Excerpt of St Albans Fire by Archer Mayor
(Page 1 of 5)
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Bobby Cutts lay on his bed, watching the bedroom ceiling, its shadowy surface
painted by the downstairs porch light in a pattern he'd known forever. This
room and the barn across the road had always been his sanctuariesplaces of
private celebration during high times, as when Beverly Cable allowed him a kiss
in the eighth gradeand harbors to which he retired in pain, as now, when
Marianne had once again suggested that they should try seeing other people.
He hated that euphemism, knowing too well what it meant. Marianne and he had
been dating for a year, and it had happened twice already, counting this one. In
fact, he'd been the one being "seen" when they first met, as she was
dumping Barry Newhouse. He remembered the groping at the drive-in, the more
serious stuff on her uncle's office couch one afternoon, and finally those
hours in complete silence in her bedroom as her parents slept down the hall.
Recalling that nightthe smells of her, the taste of her kisses, her
willingness at last to let him remove all her clothesran at odds with his
frustration now, lust interfering with indignation.
He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, staring moodily out
the window, his anger back on track, ignoring the winter chill radiating off the
glass before him. He wondered who she was with right now, since sneaking boys
into her bedroom had become a moot point, she being eighteen and her parents no
longer caring. He ran a catalog of possibilities through his mindfrom high
school friends to some of the young men who worked on her father's farm. No
one fit. Everyone fit. His own mother had told him she'd seen Marianne kissing
a boy in the front seat of a car in the supermarket parking lot. In broad
daylight. He'd asked if his mom had recognized the guy. She claimed not to
have, but he had his doubts.
He got up abruptly and reached for his jeans, the room suddenly too tight to
breathe in. The barn beckoned to him with its panoply of distractions. He'd
been on this farm for all his seventeen years, making the barn as natural an
environment to him as a ship might be to a man raised at sea.
And right now he needed every distraction he could stand.
Bobby made his way along the short, dark hallway to the narrow stairs leading
down, the wall of framed photographs beside him a celebration of the lives
sleeping all aroundhis smiling parents, his sister, Linda, and her husband
and two children. Also, himself as a child, and later posing for the yearbook in
his football uniform, crouched down, knuckles on the turf, ball tightly tucked
into the curve of his other arm. A life of rural Vermont, spent on a dairy farm,
as snug as that ball in the crook of a culture dating back a hundred and fifty
years. Bobby Cutts, for all his present anxieties, had that if nothing else: He
was a young man as firmly ensconced in his society as farming was in the only
world he knew.
He paused in the kitchen to add a log to the wood stove, losing himself for a
moment in the red embers at the stove's heart, the eddies of hot air reaching
up for him as from the heart of a chunk of lava.
In the cluttered mudroom beyond, he removed his insulated coveralls from the
hook on the wall, paying no attention to their pungent odor, and stepped into
his equally soiled barn boots, all of which were banned from the rest of the
Encased in warm clothes, Bobby shoved the outer door open and stepped into
the freezing night air, the shock of the cold a comfort to a boy who welcomed
its biting familiarity.
By the porch light, he walked across the snowy yard, the soles of his boots
creaking as he went, enjoying how his breath formed a cloud around his head with
Despite his dark mood, he paused halfway between the house and the hulking
barn to take in his surroundings. His father had taught him this: Never just
walk from one place to another. Take notice of what's around you. The beauty
you find there is God's gift to the observant.
Copyright © 2005 by Archer Mayor