in the soft bed. But the bed is empty, the mountain of quilts and blankets deceiving.
I return to the kitchen and gently push the door open.
He is sitting in an Adirondack chair facing the lake. He has dragged the heavy wooden chair from the shed to the front yard without me noticing. His arm rises and falls. I think about how to approach him. I practice my words. Pick a door, pick a door. If Iâm lucky, I will say the words that will make him cradle his head in my arms. Or, better still, the chosen words might make him laugh. But more likely there is only one door and behind that, opened by any words I might choose, is the tiger.
He doesnât hear me approaching. I watch his arm rise and fall. There is a rhythm to everything he does, it seems. Breathing, stirring, drinking.
He is quiet.
âIâm sorry I fell asleep,â I say.
I sit down on the ground next to him and when he doesnât speak, I lean my head against his soft arm.
âHave you thought about this fall?â he says, not looking at me but straight ahead.
âWhat do you mean?â
âI mean, what do you think will happen to us this fall?â
âI donât know,â I say. My heart is skipping beats. He is asking me a question I donât want to answer.
âDonât worry,â I say.
âYouâre going to leave,â he says.
âWhy would you say something like that?â I ask, lifting my head.
âBecause itâs true, Effie. Youâll go off to New York this fall, meet some cocky bastard who sweeps you off your goddamn feet with a glance, and then Iâll get the phone call. Heâll probably be lying right next to you, sticking his tongue in your goddamned ear, while you make up some excuse. Youâll cover the receiver, but Iâll still be able to hear you giggling, telling him to stop. And then youâll lie.â He is not looking at me. He is staring at the lake.
âOf course, youâll tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what you think will keep me from tearing the phone out of the wall and throwing it across the room. And all the while heâll be sitting there.â
âMax, why are you doing this?â I ask. I am shivering.
âBut I will hurl the phone across the room. Iâll rip the phone out of the fucking wall so you wonât have to hear me. And because all youâll get is a dial tone, youâll always wonder. You will always wonder what happened after the jack came out of the wall,â he says.
âWhy are you doing this to me?â I ask, allowing tears that I hope will evoke some sort of tenderness from him.
âIâm telling the truth. Isnât that what you want, Effie? Youâre not pissed off because Iâm accusing you of something but because thereâs truth to everything Iâm saying. Youâre looking for a way out. I can see it in everything you do. From the very beginning youâve been trying to figure out how to get out of this.â
âI am not,â I say. But I realize I am lying. I dream the man he fears. âWhere did this come from? Iâm here, arenât I? Why canât you let yourself be happy?â I stare into his eyes, which frighten me with their vacancy.
âWhy donât you let yourself be happy!â he cries suddenly. His voice is shrill. He raises his arm to drink, suckling the bottle with his pale lips. âIt must be great, to be so simple and small. You have an easy life, Effie Greer. All you need to do is wave your magic Tinker Bell wand and make everyone happy. You spread your fairy dust, and everything is A-OK.â
âI donât have to listen to you,â I say and start to get up.
âOf course you donât have to.â He smiles. âBut you will.â
âWhat happened to the cioppino?â I challenge him.
âDid you burn it? Did you forget a pot while