Across the street two guys sauntered by. They both wore sunglasses with tiny mirrored lenses--one guy's tinted blue, the other's green. "No fucking way," I heard one of them say.
I went back to my car. It had a baked vinyl smell, and the seat scorched my legs. I always took the same route to the Mayers', an easy six-to eight-minute drive up Gorham to University and then up the hill, but today I headed away from Gorham instead. I crossed the isthmus that divided the lakes, and when I got close to Lake Monona I drove up and down the streets parallel to it, braking occasionally to look at some of my favorite houses: Victorians painted colors you didn't see in other neighborhoods, fuchsia and teal and deep purple. At a little lakeside park I got out and walked down to the water, where a cloud of gnats swarmed over the grassy green edge. Both lakes could lift my spirits--silvery blue when the sun was low, or vast and frosty in winter--but today they seemed flat and ordinary.
Unable to put it off any longer, I returned to my car. At the hospital I'd felt Mrs. Mayer watching me and watching me, waiting for me to break down; when the familiar shape of Mike's house came into view a little later, she was watching again, standing at the living room window with the curtain held aside, as if she'd heard I was on my way but didn't believe it.
I got out of my car. The house was big and white, a perfectly symmetrical colonial with black-shuttered windows and an iron eagle on the black front door. I hadn't been over since the accident, but the yard was as tidy as ever, the lawn so well trimmed I couldn't help thinking of something Mike liked to say, that his father came outside every morning and greeted each blade of grass by name. I thought of Mr. Mayer mowing, the smell of grass everywhere while he tried not to wonder if Mike would survive, and my stomach tilted with panic.
Mrs. Mayer opened the door. "Hi," she said with a smile. "I'm glad you're here."
I tried to smile back. At the hospital it had been hard to look at her wrecked face, but this was almost worse: she was pale and drained, as if she'd finally run out of tears.
"Let's go into the kitchen, shall we, dear?"
I followed her through the large, old rooms: past couches where Mike and I had sat together, tables where I'd casually piled my schoolbooks. It was my house, too, in a way.
The air conditioning was blowing hard, and when we got to the kitchen Mrs. Mayer said she'd make tea. I sat at the big oak table while she filled her kettle and got tea bags from a glass jar painted with hearts.
"Mr. Mayer can't get comfortable this summer," she said. "I try to keep the house cool, but every evening he comes in and complains it's stifling. It's colder than the hospital, don't you think?" She pulled her sweater close, a boucle cardigan she was wearing over a flowered shirtwaist dress, its "self-belt" knotted in the front. It was the kind of ageless, styleless dress she always wore, the very kind of thing I'd first liked about her, that she was happy to look like a mom.
"It is chilly," I said.
The kettle whistled and she poured from it, then brought our cups to the table. "Let me get you your lemon." She crossed to the refrigerator and took one out, then cut it into wedges. She spread them on a flowered saucer and set them before me. "Would you like a bun? We've been given so much food I don't know what to do with it all."
"Actually, I'm OK."
She pulled out the chair opposite me and sat down. She ran her hand over her hair, and I noticed that her perm had grown out, and gray roots were visible along the part line. She blew on her tea and cleared her throat. "Are you going today?"
I picked up my cup. I thought about trying to explain about yesterday--about the two-week marker, about how our reaching that point had scared me--but I knew she was aware of it, too; and scared, too; and that she'd gone anyway. I blew on my tea and took a sip, the lemon in it tart and satisfying.
Excerpted from The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer Copyright 2002 by Ann Packer. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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