WINTER NIGHTS

 

(1)

It was a grey day; one could get by with light gloves but still a jacket with sweater underneath was better.  Now and then a burst of wind rolled over the hills, slowly picking up and then roaring like a faraway train in the naked branches of the trees. Nathan looked up and saw the branches turning, twisting in the gusts, and then just as quickly the wind disappeared, and for long seconds all was still and silent.  Then once again the wind returned, and again the trees twisted and stretched.  Nathan was again alone for this winter hike. The few people who lived nearby were shut up in their houses, still finding some quiet way to await the spring.  Perhaps they were cooking food they did not need or in the basement working on some project that was not really necessary or napping on the couch as the television droned before them.

When Nathan turned down the trail beside the pond a cardinal flashed crimson amid the branches of a half-sunk tree, expertly evading the myriad of twigs and then curving steeply up into the grey sky.  Distracted by its motion, Nathan’s booted right foot struck a protruding root and he staggered forward, hands outstretched, wondering for a millisecond if he should tuck his shoulder and roll.  But instinctively his left foot followed,  and he caught himself and jogged a few steps along the narrow path, his boots dispersing with the months-worth of leaves piled there. He listened to the sound, the unique crunching of disturbed leaves that human beings have heard for hundreds of thousands of years.  Playfully he kicked at the multicolored piles, advancing as the leaves descended slowly to the ground around him.

The pond reflected the grey sky and added a deeper blue, the surface dappled with tiny peaks stretching off into the far distance.  Across the water Nathan saw a white cottage, still boarded up for the winter, flat expanses of plywood covering the windows and three bright-colored kayaks, blue, green, and red, stored neatly beneath the porch. Soon he reached a curve in the shoreline, open to the pond, and sat on the bench there, intentionally to one side to leave room for whomever might at that moment occupy his imagination.  Many, he thought, had sat there over the long years; old friends, former lovers, students, estranged relatives.  Sitting there he half-closed his eyes so that the wide water of the pond and the grey sky merged into one, and he breathed in as again the wind roared over the hill and pushed an advancing, glistening rim across the water, beginning near his feet and rolling out to the far distance.

Later upon his return he entered the house, stamping his feet on the concrete floor of the basement and removing his boots before advancing slowly up the narrow steps where he found Caroline in the kitchen, her hips pressed again the edge of the counter as she rolled a lump of dough across a flour-speckled cutting-board. Nathan watched as the circle expanded on the board before, expertly and with smooth but rapid gestures, Caroline rolled it up and flattened it again.  The kitchen was filled with the warm smell of bread and other things he could not yet identify.  He approached Caroline and placed his cold hand against her warm cheek and she laughed and jerked her head away, saying, “Nathan!”  The last light of the day poured in the window and illuminated the kitchen table and over the counter an arrow of light gleamed bright silver.

He stood beside her and watched as she rolled and flattened the bread, then bunched it and flattened it again, sprinkling water on the dough and then kneading it with her strong, veined hands as a strand of grey hair fell across her face.  He reached out and, carefully with his fingers, laced it around her ear.  “Thank you!” she said, without interrupting her work.  She gathered the lump of flour and placed it on a silver pan and pushed it to the sedge of the counter.

“How was your walk?” She asked.

“Same as a thousand other times,” Nathan said.  “This time I didn’t go up into the hills.  I stayed by the pond.”

She looked at him, arching an eyebrow.  “You didn’t go in?’

He shook his head. “Not yet.” Though, he silently admitted to himself, he did feel disappointed; there was a time when he would have stripped down to his underwear and strode boldly into the water, no matter what the weather, just because he had asked himself whether he was willing to do it.

“You’re mad,” she said, “There’s still twenty feet of snow in the hills.”

“That’s true,” Nathan said, “Maybe we can snow-shoe there tomorrow?”

Caroline looked at him, holding his gaze for what seemed a bit too long.  “We’ll see,” she said.

Again, there was a time, he knew, when she would have jumped at the chance, preparing sandwiches and bottles of water that he would tote up the hillside in a canvas backpack, scrambling over the steep inclines and grabbing at thin trees and rocks to keep from sliding backward.  When they achieved the summit they would sit on a big rock and eat their food and look down over the few buildings of the small village far below.  Then they would wander on over the familiar trails, pushing aside tree branches and holding them back for each other and then arriving back at the house in the afternoon as the sky softly darkened and in time for a dinner in the living room while Nathan reluctantly watched some British nonsense that Caroline loved but then dozed off and then, later, she would pull on his arm and lead him to bed.  This was the life of a well-matched couple who had no children and had completed long careers teaching in the local rural schools and now had a modest house paid off and a pension that sufficed for the bills and a bit more, since, for nearly all their lives, there were two of them living as one.

But then one afternoon Nathan had set off alone for the summit and he walked some different trails and became disoriented and it was after dark when he at last popped out on a dirt on a roadway miles from the house and when he finally stumbled through the door Caroline had by then called the police, who were an hour away anyway, and Nathan laughed and made light of it because he had gotten lost many time before over the course of decades but never, it seemed, with any consequences.  But Nathan’s laughter had a different tone and he seemed tired rather than light-hearted and exhilarated, as he had in the past, and it was different and Caroline noticed that it was different.  There was a fatigue about him, a self-doubt that revealed a first questioning about whether he could save himself.

And then on a recent morning Nathan had been preparing to drive to the store for some of his beloved pastries and was searching for the keys and when Caroline happened to open the refrigerator, there they were, lying in a pile beside the milk, the “Dodge” emblem shining in the dim refrigerator light.  And Caroline thought for a moment whether the word “Dodge” meant anything and then she heard him coming and called out, “Here they are, Nathan. On the counter!” And she quickly took the keys from the refrigerator shelf and placed them on the kitchen counter before he entered the room.

Nathan came in and stared at the keys for long seconds. “I could have sworn I checked there,” he said.

And then, of course, there were the questions. Nathan would ask, for example, whether they were meeting some friends for dinner and then, twenty minutes later he would ask again and Caroline would tell him again that they were meeting friends and the friend’s home in the village where they were meeting and then half an hour later he would ask again, this time perhaps coming into the kitchen where she was baking a casserole to bring to the dinner and this time she would put her hands on his face, noticing the deep lines, and the uncertainly in his deep brown eyes, and holding his face she would tell him once more who they were meeting and where and when they were meeting and he would raise his hand to her cheek and ask, “Caroline, why do you look so sad?”

And then, sometimes, there were the hard discussions.  Nathan had not spent two decades teaching honors Western European literature to bright rural high school students without learning that life often had curves that rose and also fell, not only in nineteenth-century France but also in upstate New York.  And when Caroline came into the living room and found him sitting in his chair and he turned to her and smiled a bit and asked her to sit down and said,

“I want you to know that I am aware of what’s going on – you know I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, what with what happened to my parents.  Perhaps we should have a conversation about what we should do – before it is too late to have such conversations.”  And suddenly there again was the tremendous lucidity, the lucidity Caroline had always so loved in him, the courageous willingness to see clearly what was going on and to accept it and deal with it, to deal with it without resentment or complaining or the attempted denial of the undeniable.

It was the same lucidity with which he had accepted the realization that they would not have children and the loss of the dream of family, the loss of the vision and revision of the families, chaotic and rich and difficult, from which each of them had emerged and wandered on to find their way to each other, and his willingness to contain the loss and live with it and go on with all that was left.  It was with that lucidity that he sat there now, knowing what he knew and knowing that he knew how fragile was that moment of knowing and knowing further that moments of knowing had always been fragile and always would be fragile but nonetheless knowing, without reservation or hesitation, that those moments must be known and lived and lost.  And Caroline knelt down before his chair and took his hands in her own and told him that she loved him, loved him for his wisdom and all the rest, and that she would love him through this as well, and he smiled and placed his veined hand on her cheek and said that he knew that was true and that he was a lucky man and had been very much lucky in having her and that it was the best wisdom to know that you remain lucky even when your luck finally comes to an end. And he drew her head onto his lap and he rested his hands on her face and they had that moment together.

It was not too long thereafter that Nathan came into the warm kitchen with a pack on his back and told Caroline that he was going for a quick walk up the hill. She asked what was in the pack and he said, “Just some stuff,” and came up to her and put his arms around her and held her for a long time.  Then he kissed her all around her face and smiled and said he would be back in a bit and turned and clumped down the basement stairs and, with a glance at the old wood stove, pulled open the door and walked out into the diminishing light.

Caroline went over to the widow and watched as he trudged up the trail beside the house, then slowly upward as he climbed over the stone wall in the gathering snow.  Then he went on up into the trees and she could not see him anymore.

Caroline went back to the kitchen and pressed both of her hands on the countertop, expanding her fingers and leaning forward just so the knot in her stomach could spread out.  She breathed and thought that this might not be the best way but it was a better way than some others and she knew that none of the ways were easy.  And it was his way, she knew that it was his way, and this helped her gut loosen a little as she thought that and so she felt it must be right. But still the knot remained and it was very hard.

 

 

(2)

As the day darkened Nathan walked the familiar trail, one he had traversed so many times in sun and storm and clouds and wind, lifting each wide wooden snowshoe and dragging it forward and then placing it down again on the unbroken snow, each time creating a broad print in the snow, and after continuing for what he felt was a long time he took a left through the trees and continued on up through the deep soft snow, sinking down now to his thighs and reaching to place the pole forward and then pulling himself ahead, step by step. It was satisfying to climb in the darkening light, feeling the snow against his legs, leaning forward and reaching with the pole to gain leverage.  The snow now was falling into his face and gathering on his eyelashes and shoulders and he smiled as he shook his head and drops of snow melted on his forehead and he continued, reaching with each step.  After a long time, high on the hill, he came to a clearing beside a large tree, one of the last old pines left on the hillside. By then it was almost dark, and he saw that the tree gave the clearing some protection but not too much and he swing the backpack off his shoulders and dropped it into the snow and without further thought sat down and leaned back.  He felt the support of the snow and realized it was a good place, as good a place as any, and he leaned back and, arranging his body to get more comfortable in the snow, he pulled the backpack onto his lap and opened the long zipper and reached inside.  His fingers explored the pack’s contents in the growing darkness and he felt the hard glass of the bottle of whiskey and pulled it out and reached back in and felt around till he grasped the plastic vial of pills and pulled them out too and sat the two different containers on his lap and looked at them in the gathering snow.  The glass of the bottle shone in the little remaining light while the pill bottle was plastic and hardly visible.  He thought briefly about what he was about to do but understood that he had thought about it many times before over a long period of time and the decision was already made and it was the right decision.  He knew he needed to grasp this moment of purpose and see it through to the end.  He wrapped his gloved fingers around the neck of the whiskey bottle and with his other hand twisted the top off the bottle and raised it up to his lips felt the hard glass against his teeth and took a long pull of the dark liquid from the bottle.  He wasn’t a drinker and had never taken in more alcohol than he was at that moment and the shock of the alcohol made him cough but still it warmed him and he realized, smiling, at this very late moment that maybe there was something to this whole drinking thing and he raised up the bottle and took another long pull, this time swallowing twice as the alcohol burned its way down his throat and into his chest and then to his stomach. The warmth resided there in his chest and he stuck the bottle down into the snow to his left and leaned back and realized that even though he was sitting and leaning in deep snow he was not cold.  He was not at all cold.  He realized that he was as present as he had ever been in his life and he picked up the bottle of pills with his right hand and flipped off the top with his thumb and he didn’t worry where the top went because he realized he wouldn’t be needing it anymore.  He shook out eight or ten of the gleaming pills onto his palm, pills he had saved over the course of years as he had carefully researched his decision as he thought about what had happened to his parents and what combination of elements and circumstances had the best chance of ensuring that the same thing did not happen to him. He looked at the pills in his palm and thought what they meant and then chucked them into the back of his mouth and reached out for the bottle of whiskey from the snow and took another long swig and felt the burning as he rinsed the whiskey and the pills around in his mouth and then swallowed them down.  He smiled in the darkness as he understood there was no turning back now and he quickly shook some more pills into his hand and tossed them into his mouth and took another swig and swirled it around and swallowed that down too.

He understood, as he relaxed back into the snow and the snow gathered on his cheeks, that there really never was any turning back, that the very idea of turning back was an illusion and there really only was different levels of knowing what you were leaving behind as you moved ahead, and there were the different levels of knowing and feeling what you were leaving behind, and then he shook out some more pills and threw them in his mouth and drank again and swirled it around in his mouth and once more he swallowed.  He smiled in the near darkness at the realization that the decision became a little easier with each time and the awareness that the only difference was in the depth and the quality of knowledge of what you were leaving behind, and the wind blew and the snow was gathering on his shoulders and then he understood the foolishness of what he was doing, the foolishness and the absurdity as well as the utter lucidity of what he was doing, particularly when considered over the long history of humans who had died in the snow, many of them in circumstances far more uncomfortable than his own at that moment, after lives much shorter and lives much, much less gratifying than his own.  And he could just make out the long limbs of the tree above him, turning and swaying in the wind in the gathering darkness, and he listened to the wind, rising and falling, always changing with each moment, bringing with it all that it brought, and he thought of the many students he had taught over the long years when life seemed endless even though he had taught many historical dramas in which people struggled and suffered and died, and he remembered that many were such intelligent students, some of whom really seemed to understand, even as young as they were, they seemed to understand that there was no turning back and there was only a difference in how much and how deeply you understood what you were leaving behind. And then Nathan shook out the rest of the pills in the bottle onto his hand and threw them into his mouth and took another long swig from the bottle and felt the burning and he felt warm in the snow and then, only then, he allowed himself to think about Caroline, his dear partner who also understood what was left behind with such clarity and brilliance, a purity and precision that reflected the years they had shared, the years they had walked through knowing very well that there was no turning back and therefore each moment was precious and that failing to recognize that preciousness was the greatest sin and they shared that simple realization as they moved through the time that they had and they knew that without saying and the not saying did not in any way lessen the significance of what they knew and shared and did not say.  It was just known and shared and it just was and that was more than enough to be known and not said.  That part was the hardest, the letting go of that sharing, if indeed that was what was happening as the snow began to march up his chest and he leaned further and further back into the soft, firm mattress of snow, leaning his head back now against the soft wall of snow and feeling the cold against his ears without discomfort or pain.  Who knows, he wondered then, if there is no letting go just as there is no turning back and he decided he was not going to let go but instead would hold on, he would hold on right now, he would hold onto the sharing and the knowing of the sharing and then, with whatever came next, if indeed anything came next, he would have brought the sharing with him and his face was wet with snow and the gentle flow of tears from within him and Nathan allowed his eyes to close and merge with the darkness and, hearing the wind and the gentle movement of the trees and letting go of all, he leaned far back against the snow and slept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(3)

There was a strange breathing sound beside his ear once, and then some time went by in unconsciousness and then again the breathing sound came again and Nathen felt warm air against his head and his eyes snapped open to a bright, crystalline light and he turned his head and found himself gazing directly into the deep brown eyes of a young moose.  The eyes peered deeply into his own and the breath came fast and quick out of the thick black nostrils which just barely touched Nathan’s forehead.  The irises were wide and brown and seemed to be peering at him with a kind of confusion, and when Nathan, startled, jerked his head to turn and look more clearly the young moose too jumped back, his hind legs bucking in the deep snow, and then slowly he stepped forward again and again he reached out his long head and peered into Nathan’s eyes again with a look of confusion and again reached out his dark nostrils, widening and narrowing with each breath and brushing Nathan’s cheek and Nathan felt the warm breath again against his ear as the moose sniffed his face and tasted his breath.

Nathan pulled himself up into a sitting position and still the moose stood there, inches away, looking at him.  Its long, thin legs protruded from the deep snow and Nathan felt that his clothes and jacket were soaked through and his hair was dripping and his gloves too were soaked and he looked at the moose’s huge brown eyes and the moose turned its head slowly, as if looking into his brain, and then shook his head back and forth quickly with a grunt and then with a last glance turned in the deep snow and galloped away, the long skinny legs rising above the snow and within a few seconds his dark shape disappeared between the trees.

Nathan pulled himself to his knees, his arms sunk deep in the snow, blinking in the light of the brilliant morning sun.  “Fuck,” he muttered, shaking his head.  He was drenched through, yes, his clothes heavy with water. His head felt as though it was hollow but at the same time sharp, irritating currents ran from his neck to his forehead. He reached out and his hand bumped into the empty bottle and he grasped it and tossed it off into the snow. The branches of the tree above him were weighted with wet snow and water dripped from the branches methodically, each drop glistening in the sun.  Nathan pulled himself to his knees and then erect and with a single glance in the direction of the moose’s departure began stumbling down the hill.

Caroline had slept little and soon after awakening went into the kitchen and just then saw him out the side window, bedraggled as he clambered over the stone wall, falling and pulling himself slowly up again and dragging the empty backpack behind him and she went down to the basement door in time to embrace him as he staggered through the door and over the threshold. She felt the weight of his clothes and began pulling them off him, his cap and soaked jacket and sweater and pants and his shirt and underwear as he muttered, “I can’t even do this right.”  She looked into his face and saw as if for the first time how thin he was, this hard, strong man who had paced before countless classrooms, gesturing with all his life’s enthusiasm about the meaning of literature. She wrapped her strong arms around him and squeezed hard and said, “That’s alright, it just wasn’t meant to be.”  Then she took his thin face in her hands and said, “We’ll just walk another path.”  She led him upstairs to the bathroom and got him in the shower and she soon he called out to her, shouting loudly, “I think this is the best shower I have ever had!”  Then she went in and took off her clothes silently and pulled back the shower curtain halfway and climbed in with him.  Nathan whooped and they held each other under the warm water and her lips found his ear and she whispered, “It’s all worth it.”

 

 

 

(4)

Over the ensuing months Caroline made the forty-minute drive to the care facility nearly every day, noticing the changes of the seasons in the trees as they rose up the hillside, green and then brilliant orange and red and then a deep silent gray.  For a number of miles the river wound beside the road, ripples on the surface glistening as she made the trip in, then less luminous later on her return.  In the nursing care facility memory unit she sat in an orange stuffed chair by the window, watching as her husband wandered around a room in which every item that could possibly cause injury had been removed, and she watched him climbing over the low beds or standing before the window, fondling the firm wood of the windowsill as if fascinated by it, then turning and walking, stooped and stiff, around the edges of the room. She noticed that the men on the unit generally avoided each other as if by some silent agreement and if one of the men happened to encounter another in their journey about the space they courteously varied their direction like small boats passing in an opening to a harbor.  “Red right return,” Caroline thought as she watched him, wondering if it was a harbor he was entering or one he was leaving behind.  When his wanderings brought him close to her chair he would pass by, sometimes his hand even brushing her shoulder, and he would walk on.  Sometimes she would raise a hand to touch him as he walked past.  And sometimes when he stood by the window she would go over to him and stand beside him looking down to where his hands were touching the varnished sill of the window and she would put her hand in the center of his back and would feel again deep within the beating of his heart, the heart she had listened to for so many years, and then he would turn away and she would watch him as he negotiated his way between the beds and bureaus scattered throughout the room.  This is what is left to her, she thought as she watched him from her orange chair, this is the truth of what is left as everything diminishes and washes away, and she remembered how the nuns of her childhood would say that what matters remains in the spirit and how she, as a vivacious young girl watching and listening as the nun taught, would think, what nonsense, to think that something is the same as nothing, uttered by a woman who had denied herself everything and so knows nothing of loss.  Sometimes, Caroline remembered, the nun would catch her eye and Caroline would brazenly hold her gaze and for long moments they would engage in this wordless contest about the nature and meaning of existence.  Then the nun would turn away and continue her teaching and Caroline would pick up a pencil and draw something and wonder.

 

 

 

 

(5)

Later that evening it snowed heavily in the hills and into the valleys, foot after foot blowing in from the north and accumulating on the trees and rocks and roads.  The world turned white in the dark and staff had a hard time getting to the health care facility and many called in and later that same evening Nathan was following a large man, clad like him in blue hospital garments, as he wandered around the room and then out the open doors into the hospital hallway.  As he walked down the hallway the large man placed his hand on the long steel lever of a door handle and the door handle sunk down and the door opened into the night.  The large man walked out through the doorway without thought and, again without thought, Nathan followed him.  The door closed behind Nathan and he and the large man walked on into the darkness, the snow deep around their knees, the wind whistling, and the large man continued plowing forward without hesitation and Nathan followed like a tugboat in the wake of a large tanker, the whirling snow gathering quickly on his shoulders and eyelashes and forearms. Finally, the large man crashed into a snowbank and turned quickly and sat down heavily in the snow with a thump.  Nathan followed through the whirling snow and then when he too encountered the snowbank he too turned and sat down in the snow beside the large man.  The blizzard of snow turned in great circles in the air above them and the two men were nearly covered by the deep snow in which they had sat down.  Suddenly the large man stirred and moved his arm and withdrew his hand from his pocket and his hand held a large chocolate bar and he broke it in half and put some of the half that he had in his other hand into his mouth.  Then the large man’s hand holding the other half drifted toward Nathan and Nathan saw as the snow began to fill in the small spaces in the large man’s face and he took the chocolate and put some of the chocolate into his mouth and chewed.  He looked again at the large man and saw that he was still chewing and then he saw that the large man had stopped chewing and Nathan put some more chocolate into his mouth and chewed and leaned his head back into the snow.  The show whirled in the darkness above him and slowly his eyes closed and soon he too stopped chewing. For a long time there was whirling snow and darkness and only the sound of the wind.

Then suddenly in the great dark whirling of snow and wind above Nathan a dark figure emerged from the darkness; the dark shape could be seen briefly through the torrents of snow and its great rack of horns was revealed as well as its huge neck and thick, powerful chest, and the great animal pressed its snout against Nathan, nudging his neck and face.  Nathan fell sideways against the large man and the great moose leaned further in with its great snout and snorted loudly, inhaling deeply, then raised its great rack of horns drew up its great chest and raising its horns up high into the night it snorted loudly again, casting the sound into the dark sky where it was absorbed into the great circling storm of snow and darkness.  Then again the great animal leaned down and brushed Nathan’s cheek and breathed in deeply and once more roared again at the sky and then turned and, shaking its great horns with great leaps, dashed through the deep snow and off into the winter night.  After the great animal left the snow continued whirling in the darkness above the two men.  Slowly the blue their jackets were covered by the snow and then all that could be seen was the top of the head of the large man and then that too disappeared and there was only the great expanse of white in the darkness.

 

 

 

(6)

Some days later Caroline sat at a desk at the care facility.  On the other side of the desk was a man who was the president of the corporation that owned the care facility, along with many others.  He had come when he was informed that two patients had died as a result of neglect and incompetence on the part of the staff of the care facility.  He stood as Caroline entered the room and offered her coffee or something else to drink, which she refused, and he expressed his sympathy for Caroline at the loss of her husband and he wanted her to understand that he and the company that owned the facility were entirely responsible for the tragic events leading to the death of her husband. They had clearly failed, he said, in their duty to provide care.

The man, who wore a dark suit and had dark hair and a clean-shaven face, said that he understood that it might be early to discuss such matters but he wanted to assure her that he and his corporation were taking full responsibility for their error.  He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a leather covered checkbook and folded over the cover to reveal a check with the corporation’s name on it and, placing the checkbook on the desk, slowly pushed it over toward Caroline.

“Please,” he said, “write on the check whatever number you feel would be appropriate to offer some small sense of justice in this case.”

Caroline sat looking at the checkbook.  Then she reached into her own pocket and withdrew a folded check. She unfolded the check and, pushing the leather checkbook back across the desk toward the company president, placed her own check on the desk between them.

“I looked up the name and address of your company,” she said, speaking softly but with great firmness, “It’s not that much but I want to thank you and your company for providing my husband with the best care that I could expect. These things happen, and that is the way things are.  Please use the money to provide service to others or for any other reason you believe is worthwhile.”  She pushed the check across the desk toward him.

The company president looked at Caroline, his eyes blinking.  “That is astonishing,” he said after a long while, very slowly.  His eyes seemed to water and his jaw moved and he slowly bit his lower lip.  Caroline saw his Adams apple move as he swallowed.  “I can only say that it is undeserved,” he said, his voice trembling.  He nodded.  “Thank you.”

Caroline pushed her chair out and began to stand up.  “I am not unhappy with how things turned out, for reasons you may or may not understand,” she said as she stood. Then her voice broke a bit, though it remained firm.  “My husband died in the way he would have preferred, and that is invaluable.”

The corporation president rose and reached out to shake Caroline’s hand.  She took his hand and shook it and turned and left the room.  After she left, the corporation president stood standing behind his desk for a long time, staring at the empty chair where she had been sitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(7)

As Caroline drove home she noticed that the dwindling light of the sunset reflected bright orange off the expanse of the river.  Then rising into the orange light were the white expanses of the hills.  “Red right return,” she thought again, guiding the car through the curves of the road, smiling as tears ran down her cheeks.  Soon she arrived at the house and walked toward the basement door and she saw there his boots, where she placed them so long ago.  She reached down and grasped the boots and brought them up to her nose and smelled them and as she arose she turned just in time to look across the field to the stone wall and she saw there on the other side of the wall the great grand moose, standing tall before the hillside, its great rack rising in the diminishing light.  She stared at it and it seemed to fix upon her, staring and then nodding its great rack up and down. Tears flowing, Caroline raised her hand and waved at the great beast, standing on her toes and waving back and forth as the animal nodded once more, then, hesitating for just a moment, turned and bolted up the hill, its long legs kicking up snow as it ran.

Yes, Caroline suddenly thought, yes, as she fixed her gaze on the dim tracks in the snow and into the forest where the moose had disappeared, yes, she thought, perhaps the nun was right about what remains and what is lost.  Then with a last look she turned and closed the door and ascended the staircase.