Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Michael Loyd Gray
Kalamazoo, Michigan


Rowboat facing out toward dark lake with clouds
Photo by Min An on Pexels.

Alice ran a finger along the scar on his arm and he slowly woke up, his eyes focusing in the dark. She had been watching him sleep. He rolled over to face her.

“Can’t you sleep?” she said.

“I had a bad dream.”

She ran her finger along the scar again. “Are you okay?”


“You’re sure?” She cupped his chin with a hand and gently rubbed it.

“It wasn’t so bad,” he said. “Just – memories.”

She ran her finger along the scar again, feeling the ridge it made.

“You never talk about it,” she said.

“Talk about what?”

“All of it.” She pinched the scar. “Vietnam. Getting shot.”

He looked away, at the bedroom window. It glowed from moonlight. He vaguely wondered what time it was. It felt well before dawn. His watch was on the light stand but he knew better than to check it in the middle of a conversation with her.

“Past history,” he said calmly. He yawned. Then he felt something welling up inside him.

She placed her hand over his arm, over the scar.

That’s not past history,” she said, squeezing the scar. “It’s there every day.”

“I don’t really notice it anymore.”

“Fine. But did it hurt very badly? I’d like to know.”

He sat up and propped several pillows behind him. He pulled up hers, too, and she eased into them, facing him. He did not know what to say at first. He had become used to the scar and for some time he did not really see it anymore. She caressed it.

“It was like a bee sting,” he said after a long moment.

“Just a bee?”

“A really big bee. With a baseball bat.”

And then it all came back, swirling over him like a blanket suddenly tossed over his head – the gunfire, the screaming and yelling, the bullet’s impact, Seymour dragging him away, the heavy staccato sound of AK-47s. He felt like he could not breathe and swung his legs onto the floor and sat there, his head down, hands gripping his knees.

She sat next to him and slung her arm around his waist.

“Maybe you just need to get it all out,” she said.

“I need to stand,” he said after a moment. He stood and felt a little lightheaded. He walked over to the window and looked out at Lake Skegemog in the distance, moonlight shimmering on its surface. The water seemed to stretch forever. Infinite space. He started dressing.

“What are you doing, Michael?”

He put on his shirt and pants and then stared at her for a moment, momentarily unsure what came next. She swung her legs onto the floor and stood.

“I need to be doing something,” he said. “Anything.”

He slipped on his boots and grabbed his pea coat out of the closet.

“But where are you going?” she said.

He paused in the doorway and glanced at her.

“Down to the lake,” he said. “I need – room.”

He went out and she quickly pulled on some clothes and grabbed her wool coat. The nights had become quite cool. When she reached the front door, he was making his way down the slope toward the lake.

“Wait for me,” she yelled.

He turned toward her. She ran to him, and they went on down to the lakeshore, to the little dock with a rowboat tied to it.

“Where are we going?” she said as she buttoned her coat. There was a watch cap in a coat pocket, and she slipped it on.

He untied the boat and stepped in it and put the oars in their locks. There were just a few lights from houses across the lake. There was no breeze, and the lake was glassy.

He sat down in the back of the rowboat and positioned himself to push off and row.

“If you’re coming, let’s go,” he said.

She hesitated and looked out at the lake. She pulled up the lapels of her coat and climbed in the bow and sat on the bow seat. He pushed them off and began to row, choppy strokes at first, but then he got into a good rhythm.

The repetition of rowing helped him focus and calm down. He put his back into it and the boat surged as if in a race. Alice watched him, her hands gripping each gunwale.

He rowed to the center of the lake before he felt he could stop awhile. His muscles ached but in a good way. He had worked up a sweat under his pea coat and opened a few buttons.

His breathing slowed until it was normal again. She picked her way gingerly to the stern and sat beside him. He let go of the oars and the boat drifted. She held an arm around his shoulders and for a long time they sat like that as he rested elbows on his knees and stared at the bottom of the boat, tired but feeling okay.

The anxiety was finally behind him. It had slowly reversed, like a tide going out. It had just shot up out of him abruptly. It was the first time he had ever said anything to anybody about getting shot. But he was glad he did. He realized she needed to be included.

“I’ll get us back,” she said quietly, and he kissed her cheek and moved to the bow. He was spent but feeling okay.

She dug the oars into the water and quickly got the hang of it. The first rays of the sun peeked over the eastern horizon. Several fish broached and gulls had appeared, flying low over the water.

She rowed them to the dock without stopping.



MICHAEL LOYD GRAY is the author of six published novels. The Armageddon Two-Step, winner of a Book Excellence Award, was released in December 2019. Well Deserved won the 2008 Sol Books Prose Series Prize and Not Famous Anymore garnered a support grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation in 2009. His novel Exile on Kalamazoo Street was released in 2013. The Canary, which reveals the final days of Amelia Earhart, was released in 2011. King Biscuit, a young adult novel, was released in 2012. Gray won the 2005 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and 2005 The Writers Place Award for Fiction. He earned a M.F.A. in English in 1996 from Western Michigan University.


Summer 2022  |   Sections  |  Fiction

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