There was no way he could ever unsee the woman’s body floating at the top of the pond. No amount of mental health copays or bourbon shots squirreled through his novice, flyweight stomach would ever wrest the image far from his mind.
The fact that she was beautiful made it all the worse. Not that beauty in women was a thing he cared much about. Beautiful women never gave him the benefit of their glance or a free moment of idle conversation. He preferred women who were clever or hard working or talented in some useful way. Those women might happen to be beautiful as well but when they were ignoring him on a bus or avoiding him on an elevator or simply floating on a pond, you could never know if they were talented or hard working or clever just by looking.
The beauty of her had made it made awful because it had made her more real. She had been someone, recently. She was missing from the pattern of other people’s lives, but some of those people would not realize it yet. Not enough time had passed for the most terrible truths to settle in. She had not floated long enough to become a bloated, waterlogged pond treasure. She might be a missing person but she might not yet be presumed dead.
But she was. Dead. And Andy was drinking enough to blind himself and split his head as he stumbled across the treacherous path of his living room, the sofa and upright lamp and coffee table all in conspiracy to rap his ankles and pull him down. He fell three times on his way to the bathroom and then realized he had pissed himself well and good long before he reached the toilet.
He lay on the bathroom floor, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to see the memory of the way her face had looked up in that same way. Trying not to imagine what it had been like for her to gaze up through the tangled branches of the bog with flies laying eggs on your eyeballs.
He rolled and puked, his guts clenched against emptiness. Congratulating himself for remembering to roll over. That’s how Jimi Hendrix died. And Mama Cass. And Attila the Hun.
The police had questioned him for many hours. They came back several times, each time with the same questions or slight variations on the same questions asked in different tones of voice and at different speeds. Sometimes the tall guy asked the questions. Sometimes it was the lady. Sometimes the bald dude with the mustache that reminded him of walrus brush. They came at him from all angles, sometimes friendly, understanding, sometimes annoyed and curt.
They were interested in knowing exactly how he had found her. What he had been doing in those deep woods by that lonely pond on that overcast autumn day.
And the fact that he had been taking a walk in the woods, a long walk, because he was the kind of person who enjoyed taking long walks in the woods did not seem to satisfy them. No one does that kind of thing anymore, they told him. Which he kind of believed. Who among the people he had met would chance wandering out far enough to risk losing their precious cell phone signal and LTE internet connection? How could they post pictures of the wondrous things they might encounter? Who would be ready to like and retweet and pin their Instagram feeds?
This was why beautiful women avoided him. His mind had become strange. It was a thing he was only vaguely attuned to when he was in adolescence but now it was even more pronounced. He was weird. It was a thing so real and so true. His weirdness was an island he had made himself so far from shore that no one could see a way to bring him back.
But this was unproductive. The woman in the water had been dead but she looked as if she were only sleeping. Lost in deep repose. Her dreaming deep and dark and rich as the swamp shore loam.
He waited for the nausea to pass. Eventually it did.
And then, the familiar knock on his open front door. He groaned as he sat up, pulled himself to his feet.
He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, and he did not like what he saw.
A filthy, slovenly, wasteful old man. A hermit. A recluse. A suspect.
More knocks at the open front door. Persistent.
He washed his face. Tried on another smile. Practiced saying slowly, “I’m just the kind of guy who likes to take a walk in the woods.”
He adjusted the smile until he was satisfied. Then, he left the bathroom and called out, “ Come in. The door’s open.”
And then he was standing back in the living room, aware of the overturned furniture, the path of his catastrophic collisions. Two uniformed officers standing at the doorway.
“Come in. Come in,” he said in his most inviting way. “I’ve been expecting you all day.”