I woke in the night with a start. I do that sometimes, just like the movies, from a nightmare that I can't remember. I woke with a line replaying over and over in my head: the rest is history.
The house was silent. The house is never, ever silent. It quiets at night, but always through the walls plays Brad's television on low, or Grady's record player softly crying out over the small hours.
The house was dark. The house is never, ever dark. In the recesses of Clyde's room, and Matthew's, it gets pitch black, but light spills under the doors from the courtyard, and the windows in rooms three and nine. Christmas lights, lightning bugs, televisions, and the yellow displays on old radios all contribute to the low glow of the house at night, but this time it was dark.
The bed beside me was empty, and I could see on the floor of my bedroom wet footprints belonging to someone I suspect was Clyde, having used my bathtub. I knew immediately that Matthew's absence meant he was going to kill himself. That the night of the great train collision had finally come, and I'd... fucking... slept... through it.
But if it was late, there was still time to stop him. And so I stood up to get dressed in my foxing clothes, which forever litter the floor of room nine.
I was putting on my shoes when Adam came to the door. I saw his outline in the window, and he knocked softly with a single knuckle.
He knocked. The first time since I'd known him to do that.
"What?" I asked the door, and he pushed it open, to find me dressed. The darkness of the late hour had a smell and a tangible quality in the air. Heavy, as if speaking loudly were no longer allowed in the low ceiling of the night.
"Evelyn," he said softly. "Please, you can't go."
He stood in the doorway, the light from my bedside lamp touching his bare skin. He was naked, although his eyes told me plainly he had not been sleeping. I only looked at him, disbelieving that he would tell me this when it was the one place I wanted to be. I could see a familiar pain in his eyes, dark and distant, his eyebrows knitted but still innocent.
Whatever horrors Adam or any other man might become, he still casts the shadow of a boy across my doorway, eyes a-large and questioning their fathers.
"Why not?" I asked him, and his hands reached toward me, slight, palms out almost in apology.
"I..." he began, but hesitated, and glanced at the bedroom door next to mine. He shuffled his way into the room, to close the door behind him. Adam's smell is stinging and almost chemical. Pine needles and moss, in a cold rain. I could smell it when he crossed to sit beside me on the bed, his shoulders low and defeated. He began to cry silent tears which fell ignored onto his thighs.
"The... the wolf is loose in Manchester," he explained. "I have tracked it there. If you go to him... Evelyn, please."
"Clyde's asleep," I reminded him, pressing against his shoulder with my weight. It had been almost a month since he'd been in my room at night, and almost 2 years since we had a place we might call ours together. There was something platonic between us, and maybe even strange.
"Clyde is asleep," he agreed with me. "Yes. But the wolf. Is loose in Manchester. If you go to him, he will kill you."
When I protested, he interrupted and placed the pads of his fingers on my arm.
"Roseanne and Jack are taking care of it. They've promised to stop him."
"What do I do?" I asked him, and he looked up at the dark ceiling as if praying for strength.
"He'll call you, I think," he said at length. "He will no doubt call you."
"I want to be alone," I told him, feeling the sphere of things I can control shrinking to a size no bigger than all my collected snow globes. As he left, I tried to fight off the panic that something is now going to happen that I can not shepherd into my own understanding. That Matthew's life was now in your hands. I laid back in bed, fully clothed, and looked at my telephone, used only once, to call Matthew, on the 3rd of February of last year.
I had said to him, "Forgive the unbearable lateness of the hour," and it hadn't sounded like something I would normally say. I knew then that it was Ian's salutation on this night. I said it to him because he said it to me, the night he killed himself.
My telephone is a turquoise-green princess phone that I keep trying to make pink but isn't. I laid still and waited for it to ring, and felt a mixture of many strange things at once.
The world was shifting. I could feel the kaleidoscope moving, and I felt angry we hadn't yet determined why we were stuck in Dead Poet's Society. That you hadn't really boarded a train with us. That we didn't know for certain if this was the cyclone to Oz. That things had been happening so fast, I couldn't hold onto them, and now...
Now there was a finality in this moment. Winter had come, and when winter comes, I am only one thing, and I am only in one place, and all this would come undone because I will move away from Ian, and the snow globe will disappear forever. I could feel Adam's panic all around me, and Clyde's insidious grin.
Of course, Adam would say or do anything to keep me in the house when the wolf is out. So I wondered if Matthew would really call, or if he simply said that to...
Of course, I also knew that Ian begs for Deborah to take him back before his death, and so the overwhelming feeling I'd have of being the other woman under you intensified in the late night.
So he'd go back to the one of us who'd actually read The Idiot. Sure, I get it. What God creates, man destroys.
I ran through the details in my head, that I knew. I tried to focus on seeing him alone in the kitchen, but I couldn't distinguish him from what I simply wanted to be there. A tea set. A broken clock. A safe arrival of you with a schnauzer under your arm.
Ian rifles through the content of the fridge in 77 Barton. It's spare inside, as Deb has not yet done the weekly shopping. He tugs the tuck of his shirt against his ribs. There is a determined look in his eyes that I recognize in Matthew's, on the day we met in this life. On the day we met in this life when he'd decided to die.
He wrote me a letter, in which he'd said, "Sincerely, I came to see you knowing you're the only one who wouldn't talk me out of what I wanted."
No, I guess I wouldn't have.
In the deep green shirt, I watch him, or think I do, kneel onto the tile the color of fatigue. It happens always; it happens forever. He is wearing his shoes as if he believes he will need them for his departure. He kneels, and he lets the weight of his body go against the clothesline, and he waits. He is patient. He is...
When I was a girl, I knew a boy who killed himself in what seems to be an accidental parody of Ian.
Am I still a girl? Life moves always in these cycles that mean we can't escape anything or anyone.
In some world, this happens forever. In some places, I wait, low against the rocks of the moon, and watch the other half of my heart die on a floor in Macclesfield. Outside the windows of the front room, the trees wave in the darkness from the park. While he leans low over the tiles, I feel him sink into me. He sinks into me, the words which flow along the pathways of his blood and the unheard notions he failed to communicate. The way he had God inside him, as Rosie would say, sinks into me like a stain in our sheets.
I didn't mean to love him like this. I would have greatly preferred not to, if we're being honest. I didn't mean to fall in love with him in this way that now bubbles up through the cracks in me, to find places where what I wish were true is forced to touch fact and ruin it. I might've ruined us with wishes, Jack, you and me.
My hand shakes as I pick up the phone and dial any number at all. If you dial any number, Grady will be on the other end of the line. Does that just work in Gray House? I've never tried it elsewhere.
"Did they make it?" I ask the silence that follows his short greeting. I hear potato chips crunching in his mouth, all business tonight at the Roads and out of favors to do for me.
"It's being taken care of," he tells me before the line goes dead.