Behind the barn, she saw that the yellow backhoe was still there, although deserted, together with the flatbed truck it had come on. She inspected the trench that ran from the concrete pumphouse halfway to the barn and saw, with dismay, that the project had been stopped by an enormous boulder squatting in its depths like a petrified rhino. She shouted out for Zak and made a perfunctory check of the other buildings -- a long, swaybacked, decayed chicken coop and a dusty greenhouse -- and was not surprised to find them empty of all but the lower forms of life.
Back at the truck, she saw that Gog was on his hind legs at the passenger-side window, trying to get at Rose, who had rolled up the window; her face was nearly obscured by the dog slime on the glass. Marlene called him off and dropped the truck's tailgate. The dog leaped in, amid shrieks from Lizzie and giggles from the boy.
"That dog!" said Rose. She looked a little pale.
"He's perfectly harmless," said Marlene. "Mastiffs produce more saliva than any other living creature, and being naturally generous animals, they like to share it with us drool-deprived organisms."
Rose giggled. "You're something else. I swear, I feel like I've joined the circus today, our little lonely existence transformed. Where's your other boy, by the way?"
"I have no idea, but my guess would be alien abduction."
"You're not worried?"
"Oh, no. They almost always bring them back after they've implanted the spores."
"Seriously? He's undoubtedly with Billy Ireland, my trainer, probably at a hardware store looking at flanges or valves and having the time of his life."
Holden was little more than a half mile from the farm, a wide place on Second comprising a gas station, a grocery and general store, a miniature marina with a boat-livery/bait-'n'-tackle appendage, three motels, one with a coffee shop attached, four houses (summering as bed-and-breakfasts), and the Harbor Bar. Stuck on the narrowest point of the North Fork, Holden offered access to both the Sound and Southold Bay. It looked like old Long Island, the sort of tiny beach town that had long vanished on the South Shore or farther west; people in Holden still pronounced Montauk with the accent on the second syllable.
The Harbor Bar was a low, green-roofed white building with beer signs in the windows, backed right up to the water, with a weathered deck built out on pilings trimming it on one side and at the rear. White tin tables with beer-company umbrellas flying from them were set out on the latter, each accompanied by an odd assortment of chairs.
"'For men must work, and women must weep,'" Rose intoned as they followed the trotting children down the deck, "'and there's little to earn and many to keep, though the harbor bar be moaning.' My dad used to say that whenever we came here. He claimed it referred to the drunks at the bar. God! Maybe they're all still there, still moaning."
The children ran to a table and the women followed. The place was nearly full with an early-dinner crowd, mostly sun-reddened tourists on their way back from Shelter Island or Orient Point. One table, however (its top nearly covered with empty beer bottles), was filled with locals -- two dark, tanned thirtyish men, one burly and tattooed and balding, the other ponytailed, both in cutoff jeans, muddy work boots, and wife-beater shirts, plus an older man, slim, well-knit, blue-eyed, florid, with a fine dust of graying gold on his head, and next to him, a very dirty little boy with a white hard-hat flopping on his head. The blond man caught sight of their group and nodded, smiling, at Marlene, a deep nod, nearly a bow, but nothing mocking about it. The boy saw her, too, and Marlene was not surprised to see appear on his face an expression far from that which ought to blossom on the face of a lad observing his beloved mom, but something much more like dismay. Marlene ignored him and sat down. The children did the same, immediately grabbing the crayons and starting the paper games thoughtfully provided on the place mats.
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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