Jodie and I have been operating at the intersection of I Love You and Fuck Off for the past year, fighting and forgiving at breakneck speeds. We're both tired, but apparently not too tired to crawl into a cramped economy car and head west together. We are determined to work things out, to change our context, to see each other from a new angle.
The car is loaded-luggage, water, snacks, CDs-and we're eager to put some miles behind us, both literally and figuratively. So what if I bought the map and plotted the route, shopped for the food and packed the tent, topped off the gas tank and checked the weather; I don't mind, really. But is it so hard for Jodie to order the small instead of the grande latte at Starbucks before we hit the road? We're barely past the Illinois state line before she's telling me to stop, that she has to piss, that if I don't pull over she's going to throw herself out of the car. This doesn't sound like a bad idea, but on second and third thought I realize that her plan is fraught with complications so I swerve into the first gas station I see and slam on the brakes, imagining the liquid in her bladder sloshing mercilessly. She shoots me the stink eye and I know she knows what I'm thinking every time all of the time, that if she had wet her pants right there on the front seat of the rented Jetta I would have only pretended to be sorry. When she goes inside and approaches the counter I imagine she's telling the clerk that I kidnapped her, to call the police, to hide her in the back among the cases of potato chips and warm beer until they arrive.
She takes her time, no doubt about that, and I clutch the map in my fists as my eyes scan the route I'd highlighted in yellow marker, a pretty straight line from Chicago to California, though for the first time I realize just how long that line is. The sun is baking the windshield and I remind myself that for the next two weeks my father can't bark orders at me from under his dented hard hat, eyes squinting disapproval as I stare at him, trowel in hand, that for the next 14 days I won't have to navigate the hidden shoals of his erratic temper, so I start feeling better. In the minutes it takes my lady to empty her bladder I think about why we're taking this trip, how we agreed the night before not to allow the small things that typically ruin our efforts ruin our efforts this time. Does she bring a coffee for me, the man who's been driving for two hours, the one who stayed up until midnight checking tires and filling ice cube trays while she slept the sleep of the dead? A little consideration, that's all I'm saying.
The next 100 miles are a pastiche of feet thumping and Bjork's tortured screams echoing from the CD player, and I have to wonder what I'm doing with this woman. Who listens to Bjork? When I stop to use the bathroom at a Clark station she pitches a fuss about how we're losing time but beats me to the attendant for the restroom key.
"Want me to drive for a while?" she asks as I exit the station.
My first reaction is to say no, but this is a long trip and Jodie tends to do all right on the straightaways. Put her in traffic and you have a real problem. I'm not insulting women drivers-my mother has always been a thoughtful and conscientious driver-but Jodie has totaled two cars in the last four years. When we first met she told me she had broken her arm in a Go Kart accident and I said, "Based on how you drive your car I'm not surprised." She laughed. In those days I could say things like that. In those playful days we would share food and secrets, scream the lyrics of Beatles' songs in the car, pretend we were matadors and FBI agents. "Dr. and Mrs. Liebowitz," I would announce to restaurant hosts, who more often than not ushered us to a secluded table in the back and recommended meals that were not on the menu. Once we convinced a waitress that we were dancers with the touring Bolshoi Ballet-we were both young and lithe, Jodie with her large eyes and hollowed cheekbones and me with my dimpled chin and bulky arms, and even though our Russian accents were appalling, she asked for our autographs. I signed as Anton Chekov and she was Anna Karenina.
When I plop down into the passenger seat and aim my finger pointedly at the eject button on the CD player, she smiles sweetly and doesn't even mount an argument when I replace Bjork with Miles Davis. Why should she? Because even though the agreement is passenger picks music, she always argues. I return the smile before she starts the car and promptly backs into a man who had wanted nothing more than to pay for his gas and drive to the senior center where he plays Bunco every Friday afternoon. The man is slumped over the trunk of the Jetta as if he's hugging it, trying to keep it from driving away, and I tear out of the car and pull him up, gently, as Jodie stands there, horrified, hands over her mouth as if waiting to capture the scream that is plotting its escape.
"Call an ambulance," I shout, but she remains a statue.
The old guy rights himself, throws off my arm and starts hobbling toward the station, and I follow him, ask if he's all right, if I should call the police. He says hell no, it was just a bump, he's not going to any hospital where they'd kill him for sure. As the man shambles down the snack aisle, the clerk tells me the old guy doesn't have a valid driver's license, that he meets his friends every week at the Rockville Senior Center to play board games. "You just knocked him a little sideways," he says. "Big deal." Jodie comes in, her face pale, looking nervous, upset, ready to fall apart. She yells at the poor guy, "Why'd you walk behind my car?" He looks at her as if she's just spoken Swahili, then grabs a bottle of Advil and wobbles toward the counter, where he and the clerk carry on a conversation as if we're not even there. I tell Jodie to be quiet, to get back in the car, to give me the keys. She exits the gas station, marches toward the Jetta and promptly vomits across the passenger side door.
When I reach her she is bent over, holding her stomach and heaving.
"Are you all right?" I ask as I pull her hair from her face and she nods but there are tears in her eyes.
"I was distracted," she says. "I'm sorry, Jake."
"Me too," I say, and I am. When she says she feels better I help her into the passenger seat, buckle her in and do my best to squeegee the remains of her breakfast off the side view mirror.
As we drive to the Tim Horton's next door so Jodie can clean up, I tell her that it's all right, that the old man is a real firecracker, that it'll take a lot more than a 3,000 pound car to sideline him, that she can take a nap while I drive the next leg of the trip. When she comes out of the restaurant she looks a lot better, and I don't say anything when she places the large steaming cup of coffee into a rubber nook in the console. Before she even takes a sip she's snoring.
The only voice I hear for the next several hours is that of Etta James, and I let the silken sounds of the sax and the low grumble of James's throaty warble wrap me in the kind of soft peace I've not felt in months, lull me into a stupor that almost ends with the front end of the car jammed into a metal guardrail. I swerve just in time, and Jodie's head pops up from the headrest, her eyes filled with both sleep and horror.
"A prairie dog," I say.
"Or a squirrel."
"I should drive," she says.
I bite my tongue and say, "Let's stop for dinner. If you feel up to it."
"Sure," she says as she caresses her belly. "I'm starving." Then she lifts the coffee cup from its holder and tests its heft. "Why didn't you drink it?" she asks.
"That was mine?"
"Hazelnut cappuccino," she says. "Couldn't you smell it? I thought I was going to vomit all over again."
"Gee," I say. "Thanks."
The diner in Omaha is all red vinyl and chrome, Elvis photos and grease, waitresses with coin dispensers slung across their hips.
"I bet our waitress will be named Rosie," I say and Jodie squints at me. "Why would she be named Rosie?"
"Because of this." I swivel my head around the restaurant. "You know, it's a cliché."
"You're a cliché," Jodie snaps.
"That doesn't even make sense."
"I'm just hungry," she says, running her fingers through her rumpled hair. "You know I get cranky when I'm hungry."
"Well you must always be hungry."
I laugh, because this is one of those things we used to joke about, but she is already sliding from the booth, and I wonder if she's heading toward the restroom or the parking lot. That's why I keep the car keys. Jodie has left me at worse places than this: Wrigley Field, a Barenaked Ladies concert, her Aunt Jeanine's 80th birthday party. Why? I don't even remember.
She returns just as Harriet, a waitress so old she looks petrified, shuffles up to our table and slurs something unintelligible.
I smile broadly and say, "This is my wife, Fawn, and I am Dr. Liebowitz."
"Come again?" Harriet leans toward me.
I point to Jodie. "This is Fawn and I am Dr. Morty Liebowitz. Pleased to meet you."
Harriet shakes her head and fiddles with a dial on her hearing aid, and Jodie looks mortified before yelling, "I'll have the burger special, medium well, pickle on the side. And an iced tea."
Harriet nods, though she's written nothing on her order pad, before turning her wrinkled eye on me.
"Do you have veggie burgers?" I shout and Jodie's eyes widen; one of our pastimes is tracking how many cows I've personally consumed over the carnivorous course of my life.
"Sure," huffs the fossilized waitress. "This isn't the fifties."
I make a show of looking around and taking in the restaurant's time-stamped paraphernalia before yelling, "I beg to differ."
Harriet stares at me, and then she and Jody exchange that look, the look of the beleaguered yet patient woman.
"He'll also have the special," shouts Jodie, "and an ice water."
"Actually," I say, "I'd like two chili dogs and a large Coke."
Harriet brings two specials and Jodie and I eat in silence.
In all fairness, Jodie isn't usually this mean; she's just mad at me. I met her five years ago when I broke my collarbone during a friendly football game and she was the ER nurse who took the X-rays. I don't know if it was Demerol or testosterone, but when she leaned over to place the lead apron over my chest, brushing my arm with her left breast and smelling like hazelnut cappuccino, I asked her to marry me. Now she wants to take me up on it. Sure I'm balking. She says that we're getting old, that we've been dating for too long, that it's time to have kids. I say that 29 is not old, that we'll be together forever, that children will destroy us. Jodie says I'm immature; I say we're not ready. I love Jodie, but I don't love being left at Aunt Jeanine's double-wide, I don't love being treated like a child, I don't love Bjork and the Beastie Boys. Who's the immature one here?
We pull into a KOA campground in Laramie before dark and nab a site on a small lake. After pitching the tent I load briquettes into the grill, douse them with lighter fluid and watch them ignite.
"You're a pyro, you know that," says Jodie as she approaches with the cooler.
"I am Captain Inferno!" I shout.
"Here," she says, "help me with this."
We grill steaks and corn on the cob and eat at a splintered picnic table.
"This is good," says Jodie, who eats ravenously and without shame, butter coating her fingers and chin.
She is a good camper, which is why I brought the tent, convinced her to forego the cheap motels with mildewed bedspreads and rusted swimming pools. Our song is in tune out here, the division of duties fair and satisfying, the camaraderie high: it's us against the world, or it's just us, really. Why can't it be this simple back home? The campfire is blazing by the time Jodie clears the picnic table, and we sit together staring at the flickering lights sprouting from the orange wood beneath.
I look into the sky searching for constellations, though since we're unable to identify them we've simply made up names that fit the shapes. "There's Tilted Lampshade, Pencil Sharpener, Galactic Mouse."
Jodie looks up and squints.
"Is that Broken Fan?" she asks.
"Then that must be Fen's Hat to the right?"
"Yep, and Sherlock's Pipe above that."
"Kids would like this," she says. "A kid would think this is cool."
My stomach tightens and I quell the small revolution growing there. "You mean camping? Star naming?"
"Well, yeah, all of it." She looks at me for a few seconds and then turns back to the sky.
We listen to the fire crackle, fall into a relaxing stupor.
"Yesterday," I sing softly, "all our troubles seemed so far away-"
"What's that supposed to mean?" she snaps.
"Nothing," I sigh. "Why does everything have to mean some thing?"
"Because everything does."
"I thought that was your favorite Beatles song."
"Not right now."
"Well what would you like to hear? Bjork? Siouxsie and the Banshees? Maybe I can get all the dogs in the campground howling."
"You know what I'd like to hear."
I sigh. "What do you want from me, Jodie?"
Her stare is hateful and I wonder what she'd say if I asked, if I begged her this very moment to marry me.
"I just want you to be reasonable. I want you to see reason."
"This coming from you? Is it reasonable to leave your date at concerts and family gatherings?"
"That was years ago! You're still holding that against me? Is that your excuse?"
"It's a long walk home from Wrigley Field."
"I came back but you wouldn't get in the car. That's on you."
"Why would marriage make you any different?"
The words and all their implications hang between us and I embark on an apology-fest that lasts until she tells me in very even and measured terms to go fuck myself. Then she vomits steak chunks and corn kernels into the glowing fire before stomping toward the tent. I call her back, but I know it's no use.
As the straps from the lawn chair dig into the back of my legs, leaving a tire tread pattern in my flesh, I realize that I may have put on a couple of pounds, slowed down just a little. It is a black night, cloudy and starless, mine the only fire still burning that I can see. I think about a S'more but don't have the gumption to fetch the ingredients from the car, tear into the packages, forage for a marshmallow stick. Jodie would make a S'more even if she were alone. Jodie is a firm believer in S'mores, and in my mind's eye I can see her breaking the crackers, rationing the chocolate, clasping small hands as they skewer fluffy marshmallows. I see her braiding her niece's hair, gently taming the knotted strands into silky rows, or playing Freeze Tag with the rambunctious boys next door, the boys who point their fingers at me and shoot, give me the evil eye. How could I not see this coming, not expect a woman who bakes brownies for the kids in the pediatric ward to want children of her own? In my mind's eye Jodie is now wiping children's noses, bandaging knees and kissing foreheads. She would never leave these kids at a sporting event, a roller rink, a birthday party; she wouldn't scold them in front of a waitress or snap at them for being playful. She would drive more safely with a child in the car.
I stare at the sky and name some new constellations: The Dragon's Claw, the Serpent's Fang, the Monkey's Tail. It occurs to me that I may be jealous of a child who's not even born. Am I ready to give Jodie to a little person who will demand all of her time and energy, her love? Am I ready to share her with someone who will always come first? I think about my father, a distant, demanding man, his cold stare, his firm grip on my shoulder steering me in directions I never wanted to go, my mother soothing, coddling, turning against him in my defense. Could our child do this to us, become the dividing line in the before and after of our relationship? I think about Jodie, making hot chocolate for her niece before they settle in to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the second time, forcing air into the neighbor boy's deflated bicycle tire with our rusted pump, frosting brownies with a plastic knife. I imagine her offering me one, pushing the frosting onto my nose and face, and the three of us laughing, Jodie, me and our son in his grass-stained jeans, his large ears jutting from under a Red Sox cap, or our daughter with her crooked teeth and her bright pink nail polish. It is a good life, the one I imagine for us, the one I worry we will never have because I am afraid of so many things.
The fire has settled and even the lake is still, and I indulge the quiet until it becomes too quiet, until I imagine that while I mused the world swept past me and ended, the constellations above burned out and left behind their final iridescence, that I am alone in the universe and I can wish only one person back. I stare at the flap of the tent as if by willing it Jodie will emerge, hug me or hit me with a wine bottle, command me to locate a stick while she rummages through the Jetta for a flashlight.
"I am a S'more Slave!" I would shout.
"I am a S'more Master!" she would reply.
Instead I stare into the dark and imagine that my wish did not come true, that Jodie is gone, and a chill descends. I snuff the fire and crawl into the tent, where Jodie is snoring softly, cocooned in her four-season sleeping bag. When I place my arm around her shoulder and draw her close, she sighs dreamily in sleep.
The next morning I fry bacon and eggs on the camp grill while Jodie trudges off to the coin-operated camp showers. When she returns she says she isn't hungry, so I eat everything I cooked while she rolls her sleeping bag into a tight bunch and breaks down the tent after tossing my bag into a pile on the wet grass. Of course I should help, but team projects under these circumstances are emotional minefields so I keep my distance. By the time I finish washing the dishes at the community spigot and loading the camp gear, Jodie is sitting in the passenger seat staring at the windshield. For a fleeting moment she looks like my father: steely eyes, set jaw, rigid shoulders, and I wonder if I am the one who brings out the worst in people.
When I pull toward the campground exit, I consider turning right instead of left, making a unilateral decision to head back east rather than continuing into unknown territory, but I realize that I don't want to be the one to give up, or at least be the one who is clearly to blame for our failed attempt at working things out. I make a left and turn to Jodie.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"I don't know. Insensitivity."
"Can you be more specific?"
Does she want me to list my infractions to prove that I understand what an asshole I am? "For saying what I did last night."
"Is that it?"
I draw a deep breath, clench the steering wheel in my fists.
"You don't love me enough," she says. "It's not even about marriage anymore. You just don't love me enough."
"What's enough?" I ask. "Isn't love love? Is there a meter or something? Why can't I just love you?"
She shakes her head. The conversation is officially over, both of us resigned, mired in that void of frustration and indecision.
We stop at a Country Kitchen in Utah for lunch and Jodie stares through the plate glass window at the spectacle across the street: Peppermint Palace, a red and white explosion of brick and wooden architecture replete with a drawbridge and striped parapets stamped with trefoil designs.
Going against every instinct I have, I ask her if she wants to check it out.
"I could pick up some candy for the kids on the unit," she says, and the thought of the kids-even someone else's kids-makes her smile a little.
She scarfs down her turkey sandwich and I know her rush is not hunger from skipping breakfast but eagerness to get across the street and select gifts for kids who've lost their limbs, their hair, their will to live. Jodie can be so mean yet so selfless; I can be so happy yet so scared. People are such contradictions that I wonder how anyone anywhere can survive a relationship for longer than a week.
"Wow," I say as we enter the gatehouse to the Peppermint Palace, "I should have worn my sunglasses." The inside walls are painted bright red and lined with shelves containing white candy in various shapes: canes, flowers, animals, suns and moons. As we enter the palace proper, walking onto a platform that encircles the entire inside of the building, I think of a circus: there are awestruck children staring and pointing at the massive candy production center below, while above us a red and white striped tent billows in a phantom breeze. Latex gloved, white-hatted confectioners lean over slabs of candy on steel tables, instruments poised as if prepared to engage in surgery, and taffy pullers wind multi-colored strands in large arcs, creating mosaic patterns on the canvas of wall behind them.
We make our way around the catwalk, children snaking between and around us as we press buttons attached to small speakers that describe the day's creations. The first recording is a pleasant voice telling us that we are watching the assembly of assorted Bubblegum Buddies. Today there are jungle-themed buddies in the shapes of monkeys, tigers, elephants and snakes, and when she hears this Jodie nods as if the message is meant specifically for her.
Next we're told about Lollipals, oversized suckers imprinted with whales, horses, butterflies and fish, then Candy Climbers, which are peppermint sticks with marzipan animals in climbing positions attached. There are Twistpops, Chummy Chums and Kookie Kakes, Circus Stix, Choco-Pals and Bonzo Bars. Jodie nods her way around the platform and I watch her watch the production lines until I feel something small and moist in my hand, something wiggly and unfamiliar. I look down to see a little boy staring into the chaos below, mesmerized, his hand in mine, clearly a case of mistaken identity. My first impulse is to shake him loose but I just stand there waiting for him to notice and back away, frightened or embarrassed, maybe even horrified, but he just gazes at the scene below, his fingers nestled comfortably in my palm. I've never held my father's hand that I recall, can't imagine sliding my fingers into his with such easy, unconscious grace. Jodie looks at me, then at the boy, who must be around eight years old, and she touches his head so gently that it makes me want to cry. Suddenly a woman screams out the boy's name, yanks his hand from mine, glares at Jodie and me like we're criminals. What must it have looked like to her, her son holding a strange man's had while his wife stroked the boy's tiny head? The woman is trembling with worry or with anger when she says she should call the police, refuses to listen when I try to explain, is still yelling when Jodie pulls me by the arm to the gift shop, where she spends more than fifty dollars on suckers, gum and taffy.
Afterward we climb into the car and Jodie sighs.
"You know I didn't do anything-"
"I know that," she says. "Fate is just against us. Everything we do is wrong." Then she bursts into tears.
Buying candy for sick children isn't wrong, I think, taking a trip to work out our problems isn't wrong.
"We're trying," I tell her. "That has to count for something."
"Are we?" she says. "Are we really trying?"
I don't respond and she says, "Let's just go home. You want to quit? Okay, I quit. I'm tired of being pathetic. I'm not going to beg you to marry me."
"I love you, Jodie, but this isn't fair. Why is it marriage or nothing?"
"Because it just is."
We collapse into our own worlds as I head west on US 73 with a determination I can't quite place, perhaps a latent understanding that if I turn east I will lose her forever.
It is dark in so many ways when Jodie and I cross the state line into Nevada. Her head is pitched sideways at an impossible angle and she is snoring into her left shoulder. What is she dreaming about? Us, our children, the indelible mark we'll leave upon this world, or maybe nothing at all, her mind one with the black, flat abyss through which we move at 70 miles an hour. We are in the desert, surely, so at first I think mirage, hallucination. But it is nighttime and I am not fevered or dehydrated. In the distance, rising up from the desert floor is a circle of wildly spinning lights, and I think UFO, which would seem a fitting end to our odyssey. As I move toward it I see a second circle of lights adjacent to the first, also flashing, casting multi-colored beams upward, endless spokes thrusting into the star-filled sky.
"Jodie," I whisper, but she is now awake and staring into the windshield, past the windshield at the spectacle ahead, clutching a bag of candy and smiling the smile of the rapt.
"It's a Ferris wheel," she says because, as always, she knows what I'm thinking. "A double Ferris wheel. It's perfect," she whispers as she lifts a Kookie Kake to her lips.
We move toward that beacon in the desert as if hypnotized, seduced by the alien presence of light and chaos in an otherwise still and silent world. An hour later we are forking over thirty dollars for two unlimited ride bracelets.
"The park closes in an hour," says the gap-toothed girl in the tiny booth. "And these bands ain't good tomorrow."
"I am a wealthy poet!" I cry and wink at Jodie.
She smirks and says, "I am a bank robber!"
We snatch the paper bracelets and run toward the midway. There is no line for the Antique Car ride so I usher Jodie through the rope maze and she climbs into a green Model T. I enter the passenger side and slide next to her as she grasps the oversized steering wheel and slams her foot on the gas pedal repeatedly, jerking the car forward in small leaps around the tiny track.
"Why didn't you get your own car?" she asks.
"I was afraid you'd crash into me."
She nudges me in the ribs but doesn't push me away or tell me to get the hell out, so I put my arm around her as the car ricochets across the road.
"Wouldn't it be something if the car just kept going?" asks Jodie, and I know exactly what she means. If we stayed in this car forever, moving in circles for eternity, we would never again argue about music, Jodie would never have a child, I would never leave her.
The carnie at the Tilt-a-Whirl winks at us and points to car number 8, and I know we'll think it's the fastest one even if it's not just because he recommended it. It's fast enough, and Jodie laughs hysterically as our heads are pinned against the cart's metal grate, as I spin the large wheel before us and the cup-shaped ride careens around the undulating track.
We go on the Scrambler, Jodie's body falling into mine with every spin, eliciting peals of laughter from her, and in the middle of the ride I conjure ways of taking her to an amusement park every day for the rest of our lives.
I see the Pirate Ship in the distance, a huge pendulum with long wooden seats like church pews, fake mast and rigging.
"Ahoy?" I ask. Jodie hates this ride because she feels like she's going to fall out at the boat's upmost angle.
"What the hell," she says.
We are the only passengers, and the carnie dares us to ride in the last seat. Of course we do. "I am a sailor!" I cry. "I am a mermaid!" yells Jodie. We sit in the middle of the bench and I put my arm around her waist and hold on tight. When the boat swings us backward toward the sky I tell her to close her eyes.
"I'll get dizzy," she argues.
She closes her eyes, and I close mine, and we are sailing blindly, the wind whipping our hair, for the moment freed of gravity. It is dizzying, this loss of control, held aloft by an invisible force that swings us wildly forward and back, trapped again in a place where nothing matters but the physical sensation of our bodies responding to a strange and compelling momentum, to a course someone else has set.
Next we hang upside-down in the Ring of Fire.
"I am a bat!" Jodie cries.
"I am an oh-possum."
"I am Dracula," I say as I nuzzle her neck, the car rocking with the movement.
"I am a snake handler," she whispers, her fingers moving between my thighs and there we are, strapped into an amusement park ride in the desert, making out like oversexed teens.
The midway is vacant but for a few largely inert barkers, and we buy a huge cotton candy bush on a stick before moving toward the Haunted Mansion, a paint and plywood funhouse built entirely in a semi-trailer. Skulls and ghosts decorate the outside walls and spider webs dangle from the roof. We step onto the shaky aluminum stairs and into a dark corridor where Jodie promptly bangs into a circus mirror. We stare into it and I want to say, "Here it is! A new angle!" but I look at Jodie and see that she is staring solemnly at her mirror image; her head and legs are spaghetti-thin, but her belly is wide and round, encompassing the horizontal length of the mirror, and she caresses it gently. I step behind her, my head and legs a slim shadow behind hers, my ponderous belly an outline, and place my hand over hers as it moves in small circles across the great expanse of her girth. I kiss the back of her head and lean into her, our eyes meeting in the reflection.
She stares at me for a long time as if trying to read my mind, as if trying to see something new in this altered vision of me, this altered vision of us, different yet the same, old yet new, small yet expanding. I realize suddenly that she, too, is trying to make a decision.
She closes her eyes and moves my hand across her belly, and in the mirror I see her holding a baby, then another, rocking them, smiling, placing her fingers on their downy heads as they grow into tow-haired children, toddlers in baseball jerseys, boys with dirt-smudged faces, boys with basketballs and puppies, boys with their heads buried under hoods of cars, boys in bathing suits, dress suits, men in tuxedos, men in sedans, men with babies in their arms, all staring back at Jodie and at me, standing there, right there, only a short distance behind us.