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On the Bay


What was that idiot doing? The water calm, the breeze dead still, but he was standing in the boat like that -- precariously, that is -- paddling right up to where the thick grass grew out of the water. This was ten years ago, I guess. I'd gone walking down by the bay to see what there was to see. Hot day. Janet had gotten upset with me after dinner, so I took a walk out there to think.

They had just started putting up cottages in Homestead Park, the land that used to belong to Colonel Stephenson. His kids sold it before the soil had settled on the man's coffin. A shame. A beautiful piece of meadow and oak, sloping down to the bay. They took down most of the trees where they had remained and now much of the land was full of foundation holes. Soon there would be electric-lit posts and macadamized roads.

The guy in the boat realized that he was going to have trouble heaving up into the marshy, sandy bank, so instead he rowed back out into the Sound, drifting aimlessly toward where the Yacht Club had its put-in. It had been a difficult year of loss. The baby. Janet's mother.

We had two more, but of course that does nothing to salve the loss. I hated myself for even letting this brute calculus occur to me. Meantime, parents reach an age beyond which it must only be a celebration of life when they head up to wherever they go. Or at least that's what most of Janet's familial relations said to her in our somber home, when we hosted the repast after the funeral. Jed was there, mumbling his way through acceptances of condolences.

Our two remaining children, made harder by three months of grief, bore the motions of mourning with what appeared to be imposed patience. These people, I understood, did not know their loss. They had been schooled in it early, and they seemed to wonder at the awkwardness and inadequacies of others to their expectations of a body's capacity to endure grief. As if they knew their age and despised the adults for deigning to feel some measure of sadness as well.

I made a note to remind them of empathy. To remind them to open their hearts. But perhaps that would be for later.

For now, I sat on the bay and thought of Janet, beholding her mother on the night of her death. Standing over her and looking at her at her peace. What lay ahead for us: that, it occurred to me, might be the biggest question in the room with us. Aside from the normal considerations of what happens to the deceased. But in any event, I gave up serious entertainments of those questions many years and many losses ago.

Instead of addressing what I thought to be the question that loomed in those chambers, Janet asked me softly: what shall we have for dinner. She was far. Far away.