At Pamela’s place he sat on the couch while she booted around gathering up her survival gear. Her home was not quite like he expected. He thought that she would have lived with her parents in a peaceful, austere house that oozed with middle class urbanity. Instead the house was more that of a starving student. The furniture was sparse and of poor, ready to be junked quality. There were cigarette burns in the coffee table and spread out all over the carpet as if a nest of caterpillars had just been hatched. The posters on the wall spoke of an allegiance to the artsy Greenwich Village culture.
“Do you live here by yourself?” he called out to her.
“No, are you kidding! I could never afford a place like this on my own. There are four of us who live here. Two guys, two girls.”
Avery winced. He had not anticipated that Pam would be romantically involved with someone else. He felt a sudden longing to be back at home watching F Troop and to hell with Pamela and nuclear war.
“All my roomies are out now. They all have night jobs. I hardly ever see them any more. It’s just as well. I was moving out of here as soon as I saved up a bit of cash. Guess, I’m moving out a little earlier than I thought,” she laughed as she came out into the living room. In her hands were two suitcases that looked to be stuffed to the hilts with her personables.
“Can you carry these to the car? I’ve got some more stuff to pack in the kitchen.”
He lugged the luggage as she requested. A light rain was starting to fall and the temperature was unseasonably cold yet he didn’t care. Pam was choosing to survive the holocaust with him. It was flattering. He was beginning to wonder where and how they were going to sleep that night. “So it takes an international crisis of the first degree to get a woman to sleep with me!” he chortled to himself and felt eager to hit the road.
He went back inside and found Pamela staring into her bedroom. Here eyes were misty and she seemed distant. Avery put his hand on her shoulder, not knowing how to go about comforting her. “I felt the same way when I was leaving my place. Home is something that touches are hearts deeply.”
She suddenly became lucid and bitter. “What kind of home were you leaving?” she shrilled. “All that you had was four walls and a TV set!”
Avery looked into her bedroom and saw the big waterbed. With one glimpse it was plain that this was just not her bedroom as he had hoped. There were too many things in there of a masculine affection.
“I’m leaving a person behind Avery! A person that I had loved deeply, a person that I still love!” She knocked his hand from her shoulder and ran to the living room.
“Then why are you leaving with me?” he cried out. “Why don’t you wait for your loverboy and leave with him together?”
“Oh Avery, you just don’t understand!”
“Of course, I don’t! I know next to nothing about you and you know absolutely nothing about me. Why are we doing this? I don’t know!”
“Well, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to Avery! Nobody is making you go! You go back to that cozy little apartment of yours and watch your precious TV melt when the bomb is dropped!”
She ran away from him. In her arms she carried a box of canned goods. There was another such parcel sitting on the kitchen table. This one was crammed with the preservatives that she had talked about earlier.
Avery stood where he was. The feeling that that life that was his is his again was not as savoring as he had expected. He had tasted of a new fruit and his old diet would be forever bland. In his heart he knew he was connected to the new even though it may be based upon the absurd.
There was the sound of a car engine starting outside.
“No!” Avery cried. She couldn’t be leaving without him. Snatching the box of preservatives he ran outside.
“Don’t leave me Pamela!” he huffed. The running had winded him. He hung his elbows on the passenger door. Pam looked up at him through the rain-speckled window as if he were a lunatic.
“Leave you?” she smiled. “I couldn’t live with myself if my fat friend fried like atomic bacon!”
“I thought that you were going!” Avery laughed. Inside he felt both relieved and full of anxiety. He had his freedom but he spurned it. He had invited the nightmare back into his life. But he was going to have Pam in his life. For the next little while, at least.
“I was just getting the car warmed up Avery. Thanks for bringing out the other box.” She opened the passenger door from the inside. “Slip it into the back seat.”
She asked him to wait in the car while she got some more things and locked up the house. “Don’t want any looters ransacking the place!” she winked.
While he waited Avery turned on the radio. On every station came the droll voices of reporters. There was no music to be found anywhere. He turned the radio off choosing to listen to the patter of the rain upon the roof and hood of the car.
Pamela returned with an armful of clothes. These she unloaded into the trunk. When she got into the car she reached over Avery’s lap and opened the glove compartment. The little light above it revealed the usual assortment of owner manuals, maps and other sundry. She shuffled through these things looking for something. It was obviously not there. “Damn!” she said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
It took some time before she got back. For a while Avery was beginning to believe that she was getting cold feet about this whole thing. Maybe she had worked herself up to tears again about leaving the man of her life whoever he may be. Judging by the décor of the house, Avery suspected that this guy was diametrically different from him. Pam’s boyfriend would be lean where he was fat. He was probably artistic, perhaps a dancer or a musician. Something gave Avery the idea that this mystery man probably had a serious drug problem. Maybe he was a pusher? What would he think, what would he do when he discovers that his girlfriend had flown the coop with a portly, wimpy introvert that didn’t know a jab from a hook? He suddenly felt tense and he hoped that Pamela was not leaving her lover a note telling him where they were going.
When she finally returned Avery was shocked to see the gun that she carried in her hand. “Just about forgot this baby!” she said, patting the little automatic.
“What do we need that for?” The sight of the gun made him squeamish and made him taste his inadequacy.
“I hope we don’t need it but I’ve seen too many movies about what the survivors of a nuclear war are like. They become animals and it’s every man and woman for themselves.”
Avery felt uneasy at this prospect. He turned his head away from the pistol and stared blankly out into the rain. No thought came to his mind. He felt like a hungry lion looking out upon the savannah and wondering if those grasslands would sustain his life tomorrow.
The car pulled out onto the road slowly. Pam’s eyes were having difficulty leaving her home and the people that made it that way. “I wonder what will become of them,” she sighed barely over her breath. Avery was not sure if he was meant to hear that or not.
“Did you let them know where you are going?” he asked.
“Why? I don’t even know where we are going.”
“They’ll worry about you.”
“They’ll have more to worry about soon besides me being gone.”
It was clear that her home life was a touchy subject and one that she did not want to discuss.
A horn honked behind them. Pam stepped on the gas and gave her follower the finger. “Bastards! Everything is rush, rush, rush!” She turned the radio louder and set her mind to driving. Avery felt that as far as she was concerned he was not there.
He was wondering if he did not wish the same thing.
They soon were going through the Holland Tunnel and making their way out of the city. Avery didn’t pay much attention to anything least of all the blaring radio. He was lost to the world; he was kept by his own thoughts. What a lark it was to be fleeing the city and that life that he had been so firmly entrenched in! What would tomorrow hold? Where would he be a week from now?
As Manhattan drifted into the background he suddenly felt removed from his past. It was something distant and hard to remember. He had become a new person yet he did not feel revitalized. His whole sense of being spoke of an approaching end.
He did not care what the radio said; he would let his mind color in the scenario. He did not need some commentator to fill in a descriptive background to it. It did not occur to him at all that the last time he left the city he was a boy of ten going with his parents to a rented summerhouse in New England. That had been a place out of time for him. He had found the countryside enchanting and he had marveled at the tall fir trees that had seemed to be everywhere. He was hoping to see foxes and wolves and bears but the best that he could do was to espy an errant raccoon rummaging through the garbage can that his parents had foolishly left outside. Yet the evenings of those holidays had left a scar in him that made him to this day a shunner of the outdoors. His mother and father would holler at each other and call each other names that could only come from the venomous mouth of hate. There was no escape for him in that little summer home. The owners of the place did not leave a television to the lessee’s disposal. Young Avery was left on his own to deal with the fire that would ravage his parents’ marriage.
“I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that that idiot would do such a thing!” Pam’s voice shrilled breaking the somnambulant atmosphere of the car.
Avery jerked in startlement. “What are you talking about?”
“Weren’t you listening? The President has just put the whole damned armed forces on the highest stage of alert! He’s ordering that all the reserves report to their posts. He’s gonna bring on war himself. The Russians will definitely mobilize after that asshole move!”
“Isn’t that what you’re expecting? After all why the hell are we traveling God knows where if you weren’t expecting a bomb to level New York City?”
She looked at him with glaring eyes. “It’s better to be safe than sorry. Just because I’m being cautious doesn’t mean that I’m giving the go ahead to the whole darned shooting match! What do you think I am Avery? A fatalist?”
“You just might be Pam. These roads aren’t what I would call congested. There doesn’t seem to be the mass exodus that you see in all those World War Three movies.”
“Are you calling me a paranoid because if you are you can jump out of the car right now this minute!”
“No, Pam, I’m not calling you anything. It’s just that I’ve got this sinking feeling that you and I might be overreacting to this situation.”
The car pulled over to the side of the road. “Get out if you think we’re overreacting. There are plenty of cars going the other way. You should have no problem hitching a ride especially on a night like this.”
She made him feel skulking again but this time he would not be pulverized into submission. He had grown weary of playing her game. “You’ve got a problem lady and I don’t think that it is nuclear war!”
“I’m going!” he roared back at her. “I’ve got nothing to run away from!”
“And you ain’t got nothing to live for! I don’t know why I felt sorry for you. I thought that you were different but you are as big a jerk as the rest of them! Now get out!”
Interstate to Canada
Avery lifted up his collar. He stepped out into the rain. The car with its distraught driver pulled away and soon disappeared into the darkness. “You’re crazy!” he shouted out at the road. He started to walk down the gravel shoulder. He was too worked up to hitch a ride. The rain hopefully would cool him down.
What a mess Pam got him into! He had never figured that that new office girl would be so high strung and flippant. He had thought that she was different too but not this different. She was a wacko, a certified lunatic. How could anybody else think of leaving the city and their security behind on such feeble grounds as an international incident that would be whitewashed with time? Nobody was going to drop a bomb on Moscow or New York. You have to give the leaders of the two superpowers more credit than that. It’s only the insecure and the paranoid that would resort to such disastrous measures – people like Pam. These kinds of people could never rise to power in modern nations. There were too many safeguards to keep a Stalin or a Hitler out of power nowadays.
The rain started to fall harder. It was soaking through his jacket and shirt and he could feel his back getting wet. The wind was starting to take raw bites out of him. Damn that bitch! She had his clothes in her car and Jesus she has his VCR as well! Well, let her try to explain that one to the cops if she gets pulled over.
He had walked about fifteen minutes and had only seen three cars go by. It was one of those ‘not fit for man or beast’ nights. People were staying indoors probably fascinated by what those commentators were feeding them. He didn’t know how far away he was from the city or what road he was on. The night was black and there were no distant city lights.
It suddenly dawned on him that being exposed to the elements the way that he was and being so far away from any place, he could easily die out here. He felt a terrible desperation and knew that there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it. The only way he was going to survive was to be at the mercy of a passing driver and if none goes by then he would have to hope that his stamina could carry him through this dilemma.
At long last, after his body started to shiver involuntarily, there came a pair of headlights in his direction. ‘Please!’ his mind cried. ‘Please stop!’
The car came to a halt in the middle of the road. Avery was close to tears of joy that he had been saved from wretchedness. He ran with the spirit of someone half his weight but then he felt as if his stomach was hit with a sledgehammer. He recognized the car. It was Pam’s.
The passenger door popped open. “Quick, get in here before you die of pneumonia!”
He had no choice but to climb in. He did not want to die.
“I’m sorry Avery. Sometimes I let my temper get the better of me. I should have never thrown you out. You’re a nice guy and I feel like an ultra-bitch! You’re soaking wet! Jesus, I’m sorry! Why don’t you climb into the backseat and put on some of your dry clothes?” She turned the car’s heater onto full. “We’ll get you feeling comfortable Avery! I’m sorry.”
While he was changing into the clothes that he had brought, Pam made a U-turn and was heading in a direction away from the city.
“Hey! Where are you going?” For some reason he had thought that she had come to her senses and was returning back to New York.
“Oh Avery! You wouldn’t believe the news! There’s no way that we’ll be going back to the Big Apple. The generals of the Red Army have seized power in Moscow and they’re demanding retribution for the assassination.”
“So let them send a sniper over to kill the President. We don’t need that bozo any way!”
“I’d shoot him myself if I thought it was that simple but what those generals want is nothing short of a complete surrender of the United States of America to Soviet forces. If we don’t comply, they’re not too shy to unleash their complete nuclear arsenal upon us. Avery the world has gone nuts! I’ve never been so scared in all of my life!”
“Pam, I can’t believe that what you say is true . How could one murder lead to the destruction of all life on Earth?”
“That’s all it took to start World War I. Some idiot shot Franz Joseph or whatever the hell his name was and then kapooi! The next thing you had was everybody declaring war on everybody else. All that it took was that one shot.”
“It wasn’t quite as simple as that Pamela. There were strains and pressures on all the governments that made it difficult for them not to fall into aggressive pacts against one another. The clouds of war were looming heavy a long time before that Crown Prince got shot.”
“And what’s so different about today’s situation? Russia and America have been at each other’s throats for decades. There are power struggles all over the map. The world is at odds with itself over the two opposing economic philosophies. Don’t forget that it’s part of the Soviet credo to make the world over to communism. And just as bad are the big corporate moguls who want to squeeze out every last drop of profit that can be found. Neither side will budge for the other one. It’s the old irresistible force against the immovable object. Add to this the weaponry that each side has and you can’t help but conclude that the Earth is doomed Avery. It’s doomed! That idiot who shot the Premier has pushed us over the brink and everything is going to collapse in upon itself.”
“But nobody sane is going to resort to Armageddon! This thing will resolve itself without going to …”
“It’s an insane world Avery! We’ve got certified nuts in a lot of key positions. Look at the Ayatollah and all those jackasses in the Middle East. They’re so full of religious dogma that they don’t give a damn about the here and now. They believe that they are only alive for the hereafter. They don’t know that this is all of the existence that they will ever get. As long as they can prove themselves noble and worthy in an Islamic jihad, they’ll destroy everything that gives them life on Earth!”
“Religion doesn’t seem to be any issue in the crisis that we have now.”
“Don’t you believe that! People are willing to die for philosophies that don’t involve a god. Communism and capitalism are big religions. Those generals in Moscow have their own religion. They believe in the strength of the military arm. Concessions through politics are as alien to them as your VCR is to a fourteenth century Arab. They want to fight. Their whole lives have been geared to fighting. They’ve been planning this day ever since they were eighteen-year-old boys conscripted into the army. You’re not going to be able to take away their proving grounds on a minor technicality such as negotiations. We’re in for it Avery! Mark my words! And don’t think that the President is going to be conciliatory to them either. He’s been itching for this day in his own private way for a long, long time. His thinking is like the song ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ by Neil Young. ‘I’d rather go out with a bang than fade away.’”
The car sped along the dark road in the driving rain. Avery sat quietly thinking about the words that Pamela had said. He knew that theoretically she was wrong. The world should not slip into the abyss so easily. Yet those commentators on the radio were confirming everything that she said.
An ultimatum had been leveled from Moscow that demanded that the West completely surrender. The President had responded to this by calling for all patriotic Russians to revolt against their new regime since they were criminals against mankind. How the President’s message was ever heard in Petrograd and Leningrad was beyond Avery’s comprehension. The Red Army would jam that signal so fast that it would sound like static gobbledy-gook. It was more likely that the average Soviet citizen was being led to believe that the United States was calling for an all-out offensive against their state. Hatred for Americans would be running at a feverish pitch in Moscow.
But the same was true here. There were reports that all the Soviet embassies across America were being stormed by riotous mobs. One Russian diplomat was bludgeoned to death in San Francisco by a group of student activists that at one time had left wing tendencies. A reporter from WABC in New York was demanding that the President initiate the first strike. He quoted statistics that showed that the Russians could never assemble a retaliatory attack strong enough to destroy the U.S. if the Americans got in a sufficient first blow. He was asking for his listening audience to blitz their congressmen and senators with phone calls giving their full support to a first strike offensive.
Yet the station that Pam was listening to stated that the reporter’s statistics were ten years out of date and were probably never accurate in the first place. The Russians have built up their arsenal astronomically since then and have the capability of unleashing a legion of long range missiles that would survive the first onslaught and destroy every major city in North America half an hour after the rain of terror ripped the Soviet Union apart. And this was not to mention their nuclear submarines that sat in the deeps like silent phantoms off of the American coastline.
“Do you know if we need passports to get into Canada?” Pam’s voice broke into Avery’s holocaust hallucinations.
“That’s where I think we’ll go. As far as I know there is nothing up there that the Soviets have targeted. It’ll be safe there.”
“Canada is right between us and the Russians! All those missiles from both sides would be whipping over our heads!”
“But not falling on us. It’s the safest place we’ll reach by car. I’m only hoping that we could get across the border because I bet you that before this thing is through those Canadians will be shooting the radioactive refugees. They’ll know that they are sanctuary and they’ll want to keep it that way. I sure hope that we’ll get there before the real trouble starts.”
Canada brought up images of Dudley Doright and Snidely Whiplash for Avery. He didn’t know anything about the country except that it lies to the north and that it had Arctic-styled winters. Some pretty good comedians come out of there as well – Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, John Candy and the Mackenzie Brothers – Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis. Maybe you had to be funny to withstand the cold. He started to feel a chill at these thoughts.
They drove through the night. Avery fell asleep off and on. He was plagued with restless dreams. The radio didn’t help matters either. There was so much in the way of news during the preliminaries of a nuclear war. Those commentators must be near the point of exhaustion. He was glad that he never became one. There’s so much responsibility there – you have people charting out their lives on the basis of what you say. He only wanted to be responsible to himself.
Pam had been very silent during the night and Avery was concerned that she might fall asleep behind the wheel. He was about to offer to drive himself. He was far too sleepy and shaken to deal with the rigors of the road. Besides he had never driven in his life. He did not have a license. His lifestyle back in the city did not require the use of a personal automobile. The taxis, subways and buses provided all the transportation that he ever needed.
The sign on the road that was lit up by the car’s headlight read Watertown. This was Upstate New York! Canada could not be much further.
“I’m going to have to get some gas,” Pam said through a yawn.
“What time is it?” he asked through an open-mouther of his own.
“It’s about eight o’clock, I guess.”
“Geez, right now we’re supposed to be at work. I wonder what Mrs. Telby will be thinking when she sees that you and I aren’t there.”
“Probably that we’re having an affair!” Pam joked although there was no smile on her face. “I don’t think that she is there herself. Nobody’s going to leave their homes to go to work while this is going on. Let’s face it Avery the daily routine of life has been broken. Ah, there’s a gas station.”
She pulled in front of the pumps. A curly-headed youth in an oil-smeared uniform came out of the station. He stamped out the cigarette that he was smoking onto the pavement.
“He’s working!” Avery pointed out. “He’s not staying home because of the crisis. God, everybody is at work except for us!”
“Can you fill it up please?” Pam asked the attendant.
“I’m sorry Ma’am. I can’t do that for you,” the youth smiled.
“Rations Ma’am. Weren’t you listening to the radio? The President has ordered that all nonessential vehicles will be limited to ten gallons of gas a week until this thing blows over. They’ll be introducing a coupon system some time today to make sure that nobody is getting more than their share. It’s for the war effort.”
“Well give me ten gallons then. That should be enough to get me to Canada, shouldn’t it?”
“By which way are you planning to get there? You can’t get across to Kingston without a special visa. The Canucks are onto the possibility of a mass exodus from our country. The only way that you can get across is if you have close relatives there who are willing to sponsor you or if you have a working visa.”
“What about the other ports of entry?”
“They are all the same as far as I know. Besides ten gallons of gas will never get you to them.”
“I thought that they were supposed to be our allies!” Pam stormed. “What about compassion! Are they just going to allow all two hundred million of us to fry?”
“I’m sorry Ma’am. It seems that way. Things change with war, I guess.”
“Give me my ten gallons!” she huffed. There was the red glare of anger in her eyes.
“What are you going to do?” Avery asked her. He was ready for her to give him a tirade.
“We’re going to Canada Avery and that’s that!”
She was a determined lady. Avery had to give her credit for that but this time she was pushing for the impossible.
“Do you need that VCR?” she asked taking him by surprise. “We’ll have a hell of a time explaining it away to the customs officials.”
“It’s not much good if you don’t have a TV for it. And by the sound of it, I guess there won’t be many TVs where we are going,” Avery conceded.
“Good! Hey kid!” Pam called out to the attendant. “Is your boss around?”
“Mr. Irving’s gone to the Department of Transportation to pick up those date stickers we’ll be needing to identify those cars that have used up their ten gallon ration.”
“Do you have a television?”
“Of course I do! Sundays you can’t pry me away from it. NFL, you know.”
“Do you want a VCR? I’ll give you the one in the backseat if you fill up my tank. Your boss won’t know.”
The youth looked at her suspiciously. “That VCR right there?”
“It’s yours if you fill me up.”
There was consternation on his face and he seemed hesitant in making up his mind.
“What’s the matter? Do you already have one?” Pam asked with impatience.
“Then why don’t you say yes?”
“How am I going to explain it to my mother? I live at home you know and she knows that I don’t make the kind of coin to buy one of these things.”
“Give it to your girlfriend then! Just for God’s sake fill up the tank!”
“Are you in trouble with the law or something?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why are you trying to bribe me? If Mr. Irving found out that I took a VCR from a customer just for some extra gas he’d have me out on my tail so fast. I don’t want to lose my job just for a crummy video machine.”
“Well then forget it! We’ll try our luck at the border.”
Five minutes later they were back on the Interstate, looking for signs that would take them to the Canadian border.
“I wonder what else is being rationed?” Avery asked.
“Probably everything that we need!” Pam retorted.
“They are not going to let us across, you know that.”
“What does that wimpy kid know? I say that that VCR is our ticket into Canada.”
“You’re not going to bribe a customs agent, are you? I don’t know the law but I’ve got a feeling that we’d be thrown in jail if we try that one.”
“We’re going to have to do what we have to do. As sure as hell I’m not staying in this country because I was too afraid of offering the border man a little something to turn the other direction.”
“If you’re going to do that you might as well let me out before we get there. I’m not about to start breaking the law.” His face flushed red. He hoped that Pamela didn’t see that. If she knew how he had gotten the VCR she would make him be the one to do the bribing.
“You’re staying with me Avery! You’re not backing out of it now!”
“And how are you going to make me?” Avery contested.
“Well if you want out you’re going to have to jump out of a moving vehicle!”
“Oh, fuck off!”
He was silenced. No woman had ever told him to do that before. It was a word that he rarely ever used himself. The obscenity tore deep into him for he knew that she meant it. He was just an insignificant flogging pole to her – something to beat out her frustrations upon. She had dehumanized him and made him depersonalized. And he felt resentful about it. He was going to get even with her for treating him this way.
The New Land
There were dozens of cars lined up waiting to go over the bridge into Canada. It was busy but it was hardly a scene of a country being swamped by fleeing refugees. Most of the cars that were ahead of them bore Ontario plates. They were Canadians returning home.
They were waiting long minutes as each car was individually processed. Avery’s chest was beginning to hurt and his brow was damp. He knew that all that he had to do was open the car door and he would be free of Pam and the commission of a crime. She wouldn’t stop him but he couldn’t commit himself to do it. It was something within him that was holding him here. Why was he going to stick it out with this frenetic woman? He didn’t want to go to jail but his inability to act was a definite precursor to the real handcuffs that were awaiting him.
“Stop sweating Avery or you’ll tip them off. You got to look cool! You can’t look suspicious!”
“We still have time to turn around Pam. We can stay here in Upstate New York. No bombs are going to drop around here. There’s nothing here to bomb. The Russians are tightwads. They wouldn’t waste the money to blow this place up.”
“Will you quit your chattering! We’re going to Canada and that’s that!”
It was their car’s turn to be processed. A gray head stooped to look inside. Avery’s breathing became very heavy.
“That’ll be fifty cents,” the man said.
Pam turned to Avery. “Have you got the change?”
Avery peeped a yes and somehow managed to control his fingers to find the coins in his pocket.
Pam pulled away.
“Is that it? Are we in Canada now?” Avery asked hopefully.
“No, that’s just the toll man. Canadian customs is at the other end of the bridge.”
Avery’s heart sank.
“Now, whatever you do, don’t blow it! Let me do the talking and you just keep your mouth shut!”
“If they don’t let us in, we’ll just turn around, okay Pam?”
“Avery, be quiet!”
They came to the station. A large Canadian flag slumped around its pole. A woman with the same maple leaf logo on the arm of her blue parka came out to them.
“Hi!” Pam said cheerfully. “Kind of cool this morning, isn’t it?”
The woman did not return Pam’s amenities. “Are you Canadians?” she asked, her voice gruff from years of cigarettes.
“No, we’re from New York City.” Avery could sense that Pam was fighting the urge to become sarcastic.
“Do you have relatives in Canada?” The customs officer’s eyes roved about in the car. When they lit upon Avery, he felt that she had penetrated to his soul and knew all of his dark secrets.
“None that I know of but then again my family has spread all over God’s half-acres. There might be some here, I don’t know.”
“What about you?”
Avery tensed. “No, I don’t,” he managed to gurgle.
“Do you have visas?”
Pam shook her head. She could no longer feign a cheerful demeanor.
“Are you aware that there has been a temporary change in border policies? Unless you have relatives here or have a certified visa, I’m not permitted to give you access. You’ll have to turn around.”
“But why?” Pam cried. “You’d be sending us to our deaths!”
The customs officer’s face changed ever so slightly. Avery didn’t like it. He could sense that there was a lurking feline within the woman that was ready to make a pounce.
“Can you pull your car over by the office there?”
Avery looked in the direction and saw two burly uniformed men looking his way. His thoughts churled – the stolen VCR, the handgun in the glove compartment, Pam’s admission that to go back to the U.S. meant death. It all spelt big trouble.
He didn’t know what took over in him. His foot stepped heavy upon the gas pedal, his hands assumed control of the steering wheel. The car shot through the gate, a rampant bull on the loose.
“What are you doing?” Pam screamed.
“Just drive!” Avery grunted. He didn’t know what he was doing.
Behind him he could see the two men running to a patrol car.
“Christ Avery! You have really done it this time!”
“They weren’t going to let us through. They were going to lock us up.” His whole body was surged with adrenalin; his chest ached as if an elephant were stomping upon it.
“We’ll never get away Avery!” Pam steered through several small side streets and had gone through every stoplight. Behind them, the patrol car was doing the same, its siren blaring its angry intent.
“There’s got to be a highway here somewhere. If we can make it to a highway we have got them beat. There, there! MacDonald Cartier Freeway. Turn left Pam! Turn left!”
The car squealed on its side as it lunged onto the highway’s ramp. The patrol car did the same.
“They’ll be calling for reinforcements. There’ll be a roadblock!” Pam complained. “Let’s give up before they decide to blow out our tires.”
“Can’t this car go any faster? They’re gaining on us!”
“It’s only a four cylinder. It’s not made for Hollywood car chases!”
Avery opened the glove compartment. “You’ve given me an idea. How do you shoot one of these things?”
“Don’t you dare! Are you crazy? Aren’t we in enough trouble already?”
“It’s first strike Pam! That’s what nuclear war is all about!” Something alien had taken over his sensibilities. The Avery of the Big Apple would never do this but maybe that Avery always wanted to. Never before had he felt so alive. He hung out of the window and aimed the pistol at the tires of the fast-gaining patrol car.
The customs car lost control with the blowout. It flew off the road and rolled top over bottom like a fallen water-skier before it came to a halt within a vault of reeling flames.
Avery laughed hysterically as he pulled back into his seat. “That’ll take care of them!”
Pam looked at him with horror. “I’m giving up. I’m going to tell them that I had nothing to do with this. I’ll tell them that I was willing to bribe them but that I would never have anything to do with murdering them. I’ll get a couple of years in jail but you they’ll hang. I’ll see to it!”
“Shut up Pam! You’re in this as thick as me. We’ve got to get off this highway. It would be too easy for them to track us on this road.”
Avery knew that Pam would stick with him. He was certain that she actually admired his actions. He had proven that he was no wimp.
“There’s an exit! Take it!” he commanded. He looked around to see if anybody was following them. It didn’t seem like it. There was no traffic coming in the same direction as them. Any cars that might have were probably stopped and gawking with morbid curiosity at the fiery spectacle that he had created.
They drove several miles in silence. They were on a road that named places like Verona, Sharbot Lake and Renfrew. All of them he had never heard of before. “We’ve got to ditch this car and get another one. New York plates will be too easy to spot,” he said.
“And what about our bodies? Are we going to ditch them too? That woman had a good look at us. They’re trained in identification, you know. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing is on video. If they have those cameras in department stores, they’d have them at the borders for sure.”
Avery frowned. “We’ve got to get ourselves away from people all together. A country like Canada, it’s so big, it should be easy to get lost. Have you got a map?”
“Not of anywhere around here, I don’t.”
“How’s our gas?”
“We’ll be needing some in another hour or so if we keep on driving.”
“I hope that they haven’t started rationing up here as well.”
“You don’t want to risk stopping at a gas station Avery. What if we’re seen? All New York plates will be suspicious.”
“We don’t know that. Put on a local station. See if they’re saying anything about us.”
“I’ve had it on a Kingston station ever since we turned off the main highway.”
Avery keyed in on the worlds of the commentator.
“Prime Minister Lachapelle has asked the Commons to give their endorsement to the three part plan proposed by the U.S. President to allow American bases on this land to be given the powers of martial law as far as the defense of their interests in Canada. Not since Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in 1970 has there been such a suspension of civil liberties. The Prime Minister defends his proposal by stating that any aggression by the Soviets against the continental United States would be considered an act of war against Canada. It is not …”
“My God!” Avery shrieked. “It’s just as bad here! We haven’t got any safe haven!” His stomach felt raw. He had killed two men and risked his and Pam’s life for nothing. His head swam with remorse, guilt, self-pity and futility. The vertigo rushed through him.
“I’m going to be sick!” he cried. He hung his head out of the window and heaved violently. There came no sense of eradicating the nausea. He was sick in the soul and his body could not redeem it.
Pam stopped the car along the side of the road. She was going to allow him a chance to recuperate. “No Pam,” he said through a foul, fetid mouth. “We got to keep going. We got to keep going!”
“But where?” she cried.
“Any place, anywhere! I want the chance to kill myself fast. I don’t want the cops to get us. I don’t want to live with this guilt in jail.” He started to wretch once more.
Pam drove on while Avery clung to the window, desperate not to let it go. He wanted nothing more than the freedom to vomit.