As he lowered the phone his eye caught Josef’s letter, lying on the kitchen counter next to the refrigerator. A voice, message from my past life, he thought, then turned to his phone — voice from the past, message from the future? “And here I am, in the present,” he said aloud.
Yes, he was here, in the present, in the same small apartment he had lived in for four years, in the same town he had lived and worked, taught, for seven years. You’re either running to something, or from something. He had never given serious thought to Colleen’s opportunity two years ago, made no inquiries of his own, Colleen acting as his voluntary agent. He laughed about it at the time, talked about it freely with Steph and his other friends, just as he had that evening with the olive-skinned woman. He tried to remember her name — Shamalka? No, that wasn’t it, I should know, I’m not some ethno-centric ignoramous like — better not finish that thought.
He hadn’t told her that Colleen had called again just two weeks ago, that the same job at the same school was opening, the new hire had found a better opportunity closer to his home in New Orleans, he kept calling it Naw-Lins, we should have known. He hadn’t told Steph either, or anyone else in Bark Bay. Hadn’t called his parents, his schoolboy friends living in Skokie and Evanston — hadn’t talked to anybody. Only Colleen, and the school board, knew about their offer to him.
Something was different, making him pause in consideration this time. He couldn’t shrug off this opportunity like he had two years ago. What changed? Not this apartment, not his job — had he been seeing Katie then? No, that was before Katie. Wasn’t Katie just the latest in a long line of women who had come in and out of his adult life? Katie . . . Katie was a local, born and raised in Bark Bay, she’d either die as an old woman in Bark Bay or would die of heartbreak much younger if she moved away. Wayne was a plumber, had his own business — he would stay. It wasn’t going to work out, not Katie, not him.