Heroes of the Frontier - Dave Eggers

Acknowledgments

A Note About the Author

I.

THERE IS PROUD HAPPINESS, happiness born of doing good work in the light of day, years of worthwhile labor, and afterward being tired, and content, and surrounded by family and friends, bathed in satisfaction and ready for a deserved rest—sleep or death, it would not matter.

Then there is the happiness of one’s personal slum. The happiness of being alone, and tipsy on red wine, in the passenger seat of an ancient recreational vehicle parked somewhere in Alaska’s deep south, staring into a scribble of black trees, afraid to go to sleep for fear that at any moment someone will get past the toy lock on the RV door and murder you and your two small children sleeping above.

Josie squinted into the low light of a long summer evening at a rest stop in southern Alaska. She was happy this night, with her pinot, in this RV in the dark, surrounded by unknown woods, and became less afraid with every new sip from her yellow plastic cup. She was content, though she knew this was a fleeting and artificial contentment, she knew this was all wrong—she should not be in Alaska, not like this. She had been a dentist and was no longer a dentist. The father of her children, an invertebrate, a loose-boweled man named Carl, a man who had told Josie marriage-by-documentation was a sham, the paper superfluous and reductive, had, eighteen months after he’d moved out, found a different woman to marry him. He’d met and now was, improbably, impossibly, marrying some other person, a person from Florida. It was happening in September, and Josie was fully justified in leaving, in disappearing until it was all over. Carl had no idea she had taken the children out of Ohio. Almost out of North America. And he could not know. And what could better grant her invisibility than this, a rolling home, no fixed address, a white RV in a state with a million other wayward travelers, all of them in white RVs? No one could ever find her. She’d contemplated leaving the country altogether, but Ana didn’t have a passport and Carl was needed to get one, so that option was out. Alaska was at once the same country but another country, was almost Russia, was almost oblivion, and if Josie left her phone and used only cash—she’d brought three thousand dollars in the kind of velvet bag meant to hold gold coins or magic beans—she was untraceable, untrackable. And she’d been a Girl Scout. She could tie a knot, gut a fish, start a fire. Alaska did not daunt her.

She and the kids had landed in Anchorage earlier that day, a grey day without promise or beauty, but the moment she’d stepped off the plane she found herself inspired. “Okay guys!” she’d said to her exhausted, hungry children. They had never expressed any interest in Alaska, and now here they were. “Here we are!” she’d said, and she’d done a celebratory little march. Neither child smiled.

She’d piled them into this rented RV and had driven off, no plan in mind. The manufacturers called the vehicle the Chateau, but that was thirty years ago, and now it was broken-down and dangerous to its passengers and all who shared the highway with it. But after a day on the road, her kids were fine. They were strange. There was Paul, eight years old, with the cold caring eyes of an ice priest, a gentle, slow-moving boy who was far more reasonable and kind and wise than his mother. And there was Ana, only five, a constant