Glacial ice. Layered. Thick. Forming after the bewildering storm in her head and creeping up her spine. The courier’s delivery from Joe Tink lies like a white patch of snow on her desk. Being alone in her office, she doesn’t have to explain to anyone why she is waiting for it to melt. But it doesn’t. Finally, with curiosity rising like hoarfrost, she feels forced to open this unwarranted comminatory thing in front of her. To decide if she should leave.
Your father is dead.
That’s it? She’s vexed. Almost angry. Why bother? And couriered? He could just as easily have called her from Bangor. Always had. They were close, weren’t they? Closer than normal.
Besides, she already knew her father would kill himself.
But, Joe wrote more. Pages and pages.
This late-September afternoon, in some sort of unfamiliar circuitous telepathy, Geena has been thinking about Joe - Pickled Tink Joe - more than usual. Reminded today of him by two different women in her Kansas City office asking Geena about the fall season back in New England. Reminded today of him because with her speaking funny Boston the two women, having prattled over lunch about the magazine article spotlighting the foliage, presume that she knows all about New England and its leaves.
You know, Geena, how beautiful it must be!
Geena nods indulgently as each one approaches her, each claiming she will travel to see it one day. But Geena knows her chickens; neither of the two will get there. It would be entering foreign country.
With Geena’s children out of the nest and her ex a near-forgotten fugitive from marriage, she has moved to a smaller apartment in Prairie Village, east of Kansas City, to live alone, but rarely feeling alone. Her two boys, or more probably their spouses, dependably call about visiting her with the grandchildren during holidays, and neighbors in the building complex drop in daily to see if she needs anything.
While early on in younger years if she had lived here - if she would have had time to think - she might have found this neighborly spontaneity a bothersome lack of privacy. Now, in her fifties, she loves this place and the midwestern populace who go nowhere. No New Englander had ever seemed as outgoing and optimistic as these Kansas busybodies. And, although Geena found that the religious tethering of the Bible Belt could be a nuisance, she has several local social friends who are comfortably unbridled and who distract Geena from her shrouded pathos, often recruiting her into playing bridge on Sunday afternoons and in occasional local tournaments.
Geena would never tell any one of these people, or anyone else for that matter, how she had grown up seeing the fall season as death-and-dying. Invariably depressing. Kansas is nosy neighbors, but still, New England is the epitome of fall presenting itself in all its dispiriting glory. In New England she had thought she smelled the dying in the rotting leaves, and she had heard death’s unambiguous footsteps in Maine’s ice and snow, inwardly cringing with the sound of each bone-crushing footfall in the long, dark winters. Or maybe not. Maybe the winters are not the reason at all. Maine reminds her, in overkill, of the past, the shivers of buried darkness, ruining sleep. Anguish, grief, agony. Words that mean nothing compared to the reality.
Thus, many years ago, when offered a full-time position after temping in Kansas City during college, she decided to continue living in Kansas, away from New England. Geena is running her own construction consulting business, her towering height underscoring her authoritative presence, both for her few employees and for her clients. She has made sure her office staff have only seen her as a stoic engineer, a fair but distant boss. Thus, the arrival of Joe’s letter forces her to leave the office as if struck by a sudden illness, which is, in fact, true. She has escaped - not remembering the drive home - to hide her soul in the bedroom corner with her mother’s memories, in the few things she has kept: the cushioned chair - a maudlin carver chair she would never have bought - and the dorm-room lamp, as stringent as its droll Ikea name, that her mother bought Geena years ago.
Amalgamated in the bedroom corner to scrutinize this bewildering letter, she doesn’t remember having ever screamed before - not since her brother’s cruel childhood tales - but at the end of this letter, she has screamed. Now crying quietly, soft reverberations of her emotional outburst, Geena feels a punishing sensation sweeping harshly over her with the intensity of a squalid wind, a punishment for all things hidden inside her.
Her kids are gone. Her ex is ex. Her parents are dead. Brother Davis is halfway around the globe, north of the Arctic Circle. And in his surprise letter, Joe, her only real friend - the now-obvious real reason she never felt lonely - has forsaken her.
Unintentionally, she exhales, “Oh, Joe.” The sound surprises her and makes her body shake as she can no longer control her desolation. The ingrained engineer in her tries to beat back the tears, to scrutinize why she is crying, but the emotion packed in her neural network that she had carried deep-frozen from Maine has liquified into a cold ocean. She sits transfixed timelessly floating on that ocean - shards of pain from the deep - until she is slowly impelled, as only the castigation of loneliness can do, to form a determination.
She and her brother are all who are left. Geena fears with fair certainty that her brother is also a murderer, that he has probably murdered at least one person, maybe more. Maybe. No, probably. Undeniably probably. Still, she regards him as her real brother, right now even more so, despite family blood and all. She loves him. Since age five or six, she always has, because her mother told her to, and because her mother was everything Geena wanted to be.
Different from her father. She’s crying, but not for him.
Blinking to try to clear her eyes, at length she gets up and, still blurry-eyed, walks slowly to the kitchen. Plucking a Kleenex from the box on the counter, she methodically wipes away the remaining tears and pats dry her cheeks, not yet aware of the black smears. Habitually she sets water for tea on the stove.
The word repeatedly disrupts her determined thoughts until the teakettle’s encroaching high-pitched whistle sounds its alarm.
She turns off the flame. No time for tea. No time for self-pity. Her mind is made up. Joe has written that he cannot, would not, could not make himself inform Davis about their father Kevin’s death. Geena has decided she has to face Davis, to tell him personally.
And Bangor? Joe’s shocking desertion has evanesced into worry. Taking time off from work for her trip to see Davis in Norway, she will stop in New England first, to see what she can discover, to tie up any loose ends. Fill in the gaps, maybe. That’s her decision. Daunting. No, fucking terrifying.
Like the knock at the door.