BETH IS DRINKING GOOD WINE with her sister. They’re sitting on a granite outcropping, surrounded by the peaks of the White Mountains at twilight. The wine is in an aluminum cup, out of a mess kit, and her sister, Francy, stares at it doubtfully.
“You’ve spilled half of it.”
“Sorry. It probably gives you Alzheimer’s anyway, to drink out of aluminum.”
“Good point,” Francy sighs.
For the last half hour, as the sunlight has crept down the peaks, Beth and Francy have been badmouthing their mother’s boyfriends. Their mother, now a year cremated, has no ability to contradict them. Except in Beth’s mind, of course, where her mother’s “you’ll be sorry when I’m gone” echoes treacherously. It is difficult being the daughter of a very beautiful mother. Even a mother who drank frequently, with enthusiasm, and beginning at two in the afternoon on bad days. Who in her final years stashed wine bottles in her underwear drawer (such a cliché, Beth had thought, finding one when she was tidying up). But a mother who loved to tackle life head on (“Don’t let those bastards at your job shove you around”). Their beloved mother, who was frequently, in the words of her second husband, “pickled.” As in, “Can she call you back later, right now she’s pickled.”
“The boyfriends,” Francy reminds her. “Remember the guy with the Cadillac, who gave us the heart boxes with Valentine candy?”
“Good move on his part.”
“One night I came home from Girl Scouts and they were kissing in the hall.”
“You never told me.” Beth feels somewhat miffed and refills the cup from the chardonnay bottle, which her own son, age fourteen, has lugged up the mountain for them. “Was he embarrassed?”
“Everybody kissed her.” Francy says grimly. “Fact of life in that household.”
Beth hands the cup over to Francy. “Sometimes there was no room for us.”
“Remember that joke she told about the bird with the hole in her nest? Darling, I adore sex, but I simply can’t stand children?”
Francy wipes the edges of her mouth daintily with her flannel shirttail. Below them, at the pond at Mersey Peak, Beth can see her husband, Ralph, and their son, Chris, making a campfire next to the lean-to. Also Francy’s boyfriend and her daughter, Priscilla, fifteen years old, long, blond hair like a Rhinemaiden, who is sitting on a rock, probably trying to get cell-phone reception.
The boys are making supper, which is how Beth finds herself, bootless with Francy in their dusty socks, with a bottle of chardonnay, taking in the fine view of the mountains. Hills that fall away to forever, dwarfing the tiny figures of her beloved son and husband, whose voices occasionally pierce the deepening gloom. She wonders what they’re making for dinner.
“I’m not going down there,” she says, “until they finish cooking. We might as well polish off the whole bottle.”
“My feet are killing me,” Francy says.
Beth waves to Ralph, and he waves back, as if preternaturally attuned to her attention, even though he’s a quarter mile away, separated by fog and bad light. “You know what I wonder,” Francy says suddenly. “Do you think Dad was our real father?”
“He was yours,” Beth says quickly. “You have identical eyes.”
That blue, that China blue, crystalline blue. But now that Francy’s mentioned it, Beth is not so sure about herself. A possible mongrel, she says to her sister. Anything is possible. But the idea sits like a stone in her craw, and she reaches for the chardonnay, which Francy is cradling between her legs, as if the chardonnay will sort out the bad thought and make it go away. Surely there’s a statute of limitations on bad thoughts, especially when the principals are dead. Down below, Priscilla appears to be arguing with Francy’s boyfriend, Ed, judging by her waving arms and Ed’s overly patient demeanor. He’s got his hands out, explaining something. Francy says, “She’s at it again.”
“Hormones,” Beth says.
“You told her the cell phone wouldn’t work up here. She probably wants to call her boyfriend. Maybe she’s too old for the trip with us old people.”
“She’s angry at Ed.”
“Because she wants me all to herself, even though she doesn’t want me around.”
God, Beth thinks. Can anybody in the universe raise children correctly? She jams the unwilling cork back into the bottle. They won’t finish it all.
After dinner, made from what her son described as overpriced MREs, the group sits around the fire, which is set in a pit of stones to keep it from spreading. Flames dance on Ralph’s glasses and his long-legged form as he gets the blanket to keep Beth from shivering. Priscilla has stopped sulking about her cell phone, or whatever it was that was bugging her, and has retired with Chris to one side, near the pond. It’s entirely possible, Beth thinks, given the intensity of their conversation and the idiot grins they sport, that Priscilla has brought some dope and they’ve smoked it. Chris had sworn he wouldn’t bring anything. She’ll have to ask him about it later. Priscilla is endlessly twirling and touching her hair.
Cold dew has settled over Beth’s skin and sweater. Ed is playing a harmonica, which the wind of the impending night mutes. To Beth it seems as if they’re Natives before colonization, or cave people, except for the Bob Dylan imitation wafting from Ed. Finally, being a software engineer, Ed puts away the harmonica and does fifty push-ups in the well-trodden dust around the fire. He brushes his hands when he stands up. “Well,” he says, “time for bed.”
Beth had been resting her head on Ralph’s shoulder, thankful that he was so solid, and that he would never do push-ups. She does a quick inventory of Francy’s feet for blisters, where she sits on the ledge of the lean-to, feet white and pale and surprisingly vulnerable, while Beth applies two blobs of antibiotic and two Band-Aids. Chris complains that she’s nagging and his feet are fine, which she doubts. Priscilla has no blisters, only pink toenail polish. “You’re such a nurse,” she says to Beth. “Don’t you ever get sick of taking care of everybody?”
“Sure,” Beth says. Later Chris raises his arm from his sleeping bag and waves. “Goodnight, Mom. Goodnight, Dad.” There wasn’t any pot, she thinks. He’d never say that if he were feeling guilty. She lies in the shelter with its magnificently hard floor; the stars shine over the dead fire. Her sleeping bag bumps comfortably against Ralph’s. He is soon snoring. But she can’t sleep, even with the silence from the rest. The wind further up the slope makes her anxious. She keeps thinking about Francy and the question about her father. Who would that be, if not the one she knew? The blue-eyed man who’d left the family when she was four and Francy was eight? When she was four, he’d seemed exotic enough. He’d moved to Connecticut, sold insurance, and started a new family. He’d sent regular payments for their college funds, and child support. When either of the girls asked about him, their mother said, “He had better fish to fry.”
“But where is he?” Beth had persisted when she was in middle school, ready to take on the demons.
“Hartford. You want to go visit?”
And so it had been arranged, when she was eleven, the trip on the bus to Hartford and the visit with the man with blue eyes, who had two other daughters, ages five and one, like mirror images of herself and Francy, only younger. He’d lived in a solid suburban house with a new kitchen and a cookie jar shaped like a bear, which she recalled fondly even now, and which his wife, a blond woman named Judy, had kept stocked with pecan sandies, because Beth had let on they were her favorite.
There had been an organized outing to Mystic Seaport with the little girls, and another to a small-gauge railroad museum with a train that went through a field of swishing grass. And a day trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. At the end of the month, Beth, still feeling like a guest, had let him kiss her on the cheek and gotten back on the bus, and when her mother had asked did she want to go again, she’d said maybe, meaning no, and the idea had never been raised again.
What she couldn’t tell her mother was how much of a stranger she’d felt in the house, and how supernumerary. She’d told this to Francy, who had opted to go to camp instead, and Francy said, “See, I told you. He’s busy now.” And Beth had recalled the afternoons she’d spent watching TV with Judy, wondering what she was doing in that house at all.
In the middle of the night, on the mountain, she awakes with a start. A large animal, probably a raccoon, is swinging from the overhead beam across the front of the lean-to, trying to get food out of a backpack that’s hung there. She observes the shadowy animal, too tired to get up and shoo it away. Besides, the air is cold.
The next day they reach the top, have hot lunch at the observatory cafeteria, and then start off along the ridge. Boulders like giant cubes of sugar make the traverses difficult. The distances that had seemed so small from the observatory road turn out to be huge. The trail, with Chris in front of her, aluminum cup clinking against his pack, has reached a sameness of stumbling and endless plodding. Priscilla has a stuffed bear hanging from the back of her pack, which seems to Beth like four ounces of unnecessary weight. The bear is missing one eye. That night when they make camp, Francy and Beth break out the wine bottle while they’re cooking dinner and find that the raccoon has scratched away part of the label. “At least he didn’t get it open,” Beth says, dismissing a momentary suspicion of rabies. (Didn’t the virus need to be kept wet?)
The men drink two cans of beer they’d bought on top. The fire in front of the lean-to seems to produce light but almost no heat. The water takes forever to boil. Beth feels as if she is on an endless trek that will shear away her civilized self like something out of Heart of Darkness, and she’ll end up saying “the horror, the horror,” while being medevacked out at great cost with a broken ankle. Ralph’s consistent good cheer has become annoying. Ed has lost his harmonica, although she suspects that her sister has hidden it. Conversation around the campfire has become much less poetical. (“I can’t find the knife.” “These flashlight batteries are dead; do you have any?”) Gone are the long discussions about movies and which highway to Florida is best and how the Kancamagus has changed. Hard to believe that on an earlier night Francy had talked for a long time about perfume manufacturing in France. Now they sit together like hardened trappers, or like explorers who might at some point be forced to eat the dog.
Beth, huddled with her blanket, too tired to get up and go off into the dark to pee, notices the difference. Even without poetry, the hills are like human presences all around them. Ed does twenty push-ups and then says, “Screw it.” Priscilla, who had gotten intermittent cell-phone coverage when they were on top of the mountain, has called everyone she wanted to and left the last civilized bathroom in a good mood, apparently after a good conversation with her boyfriend. Now she’s like a stunned ghost, having forgotten to run her fingers through her hair, which is tied in a lopsided ponytail with a tie-wrap. I’m brain dead, Beth thinks. All I can think about is whether I can find the granola bars in my pack. What a breakthrough.
Later, she and Francy go off with Priscilla to find the girls’ room, a ditch down the slope in the wind-stunted bushes, as they are still far above the timberline. Another group had joined them a few minutes before, lost, on their way back down after a week. Exhausted climbers who, to Ed’s disgust, are carrying half-gallon cans of pineapple juice.
Walking down the slope with the flashlight, Francy takes Priscilla’s hand. “Are you doing okay?”
“I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”
Thank God I don’t have a daughter, Beth thinks. I wouldn’t know what to do. They have too many moving parts, compared to boys. And here she’d been not much younger than Priscilla when she’d gone to see her father. Who possibly wasn’t her father. Probably. And what had she looked like to her father, who possibly wasn’t her father? A reminder of his ex-wife’s extracurricular activities? The questions return like angry bees.
Priscilla squats behind the rock and says, “Keep guard, and don’t come over here.”
“Yes,” Francy says. The moon is coming up, and Priscilla has the flashlight, which has fallen over, so that the full moon shows up bright now that the mist is only below them. Surprising, Beth thinks, this rupture in the clouds. The mystery of the angry night. “I don’t think I should have said that to you,” Francy says quietly.
“About Dad not being your—you know.”
“It doesn’t make any difference.”
Francy scratches the edge of her foot with her other foot. “Maybe it does.”
“It stands to reason,” Beth says. “Given the lifestyle, et cetera.”
“I used to envy you,” Francy says. “When I thought about it.”
“What, a phantom father?”
Beth wonders if she has always known this, that the man in Hartford wasn’t a blood relation. That there was someone else out there who could claim her. Francy shivers and hugs herself. Maybe she’s a half sister, after all this.
“Mommy!” Priscilla screams, “I dropped the flashlight, and there’s something out here!”
“Stay calm,” Francy says, climbing over the rock.
“Don’t come here!” Priscilla screams. “I don’t have my pants up!”
Francy is waving a wad of toilet paper, whose stark whiteness is visible in the moonlight. “Here it is.” They confer in mumbles, crouched together, and the gratitude is clear in Priscilla’s voice.
Peace has been made. Somehow the flashlight has been recovered and shines its wavering beam on the rocks. Beth follows her sister and niece, who walk with arms around each other. She recalls her mother walking with her arm around her after she’d broken up with some terrible boyfriend in college. “You’re only beginning,” her mother had said. “This is the start of your life.”
The other, exhausted hikers have opted to keep going, Ralph says. But they’ve left their pineapple juice behind. This delights him. In the night she sleeps next to him, this Ralph, who is tired, kindhearted, and relatively normal. Her son, the offspring of legal matrimony, has insisted on sleeping outside the shelter, even though she has warned that raccoons are on the prowl. She again cannot sleep and takes down the pack with the rest of the wine in it, quietly, so as not to wake the others. She uncorks the wine and sits by the dead fire. Her husband’s final words before sleep, “good night, love,” carry in her ears. Outside the hut, her kid lies elongated on the other side of the fire. This is the offspring of my loins, she thinks. Pretty good work. The wine burns her throat, and she finishes it, tipping the bottle up to where it crosses the image of the transiting moon. Where is her real father? Her annoyance at her sister evaporates. He’s sailing away beneath the moon, she thinks. What difference does it make? Hard to be angry at Francy for telling the truth. I am an orphan.Out beneath the sky, in the damp, away from the friendly enclave of the hut and all we mean to each other. I choose not to let it marry me. The man in the moon, she thinks. What the hell.
In the morning she is overwhelmed by the beauty of the sun, which cuts through the gorge where they have slept. Night and day, she thinks, night and day, and day is safe for orphans when night is not. Her sleeping bag is drenched with dew, and Ralph is still snoring. Then he’s watching her shimmy out of her sleeping bag into the cold air with husbandly eyes, delighted at the sight of her neon-pink panties. It’s her turn, with Francy, to make breakfast, a problem, since the frying pan has something welded into it (spaghetti sauce? scrambled eggs from two days ago?), which puts strange black flakes into the reconstituted-egg omelet. At this altitude, Ralph reassures her, everything tastes good. Everyone eats well.
When they set off on the trail, which goes discouragingly uphill, she is filled with thoughts of her imaginary and mysterious father. Everyone is quiet, because they are tired, and she follows Chris, who surprisingly is not surging ahead. The cup clinks against the buckle on his pack. He carries the DNA of someone she doesn’t know. Her mother used to drink wine in jelly glasses that she refilled constantly. After her mother died, the first thing Beth did was give the jelly glasses to the cleaning lady. The jelly glass, instrument of dissolution. Her father. Who would he be, this mystery man? She could pick anyone, depending on her mood, and there would never be a way to know. A lawyer, a mailman. Did anyone ever ask about her? How soon after her own birth her blue-eyed father had left the family. He must have known. It was probably somebody’s husband. Did the box of Valentine candy, whose cardboard heart she had kept for insect specimens, signify anything? Please, she prays, don’t let it be the guy with the Cadillac.
When they stop for a break after the sun has climbed higher and burned off most of the fog, Beth sits beside Francy on a rock and asks if she has any idea. Francy finishes swilling out of the canteen. She shakes her head. “I had a couple of theories.” Francy smiles, wrinkling her eyes.
Beth is again impressed by her older sister’s ability to keep secrets. How many years has it been? Three decades? And she’s said nothing? Francy hands her the canteen. “You’ll need this,” she says.
“What about the theories?”
“I knew you’d react like this.”
React like this? Beth thinks. I’m cosmically disoriented is all. How come you didn’t tell me, bitch, until now? But she says, “I’m just curious is all.” She gives what she hopes is a disengaged sigh.
“Once Mom said something. She was going to her high-school reunion in New Jersey. And she stopped to visit an old friend on the way down, and they had a neighbor.”
“I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”
Beth, for some reason she doesn’t understand, bursts into tears. The landscape blurs into impressionism, and Ralph comes swiftly and hugs her, reassures her it’s the altitude, it’s making everyone antsy, and if she wants to give it up and go down before they finish the trail, he thinks they should. He’ll go down with her.
“No,” she says. “It’s okay. It’s just the exhaustion.” Besides, she thinks, Chris wants to keep going, and she doesn’t want to throw cold water on the party. The Donner expedition. “If you can do it,” Ralph says. “We’re not quite out of the woods.”
Ed has stretched out on a rock, his hat over his eyes, and is waiting for them to get going. He lies opulently. His belly is flat, his shirt tail is up, revealing the hair on his abdomen. His shoulders are wide (the push-ups), and for a moment Beth feels a wave of sexual attraction. Just a passing heat in the low part of her belly. As soon as she’s aware of it, she knows it reminds her of her mother. Francy has gone off after Ralph to check out the trail, and the kids went with her. The canteen hangs loose on Beth’s hip. If I were drunk, she thinks, and beautiful, which I am not, and desperately married to the wrong man, which I also am not, thank God, I might think about dragging Ed off into the bushes. Such a thing could happen, under the right circumstances. Given the booze, the moonlit night, the desperation on the home front, et cetera et cetera. Things could happen.
Beth stares down the canyon. Her mother’s recklessness appalls her. They are so far above the timberline that rock is all you can see. Somewhere down below is forest, and towns and roads and people living together having children normally. The rocks are so bald here, there is no place to hide. She wants to tell Ralph about the desolateness, but there are no words, and besides, he’s all the way down the trail. When the others return, they pull on their packs. Ralph sits on a boulder, this husband of fifteen years, and tightens the laces on his boots. “How are your feet?” he says.
Toward the end of the third day, in the afternoon, they are looping around the last peak before heading back. Any glorious thoughts Beth had of some kind of spiritual payback for her mountain quest are long dispelled by her aching feet, the raw spot on her shoulder where the pack’s strap digs, and the fog of fatigue through which she views the sullen beauty of the mountains. Chris has become irritable, which in him means a refusal to take out his earbuds. She can hear the music through the air and is sure he’s ruining his hearing. Priscilla has become silent, stumbling stubbornly along. She reminds Beth of a refugee from some terrible war. Ed has become strangely cheerful, pointing out cloud formations. (“It’s cumulus. See that, Francy? Cumulus.” And Francy grunts, “Mweh.”) Only Ralph has remained steady, his usual quiet self, plodding along after her; making sure, she suspects, that everyone is doing all right.
When she’d met Ralph, at a party in graduate school, he’d been so silent she’d thought there was something wrong with him. Eventually he warmed up and started talking: the parents in Wisconsin, the brothers and sisters, the small farm. He’d been one of those kids who came from an unintellectual background and, given a fine brain, had made the leap from the farm and family TV to grad school and a postdoc in chemistry. But he still wasn’t at ease with most people, and he relied on Beth to be the small-talker in most gatherings. He’d never offered an opinion about Ed, or Francy. And the thought of Francy again reminds Beth of her father, and her uncertainty that is by now an ache, difficult to separate from the general euphoria and bodily exhaustion, the climber’s high.
Suddenly her legs seem to turn to rubber, and she sits on a boulder by the side of the trail. The wind has come up, and the sky behind them, looming up over the peak, is getting dark. It must be about three in the afternoon. Ralph, realizing she’s stopped, stands beside her. She can hear his labored breathing. She’s too tired to look any higher than his knees. “Rest stop?” he asks.
“You think it’s going to rain?”
“Looks to me like a thunderstorm,” he says.
Oh, great, she moans, thinking that her poncho is buried in the bottom of his pack or hers, and that Chris will get drenched and they’ll be out in the middle of an exposed slope with no shelter. It really is like the moon here. Ralph calculates the time until the weather arrives. About half an hour. But maybe less. This mountain is famous for its treacherous storms, even in the summer.
“Hey, Ed!” Ralph whistles across the divide. The two adults turn; the kids are talking together, oblivious, further ahead. Beth feels a clutch in her heart, that something will happen to Chris and Priscilla if they get too far ahead.
“Chris!” she screams. “Wait!”
The men try to decide if it’s better to go back down the mountain, into the gorge they left about an hour before, or to risk going over the crest of the slope in front of them, hoping there will be some protection against lightning. The slopes around them offer nothing but raw boulders. We are, she realizes, completely exposed. The air has turned heavy with moisture and cold.
“Great,” Beth says to Francy. “‘Hikers washed down mountain by sudden storm.’”
“Don’t even joke,” Francy says. Priscilla’s hair has blown loose and whips around her head like pale yellow string. The storm is upon them. Ralph’s still consulting the map, which blows like a sail, even though he’s got his back to the wind. He directs them ahead, even though it’s higher, and rain has started to fall. “Double time,” Ralph tells them. “It’s too far back down the way we came.”
They trudge quickly up the slope in increasing rain, with Ralph in the lead. Beth prays there’s no lightning, but she knows that a storm is a storm. They all have lightning this high, even in July. On the crest ahead of them Ralph pauses, and for a moment she’s afraid, and then he’s waving them forward. By this time rain is running down Beth’s neck into the back of her shirt; her hiking pants cling to her legs, her shirt to her torso. Chris is still wearing his earbuds, which will probably electrocute him. Water drips from the end of Francy’s nose when she turns to call Priscilla after her. Ralph waves his arm and tells them to hurry.
He’s called it right; two hundred yards ahead is a trail marker and a rock cairn, and further beyond, barely visible in the distance, a three-sided shelter with part of a roof and rock walls. Lightning crackles overhead, and they run the rest of the way to the shelter, Beth worrying the whole time about the metal in their packs, the grommets, studs, barrettes, the cell phone Priscilla has in her pack, and especially Chris’s earbuds, which she pulls out of his ears as soon as they reach the shelter. They huddle inside and listen to the rain. The lightning rips the sky and crackles and explodes so near that Priscilla starts crying. Francy and Ed keep their arms around her.
Beth stares at her son, knowing they are safe, and at Ralph, who stays at the shelter’s opening, keeping his eyes on the valley. Her body has warmed her clothing even though it’s wet. The huddling creatures around her are safe, with their wet hair. Their wet faces.
After the storm passes, they change into dry clothing, though it’s mostly dirtier. Priscilla complains about her dirty socks and puts on her flip-flops.
“Did you see that?” Ed says. “It came without warning. Just right up out of the valley.”
“Cool,” Chris says. “It was the biggest storm I’ve ever seen.”
“Like huge,” Priscilla says agreeably. They seem cheerful about the experience.
Francy is wringing out Ed’s T-shirt, which has the logo of his software company on it. She hands it to him.
The air is cold and clear, as if the receding storm had made the air dirty and now it has been swept clean. The cloudy mass in the distance is gray and angry looking. Beth dwells on it, shivering, and goes about making hot water with the Primus stove, which Ralph says he’s glad they brought. The next lean-to is too far to reach tonight, he says. They’ll spend the night on the open slope. Four of them can fit in the shelter. The others can sleep on the ground. They draw straws, and Beth loses. Then Ralph laughs and says he’ll stay outside too.
After dinner, and the sunset, and the camp with no fire because there isn’t any wood, Beth is still trembling with cold, so Ralph zips their sleeping bags together. “You’ve got a chill,” he says. “You need to keep warm.”
They lie out under the bright stars, spooning, her face to the back of his neck. He’s right. He is warm, like a furnace, and she’s glad to accept heat from him. After a few minutes she can tell by his breathing that he’s wide awake. Then he says quietly, “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” she says.
“You seem a little down.”
“Fatigue,” she lies. “Sorry.” A few minutes pass. There is a definite lack of conversation in the shelter, and somebody is snoring, hopefully Ed; she wouldn’t want her sister to make that noise. She says, “Francy told me kind of a weird story.”
He waits for her to go on. She says, “She thinks that Dad, the one in Connecticut, isn’t my real father.”
He turns around, with a great readjustment of arms and legs, and hugs her. She finds that a few tears have wet her cheek, but she doesn’t feel sad. Possibly they are Ralph’s, she thinks suddenly. How strange. But then she feels herself sniffling and knows the tears belong to her. “No wonder I don’t feel normal,” she says.
“You’re perfectly normal.”
She shakes her head. He says, “Then if it’s not the guy in Connecticut, it’s who, your stepfather?”
“He was much later. I was four when she met him.”
“Oh,” he says. He knows her mother only from stories and photographs. From anecdotes like the one about her mother’s toast at Francy’s wedding banquet. Beth still recalls the raised champagne glass and the stunned silence that fell over the reception.
“Your mother was a piece of work,” Ralph says.
“The groom isn’t getting such a bad deal. Francy’s really not such a loser,” her mother had said.
“Alcohol,” Beth’s therapist had told her the next week, “can make a person’s character into Swiss cheese.” Beth thinks how she doesn’t want her life to be a long therapeutic transaction, and how she’s gone to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings while Francy has refused any kind of therapy, saying it makes it worse and preferring just to be angry. Beth wipes her nose on the sleeve of her high-tech long underwear, sad that the polyester isn’t very absorbent. Beth says to her husband, “Everyone does the best they can.”
He says, “You think so? Possibly.”
She tells him that she feels better now, having whined, as she calls it. Having wept. The sky is clear as crystal, and overhead the three-quarter moon is like an eyeball of the night. She sighs, and they settle into a comfortable position, legs over legs, that they’ve known, with each other, since they met. Comfortable, she reminds herself. She is thinking that Ralph has been like a father. The universe has sent her a good father in this good husband.
As she drifts in and out of sleep, she remembers the roar of the thunder and the ominous sky of the recent storm. Then she recalls a time when she was four or five, left alone at night, when she had wakened in her room in the middle of a thunderstorm and crept out of bed, in the darkest dark, amid the crashes that seemed to rock the house. She’d tiptoed up the stairs, shaking, afraid for each creak of the floorboards, run down the dark hall toward her mother’s room, and climbed up into the bed beside her. Her mother had a particular smell of hair and grown-up woman asleep. Beth had curled up beside her, and her mother’s hand had reached back and caught her around the waist and pulled her close. “I’m here,” she’d said. Wisdom in the darkness.
Margarite Landry’s short fiction has appeared in Baltimore Review, Tampa Review, Bellingham Review, and others. Recipient of a James Jones First Novel Fellowship, she has taught professional writing at Fitchburg State University and lives with her family in Massachusetts.