With roses in one hand and a Macy's shopping bag in the other, Sean charges out the open front door and skips down the porch steps. Shaking his head and cursing under his breath, he tosses the bouquet of red roses into the nearest snowdrift. Farther down the sidewalk he winds up like a discus thrower and slings the shopping bag with Christmas presents (the 14K gold heart-shaped locket with their picture all lovey-dovey, the sixty-five dollar perfume, the black sheer lace teddy from Victoria's Secret) up by the chimney on the snow-covered roof. On the follow-through his feet slide out from under him on the icy sidewalk and he flails like Jerry Lewis in The Bellhop before winding up flat on his backside.
Julie stands in the doorway, trying to smother a hysterical laugh, her robe pulled tight around her.
—I'm not laughing, she says, going up on tiptoes for some reason.
—I guess you weren't sucking that guy's dick, either, were you? His breath comes out like steam. —I mean, what the fuck is wrong with you, Julie? He scrambles to his feet and brushes off. —Laugh all the way to hell far as I'm concerned!
He stomps toward his car parked in the street. On the way he knocks over the buxom snowwoman he helped her build last Sunday. The wind rustles the trees with a loud sh-h-h-h and when he passes underneath the Douglas fir a shiver of its branches showers the air with ice crystals that sting his hot face. Before he gets in his car, he glances over his shoulder. The front door is closed. He hoped she would come running after him, even barefoot and with only a silk bathrobe wrapped around her. That's my problem, he says to himself: I'm a romantic.
He flops into the bucket seat of the ten year old Volvo and strangles the steering wheel and blinks tears off his lashes. He stares unseeing through the fogged windshield at the rigored, color-drained soccer field next to the grade school. His knuckles throb and the adrenaline is giving him the shakes. He hasn't punched out anyone since an intramural football game his sophomore year. Frat boy spit in his face in a pileup so he gave him a quick uppercut in the solar plexus as they were getting up. Fucker puked on the field. The game was suspended and Sean was the goat. Good times.
Sean leans back and sighs and starts the car. The motor coughs and he coughs in sympathetic sync. Both are running rough. Both need maintenance, sorely neglected as of late. Some injector cleaner. Octane booster. Definitely new interior upholstery. New tires, for sure, he thinks, brushing back his thinning hair. He's the only one who needs a muffler.
The smell of her favorite perfume (Opium, what kind of name for a perfume is that? Are there Opium dens full of sprawled and zoned yuppie fragrance addicts?) is still on her scarf, half-hidden in the floor under McDonald's wrappers, crumpled newspapers, and movie videos (The Bellhop, being one) he'd borrowed from the store. He takes a deep breath and tells himself to settle down. The problem with that is he has a habit of disobeying himself and now is no different. While the defroster blows lukewarm air, he rubs a clear spot in the driver's side window and stares at the front of the house. He half-expects her to be peeping out from the blinds or a crack in the front door. He's half-right—she isn't. For the first time he notices she has a fire going in the fireplace. That was a no no during the recent ten day inversion, when high pressure trapped all the smoke and smog in the valley. But all that has lifted and now the wind sings and the air sparkles, the blazing fireplaces smoke up the heavens, and the valley is festooned with artificial cheer. Everyone dreaming of an It's a Wonderful Life Christmas.
Fuck Santa Claus and the sleigh he rides in on, Sean says to himself. Come on, goddamn defroster!
Above the rooftops the moon wears a veil of fast moving clouds. Below the moon, the foothills are darker than the sky except for the more elegant twinkling of the homes of the rich, built on steep hillsides with decks that overlook the valley; the higher the home, the richer the owner, with the richest owning the houses on top. That's where Julie's parents, the Lingenfelters, live hawk-high with the wind and the magazine cover sunsets and the nights with the city below spread out along the river like spilled glitter.
Sean says to himself I wish I was rich or at least had some more weed and boy that girl is a bitch and what am I going to do now? and then he shoves it in Drive and takes off with a fish-tail on the dirty ice under the trees lining the street and then a lurch when the tires hit clear pavement and already his mind is miles and miles ahead as the tide of leaves eddies from curb to curb and along the street the colors of the Christmas lights bleeding through his tears. The street he knows so well. This street where his love took root like a mandrake in this dowdy old widow of a neighborhood, her sallow cheeks stabbed with For Sale signs, bungalow extremities in moldering dodder. Where the little Jack-Mormon princess came to live with the pagan beast from the Southland. Fairy tale finis. Alert Jerry Springer, he says to himself. Call the National Enquirer. Send Geraldo, strapped. Under a streetlight he glances in the rearview mirror and catches a glimpse of his teary, wretched face with the scraggly, half-grown beard that makes him look like he belongs on a FBI Most Wanted poster. Come on, man, he tells himself, don't be a fucking baby!
In another rearview mirror, the one in his mind, he can't stop seeing Julie's disembodied tongue licking around her vampiric maw slathered with chocolate syrup that could have been prey's blood. He walked in the door with his erection hidden behind the roses and right away he knew something was wrong because some godawful music was playing, with singing that sounded like Robert Plant being strangled by a psycho groupie, and yet the caterwauling was vaguely familiar.
The first thing his eyes fixed on in the dimly-lighted living room were the pale moons of her ass glowing under the lamplight in front of the sofa and then his eyes rose over the luminous moons and he saw her head bobbing up and down in someone's lap. How fast his erection shrank when he saw what she was doing. When she finally realized he was standing there watching, she raised her head and looked back and his brain circuitry created indestructible neurons (more solid and enduring than any rotogravure) of her pouty mouth and big red lips smeared with chocolate, her licking tongue, her white pearlescent teeth. Her, his Julie, naked on the sofa with the bass player for a metal cover band they'd seen at Street Cred the week before. That's where he'd heard the music and he had insisted on leaving despite her protests. A tattooed, poof-haired 80's cock rocker as skinny as Karen Carpenter, for fuck's sake, with chocolate syrup smeared all over his cock and balls, his chocolate soldier standing at attention. —Looks like you're playing Willie Wonka tonight, Sean told the cowering bass player, while he stealthily tucked himself in (in the process pricking his sergeant at arms on a thorn) and half-zipped. From her handmaiden's vantage point on her knees, Julie saw his wounded retreat.
When the apologetic and highly embarrassed musician stood up and offered to shake hands, Sean belted him. Then he turned around and exited, vaya con Diablo, slamming the door behind him, but as it often did, it bounced open. That infuriating door that Peppy the miniature schnauzer liked to paw when he wanted out to chase some kid on a bicycle until the day he got run over by a UPS truck, that slamming goodbye farewell sayonara door, he can hear the swing of that door with hinges that no longer squeak because he sprayed them with WD40. He did that. He. Sean. Mr. Un-This Old House.
At the intersection of 9th and Tamarack his new cellphone vibrates and startles him so bad he almost sideswipes the curb. One of his early Christmas presents from Julie, his first cellphone (You're ten years behind on everything, she told him and he said, hey, I'm in graduate school, what do you expect?) and with the ring tones turned off it's like a giant vibrating insect. He turned off the Theme from Lucy and Linus ring tones for his Basque Lit class two days ago. He's had the phone a week now and he can't get used to the damn thing—most of the time he forgets he even has it. He decides not to answer it. Eventually the vibrating stops but a minute later it starts again. Sighing, he digs it out of his jacket pocket and finds the right button while almost running a red light.
—Sean, just give me a minute before saying fuck you, okay? Why be such a drama queen? You're the one who said you needed like some space or have you forgotten that already? You said you agreed with me that we were smothering each other. I guess you think I should feel guilty, and even if I do feel bad, remember you've moved half of your stuff over to your brother's house.
—That's because you said you wanted to get a place by the river!
—Excuse me! Besides, you said you would be out of town until Monday and I made the mistake of believing you. I don't like you trying to embarrass me or make me feel guilty or stupid and how like crass is it to hide your penis behind a bouquet of roses? That sounds like it came from some like dumb horndog movie. Damn you, Sean Laflamme—
—I was damned the day I met you!
—Smartass! I don't like being pressured. You think you're fucking perfect? Give me a break! Let me break it down for you: you're always like pushing me into a corner; you want everything put in a box including me. You think mathematically, you're like a magnet without magnetism; you talk bad about my mother and you've always hated my dad too, I think because he's rich and a republican which is a good reason but like he's still my dad, asshole or not, and who are you to judge anyway? You're always criticizing me when I go a little overboard on the munchies. I mean, even if I've gained a few pounds, I'm like not exactly a cow. Talk about physical imperfections, I guess you think it's cool that your dick curves to the left? And you've got hair on your back, and oh, you forget to shave sometimes and it like irritates my skin when you kiss my neck, and has anyone ever told you you walk like a fucking duck? Like, there are dingleberries in your underwear, you leave your floss hanging from the towel rack, you think you can sing but you couldn't carry a tune in a Brinks armored truck. And your collection of porn—yuk! Bukakke, what kind of like sicko shit is that? How disgusting! I should be enough to, you know, satisfy you—what are you, a freak or something? Maybe not but you're inconsiderate is what you are, inconsiderate and like childish and selfish and—
—Okay, I get the picture! I'm loathsome and revolting. Got it! Now shut up for a minute! My turn! You knew I might get in early—it's not like I was trying to barge in on your act. Have you forgotten I live there, too? If you weren't doing it on the sly why was his car parked in back? I just used my key like I've done a million times before because I wanted to surprise you with your Christmas presents. I was feeling sentimental, okay? My goddamn name's still on the goddamn lease and I just didn't expect to see—how could I expect to see a rerun of the first time we had sex? How many times have you used that chocolate routine, anyway? Not exactly sentimental, are you, Julie Lingenfelter? Goddamn, I wanted to hit that weenie retro musician so fucking hard it would've killed his past lives if you believe in reincarnation—
—You're lucky he's not going to press charges.
——which I don't but you do. How fucking stupid is that? That shit always annoyed me like that fucking astrology shit, like your fear of worms, like your habit of farting and then going oops, another baby born without a mother. Man, you could be cruel, you could be mean. A streak of homicidal rage in that lily and lace wrapped gutbag you call a heart (he'd read that line in a story recently). Trust, baby, that's what it's all about! Trust, baby. You know what the fucking word means?
—I've got my own definitions.
Sean turns onto Hill Road and waves at Jordie, the long-bearded, one-legged Vietnam vet wacko, drinking coffee outside Jaybelle's Convenience Store and talking to a cop sitting in his idling cruiser. The turn-off to Highway 55 is straight ahead. He has to go somewhere and he has nowhere to go. Nowhere is close. It's always been close. All he has to do is go and he'll be there before he knows it. Go, Sean, go, he tells himself. There has to be someplace he can feel at home. There has to be someplace he can sit by a fire and not roast chestnuts and not kiss anyone's malevolent high society aunt smelling of Ben Gay under the mistletoe. Someplace to be a little cornball, maybe pretend to be Jimmy Stewart jubilant when he discovers Zu Zu's rose petals in his pocket and then anti-cornball when Clarence gets his wings. (He could wink real big and tell the obnoxious angel to go fuck himself). Someplace to watch a goddamn Christmas tree blink and wonder if there are any weapons of mass destruction in those gaily wrapped presents. Somewhere with dancing sugarplums and little drummer chicks with huge honkers and a Chocolate soldier sucking grinch not named Julie. Fuck Sid's Vids where he works; Sid is a prick and he hits on Julie every time she comes in the store. The customers are mostly assholes, it pays a buck above minimum, and he almost has his masters, one more humping semester at Fuckup U. He can pick that up anywhere. He hates this town. He hates this fucking town full of Julie Lingenfelter.
—You've got your own superstitions, Sean says to her, interrupting one of her typical self-pitying, soporific monologues that he'd tuned out. He turns up the radio and a preacher is yelling —Jeezuz is your save-yor! For all have sinned and come short. Sean holds the phone up to the radio and then he pushes the off button and stuffs it back in his jacket. As he climbs out of the valley Sean can see the moon perched on some rich fuck's deck on top of one of the sagebrush covered hills and he passes by Sullivan's liquor store and salivates at the thought of some Jack Daniels but the old man has just locked the door behind him and Sean hears the jingle of Christmas bells.
—Chestnuts roasting on an open fuck you! Sean sings, just like Nat King Cole if he'd been white, enraged, and couldn't carry a tune. At the Highway 55 intersection Sean hesitates, brakes, almost misses the turn, then whips the wheel around and heads north on the highway that meanders for five or six miles in the foothills and BLM land before going up over majestic White Cloud Pass through miles and miles of wilderness uninhabited by humans. The narrow highway pulls Sean toward Oblivion. It's a gold rush ghost town close to the summit that boomed at the turn of the century, glittering dust in them thar hills and then the white men skedaddled and the Chinamen had their chance. It's thirteen miles from where he entered Highway 55, about six if you can fly.
As his rage begins to subside, Sean makes and unmakes his fist. His knuckles still throb. Julie will think he's bluffing about leaving, of course—and maybe he is, maybe he's the last to know what he's going to do. But if he changes his mind and goes back to try to pick up the pieces it's because he hates loneliness more than he hates eating shit. If he is to live on that side of the mountains then he doesn't want to be alone. Julie thinks it's unmanly not to hang out with other men following alpha male pursuits. Her old man plays polo and shoots skeet, whoop ti do. I don't dig circle jerks, Sean said to her. Love is about partnership. And besides, you'd hate being alone too, if your dad died in Vietnam and your mother used a Popov vodka bottle for a pillow. And she said, Your parents are still alive and your mother doesn't drink, and he said, Maybe so, but I bet you'd still hate it.
He starts the long slow transmission-groaning climb up the high pass, famous for its frost heaves, rock slides, and avalanches, swerving every so often to avoid jagged softball-sized rocks that rolled down from the crumbling mountainside. He keeps his eyes peeled for deer leaping from out of nowhere. This is only the second time he's been on this road and the first time Julie drove her Beemer. It was broad daylight in the summertime and she handled the dangerous ascent like she was competing in the Grand Prix.
The burgeoning wintry night seems to push in on him. He should have caught the forecast. He should have gone by the ATM. Why didn't he fill the tank at that fucking Chevron? He feels queasy. His guts spasm like he's constipated, only he knows he isn't. Feels like he swallowed a bowling ball the mass of a collapsing star and it's about to drop through his intestines, roll unimpeded through his colon and shoot out his ass in a blaze of shit and sparks. He pushes himself up straight and fidgets blindly with his seatbelt until it finally clicks. The muscles in his neck feel like they're tied in knots. Constrictor knots, he thinks. He learned how to tie those in Boy Scouts.
On a switchback decorated with six white crosses off the roadway (victims of an avalanche back in '97), he sees the moon disappear behind dark sailing clouds and he hears what sounds like a human voice calling him from somewhere inside the wind, but it must be his imagination. The speedometer needle begins to recline as the snowflakes fall closer and closer together until the sky and air are a fury of whiteness whiter than Julie's breasts. Julie Lingenfelter, she of red flaming hair and pale skin. She of flashing green eyes. She of her own wilderness untamed. Mouth like a river full of rapids, Class V.
Sean flips the heater knob to high and then turns on the radio. Elvis is singing, Here Comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane. The defroster groans and the wipers creak trying to keep the windshield from icing over. Sean sees the abandoned ski lodge up ahead. Once thriving, now closed because of too frequent avalanches, one of which collapsed the lodge like it was made of Lincoln logs. It's deserted. No surprise there. The most modern building is an old boarded up Dairy Queen, its sign faded. He thinks of Julie, goddamn maddening fuckaholic Julie, her sign not fading Julie who loves dip cones with sprinkles and summer nights at the lake skinny dipping and standing in the Autumn rain, face upturned, smiling, tasting the raindrops, and Sunday visits to see her Grandma in Grangeville, those drowsy, lush afternoons with fat chair cookies old photos card games backyard swing kisses, shade-dappled and rosy Julie.
Near the summit of White Cloud Pass he finds himself in the midst of white clouds. He should have passed Oblivion by now but he didn't see it, not that there is much to see. Just crumbling ruins and abandoned dreams. The narrow highway is slick with old ice and the new fallen snow, and the new falling snow rides the wind as if it were a train whooshing and huffing around the mountain. Startled and anxious, Sean slows the car until the needle hovers around 25 mph, leans forward and strains to see the road markings that are being whited out. He knows the way down the mountain into the Camas Valley is more hazardous than the way up. On one side of the road the mountain is unyielding in its rocky embrace and on the other there is a precipitous drop-off past a flimsy railing, a quick vertical entryway to the hostile currents of the Locomo River. A sign says Watch Out For Ice On Roadway.
—How can I watch out for what I can't see? he asks the sign.
His neck is shooting pains up through his eyeballs. His clammy hand turns off the radio, a ludicrous version of Silent Night, Holy Night by Cher, and he curses everything in his life that has conspired against him and now a fucking blizzard as he makes his getaway, his ride off into the sunset to find a home sweet home with Santa Claus and his Elvis elves. He'd like to see Julie's face when she realizes he's gone for good. In fact he'd like to see his own face when he's gone for good. Full tank of animas and nowhere to go. Nowhere is close. Always close. Maybe he passed it already. Maybe it was inside of Oblivion and he didn't recognize it. But even if he skips nowhere for now, he'll know what to find if he ever gets home. Home is where your heart sits like a fat tryptophan-dazed belly in a creaky rocking chair while your brain sprawls at your feet and stretches like a drowsy cat swishing its tail under the leg rocking back and forth, back and forth.
He lets out a nervous laugh. Ten years behind on everything, that's him. Not true, really. Only the practical things. He knows all the recent movies from the Video Store. Music he swaps on the internet. Buys his clothes at Target and the Good Will but isn't that still chic? He's a semi-hip semi-Luddite. He's not suited for modern relationships, either. His old-fashioned constitution needs positive reinforcement, what his mother called blessed assurance, a quality noticeably absent from his relationship with Julie. Noticeably absent from his parents' marriage, too, which is probably why they've been divorced since he was ten. No, his dad didn't die in Vietnam and his mom isn't a souse. But dad left his soul in the Quang Tri Province and mom gave hers to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Since dad was rarely home during his childhood, it was mom's conversion while he was in Nam that affected Sean the most. She abandoned him for a flock of damaged Jesus goons. Julie abandoned him for Motley Crue.
It's been a long time since he met another car. Hasn't met a snowplow, either. On most state highways they're Johnny on the spot. Right now there's no Johnny and plenty of spots. The road is becoming much too treacherous and the car begins to slip and slide. There's no place to turn around. —Fuck this shit, I think there's a scenic viewpoint at the summit, he says to his invisible passenger who bears a strong resemblance to Julie.
Aren't I a scenic viewpoint? she asks.
Finally, he sees the sign he's been waiting for: Summit White Cloud Pass El. 9,786 ft. He starts to rejoice but he can see there's no scenic viewpoint and no place to turn-around. It must be a little further. He definitely remembers a scenic viewpoint because Julie let him out to piss behind a rock and he splattered all over his shoes and pants legs when a chipmunk scurried by and startled him. What the hell. Have to settle down. No need to be a pussy about it. Damn those nearly bald tires, though. He always scoffed at the signs that say Chains recommended, but now he wishes he had them.
On a steep grade several switchback turns below the summit the car gains momentum approaching a hairpin curve and the speedometer needle creeps up past 30. Feeling a flush of panic, Sean shifts down into first gear and feels a sensation akin to taking flight. The car goes into a spin. The lights sweep across the craggy mountain wall and then beam out into dark space, then sweep across the mountain wall again and then the bottom drops off the world. For a half-instant he feels a sense of release and then a sudden roll and rush downward like the Suicide Tube at Roaring Springs Water Park—he and Julie screamed like a couple of grade schoolers. He can't scream now; he feels a sense of letting go. He pictures his mother's face at Granny's funeral—that was the last time he remembers really loving her like a mom—and then there is a mighty jolt like a bomb going off. The airbag pops and slaps his face and his body feels like it is jerked back and forth and twisted in the hands of an angry giant. Everything is roaring and he smells gasoline and then he feels his awareness slipping away and it's gone.
He awakens with a start, knee deep in icy water, trembling uncontrollably. For a second he thinks he's dreaming when he sees the amber and red dash lights still illuminated and the headlights beaming through an underwater fantasia with a boulder-strewn highway trafficked by glowing fish. Then he remembers that he's either dead or on the bottom of the Locomo River. Either way it's time to move. Get the seat belt unfastened, he tells himself. Push the deflated airbag out of the way. Get the window down and be ready for a freezing swim. All of his limbs seem to be working, although his legs are numb from the icy water. The seatbelt buckle comes undone. He folds the airbag over the steering wheel. Some kind of powder on it. He zips up his leather jacket, as he does, taking a deep breath that causes a sharp pain in his ribcage. Something wrong down there. He coughs, tries again and then starts rolling down the window. The icy water pours in on top of him and it's all he can do to keep his breath. With the window lowered he awkwardly pushes himself up and squeezes out the narrow opening. His foot catches on the seatbelt for a few seconds but he manages to kick it loose. Already he is struggling not to breathe. But the river can't be that deep, even if he landed in a hole. He fights the current and struggles upward until he breaks the surface, gasping for breath and exhausted. Barely keeping his head above the rolling water, he gets pushed into an eddy and his feet touch bottom. Snowflakes pelt his face. He lunges for the limb of a willow and catches it in his stiff, unfeeling hands and pulls himself to shore, crawling out and collapsing on a rocky ledge covered by ice and snow. Lying there on his side, chest heaving, shaking like a palsied dog, he can see the upstream headlights of his Volvo gradually dim and then go out, leaving the river bottom unilluminated. Got to move, he tells himself. Or I'll die out here like a goddamn fool. But where can he go? On the other side of the river is the almost vertical mountainside with the road at least fifty or sixty feet above the river. On this side, he knows without looking, there are marshes, deep woods, and mountain wilderness. He hasn't seen a house's twinkle of light for miles.
I don't think I can make it back across the river, much less climb the mountainside, he says to himself, and for the first time since his quickly fleeting elation at getting to shore he realizes he is probably a dead man. Hypothermia will kill him and there's nothing he can do about it. He has no way to make a fire. There's no makeshift shelter around here that could possibly keep him warm enough.
From up above, on the highway he hears the familiar snort and hum of the caterpillar snowplow. Johnny's a little late, he says to himself. He props himself on his elbow and tries to yell but he's shaking so hard it sounds like a gargle. He tries again.
—Heh-help! Hel-l-l-l-p-p-p! The wind spirits his feeble words away as if they were no more than snowflakes. There is no way he is visible from the road unless someone on a leisure walk close to the road's precipitous edge happens to shine a spotlight with the candlepower of the sun. This river has killed more than a few fools, he knows that. Tears sting his eyes like icicles and the sorrow of facing his own end snuffs out his last flicker of hope. An overwhelming heaviness tugs at his consciousness and he feels a sudden radiation of warmth. He closes his eyes and he knows this is nowhere. He was closer than he realized.
Something causes him to stir. A vibration at his side. At first he doesn't recognize what it is but gradually he remembers the cellphone. The recognition triggers enough adrenaline to enable him to roll over. He can barely control his movements enough to fish it out of his pocket. He uses his thumb to push the button and holds the phone in both shaking hands in front of his face. —Help, he says, his voice little more than a croak.
—Help me. Had ac-c-cident other side White Cloud Pass. He lifts the phone up by his ear. It's Julie.
—Sean? What hap— . . . you? Is this a— . . . ? Goddammit, Sean, — . . . not funny! I called to say I'm sorry for what happened. Hello? I can barely hear you—
Sean realizes he could lose the connection any second. —I wuh-uh-went off the road . . . into the river. Call n-nine one one! S-send help, Julie. White Cloud—
—You're breaking up! Are you hurt?
—Pass. White Cloud Pass. I'm freezing. F-fell in the river. Y-you have to c-call nine one one! H-hurry!
—Oh my god! I'll— . . . Sean. Hang on, o— . . . ? . . . right back!
Frantic Julie does call nine one one but when she calls Sean back he doesn't answer. An intense search by helicopter and emergency personnel is soon underway from Oblivion to well below the other side of White Cloud Pass, but the treacherous wind and blinding snow make it virtually impossible to see. Sean's body is quickly blanketed and he becomes an indistinguishable part of the winter landscape. For hours his heart continues to beat in his chest like the laboring of a weary gravedigger digging a dark hole into the frigid earth until finally the labor is done and he lays himself down for eternity. His body is nothing more than an unseen part of a snowdrift on the bank of a wild river. He will not know when the sculpting rays of late spring sunlight cause his right side to appear, or of the eager coyotes that ravage his still preserved body, nor will he see the shocked face of the teenage fisherman who stumbles across what is left of his rotting corpse a month later. He will be spared Julie's passionate display of grief at his funeral. He has no way of knowing that Julie will mourn him in diminishing degrees for the rest of her life and every Christmas she will buy him a present, wrap it in the finest paper, attach a bow, and place it without a name card under the Christmas tree. Everyone—including her husbands Andrew (not the bass player), Cyrus, and Rex, her children (from Andrew) Eddie and Claire, her parents while they are alive—will ask who it is for, but she will steadfastly refuse to say. They have no choice but to accept it as one of her more peculiar mysteries. And when every Christmas season is over she will take the package and put it in hiding; the last hiding place being the attic of her beautiful, stately home on top of the tallest hill that overlooks the valley. At the age of eighty-seven she will join Sean somewhere between Oblivion and the other side of White Cloud Pass and after the funeral Eddie and Claire will finally unlock the attic and open the immense stack of presents meant for Sean. In each one they will find the perfect gift for a sharp, sophisticated young man with a bright future ahead of him, but most of all, someone who loved drowsy, lush afternoons with fat chair cookies old photos card games backyard swing kisses, shade-dappled and rosy Julie.