Walker

Although they were correct that Walker wasn’t suffering from Asperger’s, they were wrong in thinking he was engaging in irony. Children of that age don’t understand irony and therefore can’t engage in it. All they have is the capacity for sarcasm, which other students turned on Walker. Because he said “canine,” they began calling him Pluto and Huckleberry Hound and—finally, horribly—Mr. Peabody. The latter was a compound imposed on him the afternoon he spilled his milk on his crotch during lunch and it looked like he’d wet his pants.

Mr. Pee-body . . . Mr. Pee-body . . . Mr. Pee-body.

This meant that I, his twin, was also, at times, Pluto, Huckleberry Hound, and Mr. Peabody.

I can still hear their taunts and screams.

It was hurtful to both of us. For him, especially so on the day a group of frenzied kids surrounded me and began calling me Mr. Peabody, and I shook my head and pointed at him sitting alone across the playground. For me, especially so moments later when I realized what I’d done.

Even at that age, when I heard Walker speak of canines and felines and vehicles and receptacles and observed his earnest face, it was like watching a captive who doesn’t know he’s digging his own grave. And when we were older, when he became more sophisticated and rigid in his enterprise, it was like watching him weld together the bars of the cell that would imprison him. Which, in the end, it did. But sometimes, especially in the weeks after his wife died, I’d see him gazing like an overprotected child through the slats of a front gate, sometimes in wonder, sometimes in anxiety, sometimes in longing, imagining what it’s like to be free, to run wild in the street, but afraid to lift the latch.

It puzzled me—it still puzzles me—why we’re so different. We grew up in the same household, went to the same schools, read the same books, played the same sports. You could even say we lived the same life twice.

Except.

Except something in our experience changed our brains, or changed just one of our brains, disrupted our commonality, caused us to adopt what I have come to think of as our different forms of resignation. Although we adults try to fool ourselves with new projects, careers, hobbies, husbands or wives, maturity is acceptance of the given. It’s that time when we resign ourselves to what is unalterable in the real world, and relegate our hopes and fears that things might be otherwise to the unreal world of dreams and, sometimes, nightmares. And while Walker resigned himself to an ultimate description of reality in the language of the sciences that will someday be basic and final, I resigned myself to the impossibility of his ultimate description being either basic or final, even though true.

I can’t say when this divergence occurred, this alteration in the way we thought and talked. I used to think our twinness was disrupted when we were eight, when our grandmother died unexpectedly from genetic cardiomyopathy. A few hours after the funeral I went looking for Walker and found him lying facedown on the lower half of our bunk bed, cradling the teddy bear she’d sewn for him. I remember standing in the doorway, looking over at my bear still sitting where I’d left it on my dresser, on watch for the monsters that sometimes still came for him in the night.

A BREEZE WISPING UP THE CANYON put a bow in Walker’s line. He was looking past it, or perhaps it was that his gaze couldn’t reach it, for it seemed that his mind was focused, as it always was at this point in our downstream drift, on the problem of Papa’s Pool rather than on Papa’s Pool itself.

I knew what he was thinking: There’s only one world. It doesn’t make any difference what you call it. It is what it is.

It has to be.

I spotted a hesitation where his line entered the water.

“You got a hit.”

Steelhead, in fact, rarely hit a fly. They just take it from the current, accept it into their mouths as it swings by them. Because they don’t feed during their spawning run, the taking seems pointless, meaningless.

Walker pulled the line down with his left hand and raised the rod up and to the side with his right, a simultaneous move that eliminated the bow and, as shown by the dive of his rod tip, sank the hook into the fish’s jaw.