"Yes?" she replied, about-facing in the corridor and coming back with haste. "What is it?"
"Where is Roger?" he asked, returning the vial to his pocket.
She entered the library, covering the seven steps that had marked her departure. "Beg your pardon?"
"Your boyRogerwhere is he? I haven't seen him about yet."
"But, sir, he carried your bags inside for you, don't you remember? Then you told him to go wait for you at them hives. You said you wanted him there for an inspection."
A confused look spread across his pale, bearded face, and that puzzlement that occupied the moments when he sensed the failing of his own memory also threw its shadow over him (what else was forgotten, what else filtered away like sand seeping between clenched fists, and what exactly was known for sure anymore?), yet he attempted to push his worries aside by inducing a reasonable explanation for what confounded him from time to time.
"Of course, that is right. It was a tiring trip, you see. I haven't slept much. Has he waited long?"
"A good whiledidn't take his teacan't imagine he minds a bit, though. Since you went, he's cared more for them bees than his own mother, I can tell you."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, sadly it is."
"Well, then," he said, situating the canes, "I suppose I won't keep the boy waiting any longer."
Easing from the armchair, the canes bringing him to his feet, he proceeded for the doorway, wordlessly counting each stepone, two, threewhile ignoring Mrs. Munro uttering behind him, "Want meat your side, sir? You got it all right, do you?" Four, five, six. He wouldn't conceive of her frowning as he trudged forward, or foresee her spotting his Jamaican seconds after he exited the room (her bending before the armchair, pinching the foul-smelling cigar from the seat cushion, and depositing it in the fireplace). Seven, eight, nine, teneleven steps brought him into the corridor: four steps more than it took Mrs. Munro, and two steps more than his average.
Naturally, he concluded when catching his breath at the front door, a degree of sluggishness on his part wasn't unexpected; he had ventured halfway around the world and back, forgoing his usual morning meal of royal jelly spread upon fried breadthe royal jelly, rich in vitamins of the B-complex and containing substantial amounts of sugars, proteins, and certain organic acids, was essential to maintaining his well-being and stamina; without its nourishment, he felt positive, his body had suffered somewhat, as had his retention.
But once outside, his mind was invigorated by the land awash in late-afternoon light. The flora posed no quandary, nor did the shadows hint at the voids where fragments of his memory should reside. Everything there was as it had been for decadesand so, too, was he: strolling effortlessly down the garden pathway, past the wild daffodils and the herb beds, past the deep purple buddleias and the giant thistles curling upward, inhaling all the while; a light breeze rustled the surrounding pines, and he savored the crunching sounds produced on the gravel from his shoes and canes. If he glanced back over his shoulder just now, he knew the farmhouse would be obscured behind four large pinesthe front doorway and casements bedecked with climbing roses, the molded hoods above the windows, the exposed brick mullions of the outer walls; most of it barely visible among that dense crisscrossing of branches and pine needles. Ahead, where the path ended, stretched an undivided pasture enriched with a profusion of azaleas, laurel, and rhododendrons, beyond which loomed a cluster of freestanding oaks. And beneath the oaksarranged on a straight-row plan, two hives to a groupexisted his apiary.
Excerpted from A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin Copyright © 2005 by Mitch Cullin. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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