Dear Clara,

Do you remember that evening we spent in that runny little bed and breakfast halfway out into the International? Out in the feeble wisps of Iowa, plopped down like fallen crumb beyond even the cornfields and meshing pastures of medicated cattle, a plump grape amidst desert dust. We broke down two miles out from its lot, down on water, already a day late to the festival’s opening notes, and strength sapped from the wayward push and haul under an unforgiving sun, we stumbled in, collapsing onto crisply cool bedsheets, only to be riled awake in the early morning hours by the sighs of coyote packs.

Do you remember now, my dear?

I have taken it upon myself to pause momentarily here and consider that night we sat there with the lights off, wide awake but deadened with exhaustion, streams of sweat spilling down our brows as the air conditioner sputtered to a stall. Bribing the driver to let me out on the side road near that gnarled oak past the Steiner family burial bound, I set upon the ten thousand foot plod, bags in hand.

The doorway of the inn has been repainted since our visit—in fact, much of the building seems new, replaced. Almost not its own. It was like setting eyes on old Doctor Fun as as he walked out of the hospital with his new arm of plastic. It’s the uncanny valley effect, one could argue. The sign though, an aging oak board with letters scooped out of its belly by some rough hand reading “Only One For Miles”. I recollect we argued whether the sign bore a joke or a morbid truth, and, as if to demonstrate to the healing graces of truth, I considered approaching the keepers with the question upon throwing open the doors, but fell back in retreat. It was a slippery question, I contend, on that I would feel ill uttering—what could be accomplished, I ask you? A braggadocious mirror smile or a return sickening, lovely memories of a sunken center spring mattress, declaring your accuracy in exchange a wry peck goodnight.

I am again an anonymous ghost returning to his haunt, unremembered by those wrapped in his chilly embrace of past life. I have again found a question for the crooked ears of fate: is it my duty to be forgotten until I can remember to forget? There is a part of me that knows you would be able to answer that question—you always seemed quick witted toward twisted logic as such—though another part dreads the answer too much to voice my wonder.

There are several that would fling themselves from their own bramble ridden cliffs for the opportunity I continue to squander with each grasp beyond my pale cocoon—true removal from one’s life and its imposing travelers finds itself in sparse company in these hours. I resist only because of the faintly cooing child within me still clamoring for company, an entity so intertwined with our natural beings that to see him cast out brings upon me a most violent revulsion, one deemed foolish by those who have become numb to both the horrors and beauties of true life.

I found myself under the eyes of Tim and TJ once more, the only ones so far in this journey who I bothered to label within my own mind, if only because of their blatant love and proliferation thereof. I declare this in the most learned of terms, but only to undercut the moral laceration burning within the depths of every muscle. Look, I say not to you, but to any who will listen, look at how they called my name with same glee and remembrance as the door clattered close, spewing dust about my tired ankles. They, with me in their eyes both now and on that quiet night. Something in me broke under that look, and I collapsed at their loving feet, tears swilling about the floorboards in puddles as they consoled me, not as an understanding couple, not as responsible innkeepers, but long lost friends who had never forgotten what the look of light in my eyes meant. They had never forgotten, and though now it all returns, I cannot claim the same without dousing myself further in white lies and ill wrought hyperbole.

Forgiveness is something I cannot give myself, though they need not supply it, I contend. The peace of the first night in our old cabin on the hilltop has not returned, nor has the warmth from the last night spent here returned.

Forgive me, my dear Clara.