“So we sat in his car,” I told her. “I think it was the first car my father ever owned. You could smell a brand new air freshener, and the clear-plastic seat covers and new rubber floor mats. Everything was clean. The ashtray, the dials on the radio, the dashboard lights. Polished. And he sat there. It was freezing rain, and the trees looked like paintings. The car wasn’t turned on – it was a ’72 Ford Maverick, four door, tan. It was cold inside, wet outside. The roads were slick and ice was already sticking to the hood and windshield. We’d been in there for fifteen minutes, maybe longer. Everything was gray and dull. Except for the inside of his car.”
Could she hear me?
“‘Comes a time when you have to make choices, boy,’ he said. His words came out in small white puffs. ‘You stay put or you move on. Every choice has a consequence. Like that time you rolled down the hill in that old oil barrel. What kind of choice was that?’
“‘Pretty dumb,’ I said.
“‘Yeah. And if you didn’t do it?’
“‘Cal and his buddies would have laughed. Probably pushed me down anyway.’
“‘So you were cowed and dumb. Went rolling down that hill inside a rusty old drum and damned near gave yourself brain damage on the way.’
“‘I guess. I don’t remember too clear.’
“‘You need a mother, if you’d listen to her,’ he said. ‘You’re good at hearing, I suppose, but not so good at listening. Your mother… she had choices, too. We all do. Some are good ones, some not so much.’”
I thought a lot about choices. Working in the same place for twenty-five years, steady, but I was still part of the walls. Marie knew me – enough to know I belonged in the building, anyway – but she didn’t know my name. She saw me every night, even as a shadow, squatting to rinse my mop, wiping down the door frames, sweeping muddy boot prints. She saw my initials on inventory sheets once a week every week for fifteen years. She knew who Heck was, but not me. Choices. People choose not to notice because it complicates things.
It’s not complicated at all, said Heather. She’s just too lazy to notice. People don’t notice silence.
I stared at her thin, complicated body, and nothing had changed. None of the monitors had blipped or beeped. Her heart was the only thing moving.
“It’s all complicated,” I said.