insisting you could navigate without a map. That was hilarious, I’d say,
though you’re forgetting that I also got us unlost. So stubborn, she’d
say; and remember that restaurant we ate at that night? That was good,
you had that pasta with the squid ink. That was delicious—I’d kill for
that right now, screw Jell-O. And then, I’d say, when we walked home,
the night air was somehow warmer than the day had been. It’s because
it had just rained, she’d remind me, and there was that fog rising from
the streets; the light everywhere was yellow, but the sky was clear. And
we’d go on and on like that, constructing story after story about places
we’d never been and things we’d never done, memories from a life not
One night, a new nurse came in and caught me.
“Ma’am,” she asked my wife, “are you aware there’s a man under your
“Oh, no,” my wife said, “there’s no one there.”
“Who are you talking to, then?”
“I’m talking to God.”
Security was examining my driver’s license by the time my wife re-
lented. In the morning, she told our daughter the story, and both of
them cackled in delight. Neither could ever resist a good practical joke.
I go for a walk to shake off the weird feeling I got looking at Jim’s
Facebook. It’s a little warmer; the last grimy snow is finally running
down the gutters, damming rafts of winter trash against the grates. At
the corner, I turn right, sticking to the blocks where the houses are still
in good repair, with tidy lawns and lush colors on the Victorian trim—
professors’ houses with children’s swings in the yards and rainbow flags
in the windows and those little welcome signs in many languages.
When my daughter was little, we knew nearly every family in the
neighborhood—there were block parties and barbecues, sleepovers and
Halloween walks. The leaving happened the way big changes always do,
so slowly you didn’t notice it. This person got a tenure-track job at another
university. That family inherited a house in a different state. One neighbor took a job in New York City, another in Boston, a third in Durham.
Several families bought larger houses in the expanding outer suburbs,
with big insulating lawns and better schools. By the time my wife died,
there were only three of those original families left to drop by with frozen
Tupperwares, to watch my daughter after school, to come over in the unendurable nights with a bottle of scotch and quiet company. The others
sent cards and flowers and made the drive for the funeral.