Trudy threw a jug across the room. It didn’t reach the opposite wall, it didn’t hurt anybody, it didn’t even break.
This was the jug without a handle, cement-colored, with brown streaks in it, rough as sandpaper to the touch, that Dan made the winter he took pottery classes. He made six little handleless cups, to go with it. The jug and the cups were supposed to be for saki, but the local liquor store doesn’t carry saki. Once they brought some home from a trip, but they didn’t really like it. So the jug Dan made sits on the highest open shelf in the kitchen, and a few odd items of value are kept in it. Trudy’s wedding ring and her engagement ring, the medal Robin won for all-round excellence, in Grade Eight, a long, two-strand necklace of jet beads, that belonged to Dan’s mother, and was willed to Robin. Trudy won’t let her wear it yet.
Trudy came home from work a little after midnight, she entered the house in the dark. Just the little stove light was on — she and Robin always left that on for each other. Trudy didn’t need any other light. She climbed up on a chair without even letting go of her bag, and got down the jug, fished around inside it.
It was gone. Of course. She had known it would be gone.
She went through the dark house to Robin’s room, still with her bag over her arm, the jug in her hand. She turned on the overhead light. Robin groaned, and turned over, pulled the pillow over her head. Shamming.
“Your grandmother’s necklace,” Trudy said. “Why did you do that? Are you insane?”
Robin shammed a sleepy groan. All the clothes she owned, it seemed, old and new and clean and dirty, were scattered on the floor, on the chair, the desk, the dresser, even on the bed itself. On the wall was a huge poster showing a hippopotamus, with the words underneath “Why Was I Born So Beautiful?” and another poster showing Terry Fox running along a rainy highway, with a whole cavalcade of cars behind him. Dirty glasses, empty yogurt containers, school notes, a Tampax still in its wrapper, the stuffed snake and tiger Robin had had since before she went to school, a collage of pictures of her cat Sausage, who had been run over two years ago. Red and blue ribbons that she had won for jumping, or running, or throwing basketballs.
“You answer me!” said Trudy. “You tell me why you did it!”
She threw the jug. But it was heavier than she’d thought, or else at the very moment of throwing it she lost conviction, because it didn’t hit the wall, it fell on the rug beside the dresser, it rolled on the floor, undamaged.
You threw a jug at me that time. You could have killed me.
Not at you. I didn’t throw it at you.
You could have killed me.
Proof that Robin was shamming:
She started up in a fright, but it wasn’t the blank fright of somebody who’d been asleep. She looked scared, but underneath that childish scared look was another look—stubborn, calculating, disdainful.
“It was so beautiful. And it was valuable. It belonged to your grandmother.”
“I thought it belonged to me,” said Robin.
“That girl wasn’t even your friend. Christ, you didn’t have a good word to say for her, this morning.”
“You don’t know who is my friend!” Robin’s face flushed a bright pink and her eyes filled with tears, but her scornful, stubborn expression didn’t change. “I knew her. I talked to her. So get out!”
Trudy works at the Home for Mentally Handicapped Adults. Few people call it that. Older people in town still say, the Misses Weirs’ house, and a number of others, including Robin, and presumably most of those her age, called it the Halfwit House.
The house has a ramp now, for wheelchairs, because some of the mentally handicapped may be physically handicapped as well, and it has a swimming pool in the back yard, which caused a certain amount of discussion, when it was installed at taxpayers’ expense. Otherwise the house looks pretty much the way it always did —the white wooden walls, the dark-green curlicues on the gables, the steep roof and dark, screened side porch, and the deep lawn in front shaded by soft maple trees.
This month Trudy works the four to midnight shift. Yesterday afternoon she parked her car in front and walked up the drive thinking how nice the house looked, peaceful, as in the days of the Misses Weir, who must have served iced tea and read library books, or played croquet, whatever people did then.
Always some piece of news, some wrangle or excitement, once you get inside.
The men came to fix the pool but they didn’t fix it, they went away again. It isn’t fixed yet.
“We don’t get no use of it, soon summer be over,” Josephine said.
“It’s not even the middle of June, you’re saying summer’ll be over,” Kelvin said, “You think before you talk. Did you hear about the young girl that was killed, out in the country?” he said to Trudy.
Trudy had started to mix two batches of frozen lemonade, one pink and one plain. When he said that she smashed the spoon down on the frozen chunk so hard that some of the liquid spilled over.
She was afraid she would hear that a girl was dragged off a country road, raped in the woods, strangled, beaten, left there. Robin goes running along the country roads, in her white shorts and t-shirt, a head-band on her Hying hair. Robin’s hair is golden, her legs and arms are golden. Her cheeks and limbs are downy, not shiny—you wouldn’t be surprised to see a cloud of pollen delicately floating and settling behind her, when she runs. Cars hoot at her and she isn’t bothered. Foul threats are yelled at her, and she yells foul threats back.
“Driving a truck,” Kelvin said.
Trudy’s heart eased. Robin didn’t know how to drive yet.
“Fourteen years old, she didn’t know how to drive,” Kelvin said. “She got in the truck and the first thing you know, she ran it into a tree. Where was her parents, that’s what I’d like to know? They weren’t watching out for her. She got in the truck when she didn’t know how to drive and ran it into a tree. Fourteen. That’s too young.”
Kelvin goes uptown by himself, he hears all the news. He is fifty-two years old, still slim and boyish-looking, well-shaved, with soft, short, clean, dark hair. He goes to the barbershop every day, because he can’t quite manage to shave himself. Epilepsy, then surgery, an infected bone-flap, many more operations, a permanent mild difficulty with feet and fingers, a gentle head-fog. The fog doesn’t obscure facts, just motives. Perhaps he shouldn’t be in the Home at all, but where else? Anyway, he likes it. He says he likes it. He tells the others they shouldn’t complain, they should be more grateful, they should behave themselves. He picks up the soft drink cans, or beer bottles, that people have thrown into the front yard—though of course it isn’t his job, to do that.
When Janet came in just before midnight, to relieve Trudy, she had the same story to tell.
“I guess you heard about that fifteen-year-old girl?”
When Janet starts telling you something like this, she always starts off with “I guess you heard.” I guess you heard Wilma and Ted are breaking up., she says. I guess you heard Alvin Stead had a heart attack.
“Kelvin told me,” Trudy said. “Only he said she was fourteen.”
“Fifteen,” Janet said. “She must’ve been in Robin’s class at school. She didn’t know how to drive. She didn’t even get out of the lane.”
“Was she drunk?” said Trudy. Robin won’t go near alcohol, or dope, or cigarettes, or even coffee, she’s so fanatical about what she puts into her body.
“I don’t think so. Stoned, maybe. It was early in the evening. She was home with her sister, their parents were out. Her sister’s boyfriend came over, it was his truck, and he either gave her the keys to the truck or she took them. You hear different versions. You hear that they sent her out for something, they wanted to get rid of her, and you hear she just took the keys and went.
Anyway she ran it right into a tree, in the lane.”
“Jesus,” said Trudy.
“I know. It’s so idiotic. It’s getting so you hate to think about your kids growing up. Did they all take their medication okay? What’s Kelvin watching?”
Kelvin was still up, sitting in the living room watching TV.
“It’s somebody being interviewed. He wrote a book about schizophrenics.”
Anything he comes across about mental problems, Kelvin has to watch, or try to read.
“I think it depresses him, the more he watches that kind of thing. Do you know I found out today I have to make five hundred roses out of pink Kleenex, for my niece Laurel’s wedding? For the car. She said, you promised you’d make the roses for the car. Well I didn’t. I don’t remember promising a thing. Are you going to come over and help me?”
“Sure,” said Trudy.
“I guess the real reason I want him to get off the schizophrenics is, I want to watch the old Dallas” Janet said. She and Trudy disagree about this. Trudy can’t stand to watch those old reruns of Dallas., to see the characters with their younger, plumper, faces, going through tribulations and bound up in romantic complications they and the audience have now forgotten all about. That’s what’s so hilarious, Janet says, it’s so unbelievable it’s wonderful. All that happens and they just forget about it and go on. But to Trudy it doesn’t seem so unbelievable, that the characters would go from one thing to the next thing— forgetful, hopeful, photogenic, forever changing their clothes. That it’s not so unbelievable, is what she really can’t stand.
Robin, the next morning, said, “Oh, probably. All those people she hung around with drink. They party all the time. They’re self-destructive. It’s her own fault. Even if her sister told her to go she didn’t have to go. She didn’t have to be so stupid.”
“What was her name?” Trudy said.
“Tracy Lee,” said Robin with distaste. She stepped on the pedal of the garbage-tin, lifted rather than lowered the container of yogurt she had just emptied, and dropped it in. She was wearing bikini underpants and a t-shirt that said, “If I Want to Listen to an Asshole, I’ll Fart.”
“That shirt still bothers me,” Trudy said. “Some things are disgusting but funny, and some things are more disgusting than funny.”
“What’s the problem?” said Robin. “I sleep alone.”
Trudy sat outside, in her wrapper, drinking coffee, while the day got hot. There is a little brick-paved space by the side door, that she and Dan always called the patio. She sat there. This is a solar-heated house, with big panels of glass in the south sloping roof, the oddest-looking house in town. It’s odd inside, too, with the open shelves in the kitchen, instead of cupboards, and the living room up some stairs, looking out over the fields at the back. She and Dan, for a joke, gave parts of it the most conventional, suburban-sounding names—the patio, the powder room, the master bedroom. Dan always had to joke about the way he was living. He built the house himself— Trudy did a lot of the painting, and staining—and it was a success. Rain didn’t leak in around the panels, and part of the house’s heat really did come from the sun. Most people who have the ideas, or ideals, that Dan has, aren’t very practical. They can’t fix things, or make things, they don’t understand wiring, or carpentry, or whatever it is they need to understand. Dan is good at everything—at gardening, cutting wood, building a house. He is especially good at repairing motors. He used to travel around, getting jobs as an auto mechanic, a small engines repairman. That’s how he ended up here. He came here to visit Marlene, got a job as a mechanic, became a working partner in an auto repair business, and before he knew it— married to Trudy, not Marlene —he was a small-town businessman, a member of the Kinsmen. All without shaving off his sixties beard or trimming his hair any more than he wanted to. The town was too small, Dan was too smart, for that to be necessary.
Now Dan lives in a townhouse in Richmond Hill, with a girl named Genevieve. She is studying law. She was married when she was very young, and had three little children. Dan met her three years ago, when her camper broke down a few miles outside of town. He told Trudy about her, that night. The rented camper, the three little children, hardly more than babies, the lively little divorced mother with her hair in pigtails. Her bravery, her poverty, her plans to enter law school. If the camper hadn’t been easily fixed, he was going to invite her and her children to spend the night. She was on her way to her parents’ summer place at Pointe du Baril.
“Then she can’t be all that poor,” Trudy said.
“You can be poor and have rich parents,” Dan said.
“No you can’t.”
Last summer, Robin went to Richmond Hill for a month’s visit. She came home early. She said it was a madhouse. The oldest child has to go to a special reading clinic, the middle one wets the bed. Genevieve spends all her time in the Law Library, studying. No wonder. Dan shops for bargains, cooks, looks after the children, grows vegetables, drives a taxi on Saturdays and Sundays. He wants to set up a motorcycle repair business in the garage, but he can’t get a permit, the neighbors are against it.
He told Robin he was happy. Never happier, he said. Robin came home firmly grown-up—severe, sarcastic, determined. She had some slight, steady, grudge she hadn’t had before. Trudy couldn’t worm it out of her, couldn’t tease it out of her—the time when she could do that was over.
Robin came home at noon and changed her clothes. She put on a light, flowered cotton blouse and ironed a pale blue cotton skirt.
She said that some of the girls from the class might be going around to the Funeral Home, after school.
“I forgot you had that skirt,” said Trudy.
If she thought that was going to start a conversation, she was mistaken.
The first time Trudy met Dan, she was drunk. She was nineteen years old, tall and skinny—as she still is—with a wild head of curly black hair (it is cropped short now and showing the grey as black hair does). She was very tanned, wearing jeans and a tie-dyed t-shirt. No brassiere and no need. This was in Muskoka, in August, in a hotel bar where they had a band. She was camping, with girlfriends. He was there with his fiancee, Marlene. He had taken Marlene home to meet his mother, who lived in Muskoka, on an island, in an empty hotel. When Trudy was nineteen, he was twenty-eight. She danced around by herself, giddy and drunk, in front of the table where he sat with Marlene, a meek-looking blonde with a big pink shelf of bosom all embroidered in little fake pearls. Trudy just danced in front of him until he got up and joined her. At the end of the dance he asked her name, and took her back and introduced her to Marlene.
“This is Judy,” he said. Trudy collapsed, laughing, into the chair beside Marlene’s. Dan took Marlene up to dance. Trudy finished off Marlene’s beer and went looking for her friends.
“How do you do?” she said to them. “I’m Judy!”
He caught up with her at the door of the bar. He had ditched Marlene when he saw Trudy leaving. A man who could change course quickly, see the possibilities, flare up with new enthusiasm. He told people later that he was in love with Trudy before he even knew her real name. But he told Trudy that he cried, when he and Marlene were parting.
“I have feelings,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to show them.”
Trudy had no feelings for Marlene at all. Marlene was over thirty, what could she expect? Marlene still lives in town, works at the Hydro office, is not married. When Trudy and Dan were having one of their conversations about Genevieve, Trudy said,
“Marlene must be thinking I got what’s coming to me.”
Dan said he had heard that Marlene had joined the Fellowship of Bible Christians. The women weren’t allowed make-up and had to wear a kind of bonnet to church on Sundays.
“She won’t be able to have a thought in her head, but for-giving.”
Trudy said, “I bet.”
This is what happened at the Funeral Home, as Trudy got the story from both Kelvin and Janet:
The girls from Tracy Lee’s class all showed up together, after school. This was during what was called the visitation, when the family waited beside Tracy Lee’s open casket, to receive friends. Her parents were there, her married brother and his wife, her sister, and even her sister’s boyfriend, who owned the truck. They stood in a row and people lined up to say a few words to them. A lot of people came. They always do, in a case like this. Tracy Lee’s grandmother was at the end of the row, in a brocade-covered chair. She wasn’t able to stand up for very long.
All the chairs at the Funeral Home are upholstered in this white and gold brocade. The curtains are the same, the wallpaper almost matches. There are little wall-bracket lights behind heavy pink glass. Trudy has been there, several times, she knows what it’s like. But Robin, and most of these girls, had never been inside the place before. They didn’t know what to expect. Some of them began to cry as soon as they got inside the door.
The curtains were closed. Soft music was playing, not exactly church music but it sounded like it. Tracy Lee’s coffin was white, with a gold trim, matching all the brocade and the wallpaper. It had a lining of pleated pink satin. A pink satin pillow. Tracy Lee had not a mark on her face. She was not made up quite as usual, because the undertaker had done it. But she was wearing her favorite earrings, turquoise-colored triangles and yellow crescents, two to each ear. (Some people thought that was in bad taste.) On the part of the coffin that covered her from the waist down there was a big heart-shaped pillow of pink roses.
The girls lined up to speak to the family. They shook hands, they said sorry-for-your-loss, just the way everybody else did. When they got through that, when all of them had let the grandmother squash their cool hands between her warm, swollen, freckled ones, they lined up again, in a straggling sort of way, and began to go past the coffin. Many were crying now, shivering. What could you expect? Young girls.
But they began to sing as they went past. With difficulty at first, shyly, but with growing confidence in their sad, sweet, voices, they sang.
“Now, while the blossom still clings to the vine,
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine—”
They had planned the whole thing, of course, beforehand, they had got that song off a record. They believed that it was an old hymn.
So they filed past, singing, looking down at Tracy Lee, and it was noticed that they were dropping things into the coffin. They were slipping the rings off their fingers and the bracelets from their arms, and taking the earrings out of their ears. They were undoing necklaces, and bowing to pull chains and long strands of beads over their heads. Everybody gave something. All this jewelry went flashing and sparkling down on the dead girl, to lie beside her, in her coffin. One girl pulled the bright combs out of her hair, let those go.
And nobody made a move to stop this. How could anyone interrupt? It was like a religious ceremony. The girls behaved as if they’d been told what to do, as if this was what was always done on such occasions. They sang, they wept, they dropped their jewelry. The sense of ritual made every one of them graceful.
The family wouldn’t stop it. They thought it was beautiful.
“It was like church,” Tracy Lee’s mother said, and her grand-mother said, “All those lovely young girls loved Tracy Lee. If
they wanted to give their jewelry to show how they loved her, that’s their business. It’s not anybody else’s business. I thought it was beautiful.”
Tracy Lee’s sister broke down and cried. It was the first time she had done so.
Dan said, “This is a test of love.”
Of Trudy’s love, he meant. Trudy started singing.
“Please release me, let me go—”
She clapped a hand to her chest, danced in swoops around the room, singing. Dan was near laughing, near crying. He couldn’t help it, he came and hugged her and they danced together, staggering. They were fairly drunk. All that June (it was two years ago) they were drinking gin, in between and during their scenes. They were drinking, weeping, arguing, explaining, and Trudy had to keep running to the liquor store. Yet she can’t remember ever feeling really drunk or having a hangover. Except that she felt so tired all the time, as if she had logs chained to her ankles.
She kept joking. She called Genevieve, “Jenny the Feeb.”
“This is just like wanting to give up the business and be-come a potter,” she said. “Maybe you should have done that. I wasn’t really against it. Youu gave up on it. And when you wanted to go to Peru. We could still do that.”
“All those things were just straws in the wind,” Dan said.
“I should have known when you started watching ‘The Om-budsman’ on TV,” Trudy said. “It was the legal angle, wasn’t it? \bu were never so interested in that kind of thing before.”
“This will open life up for you too,” Dan said. “You can be more than just my wife.”
“Sure. I think I’ll be a brain surgeon.”
“You’re very smart. You’re a wonderful woman. You’re brave.”
“Sure you’re not talking about Jenny the Feeb?”
“No, you. You, Trudy. I still love you. You can’t understand that I still love you.”
Not for years had he had so much to say about how he loved her. He loved her skinny bones, her curly hair, her roughening skin, her way of coming into a room with a stride that shook the windows, her jokes, her clowning, her tough talk. He loved her mind and her soul. He always would. But the part of his life that had been bound up with hers was over.
“That is just talk, that is talking like an idiot!” Trudy said.
“Robin, go back to bed!” For Robin in her skimpy nightgown was standing at the top of the steps.
“I can hear you yelling and screaming,” Robin said.
“We weren’t yelling and screaming,” Trudy said. “We’re trying to talk about something private.”
“I told you, it’s something private.”
When Robin sulked off to bed, Dan said, “I think we should tell her. It’s better for kids to know. Genevieve doesn’t have any secrets from her kids. Josie’s only five, and she came into the bedroom one afternoon—”
Then Trudy did start yelling and screaming. She clawed through a cushion cover. ”\bu stop telling me about your sweet fucking Genevieve and her sweet fucking bedroom and her asshole kids, you shut up, don’t tell me any more! You’re just a big dribbling mouth without any brains, I don’t care what you do, just shut up!”
Dan left. He packed a suitcase, he went off to Richmond Hill. He was back in five days. Just outside of town he had stopped the car, to pick Trudy a bouquet of wild flowers.
He told her he was back for good, it was over.
“You don’t say?” said Trudy.
But she put the flowers in water. Dusty pink milkweed flowers that smelled like face-powder, black-eyed Susans, wild sweetpeas, and orange lilies that must have got loose from old disappeared gardens.
“So, you couldn’t stand the pace?” she said.
“I knew you wouldn’t fall all over me,” Dan said. “You wouldn’t be you if you did. And what I came back to is you.”
She went to the liquor store, and this time bought champagne. For a month —it was still summer—they were back together being happy. She never really found out what had happened at Genevieve’s house. Dan said he’d been having a middle-aged fit, that was all, he’d come to his senses. His life was here, with her and Robin.
“You’re talking like a marriage-advice column,” Trudy said.
“Okay. Forget the whole thing.”
“We better,” she said. She could imagine the kids, the confusion, the friends, old boyfriends maybe, that he hadn’t been prepared for. Jokes and opinions that he couldn’t understand. That was possible. The music he liked, the way he talked, even his hair and his beard might be out of style.
They went on family drives, picnics. They lay out in the grass behind the house, at night, looking at the stars. The stars were a new interest of Dan’s, he got a map. They hugged and kissed each other frequently and tried out some new things—or things they hadn’t done for a long time—when they made love.
At this time the road in front of the house was being paved. They’d built their house on a hillside at the edge of town, past the other houses, but trucks were using this street quite a bit now, avoiding the main streets, so the town was paving it. Trudy got so used to the noise and constant vibration she said she could feel herself jiggling all night, even when everything was quiet. Work started at seven in the morning. They woke up at the bottom of a river of noise. Dan dragged himself out of bed then, losing the hour of sleep that he loved best. There was a smell of diesel fuel in the air.
She woke up one night to find him not in bed. She listened to hear noises in the kitchen or the bathroom, but she couldn’t. She got up and walked through the house. There were no lights on. She found him sitting outside, just outside the door, not having a drink or a glass of milk or a coffee, sitting with his back to the street.
Trudy looked out it the torn-up earth and the huge stalled machinery.
“Isn’t the quiet lovely?” she said.
He didn’t say anything.
She realized what she’d been thinking, when she found his side of the bed empty, and couldn’t hear him anywhere in the house. Not that he’d left her, but that he’d done worse. Done away with himself. With all their happiness and hugging and kissing and stars and picnics, she could think that.
“You can’t forget her,” she said. “You love her.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
She was glad just to hear him speak. She said, “You’ll have to go and try again.”
“There’s no guarantee I can stay,” he said. “I can’t ask you to stand by.”
“No,” said Trudy. “If you go, that’s it.”
“If I go that’s it.”
He seemed paralyzed. She felt that he might just sit there, repeating what she said, never be able to move or speak for himself again.
“If you feel like this, that’s all there is to it,” she said. “You don’t have to choose. You’re already gone.”
That worked. He stood up stiffly, he came over and put his arms around her. He stroked her back.
“Come back to bed,” he said. “We can rest for a little while yet.”
“No. you’ve got to be gone when Robin wakes up. If we go back to bed it’ll just start all over again.”
She made him a thermos of coffee. He packed the bag he had taken with him before. All Trudy’s movements seemed skillful and perfect, as they never were, usually. She felt serene. She felt as if they were an old couple, moving in harmony, in wordless love, past injury, past forgiving. Their good-bye was hardly a ripple. She went outside with him. It was between four thirty and five o’clock, the sky was beginning to lighten and the birds to wake, everything was drenched in dew. There stood the big harmless machinery, stranded in the ruts of the road.
“Good thing it isn’t last night, you couldn’t have got out,” she said. She meant that the road hadn’t been navigable. It was just yesterday that they had graded a narrow track, for local traffic.
“Good thing,” he said.
“All I want is to know why you did it. Did you just do it for show? Like your father, for show. It’s not the necklace so much. But it was a beautiful thing, I love jet beads, it was the only thing we had of your grandmother’s. It was your right but you have no right to take me by surprise like that, I deserve an explanation, I always loved jet beads. Why?”
“I blame the family,” Janet says. “It was up to them to stop it. Some of the stuff was just plastic, those junk earrings and bracelets, but what Robin threw in, that was a crime. And she wasn’t the only one. There were birthstone rings and gold chains. Somebody said a diamond cluster ring, but I don’t know if I believe that. They said the girl inherited it, like Robin. \bu didn’t ever have it evaluated, did you?”
“I don’t know if jet is worth anything,” Irudy says.
They are sitting in Janet’s front room, making roses out of pink Kleenex.
“It’s just stupid,” Trudy says.
“Well There is one thing you could do,” says Janet. “I don’t hardly know how to mention it.”
Trudy had the feeling, from Janet’s tone, that Janet was going to tell her something serious and unpleasant, something about herself—Trudy—which was affecting her life, and which everybody knew except her. Now she wants to laugh, after bracing herself. She doesn’t know what to say.
”You don’t pray, do you?” Janet says.
“I haven’t got anything against it,” Trudy says. “I wasn’t brought up to be religious.”
“It’s not strictly speaking religious,” Janet says. “I mean, it’s not connected with any church. This is just some of us that pray. I can’t tell you the names of anybody in it but most of them you know. It’s supposed to be secret. It’s called the Circle of Prayer.”
“Like at high school,” Trudy says. “At high school there were secret societies, you weren’t supposed to tell who was in them. Only I wasn’t.”
“I was in everything going.” Janet sighs. “This is actually more on the serious side. Though some people in it don’t take it seriously enough, I don’t think. Some people, they’ll pray that they’ll find a parking spot, or they’ll pray they get good weather for their holidays. That isn’t what it’s for. But that’s just individual praying, what the Circle is really about is, you phone up somebody that is in it, and tell them what it is you’re worried about, or upset about, and ask them to pray for you. And they do. And they phone one other person, that’s in the Circle, and they phone another and it goes all around, and we pray for one person, all together.”
Trudy throws a rose away. “That’s botched. Is it all women?”
“There isn’t any rule it has to be. But it is, yes. Men would be too embarrassed. I was embarrassed at first. Only the first person you phone knows your name, who it is that’s being prayed for, but in a town like this nearly everybody can guess. But if we started gossiping and ratting on each other it wouldn’t work, and everybody knows that. So we don’t. And it does work.”
“Like, how?” Trudy says.
“Well, one girl banged up her car, she did eight hundred dollars damage, and it was kind of a tricky situation, where she wasn’t sure her insurance would cover it, and neither was her husband, he was raging mad, but we all prayed, and the insurance came through without a hitch. That’s only one example.”
“There wouldn’t be much point in praying to get the necklace back, when it’s in the coffin and the funeral’s this morning,” says Trudy mildly.
“It’s not up to you to say that. \bu don’t say what’s possible or impossible. %u just ask for what you want. Because it says in the Bible, ask and it shall be given. How can you be helped if you won’t ask? You can’t, that’s for sure. What about when Dan left, what if you’d prayed then? I wasn’t in the Circle then, or I could have said something to you. Even if I knew you’d resist it, I would have said something. A lot of people resist. Now even, it doesn’t sound too great with that girl, how do you know, maybe even now it might work. It might not be too late.”
“All right,” says Trudy in a calm, slow voice. “All right.” She pushes all the floppy flowers off her lap. “I’ll just get down on my knees right now and pray that I get Dan back. I’ll pray that I get the necklace back and I get Dan back and why do I have to stop there? I can pray that Tracy Lee never died. I can pray that she comes back to life. Why didn’t her mother ever think of that?”
Good news. The swimming pool is fixed. They’ll be able to fill it tomorrow. But Kelvin is depressed. Early this afternoon — partly to keep them from bothering the men who were working on the pool—he took Marie and Josephine uptown. He let them get ice cream cones. He told them to pay attention and eat the ice cream up quickly, because the sun was hot, and it would melt. They ignored him. They licked at their cones now and then, as if they had all day. Ice cream was soon dribbling down their chins and down their arms. Kelvin had grabbed a handful of paper napkins but he couldn’t wipe it up fast enough. They were a mess. A spectacle. They didn’t care. Kelvin told them they weren’t so pretty that they could afford to look like that.
“Some people don’t like the look of us anyway,” he said. “Some people don’t even think we should be allowed uptown. People just get used to seeing us and not staring at us like freaks and you make a mess and spoil it.”
They laughed at him. He could have cowed Marie if he had her alone, but not when she was with Josephine. Josephine was one who needed some old-fashioned discipline, in Kelvin’s opinion. Kelvin had been in places where people didn’t get away with anything like they got away with, here. He didn’t agree with hitting. He had seen plenty of it done, but he didn’t agree with it, even on the hand. But a person like Josephine could be shut up in her room, she could be made to sit in a corner, she could be put on bread and water, and it would do a lot of good. All Marie needed was a talking-to, she had a weak personality. But Josephine was a devil.
“I’ll talk to both of them,” Trudy says. “I’ll tell them to say they’re sorry.”
“I want for them to be sorry,” Kelvin says. “I don’t care if they say they are. I’m not taking them ever again.”
Later, when all the others are in bed, Trudy gets him to sit down to play cards with her, on the screened verandah. They play Crazy Eights. Kelvin says that’s all he can manage tonight, his head is sore.
Uptown, a man said to him, “Hey, which one of them two is your girlfriend?”
“Stupid,” Trudy says. “He was a stupid jerk.”
The man talking to the first man said, “Which one you going to marry?”
“They don’t know you, Kelvin. They’re just stupid.”
But they did know him. One was Reg Hooper, one was Bud DeLisle. Bud DeLisle that sold real estate. They knew him, they had talked to him in the barbershop, they called him Kelvin. Hey, Kelvin, which one you going to marry?
“Nerds,” says Trudy. “That’s what Robin would say.”
“You think they’re your friend but they’re not,” says Kelvin,
“how many times I see that happen.”
Trudy goes to the kitchen to put on coffee. She wants to have fresh coffee to offer Janet, when Janet comes in. She apologized, this morning, and Janet said all right, I know you’re upset. It really is all right. Sometimes, you think they’re your friend, and they are.
She looks at all the mugs hanging on their hooks. She and Janet shopped all over to find them. A mug with each one’s name. Marie, Josephine, Arthur, Kelvin, Shirley, George, Dorinda. You’d think Dorinda would be the hardest name to find, but actually, the hardest was Shirley. Even the people who can’t read have learned to recognize their own mugs, by color and pattern.
One day two new mugs appeared, bought by Kelvin. They said Trudy, and Janet.
“I’m not going to be too overjoyed seeing my name in that line-up,” Janet said. “But I wouldn’t hurt his feelings for a million dollars.”
For a honeymoon, Dan took her to an island on the lake, where the hotel was. The hotel was closed down, but his mother still lived there. Dan’s father was dead. His mother lived there alone. She took the boat with the outboard motor across the water, to get her groceries. She sometimes made a mistake, and called Trudy, Marlene.
The hotel wasn’t much. It was a white wooden box in a clearing by the shore. Some little boxes of cabins stuck behind it. Dan and Trudy stayed in one of the cabins. Every cabin had a wood stove. Dan built a fire at night to take off the chill. But the blankets were damp and heavy, when he and Trudy woke up in the morning.
Dan caught fish, and cooked them. He and Trudy climbed the big rock behind the cabins, and picked blueberries. He asked her if she knew how to make a pie crust, and she didn’t. So he showed her, rolling out the dough with a whisky bottle.
In the morning there was a mist over the lake, just as you see in the movies, or in a painting.
One afternoon Dan stayed out longer than usual, fishing. Trudy kept busy for a while in the kitchen, rubbing the dust off things, washing some jars. It was the oldest, darkest kitchen she had ever seen, with wooden racks for the dinner plates to dry in. She went outside, and climbed the rock by herself, thinking she would pick some blueberries. But it was already dark under the trees, the evergreens made it dark, and she didn’t like the idea of wild animals. She sat on the rock looking down on the roof of the hotel, the old dead leaves and broken shingles. She heard a piano being played. She scrambled down the rock and followed the music, around to the front of the building. She walked along the front verandah and stopped at a window, looking into the room that used to be the lounge. The room with the blackened stone fireplace, the lumpy leather chairs, the horrible mounted fish.
Dan’s mother was there, playing the piano. A tall, straight backed old woman, with her grey-black hair twisted into such a tiny knot. She sat and played the piano, without any lights on, in the half-dark, half-bare room.
Dan had said that his mother came from a rich family. She had taken piano lessons, dancing lessons, she had gone around the world, when she was a young girl. There was a picture of her, on a camel. But she wasn’t playing a classical piece, the sort of thing you’d expect her to have learned. She was playing. “It’s Three O’Clock in the Morning.” When she got to the end she started in again. Maybe it was a special favorite of hers, something she had danced to, in the old days. Or maybe she wasn’t satisfied yet, that she had got it right.
Why does Trudy now remember this moment? She sees her young self looking in the window at the old woman playing the piano. The dim room, with its oversize beams and fireplaces and the lonely leather chairs. The clattering, faltering, persistent, piano music. Trudy remembers that so clearly and it seems she stood outside her own body, which ached, then, from the punishing pleasures of love. She stood outside her own happiness, in a tide of sadness. And the opposite thing happened, the morning Dan left. Then she stood outside her own unhappiness in a tide of what seemed unreasonably like love. But it was the same thing, really, when you got outside. What are those times that stand out, clear patches in your life—what do they have to do with it? They aren’t exactly promises. Breathing spaces. Is that all?
She goes into the front hall and listens for any noise from upstairs.
All quiet there, all medicated.
The phone rings, right beside her head.
“Are you still there?” Robin says.
“I’m still here.”
“Can I run over and ride home with you? I didn’t go for my run earlier because it was too hot.”
You threw the jug. You could have killed me.
Kelvin, waiting at the card-table, under the light, looks bleached and old. There’s a pool of light whitening his brown hair. His face sags, waiting. He looks old, sunk into himself, wrapped in a thick bewilderment, nearly lost to her. Nearly lost.
“Kelvin, do you pray?” says Trudy. Her voice sounds harsh, even panicky, though she didn’t mean it to. Also, she didn’t know she was going to ask him that. “I mean, it’s none of my business. But like, for anything specific?”
He’s got an answer for her, which is rather surprising. He pulls his face up, as if he might have felt the tug he needed, to bring him to the surface.
“If I was smart enough to know what to pray for,” he says,
“then I wouldn’t have to.”
He smiles at her, with some oblique notion of conspiracy, offering his halfway joke. It’s not meant as comfort, particularly. Yet it radiates—what he said, the way he said it, just the fact that he’s there again, radiates, expands the way some silliness can, when you’re very tired. In this way, when she was young, and high, a person or a moment could become a lily floating on the cloudy river-water, perfect and familiar.