Louis Abbey is a retired Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology from VA Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from VCU and has published both poetry and fiction in journals such as Indiana Review, The MacGuffin, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Georgetown Review, among others. He has also been published online in Grey Sparrow, Wild Violet, twice in Toasted Cheese and in Zero-dark-30. One of his poems was anthologized in Blood and Bone, Poems by Physicians, Angela Belli & Jack Coulehan, Eds. U. Iowa Press, 1998. He currently lives and writes in Revere, MA.
Owen leans back in the creaky swivel chair and looks up at the wall above his desk. To his left hangs a perfectly preserved Brown Trout mounted in mid-leap on a varnished plaque. To the right is a framed Audubon print of an Ivorybill Woodpecker.
After his mother died, Owen sold his family’s homestead, with all the furnishings, and moved to the seashore. He had just settled in when a carefully wrapped package arrived that contained the woodpecker print, the mounted trout and a note from the people who had purchased the house: “We have no place to put these pieces. Thought you would like to keep them.” So Owen tried several locations, finally settling on the wall above his desk. He would like to keep them, but no matter where they hang, he senses they are staring at him… not with curiosity but scrutiny.
He opens the desk drawer and removes a black and white snapshot of a stone bridge spanning a brook with trees and brush in the background. The bushes beside the brook are very dense. Could it be possible somebody or something is hiding in those bushes and looking out at me? Something made me stop packing that day and take this picture. He draws a deep breath. Staring into the photo, he relaxes back in the chair and closes his eyes.
Owen grew up in a white colonial on Main Street, the only child in the neighborhood. His mother, a homemaker and excellent cook, claimed she had read most of the books in the lending library. Like many men in town, his father worked at the mill. But he came home for lunch because no sandwich could match the hot meal Owen’s mother prepared.
“Everyone knows everybody else and the kids never get far without somebody noticing” is how Owen’s mother described life in the small, rural town of Wannamaker. People listened when President Eisenhower spoke on the radio about “the enemy” and “vigilance.” Outdoors, they glanced warily at the sky for Russian planes. Owen’s father joined the Civilian Ground Observer Corps. The school held duck and cover exercises. Spy rings tumbled out of cereal boxes and food cans rusted on cellar shelves. The Cold War was frequent dinner conversation.
When Owen was nine, a new family bought the colonial next door. The day after they moved in, Owen’s mother baked a fresh apple pie that she and Owen delivered to the new neighbors. A young boy answered the door, introduced himself as Will then led them to the kitchen where they met his mother. She was friendly and bustled around while she talked. It was hard for Owen to follow the conversation.
Over apple pie and coffee the two mothers talked and Owen and Will listened. Both of Will’s parents had been to college. His mother knew Latin and Greek and made no secret of how she hated cooking and cleaning. She talked lovingly about words, as if they belonged to her. Will’s father worked for Shell and was often “on the road.” Sometimes he even flew to Chicago for meetings. He read books about history and war, watched birds and insisted on quiet after supper while he listened to classical records on a sound system he’d built. Will smiled when his mother mentioned that he liked to go birding with his father.
Before long, Will and Owen learned they had been born a year apart on the same day in October. Will called Owen his birthday present. Owen thought perhaps they were meant to be brothers.
Over the next couple of years, though in different grades at elementary school, they stuck together, shot marbles as a team and had the largest collection in town. They played practical jokes on other kids. Owen was the distractor and Will would sneak up, take a book or a lunchbox and hide it. Will took full responsibility when he was caught, never implicating Owen.
In warm weather, the boys built cities and cliff dwellings in a sand pit behind Owen’s house. They invented civilizations with elaborate histories and adventures. When Will’s father was away, they combed his books on war for battle scenes to reconstruct with Will’s tanks and toy soldiers. One summer they built an air force from model kits. In winter they strapped on skis, shouldered hand-made rifles and played ski soldiers in the woods and fields.
On Owen’s eleventh and Will’s twelfth birthday, the mothers gave their sons a combined party. Will’s father presented him with a framed Audubon print of an Ivory-billed woodpecker. The mothers gave their boys new bicycles and Will and Owen proceeded to explore every back road and woodland trail in Wannamaker. To the mothers, hills and bicycle rides were a natural prescription for a good night’s sleep.
One late October Saturday in the bicycle year, Owen and Will stalked a Red-bellied woodpecker to a clearing in the woods where they came upon a boulder with many small, dark-red crystals on the surface. Owen removed a few with his pocketknife to take to school the following Monday. Convinced they’d discovered treasure, they vowed to keep it a secret. Their teacher said they’d found garnet crystals and asked the boys to lead a field trip to the rock. Neither Owen nor Will could remember how to get there.
The following spring Owen’s father suggested the boys go trout fishing, since they had their own transportation. Both of them thought it was a great idea. But when Will asked his mother to advance him his allowance to buy a fishing rod, she said a young man of twelve should start earning his own spending money. His father agreed.
So the boys hatched a plan to mow lawns in the neighborhood on weekends before school let out for summer vacation. Grass grew well that spring and business took off. Smiling neighbors supplied lemonade and water and praised the quality of the yard work. They soon had made enough money to buy fishing rods, reels, hooks and sinkers at the variety store, just in time for fishing season.
Everyone knew Paris Brook was the place to go for trout. Down the dirt road behind where the boys lived, a stone and brick bridge crossed some rapids in the brook. A small parking area at one end of the bridge was a well-known nightspot where teenagers brought their dates. It had long been a site of exploring and adventure for Owen and Will. The bridge was the natural place to begin their fishing experience.
Early on the first Saturday morning of fishing season Owen and Will rode their bikes to the parking lot at the bridge. They carried poles, bait and a creel and walked quietly to the edge of Paris Brook.
“I practiced this last night,” Owen said softly while threading a writhing worm onto the hook and tossing it into the stream.
Will dug a worm from the can of dirt and threaded it onto his hook. “There, I got it on, Owen.” He said. “Just like you.”
“OK, now toss your line into the water but not too close to mine.”
“Think the worm feels the hook when I stick him?” Will asked.
“No…but who cares? It’s only a worm.”
Will shrugged, stroked the worm with his finger then tossed his line in the water.
The first few trout flipped off in the shallows. Will discovered that a strong yank just after the bite would set the hook so the fish couldn’t fall off. By mid afternoon they had eight “keeper” Brook trout.
“I think that’s enough.” Owen said.
“Really?” Will said. “They’re pretty small. Maybe my mom will cook them for us if my father’s not there. He hates fish.”
They walked their bikes so the trout didn’t fall out of the creel. Owen stopped once to look inside. The sleek dark grey fish lay side-by-side, eyes as dull as worn glass, gills not moving and they’d lost all their black, brown and pink spots.
Will’s father and mother were busy so the boys went next door where Owen’s mother taught them how to clean the fish.
“Would you like to stay for dinner, Will?” Owen’s mother asked. “I can call your mom – tell her where you are.”
“Sure! I’ve never had trout.” Will said.
Owen and Will watched her roll each piece of trout in corn meal and place it in hot bacon fat that spattered like applause. When she laid the last golden brown fillet on the tray, she called Owen’s father and served up plates of trout, fresh beets and potato. Everybody loved the fish and soon the plates were clean except for bones. Then Owen’s mother brought a fresh blackberry pie from the pantry and Will got the first piece. After dinner, the boys stretched out on the living room rug to listen to Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders on the radio.
“I want to stay over with you tonight,” Will said.
“How come?” Owen asked.
“So I don’t have to go home.”
“They’re having one of their discussions.”
Owen pressed closer to the speaker; Bobby Benson was missing.
“I never know what to say.” Will continued.
Owen didn’t respond; the B-Bar-B boys were forming a posse to search for Bobby.
Will raised his voice. “Howard keeps yelling at Mom. She looks scared and it makes me sad so I start crying.”
The name, Howard, penetrated Owen’s concentration and he blurted, “Howard. Who’s Howard?”
“Howard’s not my real father.”
Owen turned to face Will. Bobby Benson faded.
“Mom married Howard just before we moved here. My real father died in a car wreck when I was young. His name was William, like me. Mom told me he wanted to call me Will, not Billy, or Bill or even William, just Will. So that’s why I am.”
“You never told me about Howard. I thought he was your real father. Are you lying, Will?”
“I’m not. I’d never lie to you. Now, can I stay over?”
“I guess so, but I...” Owen said, still distracted by Bobby Benson.
“Come on, Owen, let me stay, please? It’s been OK before.”
Owen thought, if I say yes, his mom might not want him to stay.
“Maybe your mom and stepfather will think you’re trying to hide here,” Owen said. “They might want you home.” He paused to check on Bobby Benson, then continued, “I’ve got a plan, Will.”
“We’ll walk back to your house and listen outside. If we hear your stepfather, then you can stay over. Mom won’t mind. If it’s quiet, you can go in.”
After the radio show, they walked to Will’s house, listened and all was quiet.
Over the next couple of days, Will didn’t say much. Owen saw him only in school. He refused to play marbles at recess and looked down when Owen tried to talk to him. After school he stayed inside. Something told Owen not to call. But on Friday, Will called him and they made a plan to go fishing the next day.
Will was mostly silent on Saturday morning during their ride to the bridge over Paris Brook. They left their bikes in the parking lot.
Owen spotted a familiar baby carriage on the bridge.
“Maureen’s back, Will.” Owen loud-whispered.
Maureen, a regular summer baby sitter from New York City, was leaning out over the bridge wall; her red shorts stretched high on her hips. In past years, the boys hid in the bushes and shouted insults, then raced away on their bikes.
This time Owen felt no such inclination. A few more steps and he elbowed Will. Their eyes locked, grins spread across their faces.
Will mouthed, Maureen, let’s get outa’ here and they doubled over laughing.
She straightened up, turned smiling and said, “Oh, hi.”
Fishing was forgotten. So with the rapids chuckling under the bridge, the three of them spent the entire morning talking and joking. Finally Maureen had to leave. Owen and Will walked their bikes home.
“Something about her was different,” Will said.
“Yeah? You think she’s forgotten the names we used to call her?” Said Owen.
“She was nicer than I thought.”
“I saw you look at her legs.”
“You think she saw me?”
“I hope she’ll come back and talk some more,” Owen said.
“Maybe she will or maybe she won’t,” said Will.
A couple of days later, Will rode into his yard carrying his fishing rod.
Owen saw him and ran next door shouting, “Where were you, Will?”
“Oh, I don’t know. All over I guess.”
“No, where’d you go fishing?”
“Bridge, that’s all. No luck. Here, take a look.”
Owen opened the creel. “I rode to the parking lot looking for you.” Owen lied. He’d been hanging around the playground, hoping Maureen might be out walking the baby.
“No you didn’t. I would have seen you.” Will said, and then added, “You know, Howard moved to another town yesterday.”
“What? You mean he left? Just you alone with your mom?”
“Yeah…they had a big fight, yelling at each other. He pushed mom down. She started to cry. I don’t think they knew I saw it. Now I’m scared and mom looks sad all the time, cries a lot at night. Sometimes I wake up and she’s arguing on the telephone.”
“Is he ever coming back?”
“I don’t know.” Will shook his head. “Is he even my father any more?”
“What does your Mom say?”
“She says he’s mad that I told you about him and I can’t visit him.”
“Can you still go birding with him?”
“No. Mom said no. She worries when I go out with you.”
“Is she afraid of him?”
“Maybe, but what can I do?”
On the last day of school, the boys walked home after lunch.
Owen clapped Will on the back, “School’s out, Will! Summer vacation! We can fish every day.”
“Yeah, sure.” Will said. “See you later.” He opened his front door and went in without another word.
Over the next two weeks, Will was aloof and fished mostly alone. Owen, torn between wanting to be with Will and trying to run into Maureen by accident, didn’t fish at all.
One afternoon, finally out of patience, Owen ran over to meet Will when he rode his bike into his yard.
“Will, are you meeting Maureen or anything?”
“No! She’s your friend, not mine,” Will said with a scowl. “I want to do stuff my own way, not with you or Maureen or anybody here. Don’t ask me again! And don’t follow me!”
“You never talk like this, Will. Why can’t we go fishing together?”
Will turned without answering and went into his house, slamming the door behind him.
The next day, Owen followed Will when he left for the bridge. Slipping silently through the bushes Owen hid in the dense brush at the edge of the parking lot. Will tossed his line into the rapids, laid his rod down, climbed up to sit on the wall, then jumped down behind the wall to pee and returned. He picked up a stone and threw it as far as he could up the brook, staring after it like he was looking for something or someone. Once, he waved and shouted, “Hey.” The birds grew silent. Finally he picked up his pole and went on fishing.
“What’s he looking for?” Owen whispered to himself.
Two days later, Will phoned Owen.
“Hey Owen!” He shouted through the receiver. “Come on over! We’ve got to enter the Twelve and Under Fishing Contest.”
“Yeah, my dad told me about it, but I didn’t think you’d want to.”
“We’ve got to, Owen. If we catch the biggest fish they’ll stuff it and mount it on a plaque. I think we can do it.”
“I’m under twelve. But what about you?”
“Owen, it’s twelve and under. I’m twelve until October, and you’re OK, so we can do it. Sign up at the Variety Store. If we start early, we’ll win, I just know it! Hurry up!”
“OK, be right there.” Owen hung up.
They entered the contest that day and the next morning headed for the bridge over Paris Brook – no fish the first day. But they went back every day, Will insisted. After a week of little or no luck, Owen was bored.
“What are you going to do, Owen, quit?” Will scoffed.
“We just started fishing this year, Will. Other people have a lot more experience.”
“You’re a quitter! Can’t stick with it. Go on home, find Maureen if you want. I’ll never quit until it’s over — either I win or lose.”
Will’s outburst hit Owen like a slap.
So they continued to fish together. Owen pretended to have fun and Will talked constantly about winning, claiming he was as good a fisherman as anybody. Owen listened. Luck did not improve.
The afternoon before the last day of the contest, Will propped his fishing rod on the bridge wall. His line drifted under the bridge through the rapids into the pool. He refused to talk, so Owen skipped stones in the parking lot and watched Will stare into the trees upstream. The rapids slushed and rattled in the background.
Suddenly Will’s reel screamed. Line streaked out.
“Owen!!” Will shouted.
The rod bent nearly double. Will dropped it and grabbed the line. Owen rushed over while Will hauled hand over hand feeding a tangle of black line onto the ground. Fierce splashing echoed under the bridge. Together they pulled and wrestled the yanking weight.
“It’s gotta be big!” Will shouted.
“Careful, Will! Keep the line tight and don’t let go!”
“This might be the winner!”
The fish broke water ten feet below them and whipped frantically all the way to the top of the wall where it caught on the stone edge. Owen reached out, slapped the fish into the air and it landed on the dirt roadway flipping madly, finally coming to rest on its side, eyes wide and angry, mouth agape, belly heaving.
“It’s all dusty, Owen,” Will said. “But the biggest ever.”
Lodged deep in the fish’s throat, the hook raked up guts when Owen yanked it free. They carried the prize to calm water and rinsed the dirt off. The bright pinkish, white-ringed spots gleamed on its back. Owen pictured it mounted on a varnished plank.
They rushed to the variety store for official weighing and measurement. It was longer than the ruler. An eighteen-inch brown trout, weighing two pounds was recorded in Will’s name. They left the fish at the store to be kept cold for the last day of the contest. Owen glanced at the other entries.
Will was the winner. After the ceremony they took his picture, holding the fish high over his head. Then he handed it to the taxidermist and ran to catch Owen in front of the variety store.
“I’m going to give you the fish when it’s mounted,” Will said.
“No! It’s yours—you caught it. I won’t take it.”
“You have to. I’ll leave it on your steps.”
“I’ll bring it back.”
“I told my mother I was giving it to you.”
“No, I can’t take it, Will, you’re the winner. It’s your prize”
“I never wanted it mounted or anything — just to catch it and win. Howard would have liked it, but now I’ll never give it to him. What would I do with it? I don’t even want my picture of the Ivory bill any more. I’m sick of everything. I hate it here. I caught it for you! You’re the only root I have.”
Scowling, puzzled, Owen stared at Will and said, “Keep it for a while. You’ll get to like it.”
“I’ve got something to tell you, Owen. But you have to promise never to tell anybody, OK?”
Owen shrugged and nodded.
“Remember, I went fishing alone the day after we saw Maureen?”
Owen nodded again.
“Well, I was leaning on the bridge wall thinking when something splashed behind me and a voice said, ‘Hi.’ Scared me – thought it might be you or Maureen, but it was a blond girl, walking right up the middle of the brook.”
“That’s weird. I never saw anybody around here like that….” Owen puzzled.
“No. Listen, Owen, I’m telling the truth. She spoke to me. ‘You fishing?’ she says. Climbs right up beside me. ‘Let me do it,’ she says. So I let her. She pulls in a small one and throws it back.”
“So what else did she do, Will?” Owen asked with growing doubt.
“She had blue eyes. And she knew stuff, Owen, like about the garnet rock. Grabs my hand and says, ‘Let’s go there.’ I said I couldn’t because I had to get back to mom.” Will paused, took a deep breath and rubbed his hand over his face. His eyes were dark and wide open.
“She asked me stuff but never said about who she was, only that she lived in the woods. Then she had to go. I asked her to come back or something. She said she’d find me – but I had to be alone. ‘Look…Look for me and I’ll be there,’ she said. ‘If you follow me, I’ll disappear forever.’ Then she jumped into the water and walked away up the middle of the brook.”
Prickles ran up the back of Owen’s neck and he shivered. They stared at each other for a moment without saying anything.
Then Owen said in a flat tone, “I don’t believe you, Will.”
“OK, so don’t. But I never lie to you.”
Owen knew that was truer for Will than himself.
“I was waiting for her the day you followed me but she never came. Next time I saw her, I asked why she didn’t come back. She grabbed my hand. Said she’d hid because you’d followed me. She’s real, Owen. You’ve got to promise me, no matter what happens, please, please, don’t ever tell anybody, even if they try to make you.”
Confused, Owen nodded his head, opened his mouth then closed it. Finally, “OK, I promise. I won’t tell. They’d never believe me anyway.”
The next afternoon a police car parked outside Will’s house brought Owen and his mother running.
Will’s mother rushed out to meet them on the porch, “Will’s missing!” she sobbed and flung her arms around them. “He left a note, said he was fishing at the bridge. We looked, searched the bridge — banks of the brook—no trace of him or his gear. Footprints, but I couldn’t tell his. He’s gone!” She drew a ragged breath. “Nobody’s seen him all day!” Then she dissolved into more tears.
Owen was stunned. He remembered Will’s words — I hate it here — then opened his mouth to talk but nothing came out.
The police had already interviewed Will’s mother and Howard, who had rushed back to Wannamaker.
They questioned Owen’s mom and dad together then talked to Owen alone.
The policeman took his hat off and sat down at the dining room table across from Owen.
“Tell me your full name, son.” He wrote notes on a yellow pad.
Owen’s face froze in a scowl. He felt a mile away, head separated from his body, like when he had a bad cold. The policeman seemed to speak with an echo. Owen just nodded or shook his head no. He’d been out riding along Ridge Road that morning and had run into Maureen.
After the police left, he refused to talk to anyone.
Late in the afternoon, finally free, Owen grabbed his bike and raced away. He pedaled fast and hard, round and around racing somewhere – anywhere. Dry breath raked in his chest and throat. Vision blurred—pump, pump, pump—he flew up and down the narrow roads and skidded to a stop near the garnet rock, dropped the bike and stumbled through brush to the clearing. Leaning on the rock he caught his breath, closed his eyes tight then opened them.
“Will?” He called softly, scanning the clearing. Was that a movement in the trees? Frantic, he checked again, nothing. A shroud of silence drew around him. Leaning forward, palms on the rock, sweat dripped from his chin. A garnet glinted red. He yanked out his knife and gouged gem after gem, shoving them in his pocket. His shoulders shook and he began to sob and cough and sob. Phlegm clogged his throat and tears streaked his face. Dropping to the ground he ripped out fistfuls of mossy forest floor throwing clots of dirt and plants behind him – grip—rip—grip like a dog. Arms heavy, fingernails split, eyes blurred, he sagged then straightened up on his knees. The trees whirled around him in a blur. Sucking in a breath, he stood up, cupped hands to mouth and shouted long and loud, “Wiiillll!!”
Then he rubbed his eyes and scanned the clearing from side to side. Low sun shadows made movements everywhere. A flit caught his eye — no, gone or never was. Inhale. A smile tugged the corners of his lips—long exhale. Wiping sweat from his face with a muddy hand, he turned, picked his way back through the bushes and rode home.
His mother had the lights up high in the house.
“You’d better clean up,” she said. “Dad had to go back to work and finish some things. Supper is on the stove. You can eat after you wash. Are you all right?”
“Yes. I know what I have to do.”
“I’m so worried about Will,” she said. “Out there all alone, his mother and father are frantic.”
“Will is fine,” Owen answered softly.
“Hurry up now. I have to go next door.” She said.
“And Howard’s not his father,” Owen added.
She glanced at Owen, surprise in her eyes. “You look exhausted. At least I’ll sit with her. Go right to bed after you eat.”
The next day Owen slept late. When he finally got out of bed and dressed, he headed straight for the bridge at Paris Brook. Radio calls blurted through the open window of a police car in the parking lot. He crept silently around the guard to the brush-lined clearing where Will would have gone fishing. Their footprints were everywhere. He reached to touch one of Will’s prints. He rolled out the hollow log from under the bush where they stowed their gear when fishing was interrupted. He reached inside one end, felt cloth, fingered it aside and there was Will’s fishing rod and reel.
“…please…please… don’t…ever…tell anyone…no matter what happens…” The words rang in Owen’s ears. No matter what happens, he thought.
“OK.” He said softly and rolled the log back.
Over the next few days, the police interrogated everyone, even strangers and Will’s classmates. Wannamaker’s few ex-criminals shook their heads but they were under observation anyway. Maureen cried all through her questioning. She even called Owen afterward, but he avoided her. She went home early that summer and never returned to Wannamaker. The town dammed the brook and drained the pool below the rapids. Owen joined search parties to scour the woods upstream and down. Will’s mom even had a séance but that failed to contact Will. Theories abounded, neighbors gossiped, congregations prayed.
Weeks passed. Finally, Will’s mother held a memorial service to celebrate Will’s life. Sadly, she handed Owen the mounted brown trout and the framed picture of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. “Will wanted you to have these, Owen.”
Owen pictured Will laughing at all the crying, especially his stepfather.
Days and weeks became years. Owen remained deeply sad and focused on homework and chores. He advanced through high school where talk about Will grew less frequent every year and finally ceased. It made him angry that people assumed Will was dead. Owen would bring up Will’s name at odd times, just to keep it alive. They never found a body so Owen refused to refer to Will in the past tense. He gave up fishing, rarely visited the bridge and graduated from high school.
One day, late that summer, while packing for college, right in the middle of folding a shirt, a strong feeling of having forgotten something important washed over Owen. He thought a moment – I know, that’s it, a last picture of the bridge. I’ll take it tomorrow before I go. The need to take the picture continued to nag him like a broken promise. So with a shrug he retrieved his camera closed the suitcase and headed for the bridge.
The birds were silent. He looked around – nothing unusual. Get it over, he thought, raising the camera. He framed the bridge and the rapids with the trees in the background and pressed the shutter, click. Something caught his eye – a bird or movement in the brush? He shrugged. The log that contained Will’s gear was still there. Owen reached inside and pulled the rod out a few inches. Prickles shot up his back. A new hook was fixed to the line, two barbs, same as Will had used. Owen smiled.
Owen went to college and graduated with a specialty in marshes and migrations. At commencement, his mother pleaded with him to come back to Wannamaker and help her care for his father who had been too sick to attend. So Owen packed up and they returned to the homestead.
The house on the hill looked the same. Next door, Will’s house was little changed but a new family lived there. Owen was surprised when his father told him the town had demolished Paris Brook Bridge. A newspaper photo showed the broken pieces lying in the stream.
Owen worked hard to keep the house in good repair and helped his mother care for his father. That first winter brought an unusually deep and persistent snowfall making everything more difficult. His father died that March. They had a funeral, but postponed the burial until after the spring thaw. This was particularly hard on his mother.
One day early in the summer following his father’s burial, Owen’s mother decided to go for a walk along Paris Brook. Owen was sanding and painting storm windows so he turned down her invitation to come along. Anyway, he wasn’t interested in seeing the demolition site with its old memories. So she went alone.
When she failed to return at suppertime, Owen, an anxious lump in his throat, hurried down the road to Paris Brook to look for her. He found his mother wedged between two fragments of the bridge. She was dead, having apparently slipped and hit her head on the stone while climbing over the broken remnants to reach the other side. Owen paused a moment with tears streaming down his face and listened, then ran back to his house and called an ambulance.
His mom had planned her funeral and burial ahead of time making it easy for Owen. Once she was in the ground, he felt a release of pressure creep out from under the edges of his grief. He tied up all the details of his parent’s estate, cleaned the house and sold it, furniture and everything inside using the cash to purchase his new home on the seashore.
It was time to go. He felt a sad relief driving in the light rain down Main Street for the last time. He slowed the car and stopped at the dirt road to the bridge—just one more look, he thought.
Trees and vines had taken over the parking lot. The broken pieces of the bridge startled him, conjuring up a brief vision of his mother’s body wedged between two fragments. He crossed the stream carefully hopping from one fractured remnant to another.
A thicket had grown up where the clearing used to be. The hollow log, Will’s rod, reel and the enveloping cloth were gone, utterly without a trace. A new pool had formed upstream from the bridge fragments. The rapids had a harsher rasping voice replacing the old soft chuckle.
I am alone, he thought. I will make a new start in the new place.
Owen shakes his head, rubs his eyes and sits up straight in the swivel chair. The trout and the woodpecker stare down at him from the wall. He still holds the photo of the bridge and the woods in his hand. Turning the chair he looks out the picture window. Low, thick clouds make the ocean grey and wind crumples the surface. On the horizon a navigation light winks.
He has met a few neighbors and worked hard at his job, maybe too hard. When the end of the day comes, he sometimes catches himself finding reasons to stay late at the office. At times it is difficult to pay attention to anything but work. Now and then he finds himself thinking of another life. What would it be like if he and Will could have grown up together, if Will had not vanished?
He stares deeply into the photograph in his hand. The bridge, trees and bushes are frozen in time… a time he and Will knew together. The underbrush is deep, layer upon layer it marches back further and further. The three big trees in the front row hide trunks of trees in the layer behind them and branches on the low bushes are really there, just hidden by the ones in front. Someone could hide in the second or third layer of bushes, or behind a tree obscured by a tree in the foreground. If Will was there then, he’s still there, maybe hiding behind a rock, you never know. Owen feels a sense of clearing behind his eyes. Mother and dad are dead and in the ground. They are part of the ground. Will vanished without a definite end, in the ground or anywhere else. For that, he’d have to die and no one has ever found his body.
So he must be somewhere. Everyone has to be somewhere – in thoughts, memories, behind a tree or a bush or deeper behind the next tree or the next bush. The trout, the woodpecker and this picture are where Will is. They are not just memorial representations but openings to where Will lives, very much alive.