Evan is the first man to knock on her door after the funeral. She is pale, gaunt, in sky-blue flannel pajamas and appears unwashed. He says you look the part of the widow. She responds, with a thin finger-hand held up weakly, come back in one year.

Because the other guys are still in the street, some standing outside their doors with cigarettes, a few dumb dumb-asses with bottled beers, they crowd Evan as he tries to get into his car. What did she say? They all want to know.

He hesitates. If I tell them one year, what will they do? Beat me to her? If I lie, tell them come back in two years, I have lied. There is nothing good about a lie. Just like there is nothing good about the stench of fresh blacktop like that he can smell in the air right now. The desperation of the waiting men, the smell of asphalt-beer-breath-styrofoam-coffees, the vision of her lovely yet greasy hair, it all makes him want to drive, far.

They hold his door open as he tries to shut it. If he says, talk to her yourself, then he’s burdening her, and she already looks so plum beautifully devastated.

Instead, he slips into the car before they get too agitated, before they break down the car with bats, or rocks, or Evan himself.

***

He is considering meatballs when the bobcat darts across the road. A near miss. The cat pauses in front of a pile of years-gone-by-ignored lumber, just long enough to give a look of wildness and admonition, not curiosity, then vanishes into the brush next to the dilapidated house. The sagging roof crumbles on one side, giving the appearance of melting into the forest. Which is what the house is indeed doing, dissolving, liquefying, turning back into earth.

Evan isn’t here to see the house, so he purposefully keeps the mess out of his view, looking away to study the property while his heated car ticks. Now he thinks of arrows. This meadow would be where he’ll set up the big ugly domino as a target. However, forget that foam thing, he wants what is natural and cheapest; he’ll get a hay bale. Here is where he’ll build a four or five room log cabin, with a kitchen window right here where he’ll cook spaghetti with deer meat. Not meatballs though. He’s always had this fear that the meatballs won’t cook long enough and guests — or, gasp, a wife? — would carve into their steamy homemade meal to find raw, cold meat inside. How to test a meatball without cutting it open?

The thought of a wife, of her, of just the possibility of her in his kitchen — would she wear a white silk negligee to dinner or the blue flannel grieving-pajamas — makes him look quickly, desperately for a distraction. Just as he turns toward the highest peak, the real estate agent drives up in a slow-moving almost-hushed solar-driven car. Even though he is thankful for the diversion, Evan wants to plot the new property himself without the well-meaning suggestions from J. Robert. Nevertheless, here is J. Robert, smooth, horizontal hair and all.

A creak and a thud from the house make them both turn before greeting. J. Robert, in his non-explosive voice, his nothing-in-the-world-could-hurry-me manner, said, “They’re going to demo it next week. Remove the repeater six months after sale.”

This is when Evan notices the repeater. How did he not when he pulled up? Must have been the panoramic views, the ocean to the west, the pines to the north, the redwoods and oaks to the south. Pleasant. Quiet. Not a raping-the-land vineyard in site. But look at that monstrosity. Towering behind the house, metal upon metal upon flap upon bar upon pole upon contraption. Topped with wrong-green limbs to disguise itself somewhat as a tree. The ugliest damn wanna-be-natural thing he’s ever seen. This is not good.

J. Robert toes the dusty road. It has always been Evan’s opinion that people toe the road when they are guilty, hiding something or both.

What do I need to know about that? Evan points, aware that his adrenaline is beginning to rise, aware that he is getting angry, but also aware that his feelings might be for nothing, there is no evidence yet.

It’s off. It’s leaving. The agent frowns, the kind of frown a man isn’t aware his face is even making, gazing closer to the house. Be like it was never here. And then he makes the wrong move. He takes Evan’s arm to steer him away from the old home site. But, it is too late. Evan has seen what J. Robert has seen. Movement.

***

He doesn’t drive past her house for a month, but when he does he is five miles above the speed limit. In his rear view mirror, the men, would-be-suitors, argue, push. As his car rounds the corner, Evan can’t blame their shakeup, she is loveliest woman on earth. As he pulls from the neighborhood he assesses himself as mere middling. Evan is only one of many an average man.

***

On a spontaneous trip up to the property, he runs into the sister of the current owner who doesn’t explain why she is there. Her brother is now dead in a way she describes, with fluttering eyelashes, as too morbid to discuss. It all started with the strongest sales speech her brother had ever heard. By the time the man handed Chet a check for $5,000 just for 45 minutes of his time where — if he could just listen a bit with an open mind — he was sold. The repeater was built on his hilltop property behind his home and work started the following Monday. Can you believe they started work in three days? Does that happen? Anywhere? Evan allowed himself to finally study the steel tower. The man had said it would be disguised as a native hemlock. She says twice, does that look like a tree to you? Folks for bazillions of miles would have clear, uninterrupted cell phone access, and her brother, in his one-room-saggy-linoleum-kitchen-next to-a-skinny-bed cabin, would become an exceptionally wealthy man.

Something scoots out of the open front door of the drooping house and hunkers along the ground. Not the bobcat he saw the first trip. Darker than, lower than, longer than.

Rat. They both say at once.

Evan adds, Big.

With a grimace, the sister supplies, Ugly.

***

The calendar shows many months until he can approach the widow again. He has heard through friends, while trying not to show too much interest, that the sheriff has arrested several pesky men from in front of her place, shooed away handfuls, put up blockades, and offered to hide her somehow in the witness protection program. However, there was no crime. She is only guilty of being beautiful and her dead husband, dwindled to a tin of ashes on her kitchen table, was no one any Chicago mob or LA gang is searching for.

***

As he pokes around the sagging house, Evan searches for evidence in the downslide of Chet, Dead Man Number Two, the previous owner of the remote cabin-gone-cell-tower-gone-suicide. Blackish rat feces heavy the floor. Mold sprays and fuzzes the walls. Of course the place will be bulldozed, but Evan figures he needs to just take a curious peek before it goes. He has avoided going into the building thus far after several trips to view the view, count the hills, admire the sunrise. While poking around with a stick, he pushes a board away from the woodstove, revealing a scratched-in confession on the top of the iron. This causes Evan to step back, startled, and a boot goes through the floor, wedging him in for a moment. During the time he yanks his foot, he is conscious of three things: grime going into his shoe, rat-grime to be precise, a shadow across the broken window, and the three words carefully scratched — with a screwdriver, a knife? — Chet Killed John.

***

Evan receives the invitation to bring pillows, no weapons, to an event in an empty lot not far from the widow’s house. The suitors plan to duke it out, knowing their battle may have no impact on her love for them. It may, as the invitation says, assuage the anguish of waiting. Who writes like this? He frowns and sends off the RSVP. Of course he’ll be there.

***

The escrow is delayed due to a glitch in Chet’s lengthy and complicated agreement with the cell phone company. The repeater will go on repeating for six months. Upgrades will begin tomorrow. Evan is still first in line for the land and is given permission to access the property at will with a long-worded-scientific-heavily-jargoned recommendation to visit during non-peak hours.

***

He met her twice through her husband at work get-togethers. Although always dark, stunning, always quiet, always diplomatic, it was the one time they spoke that bothers him, the year-end barbeque. He asked, with typical employer-run-wilted-down-barbeque wit, if she minded if he stole her husband for an abalone diving trip. Does him being forty-feet under scare her? While the husband fetched a burger, she said, nothing’s scary when you marry your greatest protector and your biggest enemy.

Keep em close, was all Evan had the time to say, before husband and burger were back.

***

Evan stays away from the property, her house. The Sierras, he overhears in a café, are the perfect place to lose yourself. He packs lightly, hikes far too long for new shoes and low water supply, limps back, collapses in his tent without making a fire, having lost nothing.

***

What sort of pillow does one bring to a duke-it-out-we-all-want-her skirmish? In the excessively-lit department store, rows of down, foam, soft, hard, medium loom over Evan. When he reaches out to squeeze the premium-made-silver-select-guaranteed-nighty-night white orb in front of him, a hundred gentle plops plummet upon his head and shoulders. An avalanche of the best part of bedding falls on his being, engulfing him like a sundae, his head the tempting cherry.

***

On one of those unceremonious holidays where everyone is given a meaningless but well-accepted three-day weekend, Evan makes the drive. He hasn’t been here in months. Most of the rubble was hauled away leaving a sparse smallish space — was Chet’s house really that tiny? At first it is quiet: a dove, a distant crow. He makes the walk toward the tower, noting a discernible hum, then another noise enters, like an air conditioner, then a fan, then a blender, a metal grinder, an MRI. Then, it all cacophonies into a metallic-rumble-roar that invades Evan’s insides and reverberates within his guts. It isn’t the sound that is the horrible sensation, but the feeling, as if he is being microwaved by a malevolent machine. He has an awareness of being reassembled from within on a microscopic level, replaced by steel parts. It takes enormous willpower to override the sensation of stay-and-be-fried with get-the-hell-out.

With every inch down the mountain Evan’s heart and brain improve. By the time he gets to the bottom and orders a chocolate shake in town, he feels as if he has just experienced a near escape. Chet, he realizes, stayed and fried.

***

The widow’s dead husband’s name was Wallace. He drowned while abalone diving alone off-season. Some say it served him right for poaching. Evan, who only dives legally, doesn’t feel anything either way about Wallace’s death, aside from shuddering when hearing the gruesome details of his scanty remains. They never did get a chance to dive together. Other than running into each other at work for early-morning-get-a-coffee chat, he didn’t really know the man.

***

John, the murdered, is a third-man mystery. Evan tries the newspaper archives, the internet, and gets nowhere at once. Of course Chet murdered John. Anyone living near that metal-hell would murder someone, the soonest visitor perhaps.

He calls J. Robert who doesn’t know anything and isn’t interested in Evan’s inquisitiveness about Chet, the admission or a potential unexplained body. The house was dozed yesterday and while we’re talking here, just thought I’d let you know something.

There is a gravity to know something. Evan gets the feeling that J. Robert is about to convey to him something that will change both their lives, perhaps even the entire world’s life.

A motorcycle guns its engine at the same time J. Robert speaks. It sounds like, I’ll be seeing you at the pilla fight.

J. Robert too? He is also one of the many who want the widow? There is a feeling of sudden drowning, ringing in the ears, unstable missteps. Say that again. Evan holds his breath.

The sister may reduce the price.

***

The night before the fight, he drives past her house. It has been nine months and twenty-nine days since he stood so close to her. Did she have a smell? Soap? Shampoo? Sweat? Did she look him in the eye? He can’t remember if it was a glance or a look. In six months he can say, I waited for you. He doesn’t want to think beyond that phrase, plan anything. No planned reactions to any of her possible responses. One shouldn’t architect future conversations, he always thought, except for maybe the first line. The house looks exactly the same, greenish, slightly peeling, surrounded by trees. Willows along the creek. A colorful yet dim Tiffany lamp behind an almost-sheer curtain. Raindrops on his windshield. Another car slows, the window rolls down. Tomorrow?

Evan nods. He’ll be there.

***

There was one other not-so-small thing. When Wallace walked away for more potato salad — that guy could eat — Evan grabbed her hand under the table and squeezed. He didn’t know what compelled him; it was something from his insides, something without language, without rationale. She neither pulled away nor looked at him. They never spoke again until the blue-flannel-after-the-funeral morning. Come back in one year.

***

Just before dawn, he drives the jeep up the mountain with a goal to view the land, but go nowhere near the thing. Deer graze in the meadow almost evenly spaced, reminding him of a checker board or chess. He was never good at chess, or perhaps he never tried. Thinking six steps ahead doesn’t appeal to a guy like Evan, a man who makes one move and watches. However, he has brought two pillows and has a vague plan to do a practice beating: punch the crap out of a large rock or log.

However, he doesn’t have it in him, even after removing the plastic. The pillow is too clean, the morning too peaceful. He doesn’t have enough anger or frustration, just curiosity. Curiosity doesn’t make one fight inanimate objects. Instead, he leans the pillows against a pine tree, where he waits, trying not to listen to the faraway changing tones of the repeater down below as a fan goes on or off, a cooler, or a vent.

***

As both were leaving that barbeque, Evan stood to say goodbye with the rest, behind a man telling the boss the chicken was f-ing good, a rare non-work display of vocabulary freedom. Excuse me, Evan inserted, bye, hoping to get one last look at her. She was like billowing smoke filling the sky, clouding what was a clear, grassy day, making it an early evening of shadows, while Evan moved with conscious regularity toward his car, hoping no one noticed the difference. He watched her get into the husband’s truck. She didn’t look back, which Evan guessed confirmed something solid.

***

Motorcycles can be heard revving from blocks away. The night fog mixes with engine smoke. It smells burnt, like summer fireworks and over-charred steaks. Evan parks far, walks into the milieu of men. Most stand with pillows against their legs, a few hold them over their shoulders, some thrust toward each other, sparring in the air. There are too many men, how could he compete? How could one man, a man who has no rights to her, but is convinced he can do better than them all, win? All wait for the signal.

It comes in the dimness as a disembodied shout, Go.

A wap strikes his eye. He lurches back with everything he has, hoisting the thing across his body and swinging it toward the first man. They pummel as he beats at them, thinking of her hand, how he held it under the table, how she already married her greatest fear but Evan would never be close to anything like an enemy.

He even parries thinking of John, how no one protected him from Chet, a man gone haywire from his modernized environment. John, perhaps a lost hiker, an old well-meaning-I’m-checking-on-you friend, a faithful dog. As feathers — so many feathers — obscure it all, he fights for John, for Chet, for the widow, for the wrongness of the repeater, for the wrongness of technology, for the widow, for the widow.

His weapon shredded, his shirt soaked, his eyes blurry, he heaves, alone in the parking lot, gulping for breath.

***

There is no doubt, he tells J. Robert, that the property is ideal, but I’m going to wait.

May I ask what for?

As he ponders the response, Evan acknowledges that it isn’t the removal of the tower that he is waiting for, but he is really stalling, hoping for a sign that he could share the property with someone. With her? He winces at his allowance of hopefulness and at the naïve vision of showing her the view, the deer. He reminds himself: not too many steps ahead.

J. Robert gives out an exaggerated sigh, on your time then.

***

A leaf dances on the driveway. A nuthatch walks backward down a tree. After thirty seven slow sit-ups, Evan showers.

***

The men part for him. Some grumble. One says, Go on.

The door opens before he knocks. Is the time right? he says.

She says his words, the only words he planned. You waited for me.

Yes. He holds out one hand, not two. Two would be forceful, just one open palm waiting casually, so she can make up her own mind.

What do we do now?

He is cognizant that his reply will be the deciding factor and the length it takes him to get there. Whether she will accept his hand rides on the perfection of his answer.

We will walk in the rain. The drops will hide her tears, he thinks.

She takes his hand, perhaps for balance, while placing one foot into a rubber boot and the next.

He said the right thing, suggested the right move. He feels the weight of her reliance, more than relaxed, less than dependent.

Trucks up and down the block start. Cars pull out. A few gun their engines. Most just leave. A motorcycle doing a wheelie tears away.

They walk out into the misty rain, Evan committing to memory each step, past the first tree — a redwood, the next tree — a tall fir, the next — another redwood, and eventually along the creek, under the dripping row of willows.

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