‘Just my hands.’
‘No, all over.’ He pulls me close with one arm while he drives with the other. I notice my shoulders trembling for the first time. I try to make it stop, but I can’t control them. Is this what Father talked about? If there are conflicts with your original brain tissue … signals that might create almost an antibody effect … one trying to override the other … that’s why we have backups. Just in case.
Ethan leans over, one eye on the road, and rubs his lips against my temple. It sends a current through me and, for at least a moment, disconnects me from my thoughts. ‘It’s okay,’ he says. He straightens, returning his full attention to the road, but continues to rub my shoulder. I look at him, wondering how someone so gentle could ever swing a bat into someone else’s skull. Do we all have surprising capacities hidden within us? ‘Don’t worry about Allys telling. She’s been out for four days. If she had told someone, we’d know it by now.’
‘Maybe,’ I answer. ‘Or maybe not. You said the FSEB is a bureaucratic machine. My guillotine order may just be delayed in paperwork.’
He’s silent, but his eyes dart back and forth across the passing landscape, like he is reading words that are hidden from my view. He rubs my shoulder more vigorously. Finally he blurts out, startling me, ‘The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything …’ He pauses, waiting.
I smile and concede. ‘…it is very likely to be my good behavior.’
‘No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes …’
‘… or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow.’ I put my hand up to stop another quote from leaving his lips. ‘Ethan, I truly appreciate the effort, but I can recite Thoreau all day long and still be afraid.’
‘But maybe I can’t,’ he says. He squeezes me. ‘And feel. Your shoulders have stopped shaking. Guess you don’t know as much as you think.’
I notice. The trembling is gone. Afraid but calm. It’s a slightly better place to be. I think of the wild energy of cyclones, but at their center is a tiny circle of calm. That is what Ethan has given me. I lean in closer to his shoulder. ‘Maybe she’s not sick. Maybe she just doesn’t want to see me.’
‘She didn’t look good the last time we saw her. Her color. Something about her was off.’
It’s true. I remember noticing her yellow pallor and the way her pills stuck in her throat. Another virus? It couldn’t be, not again, but of course, deep down, I know it’s possible. Deadly viruses are the plague of our age.
The road to Allys’s house dips and weaves. It’s a road I have not yet traveled on. It winds deeper and deeper inland, getting narrower, the trees choking the road. Is this really a place I want to go? Does Ethan really know the way?
‘She lives this far?’
‘Not so far. It only seems that way when you haven’t been somewhere before.’
He turns down an impossibly narrower lane. The road is uneven, not quite paved, a mixture of heavy gravel pressed into dirt. It is not a road on which I can picture Allys walking. No homes can be seen from the road; tall scrubby bushes obscure the view. We arrive at a driveway, marked by a simple white post with an address. Ethan maneuvers his truck down the narrow path and we are swallowed up by overgrown oleander, pink and white blooms brushing our windows. It is a cheery contrast to our reality and the reason we are traveling such a long and unknown road. The flashing of white, pink, and green briefly transfixes me.
Our tunnel finally opens up to a large expanse, an emerald lawn skirting a small gray house with a deep shady porch. It is a silent house, still, like it is waiting to breathe, and I brace myself against the seat.
‘Maybe no one’s home.’
‘They’re home,’ I say.
Which neurochips are already reaching beyond what my neurons know? How are they telling me? Or is it simply what they call intuition? But I know with precise certainty. We are being watched. Eyes size up our car.
We park on the circular drive and walk up the porch steps. Ethan’s heavy boots boom against the silence. Even birds are afraid to chirp.
I hesitate on the last step. ‘I’m not sure—’
‘I don’t feel good about this either.’
My imagined stomach catches. ‘She’s our friend.’ It’s a question as much as a statement.
‘I’m not reassured,’ Ethan answers.
The door opens before we can knock.
‘Is Allys home?’ Ethan blurts out.
A woman stares at us, her face blank and her eyes dark and circled. ‘I remember you,’ she says. The hollowness of her eyes reminds me of Mother when I looked up from my bed in the hospital in those days that I traveled a thin line back and forth between life and death, days where she never left my side. ‘Ethan,’ the woman finally adds.
‘Yes, I picked Allys up once for school.’
‘That was kind of you.’ Her gaze drifts away like she is recalling an important moment.