But at that moment, the kids came running up with demands to be fed, and consulting Marlene's watch, the women realized what irresponsible sluts they had been, for it was past six, and Lizzie, although slathered with enough sunscreen to render harmless a smallish nuclear device, had developed a burn around the edges of her suit. So they packed up, pulled on shorts and tops, and walked through the dunes to the sandy blacktop road. A red, late-model Dodge pickup was parked on the shoulder.
"We walk from here. We're just down the road," Rose said, pointing.
"Get in," said Marlene. "We'll drop you off."
Rose objected that it wasn't necessary, but Giancarlo had already let the tailgate fall and was helping Lizzie up into the truck bed.
"Let's go for pizza, Mom," he said.
"Another time," said Marlene.
"That means yes," he said to Lizzie, and started to chant, "Pizza pizza pizza," jumping up and down and making the truck rock on its springs.
"I can't imagine what's got into him," said Marlene to Rose with feigned innocence. "He's usually so well-behaved." To her son she said, "What about Zak? He's probably starving, too. And we're all too covered in sand to sit in a restaurant. I want to take a shower and I'm sure Mrs. Heeney does, too." Marlene was demonstrating motherly reasonableness to the civilized Rose Heeney. Had she been alone and had Giancarlo pulled a stunt like this, she would have leaped into the truck bed and tossed him out on his butt, which Giancarlo, being his mother's son, knew very well, and which was the reason he felt free to be as brazen as a pot now.
"We can pick him up," the boy protested. "And we can go to the Harbor Bar and sit at the outside tables. Puleeeze, Mom?"
"Oh, the dear old Harbor Bar!" said Rose. "Oh, let's! As long as you promise to pour me home and not get dangerous drunk yourself and protect my daughter's virtue and mine and leave 15 percent and floss after meals. Puleeeze?"
So they got into the truck and Marlene drove down the peculiarly named Second Avenue, which is what the beach road is called in that part of the North Fork, and turned at the sign that read Wingfield Farm in incised letters touched with flaking gold. It was the same sign Rose recalled, except the picture of the Holstein had been replaced by a laminated photo of a black mastiff, and where it had said Registered Holsteins, it now said:
AKC Registered Neapolitan Mastiffs
Guard Dogs Trained in the Kohler Method
They drove past it down a rutted, grass-grown path, through a thick stand of low pines, and into a large yard, shaded by a huge, dark persimmon tree and a row of ragged lilacs. At the head of the yard was a large clapboard house with a brick-colored tin roof and a screened porch. Its white paint was peeling and gray with age. A rambling rose with new flowers grew untidily up one side of the house and onto the roof. Just visible behind the house was the top of a barn, from which came the sound of mad barking. Rose cried, "Oh, it looks just the same! We used to come here for fresh butter and eggs. I haven't been here in years."
Marlene got out and went to the front door. The mastiff Gog was there; he whined and greeted her in the manner of his kind by shoving his wet nose into her crotch and drooling on her foot. She let him slip by her and shouted into the house for her son. Silence. She went through the house into the kitchen, once again reminding herself that she absolutely had to get rid of that flowered linoleum and the pink paint job, and went out the back to the barn. The dogs in their kennels set up a racket, and she calmed them and greeted them by name -- Malo, Jeb, Gringo, all young dogs in training, and Magog, the brood bitch. Magog was lying on her side, looking dazed as five newborns tugged at her teats. "How are you baby?" Marlene asked tenderly, and allowed the animal to lick her hand. "I know just how you feel."
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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