On the night Will felt the floating sensation, he attended a performance of the Ugandan Boys Choir. The boys were trash scavengers, rescued by a Good Samaritan and taught to harmonize, who performed every night across California to raise donations and recruit volunteers for the Kampala orphanage. Will attended by himself, since Regina was at the baby shower for a college friend’s third child. This was the friend who’d called Regina, offhandedly and without malice, a ringless fiancée, by which she meant a woman certain to marry but lacking the diamond. Regina had grieved over the term for weeks.
The Ugandan Boys sang in the church for two hours. Terraced upon metallic risers, they elongated their jaws. On one song, the boys left the stage to pass donation baskets, and the volume and balance fluidly shifted as the voices swung close and away. The music seized Will. It offered odd time signatures, syncopated rhythms, contrapuntal notes. Despite his usual formality inside sacred walls, he found himself tapping his foot and nodding in tempo. Instead of his normal instinct to pin down feelings with philosophical thoughts, he wanted to run through fields and not grow weary. He wanted to swim and not grow tired. He wanted this soundtrack to animate his life.
Will closed his eyes. The melodies became flags, waving in tempo. The notes danced and died and regenerated. Then his chair seemed to exhale him, and the floor released his feet. The pressure on his buttocks eased. He hovered, feeling weightless as a bubble. His skin felt permeable, with no membrane between air and flesh. The sensation continued until the precise moment when—as if synchronized—the last note terminated. Then his body settled, tethered again. Applause erupted around him. He gripped the chair, breath drumming in his ears. He felt like he’d been attacked. He turned to the woman behind him and asked her if she saw it. “Yes, they’re great,” the woman said, nodding towards the choir, still clapping. Everyone stood in an ovation. No one paid him any attention. As the audience flooded the front to talk to the boys, he fled through the double doors, feeling pursued.
He told Regina the following day, when they were on the couch with her dead aunt’s quilt. Though he preferred to rest in her room, Regina judged privacy a stumbling block to purity. He read. She knitted. Her long hair kept interfering with her needles. It’d grown past her waist, requiring the choke points of several bands. He often found Rapunzel-length strands in his car.
“Six months?” she said. “Uganda?”
“I didn’t say I was going,” he said. “They just offered the opportunity.” He would miss her too much to go. Last summer, when he’d flown to a weeklong car convention in Denver, he called her twice a day. And there was no question of her accompanying him—their families would raise an outcry if they traveled together unmarried. They hadn’t even kissed. Influenced by the popular books in home-school circles, she’d made a promise—she didn’t swear, she refused to swear—not to kiss anyone but her husband. He respected her belief because he knew it would hurt her deeply to break that promise.
She’d stopped clicking her needles, a sound so metronomic he found himself adjusting his breath to match its pace. “Getting married is an adventure, too,” she said.
“And I want that,” he said. After all, he’d filled his quotient of adventure on two mission trips in his college years, to Indonesia and Samoa. She was living her adventure now, swarmed by toddlers at the day care. Once he’d surprised her at work with flowers, and discovered her bracing bottle-sucking girls off both hips, while using a knee to push a boy on the swing who screamed, “Higher! Higher!” She was beaming.
“You do this,” she said. “Remember dog breeding in Kentucky? Remember that Iranian underground-church plan?”
“You’re right,” he said. “It was silly to even bring it up.”
“It was,” she said.
When he first met Regina, at a brother- and sister-wing bowling night, she’d rolled a strike and curtsied. He’d stored that clip in his head, replaying it often. It was such a graceful act—the pinch of dress between index and thumb, the right foot bent behind, the chin dipped. She seemed a quaint maid transplanted from a bygone time. A month passed before he’d started courting her. She preferred that term to dating.
She used her thumb to rotate her purity ring. “Do you love me more than anything?”
“No,” he said.
Her head jerked. “Well, not more than God, of course,” she added hastily.
“Right,” he said. But he knew what she needed and gave it to her: he said that he loved her, that there was no one else, that she was beautiful.
She kneeled and lowered her head to the coffee table, so all he could see was the part in her blonde hair that exposed a vulnerable line of her scalp. He said her first name: once loudly, once quietly. He said her full name—Regina Sarah Olsen—but not even that unlocked her. Finally, she lifted her head. “If you really wanted to go, you could go,” she said. The words rang hollow.
“I wasn’t really considering it.”
“Well,” she said. “I just wouldn’t want to hold you back.” It sounded straight from a cue card. Still, the possibility resonated in his chest, as if all his organs were tuned to the pitch of her permission.
She offered gifts. Usually she didn’t gift him except on birthdays and Christmas, but now she sprung them at random. At her apartment one night, he found her in an apron dusted with flour, both hands behind her back. She whipped out a gift-wrapped object, and he unwrapped it to find a book about the Icelandic chess match between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky during the Cold War. He hugged thanks. Afterwards, she fed him hot scones, tipping her fingers up at the end to help him eat each bite. He made Neanderthal chomping sounds and she squealed when he pretended to bite her fingers. When he said he didn’t want more, she insisted. She made engine noises and flew flight patterns until he relented.
One night, after working until nine, he found a pastel envelope fluttering under the gums of his windshield wipers. A card bearing her florid handwriting, the large cursive loops on the ‘l’s and ‘f’s, which, according to a manual on handwriting psychology he’d read, indicated a generous ego. In the card she flung a largesse of compliments, not the cheap trinkets that any stranger could trot out, but the genuine coin. It was one of her best traits, this way she had of loving him. He read it twice.
He drove to the bookstore with the intention of buying her a book. During a recent facelift, the store had shuffled their sections and he couldn’t find the cookbooks. Instead, he found himself on a long aisle with neon-colored spines. Just as he reached the end, a book cart wheeled up, blockading him. He backtracked, noticing the spines belonged to travel guides. He didn’t want to linger, but glanced over the titles. At eye level, out of alphabetical order, were three yellow Ugandan guidebooks. Why three? He would have guessed the store only carried the regional book. He leafed through, feeling guilty. Reading the introductory notes, he realized he knew nothing of Uganda—their language, their currency, their politics. All his knowledge came from the tired Western views of the continent, as if Africa were a homogenous blotch on the globe. He bought the guidebook, just to look at the pictures. Nothing more. Afterwards, he realized he’d forgotten to buy the cookbook, and when he met Regina and friends for board game night, he only said that he’d been browsing.
Will and Regina attended a wedding in a spacious backyard. Regina and the bride had homeschooled together for years, and Regina relayed to him multiple times the story of the bride and groom meeting, betrothing and marrying within eight months. Paper lanterns swung from strings, apple cider filled the flutes, an aging Christian singer crooned from the stereo. Regina was not unhappy. Although there was no formal dancing, she swung the tuxedoed arms of her five-year-old brother. Will sat at the pink-creped table and watched the dignity of the bride and pent-up anticipation of the groom, the children chasing one another with party favors clutched in chubby hands. He knew these people. These were his people. They would keep attending church, keep elevating God, keep their marriage vows, keep raising their children in the ways they should go. Tragedies would be chalked up to the divine plan, and suffering embraced as a purifying force. Nothing truly unpredictable would happen: Butler would gain weight, Alison’s grandparents would tour the country in their motor home, the twins would win tennis tournaments. He could see five years, ten years, and knew that nothing would rupture their course. This, this. He wanted only this. With this he could be happy.
“I have something to confess,” Will told her one sunny day, while they were at bat against a Valencia church. This wasn’t the place, he could feel how wrong it was. Sports warped the delicate bonds between males and females. A foul ball soared, outfielders bobbing heads to spot it and avoid their teammates. She didn’t wait for the pop fly resolution, just turned to him. She looked good in the loose jeans, dusted red from the last inning. Usually he only saw her in dresses. “I emailed the orphanage,” he said. The phrase resounded in the space between them. He felt like he’d hit her.
“That’s nice,” she said, turning away. Then she gripped the dugout railing and yelled at the new batter: “C’mon Lacey! Sock it!” He leaned back and waited for her to process and turn, angrily, but she didn’t. Normally, she let him make the hefty decisions, like whether to drive together to her Uncle’s house in San Francisco. She would act as though she didn’t care, although sometimes she did. Now, even though she couldn’t tell a shortstop from a catcher, she kept her focus on the game. The bark of the bat, the soar of the ball into the low sky, the outfielders scrambling to bottom it. She cheered and pumped a fist.
But in a way, he was relieved that she hadn’t pressed him. If she had, he would have admitted he didn’t want to email the orphanage. That he didn’t want to go at all. It was an email in a moment of thoughtlessness, about which he felt shameful, as if he’d gone to the wrong website and seen something he shouldn’t.
In the shed at his parent’s house, his father soldered a scepter onto a queen. On the shelf, bishops apexed in a bulb and knights brandished swords from winged horses. The blade of the TIG torch seared his vision. His father swung off his hood and asked, “Ready to get whooped?”
They sat on either side of the upended wooden spool. This set was cast in geometric shapes: blocks for pawns, stacked balls for queens, triangles for bishops. His father got two glasses of lemonade, even though Will knew they’d forget to drink it, and secreted a black and white pawn in each fist. Will picked the right fist. White. Just before he moved, his father asked, “Now what’s this about Uganda?”
Up to that moment, Will had been deluded enough to believe that Regina hadn’t truly heard or didn’t care. But she must have deliberately dropped a comment, probably to his mother, which cascaded to his father. His parents wanted a quiver of grandchildren. The delay of several years seemed fruitless. And Regina knew they thought this way.
Will told him about the choir, trying to explain it offhandedly.
“Why would you want to go?” his father said.
“I don’t even know,” Will said. “I probably don’t want to.”
“I know why,” his father said. “You have a good heart and want to help people.”
It sounded like a solid reason, and Will let his father think it was the correct one. His father lived that way, helping people through the part-time work at the church and janitorial work for school, working despite the migraines. It was always about others. His father replied to the opening with the Budapest Gambit and slapped the clock vigorously. He’d played on the circuit with his junior college team but now spent most of his chess time building custom sets. Obscene requests were denied, but he’d built sets of New York/Los Angeles architecture and Roman emperors holding coins bearing their image.
“So did they get back to you?” his father asked.
“The orphanage? Yes. They gave details.” The details were draconian. Four volunteers slept in one small room. Food was austere. It was less of an enticement and more of a warning.
“You shouldn’t go,” his father said. “You’ve got too much to lose.”
His father traded a bishop for two of Will’s pawns and pushed his queenside. Will tried to blockade with a knight. Flies landed on the pieces and Will shooed them away. When Will was five, his mother found him sleeping in a laundry basket with a chessboard and pieces, and his father joked that he’d started playing in the womb. The day after his grandfather died, Will played a marathon session, and after he and Regina fought, he often retreated to an online site for blitz games.
His father advanced a pawn. “She can’t wait forever,” he said.
“I know,” Will said.
His father once built a religious chess set. Christ, Gabriel, disciples versus Satan, demons, possessed. When he told people about it, he asked them to guess which side was white. Then he’d laugh loudly. For some years he showcased the set on his website, but sold it because he didn’t like the possibility of black winning. Will liked the set concept—it implied that even the powers and principalities played by reason. And his father agreed, proposing that parishioners should play chess before church services, to usher them into God’s mode of thinking.
His father studied the board, elbows on the table. Will didn’t think he saw it. The next move Will would sacrifice a bishop. Once he sacrificed the bishop, the rest of the game would be inevitable. His father moved and Will replied. The move made his father inhale. There would be a smothered mate on h8 in seven moves. Every variation was accounted for, every sequence anticipated. The pure inevitability was beautiful. But when his father swung his hands out in frustration, he knocked over a glass of lemonade. It shattered on the concrete and Will felt a shiver against his pinky toe. Blood dewed from a cut. By the time they cleaned up the glass and sanitized the wound, his mother arrived home with groceries, and after they unpacked them, Will had to meet Regina. The game was lost. His father joked that he should injure opponents more often. “Like in chessboxing,” he said. He ducked his head and pretended to jab twice.
Will was five years old, on his back. Bees hummed around his head. Oak branches sliced up the sky. Someone had yelled something he hadn’t understood. Black clouds formed and dissipated across his vision, and inside these clouds, blurred shapes of men and animals moved, as if seen through a dark glass. When the clouds stopped, the sky kaleidoscoped through the rainbow’s spectrum. He tasted colors. Burnt, smoky copper. Floral breezy gold. Then it all settled and the world righted itself. He started crying. Scruffy approached and licked his face. There was the bang of the screen door; there was the rapid flap of his mother’s sandals. She knelt and cupped his head and plied him with questions, and he could only remember playing with his truck, followed by the loud voice and the clouds and the colors. “What loud voice?” she asked. He said his head hurt. He wasn’t bleeding. He bore no marks.
One doctor diagnosed it as a strange type of stroke, and prescribed medication. Another doctor argued his body bore the signs of an electrical shock, a magnitude on par with lightening. His mother insisted there were no outlets or extension cords in the backyard and no clouds in the sky. Another doctor said nothing had happened, that his brain needed to discharge energy and he’d experienced powerful yet illusory sensations. They gave up going to doctors. Their degree of certainty directly correlated to their degree of inaccuracy. A few admitted their inability to pin down a reasonable answer, and told his mother to watch for a recurrence so more data could be gathered. But it hadn’t happened again, not like that, not for years.
In an early draft of his application for the philosophy program at The Lord’s College, Will told that story. It seemed a seminal moment, even though he’d never been able to assign it a precise role. Instinctively, he knew it explained why he wanted to study analytic philosophy, but couldn’t tell how. In a vague way he believed that philosophy could ward off events like that one, but since philosophers had to be able to clearly draw from point A to point B, he eventually cut it, substituting an essay on how he inherited the ideals of chess from his father.
She kissed him. It was never meant to be that order of subject and object. He kissed her: that was how he’d always envisioned it. That order, he thought, was the only way that she would ever have wanted it. Allow the man to be the leader. After all, when they first started spending time together, she wouldn’t call him, insisting he should call her. But here she’d seized initiative.
They’d guided the junior high youth group to Magic Mountain and ridden the newest coaster. During the corkscrew at the end, his vision dimmed, as though someone twisted a knob for the lights. All the light funneled into the center then faded to black, and even the passengers’ screams decrescendoed. In that tunnel without exit he felt the terrifying sensation of losing control, and then the corkscrew straightened out to pull up to the platform and light and sound ebbed back.
They sat on a bench semi-blocked by bushes and she asked whether he was okay. He lied and said yes, forcing a smile. The smile triggered her.
He didn’t know how they’d dated for three years and never kissed. No, he knew. Her hirsute father who required an interview before granting permission to date his daughter. The group dates for the first six months, followed by chaperoned ones. Her mother telling the story of how the only person she’d ever kissed was Regina’s father. Regina’s reluctance to hold hands until a year had passed, and of course her promise to keep her lips virginal. Add to that his fear of himself, of losing control. Of believing passion in their marriage would be lost if he prematurely opened the gate of pleasure.
They spent a half hour on the bench, primly exploring each other’s lips. He’d expected to feel untamed. He’d always feared the urges of his loins. But the sensation gave him an odd detachment, a pleasurable distance from which he analyzed the situation. There were two people on a bench. They were kissing. It was a scene he’d watched thousands of times and even this time he remained more a viewer than a participant. She giggled. She fingered her long braid curled in her lap. He ignored the passersby, then glanced at them with embarrassment. A man carrying a cluster of balloons stopped across the way. As he detached a purple balloon for a girl, a red one wriggled loose and soared, weaving in its ascent.
Her line at the end disappointed him. He would have preferred a romantic mood, unleavened by laughter, but instead, as they moved to find the junior highers, she teased him: “Wouldn’t you miss that?” Motives curdled the moment. Instead of the supernova of a long-awaited pleasure, it seemed calculated. He suspected why she said it: earlier in the day, a mob of black children passed by, corralled by two black ladies who alternated between gaiety and reprimands, and he turned to look at the children, feeling nostalgic about an experience he had not yet had. She saw him look and he saw her interpret.
He meant to only peck her when he dropped her off at her apartment, but couldn’t resist lingering. On the drive home, he admitted that despite his aversion to her method, it certainly worked: he would miss that, if he were crazy enough to leave. He would miss it terribly.
At that backyard wedding they’d attended, Will had heard Regina’s Uncle Roy tell a story about a distant British relative of the Olsen clan. The man had left his wife one day, just walked out the front door and did not come back. Apparently, he moved just a few blocks over and changed his job. He spied on her but never contacted her. There was no mistress. It was a loving marriage. Eventually his wife counted him among the dead. They held a funeral. He spied on the funeral. Once he walked past his wife on the street and his wife did not recognize him. A few months after the funeral, he returned to his own house during the night and settled into bed. In the early morning hours, his wife woke and found a strange man occupying her bed. Nothing about him made her think he might have been her former husband. So she seized a letter opener and stabbed him. When he cried out, she recognized his voice. She called an ambulance and paramedics saved him.
That was where the story ended. The circle broke up to attend to misbehaving children. But Will asked Uncle Roy what happened. Uncle Roy said the couple had gone to therapy, not that it helped. The man was impenetrable. He didn’t fight the therapist, he just had nothing inside him that the therapist found helpful. The man didn’t know why he had left or why he had come back. He seemed as confused about it as everyone else, except that he knew he’d needed to leave. His wife had gone to see the brownstone where her husband had lived, but someone else had already rented it. Apparently, he’d thrown everything in a dumpster. A clean break. He wanted to pick up life where they’d left off. The story happened twenty years ago, and from that time he’d been a devoted husband.
The next day Will told Regina he hated the story. It made him feel sick.
“Oh, that story’s not true,” Regina said. “Uncle Roy embellishes all the time.”
Will countered that her father and aunts had not questioned the story, but Regina insisted it was made-up. Her head wagged no, as if swinging along a deep groove. Suddenly he knew that whatever its truthfulness, she couldn’t accept it. He realized: even if she were the wife of that man, she wouldn’t believe the story.
That night insomnia haunted him, despite his usual trick of squeezing the pressure point between thumb and index. He rose and sat at the dining table. His roommate’s snores bored through the door. The cabinets and furniture took on new contours, reshaped by generous shadows and stingy light. He started a list. Lists organized the world, offering neat parameters and channels. On one side, Negative: Career, parents, money, physical love, and above all, Regina. His pen lingered over the Positive side without committing to the page. Finally, in a bid to put a word down, he wrote, “Called?” Then he jammed the list in the trash beneath the chicken carcass and returned to his bed where he lay, sleepless, watching moonlight drift across the floor from the fulcrum of the blinds. He worried about experiencing one of his moments, but felt nothing.
He and Regina walked near his apartment, following a meandering path through the tree-canopied canyon. It was on the outskirts of the city, full of low ranch houses splayed out on multiple-acre plots. The imprints of horse hooves were fossilized in the ground. Even though it was January, an autumnal palette of leaves clung to the trees.
They talked of teaching a Sunday school lesson about Abraham and Isaac and of visiting Santa Barbara with her parents and seven siblings. They talked of the new program that automatically censored foul language from movies. He had the feeling she was avoiding any mention of Uganda, so he hinted at the topic by saying that his boss promised a chance at promotion if he didn’t hightail it to a foreign country.
She shrank into herself, as though storing up energy before a launch. “I think I know why you feel compelled to go,” she said. She threw her shoulders back the way she did before every spiel. Then she launched into his record of service in college: missionary, soup-server, poverty minister, worship leader, camp counselor. A poster child of self-sacrifice. “And what do you do now?” she said. “Now you rent cars. Now you make money. Now you focus only on yourself and me. It’s no wonder that you feel like you need to give a little again.” She seemed satisfied by this explanation, as if hoping the sense of it would overcome his urges.
The logic was inescapable. She’d put words to something he’d once imagined: himself in that Greek myth where the protagonist stares at his reflection until he dies. Except in his case, there wasn’t one reflection but hundreds. Hundreds of mirrors surrounding him, all showing himself to himself, and it was horrifying. But that vision came only in a moments of doubt. He had created ways to give of himself, to her and to his community, even though not at the same rate. Of course he wanted to give more, but that wouldn’t justify a continental leap. “That’s not bad,” he admitted. “But I think it’s beyond that.”
“Beyond it to what?”
Will thought of a man playing a flute through the streets, and those that streamed out to follow him. He thought of images flashed so quickly that the naked eye couldn’t detect them. He thought of the trigger words used by hypnotists to set their subjects in motion. “To listening?” he said.
They walked on. He noted every item in their path, as if later he could revisit the order and quilt a patchwork of meaning. Hull of a snail, a fake mustache, an atlas page. He didn’t know how the conversation turned dark. Her tears arrived without warning. She began complaining that he was keeping her emotionally hostage. “Make a decision,” she said. “Tell me you won’t leave me.”
“Every day I make the decision to stay,” he said.
“That means any day you could go.”
He pictured himself walking out of her apartment and never going back. The idea scared him more than any nightmare. He doubted he had that willpower. He didn’t want that willpower. Her eyes scanned his face, reading the lines of his cheeks, his mouth, the ridge between eyebrows. She must have disliked what she saw.
“I didn’t want to show you this but I will,” she said.
They drove back to her apartment and she set up the laptop. A video clip with yesterday’s date. The BBC’s accents dignified even the most tragic events. It showed men in tattered jerseys waving rifles from the back of trucks. The ticker tape read “January Massacre.” The voiceover related the political troubles in Kenya, and the map flashed the long border with Uganda. Key phrases surfaced: fleeing refugees, destabilized government, dominoeing violence. The images veered from skinny men in oversized T-shirts shooting weapons to clusters of men pumping fists in the air. The segment ended on a shot of a muddy pond, with lumpy bags stacked on the shore. Then he realized. Those were not bags. Those were not bags.
“You hadn’t heard,” she said.
He imagined bullets strafing over his head or militants holding him ransom. During college, his friend’s mission trip to India had been cancelled because of a nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan, and everyone understood: you couldn’t visit the volatile regions.
“Sorry,” she said. Her eyes looked daubed with blush. “I’d hoped not to show you.”
“No, thanks. I—”
“Right,” she said. “You shouldn’t.”
“Of course not. I can’t.”
She replayed the video without sound. The jump cuts flashed rhythmically. The colors seemed brighter, the action quicker. Men’s mouths formed O’s of silent exaltation. Will turned away at the end, but Regina didn’t. She stared as the screen’s glow brightened over her face, her own mouth slowly expanding into an oval. Then she closed the laptop screen and the room fell dark.
He drove back to his apartment so slowly two cars honked at him. There did not seem to be a road; he drove mechanically, by memory. The lights of opposing vehicles refracted as if through prisms. When he stared at them without focusing, the gyre of light widened until it diffused and his sight refocused on the narrow beams. There must have been a parking space; there must have been a walk to the door.
Inside his apartment, he stood at his bedroom window. He lived with his roommate on the third floor, overlooking the park at the base of the loamy hills where he’d once picnicked with Regina. A memorial service consecrated the park—the bobbing candles looked like a revolving galaxy. He blocked out the view and leaned his head against the window. It cooled a strip on his forehead. All the distant sounds of a neighbor revving a car and his roommate’s television drained away. Each breath expanded and deflated his entire frame, the air reaching even his thighs, his head, until even his breath vanished, and he felt motionless, suspended in a vat of fluid. His head grew light, as though the blood flushed from his brain and coalesced in his chest. Then he sensed, behind eyelids, the entire room swell, objects blooming so close that he felt shrunk by their magnitude, and the shifting sizes disoriented him. His ears hurt; his equilibrium swam. It tilted him, made him drift. This time, he didn’t fight it. He let the objects press against him, overwhelm him. He sensed his own body enlarging to match their dilated size and was not afraid.
When he finally opened his eyes, he felt it. A breaker had flipped, and all of the uncertainty had settled and flattened. This he realized: all the reasons were stacked against his going, and he would still do it. He was meant to fling himself into a future he could not read. He went down to the computer, placed in the public space of the living room to encourage moral internet habits. From the kitchen came the sounds of his roommate, the shuffle of socks and clack of dishware. Although Will knew precisely what airline, what time, what website, he still ran one last check, to confirm someone hadn’t scaled the price down. He had a distressing vision that the airline had swooned out of business or that rising oil had spiked the ticket price, but nothing had changed.
When he pressed the button to buy the plane ticket, he remembered a cliff in Mexico, at the lip of the frothy sea. After his short-term team had finished building houses, they’d gone to the Caribbean coast and taken turns jumping from this cliff. It wasn’t too high, only about twenty feet, but when he was on top, it looked more like forty. The waves came in, the waves left. A sliding hue of dark blue, light blue, and grainy beige. If he didn’t time the leap right, he’d hit rock. He measured the rhythms and coaxed his heartbeat into preparing his legs. Then the moment of ditching the ground, of sailing out and over. His throat tightening up. Arms flailing. Legs flexed from the force of the jump. The bubbling up of vertigo, the uplift of a freefall armed with only timing and hope. It was a feeling he’d missed.
Back in his bedroom, gripping a printout of the confirmation number, he eyed his backpack and closet, knowing it was too soon to pack but already cataloguing the list of supplies. A chamois instead of a towel. Pure DEET instead of the diluted version because it took less space. Pants that zipped off to make shorts. He tasted tears before he realized he was crying. He wiped them from his smiling lips and left them on his cheeks. Though he hoped she would forgive him, he felt that she would not. In the center of the room, surrounded by the debris that would soon be separated into staying and going, he held out his hands, palms up, clenching and releasing, clenching and releasing. It felt good. He kept repeating the motion, imagining spheres rising from his opening palms to drift along the ceiling, each departing one reducing his weight until he felt he might float. Then he thought he heard, perhaps from the kitchen or from even farther, someone say his name.