Morning came bright and eager, and the barest chill bit the air, as Cable looked out over the small piece of Sunquit visible from Frank’s deck. From every quarter came evidence of the storm, debris scattered as if giant baskets had been emptied on the land. Trees had been ripped out of the ground and tossed singly or in piles, their limbs shorn of leaves, bark stripped in huge rents. Every point at the high water mark was littered with wood, huge planks torn from God knows where, boards of every description, two by fours and moldings and fashioned woodwork and now and then large sheets of plywood scaled to a hard resting place, partly buried in sand or debris piles. He could see boat parts of upper decks driven high up on the shore and thought of the agony associated with each piece, the drama which might have surfaced at their rending.
Cable inspected the cottage from stem to stern and the balance of Frank’s property, finding only loose shingles pried from the garage by the relentless force of the wind, a shed door under the line of green shrubs at the roadway. Some of the older trees had been hit heavily and he wondered what had happened at May Keating’s cottage as he remembered her remarks on the telephone. Through the long night she had been a companion of sorts to him, passing in and out of his mind in one frame or another, in one degree or another, vital as hung breath. She was permanently wedded with the wind in his memory, sheer silhouette of silhouettes. When he recalled the ferocity of the wind’s gusts, the high pitch of its moaning in the downspouts and trim gutters, the bumping and banging and grinding sounds the night had been full of, he felt the energy and drive that were, to him, visible parts of her. He knew that whenever the wind came at him, whenever it blew in whatever place in whatever time, from now on he would think of her. She was burned that way into his memory, an image of enormous power, an idea of near omnipotence, which made him laugh at the ridiculousness of his thought, but only for a moment. She is goddamn real, he said to himself, as the air touched at his forehead and bare arms, left signatures of complicity on the perimeter of his soul.
Coffee aroma flew on the air. People coming about, he thought, rising from the darkness of the storm, from the deep night of awful sounds and rampant terror; people up with the sun, up with their hopes, up with tools at hand to repair damage and get on with their days. A known pulse worked in his arms, in his legs. He thought it the surest of his experience.
He dialed May Keating’s number and heard no dial tone at all. He slid on an old pair of suntans, a gray T-shirt and boots that had served him a good deal of the road. The boots were a reminder of reality. They did not allow him to dream very much, wearing oil from too many pit stops, gravel residues from so many waysides, a thin grayish-white line that spoke of salt water complexion, prairie dust and mountain grain. The panorama of all his travels wove in and out of his mind; scenes recalled other scenes and faces brought out the features of forgotten miens lost down some lane or alley or down a country road falling away under a line of maples running all the way under a leaning mountain. His life had always been at departure, or at the brink of it.
He knew what his mind was doing to him: summoning all these pictures and views of all the places he had been, all the people he had met. It was a lesson in self-teasing, baiting himself, positioning himself, measuring himself, finding himself still alone in the world. And May Keating was around the corner, the promise of the Lost Covenant, the Last Chance Saloon, a spirited partner of her near dead husband. He shook his head, trying to shake her off, pushing her to a deeper recess, indicting his awful fancies.
As an artifice, he brought back Meghan MacHearne, in her cabin in the High Sierras, in her jeans, arched, furrowed, molded to the back of his mind. A fragrance, soft as violets, but rich and ripe in a quiet way, came back on him. She seemed always to wear things of the field as part of her dress; a daisy, a sprig of unknown name and unnamed aroma, on her blouse once a flower so red he thought her heart had burst, herbs that seemed to spring their essences out of her pockets. Hands thrust into her deep pockets spoke of wildness and unknown rhythms. She should have been anyone’s rival, with hair black as the mountain valley at night, a laughter that was as soothing as a holiday at home, hands of the sculptress on a divine mission, lips the very lava had touched. That they had passed in the night was not, at length, a great surprise to him. In the morning they would never be able to talk, but she could, in the meantime, be an adversary of May Keating, a counter-balance, a point of argument, someone to keep him on his toes. She faded as quickly as she had come, as quickly as she had been summoned, folding into the line of flush maples along a road rising toward a distant mountain.
For a moment he tried to fathom a sense of motion, a trail of movement working in him, the cause and effect of his own travels. Brief hits here, brief hits there, in his mind, just as they were in his life, the itinerant wanderer meeting people like Meghan MacHearne, pausing at the edge of beauty itself, tasting, moving on, driven by an inner cause more powerful than any he could muster. On so many nights, as on this day, he had searched into the marrow and the ganglia matter that stored up all he had seen, had partaken of, the desired roads, the undesired roads, the whole psyche and its travelogue. He had great difficulty in getting to the gist of any reasonable explanation. It was as much apparition as any spirited essence, misty, believable, faint, as real as the nearest substance, unyielding in its makeup.
He thought of inventors or scientists as they plied away at a lifelong task, knowing what they wanted to reach but never having a clear idea, a clear vision, of how they would reach that desired plateau. So many had labored lovingly and endlessly for all their lives and had never reached that sacred plateau. Not that he placed himself under any such noble endeavors, but he too was grasped in this almost endless task of getting someplace. It tore wretchedly at his innards at times, and much in moments like these when he deliberated on his very next step. Options came and went as quickly as did deep breaths.
The unnamed and untouched and unknown energy of May Keating came back as strong as ever. It was as if he had always known what her make-up was, how she was really molded. It was magnetic, pulling him along. He put on a dark green sweater he had found in a closet, not looking any further. As yet he had not looked into any mirror and felt no desire to do so. He shrugged at the lesser of options. Outside the skies were silent and sunlit, the sea a slow monotone.
Slowly over the beaten terrain he walked, measuring the impact of the storm, the local damage piled about him, mostly trees and huge limbs, now and then pieces of boats or houses or sheds or who knows what. At the Keating cottage, a line of roof shingles was torn away, a shed splintered, a huge limb stabbed the deck. The windows, though, were all in place. The slight drift of coffee’s aroma touched at his nostrils. He smelled toast turning a blackened edge, thought he heard bacon turning up its toes in a skittle, rankling to be heard.
In the frame of the doorway she stood, watching him. He’s measuring everything, she thought, seeing his gaze shift from one object or condition to the next. He was tall, there was a hardness about him, a more than ample alertness. He did not move quickly, but dwelt on different points. His hands were expressing himself, though she could not read them. The shoulders were wide enough for any load. She waved energetically.
He did not see her.
“Is someone there?” asked Peirce from his ever bed by the seaside window.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s that friend of Frank’s I told you about. Said he’d be by this morning to check on that limb. It’s gone straight through the deck, just the way you pictured it would if it ever let go. I’m afraid the deck’s gone, but it’s not such a heavy loss. At least we’re dry.” She had wanted to say ‘intact’, but had caught herself, just as she had done so often. Just as she had trained herself.
“Do you think he’s coming in?” Peirce’s voice had a new edge to it, a bit of excitement.
“Yes,” she said. “He’ll come in. He said he’d come.” There was a pronouncement she wondered if Peirce had sensed.
“Tell me about him,” Peirce said. “Quickly! What’s he like? Is he tall or short? Does he have good eyes? “Only his head moved in the bed, his lips.
He had not been so animate in months. May looked over at him. He was board-straight and grinning at her. That grin used to knock her off her feet, sometimes it knocked her socks off. She felt warmth rising in her cheeks. His eyes were actually alive and blossoming, pushing at her. “Does he have that energy quotient we used to speak of? Remember how we used to measure everybody, doers and don’ters, woulders and won’ters? Is he like one of them? Can you tell yet?” His voice took on a suddenly serious tone. “Do you really think he’s a good reader, May? Would he be that kind of a doer?” His voice faded in a quick relapse, shorn so hurriedly of its good tone, its excitement. She bristled to attention.
“Peirce,” she said, and he knowingly accepted her direct use of his name as a signal of the intent she was about to utter, “He’s one of the strongest ones yet, if not the strongest. He’s tall, has wide shoulders, two children could ride on them. He is alert. I think he notices everything. Sometimes, maybe when he’s not conscious of it, he stands like a Marine at a ceremony. Only it’s not bluster, not on parade. More like he’s making some type of salute or paying very special attention to something or someone.”
Her head tilted slightly in support of her statement. Peirce read the incidental trait she had long practiced, one he had long been accustomed to, one that he had never shared with her and this time again, as on every other interpretation, made him feel an extraordinary guilt.
“Did he notice you, May?” His voice had picked up again.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Oh, God!” he said, “maybe this is the one.”
“Peirce, if you say it one more time, I’ll…”
“You’ll kill me! Christ, May, if I could get to the goddamn gun I’d do it myself! And you know it! I would have done it a thousand times, May, a thousand times. Pulled the trigger myself. Now tell me more about him.”
“He’s not a vagrant, not the kind you think of as sliding around, sucking up on things. But he does move, maybe not in fashion, but at his own pace. He’s probably a true nomad in denim. I don’t think we’ve met anyone like him around here. At least, not recently. I think he’s in command, rather than being tossed about at will. Perhaps some design in his travel. It’s not like he’s hoping to find something. More like he knows he’s going to find it, but doesn’t know where or when.”
“He’s really likable, May?” There was pure entreaty in his voice.
“He’s really likable, Peirce. And he’s coming up to the door now.”
When Traegger Cable stepped through the door, Peirce Keating was barely able to see him, but he knew a new man was in the room. He ached to talk to him, to ask questions, to see what life had done to another man, how he handled what had come his way. The energy was not awesome, but it was real. It moved about in the room, he was positive of that. An energy field, unseen but known, coupled them and Peirce thought immediately of Wally Dascomb and how he had wanted to fly, and how that desire emanated from his soul right up to the moment of his crash.
“You haven’t done so badly here,” said Cable. “The deck is gone, a few shingles, but that’s about it. You’re luckier than some.” He turned to Peirce. “My name is Traegger Cable. I’m a friend of Frank Mitman’s and I met your wife last evening when she got wrapped up in her sheets out there on the porch. I like to think that I helped her out of her difficulty, but you know, Mr. Keating, she looks good in sheets.”
Peirce Keating had the first honest laugh in months, a rollicking good laugh that turned contagious and brought May and Cable right into the fold of it.
“Some people, like Frank, have called me Trig. I answer to it mostly, but also answer dinner bells, calls for lunch, iron on iron for breakfast, mail call in Missoula, Montana whenever I’m there, and always help out ladies in any moment of distress.”
May spoke. “This is my husband, Peirce Keating. He was injured in an accident a few years ago and spends all his time here.” She motioned to the bed.
“I’m a lay-at-home, Trig. I could be standing, but then I’d be a stand-at-home. It’s only a point of view from which way your eyeballs are pointed. May says you like to read. That it’s one of the reasons you came down here, kind of getting away from it all to read, huh?” It was a hopeful phrasing of the question.
“I brought a few with me, some I’ve tried unsuccessfully at times and want to get back at, or back into, whatever it is. Some I’ve been waiting a long time to get at.” He made it sound as if he were going to partake of a long-lost recipe preparation, a watering mouth waiting. “I’ve set pairs of them, twins you might say, for attempting, not really for classification.”
“Like private mind games?” asked Peirce, more excitement clearly readable in his voice.
“You’re absolutely right, Peirce,” he replied. “It’s a pleasure to be discovered.”
Peirce was lit with excitement. “Tell me some of them, please, but slow and easy so I can turn them over.” Another party in the room would have sworn that Peirce Keating was rolling in his bedclothes.
“Let’s see. There’s Desmond Morris’ The Naked Ape and Peking Man by Harry Shapiro.”
“Marvelous!” shouted Peirce. “Absolutely marvelous. The pair-bonding. Morris does justice to that. He’s incredible. You’ll love it! What else?”
“How about Lucifer’s Hammer and A Step Farther Out?” Cable paused for the expected reply.
“Hey, Trig, you’re doing a before and after, history and future. Those are Pournelle’s. Both slammers! Big hitters! Real big hitters, if you get what I mean.”
They both laughed a riotous laugh, buddies in the latrine telling a real inside story, board room knowledge of a subordinate out in the air, a privileged private inroad that May was utterly lost to. But a flavor began to ferment itself in a quiet part of her mind. She tried to measure each of them in turn. Peirce was too upbeat even to get a grasp on. She had not seen him this way in such short order in a long time. Traegger Cable, talking as if Peirce were the only person in the room, able to broadcast that feeling without rancor or misinterpretation of its intent, was not unreadable, only unbelievable. Peirce had promised her such a man.
On too many nights to be ignored, he had promised her a special man would come into her life and take his place. He had vowed this every time his nostrils had been full of her, his eyes had been full of her. She had come to believe it, the way myths are believed, or cast in precious stone, like a half-understood religion has a grip on you; you dare not let go and you have no solid handle on which to hold. It was the way some poems were with her, full blown realities, feeling what the poet felt the moment he wrote the words, then the actual downhill sense of losing their import as she mouthed them over and over again, finding other meanings, other tastes, in them.
“You have more?” asked Peirce.
“Sure. Before breakfast I’m going to read Babylon Revisited and after breakfast I’m going to read Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour.”
“To settle your stomach!” roared Peirce. “To go to ground zero and start all over again!” May thought he would leap out of the bed. His voice had octaves not touched in months, ground not trespassed in a long time. Too long a time.
Heavy male laughter slopped in the room like wood being cut and piled up. It spilled over and over itself, heavy and full and so honest and so in tune May felt in a dream. She waited to be roused from this absolute moment of happiness, this moment of daring that hung in the air. The laughter rolled and rolled and made a promise of tears. They were like children at play, at secrets, at clubhouse friendship no outsider could really understand. She suddenly thought of the Tavern at the country club Peirce once had become a member of, and from which she was excluded except on weekday afternoons between 12 and 4, and for slabby thick roast beef sandwiches slowly poisoning many male hearts. So many wives had referred to it as the Cabbage Court, as in Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery, and then it became Mrs. Wiggens’ Cabbage Patch, and then the Green Room, and finally they had settled on it as the Celtic Room. And the men kept swallowing the poison and accepting the new name and that limited association with Larry Bird and Bob Cousy and the one and only Bill Russell.
She too began to laugh and the room grew in size, leaped its slim bounds, eased out into the fullness that was the Cape after a serious storm, the air vibrant and shining and full of clean salt rising off the face of the not so serious Atlantic Ocean.
If another eye were put on them, if another view were to be seen of them, if somebody were to peer in the window, new judgments would be made of the trio. May Keating absolutely bloomed in the midst of them, a literary ménage a trois. Her eyes lit up by an inner flame, long, too long, subdued. Expressions leaping to her face, crowding it into old issues, freeing from a secret vault the unused traces of her innermost feelings, highlighting her golden cheeks, the mouth whose parts were the elegance of lips almost dripping with themselves. The very set of her jaw became for the moment softer in its iron than it had been since the very crucible which had set it.
That she wore a yellow flowered dress, designs as large as her frame could hold, butter-yellow, daisy-yellow, was not lost on either of the men. Peirce, in a quiet reveling, gloried in her selection, her not so subtle association with the color scheme of the porch incident the evening before. Her breasts were somewhere undercover, never being much ammunition, as she had often remarked, the nipples partly driven nails, often paying slight attention, standing only for the right company, the right touch, a proper sense in air. The long curve of a thigh pressed itself through a flower. God, he thought, she can get magnificent! The blooming of her. The need of her.
To be continued.
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