The Remainder

He knew the sympathy he felt was a kind of trick

João Gabriel, Untitled. 2019, acrylic on paper. 32 2/3 x 42". Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann + Silva Gallery.

After Kawabata

It was the prettiest thing. In the adjacent lane, a boy was asleep alone in his car. He was a redhead; he couldn’t have been more than 25. He had fallen asleep sideways in the vehicle — slumped back against the driver’s-side window, his feet propped up on the passenger’s-side dashboard. He lay nestled in his coat, which was a nice one. Only someone very young, Guy thought, could be so reckless and trusting. Guy hadn’t noticed exactly when the boy’s car had begun keeping company with his, breaking at the same time on bends, resuming speed at the same time on straightaways. Now that he was aware of the young man, the sun was setting, and its rays had become nearly horizontal. As the young man’s vehicle swiveled, following the road, falling sun raked across and through his hair, nipped his nose, and flecked the down on his cheeks and chin. Guy couldn’t bring himself to look away. The boy had to be straight, but looking at him was worth the risk of a moment or two of mortification. They were in the middle of the woods, after all, if you forgot about the highway. They were, practically speaking, as far away from the world as it was still possible to get.

Anyway, the interest Guy felt wasn’t simply lascivious. The boy’s repose reminded him of trips he had taken himself at that age, or maybe even younger, on buses usually, dozing at times, reading at others, enjoying the way that his workaday-world thoughts were accelerated into philosophical ones by the speed with which the landscape unrolled for him on the other side of the window, and the boy’s repose thus also brought to mind, as a corollary, the feeling that Guy had had in those years of being shaped by what was happening to him, by what he saw on the road — shaped even by its curves, by the dips and rises in it. In those years, it had seemed as if everything were being recorded not just in his memory but also in the way that he was going to perceive things during the rest of his life — as if events were being engraved into the lens of his self. Such a recording had seemed momentous, since the rest of his life had then seemed to trail so far ahead into the future.

It had been spring the last time Guy drove north on this road. It was mid-December now, and almost everything deciduous was flaming orange and red. The exceptions were of course the dead trees, mostly basswoods, recently susceptible to a new virus. When they caught it, their leaves, instead of coloring, turned gray, and instead of falling, drooped in place like a stroke victim’s hands. Their appearance made an uneasy contrast with that of the silvery, skeletal pines still erect among them, which had died so long ago that they had shed their needles. In the final, unchanging season, it was the deciduous that kept their foliage while the evergreens went bare.

The staff at the Spinney would keep a late lunch waiting for Guy, sufficient amends for any wistfulness over the sight of a pretty boy who seemed to be unapproachable. Because Guy was 54, moreover, he was aware, with the unwilled irony that belongs to middle age, that a boy often turns out, on closer inspection, to be less attractive than the melancholy thoughts he inspires.

He was only an amateur, really, but there was a vogue at the moment for pieces like his, which looked back with a touch of humanism.

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Would Edmund be in residence? Guy knew — he had admitted to himself — that he was returning to the Spinney because of Edmund, because he wanted to see him again, but he had assured himself, before he was willing to grant himself permission to indulge the pursuit, that he would be able to enjoy the visit without Edmund if necessary. If Edmund had moved on, or was no longer amenable. On the other hand, if Edmund did turn out to be available . . . perhaps the two of them could have dinner as soon as tonight. That would be pleasant. He didn’t think he had Edmund’s number, but even if he did have it, there was already, here in the middle of the woods, no cell phone signal, and it was one of the features of the Spinney that there would be no signal on its grounds, either, once he arrived. There wasn’t even Wi-Fi except in the receptionist’s cabin. He would have to ask at reception. Is it still Edmund who gives the tours of the local landscape? Do you happen to know how to reach him?

Guy heard the redhead’s car slow with a cautionary hum, switch lanes, and pull up behind him. He studied it in his rearview mirror as it followed at a prudent, respectful distance. The boy inside was still asleep, his lips unconsciously parted. His car had probably changed lanes because it was going to be turning soon. Guy’s car would turn soon as well. Were they on the way to the same place? Guy knew himself too well to misunderstand the motives behind his speculation. Reminded of the past, and of its resonance, he now, in his usual way, was unwilling to let go. The time that he had been reminded of had once belonged to him, after all. With all its authenticity and danger. With its faith in such fancies as that sunlight, if it falls on a certain kind of boy at a certain angle at a certain time of day, fixes in the world an invisible marker that one’s story will someday, somehow have to circle back to.

A meander in the road was familiar enough to bring Guy back to himself. The turnoff, which wasn’t marked except virtually, was coming up.

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