Your mistake was walking down the road where I was.
My mistake was everything else.
I want the words you hold in your hand, lamplight in ajar.
We met here.
But it could have been anywhere
the next road on the map
the one that curled around the mountain like smoke and
I walked you home and didn’t say much.
You were the one who kissed me.
Remember that, but remember I was the one who wanted it.
Sometimes I think I forced you to kiss me with my wanting.
I was no one. Nothing. A handyman, a jack of all trades
Winner at none. But I was the one who fell in love with you.
I never told you why I was there.
My car had broken down.
I left it in a ditch.
The sunlight was blinding. I couldn’t even see you at first, only
your outline against the trees.
But it was enough.
These are the things I would have said to you as I held you closer,
As I told you to run,
Making certain to speak in a language
You didn’t understand.
She went inside and folded the second poem into the box with the first. She moved a stack of sweaters in front of it, but it didn’t matter. She knew it was there.
THE WEDDING WAS on a Sunday, at the Hightop Inn. The next week Kate’s mother died. Kate and Henry decided to stay on. They moved in with Aunt Hannah, who was undone by the loss of her beloved sister. Kate took a job at the high school, teaching French, and Henry joined a law firm in Lenox. Sometimes Kate felt that they rattled around the old house. Everything seemed empty. But she got used to it. People welcomed them to town and were glad to have Kate back among them. One night Kate and Henry met a group of their friends at the Jack Straw Bar and Grill. They were nearly through with their meal when Kate spied Cal Jacob at the bar. He was a grown man now, one with a drinking problem. Although she hadn’t seen him for years, Kate went to say hello. She still thought of him as nine years old.
“I’m so sorry about Lucy,” she said.
There weren’t many murders in the county, certainly not in their town. For everyone who’d known Lucy Jacob, the loss still stung, but Cal was nonchalant.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Cal made it clear she should drop the topic. He didn’t talk about his sister. He was a man with a swagger, one who indulged in petty crime and thought the world owed him something. “Let me buy you a drink. Come on, sit down with us.”
Cal was accompanied by some of his no-good friends from Albany, one of whom, a thin dark man with hooded eyes, looked Kate up and down.
“Do you mind?” Kate said, offended by his indecent gaze. She felt undressed in some way.
“I wouldn’t mind at all.” Cal’s friend snickered and all the men laughed. He grabbed her arm, which would later leave a mark on her creamy skin. “Let’s go out to the parking lot and do it right now.”
Kate pulled away. “I just wanted to say hello,” she said. “Clearly a mistake.” She went back to her table, rattled. “What’s happened to Cal?” she asked.
One of their friends, Leo Mott, was on the Blackwell police force. “He’s a bad apple,” Leo said. “His buddies are worse.”
“I think it’s my fault,” Kate said to her husband as they walked home that night.
“Your fault?” Henry laughed.
“I was his camp counselor and he disappeared into the woods on my watch. I should have kept a closer eye on him.”
“But he didn’t disappear. You found him,” Henry reminded her. He’d heard the story before, or at least that part of it.
Kate and Henry held hands, but as they walked through town everything looked odd to Kate, the way things do in a dream, or in any place where you know you don’t belong.
YEAR IN AND year out, Kate left baskets on Route 17. She went at least once a month. She packed warm sweaters, novels, notebooks, coffee, chocolates, packets of nails, wire. Items she thought he might need or desire. Her aunt Hannah went with her sometimes, for the exercise. She never questioned why they were taking a basket into the forest. Once Kate had said, “It’s for lost travelers.” Hannah didn’t ask for any further explanation. She was fairly certain it was for that man her sister had believed existed the summer when Kate seemed so changed.
IT WAS AUGUST when it happened, the month when she’d first met him. She packed up tomatoes, lettuce, a copy of Great Expectations, a few issues of Life magazine. The air was amber, the way it was in late August. Kate and her aunt took their time. Hannah had changed since Kate’s mother had died; she didn’t often go out socially, and her one enjoyment was her walks with her niece. It was a perfect day. Cars passed by occasionally, but Kate and her aunt paid them no mind. One car pulled off to the side of the road into a scenic overlook. From there you could see all of the valley below. The town of Blackwell looked like a child’s toy.