If Rita had expected any reaction from Joe she was mistaken. His test at the high line would be just what he deserved. She hoped he’d fail as the others had. He needed to be taken down a peg or two. But did he really? She was confused.
The waitress returned with the pitcher of beer. Joe poured a glass and watched the foam break apart. Rita drank quickly then poured another glass. She jiggled her right foot.
Joe knew something had happened, but said nothing. It was none of his business. Her eyes were expressionless as she stared at him. He studied a young looking chestnut-hair woman at the bar. Rita jabbed him in the ribs.
“You’re with me.”
She stared down at her glass. “I went to see my mother,” she said. “She’s as dead to me as your mother is to you.”
She wiped a tear from her eye. Her life was closing around him like a fine spider web.
Rita stood and he followed her outside to the SUV. Clouds hid the stars, and the air was very still. He didn’t like the uneasy clammy feel of the night.
Rita’s face drifted in and out of shadow as they left the city limits. She turned the SUV to the north. The headlights bounced crazily over a dirt road. A farmhouse appeared and through a window two shapes sat in front of a TV.
She turned onto a well-maintained gravel road, handed him the whiskey bottle, crossed a small creek, and stopped by the power lines that straddled the ridge.
Rita rolled down the window and shut the engine off. “Listen.”
She opened the door and got out. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Joe opened the door and hesitated. The electricity in the air made the hair on the back of his head tingle.
Silhouetted against a tower, she motioned him.
“Watch this.” She picked up a rock and threw it at the power lines. The rock missed and rattled off the metal tower.
She bent down, found a stick, then stepped deliberately towards the nearest tower where she stopped, looked up and began to climb.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he said.
“I’ve been a lot drunker than I am now.” She cocked her head. “Don’t be such an asshole.”
About half way up she stopped and tossed the stick upward. It hit the wires and they sparked. She descended quickly to the ground and started to laugh.
“Let’s see what you’re made of, cowboy. Show your auntie what you can do.” She stood with her hands on her hips.
Her eyes dared him. She tossed him a stick. Joe caught it and steadied himself. He had no choice.
He took a step towards the tower, then another. His feet crunched through the dry grass and weeds. This was a game he didn’t like. The wires buzzed overhead. He put his foot on the ladder and began to climb. The metal vibrated under his fingers.
He remembered the pictures he’d seen of birds that had been tangled on power lines, their bodies becoming conductors, shorting out the lines. The pictures showed a black shape hanging upside-down with three men staring at it. Who would stare at him?
He stopped. The crackle of the wires made his ears hurt. The air buzzed and felt hot. He lowered his hand and arced the stick upward. It made contact with the wires and bounced off with a flash of light that exploded above him.
“Holy shit.” She jumped up and down. “You did it. You fucking did it.”
He smelled burnt wood and the acrid scent of electrical wire. His body shook. He started back down, slowly at first. A few feet from the ground he let go of the ladder and fell backward onto Rita. They rolled on the ground and looked at each other. Rita rose to her knees and brushed the leaves from her hair. Joe stared at her. She leaned towards him as if to kiss him, smiled and rose.
Rita pulled the SUV into a rutted parking lot by a burnt out motel. Next to it was a pool fed by a hot spring. The white steam against the ruins reminded Joe of a prehistoric cauldron.
She shut off the SUV and stepped out into the night, giving Joe a nod to follow. She took off her jacket and laid it on the side of the pool, then peeled off her clothes. She let out a whoop and jumped into the water. The steam swallowed her. Joe quickly shed his clothes. Without saying anything he dove in.
He came quickly to the surface and looked for her. She lay on her back staring at the sky. She rolled over and swam to him.
“I shouldn’t love you,” she said in a breathy girlish voice. “But I do, you crazy fucking cowboy. I really do.” She splashed water at him then dove under the surface.
Joe wondered how much he really loved her. He’d tired of her games and her constant teasing. Above him clouds hid the stars.