Bruce K. Wildman sat behind is wide leather-topped desk, his face half-obscured by his green-shaded lamp, and said, "I'm taking her mother away next month. A few weeks in Cancun, maybe, something to settle her mind, help her to come to terms with it. I should have taken her away earlier, I guess; but, you know, what with old Mr. Digby so sick....."362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡzXNWxiWeG4
"I'm sorry she's taken it so hard," Harold said. "If there's anything you want me to do...."
Mr. Wildman shook his head. To both himself and his wife Claudia, Nancy's death had been the fiercest tragedy of their whole lives; even fiercer in some ways than losing their only other child, Nancy's brother Lance, at the age of five to leukemia. Mr. Wildman had told him that he felt when Nancy died that he was cursed by God. His wife felt even more bitter, and considered that the agent of the curse was Harold himself.
One of Mr. Wildman's younger partners in the Salem law firm of Wildman & Digby had offered to execute Nancy's will, and to arrange for her funeral, and he had insisted on handling all the details himself, with a kind of agonized relish. Harold understood why. Nancy had been such a vivid light in all their lives that it was hard to let her go; and harder still to think that one day they wouldn't think about her, not even once.
She had been buried at the age of 28 in Angel Point Cemetery, Ol' Spithead, on a sharp February afternoon, sharing her coffin with our unborn child, and her tombstone read, "Point me out the way to any one particular beauteous star."
Mrs. Wildman had refused to look at Harold throughout the ceremony. He thought that in her eyes he was worse than a murderer. He hadn't even had the civility to kill Nancy in person, with his bare hands. Instead, he had allowed fate to do his dirty work for him. Fate had been his hired assassin.
Harold had met Nancy by accident less than two years before at a foxhunt (of all places) near Glenwood, South Carolina. His presence at the hunt had been mandatory: it was being run across the 1200-acre estate of one of his employer's most influential clients; whereas Nancy was there just because a gushing girlfriend from Little Valley Institute had invited her to come for the excitement of being "blooded." There was no blood, the foxes all escaped. But afterwards, in the quite upstairs gallery of the elegant colonial house, Harold and Nancy sat in extraordinary Italian armchairs and drank champagne, and fell in love. Nancy quoted Keats to him, and that was why Keats was quoted on her headstone after she was dead.
"I saw pale kings and princes too, pale warriors, death-pale were they all; Who cry'd---'La belle Dame sans merci hath thee in thrall!'"
Ostensibly, they had nothing in common, Nancy and Harold; neither style nor education nor mutual friends. Harold had been born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of a shoe-store owner, Winstanley's Shoe Source, and although his father had done everything he could to give Harold a superior schooling---"no son of mine is going to spend the rest of his life looking at the bottom of other people's feet"---he was an irredeemable mid-Westerner. Speak to him of Chillicothe, Columbia, and Sioux Falls; those were names that moved him. He studied business at Washington University, and when he was 24 he found himself a sales job with Transosis Chemical Bonding, of Ferguson.
Harold was a 31-year-old business executive who wore gray suits and dark socks and carried copies of Fortune in his personalized leather briefcase. Nancy, in contrast, was the only daughter of a venerable but not-so-wealthy family from Salem, Massachusetts, the only daughter and now the only child; brought up in prettiness and grace and old-fashioned ways, but sophisticated, too. What might be described as the local Vivien Leigh. She liked antique furniture and American primitive paintings and hand-sewn quilts, but she had no time for any sewing of her own, and she very rarely wore any underwear, and whenever she went out into the garden she put on high-heeled French slippers, and sank into the dirt alongside the curly kale.
"Dammit, I should have been a good country wife," she always used to tell Harold, when her bread lay doggedly unrisen in its tin; or her marmalade turned to tar. "But somehow I just don't have that edge."
She tried on New Year's Eve to make Hopping John, a dish of salt pork and black-eyed peas traditional in the South, but when it turned out looking like brown marbles and slugs, and when she took the lid off the casserole they laughed until they were weak, and Harold guessed that's what really close marriages were all about. But she said afterwards, as she lay in bed. "The legend is, if you don't serve Hopping John on New Year's Day, you'll have a year's bad luck."
It all ended on Autumn Arch Bridge, in late January, in blinding snow when she was driving home to Ol' Spithead after visiting her parents in West Salem, and slowed up for the tollbooth, a young dark-haired lady six months' pregnant, in a yellow fastback Mustang II; and the air-brakes failed on a Mack truck that was following behind her, too close. She and the child she carried were crushed against the steering-wheel by a 17-ton truck and a full load of steel piping for the new sewage project up at Gloucester.
They called Harold up and he said, "Hel-lo" brightly, and then they told him Nancy was dead and that was the end of it.
It was for Nancy, less than one year before, that Harold had handed in his notice at Transosis Chemical Bonding, and moved to Ol' Spithead. She wanted tranquility, she had told him, a life of tranquility, in old country, old surroundings. She wanted children, and happy Christmases, and the kind of gentle Bing Crosby happiness that modern urban Americans had forgotten about. He argued that he was upwardly motivated, that he needed peer acclaim and dollars, and a Jacuzzi, and garage doors that recognized his voice. She said, "You're kidding, Harold. What do you want to tie yourself down with all of that stuff for?" and kissed his forehead, although it seemed to him that when they moved out to Ol' Spithead they acquired more material possessions in the way of clocks and rocking chairs than he'd ever thought possible. Harold felt within him, too, a kind of deep-rooted panic at the prospect of not earning more money this year than he had the year before.
When he handed in his notice he was treated as a suddenly declared closet homosexual. The president read his letter, re-read it, and actually turned it upside-down, to see if it read any different that way. Then he said, "Harold, I'm going to accept your resignation, but I'm going to take the liberty of quoting to you from Horace. 'Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt. They change their skies but not their souls, those who travel across the seas.'"
"Yes, Mr. Dzundza," Harold said flatly, and drove home to their rented house in McDougall and finished the best part of a bottle of Chivas Regal before Nancy came home.
"You resigned," she said, when she came in, her arms full of parcels that already they couldn't afford.
"I'm home, and I'm drunk, so I must have," he told her.
Within six weeks, they had moved to Ol' Spithead, within thirty minutes' driving-distance of Nancy's parents; and as summer heated up they bought Harvest Mills Cottage, on the northwest shore of Spithead peninsula. The previous tenant had grown tired of the wind, the real-estate agent told them; tired of the freezing winters, and had already moved south to a condominium in Fort Lauderdale.
Two weeks later, when the cottage was still in chaos and Harold's bank account was growing alarmingly thin, they took a lease on a shopfront property right in the middle of Ol' Spithead Village, overlooking the square in which Ol' Spithead's only witch had been hung by her heels and burned in 1691; an in which in 1775 a detail of British redcoats had shot and killed three Massachusetts fishermen. They called the shop Winstanley's Marine Antiques (although Nancy's mother had coldly suggested Knautical Knick-Knacks) and they opened it with pride and a surfeit of ivy-green paint. Harold wasn't at all confident that they could last very long, selling nothing but windlasses and demi-culverins and clocks made of out flag-staff buttons; but Nancy had laughed and said that everybody adored marine antiques, especially people who had never been to sea, and that we'd be rich.
Well---the Winstanleys weren't rich, but they made enough to keep them in logs for the fire, and clam chowder, and Paul Masson red, and to pay the mortgage, and apparently that was all Nancy wanted. She wanted babies, too, of course, but babies were free; at least until they're born.
In the few short months that Nancy and Harold had lived and worked together in Ol' Spithead, Harold made some of the most important discoveries of his entire life. He discovered, firstly, what love could truly be; and it became clear to him that he had never known before. He discovered what loyalty could mean, and self-respect. He also learned tolerance. Nancy's father treated him like an anonymous junior clerk he was obliged to amuse at the office Christmas party, and occasionally, though with obvious reluctance, would offer him some of his 1927 brandy. Nancy's mother would actually shudder whenever he came into the room, and pull faces whenever he spoke in his distinctive St. Louis accent, and treat him with an icy politeness that was even more chilling than naked hostility. She would do anything rather than talk to Harold directly. "Would he like a cup of tea?" she would ask Nancy, right in front of me; but Nancy would retaliate by saying, "I don't know, ask him. I'm not psychic."
Harold wasn't Harvard; I wasn't Hyannisport or Back Bay; or even Kernwood Country Club. They blamed him when Nancy was alive for ruining her social prospects; and when she was dead they blamed him for killing her. They didn't blame the truck-driver, who might've swerved; or the mechanic who should have checked the truck's servo-lines, and probably hadn't. They blamed only Harold.
As if, God help him, Harold didn't blame himself.
Mr. Wildman was now saying, "I've dealt with all the tax difficulties now. I've filed form 1040; and claimed for the medical attention that Nancy received in the hospital, even though of course it was pointless, I'll, er, pass on your accounts to Mr. Fortini from now on, if that's agreeable to you."
Harold nodded. The Wildman family obviously wanted to wash their hands of him as soon as they could, without appearing to be too boorish, or indecently hasty.
"There's one small matter," said Mr. Wildman. "Mrs. Wildman thought that you might consider it a suitably sentimental gesture to permit her to keep Nancy's diamond-and-pearl necklace."
The request clearly caused Mr. Wildman extreme embarrassment; but it was also clear that he didn't dare to return home without having asked Harold. He drummed his fingertips on his desk, and suddenly looked away, as if someone else had mentioned the necklace, and not him at all.
"Considering the necklace's value----" he put in abstractedly.
"Nancy gave me to understand that it's a family heirloom," Harold said in the gentlest voice he could manage.
"Well, yes it is. Goes back nearly a hundred-and-fifty years. Always passed from one Wildman wife to the next. But then, since Nancy didn't have any children to pass it on to..."
"And since, after all, she became a Winstanley....." Harold added, trying not to sound as bitter as he felt.
"Well," said Mr. Wildman uncomfortably.
"All right, then," said Harold. "Whatever makes the Wildmans happy."
"I'm obliged," said Mr. Wildman.
Harold stood up. "Is there anything else I have to sign?"
"No. No, thank you, Harold. It's taken care of." Bruce stood up himself. "I want you to know that if we can help in any way at all....Well, all you have to do is call me."
Harold lowered his head. He supposed it was wrong to feel so antagonistic toward the Wildmans. He might have lost his wife of less than one year and his unborn child; but they had lost their only surviving daughter. Who else could they accuse for such evil luck, but God, and each other?
Mr. Wildman and Harold shook hands like opposing generals after the signing of an unpopular armistice. Harold was just turning to leave, however, when he distinctly heard a woman's voice say, in the most natural of tones, "Harold?"
Harold turned around, his scalp fizzing with fright, and stared at Mr. Wildman. Mr. Wildman stared back at him. "Yes, Harold?" he queried. Then he frowned, and said, "Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Harold raised his hand, listening, concentrating. "Did you hear something?" he asked Bruce. "A voice? Somebody saying 'Harold?'"
"A voice?" asked Mr. Wildman.
Harold hesitated, but there wasn't anything else to be heard except that traffic outside Mr. Wildman's office window, and the rumbling of typewriters in nearby rooms. "No," he said at last. "I must've been imagining things."
"You're all right? You don't want to see Dr. Lockwood again?"362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡZ25C6hCWhP
"No, of course not. I mean, no thank you. I'm fine."362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡGXXXL73fG1
"You're sure? You don't look very well. I thought you didn't look too well when you came in here this morning."362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡIUfAvHjm6d
"Sleepless night," Harold told him.362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡmxnuEHrAwk
He rested his hand on Harold's back not so much to reassure him that in time they would all get over their grief but rather as if he temporarily needed somewhere to rest his hand.362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡRTYcgI2gJk
"Mrs. Wildman will be very appreciative about the necklace," he told Harold.362Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡwvQJN0Hb4Rns 220.127.116.11da2