Index

THE HANGED MAN

We were leaving the village as the stars came down, and the ashendark sky got cut up by the light. I turned to Avery and I asked her if she knew the way, and she said she knew the way, so we went north through the woods, out past the slaughterhouse, where the thicket grows denser and the ground is all muddy. I started seeing spectres in the trees; then the sky opened up, and it rained a little. We pushed on through the brambles, past the swamplands and the marsh. The water here gathered into puddles. My feet got wet. I fastened the top button on my raincoat and grimaced a little. Then we came up a hill and out of the forest, and at last we were back: back to the place where we'd all burnt out.

We wandered our way to the hideout, the home that we'd carved out from ruins. That little concrete room which had once been the base of silo, or maybe a stockyard, or a farmhouse, which didn't have a roof anymore, but which had three walls and a empty doorway; that place where, when the world was still not so dark, we sheltered through endless afternoons. I looked, and I saw that nothing had changed. Then the wind blew at my skirt, and I bent down in the rubble. I could still see your cigarette butts, pooling on the floor like liquid. Everything was liquid. I could reach out and touch the scene but it slipped right through my fingers. I forgot where I was so I thought about your breathing. Yeah; I remembered your body still breathing.

I thought about those other concrete rooms: about the highschool. I thought about our senior year, and how you always said we'd make it out alive, and I thought about how I believed you. I thought about how desperately I needed to believe you. I remembered that time Max hooked up a coffee machine in the storage hall under the art room, and how we hid there skipping class all day like little bandit warlords. And afterwards, you had a film project, and you wanted a shot of the birds in the treeline, so we came out here and you brought your camera, and we stood and watched you and talked for an hour. But the memory is all wrong. I can't remember the birds, or the trees. I can't remember what your hair was like, or the details of your face. The harder I try to cling to the moment the less certain I am that I've got it right; all just a couple years ago, but it seems so very distant. And now you're gone, and Max has left for Montreal, and who knows what Avery is thinking.

She was standing over me then, her eyes gone black, looking down as I picked through the rubble. We had come here to find something: some truth hidden 'neath autumn leaves. But the October wind was cold, and the overcast dawnlight seemed so dreary, and we weren't finding anything at all. A squall hit us and Avery turned to look over the shrublands, at all that billowing grass. Powerlines ran 'cross the field, and behind them, those strange wooden houses with the glass bashed in and the walls all lurching. We'd gone back there one day to look around. You led the way. We climbed through a broken screen door, then walked past a mattress, and soon after we were in a kitchen. The wires had been ripped from the walls, and the ground was covered in needles.

Maybe there are more like us, sifting through wreckage out here past the slaughterhouse: looking for answers and ghosts. I remember one night we lit a fire in the hideout. I can still see the light dancing on your cheeks. I remember you looking at me, so scared and so lively, then speaking, saying that you loved me. I don't know why you said it, or what you meant exactly, but I believed it. I believed it very strongly. I always seemed to believe you. Now in the distance cries a crow, and we walk as if bound up in crystal. All is reflecting, all is like glass, everything turning to light. I was looking up at Avery and she was talking back at me, but I couldn't hear the words all broken in the air. She was wearing the jacket - that same black jacket - that she wore to your birthday in April.

I remembered your basement, another concrete room, drenched in floral upholstry. You know how we would bunker down there sometimes, watching old thrillers and gore. Some guys at the school said that made you crazy. I think it kept you sane. Digging through liveleak, crawling through torrents, collating visions of horrible violence — together the four of us, all archeologists. I was thinking of the way that your furnace would sometimes creak and groan, making all sorts of terrible noise. And I was thinking about your potted plants, that you cared for with endless affection. And I was thinking about that old oak table, where one morning they found the note, and the rose, and the hanged man.

The rain picked up. Avery said she would drive me home so we went back through the village. The houses were in pretty rough shape, all wounded by age. I wondered when they'd go away. Then we crossed the dark footbridge over the creek, and pushed past some foliage, and after a while we could see the highway. A ways off to the side, around a corner — where the noise of the freight trucks was muffled a little — the parking lot, where her pale rusted Pontiac was waiting. I remembered all the times I walked this path before; I remembered your eyes and your mouth. My hair was very wet, and my legs were very cold, and as we came 'round the bend I was crying.