"What do we do now?" he said closing his eyes against the throbbing pain that had somehow migrated from his leg to his temples.

"Wait ten years," Kate answered. The flat expressionlessness of her voice made it impossible not to smile.

Ten years, he reflected. "So, now I've got to wait until I'm fifty-two to find relief?"

"It's not quite that bad," Kate said, smiling back at him. "I keep something on hand for emergencies. Something that'll help you forget everything. Besides, you need your rest for the drive tomorrow."

The small white tablets she dropped into the palm of his hand had tiny "V"s punched out of their middles. "V" for "vacation," "v" for "victory"--or "victim," Timble thought. He wasn't sure. He only knew that once swallowed, the valium would carry him far from the battle. And quickly. Minutes later, when he closed his eyes, he would be able to see the summer house again and know that it was okay, know that he could handle the short indulgence. It would all be there: Kate's backyard garden planted on the crest of the hill, the meadow spread out below like a flowering carpet, the wild blossoms waving on slender stalks above summer grasses--a little kingdom enclosed by aspen groves and Christmas tree spruce. A dream world where the boys would frolic again. A miracle, what modern pharmacy could accomplish. He would have another chance, another chance to let himself see again: Alec racing down the hill, breaking away from him even then; and Peter as he'd been. Peter who would've flown like the kites he loved, given the chance. For a few short minutes, he would be able to allow himself to remember it all: both his boys streaking away across a field of purples. Colors that bruised the senses. Then he would sleep.

Kate looked up from her gardening and surveyed the progress that Timble and Mr. Deloach's crew had made in three weeks. Two workmen were putting the finishing touches on the new stainless steel roof while Timble and Mr. Deloach installed rain gutters across the back porch. Their efforts, Kate was pleased to observe, had made the place look more like a farm house. More like a permanent residence than a summer cottage.

"Will you finish this morning?" she called up to her husband.

"We'll be done before lunch, and won't that be a relief!"

It was true, the first weeks of their vacation had been anything but restful. Aside from Timble's agenda, she'd had her own priorities. The painting and carpentry crews she'd contracted for the kitchen renovations had taken almost all of her time. Only this morning had she been able to tackle the garden, and with several hours' labor under her belt, she'd barely made a dent. Kate frowned at the thought of the task ahead. Three years of clearing, weeding, rooting, before she could plant.

The ground along the fence where she liked to stake her tomatoes had all but been taken over by the iris bulbs planted years earlier. Already the flat basal leaves, like waxy green fans, had broken ground. It would take a long time to get them out. Nevertheless, she felt good about what had been accomplished. Surprisingly good. Most of her initial reservations, her worries about coming back after three years had receded before the work to be done. And now, the place was taking care of the rest. There was something about being in the mountains, and more importantly, about the house itself, that she could depend on to keep her grounded. Timble had designed and built it for her when the boys were still toddlers. Drawing on one of his idols for inspiration, he'd conceived a mountain cottage in the shingle style made popular by Robert A.M. Stern.

From the moment she saw the prints, Kate had fallen in love with the house, with its low gambrel roof and plentiful windows--and later, when the framing was completed, with the permeating smell of the shakes that made every room smell like a cedar closet. The acreage which had been her father's wedding gift provided the perfect setting. Nestled between National Forest land, the property backed up against Prospect Mountain; from any window on the west side of the house, Kate could trace the rust-colored switchbacks carved into the mountain side. A positive network of ancient access trails wound their way towards the summit and the derelict mine abandoned at the turn of the century. The forty-five minute hike was one of Timble's favorite diversions. But the views were enough for Kate. She'd had Timble situate the house on a knoll so that every room commanded a spectacular vista of aspen meadows and the mountain spruce forests beyond. From the beginning she'd been willing to take up permanent residency, a fact that had pleased Timble. Yet, these days there seemed to be no end to his list of the house's design flaws. He'd spent the first three weeks cataloguing them.

 

It was a mistake for me to plan so much overhang at the eaves," he'd explained to Mr. Deloach, the construction foreman, during their first week. "There's not enough radiant heat from inside the house to melt off the snow pack. Look how the build-up wears down the shingles."

The process seemed to satisfy a restless need that she couldn't fully understand. Only that it gave him an excuse to labor.

Sometimes, like today, Kate enjoyed watching. She liked the way Timble moved in his work clothes--his easy, natural balance on the scaffolding; Timble wielding his hammer, flexing, stretching, molding six feet four inches into seemingly inaccessible spaces.

"Watching you takes me back a decade," she wanted to call out. "Back to our first summer on the land."

Ever since they'd arrived, she'd barely been able to contain her nostalgia--her need to remember the details, even the way she'd gotten involved in the construction, nailing shingles, varnishing. And more: her father's surprise visit to the site in what was to be the last year of his life; the enthusiasm of his unsolicited advice, his uncharacteristic deferral, given their professional differences, to Timble's judgment; the treasure chest of toys he'd unfurled--miniature hammers and saws, bright yellow bulldozers . . . and the most wonderful gifts of all, silk kites cut and sewn in a rainbow of blues and purples.

"Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching them," he'd said to her that afternoon. It had been one of the happiest moments of her life, sitting there with her father, watching Timble fly those kites with the boys; one of many fragile treasures that she kept locked away, things too dangerous to handle. Things that could shatter and break. And yet, all week, as she watched her husband towering over the crew, the sun catching the gold in his hair, she'd been taking them out one by one, turning them around and over in her mind.

 

These things are damned unwieldy!" she heard Timble complain.

Kate looked up to see her husband and Mr. Deloach struggling with a length of rain gutter. "Careful you don't bump your leg again," she called when she saw him lean across the porch railing.

"Where's Romeo?" Timble asked, after they'd managed to position the load on the scaffolding. "We could use his help with these."

"Gone courting again," she answered, pointing down the hill toward the Anderson place. "They've gone into town for the carnival."

At least this time, she told herself, she'd managed to keep father and son out of each other's way. Or rather, the Anderson girls had.

"I think our boy's found someone more accomplished at glibness than he is. I guess you'll have to settle for me," she said, deciding that the troublesome irises would have to wait. "Maybe if I work hard enough you'll even take me into town for lunch."

It felt good to have him back again, she thought; to see him stop what he was doing and smile at her.

For the first time in a long time she'd found herself wanting Timble as much as ever she remembered--wanting to share with him all the things she'd put away. Maybe this summer would provide a way to begin, she thought, hurrying across the yard to help.

 

Timble was still thinking about how pleasant the day had been when he turned off the main road and up the drive to the cottage. Just seeing the metallic glint that shown on the shiny blue-grey roof made him feel even better--that and the pleasure he'd taken in spending the afternoon with Kate. He could hardly believe the fun they'd had at lunch--who would've thought they could actually laugh about Alec. But then, there was no denying the inherent comedy in the boy's transformation.

Ever since the Anderson girls had arrived for the summer, he'd been different--so much so that it was impossible for him to pass a mirror now without pausing for a furtive, side-long evaluation. His disposition, too, had undergone a notable turn. Several times Timble was surprised by Alec's demeanor at home. At the dinner table one evening, after an outing with the girls, the boy had seemed almost chipper, the difference enough to prompt discreet glances, raised eyebrows between Kate and himself. This afternoon, they'd taken the time to reflect on the matter.

"I'd be willing to pay dearly to learn their secret," Kate had joked about the Anderson twins.

"It's no secret," he said. "Those girls are master ego builders. Whatever their approach, it's exactly what Alec's been needing."

It had been good to see her smiling again, to feel Kate's eyes watching him when he ordered, when he left the table to pay the check. So pleasant, in fact, that all the way home he'd been unable to keep his mind off his own needs. As he drove up in the yard, he thought how Kate might respond were he to stop by the back stairs, take her hand and quietly lead the way up.

 
     

 


 

 Forward to Urquhart, continued
 
     
 

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