[the first stirrings of a short story I'm writing]
"Perhaps the truth depends upon a walk around the lake."
- Wallace Stevens
It’d been almost a year since the call at 11:17pm. Since then, he’d become old before his time. Close friends encouraged getting back into life. He wondered if the human heart ever truly recovers from anything, especially trauma like the death of a spouse. The word closure gagged him.
Her name was Jane. She was returning home from Thursday’s 3-11 at the hospital when a sixteen-year-old girl named Chelsea shitfaced on Barefoot wine escaladed through a red light at fifty miles per hour. She hit the driver’s side of Jane’s VW Bug. The force of impact, aided by seat belt and airbag, literally ripped his wife in half. At brunch that morning, they had made the decision to go off the pill. Her last words to him: “Tom, I want to have your baby.”
“God, Tom. Trust me. It’s grisly.” He knew Doctor Peters from St. Andrews; they had served together in a fundraising campaign. But he insisted on seeing her face, just her face, one last time. “O.k. You’ll have to give us a little while. Sit over there.” The waiting room smelled like fear. He saw the tattered book on the end table, strangely out of place. One would expect back issues of Time or People, not Legends of the Fall. That’s how he felt - tattered; he was not supposed to be there either. Years ago, before he met her, he was driving east on I-30 out of Dallas, along rows of black earth while Copland’s “Tender Land” played on the radio. Song and soil charmed long held tears. He had never wept like that before. Until now. The nurse said “Mr. Nichols, you can come back now” and the book throbbed, a life beacon. So he grabbed it and held on. When the sheet was pulled back, he wished he’d listened to Dr. Peters.
Tom read Harrison’s three novellas on the third day after Jane died. Raw grief coupled with jubilant prose. An extravagant darkness was conceived.
Jane’s father was a Baptist minister. He officiated at their July wedding: What God hath joined together. Two years later, in the same month, her father presided over what a teenager had put asunder. The good reverend surprised everyone graveside by screaming Lama sabachtani! with raised fists. This singular act comforted Tom. Then Jane’s mother, Gwen, swooned. The two “survived by” sisters rushed to their mother’s side; Jenny and Leslie both vying for best supporting actress in a dramatic moment. Tom said goddamn and walked away toward the pines that surrounded the cemetery, side-stepping the dead. Honeysuckle filled the air. Cries of Tom! Come back, Tom! could not compete with the cicadas. Then the sound of running water.
The swift creek met him not a mile away. His grief was parched in the cemetery, thirsty. He shed the Haspel suit bought especially for the occasion, then decided t-shirt and boxers too. A half dozen blue jays screamed as a naked man crawled into the creek on all fours. He told Giardia to go to hell and lapped at the water like a dog.
That was almost a year ago. He had been awarded a sizeable settlement after the accident. The teenager’s father was a long-seated congressman with a family legacy in oil. Tom used some of the money to pay off Jane’s student loans. He put half of what remained in savings. With the rest, he left.
Family and friends had told him not to make rash decisions so soon after Jane’s death. Don’t sell the house. Don’t give away her clothes. Draw the curtains. Give yourself time to grieve. But he could not resist the full-nature growing within him. And so he disappointed them by following everything but their advice. It would become a habit.
The mountain town of Grand Lake, Colorado had long been attractive to him. The realtor showed him a small chic cabin for rent at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. An aspect of her “showing” included the retelling: Legend has it that one summer the Utes were camped along the Grand Lake shore. An Arapaho and Cheyenne war party ambushed them. During the melee, the Ute women and children escaped on a large raft, pushing out into the safety of the lake while the battle raged. Suddenly, the wind grew wild and a gust overturned the raft. All the women and children drowned.
The Ute warriors who survived the battle lived from then on grief-stricken, haunted. The story goes that in the winter, when the lake was frozen, they could hear the shrieks of women and crying children from beneath the ice. Some say you can still hear them, if you listen. His tears dropped unashamed. “Yes, I’ll take it.”
Those autumn and winter months, he let himself go. Early mornings were filled with reading the corpus of Harrison’s work. Dusk was spent walking the lake’s edge, listening. Every day was sabbath.
He discovered this running theme in Harrison: Saudade – the Portuguese notion of a person or place or sense of life irretrievably lost. Only the dream might be recovered. Only the dream...