And there were always good-looking women. Wherever you went. Even in the Hy-Vee. Amazing. So much beauty. Though not like Paris, where the women dressed up even to go to the butcher. His mother had dressed up. His father too. And Suzanne, the woman he'd lived with for almost a year, had dressed up just to look out the window, though she didn't always bother to put on a skirt or pants. She was married now and lived in a big apartment in the ninth arrondissement, across the street from the house where Chopin lived during his love aff air with Georges Sand, who had her own house on the same street. Every year Suzanne sent a Christmas letter inviting Jackson to spend the holidays with her and her family in their country place in the Dordogne. And Jackson sent her a Christmas letter inviting her and her family to spend the holidays with him in the woods.
He changed the menu when he saw fresh mussels at the fish counter at the back of the store. Remarkable changes had taken place at the supermarket in the last few years. You could be surprised by fresh mussels, or sea scallops, or wild shrimp, and sometimes even wild salmon. Hoisin sauce was on the shelves, along with Chinese soy sauce, next to the Kikkoman; balsamic vinegar; six or seven kinds of olive oil... You could count on radicchio and fennel and arugula in the produce section. He ate well.
He'd eaten well in the Ituri Forest too. His father had warned him that he'd never make it as an anthropologist - because he didn't like yams. And it was true, in a way. Oceania and large chunks of Asia and Africa would have been off-limits. Yams morning noon and night. He couldn't have faced it. The Mbuti ate yams, but theirs was not a yam culture. They lived on mushrooms and wild honey and plants that had no name in English, and roasted duiker, a kind of antelope, and vicious little mouse deer that lived on the river banks. And termites, and sometimes boiled monkey. Occasionally elephant.
When the guests arrived in Claire's new four-door BMW, the dog ran up the ramp to greet them. The house was halfway down a slope. The garage was at the top of the slope. At the bottom of the hill Johnson Creek separated the house from the woods beyond. The ramp was very romantic, but inconvenient. It would have been better to have built the drive right down to the front of the house. Jackson had nailed little pieces of wood on the ramp, which was treacherous when it was icy and you were carrying bottles of wine in paper sacks. The guests stepped on the little pieces of wood even though it wasn't icy.
People spoke of Claude's cabin, but it was really a house - very rustic, but very comfortable. There was a Lopi wood-burning stove in the large living room, which took up most of the first floor and was full of books, but there was a furnace too, and air-conditioning. Claire gave Jackson a couple of air kisses and introduced him to Pam. "You didn't call her, did you? I mean, just to hear the answering machine?"
"The cry of the loons," Jackson said.
"Why don't you call now?"
"Why would I call her now?" Jackson asked. "She's right here."
Claire invited Pam to admire the kitchen, which Claude had designed himself, turning it into a sort of French farm house kitchen, with a large Lacanche stove set back into the wall, old blue and white pottery on the shelves, and terracotta tiles on the floor. Copper pots hung from the ceiling, some with tin linings, which Jackson had retired, and some with stainless steel, which he used regularly and which needed polishing.
Pam was wearing a summer dress with a low scooped neckline. Claire was her usual classy self in a pastel sheath dress that would have been suitable for entertaining at the rectory, which she and her priest husband sometimes called the Vicarage - which was beautiful in its own way, with leaded windows on the first two floors and eyebrow windows in the attic. Father Ray, Claire's husband, was in dependently wealthy. So was Claire. At least her parents were.
Excerpted from Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga. Copyright © 2010 by Robert Hellenga. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. 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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