by Barbara McGillicuddy Bolton
Dear God, Madelyn thinks. Dear God in heaven.Her brotherPaul has gotten up from their pew, stepped into the communion line and at his turn fallen to his knees, thrown back his head, opened his mouth, and stuck out his tongue. With his grey-blonde hair and beard, with the long white linen shirt over his jeans, he looks the way Jesus might have at the Baptism at the Jordan if he’d put off entering public life until late middle age. Briefly, bewilderment flits across the face of the deacon, Madelyn and Paul’s brother Pedro, vested in a white alb, a green stole angled across his chest. Then instead of placing a host on Paul’s tongue, Pedro makes the sign of the cross over his brother’s head. After a long moment, Paul pulls in his tongue, closes his mouth, drops his head, gets to his feet, and shuffles his skinny self back to the pew.
And so our story begins.
In the parking lot of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Paul speaks to Madelyn and Pedro through the open window of his pickup. “I’ll work in my garden for a while. See you at the lake after a bit.” Paul doesn’t feel like going into the whole communion fiasco right now—or maybe ever. Pedro, he thinks, is the perfect representation of a church that neither forgives nor forgets. He rolls up his window, waves, and pulls out of the parking lot. He’ll take advantage of this fine day in the short season of summer to work in the earth, drink from the spring, and be by himself.
Pedro crosses the lot with Madelyn and holds open the passenger door of his Toyota Camry. Unlike his fair-haired, blue-eyed brother and sister, he has dark hair and eyes, and if he works his way up gradually, he can develop a summer tan whereas their skin only freckles and burns. A blackIrishman, his father said when Pedro was an infant, proof of the Spanish Armada. Calling the boy Pedro was a joke, but a joke that stuck, and instead of Peter and Paul, pillars of the church, the older boy is Pedro to all, never Peter or Pete. Now, Pedro drives to the Big Stop where, before Mass, he met Madelyn’s bus on the last leg of her trip up from Boston. He’s laid in plenty of groceries at the lake, but he likes the sociability of a big brunch in a room full of people, many of whom he’s known all his life. Besides, eating at the Big Stop after Sunday Mass has become a ritual for him, and right now he needs to fortify himself against what he suspects Madelyn and Paul have colluded in. On their way to a booth next to the bay window in the back he nods or lifts a hand in acknowledgement to friends and acquaintances who say, “Mornin’ Deacon.”
Madelyn sees that Pedro gets the kind of respect of a genuine priest. In fact he looks like a genuine priest, dressed in black with a Roman collar, de rigueurfor deacons in the diocese of Maine although not in Boston or anywhere else in the US of A as far as Madelyn knows.
“You a Trump fan, Duane?” Pedro says to the fleshy waiter wearing a red baseball cap. “You going down to Bangor to cheer him on?”
“Heck, no, Deacon. Hillary neither. I’m going to write-in my dog.” Duane touches two fingers to the tip of his cap. “Bad hair day. The lumberjack special, Pedro?”
“And the lady?” Duane holds a pen over his order pad.
“This is no lady,” Pedro says. “This is my sister.”
“So this is where the looks in the family went. You want what he’s having, Sis?”
“Corned beef hash with eggs over easy.” Madelyn folds her menu and hands it to Duane. She might as well go to hell with herself on what may very well be her last trip back to The County.
“I’ll catch something for today’s dinner,” Pedro says while he and Madelyn wait to be served.
“Isn’t it too late in the day for fishing?”
“I know a spot that’s foolproof any time of day.” For the first time all week, Pedro feels in command of the situation. He is, after all, the big brother, the one who once upon a time could count on Madelyn and Paul to follow his lead. He looks across at his sister. She looks good—not slender the way she was the whole time they were growing up but trim enough for a middle-aged woman who’s had three kids, and she knows enough to wear her expensive-looking top loose over her white Capris. Surely, she and Jim can afford to hold onto the lodge even if they do have kids in college. Real estate in the city is sky high, not like here in The County. As Duane slides a plate in front of him, Pedro leans back and then picks up the salt. “I do feel bad about not giving communion to Paul.”
“He shouldn’t have put you in that position.”
Pedro doesn’t doubt that he did what he had to do, but he’s glad Maddy doesn’t blame him. “Paul’s a few cards short of a deck. Everyone can see that. People know him, and he’s better off here than he would be in a heartless big city.”
Madelyn swallows her first forkful of corned beef hash and egg, a satisfyingly salty, fatty dish reminiscent of her childhood that she hasn’t indulged in since the last time she was in The County. “Pedro, big cities are just collections of neighborhoods. Mine isn’t heartless.”
“No, probably not. But you know what I mean. He’s too old and, let’s face it, too weird to start over somewhere else. Since he got out, when he’s not stocking shelves at Yankee Grocer or working in his garden, he’s at the lodge. He spends more time there than I do, actually, ever since I got into the diaconate.
“You’d think that judge would have cut him some slack. After his military service…”
“Statutory rape, Maddy.” Pedro has lowered his voice. “These days it’s no laughing matter. Actually, I think the judge did go easy on him, considering how public opinion has swung in favor of women.”
“But he was innocent!”
“Maddy…” Pedro looks at her as though they are both kids and she’s professing to believe in Santa Claus way past the suitable age.
“He pled ‘not guilty.’” She sounds to herself as stubborn as a child.
“Yes,” Pedro concedes. “He pled ‘not guilty.’”
“What would be the likelihood of him doing such a thing anyhow, after years of living quietly?’
“After years of bouncing around the country, drinking steadily, forming no real friendships, working at dead-end jobs—he snapped, Maddy. That’s all. If you ask me, prison is the best thing that ever happened to him, prison and coming back to The County. The Army really messed him up.”
“But a peacetime Army, for heaven’s sake.”
“Peace and Army don’t go together, Maddy. And our government doesn’t tell us everything. Whatever happened to Paulie, it broke him.”
As soon as Duane places the check on the table, Madelyn scoops it up. When Pedro reaches for his wallet, she shakes her head, opens her purse, and puts three ones on the table. “I can’t let you pay for everything, Bro.” At the checkout counter, she picks up a copy of the Bangor Daily News.
“We’ll go through Market Square,” Pedro says when they’re back in the car. “You’ll see some changes.”
“Looks about the same to me,” Madelyn says looking around at the double row of stately two-story brick buildings. “Oh, no, I see what you mean. The best shops are gone. But they weren’t here the last time I was home.” The wheel of fortune, she thinks, not the TV game show but the medieval concept of the rise and fall of the proud. A great fire, The Great Fire, destroyed the humble buildings of the original square. It was rebuilt in the late nineteenth century during the heyday of the lumber industry. Now, several storefronts are vacant, and the windows in a few upper stories are boarded up. “Things change everywhere and not always for the best.”
“Maybe in the city. But here we like things to stay the same or change only for the best. What do you think?” He points to a building.
Madelyn sees that the ground floor has a clashingly new front of fake fieldstone and a sign that reads “Ye Old Bake Shoppe.” She’d have thought this kind of corn would have died out years ago. Her heart goes out to Pedro. If Alma had lived… if his boys had taken more of an interest. Spiffy, Pedro, very clean looking. Was the brick damaged underneath?”
“No, I just wanted a new look.” he swings off the Square onto Route 1 and they travel the half hour to the lake, Pedro eager to get to the lodge so that the place can take effect on Madelyn, can remind her of where she came from, of the importance of not losing track of the past. In the early years of the last century, their great-grandfather, Peter Honan, farmed near a river that rushed in the spring and meandered through the summer. As part of a logging operation, a paper company installed three dams fifteen miles south of the Honan farm, creating a lake. Enterprising Peter Honan divided the newly created lakefront property into one-hundred-foot lots and sold them to folks from the market town looking for summer getaways. His son, Pedro and Madelyn’s grandfather, built the lodge on the one two-hundred-foot lot his father had held in reserve. Pedro and Madelyn’s father sold the farm, moved into town and opened a corner store. Pedro, Madelyn, and Paul grew up working in the store after school and Saturday mornings. Before the advent of the big chains that stayed open all weekend long, corner markets closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t reopen until Monday morning. As times changed, their dad tried to hold on, but at the eleventh hour he sold the store while it still had some value and went to work as a meat cutter at the A&P.
College their dad told his kids and their mother reiterated. The day was coming, he said, when you had to go to college even if all you were going to do was manage a store. Heck, these days you needed a college degree if all you wanted to do was grow potatoes. Pedro would have gone to college if his high school girlfriend hadn’t gotten pregnant. He didn’t feel trapped, the way some other guys in his situation seemed to feel. He felt secure. He was where he wanted to be, with the person he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Alma wasn’t exactly fat, but she had a fullness of body that, when he hugged her, made him feel enveloped in love. They got married and he went to work stocking shelves at the A&P. After a few years working swing shifts, he got a decent schedule which allowed him to spend weekends and summer evenings at the lodge. When, in spite of his lack of a degree he was offered a manager’s position and he could envision losing evenings and weekends to a well-paying job he had no passion for, he quit, took out a loan, and opened the bakery, a niche market that customers don’t expect to conform to the world of mass marketing. He starts baking before the sun comes up, and customers line up early to get still-warm-from-the-oven donuts and bread before the supply runs out. By two in the afternoon, he closes shop. Before he entered the diaconate, all his free time was spent at the lake. These days his ministry keeps him in town more and more. Still, he loves the lake, the hours he spends there all the more precious for being compressed.
Madelyn listens as Pedro comments with pride on the height of the corn and the yield of new potatoes in the fields they pass. She doesn’t ever wish she were living back in The County. Men, her brothers at least, have an attachment to the land they grew up on that she doesn’t share. Her attachments are to people, not places. She and Jim moved their little family around the city keeping ahead of the real estate market and she never regretted leaving one place for another. It strikes her that she’s more like the restless, questing folks who settled The County and the strip of New Brunswick that runs parallel a few short miles east of Route 1. Yankee families paddled up the Penobscot into its branches and founded the market town. The Scotch Irish and the Irish sailed from the old country to St. John, New Brunswick, and made their way up the St. John River to its branches. They populated the little towns north and south of the market town along the road that became Route 1. Some were Baptist, some were Catholic. In the old country they would have been completely at odds. Here they depended on each other as neighbors and got along well except that it was hard on the older generation when young persons from the two religions wanted to marry. Usually, Madelyn thinks, it was the Baptist side that yielded, Rome being the more powerful entity. The car passes several Baptist churches and one Catholic—a mission church, now, with infrequent Masses because for many years it’s been easier and more sociable to drive into the market town. These little settlements are dwindling. The market town is dwindling. Even when Madelyn was a child, young adults—especially young adults whose parents had not prospered—were answering the siren calls of the factories in Connecticut. When the town fathers and mothers beefed up the curriculum of the high school, the exodus only increased, leading some old-timers, complaining of high taxes, to suggest that the young be denied a first-rate education so they’d stay closer to home. That wasn’t going to happen. The city was the future, the city and reason and science, not these rural wastelands.
A couple of hours from now Paul will drive down this road, having changed out of his white linen into a black tee shirt. He’ll think about the Maliseets and the Micmacs and how awful it was of his ancestors to steal their land, feeling free to do so because the Indians didn’t fence property in or stake claims but wandered, without regard to boundaries, suiting themselves to the natural world rather than imposing themselves upon it. They planted seeds on their way up river and months later on their return harvested the crops. They changed planting areas frequently enough so as not to exhaust the soil the way white men did and continue to do, abusing the earth with chemicals that run into the streams and rivers, polluting the water, poisoning the fish. When he was a boy, Paul suspected he was an Indian switched at birth, not likely given his blond hair and blue eyes, but, hey, he could be part Indian, like some of the Indian kids in school with him who didn’t look any more Indian than he did.
It isn’t just American Indians who live in rhythm with nature. It’s native people all over the world, including peasants in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam, people the US has tried to kill off, people who believe that a deeply breathing great spirit permeates the world and everything in it and that we have only to listen and to live in accord. Paul will push all the air out of his lungs and let them fill again. Breathing out through his mouth and in through both nostrils over and over—deep breathing is a practice he picked up inside, along with meditation and attendance at 12- step meetings and reading books about spirituality both Eastern and Western.
Paul will pass the road leading to an Amish settlement. A few miles further east, in New Brunswick is a shrine to St. Francis of Assisi. French Franciscans friars walked through there over four hundred years ago. They fitted themselves to the lives of the natives, living in harmony with nature as their founder Francis had. Coincidentally—or maybe not—it was a Franciscan friar who founded the Amish way of life. There were no Amish here when Paul was growing up. Now their settlements dot The County. Those people have found the way to live spiritual lives close to nature, he thinks. Problem is they’ve kept the cold, dirty bath water along with the baby. They dress in eighteenth century clothing. The men have identical haircuts and beard arrangements, the women identical bonnets and aprons. All their clothes are handmade. They don’t drive although they will accept rides—they love buses and trains. Their tools are old, many of them hand-fashioned. Paul has thought he could live the way they do, but it’s much too regulated and he hates regulation. We can’t completely jettison the modern world, he thinks. The most rational Indians realize that. But we can treat the earth better; we can cultivate the appreciation for creation that we need to do in order to save the planet. The Amish get that, but they are making a spectacle of themselves doing it. The way, maybe, Paul will realize, he made a spectacle of himself this morning at Mass. Despite his time cleansing his soul in the garden, Paul will feel ashamed.
Paul hadn’t been to Mass or gone to Confession in years, as Maddy and Pedro well knew. This morning was like a throwback to his boyhood. He felt in a state of grace when he blessed himself with holy water, when he genuflected before entering his pew, when he stood for the reading of the gospel. The homily almost ruined his mood. The priest went on with anecdotes and platitudes accompanied with vague hand gestures so that, in spite of his best intentions, Paul tuned out and gazed mindlessly on the dancing motes in the light streaming through the stained glass windows. The consecration drew him back into the Mass. Here were only the words and gestures of the ritual. At the Last Supper Jesus offers his own body and blood, his very self, going beyond speeches and discourses and healings to pure intimacy with the beloved men and women who follow him. Paul had not attended Mass with the intention of receiving, but when the time came he felt called to the line. Instead of remaining standing and holding out his cupped hands for the host like everyone else, he fell on his knees, not to embarrass his brother and sister, but because he was beside himself with the love of God and his own unworthiness.
But he did embarrass Pedro and Madelyn and maybe a lot of the rest of the congregation, who may have thought he was showing off or, worse, mocking them, as though he were mooning them or taking a leak at noon in the middle of Market Square.
Driving south Paul will feel more and more ashamed of himself and sorry that he’s upset Pedro and Maddy. He will tell himself he will try to get a grip and act more like other people.
When Pedro turns off the paved county road onto gravel, Madelyn breathes in the air of pine and cedar from the tall trees that hedge the lane. “Ta da,” Pedro says as the lodge comes into view. Although all three siblings grew up spending their summers here, Pedro is the one who hasn’t missed a summer ever since, the lake and lodge all the truth and beauty he needs to know.
It’s a beauty Madelyn has to work her way up to appreciating. The lodge’s cedar logs list towards the ground on the south side and towards the sky on the north, so compromising the doors and windows that nothing opens or shuts properly. The front door, also constructed of logs, groans in agony as Pedro pushes against it. When it’s open just enough for him and Madelyn to enter, it hugs the floorboards, refusing to go further. Madelyn glances around for the first time in five years, looking now with the eyes of a realtor. The shaggy massive furniture in the great room approximates a semi-circle in front of a fieldstone chimney full of chinks and gouges. On the mantelpiece is a wooden plaque that’s been there since before she can remember: If you drop by on Saturday and we get to talking and drinking and invite you to spend the week, just remember: we don’t mean it! For many years no one has dared put a match to the fire laid on the grate for fear the interior prove as flawed as the exterior and burn the place to the ground. “Rustic,” their mother used to say, but that was putting a good face on things in a time when money was short and respectability precious.
“Welcome home, Maddy. How does the old place look to you?” Pedro sets down Madelyn’s suitcase, which he’s carried in from the car.
Madelyn turns to look into Pedro’s face. Is there a hint of anxiety behind his house-proud expression? “It’s good to be here, Pedro.” She sees his face relax.
“Of course, there are some little fix-up jobs to tend to, but basically the lodge is the same as it’s always been.” Pedro picks up Madelyn’s suitcase. “You still want the loft room, Maddy? Like when you were a kid? The skylight? Sleep under the moon; wake up under the sun?”
“Sure, Pedro, thanks.”
Later, after Pedro has changed into jeans and a chambray work shirt and pushed off in the little boat, the aluminum one with the 9.9 horsepower motor which they grew up putt-putting around the lake, Madelyn makes a pot of coffee and sits at the table reading the Bangor Daily News. The first time she comes across the phrase“the love of his life” in an obituary, she’s touched. After she sees it a half a dozen more times it reads like cant. Likewise, the many references to husbands and wives reuniting in heaven. She still thinks of herself as a believer, but not in such concrete terms.
Although she doesn’t regularly attend Mass, whenever she does go she usually receives communion. This morning she stayed in the pew to express solidarity with Paul. Whatever possessed him to approach the altar? And falling on his knees like that! Where had he picked up such fanatical behavior?
In a big city crazy behavior doesn’t create much of a stir, and at church no one pays any mind to who receives communion. In a little town everyone knows your past sins and whether or not you are a regular churchgoer. In a little town you don’t go up to communion if you show up only once in a blue moon. She’s grateful for the anonymity of city life. She brings the mug to her mouth and then sets it down without drinking. Dear God, she thinks. Dear God in Heaven. Would her marriage have lasted here if what she and Jim went through had become public knowledge? Not that she and Jim would ever take up residence in The County. He’s a city boy through and through, happy enough to have her take the kids to the lake for the summer while he stayed behind for work—and, as Madelyn discovered, for freedom from family life, which was fine up until the summer when she woke up to the shocking reality of their situation.
When gravel crunches on the driveway, she looks through the window. Paul climbs out of his pickup and reaches into the back to pull out a bushel basket brimming with vegetables. He approaches in that mincing way he had as a child whenever he thought himself out of favor, shoves open the door enough to enter, and sets the basket on the counter by the sink. “Some stuff from my garden,” he says sounding a little lost. “Pedro around?”
“Oh, probably because of me. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize to me, Paulie.”
“Oh, I know, I should say something to Pedro.” He pours himself a mug of coffee and sits at the table facing Madelyn. He runs his hand through his wild hair and down his face over his beard. Then he exhales loudly as though he has performed a physical feat.
“It’s okay, Paulie. You can talk to me.”
“When I walked into church this morning people looked at me like I was an unrepentant sinner.” He laughs. “Yes, I know. I try to tell myself I don’t care.”
“Well, little brother, it doesn’t pay to try to guess what people are thinking. And Pedro doesn’t condemn you, you know.”
Paul laughs and pulled his hand over his beard again. “It’s me, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve always been the screw-up. I went out with some other guys one night and broke into the K of C hall. It was easy. We got into their clothes closet, and for no reason I grabbed a couple of hats with plumes and a cape and took them home with me. For fun. You might have guessed—we’d been drinking beer. Pedro sneaked the stuff back into the hall and told me I was wicked. I couldn’t stop laughing the whole time he was chewing me out.”
“Really, Paulie. That was a million years ago. What does that teenage foolishness have to do with today?”
“You don’t think he still thinks of it?”
“So what if he does. You were both kids. And it has nothing to do with the present, for heaven’s sake.”
“Can you look me in the eye and say you believe in my good name?”
Madelyn tries to look Paul in the face, but he lowers his gaze. “Of course I believe in you, Paul. As for your good name, we’ve seen so little of each other the past few years I really don’t know much touching on your reputation.”
“You don’t think I’m in what we kids were taught was “a state of grace”?
“I wouldn’t know.”
He shrugs. “There you have it.”
She decides to tease him. “Well, are you?”
He raises his eyes and his hands and laughs. “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Then his tone turns grim. “I can’t do anything right. Pedro watches me. This town watches me. I can’t just sit home. Well, maybe I can do that.” He looks directly at her. “Should I have it out with Pedro?”
“You don’t need to say anything. As far as communion goes, Pedro’s following the precepts of the Church, as he understands them. Don’t take it personally.”
“Right. I’ll remember those un-Catholic, New Age promises starting with…” Paul lowers his voice to a growl. “Don’t take anything personally.”
“Good thinking.” She looks more closely at her skinny little brother. What happened to the baby fat he carried through childhood and right into young adulthood? “Have you eaten?”
“I’ll fix you some breakfast.” Madelyn stands and opens a cupboard over the sink.
“More coffee.” Paul holds up his cup.
“No, I want to feed you. Oatmeal?” She closes the cupboard and opens the refrigerator. “Scrambled eggs? French toast? Ham and eggs?”
He laughs. “In this whole county, Madelyn, you’re the only one who wants to take care of me.”
She smears butter on the griddle and whisks eggs and milk. “I’ll believe what you say if you heed my commandments. Eat, to begin with. And stop over-thinking every little thing.”
“Such as how we get Pedro to agree to sell this place and divvy up the money?” So that I can get out of here and get a fresh start somewhere else,
“Money isn’t everything.” Wherever you go, little brother, that court order is going to follow you.
“You lost interest in the lake after your kids got big, right, Maddy?”
After I realized it wasn’t a good idea for Jim to be without me over the summer. “Right about that time. They had so much to take up their time in the city. Also, I needed to get back to work so we’d be ready for college tuitions, and working in real estate with Jim has turned out really well.”
“You don’t regret not going back to teaching?”
“Not at all. I love working with Jim. It’s been the best thing for us, for our marriage…” She’s gratified to see how hungrily Paul scoffs up the food she’s placed in front of him. She’s content to sit quietly and watch him eat.
The little boat putt- putts to the wharf and stops. They hear Pedro’s booming voice. “Do I smell coffee?”
Pedro comes in and pours himself a mug, then ambles back outside to gut the fish. Paul stands up from the table, pours himself more coffee and follows his brother to the wharf.
Gripping the pole that acts as a banister, Madelyn climbs the steep wooden steps to the loft. At the far end are a yellow yield sign and a red stop sign that her brothers put up when they were teenagers, also a faux official one that reads: Trespassers Will Be Violated. Her old bedroom is at the lake end. She looks through the window at her brothers squatting on the wharf, Pedro working his knife. Paul is not unhealthy, she thinks, in spite of his frail looks. In this moment, they, not her sons, constitute “the boys.” Once upon a time, the Honan kids shared one way of life and one outlook on the world. She heaves her suitcase onto the bed, unzips it, tucks underwear into an oak bureau that’s probably worth a pretty penny—maybe she could somehow get it back to the city with her—and hangs up her shirts and pants on the wire hangers on a stick between two studs. It’s hard to pack light, the way she prefers. At the lake, you have to be prepared for three seasons, not just summer. And you couldn’t really dress down for church, couldn’t wear jeans, for instance, as she sometimes did in the city. And you couldn’t very diplomatically skip Mass either. If no one else cared, Pedro would and she wouldn’t want to do anything to shame him. She undresses and puts on her bathing suit.
Outside, she runs the length of the wharf and executes a long, shallow dive. Even in August the water is shockingly cold. She comes up many feet out to the hoots and thumbs-up of her brothers. She swims further out, not as far as she used to when she was younger. She lies back and looks up and around. Blue sky overarches the camps and trees that border this part of the lake, “the little lake,” as she and her brothers called it. To the north is a labyrinth that leads to a Canadian lake. To the south, the lake opens up to “the big lake,” which flows fifteen miles to the dams that regulate the depth of the entire body of water. Here in the little lake, in this bountiful bowl, is where Madelyn learned to swim, to putt around in the little boat, and to water ski behind the big boat. It ruined her, she realized later, for painted concrete Y pools with their painted concrete walls where swimmers flit back and forth like fish in a child’s aquarium. She’s taken up yoga, which, like swimming in a lake, is spiritual as well as physical, (Although, under the cool direction of the youthful instructor, various poses sometimes feel as cruel as enforced stress positions and at other times as kinky as tantric sex.)
At the wharf, Paul looks up and scans the sky. To the north a black cloud is forming. The lake of Galilee that Jesus sailed on must be something like this lake—the sky suddenly clouding over, wind coming up, frightening the sailors. From a distance comes the low rumble of what might be thunder. Paul waves to Madelyn and points north.
Madelyn turns back towards shore. How changeable the weather is here. She remembers once when she was nine or ten being by herself in the little boat out on the big lake, where they were forbidden to go, when a squall came up and she feared that the billowing waves would prevent her from ever getting home again. Years later she would dream sometimes of being tossed about in the big lake. Those dreams came to her whenever she sensed danger; they had come to her when she was sorting out the trouble with Jim.
She heaves herself up onto the wharf and towels off, the fickle sun suddenly warm on her back. A colorful slick on the water gives her a shimmer of good feeling even though she now knows that spilled motorboat gas isn’t good for the lake.
She used to catch frogs in the nearby weeds and make dish gardens from moss and small plants. One summer she made a miniature village of birch bark tepees. A breeze reverses the leaves revealing silver undersides. Once a cat chased a chipmunk up one of those trees and down into its hole while the children watched and cheered, first for the cat and then for the chipmunk. A pair of martins raised a brood one spring in the birdhouse her father had hung from another tree. The clouds toy with the sun. A sky here can be puffed up like cotton balls one minute and roiling with black thunderclouds the next. The water can pick up the sun in such a way that you can see it alive with colorful organisms or it can turn opaque.
In the few minutes it takes Madelyn to go inside and change, the thunder has stopped and the sky lightened. She goes back outside and hangs up her wet suit and towel on the clothesline strung up between two poplars. She maneuvers through the log door to the kitchen, gathers Paul’s basket of vegetables and a couple of banged-up aluminum pots, and carries them through the house to the porch. She’s sitting in a wicker rocker about to husk corn when her brothers come through the screen door and Pedro says, “No, no, we’ll put those on the fire just as they are.” When they were kids the pit by the shore had a fire most summer nights that it wasn’t raining, and even when their mother didn’t prepare a meal on it, kids from adjoining camps would gather to roast marshmallows or, as they got older, to sing along to Paul’s guitar. Now the pit is so overgrown with weeds that anyone walking quickly and unaware could easily fall into it and break an ankle.
Paul slides a Swiss army knife from his jeans pocket, sits in the wicker rocker next to Madelyn and reaches for a handful of string beans. After Pedro balls up old newspaper and heads for the boat house, letting the screen door slam behind him, Paul says, “So, when do we introduce the topic of the day, the reason we’re all here?” Sections of string beans fall from his hands and ping into one of the aluminum pots.
“You know, Jim thinks we might do better financially to hold onto the place, after all.” From black and yellow pods Madelyn shells beans into the other pot, each bean landing like a fired shot.
“Oh, Maddy, don’t tell me you’re leaving me out in the cold.”
“No, no, I agree. Still, it’s nice being here. I’d almost forgotten. It’s been so long.”
“So you’re going to come back every summer? Bring your kids? Spend every Sunday at Mass? Go back to the life we had as kids? Be like Pedro?”
“Pedro’s kids don’t come back.”
“No, and neither do yours. And neither do mine because I don’t have any. And never will.”
Madelyn wants to say you might you know, but she believes in her heart that the family Paul grew up in is the only one he’ll ever have. Through the screens that surround the porch she sees Pedro setting up kindling in the pit he’s hastily scraped out.
“So, when do we broach the topic with Pedro?” Paul looks out the windows as his brother stands rubbing his hands together and gazing at the flames leaping from balled-up newspaper. “How about now? As soon as he comes in?”
“No,” Madelyn says. “Let’s wait until later in the day.”
Pedro comes onto the porch smiling but when he sees the expressions on his brother and sister’s faces, he says, “So, who died?”
“If Trump becomes president, we’re all dead meat,” Paul says. The string beans and the shelled beans fall soundlessly into the half-filled pots. Madelyn grew up listening to her brothers argue. Her sons do the same. As long as things don’t get out of hand she actually enjoys her role as audience.
“The thing is…” Pedro sits in a cushioned wicker loveseat facing his siblings with his back to the lake. He spreads his legs and folds his hands behind his head. “He’ll appoint judges who’ll overturn Roe v Wade.”
“I suppose you think that’s a good thing.”
“Let me finish. He’ll keep the Hyde amendment.”
“In other words foisting onto the country an attitude towards contraception the bishops haven’t been able to put across to their own flock.” As Paul warms to the brotherly debate, he sheds his earlier abashed manner. Madelyn has a flash of her brothers playing basketball in the yard when they were kids. Pedro was bigger and stronger, but Paul had a darting agility that kept his older brother just off-balance enough to make them equals. Here, in the light of the moon on this porch, the boys’ contributions to conversation—overseen by parents who expected decorum—had a similar pattern, Pedro measured and serious, Paul quick-thinking and unpredictable.
“But that’s not all, Bro. Trump will give money to parochial schools and charter schools, let parents determine where they want their kids educated.” Like old times, Pedro sounds confident in the reasonableness of his opinions.
“And bust the unions. Even though, theoretically the Catholic Church is in favor of collective bargaining.”
“The most important thing is not to take the life of an innocent human being.”
“Making a wedding cake for a gay wedding isn’t taking the life of another human being. Not hiring gays doesn’t prevent murder.”
“No, but why should the baker or the employer have to violate his conscience to do these things. Buy the cake elsewhere. Or make your own. Look, Hobby Lobby was a good company. It paid its workers well. That cake company supported a family and the owners tithed at their church. In fact, they were the main support of the church. They’re good people. Don’t they have rights, too?”
“It’s like Civil Rights in the Sixties. It’s not okay to discriminate.”
“On the basis of race. Okay, I get that. But now the Democrats are so concerned about small eccentric groups—come on, you guys, ‘eccentric’ is putting it mildly—they’re so concerned over LGBTQ—XYZ. Meanwhile this country is bleeding jobs. I know a guy—you know him, too, Tom Kelly, played varsity just after our time. Tom actually was sent by the paper mill in Millinocket down to Mexico to install the machines he used to operate. That was his last job working for the mill. He came by the bakery a few years ago, wanted to know if I had a job for him, any job. I had to say no. Last I heard he was back in Millinocket, doing what, I’m not sure. Do the Democrats care? Hillary went to coal country and said, ‘Coal is over.” So, what’s to take its place? What kind of way is that to talk, anyway, about people’s livelihood?”
“Coal is the dirtiest fuel ever. We need regulations to protect the environment or we’re all toast.”
“Or maybe charcoal.” Madelyn tries to inject a little humor. Now, boys, her mother would say if talk threatened to get heated.
“Regs!” Pedro slaps his knee. “The Democrats love them and with a broad sweep. Farmers around here are as hampered by regulations as IBM or General Motors. And they don’t have highly paid lawyers to help get around them. If Hillary had her way I’d be paying someone a starting salary of $15 an hour to sweep out the shop, same as a McDonald’s in Boston or New York City. Only this isn’t Boston or New York City.”
“Okay, so how about Trump on immigration. Even the bishops don’t like his stand on that. How can you ban all Muslims? Isn’t that discrimination on the basis of religion?”
“Look, I know that’s an over-the-top way to talk, and the bishops are right to say whoa back, but look at it this way. We live on the border, right?” Pedro turns and points to indicate the opposite shore. “You want to know why Border Patrol and Immigration support Trump? You can’t hire and train people to enforce the law and then tell them to ignore criminals. These guys put their lives on the line to protect the border.”
“Lives on the line? Really?”
“Really! You know the drugs that people try to smuggle across? These are mean guys, armed guys. And that’s another thing. The County is awash in drugs. Kids are getting addicted and then they start breaking into places like this looking for prescription drugs. Do the Democrats care? Are there jobs, other things for kids to do? What’s Hillary doing about that?
“I like Hillary,” Madelyn surprises herself by bursting in. But she does like Hillary. She thinks she understands something about the candidate’s personal life.
“You like Hillary, Maddy. Fine.” Pedro leans forward. “She’s for women and children, right? So how come she slimed the intern her husband seduced? How come she charged an arm and a leg to talk to the guys who destroyed the economy? How come she couldn’t keep top secret information top secret? What about Benghazi?” He’s allowing himself to get carried away, not a good idea ever, especially today when the fate of the lodge is at stake. “How come she said religion has to change,” he says more slowly, “if she’s such a good Christian woman?”
“One at a time. One at a time.” Madelyn has abdicated her role as audience. “Hillary is a feminist, but when it comes to her own husband, she’s a wife first. And that’s fine with me. She said the banks offered her a large sum. Who wouldn’t take what was offered? Who would say oh, no, pay me less than you’re inclined to. No one does that whether it’s for a high-level speech or a chocolate-covered donut.”
“And her slippery Christianity? No Absolutes.”
“I don’t know about Absolutes, but religion changes all the time.” Madelyn spreads her arms, a bean pod in one hand. “Usury, slavery, whether the Jews killed Christ—ideas evolve. Look around at church, Pedro. Nobody has ten or twelve or even five kids anymore. Times changed. People changed, religion changed, whether or not the bishops sanctioned the change. Hillary is in tune with change. She reads. She’s traveled around the world. She’s been a senator and secretary of state. She knows the problems of the world and she knows something about governing. Are we going to take this election away from the smartest girl in the class and award it to the clown? A wise teacher knows not to give a showoff the attention he’s seeking. But the press doesn’t seem to have learned that lesson. Every morning in the paper above the fold here he is, photo included, making some cockamamie claim.”
“He’s a businessman, Maddy. He made his money the old fashioned way. He earned it. He built buildings. He manufactured products.”
“He made his money selling his brand name and stiffing anyone who ever worked for him,” Paul says. “The guy went through bankruptcy six times. Six times! Bankruptcy is meant as a one-time thing. It’s to keep a guy from going through ruin and humiliation, but the people he’s in debt to eat their losses.”
“With Trump you’re not talking small business. You’re talking big corporations and everything he did was done legally.”
“Legally maybe but not ethically.” Paul wipes his knife on his jeans, folds it, and stands to slip it into his pocket. “Not only bankruptcy, but Trump got people to supply him with goods and services, and when it got time to pay brought them in, sat them down, and told them what percentage of what he owed them he was prepared to pay. That’s do-it-yourself bankruptcy. The guy’s a bully. And a cheat. And a liar. He made money out of Atlantic City but he’s the only one who did and Atlantic City is ruined. He bilked students at Trump University. His foundation aids no one except himself. He’s never done anything to benefit anyone else. So, what qualifies him to be a public servant?” Paul sits leaning forward, his hands on his thighs.
“You think Hillary is a public servant? She was a PR person, basically, traveling all over the world like a Hollywood star to lend her face to events. Then she used her connections to fund her foundation.”
“But her foundation has contributed to AIDS prevention in Africa and to rebuilding in Haiti.” Madelyn speaks quietly. She wants to reassert a reasonable tone.
“He thinks climate change is a hoax. What redeeming quality does he have?” Paul isn’t taking Madelyn’s lead.
“His kids love him. And they’ve turned out all right. He deserves some credit for that.”
“He’s a narcissist.” Paul can’t yield even in order to get onto Pedro’s good side regarding the future of the lodge. “The daughter he had with Marla Maples? She grew up in LA. I read that the only time she saw him was when she won a prize in school. Then he’d fly out there for the ceremony.”
“Well, it worked! She graduated from an Ivy League school and she’s going to law school and she’s been showing up for him during his campaign. Maybe I should have tried some of that “narcissistic” treatment with my kids.”
“Your kids are fine, Pedro. So are mine.” Madelyn drops the last of her beans into the pot. She’s ready to clinch the conversation. “As far as this campaign goes, the most important thing is freedom of choice. It’s up to the woman to decide what’s best for her and her body. It’s no one else’s business.” By avoiding “abortion” and even “terminating a pregnancy” and stressing instead “woman” and “choice,” Maddy hopes she’s had the last word. When she sees a shadow cross Pedro’s face, she almost wishes she hadn’t brought up the topic. She rolls up the newspaper holding the pods.
“That’s okay if you’re describing something someone does alone, not involving anyone else,” Pedro says in a measured tone that matches Maddy’s. Masturbation, for instance. But abortion isn’t like that. It isn’t done alone. It requires a doctor, someone who has taken an oath to do no harm. It takes a nurse, a receptionist, someone to sweep the floors. All these people get caught up in a practice that may not conform to what they profess to believe. After the Holocaust there were people who claimed they didn’t know what was going on. They worked at a desk in an office; they never questioned the source of the smoke rising outside their windows.”
“Oh, wait a minute. You can’t equate abortion with the Holocaust. That’s so insulting to Jews.” Madelyn speaks in a whisper.
“And to Gypsies, to the families of the intellectually impaired, to all non-Aryans, actually.” Paul slaps his right fist into his left hand.
“I’m not saying abortion is the same as the Holocaust. I’m saying there are comparisons. And the comparisons here are that a whole lot of people get caught up in performing an action. It’s not just the woman or even the woman and her doctor that are involved. Look, if I asked a dentist to pull a perfectly sound tooth, professional integrity would prevent him from doing it. The Democrats are talking about requiring doctors to perform abortions on demand right up to the hour of birth.”
“So, what are you suggesting? Bent coat hangers in back alleys?”
“I’m suggesting protocols, agreed-upon limits, not an open-ended choice by an individual that drags others into it. People used to say that a man’s home was his castle, but these days no one thinks it’s okay for a man to beat his wife or his kids. It’s up to society to protect the most vulnerable.” Pedro, as though suddenly weary of the discussion shuts his eyes and wipes them with his fists. He continues in a quieter voice. “I do agree that in a life-or-death situation the mother’s life counts for more than the child’s.”
“You’re not being logical, Bro.” Paul narrows his eyes and rests his cheek on his fist to mime deep thought. “If the fetus is a person, then there’s no argument for ending its life ever, even in cases of rape or incest or the health of the mother. Where do you find room for that according to your position?”
“In the Annunciation. Mary was given a choice. She could have said no. Women who aren’t given the choice because of rape or incest, for instance, should be able to say no, even after conception has taken place. But the termination of the pregnancy should come early, before the baby can sense pain. Or if both mother and baby are doomed if birth takes place, which can happen.”
The Annunciation. As the girl in the family Madelyn feels she should be the one with such pious sentiments. Pedro’s assertion makes her feel oddly displaced and also embarrassed for him. She would never think to bring one of the mysteries of the rosary into a contemporary adult conversation. She twists the newspaper on her lap into a small compact bundle.
For a few moments, no one speaks. A curtain of rain appears across the lake and begins an inevitable march towards the lodge. Madelyn dashes out the porch door, runs across the yard, snatches her bathing suit and towel off the line, and runs back inside. Minutes later, rain lashes the screens and pounds on the roof of the porch. Pedro and Paul pick up the basket and the pots, and all three retreat to the great room. “I guess we won’t be eating outside,” Madelyn says.
“This will pass over. We can build a new fire,” Pedro sits on the arm of a shaggy orange armchair that when he was a small child was the last word in living room furniture. He rubs his chin. “I don’t really think Trump can win.”
“Really, even though the bishops lean in his direction?”
“I’m not a dummy. I see that they’re using abortion as a wedge issue. What really interests the bishops is protecting church assets. That’s what they see as their job. No, I agree with a lot of the things you say about Trump, that he’s impulsive and has no background in governing. I wouldn’t vote for my dog—if I had a dog. I won’t throw away my vote the way our senator is by not voting for either candidate. I don’t think Hillary is prepared to do anything for guys like me or for places like The County. The big cities on both coasts, that’s what she understands, the elite, that’s who she knows, that’s who she’ll help once she gets to be president. But I have to vote for my own interests, after all. And for my little part of the USA.”
Madelyn has remained standing. She yawns and stretches. Her brothers yawn and laugh. “Naptime,” Madelyn says. “Yes,” they both say.
Lying on her back on the single bed in her aerie, Madelyn looks up at the rain pounding onto the skylight. She has not planned to fall in love with the camp again. She was prepared to sell. All that held her back was Pedro. A man can become attached to the land he grew up on. She knows that. She sees now that to remove Pedro would be to rip his heart out. Now that she’s spent half a day here her own heart has softened towards the place. She even understands his attachment to the Church. Reading about the dishonesty of the bishops who moved offending priests around without concern for children sickened her. Appeals for money struck her as greedy. After all, how was the money to be used? To pay lawyers and lobbyists to protect the clergy from the consequences of their sins? After their last move, Madelyn didn’t join the parish in the new neighborhood. Now, she finds herself remembering how special Sunday was when she was growing up. Her father and brothers would dress up in suits and shirts and ties. She and her mother wore dresses and hats and white gloves and patent leather shoes. No one ran into church at the last minute wearing jeans and sneakers and a hoodie. There was a reverence, a feeling of time set aside, that she no longer finds in churches in the city. Not that she wants to return to the old days. Still.
Madelyn pulls her cell phone out of her pocket to call Jim. There’s no reception. Out in the country, she’s reminded, whole swaths of America don’t have easy access to the Internet. She clicks her phone off and imagines a conversation. Does Jim think they should hold onto the lodge? Does he realize how derelict it’s become? The building doesn’t matter, Maddy. Let it molder to the ground. It’s lake property, Maddy. Lake property will always hold its value.Would they or their children ever use the place much? Whether they do or not, look at it as an investment. Lake property….I know, I know, thinks Madelyn. She’s drifting into sleep when with a start she thinks of Fr. Rick. How much did he have to do with her “falling away from the church,” as her parents’ would have put it? During the time when her faith practice was most avid, when she appeared to be chief volunteer at her parish, she spent more daylight hours with Fr. Rick than she did with Jim, who worked long days, or her children, who by that time were all in school. She looks up at the skylight where the rain is tapering off to gentle pings, and this time she does drift off to sleep.
With the rain easing, Pedro puts on a slicker and goes for a walk along the lakeshore. These days it’s no longer common for people to walk in front of camps in friendly pursuit of a healthy ramble and impromptu chats. Newer, younger folks erect fences to the lake’s edge and build guest cottages on the right-of-ways. For some years now, most walkers stick to the paved roads. But not Pedro. He waves and chats with his neighbors, and no one tells him to keep off their property. I’m turning into an old geezer everyone tolerates, he thinks, not unhappily.
At the kitchen sink, Paul washes the string beans and sets them in a Dutch oven with the shelled beans, quartered tomatoes and sliced onions and peppers. He scrubs potatoes and wraps them in foil. Then he cleans out the pit and starts a new fire.
When Madelyn comes downstairs her brothers are dozing on the porch, Pedro on the lounge, Paul on a chair with his head thrown back. “Look,” she says. “A double rainbow.” The men rouse themselves and all three look at the pastel arc that spans the sky and disappears into water at both ends. They are quiet for the few minutes it takes for the colors to fade away.
“Now we know where to find a pot of gold,” Paul says.
“Speaking of which,” Madelyn says, “let’s discuss our own fortunes.” She assumes the lotus position on a scrap of braided rug, and the men go back to their seats.
Now that the time has come, Pedro feels strangely calm. He sees that Madelyn and Paul are right at home back at the lodge. Surely, they understand the need to hang onto their ancestral property. It’s their children—well, his and Madelyn’s—who will return to it once they’ve settled down and have kids of their own. “You know,” he says, sitting up and talking slowly, “the market for camps is depressed. Owners can’t get out of them what they’re worth.”
“That’s what Jim says,”
Paul frowns. He can’t afford to lose Maddy’s vote. “None of the kids are interested in the place, seems to me. They’ve seen the city, and they’ve chosen an urban path and this place no longer measures up.”
Madelyn hears the scorn in Paul’s voice, sees the stiffening in Pedro’s face. This is the time of day on a Sunday afternoon in August when she and Jim might be enjoying a gin and tonic. She’d like to have one now. It might soften the mood. Except that there’s no liquor on the premises because she and Pedro have a silent agreement not to tempt fate by drinking in Paul’s company. “Let’s talk about the kids a little,” she says. Yours are the oldest, Pedro. How much do they use the place?” She thinks she knows the answer.
Pedro’s sons live down by Portland. He tells them summer after summer that they can have the use of the place as much as they want, and summer after summer they explain that they have no time to go up to The County. And yet he sees that they have time to vacation elsewhere even in other more touristy areas of Maine. “When they have kids, they’ll come back.” Once he says this, he feels sure of it.
“Mine will come back, too.” Madelyn stands and walks to the rocker—there’s only so long a person can assume the lotus position. “They speak of here so fondly.”
“Mine, too,” Pedro says. “Speak of it fondly, I mean.”
“But they don’t come now,” Paul says. “Especially your boys, Pedro, because they’re all grown up and married and have lives of their own. And they could come here if they really wanted to. How much do you think their reluctance has to do with Alma’s death?”
Madelyn sucks in her breath. How can Paul be so mean?
Pedro shifts his weight on the lounge chair and looks down at his hands. “Alma didn’t want to have that late-in-life baby, you know.”
No, they didn’t know.
“She wanted to get rid of it right at the start. Friends of hers had gone through that procedure, nothing complicated. And they didn’t think of it as a baby yet, just a cell that had divided a few times and could be scraped away. I talked her out of it. To me it was already a little person.”
“I thought Alma was pleased to have a third,” Madelyn said. “After all those years.”
“After all those years, she’d gotten over wanting more kids. When we thought we couldn’t have more, we felt bad at first. Then we got over it. She was going back to school, taking classes to become a teacher. We had the future all planned out. Then she and I and the boys adjusted to a new reality, and then she and the baby never made it out of the hospital, and the boys and I had to adjust to another new reality, but maybe none of us really did. If I’d let her go ahead with her original plan she’d be with us still.”
“You couldn’t have known how things would turn out.” Madelyn feels a breeze coming through the rain-soaked screens and pulls her sweater up around her shoulders.
“Maybe her body knew from the beginning it wasn’t up to having another baby. Maybe it was telling her something I couldn’t get my head around.” For a long time Pedro had been angry at the baby girl who cost him his wife. He got over that. There’s goodness everywhere but this world isn’t the Garden of Eden and sorrow comes into everyone’s life. To be ordained a deacon, he had to take a vow not to remarry. He had no desire to remarry. Alma was for him for all time. They would see each other in heaven and he would meet his baby daughter for the first time. He felt no need for a second wife on this earth. And he felt no need to explain himself; in fact he felt a need not to explain himself to folks who might hold his childlike faith up to ridicule. It was like a secret treasure that was his alone—his and Alma’s and God’s.
“Is that why your boys don’t come back here?” Paul says.
“Maybe so. But it won’t last forever. As I said, when they have kids of their own…”
“Surely you understand about trauma, Paul,” Madelyn feels like shaking him.
“Trauma, yes.” Paul rubs his hand through his hair and down his beard. He looks down at his hands and then out the screened windows to the far side of the lake as though he were addressing an anonymous crowd gathered there. “You have to believe I didn’t know she was only fifteen. She said she was eighteen; she acted at least that age; I believed her. What we did was wrong because she was underage, but what we did, the motel, the whiskey, wouldn’t have been against the law if she’d been of age. There was nothing perverted or abusive about it.” Paul drops his gaze to his hands in his lap. At the time of the trial, he had desperately not wanted to believe what he had done. Might he have made that girl pregnant? Is there somewhere in the universe the spirit of a few scraped-away cells that would have been his child, his one and only child? He didn’t love the girl or want a child; yet, he’s grief stricken. He pushes all the air out of his lungs and takes a deep breath. “Well, I was old enough to be her father. I was the responsible party. Maybe I wanted to believe she was eighteen. I should have made sure. Then what we did would have been legal.”
“Legal maybe, but not moral,” Pedro says. Madelyn thinks he’s being unnecessarily harsh because he wants to pay Paul back.
“Yuh, Bro, not moral. And I paid in prison five years for that one crime—sin, what have you. I figure those five years count for five thousand years off Purgatory.” Paul smiles at his little joke, and Madelyn sees the fight go out of both her brothers.
“I have something to say,” she says. “There was this priest. Ten years ago. He was the assistant pastor and we led retreats for teenagers. We were supposed to be helping them grow into a mature faith, but I guess we regressed into acting like teenagers ourselves.”
“You mean you went native?” Paul says. “Fooled around?”
“Quiet, Bro. It’s Maddy’s turn.”
Madelyn smiles. It’s Maddy’s turn is what her father used to say to her brothers, and Paul’s joking words have actually lightened her mood. “I told myself it was only an affair of the heart, but, yes, we fooled around. That’s as far as it went, but it was wrong of me, and it damaged my marriage even though Jim has never suspected. Then we moved again to another part of the city. The priest wanted to keep seeing me, but I got scared. That’s all. That’s all I have to say.” Jim had done more than fool around, she knew, and for that reason she’d never until now considered her own errant behavior in the same league as his. How deeply disappointed she’d been in him! She would have had her sons’ sympathy if she’d broken up the family with cause, but her daughter, she knew, would never have forgiven her. That’s what held her in place when their wheel of fortune turned over the top and took a plunge. They hit bottom, she and Jim, and now they’re on the upswing, and she has loved him throughout.
Pedro has replaced the original outdoor Adirondack chairs with neon-colored plastic replicas. The siblings sit around the pit as day turns into evening. As the food is ready, they eat first the fish off the grill, then the contents of the Dutch oven, then the corn and the potatoes plucked from the coals. They eat hungrily, mostly with their hands, the way they did as kids after a long day of boating and swimming. The sun sinks into the trees beyond the road and casts a pink glow over the sky.
“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” Paul says.
“I’ll buy your share, Paul,” Madelyn says.
“Market value. And you can still use the place as much as you like.”
“Well, I accept!”
“You’ll have the majority shares then, Mad,” Pedro says.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back. But mainly this place will be yours to do with pretty much as you like, Pedro.”
“Until you decide to sell.”
“Yes, if IBM decides to move its headquarters here or Disney builds a new fantasy land, then I’ll sell in heartbeat. Meantime, Pedro…”
Pedro winces. He doesn’t like to hear The County mocked. Then he relaxes. The lake will be his for the rest of his life. What happens after that will be up to his kids and Maddy’s. And, who knows, by that time one or more of them may have the means and the leisure and the desire to use the place. They may come to love it, to recall that they love it.
The evenings are getting shorter. Madelyn has always felt it unfair that the longest day of the year is at the beginning of summer. Once warm weather is assured, the dwindling of the light begins. The fire makes the front of her body comfortably warm even as her back, in spite of her sweater, gets uncomfortably cold. Bands of light coming from the sun’s afterglow stripe the darkening sky and the lake. The blackflies, nits, and mosquitoes of early summer are all gone. The fire pops and cracks when Pedro stirs it with a stick. Out on the lake a loon calls to its mate.
Our story ends here for now. A somewhat happy ending has been achieved when things could have been much worse. As for The County and the future for private property in the hinterlands, the prospect is at least unsettling if not gloomy. What these siblings don’t know is that Wild Country Pulp and Paper, having savagely harvested all the wood it could gobble up and having been lately purchased by a company based in Hong Kong, is in the process of surrendering its license to maintain the three dams that make the lake a lake. (That’s maybe unfair. The company claims that federal regulations cost way beyond what the dam yields. It would be cheaper for the company to buy electricity than to maintain the dam. State regulations, on the other hand, would be less onerous and possibly viable.) The abandonment of the dams would result in a river fifteen feet off the present shores of the lake, a river that would rush past the camps in spring and meander in summer, a river that might be suitable for canoeing but not boating or swimming and that would create havoc with the fish stock. Whole coves would be turned into stinking mud flats. The former lake colony would fall to ruin as surely as has Fordlandia, the utopian village Henry Ford built in the Brazilian jungle for workers to extricate rubber from the trees.
About that neat happy ending: Paul—“Paulie” when he was a kid and many townsfolk still remember him that way—is perhaps too attached to his little house and garden patch and, truth be told, to the people he knew growing up, to start a new life elsewhere. Folks don’t necessarily discount his military service the way he thinks they do. Nor are they as uninformed about post- traumatic stress syndrome as you might think, and most are willing to give a guy a second chance.
As for Jim and Maddy, well, as was said of the mate of her hero Hillary, it’s hard to keep a randy dog on the porch all night long. For all his love of his wife and their shared life, Maddy will discover that Jim’s eye doesn’t stop wandering and his pursuits don’t halt just because he’s been found out once.
As for elections, it just goes to show that outcomes can astonish most voters, the nation, and the world. Dear God. Dear God in Heaven.