an epic quest or a tragic romance. Her little brow furrowed, totally absorbed, oblivious to my presence. I’m so proud of you, I write her. I’m so
proud of the life and career you’ve chosen. And then I get ready to work.
Just after opening my e-mail, I hear it. The burbling sound of water. I get up to investigate. The fluorescent arrays have motion sensors;
only the area above my cubicle is lit; the rest of the floor sinks away into
shadow. As I walk, the lights flick on with a metallic pop and hiss. The
shadows shift at my feet.
I follow the sound up and down the aisles. The sound echoes in the
empty room, so it takes me some time to find its source. I do at last only
because I begin to smell as well as hear it: the damp, fishy smell of a pond
on a hot day. The smell of fishing with my father on summer evenings at
the lake. He’d come home from work at five thirty on the dot, and we’d
stop at the bait shop for a tub of night crawlers and Cokes and candy
bars for me, and then we’d go sit on a damp bank as the sun drifted
down toward the opposite side of the lake. I’d wander off to play in the
mud, but when my father hooked a big one he’d shout, and I’d come to
reel it in. We’d stay until the contours of the water were swallowed up
in shadow. By the time we got home, my mother would have the grill
already hot, and we’d cook the fish whole and pick the flaky white flesh
from the bones with our fingers. You can’t eat those fish anymore. In
the late ’70s a paper mill dumped a bunch of mercury into one of the
streams that feeds the lake.
The sound is very loud, very close. I peer into each cubicle one by
one until I reach the fifth cube on the right. There, in place of the floor,
I wasn’t prepared for that kind of wonder, the mo-
ment the nurse handed her into my arms and there
was nothing in the room for me but that tiny crum-
pled face. I waltzed off with her, my wife groggy with
anesthetic from the C-section and calling after me to
bring her back.