Life on the Prairie by David Kingham, flickr
That summer was ablaze. Moira had left me and I was alone in the unairconditioned house we had so carefully chosen a couple of years before. I had never noticed how, at night on the plains, the wind whips through all those blades of grass so that for the person alone, the sound it makes can deafen ears that are not otherwise distracted by a loving presence.
Moira and I had both spent our nights reading and playing board games and drawing pictures. When I would sit down to my work, there was never a moment I did not sense my wife doing her work in the kitchen, or simply, breathing, turning pages, shifting in her chair. I am an indexer, responsible for filing away in categories the hundreds of pieces of minutia someone reading a source might find relevant. When I was at work at home, I always felt myself giving way calmly and steadily to my tasks in the glow of what I experienced to be our love for each other.
I wish I had recorded the sounds of Moira. Had I known she were leaving, I would have scattered tiny recording devices in various places so that I could replay them on continuous loops once she dropped out of my existence, as quietly as the sun dipped beneath the curve of the earth.
One night after she had gone I needed groceries. I hadn’t exactly kept up with anything. The house was a wreck, I needed a bath, the yard was overgrown. I showered and showed up at the grocery as a slightly more improved man than the man of a few hours hence. I picked up things we would have both picked up. I had decided to make dishes we had made together or that Moira made me. I couldn’t be bothered to come up with anything new. I managed to pay for my groceries, but funds were getting low. I had to work again or I would have to sell the house. It was all that I had of Moira. I could still smell her. In fact, sometimes, when I returned home, I thought she was there.
On my way home, I was headed over a bridge when a boy appeared in my headlights. He was waving me down. I stopped the car. He seemed harmless enough and anyone who was trying that hard could easily sway me to do their bidding. I felt barely alive and could just as easily die at a stranger’s hands than live.
“I need help,” said the boy, who appeared to be almost a man, but there was something quite young about him still. “My mother has fallen into the ravine. Our car broke down a mile or so away.”
It was a damp night, easy to imagine someone falling if they took a wrong step off the narrow shoulder of the road.
I followed the boy down through the trees and undergrowth. I spotted a woman there beside the river, her left leg splayed slightly. She wore a dress and the t-strap shoes my mother used to wear when my brother and I were boys, in the days my parents ran a farm. She looked like my mother, in fact. As I approached, she fixed on me with her intense gaze. She pointed at me. “Boy!” she addressed her son. “I told you to bring help. Who is this man?”
“This is help, Mama.”
“I need someone who can lift me, a stretcher.”
I managed to get the woman back up to my car with the help of her son who supported her on the opposite side. I lowered her into the back seat. I was convinced now this was my mother and the boy my brother who had died in a farming accident. I got into the driver’s seat. What else was one to do but behave as one always does? I started the engine and when I turned to speak to my passengers, realized I was alone.
At home, I found a note I had somehow missed, something Moira had written, a good bye:
“No one ever leaves anyone. We live on in memories and dreams. I’m sorry I have to leave you, James, but I will see you at night when I close my eyes. Please forgive me.”
I forgave her. I said it out loud, but I was also saying it to my mother. She had always loved my older brother more than she loved me – my older brother, the boy on the bridge. And it had always hurt. But now I experienced love for them both. And love for Moira.
I wasn’t quite sure what I had experienced on the bridge and in the ravine. It was the loneliness and grief perhaps that had caused me to have such a strange hallucination. I hadn’t slept well for weeks. I needed to get back to work, to some sort of normalcy.
I turned on the television for its friendly sound, a kind of atavistic pleasure and took my comfort that there would be less silence in the house from now on even without this bright distraction. I felt the presence of those I loved even though they were absent. I began making dinner.