"Grandpa?" Natalie said. She had opened his door and was hovering over him, a note of panic in her voice. "Are you okay?"
"Just tired," he said.
He could feel sweat pouring down his forehead, pooling in his armpits and between his legs.
"I could use a nap," he said.
He allowed her to hoist him out of the car and help him into the house, but when she tried to follow him into his bedroom, he drew the line. He closed the door and, after a feeble attempt at the buttons of his shirt, crawled under the comforter and let the fever overtake him. He slept for twelve hours and woke at six feeling better than he had in weeks, well enough even to load and light the woodstove. Well enough to put a pot of coffee on, if not to drink it.
Natalie came down soon after. In her flannel nightshirt, with her hair tousled, her eyes puffy with sleep, she was again the little girl with whom he had passed so many early mornings, telling stories of the sack of Troy, the Peloponnesian War, Antigone and Polynices, Odysseus and Penelope. Wildly inappropriate tales, some of them, for a small child, stories of slaughter and mayhem and betrayal. She had adored them.
"You hungry? Want me to make you a pancake in the shape of an N?" He meant it as a joke, but the offer came out sounding unexpectedly sincere.
She smiled. "It 's been a long time since I had one of those."
"Oh!" he said, mildly panicked now that she seemed to be taking him up on his foolish offer, wondering if he had the wherewithal, either in his pantry or in his constitution. "II'm sure I could"
"I'm not hungry," she said.
"Ah," he said, absurdly disappointed.
"How are you feeling, Grandpa?"
"I'm feeling much better." He looked at her. "Did you sleep well?"
"Was the bed"
"The bed 's fine. I don't sleep well in New York, either." She went to the counter, poured herself a cup of coffee, splashed in a little milk from the refrigerator. When she turned back to him she was holding a slip of paper.
"This is for you," she said. She handed him a check, folded in two. When he opened it, he saw that she had made it out to him in the amount of five hundred dollars.
"It 's what you gave me and Daniel. For our wedding. I'm returning it."
"Honey, that 's crazy. This is just five hundred bucks more you'll have to pay inheritance tax on." He crossed to the woodstove, opened the door, and tossed the check into the blaze.
"So much for that part of my plan," she said, sounding so lost that he almost regretted his action.
"What plan is that?" he said. "Returning your gifts?"
"Don't you think I should? Since the marriage lasted only three months?"
"You want to know what I think? I think that if your little shit of a husband leaves you for some dolly after you gave him twelve years of your life, you are entitled to enjoy the modest consolation of an automatic bread maker. Or a five-hundred-dollar check from your grandfather."
She nodded, a small, childlike nod of submission that made his heart ache.
"I guess I need a new plan," she said.
That was when she started to cry. Softly, for a long time, saying nothing about the grandfather she would soon be losing or the husband she had already lost. He patted her on the back and then, when she showed no sign of stopping, went to try to find her a box of Kleenex. He had forgotten to restock. He considered bringing her a roll of toilet paper, then remembered that in his bedroom he had a drawer full of old linen handkerchiefs, ironed flat. As he peeled one off the stack, he saw in the drawer a little pouch of worn black velvet. He hefted it, remembering with a faint pang the weight of it against his palm. At one time the contents of the pouch had been a kind of obsession. Now the velvet pouch was just one of the things stuffed into his dresser drawers. He wished there was a way to help Natalie understand the flimsiness, the feebleness, of objects, of memory, even of emotions, in the face of time with its annihilating power, greater than that of Darius of Persia or Hitler of Germany. But she would just have to live long and lose enough to find out for herself.
Excerpted from Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman. Copyright © 2014 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. 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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