Chapter 38 continues

So far: Wendy’s grief turns to anger at being left.

 

One very hot night shortly after we bought the cabin, Richard and I were sitting out on the screened-in porch, playing cards, wearing only our bathing suits.

“I know,” he said. “Let’s play strip poker.”

“What? You’ve got one item of clothing on and I have one item of clothing. I think it would be a very short game. Wait. I have a better idea. How about put-it-on poker.”

“How’s that?”

I explained. “When I win, you have to put on an item of clothing and vice versa. Whoever ends up wearing the most clothes, loses.”

I won. Richard ended up wearing a two-piece bathing suit of mine hanging off his arms, of course, counting each piece as a separate item, a pair of jeans, two T-shirts and two baseball caps stacked up on his head. I had pulled a big T-shirt on and a pair of flip-flops, which he decreed counted as only one item. I didn’t argue since I was winning.

The only time I ever beat him at poker.

• • •

 

As I sat in front of the fire, drinking a final glass of champagne, I pictured the embroidered ties I had made for Richard hanging on the gallery wall. My handwork in a gallery. My friends there, my dad, a celebration.

For that moment, I let go of Richard and saw my life sailing forward without him.

Then, through the window, I caught sight of Richard standing outside in the snow.

He began walking down toward the lake. I could see him easily because he was still wearing the red shirt. He was moving slowly and evenly, snow falling all around him, but not landing on him. He was passing through the snow as if he didn’t exist.

I ran to the window and yelled, “Richard.”

He kept walking.

The snow had grown thicker. As he was moving away, it was getting harder to see him. When he reached the shore of the lake, he stopped for a moment.

I hit the glass. I wanted him to turn back and see me, acknowledge me. But he wouldn’t turn back.

He stepped into the water.

I became frantic.

No, not again.

I ran out onto the deck and down the stairs, slipping in the snow. I had to catch him before he left for good.

I had to stop him.

He walked in deeper and the water rose up to his waist.

I ran to the shore. I could barely see him out in the mist of the cold water. The snow falling.

I called, “Richard.”

He stopped.

“Richard, I’m here.”

He turned around.

All I could see was an outline of him with his eyes looking at me.

He saw me. I know he did.

“Richard, come back.”

I ran into the water. I needed to get to him. I needed to stop him from leaving. We had to be together.

The cold sliced my feet off my body. The shock of the near-freezing water hit me like death.

I stopped, unable to wade any deeper.

He watched, standing up to his waist in the piercing cold lake.

“I’m coming.” I said more weakly, but I couldn’t do it.

I took a step backward.

He smiled at me, the smile that was only and ever for me. Then he turned and continued to move away from me into the lake.

Soon all that was left was a trailing through the water as if an animal was swimming away just below the surface.

 

Tomorrow: “Giving Up the Ghost” concludes.