JACK A. URQUHART
Timble Hobbs lifted the ice pack his wife Kate had given him and examined his leg. The swelling and inflammation across the shin bone had begun to abate, the purples and reds fading to lavenders and pale yellows. It looked better than when he'd first come home, much less serious than on his initial assessment earlier in the afternoon--just after Joannie's outburst. Who would've thought a shoe flung at close range could raise such a welt. He could almost read the tread marks where the Vibram sole had struck bare skin; the whole thing so pointless, such an incredible example of bad timing on Joannie's part, what with summer vacation only a day away. Timble remembered sitting on the bed, rubbing his shin in stunned silence after her furious exit.
He remembered thinking about Kate, too. Kate at home, making last minute calls to the construction crews scheduled to start work at the summer house next week, finishing up the packing for their stay in the mountains, their first time back in three years. He remembered thinking about the three trunks lined up in the family room, the way his wife had been filling them all week, moving from one to the other, knowing just what to put in each. Alec's, the fullest.
It would've been pointless to try and keep
Kate from finding out about Joannie, Timble decided. The mark
she'd left was too obvious and the bruise made him favor his
right leg when he walked. Besides, Joannie, his business partner
of two years, had made it clear that her anger was no passing
I'll bet you hardly felt that," she'd wailed, snatching the bed sheets away from him in her anger. "For two years we've been playing at this, playing at business, at everything. Well I'm through!"
There was no doubt but that she'd meant what she said, and so Kate would have to know.
He'd done his best to explain.
"I don't understand it," he'd said to his wife in the kitchen after rolling up his pants leg for her to see. Almost immediately she'd been up scurrying about, taking charge, scouring the house for remedies, a quiet gasp her only response. She hardly managed to stay within earshot during the remainder of his recitation, as though she didn't need to hear.
"She's been building toward something since New Year's," he called out to Kate. "I guess I sent her over the edge today."
That had been it. All there was to it--at least, so far. After finding the ice pack and relocating him on the sofa so that his leg could be elevated, Kate had flown off again in that calm, purposeful way of hers. Now Timble could hear her going through the medicine cabinet in the downstairs bath. He could imagine her intentness, the way her fingers would be flying over every item on the shelves. Outside, he could hear a thunderstorm building. There was nothing for him to do but wait for the other shoe to drop.
I can't imagine you could've done anything to provoke such an outburst," Kate said hurrying back into room with the ace bandage. "That wouldn't be like you at all, Tim."
He watched her as she wrapped the ice pack in place, studied the fine lines that moved and flexed around her eyes and mouth, the ones he'd relied on over the years as a barometer of her mood. She'd actually changed very little in the eighteen years since her father had given him his first big break--those days when he'd been a struggling architect fresh out of graduate school and she, an employee in her father's real estate office.
"Big things in store for you, boy," his future father-in-law had said back then. "Office buildings, planned communities, shopping malls. Just listen to me."
For a while, he'd managed to do just that. But everything was different now--everything except Kate.
At forty, she'd managed to retain much of what had initially attracted him--a quality, an intangible attitude which he'd been taught to associate with security. He could thank his mother for that lesson.
"Learn from your father's sorry example," Inez had said again and again in his youth. "Class in the face of adversity. You can't fake it. It only comes from money in the bank."
Well, that was Kate all right. His wife had it all in spades. Simple, understated, classic Kate -- born with all the resources necessary to keep her calm in the extremities.
Joannie has so many personal problems," Kate said evenly, coming back into the room. "Marital problems. Things haven't been good between her and George in a long time." Timble flinched when Kate pinned the bandage in place.
"Keep this elevated for awhile. And try not to worry," she said. "Two months away from each other could be just what the doctor ordered. Joannie's probably feeling terrible about the whole thing already. It wouldn't surprise me if she came over tonight just to set things right . . ."
No sooner were the words out of her mouth
than the back door slammed, providing the necessary exclamation
point. Timble couldn't help noticing the way Kate changed, the
way her shoulders moved back, the look on her face when she turned
towards the sound, as if she'd not really expected such a speedy
Alec strode into the room like a strange disheveled animal come in from the rain. But as far as Timble was concerned, there was no reason to breathe a sigh of relief. Now that he'd turned fourteen, his son struck him as markedly sullen and owlish: something about his circular face and myopic eyes, the sharpness of his nose, a certain predatory arrogance about the full lips.
Even the way Alec wore his hair contributed to the look--with that wayward forelock slipping into a feathery point over the bridge of his nose. Just now he was flapping his spindly arms, splattering rain everywhere.
"What happened to him?" Alec muttered, glancing briefly at his mother. "Does this mean the trip's off?"
Sometimes Timble found it difficult to believe that this great gangling creature had once been a happy, even playful child. Certainly this Alec wasn't the same boy who'd romped down the hill from the summer house so many summers ago, not the Alec who'd run across their meadow land trailing kite string and laughter behind him. Timble had to search to find any trace of that child. Only the freckles remained, and the amber eyes, still so large. It wasn't much to work with, but it was enough. When he let himself, when he looked away inside, Timble could remember -- have his boys back again -- both of them; see the two of them running havoc, roughhousing around Kate's garden.
"Of course the trip's not off," Kate said with enough emphasis to bring him back. "This is nothing, just a little mishap at work."
"Yeah, sure. What happened? Joannie drop a drafting table on him or something?"
"That's not your worry, is it?" Timble snapped before he could check himself.
"Whatever. Anyway, who said I was
It was vintage Alec; the way the boy never failed to counter. Timble couldn't understand why he kept taking the field since each altercation seemed to blueprint further estrangement. Only Kate seemed able to tolerate the boy's attitude.
"You don't have time to worry about anything except finishing your packing," she interrupted. "Better get a push on and bring down the rest of your gear. We can't afford to get a late start tomorrow, what with all the construction crews scheduled to meet us." She took a few quick steps towards him, as if she intended a hands-on emphasis. But even Kate wasn't that fast. Before she could begin to get close, Alec was lurching away, stomping out of the room, rumbling under his breath just loud enough for them to hear.
"Oh sure. Let's make a big hurry. Like I can hardly wait to start my so-called vacation."
It ended as it always did, Timble thought. With Alec scoring the last coup, with Alec striding smugly off the field. The whole thing was like a crazy game, he decided. Almost like his engagements with Joannie, engagements in which despite his best intentions, his determination to remain neutral, the outcome remained unaccountably the same.