First night, weaving through dense forest on a one-lane two-way road, looking for a place to sleep, the transmission light turns on. Queenie, at the wheel, reads aloud the service message.
“God, we just got this car today,” she said.
And this is what our trip would be: learning to live with, to adapt to, & to love, even, dysfunction.
I left Boston in the pre-dawn hours. It was just above freezing as I stood in the wide, quiet, South End street waving at taxis. Now, that same night, I found myself paused under a canopy of huge and dripping leaves, pounds of clothes lighter, not yet with any sleeping arrangement, contemplating a two-headed dog blocking the road. A minute ago, Queenie had been concerned about the intermittent snapping noise that came from the rear left side of the car. I had been “pretty sure” we were going the right way.
And we’d come to a sudden stop. There was a kind of surprised silence, but only for a second, as if the whine of the engine, the spatter of tires on gravel, the chatter in the front seats gone, had left a void which the forest considered, then gladly filled with its own sounds.
“Drive up a bit,” I said.
We had two big overnight packs stuffed with clothes, water, a first-aid kit, and ingredients for making pasta; we had my new camping stove after I abandoned plans to buy fuel for the stove I’d brought; we had a $40 caseta freshly procured from the Kmart in San Juan (I’m sorry! I just forgot it!), and a half-hatched plan for the first night to camp in a state forest near Arecibo.
Closing in, we discovered the two-headed dog was two dogs seemingly attached at the hip. Lit by our high-beams, the dogs tried to bolt in opposite ways, were then snapped back by whatever was holding them together. Finally, one won over the other, and they hobbled, half tumbled, off the road.
“We’re all adults here,” Ernesto the biologist would lead with a few days later, in the cave, in awkward explanation of this strange encounter. But in the dense wet night, vines brushing the windshield of our car as we drove ever deeper into a strange forest on a strange island, it seemed that anything was possible. Turning around at the locked gate at the end of the road (we wouldn’t be camping there that night), though there was no other way to go but back, there was still some hesitation.
“Do you think it’s still there?” Queenie asked.