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Post Road Magazine #32

Hang It on the Limb

Colin Fleming

After my career rimrocked and my wife left me for my brother, I spent the majority of the last three years of my thirties getting drunk starting at five in the afternoon, ceding the final few of those one thousand days to becoming sober and falling in love with a twenty-two-year old violinist who quoted Tolstoy and whose first words to me were, "I am Rebecca Buford-Hayes, and I fuck."

Getting rimrocked is what happens when you're hiking and you descend a ledge and find yourself on an outcrop of stone from which you can't go down, and you can't get back up to from where you came. I was stupid enough to try and earn my bread and cheese by writing alone, which meant sending out twenty thousand words' worth of pitches a week so I could get someone to pay me $250 to write on Cubist sculpture one day, someone else $100 to write on P.G. Wodehouse the next.

This meant coming around a lot, and when you come around a lot, people get sick of you, and you find yourself on that outcrop. My wife leaving with my brother was no real surprise, because we both knew that one of us—and probably her, because I was too much of a romantic loyalist—would be setting off with someone, and our marriage was such that after a point we were just marking time. My brother and I didn't have any closeness, or any ire for each other. I think he probably thought I thought of it as a favor to get my ass in gear with the next phase of my life. My brother is also kind of an idiot.

I was living in Danbury, Connecticut, in the shadow of the Danbury Fair Mall, which is notable simply because there's this big carousel in it, and some days I'd bring my laptop, get a fish sandwich in the food courtyard, and sit in the same carousel booth with carved, buttery-pink pigs on each side, and go round and round, dicking about with online dating sites. And that's how I met Rebecca. Or, as I called her, Bex.

She was a student at Oberlin, the school's violin concertmaster and a creative writing major, with some risque photos at the top of her profile I might have found titillating, had my focus not been centered on the scared looking creature who seemed so out of her element at the center of them.

My eyes moved to hers, which even in a blurry photo appeared to move and scan about. But then again, there she was in a bikini in one shot by some sickly looking creek, lying down in her underwear with her ass in the air in another, and this being a dating site, I figured maybe I'd be what for me was flirty and call some attention to this, but with a periodic sentence or two mixed in.

She wrote of sex and how freely she had it, but also of Russian literature, and there were words like "disconsolate," "peripatetic," and "nonplussed." While I had maybe not learned a ton in this world up until that point, I knew that it was about once every two or three years I met someone who truly interested me, who got me to think and feel and buzz alive with emotion and knowledge, and when I did, I didn't care if they were seventy or twenty.

I sent some lame note asking who she was and what she did, besides exhibiting a disdain for clothes when in the proximity of addled streams, and I got the "I fuck" line. Which was amended with "I also write, I read deep into the night when everyone is asleep, I wonder what greater purpose I can find in my life, and I fight to be less alone, often with others, but more painfully with myself. What is it you do?"

I get gobsmacked by a girl like this, apparently, is what I do.

Our first phone conversation lasted for eleven hours, and I had never felt adrenaline pump through me like that. We'd go from talking about the architecture of bridges to Bach cantatas to how we both loved the Rudolph Animagic Christmas special, that 1960s one, and how she was coming east, to Greenwich, to study with some violin master over the January break. And so she did, and it was like the universe was giving us a little push together.

She'd take her lessons in the morning, and then I'd drive out to those mannered streets, pick her up, and we'd spend the day at my rat's nest of an apartment, where I'd write, she'd play, and we'd lose ourselves in ourselves for hours in the bed.

And then she'd go quiet for hours, sometimes while I held her, and cry as quietly as I imagine it is possible to cry, and I would look into eyes that, even as they radiated so much life, appeared so cold, like something you'd pop out and stick on a snowman you'd made when you were a kid, eyes replete with that special make of sadness that never gains expression in words, but only in the expression cast back by the person who loves that particular individual.

"Do you know what my favorite part in Rudolph is?" she asked me after she had just defeated me in our first ever game of all-naked Battleship.

"When the snowman Burl Ives guy does the 'have a holly jolly Christmas' bit?"

"No, Oliver. It's at the start, when Rudolph is asking out the girl reindeer Clarice after everyone has made fun of him, and she says, 'I'll walk with you.' And what that means. Someone to walk with you. 'Take my hand and walk with me.' I don't know if there's anything rarer than really walking with someone. That kind of walking."

She was the only person who called me Oliver. To everyone else I was Olly. Not the same spelling as Ollie Hardy, from Laurel and Hardy, so I was almost always mis-billed as Ollie Redgole in the articles I published. But I liked that Bex—and I always called her Bex, because she said no one else did—called me something no one else did because I knew we weren't like anyone else. And Bex and Oliver, Oliver and Bex, had a oneness for me, a blendedness sans seams. This is a horrible way of putting it, but a frothing gash in her arm would have no more grossed me out than one in mine. And I had never felt that way before.

I was on assignment up in Boston for a Red Sox story when it came time for Bex to go back to Oberlin. She asked to meet my mother, who lived in Enfield, so a meeting was brokered in a tea room that used to be a HoJo's. My sister had died of a heroin overdose that past summer, and with that and the whole brother-taking-other-brother's-wife fiasco, we were pretty Addams Family at that point.

Knowing my mom, it didn't surprise me to learn, later, that she asked Bex not to hurt her son. Nor did it shock me, exactly, to learn that before that, Bex had sat in front of her, over their scones, and said, calmly, but with those eyes leaping about in their way of hers, that she loved her son. There was a reference to really walking with someone, and hands being taken, which my mother did not understand, but I did.

Three days later, Bex was back at Oberlin, I had booked my first trip out there for three weeks hence, the Red Sox piece was filed, and I was replaying a voicemail that said, "I am sorry, so sorry, so sorry, but I just can't do this, I can't do this with us."

I had a bottle of Ardbeg in the kitchen. I left the bottle of Ardbeg in the kitchen. And I wrote. For most of a month. I just was so certain. I had no exact reasons to be so certain. But that's when you tend to know the most. Which is what my late father would have called the bitch of it.

"What's the 'it' refer to?" I asked him the first time he said his line, which he repurposed frequently.

"Why, life, of course."

He had a point there.

***

When some aspect of my life goes belly-up, I write. It's what I've done since I was in third grade and maybe kickball hadn't worked out as I had hoped at recess, and I wrote Bex every day, without response. I didn't feel like a doormat, though I understand how I looked like one. But if I believe in something, I'll go for it, appearances be damned.

She finally replied after a week and a half with a letter replete with rococo young person laments interwoven amongst the news of how she spent her mornings drinking, sometimes passing out as her forearms bled from cutting herself, hoping she wouldn't wake up.

No one knew, she said. Not her friends, no one in her Durham-based family, including her psychiatrist mother who worked at Duke treating PTSD war vets, nor her father, whom I had reason to know of.

He was powerful enough in the world of fiction that his name, Clifton Hayes, did not feature on anyone's masthead, but if you were in the business deep enough, as even a rimrocker like myself was, you knew he harvested a lot of the stories that featured in the high circulation venues. He was rumored to be capricious to the point of rejecting a Pulitzer winner's story because of the thickness of the paper it came in on, and prone to intense editorial tete-a-tetes that left ostensibly unflappable writers reduced to slobbering messes who couldn't function for a couple weeks.

But I didn't care about that. I saw someone who needed help, whom I thought I knew better than other people did. She wrote that being with me was like having your feet bound and then let free, and the freedom was too much, the light I gave too bright—she tended to mix her metaphors—our prospective joint exponential curve too limitless, so that she needed the twine to cut back into flesh again, because that's what she knew.

Silence resumed until she phoned me in the middle of the night, and said all she needed to say to get me to depart, as I was scheduled to, for Cleveland.

"Oliver."

"Hey, Bex."

"Will you…"

"Yeah."

"Take a…"

"You know I will."

She had housemates who wanted no part of someone my age staying with them, even if I could pass for twenty-five back then. I took up residence in a motel called The Berm, named, I suppose, because of its sloped roof.

She told me she'd done something with her birth control pill to make sure she was menstruating when I was there, and we were like something out of a D.H. Lawrence novel, taking our physical connection back to a time when that portion of the country was nothing but grassy rolling fields and the beasts copulating in them, but with our ever-burgeoning streak of tenderness cutting through the caked on dirt.

We raced around to a concert of Chopin nocturnes, to the art museum, to the library, where we'd pull down books and show each other our favorite passages before reaching for each other in a dimly-lit alcove.

After a few days, the bed sheet back at The Berm—for she had asked that the maid not change it—looked like a Motherwell canvas, but we'd sit atop it and watch films on her computer, like my favorite, Scrooge from 1951, which caused her to laugh in parts that had taken me several screenings to get, and a relic called I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang from 1932 that she really liked.

Paul Muni's character is wrongfully convicted, ends up breaking rocks on that aforesaid chain gang, can't get free, that kind of movie. But her favorite thing was what someone would say when they were going to do something legitimately brave, like make a burst for freedom as the bullets were about to fly.

"What are you going do?" an old convict would ask Muni, and Muni, mentally calculating the dim chances of escape, would nonetheless respond with, "I think I'm going to hang it on the limb." Then he'd make his break for it, bang bang, pop pop.

We started saying it to each other. At this awful bar adjoined to The Berm that had all of six stools in it, over warm beers, she asked me what I felt about marriage, and in thirty seconds time it was a case of "should we hang it on the limb?" You can be engaged for years, I figured, and I knew this was the person I wanted to be with. So we agreed. Done deal.

I was supposed to go back to Connecticut the following morning, and she was heading to Durham for a long weekend. But I didn't leave The Berm for another few days as I holed up in my t-shirt and boxers, agonizing over what to do next. She had texted me from the airport in North Carolina. She was really there, she said, for a battery of tests with a team of mental health providers assembled by her mother. She felt like she was barely hanging on. She had need of the binding. That's how she put it. But she believed, ultimately, we'd always be together. Maybe starting in five years. Maybe ten. But at some point.

I wanted to feel differently than I did about her, but I didn't. Like I said, you just know. That doesn't mean it works out. You can have the best team in the league and if the manager shoots every player in the ass, you're not taking the pennant.

I decided to do what that guy on the lam in the old TV show The Fugitive does and head out West, doing odd jobs to pay for my keep as I went, hopefully making my way to Alaska, where I wanted to find work crab fishing, as that seemed the closest you could get to a dangerous job like whaling in the twenty-first century, and I aimed to pull a Melville and light out.

I wasn't an easy man to find, with my increasingly scattershot jobs, like working on controlled burns, but Bex's parents tracked me down with a letter in Normal, Illinois, where I was bartending at a jazz club. Rebecca had kept a journal, they said. I was the focus of a lot of it. They wanted me to come and talk at a ceremony they wished to give for her, because "she is no longer with us and our daughter loved you."

Full stop.

I cried like you cry when you feel like you won't get to die if you don't, and you want to expire then and there, so you howl.

And then I made like Robert Johnson and caught a Greyhound bus—well, Peter Pan, anyway—and rode.

I was in Durham by the middle of the next day, thinking how well the overly-bright flowers of the North Carolina spring could function as set dressing for the hell playing out in my mind.

***

I started off back in another motel, The High Flyer, with a distinct nautical theme—fishing nets were tacked up everywhere—despite being miles from the coast. I had some notes I had written out to present to Bex's parents, as I figured they'd want to vet what I had to say. I called a cab and made my way to the yellow Georgian house that this person whom I loved, whom I'd never know again, grew up in. The woman I assumed was the cleaning lady—she was Latino, wearing sweats, and toting a vacuum around—let me in, and pointed to a study that had a strangely narrow door, like you'd have to turn sideways to get through it without grazing anything. I did just that, and entered a huge room that must have held a couple thousand books in shelf after shelf that went to the ceiling. The room flowed into another, where there were more books, and Bex's parents waiting for me.

Her mother was mousy, like those people I'd met at the few publishing conferences I had ever gone to. She thanked me for coming without looking me in the eye, and her handshake was so light as to make you think you were making the acquaintance of a spirit.

Clifton Buford was short, but he looked maybe thirty, though he must have been in his late forties. He was absolutely ripped with muscles, with this Charles Atlas look going on, and it seemed like he'd be more comfortable in a loin cloth with some barbells at his side than the suit he was wearing.

"I know your work well. There are opportunities for someone like you. I've read you for years. You command prose well."

I was a little taken aback.

"That's…wow…I mean, thanks. I didn't think anyone…I figured no one reads any of it. Just a paycheck, you know?"

As I looked around the room, they did, too, with that paycheck line hanging in the air. They were somber but not sad—austere, I'd say, rather than engulfed in grief. He appeared to want to get down to business, and his wife simply looked like she wished to be alone. Maybe reading, maybe shopping. But not here. I decided to hasten everything along and take the lead. I don't know why. I wasn't nervous. But I missed Bex, and being here made me want to learn things about her I never got to—what her first job was, if she was scared her first day of middle school, what was her favorite Christmas—such that I wanted to leave, and I wanted to take a drink, a lot of drinks. Or write, anyway.

I pulled out my little speech from my pocket, said something about here's what I've prepared, and the look in their faces told me that this wasn't for some funeral or anything. He put his hand on my shoulder in this sort of forced way, like when you're trying to make a point and you want an additional human component, and said they wanted my recollections of their daughter. Nothing more.

You can be way wrong, of course, but sometimes you have this overpowering sense that something is up, and I had that feeling now. I was about to say that I was confused, I was under the impression that such and such had happened, and I felt my heart all but roll in my chest, as a girl entered the room, from back where the narrow door was. For a second I thought she was Bex—she was also six foot tall, same light red hair, like it was flecked with sand and traces of thinly sliced garnet, and also didn't shave under her arms—save that the eyes were different.

These were of a darker color than Bex's hazel, more of a deep walnut shade, but they moved with the same celerity, and even as my heart pounded, my mind at least was able to step into the breach and flash out to me, as though utilizing Morse code, that this was Emily, Bex's older sister by fifteen months, a musician as well. A flautist, to be precise.

I must have looked a mess, because Clifton stood up at that point and stuck his hand out, a sure dismissal, and Emily put her head down and shook it, barely, but shook it still, one of those head shakes that are the visual representation of a sigh. I said my thanks yous, wished them all the best, and fled—there's no other word for it—back to The High Flyer.

I was sitting in my room three hours later, still freaking out, heartbroken and confused, trying to calm myself by doing on a Google search on just what the hell a high flyer was—the buoy part of a lobster trap, as it turns out—when someone knocked at the door, and I reprised the heart roll bit, as Emily asked if she could come in, after I had again mistaken her for Bex.

And that is how that started.

***

I stayed at The High Flyer for a month and a half. At first, Emily would come by, and we'd just talk. Never about Bex.

She was calmer, more of an assuring presence, but she always had a thermos on her that was filled with her dad's Balvenie Doublewood Scotch. I wondered if that accounted for her placidity, or if it was something she turned to with her sister being gone. And, I confess, I felt like I was keeping something going that didn't exist anymore. When you want a relationship so bad, and there's no way you can have it, you can fall into the trap of taking the most tenuous variation of what remains, and I was doing that. At the same time, I felt at my ease with this person, and I was not someone, in a long time, who had known any amount of ease.

She'd play for me, and she was good enough that it could have been her career, but it wasn't, she said, what she wanted to do.

"Well, what then?"

"I write poems."

"I know you write poems. I read thirty of them last night that you'd given me."

"I didn't say I wanted to be a poet. Can you even be a poet?"

"Can't really be your job."

"I don't want to be here. There's that. Not here with you, I don't mean. I guess what I want is to contribute to something that makes me bigger than I am on my own, but which would always be a lot bigger than me in anything else I might do. It's like when you're a kid, and another kid tells you if you go out in the backyard and keep digging, you can make it all the way to the center of the earth. There's no logical reason you can't, you think, when you're a kid, but you're scared that maybe you'll get too ambitious, too effective, too committed to that cause, that you'll get to the center of the earth and it will come out and overrun things and that won't be good for anyone, or else the center of the earth will swallow you up, and you'll lose yourself. But I want to find something that swallows me up in a good way and that's how I find myself and everything I might be."

She'd talk like that, after a few weeks, when I was inside of her, not having left town and made The High Flyer my base of operations as I got back to writing professionally. I guess someone might say this was all pretty necromantic on my part, but after our first few times hanging out, which meant grabbing coffee at a Starbucks, and then taking a trip to hike the Appalachians, which I knew Bex had loved, Emily didn't feel like anyone but Emily, even if she looked like someone I had been certain I was going to be with. The first time she undressed in front of me I was relieved to see that her pubic hair grew to her thighs, unlike Bex, who didn't have any save a tuft atop her labia. She didn't cut herself, but she drank more than I would have believed possible without passing out, and it didn't even alter her speech. She drove, too, after drinking like that, despite me begging her not to.

"It doesn't affect me," she'd say.

"Then why do it?" I'd counter.

"Because this is here, and I'm not somewhere else. Now hold me, Olly."

I would, and she wouldn't cry like Bex did, and even though emotions lit up her eyes as if tropical storms were playing out inside of them, I never saw her cry. Save for me. Because at night, I'd sometimes get up and go to window and I'd wonder what the hell I was doing, and why I was okay with it feeling so okay when I had known with certainty, just a few months before, who my person, so to speak, was, and now here I was, and I was no less certain that I had everything correctly figured out before, and this person was not that person, but rather the instigator of different feelings that were less extreme and galvanic, maybe, but which fluttered through me more broadly, and didn't so much speak to what was, as to what would be. An unfurling. And I'd never been an unfurling kind of guy. I wasn't good at letting processes play out.

I had an assignment that took me up to Harvard to do a piece on film conservation techniques at the Brattle Theatre. Emily was supposed to come back for our last night before I left, but she didn't show, which was not at all like her. I didn't want to nag, but she was someone—and how could I not, after everything—I worried about and for whom I wished I could make my arm turn into some giant protective curtain I could put around her to shield her from anything that might cause pain, so I asked, over a text, if she was okay, and got back: "Yes, have a good trip, be safe, talk when you get back, Love E."

You'd think I was going on safari rather than to Harvard Square. I was only supposed to be in Boston for that weekend, but there was flooding at the Brattle, and that meant my stay got extended over a week as I waited on the conservation people to clean up everything.

I killed time as I always liked to in Boston by going to the symphony. One of my favorite things in Sherlock Holmes stories is how Holmes would always delight in drifting off to what he called violin land, and I had always been the same. I recall noting that it was strange, maybe, that I could go to a Handel and Haydn Society performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion after everything with Bex, but I kept reminding myself I'd done nothing wrong, and no matter how much you care about someone, no matter what you'd do for them, nothing stops life from going on, and life doesn't get delayed by what you might be going through. You have to start marching again in time to it. Or you'll get trampled.

That's the rhetoric I was plying myself with as I sat in Symphony Hall, and my eye caught the eye of a back row violinist who made me think my imagination was doing that same thing it did after my wife left with my brother, when I'd go to some spot I didn't normally go to, and think I had just seen her leaving as I came in. I was crossing a bridge over the Mystic River one time and I could have sworn I saw her going the other way, such that I turned around and followed an individual who was just some random, similarly tall woman who looked terrified as I came upon her all wide-eyed, expecting to see my wife.

I tried to banish the thought from my head, but I kept attending performances over that week, and after the fourth one, there was no way I was not going backstage following the final round of applause, even if I had to force my way in.

I didn't have to. You just had to go through a door that said an alarm would sound—one didn't—and up a few stairs, and I knew, by then, what I'd find. I knew it'd be her. I knew because I guess I knew her. I knew her as someone I loved who wasn't as alive as she wanted to be. And I know when you're not as alive as you want to be, maybe you rig things so that you can get that infusion of life you need, or maybe you dig to the center of the earth and hope you get to be what you have it in you to be because you had the courage to get swallowed up by something.

"Does Emily know?" was the first thing I asked as she stood in front of me, violin bow in hand, shaking, and starting to cry.

"Emily knows. Everyone knows. I wanted to write something."

"You wanted to write something? What the fuck does that mean?"

"Something good. And something to you. I knew you wouldn't come if it were anything else. And I knew I couldn't be with you. And I wanted to know if you'd come. Because I thought some time, at some point, later…and my family is fucked up as it is, and they were worried about me, and my dad kind of knew you and knew how we were…"

"What the motherfuck? Who does this?"

"Is it love?"

"You knew how I felt. The whole take a walk deal. You knew exactly how I felt. You knew there wasn't anything I wouldn't have done. Nothing I wouldn't have given up. But what is this, like some fucking Hitchcock shit?"

"No, I mean Emily. Do you love Emily?"

"I am not doing this insanity with you."

She shook more, and tried to contain it, which made me think she was going to crack from the inside out and fall to dust at my feet, and, fuck me, I didn't want that.

"She didn't say anything to me."

"It wasn't her place. She thought I was going to see you, and then I left, I came back here, and…I guess it was like I was dead. No one has ever made me feel not dead, Oliver. Nothing ever has. I need your help. Please."

She put her two hands over one of mine, and I didn't pull it back. I felt like I was out of my own body, hovering overhead, wondering what that fellow down there might do.

"I need your help. I know this is fucked. I know this is so wrong. But you know me. You know what we had, our exponential curve. You know that was real. You know I was it. I'm not some monster. I need help. I need your help. Please, Oliver."

I believed her. Because I knew her. I knew what she was, I knew what she was to me. I knew that she could do something this fucked up without being the gorgon that someone else, surely, would have told me she had to have been. I knew there were worlds in her, more worlds than most people, and when there are more worlds, more of them can collide, more can go wrong. But I still knew what I had to do at that moment. I fled.

I walked twenty miles that night around Boston and Cambridge, and then I sat on a bridge over the Charles where there was this plaque some Harvard students had placed in the ground to mark where Faulkner's Quentin Compson took his leap into the river. She texted me as I sat there, and told me where she was, at an apartment in Allston. She told me she needed me. Please. I need you to come. Please.

I did. She opened the door naked. I could make out tracks from tears down her neck, all the way to her breasts. She leaned into me, in the doorway, and put her forehead against mine, and our eyes moved downwards together. I saw that red tuft of pubic hair in the half-light, I felt her breathing, I felt my breath adjusting to the rhythms of her own, and I felt my own tears start to gather and release and roll down my cheeks, as hers did. I told her I loved her. And I told her I had to go.

***

Emily was not awaiting my return at The High Flyer. I phoned and texted for a full day, and heard nothing. Bex had maybe called her.

The next morning, I thought, screw this, I'm going to the house. I rang the bell and waited for what seemed an age, ready to say whatever I had to say to Clifton or his mousy wife to see their daughter. Instead, the door was opened by the housekeeper again. I decided to ally myself with her.

"Hola."

"What?"

"It means 'hello.'"

"I know. Can I help you?"

"I want to see Emily."

"You not heard?"

"No. Nothing." I was nervous. Sometimes when I'm nervous I make grim jokes that no one could find funny. "I'm a broken man. I think. I don't know if my ears would even work. Sorry. I'm sorry. Where is she?"

"She was in an accident. Yesterday. Someone blindsided her. They kept her overnight in the hospital. For observation. She fine."

I wasn't. And I knew I had no right to involve this girl in my own struggles. Because I wondered, I wondered so hard it made me want to cut my brain out of my head, that if all things being equal I might have—

"Look, I know this is unusual. I need you to give her a message for me. From Olly. Tell her I do love her, but I'm awful at processes, and I don't know that I know where the middle of the earth is. I can write it down. That's a stupid message. Just remember the earth thing. She'll get the earth thing. Thank you. I'm sorry. I know this is weird. I have to go."

And with that, I hung it on the limb, not at all sure if I'd done so for the right reason, or because I was an idiot.

I chucked my phone, shut down my email, and eventually I began to get off that ledge I had been rimrocked on in my career. I had a video camera, and I'd go out to various outposts in the woods, in the desert, in the mountains, and I'd write about being there, in live time, talking as I did so, crafting some unique, I think, podcasts that not only got me noticed, but led to a site that got as much traffic as any in publishing, and book deals that proved, maybe, there was a point to what I had long ago set out to do after all.

I was off the grid, but not especially hard to find, if you really wanted to put some effort in, because you could just go on the site, see where I was, and make your way through Mother Nature to roll up on my latest temporary doorstep. Editors and publishers were my most common guests, but in later years, as everything built and built, and I had forsaken my wanderings for a house in Falmouth, in Cape Cod, writers doing profiles for magazines were more the norm.

I'd tell them about my travels, and how I came to write this piece or that one, and sometimes I'd work in a very skeletal version of this story, without much in the way of detail, but, I think, a goodly amount of emotion—for I cannot really withhold that in this instance—and I would talk about the people who visited me in places like the Pacific Rain Forest, or in the swamps of Florida, or the time a girl drove all the way out to the most remote point of Vermont, and then made her way on foot through woods where even few hunters ever went, just to see me.

The guys from the magazines that I shared that detail with would always look satisfied, like if they kept writing, they too could have comely, devoted visitors no matter where they went.

But the women writers, without fail, always have a different reaction to my anecdote about the girl, who was quite tall, who happened upon me as I crouched outside my tent in those woods where hunters rarely went, in my Christmas boxers and Bruins shirt, trying to clean a fish.

I don't say that you could tell who she was because she was carrying an instrument case, and its size gave her away, but it is at this point in our little profile interviews that the woman talking to me will turn to the other woman in the room, whom I had probably introduced previously simply as my wife, because there is now a solidity in that term I luxuriate in, and breathlessly ask, "What did you call him? What did you call him?"

You'd think a life depended on it.

I enjoy, and I suppose I'll always enjoy, watching how the walnut color of my wife's eyes seems to darken as she answers, to become richer, more something for you to be swallowed up in.

"I called him Olly, of course. Wouldn't you?"



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