The Fog

by Jillian Grant Lavoie

I wasn’t there when my brother, Jack, died. I was 7,000 miles away, in my bed at home in Hamden; or downstairs in my dad’s den, watching the Sox; or at work, dropping lobsters into boiling pots at Water’s Edge. They didn’t tell us the exact time his plane went down.

I was there when the green Buick pulled up outside our house. I was sitting on the front steps, smoking, when Cal Chatham and some other guy walked up in navy uniforms, their eyes watching the pavement, hats pressed into their chests.

“Your dad home?” Cal asked, and I wanted to spit in his face, not just because I knew what he was there for but because they hadn’t found someone better to come out and tell us. Cal hadn’t even made it through basic training before he shot himself in the leg and was sent home to work recruitment. Jack always said he was a stupid son-of-a-bitch. I shook my head.

“I’m sorry, man,” Cal said, and he handed me a sealed-up letter. “Jack was a real good guy.” Part of me felt like making him get the hell off my property, but part of me wanted him to stay, so I wouldn’t have to be the one to tell my dad. It was a couple of days before the Fourth of July, and he’d been all hyped up about riding in the parade with the other parents of soldiers fighting overseas. Now he’d have to go on a different float.

Cal and the other one stood there for a few minutes while I looked down at the envelope in my hand. I didn’t want to open it; I didn’t want to read the words. I put it next to me on the steps and lit another cigarette, for Jack, and let those guys stand there clutching their hats.

Jack got married just before he left for his last tour, when he was living on base in South Carolina. We flew down for the wedding, even though I’m not sure he ever really invited us.

“Kinda strange, meeting his girl like this,” my dad whispered to me in the pew. But Jack never did anything the conventional way. He’d shocked the hell out of us when he turned down Notre Dame to join the Air Force. His impulsiveness was catching, though. Three other guys from Hamden joined up after he did. I would’ve gone myself if I wasn’t nearly blind in my right eye.

Even his wife, Meredith, was unexpected. In high school, he’d dated blonds. They were cheerleaders and field hockey players and minister’s daughters, and Jack could tell them where to go and what was what. But Meredith was dark-haired and dark-eyed and light-skinned, like a china doll, and she glided down the aisle of the church in a way that almost ghost-like. Jack watched her like he was in some kind of a trance, the way he used to watch his model airplanes launch, far-off and starry-eyed.


Meredith came to us the same week that a thick, white fog rolled in off the sound and settled between the houses that line the Northern Prom. It was all anybody talked about, the fog.

They met in the street outside their homes and on the wharf by the docked lobster boats and in the Kellermans’ coffee shop downtown to huddle together and marvel at it. “I can’t see but six inches past my own hand,” they said. “How long d’you think it’ll keep up?” And then, a few days later, when it still hadn’t lifted, “What do you suppose the town is going to do?”

It was still something of a novelty by the time Meredith arrived, and so she was able to slip in relatively unnoticed. My dad had put fresh sheets and a couple of new pillows on Jack’s old bed, but, other than that, his room was the same as he had left it. I might have taken a few of his pictures and baseball cards over the years since he’d left, but not too many, and Meredith wouldn’t have known anyway; she’d never seen the place before.

I watched her edge around the room, touching Jack’s things: pennant flags and photographs and posters of bands that had long since broken up. I thought how strange it must be to have been married to someone and not even seen the things that once made up their world.

“I’ll let you get settled,” I said to her, leaning in to shut the door. She gazed up and straight at me.

“You look just like him,” she said, which surprised me, because nobody ever thought that, except me. In the dimly lit bathroom, with my forehead pressed up against the mirror, my eyes turned green, and Jack stared back.



“Take her to the movies or something,” my dad said. He was pleading. Meredith had been with us six hours, and they’d already poured through every photo album and box of childhood crap he’d kept piled up in the garage. The three of us were supposed to go out in his old dinghy and spread Jack’s ashes in the sound; it was what he’d said he wanted, in case he didn’t come back, but the fog was thick as ever, and the coast guard had closed up the marina. Meredith was quiet and easy; she mostly sat on the living room couch, looking at pictures or staring out at the fog, but her presence put us both on edge. We didn’t remember how to act with a woman in the house.

The closest theater was one of those artsy ones that shows only documentaries and classic films. If we wanted to see a new release or blockbuster, we’d head over to Westmore or Windham. But Meredith said she wouldn’t mind seeing this one independent film about ballroom dancers, so the two of us walked into town and bought tickets.

She asked questions the whole way, like, “Is this where Jack went to school?” and “Did Jack play ball here?” and “How did Jack like this restaurant?” And I gave her answers, “Yeah, he did,” “Every season,” and “He liked it fine.” She ran her hands along the brick wall of the high school and the side of the pizzeria where Jack worked most summers. She sat on the bench where he waited for the bus. She plucked a few blades of grass from the park where he practiced his fastball and slid them into the back pocket of her jeans.

“Can I ask you a question?” I said, when we were sitting in the theater, waiting for the movie to start. It was just us and one old couple who sat far off to the right. “Isn’t it sort of pointless to get to know someone after they’re gone?”

She looked upset for a second, but then she swallowed and smiled. “I did know him,” she said.

She fished a folded-up picture from the front pocket of her purse and held it out for me to take. Jack’s hair was cut short, and he was wearing a blue shirt I’d never seen and leaning against a red pick-up I’d never seen, and he looked to me like someone else’s brother.

“It’s outside our house on base,” she said.

I tried to picture the two of them there, in a brown, stucco, Air Force-issued home, but instead I kept flashing back to this same memory of Jack in high school: standing next to the pizzeria in a white tee shirt, his hair long and shaggy, the way he always kept it during off-season. A couple of girls leaned up against a parked Jeep, talking to him while he smoked his cigarette, flicking at the butt with two fingers, spitting jokes, smiling sideways, making the girls giggle and push their chests out towards him.

I might have been on my way to tell him something or just to hang around the pizzeria while he worked – people did that then – but I stopped a few yards away when I saw him standing there with the girls. He looked like he had a rhythm going. Every nod of his head and turn of his hand seemed to play off the last one, casual but calculated; you could see it in his eyes. And I knew that if I walked up then, there’d be that awkward lapse in conversation. He’d stop to introduce me, and maybe the girls would stick around and ask me questions because I was Jack’s brother, or maybe they’d smile and tell him they’d see him later and pile back in the Jeep. And Jack would put his arm around me, and say, “Nice going, buddy,” and laugh because, for him, it didn’t really matter. There’d be another day and another couple of girls.

I didn’t see that Jack in Meredith’s picture. In the dimming theater lights, his face looked sunken and shallow and his eyes, brown and hard, like mine.


The fog seemed to get worse at night. It crept outwards from the Northern Prom and blanketed the town in a snow-like mist. Walking home from the theater with Meredith, I looked down and realized that I could barely see my own feet.

When we passed the playground behind Town Hall, Meredith asked if Jack used to play there, and I said, “Sure he did,” so she sat in one of the swings and ran her hands up and down the chains from which it hung.

I took the swing next to her and started to pump my legs, picking up the remembered rhythm from when I was a kid. Meredith started pumping too, and pretty soon we were soaring. At the top of our rise, we could see over the fog and straight to the sound, but then the swing would dip back below the surface, covering us in cloud. For a moment, the swings hung just between, and the fog stretched out before us like a horizon. It was almost like flying a plane, like being a speck on the edge of something huge.

When the swings slowed and started their descent, I realized that we were both laughing. Meredith’s dark hair was a mess, wild and tossed over her face. “I haven’t done that since I was a kid,” she said, beaming.

“How old are you?” I asked her.


“Me too,” I said, and I wondered why Jack had never told me we were the same age.

Meredith pushed her hair back, and, through the haze, I could see her eyes crinkling and shining in the green glow of the playground lights. “Feels good to laugh, doesn’t it?” I nodded, watching her smile to herself. “Your laugh sounds just like his,” she said, and I felt my chest sort of fill and expand.

As we walked back along the Northern Prom, somewhere inside the fog bank, she slipped her hand into mine, and the movement was so subtle it felt like second nature. Like we’d been walking that way our whole lives.


On the front steps of the house, Meredith leaned her head up against my left shoulder. The fog hung around us in thick clumps like cotton. I slid my hand along the wooden step so that it rested near her leg; I just wanted to feel its warmth. She didn’t flinch, so I moved it closer.

“I’ll have to leave soon,” she told me. “I have to go back and pack up the house.”

“Where will you stay?” I asked her.

“With my parents for a while. Then who knows; maybe California?”

She was staring out into the fog again, and the way her feet kept circling and shuffling on the step, she felt like something wild, like she might take off any second and bolt into the night. I wanted to keep her there next to me. Her body up against mine felt right, like maybe all of this had happened just to get us there that night, like Jack was somewhere pushing the two of us together.

“You know, you could stay here,” I said, turning towards her. I put my hand on her leg and felt it tense up. “I would take care of you, you know. Not just for Jack.” She smiled and went to lay her head back down, but I knew that this was my shot. Like Jack with his girls, if I could keep the rhythm, build the momentum, I could have her for myself. “I wouldn’t leave you like he did,” I said. I took her chin in my hand, felt her body shake a little in my grasp, and then I leaned close and kissed her.

Her lips were wet and warm, and I waited for them to open and let my tongue in; for her hands, now placed on my chest, to clutch at me and pull me close. Instead, I realized that she was pushing, craning her neck back to twist away. I wrapped my hands around her head tighter, holding her there against me. One more second, I thought. One more second and she’d relax, let me in. She just had to let it happen.

Her breath tasted like warm cinnamon. I pushed my tongue inside her mouth. She made muffled noises and thrashed against me, tried to drive my body away. But it wasn’t fair. She’d held my hand. She’d told me I looked just like him. I could feel her pounding against my chest. Any second now, I thought. She couldn’t leave. I needed her. Couldn’t she see how bad I needed her?

When I pulled back, she gasped for air and sat there for a second, shaking. Her lips were slick with my spit and her dark eyes were kind of clouded over. She got up to go inside, stepping purposely away from me, but I wouldn’t have grabbed after her anyway. I’d missed my chance.


I woke the next morning to the sound of the ferry horn blaring. The fog had cleared overnight, and, with it, so had Meredith. On the kitchen table, she’d placed that picture of Jack outside their house at Shaw, only in the light of morning, his eyes didn’t look so dark and his cheeks so sunken in. He looked like Jack, and, even with a close-cropped haircut and a strange pick-up, there was no mistaking him for someone like me.

My dad and I waited until the fishing boats had emptied the marina, and then we set his old dinghy in the water. We didn’t speak as we steered ourselves out into the sound, past the docks and the last buoy, to the open ocean, the box of my brother’s ashes tucked somewhere behind me under the wooden seats.

Jillian Grant Lavoie is a writer, designer, wife, and mother (in no particular order). She holds an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has been featured in the Boiler Journal and is forthcoming in several others, and she is currently at work on a collection of short stories.