An earlier version of this story (from 2009) is still out there somewhere, but that original telling always felt wanting to me, incomplete, and perhaps like the proverbial the red-headed stepchild he was looking for resolution. At all of nine pages the story lacked detail enough to create a real arc, so I went to work on it a week or so ago and now the story weighs in at fifty plus pages and the original storyline is just barely discernible. You’ll need a fresh pot of tea for this one, and hopefully you’ll find this version an improvement.
[Rashida \\ Jon Lucien]
What is life if not a little bit strange? Or strangely predictable as the case may be, but who knows, really, when all is said and done. Some feel life is simply the result of random chance and, occasionally, in coincidence, while others believe in fate and destiny and see the hidden hand of God in everything. This split, this dividing line between chance and destiny, or between reason and faith, is often hard to see in our day to day lives, and yet perhaps it is this disparity that accounts for the feelings we experience within the stranger encounters we face during this thing we comfortably like to call life.
Because people are strange, though often in ways strangely unpredictable to us — even within those times we think we see patterns of predictability. With an open mind you can get a kind of feel for this dividing line, yet once again it is the unpredictability of chance encounters that often leads us to greater truths.
As in: just when you think you’ve really got a handle on things, when you can finally see the true and righteous path ahead – that’s when everything you’ve taken for granted seems to vanish in the shadows, right there in the moonlight. All your paradigms shift, the earth heaves underfoot — leaving you breathless and all too often unsure of your judgement. Maybe when your children grow up and leave the nest, begin lives of their own but take an unexpected turn. Or an uncle you hardly knew leaves you his prized Bill Evans collection — on vinyl, for heaven’s sake — which would be swell if you hadn’t given your turntable to the Salvation Army…fifteen years ago.
Or maybe your wife bails on you and apparently for no reason other than she wanted a change of scenery, but a few months later you find out she has been doing it with your best friend — and for the life of you nothing makes sense anymore. All your assumptions about life — like where you were going to live and who you were going to live with — go up in smoke.
Yet as the earth heaves underfoot the righteous path ahead seems to dissolve in tepid mists of gray ambivalence. Grass so green it used to hurt your eyes turns to somber autumn leaves, suddenly dry underfoot and dying — and now there is no longer any doubt that falling leaves are without a care in the world. And when you start to feel sorry for yourself you tell yourself that you should be so lucky. But perhaps that’s because you forgot which side of the line you used to stand…?
So you go to work, do your job — you soldier on, despite your feelings of ambivalence. Maybe you’re tired of the grind but too old to start over. Besides, you did that once and it made no difference. You carry around unhappiness like a turtle carries his shell; wherever you go it follows right along with you — like a shadow you wish would just go away and leave you be.
But…isn’t life strange? Somewhere along this path you begin to believe that your happiness has grown intertwined with another soul passing your way. Intertwined with her shadow, perhaps. Two shadows, if you will, standing in the moonglow.
So yeah, hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work you go. Up at seven and get the coffee on, shower and shave. Yet the coffee always tastes the same — the same as it did in that other life. When life still seemed new and full of the moment.
But life ain’t so new now, is it? Not after she packed up and left you. Not after she closed the door on that past and your house grew quiet and still. Nothing tasted the same in that quiet, not even life.
Your hair is quite a bit grayer this year, but don’t kid yourself. That’s white hair up there now, Slick. The crow’s feet astride your eyes, your ‘worry lines’, are a little deeper too, but do you really feel so old?
Your wife calls you. Make that your ex-wife. She sounds all wrong, all kinds of unhappy, and for a moment you feel kind of happy as you bask in her unexpected misery— because she deserves it, right? Then she’s crying and you remember what those tears used to feel like, don’t you? Your old friend, she tells you, who also happens to be her new husband, is in the hospital and he’s been diagnosed with some kind of rare bone cancer. He has a few months “at most” she tells you, and she should know. And yet, why doesn’t the news hurt more? Can’t you feel pain now, or did she pack that up and take it with her? Did she really take that away from you too? Or do you really, maybe deep down inside, hurt for her? And for your old friend? The friend who stole your wife?
You don’t know what to say so you speak the liturgy of all you’re supposed to at times like this. Things like “what can I do to help?” or “Gee, I’m so sorry to hear that.” And who knows, maybe you meant what you thought those words were supposed to mean. But you’re not happy now, that much you do know, and you really don’t give a shit what she feels. Do you?
No more shadows in the moonglow. You know that much is true because you’ve seen it with your own two eyes. You’ve felt that pain. She gave it to you.
The academic year is at an end. School’s out and this is going to be your first summer without her. The last few days of classes come and go and you walk from campus to your house. Exams are tallied and grades submitted, then you pack a suitcase and grab your old Nikon and hop on the T and head over to Logan.
Where to go this summer? Walk up to the Swissair counter and ask the woman there where the next flight is headed and she says Zurich so that’ll do just fine. You settle in a second floor seat inside an old 747 and look at all the bags being loaded and for a moment you wonder how so many people can fit inside one metal tube. Then you ask yourself ‘why would so many want to? Why are so many people running away?’
Maybe because, after all is said and done, we’re all the same? Walking along the same path — maybe even in the moonglow, right? Together? There aren’t any lines dividing us, not really. We’re all just a little confused about faith and reason so we’re just running now. Running and running, round and round.
A polite young thing comes down the aisle and offers you a moist warm towelette and a glass of Champagne and you stare at the bubbles, wonder where they’re going in such a hurry. ‘The same place I am,’ you tell yourself with an ironic little smile. All of us, all on the same road. Bubbles and all.
An hour after takeoff the polite young thing rolls a silver cart down the aisle and serves you freshly carved prime rib and creamed spinach and what, you wonder, could possibly be more absurd. A hundred years ago your immigrant grandparents were sailing to America across this same God forsaken ocean, and here you are going back in time, making the same journey in reverse as a polite young thing serves you prime rib while flying along inside a metal tube at six hundred miles per hour. Life has become so fucking absurd, hasn’t it? But when was it not? Can you remember a time?
You land in Zurich early the next morning and walk out of the metal tube into another self-contained glass and metal cube and then it hits you: you haven’t had a breath of fresh air in half a day and now you have to take-in this conditioned crap called air for another few hundred yards. Absurd. Even taking a breath has become an act of audacious absurdity.
So you take an escalator down to the basement and activate your Railpass and hop on the local to the main station on the river in downtown Zurich — and before you know it you’re inside yet another metal tube breathing even more conditioned air and now this just seems plain silly. You get off the train at the main station and look at the departure board and there’s an express to Interlaken leaving in a few minutes so you hop into the lone First Class carriage and find a nice single seat just as the doors close and the train pulls away slowly from the platform. And you’re breathing canned air again, aren’t you? Inside another metal tube?
You want to scream, but why bother all these nice breathing people.
You wander around inside a jet-lagged haze of stale coffee and dreamless sleep, burning eyes focused on urban sprawl then open pasture that springs up out of nowhere. Another polite young thing comes by with more stale coffee and you nod thanks, because…why not? You’ve been on this train a hundred times before and yet it almost always feels the same. Like home. Maybe because your grandparents moved to America from here long before the war. The first one. When you finished school you worked here, first with the Department of State, even if this was the least foreign posting in all the world — to you, anyway, and then with the UN. All that led to a job in the White House, and those were the worst days of your life. Until recently, anyway.
You still have family here, in Wengen. They used to keep a small dairy herd; now they manage small herds of tourists. You visit them as often as possible because for some reason these pastures and valleys still feel like home. America, you realized once upon a long time ago, is a country of the unhomed. Lost, perpetually wandering. No conception of the past — because there is no past. America has always been about discarding the past on the short cut to reinventing itself.
Interlaken glides into view and you smile at the pristine lake rimmed by towering peaks. You get off the train and grab a taxi for your usual hotel, the stately old Victoria Jungfrau, and once in your room you call your cousin and let her know you’re in town. Plans for the evening are made and you take a nap with the windows thrown wide open to the fresh mountain air. There’s nothing stale about this air, and you feel at ease for the first time in months.
Tradition reigns supreme in these ancient valleys, and so no one understands how you can be so suddenly divorced from a woman you promised to spend your life with. It makes no sense to your family here; most came to Georgetown for your marriage and when things like divorce happen people’s expectations change. Marriage is a forever kind of thing, and this uniquely American predilection for reinventing oneself seems particularly grotesque to them. Your cousins simply don’t understand the why or the how of such things. Even less so once they figure out that you too don’t understand any better than they do. When you tell them that the best man in your wedding betrayed you, they understand less and less. The subject is quietly changed when they read the pain behind your eyes, because all your life you’ve been like an open book to these people. So, they accept what is. The line between reason and faith grows a little blurry for a moment.
Elizabeth, your favorite cousin, is a little more empathetic, but then again she would be. She was famous once, a ski racer and a kind of icon in her own way. Now she is the rather stately looking matron of a family of young ski racers; her husband is an architect but he also runs the family owned network of hotels in Wengen and Murren. They are established here now, because they have always been rooted in the loamy soils of these valleys. As your family has been, for millennia.
And as an American you miss that sense of belonging to a place. You can’t understand why your grandparents left this valley. It makes no sense — because constantly reinventing oneself is a relentlessly exhausting ordeal. You can never just be — because you’re always too wrapped up with becoming.
You walk with her the next day, to the home beside the lower pastures where your grandfather once lived. “You seem so unhappy there,” she tells you. “Why don’t you come home now?”
“Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” you tell her. “But I’m an American now.”
“That’s a foolish state of mind,” she reminds you. “You always seem so happy when you are here. You were born here. You are a citizen.”
You walk through the old home. It is spotless, of course. Pristine. Family still lives here but they are all working the high pastures now that the snow is gone.
“This is your home,” she reminds you and the words almost hurt — because you know the truth behind them. And the impossibility within.
You slice apples and cheese in the sunshine and talk about her children. She wants to know more about what happened. To your marriage. Because she really doesn’t understand how something so right could fall apart so suddenly. And here, now, the line returns, and it has grown more severe.
And it’s impossible, this talk of coming back to live here. You’re too different now. You’d never fit in. The hearts and minds in this valley are wrapped in granite, covered in snow, and you’d never be able to break through all that ice. Because you don’t want to. Because what they have should remain unsullied. Marriage is good. Marriages shouldn’t fall apart. Marriage has been the bedrock underlying everything in this valley — for a thousand years. Who are you to bring such a contagion here?
You walk along the same old trails your fathers walked and the earth underfoot pulls at you. You pass a farm and there are puppies for sale, Bernese Mountain Dogs. Big, boisterous things full of big, loyal hearts. You talk to the people there and one of the pups seems to be following you around the yard and you can feel him calling out to you. You stop and pick him up and hold his face up to yours and the union is instantaneous, like a slap across the face. He is yours now, and you are his. The decision is made, arrangements set aside for another day. You walk away and are quite happy with this decision. Perhaps it’s time to leave all that other life’s nagging questions behind.
Like…he was your best friend. For years. And you left without talking to him even once, even when you knew he was going to die. Soon. Did all those years stand for nothing, not enough for even a simple ‘goodbye?’ Reason? Faith? Does anything really matter to you anymore?
And your wife? Your ex-wife? She was your friend too, once upon a time, and when she called to tell you her new husband was going to die you knew she wanted to hear comforting words from you.
Did you meet her need as you’d met so many of her other needs? Was that why she left you? Solid, relentless work ten months a year followed by a couple of months of unrelenting wanderlust? Did you leave her in the dust of all her broken dreams? Dreams you’d spent so many years passing by? Did she hurt so much?
So here you are on the outside looking in. Did your grandparents feel this way, once upon their time? What made them run away from this valley? What makes you need this place? Why do you keep coming back for more?
Is it because sometimes you fuck up, even with good intentions stuck halfway in mind? Did you cross that line between faith and reason one time too many? Like maybe you’ve been digging a hole for yourself for so long you’ve lost sight of the fact that you can’t stop digging. You kept on digging even when you knew your marriage dead—or maybe because you were just dead wrong. You could hide from the consequences of these questions during faculty meetings and even with your students, and maybe you were pretty good at keeping consequences from yourself, too. But she knew all about consequences — because she lived them every day. And she knew, in the end, what your silence really meant. Maybe she just got tired of waiting for you to see the truth. Maybe she lost faith in reason.
And it always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Like that time when a real smart-ass student asked you one of those really profound questions — something mind-bending like ‘Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?’ — and you were left so completely befuddled by the question that not even another pint of Guinness could clear away the rain in your brain. Because maybe you too had lost your faith in reason?
You figure out the details of importing the puppy to the States and the day finally arrives. You pick him up early in the morning and all your cousins take you to the central station for the train ride back to Zurich. Swissair allows him in the cabin — as long as he remains in his carrier — but really, just how much trouble could he possibly be? He’s just a puppy!
The very same polite young thing came around with her towelettes and Champagne and she cooed when she saw Odysseus in his little red carrier, then she asked to hold him. You were only too willing, weren’t you? She was, after all, a rather cute polite young thing.
Yet so too was Odysseus, and soon enough all the other polite young things came around for a coo and a cuddle. You even broke the rules and held him in your lap during takeoff, and he watched the world rotate then disappear beneath the clouds before he turned and licked your chin.
Such a good natured pup. Such a loving bundle of joy.
The polite young thing wheeled along her cart of prime rib down the aisle once again and this time she even offered up a slice or two for the pup and as soon as you unzipped the top of his carrier young Odysseus exploded upward like a sea-launched ballistic missile, careening forth with the velocity of a schizoid kangaroo on speed, ricocheting off the curved walls of the upper deck before landing at the top of the stairs just outside of the cockpit — where he dropped a Boston-sized turd the color and consistency of creamed spinach — before bounding down the gracefully curved stairway that led to the main passenger cabin.
You followed. Not particularly gracefully after you stepped in his steaming turd, but you flew down the steps in record time — just in time to see your pup racing towards the coach cabin at the rear of the airplane, with two more polite young things already in hot pursuit.
They chased the wretched creature down one aisle of the 747 all the way through the coach cabin, and Odysseus arced around the aft heads — pausing there thoughtfully to dump another load — before coming up the parallel aisle on the other side of the aircraft. The pup really seemed to be enjoying this game, too, and lots of people were laughing and having a fine old time. Until you caught him, anyway. Then, after you managed to get him into his carrier again you looked at the remains of your lunch on the ceiling and all over the cabin floor before walking to the head to clean his crap off your shoes. No one seemed to think the pup was particularly cute by that point, least of all the polite young thing left to clean up the mess all over the cabin.
But another plate appeared and the polite young thing sat beside you for a while, playing with the puppy, of course, while you ate.
“Perhaps he didn’t want to leave his home,” she offered — politely — after you told her about the pup and your grandparents and all that. “Maybe that’s why he is so anxious.”
“I know the feeling,” you managed to say.
“I had a difficult time convincing myself not to stay,” you told the girl. “Sometimes I feel like a tumbleweed, just blowing along where the wind takes me.”
“What stopped you?”
And you had a hard time answering that one, didn’t you? You swallowed hard and quickly turned and looked out the window, hoping maybe she wouldn’t see the tears in your eyes. You told her about your best friend and your (ex-)wife and all the unfinished business you’d left behind, notably not going to the hospital to talk with your oldest friend. You know, the one on his deathbed.
“Okay, so you go home and you finish this business. Then what? Is your job so important?”
“Some people think so.”
“But not you?”
“No, not me.”
“If you are so unhappy, maybe it’s time you do something about it.”
She patted you on the knee before she got up to tend to the other passengers and that simple gesture felt utterly remarkable, didn’t it? Because no one had touched you with anything like this girl’s empathy, and you could still feel where her hand had been in that one little slice of time several minutes later.
And you realized that not only were you still on the outside looking in, you were really quite alone out there.
Except for that little ball of fur curled up in his carrier down there beside your feet.
A few minutes later the polite young thing drops by and asks for your telephone number and she doesn’t explain why and you don’t question her, you just pull out your old Mont Blanc and scribble the number down on the slip of paper she handed you.
You smiled at the polite young thing when you left the plane, and it was kind of funny how your eyes lingered on her hand.
Your stomach burns, and you can’t sleep, and by that point the puppy has eaten all your running shoes and what the fuck, where would you run to, anyway? Classes start in a few days and you are finishing up the reserve reading list for your senior seminar because that has to be filed at the Kennedy School Library by noon tomorrow.
Odysseus is now Ody, and not without good reason. Ody, you seem to recall, was the idiot dog in the old Garfield comic strip, and that Ody was truly clueless but always happier than hell. And so is your Ody. He could run into a rock wall and come back smiling, because that’s just who he is. Nothing makes him unhappy…nothing. Except being ignored. And…isn’t that odd?
But not so you.
Nothing seems to make you happy these days.
Your old friend the vice president called you the night before and asked you to serve on a presidential commission. You neither accepted nor declined, but told your old friend you’d let him know.
Could you do that again? Live that life? Didn’t you come to Boston to get away from all that? The state dinners at the White House. The endless parade of self-important buffoonery. Lunch at Cosmos Club and endless nights on flights to Moscow or Beijing with SecState. Wasn’t once enough?
You look in the mirror as steam from the hot water tap begins to obscure the reflection you don’t really need to look at anymore. The crow’s feet are deeper now, the gray hair a little more white, only now Ody is there staring at you, wondering when you’ll grab the leash and take him for a run.
You look at him and snarl: “Stop eating my shoes and maybe we’ll go for a run! Okay?”
He shakes his head and walks to the back door and you hear his discontent as he slips through the doggie door to the relative freedom of the fenced-in yard, which reminds you it’s time to scoop the poop again. The glassed in back porch is his now and he has a bed and a pile of toys and easy access to the yard, but your little backyard isn’t exactly a high alpine pasture, is it?
No, it isn’t.
The phone rings. It’s Margaret. Maggie. Your (ex-)wife, the one who left the broomstick in the corner by the ‘fridge. She’s calling from work. Tom, your oldest friend in the world, has taken a turn for the worse.
“Robert, he really wants to talk to you.”
“Any reason I should — that you haven’t mentioned already?”
“He’s dying, Bobby.” You remembered that pleading voice, didn’t you? How she only called you Bobby as a last resort. “Please,” she added, tossing in a little insult to go with the injury.
“I’ll try. This afternoon, maybe.”
So Ody came in from the yard right after you found an old pair of sneakers in a hall closet and at least he was happy now. After an hours walk around Cambridge Common he seemed content again…
And the phone rang again.
“This is Heidi. Perhaps you remember me?”
“I was your flight attendant last month, when you returned with the puppy?”
“Ah, yes, how are you?”
“I have the day free and I wondered if you might like to meet up?”
“Sure, that sounds nice. What did you have in mind?”
“We are at the Hilton, at Logan. Could you pick us up?”
“Oh, sorry, just a figure of speech.”
“Say about noon? I am in room 412.”
“Yes, just come on up.”
“Alright,” you say to the stirring in your groin. “About noon, then.”
Ody is staring at you again. His eyes sparkle, and he seems amused.
You pull the cover off the old 911 in the garage and as the weather’s nice you pop off the Targa and put it in the front boot. Trickle charger off the battery terminals then check the fluid levels before you start her up and let her idle for a minute, then back out of the garage and drive down the ancient alley and off you go, down Mass Avenue towards downtown. Traffic isn’t too bad and there’s a snap in the air that feels a little like autumn.
Windows up when you hit the Sumner Tunnel and you immediately regret leaving the top off, but that’s life. You park at the Hilton and take the elevator up to four and find her room. Then a gentle knock on the door and there she is, in shorts and a polo shirt and wearing a smile brighter than the sun. She slips into a pair of sneakers and grabs a little backpack and she’s ready to go.
“So,” you said to her as the two of you stepped inside the elevator, “what would you like to do?”
“First I want to see the puppy, then you will let me take you to lunch.”
And you smiled at that, didn’t you? You hadn’t expected someone so bold.
You opened the door to the car for her and she didn’t like that. “I expected you to have an old Mercedes cabriolet. Why a Porsche?”
“Timeless lines, I guess.”
“And that appeals to you?”
“You do not belong here, Robert.”
“I do not have to return until tomorrow afternoon. Does that appeal to you, as well?”
And you looked at the invitation in her oceanic blue eyes just before she smiled at you.
You walked around the Commons, the three of you, the next morning, and she held your hand for a while.
“Will you take the job in Washington?” she asked at one point.
And you shook your head. “No. I can’t go down that road again.”
“So? You will stay here and teach?”
“Do you mind if I ask you something?”
She smiled. “Of course I do. To answer a question with another question…?”
“What about you?”
“Me?” she asked.
“Yes. What are your plans?”
“Robert, this all sounds so very serious.”
“I suppose I will continue to fly. Does this seem natural to you?”
“I have to teach this year, but after that I don’t know.”
“And what are you thinking of, dear Robert?”
“What it would feel like to wake up by your side — everyday.”
“Yes, this is serious. Oh, my…”
“And that must annoy you. Sorry.”
“I am not annoyed, Robert. I finally called you because I could not get you out of my mind, and I had to know…”
“I see. And what do you know now that you didn’t know before?”
“Your dog snores.”
“He does. And don’t forget…his farts stink.”
“I usually come her twice a week, and I have at least one night off. We could see if…”
“I know what I see, Heidi, and I know how I feel.”
“And after a year? Then what? You return to Wengen?”
And you nodded yes, didn’t you?
“You could turn your back on all this?”
“I think so. Yes.”
“And what if I wanted to come live here? Then what?”
“Then we would do that.”
“I see,” she said.
“Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“I think maybe this is so, to live here at least for a while. But…”
“There are other things I would like to do.”
“Is everything so easy with you, Robert?”
It used to be. At least that’s what you wanted to say to her. “Actually, I think I’m rather grumpy.”
“Ah, so you are trying to fall in love, are you not? You are only showing me the easy side of your personality.”
“Isn’t that what everyone does in the beginning?”
She smiled again. “Only if you’ve something to hide.”
“I know. And your farts smell not so good too, I think.”
You dropped her at the Hilton then beat the afternoon rush in time to take Ody out for a quick walk. You showered and changed then took the Red Line from the Yard down to Mass Gen, all the while trying not to smile at the remains of the day.
Yet you had always hated this place, this house of dis-ease, mainly because it took Margaret from you. It sucked the life out of your marriage and left a dried out husk to wither in the sun. But what did you expect? She did her residency in oncology, and all that was to be expected. You knew that going in. Now, as you walked over to the Cancer Center, you took a too familiar elevator up to the patient floor, lost in thoughts of Heidi and Wengen and doing your best to ignore the hideous hospital smell assaulting your senses. A couple of residents got in and chattered about drug interactions until the elevator doors opened again, and it’s kind of funny, but why does “interaction” stick out in your mind even now? Maybe something to do with dividing lines?
But wasn’t that what this whole attitude thing of yours all about? Some kind of surreptitious interaction between you and Margaret and Tom that only you were privy to?
And there she was. Margaret, at the nurses station making notes and additions to patient charts as you walked up to her side, then you leaned over next to her, as ever your disarmingly charming self.
“Hey, Bobby. Thought you were coming yesterday?”
“Getting ready for classes. Something always comes up.” Oh, weren’t you punny?
She shrugged, flipped through a stack of lab reports, scribbled furiously on one of the charts, cursing under her breath as she wrote.
“Well? What am I doing here?”
“Tom wants to talk to you. And I’d like you to listen for once in your life, if you think you can do that?”
Maybe you can’t remember the way you crossed your arms reflexively, maybe even belligerently, and while you could tell Margaret was prepared to be pissed at you, for some unknown reason she didn’t go there. She seemed too tired that night to be angry at you anymore. Too tired, you thought, to feel much of anything anymore.
Did you do that to her?
“Alright. So, how is he?”
“Look Bobby, I’m not going to lie to you. This is it. Tonight, maybe tomorrow. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“He’s dying? I think I got that a while ago. What’s changed?”
“Who’s handling his treatment?”
“Okay, so what else has changed? What new ground do we have to cover?”
“You know, Robert, I understand this is hard for you to grasp, but we were unhappy. You and I. We’d been unhappy for years. Everyone knew it. Tom knew it, he wanted to help…”
“I’m sure he did,” you said, troweling on the sarcasm extra thick.
“Just shut up and listen.”
“You’re wrong about that, Robert. He was the one that got me to a counselor, he was the friend that worked his ass off to keep us together, and I fell in love with him all over again because of all he did — to help us. Really, all he wanted was to help. I can’t believe you won’t accept that, Bobby. It wasn’t what he…he didn’t set out to break us apart. And neither did I. But, yes, you’re right. It happened.”
“And then God, bless his little heart, leaned over and tossed a few thunderbolts your way? Just rewards and all that…”
“Goddamnit Bobby, please tell me you don’t think that way. I mean it. Are you some kind of narcissistic child? Can’t you grow up? Or don’t you have feelings for anyone but yourself?”
“None that I’m aware of.”
You’d meant that sarcastically of course, but do you remember the way she looked at you? Like the truth had finally dawned on her?
He was your best friend, after all. Come to think of it, you’d been best friends since second grade. Since you were, what? — seven years old. You played ice hockey together all the way through high school, you both made it into Harvard, but then he went on to Johns Hopkins to med school while you stayed in Boston to finish up at The Fletcher School. And Margaret had been there with both of you through it all, hadn’t she? Well, at least since third grade. And he was Best Man at your wedding and it was awkward because everyone knew he still loved Margaret at least as much as you did. Once or twice in junior high they pretended to be an item, right? Remember?
Yet some part of you was always convinced Tom never got married because he was just waiting in the wings to swoop-in and take Margaret away from you someday. All the buddy-buddy shit doesn’t mean a thing when women are in-play. Isn’t that what you always told one another?
So, deep down you were kind of surprised when you said that, and then you saw not anger in her eyes, but something more like dread. Maybe even fear. Was that what you wanted to convey to her that night? Did you want her to think you’d been a psychopath all your life? Did you know you succeeded beyond your wildest dreams?
“I’d kind of hoped you’d be able to get past all that tonight, Robert,” she finally said. “Throw away the hate for just a few minutes. If anyone deserves your hatred, it’s me. Not Tom.”
“No problem, Maggie. I hate you. There. You satisfied now?”
But she’d turned then. Turned and walked away. Got in an elevator and disappeared. You saw a nurse had been listening and now she was shaking her head silently, reprovingly.
“What room is he in?” you sighed.
“I’ll walk you down. I’ve got to adjust his IV.”
When you walked in the door the sight of your friend ripped through your soul like a scythe. In your mind’s eye he was still playing forward, passing the puck to you against Andover, helping you score the winning goal one more time, and the State Championship was yours again. Winners never quit, do they? But this guy looked like he had quit, therefore it couldn’t possibly be Tom.
But there was no running from the truth of the matter that night. Truth was staring you down, and winning, so take your reason and shove it up your faithless ass.
You wanted to check the name on the door because there just had to be some kind of mistake. That pale yellow scarecrow wasn’t your friend; couldn’t be — no way! No fucking way! You could see his catheter bag hanging down almost to the floor and his urine was blood red, so now that his kidneys were failing the end was coming on fast. Human, after all, forever and ever.
And so there he was, and this was it. The eyes never lie and you could see Death in those same glassy-brown orbs you’d known all your life. You’d always loved him — in your way, and you knew he loved you, the way best friends do. That’s why this betrayal hurt so bad, right? Best friends don’t stab you in the back?
You went to the side of the scarecrow’s bed, looked down into the stranger’s searching eyes one more time. And what did you see?
Hope? Scorn? Or was that Pity you saw? No time for disguises now. You can run but can you run forever?
But, did you feel the love you’d known for decades. The love the three of you had known as kids and as students and on Friday night pub crawls and baseball games at Fenway. When your father died, who was with you? When his mother died, who did he turn to?
Why had it taken you so long to remember all that? Why had it been so easy to forget?
Can you remember that night? You took his hand in yours, squeezed gently because it felt like the bones in his hand might shatter. Death became really real, didn’t it? And where was your line between faith and reason that night?
“Thanks for coming, Bobby,” he’d said to you, and it was like the issue had been in some doubt. In doubt! Can you imagine that?
How could he think that? After all that you’d been through together?
Indeed. The line was dissolving even then, wasn’t it? How could God do this?
Yet all you could do was nod your head. You had to come. You needed to tell him goodbye.
You sat with him that night for a long time, came to terms you could live with, and even when Margaret dropped by for a while it almost felt like old times for a quiet slice of time. Sure, he’ll hop out of bed and off we’ll crawl to another pub – any time now. Death isn’t for the likes of you and me…
But no. We didn’t do that.
And after a while you left his side, after Death came for your friend. And Margaret was out there in the hall. Waiting for this moment and hating you all the same.
Yet she hugged you and cried into your chest. For a long time. You leaned back, wiped away a tear running down her cheek just the way you always used to, then you kissed her on the forehead and even her hair smelled the same and it all came back like a fierce tide leaving you washed and dirty. Without saying a word you hugged her again, and in a way your hands around her still felt so right.
So right. Maybe because for a while the lines had blurred. Confusion is like that.
You sat in roaring silence on the ride back out to Cambridge, lost in passing memories that had all happened on the other side of this glass thing called ‘window.’ Memories of Margaret and Tom and a kid you used to know who still looked a little like you. The same hard steel rails, the same jarring ride, and when you walked out onto the sidewalk in front of the Coop the world was bathed in the very same moonglow. Silver light casting black shadows, and so what if you thought the full moon looked unnaturally hard and bright that night. Maybe you’d looked across this landscape a hundred times before but everything looked different that night. Really strange and different. Tom was gone now, wasn’t he? There’d be no new memories made with him. With the three of us.
Not even in these shadows.
Because there were no lines in these shadows.
You stopped then, held your hands out in the silver glow and regarded your own gray flesh, your own remorseless humanity, and what did you feel? Did you find yourself wanting? All the elements that had come together to make Tom were on their way to the basement now. Tom was dissolving in the morgue. He’d make no more memories, and now all that was left was a dark, lonely feeling in the pit of your stomach.
“What the fuck am I doing?” you said to the silver air. “What have I been doing?”
You walked to your house, slipped the key in the lock and opened the door. Ody came bounding up to you and you picked him up and brought his cold little nose up to yours and you could still smell his puppy-breath and for a while he made your heart sing.
Tom wanted his ashes spread at sea and one of his friends came forward and offered to take you and a few other friends out onto Massachusetts Bay. You and Tom’s friends and Margaret sailed about half way out to P-town and a pod a shiny black whales came by just as Tom’s ashes fell into the black water. The whales circled the boat a few times and you wondered if they understood the words people spoke into the blackness.
Sailing back into Boston you looked up as the boat motored along under the flight path of jets leaving Boston and you watched as a Swissair 747 lifted and climbed into the evening sky. Even Margaret noticed the smile on your face.
You knot the tie around your throat while you look at yourself in the mirror and you try to shake the feeling that a hangman has slipped his noose around your neck, and that suddenly your life feels like a never-ending trip to the gallows. You take Ody for a walk and he seems to notice that something is different this morning. That something in you has changed.
Without saying a word you slip from the house and walk across campus to the History building, and you walk unnoticed into the seminar room you will call your own for the next three months. You put your case down on the table and turn to write your name on the blackboard:
‘Dr Robert Drucker: American Foreign Policy – 1945-1989’
You scribble out your office number and student hours and take a seat, sit quietly beside the podium while the early morning stragglers stumble in. Some wise-ass brings an apple and puts it on the table by your case. The kid smiles, says something witty and wholly unoriginal and you turn, look away, because the thought of having to deal with another pimply-faced Ivy League smart-ass makes you want to vomit. Your head hurts, you want to run away, and you think anywhere but here would do. Anywhere but here. But hey, no such luck. Not today. The puppet has his strings and so dance he must.
There are twelve people in the seminar, and the waiting list for your course is a long one. You’re very popular, or so you’ve been told. The kids love you. Politicians still come to you for advice, even though you decided against the offer to work in the White House one more time. Big deal. Once was enough. Never again. Everyone read about it in the Globe and for a moment you were famous again. Hah!
The fact of the matter is you are comfortable living in Boston. You gaze at The Yard through trees full and green with summer and at all the old red brick buildings everywhere you turn and this place feels almost like home. Teaching is what you do now, it is who you are. As you sit there looking at the new faces all the old passion returns for a moment, and now with the windows thrown open and the air full of the smell of sharpened pencils and new notebook paper, you’re almost happy to be alive again, to be here doing what you do best. You look at the assembled faces gathered around you, inquisitive faces alive with bright promise, and you smile — because Heidi will be here this Friday morning.
You’re walking Ody after lunch when you realize it’s going to be a problem, this leaving the pup home alone all morning. There’s simply not enough time between classes to walk home and back. The doggie-door works, but not for a Bernese Mountain Dog. They need to really get out and stretch those more than ample legs. Then you see Peter Kauffman leaving the faculty offices – with a huge Golden Retriever on lead – and he’s headed your way.
“Hey, Bob, didn’t know you had a Berner,” he said as he walked up to you. Ody tried to curl up around your ankles about that time, shaking like a leaf as the big Golden came up and began giving him the once over.
“Got her in June. Trying to figure out what to do with her while I’m in class.”
“Take her with you,” Pete said as he ambled along by your side.
“Take her to class. At this age it’ll only take a few days to train him to sit quietly…”
“No rule against it?”
“Nope. Not for faculty, anyway. How was Switzerland?”
“Still calling my name.”
“Oh? Got a new girlfriend?”
“No, I get tired of the mess.”
“Ah. Like C. S. Lewis, a bachelor to the end.”
“Dogs are much more practical,” Kauffman said contentedly. “Right. Well, off we go!”
Seminar that next morning was a subdued affair – like you knew it would be. The first assignment you gave them required a solid two hundred pages of overnight reading, and as you surveyed the red-eyed, coffee-stained seniors struggling to keep their eyes open you just had to smile to at yourself, didn’t you. Except today you’d brought Ody along. You had him on your lap when the students filed in and all the girls in the class had to come over and ooh and ah all over him. Fun, wasn’t it, to see the promise of love in all those clear eyes?
That first Friday as office hours drew to a close you stared impatiently at the clock on your wall and closed the door behind you promptly at noon. Into the Porsche and across town and she was waiting for you on a bench outside the Hilton. The way she felt in your arms left no doubt.
“How many days?” you asked.
“All weekend. I return Monday evening.”
“What do you feel like doing?”
“Going for a drive.”
Ody sat in her lap while you made your way through town to Interstate 93 and about three hours later you pulled into the Mount Washington Hotel, a stone’s throw from the site of the post-war Bretton Woods conference. Jet lag had caught up with her by then and she crashed as soon as you got her in the room, yet just a few minutes later Ody commandeered the leash and off the two of you went.
It was already quite cool in the far northern reaches of New Hampshire, and this was the pups first real experience with cold weather — but he took to it like a duck to water. In fact he took off after some ducks in the water and when he came out he was wearing his favorite shit-eating grin — before shaking off all that water and covering you in the process. You took him back to the room and then you both took a warm shower, going through a half-dozen towels drying him off enough to finish him with the wall-mounted blow dryer. Heidi woke up a little later and she was starving. Not really for food, as it happened.
You spent two days with her, two very special days as it happened. You talked about the future and she listened to your hopeful incantations. It was snowing up on the summit of Mount Washington and the sight reminded you of Wengen. She squeezed your hand after that and everything felt so impossibly right. Maybe even like Destiny had finally played a winning hand.
You drove back to Boston Sunday afternoon and while you unpacked and started laundry she called and checked-in with dispatch. She’d been reassigned. A flight on Wednesday evening from JFK to Geneva, so now you’d have two more nights. Very happy now, you took her to dinner then walked around the tourist traps by the harbor before heading to the house to take Ody out for his long walk. You walked around Harvard Yard then over to the classroom building where you spent most of your life these days and for some reason all that seemed impressive to her, like what he did was almost magic.
You left her to teach your Monday morning seminar then met her for lunch and she spoke a lot about what life in Boston might be like—together. She could see herself living here, and she smiled at the sight. You smiled, too.
You liked taking care of her. Cooking breakfast for her. Rubbing her head while she pretended to sleep on your chest. The way she played with Ody. And with you. It was all so impossible, so impossible you’d already forgotten about Tom and Margaret and Wengen and all the other impossible contradictions in your life. And why not? Was this kind of happiness some kind of original sin? Not hardly. You told yourself that a lot that week.
You took her to Logan early on Wednesday so she could grab a shuttle down to Kennedy, and she told you to think about next Sunday as she was fairly certain she’d have the day free.
It was one of those crisp New England days, not a cloud in the sky, and she called you from JFK — “just to hear your voice” — and oh, how wonderful those words had felt, as pure as the light of the moon overhead. She had to go, but she couldn’t wait to see you on Sunday.
It was all over. On CNN, early the next morning. The Swissair MD-11 she had been on had somehow caught fire and crashed into the sea off Nova Scotia. So while you slept she passed from your life, and suddenly the line between reason and faith seemed very clear indeed. She was gone now, and there was no sensible reason for her going. Like Tom, there were no new memories to be had, none that you would share together, and oddly enough even Ody seemed to understand that something terrible had happened. You could see it in his eyes, too. Just as he had seen your grief.
You called Swissair, just in case someone had survived. You told them what little there was to know about your relationship and they were very sympathetic but no, there were no survivors. But now you were alone and there was no one to call, no shoulder to lean on, just the warm brown eyes of the friend by your side. He was still just a pup, though a very large one, but he came to you and held onto you while you cried. You tried to eat something and that didn’t work so you called your cousin Elizabeth in Wengen and tried to explain what had happened.
“When can you come home to us?” she wanted to know, clearly aghast at your loss.
But no easy answers came to you. Maybe Thanksgiving, definitely Christmas, but we’ll have to see.
She rang off but then she called you again an hour later. “I will be there tomorrow morning,” she said, and she gave you flight numbers and times before she told you she loved you. Yes, that word again.
And so you told her you loved her too. No hesitation. She was, after all, family, and you were beginning to realize that there are few things more important. That, and of course a nice big dog that eats all your running shoes.
A representative from Swissair called a few minutes later and asked if you wanted to go to New York for updates, but when you explained you had family coming from Switzerland to Boston you heard a subtle shift in tone.
“You are from Switzerland?”
“I was born there and I still have family in Wengen, so yes, I guess I am.”
“I show we have a diplomatic passport on file for you? Is this still active?”
“For special assignments only now, but yes, I’m still active.” She also wanted to know your cousin’s name and flight number, and where she would be staying in the States and you told her. She gave you her name and left her number and told you that anything you needed in this regard would be handled by the Swiss people. Then, strangely enough, she said I was now regarded as a part of the Swissair family and you thanked her for that even as the words tumbled around in your brain.
Part of the family?
And there is was again…that feeling of calm certainty. Of belonging to something greater than oneself, something with a feel of permanence about it. Was there a deeper reason for a feeling like this, something not simply to be taken as a matter of faith, perhaps? Something almost communal, passed along in genetic memory? Like need, the need to belong?
You had no idea how or why, but an hour later a reporter for the Globe knocked on your door and he wanted to ask questions for a story he was working on about the crash. Something about the “human angle,” about the survivors of tragedies like this. There wasn’t a whole lot to tell, was there? Heidi was all new, she was the way ahead. And now she was gone.
“What else can I tell you?” you managed to say.
“So, you fell in love with her after a flight you had been on with her?”
“Yes, that about says it all.”
And your story was on the bottom of the front page of the next morning’s paper, and just like that all your co-workers and all your students knew about that hidden part of your life. Essentially everything there was to know, too, because you’d left nothing out — but there wasn’t all that much to tell. Not yet. Your old friend the vice president called as you were leaving to go to the airport to pick up Elizabeth and he expressed his sympathy and told you he would pray for you because you were like family to him.
That word again. But the way it was bandied about…did it really mean anything anymore?
Elizabeth was a rock. But then again she always had been. She was the glue that bound you to all the other people in that faraway valley. To your family. Ody remembered her and he seemed to remember all the people in that faraway valley too, and you could feel the longing in his eyes — and in his heart — and for a moment you couldn’t see a difference between the two of you. Had you already grown so close? Something in the soil, perhaps?
Margaret came by around midday and she wanted to tell you how sorry she was. You wondered how she knew before you remembered the story in the Globe. Elizabeth was as ever welcoming and she hugged Elizabeth because they had been close once, because Elizabeth was family once — until she wasn’t. So odd. How did something so permanent become so disposable…?
The academic dean called and gave you the week off. The Swissair representative called and advised there would be a memorial service on the rocky shore close to where the MD-11 disappeared and you told her you would be honored to attend.
And it was all so disconcerting. A week later all the ceremonies were over and done with and there was nothing left but the dance of the lawyers and the apportionment of blame, an endless game of avoiding the one true thing.
Heidi was gone. The future you had seen taking shape was gone. And soon enough Elizabeth returned home. A few weeks passed and grim details about how Heidi passed filled the papers but you couldn’t read about those things. You didn’t want to know. Pain is pain and what more did anyone need to know?
Margaret called one Sunday in October and asked to come over. She told you she couldn’t take living in Boston any longer and that she had taken a position out in California. You knew the truth of the visit even before she did. She was coming to say goodbye. She wanted to see you one more time, maybe just to remember other times. You hugged once before she left and all the anger disappeared after that, didn’t it? The little girl you’d known all your life slipped into memory, the same place Tom was now.
Your students were different after all that confusion. They looked at you differently, and some even talked to you differently. Almost deferentially. Maybe like you’d been to that place no one ever wants to go to and somehow you’d survived. They seemed surprised when you smiled at someone’s lame joke and as the term drew to a close it was a given that everyone of them loved Ody.
He had become the glue holding you together by then, and everyone knew it. Everyone but you.
“So, what are you doing for Christmas?” Sarah Bergstrom asked. She was the token Neanderthal among the faculty, a deeply conservative former NSC staffer now teaching national intelligence law at the Kennedy School.
“Oh, going home I suppose.” Ody stops and looks at you, then at her. His tail sweeps the sidewalk and you smile when you hear the little swish-swishing sound he makes.
“No kidding? And that’s home?”
“The only home I have now,” you add, though quite unnecessarily.
“Much skiing around there?”
“You could say that, yes.”
“Do you ski?”
“Only when absolutely necessary,” you tell her, now wishing she would disappear. She’s cute in the way fireplugs can be. Short, solid, kind of like a little girl’s version of a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Tough, because the word is she’d gone through the Army’s Ranger school at Fort Bragg on her way to becoming a major in the DIA. She wasn’t a pretender, and you’d felt a curious respect for her determination and…grit.
“I’ve always wanted to learn,” she adds, now looking right into you, pleading.
“And…do you think you could teach me?”
And suddenly you feel like you’re walking along the razor’s edge and you don’t know why. You despise her politics and you know she can’t stand yours, so what the Hell is going on here…?
You take a deep breath. You look her in the eye.
“Sure. Why the Hell not,” is about all you manage to say but you have no idea why you said that.
“How do I get there?”
“Gimme your passport number and I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay.” Maybe she can’t believe what just happened and she looks more shocked than relieved, yet her face is an open book. Guileless. Open. Honest and at the same time curious. And like a little girls, maybe a little scared of what she’d just done.
Then she looks at you again and she smiles and it feels alright to you, almost comfortable. “Could I take you out to dinner?” she asks you, and you smile right back.
“I’ve got to go home and feed Ody.” He has been watching this exchange like he was watching a tennis match, his head bouncing back and forth as the words bounced between the two of you and you can’t help but wonder what he’s made of all this.
She walks along with you all the way across campus, all the way to your house and you ask her in. You feed the pup and get him settled on his porch then drop your briefcase by your desk. She asks to use the WC and you change into tennis shoes while she’s occupied then it’s off you go, hi-ho, hi-ho.
Ody could not fly so you booked passage on the Queen Elizabeth 2. Two staterooms. Then two rooms at the Victoria in Interlaken. You took Sarah shopping. For skis and boots and all the other things she’d need. You could tell she was having fun and, you had to admit, you were too. Life goes on. Right? Isn’t that what people kept telling you? That you had to move on? Why? Because nothing is forever? Because you have to keep reinventing yourself?
Elizabeth was a little wary, her response more reserved than you’d expected. And why not. She’d never done anything like this in her life; she wasn’t the impulsive sort. Come to think of it, neither were you. At least you hadn’t been.
What had happened?
Had the line between reason and faith grown a little too blurry for you? Too blurred, even for you? But wasn’t all that just a matter of personal conviction? Why would she care? She was, after all, family. Yet you felt something in her voice, something unapproving, even after you explained that Sarah was just a colleague who wanted to learn to ski.
How very odd indeed.
Crossing the Atlantic in the QE2 in late November was hardly a good idea. Even Ody was seasick. Sarah was beyond seasick. She was green and any mention of food sent her back to bed. You called the ship’s surgeon and he gave her “the shot” and Sarah really went to bed after that. In the meantime you and Ody walked the canine approved promenade and the two of you stood with your faces to the wind, his ears streaming and when you leaned on the mahogany rail he stood next to you and you held him before you took off together on your walk. The next morning Sarah was up and starving, the seas were a little less boisterous too, and after breakfast she joined you and the pup for a steady five mile jog. She felt better after that, and so did Ody.
You took the train to Paris and connected for another that would take you onward to Basel and Bern and then finally to Interlaken. Sarah was a stolid traveler, she helped with Ody while you managed all the luggage and skis. Elizabeth was there at the station to pick you up, kind of an advance guard the family had sent to reconnoiter the situation. She joined you for dinner and went for a walk with you and Ody afterwards.
“Why did you bring this stranger, Robert?” she asked as you walked along the river.
“That’s…absurd, and you know it.”
“It is, isn’t it? I’m sorry that I don’t have a better answer for you.”
“Do you love this woman?”
“Love her? Hell no, Elizabeth. I can hardly stand to be around her…”
“Don’t be sarcastic…”
“Sorry, but I’m not being sarcastic.”
“What? You can’t be serious…!”
“Liz? She asked me to teach her to ski. That’s all there is to it, okay?”
“Do you expect to bring her up to the house for Christmas?”
“If you want to invite her, fine.”
“Would you come without her?”
She stopped in her tracks and shook her head. “Robert, you are an impossible human being. I mean…you know that, don’t you?”
And you looked down into the inky black water, then you pointed at a passing leaf. “See that? That leaf?”
She turned and looked. “The leaf? Yes. What of it?”
“That’s me, Liz. That’s me, just passing through. Lost on a current and headed nowhere.”
And she came close and took your arm in hers. “Oh, poor Robert. What are we going to do with you?”
But you didn’t hear her just then. You were too busy staring at that solitary leaf while images of Heidi danced about like sugarplum fairies around Christmas trees you would never share.
Sarah Bergstrom had, literally, only seen snow from the window of an airplane. An orphan, she’d never known anything about families, except that she’d never had one and quite probably never would. Because she wasn’t, she liked to say, date bait. Men didn’t ask her out because men were, generally, afraid of her. A priest had tried to rape her once upon a time, when she was about fifteen — or so she said — and she’d beaten the poor bastard quite literally almost to death. Even the boys in the orphanage didn’t pick fights with her, and that had suited her just fine.
Alabama, near Mobile Bay. Hot, humid summers and dusty winters. An ancient Catholic orphanage, older than old. A big, wide open dormitory had been her only home, and you could see the pain in her eyes when she talked about that place. And she’d gone from frying pan into the fire, enlisting in the Army as soon as she could. Fighting her way into college because she had unusually good language skills. She’s gone to Notre Dame then went through officer’s candidate school. She did it the hard way, but she fought and scrapped her way through, around, and over every obstacle put in front of her — and she always managed to come out ahead of the pack. And, oddly enough, she’d spent most of her career in the Middle East. Now she was teaching at Harvard.
She told her story the next evening at dinner, at Elizabeth and her husband Christian’s home, and all their many children sat around the huge dining room table absolutely enthralled. And Elizabeth looked at you all through dinner, still absolutely mystified. Her children had spent the day with you and Sarah, riding up to the Sphinx, the observatory and restaurant nestled in a notch between the summits of the Eiger and the Jungfrau.
Sarah had of course never seen anything even remotely like the view she enjoyed there, and do you remember the simple pleasure you felt sharing this moment. Her red hair and her sprinkle of freckles, the round sunglasses that looked incongruously hippyish on her, and so very much out of character — or so you thought at the time.
You took her skiing the next day, all of you. Elizabeth had one Olympic silver and two bronzes and two of her kids were headed for the national team, yet they were all home for Christmas and everyone got into the act. It was, you soon realized, teaching by committee — but Sarah was game, the consummate ‘good sport’ — and by the end of her first day on the mountain she was plowing her way down intermediate slopes. It wasn’t, you mentioned to Christian, just her Army training. She was a gifted athlete, very coordinated and strong as an ox, yet she was determined to learn and that made all the difference.
Ody had spent the day with his own family, with his mother and father, and when you picked him up after your long day on the mountain he seemed rejuvenated. He pulled you down to the snow and wanted to wrestle, and even Sarah joined in then, everyone laughing so hard it hurt.
You had planned to have dinner with her at the hotel that night but everyone decided to join in the festivities. It had to be fondue, for Sarah’s sake, and by the time you got back to the hotel she was snockered and Ody was humming along in high voltage bliss and maybe that’s why, when Sarah kissed you, the room began to spin and spin. You put your arms around her, you held onto the feeling because you knew the moment was something precious, something to hold onto and to cherish before it too faded in the moonglow.
Winter. Snow falling through bare limbs and little by little piling up on little edges, waiting to fall on an errant breeze. Classes are more difficult to prepare for; as your hair thins and turns whiter and whiter you realize that you too are waiting for an errant breeze, waiting for the fall. Everything is the same but now everything is so different.
Sarah fell in love with you. Like a heat seeking missile she had homed in on you from the beginning, and she was a patient strategist, an able practitioner of the Art of War. You, on the other hand, could never reciprocate, not now. Not after Margaret, and certainly not after Heidi. You’d fought your war and fallen about as low as you thought a person could only to get back on your feet just in time to get slammed down hard again.
You weren’t just suspicious of love, now you were afraid of it. Afraid that there was nothing left of love but the pain after the fall. You weren’t crazy and you certainly had never been a glutton for punishment, so Sarah Bergstrom and all her impossible little diversionary tactics simply made no sense. Not to you. Not now. Who knows…maybe a few years ago you might still have been willing to at least try.
Yet skiing with her had been fun. Your family loved her, they took her in and for the first time in her life Sarah knew that feeling. And yes, it was all a trivial cliché but so what? Maybe for a few days she’d restored your…oh, wait…what were you going to say? Your faith—in humanity? Yet, in the end, reason won out one more time. After you returned to Boston, once again on that tired old ocean liner, you’d precipitously drifted away from all her impossible expectations. All her maneuverings. After a while she stopped calling you, too.
You took long walks in the snow with Ody and he was finally in his element. He was happy now, happier than he’d ever been, and for some reason, yeah, reason, that was enough for you. You were working on your new book about JFK, writing taking up every waking minute of your day that wasn’t spent in the classroom. Running down obscure references. Scheduling appointments with the few remaining survivors of the Kennedy administration. Recording these interviews, graduate students helping to transcribe all your erudite questions, and winter turned to spring in a haphazard rush to finish writing each new chapter.
And one Saturday morning Elizabeth called and when she asked you about Sarah your pithy evasions were all she needed to know. She didn’t ask again. She did, however, want to know if you were coming home that summer. You were writing a new book, you explained, and she didn’t need to ask about that again, either.
Maybe looking back now you can see you were adrift. You’d cut yourself free from all your obligations to everyone but your work and all you had now was your new best friend, the puppy who never, ever left your side. Except he wasn’t a puppy now. Ody weighed more than you now, and recently you’d needed a real shovel to pick up his turds in the backyard. Still, when you crawled in bed at night there was something about the way he plopped down beside you, resting his chin on your chest as you scratched the top of his head.
Margaret called that summer. She was back from LA. Couldn’t stand it out there, too weird. No traditions and all alone, she’d felt herself…adrift.
“Me too,” you said.
“Think we should take a chance and go out for drinks?” she asked, and you could feel the tender wounds in her voice, the hesitation born of panic and loneliness.
“Why not?” you just managed to say. “You doing anything tonight?”
She moved back in three weeks later. By the time classes resumed in August all the old routines had taken root again. Like when she said “I love you,” as she headed out the door and you replied “Love you too” and it was like your life was on autopilot now. Again.
Ody got along with her. A good thing. And when Elizabeth called and you told her about all that you could hear the catch in her voice, the hesitation. Kind of like ‘are you out of your fucking mind!?’ Except those words really weren’t necessary between the two of you. She could still read you like the open book you’d always been—to her, anyway.
“So, will you be coming home for Christmas, or will you still be writing?”
“No, no, if it’s alright with you we’d like to join you.”
Yet the routines that had, once upon a time, unbound you to Margaret were your undoing. By mid-autumn she couldn’t take it anymore. “You haven’t changed!” she cried as she packed her bags.
“I didn’t know I needed to,” you mumbled as you hooked the leash up to Ody to take him for another very long walk. When you got back to the house she was gone again, though she’d left a note telling you that someone would be by for the rest of her things.
It was about that time that you began to think that maybe there was something wrong. With you. You found a highly recommended shrink and made an appointment, and both of you — Ody and you — went to the appointments. All four of them. The shrink was a pill-pushing idiot who apparently had no interest in talking to his patients. Take this pill now. In two weeks add this one. The pills made you sleepy. You couldn’t get it up. You flushed the remaining pills down the toilet and hopefully the micro organisms down there would be happier and more content as they went merrily on their way to the sewage treatment plant.
You ran into Sarah a few weeks before you were due to leave on the QE2 and she asked how you were doing.
“Horrible,” you said. “How ‘bout you?”
“What’s been going on?” you asked.
“Nothing, Robert. I think I realized that somewhere along the way through summer I wasn’t going to make it without you, then I heard your ex had moved back in with you.”
And you nodded. “She found her broomstick and flew the coop again.”
“Are you okay?” she asked. “You’ve got dark circles under your eyes.”
“I feel like shit. Other than that, I’m just ducky.”
“Like a ping-pong ball, bouncing around all over the place.”
Remember how you nodded?
“When’t the last time you had a physical?”
“Right about the time Reagan was sworn in. Though suicide seemed a logical choice— at the time, anyway.”
The’s she’d put her hand on your forehead and you felt that little electric feeling. She felt it too, but then again that had never been her problem. “I’m taking you to my internist,” she told you in this weird take-charge voice that reminded you she’d been through Ranger training.
Her doc made it as far as your groin. One of your testicles, the left one, was the size and texture of a golf ball. A tech with an ultrasound machine appeared and the next thing you knew the internist was asking if you knew a good oncologist.
There were few moments you’d faced before like that one. You’re naked but for the little open-in-the-back gown you have on and your emotions are already splintering on the jagged edge, but when a physician asks if you know a good oncologist? That takes the cake. You tell her about your ex and she makes the call while you get dressed.
Surgery is scheduled for five in the morning. Tomorrow morning. Sarah stays by your side, she gets you home and in the door. She calls your academic dean then she calls Elizabeth. No one asks questions. Everyone, she says, will be praying for you. And you know—on some unconscious level, perhaps—that Elizabeth is on the phone right now making reservations.
The urologist Margaret set up for the operation meets you in the pre-op ward before. He tells you that when you wake up, if it’s before seven in the morning there was no spread to the cord and it would be clear sailing. If it was around ten, or later than that, then he would have done a so-called retroperitoneal dissection, and that would be bad news. The worst possible outcome. That would mean months of chemo and radiation. Possible urinary incontinence. Sex would more than likely become a memory, a thing of the past.
And oddly enough, as cavalierly as you’ve treated sex all your life, it was that possibility that hit you hardest. You will no longer, that little voice in the back of your head says, be a real man. You will be…what? A eunuch? The castrated court jester? That oddity people whisper about when you aren’t looking?
You are given something to “take the edge off” before you’re wheeled to the OR, and you look at the lights passing by overhead and they are almost like the lights on the subway. Until you are lifted onto the operating table. Those lights don’t go away. They are there to help trained eyes peer inside your guts, to help them see whether you will spend the rest of your life in relative normalcy, or if you will become the freak, the court jester.
You see the light being aimed at your nuts just as your eyes close.
Your eyes open and after the confusion falls apart they seek the big silver clock on the wall and it is eleven thirty and there is nothing left to do but cry for the passing of the man you used to be.
Elizabeth is there with you when Sarah pulls up curbside and an orderly helps you into the front seat. You drive home inside a silent snowfall but you really don’t care what time of year it is anymore. In a way you almost feel like the old you, but that’s just modern biochemistry at work. Doing its thing. Making the pain less painful. But…can it make the unendurable endurable? But…what happened?
Well, after the surgeon handed your nuts and cords over to the waiting pathologist the surgeons and nurses waited for the technician to make slides from your tissues. You know, the cancerous tissues. Inside your testicles They stood there, waiting, waiting for the results while you waited on the table, kind of almost dead to the world. The pathologist with his microscope pronounced the verdict in the court of such things, because he had then pronounced you guilty of cancer in the first degree.
So the surgeons gathered now gathered around your belly and sliced you open. They moved your very own sewage treatment plant out of the way and set about removing all the lymph nodes deep inside the tissues of your lower back, and then they put everything back where it was theoretically supposed to go before they sewed you up.
So now you either took a handful of pain medications every four hours or your midsection felt like an uncontrolled forest fire. You were not yet allowed solid food. Worst of all, Ody was not allowed on the bed—and he had no clue why he’d been pushed out of your life. Sarah took him for long walks. Elizabeth stayed by your side. She never left you unless it was to go to the restroom.
Margaret took care of the rest. The lab work. Setting up chemo. Pain management. In a way, she did all the heavy lifting, the stuff that counted. The things that saved your life, or at least postponed your death. Then again, she’d done all this before, with Tom. Before it was his turn to go to the basement and dissolve. So she knew the score.
Yet she was hopeful. So Elizabeth grew hopeful, then Sarah did too. The Christmas tree went up in your living room and almost everyone that wasn’t racing for the Swiss national team came over to break bread and open presents. And despite it all, Christmas that year didn’t turn into some kind of morbid death watch. It was just Christmas. Candlelight around the big table, Sarah still mesmerized by the comings and goings of family. Ody stealing the show and carrying the day, the center of everyone’s attention. Even yours. Margaret’s too, because she was still a part of this thing Elizabeth called “our family.” When Margaret gave you a gilded nutcracker for Christmas even you laughed.
You had a light load scheduled that winter, just two graduate seminars, and you secured permission to have your students come to the house for class. There were only a half dozen students in each, so it promised to be fun. Elizabeth wouldn’t think of returning home just yet, not until you were back on your feet, and Sarah usually came to these seminars, at least when she could. Ody was still the star of the show, but by the time the term was at an end your students were complaining that they’d never had a more grueling academic experience. C’est la vie, you explained with a shrug. You gotta learn to roll with the punches.
You started your sabbatical one term early because the worst of your chemo was just ahead and you didn’t want to put your students through that. No one, Margaret told you, should go through what you were about to go through.
You were bald then, and very frail. In and out of Mass Gen, depending on how low your white count dropped. The idea of food wasn’t merely nauseating; when Margaret forced you to eat you cursed the gods for allowing you to be born. Deep ridges appeared on your finger nails and the whites of your eyes just didn’t look right. When they started to turn a little yellow Margaret cut back on the chemo, but as soon as they cleared she resumed with a different elixir.
Then came radiation. Which, surprisingly, didn’t hurt. Until it did, usually a few hours later. Same results. Nausea, vomiting. Then the good news; the radiation blew out your pancreas and we’re so sorry about this but you are now an insulin dependent diabetic. Hope you don’t mind giving yourself shots in the belly twice a day for the rest of your life.
Margaret didn’t drop by as usual one afternoon but she called you that night. She was going under the knife in the morning. Ovarian cancer.
And she laughed. Long and hard. Until she started to cry.
“We always did everything together, Bobby. And now this. We get to do this together, too.”
You didn’t know what to say, did you?
All that blather about faith and reason now sounded trivially meaningless.
“Where are you?” you asked her.
“Pack a bag. Bring it over. We’ll take care of each other now.”
Funny the way Elizabeth accepted that decision. Like…she’s family. Of course we’ll take care of her.
And so you did. At least you tried. You all did.
Nine months later and you’re back on the QE2. Sarah is there by your side, yet so to is Margaret, only she is dead now and you have her ashes with you. And some of Tom’s too, because she wanted a little of him to be with her. Elizabeth and Christian are here too, and so are her youngest kids, those not skiing on the circuit. Christmas at sea. That was what Margaret wanted. And she told you both as much as long ago and as far away as last summer.
She saved your life, yet you couldn’t save hers. That doesn’t seem fair now, does it? There was no reason behind this outcome, and no faith could help you make sense of the emptiness you felt.
It is midnight now and the stars so far out to sea shine so brightly they almost make you forget why you are here.
She wanted you to do this by yourself, out here in the star-shine, in the moonglow. Open two urns and let the wind do the rest.
You promised to set aside a little of her, and of Tom, so the three of you could be together again, but now, out here in the moonglow it only takes a few beats of the heart and they are gone. They are together again. You thank her for your life, for the life she shared with you and the life she saved, and you apologized for not being a better friend.
You looked down into the passing wake and you could feel her stretching off into infinity and you wondered, for a moment, what nothingness was really like.
The book did well. Your friend the vice president ran for president and the Supreme Court declared his opponent the victor. Airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, another turned to dust in a field and the handwriting was all over the wall now. All the things Kennedy had tried to do were now undone, all the Old Guard had passed on and now the forces of mediocrity were alive and running free. And it was then you realized your work was over, your time to make a difference was at an end.
You turned in your letter of resignation. You called a realtor and put the house up for sale. It was time to go home. You’d lead a comfortable life, but it would be a quiet time. A time to reflect on all the things that had been left undone.
Bernese Mountain Dogs are huge but their size works against them. A ten year old Berner is an anomaly. Most pass by eight, a few live to see fifteen. Now Ody was five and already he had trouble running. Boston was, you knew, not his home either and it was only fair that you take him home and give him a few years to play with his family on the high alpine pastures you called your own.
Christian had already drawn you a small chalet and construction would begin as soon as you got home and signed a few papers. You and Ody would stay with Elizabeth and Christian until your home was ready.
Sarah had exhausted all her tactical know-how and been defeated by your obdurate refusals to take her in, but she wasn’t a quitter and you never really saw her coming. Her final assault was a fast and furious affair that left everyone breathlessly waiting to see if she had finally worn you out and beaten you down.
Because everyone was counting on her to have done just that. Bets had been placed, and money had been wagered. Yet somehow no one realized that Elizabeth had rigged the game and that you never really had a chance.
She took you to the airport. She parked and helped you into the E Terminal and up to the Swiss check-in counter. Ody was a paying passenger this time, too, with his own ticket and everything. You’d declared him as your service animal and that you couldn’t manage without him—which just happened to be true. And he sat there at the counter in his leather harness looking at Sarah, wondering why there were tears in her eyes and not at all sure what to do about it.
Sarah kissed you there one more time and then she ran from the terminal, and still Ody looked up at you and perhaps he was wondering what was wrong with you. Like maybe you really didn’t you know much of anything about love?
You let a customer service rep take you out to the airplane, some kind of Airbus, and a polite young thing led you to your seat. She helped Ody get his seatbelt hooked up to his harness and he sat there looking out the window like he was looking for Sarah to come running up to the plane any time now, but it never happened. When the jet lined up and sprinted down the runway he looked at you for reassurance then he watched the earth fall away. Once the plane leveled off he curled up by your feet and slept the night away.
But not you.
You kept thinking about Sarah. Your mind lingered in the moonglow of that last kiss. In time, you thought about Heidi walking through the last few days of her life with you by her side, and Ody had been there too. You ran your fingers through the fur on the top of his head and you thought about the way she kissed you that last time. About the way you kissed her. No reason behind it. No lines between that kiss and her passing from this life. There had only been a brief flowering of love, of life, and then it had passed. As Margaret had, and Tom. As you would—one day.
The question now, you thought as your fingers sifted through the memories embedded within this pup’s fur, was simple enough to understand. What of the way ahead? Did you really want to walk all those old roads by yourself?
Sure, she was younger, but not by so many years. You’d never have kids, true, but you’d have a family all your own. Maybe you could raise puppies, more just like Ody? Wouldn’t that be something? And wasn’t something better than nothing?
But didn’t she deserve better than that? After the things she’d been through, the life she’d lived. Didn’t she deserve someone who would love her unconditionally? Why would she settle for anything less? How could you offer her anything less than pure commitment? What would be the point?
“Drucker? Bobby Drucker?”
You turned to face the voice. You didn’t remember his name now but he’d been at the Fletcher School with you and he’d gone on to work for Scoop Jackson in the senate. Strange. You’d always been good with names…
“Jensen. Pete Jensen. Yeah, yeah, of course. How’re you doing?”
“I’m working over in the EOB for Cheney. Say, what are you up to these days?”
“Retired, going home to visit family.”
“Figure of speech.”
“Retiring? Aren’t you a little young for that?”
“Not from where I’m sitting.”
“Say, I read the Kennedy book. Learned a lot.”
“Did you indeed.”
“You still have ties to State?”
“Tenuous at best, why?”
“We’re looking for someone to take over as ambassador in Bern. Until we can round up a replacement. You interested?”
“For how long, do you think?”
“One month. Two at the most, unless the senate holds up the appointment.”
You were thinking then, weren’t you? Like you always did when opportunities like this rolled around. Bern was hardly a half hour away by train from Interlaken and for the next several months you were going to be, well, homeless. You could do it for a month and would forever thereafter be addressed as Herr Doctor Ambassador, with all the rights and privileges thereto conveyed.
“Worth considering,” you’d said, but deep inside you were excited as hell. What a way to go out? On top and recognized for all the years of hard work.
Funny, you thought at the time, the way things work out.
“You’ve done what?!” Elizabeth cried when you told her about your “temporary appointment” to Bern. “Ambassador Bobby? You can’t be serious!”
You’d just shrugged it off, of course, like you always did. All bets were off now.
Christian went over the plans for the new house and he of course had all the paperwork ready. Construction would begin as soon as soil conditions permitted. The three of you had lunch in Bern the very next week, then you took them to the main embassy building for a quick tour. You hadn’t met your staff yet as you were still just settling in, but you promised you’d come home for the weekend.
And Elizabeth had just smiled. She knew you all too well.
Your first full day at the embassy and the chargé announced your staff one by one. Attachés from the armed services were introduced, followed by department heads from Commerce, Treasury, and State.
When your attaché from the NSA was announced you rubbed your eyes and stifled a yawn — just before Sarah Bergstrom sauntered into your office — and right about then everything clicked. All her tactical maneuvering fell into place in the span of one heartbeat.
Peter Jensen hadn’t just appeared out of nowhere on that flight out of Boston. He’d been pre-positioned there, put in place by someone with real cred in the NSA. And her smile said it all. Plain as day.
The chargé closed the door behind Sarah, and you could see traces of a faint smile on his face.
Of course one month turned to two. Actually, it turned into six months. The house Christian had drawn was almost finished by the time you walked out of the embassy that last time, and so glad you were that when you hopped on the train you didn’t look back. Not even once. Ody hopped up onto the seat next to yours and resumed his duties by slobbering all over your trousers, so all was right with his world again. And yours, too.
Elizabeth met you on the platform and took Ody’s leash while you manhandled the chubby little rolling suitcase you’d brought along, then you sat back and enjoyed the short drive out of town and up the valley to her house. There was, you were certain, nothing quite like this valley in summer.
You rolled down the window and Ody’s ears were soon sailing on the breeze. His jowls, too. And after the car rolled to a stop you let him run free—because leashes weren’t a necessity up here. His parents soon came bounding up the drive and within seconds they were a tumbling bundle of fur, before they took off up the mountain looking for squirrels or birds or whatever caught their fancy.
“How old is he now?” Christian asked.
“Five, I think. Sometimes I forget.”
“All too conveniently, I suspect,” Elizabeth added, chidingly reminding you of your track record.
“You should get another puppy,” Christian said, “from a different breeder. Have puppies. He won’t live forever, you know?”
“Well, with any luck at all our batteries will run out on the same day.”
“I added facilities in the lower floor in case you decide to.”
“To do what?”
“You might as well, Robert. I’ve never seen anyone who loves dogs as much as you.”
“That’s because,” Elizabeth sighed, “no one does. They couldn’t possibly…”
“Precisely,” Christian barked. “Just so!”
Elizabeth looked at her watch. “Why don’t you two get going? The bank closes soon.”
Remember her smile? All innocence and without a shred of guile in sight. You asked her to keep an eye on Odysseus then hopped in Christian’s Volvo and off you went. You had more papers to sign at the bank, to authorize final payments to contractors, then he slid through traffic over to main railway station.
And unbeknownst to you, Sarah had just arrived. She was standing near the taxi stand with two huge suitcases and when you looked at Christian he had to look away to hide his grin.
That’s when you hopped out and ran over to give her a hug.
When more pieces to the puzzle snapped into place.
‘Damn military minds,’ you grumbled. ‘Always think of everything.’
You let her sit up front this time. She’d have to learn how to drive here soon enough. Dinner that night was a pleasant summer affair, fruits and a salad, some sweet white wine. Then the four of you walked up to the house, the new house, and Christian gave her the deluxe tour while you and Elizabeth threw sticks for Ody and one of his new brothers. You were looking down to the valley floor watching a train heading up valley, picking up the last of the day’s tourists coming down from the Eiger run, and you just had to shake your head.
“It’s paradise, you know? This valley, this life. I still cannot for the life of me figure out why our grandparents left this place.”
“Oh, perhaps a thousand years in one place was enough for them. Time for a change, you know?”
You felt Sarah come up beside you and she reached for your hand. A simple enough gesture, innocent in her way. She wasn’t going to gloat, was she? She and Elizabeth had been in cahoots from the get-go.
“I like your house,” she sighed. “Room for a kennel, I see.”
“Our house,” you replied. “Me and Ody.”
You felt her deflate just a little, like maybe she’d won a skirmish but not the war.
Then you added: “And yours too, if you think you could stand living here.”
She was still way too strong and when she squeezed your hand you thought you heard bones snapping.
Once upon a time, when Sarah was a teenager and not long after a certain priest tried to rape her, she and a bunch of kids from the orphanage were taken to see a James Bond movie at a cinema in Mobile, and to this day it was her favorite. It was the one with George Lazenby as Bond, the one where Bond’s new wife is killed at the end. She’d cried and cried when she saw that movie, but she still loved it all the same. Whenever she heard Louie Armstrong sing We Have All The Time In The World she still got all choked up. Pretty weird stuff for an Army Ranger.
Bond’s lair was filmed up on a mountain across the valley from Wengen, above the tiny village of Murren. The place is called Piz Gloria, and from time to time they hold special events up there. Wedding receptions and such, but usually Bond reunions. Friends of yours from Boston and Washington came for the wedding, and of course all your family was there. Even Margaret and Tom were there, in their way. Blofeld did not appear out of the shadows and kill your wife, which was, all things considered, a good thing.
You kept writing, because—why not. You still had things to say, histories to pass along, and time enough on hand to find the work relaxing. Sarah started writing spy novels, which was more up her alley. Ody and Brigette got to work and started churning out puppies and that turned out to be the most physically challenging thing you’d ever done in your life. You’d never realized just how much crap could come out of something so tiny, but, then again, reality is a firm teacher. Wasn’t that what you told your students, once upon a time?
And you forgot all about long walks in the moonglow, at least for a while. The dividing line between reason and faith grew more obscure, or perhaps just a little less relevant, like now—when times were good and life was sweet. You were finally living the American dream, deep inside the warm bosom of an ancient Swiss valley, and you had to admit that life was really pretty good, all things considered.
Carrying big bags of puppy chow was soon a little more trying than it had been, but what did you expect? Your hair was now as white as pure, driven snow, and though your hand was steady and your mind as sharp as ever, something was changing. Aches and pains were to be expected at your age, and once you accepted that you just shut up and got back to work, because nobody likes a complainer.
But one morning the pain in your lower back felt different. In your pelvis, around the lower spine. Over the next few weeks it was obvious your pee was coming out with a lot less force, then one morning you saw blood in the toilet. When Sarah was out with the pups you called and made an appointment with your doc down in town. You had Elizabeth drive you to the appointment. You asked her to come in and wait with you.
Bloodwork followed, then another ultrasound, and there it was. New cancer, in your prostate and it had probably spread up through the spine. Funny, but you’d already guessed that was the case. Odd how you recognize Death when he comes knocking on your door. So the question you asked your physician didn’t exactly come out of the blue.
“If I do nothing, how long will I last?”
Then came the inevitable double-speak: ‘It is impossible to say without deeper diagnostics, more tests and a thorough evaluation by the oncologist,’ and you sighed as you listened to the exhausting liturgy of this new religion. Your first wife had preached from this altar and you knew the lines all too well, and despite all your lingering misgivings the line between reason and faith began to reappear, and with feelings of dread you quickly understood that reason would begin to reassert its hold over the contours of your day-to-day existence.
Elizabeth sat beside you as you absorbed this new reality, but she chose not to speak just yet. She waited until you were back in the Volvo.
“Of course you’ll go see the oncologist,” she stated flatly.
“To fight, Robert. You can’t give up now. You mean everything to Sarah.”
You turned away and looked out the window as the Volvo made its way through the outskirts of town and the way ahead was nothing but snow capped peaks, cold and hard. You swallowed hard to, and maybe you wanted to wipe away an unseen tear but you felt all dried up.
Ody was almost ten now, ancient by the standards of his breed, and he walked up to you ever-so-slowly as you opened the car door. He came up to you and looked into your eyes, then he let slip a long, slow moaning sound. Forlorn, you thought. Because he knew. But Sarah was coming down from the high pasture just then, leading a parade of puppies through ankle high grass sprinkled with bright yellow flowers.
And as you looked at the happiness on her face you turned to Elizabeth. “Okay. Call her back, have her set up the appointment.”
“So? You’ll fight this thing?”
And she took your hand just then, yet she looked away because she was crying. “I couldn’t stand to lose you, Robert. Please, please, I will help all I can…”
“Now you must tell Sarah.”
But Odysseus has other plans, for this is his journey too. He stands and puts his hands on yours and then he scents your hand before he licks and licks. “Yes, old friend,” you hear yourself say, “I promise I’ll fight. I won’t leave you, so don’t you even think about leaving me.”
He looks at you and you’re eye to eye now. His eyes are so deep and brown, the love you find there infinite—like it could go forever and ever. He licks your chin and you nudge the tip of his nose with yours because he understands what that means. He hears Sarah and Brigette just then and he leaves you to go see his children and you know he will go on and on. Forever.
“Is there anything you’d like to do now?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, you know, maybe this weekend we could take the train up top, to the observatory?”
“Up the Eiger? Really? Why?”
“I’m not sure, really, but it almost feels like you can see forever when you’re up there.”
You set aside your misgivings as you look at her, at this the beating heart and bosom of your family, and she smiles her perfect smile at you. You close your eyes and wish away all the pain and the fear, and you hear them then. Margaret and Heidi, away in the moonglow and on the far side of forever. They are calling you now, and you smile.
© 2009 renewed 2022 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…image: Klimpt, The Kiss.
[November \\ Duncan Sheik]