FOUR Nick went up to his bedroom in his father’s wing of the house. Natalie.
He shared the bedroom with his half-sister, She was born not a year after Nick’s father died.
Nick had been old enough to be disturbed by her birth. There was obviously something wrong with his mother having a baby with his Uncle pretty soon after his father died. When she was six months old and finally sleeping through the night, Nick’s mother decided to put her in Nick’s room. said.
“You two will keep each other company,” she
Natalie started crying the moment their mother
closed the door.
Nick lay in bed, listening to her and
waiting for his mother to come back. got out of bed and went to her.
He watched her small fat
fingers grip the crib bars, her tongue trilling against her
He tried to touch her face, but she just
He tickled her tummy.
crying, he heard a slight giggle.
He tickled her again.
She laughed and then fell onto her back, laughing and wiggling.
Nick rested a hand on her stomach.
She calmed down.
He gave her
He rubbed her stomach.
song his father used to sing came to him.
It was to the
tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” You are tired and you want to go to sleep You are tired and you want to go to sleep And when you go to sleep, you will grow very strong You’ll wake up and be a big girl She calmd.
Her eyelids fluttered and closed.
few minutes of Nick’s singing, she fell asleep. They had shared the room ever since that night.
There was a crack in the bedroom door, and Nick pressed his face to it, peering through the splintered wood into the room.
The lights were off, but the moonlight
filled the room, and there stood Natalie, rigid, upright. She was tall and long-limbed with strong legs and arms and
thin, delicate fingers.
Her hair fell over her shoulders,
shimmering in the moonlight. Nick opened the door and went into the room.
not move when he came in. “Were you going to tell me you were leaving?” “I didn’t want to make it difficult for you,” he said. The words sounded stupid as soon as they left his moth. Only a guy apologizing to a woman for some boneheaded mistake could sound so stupid. “Make it difficult for me? difficult for me for months.
You’ve been making it
All this time, for all these
months, you’ve been telling me about this girl.
night I come home to this room expecting you to be gone. To have left.
Every morning I wake up expecting to see
your bed empty, maybe a little note on the table saying goodbye.
It wears on me.
And now you finally decide to
leave, and you just try and deceive me?” “You know I’ve always wanted to leave.” “Want is different than action, Nick.”
They stared at each other, their bodies tense, their
eyes seized on one another, their faces trembling with anger.
But Nick felt that more than anger raged in her.
Nick waited, expecting her to tremble, waiting for a tear to glimmer on her cheek.
But her jaw was still
clenched taught, her face trembling.
Whatever sadness he
had just seen in her face had been overcome by anger. “I’m not sure I’m going to leave,” he said, hoping the words would calm her. She didn’t respond. “I’m serious, Natalie.” “Seems like a fun task.” “It’s not a joke.” “I understand that.
I said it sould like fun.”
“So I might stay here to do that.” “I find that unlikely.” “What does that mean?” She turned from the window. beautiful.
Her face was calm,
No emotion showed—not in a flash in her cheeks
or an unsteady gaze in her eyes. find that unlikely.
“It means what I said.
I find it unlikely that you’ll do
either of the things you’re talking about doing. not find out who killed your father. leave this house.
And you will not
You’ve had all your life to do both, and
you never have. “Because you don’t really want to. in you.
You don’t have it
You don’t truly and deeply want to know who killed
your father. the house.
The same way you don’t truly want to leave You claim you do.
It’s the same claim I’ve
been hearing you make your entire life. long time, I believed it was true. I don’t believe you anymore.
And for a very
But I don’t believe it,
Because when somebody truly
wants something, they go and get it.
They don’t talk and
talk about it but take no direct action toward accomplishing what they claim to want. “And I simply cannot listen to you and believe truly that this girl you claim to love, this prostitute is the thing in your life that will spark you to action. will a request from our grandfather.
I just do not
believe, I cannot believe, that these things, these people, will compel you to finally do the very things you have never been able to do for almost twenty five years.
external force will make you achieve the things you alone have not been able to achieve.
People don’t work like
They don’t rely on somebody or something else to
inspire them, to push them to get what they want. come from inside you, Nick.
Because nobody will ever care
about what you want as much as you care. because you want to.
You must leave
You must discover who killed your
father because you want to.” Nick felt his hand forming a fist. Natalie.
He stepped toward
She backed away from him, toward the wall, her
arm clasped against her chest in an instinctive female gesture of protection. “Don’t ever say anything like that to me again,” Nick said.
He turned and left the room.
Nick had been lying awake in bed for a very long time. The bright moonlight came through the window, showing the curve of muscles in his broad, naked chest, the red scabs running over the veins in the backside of his hands, dark rings around his eyes, and beside the far wall of the large
wood-floored room, Natalie’s empty bed. covers and stood up from the bed.
He threw back the
Now the moonlight showed
his on the defined muscles in his thighs. closet to dress.
He went to the
He moved automatically amongst Natalie’s
things on the floor – her shoes, her dresses, her sweaters, her jeans, her socks, her bras, her underwear.
scent drifted to him – floral and warm and womanly. smell stirred a want inside him.
But he forced the want
out of him. He took his work clothes—jeans and a flannel shirt— from a shelf.
They smelled of the factory, of grease,
sweat, metal, melted plastic.
He dressed and walked out
of the room, down the long hallway to the stairs.
quiet of the night, the house felt even larger than usual. He stopped on the landing and stood looking out on the large living room.
In the stone fireplace, embers from
that night’s fire glowed.
The air smelled of wood smoke.
There was the tick and puff of a bit of log breaking and falling into the ashes.
He went on.
At the back door, he took his overcoat and work gloves from the hooks where they hung and went outside.
air pinched his cheeks, bit through his coat and shirt and into to his skin.
The night was clear and crisp.
snow-covered yard was a white sheet in the moonlight, rolling away from him until it ended at the black, swirling river. He crossed the yard and went to the shed to get a shovel, trudging through the deep snow, and once there, fought to pull open the door against the layer of snow piled in front of it.
When he got it open, he saw, in the
moonlight, three shovels, two standing in a corner of the shed.
The third hung on a bent nail on the back wall.
This was the shovel his grandfather had used to dig his fatherâ€™s grave.
It had not been touched since that
afternoon twenty-five years ago. showed on its shaft.
Lumps of dirt still
Rust covered its blade.
into the shed, moving past the lawnmower, rakes, cans of gasoline, broken pots, and took the shovel from its nail. He went to the graveyard. and it grated against itself.
The gate latch was stuck, He pried it open with his
hands, and the gate opened with a shriek.
He walked into
the graveyard and latched the gate behind him. He stood at the foot of the grave, holding the shovel with both hands, ready to dig. closed his eyes.
Instead of digging, he
He imagined his father lay not in a
casket but at the bottom of a great chasm in the ground.
He imagined himself falling into the grave, through the of snow, into the earth, through that chasm, passing by dirt, by mud, by stones, by tangled roots, by worms and snakes, toward a vast rushing river.
He fell and fell, deeper into
that chasm, until finally he saw his father floating in the river,
the navy suit he was buried in rippling with its
current, his brown hair fanned out from his head, his eyes wide open, his hands and arms, too, waiting to receive his son.
Nick held this image in his mind until he could feel
the cold splash of the water and the mass of his father’s chest.
Then he opened his eyes.
He lifted the shovel.
He gripped it so tightly his
palms burned and the fresh wound on his finger throbbed. The shovel’s power pulsed through his hands.
rammed it into the earth. It sliced through the snow and struck the frozen earth with a clang. jolt through his body.
The impact sent a
He stomped on the shovel, and it
ground deeper into the earth.
He lifted the pile of earth
and snow from above his father and began digging. Owen feels the cold river water swirling around his body.
In front of him, Milo swims, swinging his arms to
stay below the water.
He smiles his big wide smile, his
dimples showing, his blue eyes shining, his large Adam’s apple straining in his neck. mouth.
A fish swims toward Milo’s
Milo doesn’t close his mouth.
Milo’s mouth, stretching it wider open.
The fish swims into
It fills up Milo’s
His eyes bulge out of his head.
The fish wriggles furiously until it disappears into Milo’s mouth. Milo sinks deeper into the river. him.
Owen swims toward
The Adam’s apple vibrates in his neck, up and down,
up and down, and then starts to stick further and further out from his throat.
Owen can see the fish lodged in the
back of his son’s mouth.
He reaches into Milo’s mouth to
pull it out, but it swims away from his fingers, further and further down Milo’s throat until Owen has shoved his entire forearm down his son’s gullet. tight and wet around his arm.
Milo’s throat is
His fingertips touch the
prickly bones in the fish’s tail. A familiar voice says: Milo falls away from Owen. mouth.
“Look outside, look outside.” Owen’s arm slides out of his
Milo’s teeth grind against his wrist and knuckles.
The voice says: “Look outside.” Owen opened his eyes. white curtains.
The moonlight shown through the
He saw the crack in the plaster of the
He felt Gwen’s body beside him, her heavy
breathing. It was the same dream.
The same dream of failing to
save his son. Again, the voice said: “Look outside.” voice of the house he built.
It was that
The second voice in his head,
crawling into his head. He threw back his covers and leapt from the bed.
rushed to the window and stood there, the cold air seeping through the glass, stinging his skin.
And there in the
graveyard, two stories below his bedroom window, in that patch of land he’d turned into a graveyard for his oldest son, stood a tall dark figure set against the snow, digging.
Anger rose in him, hot and grating. another few moments. to the frigid window.
The anger eased.
He watched for He pressed his ear
He heard a dull jolt, a metallic
clang, the patter of earth falling on earth. Owen went to his closet to dress.
The closet smelled
of wool and shoe polish and his lime aftershave – his smell, and this was the place he always smelled it. felt a rush of blood at the smell.
He dressed in flannel
He left the room, opening and closing the
door very carefully so as not to wake Gwen, and started down the stairs. In the moonlight, he could make out the pictures hanging on the wall.
The pictures of his
family’s iron mill in Swansea.
The hills behind the town.
His father, tall and slim and blackened in soot, his teeth white in his sooty face.
His plump mother smiling, leaning
happily against his father. That was the summer before they died.
Killed in the
German bombing raid on the first night of the three day Blitz. “Life rolls along,” he said aloud, “like a log down a bottomless mountain.” He continued on down the stairs to the back door, where his work coat and shotgun were waiting. kneeled to tie his boots, his kneecap.
he felt the slip and grind of
He put on his coat, clutched his Winchester
1200 in the crook of his arm, and stepped into the cold air, onto the stiff snow covering the ground.
Nick worked, ramming the rusty blade of the shovel into the frozen earth.
Each strike of the shovel sent the
same jolt through his arms and chest, his neck.
he worked, the more he began to dread that jolt of the shovel striking the hard stubborn earth.
He started using
his foot to force the shovel into the ground, but then his foot began to bear the brunt of that jolt, and the shock now rode into his foot, up his shin, through his knee, and deep in to the muscle of this thigh. Then, above the clang of the shovel and the grind of the earth, he heard a heavy crunch in the snow.
up, leaning against the shovel.
crawled down his face and back.
He sniffed, inhaling dry
cold air and snot, and ran an arm across his forehead. There was another crunch in the snow. Then the crack of a gunshot. hitting a tree.
The smack of the slug He turned in the
direction of the gunshot, toward the house.
beside the door, holding his shotgun gun at his shoulder, sighting along its barrel, aiming it at Nick. seized Nick.
His heart thumped.
The sweat dripped from
his brow and crawled further down his back, soaking his undershirt.
He kept looking at Owen.
Owen stepped away
from the house, closer to Nick, still aiming the gun at him.
The gun’s barrel glinted in the moonlight, and Nick
could just barely make out the wrinkles in Owen’s face where it was pressed against the gun.
walked closer. Nick turned, thrust the shovel into the earth, and kept working.
Owen’s footsteps kept crunching in the snow.
Nick kept digging, lifting the dirt from above his father bit by bit. Then came the gunshot. flash in his body. thwang.
Nick felt another, harder jolt
There was a loud crack.
Something stung his cheek.
For a moment, the
world went black, and he felt lost, disoriented. The black faded, and he saw the snow again. for pain to grip his body. in his cheek. in them.
None came, except that burning
He moved his arms.
He looked in his hands.
Something felt different Half of the shovel he
still held in his hand, the handle and the splintered midsection of the shaft.
The other half, the spade and the
rest of the shaft, lay in the snow, buried. hit the shovel.
Nick took of his glove and touched the
burning spot in his cheek. splinter.
The shot had
He felt the prickly end of a
He turned to Owen.
With one hand he fingered the
splinter in his cheek, with the other he held the broken shovel in the air.
He yelled: “Now how am I gonna do any
work?” Owen stood about fifty feet away.
He still held the
gun at his shoulder, but he no longer sighted along the barrel.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Digging up my father.” "Who said you could do that?" "No one."
Owen lifted his head from the gun and then slowly, in a steady, controlled movement, lowered the gun until he held it at his side and the tip of the barrel brushed through the snow. and quivering.
He stared at Nick, his grey eyes wide
He looked at the grave, then back at Nick.
He was processing something, working it over in his mind. Nick waited.
His undershirt was soaked with sweat now, a
heavy damp mass on his body.
His body felt coiled tight.
Owen walked toward the graveyard. against the fence.
He leaned his gun
“The going’s pretty slow, huh?” Owen said, looking at the grave. Nick turned to the grave.
Owen’s question, his
concern about the work, was good.
They were talking about
a project now, a task to be accomplished, something whose greatest significance was its stubborn refusal to yield to man’s power.
The tightness in Nick eased. “It’s goddamn
freezing,” he said. “That it is,” Owen said.
He turned in a circle,
taking in the house, the lawn, the river, and the hills in a sweeping, arrogant look Nick knew well.
He hunched his
shoulders and pulled his gloves tighter onto his hands. Then he walked toward the shed, his footsteps heavy in the snow. The tightness seized Nick again. thought.
The shovel, he
Owen went inside the shed, and then, after a
moment, stepped back out of the shed. “Where’s the shovel?” he yelled. Nick held the broken shovel high in the air. “You just shot it.” “Wonderful,” Owen said, loud enough for Nick to hear. He went back in the shed and came back out carrying the other two shovels.
He trudged back to the graveyard.
In the moonlight, trudging through the vast glowing expanse of snow, with hills rising behind him, the woods and the mansion looming over him, carrying the two shovels, he looked small—weak and insignificant—a way Nick had ever seen him. He walked to the graveyard gate and carefully latched it behind him.
He did not speak. He handed one shovel to
Nick, then stood leaning on the other, waiting for Nick to start working.
Nick gripped the shovel and bent over to
start digging, but a burst of emotion flooded him. His eyes welled up, his chin trembled.
He was about to explode with
sobbing, so he thrust his shovel in the snow, digging, engaging his body to hold back the tears. But he couldn’t keep himself from crying. know what specifically brought on the emotion.
He didn’t It was just
a powerful mass pounding over him, causing his whole body to tremble.
His strikes with the shovel weakened.
turned from his grandfather, trying to shield his tears from him.
He dug harder, trying to lessen his crying
with work, but only feeling the clang of the shovel ring through his body. peering at Nick.
Owen approached him and leaned over, Nick was sure he could hear his weak
sniffling, see his trembling chin and the tears streaming
down his face.
He waited for him to criticize him, yank
him backwards. Then Owen stepped to the head of the grave and thrust his own shovel into the earth.
And he too worked.
lifting a few shovelfuls of dirt, he said: “So why’d you think to do this?” Nick, fighting to get the words up his constricted throat, out of his trembling, unsteady mouth, said: “You decided to put him in the ground.
I figured I’d get him
out.” Should be moving to something, a relevation, change.