Near the nursing
station there was a small lounge, and that's where we mostly were, talking
or not talking, looking at each other or not looking. There would be five
of us, or ten, or twenty: a core group of family and close friends, plus
Mike's co-workers stopping by after the bank had closed, the Mayers' neighbors
checking in, my mother arriving with bags of sandwiches. There was a rack
of ancient magazines by the door, and we offered them to each other now
and then, just for something to do. I couldn't read, but whenever the
single, warped issue of Vogue came my way I flipped through it,
pausing each time at an article about a clothing designer in London. I'm
not sure I ever noticed her name, but I can still remember the clothes:
a fitted, moss green velvet jacket; a silver dress with long, belled sleeves;
a wide, loose sweater in deep purple mohair. I was getting through the
evenings by sewing, a pair of cotton shorts or a summer dress every two
or three days, and those exotic images from London kept appearing in my
mind as I bent over my sewing machine, reminding me at once of the hospital
and the world.
The two-week mark came, and when I woke that morning I thought of something
one of the doctors had said early on, that each week he was unconscious
the prognosis got worse. ("Unresponsive" was the word they used, and whenever
I heard it I thought of myself in the car on the way to Clausen's Reservoir,
not answering his questions.) Two weeks was only one day more than thirteen
days, but I felt we'd turned a corner that shouldn't have been turned,
and I couldn't get myself out of bed.
I lay on my side. The bedsheets were gritty and soft with use; I hadn't
changed them since the accident. I reached for my quilt, lying in a tangle
down past my feet. I'd made it myself one summer during high school, a
patchwork of four-inch squares in no particular order, though I'd limited
myself to blues and purples and the overall effect was nice. I'd read
somewhere that quiltmakers "signed" their work with a little deviation,
so in one corner I'd used a square cut from an old shirt of Mike's, white
with a black windowpane check. I found that square now and arranged the
quilt so it was near my face.
He had to wake up. He had to. I couldn't stand to think of what a bitch
I'd been at Clausen's Reservoir-what a bitch all spring. It was like a
horrible equation: my bitchiness plus his fear of losing me equaled Mike
in a coma. I knew as clearly as I knew anything that I'd driven him
to dive, to impress me. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to remember
when everything between us had been fine. February? January? Christmas?
Maybe not even Christmas: he'd given me plain pearl earrings that were
very pretty and exactly what I would have wanted just a year earlier,
but I found them stodgy and obvious, and I felt dead inside-not because
of the earrings but because of my disappointment in them. "Do you like
them?" he said uneasily. "I love them," I lied.
It was June now. I had the day off work, and at last I got up and made
coffee, then started laying out the pattern for an off-white linen jacket
I'd been planning to make, first ironing the crumpled tissue and then
moving the pieces around on the length of fabric until I was satisfied.
I pinned them and cut them out with my Fiskars, then went back and did
the notches, snip by snip. I chalked the pattern marks onto the fabric,
and by late morning I was sitting at my Bernina winding a bobbin, entranced
by the fast whir of it, by the knowledge that for hours now I'd be at
the machine, my foot on the pedal.
I'd been sewing for eleven years, since my first home ec class in junior
high, when I'd made an A-line skirt and fallen in love. It was the inexorability
of it that appealed to me, how a length of fabric became a group of cut-out
pieces that gradually took on the shape of a garment. I loved everything
about it, even the little snipped threads to be gathered and thrown away,
the smell of an overheated iron, the scatter of pins at the end of the
day. I loved how I got better and better, closer and closer with each
thing I made to achieving just what I'd hoped.
When the phone rang at eight-thirty that evening I'd taken a few breaks
for iced cranberry juice, but mostly I'd sat there sewing, and the sound
woke me from the work. Surprised by how dark it had gotten, I pushed away
from the table and turned on a light, blinking at the jacket parts that
lay everywhere, the slips of pattern and the pinked-off edges of seams.
I was starving, my back and shoulders knotted and aching.
It was Mrs. Mayer. She asked how I was, told me she'd heard it might rain,
and then cleared her throat and said she'd appreciate it if I'd stop by
the next day.
The morning sun slanted down the sidewalk, aiming my shadow in the direction
of Lake Mendota. My car was already hot to the touch, and I unlocked it
and rolled down the windows, then strolled to the end of the block and
stood looking across Gorham Street at the water, still almost colorless
under the early sky. Mike loved Lake Mendota, the way the city hugged
its curves. He liked to pull people into debating the relative merits
of it and Lake Monona, Madison's other big lake: he'd reel off a list
of ways that Mendota was superior, as if it were a team he supported.
Mendota and Monona. "Sounds like bad names for twins," a girl from New
York had said to me once, and I'd never been able to forget it. I laughed,
but I was a little offended: she spoke so smugly, flipping her brown hair
over her shoulder and raising her chin. I hardly knew her---she was in
my freshman American history class at the U---but thinking about her five
years later, I remembered this: that she'd owned a jacket I'd coveted,
pearl-snapped and collarless like something made of cotton fleece, but
fashioned from smooth black napa leather, soft as skin.
Across the street two guys sauntered by. They both wore sunglasses with
tiny mirrored lenses---one guy's tinted blue, the other's green. "No fucking
way," I heard one of them say.
I went back to my car. It had a baked vinyl smell, and the seat scorched
my legs. I always took the same route to the Mayers', an easy six-to eight-minute
drive up Gorham to University and then up the hill, but today I headed
away from Gorham instead. I crossed the isthmus that divided the lakes,
and when I got close to Lake Monona I drove up and down the streets parallel
to it, braking occasionally to look at some of my favorite houses: Victorians
painted colors you didn't see in other neighborhoods, fuchsia and teal
and deep purple. At a little lakeside park I got out and walked down to
the water, where a cloud of gnats swarmed over the grassy green edge.
Both lakes could lift my spirits---silvery blue when the sun was low,
or vast and frosty in winter---but today they seemed flat and ordinary.
Unable to put it off any longer, I returned to my car. At the hospital
I'd felt Mrs. Mayer watching me and watching me, waiting for me to break
down; when the familiar shape of Mike's house came into view a little
later, she was watching again, standing at the living room window with
the curtain held aside, as if she'd heard I was on my way but didn't believe
I got out of my car. The house was big and white, a perfectly symmetrical
colonial with black-shuttered windows and an iron eagle on the black front
door. I hadn't been over since the accident, but the yard was as tidy
as ever, the lawn so well trimmed I couldn't help thinking of something
Mike liked to say, that his father came outside every morning and greeted
each blade of grass by name. I thought of Mr. Mayer mowing, the smell
of grass everywhere while he tried not to wonder if Mike would survive,
and my stomach tilted with panic.
Mrs. Mayer opened the door. "Hi," she said with a smile. "I'm glad you're
I tried to smile back. At the hospital it had been hard to look at her
wrecked face, but this was almost worse: she was pale and drained, as
if she'd finally run out of tears.
"Let's go into the kitchen, shall we, dear?"
I followed her through the large, old rooms: past couches where Mike and
I had sat together, tables where I'd casually piled my schoolbooks. It
was my house, too, in a way.
The air conditioning was blowing hard, and when we got to the kitchen
Mrs. Mayer said she'd make tea. I sat at the big oak table while she filled
her kettle and got tea bags from a glass jar painted with hearts.
"Mr. Mayer can't get comfortable this summer," she said. "I try to keep
the house cool, but every evening he comes in and complains it's stifling.
It's colder than the hospital, don't you think?" She pulled her sweater
close, a bouclé cardigan she was wearing over a flowered shirtwaist
dress, its "self-belt" knotted in the front. It was the kind of ageless,
styleless dress she always wore, the very kind of thing I'd first liked
about her, that she was happy to look like a mom.
"It is chilly," I said.
The kettle whistled and she poured from it, then brought our cups to the
table. "Let me get you your lemon." She crossed to the refrigerator and
took one out, then cut it into wedges. She spread them on a flowered saucer
and set them before me. "Would you like a bun? We've been given so much
food I don't know what to do with it all."
"Actually, I'm OK."
She pulled out the chair opposite me and sat down. She ran her hand over
her hair, and I noticed that her perm had grown out, and gray roots were
visible along the part line. She blew on her tea and cleared her throat.
"Are you going today?"
I picked up my cup. I thought about trying to explain about yesterday---about
the two-week marker, about how our reaching that point had scared me---but
I knew she was aware of it, too; and scared, too; and that she'd gone
anyway. I blew on my tea and took a sip, the lemon in it tart and satisfying.
"Having visitors means a lot to him."
I met her glance and then looked away. Nothing meant anything to him,
that was the problem, the tragedy---that and the fact that his spinal
cord had suffered an injury that could leave him paralyzed for life, quadriplegic.
Thinking that way, though, that my visiting would mean nothing, made me
feel churlish, a dweller on the bad side.
She was staring at me, her still-young face lined with concern. Of
course I'll go, I wanted to say. I wanted to take my thumbs and run
them over her forehead and cheeks. When I spoke, though, I sounded distant,
even to myself. I said, "I have to work, but I'll go afterward."
She nodded, then reached across the table and took hold of my left hand.
She touched the tiny diamond on my ring finger. "Michael was so happy
the day he bought this, it was like something he'd made at school, he
was so proud. Julie made a remark, about how it wasn't that big or something,
and his face just fell. He got that hangdog look on his face and he said
to me, " 'Mom, do you think Carrie'll like it?' " She let go of my
hand. " " 'Do you think Carrie'll like it?' He loves you very much,
I looked away from her. "I know."
We drank our tea silently. After a while I told her I wanted to go up
to his room, and I climbed the stairs and turned down the hall, going
past framed photographs of all three Mayer kids, school pictures mixed
in with casual shots, two or three of Mike in hockey gear, his helmet
off so you could see his wide grin.
At his door I hesitated, then went in. There was a musty, unused smell,
and I wondered, with the air conditioning going so strong, if his windows
had been opened at all since the accident. I crossed to the bed and sat
down, running my fingers up and down the ribbed blue bedspread. On his
bedside table there was a picture of me from high school graduation, and
I picked it up and looked at it. It was a familiar picture, but the girl
in it seemed only tenuously connected to who I was now. Her hair was up
in a way I never wore my hair anymore, and she wore more eyeliner than
I'd had on in ages, but mostly she looked sure of herself, sure she'd
stay on Mike's bedside table for years and years and be happy about it.
Mike had never left home, and his room bore traces of all the different
stages of him I'd known: trophies next to textbooks next to the briefcase
he'd begun carrying the year before, when he started working. He had a
job in new accounts at a bank near the Capitol, and as I looked around
I thought of how he'd been talking lately of finally moving out, saying
that since he was making good money he should get an apartment, teach
himself domestic life so he wouldn't sabotage our marriage. Three or four
times he'd said it, and I'd never responded. It killed me to think of
it now: Mike trolling for something---just Good idea or No,
better keep saving your money---and how I gave him nothing. Not even
a wedding date: I deflected that question, too. Later, I kept thinking.
Next year, the year after. Or I tried not to think about it at
I set the picture back on the bedside table, on the precise spot where
it always stood. Then I lifted Mike's pillow to my face and breathed in
his smell, a mixture of Dial and Right Guard and a clothes-and-body smell
that was simply him.
I worked at the university library, where I'd had a work-study job while
I was a student; when I graduated they offered me thirty-five hours a
week, and so I stayed on. I could take or leave the job, but I liked being
on campus: walking to the Union on breaks, heading up State Street to
window-shop. My job was in the rare books room, where the only staff member
close to my age was a graduate student named Viktor, from Poland. He was
at the desk when I arrived, and I could tell right away he was in a good
"Carrie, Carrie, come here." He motioned me over with a boisterous wave
of his arm. Although he was sitting and I was standing, he seemed to loom
over me: he was without doubt the biggest person I'd ever known, six-six
with broad, beefy shoulders and a thick slab of a torso. When I first
told him about Mike's accident, he grabbed me and hugged me so hard I
nearly lost my breath.
Today he said, "This morning I am telling Ania that we must be more social.
In Slavic studies we have parties, but they are too Slavic. You can come
for dinner when?"
I glanced around. Viktor's library voice conceded nothing to the place,
and several people stared at us from the long tables where they sat working,
apparently waiting to hear if I'd accept. Dinner at Viktor's. This was
a first, and I wondered how much it had to do with Mike's being in the
hospital, and whether or not, given that Mike was in the hospital, I should
go. I was about to make an excuse when a door at the back of the room
opened, and the neat, prim head of our boss, Miss Grafton, poked out.
"Oops," I said quietly, but Viktor put on a big smile and waved genially
at her, and after a moment her head withdrew and she closed the door.
"She loves me," he said matter-of-factly, his voice only a little lower
now. "I am tall, strong, good-looking. She sees me and thinks of the agony
of her dry, sexless life, but she is happy for a moment because I remind
her of when it wasn't so."
"Viktor," I said.
"You don't think this is true?"
"It's just you're so modest."
He ran a hand over his bristly jaw. "I am shaving every two days now for
my new look." He took my hand and made me feel his chin. "Yes, I think
you like it."
I laughed. Mike loved my Viktor stories, and I thought of how funny he'd
think this one was, then remembered I couldn't tell him. A feeling of
something heavy moved through me, like sand falling through water. I looked
"Let's say a week from Saturday," he said. "We are cooking Tex-Mex. Ania
is a fabulous cook, you know."
"I don't know, I-"
"Not 'I don't know,' " he said. "Yes. Yes!"
He smiled triumphantly, deep lines appearing in his stubbly cheeks. He
was twenty-eight but looked older.
I moved away, ready to get to work, and he called my name.
"Viktor," I said, turning back wearily. "Miss Grafton's going to-"
"You have to relax a little, Carrie." He lifted both hands and shook his
head mournfully. "We talk and we do our work, and it is not a problem."
I rolled my eyes.
"Anyway, I am just giving you a message."
He handed me a piece of paper, and I walked a few paces away and slipped
between a pair of tall bookcases. In his big, blocky capitals it said,
jamie. 10:30. can take lunch any time between 12 and 3 if you call by
11:45. please call. says hi. Sighing, I folded the note and put it in
my pocket. Jamie worked in a copy shop three blocks away, and we sometimes
met for lunch if our hours were right. The past few months I'd mostly
been telling her they weren't, that I'd been given a late lunch or none
at all, but recently, since the accident, she'd been pushing it, leaving
messages like this one, calling at work just to say "Hi, are you OK?"
I knew she was worried about me, and I felt grateful for that, or if not
grateful, at least touched. I looked at my watch: 11:35. At the very least
I should call to say no, but it would be so much easier not to call, to
pretend I hadn't gotten the message in time. I touched my pocket and felt
the note in there, the faint outline of it. Then I went and found a cart
of books to shelve. Since the accident I could get away with more, which
The hospital was like a city, with distinct neighborhoods and commercial
areas, and corridors inside like long, long streets. When I arrived that
evening I sat in one of the lobbies for a few minutes, trying to get myself
ready to go up. A farm family stood conferring near me, the men in poly-blend
short-sleeved shirts that showed their brown arms and their creased, dark-red
necks. Across the way, a very old woman in a wheelchair had been left
by herself near a drinking fountain, a crocheted shawl over her hospital-issue
gown. Mike and I had passed through this very lobby a couple years ago,
when his grandfather was dying of lung cancer: his uncle Dick was too
jumpy to sit for a meal, so we were searching for a box of Whoppers for
him, the one thing he felt like eating. We finally found them in a gift
shop just down the hall, and Mike opened them on the way back so we could
each have one. Sitting there two years later, I could almost conjure up
the taste of the malt on my tongue, how it burned a little next to the
sweet, artificial chocolate.
I wondered: Would he look any different after a day away? Would it be
any easier to see how he did look, beached on that strange bed? I hoped
he'd be on his back. Seeing him on his stomach, his face framed by a cushioned
oval and directed at the floor, was the hardest thing.
I happened to glance at the revolving doors just then, and there was Rooster,
coming in, still in his suit. I stood up immediately. He was like Mrs.
Mayer, full of hope, and I knew he'd disapprove of my just sitting there,
of anything that smelled of pessimism. He put in his hours at the hospital
as if they could accumulate to some good, to Mike's recovery.
He didn't see me, and I watched as he caught a glimpse of himself in a
mirror and paused to make an adjustment to his tie. I couldn't help smiling:
it was still funny to see him in a suit, maybe because he took the image
so seriously himself. "The customers want you to look better than they
do," he told me once. "It's a psychological thing." For a year he'd been
working on the sales floor of a Honda dealership down on the Beltline.
He referred to cars as units now, even to those of us who could remember
when he'd thought of them as wheels.
I crossed the lobby and met him near the information desk. He looked at
me oddly for just a moment after we'd said hi, and I wondered if he knew
about my absence the day before, if Mrs. Mayer had told him.
We rode the elevator up to Intensive Care, where it was always quiet and
a little dim. Several nurses sat inside the central workstation, speaking
in low voices or going over charts. Surrounding them were the patient
rooms, a circle of cubicles with open doors flanked by big plate-glass
windows, so the nurses could see inside no matter where in the unit they
happened to be. I could hear the even beeps of heart monitors, the deep
whooshing sounds of ventilators. Opposite Mike's room a cubicle sat empty,
and I tried to remember who'd occupied it two days earlier. An old lady,
I thought. Had she stabilized and moved on? Or died and been moved out?
Rooster stopped to talk to one of the nurses, and I stopped with him.
She was twenty-nine or thirty, blond, beautiful in an icy, Nordic way.
Impossible, in other words, which was just his type. I stood behind him,
smiling a little whenever she looked my way. The nurses knew who each
of us was. Rooster was the best friend. I was the fiancé. They'd
all made a point of asking to see my ring.
Mike was on his back, and I relaxed a little at the sight of him.
It wasn't any harder to see than it had been two days ago, a completely
familiar body now ministered to by machines. The only thing covering him
was a small cloth draped over his crotch, and the rest of him looked pale
"Hi, Mike," Rooster said. "It's me, bud. I'm here with Carrie." He looked
at me and waited, then lifted his chin a bit to urge me to speak. The
nurses and doctors had encouraged us to talk to Mike, but it made me feel
uncomfortable, as if I were speaking into a tape recorder. I stayed silent.
"It's June 14th," Rooster continued after a moment. "Seven-twenty p.m.
I came straight from work to see you, bud." He took a piece of paper from
his pocket. "Sold a Civic to a guy with a doozer of a name today. OK.
This guy's a dentist, right? Moler. Dr. Richard Moler. I said to myself,
That's one for the collection. That's one I gotta remember to tell Mikey."
For as long as I'd known them, Mike and Rooster had had a theory about
names. Larry Speakes, the former White House spokesman. A chiropractor
in the phonebook, Dr. Clinch. Driving through Menominee on their way back
from a camping trip one summer, they saw a plaque on a building: Dr. Bonebrake,
Orthopedist. Coincidence? Absolutely not, was their attitude. Their favorite
was Rooster's freshman advisor at Madison Area Technical College, Mr.
Tittman, who Rooster was willing to swear wore a bra.
Rooster folded up the piece of paper and put it back in his pocket. "You
never know," he said with a shrug.
I took a few steps closer. With Rooster out of my vision, it was possible
to imagine Mike and I were alone. I didn't want to speak out loud, but
that didn't mean I couldn't talk to him. I looked at his face, at the
shallow cleft of his chin and at his thin, pale lips. I covered his hand
with mine and told him not to worry. I'm here, I told him. I'm
here, I'm here.
At the elevators we ran into Mike's family, making their nightly trip
back in to tell him goodnight. Mrs. Mayer was plainly relieved to see
me, and even Mr. Mayer looked at me for an extra moment and nodded, as
if tucking away for future analysis the knowledge that I was here now
but hadn't been last night.
Rooster said he had to go, but I felt I should stay. I headed back to
the lounge with them and waited while two by two they visited Mike's room.
Then the five of us were all in the lounge together, and although there
was no reason to stay, none of us made a move to leave. It was nearly
eight, the end of a long day, and the smell of burned coffee drifted from
the back corner of the room. I knew just what I'd see if I went over there:
dirty coffeemaker surrounded by spilled grounds, empty blue and pink sweetener
envelopes lying everywhere, carton of milk souring nearby.
"Have you seen the doctors today?"
I looked up and found Julie watching me. She was nineteen and just home
from her first year of college; she wore a long print skirt and dangling
silver earrings, and she smelled faintly of patchouli. I shook my head.
"I mean it, Mom," she said. "We can't just sit around on our asses and
expect them to keep us completely up-to-date. We have to be active participants."
Mrs. Mayer cast me a sad smile.
"Jesus," Julie cried, and she got up and ran from the lounge.
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Mayer said.
"I'll go," Mr. Mayer said, but he didn't move.
I glanced at John Junior. He was sixteen and heartbreaking, with wavy
brown hair and gray eyes---Mike's hair and eyes---and the exact body Mike
had had six years earlier, muscular but still narrow-waisted. I saw John
and his friends at the Union sometimes, asking people with IDs to buy
them beer at the Rat.
"How are you, John?" I said now.
"Fine." His voice was husky-I thought he was trying not to cry.
"How's the job?"
"OK. Stop by sometime, I'll scoop you a free one."
"Maybe I will."
The weekend before the accident he'd been hired at an ice cream parlor
on State Street. I was at the Mayers' when he came in with the news, and
quick as anything Mike said, "Perfect, bring me home a pint of butter
pecan every night or I'll have your ass." Without missing a beat John
said, "If you eat a pint of butter pecan every night no one'll
have your ass," and Mike loved that---he told everyone about it
for days afterward.
I looked at Mr. Mayer: at his tanned, balding head, at his hazel eyes
filmy behind thick glasses. He'd left his coat and tie at home, but he
still wore his pressed white shirt, his navy trousers, and his shiny black
lace-ups. The orange couch he sat on was too low for him, and as he shifted,
swinging his knees from left to right and bringing his arms closer to
his body, I was suddenly certain he was about to make a pronouncement.
I stood up. He'd become ministerial in his speech since the accident,
one day delivering sermons about hope and patience and the next lecturing
us on the spinal cord and its function. I liked him, but I couldn't listen---it
made me too jittery.
"I guess I better go," I said.
The three of them said goodbye, and I felt them watch me as I left the
lounge. I wondered how long they'd sit there before they went home.
At the elevators I found Julie, her arms crossed over her chest: her cheeks
were flushed, her eyes brimming with tears. She pushed her hair away from
her face. "I don't want to hear it, Carrie, OK?"
I was taken aback. "I wasn't going to say anything."
"My mother's an idiot. I can't believe I never figured that out until
I was nineteen."
"Better late than never."
She half smiled but then quickly shook her head, as if she didn't want
to be derailed. "Do you know what she was doing when I got home this afternoon?
Ironing tablecloths. Do you know when the last time we used a tablecloth
was? Christmas! Do you know when the next time will be? Thanksgiving!"
"She has to do something," I said.
"Then why doesn't she do something about Mike?" Julie cried. Then she
burst into tears. "Because there's nothing to do," she sobbed. "There's
nothing to do."
I put my arms around her and pulled her close. Why hadn't I cried? Why
couldn't I? I felt stony. I ran a hand down her hair and felt her shoulder
blades, how bony and angular they were.
She palmed her face, wiped her hand on her skirt, then looked up at me.
"Why couldn't it have been Rooster?" she whispered fiercely.
As if it had to have been someone: I'd thought the same horrible thing.
"I don't know," I said to her. "I really don't."
Rooster was still in the lobby when I got there, standing near the exit,
talking to the same blond nurse. Her hair was down now, a sweep of pale
waves, and she carried a shoulder bag. After a moment he looked up and
saw me, then motioned for me to join them.
"Have you guys actually met?" he said. "Carrie, this is Joan. She's from
Oconomowoc, believe it or not."
I nodded: his parents were both from Oconomowoc; it was where he went
"You know who Carrie is."
Joan smiled at me. She was taller than I'd realized, nearly six feet,
with clear, fair skin and extraordinary pale blue eyes. "I'm sure sorry
about Mike," she said.
"It's way too soon to give up hope, though."
"Exactly," Rooster said.
Joan headed for the exit, and I watched Rooster watching her, his eyes
on her even once she was out the door and heading into the parking lot.
"Nice," he said at last.
"Nice what?" I was used to his ways. Nice legs. Nice ass.
He put his hand on my shoulder, and after a moment we started toward the
door together. It was muggy and hot outside, the sky a glaring white.
Heat blew toward us from the parking lot, thick and exhaust-tinged.
"Let's go for a drink."
I glanced up and found him watching me closely, face flushed, red hair
damp at the hairline. I looked away. "I don't really feel like it."
He stopped walking and put his hands on his hips. "Come on, Carrie, be
a friend for once, OK? One beer, I promise. We'll go somewhere quiet."
"For once? Why did you say for once?" My eyes burned a little, and I thought
it would be incredible if this were what finally made me cry.
"I didn't mean it like that."
"How did you mean it?"
He rolled his eyes. An impatient look came over his face, and he stared
out at the sea of cars baking in the late sun. Finally he looked back
at me. "I didn't mean it at all, OK?"
I sighed. Rooster always got his way eventually, through sheer force of
will. I could go on resisting, but what was the point? "All right," I
said, "one beer."
We drove separately, then met up in front of the University Bookstore.
While we were standing there trying to decide where to go, we ran into
Stu, who talked us into the Union terrace. Rooster stood in line for beer
while Stu and I got a table. Lake Mendota was a rippled silver, like a
vast piece of silk spread out but not yet smoothed. I remembered the morning,
how both lakes had disappointed me, and I decided they'd been tainted:
by my failure to visit Mike the day before.
"Earth to Carrie," Stu said.
Rooster had arrived with the beer. I reached for my mug and took a sip.
Stu leaned forward. "How are you doing?"
I lifted my hand off the table and rocked it back and forth.
"And the Mayers?"
© 2002 Ann Packer