It ended in ordinary arguments about moving in together, Commitment, that's what Emily would tell you, but if you asked Steve he would say it was all about candles.

When they made love, which was usually at Emily's place, she always lit candles. If you could see her apartment this wouldn't surprise you; it was crammed full of crystals, josticks, hand-dyed scarves and heavily embroidered cushions (or little bits of new age crap as Steve put it).

They would lie there with the light licking at their bodies, their limbs mingling in the soft shadows.

When Steve was telling me this he said "Have you ever really looked at a candle? Really looked. Candles are like souls, I read that, and you know they are. They sway this way and that, straining to escape, but they're trapped. And then we snuff them out."

The kicker for Steve was when he gazed into Emily's hazel eyes in the candlelit room; her eyes were brimming with souls, the way the moon can be imprisoned in water.

After that, he could never really look her in the face again.

(All true but the names. See also

I remember the third dinner you had on the island: Milo and you were visiting Ellen at about the time she and Rob were courting, I think, and they brought you to our house. It was loud and filling. Camilla was two, and sat on your lap, holding Mom's finger, through the stew and rice. You and Milo set up a yurt on the Housmans' beach while you saved up for land -- and of course lived there, in accordance with ancient tradition, for years longer than you thought you would. It was a nice place: small, well-decorated, and hospitable. I would sit against the wall during dinner and stare at the converging frame elements around the bubble skylight, trying to work out how it all fit together. Once we came over about dusk and knocked on the door, and you and Milo giggled hysterically and said to wait a second; five minutes later you opened the door and cheerfully started dinner without apologizing. It must have been some other time, but I want it to be that night that the moon was full and we two families walked halfway to Fishery Point barefoot in the wind on the dry, rippled sand of a summer low tide: I knew at the time that I'd never believe the memory.

You and Milo moved to the island the same summer as three other couples, all young and well-suited: "the nineties crowd". Of them, my family knew you the best; we felt good to be the established ones helping the eager newcomers. When I, a contented child, thought of happy young people, I thought of you two: Milo -- six-four, huge shoulders and arms, smart, cute -- was a merchant marine; you were a wildlife biologist. Both were insane three-, four-, and six- month jobs; you would walk in the door together after a season apart and away and start talking about going by container-ship to Kamchatka and spending the summer snorkeling in the mountains counting river fish, making very little distinction about which of you had which experience: so cheerful as to be telepathic. You were two of the only people on the island secure enough, quick enough, and undignified enough to hold your own against my family's mockery and non-sequiters. Dad and you two would talk wooden boats; he even suckered you into subbing for him one winter. Mom and got you into arts and crafts, and the house started filling with painted and beaded plaster masks of your faces.

Sometime after solstice four years ago you and Mom were talking in her room. We hadn't really got the house arranged then, and my bedroom was right there, separated by a curtain. I was trying to sleep, but made too much noise, giggling like sisters. You'd been telling Mom about your new job -- luring, catching, banding, and releasing spotted owls in the mountains -- and Mom kept trying to get you to do your spotted owl call, but you were too embarassed until she broke the ice by doing some owl calls herself. At eleven at night, while everyone else upstairs was trying to sleep. Eventually I said that if you didn't keep it down you'd find yourselves facing a sleep-deprived barely-clad lad, and the phrase "barely-clad lad" made you go absolutely bananas; it was amazing. I missed you already.

In September Mom called us kids to her and said there'd been some kind of accident in the mountains and you were dead. We all wandered around blankly. I stared at the big tree in the yard and groped around the pit in my mind. It was a helicopter crash: sometimes you and the other biologists would volunteer for rescue flights, and the day had been too cloudy. You died conscious but in shock, silent. A wiccan neighbor saw you in a dream: you said it had happened so fast that you were still jittery; you were so sorry you hadn't been able to say goodbye to everyone in person. Milo was in Juneau or somewhere; someone had to call him, and he had to take it in the heart. I can't imagine.

Two days or so later everyone came through the cold wet wind to squeeze into Alice and José's around a hot wood stove and not say much. We missed you a lot. I imagined you translucent, squeezed behind two kids staring at the candles leaning as they melted towards the stove, sad with the rest of us. I pretended I had to go to the bathroom and walked to the beach, facing the wind and a moon that hid behind the clouds, and played with the breaking waves. I got my feet wet and didn't know if you were gone.

After Milo got back to the island, we had a funeral, or maybe it was a wake. A hundred people held hands on your new property and talked about you. Some people seemed really interested in the gory details; it was funny. You dad said your family motto was "Often mistaken but never unsure". Your yurt was there, having been hauled three miles over dirt roads, set up to stay in until you cleaned up the big old ugly house, and the ground around both was freshly broken up and tilled open.

Mom and I walk through the garden and madronas down to the cliff over the water. We can just barely hear the wake; they aren't sure if they should be whooping it up in your memory or keeping it solemn in your memory. The cliff, your cliff, is lumpy metamorphic rock and yellow lichen facing a two-hundred-foot dropoff, all but ten feet of it underwater. There's kelp growing off the subtidal face, and in it a seal is hanging out. Not playing, not feeding, not keeping watch. It stares at us, blinking like it has déjà vu. Seals don't live or think anything like people -- selkies die of broken hearts -- but we both cross the shimmering air/water interface sometimes. They are born above water and sometimes we're born underwater; they die of exposure and we die of drowning. Seals seem to have compassionate, knowing, soft gazes; this is an illusion caused by the membranes of their large brown eyes: an adaption to the cold, dark, and wet of the ocean, which is flat on top and silent and tidal and the opaque mirror of our lives. Eventually it dives, kicking up a blooming wake.

I miss you in the fall, when the spongy wet-brown woods remind me of your death and the loud indoor breakfasts remind me of your life. The forest sounds huge on these nights, with the atmosphere sliding across it like a glacier; I hear it through a half-open window that lets out hot stove air, lets in cold mountain air, and reflects the candle's flame.

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