Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
As I stepped out of the cabin, whiteness blinded me. The snow-covered yard glistened under the full sun. Icicles lining the roof of the shed dripped with meltwater. The fir trees, which had stood motionless and black against the gray sky, appeared alive again, green and moist in the fresh light. The footprints that Michael and I had made on the snowy path were dissolving, fading into ovals on the flagstone. Beneath our tracks in the driveway I could see gravel for the first time since we’d arrived. For weeks it had been frigid cold, but now had come this December thaw. I wasn’t certain what day it was, or what time, only that it had to be well after noon already.
Across the road stood the young lobsterman’s truck. Brown water seeped from the icy muck caked to its undercarriage. The red tarp covering his woodpile showed through a dome of melting snow. Up the slope, on the roof of his little white Cape, smoke rose from the chimney into the sheer blue.
I had to call my sister. I had to tell her what had happened. Hours had passed already, and still I had spoken to no one.
I began walking toward the village. Past the summer cottages closed up for the season, and the houses of the old retired couples with their porches glassed in and their lights on all day behind chintz curtains. In the deep cold this walk had been silent. But now I could hear the brook as it ran down through the woods, and under the road, emptying onto the rocky beach. I could hear the squawk of gulls, and even the trickle of water at the foot of the snowbanks, each rivulet wiping clean a streak of dried salt on the pavement.
I wanted to hear Seth’s voice. I wanted to hear him describe his day, or simply what he had eaten for breakfast, and tell me about the plans he was making for the two of us for when I returned. Then I could say to him that it would be all right now, that we could be together without interruption. But I hadn’t been able to bring myself to call him, either.
As soon as I spoke, it would be true.
I walked on, my coat unzipped, no hat or gloves, almost warm in the sun. My sister would be up by now out in San Francisco, riding the Muni to her office, or already there. My mother would be running errands or meeting a friend for lunch, or just out walking in this fine weather, imagining and worrying over Michael and me up here in Maine, wondering how long she should wait before calling us again.
At the intersection with the main road that led down into the village, I came to the old Baptist church. The high rectangles of stained glass along its nave were lit up red and orange, as if from within. Its white clapboard steeple was almost painful to look at against the brilliance of the sky. I wondered if the lobsterman and his wife came here. Or if he had come here as a child with his father, or his grandfather, or whether he went to church at all.
The sound that he’d made, chopping firewood in his driveway, it had grated on Michael. The slow rhythm of the splitting. It had brought Michael up off the couch, to the dining room window, to watch and mutter his curses.
Why couldn’t that sound do that again? I thought, in the waking dream of the moment, the unreal state of being still the only one who knew. Why couldn’t that sound summon Michael once more? Needle him, scrape at his ears. Why not? What kind of a person would I be if I didn’t at least try to call him back?
I turned around and started walking fast in the direction I had come, along the strip of road that dipped to the shoreline, up the little rise onto the higher ground, driven by the chance to begin the day over.
At first I thought my mind must be tricking me as I made the turn and saw the lobsterman—he was only a couple of years younger than I was—coming down his front yard in his Carhartt jacket and ball cap. I started jogging toward him, thinking he would disappear if I didn’t make it to him in time. But instead he halted a few yards short of his driveway, and watched me approach his truck. When I reached it I rested a hand against the tailgate, steadying myself.
In the month we had been here, neither Michael nor I had spoken a word to him.
We stood there a moment, facing each other. His arms hung straight down at his sides. His bearded face was strangely still.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a slow, wary tone that made of the question a species of threat.
I gestured with my head, toward the cabin. “I’ve been staying over there.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve seen you two.”
Come nearer, I wanted to say. I needed him close enough to hit. Or to fall into his arms.
“Something’s happened,” I said, aloud, for the first time. “It’s my brother.”
Closer. Please come closer. But he didn’t, he stood his ground, squinting, uncertain of himself and of me.