Sterling and the boys go riding in the Volvo. Like that, the three are transformed into migrants, nomads, refugees. Cast out by Bliss. He has to find the boys' mother, wherever she's disappeared, remind her what her sons look like. The spaceman had agitated Moses so, all that talk of radioactivity, toxic fumes, chemical spills, ancient spells, that he ran from the infected house, dragging his brother and father out to the car. Sterling, caught up in Moses's panic, lost his head and, cursing Bliss, stuffed the boys into the backseat and, to shave seconds off their getaway, let the seat-belting of Moses and kiddie-seating of Ira wait until later. He keeps his eye on the boys in the rearview mirror. At Spudnuts he buys breakfast: Ira is covered in powdered sugar and grape jelly; Moses doesn't touch his donuts.
He steers the car downtown, on a narrow street lined with antique lamp posts and potted trees. At this hour most of the pedestrians are homeless people or parents with kids. Except for the cafes, the businesses are closed. But employees are preparing for the workday, hosing down the pavement, hauling racks of discounted clothing into the sun, arranging cut flowers for sale in buckets of water.
The kids torment each other. Sterling can't tell who's the instigator. "Moses, give Ira your donuts if you're not going to eat them," Sterling says, turning his head away from the road to let the boys know he means business.
"Who says I'm not?" Moses says. "I'm just saving it for later."
"I don't think that's true."
Sensing that things are breaking in his favor, Ira seizes the moment and lunges for the donuts. "I need it!" he whines. The urgency in Ira's voice turns Sterling's head. This is parental instinct in operation, a situation for which a glance at the rearview won't do. "Moses," he says, "let him have it."
Moses does, whacking Ira on the top of his head until he retreats back to his seat. Sterling expects Ira to start bawling but he doesn't. They are always disappointing him. Sterling stops the Volvo in the middle of the narrow street. He checks: There are no cars behind his. "Moses, what's wrong with you, huh?" He tells him to leave Ira alone, hand over the donuts, buckle his brother's seat belt. He supervises the latter procedure, Moses having lots of difficulty just locating the metal ends. Sterling can't deduce whether he truly can't find the pieces of the seat belt or is fooling around. Another car comes up from the rear. "Damn!" he says and turns to face front, keeping his eyes on Moses for as long as they'd stick, and eases off the brakes.
The car rolls just a few feet, and he slams the brakes on again. The boys tumble forward a little and bump the back of his seat.
A man stands in front of the Volvo. He stares at Sterling, as if he had been hit. He looks mean, his face half-eaten by beard. Sterling has done nothing wrong, even though his heart pounds, his head swims in adrenaline. "It's OK, it's OK! No one's hurt here!" he yells at the kids, who are rearranging themselves back into their seats. "I want Mommy!" Moses says. And this sets off Ira. He wants mommy, too. So does Sterling; she's to blame for this; she chased him from the house.
A car approaches from behind and honks. Sterling waves for the car to pass. It takes a while, as if the driver doesn't understand the signal, before the car crosses the double yellow lines and pulls up alongside the Volvo. As the car speeds past Moses shrieks, "Look, Jack!"
"Mommy!" Ira says.
Sterling waves for the man in the crosswalk to cross. "Come on," he says.
"There goes Jack!" Moses says.
"Mommy!" says Ira.
Their noise shrivels his heart to a prune. "Who's Jack?"
Sterling knows who Moses is talking about. Jack Pierce, dirt-doctor-geologist.
"You saw Jack Pierce?"
"No, his car!"
"How do you know his car?"
"He drives the car to my house."
The man approaches the driver-side window. "Damn. Damn," Sterling says and surreptitiously locks his door.
The man taps the glass, cranks his hand in the air.
Sterling shakes his head. He doesn't know what he is saying "no" to. He shakes his head and turns both palms skyward. No change. No clue. No speak English.
At the risk of provoking the kids, Sterling drives to the medical building where Bliss works. Her car is nowhere in sight.
He drives the kids to the park. Do something the little ones dig before they explode from boredom. A preemptive strike. But after 10 minutes of swing, slide and sand--Ira discovers that by rolling his body in the sandbox grains will stick to the jelly patches on his shirt, arms and face, like sesame seeds to bread sticks--Sterling suddenly has had his fill of the moment. He is overcome by a sense of impermanence, of waiting for an alternative way of being--playground as refugee camp. He hurries the unsuspecting boys into the car, as if he were taking protective cover.