A MAP OF GLASS
ebook ISBN: 978-1-59692-839-8
M P Publishing Limited
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Isle of Man
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Copyright ? 2006 by Jane Urquhart
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A map of glass / by Jane Urquhart.
ISBN 1-59692-170-6 (alk.paper)
The epigraph is taken from Robert Smithson’s essay “A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites”
Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (1968). published in
, edited by Jack Flam. Copyright ? 1996. Used by permission of the Estate and VAGA (VisualArtists and Galleries Association).
Book design by Dorothy Carico Smith.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidentseither are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblanceto actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For A.M. to the west of me
And A.M. to the east of me.They encouraged and inspired.
“By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a site, or atopographic map, one draws a ‘logical two dimensional picture’. A ‘logical picture’ differsfrom a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for.”
– Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings
He is an older man walking in winter. And he knows this. There is white everywhere and apeculiar, almost acidic smell that those who have passed through childhood in a northerncountry associate with new, freshly fallen snow. He recognizes the smell but cannot bring tomind the word acidic. Snow, walking, and winter are the best he can come up with – these few
words – and then the word older, which is associated with effort. Effort is what he is making;
the effort to place one foot in front of the other, the effort required to keep moving, to keepmoving toward the island. It might have been more than an hour ago that he remembered, and thenforgot, the word island. But even now, even though the word for island has gone, he believes he
is walking toward a known place. He has a map of the shoreline in his brain; its docks andrundown wooden buildings, a few trees grown in the last century. Does he have the word for
Island – though it is gonetrees? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. He is better with landforms.
at this moment – is a word that stays longer than most; island, peninsula, hill, valley,
moraine, escarpment, shoreline, river, lake are all words that have passed in and out of his
mind in the course of the morning, along with the odd hesitant, fragmented attempt at his name,which has come to him only partially, once as what he previously would have called the articleAn, then later as the conjunction And.
Tears are sliding over the bones of his face, but these are tears caused by the dazzle of thesun in front of him, not by sorrow. Sorrow and the word for sorrow disappeared some months ago.Terror is the only emotion that visits him now, often accompanied by a transparent curtain ofblinding gold, but even this is mercifully fleeting, often gone before he fully recognizes it.
. He does not remember that in the past he saw the realHe does not remember the word gold
colors of the world.
He senses an unusually cluttered form in his immediate vicinity: “a fence,” he once wouldhave called it. It would have brought to mind the “path-masters” and surveyors of the past,but now he knows it only as something that has not grown out of the earth, something that isimpeding his progress. As he stands bewildered near the fence, he looks at the intricateshadows of the wire created by sunlight on the snow in front of him and the word tangle slips
into his mind. He walks right through the tangle of the shadow, but is not able to gain passagethrough the wires themselves.
He does not remember what to do with a fence, how to get over it, through it, past it, but hisbody makes a decision to run, to charge headlong into the confusion, and in fact this appearsto have been the correct decision, for he has catapulted to the opposite side and has landedfirst on one shoulder, then on his stomach so that his face is in the snow. Snow, he thinks,and then, walking, which is what he must do to reach the island. He gropes for the word island
, and has almost conquered it by the time he is back on his feet. But the shape and sound of itslips away again before he can grasp the meaning, slips away and is replaced by a phrase, andthe phrase is the place the water touches all around.
He knows the island was the beginning – knows this in a vague way, not having the words foreither island or beginning. He must get to the place that water touches all around becausewithout the beginning he cannot understand this point in time, this walk in the snow, thebreath that comes into his mouth and then departs in small clouds like the ghosts of all thewords he can no longer recall. If he can arrive at this beginning, he believes he will rememberwhat was born there, and what came into being later, and later again, and later again – atheorem that might lead him to the now of effort and snow.
He begins once again to move forward. Often he bumps against trees, but this does not worry himbecause he knows they are meant to be there, and will remain after he has passed by them. Likean animal, he is stepping by instinct through the trees, branch by branch, the smell of thedestination on the edge of his consciousness. While he is among pines, an image of an enormousraft made of timber floats through his imagination and connects somehow, for an instant, withthe word glass, which, in turn, connects again, for just an instant, with the word ballroom. In
this daydream there are men with poles standing on the raft’s surface. Sometimes they aredancing. Sometimes they are kneeling, praying.
When he comes to a break in the forest, he is perplexed by an area of openness that curls offto the left and to the right. Then, quite suddenly, inexplicably, he remembers a fact aboutwinter rivers and their tributaries, how they become frozen, covered with snow. He ismomentarily aware of some of the natural things he used to think about. He enunciates, quiteclearly, the syllables of the word watershed, then straightens his shoulders, attentive to, and
briefly suspicious of, the deep, bell-like sound of his own voice.
He walks for some time on the hard, pale river, his left sleeve now and then brushing againstthe arms of snow-laden pines. Eventually his body comes to know it is exhausted and takes the
decision to lie on the smooth bed of ice and snow. By now the sun is gone; it is a deep winternight of great clarity and great beauty. He can see points of light that he knows are stars,and yet he no longer knows the word for stars. When he rolls his head to the left and then theright, the still, leafless branches of the trees on the bank move with him, black against adarkening sky. “Tributaries,” he whispers, and the word fills him with comfort, and also withsomething larger, something that, were he able to recognize it, would resemble joy.
He sleeps for a long time. And when he wakens he discovers that his body has been covered by athick, drifting blanket that is soft and cold and white. The whole unnamed world is sobeautiful to him now that he is aware he has left behind vast, unremembered territories,certain faces, and a full orchestra of sounds that he has loved. With enormous difficulty helifts his upper body from the frozen, snow-covered river and allows his arms to rest on thedrift in front of him. The palms of his gloved hands are open to the sky as if he were silentlyrequesting that the world come back to him, that the broken connections of heart and mind bemended, that language and the knowledge of a cherished place re-enter his consciousness. Heremains alert for several moments, but eventually his spine relaxes and his head droops and hesays, “I have lost everything.”
This is his first full sentence in more than a month. These are his last spoken words. Andthere is nobody there to hear his voice, nobody at all.
At the northeastern end of Lake Ontario, toward the mouth of the wide St. Lawrence River, anumber of islands begin to appear. Some of these are large enough to support several farms, apattern of roads, perhaps a village, and are still serviced year-round by a modest flotilla offerries that departs from and returns to Kingston Harbour. One or two minor islands arecompletely deserted in winter, having always been summer playgrounds rather than places ofemployment. There is a small, difficult-to-reach island, however, an island that a hundredyears ago was busy with ships and lumber, that is now a retreat for visual artists and, forthis reason, its single serviceable nineteenth-century building – a sail loft – has beenrenovated as a studio where an artist can live and work for a limited period of time, alone.
On the final leg of his journey from his Toronto studio to this sail loft, Jerome McNaughtonhad kept his back to the mainland view and had watched instead the skeletal trees and tiltinggrey buildings on the island grow in size and, behind them, the less definable evergreen forestenlarging, like a motionless black cloud, as the boat drew nearer. He had chosen theequinoctial period of late winter, early spring for his residency on the island, and he hadchosen it because of the transience he associated with the heavy sinking snow, the drippingicicles of the season. The difficulty of arriving at the place when the ice was eitheruncertain or breaking up altogether – the enforced isolation brought about by these
diffculties – had attracted him as well.
He had left Kingston Harbour on a Great Lakes coast guard icebreaker, onto the deck of which hehad loaded a stack of firewood, enough food to last at least two weeks, a couple of bottles ofwine, some whiskey, camera equipment, and a backpack filled with winter clothing. Though it wasonly a mile or so from the city to the island, the men on board had thought him reckless to goout there alone in this season. They were somewhat mollified, however, when he admitted he hada cell phone. “You’ll be using it soon enough,” the captain had ventured. “Pretty grim outthere this time of year.”
Grim was what Jerome was after. Grimness, uncertainty, difficulty of access – a hermit in awinter setting, the figure concentrated and small against the cold blues and whites and greysthat made up the atmosphere of the landscape, the season.
Ordinarily, residencies were not permitted during the winter months, but the oofficials at the
Fence Line SeriesArts Council were aware of his work, his growing reputation, knew from his
that he preferred to work with snow. A young woman whose voice had indicated that she wasimpressed by his dedication had made the arrangements with the coast guard and had speeded hisapplication through the usual channels. In a matter of days he had found himself standing onthe deck of the vessel, his whole body vibrating with the hum of the engine, then shudderingwith the boat’s frame as the bow broke through the ice. The wind had repeatedly punched theside of his face, and there was not much warmth in the late March sun, but Jerome had preferredto remain on the deck in order to dispel the impression that there was a look about him, ascent maybe, that suggested longing, dependence.
The captain was right though, he would be using the phone soon, to call Mira. He had to admitthat he wanted to please the girl who had miraculously remained in his life for almost twoyears, that he felt concern for her and must honor her affection for him. In this way he hadbeen able, so far, to slip easily around the disturbing truth of his own feelings, the pleasurehe felt when thinking of her, and the ease with which he remained in her company. He was almostalways thinking about her.
For the time being, however, he had stayed focused on his journey, intrigued by the dark,jagged path the boat had left in its wake as it moved through the ice. It would be a temporaryincision, he knew, one that would likely be healed by the night’s falling temperature, so heremoved his camera from the case, then leaned against the railing and photographed theirregular channel. The opened water was like a slash of black paint on a stretched whitecanvas. Breaking the river. He liked the sound of the phrase and would remember to record it inhis notebook once he got settled in the loft.
He himself would never be a painter, considered himself instead a sort of chronicler. He wantedto document a series of natural environments changed by the moods of the long winter. He wantedto mark the moment of metamorphosis, when something changed from what it had been in the past.He was drawn to the abandoned scraps of any material: peeling paint, worn surfaces, sunbleaching, rust, rot, the effects of prolonged moisture, as well as to the larger shifts oferosion and weather and season. This island was situated at the mouth of the great river thatflowed out of Lake Ontario, then cut through the vast province of Quebec before losing itsshape to the sea. The idea that he would be staying near the point where open water entered theestuary excited him and made the pull of the island stronger.
Now, two days after he’d arrived, as he stood near the shore with the camera around his neckand a snow shovel in his hand, the phrase breaking the river was still fresh in his mind, and
he had decided that it would be the title of the first series he would complete on the island.He observed, by looking at the shards of ice along the shoreline, that, in effect, the riverwas broken by the island. Arguably, this would be true even in summer in that the island wouldbreak up the current of the water that passed on either side of it. But it was the ice thatinterested Jerome, the way it had heaved itself up on end and onto the shore like some ancientspecies attempting to discard an aquatic past. He plunged the handle of the shovel into anearby drift, where it remained upright like a dark road sign. Then he walked away and began to
search the surroundings for slim fallen branches of a suitable length.
He would use these branches as poles to mark out the perimeter of the site, about twenty squarefeet comprising one scrub bush, one small hawthorn, a sizable area of deep heavy snow, and theice along the shoreline. Much would happen here, he knew, in the next week or so, some of itnatural, some of it caused by his own activities. When the poles were in place, he began torecord the site with his camera, first the whole area and then the details, reducing the depthof field in stages until he was able to capture a thorn on the small tree, a grey, crackedmilkweed pod with one remaining seed attached, and the feathered end of a tall weed stalk thathad somehow not succumbed to the weight of snow. He enjoyed these exercises in increasingintimacy and was warmed by the knowledge that he would be able to remain for a period of timein the vicinity of the natural references that would move him. He was also pleased by theremnants of abandoned architecture that he had seen here and there on the island, the way theseweakened structures had held their ground despite time and rot and the assault of a century ofwinters.
After Jerome and his family had drifted down from the north in his early childhood, they hadlived first in a small suburban house and then in an apartment building perched on a clutterededge of Toronto, far away from such haphazard architecture as tool sheds, chicken coops,stables. And yet, his otherwise solemn and often angry father could be brought to levels ofbrief excitement in the vicinity of childhood projects such as the making of kites, go-karts,tree houses, or forts in scrub lots slated for future development. The engineer in him, Jeromenow believed, that part of him he had been forced to abandon when the mine closed, could bemiraculously, though falsely, shaken into wakefulness by something as simple as the placementof load-bearing lumber in a tree. His enthusiasm waned quickly, however, as did Jerome’s, andthese projects were almost always left unfinished, slowly decaying on the margins of theproperty, until Jerome returned to them later and took a renewed interest in their constructionand eventual restoration. After the horror of his father’s death, Jerome would call to mindthe structures on the now residential lots, and he found that he would be able to recall almostexactly the way a tree house had creaked in the wind, one loose board knocking against abranch, or the way the large nails had looked in his father’s palm, his mouth, and then thesame nails after a year or so, exposed and rusting during the decline of winter. Once, as ayoung adult, Jerome had walked all over the low-rental housing development that occupied whathad been the vacant land, looking for the tree near a dirty stream where one of these projectshad begun to take shape. But both the stream and its culvert were gone. There was simply no wayto place even the few scraps of memory he had retained. His first project, then, would be anattempt to rebuild what he thought of as the few good moments of his childhood and would takethe form of temporary and incomplete structures – playhouses of a sort – that he made himselfwith torn plastic, discarded wood, and broken objects found in abandoned lots.
He remembered a journey he had taken a few years before on a train, a journey he was able torecall now only in terms of the images he had collected while staring out the window. Trainswere vanishing from this vast cold province and were often half-empty, those who were therelikely being too poor to afford the kind of cars he saw on the freeway that for part of thejourney mirrored the path of the railway. He had been thinking about the early days, aboutvacations taken when his father was still relatively well, holidays that were spent in oneprovincial park or another, he and his parents crammed into a tent that his father had boughtat an army surplus store. He remembered the sight of this tent, an ominous bundle strapped tothe roof rack of their deteriorating car along with the bicycle that his father had given himand that he seldom rode. He also recalled the campfires his father had taught him to make, theconfigurations of which were named after architectural structures such as “the teepee” or“the log cabin.” It wasn’t until years later that he realized that the ignition of theseconstructions, made so that air might move more freely and carry fire farther, faster, was likethe burning of the history of the country in miniature, a sort of exercise in forgetting firstthe Native peoples and then the settlers, whose arrival had been the demise of these peoples,settlers in whose blood was carried the potential for his own existence.
He recollected the cool mornings of these not-quite-real episodes in his childhood, how mistrose from the lake (though he could not recall which lake) in long scarves, and how his father,briefly enthusiastic, would insist on a dawn swim. As the day unfolded, however, the mistswould evaporate, other campers and their hot dogs and radios would come into focus, and hisfather’s mood would shift down into irritability. He would begin to compare the spotunfavorably with the camp life he had known in the bush when the mine was still operating. “Isthere no place left?” Jerome had heard his father whisper once through clenched teeth, justbefore he had begun to berate Jerome’s mother about the food she had brought, her recenthaircut, the way she looked in a swimsuit. Then everything about the trip – the campground,the tense meal shared near a dwindling fire, his mother standing quietly by the water with herimperfect flesh exposed – became tawdry, embarrassing, something to be quickly discarded andforgotten. He would always respond to his father’s temperament in this way, would know thatany attempt to create family joy would deteriorate in the face of his father’s disapproval,anger, or indifference.
It was the indifference that Jerome would try to take into his own nature: the combination ofbrief infatuation followed by an apparently casual lack of care. This, and the solid knowledgeof the mutability of a world that came into being and then dissolved around him before he wasable to fully grasp what it was trying to be, what it had been.
When the tracks had swung away from the highway, Jerome had become aware of the fencelines ofthe fields that were passing, one after another, by the train window. It seemed to him thatthese frayed demarcations made up of rotting cedar rails, fieldstones, rusting wire, and scrubbush were the only delineating features in an otherwise neutered winter landscape. The solesurvivors, he had thought, glimpsing the irregular gestures of stunted Manitoba maples and
Is there no place left?) All of it in a state of heartbreaking neglect,listing wooden posts. (
destined to become the wilderness of asphalt, of concrete that he associated with the landscapeof his later childhood. He had reached for his sketchbook, had drawn a series of overlappinglines on three or four pages, had made some notes about how these lines might be transformedinto a three-dimensional installation within the confines of a rectangular room, and hadexperienced, for the remainder of the journey, the restless buzz that often announced thebeginnings of a new conception.
He quickly became obsessed by the ruined fences, and a few weeks later he had borrowed a car,driven out of the city, and begun to search out remnants of rails, boulders, and stumps,sometimes tramping for hours through swamps and scrub bush following a line of decaying postsor a path defined by rusting, broken wire. He began to think of fences as situations ratherthan structures. Like an act of God or a political uprising, they seemed to him to mark theboundaries of events rather than territories. And like events, he felt that these fences hadcome into being as a result of a great deal of energy, flourishing on the edges of labor for afew hard decades, then collapsing onto a ground whose only crop now was an acre of windblownweeds.
Reading anything he could find on the subject, he learned about wedges and stakes, and aboutthe much-coveted long, true split of cedar that resulted in six good rails to a log. He learnedabout rails that rested on notched “sleepers” and how those rails were fixed in place bywire. He learned about strong fences withstanding the assault of bulls and about weak fencesthat had permitted entire herds to drift into a neighbor’s alfalfa. For a time he wished hehad been born in the nineteenth century and had been appointed to a team of offcial “fence-viewers.”
He attempted to reconstruct the frail, disappearing remnants of the fences on theindoor/outdoor carpeting of a city art gallery, had lugged boulders and fence wire, branchesand decaying rails into the space and had made six lines that moved from the entrance to thefar end of the space. Made uncomfortable by any kind of verbal explanation, he had not stapledthe customary lyrical passages to the walls so that beyond the announcement “Fence Lines,”which the dealer had pasted on the front window of the gallery, there had been no verbalapology for the exhibition. The black-and-white photographs on the walls of what he privately
called “similar structures in the wild” had sold to some private and, in a few cases, smallpublic collections, and had been the making of his reputation as a young artist to watch. Thesense of loss that he felt in the face of decay, of disappearance had gone unnoticed,uncommented upon by the critics. But it was this loss that he had taken with him on his latesttrip out of the city, to the town of Kingston and across the ice-filled lake, the ice-chokedmouth of the huge river, to the shores of Timber Island.
Jerome stood at the very edge of the island, looking at the ice, thinking of Robert Smithson’s
, about how the legendary Smithson had transported pieces of glass to theMap of Broken Glass
New Jersey site he had chosen, had heaped them into a haphazard shape, then waited for the sunto come out so that the structure would leap into the vitality he knew existed when brokenglass combined with piercing light. Smithson had been mostly concerned with mirrors at the timeand yet had chosen glass rather than mirrors, as if he had decided to exclude rather than toreflect the natural world. According to something Jerome had read, however, Smithson had cometo believe the glass structure he had created was shaped like the drowned continent ofAtlantis. Perhaps this explained his need to use a material that would suggest the transparencyof water. But Jerome was drawn to the brilliance and the feeling of danger in the piece: theshattering of experience and the sense that one cannot play with life without being cut,injured. The sight of ice at this moment and in this place, ice rearing up against the shore ofthe island, the disarray of the arbitrary constructions that were made by its breakup andmigration, seemed like a gift to Jerome, as if something electrical beneath the earth weresending signals to the surfaces of everything he was looking at.
The temperature had clearly risen in the week preceding his arrival and the deep snow wasgaining in weight and plasticity. Jerome’s footsteps remained embedded, small blue pools insodden drifts, semi-permanent paths could be made from place to place, and the white surfacewas punctured by emerging grasses and shrubs, the shadows of which were like maps of riversdrafted on a white sheet of paper. The trees, in which he knew the sap would soon begin torise, were beautifully placed, their branches vivid against snow and sky, the abandoned nestsof birds and squirrels clearly evident. One tree in particular held his attention – anenormous oak with a thick trunk supporting a number of twisted branches.
Although it was the end of winter, almost spring, there was something ripe and faintly autumnalin the soft glow of the light in the waning afternoon. A fine mist filled the air and gave amalleable look to shapes that one month earlier would have been so frozen and emplaced thatinterpretation might have been impossible. This cusp of a declining season, which held on notonly to itself but also to the blackened twigs and stems and seed pods, to the bones of whathad gone before, felt as exciting to Jerome as the uncovering of an ancient tomb. But it wasnot the quickening of nature that intrigued him, rather the idea of nature’s memory and theway this unstable broken river had built itself briefly into another shape, another form,before collapsing back into what was expected of it.
When he was finished with the primary documentation, Jerome wedged the camera in the groin ofthe hawthorn, then laughed when he found that its odd appearance in that location made him wantto photograph it. He removed the shovel from the drift in order to begin the first of thephysical sessions of the project. Using the front edge of the shovel he drew a rectangularshape approximately eight feet long and three feet wide on the untouched surface of the snow,then he reached for the camera in order to photograph the lines he had drafted, which werewonderfully exaggerated at this moment by the angle of the low sun. He returned the camera tothe tree and began to dig, creating an inner wall by using a plunging motion at the edges;then, with wide-sweeping gestures, he flung the excess snow away from the center so that itwould not disturb the surrounding surfaces. It was not easy going; the ice storms of the winterand every crust that had once been surface had formed a series of tough layers – like strataon a rock face – and often he was forced to turn the shovel around to use the handle as a pickor gouge. When he neared the frozen surface of the earth, he tossed the shovel aside so that hecould hunker down and work more carefully with his hands. He wanted everything he wasuncovering to remain in place, as it had remained in place since the first snowfall. Unlike
some artists who had exposed the roots of trees, he would not call what he was doing “anuncovering,” but rather would refer to the process as a revelation, and would entitle the
The Revelations. As he was thinking aboutphotographs he would take of this area of the site
this title, a shadow near some small willows farther down the shore moved at the edge of hisperipheral vision, and he sat back on his haunches to survey the outlying terrain. It was thenthat he saw the small carved angel emerging like an ice sculpture from the snow, and he trampedacross the quarter-mile of white space that separated him from it. An old gravestone, herealized as he approached, most of which was still buried. Perhaps there was a modest graveyardwaiting to be revealed by the spring melt. The angel looked like a solemn child, lost incontemplation and surrounded by a circle of fresh pawprints. It had not occurred to Jerome thatthere would be animals on an island only a mile long and half again as wide, but he supposedthat the animal tracks must have been made by a muskrat or an otter, some kind of water’s edgedweller shaken temporarily out of hibernation by the sun and the warmth of the day. Whatever itwas, it had broken his concentration, made him aware of the declining light, and the soddenstate of his gloves, and he returned to the site, plunged the shovel once again into the drift,and picked up the camera. When he reached the door of the sail loft, he turned toward the shoreand photographed the site from a distance. Then he walked inside and carefully climbed thestairs, which were littered with an assortment of old tin cans, some filled with driedpigments, left behind, he assumed, by the previous resident.
Each time he entered the loft he was astonished by the wealth of space around him, the widthand length of the enormous pine floorboards, the height of the sloping timbered ceiling. Thebuilding had the dimensions of a barn or a medieval granary but without the roughness of theformer or the stonework of the latter, though the ground floor had a stone foundation, abarnlike odor, and was used to store all manner of tools and equipment; some old, possiblyoriginal, some likely purchased recently by the Arts Council for the convenience of theresidents. At the south wall there was a large window, a window that once might have been adoor where sails would have been pushed onto waiting wagons. Jerome had read the historicalpamphlet left on the table for the edification of those visiting artists who, like himself,would have no real knowledge of the island’s past, and he knew that the sails stored, mended,and occasionally fabricated in this location were made for ships built in what would have beencalled “the yard” outside and then launched near the spot where the coast guard vessel haddeposited him. There was little about the single remaining quay that suggested the size andpresence such nineteenth-century mammoths must have demanded. He remembered that, as a child,he had tried to copy illustrations of such vessels, but the time it took to render each line ofrope, each board and spar, each of the many sails on the various masts had discouraged him andhe had mostly left the drawings unfinished. Thinking of these things, he realized that thedisappearance of such huge vessels from Kingston Harbour and from the quays at Timber Islandwould have resulted in an absence so enormous it would have been a kind of presence in itself.Gathered together at docksides, tall masts made from virgin pines rocking in the wind, theships would have been like an afterimage of the forests that were being removed from thecountry. And when the last of the great trees vanished, this floating afterimage would vanishwith them.
He walked across the loft to a counter on which rested a hotplate, an electric kettle, and amicrowave oven. He poured some water into the kettle, plugged it in, and fished about in hisknapsack until he found the green tea that Mira, concerned about his well-being, had given himbefore he left the city. He would call her once he had a mug in his hand so he could tell herthat he was drinking her tea and that he was thinking of her.
Jerome finished making the tea but did not call Mira right away. He stood instead at thewindow, looking out over the snow toward the frozen lake, wondering, if it might be possible,in summer, to see remnants of the old schooners through the waters of Back Bay, the location ofthe ships’ graveyard. The wrecks were indicated on the map in the pamphlet as dark markingsdrawn in the shape of a schooner’s deck. These flat, geometric forms immediately signaledobsolescence, just as the rectangular form he was digging into the snow, once he began to think
about it, suggested a human grave. He was toying with the idea of making his excavations in theshape of a schooner’s deck when he again noticed small animal tracks in the snow. Whatever hadmade these tracks had moved out of the scrub bush near the foundations of an abandoned, woodenhouse some fifty feet from the sail loft, had advanced in a westerly direction, then hadchanged its mind and looped around toward the junipers near the door of another abandonedbuilding, which Jerome was able to identify as the old post offce. Here a skirmish hadevidently taken place and Jerome believed, even in this fading light and from this distance, hecould make out traces of blood, traces of a kill.
How wonderful the snow was; every change of direction, each whim, even the compulsion of hungerwas marked on its surface, like memory, for a brief season. He told Mira all of this when hecalled her, but forgot to mention the green tea and how it made him think of her.
That night Jerome was awakened by the noise of a tin can bouncing slowly down the stairs,followed by a dull, steady thumping. When he opened the door to the stairs, he found he waslooking directly into the green eyes of a large orange cat whose fur was matted with burrs andwhose expression was hostile. The animal hunched its back and exhaled a long hiss in Jerome’sdirection, then strolled calmly into the vast space of the loft and disappeared. Too filledwith sleep to fully believe in this apparition, Jerome staggered back to the cot and did notopen his eyes until morning when, sensing that he was being watched, he turned his head andagain met the animal’s angry green eyes. “Hello, puss,” he said and was greeted with a lowgrowl. He reached out a hand and the cat promptly attempted to bite him, despite the fact thatit clearly had no intention of leaving his bedside and did not pay any attention to Jerome whenhe rose from the cot and dressed himself. Neither did it refuse the bowl of milk that Jeromeoffered while he was putting together his own breakfast.
Jerome pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called Mira again. “I’m drinking your tea,”he told her, “and thinking of you.”
“And there’s a cat that’s come into the loft. Dirty orange. It’s feral, I think, growls alot.”
“A cat on a deserted island?” said Mira, her tone almost skeptical.
“Summer people left him here, I suppose, so he’s likely to have been on his own for less thana year. He would have some memory of being tame.”
“And also a memory of being abandoned.”
Jerome was silent.
“The lion,” Mira said suddenly. “Saint Jerome in the wild with his lion.”
Along with a tiny plaster figure of Krishna, Mira had tucked into his pack a small poster ofJoachim Patinir’s sixteenth-century Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, an image she always
insisted Jerome take with him when he disappeared into what she called “the wild,” which, toher mind, was located anywhere beyond the city limits. Brought up as a Hindu, she wasfascinated by the Christian saints and their stories that were, for her, as distant andcompellingly exotic as the various Hindu gods and warriors were to him. When they began to getto know each other, she had been delighted to discover that his mother and father had given himthe name of a famous saint, though he assured her that religion would have been the last thingon his parents’ mind.
After studying the image for a while, they had eventually come to understand that the severaltiny lions in the vivid blue-and-green Patinir landscape they were so fond of – each lionengaged in a particular activity: chasing wolves, curled at the saint’s feet, chumming aroundwith a donkey, or standing in a field filled with sheep – represented only one lion and thatthe painting was episodic in nature, depicting a number of events from the saint’s life. Inthe far distance the lion could be seen either conversing with, or preparing to attack, agathering of people. Mira believed the lion was conversing. Jerome always insisted he wasattacking. Mira had asked how he could be so certain that the lion was a male since it was so