The Passage Page 37

He pulled the car up to the porch and shut off the ignition. Wolgast felt, strangely, the urge to say a prayer of thanks, to acknowledge their arrival in some manner. But it had been many years since he'd done this-too many. He climbed from the car, into the stunning cold. His breath gathered in equine streams around his face. The beginning of May, and still the air seemed to hold the memory of winter. He stepped around to the trunk and keyed the lock. When he'd opened it the first time, in the parking lot of a Walmart west of Rock Springs, he'd found it full of empty paint cans. Now it held supplies-clothes for the two of them, food, toiletries, candles, batteries, a camp stove and bottles of propane, a few obvious tools, a first aid kit, a pair of down-filled sleeping bags. Sufficient to get them settled, though he would have to go down the mountain soon enough. Under the glow of the trunk's bulb, he found what he was looking for and ascended the porch.

The hasp on the front door gave way with one hard yank of the Toyota's tire iron. Wolgast turned on his flashlight and stepped inside. If Amy woke up alone, she might be frightened; but still he wanted to have a quick look around, to make sure the place was safe. He tried the light switch by the door, but nothing happened; the power was off, of course. Probably there was a backup generator somewhere, although he'd need fuel to get it going, and even then, who knew if it would work at all. He shone his beam around the room: a disorganized assemblage of wooden tables and chairs, a cast-iron woodstove, a metal office desk shoved against the wall, and above it a bulletin board, bare except for a single sheet of paper, curling with age. The windows were uncovered, but the glass had held; the space was tight and dry and, with the woodstove going, would warm up fast.

He followed his beam toward the bulletin board. WELCOME CAMPERS, SUMMER 2014, the paper read, and beneath it, filling the page, a list of names-the usual Jacobs and Joshuas and Andrews, but also a Sacha and even an Akeem-each followed by the number of the cabin to which he'd been assigned. Wolgast had been a camper for three years, the last-the summer he'd turned twelve-working as a junior counselor, sleeping in a cabin with a group of younger boys, many of them beset by a homesickness so debilitating it was like an illness. Between the ones who cried all night and the midnight antics of their tormentors, Wolgast had barely slept a wink all summer. And yet he'd never been so happy; those days were, in many ways, the best of his boyhood, a golden hour. It was, in fact, the very next autumn that his parents had taken him to Texas and all their troubles began. The camp had been owned by a man named Mr. Hale-a high school biology teacher with the deep voice and barrel rib cage of a linebacker, which he once had been. He was a friend of Wolgast's father, though he'd never acknowledged this friendship through any special treatment that Wolgast could recall.

Mr. Hale had lived upstairs during the summers with his wife, in some kind of apartment. That's what Wolgast was looking for now. He stepped through a swinging door off the common area and found himself in the kitchen: rustic pine cabinets, a pegboard of oxidizing pots and saucepans, a sink with an old-fashioned pump, and a stove and refrigerator with its door half open, all surrounding a wide pine-plank table. Everything was coated with a heavy scrim of dust. The stove was an old commercial unit, white steel, with a clock on the faceplate, the hands frozen at six minutes after three. He turned one of the burner dials and heard a hiss of gas.

From the kitchen, a narrow stairway ascended to the second floor, a warren of tiny rooms tucked under the eaves. Most were empty, but in two he found a couple of cots, the mattresses turned over to face the walls. And something else: in one of the rooms, on a trestle table by the window, an apparatus of dials and switches that he took to be a shortwave radio.

He returned to the car. Amy was still sleeping, curled beneath the blanket. He shook her gently awake.

She rose and rubbed her eyes. "Where are we?"

"Home," he told her.

He found himself, in those first days on the mountain, thinking of Lila. Strangely, his thoughts did not include a more general curiosity about the world, what was happening out there now. His days were consumed by chores, by setting the place to rights and attending to Amy; but his mind, free to go wherever it wished, chose to move over the past, hovering atop it like a bird over some immense body of water, no shoreline in sight, only the distant reflection of himself in its shining surface for company.

It was not true that he had loved Lila right away. But something had happened that felt like falling. He'd met her on a wintry Sunday when he came into the ER, suspended by the shoulders of two friends reeking of gymnasium sweat. Wolgast wasn't much of a basketball player, hadn't played at all since high school, but he had let himself be talked into playing on a team for a charity tournament-three-on-three, half-court, the stakes low as could be. Miraculously, they'd made it through two rounds before Wolgast went up for a jump shot and came down to a wet pop in his left Achilles tendon and then, as he melted to the floor-the shot bouncing sadly off the rim, adding insult, literally, to injury-an explosion of pain that brought tears to his eyes.

The ER doc who examined him declared the tendon ruptured and sent him upstairs, to an orthopedist. This was Lila. She stepped into the room, spooning the last of a cup of yogurt into her mouth, dropped it in the trash, and turned to the sink to wash her hands, all without once glancing at him.

"So." She dried her hands and looked briskly at his chart, then at Wolgast, sitting on the table. She was not what Wolgast would have described, right off, as classically pretty, though there was something about her that caught him short, a feeling like deja vu. Her hair, the color of cocoa, was held in a bun by some kind of stick. She was wearing a pair of black eyeglasses, very small, that rode down the slope of her narrow nose. "I'm Dr. Kyle. You hurt yourself playing basketball?"

Wolgast nodded sheepishly. "I'm not what you'd call an athlete," he admitted.

At that moment her handheld buzzed at her waist. She peeked at it quickly, frowning. Then, with calm precision, she placed a single outstretched finger on the soft spot behind the third toe of his left foot.

"Press here."

He did, or tried to. The pain was so fierce he thought he might be ill.

"What kind of work do you do?"

Wolgast swallowed. "Law enforcement," he managed. "Jesus, that hurt."

She was writing something on the chart. "Law enforcement," she repeated. "As in, police?"

"FBI actually."

He looked for a flicker of interest in her eyes but saw none. On her left hand, he noted, she wore no ring. Though this didn't necessarily mean anything-maybe she removed it when she saw her patients.

"I'm sending you for a scan," she said, "but I'm ninety percent sure the tendon is ruptured."


She shrugged. "Surgery. I won't lie. It's not fun. An immobilizer for eight weeks, six months to fully recover." She smiled ruefully. "Your basketball days are over, I'm sorry to say."

She gave him something for the pain that made him instantly sleepy. He barely awoke when they wheeled him in for the MRI. When he opened his eyes again, Lila was standing at the foot of his bed. Somebody had pulled a blanket over him. He checked his watch to find it was nearly nine P.M. He'd been at the hospital for almost six hours.

"Are your friends still here?"

"I doubt it."

She had scheduled him for surgery at seven o'clock the next morning. There were forms to sign, and then he'd be taken to a room for the night. She asked him if there was anybody he needed to call.

"Not really." His head was still woozy from the Vicodin. "It seems a little pathetic, I guess. I don't even have a cat."

She was regarding him expectantly, as if waiting for him to say something else. He was on the verge of asking her if they'd met before when she broke the silence with a sudden, shining smile.

"Well, good," she said.

Their first date, two weeks after Wolgast's surgery, was dinner in the hospital cafeteria. Wolgast, on crutches, his left leg entombed in an apparatus of plastic and Velcro from knee to toe, was forced to wait at the table like an invalid while she fetched their food. She was wearing scrubs-she was on call all night, she'd explained, and would be sleeping at the hospital-but she'd put on a bit of lipstick and mascara, he saw, and brushed her hair.

Lila's family was all back east, near Boston. After med school at BU-horrible, she said, the worst four years of her life, of anyone's life, like being dragged from a car-she'd moved to Colorado for her residency in orthopedics. She thought she'd hate it, this huge, faceless city far from home, but the opposite was true: she felt nothing but relief. The heedless sprawl of Denver, its chaotic snarl of subdivisions and freeways; the openness of the high plains and the indifferent mountains; the way people talked to each other, easily, without pretense, and the fact that nearly everyone was from somewhere else: exiles, like her.

"I mean, it seemed so normal here." She was spreading cream cheese onto a bagel-breakfast for her, though it was nearly eight o'clock at night. "I guess I never even knew what normal was. It was just what an uptight Wellesley girl needed," she explained.

Wolgast felt hopelessly outclassed, and told her so. She laughed brightly, with embarrassment, and quickly touched his hand. "You shouldn't," she said.

She worked long hours; seeing each other in any kind of customary way, going to restaurants or movies, was impossible. Wolgast was on disability and spent his days sitting around his apartment, feeling antsy; then he would drive to the hospital, and the two of them would eat dinner together in the cafeteria. She told him all about growing up in Boston, the daughter of college teachers, and about school, her friends and studies and a year she'd spent in France, trying to be a photographer. He got the idea she'd been waiting for somebody to come along in her life for whom all this would be new. He was wholly content to listen, to be that person.

They didn't so much as hold hands until nearly a month had passed. They had just finished their dinner when Lila removed her glasses, leaned across the table, and kissed him, long and tenderly, her breath tasting of the orange she had just eaten.

"There," she said. "Okay?" She looked around the room theatrically and lowered her voice. "I mean, I am, technically, your doctor."

"My leg feels better already," Wolgast said.

He was thirty-five, Lila thirty-one, when they married. A day in September: the ceremony was held on Cape Cod, at a small yacht club overlooking a tranquil bay of bobbing sailboats beneath a sky of crisp, autumnal blue. Nearly everybody who came was from Lila's side of the family, which was huge, like some enormous tribe-so many aunts and uncles and cousins that Wolgast couldn't keep count, couldn't hope to keep everyone's name straight. Half the women in attendance seemed to have been Lila's roommates at one time or another, eager to tell him tales about various youthful escapades that seemed, in the end, to be all the same story. Wolgast had never been so happy. He drank too much champagne and stood on a chair to give a long, maudlin toast, utterly sincere, that ended with his singing, wincingly off-key, a verse from "Embraceable You." Everyone laughed and applauded before sending them off under a corny torrent of rice. If anybody knew that Lila was four months pregnant, they didn't say a word to him about it. Wolgast chalked this up to New England reserve, but then he realized that no one cared; everyone was honestly happy for them.

With Lila's money-her income made his own look laughable-they bought a house in Cherry Creek, an older neighborhood with trees and parks and good schools, and waited for the baby to come. They knew she would be a girl. Eva had been the name of Lila's grandmother, a fiery character who, according to family lore, had both sailed on the Andrea Doria and dated a nephew of Al Capone's. Wolgast simply liked the name, and in any event, once Lila suggested it, it stuck. The plan was for Lila to work until her due date; after Eva was born, Wolgast would stay home with her for a year, and then Lila would go down to half-time at the hospital when he returned to the Bureau. A crazy plan, full of potential problems they both foresaw but didn't dwell on. Somehow, they would make things work.

In her thirty-fourth week, Lila's blood pressure went up, and her obstetrician put her on bed rest. Lila told Wolgast not to worry-it wasn't so high that the baby was in any danger. She was a doctor, after all; if there was a real problem, she'd tell him. He worried that she'd worked too hard, spent too many hours on her feet at the hospital, and he was glad to have her home, lying about like a queen, calling down the stairs for her meals and movies and things to read.

Then one night, three weeks before her due date, he came home and found her sobbing, sitting on the edge of the bed as she held her head in agony.

"Something's wrong," she said.

At the hospital, they told Wolgast her blood pressure was 160 over 95, a condition known as preeclampsia. That was the source of the headache. They were concerned about seizures, about Lila's kidneys, about harm to the baby. Everyone was very serious, especially Lila, whose face was gray with worry. They would have to induce, her doctor told him. A vaginal delivery was best in cases like this, but if she didn't deliver in six hours, they would have to do a section.

They hooked her up to a Pitocin drip and a second IV, of magnesium sulfate, to suppress seizures. By this time it was after midnight. The magnesium, the nurse said, with infuriating cheerfulness, would be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable how? Wolgast asked. Well, the nurse said, it was hard to explain, but she wouldn't like it. They hooked her up to a fetal monitor, and after that they waited.

It was awful. Lila, on the bed, moaned in pain. The sound was like nothing Wolgast had ever experienced; it rocked him to the core. It felt like tiny fires, Lila said, all over. Like her own body hated her. She had never felt so terrible. Whether this was the magnesium or the Pitocin, Wolgast didn't know, and nobody would answer his questions. The contractions began, hard and close, but the OB said she wasn't dilated enough, not even close. Two centimeters, tops. How long could this go on? They had been to the classes, done everything right. No one had said it would be like this, like watching a car crash in slow motion.

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