"We're out in the sticks. It's okay." He pictures Miranda pacing her kitchen, phone in hand, running an exasperated hand through her hair. This isn't your strength, Jack. You have to learn to let go.
"Yeah, I figured as much." Lila turns her head his way. "Are there cows?"
"A little way back there were. Black Angus, I think. Big and dark."
"Sounds nice, Dad." But Jack only murmurs a neutral sound, and Lila turns away, facing forward again. "The thing is," she says, "I just can't imagine raising a dog and then giving it away. Even if I don't much like dogs, it still sounds like an elaborate form of masochism."
"It's a ..." But Jack can't find the word he wants, and he's pretty sure he's just missed their turn. "Dammit, I think we're lost. No, wait, this must be right. It's a good deed," he says. "It's something these guide dog people want to do. He's your dog and they know that from day one. So they don't get attached."
"Yeah, right, Dad. Do you really believe that? That you can just tell yourself not to get attached? You don't seem so thrilled about me going to college. Why didn't you just tell yourself not to get attached?" "Very funny." But she's right, of course. Who is he to assume anyone can tell themselves what to feel? He's always been unable to tell his heart a goddamned thing. "Very clever, Lila," he says. "But it's the system. It's how this guide dog business works. And since we benefit from the system for once, I'm not going to argue with it. Here we go. Sharp turn left ..." He gives her the warning and at the edge of his vision sees her brace herself for the curve, hands gripping her seat. "Hang on, babe. This looks bumpy. Dirt road."
"I think I can handle it. Bumps in the road are my speci-al-i-ty." Lila has her head turned to the open window again, holding the door, her thick dark curls flying in the breeze. "Maybe there's something wrong with me," she says, "but I actually like the smell of manure."
"No." Her father draws in a deep breath of the sour, full air, savoring the simple fact that they're smelling the same thing—a relief from all the sights they never share. "I agree with you, baby. It's a strangely pleasing smell."
"And, by the way, so is skunk."
"Absolutely," he agrees, remembering the pungent, oddly twisting scent of Miranda's sweating skin. "Absolutely," he tells his daughter. "So is skunk."
Lila was six, playing in the garage of a neighboring family the Snyders didn't really know, when an aerosol can of orange spray paint blew up in her face; and for a long time after that, many years, Jack was stuck on that one simple fact—on the tenuous, fleeting nature of the acquaintanceship. Almost as though the same accident, with the same result, in the home of a close friend would have somehow made more sense. But none of it made any sense, of course. He knew that. You could turn the thing around, replay it endless times—and you would. You would. And you would. And you would. But none of it made any sense at all. There you are one fine October day, living your life pretty much as you had planned, your lawyer's shingle hanging up, white and shiny, outside your solo practice downtown; tranquilly married to your wife of eight years, whom you've managed still to love, though so many of your friends have clearly, even openly, tired of theirs; doting on your six-year-old daughter whom you adore, with the not so secret sense that she's a little prettier, a little smarter, and a lot more special than other people's kids; enjoying your smug, self-congratulatory thoughts about the way fatherhood refocuses priorities. Long gone are the days when you were known as a bit of a skirt chaser, back in the single years; the days when anything held the same appeal as tossing a ball in the backyard with your kid. And then a fucked-up aerosol can of orange paint blows up in your daughter's face. In the garage of a boy she doesn't really know.