“I’m sorry,” Frank said.

“You weren’t then,” René informed him.

Even though she’d known he hadn’t loved her, she’d been crushed. “Remember when I told you I wished you would die?” René said in her soft, pretty voice. Frank thought that he might. Either way he got a chill. “I didn’t really mean it,” René admitted. “I meant I still loved you.”

Little flickers of memory came back slowly. Frank recalled the dog he’d had as a boy, a collie named Cody. He remembered his father teaching him to ski. He had flashes of the past while he was undergoing physical therapy for his shattered leg. Two months after the accident he was transferred to a rehab center. When he swam in the pool there, he’d often get an image in mind—a face, a tree, a cloud, a moment in time. All the same he felt lost, a man without a past, turned out into the world all alone.

THEY LET HIM go home in March when the weather was windy and the sky was overcast with clouds thickening over Hightop Mountain. There was a surprise party for him at the Jack Straw Bar and Grill and everyone in town showed up. Aside from a slight limp, Frank appeared to be perfectly fine. He had a scar under his eye, but that seemed to add something to his appearance, a scrim of daring. Frank thanked his parents for their forbearance and his neighbors and friends for their kindness. The one person he didn’t thank was his brother, Jesse. He didn’t remember him at all.

They showed him photos and told stories of the twins’ exploits, with Jesse always taking the starring role, but nothing came back to him. They said he had shattered the same leg that Jesse had, and wasn’t that a strange coincidence, but Frank merely shrugged off the alleged similarity of their injuries. By now he could remember his math class with Mr. Shannon in high school, but he still couldn’t remember his own brother. He could remember kissing René and wishing she was someone else, just as she’d said. He remembered his neighbors and the names of their pets, the many holidays spent at his grandparents’ house, but his brother and best friend, the person who loomed largest in his life, was gone. When Frank sat in his parents’ darkened living room and watched home movies, he didn’t recognize the boy he had always trailed after and made excuses for. People continued to swear that he and his brother now had matching limps, and that they used to joke about them being two halves of a whole, but he didn’t remember the day he’d rushed Jesse to the hospital or how worried he’d been.

The Mott family’s physician wrote a letter and Frank was excused from active duty due to his brain injury. “It’s nothing to get upset about,” the doctor explained to Frank. “Just some aftereffects of the coma. It doesn’t mean your brain isn’t perfectly good for most things.”

Still, he felt damaged. That spring he let his hair grow long. He spent hours gazing at the trees in his parents’ front yard. He was looking for answers in the way the light filtered through the leaves. He had to have several drinks before he could manage to get even a few restless hours of sleep. He usually had two or three more beers when he woke up as well. One day he drove past an abandoned farm near the Eel River and saw two women with long skirts walking barefoot down the road. They were young, and their hair was long and shiny. The clouds were billowy and the wind was blowing and all of a sudden the rain began to come down hard. Frank pulled over and offered the girls a lift. He had that scar now and his long black hair, and the girls laughed and shouted “Hey, gorgeous!” and got in. They gave him his first taste of marijuana in exchange for the ride. At the end of the road they told him to stop. They were home, they said, even though there was nothing much around but Band’s Meadow, a desolate stretch of scrub grass and brambles under the slate-gray sky. The girls got out, but Frank stayed in his parked car thinking about things he’d never thought of before he smoked the joint. He wondered if it was possible for a person to leave his body, if that’s what he’d done when he was in the coma. When the car was still there after an hour, one of the girls came back to check on him. She laughed when he kissed her, which he did because the dim afternoon was suddenly beautiful and hopeful now that this lovely creature in the car with him raised her warm, moist mouth to his. The girl said, “Go ahead. What are you waiting for?” Since he had no idea what he was waiting for, he had her there in his car, but it was utterly different from those furtive fucks with René Jacob. It was a like a dream, no strings attached, something loose and easy.

The girls were part of a group of young people who’d set up camp in the meadow. They had recently arrived from New York. They’d come to Blackwell to live on this soggy, river-drenched stretch of land, intent on creating a communal farm with one of their members’ inheritance money, not that they knew anything about farming. The men were Pete and Rattler; the young women were Jenna and Simone and Rose. Rose was the one Frank had been with in the car. She was gorgeous, with dark auburn hair and breasts that swayed under the thin fabric of her blouse. The group slept in tents and were trying their best to put up a house, so far without much luck. Pete had nearly cut off most of his thumb with a saw. Since Frank knew how to build things and had nothing better to do, he offered to help them. He drove out every day. When his mother asked where he was going, he said, “Just driving.” Because of his accident she was afraid to pressure him, but Helen knew where he was going. The whole town did.

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