He watches her stand from the bed and step her long legs into her underpants, hook her bra at her waist, turn it, shrug into its cool lace, run her thumbs under its straps. She drops her dress over her head and pulls it away from her belly and hips, and it settles and hangs in the morning light. She takes up her canvas bookbag from the back of the chair and ducks through its single strap and adjusts the strap between her breasts.
He knows the bookbag holds field guides for flowers, birds, trees. At least one novel. No doubt two, perhaps three, books of poetry. And Milton. She doesn't go out of the house without Milton.
Woody yips and bounces on his front legs, and they look at him. He blocks the bedroom doorway and is anxious for his day's labor. His tongue lolls from his muzzle, his brindled body bleeding out of definition in the still-dark hallway.
Gretchen squats at the dog's head and rubs his shoulders, works the length of his ribs. His eyes go soft with pleasure. He forgets he is ugly and common and owned to work cows.
"I love you," she says. Her hands are deep in the dog's ruff, and she muscles him back and forth over his shoulders, and he mouths at her wrists.
"I love you more," McEban says. He has not stood from the edge of the bed.
She looks over her shoulder. "It's not a contest," she says.
"It feels like it is."
She stands away from the dog. She leans into the doorjamb. "You love me more than I love you, or more than Bennett loves me?"
"Both," he says. He knows he is capable of saying anything. He knows a prayer has been answered and a vacancy made in his desires. He has no control over what may be sucked into the void.
"You remember what it was like before?" he asks.
"The time before last night. When we were kids."
"That was a lifetime ago," she says.
"It doesn't seem that way to me."
She adjusts the bookbag against her hip.
"I remember the light," he says. He looks up at her.
She squares herself in the doorway. She doesn't look away. "I can't remember whether it was day or night. Not even the time of year." She still doesn't look away. She means to hold him there, in front of her, without the escape of memory.
He nods and looks down to where his hands cap his knees. "You want me to pick you up for the auction?" he asks.
"Yes, I do."
"I thought you might've changed your mind."
"How would Bennett get home?" she asks. "If I changed my mind?"
She turns away and he hears her in the shaded hallway and the dog's toenails on the floorboards at her heels. He hears the screendoor slam, and the dog barking once from the kitchen, and then again.
He walks to the window and squints into the glare. He watches her drive across the plank bridge, the boards thumping against their loose spikes. He watches her on the dirt section road, the rise of the red talc behind her. The wind has hushed, and the dust swells to the roadside and powders the borrow ditches rusty.
"It was the first of June," he says. "It was the very last part of the day."
He sat at the kitchen table with his mother and grandmother. His heels were hooked on the front rung of his chair, and his knees pressed against the underside of the table. He was eight. It was 1968. He does not remember that they spoke. There was the tinny clink of silverware. The burble of the electric coffeepot on the counter. He was waiting for the day to happen to him. He was working his way to the bottom of a bowl of creamed wheat.
He heard his father in the hallway and looked up from his breakfast and smiled at the man. His father was in a hurry. He didn't smile back. He moved to them, and passed without so much as a nod. He held a pistol at his side, low against his thigh. He kicked through the screendoor and marched to the center of the yard and stopped. He gripped the gun in both hands. He raised it slightly away from his waist and took a deep breath and emptied all six chambers into the ground between his feet. Boom, boom, boom. Boom, boom, boom. Just like that.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Spragg. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam.
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