For someone born and bred right
here in the rainwater basin of the central great plains, Llewellyn Jones
the mayor and presumptive leader of Emlyn Springs, Nebraskais
showing a sad lack of common sense. His ladyfriend and bedfellow for
the past twenty-five years, Alvina Closs, is flummoxed.
Cant you wait an hour? she is saying. You can still get in nine
holesmaybe even eighteenafter it blows over.
Ive got a tee time reserved, he answers. Im expected.
We dont live in Miami! Alvina counters, shrilly. Its not as if
theres a crowd of people waiting to play. Why cant you wait?
Im going now, Viney, he says. Just like that. No explanation. No
You and your goddamned golf.
He gives her a level, noncommittal look. Ill be home by happy hour,
he says. Then he turns around and walks up the stairs and toward the
bedroom, his posture erect, his gait processional. If he thinks Im going
to follow him up there, Viney says to herself, molars clenched, hes got
another thing coming.
Plenty of others share Vineys agitation. The smallest and least civilized
townsfolk are the most distraught: the babies, all of them, even
the easy ones, are confounding their mothers with uncharacteristic,
colicky behavior. The babies have been fed and changed and burped
and read to and sung to and walked and held but still they are out of
sorts. They are determined to cry, naptime be damned. There are
grumpy toddlers, too, throwing tantrums, caterwauling in unison. Family
pets all over town are nervous and misbehavingfluttering, howling,
hissing, gnawing, mauling lace curtains, and mangling good leather
shoes even though they know better. Premenstrual girls are arguing with
their mothers, moping in front of the television, or daydreaming on
polyester bedspreads behind violently slammed doors. Teenage boys
contemplate their troubled complexions with dismay. Afternoon trysts
are not going well. Noses tickle without relief. The carpenters in town
curse and measure again, cut again, curse again, measure again. At
the Williamses mansion, Miss Hazels most promising student strikes
a C-sharp. Hazel cringes in the parlor; in the kitchen, her younger
sister, Wauneeta, cringes, too. Downtown at the piano hospital, Blind
Tom experiences a sudden unaccounted-for burst of tinnitus as he
applies a cotton swab saturated with milk to a stained bit of ivory he
found last week by the side of the road near Hallam. Next to the old
train depot, the aged citizens encamped at the St. Davids Home for the
Elderly are experiencing intestinal problems; not a one of them, not even
Mr. Eustace Craven, whose bowels have emptied like clockwork for
every one of his ninety-eight years, has had a decent BM all day.
And in the living room of the house that has been Llewellyn Joness
primary place of residence for a quarter of a century, Viney turns her
back on the mayor and plants herself at the picture windowarms
folded, mouth adamantly stitched shut, brows lowering, wearing an
expression that no one but her dearest friend has ever seen.
Viney rarely frowns. She does five minutes of facial exercises and
acupressure every morning and makes an effort to keep her countenance
(a word she routinely mispronounces as continence) relaxed and neutral.
Time neednt be the enemy. A person doesnt have to spend a fortune
on face-lifts and creams. Alvina Closs is seventy-four years old, almost
seventy-five, but she looks at least ten years younger. Maybe even fifteen.
She scrutinizes the ballooning clouds advancing from the south. The
baby-blanket blue of the sky is darkening, graying. She can hear
Llewellyn banging around in the bedroom, opening and closing bureau
drawers. He must be changing into his shorts.
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