In the days before they were a couple, but after they were an item, Thomas and Hannah spent their Saturday evenings on Capitol Hill in the apartments of the same young policy wonks with whom Hannah spent her workdays. The idea that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people isn’t true. Hollywood has been getting uglier every year since the 1940s, and Hannah’s Washingtonians were all beautiful. Some of them were even moderately successful, though many of them lived indifferently in mildewed basements surrounded by old books. All of them were painfully clever and without ambition.
These parties were an unspoken compromise between the two of them: Hannah agreed to move into Thomas’ house far out in the Virginia suburbs and Thomas devoted his weekends to ferrying Hannah from one social event to another. He would have preferred to stay home and read, or drink with the neighbors. And why shouldn’t he feel that way? Her friends rarely ventured out to visit them. It was as though the Potomac river defined the boundary of civilization, protecting the city from the great darkness beyond.
Hannah saw the time as precious. She fixated not only on the brevity of the weekend, but also on the fleeting days of the reigning administration. These were the last days of Bush 2. Hannah and her friends were Democrats. “When we take the White House next year,” she said, “everyone intelligent and decent will be working straight through the weekend, and the bars will be full of Republican frat boys.” They all thought that way. Policy work was a battle between good and evil with clearly drawn lines. The only difference between Hitler and Bush, they said, was that Hitler had been elected, and now there was very little for them to do but stave off the wasting of the world and wait their turn.
On this night, the waiting was done in a hot-tub. It was a red-state amusement shared, with smirks, by the blues. The seven people in the hot-tub passed around a bottle of craft rum that someone had brought back from a recent trip to the Caribbean. Sophia and Hannah touched secretly under the water. To the rest of the revelers, they were two distracted people sitting together with their arms cast carelessly about each-other’s shoulders. Hannah’s light blue eyes stared vacantly over the water. Sophia also did not seem distracted as she spoke, in her vaguely foreign accent, about the tanking stock market and rising gold prices. “The thing I don’t understand,” she said, “is why anyone thought this couldn’t happen in the United States. I can remember when inflation was so bad in Brazil that you had to run ahead of the grocer to grab your fruit and milk before he marked it up. And all our economists were trained at Harvard.” Everyone was transfixed. She made economics sound like a sensual art known only to enlightened libertines, and best left alone by the church-going brute from Texas. “People will do the same thing everywhere. We look out for ourselves, for our families. And when the people lose faith in the currency and the economic bonds of society, they buy whatever makes them feel safe.”
Inside, Thomas and Sophia’s boyfriend talked to each other across the massive back of an obese dog that was splayed out on the couch between them. A recent Georgetown graduate, Sophia’s boyfriend was nearly 10 years younger than anyone at the party, so he naturally received much unwanted advice on the subject of vocation.
“I’ve always sought out productive play, something that gives you an addictive pleasure even as you’re working. For me, that means writing, coding, debate. Everything else: sex, television, this…” Thomas looked down at the beer he was nursing to keep himself ready for the long drive home. “…it’s all just masturbation. You’re going to be old before you know it. You might as well do something you can look back on and be proud.” In his head the toolishness of his own words bounced embarrassingly. But what was the antithesis of all this vapid entertainment? Boredom? He was supposed to seek his salvation in boredom. The dog farted and the two men briefly considered leaving, but they were pinned under its bulk. They sat in silence.
After a few minutes, Sophia and Hannah banged into the room. They were laughing drunk, balancing on each other while the chlorinated water dripped from their swimsuits to their legs to the Persian carpet beneath their bare feet. “What are you two doing in here?” Sophia asked. Hannah saw the dog between them and nearly knocked Sophia over in her mirth.
After a while, the two women began to dance, ironically at first, and then with growing intensity and sadness. When Hannah closed for a kiss, Sophia parted her lips. Thomas turned nervously to Sophia’s boyfriend.
“Pretty awesome, huh?”
“I hate it when she does this.”
And then Thomas realized that Jesus Fuck, they’d both had the woman he was to make his wife. Or, more precisely, she had had them. The goat.
At last they left the party, pausing briefly while Hannah bent over to consider the pansies in the small gated yard in front of the brownstone. Thomas held her mane as she emptied her stomach, and then helped her into an old Volvo station-wagon, angry, even then, at his devotion. Slowly the car wandered through the streets in front of the Capitol, taking its solitary way home.
Meekly, Hannah said, “pull over.”
“Not here,” he said, looking back at the police cruiser behind them.
He swerved slowly to the curve in front of one of the September 11th barricades. Before he had even stopped the car, she opened the door and vomited again. The cop pulled behind them and turned his spotlight on her. After watching Hannah shower the public sidewalk for a moment, he shut off his light and drove away. They were alone in the darkness. In his relief and anger, Thomas wanted to pitch her out onto the road. Instead, he said, “Are you alright?” She closed the door without replying and almost immediately fell asleep.
His anger grew as they crossed the river in front of the Kennedy Center and turned onto the GW Parkway. She began to snore.
Just as he was nearing the Spout Run exit, he saw a dead deer on the side of the road. Without thinking, he swerved towards it and drove over its neck. The car shook as if from an explosion and she jumped awake. “What the fuck was that?”
He looked in the rear view mirror with mock concern. In the dim light of the moon, he thought he saw the deer’s legs kick one last time. “I hit a deer.”
“What? OhmyGOD! You killed a deer?”
“It was dead already.”
“I’ll call the park police and have them move it off the road.”
He was silent a while as she searched, in vain, for her phone. Finally, he said, “It was way off the road. Barely even on the shoulder, actually.”
She hit him. “Who does that? Who swerves to hit a dead deer? Are you crazy?”
He drove her home and walked her up the stairs and lowered her into bed. The next morning, over coffee, Thomas also wondered why he had done it. She had forgotten the incident, but he couldn’t forget it. To him it made no sense. Why had he done it?
Finally he admitted to the inquisition in his mind that it had been a bad idea, a mistake. But somewhere deep in his brain, a very small thought whispered: “But it was great fun.”