Rules to Stop the Rot
The house and the old man were well matched, both large framed and failing
fast. The house had a better excuse, MacIver thought; he was eighty, but the
house was older than the Republic, had been a century old when Thoreau walked
the Cape, though he couldn't have seen it tucked away in the nondescript maze of
scrub oak. It had been the willful seclusion of the place that had appealed to
them when they first saw itthat and the equally hidden pool, about two minutes
away through their woods, which must have decided the builder to choose the
site. The oaks grew more substantial as they approached the pond, but the casual
visitor would not have registered their rising height as the ground fell away
down to the water. But when the path did its last little jink through the
thicket of spare mossy trunks and last year's leaves, you stood on the edge of
something suddenly spacious. A stretch of almost two hundred yards of water,
more than fifty wide, a glade of water, fringed at both ends by sedge and reeds,
shaded along the sides by the larger oaks. Bird-loud by day, redwings and
warblers in and out of the reeds and busy water-traffic of ducks, and even, for
a few seasons, the stately progressions of a pair of swans; owls with their
fluttery hoots at night, and very often at the far end beyond a fallen log, the
hunched figure of a black-crowned night heron, the grim presiding judge
executing sentence on a surprising number of small fish and frogs.
Margaret and he had watched the pond over the years at every hour in every season. In summer, it was their swimming pool, where they swam naked at any time of day. Often on hot August nights, they would have a last dip before bed. They would take one towel between them, and no flashlight, because the night sky overhead was bright enough to light their way down the faint, twisting path. MacIver, an energetic but clumsy swimmer, would thrash the water into turbulence out into the deep and then make for shore, and try to use the towel as little as possible, to leave it dry for Margaret. She would go on a while longer, parting the water gently in her rhythmic breast-stroke, the moonlight playing on her wet hair with each forward surge, a sleek and quiet otter. He would lose her in the shadowed background at the far end, and peer with great concentration into the dark, to catch the first ripple of her return. When she finally waded towards the bank where he was standing, he would stay motionless trying to register the first moment when he could see into her silhouette, and detect the dark roundness of her nipples and the triangle of her pubic hair. Then she would let him dry her off, and they would go home to bed.
In other seasons, dressed for the weather, they would take their station under one of the oaks, his back to the trunk, with Margaret sitting between his legs, and simply let the life of the pool evolve around them. They had seen families of deer come down to drink, they had seen a raccoon balance on a log and try to fish with his paw, and one evening in the last of the light, they had seen a great horned owl sail out from the tree above them and swoop on a small rabbit on the other side of the pond. They had heard the short squeal, and seen the inert furry bundle dangling from the bird's talons as he passed over them on his return. Many foxes, and once he would have sworn a bobcat, though it can't have been, padding along the far bank and back into the trees. You never knew what you would see. MacIver named the pond the Blind Pool, from a favorite boyhood story, though it was called Frog Pond on his geodetic map, and Margaret had called the house Night Heron House in honor of the constant sentinel standing by his fallen branch; she did a fine woodcut of him, too, which still hung inside the front door.
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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