They have gone away. You can see it in the lichen spreading straight across the front walk and the tree seedlings sprouting from the gutters. The starlings have taken up residence in the hollow near the top of the pear tree; it would’ve killed him. Every few minutes something falls from the eaves and lands soundlessly in the dried leaves the wind has piled on the lee side of the house. In a forgotten corner of what used to be a garden, the sundial has tipped so far over that noon’s finger stretches halfway to the ground even in June. Come November, the whole place has sunk so deep into shadow, you can hear a screech owl’s querulous trill at four in the afternoon. Its last inhabitants rarely even think about the place any more. The clapboard warps, turns green. Even snow’s great eraser won’t be able to hide the fact of its abandonment, fallen the way a woman falls who cheats on her doting husband a single time and then spends the rest of her life in fear that he will find out, warping, turning green with jealousy at the merest hint of another woman’s interest in him. The frames don’t have to go too far off true to make the windows stick forever as they were left: all shut but one, the high sliding window above the stove, so easy to forget. But for the wind and the rain, for the white-footed mice, it’s enough. From that one omission begins the surrender to another, more impartial kind of care.

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