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June 27, 2011 Issue

Gravel
BY ALICE MUNRO

Atthattimewewerelivingbesideagravelpit.Notalargeone,hollowed
outbymonstermachinery,justaminorpitthatafarmermusthavemade
somemoneyfromyearsbefore.Infact,thepitwasshallowenoughto
leadyoutothinkthattheremighthavebeensomeotherintentionforit
foundationsforahouse,maybe,thatnevermadeitanyfurther.
Mymotherwastheonewhoinsistedoncallingattentiontoit.Welive
bytheoldgravelpitouttheservicestationroad,shedtellpeople,and
laugh,becauseshewassohappytohaveshedeverythingconnectedwith
thehouse,thestreetthehusbandwiththelifeshedhadbefore.
Ibarelyrememberthatlife.Thatis,Iremembersomepartsofitclearly,
butwithoutthelinksyouneedtoformaproperpicture.AllthatIretain
inmyheadofthehouseintownisthewallpaperwithTeddybearsinmy
oldroom.Inthisnewhouse,whichwasreallyatrailer,mysister,Caro,
andIhadnarrowcots,stackedoneabovetheother.Whenwefirstmoved
there,Carotalkedtomealotaboutouroldhouse,tryingtogetmeto
rememberthisorthat.Itwaswhenwewereinbedthatshetalkedlike
this,andgenerallytheconversationendedwithmefailingtoremember
andhergettingcross.SometimesIthoughtIdidremember,butoutof
contrarinessorfearofgettingthingswrongIpretendednotto.
Itwassummerwhenwemovedtothetrailer.Wehadourdogwithus.
Blitzee.Blitzeelovesithere,mymothersaid,anditwastrue.What
dogwouldntlovetoexchangeatownstreet,evenonewithspacious
lawnsandbighouses,forthewideopencountryside?Shetookto

barkingateverycarthatwentpast,asifsheownedtheroad,andnow
andthenshebroughthomeasquirreloragroundhogshedkilled.At
firstCarowasquiteupsetbythis,andNealwouldhaveatalkwithher,
explainingaboutadogsnatureandthechainoflifeinwhichsome
thingshadtoeatotherthings.
Shegetsherdogfood,Caroargued,butNealsaid,Supposeshe
didnt?Supposesomedaywealldisappearedandshehadtofendfor
herself?
Imnotgoingto,Carosaid.Imnotgoingtodisappear,andIm
alwaysgoingtolookafterher.
Youthinkso?Nealsaid,andourmothersteppedintodeflecthim.
NealwasalwaysreadytogetonthesubjectoftheAmericansandthe
atomicbomb,andourmotherdidntthinkwewerereadyforthatyet.
ShedidntknowthatwhenhebroughtitupIthoughthewastalking
aboutanatomicbun.Iknewthattherewassomethingwrongwiththis
interpretation,butIwasntabouttoaskquestionsandgetlaughedat.
Nealwasanactor.Intowntherewasaprofessionalsummertheatre,a
newthingatthetime,whichsomepeoplewereenthusiasticaboutand
othersworriedabout,fearingthatitwouldbringinriffraff.Mymother
andfatherhadbeenamongthoseinfavor,mymothermoreactivelyso,
becauseshehadmoretime.Myfatherwasaninsuranceagentand
travelledalot.Mymotherhadgotbusywithvariousfundraising
schemesforthetheatreanddonatedherservicesasanusher.Shewas
goodlookingandyoungenoughtobemistakenforanactress.Shed
beguntodresslikeanactress,too,inshawlsandlongskirtsanddangling
necklaces.Shedleftherhairwildandstoppedwearingmakeup.Of

course,Ihadnotunderstoodorevenparticularlynoticedthesechangesat
thetime.Mymotherwasmymother.ButnodoubtCarohad.Andmy
father.Though,fromallthatIknowofhisnatureandhisfeelingsformy
mother,Ithinkhemayhavebeenproudtoseehowgoodshelookedin
theseliberatingstylesandhowwellshefitinwiththetheatrepeople.
Whenhespokeaboutthistimelateron,hesaidthathehadalways
approvedofthearts.Icanimaginenowhowembarrassedmymother
wouldhavebeen,cringingandlaughingtocoveruphercringing,ifhed
madethisdeclarationinfrontofhertheatrefriends.
Well,thencameadevelopmentthatcouldhavebeenforeseenand
probablywas,butnotbymyfather.Idontknowifithappenedtoanyof
theothervolunteers.Idoknow,thoughIdontrememberit,thatmy
fatherweptandforawholedayfollowedmymotheraroundthehouse,
notlettingheroutofhissightandrefusingtobelieveher.And,insteadof
tellinghimanythingtomakehimfeelbetter,shetoldhimsomethingthat
madehimfeelworse.
ShetoldhimthatthebabywasNeals.
Wasshesure?
Absolutely.Shehadbeenkeepingtrack.
Whathappenedthen?
Myfathergaveupweeping.Hehadtogetbacktowork.Mymother
packedupourthingsandtookustolivewithNealinthetrailerhehad
found,outinthecountry.Shesaidafterwardthatshehadwept,too.But
shesaidalsothatshehadfeltalive.Maybeforthefirsttimeinherlife,

trulyalive.Shefeltasifshehadbeengivenachance;shehadstartedher
lifealloveragain.Shedwalkedoutonhersilverandherchinaandher
decoratingschemeandherflowergardenandevenonthebooksinher
bookcase.Shewouldlivenow,notread.Shedleftherclotheshanging
intheclosetandherhighheeledshoesintheirshoetrees.Herdiamond
ringandherweddingringonthedresser.Hersilknightdressesintheir
drawer.Shemeanttogoaroundnakedatleastsomeofthetimeinthe
country,aslongastheweatherstayedwarm.
Thatdidntworkout,becausewhenshetrieditCarowentandhidinher
cotandevenNealsaidhewasntcrazyabouttheidea.
Whatdidhethinkofallthis?Neal.Hisphilosophy,asheputitlater,was
towelcomewhateverhappened.Everythingisagift.Wegiveandwe
take.
Iamsuspiciousofpeoplewhotalklikethis,butIcantsaythatIhavea
righttobe.
Hewasnotreallyanactor.Hehadgotintoacting,hesaid,asan
experiment.Toseewhathecouldfindoutabouthimself.Incollege,
beforehedroppedout,hehadperformedaspartofthechorusin
OedipusRex.Hehadlikedthatthegivingyourselfover,blending
withothers.Thenoneday,onthestreetinToronto,heranintoafriend
whowasonhiswaytotryoutforasummerjobwithanewsmalltown
theatrecompany.Hewentalong,havingnothingbettertodo,andended
upgettingthejob,whiletheotherfellowdidnt.HewouldplayBanquo.
SometimestheymakeBanquosghostvisible,sometimesnot.Thistime
theywantedavisibleversionandNealwastherightsize.Anexcellent
size.Asolidghost.

Hehadbeenthinkingofwinteringinourtownanyway,beforemy
motherspranghersurprise.Hehadalreadyspottedthetrailer.Hehad
enoughcarpentryexperiencetopickupworkrenovatingthetheatre,
whichwouldseehimthroughtillspring.Thatwasasfaraheadashe
likedtothink.
Carodidntevenhavetochangeschools.Shewaspickedupbythe
schoolbusattheendoftheshortlanethatranalongsidethegravelpit.
Shehadtomakefriendswiththecountrychildren,andperhapsexplain
somethingstothetownchildrenwhohadbeenherfriendstheyear
before,butifshehadanydifficultywiththatIneverheardaboutit.
Blitzeewasalwayswaitingbytheroadforhertocomehome.
Ididntgotokindergarten,becausemymotherdidnthaveacar.ButI
didntminddoingwithoutotherchildren.Caro,whenshegothome,was
enoughforme.Andmymotherwasofteninaplayfulmood.Assoonas
itsnowedthatwintersheandIbuiltasnowmanandsheasked,Shallwe
callitNeal?IsaidO.K.,andwestuckvariousthingsonittomakeit
funny.ThenwedecidedthatIwouldrunoutofthehousewhenhiscar
cameandsay,HeresNeal,heresNeal!butbepointingupatthe
snowman.WhichIdid,butNealgotoutofthecarmadandyelledthathe
couldhaverunmeover.
ThatwasoneofthefewtimesthatIsawhimactlikeafather.
Thoseshortwinterdaysmusthaveseemedstrangetomeintown,the
lightscameonatdusk.Butchildrengetusedtochanges.SometimesI
wonderedaboutourotherhouse.Ididntexactlymissitorwanttolive
thereagainIjustwonderedwhereithadgone.

MymothersgoodtimeswithNealwentonintothenight.IfIwokeup
andhadtogotothebathroom,Idcallforher.Shewouldcomehappily
butnotinanyhurry,withsomepieceofclothorascarfwrappedaround
heralsoasmellthatIassociatedwithcandlelightandmusic.Andlove.
Somethingdidhappenthatwasnotsoreassuring,butIdidnttrytomake
muchsenseofitatthetime.Blitzee,ourdog,wasnotverybig,butshe
didntseemsmallenoughtofitunderCaroscoat.Idontknowhow
Caromanagedtodoit.Notoncebuttwice.Shehidthedogunderher
coatontheschoolbus,andthen,insteadofgoingstraighttoschool,she
tookBlitzeebacktoouroldhouseintown,whichwaslessthanablock
away.Thatwaswheremyfatherfoundthedog,onthewinterporch,
whichwasnotlocked,whenhecamehomeforhissolitarylunch.There
wasgreatsurprisethatshehadgotthere,foundherwayhomelikeadog
inastory.Caromadethebiggestfuss,andclaimednottohaveseenthe
dogatallthatmorning.Butthenshemadethemistakeoftryingitagain,
maybeaweeklater,andthistime,thoughnobodyonthebusoratschool
suspectedher,ourmotherdid.
IcantrememberifourfatherbroughtBlitzeebacktous.Icantimagine
himinthetraileroratthedoorofthetrailerorevenontheroadtoit.
MaybeNealwenttothehouseintownandpickedherup.Notthatthats
anyeasiertoimagine.
IfIvemadeitsoundasthoughCarowasunhappyorschemingallthe
time,thatisntthetruth.AsIvesaid,shedidtrytomakemetalkabout
things,atnightinbed,butshewasntconstantlyairinggrievances.It
wasnthernaturetobesulky.Shewasfartookeenonmakingagood
impression.Shelikedpeopletolikeher;shelikedtostiruptheairina

roomwiththepromiseofsomethingyoucouldevencallmerriment.She
thoughtmoreaboutthatthanIdid.
Shewastheonewhomosttookafterourmother,Ithinknow.
Theremusthavebeensomeprobingaboutwhatsheddonewiththedog.
IthinkIcanremembersomeofit.
Ididitforatrick.
Doyouwanttogoandlivewithyourfather?
Ibelievethatwasasked,andIbelieveshesaidno.
Ididntaskheranything.Whatshehaddonedidntseemstrangetome.
Thatsprobablyhowitiswithyoungerchildrennothingthatthe
strangelypowerfulolderchilddoesseemsoutoftheordinary.
Ourmailwasdepositedinatinboxonapost,downbytheroad.My
motherandIwouldwalkthereeveryday,unlessitwasparticularly
stormy,toseewhathadbeenleftforus.WedidthisafterIgotupfrom
mynap.Sometimesitwastheonlytimewewentoutsideallday.Inthe
morning,wewatchedchildrenstelevisionshowsorshereadwhileI
watched.(Shehadnotgivenupreadingforverylong.)Weheatedup
somecannedsoupforlunch,thenIwentdownformynapwhilesheread
somemore.Shewasquitebigwiththebabynowanditstirredaroundin
herstomach,sothatIcouldfeelit.ItsnamewasgoingtobeBrandy
alreadywasBrandywhetheritwasaboyoragirl.

Onedaywhenweweregoingdownthelaneforthemail,andwerein
factnotfarfromthebox,mymotherstoppedandstoodquitestill.
Quiet,shesaidtome,thoughIhadntsaidawordorevenplayedthe
shufflinggamewithmybootsinthesnow.
Iwasbeingquiet,Isaid.
Shush.Turnaround.
Butwedidntgetthemail.
Nevermind.Justwalk.
ThenInoticedthatBlitzee,whowasalwayswithus,justbehindor
aheadofus,wasntthereanymore.Anotherdogwas,ontheopposite
sideoftheroad,afewfeetfromthemailbox.
MymotherphonedthetheatreassoonaswegothomeandletinBlitzee,
whowaswaitingforus.Nobodyanswered.Shephonedtheschooland
askedsomeonetotellthebusdrivertodriveCarouptothedoor.It
turnedoutthatthedrivercouldntdothat,becauseithadsnowedsince
Neallastplowedthelane,buthedidwatchuntilshegottothehouse.
Therewasnowolftobeseenbythattime.
Nealwasoftheopinionthatthereneverhadbeenone.Andiftherehad
been,hesaid,itwouldhavebeennodangertous,weakasitwas
probablyfromhibernation.

Carosaidthatwolvesdidnothibernate.Welearnedaboutthemin
school.
OurmotherwantedNealtogetagun.
YouthinkImgoingtogetagunandgoandshootagoddampoor
motherwolfwhohasprobablygotabunchofbabiesbackinthebush
andisjusttryingtoprotectthem,thewayyouretryingtoprotect
yours?hesaidquietly.
Carosaid,Onlytwo.Theyonlyhavetwoatatime.
O.K.O.K.Imtalkingtoyourmother.
Youdontknowthat,mymothersaid.Youdontknowifitsgot
hungrycubsoranything.
Ihadneverthoughtshedtalktohimlikethat.
Hesaid,Easy.Easy.Letsjustthinkabit.Gunsareaterriblething.IfI
wentandgotagun,thenwhatwouldIbesaying?ThatVietnamwas
O.K.?ThatImightaswellhavegonetoVietnam?
YourenotanAmerican.
Yourenotgoingtorileme.
Thisismoreorlesswhattheysaid,anditendedupwithNealnothaving
togetagun.Weneversawthewolfagain,ifitwasawolf.Ithinkmy

motherstoppedgoingtogetthemail,butshemayhavebecometoobig
tobecomfortabledoingthatanyway.
Thesnowdwindledmagically.Thetreeswerestillbareofleavesandmy
mothermadeCarowearhercoatinthemornings,butshecamehome
afterschooldraggingitbehindher.
Mymothersaidthatthebabyhadgottobetwins,butthedoctorsaidit
wasnt.
Great.Great,Nealsaid,allinfavorofthetwinsidea.Whatdodoctors
know.
Thegravelpithadfilledtoitsbrimwithmeltedsnowandrain,sothat
Carohadtoedgearounditonherwaytocatchtheschoolbus.Itwasa
littlelake,stillanddazzlingundertheclearsky.Caroaskedwithnot
muchhopeifwecouldplayinit.
Ourmothersaidnottobecrazy.Itmustbetwentyfeetdeep,shesaid.
Nealsaid,Maybeten.
Carosaid,Rightaroundtheedgeitwouldntbe.
Ourmothersaidyesitwas.Itjustdropsoff,shesaid.Itsnotlike
goinginatthebeach,forfuckssake.Juststayawayfromit.
Shehadstartedsayingfuckquitealot,perhapsmorethanNealdid,
andinamoreexasperatedtoneofvoice.

Shouldwekeepthedogawayfromit,too?sheaskedhim.
Nealsaidthatthatwasntaproblem.Dogscanswim.
ASaturday.CarowatchedTheFriendlyGiantwithmeandmade
commentsthatspoiledit.Nealwaslyingonthecouch,whichunfolded
intohisandmymothersbed.Hewassmokinghiskindofcigarettes,
whichcouldnotbesmokedatworksohadtobemadethemostofon
weekends.Carosometimesbotheredhim,askingtotryone.Oncehehad
lether,buttoldhernottotellourmother.
Iwasthere,though,soItold.
Therewasalarm,thoughnotquitearow.
Youknowhedhavethosekidsoutofherelikeashot,ourmother
said.Neveragain.
Neveragain,Nealsaidagreeably.Sowhatifhefeedsthempoison
RiceKrispiescrap?
Inthebeginning,wehadntseenourfatheratall.Then,afterChristmas,
aplanhadbeenworkedoutforSaturdays.Ourmotheralwaysasked
afterwardifwehadhadagoodtime.Ialwayssaidyes,andmeantit,
becauseIthoughtthatifyouwenttoamovieortolookatLakeHuronor
ateinarestaurant,thatmeantthatyouhadhadagoodtime.Carosaid
yes,too,butinatoneofvoicethatsuggestedthatitwasnoneofour
mothersbusiness.ThenmyfatherwentonawinterholidaytoCuba(my
motherremarkedonthiswithsomesurpriseandmaybeapproval)and

camebackwithalingeringsortoffluthatcausedthevisitstolapse.
Theyweresupposedtoresumeinthespring,butsofartheyhadnt.
Afterthetelevisionwasturnedoff,CaroandIweresentoutsidetorun
around,asourmothersaid,andgetsomefreshair.Wetookthedogwith
us.
Whenwegotoutside,thefirstthingwedidwasloosenandlettrailthe
scarvesourmotherhadwrappedaroundournecks.(Thefactwas,though
wemaynothaveputthetwothingstogether,thedeepershegotintoher
pregnancythemoresheslippedbackintobehavinglikeanordinary
mother,atleastwhenitwasamatterofscarveswedidntneedorregular
meals.Therewasnotsomuchchampioningofwildwaysastherehad
beeninthefall.)CaroaskedmewhatIwantedtodo,andIsaidIdidnt
know.Thiswasaformalityonherpartbutthehonesttruthonmine.We
letthedogleadus,anyway,andBlitzeesideawastogoandlookatthe
gravelpit.Thewindwaswhippingthewaterupintolittlewaves,and
verysoonwegotcold,sowewoundourscarvesbackaroundournecks.
Idontknowhowmuchtimewespentjustwanderingaroundthewaters
edge,knowingthatwecouldntbeseenfromthetrailer.Afterawhile,I
realizedthatIwasbeinggiveninstructions.
IwastogobacktothetrailerandtellNealandourmothersomething.
Thatthedoghadfallenintothewater.
ThedoghadfallenintothewaterandCarowasafraidshedbedrowned.
Blitzee.Drownded.

Drowned.
ButBlitzeewasntinthewater.
Shecouldbe.AndCarocouldjumpintosaveher.
IbelieveIstillputupsomeargument,alongthelinesofshehasnt,you
havent,itcouldhappenbutithasnt.IalsorememberedthatNealhad
saiddogsdidntdrown.
CaroinstructedmetodoasIwastold.
Why?
Imayhavesaidthat,orImayhavejuststoodtherenotobeyingand
tryingtoworkupanotherargument.
InmymindIcanseeherpickingupBlitzeeandtossingher,though
Blitzeewastryingtohangontohercoat.Thenbackingup,Carobacking
uptotakearunatthewater.Running,jumping,allofasuddenhurling
herselfatthewater.ButIcantrecallthesoundofthesplashesasthey,
oneaftertheother,hitthewater.Notalittlesplashorabigone.Perhaps
IhadturnedtowardthetrailerbythenImusthavedoneso.
WhenIdreamofthis,Iamalwaysrunning.AndinmydreamsIam
runningnottowardthetrailerbutbacktowardthegravelpit.Icansee
BlitzeeflounderingaroundandCaroswimmingtowardher,swimming
strongly,onthewaytorescueher.Iseeherlightbrowncheckedcoat
andherplaidscarfandherproudsuccessfulfaceandreddishhair

darkenedattheendofitscurlsbythewater.AllIhavetodoiswatch
andbehappynothingrequiredofme,afterall.
WhatIreallydidwasmakemywayupthelittleinclinetowardthe
trailer.AndwhenIgotthereIsatdown.Justasiftherehadbeenaporch
orabench,thoughinfactthetrailerhadneitherofthesethings.Isat
downandwaitedforthenextthingtohappen.
Iknowthisbecauseitsafact.Idontknow,however,whatmyplanwas
orwhatIwasthinking.Iwaswaiting,maybe,forthenextactinCaros
drama.Orinthedogs.
IdontknowifIsatthereforfiveminutes.More?Less?Itwasnttoo
cold.
Iwenttoseeaprofessionalpersonaboutthisonceandsheconvincedme
foratime,sheconvincedmethatImusthavetriedthedoorofthe
trailerandfounditlocked.LockedbecausemymotherandNealwere
havingsexandhadlockeditagainstinterruptions.IfIdbangedonthe
doortheywouldhavebeenangry.Thecounsellorwassatisfiedtobring
metothisconclusion,andIwassatisfied,too.Forawhile.ButIno
longerthinkthatwastrue.Idontthinktheywouldhavelockedthedoor,
becauseIknowthatoncetheydidntandCarowalkedinandthey
laughedatthelookonherface.
MaybeIrememberedthatNealhadsaidthatdogsdidnotdrown,which
meantthatCarosrescueofBlitzeewouldnotbenecessary.Therefore
sheherselfwouldntbeabletocarryouthergame.Somanygames,with
Caro.

DidIthinkshecouldswim?Atnine,manychildrencan.Andinfactit
turnedoutthatshedhadonelessonthesummerbefore,butthenwehad
movedtothetrailerandshehadnttakenanymore.Shemayhave
thoughtshecouldmanagewellenough.AndImayindeedhavethought
thatshecoulddoanythingshewantedto.
ThecounsellordidnotsuggestthatImighthavebeensickofcarrying
outCarosorders,butthethoughtdidoccurtome.Itdoesntquiteseem
right,though.IfIdbeenolder,maybe.Atthetime,Istillexpectedherto
fillmyworld.
HowlongdidIsitthere?Likelynotlong.AnditspossiblethatIdid
knock.Afterawhile.Afteraminuteortwo.Inanycase,mymotherdid,
atsomepoint,openthedoor,fornoreason.Apresentiment.
Nextthing,Iaminside.MymotherisyellingatNealandtryingtomake
himunderstandsomething.Heisgettingtohisfeetandstandingthere
speakingtoher,touchingher,withsuchmildnessandgentlenessand
consolation.Butthatisnotwhatmymotherwantsatallandshetears
herselfawayfromhimandrunsoutthedoor.Heshakeshisheadand
looksdownathisbarefeet.Hisbighelplesslookingtoes.
Ithinkhesayssomethingtomewithasingsongsadnessinhisvoice.
Strange.
BeyondthatIhavenodetails.
Mymotherdidntthrowherselfintothewater.Shedidntgointolabor
fromtheshock.Mybrother,Brent,wasnotbornuntilaweekortendays
afterthefuneral,andhewasafullterminfant.Whereshewaswhileshe

waitedforthebirthtohappenIdonotknow.Perhapsshewaskeptinthe
hospitalandsedatedasmuchaspossibleunderthecircumstances.
Irememberthedayofthefuneralquitewell.Averypleasantand
comfortablewomanIdidntknowhernamewasJosietookmeonan
expedition.Wevisitedsomeswingsandasortofdollshousethatwas
largeenoughformetogoinside,andweatealunchofmyfavorite
treats,butnotenoughtomakemesick.JosiewassomebodyIgotto
knowverywelllateron.ShewasafriendmyfatherhadmadeinCuba,
andafterthedivorceshebecamemystepmother,hissecondwife.
Mymotherrecovered.Shehadto.TherewasBrenttolookafterand,
mostofthetime,me.IbelieveIstayedwithmyfatherandJosiewhile
shegotsettledinthehousethatsheplannedtoliveinfortherestofher
life.IdontrememberbeingtherewithBrentuntilhewasbigenoughto
situpinhishighchair.
Mymotherwentbacktoherolddutiesatthetheatre.Atfirstshemay
haveworkedasshehadbefore,asavolunteerusher,butbythetimeI
wasinschoolshehadarealjob,withpay,andyearround
responsibilities.Shewasthebusinessmanager.Thetheatresurvived,
throughvariousupsanddowns,andisstillgoingnow.
Nealdidntbelieveinfunerals,sohedidntattendCaros.Heneversaw
Brent.HewrotealetterIfoundthisoutmuchlatersayingthatsince
hedidnotintendtoactasafatheritwouldbebetterforhimtobowout
atthestart.InevermentionedhimtoBrent,becauseIthoughtitwould
upsetmymother.AlsobecauseBrentshowedsolittlesignofbeinglike
himlikeNealandseemed,infact,somuchmorelikemyfatherthatI
reallywonderedaboutwhatwasgoingonaroundthetimehewas

conceived.Myfatherhasneversaidanythingaboutthisandnever
would.HetreatsBrentjustashetreatsme,butheisthekindofmanwho
woulddothatanyway.
HeandJosiehavenothadanychildrenoftheirown,butIdontthink
thatbothersthem.JosieistheonlypersonwhoevertalksaboutCaro,
andevenshedoesntdoitoften.Shedoessaythatmyfatherdoesnt
holdmymotherresponsible.Hehasalsosaidthathemusthavebeensort
ofastickinthemudwhenmymotherwantedmoreexcitementinher
life.Heneededashakingup,andhegotone.Theresnousebeingsorry
aboutit.Withouttheshakingup,hewouldneverhavefoundJosieand
thetwoofthemwouldnothavebeensohappynow.
Whichtwo?Imightsay,justtoderailhim,andhewouldstaunchly
say,Josie.Josie,ofcourse.
Mymothercannotbemadetorecallanyofthosetimes,andIdont
botherherwiththem.Iknowthatshehasdrivendownthelanewelived
on,andfounditquitechanged,withthesortoftrendyhousesyousee
now,putuponunproductiveland.Shementionedthiswiththeslight
scornthatsuchhousesevokeinher.Iwentdownthelanemyselfbutdid
nottellanyone.Alltheevisceratingthatisdoneinfamiliesthesedays
strikesmeasamistake.
Evenwherethegravelpitwasahousenowstands,thegroundbeneathit
levelled.
Ihaveapartner,Ruthann,whoisyoungerthanIambut,Ithink,
somewhatwiser.Oratleastmoreoptimisticaboutwhatshecallsrouting
outmydemons.IwouldneverhavegotintouchwithNealifithadnot

beenforherurging.Ofcourse,foralongtimeIhadnoway,justasIhad
nothought,ofgettingintouch.Itwashewhofinallywrotetome.A
briefnoteofcongratulations,hesaid,afterseeingmypictureinthe
AlumniGazette.WhathewasdoinglookingthroughtheAlumniGazette
Ihavenoidea.Ihadreceivedoneofthoseacademichonorsthatmean
somethinginarestrictedcircleandlittleanywhereelse.
HewaslivinghardlyfiftymilesawayfromwhereIteach,whichalso
happenstobewhereIwenttocollege.Iwonderedifhehadbeenthereat
thattime.Soclose.Hadhebecomeascholar?
AtfirstIhadnointentionofreplyingtothenote,butItoldRuthannand
shesaidthatIshouldthinkaboutwritingback.SotheupshotwasthatI
senthimanemail,andarrangementsweremade.Iwastomeethimin
histown,intheunthreateningsurroundingsofauniversitycafeteria.I
toldmyselfthatifhelookedunbearableIdidnotquiteknowwhatI
meantbythisIcouldjustwalkonthrough.
Hewasshorterthanheusedtobe,asadultswerememberfrom
childhoodusuallyare.Hishairwasthin,andtrimmedclosetohishead.
Hegotmeacupoftea.Hewasdrinkingteahimself.
Whatdidhedoforaliving?
Hesaidthathetutoredstudentsinpreparationforexams.Also,hehelped
themwritetheiressays.Sometimes,youmightsay,hewrotethose
essays.Ofcourse,hecharged.
Itsnowaytogettobeamillionaire,Icantellyou.

Helivedinadump.Orasemirespectabledump.Helikedit.Helooked
forclothesattheSallyAnn.ThatwasO.K.,too.
Suitsmyprinciples.
Ididnotcongratulatehimonanyofthis,but,totellthetruth,Idoubtthat
heexpectedmeto.
Anyway,Idontthinkmylifestyleissointeresting.Ithinkyoumight
wanttoknowhowithappened.
Icouldnotfigureouthowtospeak.
Iwasstoned,hesaid.And,furthermore,Imnotaswimmer.Not
manyswimmingpoolsaroundwhereIgrewup.Idhavedrowned,too.
Isthatwhatyouwantedtoknow?
IsaidthathewasnotreallytheonethatIwaswonderingabout.
ThenhebecamethethirdpersonIdasked,WhatdoyouthinkCarohad
inmind?
Thecounsellorhadsaidthatwecouldntknow.Likelysheherself
didntknowwhatshewanted.Attention?Idontthinkshemeantto
drownherself.Attentiontohowbadshewasfeeling?
Ruthannhadsaid,Tomakeyourmotherdowhatshewanted?Makeher
smartenupandseethatshehadtogobacktoyourfather?

Nealsaid,Itdoesntmatter.Maybeshethoughtshecouldpaddlebetter
thanshecould.Maybeshedidntknowhowheavywinterclothescan
get.Orthattherewasntanybodyinapositiontohelpher.
Hesaidtome,Dontwasteyourtime.Yourenotthinkingwhatifyou
hadhurriedupandtold,areyou?Nottryingtogetinontheguilt?
IsaidthatIhadconsideredwhathewassaying,butno.
Thethingistobehappy,hesaid.Nomatterwhat.Justtrythat.You
can.Itgetstobeeasierandeasier.Itsnothingtodowithcircumstances.
Youwouldntbelievehowgooditis.Accepteverythingandthentragedy
disappears.Ortragedylightens,anyway,andyourejustthere,going
alongeasyintheworld.
Now,goodbye.
Iseewhathemeant.Itreallyistherightthingtodo.But,inmymind,
Carokeepsrunningatthewaterandthrowingherself,asifintriumph,
andImstillcaught,waitingforhertoexplaintome,waitingforthe
splash.