4.

Kit stared at the last page and set it down carefully. “So he eats this guy’s balls and then shits on his bones and pisses on his grave. Couldn’t you be a little less tasteful?”

“Well, actually, it’s his brother’s balls.”

“Oh, okay. That’s all right.” She laughed. “Keep it in the family.”

I had to laugh, too. “Hey, if you can’t appreciate good literature, you don’t have to expose yourself to it.”

“It’s not me who’s exposing myself. Are you going to let your mother read this? Your shrink?”

“I wouldn’t show it to the shrink. Mother would say, ‘Can’t you sex it up a little? Have him jerk off into the grave?’”

“No wonder you’re such a delicate soul.”

“Everything I am today, I owe to dear old Mom.”

I loaded up on carbs with a double stack of pancakes—or used the bike as an excuse to stuff myself, take your pick—and then Kit drove me back to where the weather and road had stopped us the night before. The plan was for her to keep the van while I completed the loop to Des Moines and back; if I ran into trouble she would come rescue me.

I wasn’t going to rough it; I had a map with all the motels on the route and their phone numbers, so when I decided to quit for the day I could call ahead. (That seemed prudent because there weren’t all that many places to stay.)

When she dropped me off and drove away, I felt a guilty glow of freedom. Four or five days of being a carefree bachelor, the wind at my back and nothing in front of me but the road.

The carefree feeling ended with a bang after an hour and ten minutes. I had somehow managed to run over a nail more than two inches long. It wasn’t even the same color as the road, cruddy with rust. But sharp enough to blow me out.

I was carrying two spare tubes, but repaired the flat one out of prudence and pessimism, remembering one day I managed to have three flats in three hours. All of them less dramatic than this one, relatively slow leaks, which can take longer to fix—not obvious where the hole is. Or it turns out to be the valve, unfixable.

I let the glue on the repaired tube rest and pumped up a new one and was on my way—twenty minutes to fix the tube, change the tire, and be back on the road. Short of my best by five or six minutes, but I wasn’t in a hurry.

I should have been. Of course the weather couldn’t last. I slogged through a driving rain until I fetched up on the shores of the Angel Bless Motel. A flashing neon cross would normally repel me like a vampire, but the rain had weakened my resistance.

I was suddenly on the set of a Hitchcock movie that never got made. I staggered dripping into a small Victorian room, a half-dozen cut-glass lamps giving a warm glow to the complicated floral wallpaper. Smiling older hostess wearing a full skirt and an apron. She didn’t say the only room left was #13, which might have sent me back out into the rain. But she did insist on showing me around the six glass cases along the walls, her late husband’s life work. Lots of miniature trains and airplanes and hundreds of butterflies pinned to velvet. She had been a widow for nine years, four months, and seven days.

The room she led me to had only one butterfly, a big purple one pinned under glass, hanging over the bed like an invertebrate crucifix. There’s a sad irony to a moth-eaten butterfly.

I set the coffeemaker to just heat some water, and took as hot a shower as the motel’s plumbing and budget would allow. A quick ramen dinner, and then I made weak tea with just a pinch of sugar. I didn’t want to stay awake.

The TV’s depth axis was shot, so rather than watch crap in two and a half dimensions, I flipped through the various books on my notebook and settled on Down the River, a collection of short stories by recent Iowa graduates. I had a paper copy at home, a contributor’s freebie, but the only story I’d read in it was my own, checking for typos. Mildly curious about the competition, I got halfway through the second story before I turned off the notebook and the light.

__________

It was still raining when I woke up. Not cold or windy, so I guess if I were a serious cyclist I’d just man up and pedal out into it.

Instead, I made a double-strong, double-sugar cup of coffee with ReelCreme™ and took the motel’s chair out under the eaves and sat looking at and listening to the rain, not thinking about the novel or anything in particular. Then I went back inside, made another cup, and unrolled the notebook and its keyboard.

What would Hunter do in the rain? Not a scene from the movie, but what the hell.

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