The church emptied quickly and she was left along with saints, shepherds and chrysanthemums. Even in a church peace came with solitude. Anna let her mind float with the dust motes on the dyed sunbeams. Minutes passed and Paul emerged from some inner sanctum to the left of the altar. As he walked, he rolled up the sleeves of a green woolen shirt, exposing his forearms. When Anna's sexual triggers were set, during those confusing years between birth and senior prom, along with strong hands, the smell of Scotch whiskey and sun-warmed cotton, rolled sleeves on brown arms had been factored in.
For a moment she stayed still in the shadows, merely enjoying the sensation of enjoying watching a man.
"That's a pretty dress, is it new?" Paul said as he walked down the side of the pews to where she waited, jewel tones from the stained glass washing across his face and hair.
The dress was pretty. And it was new. This wasn't the first compliment Anna had received from Paul Davidson. All the same she felt an upwelling of self-consciousness that only bald-faced truth could quell.
"Bought it new to impress you," she said, and he smiled in a slow southern way that reached deep into his eyes. "I can't make Lonnie's brunch," she said abruptly, not liking to feel in a church the sensations that smile engendered. "Duty calls." She showed him the beeper by way of explanation.
A shimmer ran through the denim blue of his eyes. The smile widened fractionally, then relaxed. The light was uncertain but Anna had seen relief enough times to know it. Intellectually, she couldn't blame him. There was a Mrs. Davidson who had crawled out of the woodwork. Paul and his wife had been separated for nearly four years: each with their own homes, jobs, finances, friends, and if you believed Paul and Anna did, no conjugal visits to talk over old times on either side of the sheets. But no divorce. Mrs. Davidson had not wanted one and Paul let it be. Till he'd met Anna and filed. Mrs. Davidson was contesting. Along with football and hunting, Mississippi still revered the institution of marriage and had hammered that reverence into law. There were three grounds for divorce in the state: commission of a felony, cruel and unusual treatment, and adultery. There had been adultery, but too damn little of it, as far as Anna was concerned. Sheriff Davidson had succumbed once or twice but in the end Father Davidson prevailed. A man who was true to his principles wasn't much comfort on hot summer nights.
Anna never pushed. She, too, had principles, though they hadn't been sanctioned by the bishop. She wouldn't be a part of Paul being defrocked for behavior unbecoming a representative of the church, and she wouldn't play a part in a scandal that would lose him his upcoming re-election for sheriff. Once she'd thought she'd never willingly form any part of a triangle, but it was too late for that. By keeping her clothes on and sleeping alone, she hoped to retain the dignity and self-respect they would both need if they were to be able to meet without shame after the divorce.
Though she was relieved they would not have to share a romantic social event while steadfastly being neither romantic nor social, Paul's obvious relief stung. Heart and ego are not big proponents of logic.
"Let me know what's happened." Paul touched her arm.
"Sure," Anna said, wondering if she would. She'd want to call--that was unfortunately a given--but she'd lost her taste for soap opera sneakings, however justified by the sneakers, somewhere between her sophomore and senior years at Mercy. Cloaking it in the trappings of job interaction didn't count for much in the world of karma.
"You can use the phone in the office," Paul said.
Anna made the necessary calls. John Brown Brown, the Natchez Trace Parkway's chief ranger, doomed to a life of redundancy because his mother's maiden name and her husband's surname were the same, would inform the superintendent, currently out of pocket at a regional meeting in Atlanta. Dispatch was given her ETA at Mt. Locust. The park aide who'd paged, a seasonal interpreter named Sherry or Shelly, was soothed, then instructed to stay away from the inn and keep visitors out. There was nothing more to be done till Anna was on scene.
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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