Thursday, January 4, 2018

37. Toronto

The credits end and William uses the remote to click the television off.

Cindy opens a lamp and she, Becky and Geoff stare at William as if he has some explaining to do.

He glances around, meets their eyes, one and then the next, and then looks at the empty screen and says, “I thought the music was great.  Outstanding musicianship.”   

Cindy jostles his arm, not smiling.


Becky says to Cindy, “Did you know all this?”

“No,” she says.  “Did you?”

Becky shakes her head.  She looks at William.  “This really happened?  Like it was shown?”

William shrugs.   Then he nods.

Geoff says, “You realize half the world will want a piece of you.  You’re like a human Ouija board, except you actually work.”

William says, “Oh.  Well, they’ll be wrong.   This was likely a one-off.   Plus they’ll never find me.  They’ll be looking over there, but I’m back here.”  He bounces to his feet, excuses himself, and hurries into the kitchen.  Cindy bought a cake and William pretends to need to create counter space to lay out plates.  He needs to avoid a lengthy group interrogation.

As he stacks plates and opens and closes drawers he thinks of Geoff’s comment, that the truth was it wouldn’t matter if they, those wanting to reach their deceased loved ones, found him or not.  It wasn’t him.  It was Alan.  It had all been Alan.  None of it would have happened without him, Alan the Artist.  Alan, who knew how to use a pencil and a paintbrush, a canoe and a muscle car—and his guile and his heart, and his camp-mate, a run-of-the-mill human lightning rod, a tool he had kept in his back pocket for seventeen years, not really knowing what it was or how to use it until he needed it.  If there is, or was, a Jesus of the West, whatever the hell that could possibly be, it was Alan.

“Will-Will?”  Becky comes in silently in soft blue socks as he is carefully placing wine glasses in the dishwasher.  He lifts his eyes.

She smiles at him.  She shakes her head.  “I don’t know how to process all that.”

“How do you think I feel?”

“You could have died.  Or you did die?   Did they ever figure that out?”

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”

“But not a hundred percent.”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure of anything.”  This was perhaps the only part of his training as a scientist that remained.  Except that I’m still in love with you, he thinks, which is wrong, he thinks.  He notices something in her hand, held down by her thigh.  “What’s that?”

She raises a sheet of paper, looks at it, and says, “I wanted to show you something.” 

He slides the rack in slowly and closes the dishwasher door.

She says, “One night, a couple of years ago when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on the computer.  I was thinking about the trip we took in high school, to Washington, and I did an image search for the Lincoln Memorial.  After about a hundred pages of thumbnails, this popped up.”  She hands him the paper.  It bears an inkjet-printed picture, but not an image from only a couple of years ago.  The softness of detail and Day-Glo clothing of the young, rebellious-looking couple posing in front of the big chair suggest a scan of an old picture, circa 1989.  The people are possibly European, slouching drunkenly together, perhaps mocking America’s worship of the great man.  Who they are or what they are doing doesn’t matter. What matters is who is standing behind them, to the left, almost out of the frame — two deliriously happy high school students from Toronto, holding hands.

“Oh, look at us,” he says.  “This was almost exactly half our lives ago.”                                

“It was too young to start.  We never would have made it, because it’s almost impossible for two people to deal with all the choices and changes that happen when you’re in your twenties and stay together.  If I had to marry someone at nineteen, I’m glad it wasn’t you.”

“You’re glad you married someone else?” he asks, but he knows what she means. 

“I’m happy I didn’t marry you,” she says, “because now you’re not my ex.”  She reaches and cups her hand behind his neck.  His forehead plonks against hers.  All he sees are her eyes.  All she sees are his.  She speaks softly, almost a whisper, “The most important thing is that from here to the end, we’ll always know where to find each other.”

“Yes,” he says, because it is the simplest response, but he is not sure there will ever be an end, or that this will ever feel finished.  She releases him and they look at each other uncertainly, as they did as teenagers, as they did before Gettysburg, before anything, before everything.  She steps away, out of the kitchen, back to her husband.  He looks at the picture once more, at how they had been, and folds it in half.  Out of the corner of his eye he catches his reflection in the window.  He turns to face the glass, to look through himself. It is easy to imagine that outside, perched on the fence, is a wild-eyed artist scribbling madly in the dark. 


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