by Elizabeth Hand

The rolltop desk in this cabin belonged to your parents, you told me last night. Earlier in the evening you pointed to a top shelf in the lodge kitchen, three blown-glass bottles shaped like little birds, red, piss-yellow, the deep brownish violet of kelp on the ledges outside.

“Those glass things were my grandmother’s. They were always in her house in Stony Brook. Now they’re here. It’s so weird, this stuff. All this stuff.”

I would have said, It follows you. I was there; I am here now. One of the things that followed you.

This morning you interviewed me in your cabin, your computer set up on another desk, a big microphone on a stand. You sat in the chair before the computer and adjusted the mike, singing snatches of an old Bill Withers song, whispering, clicking your tongue, snapping your fingers.

“Don’t look at this.” You pointed at the monitor. Fizzy spikes rose and fell as you spoke. “It can be distracting. Seeing your voice.”

You’re interviewing all the visitors to the island. One by one all last week, today, after I leave. The Marriage Project. They go to your cabin and you ask them Have you ever been married? What does love mean to you? The sound bites are beautiful, spliced into swooping piano cadences, your guitar. Back on the mainland flames erupt, lines of peoples snake outside airports. Here on the island, there is music, wind in the trees, the persistent thump of the windmill that gives us power, rising from the island’s highest point, a giant with one great eye. From your computer the sound of a woman laughing — we’re all doomed — your brother’s voice soft with alcohol. Your cigarette smoke in the cabin around me. Prayer flags strung from the ceiling, tiny red lights. A piano, every year the piano tuner stays on the island for a week in exchange for keeping it in tune. Your Gibson guitar. Bottles of your medication silhouetted against the window, sunlight glinting from the plastic vials like a tiny cityscape. A city I visit. You live there.

Neither of us lives here. Nothing can be sustained. Sex, drugs, art, electricity, even the trees. It’s over.

Back to the Excerpts