always came with the rain. He would show up, just after dinner, his shirt
speckled and slick, and he would sit in our den and drink scotch with my
father. A nightcap, he called it, as if that made it all right. As if that made
him not sixteen.
The other thing
Evan would do, that was even more disconcerting than the scotch drinking and
the hanging out in other people’s dens when he had his own perfectly good den
to hang out in, was play the fiddle. I do not know a single sixteen-year-old
boy in Redplain, Montana who knows how to play the fiddle. Although I expect if
they did, they wouldn’t brag about it—especially those who are still counting
on having their first sexual experience before they graduate. So what do I
know? Maybe all the boys in Redplain, Montana are secret scotch-drinking,
fiddle-playing prodigies. But if they are, they don’t come to our house. Only
Evan comes to our house, and he’s as regular as the rain.
Evan left Texas
during his first year of high school. It was his first class of his first day
of his first year, and he didn’t make it to his second class. He just got up
and walked out, leaving his notebook open on his desk. There are a lot of
stories Evan tells about his trip from Texas to Redplain, about how he had to
hitchhike, and how he had to fight off an alligator with a stick and how once
he got picked up by a bakery truck and the driver gave him a free hand with the
pastries in the back and he ate so much that he fell asleep in New Mexico and
didn’t wake up until Wyoming, but I won’t go into them because I think most of
them are lies. I think, probably, all of them are lies, only if they are, I’m
not sure how he got from Texas to Montana.
And then, and
this I know for sure is a lie: Evan got dropped off at the fork where West Peak
Road branches off into Larryington Avenue. Stay on West Peak and you’ll hit
Casing, but Larryington will take you to Redplain. Evan says the driver let him
off just at dusk, when there was still light but you couldn’t tell where it was
coming from and the dust in the road rose up a little on the breeze. In the
middle of West Peak Road there was a turtle and in the middle of Larryington
Avenue—smack dab in the middle—was a lynx, and that’s how Evan knew which road
to take, which road would lead him right to Redplain, right to his mother’s
house where she kept her new family and her new Camry, and, eventually, right
to our front porch during the first rain of the season.
I know it’s a
lie because there aren’t any lynxes in this part of Montana, and even if there
were that’d be no way to choose a direction especially if you had an iPhone
which I know Evan does, though he never seems to use it. But my father, he
liked the story. He said, when Evan told it to him, “That’s right, son, the
turtle, that would have served you fine, but it wasn’t your destiny. Your
destiny is here with us,” and then he pointed above the fireplace where we have
this giant portrait of a lynx and her two cubs on a mountain ledge that my aunt
painted, and Evan gasped, and Father was smug which was overdoing it quite a
bit I thought because there isn’t a house in Redplain that doesn’t have some
sort of photograph or painting of wildlife in their den, if not the animal
itself tanned and stuffed.
But as soon as
Evan saw the painting, he was lost to us. He went over and stood beneath the
mother lynx, his head tilted back, and everyone was silent, and then he turned
to my father and said, “You’re right.
This is my destiny.” And his gaze went once around the room to take in
our whole family: Father, bearded and tall and only a little paunchy, leaning
casually on the mantle trying to balance his excitement against the gravity he
felt the moment deserved; Mother, with Celia in her arms, smiling because she
felt in some roundabout way we were all finally giving her artist sister her
dues; and me, Clare McDougal, with shower-damp hair and dressed in rather
embarrassing plaid pajamas because I had not expected anyone to come by the
house so late at night, and especially in that rain.
We didn’t see
Evan again for two weeks. A storm brought down a few dozen trees and a power
line and we were sitting around the table, surrounded by candlesticks and
flashlights, eating Beefaroni from the can, when we heard the doorbell. We
thought it was a family come to stay out the night. Mother works for the Red
Cross and our house is first on the volunteer host list for people who need a
place to stay if their house has caught fire, or flooded, or been cleaved in
half by a falling redwood. But it was Evan, soaked through, hair plastered to
his forehead, and smiling like he had just cheated death.
Father let him in
and mumbled something about how he should have known that Evan was coming
because he had had a strange dream the night before and he had felt off all day
until right when he opened the door and saw the boy standing there. Father is a
dream therapist and takes his dreams very seriously. He used to take my dreams
very seriously too until he found out I was making them up.
“Evan, why don’t
you come down to the den? I’ll see if I have any dry clothes for you and if
that doesn’t do it, I’ve got something else that will warm you right up, my
boy,” he said, walking over to the bar and taking two glasses from the cabinet.
liked to direct us down to the den whenever Evan came over. I think he
considered it the site of his triumph, since that is where we keep the lynx
painting. Mother usually comes down for
a few minutes until Celia gets fussy and then she goes to put her to bed. Father
and Evan take up the chairs in front of the fire and I watch from the stairs so
that I can leave whenever I want without asking permission or disturbing them. I
can see their profiles from where I sit, through the vertical bars of the
banister, as they lean forward to talk to each other, the fire behind them casting
their faces in backlight. They talk about dream things, spirit animals, the
soul and the hero’s journey. They talk about death most of all, and that seems
to please them.
When they are
done talking, Evan takes out his fiddle. Sometimes he sings, and sometimes he
just plays, while I lean back on the steps and Father stares into the fire,
sipping his scotch.
The last time I
saw Evan was three months ago. It wasn’t a storm, this night, but a soft
drizzle. When I opened the door after dinner, Evan was standing there, his
shirt flecked around his shoulders and a few beads of water in his hair. He
smiled and my mother smiled and everyone smiled except me because I had physics
homework and I didn’t appreciate what seemed an unnecessary and callous show of
cheerfulness. I did not stay to listen to them talk that night and it wasn’t
until I heard the music that I finally gathered up my pencil, notebook and
textbook and brought them down to the staircase in the den.
like he might be asleep, his glass balanced precariously on his knee in his
cupped hand, his head back against the cushions. But Evan didn’t seem to mind. He
played a few quick numbers, winking at me, and then he played something slow
and sad, which I hadn’t known you could do with a fiddle, but it was
sad, in a heartbreaking way, and then he put his fiddle away.
dove,” he said. Little dove, Evan and Father had decided one evening, was my
spirit animal. They had given everyone a spirit animal. They had begun with mom
and Celia (a horse and a swan); then they did the neighbors; then, as the
evening had progressed and along with it their consumption of scotch, they had
broadened their scope to include the mailman (a buffalo), the landlady (a
moth), and our dog (a rabbit, which if you knew her, would actually make a lot
I looked up
from my problem set. His voice sounded strange in the hallowed silence after
the music, and I found it even stranger that he was talking to me, since he
usually only talked to Mother and Father. But I guess since Father was asleep
Evan had had to make some compromises. “Did you know I’m moving?”
I put my pencil
down in the fold of the open book. “Where to?”
“Why are you
“Mom has a
friend there. We’re going to live with
him, I think.”
“Just you and
silence and I wished he hadn’t put away the fiddle.
He wasn’t lying
about moving. I saw the trucks parked out in front of his house way down at the
end of our street. Then the trucks were gone, and Evan with them. I kept
waiting for the rains, to see if he would show up at our front door anyway,
half-wet and bright-eyed, but the thing is, it hasn’t rained in three months.