FIRES by William Black
THE BED HAD BEEN Nell’s parents’, and somehow the sheets still smelled in a vague and pleasant way of her mother, who had been the last to live in the house. Nearly four years ago, while her mother waited for the ambulance to take her from the hospital to hospice care, she instructed Nell to put the house up for sale, and it has languished on the market ever since, occupied only by the empty chests and bookcases and dressers Nell’s parents had brought with them when they moved in nearly half a century ago, all of it, like the bed, heavy and dark and ornately detailed. This was exactly the kind of furniture that David, a minimalist who wore creased pants and a neatly trimmed beard, despised, but it had meant a furnished house when they needed one.
Nell lay beside David. He was staring at the slow-moving ceiling fan while she watched his face light up with the sudden bursts of fireworks and then gradually fall back into darkness. They had been here through the summer months, with plans to stay until the winter holidays. But earlier, as they had been undressing for bed, David started in again. “It’s been long enough,” he said. “That’s all I’m saying. Our time here, we came for valid reasons, and you were right, it was the best thing to do. I recognize that. But let’s call it a success and go home.”
Nell had not answered, and now David’s silent staring was meant as punishment.
At another time, Nell might have been conspicuous about watching him, waiting for him to acknowledge her so she could return to whatever subject he had insisted on dropping. But tonight she was struck by how she had allowed his face to become strange to her. The equine jut of its lower half, she realized, was something she had always, almost willfully, overlooked. It had, since she met him, been veiled by his beard, but more than that she had chosen to let his eyes, heavy-lidded, warm, and calm, define him. Now that she has invited these other features into the frame, his face sometimes put her on edge.
There came the hissing sizzle of fireworks taking flight, then the blue and red explosions that lit his face, and he touched her arm.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I know this is for my own good—our good,” he added, anticipating her correction. “But I feel like myself again. So maybe it’s been long enough. That’s all I’m saying.”
She moved closer to him, put her hand on his jaw, and turned it toward her kiss. He kissed back but said, “You know I can’t. These pills.”
She kissed him again and a memory came to mind. She lay back and said, “A long time ago, when Robbie was twelve, maybe thirteen, when he was really starting to get out of control, he had a secret— I don’t know what to call it. A secret project, I guess. For months he would take any chemicals he could find—bleach, motor oil, insecticide. I’m sure there was ammonia in there too. My God, we had no idea how dangerous it was. Every day for months he would pour a little of what he found into this big metal tub in the garage. Gasoline, laundry detergent. And then one day, when he decided it was full enough, I guess, he carried this tub out back and into the woods—there used be acres of woods back there, before they built those houses—and back to this meadow where there was nothing. I saw him carrying the tub and I followed him. I thought of myself as his guardian, maybe even his guardian angel, I was so convinced of my goodness then, and he was getting into more and more trouble, so I followed him to watch out for him. When he got to the meadow he set the tub down and he saw me. This was before he distrusted me completely, and he looked shocked to see his little sister for a minute, but then he let me come see what he was doing. He emptied the tub into the grass, and I swear to you, in five minutes the grass started to dry out and turn brown. That stuff was toxic. Toxic.”
“Why are you telling me this?” David said.
“I don’t know,” Nell said. “I just remembered it.”
There was a rapid succession of firecracker percussions, then the tense sizzle of a launching incendiary that, through the window, seemed to peal back into melting strands of incandescence.
“Don’t they have to stop that sometime?” David said.
“I was fascinated by what this stuff did to the grass,” Nell went on. “This dry, browning circle Robbie had made. I knelt down to look at it. I remember I had my hands held behind my back, in little fists. I was afraid to touch it. And right then Robbie threw a match and everything shot up in flames. I guess I turned away quickly enough to save my face, but my hair caught on fire. The long, long wavy hair my mother loved. It fried it up to my shoulders on one side, and it smelled just awful. Back then Robbie was still able to think about other people, and he took me back home, and we cut my hair so all the burned parts were gone and it was an even length, more or less. I cried all the way through it, but when our mother came home from work that afternoon I tried to look happy about it. She blew her top—I had never, ever seen her so angry. How could you do that? How could you do that to your hair? I smiled at her, though my face, my eyes must have been very red from the crying, and I told her I wanted it that way. I wanted it short now, and Robbie helped me cut it the way I wanted it. He was being good, I told her. He was being really good.”
Nell could tell by his breathing that David was asleep. She got out of bed and went to the window. In her parents’ later years, the neighborhood, once the home of Italian and Polish mine workers, had seen Hispanics begin to move in. People of Spanish descent, her mother had said in effort to hide her feelings about it. Now the neighborhood was mostly Mexican—young families who had bought derelict or foreclosed upon houses and cleaned them up admirably, though it had made this house, Nell’s mother’s house, no easier to sell.
Across the street, in the side yard of a fine yellow house that not two years ago had been windowless, a father dropped canister-like fireworks into the long tube that would launch them and scrambled backward, out of the way. He had done this all summer as his three children watched from a pool set on the lawn, three huddled shadows in a perfect circle of undulating blue light. Nell pictured Robbie in that meadow, now a development of houses, a boy on his way to becoming a shadow, all manic impulses obscured by lies. Then the fireworks launched, a glowing tracer spiraling high into the darkness, and then the explosion that released a series of spinning, fiery rings.
In a bar, not long after Robbie and then her mother passed away, Nell made a mordant joke.
She worked as administrative assistant in the math department at a small, handsome Massachusetts college. She and some staff from other departments held a midweek happy hour, and one Wednesday the assistant from the English department brought a special guest, a lean, crisp-looking new hire with sleepy, calming eyes. He smoothed his tie as he took the seat next to Nell and ordered bourbon from the waitress.
“Bergin,” Nell said in Richard Burton’s morose languor, and immediately she regretted it. She had been an English major herself, and though her favorites had been the Victorians, these days she remembered only the most caustic post-war writers and their grim pessimism that matched her own. She had even become cynical about her affairs, careless about her first impressions, foretasting the tawdriness that would follow and the slow, sad, prolonged dissolutions that seemed to come, always, in the overcast days approaching winter break—while this still young man was clean and crisp in his bearing, Nell thought. Unsullied, hopeful enough to be unabashedly ambitious. But having begun her allusion, it would only be worse to stop it midway. “Bergin and water,” Nell went on, losing her Burton impersonation, and the young professor, David, went blank-faced, as if shocked.
“It’s from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Nell explained.
“I know,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out if you’re the boy who accidentally killed his parents or if you’re implying that I am.”
“Oh, that would be you,” Nell said. “I knew it the moment I set eyes on you,” she added with put-on southern flirtatiousness, and she batted her lashes before erupting with laughter.
He would take her to dinner, and she would take him home. She would feel grateful for his reliable kindness and predictable hours and the way he nursed her through a cold. He would tell her what a relief it was to spend time with someone smart and well read but who wasn’t looking out for occasions to judge him. He was already vigilant about possible threats to his campaign for tenure, though that application was still five or six years away. Once he’d broken his lease and moved into Nell’s house, he spent his evening hours upstairs, in the study they had made, working on papers that were meant to distinguish him. When he came to bed she told him she was proud of him, and she sought to reward his optimism and hard work with a passion that, suddenly, came easily to her. Being happy is dangerous, she reminded herself, but she couldn’t help it. Then David’s papers weren’t published. With each rejection the list of enemies who would deny him tenure grew and he committed more hours to the study. She tried to bolster him with good cheer and eager attention, but he only withdrew.
Until one day his mood changed. He had, he said, embarked upon a project that would secure his career—a comprehensive study of an obscure turn-of-the-century poet. He worked long hours alone, sometimes not coming to bed at all. She woke to find him sprawled, fully dressed, on the living room sofa. She shook his shoulder, holding his coffee in her other hand, and he would come to, disheveled, wan, blinking against his dried out eyes, but his mood never wavered. He arrived home with Thai food for dinner and bottles of wine, and though he took himself upstairs while she cleaned up, she was buoyed by the steady rhythm of their lives and energized by his new enthusiasm. Then after a couple of weeks, her curiosity got the better of her. She let herself into his office to find his computer on. She touched the mouse, and the screen lit up, and there she found that he had retyped, almost line by line, articles that were sitting open, notated, on his desk. The articles, in their language, struck her as musty, archaic, and David had been careful to rephrase sentences, updating their diction and syntax, and to reorder paragraphs, but otherwise the articles were the same. If she could see this at a glance, certainly a specialist would too. And then what would happen?
“What are you thinking?” she said, confronting him as he came in the door, his knapsack heavy with books and papers. “What in God’s name are you thinking?”
No, no, David insisted. She had it all wrong. It was part of the work of his project, copying out and reworking other people’s ideas. He shrugged. It just was a way of gaining purchase on his mind, a kind of preparation for the work that he would do, that he needed to do, that his career depended upon.
“Have you started on that work yet? Have you written a single word of your own?”
He hadn’t. But that would come in time, he said. What he was doing now, it was all about trying to imagine his way into the story he wanted to tell. It was research in the form of deep imagining.
“Deep imagining of somebody else’s ideas.”
“That’s part of it, yes.”
Later he admitted that the idea of retyping those articles was born of fear and frustration, of insecurity. He wanted to absorb everything he could, he said. His body of work needed to be as comprehensive as possible. But mostly he wanted to be sure he had something to say—something acceptable—before he put himself to saying it.
“By using someone else’s articles.”
David groaned and held his face in his hands, and Nell backed off. She tried a subtler, gentler line of inquiry and convinced him to talk about his exhaustion and his fear of failing. Beneath his drive and optimism was a gnawing dread of disappointing everyone who mattered—his colleagues, his old professors, Nell. She could not, he told her, begin to imagine the burden of that anxiety. When he broke down and wept she held him. He told her that, in talking about it, a kind of weight had been lessened, and he agreed to visit a psychiatrist. There, in the whitewashed office, the doctor explained the nature of David’s depression and prescribed the pills.
Taking a semester’s leave in Pennsylvania had been her idea, hatched during long, sleepless nights as winter thawed and she understood that behind those things she loved in him was a sickness that had to be cured. David could tell the department that she had a family emergency back home, she explained, and that he would accompany her. It would buy him some time to escape the pressure he felt, to unwind, sleep, get control of himself. The alternative, she told him, was to start looking for another place to live. She evoked Robbie’s name. She said she could not—would not—go through all that again, all those years of covering for someone who would only hurt her.
In the morning, as she was pouring his coffee, Nell watched David descend the stairs, and she looked for a sign of his mood. Some mornings he lingered over coffee and talked about staying here, fixing up what needed to be fixed up and settling in. There were careers outside of academia, he would say. There were noble and engaging challenges having nothing to do with syntax and prosody. Other days he was frustrated by the time away from work his three degrees had earned him the right to pursue.
She handed him his coffee, and he spooned in sugar, sipped, and leaned against the counter. He said, “I dreamt of chemical fires all night. That was a hell of a story.”
“I didn’t think you heard the end of it.”
“I didn’t.” David parted the curtains over the sink and sunlight flooded in. “Looks like a good morning for your walk.”
Those mornings he woke with an itching interest to work were like this: David already preoccupied and looking to get her out of the house. He had a way of pushing his lower lip forward when he felt impatient, and the horse-like quality of his face became more pronounced. Since they’d arrived here, these were the days Nell felt most uneasy.
She let him take his coffee upstairs and heard him close the door to his study. Then she walked her regular morning route, down to the cemetery on Pittston Avenue, where her parents were buried, and back in a long loop through blocks of restored houses. Especially on the weekends, the Mexican families slept late and rose to gather in their yards and on their front porches, eating and drinking coffee and playing buoyant music that, once she had grown accustomed to it, she loved.
This morning the music had given her an excess of energy, so instead of turning for home, she made a left on to Locust Street and climbed the long hill, passed through the rows of trees that marked a haphazard border, and entered the neighborhood that had been carved out of the old woods and meadows. When it was being built, her parents embraced it as a hopeful omen. After two decades of decline, people were moving back, and they were the kind of people that demanded new homes with modern amenities. But Nell hated them. She grieved the loss of the deep backyard woods.
“I guess it means the end of your childhood,” her father said.
He was trying to be sympathetic. Nell and Robbie had spent hundreds of hours in those woods, and he may have been right. But what Nell had said was, “No. That happened when Robbie was sent away.”
The houses had lost the shiny modern glamor she remembered. They were low to the ground and sullen-looking, facing the street with fake brick facades that had darkened with the years. Along their sides, aluminum shaped like clapboard had taken dents and become home to cocooned things suspended in spider webs.
She kept an eye out for old landmarks she might have recognized—outcroppings of rock, a pine copse in whose shade she and Robbie had held secret meetings, the sloped meadow where Robbie had poured his toxic concoction. When her parents came to the awful realization that they could no longer hope to control him, that he had in fact become dangerous, they sent Robbie to reform school. They explained to Nell that it would help him, but even then she could see that they had given up, that they expected Robbie would only fall in with boys like himself, and then he would be lost. And that was what happened. Even years after Robbie had left the reform school, police cruisers would park in front of the house, officers would solemnly approach the door, and Nell’s parents would be subjected, again, to the ordeal of answering questions about Robbie’s whereabouts and his known associates and whether or not they had had contact with him. They hadn’t. Except for two or three letters sent from jail, the only news they received came from the officers themselves. Her father, growing weaker and paler as it was, sat in silence as Nell’s mother saw the officers out. It would be days and sometimes weeks before he climbed out from under what he believed was his failure as a father, until one time he didn’t climb out of it and lay limp and grimacing as an ambulance crew lifted him from his bed onto a gurney. He would not come home again. Nell had moved to Massachusetts by the time news came that Robbie had died in a fire. “Thank God your father isn’t alive to know this,” her mother said when Nell arrived to bury Robbie’s remains. As the police explained it, Robbie had been living with several others in a condemned building a couple hundred miles west, on the shores of Lake Erie, where there was nothing but derelicts and drug addicts squatting in abandoned warehouses. He had been the only one in the building—intoxicated and sleeping, the investigators concluded, on a bed of palates and broken down cardboard boxes—when half the place burned to the ground. Nell was careful not to hear too many details of Robbie’s life. She had learned plenty from the officers who had preceded these two leaning forward in chairs that still ringed the living room coffee table, speaking in low voices but eager for any help Nell and her mother could give them. They were suspicious about the fire’s cause, they explained.
“Did your brother have any enemies?” one of the officers asked, and Nell laughed—a sharp cough of breath that fractured her mother’s composure.
“I’m sure he had hundreds,” Nell said, and her mother gave way to tears.
Over and over on the long drive back to Massachusetts, she replayed the scene in her mind. For a long time it would come back to her, weighting her with shame. It was, she decided, the first green shoot of the cynicism that would overrun her until David came along and something she thought she had lost returned. David, who had seemed so steady and uncorrupted.
He had had a fire of his own. In spring, as the semester was coming to an end, and even when they had packed up six months worth of necessities and driven to Pennsylvania and moved into her parents’ old house, Nell was afraid that David, too, would be lost. Unless he had taken a pill, he didn’t sleep. He didn’t eat. His hands trembled, he chain smoked, he had what she called his fugue states, in which his mind drifted and minutes disappeared without his knowing where they went. During one of these states his cigarette ash dropped on an afghan her mother had knit. The afghan was old and smelled of the dust and dampness that had accumulated during the years of vacancy, but Nell had recognized it as something her mother had made and folded it over the arm of the sofa. As David stared into nothing, oblivious, a still hot ember smoldered and smoked until the smell of it penetrated his empty dream. By then, a half dollar-sized hole had burned through wool and was spreading. When he showed her, Nell was angry and then distraught, and she decided again that she had no choice but to save herself from him.
That was when David began making promises. In Massachusetts, after she had discovered the articles he was typing into his computer, he agreed to visit the psychiatrist. He agreed to take the pills once they were prescribed. He agreed to take a leave and move into her mother’s house. But he made no promises until he burned the afghan. Then he told Nell he would keep it in his study as a reminder of how far he had fallen. And he promised to quit smoking. Cold turkey. It was a way to show her how serious he was about getting a grip on himself. She looked at him suspiciously, but he got up from the table, crumpled what remained of his last pack, and threw it in the garbage. As far as Nell knew, he had not lit another one since.
She found herself returning to the top of Locust, having circled through the neighborhood without recognizing a single old landmark. It all felt simply strange to her, and she started back down the hill feeling vague, abstracted. The hills, the houses, the trees: they were long familiar, but it was as though she were seeing them from a strange, secret angle. They put her in mind of old dreams—of discovering forgotten rooms in her childhood home, or of her mother visiting from death, looking as young and hopeful as she had when Nell and Robbie were children.
She turned off of Locust, and from the distance of a block and a half, Nell saw a police cruiser idling in front of her neighbor’s yellow house, its lights strobing, and something in her chest clenched. The officer stood hatless, bald-headed, with his back to her. In front of him, smaller, smiling and gesticulating nervously, was her Mexican neighbor. “No no no,” the neighbor was saying, waving his hands. He was wearing grass-stained kneepads and work gloves. Half his yard was freshly sodded. “You do not understand,” he said. He pointed to himself. “I will punish him.” He was speaking too loudly. Nell felt his discomfort—his jittery speech, his supplicating gestures—and winced at it. Beside him was a younger man, a teenager maybe, downy hair on his cheeks and above his lip, a sullen-looking Latino in a black t-shirt with a black bandana tied around his head. His hair was shaggy and chin-length, and he stood with his arms folded and his back slightly arched, a posture of defiance. As she neared, Nell saw the boy was chewing on something—a toothpick or a twig. Every now and then he turned and bent at the waist to spit on the lawn. “Whatever he has done,” the neighbor said too cheerfully. “Whatever it is, we will take care of it. Family,” and he nodded, still smiling, waiting for an answer that the officer was slow to give him.
At last the officer said, “He’s your cousin,” a statement laced with skepticism, though the neighbor responded as if something had been decided. “Yes,” and then got confused. “No, not my cousin, my cousin’s son. He stays with us until he gets a good job.”
“Your cousin’s son. But he has no ID, no known address, no phone number, nothing on his person but a knife with a six inch blade, no one but you to vouch for him.”
“She can,” Nell’s neighbor said, pointing toward her. “She can tell you.”
The officer turned to Nell, scrutinized her from head to toe and back, then called to her, “Ma’am,” beckoning. “Will you come here please?”
The boy stared hard at her, pursing his lips judgmentally.
The officer said to her, “This man says you can vouch that he”—he lifted his chin toward the boy—“is a relative. Is that true?”
The neighbor’s smile strained, and he aimed it at her. When he caught Nell’s eye she said hesitantly, “I can’t say if he’s a relation or not.” She looked toward the officer. From the squad car, the radio crackled and squawked. “But I see him around here all the time.”
“You see?” the neighbor said. “You see?”
“When you’re shooting off the fireworks,” she added.
“Yes, yes,” the neighbor said, and he mimicked the firework’s launch and explosion with his hands.
The officer watched Nell’s face and she watched his. She said, “That’s all I can say for certain.”
The officer nodded, though he pressed his lips together. Then he nodded to the neighbor, and to the boy he said, “I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Know that.”
Distorted voices broadcast across the radio. Feedback. Then something that came in clearly, a request and a code. The officer looked all three of them over one more time and went to the car. He got into the driver’s seat and answered the call. The neighbor held his smile and watched until the officer pulled away from the curb and accelerated, the lights still flashing.
“Ricardo,” the neighbor said, extending a hand to Nell. “I knew you would understand. We take care of our own, yes? There is no one else to do it.” Then he turned to the boy and said, “Who are you?”
“Luis,” the boy said, fishing a pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of his jeans. He added something in Spanish.
“No, no, no,” Ricardo said, waving a hand in the air. “You speak English here. Do you understand me? Speak Spanish and the police will get you for sure, and they better not get you. If they get you, they get me. You understand?”
Nell excused herself. She crossed the street, the neighbor’s voice behind her, and she thought of the knife the officer described, that young, dangerous-looking boy with a six-inch blade. Had the officer taken it away? Could he have? It had been a reflex, she thought, to the protect the boy, to cover for him. She climbed the front steps and reached the door. A stupid, blind reflex. She turned to see the boy walking away, a loping stride, his arms held away from his body. His eyes were alert and always moving, vigilant. One of the neighbor’s girls was running toward her father across the unsodded half of the lawn, all dark hair and tanned limbs in her swimsuit, pink floaties gripping her upper arms. The neighbor lifted her up and held her against his chest, but he, too, kept his eyes on the boy.
She stepped from the foyer into the living room where the police had interviewed Nell and her mother after Robbie’s death. They had sat right there, the younger one on the near side of the sofa, the older one in the plaid armchair, both of them leaning forward, their hats held between their knees, asking their questions in calm, quiet tones. Nell sat on the far end of the sofa, arms folded across her chest. She remembered the younger officer with his dark hair slicked into place. She remembered the almost aggressive way she looked at him, as if daring him to look back into her eyes. She had never seen him before. She had no good reason for feeling so hostile toward him. It was just that she felt—had been feeling—so thoroughly let down. By Robbie, by everyone. Why couldn’t Robbie have grown up and seen the damage he was doing? It wasn’t fair, she knew that even then, but she felt her parents culpable too. Weren’t they supposed to have done something—beyond shrugging their shoulders and sending Robbie away? Weren’t they supposed to do whatever it took to fix him? How angry she had been about all of it. She had not realized until right this moment how angry she had been.
“David,” she called into the house.
I’m sure he had hundreds, Nell had said to the officer. How glib. How disdainful. Her mother had been exhausted by Robbie and the decisions he had compelled. What else could she really have done? Robbie had turned everyone he knew in enemies. At that moment, Nell counted herself among them, even if she hadn’t realized it until now. Her mother, though, still suffered the pain of loss and failure as though it were new. Of course she had cried.
“David,” she called up the stairs.
Some days, when David was chasing an especially fragile thread of thought, he ignored her. So she went on.
In the kitchen she ground coffee until she saw David through the window. He stood at the far end of the yard, still in his robe, his back to the house. She went out the kitchen door and broke his concentration. He turned toward her, a cigarette between his lips. She must have made a face because he withdrew it and held it up for her to see. “It’s not lit,” he said. “I use them as props. They help me think.” He looked at it between his fingers. “If I have one with me, I’m not so aware of not smoking.” He lifted his head and looked at her, squinting, and said, “Are you okay? You’re pale. Have you seen a ghost?”
She was surprised, then realized she was in fact in a state of some kind. She turned and gestured toward the neighbor’s yellow house, as if somehow the Mexican boy explained everything. But she said, “I’m not feeling very well.”
“Sit down,” David said, and he led her a lawn chair and, hands on her upper arms, guided her down as though she were an invalid. He was patient, but she could see how, beneath that, he was unhappy to have been interrupted and now to stop what he was doing to tend to her. “I’ll get you some water,” he said, and he left her for the kitchen.
If he had a good day working, Nell knew, or if he had an especially frustrating one, he would return to his case for going home—he was himself again; there was work to do; his life was passing him by as he languished in a strange house in a strange Pennsylvania town. Nell anticipated the show of casualness, the way that last night he had been undressing, his back to her, when he said, “So I’ve been thinking” and she chose not to respond. She was not ready to talk about it. Maybe she already understood that she would give in.
Above, in the perfect cloudless sky, the contrails of a plane in flight. She followed their slow, steady movement. She set her breathing to it, letting it calm her. She felt blood returning to her face. She would give in to David, she thought. And then: There was no reason not to. There was no good reason to do any one thing or another. It was just vanity to think otherwise. David would either be healed or he wouldn’t; they would either stay together or they wouldn’t. Later, after she had announced she was willing move back home, as David was happily packing up his clothes and his books and his research, she would consider the likely consequences. She would picture her own house empty of David, the upstairs study converted back into a guest room, herself alone in bed knowing he would not come join her when he was finished for the night—and the clenching in her chest would return, a sharp muscular spasm of loneliness that she would struggle to let go of, reminding herself that she had done her best, there was simply nothing left for her to do. But for now she was quiet. The contrails remained precisely the same length, the smoke-white exhaust disappearing at the same rate it was produced, and another thought pushed forward: she wanted to go home. She wanted to cook in her own kitchen and read in her own living room and wake up in her own bed. She thought: How did I think I wouldn’t miss my life?
She heard the kitchen door fall closed, David’s slippers on the concrete walkway, but she didn’t want to leave the contrails and the feeling of sure and steady progress.
“Nell,” David said, nearing. The jet turned, pulling upward, the contrails bending behind it. The plane flashed in the sunlight. She blinked against the pain of its suddenness, and when she opened her eyes again it was gone, having disappeared into the sun. She waited for it return, but she stared too long. Her vision went dark and she squeezed her eyes shut. “Nell,” David was saying. “Nell, are you okay?” She turned toward his voice and opened her eyes, but she couldn’t see his face. Across it, across everything there was to see—the old house in need of paint, the shaggy rhododendrons her father had planted beneath the dining room windows, the willow tree now fully grown and stately, David in the foreground, leaning toward her, holding out her glass of water: across it all were whirling spheres of colored light, spinning and coming on fast and exploding.
WILLIAM BLACK teaches creative writing at the Johns Hopkins University. His stories have appeared in The Sun, The Southern Review, Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Recent critical essays have been featured in World Literature Today and Boulevard.