by Linda Sillitoe
[p.3]Had anyone told Roger Lewis he would be capable at age thirty-three of abandoning his young family without a word, he wouldn’t have believed it.
For that reason, he almost believed that what was happening wasn’t happening. He wanted to say to his wife, his parents, his children, his sisters, “Hey, look at me. Can you believe I’m doing this?” An absurd thought running exactly counter to his purpose in leaving town.
Had anyone said he would doze off while speeding eastward away from home with a woman he barely knew, he’d have coughed his disbelief courteously into his hand. Roger had always had a reason for everything, a reason he could enunciate whenever necessary.
Yet on this October afternoon he dozed with his right temple against the passenger window and dreamed he was finally outdistancing the lunging wolf who had haunted so many childhood nightmares. In some dreams his parents and siblings had run with him, screaming. Sometimes they were overtaken, although, more often, he felt the wolf’s hot breath on the nape of his neck and woke screaming. In some dreams, later in adolescence, he had [p.4]decided the wolf was only Duke, the family watchdog they thought had been killed by a car years ago.
Steady wailing and an abrupt halt on gravel jerked Roger’s head back and woke him into confusion. He heard a door slam and realized that Gina was walking around to get her baby, whose cries crescendoed now that the car had stopped, Roger shook his head hard and breathed deeply. Outside the window a green sign announced Starvation Lake, and Roger stared at the gray earthen bowl cradling an equally drab reservoir below a faded sky. Gina approached his side of the car, so he got out and walked to the driver’s seat. By the time she was belted in and the baby had a bottle plugging its cry, they were on their way east again. Gina was hunting for her boyfriend, the baby’s father, and Roger had hitched a ride.
Roger could have given the baby her bottle, of course. Probably Gina didn’t think about that. His son, Danny, still had a bottle at night and Kerry had relinquished hers only a year ago. Of course, Gina couldn’t know unless sometime she had lingered beside his desk to see the portrait of Robyn and the kids, and drawn the obvious conclusion.
Roger cracked his window a little, let the high, crisp air swoop away the memory of the photograph, and concentrated on the last tatters of his dream. He’d outdistanced the wolf, hadn’t he? I got away, he told himself, slowing for a curve and squinting relieved tears from the corners of his eyes, I really got away. He kept driving.