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Darkie

It snowed and snowed the night before the loss. It was just after Christmas, when many in the Bedford-Lexington community would gladly swipe bank cards for a painterly dusting of white. If you traveled for the holiday and wanted to get back, the storm was a nuisance and a time suck. If, like Q, you were home alone with your husband, it amounted to a reckoning.

She wasn’t technically alone with Adam; she had Bruno and the cats. The morning of the loss she sat at the dining room table in front of the glass doors, working on a poem about driving. Adam had whistled for Bruno and uttered the magic word. True to his breed, Bruno metamorphosed into a conduit of joy after assault by snow. He danced in circles and ran to the table to kiss Q goodbye.

“You haven’t even shoveled,” she said, smoothing the dog’s coat.

“So?”

“Where are you going?” she asked, looking out at the conspiracy of white. “I may come and meet you.”

He laughed. “Why?”

“What do you mean why?”

“This is about me and Darkie. It doesn’t concern you.”

“Please don’t call him that.”

“I’m going with snowshoes,” he announced.

To say that her marriage had fallen apart was a cliché Q nonetheless whispered when reaching for something just beyond her grasp—something Bruno had got into and left under the sofa. She’d met Adam at a housewarming party. Neither was looking for an entry point to a new life. The first time you marry for love; the second for compatibility of earthly desires. She’d been divorced nearly three years, he somewhat longer. He had a son at Phillips Exeter and said his messy breakup made the boy sadly distant; in short: no more kids.

They agreed that the things they wanted were strikingly similar—a quiet life, a well-designed house, an affectionate dog—except that after the vows, he became explicit about the house and breed: midcentury ranch and black Lab. She had always had cats, but before Bruno she had rescued a dog on death row, too old for adoption. He lasted five years and she missed him dreadfully. The cats did too. She didn’t want a dog from a breeder, a dog with papers. She pushed for a pit bull or pit bull mix. “Why,” he asked, “so you can write odes to a ghetto dog?” If he asked that to shut her up, it certainly worked. She couldn’t get any words out at the time. This was back at the beginning, however, when she focused on the “how” and not the “why.”

And then the house. They agreed to look for one they could restore to a lost integrity. She thought that meant old-old with craftsmanship. His idea was architectural boldness and singularity. These were her first two lessons of married life the second time around: although you might not make the same mistakes, you can make new ones that are equally terrible.

She’d made her deal with the devil. And yet she ended up head over heels in love with the house and the dog—less so the money. Before Adam she’d had years of hard times. She’d just lost out on a large grant for which she’d been shortlisted. Winner takes all and number two takes nothing. There he was, good-looking and wealthy by her standards. He was highly, frightfully intelligent in a way she couldn’t fully understand. “Marry me and you can be a full-time poet,” he said. “You don’t have to work. You don’t need an income.”

During their accelerated courtship Adam acted as though his financial success was no big deal. But after Bruno and the house—in the midst of their massive physical labor gutting and plastering—he became more and more money-driven. He had lost a large share of wealth with the recession and was paying child support based on his net worth at the time of his divorce in 2004. Q felt his obsession steadily progress toward the end of their first year of marriage. She felt it reach a crescendo midway through the second. And then suddenly, freefall that began with “Queenie.”

It was idiotic for her parents to name her Queen, replicating her paternal grandmother’s misfortune. The world recognized that. Adam had recognized that. But one day he began calling her Queenie with gleeful condescension. His internal meltdown arrived without physical drama or visible threats to self. He announced he was retiring early—at forty-two—to devote himself to a philosophical inquiry. He announced that he would work at home alongside her.

He had a theory he refused to explain. The reason? “Because I don’t have a whiteboard and you don’t have the capacity to follow.” It had something to do with the as-yet-unsolvable “P versus NP Problem” in programming science. It also had something to do with T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. And because of Eliot, it had something to do with Beethoven’s String Quartets in A Minor and F Major.

He knew a bit about so many things that his intellect posed a combustible hazard should something central suddenly go wrong. He lamented the decline of moral standards in America and the loss of the New England intellectual culture. He bizarrely held up Calvin Coolidge as the most underrated Yankee of all time.

He became racist in all directions but mostly in regard to Muslims. She wondered if it stemmed from Eliot’s anti-Semitism; that is, if he’d simply made ethnicity adjustments to remain true to a core prejudice. One day he started calling their dog Darkie. He did so blatantly, shouting the name down the road. Inside, he would say in a patronizing voice, “My family, my rock. Queenie and Darkie.”

By chance that morning after the storm, children sledding had watched the scene unfold from a distance. They were at the top of a hill, ready to go down once more, to where their fathers stood in silence playing with new Apple products. The kids saw the dog run out onto the ice-covered pond. They watched as the ice broke, the dog braced itself and then plunged in a fit of fear. They watched as the man took off his snowshoes and ran out after the dog. He disappeared as well. This happened four miles away from the house, in a community Q had never been to.

She had friends come to the house, but she didn’t want to leave, to go out and get her mind off the loss. Her isolated state of grieving seemed warranted given that it was more for the dog than the man. She could still hear Bruno’s paws and nails on the wood floors in every part of the house. They had in fact chosen the house because of him. They drove out to see the breeder and passed a for sale sign. Q had no experience of the house’s sounds outside of Bruno being there. Her three cats were a comfort, but they, too, kept waiting his return.

Her mourning for Adam fused onto the fact that he had died trying to save Bruno. The thought of that level of compassion and love coexisting with a mixed-up mind confounded her to no end. For months his mental state had been her life’s problem. It was no longer just a question of ending a marriage. It was finding a way to help him first. She had tried many times to talk to his ex-wife, to learn what might be happening to the man they had both married. But Claire would not speak to her, which only intensified the mystery.

Adam remained perfectly healthy all through the disintegration of his character—didn’t use drugs or alcohol, got the right amount of sleep, kept himself fit. All her questions seemed to bounce back. Was it the marriage that caused his unraveling? Was it herself as a person? How could you separate the two—you as Q or you as the wife, as “Queenie”? Was it her fault that she married for conventional reasons, the reasons most people do? She would never get answers from Claire, who would not come to the funeral or allow her son to attend.

Adam’s own father in Providence didn’t show either. He worked his life laying cement and never forgave his two sons for putting on airs. Adam’s mother had died of lung cancer before he and Q met. His father claimed his sons never came to visit their dying mother. It was a tangle of resentment Q didn’t want to be involved in.

At the funeral people didn’t know what to say. Q’s sister and brother came without spouses and stayed just overnight. They could hardly contain their anger at the things Adam had said on Twitter—things Q refused to know. Her mother had broken an ankle and didn’t want to fly. David, her ex-husband, gallantly showed up with a girlfriend who called him “Dave” and her tween daughter whose wardrobe uncertainties made for a visual source of comic relief. The faces from both Adam’s life and hers tried to express what words could not. These were the people he had insulted wantonly over the past six months, reaching out to burn bridges. One old friend had the balls for guarded optimism: “Well, you’re free.”

Q felt anything but free. She dreaded sorting through the recent mysteries of Adam’s life let alone his historical life as a freestanding entity. She would not go anywhere near his life online. He had several devices on which he worked feverishly, but he also obsessively made lists on paper. She started this painful process by randomly picking up paper and notepads on which he’d composed a single list and then left the rest of the pad fallow. One list was trivial yet devastating: he counted the number of impatient steps Bruno took between each instance of scratching at the door of the study, waiting to be let in. The study had been intended for her to do her writing. When Adam announced he was working at the home he had paid for, that meant he was taking over the room where she had always left the door open. He worked with it closed.

Being alone in the empty house did not make Q any sadder than being anywhere else with other people, but it made her see the past few months with greater clarity. The house had become everything to her short of poetry. They’d been renovating it themselves for almost the length of their marriage. It was done in the sense of being habitable but was spiritually a work-in-progress. On more than a few occasions she had imagined having to choose between living without the house and living without Bruno. She did this as punishment for her extreme attachment to what was essentially real estate.

A few days after the funeral Q answered a call on the landline from Adam’s brother, Mark. “Can I come to the house?”

She was surprised he had flown in given that Adam had rebuffed any attempt at contact throughout the time of their marriage. He said his brother wasn’t biologically intelligent, just an opportunist. If her mother had seen Mark at the funeral she’d say he looked like he was after something. And she would be right: he tried to get Q’s cell number. To Q, he looked like a worn-down version of Adam. He was six years younger and a couple inches shorter. He had the bloodshot eyes of disappointment. He trained to be a chef since Johnson and Wales, opened several failed restaurants in Seattle and Portland. At the funeral he said he was getting into real estate.

She didn’t want Mark Cullen in the house. “Adam wouldn’t like that,” she said.

He said he was staying at the Marriott in Lexington and had to get out or he’d shoot someone. She thought how the logical answer to his predicament would be to go home to Oregon, but she suggested dinner at a trendy place Adam would never go to. She said she would meet him there—and pay for dinner. That might’ve been a dig, but she had no patience for pretense.

“That’s a weird way to phrase it,” he said while aggressively filling a plate with mussel shells.

She’d been distracted by the other tables of content-looking upper-middle-class people. Calm and poised, not a lot of bared skin. The hair, the teeth, the flash of the kind of wristwatch that kept the New Yorker in business. One after another after another.

“Phrase what?” she asked.

“The accident—as a loss.”

“But it is a loss,” she said. “I lost my family.”

“He was crazy,” said Mark. “He was belligerent, dangerous.”

“You’re saying things you’ve heard secondhand with certainty. You shouldn’t do that.”

“Sorry. I didn’t realize you loved him so much.”

“That’s a weird way to phrase it—loved him so much.”

“What do you mean?”

“As if there are appropriate degrees of loving that onlookers can decide.”

He mustered a cockeyed grin. “I’m only his brother, so I guess that makes me an onlooker.”

She looked away from his mussel shells. “I wanted to help him but I didn’t know how.”

“Maybe he wanted out—of life, I mean.”

She shook her head. “He put on snowshoes.”

He laughed. “I still can’t believe you’re putting racist ashes in Mount Auburn Cemetery.”

She smirked as if he was putting her on. “What white person buried there wasn’t a racist?”

“They didn’t all tweet about it.”

“The urn they intend to put in the ground contains two sides of a coin.”

“What,” he said smiling, “you think the dog cancels him out?”

She looked away. “Bruno could cancel out a whole hill full of Coolidges.”

He laughed again. “Did you buy yourself a plot next to them?”

She closed her eyes at the thought. “He bid on that plot at a silent auction years ago—a charity event at work.”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I forgot that they’re drowning in money in his world.”

She suddenly felt sorry for the biologically inferior brother—sorry for the fact that the thing he wanted was merely money. All this for money. But at the same time, she could not steer the conversation clear of a shared history of having none of it for very long. Mark and Adam were worlds apart. Adam gave up any artistic aspirations and made good before he hit thirty. He was a force.

Mark kept saying he’d love to see what she and Adam had done to the house. His coy mannerisms irritated her. She had no intention of taking him home.

“2011 is a bad time to be getting into real estate,” she said.

He laughed. “No time is a bad time for real estate. It will get better—people will be flipping houses. Then it will get worse.”

She could tell he was a serious drinker. That made sense since he was in the food service industry. And he kept mentioning the pot her had in his hotel room. That made sense too, given the air of dude resignation that hung about him. There came a moment during their drawn-out dinner conversation when she felt herself of clear mind with a hand on the lever. Yes or no? Would she allow him to guilelessly and amateurishly exploit a gaping wound? His pursuit of this end to the evening was conducted with the certainty that she would melt into a genetic compromise. Did he really think physical resemblance counted for so much?

Why did she do it? Maybe because that’s what happens in books and movies and on TV. It’s all right to grieve. It’s all right to fuck your dead husband’s brother. It makes you human if you’re a widow. It makes you an insensitive brute if the shoe’s on the other foot.

She returned to Bedford early in the morning to angry cats and the same empty house. As she doled out their overdue food in the silence of 6 a.m., she was so startled by what she heard that she dropped the dish in her hand.

The days of reckoning and arranging for the funeral constituted a fugue in which she indulged every painful thing her mind could imagine. Now, however, fucking the brother pretty much killed the mood. Connection with the mainland made everything different. The cats lustily ate the spilled food; they didn’t hear Bruno’s paws.

She walked around the house with her coat on, like a stranger. Adam had turned the study into a cluttered dorm room that she hated entering. Piles of papers on the floor encircled the desk. She could see a blue notepad that must have fallen to the floor. She picked up what appeared to be a list of snowfall. He had to have made it the morning of the accident.

  1. February 17-18, 2003 27.5 inches
  2. February 6-7, 1978 27.1 inches
  3. February 24-27, 1969 26.3 inches
  4. March 31-April 1, 1997 25.4 inches
  5. January 22-23, 2005 22.5 inches
  6. January 20-21, 1978 21.4 inches
  7. March 3-5, 1960 19.8 inches
  8. February 16-17, 1958 19.4 inches
  9. February 8-10, 1994 18.7 inches
  10. January 7-8, 1996 18.2 inches
  11. December 20-22, 1975 18.2 inches
  12. December 26-27, 2010 18.2 inches

The way he spelled out “inches” a dozen times—she felt a surge of pity. The longer she stared, the more his list resembled verse. She had looked at so much poetry over the years that nothing she experienced could not be rolled up within it. Her mother couldn’t understand why she had Bruno cremated and his ashes placed in an urn with Adam’s. “They came up together” was her rationalization. It seemed logical. But of course that logic came from Seamus Heaney’s verse about the petrified corpses of the bog people, the exhumed victims of tribal sacrifice.

She already thought of her dead husband as Tollund Man, “bridegroom to the goddess” who achieves a “sad freedom” within the bog. Such strands of text formed a polyglot Scripture that was the closest thing she had to belief. The words of the poets oftentimes seemed the only way she could recognize order in the world.

It was obvious that her own poetry had improved at the house. It gradually began to follow the aesthetic design of simplicity and balance. Her peers and colleagues might’ve said “This marriage has made you a better writer.” She wondered if she came to love the house so intensely simply because she made artistic progress here, because she could work here. If the house was a sacred site, it was because of agency. She often conveyed this conviction to Adam, wanting him to know how much she appreciated the clean, well-lighted place.

Adam knew that her relationship with the idea of “house” was twisted. Her mother raised three children on her own in a small apartment in Yonkers. She pined after a house but had to put food on the table. She wanted the sort of newer old house that was Natalie Wood’s big payoff in Miracle on 34th Street. She foolishly believed she could achieve that—a house in Westport that she could buy and lovingly restore.

Q couldn’t say how many times in high school she’d be getting ready to go out as her mother sat alone on the sofa watching reruns of This Old House. A lot of times Q would sit down next to her in her jacket and lip gloss, ready to scoot any minute. But something kept her there—not so much charity or love but a fascination with meticulous, arduous process that seemed to defy completion. Each aspect was part of a larger concatenation that was all idea rather than product. Much like the reading and writing of poetry, that world of restoring an old house the crockpot way was long gone in a culture where you could get the reveal within thirty minutes and be done with it forever.

Later that day a car pulled up out front. It was early afternoon but Q could see that the driver getting out was already high on something. She intended to stop him at the threshold, though she felt herself no barrier without Bruno at her side.

“Why are you here?” she asked from behind the storm door.

Mark put his palm on the glass. “To pick up where we left off.”

“We left off at the part where there is any kind of we,” she said. “I thought I made that clear this morning.”

“You’re a fucking cold woman.”

She could smell the alcohol as it misted the glass. “This is his world, Mark. This is his domain.”

“Yeah, well he’s dead now. The domain name goes with him.”

“Don’t you have a plane to catch?”

“I’m thinking of moving back.”

“You can do whatever you want.”

“You won’t let me inside.”

“I didn’t build this world here. It wasn’t my money. And now I guess I’m only the curator.”

After much stilted banter through the door, she agreed to go for a walk. She said yes even though she sensed a threat when he drank. Adam never drank. She never felt physically threatened by her husband despite his eruptions of hideous words. He offered the same physical tenderness even at the end—and she was a hypocrite to take it, to accept his body. Her rationalization she cribbed from the bard of errant husbands: “Beauty makes sex sex.”

Mark was startled by a teenager who appeared out of nowhere on a skateboard, a long-haired boy who always made a point of being in his own world. This encounter prompted him to talk about Adam’s son. “He has ADHD and a lot of more serious problems.”

She felt goaded down a road she wasn’t ready to contemplate. “I didn’t know about the more serious problems.”

“Why don’t you know this stuff? You were his father’s wife.”

Having worn a sweater and not a jacket, she crossed her arms as they walked—the universal pose of the concerned suburban mother from across the street. “I thought that I’d work on Adam—that later I’d gradually get to know Ethan. I guess now that won’t happen.”

“Claire was the problem,” he said. “She wouldn’t acknowledge there was anything wrong with the kid.”

“She would never talk to me,” said Q.

After a silence he responded to himself with a sigh. “What does it matter now? It’s probably something that runs in our bloodline. Adam knew enough to stop at one.”

This was the moment she should have said she didn’t think that was true about the bloodline—as a way to comfort him.

“Why didn’t you have them cut apart his brain?” Mark asked. “He played football in high school.”

She laughed. “He told me he was a bench warmer. They put him in and he ran away from the ball.”

“What if it wasn’t his fault?”

“How would knowing that change anything now?”

“It might help Ethan.”

“That was Claire’s call to make. She dissed everything to do with him.”

After several moments of silence, he said, “The kid couldn’t look you in the eye even if he wanted to. He wouldn’t talk.”

She laughed. “A lot of kids won’t talk. That doesn’t mean anything these days.”

Somehow the conversation straightened out whatever had been jerking Mark’s nerves. He eventually got in his rental car and drove off, leaving Q standing at the end of the driveway.

The gloaming made its appearance at an absurd hour this time of year, always rushed and unprepared. Daylight, meanwhile, played a coy and cruel game, ghosting itself from the landscape after a single date. Everything in the dead of winter was the metal of swords. We all had to man up.

Q barely had the initiative to unlock her arms let alone go back in the house. She stared at the property under the disappearing light. Thinking of herself as its mistress meant feeling the worst kind of imposter. Adam had made no will; he just designated beneficiaries. She wondered how he would have doled out his assets if he knew death was imminent.

The only time they really talked about death was when they met, at the housewarming party in Huron Village. When she told him she was a poet he said he was raised a working-class Catholic, as if the two conditions ran parallel tracks. He said that his inclination was to rebel not against Catholicism but against its ignorant, ethnically derived complacency, hence his later obsession with the Anglicanism of T. S. Eliot. He talked about string literal concatenation in computer programming in relation to Four Quartets. “The metrical code of these poems is more complex than anyone who came before him.”

She told him she was only familiar with the Fourth Quartet, “Little Gidding.”

His face brightened. “Section 2 is the first formal section to use a recurrent dactylic rhythm as its only formal device.”

She laughed. “All I know is the death part.”

He nodded. “The death of air, the death of earth, the death of water and fire.”

“That’s the real moment,” she said, “at dawn when the poet encounters ‘a familiar compound ghost’ and they ‘trod the pavement in a dead patrol.’ ”

He smiled. “That’s why I never walk at dawn.”

“That image of the ‘exasperated spirit’ forever rehashing all the wrongs done to him and by him—that’s devastating.”

“Hell of a way to end up.” Then he added, “But you always have to wonder: Which one is the principal and which has the walk-on role?”

He was right about that, she thought as she walked toward the house. Who is it that really endures—the ghost or the poet?

She was relieved later that night when Mark texted from the airport, waiting for a flight to Detroit and then on to Portland. His ordinary words on her phone seemed like something you could wrap in tissue and place in a box with a label. Literal mementos—we kept them only as talismans, never intending to relive our tragedies.

A minute later he sent a second text: “It’s all good.” This one made her laugh. She repeated the phrase in the empty house as she got ready for bed: It’s all good, it’s all good. As she drifted off to sleep, weighted down by three well-fed cats, she could hear a much larger animal pacing in the hallway. She switched on the light; the sleeping cats did not flinch. She got up to turn on more lights and eventually the television. She stayed up most of the night in front of the television, wondering why it was Bruno to come back and not the exasperated spirit of Adam.

As the weeks passed, Q worked diligently at the dining room table. There were few interruptions to distract her from finishing the manuscript for her editor on deadline. When she looked up, however, there was the problem of the haunted house. Adam had left her in semi-reasonable comfort. She could rig it so she never had to work. There would be no high life, but then there would be no low life either. From the start of their marriage he mocked the frugal way of living she had grown accustomed to—no cabs, no takeout, Peter Pan buses. He tormented her for her unwillingness to spend his money.

It began to make her angry, what he did to her—went crazy and died. He made the choice for both of them. As the loss became more distant, she found that her memory could hopscotch over months of verbal abuse and go right to the crux of the union—the two of them working together in silence. She had never felt closer to anyone in that silence. No music, no radio, only the periodic heavy sighs of Bruno splayed out on the floor nearby.

She realized it was the sounds of Bruno that prevailed during their marriage. And now some of these sounds lived on in a seemingly arbitrary way, like the involuntary responses in a corpse. There was no rhythm or schedule to the incidents—sometimes twice a day, sometimes nothing for more than a week. One evening while brushing her teeth she heard the paws outside the bathroom and they followed her as she walked around the house with the toothbrush in her mouth.

Her recourse at these times was the television she had previously paid little attention to. If it was the right time of day she’d click to Anderson Cooper, whose white hair made him a ghost transposed onto himself. The news wasn’t a place of escape, however; same for the carnage and grotesqueries of prestige TV.

Whenever riled from sleep in the wee hours, she turned on Nick at Nite, finding consolation in the jarring laugh tracks of half-hour entertainment. That night with the toothbrush in her mouth she discovered a late-sixties show she hadn’t been aware of: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. She had seen the old movie with Rex Harrison as a deceased British sea captain haunting his coastal home. The American adaptation was set in a fictional place in Maine—Schooner Bay.

The handsome ghost, the pretty widow with two young children, the sexual tension. If they made the series today there would be a way for explicit ghost sex to happen in all parts of the house. Despite the score’s cheesy string arrangements and the fake backdrop of an impossibly picturesque coast, Q kept coming back to the time slot even on nights she wasn’t being unnerved by a dog’s paws.

Maybe she watched because Adam was always looking to buy vacation property in Maine. Or maybe it was because he had the same pretty eyes as the Captain, to whom Mrs. Muir confesses, “The minute I saw this house I seemed to belong here. It was as though it were welcoming me, asking me to rescue it from being empty.”

Q found the unfolding story pretty morbid for the living woman. She is chained to the house because that’s the closest she’s going to get to consummation, sexual attraction her abusive jailer. It amused Q that a ghost who can theoretically stand in the shower with his mortal fetish is fixated on watching her from afar through his telescope, just like a garden-variety peeping tom. In these voyeur-on-voyeur scenes, the Captain comes off as a child dying to penetrate the secrets of his parents’ bedroom. And yet the scenes reveal the unbearable loneliness of the dead. Here the ghost is visually ransacking that “distant shore” where Eliot’s ghost had parted ways with his dead body.

One morning in the thick of this binge-watching, Q dropped a heap of mail on the dining room table and saw three discrete words: “The Ghost Detective.” Adam had put himself on mailing lists of local Maine papers, intending to stalk the property of those who had just died or looked like they were ready to. This penny shopper was from Kennebunkport. Inside was an article on a professor at Bowdoin College, a historian and folklorist who for several years had been listening to people’s stories about haunted houses as research for a book. He would visit the home and be walked through the points of contact.

Q immediately found the college email of Auberon Barlow and asked if he would add her to his study. He replied promptly to say “That article will be the death of me” and “You’re too far away.” She followed up with “I could come up there” and got back “That would be especially pointless.” She tried to up her hand by writing “The house is haunted by a dog who recently died.” His reply revealed interest—“I’ve never been contacted over a ghost dog”—but he stood his ground, adding, “I have two dogs—a mutt and a pit bull. Both are welcome to come back.”

She decided to try the trump card of honesty—she was a poet with several award-winning books; her husband and dog died together in December, falling through the ice; she had just started a cycle of poems about the haunting.

She arranged to meet him the next day, at a café in Boothbay Harbor. It was a long drive for such an embarrassing quest. It meant leaving in the dark at the crack of dawn. Into Maine, however, into the quiet interior, she found a comforting welcome of spindly trees in bud—all eager and awaiting the word.

“I’m sorry about your loss,” he said in greeting. He stood at a little table in a shabby café empty of patrons. His appearance was comfortingly typical, though Q immediately sensed a man leaving one stage of life for another and the transition wasn’t sitting well. He looked as if he’d put on his jacket without taking out the dry cleaners’ hanger—miffed by a conspiracy of things.

She thanked him for indulging her request.

“I haven’t read your books,” he told her, sitting down, “but I know your name.”

She laughed. “Who reads poetry anymore?”

He shrugged and smiled. “So what did you think I could do for you?”

She shook her head slightly. “Nothing.”

He crossed his arms in a pose of contemplation, brows furrowed.

“I needed to tell someone about it,” she said.

He laughed. “Then you should pay me as a therapist.”

“I thought you could offer me a point of comparison. You’ve heard so many stories.”

“But you’re assuming I believe them.”

“Then why get into the ghost racket?”

He sighed. “My interest is not the supernatural. It’s the stories people tell and are passed down. People tell them because they are grieving or else atoning for the death of a person or persons. It’s all about him or her—a composite of specific lives.

“But the reason their stories are retold and passed down is the ghost part—no more him or her. The lives of those who have died become irrelevant and superfluous insofar as they are now part of that amorphous constellation of the dead.”

That phrase—amorphous constellation of the dead—seemed to Q like student poetry she would try to correct through guidance. Show don’t tell. But she knew he was right in saying it that way.

“For a couple months now,” she told him, “I’ve read things online about people who believe in hauntings and ghosts. I found out there are ‘classicists.’ My haunting would not qualify with these folks because Bruno didn’t die on the property.”

He shook his finger and smiled. “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

She smiled into the coffee cup in front of her. “If they were so intent on drowning in a pond, they could’ve done it in the one right behind the house. They didn’t need to go four miles away.”

“But they weren’t intent, were they?”

“I guess not. But at least they’d be eligible to haunt.”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I forgot about the two-acre variance on haunting zones.”

She laughed. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Though I hear paws on the floor.”

“And of course it only happens when no one else is there.”

Now she looked sheepish. “Well, I don’t really know. I’ve turned into a loner since the accident. If anyone is at the house it’s by accident.”

He feigned insult. “So you’re here under false pretenses? You haven’t tested your theory with a reliable jury?”

“I have three cats. They don’t seem to hear the sounds.” She paused. “I guess that’s evidence that it’s all in my head.”

“Do you go outside when you hear the sounds,” he asked, “to get away from the house?”

She made a face. “I don’t want to surrender to whatever it is. I don’t want to run away because then you’re always creeping back.”

He smiled. “Stand your ground.”

“I don’t feel threatened by it,” she felt compelled to declare, “although that’s not saying much.”

He told her that people enjoy showing him the sites of the haunting. Often they’re intentionally creepy places. Old, run-down houses that creak and settle. If it was a modern place the creak had something to do with the heating system or central air. There was usually an out.

She caught her face in the mirror on the wall beyond the tables—someone trying to convince herself. “It could be the floors settling,” she said to the reflection. “Maybe I hear this as Bruno’s paws. Maybe there are sounds that my mind willfully misconstrues.”

“Sometimes the lives of the people are strange,” he explained. “But mostly they’re sad in a way that’s hard to shake.”

She smiled. “You just summed up my life.”

He had the beneficence of someone who’s logged a lot of office hours. “I’m prematurely going to refuse to believe that.”

“Did you ever see a place you felt was haunted?”

“A lot of places in their emptiness look haunted. A house empty of people is the definition of haunted.”

She thought of the TV Mrs. Muir and smiled. “Tell me a haunted story that spooked you.”

His look said he didn’t want to do that.

“Please?”

He let out a weary sigh. “The one that sticks—that story is not frightening but heartbreaking. The details are shattering.”

“Go ahead,” she said. “I’m willing to be shattered.”

“A guy took his toddler out in a fishing boat. Something happened and the boy drowned. The guy pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. You may have read about it in the papers. He went to prison.

“That was back a decade ago. He came to my attention after he was paroled. He said he was being haunted by his wife who’d died of MS, leaving him with the three-year-old. They called the kid B-Roll. He said that B-Roll was painfully ugly, had the face of an old man, like Popeye.

“Apparently the day he took the boat out he was planning to kill himself and the boy. He remembered passing a group of Girl Scouts onshore. They’d been sailing and they all stared at his son, as if he were a monster. Out on the water, however, the guy couldn’t go through with it. But something crazy happened. B-Roll jumped in the water.

“People on a passing boat saw the whole thing and came to help the guy trying to save his child. They were on an Audubon cruise to watch for puffins. I remember that from the papers—at least a dozen witnesses who saw this suicidal toddler. The jury called the guy negligent nevertheless for bringing a kid that age out there.”

Q was spellbound by the imagery his words were assembling in her mind. She wondered if he was telling her this to make her own affluent suburban haunting seem trivial by comparison.

“It’s like Father Time in Jude the Obscure,” she said, “the Hardy novel.”

He nodded. “That’s what made it such a subject at the colleges up here. People kept writing about that.”

“Did the poor guy think his wife was haunting him because of what he did to their son?”

He shrugged. “She was French Canadian, Chantal. He said she was beautiful when they were married but became heavy and unkempt because of the MS. She got pregnant despite the illness—to leave an heir.”

“You’re right about the heartbreak.”

“You know how Chantal haunted him? He said he could see the large impression she made on the right cushion of the sofa and could hear her heavy breathing. He said it was like she was there but invisible. He had a cat that he said would sit next to the impression and purr.”

“So she wasn’t a vengeful ghost?”

He laughed. “That sounds like you’re talking about one of Caspar’s buddies. Hoodie the Vengeful Ghost.

She smiled. “Well, his story is much more believable than mine. My cats don’t see or hear anything to purr at.”

He smiled back. “I always thought poets were skeptics, debunkers of myths.”

“Poets are especially skeptical and suspicious of their own prejudices.”

“Even if you’re perfectly sane,” he said, “you probably need some therapy.”

“You’re probably right.”

He invited her to his house on a road off the road they had been standing on to say goodbye after an hour or so inside the café. She had made a long and pointless trip (as he had warned), but his obvious sense of self-inculpation led him to suggest she might like to meet his dogs and go for a walk. In a Stephen King novel, this would be a mistake. But this nice, professorial man had invited her to call him Obie.

“I’m afraid my house is haunted by dust,” he said after she followed him inside.

He had the decor of a packrat—one whose collections were augmented by the shed hair of overweight dogs—the mutt was old and dandruffy and the pit bull young and a handful. The three formed such a solid core of guy-ness that her scrubbed and scented presence seemed a defilement. He took pity on her for the circumstance of her staying alone in a big summer vacation hotel that was eighty percent empty. He invited her to join his restaurant date with a colleague and a Czech grad student. It was something that she needed—candlelight, laughter, adults fully in control of their lives. The conversation yielded much backstory about these strangers. Obie had an ex-wife and two daughters out of college; he was seeing a woman named Paula whom the colleague knew well. As they parted ways, he told Q he was going to be in Boston for a lecture in three days. He would maybe try to get out to see her house.

“I appreciate that.”

He flashed a fond smile. “You never know where you’ll find the gates of hell.”

On the drive home Q wondered what she was doing inserting herself into the lives of strangers. Why was she tossing this wrench into the story of Obie and Paula? It was obvious he had more interest in her than her ghost. The old Q—the Q before Adam—would never exploit this obvious interest if she had no interest in a relationship. But now she was different. It started when she made the compromise of marriage for marriage versus marriage for love. When so many quotidian changes are based on your playing a certain role, you tend to lower your threshold for role-playing. She lived such a dull life, and yet it seemed reckless how she latched on to whatever came down the pike.

She also found herself guilty of something Wallace Stevens had observed—that we had “a curious way . . . of being dependent on unexpected things.” Among those things was “the unexpected transformations of Poetry.” Yes, of course, poetry; but now her dependence seemed part of a forward motion with no underlying objective. Things would happen; she would react. That’s all there was to it.

When she got home she decided to go through Adam’s clothes to give away. The drive had done that. People were right—a change of scenery always helps.

In pulling out things heaped on the floor of his closet she found a gift box with something inside. It was light—perhaps a couple of neckties. She tossed the box aside and forgot about it until she declared the sorting effort finished for the day. She opened the box to an envelope and yellowed tissue paper crumpled from much previous use. “Oh, that,” she said. She pulled out the white nightgown she now realized she had not fully inspected before. It was a bridal shower gift from one of Adam’s grandmothers. There was no bridal shower, but this did not deter the old woman, who died in a state nursing facility even before rings were exchanged.

Q guessed the garment was a part of a peignoir set from the fifties, what Elizabeth Taylor would wear while holding a drink at the threshold to the bedroom. She took off her clothes and slipped the garment over her head. It was cut for a woman with Elizabeth Taylor’s décolletage. Still, Q’s reflection confirmed that it claimed whoever had managed to get herself inside. It seemed designed for a single specific occasion, after which it would be ruined and discarded.

Standing in front of the wall-size mirrors on the sliding closet doors—the original mirrors, veiny but sacrosanct—she had no idea which costumed character she was looking at—blushing bride or vengeful ghost? How odd, she thought, that this unwanted gift wound up in Adam’s closet. She suddenly thought to look at the envelope addressed in brittle cursive script: “Mrs. Adam Roderick Cullen.”

A torrent of nostalgia for that nondescript day of her second wedding came gushing forth. They had said no gifts, yet people came bearing envelopes. When she saw “Q & A” she couldn’t stop laughing. “Come on,” they would say. “You mean that never occurred to you before?” Q & A become the overriding motif of the marriage proposition: Really? I am the question and he the answer? Within the veiny mirrors she felt she was beholding the perfectly detached self she’d been writing poems about—a ghost like the Captain, because we the living are all ghosts when it comes to the past. Like the Captain, we can see life back then only from the distance of a telescope.

Her heart practically leapt through the nightgown at a sudden conglomeration of sounds piercing the familiar silence. It was a scuffle coming from out back, on the deck; she couldn’t tell if it involved one or more actors. Of course it sounded like a dog’s nails on wood. Her reflection confirmed anxiety and dread.

She walked barefoot down the hall. The house was dark; she had lost track of time in the bedroom. The deck’s sensor lights had turned on. They seemed to spotlight the dark subject that had brought the commotion. As she moved closer she saw what she hoped she wouldn’t—Bruno, only a Bruno devoid of exuberant affection. He simply sat there, staring in the direction of the glass doors but not necessarily at her.

She wondered if this was that imagined threshold she’d always written about—access to a dimension overlaying the ordinary. She was an agnostic who questioned even the veracity of what her own eyes told her. “I’m afraid” she said to herself. She was afraid because she didn’t know what to do—to move closer and open the doors or to run away from the dog and the house. Her eyes teared at the thought of Bruno’s innocence being subjected to whatever scheme was in place on the other side of biological life.

Then, as quickly as the supernatural had gripped the scepter, it was banally deposed: Mark Cullen appeared under the sensor lights.

She pulled open the door. “What the fuck?”

He was high and grinning. “Don’t you like him?”

“Who’s dog is this?”

“He’s yours now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see the resemblance? They’re supposed to be identical.”

“What did you do, Mark?”

The dog looked lost and forlorn. He retreated when she reached to pet him.

“He’s from Bruno’s litter. The people in Arlington who owned him hit some hard times. They had to get rid of him.”

“Really, Mark? Did they come to you or did you go to them?”

“Fuck you.”

She felt violated—spiritually violated. How dare you! How dare you! she wanted to scream. But she was smart enough to recognize danger in the man.

“Can’t you see how cruel this is?”

“They didn’t want him,” he snapped like a recalcitrant child. And then: “He’s just like Bruno. He’s the same fucking dog.”

She shook her head. “It’s like Vertigo.”

“Why do you have to be the fucking drama queen?”

She continued shaking her head. “What’s his name?”

He laughed. “I thought you’d call him Darkie.”

Her anger seemed to divine every shred of pedestrian meanness she was capable of. “Don’t fucking start with me.”

Now he fumed. “That’s right. Be the old bitch of a mother.”

“We have to take him home.”

“Sure. Fuck. Yeah. After I bribed the fuckers. They’re idiots. They named him after a fucking Red Sox.”

The dog was shaking at the raised voices. She walked inside and back to the bedroom feeling like it had all been her fault. As she pulled on jeans under the nightgown, she couldn’t get over how Mark had set himself up for his ego to be decimated. She put on a wool coat and the boots she always wore and stomped back down the hall to find Mark and the dog inside. He seemed proud of his achievement: penetrating the house. He laughed at the sight of her. “You look like you’re headed for Neverland.”

“Where do they live?”

“You think I’m going to tell?”

“I’m taking him to the breeder’s.”

She walked toward the unattended leash that the nervous dog had been dragging around. A dog dragging a leash was always a sign that something bad had happened. Just picking up the leash, she thought, might change the course of history.

“You’re going home, buddy!” she said. The artificial excitement in her voice nearly made her cry. She repeated the phrase as she led the dog to Adam’s jeep in the driveway.

There was no way to stop Mark from getting in the passenger side. She was aware as she started the car that her worldly situation could turn on a dime. The erratic man sitting beside her was capable of killing her and the dog. But after a minute or so of silent driving, he said, “Turn here.” Make a left. Get on 2A.

She was more focused on the dog in the back, beset by a frenzy of fear and hope and unsettled by the olfactory content of Bruno’s blanket, which had remained for months as it was left—flattened on the seat. From the books on grieving that people had sent, she learned about Takotsubo cardiomyopathy—or “broken-heart syndrome”—with symptoms mimicking a heart attack. The condition is usually triggered by the loss of a spouse or child, but doctors say the death of a pet could have the same effect. Now Q wondered if Takotsubo cardiomyopathy could also afflict a dog cruelly taken away from his people.

Mark’s directions led to a small Cape Cod, rundown and out of place on a street of affluent homes. Even before the car stopped, the dog was ecstatic, singing his whimpers of joy. He began pulling even before he’d jumped down from the Jeep, rushing forward like a sled dog. Q looked back to see that Mark had stayed put. A woman at the open door had obviously heard the procession. “Manny! Manny!” she cried. As the dog repeatedly leapt up on the woman, Q could tell she’d been crying and drinking.

“I had to send my kid away to do this,” she confessed during bursts of embrace.

“What’s your full name?” Q asked. “I’m going to write you a check.”

The woman avoided making eye contact, seemingly out of shame, although it was clear she wasn’t going to refuse money from a stranger. Q wrote the check without speaking.

“I hope you can take care of him,” she told the woman, handing her the paper. The transaction was surprisingly rote, as if these tradeoffs happened every day.

Mark got out of the Jeep before Q had returned to the street. He was ready for the showdown. “You should’ve written that check to me, you cunt.”

“So how much do you want?” She lifted the checkbook in her hand. “You’ll have to put a price on it because I don’t know what I owe.”

He let loose with a barrage of curses and near threats. The one clear takeaway: She had humiliated him.

She didn’t know how to respond to his rant. Was it being delivered by a drunk and stoned but otherwise rational person or by someone become unhinged out of desperation? What did he think was going to happen? That he would simply take Adam’s place as the crazy man in the equation?

Then he took a new tack. “And when the fuck are you going to get off your ass and apologize for the things your husband wrote?”

“Apologize?”

“That’s how it works, honey. You broke it, you own it.”

He was obviously pleased with his words, repeating You own it, you own it. Then he got in the driver’s seat of Adam’s Jeep and drove off.

Q wondered if this is what she wanted him to do by leaving the keys in the ignition. The atmosphere was dense with mist and fog. There were pines close by and everything smelled clean. She phoned for a taxi and stood waiting in the darkness. She had already resolved to give Mark the Jeep if he bothered coming back.

After five minutes, the woman Q had just paid came out with Manny, who peed and peed everywhere on the property that his stretch leash would take him. The woman had been smoking and stared off idly as Manny busily reasserted his dominion. She was startled when she noticed Q standing perfectly still near the curb.

“My God,” she said. “I thought you were a ghost.”

Two days after Manny’s repatriation, Q was rewarded by a visit from her new friend Obie Barlow.

“This place is so pleasant,” he said when she welcomed him inside. “Nothing sinister I can see.”

She laughed. “No Cujo.”

“This is one of those houses I would ogle as a kid.”

“Why? Did you live in an old house and want a new one?”

“Nah. I grew up in a tract Cape Cod, brand new and just big enough. But the kid across the street and the one over on the next road had the same house—different wallpaper over the dining room wainscot but the same template. All three chandeliers were too fancy in different ways. Ours was a colonial thing with pimply milk glass. I have to assume it came from Sears, because that’s where we got everything.”

She smiled. “ ‘Pimply milk glass’ ought to be a thing.”

“How about you?” he asked.

“I grew up in a cramped apartment in Yonkers. Co-op City style. Everyone on the J line up and down thirty floors had the identical setup, but I could never really corroborate this firsthand. Everyone’s place was so stuffed to the gills with furniture and junk that you could never really grasp the architectural layout in anyone’s place. And then of course there were all the crazies who’d never open their doors more than the chain would allow.”

“Well then I would say you’ve earned all this.”

Those words stung so much Q had to touch the vulnerable back of her neck. “This house was built in 1954,” she said, “by Carl Koch, who studied with Walter Gropius at Harvard and taught architecture at MIT. People called Koch the ‘Grandfather of Prefab.’ He created the first planned community of modern houses around Boston.”

“In Jersey we got stuck with Levittown.”

“This was about the same time,” she said. “Koch started building Techbuilt houses—low-cost pre-fab with good modern design—in 1953. But this house wasn’t a prefab.”

“You know a lot about houses.”

“My husband did. He was entranced by the early days of midcentury ranches, from 1950 to about 1964, when everything started going cheap.”

“In America, everything does that sooner or later.”

She paused. “I feel I should clarify some things and I don’t know which to say first—that my husband was not of his right mind when he died or that he had become a racist.”

He nodded.

“I wish I paid more attention to the subtleties of the transformation. He could be ornery, but that was part of his dry and sometimes dark humor.” She thought for a moment. “A sense of humor is a great tactic for covert operations.”

He nodded again. “You don’t even see the line to know it’s been crossed.”

“People quoted his theories about the French banlieues, which he had never even visited. He liked to say that Muslims don’t want to assimilate and succeed, only re-create their Middle East hellholes intact.”

“I’m sure his followers loved that.”

“They found out about his death in a trickle. They say he was killed by Eric Holder, that it was conspiracy.”

“That’s the thing with conspiracy,” he said. “Go big or go home.”

“His shrink made a case for a brain autopsy.”

“What happened?”

“I declined.” Without missing a beat, she added, “Look at them.” She pointed out the three cats sitting in front of the glass doors. “They’re waiting for Bruno to come back.”

“How do you know?”

She shrugged, thinking how she couldn’t even remember what they were doing the other night when she saw a ghost dog sitting on the deck.

Obie smiled. “Maybe dogs haunt cats at a higher frequency than humans can see or hear.”

She smiled back. “I’ve proposed to myself so many theories—for instance, that Bruno knew instinctively that he went with this house.”

“I’m sure no one would contest that.”

She nodded, more so to herself. “All guilt to the survivor.”

He put his hands in his pockets. “What do you have to feel guilty about?”

She realized he actually was like a therapist. “Well, everything, right?”

“Why?”

“At the beginning I thought I mourned Bruno more than Adam.” She paused. “But that’s not true. It’s never that simple.”

“What could you have done to a dog to make him want to haunt you?”

“I let him go that day.”

He laughed. “There was snow. He was a dog.”

“I’ve been thinking how the guilt and what I think I hear is a channeling of ‘The Telltale Heart,’ the Poe story.”

He grimaced. “Oh, such morbid romanticism.”

She laughed. “I just have to make sure I don’t rip up the floorboards.” Then she added, “If I was a morbid romantic, I’d sell this place and move to Maine.”

He looked around. “You said you’re productive here.”

“That’s true. I started a poem cycle on Christmas Eve and I just finished and sent the book to my editor. Record time for me.”

Silence.

“Ever write poetry, Obie?”

“I’m afraid I’m lyrically illiterate.”

She laughed.

“What are your poems about?” he asked.

“Driving.”

He laughed. “Driving where?”

She lifted her arms and let them drop. “Nowhere really.”

More silence.

“My father was a pretty modern dad in that he abandoned the family,” she added.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Before he took off, when we were little, he’d take us on long drives just to drive—for two or three days. It was crazy.”

He made a sympathetic grimace. “But it gave you something to write poems about.”

“My errant father is the one who gave me the awful name Queen. And then he just took off.”

“Maybe your mother should’ve rescinded the name.”

“She did think about that, but we couldn’t afford a lawyer.” She paused to smile. “I used to make lists of things we couldn’t afford.”

“Yikes,” he said. “Did you really need to be reminded?”

She continued to smile, amused. “It’s funny I just remembered that, making those lists. I grew into an adult who thinks it’s only crazy people who make lists.”

“Guilty on all counts,” he said, raising his hand. “I’m a serial list-maker.”

“I’ve grown too critical of people. It comes from isolation.”

He looked around the living room. “You just need visitors, life. Isolation is a romantic indulgence. Trust me—I live in Maine.” He looked at the cats, still staring out the glass door. “Don’t they get to go out?”

She laughed. “I don’t want them eaten by coyotes. I don’t think they’d want that either.”

“Fair enough.”

Her face lit up. “I’m glad you drove because I baked you a pie to take back. For coming here. I used to bake them for my husband all the time.”

He tried to match her excitement with gratitude. “A life with pie is a life well-spent, however short.”

She laughed. “I wasn’t talking about Adam. I meant David.” She paused. “That’s funny I didn’t specify.”

“You have a pile-up already.”

She laughed. “Divorced, widowed. The only new thing would be a papal annulment.”

“Go for it, Q.”

The house felt bereft after Obie drove off with the pie; the cats matched the feeling glance per glance. It was an overcast afternoon that had nowhere to go. The lack of adequate daylight was unremitting.

That evening she did something out of the ordinary—put a disc in the CD player. It wasn’t the quartets Adam incessantly listened to through headphones; that music went down with him. It was an old disc of Beethoven partitas for unaccompanied violin—music to elevate the mundane, make a coda of stray thoughts.

But then none of her thoughts were stray anymore; each was intentionally selected, rigorously argued, meticulously scraped and sanded. Before the accident she had thought Adam’s mental decline was all about his claiming ownership of her, as an object in his house. He kicked her out of the poet’s study. He gave new names to her and their dog. But what Mark said the night before—You broke it, you own it—reminded her that there was no such thing as democracy in wedlock. What if Adam’s breakdown was triggered by what he perceived as her ownership of the marriage, by being the woman who doesn’t need the things he can buy for her? Odds were that something did run in the Cullen bloodline, but maybe that something needed a catalyst to be activated. If she was the catalyst for Adam’s DNA, maybe she was also the catalyst for Mark’s.

Serenaded by the melancholy strings, she couldn’t help but come to the same conclusion she had come to almost every day since Adam died—that she had married a man she did not love but was made exceedingly happy just the same.

A sudden banging on the storm door brought her back to reality. “Let me in this fucking house!”

She ran to the window to see Adam’s jeep parked out front. Immediately she called 911, thinking how these three digits were effectively shattering everything exclusive and upper-middle-class her dead husband had bought into. “A violent man is trying to break in my house.”

The violent man would go quiet for half a minute and then start up again. She yelled through the door, “Take the Jeep, Mark. You can have it.”

“I don’t want your fucking money!”

Of course that wasn’t true; he wanted more than the money. He wanted the place money had bought. He wanted in—inside the house, inside something complete and almost perfect.

“You need help, Mark.”

“Patronizing bitch!”

When he kicked in and shattered the glass of the storm door the cats scattered.

But then, suddenly, there came a tense silence followed by a gravelly low growl. “Easy” she could hear Mark say. This corpulent fear hormone—as if from some musky wild animal—she could feel overtaking the house, the property, even the road out front. She could almost hear her heart pound as she waited for the eruption. It was ferocious when it came—the barking attack, the scuffle she couldn’t see, the man yelling. She ran to the window to see where the altercation had led. She was relieved when the Jeep started and raced off like something in the movies.

In the ensuing silence all three cats reappeared, looking like something from the Salem Witch Museum with their bottlebrush tails. Q remained standing at the picture window trying to steady her breathing. A local police cruiser approached with no lights or siren—silent like a canoe. She watched two officers get out like they had all the time in the world. They rang the doorbell with the everydayness of Seventh-Day Adventists. Q opened the door to the two of them stepping around the broken glass on the flagstone porch.

“Is this what he was wearing?” one asked, holding up the ripped sleeve of a denim jacket.

“I don’t know,” she said, letting them in. “I only saw through the window.”

“Can you tell us what happened?”

“It was dark.” She could feel herself sounding disoriented. “There was a dog that attacked. I didn’t see it. I only heard it.”

“Whose dog?”

“I don’t know. It must’ve been running loose.”

“That’s not good,” said one of the cops.

The other one laughed. “For this lady it was.”

She told the officers what she knew—the license plate number. That was really all she could offer.

“Why didn’t you report the car as stolen?” one of them asked.

“He’s my husband’s brother,” she said, “but I hardly know him. I thought he’d bring it back.”

When they left she realized the Beethoven had been playing the entire time. She had to sit down. The cats had lined themselves up on the coffee table in front of her. They stared with wide eyes. “It was just like that movie Cat People,” she told them. “Except it was a dog. It was Darkie.”

She looked around with remorse. When she glanced at the empty sofa, all she could think of was the ghost of Chantal visiting the photographer, reminding him of how he had betrayed her. The music was gone but Q remained seated in the Herman Miller armchair. The thought of selling the house and moving on felt like incurring a mortal wound. How could she leave him here alone? You could cut apart a brain looking for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but how could you separate the entwined souls of the bridegroom and his dog?

Later that night, when she heard the paws in the hallway, she could now hear, clear as day, the meter of “Little Gidding.” In her life before Adam, she had almost no interest in the technical side of verse. But during those months of sanding and plastering, he would say things like “You’re sanding in the meter of ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud.’ ” She would smile and not really hear it. But now she had to wonder: Was it always there, Eliot’s presence in the hallway? Maybe. Probably. Only now there was no question what Darkie was trying to tell her:

We die with the dying: 
See, they depart, and we go with them. 
We are born with the dead: 
See, they return, and bring us with them. §

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