Grace Blackwater is downstairs, saving his life one small gesture at a time. He can hear her straight through the worn wood floor beneath his bed, going about her business as if she owns the place. She doesn’t own the place. He hadn’t called her, but she has come–up the long dirt driveway on her motorcycle at dawn and in through an open kitchen window, using her jackknife to slit the screen that has been repaired again and again with duct tape. Upstairs, in his bed, he has heard even this, the silver blade parting the length of fine mesh with the whir of a hummingbird. Every door in the house is unlocked. Grace likes to do things the hard way. He was glad she hadn’t shot off the locks. She has some talents. He does, too. What are they? He doesn’t know anymore. He sure can’t dance, would make a lousy poker player, doesn’t know any magic tricks, isn’t much for meaningful conversation. He is a champion of deep sleep. He excels at the long rest.
Now he lies still listening to Grace, his echoing ear shoved hard to the pillow, a swimmer turning his face to the bottomless lake. His hearing has become intermittently acute–that is a talent, and that’s what they called it, the medical term, acute–nerve endings raw and shiny as spliced wire, looped together like a telephone cord. He invents sounds, puts them in his room. Often he hears a helicopter flying low somewhere near, and often, too, he hears the fast turn of the sprinklers, spinning water into the apple orchards down the hill at night, spinning silver drops down upon his bed.
It all keeps turning without him, the earth and its sounds of the living. In this house the quiet fills his mind with memories, real and imagined. It is impossible to know that the sound of someone’s voice can be lost forever until it is gone. He wants to hear his wife’s voice again.
Grace is humming, and he throws back the blankets with his good arm and turns to lie flat, to float. Breathing has become a talent, too. He has a chipped front tooth, calloused hands, hair the color of sun, and a broken soul. He is thirty-seven years old. His body is roped with scars that twine and reach like vines around his legs and arms, across a shoulder. One divides him in two, a zipper running the length of his chest. Look at you. Let me shake your hand. You’re one of those lucky guys. Lucky to be alive. He’s lucky; that’s his true talent. He lives.
A white sheet covers all but his face, which is untouched by steel or glass, spared. Below him, Grace has finished her chores and is already repairing the ripped screen with duct tape, making things right. In his dream he feels a hand reach deep inside his chest and lift his heart up and out with a quick tug, like a loose tooth tied to the knob on a slamming door. His grandmother used to do that when he was a boy. He lives on a hill above the orchard in his grandparents’ old farmhouse. They are long passed, his parents more recently gone.
Since he’d released himself from the hospital in May, he hasn’t left his house, these walls. He lives alone, except when Grace breaks in.
Mr. Robey, you really need to keep these appointments. We’ll work with you on this. Mr. Robey? He sleeps most days. Asleep, he realizes he doesn’t need anyone or anything. He doesn’t need his heart anymore and he’s glad to see it go. Take it. Even his dreams have sound. His yanked heart makes a pop like a lightbulb dying. Other days, it’s the hiss of a snowflake melting on warm skin. Grace rattles in a drawer, and the refrigerator door slams shut with a punch. The last task she gives herself is his breakfast, soft-boiling two eggs, pouring coffee, whistling as she waits for the toast. She must think he might try something funny, something stupid, today of all days, the anniversary of the accident.
She has always loved him, too much. She is saving his life, fixing him with duct tape and eggs. He can just ?oat above her, listen as she opens all the curtains, lets in light. It sure is cold out here!
someone tells him. But we’ll get you inside soon.
Today is the first of July, when the apples in the trees are the size of small pink fists and, this far north, the big lake has just swallowed its last sliver of ice somewhere in the blue deep. His wife has been dead for exactly six months. Everything worth knowing is a secret.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Widower by Liesel Litzenburger. Copyright © 2006 by Liesel Litzenburger. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.