"Completely different in every respect. You can barely get a word out of him. Gianni, as you see, is an artist." Giancarlo was carving a delicate arch in a thin curtain of sand.
"I don't see how he gets it to stick together," said Rose. "It's marvelous."
"Oh, yes. Sometimes a little too marvelous for daily use. Zak never picks up a crayon. His thing is war, guns, blowing things up, taking things apart, heavy machinery. That's why he skipped the beach today. We're having a backhoe in to rip out and replace a water pipe to the kennels. Watching a backhoe is his idea of paradise."
"He should meet my husband. They'd have a lot to talk about."
"Your husband runs a backhoe?"
"A dragline. Or did. He's with the union now."
"Really? I'm not sure I know what a dragline is."
"It's an excavation machine. The bucket can take a hundred and fifty yards at a bite, three hundred tons or so. The powerhouse is the size of a small office building. They use them in open-pit mining."
"Presumably not on Long Island, though."
Rose laughed. "Oh, no. Robbens County, West Virginia. That's where we're from. Or that's where Ralph is from. I'm from next door. The big white house."
"There's a story there."
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes, indeed."
"I want to hear it. Let me get the beer."
So Marlene dragged her cooler over and they sat under the umbrella and slowly drank and rubbed the icy bottles against neck and forehead, watching the slow, remarkable extension of Giancarlo's sand palace, and talking. Rose talked, rather, and Marlene listened. She seemed good at it, professional even, and Rose was not surprised to learn that she had been a prosecuting attorney in New York and later a private detective.
Marlene, for her part, after offering the minimum personal data, was content to let the other woman ramble on. Rose Heeney was the sort of woman she had never been much interested in, a type she privately called the Cheerleader. She had been exposed to a number at Smith. They had golden hair and blue eyes and were fair and round of limb. They wore kilts and circle pins and had bright, straight teeth. They strolled in laughing gaggles, dated fraternity boys, and married early -- she read their names (invariably triple-barreled) in the alumnae news. And Rose Wickham Heeney was what they became, it seemed. Or not quite. Heeney had not been in the master plan of the Wickhams. They had not envisioned an Irish roughneck dragline operator for their golden girl.
They focused, naturally enough, on the kids. Besides Lizzie, there were two sons, Emmett, twenty, and Daniel, eighteen. The former had gone to Wheeling for a couple of years, then dropped out to work in the pit. Dan was at MIT. Marlene detected regret in her tone, and a pride in the younger that could never be fully expressed lest it hurt the older boy.
"Do you really have a daughter," Rose asked, "or did he make that up, too?"
"No, Lucy's real enough. She's in Boston, too, as a matter of fact, at BC, a freshman."
"Oh, good," Rose said, smiling. "And I assume she doesn't speak forty-eight languages and can put her shoes on right."
"I don't know about the shoes, but she does speak something like that many."
"You're kidding me!"
"No, actually not. She's some kind of language prodigy. Scientists come in from all over the world to study her, and good luck to them. I have not been blessed with normal children. Although, Zak seems normal enough, except for being Gianni's twin. I think he makes a practice of it. So how did you and...?"
"Ralph, but everyone calls him Red."
Marlene glanced at the blaze of copper on Lizzie's head. "I should have guessed. How did you and Red hook up?"
Copyright © 2002 by Robert K. Tanenbaum.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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