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And the third?

To be the beloved. The willingly betrayed. To wear the bright bull's-eye, and dance, under one light. To invite the very end we object to, genuflecting. To be aimed at: the at-long-last Reunion of love and what love loves.

Well and this old not-at-all-classy scarecrow is on the job: there are no crows in the rain. The malevolent car is visible through the undulating downpour, above, past a roadside ditch roaring with runoff. Sternberg's hands are at his window, and his face, looking out. J.D. and D.L. are fogged from sight. The colorful clown is on the crooked porch of the third and most distant shanty, knocking at an open door.

The potent abandoned scarecrow they stand by is just a crude cross of slapdash timber dressed up in faded military fatigues. It has no subtlety at all. The name on the military jacket's breast is obscured. The scarecrow wears a sodden Chicago Cubs cap on the not-fresh pumpkin that serves as a head, and, since it's a cross, has its arms straight out to the sides, though the arms' timber has been jaggedly broken, to simulate elbows, so that the fatigued sleeves droop earthward. The broken arms afford shelter, a bit, for the Magda who stands under an empty sleeve.

Mark can tell that Magda Ambrose-Gatz is smart. Not brilliant or witty or well-read. Not an idea man or a creative genius. She's just smart, the way simply hanging in there, as you, through all kinds of everyday tribulation and general shit can make you smart. She was in that story of Ambrose's, she tells Mark, though in there she was disguised and misrepresented, because even then her face was kind of orange. She had, yes, united with Ambrose, for a while, in holy matrimony. She still cared for him. Although they hadn't been in contact for a really long time. But she wished to speak to Mark Nechtr, here, she said, in the scarecrow's absence of shadow, because she thought she sensed underneath Mark's affected cool exterior a boy hotly cocky enough to think he might someday inherit Ambrose's bald crown and ballpoint scepter, to wish to try and sing to the next generation of the very same sad kids.

This storm's not a really bad Midwest storm, she remarks, as they stand by the scarecrow in the horizontal rain. Too windy to be really dangerous. The bad storms always hide behind a dead calm and a yellow-green sky. That's when you head for the cellar.

Mark should keep off the fried roses, in Magda's opinion. Not because they're fatal, or evil. Magda claims she'd used something similar, both with her Maryland lover and after, to preserve her orange face and voluptuous history against time's imperial march though a Depression, three recessions, a War, a Police Action, a Conflict, nine droughts, three plagues of mutagenic pests, twelve corn harvests so bountiful they were worthless, one airline deregulation, three (whoops, make that four) Presidential scandals, and the eventual erosion of agricultural price supports under pressure from the grocery lobby. And not because the dead snacks are advertising embodied, or clunky symbols, or obscene; or that they block Mark, shut him up alone inside the silence he dreads.

But just because they're not right. And right means more than ought. It also means direction. To try to digest fear into desire is to go backwards. Fear and desire are already married. Freely. One's impaled the other since B.C. What you're scared of has always been what moved you. And where you're heading has always been your real end, your Desire.

(This is all a summary, a what's the word a synopsis, and admittedly not in Magda's real voice, which cannot be done justice by me.)

That what unlocks you, even today, is what you want to want. In what you value. And what you value's married to those certain things you just won't do. And here's a cliché that's earned its status as a cliché: whether you're free or locked up depends, all and only, on what you want. What you have matters about as much as the color of your sky. Or your bars.

The rain makes the sound of rain. DeHaven's homemade car whines and roars above the flooded ditch and bare shoulder. The car's big rear wheels spin, screaming, sinking deeper into the mud. The car's acclivated shape is now a declivated shape.

Why using beauty for fuel is bad; why it's clumsy: it's superfluous: we already ache with desire for what we fear.

This sounds to Mark troublingiy familiar: it's a seamless wave of muscular Anglo-Saxon ideas, it smacks of Dr. C— Ambrose.

Whom Mark no longer quite trusts, obviously.

Magda'll give Mark examples, then. Sternberg is obviously a big-time claustrophobe — she can always smell claustrophobia on a passenger — so why's he still inside the steamy enclosed car, eating? J.D. Steelritter desires, more than anything, to be happified, at peace; so why, though he consumes enough roses to color a Tidewater spring, does he spend his whole life worrying, planning, conceding, debating, persuading, interpreting, manipulating a faceless Crowd into backward ideas of what it wants? Why is he trying to bring about a Reunion that will silence the very clamor whose whine in his head is that head's life and bread?

And Mark's bride. D.L. wanted to be pregnant, miraculous, so that Mark would love her, do her virtue honor; so why didn't she seduce him when fertile, instead of constructing a coy and obvious lie whose lifespan can't possibly exceed three seasons?

The rain on Mark, though violent, feels good, familiar, like the tattered imagined bedroom breezes of pre-sleep. It seems OK that this alive woman who'll live forever only as an object in Ambrose's story about passion should know the secret D.L.'s mother knows, Mark's parents know, Mark knows, that only D.L. still believes he does not know. Why she lied about the little miracle to this boy, who was loved.

"Because she's infertile; she cannot produce," Magda says. "She will tell you, when you ask, that it has to do with a past. With a father. She'll invoke Electra, Vietnam, amputation, Laing, Freud. But the truth is that — inside, where push comes to shove—she wants it so."

The rain reveals both their bodies, and the skeleton under the scarecrow's clothes. Magda is really not at all pretty, facially, except for the utter and unconsciously expressed pleasure she takes in the water's feel, the overhung sleeve's fungal smell, the milky mud between her toes.

"How do you know this?"

"Because it's true, Mark. Everybody who really wants to knows what's true. Most people just don't want to. It means listening from deep inside. Most people just don't want to. But the special people listen. You can hear what's true, inside. Listen. You can always hear it. In the rain. In the static between stations. In the magnetic whisper on tapes, right before the music starts. And in that sound that utter, complete silence has, in your ears — that glittered tinkle, like tiny chimes at great heights. I believe I know you, and that you're probably special. The chances are good that you're a born listener."

Mark listens. It's true: he's special. They're both special. (But I'm not special, and chances are you're not — shit, we can't all be special, obviously; not enough room for a crowd that big in here. Suck it up.) So but he's special, it's true. Magda's right. He's a born listener.

But he can't hear anything out of the ordinary, anything that sounds especially true.

Magda laughs at the sight of DeHaven galumphing back to the screaming car, his wig still clamped tight as a skullcap, leading a big old farmer in a military-surplus slicker. The farmer leads a big horse by a heavy chain.

"I'm afraid I can't hear anything, Ma'am. I hear rain, and the car, and the car's horn, and clopping, and a chain clanking. I can't hear anything that sounds especially true."