The drapes were drawn on the patio doors he had added to open up views of the backyard and the deer that came to snack on the neighbor’s apple trees. Maybe they weren’t home or maybe Sheila had drawn them to block the glare off the evening sun on the TV.
He lay among the knotweed and waited for darkness to fall. He didn’t need his nosy neighbors to spot him and call the town cops. He let mosquitoes feast un-slapped on his sweaty brow, on forearms scratched from branches and briars.
It was creepy, all this skulking about. It would land him in jail if he was found out. But knowing it was wrong, compelled him no less.
Sheila was already seeing another man. Brian. A ruddy and jovial bear of an architect with the kind of perpetual smile that made Aaron feel like he had been left out of a joke. How could Sheila be attracted to such extremes? Was it merely reactionary? Brian was the anti-Aaron?
The sky was changing behind him. He remembered the evenings Sheila would call him and the girls to the window to admire the sunset. He would stand behind Sheila, chin tucked over her shoulder, arms wrapped loosely around her waist and the girls would come and cling to their legs, oohing and aahing at clouds tinted otherworldly hues. It was happening now. A beautiful sunset of crimson and mango. If only he could share it. But he wasn’t even allowed to call them on the phone.
How many times he had been back here at the edge of the woods at the end of the day clearing deadfalls, trimming brush? He imagined that any moment the back door would open and Sheila or Nina would call him in for dinner. Just like old times.
As the sun sank beneath the pines across the river, the house stayed dark. No one was home. The realization opened a void in his chest that could have swallowed the known universe. He picked himself up and in the dying light, retreated through the brush to the river.
He didn’t return to the motel. It was three miles back in utter darkness. Now that it ws warmer getting to warm up, he had taken to camping in an old pump house on the grounds of the old W.R. Grace chemical factory. It had been built in the 1980s to house and environmental remediation system that removed the solvents polluting the groundwater from an old waste pond. The EPA sent reports every quarter, mapping out the gradients of the vinyl chloride and other less pronounceable compounds in ppms and ppbs.
The pump had long ceased to operate. Parts lay dismantled and heaped among sections of pipe outside the little hut. Whoever had built the shack added more flair and grace than such a utilitarian structure deserved. It looked like a mini-Colonial with its steeply pitched roof and deep-set eaves. The workmanship exuded pride. All he had to do to make it livable was sweep it out, repair a few screens, patch some holes with plywood and cover the floor with some carpet remnants he had rescued from a dumpster.
He changed into a set of dry clothes to replace the burr-studded sweat pants, soggy from his river crossings. An air mattress and sleeping bag was laid out crosswise at the far end of the shack. A shelf held a few Heinekens left over from a six pack. A can of chili. A box of saltines.
He cracked a beer and ate his chili cold. Afterwards, he pulled out the cheap fiddle he kept tucked away in a sack among the rafters. It was a risk to leave it in the shack, but no one ever came here except him.
Lighting a candle to keep the night at bay, he sat on the stoop and rosined his bow. With the moon hanging high and a chill settling in, he played his fiddle to the pines. He played free, unbound by chord signatures or scales. He tuned by ear and never the same way twice. He sought and cultivated wolf tones, vibrations that sang out from the body of his instrument when the wood resonated in sympathy with a string. Playing alone freed him to pursue his inner muse down avenues well-removed from western or even human music. He harmonized with owls, katydids and bull frogs.
He hoped the girls were back home from wherever they had gone. Perhaps some faint strains of his music would seep across the river to color their dreams.
A little swirl caught his eye in the candle light. The dust seemed to dance when he stroked his bow a certain way. He watched, entranced by as the little puffs rose and spun like dervishes, ever on the verge of dissipating, vacillating between structure and nothingness. They persisted far longer than any puff of dust had a right. Some spun off into the night.