Fiction Contest Winner: Rheumatic Fever

Jason and I have been living at the Hearthstone Inn, in one of the cabins that rent by the week in the offseason, for three months now.  It is wet all the time because we are right on the water, and it’s either too cold because we have no insulation, or too warm and close from the heater.  So Jason is having problems with his joints–one knee and the knuckles on two fingers are swollen hot and pink.  But he never talks about that.  He just says he’s always wanted to live by the ocean.

He’s been working as a lobsterman, hauling pots on a twenty-eight footer called The Scavenger because it’s got a double-wedge hull and it’s an open secret that the crew doesn’t always toss back the shorts.  On Sundays, when he doesn’t go out, Jason scrambles us huge pans of eggs and we turn the scratchy old armchairs out to face the picture window so we can watch the seagulls.  Plates balanced on our knees, we imagine that this is our summer home, where we can get away from it all.  We imagine it’s summer.

The matter of what, exactly, we are getting away from is complicated.  I left behind a part-time job at a daycare center and sixteen credits at the community college in Bunker Hill, and Jason left behind two godchildren, occasional day labor, and some trouble over a dog fighting set-up in Southie.  For the first time in my life, sitting there at the Hearthstone on the day we arrived, I didn’t feel weighted down with all the context that comes from living in the same place for my entire nineteen years.  I expect that Jason, at twenty-two, felt even more relief.  It isn’t an entirely clean break.  I still call my brother once a week.  And Jason is familiar with Maine from a time when he was fifteen and his father was fed up with the crowd he was hanging around with.  His father, Jesse, sent Jason off to a migrant labor camp in Waldo County where he picked blueberries until his fingers bled and came home lean and tanned with a new Spanish vocabulary and an appreciation for opium.  But until he rented this little place, I had never been farther from the city than Worchester.

I watch Savannah, our neighbor Jennifer’s nine-month-old, while Jennifer cleans houses out by the country club four days a week.  “It’s good practice,” Jason says.  But when I have the baby’s ankles trapped in my left hand, her legs in the air while she tries to hurl herself off the ancient, crochet-covered bed in our bedroom as I swipe at her with a wet washcloth, all I can think is:  This does not feel like practice.  This does not feel like anything other than what it is.

 

It’s Tuesday and I have Savannah balanced on my hip.  When I put the key in the front door lock the door just pushes open; it is unsecured and ajar.  The light above the sink is on.  I set Savannah down on the floor and do a circuit of the little house:  chairs in place, closet empty, medicine cabinet closed, windows locked, bed made, inside the bedside table:  a small flashlight, a roll of antacids, half a broken rosary that used to be my mother’s, and –and no journal.  As far as I can tell it is the only thing missing.  “No,” I say aloud, “no.”  No one would break into a summer cabin in the middle of winter and steal a journal.  It doesn’t make sense.  I pull open the dresser drawer and rolled-up socks stare back at me.  Tossing them on the floor, I run my hands along the bottom of the drawer.  Nothing.  I do the same in all the drawers in the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen.  I find nothing out of the ordinary, and that is how I know.  There should be money.  I don’t know where Jason is hiding the money he made in Boston.  He never even told me we had money to hide, but there must be some secret stash he was keeping, because Jason is always holding something back.  Jason takes pride in taking care of us in mysterious ways, in producing bills like an illusionist’s coins when we need a new alternator for the car, or have to go to the dentist for an emergency, or he wants me to wear a dress and order the calamari.  And there is no money anywhere in the house now, which must mean that we have been robbed.  We have been robbed of something I didn’t even know we had.  As for my journal, I can suddenly remember every word I have written.  My own small, wavering handwriting appears in my mind like an affidavit or an indictment.  Whoever has it will lose it or read it, but either way, once words like those are out of the house there is no taking them back.

“Oh Savannah,” I say to her, coming into the kitchen and finding her sitting on the floor, wetly chewing on her left hand and getting ready to cry, “oh.”  She is still in her snowsuit and her face is flushed and patchy.  I pick her up and go to one of the armchairs, not bothering to turn it around to face the windows.  I zip down the front of her dirty pink one-piece and then pull one of her hands awkwardly from an arm, and then the other.  I drop the snowsuit on the floor and turn her around to face me.  And that’s where we are when he comes in.  I see the door push open and do not, for a moment, wonder who is behind it.  I think nothing at all as I watch black shoes, formal, more archaic and expensive than anything Jason would wear, emerge toe-heel onto the linoleum.

“Anna,” he says, “hello.”  It is Jason’s father.  Jesse is small, but solid in the way some short men can be.  He has thick hair, dyed black, parted distinctly in the middle of his head, and he is wearing slacks and a clean, white tee-shirt.  In his small hand, he has my journal.  I feel more resignation, probably, than revulsion or surprise.

“Why did you do this?” I ask quietly.  Savannah stands up on my lap, and strains to get down.

Jesse eases himself down into the armchair next to me and holds out the journal.  I take it quickly from him and wedge it deep into the armchair beside me.  I know I can never write in it again.  He says, “The journal?  I wanted to get to know you better.  You’re practically family.”

He wanted to know, I suddenly realize, where our money was.  I feel a smirk of triumph that at least he didn’t get that out of me.  But it is punctured completely when I remember he must have found the cash somewhere, since it is gone now.  I never even mustered the curiosity to look for it before today, before it was gone.  And what does that say about me?  “Why are you here?”  Savannah starts to cry.  She is heaving herself toward the floor, and I dig my fingers into her sides to keep her still.

“I’m his father.”  Jesse holds out his hands, indicating that I should put the child down so she can crawl to him.

“What do you want from us?”  Savannah’s cry is becoming throaty and insistent.  She arches her whole body away from mine.

“I want to see my son.  I want to talk to Jason.  Family is very important.”  Jesse looks at me with his flat, brown eyes when he says this.  He is giving nothing away.

I suddenly have the almost overpowering compulsion both to hold the child tightly, protectively against me and to shake her until her skull smacks against her back and she goes limp.  Quickly, I put Savannah down on the ground and she begins a fast and graceless motion toward Jesse.  Jesse scoops Savannah up in his arms and starts pacing the tiny living room with her, walking a track around the chairs on the stained industrial carpet.  I flush a deep, uncomfortable pink when he picks her up, and every time he paces behind me with her in his arms, just out of sight over the spot where I know there is a sauce pan-sized burn in the carpet, something in my chest drops down to my large intestines.  But I sit silently uncertain, paralyzed by my brain’s inability to see options in the situation.  I can hear seagulls arcing their calls across the bay, and my own blood in my ears like the sea in a shell.

Jesse stops square in front of me with the child cooing in his arms.  “You know how important family is, Anna,” he says.  “Although I am disappointed that you haven’t considered ‘Jesse’ as a name for my potential grandchild.”  He gestures toward my journal where it is sticking out by my hip.  “A boy,” he says, with his head tilted toward the ceiling, quoting, “should have a name that is strong, but leaves open the possibility of softness.”

My eyes well up with frustration and rage and humiliation.  Hearing my words in his mouth is like hearing that someone I love has died from something stupid and immutable –food poisoning or a train wreck.  I open my mouth to speak, but am interrupted by a knock at the door.  “Anna!” Savannah’s mother calls from outside.  I snatch the child from Jesse the way I would grab her hand from the heater, the way I should have yanked her back from Jesse the minute he picked her up.  I go to the door and open it a baby-sized crack so I can squeeze Savannah out and into her mother’s arms.  “So,” Jennifer, Savannah’s mother, says, “Was she good?  Did she eat?”

“No, no,” I say, “she was great.  It’s great,” knowing that this isn’t quite the right answer.  I thrust Savannah out into her mother’s arms and start to back away, putting my left hand on the edge of the door.

“Whose truck is outside?”  Jennifer asks.

“No one’s.  I don’t know.”

“It’s parked in your driveway?” she says.  “Are you okay?”

“No.  I’m great.  I’m fine.  I have to go, though.”

Jennifer looks concerned, and then she backs up a step.  This isn’t, as she had once told me, her first rodeo.  “Okay,” she says.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow seems completely inaccessible to me right then.  I am going over involuntarily in my mind the facts I know about Jesse.  Jesse is forty-four or -five, he raised Jason alone.  I can picture Jesse placing cool washcloths on Jason’s head for three days when he had rheumatic fever when at seven.  He had been in the Navy before that and had an honorable or dishonorable discharge after four years.  Jesse was under suspicion for armed robbery of six McDonalds in Boston until one of his friends who was already in jail confessed to the whole thing.  After that, Jesse took off for a while, had fewer friends, and was known for a while for some mail-order schemes.  He plays pinochle and the slots and drinks iced tea all day long.  I thought he was in Arkansas.

“Wait!” Jennifer says.

I feel a knife of hope and fear, as I open the door a crack wider and hear Savannah saying “mamamama ma.”

“Her snowsuit.”

When I exhale, I realize that I have been holding my breath.  I retreat into the living room, where Jesse is watching me, and pick up the garment from where it is sprawled on the floor like a boneless pink Savannah.

When I hand it to Jennifer through the door that she has mercifully left mostly closed she says, “It would be a shame to shove her into the thing for the quick dash to our place.  But I’m glad I remembered it.  I’ll see you soon.”

I close my eyes and think that at nineteen, I am not old enough to be so used up, so devoid of any emotion but resignation and apprehension.  But girls like me are bred for it, I guess.  The first time we open our legs, I think, it’s more like giving in than letting go.

 

Later, Jennifer calls to make sure I am all right.  I am re-matching all the socks.  “Hey,” she says, “I’m just checking to see if you’ll be able to take Savannah tomorrow.”

I nod and then remember I am on the phone.  “Yes, of course.”

“Good, ‘cause I have to go do Mrs. Gaudet’s and she’d just kill me if I brought the kid.  Hates babies.  Oh, she hates everything.”

I can hear that Jennifer is trying to keep her voice light and moving, like a boxer who doesn’t want to throw a punch and is on the lookout for what might be coming.

From behind me, Jesse says, “Is that that pretty baby’s momma?”

“What?” asks Jennifer.

“Nothing,” I say.

“She’s got a real fine kid,” Jesse says.

“How many houses do you have tomorrow?” I ask Jennifer, cupping the phone closer to my ear.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than a mother,” Jesse says.  “Beautiful, competent.  Bodies that know what they’re doing, mothers have.”

“Who is that?” Jennifer asks.

I am not sure how much she can hear.  “Someone Jason knows.”

“When’s Jason coming home?”

“He’ll be here soon.  It’s fine, really.”  I can hear the next, unspoken question.  Jennifer wants to know if her child will be safe in my house.  “Savannah is always welcome,” I say.  “Jesse’s great with kids, and anyway, he’ll be out all day tomorrow.  Or, he’s leaving.  I’m not sure how long he’ll be visiting.”

“Okay,” Jennifer says.  “I’ll drop her off at seven.  You know where to find me,” she says, “…if …I’m late.”

Hanging up the phone it’s like the whole living room slams down on my head.  I am back in the scratchy chair with the singing of the kerosene heater and the iced-tea and shampoo smell of Jason’s father.

 

Jason comes home smelling of fish at three thirty, and he just says, “Hey, Pops,” as if there is nothing that extraordinary about seeing Jesse sitting in one of our plaid chairs while I apply blood-red nail polish, one stroke at a time, resolutely looking only at the brush and the short curve of my nails.  Jason kicks off his rubber boots at the door and goes into the galley kitchen.  He takes his medication from the drawer next to the sink and places a penicillin in his mouth.  “When did you get here?” he asks his father, speaking around the pill.  He swallows.  He has to take them twice a day for five weeks, because he has arthritis, and the doctor at the clinic he went to isn’t sure if it was rheumatic fever he had as a kid, or if that was something else, and rheumatic fever is what he had last month and is causing his joint pain now.  Once, I opened the bottle and inhaled and it smelled like urine and spent matches.  While Jesse tells him he drove up from Boston today to see about some things, Jason eases off two sweatshirts, a tee-shirt and his long underwear top.  I imagine, looking at his bare chest, that I can feel the cold radiating from his body across the room.  He goes to take a shower and I can hear him opening all the drawers in our bedroom and then the bathroom before he turns the water on.

I think for the briefest second about all that I have left behind in Southie, which even now doesn’t seem like a lot.  When I packed up my room and stood in the doorway before I left I saw everything there was to see:  white walls with nothing taped to them, my canopy bed and matching bedside table with my pink princess phone sitting there.  I had long ago thrown away my stuffed animals and no friend had sat on the side of my bed with me since I had put away my prom dress in the closet next to my communion dress.  After my mother died it was just me and my older brother Mathew, him eating chicken legs and perfectly portioned mashed potatoes and warm applesauce from flimsy trays and me sucking down cups of yogurt over my homework.  The day we left, I hugged Mathew at the apartment door and climbed into Jason’s Charger with everything I thought I needed in that car with me.

It occurs to me now that maybe Jesse would have taken the journal even if he wasn’t looking for money.  Maybe he found the money first, and took my journal anyway.  Maybe it was a different kind of thing he was trying to take.  Jesse always wants everything, whether he can use it or not.  Jason told me that one time his father came home with a kitchen stove.  One of his friends had got it through his job or something, and Jesse took it off his hands.  He had Jason help him lift it up two narrow sets of stairs to their walk-up.  It wasn’t until it was resting in the middle of the linoleum that Jason realized that it was a gas stove and they didn’t have a line for it.  His father had known from the start, though.

 

 

With Jason in the shower, I’m alone again with Jesse, and I can’t stand it.  I slip on my sneakers at the door and walk out without a jacket into the evening.  I wonder what the Homestead will look like in the summer, when I know the rents will be raised and Jason and I will have to move out.  I wonder how many sail boats will be stationed at the slip, how many children in lifejackets will run dripping into the carpeted interiors of cabins that look just like ours.

I imagine getting Jennifer to drive me to the Greyhound station, then arriving back in Boston to spend some time with my brother until Jesse is gone.  But that is not what I want at all, and the anger and resentment, the feeling that this circumstance is unfair, wells up in me like a sob.  I want my life back.  I bend down and pick up a handful of small rocks from our driveway, consider hurling them at Jesse’s vehicle, but know that if I did break the windshield it would just cause him to stay longer.  I throw them anyway, and they bounce harmlessly along the side of the truck, maybe nick the paint a little.  I am shivering.

When I go back inside, Jesse looks up.  He has one of his socks off and has been examining a small hole in the toe.

“I want you to leave,” I say.

“I won’t tell Jason that you said that,” Jesse says.

“Shut up, Jesse.  You can tell whoever you want.  I want you to leave us alone,” I say.

“I’m not going to stay very long,” he says. “I just have a few things to do.  And you and I, we should be friends.”

I have nothing to say to this, not really.

“It’s just a visit, and you know this is Jason’s house too.  We’ll get along just fine, if you let us.”

Fine, I think, fine.  I smile at him, a tight, pinched smile.  There will be time for me to think of what to do later, I am sure.

 

At six, Jason and Jesse go out to get us some food.  Once I hear the truck doors slam, one and then the other like the tiny pops of far away bottle rockets, I open the front door to watch them drive away.  I stand there as the gray truck backs out to the main road and then disappears behind the darkening forms of other cottages, and I stand there for a long while with the cold air slapping my cheeks after I can’t hear the engine anymore.  Suddenly I am thinking of riding the subway to night classes back in Boston.  The whoosh of the doors closing and my gloved hands holding open the leaves of my Norton Anthology, hating every minute of “Ode to A Grecian Urn.”  Professor Craston had told us in First Year English that Keats died at twenty-six, but that was all I could remember.  I want now to know much, much more.  I am staring out at the dirt and gravel road and the hard hills of snow on either side, and then I drop my gaze down to the three concrete steps leading up to our door, and I think that if I only knew more of the history of the thing –of poetry and the world –than I would have something else to think about, something other than Jason and his father scanning the deli case at the Shop n’ Stop for half a roasted chicken and some pasta salad.  I close the door and run to the closet where I keep some of my old books:  A Study Guide for Biology, Rhetoric and Composition, Anatomy of Fishes, The Norton Anthology of Poetry.  I feel more squeamish than dissecting a worm for Bio when I read again, “Thou still unravished bride.”  When Jesse and Jason knock the sand and snow from their boots on the topmost step, I have just arrived at, “What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy? / Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard—”

I slowly close the book as Jason massages his knee and Jesse unpacks a jar of pickles, a loaf of bread, cheese and meat slices, and condiments from a paper sack.  Jesse is slapping mustard on a slice when he says, “We’ve got a new business concern, Anna.  And we need your help.”  I squish my lips into an O of protest, but Jesse cuts me off.  “Nothing hard.  I just want you to put up some fliers.  Jason and I are going into the moving business, like two guys with a van, or Man With a Van, isn’t that what it’s called?”

“With one pickup?” I ask, and then immediately regret giving the idea even that much credence.  This is how he gets me, I think.

“I’ve got a box van I’m buying from a guy down in Old Orchard.  Nice twenty-four footer, automatic trans.  Air ride.”  It’s a two man job, I imagine him saying to Jason on the way to the store, or back from the store.

I look at Jason.  He’s trying to pry the foil off the top of the mayonnaise jar.

“I’m not going to pretend I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Jesse says.  “But this is legit.  Totally up and up.  Not like that racket back in Southie.”  He looks at Jason now too.  “I never taught you to take advantage of animals, Jason.  Jesus,” he sighs.

“No,” says Jason, “you didn’t.  You taught me that anything weaker than me is fair game.”

“We’re done with all that,” says Jesse, and puts down his mustard knife.

Jason says, “You taught me that pity is the worst form of contempt.”

Jesse smiles and tucks his chin into his chest.  He is peeling the wrapper off the package of smoked turkey.

We eat dinner on the floor like we’re kids pretending to picnic, and then spend an hour slapping cards on the coffee table, Jesse keeping score and Jason holding his cards stiffly with his swollen knuckle pointed toward the table.  I keep turning the kerosene heater up.  By ten we’ve all had enough and Jesse says he’ll be fine sleeping sitting up in the armchair.

In bed, Jason pulls me close and angles his legs up over my hip.  He puts his hand to my hair and says softly, “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want.”

“Of course I don’t want you to.  And of course you will do this thing.”  I exhale.  “Fuck,” I say under my breath, “like always.  He’s your father, Jason.”

“That’s not what this is about.  It’s a good opportunity.”

“Did he take your money?” I ask, and squeeze my eyelids shut.  “Is he buying that truck with our money?”

Jason doesn’t answer me, and I think that I want it to be that Jason’s father is his problem, his only flaw.  But Jason’s problem has been Jesse for so long that Jason is the problem.  “Are you going to ask him to leave?” I say.

Finally Jason says, “This is small time.  This is easy.  He’s just my old man.  And it’s not for him.  It’s an opportunity for us.  It’s only going to be for a little while, and then I’ll have the money to rent us a whole house.  We can live in the middle of town.”

“Fine, Jason.  Just don’t ever say the word opportunity to me ever again.”

He slides his warm, dry hand around to my belly.

 

Jason had taken me out a few times before mom had her stroke, and we went to bars where he ordered frothy beers and baskets of hot French fries and licked the salt slowly off each finger when they were gone.  After we buried mom, he just showed up at the apartment and said, “How about a movie?” and sitting in Loews Boston Common I felt normal for the first time in six months.  Jason made me feel like it was okay to laugh at the funny parts of the film and like we were the only two people in the audience.  On our third date, he put his hands on my rib cage and I had never wanted anything so much as I wanted to put my tongue in his mouth at that moment.  And when I did, I felt great breakers of relief at my own ability to make things happen, to take action in my life and change my circumstances.  Jason bought me presents:  a new pen; a Zippo, though I don’t smoke; garnet earrings.  And every time he presented things to me it was like magic.  It was as if he had produced them out of nowhere and they had been conjured specifically for me, so that I could feel appreciated without feeling obligated.  After that moment, his hands cradling my sides and my tongue sliding past his lips, things just happened.  Things were always just happening to Jason, and I learned to love the freedom of letting go with him, allowing the world to swallow me whole.

 

 

So on Thursday I take Savannah in the stroller to the rich part of town by the country club while Jesse and Jason take the pickup down to OOB to get the box truck.  I put up fliers Jesse made at the Copy Clone, pink paper with black writing that reads:  QUICK AND CAREFUL.  PROFESSIONAL MOVERS, INC.  U PACK WE CARRY.  CALL FOR QUOTES.  On the bottom, a professional logo he cut and pasted from the Internet.  At first I worry because there are no other fliers on the light posts and telephone poles, but what do I care if they all get torn down by some neighborhood watch tonight.  Savannah keeps up a running commentary of babble with once and a while a word thrown in.  As I’m rolling out the duct tape –“Mamma!” and  “Cat!”  When the last one is taped at eye level, I pick up Savannah from her stroller and kiss her on both cheeks.

For a week, we hear nothing and Jason goes out lobstering during the days while Jesse drives around in the truck, burning gas and looking for something.  I bring Savannah to the public library and check out a stack of books to start reading to her.  The librarian smiles around her widening eyes when I ask for a biography of Keats.  I sit in one of our armchairs with Savannah and trace the lines of Keats’s life.  I avoid the chair Jesse sleeps in:  it smells of his deodorant and iced tea and I can’t stand for my skin to brush against it.  Jason is different with his father around, solicitous toward me but distracted.  Every night he wants to have sex, him on top and his hand clamped over my mouth.  And I can’t stand to admit it, but it’s good.  The sex we have with Jesse out in the living room snoring or reading by the overhead light is beautiful, filling, quietly volatile sex.

I start to think that Maine is too sleepy for anyone to need their stuff hauled about in the middle of the winter by strangers; that the stolid, snowy competence of the place is the antidote to anything Jason’s dad can dream up.  But then Jesse comes back on a Friday afternoon while Jason is in the bedroom folding laundry, and shouts that they have a moving job the next day.

 

This is how it works:  the two of them go out to a big place on Prince’s Point, all glass and cedar siding, and pack a household of carefully taped and labeled boxes into the back of the truck.  The pots and pans cacophony together in their cardboard, the books are bricks of paper, Jason’s hand aches beneath the boxes of dry goods, the tables and wing-backs.  They wedge the lamps in standing after everything else, wrapped in old blankets.  The old man who’s leaving gives them glasses of Pepsi.  And then they wave at him, an address crumpled in Jesse’s hand, from the bouncing cab, and tell him they’ll see him in four days in Boca Raton.  They drive the truck back to our place where it looks huge and out of place in our rock-bordered drive.

I’m at home dripping tears into the wispy hair atop Savannah’s head, reading to us both about Keats nursing his brother hopelessly through consumption.  So I can’t really know that that is how it goes down, but I do.  That is how it works.

“You can’t just leave it here,” Jason is saying when they come into the house.

“Why not?”  Jesse bends down to unlace a pair of work boots he’s borrowed from Jason.

“You can’t!  We live here.”

“Who’s going to come looking for us?  The old man’s in Florida,” he says.  “I’m going to take a shower.”  Jesse is already peeling off his tee-shirt.

When I hear the water come on in the bathroom I ask, “Jason?”

“It’s okay,” he says.  “It’s just a stop over.  We’ll get it out of here in the next couple days.”

“And then to Florida?  Who’s going to drive the truck to Florida?”  Ice slides down my throat at the thought of Jason taking off for someplace a third of a continent away with Jesse.

“Yes.  No.  Dad’ll take care of it in a couple days.”

“What are you going to do?  Is he going to steal that stuff?”

“No.  Just a delay.  He’s just going to call the guy in a day and say that the weight was more than we thought, when we weighed the truck.  And the tolls, we forgot to take into account the tolls.  We’re just going to up the price a little, now that it’s all packed in there.  We were overly generous with the quote.”

I cannot think of a thing to say that doesn’t sound stupid or resigned, so I clamp my teeth together and think about making fat sausages and canned beans for dinner.  I think of Professor Cranston saying that literature, and particularly historical literature, is like having an escape hatch.  The past, she said, was a different time.  And it tells us, more than anything, that things were not always like this.  Everything we can think of has already been done, but when we read poetry we can see a record of what worked or how it could have.

 

The next afternoon it starts to rain.  Plump, elongated drops scream straight for the earth, not touching the window glass.  I stand with my back to the living room, looking out the window at the tossing ocean and the humps of snow melting on the rocks.  I can feel Jesse and Jason in the cottage behind me, hovering restlessly by the refrigerator or opening and closing the cabinets.  Lightning illuminates every imperfection in the sky and the thunder is so loud it sets off a car alarm down the road.  The whole house shakes, and I am glad Savannah is with her mother and not wailing terrified in my arms.  I can feel her phantom heaviness in my shoulders, as if I am clasping her to me and failing to ameliorate her fear.  I think of Keats knowing he was going to die and stipulating his epigraph.  He wanted “Here lies one whose name was writ on water” on his tombstone, and I haven’t reached the end of the book to find out what those he left behind actually carved there.  I think, he was not thinking of the ocean.  And then the rain pauses, the sky takes a quick and bracing breath.  When it starts again I have never before seen rain so violent.  The last of the white out on the rocks gives way and the force of the storm drumming on the roof makes my head feel like it is being battered.

“Go out and check the truck isn’t leaking,” Jesse says to Jason and nudges him where he is sitting in the armchair.

“It’s fine.”

“Go out and check.”

I turn from the window and say, “I’ll do it.”

Jesse looks at me sharply, but nods his assent.

I wedge my feet into my sneakers and then shut the door to the stifling cottage behind me.  Out in the rain I throw the scrolling back of the truck open.  The couch and wing-back chairs inside are matching yellow and there are bookcases along the wall of the truck.  Boxes are stacked on everything, but I can see that the long dining table is dark, well-polished wood.  There is an ottoman that goes with one of the chairs, and looking at it all accumulated there I want to climb in and nestle among the long-acquired belongings.  I think, I could live right there forever.

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