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She was to be looked at. Eguchi knew that she had been put to sleep for that purpose, and that there was no call for this new surprise; but he covered her shoulder and closed his eyes. The scent of a baby came to him in the girl’s scent. It was the milky scent of a nursing baby, and richer than that of the girl. Impossible—that the girl should have had a child, that her breast should be swollen, that milk should be oozing from the nipples. He slightly raised the quilt that covered the shoulder. He touched it softly with his finger. It was not wet. The girl was approaching twenty....

Bella paused in her reading of Yasunari Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties, a novella about a peculiar brothel in a remote pine forest west of Fukushima and not far from the Sea of Japan. She had been reading for five minutes and at some point I had dozed off. Akiko, my date, tapped me on the shoulder. I woke to find myself once more in Bella’s Gramercy townhouse, with the ten other book-club attendees, under a canopy of potted palms and chandeliers in a front room whose bay windows looked over the park. In her trademark white Chanel suit and a flapper-style headband adorned with a single peacock feather, she craned forward from her $10,000 Egg Chair and from her long electronic cigarette blew out a cloud of vapor. It was her signal to start the discussion.

A year after my wife Ada disappeared, I started attending the book club. I suppose it was how I kept part of her present in my life and educated myself about art and literature in the process now that I didn’t have her sophistication to lean on.

Bella had a penchant for choosing works by writers Ada loved but that I had never heard of—Joséphin Péladan, Arne Garborg, Chateaubriand, among others—the majority of whom, at least in my professional opinion as a psychiatrist, were neurasthenics suffering from either acute sexual anxiety or depression or some other mental illness.

I glanced at Akiko, then down at my copy of Sleeping Beauties. Kawabata’s huge owl-like eyes, which had the appearance of someone perpetually startled, stared from the back cover. In the book, old men from Tokyo and Osaka make pilgrimages to the brothel where they pay money to lie through the night next to a girl, some as young as sixteen, whom the madame places under the sedation of a drug to prevent them from waking. Estazolam or Lunesta or maybe Ambien— Kawabata doesn’t say. The name of the town is withheld too, but it is likely Yuzawa in Niigata Prefecture, in the Snow Country as Kawabata called it. He traveled there himself several times in the 1930s.

At this unusual establishment, sexual intercourse was forbidden, though seemingly impossible, since only men rendered impotent by age were permitted to spend the night. The house rules prohibited them from doing anything in bad taste, such as inserting a pinky into the mouth of a sleeping girl, or anything of that sort. Yet, they were allowed to hold them in their arms and kiss them.

Eguchi, who finds sadness in a girl’s body that calls to mind an elderly man’s longing for death, Kawabata notes, spends his first night and every night that he has traveled to the brothel in the rain, later in the snow, gazing at her. The unblemished skin on her cheeks is a wonder, as are her hands and eyebrows, even her earlobes that are flush with blood and turn pale before sunrise. What he is drawn to most is her warm smell, which is strongest when the girl sleeps beneath an electric blanket. The odor evokes memories that are faraway in time and yet close. In one scene, he recalls the visit he had taken to the Camellia Temple with his favorite daughter. They talk little and mostly sit to watch the 400-year-old tree drop its blossoms, so many that they could no longer see the ground.

Beauty and sorrow, there is a Japanese inseparability here, the ephemerality of the former giving rise to the latter. Yet it’s personal too, as I learned when I read about Kawabata’s awful childhood in hopes of impressing Akiko for our third date. He suffered from an orphan’s sorrow, an irreversible loneliness that permeates his writing. Having lost his parents at four, he was taken under his grandmother’s wing in the distant countryside who subsequently perished when he was seven. After that, his upbringing was overseen, albeit poorly, by his blind grandfather until he too died before the boy turned sixteen.

The night I finished the book, I pulled down the DSM and flipped to the chapter on “Other Specified Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.”

I raised my hand.

“Yes, Michael,” said Bella, pointing her e-cigarette in my direction.

I presented my theory about all the deaths in Kawabata’s childhood and the effect they must have had on his view of women. I mentioned that he was likely afflicted with koro disorder, the acute anxiety your penis is shrinking and your testicles are retracting like the wheels of a plane up into your abdomen.

“It explains Eguchi’s relationship to sex,” I offered, trying to be helpful. “Koro is most common in East Asia where there have been well-documented epidemics of it.”

I paused. The room fell dead silent.

Akiko rubbed her knees, then cleared her throat.

“It’s from the Malay word kura which means the head of a turtle,” I added.

I looked at the blank faces staring at me.

“You know how a turtle pulls its head into its shell. And so...Well, that’s what I wanted to share.”

“Interesting, Michael, interesting,” Bella said.

I smiled and nodded.

Elsa’s eyes bored a hole into my temple. She was ABD in her tenth year of a doctorate in Comparative Literature. “All But Dissertation?” I had asked once. “All But Dead,” she winced. After one book-club meeting when I got stuck in a conversation-trap with no way to free myself, I found out she was researching syphilis in the Late Romantic novel.

She sighed loudly and said something about Judith Butler, how gender is produced through the stylization of the body that depends on the idea of gender as a constituted social temporality. Or maybe it was how the social was gendered. Or time was a body or socialists had neither style nor gender. Honestly, I had no idea.

A waiter circled the room with a tray of charred Muscovy duck feathers paired with Cipollini jam. I lifted one by its quill and placed it in my mouth. It tasted like ash.

I thought the novella was disturbing, but something about it attracted me. I hated that I liked it. Akiko simply hated it.

After the conversation had started to die down, Bella asked, “Any other reactions?”

Akiko raised her hand and stood up, still holding her wine glass. She was in gladiator sandals and an A-line dress.

“Thank you for letting me join tonight, but look,” she cleared her throat, “but look, the novel is really problematic. I’m J-A myself, but come on Kawabata, the women—they’re girls, for God’s sake.”

She surveyed the room, perhaps slightly embarrassed to be standing. Bella smiled from inside her shell.

“Here’s my hot take. As characters, the girls are nothing but an excuse for the dirty old men to act out their fantasies. The girls are projections. Kawabata doesn’t give them any agency. What do they do? Make themselves pretty and then fall asleep? Except falling asleep isn’t an act of freewill since the madame roofies them. The thing that the men won’t admit is that they—” she hesitated and made eye contact with Bella. “Pardon me, but the thing they won’t admit is they don’t even want to fuck them. That’s also fucked up.”

“Oh, yes that’s very good. Virgins, virgins in a brothel, virgin-whores, how marvelous,” Bella exclaimed. She clapped her hands twice before reclining back.

The book club ended twenty minutes later, but people stayed and mingled. Akiko and I sat close to each other on a velvet fainting sofa. Above us was an oil painting of a woman bathing her feet in a Turkish hammam. People mingled and drank champagne. Bach’s Cello Suites flowed through the background and made the lights and the voices softer and deeper than they were.

Akiko looked up at the painting. “This idea of feminine mystery, it’s all about men’s own bitterness and regret, and unbearable remorse.”

Scenes from the book flitted through my mind. One night while the waves crested on the rocks, Eguchi is overcome with a feeling of emptiness, dark in its depths, like the sea outside. That night, which would turn out to be his final visit to the brothel, Eguchi, who never sleeps, places a little white moon of a tablet in his mouth where it begins to release memories. A kind of anti-Halcyon, the experimental memory-erasing drug that induces selective amnesia by blocking the formation of dendritic spines between synapses in the brain. I started taking it last week, the day after Ada’s death certificate arrived in the mail that, by the power of the State of New York, declared her legally dead in absentia.

As Eguchi falls into a stupor, he thinks of the first woman in his life, his mother who passed away from tuberculosis when he was seventeen. He recalls her last night when she had let out a little gasp of his name, “Yoshio, Yoshio.”

Four years after receiving the Nobel, Kawabata was discovered on a bathroom floor with a gas hose in his mouth. From what I could tell, he was always photographed in a traditional kimono that made him appear as if he belonged in an earlier century, and which made me think he must have considered all modernity to be deeply repellent. Yet on the day he was found dead, he had on a polo shirt and a business suit. He’d been addicted to sleeping pills. It was hard to wrap my mind around it.

“I’m sorry you didn’t care for the book. But I’m glad you came. I didn’t think you would.”

“I’m happy I came too. Yeah, I wasn’t crazy about the reading. I liked talking about it though. It’s beautifully written too.”

“Kawabata’s artfully arranged and reticent language is a flower that doesn’t want to open up or does but only slightly,” I said, trying to sound smart. I had read that exact description on Wikipedia.

A waiter presented a silver tray of single-origin chocolate truffles topped with wasabi foam and gold sprinkles. In the middle of the room was a polar bear rug with the head attached and the mouth frozen open.

“That was quite a theory you proposed.”

“I can’t help it; I’m a psychiatrist,” I said to Akiko, defending my diagnosis. She made a comical shrinking head gesture with both hands.

“It’s a book about unrequited love. Love, that’s a mind game. The heart I understand, but the mind, that’s another story,” she said. “A total puzzle. A mystery. I don’t know how you do it. I’ve held people’s hearts in my hands. As a cardiologist, I can at least look at it, tell if it works. Or doesn’t. Maybe even fix it.”

I glanced over to the corner where Bella chatted with two young women in cocktail dresses. A champagne cork popped. Bella blew out a giant plume of vapor, as though she had spontaneously combusted.

Akiko and I continued talking until we noticed that the room had dwindled to the two of us. We bade our farewells to Bella. From her chair, she offered her bony hand and said good night.

In the moonlight, the clouds were low and moved fast as we walked along Gramercy Park. I asked Akiko if she was in the mood for a drink and when she said “yes,” I suggested we head to NSFW, a bar on Chrystie Street. It was housed inside a former Chinese massage parlor whose tattered red awning still flapped in the wind, confusing the occasional sex tourist who showed up looking for something other than a stiff drink and shocked to see a line wrapped around the block. A heavy-weight bouncer in a puffer jacket and an earpiece scanned my license with a penlight and looked at me as though, at forty-seven, it must be past my bedtime. He then glanced at Akiko and waved us through the door.

A smattering of couples leaned into each other against the walls. A bartender in suspenders and rolled up sleeves prepared a drink with an eyedropper and a foraged shrub. I led Akiko to the lower floor.

“This is rather unusual,” she said. With a stray napkin, she wiped something wet from the white-tiled banquet. All the seats and tiny tables were in converted shower stalls separated by curtains. The room smelled of bleach that over years had seeped into the floor. I thought about the pale, hairless girls in Kawabata’s brothel rubbing creams and emollients into their skin.

“I’m sorry. There’s this other place across the street.”

“Oh, please. No, it’s fine. I kinda like it. Sort of. Maybe,” Akiko said. “I just don’t want to sit in anything that’ll get me pregnant. One kid’s enough.”

A waiter’s silhouette appeared on the other side of the shower curtain. She knocked awkwardly on it and with tongs handed us a pair of hot washcloths. We ordered a double martini called a “Happy Ending” and a glass of organic orange wine from Moldova that together cost slightly less than a deep-tissue massage. A few minutes later, Akiko told me about growing up on the Upper East Side.

Her father, who emigrated from Kyoto, worked two blocks from their apartment at a place that people referred to as the Doll Hospital. It was a cramped storefront studio, a roll-down shutter kind of place with a sign that read Dolls, Repairs & Supplies.

The way she spoke of her father, I assumed he was dead, yet fully alive in her memory. Her voice was airy.

She told me he spent his days mending precious dolls that his clients, like frantic parents in an Emergency Room, wanted him to save. Missing limbs, broken legs, eyes that had been pushed back into their skulls by a thumb, heads that had been ripped off.

“You’d think the Upper East Side was littered with broken dolls,” she said. The waiter returned with our drinks and a tea light. Akiko’s gold heartbeat necklace glowed each time she leaned forward.

Working through the day, often past nightfall, he would patiently place the stuffing back into their abdomens with a tamping wand and sew them shut with invisible thread. She described how he’d repair cracks in their porcelain cheeks, re-glue their eyelashes with tweezers if need be. Prop them on his table in a vise and sit before them, repainting their toenails where they had chipped. Making them perfect as possible, whole as the morning they came into the world. Abuse at home, he suspected. What could you do except stitch them up and send them back out.

“I spent so many hours in my father’s dusty trauma ward,” she said. “Drawers stuffed with hands and feet on cotton pads, bags of glass eyes tacked to his corkboard, miniature wigs on a shelf awaiting transplant. Whole days disappeared there, especially after my mother passed.”

She looked at her nearly empty glass. “I can still see myself there at his side, I really can— learning to be a surgeon, ready with the hemostats, reborning needles, glue, pieces of doll skin until he eventually let me sit in the chair and operate. Some of my friends thought it was unkind he never let me have dolls of my own to play with, but to be honest I thought they were silly toys and I never wanted to own them and what I wanted instead was to watch my father, observing his hands, and mimicking his precise motions.”

A drop of water from the showerhead splashed onto the table. I used it as an excuse to scoot next to Akiko.

“What does Cora want to be when she grows up?”

“A princess, of course.”

“Of course.”

“At first, I resisted it,” she said, “but you can’t resist it. It’s futile. The crying, the tantrums, the banging of her head and hands on the wall like she is going insane. So one night after too much wine, I broke down, went on Amazon and bought her the tutu, the tiara, the clear plastic slippers, basically anything that sparkled.” Akiko rapped her knuckles on the table. Clomp, clomp, clomp. “At least I knew what room she was in.”

She paused, asked, “You and your former wife ever wanted to have kids?”

“Late wife,” I said.

“Love needs space,” my mother told me the morning my father, an insurance salesman, loaded his suitcases into the trunk of his green Chevy Malibu and drove away. I never forgot that lesson. Several times a year, Ada would fly to a dusty archive in a museum or library in Italy or France, burying herself in the files of an artist she was writing about, then reemerge weeks later. When she returned home, she was always more withdrawn than normal, as though being in the presence of another person was difficult. I’d offer her a script for Prozac or Zoloft, though I knew she’d refuse it, knew she’d say that her depression had to “run its course.” By the time she reacclimated to our life together in our West Village apartment, I flew off to a professional meeting or a symposium. And while I was gone, she’d grow accustomed again to her days of solitude. More than once I walked through the door, left my roller-bag in the hallway, called out “AdaAdaAda,” only to discover her in a dreamlike state in the backroom at her desk overlooking the Hudson, the breeze tintinnabulating the chimes above her head and rustling the stacks of paper that surrounded her. Then one time when I returned, she was gone for good. The door was unlocked. A wine glass was broken in the sink. But the police turned up no evidence of foul play and after a week ruled out homicide. Her laptop, a suitcase I had bought for her thirty-fifth birthday, and some clothes were missing. None of it was ever found.

I was sure about two things: I had loved her and it wasn’t enough. Now she was either living on her inheritance somewhere overseas where she didn’t want to be reached or she had taken her own life. After the grief passed or at least died down inside, the fanciful part of me imagined the former and when I was in the mood, I could speculate for hours about Ada’s new life, my palindromic Ada, the same coming as she was going, always a mystery. But given her depression, suicide was the simpler explanation. Occam’s razor, as she often put it when I made something needlessly complicated. Occam’s razor, indeed. So one day when I realized there was nothing I could do to bring her back, I petitioned the court to declare her dead. And now it had. It took three years, the same number of days we had been married.

“It’s okay, really. Three years ago, I might be blubbering. But the answer about kids . . . yes, but no. I did, but she wanted to keep postponing and postponing. Work. The prime of her life. So, no.”

Suddenly a half dozen women celebrating a bachelorette party clangored in, the bride-to-be in the middle wearing a mini-skirt and a baseball cap that read SAME PENIS FOREVER.

“Well, that’s fucking depressing,” Akiko said and closed the curtain. She smirked at me as if deciding what to do next. It was almost 10 P.M.

“Another?” I asked.

“Another penis? It depends how big.” Her hand was on my thigh.

“No. I mean, maybe. But I meant another drink?”

“I can’t. I want to, but Cora’s at the babysitter’s and I’m on the night shift tomorrow at Mt. Sinai. The somnambulist rotation. House of Sleeping Beauties, it ain’t.”

I waited with Akiko on the sidewalk and hailed her a cab which felt weirdly chivalric and unnecessary, like I was summoning a horse and carriage. Before she stepped in, she gave me a kiss on the cheek that was just close enough to my mouth that I didn’t know how to interpret it.

“Good night.”

“Good night,” from the window.

As I watched her disappear down Chrystie I thought how I could draw a map of the city comprised of places where I had stood on a sidewalk with a woman at the end of a dinner or a night of drinking, a geography of false starts, dead ends, dates where I was catfished, ghosted, gaslighted, and love bombed, dates that had trailed off like ellipses to nowhere but which had defined life for me after Ada, that vacuum of time floating in the zero-gravity of the New York dating world where bodies touched, drifted, and sometimes bumped into each other again at a party or a gallery opening, a series of disconnected encounters spread out over weeks, months, the same stories told to different women, sometimes to the same woman when too much time had passed since we had last met and I had forgotten and repeated myself.

There was the Nordic restaurant on Eldridge where I ate a plate of smoked ice for dessert with a Lacanian analyst in a T-shirt that said JSTOR and Chill. She was from Sweden and taught at Yale, and her name, with all its diacritic marks, I was never quite certain how to pronounce. Completely aloof, she was a thousand times cooler than me and way out of my league. There was the triangular park at Houston and Mercer where Jessica, a lawyer for a secretive private equity firm called Quotient, invited me on one of our three dates, with her borzoi named Zeus padding gracefully at her side, less like a dog than an idea, white hair flowing in a perpetual breeze of his own making. There was the loft on Canal Street on whose top floor lived Melanie, a wealthy Long Island divorcée. Her apartment was a double-paned aery of light, almost entirely unfurnished. I feel better in this emptiness, she said with a sweep of her hand. Her living room was a tatami mat and a circular glass coffee table orbited by three low stools like parts of an atom. There was the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea where Lori resided. She spent her afternoons working on a small, independent arts journal she was about to launch with her cousin and spent her nights dining out with an unending assortment of tall and heavily accented friends from Europe and South America. An heiress of some sort, one of those rarefied, ethereal species in New York with no discernible source of income.

And before all of them was Samia, a thirty-year-old Moroccan woman I had also taken to NSFW a year-and-a-half ago, the first new woman I dated, when I didn’t know what I wanted anymore, only that I wanted to be wanted, as pathetic as that might sound. We barely knew each other, but it was clear we had zilch in common and I could only fathom that as time went on, we would discover more and more things we didn’t share, which likely explained why I was insanely attracted to her. She worked as an actuary at Prudential and freelanced at night as a financial dominatrix, catering to wealthy men and a couple of women—vulture capitalists, angel investors, day traders, brand evangelists, real-estate brokers—“worst of the worse,” she said, people riddled with self-loathing over the vast sums of money they earned for doing nothing and which they paid for by forking over their credit cards to her and having her strut in Louboutins on their backs for $300 an hour.

“SPH, too, I get a lot of requests for that.”

I looked at her quizzically.

She held up her pinky finger with black nail polish. “Small Penis Humiliation.”

“Of course, how could I not know . . . Not that I’ve ever heard of it.”

At her day job, she was cloistered in a cubicle constructing morbidity tables to calculate the chance a person would die before his or her next birthday. She squeezed my shoulder as we stood in front of the defunct massage parlor and reassured me for a man my age the odds were a little fewer than two percent.

“But they add up over time.” She narrowed her eyes, ground out her cigarette with her spiked heel. “Maybe I’d tack on an extra point or two given the grim nature of your work.” A black town car rolled up, and with a quick but aggressive hug that said no next date without having to say it, she stepped in, and I never laid eyes on her again.

After Akiko left, I walked back to my apartment on Barrow Street. The two-bedroom place without Ada felt too large, despite being by the measure of any sane city modest in size and exorbitantly overpriced. I had to cash out of investments to pull together my half of the down payment. Ada simply wrote a check from her personal account. We chose the place because of the casement windows overlooking the river and the decorative fireplace where I arranged candles and a bonsai tree and where Ada stacked her ten-pound art books like they were sculptures.

For the first year she was gone, I kept everything as it had been. Her clothes still hung in her closet. Her toothbrush was still on the bathroom counter gathering dust. Her fountain pen, its cap off, was still on the desk. Her dresser was still in the corner, and the wedding ring she left behind was still on top of it in a crystal dish, and next to it was still her watch that had wound down, and that still read and would always read October 7th, 7:19 A.M. The reasons I kept her personal effects kept changing. Initially, I thought she would return. But when the weeks blurred into months, they took on the quality of a shrine, charged with the feeling of last things—the last walk in the park, the last phone call, the last dinner, the last time we had sex.

My own patients would bring into their therapy sessions objects cathected with such intense emotional energy that they almost radiated light. They would lay them on the table for me to look at, objects tied in convoluted and mysterious ways to their sleeplessness or their dreams, and then they would tell me the story each object held. What I would listen for in the story was not what had happened, the cruelly immutable facts of any given moment on any given day, but a way of happening that told me something about the storyteller.

For a year, I walked among Ada’s belongings and tried to suss out what they were whispering to me. But what they kept saying was some version of the same thing: she left and wasn’t coming back or she was dead. After a while, I realized what I should have figured out far sooner with one of my own patients: I could change the story. And so, one afternoon as it thundered and poured, I packed up her stuff in boxes. I folded her clothes, wrapped her jewelry, clicked her fountain pen’s cap back on, placing each item in a box that I cataloged and labeled and kept of record of in a notebook like I was a librarian or an archivist.

But I couldn’t touch her office, her books, and her files. I tried, I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

What remained out in the open were my things and a few souvenirs we had bought together. The tiny lithograph, hardly bigger than a postage stamp, in the hallway of a couple sledding in Central Park at twilight. It was a Christmas gift to commemorate the time Ada and I had done the same, like two overgrown and uncoordinated children on a vintage Fleetwing racer we borrowed and which pulled dangerously to the right. On the mantel, a diorama of cast iron toy soldiers. They had once guarded my childhood bedroom, when I was a boy both afraid of and in love with the dark. Some were lying on their stomachs, others crouched or standing, aiming their harmless rifles and hurling grenades into the void.

I dropped my keys on Ada’s desk—my desk now, but it didn’t feel right to say that—and propped up a piece of gnarled driftwood that looked like a bird, if you squinted right. Ada and I had picked it up on the Long Island shore. The flotsam and jetsam of life. Atop my dresser was one of her iridescent perfumers, coiled tubes like a miniature flugelhorn. I squeezed its atomizer bulb and felt a puff of dry air on my wrist. All this time later, I kept finding little objects that I had meant to store away or I thought I had, but which kept appearing somehow.

I microwaved a cup of beef-flavored ramen noodles that I bought at the bodega. As I slurped it down, my stomach contracted from the MSG and hydrolyzed soy protein mixture or maybe I had a tapeworm from the half-off sushi I had eaten last week and it was flailing around in pain from the salt. I flipped on the TV. The screen warmed up and an image slowly emerged, as if the TV were recalling a memory.

Within minutes I found myself transfixed by a CNN story of thirty-five thousand walruses that had hauled out on the shore near the Iñupiat village of Point Lay, Alaska after the sea ice they rest upon melted into the Arctic. There must have been some glitch in the audio or the dumbstruck reporters had nothing to say and so chose to remain silent as aerial footage played of the walruses bellowing in a mass trapped between the water and a treeless strip of land. The sound stayed with me after I switched off the TV.

In the bathroom, I grabbed a bottle of Ambien and the blister pack of Halcyon. In combination with traditional cognitive therapy, it showed such promising results for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that doctors had taken to calling it, half in jest, Nepenthe Pharmakon, the magical potion to quell sorrow that Helen in the Odyssey discreetly administered to the grieving Telemachus and the warriors of Sparta. The Ambien would lull me to sleep and the Nepenthe Pharmakon, I hoped, would eat my memories of Ada like a little Pac-Man. I undressed and lay atop the sheets, my body sweating from the medicine and the unseasonal humidity. I reached my hand inside my boxers and tried to picture Akiko naked but couldn’t quite. I couldn’t get hard either. With my other hand, I texted Akiko—Good night. Thanks for coming.—which the second I hit send sounded so banal that I was sure she’d never respond. So I followed up with an exclamation point, but realized too late that it was unclear what it meant, and that she might interpret it as a sign of cringeworthy eagerness or see it as a warning of some type. Tapping my screen, I managed to accidentally send a Bart-Simpson-yellow thumbs-up emoji.

Three elliptical dots from Akiko appeared as she typed her response.

Just as quickly, they vanished into the ether.

As I grew drowsy, my thoughts swirled to the conversations at the book club and Kawabata’s snow country, and I found myself thinking about the time Ada and I snowshoed in Vermont in early spring to get away from the city for a weekend. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We had rented a remote cottage an hour outside of Burlington and bought the wrong shoes, large ones for powder snow, which we only discovered the moment we fell like a couple of clowns, me into her, and she into the wet snow on the hillside with laughter.

We hiked, high stepping awkwardly, down to a bright blue stream flowing with shards of ice from a mountain to the east. The afternoon moon was a white camellia, though I didn’t think that then. At any moment, it might fall out of the sky. In the sunlit places, the snow hanging over the bank melted, and dripped at a steady pace, and in a patch where the snow had disappeared I saw a footprint, the same size as Ada’s. Then another and another that we followed on a whim.

We wandered into a stand of dark birches. The scene looked chiaroscuro’d, like we were in a black-and-white photograph or that we were creating an experience and remembering it at the same time. The branches were covered with light snow, but on the trunks of the fallen trees white flowers had already begun to bloom. Ada wandered ahead while I paused to pick up something sparkling in the sunlight, a baby bracelet draped over one of the trunks. I marveled at it, and flipped its thin plastic letters, small as baby teeth, into place until they spelled Tommy, but when I lifted it by one end, the letters cascaded down the string like petals and spun to the ground. I called out to Ada to wait up as I scrambled to pick the letters out of the snow and put them in my pocket, yet she was already out of sight.

“Ada!” I called out again, “Ada! Ada!” and then unbuckled the snowshoes so I could run faster. I shouted her name, but I only heard the echo of my own voice off the granite mountainside. I tossed the snowshoes and ran a hundred feet until I found myself wading almost to my waist in a snowdrift that I had to crawl out of. I shouted, “Ada where are you!” A flock of crows fluttered from the trees and flew south, startling me. I caught my breath, my pants heavy with layers of ice and snow past my knees, and then I ran again through the thicket of trees, tripped over a log, and then ran toward what looked like a clearing until I stopped myself inches short of where the forest abruptly opened onto a bluff that dropped a thousand feet down. I stood there hyperventilating. Ada sat calmly on the ledge ten feet away, staring south, nearly invisible in her white coat that blended with the snow that fell again, and all I managed to get out, between coughs, was “what the fuck Ada, what the fuck, I almost went over the side looking for you.” She smiled. Her earbuds were in and she was in her own world.

I remember I crawled on my hands and knees through the snow to her and turned on my back to look up.

On my bed, I felt the Nepenthe Pharmakon kick into high gear. My whole body tingled and my eyes were wet.

Her face pixelated like she was one of those Chuck Close portraits. She seemed to break up into tiny cells of color or bytes of memory that peeled off and flew into the air, at first one at a time, then two, and then by the dozen, swirling into the clouds. I tried to cry out but no words came from my mouth, just the feeling of air, like Ah, Ah. A pinprick of light streamed from each missing piece until her whole face was gone and soon the rest of her was as well.