For months Mitch Watters had been out of sorts and in arrears. Not with money. He was actually pretty good with money. You could tell this by the small ways in which he wasted it.
He was, instead, experiencing something best described as emotional attrition.
His pal Gordy, who was right about so much, was wrong about Mitch’s supposed good fortune. You’re not a lucky young man if you have a choice between two evocative women. It can actually be the worst thing possible, given the spiritual exhaustion that comes with a relentless fight between the heart and the mind.
There were direct ways for Mitch to bring an end to this, but each of these routes would have required the courage to make a decision. And having absented himself from such opportunities, it was now clear, at least to Mitch, that his dilemma would be resolved for him and not in ways that could possibly lead to a happy ending.
It was this realization that caused him to start smoking again, to drink a bit more, and care a bit less. On a gauzy Saturday morning that he greeted with puffy eyes, he carelessly left his newspaper on the stove. He then turned toward the sink after turning on the wrong burner. The fire was more intense that he thought possible and the only good things about the burns on the right side of his face is that they were not as bad as the burns on his arms.
He was still in bandages, a week later, when he came upon the freeway accident involving the hay truck and the camper. The propane in the camper ignited the hay and then, right before his eyes, a couple from Medford was about to be burned alive. Unless somebody did something.
Very much to his surprise, he became that person. It wasn’t that he found his heart or his courage. It was more that his heart and courage grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to the actions required to rescue the dazed and bleeding couple. Except for the pain, it barely fazed him that the flames from the crash scorched the bandages on both his arms.
When the highway patrol investigators were done with him, he simply drove away from the charred wreckage to the next off ramp. From there, he drove forty minutes north to where there was almost nothing, and nobody. He parked in a turnout, leaned against the hood and calmly sliced a crisp apple with a pocketknife. As he slowly ate the wedges of the fruit he thought about going home again. But in fact he never did.
It was better to be a missing person, he figured, than one who was becoming unraveled.