“When the consolation is taken away, there is this hole that goes deeper than hell and you have to go all the way down into it before you find heaven again.” –Thomas Merton


“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “Would you like some tea? The kettle’s still hot. Drinking tea in the August heat—something I got from my mother. She said it was the best way to cool down.”

He rose and came back with cups. We drank our tea in the companionable silence. Afterward, I set my cup down on the table and smiled at him.

“Maybe you should take a look outside,” I said. “Before I go.”

He nodded and stood. The wall behind him was illuminated in stripes of light, the last rays of the sun coming through the blinds. He disappeared into the shadow of the door.

“All clear,” he said, and stepped back in, gesturing with his arm to usher me out. I saw he was eager for me to go.

I went and stood by his side. The fading glow fell across his face. I stepped forward and let my forehead fall onto his chest. My veil brushed him. He didn’t move, just stood there rooted, arms hanging loosely at his sides.

I breathed into his thin blue shirt and, looking down, I saw dark wiry hairs arcing in a sea of curves along his forearms. His chest was warm and I inhaled deeply the smell of him, which was both delicate and sharp. I had no thought of moving. He shifted his weight suddenly and I felt his hands on my shoulders pushing me away, not unkindly but in a firm manner.

“You have to leave—now.”

I looked at him. He had changed. His face was flushed and his lips were pressed together as if he were gripping something. The muscles on the sides of his neck were taut, thickened like ropes. He glanced away, clearly distraught. Minutes before he had been in easy, natural command of everything: himself, me, the cabin, and the illegal circumstances. I had relied on him and he had known exactly what to do, how to soothe me, how to stay separate from me. Now I saw that he did not know.