The driver and I got a late start. I usually decide on these excursions the night before, but it was late in the morning when I informed the friend who was coming to visit me for the weekend that I had to cancel, it was absolutely necessary for me to cancel. I had got it in my head that in her presence some calamity or another would arise and she would have to assist me in some way, rush me to a physician or something. She would be grateful she was there for me perhaps, but I would find it a terrific annoyance and ­embarrassment. I gave some other excuse for the disinvitation of course. Pipes. I think it was broken pipes. I should have written it down so I don’t use it again. 

I cleaned the house, which was very much in need of cleaning, for I had been putting it off. Still, my commitment was not great and I neglected the windows as usual. The dogs had pressed against them day and night for years. Their breaths are etched in the glass now, very lightly etched. 

By departing so late, we could not make our customary first stop. The driver and I usually spend two nights in lodgings on our route. This time three nights would be necessary. We take separate rooms, of course. If by chance we should come across one another in the restaurant or the hallways, we offer no acknowledgment. 

The car is a big one, encompassing three rows, three tiers behind the driver. It amuses me to think of them as the celestial, the terrestrial, and the ­chthonic. In fact, I quite believe that all things—every moment, every ­vision, ­every ­departure and arrival—possess the celestial, the terrestrial, and the chthonic. 

The dogs had pretty much stayed in the terrestrial section where their beds were, as well as a few empty plastic bottles. They liked to play with them, make them crackle and clatter. Sometimes I ride in the chthonic with the luggage, the boots and coats, the boxes of fruit and gin and books. It smells strangely good back there, coolly hopeful and warmly worn at once. But usually I stretch out in the seat behind the driver and watch the landscape change as we rise from the desert floor.

Shockingly, it is almost two o’clock in the afternoon. We will not get far today!

When the driver and I first met—when I was interviewing him, you might say—he told me that he was studying Coptic. 

Naturally, I did not believe this for one moment.

Without any encouragement from me he said, “The verb forms and tenses of Coptic are interesting. For example, some tenses that we English speakers do not have are the circumstantial, the habitual, the third future, the fourth future, the optative, and tenses of unfulfilled action signifying until and not yet. I am working now on translating and interpreting the story about the woman carrying flour to her home in a jar that is broken.”