But I was not confused. Another man walking that isolated road might have paused to wonder how he had arrived there; he might have contemplated the various factors that had added up to this moment, perhaps regretful that his circumstances were not different, that he was not living on a different dome, by the light of some other ordinary star. The most sensible of men might even have had the good humor to laugh at his own cocksure silliness, unfurled ad absurdum, and excused himself from this John Wayne drama. But that man would not have had Gillian and the gut-tingling pleasure of her. Plus: a morsel in me still harbored the dullest hope that I could somehow talk some sense into this monstrosity, Marvin Gluck.
His one-story house was not impressive — a shack, really — renovations were in order, cleanup was needed, though I was relieved that the massive pine trees allowed ample cover from the road and any Confederate-flagged vigilante looking to upset a Yankee. A new Ford pickup was parked around back by the single-car garage; no lamps shone in the rooms. I crept in the wooded darkness for some minutes, in between the pines, feeling the brass key in my pocket. Having punished my bladder for the past half an hour, I pissed furiously onto the pine needles, wondering if this would be the way I was apprehended: DNA samples from my urine, collected by some savvy officer of the peace. I was glad I had not recently eaten because vomit felt possible. Again I crept in the darkness, waiting for an orange lamp to light up the kitchen that probably had no modern appliances. And then it occurred to me, a bit tardily, true: this mission might be knavery and not its rhyme. But just consider how close tardy is to retarded and you'll start to get an idea about who you're dealing with here.
No lamp ever switched on inside and I guessed that Marvin was not home. Perhaps a reject-sibling had picked him up for a meal; perhaps he was in his police cruiser, foisting tickets unto the workingman who could ill afford them. At the front door I searched for signs of an alarm system, a colorful sticker on the glass meant to inform the dubious likes of me. I tried the key in the deadbolt and the knob; when it would not fit in either I experienced light-headedness and then drudgery; air moved noisily in my stomach. To have made it this far. Why would he have changed the locks on his door? I stood gawking at it as if I could, by psychokinesis or Christian incantation, make the thing swing open.
I tried the knob anyway to see if it would turn, and just like that I was standing inside Marvin's snug kitchen. Either the boob had neglected to lock the house upon leaving or else he was here napping with dreams of my Gillian.
I stifled my breath and listened hard, my hand still on the knob. That day-old odor? Cat food, no doubt clumped like mud in a dish somewhere. (Something else I admired about Gillian: unlike so many of my past girlfriends, she did not require cats in her life, and so my furniture and clothes were saved from assault by hair.) A creature meowed somewhere in Marvin's living room; from my back pocket I pulled a slim flashlight — Groot had instructed me to bring a slim flashlight — and when I aimed it through the doorway . . .