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CHRISTOPHER BURKETT FIR AND SNOWANDREW SMITH GALLERY SANTA FE


she wanted to make sure she got donethat dayEven her morning schedulewas written downHe found it mystifyingand touching in its precision7yoga730745 teeth face hair745815 walk815 Grant and breakfastThe

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Document on Subject : "CHRISTOPHER BURKETT FIR AND SNOWANDREW SMITH GALLERY SANTA FE"‚ÄĒ Transcript:

1 CHRISTOPHER BURKETT, “FIR AND SNOW”/ANDR
CHRISTOPHER BURKETT, “FIR AND SNOW”/ANDREW SMITH GALLERY, SANTA FE         she wanted to make sure she got donethat day.Even her morning schedulewas written down.He found it mystifyingand touching in its precision:“7yoga.7:30–7:45 teeth face hair.7:45–8:15 walk.8:15 Grant and breakfast.”The new notes were different.Stuckonto the kitchen drawers—Cutlery,Dish-towels,Knives.Couldn’t she just openthe drawers and see what was inside?Worse things were coming.She wentto town and phoned Grant from a boothto ask him how to drive home.She wentfor her usual walk across the řeld intothe woods and came home by the fenceline—a very long way round.She saidthat she’d counted on fences always tak-ing you somewhere.It was hard to řgure out.She’d saidthat about fences as ifit were a joke,and she had remembered the phonenumber without any trouble.“I don’t think it’s anything to worryabout,”she said.“I expect I’m just losingHe asked ifshe had been taking sleep-ing pills.“IfI am I don’t remember,”she said.Then she said she was sorry to sound soŖippant.“I’m sure I haven’t been takinganything.Maybe I should be.MaybeVitamins didn’t help.She wouldstand in doorways trying to řgure outwhere she was going.She forgot to turnon the burner under the vegetables orput water in the coffeemaker.She askedGrant when they’d moved to this house.“Was it last year or the year before?”“It was twelve years ago,”he said.“That’s shocking.”“She’s always been a bit like this,”Grant said to the doctor.He tried with-out success to explain how Fiona’s sur-prise and apologies now seemed some-how like routine courtesy,not quiteconcealing a private amusement.As ifshe’d stumbled on some unexpected ad-venture.Or begun playing a game thatshe hoped he would catch on to.“Yes,well,”the doctor said.“It mightbe selective at řrst.We don’t know,dowe? Till we see the pattern ofthe dete-rioration,we really can’t say.”In a while it hardly mattered whatlabel was put on it.Fiona,who no longerwent shopping alone,disappeared fromthe supermarket while Grant had hisback turned.A policeman picked her upas she was walking down the middle ofthe road,blocks away.He asked her nameand she answered readily.Then he askedher the name ofthe Prime Minister.“Ifyou don’t know that,young man,you really shouldn’t be in such a respon-sible job.”He laughed.But then she made themistake ofasking ifhe’d seen Boris and Natasha.These were the now deadRussian wolfhounds she had adoptedmany years ago,as a favor to a friend,then devoted herselfto for the rest oftheir lives.Her taking them over might have coincided with the discoverythat she was not likely to have chil-dren.Something about her tubes beingblocked,or twisted—Grant could notremember now.He had always avoidedthinking about all that female appara-tus.Or it might have been after hermother died.The dogs’long legs andsilky hair,their narrow,gentle,intransi-gent faces made a řne match for herAnd Grant himself,in those days,land-ing his řrst job at the university (his father-in-law’s money welcome there in spite ofthe political taint),mighthave seemed to some people to havebeen picked up on another ofFiona’s ec-centric whims,and groomed and tendedand favored—though,fortunately,hedidn’t understand this until much later.HEREwas a rule that nobody could be admitted to Meadowlake dur-ing the month ofDecember.

2 The holi-day season had so many emotiona
The holi-day season had so many emotional pit-falls.So they made the twenty-minutedrive in January.Before they reachedthe highway the country road dippedthrough a swampy hollow now com-pletely frozen over.Fiona said,“Oh,remember.”Grant said,“I was thinking aboutthat,too.”“Only it was in the moonlight,”sheShe was talking about the time thatthey had gone out skiing at night un- “I think what I miss most is robbing people.”    der the full moon and over the black-striped snow,in this place that youcould get into only in the depths ofwinter.They had heard the branchescracking in the cold.Ifshe could remember that,sovividly and correctly,could there reallybe so much the matter with her? It wasall he could do not to turn around anddrive home.There was another rule that the su-pervisor explained to him.New residentswere not to be visited during the řrstthirty days.Most people needed thattime to get settled in.Before the rule had been put in place,there had beenpleas and tears and tantrums,even fromthose who had come in willingly.Aroundthe third or fourth day they would startlamenting and begging to be taken home.And some relatives could be susceptibleto that,so you would have people beingcarted home who would not get on thereany better than they had before.Sixmonths or sometimes only a few weekslater,the whole upsetting hassle wouldhave to be gone through again.“Whereas we řnd,”the supervisorsaid,“we řnd that ifthey’re left on theirown the řrst month they usually end uphappy as clams.”HEYhad in fact gone over to Mead-owlake a few times several yearsago to visit Mr.Farquhar,thebeen their neighbor.He hadlived by himselfin a draftybrickhouse unaltered sincethe early years ofthe century,except for the addition ofarefrigerator and a televisionset.Now,just as Mr.Far-quhar’s house was gone,re-placed by a gimcrack sort ofcastle that was the weekendhome ofsome people fromToronto,the old Meadow-lake was gone,though it haddated only from the řfties.The new building was a spa-cious,vaulted place,whose airwas faintly,pleasantly pine-scented.Profuse and genu-ine greenery sprouted out ofgiant crocks in the hallways.Nevertheless,it was theold Meadowlake that Grantfound himselfpicturing Fi-ona in,during the long monthher.He phonedevery day and hoped toget the nurse whose name was Kristy.She seemed a little amused at his con-stancy,but she would give him a fullerreport than any other nurse he got stuckFiona had caught a cold the řrstweek,she said,but that was not unusualfor newcomers.“Like when your kidsstart school,”Kristy said.“There’s awhole bunch ofnew germs they’re ex-posed to and for a while they just catcheverything.”Then the cold got better.She was offthe antibiotics and she didn’t seemas confused as she had been when shecame in.(This was the řrst Grant hadheard about either the antibiotics or theconfusion.) Her appetite was prettygood and she seemed to enjoy sitting inthe sunroom.And she was makingsome friends,Kristy said.Ifanybody phoned,he let the ma-chine pick up.The people they saw socially,occasionally,were not closeneighbors but people who lived aroundthe country,who were retired,as theywere,and who often went away with-out notice.They would imagine that he and Fiona were away on some suchtrip at present.Grant skied for exercise.He skiedaround and around in the řeld behindthe house as the sun wen

3 t down and leftthe sky pink over a count
t down and leftthe sky pink over a countryside thatseemed to be bound by waves ofblue-edged ice.Then he came back to thedarkening house,turning the televi-sion news on while he made his sup-per.They had usually prepared suppertogether.One ofthem made the drinksand the other the řre,and they talkedabout his work (he was writing a studyoflegendary Norse wolves and par-ticularly ofthe great wolfFenrir,whichswallows up Odin at the end oftheworld) and about whatever Fiona wasreading and what they had been think-ing during their close but separate day.This was their time ofliveliest inti-macy,though there was also,ofcourse,the řve or ten minutes ofphysical sweetness just after they got into bed—something that did not often end in sex but reassured them that sex was not over yet.a dream he showed a letter to one ofhis colleagues.The letter wasfrom the roommate ofa girl he had notthought offor a while and was sanc-timonious and hostile,threatening in a whining way.The girl herselfwassomeone he had parted from decentlywant to make a fuss,let alone try to killherself,which was what the letter was “We believe that in a former life she was an editor.” elaborately trying to tell him she haddone.He had thought ofthe colleague asa friend.He was one ofthose hus-bands who had been among the řrstto throw away their neckties and leavehome to spend every night on a Ŗoormattress with a bewitching young mis-tress—coming to their ofřces,theirclasses,bedraggled and smelling ofdope and incense.But now he took adim view.“I wouldn’t laugh,”he said to Grant—who did not think he had been laugh-ing.“And ifI were you I’d try to pre-pare Fiona.”So Grant went offto řnd Fiona inMeadowlake—the old Meadowlake—and got into a lecture hall instead.Ev-erybody was waiting there for him toteach his class.And sitting in the last,highest row was a Ŗock ofcold-eyedyoung women all in black robes,all inmourning,who never took their bitterstares offhim,and pointedly did notwrite down,or care about,anything hewas saying.Fiona was in the řrst row,untrou-bled.“Oh phooey,”she said.“Girls thatage are always going around talkingabout how they’ll kill themselves.”He hauled himselfout ofthe dream,took pills,and set about separating whatwas real from what was not.There been a letter,and theword “rat”had appeared in black painton his ofřce door,and Fiona,on be-ing told that a girl had suffered from a bad crush on him,had said prettymuch what she said in the dream.The colleague hadn’t come into it,and nobody had committed suicide.Grant hadn’t been disgraced.In fact,he had got offeasy when you thoughtofwhat might have happened just acouple ofyears later.But word gotaround.Cold shoulders became con-spicuous.They had few Christmas invitations and spent New Year’s Evealone.Grant got drunk,and without itsbeing required ofhim—also,thankGod,without making the error ofaconfession—he promised Fiona a newlife.Nowhere had there been any ac-knowledgment that the life ofa philan-derer (ifthat was what Grant had tocall himself—he who had not had halfas many conquests as the man who hadreproached him in his dream) involvedacts ofgenerosity,and even sacriřce.Many times he had catered to a wom-an’s pride,to her fragility,by offeringmore affection—or a rougher passion—than anything he really felt.All so thathe could now řnd himselfaccused ofwounding and exploiting and de-stroy

4 ing self-esteem.And ofdeceivingFiona—as,
ing self-esteem.And ofdeceivingFiona—as,ofcourse,he had.But wouldit have been better ifhe had done asothers had done with their wives,andleft her? He had never thought ofsucha thing.He had never stopped mak-ing love to Fiona.He had not stayedaway from her for a single night.Nomaking up elaborate stories in order tospend a weekend in San Francisco or ina tent on Manitoulin Island.He hadgone easy on the dope and the drink,and he had continued to publish papers,serve on committees,make progress in his career.He had never had any intention ofthrowing over work andmarriage and taking to the country topractice carpentry or keep bees.But something like that had hap-pened,after all.He had taken early retirement with a reduced pension.Fiona’s father had died,after some be-wildered and stoical time alone in thebig house,and Fiona had inherited boththat property and the farmhouse whereher father had grown up,in the countrynear Georgian Bay.It was a new life.He and Fionaworked on the house.They got cross-country skis.They were not very so-ciable but they gradually made somefriends.There were no more hectic Ŗirtations.No bare female toes creep-ing up under a man’s pants leg at a din-ner party.No more loose wives.  The extra hour given back to eternityThe hour ofthe imagined empireThe deepest hour ofthe darkest seaThe guilty hour that precedes catastropheThe hour that it takes to go from here to thereThe haunted hour ofthe knowledge ofdeathThe hour in which the moon darkensThe hour that moves through the mind like cloud shadowThe blue hour that rests on the roofofthe houseThe hour that is the mother ofminutes and grandmother ofseconds The swollen hour ofpain,enough,enoughThe hour when mice run in the wallsThe bronze hour ofelectrical weatherThe cloistered hour ofthe nun’s great momentThe necklace ofhours the widow wearsThe numbing hours ofa night in NomeThe sound ofhours in the breathing ofplantsThe central hour that exists without youThe hallucinatory hour that hangs foreverThe hour ofexcess that equals two ofself-examinationThe hour that Ŗashed on the skinThe hour ofřnal musicThe hour ofpainless solitudeThe hour ofmoonlight upon her bodyTRAND    Just in time,Grant was able to think,when the sense ofinjustice had worndown.The feminists and perhaps thesad silly girl herselfand his cowardlyso-called friends had pushed him outjust in time.Out ofa life that was infact getting to be more trouble than itwas worth.And that might eventuallyhave cost him Fiona.the morning ofthe day when he was to go back to Meadowlake,for the řrst visit,Grant woke early.Hewas full ofa solemn tingling,as in theold days on the morning ofhis řrstplanned meeting with a new woman.The feeling was not precisely sexual.(Later,when the meetings had becomeroutine,that was all it was.) There wasan expectation ofdiscovery,almost aspiritual expansion.Also timidity,hu-mility,alarm.There had been a thaw.Plenty ofsnow was left,but the dazzling hardlandscape ofearlier winter had crum-bled.These pocked heaps under a graysky looked like refuse in the řelds.a Ŗorist’s shop and bought a large bou-quet.He had never presented Ŗow-ers to Fiona before.Or to anyone else.He entered the building feeling like ahopeless lover or a guilty husband in a cartoon.“Wow.Narcissus this early,”Kristysaid.“You must’ve spent a fortune.”Shewent along the hall ahead ofhi

5 m andsnapped on the light in a sort ofpa
m andsnapped on the light in a sort ofpantry,where she searched for a vase.She was aheavy young woman who looked as ifshe had given up on her looks in everydepartment except her hair.That wasblond and voluminous.All the puffed-up luxury ofa cocktail waitress’s style,ora stripper’s,on top ofsuch a workadayface and body.“There now,”she said,and noddedhim down the hall.“Name’s right onthe door.”So it was,on a nameplate decoratedwith bluebirds.He wondered whetherto knock,and did,then opened the doorand called her name.She wasn’t there.The closet doorwas closed,the bed smoothed.Nothingon the bedside table,except a box ofKleenex and a glass ofwater.Not a sin-gle photograph or picture ofany kind,not a book or a magazine.Perhaps youhad to keep those in a cupboard.He went back to the nurses’station.Kristy said,“No?”with a surprise thathe thought perfunctory.He hesitated,holding the Ŗowers.She said,“O.K.,O.K.—let’s set the bouquet down here.”Sighing,as ifhe were a backward childon his řrst day at school,she led himdown the hall toward a large centralspace with skylights which seemed tobe a general meeting area.Some peoplewere sitting along the walls,in easychairs,others at tables in the middle ofthe carpeted Ŗoor.None ofthem lookedtoo bad.Old—some ofthem incapaci-decent.There had been some unnervingsights when he and Fiona visited Mr.Farquhar.Whiskers on old women’schins,somebody with a bulged-out eyelike a rotted plum.Dribblers,head wag-glers,mad chatterers.Now it looked asifthere’d been some weeding out oftheworst cases.“See?”said Kristy in a softer voice.“You just go up and say hello and trynot to startle her.Just go ahead.”He saw Fiona in prořle,sitting closeup to one ofthe card tables,but notplaying.She looked a little puffy in theface,the Ŗab on one cheek hiding thecorner ofher mouth,in a way it hadn’tdone before.She was watching the playofthe man she sat closest to.He heldhis cards tilted so that she could seethem.When Grant got near the tableshe looked up.They all looked up—allthe players at the table looked up,withdispleasure.Then they immediatelylooked down at their cards,as ifto wardoffany intrusion.But Fiona smiled her lopsided,abashed,sly,and charming smile andpushed back her chair and came roundto him,putting her řngers to her mouth.“Bridge,”she whispered.“Deadly serious.They’re quite rabid about it.”She drew him toward the coffee table,chatting.“I can remember being likethat for a while at college.My friendsand I would cut class and sit in thecutthroats.Can I get you anything? Acup oftea? I’m afraid the coffee isn’t upto much here.”Grant never drank tea.He could not throw his arms aroundher.Something about her voice andsmile,familiar as they were,somethingabout the way she seemed to be guard-ing the players from him—as well as          him from their displeasure—made that“I brought you some Ŗowers,”hesaid.“I thought they’d do to brightenup your room.I went to your room butyou weren’t there.”“Well,no,”she said.“I’m here.”Sheglanced back at the table.Grant said,“You’ve made a newfriend.”He nodded toward the manshe’d been sitting next to.At this mo-ment that man looked up at Fiona she turned,either because ofwhatGranthad said or because she felt thelook at her back.“It’s just Aubrey,”she said.“Thefunny thing is I knew him years andyears ago.He worked in t

6 he store.Thehardware store where my gran
he store.Thehardware store where my grandpa usedto shop.He and I were always kiddingaround and he couldn’t get up the nerveto ask me out.Till the very last week-end and he took me to a ballgame.Butwhen it was over my grandpa showedup to drive me home.I was up visitingfor the summer.Visiting my grandpar-ents—they lived on a farm.”“Fiona.I know where your grand-parents lived.It’s where we live.Lived.”“Really?”she said,not paying her fullattention because the cardplayer wassending her his look,which was one notofsupplication but ofcommand.Hewas a man ofabout Grant’s age,or alittle older.Thick coarse white hair fellover his forehead and his skin wasleathery but pale,yellowish-white likean old wrinkled-up kid glove.His longface was digniřed and melancholy andhe had something ofthe beauty ofapowerful,discouraged,elderly horse.But where Fiona was concerned he was“I better go back,”Fiona said,a blushspotting her newly fattened face.“Hethinks he can’t play without me sit-ting there.It’s silly,I hardly know thegame anymore.IfI leave you now,you can entertain yourself? It must allseem strange to you but you’ll be sur-prised how soon you get used to it.You’ll get to know who everybody is.Except that some ofthem are prettywell offin the clouds,you know—youcan’t expect them all to get to knowwho you are.”She slipped back into her chair andsaid something into Aubrey’s ear.Shetapped her řngers across the back ofhisGrant went in search ofKristy andmet her in the hall.She was pushing acart with pitchers ofapple juice and“Well?”she said.Grant said,“Does she even know whoI am?”He could not decide.She couldhave been playing a joke.It would not be unlike her.She had given herselfawayby that little pretense at the end,talkingto him as ifshe thought perhaps he wasa new resident.Ifit was a pretense.Kristy said,“You just caught her atsort ofa bad moment.Involved in the“She’s not even playing,”he said.“Well,but her friend’s playing.Aubrey.”“So who is Aubrey?”“That’s who he is.Aubrey.Her friend.Would you like a juice?”Grant shook his head.“Oh look,”said Kristy.“They getthese attachments.That takes over for a while.Best buddy sort ofthing.It’skind ofa phase.”“You mean she really might not know“She might not.Not today.Then tomorrow—you never know,do you?You’ll see the way it is,once you’ve beencoming here for a while.You’ll learn notto take it all so serious.Learn to take itday by day.”by day.But things really didn’t change back and forth and hedidn’t get used to the way they were.Fiona was the one who seemed to getused to him,but only as some persis-tent visitor who took a special interestin her.Or perhaps even as a nuisancewho must be prevented,according toher old rules ofcourtesy,from realiz-ing that he was one.She treated himwith a distracted,social sort ofkind-him from asking the most obvious,themost necessary question:did she re-member him as her husband ofnearlyřfty years? He got the impression thatshe would be embarrassed by such aquestion—embarrassed not for herselfKristy told him that Aubrey had beenthe local representative ofa company thatsold weed killer “and all that kind ofstuff”to farmers.And then when he was notvery old or even retired,she said,he hadsuffered some unusual kind ofdamage.“His wife is the one takes care of    him,usually at home.She just put himin here on temporary care so she couldget a break

7 .Her sister wanted her to goto Florida.S
.Her sister wanted her to goto Florida.See,she’s had a hard time,you wouldn’t ever have expected a manlike him—they just went on a holidaysomewhere and he got something,likesome bug that gave him a terrible highfever? And it put him in a coma andleft him like he is now.”Most afternoons the pair could befound at the card table.Aubrey hadlarge,thick-řngered hands.It was difř-cult for him to manage his cards.FionashufŖed and dealt for him and some-times moved quickly to straighten acard that seemed to be slipping from hisgrasp.Grant would watch from acrossthe room her darting move and quicklaughing apology.He could see Au-brey’s husbandly frown as a wisp ofher hair touched his cheek.Aubrey preferred to ignore her,as long as shestayed close.Grant,let her push back her chair andget up to offer him tea—showing thatshe had accepted his right to be there—and Aubrey’s face took on its look ofsombre consternation.He would let thecards slide from his řngers and fall onthe Ŗoor to spoil the game.And Fionaright.IfFiona and Aubrey weren’t at thebridge table they might be walkingalong the halls,Aubrey hanging on tothe railing with one hand and clutchingFiona’s arm or shoulder with the other.The nurses thought that it was a mar-vel,the way she had got him out ofhiswheelchair.Though for longer trips—to the conservatory at one end ofthebuilding or the television room at theother—the wheelchair was called for.In the conservatory,the pair wouldřnd themselves a seat among the mostlush and thick and tropical-lookingplants—a bower,ifyou liked.Grantstood nearby,on occasion,on the otherside ofthe greenery,listening.Mixed inwith the rustle ofthe leaves and thesound ofplashing water was Fiona’s softtalk and her laughter.Then some sort ofchortle.Aubrey could talk,though hisvoice probably didn’t sound as it usedto.He seemed to say something now—a couple ofthick syllables.Take care.He’s here.My love.Grant made an effort,and cut hisvisits down to Wednesdays and Satur-days.Saturdays had a holiday bustle andtension.Families arrived in clusters.Mothers were usually in charge;theywere the ones who kept the conversa-tion aŖoat.Men seemed cowed,teen-agers affronted.No children or grand-children appeared to visit Aubrey,andsince they could not play cards—the ta-bles being taken over for ice-cream par-ties—he and Fiona stayed clear oftheSaturday parade.The conservatory wasfar too popular then for any oftheir in-timate conversations.Those might begoing on,ofcourse,behind Fiona’sclosed door.Grant could not manage toknock when he found it closed,thoughhe stood there for some time staring atthe Disney-style nameplate with an in-tense,a truly malignant dislike.Or they might be in Aubrey’s room.But he did not know where that was.The more he explored this place themore corridors and seating spaces andramps he discovered,and in his wan-derings he was still apt to get lost.OneSaturday he looked out a window andsaw Fiona—it had to be her—wheelingAubrey along one ofthe paved pathsnow cleared ofsnow and ice.She waswearing a silly wool hat and a jacketwith swirls ofblue and purple,the sortofthing he had seen on local women atthe supermarket.It must be that theydidn’t bother to sort out the wardrobesofthe women who were roughly thesame size and counted on the womennot to recognize their own clothes any-way.They had cut her hair,too.Theyhad cut away her

8 angelic halo.On a Wednesday,when everyth
angelic halo.On a Wednesday,when everythingwas more normal and card games weregoing on again and the women in theCrafts Room were making silk Ŗowersor costumed dolls—and when Aubreyand Fiona were again in evidence,soone ofhis briefand friendly and mad-dening conversations with his wife—hesaid to her,“Why did they chop offyour hair?”Fiona put her hands up to her head,to check.“Why—I never missed it,”she said.HENGrant had řrst started teach-ing Anglo-Saxon and Nordicliterature he got the regular sort ofstu-dents in his classes.But after a few yearshe noticed a change.Married women !         had started going back to school.Notwith the idea ofqualifying for a betterjob,or for any job,but simply to givethemselves something more interestingto think about than their usual house-work and hobbies.To enrich their lives.And perhaps it followed naturally thatbecame part ofthe enrichment,thatthese men seemed to these women moremysterious and desirable than the menthey still cooked for and slept with.Those who signed up for Grant’scourses might have a Scandinavianbackground or they might have learnedsomething about Norse mythology fromWagner or historical novels.There werealso a few who thought he was teachinga Celtic language and for whom every-thing Celtic had a mystic allure.Hespoke to such aspirants fairly roughlyfrom his side ofthe desk.“Ifyou want to learn a pretty lan-guage go and learn Spanish.Then youcan use it ifyou go to Mexico.”Some took his warning and driftedaway.Others seemed to be moved in aThey worked with a will and broughtinto his ofřce,into his regulated sat-isfactory life,the great surprising bloomoftheir mature female compliance,theirtremulous hope ofapproval.He chose a woman named JacquiAdams.She was the opposite ofFiona—short,cushiony,dark-eyed,effusive.A stranger to irony.The affair lasted fora year,until her husband was trans-ferred.When they were saying goodbyein her car,she began to shake uncon-trollably.It was as ifshe had hypother-mia.She wrote to him a few times,buthe found the tone ofher letters over-wrought and could not decide how toanswer.He let the time for answeringslip away while he became magicallyand unexpectedly involved with a girlwho was young enough to be Jacqui’sdaughter.For another and more dizzying de-velopment had taken place while he wasbusy with Jacqui.Young girls with longhair and sandalled feet were cominginto his ofřce and all but declaringthemselves ready for sex.The cautiousapproaches,the tender intimations offeeling required with Jacqui were outthe window.A whirlwind hit him,as it did many others.Scandals burst wide open,with high and painful dramaall round but a feeling that somehow it was better so.There were reprisals;there were řrings.But those řred wentoffto teach at smaller,more tolerantcolleges or Open Learning Centers,andmany wives left behind got over theshock and took up the costumes,thesexual nonchalance ofthe girls who hadtempted their men.Academic parties,which used to be so predictable,becamea mineřeld.An epidemic had brokenout,it was spreading like the SpanishŖu.Only this time people ran after con-tagion,and few between sixteen andsixty seemed willing to be left out.That was exaggeration,ofcourse.Fiona was quite willing.And Granthimselfdid not go overboard.What hefelt was mainly a gigantic increase in

9 well-being.A tendency to pudginesswhich
well-being.A tendency to pudginesswhich he had had since he was twelveyears old disappeared.He ran up stepstwo at a time.He appreciated as neverbefore a pageant oftorn clouds andwinter sunsets seen from his ofřce win-dow,the charm ofantique lamps glow-ing between his neighbors’living-roomcurtains,the cries ofchildren in thepark,at dusk,unwilling to leave the hill where they’d been tobogganing.Come summer,he learned the names ofŖowers.In his classroom,after beingcoached by his nearly voiceless mother-in-law (her afŖiction was cancer in thethroat),he risked reciting the majesticand gory Icelandic ode,the Höfudlausn,composed to honor King Erik Blood-axe by the skald whom that king hadcondemned to death.Fiona had never learnedshown much respect for thestories that it preserved—thestories that Grant had taughtand written about.She re-ferred to their heroes as “oldNjal”or “old Snorri.”But inthe last few years she had developed an interest in thecountry itselfand looked attravel guides.She read aboutWilliam Morris’s trip,and Auden’s.She didn’t reallyplan to travel there.She saidthere ought to be one placeyou thought about and knewabout and maybe longed forbut never did get to see.Nonetheless,the next timehe went to Meadowlake,Grantbrought Fiona a book he’dfound ofnineteenth-centurywatercolors made by a ladytraveller to Iceland.It was aWednesday.He went lookingfor her at the card tables but “Funny,funny,funny,but we’re going to pass on ‘How to Drink and Drive.’”    didn’t see her.A woman called out tohim,“She’s not here.She’s sick.”Her voice sounded self-importantand excited—pleased with herselfforhaving recognized him when he knewnothing about her.Perhaps also pleasedwith all she knew about Fiona,aboutFiona’s life here,thinking it was maybemore than he knew.“He’s not here,either,”she added.Grant went to řnd Kristy,who didn’thave much time for him.She was talk-ing to a weepy woman who looked likea řrst-time visitor.“Nothing really,”she said,when heasked what was the matter with Fiona.“She’s just having a day in bed today,just a bit ofan upset.”Fiona was sitting straight up in thebed.He hadn’t noticed,the few timesthat he had been in this room,that thiswas a hospital bed and could be crankedup in such a way.She was wearing oneofher high-necked maidenly gowns,Aubrey was beside her in his wheel-chair,pushed as close to the bed as hecould get.Instead ofthe nondescriptopen-necked shirts he usually wore,hewas wearing a jacket and tie.His natty-looking tweed hat was resting on the bed.He looked as ifhe had been out on im-portant business.Whatever he’d been doing,he lookedworn out by it.He,too,was gray in They both looked up at Grant with a stony grief-ridden apprehension thatturned to relief,ifnot to welcome,whenthey saw who he was.Not who theythought he’d be.They were hanging on toeach other’s hands and they did not let go.The hat on the bed.The jacket and tie.It wasn’t that Aubrey had been out.It wasn’t a question ofwhere he’d beenor whom he’d been to see.It was wherehe was going.Grant set the book down on the bedbeside Fiona’s free hand.“It’s about Iceland,”he said.“I thoughtmaybe you’d like to look at it.”“Why,thank you,”said Fiona.Shedidn’t look at the book.“Iceland,”he said.She said,“Ice-land.”The řrst sylla-ble managed to hold a tinkle ofinter-est,but the second fell Ŗat.Anyway,it was necessary for he

10 r to turn her at-tention back to Aubrey,
r to turn her at-tention back to Aubrey,who was pull-          ing his great thick hand out ofhers.“What is it?”she said.“What is it,dear heart?”Grant had never heard her use thisŖowery expression before.“Oh all right,”she said.“Oh here.”And she pulled a handful oftissuesfrom the box beside her bed.Aubreyhad begun to weep.“Here.Here,”she said,and he gothold ofthe Kleenex as well as he couldand made a few awkward but luckyswipes at his face.While he was occu-pied,Fiona turned to Grant.“Do you by any chance have any in-Ŗuence around here?”she said in a whis-per.“I’ve seen you talking to them...”Aubrey made a noise ofprotest orweariness or disgust.Then his upperbody pitched forward as ifhe wantedto throw himselfagainst her.She scram-bled halfout ofbed and caught himand held on to him.It seemed improperfor Grant to help her.“Hush,”Fiona was saying.“Oh,honey.Hush.We’ll get to see each other.We’ll have to.I’ll go and see you.You’llcome and see me.”Aubrey made the same sound againwith his face in her chest and there wasget out ofthe room.“I just wish his wife would hurry upand get here,”Kristy said when he raninto her.“I wish she’d get him out ofhere and cut the agony short.We’ve gotto start serving supper before long andhow are we supposed to get her to swal-low anything with him still hangingaround?”Grant said,“Should I stay?”“What for? She’s not sick,you know.”“To keep her company,”he said.Kristy shook her head.“They have to get over these thingson their own.They’ve got short mem-ories,usually.That’s not always so bad.”Grant left without going back toFiona’s room.He noticed that the windwas actually warm and the crows weremaking an uproar.In the parking lot awoman wearing a tartan pants suit wasthe trunk ofher car.IONAdid not get over her sorrow.She didn’t eat at mealtimes,thoughshe pretended to,hiding food in hernapkin.She was being given a supple-mentary drink twice a day—someonestayed and watched while she swal-lowed it down.She got out ofbed anddressed herself,but all she wanted to dothen was sit in her room.She wouldn’thave had any exercise at all ifKristy,or Grant during visiting hours,hadn’twalked her up and down in the corri-dors or taken her outside.Weeping hadleft her eyes raw-edged and dim.Hercardigan—ifit was hers—would bebuttoned crookedly.She had not got tothe stage ofleaving her hair unbrushedor her nails uncleaned,but that mightcome soon.Kristy said that her mus-cles were deteriorating,and that ifshedidn’t improve they would put her on a walker.“But,you know,once they get awalker they start to depend on it andthey never walk much anymore,just getwherever it is they have to go,”she saidto Grant.“You’ll have to work at herharder.Try to encourage her.”But Grant had no luck at that.Fionathough she tried to cover it up.Perhapsshe was reminded,every time she sawhim,ofher last minutes with Aubrey,he hadn’t helped her.He didn’t see much point in men-tioning their marriage now.The supervisor called him in to herofřce.She said that Fiona’s weight wasgoing down even with the supplement.“The thing is,I’m sure you know,wedon’t do any prolonged bed care on theřrst Ŗoor.We do it temporarily ifsome-one isn’t feeling well,but ifthey get tooweak to move around and be responsi-ble we have to consider upstairs.”He said he didn’t think that Fionahad been in bed that

11 often.“No.But ifshe can’t keep up herst
often.“No.But ifshe can’t keep up herstrength she will be.Right now she’sborderline.”Grant said that he had thought thesecond Ŗoor was for people whose mindswere disturbed.“That,too,”she said.street Grant found himselfdriving down was called Black-hawks Lane.The houses all looked tohave been built around the same time,perhaps thirty or forty years ago.The street was wide and curving and there were no sidewalks.Friends ofGrant and Fiona’s had moved to places some-    their children,and young families stilllived here.There were basketball hoopsover garage doors and tricycles in thedriveways.Some ofthe houses hadgone downhill.The yards were markedby tire tracks,the windows plasteredBut a few seemed to have been kept upas well as possible by the people whohad moved into them when they werenew—people who hadn’t had the moneyor perhaps hadn’t felt the need to moveon to some place better.phone book as belonging to Aubrey andhis wife was one ofthese.The frontwalk was paved with Ŗagstones andbordered by hyacinths that stood as stiffas china Ŗowers,alternately pink andHe hadn’t remembered anything aboutAubrey’s wife except the tartan suit hehad seen her wearing in the parking lot.The tails ofthe jacket had Ŗared openas she bent into the trunk ofthe car.Hehad got the impression ofa trim waistand wide buttocks.She was not wearing the tartan suittoday.Brown belted slacks and a pinksweater.He was right about the waist—the tight belt showed she made a pointofit.It might have been better ifshedidn’t,since she bulged out considerablyabove and below.She could be ten or twelve yearsyounger than her husband.Her hair was short,curly,artiřcially reddened.She had blue eyes—a lighter blue thanFiona’s—a Ŗat robin’s-egg or turquoiseblue,slanted by a slight pufřness.And agood many wrinkles,made more no-ticeable by a walnut-stain makeup.Orperhaps that was her Florida tan.He said that he didn’t quite knowhow to introduce himself.“I used to see your husband at Mead-owlake.I’m a regular visitor there myself.”“Yes,”said Aubrey’s wife,with an ag-gressive movement ofher chin.“How is your husband doing?”The “doing”was added on at the lastmoment.“He’s O.K.,”she said.“My wife and he struck up quite aclose friendship.”“I heard about that.”“I wanted to talk to you about some-thing ifyou had a minute.”“My husband did not try to startanything with your wife ifthat’s whatyou’re getting at,”she said.“He did notmolest her.He isn’t capable ofit and hewouldn’t anyway.From what I heard itwas the other way round.”Grant said,“No.That isn’t it at all.Ididn’t come here with any complaintsabout anything.”“Oh,”she said.“Well,I’m sorry.Ithought you did.You better come inthen.It’s blowing cold in through thedoor.It’s not as warm out today as itlooks.”So it was something ofa victory forhim even to get inside.She took him past the living room,saying,“We’ll have to sit in the kitchen,where I can hear Aubrey.”Grant caught sight oftwo layers offront-window curtains,both blue,onesheer and one silky,a matching bluesofa and a daunting pale carpet,variousbright mirrors and ornaments.Fionahad a word for those sort ofswoopingcurtains—she said it like a joke,thoughthe women she’d picked it up from usedit seriously.Any room that Fiona řxedup was bare and bright.She would havedeplored the crowding ofall this fancystuffinto such a small space.From aroom offthe

12 kitchen—a sort ofsun-room,though the bli
kitchen—a sort ofsun-room,though the blinds were drawnagainst the afternoon brightness—hecould hear the sounds oftelevision.The answer to Fiona’s prayers sat afew feet away,watching what soundedlike a ballgame.His wife looked in She said,“You O.K.?”and partlyclosed the door.“You might as well have a cup ofcoffee,”she said to Grant.“My son gothim on the sports channel a year agoChristmas.I don’t know what we’d doOn the kitchen counters there wereall sorts ofcontrivances and appliances—coffeemaker,food processor,knife sharp-ener,and some things Grant didn’tknow the names or uses of.All lookednew and expensive,as ifthey had justbeen taken out oftheir wrappings,orwere polished daily.He thought it might be a good ideato admire things.He admired the cof-and Fiona had always meant to get one.This was absolutely untrue—Fiona hadbeen devoted to a European contrap-tion that made only two cups at a time.“They gave us that,”she said.“Our          son and his wife.They live in Kam-loops.B.C.They send us more stuffthan we can handle.It wouldn’t hurt ifthey would spend the money to comeGrant said philosophically,“I sup-pose they’re busy with their own lives.”“They weren’t too busy to go toHawaii last winter.You could under-stand it ifwe had somebody else in the family,closer at hand.But he’s theonly one.”She poured the coffee into twobrown-and-green ceramic mugs thatshe took from the amputated branchesofa ceramic tree trunk that sat on “People do get lonely,”Grant said.He thought he saw his chance now.“Ifthey’re deprived ofseeing somebodythey care about,they do feel sad.Fiona,for instance.My wife.”“I thought you said you went andvisited her.”“I do,”he said.“That’s not it.”Then he took the plunge,going onto make the request he’d come to make.Could she consider taking Aubrey backto Meadowlake,maybe just one day aweek,for a visit? It was only a drive ofafew miles.Or ifshe’d like to take the timeoff—Grant hadn’t thought ofthis be-fore and was rather dismayed to hearhimselfsuggest it—then he himselfcouldtake Aubrey out there,he wouldn’t mindat all.He was sure he could manage it.While he talked she moved her closedlips and her hidden tongue as ifshewere trying to identify some dubiousŖavor.She brought milk for his coffeeand a plate ofginger cookies.“Homemade,”she said as she set the plate down.There was challengerather than hospitality in her tone.Shesaid nothing more until she had satdown,poured milk into her coffee,andstirred it.Then she said no.“No.I can’t do that.And the reasonis,I’m not going to upset him.”“Would it upset him?”Grant saidearnestly.“Yes,it would.It would.That’s noway to do.Bringing him home and tak-ing him back.That would just con-“But wouldn’t he understand that itwas just a visit? Wouldn’t he get intothe pattern ofit?”“He understands everything all right.”She said this as ifhe had offered an insult to Aubrey.“But it’s still an in-terruption.And then I’ve got to get himall ready and get him into the car,andhe’s a big man,he’s not so easy to man-age as you might think.I’ve got to ma-neuver him into the car and pack hischair and all that and what for? IfI goto all that trouble I’d prefer to take himsomeplace that was more fun.”“But even ifI agreed to do it?”Grantsaid,keeping his tone hopeful and rea-sonable.“It’s true,you shouldn’t havethe trouble.”“You could

13 n’t,”she said Ŗatly.“Youdon’t know him.Y
n’t,”she said Ŗatly.“Youdon’t know him.You couldn’t handlehim.He wouldn’t stand for you doingfor him.All that bother and what wouldhe get out ofit?”Grant didn’t think he should men-tion Fiona again.“It’d make more sense to take him tothe mall,”she said.“Or now the lakeboats are starting to run again,he mightget a charge out ofgoing and watchingShe got up and fetched her cigarettesand lighter from the window above the“You smoke?”she said.He said no,thanks,though he didn’tknow ifa cigarette was being offered.“Did you never? Or did you quit?”“Quit,”he said.“How long ago was that?”“Thirty years.No—more.”He had decided to quit around thetime he started up with Jacqui.But hecouldn’t remember whether he quit řrst,and thought a big reward was comingto him for quitting,or thought that thetime had come to quit,now that he hadsuch a powerful diversion.“I’ve quit quitting,”she said,lightingup.“Just made a resolution to quit quit-ting,that’s all.”Maybe that was the reason for thewrinkles.Somebody—a woman—haddeveloped a special set ofřne facialwrinkles.But it could have been fromthe sun,or just the nature ofher skin—her neck was noticeably wrinkled aswell.Wrinkled neck,youthfully full anduptilted breasts.Women ofher age usually had these contradictions.Thebad and good points,the genetic luck or lack ofit,all mixed up together.Veryfew kept their beauty whole,though    shadowy,as Fiona had done.And per-haps that wasn’t even true.Perhaps he only thought that because he’dknown Fiona when she was young.When Aubrey looked at his wife did he see a high-school girl full ofscornand sass,with a tilt to her blue eyes,pursing her fruity lips around a forbid-den cigarette?“So your wife’s depressed?”Aubrey’swife said.“What’s your wife’s name? I“It’s Fiona.”“Fiona.And what’s yours? I don’tthink I was ever told that.”Grant said,“It’s Grant.”She stuck her hand out unexpectedlyacross the table.“Hello,Grant.I’m Marian.”“So now we know each other’s names,”she said,“there’s no point in not tellingyou straight out what I think.I don’tknow ifhe’s still so stuck on seeingyour—on seeing Fiona.Or not.I don’task him and he’s not telling me.Maybejust a passing fancy.But I don’t feel liketaking him back there in case it turnsout to be more than that.I can’t affordto risk it.I don’t want him upset andcarrying on.I’ve got my hands full withhim as it is.I don’t have any help.It’sjust me here.I’m it.”“Did you ever consider—I’m sure it’svery hard for you—”Grant said.“Did youever consider his going in there for good?”He had lowered his voice almost to awhisper but she did not seem to feel aneed to lower hers.“No,”she said.“I’m keeping himright here.”Grant said,“Well.That’s very goodand noble ofyou.”He hoped the word“noble”had not sounded sarcastic.He“You think so?”she said.“Noble isnot what I’m thinking about.”“Still.It’s not easy.”“No,it isn’t.But the way I am,Idon’t have much choice.I don’t have the money to put him in there unless Isell the house.The house is what weown outright.Otherwise I don’t haveanything in the way ofresources.Nextyear I’ll have his pension and my pen-sion,but even so I couldn’t afford tokeep him there and hang on to thehouse.And it means a lot to me,my“It’s very nice,”said Grant.“Well,it’s all right.I put a lot into it.Fixing it up and keeping it up.I don’t“No.I see your point.”“The company left us high and dry,”she

14 said.“I don’t know all the ins andouts
said.“I don’t know all the ins andouts ofit but basically he got shovedout.It ended up with them saying heowed them money and when I tried to řnd out what was what he just wenton saying it’s none ofmy business.What I think is he did something prettystupid.But I’m not supposed to ask so I shut up.You’ve been married.You are married.You know how it is.And in the middle ofme řnding out aboutthis we’re supposed to go on this tripand can’t get out ofit.And on the triphe takes sick from this virus you neverheard ofand goes into a coma.So thatpretty well gets him offthe hook.”Grant said,“Bad luck.”“I don’t mean he got sick on purpose.It just happened.He’s not mad at meanymore and I’m not mad at him.It’sjust life.You can’t beat life.”She Ŗicked her tongue in a cat’sbusinesslike way across her top lip,get-ting the cookie crumbs.“I sound likeI’m quite the philosopher,don’t I? Theytold me out there you used to be a uni-versity professor.”“Quite a while ago,”Grant said.“I bet I know what you’re thinking,”she said.“You’re thinking there’s a mer-cenary type ofa person.”“I’m not making judgments ofthatsort.It’s your life.”“You bet it is.”He thought they should end on amore neutral note.So he asked her ifher husband had worked in a hardwarestore in the summers,when he wasgoing to school.“I never heard about it,”she said.“Iwasn’t raised here.”realized he’d failed with Aubrey’s wife.Marian.He hadthought that what he’d have to contendwith would be a woman’s natural sex-ual jealousy—or her resentment,thestubborn remains ofsexual jealousy.Hehad not had any idea ofthe way shemight be looking at things.And yet insome depressing way the conversationhad not been unfamiliar to him.Thatwas because it reminded him ofconver-sations he’d had with people in his own family.His relatives,probably even his mother,had thought the way Mar-          ian thought.Money řrst.They had be-lieved that when other people did notthink that way it was because they hadlost touch with reality.That was howMarian would see him,certainly.A sillyperson,full ofboring knowledge andprotected by some Ŗuke from the truthabout life.A person who didn’t have toworry about holding on to his houseand could go around dreaming up theřne generous schemes that he believedwould make another person happy.Whata jerk,she would be thinking now.Being up against a person like thatmade him feel hopeless,exasperated,ř-nally almost desolate.Why? Because hecouldn’t be sure ofholding on to himself,afraid that in the end they were right?Yet he might have married her.Or somegirl like that.Ifhe’d stayed back wherehe belonged.She’d have been appetizingenough.Probably a Ŗirt.The fussy wayshe had ofshifting her buttocks on thekitchen chair,her pursed mouth,aslightly contrived air ofmenace—thatwas what was left ofthe more or lessinnocent vulgarity ofa small-town Ŗirt.She must have had some hopes when she picked Aubrey.His goodlooks,his salesman’s job,his white-collarexpectations.She must have believedthat she would end up better offthanshe was now.And so it often happenedwith those practical people.In spite oftheir calculations,their survival in-stincts,they might not get as far as they had quite reasonably expected.Nodoubt it seemed unfair.the kitchen the řrst thing he saw wasthe light blinking on his answeringmachine.He thought the sameth

15 ing he always thought now.Fiona.He press
ing he always thought now.Fiona.He pressed the buttonbefore he took his coat off.“Hello,Grant.I hope Igot the right person.I justthought ofsomething.Thereis a dance here in town at theLegion supposed to be for singles onSaturday night and I am on the lunchcommittee,which means I can bring afree guest.So I wondered whether youwould happen to be interested in that?Call me back when you get a chance.”A woman’s voice gave a local num-ber.Then there was a beep and thesame voice started talking again.“I just realized I’d forgotten to saywho it was.Well,you probably recog-nized the voice.It’s Marian.I’m still not so used to these machines.And Iwanted to say I realize you’re not a sin-gle and I don’t mean it that way.I’m noteither,but it doesn’t hurt to get out oncein a while.Ifyou are interested you cancall me and ifyou are not you don’tneed to bother.I just thought you mightlike the chance to get out.It’s Marianspeaking.I guess I already said that.O.K.then.Goodbye.”Her voice on the machine was dif-ferent from the voice he’d heard a shorttime ago in her house.Just a little dif-ferent in the řrst message,more so inthe second.A tremor ofnerves there,an affected nonchalance,a hurry to getthrough and a reluctance to let go.Something had happened to her.Butwhen had it happened? Ifit had beenimmediate,she had concealed it verysuccessfully all the time he was with her.More likely it came on her gradually,maybe after he’d gone away.Not neces-sarily as a blow ofattraction.Just therealization that he was a possibility,aman on his own.More or less on hisown.A possibility that she might aswell try to follow up.But she’d had the jitters when shemade the řrst move.She had put her-selfat risk.How much ofherselfhecould not yet tell.Generally a woman’svulnerability increased as time went on,as things progressed.All you could tellat the start was that ifthere was an edgeofit then,there’d be more later.It gavehim a satisfaction—why deny it?—tohave brought that out in her.To haveroused something like a shimmer,ablurring,on the surface ofher personal-ity.To have heard in her testybroad vowels this faint plea.mushrooms to make himselfan omelette.Then he thoughthe might as well pour a drink.Anything was possible.Wasthat true—was anything pos-sible? For instance,ifhe wanted to,would he be able to break her down,gether to the point where she might listento him about taking Aubrey back toFiona? And not just for visits but forthe rest ofAubrey’s life.And whatwould become ofhim and Marian afterhe’d delivered Aubrey to Fiona? Marian would be sitting in her housenow,waiting for him to call.Or proba-    bly not sitting.Doing things to keepherselfbusy.She might have fed Au-brey while Grant was buying the mush-rooms and driving home.She mightnow be preparing him for bed.But all the time she would be conscious fthe phone,ofthe silence ofthe phone.Maybe she would have calcu-lated how long it would take Grant to drive home.His address in the phone book would have given her a rough idea ofwhere he lived.She would cal-culate how long,then add to that thetime it might take him to shop for sup-per (řguring that a man alone wouldshop every day).Then a certain amountoftime for him to get around to lis-tening to his messages.And as the silence persisted she’d think ofotherthings.Other errands he might havehad to do before he got home.Or per-h

16 aps a dinner out,a meeting that meanthe
aps a dinner out,a meeting that meanthe would not get home at suppertime What conceit on his part.She wasabove all things a sensible woman.Shewould go to bed at her regular timethinking that he didn’t look as ifhe’dbe a decent dancer anyway.Too stiff,tooprofessorial.He stayed near the phone,lookingat magazines,but he didn’t pick it up“Grant.This is Marian.I was downdryer and I heard the phone and when Igot upstairs whoever it was had hungup.So I just thought I ought to say Iwas here.Ifit was you and ifyou areeven home.Because I don’t have a ma-chine,obviously,so you couldn’t leave amessage.So I just wanted.To let youknow.”The time was now twenty-řveafter ten.“Bye.”He would say that he’d just gothome.There was no point in bringingto her mind the picture ofhis sittinghere weighing the pros and cons.Drapes.That would be her word forthe blue curtains—drapes.And whynot? He thought ofthe ginger cookiesso perfectly round that she had to an-nounce they were homemade,the ce-ramic coffee mugs on their ceramic tree,a plastic runner,he was sure,protect-ing the hall carpet.A high-gloss exact-ness and practicality that his motherhad never achieved but would have admired—was that why he could feelthis twinge ofbizarre and unreliable affection? Or was it because he’d hadtwo more drinks after the řrst?The walnut-stain tan—he believednow that it was a tan—ofher face andneck would most likely continue intoher cleavage,which would be deep,crźpey-skinned,odorous and hot.Hehad that to think ofas he dialled thenumber that he had already writtendown.That and the practical sensual-ity ofher cat’s tongue.Her gemstoneIONAwas in her room but not in bed.She was sitting by the openwindow,wearing a seasonable but oddlyshort and bright dress.Through thewindow came a heady warm blast oflilacs in bloom and the spring manurespread over the řelds.She had a book open in her lap.She said,“Look at this beautifulbook I found.It’s about Iceland.Youwouldn’t think they’d leave valuablebooks lying around in the rooms.But Ithink they’ve got the clothes mixedup—I never wear yellow.”“Fiona,”he said.“Are we all checked out now?”shesaid.He thought the brightness ofhervoice was wavering a little.“You’ve beengone a long time.”“Fiona,I’ve brought a surprise foryou.Do you remember Aubrey?”She stared at Grant for a moment,asifwaves ofwind had come beating intoher face.Into her face,into her head,pulling everything to rags.All rags andloose threads.“Names elude me,”she said harshly.Then the look passed away as she retrieved,with an effort,some banter-ing grace.She set the book down care-fully and stood up and lifted her arms to put them around him.Her skin orher breath gave offa faint new smell,asmell that seemed to Grant like greenstems in rank water.“I’m happy to see you,”she said,bothsweetly and formally.She pinched hisearlobes,hard.“You could have just driven away,”she said.“Just driven away without acare in the world and forsook me.For-sooken me.Forsaken.”hair,her pink scalp,her sweetly shapedHe said,“Not a chance.” IONAlived in her parents’house,in the town where she and Grantwent to university.It was a big,bay-windowed house that seemed toGrant both luxurious and disorderly,with rugs crooked on the Ŗoors and cup rings bitten into the table varnish.mother was Icelandic—a powerful woman with a froth ofwhite hair andindignant far-left politics.The fat