Posted on September 30th, 2013
The chief problem with Michigan was that there was so goddamn much of it. And, as with anything large and obvious, its sheer accumulation of facts made it difficult to see. Which is why its disappearance at first registered only with startled birds, farmers, lake lovers, that June. Miles away, on an eastern shore, Milo would tell himself later that he felt the echo of it going when it happened, the way Kepler claimed to have felt the faint warmth of moonlight on the backs of his hands some solitary evening. Mostly because it was a good story, and mostly because of Kate.
They’d only dated for a few months, when he’d worked on Abner’s lobster pots, and she’d had the misfortune to be captivated by his forearms and silence, mistaking the latter for thoughtfulness. She was beautiful, in the way most of the girls he’d been snared by had been, the way that things you desired were, so long as you were convinced of their ability to broadcast your worth soundlessly up and down the docks of Rockland. The fact that they had nothing to say to one another was hardly a fact at all, so long as it was summer. Right up until Michigan had the poor grace to vanish.
They’d been eating lunch. He couldn’t remember why he hadn’t been on the boat that day, only that he hadn’t, and he was watching, instead, the long white line of her shin bone fall in and out of shadow beneath a sundress, as she swung it over the water. Her foot was some soft, naked thing in the heating air. The sea vegetable smell wreathed their heads, and she’d started to crumble the last edge of her sandwich down into the green murk of the sea. “Michigan is gone,” she said, the way she might’ve announced a plan to go swimming, or an intention to see a film later that evening.
“Yeah. It was on the news this morning. Nebraska, last month.”
It had been something, when Nebraska had departed for shores unknown, but, it had been an abstraction, an outline on a map fading into ether. This, her blandly stated pronouncement from that plum red mouth, this stopped his breathing. Michigan. His dad. The world tipped on its axis and grew loud in his ears. Gone.
He remembered, in some dim, rational, still-functional way, that they’d never talked about where he was from, that it had been immaterial to getting her out of a sundress. She couldn’t know. His vision wavered at the edges, blackening and then coming back, hysterically firm. Every barnacle below them glittered, real and whole, and Michigan was no more. And neither was his father, alone in the house. Unless he’d left, the way he’d said he would. How would he know? The phone hadn’t rung in months. He’d pictured his postcards stacking by the door, their lighthouses and lobsters quietly humming away in the front hall.
He still hadn’t said anything, when she said, staring out towards the head light, “I think I’m sad about it, too, today. It’s definitely making me sad.” But she said it in the way that you’d mention, casually, that you were bummed out about the last good muffin going missing from the basket, about losing one earring from a pair, and he knew that whatever he’d told her over the past few months was chaff, was pretty much a lie. He got up.
“I’ve gotta go home.”
She didn’t stop him, when he started running. Or say that she’d see him, later. He supposed that was what the sum total effect of geographic loss was, for her, on that dock, on that afternoon. Fear drove his legs through the dead grass and into the trees, away from the water, sweating. He had to get to the phone. He had to try.
When he reached the outbuilding that had been his home since he’d arrived in late March, it took him whole minutes to locate his phone, behind a shoe, towards the back of the room. The message indicator light blinked at him, blue, breathing. He’d known it would be there. His finger hovered over the screen, trembling across the ‘play’ arrow.
“Milo. Milo, it’s dad. Bud, I don’t want you to worry but…they’re starting some relocations. Pastor Fran feels that something’s coming down the pike, and doesn’t want…well, doesn’t want things to go the way they have elsewhere. I’m taking the boat north, then maybe east. I have your cards. I’ll be in touch, when…whenever we get to where it is. I lo–”
And, of course, of course the message clipped there. The insects and distant sea slowly filtering back in, beyond his breathing, and the shimmer of the lost word, hanging there in the dim green light of the cabin. First, he thought, first, sandwiches.
And then, north.