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About Grace Anthony Doerr About Grace is the brilliant debut novel from Anthony Doerr, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning All The Light We Cannot See.Growing up in Alaska, young David Winkler is crippled by his dreams. At nine, he dreams a man is decapitated by a passing truck on the path outside his family’s home. The next day, unable to prevent it, he witnesses an exact replay of his dream in real life. The premonitions keep coming, unstoppably. He sleepwalks during them, bringing catastrophe into his reach.Then, as unstoppable as a vision, he falls in love, at the supermarket (exactly as he already dreamed) with Sandy. They flee south, landing in Ohio, where their daughter Grace is born. And then the visions of Grace’s death begin for Winkler, as their waterside home is inundated. Plagued by the same horrific images of Grace drowning, when the floods come, he cannot face his destiny and flees.He beaches on a remote Caribbean island, where he works as a handyman, chipping away at his doubts and hopes, never knowing whether Grace survived the flood or met the doom he foretold. After two decades, he musters the strength to find out… About Grace Anthony Doerr Copyright (#ulink_5fbadb35-525e-53ac-a331-48a639bdb97b) This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. Fourth Estate An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.4thestate.co.uk (http://www.4thestate.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate in 2005 Copyright © Anthony Doerr 2005 Extract from All the Light We Cannot See © Anthony Doerr 2014 Cover photograph © Therese/Getty Images Anthony Doerr asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operatin at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780007146970 Ebook Edition © DECEMBER 2011 ISBN: 9780007405114 Version: 2018-10-08 Dedication (#ulink_4af544cc-dc36-57f7-a7f1-ad4268d141d6) for my mother and father Epigraph (#ulink_1d7bff7b-5c41-511b-a23a-4b2535345016) There must be some definite cause why, whenever snow begins to fall, its initial formation invariably displays the shape of a six-cornered starlet. For if it happens by chance, why do they not fall just as well with five corners or with seven?…Who carved the nucleus, before it fell, into six horns of ice? From “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake,” by Johannes Kepler, 1610 Contents Cover (#ub25ba6d8-6a6c-58f6-a904-c1f2086874e6) Title Page (#u2b787df5-c618-5310-aff0-22d0fae15a80) Copyright (#u272f636a-5abf-5ff6-8d0a-de88b14a7ac2) Dedication (#uea7d9d5e-eb73-5b6b-9dd8-84624487c1b5) Epigraph (#u9a612477-e3d0-5cc1-a6c9-a8976861c9dd) Book One (#ufe6583ea-5a40-55bb-bdfc-f979f14acda7) Chapter 1 (#ud9c10d26-64a7-5d12-a7fb-b4538be7830a) Chapter 2 (#ufc3ef7d4-2323-58e9-a585-8ba35f1f34a6) Chapter 3 (#u8469cad6-ba0b-5804-b403-446dfc5ea05e) Chapter 4 (#u5c735c2a-ccb5-585c-b7ff-78cdc904fc2b) Chapter 5 (#u6f060e01-471f-587a-b149-a53dddd35297) Chapter 6 (#u0c564a1a-f799-5840-991e-1b881c167f9a) Chapter 7 (#u3642bff5-c6bc-5a3b-ac3f-b6308184b6ce) Chapter 8 (#u3d817aec-b772-5545-9e47-a0e212e5db52) Chapter 9 (#udfc2c0f2-f344-5963-a89d-d63d83183589) Chapter 10 (#u70c72107-fc9f-5edf-baaa-bd532d260882) Chapter 11 (#ub31b1158-470a-50d3-b3d8-4776490a1a65) Chapter 12 (#u044afbc1-078e-501c-b892-a8aa705c9a23) Chapter 13 (#u0a170064-4882-5215-83df-fce91eaec2c5) Chapter 14 (#u690f5c19-40f1-5d0d-9319-cf6d3b58f939) Chapter 15 (#u83bb50d8-6869-5bb7-ba7c-d57656536c88) Book Two (#u5d42ad66-0b2a-5592-875b-12df128cccdd) Chapter 1 (#u0dbdbf54-182d-582d-bc6f-d0ac904a356f) Chapter 2 (#uf104c9e1-0b6b-59e5-8f53-89976b468f70) Chapter 3 (#u2bde8781-85d0-5d28-a1d0-def6c5d36b7a) Chapter 4 (#u277a1c69-32f6-508a-a85c-7eec70874705) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Book Three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Book Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Book Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Book Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 1 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 2 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 3 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 4 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 5 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgments (#litres_trial_promo) All the Light We Cannot See (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Anthony Doerr (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Book One (#ulink_527f45f1-c850-57f9-9fbf-278945ca41a7) 1 (#ulink_40ca9d7e-4962-5b95-98d4-ecfbc01e24b7) He made his way through the concourse and stopped by a window to watch a man with two orange wands wave a jet into its gate. Above the tarmac the sky was faultless, that relentless tropic blue he had never quite gotten used to. At the horizon, clouds had piled up: cumulus congests, a sign of some disturbance traveling along out there, over the sea. The slim frame of a metal detector awaited its line of tourists. In the lounge: duty-free rum, birds of paradise sleeved in cellophane, necklaces made from shells. From his shirt pocket he produced a notepad and a pen. The human brain, he wrote, is seventy-five percent water. Our cells are little more than sacs in which to carry water. When we die it spills from us into the ground and air and into the stomachs of animals and is contained again in something else. The properties of liquid water are this: it holds its temperature longer than air; it is adhering and elastic; it is perpetually in motion. These are the tenets of hydrology; these are the things one should know if one is to know oneself. He passed through the gate. On the boarding stairs, almost to the jet, a feeling like choking rose in his throat. He clenched his duffel and clung to the rail. A line of birds—ground doves, perhaps—were landing one by one in a patch of mown grass on the far side of the runway. The passengers behind him shifted restlessly. A flight attendant wrung her hands, reached for him, and escorted him into the cabin. The sensation of the plane accelerating and rising was like entering a vivid and perilous dream. He braced his forehead against the window. The ocean widened below the wing; the horizon tilted, then plunged. The plane banked and the island reemerged, lush and sudden, fringed by reef. For an instant, in the crater of Soufriere, he could see a pearly green sheet of water. Then the clouds closed, and the island was gone. The woman in the seat next to him had produced a novel and was beginning to read. The airplane climbed the troposphere. Tiny fronds of frost were growing on the inner pane of the window. Behind them the sky was dazzling and cold. He blinked and wiped his glasses with his sleeve. They were climbing into the sun. 2 (#ulink_06791efa-c3b5-5826-abad-d4feb0f12f31) His name was David Winkler and he was fifty-nine years old. This would be his first trip home in twenty-five years—if home was what he could still call it. He had been a father, a husband, and a hydrologist. He was not sure if he was any of those things now. His ticket was from Kingstown, St. Vincent, to Cleveland, Ohio, with a stopover in Miami. The first officer was relaying airspeed and altitude through loudspeakers in the ceiling. Weather over Puerto Rico. The captain would keep the seat belt sign illuminated. From his window seat, Winkler glanced around the cabin. Passengers—Americans, mostly—were reading, sleeping, speaking quietly to one another. The woman beside Winkler held the hand of a blond man in the aisle seat. He closed his eyes, rested his head against the window, and gradually slipped into something like sleep. He woke sweating. The woman in the seat beside him was shaking his shoulder. “You were dreaming,” she said. “Your legs were shaking. And your hands. You pressed them against the window.” “I’m all right.” Far below the wing scrolled reefs of cumuli. He mopped his face with a cuff. Her gaze lingered on him before she took up her novel again. He sat awhile and studied the clouds. Finally, with a resigned voice, he said, “The compartment above you isn’t latched properly. In the turbulence it’ll open and the bag inside will fall out.” She looked up. “What?” “The compartment. The bin.” He motioned with his eyes toward the space above them. “It must not be completely closed.” She leaned across the blond man beside her, into the aisle. “Really?” She nudged the blond man and said something and he looked over and up and said the bin was fine and latched tight. “Are you sure?” “Quite.” The woman turned to Winkler. “It’s fine. Thank you.” She went back to her book. Two or three minutes later the plane began to buck, and the entire cabin plunged for a long second. The bin above them rattled, the door clicked open, and a bag dropped into the aisle. From inside came the muffled crunch of breaking glass. The blond man lifted the bag and peered inside and swore. The plane leveled off. The bag was straw and printed with an image of a sailboat. The man began taking out pieces of what looked like souvenir martini glasses and shaking his head at them. A flight attendant squatted in the aisle and collected fragments in an airsickness bag. The woman in the middle seat stared at Winkler with a hand over her mouth. He kept his gaze out the window. The frost between the panes was growing, making tiny connections, a square inch of delicate feathers, a two-dimensional wonderland of ice. 3 (#ulink_d8708b60-03d5-5f7d-b54f-b6d4d8a70a2a) He called them dreams. Not auguries or visions exactly, or presentiments or premonitions. Calling them dreams let him edge as close as he could to what they were: sensations—experiences, even—that visited him as he slept and faded after he woke, only to reemerge in the minutes or hours or days to come. It had taken years before he was able to recognize the moment as it approached—something in the odor of a room (a smell like cedar shingles, or smoke, or hot milk and rice), or the sound of a diesel bus shaking along below an apartment, and he would realize this was an event he had experienced before, that what was about to happen—his father slicing his finger on a can of sardines, a gull alighting on the sill—was something that had already happened, in the past, in a dream. He had standard dreams, too, of course, the types of dreams everyone has, the film reels of paradoxical sleep, all the improbable narratives concocted by a cerebral cortex working to organize its memories. But occasionally, rarely, what he saw when he slept (rain overwhelmed the gutters; the plumber offered half his turkey sandwich; a coin disappeared, inexplicably, from his pocket) was different—sharper, truer, and premonitory. All his life it had been like this. His dreams predicted crazy, impossible things: stalactites grew out of the ceiling; he opened a door to find the bathroom stuffed with melting ice. And they predicted everyday things: a woman dropped a magazine; a cat delivered a broken sparrow to the back door; a bag fell from an overhead bin and its contents broke in the aisle. Like dreams these apparitions ambushed him in the troubled fringes of sleep, and once they were finished, they were almost always lost, disbanding into fragments he could not reassemble later. But a few times in his life he had fuller visions: the experience of them fine-edged and hyperreal—like waking to find himself atop a barely frozen lake, the deep cracking sounding beneath his feet—and those dreams remained long after he woke, reminding themselves to him throughout the days to come, as if the imminent could not wait to become the past, or the present lunged at the future, eager for what would be. Here most of all the word failed: These were dreams deeper than dreaming, beyond remembering. These dreams were knowing. He shifted in his seat and watched phalanxes of clouds pass below the wing. Memories scudded toward him, as distinct as the fibers in the seat-back in front of him: he saw the blue glow of a welding arc flicker in a window; he saw rain washing over the windshield of his old Chrysler. He was seven and his mother bought him his first pair of eyeglasses; he hurried through the apartment examining everything: the structure of frost in the icebox, a spattering of rain on the parlor window. What a marvel it had been to see the particulars of the world—rainbows of oil floating in puddles; columns of gnats spiraling over Ship Creek; the crisp, scalloped edges of clouds. 4 (#ulink_49d13174-ff83-57fb-9e28-b6ad0ac63f1f) He was on an airplane, fifty-nine years old, but he could be simultaneously—in the folds of memory—a quarter century younger, in bed, in Ohio, falling asleep. The house was still and going dark. Beside him his wife slept on top of the comforter, legs splayed, her body giving off heat as it always did. Their infant daughter was quiet across the hall. It was midnight, March, rain at the windows, and he had to be up at five the next morning. He listened to the click and patter of drops against the panes. His eyelids fell. In his dream, water swirled three feet deep in the street. From the upstairs window—he was standing at it, palms against the glass—the neighborhood houses looked like a fleet of foundered arks: flood-water past the first-floor sills, fences swallowed, saplings up to their necks. His daughter was crying somewhere. Behind him the bed was empty and neatly made—where had his wife gone? Boxes of cereal and a few dishes stood on the dresser; a pair of gum boots waited atop the stairs. He hurried from room to room calling for his daughter. She was not in her crib or the bathroom or anywhere upstairs. He pulled on the boots and descended to the front hall. Two feet of water covered the entire first floor, silent and cold, a color like milky coffee. When he stood on the hall carpet, the water was past his knees. His daughter’s whimpering echoed strangely through the rooms, as if she were present in every corner. “Grace?” Outside more water muttered and pressed at the walls. He waded forward. Pale spangles of reflected light swung back and forth over the ceiling. Three magazines turned idly in his wake; a bloated roll of paper towels bumped his knee and drifted off. He opened the pantry and sent a wave rolling through the kitchen, jostling the stools. A group of half-submerged lightbulbs like the caps of tiny drifting skulls sailed toward the refrigerator. He paused. He could no longer hear her. “Grace?” From outside came the sound of a motorboat passing. Each breath hung in front of him a moment before dispersing. The light was failing. The hairs on his arms stood up. He picked up the phone—the cord floating beneath it—but there was no dial tone. Something sour and thin was beginning to rise from his gut. He forced open the basement door and found the stairwell entirely submerged, lost beneath a foamy brown rectangle of water. A page from a calendar floated there, something of his wife’s, a photo of a candy-striped lighthouse, darkening and turning in the froth. He panicked. He searched for her beneath the hall table, behind the armchair (which was nearly afloat now); he looked in ridiculous places: the silverware drawer, a Tupperware bowl. He waded with his arms down, feeling below the surface, dragging his fingers along the floor. The only sounds were of his lower body splashing along and the smaller percussions of waves he’d made lapping against the walls. He found her on his third pass through the family room. She was in her bassinet, atop the highest shelf of his wife’s plant stand, against the foggy window, her eyes wide, a blanket over her shoulders. Her yellow wool cap on her head. Her blanket was dry. “Grace,” he said, lifting her out, “who put you up there?” Emotion flitted across her face, her lips tightening, her forehead wrinkling. Just as quickly, her expression eased. “It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll get you out of here.” He held her against his chest, waded through the hall, and dragged open the front door. Water sighed in from the yard. The street had become a clotted, makeshift river. The sugar maple on the Sachses’ lawn was lying immersed across the street. Plastic bags, snagged in the branches, vibrated in the passage of water and sent up a high, unearthly buzzing, a sound like insects swarming. No lights were on. Two cats he had never seen before paced a low branch of the front yard oak. Dozens of possessions were adrift: a lawn chair, a pair of plastic trash cans, a Styrofoam cooler—all slathered with mud, all parading slowly down the street. He waded down the steps of the front walk. Soon the water was to his belt and he held Grace high against his shoulder with both arms and fought the current. Her breath was small in his ear. His own breath stood out in front of them in short-lived clouds of vapor. His clothes were drenched and he had begun to shiver. The force of water—slow, but heavy with sediment and sticks and whole clumps of turf—pushed resolutely at his thighs and he felt it trying to raise his feet and carry them away. A hundred yards up the street, behind the Stevensons’ place, a small blue light winked among the trees. He glanced back at the entrance to his own house, dark, already far away. “Hang on, Grace,” he said. She did not cry. From the location of the telephone poles standing in the dimness he could discern where the sidewalk was and made for it. He clawed his way up the street, hanging with one arm on to lampposts and the trunks of trees and pulling himself forward as if up the rungs of an enormous ladder. He would reach the blue light and save them. He would wake, safe and dry, in his bed. The flood hissed and murmured, a sound like blood rising in his ears. The taste of it was in his teeth: clay and something else, like rust. Several times he thought he might slip and had to stop, propped against a mailbox, spitting water, clutching the baby. His glasses fogged. His legs and feet were numb. The flood sucked at his boots. The light behind the Stevensons’ wavered and blinked and rematerialized as it passed behind obstacles. A boat. The water was not as deep up here. “Help!” he called. “Help us.” Grace was quiet: a small weight against his wet shirt. Far away, as if from a distant shore, sirens keened. A few steps later, he stumbled. Water surged to his shoulders. The river pushed at him the way wind pushes at a sail and all his life, even in dreams, he would remember the sensation: the feeling of being overwhelmed by water. In a second he was borne away. He held Grace as high as he could and clamped her little thighs between his palms, his thumbs in the small of her back. He kicked; he pointed his toes and tried to find bottom. The upper halves of houses glided past. For a moment he thought they would be carried all the way down the street, past their house, past the cul-de-sac, and into the river. Then his head struck a telephone pole; he spun; the current washed them under. The evening had gone to that last blue before darkness. He tried to hold Grace above his chest, her little hips in his hands; his own head stayed under. His shoulders struck submerged sticks, a dozen unseen obstacles. The undercurrent sucked one of his boots off. A few hundred feet down the block they passed into an eddy, full of froth and twigs, and he threw his legs around a mailbox—the last mailbox on the street. Here the flood coursed through wooded lots at the terminus of the street and merged with the swollen, unrecognizable Chagrin River. There, somehow, he managed to stagger to his feet, still holding Grace. A spasm tore through his diaphragm and he began to cough. The bobbing, shifting point of light that had been by the Stevensons’ was miraculously closer. “Help us!” he gasped. “Over here!” The mailbox swiveled against his weight. The light drew nearer. It was a rowboat. A man leaned over the bow waving a flashlight. He could hear voices. The mailbox groaned against his weight. “Please,” Winkler tried to say. “Please.” The boat approached. The light was in his face. Hands had ahold of his belt and were hauling him over the gunwale. “Is she dead?” he heard someone ask. “Is she breathing?” Winkler gulped air. His glasses were lost but he could see that Grace’s mouth hung open. Her hair was wet, her yellow cap gone. Her cheeks had lost their color. He could not seem to relax his arms—they did not seem like his arms at all. “Sir,” someone said. “Let her loose, sir.” He felt a scream boiling up in his throat. Someone called for him to let go, let go, let go. This was a dream. This had not happened. 5 (#ulink_66a2de16-cc39-5d09-acbe-0ce0885c4942) Memory gallops, then checks up and veers unexpectedly; to memory, the order of occurrence is arbitrary. Winkler was still on an airplane, hurtling north, but he was also pushing farther back, sinking deeper into the overlaps, to the years before he even had a daughter, before he had even dreamed of the woman who would become his wife. This was 1975. He was thirty-two years old, in Anchorage, Alaska. He had an apartment over a garage in Midtown, a 1970 Chrysler Newport, few friends, no family left. If there was anything to notice about him, it was his eyeglasses: thick, Coke-bottle lenses in plastic frames. Behind them his eyes appeared unsubstantial and slightly warped, as if he peered not through a half centimeter of curved glass but through ice, two frozen pools, his eyeballs floating just beneath. It was March again, early breakup, the sun not completely risen but a warmth in the air, blowing east, and with it the improbable smell of new leaves, as if spring was already happening to the west—in the Aleutian volcanoes or all the way across the strait in Siberia—the first compressed buds showing on whatever kinds of trees they had there, and bears blinking as they stumbled from their hibernal dens, whole festivals starting, nighttime songs and burgeoning romances and homages to the equinox and the first seeds being sown—Russian spring blowing across the Bering Sea and over the mountains and tumbling into Anchorage. Winkler dressed in one of his two brown corduroy suits and walked to the small brick National Weather Service office on Seventh Avenue where he worked as an analyst’s assistant. He spent the morning compiling snowpack forecasts at his little veneered desk. Every few minutes a slab of snow would slide off the roof and plunge into the hedge outside his window with a muffled whump. At noon he walked to the Snow Goose Market and ordered a salami and mustard on wheat and waited in a checkout lane to pay for it. Fifteen feet away a woman in tortoiseshell glasses and a tan polyester suit stopped in front of a revolving rack of magazines. Two boxes of cereal and a half gallon of milk stood primly in her basket. The light—angling through the front windows—fell across her waist and lit her shins below her skirt. He could see tiny particles of dust drifting in the air between her ankles, each fleck tumbling individually in and out of sunlight, and there was something intensely familiar in their arrangement. A cash register clanged. An automatic fan in the ceiling clicked on with a sigh. Suddenly he knew what would happen—he had dreamed it four or five nights before. The woman would drop a magazine; he would step over, pick it up, and give it back. The cashier handed a pair of teenagers their change and looked expectantly at Winkler. But he could not take his eyes from the woman browsing magazines. She spun the rack a quarter turn, her thumb and forefinger fell hesitantly upon an issue (Good Housekeeping, March 1975, Valerie Harper on the cover, beaming and tan in a green tank top), and she picked it up. The cover slipped; the magazine fell. His feet made for her as if of their own volition. He bent; she stooped. The tops of their heads nearly touched. He lifted the magazine, swiped dust off the cover, and handed it over. They straightened simultaneously. He realized his hand was shaking. His eyes did not meet hers but left their attention somewhere above her throat. “You dropped this,” he said. She didn’t take it. At the register a housewife had taken his place in line. A bagboy snapped open a bag and lowered a carton of eggs into it. “Miss?” She inhaled. Behind her lips were trim rows of shiny teeth, slightly off-axis. She closed her eyes and held them shut a moment before opening them, as if waiting out a spell of vertigo. “Did you want this?” “How—?” “Your magazine?” “I have to go,” she said abruptly. She set down her shopping basket and made for the exit, almost jogging, holding her coat around her, hurrying through the door into the parking lot. For a few seconds he could see her two legs scissoring up the street; then she was obscured by a banner taped over the window, and gone. He stood holding the magazine for a long time. The sounds of the store gradually returned. He picked up her basket, set his sandwich in it, and paid for it all—the milk, the cereal, the Good Housekeeping. Later, after midnight, he lay in his bed and could not sleep. Elements of her (three freckles on her left cheek, the groove between the knobs of her collarbone, a strand of hair tucked behind her ear) scrolled past his eyes. On the floor beside him the magazine lay open: an ad for dog biscuits, a recipe for blueberry upside-down cake. He got up, tore open one of the cereal boxes—both were Kellogg’s Apple Jacks—and ate handfuls of the little pale rings at his kitchen window, watching the streetlights shudder in the wind. A month passed. Rather than fade from his memory, the woman grew sharper, more insistent: two rows of teeth, dust floating between her ankles. At work he saw her face on the undersides of his eyelids, in a numerical model of groundwater data from Shemya Air Force Base. Almost every noon he found himself at the Snow Goose, scanning checkout lanes, lingering hopefully in the cereal aisle. He went through the first box of Apple Jacks in a week. The second box he ate more slowly, rationing himself a palmful a day, as if that box were the last in existence, as if when he looked into the bottom and found only sugary dust, he’d have consumed not only his memory of her, but any chance of seeing her again. He brought the Good Housekeeping to work and paged through it: twenty-three recipes for potatoes; coupons for Pillsbury Nut Bread; a profile of quintuplets. Were there clues to her here? When no one was looking he set Valerie Harper’s cover photo under a coworker’s Swift 2400 and examined her clavicle in the viewfinder. She consisted of melees of dots—yellows and magentas, ringed with blue—her breasts made of big, motionless halos. Winkler, who in his thirty-two years had hardly left the Anchorage Bowl, who still caught himself some clear days staring wistfully at the Alaska Range to the north, the brilliant white massifs, and the white spaces farther back, the way they floated on the horizon less like real mountains than the ghosts of them, now found his eyes drawn into the dream kitchens of advertisements: copper pots, shelf paper, folded napkins. Was her kitchen like one of these? Did she, too, use Brillo Supreme steel wool pads for her heavy-duty cleaning needs? He found her in June, at the same market. This time she wore a plaid skirt and tall boots. She stepped briskly through the aisles, looking different, more determined. A shaft of anxiety whirled in his chest. She bought a small bottle of grape juice and an apple, counting exact change out of a tiny purse with brass clasps. She was in and out in under two minutes. He followed. She walked quickly, making long strides, her gaze on the sidewalk ahead of her. Winkler had to half jog to keep up. The day was warm and damp and her hair, tied at the back of her neck, seemed to float along behind her head. At D Street she waited to cross and Winkler came up behind her, suddenly too close—if he leaned forward six inches, the top of her head would have been in his face. He stared at her calves disappearing into her boots and inhaled. What did she smell like? Clipped grass? The sleeve of a wool sweater? The mouth of the little brown bag that held her apple and juice crinkled in her fist. The light changed. She started off the curb. He followed her six blocks up Fifth Avenue, where she turned right and went into a branch of First Federal Savings and Loan. He paused outside, trying to calm his heart. A pair of gulls sailed past, calling to each other. Through the stenciling on the window, past a pair of desks (with bankers at them, penciling things onto big desk calendars), he watched her pull open a walnut half-door and slip behind the teller counter. There were customers waiting. She set down her little bag, slid aside a sign, and waved the first one forward. He hardly slept. A full moon, high over the city, dragged the tide up Knik Arm, then let it out again. He read from Watson, from Pauling, the familiar words disassembling in front of his eyes. He stood by the window with a legal pad and wrote: Inside me a trillion cells are humming, proteins stalking the strands of my DNA, winding and unwinding, making and remaking… He crossed it out. He wrote: Do we choose who we love? If only his first dream had carried him past what he already knew, past the magazine falling to the floor. He shut his eyes and tried to summon an image of her, tried to keep her there as he drifted toward sleep. By nine A.M. he was on the same sidewalk watching her through the same window. In his knapsack he had what remained of the second box of Apple Jacks and the Good Housekeeping. She was standing at her teller’s station, looking down. He wiped his palms on his trousers and went in. There was no one in the queue, but her station had a sign up: PLEASE SEE THE NEXT TELLER. She was counting ten-dollar bills with the thin, pink hands he already thought of as familiar. A nameplate resting on the marble counter read, SANDY SHEELER. “Excuse me.” She held up a finger and continued counting without looking up. “I can help you down here,” another teller offered. “It’s okay,” Sandy said. She reached the end of her stack, made a notation on the corner of an envelope, and looked up. “Hello.” The lenses of her glasses reflected a light in the ceiling for a second and flooded the lenses of his own glasses with light. Panic started in his throat. She was a stranger, entirely unfamiliar; who was he to have guessed at her dissatisfactions, to have incorporated her into his dreams? He stammered: “I met you in the supermarket? A few months ago? We didn’t actually meet, but…” Her gaze swam. He reached into his knapsack and withdrew the cereal and the magazine. A teller to Sandy’s right glanced over the partition. “I thought maybe,” he said, “you wanted these? You left so quickly.” “Oh.” She did not touch the cereal or the Good Housekeeping but did not take her eyes from them. He could not tell but thought she leaned forward a fraction. He lifted the box of cereal and shook it. “I ate some.” She gave him a confused smile. “Keep it.” Her eyes tracked from the magazine to him and back. A critical moment was passing now, he knew it: he could feel the floor falling away beneath his feet. “Would you ever want to go to a movie? Anything like that?” Now her gaze veered past Winkler and over his shoulder, out into the bank. She shook her head. Winkler felt a small weight drop into his stomach. Already he began to back away. “Oh. I see. Well. I’m sorry.” She took the box of Apple Jacks and shook it and set it on the shelf beneath the counter. She whispered, “My husband,” and looked at Winkler for the first time, really looked at him, and Winkler felt her gaze go all the way through the back of his head. He heard himself say: “You don’t wear a ring.” “No.” She touched her ring finger. Her nails were clipped short. “It’s getting repaired.” He sensed he was out of time; the whole scene was slipping away, liquefying and sliding toward a drain. “Of course,” he mumbled. “I work at the Weather Service. I’m David. You could reach me there. In case you decide differently.” And then he was turning, his empty knapsack bunched in his fist, the bright glass of the bank’s facade reeling in front of him. Two months: rain on the windows, a pile of unopened meteorology texts on the table in his apartment that struck him for the first time in his life as trivial. He cooked noodles, wore one of the same two brown corduroy suits, checked the barometer three times a day and charted his readings halfheartedly on graph paper smuggled home from work. Mostly he remembered her ankles, and the particles of dust drifting between them, illuminated in a slash of sunlight. The three freckles on her cheek formed an isosceles triangle. He had been so certain; he had dreamed her. But who knew where assurance and belief came from? Somewhere across town she was standing at a sink or walking into a closet, his name stowed somewhere in the pleated neurons of her brain, echoing up one dendrite in a billion: David, David. The days slid by, one after another: warm, cold, rainy, sunny. He felt, all the time, as if he had lost something vital: his wallet, his keys, a fundamental memory he couldn’t quite summon. The horizon looked the same as ever: the same grimy oil trucks groaned through the streets; the tide exposed the same mudflats twice a day. In the endless gray Weather Service teletypes, he saw the same thing every time: desire. Hadn’t there been a longing in her face, locked behind that bank-teller smile—a yearning in her, visible just for a second, as she dragged her eyes up? Hadn’t she seemed about to cry at the supermarket? The Good Housekeeping lay open on his kitchen counter, bulging with riddles: Do you know the secret of looking younger? How much style for your money do cotton separates offer? How many blonde colors found in nature are in Naturally Blonde Hair Treatment? He walked the streets; he watched the sky. 6 (#ulink_14667648-d06b-5678-9331-79bea1137e37) She called in September. A secretary patched her through. “He has a hockey game,” Sandy said, nearly whispering. “There’s a matinee at four-fifteen.” Winkler swallowed. “Okay. Yes. Four-fifteen.” She appeared in the lobby at four-thirty and hurried past him to the concessions counter where she bought a box of chocolate-covered raisins. Then, without looking at him, she entered the theater and sat in the dimness with the light from the screen flickering over her face. He took the seat beside her. She ate her raisins one after another, hardly stopping to breathe; she smelled, he thought, like mint, like chewing gum. All through the film he stole glances: her cheek, her elbow, stray hairs atop her head illuminated in the wavering light. Afterward she watched the credits drift up the screen as if the film still played behind them, as if there would be more to the story. Her eyelids blinked rapidly. The house lights came up. She said, “You’re a weatherman.” “Sort of. I’m a hydrologist.” “The ocean?” “Groundwater, mostly. And the atmosphere. My main interest lies in snow, in the formation and physics of snow crystals. But you can’t really get paid to study that. I type memos, recheck forecasts. I’m basically a secretary.” “I like snow,” Sandy said. Moviegoers were filing for the exits and her attention flitted over them. He fumbled for something to say. “You’re a bank teller?” She did not look at him. “That day in the market…It was like I knew you were going to be there. When I dropped the magazine, I knew you’d come over. It felt like I had already done it, already lived through it once before.” She glanced at him quickly, just for a moment, then gathered her coat, smoothed out the front of her skirt, and peered over her shoulder to where an usher was already sweeping the aisle. “You think that’s crazy.” “No,” he said. Her upper lip trembled. She did not look at him. “I’ll call next Wednesday.” Then she was moving down the row of seats, her coat tight around her shoulders. Why did she call him? Why did she come back to the theater, Wednesday after Wednesday? To slip the constraints of her life? Perhaps. But even then Winkler guessed it was because she had felt something that noon in the Snow Goose Market—had felt time settle over itself, imbricate and fix into place, the vertigo of future aligning with the present. They saw Jaws, and Benji, talking around the edges. Each week Sandy bought a box of chocolate-covered raisins and ate them with the same zeal, the indigo light of the screen flaring in the lenses of her glasses. “Sandy,” he’d whisper in the middle of a film, his heart climbing his throat. “How are you?” “Is that the uncle?” she’d whisper back, eyes on the screen. “I thought he was dead.” “How is work? What have you been up to?” She’d shrug, chew a raisin. Her fingers were thin and pink: magnificent. Afterward she’d stand, take a breath, and pull her coat around her. “I hate this part,” she said once, peeking toward the exits. “When the lights come on after a movie. It’s like waking up.” She smiled. “Now you have to go back to the living.” He’d remain in his seat for a few minutes after she’d left, feeling the emptiness of the big theater around him, the drone of the film rewinding up in the projection room, the hollow thunk of an usher’s dustpan as he swept the aisles. Above Winkler the little bulbs screwed into the ceiling in the shape of the Big Dipper burned on and on. She was born in Anchorage, two years before him. She wore lipstick that smelled like soap. She got cold easily. Her socks were always too thin for the weather. During the earthquake of ’64 a Cadillac pitched through the front window of the bank, and she had been, she confessed, thrilled by it, by everything: the sudden smell of petroleum, the enormous car-swallowing graben that had yawned open in the middle of Fourth Avenue. She whispered: “We didn’t have to go back to work for a week.” The husband (goalie for his hockey team) was branch manager. They got married after her senior year at West High School. He had a fondness for garlic salt that, she said, “destroyed his breath,” so that she could hardly look at him after he ate it, could hardly stand to be in the same room. For the past nine years they had lived in a beige ranch house with brown shingles and a yellow garage door. A pair of lopsided pumpkins lolled on the front porch like severed heads. Winkler knew this because he looked up the address in the phone book and began driving past in the evenings. The husband didn’t like movies, was happy to dry the dishes, loved—more than anything, Sandy said—to play miniature golf. Even his name, Winkler thought, was cheerless: Herman. Herman Sheeler. Their phone number, although Winkler had never called it, was 542-7433. The last four digits spelled the first four letters of their last name, something Herman had, according to Sandy, announced at a Friday staff meeting as the most remarkable thing that had happened to him in a decade. “In a decade,” she said, staring off at the soaring credits. Winkler—behind his big eyeglasses, his solitary existence—had never felt this way, never been in love, never flirted with or thought about a married woman. But he couldn’t let it go. It was not a conscious decision; he did not think: We were meant to be, or: Something has predetermined that our paths cross, or even: I choose to think of her several times a minute, her neck, her arms, her elbows. The shampoo smell of her hair. Her chest against the fabric of a thin sweater. His feet simply brought him by the bank every day, or the Newport pulled him past her house at night. He ate Apple Jacks. He threw away his tin of garlic salt. Through the bank window he peered at the bankers behind their desks: one in a blue suit with a birthmark on his neck; another in a V-neck sweater with gray in his hair and a ring of keys clipped to his belt loop. Could the V-neck be him? Wasn’t he twice her age? The birthmarked man was looking up at Winkler and chewing his pen; Winkler ducked behind a pillar. In December, after they had watched Three Days of the Condor for the second time, she asked him to take her to his apartment. All she said about Herman was: “He’s going out after the game.” She seemed nervous, pushing her cuticles against the edges of her teeth, but she was perpetually nervous, and this, Winkler figured, was part of it—Anchorage was not a huge city and they could, after all, be seen at any time. They could be found out. The streets were dark and cold. He led her quickly through the alternating pools of streetlight and shadow. Hardly anyone was out. The tailpipes of cars at stop signs smoked madly. Winkler did not know whether to take her hand or not. He felt he could see Anchorage that night with agonizing clarity: slush frozen into sidewalk seams, ice glazing telephone wires, two men hunched over menus behind a steamy diner window. She looked at his apartment with interest: the block-and-board shelves, the old, banging radiator, the cramped kitchen that smelled of leaking gas. She picked up a graduated cylinder and held it to the light. “The meniscus,” he explained, and pointed to the curve in the surface of the water inside. “The molecules at the edges are climbing the glass.” She set it down, picked up a typed page lying on a shelf: Imeasured spatial resolution data of atmospheric precipitable water and vapor pressure deficit at two separate meteorological stations… “What is this? You wrote this?” “It’s part of my dissertation. That nobody read.” “On snowflakes?” “Yes. Ice crystals.” He ventured further. “Take a snow crystal. The classic six-pointed star? How it looks so rigid, frozen in place? Well, in reality, on an extremely tiny level, smaller than a couple of nanometers, as it freezes it vibrates like crazy, all the billion billion molecules that make it up shaking invisibly, practically burning up.” Sandy reached behind her ear and coiled a strand of hair around her finger. He pushed on: “My idea was that tiny instabilities in those vibrations give snowflakes their individual shapes. On the outside the crystal looks stable, but on the inside, it’s like an earthquake all the time.” He set the sheet back on the shelf. “I’m boring you.” “No,” she said. They sat on his sofa with their hips touching; they drank instant hot chocolate from mismatched mugs. She gave herself to him solemnly but without ceremony, undressing and climbing onto his twin bed. He didn’t put on the radio, didn’t draw the shades. They set their eyeglasses beside each other on the floor—he had no nightstands. She pulled the covers over their heads. It was love. He could study the colors and creases in her palm for fifteen minutes, imagining he could see the blood traveling through her capillaries. “What are you looking at?” she’d ask, squirming, smiling. “I’m not so interesting.” But she was. He watched her sort through a box of chocolate-covered raisins, selecting one, then rejecting it by some indiscernible criteria; he watched her button her parka, slip her hand inside her collar to scratch a shoulder. He excavated a boot print she’d left on the snowy step outside his apartment and preserved it in his freezer. To be in love was to be dazed twenty times a morning: by the latticework of frost on his windshield; by a feather loosed from his pillow; by a soft, pink rim of light over the hills. He slept three or four hours a night. Some days he felt as if he were about to peel back the surface of the Earth—the trees standing frozen on the hills, the churning face of the inlet—and finally witness what lay beneath, the structure under there, the fundamental grid. Tuesdays quivered and vibrated, the second hand slogging around the dial. Wednesdays were the axis around which the rest of the week spun. Thursdays were deserts, ghost towns. By the weekends, the bits of herself that she had left behind in his apartment took on near-holy significance: a hair, coiled on the rim of the sink; the crumbs of four saltines scattered across the bottom of a plate. Her saliva—her proteins and enzymes and bacteria—still probably all over those crumbs; her skin cells on the pillows, all over the floor, pooling as dust in the corners. What was it Watson had taught him, and Einstein, and Pasteur? The things we see are only masks for the things we can’t see. He flattened his hair with a quivering hand; he walked into the bank lobby shaking like a thief; he produced a store-bought daisy from his knapsack and set it on the counter in front of her. They made love with the window open, cold air pouring over their bodies. “What do you think movie stars do for Christmas?” she’d ask, the hem of the sheet at her chin. “I bet they eat veal. Or sixty-pound turkeys. I bet they hire chefs to cook for them.” Out the window a jet traversed the sky, landing lights glowing, her eyes tracking it. Sometimes she felt like a warm river, sometimes a blade of hot metal. Sometimes she took one of his papers from a shelf and propped herself on pillows and paged through it. “One-dimensional snowpack algorithms,” she’d read, solemnly, as if mouthing the words of a spell. “C equals degree-day melt coefficient.” “Leave a sock,” he’d whisper. “Leave your bra. Something to get me through the week.” She’d stare up at the ceiling, thinking her own thoughts, and soon it would be time to leave: she’d sheathe herself in her clothes once more, pull back her hair, lace up her boots. When she was gone he’d bend over the mattress and try to smell her in the bedding. His brain projected her onto his eyelids relentlessly: the arrangement of freckles on her forehead; the articulateness of her fingers; the slope of her shoulders. The way underwear fit her body, nestling over her hips, slipping between her legs. Every Saturday she worked the drive-up teller window. I love you, Sandy, he’d write on a deposit slip and drop it into the pneumatic chute outside the bank. Not now, she’d respond, and send the canister flying back. But I do, he’d write, in larger print. Right now I LOVE YOU. He watched her crumple his note, compose a new one, seal the carrier, drop it into the intake. He brought it into his car, unscrewed it on his lap. She’d written: How much? How much, how much, how much? A drop of water contains 10 molecules, each one agitated and twitchy, linking and separating with its neighbors, then linking up again, swapping partners millions of times a second. All water in any body is desperate to find more, to adhere to more of itself, to cling to the hand that holds it; to find clouds, or oceans; to scream from the throat of a teakettle. “I want to be a police officer,” she’d whisper. “I want to drive one of those sedans all day and say code words into my CB. Or a doctor! I could go to medical school in California and become a doctor for kids. I wouldn’t need to do big, spectacular rescues or anything, just small things, maybe test blood for diseases or viruses or something, but do it really well, be the one doctor all the parents would trust. ‘Little Alice’s blood must go to Dr. Sandy,’ they’d say.” She giggled; she made circles with a strand of hair. In the theater Winkler had to sit on his hands to keep them from touching her. “Or no,” she’d say, “no, I want to be a bush pilot. I could get one of those passbook accounts of Herman’s and finally save enough to buy a used plane, a good two-seater. I’d get lessons. I’d look into the engine and know every part, the valves and switches and whatever, and be able to say, ‘This plane has flown a lot but she sure is a good one.’” Her eyelids fluttered, then steadied. Across town her husband was crouched in the net, watching a puck slide across the blue line. “Or,” she said, “a sculptor. That’s it. I could be a metal sculptor. I could make those big, strange-looking iron things they put in front of office buildings to rust. The ones the birds stand on and everybody looks at and says, ‘What do you think that’s supposed to be?’” “You could,” he said. “I could.” Every night now—it was January and dark by 4 P.M.—he pulled on his big parka and drew the hood tight and drove past her house. He’d start at the end of the block, then troll back up, the hedges coming up on his left, the curb-parked cars with their hoods ajar to allow extension cords into the frost plugs, the Newport slowing until he’d come to a stop alongside their driveway. By nine-thirty each night, her lights began to go off: first in the windows at the far right, then the room next to it, then the lamp behind the curtains to the left, at ten o’clock sharp. He’d imagine her passage through the dark rooms, following her with his eyes, down the hall, past the bathroom, into what must have been the bedroom, where she’d climb into bed with him. At last only the tall backyard light would glow, white tinged with blue, all the parked cars drawing energy from the houses around them, the plugs clicking on and off, and above the neighborhood the air would grow so cold it seemed to glitter and flex—as if it were solidifying—and he’d get the feeling that someone could reach down and shatter the whole scene. Only with great effort could he get his foot to move to the accelerator. He’d drive to the end of the block, turn up the heater, roll alone through the frozen darkness across town. “It’s not that he’s awful or anything,” Sandy whispered once, in the middle of Logan’s Run. “I mean, he’s nice. He’s good. He loves me. I can do pretty much whatever I want. It’s just sometimes I look into the kitchen cupboards, or at his suits in the closet, and think: This is it?” Winkler blinked. It was the most she’d said during a movie. “I feel like I’ve been turned inside out is all. Like I’ve got huge manacles on my arms. Look”—she grabbed her forearm and raised it—”I can hardly lift them they’re so heavy. But other times I get to feeling so light it’s as if I’ll float to the ceiling and get trapped up there like a balloon.” The darkness of the movie theater was all around them. On-screen a robot showed off some people frozen in ice. In the ceiling the little bulbs that were supposed to be stars burned in their little niches. Sandy whispered: “I get happy sometimes for the younger gals at work, when they find love, after all that stumbling around, when they’ve found their guy and get to talking about weddings during break, then babies, and I can see them outside smoking and staring out at the traffic, and I know they’re probably not a hundred percent happy. Not all-the-way happy. Maybe seventy percent happy. But they’re living it. They’re not giving up. “I’ve just been feeling everything too much. I don’t know. Can you feel things too much, David?” “Yes.” “I shouldn’t tell you any of this. I shouldn’t tell you anything.” The film had entered a chase sequence and the varying colors of a burning city strobed across Sandy’s eyeglasses. She closed her eyes. “Thing is,” she whispered, “Herman doesn’t have any sperm. We got him tested a few years ago. He has none. Or basically none; no good ones. When they called, they gave the results to me. I never told him. I told him they said he was fine. I tore up their letter and brought the little scraps to work and hid them at the bottom of a trash can in the ladies’ bathroom.” On-screen Logan careened down a crowded street. Suits in the closet, Winkler thought. The guy with the birthmark? In his memory he could traverse months in a second. He imagined Herman crouched like a crab on the ice, guarding the net, slapping his glove against his big leg pads, his teammates swirling around the rink. He imagined Sandy leaning over him, the tips of her hair dragging over his face. He stood outside their house on Marilyn Street and above the city, streamers of auroras—reds and purples and greens—glided like souls into the firmament. Now a soft hail—lump graupels—flew from the clouds. He opened all his windows, turned off the furnace, and let it blow in, angling through the frames, the tiny balls rolling and eddying on the carpet. Near the middle of March she lay beside him in the darkness with a single candle burning on his sill. Out beyond the window a trash collector tossed the frozen contents of a trash can into the maw of his truck and Winkler and Sandy listened to it clatter and compress and the fading rumble as the truck receded down the street. It was around five and all through the city, people were ending their workdays, mail carriers delivering their last envelopes, accountants paying one more invoice, bankers sealing their vaults. Tumblers finding their grooves. “You ever just want to go?” she whispered. “Go, go, go?” Winkler nodded. Without her glasses, that close to his face, her eyes looked trapped, closer to how they had looked in the supermarket, standing at a revolving rack of magazines but trembling inside; her whole body, its trillions of cells, quivering invisibly, threatening to shake apart. He had dreamed her. Hadn’t she dreamed him, too? “I should tell you something,” he said. “About that day we met in the market.” She rolled onto her back. In five minutes, maybe six, she would leave, and he told himself he would pay attention to every passing second, the pulse in her forearm, the pressure of her knee against his thigh. The thousand pores in the side of her nose. In the frail light he could see her boots on the frayed rug, her clothes folded neatly beside. He would tell her. Now he would tell her. I dreamed you, he’d say. Sometimes I have these dreams. “I’m pregnant,” she said. The flame of the candle on the sill twisted and righted. “David? Did you hear me?” She was looking at him now. “Pregnant,” he said, but at first it was only a word. 7 (#ulink_26e06de8-d3bd-59d9-8bb1-c9cf27b6804d) He parked the Newport in a drive-up lane and tugged a deposit slip from the slot. Can you get away? No. Only for an hour? He could just make her out through the drive-up window, wearing a big-collared sweater, her head down, her hand writing. The pneumatic tube clattered and howled. This is not the time, David. Please. Wednesday. Between them was fifteen or so feet of frozen space, bounded by his window and hers, but it was as if the windows had liquefied, or else the air had, and his vision skewed and rippled and it was all he could do to put the Newport into gear and ease forward to let the next car in. He couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t leave her alone. He went by the house every night, patrolling Marilyn Street, up and back, up and back, until one midnight a neighbor came out with a snow shovel and flagged him down and asked if he was missing something. In Sandy’s backyard the one blue street lamp shivered. The Chrysler started away slowly, with reluctance, as if it, too, couldn’t bear to leave her. Each time the office phone rang, adrenaline streamed into his blood. “Winkler,” the supervisor said, waving a sheaf of teletype forecasts. “These are atrocious. There are probably fifty typos in today’s series alone.” He looked him up and down. “Are you sick or something?” Yes! he wanted to cry. Yes! So sick! He walked to First Federal at lunch but she wasn’t at her station. The teller in the station to the right studied him with her head cocked as if assessing the validity of his concern and finally said Sandy was home with the flu and could she help him instead? The banker with the birthmark was on the phone. The gray-haired one was talking with a man and a woman, leaning forward in his chair. “No,” Winkler said. On the way out he scanned the nameplates on the desks but even with his glasses on couldn’t make out a name, a title, any of it. She came to the door wearing flannel pajamas printed all over with polar bears on toboggans. Something about her standing in her doorway barefoot started a buzzing all through his chest. “What are you doing here?” ‘They said you were sick.” “How did you know where I live?” He looked across the street to where the other houses were shuttered against the cold. Heat escaping from the hall blurred the air. “Sandy—” “You walked?” “Are you okay?” She stayed in the doorway, squinting out. He realized she was not going to invite him in. “I threw up,” she said. “But I feel fine.” “You look pale.” “Yes. Well. So do you. Breathe, David. Take a breath.” Her feet were turning white in the cold. He wanted to fall to his knees and take them in his hands. “How is this going to work, Sandy? What are we going to do?” “I don’t know. What are we supposed to do?” “We could go somewhere. Anywhere. We could go to California, like you said. We could go to Mexico. You could become whatever you wanted.” Her eyes followed an Oldsmobile as it passed slowly down the street, snow squeaking beneath its tires. “Not now, David.” She shook her head. “Not in front of my house.” March ended. Community hockey ended. She consented to meet him for coffee. In the cafe her head periodically swiveled on her shoulders, checking back through the window as if she had ducked a pursuer. He brushed snow off her coat: stellar dendrites. Storybook snow. “You haven’t been at the bank.” She shrugged. A line of meltwater sped down one lens of her glasses. The waitress brought coffee and they sat over the mugs and Sandy didn’t speak. He said: “I grew up over there, across the street. From the roof, when it was very clear, you could see half the peaks of the Alaska Range. You could pick out individual glaciers on McKinley. Sometimes I’d go up there just to look at it, all that untouched snow. All that light.” She glanced again toward the window and he could not tell if she was listening. It struck him as strange that she could look pretty much how she always looked, her waist could still slip neatly into her jeans, the blood vessels in her cheeks could still dilate and fill with color, yet inside her something they’d made had implanted into the wall of her uterus, maybe the size of a grape by now, or a thumb, dividing its cells like mad, siphoning from her whatever it needed. “What I really love is snow,” he said. “To look at it. I used to go up there with my mother and collect snow and we’d study it with magnifying glasses.” Still she did not look up. Snow pressed at the shop window. “I’ve never been with anyone, you know. I don’t even have any friends, not really.” “I know, David.” “I’ve hardly even left Anchorage.” She nodded and braced both hands around her cup. “I applied for jobs last week,” he said. “All over the country.” She spoke to her coffee. “What if I hadn’t been in that grocery store? What if I had decided to go two hours earlier? Or two minutes?” “We can leave, Sandy.” “David.” Her boots squeaked beneath the table. “I’m thirty-four years old. I’ve been married for fifteen and a half years.” Bells slung over the door handle jangled and two men came in and stamped snow from their shoes. Winkler’s eyeballs were starting to throb. Fifteen and a half years was incontestable, a continent he’d never visit, a staircase he’d never climb. “The supermarket,” he was saying. “We met in the supermarket.” She stopped showing up at the bank. She did not pick up the phone at her house. He’d dial her number all day and in the evenings Herman Sheeler would answer with an enthused, half-shouted “Hello?” and Winkler, across town, cringing in his apartment, would gently hang up. He trolled Marilyn Street. Wind rolled in from the inlet, cold and salty. Rain, and more rain. All day the ground snow melted and all night it froze. Winter broke, and solidified, and broke again. Out in the hills, moose were stirring, and foxes, and bears. Fiddleheads were nudging up. Birds coursed in from their southern fields. Winkler lay in his little bed after midnight and burned. At a welding supply store he compiled a starter kit: a Clarke arc welder; a wire brush; tin snips; a chipping hammer; welder’s gloves, apron, and helmet; spools of steel, aluminum, and copper wire; brazing alloys in little tubes; electrodes; soldering lugs. The clerk piled it all into a leftover television box and at noon on a Tuesday, Winkler drove to Sandy’s house, parked in the driveway, took the box in his arms, went up the front walk, and banged the knocker. He knocked three times, four times. He waited. Maybe Herman had put her on a plane for Phoenix or Vancouver with instructions never to come back again. Maybe she was across town right then getting an abortion. Winkler trembled. He knelt on the porch and pushed open the mail slot. “Sandy!” he called, and waited. “I love you, Sandy! I love you!” He got in the Newport, drove south, circled the city lakes: Connors and DeLong, Sand, Jewel, and Campbell. Forty minutes later he pulled down Marilyn past her house and the box was gone from the front porch. Baltimore, Honolulu, and Salt Lake said no, but Cleveland said yes, handed down an offer: staff meteorologist for a television network, a salary, benefits, a stipend to pay for moving. He drove to Sandy’s and pulled into the driveway and sat a minute trying to calm his heart. It was Saturday. Herman answered the door. He was the gray-haired one: the one with the key ring permanently clipped to his belt loop. Gray-haired at thirty-five. “Hello,” Herman said, as if he were answering the phone. Over his shoulder Winkler could just see into the hall, maple paneling, a gold-framed watercolor of a trout at the end. “Can I help you?” Winkler adjusted his glasses. It was clear in a half second: Herman had no clue. Winkler said, “I’m looking for Sandy Sheeler? The metal artist?” Herman blinked and frowned and said, “My wife?” He turned and called, “Sandy!” back into the house. She came into the hall wiping her hands on a towel. Her face blanched. “He’s looking for a metal artist?” Herman asked. “With your name?” Winkler spoke only to Sandy. “I was hoping to get my car worked on. Whatever you like. Make it”—he gestured to his Chrysler and they all looked at it—“more exciting.” Herman clasped his hands behind his head. There were acne scars on his jaw. “I’m not sure you’ve got the right house.” Winkler retreated a step. His hands were shaking badly so he stowed them behind his back. He did not know if he would be able to say any more and was overwhelmed with relief when Sandy stepped forward. “Okay,” she said, nodding. She snapped the towel and folded it and draped it over her shoulder. “Pull it into the garage. I can do whatever I want?” “As long as it drives.” Herman peered over Sandy’s head then back at her. “What are you talking about? What’s going on here?” Winkler’s hands quivered behind his back. “The keys are inside. I can come back in, say, a week?” “Sure,” she said, still looking at the Newport. “One week.” One week. He went to Marilyn Street only once: creeping on foot through the slushy yard and peering through the garage window toward midnight. Through cobwebs he could just make out the silhouette of his car, hunkered there amid boxes in the shadows. None of it looked any different. What had he hoped to see? Elaborate sculptures welded to the roof? Wings and propellers? A shower of sparks flaring in the rectangular lens of her welding mask? He dreamed Sandy asleep in her bed, the little embryo awake inside her, turning and twisting, a hundred tiny messages falling around it like snow, like confetti. He dreamed a welding arc flickering in the midnight, a bright orange seam of solder, tin and lead transformed to light and heat. He woke; he said her name to the ceiling. It was as if he could feel her across town, her tidal gravity, the blood in him tilting toward her. In his road atlas Ohio was shaped like a shovel blade, a leaf, a ragged valentine. The black dot of Cleveland in the northeast corner like a cigarette burn. Hadn’t he dreamed her in the supermarket? Hadn’t he foreseen all of this? Six days after he’d visited their house, she telephoned him, whispering down the wire, “Come late. Go to the garage.” “Sandy,” he said, but she was already gone. He closed his savings account—four thousand dollars and change—and stuffed whatever else he could carry—books, clothes, his barometer—into a railroad duffel he’d inherited from his grandfather. A taxi dropped him at the end of the block. He eased the panels of the garage door up their tracks. She was already in the passenger’s seat. A suitcase, decorated with red plaid on both sides, waited in the backseat. Beside it was the television box stuffed with welding supplies: the torch still in its packaging, the boxes of studs unopened. He set his duffel in the trunk. “He’s asleep,” she said when Winkler opened the driver’s door. He dropped the transmission into neutral and rolled the car to the end of the driveway and halfway down Marilyn Street before climbing in and starting it. The sound of the engine was huge and loud. They left the garage door open. “The heater,” was all she said. In ten minutes they were past the airport and on the Seward Highway, already beyond the city lights. Sandy slumped against her door. Out the windshield the stars were so many and so white they looked like chips of ice, hammered through the fabric of the sky. 8 (#ulink_0553a964-2ea5-52fc-9889-8bd2d72fd740) The convergences of a life: Winkler on an airplane, fifty-nine years old, St. Vincent receding behind him; Winkler waist-deep in a flood, his chin at the gunwale of a rowboat, men prying his drowned daughter from his arms; and Winkler again at thirty-three, speeding toward Cleveland with someone else’s wife—this, perhaps, is how lives are measured, a series of abandonments that we hope beyond reason will eventually be reconciled. Vast tracts of country reflected off that big hood: the Coast Mountains, Hazelton’s lava beds. Alberta’s steel-blue granaries. Every hour he was seeing new things, wiping his glasses clean: Saskatoon, Winnipeg. An awe at the size of the continent swelled in Winkler’s chest—here was the water in his cells, moving at last, cycling between states. He could not resist pointing out neatly everything they passed: a jack-knifed truck, a sagging billboard barn, a tractor bucking like a lifeboat in the ruts of a field. Sandy hardly said anything. Her entire countenance was pale and several times they had to stop so she could go to the bathroom. At meals she ordered dry cereal or nothing. Three days out, he summoned the nerve to ask: “Did you leave him a note?” They were in Minnesota, or maybe Illinois. A roadkilled doe, dragged to the shoulder, flashed past in the headlights—a gory snapshot—and was gone. He waited. Maybe she was asleep. “I told him,” she eventually said. “I said I was pregnant, that it wasn’t his child, and that I was leaving. He thought I was joking. He said, ‘Are you feeling okay, Sandy?’” Winkler kept his hands on the wheel. The center stripe whisked beneath them; the headlights pushed their cone of light forward. Eventually: northeast Ohio, a grid of brick and steel nestled against Lake Erie. Smelter fires burned on mill stacks. Huge Slavic-looking policemen stalked the sidewalks in crisp uniforms. A wind hurled particles of sleet through the streets. They stayed in an eastside motel, looked at real estate: University Heights, Orange, Solon. Sandy tiptoed through rooms, trailed her fingers over countertops, interested in nothing. In a ravine they found a subdivision called Shadow Hill, the Chagrin River sliding along at the end of a cul-de-sac, a feeder creek beside the road in a landscaped trench. Above the street on both sides the walls of the ravine rose up like the berms of a ditch. The house was built on a form and each of the neighbors’ was identical. Two floors, two bedrooms upstairs, an unfinished basement. A pair of mournful saplings in tubs flanked the front steps. A brass knocker shaped like a goose was bolted to the door. “Your own little paradise,” the Realtor said, sweeping an arm to take in the hillsides, the trees, the wide stripe of clouds churning above. “Paradise,” Sandy said, her voice far-off. “We’ll take it,” Winkler said. His job was straightforward enough: he pored through Weather Service data, studied the station’s radar output, and compiled forecasts. Some days they sent him into gales to stand in front of a camera: he clung to an inverted umbrella shouting from beneath his rain hood; he sat three hours in a spotter’s shack on top of Municipal Stadium predicting game-time weather. Sandy stayed indoors. They had hardly any furniture, the dining room empty, nothing in the kitchen but a card table encircled by stools. He bought a TV and they propped it on two milk crates and she’d lie in front of it for hours, watching whatever came on, her forehead wrinkled as if puzzling through it. In the basement her box of welding supplies waited untouched. Every few days she threw up into the kitchen sink. At four in the morning she’d wake hungry, and he’d tramp downstairs and feel his way through the kitchen in the dark to get her a bowl of Apple Jacks, measure a half cup of whole milk into it. She’d eat with her head propped against the pillows, her whole body lean and warm. “Tell me no one can find us here, David,” she’d whisper. “Tell me that right now, nobody in the world knows where we are.” He watched her chew; he watched her swallow. In nearly every way they were still strangers, trying to learn each other. “You sleepwalk,” she told him once, her head off the pillow. “I do not.” “You do. Last night I found you in the kitchen standing at the window. I said, ‘David, what are you doing?’ but you didn’t say anything. Then you came back in here, put on socks, took them off, and climbed back into bed.” But it was Sandy, Winkler thought, who woke and disappeared from the bed several times a night, walking the house or descending into the basement, and although she told Winkler it was pregnancy keeping her up, he guessed it was Herman. She didn’t want to answer the phone or doorbell; she never got the mail. At dusk her eyes went to the windows. As if from the growing shadows, at any moment, Herman might clamber onto the porch, aflame with retribution. “My Crock-Pot,” she’d say, staring into a cupboard. “I left my Crock-Pot.” “We’ll get you a new Crock-Pot, Sandy.” She looked at him but did not answer. Eventually she regained color and energy. She scrubbed the sinks; she cleaned out the basement. One evening he came home and found new dishes in the cupboards. “Where did you get these?” “Higbee’s.” “Higbee’s? That’s twenty miles from here.” “I hitched.” He stared at her. She shrugged. That night she served him lasagna, the first meal she’d cooked since they’d moved. “This is delicious,” he said. “Marry me,” she said. He said yes. Of course. Tremors of happiness rose through his chest. He kept his imagination fixed on the future: the child, the thousand small rewards and punishments he imagined fatherhood would bring. There were the customary preparations: painting the upstairs room, shopping for a crib. The questions were obvious: “Are you going to divorce Herman? Won’t you be technically married to two men?” But she was washing dishes, or staring at the TV, and he was afraid to ask. In the basement she began welding, cannibalizing sheets of metal from the house itself: the furnace cover, the front of a kitchen cabinet. Weekends he drove her to salvage yards and garage sales to claim anything metal: the hood of a Ford Fairlane; forty feet of copper pipe; a brass captain’s wheel. At night he’d hear her banging around down there, the clangor of the aluminum hammer, the hiss and pop of the welding torch, a smell of singed metal rising; it was like living on top of a foundry. And at night she’d slide into bed, sweating and wide-eyed, her whole body hot, her coveralls hanging on the closet door. She’d splay her legs on top of the comforter. “The TV says the blood volume of a pregnant woman increases fifty percent,” she said. “Same body, fifty percent more blood.” “Are you being careful?” he’d whisper. “Do you know what you’re doing?” She’d nod; he’d feel the heat pour off her. A six-foot-six Indian magistrate married them; a half dozen Channel 3 employees sidearmed rice at them on their way out. For a honeymoon—Sandy insisted they have one—she filled the empty dining room with houseplants she’d bought at a moving sale: ficus, philodendron, a dozen hanging ferns. He took four days off and they went to sleep each night on a blanket in the center of the floor, surrounded by plants. “We’re in the jungle,” she whispered. “We’re on a raft on the Amazon.” When they had sex, she wept. Each morning he brought her eggs, scrambled and chopped, and a bowl of Apple Jacks with a half cup of milk. Inside her now the fetus had eyes, four chambers to its heart, neuroelectric pulses riding the arc of its spine. By July, Sandy was spending five or six hours at a time downstairs in her workshop. She had settled on a project, she said, a “Paradise Tree,” something he sneaked downstairs one morning to glimpse: a single, nine-foot pole, partially rusted, with the beginnings of shapes fused onto it: sections of coat hangers and unfurled springs for branches; flattened lamp finials and metal scrap for leaves. For Winkler each hour was another hour between Cleveland and Anchorage, between who they were becoming and who they had been. That summer was the first truly hot weather he had ever experienced; he hiked the riverbank, watching fishermen, inhaling the aroma of warm soil, feeling the humidity wrap his body like a net. A pair of mallards paddled shyly through an eddy. A plastic bag came rafting down. Ohio, he decided, bore less of the everyday vulnerabilities: there wasn’t as sharp an edge to the air, or the threat of winter always hovering beyond the horizon; there were no tattered prospectors or pipeliners mumbling into their beards in the grocery stores. Life here was sane, predictable, explicable. The backyards had fences; the neighborhood had covenants. Each night, with the burgeoning, hot shape of Sandy sweating beside him, he found himself entering a mild and dreamless sleep. If he dreamed of things to come, he did not remember them when he woke. There were days when he could almost pretend that he had never even had such dreams, that his nights had always been like anyone else’s, that there wasn’t anything more Sandy could know about him. Each morning, leaving to drive to Channel 3, he’d stop at the door and glance above the roof at the slope of the ravine. The light seemed to bring a stabbing clarity: the edges of clouds, the illumined leaves, early shadows playing beneath the trees—Ohio teemed with small miracles. Standing there some mornings he imagined he could glimpse the architecture of the entire planet, like an enormous grid underlying everything, perfectly obvious all along—the code of the universe, a matrix of light. I have never, he thought, seen things so clearly. A robin hopped through the blades, hunting worms. The woods beside the river rang with singing insects. Tears gathered at the backs of Winkler’s eyes. Soon Sandy would descend to the basement, the child inside her waking from its own fetal dreams, the bones in its ears hardening, its hooded eyes peering into the flaring darkness. 9 (#ulink_741976f1-75c4-5a0d-bdb3-effae2dd3e50) Winkler remembered his mother as a supremely pale woman: hands like they had been dipped in milk, hair a creamy silver. Even her eyes were almost pure white, the irises pale, the sclera devoid of visible capillaries, as though the color had been rinsed out of them, or else her blood ran clear. She had lived her first thirteen years in Finland before coming to the New World with a grandfather who promptly died of pneumonia. She finned salmon on a floating fish processor, then waitressed for Lido’s Café, then washed sheets at the Engineering Commission Hospital; she worked her way through nursing school, joined the Women’s League, married the milkman. In 1941 they moved into a bankrupt furrier’s storehouse converted to apartments, a small fourth-floor flat blessed with a trio of huge parlor windows that overlooked the pharmacy across the street, the rail yard, and Ship Creek beyond. All during the Second World War P-36 Hawks descended across those windows left to right and disappeared behind Government Hill to land at the airfield at Elmendorf. And every summer thereafter those windows buzzed with the comfortable drone of passing two- and four-seaters, hunters and prospectors, gliding in and out of the bush. Men bent on gold, oil, wilderness. She would live in that apartment the rest of her life. The rooms existed in his memory as clearly now as they always had: the big-beamed ceilings, the smells of fur still lingering in the corners, as though invisible foxes and marmots moved silently inside the walls. His bedroom was a broom closet with a door that opened inward—he had to fold back his mattress each morning to get out. The smell in there, he decided one night, was of caribou, and he imagined their ghosts snuffling in the sitting room, nosing through the pantry. His mother loved the building: its drafts and big-paned windows; the way the floors, no matter how much you scrubbed, smelted permanently of tannins. She walked barefoot over the cold boards, and dragged open the curtains, and showed David how if they scratched their names into the panes with a pin, winter frost would freeze around the letters. On the roof she’d gather palmfuls of snow and press them into her mouth and make pronouncements on their quality: sweet or pure, grainy or velvety. “Back home,” she’d say, “there is a snow my grandfather called santa lunta. It came one night a year, always around Christmas. He’d pack it into little tin funnels and pour fruit juice on it and we’d eat it for dessert. Like ice cream. Only better.” His mother the Ice Queen. The only thing he still had of hers was a book: Snow Crystals, by W. A. Bentley. Inside were thousands of carefully prepared micrographs of snowflakes, each image reproduced in a two-inch square, the crystals white against a field of black, arrayed in a grid, four-by-three, twelve per page. Bound in cloth, it was a 1931 first edition her grandfather had bought at a rummage sale. She would page through it carefully, almost devotedly, occasionally calling David over to ask him his favorites. She’d hold his finger and trace the outlines of whatever shapes lay hidden within: six hippos’ heads, six dragons’ eyes, six tiny sea horses in profile. Eight-year-old Winkler would wrap a board in black felt and climb to the roof to catch snowflakes as they floated down. He studied them with a Cracker Jack plastic hand-magnifier. Only rarely was he able to capture an individual crystal, undamaged in its journey from the clouds, and he’d sit with a pencil and a damp notebook, trying to sketch it before it melted: the corollas, the interstices, the kaleidoscopic blades. When he’d accumulated twenty or so drawings, he’d take the damp pages downstairs, staple them together, and present the book to his mother with grave ceremony. “It’s beautiful, David,” she’d say. “I will treasure it.” She’d set the little booklet on top of Bentley’s Snow Crystals, on the shelf beneath the coffee table. In grade school he read about irrigation, ice fields, clouds. He could still remember a poster on the wall of his fourth-grade classroom: THE WATER CYCLE—oceanic clouds creeping over a town, dropping rain on steeples and rooftops, rainwater pooling in a river, the river charging through a dam’s spillway, easing back into the ocean, a smiling sun evaporating seawater into tufts of cartoon vapor, the vapor condensing into clouds. By high school he was beginning to understand that the study of water and its distribution phenomena yielded again and again to sets of reassuring patterns—Hadley cells, cycling air in the troposphere, dark bands of nimbostratus. To consider water on any scale was to confront a boundless repetition of small events. There were the tiny wonders: raindrops, snow crystals, grains of frost aligned on a blade of grass; and there were the wonders so immense it seemed impossible to get his mind around them: global wind, oceanic currents, storms that broke like waves over whole mountain ranges. Rapt, seventeen years old, he mail-ordered posters of seas, lakes, calving glaciers. He caught raindrops in pans of flour to study their shape; he charted the sizes of captured snow crystals on a handmade grid. His first week in college he met with a counselor and made earth sciences his major. A chemistry unit on the hydrologic cycle that had other students yawning seemed to him a miracle of simplicity: condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, evapotranspiration—water moved around and through us at every moment; it leached from our cells; it hung invisibly in front of our eyes. Theoretically, water was inexhaustible, endless, infinitely recycled. The ice in his mother’s freezer was millions of years old. The Egyptian Sphinx was carved from the compressed skeletons of sea animals. But in graduate school the opportunities to study water, particularly snow, were limited. Professors wanted to teach hydraulics; students wanted curricula with engineering applications. And when he was allowed to study snow it was often in the most mundane ways: stream flow forecasts, precipitation assessments; snow as resource, snow as a reservoir of meltwater. Winkler was not popular at school. Parties blazed in A-frames set back in the spruce, and couples strolled arm in arm along the boggy paths, and leaves fell, and snow, and rain, and he went on in a state of more or less permanent solitude. He carted around stacks of books; he examined drops of Lake Spenard under a microscope. Water was a sanctuary—not only hot showers or condensation on his window or the sight of Knik Arm on a fall day, but reading about it, collecting it in an eyedropper, freezing it, sublimating it. Two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen—always—at a 104.5 degree angle. The distances between atoms was—always—.095718 of a nanometer. Every thirty-one hundred years a volume of water equivalent to all the oceans passed through the atmosphere. These were facts, bounded by inviolable laws: water was elastic and adhesive, it held its temperature longer than air, it was perpetually in motion. But he sensed, even then, that any real understanding would continue to exist beyond the range of his capacities. The more he studied water, the more he examined snow, the more mystified he became. Ice could be unpredictable and baffling. Unforeseen variables could set the entire hydrological cycle reeling: an unsuspected front, riding an unexpected event (a deep ocean current, a shearing microburst), could transform a clear, blue noon into an afternoon deluge. A predicted blizzard—snowplows rumbling on highway shoulders, workers in roadside salt huts braced over their shovels—did not arrive. Rain threw itself at the windows while the radio burbled out a forecast for sunshine. Scientists had engineered elaborate models, radar, radio beacons—now satellites coasted above the atmosphere, peering in—and still it was nearly impossible to gauge the size and shape of a raindrop. No one knew exactly why an ice crystal bothered with such elaborate geometry; no one knew why liquid water was able to carry so much heat; no calculation was able to account qualitatively for the surface tension on top of a simple puddle. Water was a wild, capricious substance: nothing solid, nothing permanent, nothing as it appeared. 10 (#ulink_80fcc9b4-3667-52f8-952a-22138fb565fc) When Winkler was nine he dreamed a man he had never seen before would be cut in half by a bus three blocks from where he lived. In the dream he watched—paralyzed—as a hatbox flew from the man’s arms and landed on its corner, dented. The lid fell; a gray fedora spilled out. He woke with his mother’s hands on his shoulders. In front of him the apartment door was ajar and he was sitting on the doormat with his school shoes pulled halfway onto his feet. “You were screaming,” she whispered. “I was shaking you.” She soaked a washcloth in the bathroom and pressed it to the back of his neck. “I watched you do it. You went to the door and opened it and tried to pull on your shoes. Then you screamed.” Her hands trembled. She led him to his bed and brought him tea thick with honey. “Drink it all. Do you want the lights?” He shook his head. She moved past him in the darkness. He heard the faucet rumble and cough and heard her put more water in the kettle, and heard her push the door shut and set the chain. After a while she settled into his father’s chair and he went to her and climbed into her lap. She closed her arms around his shoulders and they sat there until the windows brightened and the sun lit the clouds, then the building across the alley, and at last the rail yard and Ship Creek below. She kept him home from school, brought him to work, where he stuck labels on files for forty cents an hour. Two days later it was Saturday and they were heading home from Kimball’s with boxes of groceries in their arms when the air became abruptly familiar: a smell like boiled crab drifted from the restaurant beside them; the low winter light struck the bricks of Kennedy Hardware across the street in a way that was unmistakable. He had been here; these moments had played themselves out before. Ice, glazing the road, sent back wedges and sheets of glare. The whole scene trembled, then fused with radiance. A woman exited a storefront with two little girls in tow; a green and white cab chunked over a pothole; three Aleuts in rubber bibs walking past burst into laughter. Every small, concurrent event had slowed down and assumed an excruciating clarity: through his glasses he could see each blue polka dot on one of the little girls’ wool hats; he watched the shadow of the passing taxi slide black and precise over the ice. His mother turned. “Come along, David.” Her words condensed in the air. Her eyelids blinked once, twice. His shoes felt as if they had been frozen to the sidewalk. A teenager in a green muffler tugged a wooden toboggan past them, whistling. Did no one see? Could the future ambush people so completely? His eyes roved to the revolving door in Koslosky’s across the street. Each pane flashed as it turned and reflected the light. From up the street came the sound of a bus chugging down the block. He dropped his box of groceries and the potatoes inside rolled about and then settled. His mother was at his ear. “What is it? What do you see?” “The man. Leaving the store.” She squatted on her heels with her own box of groceries in front of her. “Which one? In the brown suit?” “Yes.” A man in a brown suit was stepping into the street from the revolving door. In his left arm he carried a hatbox. He had his head up and seemed to be watching a place directly across the road, just to the left of Winkler and his mother. “What is it? Why are you watching him?” He said nothing. He heard the tires of the bus hum over the ice. “What do you see?” The man stepped from the curb and began to cross the street. He walked carefully so as not to slip. A van passed and left a short-lived cloud of vapor and exhaust in the man’s path but he did not slow. His skin was pale at his throat and his hair looked thick and glossy and lacquered. His lips were almost orange. The sound of the bus came whistling down from the man’s right. “Oh my God,” his mother said, and added something else in Finnish. Already she was lunging forward, too late, her hands waving in front of her as if she might wipe the whole scene away. The bus entered the boy’s field of vision, bearing down, but the man in the brown suit kept walking forward. How could he not see? The sun flashed a square of light from the toe of his shoe. The hatbox swung forward on his arm. The bus’s horn sounded once; there was the wrenching, metal-on-metal shriek of brakes, the whisper of space being compressed. The bus lurched on its frame and began its skid. All too quickly the man was struck. The hatbox flew, making an arc through the air, catching a star of sun at its apex, then falling to the street, landing on a corner, and denting the box. A fedora spilled out, gray with a black band, and wobbled in the road. The bus slid to a stop—nearly sideways now—thirty feet farther on. His mother had knelt and taken up the dying torso of the man in her arms. The fists at the ends of the man’s arms closed and unclosed automatically. A first thread of blood had appeared beneath one of his nostrils, and finally a lock released somewhere in the boy’s chest and he began to scream. In the deepest part of that midnight there was no sound but a water pipe ticking somewhere in the walls. His mother stood with him by the big parlor windows. She had changed her clothes but there was still a spot of the man’s blood on her wrist, perfectly round and toothed at the circumference, a tiny brown saw blade. Winkler found himself incapable of taking his eyes from it. In his mind, over and over, the hatbox sailed through the air, caught a star of sunlight, and came down uncaught. The man had been George DelPrete, a salmon merchant from Juneau. For years the boy would keep a clipping of the obituary in his pencil box. “How did you know?” she asked. Winkler began to cry and raised his hands to cover the tears. “No, no,” she said. She reached for him and stroked his hair. His eyeglasses were hard against her side. Her eyes were on the window. The space above the city appeared to stretch. The moon stepped lower. Any moment, it seemed, something could tear the sky and whatever was on the other side would push through. Once, a year before, her son had told her, as they sat on the rooftop watching the sun settle behind Susitna, that the tumbler of iced tea she held in her hand would slip through her fingers and fall to the street. Not three minutes later, the glass fell, each chip of ice spinning and sending back light before disappearing, the tea falling in a spray, the tumbler exploding on the sidewalk. Her hands shook; she had hurried downstairs to fetch a broom. Even though it was beyond the range of her understanding, she had the evidence before her, and intuition filled in the gaps. Two weeks after George DelPrete was killed, she sat beside David at the big dining table as he ate graham crackers. She watched him until he was done. Then she took his empty plate to the sink and said, “You dreamed it, didn’t you? That night. When you got up and opened the door with your shoes half on?” The color rose in his cheeks as if he were choking. She came to him and knelt beside him and pried his hands from the arms of the chair and embraced him. “It’s okay,” she said. “It’s okay.” From then on she slept out in the main room, on the sofa outside David’s bedroom door. She had always slept lightly, and David’s father did not complain. She slept there for the rest of her life. Even then it was clear David could not talk about it, was too afraid. Only rarely would she bring it up: “Do you have the dreams often?” or “Did you sleep through the night?” Once she said, “I wonder if the things could change. Between the time you dream them and the time they happen,” but by then, after George DelPrete, the dreams had ceased coming, as they often did, retreating somewhere else for years, until another event of sufficient significance neared, and the patterns of circumstance dragged them to the surface again. 11 (#ulink_c26e5fc2-ac4f-5c4d-a3b7-0434a2d0c3fa) Dust shifting and floating above the bed, ten thousand infinitesimal threads, red and blue, like floating atoms. Brush it off your shelves, sweep it off your baseboards. Sandy dragged sheets of tin across the basement floor. Winkler cleaned the house, fought back disorder in all its forms, the untuned engine, the unraked lawn. All the chaos of the world hovering just outside their backyard fence, creeping through the knotholes; the Chagrin River flashing by back there, behind the trees. Wipe your feet, wash your clothes, pay your bills. Watch the sky; watch the news. Make your forecasts. His life might have continued like this. In October of 1976, Sandy was in the last, engorged weeks. Winkler coaxed her into walking with him through a park above the river. A generous wind showed itself in the trees. Leaves flew around them: orange, green, yellow, forty shades of red, the sun lighting the networks of veins in each one; they looked like small paper lanterns sailing on the breeze. Sandy was asking about the anchor of the morning show who always had two cigarettes burning beneath the desk, and why she couldn’t see any smoke on TV. She walked with her hands propped beneath her distended abdomen. Winkler gazed up periodically at the twin rows of clouds, altocumulus undulatus, sliding slowly east. As they crested a hill, although this was a place he had never been, he began to recognize things in quick succession: the enameled mesh of a steel trash can, broken polygons of light drifting across the trunks, a man in a blue windbreaker climbing the path ahead of them. There was a smell like burning paper in the wind and the shadow of a bird shifted and wheeled a few yards in front of them, as—he realized—he knew it would. “Sandy,” he said. He grabbed her hand. “That man. Watch that man.” He pointed toward the man in the wind breaker. The man walked with a bounce in his step. All around him leaves spiraled to earth. “He wants to catch leaves. He’ll try to catch leaves.” A moment later the man turned and jumped to seize a leaf, which sailed past his outstretched hand. Another fell, and another, and soon the man was grasping around him and stepping from the path with his hands out in front of him. He lunged for one and caught it and held it a moment in front of his eyes, a bright yellow maple leaf, big as a hand. He raised it as if hoisting a trophy for cheering onlookers, then turned and started up the hill again. Sandy stood motionless and quiet. The wind threw her hair back and forth across her face. Her cheeks flushed. “Who is he?” “I don’t know. I saw him in a dream. Two nights ago, I think.” “You saw him in a dream?” She turned to look at him and the skin across her throat tightened—she looked suddenly, he thought, like Herman, standing in the doorway to his house, looking him over. “I didn’t even remember it until just now, when I saw him again.” “What do you mean? Why do you say you saw him again?” He blinked behind his eyeglasses. He took a breath. “Sometimes I dream things and then, later, they happen in real life. Like with you, in the grocery store.” “Huh,” she said. “I tried to tell you. Before.” She shook her head. He exhaled. He thought he might say more, but something in her face had closed off, and the opportunity passed. She went on, walking ahead of him now. Again she laced her hands at her belt, but this time it struck him as a protective gesture, a mother hemming in her cub. He reached for her elbow. “Take me home, please,” she said. Dad will soak his new pipe in the sink; Mom will come home with a patient’s blood smeared across her uniform; the grocer will hand down two pretzel sticks from the jar on top of his counter and wink. A man, strolling through a park, will try to catch leaves. Who would believe it? Who would want to think time was anything but unremitting progression, the infinite and indissoluble continuum, a first grader’s time line, one thing leading to the next to the next to the next? Winkler was afraid, yes, always afraid, terminally afraid, but it was also something in Sandy herself, an unwillingness to allow anything more to upset the realm of her understanding. Her life in Cleveland was tenuous enough. He never brought it up to her again except to ask: “You ever get déjà vu? Like something that happens has happened before, in your memory or in a dream?” “Not really,” she had said, and looked over his shoulder, toward the television. But he’d dreamed her. He’d dreamed her sitting on top of him with her eyes closed and her hands thrown back and tears on her cheeks. He’d dreamed the revolving rack of magazines, the dusty light of the Snow Goose Market, the barely visible vibrations of her trillion cells. And hadn’t she dreamed him, too? Hadn’t she said as much? It was a thorn, a fissure, a howitzer in the living room, something they taught themselves not to see, something it was easier to pretend did not exist. They did not speak on the drive home. Sandy hurried downstairs and soon afterward he could hear her torch fire up, the high, flickering hiss, and the smell of acetylene rose through the registers. From the kitchen window he watched leaves curl into fists and drop, the landscape revealing itself, deeper and deeper into the woods, all the way back to the river. He checked the barometer he’d nailed to the family room wall: the pressure was rising. 12 (#ulink_7ba091a3-1600-5015-bfdb-d756c100a6ad) The daughter came on November 4, 1976. She was beautiful, slick, and dark red: tiny lips, tiny toes, splotches of orange on her cheeks, delicate crinkles in her palms as if her hands were bags her metacarpals had yet to grow into. A flower of black hair on her scalp. Tiny exit bruises dotted her forehead. They named her Grace. Grace Creek, Alaska, was a place Sandy had been only once, for a few hours with her father, on pipeline business. “The farthest north I’ve ever been,” she told Winkler, and when she described it—the dome of the sky all white, and the ground white, too, so that you felt you were standing in a place devoid of all perspective, like standing in a dream—it made him think of the view of the Alaska Range from the roof of the apartment where he’d grown up, that white folded into white, so brilliant you’d get a headache if you looked too long. “Grace,” he’d said. “Okay.” He could not look at his daughter without feeling his heart turn over. The redness of her lips, the extravagant detail of her eyelashes. The fields of blood vessels on her scalp. The smell of her neck. They would be equals, friends, confidants. After dinner some evening they would lean over their plates and she’d tell him jokes. They’d talk through her loves and fears. Her dreams. And Sandy in the hospital bed: flushed, deflated, four drops of blood on the sheet by her hip. She held the child, whispered to her; he fell in love over and over again. In the following weeks Sandy seemed more comfortable, her body regaining its shape, her eyes quicker and more alive. She spent only an hour at a time in the basement; she found time to make meals and wash diapers. A first snow fell and she stood holding the infant at the window watching snow sift lightly through the illuminated cones of streetlights. Joining them, he felt his heart lift with the thought of it: family. The neighbors brought rattles and packets of formula and nippled bottles. It pleased him when they said that Grace was Daddy’s girl, that she was pretty, that she had his eyes. He felt like holding her up to the sky and shouting, “Here is something perfect! Here is a miracle!” Sucking on her bottle, her legs and toes flexing against his chest, she raised a tiny, perfect hand to his chin: pink around the fingernails, an impossible intricacy to each knuckle. Sandy would bring her into the basement and set her in a bassinet and work on her huge metal tree, and the baby would be silent, eyelids slowly falling, amid flaring blue light, the sounds of metal cracking and spitting. Winkler, sleepless, sat in a Channel 3 staff meeting and scribbled on the agenda: I can watch my daughter for an hour. He began sleepwalking again. Perhaps he had never stopped. He woke to find his feet in wet socks, mud tracked over the carpet. His coat was not hanging where he’d left it; a dresser drawer was upended, his T-shirts scattered over the floor. In nightmares he was encased in ice; he balanced precariously on the lip of Chagrin Falls, river water hurtling past his knees. After midnight he’d wake choking beneath the comforter and hear Grace crying; he’d go to her, lift her from her crib, take her downstairs, and wander with her among the dark shapes of furniture, the striped shadows of the blinds, the submarine comfort of unlit rooms. Weeks passed. His dreams went, again and again, to Grace. He dreamed her fist would close around his thumb; he dreamed she would balance herself against the edge of the coffee table and take her first, tottering steps. There was no way for him to know if these were merely dreams—the firing of three billion neurons, the neural pyrotechnics of REM sleep—or if they were more than dreams, apparitions of what would be. He brought his mother’s old copy of Bentley’s Snow Crystals to his cubicle at Channel 3 and sat with it in his lap. Ten thousand snow crystals, white on black. Ten thousand variations of a single, inexorable pattern: hexagonal planes, each extension at sixty degrees. Out the weather room window the wind beat Lake Erie into whitecaps. The irises of Grace’s eyes abandoned their near-black for a thoughtful gray. A more developed face began to emerge from behind her baby fat; Sandy’s cheeks, Sandy’s pale, thin nostrils. But she had Winkler’s eyes; the shape of them distinctly familiar, like almonds turned down at the corners, absurdly large in her small, round head. Christmas, New Year’s, the snows of January and February, and then it was March. Sandy’s Paradise Tree in the basement was growing, the highest branches appearing on it, capped with gilded angels clipped from the tops of trophies; a copper sun soldered to the top, each ray ribboned and sharp. He could hear her working late into the night, hammering and soldering, talking to their daughter. The earth froze; the sky hovered blue and flawless above the city. Banners of vapor fluttered above storm drains and vents on the roofs of buildings; the Chagrin waterfall hung frozen from its ledge, bulbous and brown, shellacked with icicles. He had the dream: rain on the roof, water three feet deep in the street. The downstairs was flooded; Grace cried from the plant stand. He collected her, carried her outside, and they were caught in the flood. He held her to his chest; he went under; someone called for him to let go, let go, let go. 13 (#ulink_313e8449-b026-5137-be14-061678393dee) After midnight he hovered over Grace in the orange glow of her nightlight and watched her blanket rise and fall. Lately she slept a subterranean, vacant sleep, as if some invisible huntsman came to put her consciousness in a sack and hold it until morning. Five months old now, she could hold her head at midline and focus her eyes on him. And she smiled—a raw, toothless smile, a hockey player’s grin—any time he raised her to the ceiling or swung her through his legs. Three days had passed since he first dreamed her death and each subsequent night the exact same dream had returned. He stood at her window and gazed down at the Newport in the driveway. He could take her. It wouldn’t matter where. They could find a hotel, wait it out. Up and down Shadow Hill Lane the faces of the neighbors’ houses were dark and blank. After a few minutes he went instead to the backyard, where the remnants of summer’s tomato plants lay gray and withered in the mud. The evening rain had let up and the sky above the ravine had split apart and in the gaps burned stars. Scraps of dirty, twice-frozen snow hid in the corners of the yard. A wind came through the trees and sent droplets flying through the air. One landed in the hairs on the back of his wrist and he studied it: a magnificent, tiny dome, a rhombus of sky reflected on its cap. Suddenly he forgot how to stand—his knees gave way and there was a slow, helpless sinking. He knelt awkwardly in the yard. The house loomed in front of him, dark and angular. Beneath the thin layer of mud he could feel massed shafts of ice, slender as needles. He remembered the way his mother’s plants had absorbed the water she’d poured into them, the liquid slowly disappearing, a kind of flight. He thought: So this is how it will be. Not a sudden collapse of all function but instead a gradual betrayal. How much easier it would have been if he and Sandy could have fought: a skirmish in the night, some harsh words, some measure of the truth actually spoken aloud. Maybe even—was it too much to hope?—a final belief: “I believe you,” she would say. “It’s impossible, but I believe you. We have to leave.” But he would be given nothing so dramatic. Everything invisible stayed invisible; everything unsaid remained unsaid. The following week progressed like any other: Sandy tended Grace, made dinners, soldered more and more objects onto her Paradise Tree. He had not even told her about the dream. He tried every kind of sleep evasion: caffeine pills, push-ups, cold showers. He’d sit at the kitchen table over a mug of coffee and wish Sandy good night and watch the backyard darken and stars crawl over the lip of the ravine, the Milky Way rotating out there on its concentric wheels. He’d play solitaire. He’d eat tablet after tablet of Excedrin. He’d climb Shadow Hill and stand beneath the naked trees listening to dogs bark and houses settle in the night. But he could not keep it up. Eventually he’d sleep—in bed next to Sandy, or sometimes in the Newport against the steering wheel, or at the kitchen table, chin propped on a palm—and he’d dream, and what he saw was always minute variations of the same original nightmare: Grace cold and drowned against his chest, hands prying her out of his arms. Let go, let go. The future waited for him to keep his appointment. The creek crawled through its ditch beside the lane and emptied into the river. Yesterday he had brought home real estate flyers for houses across town; he begged Sandy to take a trip to Florida, of North Carolina, two weeks, three weeks, whatever she wanted. “We can’t afford that,” she’d say, or, “Why are you acting so strangely?” Here was the worst curse: he managed to force the dream from his conscious mind often enough that when it returned to him (opening the pantry door, say, recalling the sweep of flood water), the experience of it became fresh and bleeding once more. At moments he found himself wondering how he’d gotten himself into this life: a wife? a child? Did time move forward, through people, or did people move through it, like clouds across the sky? For months after George DelPrete had been killed by the bus, Winkler couldn’t sleep for more than a couple hours at a time. He’d wander the apartment in the dark, try to locate that smell of caribou he used to love, try to imagine big reindeer sniffing at the kitchen wastebasket, standing quietly in the shadows of his parents’ bedroom. As often as not he’d find his mother at a window, watching the night, and she never seemed surprised or upset to find him out of bed at such a late hour—she’d extend an arm and bring him to her side, the pair of them at the glass, the city sleeping below. She’d pull him closer, as if to say, “I believe you, David; you’re not alone,” though she rarely said anything at all, just kept an arm around him, both of them watching the slow blinking of lights on far-off antennas, the all-night trains shunting into the railyard. Now, kneeling in the frozen mud behind his house, he saw it again: a hatbox flying through the air, coming down dented on one corner. He hauled himself up from the garden and went on creaking legs back inside and checked the barometer. Falling. He studied the roiling, silvered sky through the window but felt no presence there, no sympathetic gaze. At unpredictable moments he began mistaking people for Herman Sheeler. Herman was urinating in the Channel 3 restroom; he was salting the walk in front of a pizza restaurant; he was pulling open Winkler’s mailbox and shoving a phone book inside. Each time Winkler had to calm his heart, wait for Herman’s face to fade, a stranger’s to reestablish itself. What must it have been like for Herman to walk out into that garage for the first time, to open a closet and see all the clothes and shoes Sandy had left behind? Sandy’s underwear in the dryer. Their wedding silver. Their West High yearbooks. Their fifteen and a half anniversaries. At work Winkler spilled coffee through the cooling vent of a six-hundred-dollar television monitor. He stubbed his toe; he zipped his shirttail in his fly and didn’t notice until the head meteorologist pointed it out to half the office. Sandy bounced Grace on her thigh and watched him eat dinner. “You’ve started sleepwalking again,” she said. “You went into the baby’s room. Last night I was feeding her and you came in and started going through her drawers. You took out her clothes and unfolded them and piled them on top of the dresser.” “I did not.” “You did. I said your name but you didn’t wake.” “Then what happened?” “I don’t know. You went downstairs.” A sudden front. Warm air pressing over the lake. Storms riding down from Canada. He handed his forecast to the morning anchor: rain. From the Channel 3 parking lot he watched black-hulled cumulonimbus blow in like windborne battleships. Across the freeway, lake ice banged and splintered. Dread rose in his larynx. On the way home he parked in a neighborhood in University Heights with the windows down and waited. Any minute now. The wind lifting leaves from the gutters, a first dozen drops sinking through the branches. The sky curdled. Trees bucked and reared. Rain exploded on the Chrysler’s roof. “You’re all wet,” Sandy said. She folded a diaper between the baby’s legs and pinned it neatly. Rain coursed down the windows and wavered the light. He rolled up his left sleeve and wrung it in the sink. The water clung, pooled, slid toward the drain. “Sandy. I keep having this dream.” “I can’t hear you, David. You’re mumbling.” “I said, I keep having this dream.” “A dream?” From the shadows he could feel Grace’s gaze turn on him, dark and strange, not her eyes at all. He shuddered, backed away from the sink. “What kind of dream?” “That something will happen. That Grace will be hurt.” Sandy looked up. “Grace? And you think this dream’ll come true?” He nodded. She looked at him a long time. “It’s just a dream, David. A nightmare. You’re dripping all over everything.” He went down the hall and stood before the bathroom mirror in his damp suit a long time. Rain hummed on the eaves. “Just a dream,” he said. After a while he could hear her pick up the baby, her footsteps fade down the basement stairs. Midnight or later. He woke up in the driveway. Mud gleamed on the tires of the Chrysler. One red leaf was stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Rainwater murmured in the gutters. Sandy was quaking in front of him. “What are you doing out here? Have you lost your mind? Were you driving the car?” She was reaching for him—he was holding Grace, he realized, and she was crying. Sandy took her (collecting her neatly, expertly, always so much better at holding the child than he was) and hurried back inside. Through the open door he could see her undressing the baby, wrapping her in a blanket. The cries were screams now, long wails that even out in the driveway seemed improbably loud. He stood a moment longer, feeling sleep melt from him. His shirt was warm where he’d been holding the child. The car ticked behind him in the driveway and the driver’s door stood open. Had he been driving? How long had she been crying like that? It seemed like it had been awhile: when he concentrated, he could remember her bawling, as if the residue of it still hung in the air. Before he went in he watched the rain sift past the floodlight mounted beneath the eave: sheets of drops like a procession of wraiths, shifting, tumbling. Sandy was running water in the bath. Her chest heaved, still out of breath. Grace lay on the carpet beside her, sucking her fingers. “It’s going to flood,” he said. “What were you doing, David? My God, what were you doing?” “The ground is frozen. It can’t absorb this water. We can go wherever you like. Florida, Thailand—wherever. Just until this weather is gone. Or longer if you want. Forever if you want.” Water surged and bubbled in the tub. “At first it was kind of charming, you know,” she said. “Sleepwalking. And you did it so rarely. But now, David. I mean, come on. You’re doing it every night! You had Grace out there!” She unwrapped the baby and set her in the bath. “There,” she said. “It’s okay.” She swirled the water with an index finger. “Sandy.” He reached for her but she pulled away. “You’ve barely slept in, what, five days, David? Get some rest. I’ll sleep in the baby’s room. And Monday you’re going to Dr. O’Brien’s.” The rain kept up all night. Sandy whispered into the phone downstairs. He did not sleep. The sound of the water on the shingles sounded to him like insects chewing away at the roof. Twice before dawn he wrapped himself in his poncho and went out to the Chrysler and held his keys at the ignition but could not bring himself to start the car. Water ran down the lenses of his glasses. Inside the Chrysler it was damp and cold. The next day was Sunday and still the rain had not let up. Over an otherwise silent breakfast he begged her twice more to leave. Her eyes glassed over; her lips went thin. There was no water in the streets, nothing on TV about flooding, not even on his own network. None of the neighbors were going anywhere. “Our house is lowest,” he said. “Closest to the river.” Sandy only shook her head. “I made an appointment for you. At Dr. O’Brien’s. Tomorrow. One P.M.” To appease him she carried food up from the pantry and arranged it on top of the dresser: three boxes of Apple Jacks, a tub of oatmeal, bread and jam. Grace began to cry around noon and would not let up. He couldn’t bear it and had to go stand in the bathroom, pretending to relieve himself. Sandy called from the top of the basement stairs, her welding mask braced on her head. “You better go see the doctor, mister! You better go tomorrow! You tell him about sleepwalking. Tell him you think you can see the future.” He took Grace’s yellow hat and hid it. Not ten minutes later Sandy was calling him: “Have you seen her yellow woolie?” “No.” “But you just had it. I saw you with it.” He withdrew it from the toolbox in the closet and handed it back. One o’clock the next day he did not go to Dr. O’Brien’s. The dream floated just beneath his consciousness, huge and eager. He had not slept in fifty hours except for two catnaps in the file room at the network office and in all that time the rain had not ceased. By 3 P.M. the river had surpassed its embankments in several valleys and sent thin sheets of water speeding through neighborhoods. At intersections, firemen waved away traffic or ferried sandbags through the mud. Telephone poles along the road shoulders stood rootless, their bases submerged. The river climbed over a bridge on Miles Road and carried it off. Winkler clambered out of the car on the way home from work and watched the water lick at the banks. A camera crew from a rival network pulled up and splashed out of their van. “Are you getting this?” the producer shouted at the camera operator. “Are you getting it?” A policeman waved them back. The concrete at the edges where the bridge had been was left clean and dark as if cauterized. A child’s red plastic snow sled came floating down. At home, water was coming through the foundation. Sandy had removed many of her things from the basement already, her soldering kit, a crate of salvaged metal, sheets of paper with the ink running off in long purple tendrils. But her tree—huge now, as broad at the base as the hood of the Newport—would never fit up the stairs. Winkler doubted three men could lift it. Sandy splashed beside him, pulling her fingers through her hair. He waded beside the washer and dryer with a five-gallon bucket and brought it up to the porch and upended it over the lawn. Then he descended again. Grace wailed. After a half hour of bailing, he could see how futile it was—water was seeping into the basement in a thousand places. The water he carried out probably rifled through the topsoil, met ice, and flowed right back through the foundation. His feet had gone numb in their boots. The drizzle would turn to sleet later in the night. “We’ll get a hotel room,” he said, carrying a box of copper piping upstairs. “Across town.” “You didn’t go to the doctor’s.” Her hands were shaking lightly. “I called.” “Sandy. The house is flooding.” “We’ll be okay.” But Sandy looked haggard, her face drawn, her shirttails soaked. She held Grace as if marauders might at any moment storm the kitchen and pry her away. “Channel five says it’ll end tonight. None of the neighbors are leaving.” “They will.” “We’ll get a room in the morning. If it hasn’t stopped raining.” Rain was assaulting the roof. They could hear it pouring over the shingles and through the downspouts. “Sandy. Please.” She looked toward the basement door. “My tree.” But she relented. They sat in the car, the three of them, wipers ratcheting back and forth. Moisture fogged the windows. It felt immediately better to him, to be together in the car, hemmed in by the dark, the doors and windows of the Chrysler fogged, the smell of wet clothes close around them. Lightning, or a downed power line, flashed somewhere. Overlapping tides of rain washed over the windshield. The dashboard sent forth its frail orange glow. They took a motel room on Eaton Road, six miles away. “Will you be okay tomorrow? If I take the car to work?” “I guess. We can eat in the diner.” He looked at her, still clutching Grace. “I’m sorry about your tree, Sandy.” “Let’s just get through this.” Around midnight the rain turned to hail and the motel roof sang underneath it, a sound like thousands of buckets of pebbles being emptied onto plastic. Maybe she believed him now. Maybe they would get through this and be stronger; maybe she would ask him someday to tell her everything. The blanket was heavy on his chest. The muscles in his eyes were giving over to sleep. He woke to sudden pain and brought his fingers to his lip. He was in the parking lot of the motel. The neon sign above him sputtered in the rain. The car was running and the driver’s door hung open—Grace lay asleep on the front seat. Sandy had hit him across the mouth. “Are you crazy?” she shouted. She rushed to Grace and collected her in her arms. Sandy’s hair was getting damp and she was standing in her bra and pajama bottoms, barefoot on the gravel. The rain washed down over them. “What the hell are you doing with her out here?” She backed away, bracing Grace’s head against her shoulder. He looked up and watched the onslaught of rain, half a million drops riding down. Sandy was already across the lot. “What’s happening to you, David? Why are you doing this?” He could not answer—he did not know. Sleep was slowly washing from him. Had he been dreaming? He followed her to the door. She closed it most of the way and spoke through the gap. “Don’t come in, not tonight. Don’t come near us.” The door shut—a red number seven painted above the peephole—and he heard the bolt slide home. Winkler stood in the rain a long time before splashing back to the car. His jaw clattered. He could feel his lip swelling against his teeth. He was wearing his suit but his shirt had been buttoned improperly and his tie was tucked into his trouser pocket. Everything—his clothes, his hair, the seats and mats of the Newport—was wet. His hands shook in front of his eyes. There was no traffic. From the River Road Bridge he realized he could no longer make out where the river originally ran—it had become a lake sliding through trees. A police car ahead of him rolled haltingly through a deep pool. For a moment he wondered if the sun had burned out and the entire planet was listing off into space. He locked himself in the weather room at Channel 3, hung his suit over two chairs, and sat in his wet underwear watching the rain-spattered window and the slurred lights of the city. In the morning he taped three outdoor spots in a poncho emblazoned with the network logo. Throughout the watershed, streams were collecting and merging. Even when the rain let up, he told the camera, it would be at least another fifteen hours before the river reached floodpoint. Churches and gyms were filling; neighborhoods lining drainage creeks were evacuating. The mayor had petitioned the governor; the governor was mobilizing the National Guard. He called the motel, room 7. No answer. It wasn’t until early evening that he could get back there. The manager had to let him in. They were gone. Not in the shower, not in the bed. Sandy’s sweater hung in the closet; a stack of diapers waited by the television. There was no note. There was a familiarity to the room that he felt outside of; it was as if, already, he was trespassing, as if the red plaid suitcase on the floor and the green toothbrush on the sink belonged not to Sandy but to some stranger whose possessions he had no right to. He checked the diner, but they weren’t there; he dialed the house, but no one picked up. He had a half hour until his evening spot—he was supposed to be on the Main Street Bridge interviewing volunteer sandbag fillers. Were they eating somewhere? Walking? The only theory that made any sense was Sandy’s Paradise Tree—Sandy was at the house, trying to save it. She had hitched a ride somehow, and had brought Grace with her, and was trying to save her sculpture. He backed out of the room. Out in the street the daylight was failing. The clouds were matted tightly. He pointed the Chrysler toward the house. When he reached the base of Shadow Hill he could not believe how much water had collected there. The parking lot of the middle school had become a foaming brown lake. Spirals of debris eddied against the gymnasium wall. It was impossible to drive farther. He parked on a small knoll and climbed through wet, naked trees, hurrying along the ridge above the neighborhood. Soon he was near the top of Shadow Hill, a couple hundred feet above the lane. Below him the rooftops of neighbors’ houses looked like the peaked roofs of so many houseboats. Three separate creeks funneled in at the head of the street and poured through the center of the neighborhood; the front yards and the half of the lane closest to the Chagrin had become a river of mud. The sound of all that water was pervasive: gurgling, spitting, swallowing, pouring down the hillside and down the trunks of the trees—it sounded as if the atmosphere had liquefied. He counted rooftops: the Stevensons, the Harts, the Corddrys, that Italian family who had barbecues every Saturday. The Sachses’ lawn was entirely underwater, just the candy-striped apex of their daughter’s swing set showing. In the backyard of his own house the heads of fence posts were the only things visible, wooden buoys marking a shore. Rain ran down his neck; his soles were heavy with mud. A lesson, half remembered, rose in his memory: Water craves, water is hungry—look at what it does to the stems of roses left in a vase too long. Who had said that? A professor? His mother? Shades of mist ascended from the hillside. A helicopter shuttled past, passing in and out of low clouds, winking a small light. Already there was an odor in the air like mildew, like wet carpet, as if the houses were great moldy tea bags that had begun to steep. As he gazed through the rain, at the flooded neighborhood, the tall and stately maple in the Sachses’ front yard fell. It leaned grandly, then gave out with a singular groan, a thousand rootlets tearing and snapping, the trunk splashing down, the high branches reaching across the street, a series of percussive waves going out. The current pushed; the tree turned a bit, and held steady. The smell, the collapsed maple, the sound of water rising and muttering—it was hopelessly recognizable. He wavered a long moment, studying the wet shingles on the roof of his house, feeling every minute of his life funnel into an instant. Here was a line from one of his hydrology texts: convergence, confluence, conflux; a point at which two or more streams combine, and a new stream forms by their combining. And if Grace was in there? If he waded into the house, looked upstairs, downstairs, found her finally on the top shelf of Sandy’s plant stand? If he gathered her in his arms and tried to carry her out, up the street? Her yellow woolie, her bassinet, the cereal boxes on the dresser—everything was in place. He took a few steps forward, then turned, and walked back over the hill, the way he had come. Down through the mud and leaves. He fell once, twice, lurching back to his feet. He did not run but tried to keep his pace steady, resolved. The soles of his shoes slid in the wet leaves. He staggered to the Chrysler, started it, and turned south on Music Street, Shadow Hill at his back. He taped his spot in borrowed waders on the Main Street Bridge above Chagrin Falls. Rain was running down his glasses and he could see only the light mounted on top of the camera, a white smear on a field of gray. Behind him men in slickers shoveled sand into burlap sacks. The falls roared. At the end of the segment he faced the camera and said he hoped the river would crest that night. He said he hoped the rain would not turn to ice. He said we would all have to keep our fingers crossed, and watch the sky, and pray. 14 (#ulink_4c213253-b09c-53a2-afe3-fff957f9edd5) By 10 P.M. he was crossing the Springfield line into Pennsylvania. He rented a motel room in Erie and burst through the door and switched on the television. There were two and a half minutes of footage: a car floating in the library parking lot; an uprooted tree rolling over the falls; a gymnasium lined with cots. Lampposts sparked and drowned in the night; there was the customary video of stop signs submerged to the letters. But no mention of fatalities, injuries, drownings. The anchor signed off, and a movie came on—soldiers storming a hillside, shouting to one another. He turned to the window. A breeze came in, damp, stinking of diesel. He dialed the house—no ringing, just static. He dialed the motel on Eaton Road and asked for room 7 but the phone rang on and on and no one answered. He let it ring until he could not hold his eyelids open. Exhaustion trundled over him. In a dream he piloted the Chrysler back down Music toward Shadow Hill, descending into the valley. The car stalled a few hundred feet past the middle school, swamped. He waded out into the cold, muddy water. It was soon at his waist; the light was failing. He half waded, half swam the inundated street. Bloated magazines hung in branches; dolls rode the current facedown. Whole clumps of sod turned in eddies. He entered the house, climbed the stairs, roved the rooms. Grace was crying; it was dusk. He lived through the dream again: finding her on the plant stand, lifting her out of the bassinet, wading with her into the street. He slipped. They went under. She drowned. He had fallen asleep in his still-damp suit and woke to a chill deep inside him, as though he had been sleeping underwater. Beside the window two cords, caught in the updraft from the heater, knocked against the blinds. He bent over the sink and rinsed his face. It was 5 A.M. Again he dialed: no one in room 7; no connection at the house. Already he had reached a state where he expected the phone to ring on and on, for no one to be there. At Channel 3 the station attendant said she knew of no fatalities. “When are you coming in?” she asked. He hung up. Everything seemed intractable. What were his choices? To return home and possibly be the instrument of his daughter’s death? How many times would she have to drown? The future had become a swarming horizon, an advancing wall just down the road, raging forward, black and insatiable, swallowing houses and fields as it came. He left the room key on top of the television, went to the Chrysler, and guided it not toward home, but east. He kept his hands firmly on the wheel and at dawn did not turn back. I have run away before, he thought. It is merely a matter of keeping your foot on the accelerator and not letting it off. The clouds had pulled back and there were only the occasional trucks rumbling in the night, last fall’s leaves blowing across the interstate. All that day he drove, stopping only for gas and to buy chocolate bars, which he ate mindlessly, dropping the wrappers to the floor between his legs. Scranton? Philadelphia? New York? He settled on the latter, as much for its size as anything, its supposed impassiveness, its positioning at the terminus of the freeway. At dusk he brought the Chrysler up through the northern miles of New Jersey and soon was navigating beneath the Hudson in the Lincoln Tunnel, where exhaust-caked girders groaned past in the blackness above him, and when he emerged he was in Manhattan. He was drained and his vision was lapsing badly behind his glasses and what he saw appeared as little more than a hubbub of steel and mirrors, as if he were entering some vast and awful funhouse that would soon seal him into a dead end and pinch off the exits. He parked the Chrysler in an alley and left it. On the street, big band music played from a portable stereo and the people on the sidewalks appeared to step in concert with the song—a nun with a blue backpack, an Indian man in a tracksuit carrying flowers, a woman ducking into the backseat of a cab—all of them seeming to fulfill some greater orchestration, stepping up, stepping down, swinging their arms, blinking their eyes, oblivious, hurrying to their ends. 15 (#ulink_f2b04629-a5d3-5e73-9e3d-690f5c2ed867) Above a tavern he found a cheap room with a bricked-over window and a hot plate and an orchestra of crickets performing beneath the cot. He lay on his back and watched the cracks in the ceiling as if they might hand down a sentence that did not come. The light, from a dusty and naked bulb, was constant, day or night; he couldn’t find a switch or reach the fixture to unscrew it. Every few hours he descended the iron staircase to the bar in his rumpled suit to order coffee and scan the newspapers like some deranged businessman. He dialed home from the pay phone in the back but service must still have been interrupted by the flood—a buzz rose in the line, each time, electrons piling up against a resistor, and the signal clicked off. At the motel on Eaton the clerk said that he could not reach anyone in room 7, that the room had not been paid for, that no one had yet checked out. Directory Assistance got him the number of Tim Stevenson, the neighbor six houses up. Tim answered on the second ring. “We haven’t seen anyone. Your place is a mess. The whole street is a mess. There’s crap everywhere; all the septics are backed up.” “A mess?” “Where are you?” “Have you seen my wife?” “Haven’t seen anyone. Where are you staying?” “And my daughter?” “No one. Are you okay? Hey, which insurance were you on?” Winkler washed his face and armpits in the bathroom sink; graffiti had been etched into the mirror: CHUCK WANTS SUE BUT CAN'T HAVE HER. CANDY IS EASY. On the national news the Ohio flooding warranted seventeen seconds, the rushing falls, the half-drowned street signs, a clip of two firemen in a skiff coaxing a Doberman off a garage roof. An anchor came back on; stock indices rolled across the screen. A telegram: Sandy— I know you must think what I’ve done is unforgivable. Maybe it is. But I had to go. In case. I think I would have harmed Grace. I’ll be back as soon as it is safe. The first bank wouldn’t let him transfer funds; the second allowed him a one-day maximum withdrawal of seven hundred dollars. From a corner stand he bought a sheaf of newspapers and read that the flood had receded. The thawing soil was choking it down, funneling the water into its aquifers. Only two deaths, the paper reported, old men unwilling to leave their homes. He dialed from a dozen different payphones but no operator could get a call through. Had he gone far enough? Would time take care of itself? Somewhere was there a tally of souls that had marked his daughter’s and would seize it regardless of agent? What if Sandy had drowned in the basement and doomed them both in the process? But wouldn’t their deaths have been reported? Not if they hadn’t been found. Not if he was the one who should have been reporting them. A greater fear: What if by leaving he had somehow tampered with the order of things, removed a thread and left the fabric snagged and incomplete? Or worse—maybe worse than anything: What if years of studying water had manifested themselves into a dream that was nothing more than a nightmare, something to wake from and shake off, a manifested fear, merely an instance of what could be? What if he had left his daughter in that house to die? It didn’t matter. What mattered was that his daughter might still be breathing somewhere, smiling, sleeping, grasping Sandy’s ear, gurgling some unintelligible communication. He wandered the thronged sidewalks and peered up at the sky: spring in New York, the first trees unfolding their leaves, a depthless, pristine blue poised between buildings. Tulips rising from beds on Park Avenue, a woman laughing in an open window—these things seemed impossible, unreal. During three and a half days, he did not sleep more than twenty minutes at a time. Finally his body gave out on the floor in front of the bed. He managed to haul a chair in front of the door, and sleep took him, and when he woke he had slept twelve hours. What he could remember of his dream was that Sandy had stormed the hall toward his room, the arm that did not hold Grace swinging violently as if to clear demons from her path, her hair standing uncombed and snarled above her head. She was beautiful in her fury; she kicked a hole in his door with the toe of her boot. In the dream he was lying on the cot and she stood over him and unleashed a thousand curses. He raised his hands over his face: spittle flew from between her lips. Grace had begun to scream. He sat up. “Not in front of the baby,” he said, and in his dream was overcome with happiness—his daughter was saved, the flood had passed, they could begin again. But Sandy was shaking Grace; he rose and gathered her from her mother’s arms, wrapped her in a blanket and was leaving the room, moving down the hall, Sandy’s voice behind him cracking at its peaks, as if her voice somehow had become the arc of her welding torch, sizzling and snapping, and the child still screaming in his arms, reaching the top of the iron stairs—he would get them all out of there, they would find the Chrysler and drive home, or all the way back to Anchorage if Sandy wanted—and he tripped. Horror plunged through him. The blanket unraveled; Grace hovered, out of his arms, for an instant, her forehead wrinkling. Sandy screamed. He tried to close his eyelids but in the dream they were wide open, as if propped by invisible toothpicks. Grace dropped spinning down the flight of stairs and landed with a muffled crack, an egg breaking inside a towel. What was sleep? What was sentience? He studied his reflection and realized he was not sure if this was a dream—would he wake at any moment and find himself somewhere else? Was he sleepwalking even now? That night in a state near desperation he crouched in his doorway with his hands wrapped around a quart of coffee. He had stacked the frame of the bed and chair against the door. Each time a cupboard closed somewhere in the building, or a siren started, or footsteps emerged from the stairwell, an impulse shivered through him: Run. Run farther. It was only a matter of time until he would wake and Sandy would be at the door and he would kill his daughter. In the morning he roved the city. He rented two more hotel rooms and each time the dream was the same with the setting altered. In the second dream he was sleeping on a sidewalk grate with steam rising around him. Beside him slept another man, wrapped in an orange plastic raincoat. Down the sidewalk came the echoing footsteps of his wife, each heel clapping the pavement, and she was shaking him awake, shouting, he was taking the child from her arms, dropping her, killing her. The terror of sleeping was no better than the terror of waking. His hands seemed pale, strange devices—not his own. He had already spent five hundred and eleven dollars of his and Sandy’s money. Any moment now the future—that black, swarming wall—would arrive. He was at the cage on the first floor of a hostel. A muffled pounding echoed from the ceiling. The clerk had a dozen tattoos beneath his cardigan. “Booked. You’ve got to check in by three P.M.” “I’ll pay double.” “No beds.” “I’ll take anything. A closet.” “We’re full. You need a hearing aid?” He stood awhile in front of the desk and then went out. It had gone cold that evening, a last paroxysm of winter, and wind rasped through the buildings. Subways shook the sidewalk as they passed beneath. He drew his suit jacket around him. Above the city nimbus clouds raced to sea. It began to snow: small, wet crystals that seemed to groan as they dropped through the air. He was downtown in an all-night gyro place, bent over the table, beginning to nod off on his forearms. It was the sight of dust on a vase of fake irises, and then a smell when someone entered, cold air rushing through the door, a smell like oiled metal, like slush, and he knew he was entering the dream. He left the restaurant. A half block away, a figure in an orange plastic raincoat knelt over a grate. Sleep clawed at Winkler, clutched his eyelids; how easy it would be to lie there, up the block in that rising steam, to doze, to let the future catch up with the present. Instead he ran. He ducked through alleys and tried not to pay attention to the turns he made. His legs ached and his feet chafed in his shoes. After a dozen or so blocks he was passing the faded green awnings of a shore marker, and had reached the edge of the island. Out on the pier a crane was loading a freighter and snow floated beneath its floodlights in slow coils. He stopped, breathing hard, knees trembling, a pain in his lower legs as if his shins had begun to splinter. He had not seen Sandy for nine nights. A security guard with a clipboard led him aboard and showed him the captain. The ship was the Agnita—a Panamanian-registered British merchant freighter bound for Venezuela. For two hundred and thirteen dollars, all the cash he had left, the captain allowed him passage. “Caracas?” the captain asked. “Anywhere,” Winkler said. Snow flew among the telegraph wires and down through the varied masts and antennas in the port and disappeared wherever it touched the harbor. He climbed to the foredeck and watched the city, its thousand muted corridors. A police launch motored past, its spotlight illuminating a taper of falling snow. Small, granular flakes collected on the shoulders and sleeves of his jacket. He raised his cuff to his eyes: Triangular forms with truncated corners? Hexagonal plates? He looked away, feeling sick. After an hour or so the loading crane swiveled away and a tug brought the Agnita out from the pilings and into the harbor. From the stern he watched as the ship slid through the Narrows. The engines rumbled to life; a great boil went up behind the ship. The tug turned and faded, and the lights of Manhattan reflected off the rimpled water like the lights of ten cities. The outer harbor waited black and huge off the bow. The freighter sounded two blasts; somewhere a buoy clanged. They steamed past Coney Island and Breezy Point and soon he could see only the lights of fires along the Jersey shore and finally those, too, waned. Ice glazed the rails. He clambered down to the bunkroom. The ship fell into a steady buck and sway as the long swells of open water took hold of her. Book Two (#ulink_88ebf858-987b-5362-9c28-19256a9b58d6) 1 (#ulink_9c41c096-8b2c-5151-bc99-9d2dfc56841e) Frost, like a miniature white forest, backlit by sun, fringed the bottom of the window. Dendrites, crystal aggregates, plumes of ice—an infinite variety. Strange to think that a few million water molecules frozen now on the fuselage of a 757, hurtling toward Miami, could feasibly be the same molecules that seeped through gaps in the foundation of his house, molecules Sandy might have sopped with a towel and wrung into the yard, to evaporate, become clouds, precipitate, and sink to earth once more. What is time? he wrote in his pad. Must time occur in sequence—beginning to middle to end—or is this only one way to perceive it? Maybe time can spill and freeze and retreat; maybe time is like water, endlessly cycling through its states. A flight attendant came by and asked him to pull the shade. The movie was starting. The woman in the middle seat tore headphones out of a plastic bag and clamped them over her ears. Winkler removed his eyeglasses and wiped the lenses. Before Darwin, before Paracelsus, before Ptolemy even, for as long as memory had existed, humans carried it in a corner of their hearts: We live in the beds of ancient oceans. We carried it in our terrors of drowning, our stories about ancestors delivered from floods: In the beginning God separated the vapors to form the sky above and the oceans below. The end of the world would be watery as well: a resolving storm; a cleansing tide; glaciers grinding over everything. Overlap, succession, simultaneity—how Noah must have sweated, hammering together his raft, the first raindrops striking the neighbors’ roofs. The sound of the engine mounted on the wing outside his window made a constant, lulling wash. The sky, pale blue, seemingly infinite, eased past. A quarter of a century before, the Agnita traversed the rough gray of the Atlantic, moving in the opposite direction. Six hours out, the sun pushed over the edge of the sea. He climbed to the deck and watched the last gulls sail over the cargo booms. The steely green of the Blake Ridge, the floating weed of the Gulf Stream. Never had he seen so much sky, so much water. Near the Bahamas a gale drove ranges of hissing swells against the hull and he clung to the life rail, yellow-faced, sick, the ship rolling beneath him. Scraps of memories surfaced: Sandy stepping into the cold from First Federal, drawing the ruff of her big hood around her face; the way Grace had begun to look up when he entered a room; Herman Sheeler bent over his desk, penciling an appointment onto his calendar: Hockey, Wednesday, 4 P.M. Sandy, he assumed, would by now be careening toward ultimatum. He imagined her first night back in the house, propping cushions to dry on the porch, draping curtains over the backyard fence. How much sediment and sludge would have to be pumped out of her basement workshop? She’d phone the police and Channel 3; she’d make a list of necessary repairs; she’d stand in the doorway looking out at the space in front of the hedges where the Newport should have been. Maybe she’d board off the basement door and leave her Paradise Tree underwater, an Atlantis in the basement. The telegram would be delivered; maybe she would shred it, or stare at it, or shake her head, or nod. At some point she’d have to answer difficult, uncomfortable questions: from the neighbors, from an insurance representative. Where is he? By now, perhaps, she would have stuffed Winkler’s clothes into boxes and taped them shut. Or she was making funeral plans. Or the house was destroyed and she and Grace were halfway to Columbus, or California, or Alaska. Or she was dead, lodged underwater, snared in the branches of a tree beside Grace, mother and daughter, their hair fanning like ink in the current. All the cruelties of conjecture. Was he simply too weak? Too afraid? Had he wanted to flee? Maybe she had fled, too. Maybe she was glad Winkler had gone: no more tossing in the bed at night, no more sleepwalking, no more waking to find her husband empty-eyed over his sock drawer. Maybe she and Herman had been corresponding all along, while Winkler was at work, while Winkler was asleep. Maybe, maybe, maybe. To even think of Grace set a voltage tingling through his skull. Even then, twelve nights since he had last seen his daughter, the continent receding steadily behind him, a small part of him understood that he might not be able to return. After a measure of time—a month, six months, maybe, or a year—Sandy would recover and seal herself off and then she would be finished with him, finished completely, living again in the present, clerking in a savings and loan, making her sculptures. He would be relegated to a past best left fastened and buried, a Paradise Tree in the basement, a body at the bottom of a lake. Grace—if she had lived—would ask about him and Sandy would say he was a deadbeat, nobody. He slogged through the hours. At night stars spread across the sky in unfathomable multitudes and pulled through the dark, dropping one by one beneath the sea as new ones emerged on the opposite horizon. The crew was mostly Brazilian; the mate was British. The only other paying passengers were a threesome of Malaysian pepper merchants who whispered furtively to one another in the forecastle like conspirators plotting a hijack. He avoided everyone—what if someone should try to start a conversation? What do you do? Where are you going? Neither was a question he could answer. At meals he chose between the galley’s daily offerings: grilled cheese, boiled sausage, or a shapeless pudding that shuddered grotesquely with the ship’s vibrations. Sleep, if it came at all, arrived weakly, and he entered it as if it were a shallow ditch. When he woke he felt more exhausted than ever. Around him men snored in their bunks. Water roared through the ship’s plumbing. The vast blue fields of the Sargasso Sea. The Windward Passage. The Antilles. The Caribbean. Birds began to appear: first a pair of frigate birds riding over the bow; then jaegers; finally a squadron of gulls riding over the foredeck. Land came into sight on the seventh day: a trio of islands floating in vapor thirty miles to the east. The Agnita docked at a half dozen ports. At each, customs officials swarmed her holds and went away with bribes: cases of single-malt, a lawnmower, a New York Yankees jersey. She took on grain in Santo Domingo and sugar in Ponce; she disgorged mattresses in St. Croix, a bulldozer in Montserrat, three hundred porcelain toilets in Antigua. One noon, as the ship was piloted out of open water and toward harbor once more, he climbed to the deck and stood at the rail. A steep island, with the broad green shoulders of a volcano at its northern end, approached. The sea was unusually calm, and the swell driven in front of the bow held a wavering image: the tall gray hull, punctuated only by the starboard hawsepipe; then the row of scuppers, and the thin spars of the rail; lastly Winkler’s own small and insubstantial shape, hanging on. It was the cargo port in Kingstown, St. Vincent. Maybe two thousand miles from Ohio, but it might as well have been a million. Far enough. He disembarked in the lee of three containers of tractor parts and took refuge near the wharf in a ruined hotel, the roof partially caved in, a half dozen warblers preening on the window frame. Within an hour the Agnita sounded twice and pulled out. He watched it all the way to the horizon, the hull fading first, then the white superstructure, finally the tops of the stacks disappearing beyond the curvature of the sea. 2 (#ulink_48e10c57-28ce-56fc-83ba-17e3445fd7f2) St. Vincent’s hillsides were a foreboding emerald, patched with cloud shadow and the paler green of cane fields. From his window he could see a row of tin warehouses, an arrowroot-processing plant, a dirt field with netless soccer goals at either end. Knots of pastel-colored houses clung to the mountainsides. A syrupy, melancholy smell that Winkler associated with old meat permeated the air. Frigate birds hovered in drafts high over the port. That first night he hiked a nine-hole golf course left to ruin behind the hotel, six-foot stalks of peculiar, spiky plants nodding in the fairways; ivy creeping over the tee boxes; a family of gypsies in semipermanent encampment on what had been the third green. Few lights burned except fires along the beaches, the mast lights of yachts, and a dozen or so flashlights conveyed by unseen commuters, shuttling between leaves like misplaced stars. The palms stirred. Tiny sounds took on distorted importance: a pebble rattled under his shoe; something rustled in the scrub. Frogs shrieked from the branches. He wondered if he had not fled New York but the present as well. A sign for a public telephone was bolted to the wall of the post office. He took up position with his back against the entry gate and fell in and out of nightmares. In the morning a woman dressed neck to ankle in denim nudged him awake with her toe. A crucifix swung from her neck: a cross as big as her hand with an emaciated Jesus welded to it. “I need to make a phone call,” he said. “Can you speak English?” She nodded slowly, as if considering her answer. Her cheekbones were high and severe; her hair was straight and black. Spanish, maybe? Argentinean? “I have to call America.” “This is America.” “The United States.” “Twenty E.C.” “E.C. What’s E.C.?” She laughed. “Money. Dollars.” “Can I call collect?” “Will they accept?” She laughed again, unlocked the gate, and ushered him inside the post office. He wrote the number on a slip of paper; she went behind the desk, spoke into the receiver a moment, and passed it to him. In the line he could hear miles of wires buzzing and snapping, a noise like a thousand switches being thrown. There was a sound like a bolt sliding home, then, miraculously, ringing. It astonished him that a sequence of wires, or maybe satellite relays, might actually run from that island all the way to Shadow Hill, Ohio—how was that possible? But he was not so far away, not yet. He could imagine the phone on the kitchen wall with ruinous clarity: fingerprints on the receiver, the plastic catching a rhombus of light from the window, the bell’s mechanical jingle. What time would it be there? Would the ringing wake Grace? Would the house still be damp, would he have been fired, would an insurance check have arrived? He was fairly certain he had been gone eighteen days. He imagined Sandy plodding to the phone in her pajamas. She was flipping on lights, clearing her throat, lifting the receiver from its cradle—she would speak to him now. The line buzzed on and on: a simulation of ringing he wasn’t used to. His tongue was like a pouch of dust in his mouth. It rang thirty times, thirty-one, thirty-two. He wondered if the house was submerged underwater, at the bottom of some new lake, the phone still clinging dumbly to the wall, the cord brought horizontal and fluttering in the current, minnows nosing in and out of the cupboards. “Not home,” the operator said. It was not a question. The post office woman looked at him expectantly. “A few more rings.” The wall of the post office was white and hot in the sun. The silos of a sugarcane mill, painfully bright, reared above the town. At a kiosk he bartered his suit jacket with a man whose patois was so thick and fast Winkler could not understand any of it. Winkler ended up with a salt cod, a pineapple, and two jam jars filled with what he thought might be Coca-Cola but turned out to be rum. A pair of women strolling past, carrying baskets, nodded shyly at him. He followed them awhile, down an unpaved street, then turned and descended through thorny groves to a beach. Small green waves sighed in from the reef. He heard what he thought were occasional voices in the trees behind him but even in full sunlight it was dark back there and he could not be sure. From high on the hills came the bells of goats moving slowly about. That sweet, carrion smell crept under the breeze. The cod was oily and stirred in his gut. He raised the first rum jar and stared at it a long time. Tiny gray clumps of sediment floated through the cylinder. He had been drunk only once before, at a chemistry department party in college when, in a fit of introversion, he quarantined himself on top of a dryer in the hostess’s laundry room and gulped down four consecutive glasses of punch. The room had begun to spin, slowly and relentlessly, and he had let himself out through the garage and thrown up into a snowbank. Dim clouds of mosquitoes floated at the edges of the trees. He sipped rum all that morning and afternoon and rose from the sand only to wade into the sea and relieve himself. By evening strange waking dreams possessed him: a dark-haired girl hauled a sack through woods; a row boat capsized beneath him; the woman from the post office prayed over a halved avocado, her crucifix swinging through the light. He dreamed freezing lakes and Grace’s little body trapped beneath ice and the heart of an animal hot and pumping in his fist. Finally he dreamed of blackness, a deep and suffocating absence of light, and pressure like deep water on his temples. He woke with sand on his lips and tongue. The sun was nearly over the shoulder of the island—the sky seemed identical to the previous morning’s. The same cane mill stood brilliant and white in the glare. Another day. Beside him a tiny snail worked its way around the rim of an empty rum jar. His dream—the asphyxiating blackness—was slow in dwindling. Dark spots skidded across his field of vision. He rose and picked his way through the grove behind the beach. In an alley behind a series of hovels he pulled lemons from a burl-ridden tree and ate them like apples. An old woman tottered out, shouting, shaking a mop at him. He went on. In the days to come he telephoned the house on Shadow Hill Lane a dozen times—each time the call went unanswered; each time he begged the operator to wait a few more rings. He wondered again if the freighter had carried him to a new location in time, a future or past that did not coincide with Ohio’s. Here it was a day like any other: a hot, dazzling sky, blackbirds screeching at him from the trees, boats sliding lazily in and out of harbor. There what day was it? Maybe it was years later—maybe, somehow, it was still March, maybe he was still asleep in his bed, upstairs, beside Sandy, Grace sleeping her steadfast sleep down the hall, the first raindrops fattening in the clouds. But it was April 1977. Back home the yard was coming to life, the flood receding into memory. Were they burying Grace? Maybe the funeral had already happened and now there were only memorial-fund canisters beside checkout registers, a grave, and leftover vigil programs neighbors had kept on their kitchen counters too long and now were guiltily folding into the trash. Grace Pauline Winkler: 1976–1977. We hardly knew you. The American Express office could not reach his wife, they said, to see if she would wire money. A tall, purple-skinned man at the bank said he could not access Winkler’s checking or savings without a current passport. “Technically, sir,” he stage-whispered, winking, “I make a call and you get locked up at Immigration.” He pawned his belt; he pawned the laces from his shoes. He ate stale croissants salvaged from bakery seconds, a dozen discarded oranges with white flesh. When he couldn’t bear his thirst he took sips from the second jar of rum: sweet, thick, painful. In a moment of courage he asked the post office woman to dial Kay Bergesen, Channel 3’s “News at Noon” producer. Kay accepted the charges. “David? Are you there?” “Kay, have you heard anything?” “Hello? I can’t hear you, David.” “Kay?” “You sound like you’re in Africa or something. Look, you have to get in here. Cadwell is pissed. I think he might have fired you already—” “Have you heard from Sandy?” “—you just disappeared. We didn’t hear squat, what were we supposed to think? You have to call Cadwell right now, David—” “Sandy,” Winkler said, wilting against the post office wall. “And Grace?” Kay was shouting: “—I’m losing you, David. Call Cadwell! I can’t fend—” Twenty-one days since leaving Ohio. Twenty-two days. He tried the neighbor, Tim Stevenson, but no one answered; he tried Kay again but the connection broke before it could be completed. The post office woman shrugged. In the afternoons, storms came over the island and he sheltered on the fringe of his small beach under the low-slung palms. Every few hours more blood seemed to drain from his head, as if his heart was no longer up to the task of circulation, as if this place held him in the grips of a more powerful form of gravity. At night tiny jellyfish washed ashore and lay flexing in the sand like strange, translucent lungs. Sand fleas explored his legs. He took to sleeping in long stints and when he woke his same dream of blackness faded slowly as though reluctant to leave. Somewhere out past the reef lightning seethed and spat and he turned over and slept on. 3 (#ulink_a0d52318-21c4-5ffe-98d4-3a81282e3e3e) He had been in St. Vincent six days when he went to the post office and passed his wristwatch to the woman behind the counter. “I need to make another call.” “You won’t reverse the charges?” “Not this number.” “Will these people be home?” She started to laugh. “Goddamn it.” Her smile wilted. She raised a hand to her crucifix. “Permiso,” she said. “I am sorry. I should not make fun.” She held the watch at arm’s length and studied it in a pantomime of interest. She raised the buckle up and down; she squinted at the second hand, which stood motionless over the nine. “What do I do with this?” “Tell the time. Sell it. They wouldn’t take it at the market.” She glanced behind her at the thin man who managed the place but he was paging through a newspaper and paying no attention. “Is it broken?” “It works. It got a bit waterlogged. It just needs to dry out.” “I don’t want it.” “Please.” She looked over her shoulder again. “Two minutes.” He told her the number for Herman Sheeler’s house in Anchorage and she dialed and handed over the receiver. After the first ring he thought he might pass the phone back and tell the woman no one was home but then he heard the handset being lifted on the other side and it was Sandy. There was a satellite delay in the line. Her two syllables—”Hello?”—repeated, tinny and distant, as if she had spoken through a culvert pipe. Somewhere inside the connection an electronic beep reverberated. His throat caught and for a long moment he thought he might not be able to speak. April in Anchorage, he thought. Wind against the garage door, slush sliding off the roof The trout print in the paneled hallway. “Hello?” she said again. He supported his head against the wall. “It’s David.” Silence. He had the sense she had covered the mouthpiece with her palm. “Sandy? Are you there?” “Yes.” He said, “You’re okay.” “I’m okay?” “You’re all right, I mean. Alive. I’m glad.” The line fizzed; the beep sounded. “Alive?” “I keep trying the house.” “I’m not there.” “How long have you been gone? Are you back with him?” She did not reply. “Sandy? Is Grace there? Is Grace okay?” “You left. You just got up and left.” “Is Grace with you? Is she all right?” There was the sound of the receiver clattering onto a counter or maybe the floor. A second later Herman’s voice was in his ear. “Don’t call here again. Get some help. You need help. Do you understand?” Then a click, and the static fell off. He stood a moment. The wall was warm and damp against his forehead. The air smelled like wet paint. He had a sudden image of Sandy in the doorway of that house, toboggan-riding polar bears printed on her pajamas, her bare feet whitening in the cold. “I was disconnected,” he managed to say. The woman’s voice was low: “I’ll dial again.” The line rang, and rang. Finally it picked up and then clicked off. He listened to the dead space in the line for a moment, then passed the receiver back. “Lord,” the woman said. “You sit down for a moment.” She clasped the telephone over the big crucifix on her chest. “I’ll get some tea.” But he had already turned and was blundering through the doors into the throbbing green light. What was left? His shirt was stiff with sweat and grime; the knees had come out of his trousers. He had a half jar of rum and three Eastern Caribbean dollars in his pocket, enough for nothing: a bag of crackers, maybe, a tin of luncheon meat. Below the town the ocean gleamed like a huge pewter plate and the sun beat murderously upon it. He stopped in the middle of Bay Street and braced his hands on his knees a long time. The asphalt seemed to tremble, the way an image reflected in water trembles. Inside him a slow vertigo had started. He had the odd sensation that the light in the sky was entering his skin somehow and penetrating the cavities of his body. Any minute now he would not be able to contain it. He raised a hand to his mouth and retched. A man, passing on a bicycle, gave him a wide berth. Two small boys pointed at him and covered their mouths with the hems of their T-shirts. The faces of the pastel storefronts seemed to leer and pitch. Somewhere in the harbor a ship sounded. He staggered down the thin track south of town. Each cell in my body is disconnecting, he thought. All the neurons have torn loose. The light was such that he could only keep his eyes open for a few seconds at a time. A bus with PATIENCE AND GOD painted across it, its windows full of sleepy women, churned past and left him dusty. He found the path leading off the road and picked his way through the dense growth. On his little beach he knelt and watched horizontal scraps of clouds inch across the sky. Cumulus humilis fractus, he thought. Everything I know is useless. He crouched in the sand and shivered. Twice in the hours to come he woke to feel another man’s hands in his pockets and he reached to grab the wrist but it was gone. The first had robbed him of his remaining money and he wondered hazily what the second had found. In half dreams in which he wasn’t sure if he was awake or asleep, he watched regiments of crabs sidle onto the beach, cantering among the tide pools on their needle-tipped feet, pausing, then moving on again. 4 (#ulink_22016413-1cf4-5379-8f7b-813763f5343b) He woke to the smell of meat and the sound of gums smacking. A potbellied man was squatting beside him, eating rice and mutton dedicatedly, hardly pausing to swallow. A bar of yellow light pulled over the back of the island. Among the rocks, tide pools reflected jagged circles of sky. Winkler had not eaten in two days and the wet sounds of the man chewing made him want to gag. The man said, “Could’ve robbed you.” Winkler tried to balance his head on his knees but it would not stay. “It’s already stolen,” he said. His voice cracked and sounded to him like the voice of a stranger. The potbellied man shrugged and ate; the sky accumulated light. “What day is it?” “Sunday.” “Sunday what?” “Sunday Easter. Here.” His accent was Spanish. He handed over rice wrapped in a glossy yellow leaf. Winkler raised it to his nose and passed it back. “Eat it.” Winkler raised it again and closed his eyes and bit off a tiny corner. His mouth was entirely void of saliva. The rice felt like tiny bones between his molars. “My wife,” the man said. “Soma.” He paused, waiting perhaps for Winkler to react. His forehead puckered. “She hasn’t slept all week. She says Easter is forgetting. No, for”—he snapped his fingers in search of the word—“for giving. For forgiving.” Winkler chewed carefully. His teeth had loosened in their gums and felt as if they could at any moment unmoor altogether. “Eat the leaf too,” the man said. Winkler studied it: thick, glossy, something like a broad and yellow rhododendron leaf. He shook his head. The man took it and folded it carefully into quarters and ate it. “Good for the bowel,” he said, and smiled. He wiped his fingers on the backs of his calves and stood. “I am Felix. Felix Antonio Orellana.” He seized Winkler’s hand and hauled him to his feet. Streaks of light leaked slowly across Winkler’s vision. “I am a chef. I cooked in the Moneda in Santiago, Chile. I cooked once for Cuban presidente Fidel Castro. I made callaloo soup and he called me from the kitchen to tell me it was fabulous. That is the word he used. Fabuloso. He said he would like me to send his cooks the recipe.” He nodded a moment. “I sent it, of course. “Come.” He led Winkler along the beach and over several embankments clotted with seagrape. Winkler’s feet were swollen in his shoes, and his head felt poorly anchored to his neck, as though it might tumble off. Despite his paunch, Felix walked easily and quickly, balancing his torso on agile, chicken-bone legs; several times he had to turn around and wait. They picked their way down to a cove where a barefoot girl, maybe five years old, sat on the bow of a long, wide-hulled canoe, tossing stones into the sea. Felix said something to the girl that Winkler did not understand and she splashed into the water and stood minding the bowline with one hand on the gunwale. “Please,” Felix said and waved toward the boat. “We take you home.” He gestured with his chin toward the sea. “Not far.” The planking was loaded with crates of food and charcoal. Winkler flattened himself across the middle bench and Felix folded himself between crates and took the tiller. The girl coaxed the boat off the sand and waded with it until it drifted free and hauled herself aboard. At the stern hung a rusted outboard and Felix gave it two quick pulls and it coughed and smoked and gasped to life. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/anthony-doerr/about-grace/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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