The silence. I can’t remember, did we live in it before the accident? Jack leaves so early, even in the dark of winter. I get up and in the dim light I walk the halls of the house. It’s too quiet. The floorboards creak. The water hisses and pounds in the pipes of the radiators. Somebody told me it’s stupid to heat this house with all the children gone, but the winter after Chris died I closed the valve to the radiator in his room and one morning I was up walking the hall — I don’t think I was even here. I was still just walking around in shock, not really hearing or seeing anything. And when I passed his room I heard this terrible pounding — the pipes pounding against the closed valve. And suddenly I saw — I almost fell down — I had a picture of him, in the dark, trying to swim up out of the car, coming up on the ice in that pond, pounding against it, banging on it, trying to get through. I couldn’t — god, I can’t even think about it now. So I opened the valve. I don’t want to hear that pounding again.
The pounding just reminds me of the silence. There were so many nights that winter, cold nights, I came to bed and you were there. I know you were awake. Even with just the little bit of light beaming in from the bathroom, I could tell. Face it, I may not know you anymore but I know your breathing after almost thirty years. The slow breathing I used to resent because it meant you had succeeded in tuning me out and managed to drop off to sleep while I would sit there for hours staring at the ceiling, unable to cool the rage. What were those fights about? I don’t remember. I can’t piece things together from before the accident — it’s as if I’ve forgotten what our story was. I just have pieces of a quilt of memories that are no longer sewn together into anything. Just pieces that might have told me of a marriage that was going bad, if I had been awake enough to pay attention.
Now I’m all alone in this empty house. The kids are off to college, to real careers somewhere, away from this house, this town of ghosts. Kristin didn’t want to come for Christmas, wanted to go off to Duluth with the boyfriend I haven’t even met. I’m sure it’s better than being here and watching the silent shadow-play of your parents’ unraveling. You get up in the dark and are gone. You come home far too late for dinner, when you know it will be sitting on a plate in the oven, trying to keep warm, while I am sitting somewhere else in the house. When was the last time you came to ask me how things were at work, at the plant? Some nights I come up to bed and find you’re there, already asleep — yes, I can hear the breathing. You’ve eaten your dinner, I think, or at least cleaned up your plate. Do you enter the house on tiptoes, so that I won’t hear you and come? Or did I marry a ghost and not realize it until now?