Out-of-Body Experiences, Etc.- Part 2
So far, after working on Vivian for three days, this is what Miles knows:
- Her husband is a professor.
- Their children range in age from eight to fourteen.
- She’s a part-time watercolor artist, but she rarely exhibits or sells her paintings.
- She drove here, all the way from Virginia to New Hampshire.
“It’s not the first time I’ve done this,” she said yesterday, as he placed hot stones on her back. “In case you’re wondering. But I usually turn around before I get this far.”
What he doesn’t know is why. The first answer he thinks of comes straight from the Lifetime movies that Marie used to watch on weekday nights: Vivian committed a terrible crime and is now on the run from the law. But Vivian is calm, unlike the Lifetime heroines whose every movement drips untold secrets. If he asked her to explain her behavior to him, Miles thinks she probably would. But he’s not the kind of person who would ask something like, Why did you drive a thousand miles away from your family without telling them?
Also, Lifetime characters on the run always have dyed hair and wear cheap glasses. Vivian doesn’t wear glasses, and unless she has the best dye job he’s ever seen, she doesn’t dye her hair.
She’s asked him for recommendations: trails to hike, parks to visit, restaurants to try. “Tell me where I can find seafood,” she said when he asked what she liked. “The good stuff, I mean.”
“If you’re looking for Maine lobsters fresh out of the water, you won’t find that here,” he told her, picking up her arms one by one and stretching them to the full extent of the rotator cuffs. “It’s too far inland. But the fish aren’t bad. And if you don’t mind a lobster that was caught twenty-four hours ago, you’ll be fine.”
“Better than any lobster we’d get where I live.” She was silent for a bit. “What about anything historical? Old churches? Forts? I like those.”
“There’s Fort Kent, if you’re willing to drive a little. But I don’t think it ever saw any action. And the Gilman Penitentiary, of course.” He treated the name of the place gingerly, like it was a hurt foot that couldn’t support his weight.
“Oh?” Vivian said. “A penitentiary? What kind?”
His mind flitted through all his sealed-up memories of the place: paint peeling off in layers, twenty-foot walls, skyholes in each cell that let in pinpricks of light. The green flash of Marie’s blouse against the gray walls as she explained the penitentiary’s long history to tour groups. “Creepy. Old. It was a mid- and max-security prison built in the mid-1800s to house overflow from Boston and Providence. The crazy inmates, specifically. I guess people thought the rural air would do these guys good.” He shrugged. “Who knows if it worked, but…it got pretty dangerous in there during Prohibition – lots of corruption, gangs running cell blocks, that kind of thing. It’s been closed for decades now, though.” He bent each of her fingers back, carefully, to test the springiness of the joints. Not much. “If you like unconventional museums, you’ll like it there.”
“You sounded unsure.”
He sighed. “My ex-wife used to work there, that’s all. As a tour guide. But that was a while ago.”
“Bad memories?” Vivian asked.
“No.” He took two warm towels off the heating rack and wrapped them around her hands. “They’re good. That’s the problem.”
* * *
“Do you have any children?” she asks halfway through today’s session. The scent of lavender cuts through the room like smoke. Miles has been thinking about how pleased he is with the progress he’s made – her shoulders are softening, and her fingers don’t clench together in fists – but her question sends his train of thought reeling off the tracks and into some deep canyon.
“I did,” he says, evenly, the way he’s trained himself to say it. It’s fair for her to ask. He asked her, after all. “A daughter. Phoebe. She passed away.”
“Was she young?”
“Was she young when she died?” Vivian’s voice is warm and full of empathy, and she doesn’t seem hesitant, the way everyone else is when death worms its way into conversation.
“Yes,” Miles tells her after a beat. “She was seven.”
Vivian murmurs something. He leans close to ask her to say it again, then realizes she’s still speaking. Reciting. He can hear the breath vibrating through her chest.
“Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Sudden silence breaks the wonder that has settled like cobwebs into the corners of the room. Miles realizes that he’s stopped kneading Vivian’s muscles. His hands are lying still on her calloused feet. He starts up again, faster and firmer, making up for that lost minute.
“That’s Yeats,” Vivian adds. “As in, W.B. Yeats. I always think of that poem when I hear about children who die young.” She says this matter-of-factly, as if they’re discussing his vacation plans. “Better to believe that the fairies took them, isn’t it? And that they’re living out their days on some enchanted island.”
“But I don’t believe that.”
She heaves a breath from the bottom of her lungs, and Miles can feel the contraction of her diaphragm. “People always say things like that so casually. As if believing is hard.”
“It is.” He tries to stem the frustration before it reaches his hands.
“Oh, Miles. That’s not true. Why is it so hard to think that Phoebe is-”
“I think this is a good place to stop,” he says. “I’ll be waiting for you in the hallway.”
“I wasn’t trying to-”
But he’s already shut the door. He steps into the staff room and waits for his hands to stop shaking so that he can pour Vivian the usual post-massage glass of water with lemon. He can’t remember the last time a client got to him like this. When his clients ask about his personal life, he doesn’t hide the divorce or Phoebe from them. If they say anything that sits poorly with him – “You must be lonely”, or “it was her time to go” – it’s usually because of thoughtlessness. Vivian, though, wasn’t being thoughtless. She meant every word she said.
Still, Vivian wasn’t there when state troopers pulled Phoebe’s body out of Lake Paugus, or when Marie threw up her hands while trying to pick the funeral hymns and started shrieking, Jesus, they don’t matter, nobody cares.
Vivian looks almost timid when she emerges from the treatment room. “I wasn’t trying to offend you,” she says, reaching for his hand.
“Look, Vivian. It’s been nice getting to know you, but – why don’t you head back to Virginia, or – or wherever it is you’re going.” He presses the glass of water into her outstretched fingers and starts backing down the hallway in an awkward shuffle. “If you’re coming in tomorrow, give me a call first. I don’t know what my schedule’s going to be like, okay?”
He darts into the staff room, where he counts to one hundred and tries to let the sting of missing Phoebe leach out of his skin into the scented air. Why would Vivian say that? he keeps thinking. Why?
When he steps back into the hallway, Vivian is gone.