was four tusked walruses of increasing size, stranded on a narrow strip
of pack ice. Susie hated it. She couldn’t say why as she sobbed, clutching
a black stick over a blank page.
That morning Mike’s ex-wife had testified telephonically, her almost
shrill, hesitant voice loud out of speakers on either side of the judge.
Mike, in his neon green jail uniform, sat stone still as Betsy described
incidents where his temper exploded. “On the verge,” she said. “On the
Mike’s lawyer—we had split her $20,000 retainer with Mike—pressed
the issue: “On the verge of what? Did he ever physically harm you or
“E-e-emotional harm,” Betsy said.
Leonard’s wife testified that he had worshipped Mike, “but he said
Dr. Prayer was . . . a control freak. All about intimidation . . . like he had
She had no examples, just memories of Leonard deflated and de-
pressed—he was on Prozac—for his last months.
The gun, the angle of the shot, notes from some inaccessible past,
disembodied voices in a courtroom in “the northernmost city in the
United States,” the honorable Gretchen Gill presiding. Twelve strangers
more involved in the life of my son for those weeks than they may have
ever been with their own kids’.
It was storming when the verdict was read, ice slashed sideways across
the high windows in the courtroom, the wind seething, is how I’d have
to describe it, at every seam in that building. Mike hugged his lawyer
and beamed at us, and when had we ever cried like that?
So I am coming to in the Swedish Hospital in Denver, where Dr. Dejean
operates, after the hours of anesthesia, and I am still in some dream
about rowing Mike over heaving waves, living shapes streaming under
the surface, when his face pushes close, closer. I wake in a room with
wide vistas of city and faraway mountains. He sits beside me, Susie be-
hind him, our other son and our daughter behind them. A nurse bob-
bing like a buoy. He clutches my hand. He says, “So you’re finally rid of
that damn thing.”
He says that, and everyone except Susie smiles, and I try to feel its
absence, that thing. Mike had been in a hut on an island in the Arctic
Ocean where a man had been killed with a shotgun. He had told the
Coast Guard dispatcher, “I have a situation.” He had been alone on that