Monday, June 27, 2011


I shuffle the small steps down the aisle as passengers pull their luggage down. Then, the relief of getting out of the plane, walking the ramp. The herding through to baggage. I wait at the carousel. I don't have much, but still I have to wait. Then stream to customs and another line.

I'm caught between excitement and questions. My feet move by themselves. And I see the sea of people waiting for their friends or their aunts, uncles, cousins, mothers to finally arrive. I should no one of these faces.


And there he is. Sevario swims through the crowd to meet me. He wraps me in his arms, and I can almost breathe again.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lights like wildflowers in a meadow.

It isn't my first time to a city--but it feels that way. Maybe it's because I'm usually staying in the airport, transferring from one plane to another. What's outside doesn't matter.

But tonight, amid these clouds of yellow lights, I'll get off the plane, pick up my bags, go through customs, and then?

The plane banks. I hate landings, but I hate the waiting even more.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Becky closes the door, checks to make sure it's locked, and hands the key to Mary.

This chapter closes.

And yet the wind is scudding the leaves. It's really fall, and I pick up my bags, which seem to have multiplied since I arrived.

The car doors close with a hollow thunk, and the afternoon feels empty as Becky drives to the bus stop.

We hug quickly, and I think we both might want to cry, but our eyes stay dry. All the sadness sticks in our throats.

"Come back. I mean, come to visit."

"Come see me."

"I'll see what I can do."

"I'll miss her. I mean, I'll miss you."

And I mean them both.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Now we are packing up the rest of our history here, what we don't haul out to the lawn to sell. I cross my fingers that the weather holds.

Becky keeps asking me whether I want something. And I feel bad--because I know there must be something I want to take, to keep, some reminder of this home that's going away.

"How about the lamp from the living room?" she asks. "You used to read under it--you were always hogging that chair."

"We'd have to ship it, and it might bet broken."

She attaches a tag to it.

"How about the chair?"

"I'll find something. I know it's here. I just have to wait for it."

And I have another hour before our yard sale officially opens.

The house closes in two weeks, and I haven't bought my ticket. I haven't figured out where I'm going.

"Just do the brave thing," Becky said after supper last night, and I knew she meant fly to Santiago.

"You travel more than anyone I know, and you never see anything new."

"Want to come with me?"

The words hung in the air between us, like stars that suddenly fell out of the sky and still burned a little. I hadn't thought of it until the idea dropped out of my mouth.

"I'd be a third wheel--and I can't go away."

Suddenly, the absence left by Mom swallowed us both whole.

Now the sun is making its little entrance, and we're playing our roles. With each new load carted outside, I look to see whether I've found my past.

Friday, June 17, 2011

He said he was coming. I hoped no one would buy the house before he arrived.

He said he was going to come, but he hasn't mentioned any dates, and now I'm sitting in Becky's kitchen and peeling apples while Mary holds an open house. It's the second time she's tried. No offers came in after the first one, but she's hoping more people will come to look this weekend.

I shouldn't have this knot in my stomach as I imagine people walking through the rooms. The staging part was hard enough, stripping each surface of its histories and knick-knacks, giving the house a newer, cleaner fictional family. Each subtraction hurt a little more, and I kept waiting to numb up. We hauled the boxes of what we couldn't bear to throw away over to Becky's, where they sit stacked in half the basement.

I shouldn't feel rushed as I walk home. I stop for the mail. A few sale flyers and one envelope.

Dear Misha,

It turns out that I'm not going to be able to come.

I don't really read the rest.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The toast feels dry in my hand, in my mouth, as I watch Mary Evans pound the For Sale sign in to the lawn at the end of the drive. I've lost without really knowing why I was fighting. But it could take a long time for someone to buy this little house in this little town.

For about five seconds I wished I had the money--I'd only need enough to buy out Becky. It was laughable--a woman with no job, no savings to speak of. A mortgage? And that's when I had to face the fact that I don't want to stay here forever, or even a decade.

I want this South Bend sky and the rusty animals up the road in Raymond and the real gulls crying and the dank salt brine mud smell and the watery bright sunlight--and I want the ghosts of my mother and, so long ago, my dad, each chair they sat in, each thing they touched. Someone wise would tell me that I'll carry all of that inside me. But I've wanted time to soak it up, to be sure.

Mary turns and smiles as she walks toward the porch.

"We can have an open house this weekend. We don't want to let it sit out here too long," she ventures.

I nod.

"Do you think it will go quickly?"

Mary fades a shade or two.

"You never know."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sevario's voice sounds far away. It is far away--even farther than it sounds.

"You aren't traveling today."

"You knew that. You called me here."

"You can still stop in Santiago on your way down."

He's right. I'll probably have to change planes there anyway. I haven't even thought about a ticket. Maybe we'll need to sell the house first. Money's the elephant in the room, the elephant that never forgets and never leaves.

I promise to look into flights, hedge around the fact that I'm not ready to go yet.

I don't know what's pinning me to this sky, these tide flats, my old room in my old house--it's a longing or a loss deeper than I want to name or even think about.

I promise again. I tell him I'll let him know by the end of the month.

Given how long mail takes to travel, that doesn't give me a lot of time.

I hang up the phone and see a letter from Henry on the table, a letter from last week. He says he'll come see me here.

But when? How long can I wait? And what am I waiting for?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's the equinox. Autumnal--and yet the world around me has been dying for a long time. The grasses are brown. The garden has already seen its best days. Seed pods on everything--a sign of new life, next year's life, but right now it just looks desiccated, undone.

I pour myself a glass of wine and go back to the porch. The weight of this season presses my chest for what might be forever. I sound like a melodrama, without a villain, no one in a black hat to hiss at.

Far away, the phone jangles. Probably Becky. I think she's tired of coming over here to chat. I think she's tired of me. Or I depress her. Maybe I'm the villain. Hissssssss.

As heavy as Sisyphus's stone, I get up to answer the ringing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My coffee mug feels warm in my hands as I watch the wind blow the September sky blue. Inside, I still feel chilled, or empty. I swing back and forth. We're all walking around in a state of shock, but I'm not even walking much. I sit on the porch and watch the weather. I feel anchored to this home.

Becky and Mark think we should put the house up on the market. It's a good time of year. I ask about probate, knowing nothing about it really.

"Misha, there isn' t enough money in the estate to trigger probate," Mark explains. I try to remind myself that he isn't being condescending. We're all a little on edge.

Selling the house makes sense. I certainly need the money, and Becky and Mark could probably use it.

"Can I just stay here for a while?"

I'm stalling. And I guess that Becky's pulled in different directions. She's probably wondering why I'm hunkering down here now, when I haven't been around for so long, why I'm holding up this final bit of business, and yet I don't think she's ready to lose her home, her past.

Gulls wheel, ride the drafts. I feel safe here. I need to feel safe here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

From here, the clean sheets look prim and impersonal. Like a big sign saying Empty or Gone. Becky sticks her head in the door.

"They're starting to arrive. You need to come down."

It's true I haven't been much help. I've been hiding in here while Becky's scrubbed and dusted and vacuumed, getting the house ready for the gathering after the service.

This has happened too quickly. Mother slipped away the first night home. Then finding the plans she'd written down and setting all of that in motion and talking about the service and the service on this oddly sunny day. The words Reverend Bigelow said still float in the air in front of me.

I walk downstairs to greet this new life.

The living room is full of dahlias and gladiolas, chrysanthemums in a tasteful palette. Mom didn't want flowers, but we were slow getting the word out. It's too much, and it's what we can do.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

She is leaving the hospital.

She is leaving us. I want to sit in the back seat and hold her, but we rig up a way for her to be more comfortable, and there isn't room up there.

Becky looks like a blown egg, all shell and air--and that's exactly how I feel.

Mom's breath sounds heavy. She dozes, but we don't talk in case that would wake her. And then there's the fear that she doesn't wake up, that she slips away before we can get her home.

I tell myself we should have known. The statistics were never good for this disease. But that doesn't change this gaping yawn inside of me, inside of us.

More road, and more road, and then the night.

Monday, May 30, 2011

She is pale and frail, tiny on the hospital bed. Becky looks like knives held together by rubber bands. I can't imagine the mask of my face right now. I hug my mother as gently as I can. I hug Becky almost as gently.

I want to ask her how this happened--but I know it's no one's fault, and I'm afraid she'll think I'm blaming her, or I'm afraid she'll blame me for leaving.

This is not about me.

As Mom drifts into sleep, Becky gives me the update in whispers.

"They're still trying some chemo, hoping they can knock it back out."

"When will they know?"

"I'm not sure. Sometimes, the doctor's talking and the words go right past my head."

I try to hang on to her words now.

"She wants to go home."

"If it doesn't work?"

"I don't know. She just keeps saying that she wants to go home."

That doesn't sound good.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Too many wheels. I took the buses to South Bend, only to find a note on the door--they're in Seattle now, at the hospital. That can't be good. And I've wasted all this time.

But they had no way to get a hold of me.

So I'm on another bus. The wheels on the bus go… and I'm going.

I'm not a going kind of person. I'm a stayer.

The miles of Douglas fir stream by, stopped by patches of clear cut. A devastation or a living, depending on who signs your paycheck. Right now, I have no energy for those arguments. The knot in my gut sits hard.

I set my knitting down as the bus swings onto 101 South--it never makes sense when I want to be going North. Why can't the highway just go there, instead of criss-crossing like a sailboat tacking upwind. I think. Sailing is not my strong suit.

A couple more hours.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm on a plane again, and I feel so heavy that how can the wings possibly lift us into the air? We're trapped. I'm trapped.

Becky called with the news that Mom's had a reversal. She's back in the hospital. We have no time.

But it takes so much time to fly--first to anywhere I can get a flight to the U.S., and then the hours over the pole.

Oslo, which means one more flight, and then buses home.

My hands fidget like birds in cages, but I'm too restless to do anything.

Fear and grief sag in my gut--along with my last letter to Sevario. I told him I wasn't ready--which was a lie. How can I lie to someone I like so much? Is that what it is? Nattering through this takes my mind off my mother.

I could have told Sevario there'd been a death in the family--but that's a lie. No one has died. Not yet.

I'm scared--all the while the engines are revving up and the plane taxis down to the runway, while it gathers speed and somehow, against any physics I trust, lifts into the air.

Then my hands are tired of feeling empty. I pick up my needles and yarn.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I buy the ticket to Tenerife.

And I feel terrible.

I don't know what I'm going to tell Sevario, but I tell Henry I'm coming.

Lydia glares at me.

It's August, already everything ending--everything.

If I've never known what I'm doing, I know less now.

Then I get the phone call.

Friday, May 20, 2011

I tack each letter to the wall behind the cash register. It feels very public, but I want them close to me while I work at the store all day.

On one wall, I put up a map of Santiago. On the opposite wall, I place a map of Tenerife.

My indecision is on display, as though knowing the names of the streets will help me choose a destination, choose a life.

"It isn't a life, it's a vacation," Lydia says when she comes to retrieve her dog who has wandered in to sit on my feet.

But she knows it's more than that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"So Sevario wants you to come to Santiago."

I nod.

"And Henry wants you to go to Tenerife."

I nod again.

"Bird in the hand, Misha."

"My hands are empty." I look down at them. So empty.

"But Sevario wants to be with you. He flew thousands of miles to see you."

"It was for work."

"Yeah, I'll bet."

She's right.

"But this might be my only chance to meet Henry."

"And then what?"

"He says the dark is getting to him. Maybe some new drugs…"

"But he'll never long for 24-hour light. Misha, I know you are friends in the weird way we get to be friends here, but I think he's stringing you along. You assume that he's a good person. You make this wonderful story in your head. And he's a comfort, but you don't really know him."

Anger flashes. Lydia doesn't know him either. What is she implying? Then it subsides. I know she's right, but I don't want to say it. I'm not ready to say it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dear Misha,

It's from Henry. It seems ages since I've heard from him, even though we used to write letters only twice a year, only those notes we left for each other. I guess during that time over Christmas, I grew used to the cards and letters, and then he stopped.

Was it because he got cold feet, didn't want to meet in person?

After an absence, this card.

You've mentioned Tenerife. Let's meet there at the equinox.

My breath catches. This sounds impulsive, from Henry.

I'm sorry I haven't written. The darkness has started depressing me. It happens sometimes. To get sick in the sun and depressed in the dark--hardly a life to share with anyone. It's making me want a change--and I want to see you, want you to be part of that change.

I don't know what to say. I'm reading a letter. I don't have to say anything. I have to find Lydia.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Leave early.

Leave? I just got here.

Dear Misha, leave before the equinox and spend some time here in Santiago.

Ink jumps off the page. But it's not unreasonable. Sevario has come to visit me. It's my turn. And while it isn't the Canary Islands, it is a little closer to the middle.

On the flip side of the postcard, more scenes from Santiago--enticing.

For a moment, I allow myself to dream--six months of the year with Sevario and three at each of the earth's poles. As a fairy tale, it isn't bad. But how do you build a life together that way?

I don't have experience building a life with anyone, so I certainly don't know about this.

The door jangles, and a few more tourists wander in. One wants a map in German. One is looking for a book in English. I lead them to the right sections, and then I leave them alone so they can look on their own time.

I have my own looking to do. And I need my own time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Solstice. For us, the party lasts all night, a progressive feast that moves from house to house, cucumber salad, buttermilk soup, salmon with dill, cheese and cheese and cheese, a crab boil down by the harbor--and this year, a wedding.

At midnight, Lydia and Alex take hands and the Chief pulls a worn book from his pocket. We gather around to hear the vows. For now, we are solemn. And I think about last summer, about Alex and me, about Sevario so far away, and I feel like a rumple of yarn, all tangles and knots. Get over it, I remind myself. I want to be happy for my friends.

After the newlyweds kiss and Lydia flashes me her biggest small, we amble over to the restaurant for cake and Champagne. Rounds of toasts and congratulations.

In a lull, Lydia and I lean against the wall.

"It's your new life," I say.

"It's the same life. A good one. It's just moving along."

It's changing.

"We're all moving along," Lydia adds. "I just hope in the same direction."

I think about knitting booties.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sunlight burnishes the road while I sit in a patch of it and stir my coffee. I've seen three weeks of Norway, with no bad news from home. I'm beginning to get my northern legs and my language. I'm seeing friends again, and a few more people have joined us. One of the new women, Stella, is a crazy movie buff from Limoges, and so she's started screening movies every Wednesday night. It's so normal, and I welcome it.

But I must adjust to not having email anymore, or a phone. I'm back to postcards, and I check the mail every day. Words from Henry are far between. I think we've never gotten used to anything more than our twice-a-year notes. Anything else I guess is extra. And that tells me something. So I ask, how often have I written him?

Not so much since I met Sevario.

And he sends postcards and letters and once a box of sauces from his favorite shop in Santiago.

The bell above the door jingles, and a couple of customers wander into the store. Can I hear them speaking, know what language? I like to have an idea before they ask me a question--not that I have much of a repertoire. Mostly numbers and "thank you"--and the prices are posted anyway. But it helps me get my brain into gear. I don't like to be caught unprepared.

Next the door bumps a little, and Lily's dog pushes his way into the store. He likes it in here for some reason I can't guess. I also can't leave the store while customers are in it, so the pup and I sit by the counter and wait.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer north

Lydia rushes up to me at the gate hugs me hard. Something is different.

"Misha, I've missed you so much."

I hug her back, and then hold her apart to look at her.


"You can tell?"

I'm speechless.

"Alex and I are having a baby."

What do I say?


She starts to pick up my bag.

"Oh, no, I think I'll be getting that." I grab my satchel and we start toward the doors. Pregnancy is not slowing her down any.

"You're so happy. I'm happy for you."

"We'll have time to talk about all that later. I want to hear about your trip, and your mother."

I fill in the details on the drive back into Kirkenes. It's gray and raining, but it carries the promise of a long, long day--gray, but a long gray. I am glad to be back even as I'm taking in the new terrain. The land's the same, but my friendships are changing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I slip off my sandals and feel the linoleum on my bare feet. I haven't gotten used to this new ritual of flying, but then I haven't gotten used to flying.

I stare at the neck of the woman in front of me, and I think about hugging Mom and Becky good-bye. I can't tell whether Becky's upset with me for leaving or glad to see me go. Is it the friction between us, or is she just eager for the band-aid to be ripped off?

Mom was sad and happy. I know she doesn't want me to leave, and I know she doesn't want to keep me, doesn't want to lose me on some winding road. I promised I'd visit more often. And while none of us said it, we silently prayed that her good test results would keep coming back good. The negative that's a plus.

We shuffle forward and wait again. Then the flurry. I haul my bags up onto the conveyor belt and walk through the door. But my bags don't come through. The attendants scrutinize their screen.

"What are these?"

"Knitting needles."

"You can't take them on the plane."

I blush, feel the heat rising. I want to argue, but I know that will be bad. I want to run back and check that bag--but the cost is a lot more than a few pairs of knitting needles. I unzip the bag, carefully slide my knitting off the points and hope I'll be able to pick up all the stitches.

It's going to be a long flight for my hands.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dear Misha,

It's a letter from Henry. Sevario hasn't even reached the airport, and I start to feel the old pull.

Henry asks how my mother is doing, asks how I'm faring, whether it's light enough. He tells me news of Nido Claro. He mentions visiting, but he isn't specific. Has he cooled off, or have I?

I don't know anymore whether he's my friend or something more. Clearly, I'm drawn to long-distance relationships--friends and lovers, if I could even call it that.

But today I'm wanting something more. I set the letter in my bag, promising to answer it later, and head out to bring in the wash from the line.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sevario leaving feels like a ripping, like I'm missing part of my skin. In his eyes a sadness.

I tell myself it's only been a week, but it doesn't feel that way.

Tires crunch back down the gravel driveway, and then I wipe my eyes on my hands, wipe my hands on my jeans and go inside.

Back to my roots, I'm uprooted.

Mom isn't even here. She and Becky went to the clinic for some follow-up tests.

I pick up the gray wool I bought down South and work toward the end of a sleeve. I need more buttons. I need an anchor, or a sail.

The mail truck stops out front, then its growl grows distant. On a better day, I'd walk out, just to see.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lumpy clouds scud across the sun as the ferry chugs toward Bremerton. We've decided to ride the boat even though we have no good reason. The wind and the morning and fill us, and Sevario wraps his arms around me while the gulls sail alongside, looking for old French fries and other trash. The day is delicious, and I try to forget that we have only three left.

Then Sevario will return, fly to another continent--and that leaves me where?

"Misha, you need to do what's best for you. You need to make the decision," he said to me last night, and I thought about what's best for me. Kirkenes, and this constant hopping? Santiago, a sort of medium? Or here, in my old home? The rooms don't fit quite right, like a coat outgrown since last winter that still has a lucky tupence in the pocket.

What if I had only one permanent address, and a real job, with a paycheck and that bank account?

I'm not ready to do it. If Mom's still doing well, I'll book my flight to Norway.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm not telling this right. Lydia would want to throttle me, except she's met Sevario, so I don't need to fill in the details.

I could say what he looks like, facts like height or build or his curly hair, or his eyes that shift from laughter to inquiry like clouds drifting across the sun. Now I'm being melo-romantic.

But it's more the pull that I feel when I see him, the shudder when I hold his hand. He is my warm home. He, more than anyplace, feels like where I belong.

After dinner, we walk down First Avenue to Pioneer Square. By now, the neon is now, the bars are starting to fill, and the wind rolls off the bay at every intersection.

I nestle in close to Sevario, even though I'm used to wind and cold weather. I want this.

At the hotel, we climb the narrow flights of stairs to our small--and warm--room.

This is good.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The sun is already low over Puget Sound. It's a brisk afternoon, and I shudder.

"Is it the wind, or the evening?" Sevario asks.

We're sitting outside, and soon the bus boys will come to turn on the lamps. But for now, light plays the water's ripples like a mandolin, a thin vibrato across Elliott Bay. Then the gulls interrupt.

And I'm a little nervous.

We're spending the night here before we make the drive back to South Bend. I'm feeling virginal and I'm sitting across from a man who is a question mark, a question mark I'm feeling crazy for, and I don't know what to ask.

That makes me nervous.

"A little of both, but I have seen darkness before." Too many months of the year.

Fortunately, the salads arrive, and Sevario tells me a little more about his conference.

"I still don't get how a travel writer ends up covering Microsoft."

"I needed a way to see you. Do I sound crazy?" He is laughing. It is unreal. If this were a movie, something terrible would happen right now. Or something wonderful--that no one would believe.

"Very resourceful." Time to take another bite, sip some wine. Yes, I am the awkward girl.

"And I'm glad you came. But you know--"

"Shhhh-- let's eat and enjoy this. Oh, and let me tell you what they served for lunch."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is an hour to wander. I'm at loose ends, odds with myself or just odd. The company's campus erupts with flowers, so I walk the paths while people hurry past, caught in complex conversations. I feel grateful for the sun and the blooming. I don't know how I'll find my way back to the building where Sevario is, but I find a pond and a bench and I sit and knit and feel absolutely out of place, and it's so nice out that I don't care.

His meeting has become a conference, so I will be here for a while, and I don't have a badge, because I hadn't thought of that. Eating and peeing become primary concerns. I ask a woman about a visitor's center, and she reels off the name of a building. I need a map. People aren't unfriendly, they're just distracted, or I'm the distraction.

I figure distracting a receptionist isn't so bad, and she gives me a map with the building circled. It's a jaunt, but I still have hours. So much for a day to spend with my--lover? We've been taking this very slow, and now it's too slow. I'm too into this to not know what it is.

Yuck, I'm starting to sound like pop-psychology, the dog-eared books that no one checked out of the high school library.

I think maybe we'll talk on the ride back. I'm ready to talk. Talk is not what I want.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sevario drives like a mad man!

He's from a big city. He knows traffic. He battles it.

I'm not from a big city, and I live on the outskirts of time and geography, watch out for reindeer and hard weather.

By Tacoma, we're out of talk again. Traffic streams through town, and then we're back on the outskirts, passing car dealerships and auto-body repair shops and sex-toy stores. Get all your shopping done at once.

I grip the arm rest and try to move so that he can't tell.

"You're nervous."

"Up here--we need to take this exit."

He sidles the car across three lanes of traffic and onto the ramp to Highway 520. Now we're at the choke point, and we crawl the bridge through Portage Bay. It's beautiful--one of my favorite views.

I want to ask Sevario more about this meeting, or interview, that he has. But I'm afraid I won't understand any of the details. For the fifty-second time I wonder what we're doing. And he puts his hand on my thigh and he hums a little tune and the sun burnishes the lake.

Why do I need to know what we're doing?

Because I need to know where I'm going next, and who I'm going with. I've been floating down the currents for seven years and I'm almost 30 and yes, I miss Henry. Yes, it's been easy to dream about a life with him--safe because it's impossible. But now I'm sitting in a car with a man who lives hundreds--and hundreds--of miles away from anywhere I stay, and he swerves into the left lane.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Long stretches of silence. Taut at first, the way it is between two people who just met.

Easier when the sun comes up, and the roadside streams by us. I begin to feel comfortable.

I'd feel better asking questions, but we've been through the usual inquiries after family and work and his recent travels and my mother's health and my sister's reticence.

"Your sister doesn't like me."

Becky has been very formal, distant--the way you'd treat someone you just bumped into accidentally on the train.

"It isn't that. She doesn't know you. She just needs to worry about something, and Mom's doing better, so she's back to worrying about me."

"I don't want her to worry."

We round the edge of the Sound, join the Interstate's northward rush.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sevario fits in with my family beautifully. It's like watching a stranger enter your life. He is a stranger entering my life.

He tells wrestles with the boys and tells them stories his trips to the Galapagos islands. He cooks for us, becomes a fixture in the kitchen and fills the house with spicy warm aromas. As much as I enjoy having him here, I can tell that my mom enjoys it, too--and Becky is nervous. I always thought I was the nervous one.

"How did you meet him?" She's asked me.

"Have you?" No.

"And he's coming all the way up here to see you?"

Good question. And I want to be a trusting person--and yes, I've wondered. But I like him, I feel good about him, good with him--and it's not like he can cheat me out of anything because I don't have anything.

"It's just my bad luck to meet men who live far away."

She sighs and twirls a dishrag. I sigh and think she asks for too much.

On Monday, we climb into Sevario's car before dawn cracks. He has a 10:00 AM interview at Microsoft, and this is really the first time we've been alone since he arrived.

The highway winds through the darkness, the acres of trees on either side like invisible sentinels. I can feel them there, but I can't see them.

"Your mother does not look well."

"What do you mean? She looks fantastic."

"She looks so frail."

"But if you'd seen her a month ago…"

I'm comparing apples to apples. Mom a year ago would be an orange. She is getting stronger.

"So are you going to stay here?"

"Everyone asks me, and I don't know."

"Because of your father?"

I look out the side window.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Saturday hangs long. I pin the wash on the line and sweep the kitchen five times, and Mom teases me. She's enjoying this.

"You know, if you had your license, you could have picked him up?"

That's a long drive. For anyone.

"He wanted to get his own car. He's a journalist."


She's definitely feeling better.

The wind's blowing in. The sheets and blouses snap on the line. Questions fly through me like flocks of geese. I am obvious.

"Maybe you should bake a cake."


"Just trying to give you something to so."

That was her way to cope. My father would leave, and my mother would bake. A parade of pies, with fruit she'd canned in summer, and cakes--Black Forest, German Chocolate, Lady Charlotte, Angel Food, Devil's Food. We ate our way through winter.

I am not in the mood for butter and flour just now.

Gravel curves up the drive from the road. At about five o'clock I hear tires.

Sevario is getting out of the car and I kind of hurry toward him and then I slow down, not sure how to look, how to act, what to say.

"Welcome to South Bend." We hug, a distant-cousin sort of hug. My mother's on the front porch.

Sevario holds me at arm's length, looking at me.

"I almost can't believe this. I'm here."

I almost can't believe it either.

"Come meet my mom."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

He left his number. Crazy long distance, but you do only live once. That's what my mother says when I mention it. Living still feels like a scary topic of conversation--what we want so badly.

I sit on the little stool in the kitchen alcove and dial the long string of numbers. (Dial--I remember when phones had them.) Will he sound fuzzy?

"Hola." He doesn't.

"Hola, Sevario. Soy Misha."

Now he speaks quickly, and I have to think quickly to keep up. He has a ticket. He's coming up. Don't leave for Norway yet.

I ask how he gets the time off. I wonder how he can afford it. I realize that I'm slightly obsessed (can you be slightly obsessed) with money, with not having money. In my usual life, it doesn't come up, because I don't need much. But here, and thinking about traveling, meeting Henry.

Henry. I'm spending dollars a minute on the phone and my mind is wandering between these two men.

And Sevario is actually coming. He says he travels so much for work that he doesn't take many vacations. And he's pairing it with a story on Microsoft, right near by.

I explain that it's actually hours away--a lot of hours. He brushes this off. He can meet my mother, my sister. He tells me his flight details. He's coming in a week.

We have spare bedrooms. He doesn't want to impose. He'll find a motel room. I tell him it might be rustic, or rundown, or just plain crappy. The Chamber of Commerce would not be loving me right now. He says not to worry.

I hang up and all the feelings zing through my body--wonder, worry, bliss.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I sink onto the old brown sofa. Mom is feeling better, so we went driving around and did a little shopping. She must realize that I don't have a valid license anymore (not even in Norway), but in our spring fever we're complicit.

I've got some soup heating on the stove, Mom's dozing in her favorite chair, and we have a while before Becky whirls in with the boys. When I ask about her husband, she doesn't say much. I'm hoping this is a good thing. As if I'd know.

Mom stirs.

"You know, you really don't have to stay."

Part of me sinks deeper.

"Are you trying to get rid of me?"

She holds a sigh in and then lets it out.

"I just don't think you're going to stay happy here. Don't you want to be with your friends?"

More than anything, but that's only half of it.

"I want to be with you."

She has another check next week. If it goes well…

I can smell the soup coming to a boil. I start to get up.

"I forgot to tell you--you had a call this morning. From a Sevario?"

Friday, March 4, 2011

"I could work at the drive-in."

"It's high-school kids at the drive-in."

"They have a help-wanted sign."

"Don't you want to spend the time with Mom?"

I take that as a jab, a guilt-cicle stabbing into this spring day.

I start to explain about the anxiety--about Mom. I don't want to get into my doubts about my life. She's my sister, but that's still too fragile. She knows me too well.

"Misha, you're going to leave, anyway."

I'm trapped.

"I don't know."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The house feels like it's swarming with kids. It doesn't take many to fill the rooms, full spectrums of joy and whining and fighting and playing. It's fun. After school, I take them on long walks, and then I come back to stay with Mom while Becky's family heads over to her house.

It's a pattern. I'm getting used to it. I think about not going back to Norway or Chile. The days are getting longer, and so it's easier to think that.

Lydia's letters are worded carefully, to avoid any allegiance. And what do I have there? A shop, friends, light. Here, a family, all of it I've got. How could this be so hard?

And on another day, I realize that I just might miss the solstice, that I'm missing my favorite season in my favorite place, and then it feels hard, a tearing kind of hard.

All this time lets me wallow in worry and wondering. I need some kind of a job.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The house looks the same.

We help Mom up the four steps to the porch, and Becky unlocks the door. Inside, light filters through lace curtains into the hall's dim cave. It smells the same.

I start to bring in bags from the car. Part of me wants to run upstairs and see my old room. But I'll have time.

"Mom, I want to go see the kids, and then I'll stop by with some groceries later."

"I can go get something."

"No, it's okay. I have a car."

The screen door shuts behind her. It isn't that warm, so I close the door.

"Let's find some sweaters and sit outside," Mom says. I hadn't thought about how she might be feeling cooped up, hadn't thought about her flower beds or her garden--way behind by now, a season lost.

I gather wraps from closets and drawers, and pick up some blankets, too. We settle into the chairs on the front porch.

"It's good to be back home."

I assent silently.

"How long will you be here?"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Moving day again. We're bringing Mom back to South Bend. She's finished her treatments, and the doctors think she's doing well. Her screens are clear.

This is the first time I've been home in seven years. We get all the bags into the car, and it isn't really that much.

"Mom, where do you want to sit?"

She's going to give me the front seat, and I'm going to decline. I get into the back of the little blue car, and she settles into the front, and Becky's all business.

Traffic is heavy and fierce as we drive the highway south toward Tacoma. We pass the car lots and body-repair shops, the malls and the malls and the malls. I've enjoyed my stay in the city, and now I'm remembering the less picturesque parts of normal life.

The cars thin out down toward Olympia, and then we turn off--head north to go west--into the woods.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It's been a month. We're close to May, and Mom is no close to better.

Letters come and go. I stay.

Becky and I are at the hospital, waiting to drive Mom back after her appointment.

"You don't have to stay."

"What do you mean? I want to stay."

"But you want to go."

I hear guilt. I don't know if that's what she means, but that's what I hear.

"I do, and I don't. I want to be here with you and Mom."

Her silence means, But you left us before, and I know that I will not be forgiven.

I stay. I knit and I stay.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dear Misha,

This is bigger than a postcard. What can we say to each other? We've barely known each other for a few days--in person, at least. But I want to know.

Thank you for sending me your new mail address. I don't know how long it takes a letter to reach the States, but I hope this finds you well. And I hope that your mother is doing better.

That sounds very formal. I don't know what to say to you. We barely know each other, and yet I feel like I've known you for a hundred years. Now I sound--corny, I think that's the word. I will work on my english, but you must work on your spanish. Now I sound--bossy is the word I think. I'm not trying to be bossy.

I could tell you about autumn, or how much I'd like to see you again, and how crazy that sounds, and where? Really, I'd rather hear about you and your mother and your sister, about the light in Seattle and all the fish.

Please, if you get a chance, write to me. Let me read your voice.

With felicitations,


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Next, I pick up Lydia's envelope. It's thick, and when I open it, I find a handful of photographs.

The day balls up in my chest. A few deep breaths, and I'm able to look through them, reminders of home--my little house, the store, the harbor, a picture of Lydia and Alex, and one of a puppy. Hmmm…

Lydia's letter fills in some of the details. Alex has moved in with her, and they've gotten a puppy named Loki. Her story starts out so sweetly, and then she becomes Lydia, detailing the whining through the night, and the walking and the housebreaking, and pretty soon it will be chewing, and why did they name him Loki--what were they thinking? It's still sweet, but it's in Lydia's familiar way.

She asks how my mother is doing, and what it's like being home, or sort of home, or used-to-be home.

None of us ever really goes home to visit our families. I suppose it's the money, and the fact that we feel we need this cycle--a kind of desperation not to leave.

We're not a cult, but I guess some days we look like one.

She fills the pages with some more news.

Nilsa is keeping the store for you, although no one comes yet.

This is good. I don't know why I didn't think to ask Nilsa before I left. She helps me sometimes at the height of the season. If only I had enough business to keep her on all the time.

Not to the bakery, either. In the middle of summer, we tire of the tourists, but you know how slow this time of year goes.

I rest my hands in my lap, still holding the letter, and feel so lucky for everything I have.

The sun will sink below the buildings soon. I pick up Sevario's letter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Henry's handwriting jumps to me from the page. His voice, as I know it.

How are you? It seems strange to think of you not in our house--to think of you somewhere I've never been. Sometimes, I forget that we've had lives before this.

He does not mention coming to see me. I thought he might, since we've both been saving money. I need to stop thinking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's a bright moment--a sunbreak as we say here--and I take a walk, look for a little park to sit. It's warm enough, as though fickle Spring has brought her bags and intends to stay. A day for feeling good.

And I have letters, a bonanza of letters--one from Lydia, one from Henry, and one from Sevario.

I open Lydia's first, and she talks of Kirkenes. It's still early for tourists, but she's enjoying the quiet and trying out a few new pastry tricks. She asks when I'll be coming back.

I feel so far away, as though I've traveled to a different life. I guess I have.

Next envelope, please.

Dear Misha,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

We move Mom out on a Monday, day after the equinox. We don't any of us have a lot of stuff--except for the medications. And a mountain of paperwork.

All night the March wind roared. I lay awake listening to the wind and thinking about my friends and their journeys--Lydia and the rest moving back up to Norway, Henry heading south. Soon, maybe right now, he'll find my letter in the cookie jar. I want to be there, back at my little store--although, for daylight, I'm probably better off here. I still feel like a stranger here, but I also feel like it's right. I sit with Mom, both of us half-listening while Becky gets more discharge instructions from the nurse.

The wind is still gusting. Plum petals fly like stray snowflakes and stick to the sidewalks in small drifts.

It's hard to see my mother in a wheelchair, but it's the rules and she still looks weak, so we roll her out to the car and drive the five blocks to our new home--a one-bedroom apartment. We'll put Mom in the living room, and Becky and I will share the bedroom. We debated this.

"She'll need her rest," Becky argued.

"But we don't want her to feel isolated--shoved aside."

We finally decided to try it this way and then switch if it doesn't work.

After we settle Mom in, Becky heads out to the store for groceries.

"I can go, if you want."

"When is the last time you drove a car? And I want something besides beans."

The door closes, and suddenly this is even stranger than the hospital.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mom is still woozy. Later, they tell us, she'll have some pain. I feel like we're in a torture chamber, and all I can do is watch.

I keep waiting for her self to arrive in her face.

She rests lightly. We breathe carefully. We do not speak.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The nurse is rushed but friendly and directs me to a station on the fifth floor. I walk the hallways to the elevator banks, passing the art and the directions and all the confusing signs that make this look like home and not home, an ordinary office and not an office, a hive humming with its own community and a last stop.

I haven't been good at asking for things, any kind of things, but here I tell myself that people are here to help people like us.

And they do.

I return to Mom's room with a list of nearby buildings that rent furnished apartments, month-to-month, and I'm feeling a little good about taking the initiative. I did something! Becky's as surprise as I am--it's a step she'd usually take, and it makes me realize how crushed and busy she's been, stretched between Mom and the illness and her family and then me gone so far away.

"We can take a look maybe tomorrow," I add.

"We'll have to see how Mom's doing--although they tend to boot you out so fast these days, we may need a place right away."

We each pick up our needles again. The clock does not compromise.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I think about my new email account, wonder if any messages have come in. This is new for me. I didn't need it before. I love the mail. But having taken transience to a new level, I want to stay in touch with something.

And yet I'm here with my family. How much more in touch can I be? Who can be more important than that?

It's only been a couple of hours. We have a ways to go.

I think about the crew preparing to move north. I miss Lydia. She's like my other sister, someone to chide me and comfort me. And the Chief is like a replacement father. I moved away and gathered a new family to rely on. I've floated along on the current and let them steer me. I guess it's one way to live. But it's starting to feel lonely.

I set down my needles.

"I'm just going to walk down the hall."

"What do you need?"

"I just want to ask a question."


"I'll be right back."

I'm lonely and I want to be alone. Yes, I'm a mess, but I'm walking down the corridor.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I take some knitting out of my bag. Hospital time is like elevator time--its own physics.

Breakfast was something of a joke--we each got a bagel, took a few bites, and then looked at it. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to taste the cream cheese, taste the dried onions and garlic and the seeds.

"We should probably wrap them up and take them with us," Becky suggested.

"And eat them when?"

"You're right."

Even though we were raised not to waste things--especially not to waste food--we pitched the mostly uneaten bagels and walked back to the hospital.

"Should we wait in the room? Where do we wait?"

"I don't know," Becky said. She stopped at the nurses' station and asked.

"She said we'd probably be more comfortable in the room. They'll let us know when Mom's out of surgery."

So here we are, and the hours stretch like bum on the bottom of a shoe.

"I have some more needles, if you want something to do."

"Sure," Becky says with relief.

We share a few moments digging through the yarn, and then we both settle into our chairs, needles clicking. This is better.

But now, with no worries about my sister and big worries about my mother and needles working their meditative way, I start to think about Sevario and Henry. While I'm knitting a sweater, my thoughts unravel.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The wheel sounds fade as the gurney goes down the hallway.

"We should get something to eat," Becky says.

"But you want to wait. I want to wait."


Sunlight lands in improbable places, playing with the sterility.

"Not the cafeteria. Have you found anything good close by?"

"I haven't been out much, but there's a bagel place, maybe some other stuff."

I don't want to admit that I'm starving. Or my stomach is twisting from nerves. Probably that, but I also haven't eaten since a different time zone.

"Let's just run out quickly. Keep our strength up."

We stare at the splotch-pattern floor, and then we both stand up. An agreement. We want to be quick, but we move as though we're walking through water.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I miss the hotel's wake-up call, and I have 10 minutes to throw on some clothes and rush to the hospital before they wheel Mom off to surgery.


I pull on yesterday's jeans and slide into a T-shirt and a sweater. The beauty of not having a lot of stuff is that I don't have many decisions to make. I wish these were cleaner.

By the time I reach the elevator bank at the hospital, I'm sweating anyway and gasping and my legs ache. It's only a few blocks, but I don't run much, and running isn't the same as walking.

Elevator time has its own physics, and I'm out of practice. It takes forever for a car to arrive. After people flow in, almost every button is lit. I don't have a watch, so I don't know how much longer I have, or whether I'm too late.

The hallway looks familiar and I skitter toward the room.

They both look up.

"I made it!"

"Just barely," Becky points out. Thanks, Becky. This is starting to feel more normal, in a weird way.

"How are you?" I ask Mom.

"As ready as I'm going to be," she says, and I hope she isn't scared. How can she not be scared? It's been one long, frightening tunnel. Or maybe I'm projecting. That's silly. She must be scared. I take her hand.

"What have you girls decided to do with your time today?"

"Mom, we'll be waiting for you," Becky says.

"Well, get something to eat, at least--something good."

Someone in a uniform comes in, and Becky and I shrink toward the walls. She checks Mom's chart and asks, "Are you ready?" She sounds like Yes is the only answer, and like this happens every day.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm at a loss without a mailbox.

As long as I can remember, I've waited for the hour--or the day--the mail was delivered. Not that I often received anything. But this, to me, has been the definition of hope. Something good could be on its way even now.

But I have no forwarding address, and I don't know how long I'll be here. So I know that no mail is coming to me.

The hospital is temporary--we hope. Becky's been staying here, but three of us in a room is tight. I'm not accustomed to luxury, but I also find it hard to sleep in a chair. I suggest getting a hotel room, but that would be temporary, too.

"But an apartment will take time to look for, and deposits, and maybe a lease…" I sound like the whiny sister.

In the end, we agree that I'll try to get a room at the chain place a few blocks down the street. Becky will stay with mom until she goes into surgery. I'll come back in the morning, and we'll take it from there.

It's a pain to be negotiating all these annoying details, but it's a relief, too. Something concrete to think about, to do.

And the hotel has a business center, so I can send email to the internet café in Puerto Williams, let the Chief know my address. Maybe I can send mail to Sevario, too. This is all new to me.

All of it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"They say my prognosis is pretty good."

I don't want to disagree with her. I've read the statistics, but if she can find a bright side to look on, I can, too.

"I worry about the kids, though."

"Mom, they'll be okay. I'm sure they just miss you."

Now the air hangs between us.

"So tell me, are you seeing anyone? How about that Alex?"

"That didn't really happen." It didn't happen at all. Hopes are being scrapped. "He and Lydia are together now."

"Ah, the Vixen," Becky says as she walks back into the room.

"Vixen? She isn't a Vixen. She's my best friend."

"I thought the Ghost Man was your best friend."

"The Ghost Man?"

"Relax, Honey. Your sister has nicknames for all your friends."

"The ones we know about…"

"So, the Ghost Man?"

"I think his name is Henry," my mother explains, and I start to blush.

"No!" Becky exclaims. "You can't be having a thing with the Ghost Man."

I am so transparent.

"You two can't live in the same place at the same time."

"I'm not 'having a thing' with Henry," and I'm still blushing. "He's a friend. Why are we scrutinizing my love life?"

Vixen? Ghost Man? None of us is a great correspondent, and our letters tend to be formal--and quick. Little notes to check in. I'm not used to this much joshing, or how much I've told them about my life. It's uncomfortable, like being naked, and it's wonderful, a kind of belonging.

"It's kind of relief not to talk about cancer for five minutes," my mother says.

Wait until I tell them about Sevario.

Monday, February 7, 2011

She looks small in her bed. I guess hospital beds do that to everyone. But I can see her smile when we open the door.


I rush over to her, and then I worry--how to hold her.

"Come here! I'm still breathin'."

I fold my arms around her carefully.

On the drive in, Becky explained that they've admitted her for surgery. Somehow, that timing worked out--they're in town right when I arrive.

"And the surgery isn't dangerous," Becky had added. "It's routine--I mean, as much as this gets."

After the surgery, Mom will have chemo, so it makes sense to stay in town for a while.

"What about a hospital closer to home--Olympia, or Vancouver?" I'd asked.

"These guys are the best," Becky declared. I couldn't argue with that.

Now my sister went out in the hallway to call her family, and I had time to really sit with my mother, to look at her and to try to see how she'd changed since her trip to Oslo.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We land in the drizzle, the mist. The sky would be gray if it weren't already dark. Familiar, just as the SeaTac airport is familiar, even though everything has changed.

I follow the stream of travelers to the baggage claim. I didn't bring much, but that's where Becky will be waiting.

And now I can see her, and I almost shatter--it's been so long, so much too long.

"Hi," and we practically fall together hugging. I brush the back of my hand across my eyes, and my stomach is in my throat.

"Let's get your bags."

"This is all I brought."

She tries not to look concerned.

"Then let's go."

The windshield wipers make a metronome as we pull onto the highway.

"Mom's still here in town, and I'm with her, looking for a place to rent. If it's a while, I'm thinking of bringing the kids."

I want to ask if that's such a good idea, breaking up their routine--but I have no kid-raising expertise.

"I just want to help out however I can."

"The first thing is to see Mom."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Turbulence. In some ways, it's a comfort--the outside world, the air holding this plane, feels just as crazy as I do.

When I called Becky, she was in full take-charge mode, while I was trying not to fall into pieces. I guess that's what people do. They act first, do what needs to be done, and feel it all crash on them later.

I think about those years, my father swinging in and out of our lives, my mother steady, standing at the kitchen counter shelling peas after a day of work, and then going out in the evenings to weed the garden. I think about her sitting on the porch when my father was home, sipping a beer and watching the evening settle like moths around us, winged and feathered.

The plane shudders and bucks a little. Juice sloshes in my cup.

The memories arrive like postcards. I want to write on the back of each one, save it safe in a drawer.

I want more.

Friday, February 4, 2011


The loudspeaker fades with a dry crackle. Boarding has been delayed.

I swivel the postcard rack. Nothing looks quite right.

And it's hard to believe that I'm in Santiago--in the airport, anyway--and I had no way to reach Sevario, to let him know.

Don't be silly, I remind myself. He has a job.

But would a postcard be good? Something to pass the time. My sweater feels hot and itchy.

I hate to travel. I hate to travel alone. And I'm alone.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The floor falls away, but my house is small, and a chair is close. I fumble the envelope open.

Dear Misha,

My sister's neat, round writing blurs.

Dear Misha,

Mom has cancer. It's pancreatic. They're starting treatment right away, and they speak in hopeful voices, but I don't think she has much time. I'm sorry to send this news in the mail. Please come home soon.

The day stops. And isn't this what I feared--another bad thing?

I'm still shaking, but I reach into the cookie jar and pull out my cash.

It's time to see the Chief.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's been five days since my sister's letter arrived, and I'm ready to phone her. But a call is expensive, and I don't know whether she'll be there, whether she'll answer. She must have a cell phone, but I don't have her number. This is ridiculous.

How long does it take to run these tests? How long until the results come back from the lab?

I'm knitting like a mad woman. I've stopped reading books. I'm desperate now for cash--and news. I could make another trip to Ushuaia, maybe find some kind of late-Autumn customers looking for pullovers or cardigans. But I don't want to leave and miss the mail.

I hear steps outside, and a quick knock, and Alex opens the door. A swale of health and energy.


I set my needles down.

"No, come on in. I'll make you some tea."

"I won't stay. I'm making the mail rounds today, and I brought you this."

The thin blue envelope looks extra fragile in his hand. I take it slowly.

"Good luck," he adds as he closes the door.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Saturday market--bushels of onions, squash, and more crab. The fresh vegetables dwindle, and I wonder what Henry and the others eat all winter.

Food is a simple distraction. I haven't heard again from Becky. I'm waiting, certain another letter must be on the way. I'm trying not to jump to conclusions, because my conclusions are always the worst. I'm trying and failing.

People mill among the stalls. I pay for my squash and start back up the hill, toward the Chief's house. The walk feels steeper today, harder. I haven't wanted to talk to him yet, not until I knew something for sure.

Why do I think I'll know anything for sure?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stone silent, stone cold, bone empty, the air sucked out.

I read the letter again, and the questions yawn in front of me. What has happened since she sent this? What tests? How did they come out?

I read the letter a third time.

...if the news isn't good.

"Misha, what--?"

Lydia rushes from behind the counter.

Now I'm crying, and I can't stop.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I slit open the envelope, knowing I should write to my sister more often.

Dear Misha,

Mom isn't doing well. We went up to Seattle for some tests and are waiting to hear back, either an answer or more tests. By the time you get this, I might know something. If I do, I'll send it along.

But I wish you were here, and I hope you can find some way to get home if the news isn't good. I don't want to make a big deal if it's nothing, but I'm worried. Keep a prayer for us.



Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I have to turn over the postcard now.

Dear Misha,

Just wanted to say I'm thinking about you.

Heading next week to La Serena--not in the right direction yet.

How are things with you?

See you soon, I hope.

Still here,