A healing place

Will’s father put what he needed in the trunk of his silver-gray Chrysler and drove out of Miami, heading north, destination unknown.

He drove all day and all night, stopping only for gas and chocolate bars. “The only way to deal with this,” he said aloud over the Beethoven blasting from the tape deck, “is to keep driving.”

Every time he felt the loneliness and the horror (the horror never diminished) welling up inside him, that’s what he kept telling himself: Just keep driving.

Then it hit him, with a shudder, the sudden remembrance of something Will had said to him during their last phone conversation, Sunday, October 23. The father had been saying how sick he was of living in Florida, with the politics and the guns and the anger, and Will said, “You need a new gig.”

“Yeah, but what?”

They kicked around a couple of crazy ideas, from the father going back to college (to finally get that law degree), to becoming a beachcomber in British Columbia.

And then Will asked him, “Do you like to drive?”

His father didn’t ponder the question, just said, “Not particularly. I like to rent luxury Lincoln Town Cars and drive down the New York State Thruway,” as he had done the year before after visiting Will in a psychiatric hospital in Toronto.

Now, as he drove north from Miami he realized he should have probed the question and asked Will why he had asked him that. Had Will, crazy psychic Will, seen into the future, seen the outcome, seen his father driving north, directionless?

That last conversation ended with Will asking his father, “What are you going to do?”

His father replied, “I’m sorry to say I don’t know at this moment, but I’ll have a plan by the time I call you next Sunday. It will definitely involve getting out of Florida and possibly moving back to Canada.”

“Well, good luck,” said Will, and his father said, “You too.” And that was the end of the conversation. It was forty-two minutes in duration.

Just keep driving.

He drove through Georgia and the Carolinas and Virginia and Washington, D.C., and Maryland and Delaware and New Jersey and New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts and by the time he glided into New Hampshire he made a startling discovery about himself: Dammit to hell, he did like to drive!

“Yes, Will,” he shouted with fatigue and a crazy sort of joy, “I do like to drive.”

He took Interstate 93 up the spine of the Granite State and in a small town in the middle of the White Mountains he stopped dead. Dead but alive.

He decided to go no further. He rented a furnished apartment on the bank of the Pemigewasset River.

He drove down Main Street to the hardware store and bought a large outdoor thermometer, a knife for gutting and filleting fish, and an Estwing (unbreakable handle in normal use) stainless steel hatchet. He wasn’t sure why he bought the hatchet, but it seemed a beneficial tool.

He went to the general store and stocked his refrigerator with Moosehead beer and the cupboard with cans of soup, salmon and sardines and settled in. He was alone in the north woods. He had a wife in Miami, an ex-wife in Toronto and a son in Thornhill Cemetery.

He attached the thermometer to the railing of the deck. It was noon in August and it was 58 degrees. He sat on the deck and listened to the river moving rapidly fifty feet down the hill.

A fox trotted across the grass below. Birds were profuse. He watched a hummingbird hover briefly above the railing. A beaver was rummaging down by the river. A mist hung over the first range of distant hills, and the second and third ranges were lost in cloud.

This was a healing place. A place to think. To sort it all out.

He thought about Ward 3C, where he had visited Will on his second to last visit to Toronto — an anxious flight from Miami.

His thoughts turned to the time his watch — an expensive gold Seiko his current wife had given him a few months earlier — stopped at 10:52 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2. It was the day after Will’s funeral. The father was in a hotel room in Toronto, yelling in his Xanax and beer bewilderment that he was going to kill Ainsley, the psychiatrist who had released Will from Ward 3C, perhaps before he should have.

The father had taken out a little black notebook in which he’d been keeping a record of past events and angrily scratched in with his pen: AINSLEY! THURSDAY! Apparently to confront him the next day and — do what? Threaten him? Kill him?

And that’s when the sweep second hand on his Seiko stopped dead. The batteries were supposed to last up to four years — he had been told this — and yet they gave out at that precise moment. Why then, at that very second?

The father considered the possibility that Will or Will’s spirit had stopped the watch because of what his father had been yelling about Ainsley, knowing, as Will now possibly did, that his father was on the wrong track, that it wasn’t Ainsley’s fault, or anyone’s fault.

The next day the father put the question to his ex-wife. She had a spirituality and a wisdom he admired. “Do you think Will stopped the watch because I was threatening to do something to Ainsley?”

“That’s possible,” she said. “But more likely, 10:52 p.m. Wednesday was the moment Will ascended to heaven.”

The father was about as irreligious as you could get, but he loved the way his ex-wife’s mind worked.

“That was All Soul’s Day, sweetheart,” — (they had been divorced nine years, but that day she called him sweetheart) — “when Christians pray for the souls who are being purified in purgatory so they may enter heaven.” The funeral had been held the day before, so it made sense, even to a pagan.

The father never got his watch fixed. It was a valuable clue, a historical artifact. He’d never tamper with stuff like that. It was found in his apartment, still frozen at 10:52.

It had been nine months since Will died and his father was still working it out. When his current wife phoned him at ten o’clock that night, she went on and on about how hot and unbearable it had been in Miami that day and even at ten o’clock at night for that matter and he told her his outdoor thermometer indicated it was 58 degrees at noon there that day and of course even cooler at ten o’clock at night and she went, “Big deal.”

Then she said, “What’s happening to us?”

“I underestimated the gravitational gap,” he told her.

“The what?”

“Me being up here and you being down there,” he explained.

“Are you breaking up with me?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said thoughtfully. “Like I said, I underestimated the gravitational gap.”

She didn’t say anything for a while and then she said, “This is a nightmare,” and hung up.

But she wasn’t about to give up her 75K job to join him up there — and he was glad of it. She couldn’t help him. He had to do this alone. He had been driven by something more than a V-8 engine to this northern place.

The next day he drove to Laconia Harley-Davidson in Meredith, N.H., and bought a Super Glide Low Rider. He’d been thinking about it since driving north. The dealer secured it on a trailer hitched to the Chrysler and Will’s father headed back to his northern pad.

The purpose of the bike was to hurtle helmet-less (no damn helmet law in New Hampshire) up and down the narrow, winding back roads, waiting for a two-ton pickup with Live Free Or Die plates to heave over the next rise, across the center line.

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