That night, lying by the fire under a set of stars that looked so fresh and clean they could have been minted that morning, in the chilly air that carried on its sleek back the sounds of nightbirds and the splash of fish —maybe this far south a gator tail —I watched the two of them sitting across from me, as Frank, snugged behind her broad shoulders, combed out Hazel’s hair with slow, gentle strokes. At the river’s edge, tipped upside down, the johnboat caught shadows. The woods behind us held a darkness that seemed impenetrable. Jake’s coffin rested at the end of its grooved sand wake between the fire and the boat, not even the scorch of lye able to wrest him out of his sleep.
I said, “Do you remember the time you tried to put Jake in the asylum?”
Frank looked up out of the dream state that had begun to come over him more frequently now—the dream writhing in his eyes, pummeling him —and said, “What asylum was that?”
I threw a stick on the fire which kicked up a small flag of sparks. “That time you took him to Jorie, South Carolina, and he worked the trick on you.”
He looked at me with snared eyes. “I took him up to Jorie,” he said. “I remember that: Jorie, South Carolina, where they have a water tower shaped like a peach.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Hazel pressed against him, rubbing her back against his chest. All those nights in New “York I had teased the picture of her into my mind, longing to bring her alive before me, but terrified to bring her too close lest I tear myself loose from marriage and career and come running like a wild man to beg my way back into her life. Frank scratched the top of his head, twirled the thin foreknot and said, “I haven’t thought of that for years. Do you remember the story?”