Excerpt from “The Moment”

I was served with divorce papers this morning. I’ve had better starts to the day. And though I knew they were coming, the actual moment when they landed in my hand still threw me. Because their arrival announced: this is the beginning of the end. I live in a small cottage. It’s located on a back road near the town of Edgecomb, Maine. The cottage is simple: two bedrooms, a study, an open-plan living/kitchen area, whitewashed walls, stained floorboards. I bought it a year ago when I came into some money. My father had just died. Though broke by the time that his heart exploded, he still had an insurance policy in place from his days as a corporate man. The policy paid out $300,000. As I was the sole child and the sole survivor—my mother having left this life years earlier—I was also the sole beneficiary. My father and I weren’t close. We spoke weekly on the phone. I made an annual three-day visit to his retirement bungalow in Arizona. And I did send him each of my travel books as they were published. Beyond that, there was minimal contact—a long-ingrained awkwardness always curtailing any ease or familiarity between us. When I flew out alone to Phoenix to organize the funeral and close up his house, a local lawyer got in touch with me. He said that he’d drawn up Dad’s will, and did I know I was about to receive a nice little payoff from the Mutual of Omaha Insurance Corporation?

“But Dad was hard up for years,” I told the lawyer. “So why didn’t he cash in the policy and live on the proceeds?”

“Good question,” the lawyer said. “Especially as I advised him to do that myself. But the old guy was very stubborn, very proud.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “I tried sending him some money once, not that I had much to offer him. He returned my check.”

“The few times I saw your dad, he bragged to me about his son the well-known writer.”

“I’m hardly well known.”

“But you are published. And he was very proud of what you had accomplished.”

“That’s news to me,” I said, remembering how Dad had hardly said anything about my books.

“That generation of men—they often couldn’t articulate a damn thing they were feeling,” the lawyer said.

“But he obviously wanted you to have some sort of legacy from him—so expect a payout of three hundred grand in the next couple of weeks.”

I flew back east the next day. Instead of returning home to the house in Cambridge that I shared with my wife, I found myself renting a car at Logan Airport and pointing it in the direction of places north. It was early evening when I left the airport. I guided the car onto Interstate 95 and drove. Three hours later, I was on Route 1 in Maine. I passed through the town of Wiscasset, then crossed the Sheepscot River and pulled into a motel. It was mid-January. The mercury was well below freezing. A recent snowfall had bleached everything white, and I was the only guest at the inn.

“What brings you up here at this time of year?” the clerk at the reception desk asked me.

“No idea,” I said.