Splay-legged in my recliner, I’ve just returned from putting another note under Marcus’s door (In the next life your penis shall be multipronged, insectile, hot and bristling with pustules, gloriously prone to infection) when someone knocks on my door and I choke back a cry, startled. It’s mid-afternoon and my social life, never strident to begin with, has atrophied like a salt-marred slug in recent months. Who could possibly be knocking on my door? Reluctantly, I rise from my recliner and pull on my robe and, realizing at that moment that it might actually be Marcus, a Marcus angry about the insectile penis-note, and all the other notes, I open the door with a mad flourish, trying to be as intimidating as possible.
The day seems obscenely sunny, garishly so. I wince and blink. The man in the doorway is a stranger and he takes a step back when he sees me. He’s wearing some kind of uniform, a blue shirt with a nametag and a pair of blue shorts. A little clipboard.
“Brad? Brad Benske?”
“Yes,” I say. It comes out tremulously; for a moment even I feel unsure. Is this who I am? And then, more confidently, “Yes.”
The man marks something off on his clipboard and flicks his thumb against one of his nostrils and says, “Brad, hey, what’s up. I’m with the Water Bureau.”
He says, “Water Bureau. Your water?”
“You’re late with your payment.”
“Really late,” he says, and consults his clipboard. “Couple months late. As in, if you can’t pay it by the end of day today, we have to shut it off.”
He seems to see me for the first time then—the robe, the dishevelment, the haphazard mess inside the house he spies through the open doorway. I have a zit on my cheek that has over recent days gotten woefully infected and is now nearly the size of a ping-pong ball. Fifty-one years old and getting zits, if you can believe it. I need to drink more water, I think, and then have a moment of shock as I realize the water guy is right here in front of me. It’s like some kind of weak serendipity, some petulant magic.
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” I say.
The nametag above his pocket says Cameron, and he looks like a Cameron. A beefy young man with big calves and a certain dumb purity, someone who did keg stands in college and can differentiate between different types of vape oil. A man who wears a hemp bracelet and sleeps on a futon, I decide, a man who sniff-tests his socks. Cameron peers into the dank chamber of my little house and his nose wrinkles. I step out onto the porch and shut the door behind me.
“Oh man, my grandma got shingles,” Cameron says, pointing a blunt finger at my face. “She was only sixty-two. It really messed her up.”
“This is just a zit.”
The world beyond my yard writhes with life; a little boy wheels by on his bike, leaves on the trees tremble and sway, and I can hear the bass-heavy thump of music strobing through the window of a passing car. The air is rich with the smell of cut grass. And everything trills a memory. Emma has been gone for nine months now. Nine months! I spend a moment hoping Marcus’s penis becomes riddled with pustules in this life, and draft an internal note saying such.
Cameron clears his throat.
“My checkbook’s inside,” I say. “How much is it?”
He gives me a number. It seems a reasonable enough amount if I haven’t paid in months—Emma handled the bills, and it’s yet another instance where I have lagged, where I am lost without her—but he sounds unhappy about it.
“It’s okay,” I say. “You’re just doing your job.”
“I mean, I’m in a band,” Cameron says. “I do community theater. You know? There’s more to me than just this.” He sweeps a hand along his outfit, his clipboard.
“Of course there is,” I say. I walk inside and eventually find my checkbook beside an old sandwich on the floor that’s furred in ants. I write the check and step outside and shake the ants off and hand it to Cameron. His blue eyes, as he watches this, are rife with something like pity. “I hope you feel better soon,” he says quietly, and it’s clear he’s not talking about my goiter.
Melinda says, “So you’re still leaving him notes.” She lights a menthol and blows the smoke to the ceiling.
“No,” I say.
She laughs outright and flips me off. “Oh my God, you’re such a liar. Such a bad liar, too.”
“I left one today,” I confess. May maggots tumble from the dong, it read, and then it had a little doodle of that, a little picture.
Melinda winces. “Honey, why his penis, though? Why talk about his penis?” She adjusts her headband.
“I don’t always.”
“When you tell me about it, the notes are always penis-related.”
“I’m trying to keep it funny. Light. Less worrisome than actual threats.”
“Maggots from the dong, though? That sounds like an actual threat to me.”
“It’s medical,” I say.
It had seemed a simple message, one suffused with appropriate dread and then buoyed a little by the silly drawing. I wonder for a moment if I have in fact turned some corner, gone some further distance than I intended. One I won’t be able to come back from. Maybe I’ve crossed a line.
“You know it’s illegal, right?” says Melinda. “It’s gotta be harassment or something. Menacing. You better hope you don’t get caught.”
“I won’t get caught. Marcus is too enmeshed in his bullshit.”
“If he installs one of those cameras above his door. You’re done.”
“Look,” I say, “can you just give me a reading? Please?”
Melinda, when she’s working, goes by Madame Ouellette. She has a palm reading and tarot practice out on the jagged stretch of 82nd Avenue, in a weird mobile home kind of thing that rests in an otherwise empty parking lot. She’s decked the place out in tapestries and unicorn sculptures and salt candles and incense; the atmosphere goes a fair way towards cancelling out the brazen drug deals out front, the endless traffic, the shirtless guy screaming about aliens in his teeth at the Wendy’s across the street. Melinda and I slept together once in college, badly, and have ever since been continually thankful of the friendship that has sprung from it. Our shared history buoys us. Emma, at best, had tolerated Melinda during our marriage. Felt threatened by her. Which always surprised me, as she seemed otherwise so sure of everything. “Why can’t you just scratch your balls and yell about football with some guy from work? Drink beer and talk about cars?” she’d say, a rare instance where I saw the underpinnings of her insecurity. Melinda gives me readings for free now, and I ask her where Emma is, where they’ve sent her. If she’s happy, if she’s safe where she is. This, and bothering Marcus are as close to penance and relief as I get. Madam Ouellette offers me her visions and I imagine that they’re true. Half the time it seems like Melinda’s just trying to come up with the most outlandish shit she can, and I’m grateful for it. It almost assuredly beats the true narrative.
She makes me a cup of tea as we chat some more. I drink the tea and tell Melinda the story about our wedding day and how Emma had spilled a cup of coffee down the front of her dress, the same dress her mother had worn to her own wedding as a last minute back-up that showed way more cleavage than she’d intended. It is a well-worn story; Melinda has heard it a million times. Hell, she was at our wedding, watched the entire event take place. But it’s part of the process of the reading, Melinda says. And when I’m done with the tea, she has me upend the cup on a plastic slip mat and we talk for a moment about my hopes with this, what it is I want to get from it. I say something, a bland proclamation. I want to feel close to her, I think. I want to believe that what you’re saying is really her life. We’ve done this perhaps a dozen times since Emma left me to join the Hand of Light. This is one of the only things I do anymore.
Melinda really gets into character, adjusting her jeweled headband, her hands taking on these exaggerated movements as she tries to withdraw the “intentionality” from the leaves. Tea starts to bead out from beneath the rim of the cup. Eventually she lifts it and frowns at the chiaroscuro of dark leaves on the plastic mat.
She talks, fully Madam Ouellette now. Her voice is clipped, more precise, colder.
She tells me that Emma is in a carwash in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“She’s working in a carwash? In Mississippi?”
“No, no. She’s in a carwash. In a car. Someone’s yelling about atonement. Maybe it’s the radio. There’s a baby in the backseat, but it’s not hers. The sudsy cleaning things slap against the window. It’s a kind of transformation for her.”
“You’re so full of shit,” I say, grinning. I can’t help myself. I’m almost happy.
“She got a haircut. She’s wearing sunglasses in the carwash. It’s dark.”
“Oh, yeah? Did they shave her head? Is she wearing a potato sack, Melinda? Are there snacks?” Part of me relishes these fantasies she makes up. I simultaneously wish they were true and only feel safe when I’m mocking them. I’ve had a private investigator on the payroll since she’s been gone, but he’s come up with nothing. He talks to me like I’m an aggrieved husband, speaks respectfully, and part of me hates the guy for it.
Of the two people in the world that know what an utter fuckup I am, one is in the Hand of Light, and the other one’s looking at me right now, waving her hand over a bunch of wet tea leaves, offering some minute solace.
The guy from the water bureau is sitting on my front stoop when I come home. He’s playing a game on his phone and wearing jeans and a t-shirt. A baseball hat. He’s one of those people that even if they shave in the morning, they have stubble by the end of the workday.
He smiles when he sees me and puts his phone away. “Do you remember me?” he says.
“I do,” I say. “I don’t think my check bounced, did it?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to go see a band play, actually.”
I look at him. “You do this with all your customers?”
I think about the inside of my house. I touch my goiter lightly, hardly aware I’m doing so. “What band is it?”
He says something I don’t understand, rich with vowels.
“It’s a Swedish black metal band,” he says. “But they’re not racist.”
“Is that a thing? Racist black metal?”
He shrugs. “Unfortunately, yes.”
I am feeling expansive: I’ve showered today. I’ve paid a bill. I petitioned the unknown via Madam Ouellette and thusly heard how Emma’s doing, even if Melinda’s just making it up. (I know she’s making it up.) It’s been a good day. I haven’t had many good days. My recliner is like a ship marooned amid the wreckage of my life.
The show is at a bar across town. Cameron pays. I feel underdressed and old: Denim and leather abound, and nearly everyone is wearing a black shirt with a band logo that is pointy and indecipherable, barbed wire brought to heaving life. I buy drinks from a solemn bartender with Cut Here tattooed on his throat and by the time the band starts, I’m intoxicated and the music is so loud my ribs vibrate. I haven’t drank in a long time. Cameron is headbanging beside me, and someone is pushing against me, and my cocktail, somewhat expensive, is sloshing down my shirt. The music is a sea to get lost in. It’s like a world being born. The singer’s face is masked with white greasepaint. He points at us and yowls and we scream back in response. I yell until something in my throat threatens to crack and still I can’t hear myself. It’s lovely, really. It’s a lovely way to get lost.
After the band stops, Cameron and I drink some more and he buys a shirt with the band’s barbed, indecipherable logo on it. There’s a picture of a wolf’s severed head beneath the logo, and he makes a grand gesture of gifting it to me. I put it on right there over my other shirt.
By now the crowd has thinned, everyone pressing themselves into booths or going out onto the patio to smoke cigarettes and yell at each other. I lift my cocktail—something called a “Norwegian Fuck Cloud” that annoyed the already annoyed bartender when I asked for it—and take a sip and bellow over the jukebox, “My wife left me! For a cult! Nine months ago!”
Cameron frowns and nods. He’s put his baseball hat on backwards at some point. “That’s intense!” he yells.
“I sold our house and moved into a smaller house. I’ve been living off the profits. Quit my job at the firm I’d been at for twelve years. I just manage my investments online and sit around and weep. I’ve got ants!”
“My best friend pretends to be a psychic and gives me updates on her. Emma—that’s my wife—she’s always doing mundane stuff. Washing dishes, jogging. Today she was in a carwash.”
“What’s the cult?”
“I said what’s the cult?”
“The Hand of Light.”
“Haven’t heard of it.”
I look at him. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Cameron nods. I go to take a sip of my Norwegian Fuck Cloud, accidentally stab my goiter with the tip of the little black umbrella in my glass, and shriek with the bright white pain of it.
Marcus lives in a duplex on the other side of town. Cameron drives his Corolla with a deep and obvious concentration, his tongue like some minute creature testing the air. We are listening to Sublime—I had to ask Cameron the name—and he is driving very slowly and carefully.
I tell Cameron about Marcus, Emma’s brother, and how he was the first to introduce her to the Hand of Light. How she was worried about him and went to a meeting only as a way of protecting him. Of sussing it out. How she came back from this first meeting still scoffing, but in retrospect I should have seen it—that glimmer of interest, hidden and tucked away. I know her; I should have seen it. That fecund possibility of something more in her eyes. Emma became enmeshed within the Hand of Light and I tried talking to her about it, making sure she was okay. She’d insisted she was. There was an age gap between Emma and me and we lived with comfortable expanses of silence between us. She had her friends and her brother. I had Melinda and the firm. It was perhaps unconventional, but it worked for us.
But when I spoke to her of her brother, she began winnowing her way onto other subjects. Became evasive. Began missing appointments, coming home late. I started to suspect she was having an affair. I’m not proud of it. Emma is fourteen years younger than me, and beautiful. My own insecurities took root and bloomed.
At my lowest point, I hired the private investigator, who tailed her to a church in a strip mall only slightly better preserved than Melinda’s trailer. A dozen pews, stained carpet. A tanning salon next door. He met me for coffee a few days later, where he showed me grim digital photos of Emma at prayer among a smattering of others, her arms raised, in a rapture I’d never seen at our most intimate moments. And here was one of her in supplication at the foot of a plastic religious figure, shrouded and forlorn, that looked like little more than a lawn ornament. And here was one of Emma and three other women cutting their palms with a blade and letting the blood (oh, jet black in the photos) drip into a silver bowl. I was mortified.
I waited three days before I asked her about her bandaged hand. She said she’d cut it on a glass that had fallen in the sink. The lie came so fluid, sounded so convincing, I almost wanted to consult the photos again; surely it was someone else, some other blond woman who was losing weight and had the crazed light of an unswayable piety in her eyes.
I called her a liar. I called her a great number of things. I wept and quailed and raged, terrified that she was being swept up in some current. She wept too, and said that I didn’t understand. That there was a solace she couldn’t find elsewhere. This hurt me, her husband, and led me to say things that haunt me now. I left, slammed the front door hard enough that a print fell from the wall, the glass front shattering. I slept in a hotel.
The next day there was a note on our bed. Gone off, finding what I need. I’ll be back if that’s what’s right. Her initials. Her initials!
Taillights flash in front of us and Cameron brakes hard. My hands fly onto the dash. “The part I don’t get,” he says, “is why you leave notes about his dong and stuff.”
“It seems weird, man. She leaves you and you harass her brother? He’s your brother-in-law, right? You threaten his penis because your wife joined some cult?”
“I’m not threatening his penis,” I say. “I’m threatening him. But obtusely. So he doesn’t know.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“He’s the one that got her into it. This stupid fucking cult. Do you know what the Hand of Light is? What they believe in?”
I spit, “They do blood rituals, Cameron. Okay? So spare me your sanctimony.”
“Thank you. Turn left here.”
Marcus’s duplex is dark. I root through Cameron’s glove box and hand him a ballpoint pen and a scrap of paper.
“Dude, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Come on,” I say. “It’ll really throw him if it’s in different handwriting.”
“Nothing about his penis.”
“Fine,” I say, and dictate another note.
“That seems pretty harsh,” he says, but he writes it.
“It’s an inside joke,” I lie. “It doesn’t mean what you think it means.” I take the note and creep across the street and slide it under Marcus’s front door.
When Cameron drops me off at my house, I wave goodbye. My nodule, speared from the cocktail umbrella and still weeping blood, pulses with my heartbeat. I can’t tell if Cameron waves back.
I tell Melinda about Cameron and the Swedish non-racist black metal band and she smiles at me like I’ve turned over a new leaf. Here I am, out in the world! Showering, making friends, drinking fancy drinks with ridiculous names. I’m like a real person again and not a stumbling automaton that walks from room to room in his bathrobe, sporadically farting and crying and eating cereal among an ant palace as I lament the abject dismantlement of my marriage. Things are happening!
“That’s awesome,” Melinda says, dusting the display rack of tarot cards with one of those feather duster things. A cigarette wags in her mouth as she speaks. “Look at you, man.” There’s a fellow dressed as the Statue of Liberty working on the other side of 82nd, promoting some tax place, and he’s really spinning his sign and doing tricks with it. We catch flashes of his hairy legs under his tunic as he whirls around. We watch him for a minute. He’s good. It feels nice to watch someone be good at something.
Then I tell Melinda about the note I had Cameron write, the one I put under Marcus’s door (FYI: The neighbors can hear you when you cry, you sad little fuck) and the brightness in her eyes goes out like I threw a bucket of water on a fire.
“I have no remorse,” I say, watching the man wave and twirl his sign, and I can’t look at her. My voice warbles so badly it’s obvious to both of us that I’m lying, lying, lying.
Another lawyer in my firm was almost up to bat once during a softball game when he had these chest pains. Years ago, this was. He’d been feeling unwell for a few days, but this day was particularly bad, and the pain in his chest reached an apex right before he was supposed to go up to the plate. He told his friend, the catcher, he needed to go to the hospital. This is a true story.
“Yeah, right,” the friend said, and then the guy, the lawyer at my firm, actually dropped to his knees, the pain was so bad. So the catcher realized he wasn’t kidding, and drove him to the ER, where they sat in the waiting room until the man’s chest was x-rayed. And when the x-ray came back it showed that pretty much his whole body was absolutely riddled with tumors. Just all up and down his chest and groin. The cancer had started in his testicles and spread.
Long story short, he went on chemo for a long time, and it brutalized him, and he lost a testicle, but he beat it. He still works at the firm, actually.
So that evening I’m just looking in the mirror at this bulbous thing on my face, how the skin’s grown shiny and taut around it. I’m thinking about Emma and wondering how you define an actual beginning of something. How you trace the exact moment it starts.
Or, in my case, the exact moment you started losing something.
My phone rings later that night. I’m in my recliner, willing myself to either masturbate or call the private investigator for a progress report. Each seems tiresome and insurmountable. It’s an unlisted number.
“Hello?” I say.
“It’s Cameron,” says Cameron.
“Hey. How’d you get my number?”
“You gave me your card.”
“My business card?”
“Yeah. At the show. You wrote your cell number on the back.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Not really,” I say.
“Yeah, you had a lot of fancy drinks for sure. Listen, Brad, I want to let you know that I just don’t feel good about what we did. Leaving that note like that. I feel really bad about it.”
“No, it’s not. It’s not nice.”
“He deserves it,” I say.
“I think we should tell him.”
I sit upright. The recliner squeals in protest. “What are you talking about?”
“I think we should tell him it was us. I think you should talk to him. I can come pick you up.”
“No. Not a chance. No.”
“I think it would be a good—”
I’m officially on sabbatical from the firm—the senior partners have been very gracious in that regard—and it’s been nine months since I’ve drafted an arbitration agreement or a c & d letter or stood before a judge. But twenty-five years of practice is right there, and I let Cameron have it. I am positively stentorian in my volume and dizzying in my vocabulary. I’m listing the myriad ways in which pursuing this line of action is profoundly ill-advised, and I make it clear that I’m prepared to bury him under a mountain of pure unbridled motherfucking will if necessary.
He waits me out. I’m so furious that I’m actually panting when he clears his throat and says, “Brad, it’s just that—what if she isn’t coming back?”
I hang up.
I call the private investigator and hurl invectives and ridicule his parents and threaten any number of lawsuits before I triple his daily pay and beg more from him.
Emma was hired as a record clerk. That’s how we met. I was moored in a kind of limbo at the time, stuck as a junior partner, repeatedly watching younger hires land clients that I felt should’ve been mine. The firm was a place that rewarded ambition and I was feverish with ambition, and so this sense of being moored in one place while others rose to prominence angered me. I saw no way to improve things. The very people that I needed to petition were the ones that were rewarding these other lawyers. I lived in a large, mostly empty home where I hardly ever spent time. I was rude to wait staff and customer service representatives and openly contemptuous of the clerks and paralegals that I worked with. I did not see at the time that my unmet ambition had turned into anger and resentment, which in return festered into more unmet ambition. I was poisoned like that. I was sick and didn’t know. I had become atrophied and small.
I met Emma when someone had misfiled some court documents I needed for a case. It wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t my fault, but I was a man that luxuriated in my anger, that dipped my heart in the smooth, ugly salve of it. That day, I started dressing her down for her incompetence, right there at her desk, among her coworkers, and she looked confused and hurt for only a moment and then her face set into a certain hardness and she shook her head once and said, “Nope. No. Stop.”
And I did stop. Who wouldn’t have stopped? She was thirty-one, beautiful, afraid of me, and entirely unwilling to accept the way I was treating her.
“Excuse me?” I said.
She said, “I will be happy to help you find these summaries, Mr. Benske. I’m sorry that they’ve been misplaced. But it’s not my fault, and I’m just not going to be spoken to that way. I’m just not.”
I stood there before her and was galvanized. There’s no other word for it. I saw she was right, and I saw how much my anger had leached into me, had sickened me, slowly, like the guy in Mergers & Acquisitions with chest pains. I apologized profusely and told her she was right and that it wouldn’t happen again. And it began some change inside me. It was only two years later, when I saw her and a friend having drinks in a bar, that I spoke to her outside of work. Two years! And I thanked her again because of what she’d said to me, and of course she remembered it, and I told her how right she’d been and we talked some more and the friend graciously went home and Emma and I shared a very chaste kiss at the end of the night and she took a cab home and I took a cab home and I marveled the entire way about how self-assured she seemed, how anchored in herself, so I asked her out to dinner the next day, and two years after that we were married, and I keep coming back to how things begin, those interminable, indefinable beginnings, because how does the woman who says I’m not going to be spoken to that way become the woman who leaves a note that says Gone off, finding what I need. I’ll be back if that’s what’s right? How does that happen?
Melinda’s eyeballing my goiter over her crystal ball.
“You’re not even paying attention,” I say.
“Hon, it’s getting really bad. Does it hurt?”
“It’s a zit.”
“I don’t think that’s a zit. You need to go to the doctor.”
“Just tell me how she’s doing.”
She sighs and adjusts her headband and caresses the small glass globe in front of her with the tips of her fingers. She’s trying hard to get into character, even as the guy in the Wendy’s parking lot thunders his numerous dissatisfactions with invasive spy satellites and the National Security Agency.
“Okay,” she says. “Emma’s swimming in a swimming pool, Brad, and the water is really blue. But there’s all this light reflecting off the water, too. Spears of light. She’s wearing a black one-piece bathing suit and her hair is turning just a little green from the chlorine. She’s been in the water a lot lately.” She clears her throat. “And, oh, there’s a man with a mustache on a deck chair. He’s reading a book.” Her eyes are squeezed shut.
I trace the growth on my face while she talks. If I hold my breath I can feel it begin to pulse in time with my heartbeat. It does hurt. It’s hurt for a long time.
The private investigator emailed me this morning.
“When she rises from the swimming pool, she does it in one smooth, languid motion. She—”
I’m suddenly furious at Melinda, at her ridiculous stories. At handing me these pedestrian fantasies that everything’s fine, that Emma is whole and safe. And now she’s introducing this man? “Where’s the baby?” I say, my voice sharp.
Melinda opens her eyes. “What?”
“I said where’s the baby, Melinda? Last time it was a baby, a carwash, all that shit. Now she’s what, a mermaid? Swimming in a swimming pool?”
“She’s fucking him, right? That’s what you’re implying? She’s fucking this dude with the mustache? She’s moved on to other things by now? I’ve lost her. That’s what you’re saying, right?”
Melinda stands up and I can already see the glittering of tears in her eyes and it’s like some depthless hole has opened up beneath me and I’m falling, while also knowing that this hole is so deep and I’ll be falling for a long time.
“Get out,” she says. “You think I’m doing this for me?”
She chops a hand through the air. “Get out of here.”
Outside, the world is as thriving and mad as ever. Dirt and blacktop and exhaust, a thousand uncaring, beautiful colors flung across the day.
I drive aimlessly and then head home because there’s nowhere else to go. I park in the driveway and see that Cameron is standing on my porch again. He’s in a dark suit and his hair is combed back.
I wearily trod up my steps. “Go away.”
He holds out an envelope. “Here’s your money.”
“Your water bill money.” He smiles a little sadly. “I’m not really with the water bureau.”
He is clear-eyed, clean-shaven. He even stands differently.
I get it. “Community theater, right? You’re an actor.”
“You’re with the Hand of Light,” I say.
He nods again, puts his hands in his pockets. “She’s in Memphis, Bradley.”
“I know,” I say.
He offers me the dignity of being surprised. “You do?”
“I hired a private investigator. Months ago. He finally found them, it just took a while.”
He nods and looks down, scuffs the porch with the toe of his shoe. “She doesn’t want to see you, but she wanted me to relay a message. A few messages.”
I’m whole, I tell myself. I’ll be whole after this man walks off my porch. I’ll be whole after he says what he says. I’ll still be as whole and ruined and piecemeal, as willing to be in love when he leaves.
“She wants you to stop leaving Marcus notes.”
“Marcus didn’t stay with the group very long. He wants nothing to do with us. If you’d actually talk to him, you’d know that.”
“It’s not me you should be apologizing to,” Cameron says, and it’s so sanctimonious I feel that familiar feather-stir of anger. That anger I wish—maybe more than anything else—that I could just spit it out like a seed.
I tell him I’ll apologize to Marcus.
“She wants you to be kind to Melinda. She says your world is pretty small and you should hold tight to it.”
“I will,” I say, thinking of the work that will require, ashamed of myself.
“And she’s asking you to wait.”
I stare at him; it’s like he’s telling me the band name again. Like he’s speaking some other language.
He says, “She’s only asking. She understands you’re not obligated.”
“Obligated?” I say. “She used that term? It doesn’t sound like her.”
Cameron, a messenger relaying a message, is afforded the luxury of just shrugging.
And I wish this was the part where my goiter broke open in a wash of blood and all the illness poured out of me and I was whole and good and unblemished. Or where I put Cameron in a severe, uncompromising headlock and walked him to Tennessee and used him as a human shield so I could see my wife and recount to her the grand litany of things I would undoubtedly discover about myself on the journey. Or where something else happened so that I did not feel so adrift and scared and uncertain. But none of that happened. I was still the same person. We shook hands and he walked around the corner and I was alone. I went inside and took a broom from my closet and went out and swept my porch steps and my sidewalk free of leaves. Maybe eventually I would work on the inside. But when I was out there, a neighbor boy rode by on his bicycle and he was carrying a little toy gun in one fist and I pretended like he’d shot me, like he’d wounded me, perhaps mortally, my hand to my chest, and he rode away, his head swiveling so he could stay with me even as he pedaled and laughed, and oh, just the sound of it, I have to tell you, it was really something.