It surprised Bill. And then again, it didn’t. His boss called it a “work-force reduction,” the third one in seven months. Bill had managed, somehow, to evade the first two. But in a dark sense, the third time was his charm. He bet they’d eventually close the entire newspaper office. Once you’re down to a skeleton crew, it’s obvious there’s nothing left but bones. On the bright side, which he always looked for, Bill had a year’s severance in his pocket. The equivalent of twelve month’s pay to figure out what he wanted to do with the next season of his life. He was old enough, though, to know the time and money would go fast. He’d blink and they’d both be gone.
His decision would’ve been different had he been younger, knee-deep in family and provision. But his two daughters were married, the oldest with a child on the way. And Sarah had been gone four years now. She paused to pick up a five-dollar bill in a crosswalk and a sixteen-year-old texting and driving hit her and killed her. The impact knocked her glasses and one shoe off, but that Lincoln was still in her hand when the ambulance arrived. Bill searched hard for a bright side when Sarah died, but he never found one. Some days knock the life out of you, and you’re left with a choice to make. You can quit, and a lot of people do. You can idle, go through the motions of life but not really be alive. Or you can, somehow, keep going.
Bill kept going, mainly for the girls. But also for Sarah. He knew she’d want him to endure, the tragic widower, even find love again. He was open to that last part, but with each passing day, he wasn’t so sure. To keep his sanity in the evenings after work, he threw himself into reading about the West. Book spines on his nightstand held names like Gretel Ehrlich, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams, Annick Smith, William Kittredge, Ivan Doig, Tom McGuane, and Jim Harrison. The western fascination had initially been Sarah’s. Those books all belonged to her. She’d never been and wanted to see it all. In fact, they had booked a trip to Montana just weeks before she was killed.
Bill’s decision wasn’t hard. At least a portion of his severance time would be spent seeing “the last best place,” as Sarah described. He’d read about the rivers, mountains, and big sky, and the people who populated that landscape and their strange histories. Now he would experience the reality behind the words. Bill would visit the bright side.
Follow up next week for the next addition of this short story series, September.