The abandoned house was boarded up, its chimney fallen, the white paint on the clapboards weathered to the color of an old ghost. It was hidden from the street by two low-limbed sycamores in the front yard and by an overgrown oleander hedge covered in pink and white flowers. Alan stood by his car in the driveway, sheltered from the street in the empty and melancholy afternoon, half listening to the drone of an unseen airplane and to the staccato clamor of a jack hammer, that stopped and started in a muted racket somewhere blocks away in the nearby neighborhood.
More than twenty years had passed since Alan had last driven out to his childhood home. A year or so after he had married Susan the two of them had stopped on the road, and he had climbed out of the car with no real idea what he hoped to find. A new family had moved in by thenhis own parents having sold the house and moved north a year beforeand the unrecognizable children's toys on the lawn were disconcerting to him, and so he had climbed back into the car and driven away.
His marriage to Susan was one of the few things in his life that he had done without hesitation, and that had turned out absolutely right. A few days ago she had gone back east for two weeks to visit her aunts in Michigan, taking along their son Tyler, who was starting college in two months in Ann Arbor. Alan had stayed home looking forward to the peace and quiet, a commodity that had grown scarce over the years. But somewhere along the line he had lost his talent for solitude, and the days of empty stillness had filled him with a sense of loss that was almost irrational, as if Susan and Tyler been gone months instead of days, or as if, like the old house in front of him now, he was coming to the end of something.
He walked into the back yard and tried the rear door, which of course was locked, and then tried without success to peer through a boarded-up kitchen window. He looked back up the driveway to make sure he was unseen, but just then a man came into view, walking along the shoulder of the road, heading uphill past the house. Alan moved back out of sight, waiting for an interminable couple of minutes before looking out once more. Hurrying now, he pried two of the boards off with his hands, wiggling the nails loose and setting the boards aside on the ground. He put his face to the dusty glass and peered through, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness within. There was a skylight overhead, which, like the oleander hedge out front, hadn't been part of the house twenty years ago. Filtered sunlight shone through its litter of leaves and dirt so that the interior of the kitchen slowly appeared out of the darkness like a photograph soaking in developer. He had been afraid that he would find the house depressingly vandalized, but it wasn't; and he stared nostalgically at the familiar chrome cabinet pulls and the white-painted woodwork and the scalloped moldings, remembering the breakfast nook and curio shelves, the dining room beyond, the knotty pine bookshelves topped with turned posts that screened the hallway leading to his bedroom.
He stepped away from the window and walked along the side of the property, between the house and the fence, toward where his bedroom stoodor what had been his bedroom all those years ago. There were no boards on the window, but the view was hidden by curtains. He rejected the idea of breaking the window, and instead retraced his steps, his hands in his pockets, careful not to look over the fence, beyond which lay the back yards of houses built a decade ago. In his day there had been a farm house on several acres, belonging to an old childless couple named Prentice who had the remnants of a grove of walnuts and a chicken coop and goats. There had been fruit trees on their property, peaches and Santa Rosa plums that he had eaten his share of.
He paused in the shade of a big silk oak tree near the garden shed in the back yard and stood listening to the breeze rustle the leaves, hearing again the distant clattering echo of the jack hammer. The heavy grapevines along the fence hadn't been pruned back in years, and the air was weighted with the smell of concord grapes, overripe and falling in among the vines to dry in the summer heat. The August afternoon was lonesome and empty, and the rich smell of the grapes filled him with the recollection of a time when he'd had no real knowledge that the hours and days were quietly slipping away, bartered for memories.
The shed at the back of the garage was ramshackle and empty except for scattered junk, its door long ago fallen off and only a single rusted hinge left as a reminder that it had once had a door at all. He remembered that there had been a brick pad in front of the door, but the bricks were gone, and there was nothing but compressed dirt. Inside, a short wooden shelf held a couple of broken clay pots, and on the wall below the shelf hung a single ancient aluminum lawn chair with a woven nylon seat. Alan was certain he remembered that very chair, in considerably better shape, hanging in this same place thirty years ago. On impulse he stepped into the shed, took the chair down, and unfolded it, wiping off dust and cobwebs before walking out under the tree, where he put the chair down in the shade and sat in it, letting his weight down carefully. The nylon webbing was frayed with age, and the aluminum was bent and weakened at the joints, but the seat held, and he relaxed and surveyed the back yard, feeling a sense of invitation, of growing familiarity. Now that the house was sold and abandoned, soon to be torn down, it was his as much as it was anyone's, and it seemed to him as if the years had passed in the blink of an eye, the house having waited patiently for his return.
The quarter acre yard was smaller than he remembered, although it was immense by southern California standards, and the untended Bermuda grass lawn, flanked by now-weedy flowerbeds, stretched away toward the back fence and garden as ever, with the same orange trees and the big avocado tree that had shaded it since as early as he could remember. On impulse he stood up and walked to the edge of the lawn, where he pushed aside the high brown grass with the toe of his shoe until he found the first of the brick stepping stones that led out to the back garden. He recalled the countless times he had clipped away the grass that had overgrown the bricks, like a gardener edging headstones in a cemeteryan idea that was almost funny, since he had in fact buried something beneath this very stepping stone, which had seemed to him as a child to be permanently set in the lawn, like a benchmark.
When he was a kid he had put together little treasures, collections of marbles and pieces of quartz crystal and small toys that he buried inside foil-wrapped coffee cans around the back yard. The first of his treasures he had buried right here. And now, within a matter of weeks, bulldozers would level the house and grade the yard, and that would be the end of any buried treasures.
He bent over and yanked at the Bermuda grass, pulling out tufts of it in order to expose the edges of the brick. The roots were heavy, a tangled mass that had grown between and around the bricks, packing them together so tightly that they might have been set in concrete. He walked back to the garden shed and looked at the remains of old tools that lay scattered inside: a broken spade, the blade of a hoe, a bamboo rake with most of the tines snapped off.
He picked up the spade, which had about a foot of splintered handle, and went back out to the stepping stone where he slipped the blade in along the edge of the brick, leaning into it, pushing with his foot until he levered the brick out of its hole. The other bricks followed easily now, leaving a three inch deep square, walled and floored and criss-crossed with tangled white roots. Grasping the broken shovel handle he hacked through them, tearing clumps of roots and grass away with his hands, exposing the packed dirt underneath.
After scraping and hacking away an inch or so of soil he unearthed a rusty ring of metalthe top of a coffee can. A big shred of foil, stained gold, lay three-quarters buried in the orange-brown dirt, and he pulled it loose, the dirt collapsing into what must have been the vacancy left when the can had rusted away. Almost immediately he found a tiny porcelain doga basset hound that his mother had bought for him as a remembrance of their own basset, which had died when Alan was four or five years old. He tried to recall the dog's name, but it wouldn't come to him, and his losing the name filled him with sadness. It occurred to him that he couldn't actually recall the living dog at all, but had only a memory built up out of a few of his parents' stories, which had themselves been only memories.
He polished the dirt from the porcelain and set the figurine aside on the lawn. The wind rose just then, and the leaves overhead stirred with a sibilant whispering, and for a time the afternoon was utterly silent aside from the wind-animated noises. Fallen leaves rose from the lawn and tumbled toward the fence, and he heard a distant creaking noise, like a door opening, and the low muttering sound of animals from somewhere off to the east.
When he peered into the hole again he saw a tarnished silver coin, smashed flat, and instantly he recalled the morning that he and his parents had laid pennies and nickels and dimes on the train tracks near the beach in Santa Barbara, and how this dime had been flattened into a perfect oval, with the image still clear and clean, and had become his good luck coin. It reminded him now of the buffalo nickel that he carried for luck, one of his old childhood habits that he hadn't given up. He found three more objects: the lens from a magnifying glass, a carved wooden tiki with tiny ball bearings for eyes, brown with their own rust, and a pint-sized glass marble, a light, opaque blue with pink swirls.
He scraped the hole out a little deeper, getting well down beneath the rusty soil, but if there were other pieces of buried treasure lying around he couldn't find them. He pushed the soil and dug-up roots back in, rubbing the grass to disperse the leftover dirt, and then re-fit the bricks into their original positions as best he could, patting the edges back down before blowing the bricks clean. He sat down and polished the objects with the tail of his shirt, arranging them finally on the arms of the chair, remembering the day his father had come up with the idea of burying treasures and had helped him pick out these several trinkets from the scattered junk on the shelves of his bedroom. The two of them had made an elaborate map and burned the edges with a candle flame, but over the years he had lost track of the map, just as he had forgotten about the treasure itself.
He was vaguely aware again of the barnyard muttering from beyond the fence to the east. He closed his eyes, listening carefully, trying to puzzle out the eerily familiar noise, which faded now, seemingly as soon as he paid attention to it. He opened his eyes, looking toward the fence. A heat haze rippled across the old redwood boards and for one disconcerting moment it seemed to him that he saw right through the shingled rooftops of the tract homes beyond the fence. He blinked the illusion away and looked around uneasily, listening now to the ghostly whispering of the wind in the leaves. It seemed to him that something was pending, like the smell of ozone rising from concrete just before a summer rainfall.
He moved the treasure pieces around idly, letting each of them call up memories of his childhood. He recalled quite clearly his father's telling him that a buried treasure was better than a treasure that you held in your hand, that sometimes it was better that your birds stayed in the bushes, a constant and prevailing mystery.
In his reverie he heard a hissing noise, interrupted by a ratcheting clack, and in the very instant that he identified it as the sound of a Rainbird sprinkler, he felt a spray of drops on his arm. He looked up in surprise, at the empty dead lawn and the deserted house, but the sound had already faded, and his arm was dry. He turned his attention back to the objects, suddenly recalling the name of their basset hound, Hasbro; but no sooner had he formed the name in his mind, and recalled with it a memory of the dog itself, than a blast of wind shook the garden shed behind him, and the limbs of the silk oak flailed overhead so that a storm of leaves blew down. He half stood up in surprise, leaning heavily against the chair arm to steady himself, and the flimsy aluminum frame collapsed beneath him. He fell sideways, dumping the dug-up trinkets onto the lawn, and lay there for a moment, too dizzy to stand, listening to the wind, the tree and clouds spinning around him. There was a glittering before his eyes, like a swarm of fireflies rising from the lawn straight up into the sky, and his face and arms were stung by blowing dust as the wind gusted, its noise a deep basso profundo that seemed to shake his bones. He covered his face with his forearm and struggled to his knees, turning his back to the wind, which died now as suddenly as it had arisen. When he opened his eyes he saw that the aluminum chair had been lifted by the wind and tossed into the grape vines.
He stood staring at the chair and the vines, uncomprehending: the vines were carefully pruned now, stretched out along tight wires affixed to the fence. And he realized that the silk oak beside him was a sapling, maybe twelve feet high, its little bit of foliage sufficient to shade a cat. A car throttled past on the street, and he looked in that direction, feeling exposed, standing in plain sight, a trespasser. The oleander hedge was gone. The sycamores stood as ever, but where the hedge had been was the dirt shoulder of an irrigation ditch. Another car passed on the road, an old Ford truck.
He stepped back out of sight, hidden from the street by the garage and shed, dizzy and faint and hearing from beyond the fence the muttering sounds again: goats, the muttering of goats and chickens from the old Prentice farm. The smell of the sun-hot grapes was cloying, and he had the displaced confusion of waking up from a vivid dream. He heard the ratcheting noise and once more was swept with water droplets that felt as warm as blood against his skin. The lawn was green, and cut short. A hose stretched across from a spigot in the garden to where the Rainbird played water over the grass, the spray advancing toward him.
He saw then that the gate they shared with the Prenticeshad shared with the Prenticesstood halfway open. The rooftops of the tract houses that had occupied the old Prentice property were gone, replaced by the dark canopy of a grove of walnut trees that stretched away east like billowing green clouds. The limbs of a plum tree, heavy with fruit, hung over the fence. The windows of his own house were no longer boarded up, the chimney no longer fallen. He remembered the treasure now, lying out on the lawn, and he looked around in a new panic, gripped by the idea that he would want those five objects, that unearthing the treasure was somehow connected to his being here. Getting down onto his hands and knees, he ran his fingers through the grass, but there was no sign of them, the trinkets had simply vanished.
He recalled the little firefly swarm that had lifted from the lawn and blown away in the wind, and he was filled with the certainty that his treasure had decomposed, metamorphosed into some sort of glittering dust. And blown away with it was his return ticket home
He stepped between the vines and the rear wall of the shed and sat down in the dirt, his mind roaring with the dark suspicion that he was alone in the world, that there was no place in it where he wasn't a stranger. With a surging hope he recalled the faces of old childhood friends; surely he could find his way to their houses. But what sort of greeting would he get, looming up out of the hazy afternoon, a forty-year-old man babbling about being displaced in time? He thought about Susan and Tyler, and his throat constricted. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to think, to concentrate.
An idea came to him with the force of an epiphany: the five objects, his small treasure, might still be buried in the ground. After all, he had dug them up twenty-odd years from now. He walked to the stepping stones, the grass around them now neatly clipped away, and without too much effort lifted one of the bricks out of its depression. He went back to the shed, opening the door and finding a trowel, returning to the hole and hacking into the soil underneath. The trowel sank nearly to its handle. There were fewer entangled roots, and the ground was wet from the recent watering. He wiggled out another brick and jammed the trowel into the dirt in a different place, but again the blade sank without contacting any resistance. He tried a third time, and a fourth and then simply hacked away at the soil until he forced himself to give up the futile search. There was no can, no treasure. Clearly it hadn't been buried yet. When would it be buried? A week from now? A year?
Methodically now, he tamped the soil flat and re-fitted the bricks, tossing the trowel onto the lawn near the base of the tree and stepping across to where the lawn was wet in order to wipe the mud off his hands. He heard a screen door slam, and, turning, he saw movement next door through the narrow gaps between the fence boards: someoneMrs. Prentice?walking toward the gate. He ran back toward the shed, and slipped inside, pulling the door shut after him, tripping over the junk on the shed floor and groping in the darkness for something to hold onto.
The objects roundabout him appeared out of the darkness as his eyes adjusted. He recognized them from when he was a kid, doing chores: the rakes and shovels and pruning saws, the old lawn mower, the edger that he used to push around the edges of the stepping stones. Hanging on a peg was the aluminum lawn chair.
He peered out through an open knothole in one of the redwood boards, seeing that old Mrs. Prentice had just come in through the gate. She crossed toward the back of the yard and turned off the sprinkler, then came straight down the stepping stones and passed out of sight. He heard her footsteps on the concrete walk adjacent to the shed, receding down past the garage toward the front of the house, and he pushed the shed door open far enough to step out. Wafering himself against the wall, he edged toward the corner until he could look carefully past it.
She was out on the driveway now, stooping over to pick up a newspaper. She straightened up, looked at the front of the house, and started up the walk in his direction, reading the newspaper headline. He ducked back, hurriedly re-entering the shed and pulling the door silently shut. Her footsteps drew near, then were silent as if she were standing there thinking.
The trowel! Of course she saw it tossed onto the lawn. He caught his breath. Don't open the door! he thought, and he grabbed a coat hook screwed into the top of the shed door and held onto it, bracing his other hand against the door jamb in order to stop her from looking in. A couple of seconds passed, and then she tugged on the door handle, managing to open the door a quarter of an inch before he reacted and jerked it back. Again she pulled on it, but he held it tight this time. His heart slammed in his chest, and the wild idea came into his head to throw the door open himself, and simply tell her who he was, that he was Alan, believe it or not. But he didn't let go of the hook. Finally, he heard her walk away. He peered out through the knothole, watching her retrace her steps across the lawn and through the gate, swinging it shut after her. When her screen door slammed, he stepped out into the sunlight. The trowel lay near the tree again, where she had returned it.
He hurried toward the house, keeping low. No one but a lunatic would assume that the shed door was latched from the inside. Along with the tossed-aside trowel it would add up to evidence. Would she call the police? Surely not nownot in the innocent middle of the century. He couldn't remember if Mr. Prentice had a day job: perhaps he was home, and she had gone to fetch him. He glanced at the driveway and the street and was struck with the latent realization that his car was gone. Of course it was gone, left behind, sitting in that other driveway thirty years in the future. There was no car at all in this driveway, his or the family's car. He looked around more attentively, forcing himself to slow down, to work things out. He saw that there were still puddles of water in the flowerbeds along the driveway, eighty feet from where the Rainbird had been chattering away before Mrs. Prentice had turned it off. The garden was wet, too. She had apparently watered the entire yard over the course of the day, which argued that maybe she wouldn't be back, that she was finished with her work.
And she had picked up the newspaper, too, which made it likely that the familyhis familywas away, and must have been away for a while, long enough for it to have fallen to the Prentices to watch over the house and yard. Which meant what?probably one of their two-week summer trips to Colorado or Iowa or Wisconsin.
Listening hard for the sound of the screen door slamming, he stepped to the back stoop, climbed the three stairs in a crouch in order to remain unseen, and tried the door knob. Again it was locked. Againthe idea of it baffled him, and he was once more swept with a dizzying confusion. This wasn't the second time today he had tried the knob; it was the first time. Although his own fingerprints might already be on it, they would be prints from a smaller hand
It dawned on him that the objects might be in the house right now, not yet buried. He had no real idea at what age he had buried themten, twelve? He heard the Prentice's screen door slam, and almost before he knew he had thought of it, he was heading up along the side of the house toward the front. There, right at the corner of the house, just where he remembered it, stood a big juniper, growing nearly up into the eaves. He felt around on its trunk, waist high, his hand closing on the hidden house key hanging on a nail. The cold metal sent a thrill of relief through him, and a few seconds later he was on the front porch, glancing back at the empty street and sliding the key into the lock. He opened the door and stepped into the dim interior of the livingroom, recalling the smell of the place, the furniture, the books in the bookcase.
He locked the door carefully behind him and pocketed the key, then moved through the house, into the kitchen, keeping low. Through the window in the door he saw that old Mr. Prentice was in the back yard now. Mrs. Prentice stood at the open gate, watching her husband. He walked to the shed, looking around him. Cautiously he tried the door, which swung open. He looked in, then picked up the trowel from the lawn and put it away. He closed the shed door, and then walked back toward the grapevines. There was nowhere in the yard for a person to hide, except perhaps out in the back corner, where the limbs of the avocado tree hung almost to the ground, creating an enclosed bower. He walked in that direction now, cocking his head, peering into the shadows. But apparently there was enough sunlight through the leaves for him to see that no one at all was hiding there, because he turned and walked back toward the open gate, saying something to his wife.
Then he stopped and looked straight at the house. Alan ducked out of sight, scuttling back across the kitchen floor and into the dining room, wondering wildly where he would hide if the man came in. He heard a step on the back stoop, and the back door rattled as Mr. Prentice tried the bolt. Alan glanced toward the dark hallway. Could he even fit under his bed now? But Mr. Prentice descended the wooden steps again, and by the time Alan crept back into the kitchen and looked out the window, the gate was already swinging shut. For another five minutes he stood there watching, relaxing a little more as time passed. Probably old man Prentice would simply think his wife was nuts, that it was just like a woman not to be able to open a shed door.
The several hours before night fell passed slowly. The newspaper beside the living room couch revealed that it was July of 1968. He was, in this other life, ten years old. Hesitantly he made his way up the hall and looked into his old bedroom. Although it seemed to him impossible, it was utterly familiar. He knew every single thingthe toys, the tossed pieces of clothing, the window curtains, the bedspread, the bubbling aquarium on the dresseras if he had carried with him a thousand scattered and individualized memories all these years, like the trinkets in the coffee can. He picked up a small net and scooped a dead angel fish out of the aquarium, taking it into the bathroom where he flushed it down the toilet. Then he returned to the room, possessed by the urge to lie down on the bed, draw the curtains across the windows, and stare at the lighted aquarium as he had done so many times so long ago. But he caught himself, feeling oddly like a trespasser despite his memories.
Still, he could be forgiven for borrowing a few things. He looked around, spotting the porcelain basset hound immediately, and then recalling in a rush of memory that the lens of the magnifying glass lay in the top drawer of his old oak desk. He opened the drawer and spotted it, right there in plain sight. The blue marble lay in the drawer too, rolled into the corner. It took him a little longer to find the tiki, which had fallen to the floor beside the dresser. He picked it up and cleaned the dust off it, noting that the ball bearing eyes were shiny silver. The train-flattened dime eluded him, though, until he spotted a small metal tray with a flamingo painted on it lying on the night stand, where, before bed, he used to put the odds and ends from his pockets. Seeing the tray reminded him that Alan would be carrying the dime in his pocket back in these days, just as he was carrying the buffalo nickel in his own pocket. So where would the dime be? Wisconsin? Colorado? Or homeward bound in the old Plymouth Fury, driving through the southwest desert? Maybe closer yet, coming down over the Cajon Pass, forty-five minutes away
He moved the four objects around on the desktop, arranging and rearranging them, waiting for the telltale rising of the wind, the sound of a door creaking open, signifying sounds. But nothing happened.
He thought about keeping the items with him, in his pocket, but in the end he set the tiki on the desktop, put the porcelain dog back on the shelf, and returned the lens and the marble to the drawer, where he could retrieve them all in an instant. He stepped to the window and unlatched it, pushing it open easily. There was no screen, so he could be out the window quickly. Their family had never traveled at night; they were motel travelersfive hundred miles a day and then a Travel Lodge with a pool and Coke machine and, later in the evening, gin rummy around the motel room table. By nine or ten o'clock tonight he could safely fall asleep and then take up his worries tomorrow.
He spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading his mother's copy of Steinbeck's The Long Valley. The book was in his own library at home nowwhatever now constituted. The heavy paper pages and brown cloth binding had the same dusty, reassuring smell that he remembered, both as a boy and later as a man, and the stories in the book, existing as they did outside of time, felt like a safe and stable haven to him, a good place to wait things out.
He became aware that it was quickly growing too dark to read, and at the same time he realized that he was ravenously hungry. He walked into the dim kitchen and opened the refrigerator. In the freezer he found a stack of Van de Camp TV dinners, and picked out the Mexican dinnerenchiladas, beans, and riceand in a moment of stupidity looked around for a microwave oven. Smiling at his own foolishness, he turned on the oven in the O'Keefe and Merritt range, slid the foil-wrapped dinner onto the top rack, and then went back to the refrigerator where he found a hunk of cheddar cheese to snack on. He opened a bottle of Coke to wash it down with and stood at the kitchen sink, watching the glow of sunset fade over the rooftops to the east.
The house was dark when he took his dinner out of the oven, removed the foil, and ate it at the kitchen table, thinking that the enchilada tasted better in his memory than it did now. Although this was something he had already come to expect over the years, it was still a disappointment. It occurred to him that he should look around for a flashlight: he couldn't turn on a brighter light to read by, not with the Prentices next door, probably still spooked over the garden shed mystery. And he wondered idly about the trash: the Coke bottle and the foil tray and wrapper. Who knew what-all he would accumulate if he had to wait out a week here? And what would his mother say when she discovered that the TV dinners in the freezer had vanished? If he was here for the long haul, he would work his way through the refrigerator and freezer and half the cupboard, too.
Thinking about it made him feel more desperately alone, and his shoulders sagged as the enormity of his problem dropped on him like a weight. The empty house around him was true to his memory, and yet it wasn't his anymore. He was reminded of the decades that had passed away, of the first happy years of his marriage when he and Susan had spent their money traveling, of Tyler's childhood, of his mother's death a few short years after she and his father had moved out of the house and retired up the coast in Cambria.
He breathed deeply and looked out the window, trying to focus on the night landscape. The lantern in the driveway illuminated part of the wall of the garage before it faded into darkness. A pair of headlights appeared out on the street, the car swinging around the uphill curve in the road, the noise of its engine dwindling with distance. At least, he thought, there was the happy coincidence of Susan and Tyler being away in Michigan. They might wonder why he wasn't answering the phone at home, but it would likely be days before they began to worry about his absence. Then his mind revolved treacherously back around to his dilemma, and he recalled that Susan and Tyler weren't away in the east at all, not now, not in this century. Tyler was a decade away from being born. Susan was a twelve-year-old girl, living in Anaheim, oblivious to his existence.
What if he couldn't get back? Simply never returned? He saw himself living as a transient, as a ghost, waiting for the years to drag by until he could catch up with them again, drifting on the edges of Susan's life and then of Susan and Tyler's lifeof his own lifehaunting the same restaurants, hanging around the Little League field, watching the three of them from a distance. But he could never insinuate himself into their lives. A strange interloperparticularly a copy of himselfwould never be welcome, not by Susan and not by Tyler and most of all not by him, by Alan, who wasn't really the same him at all now that the years had passed, despite the blood that ran in his veins.
Of course on that far-off day when Susan and Tyler would travel back to Michigan, and Alan, feeling lonely and maudlin, would once again dig up the treasure, then a door would open and he could step in and fill his own shoes, literally, if he chose to. He could simply walk back into his old life, answer the long distance calls when they came, prepare himself to tell his phenomenal story to Tyler, whose father had now disappeared, and to Susan, whose husband had aged thirty years overnight, and might as well be her own grandfather.