Commentary Magazine


Incident at Jamaica Bay

 The sunset Nathan Lipinsky watched from the roof of the parking garage—of a color as brazen as splashed paint—suffused the fading Indian summer clouds and fell with tender touch on Brooklyn’s recumbent city blocks. Nathan imagined the light falling on the whole of Brooklyn: on the autumnal leaves of Prospect Park, on the gravestones of Green-Wood Cemetery, on the storefronts of his native Brownsville, and over Ebbets Field, empty now, a year after the Dodgers fled to Los Angeles. After taking a few steps in the direction of his car, he stopped and turned his gaze again to the west, where a few cirrocumulus clouds, dappled mauve, evaporating, reached to the horizon. A fresh evening wind brushed his upturned face, thrumming a faint murmur on his eardrums, and coalescing into an inchoate voice that stood out insistently from the ambient city noise. This voice summoned him, though not by his given name, the name assigned to biography, the name that yields to time and to dust. It summoned him, instead, by another name—the name he would have known himself by, had he known himself at all. That true name was who he really was—and it lay always just beyond the range of his hearing, as if beyond a closed door.

_____________ 

“There isn’t any fizz in this seltzer,” Nathan remarked with displeasure. His wife, Lilly, putting the last of the evening dishes away, said nothing. 

“It’s completely flat,” Nathan repeated, this time with greater emphasis, as if Lilly had not understood the implications of his first complaint. “Completely flat,” he added, uselessly. He rose abruptly from his seat at the kitchen table, spilled the seltzer into the sink, and filled his glass with water from the tap, which he allowed to run until it was as cold as possible. When he turned around, he was surprised—but then, almost immediately, not surprised—to find that Lilly had left the room. He returned to his seat at the empty kitchen table, sat alone, as he often did, and drank his glass of water in two swift drafts. Pursing his lips in concentration, he thought about the next day, about filling the three vacancies in one of the apartment buildings he managed, about reminding the superintendent in another building to replace a valve on the furnace, and about a small crack he had noticed in the foundation wall of his house.

The memory then intruded—although he did not, at first, know why—of a prostitute whose services he had enjoyed in 1948 in Lubbock, Texas, during his brief career as a traveling salesman. He remembered his awkwardness with her, which was accentuated because her name, too, had been Lilly. Then, as if a new internal film had been spliced onto the one he was watching, he thought of his friend, Aaron, who had died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1956—two years earlier—at the age of 39, just one day after they had sat, talking, in Nathan’s backyard, on a resplendent June afternoon. He remembered the sun’s bold but gentle light that day and could still feel its ineluctable warmth and the warmth of their conversation, its inflections and cadences shifting from minute to minute, as the two friends talked about the past and the future, about business, about Brooklyn, about all the things that mattered. 

Nathan’s friendship with Aaron—the only real friendship of his adult life—had been a kind of romance, in the sense that each was, in some respect, enchanted by the other. Aaron delighted in Nathan’s intelligence and wry sense of humor. And in Aaron’s presence, the weight of Nathan’s cramped restraint and endless posturing—the most searingly pathognomonic tokens of his narcissism—was diminished. Aaron’s friendship had set ajar the door to the tight cell of Nathan’s heart, and inevitably, when Nathan thought or spoke of Aaron, as he often did, it would be with a double yearning: the yearning to have his dear friend back—which he felt acutely—and that yearning, the yearning for the freedom to walk through that door and hear his true name spoken. 

Nathan and Aaron were endlessly silly in each other’s company. Gloriously, wildly, childishly silly. They played practical jokes on each another and on their wives and mutual friends. They sang duets and recited bawdy poetry. They told secrets to each other and then convulsed in great, spasmodic belly laughs, stomping their feet, red-faced with the pleasure of their mutually induced juvenile hilarity. But they were also a study in contrasts: Although both were short men, Aaron was reed thin, in contrast to Nathan’s portly build. Where Nathan had full lips, a round face, and a ruddy complexion, Aaron was thin-lipped, angular in his facial features, and had skin so pale it seemed almost translucent. Nathan’s fingers were fat, short, and stubby; Aaron’s were like multi-jointed pelican legs. Aaron’s voice was high-pitched and sharp; Nathan’s was in the mid-range of voices, but with a kind of constriction to it, always advertising its modulation. Aaron seemed always to be smiling, or on the verge of a smile, as if perennially beguiled by some nascent pleasure; Nathan’s expression was that of a man anticipating the arrival of an uninvited and unwelcome guest.

_____________ 

Now, still seated at his kitchen table, alone, Nathan recalled that Saturday in June, two years earlier, when he and Aaron sat in folding chairs on a patch of lawn in the backyard of Nathan and Lilly’s Brooklyn home. They talked of everything: the war, the old days, people they had known, business ventures they might pursue together. Nathan felt an ease that, though it fell short of equanimity, did not fall far short. The next day, Aaron would be dead. 

Nathan had pictured the scene so many times: Aaron sitting in his favorite easy chair, reading the newspaper while his wife, Betty-Ann, sat beside him on the sofa, knitting and watching TV, their three-year-old son playing with toys on their living room floor. As Betty-Ann would later recall, Aaron had said that he felt very tired all of a sudden, and she noticed that he looked pale. “Maybe you should go to bed a little earlier tonight,” she said. Then, the phone rang and Betty-Ann went to the kitchen to pick it up. A few minutes later, upon returning to the living room, she saw Aaron slumped in his chair. Thinking he was asleep, she went to cover him with a blanket, and, seeing how terribly pale he was, Betty-Ann became alarmed. Then she touched him, and knew that her husband was dead.

Nathan took some cold cuts from the refrigerator, and while he made himself a sandwich, he recalled the awful telephone call from Betty-Ann and how her usually confident, slightly haughty voice trembled as she spoke. 

“Hi, Betty-Ann. Is everything OK?”

“Nat, it’s Aaron….Aaron’s gone.”

“What do you mean gone? Gone where?”

“He’s gone, Nat. Aaron’s gone. Nat, Nat…Aaron just died.” Betty-Ann began to sob. 

Nathan felt his heart turn over.

“He was sitting in his chair and then he was gone. He was just sitting there and I went out of the room for a few minutes and when I came back he was all slumped over. I called for an ambulance, Nat. But he was gone. What am I going to do, Nat? What am I going to do? My Aaron’s gone.”

_____________ 

“Nat!” Lilly called from upstairs, “Come to bed! It’s late. You have to get up in the morning.”

“Right,” Nathan shouted back. “I’ll be up in a minute.” 

He took a bite of his sandwich, still thinking of that Saturday afternoon, the day before Aaron died. Aaron had told him that he and Betty-Ann were thinking of moving to Queens. He had asked Nathan what he thought about that.

“Why Queens, Aaron?” Nathan responded, his brow furrowed in disapproval. “What’s wrong with Brooklyn? You’ve lived in Brooklyn your whole life.”

“Betty-Ann says houses are cheaper in Queens. What do you think, Natie?”

“Aah,” Nathan said dismissively, shaking his head with conviction and gesticulating with a backward flick of the wrist. “Stay right here. Brooklyn’s the place to be.”

“You don’t think Betty-Ann might have a point about prices?”

Nathan frowned and shook his head slowly at the suggestion.

“Aaron, it’s a matter of value, not prices,” Nathan said, pointing the stem of his pipe emphatically downward toward Brooklyn’s soil. “The value is here.” 

“You seem pretty sure about that.”

“No question.”

Then Nathan recalled how, out of nowhere, Aaron had asked him: “Say, Natie, how do you suppose we’d do in the plumbing-supply business together?” That brought the brief warmth of a smile to Nathan’s face, just as Aaron’s question had when he posed it two years earlier. The two friends had often discussed this or that business plan, some idea or other that would bring them a handsome return for their efforts and perhaps freedom from the indignity of mere employment. None of these ideas would ever come to fruition, but one could dream. One must dream.

“We should look into that,” Nathan replied, taking his pipe from his mouth for a moment. “I mean, people aren’t going to stop using the toilet, are they?” 

Nathan recalled Aaron’s delighted smile at this casual remark. “Exactly, my boy. You see how when we put our two heads together, we always come up with something?” 

“Goddamn right,” Nathan said, as a smile to match Aaron’s swept over his face. 

Nathan downed the last piece of sandwich as he remembered something more of that two-year-old conversation, something that had amused him at first. “Hey, Aaron,” he had asked with animation, “do you remember the time we played that practical joke with the snake at Stan and Ruth’s house?”

“You mean when we put a garter snake in the toilet, and I told them I found it swimming there?” Aaron asked.

“Yeah.”

“Remember the look on Stan’s face when you came running out of the bathroom screaming, ‘There’s a snake in the toilet! There’s a snake in the toilet!’”

“Oh, God, do I remember that,” Nathan said. “Where the hell did we get that snake in the first place?” 

“What do you mean?” Aaron said. “You were the one who got it, Natie.” 

 “Where did I get a garter snake in Brooklyn?” Nathan asked.

“Are you kidding me?” The mirth had passed from Aaron’s expression.

“No, I…”

“You didn’t get it in Brooklyn, Natie. You got it in Queens, by Jamaica Bay.” 

“Oh…yeah,” Nathan said.

“Don’t you remember when we went to Jamaica Bay? For God’s sake, Natie,” Aaron said, gravely. “That’s gotta be a day you’d remember, after what happened.” 

Nathan felt himself fixed in Aaron’s gaze—exposed, examined, and found wanting. And as he sat at his kitchen table two years later, remembering Aaron’s darkened demeanor, those feelings were set off in bold relief, as though they were artifacts, perfectly preserved and on display. 

“About that girl,” Nathan began. “You know, I…”

But Nathan and Aaron’s discussion of that day at Jamaica Bay was interrupted—never to be resumed—when Lilly and Betty-Ann came out of Lilly’s kitchen, platters in hand: brisket of beef, roasted potatoes, peas and carrots. They set the food down before their men. Nathan stepped quickly to the outdoor table with its decorative umbrella. He savored the taste of the meat juices mingling with the potatoes, the satisfaction of the first swallow, and the soothing feeling of food entering his stomach. And again and again. But all the while he savored the meal, the memory weighed on him of a hot day in the summer of 1949, when something disturbing had happened in a marsh on the shores of Jamaica Bay. He wondered what he should have done that day and what Aaron had expected of him.

“What the hell are we doing by Jamaica Bay, Natie?” Aaron had asked, shaking his head and laughing. “I mean for Chrissake.”

There had been an idea behind it; call it a vision, even: Go someplace near, yet far away from the everyday. Nathan had had a vision of pastoral splendor: Sea birds wheeling against a sky not rimmed by buildings, the smell of salt water, fish darting in and out among the reeds. He had taken the precaution of bringing galoshes to Jamaica Bay so he would not get his feet wet when he walked into the marshes. Aaron, Betty-Ann, and Lilly thought he was crazy. Aaron laughed as he watched Nathan struggling to get the galoshes on over his black leather oxfords.

“Natie! You can’t wear those things! It’s gotta be 90 degrees out! Who ever heard of galoshes in July?” 

Nathan replied confidently: “You just wait and see what it’s like in there,” gesturing with his head and eyes toward a seemingly impenetrable stand of marsh grasses. Aaron shook his head, beaming with delight at Nathan’s silliness. 

“Are there some benches or tables somewhere, some place we can sit and eat?” Betty-Ann asked. 

“I don’t know. Look around,” Aaron answered. “Maybe you and Lilly just stay at the car and eat. Natie and I are going to explore.” 

“Explore what?” Lilly asked, petulantly. Aaron looked at Nathan, as if for guidance, but seeing no answer forthcoming, said, “We’ll just see what we can see. Right, Natie?”

Nathan remembered how unexpectedly dense the marsh reeds and grasses had been, standing a good seven feet tall and making it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. He remembered leading the way into the tall growth, on what seemed to be a path, breathing heavily in the heat, with Aaron continuing to laugh at the sight of his dearest friend’s preposterous footwear. 

At first, Nathan knew in what general direction they were headed, but the trail wound circuitously and then disappeared altogether in the tall reeds. “Natie, we should turn back,” Aaron said. “You’re right, it’s muddy as hell here. Where are we going, anyway?”

“Shh?.?.?.?listen,” Nathan said.

“What? I don’t hear anything.”

“The quiet. You hear how quiet it is?” The quiet was what Nathan had sought. 

“Yeah, Natie,” Aaron said with a gentle smile. “It’s plenty quiet.” 

Nathan stood still, listening. He heard the strident squawk of a gull and looked up to see it gliding overhead. Without a word, they both lit up cigarettes. And, for a minute, all was quiet. Except for the sounds of a slight sea breeze and of their feet shifting position now and then in the spongy ground, there was only silence.

“You know, there are pelicans out there, Aaron,” Nathan finally said, gesturing grandly in the direction of the bay.

“Pelicans? What is this, Africa?”

“Maybe it’s herons. I don’t know. There’s all kinds of birds out here, Aaron. Gulls. Other birds, too. I don’t know what you call them.”

“Well, maybe we can catch some herons and bring them back to the girls to cook,” Aaron replied, laughing. “Can you see Betty-Ann and Lilly trying to pluck the feathers off one of those?” 

They were silent again for a few moments, until Aaron noticed something.

“Hey, Natie,” Aaron said with a mixture of amusement and alarm, “don’t look now, but I think we’re sinking.”

And in fact, as they stood in the marsh, enjoying their cigarettes, they had started to descend slightly into the black mud with each shift of weight from one leg to the other. Nathan had sunk faster and farther because of his greater weight, and the mud had almost reached the ankles of his galoshes. He pulled his right foot up sharply to take a step. The adhesion of the thick mud created a strong downward suction, and the upward force of one foot made the other foot sink more deeply. Trying to gain a better foothold, they repeated this process, but each step was more laborious than the one before. After a few dozen such steps—with little attention to their direction—they found themselves exhausted, but standing, for the moment, on slightly firmer ground. 

Then something caught Aaron’s attention.

_____________ 

Remembering this part of the incident as he sat alone in his kitchen, Nathan knit his brow in concentration, struggling to recall the sequence of events during that hour at Jamaica Bay. He thought to himself: It was Aaron who heard them first, right? Yeah. No, it was…Yeah, it was Aaron. Or maybe we heard them at the same time and Aaron was just the first to say something. I don’t know.

_____________

“Hear those voices?” Aaron asked. 

“Yeah,” Nathan said, drawing aside a stand of reeds and peering in the direction of the voices. “I can just make them out. See them over there?”

“Yeah?.?.?.?Well, I guess we’re not the only lunatics around.”

About 40 yards away, on a point of firm, dry land that jutted into the bay, two young men—both tall and athletic-looking—leaned against a parked car, smoking cigarettes and talking. They looked around as if keeping an eye out for something, or someone.

“Something’s not right, Aaron.”

“What do you mean? What’s not right?”

“Why are they just standing around? What are they doing there?” Nathan asked. 

“What are they doing?”

“Let’s get a closer look,” Nathan answered.

_____________ 

No, it was Aaron who wanted to get a closer look. I thought we should just get out. Or maybe we both wanted to get a closer look, but?.?.?.?I don’t know. I don’t remember.

_____________ 

“Hey, Natie. Maybe we should just forget about this, you know? What the hell difference does it make what they’re doing? Maybe they’re nature lovers, like you.” Aaron offered a weak, forced laugh. 

“Hey, look!” Aaron said in a loud whisper, as a third man walked out of a stand of reeds on the far side of the car, and not far behind him, a young woman. The man was muscular and wore an undershirt and carried his shirt over his shoulder. His trousers looked wet and dirty, as if he had been in the mud. The woman was disheveled, the buttons on her blouse half-undone and her hair tousled. She walked slowly, her head bowed. She stopped and wiped her brow with the back of her hand. Then she tried to brush some mud off her skirt. As she did so, she turned, and Nathan and Aaron saw that the back of her skirt and blouse were soiled. They watched as she sat down on a large boulder near the car, holding her head in her hands.

“Jesus Christ!” Aaron whispered. “What the hell is this?”

The man who had come out of the reeds shouted to the other men, loud enough for Aaron and Nathan to hear: “All right, who’s next?”

 “You know what’s going on here, right?” Nathan asked in a whisper.

 “I don’t know, Natie.”

“What do mean you don’t know? She’s a whore. She’s a whore. She’s gotta be a whore, right?”

“I guess,” Aaron repeated. “But I don’t know. She’s kind of young?.?.?.?and pretty, too. Most whores aren’t so pretty. Remember, when we were stationed in Texas? Those whores we used to go to, the ones near the barracks? They didn’t look like this girl. Maybe she’s not a whore. Could be these guys are just, you know, taking advantage of her. Maybe we should go to a phone and call the cops or something.”

“The cops? No, for God’s sake, Aaron! She’s a whore. Bought and paid for.” 

“You think so?” Aaron asked.

“Absolutely,” Nathan answered. “No question about it. I mean, otherwise, she’d just run away, right?”

“Maybe she’s just too scared. Maybe she’s just a girl who’s gotten in over her head, you know? And besides, where’s she gonna run, Natie? I mean around here, where the hell’s she gonna run?”

_____________ 

Nathan stood up from the kitchen table and put his plate and drinking glass in the sink. 

“I need a drink,” he whispered, as if explaining himself to someone not present. He took a bottle of rye and poured himself a shot, following it up with a chaser of seltzer. Again, Lilly called to him from upstairs.

“Nat, what are you doing down there? Is everything all right?” 

“Yeah, I was just getting a little bite to eat.”

“Well, don’t stay up too late. You have to get up in the morning, you know.”

“Yeah. Just getting a little bite. I’ll be up soon.”

Nathan remembered the light that day, two years before, in his backyard. He remembered Aaron’s confused and troubled expression when it became apparent that he, Nathan, seemed to have forgotten exactly what had happened at Jamaica Bay. He poured himself another shot of whiskey. His breathing was quick and short, and he stared down at the table for a few moments before putting back his shot. He took a deep breath to feel the comforting heat of the drink in his mouth and throat before taking his chaser. 

Maybe she wasn’t a whore, he thought, as he had thought so many times before. Maybe Aaron was right. But Aaron could have called the cops if he wanted to; there was nothing stopping him.  

_____________

Nathan and Aaron crouched in the reeds, watching. One of the two men who had been leaning against the car—a tall man in a blue shirt—walked over to the woman and said something to her that Nathan and Aaron couldn’t hear. Then he took her sharply by the arm and started to lead her back toward the stand of reeds out of which she and the first man had just come. 

“Hey! Take it easy!” she shouted at him, pulling her arm out of his grip. 

The man in the blue shirt slapped her sharply. She fell to the ground, holding her cheek, wimpering. The other two men laughed loudly. Then he picked her up by her arm and started to lead her again toward the reeds. 

“Hey!” the woman shouted angrily through her tears, “You said no rough stuff! You guys promised! You promised!” 

“C’mon!” the man said impatiently, still leading her firmly by her arm. He brought her to the reeds, and they disappeared from view.

“Look, Aaron, whatever’s going on here, we should get the hell out, you know?” Nathan said in an urgent whisper. “Then we can figure out what to do.”

But then something on the ground caught Nathan’s eye. “Hey, Aaron, look! Down there. A snake. Looks like a garter snake. You see it?”

“Yeah, I see it. So? What about the girl?”

Nathan reached down and gently, tenderly, picked up the little snake. Holding it as it wriggled in his hands, Nathan examined the snake, looked into its impenetrable eyes, noticed the intricate pattern of its red and black scales, and was transfixed by its constantly flicking tongue. 

“I’m going to take it with us. Maybe keep it as a pet. You know, they say these make good pets.”

“Why don’t you get a cat or a dog or something? A canary maybe. Let’s get out of here. I’ve had enough of this. C’mon.”

Suddenly, Nathan felt a sharp sting. He cried out, falling to his knees in the mud and grabbing his neck, where a fat bumblebee had gotten him. “Shit!” he shouted. He grabbed the bee’s pulpy little corpse in his fingers and, with disgust, pulled it off and threw it in the mud. The stinger remained firmly implanted in his skin.

“Put some mud on it,” Aaron said. “It’s good for bee stings.” Aaron picked up a blob of mud and daubed it on Nathan’s neck, where the stinger protruded. Muddy water trickled down his neck onto his chest.

The two men standing at the car heard Nathan’s shouts.

“Hey! What are you doin’ there?” one of the men shouted. The man in the undershirt started running along the edge of the reeds in Nathan and Aaron’s general direction.

“Let’s go,” Aaron said. 

“Yeah.?.?.?.?Wait,” Nathan said. “The snake. I dropped the snake.”

“The hell with the snake. Let’s go!”

As Aaron took a few difficult steps, the cool mud seeped into his shoes, soaking his socks. Nathan struggled with his heavy galoshes. He pulled so hard to free his feet from the mud that he pulled his left foot completely out of its shoe and boot, and only regained his balance when he plunged his foot deeply into the mud. Pausing to catch his breath, he saw the snake a few feet away, wriggling in the reeds. In a few steps, he reached it, snatched it up, and put it in his now empty boot. As he and Aaron struggled to make their way in the mud, their pursuer took a route around the bank, flanking them. 

_____________ 

After washing up, Nathan quietly went upstairs and into his darkened bedroom, where he got undressed, trying not to awaken Lilly. But she hadn’t quite fallen asleep yet.

“What were you doing down there so late?” she asked in a sleepy voice, as Nathan lay down in bed.

“Oh, just getting a little bite, that’s all.”

“Hmm. Go to sleep.”

“Lil?” he said quietly after a few minutes. Lilly was nearly asleep now and answered only with a muted grunt.

“I was thinking about Aaron, about that time I brought that garter snake back. Do you remember? From Jamaica Bay?” Lilly didn’t answer.

“Lil?”

“Hmm?” 

“You remember that?”

“Yeah,” she said quietly, her eyes still closed. “I remember.?.?.?.?You got a bee sting.?.?.?.?What made you think of that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I was just thinking about Aaron. Remembering things. You know, just remembering.”

“Go to sleep, Nat. It’s late.”

_____________

Nathan never told Lilly about the girl at Jamaica Bay. As he and Aaron walked back from the marsh to the car, he told Aaron that it would be “best” not to mention anything to Lilly and Betty-Ann about what they had seen. “It would just upset them,” he said. Aaron was not so sure.

“I don’t know, Natie. Maybe she’s just a girl in trouble.”

The door was ajar, but Nathan did not walk through.

“She’s a whore, Aaron. She’s a whore.”

“Well…I don’t know, Natie. Maybe you’re right. I don’t know.”

“Absolutely. No question about it.”

_____________ 

It was now well after midnight, and cars passed only occasionally. Their headlamp beams filtered through the lace window curtains, casting soft, undulating rectangles of light that moved along the walls and ceiling. Nathan watched the play of light, wondering where the drivers had come from and where they were going. He turned over in bed and put his hand to his neck, where the bee had stung him. He still remembered vividly the piercing pain of the sting, imagining—if not actually expecting—that he might find the barb still there, still buried in his flesh, still waiting to be pulled out after nine years. He remembered how, when he was confronted by their pursuer in the reeds, he stood there dumbly, holding a mud-soaked boot in his hands with a wriggling snake inside, his bare foot buried up to his ankle in the black muck, and his neck throbbing under its poultice of mud. He heard again in his mind—verbatim, he thought—the exchange that followed between him and the man:

“What are you guys doing here? Who the hell are you? Huh?”

“I?.?.?.?I don’t know?.?.?.?I?.?.?.?”

“You don’t know who you are?”

“No?.?.?.?I mean?.?.?.?I?.?.?.?we were just looking around, my friend and me.”

“Looking around? Looking around for what? Trouble?”

“No?.?.?.?we were just?.?.?.?nothing. We were just looking around, that’s all.”

“You got a name, Mr. Just-Looking-Around?”

“My name?”

“Yeah, your name. You got a name, don’t you?”

Aaron interrupted, trying to calm things down: “Look, mister, it’s OK. We’re leaving. Don’t worry about it. We were just leaving.”

“What do you got there?” the man asked, seeing the garter snake poke its head out of the boot, its tongue flicking in every direction.

“It’s a snake,” Aaron said, as matter-of-factly as he could. “My friend here collects snakes.”

“Oh yeah?” the man asked with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. 

“Yeah,” Nathan said. “I got a bunch of them?.?.?.?but we were just leaving.”

“Damned right you’re leaving! You just keep your nose out of other people’s business! You got that, buddy?”

“Yeah,” Nathan replied.

Confident that he had made himself clear, the man turned abruptly on his heels and stalked off, throwing a suspicious glance back at Nathan and the snake. 

_____________ 

As he lay in bed, Nathan remembered the foolishness he had felt when he answered I don’t know to the question, Who the hell are you? He remembered having felt foolish about it two years earlier as well, when, on that most beautiful of June afternoons, the day before Aaron’s heart stopped, Aaron had mentioned the incident, as they sat, talking and laughing in Nathan’s backyard. He had always thought that he should have had something better to say in response to the man’s question, though he never knew what that response could have been. And he wondered, too, after all that had happened, if Aaron had come to think less of him.

And now, beneath the weight of fatigue and two shots of whiskey, Nathan’s eyelids eased shut. He tried to remember—and thought he saw, as if projected against the forgiving blackness of closed eyes—the light of the setting sun as it had appeared to him from the garage roof hours earlier. As sleep began to envelop him, his thoughts became fragmented and wraithlike, mingling at first, disordered, passing before him yet again, as they began to dissipate, like high clouds in clear air.

“Maybe Aaron was right. Maybe we should have called the cops.”

“She’s a whore. Absolutely. No question about it.”

 “No rough stuff! You guys promised! You promised!”

“All right, who’s next?”

“Aaron’s gone, Nat. He’s dead. He just died, Nat.”

“My Aaron’s gone?.?.?.?Aaron’s gone.”

“You got a name, Mr. Just-Looking-Around?”

“You got a name, don’t you?”

The sound of a passing car pulled him back, briefly, from the brink of sleep. He opened his eyes just long enough to follow a filtered rectangle of light as it made its transit across the darkened bedroom wall. Through the open bedroom windows, a familiar wind brushed his face. Then, with the fading of light and sound, Nathan’s eyes, at long last, closed again, finally, for the night.

About the Author

Peter Lopatin is a freelance writer in Stamford, Connecticut.




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