When Franklin saw the water cross the street and flow toward his shop, Vaughn Antiques, he and Brian started moving things to the apartment upstairs. They took the larger items first, the sea trunks, chests, a pew from the old United Church, a loveseat, a wing chain Brian left to see if his great aunt Mrs. Lee needed any help, and Franklin carried the other things (hooked rugs, Wedgewood, a series of old electric clocks, farm tools, old lamps, rum casks, books) and stacked them in careful piles on the cracked linoleum of his second-story kitchen and on the old shag carpeting of the bedroom. The postcard collection and Rogers silver he placed on top of the dresser. On the quilt he set the delicate musical instruments, a violin, clarinet, and cello, all of them dilapidated and beyond repair. The oil lamp globes he rested on the various straight-backed chairs, one for each seat. The globes and the instruments were the most important to him even if they were not, by far, the most valuable. He also did not want to lose his collection of tin types, which included a six-fingered Union soldier holding a banjo.
After he finished arranging everything, he stood back to look. All his things looked so out of place stacked up here on the carpet and chairs. The flood wouldn't last long, he told himself, but there was no way of knowing exactly how long. He tried to take a deep breath, as the doctor had told him to do when his chest tightened and he started to get an ache at the very top of his head. Once he had lost consciousness standing in the middle of his shop on a Monday afternoon. He restacked the books on the floor, moving them away from the window, in case any dampness came through, and he rewrapped the glass lampshades in tissue paper to prevent any chipping when he moved them back downstairs. Nothing made him feel better, though. Everything was out of place.
He checked the shop once more, opening the front door so the water wouldn't break in, and went back upstairs to sit on the rug amidst his things and wait. It was impossible to know how high the water would reach.
The river continued to rise past dark. The electricity went out, the phone went dead. Outside, the street lamps hung like the limbs of winter hardwoods. The air was heavy and the only sounds were the lapping of water against the walls downstairs and the current rushing along the cobbled walkways heading south toward Dresden Mills, Pemaquid Point, and the ocean.
In the morning, Dom's station wagon sat in front of his barbershop, the water halfway up the wheels. Dora stood in the window of the second story looking down at the street. Franklin opened the window and waved, but Dom didn't see. Even though it was late February, it was warm enough for Franklin to take off the argyle sweater his mother had given him for Christmas and fold it over the silver platter he had bought from old Mrs. Ellis after her husband died. She had told him the silver came from her husband's family along with his old wing chair and a silver-tipped cane. Mrs. Ellis was from Bangor; she had no children, and she didn't like any of her husband's relatives, who all lived in town. She didn't want any of them to have her husband's things. "Better they go to strangers," she said. Mrs. Ellis lived in a small room in a giant unheated house, and her one luxury was canned fruit on Sunday night. Back then, no one thought it unusual to sleep in the kitchen on a cot in a ten-bedroom colonial ship captain's house, or to save all week for a few cans of fruit. The railroad had made the river obsolete, and the distant highways had made the railroad obsolete. The town was poorer now than at any other time in its two-hundred-year history, and it was unlikely, in Franklin's mind, to get any better.
Franklin started a fire in the kitchen stove and put a can of soup on top. It was only a matter of time now, he thought, and sure enough, by afternoon he could walk out the front door into the street. His shop was untouched except for banks of mud against the baseboards and layers of silt over the wood floors, which wouldn't warp anymore than they already had. His mother would worry about the smell (she owned the building), but no matter how many times he scrubbed, it would be August before the mildew vanished. The basement would be a full six feet underwater, and it would take a sump pump to fix the problem. Outside, branches, piles of mud, bald tires, and trash covered the muddy sidewalks and road. Two telephone poles canted toward each other, the wires like a black smile across the silver sky. A railroad tie someone had been using in their driveway had pitched through the front window of Dom's barbershop. Dom stood out front with his hands in his pockets, shaking his head.
Other people who owned shops on Water Street--the Boyntons, Mr. Dawson, Tom from Tom's Pizza, and old Johnson, who owned the Rexel's--came down from their houses on the hill and looked in the windows of their stores. Panes were busted or cracked, but the water never came close to the notch on the granite corner of the Hay Building that marked the 1885 flood, which had poured through the front doors of the Methodist Church on Second Street. It could have been much worse. The men hired to plow in the winter joined the VFD in cleaning up the downtown. They came with chainsaws to buck up whole trees that had floated down the street and gathered in the parking lot of the Gardner Savings Bank.
Franklin lent a hand to Mr. and Mrs. Boynton, who were cleaning up the glass and debris in the aisles of their store. The meat counter was covered with dead spruce. An old shoe sat on the bread shelf, and an article of women's underwear had come to rest behind the counter. Mr. Boynton carried it on the end of a stick to a trash bag.
"I feel bad for those people down on River Road," Mrs. Boynton kept saying. "Many of them don't even have insurance. We should do something for them."
As it turned out, several families from River Road couldn't go back to their homes. They had no insurance, as Mrs. Boynton had said, and no money, no resources. They would stay at the Legion while the fire chief talked to people in Augusta about getting funds to repair their houses, one of which had pitched forward off its stilts into the mud.
Franklin mopped and scrubbed the first floor of his shop, disinfecting everything before setting up the dehumidifier. He moved his things back downstairs and spent half a day placing everything where it had been, the lamps on one side on a drop-leaf table, the china in an old cupboard he had taken out of a house in Sheepscott. He set up the desk in the far corner and arranged his leather account book on the ink blotter. He rehung the pictures on their wire hangers--the three along the south wall that were conspicuously noted as not being for sale; they were pictures of his great grandparents. In their day, this shop had been a store. In the front window, he set up the silver platter and the leather-bound edition of Old Vaughn Days, signed by the author in 1888.
A number of people--the Boyntons, the Michauds, and even old Mrs. Lee--stopped by the shop to see how he was getting along after the flood. Everyone in town knew that he had had a drinking problem when he was young, and not the kind of problem most high school kids have, out at the pit or at keggers in the woods. At age eleven, he had started drinking by himself in his bedroom. His mother, a single parent, worked long hours as a nurse at the hospital, and Franklin had usually passed out by the time she got home. He knew some people said she should have known sooner, and that she should have done more when she did know, when everyone knew: in his teens he would get drunk in the middle of the week and walk up and down Water Street in the early hours of the morning, screaming and yelling words no one could understand. At one point, Chuck Sheldon was picking him up and driving him home two or three times a week.
Franklin knew it was odd that his best friends were three times his age--Mrs. Ellis, Mrs. Lee, and Mrs. Nason. He was friends with Brian and his wife, both of them young, but only because Brian had also been a member of AA. Now if people thought he was odd, they said it was because he had gotten into the booze so young; and if they wondered why he had gotten into the booze so young, they thought it must have been because he was so odd. A lot of people said he must be gay; after Allison, he never went out with girls. They said he was odd, they said he was queer, they said there must have been something wrong with him from the beginning, something mental that couldn't be fixed and that someday might wind him up in the Augusta Mental Health Institute. He knew the way he seemed to people. He was almost seven feet tall, his eyes twitched when he talked, his hair had turned prematurely gray in his mid-twenties, his skin was pasty and dry, he couldn't look people in the face, he hunched like an old man, he smelled like an old man, his hands often shook, and he had trouble wrapping his tongue around words starting with the letter S. He wore the same faded plaid shirt every day. Nevertheless, he had stopped drinking three years ago. He had taken to collecting what most people considered junk with the same fervor he once had for drinking, and a number of people in Vaughn--all the good people, Mrs. Lee had said--were glad to see him making a go of it, walking down the street with the small leather case he sometimes carried to the bank.
After he finished rearranging the shop, Franklin sat down at his desk. Aside from the smell of mildew, it was as if the flood had never happened. He looked out the window. The street was dirty, but owners moved through their shops, and people went about their business on the sidewalks. Those people whose houses had been damaged by the flood would have to move in with relatives for a while, and Franklin felt bad for them, but for the rest of Vaughn, the rising water had been nothing more than an inconvenience. They called it an emergency, a bridge in Dresden had gone out, there would be expenses. Help would arrive, though, and after a few years most people would forget.
Several people walking by looked in his window but did not wave. Franklin lifted his hand anyway, palm out in the direction of the window. His nails were uncut except where he had bitten them off. When he lowered his hand, the skin pulled tightly across his bony knuckles, pale and freckled and dried in a fan of cracks that stretched across the tendons--the land of a planet crusted with a layer of stone.
He heard a slapping sound out front and went to the door to see what it was. The Boyntons' grandson, Malcolm, from their youngest daughter Emma was running from puddle to puddle in the street and stomping his feet until the water drained out.
"Malcolm!" Franklin called out, and Malcolm turned and froze. Franklin wasn't sure why he had yelled. He didn't want to speak to Malcolm--and he didn't care if he stomped in the puddles. Malcolm stared at him for a moment and then resumed his stomping. The water fanned out and sparkled in the sharp winter light.
Franklin went back to his desk. He fell asleep only to awaken later in the afternoon grasping his ledger book. In a dream he had seen an unfamiliar bridge. He thought nothing of it for the rest of the day and evening until he awoke in the middle of the night with the same image in his head. It was just a bridge, surrounded by woods, but he could see every detail of the rusting iron supports and trusses. The stream underneath ran over round white stones the size of apples. For a minute, maybe longer, he couldn't breathe at all. The doctor had told him to put his head between his knees; eventually, he felt calmer. After making himself a cup of tea, he took a shower.
The fire hall auction, which had been scheduled for the day the flood hit, was set to begin at nine in the morning. Larry Bunker, the WD treasurer and auctioneer, was about ready to leave for his daughter's house in Millinocket and wouldn't be back for three weeks. Otherwise, the committee would have put off the auction for another week. A new sign said the proceeds would be donated to help with the flood.
Later that morning, Franklin was going to Mrs. Lee's for tea, but first he wanted to walk down to the fire hall and look over the items up for bid. The year before, he had bought an old refrigerator from the forties, but mostly he looked for small things: eyeglasses, gloves, scarves, buttons, things most people had no use for. His favorite finds were old family photographs and pictures of river drives from the thirties. He never understood why people would get rid of their own family pictures, and every time he sold one of the photos (every time he sold anything) to a stranger from the city, he felt as if he was betraying the original owners. Most of his things came from the houses of people in town, many of them friends of Mrs. Lee, who had called and asked if he would come over. His heart always raced as he passed his hand over tea sets and chairs brought from the Far East by a seafaring ancestor, and in each case he tried to persuade them not to sell anything--not to him, not to anyone.
At the VFW, where the auction had been moved because of flood damage to the fire hall, he found a water-warped trunk with wallpaper peeling off the inside compartment, a pair of old cracked wooden cross-country skis with one bamboo pole, an old velour perfume case filled with assorted buttons, a mustard-colored glass lampshade, a pair of worsted wool hunting pants, a thirty-year-old vacuum cleaner with no hose. He looked through a pile of hand tools, none of them antiques: a rusted shovel with a cracked handle, chisels, screwdrivers, augers. Amidst this junk, however, he spotted a long pole with an iron hook and spike attached to the end, a tool used in log driving--a peavey--and on the neck someone had carved the initials "HC." He rested the pole against the wall and sat in one of the metal chairs in the back row. Twenty or so people, most of them elderly women, made their way to the other seats.
Albert Bunker, Larry's older brother, handed Larry a small box. "We will start the bidding," he said, "with--well, I don't know what this is."
"It's a fondue maker," Albert announced.
"A fondue maker," Larry repeated. He opened the top of the box and rooted around inside. "All the parts seem to be here," he said. "What say we start out at a dollar. Do I have a dollar?" No one bid a dollar. He lowered the bid to fifty cents and twenty-five cents until finally he announced they would come back to the fondue maker after people let themselves warm up. Bidding started again on a relatively new chain for a chainsaw. But again there were no bidders.
"Come on, now," Larry complained, "this would cost you twenty dollars new."
Eventually, his brother Albert bid fifty cents and won the chainsaw blade.
It took over an hour to reach the peavey that Franklin had found among the tools. There was no way of knowing for certain that HC stood for Harry Clough, his grandfather, but he bid up to five dollars and fifty cents and won against one of the ladies in the front row. They all turned around to look at him as he walked down for his item.
"I sure hope that stick is worth it," one of them said as he paid Albert. He went out to the parking lot where he stared at the initials, sure now that the owner of the peavey was his grandfather, who almost exactly a year ago had shot himself in his truck way out on the Blake Road.
A bunch of middle-school kids playing on the other side of the street stopped when they saw him and went silent, trying to look away. One of this same bunch had tossed a stone at him back in the fall, bouncing it off the hood of his truck in the parking lot beside Boynton's. When he had walked toward them that night, the tallest one, a MacDonald kid, called him a fag, and they all scattered into the shadows. Now, in the daylight, they waited for what he would do. When he ignored them, they resumed their game, a stick battle of some kind.
He was supposed to be at Mrs. Lee's in fifteen minutes, but he wasn't sure he could go now. He couldn't get the dream image of the bridge out of his mind. Somehow seeing the kids had pushed it to the front of his thoughts. He had never been bothered by his dreams before. People in rehab told of drying out to terrifying nightmares--of being chased and strangled and drowned--and some had spent hours obsessing over certain fleeting images: a sibling without a face, an ex-wife wearing a top hat. He had always thought such preoccupations were for people like many of his customers who drove up from Massachusetts, self-indulgent people from the city.
He stared at the side of his old Ford truck and knew it belonged to him, but it also seemed unfamiliar and distant from his experience, as if someone was showing him a picture of the truck and saying that it belonged to him. He leaned the peavey against the cab and stood back. It was a tool, he knew, for moving logs. No matter whom it had belonged to, it was a tool, nothing more, and thousands more like it were out there. None of them used anymore.
The early mud season had sent streams of brown water flowing down the valley. He drove around the frost heaves in Central Street on his way to Mrs. Lee's house, one of the large old federals on the hill above the river. Her husband had died fifteen years ago and now, like Mrs. Ellis, she slept in the kitchen on a cot. Mrs. Lee pulled open the heavy door with two hands and stood smiling, forcing her back erect.
"Yes, yes, yes," she said. "Come in."
Franklin wasn't sure she remembered inviting him, but he didn't think it mattered because he usually stopped by to visit her once a week. Though the same could be said of many people in town, Mrs. Lee was a distant relative, distant enough, in this town, not to be considered a relative at all. Yet Franklin considered her his closest kin after his mother. Mr. Lee's war medals hung in a frame in the front hallway next to an old pine blanket chest and a pedestal table with a porcelain tray and a pair of white leather gloves cast there to harden in place like animal skins. The plaster walls were cracked in wide fissures, the ceiling sagged, the joists had bowed. It wasn't the disrepair of the house or Mrs. Lee that bothered him--both the house and its occupant were perfect as they were--but what did distress him was the feeling that he couldn't stop the decay from getting worse.
She waved him in and walked out the back door of the kitchen where a wall of spruce bordered a half-acre field. An overweight mutt rose to its feet as Mrs. Lee approached and bent over its gray muzzle. Franklin sat down at the kitchen table opposite her iron bed, kerosene heater, and black-and-white TV sitting on a Windsor chair. Most things in the house dated from the time of its construction just after the Revolution, when Captain Lee, a hero of the war, first moved to Vaughn to build his house and start in the East India trade. Franklin hadn't known any of the history of the area until he started collecting and going through his mother's attic, where he discovered and pieced together his own history and the history of the little land his mother still owned around the house.
Franklin leaned over the rocker. The armrest had been worn down to the grain by a lifetime of someone rubbing the heel of a hand against the momentum of the chair's sway. Above the chair hung an oil portrait, probably from the early 1800s. After the death of the pictured patriarch, the end of the ice trade and the building of the railroad would have meant the end of the Lees' good fortune, and the end of the fortunes of the town itself. The river was no longer needed except to drive logs down to the mills.
Mrs. Lee returned and set the tea out on the kitchen table, pushing the sugar across to him. "Now, Franklin, I know you will be upset with me, but I aim to sell whatever I can in this old house. That's why I wanted you to come by."
"I can't buy all the things in your house, Mrs. Lee. I can't afford to."
"You can find someone, though, someone from Portland maybe, I know you can, to come in and sell it off."
"Yes, ma'am, but what about your son?"
"Douglas doesn't care. He lives in Illinois with his wife and kids in a big modern house. They're good to me, but he doesn't care about these old things. Young people don't care anymore--except you--and why should they? He's a teacher, his wife works at the police station, and they have four kids who all need things--lessons, summer camps. I can sell these things and give them some of the money, you know."
"I can find someone."
"I know you don't approve, Franklin."
"That's not it, Mrs. Lee, but I wish you didn't have to," he said.
"Your father liked old things, too, but you wouldn't remember him. I forget why he was here and how your mother met him."
Franklin had never met his father.
"I think I found my mother's father's peavey at the sale this morning, Mrs. Lee. You knew him, didn't you? My mother never let me talk to him when he lived in the cabin down below us. Neither my mother nor my aunts would ever say much about him."
"Yes, my husband went into the woods with him."
"Is the story true?"
"Now I don't know, Franklin. There were a lot of stories about Harry." She looked over her shoulder out the kitchen window where her old dog stood in the middle of the field of dead hay staring into the woods. "I'll tell you what Roddy told me when he came back from the woods. The two of them were young then, about your age, maybe younger. They were in camp, I can't remember where, east of the Dead somewhere. Your grandfather and this boy he was partnered with--someone new, Acadian, I think, no a PEIer--went out to cut. At the end of the day, your grandfather came back, and the other boy didn't. Your grandfather said the boy had disappeared in the middle of the day. No one said nothing about it, but it seems like everyone knew something had gone bad out there. Truth is, though, no one knows what happened out in the woods between your grandfather and that boy. And that's what I told your mother when she came to ask me about it. No one knows what went on in the house your mother grew up in except God and your mother and her sisters. And I doubt very much your mother or her sisters would say very much to you about it. Your grandfather was good at what he did, being a river runner. I once saw him walk a log sideways across the river by spinning it under him. Roddy always said he could have been a master driver, another John Ross, but he was haywire. I don't doubt but he was a hell of a bastard at home."
Mrs. Lee rose bent over from her chair and pointed to a jaundiced map on the wall. A blue pen line traced from northern New Hampshire into Maine. She looked at it closely for a moment before stepping away.
"I don't know if you will be able to read it."
Small tributaries and brooks had been carefully added and named with a pen. Wiggle Brook was written next to a large X in the top left comer; the course followed east and south across Little Kennebago Lake, down the Kennebago River, across Cupsuptic and Mooklookmeguntic lakes, downriver and across the Mollychunkamunk and Welokennibacook (here the names of Lower and Upper Richardson lakes were crossed out), across Pond-in-the-River, down Rapid River, across Umbagaog to the Androscoggin River, down through Errol Dam, Pontook Dam, and finally to the mills in Rumford and Lewiston.
When he arrived home, Franklin found a message on the front door of his shop from his friend Brian asking why he had missed lunch. Franklin remembered now that he had been invited to lunch at Brian and Rachel's at one, but he couldn't remember what he had done after leaving Mrs. Lee's house. Probably he had just wandered around town, but he couldn't remember exactly, and it worried him. He looked at his truck parked on the street, a few inches from the curb. His kitchen was neat, his shop was neat. Blackouts had been normal when he was drinking, but there was no evidence that he had slipped. He touched his stomach, looked under the sink in the trash, breathed into the mirror. He hadn't had anything to drink. It felt as if he had been sleep walking, and maybe he had. When he was young, he had gone through a stage of sleepwalking all over the house and property. Once his mother found him in the middle of the field pulling up grass in large fistfuls and tossing it on the ground. Another time he woke in the middle of Vaughn Woods, five miles away, and managed to get back before his mother realized he was gone.
In the shop, he reached in his desk for a letter his aunt had written him when his grandfather was found dead. He had read it once a year ago and then never again.
Dear Franklin, this is your aunt Jenny. I know I have not seen you since you were no more than ten I suppose. Your mother and I have not talked much.
I heard about the Old Man. I don't know what she, your mother, told you about him. I am hoping not too much. I have not lived with a mean spirit, but I am happy he is gone for good. It has been a long time coming. This way when I am gone and your mother is gone and your uncle Dennis, too, the Old Man will be completely erased from memory.
I've felt awfully guilty about you. I'm your godmother, as well as your aunt. In terms of the Old Man, there's no limit to what we cannot know and very little good in it anyway. I am sure you will realize this and leave well enough alone. I am unlikely to ever make it back to Vaughn, but I want you to know that if you ever find your way out to Tucson, you're welcome to stay with me and Bill, whom you have not met. We never had children, which is something I have often regretted, especially in recent years. In any case, I wanted you to know you are on our minds.
Franklin put the letter from his aunt in his pocket and walked up the hill to his mother's house. He wasn't sure what he would say to her, and when he got there he realized she was still at work at the hospital. A frayed rope hung from the thickest limb of the white oak and swayed in the breeze. He could see the whole valley from up here but could not, no matter how hard he tried, see the shadows of his mother and her sisters as children moving across the yard, or his grandfather coming out the front door of what had been, at one time, his house.
When he was in grade school, a kid had told Franklin that his grandfather had killed someone years before. Most of the adults in town knew the story but had stopped talking about it because it had happened so long ago. The kid who had heard the story from his grandfather told everyone else in class, and though the first version had not included how his grandfather had killed the man, by the time the story wound its way through the whole school back to Franklin, all the details had been added. His grandfather buried an axe in the back of the man's head. The man owed his grandfather money; his grandfather had stolen the man's wife; the man had a gun; his grandfather had a gun; there was a duel. Other versions told of how his grandfather had strangled the man with his bare hands. For a brief time, Franklin became a celebrity. Kids looked up from their conversations and watched him walk across the lunchroom. It didn't take long, though, for everyone at school to forget about the story, and Franklin went back to being invisible.
When he asked his mother about the stories, she got up out of her chair and walked out of the room. Franklin's grandmother was living with them then, and her only response was that her ex-husband's family were a bunch of scalp hunters.
"They were not scalp hunters," his mother shouted from the next room. "Don't fill his head with that."
"Massachusetts paid one hundred pounds a scalp. How do you think they bought this land? I should have realized when I was young--his old man was no good, spent most of his life in the rocker--but there weren't many boys on the pung in my school days," she said. "And my father said he'd mobilize me if I had anything to do with him. That's all it took for me to marry him."
Everyone except his grandmother called him the Old Man, when they referred to him at all. Over the years, Franklin had seen his grandfather countless times, going the opposite direction in his green truck, crossing the street, even down the aisle at Dawson's. Always he pretended not to see Franklin, so it was easy for Franklin to pretend that he was a stranger.
In his old truck, Franklin followed Route 93 through Sweden, then west on 5 and 113 into New Hampshire, and north to Route 2, where he turned east until he saw the brown waters of the Androscoggin through the trees. The empty train tracks followed the river, veering away from and then coming back in line with the course of the road. He stopped on several bridges, none of them iron bridges, and looked for something familiar. He didn't know what he was looking for. North at Bethel, left at Canton, stopping at the boarded-up brick mill in Livermore Falls where the railroad rejoined, for a short period, the course of the river. No one seemed to live in these towns. After a jog east at Rich's Mountain, he fell almost directly south toward Lewiston while looking into the woods on both sides of the road. Scroungers at auctions told stories of finding skis from horse-drawn sledges, iron fixtures, peavey and pike polls, chains from booms, and other decaying artifacts buried in the new-growth spruce. Most of it worthless. Occasionally people found the site of an old camp and the rusted silhouette of a box or cook stove.
Somewhere out there in the woods lay the bones of the boy his grandfather had killed. Franklin pictured his grandfather following the boy, a knapsack over one shoulder and his double bitter over the other. Franklin would never know whether his grandfather and the boy argued or whether his grandfather came up behind him and simply buried an axe in the back of his head for no reason at all.
From a dip in the road where the river veered west into the trees, he thought he saw the outline of a bridge. He pulled off the road and hacked through the brush until he came to a muddy bank. There in the distance was the iron railroad bridge from his dream. The sky, the tree line, the curve of the bank--everything was the same.
He made his way through the woods and up a steep rise. It didn't seem possible. The bridge from his dream was here, and he stood on it and gazed down between the iron trusses at the twisting current of the stream. Immediately, he wished he had not come. He had thought there was something wrong with the town after the flood, but it was him, not the town. He would never repeat what rushed at him from the back of his head as he stood looking down at the stream: unspeakable acts against the people he loved, who had been so kind to him. Mrs. Lee, Brian and Rachel, his mother. As if it had already happened, he could see himself beating them in the face with his fists and hitting them over the head with their own furniture--bashing rocks into their skulls and slashing at their skin with a knife. He was afraid these thoughts would take over, that he would go insane and lose control of himself.
He looked up, trying to fill his mind with what he saw: saplings had grown up between the rusted tracks, and branches had spread a canopy over the path. Gradually, the bloody images left his mind, and he realized he had been crying. He would have to run away from Vaughn and never come back to protect people from himself. But he knew he wouldn't be able to live without the people he knew and loved. He wouldn't be able to leave.
Instead of heading back to the truck, Franklin followed the tracks into the woods. He sensed someone following him and turned around twice but saw no one. It started to flurry, flakes drifting down among the winter maples. There was no wind and it didn't even feel cold enough to snow. The path curved, and after a while, he came out into a field of rotten hay someone had left uncut in the fall. The tracks merged with a cracked and mangled road that descended a hill to a village of seven buildings huddled by the river. A church, a manse, a store, and four federals of different shapes, all weathered bone gray. Two identical houses stood next to each other facing the river. Franklin approached one and looked through the watery glass. Nothing stirred. The snow fell more heavily and steadily in large tumbling flakes, like the snow in movies. The store windows were dark, the cupboards inside bare, the floors swept clean, a broom leaning against the wall. A light burned in the manse, and in the upstairs of one other house, but the rest were dark. The sky had darkened, too, covering the fields in shadow. He looked up the hill, and though he couldn't see anyone, he felt that someone was up there looking down.
He followed the road in the general direction of his truck, walking faster when he was outside the village. A twisting gust pricked his cheeks. He couldn't be sure now if the bridge he had just seen in the woods was the bridge from his dreams, and he started to run through the shallow drifts.
It was late, sometime in the hours before morning, when he arrived in Vaughn. All the windows of the buildings and houses rising up along the slope of the valley were blue-black in the silver glare of the street lamps. In his shop, shadows stretched along the wall. Over the last few years, the things inside had held his interest when nothing else would; the 150-year-old tables, chairs, lamps, and dressers, the remains of lives that would never come back. He knew the patterns worn into the combs and pipes and canes as well as he knew his friends and family, and he couldn't help but feel that this knowledge of the dead was somehow a betrayal of the living.
The plow scraped down the middle of the street, sending whorls of snow twisting under the lamps, and he imagined he could see all the people who had ever lived in Vaughn pouring over the cobblestones like fingerlings through a back eddy. They had come to claim what had once belonged to them, what each generation had lost and unwillingly left behind. Franklin's grandfather passed among them, the nailed soles of his calked boots snapping along the quarried curb to the time of the shop's old mantle clock. Franklin stood and waited for them to enter the store in a mass and drown him in their sorrow. The snow gradually settled, however, leaving only the buildings and the curbs and the river that had carved the valley. He looked through the window and for the moment saw nothing more and nothing less than what was there. Nothing remembered, nothing forgotten.
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|Author:||Brown, Jason (American writer)|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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