What an awful thing then, being there in our house together with our daughter gone, trying to be equal to so many sudden orders of sorrow, any one of which alone would have wrenched us from our fragile orbits around each other. Susan took her tea up to the bedroom. I went to the foot of the stairs and called to her. I said I thought it was a good idea that she go by herself to be with her family. I raised my broken hand and fit it to the hole I had punched in the wall, as if to insert a casting back into its mold. I withdrew my hand a few inches, imagining the hole filling back in and broken bones mending. Stop pretending, I thought. Face facts.
"Susan," I said. "How does that seem to you, you going to see your family?" I lowered my hand. I felt like an actor in a play, the house a cutaway set, the first floor the living room and hallway and foot of the stairs, the second f oor the bedroom. The husband stands at the foot of the stairs, calling up to his wife. The wife moves around the bedroom, putting piles of clothes away but also selecting pieces that she makes into a separate pile on a small armchaira hand-me-down, clearly, upholstered in an old-fashioned pattern of faded pink and blue bouquets of hydrangeas and roses and leaves and branches of berries. As the audience watches the husband, the actor playing the husband, the actor playing the husband struggling to figure out what to say, as if he strains to author his own lines, as if he is struggling to compose his own words, it becomes apparent that although the wife does not respond to her husband, the clothes she is setting aside are all hers and are what she is packing, or thinking she'd pack, for going back to her family. The audience already knows she will go and some members already know or suspect she will not come back, but the husband and wife must play the full scene, of course. The audience already knows that she will pack the clothes into a suitcase, something she does not quite yet know; nor does he. They are a young couple who had a single child young and who lost the child in an instant of combustion and are straggling around their home in shock at the child's death but nonetheless trying to spare each other in at least some slight degree the full blow of the end of their fragile marriage by acting as if it isn't the end for just a little longer, by spreading the blow over just a little more time so it does not fall on them all at once.
Time is mercy, I thought. Knowing that did me exactly no good and there I was at the foot of those stairs, part of me wishing I could just say out loud, "It's okay, Susan. You can go and I know it's done and let's just get it over with," but the rest of me struggling with what I should say next, so that the inevitable would play out in the fullness of time. Even in the midst of so much pain, an impatience overtook me, and for the first time I imagined the cemetery, the headstone on the slope, the Norway maples and the granite crypts and the gravedigger's shack and the spigot and plastic jug for watering the fl owers, and sitting behind and above Kate's stone and thinking about her, talking with her. I imagined the set of the house, with Susan and me moving around in it, revolving to reveal another set, of the cemetery. The actor playing the husband could go through a trap door in the set of the house, while it rotated, and up a narrow ladder, to a hatchway cut into the top of the cemetery set. He could open the hatch, climb onto the artificial cemetery lawn, close the hatch, and find his mark as the set turned toward the audience's view.
"Sue?" I asked. "I don't know. This is all so, so shit-ass crazy. But maybe it's something you should think about doing." Listen to the husband, I thought. Listen to the actor, how he takes the line and delivers it with a kind of strangled levity, imparting the truth that, even as he speaks the line, he realizes that the tone of his voice only intensifies the tragedy of what he says, rather than alleviating it, as he intended. Susan left for Minnesota the next day. I was too groggy from the painkillers to drive her, so one of her coworkers from the school picked her up. Before she left, she went shopping and bought food she thought would be easy for me to prepare for myself, bread and cold cuts and jars of peanut butter and jelly and a dozen cans of soup. I told her to call me when she got there and to say hi to her family and to send my love and regrets, my embarrassment, at not coming along. We hugged each other and I kissed her on the forehead and said I was sorry. I said hi to her friend from work, whose name I didn't know, and I put her suitcase in the backseat of the car. I kissed her again and she got into the car and the car pulled out of the driveway and drove off and that was the last time I saw her.
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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