After Everyone Else Has Left

Clyde Laidlaw has never attended an execution, has never, one way or another, asserted a conviction—pro or con—concerning capital punishment. He is an ex-husband and the father, still, of one daughter. That daughter, Ellie Laidlaw, is the reason, thirteen years after her disappearance, that he is, at this moment, sitting here behind the closed screen.

It seems another lifetime since he has accepted an invitation anywhere, and he has requested to be seated early, though he is not sure why. He is all alone, front row center, dressed casually, wearing sensible shoes and khaki slacks, no coat or tie, attired, perhaps, as he might be to see a Sunday matinee.

He is travel-weary and uncharacteristically unshaven, and within seconds of closing his eyes images begin to unreel slow-motion behind his eyelids: A receding tide, a tidal cove gone to mud and a girl in a bright pink bathing suit and clamming boots crossing that hundred or so yards to the island where, as she’s been told repeatedly, she must not go by herself.

“Nuh-uh,” she says. “It’s not dangerous,” but Clyde and his wife Francine are adamant worriers, a condition, they concur, symptomatic of middle-aged, single-child parents whose absolution has come in what they refer to as their late-stage miracle of conception, this blond girl they worship and love. She is their consciousness, and they will escort her, they promise, across on tomorrow morning’s outgoing tide, in search of starfish and horseshoe crabs and those translucent blue mussel shells she sometimes holds up to the sunlight and smiles. “Okay. Cross your hearts,” she says, and in unison they do.

Ellie has, earlier this month, July, turned ten, the evening air warm and still, and Clyde Laidlaw has, with a dull, orange pruning saw he found hanging in the unlocked toolshed, just finished butchering two two-by-fours into stubby blocks of kindling. He is yawning, coming, by degrees, fully awake. His wife, Francine, has driven inland to the Burnt Cove grocery store for the hot dogs and buns and dill pickles he was supposed to have picked up earlier but forgot, and his counterargument of silence, his only defense, he knows now, here in the stark, whitewashed world of this observation room, is nothing less than an admission of guilt.

The rustic cottage he has rented on the coast for the week seems suddenly to tilt and spin again as he stands alone by the unlit fire pit, staring out at the shimmering horizon of panoramic ocean, those thousands and thousands of brightly-colored buoys nearly blinding him, and he listens, as always, to that distant, low-guttural echo of what he believes to be a single lobster boat motoring toward the Stonington harbor. It’s all there in the police report, his brief nap in the hammock, twenty-five minutes truant is all, tops, a dreamless sleep, a mere doze, though he dreams nightly the opposite of every sworn statement he has ever made in his life, every whispered, guilt-ridden prayer of the non-believer, every angry, self-incriminating arrogation.

Sometimes half a day will go by, an elongated evening maybe, when Clyde Laidlaw quiets his thoughts and forgets that drive from northern Michigan to Maine. Maps and the Rand McNally Road Atlas and guide books, those spontaneous family sing-alongs and how, after arriving, the weather stayed indisputably perfect. Early afternoon breezes and cadmium blue sky and stargazing nights so spectacular that Francine is, right now, holding her daughter’s thin index finger and pointing into that immensity while annunciating clearly the syllables of stars, the mythic names of constellations: “Cassiopeia. Venus. Orion,” she says, his bow full drawn into an arc of silver light.

And, in Clyde’s mind, the lead detective jotting down every detail, his scratch pad filling in shorthand, laser-like, though he is alarmingly nonchalant, careful not to insinuate anything with his questions or his momentary descents into wordlessness, his casual faraway stares. He is young, late thirties, concentrated more than cold, and Clyde can see out the newly installed bay window behind him how the shallow-chop tide reversing itself has already risen. Half a dozen deputies are wading crotch deep in a semicircle towards him, silhouetted against the streaky sky, heads lowered as if searching for a body that might float by any second, mere inches below that purple-black surface.

The physical evidence is scant. Someone has found a dragonfly-blue barrette, someone a patch of moss torn up among the tiny scarlet hearts of reindeer lichen. But no weapon or blood-spotted leaves or fern stalks, no handwritten ransom note jackknifed to the trunk of a tree, no blond swatch or lock of angel hair. No semen. And of course no assailant because in the multiple scenarios of murder and rape and abduction there is always a getaway boat involved, anchored or stashed on the backside of Pickberry Island, which is otherwise uninhabited and small, all thick growth and shadow, one of a hundred or more scattered across Penobscot Bay.

Never, over the ensuing years, a single suspect or even a distant lead. Until now, which is why Clyde has awakened early this morning in Texas where he has never before been, to come finally face-to-face with one Clifford Lee Valentine who has been convicted in another similar crime. And who is scheduled to die at one minute past midnight, all appeals exhausted. He has confessed just one week ago not only to Ellie’s murder but to two others, one in Rhode Island and the other in Connecticut. A plumber by trade, unemployed, a drifter at the time of his arrest in the spring of 1985, the only son of a father who, as the court records show, routinely branded him with cigarettes, the pocked scars cratered down the backs of his arms and legs.

Cruel, Clyde thinks, and yet without remorse—in at least a thousand versions of the same recurring dream—he inserts the lethal injection needle directly into this man’s heart, this killer of kids who might even have paused, not side-eyed but straight on, to watch Clyde sleep. Who might, in fact, have nodded or smirked as he passed close enough to hear Clyde’s open-mouthed breathing, head slightly cocked on a quiet, laid-back late Thursday afternoon. No cooler of beer beneath the hammock, no radio playing. Clyde is a non-drinker, non-smoker, a careful planner, a grind-it-out advocate of small, sustainable desires, a lifelong disciple of modest ambitions, which is all he has ever coveted or claimed and then fled from into what has become the scattered jigsaw of his life.

He has, a second or two ago, imagined Ellie at twenty-three, another fleeting glimpse. All told it’s all he ever sees of her, obscured by that same unaltered visage of Francine getting out of the car, a bag of groceries in her arms, purse strap slung over her shoulder. As always, and within a few steps of Clyde she’s asking, “Where’s Ellie?” And he’s saying, “She went with you, didn’t she?” and the screen door slapping hard behind them as they check her bedroom, the bathroom, and then the two of them back outside shouting her name, waiting a few panicked seconds and shouting it again and again in every possible off-angle direction: behind them down the fire road, into the conifer woods on both sides, the fog horn sounding every thirty seconds in the distance.

“Where?” Francine says, her wide-set aquamarine eyes just inches from Clyde’s and she’s all bone and fascia and sobbing nonstop, arms up-flung, “Where? Where did you see her last? Damn you, where, where, where?”

In the eternal time-lapse of those next frantic seconds he sees in the tidal mud two sets of footprints. Side by side, small and large tracks, leading only one way away from the cottage, and it is a furious run they make, Francine in flip-flops, he barefoot and out ahead, hands cupped around his mouth as he screams and screams his daughter’s name. Erupting up the insides of his bare legs and thighs is something akin to squid ink, an expulsion of some dark and pulverized sea substance that stinks of decay, ashy and cold and wet. He is covered in it, black and doglike and wild with a terror he has never in his mortal being imagined or felt.

Clyde Laidlaw is a public school teacher, seventh-grade geography. A somewhat tragic figure for those familiar with his past, though most of his students pity more his thinning hair and fallen arches, and the way he shuffles stiff-jointed and takes off his glasses using both hands whenever he turns his back on the class to stare for a few minutes out the second-story window, snow coming down harder and harder like millions and millions of tiny moths. He seems then far gone, both lost and absorbed in some computation so oblique that even he can’t factor in all the variables, the longitudes and latitudes of evil, the constantly shifting striations of ice-blue light out there in the godless, grotesque, subarctic fields of the Lord.

Midwinter and he has been granted temporary paid leave from his job in order to travel to Waco. A guest of the state and stated this way he believes his students might glimpse him differently in the collective quorum of their twelve-year-old imaginations. They who believe the whole world is theirs for the taking, the oversized classroom globe spinning and spinning first thing each morning beneath their fingertips. But he has said nothing to them, not one word, nor will he, not ever. He is who he is, narrow-chested, crowding sixty, though much, much older in the false dawns of 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. when he wakes shivering and alone, his face opaque and wavering like a jellyfish in the naked, glowering light of the bathroom mirror. He wonders if Francine, remarried, the stepmother of another daughter and a son, will show, and if she will still recognize him and perhaps sit down close by without any further need for hatefulness or blame.

He has not laid eyes on her in over a decade, her exact whereabouts unknown to him. No letters or phone calls, though sometimes in the deep, uncharted silence of her absence he believes he can hear the papery mouths of those Maine wasps in the eaves, chewing and chewing, their gray nests protected from the sun and the rain. Yes, the rain, he thinks, which bore down in sheets for a week straight, beginning the day after Ellie disappeared. Downpours flooded the streets and the abandoned granite quarries, the water rising and rising in the blueberry bogs, the steep embankments eroding as if the whole town might spill over into the sea. The number of hooded search party volunteers diminished hourly, without reinforcements arriving and without any clue or trace of Ellie. Even the bed sheets stayed sodden and clammy. And, in the cramped confines of that fishtank-sized room Clyde and Francine rented short notice in the center of town, and overstayed—a month in all—they said things too unhealable to ever mollify or retract.

“We’ve got each other,” Clyde said, softly spoken and meant to buoy somehow but translated by Francine to mean as in ‘at least,’ and she said, “Don’t you ever threaten me with that. Don’t you dare,” as if he’d already given up all hope of Ellie’s reappearance.

“It’s not a threat,” he said. “No, please, that’s not what I meant,” and he says her name again to himself, here on this drizzly gray morning in the Lone Star state. In a whisper, “Francine,” her arm extended full length, a shaky index finger pointed at him, and on the verge, he believes, of squeezing the trigger of the only handgun she has ever in her life imagined holding, and for no earthly purpose other than this.

There is a clock, Clyde assumes, in the execution room, the seconds ticking down. He listens with intense concentration but when he leans forward, elbows on his knees, it is another kind of time he recognizes, the automatic whir of the Kodak Instamatic rewinding. Is it he or Francine who extracts the film cartridge and hands it to the detective? Clyde cannot remember, though the overexposed front-page snapshot of Ellie—“the missing girl”—in the morning’s newspaper appears to him again like a ghost child vanishing across those miles and miles of endless ocean, and gone again the instant he flinches and opens his eyes.

The room, he thinks, is warmer, sweat beading on his lower lip, his heavy breathing as thick and watery as a gag reflex each time he imagines reclaiming his daughter’s remains. He has appealed by certified letter to Clifford Lee Valentine for a map, a place name, a single identifiable marker in the maze of this murderer’s unreliable and, until now, recalcitrant recollections. The big sugar, as Clifford says, the final missing piece of the puzzle, and he has agreed to lead authorities to each grave site on the condition his sentence be commuted to life without parole. Only then will he offer up the missing coordinates to lust’s darkest cunning and desire. But first a good-faith, up-front carton of Pall Malls, he says, which Clyde has actually packed in his suitcase but left, last minute, on the unmade motel bed where he slept fitfully, if at all. An hour perhaps, two at the most. Outside the prison vigils are already underway. Clyde knows this, having stepped carefully around those few handfuls of bruised velvety rose petals scattered on the sidewalk by the main gate, the two Judas trees just beyond full bloom.

Clyde has not yet met the warden, but has talked twice with him on the telephone, the conversations clipped, segmented, played and replayed in Clyde’s mind because off the record, “It’s a no-brainer. Clifford Valentine is lying through his teeth. Out-and-out,” as the warden insisted. “Just stalling for time and nothing more.” He who will lead nobody anywhere except to his own overdue extermination on the killing table and, strapped in, whatever he has left to say, if anything, to Clyde or to the attendant priest, to the Almighty himself—not a slobbering sob word of it approximate to any truth beyond the tabloids. “Next thing he’ll swear his abusive daddy told him to do it in a dream. Listen, we’re beyond all that already, and on to God, Mr. Laidlaw.”

What’s left of Clyde’s faith resides nowhere in God’s making, though no doubt the veiled, blank-eyed mourners outside at midnight will sing hymns to Him, the Father, asking forgiveness while inside a choir of deathrow inmates waits dead silent in their cells.

He thinks not Valentine but Valentino, and that the warden is probably right that it’s all an act, a predictable last-gasp dead-man-walking kind of con hastily cut and pasted from old news clippings of cases still unsolved. The warden has seen the spectacle played out a hundred times at least, and yet Clyde’s hope—fortified against its own nonexistence—lies with this murderer who in Clyde’s blurred, closed-eyed image of him has just tipped back his face, his pinched lips drawing hard on a cigarette in the holding cell not fifty yards from where Clyde presently sits. He can almost see him, no guards or handcuffs, no leg shackles, because Clyde is there, too, blowing out the match he has just struck, Valentine nodding as they size each other up. There is a black plastic ashtray on the card table between them, and Valentine is large or small, six feet perhaps. Or, in the ocular rush of this moment already fleeting, an oily five-three or -four is likely the more accurate version: The timid, cornered predator last seen in Louisiana, and possibly staring out from a wanted poster Clyde might have passed without notice while checking his mail, as he does once each week, in his small hometown post office.

And here they both are, not quite strangers anymore, and Clyde says what he has imagined saying to this man forever: “I’m her father. Tell me,” but what he really means is, ‘Spare me.’ Maybe even, ‘Save me,’ and Valentine in mock consideration saying, “Sure. Why not?” but just as abruptly shucks the routine and leans midway across the table, leering, flicking his ash. It is already late afternoon and Valentine, pointing at Clyde’s wristwatch, says nothing else, not a single additional word as he slowly ticks the crystal with his fingernail.

What Clyde sees when he opens his eyes is a crew-cut guy in a green jumpsuit, a bottle of Windex hanging from his belt loop, and that exaggerated smile that Clyde’s students might refer to in their cockiness as pea brain or retard. Is it for Clyde’s amusement that he quick draws and squeezes the white plastic trigger, the plate glass dead centered with a circle of misty liquid blue? Clyde has never seen a window pane so clean, the white blind behind it still drawn, and the close-up scrutiny with which this fellow inspects his handiwork makes Clyde wonder if he inadvertently smudged it with his lips or forehead. He wonders if victims’ families have pounded their fists or spat or attacked the unbreakable glass with the heels of their shoes. He wonders if even a diamond could cut through it, and he can’t help but visualize that next quick nozzle spritz as an expensive exploding jewel. No, not lapis but a blue pearl, and Clyde is momentarily delirious in remembrance of how Francine at their wedding wore a whole string of them, the small ceremony held outside and the clouds not only cumulus but speeding past as bride and groom delivered their vows.

Clyde says nothing and does not return this custodial inmate’s maniacal grin if that, in fact, is what he is. Probably harmless enough but so task careful and slow that Clyde gets up. “Excuse me,” he says, afraid the man might sit down on his lap to rub that same shrinking circumference into an even smaller and smaller circle. Reduced to the size of a bullet hole Clyde decides, or possibly even a pinprick or, over time, another invisible millisecond of astral light.

Clyde needs some air, something to eat, a normal late Saturday afternoon meal at a family diner, where the price of a spaghetti dinner is determined by the number of meatballs. That kind of place, a conduit home to the same rear booth at Grady’s where he and Francine and Ellie used to go on Friday nights, idling John Deeres and Farmalls parked among the cars and pickups. He has not been back there a single time, and he avoids at all cost even driving by it, his mind terrified of trading places with who he was then in the calm, familiar middle years of that life.

Outside the sky is colorless, the taxis mustard-yellow, and more people—mostly women—have assembled in groups of them or us. They are interrogating one another with placards and whistles and catcalls, and those shiny black nightsticks the cops keep tapping to their palms remind Clyde, oddly, of fat holiday church candles, and altar boys, and in the dense fragrance of burning lavender he breaks into a fervent, stiff-jointed jog towards nowhere but away.

He sits alone on a stone bench in a park, evening coming on, and those two wing-clipped swans remanded to a pond so small they nearly blot it out with their size and their whiteness, like some lost infinitive to love. They could be happy anywhere together, Clyde believes, slender necked and their heads cocked and touching like mirror reflections of each other right there beyond the ferns and cattails.

He looks away, hands folded, unsure of exactly where he is in proximity to the prison. It could be a mile, two miles distant, a maze away, and he is not soaked completely through but the intermittent drizzle has left him cold and shaking and even hungrier in his present dislocation, though the very thought of food makes him nauseous. He wonders if Clifford Valentine is this instant eating his last meal and the taste in Clyde’s mouth turns acrid. He wipes his lips. He’s sure he’s going to retch and bends over and dry heaves, his stomach muscles contracting tighter and tighter and he’s on all fours on the uncut wet grass, his eyes squeezed tiny and black, and the corneas burning.

He cannot swallow. To steady himself he rocks slowly back and forth and each time he deep breathes he feels the heavy weight of his knees, as if a child were riding on his back, although every actual angle from which he might visualize such a moment has long since died. Sighted in this position by anyone passing is to observe Clyde Laidlaw for what he’s become, sick and frightened and old, struck down by circumstances so obdurate and enduring that he might never again get up.

But he does finally. He rises to that logical next first step of facing toward and then walking in what must be the direction back to the prison, its chain-link, its glittering halo of razor wire. He wouldn’t swear to it, but yes, he decides, that is after all where he’s headed. Not by way of any acknowledged real hope for what passes as closure, a word he hates, but in lieu of there being an even darker place into which he’ll plummet if he does not see this day through.

Not soccer but Kick-the-Can. That’s what Clyde remembers from his childhood, outside at night in the driveway, waiting for his dad to get home, his mom having multiplied times two or three or four the hour he said he’d be away. Or the consecutive days, sometimes, that seemed to bend into or away from one another. There was the wind that flattened the grass, the rain, the undisclosed locations his dad ran off to again and again, the cowering home, and the weather always worsening. Like this, Clyde thinks. Just like this: the clouds gathering and the distant rolling thunder and stronger and stronger gusts and nothing but endless black above these in-the-ground floodlights shining upward. And downward and sideways, a groundswell of illumination so out of sync with those muted B-flat, nothing-held-back blues riffs from a saxophone undulating from somewhere deep inside the prison.

Clyde enters through the main gate and is searched again, but this time wanded and patted down, legs spread, palms open, arms held out. He does not look the same, grass stains on his knees, and his gray hair matted flat to his head, his eyes wild and bloodshot. When asked for the letter of invitation he slides it from his back pocket and holds it out folded in half, and then in half again, the soggy creases on the verge of separating when the guard takes and carefully opens it. Then asks for some identification, and Clyde, nodding, hands him instead a wallet snapshot of Ellie. “Here,” he says, his mouth twitching. “My daughter,” and before he speaks her name he clears his throat and looks away. To the left and then right as if posing for a mug shot profile, at which point the guard does recognize him and stands aside to let Clyde pass.

Into the men’s room first where he presses the button on the automatic hand drier, and presses it again before it even stops, its coils blazing orange. Over and over until the forced hot air is swarming in a funnel around him. Clyde feels like a little kid. He’s scared and chilled to the bone, and his nose is running. He’s ten or eleven and yes, he misses his dad something terrible but not that unshakable image of him he suddenly conjures up: carcinogen cheeks, nose alcohol-pitted and purple, a brain choked stupid by booze. A loner to whom Clyde bore only the slightest physical resemblance growing up, so it is striking how much they look alike now in the wavering, shiny chrome reflection of the nozzle. It’s as if in a human blink a switch has been made and it is not Clyde but his dad who is standing there sobbing, already more than thirty years dead.

“Excuse me, are you okay?” a man asks, his forehead so furrowed that his eyebrows almost touch.

Clyde has not heard him enter or step out from where one of the three beige stall doors hangs partway open. Nor has he heard a toilet or urinal flush, no water sloshing into the sink. It’s as if he’s appeared out of nowhere, dressed in a coat and tie, clean-cut, Caucasian, official looking but somehow nonpenal. A lawyer for the state perhaps, the kind of attorney Clyde might have trusted had there ever been a trial, a jury, a guilty verdict handed down, and justice served not only for his daughter but for all the daughters gone lost and missing over time.

Yes, time, Clyde thinks. Remove just one minute and that terrible thing that just missed happening, never does. They’re a family again, he and Francine and Ellie. Maybe they return another summer, same Maine town and cottage, Ellie older and knee deep in a tide pool, holding up two starfish like pentagrams, and the gulls screeching overhead.

“Please,” Clyde says. “Please,” though only to himself, his voice tremulous and cracking, as if begging forgiveness in the pine-smell bathroom inside a Texas penitentiary is the reason he’s traveled all this way. He breathes deeply. He sniffles and blows his nose and when this person touches Clyde’s elbow, he glances away towards the ceiling lights that dim and then brighten again.

“It’s that time,” the man says, and, after he leaves, Clyde visualizes Valentine already en route, counting not the seconds anymore but the one one-hundredths of. It takes Clyde only a moment to calibrate just how close he is to watching a person die, put down, as the warden said, humanely like a dog or a cat gone suddenly feral in the household.

But even in the name of mercy Clyde hesitates to be seated among the aggrieved, and considers returning to his motel instead and in tomorrow’s predawn grab a shuttle to the airport, some breakfast there, and once airborne the great state of Texas receding forever away. Gone, and Clyde back in the classroom the very next day, his voice a mere drone in the chloroformed mindscape of his students still lost to their weekend.

Clyde turns and walks to the mirror, close-up, and he can feel the dull pulse in his fingertips when he presses them to his cheekbones, which are puffy and bruised.

No, not a mirror but a window, and what he hears when he closes his eyes is the powdery thump of a snowball against the glass. He’s in his study just off the kitchen, and he can see Ellie’s red scarf and mittens as he looks up from his desk where he’s been grading papers all evening, detailed map drawings of the world attached. Clyde tap-taps on the pane with his pen tip. Ellie’s laughing and waving and Francine’s face in the flood of sentry lights appears almost golden, her breath blue-white in the cold air and not even their shouts for him to come join them can break this silence.

Nothing can, except the amplified click of his shoes on the corridor tiles. He’s late and half running, and by the time he steps inside, the blind has already been opened on the execution chamber. Clifford Lee Valentine is barefoot, strapped down, the cuffs of his green prison-issue pants rolled up just beyond his ankles, as if a major vein has been located down there by where the priest stands, clutching a Bible, head bowed so that Clyde cannot see his face.

But he can see Valentine’s chest rise and fall, or fall and rise, the IV already in his forearm, fingers limp. He is clean shaven, his hair dark and thick and parted neatly on the left side, and he does not appear panicked or pained, his eyes unblinking and almost opaque from where Clyde stands motionless at the back of the room. He is surprised by how few onlookers are present. Six, he counts, not including himself, the inmate witness side numbering exactly one, a small, white-haired woman who every few seconds offers Valentine another mute, confirming nod. He acknowledges in no way that Clyde can detect that she is even there, though he does not take his eyes off her.

Standing next to Clyde is the man from the lavatory, pad and pen in hand, not a lawyer after all but a reporter poised to take down a convicted killer’s last statement for a story on crime and dying. But it’s the warden’s voice coming through the ceiling speakers, flat and formal, mere words he’s required by Texas law to recite, and without the slightest hank of pity or hate. The seat Clyde occupied earlier is empty. He makes no move towards it down the narrow aisle as the warden pauses, takes a few steps closer and addresses Valentine directly, hovering, staring down at the condemned before offering him in the pin-drop silence his unassailable right to speak.

The priest looks up, coaxes, but when Valentine shakes his head no everything stops, the moment on pause, except for the white-haired woman holding a rosary and pressing the backs of both bead-tangled thumbs to her lips. It takes only four or five quiet strides before Clyde slides in next to her. He can almost feel the fire in her hands, and the thin arc of Valentine’s eyes shifting, locking on Clyde now, like two men lost and staring back at each other across an expanding field of snow. A silence so deep that the black wall phone doesn’t ring, though the warden slowly lifts the receiver, not to his ear, but rather just picks it up and lowers it back into the cradle and from somewhere some anonymous someone starts the solution flowing through the clear plastic tube.

Clyde’s lips are dry, his throat constricting and still he does not turn and flee the scene, Valentine’s mouth opening and closing in quick small gasps, and the priest, face upturned, making the sign of the cross. The woman next to Clyde keeps praying, bits of Latin between moans so low they remind him of distant trains or the wind through the stunted pines behind his house those nights when he can’t sleep.

He hadn’t before it opened even noticed the door, but there it is, and a doctor has stepped through, the flat silver globe of his stethoscope already pressed to Valentine’s chest, and Clyde’s heart thrumming so hard he can feel it in his eardrums. Ka-doom, ka-doom as the sheet is drawn up over the entire length of Valentine’s body, only the toes exposed, and that is the image Clyde holds onto after the viewing room blind is closed. Why he thinks of the slippers beside his bed he hasn’t a clue, though maybe to remind himself how often he has sat in the dark, his knees up under the covers, waiting for first light.

Everyone except this woman next to him has left, and when she takes his hand and squeezes tightly, he squeezes back. Not a single word is whispered. They stare straight ahead without expression, the two of them here alone, and more remote in their singleness, Clyde believes, than any other truth he could possibly, in this life, ever know.