Chapter 16 – Walk On

Dying is a wild night and a new road.
Emily Dickinson

It was May 3rd, a Thursday, and Walter had agreed to work an additional shift when another driver unexpectedly called in sick right before Walter’s first shift ended. Dispatch caught Walter as he was turning in his time card and requested that he take the run, which began a half-hour later. He called home and, when Mara didn’t pick up, he left a voice-mail message letting her know what was up.

“Hey Baby, it’s me. I’m working an extra four-hour shift tonight so I won’t be home until late. I’ll buy you a new car with the money. I hope you’re doing okay. I love you.”

“She’s probably watching Dexter or already knocked out by her pills,” he imagined.

The earth moved, at that moment, but Walter didn’t notice it until later when it moved again, and by then it was too late.

He joined two other drivers for the shuttle ride from the garage over to Central Station where he would wait until the Route 21 came in. It was a busy route with passengers usually standing at the lollipops at every stop, even though they’re only a block apart, and always one or two wheel chair riders.

When a wheelchair rider wants on, there are a couple of spots right behind the driver, on each side of the isle, where the seats fold up and a wheelchair can be latched for safety. If passengers were sitting in those seats, the bus operator would request that they get up and make room but it wasn’t a requirement. Some passengers knew they didn’t have to move, so they wouldn’t, but most people were considerate enough to make room. If the existing passengers wouldn’t move, the driver would have to tell the wheelchair rider that there was no safe room, and then phone it in to Dispatch so that the next bus coming along would be given a heads up. In rare cases, The River would send out a small vehicle to pick up the stranded wheelchair rider. If there was room, the driver would have to deploy the handicap ramp, let the wheelchair rider maneuver into a spot, and then, after asking permission and giving warning, fasten four strong nylon woven straps with metal hooks to the chair and then tighten them.

“Would you like the seatbelt also?” the drivers were required to ask. Almost no one wanted it, feeling that they were secure enough in their familiar chair.

The process took some time and slowed the bus down and added to the delays caused by the passenger load. Walter stood under the Teflon-coated fiberglass rood of Central Terminal while he waited, protected from the heavy rain that seemed like it had been falling for weeks. There was a black man standing near him, wearing a black fedora, a red shirt buttoned up to his neck, a red and black checkered vest, black slacks and shoes; looking sharp. Walter had seen him before.

“What’s up with this rain?” Walter asked.

“Highest spring rainfall on record, 42 inches over the past year,” Fedora answered, “following the highest snow fall on record, 83 inches this winter.”

“Man! So much for global warming,” Walter responded.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Fedora said, “The melt came late. Probably be a lot of flooding.”

“There’s my ride,” Walter said, nodding towards bus no. 291, Route 21 lit up on the overhead sign.

“You riding with me?” Walter asked.

“Not today,” came the reply.

The inbound passengers off-loaded, as did the previous driver, telling Walter that the bus was running fine and just to watch out for some heavy water accumulation at some of the intersections. Walter hopped aboard, shutting the door behind him until he could get admin taken care of.

He punched in his codes, adjusted his seat and mirrors, did a quick walk through the bus, then sat down, buckled up, and opened the door for customers.

“Welcome aboard!” he shouted.

The run, up and back, was nothing out of the ordinary except for the heavy rain. He had to adjust his interior fans and keep them on full blast, as well as keeping the driver’s side window open an inch or two, to keep the windshield from fogging up.

The rain, and the hour, seemed to keep people off of the roads and resulted in a low number of passengers, also. He finished his second split four hours later, at about 8:30, shuttled back to the garage, turned in his paperwork, and headed down to the underground garage to find his car.

As he walked through the garage, he felt a trembling under his feet and momentarily lost his balance.

“What the fuck?” he said, out loud.

By the time he pulled his Honda out of the underground parking garage, it was nearing nine but the rain had let up and was almost stopped. It was a four mile drive from there to Mara’s home and it took him just over fifteen minutes, through the city, to make the trip. There was a car on his tail, headlights on high, as he slowed to make the turn off of Michigan Ave. onto her street, so he pulled to the shoulder as he started his turn, to give them room and let them pass. As he pulled into the driveway, water pushed by the wind dropped from a tree onto his windshield, and his lights glanced across something hard to see but white lying on the pavement.

“Crazy cat,” he said to himself.

Walter stepped out of his car, leaving his driver’s bag, thinking he’d be headed back early enough, shut his door and locked it.

“Hey Shakti, what…” he started to speak but then stopped when he saw her.

She was dead; it was obvious. He didn’t describe her to me; he just said that he thought she’d finally been run over while lying there, unafraid in the driveway. Walter took off his uniform shirt and placed it on the hood of his car, then took of his white undershirt before putting his arms back through the sleeves of his uniform. He knelt down and, using his T-shirt, picked up the little vessel that he had been so attached to, folded the shirt gently and warmly around her, and carried her around the side yard, past Mara’s raised vegetable beds, to the back yard of the house. He said that he wanted her remains to be safe until the morning, when she could have a proper burial, so he put her furry body into a plastic litter canister that stood, somewhat fittingly, on the patio, and closed the lid.

The back door from the breezeway to the patio stood open, which wasn’t usual but also wasn’t alarming; Mara often left it open, giving her cats easy passage, but usually only during the day.

“She was probably out for a smoke and forgot to close it,” is what he said he had thought.

The door from the breezeway to the hall of the kitchen also stood open and, as he passed through, he noticed that the two nightlights that they turned on by habit each night were not shining. Something inside of Walter started to pull back.

He checked the living room and saw that the television was off. He could see Shiva lying on the pad in the bay window, partially lit by the streetlight, and knew that something odd was up. Shiva would either have jumped up to great him or would have been long gone into the night at that hour.

Walter walked softly down the hall to Mara’s door and gently pushed it open. He could see her form, lying on her right side in her normal fetal position, most of her body covered by her burgundy comforter. Near her feet but more towards his side of her bed was Zoë. She looked as if her rear legs were paralyzed, maybe broken half-way down her spine, and she tried to rise up on her front legs but couldn’t. Her head was up, her eyes looking at him. She knew who he was and she wasn’t scared. He understood that the thing that she had always feared had happened while he ferried people around the city in the dark.

“There was no need to rush,” Walter told me.

He sat down in front of Zoë, on his side of the bed. There was no movement from the form that lay on the other side, no sound of heavy breathing, no sense of life.

He put his fingers to Zoë’s brow and caressed her.

“Hey girl. It’s okay,” he whispered, “Just sleep.”

She died to this world as he sat there with her, and then he rose and took the short walk that he had feared for these past six years. I think, in reality, it was the walk that his soul knew of and the one that he feared for his entire life.

Mara’s body laid there, the form that he held so dear.

“Are you gone now? Have you disappeared?”

She was surrounded by her pill bottles, empty booze glasses, and nearby was a sketch that Jade had drawn. The room was still filled with the fragrance of incense, a gift from Sam on her birthday just passed.

He lay down beside her form and took her in his arms. Her smell was still there in her hair. He whispered to her that he understood. He whispered to her that he would miss her. He whispered to her that he had always loved her and always would.

“Thank you for saving my life,” he whispered to her as he kissed her forehead.

He heard the sound, “Goodbye” from a thousand voices, and then he heard the sweetness in the silence that remained after she was gone. Walter looked at her clock; it read 9:15 p.m. He put his lips back to her skin until hours later, when he looked at the clock again; it read 9:21 p.m.

They lay there, together, until the day pushed away the night.

He didn’t cry.

He called Dispatch and told them he wouldn’t be in that day.

“It’ll cost you three points,” they said.

“Write me up. I’m not coming in,” he emphasized.

He called the funeral home where her mother had been cremated and, per her wishes, had them come get her remains and take the shell away.

Three hundred miles away, Jade woke up and rose from her bed.

Walter thought of calling Jade’s estranged husband first and then he thought about calling her neighbors first and then he gave her the respect she deserved and he called her first.

“Hi Jade,” Walter softly said.

She knew something was wrong.

“She’s gone,” is all he had to say.

There was no response, no sound; she just hit “End” on her IPhone and sat down.

He called Sam. Sam wanted to know when, and how, and where she was. He started talking and then stopped. He drove over, bringing his lover with him. He was crying but not talking. Walter told him about Shakti, and Shiva, and Zoë, and that Ringo was nowhere to be found. Sam stood there crying harder, sobbing, and then he walked through her house and yard, looking for Ringo. Sam’s girlfriend was crying, too. Walter never cried.

That weekend, Walter stopped the world so that he could move about in it. He had known what was coming. Before the bomb went off, he had turned to face it. The part of life that dealt with death, he understood, he knew that his pain was because of his attachment to her and, I suppose, to the cats.

On Sunday, people drifted in until there were a couple dozen in her house, some breaking into tears as they gave each other hugs, only a few talking, good people thinking of her and how much they loved her but how they couldn’t reach her. One by one, they made their way to a sofa, chair, or the floor and sat until the room became quiet and still. When he felt that the time was right, Walter motioned to the motionless guests and they followed him out into her yard and garden.

To Walter, it seemed that the energy that had activated her form and now left her had been infused into the vegetables and flowers in her garden. It seemed that in the course of just the few days since she had been gone, the tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, carrots, basil, and onions had all grown to an enormous, healthy size.

“Please, harvest her food. Please, take down from the trees her bells and flags and ornaments and keep them as a memory of her. Cut her flowers for your table and, in return, leave your tears here, let them fall to the earth that she cared for and then stop your crying. Remember her…and live,” Walter spoke and they did as he asked.

Kara, Jade’s schoolmate who had become Mara’s confidant, approached Walter hesitantly. She didn’t look like she wanted to be there. She didn’t look like she wanted to talk with him.

“Hello Kara,” Walter greeted her.

“Hi,” she responded quietly.

“Can I ask you something?” Walter inquired.

She hesitated, maybe knowing the question, and then said, “Yes.”

“Do you remember that day when I came home and you and Mara were sitting out back talking and you took off before I came back out?” he asked.

She nodded yes.

“What were you talking about?”

She was quiet for a moment.

“We were planning this. She was planning her death,” Kara confessed.

Walter knew she was being honest. Some unspoken part of him knew that’s what they’d been doing.

“Sometimes,” she started but then stopped.

“Sometimes what?” he forced the question.

“Sometimes I wish the sun wouldn’t come up in the morning,” she said.

Her eyes were cold and black as ink, the color of a cold, deep sea. She walked away, out of Mara’s yard, out of Walter’s life.

Walter’s phone vibrated and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was Jade.

“Hello,” he answered.

“This is hard for me,” she said, “It’s your fault that this happened. You could have stopped it. You could have gotten help for her. You were right there, all along, and saw everything.”

He just took it.

“You knew how bad it was. You could have told me or Sam, you could have made us understand,” and she was crying too hard to continue. She hung up.

Walter went back inside. He looked for Ringo, again, but didn’t find him. He had lovingly buried the other three little ones in her flower garden and had asked the neighbors to keep an eye out for Ringo, thinking he might be back soon.

Walter knew how fragile Mara had become; she would be almost shattered by some occurrence or disappointment that most people would take in stride. He figured that she might have accidentally driven over Shakti and then, upset about that, decided it was time to end her life. She might have put Shiva to sleep to spare Walter having to care for him. She also had her beliefs about spirit and energy and attachment and wouldn’t have thought that she was actually ending anything, just changing it. He had cleaned up her room before the crew from the mortuary had arrived; what was there was none of their concern. In addition to the usual assortment of sleeping pills and other drugs and booze, he had found a bowl of mostly eaten pudding, an empty vial of Seconal and one of Nembutal; he had no idea how she could have gotten them but he knew, from his own experience, how lethal they could be. What he couldn’t rationalize was what she had done to Zoë. Mara had no violence in her.

A few hours later, Sam appeared at the door from the breezeway to the kitchen.

“Hi,” Walter greeted him.

“Did you find Ringo?” he asked. He was done crying but his eyes were red and his face was puffy.

“No. He’s gone missing before so maybe he’ll turn up,” Walter said.

Sam stared at him but Walter could tell he wanted to say something more.

“Go ahead. What is it?” Walter asked.

“We want you out of the house by month end,” he said it loud, with force, meaning it. He enunciated every symbol, emphasized every word, short, firm, strong, and real.

“Wow,” thought Walter.

“Who is we?” Walter asked.

“Me and Jade,” was his reply.

Walter had done many bad things, mostly before he met Mara and her family and he had given away everything that he had once thought he owned; he had walked through many doors and now he knew that they were all permanently shut behind him.

That night, when he finally slept, he dreamed.

A roaring fire burned within the hearth of each room. It had burned before but never given off such heat. The carpet loosened, the backs of the furniture blistered, and the windows heated until the glass cracked. The light of the moon was shining in through the broken windows, making them look beautiful, each one unique like snowflakes. He saw Lizzy slumped in a chair, her face obscured through the plastic, suffocated by the helium in the bag. Next to her, in her chair near the bay window, was Mara, put to sleep by the pills. The air was full of carbon monoxide, thick and deadly. The door from the breezeway opened and Jade walked in. She wanted to be with her sister in front of the beautiful windows. “Don’t follow!” Walter heard his voice saying.

Walter called me later that day and told me, simply at first, “She walked on.”

“I’m so sorry. It sounds like she went in a peaceful way, though,” an Idiot said and then there was silence over the phone.

“It wasn’t a simple, quick death, one where they will say, “She didn’t suffer.” No, it was a killing that lasted a lifetime and hurt all the while it was going on,” he finally said.

“Yes, of course. I’m just so sorry,” was all I could say.

After we hung up, I cried. I don’t know if it was for Walter or for Mara, or for me. What I did know was that now, in a way, he was free and that he might be leaving.

– …Pause, and become present… –

Chapter 15 – Left Alone

The eye with which I see God is the Eye with which God sees me.
Meister Eckhart

Walter had been back from Mexico for almost two months and had bid farewell to Mara at her home in River City and then left to make a pilgrimage, of sorts, to parts of the land that had raised him. He had loaded his Honda Civic with the items he wanted to keep himself comfortable; his sleeping bag and pad, a tent, some books, clothes for hot and cold, wet and dry conditions, some cooking and eating utensils, his camera and laptop computer, running gear, and a few talismans to serve as reminders. He took his sarong, of course, and would cover himself with it when he napped during his occasional stops at the rest areas along the interstate highways and back roads. On top of the dash, but without obstructing his vision, he’d Velcro mounted “Skully”, the blue and black porcelain skull with the glittering flowers and birds, which would serve to remind him of his death and its place in life. He also hoped it would remind him to keep his eyes on the road and the oncoming traffic. Hanging from his rear-view mirror was a leather strap with an aquamarine stone attached, a solid representation of the color of the sea, as well as a dragonfly constructed from small, colorful glass beads – just in case he came across any mosquitoes.

On the ring finger of his right hand, he wore the same ring that he’d worn for the past five years, silver and black with the Mayan calendar, and next to it he wore the one with the wings, crest, and tab. Both of the rings were flat and low-lying to the skin on his large fingers.

His younger brother, on seeing his strong hands, had once remarked, “Look at those meat hooks!”

At times, when Walter was driving, he’d look out through the windshield at the road and horizon and then, as his gaze drifted back in, he’d see those hands on the wheel and think that it was his father’s hands he was seeing, that his father was driving. The realization, a moment later, that they were his hands always came as a shock to him. His destinations, so far, had been Wyoming and Colorado, Utah and Nevada and the trip had been good for him. He had plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail for a month or so but, now, Walter stood in line on the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California. He knew that the people around him were “Spiritual Seekers” and he supposed it would be fair to place that label on his being, also.

He was looking the people over – they seemed to be good, gentle looking people, as most people on the path were.

He was listening to them and thought, “Is it that they understand that there is no true Awakening and they’ve chosen to attend satsang just to be better people, to feel good, and to surround themselves with community? “

He let that thought go, and then, “Most of them don’t really want to awaken.

There’s all of this head nodding, and maniacal laughter, and egoic conversation about energy, and bragging about other satsangs they have recently attended, and all of this bullshit just to make clear, to themselves and whomever is listening, how special they are.”

He did see, however, some quiet creatures in the midst of the carnival that, he thought, might honestly be hoping to awaken.

So, for Walter, it was back to the question, “Does one spiritually awaken when one is ready, regardless of focus, effort, and intention, or can one cause their own awakening through intention and autolysis?”

The California weather was slightly drizzly, that day, but the campus grounds were beautiful and the old stone building where the talk was given was cozy with wooden floors and comfortable seating. The man, whom he’d come to see, the one who gave the talk, was someone he once idolized but was now someone whom he accepted as a brother and respected for being wise, kind, and humorous – and awake. Through the morning session, Walter thought how the formal lecture, and then the conversations between the teacher and the audience, were good and rang true but he felt, in a sense, that he’d wasted his time and his money coming all this way to hear what he’d heard and read before and what he felt that he already understood.

“Maybe it is good to hear it as often as possible,” he thought.

All of the seats were filled. There were two people who were, obviously, a couple seated to his right and, on his left, there was a pleasantly attractive woman that he judged to be around his age and, to the left of her sat one of the most beautiful, older oriental women Walter had ever seen. During the lunch break, most participants left the hall but Walter sat, in silence, leaving only to hit the restroom and take a short walk outside. When the break began, the woman, two seats to the left of him, pulled her legs up under her long white gauze gown, lotus style, closed her eyes, and remained fixed that way for the hour of the break.

The people returned, refilling the auditorium, and the same individuals sat on each side of Walter.

The afternoon session began, and Walter, again was thinking, “This is just more of the same stuff I’ve read in his books and heard him say. I should just leave at the next break.”

Fifteen minutes later and without warning, the truth that was unspoken but carried in the silence between the words that the teacher spoke, pierced Walter’s heart, took his breath away as if he’d fallen to the ground and had the wind knocked out of him, and left him sobbing, trying to keep from disturbing those around him. His emotion passed to the woman on his left, and she accepted his handkerchief with gratitude. He sat through the remainder of the satsang, feeling emotionally drained, but in a good way, as if he’d had some tumor or sickness excised from his soul.

At roughly the same time, but 2,200 highway miles to the east, Jade was just driving into River City. The day before, she had a chemical face peal and, her skin pink, raw and covered with gel, her two Papillions safety-belted behind her in their car seats; she was driving home to see Sam and planned to spend the week in seclusion with Mara at the lake cottage, letting the skin on her face heal before having to interact with coworkers and the public.

At that same exact time, Mara had just sped home and hurriedly parked her car in the garage, shutting the door behind it, before running through the breezeway, locking the doors behind her as she went, then into her house, past the piles of new clothes still hooked with their tags, and into her bedroom closet to hide next to her hidden booze. Huddled there in the dark, amid the dust and cobwebs, on and between her shoes and boots and under her hanging clothes, she made a call to Jade.

Jade pressed the answer button on her steering wheel and said, “This is Jade,” and heard Mara whispering a scream but couldn’t, quite, understand what she was saying, although it was clear that Mara was frightened.

Instantaneously infected with that fear, Jade phoned Sam, who lived two blocks from Mara. He had been up all night and was trying to sleep but was awakened by her call and with a skill of the eldest child, which she’d refined over the years, Jade commanded him to go to his sister’s house immediately.

Just as Jade’s Lexus rounded the corner to Mara’s place, two county sheriff’s officers on a mission, pulled their separate cars into her driveway. Within minutes, the two burly policemen, red-gel-faced size one Jade, Sam with his hair in disarray and shirt on inside out, the growling Paps, and having been found in her hiding spot, handcuffed and crying Mara, were all clustered in the driveway; and that’s when the shouting began. Before it was over, Sam had been warned to back off and threatened with arrest, Mara, for the second time since returning from Mexico, was hauled off to the county jail, and Jade could not believe what had just happened. Back on the west coast, Walter had left the satsang, and spent a pleasant night in San Rafael, ordering a salad and carrot cake, to balance things, through room service before drifting off to a peaceful sleep that night.

The next morning, he checked out and drove south to Los Gatos, enjoying the drive and the scenery. In The Cats, he visited his childhood friend, Jou, and his German wife, Kati. They shared lunch together at an outside café, taking joy in one-another’s company, catching up on things passed and past. Walter was struck, again, at how similar Jou’s mannerisms were to his own but was also impressed by how calm Jou seemed and how truly peaceful he looked. It was a good visit.

After parting, Walter headed east, driving through the almond orchards and into the El Dorado National Forest, headed back to Colorado. Taking his time, enjoying the natural beauty, he stayed out of touch with family and friends, traveling on some of the smaller, less used roads, making his way to Creed, Colorado, in just over three days.
In Creed, he dined at a small, combination general store and restaurant, having a veggie sandwich and some good coffee. The waitress was a dark haired, athletic woman of indeterminate age; he couldn’t tell if she was younger or older than he was. She took his order, served him his food, and then took his money when he got up to leave.

“There’s a reason why you came in here,” she said to him.

“I was hungry,” he responded, with a laugh.

“I mean, there’s a reason why you came into THIS restaurant, rather than the one next door, or the one next to that, or one of those across the street,” she fired back, as if a little irritated.

Walter tried to always watch for the signs.

“Okay,” he said now attentive, open to what she might say.

“Can you stay until I get off work and then meet me out front?” she asked.

He paused, thinking about it. “Sure, what time?” he asked back.

They agreed on the when and the where and then he went for a walk, and then took a short drive up the canyon and back, before finding a bench in the small city park and planting himself there, alternating between reading and just sitting and being aware. At the appointed time, he walked the short distance to where she was standing, waiting for him, and then they hopped in his car and she directed him to the turnoff to a dirt road that took them to a good lookout point, above the little city, where he parked.

Moving from the car, they each found a dusty but comfortable place in the buffalo grass between the sage and pines and mica, and she began to talk, asking him questions and telling him things about her experience, as she tried to understand why he had triggered this fateful feeling in her. She continued asking questions and leading the conversation until he began to understand; she quieted and it was his turn to ask the questions and take the lead.

The sky was beginning to darken when they’d finished. They rose from where they sat and kissed.

He drove her back to where they’d met and they said, “Goodbye.”

He drove away, taking the night and the darkness with him as he passed out of those canyons and pointed the Civic back towards River City, thinking to himself, “a fortiori.”

The next morning, when the sun had arrived high in the sky and Walter had taken time to wash his face, fuel the car, and purchase a waxy paper cup of coffee in a drive-thru at a chain restaurant, he phoned Mara. It had been a week, at least, since they’d spoken.

The phone rang and a voice answered, “Hello.”

It was Jade. “I’m sorry. I thought I was calling Mara,” he apologized.

“Did she call you?” Jade asked.

“What do you mean? She’s called me but it’s been awhile,” he answered.

“Oh, so you don’t know,” she proclaimed; and then she proceeded to tell him the story of Mara’s repeated shoplifting, her arrest, the mess that her house was, the mess that her life was, and that she was still in jail but would be making bail today.

He told her how he’d caught Mara stealing in Mexico, and how it had been the final straw.

There was a pause from Jade, and then, “YOU LIED TO ME!”

“What do you mean” he asked, totally confused, trying to think where he might have.

“You told me everything was okay. That she was doing fine. You knew about this and you didn’t tell me,” was her reply, and then, “YOU LIED TO ME!” again.

It took Walter three more days to get back to River City and, by that time, Jade’s face had healed and she had returned to her home, her job, and her life. Over the objection of his lover and the ensuing verbal battle between that woman and Jade, a battle in which Jade had prevailed, Sam bailed Mara out of jail for the second time that summer. Walter arrived back in Michigan, finding Mara at the lake cottage where she was taking refuge from both embarrassment and temptation. Their reuniting was, understandably, emotional and meaningful. To Walter, the course of his path had now become clear. Days passed. The weather was good for running, and Mara and he put as many miles under their feet as they could, running the paved or gravel and dirt roads that connected the chain of lakes around the cottage. They’d spend their other hours on the water or sitting together on the balcony overlooking the water, talking and just being.

One morning, when he started out the door to run, Mara had asked him, “Do you want white or black?”

She was making him a “special” friendship bracelet, with the primary beads being made from stone and carved in the shape and detail of skulls so as to remind him, again and in another way, of his death and its place in his life.

“Oh, they’re both beautiful. It’s tough to decide but I think I’ll choose the black.”

“Even black men have white skulls,” was all she said as she turned back to her work and let him leave for his run.

He ran south from the driveway of the cottage, down the hill of the paved street named Gordon, through the dead spot where it was always hot and where there was no breeze as the road bridged the channel between Pickerel Lake and Kimball. He pushed up the first hill of the run then turned, at three-quarters of a mile, on to Pickeral Lane, heading east between the lake cottages, past the boat launch and privy, up the incline and then down again and then back up to Little Switzerland, the local resort. Passing a cottage, he was startled and lurched sideways away from the noise, as someone unseen started a lawnmower in his or her garden shed. He ran by the unchained Bouvier des Flandres that he always saw, seeming passive if not friendly, taking care to pass on the opposite side of the road and keep aware.

Off of Pickerel, at just over two miles he turned left, up the paved shoulder of Centerline and ran another half-mile or so to the turnoff to Emerald and Sylvan Lakes, where the road turned to dirt and gravel and the surroundings became more enjoyable with the cottages being fewer and the space between greater. Deer flies buzzed around his head and, now and then, one got him on his back or through his running cap on the top of his head. He ran the loop that, in spots, turned to sand near the water, passing a few people who were walking, coming up behind them and coughing or breathing loudly to alert them of his presence, not wanting to startle them. He saw no other runners but spotted running shoe prints, not his or Mara’s, in the sand.

At 6 ½ miles he hit the pavement again and turned right, heading up the first part of what was mostly an uphill run, as Centerline Road became 48th Street. It was another mile, nearly two, and a turn before cresting the hill and coming back to the driveway of the cottage.

He walked down the driveway and, knowing the front door would be locked, walked around the side of the building and took the ivy covered wooden steps up to the balcony.

He could see Mara a short distance out on the water; sitting in the 11-ft aluminum boat he’d bought her that first summer. She’d named it “Candy” after one she’d seen, and become fond of, on a trip they’d taken to the Dominican Republic.

He sat on the wooden bench that was backed against the cedar-sided wall of the cottage. The sweat, from his run, was running off of his body. He leaned forward, letting the drops fall from the brim of his running cap to a gap between deck boards on the balcony beneath him. He counted the drops several times and came up with an average of 180 per minute. He kept his head, his hat, and the drops positioned so that they remained in one spot, filling the gap between boards above a truss that supported them; until he could hear the water, having filled the dry wood and the gap, make a splashing sound. He looked at his shoes, he was wearing his Mexico shoes today, the New Balance 769’s that were durable and supportive but, sometimes, took his toenails. He used Vaseline to prevent blisters and felt fine. His socks were the new, synthetic running socks with no seams. He watched the muscles in his right calf, and then his left, twitch as they always did from the damage in his spine. He knew that when he eventually took off his shoes and socks, he’d see the same twitching in his feet. His running shorts, blacker now, soaked with sweat, clung to his thighs and crotch, his shirt to his belly and arms.

Finally, he lifted his head and looked to the left arm of the bench.

Hanging there, in anticipation of his return from the run, was the black-skulled bracelet she’d made for him. Strung between each carved skull was an uncarved stone of another color and texture that balanced the skulls beautifully. Between the black obsidian skulls she had strung Aquamarine, Amethyst, Amber, Citrine, and Calcite. He took the bracelet from the wooden arm of the bench and pulled it over his left hand to the flesh arm of his body and felt a rush of energy, as if, for just a moment, electricity was running through his wrist, and then it settled.

There was a nearly empty blue plastic glass on the table next to the bench. He took it and smelled it and knew that she’d been drinking already.

He raised his head and looked out at the shimmering lake that was reflecting the morning sun. He could see and hear Mara, out on the water, head bent to her cell phone, talking through her tears.

“Probably to Jade,” he thought.

He could see the game of Mute Swans, white with their black eyes and orange bills, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen; it was seventeen that he counted on the water around her that day. In the background far behind her, he saw a rainbow.

There was no easy way for him to tell me the rest of his story.

“Just tell me,” I said.