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women linger outside. The conversation ranges widely, but always eventually turns to the inevitable march north for the men to beat the fire away from the fields and back into the foothills so the cattle can come down from the mountains before the first hard frost. The men stand at the bar, drinking whiskey or black ale, and arrange to repair their tools and patch their rusted tin pails. The women trade ideas of what food to pack for the men, and what to prepare when they return, the soot and sour musk of them, the blunt pressure and hot living weight of them, and red streaks of sunset in the smoky sky. So in the days before the harvest, smiles are strained with anticipation and apprehension. *** One evening Lucy Harper placed bread and bowls of stewed beef and seated herself carefully facing John across the table. She watched him eating, studiously, silently. “John. This woman, the woman at the hotel. Do you think she will come and help us with the apples?” John Harper swallowed, paused, took another spoonful without looking up. “Why would she do that?” Lucy clenched her hands together in her lap, beneath the table. “Because I wish it.” John chewed, swallowed. “Then she will come.” He took another bite, without looking up, and reached for the bread. She smiled quietly, pressed her hands briefly on the tabletop, took up her spoon. “Good. Thank you.” *** The woman watched the town preparing for the harvest from the back porch of the hotel kitchen, from the window of the dining room, from the dark hollow little lobby. The faceted glass of the front door fragmented and repeated the goings-on. Disembodied torsos and feet crossed the square, people flickered from one place to another in an instant, the same faces would pass twice or three or four times within seconds. It left her bewildered. The few that still came to dine at the hotel were quiet, barely speaking above a whisper, and she could hardly recognize them as parts of the bright whirling busyness outside. They only seemed real when she watched them in the big mirror behind the bar. Then they moved silently, like creatures under water, and she felt something like kinship. *** One afternoon, Lucy Harper stepped through the lobby and found the woman in the kitchen. “Hello.” 34 |

Kenny Gordon

Permafrost Magazine Summer Issue, 36.2  
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