I. A Pelican of the Wilderness
At the trial for Kate’s murder, when Lou Steven Endicott takes the stand, he addresses his lawyer as:“My daughter.” He greets the seventy-year-old judge as: “My child.”
He calls the jury, who are a group of grey-hairs, many of them retired government workers: “My children.”
Over and over, those words, perverted by him. My daughter. My child. My children.
Bernadette’s mother, Mary Ellen—Kate’s sister—says she wants to smack him across his smart-alecky face for his sarcastic respect. The whole family, receptacles, line up on a bench, like they are in a pew at mass. The Lord is with thee.
II. When the people are gathered together
On the year anniversary of Kate’s death, Bernadette’s distraught mother, Mary Ellen—who teaches P.E. at Saint Phil’s and often breaks down crying in the middle of dodgeball games between elementary school students—hands Bernadette a fifty. “Treat the girls,” she says, then heads off to Saint Phil’s for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament because, Mary Ellen tells Bernadette, she simply doesn’t know what else to do. A hidden part of Bernadette (that she shares with no one) wishes she could accompany her mother to pray. Before Bernadette’s father walks out the door behind Mary Ellen, he looks at Bernadette, throws his hands in the air.
For no reason, Bernadette picks up one of the taxidermied crows on her dresser, yet another quirky gift from her Aunt Kate, and sees what’s written on the bottom of the wooden stand, there on a white piece of paper: In the eternal darkness, the crow, unable to find any food, longed for light—and the earth was illuminated. This is the Eskimo myth: light originated because the crow desired it. Bernadette sobs for a full minute, then reapplies her mascara. In the mirror, she still looks ungainly and freckled, pale.
By six o’clock, it’s storming like mad. Cold rain drills on the hood of Bernadette’s gore-tex shell as she dashes across the parking lot, which is illuminated a bruised yellow from the streetlights on its edge. Then the lights blink twice and everything goes black and silent, except the thick splats of rain on her waterproof hood and the roving beams from the headlights of cars parking, the noise of their engines silenced under the deafening rain, its fat pinging on the metal of the cars, its broad smacks to the asphalt.
Like a cloud-dimmed underachiever of a sunrise, the streetlights and the strip mall lights struggle back on, and she tries to avoid puddles, hightailing it through the waterfall of a world.
Mary Ellen thinks they go to the steakhouse side of the restaurant, but Bernadette presents her fake I.D., the one Joanie’s current sketchy boyfriend made for her, and enters the full-on bar, which—of course—is where they always go.
All the patrons are shaking themselves dry.
It’s a fake western saloon called The Stable, with posters of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and Warren Oates and Slim Pickens on its paneled walls, an old sports bar trying to reinvigorate its identity. The Stable’s drinks have been given names like “The Magnificent Seven and Seven” and “The Unforgiven: a Pom-Cosmo.” There are ropes hanging from the ceiling. Mostly the bar serves gallons of draft beer to kids in the area because the prices are cheap, the location is convenient, and the place is an institution. Amidst the televised sports events and the crime shows, one flat screen always plays a western movie that nobody watches, except Jack—the bartender the millennial patrons love to hate. Tonight, the movie is High Noon.
Bernadette sees a high-top table open up, so she stakes it with her backpack and then orders a pitcher from Jack, with his candy-striped bow-tie and the suspenders he insists on, his pot belly and his misspent life, which he wears on his oily face. He has spikes of gray hair greased across his balding head. His handlebar mustache is a specimen.
“Hello, gorgeous,” he says to Bernadette.
“Very funny,” she says. “Pitcher of that IPA from Roanoke.” “You’re an original, sweetheart,” he says, pulling a plastic tap handle towards him, pouring honey-colored beer into a pitcher. “I like original art.” He skims off some foam with a butter knife. “I collect art, you know.” He slides her the pitcher. “Drinking by yourself tonight?” he says.
“Whatever Jack. Just give me three mugs.”
“You could definitely be somebody’s muse if you focused on it,” he says.
“Come on Jack,” somebody yells. “Pick up your speed.”
“Patience, children,” Jack yells back. He rings the cowbell when Bernadette leaves him a dollar.
She settles into the stool at her table, people jostling as they pass. A few guys cruise by, don’t check her out.
She returns the favor. Everyone sleek from the rain.
She sees her friend, poor Darlene, bushwhacking through the crowd. Downright dowdy, that girl. Bernadette knows she’s no prize, but Darlene is straight-up monochromatic, plump and pale. She’s hunched like she’s carrying the globe on her shoulders.
“What a day,” Darlene says, wrestles to remove her overcoat. Darlene has a huge frizz of long dark hair and oversized, worried brown eyes that wander all over Bernadette’s face as if she’s checking Bernadette’s markings to make sure she’s the real deal.
“How was traffic?” Bernadette says.
“Hell. As usual.” She kisses Bernadette on the cheek. The traffic around D.C. is Darlene’s pet peeve.
“Makes you want to move to the Great Plains,” Bernadette says.
“Not really. I have a good job here.” Darlene plops herself down.
“I’m kidding,” Bernadette says.
“What kind of career could I have on the Great Plains?” Some guy holds the door for Joanie as she walks in the bar, the streaming rain behind her. She’s illuminated, the headlights of cars backlighting her.
It’s not like Bernadette remembers being an infant, but she knows Joanie and Darlene were there, coaxing her to curl an infant fist around their three-year-old fingers. Bernadette doesn’t recall the milk from her mother’s breasts either. All the years at Saint Phil’s, then the youth group, their mothers like a terrorizing trinity watching over their antics. Now Darlene works for the IRS downtown and Joanie has taken a job as a “Sales Professional” (her term) at Lord & Taylor. She has aspirations of being accepted into their Buyers Program. And Bernadette, well, Bernadette.
Joanie slips off her Burberry raincoat, flips it open over the back of her barstool to expose the label, the plaid lining, and sits down. She’s wearing a royal blue wool dress, very tasteful, but form-fitting, and her mother’s dangly turquoise earrings and a silver and turquoise necklace so thick it looks like a harness. Her outfit is kind of clash-y, but she’s the pretty one, always has been, way short brown hair, turned-up nose, huge brown eyes and a slender neck. Plus, she’s a stick—has always made Bernadette feel kind of oafish.
“You didn’t have to pass out in his bed,” Joanie says to Bernadette. She still has her plastic nametag on from her day arranging racks, ringing up purchases behind glass counters. “You so didn’t even know him.” There are delicate drops of water on Joanie’s bangs.
She’s referring to a party from the previous weekend in which Bernadette had a drunken black-out, unfortunate fling with someone’s houseguest, who was from Dusseldorf or something. Bernadette doesn’t recall—Germany somewhere.
“This one’s literally dead to the world,” Joanie says to Darlene. “My friend, Georgina—her father’s a super big-time physician in McLean—wanted to call the rescue squad.”
“Georgina your new buddy?” Bernadette says.
“My friends were like who is she?” Joanie says, makes that face where her upper lip raises. How they suffered through each other’s specialties over the years. The innumerable soccer matches with Bernadette guarding the goal, a territorial lioness, hyped-up and rangy, tensile, agitated: the net her beloved backdrop. Chapped and red-faced, with bruised shins and a sore right shoulder, when her team lost, sobbing to the other two. Those endless concerts in high school auditoriums watching Darlene bang out essential Debussy selections, her head bent over the dipping keys. And Joanie, in every chorus, heavily made-up for the stage: Guys and Dolls, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof. Red-lipped and cartwheeling, twirling across the stage, footlit brilliant in her Salvation Army garb and her Siamese genie suit, not as drab as she should have been when playing a poor Jewish peasant girl.
“How super fun to be able to disown your cousin in front of a crowd,” Bernadette says. “Self-righteous comma emotionally frigid,” she mutters. She pours beers. People stand in groups around them, laughing.
“What did you just say?” Joanie says. “Missus no one has suffered more than me since time began.”
“Guys,” Darlene says.
Bernadette slides a mug towards Joanie and the beer sloshes all over the table. “I thought we were your friends.”
“Naked, mouth-breathing in front of an entire party.”
“Guys,” Darlene says. She’s soaking up the spilled beer with a stack of napkins.
“What do you want me to do, claim the embarrassment as blood relation?” Joanie says.
“Give me a little credit.”
“Please, guys,” Darlene says. “Please.”
In the next room, couples dance. A few geeky guys are wearing cowboy hats.
Joanie swipes at her phone with a vague smile Bernadette interprets as accusatory. “She’s joining us by the way,” Joanie says. “Georgina.”
Around them, the noisy crowd shifts and regathers. The televisions cast blue light and the figures on the screens do stand-up or solve grisly crimes; they shoot semi-automatic weapons or catch a spiraling ball—the rhythms of their timing clashing. On the television showing High Noon, Gary Cooper, under a dark flat-rimmed cowboy hat, squints at them from a dusty main street. Bernadette puts her head down on her forearms.
When she lifts her head, she sees Joanie spot her pal, all blond and soft-looking in a fuzzy pink sweater and a pink-and- white checkered mini-skirt, her shiny raincoat draped over her arm. Joanie stands on a rung of her barstool and waves.
Georgina plunges through the crowd.
“Howdy gals,” Georgina says. Then, “Oh,” when she sees Bernadette. She kisses Joanie on both sides of the cheeks. Her face is cat-like, round, and so heavily made up, it looks powdered.
“You remember Georgina,” Joanie says to Bernadette. “From the party.”
“Big hosiery sale this week ladies,” Georgina says. She looks at Darlene, eyebrows raised in a friendly way. “We can get you our discount, honey,” she says.
“Thank you,” Darlene says, “but I have very simple tastes.” “Darlene and I are cheap,” Bernadette says.
“Ignore them,” Joanie says.
Georgina pulls a vape pen from her oversized yellow leather satchel. She sticks it between her lips and sucks on it.
Darlene tells Bernadette how her anxiety attacks are kicking into high gear again. She’s worried about cracking up on the Fourteenth Street bridge and causing a pile-up. She tells Bernadette that the people in her carpool make her even more nervous. “Those losers?” Bernadette says.
“They have a lot of responsibility in our nation’s government,” Darlene says.
“Sorry,” Bernadette says. “I don’t know why I think I’m so funny.” She pours herself another beer. “I thought you were on medication for that.”
“Makes me tired,” Darlene says. “I mean, working at the IRS is not exactly suspenseful, so drowsiness can be a big setback.” Darlene pounds the table with her fist.
“Hey.” Bernadette touches Darlene’s shoulder. “You all right, Kemo Sabe?”
“The federal government is falling apart,” Darlene says. She fiddles with the turtleneck she’s wearing and leans her chin on her hand. “By the way, my mother wanted me to tell you she’s doing a novena for you.”
“What for,” Bernadette says.
Darlene begs for Bernadette’s pardon, explaining that she needs to visit the Ladies’ before she explodes. She merges with the crowd, and Bernadette loses sight of her, her black polyester suit, her mane of hair. Bernadette sits alone in the din.
Until the bar goes dark and silent. A whirring sound fades to nothing. Not light, not televisions, not music. Bernadette hears shrieks, the sound of footsteps, chairs scraping, glasses being banged on tables, all at what feels like a slowed-down pace, until the reverberations of the crowd re-explode. People brandish their flashlight apps. White cones of light slash the dark air. Bernadette shines her phone towards Joanie and illuminates Joanie’s neck, then her right shoulder, then her hand in front of her face. When she removes the hand, Joanie is skeletal in the over-focused light—at last, the heartbreak is apparent.
“It’s okay, Joan,” Bernadette yells. She stands up and walks around the table to her.
“Smile,” Georgina says and snaps a photo of Joanie.
“Lay off with the smart phone camera,” Bernadette says and shines her phone towards Georgina’s round face, towards her oversized blue eyes with their pinpoints of reflected light. “Today’s a very hard day for Joanie. In fact, it’s a difficult day for all of us here. Who’ve by the way actually known each other since we were born.”
“Well, coming from you,” Georgina says. Everything is shadowed. Their faces, around the table are lit by Joanie’s phone, which lies face up on the table and by Georgina’s and Bernadette’s, which are directed at one another. It’s a black and white film, a tragedy, they are moving through.
Joanie grabs the vape pen from Georgina and sucks in a drag. She breathes out a wall of white. She’s crying. Finally, Bernadette thinks. “My mother didn’t care about me,” Joanie yells. “It was all about her, her research and her stupid do-gooder impulses. That’s how she got herself killed. Now look at us. Me a salesclerk. You, flunked out of Villanova.” She shoves the vape pen back to Georgina.
“I am altogether speechless,” Georgina says.
Bernadette fights the impulse to slap Joanie and, instead, puts an arm around her, strong and confining, as if she is holding Joanie down, controlling her prior to some excruciating but necessary procedure. “I didn’t flunk out, okay?” Bernadette says. “And you’re not a salesclerk.”
“I’m a salesclerk,” Joanie yells.
“Y’all are an emotional bunch,” Georgina says, takes a sip of water, the outline of her chin a black line.
Bernadette turns, sees Darlene approaching, a shadow surrounded by jiggling daggers of light.
A scrawny guy with a black man bun who’s wearing a leather biker jacket, wide silver zippers mapping diagonal and horizontal across his chest, is behind Darlene. He holds two lighters in the air, flicks them to oversized flame near Darlene’s head. “Encore!” he yells to the crowd. Darlene turns, pauses, smiles, then leans her head into the flames, which ride up strands of hair until Darlene’s wild frizzy nest bursts, shimmering around her, orange and red and black-centered yellow.
Afire, Darlene runs at Bernadette and Joanie.
“You bunch of children,” Jack, the bartender, screams. “Dim- witted children. Someone save that poor girl.”
It’s odd how Darlene keeps smiling even though she’s screaming, how her arms are spread beneath the hot rage of flames that frame her face.
Bernadette releases Joanie, rips the Burberry off the back of the stool, sprints at Darlene. Bernadette lassos the coat around Darlene’s head, rolls to the ground with her. Bernadette feels the slam of the concrete floor against her hip, then her elbow, then hears a thud all the way to the eardrum.
Joanie is pounding on Darlene’s shoulder. “Are you alive in there?” She’s screaming. “Are you alive.”
“I’m alive,” Darlene yells out, muffled by the coat.
“Look what you’ve done to these poor girls,” Jack yells. There’s a frightened, reverent silence.
“I’m okay,” Darlene says. She’s up on one elbow, fingering her disrupted curls. Bernadette is beside Darlene, flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. Joanie sits close by with them, legs straight in front of her, dazed, the coat a tiny carpet.
“Thank God in heaven you’re not my children,” Jack yells at the crowd, featureless, shadowed, waiting.
“Go get the generator turned on, Jack-Off,” says the scrawny guy with the man bun.
“My children would be polite and charming,” Jack yells. He places his hand to his chest and raises his face towards the ceiling. He bellows out above the crowd: “My child.”
Bernadette is lifted to a seated position; words familiar from Stephen Lou Endicott’s trial ignite in her brain, rearrange themselves. My daughter.
Georgina is documenting the whole thing with her smart phone. “This is wild,” she says.
“Dude,” the guy with the man bun says to Darlene. “I am terrifically sorry for the mishap. Are we injured?” He offers her a hand.
“No worries,” Darlene says, accepting his assistance.
Joanie and Bernadette remain sitting on the floor. Two guys wearing cowboy hats reach towards them.
“We’re cool,” Bernadette says.
Bernadette looks up to Darlene, checks out her wet eyes, her singed hair. It comes to just below her ears now, ragged and unkempt, making Darlene resemble some woman philosopher pictured on the back of a heavy book, like the ones Bernadette sought out in the library before quitting school.
Bernadette decides it’s a look that suits the twenty-first century.
The guy with the man bun sweeps his flashlight across the room and arou
nd the walls and over the dimensions of the ceiling. He flaps his arms up and down, palms up, inviting. Other people in the crowd follow suit. The lights are cast upon the ceiling, arcing across it; the bar becomes a planetarium, gone spectacularly awry. The adults from the darkened steakhouse next door begin to peek in the doorways.
Joanie’s brown eyes remain glazed.
“Your mother was thinking of you, Joanie,” Bernadette says. She unclasps the department store nametag from Joanie’s dress. Beside Joanie’s name, there’s a drawing of a red rose. “Here,” Bernadette says. “You forgot to take this off.”
“I know.” Joanie takes the nametag. “What about you,” she says. “Was she thinking about you?”
Bernadette says, “Me?”
III. This Shall Be Written for Generations to Come
Kate’s daughter, Joanie, told her not to worry, she was riding home to Northern Virginia from Virginia Tech with a guy from Rochester who had four-wheel drive and was an expert driving in the snow. Still, Kate, who’d grown up in Burlington, was concerned; it was falling thick, New-England worthy.
On North Capitol Street, next to a mailbox, which was already half-masked by snow, stood Lou Steven Endicott. He was hunched forward. Extended from his hand, like a hitchhiker’s destination sign, was a hand-scrawled placard reading, “Homeless. Lost. Searching for God.”The flakes were puffy and airy, large as popcorn, the chanting—a podcast—coming from Kate’s phone, angelic but righteous: Because of the loudness of my groaning, my bones cling to my flesh.
On such a night, with it being a few days before the solstice and with the storm and with everything that awaited around the season’s corner, the Looking for God bit touched her. She pressed pause on the phone. Pulled over. Lowered her window, pointed at his sign. “Me too,” she said. “I’m more lost even than you are, brother. I’d bet serious money.” He was actually a boy with a pale, round and flattened, full-moon of a face. He wore a goldfinch-yellow windbreaker and loafers with no socks.
She turned on her interior light.
The man leaned in her open window. She smelled his breath, like a dead mouse. He grinned at her, said, “I am without money Mademoiselle to undertake a bet.” His glasses—square gold frames—were fogged over. They were streaked with melted snowflakes. Yet there was a sphere of light in the corner of each lens, reflections from the interior light. Around her, D.C. traffic was scarce; they’d all been warned of the storm, yet Kate, overconfident of her abilities in snow, had stayed late in her office, deep into her research about the end of the Incan empire.
Then he laughed. The laugh, which was carefree—especially given the circumstances—made him seem, to Kate, like a lost, broken boy from a fable. She forgot everything: how the roads wouldn’t be plowed; how Virginians didn’t know how to drive in the snow; how her husband had dinner waiting; and how Joanie was dating a shallow kid, an elitist who refused to bring Joanie home for the Christmas break and introduce her to his family because she wasn’t “wealthy enough.” Kate forgot about the speech she’d planned to give Joanie: about self-esteem and take-no-prisoners, about love through time.
She thought only of the stranded boy’s mother, and how she would feel if she knew he was out here, with no socks, in such brutal weather.
“I haven’t got two pennies to rub together,” the boy said. “I’m trying to make it home for the holiday season. Blindsided by the storm.”
“Where’s home?” Kate said and moved to get out. The car was still running, but, as she stood, her cell phone slid from her lap. She experienced a tug of regret, like she did when she saw yet another missed call from Joanie. She was wearing her black cape and she felt its drama as she swung it around her. She began to think in the Spanish of her years of study—as she often did— especially in moments that struck her as poetic: con lo fuerte de mis sollozos, a través de la piel se ven mis huesos.
“From all over really,” Lou Stephen Endicott said to Kate. “Army brat.” He took off his glasses and rubbed them against his windbreaker. His eyes were small and blank and his hair was black strands, shiny and wet from the snow like charred seaweed. Under his eyes, the pale skin was so transparent, she could see threads of vein. It was as if they were underwater, the snow surrounded them so thickly.
“Isn’t it something?” she said.
When she went to wrap her scarf around his neck, a six- foot-long purple and yellow wool treasure that had been hand- made for her in Peru, she saw a tattoo of an eagle inked across his neck. The thought crossed her mind that, perhaps, in his past, he’d done a stint in the marines.
Kate finished twisting the scarf around Lou Stephen Endicott’s neck; the flakes were kissing and then melting all over her skin. She was still floating. She loved breaking rules. She loved taking chances. She loved being able to say to others, “Now just the other night, I had a real opportunity to live out my faith.” And then tell the story. She thought of her husband saying, Oh Katie. She handed the boy a crumpled five-dollar bill she’d found earlier on the cafeteria floor. Kate believed it was meant to be this boy’s five dollars, that destiny could descend even through small, inexpensive items.
“Happy holidays, brother,” she said. “Can I give you a ride to a shelter or something?”
“Hate shelters,” he said.
“Well,” she said, looking up to the sky. “I did my best.” Earlier that night, Kate tried to get through to her class
of college kids how vitally important it was to history that the Incas didn’t have records. “Listen,” she said. “They trashed the kingdoms that came before them, painting themselves in the most flattering light possible. They told the Spanish, who conquered them, how atrocious their predecessors were and how fabulous they themselves were. Okay, we know the strength of revisionist history. But the entire culture was written only in the architecture of their stone creations; they left no inscriptions. Think of how much we’ve made up—okay— deciphered from stone. We live according to the stories, half- intuited that we inherit.”
Most of her students were typing notes into computers or iPads and didn’t look up when she paused and raised her hand as if she meant to add to her statement. But if they had, they would have seen her put her raised hand down on the desk to support herself. The kids took on a deep significance. What were the stories that drove them? Every so often, she experienced moments where life distilled and became so vivid she had to close her eyes—as if she were lucky enough to understand she was residing in the instant before catastrophe struck.
Kate slid back into her car. She thought: Jesus, it’s coming down in sheets. The flakes were now pellet-like. Where was she? Where was her phone? She pushed the car into gear.
The boy opened her passenger door and moved in. A curdled odor filled the car. “Yes please,” he said.
A cold wet circle of metal pressed against her temple, so much harder than a fingertip, much colder, much hollower. She heard the click, right above her ear.
“What are you doing?” she said, managing her voice.
“What do I think I’m doing?” he said; his voice gained decibels and octaves—why even killers get nervous, she thought— the gun still touching her skin. “What do I think I’m doing? I’m chasing down that bitch of a girlfriend who took off with all my cash and my mutt, whose name is Kindred. I’m going to have that woman’s heart for Christmas Eve dinner.”
Kate spotted her phone on the floor by his feet. “Easy brother,” she said.
She saw the man’s thighs and knees from the corner of her eyes, his thick, damp maroon corduroy pants, the tiny pile of snow on one loafer. Smelled the layers of him.
She floored the gas, but let the clutch out all at once. The car jumped. Stalled. “Shit,” she said.
He followed her skin with the gun.
He pointed the gun at her crotch and said, “Look at my eyes, you spy.”
She reached with her left hand for the door handle.
“Careful now,” he said and pushed the handgun against her ribs.
“That’s not a real gun,” she said.
“I stole it,” he said. “I stole it from a fat cop when he was eating a doughnut and chugging a sugared-up cup of joe. Dumb cop.” He pointed the gun’s barrel skyward, touched the roof of the car, and pulled his index finger down. She ducked and covered her head. The shot ripped a jagged hole out of the convertible top of her vintage Cabriolet, the explosion muffled by the sky of snow.
She imagined the bullet blasting into paradise. Dear Jesus, Kate thought. Now I understand.
That the most necessary stories arise when everything has been lost.
He leaned down to pick her phone off the floor, held it in front of him. The screen reflected greenish against his face. He spread open her cape with the butt of the gun, and she felt its round opening through her blouse, the pressure a torture, as if the gun’s barrel was stitching the outline of itself on the skin above her breastbone. Endicott put her scarf over his mouth and told her to drive. Snow fell on her through the hole in the car’s roof.
Near R.F.K. Stadium, Endicott told her to turn down a side street, stop the car. The streetlights, yellow saucers of light, shone through the snow—which had become seed-like.
“This is not right,” Kate said. “I have a daughter and a niece. I have a husband and a sister.”
Through the hole in the car’s roof, it snowed.
Kate had moved from the state of shock into the state of regret. You are too good for these shallow one-note good-looking bums you seem to go after, Joanie. I mean, darling, you, my Lenten rose. Resilient. Dusty lovely, early to bloom.
“Sorry,” Endicott said. “I’m on a mission and you got in the way.”
“Take my car,” Kate said.
“I like the cape,” Endicott said.
“What’s your daughter’s name?” Endicott asked.
“My mother’s name is Susan Rose,” Endicott said. “Lives at the base of the Green Mountains in a trailer that smells like piss. My mom is real sick. She’s been real sick since I was born. She’s chronic. Her name isn’t Joanie. Her name is Susan Rose, and she never steps foot outside even though she’s living in God’s country.”
“Yes, yes. I’m also from that area. Vermonter,” Kate said.
Always, there were mountains in her imagination. “Back then I skied all day. You must have if you ever lived there, felt that cold aliveness after hours on the slope, nothing like it, your skin stretched new with the cold. You like me, don’t you, son? Can’t you see I’m a good person? I need to finish my book or I’ll never get tenure. My husband is at risk for so many things; he enjoys life too much. But I’m like the cold, I go away. I’m doing the best I can. Please take everything. Just leave me. I can catch the bus. I can wait till tomorrow or the next day or the next.”
“I had an overprotective mother,” Endicott said. “Don’t even know how to swim.”
He glanced down at her phone, which was still in his hand. He put it on his lap and pressed the arrow icon to start playing the podcast that had paused. The slow-tempoed voices of the Trappist nuns echoed from her phone, chanting still. The recorded voices traveled from the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is where the sound had started, in a small chapel, to Kate who was trapped in her last minutes in a snowbound car that evening: I am like an owl of the desert. She listened, merged with the past. Then the hours and the minutes became fluid and open-ended, preserved but elongated by her quiet, building panic. “What is this crap?” he said, opened his car door and threw the phone out of it.
“Maybe when you were just small and innocent back in New England,” Kate said. “I might have seen you.” As though she was being caressed in the center of the cold and the wind. She hadn’t ever known, not really, that mercy—true mercy—demanded such risk. Wasn’t that the unacknowledged underside of life? That mercy was radical, completely without innocence. Who knew that?
Who was left to tell that to the world?
He cocked the gun. “I wasn’t never innocent,” he said. “Nor I,” she said.
“You shouldn’t have gave me that five-dollar bill. See, that was insulting.”
She became an outline of herself.
To her girls, she was leaving nothing but an empty terror. My daughter. My child. My children. That’s what she screamed. Jesus, tell them I love them. Over and over, loud. As if she could carve the words into the lobes of this man’s brain.
He hummed, out of tune.
Knees jump up towards her chin, Kate, weightless as the moguls shudder her. Snow melting on her ski goggles, a whisper of sounds, dark pine trees rush by her. Santo, impío. A snow- laden tree in a place she never expected.
A few years later, Joanie said to Bernadette, “Are you sure?” This was after the weather had changed for good and after she’d read what her cousin had written for her by hand.