Chapter 13: Mind
Janet trudged through the freshly fallen silent shroud of powder. "Five hundred calories per hour," she muttered and stabbed her ski poles meaningfully into the soft snow. "'Cross-country skiing,' he said. 'We'll have fun. It'll be something we can do together. It's so good for the cardiovascular system.' Ha! So how come it's my cardiovascular system out here freezing cold and his cardiovascular system is sitting in a chair with a murder mystery?" Janet turned an awkward corner. "Bastard!" she exclaimed aloud. The word echoed through the quiet woods and she startled at the sound. "I didn't mean that," she qualified hastily. "I love my husband. Well. Perhaps not exactly. Not the way I - well. But I'm very fond of him."
"You don't love your husband?"
Janet recoiled, tipped and toppled. "John? John!?"
"Hello? Where are you?"
Janet looked up and there he was, twenty feet above her head. Janet blushed. "I was talking to myself."
"Yes. I heard you. I was listening. I'm sitting in a tree."
"Yes. I see you. I'm lying in the snow."
"Congratulations. Well done."
"Thank you so much. Looking for a little peace and quiet? It must be very - tumultuous - at your house just now. Isn't it cold up there?"
"Not as cold as it is down there in the snow." John leaped lightly to the ground. Janet flailed skis and poles ineffectually. "Need a little help?"
"Thank you. I think I do." John extended a hand and helped her to her feet. She flushed and stammered. John gallantly ignored her distress and looked away as she brushed the snow out of her collar.
"I'm about to walk on water. Wanna join me?"
"Sure. This seems like a pretty safe time of year for a cold-water miracle. If I can just get these damned skis pointed in the right direction."
"Why don't you take them off and leave them here? I'll help you find them later."
"What a wonderful idea. But I don't have any other shoes. I think I'll just muddle along, if you don't mind me slowing you down a little."
"No. That's OK. I'm not in any hurry. You were right. I mostly just came out here to get out of the house. It's full of people I don't know trying to make me talk about things I don't want to talk about. Those hospice nurses are nice and all, and my mom likes them alot, but when they come over, I'd rather leave."
Janet nodded and wisely didn't probe further. She concentrated on keeping her skis parallel and more or less on the path. There was a long silence. Finally, she said, "I think perhaps I owe you an apology for the way I spoke to you at our last meeting. I was unnecessarily sharp. You were right about Adam. I didn't care. It's been bothering me."
John laughed. "I wasn't very nice, either."
"No. It was not an amicable encounter. I can see that you don't care to be cross-examined."
"No. I prefer to go straight to the point. Speaking of which, what's the verdict on Dan? Am I guilty? Are they going to press charges? Do I need a lawyer?"
"You're not legally responsible. But you said something important, the other day. Ideas do have power. You helped to set up a process in Dan's mind that led him to shoot himself."
"Mind!" John snorted. "Whatever that is!"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that mind is a fiction. A verb, not a noun. You can't see it or touch it or taste it or smell it or identify it with an electron microscope or eat it for dinner. Therefore, it does not exist."
"You don't believe in mind?"
"It's a process, that's all. I recognize the process from its results. But an entity called mind? No. I don't believe in that."
"How interesting. I suppose I feel the same way about love. I see the results of the process, and they are generally very bad results indeed. But I can't believe there is any such entity. Love is the delusion of ego, the face in the mirror." Janet paused and shook her head. "Never mind. This is silly."
John stepped out onto the frozen lake. "Love is like ice. If you put enough stress on it, it will break. If you apply enough heat to it, it becomes something else. But there's no process here. Ice simply is." John stomped illustratively. "It can be changed, through application of energy, but its existence is unarguable. It fills up the spaces, it supports itself, and right now it supports us. You and I. Here."
Janet looked at John questioningly. He took a few steps farther out and stomped again. "John. What are you saying?"
"Love is a noun, mind is a verb, that's all. Do you mind?"
Janet laughed. "I don't mind. My mind doesn't mind. But my body is getting chilled, I think."
John put his arm around her shoulders. "I think I heard a crack. Maybe we should continue this discussion in a more stable environment."
John and Janet scurried back to the edge. The ice made ominous noises but supported their weight.
"What were you saying about your husband before?"
"Oh, Dirk. It was his idea to invest in cross-country skis. I think his boss told him it would give him that competitive edge. But when it comes right down to it, I'm out here and he's at home reading Tony Hillerman."
"He doesn't think you might be out here meeting somebody? Like some younger man?"
Janet laughed. "In the first place, if I were having an assignation, I would hardly try to persuade him to come along. In the second place, no younger man is going to be interested in me."
"What makes you think that?"
"Younger men like younger women. It's axiomatic."
"But for all Dirk knows, you could be out gallivanting. Maybe with Bill. After all, if you knew Dirk wouldn't come with you, which you do know, then asking him to come would be the perfect proof of your innocence."
"I thought you said no one was innocent."
"Yes. I did say that. Perhaps innocence means getting away with your lies."
"Have you told me any lies, John?"
"Not really. Not about anything important. I respect you, Janet."
"Thank you. I respect you, too. Rob is a buffoon, and Ben is an enigma. But you are a genuine human being. I have grown quite fond of you, I must admit."
"Yes. Against your will, though."
Janet nodded. "I know I can only respect you as long as you are honest with me."
"I give you my word: I will not lie to you."
"Thank you. Neither shall I."
"Maybe Dirk should be worrying."
"I'll never have an affair, John. I'm not desirable enough, and I don't want it."
"What do you call this?"
"What do you mean?"
"We've been having a love affair since we met. You've known it all along. So have I. It's mental, not physical, but it's still love."
Janet smiled. "Yes. A love affair between two minds, one of whom does not believe in love, and the other who does not believe in mind. The story of my life."
John reached for her elbow, but didn't touch her. "Let's go this way," he said.