The Hanged Man
It's the last Monday of the month, a brutally gorgeous morning brimming with blue air and the sweet scent of honeysuckle which grows wild in the woods beyond Front Street, when Ethan Ford fails to show up for work. On this glorious day, the brilliant sky is filled with banks of motionless white clouds, fleecy as sheep, but so obedient and lazy they haven't any need of a shepherd or a fence. June in New England is a peerless month, with long days of glittering sunlight and roses unfolding. This is the season when even the most foolish of men will stop to appreciate all that is set out before him: the creamy blossoms of hollyhocks and English daisies; the heavenly swarms of bees humming like angels in the hedges, hovering over green lawns trimmed so carefully it can seem as though the hand of all that's divine has leaned down to construct a perfect patchwork, green upon green, perfection upon perfection.
On any other day, Ethan Ford would have already been hard at work, for in the town of Monroe, Massachusetts there is not a more reliable man to be found. On the chain that he carries, he has the keys to many of the local houses, including the Howards' on Sherwood Street and the Starks' over on Evergreen. For the better part of a month, Ethan has been remodeling both homes, renovating a kitchen for the Howards, installing a second bathroom for the Starks, a family whose three daughters are known for their waist-length hair, which takes half an hour to shampoo, so that there is always a line in the hall as one or another of the Stark girls awaits her turn at the shower.
Everyone knows that if Ethan promises a job will be done on time, it will be, for he's a man of his word, as dependable as he is kind, the sort of individual who never disappears with the last ten percent of a project left undone, tiles left ungrouted, for instance, or closet doors unhung. He's an excellent carpenter, an excellent man all around; a valued member of the volunteer fire department well known for his fearlessness, a respected coach who offers more encouragement to some local children than their own parents do. Most folks who know him would not have thought any less of him had they been aware that on this day Ethan doesn't show up for work because he's in bed with his wife, whom he loves desperately, even after thirteen years of marriage, and whom he still considers to be the most beautiful woman in the Commonwealth.
Jorie had been standing at the sink, washing up the breakfast dishes and staring out the window with a dreamy expression, when Ethan came to get his keys. He took one look at her and decided not to leave, no matter what a mess his schedule might become and how late he'd have to work for the rest of the week. Even the most dependable of men will stumble every now and then, after all. He'll trip over his own shoes, waylaid by bumps in the road or circumstances he never expected; he'll throw off the bonds of both caution and common sense. Fortunately, Jorie and Ethan's son was on his way to school on this Monday of the last week of sixth grade, for there was nothing that could have kept Ethan away from Jorie on this day, not when he felt the way he did. He came up behind her at the sink, and as he'd circled his arms around her and whispered what he planned to do once he took her back to bed, Jorie laughed, the sort of sweet laughter that summoned the sparrows from the trees, so that one after another perched on the windowsill, just to listen, just to be near.
We shouldn't be doing this, Jorie told him. She began to list the reasons they had to abstain, the many responsibilities facing them on this busy weekday, but even as she spoke, her tone betrayed her. She was already being drawn into the bedroom, diverted by her own desire, and she smiled when her husband locked the door.
Reprinted from Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman by permission of G.P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Alice Hoffman. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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