Hank is in the basement, but he’s not drinking. In the shadows at the corner of the basement, two eyes are watching him, but there’s no other details there. Hanks imagines that it’s the smell of the whiskey that’s impregnated the crates that makes him find May – all the sobriety in the world doesn’t bring her back to him, but a sniff of alcohol, just the smell of it, that will do the trick. It paints eyes, and if he stays there, maybe it will do more.
Gao called to make sure he was okay, and he’d said he was. But now he’s in the basement, and Mrs. Victoria is coming soon to see the house and this huge stash that her husband had left her. Mrs. Victoria had always said that if things got rough, the whiskey stash is the insurance that would help preserve her, but now it’s ninety percent drank, turned into urine that Hank always has a hard time coaxing from that blabby bit of skin in his pants. Flushed away, the whole fortune, out to the sea where it gets salty and horrible.
Eyes are watching him from the corner. He wants more, to see the rest. That face and that shape.
The whiskey he bought from the store comes in plastic jugs. The label on every bottle is slightly different, either askew or wrinkled. He pours the stuff into the glass bottles in the crates, reasonably satisfied that the colour is the same. Now and then, he takes a drink from the plastic bottles, but it’s so bad that it makes his eyes water.
The figure in the shadows watches. The mortar between the stones crumbles. Water rises. Makes its way to the sea, eventually.
The oxygen masks fall, and a stewardess is telling everyone to get into a tucked position. Shouldn’t, thinks Maria, they have taught her about this position during the safety briefing? Now, it seems a little late, and while the man next to her is bent over and clenched like a ball, Maria chooses to sit straight up.
Outside, the clouds are coming closer. Then they are in them. Then they are them. We are clouds, thinks Maria, and I am a door, inside or out. Just as Gerald was before her. We are moving so fast, she thinks, here on the fringes where hardly anyone is noticed, where anonymous beings take planes late Friday night, dressed in plain brown coats. And thereafter, as the plane plunges, she does think of Gerald. It took some moments, and many hundreds of metres of lost altitude, but she does recover him, sit with him, think of him, and she knows that this is right. She is where she is, and he is with her, as she must have been with him when he occupied the same spot, so long ago.
People are screaming, but Maria is calm. She found him, she thinks. After all this time, she found him.
The morning is bright. Not exactly warm, but bright.
Minshu comes out from under the bridge and opens his wings to the sunlight. The cold of the night begins to recede. He swims to the middle of the pond and does some circles. He remembers, and when that’s a lot to bear, he puts his head under the water and looks at the bottom, not far away.
Sun warms the water on his body. He kicks with his feet and notes the people on the shore. I really like you, he wants to tell them. I appreciate you being here, and not leaving me alone. I wish I could know you more, but I don’t know how to do that.
He circles the middle of the pond. Kicks his feet. And later, though he doesn’t know why, the sun makes his heart grow. Suddenly, he is streaking along the surface of the water, and people are doing a type of yelling. Minshu raises his head. Cranes his neck, remembers that he has done this before, so he does it again. He’s in the air, going upwards, muscles straining with something that they have not practiced in a long while. He’s up, and people are yelling. Below him is a pond that looks very small, and in it is a white smudge circling the centre, as though looking for something. As though remembering something.
Someone’s been here lately. There’s a scuff mark on the porch, as of an animal, or of a person, or of a person dressed as an animal. But someone’s been here, perhaps many hundreds of people that have left very little behind beyond scuff marks.
It takes a moment to open the door. Inside, on the dresser next to a computer is a note. “Be back shortly,” it says. “I’m sorry.”
Maria puts it in her pocket. The house is very quiet.
In the kitchen, there is a TV. She wants to put it on, but what is it going to tell her? That there’s no breaking news today? That she made it, and is back? She opens a cupboard and puts a pepper mill on the little box, near the edge. This is a sturdy piece of wood that will not break even if it does fall, and of that she is perfectly sure.
At the door to the back porch, there is a black mark on the tile. Something used to sit here, and did for quite some time, until Hank presumably decided that it needed to be moved. Still, it’s left something behind. Maria pushes at it with her foot, but the smudge has no substance. She can see it but can’t feel it.
Hank kept the darts where she left them. He’s even dusted the dart board. She bends her arm, throws, and a dart embeds itself in a cupboard door. The second one rattles off the edge of the dart board and lands on the tile. But the third one sticks in the horsehair, the bird feathers at the end shaking for a moment before coming to a rest.
The phone rings. But she doesn’t pick up. Instead, she goes to the porch door to feel the heat pouring inwards. The lock unclasps with a click. The door opens with a whoosh. I am just like this, she thinks, as she steps into the garden. Just like this.
Hank sits on a bench. There’s a shopping bag on the ground, holding a single bottle from Mrs. Victoria’s stash. He’s poured its contents into a flask, which he brings to his lips. I’m sorry, he thinks. But he’s not sure what he means by that, and neither does the girl on the other side of the bench, the one that is becoming clearer the more he drinks. Shape of leg. Piece of face. Hint of panty. If he could drink enough, he thinks, he could talk to her. Of all the things fair or not, he could have let someone else have her, but didn’t. There is one thing he’s done in his life that has been for him, and that thing is May. And May is gone.
He takes a drink. She smiles. He takes a drink. She winks. He takes a drink, and she has a nose and lips; another, and she has hair and ears. Another produces those arms, and those hands. Another and she’s complete, sitting there in the sunshine. He drinks. She moves closer. She is next to him. He takes her hand.
A swish of air makes him look up. “Fucking Minshu,” he says. He throws breadcrumbs on the grass to bring the swan closer. The bird delves into the grass and eats.
“That’s right, it’s been a while. But that’s what you get when you bite me.” He’s coated the breadcrumbs in olive oil, the way Minshu likes them. Soon, the bird’s at the bench, pecking at the food Hank puts on the wood. “Don’t you dare bite me,” he says, but doesn’t remember their earlier disagreement and can’t imagine how it could even have started. “Fucking Minshu,” he mutters, and feeds him some more.
Soon, the food’s gone. Minshu looks around for more, but there’s nothing. Instead of heading back to the water, Minshu raises his wings and uses them to thrust himself onto the bench beside Hank, something he’s never done before.
“Swans take up a lot of bench,” says Hank. Minshu looks over and appears to nod. “It’s a hell of a thing to be here, like this. But I’m not complaining, Minshu.” Hanks pulls out the flask, takes a drink. Then he puts some whiskey into his palm and offers it to the bird. Minshu leans over, uncertain at first, but then reaches down and drinks until the pool of liquid is gone. “I’m not a bird myself, you know. At least I’m pretty sure I’m not. So don’t get confused about that, Minshu.” A spell of dizziness obscures Hank’s view of the lake, and for a moment he wonders – could I be a bird? Am I a bird, sitting on the water, remembering what it was like to fly?
Hank fills up his palm again. “Maybe you can come over to meet Mrs. Victoria. She’s at the house by now. Mrs. Victoria is a good person. Lets me live in her house and take care of it. I think it’s a type of pity. Don’t remember where she found me. But she has a big stash of whiskey, Minshu, and I think that somehow these things are probably connected. Think you’d like that, to come over? I visit your house nearly every day. About time you came to see where I live, don’t you think?”
People are walking along the path. Many stop to watch the swan and the old man, but it’s hard to tell if they can see the white smudge circling the middle of the pond or the phantom woman sitting on the edge of the bench. The day moves on. The whiskey vanishes. Hank’s watch tells him it’s nearly two o’clock, about time to go see Mrs. Victoria. He lets the swan have the last drink, then gets up. Minshu drops to the grass, as though to follow. “Hey, I guess I should ask. Are we friends again?” And Minshu touches him on the hand with his beak, a moist nudge as though to say that they have never been anything but.