She lifts the cutting knife and begins to chop the second onion. She hears the back door whine open and waits to hear it close; it doesnt. Shut the door! she yells. Youre letting out the heat!
Wilson appears in the kitchen door with a bundle of firewood in his arms. What are you making? he asks.
Split pea. Could you please close the door behind you when you come inside?
My arms are full. And Im going right back out, he says, passing through the kitchen into the family room. Im going to bring another load in.
Yes, well, in the meantime I can already feel the draft.
Ruth sets her knife down and goes to shut the door herself. When she comes back into the kitchen, she sees Wilson crouched at the hearth, building a fire. Its fire season, Belle, hes saying. I thought you might like a fire. Doesnt that sound good?
Isabelle doesnt look up from her drawing. Ruth watches as Wilson balls up newspaper to set beneath the logs. Dont forget to open the flue, she says.
Wilson says nothing. When the wood catches flame and a steady fire is going, he stands up and takes a step backward.
Its nice to have a fire, Ruth says. Thank you.
Wilson brushes his hands off on his thighs. Im going to bring a few more loads in, he says.
Why dont you sit down? Ruth says. Why dont you relax, read the paper or something? Its the weekend. Its your birthday. We dont need more wood right now.
Might as well, while Im at it, Wilson says. And I need to get the logs I just cut under the tarp before it starts to rain. He looks out the window. It looks like it just might rain.
Maybe snow, Ruth says. Wouldnt that be exciting? Maybe if it snows you could even sled tomorrow, Isabelle.
Or we could build a snow fort. Remember that one last year? Wilson says, going over to stand by his daughters side. Isabelle slides her hand over the drawing. Wilsons face goes slack. Sorry, he says quickly. Im not looking. He ruffles his daughters hair and hurries through the kitchen for the door.
Wil, Ruth calls after him. He turns in the kitchen doorway, his face red, whether with cold from outside or heat from the fire or something else Ruth cant be sure. I made reservations at Luigis. For seven oclock.
Wilson nods and smiles stiffly. Great, he says. Sounds good.
If it does anything, it will snow. Even with the gloves he wears for handling firewood, Wilsons fingers have gone numb. He throws the last of the wood onto the rack and covers the pile with the tarp. He straightens up, pauses to catch his breath. Across the street and down aways, he can make out a moving truck beeping its way backward down the driveway toward Mr. Sullivans old house. He sniffs, takes the ax from where hes rested it against the side of the house, and brings it into the garage where it belongs.
The garage is a mess. There are boxes of who knows what stacked ceiling high and piles of other clutter: garden hose, sprinkler, paint cans, drop cloths, bicycles and tire pumps, croquet set, deflated basketball, old moldy hammock. There is no room for a car in here, though there could be room for two. He should make room. He should clean this garage out. If its going to be a bad winter, truly, his truck might appreciate the shelter of a garage. His truck would probably be in a lot better shape if it had wintered in garages all its life. This is something he should do, before the snow, before its too late, right now.
Excerpted from December by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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