That was the summer a sperm whale drifted sick into the bay, washed up dead at Mount Martha, and there were many terrible jokes about fertility. It was the summer that all the best cartoons went off the air, swapped for Gulf War broadcasts in infrared snippets, and your mother started saying things like I used to be pretty, you know? Christ, I used to be brave. But you thought brave was not crying when the neighbor girl dug her sharp red fingernails into your arm, until the skin broke and bled, and she cried out herself in disgust. You were still dumb enough to think that was winning.
The house in Hewer was three stories, much larger than they needed, and full of odd vacancies, as though the Jenkinses, from whom Paul and his wife were subletting, had planned to be away much longer than a single semester. But the kitchen cupboards were stocked, and in the basement, alongside the usual clutter, stood a huge upright refrigerator housing a billion frosted bottles of beer, to which Paul helped himself while instructing the babies, “This is an IPA, this is a, this is a porter, this is a stout, which means it’s very dark….” The babies, on the basement floor, were checking it all out. Meanwhile, upstairs, Olive was in eager flight, scouting around, poking her head into the mudroom and the garage and the second-floor sunroom, full of hard, happy intent. “Holy!” she purred, from the top of the stairs.
My daughter, Mosie, called me early to remind me about the dentist. She was feeding the dogs, and I could hear them whimper and moan as she gratified them. The old dentist had suddenly stopped taking my insurance. I stood watching the lake, its blind surface: here I was, a condo with a view and I’d never had any feelings for Lake Washington.
She had nothing else to say to me. Both of my children—Basho and Mosie—were first-time souls for whom the emotional was alien.
In Ivan’s bedroom are forty-seven photographs of beaches, rectangles of sand and sun. I count them every time I visit my friend, and he kisses them like beautiful women each night. He passes me a bottle of vodka and opens his own, and I follow him out into the hallway, and we ride the elevator to his roof with a view of Siberia. We step out into the night so full of sun.
A white woman, softly sobbing, was hoisted into the back of an ambulance. On direction from the state troopers, Harvell stood idly by. For the second time since he’d arrived, the woman said the girl’s parents were Claudine and Cordezar Brown of Greenwood, Indiana. By “the girl,” the white woman meant the body lying in the ditch, covered by a sheet. Harvell looked at the bus tracks; the skid marks a few yards away, left by the fugitive car; a pair of yellow shoes about a foot apart on the side of the road.
Melvin came upon a man frozen and dead out in the interior, perhaps caught in a snowstorm he hadn’t anticipated. Melvin hooked his sled to a birch tree. His team of dogs sat and panted, tongues spilling out of their mouths in rosy lengths. Echo, the leader, barked, and so he stopped a moment to rub her ears. Amelia had named her for the pattern of gray and black echoing down the ridge of the dog’s spine and tail. He thought of his wife whenever he rubbed the animal’s ears, but she was gone from him, almost two years now.