Today, we are pleased to present the third-place winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson: “Together, Maureen” by Amanda Emil Anderson. In this story a woman, Maureen, literally becomes two different people after the sudden loss of her husband. The new Maureen and the old Maureen are left to mourn their loss together and to figure out the next step in their lives.
“Despite the visitors, Maureen and Maureen are mostly alone. Trailing one another from the living room to the kitchen, or waiting to turn into the driveway with the blinker softly ticking, the old Maureen will be struck with a thought: that was my life, and now this is. The idea plays in her head like a mantra. How strange, at this age, to get to know a new version of herself.”
First there is Maureen pacing a wide cement dock, watching rescue divers dip below the frozen lake and emerge minutes later numbed, empty-handed. This for hours.
Everything that comes after—condolences, casseroles—will happen to a different Maureen. The Maureen of now worries the lid of a gas-station coffee long gone cold. She tucks strands of gray hair under her hat, shuffles her boots against cement. By this point she could tell you many things about the dock: forty-five steps long, twelve steps across, pebbled and barnacled and slick with black ice where the lake has lapped up over its bounds. Large enough for a number of boats to tie up (in better weather), for over a dozen police officers to cluster, walkie talkies squealing, and yet the expanse feels too small to contain her.
She, this Maureen, still thinks there is a chance, or did think so; the feeling recedes with the sliding sun, lower and lower as the lake and horizon blur into an endless icy blue.
* * *
No—first is Whit, raspy-voiced and reedy, neither bad nor good. Whit manning the fuel pumps at his uncle’s gas station. Whit silent beside her at a school dance, his hand a thrill against her back. In an army uniform, in waders, in a borrowed suit on their wedding day. Whit who is not quite the man she expects, after they marry, but then again who is?
There is Whit with his hand a vice at the nape of their sons’ necks, just daring them to fuck up. His hand a vice around her wrist. Whit in his recliner with the TV blaring, and at the dinner table forking peas into his mouth, nothing to say, and in their still dark bedroom during deer season, soft and tender, telling her to get back to sleep while he tugs on thick socks. There is Whit at the end, collapsing through the ice with a Bud in one hand and a fishing pole in the other.
But there’ll be time enough to think on this later.
A diver is pulled back to the dock on an inflatable raft. Shivering, weak, he unhitches a harness from his shoulders. “It was like looking through tissue paper under there,” he says.
She thinks of an elementary school project, crinkled waves and seaweed inside a shoebox. Whit a flimsy paper doll glued to the cardboard.
The police chief guides her toward land. “I’m sorry. We’ll continue the recovery when conditions improve,” he says, and she’s lived through enough winters to know the difference between a rescue and a recovery. Overnight the temperature will plummet and ice will clot every opening in thick, jagged slabs. There’s no chance of finding him alive. Now they are only hoping for a body.
A new Maureen lets the chief lead her toward her car. The old Maureen waits a moment longer at the edge of the lake, not so easily convinced, then hurries to catch up to herself.