They rode past Springfield in silence on into the dark hulks of the Berkshires. JC wanted to slip into their blackness, be swallowed up by their solitude. The truck hummed on the road, the wind carving out its shape in the darkness. Jason finished his coffee and put the cup into a garbage bag.
"You know" (his voice leaped out and startled her) "I may not be a mind reader, even though I have been known to penetrate the skull a few times, but I'm getting waves off you of something bad. Did you know you've been crying for the last five miles?" JC reached up to her cheeks and to her astonishment found them wet. "See. No one cries like that unless they've got a hurt down so deep it lives in the guts. What happened? You wanna tell me?"
JC floundered. "I...I...can't."
"What was it? A friend die? Parents? Boy tell you you stink? What? Young girl like you doesn't take to the road unless something bad knocks you out of a warm bed. What is it?"
"The first," JC muttered, almost inaudible.
"The first, the first thing you said."
"What was that?"
"Died." Again, almost inaudible.
JC gathered her strength. "Died. She died."
And JC, the words stumbling and rushing, told Jason the whole story, from the moment she left her house to the flickering TV light in Lin's apartment, leaving out no detail. Jason, as he listened, didn't interrupt and kept his eyes neatly on the road.
When she finished there was a heaviness in the air, not unpleasant, like the soft humidity after a summer rainstorm. She was crying uncontrollably now -- she felt that the damp heaviness of Marci's head in her lap would always be in her bones), saying over and over again that she just wanted to go home.
Jason downshifted, pulled off at the Lee ramp, and into a Friendly's. He reached across the space between them and touched her hair, stroking it as if it were a precious fabric. He put his hand on her shoulder and gave JC a slight squeeze, and whispered to her "Let it out, JC, let it out, it's got to come out." She let the sadness run through her body and shake everything loose. The leather of his jacket smelled like chocolate and charcoal and it made her feel warm, and it made her feel safe.
Gradually the spasms of her crying died down and she found herself breathing cleanly and evenly again. He told her he'd be right back, and came back almost immediately with a hot chocolate and some wet paper towels. She washed her face off, the cool water good against her hot cheeks, and sipped the hot liquid, thankful for all the warmth is spread as it went down. "You okay?" She nodded yes. He pulled back on to the highway, back into the traveling darkness.
JC stared out the window at the white lines slipping past the headlights, the chocolate comfortably warm against the palms of her hands. "It's my fault," she said.
"If it wasn't for me, Marci'd be alive. I didn't have to get into that truck." Her chin started to quiver again. "It's my fault."
"That's where you're wrong," Jason said, his voice a mixture of comfort and disbelief. "When I went to college -- "
Suddenly she was hungry to know something about him. "You were in college?"
"Yeah, I went. Couple of years. Hard for an Indian to go to college and harder for him to stay there since there really isn't any place for him to go. Well, anyway, that's my problem."
"That isn't fair."
"You're right. I went to college with a chip on my shoulder, figuring the Indian was going to get screwed anyway, excuse me. I ended up screwing myself up and blaming everyone else." He paused. "That was a long time ago. I did learn one thing, though. Nothing is ever the way you think it is. Look, I've got a better story for you than my college days. You're wrong, you know, about your friend. It wasn't your fault. I don't think Marci would blame herself, and she'd be right."
JC slumped into her corner, her face in a pout, silent.
"You see Marci as gone, gone forever. But if you look at it another way, she's right next to you forever."
"I don't understand that!!" JC scowled, her voice rising slightly. "I don't understand."
"Look, the Senecas are full of stories. Story for every occasion. Listen.
"Once there was a greatly respected woman who, having reached the age of one hundred and six, decided it was time to die." (Part of JC rebelled against his soothing voice, wanting to keep her grief whole and just hers, but part of her also listened greedily to the voice, a voice like a voice in the dark in a safe bedroom at home, a voice telling her a story.) "Her name was Freezing Moon because she had been born on the first full moon of winter, and she chose for her death-day the same moon on the same day to complete the circle of her life.
"So she gathered all her relatives together and they came weeping. She laughed at them. 'My sons,' she said (she had fourteen of them), with a twinkle in her eye, 'do not cry. You are still alive in this world and are very lucky. Enjoy your bodies.' Her sons laughed through their tears and agreed she was right. 'My daughters,' she said (she had fourteen of them), 'do not fear for me. Your beauty will waste away, but you have beauty deep within you. Enjoy your hearts.' And to each relative she passed on advice, and the twinkle never left her eye. Finally, when all had been spoken to and silence filled the longhouse, she sat up and spoke (People said that even the wind stopped at the windows to listen and the animals stopped fighting to hear.)
(She noticed how his face had softened as he talked and how his eyes seemed filled with a real light, not just the reflected light of passing cars.)
"'People, I will not die. Though my body will melt like fat in the sun, I will never leave you. Things are not wasted. Everywhere you go I will be there, in this world. No part of me shall die.' With that she fell back and they knew she had gone. Her words puzzled everyone, but everyone passed them on.
"One day Small Bear took her bucket to get water. In the willow at the side of the stream was something that looked like moss. Looking at it closer, she saw that it was hair. She pulled it off and saw the streak of black running through the grey. It was Freezing Moon's hair. With a shout of joy she gathered her water and ran back to the village as fast and as carefully as she could. The people gathered around her and all agreed that it was a miracle. Small Bear took the hair and wove it into a vest to warm her in the winter.
From that day on people all through the village found pieces of Freezing Moon and used them. Her bones were made into flutes. Her skull became a dish. Her guts were dried and made into bow strings and food for the hunters. Her stomach was made into a waterskin. Her eyes were made into torches to see in the dark with, and her teeth became jewelry. People found a thousand uses for her, and they kept fining more of her to use. Within a year she had provided them will all that they needed, and it was a happy and easy year. And when they found no more parts of her, and time became hard as usual, they knew she had left and that she had filled her time. But nothing they made from her was ever lost, and it was passed on from generation to generation, so that Freezing Moon lived and gave pleasure to everyone."
When Jason finished JC sat immobile, spinning out in her mind all the threads of the story. She caught the idea, barely, but it knocked against her anger and threatened to turn it into something she didn't understand, and she didn't want to let that sharp pain of the weight of Marci's head in her lap slip away from her. She finally yelled back at Jason (incredibly surprised by her behavior), "But it's only a story Just made up A lie!"
"Like the stories Marci told about herself to get through things?"
JC turned away from him in anger and clamped her mouth shut.