I spat the pooled saliva into the kitchen sink. My throat felt prickly and my lungs were sore from the coughing bout.
“You oughta take something for that cough,” I heard a voice say.
I was alone so I knew the voice was just in my head, but it didn’t have the normal sound of my voice, it sounded external plus I recognized it.
“I’m taking cough medicine and Sudafed.”
“They don’t sound like they’re doing if for you, friend.”
The voice came from across the room, but I had just coughed with such force that I thought the effect might be related.
“There’s codeine in the cough syrup.”
“That’ll do the trick.”
I looked up from the sink and across the dining area. It was dark outside and the only light on was in my bedroom, but I saw him standing just inside the sliding door to my lanai. He stepped toward my computer desk away from the sliding door. I thought this was one of those weird side effects from regular use of cough syrup. I was somehow not afraid but concerned that the syrup had managed to create an illusion this strong.
“Mind if I smoke?” he said.
“Uh, my lungs, I don’t really smoke in here.”
“All right if I step back out onto the balcony?”
“Sure,” I said and thought: lanai.
The suited figure, lean would have been too generous, stepped out onto the lanai and I noticed that the sliding door didn’t move. I saw that it was open wide enough for someone thin to move through sideways.
I cupped some water to my mouth. The pins and needle sensation stopped after a few handfuls.
I saw a small flare of orange light burst out on the lanai. I went over to the sliding door and turned on the light.
An old man in a dark grey suit was sitting in one of my plastic chairs, one leg crossed over the other, and a cigarette in a raised hand. I recognized him in the light. It was William S. Burroughs. I was amazed at how vivid he looked.
“Seems like a mild night,” he said.
“Would you mind telling me where I am?”
“Sure, um. This is Seattle, Washington.”
I thought that he was real but only looked like Burroughs and was maybe somebody with dementia who had somehow wandered in. He looked too real to be a codeine creation, though that seemed possible.
“I’m Carl,” I said.
“Name’s Bill,” he said and the voice sounded so close to the real one from what I’d heard, which was years ago on a record in college dorm room while stoned.
“You’re William Burroughs.”
“As far as I can tell, yes.”
He drew on his cigarette and exhaled.
“Do you think you could tell me the day?”
“Mm. The month?”
“July. The thirteenth.”
“And what year would this happen to be? I can’t seem to remember.”
“Problematic,” he said like it was the answer to a puzzle or a French car.
“Could I trouble you for an ashtray?”
“Sure,” I said and went in and grabbed one I’d stolen from a casino hotel room.
“I can’t seem to recall how I got here.”
“Okay,” I said.
“It seems I’m in a bit of a pickle.”
“You’re welcome to stay,” I said and wondered if I was alone talking out loud on my lanai. “I have an inflatable.”
“What’s that? Sounds curious.”
I got out the mattress and we made it up after it had fully inflated.
“You need anything else?”
“Ah, the facilities.”
“Over there, help yourself,” I said.
The night had been sweating, coughing fits, and gulps of water. I got out of bed and looked into the living room, half-expecting to see an empty inflated bed.
The bed was there, but deflated and folded with the bedding and pillow on top.
“Coffee,” Bill had said when I asked what he wanted for breakfast.
While he took a shower, I thought about calling my friend Mark to see if I sounded lucid.
“Thanks,” he said as I handed him a mug.
“I was thinking and I’ve surmised that I’ve passed over and my sense is this is a hallucination, no surprise for me, but you, you are real, yes?”
“Yeah. I thought you maybe were a hallucination.”
“So. It would seem that we are both real and I am a dead person who is back in the living world. Seems impossible. Might be an alternate reality. Maybe Purgatory.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Do you remember coming back to life?”
“I don’t. I was outside on your balcony wondering where I was, and then I heard you coughing. So I went to investigate. Before that, nada. I know who I am, but my memory seems weak. How ‘bout you?”
“Well. I was watching TV and had a coughing fit, so I went to get some water. Then I heard you. I’ve been home sick all week. Staying home.”
“Maybe I’ve fallen through some kind of crack in the fabric of the universe. Maybe I’m just one of many, ah, maquettes of myself.”
“Do you have your wallet?”
“Nope. Tried that this morning. Just cigarettes and matches.”
“Is there a stamp on the cigarettes?”
“Good thinking, kid.”
He turned the pack of Benson & Hedges over with a forefinger across the top. “Nothing. Must be contraband,” he said. He was missing part of his left pinky.
“What about the matches?”
“Wooden, seem common enough. Not from a restaurant though. That would have been too easy.”
“Do you know how old you are?”
“Given the year, I’d be over a hundred. I’d say it is quite unlikely that I’ve lived that long.”
“Should we call your agent?”
“No, not now. Have to think this through; consider the implications. Man comes back from the dead…”
“Oh right, yeah.”
“I hope you are all right with me here until we figure this out.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I showed him how the remote control worked went to my room to rest.
“The world seems even crazier than ever. If it wasn’t for you as my Virgil, I’d say I was in Hell,” he said looking away from the TV to me. “Still.”
“You should see the internet.”
“Best save that for later.”
I showed him my signed copy of Howl.
“Allen was magnificent. Spoke with him just before he died. Wish he were here for this. He’d have loved this.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I have to say given your interest in Ginsberg, it would have made more sense to have him visit you through the rip in the fabric, which is what I think this is. This is really his cup of tea.”
“Hm,” I said and thought that he was right.
“From what I can recall, there was nothing different in my memory, so if I was in an alternate world, the difference is not apparent or I don’t recall.”
I had a quick vision of us doing drugs and sitting on the floor listening to my dad’s jazz records.
He went outside for a cigarette. I touched my forehead checking for high fever. I felt a little warm, but had to admit I felt normal, very normal.
He sat in the recliner and it was almost funny to see how much he looked like what I thought he would look like except his being real made it look surreal.
“How are you doing?” I said.
“Well, all er, uh, most things considered, I’d say pretty good.”
“Could I have glass of water?”
He drank all the water in the glass.
“You want some more?”
“Sure. Kinda parched.”
I refilled his glass.
“Say, can I ask you something?” I said handing him the glass.
“Were you happy?” I said. “I mean, you were famous, had a ton of friends, and you know…”
“Ah. Well, hard to say. It gets complex in a hurry, then seems to simplify, then gets even more complex, and so on.”
“I guess you could say I was happy at times.”
“Do you have any advice on life?”
“Kid, you should have had Scott Fitzgerald fall by for that. Each life is its own predicament and some Chinese fella was right: life does get more complex when you die. I will tell you this, stick to you guns, even when they’re pointed at you.”
“Wow,” I said.
“What time is it?”
“Just past eight. You tired?”
“A little worn out.”
I got the inflatable mattress out of the closet and set it up. I gave him a spare toothbrush I’d gotten after a check up, a towel, and left him in the bathroom. I took out the one set of pajamas I had and put them on the arm of the recliner.
He helped me put the sheets on the bed.
“Do you like a lot of blankets?”
“Just enough to keep from being cold.”
I got out a light blue thermal blanket and folded it in half, draping it on top of the bed. I put the plaid comforter on the seat of the recliner.
“Well, good night and let me know if you need anything at all,” I said.
“Thank you. I appreciate your hospitality during this, ah, visit.”
“Well, it is really an honor.”
“Pah, see you in the morning.”
I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, realizing that we had already fallen into a pattern of guest and visitor. Maybe we did not want to focus on the gigantic metaphysical problem about his presence. As I left the bathroom, I glanced at him as he lay on the inflated mattress. He was staring straight up. I was glad I’d gone with the deluxe model.
I wondered if this was a massive hallucination and that the fact that I had William S. Burroughs asleep on an inflatable mattress in my living room was a clue that it was a hallucination. I wondered if I’d had a stroke, unusual for someone my age, thirty-nine, but not impossible. I pulled hard on some leg hair and it really hurt. If I was lying there unconscious, there really was no test. If he was gone in the morning, I suppose I could test for DNA on the sheets or look for cigarette butts, but I could have smoked them myself, and I had no idea how to gather DNA or have it tested.
I came out of a dream and became aware of my body in bed, and then I remembered who was out in the living room. I lay there and thought it was probably the cough syrup and even if I did find the mattress inflated; it was still the cough syrup. It would make a funny story to tell friends back at work. I went out into the hallway and turned to the living room.
I saw the mattress, deflated, and the sheets, pillow, and blanket piled neatly on the recliner. I relaxed and thought that it had been too much cough syrup.
Then I saw the back of Bill’s head out on the lanai exhaling a white column of smoke.
I went over to the sliding door and opened it.
“Hi,” I said.
“Still here,” he said. He was in my pajamas with his jacket over them as he sat slumped low in one the plastic chairs. I stepped out onto the lanai.
“You want some coffee?”
In the daylight, it struck me that he was a pretty old guy who looked sad. I felt my heart quaver.
I still felt like crap as I made the coffee, four shots instead of the usual two.
I took the two mugs out with me on a tray and put it on the little plastic table that matched the two chairs.
“Black is fine, thanks.”
I sat down and stared at him as he sipped, the steam rising up across his face and he glanced at me, his eyes were small, fierce, and clear.
“You’d think I’d be devouring this experience, or weeping in amazement, but I don’t feel like I’ve come from beyond, maybe something like a little jet lag, but otherwise okay.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said and amused myself by wondering if I was talking to myself out on my lanai or maybe lying unconscious in the shower, having fallen, and was now completely immersed in this vivid dream. The sun felt warm on my skin.
“Need to ask a favor. I’m out of cigarettes. Don’t think it is wise for me to venture forth.”
“Oh, yeah, sure. There’s a 7-11 just across the street.”
“No rush,” he said and I thought he was just being polite.
We drank our coffee and he continued to look over the low wall out at the sky or trees or the 7-11. A couple times when our eyes did meet, I was sure he was as alive as I was.
I lost interest in my coffee.
“I’ll go get those cigarettes. Anything else you want?”
“Just the Pall Malls. Better make it two packs.”
“Sure. No problem.”
Ten years ago, I would have been psyched to be buying cigarettes for William S. Burroughs. Now it was the most bizarre and problematic thing I’d ever encountered. There wasn’t anything else that was even close.
I brought two Mexican Cokes and some green Gatorade to the counter.
“Plus two packs of Pall Malls.”
“When you start smoking?” Keflay said.
I knew Keflay from going in for beer and bags of chips over the years.
“They’re for a guest.”
“They bad for you,” he said smiling as if acknowledging that the bad things were also good.
“I know,” I said with some of the same smile.
We pushed the necessary buttons to complete the transaction and I took the handles of the beige plastic bag from him and went out the door, measuring my height as I went past the color-coded chart on the passive door.
“Ah, reinforcements,” Bill said as I put the cigarettes on the table.
He opened a pack with dexterity and lit one of the cigarettes.
“Thanks,” he said and exhaled smoke and shook the match dead.
“You know,” he said, “I remember quitting.”
“Oh,” I said.
“That would make me about seventy-seven.”
I thought about his age and I think he must have thought it too, or read it in my eyes.
“I don’t have any memory of dying, so don’t get your hopes up. I can’t tell you about any light at the end of the tunnel.”
I wasn’t sure when he’d died, but I remembered reading some parts of his journal that The New Yorker had published.
“We could,” I said, “look it up.”
“Don’t know if I want to know. Plus, I don’t think I should go out, even though anyone who might recognize me, wouldn’t believe it was me. Just too impossible.”
“We could look it up on the Internet.”
“Can’t say I know much about that.”
He smoked two more cigarettes as I explained to him what the Internet was. His face, slack and blank, seemed whiter.
“Sounds like something I wish I’d cooked up.”
“Let’s have a look.”
I brought my laptop out onto the lanai and showed him how it worked.
“Great god all mighty, “ he said.
“Yeah, everyone is pretty much addicted to it.”
“Maybe this is why I’m back,” he said, adding a couple of small laughs.
“Here it is,” I said and handed him the laptop with his New York Times’ obituary on the screen.
It was too surreal as I watched him read his own obituary; I was sure it had happened before, but never to someone who had actually died and been buried, depending on what you believed.
“A bit curt and dismissive, but that’s them to a ‘T.’”
“They kind of gushed over Garcia Marquez,” I said.
He handed the laptop back to me and I folded the lid down.
“Eighty-three, hm. Well, here I am.”
I wasn’t sure what to say.
“You want to watch a movie? Go for a drive?”
“I could go for a shower.”
“You wouldn’t mind loaning me t-shirt and such?”
I heard the water come on and remembered the idea that I was lying in the shower unconscious. I wondered if I was incorporating the sound into my unconsciousness. This was too vivid, I thought as I took a white v-neck t-shirt out of the drawer, then picked out a pair of socks, hesitated, then took a pair of maroon plaid boxers out of a drawer.
“Bill?” I said at the bathroom door when the water was off.
“Yeah,” he said from behind the cracked door.
“Here you go.”
“Thanks,” he said and I fed the clothes to an extended hand.
It was like when my dad used to visit me but just in the way that they were both old men in need of a fresh pair of underwear.
“I found some scars, probably from the operation, so my estimate about my age is right.”
“You don’t think you’ve come back to fix your ending or something like that?”
“This ain’t Dickens you’re talking to,” he said.
I smiled, “Sorry.”
“Appreciate the sentiment.”
I loaned him a tan baseball cap and a green field jacket and he looked like just another old guy trucking around, lean and bent forward a bit, unless you knew who he was.
We drove down to the shore and parked.
“Let’s have a look,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
We walked down some stairs and went along the walkway that ran above the shore. He stopped and leaned on the rail; I joined him.
“It occurs to me that if I have come back from some other realm, which seems probable, it nullifies what remnant fear I had of dying.”
“If I am an alternate version of myself, but as actual as my former self, then this return is part of my main or whole self.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Keep going?” he said.
He pushed off from the rail and we walked along quietly. The water in the sound was very calm with only an occasional light slap of water against the wall below us.
We followed the walkway up the stairs and sat down on a bench near the car.
“I wish I had come back from the dead, but I don’t have any sense of having returned. Think what I could do with that knowledge. Think of what it would do, to this world…”
I didn’t say anything and kept looking out at the water and the far shore.
“Yes,” he said.
“You need to pick up anything?”
“You know, I could go for some paints or markers and a pad.”
“There’s a good art supply/greeting card place nearby. They should have what you need.”
I parked and glanced at him. His thinness made him seem small in the seat.
“So what should I get?”
“Think I’ll join you.”
“You sure?” I said.
“No time like the present.”
We went in the back entrance and I fought off the tendency to help him find things.
“I’m going to check out the cards,” I said.
I went over to racks of get-well cards. I kept glancing over toward Bill and watched as my cap moved along the aisle. I took one step, then another, and he was out of my view. I forced my head to stay down and looked at a card that had a cartoon of a raccoon in bed with a thermometer in its mouth and an ice pack on its head. I opened the card. Inside there was a cartoon of several raccoons gathered around an old fashioned metal, fluted trash can and above them in the dark blue night sky written in stars was: “Get Well Soon!”
I picked up an envelope from behind the cards and went to find Bill.
He was in an aisle and a woman was with him in front a marker display.
“These are very fine, you can actually pick the size in millimeters you want,” she said, glancing at me.
“I need something needle sharp when I work.”
“What do you write?”
“I keep a journal.”
“Oh, I love journaling.”
He glanced at me.
“Well, if you need any more help, just ask. My name is Dorothy.”
“Nice talking with you, Bill”
“Same here,” he said.
He had a notebook and a small notepad in his hand.
“Well, she’s a charmer,” he said.
He slid a pen out of the rack.
“This oughta do.”
“Did you want to get some paints or something?”
“Nah, not today. We better high tail it.”
“Sure,” I said and we walked up to the front.
I took his pads and pen from him and put my debit card on top of them on the counter.
A young woman with a boy-short haircut that I thought was very pretty started our transaction.
“Did you find everything?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you need a bag?”
I glanced at Bill and he shook his head once to his left.
“Great, save a tree,” she said.
“Well, thanks,” Bill said as we walked back to the car.
“Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Sure, seems like I can travel here without incident.”
“There’s this great deli down the block.”
“Sounds good, let’s go eat,” and the last word seemed to ring out.
We ordered paninis, Sun Chips, and Snapple Iced Teas, with Bill choosing peach flavor.
“I’ll wait,” I said.
“I’ll get us a spot,” Bill said and went over to the window.
I watched him as he uncapped a pen and started to write in his notebook.
“Oh, thanks” I said as a girl gave me two plates.
I took our sandwiches over to Bill and sat down.
“Ah, good. I’m famished,” he said and flipped the notepad closed, tucking it into his jacket pocket, leaving the pen on the counter.
“Do you need anything from the drugstore?” I said and had to fight off a small smile at what I was asking.
He chewed and then swallowed. “Well, a toothbrush, deodorant, that sort of thing. I had a bad heart but that got better after surgery and quitting smoking. Hm.”
“Say Bill,” I said looking around, “do you remember how you got to my balcony,” using his word.
“I do not,” he said and ate a pinch of Sun Chips.
“So it is like you appeared there.”
“Yes, I would say that is correct.”
I drank some iced tea.
I trailed Bill down one of the very long aisles of the Rite Aid as he picked out a deodorant (“This oughta do the trick”), shampoo (“’Scalp cleaning agents’”), and a pack of small wooden sticks to use on his gums.
I was tired from our small journey and was now mostly sure that I wasn’t dreaming, basically because it felt real and I had been bored at times, which I reasoned I wouldn’t ever dream.
“I’m going to take a nap,” I said.
“Sure,” he said, “think I’ll read a little…”
I felt clammy and my feet were very cold, which was strange for a warm June day. I was still sick.
I woke up and after going to the bathroom, went out into the living room. I expected to see Bill out in the wedge of sun that hits the lanai or maybe reading in the large recliner. I thought he might even have inflated the bed to take a nap himself. I didn’t see him. I shivered.
No reply came.
I felt the spike of panic as my mind spun through the possibilities. He was outside somewhere. I checked my mind somewhat hoping that I was waking from a very elaborate fever dream. I drank a glass of water in the bathroom but it hit my stomach funnily and I thought I was going to vomit.
I slipped on some shorts and sneakers and went out to the front of the building. I hoped I’d see him coming up the sidewalk from some modest stroll, but all I saw was a woman going into the dental clinic across the street. I went back inside.
I filled a glass with water from a filtering pitcher.
“Keys,” I said. If he had gone out, he would have taken a set of keys. I turned the water off, put the pitcher on the counter, then found my regular set and the spare set in the lacquered bowl. I felt like I was sinking.
The whole thing sounded crazy. I drank most of the glass of water. Nothing like this had ever happened to me, it wasn’t even close, and I’d never had any kind of mental illness or delusion (maybe that was part of the illness). I finished what was in the glass and put it in the sink, then threw myself onto the bed, and watched some TV. I eventually got tired of stopping and listening to see if he was coming in the front door so I turned the volume way up. Maybe it had all happened, but maybe he had disappeared, hopefully back to where he’d come from.
I thought about asking the woman—Dorothy— in the art supply store if she’d seen him, him being my uncle who had Alzheimer’s, and had wandered off. That would confirm someone else having seen him, but it didn’t seem foolproof. Even if she did remember him, I didn’t want to start a chain of events that I was unsure of how it would turn out. I was sure that it was best to let what was happening happen.
“Wh—?” I said as woke up in a jolt.
I sat up, propping myself up from the bed. I got up and took two demonstrative steps to the bathroom. I felt a little like I was walking on the moon.
“Sleeping Beauty,” Bill’s voice said from the living room and I stopped short of the bathroom.
“I thought you’d gone.”
“Took a stroll back down to the arts supply store. Took some cash. Hope that’s all right.”
“Sure, sure. How’d you get back in?”
“I propped open the door down the backstairs. An old trick I learned from a friend.”
Bill had a pad of paper and a box of colored pencils on the arm of the recliner. A pencil stood slightly tilted in his hand that extended from the green sleeve of my field jacket.
“Felt the urge.”
I couldn’t see what he had been drawing.
“How you feeling?”
Bill cooked dinner, spaghetti, but the sauce was better than what came in the jar.
“This is good.”
“Thanks, used what I found. You had some garlic and a decent array of spices for a white kid.”
“Ha-ha,” I said.
I put the dishes in the dishwasher while Bill was out smoking on the balcony.
I left him alone out there.
“So I was thinking I might take a walk, have a look ‘round.”
“Sure, let me get my shoes on.”
“On my own, if that’s all right.”
“Sure, of course.”
“I might be a while.”
“I was going to see if you wanted to watch a movie.”
“You go ahead.”
Bill put the ball cap he’d borrowed before on, slipped on the field coat he’d adopted, and grabbed the keys from the bowl. He held them up in a fist and looked at me.
I nodded, he dropped his fist as he turned, and went out the door. I heard the door lock from the outside, which I realized I’d never heard before.
The movie ended and he hadn’t come back yet. It made sense to me that he would want to get out of the apartment and be alone with whatever he was thinking.
I heard the key working the lock.
“Well, I’m back.”
“Hi. Good walk?”
“Too much to consider. Have you any liquor?”
“Yeah,” I said and got up. Even if I hadn’t known who he was, he still seemed formidable considering that he was an old man. I remembered his affection for pistols.
“I’ve got vodka and this,” I said showing him a bottle of Jack Daniels that I’d found in my father’s house.
“The Jack,” he said.
I poured him about an inch and a half into the glass. Then I poured a half-inch for myself.
“Here you go.”
“Thanks,” he said. “To your health.”
Everything he said seemed to have an additional meaning.
He sat down on the couch and I went back to my chair.
“Ah,” he said, “tastes great.”
“Yeah, I think it is pretty old.”
I turned the TV off.
“Where did you go?”
“Just wandered. Like it here. Quiet. Middle Class. Lots of old trees.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“If I fell out of somewhere, I wonder if where I was is wondering where I am.”
“Wow. Maybe it just isn’t knowable.”
“Job would agree.”
“What?” I said.
“God in the form of a whirlwind, I believe, says to Job: ‘Can you hook that there leviathan?’ and Job says: ‘No can do,’ So God says: ‘Just go be. Leave the rest to me,’ Pretty sound advice I say.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Another?”
He considered his glass.
“Why the hell not?”
I took his glass, met his eyes—his eyes looked all pupil—and went into the kitchen.
“You know, it occurred to me out there that I’ll have to die again if this keeps up. Doesn’t seem fair. Could be just, though,” he said and sipped.
“Maybe you’re back to write something that you didn’t do last time.”
“You are a ro-man-tic,” he said and held his glass up toward me.
I realized it was a toast and raised my glass.
“Admit it occurred to me. But what? A story about a dead man who comes back to life but has no idea how? It’s Christ without the magic.”
“Sounds good to me.”
I refilled our glasses.
“That’s the nature of problems,” Bill said. “One solution leads to another problem. Problems, by definition, are insoluble.”
“Yes, exactly,” I said.
“Mm, well, that’s enough for me,” Bill said and I knew it was the cue that it was time to go to sleep.
We started the routine for preparing his bed. The few inches of liquor had me feeling joyous. He caught the fitted sheet as I flung it across the mattress and we repeated the gesture with the top sheet and the light blanket he seemed to like.
“You’re a good egg,” Bill said.
“No problem, Bill,” I said.
Bill wasn’t in the living room. His bed was deflated and folded; the sheets folded, too. I looked out onto the lanai but he wasn’t there.
I didn’t think he was gone, just out. I drank a cup of coffee and checked my work email.
I felt mostly well by the time I’d finished lunch and he still wasn’t back, which I told myself was no big deal, but something felt weird.
I went downstairs and checked my mail; only junk mail. As I walked back up the stairs, I realized that I had checked my mail and had the keys. My spare set was still in the bowl so I went to the backdoor; it wasn’t propped open.
I tried to guess where he’d gone, but I quickly realized that I had no idea. I hoped he’d just gone for a walk. As the day went by, I could tell I was over my illness, and I walked up to the grocery store. I made and ate a quiet dinner while watching a documentary about The Beatles and I thought it was weird when the narrator mentioned that was on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper album. When I went to bed, I listened toward the door but I knew there wouldn’t be anyone coming in this late.
Sunday passed the same way. I went to the record store, browsed the cd’s, and then walked past the art supply/greeting card store. I didn’t go in.
I left the mattress and folded sheets piled where he’d left them.
When I went back to work, various coworkers asked how I felt.
“Fine, thanks,” I said and thought I heard a little low growl in my voice. I told one guy at work that I was reading Naked Lunch and he’d said, “I couldn’t get through it.”
Out at happy hour that Friday, I thought about mentioning a strange dream I’d had, but I let it pass. Saturday, I searched the Internet for any sightings and checked Wikipedia to see if anything had shown up there, but there wasn’t anything.
One night in bed, I fantasized about what a huge story it would was. I heard him saying, “I just showed up on this guy’s lanai, very hospitable,” and that he didn’t give my name out to protect me from the media barrage. Then I imagined that the CIA had found him and he was a remotely sequestered prisoner at some foreign base.
Later that year, in the spring, when being sick was a memory and I had stopped trying to explain the whole thing to myself, I saw a bright colored postcard among white envelopes. It was a drawing of the state of Kansas with the state’s name in large arched letters with each letter filled with some aspect of life in Kansas. I flipped it over.
My Dear Boy,
Appreciated the hospitality.
Mum’s the word.
I stuck the card to the refrigerator with a banana-shaped magnet, then searched the closet, but couldn’t find my field jacket.
–Al Varady writes and takes photographs in Seattle. He is still editing his novel.