I came out of the woods and hiked up the path alongside the meadow, which was studded with a grid of numbered birdhouses where swallows nested every year. The sun blazed behind the towering thunderheads and backlit their silhouettes. The sky above the clouds was a bright, whitish yellow.
The birdhouses and goldenrod and milkweed were suffused in granular, golden, pollinated light, and the swallows spiraled through it, catching insects on the wing. I reached the gravel parking lot and smiled at a woman urging her young son the last few yards to their car. He looked about three or four years old. He tottered and whimpered. The woman stopped pleading and picked him up and murmured something soothing to him and squeezed him to her and kissed his cheek and carried him. I walked across the lot to my station wagon and when I reached it I dug into my pockets for my keys. I saw my cell phone on the passenger seat.
Stupidlucky no one took it, I thought, but then laughed at the image of a mild, pale birdwatcher in a sun hat and khakis smashing out a window with his walking stick and making off with the phone.
Lightning forked into the meadow and thunder blasted over the field and parking lot. The little boy and his mother shrieked. Rain poured out of the sky as if from a toppled cistern.
I unlocked the door and ducked into the car. The rain sounded like buckets of nails being dropped onto the roof. The backs of my legs felt tight, as they always did after hiking. The screen on the cell phone showed there was a voice mail from Susan. I dialed for the message and wedged the phone between my ear and shoulder so I could unscrew the bottle of spring water I'd left in the car. The water had warmed in the heat so it tasted stale and slightly impure. The phone sounded the sequence of tones for the voice-mail number. I screwed the cap back on the water bottle and tossed it onto the passenger seat.
"Blech," I said, irritated, and took the phone in my hand. I put the car into reverse and twisted around to back out of the parking space. Susan's voice came over the phone. It was hard for me to hear what she was saying over the noise the rain made as it hit the car.
"Charlie, Kate was killed. She was on her bike, near the lake, and a car hit her and killed her, Charlie." Susan's voice broke. A car honked its horn behind me and a woman yelled. My car was moving backward. I stomped the brake. A woman out in the rain, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, still wearing sunglasses for some reason, pounded on my window.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Are you crazy?" she yelled at me. "You nearly ran that mother and her kid over!" Susan's voice started speaking again, telling me to get home, that she was there with two police officers. The woman in the rain looked ferocious, water soaking her hair and her clothes and her expensive training sneakers and streaming down her face. I felt as if I'd been struck on the head and could not shake my brain back into place. The woman pounded on the window again. I looked at her, and even as I understood what Susan's voice was telling me on the phone, even as I was already thinking, No, no, no, this can't be true, I thought, Aren't you determined to get your pound of flesh.
The woman stomped her foot in the muddy gravel, yanked her glasses off, pointed her finger at me, and yelled, "Roll down your goddamned window!" and spit away the rainwater running over her mouth. I cranked the window down and looked her in the eye. Rain poured through the window into the car, spattering the steering wheel and dashboard, drenching me. The woman must have seen something in my face, because she did not launch into the tirade she'd clearly intended. I held up the phone, allowing the rain to pelt it, as if it might be an adequate explanation.
"My daughter," I said. "Thisthat's my wife saying my daughter just died."
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. 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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