Milwaukee, December, 1983. I carried her sparrow-light, lifeless body to the car and propped it up in the front seat. Father's feet crunched on the driveway's gravel ahead of me. I thought of him carrying me in from the car, drowsy and happy, after a night at the drive-in, slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, when I was as easy to lift as she was now. He used to smell like after-shave and pipe tobacco, I remembered; how comforting that combination of smells had once been, and how intensely I had grown to detest the cloying odor of Borkum Riff, his acrid, shabby suits, cheap shoes. My hands shot out from my position in the back seat to cradle Mother's head when Father throwing the car into reverse caused it to loll crazily to the side.
Three letters were burnt out over the entrance: N, C, and Y. Mercurochrome-red neon letters, luridly smudged like badly-applied lipstick by what I suppose to have been tears, though I can't remember, read EMERGE. It seemed absurd to pile her remains into a wheelchair in order to present her to the triage nurse, but there you have it: even Charon must abide by the rules. I never cry when I am really unhappy, or when I feel that I am being manipulated, and I didn't cry then. I simply did my job.
A bored resident pronounced her no longer quick. The last time I saw her she was covered loosely with a sheet, her arm hanging out over the edge of the gurney, her husband twisting her wedding ring off, saying, 'These things tend to disappear in morgues, trust me.'
Father dealt with the legalities of death. I walked out into the parking lot, where an empty ambulance and a cop car were parked. An exhausted paramedic and an orderly sat on the curb, sharing a cigarette, blowing the smoke out into the cold night air. I looked up at the Milky Way, stuffed my hands in my pockets, wondered what was going on inside, walked back in, found a pay phone, dropped some change in, called a friend in Colorado. No answer.
Victims of a car wreck were wheeled in. Blood. I've got to get out of here, I thought. 'But where can I go? Where is my life? Back to Philadelphia? No. To Colorado, to stay with friends? Why not? School's on break; it is as good a place to go as any.' I returned to the pay phone and booked a ticket for the first flight out. Father emerged through the crash doors. 'Let's go home,' he said, throwing me the car keys. 'You drive.'
Home. Home? We both stayed up for the rest of the night. This in itself was not unusual: I had been an insomniac for as long as I could remember; so had he. Growing up, we often ran into one another after everyone else was asleep. I don't know what he did, but I knew I was never coming back, so I moved from room to room, trying to fix each one in memory. I took her diary, several favorite books, some pictures, and two small statues she had sculpted—of Icarus before the fall, and of Lear with his Fool. I wrapped them in dirty shirts and socks, zipped them into my cheap luggage, and set them beside the front door.
The sun rose. Birds sang. The cab came. I flew to Colorado. Ten hours later I was astride a horse on the top of Cheyenne Mountain.
'NORAD' is beneath us,' my friend said.
'My name backwards,' I replied, thinking that I had read somewhere that there were three huge underground reservoirs down there, so large that workers sometimes crossed them in rowboats.
'Like Justinian,' I said out loud.
'What?' my friend asked.
'It doesn't matter,' I replied.
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