Time had passed and we thought it was safe to chance a quiet dinner at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, an Italian place where we could bring our own bottle.  In the past weeks Dawn had ventured out for provisions several times while I stayed at home, distracting myself with books, Sudoku, and television reruns.  The waiter knew us well and had always greeted us heartily, but this time he gave Dawn only a grudging smile and barely looked my way.  He presented menus, opened our bottle of Chianti, and left the table without a word, as various people in the restaurant indignantly glared at me.  We rarely ordered anything other than our usual, but to occupy our hands and eyes we scanned the menus.

"Should we leave?" Dawn asked.

"If we leave we’ll probably never come back," I replied.

"Will we come back anyway?"

I didn’t dwell on the implications of her question, preferring to sip the Chianti, not caring at all about its taste but wanting the alcohol to take effect.  A television set hung above the counter where to-go orders were picked up, and though it was unlikely that anything to do with my situation would still be playing I wasn’t comfortable having my back to the picture.  I imagined some new angle or false revelation, complete with the video of me they persisted in running.  I asked Dawn what was showing on the television and she glanced at the screen.

"News," she told me, "more bleeding."

"Restaurants should serve bottles of the stuff," I said, "age it in oak barrels.  They’d make a fortune."

We folded our menus, set them down, and in less than half a minute the waiter appeared, no doubt wanting to keep the pace moving at our table.  We ordered the dishes we’d looked forward to in hopes of restoring a semblance of normalcy to our lives, but that idea now seemed foolish.  The food couldn’t possibly taste the way it had before, we couldn’t be at ease until after we left the restaurant, and even on the short drive back I’d be checking the rearview mirror to see if anyone was following us.

The moment the waiter walked away a stocky man rose from his seat along the wall and came toward us, eyes riveted on me, and the sound of his footsteps nearing made Dawn flinch.  The man put his thick hands on our tabletop.

"I knew him," he said, "and I want to know what happened to him."

He stared at me as if he weren’t going to stop until I divulged my presumed secret.  Lines streaked his forehead and checks and encroached on his ears, appearing to deepen as I looked at them.  I restrained my urge to tell him that he had no reason to think I knew any more than he did about what had happened to his friend and that his ideas about me had been set aflame by sensationalistic news coverage.  No one knows if there’s anything amiss, I didn’t say to him, no one knows if he’ll turn up tomorrow and the whole mystery will resolve itself and everyone’s assumptions will be shown to have been mistaken.  You’ve heard about an alleged argument, I didn’t say to him, but the so-called witnesses to the argument or discussion couldn’t say what it was about, though one of them claimed he heard the missing person, the possible victim, threaten me, not the other way around, after which I walked away muttering and agitated, as anyone would be after being threatened.

I’d been advised not to speak and I wasn’t suddenly going to yield to his stare and unravel in public.  I looked to his right and saw that almost everyone was watching intently, waiting for some symbolic expiation, perhaps a punch in the face, who knew?

So angry he choked up the words, the man confronting me said:  "Answer me."

Dawn held up her hand and pointed toward the parking lot.  She stood first, then I got up, the man taking half a step toward me but not blocking my path.  I waved at the waiter, trying to make it clear that we wanted to cancel our orders.  He nodded.  Dawn walked around the man, and I watched him until she reached the door.  I turned and followed her out, leaving the Chianti on the table, not looking back or through the glass storefront.

Dawn sobbed all the way home, repeating over and over that we’d have to move far way, to another country perhaps.  Worst of all, after we got home and were in our bedroom, she began to stare at me, expecting me to speak, to explain myself or offer a solution.

"I can’t control what other people think, but I can control what I think," I said, hoping to suggest that she could control what she thought. "You can’t let these questions preoccupy you. That’s the only way you can live with yourself."

"You want to be above suspicion," she said, "but you’re not, you can’t be.  What were you arguing about?"

I’d never told her there was an argument, she’d only read and heard about it in reports.  I’d said there had been no argument, or nothing that either of us would call that.

"I have no idea what any purported witnesses think they heard.  There was nothing of substance to be heard, not that I remember."

"You never use the word purported," she said. "What does it mean that you’re using a word you’ve never used?  And why hadn’t you ever mentioned this man before?"

She wanted me to blab, but I had no intention of addressing her creeping doubts and implications.  Did she really expect me to explain why purported had come out of my mouth?  I didn’t want to even think what a supposed argument would have been about, didn’t repeat to myself any words we would have said, if we’d said them, didn’t recall any movements or images, gave her no indication that I had anything to reveal.  I wanted the subject changed, I didn’t tell her, I couldn’t keep going over the same ground and attain any peace of mind.  I didn’t tell her that it was unfair of her or anyone to expect me to fill a void their minds had created without specific knowledge that I had anything to say that would fill it.  They don’t know where he is, I didn’t tell her, but why do they assume I do?  Do I want to be above suspicion? as she said.  Does she?  Of course, she does.  If I asked her she’d be surprised I’d put it to her.

Dawn sat on our bed and sobbed harder than she had in the car.  I accepted her suffering too easily, she said, and looked at it from a distance. In a way I’d disappeared, just like him, she added, not using his name.

I sat at her side and tried to comfort her, held her limp body, put my face in her tears, asked her to stay with me, encouraged that she hadn’t uttered his name.  I didn’t ask her to trust me, fearing she’d see that as asking too much and pull away.

"We’re lost," she said then, her body still, as if she wanted to disappear.

Did she think I’d gotten us lost or that others had done it?  I didn’t ask, because where would her answer have led?  More spilling that would prevent the subject from being closed?

She separated herself slightly from my arms, but her eyes stayed on me, questions in them.  I didn’t want to know what stories her imagination could be feeding her, didn’t let any words I would have said to her pass through my mind.  I released her as she lay back, her gaze lingering on me at first, but then she closed her eyes, avoiding the sight of me, and started to tremble.

I left her alone in the room.  I had nothing to say that would have helped her, and she needed to know it would do her no good to continue questioning me, either with words or the uncertainty expressed in her gaze, and that if she chose to take it further I wouldn’t go with her.  I wanted her to know, but didn’t tell her, that no matter what she did I would never answer her questions.

She has never asked again.