Now We Are Four

In the last year of his life, the boy tried again and again to put his parents back together again.  It became his imperative, circling his thoughts before bed like a carousel and dropping into his mind the moment he woke to turn and turn through the day.  Their separation was nothing new to him, but he worried that without him, his father would be lonely.

“We ought to all go back to the beach together,” he said to his father one day.  They were driving the river road to the grocery store in town.  The floor of the forest to the left was littered red and brown; on the right were openings in the thinning underbrush where the river shone, slipping along with a warm gold sparkle that belied her cold autumn underbelly.

“Wouldn’t that be fun?” he said.

“You’d get pretty tired,” his father answered. “But we’ll see what the doctors say.”

“We should do it soon, while I still can.”

His father kept his eyes on the road, but his adams apple dipped and rose again as he swallowed.  It took him a moment to say anything more.  “Well, we’ll see.”

“But it would have to be all of us.”

“Well, your mother and Johnny…”

“Oh, why him? Couldn’t it be just us?”

His father had to hit the brakes because a deer had stepped into the road.  She was a delicate thing and she looked up at them before she passed.  When they started forward, his father changed the subject to something else, asked the boy to help him remember what they needed at the store.

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Shortly after that, when the autumn days had further shortened and after they’d had one light sugary snow, he tried another way.  Late one night after his father had gone to sleep, he flipped open the laptop on the table in the kitchen, entered the password, and began to compose a letter.  It took him a while to get it right, but he was smiling as he did it, proud of his cunning.  When he was done, he sent it to the printer in the basement office.  He’d picked a font that looked like cursive handwriting because it was pretty and seemed like something his mother might like.

In the kitchen, he mixed a little mustard and water and dabbed it on the edge of the printed letter, but it wasn’t brown enough, so he added ground ginger from the spice rack.  Then he added some paprika and it seemed right.  With a basting brush, he yellowed the page, front and back, and then blotted it dry with a paper towel.  He practiced his mother’s signature several times on a piece of paper he pulled from the printer and, when it was just right, he signed the mustard stained letter.  He balled up the page and smoothed it again and then he folded it twice and tucked it in a book from the living room shelf.

He left the book on the kitchen counter and went to bed satisfied with his work.  The next morning, he felt heavy in his legs and arms. His mother would have reminded him that sleep was more important for him now than ever.

When it was obvious his father had not looked at the book left for his discovery, the boy brought it with him to the kitchen table and pretended to glance through it as he ate his cereal.  His father was returning emails on the laptop, lost in thought.

“Oh, what’s this?” the boy said, lifting the page out of the book and shaking it open.  It wanted to stick together.

His father glanced up for only a moment. “Whatever it is, it smells like food.”

“Why, it’s a letter from Mom.  To you. It’s dated a year ago, almost to the date.”

His father looked at him steadily.  “You always did talk funny, pumpkin.”

“But, Dad, you should read it.” He filled his mouth with cereal and put the letter down on the keyboard before his father.

Instead, his father studied him a while longer, his eyes slowly filling with tears.  The boy felt the food in his mouth turn to tasteless mush.  He frowned into the bowl in front of him.

“I read it already,” his father said. “You left it up on the computer.”

He wanted to protest and would happily have lied, but one outraged glance at his father told him he’d never win this one.  Instead, he went on the offensive, something he’d learned from both of his parents, in early days.

“You won’t even try to patch things up!” he yelled, getting up from his chair.  “It’s disgusting how lazy you both are about….”  He fumbled for the right word.  “Love!”

“We’re not lazy about….that.”

His father smiled at him, “Your mother would never use a phrase like ‘a deep well of misunderstanding’.  Nor would she have said she was sorry for meeting Johnny, because they love each other a lot.  She knows I wouldn’t want her to feel bad about that.  But I give you props for trying.”

All of his steam was spent and the boy stood looking at the ground for only a moment more before he folded himself back in front of his cereal.  They sat in silence for a while, the man tapping at the keys in front of him and the boy eating his breakfast.  Outside, a fox wandered into the yard, sniffed the air, and vanished into the woods.  Neither of them saw it, deep as they were in their own thoughts.

“Do you want to know how I made the paper look old?”

____________

He could talk about anything with his mother.  She was an easy kind of person, with a quiet way of entering the room and dark, thoughtful eyes that turned green when she cried.  They walked in the park near her house one Sunday just before Valentine’s Day, covered from top to bottom in big fluffy clothes to keep the cold off.  Still, the northers coming over the lake set icy fingertips to their noses and to the cracks where sleeves met gloves.

“Is Johnny going to do something nice for you for Valentine’s?” he asked through his scarf.

“I think we’ll go out to dinner.”

“You should ask Dad to come, too.”

She glanced away, something about her eyes like a funny kind of grin.  “I don’t think so, little man.”

“He’s lonely.”

“We’re all a little lonely now and again.  But your father is clever and kind and one day he’ll find someone.”

He stopped on the path with a snow covered fountain behind him.  To his mother, the bowl of the fountain, split in two by the boy’s shoulders, looked like wide, immaculate wings.  It took her breath from her.  She almost felt like she’d black out, but she took breaths, many of them, slow and steady.

“What if I made it my last wish?” he said. “That you guys get back together.”

“Oh, honey,” she murmured.  She knelt in front of him and pulled him around until the fountain bowl became itself again, the wings a vanished illusion.  “You can’t ever use power like that over someone else.  Your father and I would want anything for you, but not for you to think you could make other people do what they can’t to make you happy. That’s not what real happiness is about. I bet you know that.”

He studied her a moment, his eyes black with thought.  He nodded.  After a moment they walked on through the grey morning.  Slowly, he asked her a question she found it impossible to answer.

“Is it hard to know that all your life lessons for me won’t come to anything?  I mean, that you won’t get to see how I turn out?”

He didn’t mean to be cruel; like each of his parents, he wanted to know things better.  If he were older, trained as they were in subtleties, he’d work delicate, as if with a scalpel.  But with the bluntness of children, he opened this line of thought with hatchet brutality.  She walked on with no answer, holding his hand tight.  Breathing.

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In June, they took him to the beach.  Johnny would join them later, he was told, but for a while it would just be the three of them.

“Like it’s always supposed to have been,” he said in the car as they drove south.  They did not respond to him, though they exchanged a bittersweet kind of smile.

“Will we make a fire on the beach at night?” he asked.

“Yep.”

“Will the Millers be there this year?”

“I think so,” his mother said.

He looked out between their seats, at the changing landscape outside the car.  Whenever they got close to the beach, he noticed how the trees all turned to pines, tall and slender, and how below them, the bushes were waxy and large, blooming purple and pink this time of the year.  The mini mall near their place looked the same as ever when they got to town.  Everything was painted dull shades of grey and tan here, but it never felt gloomy to him.

It didn’t take long to make up the beds and wipe down the kitchen.  Someone came a few times a year in the winter to clean, so the place never had a year’s neglect.

His mother hadn’t seen the house in two summers.  She stood beside the silk palm tree near the patio doors and shook her head.  “I can’t believe I ever wanted one of these.”

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

She shook her head again, “I don’t like fake things like that anymore.”

At that moment his father put the ice chest on the counter with a loud thump and he and his mother started.  Her hand flew to her throat, an elegant little compulsion, her son noticed, though the fright was ordinary.

“You’re beautiful, mommy.”

She smiled at him and then went to help put away the groceries with his father.  He sat out on the patio and watched them through the glass until the sun shifted and all that he could see was himself, staring back from under the brim of a hat.  His face was white and the eyes dark all around now.  Sometimes he thought he looked like a Halloween mask more than an eleven year old boy.  He turned his gaze to the other houses, all crowded so near each other one never saw the water until they walked down to where the grass met the sand.

____________

When the Millers arrived a couple days later, they changed the atmosphere of the street.  The four older boys and the two girls, the round blond twins, were all equally vivacious in one way or another.  Their father had a loud kind of voice and spoke in an accent his mother said was Bostonian.  Mrs. Miller was from Kentucky.  Everything hard about her husband’s way of talking was soft in hers, but she was as bold and brass as the rest of her brood.  One could hear them the moment they rolled out of their SUV.

His father glanced down over the balcony rail at the family and said drily, “Here comes the entertainment.”

“Mike,” his mother said, smiling into the folds of the newspaper.

The boy watched them all the time, catching these little moments that felt like the old days.  How could they be so comfortable together, such natural friends, yet still not want to live together?  That day, as the Millers chattered their way across the path to their house, he said angrily, “We don’t need Johnny here.”

“Hey now,” his father said.

His mother smiled peacefully, “You love Johnny.  He’s a good person and you know it.”

There was no answering that, so he left them and went into the house.  But the dim living room made him feel trapped and it made him feel sad.  He descended the carpeted staircase slowly and left the house by the front door.

Mrs. Miller had come back out with three of her boys to get more things out of the car.  She was giving orders in that sweet, thick accent of hers.  “Bryce, don’t scratch those skis.  Your daddy will have a shit fit.  Where’s my other pair of sunglasses? They were on the dash and now they’re gone. Get that bottle under the seat. This car looks like white trash has been living in it.”

She turned then and saw him standing half in the shadow of his house and half in the blinding brightness.  He could tell she thought she saw a Halloween mask, too, because she lifted a hand to her throat just as his mother had done when the ice chest crashed onto the counter.

“Oh, my lord,” she mouthed without thinking.  Then she pulled her sunglasses down over her eyes, though they were tangled in her windswept blond hair.  He’d seen her eyes filling with tears before the dark lenses dropped over them.  A kind smile bloomed on her tanned face.

“Come here, sugar booger!” she said to him, but she crossed the distance instead.  She knelt down and gave him a big hug, like she hadn’t done since he was younger and smaller.

“You’re getting tall,” she said, her voice thick and rusty.

He knew she felt sorry for him, something his folks were careful not to show around him.  It felt both a little nice and yet deeply sad.  It was hard for him to smile back at her, though she was as bright and cheerful as a row of sunflowers preening in the light.

“When did you all get in?” she asked.

“Thursday,” he said.

“Well, your mamma said everyone was going to come this time.  That’s wonderful, now isn’t it?”

He almost said it would be better if Johnny didn’t come, but he mumbled something else, something about looking forward to getting into the pool.  It wasn’t fair to be mean about Johnny, and it wouldn’t have been loyal to do it in front of Mrs. Miller.  She gave him another hug.

“I don’t have to tell you to wear sun screen,” she said.  Then she paused.  Later that night, drinking wine with another mother, she’d say, “Honey, I felt terrible.  I only meant because of sunburn, but then I thought he probably thought I meant cancer.”  Though they were sitting in her kitchen alone, all the kids down the street getting ice cream with their fathers, she whispered the last word the way her mother used to do the ‘n’ word.

____________

When Johnny came, he brought with him his big spirit, his kind smile, his battered guitar.  He played for everyone down by the fire, many nights, and he was as good with the kids as any of the fathers.  He wove his usual spell and the boy found himself both comforted by the presence of the other man and saddened by his own words and thoughts against him in days before.

The four of them made up a happy house for two weeks, everyone doing their best to get along.  Even when the boy started to feel more and more exhausted from play, when it got to where he couldn’t stand the sun so much anymore, spirits remained cheerful in the tall, skinny house with the grey shingles all over.  Everyone had agreed, ten months ago, when the final option fell through due to the rarity of his illness, to make it a year of happiness and harmony.

He had been the only one to resist, so determined to reset things to where they had been before the twin tragedies of the divorce and the illness.

One night in the orange light of the fire circle, he watched his father sitting just a little by himself, away from Johnny and from his mother, who sat so close to her husband she could feel the vibrations of the strings as he played.  The couple was beautiful in that light, and brave and sad, too, all which the boy could see plainly, wizened by his own fate.  His father was each of these things, too, but still the boy saw him as alone, unsheltered and a little forgotten, at least by his mother.

For a moment he felt an old anger rise in him and the gaze he cast her was almost dark, but just as quickly it faded and things were as they had been a moment before.  The two men and the woman, brave and golden and sad each, doing all they had in their power to do.  There was just enough space between his father and his mother for him to sit and so he rose up slowly, his body heavy, heavy, and he filled the gap between them.  Now the four of them made a row at the fireside, completed, with the ocean before them, dark and blue in the moonlight, brushing the sand, a soft percussion under Johnny’s cheerful strumming.

The May Day Knot

Tiger walked home from school, a knot in his gut he hoped a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would ease.  The knot had nothing to do with hunger, but he’d found that almost anything between two pieces of white bread made the worry a bit smaller.  In the slanting light, his shadow trudged beside him, long and thin when they walked beside parking lots; short, fat, and folded when they passed in front of stores and houses.  He could see lots of things in his shadow: the bulging wood buttons on his coat; the fuzzy edge of his boots where they met his pants; the fringes of his scarf that fluttered with the breeze and his movement.  He tried to see the outline of his face in profile – the shape of his nose, the full lips the girls all envied – but when he turned to try to catch it, the shadow turned, too.  He was left staring at the outline of his ear, with the bulky fold of his cap just above it.

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It was too warm for the coat and the hat, he’d argued that morning with Grangie, but his granny always got her way.  If she planted her feet and reared back her head, it didn’t matter what came out of her mouth after that.  She was the boss.  As he went back to his room to grab the coat, he’d mumbled something about the flowers in the yard.

“I hear you, smart ass,” Grangie said.  “But it’s gonna rain today and bring in a cold front, the weather man say.  First of May don’t mean jack.”

“It means May Day,” he said, tucking a grin into the coat.

She shook her head at him, but smiling.  “Well, it won’t kill you to carry it over your arm if I’m wrong, Tiger man.”

“Other kids don’t have to wear coats now.”

“Right. Cause other kids come from trash.  They’ll be out at the emergency room or whatever, waiting three hours to have someone tell them they got pneumonia.”

He thought about what Grangie said as he came to the community center.  She’d been right about the rain and the chill.  The pavement was dry now, but only on account of the cold breeze.  He dug his hands into the pockets of the coat and the left one found the shape of something in a wrapper.  He pulled it out with a smile, a pack of Reese cups from Easter time.  He wondered if Grangie put it there for him.  She might have done.

Looking over his shoulder, he decided to sit for a minute and eat the candy by himself.  He climbed the steps of the old community center and found a dry spot at the front door.  There was a cover over head, a kind of porch roof, but it didn’t have any posts.  It just sort of reached up heavenward, like it was always looking for bad weather.  It was like Grangie, never letting the other shoe fall, always holding out a hand to catch it by the laces in the nick of time.

The paint on the center was new and old ladies like his grandma were proud of how it looked.  They always brought it up in the line at the grocery store.  Didn’t the green on the windows come out nice?  Made the place look kind of summery.  Thank you, Mr. Kennedy, they said, leaning in to share a laugh that Tiger didn’t understand.  Grangie and her friends seemed to know another language.  It used most of the words he already knew, but they put them together differently.  Sometimes they stopped talking all together when a kid came into the room.  Or else they started down one road with their words, then paused, giving each other a look.  Whatever else they were going to say was routed to their eyes.  The others would press their lips together and nod.

“Mmm-hmm,” they’d say.  Or, “Well, I told her that would happen.”

Sometimes, “But ain’t that always the way it goes?”

He liked being with Grangie’s ladies sometimes.  They didn’t seem to mind him lingering in the room.  Without missing a beat, they switched to the language of their eyes and half sentences.  Some of them had such big round eyes, when they rolled them, it made Tiger want to laugh.  The biggest, roundest, darkest eyes must have all kinds of funny things to say, he supposed, because the other ladies laughed, too.  He’d stand at Grangie’s side, resting his cheek against her shoulder and listening and not listening.  She might reach across the table, take the lid off the cookie jar and hold one out for him, all without looking at him or breaking the chatter.

If the ladies started to talk about him, it made him happy and worried all at once.

“Angie, ain’t he got your Joe-Joe’s eyes?”

“Little boys are sometimes prettier than the little girls, you know what I’m saying?”

“Look at them lips.  Ruby red.”

“Oh, girl. Now he’s blushing.”

“Preening more like,” Grangie would say. “Now stop fluttering your lashes like a you know what.  Get on out of here, Tiger man. Go play with Teeny’s girls.  They’re out on the porch.  But play nice or I’ll get you.”

Then she’d add a look that sealed the promise.  He’d leave them with heavy feet, dreading playing with the other kids.  He wasn’t like anyone else, he felt too keenly, and it made it hard for him to warm up.  Kids at school said he was a snob.  Or else a sissy.  Two older boys had taken to taunting him in the halls.

“Queer,” they’d whisper as he approached his locker.

They were tall boys, handsome already, dressed better than most.  If there was a new kind of shoes, they were the first to wear them.  Had they lived just one street over, he understood, they’d be going to the big school out near the library.  Instead they went to his school like a handful of other white kids.

One of the boys already had a shadow over his lip where a mustache would want to grow one day.  The other had large hands with broad knuckles that could make a hateful fist, but still they fascinated Tiger.  He didn’t know why yet, but he always noticed those hands, how the fingers were long, how the knuckles were dusted with golden brown hair like a man’s hand.  When he saw the pair of boys coming along the hall toward him, he had two thoughts, one chasing the other: first he thought how good-looking they were, like boys on album covers at the record store; then he remembered anew who they were and what was to come.  Each of the two thoughts left him with the knot in his stomach.  He lowered his eyes and tried to think of other things, hoping they would not notice him.  He longed to be invisible until they parted like the Red Sea and moved around and past him.

Lots of things left him with a knot in his stomach.  He was used to the feeling of one gathering and thickening there, not long after the last one had slipped loose.  His face, one of Grangie’s ladies once said, was a worried face.  “Some children do more than others,” she said, her own old face looking sad and heavy.  She tucked her chin close to her neck, her jowls making her into a kind of hound dog for a moment.

Grangie had given him a long look, then frowned into her coffee.  She slid her flask out from her apron pocket, gave the mug a little pinch of encouragement, and sipped the brew again.  “Well, I try to keep things together, girl, but you know…”

“Mmm-hmm.”

The Reese cups were good.  He pushed out the center with the tip of his finger and ate that first.  It was best to save the thick, chocolate edges for last.  “It’s like they’re little peanut butter pies with chocolate crusts. I love them,” he said softly to himself.  The breeze made the little baby leaves on the trees whisper even as he noticed the sound of a train rumbling through town in the distance.

In a month, they’d be out of school, he thought, letting the chocolate melt between his tongue and the roof of his mouth.  The summer would begin for kids.  Grangie would take him to the community pool, then make him wash with lots of soap when they got back.

“I don’t care what anybody says,” she’d say. “Chlorine or whatever it is don’t make a bit of difference if people be peeing in the water. Don’t you ever let that shit in your mouth, Tiger-man, you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He liked the water but he always got the knot when he thought about all those other kids there.

“Go find your friends,” Grangie would say, rifling through her bag for something or other.

Tiger didn’t know how to tell her he didn’t really have any.  She’d give him that sad look of hers and it would make him cry.  Before long, she’d be crying, too, and they’d both be what she called a mess. So he’d sidle up near kids he sort of knew from school, standing just to the outside of their circle, miming a quiet laughter as they laughed.  Silent so they wouldn’t mind his intrusion too much; but the look of laughing with them, in case Grangie glanced up from her novel and noticed.

It was hard to imagine the pool days coming so soon, sitting there outside the community center in his coat, the tip of his nose going cold in the chilly wind.  He ate the second Reese cup a little slower, the sugar cheery like sunshine.  When he lifted his hand to take a bite, his shadow did the same, the two of them tucking away the last bites of Easter.

 

Neighbor

Lord, how I miss having Lady B next door.  The new people don’t do nothing but come and go, never looking right or left.  Act like throwing up a hand might kill them. All those big, dumb-looking boys do is work on they dog cages.  Never crack each other up, just mumble back and forth like they got nails in they mouths.  And the woman, she let all the weeds choke out Lady B’s pretty flowers.  Looks a mess over there.  You’d never know anyone ever cared for that house, oiled the floors, gave the curtains a spring wash.

When she was beside me, the world was all right.  Everyday that door of hers be swinging open, that hinge her man couldn’t fix whining like a cat in heat.  She had a light way of walking, but I always heard her feet on the hen gravel.  She pop that head around the corner of the porch and smile like sunshine on the lake.  Rooney said she wasn’t pretty at all, but that fool only like thick girls with blond hair all down they back.  I thought Lady B. was just about the prettiest thing I ever set eyes on.

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“I got a piece of pie, if you want it,” she say to me sometimes.  Or else, “I made a pot of chili.” I already knew if she was making chili because it made the whole holler smell good and warm like flannel.  Lady B never had no little ones of her own, but she was a mamma through and through.  She fed anyone who wanted a bite.  I was just the luckiest one, my porch right next to hers.

Her kitchen was small and yellow.  The table was just big enough for two.  When that man of hers rumbled away in the morning in his truck, long before the sun was up, she had that place to herself until nigh dark.  We’d start the morning off with some little cake or something and coffee, telling the same stories over and over, and agreeing on who was good and who was rotten of the folks we knew.  We’d part for a while in the middle of the day, clean up our places a little bit, maybe do a little fuss with the dirty clothes and start a pot of soup.  But always I think I hear her on the porch and wish I could get my chores done sooner.

Then one day that man come home and tell her he got a new job, other side of the valley, and they ought to move on down the mountain, closer to town.  She was sad to say good-bye to that little house and the holler, but I was more sad than Lady B.  It didn’t hurt much, knowing I was more torn up to see her go than she was to be leaving.  It weren’t her fault she could cotton to anything and anyone, while I be the kind who keeps close to myself.  She give out her last cup of flour to a tramp.  I be thinking, ‘What he gonna do with it? Don’t look like he got anything else to make bread with.’

Lady B could get herself caught by the Bible thumpers, standing behind the screen door, smiling all nice while they talk Jesus at her with they hats in they hands.  I peep out from behind my sorry front room curtain, trying not to breath unless they gonna hear me.

When she went down off the mountain, she took her light with her.  Wherever she landed, she’s passing out little bits of herself, sweet slices of pie and all kind of kindness.  I wish she changed me.  I wish sometimes I took over a bowl of chili to that worn old dog living in Lady B’s house.  But that woman got small eyes, a jaw you could split logs with.  She ain’t nothing but meanness, I can tell, and I’d rather my rooms be quiet all the day than trade an angel for a sore old sow.  Anyway, maybe it’s time we got out of the holler anyway.

I think sometimes we could make it down in town, maybe find a couple little rooms on the street where Lady B lives.  She’d have all kinds of friends now, but she’d make room for me at her table, I know.  And this house would fall apart like her own had done, but that wouldn’t matter none.  It’s people that mean anything.  Houses are just wood and clay and tin and they ain’t no better than them what keeps them.

Picture Window

When he drew out the plans for the new cabin, a charcoal square on a brown paper bag, she watched with only mild interest from over her coffee mug.  He marked a slanted line at the front and said, “There’s your front door.”

Then he drew another slanted line at the back, near the corner, and he said, “That’s the back one.”

She smiled at the way he said it.  He seemed to think the front door was hers alone, because it was there for the things only she cared about: Sunday calls and parlor chairs; clean tea towels and soda bread sliced fine.  The back door was for both of them, because through it they would each come and go, sunrise and sunset, hauling and dragging the weight of their chores, now and then stepping light because the chickens were laying again or because the summer rain had been kind.

Over his head, while he drew, she watched the twilight turn the glass on their wedding sampler pink and gold.  Behind the pastel glare, their names were joined in needlepoint.  William R. Hale and Cecily Myers Hale.  There were flowers at each corner, orange and yellow and blue.  After her mother had grown thin and pale, near to the end, she leaned against her pillows, night on night, and pulled the letters and the blooms up through the cloth, floss by floss, until it was as perfect and bright as her own sampler had been years ago.  They moved up the wedding to be sure she could see it.  Leaning against her cane, as bent and drawn as a woman twice her age, she carried a joyful light in her eyes when the vowels were spoken.

After the wedding supper, when the young ones were dancing to fiddles, Cecily’s mother sat under an oak tree with a line of laurel at her back, and she watched the dresses whirling out over the grass.  The laurel was not yet blooming and the tree had hardly any leaves, save a few stubborn brown ones that clung over the winter.  When Cecily went to sit at her feet, she leaned down and said into her ear, “You’d have liked it later, dear heart, when all the flowers were out.”

“You’re the only bloom I had to have today,” Cecily said.  She leaned her cheek against her mother’s knee and soon the cool fingers came to gently brush her hair off her face.

“Well, you’re sweet to say it,” her mother said.

They rested there a long while, listening to the strings, the hoots and laughter.

____________

Will drew in a square inside the square, near the middle, and he said, “That’s the hearth. They’ll be a fireplace in front for your parlor and a flue for the stove around the back.”

“So that corner is the kitchen.”

He nodded at her gravely, his ginger brown eyes sweet and clever.  Her hand found his shoulder as she leaned in closer to watch his work.  “Will there be other windows?”

“Two on the back,” he said.  He scratched in a thick line for each, then he added a few more lines inside the cabin.  “So this is our room, off the kitchen, looking back on the shed and the back hill.”

“A nice big room,” she said.

He blushed and glanced away, “Well, it looks bigger here.”

“It looks bigger on that little brown bag?” she asked, laughing.

He shook his head, “I mean, the whole place won’t be too big.”

She nodded.

“But we can add on to the back later,” he said.

She sat down beside him and found his other hand, resting on his lap.  “Well, I’m happy to grow the house as we grow the family.  One thing at a time.”

He leaned his head against hers.  “Anything else you want?”

She thought of the little corner of the farm where he wanted to build the house, the way it sat close to the road, with a view out over Buck Mountain.  The patch of yard would be small, but she’d fill it with flowers, all the sweet old-fashioned one’s her mother loved.

Her mouth pulled a little frown, thinking about the view and the flowers and how they’d come and go by that back corner door all their days, only opening the front when company came.  She gave his hand a squeeze, “I want a picture window in front, so we can see everything.”

He might have thought about how much a big piece of glass cost or reminded her that drifters coming down the road could glance in at them at night.  Instead he picked up the pencil and made a thick, long mark along the front, to the left of the slanted line of the door.  In the soft light, shoulders together, making lines on the brown paper, they built the dream together, heedless of what the crops, the weather or the bank would let them make.