Evvie lay awake on the floor in the dark. More specifically, on the floor of the empty little apartment that jutted awkwardly from the back of her house into the yard. She was there because, upstairs in her own bed, she’d had another dream where Tim was still alive.
Evvie’s Scandinavian grandmother had claimed that young women dream about the husbands they want, old women dream about the husbands they wanted, and only the luckiest women, for a moment in the middle, dream about the husbands they’ve got. But even accounting for the narrow ambitions this formulation allowed, Evvie’s dreams about Tim were not what her nana had in mind.
He was always angry at her for leaving. Do you see what happened? he would say, again and again. He’d felt so close this time that she’d dreamed his cinnamon-gum breath and the little vein on his forehead, and she was afraid if she turned over and went back to sleep, he’d still be there. So she’d thrown off the blankets and made her way down to the first floor of the house that had always been too big and was much too big now. Descending the wide curved staircase still felt like transgressing, like sneaking down to the front desk of a hotel late at night to ask for extra towels. She’d stopped in the kitchen to put on a pot of water for tea, come directly into the apartment, and stretched out on her back to wait.
When they’d first bought the house—when he’d first bought the house—they’d planned to rent out the apartment. But they never got around to it, so Evvie had painted it her favorite shade of peacock blue and used it like a treehouse: KEEP OUT. It was still her favorite place in the house and would remain so, unless Tim’s ghost started haunting it just to say he’d noticed a few little bubbles in the paint, and it would really look better if she did it over.
Nice, she’d thought to herself when that thought first intruded. Welcome to Maine’s most ghoulish comedy club. Here is a little joke about how my husband’s ghost is kind of an asshole. And about how I am a monster.
It was a little after four in the morning. Flat on her back in her T-shirt and boxers, she took rhythmic breaths, trying to slow the pounding in her temples and belly and wrists. The house felt empty of air and was totally silent except for the clock that had ticked out pick-a-pick-a for thirty-five years, first in her parents’ kitchen and now in hers. In the dark apartment, she felt so little of anything, except the prickle of the carpet on her skin, that it was like not being anywhere at all. It was like lying directly on top of the earth.
Evvie thought from time to time about moving in here. Someone else could have the house, that big kitchen and the bedrooms upstairs, the carved banister and the slick staircase where she’d once slipped and gotten a deep purple bruise on her hip. She could live here, stretched out on her back in the dark, thinking all her worst thoughts, eating peanut butter sandwiches and listening to the radio like the power was out forever.
The kettle whistled from the kitchen, so she stood and went to turn it off. She took down one of the two public-radio fundraising mugs from the cabinet, leaving behind the one with the thin coat of dust on its upturned bottom. The tag on her chamomile teabag said, There is no trouble that a good cup of tea can’t solve. It sounded like what a gentleman on Downton Abbey would say right before his wife got an impacted tooth and elegantly perished in bed.
Blowing ripples in her tea, Evvie went into the living room where there was somewhere to sit and curled up on the deep-green love seat. There was a Sports Illustrated addressed to Tim sticking out of the pile of mail on the coffee table, and she paged through it by the wedge of light from the kitchen: the winding down of baseball season, the gearing up of football season, an update on a college gymnast who was quitting to be a doctor, and a profile of a Yankees pitcher who woke up one day and couldn’t pitch anymore. That last one was under a fat all-caps headline: “HOW TO BECOME A HEAD CASE.” “Way ahead of you,” she muttered, and stuck the magazine at the bottom of the pile.