The evening after I heard that Joseph Klein had died in a fire at the halfway house where he had spent, on and off, much of the last several years, I thought again about the jaguar on the roof. After my son Luke had phoned that morning with news of Joseph’s death, Martha and I had to decide who we would call, what we would send and where it would go. We wrapped ourselves in the tight fabric of detail and expected behavior to which people cling in the face of awe and the terror of the mortal–cling not just in the moment of greatest disaster or loss but in most steps of every day, most trips to the grocery store or bank or post office, our lives a process of small careful goals erected like a barrier against an overwhelming void that I and a few others still named God. Martha had insisted that we not call Joseph’s father. Walter hadn’t talked to us in some time. Martha thought it had been out of embarrassment, the feeling that he had been responsible for what had happened and powerless to stop it. We had all been powerless where Joseph was concerned. It was just a matter of when we each realized it. We were not supposed to be powerless, but we were. So Martha and I sent the proper flowers and condolences to the family and called a few other people we thought should know. I hoped Walter would call us but understood it was likely that he wouldn’t. I tried to tell myself that the silence between us was like the silence in a church service, that moment when we give ourselves to what is larger than we could ever be. We would to to the funeral and see hi there. That would have to be enough.
By evening there was nothing left to do, at least for the moment. I moved to the screened porch on the side of the house where I often sat when the weather was nice. There was coolness, a hint of fall, in the humid late summer air, which was quieter than usual because no air conditioners were running above the hum of crickets. Our yard still had the leafy fullness of summer with all its dense fragrance, the shadows of bushes and trees pushing up against the porch light. And it was then I found myself thinking about the jaguar.