“Incident at Wolf Cove By Richard Thieme – included in “Mind Games,” a collection of nineteen short stories from Duncan Long Publications. “Mind Games” is available signed from the author at [email protected] or on Amazon for Kindle and in print (https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Games-Richard-Thieme-ebook/dp/B003MC5ETA/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=thieme+mind+games&qid=1621266399&s=digital-text&sr=1-1).
I will always remember the way we said good-bye to the Taylors that night because everything, everything from the gin-and-tonic through the rest of the evening, was italicized by the incident afterward at the lake.
What would have otherwise been a normal farewell was protracted as if we did not want to let go of the world we had come to love so much. That world was predictable, bounded by parameters that made sense. It was a good world. It was comfortable. It was exactly what we wanted.
We talked at the door for a long time, then talked more on the lawn. I don’t remember what we talked about because it was nothing, really, nothing important. It was well past midnight and we were aware that our voices carried over the lawn in the warm humid air. They sounded amplified. Or do I remember it that way only afterward? And how would I know?
The leaves above our heads barely moved. We kept slapping mosquitoes, and it wasn’t as if we needed to talk. All we had done all night was talk and have a few drinks and laugh. We wanted the feeling of being with good friends we had known for years to go on and on and never end. We did not want the parentheses around that long period of our lives ever to close.
The houses around us were mostly dark except for gas-lamps here and there. We had no streetlights in Wolf Cove – nor parking on the street, nor sidewalks – and it amused me that so many people put in their own gas-lamps. Afraid of the dark, I guess. Still, we kept it as much like a village as we could. There were a number of small lakes among the houses and some of the homes had two or three or five acres of trees around them. Jan and I lived next to Hidden Lake, a few miles away from the Taylors. The lake was just across the road from our home.
We had been married for twenty-seven years. Like all marriages, there were times we didn’t know what would happen next and times we were glad for what we had. This was one of the good times. We had good health, enough money in the bank to feel reasonably secure, and three grown children who could dress themselves and remember their own names. That’s my definition of an A+ time of life.
At last we said good bye. Kate and Larry stood in the circle of porch light and waved as we drove away. I hit the CD on-button and Sinatra sang “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” straight from the top.
“You didn’t have too much to drink, did you?”
“No, I’m OK,” I said. “You want air or windows down?”
“Let’s open the windows. Even that humid air feels nice.”
“We get nostalgic for summer before it’s even half over.”
“It is half over,” Jan said, “actually. I was thinking that when I saw the blue paper flowers in the ditches.”
Sinatra sang us all the way home. I pulled into the driveway and opened the garage door with a remote. “Want to get out here before I pull in?”
“No, that’s OK. There’s room.”
I parked and we waited until the song finished. Then silence and night sounds, locusts, whatever they were, loud locusts.
I put my arm around my wife as we walked down the driveway. She was warm and perspiring in her summer dress.
“We forgot to turn on the light,” Jan said.
We walked past the side door to the road. We could see the dark circle of Hidden Lake across the road surrounded by darker shadows of dense trees. I looked up at the sky which despite the heat and humidity was about as good as you get in the summer. I didn’t know summer stars as well as I knew Orion and the Pleiades but I recognized patterns, even if I didn’t know their names.
We didn’t say anything. We just stood there, my arm around her warm shoulders, listening to locusts, looking up at the stars.
“What’s that?” Jan said.
“That.” She pointed toward the sky.
I followed her point and saw a star, brighter than most.
“It looks like a star,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
The star was wavering, but pollution will do that too. Smog makes sunsets red, makes the stars flicker. This star, however, was super bright, even brighter than Sirius. Must be a planet. But too late for Venus. ” Jupiter, maybe? Saturn?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s pull up a star chart on the Internet when we go inside.”
“Why are you whispering?” she said.
“I don’t know.” The star looked larger now. “What happened to the locusts?”
The night was perfectly still.
“I don’t know.”
There was no mistaking it now, the star was growing larger as if it were coming down. Maybe it was a plane banking as it turned toward the airport or maybe a helicopter except there was no noise. Now it looked the size of a nickel held out at arm’s length except it was so white. The whiteness glowed all definition from the object, if object it was.
“What is it?” Jan whispered.
It was growing larger faster now. The point turned into a distinct disc and before we knew it was over the trees across the road, hovering over the lake. A reflection of the bright disc glowed in the water. It was a vehicle, a self-luminous vehicle almost too bright to look at directly. I believe I squinted or maybe I looked away. The trees around the lake were illuminated distinctly in the bright light. It was as if during daylight the leaves and branches and trees were illuminated by sun.
There was no sound. I think I even held my breath as I watched it tilt on end to an angle of thirty degrees or so before it edged slowly into the water and entered the lake. I watched it slide through the surface of the water without a sound and disappear into the depths.
“Mark, where are you going?”
Her harsh whisper made me start.
“I want to see,” I walked across the road toward the water. She didn’t want to go but didn’t want to stay. She hurried to catch up as I walked through the grass.
“What are you doing?” she demanded in a frightened whisper.
“Just stay here if you want.”
“I’m not going to just stand there while you.”
I stopped at the water’s edge. The water very gently very slowly stirred against the reeds at my feet. In the otherwise dark lake a luminous oval shone in the depths. It was as if the lake glowed with its own light. Something under the water glowed with its own light.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“I don’t know.”
I don’t know how long we stood there. But suddenly the diffused glowing in the lake started to quiver and the water was disturbed as a luminous edge emerged and very slowly left the water at the same steep angle at which it entered. I remember thinking it should be forty five degrees or more. The angle was more like thirty degrees and water cascaded from the sides as if not touching whatever it was. The water flowed off the object until the disc was no longer touching the surface. Then there was a pause and one minute it was hovering over the lake and the next it was gone high into the sky. I looked up and watched it get so high so fast it looked again like a star in seconds. Then it was a dim star among the other stars and then I couldn’t tell anymore if it was there or not.
The locusts were loud again, sawing away at the night. The surface of the lake was quiet. The water at my feet slowly gently moved against the reeds. There was no breeze. There was nothing anymore.
I turned to see Jan staring up at the sky.
“Did you see that?”
“I don’t know. But you did see it, didn’t you?”
“I saw something. Stars, the wind on the lake, the water. Something.”
“Jan, that wasn’t a star. Stars don’t fly down and go under water.”
I waited for something more but didn’t get it. We crossed the road to our home and went in the front door.
She was already climbing the stairs.
“I’m tired,” she said. “I want to get ready for bed.”
The bedroom light illuminated the hall at the top of the stairs. I hurried upstairs after her.
“I had no idea it was so late,” she said. She was putting her shoes in the closet and undressing. “Did you realize it was two o’clock?”
“I’m going back outside.”
She came out of the closet. “At this hour?”
I went downstairs and crossed the road to the edge of the lake. The water was dark; whatever stars had been visible were hidden by mist. I heard a mosquito and slapped it. Dim stars appeared and disappeared in the haze or high clouds. I looked over the lake and could not see anything at all. I turned around. A few houselights burned through the trees, familiar sentries keeping watch. There were the Nelsons, the Adams, the Lloyds. Trees and houses and lights. Then I looked up at the sky again.
Nothing happened. There was nothing to wait for, nothing to do.
Jan was asleep when I returned, the bedroom dark. I sat up as long as I could, wanting to think, wanting to understand, but fell asleep against the headboard, waking up stiff. Then I lay down beside my wife who was snoring gently and fell asleep.
She was dressed and making breakfast when I came downstairs.
“You leaving early?”
“I’m meeting with the Junior League committee about our luncheon. We’re meeting at eight because Betty has to be somewhere.”
“Oh,” I said. “You look nice.”
“Thank you,” she perked a little. Blue was her color, with her complexion and blue eyes. “I might not be here when you come home. I have a late appointment with the trainer at the Club.”
“OK,” I said. I waited, then said, “Do you want to talk about it now?”
She looked at me, tilting her face quizzically as if I spoke a foreign language, then went to get her purse. Then she left.
So that was that. She left and I ate my three slices of wheat toast and a banana. I was unusually aware of the morning light through the kitchen window and the way it illuminated the breakfast nook. The strawberry cookie jar looked like a work of art. The crumbs on the counter near the toaster looked like abstract art too, a pattern too perfect not to have been arranged. Everything seemed as if it had gone up a notch in contrast or brightness as if someone fiddled with the controls while I was sleeping.
When I left, the noise of someone cutting wood with a loud saw, the smell of cut grass made me pause in the driveway and look all around. Everything was askew as if I had never seen my neighborhood before. The sun blazed on leaves and grass which dazzled with intensity and splendor.
I don’t recall the ride to work but I do remember parking in my usual space and saying hello to the guard at the door and taking the elevator upstairs to my office.
Business had not been good. When times are good and the tide is rising, everybody gets wet. But lowering tides bring all the same ships down, and the tide was low and going lower. We served manufacturing companies mostly and they had all cut back. The last thing most of them thought they needed right now was a consultant who billed at our level.
I had a long term relationship with two clients that kept me personally afloat. Billable hours are life in our business. But I didn’t know how long that would last. One was coming up with numbers that concerned me. The other wasn’t interested in my services at the moment.
The view from the thirtieth floor included the lake and the warehouse district south of downtown. Most had been turned into lofts and condos and there were at last some good restaurants. The traffic in the downtown streets below could be seen but not heard. A glint of light out over the lake caught my attention. I watched it shift into a sliver of bright sunlight then become a disc as it turned and finished a maneuver by becoming the familiar shape of a plane. It was coming in over the lake for a landing, that was all.
“What’s up?” John Kaster asked, leaning through the door and knocking at the same time.
I turned. “Oh,” I said. “John. I’m reviewing the audit for Jensen and Harper.”
“Good,” he said. “Nothing out of the ordinary, I assume?”
“Well -” I pulled out my chair and sat at my desk. I looked at the papers in front of me, aware that I was making him wait. “John,” I said, “have you ever seen a ghost?”
John’s face changed and he looked closely to see if I was joking.
“Well no,” he said. “Why? Have you?”
I shook my head. “No. But I was wondering.”
“People say they sometimes see crazy things, ghosts, objects flying across the room, UFOs …”
John laughed. “My sister-in-law in Des Moines, Dorothy, the one married to the pork tenderloin restaurant tycoon, swears there’s some kind of sasquatch that lives in the woods up in Minnesota where they have a cabin. She said last weekend she was fixing dinner and something moved in the trees out behind the house, so she went to the window and swears there was this huge thing she says eight feet tall or taller covered with hair in the trees out back and when it saw she was looking it took off, snapping all these branches. Hal came in then, she’s hollering and yelling and pointing, and Hal said, yeah, the branches were broken off all right, but Hal, I said, that doesn’t mean they were broken off by a sasquatch, does it?”
“What if something unusual did show up? A ghost I mean. Or a UFO. What would it mean? What would it say about how we think about things? Would there be any connection?”
“Connection? Between what?”
I thought for a minute. “Between … well, anything. Would it make any difference to anything at all?”
He shrugged. “Hell if I know, Mark, first thing in the morning.”
I tried to shrug as if I was half-kidding. “I’m just rambling,” I said. “Forget I asked. I do have work to do, this audit …”
“Yes, about that. I did in fact hear you might be seeing some ghosts over there, now that you mention it. Be very careful,” he said. “We’ve done business with them for many many years. George Jensen and my father went to school together. They fought over the same girl in high school.”
“I know. Harriet Turner. George won.”
“They’re one of our best clients, Mark.”
I began leafing through papers and John closed the door after him.
A careful methodical thinker as I think I am and as anyone who has worked with me would tell you I am is used to following the dots and connecting them, seeing the links, picking up patterns of things as they start to emerge. That’s what an audit is, after all, it’s not just numbers and following rules, it’s knowing the numbers indicate patterns of activity on the part of real people. The numbers are like a graph of their activity or even their personalities and studying the numbers you get to know the soul as it were of your clients, you know how they think and what they think is important. You learn to see warning signs long before anyone else the way a good weather forecaster can look at the sky or a computer screen and say, I smell rain, when everyone else insists there isn’t a cloud in the sky. It’s like tracking I guess, I read about trackers who connect things like the call of a jay that says there’s a fox in the woods with a print in the dirt and can tell you where the fox is and whether it’s likely to be back.
The world is not inscrutable, after all. It can be known. We can know things about it and we can see the patterns of things. That’s what a good audit does, it follows the tracks. I can tell if something is wrong through indicators, things that don’t fit. Oh, you do have your incredibly smart criminal from time to time, although most criminals are pretty stupid, but you do have the ones who cook the books so there isn’t a hair out of place. But boy you’ve got to be good to do that. Most don’t know how. Something gives it away, there’s always a clue, something doesn’t fit right and you use the anomaly to backtrack to where things went wrong, Pretty soon the whole thing is laid out before you like a map of the world.
So I sat there most of the morning with the door closed and the papers spread all over my desk and worktable going over details of the audit when I could, when I could focus on the numbers, not liking what I was finding, but mostly I looked into the vast interior space of my own mind which looked like a cavern full of darkness and flickering lights. I was looking for clues, don’t you see, something that would tell me what had really happened. I needed a point of reference from which to begin connecting the dots.
I recalled isolated events of the night before. I had helped Jan put on her necklace and then when she didn’t like the way it felt, thinking how hot it was outside, I undid the clasp and stuck her accidentally next to her mole.
“Ow!” she cried.
“Oh, sorry!” I said. “Sorry.”
I recalled how she sat in front of the mirror at her dressing table using the comb with one hand and somehow using the other hand to smooth whatever the comb couldn’t get. The two small lamps on either side of her lighted her flushed face. The perfume was a little strong at first as it often is but settled down once we had left the house.
As we drove toward the Taylors, she lowered her window and looked out at the midsummer flowers and trees and grass and houses. “We live in such a pretty place.”
“We do,” I said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
One of my Jewish colleagues, Herb at the office, an accountant, would say it was a mistake to speak aloud of good fortune. I don’t know who is supposed to hear you but some spirit always does and it isn’t pretty. They write it down and when you’re not looking, when you turn to get something in the closet for example and reach up with both hands to the top shelf, they let you have it, one stands atop the other’s shoulders and punches you right in the balls.
So I made a yellow mark in my mind on that conversation. Maybe that conversation had been a mistake. Maybe we should have just enjoyed the summer night and not said anything.
Larry was out back getting the coals ready. Larry had on one of those aprons that say something silly like the chef stops here and was squirting the lighter into the mound of coals. Then he tossed in a match and showed a pyromaniac’s pleasure as the flames leaped out of the grill.
Larry was an investment manager. The second quarter’s results were not good. His funds had slipped into the second quartile which was a major negative at a firm that insisted on the best record. But Larry never betrayed worry or concern in all the years I knew him. He always sounded confident, he knew there were other companies if Dirk turned him over as was his habit when things were not going well, and he knew he would land on his feet.
“Oh, we’re fine,” he always said when I asked about work or the family or his life.
He raked the coals into a mound and we watched as the flames died and the coals whitened. We chatted but I don’t even remember about what. Dinner was on the patio with bug-zappers and mosquito-repellant things all around. I drank a gin-and-tonic before dinner and with the burgers I had one glass of wine, a merlot, and coffee after dinner without anything in it. Then we stayed so late, it couldn’t have been the liquor.
After dinner I was in the kitchen drying dishes and Kate was getting desert ready. She was spooning strawberry ice cream onto homemade shortcake. Fresh mashed berries were in a yellow bowl on the counter. She dropped a spatter of ice cream and it landed on her foot. I remember thinking how delicious it looked, that smear of ice cream on her bare instep, her strawberry polish matching. She wore a silver chain on her ankle with a little heart that hung down. When I looked up she was watching me and laughed.
“Want to get me a paper towel?” she said. “They’re over there.”
I tore off a towel and leaned to wipe the ice cream off her foot. She flexed her toes and laughed again.
I looked up. Cathy was leaning through the open door.
“Didn’t you see your telephone, Mister Williams? I’ve been buzzing.”
I looked at the lighted button blinking. “I was thinking, Cathy. Sorry.”
The call was from a prospective client and we made an appointment for later that week. When I hung up, the cavern of my mind was all shadows, a few barely illuminated flickers – Kate Taylor in the kitchen adding sugar to the berries or Larry standing at the grill, drink in hand, poking the coals and talking away about nothing. I didn’t know where to begin. I neither heard nor saw a single significant event that could account for the fact that after we went home, we watched a star fall and turn into a luminous object that went under the water of Hidden Lake and then came out and became a star again in seconds.
During lunch at the Club with Lloyd Morgan from Morgan Morgan and Hastings and Merribeth Lisower, the new executive director of Forward Look! we talked about the house she had found and neighborhood schools, the economy and the latest political scandals, the image of the city. Merribeth was bright and I guess the current word is perky and apparently suited for a cheerleader’s job. She was eager to tell the world about our underrated city. Like all provincial cities, we frequently tell the world why we are not provincial, and I suggested that as a slogan – “We are not provincial!” – for the Forward Look! Black and White Ball but Merribeth hadn’t been here long enough to realize I was joking. She wrote it down.
It felt good to order one of the three or four lunches I have been eating at the Club for more than two decades. The chef never varies the way he puts the lunch menu together. The wrinkled chips and pickle slice and traditional toothpicks with red furly paper were exactly the same. For whatever reason the sandwich brought momentary relief from the free-floating anxiety that had plagued me all day.
Lloyd mentioned going up to the Air Show, He went every few years to see veterans he knew and the newest planes.
“This year they have some UAVs on display and they have a model of an old flying disc.”
“A flying saucer!” Merribeth said. “How cool.”
“I don’t think it has hyper drive though,” Lloyd said with a smile. “They never really got it to fly.”
“Have you ever seen a flying saucer?” I asked generally, picking up my thick sandwich and squeezing it to keep everything in.
Lloyd laughed. “Only after the fourth martini. Usually it’s one that Winifred is throwing at my head.”
Merribeth laughed. “I saw an interesting program about them on cable.”
“That one about things people confuse for UFOs?” Lloyd said. “It’s true. We’ll take a witness and match their story with what forensics tells us, you’d be amazed how people get the simplest things wrong. They fill in the blanks, blend events, add details they hear afterward, all kinds of things. ‘Eye-witness testimony’ is bogus. Memory is deceptive. Yet they swear they’re telling the truth and they’d pass a lie detector too, they’re that sincere.”
“Are forensics ever wrong, Lloyd?”
Lloyd put his glass down. “Can be. But most of the time they get it right.”
“Perception is everything,” Merribeth said, “and perception is key to changing how people see this city, too.” So off we went in that direction, galloping away. She was brimful of ideas, plans, hopes and dreams. She was ready to enroll an army of volunteers in her cause.
After lunch, as we rose to go, Lloyd saw a golfing buddy across the room and Merribeth and I walked down the large carpeted dark wood stairway together.
“I’ll be glad to do what I can for the ball,” I told her. “Jan will help too if she can.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said. But on the landing she stopped me with her fingertips gently on my arm and said in a whisper, “I saw a flying saucer once.”
I turned. “You did? What was it like?”
“It was twenty-five years ago,” she said. She looked around, hearing voices on the stairs, and we resumed our descent in silence and turned into a hallway where no one was listening. “We were on a country road in North Carolina,” she whispered. “My husband was driving. It was late afternoon. We were just driving along and passed one of those power stations, what do you call them? Dynamos? at an intersection. And there was this thing hovering over the power station, tilted toward it like it was feeding on the energy. I know,” she said with a forced laugh. “I couldn’t have seen it. But I did.”
“What did it look like?”
“Like … well, if you asked a kid to draw a flying saucer, that’s what it looked like. There were lights all around it going real real fast like lights on a marquee.”
“What did you do?”
“You know, that’s the funniest thing. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say anything for five or ten minutes and then I told David, my husband. He said, what? Why didn’t you say so? and we turned around and raced back but when we got there it was gone.”
Her eyes clouded with points of anxiety.
“I don’t know why I told you this. Please don’t mention it.”
“No, no, I won’t. You do have to be careful,” I said. “You’re new to the city. People won’t say anything to your face, but behind your back, they’ll write you off in a minute. You’ll never even know.”
“There aren’t any clues? I mean when you make that kind of mistake?”
I smiled at the concern on her pretty little face. “It’s like that Native American torture they have in movies. Wrap you in rawhide and wet it. At first you’re comfortable. Then it’s tight. Then it’s suffocating.
“That’s how it feels. Just pay attention. You’ll know if you can’t breathe.”
Later than night when she came home from working out at the Club, I told Jan about our conversation.
“Why in the world would you bring that up? What did Lloyd Morgan think?”
I sipped the gin-and-tonic and squeezed the slice of lime to add its juice to the drink. “Lloyd wasn’t even there, then.”
“You have to work in this city, Mark. You know how people are.”
Jan sat in her easy chair and sipped a glass of Chardonnay.
“I wasn’t thinking of that part,” I said. “I was thinking of last night.”
She watched me, waiting.
Then said, “Well? What about last night?”
“You know,” I said. “That thing we saw when we came home.”
This time she looked for a long time. Her eyes had something in them I had never seen before. If eyes are really the windows to our souls, then hers needed Windex.
“Mark, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“When we came home from the Taylors,” I said. “We went across the road. That thing came down and went into the lake.”
“Mark, we walked across the road, looked at the stars and came home and went to bed. What are you talking about?”
Now it was my turn to stare. “Jan, I’m talking about that thing, call it what you like, whatever the hell it was, that thing that came down out of the sky and went into the lake. We watched it, Jan, we stood there together and watched it.”
“Maybe you were dreaming,” she said. “Maybe you had a vivid dream and during the day somehow got it confused with an actual event.”
“Jan, that’s – ”
“No, no,” she said, getting up and going into the kitchen where the tossed salad was waiting for the sliced chicken to be added. She kept talking through the door. “No, that’s nuts. It’s absolutely crazy. Things like that don’t happen. And if they do they certainly don’t happen in Wolf Cove. That’s the kind of thing you hear on talk shows. Maybe that’s it, we watched one the other night, maybe that’s what you’re thinking. Don’t you remember? There was this weird skinny guy with glasses talking about being abducted by aliens. He said his wife remembered under hypnosis that she was abducted from her bed by Army troops and bound in duct tape and handcuffed and drugged and they took her to an abandoned movie theater. The United States Army and the aliens, working together. Every single night they did a D&C, scraping her uterus in search of an implanted alien embryo. Don’t you remember? We laughed and went on to CNN.”
“Yes, I remember, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the incident last night, the thing that really happened.”
Jan came back into the doorway. Her face was obscured by the bright windowlight behind.
“Mark,” she said. “Now, please listen to me. I am very concerned. This isn’t the first time. Do you know what I heard at the Club? Your clients are talking, Mark. I heard it in the bathroom, I was in the stall so no one knew I was there. Helen Morgan was talking to BeeBee and said she had heard you were losing clients. Larry said something too last night at dinner, don’t you remember? He asked how you had been feeling lately. Kate too looked so concerned. She said, yes, Mark, how have things been?”
I felt a sinking feeling. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. “What are you telling me Jan?”
“Something isn’t right. Something’s wrong. Something has been wrong. And now you say that some vehicle flew into the lake last night and I was there! Mark, all I ever saw were stars, big bright stars twinkling in the sky.”
The silence between us swelled until it filled the room and then the entire universe. I looked for something to say or a point of reference from which to relate what she said to what I had said but came up empty. The silence turned dark like a storm cloud except there was no lightning, just thunder. Thunder filled the void so loud we could no longer hear one another.
Then my wife of twenty-seven years burst into tears and ran from the room. As near as I can tell, she is still running.
A careful methodical thinker as I am is used to connecting dots, seeing links, picking up patterns as they emerge. That’s what I do for a living, after all. That’s what auditors do. I look for warnings and indicators. Auditing is not just numbers and following rules, it’s knowing what numbers tell you about people and their activities. You notice things long before anyone else. The world is not inscrutable, after all. It can be known. We can know things about the world and we can see patterns. This is my work. Some have even said it’s my genius.
When something happens that does not connect to anything else, usually you don’t even see it. You don’t allow yourself to see it. Seeing it is too disturbing. You can live in a marriage, a neighborhood, a community, even on a planet for years and if everyone is committed to not seeing the same things, then no one sees them. Someone brings them up, then that someone has got to be shunned or punished.
The audit was threatening not only to the second largest law firm in our city but to several partners in our company. It affected the entire community. There were too many consequences if I said what I saw. We discussed the implications behind closed doors. Then they brought up my dwindling billable hours. I had lost a few clients, yes, I admitted, but the only clients I lost were lost long ago.
“You’re not a team player, Mark,” John Kaster said after the meeting, his hand on my shoulder. “You never were.”
Follow the breadcrumbs through the forest and you wind up being cooked for dinner by the wicked witch.
I received a comfortable severance and pension. They arranged for us financially – it was in everyone’s interest, after all – but they could not arrange for Jan not to be devastated when the world in which she had always lived disintegrated to its outer limits. One thread, one thread was all it took, and everything unraveled. Everything came tumbling down. She asked for a separation and then a divorce. With the help of a therapist, she rearranged everything in a new way of seeing and told me that things had been building for years, beginning with her miscarriage. This was merely the last straw.
We put up the house for sale and I made arrangements to move out of the city. The children called and our little princess came to visit and try to fix everything but of course she couldn’t. The kids had conference calls about what to do about the situation, about us, about me, and realized there was nothing to do.
The day the movers took away everything we had collected for twenty-seven years I waited to be certain that everything had been marked correctly for her place or mine. I do like to dot the i’s and cross all the t’s. Then I walked through the empty rooms of the empty house. There was nothing there, only ghosts, and at last I left and locked up the house for the last time and stood on the lawn until the sky grew dark.
It was October and a chill wind was blowing off the lake. I crossed the road for the last time and walked to the edge of the water. There were dry leaves underfoot but plenty of red and yellow leaves on the maples too, their colors made more vivid by the dark and cloudy sky.
I looked up at the low moving clouds and waited for something to happen. I waited for a light, I waited for a portal. Nothing did. There was nothing to wait for, nothing to do. No dots to connect, no numbers to pretend made sense of anything. That’s why I missed it coming. You can’t see what you don’t believe is real. It just doesn’t show up. Until it does.
Ants don’t get that dogs exist.
Wolf Cove is a refuge in which I no longer find comfort or solace, the people I worked with for years are not who I thought they were nor are any of our friends. Nothing is what I thought it was. At my age, I feel like a beginner at real life.
But the sky is real. The sky is real. It is not a ceiling as I believed, sheltering the earth. It is a transparent eyelid that looks both ways. Whoever wants to see us can see us and everything happening on our little provincial planet.
The universe is teeming with life, I know that now, that wherever life can happen life will happen. Life is larger than anything I had ever understood. Life on a million planets in the habitable zones of stars is extending itself throughout the universe. Before I knew that – really knew it – I lived according to different assumptions.
Now everything is different.
The incident at Wolf Cove made the difference. Everything turned inside out and the dots I had carefully connected were scattered into the sky like jacks flung from the hand of an angry child. Maybe he was called home too early through the twilight, maybe he didn’t want to go home at all and live a life within such suffocating constraints. Maybe he wanted to breathe. Maybe a spirit heard us and thought we were too happy or thought we thought we were. Maybe the imperative of not knowing is a limit that must always be tested. Maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this and maybe that. Or just maybe, nothing.
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