A Portage Super 8 was the last remaining hotel within one hundred miles of South Bend with available space a week before the Northwestern game, and Rowan was told when he arrived just how that room had opened up: The Great Lakes regional chapter of Vassal & Knight, a band of medieval re-enactors, had secured most of the hotel, and a family from Gary had canceled just before the event. Somehow the group had secured a license to set up tents on the Super 8 lawn where men dressed in black and their large wives were eating a rib dinner.

"Are they gypsies?" Christa whispered as they went inside.

"Maybe the backyard kind," Rowan said.

The room was on the second floor and it bordered a field of short, ugly corn stalks, long dead. The air was moldy, and smoke stains pocked the walls near lamps, and one of the dresser drawers had been left open. The lights seemed to have half the life sapped out of them. Rowan expected a protest from Christa until he had remembered she and Lynn had stayed in a motel for a time after the divorce.

"At least the bed is bouncy," Christa said. She put her bag down, hung up her jacket and went into the bathroom with a small case and a hair dryer; Rowan could tell she was tired and not willing to find her second wind to fight with him. He heard the shower and took the chance to dress for bed. The sign above the television promised the selection of Cinemax, but Rowan preferred the view of the harvested cornfield, an ancient-looking booby trap, under the faint glow of lamps in the hotel parking lot.

It was Rowan's fourth weekend visit of the year with his daughter; he had been entitled to one each month, but he couldn't pull himself away from work at his computer support business in Benton Harbor. It had been hard to compete in a relatively small town that owed part of its population to summer vacation cabins on Lake Michigan, but Rowan didn't want to give up the house his parents had left him, so he had already canceled the cable and the trash service, which meant he had to smuggle his leftovers to a dumpster behind a supermarket bag by bag.

During other visits he had tried to cater to Christa: Movies, the beach, a nice steak restaurant. By Saturday night Christa was withdrawn and glaring, puttering her lips and spending half an hour in the bathroom. Like her mother, she had that quality of being unimpressed and sullen and exasperated, stingy with any good thing any other person might do if it didn't involve a gift. Christa, too, looked like a sixteen-year-old version of her mother. She was short and pretty and bony, and she kept her blond hair up. Her skin seemed stretched too thin for her face: She'd get crow's feet one day. Christa was bright and intense like her mother, and Rowan could tell she smoked. And now they walked the same, Rowan noticed, pitched forward like antennas in the wind, although Rowan hadn't seen Lynn since she began vacating her house a year ago when he arrived to pick up Christa. And it was no loss, missing Lynn, because Rowan didn't love her. He didn't even hold a warm spot.

After they had signed the papers Rowan had attended a group for divorced professionals, and most of the men seemed pretty heart-stricken, or, at the very least, lost as to how to take care of themselves. Lynn had done some mothering of Rowan, to be certain, and he lived in disarray for around a month after the split, with garbage stinking up the kitchen and the family dog's ribs starting to show, which prompted him to seek out the group. But there was no ache, no inertia drawing him to the bed in the middle of the afternoon, no visions of Lynn's smile in better times. The group, he decided, was a row of withered, broken men all too willing to attend weekly mixers at the Holiday Inn. Instead, Rowan hired Master Maids for the house and found an apple farm for the lab. He left the group after one man had confessed to seeing a hooker for sex. When Rowan exited the community center that day he was satisfied, that he felt nothing, and depressed, that he fought so hard to keep his marriage.

In the end, he reasoned that held on as long as he did because wooing Lynn Bender, to the casual eye, was the most significant achievement of Rowan's life: It was true that he had met her in Akron, and she hadn't a clue as to what her computer book was trying to say, but in the corner of a coffee shop, in tight jeans and sandals with a short, dramatic hairdo, she had been an entirely new experience for Rowan, who had spent his life with chap-lipped Lake Michigan girls and doughy, serious undergrads at Notre Dame. She was well out of Rowan's league the night she asked him to decipher the opening chapter of simplest computer manual he had ever seen, but, lucky for Rowan, most men - men better than Rowan, as Lynn would remind him for years to come - were out of Lynn's league, imperfect in some way: either pushy or arrogant, too good-looking, too close to their mothers, too wounded of souls.

It was too late before Rowan understood Lynn was insecure around those with better lots in life; she meant to make Rowan her improvement project and rebuild him in her - and her mother's - image. Since Lynn and her mother fought often, life settled into pockets of days where Rowan was fine as he stood, and weeks where if he didn't change, she had him moving out of the house. Lynn was particularly harsh on Rowan's fathering skills - she believed that Christa could spend no more than an afternoon alone with Rowan without the risk of serious injury. Rowan's most vivid memory of his daughter as a child were the faraway glances she would give him from her tiny bed and he stood in the doorway, watching Lynn tuck her good night.

Then, strangely, their mothers died within a month of each other; Rowan gained a house, and Lynn lost whatever it was that her mother had become. They separated and divorced almost easily. Christa had been eight. Since then, there had been no custody struggle over the monthly weekend visits that only went off occasionally; Rowan paid his part, and he had been thankful that Lynn, armed with the proof of Rowan's indifference toward Christa, was not up for warring over it in court. And he was a little unthankful; when they shared these weekends, Rowan felt the need to impart something to Christa, to impact her, and not merely mark the time they passed together.

The shower stopped and Rowan heard his daughter padding around in a bathroom. She turned on her hair dryer. Rowan watched the lights in the house at the end of the field finally go out. He went to bed. Before he closed his eyes he strained to hear his daughter in the bathroom, if she sang or muttered as she dressed, but the dryer whirred on and on, and finally there was nothing but sleep.

In Christa's dream she was in a harshly lit room with friends: Two girls from her drama club and a boy she used to have a crush on until he shaved his head. The girls were intertwined on a plush blue couch, fondling each other like they were lesbians. The boy was watching a war movie. She was fatter than all of them, eating canned peaches by hand from a bowl, the syrup thick between her fingers. She ran her fingers through her hair and everything was normal. The boy turned to her, head shaven like a Nazi, and produced a cigarette. He placed it in his mouth and lit it with the sizzling wick of a firecracker. The cigarette lit and he puffed, and the fuse on the firecracker burned in slow motion as a blast of smoke swirl around it. The girls stopped kissing, squinted at Christa, and the boy flipped the firecracker into the space between all three of them. It went off in air, and no one flinched. Then the boy lit another by his cigarette, letting it burn. Now they all turned their attention to Christa, including Christa herself, who seemed to look down at her own mouth and nose. The firecracker appeared in her field of vision and exploded just below her mouth, upsetting the bowl of peaches; they sloshed onto her legs, one peach wedge suspending itself on her kneecap. The boy kept tossing firecrackers at Christa and they kept popping in the same place, but the sound seemed distant for the proximity of them. The dream faded without resolution, and she didn't wake until the thunder of the hotel door brought her into consciousness gasping and afraid.