JUNE 22, 2019
This story appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal: The Occult, No. 22
His room at the retreat was in the roof of the old barn. The main part of the farm building, which once housed horses, was used mostly for storage, now, and the two therapy mares left on the property lived on the other side of the big field in a newer, smaller stable.
His rooms, rather, because it was really three stacked one in front of the other, railroad style. Bedroom, kitchen, office, with what they quaintly used to call a water closet in one corner, a little bathroom with no sink or shower. They smelled, still, of hay and cedar, and Henry felt when he entered them as though some great weight was being lifted from his shoulders. Here, he could finally write, unencumbered by the troubling preoccupations he’d left behind in Manhattan. His laptop was open on the hewn-wood work table — the only piece of furniture in the northernmost room, save for a Shaker chair — awash in light from the window that looked out on the back of the property, the unmown fields and celadon woods beyond. He disconnected from the internet following a momentary irritation that there was even internet to be had, and turned off his phone, dropping it in the bottom drawer of the dresser.
Henry made these quick preparations while Norah chatted at him, opening the window to “let the air in” along with the shushing metallic hum of summer insects, supplying the history of the Center and how the artist residency had come about — rich dying donor — and the various available programs and amenities free to the artists during their stay. Sweat lodge sessions, nighttime meditations, emotional narrative building, whatever that meant, neural firing scans, all things of which Henry knew he would not be availing himself. His girlfriend had mentioned some of these details, too, reading from the Center’s website the week before he left, and he’d glazed over. He was there to write.
He’d taken the subway, then a two-hour bus ride upstate, and then a half-hour cab. At first, after Norah met him at the fork in the dirt road where the taxi dropped him off, and walked him through the sprawling property; after she’d brought him into the cool dark barn and led him up the stairs through the golden dust motes, he’d felt a twinge of annoyance that she didn’t abscond immediately, leaving him alone with his thoughts. But as she chirped away about the secretive, cultish group that had occupied the property years before the Center moved in and all the paraphernalia they’d left behind, a Ouija board and half-burned books of strange symbols, he was grateful for the patter, not ready to be alone in his mind quite yet. Her presence was familiar, the way his wife used to sit on the bedroom floor when he packed for reporting trips, and his mother helped him clean his room as a child. Norah was leaning against the desk, almost sitting on it with her hands in the pockets of her butter yellow jumpsuit. She was his age, maybe a little younger. Early 30s, with a milk-fed farmgirl ease. He could easily imagine her naked. Firmly long and round all over. She talked about the founding of the Center in the ’80s, her father’s work, which he shared with his wife — not Norah’s mother, Henry gathered. Positron emission tomography, she said, brain scans, a program that promoted creativity and self-knowledge by coupling hard science with something called dreamwork. Not Freudian, obviously, she assured him.
“During the scan they make a series of statements about the subject and her work. The sections of the brain that become illuminated can reveal subconscious thought. Answers the person didn’t know she had.”
“Like a truth machine,” he said, locating a glass in a cabinet and running the tap.
“Kind of. Oh, it’ll be rusty. Totally safe, just a little off-putting.” The water, indeed, was a reddish brown. “Just let it go for a couple minutes first. He does the scan for other people too, not just artists, but people trying to make big decisions. It takes you out of yourself. One woman, this kind of powerbitch finance lady, she was married and having an affair and she wanted to know if she should leave her husband.”
The tap water was starting to run clear. Henry filled his glass, held it up to the light and watched the pale particles of decay settle into the bottom. He drank.
“So dad hooked her up and asked her these questions designed to elicit different responses. The neocortical activity in the amygdala went insane. The areas associated with sadness lit up like a bonfire. But it was pastsadness, sadness for something that no longer existed. Basically the woman was already mourning her lover because she’d decided, though she didn’t know it yet, that she was going to stay with her husband, who she didn’t love.”
“Wow,” he said. “This is all proven? Peer reviewed, all that?”
“The brain stuff is. The rest of the program is more—” she shrugged.
“Sure. And you live on the property?”
“Oh, god no. That’s funny. No, I live in Williamsburg. I’m in PR. You know that yoga studio on North 7th? I live above there. I just come up to make sure dad and Ray aren’t burning the place down. Filing tax forms. You know. They might be brilliant and enlightened, but they’re disorganized as hell. I was trying to go over their wills this weekend but Ray’s in the last days of one of her fasts. Not ideal. Anyway,” she straightened up. “If you have everything you need, I’ll leave you be. I should get back to the city.” “Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”
“You’re lucky, I think this is the nicest room in the compound,” she said as she started down the ladder. “Supposedly they used it for séances. Some people say lost souls still converge around here on hot nights, out by the trees. Singing siren songs that drive the listener mad. Maybe you’ll be visited by a spirit. Maybe she’ll whisper an ending into your ear.” She laughed, a benevolent little hissing noise like an air leak. So it was a joke, then. “Dinner’s at seven in the main building. Big one on the left. Good luck with your novel.”
And then he was alone. He walked from the office through to the bedroom, listening to the boards creak, breathing in the soft sweet air. On a beam above the doorless office doorway there were words carved in: Ludibrio me adhuc habuisti. He wrote them down in his notebook to look up later. He did a couple push-ups next to the desk, sat down, woke up the computer, laid his fingers on the keyboard, took them off, sat back, stared outside.
He had taken himself away from his life so he could work in quiet, prompted by an incident that had occurred a couple weeks earlier. That morning, following months of a block, he had just begun to formulate a fledgling idea. He was sitting at his desk in the corner of the living room and his girlfriend was periodically reading passages from some article about Sylvia Plath, and the mention of that woman, whose writing his wife had loved, was so distracting that it knocked out any creative possibility. Suddenly he was standing up and the cup he’d been holding was broken on the floor, in the corner of the room. Hot coffee was streaking the wall. His girlfriend was nowhere near the accident, but she was staring at him with something like confusion and something like terror — terror, Jesus, toward him! — and he had stopped himself from whatever else he might have said and went into the bedroom to cool down, and when he came out the mug and coffee were cleaned up, and when he said he thought he should go away for a few weeks to the program upstate that she (that is, I) had mentioned earlier that week, if there were any spots left, she’d looked relieved and happy and had hugged him around his neck and kissed his cheek and said she thought (that is, I thought) that sounded like a wonderful idea, it would be great to get away, he’d been working so hard, and he said this would be for work too. And now here he was, working. He would work.
A few hours later he walked through the fields to the hall where dinner was served. A dozen other people were there already eating quietly. Mealtime, he’d read in the pamphlet Norah left him, could be used for quiet introspection or the positive exchange of ideas. They just had one resident artist at a time, so the other people were mostly permanent fixtures, she’d explained, people with brain injuries or psychological trauma who had sought treatment from her father and his wife Ray and never left. They built their own small houses across the 80 acres owned by the Center, and contributed by keeping trails clear, maintaining the campsites, cooking for the short-term visitors who paid for the week- and month-long programs the Center coordinated several times a year. It was all more hippie-dippy than he’d expected, but it was fine, it was quiet, and it was not Manhattan. After dinner, having talked to no one, Henry walked back to the barn through the fields, the sky just starting to glow pink and lavender, and sat back down at the desk, watching the dark descend.
He hadn’t spent a night alone, he realized, since he’d gone to the apartment three days after Lily died. He hadn’t lived there for months — he had another place to stay — but it was as though no time had passed for either of them. Could it be that the bed still held the imprint of her body? Or was it a trick of the light? So many people had offered to go before him, to clean things up before he arrived, and he should have let them, though at the time it had seemed inconceivable that someone else should touch the things she last touched, that he should never again see the eye cream in the refrigerator, the slippers beside the bed, the solitary movie ticket — some glossy big budget thing she’d asked him to go to and he’d brushed off — that she’d used to mark her place in the book on her nightstand. He thumbed through the pages, saw something about violating the secret of the pharaohs, put it aside.
She had accumulated so many things, his wife, bits of paper, old calendars, vinyl records, Playbills, museum maps. If they’d thrown them out, before, together, it would have been cleaning; now, to do so seemed sacrilegious. So he just left it until the apartment sold. She had no parents, but there were friends who wanted clothing, jewelry, bits of her. And then there were black trash bags. He kept one small filing box, which he moved from the top reaches of his expansive new closet (my family has always been generous with me), then to under the bed, and finally into the bottom drawer of his desk, where he kept tax documents, and where his girlfriend would never need to look. He put some of Lily’s books back onto his shelves. Her wedding ring was buried with her.
But he didn’t want to think about Lily. He climbed into bed, lay staring up into the black. It was so dark, and the noises outside were strange, hypernatural. No cars, no horns. For a long time, he tried to make out what sounded like a distant human voice floating over the fields, some unknown ghostly neighbor, what, reciting a poem? Singing a song? Or two identical voices, maybe, saying goodnight. There was a scuffling of animals, the patter of small feet above his head, something gnawing, gnawing, tiny teeth chewing away, working to destroy the integrity of the house, not a house, the barn, the roof of the barn that had been abandoned but for him, those teeth going all through the night like little saws.
It’s so easy to imagine him there among the pines. I’ve lived with him for over a year and in that time, we’ve hardly been apart, and even when we were strangers to each other and slowly became less so, it was like our lives had been waiting to entangle. It wouldn’t have happened, otherwise, everything between us, I wouldn’t have just thrown myself at any man. I was an assistant editor at his publisher, and we’d met in the lobby. I never met Lily. Nothing happened, physically, between us until he left her. When it finally did, my best friend was shocked. “You’re so young, though. And now he’s left his wife and everything’s just going to be breezy?” I didn’t know. But I thought so. In the beginning, for the first couple weeks, we did go slowly, getting to know each other shyly across tables and side by side as we walked through Central Park, but then we went to bed one Sunday evening and after that were more or less living together almost before I realized what was happening.
I knew what Lily looked like, of course, through the internet and the one Saturday morning — before Henry and I started seeing each other but after we’d established a flirtation — when, not proudly, I went to the cafe across from their apartment and waited until they came out together. She was striking, a poet with deep auburn hair and pale strange eyes and an otherwise unremarkable face. She was thin, too, very thin in the photographs. I conjured her hourly. During intimate moments, I had to remind myself not to think of her.
He’d told me things about their relationship. Some I wished he hadn’t. One night when they were still living together they got into one of their shrieking fights, with her hurling things at his head because of some slight and him stalking uselessly around the room — what could he do, hit a woman? — and then she’d left and hadn’t come home until late the next day; he could only imagine where she’d ended up. Sometimes she disappeared for days, a week. When they first started dating, a few months in, she’d gone into his bathroom one morning and come out with blood on her hand and a towel around her waist and said she thought she was having a miscarriage. Years later, she told him she was pregnant and then, after waiting for him to respond, as though administering a test, told him that the abortion was scheduled for later that week. She stopped writing poetry and started reading books she’d liked in college that he thought she’d grown out of: Sylvia Plath, Daphne du Maurier, Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector. She kept asking him to go to a witch shop downtown, and finally went on her own, spending an insane amount of money on crystals, rune books, tarot reading instructional classes, incense that stunk up the apartment, and then that place didn’t feel real enough to her, it was so commercial, the people who came in were so often shopping for birthday presents, so she found a place in Queens and came back looking dazed and smelling of ash. In the middle of the night he would find her in a pool of candlelight at the kitchen table, hunched over the tarot deck. You don’t really believe in this, though, right? He’d asked. You understand that the answers you think you’re getting from this deck of cards are just your own interpretation, that you read into them basically what you want them to say. You don’t believe in, well, magic. Or contact with the dead. Or a spirit world. Or—. She gave him a dirty look. You don’t get it, she’d said. You never listen. You don’t understand it at all.
After they separated, she sometimes called in the middle of the night. I could hear him whispering to her and pictured him, just a room away, huddled in the bathroom telling her to grow up, to be an adult, to call someone else, he wasn’t her lifeline any- more. But he always went. He’d put on his clothes and kiss my forehead because he was worried about what she might do to herself, and in the end his concern for her safety trumped his deep feelings of righteous antagonism for the years of his life he’d dedicated to this needful, rageful woman.
I’d lie in bed and imagine what he was saying to her, how he’d pry sleeping pills, Advil bottles, a razor, whatever out of her hands and talk to her like she was a child, someone who was no longer a threat but something to fix, to put to bed, to pet the hair of until it went to sleep. He would come back to me as dawn was breaking, creep in so as not to wake me, and take a shower to reset himself, start fresh, before slipping into bed. The daylight washed away whatever psychotic energy she’d been harboring in the darkness and she would leave him, us, alone for a while. Those nights when he had gone to her, when I was imagining them together, I was very trusting, hardly jealous. I was proud of him for protecting us; imagine the guilt, however unfounded, he would harbor, I’d think, were she to die — the way it would knot him up inside, twist him, rend his loving heart in two. Of course, that’s exactly what happened.
There were no blinds on any of the windows in the rooms, and a skylight poured light right onto the bed, so although he hadn’t slept well the night before — when he did get to sleep he’d had a series of disturbing, murky dreams that evaporated when the sunlight hit — he woke up early, just after 6:00 a.m. The day stretched out before him. So many empty days. He was there for two weeks. He and his girlfriend had decided not to call each other while he was there, but he missed her reassuring voice. He dug his phone out of the dresser and dialed. She didn’t pick up, and he didn’t leave a message. He didn’t feel nervous, exactly — it was Monday, she was at work; no, it was 6:07 a.m., she was asleep — but he did feel unsettled. A walk would help. Fresh air.
Maybe he’d sign up for one of the weirdo pseudoscience brain things; they were expensive, but artists at the Center were entitled to one free session. It was unlikely that the scan itself would significantly improve his creative prowess in regard to the particular nonstory he was working on at the moment — three overworked paragraphs on the mindset of an indeterminate narrator did not a novel make — but maybe just interacting with strangers would help unlock something. And anyway, he’d quite like a picture of his brain to frame for his living room. What a talking piece.
The signup board was on the wall in the dining room, which was empty except for a woman, late 60s, with long gray hair, who was sitting at a table gazing into space. He scanned the list of programs, some, like the sweat lodge sessions, held weekly, some monthly, some longer day- and week-long courses. There was a vaguely Judeo-Christian tone to them — Light-building workshops and Triad Location.
He sometimes wished he had faith. In sin, in absolving, in a higher power. One afternoon while his girlfriend went for a run in the park, he’d trekked up to St. John the Divine and sat down in the dark cavernous space, hoping to feel something. But the service was in English instead of in Latin, as he’d expected, and a woman with a reedy voice sang an annoying, monotone song that referred with jarring regularity to Jesus Christ Our Lord, whom Henry didn’t believe in.
He put his name down for a scan the following day and walked back out into the heat. He would burn. Maybe his girlfriend had packed him sunscreen. He felt something behind him and turned to find the woman had followed him outside.
“We know her here,” she said, pleased. “Has she come back too?”
“Sorry, who’s this?”
“I thought it was you. We’ve been waiting to meet you.”
Henry regarded the woman as one would a small wild creature. Something not inherently dangerous, but unpredictable and unlikely. A racoon out in the middle of the day. He said, as if in a movie, “I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Let her know she should come back. I’ve felt her energy; it wants to be here. She was very close to a breakthrough. She’ll get there if she does the work.”
“I certainly have to do the work,” he said, cheerfully. “Back at it indeed. I’ll head there now.” He walked past her, back to the barn. From the window in the bedroom he watched her stand there for a long time until, suddenly, she turned and stalked through the long grasses and into the trees.
He wrote. He went to dinner. He slept. In the morning he made his way through the early heat to yet another nondescript wooden building for his scan, and when he got inside it looked nothing like he’d imagined, which was somehow a combination of Brooklyn new age, cream and gold, and a dingy doctor’s office. It was just a large clean room divided down the middle by glass or some thick plastic, like an airplane window, and on the other side of that clear wall was a large machine. The scanner, he assumed. It was quiet, cool.
Two people were there to greet him, Dr. Meyerson and Ray, both professional-looking sixtysomethings, and after a moment of confusion Henry realized that Ray looked so familiar because she was the strange woman who’d followed him about yesterday babbling about Lily, or not Lily, something he didn’t understand. What was that? She made no gesture of recognition now. In something of a daze, he let them greet him and explain the procedure. Dr. Meyerson injected something — you may feel a warm sensation, something like urination as this sets in, but don’t worry, it’s not happening, he said — and they talked about his life like he was answering a deposition. He was unfeeling when he mentioned Lily’s death, and if either of them knew who Lily was they didn’t make a sign. He talked about writing, how he’d had trouble for the last year or so, how his girlfriend had found a pamphlet on the Center and suggested he come up though he wasn’t sure about all this extra stuff, ha ha, he just needed time and space to think, and then they had him climb onto a table that slid him into the big scanning machine and he couldn’t tell if they were in the room anymore, though Ray’s voice came, soothingly, through some speaker inside the bright close chamber. She started making various statements, basically repeating things to him that he had already said, as well as adding some standard psychoanalytic BS about childhood, about parents, I feel proud of my accomplishments, I am in love with my current partner, et cetera, et cetera, until he was nearly asleep.
After a while Ray said, “We’re going to bring you back out,” and the lights shut off in the machine and he slid out into the room.
“Come,” Dr. Meyerson said, “Sit. How are you feeling. Here, have some water. Shall we go through? Ray and I are going to use phrases like ‘light up’ and ‘fire’ to describe the brain imagery. If you are uncomfortable with these words, please let me know and we can adjust the terminology.”
“Um, no, that’s fine.” Ray was sitting serenely next to her husband, clicking around on the computer in front of her and making no sign that she remembered their previous meeting. He couldn’t see the screen, for all he knew it was blank, but they peered at it together and started to say things like frontolimbic network and right superior anterior temporal lobe and subgenual cingulate cortex and sadness and blockage and depression and possibility and kinetic and guilt and guilt and guilt, and did he feel guilty? Were there feelings of guilt? Was the guilt what was stopping him from working? And finally, he said, Thank you, no offense, this just wasn’t for him, and walked out through the field and toward the woods but not into them, it looked so cool in there but there was no clear trail, there were maybe ticks. He was thinking about the letter Lily had written to his girlfriend a few weeks before she died. He’d been in his girlfriend’s apartment one evening and she had just run out to buy some eggs, and then he heard footsteps outside the apartment door and then there was an envelope pushed under it. When he opened the door whoever it was had gone, and he knew it was Lily so he opened the letter. And then he kept the letter and eventually put it in his bedside table and forgot about it, and months after Lily died in the car accident, when his girlfriend was looking for some stamps, she found it and brought it to him looking horrified. Oh, god, he said, I should have told you about this, she wrote it when things were so dark and I found it and — It’s true we got in knock-down, drag-out fights — I’ve told you about the way she’d stand in front of me, goading me to hit her, telling me about everything she’d done, the men, the lies, it was — it was unbearable. I did shove her once, something that will haunt me. But the things she was saying, I couldn’t take it, the taunting, and I pushed her away from me. She stumbled and fell against the couch. I’ve never been so disgusted at myself. But that’s all, my love, that is the worst of it. You know me. You know I would never hurt her or you or anyone. Oh, love, you’re bleeding. What have you done to your little paw? He took my pointer finger, which I’d been picking at, and held it up, the nail red and wet with blood, and opened his mouth and put it in. I could feel the warmth of his tongue, the soft slick of his lips, the gentlest scrape from his teeth as he pulled my finger out and held it up to me, clean. “There,” he said. “Like new.”
I’ve tried to convince myself that humans are not particles, that I can’t be entangled with Henry, or his dead wife, or anyone else in the universe, but it’s a hard notion to shake. And when Henry is away, to my mind, he is in two states at once. He has not been confirmed as alive or dead, and so he is either and both. And it’s more than two states. Ten thousand states. He is in the shower and in bed and kissing a stranger and weeping alone and eating his dinner and shooting himself in the head. He is writing and not writing and breathing and not breathing.
I would not call myself a creative person, not exactly — I cannot make a story out of nothing — but when given a tangle of words, I can see the central threads and tug them out. It’s what makes me so well suited to my job. Given time and space to sit with a story, I can figure out where it’s going, and where it should go, and when it should end in hope and when it should end in mourning and when, sometimes, there can be both.
When Henry called, so early in the morning, I was sitting at my kitchen table reading a manuscript. I had woken before dawn, and now the sun streaked the sky outside lavender. I listened to his call come in and then I let it ring itself out. Back at the barn he took a pull from the whiskey he’d brought, just in case. He felt settled, like dropping into a hot bath. He wrote. He drank a little more. He went to dinner, needing human contact, and sat down near a trio that looked mostly normal and they started talking to him, happy to engage in a positive exchange of ideas. He told them he’d come here because his girlfriend had told him to, because she was really into the woo-woo astrology stuff, the meditation, the occult, though that wasn’t true, it was Lily who’d been into that, his girlfriend had shown none of those proclivities thank god, but what did it matter to these strangers. You’re just like Yeats, one of them said, and they all laughed. Henry laughed too but he didn’t get it. When he got back to his room he turned the internet back on so he could find out what they’d found so funny, and learned that Yeats dabbled in mysticism, bouncing through women who were engaged in practices of automatic writing and psychic reading and aura work. For his whole life he was in love with one woman who didn’t want him. He proposed five times and she said no every time and the last time, after he’d finished crying, he went and proposed to her daughter, who also said no. He got married a couple weeks later to another woman, the automatic writer, and then he had one trillion affairs including with a famous lesbian and then he died and his wife and the first love both came to his deathbed so all that suffering seemed a little performative, in the end, since he got more or less exactly what he wanted. He didn’t want to be happy with the first love, not really — he got too much material from the angst. So much poetry from so much suffering. He’d probably liked it, the sadness.
Maybe that was what Lily was. Maybe it was best that she died when she did because now she was perfect and contained, and maybe this was the point — maybe he needed to write about her and maybe that’s why he’d been blocked. It wasn’t guilt, it wasn’t spiritual, it was the memory of her, the alive memory that needed to come out. When they were together, she used to tell him not to put her in a novel, and he hadn’t. And even when he left her, when she’d call in the night and he’d return to her like she was a drug, she’d still be weepy and irritating, and why couldn’t she just be easy, ever? — even then he didn’t write about her, he honored that request. Sometimes he did give her Ambien when she asked for her migraine pills, he’d even dumped some into the same bottle. They looked nothing alike of course, but he’d seen the way she scrabbled in the dark for her pills, the way she threw them back without looking at them. It was not malicious. He didn’t quite know why he did it. He’d started doing it around the time he went through her desk and found the novel he hadn’t known she was writing. Fiction was his. A few weeks later he started talking to the pretty assistant in his editor’s office. So the pills were some power thing, maybe, if he was going to psychoanalyze. When they did the autopsy after the accident and found the sleeping pills in her system there was nothing to suspect that he had anything to do with it — and he didn’t. Maybe she’d taken the sleeping pills on purpose. She was so troubled. If it hadn’t been the car it would have been something else. And what right had she to be driving?
Henry was writing, now, writing out his rage, writing his wife out of him. He’d abandoned his laptop, it was too distancing, why had anyone decided that computers were a good idea, the hand needed the pen, the pen needed the paper — and in fact he wasn’t writing at all, he was exorcising, he was confessing — but there was nothing to confess! He had done nothing wrong! That woman, whispering weird things at him, that idiotic scan — was it possible that Lily had been here? Was that why she’d told him to come? No, it was his girlfriend who’d found the place, he kept reminding himself, not Lily. They were two separate humans, unconnected. If Lily had come here, his girlfriend wouldn’t have known. Unless she’d found the pamphlet in one of the old books, tucked away, some bit he hadn’t found himself. There was a distant ringing, an alarm somewhere. Was it his? No. The phone was off, dead, dark. Perhaps his girlfriend had sent him away in order to be alone with his things. She had days and days to discover. Would she go poking about? When she’d found that letter Lily wrote to her, with all those terrible accusations, awful things about his character, about his rage — why hadn’t he gotten rid of that letter when he’d found it poked under their door? Why had he secreted it away like that? Hoarding it. Unwilling to let it go. It had been so strange to see the worst parts of himself laid out, like that, on the page. It was one-sided. But were parts of it true? Was that really him? It had taken a day of remonstration, of assurance, of reminders that Lily had been crazy, not in her right mind, desperate to drive them apart. He’d stopped his night-time visits to Lily after finding that letter. It was hard to stay away; though he hated her she had also become more attractive to him when he had his girlfriend at home, too. But the letter had been too far, she’d gone too far with that. So he stopped going to her when she called, and then two weeks later she was dead. But why hadn’t he disposed of that letter. Now, like a sheepdog with a taste for blood, his girlfriend would be on the hunt for other clues. Would she get into the back of that bottom drawer? Why had he held onto her manuscript? She would find it, know he’d hidden it, and that was as bad as murder, or it would be to her. Keeping her work from its would-be readers. She would find the nearly finished novel, the poetry, which he kept in his desk, so easy to find — why had he left it so easy to find, because of course she had been so trustful, so loyal, so unlike Lily there was no reason to hide anything. She would find them, and she was a good reader, she would see how good they were. Oh god, he could picture her taking them to her editor at work, showing them to him in awe. She was ambitious, gently so, but ambitious. She cared about the work, she would think she was doing god’s work, bringing Lily back, discovering her — what did Lily care if she was discovered, she was dead wasn’t she? But now his young, sweet girlfriend, all quiet ambition, would find her words, all those words. She’d think he was the monster who had silenced her. She had been so difficult. He had loved her. He had tried. That ringing. A fire alarm somewhere. Not in the house, no, perhaps in one of the main buildings. He couldn’t write anymore, his thoughts had returned, he was all thought now, so much useless thought. And it was too hot up there in the barn. From the window he could see something glowing through the trees, and perhaps that’s where the ringing was coming from, from the trees, somehow, or from the electric beyond. Outside it was cool and dark, and the further he got from the barn, the closer to the woods, the darker it got although, above, the sky was incandescent with stars. Darkness, deeper darkness, something both dark and burning — he walked toward it.