Heather Died A Long Time Ago

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Chad was already on the hill when Millie arrived. She saw him up there, hands in his pockets, staring down at the ground. She got out of her car and opened an umbrella against the drizzle.

“Hello,” Chad said as Millie came up behind him.

“Lovely weather we're having,” Millie said.

Wet grass had soaked through her pumps and the stockings under them. The rain was very much on her mind. It rained every year. At first that seemed normal—it was April and it was Washington State—but every year?

Chad shrugged. Millie looked down at the bronze plate, set in a pad of concrete no bigger than a pillowcase. Heather Paula Fendin.

“Hello, Heather,” Millie said down at the plaque, then, to Chad, “Have you been here long?”

“Half an hour. My flight got in mid-morning.”

He had a day or two’s growth on his cheeks and some of it came in gray. His temples too. It hadn’t been there the year before. Otherwise, he looked about the same. He wore a suit and patent shoes. Rain dripped off the longest lock of hair on his forehead.

“You’ve got a little snow on the mountain.”

“Yeah," Chad said.

Millie’s own hair would have surrendered entirely to old age some years ago if she didn’t paint it auburn in the sink twice a month.

“I think you’re the only person I never see dry. There’s another umbrella in the car, but I don’t suppose you want it.”

“No thank you.”


“Something like that.”

“Got a hair shirt under that suit?”

He chuckled.

“How old are you?” Millie said.

“Thirty-three this December.”

“So you’ve been coming here longer than…”

“Longer than she was alive. I was just thinking about that.”

“I was so angry when I heard you were flying down here every year.”

“That’s why I always came two weekends before the…you know, before the fourteenth.”

"And I was mad at you for being so polite."

"I'll come in March, if you prefer. Or February."

“I asked you to come on the fourteenth, didn’t I?”

Millie remembered the bouquet of lilies in her left hand and bent to set them on the grave.

"I was so angry about everything. Angry that you could afford plane tickets. If you were coming all the way out from New York, then you should have to take the bus. Or walk. Crawl.”


Tears came. Millie looked up into the rain to hide them.

“I saw your picture in the Times once. At some society party to raise awareness about the…who-knows-what. The manatee, maybe. I saw that picture and I thought a lawyer. A fucking manatee lawyer.”

Millie didn’t usually cuss, but now the profanity rolled out smooth and natural. Chad watched with his hands down in his pockets, the rain falling off of his face.

“I thought, ‘he should have married her, not killed her,’” Millie said.

He chuckled again. He had a good, textured voice. Deep and somehow comforting, despite his melancholy.

“Never happen. She was smarter than I was and she knew it. I never knew how much she even liked me.”

“You are married, aren’t you? Someone told me that.”

She’d never asked him about his personal life. Not because she didn’t want to know, but because it felt like intruding. He took his hand out of his pocket and showed Millie the ring.

“What does your wife think about this?” Millie gestured at the grave.

“We fight about it ever year,” Chad said.

“But you still come.”

“Yes I do.”

He was handsome, but tired. The growing creases around his mouth and eyes outlined a hungry, unhappy face. Good, she thought and then mentally took it back.

“Would you stop coming? If I asked?”

He shook his head. The rain suddenly doubled, driving divots into the mud. Neither of them commented on it. Another moment of silence stretched out.

“Before she died, I had made my plans,” Chad finally said, “I was going to be a rich guy’s kid. I was going to be happy with privilege. I told my dad I would go to law school, but I didn't mean it. But then she did die and I…”

“You became her,” Millie said, “I know. Manatees.”

“Yeah. I did. She was the one with the treefrog posters and the hemp tennis shoes. I just played along to get laid.”

He looked at her cautiously, from the corner of his eye.

“Want to know something else? While we’re being honest?” Millie said.

He laughed low and shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.

“If you want to tell me.”

“I’d stopped coming. For almost ten years. At first I would walk up here every day. Three miles. I did crawl, it felt like. I’d come up here and I’d talk to her and hate you. Then it was every week and then every month and then just not. I told myself it hurt too much, but really I just had living to do. I’d take the dog to the park or get my nails done instead. I got a divorce, I got a new man. I just stopped coming.”

“That’s not so bad.”

“When I heard about what you were doing, I swore that I wouldn’t let you out-mourn me. But I’m happy. I can’t stop being happy. I have her picture on my desk at work, but I don’t remember the last time I looked at it.”

“I keep her prom picture in my wallet. Even my wife doesn’t know that.”

“But you don’t love her still, I hope.”

“I never did. I just killed her.”

“You didn’t. A telephone pole killed her. A dashboard killed her.”

“So I became her and you don’t miss her and yet here we are.”

Chad was crying. Millie automatically pretended not to notice.

“Death is strange,” she said.

“Not like living, it isn’t.”

“I’ll see you next year then?”

“Yeah,” he said.