Alex Waters knows the stories. He’s thought about them, read them, studied them in libraries. Knows they are about the beginnings, childhood, the lures in dreams, the scent of ferns and trees by the river. He is near and far, even to himself, opaque except when he comes into focus. Alex Waters, a brown warm voice, brown hands, his fingers rounded, as over a ball he is about to throw. These are his hands on the wheel of the brown Rabbit, on whose dash he has glued Polaroids. One is of a line of people at the post office, each person holding a packing in fluorescent twilight. Another is of Alex from before his first growth spurt. He is pushing the lawnmower, wearing a winter coat. “All part of the story,” he once told me. (...)
The first time I saw Bernard he was stepping out of his Jeep onto my parking strip. He was easing onto it stealthily, actually, and he looked like a man who had a problem with being watched. He had wide hips and loose-fitting jeans and a curving breadbasket. His mouth, which looked like a thumb dragged through dough, reminded me of something, someone. A guy at a cash register in Centralia? The drive-through coffee in North Bend? I was winding up the electric lawn mower cord in loops over my elbow and watching him take a last look into his car, and I was looking at his moccasins which looked like shoes that had once belonged to another man who had some ideas bout himself. And right now they were sinking into the juicy grass near the water meter.
He shrugged when he saw me. “Out of gas,” he said. His voice had a tobacco rattle. (...)
The dark night, the light coming up to the house, the transitions among the people, the points from point A to point B, the moments of smell and light, the shadows on driveways, the scent of trees and leaves, the number of people there and what they were wearing, the movements of hands in the small rooms. All of it happened, not all like I’ve said. But most of it would be no more possible to change than it would be to alter the flight patterns of birds. The motives of the guys, the things that happened in the house while I was on the beach, the strange music, the incomprehensible talk in the kitchen: too much of it came without a shape and it seems to me that recording it the way it happened is the only way to do it. (...)
The day I thought I was supposed to meet her started with directions, and in a season when I was at my most directionless. I was in Thom’s apartment downtown, talking to her on the island. She lived in Queens, but she wasn’t a Queens girl. She was just living there for now, until things happened. I was on Thom’s cordless and sticking my finger in his peanut butter and making amusing observations about the five-gallon drums of joint compound sitting on top of the average New Yorker’s head. She kept asking me to stop and focus and write down train stops, but somehow I couldn’t. I was antsy. I wanted to know where she lived. I wanted to see it and stop imagining it. (...)