across more of them than he expected, and once or twice in bad weather he slowed down and offered lifts when none was being asked for, until he realized how that might look. He told himself it was a way of meeting people- people distinct in his mind from fellow prisoners-though it was really only practice at being in proximity to them again.

Their company was easy because, he soon discovered, young people were curious only about themselves. He just had to keep quiet, as he was anyway inclined to do, and within minutes his passenger would launch into an account of himself that kept him chirping on for miles, as if Ron had demanded some justification for his being where he was at that precise point in his life. Unless the journey was very short, Ron would soon know pretty much all there was to know about whole extended families: the birthday parties, the funerals, the divorces, the day the dog had puppies. A hundred personal philosophies were explained to him in all their complexity and variation, he learned of ambitious and intricate life plans based on a faith in something or other or on recovery from the loss of it, and all of it was offered to him, he sensed, as barter, a diligent trading of autobiography for transportation. Not that that made them real passengers, certainly not. It was a symbolic reckoning only, a token proffered for safe passage. So he listened quietly, intending his silence to convey that his side of the bargain was that he would not trouble his companions to pretend they were in the least interested in him. For the most part they honored the transaction, measuring out their disclosures like shining coins counted from palm to palm and expecting none in return.

But on the rare occasions anyone asked, he was always ready to say that he was just taking time out, he liked Scotland, and it suited him not to stay in one place for long. Sometimes he was tempted to volunteer a remark or two about himself beyond that, just to hear his own words cross the air between himself and his passenger, to test the link between that person’s life and his own. But when he rehearsed in his mind what those words would have to be, the temptation vanished.

I used to be a bus driver. Seven summers ago I took a party of schoolchildren to Portugal. We were late for the ferry going back, and during the ninth hour of driving, in torrential rain, I must have fallen asleep. We came off the motorway. Six children and a teacher, who was pregnant, were killed. I went to prison.

What link could there possibly be, after that, between him and, say, a happy young Canadian couple who were, like, really into folklore?

During the evenings, and when he woke in the night, his passengers’ words would come back to him as intermittent phrases in a dozen accents, the sounds fragmenting in his head like the scrapbook of images of the small physical details he recalled: the back of a hand sore from an insect bite, a damp space where a tooth was missing, an earlobe punctured decoratively in three places. He would remember the smells they brought into the car, of the ferny, rain-soaked hills and their sour sneakers and wet nylon clothes, and he’d recall how secretly and greedily he had inhaled, once they got talking, their cigarette and bubble-gum-scented breath. And as he lay awake, it made him gasp, the fear he had felt for them at journey’s end, setting them down blithe and undefended to fare again for themselves in this world crowded with dangers. He had no interpretation for any of these things.

Toward the end of the second winter, he noticed that most days he thought about stopping. He was still in the north, mainly because nothing was drawing him in any other direction, but he was running out of places to go. The landscape was beautiful, he could see that, but he had had his fill of the more or less stultifying succession of glimpses taken from the road, the amassing of the same mental snapshots over and over. On the night of his fiftieth birthday, he washed and shaved in the gents’ of a pub called The Highlander’s Rest, ate the mixed grill and chips alone in the bar, and slept parked in a turnout. He woke tired. He wanted a spell of quiet away from the engine drone and diesel warmth of the Land Rover, to be in one place for a while. He had no idea where or how it was to be found, but he longed for somewhere to stay.

Silva, the geese are back, you said as you stepped into the trailer. Hundreds of them. You can see their shapes but not their colors yet, it’s too misty. They’re downstream over on the far side of the river on that long black rock you can see at low tide, just down from that old ruin you like, the cabin with the little jetty.

You left the door open. It was still early, and you let in the cold.

They must have found a whole family of fish down there, you said, waving your hands. All around the rock where the water’s glassy, they’re feasting. You should see them, they’re landing and diving and dipping their necks and sending ripples all the way across, beautiful slow ripples lapping all the way over onto our side. You can hear them. Listen, can you hear the water?

I whispered to you to shut the door. Anna had kicked her covers off, and I was afraid the chill on her legs might wake her up. Then I listened and shook my head.

No, Stefan, I don’t hear anything.

Well, of course you don’t, not with the door shut, you said, coming over and sitting down. But it’s a nice noise when you’re outside. Want to come out, lazybones?

I hushed you with a finger placed on your lips.

What’s the time? I whispered. She’s still asleep. We’ve got a little time, haven’t we?

You glanced over at Anna and back at me, pretending to be puzzled. You’re awake, I’m awake, why would we want Anna to stay asleep? Then you rose and quietly drew the blanket back over Anna’s curled little body and tucked her giraffe in beside her. You came toward me, smiling. I still remember precisely how the mattress tilted as you clambered onto it. We didn’t have a lot of time. When you entered me, I wanted to cry out, but I trapped the sound in my throat and pressed my mouth against your neck.

Not long afterward it was Anna who broke the silence with her creaky, waking-up noise that was not exactly crying but a test of her voice, a call of emergence. Although she was nearly two, when she fell asleep it really was still a fall, a sheer drop into that fathomless well of baby sleep; it turned her body solid, so her chest hardly rose and fell and her eyelids did not even flicker. It seems fantastic to me now that I could watch her like that without feeling panic at how far away from me she went in her sleep. I loved her waking-up noises; to me they sounded like the snuffling of a small creature returning from the lost, clambering back up through undergrowth from a foray a little too far from the nest. The real crying would start a few moments later, when she was awake enough to know she was hungry.

You tried to ease yourself away from me, but I caught hold of the chain around your neck and pulled you back for a kiss.

Oh, you’ve got me on the end of a chain, you said. Haven’t you? A chain that I’ll never take off.

Good. That’s why I gave it to you, I said, as I let you go.

You stepped back into your jeans and went to her, laughing softly. You lifted her up high and crooned- oh, Anna, Anna, Anna-and the crying stopped at once. You carried her outside, sending me a single look over her head that signaled you were giving me some time, a moment or two to shake off the thought of any more of you for now, to get out of bed and dressed and ready to balance myself against the day. I sat up and watched you through the trailer window. You put her down on her feet in front of you and walked her along, holding both her hands. Her arms were raised and outstretched, and you were edging her along on her wobbly, sleepy legs, her bare feet curling on the cold stones. You were asking too much of her. Sometimes you did that, forgetting she was so little. You wanted to show her the geese, but she had other ideas, she wanted her breakfast.

Look, Anna, look, you said, lifting her up again and pointing across the water. You made the wark wark noise of the geese against her cheek, and she laughed and twisted away, patting the stubble on your chin with both hands. I pulled on clothes and walked down to the end of the trailer and set out bowls and cereal and milk on the table. I put a pan of water on to heat for coffee. I got out spoons, juice, cups. I stood in the trailer doorway for a few minutes longer, watching you before I called you in.

You never knew I did this. Every day I watched you together, keeping myself apart while you were absorbed in each other and busy with this or that little thing around the place. I liked to study you, your resemblance to each other, with that identical tangle of dark hair, so different from mine. I liked that simple evidence of how much you belonged to each other, the everyday fact of it. The mother is blond and the father dark, the child inherited her father’s coloring-it’s the kind of remark that gets made about families. It helped me pretend our life was like other people’s, easy and regular.

I tried to keep them all in my mind, these pictures I made of you then. You feeding Anna, carrying her about

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