The deed to the island thrilled the boys to awe as Victor described the island's rocky ledges, the copses of aspen, the mysterious peat bog that could suck your foot under if you were careless, the precipices of granite, a small beach where every stone was the perfect skipping stone broken from the slope of shale that stood like a giant's foot in the shallows of the north end. The palisade log cottage needed just a bit of fixing. He explained how they would have their own permanent camp, accessible only by boat and complete with tents and bonfires. A paradise. They would be like the Rough Riders out on expedition.
Louisa remained curled around a cushion near Isobel's feet while the boys fought for space on their father's knee, grabbing at the photograph of the island until it was bent and smudged.
"Are there owls?"
"Are there badgers?"
"Daddy, are there bats?"
And in unison. "Are there bears?"
Victor shook his head. "No badgers. No bears, but we'll have teddy bear picnics, just like Roosevelt's children."
Isobel looked up, puzzled. "Teddy's or FDR's?"
Victor ignored her. "We will be Lewis and Clark" he winked "paddling the wild, charting our own wilderness." The boys threw their arms around their father's neck and shoulders. Through a tangle of limbs Victor gave Isobel a sidelong look of triumph. Payback for the slap. Isobel slumped, glaring at the tree.
She managed to put the island out of her mind until after the ice melted from the big bay in spring. Victor packed her into the car one April evening and drove her to the boat landing at Chalmer's Point.
"I just know you'll feel differently after you've seen it, Izzy. It's a marvelous place."
While Victor fiddled with an anchor and readied the boat for launch, Isobel kicked off her shoes, pulled a pair of borrowed opera glasses from her handbag, and climbed carefully onto the hood of the Ford. Satisfied her weight wouldn't dent the metal, she clambered higher to stand on the slope of the black roof.
When Victor looked up from his task, he was astonished to see his wife balanced like a bowsprit atop the car, searching the horizon. Loose tendrils of blond hair skipped across her cheekbone, and her skirt billowed around her calves. Oblivious in her perch, Isobel held the glasses to her eyes, scanning the lake and focusing the tiny binoculars. She slowly swept her gaze level with the far shore, her motions concentrated and minute. Suddenly she went very still.
Isobel stood, a slender woman with clear skin and the sculpted features of her European ancestors. Her light hair was cast gold with the same bright evening light that made her squint and washed her skin the colour of a tea rose. Breeze moving off the lake carried ribbons of chill that pressed her blouse to outline her small breasts and angular shoulders. Victor walked slowly to the car, stepped onto the running board, and reached out to hold one of her ankles.
To steady her?
His hand wrapped easily around. Pressing his thumb lightly into flesh and sinew, he felt a twinge at the fragility of his wife's bones. Clouds reflected in the enamel of the Ford and shifted with the fast-changing black pool, her skirt casting its movements.
Victor wondered, had he never held her ankle? If he had, he'd not taken any real notice. He had lived with Isobel for sixteen years. Could it be he'd never touched this fine place? Her feet were small and narrow, so highly arched that he could slip a leaf underneath and pull it out the other side without her knowing. The warmth of her under his hand brought a sudden sharp desire to him.
They hadn't made love since before Christmas.
She hadn't openly rebuffed him, but had simply managed to be asleep each time he got into their bed. In the mornings she was up and dressed before he woke.
From These Granite Islands by Sarah Stonich. © March 2001, Little, Brown & Co, used by permission.
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