That suited Len fine. He came looking for remote and he found
it, a sweet little forty-acre spread at the end of a dirt road the
county quit fixing after the first ranch and behind four gates he
had to get out and open, move the truck through, then climb back
out and shut to keep the cattle from wandering off their range. He
didnt keep cows, himself. Couldnt abide them. He had a hunting
rifle his father gave him when he left Tennessee twenty- odd years
before, and he rarely had to go farther than his own wood lot to
bring down a deer. One animal would keep them through the
winter, and one more let him trade with the fishermen up in Eureka. Every summer Meg kept a garden, and Len had his cordwood
business and the little lumber mill to bring in some cash. Of
course, that was when Meg had been well. Len felt the worry
squeeze the box of his ribs. This was the first time hed been out
past dark since her accident.
The third gate was Bow Farm, and Len eased down to push
the rickety thing aside. He peered down the rutted track that led
to the farm house. Thered been stories of trespassers chased off
the land by women bearing shotguns. In the stories they were
always big women. Big shotguns. Len had lived next door long
enough to have figured out that the girls werent all that big, or half
as threatening. They werent nuns, or Amish, or cult members, or
all sisters with widely ranging fathers, as the rumors had variously
claimed and since the tree hugger had joined them, one of them
was a man. Len had to hand it to them. Nobody thought theyd
stick, coming up here from the city, paying too much for that
run- down spread. It was too hard a life. Too wet in the winter
and hot in the summer, too many earthquakes and landslides and
wild animals who shrieked and snarled in the night. But they
were into their third wet season, Willow and the others, and they
had saved him, in a way. He didnt know if he could have borne
the heartbreak of Megs decline without their help.
The fourth gate, left open when he pulled out that morning,
was his own. A single light on in the house poured its yellow into
the yard. Len opened the truck door and smelled the wet dripping
off the trees. Everything was damped- down and quiet. The
road quit here in his driveway. Past that were dark trees and steep
hillsides and a five- mile hike to the sea.
Len hadnt told anyone quite where hed gone, or why. Hed
asked Willow to stay with Meg until he got back, and he could
see her sitting at the kitchen table, her back to the door. He glanced
sideways to make sure the kid was asleep but caught sight of the
boys round face, his open eyes. Len swore slightly under his breath.
He couldnt count on this one to stay put. He crossed around
the front of the truck to the passenger side, scooped the boy
against his chest, and carried him like a loose sack of grain into
Willow lifted her head to greet him. She cut an elegant figure,
with her honey hair swept up like a movie stars, her pearl earrings,
those flat shoes that made her feet look dainty not the clodhopper
boots Ruth and that Melody girl favored. She was the only one of
the bunch to put on lipstick, and anyone could tell she wore a bra.
Not that Len was looking. Not exactly. He met her gaze and
brushed past Willow to lay the sleeping boy onto the couch by the
wood stove. Then he crossed the floor, boards squeaking underfoot,
to find his wife asleep in the single bedroom.
Megs face in the muted light was peacefully asleep. Len felt a
wave of love and revulsion. It was easy to confuse Megs new blankness
with peace, but blank was blank. Blank was blank was blank.
If the old Meg was trapped in there, Len had no way to get her
out. The old Meg was peaceful. She had never talked much but
there had been a calm, an ease to her that Len felt comfortable to
be around. She was competent and even- tempered and had a way
of running a hand under his shirt and up his spine that tingled the
base of his brain and made him yearn, without reason, for the
chill and tart flavor of raspberry sherbet. She had always been a
modest woman, and now, quite simply, she was not. Len did his
best to satisfy her but for him the plea sure had gone out of that
part of his life. He felt for the wedding band on his left hand. Fifteen
years grown into the flesh of his finger, they would have to
cut his hand to get it off. Though why would they. There was no
need. Len and Meg. Meg and Len. Even their names were similar,
brief and to the point, the consonants crowding the short e.
Len. Bed. Meg. Fed. Pen. Leg. Red.
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