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Toward the Close of November

After withstanding his seventh no-fault heartbreak in seven years, Frederick left his job and sat down to watch television for a few days. He slept a great deal, lying there on his sofa, and often couldnít remember what heíd watched just hours before. He saw all the new fall sitcoms and dramas, plus a lot of things on public television, mostly the kidsí shows that came on during the afternoon. Late at night was when things got fuzziest. After a while, Frederickís body became overly accustomed to the sofa and didnít want to let him get up.

He tried to avoid watching the news, but on Thursday night something there caught his eye. A thirty-two year old womanóexactly Frederickís ageóhad just lost her fiancťe in a train wreck outside Leeds. It was the second fiancťe sheíd lost. Her first one had died of cancer five years earlier.

Her face never appeared on the television screen. A friend of hers was quoted as saying that all the woman wanted now in the world was to go back home to her motherís house, and stay there.

Frederick watched two more daysí worth of television. The womanís name stayed in his mind mostly because he made a conscious effort to keep it there. He went to the phone book on Saturday evening and found her address in Groville as well as her number, and he dialed it, and she answered on the third ring.

He explained to the woman that he did not know her, but that he had seen her story on TV, and he was concerned about her. She thanked him, and told him she was all right. They got to talking about what they did for a living. She worked in the Groville Mall, in one of the offices upstairs that coordinated the mall events they put on from time to time. He told her he was thinking of going back to his old job as a proofreader for the circuit court, and that he had just withstood his seventh no-fault heartbreak in seven years, and that he was afraid it would kill him if he didnít get off his sofa soon.

They spoke for fifteen minutes or so, and then he asked about her plans to return to her motherís house.

"Where does she live?" he asked.

"In Holcastle," she answered.

"Thatís about fifteen miles away," he said.

"Yes," she replied, "fifteen or so." She began to cry, just a little. She might have already been crying; it was difficult to tell on the phone.

There was some silence then. He could hear her holding the phone away from her mouth.

"Iíll carry you there," he told her.

"No, thatís all right, Iíll be fine," she said.

He said again, "I want to carry you there."

Her name was Lenore. The next morning Frederick drove to her house and knocked on her door. It was answered by a pretty woman in an oversized Disney sweatshirt and new blue jeans. Lenoreís hair was long and dark.

"Are you ready?" he asked her.

She nodded, said, "Okay."

Lenore came out onto the porch and locked her door behind her. Frederick crouched a bit and secured his arms beneath her, lifting her with some effort. She was a little heavier than she looked. He hadnít taken more than three steps with his burden when she closed her eyes and put her arms around his neck. The wind shifted her hair over her face, and she seemed not to mind this.

Frederick began to walk down Old Blanchard Road carrying Lenore as best he could. The first half-mile was not so bad, but he began to fatigue quite suddenly after that, and had to set her down for a minute. He told her he would probably have to do quite a bit of that, and she understood.

The occasional car passed them on Old Blanchard, cars heading toward the intersection of 3 and 319, and one out of every seven or eight cars would slow to a crawl beside Frederick as he walked, and a driver or passenger would ask if everything was all right. At first the concerned citizens were thanked with a quiet nod, but Frederick lost his thoughts at the one mile mark and before he knew what he was saying he had told a woman in a green Cadillac that they were mortally sick of all the heartache that had come for them, and they wanted to make it go away. The Cadillac woman drove on, and within the hour she had caused a reporter or two to head for the area.

Frederick and Lenore didnít talk as they went. He occasionally asked her if she was comfortable, and she would mostly reply by asking if his arms and his back felt okay. He found that by setting her down once in a while he was fine, though tomorrow he would probably have to stay in bed and take some pain pills. The only problem with taking too many breaks as they went down Old Blanchard Road was that each one afforded the growing number of onlookers and reporters the opportunity to ask too many questions. Frederick and Lenore refused politely to answer any of them. He lifted her at the end of each break, and they continued their walk to her motherís house in Holcastle.

The constant talking of the reporters got a little loud and obnoxious as Old Blanchard gave way to Valmouth Road, which was an unfortunately hilly thing but quite unavoidable. The people along the route who themselves had begun to sympathetically walk alongside Frederick (always at a respectful distance) were quieter. They did not ask constantly where this journey was headed or how his feet were holding up. By about the eight-mile mark, there were thirty or so of them.

By dusk, toward the end of the trek, there were probably more like a hundred. No one carried anybody else, but they were fascinated all the same and kept pace admirably. The reporters and camera people filled in the missing bits of the story themselves, having found out who Lenore was very quickly, and perhaps not quite so easily able to find much of tragic interest in Frederickís story. Someone went to talk to the woman who had left him one week before, and though she was reportedly close-lipped about him, that pretty much made the picture complete.

Lenore twice whispered in Frederickís ear that she could not let him go on, that he was obviously in a great deal of pain and she wanted to be let go, wanted to take a cab the rest of the way. He refused. To ease her mind that he was doing fine, he skipped a break or two and tried to walk faster. His right foot became a real problem due to substandard soles and he was not able to hide it. He was thankfully free of cramps, but increasingly the discomfort in his shoulders and his spine was working its way into his chest, and he felt his breaths becoming shorter between the breaks he did take.

It was chilly and quite autumnal but he was sweating a great deal. Lenore did not want to get back into his arms just one mile from her motherís house. He said nothing, just held them out before him and nodded. The effort it took to raise them that much caused his entire body to shake. She climbed back up onto him, and saw that his eyes were wet with effort and strain.

Her sickly mother was deeply asleep inside the house and it seemed to be waiting for her empty. When Frederick took her up the porch steps and set her down, his mind in a fog of pain, a cheer erupted from the crowd and the reporters ventured closer than they ever had. Frederick turned away from them after Lenore released him from her long embrace, and he said he was sorry but he still didnít feel much like talking, that maybe he would say something later. He got to the end of the driveway and collapsed.

The paramedics were called and everyone swarmed around. Lenore broke through them and held Frederick as tight as she could, speaking his name again and again. He was worked on as he lay there for ten minutes, but there didnít seem to be anything they could do. Lenore cradled his head in her arms and buried her face in his chest. She had no actual tears, probably because they had all been used up long before.

It was strange how the people in the crowd came no closer, considering most of them had seen her on TV and knew she had experienced such loss. It was as if they were afraid to catch what she had. Or maybe it was the puzzled expression on Frederickís face that kept them back. Death had left him with an open mouth and eyelids that were not quite shut. At any rate, no one came forward to comfort Lenore, and no one spoke a word. Something deep inside her told her to kiss him, once, before they made her come away from there, and this certainly seemed like the traditional poetic thing to do, so she did, once on the lips, as she had been too distraught to do for her first fiancťe, and hadnít been present to do for her second.

Frederick came briefly alive again then, his shattered heart waking him at the feel of his burdenís lips, and the crowd was stunned and touched at how fitting that ending should be, how dramatic. But the four words he whispered in Lenoreís ear before he passed away for good, radiant words which managed to wholly renew her life, were heard by no one but the two of them. She went the rest of her days without revealing to anyone what they were, despite the hundreds of calls from people desperate to know, and despite the gentle, unspoken pleadings of the writer who created her.

I sit with her some nights beside an imagined fire in a cabin that doesnít exist, patiently coaxing her thoughts. If she would only confess those words, I could awaken someone of my own, or maybe even the entire world, a chorus of silhouettes I see outside in the freezing dark. I hold Lenoreís hand and I say Please, show me the place in my mind where I hold words like that, Iíve searched for so long, let me find them inside me, let it be my tired hand which writes them, but she is unwilling to forgive the deaths of her lovers to free a single snowbound broken heart.