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Praise for The Divideâ€œThis beautifully written novel includes everything a readercould want. . . . The characters truly come to life, and thereader gets to know them as intimately as friends and family.The Divide will keep you up late reading just one morepage.â€â€”The Sunday OklahomanÂâ€œCompellingly readable.â€â€”The Times (London)Ââ€œ[Evans] reminds us that the destruction of all thatâ€™sfamiliarâ€”whether by human hands or by natureâ€”eventuallyceases to be the story. What remains is how peoplesurvive.â€â€”The Washington PostÂâ€œWhile Evans reveres his backdrop, he ultimately is moreinterested in getting the reader to go inward than outside. InEvansâ€™s hands, thatâ€™s a journey worth taking.â€â€”USA TodayÂâ€œWhen the frozen body of a young woman is discovered ina remote creek in the Rocky Mountains, the heartrending story
of a family in crisis begins to unfold. Reaching back in time,members of the seemingly perfect Cooper family present theirversion of the events, emotions, and twists of fate that foreveraltered the benign course of their collective lives. Sure to be arunaway success, this lyrical novel runs the gamut fromdevastation to despair to deliverance.â€â€”BooklistÂâ€œ[Evans] handles male and female characters, kids,parents, and grandparents with equal confidence. And thescenes portraying marriage breakup and its fallout areunsettling and convincing.â€â€”The Sunday Times (London)Ââ€œ[Evans] gracefully transports us to the golden, sun-warmed open spaces of Montana as well as its cold,unforgiving mountain ranges.â€â€”The Edmonton Journal (Alberta)Ââ€œA compelling novel.â€â€” The Vancouver ProvinceÂâ€œBoth tragic and redemptive. As with Evansâ€™s othernovels, the landscape figures as prominently as thecharacters. . . . This is an engaging story that Evansâ€™sfans will want to read.â€â€”Library Journal
ALSO BY NICHOLAS EVANS The Horse Whisperer The Loop The Smoke Jumper
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of thispublication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.Â PUBLISHERâ€™S NOTEThis is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authorâ€™s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal andpunishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, anddo not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the authorâ€™s rights is appreciated. eISBN : 978-1-101-04364-6 http://us.penguingroup.com
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSI am greatly indebted to the following for their kindness,patience, and help with my research: Charles Fisher, GlenysCarl, Blaine Young, Bruce Geiss, Alexandra Eldridge, Buck &Mary Brannaman, Daisy Montfort, Andrew Martyn-Smith, JillMorrison, Dennis Wilson, Sarah Pohl, Barbara Theroux, DougHawes-Davis, Dan Pletscher, Tom Roy, Elizabeth Powers,Sara Walsh, Jake Kreilick, Jeff Zealley, Gary Dale, RogerSeewald, Rick Branzell, Sandi Mendelson, Deborah Jensen,Sonia Rapaport, Richard Baron, Pat Tucker & Bruce Weide,Fred & Mary Davis, and George Anderson. Many thanks also, for support of several crucial kinds, toRonni Berger, Aimee Taub, Ivan Held, Rachael Harvey,Elizabeth Davies, Gordon Stevens, Larry Finlay, CaradocKing, Sally Gaminara, Carole Baron, and Charlotte Evans.
And after he had made all the other creatures of the earth, only thendid the Creator make man and woman. And he fashioned their bodiesthat they should know each otherâ€™s flesh but their souls that theyshould forever be strangers. For only thus divided might they find theirtrue path. â€”CALVIN SASHONE, Creative Mythology
ONEThey rose before dawn and stepped out beneath a moonlesssky aswarm with stars. Their breath made clouds of the chillair and their boots crunched on the congealed gravel of themotel parking lot. The old station wagon was the only carthere, its roof and hood veneered with a dim refracting frost.The boy fixed their skis to the roof while his father stowed theirpacks, then walked around to remove the newspaper pinnedby the wipers to the windshield. It was stiff with ice andcrackled in his hands as he balled it. Before they climbed intothe car they lingered a moment, just stood there listening tothe silence and gazing west at the mountains silhouetted bystars. The little town had yet to wake and they drove quietly northalong Main Street, past the courthouse and the gas stationand the old movie theater, through pale pools of light cast bythe streetlamps, the carâ€™s reflection gilding the darkenedwindows of the stores. And the sole witness to their leavingwas a grizzled dog who stood watch at the edge of town, itshead lowered, its eyes ghost-green in the headlights. It was the last day of March and a vestige of plowed snowlay gray along the highwayâ€™s edge. Heading west acrossthe plains the previous afternoon, there had been a firstwhisper of green among the bleached grass. Before sunsetthey had strolled out from the motel along a dirt road andheard a meadowlark whistling as if winter had gone for good.
But beyond the rolling ranch land, the Rocky Mountain Front, awall of ancient limestone a hundred miles long, was stillencrusted with white and the boyâ€™s father said they wouldsurely still find good spring snow. A mile north of town they branched left from the highway ona road that ran twenty more with barely a bend toward theFront. They saw mule deer and coyote and just as the roadturned to gravel a great pale-winged owl swerved from thecottonwoods and glided low ahead of them as if piloting thebeam of their lights. And all the while the mountain wallloomed larger, a shadowed, prescient blue, until it seemed toopen itself and they found themselves traveling a twistingcorridor where a creek of snowmelt tumbled through stands ofbare aspen and willow with cliffs of pine and rock the color ofbone rearing a thousand feet on either side. The road was steeper now and when it becametreacherous with hard-packed snow the boyâ€™s fatherstopped so they could fit the chains. The air when they got outof the car was icy and windless and loud with the rush of thecreek. They spread the chains on the snow in front of the rearwheels and his father climbed back into the driverâ€™s seatand inched the car forward until the boy called for him to stop.While his father knelt to fasten the chains, the boy stamped hisfeet and blew on his hands to warm them. â€œLook,â€ he said. His father stood and did so, brushing the snow from hishands. Framed in the V of the valley walls, though far beyond,the peak of a vast snow-covered mountain had just been set
ablaze by the first reach of the sun. Even as they watched, theshadow of night began to drain from its slopes below adeepening band of pink and gold and white. They parked the car at the trailhead and they could seefrom the untracked snow that no one else had been there.They sat together beneath the tailgate and put on their boots.The owner of the motel had made sandwiches for them andthey ate one apiece and drank steaming sweet coffee andwatched the shadows around them slowly fill with light. Thefirst few miles would be steep so they fitted skins to their skisto give them grip. The boyâ€™s father checked the bindingsand that their avalanche transceivers were working and whenhe was satisfied that all was in order they shouldered theirpacks and stepped into their skis. â€œYou lead,â€ his father said. The journey they had planned for that day was a loop ofsome fifteen miles. They had made the same trip two yearsbefore and found some of the best skiing either had everknown. The first three hours were the hardest, a long climbthrough the forest, then a perilous zigzag up the northeast sideof a ridge. But it was worth it. The ridgeâ€™s south face wasa perfect, treeless shoulder that dropped in three consecutiveslopes into the next drainage. If all went well, by the time theyreached the top, the sun would just have angled onto it,softening the top half-inch of snow while the base remainedfrozen and firm. These backcountry ski trips had become their yearly ritualand the boy now looked forward to them as much as he knew
his father did. His snowboarding friends back home in GreatFalls thought he was crazy. If you wanted to ski, they said, whynot go someplace where thereâ€™s a ski lift? And in truth, ontheir first trip four years ago in the Tetons, he feared they wereright. To a twelve-year-old it had seemed like a lot of effort forprecious little funâ€”too much up and not enough down. Attimes he had come close to tears. But he kept a brave faceand the following year went again. His father was away from home on business much of thetime and there werenâ€™t many things they ever got to dotogether, just the two of them. Sometimes the boy felt theybarely knew each other. Neither of them was much of a talker.But there was something about traveling together throughthese wild and remote places that seemed to bind themcloser than words ever could. And little by little he had come tounderstand why his father enjoyed the uphill as much as thedown. It was a curious formula of physical and mental energy,as if the burning of one fueled the other. The endless rhythmicrepetition, sliding one ski past the other, could send you into akind of trance. And the thrill and sense of achievement whenyou reached that far-away summit and saw a slope of virginspring snow reveal itself below could be close tooverwhelming. Perhaps he came to feel this way simply because eachyear he had grown stronger. He was taller than his father nowand certainly fitter. And though not yet as wise in hismountaincraft, he had probably become the better skier.Perhaps that was why today, for the first time, his father wasletting him lead.
For the first hour the trail was darkly walled with lodgepolepine and Douglas fir as it rose ever higher along the southernside of the winding canyon. Even though they were still inshadow, the climb soon had them sweating and when theypaused to gather breath or to drink or to shed another layer ofclothing, they could hear the muted roar of the creek far below.Once they heard the crashing of some large creaturesomewhere in the timber above them. â€œWhat do you think that was?â€ the boy said. â€œDeer. Moose, maybe.â€ â€œWould the bears be waking up yet?â€ His father took a drink from his canteen, then wiped hismouth with the back of his glove. This was prime grizzlycountry and they both knew it. â€œGuess so. Days have been warm enough this pastweek.â€ An hour later they had stepped out of the trees and into thesunlight and were picking their way across a gully filled withthe crazed debris of an avalanche, jagged lumps of frozensnow and rock skewered with trees sundered from their roots. They reached the ridge a little before ten and stood side byside surveying in silence all that unfolded below and aroundthem, mountain and forest quilted with snow and the flaxenplains beyond. The boy felt that if he squinted hard enough hemight even defy science and all the worldâ€™s horizons andsee the backs of their own two selves, tiny figures on somedistant snowy peak.
The shoulder below them looked as good as they hadhoped. The sun was just upon it and it glistened like whitevelvet strewn with sequins. They took off their skis andunhitched the skins from which they carefully brushed the snowbefore stowing them in their packs. There was a cold breezeup here and they put on their jackets, then sat on a bench ofrock and drank coffee and ate the last of the sandwiches whilea pair of ravens swirled and called above them against thelazulite sky. â€œSo what do you think?â€ his father asked. â€œLooks pretty good.â€ â€œIâ€™d say this is about as close to heaven as a mancan get.â€ As he spoke one of the ravens banked before them, itsshadow passing across his face. It landed a few yards fromthem along the ridge and the boy tossed a crust of breadtoward it which made the bird flutter and lift again, but only fora moment. It resettled and with a cocked head inspected thecrust, then the boy, then the crust again. It seemed almost tohave summoned the courage to take it when its mateswooped in and snatched it instead. The first bird gave araucous call and lifted off in pursuit and the boy and his fatherlaughed and watched them tumble and swerve and squawktheir way down into the valley. As with the climb, the boy led the descent. The snow felt asgood beneath his skis as it had looked. The sun had meltedthe surface just enough to give purchase and he quickly foundhis rhythm. He spread his arms and opened his chest to the
slope below as if he would embrace it, savoring the blissfulswish of each turn. His father was right. It was as near toheaven as you could get. At the foot of the first of the three slopes, where the gradientleveled a little, the boy stopped and looked back to admire histracks. His father was already skiing down beside them,carefully duplicating each curve, keeping close and preciselyparallel, until he arrived alongside and the two of themwhooped and slapped each otherâ€™s upheld palms. â€œGood tracks!â€ â€œYours are coming along too.â€ His father laughed and said he would ski the next slope firstand that when he got to the next level he would take somephotographs of the boyâ€™s descent. So the boy watchedhim ski down and waited for the call and when it came helaunched himself into the sunlit air, giving all he had for thecamera. From where they stood next, at the foot of the second slope,they could see all the way down into the drainage, where thesun had yet to seep. They knew from the last time they hadskied here that the creek that ran along the bottom was aseries of pools and steep waterfalls. It had been warmer thenand there had been a lot less snow and, except for somecrusted ice at the pool edges, the running water had beenexposed. Now, however, it lay buried beneath all the heapedsnow that had funneled into the creek and all they could seewere contours and ominous striations.
His father looked at his watch, then shielded his eyes topeer at the sun. The boy knew what he was thinking. Half theslope below them was still in shadow. The air down therewould be colder and the snow not yet transformed. Maybethey should wait awhile. â€œLooks a little icy,â€ his father said. â€œItâ€™ll be okay. But if youâ€™re feeling chickenletâ€™s wait.â€ His father looked at him over his sunglasses and smiled. â€œOkay, hotshot. Better show me the way then.â€ He handed the boy the camera. â€œMake sure you get some good ones.â€ â€œTheyâ€™ll only be as good as your skiing. Wait till Iholler.â€ He put the camera in his jacket pocket and grinned at hisfather as he moved off. The snow for the first few hundred feetwas still good. But as he came closer to the rim of the sunlight,he felt the surface harden. When he turned there was almostno grip and no swishing sound, only the rasp of ice against thesteel edges of his skis. He stopped where the sun met theshadow and looked up the slope where his father stoodagainst the sky. â€œHow is it?â€ his father called. â€œKind of skiddy. Itâ€™s okay.â€ â€œWait there. Iâ€™m coming.â€
The boy took off his gloves and pulled the camera from hispocket. He managed to get a couple of shots with the zoomas his father skied down toward him. The third picture he tookwould later show the exact moment that things began to gowrong. His father was starting a right turn and as he transferred hisweight the edge of his left ski failed to bite and slipped sharplydownhill. He tried to correct himself but in the processstepped too hard on his uphill ski and it skidded from underhim. His body lurched, his arms and ski poles scything the airas he tried to recapture his balance. He was sliding now andhad twisted around so that he was facing up the slope. For amoment he looked almost comical, as if he were pretendingto ski uphill. Then he jerked and flipped backward and fell witha thump onto his back and at once began to gather speed. It briefly occurred to the boy that he might try to block hisfatherâ€™s slide, or at least check or slow it, by skiing into hispath, but even as he thought it, he realized that the impactwould surely knock him over and that he too would be carrieddown the slope. In any case, it was already too late. His fatherwas accelerating so fast there would be no time to reach him.One ski had already come off and was torpedoing away downthe mountain and now the other one came off and the boymoved quickly and reached out with a pole, almost losing hisbalance. He managed to touch the ski but it was traveling toofast and rocketed past him. â€œStand up!â€ he yelled. â€œTry and stand up!â€ It was what his father had once called to him when he was
falling. He hadnâ€™t managed to stand and neither could hisfather now. As he careered past, facedown now and spread-eagled on the ice, his sunglasses scuttling alongside like aninquisitive crab, he shouted something but the boycouldnâ€™t make it out. The fatherâ€™s ski poles, one ofthem badly bent, were still looped to his wrists and trailedabove him, flailing and bouncing on the ice. And still he wasgaining speed. The boy began to ski down after him. And though he wasshaky with shock and could feel his heart thumping as if itwould break loose from its roots, he knew how vital it was notto fall too. He kept telling himself to stay calm and tried tosummon all the technique he had ever learned. Trust thedownhill ski, even though it slips. Angulate. Chest away fromthe mountain, not into it. Finish each turn. Angulate, angulate!Look ahead, you idiot, not down at the ice, not down at yourskis. There was no grip at all now, but after a few first tentativeturns he found he could control the slide of his skis and hisconfidence began to return. Mesmerized, he watched the darkand diminishing figure sliding away and down into the shadowof the valley. Just before he disappeared from view, his fathercried out one last time. And the sound was high-pitched andchilling, like an animal frightened for its life. The boy slithered to a halt. He was breathing hard and hislegs were shaking. He knew it was important to remember theexact point at which his father had vanished, though why hehad vanished, he couldnâ€™t yet figure out. Maybe there wassome sudden drop you couldnâ€™t see from above. He tried
to picture the last time they had skied the slope butcouldnâ€™t recall whether the lower part of the drainage grewsteeper or leveled out. And he couldnâ€™t help thinking aboutwhat might happen when his father hit the bottom. Would thesnow heaped in the creek bed cushion his fall or would it befrozen like rock and break every bone in his body? In all hisfretting, the boy had already lost the mental note he had madeof precisely where his father had disappeared. In the shadowbelow everything looked the same. Maybe there were somemarks on the ice that might lead him to the place. He took adeep breath and eased himself forward. On the very first turn his downhill ski skidded badly and healmost fell. His knees were like jelly and the rest of him waslocked with tension and it took him some time to trust himselfto move again. Then, a few yards down the slope ahead ofhim, he saw a dark streak maybe six inches long on the ice. Ina barely controlled side slip he made his way toward it. It was blood. And farther down the slope there was more.There were scuff marks in the ice too, probably where hisfather had tried to kick a grip with the toes of his boots. Had the boy been able to ski this same slope in good snow,it would have taken him no more than four or five minutes. Buton sheet ice with legs atremble, all he could manage was aside slip so tense and fearful that it took the best part of halfan hour. So slow was his descent that the sun overtook himand he watched the band of shadow retreat below him and thetrail of blood turn vivid on the pristine snow. Now, in the glare, he could see that the trail disappeared
over a sudden rim and that there was something lying there.And drawing closer, he saw his fatherâ€™s sunglasses,perched on the edge of a last steep section of mountain, as ifthey had stopped to watch the climax of the show. The boystopped and picked them up. One of the lenses was crackedand an arm was missing. He put them in his pocket. The slope below him fell sharply some two hundred feet intothe valley bottom which even as he watched was filling withsunlight. He peered down, expecting to see the crumpled formof his father. But there was no sign of him nor sound. Just adazzling white silence. Even the trail of blood and scuffing had vanished. Therewas a sudden rushing of air and the pair of ravens swoopedlow over his head and down toward the creek, squawking as ifthey would show him the way. And as the boy watched theirshadows cross the creek he saw one of his fatherâ€™s skisand a dark hole in the rumpled blanket of snow. Five minutes later he was down there. There was a crater,some ten or twelve feet across, its edges jagged where thefrozen snow had cracked and given way. He wasnâ€™t yetclose enough to see into it. â€œDad?â€ There was no answer. All he could hear was a faint trickle ofwater somewhere below him. Cautiously, he maneuvered hisskis sideways, testing the snow with each small step,expecting that at any moment it might collapse and swallowhim. It seemed firm. Then he remembered his avalanchetransceiver. This was exactly what it was for, to help you locate
someone buried in the snow. He took off his gloves andunzipped his jacket and pulled the transceiver out and startedfiddling with the knobs. But his hand was shaking and hishead so blurred with panic that he couldnâ€™t remember howthe damn thing worked. â€œShit! Shit! Shit!â€ â€œHere! Iâ€™m here!â€ The boyâ€™s heart lurched. â€œDad? Are you okay?â€ â€œYeah. Be careful.â€ â€œI saw blood.â€ â€œI cut my face. Iâ€™m okay. Donâ€™t come too nearthe edge.â€ But it was too late. There was a deep cracking sound andthe boy felt the snow tilt beneath his skis and in the next instanthe was falling. He caught a brief glimpse of his fatherâ€™sbloodied face staring up at him as the lip of the cratercrumbled and then he saw nothing but the white of the snowcascading with him. The next thing he knew, his father was hauling him out of thewreckage, asking him if he was hurt. At first the boy didnâ€™tknow the answer but he said he didnâ€™t think so. His fathergrinned. â€œGood job, son. You just made us a way out.â€ He nodded and the boy turned and saw what he meant. The
collapse had created a kind of ramp for them to climb. Theysat staring at each other, his father still grinning and dabbinghis cheek with a bloody handkerchief. There was a long gashbut it didnâ€™t look deep and the bleeding had almoststopped. The boy shook his head. â€œDidnâ€™t think Iâ€™d find you alive.â€ â€œHope you got that picture.â€ â€œWow, Dad. That was some fall.â€ The walls of the hole in which they sat were layered withshelves of bluish-white ice, which their two falls had shattered.It was like being in the cross section of some giant frostedwasp nest. The floor felt firm and when the boy brushed awaythe snow he saw they were on solid ice. His skis had come offwhen he fell and lay partly buried in the snow. He stood andgathered them up. His father slowly stood too, wincing a littleas he did so. The sun was just creeping in on them. â€œI guess we ought to have a look for my skis,â€ he said. His pack was lying on the ice just next to where the boy hadbrushed away the snow. A shaft of sun was angling onto it. Theboy stooped to pick up the pack and as he did so, somethingcaught his eye, a pale shape in the translucent blue of the ice.His father saw him hesitate. â€œWhat is it?â€ â€œLook. Down here.â€ They both kneeled and peered into the ice. â€œJesus,â€ his father said quietly.
It was a human hand. The fingers were splayed, the palmupturned. The boyâ€™s father paused a moment, thenbrushed away a little more snow until they saw the undersideof an arm. They looked at each other. Then, without a word,they got to work, brushing and scraping and pushing away thesnow, creating a window of ice through which, with everystroke of their gloves, they could see more of what layencased. Tucked beneath the upper arm, half-concealed by a nakedshoulder and peering shyly up at them with one blank eye, theynow could see a face. From the swirl of hair, captured as if ina photograph, it looked like a young woman. She lay at anangle, her legs askew and slanting away into the darker icebelow. She was wearing some kind of crimson top or jacketthat was rucked and twisted and seemed to have torn awayfrom her arm and shoulder. The fabric trailed from her as ifshe had been frozen in the act of shedding it. Her flesh wasthe color of parchment.
TWOSheriff Charlie Riggs looked at his watch. He figured he hadabout fifteen minutes to get through the stack of paperworkthat lay menacing him from the only clearing in the jungle of hisdesk. If he didnâ€™t get away by two, he wouldnâ€™t beable to drive into Great Falls and be back in time for hisdaughterâ€™s tenth birthday party. He had to go to GreatFalls to pick up her present, which he should have doneyesterday, but as usual a dozen damn fool things had poppedout of nowhere and he hadnâ€™t been able to. The presentwas a custom-made, hand-tooled saddle that heâ€™dordered in a fit of extravagance a couple of months back. Howhe had ever believed he could afford it, he had no idea. Thethought of how much it was going to cost made him wince. He heeled his chair closer into the desk, shoved aside acouple of stale coffee cups and picked up the first file. It was adraft of yet another report on the use of methamphetamine inMontana. The door to his cramped little office was open andout in the dispatch room all the phones seemed to be ringing.Nobody was answering them because it was Lizaâ€™s dayoff and the new girl, Mary-Lou (who hadnâ€™t really gottenthe hang of things yet), was at the counter talking with old Mrs.Lawson, whose dog had again disappeared. The old biddyseemed to have left her hearing aid at home because Mary-Lou was having to shout and say everything twice. Through thewindow he caught sight of Tim Heidecker, one of his not-so-sharp deputies, parking his truck. It was odds on that as soon
as the boy stepped inside heâ€™d come barging in with awhole bunch of dumb questions. Charlie slipped from behindhis desk and quietly closed his door. It was ten to two already. It wasnâ€™t so much his daughterâ€™s disappointmentthat he worried about. He and Lucy got along just great and heknew sheâ€™d understand. What bugged him was that hewould be handing yet another weapon on a plate to hermother. He and Sheryl had been divorced nearly five yearsnow and she had remarried, happily, by all accounts, thoughhow anyone could be happy with the slack-jawed jerksheâ€™d shacked up with was a mystery. What continued toamaze Charlie was how, even after all this timeâ€”and eventhough it was she, not he, who had walked outâ€”Sheryl couldnever resist the slightest opportunity to take a jab at him. Andshe seized on anything that involved Lucy with thinly disguisedglee. It wasnâ€™t enough that Charlie should have been alousy husband, he had to be a useless father too. The use of methamphetamine is on the increase, he read.Well, well. Who would ever have guessed? He oftenwondered how much the people who wrote these darnedreports got paid for restating the blindingly obvious. Hell, youcould spend five minutes on the Web or go down to thebookstore and find out how to make the stuff in your ownkitchen. Maybe he was just getting too old and cynical. â€œIâ€™m sure heâ€™ll show up, Mrs. Lawson,â€ Mary-Lou was saying out at the counter. â€œWhat was that?â€ â€œI said, â€˜Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll show up.â€™â€
He heard Tim Heidecker answering one of the phones. Thechances of his being able to handle whatever it was on hisown were about a million to one against. Sure enough, withina minute there was a knock on the door and, before Charliecould hide, it opened to reveal the boyâ€™s irritating face. â€œHey, Chiefâ€”â€ â€œTim, Iâ€™m real busy right now. And please donâ€™tcall me Chief.â€ â€œJust got a call from the Drummond place, you know, upthere on the Frontâ€”â€ â€œI know where the Drummond place is, Tim. Can you tellme later, please?â€ â€œSure thing. Just thought you ought to know.â€ Charlie sighed and let the report flop on his desk. â€œTell me.â€ â€œCouple of skiers just showed up out there, say theyfound a body up Goat Creek. Young woman, frozen in theice.â€ÂÂÂNed and Val Drummondâ€™s ranch was a small spread thatlay close by the north fork of the creek. Beyond them, apartfrom one or two cabins that only got used in summer, there
was only wilderness. It took the best part of an hour for Charlieand Tim Heidecker to drive out there and the best part ofanother to interview the two skiers. They seemed goodpeople and were well aware how lucky theyâ€™d been. If theyhadnâ€™t managed to find that other ski, the father wouldhave had a hard time getting out. His son would have had tocome down alone to raise help. But they were smart and wellprepared, which was more than could be said for a lot of theidiots who got into trouble up there and had to be rescued. The father was able to pinpoint on the map wheretheyâ€™d found the body. Charlie had brought out a couple ofsnowmobiles on the trailer and for a while he toyed with theidea of going up at once to take a look. But the sun wasalready getting ready to disappear behind the mountains andwhen it did, the light would go fast and the temperature wouldplummet. If it was frozen into the ice like they said it was, thebody wasnâ€™t going anyplace. Better leave it till morning,he figured, work out a plan and go up with all the right gear. Inany case, he wanted the father to come along too and thoughVal Drummond had done what she could to patch it up, thatcut on his face needed stitches. They all sat drinking mocha coffee in the Drummondâ€™sdark, log-walled kitchen. Charlie had known Val since theywere kids and had always had a soft spot for her. In facttheyâ€™d once had a little romantic moment after a high-school dance. Even now he could picture it clearly. In her earlyforties, she was still a fine-looking woman, tall and athletic inthat kind of horsey way. Ned was shorter and ten years olderand talked too much, like people with a lot of time on their
hands tended to, but he was okay. Val had volunteered todrive the boyâ€™s father to the medical center to get somestitches and had said he and his son were more thanwelcome to stay the night. Both offers had been gratefullyaccepted. Everyone agreed to meet at eight the next morningwhen they would go up and check out the body. Just as they were saying their good-byes, with a sinkingfeeling in his gut, Charlie remembered Lucyâ€™s party. Therewas no signal on his cell phone up here so he asked Valquietly if he could use the landline. She showed him into theliving room and left him there. Charlie figured the party wouldstill be going on but there was no way he was going to getthere before it finished. He dialed Sherylâ€™s number andsteeled himself. â€œHello?â€ She always sounded quite pleasant until she knew who wascalling. â€œHey, Sheryl. Listen, Iâ€™m really sorry. Iâ€”â€ â€œNice of you to call, at least.â€ â€œSomething cropped up and I couldnâ€™tâ€”â€ â€œSomething more important than your daughterâ€™stenth birthday party? I see. Well, there you go.â€ â€œCan I speak to Lucy?â€ â€œTheyâ€™re all busy right now. Iâ€™ll tell her youcalled.â€ â€œCanâ€™t you justâ€”â€
â€œAre you bringing the saddle over?â€ â€œI . . . I didnâ€™t have time toâ€”â€ â€œOkay. Fine. Iâ€™ll tell her that too.â€ â€œSheryl, pleaseâ€”â€ â€œNothing changes, does it, Charlie? Iâ€™ve gotta go.Bye now.â€They heard the snowmobiles long before they saw them. Atlast the headlights eased into view, strobing through the treesfar below them, then climbing the steep slope out of the forestand bouncing up alongside the creek toward them, the yellowbeams shafting the dying blue light of the valley. The closest they had been able to park the search-and-rescue vehicle was at a trailhead nearly three miles down thevalley. It was a converted school bus decked out with a lot offancy equipment. Ordinary radios werenâ€™t reliable in thesesteep canyons so the bus had one with a 110-watt booster,powerful enough to relay messages between those in themountains and the sheriffâ€™s office thirty miles away.Everything they needed had to be ferried up from the trailheadby snowmobile. The two that were heading up toward themnow were bringing chain saws, blowtorches, and somepowerful lamps so Charlie and his men could go on workinginto the night.
He had a team of ten, three of them his deputies and therest search-and-rescue volunteers, apart from the ForestService law-enforcement guy who meant well but was youngand new to his job and mostly got in the way. Protocol,however, dictated he be there because the girlâ€™s bodyhad been found on Forest Service land. They had worked inshifts, going down to the bus every few hours for rest and foodand drinkâ€”all except Charlie, who stayed with the body thewhole time. They brought him food and hot drinks every nowand then, but he was tired and cold and by now more than alittle grouchy at having to wait almost an hour for theequipment. They had been at it all day. First, they had cordoned off thewhole area, then systematically searched it, photographingand videotaping the scene from all angles. They hadnâ€™tfound a single clue as to how the body might have come to bethere. With all that snow and ice Charlie hardly dared hope forone. Maybe when the thaw came they would find something.Clothes or a shoe or a backpack, maybe. Even footprints inan underlayer of snow or mud, if they got really lucky. The two skiers had brought them here at dawn and showedthem where the body was. Floating down there in the ice, shewas as ghostly a sight as Charlie had ever witnessed and asthe county coroner as well as sheriff heâ€™d seen his fairshare of bodies over the years. The skiers hadnâ€™t hungaround longer than they had to. The father had fifteen stitchesin his cheek, which had bruised up like a beetroot. He waskeen to get home. The boy had looked pale and still a little inshock. Heâ€™d be going home more of a man than he left.
It wasnâ€™t until the early afternoon that they were ready tostart trying to cut the girl out. It turned out a whole lot trickierthan Charlie had figured. The body would have to be drivenover the mountains to the state crime lab in Missoula, ajourney that would take a good three hours. With warmerweather forecasted, they all agreed that the best way topreserve it was to keep it encased in ice. Until now they hadbeen working with spud bars, carefully chipping the ice awayfragment by fragment so as not to miss any item of evidencethat might be frozen there. But it was like mowing a hayfieldwith a pair of scissors and Charlie decided that unless theychanged their method, they would be here for weeks. The snowmobiles were coming up the last hundred yardsbeside the creek now, both of them towing sleds stacked withthe equipment. Charlie and those who had been waiting withhim walked over to meet them. The headlights flashed on theyellow-green fluorescent vests that they were all wearing overtheir black parkas. As night was falling, so was thetemperature. Even in his insulated boots his feet felt numb.What heâ€™d give to be at home in front of the fire with thenew book heâ€™d just started. As he trudged through thesnow, he took off his gloves and tried to blow some warmthback into his fingers. His mood wasnâ€™t much improved byseeing Tim Heidecker climbing off the first snowmobile. â€œWhat took you so long?â€ â€œSorry, Chief. Snowmobile got stuck down the creek.â€ â€œWhy didnâ€™t you radio?â€ â€œWe tried. Couldnâ€™t get anyone to hear.â€
â€œWell, letâ€™s get moving.â€ They had brought him some hot soup and some candy barswhich made him feel a little more benign. He stood sippingthe soup and issuing orders every now and then while theyrigged up the lights to the little generator and positioned them.Above him the mountains dimmed to looming shapes againsta sky that slowly filled with stars. Soon the crater into which the skiers had fallen was acocoon of light in the enfolding night air. Its floor had beenbrushed of all snow and through the burnished black ice theyoung woman, with her swirled hair and her arm stretched outand her torn red jacket trailing behind her, looked like aleaping dancer captured in obsidian. It took another six hours to cut her out. One of the chainsaws jammed and twice they had to radio down for moreblades. And because the ice crazed and went opaque whenthey cut into it, they kept having to stop and to use theoxyacetylene torches to melt it so that they could see whatthey were cutting into. They sliced a wide trench parallel towhere the young woman lay and placed a sled there andbegan to lever her onto it with wooden poles. But hersarcophagus of ice was too heavy and there was a terriblecreaking and cracking and one end of the sled broke throughand tilted into the running water of the creek below. For a fewlong and perilous minutes, it seemed as if she was going toslide off and disappear through the hole but the men managedto slip ropes around her and hold her safe until they got thepoles beneath the sled and propped it up and righted it.
They trimmed more ice from around her to lighten the loadbut the block was still too big for a body bag, so they radioeddown for tarpaulins and wrapped it up like a parcel andfastened it with duct tape and ropes. And just before midnightthree snowmobiles and half a dozen men, all straining at theropes, succeeded at last in hauling the sled and its black-shrouded cargo from the hole. Getting her down to the bus took another hour and it wasnearly three by the time they had her loaded into the back ofCharlieâ€™s truck, insulated with blankets and sheets ofcardboard. A couple of his deputies volunteered toaccompany him over to Missoula but Charlie declined.Theyâ€™d been working their butts off for almost twenty-fourhours, and he thanked them all and ordered them off to theirbeds. He felt himself in that strangely energized state that laybeyond tiredness and, for some reason he didnâ€™t fullyunderstand, he wanted to be alone. He drove down through Augusta and turned right onto Route200 at a lonely crossroads where only a month earlier he hadhelped lift two dead teenagers from a wrecked car. Twostraight roads met in the middle of nowhere and there wereeven traffic lights but it remained a place where peopleregularly managed to die. The memory unsettled him and gothim musing about the dead girl who lay behind him, still frozenin her ballerina leap. The image had imprinted itself in hismind and he tried to clear it but couldnâ€™t. He kept wondering who she was and how she came to bethere. He remembered a suicide up there once, not far fromGoat Creek, a boy of seventeen who had taken off all his
clothes and neatly folded them and placed them in his packalong with a rambling poem heâ€™d written that tried toexplain why he had to kill himself. Heâ€™d thrown himself offa cliff and his remains were found a month later by some bowhunters. Maybe this young woman was another such case. Ormaybe she had fallen by accident. No hikers or skiers hadbeen reported missing but that didnâ€™t necessarily make itsuspicious. Most likely sheâ€™d been on her own and wasfrom somewhere far away and hadnâ€™t thought to tellanyone where she was going. These things happened.Hopefully the body was in good enough condition to get an ID. Charlie wondered about her parents or some other lovedone and what they must be going through, the daily agony ofnot knowing where she was. He couldnâ€™t help imaginingthe same thing happening to Lucy. His only child just vanishinglike that and he and her mother not knowing if she were aliveor lying murdered at the bottom of a ditch. How would hehandle it? Hell, it would drive any parent insane. He crossed the Continental Divide at Rogers Pass andstarted the winding descent toward Lincoln. But so lost was hein the dark meanderings of his head that he took a bend toofast and almost ran into a pair of white-tailed deer. Hestamped on the brake and the truck slithered and snakedacross the road. He heard the body sliding forward behindhim and as he skidded to a sideways stop across the verge, itslammed into the back of his seat with such force that hisneck whiplashed and he saw stars. Charlie sat for a few moments, collecting himself andwaiting for his heart to settle down. If the road hadnâ€™t been
gritted, heâ€™d have been flying off it into the treetops. Hedrove the rest of the way at forty miles an hour with an oldiesradio station on full blast to keep bad thoughts at bay, his neckthrobbing to the beat. The state crime lab was a smart brick building just offBroadway on the way to the airport. Heâ€™d had his officephone ahead to make sure there would be someone there toadmit the body and to warn them it was a heavy one. They hadobviously gotten the message because the two guys whocame out to meet him looked like Olympic weight lifters. â€œSo this is our Jane Doe,â€ one of them said as thethree of them struggled to load her onto the gurney. â€œMan,talk about on the rocks. You got more ice than body here.â€ â€œFreshness is our byword,â€ Charlie said. They wheeled her straight into the cold room and Charliesigned a form and wished them good night. The eastern sky was paling to shades of pink and dovegray as he drove back into town. There were one or two carsand trucks about now. He briefly considered driving home butconcluded it wasnâ€™t wise. Now the job was done,tiredness was falling heavily upon him and his neck hurt likehell. He found a motel near the interstate and took a roombarely bigger than a pool table. But it had a bed and that wasall he cared about. He shut the beige plastic blind, shed hisjacket and boots, and crawled under the covers. Then heremembered he hadnâ€™t turned off his cell phone andwearily went to get it from his jacket. The screen showed thathe had voice mail. He got back into bed, lowering his neck
carefully onto the pillow. He switched off the bedside lamp andaccessed the message. It was Lucy. She said she hoped he was okay and that shewas sorry he hadnâ€™t been able to get to her party. She toldhim she missed him and loved him very much. It was dumb,Charlie knew, and not at all like him, and it was only becausehe was so ragged with tiredness. But, alone in the darkness, ifheâ€™d allowed himself, he could easily have wept.
be counted in the number of ghastly new outfits that hungunworn in her closet. It was her last day in Venice and she didnâ€™t want towaste it waiting for a virtual stranger, a man at least twentyyears her junior who, in any case, had probably forgotten allabout her. She had planned to spend the day browsing theshops, buying gifts for a few people back home. And to getthis done in time to meet the young man, she had risen,breakfasted, and left the hotel before eight. They had met the previous morning on the ferry to Torcello.Her tour group had split up for the day and only a handful hadwanted to make the hour-long trip across the lagoon. Theywere mostly retired couples or pairs of friends, either fromNew York City or New Jersey. All were a good ten years olderthan Sarah and she had little in common with any of them.There was too much moaning about the hotel food and howexpensive everything was. All week she had kept herdistance, politely declining offers to include her. Her bestfriend Iris, with whom she had booked the trip, had cancelledat the last moment because her mother had a stroke. Sarahprobably should have cancelled too. But sheâ€™d never beento Venice and was reluctant to miss the chance. On the ferry she chatted for a while with the merrywidowsâ€”two women from Newark who never stoppedlaughingâ€”and then escaped aft to find a seat where shecould quietly read her book and gaze out across the greenwater at the vaporettos chugging by. The young man had come on board when the ferry stopped
at the Lido. He took a seat across the aisle from her, facingthe same way. He was probably in his mid- to late twenties,conservatively dressed in a white shirt and pressed charcoalpants. He caught her looking at him and gave her a beautifulsmile. She smiled back politely and quickly looked down ather book, hoping the glow she could feel in her cheeksdidnâ€™t show. Out of the side of her eye she saw him pull asketchbook from his black leather bag. He flipped through ituntil he found the page he was looking for and then took out apen and set to work. Sarah could see it was a precise drawing in black ink of anold palazzo. There were patches of crumbled stucco andornate scrollings at the windows. He was filling in the detail,perhaps from memory or perhaps simply from his ownimagination. Whichever it was, the work was impressive.Again he caught her looking and graciously showed her whathe was doing. They began talking. In robust, if flawed, English,he told her he was from Rome and that he came to Veniceevery spring to visit an aged aunt. The picture was of herhouse. â€œShe must be very grand,â€ Sarah said. â€œI make it look much grander than it is. She like that.â€ â€œYou draw very well.â€ â€œThank you, but I know I am too technical. I am a studentof . . . architettura.â€ â€œArchitecture. My husband was an architect.â€ â€œOh. He is no longer?â€
â€œNo, I mean, he is an architect. Heâ€™s just no longermy husband.â€ When they reached Torcello, they found themselves walkingtogether along the path that wound from the dock to theancient church of Santa Fosca. The early spring sun was hotand reflected brightly on the white cement. Sarah took off hersweater and tied it around her hips like a teenager. She waswearing a sleeveless pink T-shirt and a white linen skirt. The young man said he had come that day to drawTorcelloâ€™s famous bell tower. He seemed to know a lotabout the history of the island. It was settled, he said, in thefifth century, much earlier than Venice itself. It had once been athriving place, with a population of twenty thousand. Butmalaria had driven people away and most of the buildings hadfallen into ruin and disappeared. These days only a few dozenpeople lived there. Outside the church, he showed her the crudely carved stonethrone that was supposed to have belonged to Attila the Hun. â€œDo you think he really sat on this?â€ she said. â€œNot for very long. It looks not very comfortable.â€ â€œMaybe thatâ€™s what made him so mean.â€ They went inside the church. It was cool and dark and filledwith a reverential hush. They stood in awe for a long timebefore a golden mosaic of the Madonna and Child. Hewhispered to her that in his opinion it was the most beautifulthing to be seen in all of Venice, except perhaps for theScuola Grande di San Rocco. He asked her if she had been
there yet and, when she said no, offered to show it to her thefollowing day. Flattered and amused by the attention of thishandsome, diffident man who, with his perfect skin andperfect teeth and clear brown eyes, was young enough to beher son, she agreed. They arranged to meet. She left himsettling down to draw the bell tower and only when they shookhands to say good-bye did they tell each other their names.His, appropriately, was Angelo. And now here she was, waiting as agreed, like a fool,outside the Scuola Grande or whatever the damn place wascalled, being giggled at by a bunch of schoolgirls whoprobably, given that she was smoking and trying too hard tolook chic in her shades and her little navy Armani dress, hadher down as some sort of superannuated hooker. Shechecked her watch again. Heâ€™d had twenty-two minutes(those two extra minutes a pathetic defiance of her ex-husband) and that was enough. She squashed her cigaretteunder her shoe, stuck out her tongue at the most insolent ofthe schoolgirls, and strode off. Three minutes later she heard her name being called andlooked back to see Angelo running over the bridge she hadjust crossed. She waited for him to reach her and gave himher coolest smile. Through his panting he managed to explainthat his aunt had been taken ill that morning. Bless him, Sarahthought, surely he could do better than that. But he seemed sogenuinely contrite and distressed for having kept her waitingthat she couldnâ€™t help but forgive him. Okay, she was apushover, but what the hell? He was a lot better company thanthe merry widows, who had probably written her off anyway as
too damn snooty. The Scuola Grande was filled with Tintorettos. The upperhall was vast and dark and sumptuously furnished in red velvetand polished walnut that gleamed in the pooled light of thewall lamps. There were perhaps fifty or sixty people there andall, even the schoolgirls who were now there too, stoodpeering in silent wonder at the paintings that adorned thewalls and ceiling. The pictures themselves were dimly lit andSarah had to put on her glasses to make out the religiousthemes they depicted. Angelo was as diligent and informed a guide as he hadbeen the previous day on the island. He whispered to her thatthe place was built in the early fifteen hundreds and dedicatedto San Rocco, the patron saint of contagious diseases, in thevain hope that he might save the city from the plague.Tintoretto, Angelo said, had spent almost a quarter of acentury decorating it. It was the kind of information that couldeasily have been plundered from any guidebook and the cruelthought occurred to her that perhaps he made a habit ofpicking up female tourists of a certain age. The most renowned of Tintorettoâ€™s paintings, TheCrucifixion, was in a small adjoining room and they stoodthere for a long time staring at it. Sarah had never known quitewhat to make of religion. Her mother was a lapsed Catholicand her father a lapsed atheist, now teetering in his seventiesover the edge of agnosticism into an as yet amorphous realmof belief. Benjamin had always denounced any form ofreligious belief as a convenient excuse for not thinking. Andthough Sarah was less zealous in her skepticism, her attitude
on thisâ€”and so many other issuesâ€”had been infected byhis. So perhaps it was, again, some futile, half-consciousattempt to excise his influence, to mark herself out as anindependent mind, that she allowed herself to be so moved bythe painting. It was a tumult of suffering and beauty, eachcluster of characters busy in its own drama. And the nailedChrist, winged and crowned with light against the stony skyand gazing down from his cross at his executioners, radiatedsuch serenity that Sarah found herself filled with a confusedand nameless longing. Behind her glasses her eyes began to brim but shemanaged to keep the tears from spilling. She was sure,however, that the young man at her side noticed. He had beensaying something about Tintorettoâ€™s habit of putting a self-portrait into his pictures but he broke off and walked away afew paces to study another painting. Sarah was grateful. Ifheâ€™d tried to touch or comfort her she would certainly havelost control and started to sob. And she had done enoughcrying these past few years. It mystified, even slightly angered,her that a mere picture could bring her so close to the brinkand she used the anger to chastise and compose herself. Stepping again into the sunlight was a relief. They woundtheir way to the Grand Canal just in time to catch a vaporettoto the Rialto Bridge where Angelo said he knew a good littlerestaurant. Venetians ate there, he said, not tourists. It turnedout to be a modest place, halfway along a narrow alley. White-coated waiters, all of whom seemed to Sarah curiously small,
scurried between the tables with trays stacked with freshseafood and steaming pasta. The one who took their orderdid so with a curt politeness. She told Angelo to choose for her, that she liked almosteverything. He ordered a salad of sweet tomatoes, basil, andbuffalo mozzarella and then some grilled whitefish whosename meant nothing to her but which, when it arrived, lookedand tasted a little like striped bass. They drank a whole bottleof white wine which he said was made from grapes that grewalong the eastern shore of Lake Garda. It was cool andcreamy and Sarah drank too much of it and began to feel alittle light-headed. She had never felt comfortable talking about herself. It wasa subject about which she felt there was nothing to say thatcould possibly be of interest to anyone. Of course, afterBenjamin left, she had gotten a lot better at it. Iris and thehandful of close friends who rallied around her hadnâ€™tgiven her much of an option, urging her to explore with themthe failure of her marriage, examining every wretched cornerand wrinkle of it until there seemed to be nothing left to sayand they all grew sick of it. And yet long before that, almost as long as Sarah couldremember, when she and Benjamin had beenâ€”at least, asfar as she was concernedâ€”happily married, she haddeveloped a simple technique to avoid revealing too muchabout herself. She would ask questions instead and soondiscovered that the more direct and startlingly personal thequestion, the more likely it was that the person asked(especially if it happened to be both a stranger and a man)
would start talking about himself and forget to ask heranything. And this was what she was now doing with Angelo. She asked him about Rome, about his studies, about whatkind of architecture interested him; about his aunt (whosesickness, surprisingly, seemed to be authentic); and finallyeven got him talking about a German girlfriend called Claudiato whom someday he hoped to be married. At which point, thedisparity between his confessions and her almost totalreticence became so great that he placed his palms upon thewhite crumb-strewn tablecloth and demanded a few answersfrom her. He asked if she worked and she told him about selling thebookstore and what a relief it was after all these years to befree of it. â€œYou didnâ€™t like it?â€ â€œI loved it. Books are my great passion. But smallindependent stores like we were have a hard time competingnowadays. So now I donâ€™t sell them, I just read them.â€ â€œWhat are your other great passions?â€ â€œMmm. Let me see. My garden. Knowing aboutplants.â€ â€œAnd now you have sold the bookstore, you can enjoy allthese things. You are . . . How do they say? A lady ofpleasure.â€ â€œI think what you mean is a lady of leisure.â€ Sarah smiled and looked at him over the rim of her glass
while she took another slow sip of wine, realizing as she didso that she was flirting. It was about a hundred years sinceshe had felt like flirting with anyone. She thought sheâ€™dforgotten how to. But she was enjoying it and, in that moment,had he asked her if he might come back with her to her hotelroom for a shared siesta, she might even have found herselfsaying yes. â€œSo you were married,â€ he said. â€œCorrect.â€ â€œBut no longer.â€ â€œCorrect.â€ â€œFor how long were you married?â€ â€œA lifetime. Twenty-three years.â€ â€œAnd you live in New York.â€ â€œOn Long Island.â€ â€œAnd you have children?â€ She nodded slowly. Here it was. The most compellingreason to avoid questions. She felt pleasure draining from herthrough the hole he had just unplugged. She cleared her throatand replied quietly in as level a tone as she could. â€œOne of each. A boy and a girl. Twenty-one and twenty-three.â€ â€œAnd what do they do? They are students, yes?â€ â€œUh-huh.â€
â€œAt college? â€œYes. Kind of. Can we get the check?â€ She needed to leave, to be outside again. And alone. Andshe saw that, of course, he was puzzled by this abrupt changein her. How could the mere mention of children so snap awomanâ€™s mood? It was the subject above all others towhich they normally warmed. The poor boy would misinterpretit, naturally. He would probably assume she was embarrassedto admit that she had children not much younger than himself.Or conclude that she wasnâ€™t really divorced at all, just outfor a good time and that the mention of children had strucksome chord of guilt. She felt sorry for him and sorry too forfracturing what had been so easy and pleasant between them.But she couldnâ€™t help it. She stood up and took a creditcard from her purse and placed it on the table in front of him,ignoring his protest. Then she excused herself and walked offto find the restroom. Outside, bewildered, he asked her if she would like to visitanother gallery and she said no and apologized, pretendingthat the wine had made her feel unwell, that she wasnâ€™tused to it. She thanked him for being so sweet and such a fineguide and for all the wonderful things he had shown her. Hevolunteered to accompany her to the hotel but she said that, ifhe didnâ€™t mind, she would rather go alone. She saidgood-bye and offered him her hand and he looked so forlornthat instead she put both hands on his shoulders and kissedhim on the cheek, which only seemed to confuse him more.When she walked off he looked quite bereft.
Back at the hotel, the lobby was quiet. A young Britishcouple was checking in. They had the shy felicity ofhoneymooners. Sarah collected her key and walked towardthe elevator, her heels clacking sharply on the white marblefloor. â€œMrs. Cooper?â€ She turned and the concierge handed her an envelope. Shepressed the elevator button and while the cables clanked andwhirred behind the glass door, she opened the envelope. Itwas a message from Benjamin in Santa Fe where he nowlived with that woman. He had phoned at eight that morningand again at ten. He wanted her to call him back. It wasurgent, he said.
FOURBen and Eve had been in bed watching an old Cary Grantmovie on the TV when Agent Kendrick called. It was a littleafter nine. Eve had lit candles and the flames were catching adraft from somewhere, sending shadows tilting and wobblingon the rough whitewashed walls and across the paintings andswaths of cloth that hung there. Pablo was asleep in hisbedroom next door. Ben had only a short while ago looked inon him and stumbled through toys to tuck another blanketaround his skinny shoulders. The boy shifted and murmuredfrom some unknown corner of a dream, then settled again, hislong dark curls spread like an aura on the pillow. It was Saturday and theyâ€™d had the kind of perfectspring day that seasoned residents of Santa Fe took forgranted but Ben continued to find miraculous. The dry desertair laced with the scent of lilac and cherry, the sky a cleardeep blue and the lightâ€”that vivid, washed, almost shockingNew Mexican light with its shadows sharp across adobewalls, the kind of light that could make even a color-blindphilistine want to pick up a paintbrushâ€”still, after four yearsof living here, could induce in him something close toeuphoria. The three of them had driven out in the Jeep for a latebreakfast at the Tesuque Village Market then browsed thestalls of the flea market, Pablo running ahead of them like ascout, finding things and calling them to come and look. Eve
bought an antique dress in purple and brown and orangeswirls, cut on the bias. There was a hole under one arm andshe haggled the woman down to thirty dollars and whisperedas they walked away that it would be easy to fix and was worthat least a hundred. In the mellowing sun that afternoon in the little backyard, thecherry tree groaning with an absurd overload of pinkblossoms, they barbecued tuna steaks and sweet redpeppers and zucchini while Pablo played chasing games withthe little Swedish girl from next door. Eveâ€™s house wasone of an enclave of six that stood on the south-facing side ofa valley of sage and pinyon that funneled down into thetownâ€™s west side. It was on one floor and made ofcracked adobe, its angles rounded and its doors of ancient,grizzled pine. Both house and yard could have fit three timesover into the house on Long Island where Ben had lived allthose years with Sarah and where she now lived alone, but healready preferred it. He liked its spare, worn functionality, theway it belonged to the land that surrounded it. He liked it toobecause it was Eveâ€™s and even more because itwasnâ€™t his. It made him feelâ€”as Pablo also made himfeelâ€”unencumbered, that his association was entirely of hisown choosing. And this, of course, made him feel younger andmore footloose than a man of almost fifty-two years deserved. Just when the food was ready to be served the childrencame running up the path, all excited, saying thehummingbirds were back. They had seen one down byEveâ€™s studio where the yard became more jungle thangarden. Eve asked them what kind they thought it was. It was
too early for the rufous, she said, and from what they wereable to tell her they concluded that it must have been a black-chinned. After supper, with Pablo bathed and in his pajamas,they rummaged for the feeder jars in the closet and filled themwith sugar water then hung them from a low branch of thecherry tree. Pablo wanted to wait up to see if the birds would come andwhile Eve took a bath Ben sat with his arm around him on thecouch, reading Treasure Island and breathing the warm,sweet smell of him, another manâ€™s child he had come tolove as his own. The boy was nearly eight but small and skinnyand looked younger. The hummingbirds never came and whenit was dark Ben carried him slack and sleeping to his bed. It was Eve who answered when Kendrick called. And Benknew from her face and from her voice what kind of call it was.She handed him the phone and muted the TV. She sat up andswung her legs out of the bed and Ben reached out to try tomake her stay. She always moved away and found somethingto do when his other life called. When he had once mentionedthis she said it was only to give him space, but he suspected itwas also to protect herself. She whispered now that she wouldmake them some tea and be right back. Special Agent Dean Kendrick worked out of Denver andhad become Benâ€™s main contact with the FBI. There hadbeen others with whom he had talked during the past threeand a half years that Abbie had been on the run and manymore, he was sure, who had watched him and followed himand bugged his phones and e-mails and monitored his bankaccounts, faceless men and women who probably knew more
about his habits than he did himself. The ones whose names he knew and whom he had calledfor news every few weeks were civil enough though rarelyfriendly. But Kendrick was different. He seemed genuinelysympathetic and had almost become a friend, though Ben hadonly ever met him once. They even called each other by theirfirst names now. Maybe he was just better at his job than theothers. He certainly made Ben feel more at ease and, ofcourse, if he felt that way, he might more likely let somethingslip, some secret snippet of information that might help themcatch and convict his daughter. Ben only wished he had sucha secret. â€œBen, howâ€™re you doing?â€ â€œIâ€™m fine. How are you doing?â€ â€œIâ€™m okay. Do you have someone with you?â€ It seemed an odd question, given that heâ€™d just spokenwith Eve. â€œYeah. Weâ€™re just watching a movie. Why?â€ â€œIâ€™ve got some news. About Abbie. They were goingto get one of our guys in Albuquerque to drive up and tell youin person but I thought youâ€™d rather hear it from me.â€ He paused. Ben was way ahead of him. â€œIâ€™m afraid itâ€™s not good news.â€ But still his heart chimed. What was good news or badnews when it came to Abbie? And good or bad for whom?She hadnâ€™t called any of themâ€”not him, nor Sarah, nor
even her brother Joshâ€”in almost three years now. If the FBIhad caught her that would surely qualify as good news,wouldnâ€™t it? He swallowed. â€œUh-huh?â€ â€œThey found her body up on the Front Range inMontana, west of Great Falls. Sheâ€™d been there awhile.Ben, Iâ€™m really sorry.â€ Cary Grant was about to get beaten up by two heavies. Hewas trying to charm his way out but it wasnâ€™t working.Benâ€™s brain felt closed. His daughter dead? He could seeit almost dispassionately as a concept but it wasnâ€™tsomething he was going to let into his head. It wasnâ€™tpossible. Eve appeared in the doorway with two mugs ofgreen tea. She stopped there and stood very still, herloosened hair raven against the pale of her shoulders, steamcurling from the mugs, the candlelight dancing in the creasesof her peach satin robe. Watching with those still brown eyes,knowing. â€œWhat kind of condition . . .â€ Ben couldnâ€™t allow himself to finish the thought. His littlegirl decaying, a carcass picked at by savage animals. No. â€œI mean, are you sure itâ€™s her?â€ â€œA hundred percent. Fingerprints and DNA. Ben,Iâ€™m so sorry.â€ There was a long silence. Ben felt as if he were watchinghis world unhinge and twirl slowly away from him. Eve put
down the tea and came to sit beside him on the bed. She laida cool arm around his shoulders. Kendrick waited and whenBen was ready they talked some more. About practical things,from which Ben began to fashion a fragile shield from theshock. Kendrick delicately asked if he should let Sarah know,but Ben said he would do it himself and that, in any case, shewas in Italy. From his weekly phone call to Josh two days ago,he knew she wasnâ€™t due home until Monday. Kendrick said once more how sorry he was and that hewould call again in the morning. They could decide then whatto do about funeral arrangements and what to tell the media.There would, of course, have to be some sort of statement. â€œYes,â€ Ben said. â€œOf course.â€ Ben thanked him and hung up and sat there staring at theTV. The credits were rolling. He found the remote and killedthe picture. And only then did he start to weep. An hour later, lying with his head still cradled on Eveâ€™sbreast, her nightgown patched with his tears, they began todiscuss what was to be done. Ben wondered if it might bebest not to tell Sarah until she got back. Spare her all thoselong hours on the plane with no one to comfort her, cloisteredalone with her grief. Maybe he should fly to New York andmeet her off the plane and tell her then. But Eve, clearer-headed than he and, as a mother, wiser in such matters, saidhe couldnâ€™t leave it that long. Sarah had a right to be toldstraightaway and would hold against him any failure to do so. In Venice, they calculated, it was now six oâ€™clock in themorning. Too early to call. Let her sleep, Ben thought. Give her
two more hours without the pain. Without this new pain. Hewould phone at midnight. They could then decide between thetwo of them how to break the news to Josh and thegrandparents and whoever else needed to know. While they waited, he told her what Kendrick had said aboutreleasing the news to the media. A couple of years ago, AbbieCooper, little rich girl turned ecoterrorist, wanted all acrossAmerica for murder, had been big news. There had beenwhole TV shows devoted to her, with dramatizedreconstructions of what she was alleged to have done. Formonths Ben had to field half a dozen calls a week fromreporters, mostly trying to follow up on some new angle. Butas time went by and there was still no arrest, they seemed tolose interest and the circus had moved on. Maybe theywouldnâ€™t make too much of a meal out of her being founddead. Or maybe they would. At midnight, when he called Venice, he was told thatSignora Cooper had already left the hotel. And when he calledagain two hours later she still hadnâ€™t returned. Theywaited, fading in and out of sleep, holding each other while thecandles burned low and guttered and one by one died. Once,while Eve slept on beside him, facing away from him, a curveof hip warm against his belly, he woke and wept again while aslice of moon traversed the window. He was jolted from his sleep just before seven. Eve wasstanding beside the bed, handing him his ringing cell phone. â€œItâ€™s Sarah,â€ she said. He saw the name on the little screen and so disoriented
was he by sleep that for a moment he wondered why shemight be calling. Then the leaden reality reassembled. Theirdaughter was dead. Eve was already dressed. Sunlight flecked with dust wasslanting in through the window behind her. He sat up and tookthe phone and she kissed his forehead and walked out. Shehad left a mug of coffee on the bedside table. He could hearPablo calling from the kitchen. He pressed the green buttonon the phone and said hello. â€œBenjamin?â€ Her voice sounded tight and throaty, barely recognizable.She was the only one in the world who ever called himBenjamin. â€œSweetheartâ€”â€ She had reprimanded him more than once for calling herthatâ€”Whatever I am to you now Benjamin, Iâ€™m ,certainly not your sweetheartâ€”but it was hard to break ahabit of so many years. This time she cut in on him before theword was fully uttered. â€œWhat is it?â€ she said. â€œIs it Abbie? Have theyfound her?â€ It startled him that she should know. But it was only todiscuss their children that they ever talked nowadays. ThenBen realized that by found, she meant alive. He swallowed,still struggling to clear his head. â€œSarahâ€”â€
â€œFor heavenâ€™s sake, Benjamin! Tell me!â€ â€œSheâ€™s dead.â€ â€œWhat?â€ It was more an intake of breath than a word. How could heblurt it out like that? Kendrick had broken the news to him withso much more finesse. He stumbled on. â€œThey found her body. In Montana. Somewhere in themountains.â€ â€œNo. Abbie. Oh, no. No . . .â€ She began a low, moaning wail and then tried to saysomething but couldnâ€™t. And because the sound was soharrowing he began to talk, just to keep it from his ears. Hetalked and went on talking, trying to seem calm and clear,telling her what he knew, about the DNA and the fingerprintsand where the body was being kept and about the decisionsthat they were going to have to make, until she screamed athim and told him to stop. At that his voice cracked and he lostcontrol, as if all his words had emptied and weakened him. And, separated by so many thousand miles and by distanceof another kind far greater, they sobbed as one but each alonefor the young life they had together spawned and loved andseparately lost.ÂÂÂ
The funeral home, so Ben had been told, was only a shortdrive from Missoula Airport and he had already resolved thathe would go there as soon as his flight got in. He hadnâ€™ttold Sarah he was going to do this and he knew he shouldprobably wait until she arrived from New York so they could gothere together. But when he landed and switched on his cellphone there was a message from her saying she was havingto take a later flight. She wouldnâ€™t be getting into Missoulauntil the evening, by which time the funeral home would beshut. That meant going there with her tomorrow. Hecouldnâ€™t wait that long. Despite Kendrickâ€™s assurance that the identificationwas one hundred percent certain, there lingered in Benâ€™smind just a sliver of doubt that they might have made amistake. Heâ€™d once read about a case where this hadhappened. Someone had mixed up two sets of samples andput the wrong names on them. He had to see her, see with hisown eyes that it was Abbie. He had brought only hand baggage and was one of the firstoff the flight. The chirpy young woman at the Hertz deskwelcomed him like an old friend but that was probably just howthey were trained. â€œOn vacation?â€ she asked. â€œNo, Iâ€™m here . . . to see my daughter.â€ â€œThatâ€™s nice. Sheâ€™s at UM, right?â€ â€œShe was, yes.â€ It took her only a few minutes to process the paperwork.
She told him the bay number of the car and handed him thedocuments and keys. â€œSo, youâ€™re all set. You have a great time.â€ Ben thanked her and went out through the double glassdoors. The sky was vaulted in slate-colored cloud and the airfelt warm and restless as if at any moment it might rain. Abbieused to say the weather in Montana was like ForrestGumpâ€™s box of chocolates: You never knew what you weregonna get. He remembered that first visit to Missoula, morethan five years ago, when he and Sarah had flown here withher to check out the university. It was late October and whenthey arrived it was eighty degrees. They woke the next day toa foot of snow and had to go out and buy warmer clothes. At astore on North Higgins they had bought Abbie a cerisePatagonia ski jacket that cost more than two hundred bucks.God, sheâ€™d looked so beautiful that day. So confident, sofull of joy. Ben stopped himself. He mustnâ€™t think about her thatway. There was too much to be sorted out, importantdecisions to be made, people to talk to, the sheriff, the localFBI people, find out what they thought had happened. If he lethimself remember her like that, all aglow and happy, then hewould be sure to lose it and be unable to think straight. Aboveall, Sarah would need him to be strong. He didnâ€™t want tolet her down, give her yet another reason to hate him. The car was a little silver Japanese thing. He had to shift theseat all the way back to get his legs under the steering wheel.Sarah would probably think he was being cheap and should
have rented something bigger. They hadnâ€™t seen eachother in more than a year and he already felt dread welling inhis stomach. He started the car up, reversed from the parkingbay and slowly headed out toward the highway. The second time they had spoken on the phone, beforeSarah flew home from Italy, she had fully regained composure.She was cool, almost businesslike. Not a tear was shed byeither of them. Ben had been expecting a discussion but itwas more like listening to a series of announcements. Thebody would be shipped back to New York, she said, and thatwas where the funeral would be, where all Abbieâ€™s lovedones lived. The all excluded Ben, of course, but he let it pass.And it would be a burial, which was how Sarahâ€™s familyhad always done these things. Ben had been planning tosuggest a cremation, with the ashes scattered here inMontana, the place Abbie had so often said she loved best inall the world. But he wasnâ€™t going to get into a fight aboutit. There was more to come. Sarah had already phoned Joshin New York. He was, she informed Ben, â€œdevastated butokay.â€ How to break the news to their son was another thingBen had been expecting to discuss. He was furious. He hadbeen all set to fly to New York to do it in person and nowwished he hadnâ€™t waited. Moreover, Sarah had alsoorganized for the boy to go stay in Bedford with her parents.Indeed, they had already driven to the city to collect him.Sarah would see him, albeit briefly, when she got back, thenfly on to Missoula. Josh, she said, would not be coming withher.
Ben had thus been thoroughly preempted and excised. And,as usual, he swallowed his anger and said nothing. It was atechnique Sarah had used over and over again since he lefther and she now had it honed to perfection, excluding himfrom important decisions about their children with such acasualâ€”sometimes even friendlyâ€”aplomb, that tocomplain seemed churlish. The underlying message wasalways the same: By leaving, he had revealed his total lack oflove for them and had thereby forfeited all rights ofconsultation. Sometimes she did it so brilliantly, he couldnâ€™t help butbe impressed. And though it surprised him that she shouldchoose to do it now, in their shared desolation, he realizedlater that she had in fact surpassed herself. For now he wouldhave to call Josh in the enemy camp of his former in-laws.George and Ella Davenport had always considered himunworthy of their golden daughter and his desertion hadvindicated their contempt. Ben was now properly consigned tosome lower stratum of cheats, liars, and neâ€™er-do-wells. Immediately after he had finished listening to Sarahâ€™slist of decisions, he called Joshâ€™s cell phone. â€œHey, Joshie.â€ â€œHi.â€ â€œI was going to fly over and tell you about Abbie, butMom says she already told you.â€ â€œYeah.â€ â€œHow are you doing?â€
â€œOkay, I guess.â€ There was a long pause. Ben thought he could hearwhispers in the background. â€œAre you with your grandma and grandpa?â€ â€œYeah. Weâ€™re in the car.â€ â€œOh. Right. Well, say hi to them for me.â€ â€œOkay.â€ â€œMom says youâ€™re not coming out to Missoula.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the point?â€ His voice was so flat and colorless that Ben wondered if theboy had taken too many of those antidepressant pills heâ€™dbeen on for the last few months. Or perhaps he was just dazedby the news or embarrassed to talk in front of Ella andGeorge. Ben cursed himself for not going to New York. It washe who should be with his son at this time, not those two. â€œWell, I guess youâ€™re right. Listen, will you call mewhen youâ€™ve got a moment to yourself?â€ â€œOkay.â€ â€œBye, then. I love you, son.â€ â€œYeah. Bye.â€
The Valley View Funeral Home andCrematoryâ€”â€œServing Missoulaâ€™s Bereaved Since1964â€â€”stood between a used-car lot and a sinister-looking bar called Mountain Jackâ€™s. It was skirted by athin strip of lawn doing its best to appear elysian. Ben parkedin the otherwise empty lot and, thrusting his hands into hisjacket pockets, walked toward reception. The building was allPalladian pillars and swirled cream stucco, a curious hybrid oftemple and hacienda that at any other time would have madethe architect in him smile. Beyond it, away to the west,lightning flickered against the gunmetal shroud that hadlowered itself over the mountains. The air smelled of wet dustand just as he reached the cover of the portico a first fewplump raindrops began to smack and speckle the asphalt. The reception area was a hushed expanse of mushroom-pink carpet and magnolia walls, decorated with elaboratearrangements of fake flowers and framed prints. Away in thefar corner, a muted TV was entertaining a coffee table and apair of empty couches in blue velour. Ben pressed thesoundless button at the reception desk and while he waitedwandered with soundless footsteps, inspecting the pictures.All were landscapes and all featured water of some kindâ€”ariver, lake, or ocean. There was a unifying, bland tranquility tothem, nothing too poignant or risky, no sunsets or stormyskies, not a hint of hell or eternal judgment. He wondered ifthey ever censored the pictures to suit the special sensibilitiesof their clients. Maybe they had already done it for himbecause there sure wasnâ€™t a single snowy mountain onthe walls.
â€œMay I help you?â€ A young man with a friendly round face and a body thatseemed too long for his legs was heading across themushroom pink toward him. Ben introduced himself and sawa fractional retuning in the manâ€™s smile. He wasnâ€™toverdoing it, just finding the right calibration of professionalsympathy. This was the Jim Pickering both Ben and Sarahhad spoken with on the phone. â€œYour wife called to say you werenâ€™t going to makeit today.â€ â€œShe had to get a later flight. I flew up this morning fromAlbuquerque. Weâ€™re not married anymore.â€ He didnâ€™t know why he had volunteered that, but theman nodded, readjusting the smile again, just a touch moreconcern. â€œIs it inconvenient for me to see . . . ?â€ Bencouldnâ€™t finish the sentence. Should he say Abbie? Mydaughter? The body? â€œNot at all. Weâ€™re all ready for you.â€ â€œI just wanted to, you know, make sureâ€”â€ â€œI absolutely understand.â€ He asked Ben if he would mind waiting a moment andhurried off the way he came. He disappeared down a corridorand the silence reasserted itself. The place had the bestsoundproofing Ben had come across in a long time. Hecaught himself wondering what materials they had used. What
was the matter with him? Waiting to see his daughterâ€™sbody and thinking about goddamn acoustics? Jim Pickering came back and asked Ben to follow him. Asthey walked a sequence of corridors, he explained that theyhad embalmed the body, as Mrs. Cooper had requested, andthat the search-and-rescue people over the mountains hadmade the process a lot easier by keeping so much ice aroundher during recovery and transportation. The results, he said,were consequently a lot better in the circumstances than onemight have expected. Whether the man was making a modestprofessional boast or simply trying to allay anxiety, Bencouldnâ€™t decide. â€œWe didnâ€™t have any clothes, so she is in what wecall a hospital gown. And, of course, we didnâ€™t have anyreference for hair and makeup, so youâ€™ll see weâ€™vegone for quite a natural look. There is scope for some minoradjustment, should you wish. And the casket is only temporary.Mrs. Cooper didnâ€™t say whether you would be interestedin purchasing one from us or from the funeral home back east.We do have quite an extensive range.â€ â€œIâ€™m sure.â€ â€œWell, here we are. This is our viewing room.â€ He stopped in front of some white double doors, his handspoised to open them. He was looking at Ben for the signal toproceed. â€œAre we ready?â€ Ben nodded.
The room was about fourteen feet by ten, and lit with aroseate glow by four tall uplighters, their tops flared like lilies.The plain, pale wood casket stood open on a waist-high table.From the doorway, all Ben could see of its interior was a bandof pink satin lining. â€œIâ€™ll leave you,â€ Jim Pickering said. â€œIâ€™ll bejust along the corridor. Take as long as you need.â€ â€œThank you.â€ The doors closed quietly behind him. Ben stood there amoment, trying to conjure a trace of his earlier, absurd hopethat the body would be someone elseâ€™s. But he knew itwas Abbie. He could feel his blood pulsing fast and insistentin his ears and an icy weight turned in the pit of his stomach.He swallowed and stepped forward. It was almost three years since he had seen her. Her hairthen had been dyed black and cut short and spiky, as if toadvertise her anger. But now it was back to its natural reddishblond and longer and neatly combed so that it framed herslender neck and softened her. The face, with its pert noseand prettily arched eyebrows, was light-years from the hostile,screaming contortion that had haunted his head since thatterrible night. Death, perversely, had warmed her. The funeralmakeup had given her skin a clever, healthy luster. There waseven, in the tilt of her chin and in the dimpling at the corners ofher mouth, a curious immanence. As if something in a dreamhad amused her and at any moment she might smile or wakeand tell him what it was. And open those eyes. Gray-greenand flecked with hazel. He wished he could see them just one
more time. The only other body Ben had ever seen was hisfatherâ€™s, almost twenty years before. And the undertakersthen had gotten it all wrongâ€”his hair, his expression, the wayhe knotted his necktie, everything. They had plastered on somuch rouge and mascara and lipstick that he looked likesome frightful, unwigged drag queen. But in her white gown, like the bride she would never be, hisdaughter looked only serene and innocent and utterlybeautiful. â€œOh, sweetheart,â€ he whispered. â€œMy littlesweetheart.â€ He gripped the rim of the casket and bowed his head andclosed his eyes. And the sobs came quaking through him andhe didnâ€™t try to fight them. Alone now, he would allowhimself this, and later be the stronger for Sarah. How long he stood there, he couldnâ€™t tell. When hecould cry no more, he straightened himself and walked acrossto a little table where a box of tissues had been placed. Andwhen he had dried his face and composed himself, he walkedonce more to the casket and leaned in and kissed hisdaughterâ€™s cheek. She smelled of nothing and her fleshagainst his lips was as cold as stone.
FIVESarah let the waitress fill her cup with coffee for the third time,and tried not to watch the two men across the table finishingtheir breakfasts. The sight and smell of all that egg and baconand fried potato was making her feel queasy. Jet-lagged, she had taken a sleeping pill sometime aftermidnight and all it did was plunge her into a shallowsemicoma fraught with anxious dreams. She woke twisted inher sheets like a mummy and with a blurred and aching headthat two heavy-duty painkillers had failed to clear. Outside itwas still raining. It hadnâ€™t stopped since she arrived. Benjamin had met her when she got off the plane and haddriven her to the hotel in the ridiculous little car heâ€™drented. Why he had to be so cheap, she had no idea. But shehadnâ€™t mentioned it. On the flight she had given herselfstrict instructions to be civil. But, God, it was hard. Even thesight of him now, eating his breakfast and talking trivia withthis sheriff character, made her feel angry. He had grown hishair longer and bought himself some trendy little wire-rimmedglasses. All very Santa Fe. Benjamin had booked them adjoining rooms at the HolidayInn Parkside and after checking in last evening they hadborrowed an umbrella and walked over to a Japaneserestaurant on North Higgins. The food was fine but theconversation hideously stilted, perhaps because they wereboth trying so hard to avoid talking about Abbie. Benjamin had
seemed barely able to look her in the eye and kept asking allsorts of eager questions about Venice. She wanted to screamat him to shut up. Who on earth was he? This polite strangerwho had shared her life for all those years and was nowtreating her like a guest with whom heâ€™d gotten trapped ata cocktail party. She knew she was being unfair and that it was probably herfault that he behaved that way. Some curious defensemechanism seemed to have clicked on inside her brain.Being cold and brittle and angry with him was the only way shecould cope. Allow herself to be any warmer or more receptiveto comfort and she would lose her foothold and fall off theedge, spiral into the black whirlpool she knew was waiting forher below. Her little girl dead, lying cold in a box . . . No, shewasnâ€™t going to let her head go there. But when he put hisarm around her on their way back to the hotel she almost had.And again when he kissed her good night in the dingy corridoroutside her room and they went off to their lonely, separateking-size beds, so thinly partitioned they could hear eachotherâ€™s every shuffle and cough and flush of the john. Sheriff Charlie Riggs didnâ€™t have an office in Missoula,which was why he had suggested they meet for breakfast hereat The Shack. It was a place Abbie had once taken them to,tucked away on West Main and just another short, wet walkfrom the hotel. The sheriff had been there waiting for them, his rain-soakedStetson and a white plastic bag beside him on the bench ofthe little wooden booth. He stood to greet them, a tall man,even taller than Benjamin, but bulkier, with a bushy mustache
that was going to gray. His eyes were gentle and had in thema sadness that Sarah suspected was permanent, not merelycontrived for their benefit. He had those old-fashionedWestern manners that she had always been a sucker for,politely nodding when he shook her hand and calling hermaâ€™am. He declared at once how sorry he was about Abbie. â€œI have a daughter myself,â€ he said. â€œCanâ€™teven bear to think of such a thing happening.â€ â€œNot wanted for murder just yet, I hope,â€ Sarah saidwith a withering brightness before she could stop herself. Thepoor man winced and Benjamin looked away. â€œNo, maâ€™am,â€ the sheriff said quietly. They sat down and the two men chatted about the weatherand nothing much else until the waitress came and took theirorders. Then, leaning forward and talking in a low voice so asnot to be overheard, Sheriff Riggs had taken them throughwhat had happened. He told them about the skiers findingAbbie in the ice and how the autopsy at the crime labhadnâ€™t been able to establish either how she came to bethere or how exactly she had died. He asked if they had anyideas about why she might have been in that part of the worldand Benjamin said they hadnâ€™t. Abbie had suffered headinjuries, the sheriff went on, as well as a broken leg and adislocated shoulder. And there was water in her lungs, whichsuggested she might have drowned. The best guess at themoment was that the injuries had been sustained in a seriousfall, the cause of which remained unknown.
â€œYou mean, someone could have pushed her?â€Benjamin said. â€œThat has to be one possibility, yes, sir.â€ He glancedat Sarah, no doubt gauging her sensitivity to such talk. She feltvaguely affronted. â€œWhat about suicide?â€ she said. Benjamin looked at her in surprise. â€œAbbie would never do that,â€ he said. â€œHow would you know?â€ she snapped. They both stared at her. The spite just seemed to comespouting out of her of its own accord. She hurried on, trying tosoften it. â€œI mean, how can any of us know? Sheâ€™s beenmissing so long, we donâ€™t know what might have beengoing on.â€ â€œYouâ€™re right, Mrs. Cooper,â€ Charlie Riggs saidgently. â€œIt has to be another possibility we canâ€™t yetrule out.â€ She could tell he was getting the measure of howthings stood between her and Benjamin. He probably alreadyhad her down as a prize bitch. She would have to get a gripand curb her tongue. â€œAnyhow,â€ the sheriff went on. â€œI want you to knowthat this is a top priority. Weâ€™re going to keep going upthere while the snow starts to melt. Hopefully weâ€™ll findsomething thatâ€™ll help build us a picture of whathappened.â€
If either of them wanted to go see where Abbie was found,he said a little awkwardly, he would be happy to show them.Benjamin thanked him and said he might well come back in aweek or two to do that. How absurd and pointless, Sarahthought but managed to stop herself from saying. Shecouldnâ€™t think of anything worseâ€”except seeing the bodyitself, which they were planning to do later, though shewasnâ€™t at all sure she could handle it. The sheriff seemed about to say something else when thewaitress arrived with the food. If so, he thought better of it andnot a lot more was said while he and Benjamin ate. Sarah hadordered some wheat toast but didnâ€™t even touch it. Whatshe really craved was a cigarette but she wasnâ€™t about todent her dignity further by stepping out into the rain to haveone. When they had finished, Charlie Riggs said that if theydidnâ€™t mind, he would take them along to the FederalBuilding on Pattee Street to meet the local FBI agent who hada few routine questions to ask them which might help them allfind out what happened to Abbie. Sarah said that would befine. Then, looking a little uncomfortable, he reached for theplastic bag beside him. â€œThese are the clothes your daughter was wearing whenwe found her,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t know if youâ€™dwant them, but one of the girls in the office washed and ironedthem. The jacketâ€™s torn pretty bad. In the fall, I guess.Anyhow.â€ He handed the bag to Benjamin, who instead of just
thanking him and putting it to one side, pulled out the red skijacket and opened it up. Sarah could see his eyes filling as helooked at it. For heavenâ€™s sake, she thought. Not here, notnow. If he lost control, she would surely follow. She silentlyreached across and took the jacket from him and stuffed itback into the bag. Charlie Riggs cleared his throat. â€œThereâ€™s one other important thing I havenâ€™t yettold you,â€ he said. His voice was grave and he paused as ifsearching for the right words. â€œSomething they discovered in the autopsy that youprobably didnâ€™t know. At the time of her death, Abbie wastwo months pregnant.â€ÂÂÂOver the years, Charlie had met more than a few FBI agentsand had gotten along fine with nearly all of them. There hadbeen one or two who came on too strong or a little patronizingbut the rest had always been courteous and decent and goodat their jobs. Jack Andrews, the last one heâ€™d haddealings with in the Missoula office and whom the Coopershad met when their daughter first disappeared, Charlie hadliked a lot. But his successor, this young upstart WayneHammler, was something else. They had been sitting in his stuffy little office for most of an
hour and during that time he had barely let anyone else get aword in edgewise. Even with his GIâ€™s haircut and snappyblue blazer, he looked about fifteen years old. Maybe that waswhy he felt he had to pontificate to them like a pompouspolecat. Right now he was giving the Coopers a speech aboutinteragency synergy and forensic information analysissystems, whatever the hell they were. All heâ€™d really doneso far was go through again what Charlie had already toldthem. Mr. Cooper still seemed to be listening politely, but forthe last ten minutes his ex-wife had been staring out of thewindow. Charlie had been staring at her. It was kind of hard not to.He wondered how old she might be. These East Coast citywomen took care of themselves. Mid-forties, maybe. She wastall and elegant and had clearly once been a great-lookingwoman. In happier circumstances, if she put on a few poundsand let that cropped blond hair grow a little, she still could be.The dark blue dress suited her and Charlie would have putmoney on those little diamond studs in her ears being the realthing. All in all, Sarah Cooper was what his daddy used to callâ€œa class act.â€ Mind, that sharp tongue of hers sureseemed to have her ex-husband on eggshells. Charlie knewfrom his own dealings with Sheryl how the poor guy must feel.But heâ€™d seen bereaved mothers behave like this before.Anger was probably just her way of hanging by her fingernailsto sanity. But now and then, behind that cool faÃ§ade, heâ€™dgotten a glimpse of how fragile and wounded she was. And itmoved him to see a creature so graceful in so much pain. The
look in her eyes when she learned about her daughter beingpregnant was close to heartbreaking and it was still there nowas she gazed out at the rain. Since Charlie broke the news,sheâ€™d barely spoken a word. Ben Cooper bore his grief more visibly. He seemed like adecent enough guy. They must have once made a fine couple,the kind you saw in those society magazines, sitting on ayacht or by a swimming pool, happy and perfect and probablyon the brink of divorce. Charlie wondered what had gonewrong between the two of them, whether it was all about theirdaughter or whether they had traveled some other specialroute to sadness of their own devising. There was a storythere, he had no doubt, along with the same old story sharedby himself and countless others, of guilt and grudge andshattered hope. He followed the womanâ€™s gaze. The rain had gottenheavier and there was a wind now too. The trees outside werestarting to come into leaf and through the frantic branches hecould see squalls thrashing the roofs of three U.S. Mail vansparked below in the street. A young woman in a clear plasticponcho was pushing a boy in a wheelchair along the sidewalk,trying to keep him dry with a red umbrella. Charlie lookedagain at Mrs. Cooper and found she was looking at him. Hesmiled and with his eyes tried to apologize for Hammler, whowas still droning on behind his immaculately organized desk.There was a little chrome pot of perfectly sharpened pencilsand a matching tray for his staples and paper clips. The littlecreep even had a coaster for his coffee cup. Charlieremembered someone once saying that you should never
trust a man with a tidy desk. Hammlerâ€™s was borderlineobsessive. Mrs. Cooper didnâ€™t smile back. Instead she turned andglared at her ex-husband. Whether it was because of thepolite attention the poor guy was giving Hammler or for someother transgression, Charlie couldnâ€™t tell. â€œSo, thatâ€™s where things stand as far as theinvestigation goes,â€ the agent was saying. â€œNow, if youdonâ€™t mind, I need to ask you both some questions.â€ â€œOkay,â€ Mr. Cooper said. â€œIf itâ€™ll help. Goahead.â€ Hammler had his questions all neatly listed on a legal pad,squarely placed with a new pencil in front of him. The first wasabout when the Coopers had last seen or heard from theirdaughter. Charlie had already asked and he pointed this outto Hammler but to no avail. Mr. Cooper answered patiently, if alittle wearily, but Charlie could see his ex-wife starting toseethe. Finally, when the agent began asking aboutAbbieâ€™s character and personality and whether they woulddescribe her as being prone to bouts of depression, sheexploded. â€œListen. You people have asked us all of this God knowshow many times. We came to hear what you had to tell us, notto go over all this old stuff again. If you want to know thesethings, look at the files. Itâ€™s all there. Everything Abbie everdid or said or had for breakfast is there. Just look it up.â€ Hammler blushed. Charlie nearly cheered.
â€œMrs. Cooper, Iâ€™m well aware how difficult a timethis isâ€”â€ â€œDifficult? Difficult! You havenâ€™t the slightest idea.â€ â€œMrs. Cooperâ€”â€ â€œWho the hell do you think you are!â€ She was on her feet now and heading for the door. â€œIâ€™m not listening to any more of this bullshit.â€ All the men had stood up too. Hammler looked like a kidwhoâ€™d just been mugged for his candy. He started to saysomething but Mrs. Cooper, swinging the door open, turned toface them and cut him off. â€œWhen youâ€™ve got something new to tell us, Iâ€™msure weâ€™d be only too delighted to hear from you. But thismorning, Wayne, weâ€™re a little pressed for time. We haveto go pick up our dead daughter and ship her home for thefuneral. So if youâ€™ll excuse us, weâ€™ll go now. Come on,Benjamin.â€ And she was gone. Her footsteps echoing angrily down thecorridor. Hammlerâ€™s jaw was jutting and he seemed aboutto head off in pursuit. Charlie stepped forward and gentlyrestrained him. â€œLet her go,â€ he said quietly. â€œBut thereâ€™s a lot toâ€”â€ â€œLater. Itâ€™s not the right time.â€ Ben Cooper was just standing there with his head bowed,
looking forlorn and embarrassed. Charlie picked up the poorguyâ€™s coat and laid a hand on his shoulder. â€œCome on,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™ll need a lift.â€ÂÂÂThe sheriff parked outside the hotel and they sat in his truckfor a few minutes with the rain drumming on the roof. Hereassured them again that he would do everything in hispower to find out how Abbie died. Ben was in the front andkept glancing over his shoulder at Sarah who hadnâ€™t saida word and didnâ€™t even seem to be listening. She sathunched by the back window, silhouetted by the silver riveringof water on the glass. Her hair was wet and straggled and thecollar of her white raincoat turned so high it looked as if shemight at any moment vanish. The sheriff apologized again for the FBI man and promisedto call as soon as he had any news. They thanked him andwent inside to check out and collect their bags. While Benpaid the bill, Sarah stood alone under the portico and when hehad finished and came out to join her, she didnâ€™t wait forhim to come alongside but turned and walked ahead of himout to the car, heedless of the rain, her arms folded tight to herchest. Ben noticed the backs of her calves were spatteredwith mud and the sight touched him and made him want to saysomething comforting, even if it was only to declare hisadmiration for the way she had stood up to that little FBI
creep. But he was too wary of her now and didnâ€™t trusthimself to find the right words or tone. As they drove slowly out along Broadway to the funeralhome, the repeating thud and swish of the wipers made thesilence between them so loud that Ben could bear it no longer. â€œHow the hell could she be pregnant?â€ he blurted. With a weekâ€™s notice, he couldnâ€™t have come upwith anything more crass. Sarah turned and looked at him andhe swallowed and stared ahead and braced himself for theblistering put-down. But she said nothing. Jim Pickering was waiting in the reception area to welcomethem. He was wearing a smart suit in a middling shade ofblue, dark enough to be formal but not somber. From oneglance at Sarah he seemed to sense that it was best to keepwords to a minimum and soon he was leading the way oncemore to the viewing room. Ben asked if she wanted him to go in with her and wasneither surprised nor offended, only relieved, when she saidshe would rather see Abbie alone. The image of the girl in herwhite gown was etched in his head and he doubted he couldbear the etching of another, of mother and daughter together.Instead, he went with Jim Pickering into the office along thecorridor to do the paperwork. There were documents to sign and details to be given forthe death certificate and forms to complete for the shipping ofthe body to New York. The only airline able to ship bodies outof Missoula was Northwest, which meant connecting through
Minneapolis. Jim Pickering had made the necessaryarrangements. Abbieâ€™s casket, he explained, would beplaced in something called an â€œair tray,â€ a box with aplywood bottom and a cardboard top. At dinner last night, Sarah had casually announced that herfather would be meeting them at La Guardia and that it mightbe better if Ben flew back to New Mexico from Minneapolis. â€œI was thinking Iâ€™d stay over in New York until thefuneral,â€ he said. â€œYou know, help arrange things, spendsome time with Joshie.â€ â€œWe can handle it.â€ â€œI know you can. Iâ€™d just like to be involved.â€ â€œPlease donâ€™t make an issue of this.â€ â€œIâ€™m not. Iâ€”â€ â€œThereâ€™s nothing that canâ€™t be sorted out byphone. Come if you want, I just canâ€™t face a scenebetween you and Daddy at the airport.â€ â€œI suppose itâ€™s okay if I come to the funeral?â€ â€œWhy do you have to be so hostile?â€ Ben narrowly avoided saying something he would regret.But he was getting tired of being bullied and excluded and onthis issue he wasnâ€™t going to give in. There was a job tobe done. And he wanted to see Josh; he had to see him. Anyfather would feel the same. â€œListen,â€ he said as steadily as he could.
â€œSheâ€™s my daughter too. And there wonâ€™t be ascene. I can handle your parents. Iâ€™ve done it for years. Iwant to come with you. Please.â€ She sighed and raised her eyebrows but that was the endof it. The paperwork was done now, but Sarah still hadnâ€™temerged from the viewing room, so Ben walked along to theroom where a selection of urns and caskets stood on display.As he wandered around inspecting them, it occurred to himthat perhaps he should have opted for something more lavishthan the plain wood casket. Even now, Sarah was probablythinking, yet again, that he had been cheap. The moresplendid ones cost around four thousand dollars. But theylooked so pretentious and too grown-up. No doubtsomewhere, he mused darkly, they had a special range for theyounger deceased. The only thing he liked was an ornatebronze urn sculpted like a mountain, with pine trees and threedeerâ€”an antlered male, a female, and a cute little fawn. Itwas kind of Disney, but much more like Abbie. But, of course,they werenâ€™t cremating her. â€œShall we go?â€ Sarah stood framed in the doorway, Jim Pickering hoveringdiscreetly behind her. She was wearing sunglasses, her faceas pale as her raincoat. Ben stepped toward her. He wantedto put his arms around her. It seemed the most natural thing inthe world. But she read his intention and with the smallestgesture of her hand signaled that he shouldnâ€™t. â€œAre you okay?â€ he asked stupidly.
â€œFine.â€ â€œI was just having a look here and wondering if weshould get a better casket,â€ he blundered on. â€œI mean, Ilike the plain one, but . . .â€ From behind her shades, she gave the room a quick,derisive scan. â€œThereâ€™s nothing here. Iâ€™ll get one at home.â€ÂÂÂThe plane took off on schedule into a clear blue sky. The rainhad stopped just as they arrived at the airport as though it hadbeen laid on only for their visit. From the windows of thedeparture lounge they had seen the wagon trundle Abbie outacross the damp asphalt to the plane where four young men,chatting all the while, lifted and stowed it. Now, as the plane banked and headed east, the forestskidding in vivid shades of sunlit green across the port-holes,Sarah thought of the body tilting coldly in its narrow casebelow her in the dark of the hold. The fact of herdaughterâ€™s death remained too vast to grasp and perhapsthat was why her mind kept flitting strangely to these lesserfacts, the circumstantial detail of the girlâ€™s unlivingpresence. Standing alone by the open casket at the funeral home, shehad been shocked, not at the sight of the body, so prettily, so
ridiculously prepared, but at her own sense of detachment.She had been expecting it to be the moment when the boltedfloodgates of her grief would at last open. But it had been likewatching herself in a movie or through thick plate glass,through which no emotion seemed able to pass. She had puton the sunglasses, which still she hadnâ€™t removed, notbecause her eyes were ravaged by tears but because theywerenâ€™t. She felt like an impostor. And that was probablywhy she had so cruelly shunned Benjaminâ€™s embraceafterward. She sawâ€”and not without pityâ€”how much it hurthim. Poor, wretched Benjamin. She took a sideways look at himnow, sitting across the aisle. The flight was less than half-fulland the seats had arms that could be hoisted out of the way.At Sarahâ€™s suggestion, to give themselves more space,they had each occupied an empty row. He was staring out atthe mountains, lost in thought. In his mournful way, he was stilla handsome man, though the longer hair made him seem tobe trying too hard to look young. He wasnâ€™t as gaunt asthe last time she had seen him and the extra weight suitedhim. She was glad she could assess him like this now, almostobjectively, without yearning for him to come back. Shedidnâ€™t really even hate him anymore. He must have felt her gaze, for he turned to look at her,cautiously. To mask her thoughts, Sarah smiled and, like awhipped dog sensing forgiveness, he smiled back. He got upfrom his seat and crossed the aisle to sit next to her. Sarahmoved her purse to make space. â€œWe just flew over the Divide,â€ he said. There was
more than one meaning to what he had said and he quicklytried to clarify. â€œI mean, the Continental Divide.â€ Sarah glanced briefly out of her window. â€œWell,â€ she said. â€œThe other Divide must besomewhere pretty close then.â€ â€œNo. Itâ€™s some way south and west of here.â€ â€œOh.â€ It was the place where it all began. Or began to end. TheDivide guest ranch where they had come summer aftersummer and had the best vacations of their lives. The placewhere Abbie had fallen in love with Montana and become sodetermined to go to college there. And where, six years butwhat now seemed like a lifetime ago, Benjamin had fallen inlove (or whatever it was) with Eve Kinsella and set about thedestruction of their marriage. For a while neither of them spoke. The flight attendant waswheeling a wagon of drinks and snacks toward them along theaisle. They both asked for water. The piped air of the cabinwas cold and smelled fake and antiseptic. â€œTalk to me,â€ he said quietly. â€œWhat?â€ â€œPlease, Sarah. Canâ€™t we just talk a little? AboutAbbie?â€ She shrugged. â€œIf you like. What is there to say?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. I just think that if we talked about it,we might be able to . . . give each other a little comfort, Isuppose.â€ â€œOh.â€ â€œSarah, you know, we mustnâ€™t blameourselvesâ€”â€ â€œBlame ourselves?â€ â€œNo, I donâ€™t meanâ€”â€ â€œBenjamin, I donâ€™t blame myself at all. Not at all.â€ â€œI know, I justâ€”â€ â€œI blame you. You and you alone . . .â€ She broke offand smiled. There was that woman too, of course. She couldsee in his eyes that he read the thought. â€œWell, maybe notquite alone.â€ â€œSarah, how can you say that?â€ â€œBecause itâ€™s true. Abbie didnâ€™t die becauseshe fell or jumped or got pushed off a cliff or whatever it was.She died, Benjamin, because of what you did to us all.â€
SIXThe Divide was a place that seemed to want to keep itselfsecret. It perched concealed at the head of a split andtortuous valley that descended to another far grander where ahighway followed the curves of the Yellowstone River. Besidethis highway, for those who could spot and decipher it, therewas a sign of sorts. But the gnarled cottonwood to which ithad long ago been nailed had all but consumed it and thewords now looked like a parasitic scarring of the bark. Somethirty yards on, a road of pale gravel branched away beside acreek and the only clue that it led anywhere was a battered tinmailbox. Lost Creek, whose course the gravel road followed, waswell named. In summer it ran dry or at best was barely a trickleand its banks were rife with chokecherry and willow scrub,their leaves layered with a white dust churned from the road.The water was plundered for the hay meadows that stretchedaway on either side and for cattle ponds farther upstreamwhere the land began to rise and the grassland filled withsage. Even with the snowmelt of spring, even in its highestreaches, Lost Creek never truly found itself. But its sibling,across the dividing spine of pine-clad rock that gave the ranchits name, was thirstier and flashier by far. Named for somelong-forgotten but doubtless ebullient pioneer, Millerâ€™sCreek brimmed and tumbled for five dramatic miles of
bouldered curves and waterfalls and swirling, trouty pools. It took fifteen minutes to drive up from the highway and onlyin the last half-mile did the ranch reveal itself. Just as thegradient seemed to be growing too steep and the forest toodarkly encroaching, the road broke abruptly from the trees intoa bowl of lush pasture where glossy quarter horses ambledand grazed and swished their languid tails at flies. Beyondthem, on higher ground and dustier, stood a cluster ofwhitewashed clapboard stables and a red sand arena andcorrals with bleached wood fences. And above all this,encircled by flower beds and lawns, the mountains rearinggrandly behind it, was the ranch house itself. The building was long and low and made of logs andfronted for its entire length by a deck some ten feet wide withtables and chairs where in the evening guests liked to gazeout over the treetops and watch the mountains on the eastside of the valley catch the last ocher glow of the lowering sun.The creeks divided behind the house and moated it on eitherside where both were simply bridged to oval meadows stolenfrom the forest. Along their perimeters, discreetly placedamong the ponderosa pines, were two tennis courts and aswimming pool and twenty log cabins, each with its ownporch. Montana had ritzier ranches, with finer cuisine and glitzierguests. But there were few, if any, so beautiful. The Dividedidnâ€™t advertise or tout for business for it had no need. Itsguests came by word of mouth and returned again and again.And thus it was with the Cooper family. For the last two weeksin June, they always took cabins six and eight. This was their
fourth visit and it would be their last, the vacation that wouldchange their lives forever. Today was Benâ€™s forty-sixth birthday and he wasdragged from his dreams into it by the most wretchedrendition of â€œHappy Birthdayâ€ he had ever heard. Hishead was clouded from too many beers and too little sleepand the out-of-tune singing entered it like a rusty corkscrew.He opened an eye to see Sarah smiling from the pillowbeside him. She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. â€œMorning, birthday boy,â€ she said. â€œSo thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re singing.â€ The sun coming through the red-and-white curtains cast aglaring checkerboard pattern on the bare wooden floor andacross Benâ€™s bare feet as he shuffled to the door, pullingon his bathrobe as he went. Abbie and Josh and a raggedchoir of conscripts were gathered in the meadow just belowthe cabin porch, and they cheered as he emerged, shieldinghis eyes against the sun. â€œOh, itâ€™s you guys,â€ he said. â€œI thought therewas a pack of sick coyotes out here.â€ â€œHappy birthday, Daddy,â€ Abbie called. She had mustered her friends and a couple of their favoriteranch hands. There were eight or nine of them, all grinning andwishing him a happy birthday and making smart remarksabout his age. Abbie came up the steps with Josh and theykissed him and handed him a big box wrapped in paperdecorated with little cattle brands. Sarah was out on the porch
too now, wrapped in her matching white bathrobe. She cameto stand between her two children and draped her armsaround their shoulders. They were all tanned and their hairtinted even blonder by the sun. Ben had never seen them soradiant, so golden. â€œItâ€™s kind of from all of us,â€ Abbie said. â€œWell, thank you. Do I get to open it now?â€ â€œOf course.â€ There was an envelope on top and he opened that first. Itwas one of those cards parents had to pretend to find funnierthan they truly did. It had a picture of a dinosaur skeleton onthe front and inside said Happy Birthday, You Old Fossil.Ben nodded and smiled. â€œThanks,â€ he said. â€œI love you too.â€ Inside the box was a fine Stetson made of beige felt. â€œWow, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™d call a hat.â€ He put it on. They cheered and whistled. It was a perfect fit. â€œGoes great with the bathrobe,â€ Abbie said. â€œHow did you know my size?â€ â€œWe just went for the biggest,â€ Josh said. Everyone laughed and Ben made as if to grab him but theboy dodged easily out of reach. â€œMr. Cooper?â€ Ty Hawkins, one of the ranch hands, stepped forward,
holding out a little package. Abbieâ€™s two best friends,Katie and Lane, were giggling behind him and had clearly puthim up to it. He was a mild-mannered young man with a shockof blond hair and the kind of rugged yet innocent good looksthat had weakened the knees of just about every female onthe ranch. Especially Abbie. She had made sure she was inhis riding group every day since the vacation began. â€œThe girls reckoned youâ€™d probably need this to gowith it.â€ Ben opened the package and pulled out a patterned leathercord, braided with horsehair. He knew what it was, butdidnâ€™t want to spoil the joke. â€œWhatâ€™s this for?â€ Ty smiled. â€œI think itâ€™s supposed to hold your haton.â€ â€œTheyâ€™re called sissy straps,â€ Katie trilled. Ben Cooperâ€™s birthday had become a ritual of theseranch vacations and while he considered himself a good sportand enjoyed the attention, he sometimes felt it unfair that hisnotching of years should be so routinely public. Last year theyhad given him a red toy Porsche in a box emblazoned with thewords Benâ€™s Menoporsche. Though he wasnâ€™t asneurotic about aging as some men he knew, he couldnâ€™tsay it was a process he relished: the way your bones creakedwhen you got out of bed and how your hair seemed to getbored of growing on your head and sprouted in your ears andnose instead. Yesterday in the shower he had discovered his
first gray pubic hair and he was trying not to see it assymbolic. â€œWe better be getting back to work,â€ Ty said. â€œAreyou riding this morning, Mr. Cooper?â€ â€œIf youâ€™ve got a horse man enough for this hat.â€ â€œWeâ€™ve got a stallion needs breaking, if thatâ€™sokay?â€ â€œNo problem. Saddle him up.â€ Benâ€™s riding was another family joke. He brought to it,as he did to most sports, more enthusiasm than skill. Abbie,who had ridden since she was six and had inherited hermotherâ€™s effortless elegance, said that on a stationaryhorse he looked like Clint Eastwood, but morphed, as soonas it moved, into Kermit the Frog. Ty and the other wrangler said they had better go startsaddling the horses for the ride and everyone else agreed tomeet at the ranch house in twenty minutes for breakfast. Benand Sarah lingered on the sunlit porch to watch the little crowddrift and disperse across the meadow. Lane and Katie were ragging Josh about something and hewas pretending to be mad but clearly lapping up the attention.It was good to see. In the past year the boyâ€™s hormoneshad gone into overdrive. He had started to shave and wasgrowing so fast he could hardly keep up with himself.Fortunately the clothes he liked to wear were mostly bigenough for two of him. Josh had always been the one Ben and Sarah worried
about. Perhaps it was simply the contrast with his sister, whohad every gift one could wish upon a child. Whereas Abbiehad so far breezed through life, her brother seemed to snaghimself at every turn of the trail. The very slouch of hisshoulders suggested how heavily the world weighed uponhim. He was a gentle soul and sweet-natured and had manyother fine qualities, but he lacked his sisterâ€™s naturalgrace and good looks. And though Ben would never haveadmitted it to anyone, for he knew the emotion to beinappropriate, the love he felt for the boy had always beentinged with something akin to pity. He had witnessed too manydisappointments, seen him reflect his own failure on thesuccess of others, watched him watching from the sidelineswhile peers, brighter or sportier, better-looking or simply moreextroverted, gathered the garlands. Ben suspected that Sarahfelt the same, but they had never been able to discuss itwithout it escalating into a row. She was fiercely defensiveand took as a personal slight any implication that her sonmight be less than perfect. Last summer Josh had been almost chronically shy withKatie and Lane. But judging by the way he was romping offacross the meadow with them now, that seemed to havechanged. And watching them, Ben dared to hope that thingsmight at last be falling into place for the boy. Children allseemed to have a particular age when they found their stride.Maybe, at last, this was Joshâ€™s. Katie gave him a shovenow and ran ahead with Lane, the two of them laughing andtaunting him and, like an overgrown Labrador puppy, Josh
rollicked off in pursuit. This left Abbie and Ty walking on their own. Unaware thatthey were being watched, they moved closer together. Nowshe leaned closer still to whisper something and he laughedand she tucked her thumb into the back pocket of hisWranglers. Ben and Sarah looked at each other. â€œLooks like our girl won the contest,â€ he said. â€œEver known her to lose?â€ â€œHe seems like a nice enough guy.â€ They stood watching, neither of them saying anything more,until all that remained in the meadow was a fan of footprints inthe dew, the chime of the girlsâ€™ voices fading on thewindless air of the morning. In the cabinâ€™s cramped, log-walled bathroom, whileSarah showered, Ben stood and shaved before the basinmirror wearing nothing but his new hat and a resolve thattoday things were going to be different between them. Be niceto her, he told himself. Stop being such a grouch and givingherâ€”and yourselfâ€”such a hard time. Forget how itâ€™sbeen for the past week and start over. â€œI canâ€™t get over Joshie,â€ Sarah said from behindthe glass. â€œWhat do you mean?â€ â€œThe way he is this year. How heâ€™s blossomed.â€ â€œYep. Amazing what getting laid can do for a fellow.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t mean it?â€ He didnâ€™t. He was just being mischievous. â€œWhy not?â€ â€œBenjamin, the boyâ€™s only fifteen years old, forheavenâ€™s sake.â€ â€œI know, some guys have all the luck.â€ He said it without thinking, without any conscious attempt toneedle her. But judging by her silence, that was precisely howshe had taken it. He tried to change the subject and didnâ€™tquite succeed. â€œHow serious is Abbie about this young cowboy?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know, but sheâ€™d better be careful shedoesnâ€™t get him fired. Theyâ€™re pretty strict about thatkind of thing here by all accounts.â€ â€œWhat kind of thing?â€ â€œYou know, consorting with the guests.â€ â€œConsorting?â€ â€œYou know what I mean.â€ She normally laughed when he teased her about hereuphemisms, but not today. The rush of water stopped and theshower door opened. He watched her in the mirror step outand reach for a towel, studiously avoiding any eye contact. At forty-two, she was still slim and firm-breasted and evenafter twenty years of marriage the sight of her naked body
rarely failed to stir him. Perhaps this was because his accessto it had always been so much less than his desire. Thingshad long been thus between them and her evasions of his lusthad grown deft and mechanical. As now, when he turned andstepped toward her and she briskly wrapped the towel aroundher so that by the time he reached her she was covered. Heheld her by the shoulders and she smiled defusingly andpecked him chastely on the lips. â€œThatâ€™s a really great hat.â€ â€œThank you, maâ€™am.â€ â€œDo you honestly think Josh and Katie are . . .â€ â€œConsorting? Of course.â€ â€œShouldnâ€™t we talk with him about it?â€ â€œSure, if we really want to embarrass him.â€ He was still holding her and tried to stem her defensive talkwith a kiss. â€œBenjamin, Iâ€™m serious.â€ â€œCan we talk about this later? Thereâ€™s another malemember of the Cooper family that needs a little attention.â€ He was aroused now and pressing himself against her. Sheglanced down and arched an eyebrow. â€œPrecisely which member are we talking about here?â€ â€œHim. Forget about me. This is entirely altruistic.â€ â€œLater. I want to give you your present.â€
â€œYouâ€™re the only present I want.â€ He held her closer and kissed her neck and she let him butstopped his hand when he tried to unhitch her towel. â€œLater.â€ He kissed her mouth. But she wasnâ€™t going to relent.She put her hands on his chest and gently fended him off. â€œBenjamin, weâ€™ll be late for breakfast.â€ He let go of her and turned away and saw himself in themirror, sullen and tumescent and suddenly fatuous in the hat.He took it off and spun it onto a chair. It was the same old thing. The same predictable cycle ofslight and sulk, of sexual rejection and injured pride that haddogged their marriage for almost as long as he couldremember. Despite knowing how things stood, he stillconcocted these foolish, romantic notions about how it mightbe different once they were on vacation together. It was as ifhe actually wanted to be disappointed. Sarah had disappeared into the bedroom and a fewmoments later, protectively robed, her hair wrapped in a towel,she came back with the gift, prettily wrapped and tied with ared ribbon. He was drying his face and pretended not to seeher. She had probably bought him a shirt and would probablyapologize for it and predict that he wouldnâ€™t like it. Heprobably wouldnâ€™t but would pretend, unconvincingly, thathe did. â€œIf you donâ€™t like it, theyâ€™re happy to changeit.â€
â€œOh, thank you.â€ He took it from her and put it down on the chair. â€œIâ€™ll open it later. Weâ€™ll be late for breakfast.â€ And with a sideways glance to gauge the impact of hisspite, he stepped into the shower and shut the door behindhim.They rode that morning to The Outlook. It was one of theirfavorite places, a high buttress of red rock that reared abovethe forest like the brow of some vast and noble warriorsurveying his domain. It was a long ride and steep in its firsttwisting miles up through the canyon. But after an hour the landleveled into high pasture and that was where they were now,crossing a wide and shallow valley where the horses liked torun before they stopped to rest and take water. The grass this year had grown long and lush with copiousspring rain and the horses had to hoist their heads as theyloped through it, parting it with their chests like warm-bloodedboats through an ocean of green. Including Sarah, there werenine riders and, as usual, she was last in line. Apart fromJesse, the ranch hand who was guiding them up front, shewas by far the best rider, but she liked to go last so that shecould stop whenever she liked without bothering anyone. And
that was what she was about to do now. Spangled in the grassshe had noticed some white and yellow flowers that shedidnâ€™t recognize. She wanted to pick a couple so that shecould take them back to the ranch and check them in her newedition of Plants of the Rocky Mountains. She mentally stored the names of plantsâ€”both theircommon and Latin namesâ€”in much the same way that shestored the names of books and writers. But this summer at theDivide, there was such hectic abundance, she couldnâ€™tlocate them all. Riding up through the canyon, she hadidentified arrow-leaved balsamroot, paintbrush, and shootingstar. But these she had just spotted were new to her. She letthe others lope ahead, slowed to a walk, and circled back. She and Benjamin were riding with the Delstock parentsand two women from Santa Fe who had arrived the previousevening. Abbie and Josh and all the kids were riding with Ty,making their way to The Outlook by a different route. TheDelstocks was Abbieâ€™s collective name for theBradstocks and the Delroys, the two families they had methere three years ago on what was for all of them a first visit.Their childrenâ€”in every case, a boy and a girl of roughlymatching agesâ€”had formed an immediate bond and so hadthe parents. They had reconvened every year since. The factthat for the other fifty weeks of the year, except for theoccasional phone call at Christmas or Thanksgiving, theymight as well have lived on different planets only seemed tointensify the friendship. Tom and Karen Bradstock were from Chicago and wereboth lawyers in private practice, though of very different kinds.
Karen represented the poor and oppressed, Tom their richoppressors or, as Karen put it, â€œassorted corporategangsters.â€ He had the salary and she the socialconscience and this was the subject of a perpetual warbetween them, waged in public with wit and mock outrage andthe support of anyone either could enlist. In almost every otherway, inasmuch as one could ever judge these things, theyseemed well matched. Both were big and loud and zestful,with a kind of mutual, almost brazen sensuality that Sarahsometimes found embarrassing. The Delroys, from Florida, were hipper, skinnier, andaltogether more mysterious. Phil (whom everyone, even hiswife, called Delroy) ran his own software company whoseprecise purpose nobody seemed able to establish, exceptthat it was â€œentertainment-oriented.â€ Tom Bradstockoften taunted him by saying this was a euphemism for porn,but Delroy would just give one of his inscrutable, black-eyedsmiles and let the mystery hang. He was tanned like a beachbum and tied his graying black hair in a ponytail. On his rightshoulder he had a tattoo of a Chinese symbol whosemeaning, again, he would never disclose. He had that laconic,laid-back sense of humor that some women seemed to findattractive, though not Sarah, who found it all a little toocontrived. Maya Delroy was an alternative healer. It had something todo with â€œkinetic focusâ€ but when she tried to explain whatthat meant, Sarahâ€™s attention always seemed to wander,which probably indicated that she was in need of a sessionherself. Maya was airy and lithe and wore a lot of red and
amber and yellow and early every morning laid a little rush maton the grass outside her cabin and did yoga. Most of thisqualified her to be the kind of woman that Sarah wouldnormally pay good money to avoid. But there was anundermining edge to Mayaâ€™s alternativeness, a sort ofscurrilous, self-mocking wit that redeemed her, almost asthough the whole spiritual image was one big put-on. Benjaminâ€™s theory was that the Bradstocks and theDelroys were so unalike that they probably wouldnâ€™t havebothered to get to know each other if it hadnâ€™t been forhim and Sarah bridging the divide between them. The factwas that none of the three couples had more than a few triflingthings in common and it was probably this very disparity,along with their childrenâ€™s complementary ages, thatmade their annual two-week friendship work. They had all ridden far ahead now and out of sight. The sunwas high and hot and there was barely a breeze to ruffle thegrass or shift the few floating cotton clouds from themountains. In search of perfect specimens, Sarah haddismounted. She took off her straw hat and tilted her face atthe sun and, shutting her eyes, tried to let the peace of theplace seep into her. All she could hear was the hum of insectsand the swish of the horseâ€™s tail and the chomp of histeeth on the sweet-stemmed fescue. Like all the others, hewas a quarter horse, a sturdy fourteen-year-old bay, namedRusty for his color. He wasnâ€™t the best ride on the ranchand because the head wrangler knew how well she rode, eachyear she was offered better. But the horse was brave and big-hearted and she would have no other.
nowadays, there was no such thing as just a cuddle. It alwayshad to lead to sex. And women didnâ€™t work that way. Atleast, she didnâ€™t. He hadnâ€™t always been like this, though the change hadbeen too gradual to pinpoint. For sure, he had always wantedmore sex than she felt able to give him. But wasnâ€™t that theway things were with most couples? Sarah had never beenthe kind of woman (though sheâ€™d often wished she were)who talked candidly about these things to friends, but she hadthe impression that most women felt the sameâ€”at least,after those first heady eighteen months or so when youcouldnâ€™t get enough of each other. Once passion hadgiven way to familiarity and then kids and the plain old routineof living, things changed. Sex became more of a comfort. That didnâ€™t mean she found it boring or that shecouldnâ€™t be stirred. There had been times, particularly inthe old days if they were away on their own somewhere, whentheir lovemaking had been thrilling. But back then, when thekids were much younger, he had been more patient, gentler,more understanding. Now, if she didnâ€™t switch onimmediately, she was made to feel cruel and cold andsexless. Perhaps this impatience was something that afflicted allmen when they reached middle age and saw their youthebbing away. Perhaps this first glimpse of their own mortalitymade them more demanding and desperate to provethemselves, made them interpret even the gentlest deflectionof desire as a dagger thrust at the heart of their manhood.
Whatever it was, Sarah resented it more and more. It wasso unjust. So disrespectful. And the routine that went with itwas almost unbearable. The sulking. The dark, broodingsilences. Were these supposed to make her feel moreinclined to make love with him? And the hypocrisy of it all. Forin publicâ€”in front of the children and the Delstocks, inparticularâ€”he was all sweetness and light. Only the othernight Abbie had been rhapsodizing about how lucky they wereto be such a happy family. The happiest family she knew, shehad boasted. Neither she nor anyone else had apparentlynoticed that her father had barely spoken a direct word toSarah in more than a week. And nobody, of course, saw how it was when they werealone, how he only ever broke the silence if he was luckyenough to have spotted something to criticize. Otherwise heshuttered himself off behind his newspaper or hisArchitectural Digestâ€”or that wretched biography of Le Cor-busier that heâ€™d been trying to read for the last sixmonthsâ€”and behaved as if she existed only in the coldest,most remote margins of his consciousness. Of course, Sarah knew she was actually at its very center.And she also knew that it made him seethe if she inhabitedher exile blithely, as if she had no inkling of his rage andresentment or simply didnâ€™t care. Perhaps, again, thiswas how it was with all marriages. Each partner found anappropriate weapon and learned how best to use it. His wasicy silence. Hersâ€”and she knew it was the morepotentâ€”was pretending not to notice. Anyway, this time Sarah had been determined to hold out
for as long as she could. She felt guilty about what hadhappened that morning. It was, after all, the poor manâ€™sbirthday and though he hadnâ€™t apologized (for he neverdid), it must have been hard for him to suspend his sulk likethat and come on to her when she stepped out of the shower.But the stubborn streak in her, that notorious Davenportobstinacy that had helped make her fatherâ€™s fortune, hadclicked in and told her not to succumb. All he wanted, after all,was to fuck her and why the hell should she let him after allthose days of being ignored? It would resolve itself, no doubt, as it always did. Eventually,the tension would become so unbearable that she wouldcrumble and cry and blame herself, telling him he ought to goout and find someone else, someone younger and sexier andmore normal. And she would sob and so, probably, would he.And they would have sex. And it would be tragic anddesperate and seismic. She could see the others now, way ahead across therippling grass. There was a stand of aspen where some weretaking shade while the others watered the horses in a rockypool of the stream below. The pale stems of the trees seemedalmost aglow against the hazed blue of the distant mountains. Tom Bradstock and Delroy were down with the horsestalking with Jesse and the two women from Santa Fe.Benjamin, wearing his new hat, was sitting in the shade,talking with Maya and Karen. Jesse saw Sarah and called outand the others turned to look and everyone waved. ExceptBenjamin, who just sat there and stared, as if assessing her,for such a long time that even at a distance she felt
disconcerted and self-conscious. She wondered what hethought of what he saw and whether he still loved her. For inspite of how he hurt her and punished her, she had no doubtabout her feelings for him. She loved him and always would.
SEVENTy and his band had been playing for almost an hour andAbbie still couldnâ€™t get over how awesome they were. Theplace was totally rocking. All the tables and chairs had beencleared in the big dining room, the band was at one end, thebar at the other, and everyone who could still stand wasdancingâ€”kids, parents, grandparents, not to mention thestaff. Nobody was dancing with anybody in particular, just withwhoever happened to be in front of them at the time. Eventhough all the doors and windows to the deck were wide open,the place felt like an oven and they were all drenched withsweat, but nobody seemed to care. The band was called Hell to Breakfast, a name Abbiedidnâ€™t quite get, but at least it was unusual. Their own stuffwas amazing, though tonight they had been playing mostlygoldies for the oldies, a lot of Rolling Stones and Beatles andEagles numbers. At the moment they were into a great versionof â€œBorn in the USA.â€ Abbie was dancing with LaneDelroy and her brother Ryan. He and Abbie had had a bit of athing going last summer but thank heaven he was over it andcool about it and they were now just good friends again.Everyone was laughing at Ryanâ€™s dad, Delroy, who Abbiesecretly found a little creepy. He was one of those guys whowas always putting his arm around you, not quite feeling youup but almost. Right now he was trying to coach KatieBradstock and her mom to do some funny kind of Africantribal dance.
Abbieâ€™s mom was dancing with Tom Bradstock, whohad this hilarious Blues Brothers shuffle going, while her dadwas into his Bruce Springsteen impression with Maya Delroy.A few years ago Abbie would have been mortified at the sightof her parents making such a spectacle of themselves, butnow she was proud of them. It was good to see them sohappy and having fun. And all the time her eyes kept coming back to Ty. He wasalmost too good to be true. Not only was he sweet andsensitive and looked like Brad Pitt (well, okay, at a distance, alittle), he also played the guitar and sang like some real liverock star you might see on MTV. The other day when he had casually mentioned that he andsome of his friends from college had a band and that, if shewanted, they could come and play at her dadâ€™s birthdayparty, Abbie hadnâ€™t expected anything remotely as goodas this. He looked gorgeous in his blue jeans and his whitepearl-buttoned shirt all patched with sweat. She was dancingfor him and felt his eyes upon her wherever in the room shemoved. Only five more days until it was time to go home. Shewas going to miss him badly. Especially after last night. Every evening after the last ride, the horses were turnedloose and a couple of the ranch hands would ride up behindthem to see them safely to the pasture. Yesterday it had beenTyâ€™s turn and on the flimsy pretext that his buddywasnâ€™t feeling too good, heâ€™d asked Abbie to ridewith him instead. It was the first season he had worked at TheDivide and from the moment they laid eyes on each other, it
had been obvious that there was a connection and that if theyallowed it, something might happen between them. For days Abbie had been going down to the stables to helphim with the horses and after a lot of talk and touching eachother as if by accident, two days ago, they had finally kissed.The problem was, there was scarcely a moment they could bealone together and for the sake of his job they had to bediscreet. Lane and Katie knew but nobody else. And eventhough Abbie suspected they were a little jealous, they hadcovered for her yesterday evening. The sight of the horses thundering up through thesagebrush, churning a cloud of red and sunlit dust behindthem, was awesome. They needed no herding and Abbie andTy just followed on. Once they were up in the pasture, they hadridden across to a low hill and lain together in the sweet-smelling grass below the trees and watched the horses grazetheir lengthening shadows. He was tender and more hesitantthan she had expected, almost shy. And though she had onlyonce made love before, with a boy from school at a partyearlier that year, she guessed that for Ty it was the first timeand surprised herself by taking the lead, helping him when hefumbled with the condom, telling him not to worry when hequickly came. It was a lot easier and better the second time. In the twilight as they dressed, they heard voices and,before they could pretend to be doing something moreinnocent, two figures appeared as if out of nowhere. It was thewomen from Santa Fe whose names, Abbie had laterdiscovered, were Lori and Eve. It was their first evening, andthey were hiking around, exploring. There was no doubt they
had seen her and Ty clearly enough to recognize them and tofigure out what they were up to, but they acted as if theyhadnâ€™t and without a word veered off and headed downtoward the ranch. On the ride that morning, when they reached The Outlook,Abbie was appalled to see the two women were there waitingwith her mom and dad and the Delstocks. â€œI guess Iâ€™d better start looking for another job,â€ Tysaid quietly as they climbed down from their horses. But if the women had spread the word, there was noindication. Of all the men, Katieâ€™s dad was the biggesttease and could always be counted on to blurt out anythingembarrassing. And it was he who took it upon himself tointroduce Eve and Lori to Ty and the kids, none of whom theyhad, supposedly, yet met. â€œAnd this is the lovely Princess Abbie,â€ TomBradstock said. The women smiled and said a warm hello and Abbie, nevernormally shy, nervously said hello back with just enough eyecontact to see that there was no hint of a knowing look. â€œAnd this is Ty, Montanaâ€™s best-looking cowboyheart-throb.â€ Ty shook their hands and only then, when there was still nobetraying look or smart remark from Katieâ€™s dad, didAbbie relax a little and begin to think they might have gottenaway with it.
Right now, watching him singing and playing his guitar, shewanted the whole world to know. Everyone was yelling the finalchorus of â€œBorn in the USAâ€ and it felt as if the roof wasabout to lift. When the music stopped there was a great cheerand Ty waited at the microphone, grinning and glistening withsweat, until he could be heard. â€œThank you very much,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re goingto take a break now. Some of you folks sure look as if youcould handle one too. That was just the warm-up. Weâ€™ll beback in a while and play some real rock and roll.â€ There was fruit punch at the bar but Abbie just wantedwater. Somebody handed her a bottle and she walked out tothe deck which had been prettily strung with tiny white lights. Itwas too crowded and noisy and she eased her way through tothe wide wooden steps that led down to the lawn. The low-angled lamps in the flower beds cast swaths of light acrossthe grass but Abbie chose to stand in the shadow between,enjoying the cool of the air on her flushed cheeks and of thegrass on her bare feet. She tilted back her head and finishedthe water in one long draft, staring up at the stars. Even as shelooked there was a falling star and an instant later another. â€œI hope you made two wishes.â€ She had thought she was alone and the voice startled her.For a moment she couldnâ€™t figure out who it was and thenshe saw Eve, smiling from the shadows. â€œOh, hi. But if you saw them too, I think we should getone each.â€
â€œOkay, itâ€™s a deal.â€ Eve shut her eyes and presented her smiling face to thesky. Since last evening Abbie had been too embarrassed totake more than a furtive glance at the woman. She wasprobably in her mid- to late thirties, tall and long-necked, andtonight she had her long, dark, wavy hair all bundled up in asilk scarf, the same sage green as her dress. There wassomething unusual about her face, with its slightly overlongnose and wide mouth. If not exactly beautiful, she was certainlystriking, especially now when she opened her eyes again.There was a stillness, a directness, about the way she lookedat you that Abbie found a little unnerving. â€œDid you make your wish?â€ â€œNot yet. Iâ€™ve got so many I donâ€™t know whichone to go for.â€ â€œHow wonderful to be young. As you get older they sortof whittle down and you end up wishing for the same thingevery time.â€ â€œYou mean, all the others come true?â€ â€œNo. Some do. But I think you just focus on the one thatmatters.â€ â€œThe one that can never come true.â€ Eve laughed. â€œMaybe thatâ€™s it.â€ Neither of them spoke for a few moments, just stared at thesky, waiting for another star to fall. Tom Bradstockâ€™s laughboomed out from the deck behind them.
â€œYouâ€™re from New York, right?â€ Eve said. â€œYes. Long Island.â€ â€œAre you at college?â€ â€œNext year.â€ â€œDo you know where yet?â€ â€œMy mom and dad are all set on Harvard.â€ â€œBut youâ€™re not.â€ â€œNo. I want to come to college out here.â€ â€œYou mean here in Montana?â€ â€œMaybe. Somewhere in the West anyhow. I so love it outhere. Colorado, Oregon, maybe. I donâ€™t know. Thing is,Iâ€™m really interested in wildlife and the environment andthat kind of stuff. And I want to be somewhere it hasnâ€™t allbeen destroyed. By the way, my mom and dad donâ€™t knowabout this yet, okay?â€ â€œDonâ€™t worry.â€ â€œAnd they donâ€™t know about, well . . .â€ â€œAbbie, Iâ€™m so sorry about what happened. Wewere just taking a look around. We had no ideaâ€”â€ â€œIt wasnâ€™t your fault. Only Iâ€™d be really grateful ifyouâ€”â€ â€œI promise, neither Lori nor I have breathed a word toanyone. Itâ€™s none of our business. Iâ€™m just sorry weembarrassed you.â€
â€œNo, Iâ€™m sorry.â€ â€œWell, why donâ€™t we both stop being sorry andforget it.â€ â€œOkay.â€ Because of what had happened, Abbie had been ready todislike the woman and was surprised to find how nice shewas. Ryan Delroy and Katieâ€™s brother, Will, had started aridiculous rumor that she and her friend Lori must belesbiansâ€”or, as Will would have it, with all his fatherâ€™spolitical correctness, â€œbeaver bumpersâ€â€”simplybecause they were on vacation together. â€œYouâ€™re from Santa Fe, right?â€ â€œThatâ€™s right. At least, thatâ€™s where I live now. Igrew up in California.â€ â€œAnd youâ€™re the painter and Lori owns the gallery,right?â€ â€œRight. Kind of handy, huh?â€ â€œWhat sort of stuff do you paint?â€ â€œHmm. Well, itâ€™s mostly figurative but not whatyouâ€™d call realistic. More psychological, exploratory. Iguess you could say I paint whatâ€™s going on in my life.Itâ€™s like therapy, but cheaper. Lately Iâ€™ve done a lot ofpaintings that are about my son.â€ â€œYou have a son?â€ â€œYes. Heâ€™s called Pablo and heâ€™s nearly two
and, of course, the most wonderful child that ever was born.â€ â€œSo where is he now?â€ â€œWith his father. We donâ€™t live together.â€ â€œOh. You must miss himâ€”Pablo, I mean.â€ â€œI do. But itâ€™s only a week and they always have alot of fun together. Look, another star! Did you see it?â€ â€œUh-huh.â€ â€œWell, itâ€™s yours. Iâ€™m already sorted.â€ â€œI bet I know what you wished.â€ â€œOh, really? Youâ€™re a mind reader too?â€ â€œNo. Itâ€™s just that my dad says, when youâ€™ve gotkids, all you ever wish for is that theyâ€™ll be healthy andhappy. And now I know youâ€™ve got a son. So, I betthatâ€™s what you wished.â€ â€œHealthy and happy sounds like two wishes.â€ â€œOkay, well, youâ€™d better have this one too.â€Ben was leaning against the wooden rail of the deck whereTom Bradstock was entertaining a small crowd with one of hisstories. Ben had gone to get some more drinks, so hadnâ€™tbeen there at the start, but it was about a rat that had taken up
residence in a house Tom and Karen lived in when their kidswere little. The exterminator had put poison down and a fewdays later, in the middle of the night, they heard strangesplashing noises coming from the kidsâ€™ bathroom. â€œSo I go in and look around and listen. Nothing. Then Ilift up the lid of the john and there he is, looking up at me. Therat. And heâ€™s big, you know, the size of a small dog.Iâ€™m not kidding. Well, okay, a very small dog. Apparentlythe poison makes them thirsty and thatâ€™s where heâ€™dgone for a drink. Anyway, I shut the lid and try to flush himaway, but when I open it again, there he is, still staring at me,all wet but clinging on for all heâ€™s got.â€ He twitched his nose in an impression of the rat andeveryone laughed. Almost everyone. Ben was standing next toKaren and he heard her sigh and when he looked at her shegave him a wry smile and shook her head. â€œGod,â€ she said quietly. â€œIf I had ten dollars forevery time Iâ€™ve had to listen to this story, Iâ€™d be awealthy woman.â€ â€œBy now Karen has come to see whatâ€™s going on.So I tell her . . .â€ Karen mouthed to Ben: â€œKaren, go get my toolbox.â€ â€œ. . . Karen, go get my toolbox.â€ Ben grinned. The story went on and, though a little long, itwas good and Tom told it well. Just as he was trying to kill therat with a claw hammer and it was squealing and squirmingaround, little Katie, four years old, came to the door all sleepy-
eyed and said she wanted to go pee-pee. She asked whather daddy was doing and he said, as if it was the most naturalthing in the world to be standing there stark naked with abloody hammer in his hand at three oâ€™clock in themorning, that the john was broken and he was just fixing it sosheâ€™d have to use Mommy and Daddyâ€™s bathroominstead. â€œI mean, if the poor kid had found a rat down the toilet orseen it all bloody and writhing, sheâ€™d never have wantedto go again, would she? Anorexic for the rest of her life. So.Karen takes her to do pee-pee and puts her back to bed whileI finish the job. Then I take the body downstairs and wrap it innewspaper and put it in the garbage, then wash all the bloodoff my hands and the hammer in the sink. Like a murderer,which, of course, is exactly what I now am. Then I go backupstairs and get into bed. And Iâ€™m lying there for the restof the night, wide-eyed, staring at the ceiling . . .â€ Karen turned to Ben again and wearily mouthed the punchline: â€œFeeling like Anthony Perkins in Psycho.â€ â€œ. . . like Anthony Perkins in Psycho.â€ The story went down well. Then Maya Delroy started tellingone about a close encounter she had once had with ascorpion but she didnâ€™t have Tomâ€™s gift and Bendidnâ€™t bother to listen. â€œIs it just men or do women tell the same stories overand over?â€ he asked Karen. â€œYou tell me.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think Sarah does it.â€ â€œI donâ€™t either.â€ â€œBut I probably do. Every guy has his party-piecestories.â€ â€œWell, there you go.â€ â€œSo why donâ€™t women?â€ â€œThey donâ€™t feel they have to impress everyone withhow witty and clever they are.â€ â€œAnd men do?â€ â€œOf course. All the time.â€ â€œSo, thereâ€™s Maya telling a story. Isnâ€™t she tryingto impress?â€ â€œNo. Sheâ€™s just telling a story.â€ Ben shook his head and smiled and took a swig from hisbottle of beer. Heâ€™d always liked Karen, her subversivehumor, the way anything and anyone were apparentlylegitimate targets. â€œHow long have you two been married?â€ he asked. â€œTwo hundred years this fall.â€ â€œGo on. You guys seem great together.â€ â€œWe are. Basically. But isnâ€™t marriage hell? I mean,who invented it? Two people having to put up with each otheryear in, year out, slowly boring each other to death. Thesnoring, the farting. I mean, really, weâ€™re supposed to be
this highly evolved, supersmart species, and thatâ€™s thebest deal we can come up with?â€ â€œI think itâ€™s supposed to free the mind for higherthings.â€ â€œWhat, marriage?â€ â€œYeah. Otherwise, weâ€™d spend all our creativeenergy chasing each other around.â€ â€œSounds okay to me.â€ Ben laughed. â€œNo, but seriously,â€ Karen went on. â€œWhatâ€™sthe point of marriage nowadays? I mean, the original ideawas that it kept men around longer. You know, to provide meatfor their kids and chase off the saber-toothed tigers. Butwomen can handle pretty much everything on their own now,even the tigers. Then thereâ€™s sex, I guess. Which was whyour parentsâ€™ generation got married. But then the pillcame along, so thatâ€™s that reason gone.â€ â€œThis sounds suspiciously more like an argumentagainst men than marriage.â€ â€œHell, no. Men are fine. Though now you come tomention it, maybe we donâ€™t need quite so many of you.You know, we could keep a few prime specimens in cages. Tokeep the species going and satisfy our carnal needs.â€ â€œSounds great.â€ â€œYou figure youâ€™d qualify?â€
â€œShall I impress you with one of my stories?â€ Karen touched his arm and laughed. Delroy was coming upthe steps from the lawn and joined the little crowd listening tohis wifeâ€™s scorpion story. He was all pink-eyed and smiley.One of the few things about which he made no secret was hisfondness for grass. Most evenings, after supper, he would slipquietly away into the trees for a smoke. The standing joke wasthat he was bird-spotting. Ben, who hadnâ€™t smoked pot oreven a cigarette since college, had lately felt anunaccountable urge to accompany him but had as yet beentoo shy to ask. â€œHey, Del,â€ Tom Bradstock called quietly. â€œSeeany three-toed woodpeckers out there tonight?â€ Delroy smiled. â€œA whole damn flock of them.â€ Maya was winding up her story. It didnâ€™t seem to haveanything resembling a punch line but no doubt there wassome deeper, more karmic message that Ben had missed.He hadnâ€™t really been listening. He had been thinkingabout what Karen had said and watching Sarah. She wasfarther along the deck, talking and laughing with Lane andKatie and a couple of the boys from the band. He had alwaysadmired, even faintly envied, the easy rapport she had withkids their age. Elegant as ever in her cream linen shift, herhair tucked neatly behind ears each studded with a singlepearl, she looked like sheâ€™d stepped out of a RalphLauren ad. Amused yet slightly aloof. Perfectly unattainable.Watching her, he felt curiously detached, almost as if he wasstudying a stranger. He became aware that Karen was
studying him. â€œSo, how are you?â€ she said. â€œMe? Terrific. Why?â€ â€œBecause youâ€™re so obviously not terrific.â€ â€œHow do you mean?â€ â€œThereâ€™s something different about you this year.You seem . . . I donâ€™t know. Preoccupied. A little sad,maybe.â€ Ben lifted his eyebrows and gave her a wary smile. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ Karen said. â€œItâ€™s none of mybusiness.â€ â€œNo, itâ€™s okay. But really, Iâ€™m fine. I guess workhasnâ€™t been that great for a couple of months. And I seemto have forgotten how to sleep.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that all about?â€ â€œNothing. Listen, honestly, Iâ€™m good. Hell, itâ€™smy birthday. Iâ€™m having a great time.â€ â€œWell, Ben, thatâ€™s just . . . great.â€ She looked away and took a drink and Ben felt mean forbeing so tight and defensive. But what could he have said?That he sensed his world sliding slowly away from under him?That he felt isolated and hollow and bereft and didnâ€™tknow why? There was no easy way to chat about these things.Not, anyway, with a woman who, despite the candor withwhich they all often talked during these two weeks each
summer, was hardly a close friend. In fact, he couldnâ€™timagine talking to anyone about it. And this was not becausehe had a fear of confiding but because he wouldnâ€™t knowwhere to start. Watching Abbie and Josh walk away across the meadowthat morning, he had shared their palpable joy. But the imagehad lodged in his head all day andâ€”in its contrast with whathad followedâ€”transmuted into something stark andsymbolic. Two happy young adults, striding off on their own,strong and confident, while their parents retreated to a spacethat was increasingly cold and empty of all but echoes.Playing the picture over and over again, like the trailer for amovie he didnâ€™t want to see, heâ€™d had a premonitionof profound loss. If he was honest with himself, it was all about Abbie.Although he would never have admitted it to anyone, she hadalways been his favorite, just as Josh was Sarahâ€™s.Perhaps that was how it always divided in foursomefamiliesâ€”father teamed with daughter, mother with son. Ithad certainly been that way when he was growing up. And withdamaging results, for his motherâ€™s blind adoration of himhad made her husband jealous, blighting their marriage anderecting a wall between father and son that neither of themhad ever been able to scale. Ben had always been determined that the sameshouldnâ€™t happen between him and Josh. And ithadnâ€™t. They got along fine. But though he loved the boydearly, it was a love of a different order from the love he felt forAbbie. She was the light that had for so long sustained him.
And now, as its beam swung outward and began to shine forthinto the world, he sensed the shadow encroaching. There was little logic to it, for he took genuine pride in hischildrenâ€™s burgeoning independence. He rememberedand sometimes liked to quote the words from KahlilGibranâ€™s The Prophet, which Martinâ€”his best friend andbusiness partner and Abbieâ€™s godfatherâ€”had read ather christening, about how parents should never feel theyowned their children. Rather, they should consider themselvesthe bows from which their sons and daughters were sent forthas living arrows. Ben believed this and believed, moreover,that it was right and should be so. But what no one ever toldyou was what happened to the bow once the arrows hadgone. Was that it? Was that all? Did it then just get propped ina corner of the closet to gather dust? The selfishness of the thought shocked him now and toextinguish it he gulped the rest of his beer and put the bottledown on a table. Karen had moved away and was talking withsomebody else. As he walked through the crowd along thedeck, faces turning and smiling at him and wishing him ahappy birthday, he saw Abbie coming up the steps. She waswearing blue jeans with a little pale pink top that showed herhips and tummy. She looked sensational. She saw him andcame to him and threw her arms around his neck and huggedhim. â€œWhatâ€™s that for?â€ Ben said. â€œNothing. You just looked like you needed it.â€ He held her away from him by her bare arms to inspect her.
She seemed to glow. â€œAre you having a good time?â€ he said. â€œThe best. Are you?â€ â€œOf course.â€ â€œWhy arenâ€™t you wearing your hat?â€ â€œI didnâ€™t want to make the other guys jealous.â€ â€œWhereâ€™s Mom?â€ â€œOver there, flirting with the band.â€ â€œArenâ€™t they amazing?â€ â€œNot bad. Except that lead singer.â€ â€œI know. Theyâ€™ve got to get rid of him.â€ She grinned and narrowed her eyes a little and he could tellshe was trying to figure out how much he might know. â€œTyâ€™s asked me if Iâ€™d like to go visit his ranch onThursday. Would that be okay?â€ â€œHeâ€™s got his own ranch? Well, that changeseverything.â€ â€œIt belongs to his parents. Thursdayâ€™s his day off.Itâ€™s in Wyoming, quite a long way, so weâ€™d have toleave Wednesday evening. Would you mind?â€ Ben shrugged. â€œI guess not. See what your momsays.â€ Abbie reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
â€œThanks, Daddy.â€ She went off to find Sarah. Ben turned to watch her go. â€œYou must be very proud of her.â€ He turned back and saw Eve standing in front of him,smiling. She had probably been there all the time he wastalking with Abbie. â€œIsnâ€™t it funny how you can always tell when theywa nt something? Yeah, well. As daughters go, I guesssheâ€™s not too bad. Youâ€™re Eve, right?â€ â€œAnd youâ€™re Benjamin.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve obviously been talking with my wife.Everybody else calls me Ben.â€ â€œBen.â€ He held out his hand and she shook it with a mocksolemnity, perhaps because they had already been introducedon the ride that morning. Attractive women often made him acta little gauche. Her hand felt cool. He had noticed her the moment she walked into the diningroom the previous evening. And though they hadnâ€™tspoken on the ride, he had spent a lot of time slyly watchingher. He had noted the slow, slightly sardonic smile, the lowvoice that wasnâ€™t quite a drawl, the unflinching way shefixed you with those dark eyes, as if she knew more about youthan you might wishâ€”which, given that sheâ€™d beentalking with Sarah, couldnâ€™t be discounted. â€œAbbie said you come here every summer.â€
â€œYes. This is our fourth visit. Probably time we wentsomeplace else.â€ â€œWhyâ€™s that?â€ â€œOh, I donâ€™t know. I guess I just mean itâ€™s goodto move on, do something different.â€ â€œThe kids all seem to love it.â€ â€œYeah. You wouldnâ€™t believe the hard time Abbiegave us the first year when we said weâ€™d booked into adude ranch. Sheâ€™s always been an outdoors kind of kidbut she was going through that phase when all girls seem towant to do is hang out at the mall. All her friends were goingon vacation to Europe or Hollywood or Miami and she wasgoing to a dude ranch? I can remember her sulking in thebackseat as we came up the drive, saying, Wow look, a cow , .Wow look, another cowâ€ , . Eve laughed. â€œShe saw the light, obviously.â€ â€œIt took about five minutes.â€ There was a short pause. They smiled at each other, and herealized he was staring too intently at her mouth. â€œCan I get you a drink?â€ he said. â€œNo, Iâ€™m fine, thank you. But go ahead if you . . .â€ â€œNo. Iâ€™m fine too.â€ They stood there for a few moments while Ben scanned forsomething to say. Everyone except them seemed to belaughing and talking. Eve was looking around as if she wanted
to escape, then looked back and caught him staring at her. â€œSarah told me youâ€™re an architect. Do you designhouses or . . . ?â€ â€œSometimes. Not as often as Iâ€™d like. My partnergets to do most of the exciting stuff. I look after the boringbusiness stuff, chase people who owe us money, that sort ofthing. I do the occasional remodeling job to keep my hand in.And a new build every now and then. Iâ€™ve been working onone lately, as a matter of fact.â€ â€œWhat is it?â€ â€œOh, just a little housing development. Out in theHamptons.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t think anyone did â€˜littleâ€™ in theHamptons.â€ â€œWell, strictly speaking itâ€™s not quite the Hamptons.And the problem is, itâ€™s not little enough. Itâ€™s a smallplot, really pretty. Lots of trees, perfect for a couple ofmedium-size houses. But the developers now want to get ridof all the trees, double the number of houses, and make themtwice as big. Itâ€™d be just another ridiculous bunch ofMcMansions.â€ â€œMcMansions. I like that.â€ â€œYou havenâ€™t heard that before? Theyâ€™reeverywhere now. Actually, what these guys wanted was moreGarage-Mahal.â€ She laughed.
â€œAnyhow, it probably isnâ€™t going to happen. At least,not with me. There was this colossal fight just before we cameout here. I walked out of a meeting. You know, the primadonna architect. Just got up and left. Never done it before inmy life, but Iâ€™m definitely going to do it a lot more.â€ â€œIt felt good?â€ â€œIt felt wonderful.â€ â€œSarah told me you designed your own house.â€ â€œUh-huh.â€ â€œTell me about it.â€ Why she should be interested, he couldnâ€™t imagine. Hewondered for a moment if he was being patronized. â€œWell, you know that amazing Frank Gehry building inBilbao?â€ She nodded eagerly. â€œThe Guggenheim Museum?â€â€œWell, itâ€™s absolutely nothing like that.â€ She laughed again and it seemed real. God, he felt witty. â€œItâ€™s tiered and white and has a big lawn in front witha wonderful Korean dogwood and a looped brick driveway.Itâ€™s got oak and limestone floors and a ridiculously over-the-top, kind of Audrey Hepburn sweep-down staircase, whichwas really just to impress my parents-in-lawâ€”â€ â€œDid it?â€ â€œNot at all. And a big studio for me out the back withslatted shutters I can close and fall asleep or watch TV without
anyone catching me. And the garage is tucked away andcovered with Virginia creeper so nobody can call it a Garage-Mahal.â€ â€œIt sounds beautiful.â€ â€œOh no. Itâ€™s a Frank Lloyd Wright rip-off, built on thecheap in the wrong place and Iâ€™d love to tear it down andstart again. But itâ€™s home and it kind of works.â€ There was a loud blast of feedback from the sound systeminside and then Tyâ€™s mellow voice at the microphone,inviting everybody to roll up their sleeves and get back on thedance floor. Ben was about to ask Eve if she wanted to dancewhen someone grabbed him from behind by the elbows. Heturned and saw that it was Sarah. â€œCome on, birthday boy. You havenâ€™t danced withme all evening.â€ â€œI couldnâ€™t get past all those young cowboys.â€ â€œWell, buddy, nowâ€™s your chance.â€ She rarely drank and never too much, but her cheeks wereflushed and the exuberance seemed slightly strained. Sheturned to Eve and gave her a conspiratorial smile that Benfound puzzling. â€œWill you excuse us?â€ â€œOf course.â€ â€œI hear you play tennis. Shall we play tomorrow?â€ â€œIâ€™d love to.â€
â€œGood.â€ Sarah hauled him by the hand toward the doorway to thedining room and just as he was about to follow her in, heturned and saw Eve still watching them. She smiled and hesmiled back. And in that fleeting connection somethinghappened inside him. It was only much later that he wouldcome to acknowledge it for what it was and even then hewould hesitate to give it so facile or slippery or grand a title asfalling in love. But he knew it was a change, like the unlockingof a door or a footfall in an empty house. The band began to play a tune he didnâ€™t know. Sarahled him to the dance floor and said something to him that gotdrowned in the music. He put his head close to hers. â€œWhat was that?â€ â€œI said, sheâ€™s lovely.â€ â€œWho?â€ â€œEve.â€ Heâ€™d known exactly who she meant. It was his firstdeception. He nodded and shrugged, as if he hadnâ€™t untilnow considered it. â€œYeah,â€ he said. â€œShe seems nice.â€ Later, in bed, the lights out and his back turned in defensiverejection, he felt Sarahâ€™s fingers brush the hairs at thebase of his spine then stroke slowly upward to the nape of hisneck. And he lay still and cold as marble and, even as his loinsstirred, he cruelly considered ignoring her. Reject the rejector,
show her how it felt. He had done it often before and eventhough he knew it punished him as much as her and wouldonly prolong their mutual suffering, giving them another night,another day, another week of cold resentment, he nearly did itnow again. But he didnâ€™t. Instead he turned and reached for herand found her, naked and cool and tentative. He held her for awhile, the way he always held her, and she lifted her thigh, asshe always did, and placed it across his. The ritual, the feel,the smell of her so utterly familiar, the slow quickening of herflesh that never failed to thrill him. But then, as if with some new resolve, she hoisted herselfupon him and lowered her head and kissed him deeply,shockingly, her hair curtaining their faces. He angled his hipsand slid himself into her and she leaned back until it bent himand hurt him and he cried out and had to grasp her hips tostop her. There was an urgency in her that he had neverbefore known and that, were it not for its melancholy undertow,he might have taken for plain desire. In the darkness above him he could just discern her slendershape, her breasts a parchment gray, nippled in charcoal, herribs beneath like rippled sand. Her face was in shadow but hesaw the glint of her eyes and it startled him, for whenever theymade love she kept them shut, as if unwilling to witnessherself so wanton. They came quickly and together and she called out in avoice so low and feral he didnâ€™t recognize it. Then shewent very still. For a long time she didnâ€™t move, just sat
like a sculpture upon him, while their breathing slowed andfaded and the silence folded in around them. Her head wastilted back so he could no longer see her face, only thesilhouette of her chin and the pale fall of her neck andshoulders. Then she quaked and it was so violent and abruptthat for a moment he mistook it for some final spasm of hercoming. But she was weeping. He reached up and laid a handon her shoulder. â€œWhat is it?â€ She shook her head and seemed unable to find her voice.He raised himself on his elbows and as he did so sheswiveled her body away. â€œSweetheart? What is it?â€ â€œNothing,â€ she whispered. He gently rolled her onto her side and tried to cradle her.And she started to sob. She had her arms tightly crossed,hugging herself, as if to stifle whatever private agony it wasthat came welling from her, convulsing her entire body. Benhad never heard a sound so dreadful. â€œTell me,â€ he said. â€œPlease, tell me.â€ â€œItâ€™s nothing.â€
EIGHTThey loped the horses through the sage and up a low bluffgashed red along its side where the rock had crumbled withthe wind and rain. From the brow Abbie could see the glint ofthe river through the cottonwoods that lined its banks and seetheir jetsam of fluff drifting slowly on the hot noon air. Theystood the horses awhile, Ty on her right and his father on herleft, and watched the shadows of the clouds pass like ships ofdoubt across the pasture below and the billowed landscapebeyond. Tyâ€™s father pointed east to where the riverdisappeared behind a distant shoulder of rock and said thatthis was where their land ended and their neighborâ€™sbegan. â€œAnd what mountains are those?â€ Abbie asked. â€œThe Bighorn. And, farther north, the Rosebud.â€ â€œItâ€™s so beautiful.â€ â€œIt is.â€ â€œHow long have you lived here?â€ â€œThree generations. Tyâ€™s will be the fourth.â€ He seemed about to say more but then to reconsider andinstead just rubbed his chin and stared in silence out acrossthe land. High beyond the sparkling breaks of the river a greatbird was spiraling slowly upward in a thermal, calling as if inlament at some great loss. Abbie asked what it was and Ty
said it was a golden eagle and that she was lucky, for theywerenâ€™t often to be seen hereabout. She already felt lucky.Earlier, riding higher in the hills, up where the forest began,they had seen a moose and some bighorn sheep and a blackbear hustling her cub into the trees. â€œLetâ€™s go find those colts,â€ Tyâ€™s father said. He nudged his horse forward and Abbie followed the swishof the gray mareâ€™s tail down through the boulders and thesage with Ty behind her. They had saddled her a smart baygelding, his flanks now slick with sweat. Ty was riding a youngstrawberry roan he had started himself. They rode, all three,not with bits but with hackamores, a way Abbie had neverridden before. Never had she found a horse so easy yet soalive and utterly in tune. They were in a different league fromthose at The Divide, but then breeding and raising suchhorses was how Tyâ€™s father made his living. A RayHawkins quarter horse, she later discovered, would alwaysfetch a premium. Ray was probably about the same age as her father, Abbiefigured, though too much weather had leathered his skin andmade him look older. His eyes were the same pale blue asTyâ€™s and when he smiled they all but vanished in thefurrows of his face. He had that same quiet serenity shesometimes saw in Ty when he was concentrating on his work.In fact, so did Tyâ€™s mother and the horses and dogs andjust about every living creature on the ranch. It was just a littlebit spooky, as if they were in on some special secret. Maybe itwas simply from living in such a wondrous place.
It had been a long drive the previous evening from TheDivide. In Tyâ€™s old pale-green pickup, with the loweringsun behind them turning the plains and mountain peaks togold, they had trundled east for hours along the interstate, pastBillings and Hardin and Little Bighorn, then south and over thestate line into Wyoming and the Powder River Basin. Theytalked a lot but were comfortable enough with each other bynow to be silent too. Ty played her some of his favorite music,obscure country bands that Abbie had never heard of. Shecurled up beside him and slept and when she woke they werein Sheridan, bumping across the railroad and past an oldsteam engine, proudly parked beside it. The Hawkins ranch sat in a cleft of hills some five miles outof town and was reached by a tortuous network of gravel road.It was dark when they got there and so it wasnâ€™t untilmorning that Abbie got to see what a spectacular setting itwas. Tyâ€™s parents had waited up to greet them and thoughAbbie would rather have gone straight to bed, they insisted onserving an epic supper of cold ham and turkey, coleslaw, andbaked potatoes, followed by blueberry pie and ice cream, allof which Ty devoured as if heâ€™d been starved for weeks.And all the while, Ray and Martha, who had eaten earlier, satby and watched and smiled and sipped their mugs of hot milk,saying barely a word, just listening as their son recountedbetween mouthfuls what had been going on at The Divide. He was their only child and the pride shone from them. Hismother looked like one of those Scandinavian women Abbierecalled from photographs of the early pioneers, freckled andblond and buttoned to the neck, women who could with equal
resolve and dexterity embroider a sampler or shoot a coyotebetween the eyes at fifty yards. The colts they were now going to see had been turnedloose in the last of the linked meadows that fringed the river.There were a dozen of them, and they lifted their heads andpricked their ears and watched while the three riders camecloser. When he was still a hundred yards away, Ray stoppedand left his horse to graze and went on foot toward them. Thecolts lowered their heads and shambled to meet him like agang of blissed-out teenagers. Ray stopped and let them come and when they reachedhim they circled around and nuzzled him and he stroked theirnecks and muzzles and rubbed their backs and spoke tothem. He called to Abbie to come and both she and Ty got offtheir horses and joined him. And though a little shier with herthan with Ty and his father, they let her put her hands on themand blow into their noses and savor their warm, sweet breath. Back at the house over lunch, another sumptuous spread ofcold meats and salad and home-baked bread, Abbiedeclared that she had never seen such a heavenly place in allher life. Tyâ€™s father smiled and nodded but his wife,pouring Abbie some more water, sighed and shrugged. â€œIt is now,â€ she said. â€œHow long itâ€™ll stay thatway is another matter.â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Abbie said. Martha looked at Ray, as if asking his permission to go on.He didnâ€™t seem too keen. Ty looked as puzzled as Abbie
was. â€œWhat is it?â€ he said. â€œYour momâ€™s just talking about the drilling,thatâ€™s all.â€ â€œWhy, whatâ€™s happened?â€ â€œItâ€™s nothing. It wonâ€™t happen.â€ â€œFor heavenâ€™s sake, Ray. Tell him about theletter.â€ â€œWhat letter?â€ Ty said. Abbie felt that she was intruding on some private familymatter and wondered if she ought to excuse herself andpretend she wanted to go to the bathroom. Tyâ€™s fathersighed and when he spoke it was to Abbie. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of drilling going on around here.â€ â€œFor oil?â€ â€œGas. Coalbed methane. The land around here is full ofit, all across the Powder River Basin. The gas gets trapped inthe coal seams. Nobody bothered too much with it until fairlyrecently. But now theyâ€™ve found this real cheap way ofdrilling for it.â€ â€œYouâ€™re not going to drill for it here?â€ Abbie said. Ray gave a rueful laugh. â€œNo, Abbie, weâ€™re not. And even if we wanted to, wecouldnâ€™t. Like most ranchers around these parts, when my
granddaddy bought this land, the government only sold himthe surface rights. They kept the mineral rights themselvesand lately theyâ€™ve been leasing them off. We just found outsomebody leased our land.â€ â€œShow Ty the letter,â€ Martha said. â€œNot now.â€ â€œRay, heâ€™s got a right toâ€”â€ â€œMom, itâ€™s okay. Iâ€™ll read it later. Who bought thelease?â€ â€œSome little outfit in Denver.â€ â€œAnd what do they plan on doing?â€ Tyâ€™s father shrugged. â€œI guess weâ€™ll find out nextweek. Theyâ€™re sending a team to check things out.â€ â€œDonâ€™t let them.â€ â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve been telling him,â€ Tyâ€™smother said. Ray smiled. â€œYou canâ€™t stop them. The lawâ€™s ontheir side. They can drive around, dig, drill, do whatever theylike. They give you a so-called â€˜surface damageagreement, â€™ which everybody around here knowsisnâ€™t worth the paper itâ€™s written on. But if wedonâ€™t sign it, they can just go ahead anyhow.â€ â€œThatâ€™s terrible,â€ Abbie said. â€œIt probably wonâ€™t come to much. A lot of these folksjust buy the lease then just sit on it and donâ€™t do a thing.â€
He didnâ€™t sound as if heâ€™d even convinced himselfof this but he changed the subject and asked Abbie what itwas like living in New York. She said it was okay and that sheused to like it more than she did now. The problem was, themore time she spent out West, where there was so muchspace, the harder it was to go home. â€œTy says you want to go to college out here,â€ Marthasaid. â€œDefinitely.â€ â€œThatâ€™s great. How do your mom and dad feelabout that?â€ â€œI havenâ€™t told them yet. I think my dadâ€™ll beokay with it.â€ â€œWell, Iâ€™ll tell you something, young lady,â€ Raysaid. â€œThe way you handle a horse, Iâ€™d say itâ€™swhere you belong.â€ It was the middle of the afternoon when they set off back toThe Divide. As they drove out of Sheridan, Ty said he wantedto show her something and turned off the highway onto awinding gravel road. Ahead of them a great cloud of red dustrose into the sky and as they came around a bend they sawtwo giant yellow excavators hacking a crater into the hillside. â€œTheyâ€™re digging a pit for the water,â€ Ty said.â€œWhen they drill into the coal seam, it releases this hugeamount of water. Which youâ€™d think, in a place as dry asthis, would be a good thing. But itâ€™s salt water and whereit floods onto the land nothing can grow. Kills everything. See
down yonder?â€ He pointed down into the valley. â€œThose white patches there, down by the creek?Thatâ€™s salt. Those were prime hay meadows, about ahundred acres. Friend of my daddy owns them. Nowtheyâ€™re good for nothing. Used to be good trout fishingthere too, but now thereâ€™s not a single fish. All died. Thegas companies line these big holes with plastic, liketheyâ€™re doing here. But they leak and spill, and theydonâ€™t fix them because, basically, they donâ€™t give adamn.â€ They drove on and every so often Ty would point things outto herâ€”wellheads, compressor stations, power-andpipelines, dirt roads gashed across the virgin landscape.They crossed over and down into another valley and stoppedby a low wooden bridge where the water of another creekbubbled with methane released by the drilling. Ty told her howa friend of his had put a match to it one day and set the wholecreek ablaze. In other places, like the deserted ranch house he showedher on the way back to the highway, artesian wells that hadfunctioned happily for forty years had suddenly started tobubble gas or run dry because some idiot gas drillers hadruptured the aquifer five miles away. â€œCanâ€™t anyone stop these people doing this?â€ â€œNo. Thereâ€™s a pretty good protest group, but theproblem is a lot of people think the drilling benefits the town.
Creates jobs, brings business to the stores, that kind of deal.And thatâ€™s bullshit. Often as not the companies ship intheir own cheap labor and all the town gets is a whole lot ofproblems.â€ â€œIs this going on in Montana too?â€ â€œNot yet. But it wonâ€™t be long.â€ They didnâ€™t talk much after that. They headed north andwest along I-90, while Steve Earle sang sorrowful songs onthe stereo and a pale sun slid down ahead of them into itsown coalbed of cloud. Ty said the weather looked set tochange. Abbie had never seen him so heavy and forlorn. Heswitched on the headlights and she reached out and strokedthe back of his neck. â€œTwo more days,â€ he said. â€œAnd then youâ€™ll begone.â€ A first few drops of rain spattered the windshield. â€œIâ€™ll be back,â€ she said.ÂÂÂIt rained all of Friday and most of Saturday, and only astalwart, slickered fewâ€”Abbie inevitably amongthemâ€”ventured out on the last rides. Of the guests whodidnâ€™t, the hardiest still plodded in their Gore-Tex down tothe creek to cast a fly or hiked up the sodden trails through thewoods, but mostly people simply sat around and read or
played long games of Monopoly and Scrabble in the ranch-house lounge. While Abbie went riding or hung around the stablesâ€œhelpingâ€ Ty, Josh hung with the Delstock kids. Thismainly involved lolling in one of their cabins (usually Lane andRyan Delroyâ€™s because their parents didnâ€™t getuptight about the mess), listening to music and havingsprawling, sardonic discussions on topics that seguedsurreally from world peace to thrash metal to nose rings andnail polish. Specifically, Josh lolled as often and as close ashe could to Katie Bradstock. Which was what he was doingright now. Over the course of the past twelve days, he had stirredhimself up into a fever of yearning. There wasnâ€™t amoment of the day when his head wasnâ€™t full of her. Shehummed and jangled through every nerve and vein of his body.The sight, the smell, even the thought of her gave him astrange, hollowing ache. He was an open walking wound fromhead to toe. A walking wound with a constant hard-on. Soconstant he worried it might be doing him damage. Part of the problem was that heâ€™d been waiting too longfor something like this to happen. At school it seemed likeevery other kid his age (and younger) was getting laid, excepthim. He knew he was nobodyâ€™s idea of a pinup but sincelast fall when heâ€™d gotten rid of his glasses and startedwearing contacts and shed a few pounds and gotten a littlecooler with his clothes, he didnâ€™t think he looked so nerdy.And, thank God, he didnâ€™t get too many zitsâ€”though,come to think of it, that didnâ€™t seem to stop guys like
Kevin Simpson, a complete duh-brain in tenth grade, fromgetting laid. Of course, Josh wasnâ€™t so dumb as to believe all thestories that jerks like Kevin put out. A lot of kids pretendedtheyâ€™d done it when they hadnâ€™t. Whatever. This thingwith Katie was doing his head in. The vacation was about toend and they still hadnâ€™t even kissed. He was pretty sureshe wanted things to happen as much as he did. And a coupleof times it almost had. Like the other night at his dadâ€™sbirthday party, when they were dancing together and Tyâ€™sband started playing a slow number and she locked her armsaround the back of his neck and smiled at him in a way thatmade him go all fluttery inside. And then Lane and Abbiecame butting in and ruined things by dancing with them. That was the real problem. They were all such a gang andalways did everything together. Which was really cool and a lotof fun. But the downside was that there was hardly ever amoment when it was just he and Katie, just the two of themalone, when they might get to switch from being just friendsinto something more exciting. They had laughed and teasedand talked and chased each other around and even tickledeach other. But that was where it had gotten stuck. Like ascratched record. And neither of them seemed to know whichbutton to press to move it on. It was Saturday afternoon and all six brothers andsistersâ€”including Abbie, back from the stables with straw inher hairâ€”were sprawled on the shunted-together beds ofLane and Ryanâ€™s cabin. They were listening to the new
Radiohead album, which Ryan said was â€œultimate.â€ Joshsecretly felt that if he heard it one more time he might have togo out and hang himself. The room smelled of stale socks andcigarette smoke, which they did their best to eliminate bykeeping the back windows open and releasing periodic blastsof Laneâ€™s Calvin Klein body spray for which they hadpromised to reimburse her, though probably wouldnâ€™t. WillBradstock said it made the place smell like a Turkish brotheland seemed disappointed when nobody bothered to ask howhe might know. They were all either too bored or too wastedfrom the night before when theyâ€™d snuck up behind thepool changing rooms and smoked the weed Ryan had stolenfrom his fatherâ€™s stash. All except Josh. He was neither bored nor wasted. He wastoo busy thinking about his right thigh which for the last tenblissful minutes had been pressed against Katie. She waslying curled on her side with her back to him, raised on oneelbow, her gorgeous butt nestled into him and a bare shoulderleaning gently against his chest. She was reading an old copyof People magazine that was propped against Ryan who hadfallen asleep across Abbie. Or maybe she was just pretendingto read it because she hadnâ€™t yet turned a page. Katie was wearing that sexy little yellow crop top and adenim miniskirt cut low around her hips to reveal six inches oftanned flesh. Sometimes, when she wiggled, you could alsosee the top of her panties, which were pink and lacy. Josh waspretending to read the magazine over her shoulder while infact peering furtively down his nose into the gaping neck of hertop where he could see her right breast bulge a little as it got
cupped by her bra (which was also pink but seemed to bemade of satin rather than lace). Her nearness, the pressure ofher butt against his thigh, the sweet, warm, animal smell of herhad given him a mega-boner, which, with a discreetly placedright hand, he was managing to flatten to his stomach. The place where his thigh touched her butt was getting hot.She could have moved away but she hadnâ€™t. There wasno way she could be unaware of it. She was probably enjoyingit as much as he was. Man, he thought. Maybe this was themoment. The moment to show her how he really felt. His heart began to pound. He hoped to God shecouldnâ€™t hear or feel it. Go on, he told himself. Itâ€™s theguy who has to make the first move. Sheâ€™s probably beenwaiting for it, dying for you to let her know how much you wanther. And there was an obvious and simple way that wouldleave her no room for doubt. He took a long, deep breath andslowly slid the restraining hand from his stomach so that hishard-on pronged against her. Katie Bradstock jumped as if sheâ€™d been jabbed by acattle prod. She lifted a clear six inches from the bed. â€œJosh!â€ she yelped. â€œJesus!â€ Everybody was staring at him. He felt his face starting toburn. â€œWhat?â€ he said, trying for a tone of innocent shockand failing. â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ Abbie said, for all of them. Katie was scrambling away across the bed, on her hands
and knees over the tangle of startled bodies. â€œNothing,â€ she said. â€œI just gotta gosomewhere.â€ She was off the bed now and hurrying to thedoor and a few seconds later she was gone. There followed along and bemused silence. Everyone was awake and alertnow and looking at each other for some clue as to what hadhappened. Josh tried to look mystified, while his brain scrolledfuriously for some half-plausible excuse. Bugs, he thought. â€œMaybe she got bitten.â€ He got to his knees, stupidly forgetting about his erectionwhich was wilting fast but still tenting his shorts. He instantlyand no doubt comically adopted a weird hunched posture tohide it, while he pretended to hunt for bugs among therumpled bedclothes. On the stereo Radiohead were comingto a suicidal crescendo. Abbie and Lane were already on theirway out of the door in pursuit of Katie. Will and Ryan just satthere staring at him. â€œWhat was that about?â€ Will said. â€œNo idea. I think she got stung or something . . .â€ Ryanâ€™s eyes flicked languidly to Joshâ€™s crotch thenback to his eyes, a slow grin sliding in. â€œYeah, right,â€ he said. â€œI wonder what by.â€ÂÂ
ÂBen swung the last of the bags into the back of the rentedtruck and shut the tailgate. They had an earlier flight to catchthan all the others who were checking out that morning andeveryone had trooped down across the lawn to the parkingarea behind the stables to see them off. The ritual fondfarewells were in full swing. Abbie and Katie and Lane, allclose to tears, were hugging and kissing and making oneanother promise to call and e-mail. Their brothers were doingthe more reserved and awkward male version of the samething, calling each other bro and man and dude and sharingelaborate handshakes and slaps on the back. Their mothers meanwhile were again going through thatother annual ritual of promising to visit with one another. Benheard Sarah say that this year they would definitely be visitingthe Delroys in Florida. Maybe they could all escape thegrandparents and meet up for Thanksgiving? And go skiingsomewhere in February? None of this, of course, would everhappen and they all secretly knew it. The mutual pretensesimply made everybody feel better about parting. It was a ritual in which, for reasons Ben didnâ€™t fullyunderstand, the men never seemed to take part. Perhaps theywere just too cynical. Instead, he and Tom Bradstock andDelroy were standing by the truck, looking on indulgently anddiscussing more manly and important matters, like check-insecurity procedure and how many air miles they had eachclocked up. Tom had now started telling them about a snifferdog that had taken a shine to him at Chicago Oâ€™Hare and
headed straight for him every time he stepped into thebaggage hall. â€œI try to explain to the handlers that weâ€™re just goodfriends, but they donâ€™t believe me and haul me off to thebooth for another search.â€ Ben listened just enough to be able to laugh in the rightplaces. He was watching Josh and again feeling sorry for him.The boy had missed dinner the previous evening, claiming hewasnâ€™t feeling well. He hadnâ€™t even shown up for theusual end-of-vacation party in the bar afterward. All his earlierjoy seemed to have ebbed away. Sarah said something hadobviously gone wrong between him and Katie. And looking atthe two of them now, studiously avoiding each other, Benfigured she must be right. On top of that, Abbie had been intears before breakfast, having just said good-bye to Ty. Menand women, Ben sighed to himself. Lord help us all. Then he saw Eve. He had looked out for her at breakfast,but she hadnâ€™t shown up and he had resigned himself toleaving without saying good-bye. It was probably better thatway. But here she was, beautiful as ever in her riding clothes,walking down across the lawn. The morning ride was about toleave, the horses all saddled up in line outside the stables,some of the guests already mounting up. And for a momentBen thought that was where she must be going. But then shegave a little wave and headed down toward the parking area.She looked at him and they exchanged a smile but she wentto join the women. Tom Bradstock had finished his story and had gone across
to talk with one of the riders. Delroy was staring at Eve. â€œWhat Iâ€™d give to be Adam,â€ he said quietly. It took Ben a couple of beats to understand what he meant. â€œOh, right. Yeah. Sheâ€™s nice.â€ â€œNice? Ben, you are so . . . measured. I can think of adozen things Iâ€™d call her before nice.â€ Two nights earlier, Ben had plucked up the courage toaccompany Delroy on his nightly stroll into the woods.Whether pot was stronger nowadays or it had simply been toolong since he last tried it, Ben didnâ€™t know, but after just afew puffs his head started telescoping into itself, and hestaggered in a clammy nausea back to his cabin and lay onthe bed for what seemed like hours, convinced he was goingto die. The humiliation was galling enough, but worse still wasDelroyâ€™s apparent assumption that they had graduated tomore intimate terms. Measured? How the hell would heknow? They didnâ€™t even know each other. Ben looked athis watch. â€œWell,â€ he said. â€œI think itâ€™s time we weregoing.â€ As he walked over toward the women he heard Sarah askEve if she ever came to New York. â€œAs a matter of fact, Iâ€™m coming in September, for afriendâ€™s exhibition.â€ â€œHey, well, we should get together,â€ Sarah said. â€œIâ€™d like that.â€
â€œMaybe we could go see a show. Do you like musicals?â€ â€œLove them.â€ While they swapped numbers, Ben rounded up the kids andeveryone said their final good-byes. When Eve touched hercool cheek against his, he felt a twist of melancholy in hischest. She said how much she had enjoyed meeting them all.Not him, he noted, them all. Lori was still in bed, she said, buthad asked her to say good-bye. The Coopers climbed into thetruck and Ben turned the key. â€œYou make sure to call us,â€ Sarah said to Eve. â€œI promise.â€ She never would, of course. As they pulled away down thedrive, the kids calling and leaning out of their windows towave, Ben lifted his eyes to the mirror and took what he wassure would be his last look at her.
NINEIt was match point and, as usual, Sarahâ€™s father wasgoing to win. Nobody would be surprised. Even the lizardssunbathing along the courtâ€™s perimeter looked on with akind of weary fatalism. However, that George Davenport couldstill, at the age of sixty-eight, annihilate his son-in-law in twostraight sets clearly gave him more pleasure than he coulddisguise. In his trim white shorts and polo shirt, his silver hairsleek and only the faintest glisten of sweat on his tanned brow,he bounced the ball and prepared to serve. At the other end,in his sodden gray T-shirt and floral boardshorts that he worein childish defiance of Westchester court etiquette, Benjaminstood braced like a prisoner before a firing squad. It was the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and the Coopershad driven that morning in sunlit gloom from Syosset toBedford for the ritual lunch with Sarahâ€™s parents. Quitehow the custom had endured all these years, when everyoneinvolvedâ€”with the possible exception of Sarahâ€™smotherâ€”so dreaded it, was a mystery almost as profound asher fatherâ€™s insatiable joy at beating, for the umpteenthtime, so lackluster an opponent. Perhaps simply to prolongBenjaminâ€™s misery, he now served his first double fault ofthe match. â€œForty-fifteen!â€ Lunch was waiting on the terrace that spread grandly fromthe south-facing side of the house and, sensing what passed
for a climax to the match, Sarah, her mother, Abbie, and Joshhad wandered down across the manicured grass, bearinglemonade and a dogged, if somewhat strained, cheeriness.The court, like all else material at the Davenport residence,was immaculate. Groomed twice weekly by one of severalgardeners, its brick and gravel surround planted with rose andhibiscus and sculpted cushions of lavender, it was surfacedwith the very latest sort of synthetic grass which played,according to Sarahâ€™s father, even better than the realthing. That a man whose gifts to a grateful nation includedseveral arcane varieties of hedge fund could so improve uponGodâ€™s work would have surprised no one, least of allBenjamin, who, flushed and grimly sweating, now prepared toface a second match point. â€œGo, Dad!â€ Abbie called from the shade of the court-side arbor. â€œQuiet, please,â€ her grandfather said. He wasnâ€™tkidding. He served and this time it was fast and low and in andBenjamin lunged fitfully to his right and just got the edge of hisracket to it, but only to hoist the ball back over the net in a highand easy lob. With enough time for a manâ€™s life to spool in slowmotion before him, his father-in-law watched the ball descend,his racket uncoiling like a cobra for the strike, and with aperfectly timed and blistering slam, dispatched the ball in oneepic bounce between Benjaminâ€™s feet, over the wirenetting behind him and into the roses. With various degrees of
irony, the four spectators cheered and applauded. â€œThank you, Ben!â€ â€œThank you, George.â€ Sarah watched the two most important men in her life shakehands at the net then walk toward the gate, her father with apatronizing arm draped across his son-in-lawâ€™s sweatyshoulders. â€œLife in the old dog yet, eh?â€ â€œIâ€™d say more than enough, George.â€ â€œPoor Benjamin,â€ her mother sighed. â€œSo, Dad, what was the score?â€ Josh called, as if theydidnâ€™t all know. â€œListen, itâ€™s called manners. You donâ€™t beat thehost, didnâ€™t anyone tell you?â€ â€œSo how come you always lose to Grandpa at hometoo?â€ The men were off the court now and stood towelingthemselves beside the slatted teak table in the arbor, whileSarahâ€™s mother poured lemonade and answeredJoshâ€™s question. â€œThe reason, Josh, is that your father knows very wellthat there isnâ€™t a man on Godâ€™s earth who likes to winmore than your grandfather. Itâ€™s the cursed gene of theDavenports. Letâ€™s hope you havenâ€™t inherited it.â€ â€œDonâ€™t worry, Grandma,â€ Abbie said.â€œDadâ€™s loser genes will more than compensate.â€
â€œHey, please,â€ Benjamin said. â€œEverybody, feelfree. Letâ€™s just call it National Get Ben Day.â€ He finished his lemonade and jogged off up to the house toshower and change. Sarahâ€™s father, probably to indicatethat he didnâ€™t need to do either of those things, strolledwith the rest of them back across the lawn, grilling Abbieabout her newly announced intention of going to the Universityof Montana. Sarah was less supportive than Benjamin on theissue, but at this moment didnâ€™t want to let Abbie down bysiding with her father, who was predictably skeptical. Abbiewas arguing her case well and Sarah decided to keep out of itand wandered ahead on her own. Josh was bringing up therear with his grandmother, keeping her up to speed on howthe Chicago Cubs were doing. On Friday he had received aletter from Katie Bradstock and had been all but euphoric eversince. He wouldnâ€™t disclose what it said but whatever hadgone wrong between them was now right. It hadnâ€™t rained for weeks, but the grass, with its state-of-the-art sprinkling system, was a dazzling, ludicrous green. Abreeze had gotten up and was rushing in the scorched leavesof the big, old oaks along the driveway. Sarah closed her eyesand breathed deeply and tried to enjoy the warmth of the sunand the feel of the grass beneath her bare feet. But the knotbelow her ribs wouldnâ€™t loosen. The place always made her tense. With its faux-colonialfaÃ§ade and preposterous number of rooms, it had neverseemed like home. They had moved here from a muchsmaller and cozier place across town when Sarah was fifteenand her fatherâ€™s business was bought for an obscene
amount of money by a big Wall Street bank. What earthly needthey had for such a palace, other than sheer ostentation, shehad never been able to fathom. Particularly when they sorarely entertained and had already dispatched both her andher brother Jonathan off to boarding school. At the time Sarahhad blamed the move on her mother, who came from granderNew England stock. But as she had gotten older she hadcome to thinkâ€”though would never have admitted it in frontof Benjaminâ€”that the real snob was her father. He wassimply better at disguising it. They had reached the steps to the terrace now and Sarahcould hear that Abbie was getting exasperated. Why on earth,her grandfather was saying, when she had the pick of so manybetter colleges closer to home, would someone as smart asAbbie, a straight-A student, best at everything, want to gosomeplace out the back of beyond ? Sarah turned on him. â€œDad, itâ€™s Montana, for heavenâ€™s sake, notMongolia.â€ â€œWe just did a deal with some folks in Mongolia. Itâ€™sa pretty switched-on place, as a matter of fact.â€ â€œIt wouldnâ€™t have anything to do with meeting acertain young cowboy by any chance, would it?â€Sarahâ€™s mother asked. Abbie groaned and turned to glare at her brother. â€œJosh, you little rat, what have you been saying?â€
He held up his hands, all innocent. â€œI didnâ€™t say a word!â€ â€œYouâ€™re such a pathetic liar. Maybe you should telleveryone why suddenly youâ€™re such a fan of the ChicagoCubs. It couldnâ€™t have anything to do with your crush onlittle Katie Bradstock.â€ â€œLittle? Oh, and weâ€™re so big and grown-up now,are we?â€ â€œChildren, children,â€ Sarah said. By the time they reached the terrace, the bickering hadcalmed and Abbie was reluctantly coaxed into telling hergrandparents a little about Ty. She deftly managed to steer theconversation on to her visit to his parentsâ€™ ranch, fromwhich she had returned almost ecstatic, saying it was theloveliest place sheâ€™d ever seen, even more beautiful thanThe Divide. Lunch was cold Maine lobster, flown down by special orderthe previous afternoon. There were also oysters and shrimpand a bewildering array of salads prepared by Rosa, who hadkept house for Sarahâ€™s parents for the last nine yearswithout, as far as Sarah was aware, ever once smiling.Benjamin said she was probably still waiting for a reason. Theoval table was covered with a heavy white linen cloth andshaded by two vast cream canvas umbrellas. There was roomfor at least a dozen people and instead of grouping at oneend, the six of them sat several yards apart, so isolated intheir own space that if anything needed passing, Rosa had to
be summoned from sullen standby in the wings. Normally, the gaps would have been filled by Sarahâ€™sbrother and his family. Jonathan was five years her junior andthey had never been close. Like his father, he was in financeof some impenetrable sort and had recently taken a job inSingapore, hauling Kelly, his Texan wife, and their twoidentically spoiled twin daughters with him. As everyonechewed on oversize lobster and the silence grew morestubborn, Sarah was almost beginning to miss them. Why did she persist in inflicting this annual penance onBenjamin and the kids when she hated it almost as much asthey did? The past week had been blighted by a protractedargument with Abbie and Josh, who had both, until thismorning, been refusing to come. At breakfast Sarah hadfinally delivered a tirade on the importance of family, heapinginto it every weaselly, guilt-inducing gambit she could think of.Such as how they were prepared to take all theirgrandparentsâ€™ generous birthday checks and Christmaspresents and yet werenâ€™t willing in return to spare them apaltry few hours for lunch. And how Grandpa wasnâ€™tgetting any younger and wouldnâ€™t be around much longer(though, in truth, he was in obscenely good health and wouldprobably outlive them all). She had even stooped so low as tomention Misty, the pony Abbieâ€™s grandparents had givenher when she was ten years old. Benjamin had kept out of it.But even though he didnâ€™t say a word, she could tell fromhis smug expression how much he was enjoying therevolution. It made her want to throw something at him. But now they were here, the guilt had rebounded and she
felt sorry for them all. Even Benjamin. He hadnâ€™t beenexactly friendly for many weeks, not since they got back fromThe Divide. Heâ€™d been distant and preoccupied. He washaving a hard time at work and she decided to attribute it tothat. Perhaps it was her fault as much as his, for thingswerenâ€™t going well with the bookstore either. In fact, it washaving its worst year ever. One of the big chains had openeda new store just a couple of blocks away and Jeffrey, heradored and devoted manager, who nowadays pretty well ranthings on his own, was again talking about quitting. Butalthough Sarah liked to talk about her problems, Benjamindidnâ€™t seem to want to listen anymore or to discuss hisown. Her father, with the nose of a bloodhound, was askinghim about work now. â€œHowâ€™s that Hamptons project of yours going?â€ â€œItâ€™s not looking too good, as a matter of fact,George.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the guyâ€™s name, I forgot.â€ â€œThe developer? Hank McElvoy.â€ â€œMcElvoy, thatâ€™s it. I was asking Bill Sterling abouthim the other day. He says the guyâ€™s in trouble and thebanks are calling it all in. Is that the problem?â€ â€œNo, actually, it was what I think they call creativedifferences .â€ â€œDadâ€™s a hero,â€ Abbie called from across thetable. â€œThey wanted to cut down all these beautiful treesand he wouldnâ€™t do it.â€
â€œSeems a pity to lose a job for a few trees.â€ â€œGrandpa!â€ â€œWell, youâ€™re probably well out of it.â€ â€œYes, I probably am.â€ Benjamin took a mouthful of lobster and glanced at Sarah.She smiled to show solidarity, but he looked away. â€œElla was telling me your firm just won some fancyaward,â€ her father went on. â€œThatâ€™s right. For the mall we did up inHuntington.â€ â€œWas that your design or Martinâ€™s?â€ â€œWell, we all worked on it. But I guess you could say itwas basically Martinâ€™s concept.â€ â€œHeâ€™s a bright guy.â€ â€œYes, he is.â€ â€œOh, well. Give him my congratulations.â€ â€œThank you, George. I will.â€ There was a time when such a thinly disguised put-downwould have sent Benjamin into a fury. In the early days of theirmarriage, he would take only a certain amount and then pick afight on another issue which, inevitably, her father would win.For, whatever the subject and no matter who was right orwrong, his technique of smiling and staying calm wouldeventually drive Benjamin so mad he would start yelling. But
looking at him now, sitting across the table from her, stillsweating from his humiliation on court, Sarah saw no sign ofhurt or anger, just a weary resignation. It upset her more thanany shouting match ever had or could. And later, as she drove them home, it was Abbie and Joshwho exploded, not Benjamin. Nor did he even so much assmile or seem to take any pleasure as they vented their angerand forced Sarah to promise on Godâ€™s honor that thiswas the last Labor Day lunch they would ever have to endure.Without demur, she apologized and this seemed to disarmthem and a tired silence descended. Josh put on hisheadphones to listen to his Walkman, while Abbie curled upbeside him and was soon asleep. Benjamin leaned backagainst the headrest and stared blankly out of the sidewindow. He looked so forlorn that she reached out and laidher hand on his arm but he didnâ€™t respond in any way andafter a few moments she removed it. â€œI thought age was supposed to mellow you,â€ shesaid. â€œHe gets worse and worse.â€ â€œHeâ€™s always been like that.â€ â€œEverything he says has some kind of barb to it.â€ â€œIt always did.â€ He closed his eyes and Sarah took the hint and drove on insilence. In the mirror she could see that Josh had fallen asleepnow too. The freeway was clogged with holiday traffic so sheexited and took what they called the â€œsnake routeâ€ but itwas just as congested and they crawled through the suburban
sprawl, bumper to bumper, mile after mile. She switched onthe radio but couldnâ€™t find a station that didnâ€™t irritateher or make her feel more alienated. The people in the carsaround them all seemed to be talking and having a good time. It was the old Volvo station wagon that did it. It was in thenext lane and kept drawing alongside. It was just like the onethey had once owned, only blue instead of white. Its roof wasstacked with bicycles and camping gear, just like theirs usedto be. Inside were a couple and two young children, a boy andgirl, both blond and impossibly cute. Everyone was laughingand jabbering. Sarah tried not to look. She clenched themuscles in her face to stem the tears that nowadays welled soreadily. And she stared resolutely ahead, scolding herself forbeing so stupid and sentimental and telling herself not to gothere. Not to let into her head this image of her own losthappiness.
TENThey had met during Sarahâ€™s sophomore year atWellesley. A girl in her Shakespearean tragedy class,someone she barely knew and didnâ€™t even much like, wasasked by a boy at Harvard to bring a busload of â€œchicksâ€into Cambridge for a party. There werenâ€™t many atWellesley who answered happily to such a name and Sarahshould have seen it as a warning, but she had nothing betterto do, so she tagged along. It turned out to be one of those hideous fraternity affairs,crammed with drunk and obnoxious jocks, shouting andshowing off and throwing up in the flower beds. Benjamin,standing alone in a corner, with his long hair and leatherjacket, looked arty and interesting and, at the very least,sober. He was clearly older than the others, more man thanboy, and obviously as appalled and alienated as she was. Thetwo of them homed in on each other and seemed to bondbefore they even spoke. His connection with the party turned out to be as tenuous ashers. He said he was there as transport. He had a car andhad been cajoled by some guys who had been invited to drivethem all the way from Syracuse where he was studyingarchitecture. â€œThey said I should see how the other half lived.â€ He took a sip of the so-called fruit punch and grimaced. Ithad been laced, so rumor had it, with raw alcohol plundered
from the chemistry labs. Someone put another Wings albumon. â€œWell, now you know,â€ Sarah said. â€œYeah. At least they paid for the gas. This music iskilling me. Shall we go somewhere else?â€ They headed into Boston in his old Ford Mustang. It had abroken muffler and made so much noise that everyone turnedand stared. They found a little Italian restaurant she had oncebeen to and had steaming bowls of spaghetti vongole and abottle of cheap Chianti and sat talking until the place closed.Sarah said she remembered a bar nearby and they wentlooking for it and when they couldnâ€™t find it just kept onwalking. It was a clear fall night and the air was chilly and shesurprised herself by tucking her arm into his. They must havewalked for miles and never stopped talking the entire time. He told her he came from Abilene, Kansas, where hisparents ran a hardware store. He said he was fonder of theplace now that he didnâ€™t have to live there, but that whenhe was growing up he couldnâ€™t wait to escape. He had anolder sister he hardly ever saw and he didnâ€™t get alongwith his dad who was still mad at him for not becoming alawyer. Sarah asked him if he had always wanted to be anarchitect and he said no, absolutely not. What heâ€™d reallywanted to be was an actor. â€œWell, not an actor exactly,â€ he corrected himself.â€œA movie star. A big, famous movie star. Like PaulNewman or someone.â€
â€œSo what happened?â€ â€œI wasnâ€™t any good. At college all I really did wasdrama. I was in all the plays. Got some good parts. But, thankGod, I had a moment of revelation.â€ â€œTell me.â€ â€œReally? Okay. I was playing Angelo in Measure forMeasureâ€”do you know the play?â€ She knew it inside out but simply nodded. â€œOkay. Well, you know when Isabella wonâ€™t sleepwith him, Angelo orders them to cut off her brotherClaudioâ€™s head and they donâ€™t, but pretend they haveand give some other poor guy the chop instead?â€ â€œBarnardine.â€ â€œIâ€™ll take your word for it. Hey, thatâ€™s prettyimpressive. Anyhow, the director had them bring me the headin a basket and, of course, I donâ€™t know itâ€™s notClaudioâ€™s and I have to lift this cloth and look at whatIâ€™ve done. And he said, â€˜Ben, I want nausea, realnausea. And the dawning of guilt.â€™â€ â€œThe dawning of guilt. Sounds like a book.â€ â€œYeah, the story of my life. So. Every night I used to lookinto the basket, at this ridiculous rubber head, all covered withtomato ketchup, and I tried, God, I tried so hard, but all Iwanted to do was laugh.â€ â€œAnd did you?â€
â€œNo. Except on the last night when someone put aninflatable frog in the basket instead. No, I just faked it.Nausea, guilt. And I was fine. Got some great reviews. But Iknew that if I couldnâ€™t feel it, I mean, really feel it in myguts, then I wasnâ€™t cut out to be an actor.â€ â€œDo you believe all actors really feel it?â€ â€œNo, but I think the best ones do.â€ In turn she told him about her family and growing up inBedfordâ€”at which name he pulled a sort of mock-impressedface, as if he knew now who he was dealing with, and thismade her immediately start downplaying anything that hintedat money or privilege or connections. As if being at Wellesleywasnâ€™t already enough for him to place her. She had never met a guy who listened so well. When at last,and more by luck than navigation, they found their way towhere he had parked his car, it had been towed. By the timethey got it back, dawn was breaking and they were bothfeeling hungry again. They drove out to the MassachusettsTurnpike and found a truck stop and ordered great greasyplates of bacon and eggs and hash browns. It had been one of the best nights of Sarahâ€™s life. Andwhen he said good-bye, kissing her chastely on the cheek,and headed off to pick up his friends and drive back toSyracuse, she knewâ€”well, no, she thought, she dared tohopeâ€”that this was the man she would marry and havechildren with. It wasnâ€™t only corny, it was absurd. Everybody knew the
joke about parents sending their girls to Wellesley to get theirMrs. But the idea was that you were supposed to net yourselfsome rich Harvard highflier, not a Kansas storekeeperâ€™sson from what her father would call the University of Nowhere.Furthermore, she had only just turned twenty and was still avirgin. The only one in the entire college, she sometimesthought. It was the mid-seventies, post-pill and pre-AIDS, andeveryone was at it like rabbits, or so it seemed. Except forSarah Davenport. It wasnâ€™t for want of offers, or because she was a prudeor scared or uninterested. She knew her reasoning was quaintand probably a little dumb. Iris, her roommate, certainlythought it was both of these things, as well as plain crazy. Theyhad been born in the same week of September and Irisconstantly reminded her that by being five whole daysSarahâ€™s senior, she was infinitely the wiser. She wascertainly the only person with whom Sarah felt able to havesuch intimate discussions. Iris had grown up in Pittsburgh,where, she maintained, absolutely everbody got laid atsixteen. â€œJust get it over with, girl,â€ she said. â€œThen getpicky.â€ But Sarah felt it mattered. That she should love theman with whom she first went all the way might be an old-fashioned notion but it also seemed right. But thoughsheâ€™d had boyfriends and done with them pretty mucheverything elseâ€”or what she understood, from her talks withIris, that this entailedâ€”she was starting to feel something ofan oddity. And these things had a way of getting out. Sheknew for a fact that one little creep sheâ€™d dated for a while
had gone around afterward calling her a cock-teaser. Andeven though, according to what Iris had heard, he didnâ€™thave one worth teasing, it bothered her. Had Benjamin suggested they make love, even in the backof his Mustang that very night, she would happily have doneso. As it turned out, they didnâ€™t get even close to it foranother five months. They spoke at least once a week on thephone and met a few times in New York to see a movie orsome new art exhibition, each time followed by dinner andanother good-bye peck on the cheek. And just as Sarah wasgrowing resigned to the idea that all he had in mind was beingher new best friend and that he probably had a girlfriend inSyracuse or back home in Kansas, he arrived unannounced inWellesley on St. Valentineâ€™s Day with a vast and vaguelycarnivorous-looking bunch of bloodred amaryllis and declaredthat he loved her. It was only later that she discovered it wasnâ€™t quite ashigh-risk a venture as it seemed and that he had taken thesecret precaution of calling Iris to check out if Sarah had otherplans and, if not, how welcome he might be. That summer he found work at a busy, if uninspiring, firm ofarchitects on the Upper East Side where all they let him dowas answer the phones and fetch coffee. Through a businesscontact of her fatherâ€™s, Sarah did the same for a companythat made TV commercials. Neither of them got paidandâ€”thanks to Sarahâ€™s allowanceâ€”neither muchcared. They were too busy discovering each other. An old Syracuse friend of Benjaminâ€™s was spending
three months in Florence and let them use his apartment, atwo-room shoe box on Ninety-third and Amsterdam. It was oneof the hottest summers on record and the place had no air-conditioning. The sidewalks shimmered and steamed andthat was pretty much how it was inside too. Sarah had assumed, not from anything heâ€™d said butmore from his cool and worldly manner, that Benjamin wasexperienced with women. But in their first couplings, heseemed almost as new to it as she was and it was some timebefore they lost their reticence with each other. And thoughshe couldnâ€™t quite understand why sex was supposed tobe such a big deal, and even back then, even on thosefeverish nights, with the windows wide and the clamor of thestreet and of their own heated blood, couldnâ€™t matchBenjaminâ€™s relentless hunger for it, she nevertheless hadan almost giddy sense of relief and liberation. It was in early July that she took him for the first time up toBedford for the weekend to meet her parents, who by nowknew about him and were curious. They had no idea, ofcourse, that when their daughter stayed overnight in the city,as she increasingly did, she wasnâ€™t, as she claimed,staying with a friend from Wellesley. She had already toldBenjamin enough about them to make him a littleapprehensive. He had his hair cut specially for theoccasionâ€”which Sarah took as an act of devotionâ€”andeven wore a sports coat (though not a necktie) for dinner,which didnâ€™t quite do the trick for her mother, who waslater overheard describing him as â€œcharming, if a littleBohemian.â€
Sarahâ€™s father tried to camouflage his disdain for anycollege that wasnâ€™t Ivy League behind an overlyenthusiastic interest in the University of Kansas whereBenjamin had graduated before going on to Syracuse. Dinnerwas like an interview for a job. Her father knew as much aboutarchitecture as Benjamin knew about corporate finance buthad obviously done some sly homework. While Sarah and hermother ate in silence, he cross-examined the poor guy for afull twenty minutes about Werner Seligmann, a Harvardprofessor who had just moved to Syracuse and would, in theyears that followed, transform the place. Fortunately, Benjaminwas already a fan and passed the test with ease. Andalthough he probably lost a few points later by bumping intoher mother as he tiptoed half-naked from Sarahâ€™s room,he made up for it the next morning by being thrashed for thefirst time by his future father-in-law on the tennis court. They were joined for Sunday lunch by two couples who livednearby. Both had young children who took to Benjamin as ifthey had known him all their lives. He teased them gently andplayed the fool and soon had them in fits of giggles. Theywouldnâ€™t leave him alone. Many men of his age could dothis, Sarah knew, but what struck her was how he was alsoable to talk with them, even about serious things and entirelyon their level, without any trace of condescension. Her mothercaught her staring at him and Sarah could see from theknowing smile that her intentions had been read. They were married, sumptuously, in Bedford in the summerof Sarahâ€™s graduation from Wellesley. And never once,during those heady preceding months nor for many years
after, did she falter from that first impression she had formedof him the night they met. She loved almost everything abouthim. His gentleness, his wit, his generosity, the way he soughther opinions and cared about what she thought and said anddid. The way he would sit her down with a cup of tea if she hada problem and let her tell him all about it, without trying to solveit for her. She loved his passion for his work and wasconvinced that if there were any justice in the world, one dayhe would achieve great things. Their interests didnâ€™t exactly coincide but they eachseemed equally open to the things the other cherished. Heread mostly nonfiction but she soon had him readingnovelsâ€”Jane Austen and Henry James, as well as Updikeand Bellow and Rothâ€”and gave him a crash course inclassical music. For a while he became almost obsessed withMozart opera. She would never forget the tears streamingdown his cheeks at the Met as they listened to the famousserenade duet in Cosi fan tutte. In turn, he took her to seeobscure European movies by directors she had barely heardof, like Herzog and Fassbinder. And he played her all hisMiles Davis and Neil Young records and took her to darkdowntown dives to hear obscure punk bands so uniformlydreadful she felt like weeping too. They seemed so closely in tune, so much a part of eachother, that sometimes Sarah found it hard to know exactlywhere she ended and he began. Occasionally she worriedthat she was too malleable, that without realizing it, she wasbeing quietly dismantled and remodeled. When they wentshopping for clothes or for food or furniture or when they were
redecorating the apartment, it was Benjaminâ€™s taste thatnearly always prevailed. Not, however, against her will. Shewas only too happy to go along with it because, generally, shedidnâ€™t know what she wanted and he always did.Confronted with a dozen different shapes of wineglass ortwenty shades of blue, she would feel bewildered or her eyeswould glaze over. Perhaps it simply didnâ€™t matter enoughto her. And anyhow, she would justify, knowing about thesethings, having views about texture and color and shape wasBenjaminâ€™s job, was in his very nature. She knew this wasnâ€™t how it was with most couples. Alot of men were only too relieved to cede such decisions towomen. And there was no doubt, Benjamin did have atendency to want to control things. She remembered readingabout such people once, when she took a psychology class atWellesley. Their wish to control things often stemmed from adeep-seated insecurity, a worry that if they didnâ€™t appeardecisive and keep tabs on everything, then chaos would eruptand overwhelm them. Perhaps Benjamin had some mildversion of this. If so, Sarah was happy to live with it. Itwasnâ€™t as if he was a bully. And, frankly, it was often arelief. He could be moody too, and difficult, especially when thingswerenâ€™t going well with his work. And there was arestlessness about him that probably should have worried hermore than it did. And if they argued (which wasnâ€™t oftenand thus all the more upsetting when they did), he could becruel and seemed to find it hard to apologize or forgive. Theywere both quick and clever with words but his tongue was the
sharper and even when it was his fault he had a way oftwisting things around so that it was she who ended up sayingsorry. In those early years, their worst arguments were about herparents. Perhaps inevitably, Benjamin carried a chip aboutthem and resented being dependent on her trust money whilehe finished up at Syracuse and struggled through three crueland tedious years of internship finally to qualify as aregistered, penniless architect. He started referring to thehouse in Bedford as â€œthe Country Clubâ€ and, incompany, would sometimes joke that the key to success foran architect was to marry money. But Sarah knew suchcomments were preemptive and aimed at himself, not her. The truth was that she disliked their reliance on herparentsâ€™ money almost as much as he did. It made herfeel redundant, as if it didnâ€™t matter if she made a successof her life or a hopeless mess. After college she was offered ajob with the same company for which she had fetched coffeebut because the initial contact had been her fatherâ€™s, nothers, she turned it down. Instead, she applied for andsurprised herself by landing a research job with a TVcompany that made arts documentaries. Her first project was a series for PBS about great Americanwriters. Unfortunately, to qualify, they all had to be dead. Soinstead of her current heroes, Roth and Bellow and Updike, itwas the usual high-school lineup of Melville and Twain andScott Fitzgerald. The producer, a patronizing Englishman whowore white buckskin shoes and a toupee, said the reasons forthis had to do with â€œbudget and copyright and so forth,â€
in a tone that suggested Sarah shouldnâ€™t trouble her prettyhead about it. The alternatives she suggested were alldismissed. Henry James was too effeminate, Poe and Biercetoo crazy, Hemingway too macho. Her quip that Edith Whartonwas presumably too female didnâ€™t do her careerprospects any good at all. The money was derisory but at least she was earning itherself. She had always been a fast learner and within acouple of years was working for twice the salary with ayounger, much trendier company in SoHo, producing a seriesof her own, this time about writers who were still alive, thoughin one case the interview was so stilted and boring shesuspected he might have just been very well embalmed. The life she and Benjamin led in their tiny rented apartmenton the edge of Greenwich Village was frugal but happy. Bynow he was working for Dawlish & Drewe, a stuffy but sizablefirm that did mostly small-scale industrial and commercialprojects. He earned only a little more than she did and thework was routine, but he was soon getting himself noticed. Hewas one of the best draftsmen and model-makers in the officeand found himself much in demand for presentations. What made it fun was working alongside a bright andtalented young architect who had been hired straight out ofColumbia the previous fall. Short, dark, and (except for hispolished dome of a head) excessively hairy, with mischievousblack eyes and a brain as sharp as his dress sense, MartinIngram had the kind of creative flair and ambition that werewasted on the likes of Dawlish & Drewe. His sense of humorwas even more wicked than Benjaminâ€™s and at their
adjoining desks they did cruel impersonations of the fussy,bow-tied Adrian Dawlish and the other senior partners. Theybecame close friends and were soon plotting their escape toset up a partnership of their own. Martin had grown up in Nassau County, in the town ofSyosset, a name that for Sarah had only negativeconnotations. She had been taken there once as a child tovisit a place called the Lollipop Farm, where she had beenbitten by a goat, eaten too many lollipops, and thrown up allover the backseat of her motherâ€™s new car. For Martin,however, Syosset was pure, golden, apple-pie America, thekind of place where people never locked their doors andalways helped their neighbors. He couldnâ€™t wait to getback there. He and his considerably taller wife, Bethâ€”acommercial real estate agent with a loud voice and frizzy redhair, a woman Sarah tried hard to likeâ€”had it all figured out.When, at a date apparently already diaried, they had children,they were going to decamp to Syosset. On the evening that the master plan was revealed (at least,to Sarah), the four of them were eating take-out pizza at theround glass table in the Ingramsâ€™ apartment, which was ina classier neighborhood than theirs and a lot bigger, though,in Sarahâ€™s opinion, way overdesigned. Martin and Bethsuddenly started going on about Syosset, extolling its virtuesto Sarah in a way that for a while had her puzzled. Among countless other assets, the place apparently hadgood schools, cleaner air, less crime, a brand-new publiclibrary, and a great deli called Bahnhofâ€™s on JacksonAvenue. Furthermore, Martin assured her, there were no
longer any biting goats. Lollipop Farm had closed down in1967. More to the point, he saidâ€”and this was when Sarahbegan to see where this was all headingâ€”there was adearth of decent local architects, thus plenty of potential for theembryonic ICAâ€”Ingram Cooper Associates. The names hadto be that way around, Martin said, since there was already aCIA. â€œSo do we get to move out there too?â€ Sarah saidbrightly. She was only joking, but from the pause that followedand from the look on Benjaminâ€™s face she could see thatwas exactly what he had in mind. â€œWell, itâ€™s something we should talk about,â€ hesaid. â€œOh, right. And when shall we do that?â€ They did little else for weeks. And it escalated into a full-blown fight. It emerged that he had already done a tour of theplace with Martin and that he liked what he saw. He couldimagine them living there, he said. Sarah accused him ofconcealing all this from her and of being a chauvinist forassuming his career should come first and for thinking hecould decide where they lived. She didnâ€™t want to live inthe suburbs, she said. Maybe it was just the slightly scornfulway she uttered the word, but he accused her, for the firsttime, of being a Westchester County snob and it so infuriatedher that she didnâ€™t speak to him for three days. A frostsettled that neither of them seemed willing or able to thaw.They didnâ€™t touch each other for more than a month. On a sunny Saturday morning in early spring, sullenly
shunting a cart along the aisles of an uptown nursery wherethey had come to buy plants for their two square yards of roofterrace, Benjamin suddenly stopped and picked up aclematis. â€œThis oneâ€™s for you,â€ he said. He was smilingoddly, but for a moment she thought he was being genuinelyfriendly, that perhaps it was a peace offering. Then she sawthe label. The name of the variety was Arctic Queen. They got over their disagreement about where they wouldlive. But this incidental act of spite lingered in Sarahâ€™sheart. It was the first time he had accused her of being frigidand it shocked and hurt her. Abbie was born eighteen months later. And two years afterthat, in the same month that Ingram Cooper Associates got itsfirst proper commission, along came Josh. For each birth,Sarah organized her work so that she could take a fewmonths off. Her career, if not exactly booming, wasprogressing well enough. One documentary had led toanother. A film she made about David Hockneyâ€™s joined-up photographs was even nominated for an Emmy. They werenow living on the Upper West Side, in another rentedapartment, more comfortable and spacious than their oldAmsterdam love nest. But with two small children and a full-time babysitter they could barely afford, it was still crampedand less than perfect. Every morning Benjamin climbed intotheir old Volvo station wagon and slogged out through thetraffic to Syosset. True to schedule, Martin and Beth and their two young sons,
born just ten months apart, were already living there, withIngram Cooper Associates and its growing team housed in along, glass-roofed studio set among the maples in theirspacious backyard. And by Abbieâ€™s fourth birthday theCoopers had decided to join them. With a loan secured(despite Benjaminâ€™s reluctance) by Sarahâ€™s trust fund,they bought a small white clapboard house not far from theIngramsâ€™ and a few months later put down a deposit on agently sloping, wooded acre at the edge of town, upon whichBenjamin would build them a fine house to his own design. Sarah would later find it hard to pinpoint the moment shewarmed to the idea of the move. It was more a process ofattrition, a growing unease about bringing up her children inManhattan. Unlike Abbie, Josh was not an easy child. He wasa magnet for any passing virus. After a terrifying weekendwhen he was unable to breathe and turned blue and they hadto rush him to the hospital, he was diagnosed with asthma. Hewas a timid and clingy boy, unsuited to the rush and clamor ofthe city. He screamed for an hour every morning when she leftfor work. And after their babysitter found him too hard tohandle and quit, Sarah started turning down work to spendmore time at home. On summer weekends at Martin and Bethâ€™s,barbecuing under the trees and meeting their neighbors andwatching Abbie and Josh run free and safe and happy with theother kids, Sarah came to believe that if she was going tobecome more of a full-time mother, this might not be such abad place to do it. The issue that clinched itâ€”and over which Benjamin and
her father had their first serious falling-outâ€”was education.Although ICA was doing well, it wasnâ€™t yielding enough topay the fees of fancy Manhattan private schools. Her parentshad reacted with a sort of condescending incredulity whenSarah first told them of the plan to move. Long Island, as faras her father was concerned, might be a good enough placeto park a yacht, but it certainly wasnâ€™t somewhere oneshould choose to live. He had never been to Syosset butdidnâ€™t need to in order to know the sort of place it was.And the fact that his daughter and grandchildren were beingforced to migrate there was the long-anticipated proof ofBenjaminâ€™s inability to provide for them properly. If theywanted to move out of the city, why not come up to Bedford? In what turned out to be a last-ditch attempt to preempt themove, he took them to lunch at his club, a fusty place in whichwomen had only marginally higher status than an ill-trainedgundog. Benjaminâ€™s ego was already bruised andbristling before they so much as sat down. It was ninetydegrees outside and he had turned up in an open-neck shirtonly to be forced at the door to borrow a necktie and a blazerthat was several sizes too big and smelled of cigar smoke.With more enthusiasm than she yet truly felt, Sarah had beentelling her father all about the house they would build. Heheard her out in silence, chewing grimly on his lamb chops. â€œAnd the schools out there are amazing,â€ sheconcluded. He peered at her over his half-moon horn-rims. â€œYouâ€™re going to put Abbie and Josh through the
public school system?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œIâ€™m astounded.â€ â€œWell, George,â€ Benjamin said genially. â€œIt wasgood enough for me.â€ Her father turned slowly and looked at him. â€œWas it?â€ â€œIâ€™m sorry?â€ â€œWas it good enough for you? Iâ€™m simply asking. Imean, Iâ€™m not meaning to be disrespectful. Iâ€™m surethe education you received was as good as the town of . . .Iâ€™m sorry, I forget . . .â€ â€œAbilene.â€ â€œ. . . could provide. But have you ever thought what youmight be doing today if your parents had been able to sendyou somewhere better?â€ It was so stunningly rude, Benjamin looked at Sarah andgrinned. Oblivious, her father went on. â€œLetâ€™s give them the best possible start in life, shallwe? Iâ€™ll pay.â€ Benjamin stood up. â€œThank you, George, but you wonâ€™t. Theyâ€™re mychildrenâ€”and Sarahâ€™s, of courseâ€”and weâ€™ll dowith them what we think best. Now, Iâ€™m sorry, but I have to
go earn some money.â€ It was a tense moment but Sarah would always admire himfor the resolute but dignified restraint with which he handled itand many similar occasions to come. Life in the suburbs turned out to be better than Sarah feltshe had any right to expect. The house Benjamin eventuallybuilt for them, in three separate stages, was exquisite. Andaround it, letting the trees and rocks already there dictate itsdesign, Sarah created the garden it deserved. The childrenthrived. Whether it was Saturday morning soccer orhorseback riding, the school play or summer camp in theAdirondacks, Abbie was always the effortless star. With Josh it took longer. When he was just three he lost thetop part of his right index finger when Benjamin inadvertentlyslammed a car door on it. He had a series of operations tomake it look neater and it never seemed to hinder him in hiswriting or drawing or anything else. But it made him evenmore self-conscious and shy. He found school hard and wasslow to make friends and had Abbie not been at hand toprotect him, he might well have fallen prey to bullies. Butthough constantly in his sisterâ€™s shadow, gradually hegrew stronger and more confident, his asthma attacks lesssevere. He was a sensitive and loving child but with a kind ofdogged resilience, doubtless born of so much early suffering.Benjamin, of course, never forgave himself for the accident,even after Josh started joking about it, holding up two fingersand saying in a dopey hippie voice Almost peace, man,which became a sort of private family greeting and farewell.
The price for shepherding her son through histribulationsâ€”though she refused to so construe itâ€”wasSarahâ€™s career. She had let it dwindle and the phone hadfinally stopped ringing. And when he was at last happy andhealthy and secure and she started making calls herself, shefound the world had moved on. Television had become evenmore ruthlessly commercial and nobody seemed muchinterested in the kind of films she had made. Nor were theystrictly even films anymore. A whole new technology had takenover. Everyone was shooting documentaries on lightweightvideo; cutting rooms had junked the old Steenbeck machinesand gone electronic. It wouldnâ€™t have taken Sarah long tolearn how to adapt. But something held her back, a feelingthat her life had moved on and that perhaps she should trysomething new. It was Benjamin who came up with it. Arriving home oneevening, he mentioned casually that he had just seen a ForSale sign outside the local bookstore. It wasnâ€™t the mostinspiring of places and though Sarah, along with many friendsand neighbors, used it out of loyalty, everyone moaned aboutthe woman who owned it, how unimaginative, inept, andsometimes downright rude she was. Running her ownbookstore had always been one of Sarahâ€™s fantasies, butuntil Benjamin suggested they buy it, she had always thoughtof it in much the same way that he had once dreamed of beingPaul Newman. â€œWe canâ€™t afford it,â€ she said. â€œWe can.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t know how to do it.â€ â€œYou know darned well youâ€™d be brilliant at it.â€ And she was. Within three years she had turned VillageBooks around and started to make a modest profit. She hadBenjamin design an extension at the back and, long beforeanybody else was doing it, made it look like a den with floorlamps and comfy leather sofas and a little bar where you couldget coffee and soda and homemade cookies. She turned onecorner into a childrenâ€™s area with toys and a low tablewhere they could sit and read or doodle with crayons. She setup new and quicker ordering systems and shamelessly usedher old contacts, flattering and begging any writer she couldthink of to come and talk and sell a few books. Benjamin and Martin, meanwhile, went from strength tostrength. In the derelict downtown bakery that they hadconverted into a state-of-the-art studio, they now employedmore than fifty people. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, andwithout any formal decision ever being taken, Benjamin nowran the business while Martin was its driving creative force.And though Benjamin wasnâ€™t altogether happy about thisdivision of their labors and felt his fingers itch at the sight ofsome new design taking shape on the drawing board, heacknowledged that things seemed to work best this way. â€œHeâ€™s the genius and Iâ€™m the fixer,â€ he wouldsay. And though Sarah would always contradict this, not justbecause she sensed he wanted her to but because she hadalways hoped that one day he would be a great architect, she
came to accept that he was right. He was more an editor thana creator. If you showed him something, be it the draft of aletter or a newspaper ad for the bookstore or the design forsome sensational new building that Martin was working on, hecould immediately spot the weak points and know how toimprove them. It was a rare talent but one he didnâ€™t seemto value in himself. Now and again, just to keep his eye in, hewould become more hands-on with a project or even designsomething himself. And when this happened, Sarah saw thechange in him, in his spirits and his energy, how it seemed togalvanize and brighten him. He was the finest father to Abbie and Josh that she couldever have wanted. Whether it was helping with mathhomework or shooting hoops in the yard, ferrying them aroundtown to violin lessons or Little League or dressing up asDracula to entertain twenty kids at Halloween, he was alwaysthere for them. Sometimes, particularly during those threeyears when she was working long hours trying to turn thebookstore around and hadnâ€™t yet hired Jeffrey to help,Benjamin probably saw more of them than she did. She evenfound herself getting a little jealous when they turned to him forhelp with something rather than to her. Her friends were always saying how great he was, howmuch more he did than their husbands, how lucky Sarah wasto have him. But the remark that would always stick in hermind came from Iris. She and her stockbroker husband,Leoâ€”who, when he wasnâ€™t working, seemed to spendmost of his time on the golf courseâ€”lived in Pittsburgh,though in a neighborhood much classier than the one where
she grew up. Iris had gone into journalism and was now anassistant editor on the Post-Gazette. A couple of times a year,with their three rowdy children but no Leo, she would fly toNew York for a long weekend with the Coopers. During one such visit, on a sunny Saturday morning, the twowomen were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee andcatching up on news, while Benjamin, who had alreadycooked breakfast for everybody, stacked the dishwasher,sorted the laundry, compiled (without any reference to Sarah)a grocery list, then cheerily packed all five kids into the carand headed off to the mall. â€œIsnâ€™t that a little spooky?â€ Iris said. â€œWhat?â€ â€œHe does everything. He knows everything. Menarenâ€™t supposed to know how much butter there is in thefridge. I bet he even knows the kidsâ€™ shoe sizes.â€ â€œHe does.â€ â€œAnd their friendsâ€™ phone numbers?â€ â€œUh-huh.â€ â€œLeo doesnâ€™t even know their names. Does Benknow your dress size?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œYour bra size?â€ â€œI hate shopping. He buys most of my clothes.â€ â€œDoes he know when your periodâ€™s due?â€
â€œIrisâ€”â€ â€œDoes he?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œItâ€™s not natural.â€ â€œIris, for heavenâ€™s sake, itâ€™s not the nineteen-fifties.â€ â€œDonâ€™t get me wrong. Itâ€™s fantasticâ€”well,some of itâ€”but itâ€™s not natural.â€ Not quite in the next breath, but soon enough afterward for itto be apparent that there was a connecting thought, she wenton to tell Sarah something she had heard from a friend of hersin Pittsburgh, a hotshot divorce lawyer. The gist of it was that there were two types of men whoabsconded from their marriages: the naughty and the needy.The naughty absconder was a simple, dick-driven creaturewho just couldnâ€™t help himself. However much he mightlove his family, it always came second to his main object inlife, namely, chasing women. The needy absconder wasbasically insecure and forever trying to prove to himself howmuch everybody loved him. His family was, in effect, one biglove machine that needed his constant control and attention.When his kids grew older and got lives of their own anddidnâ€™t need him so much, he suddenly got scared and feltold and useless. So he ran off to look for a new love machinesomeplace else. Iris relayed all this more as a joke than as a serious piece
of social observation. But for days afterward, Sarah foundherself thinking about it. And the more she did, the angrier shebecame at the implication. She and Benjamin were happier than almost any coupleshe knew. Okay, maybe he was a little too fastidious, ever thearchitect. Everything in life had to be in the right place, at theappropriate angle, all balanced and neat and no rough edges.And she had to admit, he was a little needy. He liked to beliked. But didnâ€™t most men? The idea of his being the sort who suddenly upped and left,if this was indeed what Iris had been suggesting (though, evenas the thought occurred, Sarah was aware she was probablybeing a little paranoid here), was preposterous. They lovedand trusted each other. And even though their sex lifewasnâ€™t as exciting as he wanted and had for a long timebeen a source of some tension between them, she had never,not once in all the years they had been married, suspectedhim of cheating on her. He just wasnâ€™t the type. Any morethan she was. And in just about every other department, they were greattogether. Werenâ€™t they? So many wives and mothers werealways going on about how dreadful their husbands were, howselfish and boorish and uncommunicative they were. ButSarah had never felt that way. She and Benjamin had alwaystalked. About the people they knew, about their work, about allkinds of things. Mostly, of course, about Abbie and Josh.About their progress and problems and hopes, their triumphsat school, their disappointments. Their children were, she wasproud to say, the center of their universe. Thank God they
were. Surely, bringing up kids and doing all you could to makethem happy and secure and fit for life was what marriage wasall about. Could anything be more important? Only much later, when the children were well into their teensand Sarah was starting to look forward to all the things sheand Benjamin would soon be able to do, the places theywould travel to, just the two of them, did she notice the shadowthat sometimes seemed to fall on him. She would catch himstaring at her or into the distance with a look of suchdesolation that she would think something terrible hadhappened, that he was about to tell her he had cancer orsomebody they loved had died. She would ask him if he wasall right and he would click on a smile and say of course hewas, why? On their wedding day, her fatherâ€™s older sister hadtaken Sarah aside and, with a quiet intensity, vouchsafedsome advice. Elizabeth had always been her favorite aunt andhad once been a renowned society beauty. She had neverhad children and had enjoyed what the family referred to as aâ€œcolorfulâ€ life, which Sarah later realized was code forsleeping around. At the time, Elizabeth was on her thirdmarriage (and subsequently died just after her fourth), soSarah thought it both mildly amusing and a bit rich that sheshould presume to proffer guidance. â€œLook after each other,â€ she confided. It wasnâ€™t exactly earth-shattering, but Sarah smiledpolitely and said of course they would. Elizabeth shook herhead impatiently.
â€œNo, you donâ€™t understand. Look after each other.As a couple. When you have kids, youâ€™ll want to put themfirst. Donâ€™t. Marriage is like a plant. To keep it aliveyouâ€™ve got to water it and feed it. If you donâ€™t, whenthe kids are gone, youâ€™ll look in the corner and itâ€™ll bedead.â€
ELEVENEve had never consciously intended to keep her promise tocall the Coopers. And even after she had done so, she wasreluctant to analyze her motives. With all the hurt that was soonto be unleashed, she didnâ€™t like to think of herself as theinitiator. She preferred instead to believe it was all a matter ofdestiny. If not then and by those means, fate would doubtlesshave found some other way to bring her and Ben Coopertogether. During that week at The Divide she and Lori had becomeeverybodyâ€™s new best friends and Eve had been touchedby the warmth of their welcome. Sarah, in particular, hadsought to involve them from the start. Eve liked her wellenough, but no more so than any of the other women. She wasinteresting and witty and clearly very bright, but there was aslightly stiff quality, not grand or superior, just a little cool andinaccessible. She gave the impression that even if you weremarooned for ten years with her on a desert island, youprobably wouldnâ€™t get to discover who she really was. Butthere was something about her husband to which Eve had feltherself curiously attracted. It wasnâ€™t by any means immediate. In fact, at first,among all those new faces at the ranch, she hadnâ€™t reallypaid him much attention. He was one of the more interestingand artistic men there, for sure. She liked his sardonic take onlife and how he asked questions about Pablo and about her
work and her life in Santa Fe. And he actually seemedinterested in the answers. But as the week progressed, eventhough she probably talked seriously with him on only two orthree occasions, she began to sense a curious rapport. In a group, when that Bradstock man or someone else washolding forth, she and Ben would catch each otherâ€™s eye,exchange a wry smile. They had talked a lot about paintingand there was no doubt that she was flattered by his interest inher work. What had touched her, however, she later realized,was his sadness. But he was married. How happily, she couldnâ€™t say, butit made no difference. He was out of bounds. Eve had alwaysbeen strict about avoiding romantic entanglements withmarried men. Not so much from any moral scruple but ratherbecause she knew from the experiences of several friendsthat it almost always ended in tears. On the wall above the phone in her Santa Fe kitchen was acork pinboard, a cluttered collage of obsolete notes andgrocery lists, photos and postcards, along with Pabloâ€™slatest (and, naturally, brilliant) finger paintings. Among thischaos, which Eve never quite got around to tidying, was theinvitation to the opening of her friend Williamâ€™s exhibition.It was at an important SoHo gallery, his first big one-manshow, and he was a jangle of nerves, calling Eve almost everyday for moral support. Pinned next to the invitation was thescrap of paper on which Sarah had written the Coopersâ€™phone number. And one morning, in mid-July, after Williamhad called, Eve caught sight of it and stared at it for amoment, then picked up the phone and dialed it.
It was Sarah who answered. And she sounded genuinelypleased to hear from her. After further consultation, duringwhich Eve for no good reason found herself again pretendingthat she liked musicals, four tickets were duly booked for KissMe, Kate (four, because William, who really did love musicals,insisted on being Eveâ€™s date). A table was reserved forafterward at a place on Madison called La Goulue, which Evedidnâ€™t know but Sarah said she would adore. When Eveâ€™s cab pulled up in front of the theater andshe saw Ben Cooper waiting outside, sheltering from the rainwith many others under the glare of the lights, she assumedSarah must already have gone inside or had yet to arrive. Shesuddenly felt shy and almost asked the driver to go on andcircle the block but people were clamoring for the cab so shepaid and got out. She had no umbrella and so hopped as fastas she could through the puddles but still got drenched. He didnâ€™t see her until she was close beside him, andwhen he turned and saw her, his face broke from a harassedfrown to a smile so warm and welcoming that somethingturned over inside her. They tried to kiss each other on thecheek but both went for the same side so that their facescollided and they almost kissed on the lips instead. Theyjoked about the rain and the traffic and then she told him shewas sorry, but William wasnâ€™t with her. A big Germandealer had breezed into the gallery just before it closed andsaid he wanted to buy the whole show. â€œI would have called but it was too late.â€ â€œWe wanted to call you too but Sarah couldnâ€™t find
your cell number.â€ â€œIs she inside or . . . ?â€ â€œShe couldnâ€™t make it either. Some pain-in-the-assauthor who was supposed to be doing an event tomorrownight at the bookstore just pulled out. Sheâ€™s got a hundredpeople coming and nobody to talk to them. So now sheâ€™smelting the phones trying to find somebody else. I canâ€™ttell you how mad she is. She was so looking forward to seeingyou.â€ So it was to be just the two of them. And though they bothwent through the motions of asking each other if they shouldcall the whole thing off and go their separate ways, it wasclear neither of them wanted to. There were people waiting inline for returns and Ben handed the two spare tickets to ayoung couple and wouldnâ€™t allow them to pay him. The show was wonderful. How could she have ever thoughtshe didnâ€™t like musicals? They came out exhilarated, bothsaying they hadnâ€™t realized where all those famous songscame from. It was still raining but somehow they managed tofind a cab. Again they acted out the routine of asking eachother if they should call it a day and go home. But, of course,they didnâ€™t. Sitting next to him in the cramped backseat ofthe cab on their way uptown to the restaurant, laughing andtalking about the show, their legs touching and neither of themmaking any effort to move, she thought how handsome helooked and how good he smelled and then sharply told herselfoff. The restaurant was crowded and they sat crammed in a
corner next to a young couple who, somewhat disconcertingly,couldnâ€™t keep their hands or lips off each other. More byaccident than design, Eve was wearing the same green dressshe had worn on the night of Benjaminâ€™s birthday party.She thought how smart and different he looked in his blackpolo shirt and flecked charcoal jacket. â€œWhy does everybody in New York wear black?â€ shesaid. â€œMaybe weâ€™re all in mourning.â€ â€œFor what?â€ â€œOur lost innocence.â€ They ordered steak and salad and a delicious bottle ofMargaux. He asked her how Pablo was and she ended uptelling him all about the boyâ€™s father, Raoul, and how theyhad never really been a conventional kind of couple, more justgood friends who made the mistake of becoming lovers.Though, given that the result was Pablo, she said it waswithout a doubt the best mistake of her life. Then it was his turn to answer questions. She asked himabout Abbie and Josh and this led to a long discussion aboutparenting and their own parents. Eve told him hers were stillmore or less happily married and lived in San Diego, a placeshe didnâ€™t much care for. Ben talked about his father andhow they had never managed to get along. â€œHe thought I was an arrogant sonofabitch and he wasprobably right. I was. Itâ€™s nearly fifteen years since he diedand Iâ€™ve only just made peace with him. Itâ€™s funny how
these things go through phases. At first I was angry with him. Iused to go on about how he never loved me and alwayscriticized me. I actually really hated him for a while. Then,somehow, that passed and I just felt sad. And kind of cheated,you know? That we were never able to find each other. Andnow, itâ€™s funny, but I can honestly say I love him. And Iknow, in his own way, he loved me too. He just belonged to adifferent generation. Men werenâ€™t supposed to show theirfeelings like we do today. And he was so great with Abbiewhen she was a baby. He absolutely adored her. Used to sither on his knee and tell her stories. So sweet and tender.Iâ€™d never seen him like that. It was like he was trying togive her the love he hadnâ€™t been able to show me.â€ He smiled. â€œMind you, if you see photographs of me asa little kid, you can understand why he might have found ithard.â€ â€œUgly, right?â€ â€œMore like obnoxious.â€ â€œMine are ugly and obnoxious. Kind of Missy Prissymeets Barney the Bullfrog.â€ â€œSomehow I find that hard to believe.â€ â€œYou mean because now Iâ€™m so drop-deadgorgeous.â€ It was a dumb thing to say and it came out allwrong, as if she were putting him down for making a pass,which wasnâ€™t how she had taken it. He lookedembarrassed and smiled and took a sip of wine. The coupleat the next table were spoon-feeding each other chocolate
mousse. â€œYou know something?â€ she said, trying to put thingsright again. â€œIf he was alive today, you two would probablybe friends.â€ â€œYouâ€™re right. I think we would.â€ She asked about his mother and he told her how heâ€™dalways been her favorite, how in her eyes he could never doanything wrong, how he could probably tell her he was a serialkiller and she would still find a way of rationalizing it andadmiring him for it. Her adoration, he said, had becomesomething of a family joke. â€œNot so long ago she came to stay and we were drivinginto town. She was sitting up front and Abbie and Josh andSarah were in the back. And when I managed to park in what Ihave to say wasnâ€™t too challenging a space, she said,Ben, you are such a fanastic parker. Really. And I could seeSarah and the kids in the mirror, just cracking up. They still sayit every time I park the damn car.â€ Eve laughed and he shook his head and smiled and tookanother sip of wine. â€œItâ€™s fine,â€ she said. â€œShe loves you, thatâ€™sall. And they say a boy can never be loved too much by hismother. Itâ€™s empowering.â€ â€œWell, theyâ€™re wrong. I did therapy for a few monthsafter my dad died. And the guy told me that if you feel you arebeing loved for something that you know to be unjustified orfalse, in other words, if you know you are actually not the
superhero the other person thinks you are, then it doesnâ€™tcount. That kind of love doesnâ€™t empower you, it justmakes you feel like an impostor. So just you watch out withthat son of yours.â€ â€œHe parks his tricycle better than any kid I know.â€ â€œWell, there you go.â€ He had already refused to let her pay for the theater so shesneakily paid the check on her way back from the restroom. Itannoyed him a little but not for long. Outside the rain hadstopped. The streets and sidewalks glistened and the air waswashed and cool and smelled for the first time of autumn.They walked a couple of blocks and then he suddenly realizedhow late it was and that he was in danger of missing the lasttrain home. They waved down a cab and Ben asked the driverto hurry to Penn Station. When they got there he stuffed atwenty-dollar bill through the screen and made sure the driverknew where to take her. â€œIâ€™ve had such a great time,â€ Eve said. â€œThankyou.â€ â€œMe too.â€ They kissed each other on the cheek and this time got itright. â€œListen, Iâ€™ve got to run,â€ he said, climbing out.â€œIâ€™ll call youâ€”I mean, weâ€™ll call you, okay?â€ â€œOkay. Go see Williamâ€™s show if you have achance.â€
â€œIâ€™ll try. Bye now.â€ â€œBye. Say hi to Sarah and the kids!â€ But he was shutting the door as she spoke and seemed notto hear. Eve watched him jogging off into the station as thecab pulled away and when he had disappeared she leanedher head back against the seat and stared at the stainedlining of the roof. As Lori always said, it was one of lifeâ€™sbummers: how the only nice guys she ever got to meet thesedays were either married or gay. Eve called the following morning and was both relieved anda little disappointed when it was Sarah who answered. Theyagreed how sorry they were not to have seen each other.Sarah had found a less-well-known stand-in for her pain-in-the-ass author but was still anxious about breaking the newsto her customers when they arrived. Eve was flying back toNew Mexico that afternoon but she said she came to NewYork two or three times a year and on her next visit they woulddefinitely get together. â€œDefinitely,â€ Sarah said. â€œAnd you and Ben should come out to Santa Fesometime. Bring the kids, too.â€ â€œYou know, Iâ€™d love that. Iâ€™ve never been.â€ On the flight home and over the days that followed sheoccasionally found herself thinking about Ben and about howmuch she liked him. Yet it wasnâ€™t with anything remotelylike yearning or regret. The notion of their shared destiny hadyet to take shape. Over the years she had taught herself that
to look with longing down roads that were blocked broughtonly pain. And she thus simply accepted that this was howthings were and that they could not be otherwise. Nor, even if Ben had been single, would her attitudenecessarily have been different. There was an intensity abouthim that interested her but daunted her too. And she didnâ€™tfeel the need for that in her life right now. She had always,even as a child, been self-sufficient. Her parents had beencaring but slightly remote, nurturing in all three of their childrenan independence that only later did Eve appreciate as theirgreatest gift. It was a quality that others, men especially, oftenmisinterpreted as lack of commitment, assuming that a lovewithout need was somehow deficient. The only one who hadever fully understood was Raoul, who had clearly been carvedfrom the same grain. Even during the two years that they livedtogether, it had been as two separate souls, each alone andcontent to be so. Like travelers whose different journeys hadcoincided along a stretch of the same trail. Before Raoul, for virtually all her adult life, she had livedalone. But although she had known several sorts of pain, shehad never once known loneliness as more than an idea or asa condition that affected others. She had always had her workand her friends and, sometimes, when it seemed right anduncomplicated and there was mutual desire, but desire fornothing more, there had been lovers. One night, some ten days after she came back from NewYork, when Ben Cooper had faded from her thoughts and she
felt fully reconnected with her life in Santa Fe, she dreamedabout him. She was in a theater, not as gilded or grand as theone they had been to, and the production felt more junior-highthan Broadway. And Eve wasnâ€™t in the audience, she wasonstage. It was her turn to speak but she hadnâ€™t had timeto learn her lines. Then she caught sight of Ben in the front rowbeside an old woman she didnâ€™t recognize. He wasmouthing something, trying to tell Eve the line, but shecouldnâ€™t make it out and was getting more and moreanxious. Then she woke up. That same morning, on her way home from dropping Pabloat the nursery, she stopped for a newspaper at the DowntownSubscription on Garcia Street and there bumped into Lori.Sipping green mint tea in the sunlit yard, she recounted thedream. During their week in Montana they had agreed thatBen Cooper was one of the more attractive men on the ranchand Lori, with faked envy, had already elicited a detailedaccount of their evening in New York. After twelve years ofJungian analysis, she considered herself something of anexpert when it came to the deciphering of dreams. This one,she declared, was as clear as Evian. â€œThe old woman sitting next to him,â€ she said.â€œWhat was her demeanor?â€ â€œHer demeanor?â€ â€œHer attitude. Was she smiling, frowning or what?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ â€œEve, itâ€™s important. That was his mother. You
obviously want to know if she approves.â€ â€œI donâ€™t.â€ â€œYou do. Thatâ€™s why she was there.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t bring her. He did.â€ â€œYouâ€™re not taking this seriously.â€ â€œI know. Anyway, approve of what?â€ â€œYou. You and Ben.â€ â€œLori, give me a break. There is no me and Ben.â€ But even as she said it, a voice within her said there wouldbe.ÂÂÂHe checked in at the hotel just off the Plaza, a dark, folksyplace that looked as if it had known better times. He hadpicked it without further research from a travel guide thatclaimed both JFK and Errol Flynn had once stayed there. Ashe dumped his bag in the cramped and overheated room, itoccurred to Ben that given the true motive for this trip, hischoice of lodging might well have been influenced by asubconscious urge to associate himself with two such epiclotharios. He had time to kill and nearly called to see if Eve couldmeet earlier but then decided it would look too eager. The
flight from Kansas had gotten in early and despite the snowand the airport crowds of early holidaymakers and skiers, hehad driven up from Albuquerque in little more than an hour.The interstate was clear, and the only hazard was that his eyeskept straying west across the ghost-white landscape to amountain sunset of purple and vermilion. The snow had given him the pretext to rent an SUV, ametallic red Ford Explorer, which made him feel rugged andWestern, as did the red-and-black plaid woolen jacket andhiking boots and black Polartec beanie, all of which he hadbought in Missoula last month when they had taken Abbie tocheck out the University of Montana. Ben had almost packedhis Stetson but figured he wouldnâ€™t have the guts to wearit. The beanie, he believed, made him look hip and streetwise,though Abbie said it merely gave him the air of a geriatricmugger. Whatever, he was glad he had come properly equipped. Itwas starting to snow again and when he climbed back into thetruck it informed him that the temperature was eleven degreesbelow freezing. Without checking the map he nosed his wayout through the evening traffic on to Paseo de Peralta. It was nearly twelve years since he had been in Santa Febut even in the dark with everywhere decorated for theholidays he found he could still remember the basic layout ofthe place and soon he saw the sign he was looking for. Heturned off and drove slowly up the hill, then found a place topark and went on foot. The snowflakes were feathery and theirfall through the windless air seemed hesitant, as if both timeand gravity had somehow been suspended. The snow
squashed pleasingly under his boots. It seemed to make hismission all the more intrepid. Canyon Road was a Christmas movie set. There werelights in the trees and along the adobe faÃ§ades of the storesand galleries. The windows bristled with greenery and tinseland everywhere you looked there were strings of illuminatedred peppers and little candles in paper bags weighted withsand. On one street corner there was even a huddle of peoplesinging obscure carols around a little bonfire. Ben expectedany moment to hear someone shout Cut. He remembered the art galleries but they seemed to havespawned many more and most were still open, Aladdinâ€™scaves of warmth and color, their windows spilling quadranglesof yellow light on the snow of the sidewalk. The last time, theonly other time, he had been here, Ben had vowed that if hewas ever to take up painting for a living, this was where hewould live. Some of the pictures on show were good, butmany more werenâ€™t. And yet tourists flocked from all overthe world and paid premium prices. As long as it was big andbright and lavishly framed, it seemed you could sell just aboutanything. He still couldnâ€™t fully believe he was here. It was likewatching some other manâ€™s boots walking him up thewinding hill, some bolder or more reckless double. The sameone who had made the phone calls, found the appropriatelycasual tone of voice, told her he was coming to Kansasanyway to visit his mother, who had been unwell, and that itwas only a small plane hop farther. And, if she was interested,it might be an opportunity for them to talk about her doing
some murals for the lobby of the exciting new project he andMartin had going in Cold Spring Harbor. Perhaps she couldFedEx some photographs of her recent work? He hadshocked himself. Who was this man? And did he truly knowwhat he wanted? It wasnâ€™t, of course, his first foray into infidelity. And hecould remember the rejuvenating shiver of anticipation, thatinitial aliveness that nullified all prospect of guilt. For what, asyet, was there to feel guilty about? Twice, only twice, in all theyears of their marriage had he cheated on Sarah, and he hadmanaged to rationalize this fact to the point where the rarity ofhis transgression had become evidence of an almost virtuousrestraint. He knew many men, Martin for one, who were serial cheats,who never turned down any opportunity, who actively soughtthem out. Ben had witnessed him at work when they wereaway together at conferences, seen him target some likelyyoung woman at a party or in a hotel bar. Martin claimed hecould spot them from a hundred yards. Ben had watched himmove in. Watched, not in awe but certainly impressed, how heintroduced himself, how straightaway he made them laugh,how he listened, confided, and focused, creating an intimacylike a gardener tending a much-loved flower. And nine out often timesâ€”well, maybe not nine, maybe six, maybefourâ€”he would succeed. â€œThe trick is not caring if you get turned down,â€ Martinonce told him. â€œEven the ones who say no are usuallyflattered to be asked.â€
Ben envied the ease of it, the absence of worry andcommitment. To Martin it was just sex. He and Beth, whoeither deserved an Oscar or was genuinely the only person inNassau County who didnâ€™t know about her husbandâ€™stransgressions, would probably be married forever. But on thetwo occasions on which Ben had strayedâ€”once with a younglawyer from Queens who at the time was doing someconveyancing work for him, the other with an older, marriedwoman he had met at the tennis clubâ€”he had ended upfalling in love. And mainly because he had no intention ofleaving Sarah (and, more to the point, of leaving the kids, whowere then still very young), neither affair had lasted long andboth had ended in acrimony. It was a miracle nobody everfound out. The only person Ben had ever talked to about it wasMartin. â€œYou know what my problem is?â€ he confided in amoment of rash self-pity after his tennis affair had comeunstrung. â€œI donâ€™t seem to be able to separate loveand sex.â€ Martin laughed. â€œMy problem is Iâ€™ve never been able to connectthem.â€ So here he was again. In his heart, at least, a rebornadulterer. Not yet completely sure he was in love, but well onthe way. And it was ridiculous, on several levels. He hardlyknew the woman. And although he could tell, even at TheDivide, and certainly that evening in New York, that she likedhim and that there was even a little frisson of something more
between them, it didnâ€™t mean a thing. Maybe he shouldjust forget it. Be nice but businesslike. Have a drink, talk aboutthe murals. Fly home. But he knew, as soon as he saw her, that wasnâ€™t how itwas going to be. Tired and almost color-blind from his tour ofthe galleries, he was sitting over a straight-up margarita in therear corner of the bar where they had arranged to meet. It wasone long room, dark and narrow, with polished wood floorsand paintings on every inch of wall (there was no escape inSanta Fe, it seemed). He saw the door open and a suddenflurry of snowflakes and when they had gone, there she was.She was wearing a battered and stained old cowboy hat anda big and belted blanket of a coat in deep red and green. Shetook off the hat and shook her hair and knocked the snow fromthe brim and one of the men sitting at the bar, someone sheclearly knew, said something Ben couldnâ€™t hear and shelaughed and went over to the guy who put an arm around herand kissed her and she propped her arm on his shoulder andstood for a few moments talking and laughing with them all. Then one of them swiveled on his stool and pointed at Ben,and she looked his way and smiled and headed toward him.And he watched her walk the length of the room, the lamplightglinting in her eyes that stayed on him all the way, the smileshifting a little, fading as if some qualifying thought or warninghad crossed her mind, then reasserting itself, still warm, justmore composed. He stood and said hi and she didnâ€™t reply, just leanedacross the table and put her hand on his arm and pressed hercold, cold cheek to his and the smell of her almost made him
moan. Loriâ€™s gallery, she said, was directly opposite andabout to close. So he left his margarita, grabbed his coat, andfollowed her out and across the street. Lori was away but hadleft a message for Ben saying all fellow dudes from TheDivide qualified for a ten percent discount. Eveâ€™s paintings, two enormous triptychs in oil, hungeerily lit in a long stone-walled room at the back of the gallery.They were much more powerful than they had looked in thephotographs she had sent. The larger of the two was calledThe Visitation. It looked almost biblical, its colors rich anddark, purple and indigo and deep carmine. In the outer twopictures, animals of many kinds, in paler shades of bone andstone, writhed and tangled among roots, as if swirled in agreat wind. In the center panel, in a pool of light, reared a hugewinged figure, part horse, part human, part reptile, almightyyet benign. Ben was shocked and moved but didnâ€™t knowquite what to say except that it was wonderful, extraordinary,that it had astonishing power. He thought, but thought it betternot to say, that the atrium of a Long Island insurance companyoffice perhaps needed something a little tamer. They went back to the bar and settled at the same table. Heordered her a glass of red wine and another margarita forhimself and they talked for an hour without a pause. About theweather, about Pablo, about what they had done atThanksgiving. About his trip to Missoula last month with Abbieto check out the university and how she was planning to spendthe coming summer working for Greenpeace. And, of course,about business, those spurious murals, the pretext for hispresence here this snowy and unreal night in Santa Fe. It was
all so effortless. They seemed to understand each other,laughed at the same things, remembered little details abouteach otherâ€™s lives. She even teased him, asking himwhere he had parked and how well he had done it. He asked if she had eaten and she said she hadnâ€™t andthat she was famished, so they took a table by an open fire inthe labyrinth of a restaurant that adjoined the bar and ateshrimp and spicy grilled chicken and beans and kept ontalking. She was wearing old blue jeans and a gray-greencashmere cardigan which after a while in the heat of the fireshe took off. Underneath she had on a matching sleevelesstop, which showed the shape of her breasts. Bare-shoulderedin the candlelight, she was so disconcertingly beautiful thatBen found it hard not to gape. Had she not felt the same, felt as comfortable and open ashe did, perhaps she wouldnâ€™t have said it. It was the kindof comment that stopped men in their tracks. And, lookingback on it later, Ben thought it a miracle that such a uselessseducer as himself hadnâ€™t curled up in a ball and hiddenunder the table. But when they were through eating and, for thefirst time all evening, silence had fallen between them and theywere just sitting there looking at each other in a way that saidin neon letters a foot high what next? she took a drink, putdown the wineglass, and said: â€œSo, Ben. Tell me why youâ€™re really here.â€ She said it gently and with a smile that was neither mockingnor reproachful. And instead of clenching with fear orembarrassment, with only a short pause and no waver of his
eyes, he told her, simply, that he had fallen in love with her. Hesaid that ever since the night of his birthday party at TheDivide, he hadnâ€™t been able to stop thinking about her.That he had never felt so powerfully about any woman before. This astonishing declaration (he astonished even himself)wasnâ€™t something Ben had rehearsed or intended. Itwasnâ€™t his clubfooted version of the master Martinâ€™sseduction technique. And as he heard himself spilling his truefeelings as if in some parody of a confessional, he was ofcourse aware of what a foolish risk he was taking, hownothing was more likely to scare her off. But he didnâ€™tstop. Instead, in a quiet, measured voice he went on to say thatsince their evening together in New York, he had been drivinghimself crazy, wondering what to do and how to get to see heragain, that he had several times tried to write her a letter buthadnâ€™t been able to find the right words. He was now talking mostly to his hands clasped on thetable before him. Every so often he lifted his eyes to assesswhat effect his words might be having but all he could detectwas a sort of suspended surprise. Then, just as he wasfinishing, she glanced at his hands and he realized that all thistime he had been fiddling with his wedding ring. He smiled and shrugged. â€œWell, there you go,â€ he said. There was a long silence. She sat back and stared at him. â€œWell,â€ she said at last. â€œI donâ€™t know what to
say.â€ â€œIâ€™m sorry. You donâ€™t have to say anything.â€ â€œOh, okay.â€ â€œNo, I mean, you asked me why I was here, so youobviously knew it wasnâ€™t just about the pictures. And Ithought, hell, why pretend? Just tell her.â€ She picked up her wineglass and drank, watching him allthe time. â€œSo it wasnâ€™t my work you were interested in afterall.â€ â€œYour paintings are wonderful.â€ â€œSo do I get the job?â€ â€œIf you want it.â€ â€œPhew! Well, thatâ€™s all that matters.â€ They sat awhile, smiling sadly at each other. â€œArenâ€™t you supposed to say Sarah doesnâ€™tunderstand you?â€ â€œI think she does, as a matter of fact. Too well, probably.Weâ€™re just not the same people anymore. Iâ€™d reallyappreciate it if youâ€™d cover up those shoulders.â€ She slowly pulled on her cardigan. â€œOr maybe donâ€™t,â€ he said. â€œTell me, do you do this a lot?â€
â€œNo.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t think so.â€ â€œThanks.â€ The waitress arrived and asked if they were finished andshe looked a little puzzled when they laughed. Ben asked forthe check. When the woman had gone, Eve reached acrossthe table and held his hand. â€œBen, I like you very much. But Iâ€™ve never beeninvolved with a married man and Iâ€™m not going to startnow. If you were free, it might be different.â€ They kissed good-bye in the street like friends and shewalked away up the hill without looking back. The snow hadstopped but he had to clear a good six inches of it off thetruckâ€™s windshield. He drove to his hotel in a state ofboyish elation. And the next morning, as his plane bankednorth and east against the cloudless cobalt, he looked downon the mountains puckered like scars across the white of thedesert and felt a kind of soaring clarity. He was going home. But it was a word whose meaning hadchanged, a place that in his heart, he had already left. Eventhough she hadnâ€™t actually said it, what he had heard wasthat she would have him if he made himself free. And with thereckless bliss of the ignorant, he had already begun theprocess.
TWELVEIt was hard to get lost in Missoula even if you wanted to.Wherever you were, all you had to do to get your bearings waslook around and find the big letter M, embossed in whitehalfway up the steep shoulder of grass that reared on thesouth bank of the Clark Fork River. Though only a hill, it wascalled Mount Sentinel and if you had the legs and lungs andinclination to hike the trail that zigzagged up it, you could standby the M and gaze out across the town at a travel-brochureshot of forest and mountain dusted from early fall with snow.Assuming you could take your eyes off it, if you looked down,just above the toes of your boots, laid out at the foot of the hillwas the campus of the University of Montana. It was a tranquil, pleasant place, though its older buildings,crafted in red brick a century ago, seemed to be striving for agrandeur eschewed by the more modern ones. The hub of thecampus was a broad expanse of grass known as The Ovalwhere in the summer students liked to lounge in the sun andplay Frisbee. Quartered by paths of gray stone and redcobbles salvaged from the streets of downtown Missoula, ithad once been graced with stately American elms that one byone had fallen to disease. Apart from a few braveponderosas, their successorsâ€”maple, red oak, and honeylocustâ€”still looked young and vulnerable. To protect them,stationed on a plinth of gray cement at The Ovalâ€™s westernentrance, stood a massive grizzly bear.
He was on his hind legs, glowering into the distance, jawsparted in a silent snarl of bronze, as if sensing some imminentattack. And to those who knew their recent history, the posturewas not inappropriate. For in the thirty-odd years he hadstood there, the college had been under regular and rigorousassault. Conservative Montanaâ€”and that meant most ofitâ€”viewed the place as a cauldron seething with liberalpoison, the most potent of which was brewed in the buildingjust behind the bearâ€™s shoulder. Rankin Hall stood on a base of rough-hewn rock up whichtwelve stout steps led to an arched double door flanked byclassical pillars. In the hallway, among the posters andcartoons and notices of upcoming concerts and exhibitions,hung a framed sepia photograph of the woman for whom thebuilding was named. In her feathered hat, high-collared shirt,and somber suit, Jeannette Rankin, suffragist, pacifist, andthe first woman ever elected to the nationâ€™s House ofRepresentatives, looked far too demure a figure to bepresiding over such a hotbed of controversy. But that wasexactly what she was doing, for Rankin Hall was the home ofthe universityâ€™s notorious environmental studies program. Born in the protest years of the Vietnam War, it took a self-effacing pride in grooming activists, whoâ€”or so its criticsclaimedâ€”had gone on to wreck the stateâ€™s economy byrobbing it of thousands of jobs in mining and logging, with thealleged result that Montanans now had the forty-sixth lowestper capita income in the union. That the truth was, of course,more complex hadnâ€™t dampened conservative efforts toshut the program down. There were constant attempts to rein
it in and slash its funding. Professors were accused of givingcredits to students who demonstrated or spiked trees orlocked themselves to logging trucks. And once, on thetouching assumption that a wall map of Montana forests,dotted with colored pins, was in fact an official tree-spikingmaster plan, federal agents brandishing guns had stormed theplace and later slunk out with large streaks of egg on theirfaces. None of this notoriety was known to Abbie Cooper whenshe set her heart on coming here to college. And if it hadbeen, she wouldnâ€™t have breathed a word to anyone,especially not her grandfather, who considered her choice notsimply an aberration but almost a personal slight. Perhaps alittle reluctantly, her mom had sided with him, echoing his viewthat it was a sin for someone of Abbieâ€™s talents not, at thevery least, to check Harvard out first. Abbieâ€™s dad,predictably, was already on her side. But as a concession toher mom and grandpa she agreed to take the tour and, in aconspiring gray drizzle, trudged with a lengthening facearound Cambridge and later (Honey, come on, please,itâ€™s only down the road) around Wellesley. That evening, to nobodyâ€™s surprise, she hadannounced, with more than a touch of melodrama, that shewould rather stack shelves in Wal-Mart than go to either one ofthem. And that was when her mom gave up and the deal wasdone. She would go to UM where she was duly promised aplace for the following fall. She would major, naturally, inenvironmental studies. The summer after her high-school graduation was the best
of her life. She spent two weeks in Wyoming with Ty, workingon the ranch. She had been planning to stay longer, but hewas getting a little too keen and though she liked him a lot,Abbie wasnâ€™t ready for the kind of commitment heseemed to want. Two weeks earlier than scheduled, she flewto Vancouver and signed on with Greenpeace. The work was neither taxing nor truly exciting but the peopleshe met more than compensated and she forged many newfriendships. The high points were the trips they made by seakayak, exploring the wild inlets farther up the coast. Theywatched bears scoop salmon from the shallows and paddledamong pods of orcas, so close you could have reached outand touched them. At night they camped at the waterâ€™sedge, listening to the blow of whales in the bay and the distanthowl of wolves in the forest above. The only shadows on these long idyllic days were theseabirds they found, dead and dying in the rock pools, theirfeathers clogged with oil sludge. They saved those they couldbut most were too far gone. The sight of their sufferingseemed to light a wick of anger in Abbieâ€™s heart. She flew home in August, with just a week to get ready forUM. Her mom was edgy and fragile and there was a sadnessabout her that Abbie hadnâ€™t seen before. Her dad tooseemed somehow different, quieter, a little preoccupied.When asked, her mom made light of it, saying they had bothbeen working too hard and hadnâ€™t been able to take avacation. Josh had just come home from a month with theBradstocks on Lake Michigan and spent most of the week on
the phone with Katie or moping in his room. Abbie found it alla little depressing. The night before she was due to fly out to Missoula, hermom came into Abbieâ€™s room while she was packing thelast of her things. The image seemed suddenly too much forher and she broke down and cried. Abbie put her arms aroundher. â€œIâ€™m sorry, I didnâ€™t mean to do this,â€ shesniffed, trying to sound cheery. â€œIâ€™m just being silly. Ithink moms are allowed a few tears when their little girls leavehome.â€ â€œOh, Mom. Iâ€™ll be back.â€ â€œI know.â€ â€œIs that all it is? Really?â€ â€œWhy? Isnâ€™t it enough? Listen, youâ€™re going tohave such a fabulous time. Iâ€™m just jealous, thatâ€™sall.â€ÂÂÂAbbieâ€™s room at UM was in Knowles Hall, a neat butunprepossessing four floors of brick and cement whose onlyflourish was a white-scalloped porch stacked with bicycles. Itstood just off The Oval in a walkway lined with sugar mapleswhich now, after the first harsh frost of fall, were turning fromfiery orange to red. The room itself, midway along one of six
Center. In ones and twos, every few minutes, friends wouldcome drifting down the corridor and see the closed door. Theywould frown, maybe knock and listen for a moment, and whenthey heard nothing, they would shrug, scribble a message,then shamble back along the corridor to the stairwell. Abbieand Mel werenâ€™t home and nobody knew why. Abbie was beginning to wish she was. The pain was gettingso intense, she was afraid she wasnâ€™t going to last out. Itcame in nauseous spasms that left her close to tears. But shewas damned if she was going to let them see her cry. Therewasnâ€™t a part of her that didnâ€™t hurt. She hurt in placesshe never knew she had. For the last five hours she had been sitting locked by herneck to a metal gate. It felt like five days. The lock was thekind they used for bicycles, U-shaped and made of toughenedsteel, and the crossbar to which it was fixed was so high thather spine felt as if it had stretched several inches already.Whenever she tried to relax, the lock tried to garrote her. Thebruises on her neck must have swollen because the lockseemed to be getting tighter and tighter. She had to keeptelling herself not to panic. The morning had been sunny and, for late October,unusually mild. But then the wind had shifted north and theclouds rolled in and the temperature started to plummet. Thedamp cold of the red-dirt road had at last found its waythrough the tarp they had given her to sit on and through all herlayers of Gore-Tex and thermal underwear and was now risinglike an icy fog into every bone of her body. All she could hopewas that soon she would go numb.
â€œHow are you doing, sister?â€ Hacker called. Abbie forced a grin. Even that hurt. â€œGreat,â€ she said. â€œGetting cold?â€ â€œNo, Iâ€™m fine.â€ By now it was quite a party. Including Abbie and her tenfellow protesters, there were probably forty or fifty people anda whole fleet of vehicles parked down the hill, another one justpulling up as she looked. There were Forest Service agents,the county sheriff and a whole posse of deputies, people fromthe logging company, newspaper reporters andphotographers, all standing around watching and chatting andwaiting for something to happen. Even the perky little guy fromthe Forest Service who all morning had been videoingeverything seemed to have run out of ideas and was nowleaning on the hood of his truck looking as bored as the rest ofthem. The freezing air was filled with the crackle and blurt of adozen shortwave radios and the constant underlying throb ofthe helicopter that all morning had been hoisting felledlodgepole out of the valley below. The truck that had justarrived belonged to a local TV station. The reporter and hercameraman were ambling up the hill toward them. Hackerstarted up the chant again. Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Lawless logging has got to go! Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Lawless logging has got to go! â€œCome on, guys, letâ€™s keep the show going here!â€
stardom. But when the reporter came up the hill, it was onlyHacker she wanted to talk with. She and the cameraman lined him up in front of the gate sothe dancing trout and the banner could be seen behind him. Inhis confident drawl he explained that they were blocking theroad to stop an illegal timber sale and that, while pretending tobe clearing out fire-hazardous dead trees, the loggingcompany was in fact, with the Forest Serviceâ€™s quietconnivance, clear-cutting green trees. You could tell from the accomplished way he laid down thesound bites that he had done this sort of thing before. Joelâ€œHackerâ€ Hackman, veteran of a hundred lockdownsand almost as many arrests, was one of Missoulaâ€™s manyminor ecolegends. Balding, bearded, and built like a bear witha beer gut, he was a good fifteen to twenty years older thanthe rest of them. He was a UM forestry graduate of the earlyeighties and had never gone home to Omaha, Nebraska(Why would anyone? he liked to joke, before anyone elsesaid it). Instead he had built himself a cabin in the Bitterrootsand founded a small organization called Forest Action, whoseprimary, if not sole, purpose was to make life as hard aspossible for the Forest Service and logging companies.Abbie and Mel had met him nearly two months ago duringtheir first week at UM when they were checking out the localenvironmental groups. Charmed and inspired, they had donevolunteer work for him ever since, which until today had mostlymeant stuffing envelopes. Hacker had once been married and had a fourteen-year-oldson he doted on but didnâ€™t see so much of nowadays
since the boy had moved with his mother to Santa Barbara.Whether the woman had gotten more tired of having to bailHacker out of jail every few months or of his legendarywomanizing nobody knew for sure. He had hit on Abbie acouple of times already and the second time, late one night ata party after a little too much to drink, she had very nearlysuccumbed. She certainly found him more attractive than theboys she had met so far at UM, guys like Scott and Eric, whowere fun to hang out with but just a little immature. In theknowing looks Hacker had ever since been giving her, Abbiecould tell he considered her unfinished business. If she was honest with herself, the prospect didnâ€™tdisplease her and perhaps the only thing that had held herback was a confused and faintly guilt-ridden sense of loyalty toTy. During the two months she had been in Missoula, they hadseen each other only once, when he drove all the way fromWyoming to spend a weekend with her. And though it wasgood to see him, he had seemed, with his hat and boots andhis gentle, old-fashioned manners, a little awkward and out ofplace among her hipper new crowd of college friends. The TV reporter now interviewing Hacker was a pinch-faced woman of about thirty. She was wearing a voluminousblack parka with a fur hood that made her look as if she wasbeing swallowed by a bear. She was listening to Hackerâ€™smonologue with a half-smile that somehow succeeded inbeing both patronizing and disapproving. But maybe she wasjust bored and cold, like Abbie. â€œAnd whatâ€™s with the dancing fish?â€
â€œThis creek is one of the last good spawning groundsfor bull trout,â€ Hacker said. â€œClear-cutting these slopes,like theyâ€™re doing down there right now with thathelicopter, means all the water runs off into the creek, carryingthe mineral earth with it. The sediment builds up, the fishdonâ€™t spawn anymore. Kills the forest, kills the fish. Thekind of reckless corporate greed Montanaâ€™s seen toomuch of.â€ Just as the interview was winding up, there was the soundof a vehicle coming down the hill behind the gate, then a longblast of horns. Hacker turned to look and, for the first time, thereporter seemed interested. She whispered to thecameraman to keep shooting. The sheriff and his deputiesand the Forest Service people were all hurrying up the hilltoward them. Abbie braced herself for the pain and managedto swivel around just in time to see the dancing trout leap outof the path of a mud-spattered red pickup. It scrunched to ahalt just a few feet from the gate. â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ â€œLogging crew,â€ Hacker said quietly. The truck doors opened and four men got out to have abetter look at what was going on. They wore feed caps andexpressions of amused distaste. All but one, who from hisswagger seemed to be the one in charge, looked about thesame age as the protesters. But that was the only thing theyhad in common. Alongside them, even Hacker looked boyish.He stepped forward with a comradely smile. â€œHi, fellas. Sorry about the inconvenience. Weâ€™re
just peacefully protesting the illegal clear-cutting thatâ€™sgoing on here.â€ The foreman, if that was what he was, didnâ€™t answer,just gave him a look and walked past and came around the farend of the gate. He had a ponytail and an earring and a blackcircle of beard and mustache around a tight little mouth. Withhis thumbs tucked into the belt loops of his blue jeans, hesauntered past Mel and Scott, looking down on them as if atsome lower form of life. He stopped in front of Abbie andstood there, chewing on something and staring down at herwith an odd half-smile. â€œMust be nice having nothing to do all day â€™cept sitaround on your ass,â€ he said. â€œSure beats brainlessly butchering green trees,â€Abbie said. She saw Hacker scowl and wondered why. Theforemanâ€™s eyes narrowed. He sucked in his cheeks,rotated his chin a fraction, then sent a glob of black tobaccojuice splatting onto the road a few inches from her right boot.Abbie had a sudden urge to kick him in the balls but decidedit might not be too smart a move. â€œWho are you calling brainless, you little tree-huggerbitch?â€ Hacker stepped forward. The TV camera was still rolling.You could see the reporter almost wetting herself withexcitement. â€œHey, guys, easy now,â€ Hacker said.
Abbieâ€™s heart was racing. She hoped she didnâ€™tlook half as scared as she felt. Thank God, just at thatmoment, two of the deputies and Iverson, the senior ForestService agent, arrived. He was tall, with a gingery blondmustache and gold-rimmed glasses, and in his Stetsonseemed a much more commanding figure than the tubby littlesheriff still panting up the hill behind him. He had handled theprotest all day with a firm but courteous good humor. â€œOkay, everybody. Letâ€™s keep things nice and calmhere.â€ â€œWeâ€™ve got no grouse with you fellas,â€ Hackersaid to the foreman. â€œYouâ€™re just doing your job, weknow that. Itâ€™s your employers who need to know better.â€ The guy turned to face him. â€œNow youâ€™re saying it too. Weâ€™re just ignorantsons-of-bitches.â€ â€œNo, sir. I donâ€™t mean that at all. We appreciate youhave to earn a livingâ€”â€ â€œWeâ€™ve been working our butts off up here sincefive this morning and now we want to go home, okay?â€ â€œWeâ€™re sorry about that, butâ€”â€ â€œJust open the goddamn gate.â€ â€œOkay, gentlemen, thatâ€™s enough,â€ Iverson said,stepping between them with his palms raised, facing thelogger now. â€œSir, if you and your colleagues wouldnâ€™tmind going back over there to your vehicle, weâ€™ll see if we
can sort something out here.â€ After twenty minutes of negotiation, the moment Abbie hadbeen longing for arrived. Hacker was persuaded that theprotest had made its point. Someone produced the keys tothe bicycle locks and one by one Hacker freed them, Mel andScott first, then Abbie. As he knelt down beside her, shesmiled and thought he might say well done or ask how she felt,but he didnâ€™t say a word or even look her in the eye. When she stood up her joints seemed to have frozen andshe almost fell over. But it sure felt good to be free. They allstood aside and as the loggersâ€™ pickup drove past, shesaw the foreman staring at her through the glass. The look inhis eyes made her hope they would never meet again. It was a three-hour trip back to Missoula and they pulled intothe first eating place they found and refueled on pizza andfries and chocolate fudge pie, all washed down with a gallonof hot coffee. Spirits were running high and they laughed andjoked as they rowdily relived the dayâ€™s events. Todd andP.J. kept teasing Abbie about what she had said to the logger,mimicking what she had only lately been made aware was herslightly haughty-sounding East Coast accent. â€œBe off with you, you brainless tree butcher person!â€Todd hooted. It was all well intended and Abbie gave as good as she got.Eric said he was going to write a new song calledâ€œButchers & Huggers,â€ and she retorted that if anyoneneeded a new song, he did. Then they got to talking aboutgoing up to Seattle the following month, after Thanksgiving, to
protest the World Trade Organization meeting. Todd, who wasalready making banners, said it was going to be a blast andthat the whole world was going to be there. Sitting snugamong these new friends, bonded by youth and adventure andgiddy idealism, the chill in her bones melting in a warm,replenishing glow, Abbie felt joyful and proud and absurdlyheroic. It was dark when they came out. Weaving a route amongthe red neon puddles of the parking lot to their cars, she foundherself alone for a few moments alongside Hacker. â€œYou did good today,â€ he said. â€œThanks.â€ â€œHas your butt thawed out yet?â€ â€œAlmost.â€ â€œBut, you know, saying what you did to that guy was amistake. You turned him into your enemy.â€ â€œHe didnâ€™t exactly look like he wanted to befriends.â€ â€œMaybe not. But itâ€™s better to make him smile thanspit. The rule is: Defuse, donâ€™t escalate. One snideremark and the whole atmosphere flipped.â€ â€œAll I said wasâ€”â€ â€œWe all heard what you said. Thing is, you made himlook like a fool and that made him mad. Itâ€™s people likehim we need to win over.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ â€œItâ€™s okay. Iâ€™m only telling you so next timeyouâ€™ll know.â€ It was Abbieâ€™s turn to feel foolish. Packed with half adozen others in the back of Hackerâ€™s old VW camper van,she brooded awhile. Always the proud perfectionist, she neverfound criticism easy to take, however well meant. But shewasnâ€™t going to let it spoil her day or let Hacker knowheâ€™d gotten to her and by the time they reached Missoulashe was again laughing with the others. The plan was for everyone to go back to Todd andEricâ€™s place, a ramshackle house on Fourth Street thatbacked onto the river. But when they stopped at the liquorstore to pick up a keg, Abbie said she needed to do somework and was going to head back to the dorm. Hacker offeredto drop her off but she said she wanted to walk. â€œNo hard feelings,â€ he said quietly. â€œOf course not.â€ She said good night to everyone and thanked Hackerpolitely for the ride and for letting her come along. But she wasdamned if she was ever going to stuff another envelope forhim. And as for going to bed with him, well, maybe when hellfroze over.
THIRTEENSarah had never much cared for Thanksgiving. There was toomuch work and too much tension, both of which seemed todouble when, every alternate year, it was their turn to haveBenjaminâ€™s mother to stay. In the days when his father hadbeen alive, her parents-in-law had always stayed homeandâ€”again, every second yearâ€”Sarah and Benjamin hadbeen expected to fly to Kansas, where tensions of a differentorder applied (most of them between Benjamin and his father)and Sarah had felt more like a spectator than a participantand had been able to relax a little. Had she been told that oneday she would feel nostalgia for those Abilene Thanksgivingsshe would never have believed it. The turkey had gone into the oven at eight-thirty and as itcooked, so had Sarahâ€™s temper. Every twenty minutes orso, Margaret came wandering into the kitchen to ask again ifthere was anything she could do and no matter how oftenSarah said thanks, but no, really, everything was under controland going just fine, she would hover, making little commentsabout how the meal was being prepared. How interesting itwas that Sarah basted the turkey so rarely or how unusual itwas not to flour the roasted potatoes. More to get rid of her than anything else, Sarah had allowedher to help set the dining room table, but even then Margarethad to go fetch the iron to get rid of the creases in the whitelinen tablecloth. The crowning insult was her readjustment of
the center decoration of mahonia and lilies that had takenSarah an hour to make the previous night. The poor womanwas probably unaware that any of her actions could beconstrued as criticism, but just when Sarah was telling herselfnot to be so paranoid, that her mother-in-law meant well, shewould catch her running a covert finger along a shelf to checkfor dust. Then there were the stories, endlessly repetitive, aboutfriends or neighbors back in Abilene, almost invariably peopleSarah had never met or about something that had happenedon a daytime TV show she had never seen or about someheroic or amusing escapade from Benjaminâ€™s boyhoodthat everyone had heard twenty times before. Margaret Cooper was a small, rounded woman, with a tightgray perm and a constant, utterly unconvincing smile in whichher mouth did all the work while her eyes remained steely. Inher late seventies, she was still physically robust andmeticulous in her appearance. But in the twelve months sinceSarah had last seen her, the repetition had become almostruthless. Even if you gently let her know that she had alreadytold you something, she would insist on telling you again. Benjamin, meanwhile, as he so often did when his mothercame to stay, had disappeared. Most of the morning he hadbeen stuck in his studio talking on the phone, probably toMartin or to Eve Kinsella in Santa Fe about those dreadfulpaintings she was doing for their new office block. And whenhe came in he went straight to the living room and slouched onthe couch next to Abbie, listening to tales of derring-do in theforests of Montana. Sarah would have liked to hear them too if
she had had only a moment to sit down. Abbie, bless herheart, had offered to help but Sarah had told her the mostuseful thing she could possibly do was entertain hergrandmother and keep her out of the kitchen. What had gotten into Benjamin lately, Sarah couldnâ€™tfigure out. He used to help out but these days barely lifted afinger. Except, of course, at the gym, which had become hisnew obsession. Since this time last year, he must have lostabout ten or twelve pounds and he claimed it made him feel alot better, though it certainly didnâ€™t seem to have madehim any happier. His face seemed to grow a little longer everyday. Perhaps it was being stretched by all those newly tonedmuscles. She knew how much he missed Abbie. They all did. But hisway of coping with it seemed to be to retreat into himself. Shehardly saw him. He got up at six every morning to go to thegym and drove from there to work. And when he came home,more often than not, he said he had work to do and carried hissupper out to the studio. And Josh was always either out with friends or up in hisroom talking to Katie Bradstock or playing that awful,thumping music and pretending to work. How he could evenhear himself think was a mystery. So mostly Sarah ate alonenow, maybe watched a little TV, and then, at about nine-thirty,went to bed and read. By the time Benjamin came to bed, shewas usually asleep. They hadnâ€™t made love in nearly twomonths. He just didnâ€™t seem bothered anymore. On thecouple of occasions that she had tried to initiate it, he said hefelt too tired.
Sarah had done her best to turn things around. Books onthe subject all said that combating empty-nest syndromeâ€”or,in their case, half-empty-nestâ€”required effort. So lastweekend, when Josh was sleeping over at a friendâ€™splace, as a surprise, she had booked a table at a newseafood restaurant that had opened in Oyster Bay. The place was crowded, the atmosphere lively, and the foodterrific and Sarah tried, God how she tried, to get some kindof conversation going. But Benjamin just didnâ€™t seem towant to know. He answered her questions, sure. But hedidnâ€™t ask any of his own and after about half an hourthere they were, sitting in silence, looking around at the otherpeople who were, of course, all talking and having fun. Sarahremembered how they used to joke about married couples inrestaurants who sat there looking sad and bored, and howBenjamin would invent a fantasy dialogue of what might berunning through their heads. And now they were that couple. Italmost broke her heart. To see him now so lively and regenerated by Abbieâ€™spresence, bantering with her as they all sat around thecreaseless table, somehow only made it worse. But Sarahwas trying not to think about it. She kept telling herself to smileand laugh along with the others, to be positive. It was the daywhen every family had an overriding duty to be happy and notto brood on the cracks that might be running up the walls. Theturkey, however inadequately basted, had been adjudged byall a triumph. And though Margaret had taken just one smallmouthful of her pumpkin pie before gently shunting her plateaway, everyone else seemed to be enjoying it. Benjamin was
asking Abbie about going to the WTO meeting in Seattle thefollowing week and what kind of protest she and her friendswere planning. â€œWhat does WTO stand for?â€ Margaret asked. â€œItâ€™s the Whatever happened to Ty Organization,â€Josh chipped in. Abbie had earlier made the mistake of telling Sarah in hispresence that she had seen Ty only once since the summerand that she felt a little guilty about it. She groaned and gavehim a quick, withering look. â€œJosh, grow up. Itâ€™s the World Trade Organization,Grandma. A club of wealthy countries that do their best tocheat the developing world and keep it poor.â€ â€œThat reminds me,â€ Margaret began. You could hearthe collective sound of hearts sinking. â€œBenjamin, do youremember when you went on that Vietnam protest rally inLawrence when you were at college . . . ?â€ Oh God, Sarah said to herself, here it comes. The LongHair story. Abbie and Josh exchanged a knowing smirk.Benjamin smiled wearily. â€œ. . . and Harry Baxter saw you on the local TV news withyour long hair and came into the store and told your father youlooked like a girl?â€ â€œYes, Mom, I do.â€ â€œYou know, Abbie, your father had hair right down to hisshoulders.â€
â€œI know, Grandma. Iâ€™ve seen the photos.â€ â€œThey were always protesting something or other. Thewar or Negro rights or whatever was in fashion at the time.â€ â€œIt was called civil rights, Mom. And I donâ€™t think itwent out of fashion.â€ â€œWhatever. Anyway, I thought he looked handsome andnot a bit like a girl. But you know, Abbie, after that, he grew abeard.â€ â€œI know, Grandma. You told us.â€ â€œDid I? Oh, Iâ€™m sorry.â€ But she went on anyway. Telling them how, one vacation afew months later, Harry Baxter saw Benjamin with his newbeard and declared that he now looked like a bearded lady ina circus. â€œNext time he came in the store, I told him he could goelsewhere.â€ â€œHow is Harry Baxter?â€ Sarah asked, pretending tobe interested. â€œOh, heavens, Sarah, the old fool died years ago.Though Mollyâ€™s still around. Drives around terrifying us allin one of those little electric carts they give to crippledpeople.â€ â€œDisabled, Mom,â€ Benjamin said quietly. â€œCrippled, disabled, itâ€™s the same thing. I canâ€™tbe doing with all this finicky political correctness, not calling a
spade a spade.â€ Sarah could see that Josh was about to make somemischievous retort and she glared at him just in time. How they got through the rest of the day and the next daywithout murder or at least serious injury, Sarah had no idea.On Saturday morning, when Benjamin finally put his mother inthe car and headed away down the driveway to take her to theairport and Sarah stood with Abbie and Josh in the coldsunshine, waving a cheery good-bye, it was like a ten-tonweight being lifted off their lives. â€œThatâ€™s absolutely the last time,â€ Josh said,stomping away up the stairs to his room. â€œIf she comesagain for Thanksgiving, Iâ€™m out of here.â€ Sarah didnâ€™t bother to disagree. She put an arm aroundAbbieâ€™s shoulders. â€œCome on,â€ she said. â€œLetâ€™s make somefresh coffee. I feel I havenâ€™t had a proper talk with yousince you came home.â€ They made the coffee and took it up the open woodstaircase to the little mezzanine that overlooked the gardenand the deck where they barbecued in the summer. The fallhad been mild and there were still leaves on the silver birchesthat Sarah had planted all those years ago. They shone abright and dappled yellow in the sunlight. There were two cream-colored couches facing each otheracross a low mahogany table, and they settled on one of themwith the sunshine streaming in on them. Abbie made Sarah
slip off her shoes and took her feet in her lap and massagedthem and told her all about college, things she had no doubttold Benjamin already but which, of course, he hadnâ€™tbothered to pass on. And though Sarah listened to everyword, there was a part of her that could do no more than gazein wonder and pride at this golden child, so beautiful andbrimming with life. The massage was exquisite. â€œWhere did you learn to do this?â€ â€œDo you like it?â€ â€œItâ€™s amazing.â€ â€œGood. I figured you deserve it. Mel, my roommate,taught me. Was Grandma always like that?â€ â€œNo. Itâ€™s worse, for sure.â€ â€œShe doesnâ€™t listen. Itâ€™s like sheâ€™s justwaiting to tell another of those stories about Dad weâ€™ve allheard a million times.â€ â€œPerhaps thatâ€™s natureâ€™s way. Making peopleyou once loved less lovable, so it wonâ€™t be so hard whenthey go.â€ â€œDo you think?â€ â€œI think itâ€™s possible.â€ They both stared out of the window for a while. Two bluejays were playing a frantic chasing game in the birches. â€œWhatâ€™s the matter with Dad?â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Maybe itâ€™s just having Grandmaaround. But he seems all stressed out. Kind of detached, youknow? Like he isnâ€™t really here.â€ â€œWell, things havenâ€™t been going too well at work.He and Martin have lost a couple of big projects. Theyâ€™rehaving to let a few people go. Thatâ€™s probably whatâ€™sworrying him.â€ Sarah almost managed to convince herself. â€œOh. And what about you?â€ â€œMe?â€ Sarah laughed. â€œOh, you know. Same oldsame old.â€ â€œMom, Iâ€™m a grown-up now.â€ â€œI know you are, sweetie. But honestly, Iâ€™m fine.â€ â€œYouâ€™re such a bad liar.â€ â€œIâ€™m not lying. He hasnâ€™t been that easy to livewith lately, with all thatâ€™s happening. And we miss you, forheavenâ€™s sake. We both do.â€ â€œOh, Mom.â€ â€œHey, listen. Itâ€™s nothing. Weâ€™ll get over it. Hell, Imean, in most ways itâ€™s absolutely terrific. Less cooking,less laundry. In fact, having you come home again is a realdrag.â€ Abbie gave a skeptical grin. â€œLet me have your other foot.â€
â€œYes, maâ€™am.â€ That evening, after supper, Abbie asked if they minded hergoing out for a few hours to meet up with some old friendsfrom high school. Sarah tried not to show her disappointmentand said of course they didnâ€™t mind. Go have fun, she toldher. Josh took this as a cue to inform them that there was aâ€œkind of partyâ€ at his best friend Freddieâ€™s placeand since Abbie was going out, couldnâ€™t he too?Benjamin took him aside for yet another quiet fatherly wordabout alcohol and pot. Twice in the last month, the boy hadcome home obviously stoned. He had flatly denied it but theywere worried about him. Abbie said she would drop him offand pick him up later. They would be back before midnight,she promised. Thus the scene was set for what Sarah later realizedBenjamin must have been planning all the holiday andprobably much longer. Maybe for weeks or even months.Within an hour both children had gone and a waiting silencefell upon the house. Benjamin would no doubt soon mumblesomething about needing to do some work and head out tohis studio. But the minutes passed and he stayed. From thekitchen she could see him rather aimlessly tidying the messthe children had made in the living room. She called brightly tohim, asking if he would like some cold turkey with somecoleslaw and tomato salad. â€œSure.â€ Maybe he could open a bottle of wine? â€œSure.â€
He came through into the kitchen and pulled a bottle fromthe rack and stood uncorking it on the other side of the dividerwhere she was preparing the meal. It was a long and narrowcounter of polished gray granite, the sort of place everykitchen had, where things that had no other home gotdumped, old magazines and stacks of letters and unpaid bills,a wide wooden bowl where they kept coins and car keys. Theonly sound was the saw and clack of her knife as she carvedthe turkey. His silence filled the room like an invisible cloud.Perhaps she should put some music on. He took two glassesfrom the cupboard and put them down, clink, clink, on thedivider beside the opened bottle. â€œAbbie seems in pretty good shape,â€ she saidcheerily. â€œYeah.â€ â€œBoy, what Iâ€™d give to be that age again.â€ She became aware that he was shifting nervously from onefoot to the other. She stopped carving and looked at him. Hewas very pale. â€œAre you okay?â€ â€œNot really.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the matter? Are you feeling sick?â€ He swallowed. There was a long space of total silence. Andthen she knew. Knew exactly what he was about to tell her. â€œSarah, Iâ€”â€
She slammed the knife down with a loud crack on thegranite. â€œDonâ€™t,â€ she said. â€œSarah, sweetheart, I canâ€™tâ€”â€ â€œDonâ€™t say it! Donâ€™t you dare say it!â€ â€œI have to go. I just canâ€™t live like thisâ€”â€ â€œShut up! Just shut up! What the hell are you talkingabout?â€ He seemed for a moment to have lost his voice. There wasa terrible imploring in his eyes. She was staring at him,waiting for an answer, but he couldnâ€™t hold her gaze. Helooked down and just stood there, shaking his head. â€œAre you having an affair?â€ She heard herself. How she snarled, almost spat the word,as if she were trying to rid her mouth of a foul taste. He shookhis head, still not looking at her. Like some sniveling coward.The sight made something inside her explode. She ranaround the end of the counter to get at him. â€œYou are! You bastard! You are!â€ She tore into him like a rabid animal, lashing at his headand shoulders and chest. He shielded his face but didnâ€™tstep away, just let her thrash and slap and punch him. And thisonly fueled her fury further, that he should stand there, sowretched and demeaned, like some flaccid martyr of a fancifulGod.
Then suddenly she broke away and stood there with hereyes clamped shut, clasping her head in both hands, blockingher ears too late to what she now knew, her mouth contorted ina soundless cry. â€œSarahâ€”â€ He tried to put a hand on her but as soon as he touched her,she lashed out and screamed. â€œNo-o!â€ And then she looked at him and saw the tears rolling downhis face, saw him standing there, so broken and hopeless,and she sobbed and her shoulders sagged and she reachedout and drew him slowly toward her, both of them crying now.Her voice frail as a frightened childâ€™s. â€œNo, Benjamin, no. Please. Please, donâ€™t say it.â€ He put his arms around her and she pressed her headagainst his chest, tried to burrow into him, to find some placein him where still he might love her and want her. Begging himsoftly, Please, please. She felt his body shake in counterpointto her own. This wasnâ€™t happening, he didnâ€™t mean it,he couldnâ€™t mean it. â€œSarah, sweetheart. I justâ€”â€ She put a hand across his mouth. â€œSshh. I donâ€™t want to hear this. Please.â€ And then the thought of somebody else in these arms,some other woman breathing this warm familiar smell that hadalways been hers and hers alone, reared and stabbed her in
the chest and she clenched herself and shoved him away. â€œItâ€™s Eve, isnâ€™t it?â€ He hesitated then shook his head and started to saysomething, but she knew she was right. â€œHave you slept with her?â€ Her voice was like someone elseâ€™s. Low and quivering,like a sheet of ice about to break. â€œItâ€™s not like that, itâ€™sâ€”â€ â€œHave you slept with her!â€ â€œNo!â€ â€œYou liar.â€ â€œI swear to youâ€”â€ â€œYou liar! You filthy, goddamn liar!â€ He shook his head and turned and began to walk away. Andthe sight was so momentous that she couldnâ€™t bear it andshe ran and grabbed him and turned him around and tried toget him to hold her again. Only now something had changedand even though he dutifully put his arms around her again,they were limp, uncommitted, as if some final switch insidehim had been thrown.ÂÂÂ
How many hours it was, he couldnâ€™t tell. Time seemedsuspended, its passing marked only in the fluctuation of theirseparate sorrows. She drifted around the house like a bereftghost and he would follow her and find her, sitting hunched ona staircase or crumpled in the corner of a room they neverused, sobbing or staring like a catatonic at her hands.Sometimes she would fly at him with her fists and scream athim and abuse him and the next moment she would grab himand drag him into her arms and plead with him, asking why,why, and telling him they could make it work, surely, after allthese years. She could make it work, she could be better. If hewould only give her a chance. For the children, for themselves.Please, Benjamin, please. Just one last chance. Out on the deck, clinging to each other in the chill night airwhile the wind whisked the leaves of the floodlit birches, hersobbing subsided and a dazed and mournful calm fell at lastupon them. They came in from the cold and he poured thewine that he had opened in what now seemed another lifetimeand they took their glasses to the living room and sat togetheron the couch and talked. She sat tense and straight-backed and in a small voice thatsometimes cracked, she asked him about Eve and heanswered with care and as honestly as he could, telling herthat, believe it or not, it was true that they hadnâ€™t slepttogether. In a phrase he had rehearsedâ€”and which now, ashe mouthed it, sounded soâ€”he said Eve wasnâ€™t thecause of his leaving but the catalyst. He expected Sarah toerupt at any moment, or at least interrupt, but she didnâ€™t.She simply sat there, sipping her wine and watching him. And
he could see something forming inside her as she heard himout, some new opinion of him, some new lens or prismthrough which henceforth she would see him, harder, clearer,more sharply focused. Her silent stare was beginning to unnerve him but he tried tokeep his voice calm and measured. He told her that for a longtime he had been unhappy and that if Sarah was to be honest,she would have to agree that things hadnâ€™t been goodbetween them for years. He was no longer the person shemarried. And anyway, for Godâ€™s sake, theyâ€™d marriedso damned early, hadnâ€™t they? It was then that he noticedshe was shaking her head. She didnâ€™t take her eyes offhim, just gave this little, almost indiscernible shake of herhead as if she couldnâ€™t quite believe what she had heard. â€œWhat?â€ he said. â€œSo, thatâ€™s it, is it?â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ â€œYou share your life with someone for nearly a quarter ofa century, have children, then decide you got married tooyoung, youâ€™re not happy, and leave.â€ He had to lean forward to hear this, for it was uttered in akind of breathy, shuddering whisper. But there was a new tonenow that unsettled him, a gathering anger that was colder,more steely and controlled. And it frightened him. And maybethat was why he felt impelled to defend or justify himself andspoke the words he would later regret. â€œIâ€™ve never felt wanted by you. Never. And I look at
you, at us, at the way we are. And I think, thatâ€™s howitâ€™s going to be for the rest of our lives . . .â€ He stoppedand swallowed. â€œAnd, Sarah, I canâ€™t. I just canâ€™t doit. There has to be more.â€ She stared at him for a long time, her chin tilted upward. Itwas a look of almost detached assessment, icy and regal.Then she swallowed and slowly nodded and at last lookedaway. â€œSo. When are you going to tell the children?â€ â€œTonight. Or tomorrow morning. Whatever you thinkbest.â€ She laughed. â€œOh, please. Itâ€™s your party.â€ â€œThen Iâ€™ll tell them tonight.â€ â€œFine. Oh boy, Benjamin, you sure do time things well.Happy holiday.â€ She raised her glass and drank the last of her wine. Thenshe stood up and walked to the doorway where she stoppedand, after a moment, slowly turned to face him again. â€œWhen you say Iâ€™ve never wanted you, youâ€™rewrong. You have always been wrong about that. What you areactually saying is I havenâ€™t loved you in the way youwanted me to love you. You are such a goddamn control freakthat you even want to control the way other people love you.And Iâ€™ve lived with that for all these years. Trying to bewhat you want me to be. But nobody can ever measure up to
what you want them to be, Benjamin. Nobody.â€ She stood there awhile, looking at him, her face quiveringbut defiant as she tried to hold back her tears. And then shegave a little decisive nod and turned and went. He sat there for a moment then followed her through to thekitchen. She was scooping the uneaten turkey and salad offtheir two plates into the garbage. He walked over and cameup behind her and tried to put his hands on her shoulders butshe violently shrugged him away. â€œDonâ€™t touch me.â€ He tried to help her clean up but she told him not to. Shecould do it, she said. So he went back to the living room andsat down on the couch. A few minutes later he heard herfootsteps and turned to see her standing again in thedoorway, looking at him. She had something in her right handbut her arms were folded and he couldnâ€™t see what it was. â€œThis is your home, Benjamin. Iâ€™m your wife. Theseare your children.â€ She unfolded her arms and spun what she was holdingacross the room so that it landed on the couch beside him. Itwas a framed picture of Abbie and Josh, one theyâ€™d takenon a skiing vacation in Canada two years ago. Sarah turnedand disappeared and he heard the familiar clack of her shoeson the wooden stairs. He wondered if he should follow her butdecided not to. In the vain hope of finding something todistract him and to shift the leaden weight in his chest, heswitched on the TV and settled back to wait for the children.
Martin had already told him he must be mad. He was theonly person who knew what Ben had been planning. Oneevening last week, he had invited Martin for a drink after work.It was something they rarely did and Ben could tell that his oldfriend was curious, even a little wary. They were in a bar just off Jackson Avenue, one of thosetrendy new places that were all style and no soul. They werethe oldest people there by a good twenty years and the musicwas so loud that they had to shout. They spent about fiveminutes making small talk about their kids and plans forThanksgiving and then Martin cut to the chase and asked whatwas up. â€œIâ€™m leaving Sarah.â€ â€œYouâ€™re what?â€ Ben told him about Eve and Martin said he had half-guessed. Why else would he have been pushing those god-awful paintings, he said. He couldnâ€™t believe the two ofthem hadnâ€™t yet been to bed. â€œSo why the hell donâ€™t you just fuck her and get itover with?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t know? Ben, hello? Are you out of yourmind? You want to throw everything away and you donâ€™teven know what for? Jesus.â€ Ben didnâ€™t really know what to say, except that thingshadnâ€™t been good between him and Sarah for a long time
and he felt he needed to, well, get out. Breathe. Feel aliveagain. â€œHow often have you seen her?â€ â€œEve? I donâ€™t know. Four or five times, maybe. Wetalk a lot on the phone.â€ â€œJesus.â€ â€œShe makes me feelâ€”â€ â€œAlive.â€ â€œYes. As a matter of fact.â€ Martin shook his head and stared into his vodka martini.Then he downed it in one gulp and ordered another. Benhadnâ€™t exactly been expecting sympathy. For manymonths the two of them hadnâ€™t been getting along thatwell. Although Martin hadnâ€™t spelled it out, Ben knew heblamed him for not bringing in more business and, inparticular, for losing a project that they had spent almost twoyears developing. Just like the McMansion job, Ben had losthis temper with the clients and the whole deal had comeunstitched. The difference was that this time it hadnâ€™t evenbeen over a matter of principle. He just couldnâ€™t stand thepeople. â€œSo where are you going to live?â€ â€œTo begin with, Iâ€™ll go to my motherâ€™s.â€ â€œIn Abilene? Terrific.â€ â€œThen, if things work out with Eve, Iâ€™ll get a place in
Santa Fe.â€ â€œAnd what about us? What about work? You gonnacommute every day from Abilene?â€ â€œThatâ€™s really what I wanted to talk with youabout.â€ â€œYou want out?â€ â€œIf thatâ€™s what you want. Or maybe I just take asabbaticalâ€”â€ â€œA sabbatical? Jesus, Ben. You are one fucked-upguy.â€ That was the extent of the help and understanding his bestfriend had to offer. The next day when he came into the officehe told Ben it would be better if they made a clean break ofthings. He coolly asked him to think about a reasonablebuyout, bearing in mind the downturn in business and all themoney they owed. Maybe he should get himself a lawyer,Martin added. Ben felt the first cool breeze of his newindependent life, as if it had already begun. When the kids came home, he was slumped asleep in fronto f Casablanca. The movie was ending, the plane gone.Bogart and Claude Rains were strolling off into the fog. Sarah had heard the car and come downstairs. Ben walkedout to the hallway. Joshâ€™s eyes were like an albinorabbitâ€™s and he was smiling, probably at something heand Abbie had been talking about as they came in.Abbieâ€™s smile vanished in a flash. She looked at Sarah,
standing at the foot of the stairs, her face as white as herbathrobe, and then at Ben, still disoriented by sleep and tryingto order his thoughts. He could see the fear creep into hereyes. â€œMom? What is it?â€ â€œYour fatherâ€™s got something to tell you.â€ â€œAbbie,â€ he began. â€œJosh . . .â€ He stalled. His heart was beating so hard he could hardlyhear himself think. All he had thought of saying seemed tohave erased itself. â€œFor Godâ€™s sake, Dad, what is it?â€ â€œYour mother and I are going to separateâ€”â€ â€œNo,â€ Sarah cut in. â€œTell the truth. Your father isleaving us.â€ Abbieâ€™s face started to crumple. â€œWhat?â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™re leaving?â€ â€œSweetheartâ€”â€ â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ She looked desperately at Sarah, a pitiful, incredulous littlesmile flicking on and off her lips. As if this might turn out to besome terrible, elaborate joke. â€œMom?â€ Sarah shrugged and nodded.
â€œItâ€™s true.â€ Josh was peering at him, his eyes puckered in a frown ashe tried to make sense of what was happening. â€œAre you guys, like, serious?â€ â€œYes, Josh.â€ â€œJust like that?â€ Abbie said. Her shoulders were shaking and she was gnawing at herfist now. God almighty, Ben thought, what am I doing?Martinâ€™s right. I must have gone mad. He reached out toher but she backed away from him, her face distorting withshock and disgust. â€œDad,â€ Josh said. â€œYou canâ€™t do this. I mean . ..â€ He ran out of words and just stood there frowning, his mouthhanging open. â€œItâ€™ll all be okay, Joshie. Honestlyâ€”â€ â€œNo! It wonâ€™t be okay!â€ Abbie screamed. â€œYouidiot! Youâ€™re ruining our lives!â€ He tried to reach her again, but this time she lashed out athis hand and turned and ran sobbing toward the stairs. Sarahdidnâ€™t try to stop her, just stood aside to let her pass. Thethree of them stood there in silence as she ran up the stairs.The slam of her bedroom door made the whole house shake.Sarah shook her head and gave him a wry smile. â€œNice work, Benjamin.â€
And she turned and followed Abbie up the stairs.
thousands, were crammed shoulder to shoulder in everystreet, all marching toward the convention center. And, despitethe cold and the rain, everyone seemed to be having a ball,waving and shouting, laughing and chanting. There ainâ€™t no power like the power of the people And the power of the people wonâ€™t stop! There were people dressed as trees and elephants, turtlesand whalesâ€”who all seemed a lot more waterproof thanAbbieâ€™s sheep-tomatoâ€”and above them fluttered agaudy canopy of banners denouncing the evils of the WorldTrade Organization. The guy in front had one with a hugepicture of Dracula sinking his bloody fangs into the planet. Thewoman next to him was waving one that said WTO. Fix it orNix it. Those who werenâ€™t chanting were blowing whistlesor honking horns or ringing bells or banging drums to a dozendifferent rhythms. And it wasnâ€™t just students and hippies. There werepeople of all ages, colors, creeds, and nationalities, taxidrivers and construction workers, cleaners and clerks. Whatwas more, it actually seemed to be having an impact. Wordwas going around that they had already succeeded instopping the opening ceremony and that all the fat-catpoliticians were either cowering in their hotel suites orbesieged in their limos. In fact, the whole city was under siegeand the police were just standing around unable to do a thing. It was totally awesome, like some epic carnival, the mostfantastic display of solidarity Abbie had ever seen. Historywas being made. It was one of those world-changing events,
like Woodstock or the Berlin Wall coming down or MartinLuther King, Jr., telling the world about his dream. And Abbiewas actually taking part and bearing witness. In years to comeshe would be able to tell her children and grandchildren aboutit. She only wished she could feel more a part of it, morewholly involved. For, however hard she tried to block them, theimages of what had happened over the weekend cameflashing into her head and spoiling things. She nearly hadnâ€™t come here at all. The previousmorning, her mom had virtually had to frog-march her into theairport. Abbie had said no way, she wasnâ€™t going. Theyshould all be together. She would stay home for the week; infact she wouldnâ€™t go back to college at all. But her momwould have none of it. The woman had been incredible. On Sunday morning, whilethe bastard went around the house quietly gathering his thingsand packing his bags, she held her head up and didnâ€™tshed a single tear. She was even nice to him, forheavenâ€™s sake, helping him look for his goddamnglasses. It was obviously all a big front that sooner or later hadto crack. But it hadnâ€™t. All through the day, even after hewent, she had looked after Abbie and Josh, kept on huggingand consoling them, as if the hurt belonged entirely to them. Poor Joshie. He didnâ€™t seem to know what to do. Aftertheir dad had broken the news and Abbie had fled screamingto her room, Josh had eventually followed his mom upstairsand found the two of them wailing and sobbing and clinging toeach other. And he just sat himself down on the end of the bedand gazed forlornly at the wall. He was still stoned, of course,
and trying to get his head around what had happened. Buteven the next day, even after that horrible, icy good-bye whentheyâ€™d stood at the door with their momâ€™s armsaround their shoulders and watched their dad go off down thedriveway, his things all stacked into the back of the stationwagon, the poor kid didnâ€™t seem to know whether he wasallowed to cry or had to be the big, brave man of the house. â€œAbbie, listen to me,â€ her mom had said that night,when all three of them were sitting there at the kitchen tableover a supper none of them wanted and Abbie had justannounced she wasnâ€™t going to fly to Seattle the nextmorning. â€œListen to me. We are not going to let thisdestroy us. Life has to go on. Maybe your fatherâ€™ll comeback, maybe he wonâ€™t. My guess is that he will. But thesethings happen, and thereâ€™s nothing any of us can do aboutit. Heâ€™ll either come to his senses or not. Meanwhile, weget on with our lives, okay? Youâ€™ll darn well go to Seattle,young lady, and give theseâ€”TWO creepsâ€”â€ â€œWTO.â€ â€œWhatever. You go there and give â€™em hell. Fromme too. I donâ€™t know who they are or what theyâ€™vedone, but I already donâ€™t like them.â€ They laughed. A little hysterically, but they actually laughed. Then George and Ella arrived and there was more crying,but not by her mom. Grandma was intending to stay for a fewdays and even she told Abbie to stick to her plans and catchher flight, though Grandpa said the whole idea of the protestwas woefully misguided and clearly inspired by anarchists and
communists and that the WTO was, as a matter of fact, one ofthe few true forces for good left in the world. Abbie was tootired and too emotionally drained to fight. So here she was, soaked to the skin and trying to enjoybeing dressed as a sheep-tomato, which had now gotten sosoft and gooey that the time had come to ditch it. Withoutbreaking step, she managed to lower it to the ground andstepped almost gracefully out of it. Mel gave her a grin. Shewas the only person Abbie had told about her dad leaving andwas under strict orders not to let the others know. The lastthing Abbie wanted was for them all to start feeling sorry forher, treating her like she was some kind of invalid. Hey-hey! Ho-ho! WTO has got to go! Hey-hey! Ho-ho! WTO has got to go! The rain seemed to be stopping now and as they marchedforward the sky began to clear. Between the buildings shecould see the ocean and port, two massive container shipsanchored offshore. She had never been to this city before.Stacked steeply at the waterâ€™s edge, it was even morestunning than she had heard. Up ahead there was a billowing black pillar of smoke andas the march surged on she saw a Dumpster had been set onfire and fueled with car tires. The crowd divided to pass it.Now, below the hubbub, she heard glass being smashed butshe couldnâ€™t see where or what it was. To her right now, achanting throng of demonstrators was laying siege to aMcDonaldâ€™s. They had a banner saying ResistMcDomination and some were hammering on the windows
and the doors. On the walls, in black paint, they had scrawledMcShit and McMeat Is Murder. The police they had so far seen had been laid-back andfriendly. A couple of them, riding along with the march onmountain bikes, had even smiled and joked with them. But theones they were now beginning to see looked altogetherdifferent. They seemed to be some kind of special riot police.They were all in black, wearing helmets with visors and gasmasks, long capes and leather leggings and jackboots. Theystood still as statues, blocking off the side streets, nightsticksat the ready. â€œWow,â€ Mel said. â€œWho are those guys?â€ â€œItâ€™s the Darth Vader look-alike convention,â€ Ericsaid. As ever, he had his accordion with him and immediatelystarted playing the theme to Star Wars. Everybody aroundthem started singing along and yelling May the Force be withyou! If any of the cops were amused, it was impossible to tell.Their visors and gas masks completely obscured their faces. A helicopter suddenly thundered over their heads and theyall ducked as the air vibrated to the thud of its blades.Gradually, the march slowed and then stopped and for a longtime they all stood there, chanting and singing, canyonedaround by the stores and office blocks, herded ever moreclosely by the cordons of cops and the pressure of moremarchers arriving behind. Quite how or why it all began to go wrong, Abbie neverreally knew. Some later blamed it on a few nervous or trigger-
happy cops. Another Dumpster had been set on fire and theblack and acrid smoke kept drifting across the crowd so thatsometimes it was impossible to see what was happening.Through the crowds Abbie could see a lockdown going on, acircle of chanting protesters, their linked arms encased inmetal pipes. Listen to the voices of the people in the street! We donâ€™t have a vote, we donâ€™t have a seat! And beneath this now, another voice, that with everyrepetition became steadily more stern and ominous.Somebody with a megaphone was telling everyone to leavethe area, that they were in violation of state and city law andthat all who refused to disperse would be arrested for unrulybehavior. To begin with, Abbie didnâ€™t know what the smell was.She thought it must be something burning in the Dumpster.Then her eyes started to sting and in the next moment thecrowd in front of her scattered and she saw a cannister rollingacross the ground, spewing smoke. Somebody yelled that itwas tear gas. A young guy who had brought his own gas maskrushed forward and grabbed the canister and hurled it backbehind the lines of police who were now starting to movedown the street toward them. The cops had plastic shieldsand nightsticks at the ready and all but a few defiant orfoolhardy protesters began to retreat nervously before them. In just a few minutes, the whole atmosphere had changed.For the moment, the breeze was blowing the tear gas awayfrom them, but there was the start of panic now and it rapidly
began to spread. Through a gap in the crowd, Abbie saw one of theprotesters who had stood his ground being beaten to hisknees by the cops with their nightsticks and the limp body ofanother being dragged away. Some who saw it started jeeringand yelling and one or two started hurling anything they couldfind at the cops. But the cordon steadily advanced. Then a girlstanding just a few yards ahead of Abbie jerked violently andfell and started screaming and rolling on the ground, claspingher leg. â€œHoly shit!â€ Eric yelled. â€œTheyâ€™re shooting atus!â€ Even as he said it, there was a sudden salvo of sharp popsand two more protesters cried out and fell. One was clutchinghis face. Abbie saw blood streaming through his fingers. â€œTheyâ€™re firing plastic,â€ Hacker said. He probablymeant to reassure them but it didnâ€™t do the trick for Abbie.She had never felt more scared in her life. Hacker and Scottwere helping Mel scramble out of her strawberry-fish, whoseexpression suddenly seemed a lot less amusing. â€œCome on,â€ Hacker said. â€œLetâ€™s get out ofhere.â€ But it was easier said than done. Except for the few whowere standing up to the police, everybody was trying to leave.There were too many people and too much panic and nobodyseemed to know the best way to go. With the flow of thecrowd, they were being swept toward a side street but then
those in front started ducking and diving. Water was gushingall over them and for a moment Abbie couldnâ€™t figure outwhere it was coming from. Then she saw the police truck withits water cannon and in the next moment the jet caught Mel fullin the chest and sent her cartwheeling backward. Abbie rushed to her and knelt beside her and asked if shewas okay, and Mel nodded but seemed too shocked to know.There was a trickle of blood coming from her nose. Hackerand Scott took hold of her, one on each side, and hoisted herto her feet. As they hauled her off, Hacker yelled to Abbie overhis shoulder to stay close. Once they had gotten clear of the water cannon, Abbiestopped and looked back for Eric. There was no sign of him.Then she spotted his accordion lying smashed on the ground.She hollered to Hacker and the others to stop but theycouldnâ€™t have heard her. They were somewhere near theburning Dumpster and the air was suddenly swirling againwith black smoke and when it cleared and she looked in thedirection she had last seen them, they had vanished. She started to run but must have lost her bearings, becausethere werenâ€™t so many people now and she realized shemust be heading back toward the advancing police line.Another helicopter roared over and as she looked up at it shecollided with a man who was running the other way. Theimpact shocked her and knocked the wind from her and shegave a little whimper and just stood there, fighting for breathand trying to figure out where to run, but her head wasparalyzed with panic.
That was when the tear-gas canister came skidding acrossthe debris and knocked her clean off her feet. The back of herskull hit the ground when she fell and she saw a flash of whitelight. For how long she was knocked out, she had no idea,maybe only a few seconds, but when she opened her eyesagain she was staring at the sky and wondering what thatstrange black blur was and why the air was throbbing so. Thenas the world reconfigured she realized there was a helicopterdirectly above her and she had a sudden fearful certainty thatit was going to land right on top of her. She scrambled to herknees and then to her feet and tried to run but found shecouldnâ€™t because of the pain in her shin where the gascanister had struck her. The air all around her was filling fastwith the tear gas and her eyes and lungs were on fire and shehadnâ€™t the slightest idea which way to run. Alone in thechaos, Abbie stood there and clamped her hands to her eyesand started to scream. The next thing she knew, someone had grabbed hold of herarm and was hauling her away. Her first thought was that itwas a cop and she yelled and lashed out at him. â€œFor Christâ€™s sake, Iâ€™m trying to help you!â€ Through her streaming, smarting eyes all she could seewas the black snout of a gas mask, which made her think,despite what heâ€™d said, that he had to be a cop. Then thesnout lifted and she saw a thin, stubbled face and a pair ofintense blue eyes and long black hair tucked pirate-fashionunder a red bandana. He was dressed all in black but he suredidnâ€™t look like a cop.
â€œHere, put this on,â€ he said. There was a trace of an accent, German or Scandinavianmaybe. Before she had a chance to argue he had taken offthe gas mask and was putting it on her, pulling the gogglesand snouted air filter down over her face. Almost at once theair became breathable. Through the goggles she watched himtake off his bandana and soak it with water from a bottle hepulled from the pocket of his parka. He tied it like a banditover his nose and mouth. â€œCome on, letâ€™s go.â€ He put an arm around her and began to steer her offthrough the crowd. Her leg hurt but soon she forgot about itand surrendered, without a thought for the others or even forherself or where this stranger might be taking her. Maybe it was simply that she was dazed from the knock toher head when she fell. Cocooned behind the mask, theclamor of helicopters and screams and sirens now muted, shefelt strangely detached, as if the world had suddenly gone intoslow motion and she was in a dream or watching it all on theTV news. All she would later remember were random imagesframed in the little round lenses of the goggles: a woman lyingbleeding on a bed of broken glass, a Buddhist monk in acrimson robe, hunched on his knees in prayer, his shavedhead pressed to the sidewalk, discarded banners torn andtrampled everywhere, and an African drum with a torn skin,rolling slowly away down an empty street to the ocean.Â
ÂÂâ€œAre you okay?â€ She opened her eyes and blinked and, seeing nothing, hada rush of panic that the gas had blinded her. She sat up andrubbed them. They felt as if someone had stripped a layer ofskin from them. She looked up to where the voice seemed tohave come from and saw a shadowy figure towering aboveher. â€œYeah, I think so,â€ she said. â€œGod, my eyes.â€ â€œHere, bathe them.â€ He knelt down and placed a bowl of water on the floorbeside the bare mattress she had been lying on. While shebathed her eyes, he struck a match and lit a candle and whenshe looked again she saw the narrow face, those pale blueeyes. He didnâ€™t smile, just handed her a towel to dryherself. It smelled of gasoline. â€œThank you.â€ â€œLet me look at where you hit your head.â€ She turned so he could inspect the wound. She waswearing a big brown sweater that wasnâ€™t hers. It wasrough and oily and smelled like a wet sheep. He had probablyput it on her because her clothes had gotten soaked andthough she didnâ€™t much like the fact that she had norecollection of him doing it, she was glad he had because theroom was freezing. At least she still had her pants on.
â€œItâ€™s quite a bump. Thereâ€™s a small cut but itdoesnâ€™t need stitches. Keep still while I clean it up.â€ He wet the towel in the bowl and gently dabbed the back ofher head. The room was small and smelled of damp and thewalls were cracked and peeling. The floor was of barewooden planks, some of which were missing, and there wasno furniture, just heaps of clothes and junk and oldnewspapers and magazines. There was another mattressbelow a single window that had been blacked out with an oldblanket. Abbie could hear people talking in the next room andthrough the half-open door she saw shadows moving on awall. â€œThere. Youâ€™ll live. You were concussed and passedout. Youâ€™ve slept for four hours. I was getting worried.â€He held up a hand. â€œHow many fingers?â€ â€œEighteen?â€ He almost smiled. He handed her a mug. â€œItâ€™s tea. Thereâ€™s water here too. You mustdrink. Your leg is bruised but itâ€™s okay.â€ She could feel her shin throbbing. â€œThank you. Where are we?â€ He shrugged. â€œA house. Itâ€™s just a squat.â€ â€œAnd who are you?â€ â€œJust a squatter.â€ She gave him a baleful look over the rim of the mug and this
time he did smile. It was hard to guess how old he might be.Late twenties, thirty maybe. Despite the stubble, there wassomething fine, almost feminine, about him. He was beautifuland seemed to see her think it. â€œMy name is Rolf. And you are Abigail Cooper from theUniversity of Montana.â€ â€œBeen through my wallet, huh.â€ â€œSpent all the money, used the credit cards. Had a goodtime.â€ â€œBe my guest. Itâ€™s Abbie, by the way.â€ He gave a formal little nod. He got to his feet and headedfor the door, telling her over his shoulder that there was food inthe next room when she felt like it. â€œThanks.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ â€œAnd thanks also for, you know, getting me out of theretoday.â€ He turned and looked at her, gave another nod, then wentout. Abbie sat awhile, cradling the mug and sipping the tea. Itwas too sweet but at least it was warm and comforting. Shewondered what had happened to the others, whether Eric andMel were okay. It shouldnâ€™t be too hard to find them. Theyhad all made a note of Hackerâ€™s cell phone number incase they got separated. When she felt strong enough, she got up and wanderedthrough to the next room. Rolf, two other guys, and two women
were sitting cross-legged on the floor around a big bowl ofbrown rice and vegetables, eating with their fingers. A thirdwoman was sitting in the corner, working on a laptop. They alllooked up as Abbie came in, smiling and saying hi. A coupleof them replied and the others just nodded. â€œHere,â€ Rolf said, moving to make space beside him.â€œHelp yourself.â€ She sat down and took a handful of rice, realizing howhungry she was. The room was bigger but almost as bare asthe other, with three mattresses and more heaps of junk. It waslit with candles in jars and a flickering butane gas lamp with acracked shade. One wall was covered with newspaperclippings and photographs and scrawled graffiti. â€œDo you happen to have a phone here?â€ she asked. For some reason, they all seemed to find this incrediblyamusing, though quite why, Abbie didnâ€™t know. After all,the woman on the laptop seemed to be wired up to some kindof socket. Maybe it was the way Abbie had said it? She felther cheeks coloring and hoped it didnâ€™t show. â€œThereâ€™s a phone booth down the street,â€ Rolfsaid. â€œUntil today we did have a cell phone but Mr. Helpfulhere managed to lose it.â€ He clipped the guy next to him onthe head. â€œIt wasnâ€™t my fault, that fuckhead cop took it.â€ â€œSo, you were the guys dressed up as fruit, right?â€one of the women said. â€œUh-huh.â€
â€œWhy?â€ â€œIt was supposed to be genetically engineered fruit.â€ â€œOh, right.â€ â€œIs that the kind of cool stuff they teach you about at theUniversity of Montana?â€ the guy sitting next to her said. Hehad a tangle of dreadlocks and a silver ring through oneeyebrow. Abbie wanted to punch him on the nose but decidedto ignore the sarcasm and said yes, actually there wereclasses about the use of gene technology in agriculture,though she hadnâ€™t taken them herself. â€œFascinating.â€ â€œYes, it is, as a matter of fact.â€ â€œAnd are you guys, like, big environmental activistsdown there?â€ The question came from Rolf and because it soundedgenuine and friendly and she felt he might be trying to makeup for the rudeness of the others, she gave a fuller and moreenthusiastic reply than perhaps she should have. She spokedirectly to Rolf, telling him about Hacker, whom she figured hemight have heard of (he hadnâ€™t), and about Forest Actionand about the timber-sale lockdown the previous month. Andthough she didnâ€™t quite know why she should want to showoff to him, she didnâ€™t exactly lie, but did find herselfembroidering things a little, making her encounter with theloggers sound more dangerous than it was. If not obviously impressed, Rolf seemed at least interested.
And perhaps it was because she was a little in awe of him ormesmerized by those beautiful eyes that she didnâ€™t noticethat the guy with the dreadlocks was grinning and shaking hishead and that the two women either side of him were smilingtoo. By the time Abbie registered this she had already gottena little carried away and was telling Rolf about the studentâ€œweed busterâ€ trips when they all went up into the hills topull up noxious weeds. â€œYou mean, like, to smoke?â€ Dreadlocks said. Abbie stopped for a beat and narrowed her eyes at the littlecreep. He looked as if he had probably been smoking himself.She turned back to Rolf without bothering to answer and wenton. â€œItâ€™s amazing what you find up there. Three kinds ofknapweed, leafy spurge, houndâ€™s-tongueâ€”â€ â€œThat leafy spurge, man, that can lift your fucking headoff.â€ â€œCut it out, man,â€ Rolf said. Abbie had taken enough. She turned to face the guy. â€œOkay, what is it you people do thatâ€™s so muchmore important?â€ Dreadlocks just shook his head and laughed to himself. â€œNo, seriously,â€ Abbie said, her anger rolling now.â€œTell me, Iâ€™m interested. What do you do? Huh?â€ â€œLittle rich college girls, picking weeds, oh my, lah-didah.â€
â€œScrew you!â€ â€œOoh, please . . .â€ Rolf told him again to cut it out then leaned forward and puta hand on Abbieâ€™s shoulder, trying to calm her. Sheshrugged it off. â€œAbbie, itâ€™s not that we think these things you dohave no value. Itâ€™s just that to us, they seem a little, whatshall I say? Irrelevant, marginal perhaps. Like rearranging thefurniture on the Titanic.â€ â€œOh, okay. Fine, thanks.â€ â€œNo, seriously. Iâ€™m not being rude. Just realistic.Everything has gone too far. The big corporations aredestroying the planet, and nobodyâ€™s going to listen toprotests or whatever. Look at what happened today. Look atwhat they did to you.â€ He reached out to touch her, but she moved andwouldnâ€™t let him. â€œThe governments of the industrialized world are nowrun entirely by the transnational corporations. Politicians aremerely their puppets. Democracy is just a sideshow. So, tohave any kind of impact, to make the people who really runthings stop and listen and think about what they are doing, youhave to hurt them. Personally. Really hurt them.â€ â€œAnd that was what you guys think you were doingtoday?â€ she said sourly. Rolf laughed. â€œOh, no. Today was just fun.â€
The woman who all this time had been working on herlaptop now came to sit down on Rolfâ€™s other side andtook a handful of rice. She looked pleased with herself. Fromtheir body language, Abbie got the impression that this washis girlfriend. â€œIs it all arranged?â€ he asked her quietly. â€œUh-huh.â€ â€œGood. Well done.â€ Abbie stood up. She felt a little sick and wanted to leave,get some air in her lungs. Get away from these freaks, findMel and Hacker and the others. â€œYouâ€™re going?â€ Rolf said. â€œYes.â€ â€œCan I have my sweater?â€ Dreadlocks said, smirking. Disgusted to be wearing something that was his, shequickly pulled it off and threw it on the floor. Rolf found herparka and helped her into it. It was still wet. He followed her tothe door. â€œGo easy on that leafy spurge!â€ Dreadlocks called. She was in the doorway and turned to look at him. â€œBefore the revolution, asshole, learn some fuckingmanners.â€ She walked out but heard the roar of laughter. Rolf followedher down the stairs and out to the street then walked her down
the hill to the phone booth. Hacker sounded relieved to hearher voice. He said they would come at once to collect her. Rolfexplained how to find the place. While they waited, they sat side by side on the steps of aderelict house. The whole area was being cleared fordemolition, he said. They were going to build offices instead.He rolled a cigarette and offered it to Abbie but she declined.A mottled half-moon was hoisting itself over the rooftops andthey sat for a long while without talking, just watching it moveslowly into the sky. â€œIâ€™m sorry about what happened up there,â€ hesaid. â€œThe guyâ€™s an idiot.â€ Abbie didnâ€™t reply. She was feeling little and lonely and,for the first time in many hours, had been thinking about hermom and dad and what had happened at home and how sadand screwed up her whole world suddenly seemed. She felttears welling but managed to hold them back and he eitherdidnâ€™t notice or pretended not to. He asked her where shecame from and it was a few moments before she trusted hervoice enough to tell him. â€œAnd you?â€ â€œOriginally from Berlin. Iâ€™ve lived here for twelveyears.â€ â€œIn Seattle.â€ â€œNo. Here and there. I get bored if I stay in one place.â€ He took a pen from his pocket and wrote a number on theflap of his cigarette papers then tore it off and handed it to her,
saying someone there would always know how to reach him.He asked for her number and perhaps because she was stillslightly concussed she couldnâ€™t remember the one at thedorm, so she gave him her home number instead. ThenHackerâ€™s camper van came down the street. Scott waswith him and they both made a big fuss of her. Mel was fine,they said. Eric was in the hospital where he would have to stayfor at least two weeks. He had a broken pelvis, whichdidnâ€™t bother him half as much as the loss of hisaccordion. Abbie introduced them to Rolf and the three menshook hands. Then she thanked him again for helping andlooking after her and climbed into the back of the van. As they pulled away, she gave him a little wave through thewindow and he looked her directly in the eyes and smiledback. And she knew in that moment that one day she wouldsee him again. She carefully folded the scrap of paper he hadgiven her and stowed it in her wallet.
FIFTEENIt was the dawn of the new millennium and the whole worldwas brimming with hopes of happiness and peace andgoodwill to all mankind. And all that bullshit. The century was aweek old and already Sarah didnâ€™t like it. She was sittingat her desk in the little back office of the bookstore, trying tokeep her mind on what she was reading on the computerscreen, which was almost as depressing as everything else inher life at the moment. Including the weather, which was coldand damp and gray and foggy, the kind Jeffrey called slit-your-wrists weather, though he hadnâ€™t called it that today,probably because he feared she might actually do it. The sales figures for the holiday season were even moredismal than she had feared, thanks to the chain stores and acertain online bookseller, whose name, like Macbeth in anytheater, was not to be mentioned within these walls, thank youvery much. Their prices were so ridiculous, they might as wellgive the damn books away. Through the open door she couldhear Jeffrey patiently trying to charm a customer, the only onetheyâ€™d had in the past hour and a half, a woman who wasafter a book but didnâ€™t seem to be able to remember thetitle or the author or even what it was about. â€œAny idea of the publisher?â€ Jeffrey asked helpfully. â€œThe what?â€ â€œGod help us all,â€ Sarah muttered.
Jeffrey had been fabulous. He had run the place virtuallysingle-handed during the run-up to Christmas. Sarah hadcome in most days, because she couldnâ€™t stand beinghome alone, but she knew she had often been more of ahindrance than a help. During that first unreal week afterBenjamin left and the kids had gone back to school, Jeffreyhad called her two or three times every day and had alwaysstopped by on his way home, with food or flowers or a bottleof wine. It had turned into a kind of rolling house party or wake.As soon as her mother went home, Iris came to stay andfriends kept dropping in to cheer her up, with the result that onsome evenings there were half a dozen or more people in thekitchen, cooking and talking and eating and drinking andcrying and laughing, none of them letting Sarah lift a finger, noteven to stack the dishwasher. She talked and cried andlaughed so much that in the end she was so exhausted shehad to call a halt and come back to work for a rest. â€œSo itâ€™s a novel, but nonfiction,â€ Jeffrey wassaying. â€œA nonfiction novel. Hmm. Oh, you mean,something like Truman Capoteâ€™s In Cold Blood?â€ â€œLike what?â€ Sarah and the kids had dreaded the thought of stayinghome for Christmas and the New Year, especially with all thatdawn-of-a-new-age nonsense going on. Then, out of the blue,Karen Bradstock called and invited them to the Caribbean.Karen knew about Benjamin, it emerged, because Josh hade-mailed Katie. Some fabulously rich tax-dodger client ofTomâ€™s had a house on the island of Mustique, she said,
and had offered it to themâ€”for freeâ€”for two whole weeks.Some other friends would be there, but the place had a zillionrooms, so why didnâ€™t they come too? Sarah jumped at it. The island was beautiful if strangely antiseptic, havingnothing even vaguely resembling a local culture. According toKaren, it had years ago been bought by an eccentricaristocrat who preferred the place empty so that he couldthrow long and lavish parties for bored members of the Britishroyal family. Nowadays, it was owned by a company andrigorously run as a refuge for the extremely rich. The Bradstocks had invited two other couples fromChicago, neither of whom Sarah much took to. One of thewomen treated her like an invalid and kept offering to dothings for her and asking with an infuriatingly caring look in hereyes how she was feeling. It made Sarah want to scream. Itwas funny how some people just didnâ€™t seem to get it.Being treated normally was best, kindness was fine, butunctuous sympathy made her feel almost homicidal. Fortunately, Karen got it exactly right. The two of them had alot to catch up on and, despite the other guests, found time forsome good private chats. Nor was the subject inevitablyBenjamin. In fact some days, even when she was walking onher own along the beach or sitting by the pool reading, Sarahoften managed to go a full half hour without thinking about him. Young Will, who had grown about two feet taller since shehad last seen him, was now obsessed with sports and mostdays disappeared with his dad to play tennis or golf. Joshdidnâ€™t mind. He was too infatuated with Katie and it
seemed mutual. The only one who palpably didnâ€™t enjoyherself was Abbie. She announced after just one day that she detested theplace. She said it was full of fascist bankers and their bulimic,Botoxed wives and that if she saw another C-list wannabe orwrinkled has-been rock star she would throw up. It would havebeen more embarrassing had Karen not said she absolutelyagreed and spiritedly taken her side in the debates that ragedacross the dinner table, with Tom and Will inevitably cast asâ€œneo-imperialistsâ€ or â€œcrypto-colonial dinosaurs,â€whatever that meant. Tom handled these skirmishes brilliantly,giving as good as he got, but always with humor. But Abbiesometimes went too far. â€œGod, sheâ€™s so angry,â€ Sarah said quietly toKaren after one particularly ferocious bout. â€œOf course she is. Hell hath no fury. Youâ€™re not theonly woman scorned. However much you and Ben tell her thatitâ€™s not about her and that itâ€™s just about what wentwrong between you and him, she probably canâ€™t see itthat way. You should have her go talk to somebody.â€ â€œA shrink?â€ â€œWhy not? Arenâ€™t you seeing someone?â€ â€œIâ€™m not the type.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the type? You get sick, you see a doctor,right?â€ â€œOh, I donâ€™t know. Perhaps. Sometime.â€
â€œWhatever. Itâ€™s none of my business. But maybe youshould think about it for Abbie.â€ Sarah already had, but didnâ€™t feel like discussing it,partly out of loyalty to Abbie and partly because she felt shehad bungled the whole thing. She had mentioned Abbieâ€™sanger to their doctor only the previous week when she went tosee him for some more sleeping pills. He said therapy wouldbe a good idea and that heâ€™d be happy to put them intouch with someone. Abbie should drop by and see him, hesaid. But when Sarah told Abbie, she almost got her headbitten off. â€œWhat, you mean you think Iâ€™m crazy?â€ â€œNo, sweetheart, of course not. Itâ€™s justâ€”â€ â€œIf thatâ€™s what you think, just get me committed.â€ â€œAbbie, come onâ€”â€ â€œMom! Okay, so Iâ€™m mad at him. But isnâ€™t itabout time somebody got mad around here? I mean, itâ€™sallowed, isnâ€™t it? Youâ€™re so goddamn controlled,anyone would think you didnâ€™t care.â€ â€œThatâ€™s not fair.â€ â€œIâ€™ll handle it how I want. Just leave me alone.â€ They celebrated the new millennium at a beach bar andrestaurant that protruded on wooden stilts over the water andwas run by a soulful West Indian called Basil, whom Abbie hadadjudged the only real human being on the entire island.Sarah had promised herself that she wasnâ€™t going to get
emotional but when midnight struck and the fireworks went upand everybody was hugging and kissing and wishing eachother happy new year and Abbie and Josh came to find herand the three of them stood there, clinging on to one anotherlike three lost souls, she just couldnâ€™t help herself. They allcried, even Josh, bless him. But that was the only time Sarahallowed it to happen. Back at the house, on the answering machine, Benjamin,calling from his motherâ€™s in Abilene (or so he claimed),had left a nervous message for them, sending his love andwishing them all a happy new year. Yeah, right, Sarah thought. He had phoned her a lot at first, and almost every time,despite herself, she had ended up crying and screaming athim. And sometimes he cried too and called her sweetheartand told her he loved her, which made her so mad she wantedto smash the phone. Because if he loved her, if he really damnwell loved her, why the hell had he left? In the end, she told himnot to keep saying this and asked him not to call for a while. Then Beth Ingram dropped her little bombshell. Whether itwas on purpose or not, Sarah couldnâ€™t be sure. Probably.But one day they were talking and Beth was being reallysweet and consoling and then, quite casually, said somethingabout how Sarah must have felt that other time. Sarah saidsorry, hang on a minute, what did she mean other time? AndBeth ummed and ahhed and blushed a little and thenreluctantly told her she had been talking with the wife of an ICAassociate at a party a while back and this woman had let slipthat Benjamin had been having an affair with a young realestate lawyer who occasionally did their conveyancing.
Apparently, at work, absolutely everybody knew. Beth said shehad just assumed Sarah did too. Sarah hit the stratosphere and that very night, after toomany glasses of wine, she called him at his motherâ€™s andthe bastard wasnâ€™t there. Margaret said she didnâ€™tknow where he was, that he was away on businesssomewhere. Oh, sure. In Santa Fe, no doubt, fucking that littlepainter whore. Fucking The Catalyst. Sarah called his cellphone and left a blistering, drunken, accusatory howl of amessage, which she regretted almost as soon as she hung upand even more so in the sober light of the next morning. The nights were the worst. When the pills didnâ€™t workand she lay alone in that vast bed with a leaden writhing in hergut, waiting for the dawn. Sometimes she would stretch a legacross and feel the creaseless cold space that howled of herhusbandâ€™s absence. After the first few weeks, to assertherself, she tried moving into the middle. But it felt wrong,somehow too final, as if by doing so she was admitting that hewould never come back. Because he would come back, sheknew he would. He couldnâ€™t just have left her like that, lefthis home and his children, could he? Could he? He flew up from Kansas the week before Christmas to seethe kids and bring their presents. He bought each of them acell phone, so they could always call him, he said, whichprompted a scornful laugh from Abbie. Like hell, she said. Asif. He stayed with a friend in the city and took the kids out fordinner. He wanted Sarah to come too but she wouldnâ€™t
and it was all she could do to persuade Abbie to go. The poorkid came home afterward in a flood of tears and ran straightto her room. Joshie sat wearily at the kitchen table and toldSarah that Abbie hadnâ€™t spoken a civil word the wholeevening, just sat there spitting venom at her father across thetable and making sarcastic remarks. Out in the store now, she could hear Jeffrey saying good-bye to his customer and a few moments later he appeared inthe office doorway, holding his hands to his head in disbelief. â€œDid you hear that?â€ â€œYou were wonderful.â€ â€œI think we should give this up and open a recordstore.â€ â€œOh yeah?â€ â€œThen at least when people came in who didnâ€™tknow the title or the artist or publisher, they could at least tryhumming the damn thing.â€ Sarah laughed. He nodded at the computer screen. â€œHowâ€™s it looking, boss?â€ â€œDismal. Letâ€™s sell records instead.â€ â€œThatâ€™s not the right answer. Youâ€™re supposedto say, â€˜Well, Jeffrey, in the circumstances, bearing in mind thestate of the industry, the intensive competition, the proliferationof alternative media and other leisure entertainment
opportunities or, in plainer English, the fact that nobody underthirty gives a damn about books anymore or wants to doanything that might require more than the attention span ofyour average hyperactive gnat, bearing all that in mind,weâ€™ve done pretty goddamn well, thank you,Jeffrey.â€™â€ â€œBravo.â€ He bent toward her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. â€œLetâ€™s close and go have a nice lunchsomeplace,â€ he said. â€œGood idea. And Iâ€™ll have one of your cigarettes.â€The theme of the day was â€œExpress Your Humanness.â€At least, thatâ€™s what Ben thought the woman in the leotardand red sarong had said, right at the beginning, when theywere standing in that big circle, all barefooted and holdinghands. He hadnâ€™t been able to hear too well because hewas standing in front of a big electric fan that was blowing hishair all over the place. It might have been â€œExpress YourHumorousness.â€ But that wasnâ€™t, as far as he wasaware, a proper word, so he was settling forâ€œHumanness.â€ Not that what some of those around himwere doing wasnâ€™t humorous. Particularly the old guy withthe gray beard, who was dressed up in purple robes and a
turban, like some spaced-out elder of the Taliban, spinning allover the room with his eyes closed and pressing a bell pepperto his chest. Maybe he hadnâ€™t heard the womanâ€™sinstruction, either, and was hedging his bets. It was called â€œBody Choir.â€ And Eve and Lori camehere every Sunday afternoon, along with fifty or sixty like-minded souls, to express in dance and movement whateverwas on the menu. The venue was a big hall with a high ceilingand a sprung wooden floor. It was right beside the railroad, soclose that even when the music was playing loudly, the wholeplace shuddered when the trains went by. The music was strictly new age, a lot of breaking waves andwhale calls. Ben had always wondered why whale talk wasalways assumed to be soothing and blissful when nobodyknew what the hell the creatures were saying to one another.Surely whales had fights like everybody else? Maybe theywere actually yelling at each other. You miserable humpbackbastard, thatâ€™s the last plankton youâ€™re ever gonnaget from me. Oh, get a life, go blow some air. At this moment, Lori was over on the other side of the room,expressing her humanness, and perhaps a little more, with anirritatingly good-looking young guy with a ponytail. He hadtaken his top off, which men apparently were allowed to do butwomen werenâ€™t, at least not for several weeks now, sincea voluptuous Swede called Ulrika displayed her assets and apoor guy whoâ€™d had a triple bypass collapsed and had tobe carried outside. Even in Santa Fe, self-expressionapparently had its limits.
Another rule was that the dancing was supposed to benoncontact. But some seemed either not to know this or not tocare. Several couples were writhing on the floor, so intricatelyentwined that it was hard to figure out which limbs belonged towhom. Ben feared for their disentanglement. They were goingto end up like a knot nobody could untie. Someone wouldhave to call the fire department. Most people, however, like Ben, were dancing on their own.Now and then someone would sidle up and smile and dancewith him for a while and then sidle off somewhere else. Evewas about ten yards away at this moment, dancing sinuouslywith her eyes closed and a little half-smile on her face. Shewas wearing a cropped white linen top and some tight redbreeches that showed her hips and tummy and she looked sodamn sexy, Benâ€™s humanness was longing to expressitself in a way that would have to wait. She had been worried about bringing him along here today,saying she didnâ€™t know if it was really his kind of scene.Maybe she thought he might mock it or would be too uptightand self-conscious to take part. She kidded him that he wouldhave to wear a leotard or at least some spandex shorts. As itturned out, he wasnâ€™t, by a long way, the oldest orstraightest-looking person there and, in his gray T-shirt andfaded blue jeans, he didnâ€™t feel too out of place. For the first ten or fifteen minutes, after they all starteddancing, Eve had stayed close and kept glancing at him togauge his reaction. He wasnâ€™t the worldâ€™s greatestdancer and the whole thing was, he had to admit, prettyhilarious. But he was trying to enter into the spirit of it and was
almost enjoying himself. He just wished he could relax more,go with the flow, clear his head a little. This was his third visit to Santa Fe since leaving Sarah andthe longest so far. Outside, the snow had gone. There wasalmost a hint of spring. He had been here two whole weeksnow and, though he didnâ€™t quite know whyâ€”for it wouldbe so easy to stayâ€”he felt it was time to be going back toKansas. They were lovers now, and at last it was okaybetween them. More than okay. They were in that heady,breathless state when they couldnâ€™t keep their hands offeach other. He had never dared dream it might happen soquickly. Two months ago, back in December, he had called her fromhis motherâ€™s in Abilene and told her in a shaky voice thathe had done it, heâ€™d left. And there was this long pause,several momentous seconds, and then she said, quietly,â€œCome.â€ And he drove down that very night, five hundred miles,through the fog and the snow, across the plains and icy sliversof Oklahoma and western Texas, and arrived just after dawnand found her house and tapped on the door. She waswearing a black woolen wrap over a white night-dress and herface was all worried and pale as the dawn. But she took himinside and stood there and held him. And he didnâ€™t wantto, heâ€™d promised himself not toâ€”because how couldshe, how could any woman, want a man so raw and weak andwretchedâ€”but he couldnâ€™t help himself and began toweep. And she held him. For a long time, just stood and heldhim.
Then she sat him down at the kitchen table and madecoffee and some poached eggs and wheat toast and satwatching him eat with her elbows on the table and her chincupped in her hands, staring at him and gently smiling. It wasas though neither of them could quite believe he was there.Then little Pablo, three and a half years old, whom Ben hadnever yet met, emerged from his room in his pajamas and satat the table too and started talking to him as if it were the mostnatural thing in the world to find him there. But then, when big things happened, people rarely behavedthe way youâ€™d expected. Benâ€™s mother and sister toname but two. Right orâ€”more probablyâ€”wrong, he had felthe couldnâ€™t tell either of them over the phone that he hadleft Sarah. He had to tell them in person. He called his motherfrom New York to say he was coming to stay and, of course,she was thrilled. The night he arrived she cooked his favoritepot roast dinner, just for the two of them. Naturally, Ben knew she would be upset at what he had totell her. Any mother would be. But she had always so adoredhim and believed in him, affirming his every action anddecision, even those he knew himself to be wrong, that herreaction that night, when finally after supper he broke thenews, took him completely by surprise. She was distraught,furious, excoriating. She even struck him on the arm. Howcould he leave his wife and children? How could he? â€œYou made a promise!â€ she wailed through her tears,which seemed shed as much in anger as in grief. â€œApromise! You go back, Benjamin. Do you hear me? You go
married an accountant named Steven, a man so momentouslyboring that Abbie had even christened a verb for him. To beStevened by someone or something or to feel Steved out ortotally Steved had long been absorbed into their lexicon offamily slang. Sally and Steve had two children who sadlyseemed to have scooped most of their genes from theirfatherâ€™s end of the pool. Both had become accountants. Ben had expected to take her out to a restaurant butinstead Sally had prepared lunch for them in her trim kitchen,with its lace curtains and collection of ceramic frogs on thewindowsill. Steve was at work, so it was just them and thefrogs. Again, Benjamin waited until the mealâ€”grilled porkchops followed by lemon meringue pieâ€”was over beforetelling her his news. He knew as he spoke, from the way hereyes were narrowing, that he wasnâ€™t going to get awaylightly. When he finished, there was an ominous, quiveringsilence. â€œWhat gives you the right?â€ she hissed. â€œHow do you mean?â€ â€œWhat gives you the right! To leave.â€ â€œWellâ€”â€ â€œI mean, weâ€™re all unhappy! Every couple I know. Idonâ€™t know of a single goddamn marriage that I could putmy hand on my heart and say was happy.â€ Ben shrugged and shifted a little on his chair. â€œDo you know of any?â€
â€œWellâ€”â€ â€œDo you? I mean, really happy? I donâ€™t. Itâ€™s partof the package, Benjamin, you idiot! Get real! Do you thinkMom and Dad were happy ? Do you?â€ â€œWellâ€”â€ â€œOf course they werenâ€™t! Nobody is. But thatdoesnâ€™t mean you just up and leave. Oh my, Iâ€™m sounhappy, boohoo, so hey, Iâ€™ll just walk out on my wife andmy kids. For Christâ€™s sake, Ben, get real!â€ Ben felt paralyzed with shock. But she hadnâ€™t finished.In fact, sheâ€™d barely started. She went on to give him ascorching lecture about how he was a victim of this ridiculous,upside-down consumer culture in which everyone wasconstantly being bombarded with the pernicious promise ofhappiness and, even worse, being told at every turn that theyhad the goddamn right to be happy. And if they werenâ€™t,they could be, if they just got themselves a new car or a newdishwasher or a new outfit or a new lover. The messageswere everywhere, Sally said, in every magazine you pickedup, on every dumb TV show, fueling greed and envy, makingpeople dissatisfied with what they had, persuading them theycould change it and be happy and successful and beautiful, ifonly they had some gorgeous new thing or a new girlfriend ora new face or a new pair of silicone tits. . . . If he hadnâ€™t been so amazed or so starkly implicated inthe diatribe, Ben might have given her a standing ovation. Asit was, he lowered his eyes and nodded and tried to looksuitably admonished. And half an hour later, having twice
denied that there was somebody else, somebody new for by ,now he was too scared to admit it, he kissed her good-byeand walked to the front gate with a stoop in his shoulders thatalmost matched hers. Not Steved but thoroughly andignominiously Sallied. The dancing was over now and the Body Choristers wereall in a circle again, only this time they were sitting on the floorwith their eyes closed, silently holding hands. Ben was holdinghands with the whirling Taliban who seemed to have takensomething of a shine to him. He was wondering where the guyhad put his pepper. After another twenty minutes or so, during which anybodywho wanted to could share thoughts about how it had been forhim or for her, the session broke up. Everybody put theirshoes back on and Lori came over and gave Ben a hug andthen Eve arrived and they both gave her a hug. â€œWas that good?â€ she asked him nervously. â€œTerrific.â€ She gave him a skeptical look. â€œNo, honestly. I really enjoyed myself.â€ He put an arm around her shoulders and she put hersaround his waist. She smelled all warm and sweaty anddelicious. Lori was standing there, assessing them, beamingat them. â€œYou know something?â€ she said. â€œYou guys lookso great together. You even look like each other.â€
â€œIs that a compliment?â€ Ben and Eve said at the sametime. â€œYes.â€ Pablo had gone to stay with his father for the weekend, sothey had the house to themselves. Ben lit a fire in the archedstone fireplace in the bedroom while Eve made them somegreen tea whose taste he was at last beginning to like. Thelate winter sun was angling onto the white quilt of the bedthrough the window and filling the room with a soft amberglow. They slowly undressed each other, nuzzling eachotherâ€™s necks like cats as they did so, then loweredthemselves onto the wedge of light that lay athwart the bed.Her skin tasted of salt and he kissed her shoulders and herbreasts and beneath her arms and traveled the long hollowedcurve of her belly with his hand and found her warm and open. The fear that had blighted their first couplings was banishednow, confined to a shadowed recess of his mind. There weretimes, still, when it would try to summon him, with whispers ofinadequacy and plangent taunts of guilt and betrayal. Butwhereas once he would have paid heed and answered andwiltingly gone, now he could usually block the sound from hisears. Had Eve not been so patient with him, so forgiving andapparently unfazed by his early failures as a lover, he wouldlong ago have crawled away in shame. But she seemed tounderstand and hushed the faltering self-pity of his efforts toexplain. Inside her now, a stranger still to her shape and feel, hewatched the pale tilt of her chin, her parted lips, the shuttered
lashes of her eyes beyond, her hair thrown like a spill of inkacross the pillow and the shadow of their conjoined selvesmoving slowly, slowly, on the roseate rough plaster of the wall.He was here now, with her. He was here.
SIXTEENIt was less than a year since she had last been here. But likeso much else in Abbieâ€™s life, during those months theplace had been utterly transformed. She and Ty were standingtheir horses on the crest of the same bluff where they hadridden with his father two summers before and watched thegolden eagle soaring above the river. They had ridden here bythe same route, loping through the sage on the same twohorses. But that was where any similarity ended. Thelandscape over which they now looked out belonged to ableaker planet. â€œMy God,â€ she murmured. â€œI said you wouldnâ€™t know the place.â€ Even the mountains, on this close, gray May morning,seemed altered, darker, more broodingly distant. The riverwas low and ashen and its banks looked as if they had beensluiced with whitewash. Downstream, where the breaks hadonce babbled and sparkled among the willow scrub, therewas now a desert of shingle and baked mud, all patched withwhite where the salt water had dried. The water that had killedthe Hawkinsesâ€™ colts and the cattle. â€œSee the cottonwoods down along there? By now theyshould all be in leaf. Theyâ€™re dead. Every last one of them.We figured they might make it, but they havenâ€™t. And downthere? Where Dad took you to see those colts? This time ofyear those meadows would be so thick with flowers you
couldnâ€™t walk through without getting your clothes allyellow. Look at it now.â€ It was arid and brown and crusted with salt, a few sorry tuftsof bleached grass trying to cling on. â€œNothingâ€™ll grow down along there now. The hayfields up along have gone too. The riverâ€™s poisoned andnow the land is too. The water thatâ€™s released from thedrilling kills everything.â€ Abbie just sat there in the saddle, shaking her head. â€œI canâ€™t believe it.â€ Ty laughed. â€œBoy, you havenâ€™t seen the half of it. Come on,Iâ€™ll show you.â€ He reined his horse around and urged it forward and theyloped back the way they had come, past the gash of red rockand down through the sage. Instead of turning left to the ranch,they bore right and headed toward the mountains, up awinding valley, dotted on either side with boulders and gnarledlimber pine, some of which, Tyâ€™s father had told her, weremore than a thousand years old. As they rode up the valley she could hear a rumbling soundthat got louder and louder until they came around a bend andTy eased his horse to a standstill and she rode slowly upalongside and stopped too. â€œWell, there you go,â€ he said. â€œUsed to be goodpasture. Now the topsoilâ€™s gone, nothingâ€™s going to
grow here, even when theyâ€™re gone.â€ Up ahead of them, a wide dirt road had been gougedacross the entire width of the valley and the far side of it was asea of dried-out mud, churned and rutted with tire tracks.There were power lines and pipes and a cluster of white-topped cement plinths that Ty said were the wellheads. The rumbling noise was coming from some low white-walled buildings with generators and drilling rigs and somestrange-looking trucks parked beside them, all surrounded bya chain-link fence, posted with signs saying Danger andKeep Out. Ty said this was a compressor station and thatthere were others farther on, and tanks too, where the waterreleased by the drilling was supposed to be contained. Whichwas a joke, he said, because they were always leaking andoverflowing. And they were poorly fenced too, so that keepinghorses and livestock away was a nightmare. Just one of many,he added wryly. It was the weekend, so there was nobody about. But anyother day, he said, they would be dodging trucks every fewminutes and wouldnâ€™t be able to see the place for dust. â€œThis is where Daddy used to hold his horse clinics. Healways said, with the mountains up yonder and the forest andall, it was the prettiest place on the ranch and if ever anyonestarted moaning about how much he was charging, as soonas they got up here, theyâ€™d stop. One woman once saidsheâ€™d pay that much for the view alone.â€ He looked away and went quiet for a while. Abbie couldguess what he was thinking about.
She had been able to tell from his tone of voice on thephone two days ago that something was wrong. At first sheassumed he was just acting all hurt because it had been solong since she had last called him. The truth was that the onlyperson she ever called these days was her mom. Since goingback to school after that god-awful trip to Mustique, she hadbecome something of a hermit. She never went out and herfriends, all except Mel, had by now virtually given up on her.She had buried herself in her studies, holed up day after dayin her room or in the college library, reading about how theworld was being ruined. Getting angry seemed to help her feelless sorry for herself. But hearing what Ty had been throughmade her feel selfish and guilty. On the phone, whensheâ€™d asked him what was wrong, there was a long pauseand then he told her quietly that his father had suffered astroke. Abbie had bought a used car with the money her grandpahad given her for that very purpose for Christmas, a little darkblue Toyota, and she drove it to Sheridan the very next day tosee him. She knew she wouldnâ€™t remember the way onthe gravel roads out to the ranch so they arranged to meet atthe Best Western. He looked pale and drawn and hugged herso hard and for such a long time that she knew he was at thevery edge of himself. He said he ought to tell her what had happened before theywent out to the ranch, because he didnâ€™t want his mom tohave to hear it, so they walked along Main Street and found alittle plaza and sat together on a bench. There was a bronzestatue of a cowboy there, with long hair and chaps and a rifle
resting across his shoulder, as if he might at any moment havecause to use it, and Ty stared at him while he told her whathad happened. It was in February, he said. Just a couple of weeks after thebulldozers moved in and started cutting the road. His momand dad had refused to sign the surface-damage agreementthat McGuigan Gas & Oil had sent them. Instead they hadhired an attorney and were asking for further assurancesabout putting the land back the way it was. Then one morning, unannounced, two guys drove up to theranch house and said the diggers would be arriving thefollowing day and that within the week theyâ€™d be drilling.The attorney did what he could but it was hopeless, Ty said.Like talking to the deaf. The gas company just didnâ€™t wantto know. Next day, as promised, in came the bulldozers andsoon the whole place was a quagmire. â€œThey had these guys working up there, ten or twelve ofthem, some crew theyâ€™d brought up from Mexico, all ofthem illegal. And McGuigan didnâ€™t bring in any kind ofbackup, not even portable toilets, so these guys were upthere, just doing their business out in the meadow. Dirty toiletpaper blowing all over the place, even down at the house. Itwas just plain revolting. â€œDad and I would go up and try and reason with thembut most of them didnâ€™t even speak English and even theones that did said it had nothing to do with them and weshould call the office, but nobody there wanted to talk to useither. And all the while Momâ€™s just, you know, crying her
eyes out, breaking her heart. . . . â€œAnyhow. Eventually, Dad managed to get hold of J. T.McGuigan himself on the phone, the CEO or president orwhatever the hell he calls himself. Down in Denver. And thisguy starts yelling and saying Dad only has himself to blame,that he should have signed the goddamn surface-damageagreement. â€œHe flew up two days later and there was this meeting atthe attorneyâ€™s office and McGuigan, who turns out to bethis big bull of a fella, ex-Marine or some such, starts holleringand poking his finger at Mom and Dad . . . Hell, Abbie, Ishould have been there, but I had to be in Bozeman that week. â€œSo, Momâ€™s real upset and Dadâ€™s trying tocalm her down and all. And she keeps saying to McGuigan,You canâ€™t do this, you canâ€™t do this to us. And it allgoes quiet and he walks right up to her and points his finger inher face and says, Listen lady, let me try and explain. Itâ€™slike you and I are married. I can do whatever the hell I like toyou, whenever or wherever I choose, and you just have to goalong with it. â€œAnd that same night, Dad had his stroke.â€ As they walked back to their vehicles Ty told her that hisfather had come home from the hospital about a month agobut that he had lost the power of speech and was pretty wellparalyzed. â€œJust sits there all day in front of the TV. He never usedto watch it but itâ€™s hard to know what else to do with him.
We talk to him, read him things. We reckon he knows whatweâ€™re saying and that heâ€™s still in there somewhere,locked up inside himself, though sometimes . . .â€ Ty stoppedfor a moment and swallowed. â€œSometimes, I kind of hopehe isnâ€™t.â€ â€œHowâ€™s your mom?â€ Abbie asked softly, realizingas she said it what a dumb question it was. â€œKind of how youâ€™d expect.â€ Just as Ty had said, when they got up to the ranch house,his father was slumped in his chair, staring at the TV. Abbiesaid hello but his eyes didnâ€™t even flicker. It was a wildlifedocumentary film. A pack of hyenas was trying to snatch a littlewarthog from its mother. Martha gave Abbie a big hug andwelled up but managed not to cry. Over supper they kept up abrave and brittle cheeriness, Martha asking Abbie all kinds ofquestions about college and telling her how bad she felt thatTy had given up his studies at Montana State. Maybe Abbiecould persuade him to go back, she said. â€œOh, Mom,â€ Ty said wearily. On the TV, the hyenaswere having their supper too now. â€œThe thing is, Abbie, he thinks heâ€™s indispensableand that his poor old mother canâ€™t run this place withouthim.â€ â€œI do not.â€ They changed the subject. Then Martha delicately askedafter Abbieâ€™s mom. Ty had obviously kept her up tospeed.
â€œSheâ€™s okay, thanks. Doing a little better. Sheâ€™sstarted smoking, which is kind of strange. Hasnâ€™t done itfor more than twenty years.â€ â€œDonâ€™t give her too much of a hard time.â€ â€œIâ€™m not. Itâ€™s her life.â€ â€œAnd your dad. Howâ€™s he doing?â€ â€œOkay, I guess. I donâ€™t really know.â€ Abbie nearly added that she didnâ€™t care either, butdidnâ€™t. Benjamin e-mailed her the whole time and though to beginwith she had sent him short, mostly vitriolic replies, she nowdidnâ€™t bother. Three or four times a week he would call hercell phone but she usually just let it ring and then listened to hismessage, which was always the same bullshit. How much heloved her and missed her and wanted to talk with her andcould he fly up and see her, maybe next weekend or theweekend after or any time that suited? And sometimes, just toget him off her back, she would take the call and say coldlythat she was really busy and no, sorry, but it wasnâ€™tconvenient for him to come, not that weekend nor any otherforeseeable. She didnâ€™t know how long it would be beforeshe would stop wanting to punish him. Maybe when the soundof his voice no longer made her seethe with a resentful anger.The fact that she missed him terribly only stoked it further. Hehad always been there for her, ever her staunchest supporterand mentor. And she loathed how weak and rudderless shefelt without him.
Ty came to her room that night and though their lovemakingwas laced with a mutual sorrow, it brought at least anobliterating comfort. Yet afterward she found she couldnâ€™tsleep and lay with her head on his chest listening to his softsnoring and, somewhere off in the darkness, the distantyipping of a coyote. One of the ranch dogs had had a litter of puppies. Ty hadfound homes for all but three who were now some twelveweeks old. One of them, a scraggy little mutt with three whitepaws and a kink in his tail, took a shine to Abbie, just trailedaround after her and wouldnâ€™t leave her alone. None hadnames, so Abbie called him Sox. Ty said she should take himback to Missoula with her but though she was tempted, shesaid no, she couldnâ€™t possibly. She stayed for two days and on the second, when the gasmen were back at work, she witnessed for herself the constantpassage of trucks up the valley and the clouds of dust theychurned. Ty said they were going to try to file suit against thecompany even though their attorney said they didnâ€™t standa chance and might as well instead just sit there setting fire tohundred-dollar bills for the next two years. The morning she left, Abbie said good-bye to Ray andkissed him on the forehead and he made a little noise as shedid so, but she figured he was probably just trying to clear histhroat. Martha made her promise to come back soon. Ty ledthe way in his old pickup back down into Sheridan and theyparked up just short of the interstate to say good-bye. From the passenger-side footwell of his truck he gently
lifted out a cardboard box containing the puppy and a blanketand he put them on the backseat of the Toyota. Abbie tried toprotest but he knew her too well and wouldnâ€™t take no foran answer. If it didnâ€™t work out, he said, all she had to dowas bring the little critter back. He asked about her plans forthe summer and Abbie said she hadnâ€™t really made any.She was probably going to hang around for a while inMissoula, find a job of some kind. Maybe go back home for aweek or two to spend some time with her mom. Except, withSox now, how exactly that was going to work out, she had noidea. â€œOur kennel rates are pretty reasonable,â€ Ty said. He put his arms around her and held her awhile, neither ofthem speaking, just the roar of the trucks going by. â€œI love you, Abbie.â€ It was the first time heâ€™d said it to her, the first timeanyone, except her mom and dad, had ever said it. And shenearly burst into tears but didnâ€™t, just hugged him andgave him a kiss. She felt bad for not saying she loved him too,but it wasnâ€™t true and she didnâ€™t want to lie. As shedrove away, she saw him in the mirror, standing sadly by histruck, watching her leave. The puppy was already asleep.ÂÂÂThe UM campus had that lazy, schoolâ€™s out and summer
is a-coming feel about it. Even though the semester wasofficially over, nobody seemed to be in too much of a hurry toleave. The cottonwoods along the Clark Fork were in theirbest vibrant green, the weather clear and balmy, the very airabrim with promise. Students pedaled the dappled shade onbicycles or strolled the few blocks to Rockinâ€™ Rudyâ€™sto browse the records or to Berniceâ€™s Bakery or BreakEspresso for iced mochas and bagels or simply sprawled inthe sun on the lush spring grass of The Oval, chilling out andmaking plans. Mel and Abbie had cleared all their stuff from their room inKnowles Hall and dumped most of it at Todd and Ericâ€™shouse on Fourth Street, where Abbie was staying until shefigured out what she was going to do for the summer.Everybody else had made their plans weeks, even months,ago. Mel and Scott had already left for Peru. Theyâ€™d tried topersuade Abbie to join them but she wasnâ€™t goinganywhere without Sox. Eric and Todd would any day now beheading down to Idaho where they had fixed themselves jobsas white-water raft guides on the Salmon River. After sixweeks in plaster, Ericâ€™s hip had mended well and thoughhe limped a little, he figured he would still be able to handle araft with half a dozen people on it. Hell, he said, if Meryl Streepcould do it, so could he. To torture the guests around thecampfire, he was taking his new accordion. Thus, by the beginning of June, Abbie and Sox had thehouse to themselves. The place clearly hadnâ€™t beencleaned in years, the windows so filthy you could barely see
out. There wasnâ€™t even a vacuum cleaner, so Abbieborrowed one and spent the next three days cleaning andscrubbing. It made her feel like her mother but at least it kepther mind off things. On the third morning, just after Sox haddiscovered an entire fossilized pizza under the living-roomcouch, her phone rang. The callerâ€™s number was local, butone she didnâ€™t recognize. â€œHousewives Anonymous?â€ â€œAbbie?â€ She almost hung up. â€œDad. Where are you?â€ â€œIâ€™m at the Holiday Inn.â€ â€œWhat, in Missoula? What are you doing here?â€ â€œAbbie, you know why. Iâ€™ve come to see you.â€ â€œBut why didnâ€™t you let me know? Itâ€™s just that,you know, at the moment, Iâ€™m kind ofâ€”â€ â€œAbbie, sweetheart. Please.â€ He asked her where she was and could he come see her.For reasons she didnâ€™t herself fully understand, shedidnâ€™t want him to. Probably it was just to hurt him, to denyhim knowledge to which he might think a father had someright. She said she would meet him in the hotel lobby in anhour and hung up. At once she regretted it and nearly called him back to sayshe wasnâ€™t coming. But she hadnâ€™t seen him in five
whole months, not since that appalling dinner beforeChristmas. And she didnâ€™t want to make him think it wasany big deal. No, she would go. Show him how little he figuredin her life now. It was at most a ten-minute walk across the bridge and shespent the other fifty in an accelerating spin, her heart racing,worrying about what she was going to say to him and howmean she should be. She took a shower and washed her hairand then spent at least twenty minutes trying to decide what towear, all the while cursing herself for being so stupid becausewho cared? Really. What the hell did it matter? She put on adress, then changed it for another, then settled for blue jeansand a white longsleeved T-shirt. Sox was getting pretty good at going for walks now. Hedidnâ€™t even really need a leash, just tucked in behind her.But the traffic on the bridge could be scary, so she put him onthe leash to be safe. She saw her dad before he saw her. In fact, once he lookedstraight at her but didnâ€™t recognize her, presumablybecause he didnâ€™t know about Sox or because she waswearing sunglasses and had cut her hair. He was standingoutside under the big cement portico and a busload of guestshad just arrived, so it was busy. He was thinner and his hairwas longer. He kept nervously checking his watch. Then hesaw her. â€œHey!â€ He walked over to her and put his arms around her andkissed her and it took every atom of willpower she possessed
not to succumb, not to dissolve and cling to him. But somehowshe managed. All she gave him in return was a token hug. Shewasnâ€™t going to give him more. No kiss, no tears. Nothing.He held her by the elbows to inspect her. Abbie could see thathe was trying hard not to cry. â€œHow are you doing, baby?â€ â€œFine. How are you?â€ â€œIâ€™m good. All the better for seeing you. Hey! Andwhoâ€™s this? Is he yours?â€ â€œUh-huh. Heâ€™s called Sox.â€ He squatted to ruffle the dogâ€™s ears and Sox squirmedand jumped and kept trying to lick her dadâ€™s face. â€œHey, little fella, I already washed.â€ He suggested that maybe they could go have lunchsomewhere but Abbie said that with the puppy that wasnâ€™tpossible. Instead they walked up to North Higgins to buysandwiches and juice, then came back down to Caras Parkand sat on the grass looking over the river and had a picnic.There was a sculpture of some huge trout which for somereason seemed to spook Sox. He stood barking at them thensaw a squirrel and chased it up a tree, below which he sat forthe next half hour, staring up at it with his head on one sideand giving an occasional whimper. Her dad asked her lots of questions about college and whatshe had been up to and she gave him flat, factual answers, notovertly rude, just cool. Informative enough, but utterlyunembellished with anything that might be construed as
enthusiam or emotion. And she kept her sunglasses on so hecouldnâ€™t see her eyes. She could tell that it was graduallygetting to him, because after a while he seemed to run out ofquestions and the life seemed to drain from his face and inthe end he just stared out across the river, silently chewing hissandwich. â€œSo howâ€™s your new life?â€ she asked sourly. He turned and looked at her for a few moments before hespoke. â€œAbbie, Iâ€™m so sorry.â€ She gave a little laugh and looked away. â€œI know how much Iâ€™ve hurt you. All of you.â€ â€œOh, really?â€ â€œOf course, I do.â€ â€œYou know what? I donâ€™t think youâ€™ve got thefirst fucking clue!â€ â€œAbbie, come onâ€”â€ â€œNo, you come on! Youâ€™ve destroyed us. Everythingwe had. And you think you can breeze up here and say a fewnice little things and make it all better again. Well, youcanâ€™t, okay? You fucking well canâ€™t.â€ She had never in her whole life sworn at him and theviolence of the words shocked her as much as they clearlyshocked him. Not to mention those around them. People werestaring at them now and she was grimly gratified to see how
that bothered him. Let them stare, let them hear, let thebastard squirm. She was close to tears now and abruptlystood up and strutted across the grass to gather Sox from hissquirrel vigil beneath the tree. When she came back her dadwas on his feet too. â€œSweetheart, please . . .â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œWeâ€™re not the first family this has ever happenedto.â€ â€œOh? And is that supposed to make us all feel better?â€ â€œNo, of course not. All I mean is thatâ€”â€ â€œDad, listen. You didnâ€™t tell me you werecomingâ€”â€ â€œYouâ€™d have told me not to.â€ â€œWell, anyway, Iâ€™ve got to be somewhere.â€ â€œReally?â€ â€œYes. What, are you saying Iâ€™m lying orâ€”â€ â€œThen can we meet later, have dinner maybe?â€ â€œSorry, I canâ€™t.â€ He looked so crushed and wretched, she almost gave in.Almost. â€œAbbieâ€”â€ â€œDad, Iâ€™ve got to go, okay?â€
With Sox cradled in her arms, she stepped toward him andgave him a peck on the cheek. He tried to hold her but shewouldnâ€™t let him and pulled away. â€œBye.â€ â€œAbbie . . .â€ She turned and walked briskly toward the bridge and thenup the steps to the street, without once looking back. Shewondered if he might follow her and when she was halfwayacross the bridge she looked back and down toward wherethey had been. But he was walking slowly away across thepark, his head bowed, going back to the hotel. Later, when she had stopped crying, she called her motherand told her what had happened. She said how upsetting ithad been and how unbelievable and selfish of him it was, justshowing up like that, out of the blue. As if, after what heâ€™ddone, he could just snap his fingers and everyone had tocome running. Her mom listened and made all the rightnoises, but Abbie had the impression that she wasnâ€™tbeing heard with quite the sympathy she deserved. â€œI mean,â€ she said, â€œdonâ€™t you think itâ€™samazing?â€ â€œHoney, heâ€™s your dad.â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œHe loves you very much. Maybe you should give him abreak.â€ â€œOh, like, you mean, Iâ€™m the one whoâ€™s being
unreasonable?â€ Her mother sighed and in a weary voice said no. She triedto explain what she meant but Abbie didnâ€™t really want tolisten. Jesus. For a woman to be making excuses for the guywho just walked out on her was surreal. What was she, somekind of doormat? Her mom changed the subject and asked ifshe was coming home soon. Abbie said she hadnâ€™t yetdecided but would probably stay in Missoula and find a job. â€œHow about Josh and me coming out there to see you?We could go someplace nice together.â€ â€œSure.â€ â€œOkay, well, letâ€™s both think about that. Oh, and Inearly forgot, some guy called for you, said youâ€™d met inSeattle. Ralph, I think he said.â€ â€œRolf.â€ â€œRolf, thatâ€™s it. Heâ€™s calling back. Is it okay togive him your cell number?â€ Abbie thought for a moment. He hadnâ€™t crossed hermind in months. â€œSure,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t mind.â€
SEVENTEENEverybody was crowded against the rail on the right-handside of the boatâ€”the port side. Or was it starboard? Joshcould never remember if it depended on which way you werefacing. A lot of people had brought binoculars and just aboutall of them had cameras. His dad had forgotten to bring either,which, as far as Josh was concerned, was cool. Some idiotswere even taking photos right now, of absolutely nothing, just awide expanse of ocean on which the only signs of life werethree other stationary boats crammed with similar idiots. Youcould see the pathetic little flashes of their cameras. As if thatwould be enough to light the tail of a whale half a mile away. Inthe unlikely event of one ever deciding to surface. Joshimagined these people back home showing friends theirvacation pictures. And hereâ€™s one of the ocean withnothing in it. And hereâ€™s another . . . and another. Thewhole thing was probably just one big scam anyhow.Theyâ€™d been out here for two hours already and seennothing but a few bored seagulls. There probably hadnâ€™tbeen a single whale sighted off Cape Cod for a hundredyears. â€œOver here! Look!â€ Somebody behind them on the other side of theboatâ€”there was always some smart-assâ€”was yelling andpointing and everyone turned and then started to run towardhim. Josh had even considered playing the trick himself,
waiting until everybodyâ€™s back was turned and then yellingThar she blows! And theyâ€™d turn and heâ€™d saySuckers! or Aw shucks, you just missed it. He looked at hisdad and the two of them exchanged an amused grimace. â€œSorry,â€ his dad said. â€œNot exactly heart-stopping,is it?â€ â€œItâ€™s cool.â€ They strolled after the others. It had been a strange few days. Just the two of themspending all this time together. It wasnâ€™t something theyhad ever done before. Vacations had always been the four ofthem, like at The Divide, and at first it had felt odd not to haveAbbie or his mom around. His dad at first had seemed stiffand awkward, as if he didnâ€™t really know what they shoulddo or even talk about. The original idea had been for Josh to fly to Kansas andsee his grandma, then go on to Santa Fe and spend sometime with his dad and Eve. Even though it might have been alittle strange seeing the two of them together, Josh would havefelt okay about it. In fact, he was quite interested. But his momhad totally freaked at the idea, so his dad had changed plansand instead rented a ramshackle house on Cape Cod, just onthe edge of Provincetown. It was big enough to sleep abouteight or ten people. Maybe it was the only place he could getor maybe he had been hoping Abbie and her new boyfriendmight at the last minute change their minds and come. They had never been to the Cape before and Josh
didnâ€™t think heâ€™d be hurrying back. Provincetownturned out to be a big vacation place for gaysâ€”which wasabsolutely fine by himâ€”but in the evenings, when he and hisdad went out for dinner and walked down the street together,Josh kept imagining people were staring at them. Especiallywhen his dad, as he sometimes liked to, draped an arm overhis shoulders. Josh felt like carrying a placard saying Listen,itâ€™s my dad, okay? Even driving up here they seemed soon to run out of thingsto talk about, at least those trivial or neutral things that hadnothing to do with the separation orâ€”as apparently it wassoon to be, once the papers or whatever had gonethroughâ€”divorce. It was kind of dumb, like an elephant wassitting in the room and everybody was too scared to mentionit. They talked about school, about friends, about Joshâ€™scollege plans for next year (he didnâ€™t much want to goanywhere, as a matter of fact, but at gun-point he wouldprobably try for NYU). He knew his dad would much rather betalking about what had happened to them all, but for at leastthe first couple of days, he didnâ€™t seem to know how toraise the subject. Josh nearly said, â€œDad, itâ€™s cool, gofor it, letâ€™s talk, I donâ€™t mind.â€ But he didnâ€™t, justwatched the poor guy fidget and twist himself up into evertighter knots until the only topics of conversation they had leftwere the weather and a whole list of boring things he hadpicked up from his Cape Cod travel guide. â€œApparently Norman Mailer has a house here,â€ hisdad said one morning while they were having breakfast in thesqualid little kitchen. The place smelled like something furry
had died under the floorboards. â€œWhoâ€™s Norman Mailer?â€ â€œJosh, you really donâ€™t know? Your mother would beappalled.â€ Josh shrugged. â€œIs he, like, some famous gardener or something?â€ â€œHeâ€™s one of Americaâ€™s greatest writers.â€ â€œWhat did he write?â€ There was a long pause, then his dad gave a slow,sheepish smile. â€œYou know, son, I canâ€™t remember a single book hewrote.â€ â€œDid you read them?â€ â€œNever. Not one. Donâ€™t you dare tell your mother.â€Finally, last night, theyâ€™d gotten around to mentioning theelephant. And it was good. The only thing was, his dad keptasking him how he felt and didnâ€™t seem to believe it whenJosh said he was fine, really he was. It was as if what his dadwanted to hear was that he felt totally screwed up and neededtherapy. That he was putting on some big front, just to be coolor brave, and that underneath he was tearing himself apartwith hurt and anger. But it wasnâ€™t like that. Of course, seeing his mom soupset all the time was tough and sometimes really prettyheavy, like that night a couple of weeks ago in Montana, when
she broke down with Abbie and Josh had to sit there on thebed and hold them both while they wailed and sobbed theireyes out. But the truth was, he wasnâ€™t angry with his dad. He justfelt sorry for him. The poor guy had left because apparently hewasnâ€™t happy, but leaving didnâ€™t seem to have madehim any happier. Sometimes, when Josh glanced at him andcaught him in an unguarded moment, his face was as long asa shovel. Of course, Josh felt sad about what had happened,but it didnâ€™t make him angry or even resentful. In fact, heworried that this meant there must be something wrong withhim, that he was somehow emotionally deficient. Perhaps heshould be feeling what Abbie was feeling. Perhaps he shouldbe spending this week screaming abuse at the guy, telling himwhat a disgrace he was, what a terrible father and husbandand example he was. But Josh didnâ€™t feel that way. It was all so goddamnconfusing, he couldnâ€™t figure out what he did feel. Excepta little ashamed and guilty sometimes. Because, if he wasabsolutely honest, he didnâ€™t really mind too much that hisdad had left. Wasnâ€™t that a shocking thing to admit? But itwas true. Apart from the fact that it had made everybody elseso unhappy, Josh didnâ€™t actually care. In a way, if anything, it had made his life better. Hewasnâ€™t in his dadâ€™s shadow anymore. The guywasnâ€™t there, on his case the whole time, telling him to goeasy on the weed and not to drink or stay out too late. Orgiving him a hard time over some paper he hadnâ€™thanded in on time. Suddenly, from troublesome teenager, he
had been transformed into man of the house. He was the pillarnow, the rock, the one who fixed the fuses and chopped thewood and shoveled the snow off the porch. Of course, Josh didnâ€™t so much as hint at any of thiswhen they talked last night in the little restaurant where theyhad ended up going almost every night because everywhereelse was too noisy and crowded. On the one hand his dadmight have been happy to hear it, of course. On the other, itmight have upset him to discover he wasnâ€™t too badlymissed or, in truth, missed at all. So Josh sat there andlistened while his dad kept apologizing and then did his bestto answer all those questions about his mom and Abbie andhow they were doing, trying to give it as positive a gloss aspossible so the poor guy wouldnâ€™t beat himself up evenmore. Because what was the point in telling him how brokenand wretched the two of them really were? And how weird wasthat? There was Josh, still a year to go in high school, playingthe rock, the man of the family, even with his dad, forheavenâ€™s sake. The week he and his mom had spent with Abbie had beenabout as much fun as one of those asthma attacks he used toget when he was little. Josh hadnâ€™t seen his sister sincethe beginning of the year, when they came back fromMustique (which would forever be engraved on his heart asthe place he had at long last lost his virginity under the palmtrees to the luscious Katie Bradstock). The change was prettystaggering. Abbie had cut her hair all short and dyed it blackand was dressed like something that had crept out of a crypt.His mom was brilliant. She hardly batted an eye, even told her
how nice she looked. Abbie was clearly a little disappointed. But it wasnâ€™t just her appearance. It was how she nowtalked and what she talked about. Her every sentence waspeppered with swear words. The whole week she neverstopped going on and on about how the world and everythingin it was fucked and beyond hope. How the big corporationswere fucking everything up, the rivers, the forests, the entirefucking planet. And we were all going along with it and happilyletting them. It started the moment they flew into Missoula when she gavetheir mom a hard time for renting an SUV. It was somethingthey had always done in Montana and never before had Abbiequestioned it. As their dad used to say, in the West, unlessyou drove a truck, you werenâ€™t getting your moneyâ€™sworth. â€œDo you have any idea how much fucking gas thesethings burn?â€ she said. â€œNo, honey,â€ their mom said calmly. â€œHow muchfucking gas do they burn?â€ â€œYou get, like what, twelve miles to the gallon? And doyou know how much carbon dioxide and other shit they pumpinto the atmosphere?â€ â€œI imagine it must be quite a lot or you wouldnâ€™t beso upset.â€ Josh suggested Abbie should chill out a little, which was abig mistake and had precisely the opposite effect. She flewinto such a rage that their mom went quietly back to the Hertz
desk and rented a Subaru instead. There was no way they could go stay at The Divide. Therewere too many bad memories for their mom, though Abbiesaid later that they ought to have gone just to exorcise theghosts and give the finger to their dad. Instead they hadbooked into a god-awful dude ranch called the Lazy Spur, anhour out of Missoula. The food was grim, the people grimmer,and the horses were about a hundred years old and kepttrying to bite everyone. Abbie had brought Sox along and paidno attention to the rule that dogs werenâ€™t allowed in therooms or anywhere else on the ranch. She and the owner gotinto a big fight about it and probably would have come toblows if their mom hadnâ€™t stepped in to negotiate acompromise. Their mom figured some of Abbieâ€™s anger and much ofher new dark view of the world must have something to dowith her new boyfriend, the German guy she had met inSeattle. Josh thought he sounded pretty cool and was sadthey didnâ€™t get to see him. Rolf traveled a lot, Abbie said,and that week was up in Eugene, Oregon, visiting with friends.She later let it slip that actually he had come back to Missoulatwo days before Josh and his mom were due to fly home. â€œCanâ€™t we at least meet him?â€ his mom asked.â€œJust to say hello?â€ â€œHe doesnâ€™t do that kind of thing,â€ Abbie said. â€œHe doesnâ€™t say hello?â€ â€œHe doesnâ€™t do, you know, the meet-the-parents
thing. All that bourgeois shit.â€ â€œAh. Well, you do it for us, okay? Say hi from thebourgeois shits.â€ â€œYeah, right.â€ After the Lazy Spur and a week of Abbieâ€™s anger, CapeCod with his dad had turned out to be almost fun. Whale-watching was hard to avoid if you were staying inProvincetown because there wasnâ€™t much else to do,especially when the weather was so miserable and the househad no TV and there wasnâ€™t a single movie on anywherethat you hadnâ€™t already seen. Come to think of it, maybethat was why there werenâ€™t any whales around, not evengay ones. Theyâ€™d all gotten too bored and gone offsomeplace else. Just as the thought slid by, somebody at the rail holleredand everybody started babbling and craning their necks andlooking through their binoculars. â€œThere, look!â€ the woman yelled. â€œAt tenoâ€™clock!â€ For a second Josh didnâ€™t know what she meant andhad a sudden fear that they might all have to stay out hereanother five hours but then he realized she was giving thedirection. And now he could see it. It was three or four hundredyards away and about the size of an ant, a black lump slowlyrising from the water. â€œLook! Look at him spouting!â€ Then the captain, or chief whale-watcher or whoever he
was, woke up and started telling everybody over theloudspeaker what theyâ€™d already seen for themselves. Itwas a right whale, he said, which was the name the whalershad given it on account of its blubber being so rich in oil. Inother words, it was the right one, the best one to kill, a namethe poor old whale must have been pretty proud of, Joshimagined, until he figured out the implications. He felt his dadâ€™s hand on his back now. â€œWell, there you go, Joshie. Worth the wait, huh?â€ For a moment Josh thought he was being serious, then sawthe grin. â€œAbsolutely.â€ â€œWhat do we think about the whales, save them or not?â€ â€œI think . . . save them.â€ The creature was diving now, its great tail hanging there inthe air for a moment, then slowly sinking in a surge of foam.And that was the last they saw of it. The darned thing nevercame up again. But it had made scores of peopleâ€™s dayand they all sailed home with smiles on their faces, their livesjust a fraction enhanced. They drove back home the next day, chatting and listeningto music and occasionally stopping, with appropriatelyaffectionate jokes at Abbieâ€™s expense, for both Starbucksand McDonaldâ€™s. Their talk about the elephant two nightsago seemed to have loosened things up between them and
Josh felt, for the first time in as long as he could remember,totally relaxed in his fatherâ€™s company. â€œI know itâ€™ll be a while,â€ his dad said as they stoodby the car, waiting for the ferry to take them over to LongIsland. â€œBut sometime Iâ€™d really love you to comedown to Santa Fe and, you know, meet Eve properly.â€ â€œIâ€™d like that.â€ Neither of them said anything for a few moments, just stoodthere watching the boats out on the Sound, the seabirdswhirling, the ferry coming in. â€œAre you guys going to get married?â€ His dad laughed. Josh didnâ€™t know why. Just nervousmaybe. â€œItâ€™s too early, Joshie. Your mom and I arenâ€™teven divorced yet.â€ â€œI know, but you and Eve are, kind of, living together,arenâ€™t you?â€ â€œIâ€™m staying with her now, while I look for a place ofmy own.â€ â€œAre you going to work down there?â€ â€œI hope so, Josh. Iâ€™m talking to some people, gotone little job going. I want to get back to designing houses.Itâ€™s what I always enjoyed doing, but for some reason Istopped. Got a little lost, I guess.â€ He seemed to drift off into his thoughts. Down by the water
a Stars and Stripes was billowing in the breeze, the hoist wireclinking against the pole. â€œMaybe I should think about becoming an architect,â€Josh said. He didnâ€™t really mean it. He just wanted toplease his dad and it was the first thing that popped into hishead. â€œReally?â€ â€œYeah.â€ â€œThatâ€™s great, Joshie. I had no idea. You used todraw well. And what was that game you were always playingon your computer?â€ â€œSimCity.â€ â€œThatâ€™s it. Boy, you were so good at that.â€ â€œI still play it sometimes.â€ â€œYou do?â€ He put a hand on Joshâ€™s shoulder. â€œI think youâ€™d make a fine architect.â€ As they drove closer to Syosset, their conversation faded.Even in the late-afternoon sunshine, the shadow of theirfractured home seemed to reach out and silence them. Joshled the way into the house and his mom made a big fuss ofhim without once looking at his dad, who had slunk in behindand was standing there, timidly waiting. At last, after she hadasked Josh a hundred questions about the trip and told himthat his hair needed a wash, she turned and looked toward his
dad and gave him this funny, formal little smile. â€œHi,â€ she said. â€œHi, sweetheart.â€ They touched cheeks. Like a pair of glancing icebergs. â€œWe saw a whale,â€ Josh said. It was the sort of thing afour-year-old might say. â€œYou did?â€ â€œYeah. It was a right whale.â€ â€œWell, hey, Iâ€™m sure glad it wasnâ€™t a wrongone.â€ Josh picked up his bag and at the foot of the stairs turnedand looked back. His dad smiled and gave him a peace sign. â€œAlmost peace, man.â€ And with his one and a half fingers, Josh replied. He took his bag up to his room and left his parents standinglike strangers in the hallway. He heard his mom say somethingin a hushed and angry voice and then his dad wearily replying.It was about some letter she had received from his lawyers.Josh didnâ€™t want to know. He put on some music andcalled Freddie on his cell phone to ask him what everyonewas doing that night and did he have something good tosmoke.
EIGHTEENThe sad thing about it was that you never really got to see thefull glory of your labors. You had to sneak in, set things up, andthen get the hell out as fast as you could without being seen.The whole idea was that by the time the place went up inflames you were out of town and miles away. Of course, yougot to see the pictures of the charred remains in thenewspapers the next day, but it wasnâ€™t the same asseeing the whole thing go boom. The part Abbie liked best was spraying slogans on the wallsand across those big showroom windows. This was basicallyher job, while Rolf set the fire. It was one long rush ofadrenaline, knowing that at any moment some security guardcould come strolling around the corner. She had gotten quiteinventive with what she wrote. Her best efforts to date wereFat Lazy Polluters and SUVs = U.S. GREED, which had akind of rhyming thing going. Rolf said she shouldnâ€™t gettoo clever in case people missed the message. For example,Despoilers and American Avarice were too obscure, he said.He also made her vary what she wrote and the style she wroteit in, so the cops would think there were a whole lot more cellsoperating than there really were. The only thing it wasimportant to keep repeating was ELF. Or better still, if timeand space allowed, spell it out in full: Earth Liberation Front. The one thing he was really strict about was not spendingtoo long at the location. Hanging around was how you got
yourself caught, he said, so Abbie didnâ€™t argue. He wasprobably the first person in her whole life whose instructionsshe felt happy to follow and whose every opinion sherespected, usually without question. He knew so much, it wasalmost scary, like he had this amazing computer in his head.You could ask him absolutely anythingâ€”about politics or theenvironment or international affairs or the human rights recordof the most obscure country you could think ofâ€”and heinevitably knew the answer. She loved to sit or lie beside himand just listen to him talk. Abbie knew her awe and compliance had something to dowith his being ten years older than she was. And it obviouslyalso had something to do with what was going on betweenthem sexually. From the very first time, he had completelyblown her away. His body was so lithe and beautiful. She lethim do things to her that she could never have imagined shemight like. Things that, had anyone told her about them before,would have shocked, even disgusted, her. It was as though hehad unlocked in her some secret room to which she now wentwillingly and unbidden. Of course, she wasnâ€™t dumb. She knew heâ€™d foundher at a time when she was vulnerable and almost drivingherself crazy with rage and grief. But in a few short months hehad given her this incredible new sense of purpose, made herfeel that she had some value again, convinced her that she,that they together, could have a real impact on the way theworld was. And for all these things, whatever happened, shewould always feel indebted. They had spent the summer, except for the week her mom
and Josh came out, either on the road or living at the house onFourth Street, which theyâ€™d had entirely to themselves.During that time they had hit two SUV dealershipsâ€”one inSacramento and the other in Portlandâ€”burning a total ofeighteen vehicles. Portland had been amazing. Apparentlypeople could see the flames more than a mile away. It was onthe front page of all the newspapers and even made the leadfor a few hours on CNN. They watched it in a motel room justoutside of Seattle where they holed up for two days, laughingand eating takeout and fucking until Abbie hurt so much shejust couldnâ€™t go on and they curled up like woundedanimals and slept. Their most recent outing, two weeks ago, hadnâ€™t beensuch a success. They had driven down to Reno to burn somecondos being built on land that was supposed to beprotected. But something had gone wrong and the fire justfizzled out. Two of Abbieâ€™s best pieces of graffiti stillmade the local news, however. She had sprayed Stop RapingNature and You Build It, We Burn It, which would have been alittle more impressive if they actually had. Rolf had gottenreally mad about the fire failing and had ever since been tryingto figure out what went wrong. He normally used cotton ragssoaked in diesel oil and a delayed ignition, which wasbasically a cocktail of hair gel and granulated chlorine, thekind people used for cleaning swimming pools. He said hewas going to find something better for next time. Now it was late August and people were starting to driftback to Missoula. First Eric and Todd had showed up, thenMel and Scott, all bubbling with stories about their summer
adventures and consoling Abbie because sheâ€™d beenstuck in Missoula and must have had such a boring time. Itwas good to see them again and amusing to have such asecret. Everyone was nice to Rolf. But Rolf wasnâ€™tinterested and as the house filled up, he just quietly removedhimself. He said he had to go away for a few days. He nevertold her where he was going and she never asked, though thistime she had a pretty good idea. While he was gone, he said,maybe she should try to find someplace else for them to live,just the two of them. With the autumn semester about to start, it was late to belooking. Anywhere at all decent was already taken. After threedays, Abbie found them a room in a run-down sprawl of ahouse on a corner of Helen Street. The building was clad inmildewed clapboard and the room itself was dark andsmelled of damp. It was on the first floor but had its ownentrance at the top of a rotting wooden fire escape which poorSox at first had trouble negotiating. There was a bathroom thesize of a closet and a kitchen area whose every surface waslayered with grease. Mel helped her move her things in andthen the two of them gave the place a thorough clean and acoat of white emulsion and for five dollars got some red velvetdrapes from the Salvation Army store on West Broadway. Bythe start of the following week, when Rolf called to say he wascoming home, it almost felt like it. He never said what time he would show up and, again,Abbie had learned not to ask. Sometimes he would arrive atfive in the morning and just slip into bed beside her and makelove to her. Today was the second day of classes and Abbie
was supposed to have a two-hour biology lab which shedecided to cut. With Sox in the wire basket behind her, shecycled over to the Good Food Store to buy something specialfor supper. Rolf was a strict vegetarian and so now Abbie was too,though all her lofty principles could still be jeopardized by awaft of broiled chicken or bacon frying in a pan. She decidedto make parmigiana, one of his favorite dishes. She boughttomatoes and basil and eggplant and buffalo mozzarella andParmesan, all of it organic (which he wasnâ€™t quite soadamant about, but almost). Hacker was giving a party that night and Mel called andtried to persuade her to come. She said the whole gang wasgoing. Why not bring Rolf along? If he hadnâ€™t turned up bythen, she could leave a message telling him to come. â€œOh, you know, I think Iâ€™ll stay here,â€ Abbie said.â€œIâ€™ve got a paper to write and . . .â€ â€œAbbie, come on, itâ€™ll be a blast.â€ â€œI know, I just donâ€™t feel like it.â€ â€œYou two are like an old married couple.â€ â€œI know, soon Iâ€™ll be knitting him a sweater.â€ Everybody was curious about Rolf. All anyone knew wasthat they had met in Seattle, that he was the guy who hadâ€œsaved herâ€ when things turned nasty. Mel said howromantic it was and had already nicknamed him The Knight,as in shining armor. They were all curious to know what he didand where he came from, so Abbie told them what Rolf had
told her to say: that he was doing a Ph.D. at Washington Stateon International Social and Environmental Change but wastaking rather a long time about it. It even took a long time tosay, she would joke then quickly steer the conversation tosomething else. Even if she had wanted to tell them the truth,Abbie wouldnâ€™t have been able to come up with muchmore. She laid the little table with candles and a bottle of wine andcooked the parmigiana and made a salad and had it all readyto serve at eight oâ€™clock. And when, two hours later, aftersheâ€™d taken Sox for another walk down to the park and upalong the river and gotten home and Rolf still hadnâ€™t comeand hadnâ€™t called her on the cell phone, she took the mealout of the oven, because it was getting too dried up, and sat atthe table and ate alone, reading her book. It was a biographyof Fidel Castro that Rolf had said she should read. Thoughshe would never have dared tell him, she was finding it morethan a little heavy going. He turned up at eight-thirty the next morning, just as she andSox were coming out the door and about to head over to thecampus where she had a couple of errands to run beforeclass. As usual, he had a different vehicle. They were nearlyalways vans, unmarked and nondescript. This time it was anold gray Nissan. She never asked how or where he got them. Abbie waited on the little deck at the top of the fire escapeand watched him walk up the steps toward her, Sox besideher, squirming and wagging his tail, not yet confident enoughto go down to greet him. Rolf didnâ€™t smile or say anything,
just kept his eyes on her until he reached her. And when hedid, he walked straight past her and she followed him backinside and closed the door and he turned and still without aword slipped his hands inside her jacket and held her by thehips and kissed her, then led her by her wrist to the bed andfucked her.ÂÂÂThey were sitting cross-legged on the floor, the street mapspread before them along with all the photographs Rolf hadtaken. He had numbered each picture and written neat noteson the back, detailing what it showed. The video footage theywere now peering at on the little folding screen of his camerawas a lot less clear because heâ€™d had to shoot frominside the back of the van. He talked her through it, explainingwhat they were looking at. The street was lined with trees, cars parked along eitherside. The neighborhood was smart but not as upscale asAbbie had expected, just like any average white-collar suburb.The houses werenâ€™t huge, but they were well spaced, setback a little from the road. There were landscaped lawns,smart cars parked in the driveways. But there werenâ€™tfences or gates or any of those â€œarmed responseâ€security signs. The camera was zooming in now. â€œIs that the house?â€ Abbie said. â€œUh-huh.â€
Rolf froze the frame. â€œThe street is quiet,â€ he said. â€œAt night thereâ€™shardly a car. After midnight only two or three every hour.â€ â€œIs that his car in the driveway?â€ â€œThey leave it there to make people think thereâ€™ssomebody at home. There are lights inside on time switchesto give the same impression. They go on and off at preciselythe same times every night.â€ â€œItâ€™s not exactly a palace. I thought itâ€™d be a lotmore fancy.â€ â€œDonâ€™t feel too sorry for him. They have a palace inAspen and another in Miami where his wife spends most ofher time. This place he uses only when he is in Denver and,even then, most nights heâ€™s across town fucking hismistress.â€ â€œHow come you know all this?â€ He gave her a baleful look and didnâ€™t reply. It was thekind of question she wasnâ€™t supposed to ask. There wasobviously some sort of information network to which he hadaccess, but all heâ€™d ever told her was that he knew a fewpeople who could find things out for him. She had once askedhim if the woman at the squat that night in Seattle, the one inthe corner working on the laptop, was one of them. But Rolfsaid these were things they shouldnâ€™t discuss, that it wassafer for her not to know. Abbie tried not to let hissecretiveness bother or hurt her, but it did. It made her feelpatronized and that he didnâ€™t fully trust her.
â€œOkay,â€ she said. â€œBut how can we be sure thatwhatever night we do this, nobody will be there? I mean,theyâ€™ve got kids, right?â€ â€œTwo boys. Both away at college. Anyhow, I have thehouse phone number. Thereâ€™s a pay phone just threeblocks away. All we have to do is call. If someone answers, weleave.â€ He unfroze the picture. They were looking at a differentplace now, a narrow lane overhung with trees, like a tunnel. Aconcrete wall running along one side, with gates andDumpsters. â€œThe front of the house is too exposed and there aremovement-activated security lights. This is the alley at therear. There may be lights on the back of the house too, but ifthey come on, nobody will see. The whole yard is surroundedwith trees.â€ The picture was shaky and dim but as the camera was liftedto peep over the top of the wall, Abbie got a vague impressionof the rear of the house. A swimming pool with a littlewhitewashed summerhouse, a sloping lawn with flower beds,some glass doors. â€œThere must be some kind of alarm.â€ â€œIn the house? Of course.â€ â€œSo how do we set the fire? If you break a window, thealarm will go off.â€ He smiled.
â€œThey have a cat. Donâ€™t worry, the woman takes itwith her wherever she goes. Right now itâ€™s probablysunbathing in Florida. But in the kitchen door there is a littleflap. We strap a can of gasoline to Soxâ€™s back and sendhim in.â€ â€œWe what?â€ He grinned. Rolf didnâ€™t often make jokes and when hedid they werenâ€™t ever that funny but she still felt dumb fornot getting this one. Sox was on the couch, with his head onhis front paws, watching them. Rolf ruffled the dogâ€™s ears. â€œThe mutt has to start earning his keep sometime,right?â€ â€œOh, baby, whoâ€™s Poppa calling a mutt?â€ She gathered Sox up and cradled him. He wriggled andtried to scramble up to lick her face. â€œIâ€™ll have to work something out when I see it,â€ hewent on. â€œIâ€™ve got some better ignition sorted out butmaybe this time Iâ€™ll have to use gasoline. Cut a hole andfeed in a pipe. Anyhow, thatâ€™s my problem.â€ Abbieâ€™s heart was already galloping. This was a biggerdeal than anything they had done so far. And while SUVdealerships and empty condos were somehow anonymous,this was personal. They were looking at the home of J. T.McGuigan of McGuigan Gas & Oil, the man responsible fortrashing Tyâ€™s ranch and ruining his parentsâ€™ lives andlivelihood. And now the bastard was going to pay for it. Theywould burn his house to the ground. Abbie only wishedâ€”well,
almost wishedâ€”that McGuigan could burn with it. But the ELF was strict about the use of violence. She knewthe guidelines by heart. It was legitimate to inflict economicdamage on those who profited from destroying theenvironment. But you had to take all necessary precautionsagainst harming any animal, human or nonhuman, adefinition that sadly seemed to cover even criminal pigs like J.T. McGuigan. Until June, when Rolf had first disclosed to her his secretlifeâ€”or, at least, a little of itâ€”Abbie had never even heard ofthe ELF. What he told her made her suspect he was just doinghis usual evasive man of mystery thing. But she graduallycame to conclude that there probably wasnâ€™t a lot more totell. The group was modeled, so Rolf told her, on the AnimalLiberation Front, which targeted fur farms and vivisection labs.ELF members were people who believed, as he did, that theenvironmental movement had lost its way, had beenemasculated and taken over by lawyers and organizationsthat had become almost as big and bad and bureaucratic asthe very corporations and government departments that theywere supposed to be fighting. The ELF had no centralized structure, Rolf said, noleadership or hierarchy. It was just people following their ownconsciences, acting individually or in cells, as the two of themwere doing. And as long as they kept within the guidelines,they could strike wherever and whenever they chose. Torching McGuiganâ€™s house had been Abbieâ€™sidea and she was pleased and proud that Rolf had so readily
embraced it. She was doing it for Ty and his parents, takingrevenge on their behalf, sending a signal to McGuigan and allthe other greedy, bullying, destructive bastards that what theywere doing was not acceptable and would not be tolerated.There was, of course, another motive which Abbie wouldnever dream of mentioning to anyone and only barelyacknowledged to herself. It was that, by doing this for Ty, shemight in time feel a little less guilty about rejecting him. When she had gotten back from seeing him in May, he hadcalled her almost every day, asking her to come again orsaying he could come to Missoula. But she kept makingexcuses and now he hardly ever called. She hadnâ€™t toldhim about Rolf or even hinted that there was somebody else inher life now. Maybe it would have been kinder if she had. Butshe didnâ€™t want to hurt him and was too much of a coward.In any case, she had the impression that he had guessed. But,really, what the hell did it matter? That was then. He belongedto her old life. He was a sweet guy but she couldnâ€™t bedoing all that I love you shit. Rolf switched off the camera and clicked the screen shut. â€œSo,â€ Abbie said, â€œwhen do we do it?â€
NINETEENIt was just how he had said it would be. They had driven bythree times now in Abbieâ€™s Toyota and seen the lightscome on and go off at exactly the times he said they would.The car was parked in the driveway just as it had been in thevideo. Around midnight they drove back out along the highwaya couple of miles to a gas station and bought somesandwiches and fruit and a bottle of water, then found a littlepark and took Sox for a walk and let him do his business. Rolf always moaned about her bringing the dog along butAbbie refused to go without him. He was their lucky mascot,she said. And good cover too, because he made them lookkind of homey, like a little family. And so far, on all three of theiroutings, the little guy had been good as gold, just curled up inthe car and waited. The only concession Abbie made was toremove the collar tag with her phone number on it in case hegot lost. The weather all week had been sunny and warm but it waslate September and the nights were getting crisp. Theforecast had predicted clouds rolling in from the west and nowthey were, slowly blotting out the stars. They had left the van ona quiet street near some derelict land close to the freewayand at a quarter before two they went to collect it and parkedthe Toyota there instead. They put on their dark-coloredjackets and checked that they had all they would need, thendrove back and made a final pass of the house in time to see
the upstairs lights go off at precisely nine minutes past thehour, just as Rolf had said they would. They parked near thephone booth three blocks away and Abbie waited in the van,humming a random little tune to calm herself while shewatched him dial the number. He stood there, listening for awhile, then hung up and walked casually back and got into thecar again. â€œJust an answering machine,â€ he said. â€œHope you left a message.â€ She was trying to pretend she wasnâ€™t nervous. Hedidnâ€™t answer, just gave her one of his looks and startedthe engine. It occurred to her that some people left theiranswering machines on the whole time, even when they wereat home. But she didnâ€™t say anything. Heâ€™d alreadytold her she was too neurotic about it and that he knew forsure that nobody was there. Heâ€™d checked. The wife andkids were away and McGuigan had flown down to Houston forsome gas industry conference. They took a different route back, through streets that lookedmuch the same, and when they reached McGuiganâ€™sstreet they drove on past and turned instead into the alleybehind. Rolf shut off the headlights and they cruised slowlydown the tunnel of overhanging trees, peering into thebackyards of the houses and seeing not a single sign of life. They stopped short of McGuiganâ€™s back gate andturned off the engine and sat in the darkness and lowered thewindows and listened. Somewhere, back along the alley inone of the houses they had passed, a dog was barking. But
soon it seemed to grow bored and stopped and all Abbiecould hear was the urgent pulsing of her own blood. Sox wascurled up watching them with wide eyes from his little bed inthe back, wedged in beside the plastic containers of dieseland gasoline and the black backpack with all Rolfâ€™s toolsand ignition stuff in it. They put on their gloves and their black beanies and Abbiechecked her pockets again for the two aerosol cans of blackpaint. She had already figured out what she was going tospray on the walls of the summerhouse, to which, Rolf assuredher, the fire wouldnâ€™t spread. â€œReady?â€ he said. She nodded. â€œCell phone off?â€ â€œUh-huh.â€ â€œOkay, letâ€™s go.â€ The back gate was locked but the wall wasnâ€™t hard toclimb. Rolf jumped up and swung himself over and shehanded him his bag and the fuel containers. Then he hoistedhimself again and helped her up and over the wall and downinto the yard. They crouched there for a few moments whiletheir eyes got used to the darkness, their breath misting in thecool air. Abbie looked up. The clouds were thickening, a fewstars glinting in the gaps. Rolf put the backpack on and pickedup the two fuel containers. â€œKeep close,â€ he whispered.
He moved quickly away to his right, keeping low, with hisknees bent and his head and shoulders hunched forward.There was a path that led directly to the pool and the lawn buthe led her instead over to the side of the yard and theyheaded up toward the house under the cover of the trees thatgrew along the fence, weaving among the bushes and theflower beds. If there were any security lights they hadnâ€™t yet come on.And soon Rolf was leading her past the pool and thesummerhouse and over a low concrete wall and then along theedge of the lawn until finally they reached a paved terrace andthe house itself and still no lights came on. Rolf put down thecontainers and swung the pack off and lowered it gentlybetween his feet. They stood awhile, panting now, their backsflattened to the cold brick wall, listening. There was a distantdrone of traffic but nothing more. The door with the little flap in it was just four or five yardsfrom where they now stood. Beyond it, jutting from the rear ofthe house, was some sort of sunroom or conservatory, withhalf-closed blinds and glass double doors. Rolf was about tomove forward when, peering through the darkness, Abbie sawsomething. Inside the sunroom. In the shadows. The head andshoulders of someone standing there, looking out. She put ahand on Rolfâ€™s shoulder. â€œThereâ€™s somebody in there.â€ He turned to look at her and she motioned with her eyesand he followed her gaze and for a long moment they bothfroze.
â€œItâ€™s just a plant, for Christâ€™s sake,â€ hewhispered. He was right. She could see it now. It was just a rubber plantor some sort of palm. The room was full of them. She feltfoolish. â€œHow many times do I have to tell you?â€ he said.â€œTheyâ€™re away. Come on now, you bring the cans.â€ He picked up the backpack and moved toward the doorand squatted down beside it. Abbie followed with the fuelcontainers. She stood watching over his shoulder while hegently put a finger on the flap. It moved. Rolf looked up at herand grinned. â€œSee? He wanted to make things easy for us. Go,quick, do your stuff, this wonâ€™t take long. Stay down there,Iâ€™ll come find you.â€ He began to unfasten the backpack. Abbie turned andheaded back the way they had come, toward thesummerhouse, still feeling like a complete idiot and so busychastising herself that she forgot about the little concrete walland tripped and fell headlong into a bush. One of the branchespoked her in the face, narrowly missing her left eye, and shenearly cried out but somehow managed not to. She scrambledto her feet and made her way, more carefully now, to thesummerhouse. One of the walls was covered with ivy but there was another,facing the back of the house, that was perfect. It even lookedas if someone had cleared and whitewashed it specially for
the occasion. She pulled the black aerosol can from her jacketpocket and got to work. Rolf had warned her not to write anything that might connectthem in any way with Tyâ€™s parentsâ€™ ranch or even withthe area, so she sprayed two large black ELF s, one in eachtop corner, and along the bottom wrote Nature Destroyer andOil Greed, No Need. Then, right across the middle of the wallshe started to write Gas Gluttons Shall Be Punished butwhen she got to Be the paint ran out. As she was fishing theother can out of her pocket, she heard a rustle and a clickbehind her. â€œWhat the hell do you think youâ€™re doing?â€ She almost lifted off the ground in fright. A flashlight wasshining straight into her eyes and for a moment shecouldnâ€™t see a thing. Then she saw the muzzle of theshotgun. He had it pointed right at her chest. â€œDonâ€™t move. Donâ€™t you fucking move! Okay?Just stay right where you are. I already called nine-one-one,okay? The cops are on their way, but if you move Iâ€™ll blowyour fucking head off.â€ Dazzled in the glare she could only get a dim impression ofhis face. But he was young, in his early twenties, maybe. Shenoticed he wasnâ€™t wearing any shoes. â€œJesus, are you a girl?â€ She nodded. And in that same moment she caught aglimpse of something moving behind him. If there wasanybody with him, he surely would have called out. Maybe it
was Rolf. It had to be. She tried not to let her eyes so much asflicker. â€œWhatâ€™s this?â€ He was trying to read the wall behind her. â€œELF? Who the hell are you?â€ And then she saw for sure that it was Rolf. He was creepingup behind the guy, getting close now. Just the slightest sound,the snap of a twig, and the guy would swivel and shoot. Maybeshe should say something, try to distract him, make sure hedidnâ€™t hear. â€œListen,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m sorry . . .â€ â€œYouâ€™re sorry? Hey, thatâ€™s good.â€ â€œWould you mind not shining that in my face?â€ â€œDonâ€™t fucking move, I said!â€ â€œIâ€™ll pay.â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œIâ€™ll pay. For the damage. Really. Itâ€™s just a joke,you know. . . .â€ Rolf was right behind him now. He had something in hishand, a club of some kind, a piece of wood or a wrenchmaybe. But as he lifted it, there was a flash and a great thudup at the house and the guy turned to look and saw Rolfstanding there about to hit him. He ducked to one side so thatthe blow missed his head and hit him instead on the shoulder.Rolf lunged for the shotgun and grabbed hold of the barrel.
The guy dropped the flashlight and Abbie leapt forward andjumped onto his back and tried to get her hands around hisneck. The back of the house was all lit up now, flames leaping anddarting from the kitchen door and the window beside it andthen there was a second, much bigger, explosion and thesunroom windows blew out and now the fire was raging theretoo. Rolf and the guy were struggling for the gun, grunting andyelling and cussing, and Abbie was still on the guyâ€™s back,yanking his head with all her might and pulling his hair. Hehollered and screamed and tried to throw her off but stilldidnâ€™t loosen his grip on the shotgun. Then the gun went off. Abbie felt as if she had been kickedin the chest by a horse. The blast seemed to shred hereardrums. For a moment everything went still. Wide-eyed, shewatched Rolf stumble backward, the house blazing behindhim, and she was sure it was he who had been hit. Her armswere still locked around the guyâ€™s neck but he wasnâ€™tstruggling anymore and so she slowly loosened her grip andthrough her ringing ears heard him groan and felt him start tocrumple beneath her. He sank to his knees and she steppedback and by the light of the fallen flashlight saw the dark stainspreading on the back of his sweatshirt. Then he began to make this terrible gurgling noise and shewalked fearfully around him to stand with Rolf and saw theblood come rushing from the singed and smoking hole in theyoung manâ€™s chest. â€œOh God,â€ she said. â€œOh my God.â€
He was staring down at himself in disbelief and then heslowly lifted his eyes and stared at Abbie and opened hismouth as if he wanted to tell her something. Rolf grabbed her arm and began pulling her away.â€œCome on.â€ â€œWe canâ€™t justâ€”â€ â€œThereâ€™s no time!â€ He dragged her after him, down the path, toward the gate.Abbie tried to run but kept looking back at the man and at theflaming house beyond and twice she stumbled and Rolf had tostop and haul her from her knees. They reached the gate andit wasnâ€™t locked, just bolted, and he slid the bolts andswung it open and then they were out in the alley and runningtoward the van. They hadnâ€™t locked it for this very reason,so they might make a quicker escape. He opened thepassenger door and pushed her inside and slammed it shutagain then ran around to the driverâ€™s side and got in anddug for the keys in his pocket. â€œShit,â€ he said. â€œShit! Shit! Shit!â€ He couldnâ€™t find them. There was a yell outside,someone shouting â€œHey! Hey!â€ and they both lookedback and through the rear window of the van saw a manrunning up the alley toward them. Rolf had found the keys nowand was putting them into the ignition. The engine started firsttime but whoever was chasing them had reached them nowand as the van started to pull away he wrenched open theback doors.
â€œStop! Stop, you motherfuckers!â€ He was no youngster, in his forties maybe, but big andathletic-looking. He was trying to climb into the back of the vanwhich by now was moving away fast. Sox, about whom untilthat moment Abbie had completely forgotten, was standing inhis bed barking. She reached out for him but he was too faraway and too terrified to come. The guy had a knee on the sillof the van now and was trying to get the other one in. But theywere at the end of the alley and Rolf yanked the wheel hard tothe right and as they swerved out into the street, the vanskidding and squealing and tilting on two wheels, the guy losthis grip and went tumbling like a rag doll away across thestreet. And with him went everything else in the back of thevan, including Sox. â€œStop!â€ Abbie screamed. â€œWe lost Sox!â€ â€œAre you crazy?â€ â€œSox has gone! He fell out!â€ â€œNo way.â€ â€œRolf, youâ€™ve got to stop!â€ She tried to grab the hand brake but he lashed out andshoved her away and she banged the back of her headagainst the window. â€œYou bastard!â€ â€œShut up! Just shut the fuck up!â€ She looked back but the dog was nowhere to be seen.Abbie looked down at her hands and saw that there was
blood on them. She started to wail. In just a few quick seconds everything had turned upsidedown and gone spiraling out of control. She couldnâ€™tbelieve it was happening. Her head was a slide-showcarousel: the blazing house, the guy kneeling there, staring atthe smoking hole in his chest, that look in his eyes when hestared up at her. Through the streaming blur of her tears she looked acrossat Rolf. He was breathing hard, his face warped withconcentration as he drove them in a manic rush through themaze of streets. Houses, storefronts, the glare of headlightsstrobing by, an ambulance now, its sirens blaring and lights allflashing. â€œWeâ€™ve got to go back.â€ â€œJust shut up.â€ â€œIt was an accident. We can tell them. We have to goback and tell them.â€ â€œAbbie, shut up.â€ â€œRolf, if the guy dies! Theyâ€™ll think we killed him.â€ â€œHeâ€™s already dead, you idiot!â€ They were out on the highway now and he slowed a little, hiseyes darting between the road ahead and the rearview mirror.There were more sirens now, then flashing lights ahead, twopolice cars coming fast toward them. But they whipped pastwithout slowing. â€œFor fuckâ€™s sake, stop crying,â€ he said.
There were signs to the freeway now. Another police carcame by and then the road was clear. Rolf slowed andchecked the mirror, then quickly turned left onto a side streetand took two more turns and soon they were driving downalongside some derelict land and parking up behind theToyota. â€œCome on,â€ he said. â€œAbbie, come on! Move!â€ But she couldnâ€™t. All the power had drained from herlimbs. She couldnâ€™t stop staring at her hands. She hadtried to wipe the blood off on her pants but there was stillsome under her nails and in the creases of her knuckles. Rolf quickly got out and unlocked the Toyota then ran backand dragged her from the van and down the sidewalk to thecar, all the while looking around to see if anyone was comingor watching. He dumped her in the front passenger seat andshut the door. She heard him open the trunk and takesomething out and there were a few moments of silence untilthe trunk slammed shut and he was climbing into thedriverâ€™s seat beside her and starting the engine. He did aquick U-turn and braked alongside the van and lowered hiswindow. The vanâ€™s window was open too and he struck amatch and tossed it through and at the same time stamped onthe gas pedal. Abbie looked back and a second later felt theair compress and saw the van explode into flames behindthem. And soon they were out on the freeway, arcs of orangelights flashing overhead like the gates of hell as they headedout of town and into the waiting darkness. And so filled was
her head with the image of her alien bloodied hands, that towhere and to what if any kind of life, she neither knew norcared.
TWENTYIf there was one thing Eve had always hated more than beingphotographed, it was being asked questions about her work.So being interviewed for some local cable station was adouble whammy. The reporter looked about fourteen years oldand had already confessed that he usually covered basketballstories and didnâ€™t know the first thing about art. And hewasnâ€™t being falsely modest. He really didnâ€™t. She was pinned against one of her new paintings, not oneshe would have chosen to talk about; in fact she didnâ€™treally like it and wouldnâ€™t have included it in the show ifLori hadnâ€™t forced her to. But the camerawoman liked thecolor and said that if Eve stood in front of it, the backgroundwas better and they could get some guests into the shot aswell as that nice potted plant over by the window. â€œSo,â€ the fourteen-year-old was asking. â€œDo youdo it in, like, little bits, you know, like, work on a little section ofit first and then do another little section and so on? Or do you,like, do the whole thing in one big go and then, kind of, fill it in?â€ Eve could see Ben leaning against the wall, with his glassof red wine. He was talking with Lori but she knew from theway they were smiling that they were eavesdropping on theinterview. The bastards. â€œWell, I guess it varies from picture to picture,â€ Evereplied. â€œWith this one, I had a very strong idea of the
The fourteen-year-old, thank heaven, seemed to have runout of questions now. Eve had long ago run out of answers. â€œThank you very much,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™re welcome. Thank you so much forcoming.â€ The boy wandered off with his camerawoman to take somemore pictures of the paintings and Eve walked over to Loriand Ben, pulling a face as she came up to them. He handedher his glass of wine and she took it and drank. â€œThat was so impressive,â€ he said. â€œBullshit. With you two standing here smirking, Icouldnâ€™t string two thoughts together.â€ â€œNeither could he, so you were perfectly matched.â€ He put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek.Lori leaned toward her. â€œWe have sold a truckload of paintings,â€ she said in aconspiring whisper. â€œHave you seen? Twenty-three,maybe twenty-four. Fantastic.â€ â€œAnd Lori says sheâ€™ll only be taking five percent thistime,â€ Ben said. â€œIn your dreams, pal.â€ They laughed. Then Lori said she had to go and helpBarbara, her assistant, who was over at the desk in the frontroom taking deposits and doing the paperwork. Eve lookedup at Ben. He looked so handsome in his black linen shirt and
white chinos. He still had his arm around her and now gaveher a little squeeze. â€œIâ€™m so proud of you,â€ he said. â€œOh, go on.â€ â€œYou should have heard some of the things people weresaying. They were just knocked out.â€ â€œThey were?â€ â€œYeah, they said it was the best pinot noir theyâ€™dever had at an opening.â€ She pinched his arm. â€œNo, honestly. Everybody was just in awe. You couldhave sold those two wolf angels twenty times over. Thatwoman from LA in the red dress and the earrings? She juststood there staring at them for about ten minutes. She wasnearly in tears.â€ â€œThat might not be good.â€ â€œIt was. She loved it. She was having a catharticmoment.â€ Eve smiled and reached up and kissed him. â€œI love you,â€ she said quietly. They had dinner at El Farol with Lori and her latestboyfriend, Robert, who worked at some hi-tech militaryinstallation in San Diego and often had to come to LosAlamos for meetings that were so top secret he was hardlyeven allowed to tell himself about them. He was a thin little guy
her laugh. â€œ. . . two-point-five birds per acre.â€ They all did their various best to look amazed and edified. â€œWhere does Lori find them?â€ Ben asked afterward,as they walked up the hill to the car. â€œI mean, what doesshe see in the guy?â€ â€œShe says heâ€™s incredible in bed.â€ â€œReally? Jesus. Does he whisper sweet facts andfigures in her ear?â€ â€œUh-huh. Apparently itâ€™s an amazing turn-on.â€ â€œOh really?â€ â€œAbsolutely.â€ He thought for a moment, then put his lips close to her ear. â€œDid you know that Polynesian is almost an anagram ofoily spanner?â€ She gave a little moan. â€œAll it needs is another R.â€ â€œStop, stop.â€ They walked on awhile, the strike of their footsteps echoingoff the adobe walls, his arm cozily around her. The night wasclear and close to freezing, the fall shading to winter. God, Evethought, they had been together nearly a year. And it was twoyears, almost to the day, since that night in New York whenthey saw Kiss Me, Kate and had dinner. At times it seemed
like the blink of an eye and at others like a lifetime. She had never expected it to be easy. She had known fromthe outset, even when they first met, that he had an aptitude forsadness. And she sometimes wondered if it was this very traitthat had attracted her. For though she had never knowinglydone it before, she was aware that it was possible for awoman to confuse love with pity and to take a man on in thehope of saving him. Or to see him as a sort of challenge,persuading herself that she and she alone could rescue himand mother him and make him happy. She didnâ€™t thinkshe was that kind of woman, in fact she hoped to God shewasnâ€™t. But how could one ever be sure? In fairness, Ben wasnâ€™t that kind of man either. And Evepreferred to think that what she had fallen in love with was theman she had glimpsed behind the sadness. The man who,day by day, Ben seemed more able now to be. Like he wastonight, so easy and light and funny. When he was like thatthere wasnâ€™t anyone in the world she would rather havebeen with. But there had been occasions when she had wondered ifthey would make it. She had never met a man so susceptibleto guilt. He was a double-major at it, a professor of guilt. Andduring those first few months after he had left Sarah and wasliving in Kansas and coming to Santa Fe for a week or two ata time, he was giving himself such a hard time that sheâ€™dalmost had to ask him to stop visiting, at least until he sortedhimself out. He seemed to have this bottomless pit into whichhe poured everything he could conceivably blame himself forand then every day would climb down into it and wallow
around. It wasnâ€™t just about Sarah and his kids. A lot of the timeit was about his mother. Living with her was driving him todistraction. He would get angry with her for going on abouthim and telling the same stories again and again of somewonderful thing heâ€™d done when he was younger and hewould end up saying something hurtful and then spend thenext week feeling guilty about it. It even irritated him that in notime at all she seemed to have forgotten her first reaction tohis leaving Sarah and had set to work rewriting history.Heâ€™d once heard her on the phone telling a friend thatheâ€™d never been happy with Sarah and that, actually, hewas a saint for staying so long. The prime source of his guilt was, of course, Abbie. Evecould remember trying to comfort him, back at the beginningof the year, telling him that it was only a matter of time, that in afew months Abbie would start feeling better and understandhis side