in marks left from a chicken scritch-scratching in the dirt.
"I'm watching it," Ben said leaning forward and noting the sky up through the windshield, meaning he had eyes on the weather, the state patrol, the detours that might shift them from the road. "I'm watching out for you, too, baby brother. So what's the story?" Ben nudged the rest of the six-pack into Bobby's hip. "Go on. Always more where that came from."
Anybody else, and Bobby'd have thought he was being called a fool, but Ben's love life advice was one pocket in that hugely generous coat he was forever doling out to the sorrowful he came up against (meetings most often in bars and in those bars' parking lots), a spirit that tangled him in trouble he sometimes needed fists to bust out of. It was a shepherding that ran in their blood, far back as Preacher Wardell Trivette on the outskirts of the Cane Ridge Revival, and on down to kind-hearted Claude and his present-day descendents Ben and Bobby—boys who aimed to ease each other's way around what scarring the world was out to accomplish.
So Bobby obliged. Truthfully, he'd been dying to talk of her out loud, all the things he'd been reminding himself, all the memories lined up like prayer, litany in praise of DruAnn, to speak her name.
"I can tell of one time, that'll about illustrate it all for you."
Rain ticked on the cab roof and the front hood of the truck, beaded up on their windows before flying off the sides with the speed Ben pushed on the truck. The two of them hunched in front of the sputtering defrosters, a site for storytelling. Bobby leaned back, lengthened his spine and lifted his ass off the seat, stretched his legs and shoved his toes on the floor mat under the dash, his whole body tensed with DruAnn promise, and then he kind of collapsed on himself, felt the springs digging his ass, same as before. The rain had a quieting effect on the birds.
"Well." Bobby sucked at another beer to fortify. "We were up Cane Ridge a couple months ago."
Ben nodded. "The shrine." He rolled his eyes to the cab's ceiling where the rain played a tin can tune. "How romantic. Been there myself. Took Gracie."
Bobby felt wounded that his brother assumed sleazy motives. "No, man. You know how DruAnn's so slayed by History with a capital H? Well, I thought why not show her the Trivette gravestone at the shrine, and lay it on about how we're, you and me, a part of the revival that started there?"
"Oh, Christ," Ben said.
But not exactly. Facts weren't spilling out right. Bobby sensed this storytelling, the aura of it, was veering into seaminess he in no way intended. Kiss and tell, Dru Ann would say. Or rather, Never kiss and tell, Bobby. That's purely shoddy and it shows no respect.
The two of them had been driving out 537, with the summer dusk darkening the front slopes of the Hunterton and Liverton horse farms and the broken down houses in between. Eight o'clock of August 1 shadowed the great lawns.
"Look, blue grass," Bobby'd said, joking to try and lighten up DruAnn. She could be such a serious girl, and a shame because her laugh polished his very backbone.
Everything behind fences: horses, cows, boer goats. But Bobby and DruAnn weren't horse people, and they weren't fenced. They were two tiers, maybe three, below those the horse people hired to do the shit work on their showcase farms.
"Should we even be here?" DruAnn whispered as Bobby barreled the Charger up the asphalt drive to the Cane Ridge Shrine.
She was so cute when she was half in awe of something.
There were crickets and locusts and slanted, dying-down light.
"A year ago this place was buzzing," Bobby said. They both got out of the car and DruAnn gravitated to his hip, as she always did. She lobbed him a question of a look.
"It was the 200th anniversary of the Second Great Awakening."
"What are you talking about?"
"This place is part of my ancestry. See here?" Bobby ushered his girl to the cemetery right of the meeting house. They stepped among the graves, reverently, bending and murmuring the half-eroded inscriptions they read as best they could until they found Wardell Trivette.
Bobby pointed at the headstone and made his proud claim. "My some-number great-great granddaddy, a preacher. See, during the Great Revival there was a camp meeting here to end all camp meetings. They called it sacramental communion. Barton Warren Stone was pastor of Cane Ridge Presbyterian, he planted the seed for it, but The Word, it grew wild as mushrooms, brought thousands of Disciples of Christ to sprawling over these acres."
"Are you trying to teach me something?" DruAnn said. She was smiling and encouraging, with her fingers lightly plucking at the hairs on his forearm.
Neither she nor Bobby were great at the academics, but yeah, there were things worth learning. And Bobby was caught up in the telling, suffused with the fervor of what he was trying to impart, then imagining where it would lead. DruAnn loved the kind of story that gave her gooseflesh, and Bobby knew when DruAnn grew chilled she'd need some consequent warming up.
"Beginning of August 1801, Friday straight to Wednesday, they slept and prayed and worshipped. They sang and spoke in tongues, they lolled in the Penecostal swoon, their bodies jerked with the Spirit. Preachers stood on wagons so the crowds could hear and see. And one of them was Wardell Trivette."
"So then you're the son of a preacher man?"
Bobby laughed. "Down the long line of Trivettes, yeah, I guess you could say."
"Well, that's kind of sexy." DruAnn actually batted her eyelashes at him.
They began walking arm in arm, hip bumping hip, toured around the back of the meeting house to an area where dozens of picnic tables had been set, maybe for tourists and the worshippers and the locals, maybe for the caretaker and the Barton Warren Stone Museum folk to take their lunch.
Lightning bugs were going crazy round them, blinking in the graveyard, at the fence line, around the edges of the orange-blond cane stone that encased the log meeting house from the late 1700's. Bobby knew this stuff, how, he could not wholely say, only that Claude had a hand in it, plus stories swapped among cousins from way back.
Perched atop one of the picnic tables, DruAnn began kissing Bobby.
"We're not church-y people," DruAnn murmured into his face, her lips and his both opening as big as the night overtaking them. She smiled and grabbed between his legs. "And yet I, too, feel the Spirit." Her tumbling laughter made Bobby's backbone hum along the tabletop. He pulled her on top of him, and the flounce of her mini dress belled around, hiding his hips.
A preacher's strength and conviction, the swell of the Spirit, he could see how it might knock you to your knees. He thought of the swooning, the jerking, words that felt like gibberish to the ears, and DruAnn was the engine at the center of Bobby's vision from the Lord. Maybe the preacher's vocation had always been in his blood. He felt overtaken by ghosts. He was ready to scream, "Hallelujah." Instead he cried out, "Save me," as DruAnn stole and gave him back his breath.
None of this could Bobby describe accurately to his brother without bringing ridicule. Telling the story, or talking around the elements too precious and too strange to speak aloud, took the last of the three beers plus the opening of a pint.
Outside Prestonburg, Ben pulled off the highway. "Back roads from here on," he said. "Following along Beaver Creek, but to no place you'd locate on the map."
Bobby watched his brother gas up the truck and then duck through the pelting rain to pay inside the Chevron Mini-mart. The whole trip had turned bleary, losing focus by the minute. He felt his soul swirled by the wash-machine world, while down the corridor of two hundred years he could hear Preacher Wardell's thunderous sermon:
The lovely Saviour is yours. Come to Him, free willing, as He calls all sinners, invites, yes, you, to come and taste the salvation He offers. He is all-sufficient. Let His power o'ercome you. Let the God Omnipotent reign o'er your heart. Submit.
At the shrine, the Lord's breath and DruAnn's had been one in Bobby's ear. Now the Lord spewed rain o'er Bobby's soul, washed him clean. Preaching The Word was his purpose, he saw, a clear and shining purpose, well, more like the Lord's grandeur blurred with DruAnn, both of them urgent and putting claim on him. Bobby'd never known what he wanted to do once Stolefield set him free. The school counselor, his whole job to get you to think, spoke from the podium at Career Assembly: "Your choice can affect dozens, no, hundreds of lives." Used to be guys like Bobby would go on to coach or into business with their dads or get taken on at a construction gig, but in the last year the army recruiter had longer lines of kids waiting than the counselor did. Always patriotic, Paris now put it all out on display because crazies just as seduced by the Almighty as Bobby had wiped out thousands in the Trade Towers. If there was any way to set balance back in the world . . .
"My heart's open," Bobby whispered, alone in the cab of his brother's truck.
Claude told him he had the gift of sweet talking. Well, he'd direct that sweet talk from its service in the Charger's backseat and make it work for the Lord. He'd sweet talk the girls right into God's holy lap. Drinking'd be a thing he'd have to swear off. Become drunk on the Spirit, Wardell said. Salvation ran down the window an inch from Bobby's face. It was everywhere, and like the rain, like DruAnn, so sweet, easily caught on your tongue, swallowed.
Dru was a girl who still patted her privates with baby powder, for Chrissakes. No wonder every time they had sex, Bobby felt newly born. DruAnn, his angel in this world, conduit to that other realm he felt nigh to touchable up at Cane Ridge. And may as well admit the botched episode with Kathy Profitt smelled in every way to Bobby like sin.
Ben hopped into the cab, and tossed a bag of Fritos at Bobby's lap. "You should eat something." Bobby's gaze skipped to the floor down there by his feet where the bag had slid. The rain drummed the truck roof as Ben pulled from the overhang by the pumps. His maneuvering out of the mini-mart lot set Bobby off-balance, his head lolled near his knees as he flailed for the chips. Everything was out of reach on purpose, wasn't it? Bobby knew he was drunk, but when he lifted his head, his grasp still chip-less, the rain outside was bleeding the outside of the truck red. Truly, he felt ready to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb that had been dogging him since August. Turning with Kathy Profitt was his last leap into senselessness instead of cleaving to what rose up in whispered chorus from the Cane Ridge graves: Salvation is through the Blood of the Lamb. He started to roll down his weeping red window.
"What happened at Cane Ridge was mystical," Bobby said, "and Dru Ann, she was at the root of it, don't you see?"
"Fucking cops," Ben said, slowing the pickup, beer cans rolling around the floor as they pulled onto the berm. "You're letting rain in. Shut the damned window."
Late afternoon but it might as well have been dusk with the weather muffling the Eastern Kentucky hills grey. The patrolman wore plastic over his official hat and the rain beaded there until heavy drops gave in, splashed his nose.
"Sir," Ben said.
The law shone its flashlight through the open driver's window onto the floor of the cab.
"It's been my brother drinking, not me."
Bobby nodded. In the so many times the two of them'd been busted since childhood, Ben told him, "Don't open your mouth." So he simply smiled at the officer when he really wanted to mock salute and piss him the hell off.
The cop's flashlight swept across the seat of the cab. "Seat belts?"
"Oh, we got 'em," Ben said, his great big hands disappearing, fishing behind him in the guts of the seat.
He pulled them free finally, all tangled and latched to kill the alarm. He laughed, sheepish. "Put out of commission, it looks like."
The cop didn't smile. "Well, render them operational."
Wearing no belts, you're just courting death, Claude pronounced every time the news talked of speeding fools who'd smacked into their dead ends. Then he was the very devil who'd shown Ben and Bobby how to lock one half into the other to shut off that damned blaring permanently, sawed the shoulder harness free with a steak knife, and shoved the matched pieces deep into the seat.
Bobby felt for his own knife, just a small useful tool, no weapon, in his jacket, but all his pocket trash had been swiped. Or he was too fucking drunk to grasp what was there.
Ben had to prove he could walk a straight line in the rain, and the cop had him exhale into the Breath-alizer, too, Ben all the while polite, his responses punctuated with so much "sir" it sickened Bobby. But his brother was a smooth operator. The pickup's registration squared with its license, and they weren't breaking the law simply by having the birds, whose ticks and squawks and clucks could be heard ten-fold at their backs.
Ben knew his rights. "We ain't crossed any state lines," he said, pointing at his own license plate.
The cop had no cause to hold them, so Ben and Bobby continued on to Lonnie's, the cab humid and chilled and smelly with the rain soaked clothes Ben wore.
Ben shivered as he lit a cigarette, his home grown variety. At least the cop didn't search the cab up under the seat, in those broken down springs where the joints were wedged. "I got to shed these, man." He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm fucking miserable."
With the rain moving off into the five o'clock sky, sun broke through a strata of what appeared lemon, made the horizon look ever deeper the color of a day-old bruise. The light streamed onto the asphalt, and the black top reflected it back as a ribbon gold and the violet-blue color of kings. And as the light bore down, the road lifted the light up, too, so the street gleamed. This was the rapture Wardell Trivette had preached on. The whole afternoon traveling in the truck raised up above the ordinary. With Ben pushing past legal speed, they might as well be airborne and on the road to God. Bobby wanted to point out this sterling vision to his brother, but he'd already said too much about Cane Ridge, didn't want to further sully DruAnn or the Lord or whatever all had engulfed him at the shrine and then lingered, building really, all the way up to this revelatory truck ride. Bobby could hardly wait to tell DruAnn his glimpse of glory, with Preacher Wardell probably smiling up there in his heavenly seat as he watched Bobby's heart acquiesce to his dear and only Saviour.
Ben told Bobby, "While I change into dry clothes from Lonnie, you help him unload the birds."
Bobby stood outside the truck, in drizzle now, and watched Lonnie and Ben sidle past each other at the screen door of the house. Then Lonnie hopped down the porch steps and waved at Bobby.
"Let's get us some birds!"
Their cages were cumbersome and Bobby's hands got pecked where he grasped them, the rollicking weight of the roosters' panic pressing on his breastbone.
"We're here, we're here," he whispered through his hefting and toting, with a boy's instinct to calm them.
Once they hit the threshold of the barn, the birds shut up tight. It was eerie how their babbling and clucking snapped to silence, like someone'd turned the volume so far loud that it broke off. All the noise went into a void. The birds fell in, chasing fast after their voices.
There was a lot of stumbling back and forth from the truck. Bobby was in delivery mode. He thought of it like that, robot-like, to get through each plodding, unlikely step. His feet might not even be attached but they were still obeying orders.
Lonnie said, "Man, you are shit-faced."
Bobby felt chicken-shit on his hands. "Bathroom around here?"
Lonnie laughed and swung his arm in a show off-y way after he set down the crate he'd been hauling. "Only the whole outdoors, Cuz."
Bobby showed his palms.
Lonnie said, "Pump's around the side."
Bobby worked the handle and after priming, there came a good enough gush of water to rinse away the bird slime. He wiped his hands, fronts and backs, on his jeans. Lonnie motioned him over from within the barn, and when Bobby got there his cousin tapped two cigarettes out of his pack.
"Don't you know when to come in from the rain?" Lonnie said.
It'd turned the dark of winter dinnertime, and they smoked, watching the light through the mist move from one window in the house to the next, like a rolling game of electricity was being played inside. Bobby wondered why they weren't going up to join Ben. He remembered his brother and his cousin, how they'd greeted and then danced past each other, one entering the house, the other exiting, as if they couldn't both be inside or some universal equilibrium would be rocked. And was that a Judas kiss Bobby saw Lonnie plant on Ben's cheek? Christ, but he had a head full of loopy, trespassing thoughts as he smoked the Marlboro down.
"Always more where that came from," Lonnie said. Just like the beers in the truck. Ben and Lonnie could keep Bobby supplied with whatever he needed to fill his longing, but don't think you could be asking questions, Bo.
Together they must have smoked a half dozen. Later, when Ben, dressed in dry flannel and denim bleached near-to-white, turned the truck back on the road heading for home, only then did Bobby figure his brother must have been doing business in those rooms, and buyer's request, no witnesses.
Drinking and smoking made you so fucking paranoid.
"This trip was just a piggyback of chores getting done, wasn't it?" Bobby said.
"Hey, whatever we can combine . . . time, money, labor. Nothing wasted. Ain't that what Claude taught us? Don't make two trips when one'll do." Ben's grin was a mile wide.
"He was talking about bringing your supper dishes to the sink. You're damn lucky that cop from before didn't check you out front to back."
"See now, those birds at the back kinda lasso-ed Mr. Officer's interest from the get-go, didn't they? And me, being lucky? Me? It's us, baby brother. It's us that's born lucky."
"Well, what luck," Bobby said, reaching his left hand under the seat, fingers coiling into coils, reading the seat's underside like it was Braille.
"Don't be fucking with the product, man. You'll be making a mess, now quit." Ben slapped at him, he was all damned slap-happy, a-giggling, one hand on the wheel, three or four joints knocked from Bobby and falling on the seat between them and Ben scrambling to pick them up and drive, too.
"The product?" Bobby's hand scrabbled back into that blind space for more, for the plastic baggie, the pay dirt, the big money, for Ben's whole damned crop surely floating along in this Dodge with monster wheels and half bald tires. Something Bobby just had to see for himself, to know what a close call they'd really taken.
They lit one and passed it back and forth until it embered out.
Ben whooped big and yelled through his open window, the off-and-on rain all but quit. "If the cop's lonely, let him stop us!"
How'd he drive and still rip open the borrowed flannel shirt he wore, manage to show off between the worn plaid and the dingy long johns a wad of green? Bobby couldn't begin counting. Dope changed into money.
"Hey, Mr. Magic, tend the wheel," Bobby said, returning Ben's sweaty hand to steering. He chucked his brother's chin to make him face the front. "And eyes on the road. Another thing Claude taught us."
Ben swiveled and showed Bobby his glittery, manic eyes. "Claude? Our Father of the year?"
Our Father. There was the heavenly, which haunted Bobby since Cane Ridge, and then there was Claude, who they knew as intimately as the slop they were driving through knew the underside of this truck.
"Hey, know what else I learned from Claude? Driving no hands. He ever teach you this, Bo?" Ben set his palms on the cab's roof, steered with his knees, lifted up one ass cheek, then the other, to keep the truck on the road.
He'd definitely done something extracurricular up inside Lonnie's, and now the latest smoke made him ultra-careless and cavalier.
Bobby said, "You're like a damned pinball in a game. Could you calm some?"
Ben giggled, he whooped. "Tilt!" He flicked the wheel quick left, the side of a hill ready to wrap them up in dark weedy arms, then last minute he righted the truck, skidded back into a lane.
"Gotta have control of the situation, Bo, see? See how I did that? Just like the cop. Had him in hand all along. Just like DruAnn in the palm of your's. You got to take that girl to task, man. She's playing you."
Time to switch from back roads to the highway, to better, slicker pavement. Bobby saw the mini-mart in his sideview, shrinking by the minute.
"You missed 460," he said.
"Plenty other ways to get home." And Ben kept on driving.
At least they were headed north.
"Now I'm telling you about this girl, man. We got to fix your problem."
"Got no problem with Dru." Bobby almost wished he'd never brought it up, but moping around like he knew he'd been, Ben would have zeroed in and chipped at Bobby until he bled. It didn't take much since he liked to talk, of DruAnn especially.
"No problem at all," Bobby said. "Dru's for me, Ben. For me. Do you get that? Claude says love comes around once in a life. And then he says all women connive. He talks out of both sides, and I've been listening to him since Day One, since Mama left us all broke and hungry, the three of us in that dark and moldy house, no brightness. I want Dru's light, the light she brings. And it's a package, Ben. I've been trying to tell you, DruAnn, she's wrapped up with the Lord and what he wants for me."
All along, Ben had been driving. He could do it with his eyes closed, even asleep, maybe. He might have been napping while Bobby droned on. Bobby's lips felt rubbery, spilling words before he could even curl his tongue around them, words coming out half-formed, but sounding perfect. He might have just given his bravest speech ever. He hoped he could remember it word-for-word to tell DruAnn, but knew it was as gone from the truck as the contraband birds.
Bobby took a breath that steamed inside the cab, and Ben said, "Who? Are? You?"
"Who stole my brother? Where's Bobby? Where's his sense gone?" He slapped Bobby on his head, sent ringing through that ear. "Wake up, Bo," he yelled. "This girl's fucking with you, man. She's got you so you don't know which end is up, and then she calls it quits?"
And like that, Ben's words put form to Bobby's fault, staggered Bobby, made him feel like the slime of chicken shit earlier pooled in his hands. The tires shushed on the road they were traveling, what was it, Bobby squinted at the speedometer—85 miles an hour? He reached to switch on any good ol' music to pierce the quiet, and Ben slapped him free of the dash. Nobody'd said, specifically, what Bobby'd done to betray DruAnn. The cab silent, as dark outside as in, and Bobby almost wished for the birds' noise and their itchy distraction. He nearly missed the fucking roosters, them an excuse to turn and see his guilt over Kathy looming with some hatchet to chop up his future. That blade was right behind him, shaving the short hairs on his neck.
"I've been chicken."
"No," Ben wailed, as if all his progress with Bobby had been swamped over. The howl rippling through his body forced the truck to cross the yellow line and return. "Sly. You sly dog. You're standing up for yourself. Can't be whipped and still have hold on your pride. She'll come 'round. You're teaching her what she's overdue for learning—that you decide for you, not her, not no one."
Ben had never steered him wrong but now Bobby felt his brother's talk pure bullshit. Claude, father who acted less father and more buddy, his ramblings made greater sense. Always running on about his own sad choices, damage a cloud that followed him, which maybe wasn't so different from the word of Wardell Trivette, how God chose you before you were born and you were destined to shoulder the cross because, above all else, God loved. He loved. And He asked you to love, that was the simple all of it. And so Bobby would. DruAnn, Claude, Wardell Trivette and his God—all any of them wanted from him, Bobby imagined, was that he be true, that his heart remain open. Ben seemed to be advocating against that.
Bobby wound down his window and the autumn air of the Kentucky hills at night hit his face like a wet towel. Pine-y. Damn, it felt good, smelled good. He took a big deep breath that sent him higher than the tokes from before. "You don't know what you're talking about," he told Ben.
"That so?" Ben's eyes were shifty, they were slits, he might have been pulling that sleeping-while-driving act. "Am I gonna have to pound sense into that head?" He hit Bobby above the ear and they swerved. Water-logged soil smelled like it was right at the lip of the window.
"Am I gonna have to take drastic measure?" The truck drove an "s" pattern whether the road went that way or not.
Bobby ducked, a too-slow reaction to Ben's third smack. "I'm just saying—"
"Don't say. Do."
Ben's needling was nothing Bobby didn't expect. Ben had to advise and appear on top of the situation, especially in his little brother's eyes.
He kept at Bobby, a slap here, a cuff there, and Bobby's passivity just egged him on. Not that Bobby didn't want to hit back, but his arms felt like lead pipes since they'd smoked that joint, maybe partly from hauling those birds in their cages. He was too tired to fight.
"What's gonna be enough to rile you, Bo?" Ben was stubborn, practically a point of honor now, he couldn't drop it and neither could he keep beating up on his brother for no good goddamned reason.
Inside and outside the truck, all around Bobby, the deep things of God were being made manifest. Preacher Wardell rose up, began unfolding from his knees. His voice expanded inside Bobby's head. He was massive, booming, towering over every wagon and animal, over every tree and supplicant gathered at the camps set around Cane Ridge. His mussed and ragged hair brushed the sky's lowest stars: Yet the gifts of earth will not carry you beyond the reach of danger. Know this—Our God, He is a consuming fire.
"What're you mumbling, bro?" Ben took his eyes from the road and his hand from the wheel, a hand that belted Bobby swift into the passenger window, might have broken skin. The truck slipped and skidded. The dark punched right through the fucking window, a huge stop to Ben's thrashing, a chunk of the night thrown in, a guard rail interruption, a slam where all was jagged, torn, equal parts flesh and glass suspended in a black field, where Bobby's heart lay open.