A bitter, childless woman and her husband visit their new retirement cabin. There, she encounters a mysterious boy at a lake.
A 232 page eBook of
Alaskan family fiction.
Dawn filled the hills with purple mist. Ellie looked away, stared at unpaved side-roads her husband drove past, and worried. Where is he taking me? It was hard to see out in the dim morning light, especially with all the bugs that had died on the windshield. Each gray turn-off from the main road headed in all likelihood to dark green prison walls of trees. Already she missed her friends in the city and the activities at the club.
"I have no idea where we are," Ellie said.
"Please. Relax," Edward said.
"I am relaxed. I've been relaxed for two hours."
"Rosita and Carla prepared food. It's in the picnic basket," he said. His features twisted into a tight smile.
Ellie said, "I'm certainly not going to serve you food."
"I'm not hungry. There's coffee in the thermos, though."
"And you expect me to get it?"
Edward stared in steady concentration straight ahead, and his stony look made her hands knot up. Rather than put up with such stubborn silence, she decided to go ahead, get the damn coffee, thinking goodness who does he think he is? Ellie turned in the seat, groaning. She would have to unfasten the seat belt. She lifted her body, felt around in the back. Feeling the basket, she peered over the seat and under the basket's cover. She made out wrapped sandwiches, yogurt, a bottle of expensive wine, cheese, crackers, fresh apples and bananas. No thermos.
"Oh for heaven's sake, where is it?"
She fussed around in there, stretched further over the seat, and spotted a cylindrical shape lying on the floor. She reached for the top and grabbed.
She hadn't thought to have coffee herself, and considered riding in Edward's Pathfinder and pouring coffee at the same time beneath her background and social place. Imagine, me pouring coffee in a moving vehicle. As she tipped the thermos, Edward opened the top of the Pathfinder's center armrest. Inside were holes for the coffee cups. The road was not bumpy, so Ellie had little difficulty other than in her resistance to servile work pouring the coffee into the cups.
This is the kind of work Rosita or Carla should do, she was thinking.
"There," Ellie said. "I hope you're satisfied." Edward certainly heard her beleaguered tone. She could tell from the diminished smile he made to the rolling road ahead without moving his mouth at all, a look she understood all too well. Out the window the morning time of half light slowly passed away as the Pathfinder climbed higher into the mountains. To her the scenery appeared particularly dreary, green bones of trees, an occasional field with clumps of wounded grass. She glanced over again at Edward and out his window. Above the horizon rose a blurred and electric orange sun that through the windshield struck the planes of Edward's angular chin. Edward as usual looked serious and dedicated, a long, narrow tan face, thinly seamed.
Probably listening to me the same way he listens in court, those awful child abuse cases, juveniles, parents not paying child support, children running away. Awful children. I'm certainly glad the Good Lord never made me bear that burden, having children. Heavens.
"I'm not one of your sick juvenile cases, Edward," she said. "Don't give me that sorry look."
"Oh, please. Don't ruin this."
"Ruin? This isn't my idea. Imagine, after all these years you practically forcing me to come to God knows where. Why, we've completely left the city."
"It's a cabin. The cabin I had built."
"Well of course it's a cabin. But that's your business, Edward. Your idea to retire. Your idea to buy lake property. Not mine. I hate the wilderness."
"When I retire, I want us, you and me, Ellie, to spend time together, like when we were young."
"I'll go crazy."
"Maybe if you'll just see it. You once made photographs."
"That's gone forever, Edward. Nothing to see anymore, not since..." Ellie pulled her mouth in at the corners and gave Edward a keep-your-mouth shut look. Edward probably knew what she almost said, the way he gave her his benediction face. How she resented that, him coming across with that delicate dimension of sensitivity, treating her again like one of them, his stupid juvenile cases. She fiddled with the buttons on her blouse. They were small pearl-shaped ones, and she unbuttoned one and buttoned it again and again, absently looking out at the blur of trees, hearing the tire treads under the Pathfinder whirring over the endless road with the annoying yellow line down the middle.
Edward said, "Not since we found out."
"We are not going to speak of that. Not now. Not ever."
"But it's the truth. You just quit, same day Doc Hansen gave us the news. Jesus, Ellie, thirty-two years."
"I did not quit. I have a life. You have yours. The famous Judge."
"We could have adopted, Ellie, like Doc Hansen said."
"Oh, you and your bright ideas. That young woman lied."
"Ellie, she was a child herself. She at first wanted to give up the child to us."
"And you, you stupid idiot, paid for her medical expenses."
"I was glad to help."
"She lied. Took the baby from us."
"Then, we should have tried again. Rather than this. Look at us now. Nothing."
"The way it was meant to be, Edward. I don't want to hear another word."
Edward moved his head slightly, probably to establish some sort of perspective, re-arrange his thinking somehow. He sagged into the driver's seat and reached for the small coffee cup as though it was the only solid goodness remaining in his world. He took a silent sip. From the aroma, Ellie guessed Edward was drinking an exotic decaf blend. Ellie allowed a small amount to pass over her lips. To her, the taste was acceptable, but she wasn't much interested in telling Edward about it.
Edward pressed a little harder on the accelerator as the Pathfinder climbed a rise. Ahead was another straightaway lined with trees. Edward was taking Ellie farther from the safety of her tight circle of friends at the club, forcing her, the way she saw it. She begrudgingly took him in from the corners of her eyes.
He hadn't changed much over the years. Edward had turned gray in his forties. The gray had turned to a dignified silver. Unlike some his age, he wasn't stooped, but straight and tall. She had heard over the years that those who knew him and his work in the courts respected him. To her, he was just Edward, living the way he wanted. Fine with her, if he would only leave her alone.
Edward turned off on an unpaved side-road. Ellie puzzled over where he was going but remained silent, hoping the ghastly ride would soon end. The Pathfinder bounced along, stirring up a cloud of yellow dust on a road almost too narrow for on-coming vehicles to pass. Tree branches hung over them like arms, and Ellie looked up into their sun-shot leaves. The lone sign of civilization was an occasional power pole that carried a single drooping line, probably, she was thinking, to give electricity to whoever lived here. She gave Edward an expression of disapproval. This was not going to be a pleasant experience for either Edward or her.
She would see to that.
The road widened and turned. Trees drew apart and sun bathed the Pathfinder with dazzling light. Ellie sat back, stung. A lake appeared in the windshield, looking almost like an oil painting. She saw a cabin built with overhanging eaves, two stories tall, a red ribbon tied around the entrance.
"Oh, my God," Ellie burst out, "this is the surprise?"
Edward busied himself in the back, moving around as though he had an odd, volatile feeling about the country, which she would never in her life understand. As Ellie got out, he came around, carrying a pair of scissors. She refused to let her reserve thaw, in spite of the great exultation that appeared to fill Edward's chest to bursting.
"You're the one to cut the ribbon. This is our summer place, where we can spend time together, away from the city."
Might as well be talking to the wind, she thought. He's certainly gone to a lot of trouble for nothing.
Ellie looked hard and for a long time at the scissors, not wanting to do anything that would imply agreement to a lifestyle that to her would be most unpleasant. But just to get it over with she reached, and with an indrawn gasp she cut the ribbon in two.
Bastard! she whispered behind his back.
Edward looked at her, and she noticed lines around his eyes, blue flecked with gray. The idea slowly germinated that now she was here, she must somehow tolerate this, just this once, though the hunger to leave gnawed in her.
Just for the week-end, she said to herself. Today, part of tomorrow.
Edward took her by the arm and lead her toward the front entrance. Withdrawing, Ellie let him walk ahead and unlock the door. Edward looked inside and turned to her. Bowing slightly from the waist, he gestured toward the interior with a flourishing wave of his arm.
"Enter. Tell me what you think."
She said absolutely nothing. Her scowling mood remained.
Sun entered the living room through kitchen windows and sliding glass doors opening onto a long, white porch facing the lake. There, Ellie saw a barbecue grill, lounge chairs, and a table. Inside, trophies of animals and fish hung on the wall, ones the Judge had taken through the years. Ellie had put them into storage long ago, and Edward obviously had shipped them up here without her knowing. Edward opened the sliding doors, took her hand and guided her out. She could see Edward looking over the railing. Below in the water she saw an aluminum boat with an outboard motor on its stern, tied to a dock. Stairs led from the dock to the porch.
"This is a beautiful lake," Edward said. "There's trout here. You and I can go fishing. And there are trails around here, too, so we can go for walks. This is a healthy way for us to spend our summers after I retire."
"Oh, of course. As content as field mice. Really. This is what you dragged me here for? Edward, since when have I liked the country?" She'd pushed the words across to him, hard, and Ellie saw their effect, Edward raising his hands in a don't-shoot pose.
"Ellie, all I want you to do is give this a try. Please." A pleading tone, an urgent look. She looked away, pretended to survey the porch, gaze at the lake. The trees bored her as much as the blurred ones she had looked at on the long drive. She stepped into the interior of the cabin and stood in a mid-sized dining room. To her left, a breakfast counter surrounded by barstools separated the kitchen from the dining room. The floors were the hardwood variety with Persian rugs spread over them. Sofas, coffee tables, end tables, bookshelves, den chairs, and a dining room table furnished the entire downstairs. A recliner stood in one corner next to an end table on which she saw binoculars, Edward's pipe, tobacco and an ashtray. A wall clock of the cuckoo style hung above the fireplace. Its ticking plucked the nerves in Ellie's head. It was 9:45 a.m.
"Well you've certainly conveyed your intentions clearly, Edward, but as usual I don't think you've got both oars in the water."
She opened the refrigerator and discovered a cake, a loaf of bread, milk, a quart of orange juice, diet soft drinks, eggs, bacon, sour cream and Tbone steaks. In the freezer she noticed a pint of her favorite ice cream, French vanilla, and a bag of peas. The cabinets held cups, saucers and plates. The drawers contained a setting of silverware and cooking utensils. A radio sat on the counter next to a basket of potatoes. A display of pots and pans as well as condiments and canned goods completed the kitchen's culinary trappings.
The homeyness of the cabin shocked Ellie, a full-fledged country flat, one Edward expected her to live in. Edward must have lost his mind to think for one minute she'd even consider spending time here, away from the girls at the club, Doris and Gloria.
"Never seen anything so ridiculous in all my life," she said.
Edward appeared unperturbed, and he gave Ellie that same understanding look she'd always hated, the one that told Ellie he thought of her as another of his sorry juveniles. Edward led her upstairs to the master bedroom, where she saw the king-sized bed, the dressers and mirrors, a full bathroom, and closets. The cabinets contained some of Ellie's clothes, vinyllooking raincoats and rubber boots. About the room and over the headboard she saw oil paintings she had done years ago, not long after they married. Memories ruffled through her mind like wind on the waters of a lake. She had taken art courses to keep busy, to keep her mind occupied after Doc Hansen's news. She'd made the paintings on the wall from photographs.
I was quite good, she thought, looking at them. One was of a young man standing with his hand on an older woman's shoulder: Edward and his mother, from an old photograph. She'd known of the Andrews family and of Edward since she was a child, a family as wealthy as hers. The other painting was her rendering of Carl Turner, when he was younger. Years ago Ellie had taken a photo of Carl when he was caretaker of the estate of Ellie's mother and father. Ellie had made the photograph of him near the large tree, a hoe in one hand, looking into the lens like an older brother looks, with love and concern and caring. Both paintings quite good.
Ellie followed her husband to another room, smaller than the master bedroom. There Ellie saw two twin beds. This was the guest room, complete with a half-bath.
"Something to eat?" Edward said. Ellie felt his eyes probing her. "Then I'll take you around the lake. Maybe I can catch a trout or two."
Ellie reluctantly followed him downstairs, and in the kitchen she opened the basket Rosita and Carla had prepared. Ellie hid the wine in the refrigerator behind the milk and bread. The wine, which they seldom drank, was Edward's way of celebrating her arrival there. She would have none of it. Ellie would not toast a lifestyle such as this. She had no intention of returning.
Ellie placed the food on the table, and poured coffee from the thermos, all the while with a nagging feeling she was doing what she paid Rosita and Carla to do, servant's work.
They ate in silence.
Afterward, she wandered to the porch and watched Edward below on the dock fiddling with the silly little boat. A movement from the opposite shore caught her attention. A small smear of color clashed with the relentless trees. She heard a splash.
A fish jumping, perhaps.
Ellie made out a small figure standing on what looked to be a fallen log. She figured the child had thrown a rock or a branch into the water.
A small boy, one with red hair.
Curious, she went inside for the binoculars. She focused on the boy. He was urinating in the water. Ellie saw the way the light came though the trees, how the boy's piss streamed in a small arc through the air and bubbled into the lake.
"Edward?" she called. "I want you to come see this, your beautiful lake."
Edward trudged up the steps and approached Ellie with a frown and an outreached hand. Ellie poked the binoculars at him with an emphatic gesture.
He looked to where Ellie truculently pointed. "Oh, Ellie, it's a boy. A little red-headed boy."
"Senseless," she said. "An absolutely senseless child."
About the Author:
Shirley S. Bue lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband, Arne
eBook version Copyright 2009 by Shirley S. Bue
Page Updated October 7, 2013 © 2009 Baxter Bog Cards & Collectibles, Homer, Alaska