Jay Haraway dressed for church. He was going to meet
his sister who believed. She had the right need, and she liked
to wear hats. After her teeth had been capped and polished,
after she had recovered enough after they had come and burned
the house and punched her mouth and bruised her vagina,
and after her husband had left, she returned to Mount
Safety, permanently, and to church with ultimate fervor. They
always sat in the front in the center pew. Jay liked to kneel. He felt
it was the only appropriate position.
He wore a coat and tie and pressed chinos and
polished shoes because he did not want his sister to think he was
only doing this for her. He wanted her to believe that what
had happened to her had also made a believer out of him.
There could be no doubt.
He practiced his scales while he was adjusting the knot
of his tie, and he wondered why he always seemed
sharp ascending and flat descending, and why he could never
sing with any bodily force, with any momentum. Unlike his
sister, for example, who always sang as if trying to outdo the
choir from soprano to alto to the gray-haired tenor with the
sloppy chin. She sang with her hands clasped to the top of the
pew, and her blue hat tilted atop her head, and her knuckles
white, and all the hymns from "Hosanna in the Highest" to
any benediction memorized and waiting, like confessions,
for expression. She brooked all the difference with her voice.
And Jay memorized the program, and the page numbers
of each hymn, psalm, and Bible reading. This way he always
had the book open to the appropriate page before the reading
or singing began. It was his way of saying to her, "I'm here
with you." It was his way of making sure he was there for her.
When the offering plate was passed down their pew,
she dropped the envelope in, without a flourish, as if giving
was or should be as natural as flinching. He did not know
how much she gave. But quantity did not seem to be relevant to
her. Giving was her crucial ritual, her opposing gesture, and
sometimes she let her son, whose arm had been badly burned,
drop the envelope in. He was ten. His name was Riley. He
sang softly the offertory hymn and Anna cried. The church
was almost empty. When she looked at her son, Jay knew that
she had felt everything. That she was feeling everything.
He wanted to hold her in his arms, but he was the
younger brother, and besides, she would not have let him.
Her name was Anna and she tried to forget. But Jay
knew when she was remembering by the amount she drank,
and, following, the accent she acquired. She would sit at the
table with a bottle of red wine and a glass in her hand, and her
son Riley propped on her lap. She still had style. This would be
at the Cabin, the nice and quiet restaurant where the
wealthy people in town went after church, or a funeral, or a
wedding, or a child's graduation, or the rise of the market, or its fall.
Jay would drink too, but he would not drink as much as his
sister, who drained glass after glass and began to smile. Her
face would flush and the accent would begin. At first it would
be a lilt at the end of the word, dear, which was a word she did
not use when she was sober. Then, after another bottle had
been opened and begun, the accent would influence more and
more words, and then entire sentences, until she spoke as if it
really were her voice.
The accent was mostly British of some kind, with
occasional slips into Ireland, Scotland, and the South of France.
Jay wondered if she was aware of the accent or its slips.
This was when he would start to drink more, too. To catch up.
She might speak of all the meetings she still had to have with
her gynecologist, and the way the gynecologist always seemed
to linger between her legs like an anthropologist on a
historical dig. When she talked about this, the other patrons of the
Cabin tried not to look. But when they did, they had sympathy,
or something, for her, and perhaps for him. They would gaze
as if witnessing the end of an era. People in town knew the
Faulk family, and they knew the Faulk family was one of the
first families of Mount Safety, and they knew the Faulk family
had once been great, and they knew the Faulk family had a
problem, which had affected the grandchildren, Anna and
Jay, even if they were both educated people. And they all
knew about the awful thing that had happened to her. Jay
wondered if they knew about the other awful things, and if they did,
if they thought of the other things as awful.
Once, about a year after it had happened, they went to
the Cabin for dinner. Rain had come very suddenly that
afternoon. People watched it from their wrap-around porches
and discussed the coming possibility of a rainbow. The
pavement steamed. The heat relented. The street was without traffic,
and the stalks of flowers and vegetable plants glistened in
gardens. A boy splashed in the puddle beside the post office with
his arms held aloft and spread, and his head tilted back and
his tongue extended and reaching for rain. Jay had the
windshield wipers on high. They drove down Market Street, the
main street of town.
Anna said, "Do you think heavy rains can put out a
forest fire? I wonder." She wore pearls and a red evening dress.
Riley sat on her lap. He leaned up to the dash and traced a stream
of water that slid down the windshield until the
windshield wipers wiped it away. He wore a blue summer suit with
a blue-checked shirt and saddle shoes. He sat back against
her comfortable chest.
"I don't know," Jay said. He switched on his blinker.
"I've seen pictures of firefighters in the rain."
They sat at a table in the corner beside the big window
that offered a view of the parking lot, and behind that, the
Conestoga River that was rushing and muddy. Jay sat across from
the window and gazed at the far bank of the river where
overhanging trees and their leaves dripped with rain. When
the wind came, the leaves flapped and the branches bent.
Anna ordered the wine.
Riley said, "Shirley Temple, please." He sat on his
The waiter, a clean-shaven man, leaned over and smiled.
He said, "You mean a Roy Rogers."
Riley said, "Shirley Temple, please."
The waiter peered at Anna.
"He means a Shirley Temple," she said.
The dining room was lit by candles and a dim
chandelier, and it was almost empty. A few other couples, a
distinguished man. Glasses clinked faintly and silverware sounded
against plates and bowls. The waiter had a white cloth draped over
his sleeve. He poured a taste of wine in Anna's glass. She said,
"I don't need to taste it."
They finished the bottle without having opened the
menus. They ordered another, and also food. Riley ordered a
plain hamburger on white bread. He fidgeted on his mother's
lap and then nestled his head against her neck. The accent began.
She said, "Dear, would you fill my glass?"
Jay filled her glass. He ordered a Scotch to keep things even.
"I want to tell you a story, dear."
The sky was darkening and there was no moon. Jay
thought she was going to talk about the house and the things that
had happened there. He was prepared. He wanted to hear about
it. Riley was asleep or his eyes were closed. The river
looked dark, and the trees on the far bank stood in silhouette.
"What are you looking at?" Anna said.
"The trees look like ghosts," Jay said.
Anna turned her head to look at the trees. She drained
Jay ordered another Scotch. He ordered a double.
"You wanted to tell me a story," he said.
"Oh yes, a story about Neddy."
Ned was her former husband. He'd moved far away.
Texas maybe, or California.
"OK," Jay said.
Anna ran her hand through Riley's hair. She stabbed
her baked potato with her knife and the butter seeped out.
"OK," she said. "Neddy, that bloody fool." Her accent had
expanded to every word. It was British mostly. "In New York, dear.
A few winters past, you might remember that winter."
"I do," Jay said, because he knew he had to.
"All the blizzards. The city ran out of salt. It was
difficult enough." She poured herself the last of the wine. The
waiter returned. Jay nodded to the bottle. It hurt him to hear the accent.
"All winter Neddy had been going out at night. He
would come home for dinner, and then he would return to his
office, to work. He said, `It's crunch time, honey.' He could have
at least gone all the way and said `darling.' Regardless,
one night just after Christmas, when Neddy had gone back to
the office, I decided it would be wonderful fun if Riley and
I watched a video at home and made popcorn, and drank
ice-cream floats with root beer. But I simply could not find
my keys, anywhere."
"I'm sorry," Jay said.
"Yes, well. It occurred to me the next morning that I
always, always leave my keys in the dish on the lazy Susan in the
front hallway." Her face was flushed.
The dining room was quiet, and the only remaining
customer was the distinguished man who ate a bowl of ice
cream and sipped a cup of coffee and read a book that was open
on his thigh. The candlelight from the candle on his table
flickered across his cheek. It was night.
Jay stared out at the trees on the opposite bank.
"He was stealing my keys, Jay. And it was not in the
least because he was not sure which automobile he wanted to
drive. They both had snow tires. They both had heat. They both
had snow tires and heat."
Riley nestled against his mother's neck. She ran her
hand through his hair. His hair was blond and curly. Jay stared
out the window. "Do they still look like ghosts?" she said,
and began to laugh.
"I can't see them," he said.
"Then they have most likely gone from appearance
to actuality." She knocked over her glass, but it was
empty and it did not break. Her accent was total and it
influenced her locution. "Oh, dear," she said. "Should we?"
"I'm fine," Jay said, by which he meant drunk. She stood
her glass on the table. "Neddy didn't trust me, Jay. He didn't
trust me . . . I often wonder if he took the keys with him even
when I wasn't home. Say, whenever. Say, when I came out here.
Say, when those men came and did all those things to me in
front of my son." She knocked the glass over, intentionally, to
the floor. "Then his suspicion was prophetic indeed, wasn't
it? Dear Neddy, dear dear Neddy." She stared at Jay. She
cradled her son's head in her hand.
Jay did not know how to respond. The only thing he
could think of was, "Neddy is a bastard," but that was not
sufficient. There were the others, but he, she, and Riley didn't
have names for them. They couldn't say, "Well, so-and-so is a
mean and evil bastard." All he, she, and Riley could say was
"they." And "they" was a category for anyone.
She woke Riley. His summer suit was wrinkled. "Riley,"
she said, "wake up, dear." Riley squinted his eyes as if he did
not know who spoke to him, and pressed his face harder
against her neck. "Would you be a dear and take him for me?"
"Sure," Jay said. He was fine. "Of course." He
walked around the table and lifted Riley, who was not a baby,
from Anna and her comfortable chest. Riley squirmed. Riley
said, "My arm," and closed his eyes and pressed his face into
Jay's chest. Jay held him in his arms and returned to his seat.
"He'll be fine," he said with a little bit of an accent himself.
"We'll be fine."
"Well then, I suppose I should attend the ladies'
room." Her accent wavered. She stood and fell back against
the window, and the window quivered. Her strands of
pearls bounced against her chest. "Ooops," she said. Jay noticed
his glass was empty.
The distinguished man closed his book and rose to leave.
"I've been sitting for so long," Anna said. She shook her
hair and ran her hands down her hips. "It was bound to
happen." She crossed the dining room with her hands reaching out
for tables and the backs of chairs. She faltered for a post in
the middle of the room. Jay did not look at her anymore. He
felt Riley's warm breath against his neck. He held the child.
He stared out at the trees that he could not see.