Wintering - Peter Geye Page 0,1

never find him. Even still, the next morning he went out with the others. Sometimes three or four parties, following three or four leads. When, finally, they conceded Harry to the wilderness, it was thanks to Gus’s insistence. Signe went back home to Minneapolis. Gus back to his job teaching English and history at Arrowhead High School. Ruutu back to our local misdemeanors and traffic violations.

Me? I was still searching in my own fashion. That first morning, I visited Harry’s empty bed. There was the iron headboard and the flannel linens and the quilt crumpled at the foot of the bed. Harry was always too warm. The pillow still held the imprint of his head. His medication sat on the bedside table, next to the radio and a half-drunk glass of water. The bureau opposite the bedside table was as old and timeworn as whatever part of Harry stored his memories. I crossed the room and opened the top drawer and noticed straightaway his knit hat was missing. Strangely, the pompom had been snipped off.

I’d passed the previous evening as I had so many others before it, sitting at his bedside, reminding him of who we used to be, feeling at times that I was not only disappearing into the darkness of his mind but from the world altogether. It was no less strange that evening than it had been at the start of his confinement to see a man still so bodily strong becoming a child again. No less strange and no less unbearable.

Of that last night we spent together, I cannot say he exhibited any signs he was about to undertake a disappearance, no word spoken or gesture made that gave me pause. He did nothing that might’ve forewarned me. That evening I only hoped, as I did every night, that when he finally fell to sleep he would do so with the knowledge of my love, and that when he dreamt it would be of peaceful things.

It was Doctor Ingebrigsten—who grew up in Misquah, went to medical school in Minneapolis, and returned to Arrowhead County because, she said, this place needed one of its own to care for its sickly—who described to Gus and me what it would become like for Harry. “You and I,” she said, “we see our past as though it were a bright summer day. The trees green, flowers blossoming, the water shining blue. Harry’s going to start seeing less and less of his past until—sadly—everything will seem as though it’s taking place in a nighttime blizzard in the dead of winter.” She said this on a September morning, with the trees in full autumn blaze—our loveliest time of year—and I wept to think that the man I loved would never register that beauty again, even if he lived another ten years.

That same morning Doctor Ingebrigsten told me the best thing I could do for Harry was to be with him. Sit at his bedside and talk to him and tell him I still loved him. To hold him among us for as long as I could. So I did. Of course I did.

And now it’s been half of a winter since Harry vanished, and I can finally rest my thoughts. I ought to feel relief. Of this I’m sure. But do you know what it’s like to hold proof of the last heartache you’ll ever know in your own raw hands? I hadn’t known, either, not until Gus delivered Harry’s red hat yesterday morning, a cork bobber sewed on where the pompom should’ve been. Gus’s stories and that damn hat—handed to me like a verdict and never spoken of again—these things have made of my heart what this season has of the splintering pines along the river.

ONLY AFTER I poured the coffee did Gus remove his gloves and unbutton his coat. His eyes were fixed on the kitchen window, warning of nothing, though their sadness was plain. Outside, the first snow of the season, which had fallen all night, was finally relenting.

I thought of the townsfolk zipping up and brushing it from their cars. They’d make it to the nine o’clock service at Immanuel Lutheran come what may, choosing the cold and snow over the fires of hell any day. Families marching into church, sitting straight-backed in the pews. The wives and children enthralled by Pastor Nils’s holy words. The men sitting there beside them, heads bowed or turned heavenward. You’d as likely hear his silent prayers as you would his singing