"Phyllis," she sternly announced. "Says she may not be able to monitor midterms on Thursday. Wonders if youll be back?" There was an edge of unsympathetic mimicry.
Michael made a face. "Phyllis," he said. "Phyllis, fair and useless." In fact, he felt sorry for the kid. She was engagingly shy and frightened of Kristin.
"I told her youd left," his wife told him. "Shell call back." The new and rigorously enforced regulations required chastity in student-faculty collaborations, but Kristin was not reassured. She imagined that her anxieties about Phyllis were a dark, close secret.
"Do I really have to come back for this?" Michael said as they went out to the car. "Ill call you from Ehrlichs tomorrow night after six."
They drove past dun farm fields, toward the huge wooded marshes that lined the Three Rivers where their narrow valleys conjoined. In about four and a half hours they passed Ehrlichs, a sprawling pseudo-Alpine bierstube and restaurant.
"I want to go on to the Hunters," Michael said.
"The foods not as good," Mahoney said mildly.
"True," said Michael. "But Hunters sells an Irish single malt called Willoughbys on their retail side. Only place they sell the stuff west of Minneapolis. And I want to buy a bottle for us to drink tonight."
"Ah," Mahoney said. "Sheer bliss."
On his tongue, the phrase could only be ironic, Michael thought. Bliss was unavailable to Mahoney. It was simply not there for him, though Michael was sure hed like the Willoughbys well enough. But for me, Michael thought, bliss is still a possibility. He imagined himself as still capable of experiencing it, a few measures, a few seconds at a time. No need of fancy whiskey, the real thing. He felt certain of it.
"Hows Kristin?" Norman asked Michael.
"How do you mean, Norm? You just talked to her."
"Has she seen Phyllis Strom this term?"
"Oh, come on," Michael said. "Think shes jealous of little Phyllis? Kris could swallow Phyllis Strom with a glass of water."
Norman laughed. "Let me level with you, buddy. Im scared to death of Kristin. Fire and ice, man."
Mind your business, he thought. Cevic had appointed himself sociologist to the north country. In fact, Michael thought, at home the ice might be almost imperceptibly thickening. Kristin had taken to rhapsodizing more and more about her father, upon whose forge her elegantly shaped, unbending angles had been hammered. The god in the iron mask, mediator of manhood and its measure. Still alive under the granite. A man might well dread his own shortcomings in that shadow.
"Smartest move I ever made," said Michael, "marrying that girl. Definitely sleep nights."
Perhaps, he thought, that had not been the best way to phrase it, for Cevic the curious and curiously minded.
The landscape grew more wooded as they approached Mahoneys cabin, where they planned to spend the night. Farm fields gave way to sunken meadows lined with bare oak and pine forest. Thirty miles along they came to the Hunters Supper Club, a diner in blue aluminum and silver chrome. Incongruously attached to the diner, extending from it, was a building of treated pine logs with a varnished door of its own. At eye level on the door was the buildings single window, a diamond-shaped spy hole, double-glazed and tinted green. A hand-painted sign the length of the roof read "Souvenirs Tagging Station."
They parked beside the half-dozen battered cars in the lot and walked across the sandy, resin-scalded ground and into the metal diner. There were banquettes and a counter and a heavy young waitress in a checkered dress and blue apron. The restaurant itself was empty except for two old farmers at the counter who shifted themselves arthritically to see who had come in. From the bar, which sounded more crowded, came jukebox music. Waylon Jenningss "Lowdown Freedom."
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Stone. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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