The Neighbours: a memory

After Jim died that fall, we scattered his ashes in the garden and around the blue cabin above the river. Then we had to drive north, back to work, to school. In the shock and the sadness, no time to think of what do do with the cabin and all his things. I returned in winter, drove past brown fields whitened with hoar frost,  took what we would not have wanted to lose and hoped that the place would just sleep there above the river, among the big trees, such an obscure driveway into the property that even we had to concentrate so not to miss it. Yet various friends stopped by and, seeing the ashes, scooped some up to keep with them. 
     It was not until spring, March, that we were able to return and stay and seriously sort through everything and make decisions. A friend introduced me to the caretaker we needed, Doug, who, after mending the water pump that had frozen and then cracked, refused to accept pay. "Let's write it in the dust and let the rain settle it," he said.
     The neighbours lived across the creek. A bigger, more open property, further back from the river and cleared to a greater extent, more conventionally developed with a big garage and workshop for the various machinery loggers need, a tidy frame house with a front porch and a doorbell, which we rang. Late morning. Loretta let us in. I apologized, because I had not considered that they might be eating lunch, but of course they were. A glass of milk at each place, with a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich cut in triangles on each luncheon plate. A flowery table cloth in brown tones. The kitchen orderly, neat. No sign that bacon had recently fried on the stove.
     "What happened?" were Larry's first words. A tanned face, round, closely shaved. Crew cut white hair, blue eyes,  straight, thin-lipped mouth that did not smile. He wore a black and white striped denim work shirt, thick socks. Loretta's glasses were attached to a chain around her neck.
     I described the accident, apologized for not having visited sooner, explained the circumstances, all of which they knew or had read about, or guessed. What they did not know was that saying the news cemented the truth of it. Each utterance thudded like the diminishing bounces of a basketball before it rolls to rest. Dead, dead, dead.