An excerpt from

Missing Fred Astaire
by P. Scott Lawrence

How Do You Talk?

Fitfully, over the past several weeks, in those puny fractions of time stolen either from my everyday duties or from sleep, I have been reading a book by a man named Bill McKibben. The book is called The End of Nature. It is about exactly that: about how we have gone most of the way toward exhausting our world, and about how, as McKibben says, we can no longer set our hopes on the possibility of an unlimited future. That idea is, purely and simply, a delusion.

I'm scared by the book in ways I can't calculate. And I don't know how to think about it or how to talk about it.
The other night, after having spent most of the day at the hospital with Anne, I began reading the final section of the book. It was about a quarter to twelve. I read in bed every night; I can't get to sleep otherwise. Anne says she doesn't mind the light. It doesn't wake her up when I switch it on, at any rate, though sometimes she'll sigh. In the stillness, her sighing, this assertion of her presence, always gives me a little shock.
At about one-thirty in the morning I finished the book. I closed it and laid it down on my bedside table. Then I turned out the light.
It's funny how I remember all of this so well. Normally my mind is like a sieve.
The room went utterly black. Anne, in her sleep, immediately shifted onto her right side so she was facing me; her breath came in long, evenly spaces, shuddering exhalations. It smelled hospital-sour. The flat upstairs was quiet for once. It was still windy out at that hour and I listened for a moment or two to the leaves. Out in front of our duplex there's a large, embracing maple, and a couple of days ago, in an unnaturally violent storm, its leaves had been stripped and dried and curled by the wind all at once, and now they scudded and scratched across our cement front stoop. It's too early to lose the leaves. We're barely into September. They haven't even changed colour yet. Then I realized my heartbeat was rocking the bed. My mouth felt dry and I thought I could taste straw at the back of my throat, but I didn't want to get up for a glass of water. I wanted to wake Anne up to tell her about what I'd just read. I wanted to tell her how afraid I was, I wanted to talk to her about what we might do. I wanted to tell her that no matter what happened in the world or to the world we must always hold fast to each other. I wanted to hold her to me then, to squeeze her as hard as I could. But of course I couldn't do any of these things.
So I lay there, thinking of nothing and everything, listening to Anne's breathing, listening to my own blood beat through my veins. At one point Connie, our dog, started to cry in her sleep, and I heard her paws twitching on the carpet: she was having her dream of chasing squirrels, or being chased by squirrels.

"It's okay, Connie, it's okay," I said, and she stopped. After a while, after a long while, I passed over into sleep.