The Hunts and I are parked at the shabby side of the center of the universe, a little away from her trailer. It took us a while to find the trailer park, as it doesn’t appear on any map. The place looks desolate. There’s junk everywhere. What isn’t covered in garbage is overgrown with weeds. The air is hot and oppressive. Something’s brewing. A storm, if we’re lucky. Those storm clouds are unnerving me, though. They look not quite natural, as if someone had painted them—someone with a vicious sense of humor.
It’s quiet. Too quiet. Even the strays are missing. No cats, no dogs. Apart from us, there’s only a boy. He’s sitting in the dust in front of a boarded-up trailer, pitching pebbles at a tin can.
“You sure she lives here?” I ask, though I know she does. Not only is it written in skin, but Irving sniffed her out too. Still, my heart refuses to believe. When she rejected any of my money ten years ago, I figured she had made other arrangements. Realizing she’d lived like this all those years tears my heart.
Through the rearview mirror, I look at Haimi in the back seat. Irving has curled up into a ball on her lap and is snoring softly.
“You want me to read it again?” Haimi asks. She knows I’m looking at her. How is a mystery to me. But she always does.
“Don’t be silly, dear,” Harvey says. “You’ve read it to him a hundred times.” The coughing sound is him laughing. “Haven’t I undressed enough already?” He pats my thigh to get my attention. As I look, he winks at me and points with two thumps at his skin.
I roll my eyes, but my mouth pulls into a smile. “I know, I know … ‘This skin ain’t joking.’”
With a sigh, I get out of the car. Every fiber tells me to get her out of this place. But this is not my story. I’m just the sidekick helping the hero along. As I walk to the back of the car, I tug at my shirt. It clings to me like it’s trying to hold me back. Why on earth did she run away to hell?
I open the trunk and get out the box. It’s large and heavier than anticipated. I press it against my chest and walk carefully over to her trailer. At the doorstep, I bend my knees in a slow, fluid motion. The box clunks to the ground, despite my effort. I breathe in sharply and wait. Nothing. I peek through the air holes in the lid, but it’s too dark inside to see anything. So, I put my ear on the box to double-check. With relief, I hear steady breaths and a low snore. I retie the bow, securing it with a double knot for good measure. Time to go. Before I leave, I stroke the lid and whisper, “You catch it, girl, and when you do, kill it. Kill it before it kills her!”