As Margaret had feared would be the case, MacIver did not do well after she had gone. He let himself go, and he let the house go. He knew it was happening and he felt bad about it as far as the house was concerned, but he didn't seem able to do much about it, except fitfully. His concentration was gone, along with the object of his attention. There was a backlog of work due on the house; they had loved it and cared for it year after year, as it needed and deserved, but in the fall MacIver had persuaded Margaret against all previous habits to delay some of the chores to the spring; they should hunker down and enjoy each other quietly, without ladders looming and workers banging. She had been sick enough to agree, but the house was showing its frailty now quite markedly; it was no longer a matter of cleaning gutters, checking storm windows, and calling the exterminator to keep the termites at bay. The fabric of the house was sagging visibly on the eastern side, and he was sure it needed a new roof. And what else? He mentally checked off the items he knew aboutsiding on the windward face of the house, boiler, always feeble, cheating him of more and more degrees against the thermostat (unless it was the cold, or the windows?), two sagging, buckled gutters. In the end, he did not call the contractors, because he did not want them to open up the house and tell him how bad it was. And he did not call them because he still did not want their banging, their company, or even their secret sympathy. Bereavement seemed to work on him as a kind of blanket allergy, making him edgy and irritable to all the outside world.
And of course it was reciprocal: the world receded on him. Even his own Blind Pool seemed to shun him as an interloper. The lens of the water, which had taken in a full orbit of creatures and their activities, their presence and their shadows, and held them for key moments for the two of them to share and admire, now stared blankly upwards, blind indeed. He could tell that his ability to focus, to fix on a detail and hold it, had deserted him, and the loss of it had weakened his grasp on the place. He did not really seem able to see what was happening anymore.
Excerpted from Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey (pages 3-9 of the hardcover edition). Copyright © 2005 by Peter Pouncey. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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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