Phil Quam’s essay “Someone To Listen” weaves together two different stories of loss in clear, honest, and beautiful prose. We are honored to publish “Someone To Listen” as the first nonfiction piece ever to be included in our New Voices section.
McNab’s cabin sat above the Shenandoah River, atop cut bank along the south fork that had been carved out over time by flood and drought. If everything was quiet enough on the porch, you heard the water making its run. But any noise made by man—conversation, a whirring hum of traffic on the bridge—and the river’s allegro was subsumed. It was here that my father and I found Doc Story, after we arrived at the cabin one afternoon in June, 1991, in the year after my brother, Jeff, drowned in the lake behind my childhood home, and ten years before Doc took his own life.
We met Doc on the porch. His belly bulged over his belt, and he balanced a beer bottle on the arm of a rocking chair. A ball-cap rested high on his forehead, revealing graying strands of hair at his temples and tufts of dark brown curling under the bill. Large, metal-framed glasses rested on his nose. We greeted each other, and my father asked what he was doing.
“Oh, just watching the world go by,” Doc said. He motioned to the scene beyond the cabin’s porch.
“What the hell are you drinking that for?” my father asked, pointing at Doc’s beer bottle.
Doc let out a big, tumbling laugh, and turned the beer upwards, revealing an O’Doul’s label. “You just got here, Quam, and you’re already giving me shit.”
Doc had flown up from Florida. A native of the often frostbitten Iowa plains, he had been hibernating in Lakeland for decades, where he had a dental practice. Fishing and family were the two things that could bring him north.
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