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She returned to the bedroom toweling her neck, beneath her arms and breasts, and threw the towel back into the bathroom. She’d been angry when they’d made love, grasping, careless, crying out as someone drowning might, and afterward, when she was still upset, they’d made love again. Now he slept turned on his side, his knees drawn up, with a panel of moonlight on his back, the headboard and the night table.

She slipped into a robe, knotting the sash loosely, and pulled the sheet from under his legs. She covered him, set the portable fan up on the chest at the foot of the bed and turned it on. He shivered and drew the sheet over his shoulder.

In the front room she found a cup of yogurt in the refrigerator and sat at the table next to the open windows that looked out over the porch. She bent a leg underneath to sit up higher in the chair, scooping the yogurt into her mouth with a forefinger. She hadn’t turned on a light, and in this darkened room the memories of Ansel Magnuson here in the evenings with his zwieback and herring and schnapps were unavoidable. And then she thought of Mitch Bradley in the bunkhouse at Einar’s. Two honest bachelors hired by these separate families, consigning their lifetimes’ work as though this were part of the adoption process, finally dying with the achievement of being remembered not as trusted strangers but as blood.

She mopped her forehead with the hem of the robe, the smell of her heated body rising into her face, and she couldn’t think of a single thing left in this world that held the good animal scent of Ansel or Mitch.

She’d never been comfortable in the summer’s heat and wondered how people managed in Mississippi or Louisiana or Latin America, and maybe it was the heat that had sparked their argument, but it still was a variation of the same fight they’d been having for the last year, this episode peculiar only because of the application she’d found in his printer. She was sitting at the kitchen table reading through the paperwork when Paul came in from his run. She held up the top sheet.

“ Uganda? You’re applying for a year in Uganda?”

She looked back at the form, trying to find an exact date, and he peeled his T-shirt over his head.

“It’s just an application.”

“Were you going to mention it, or just send me a postcard?”

He took the pitcher of ice water out of the refrigerator and poured a glass, drinking it down all at once, squeezing his eyes shut against the sharp pain that spiked between his brows, then pressed the heel of his free hand against his forehead.

“Are you going to answer me?”

He nodded, dropping the hand and leaning back against the counter. “They want me to do a statistical analysis of rural HIV patients. If I get it.” He poured another glass full. “My thesis advisor suggested it. He said there’s no problem in finishing my master’s when I get back.” He wiped his mouth with the T-shirt. “Anyway, I don’t see what difference it makes where I go. You weren’t going to come to Chicago, so now you won’t come to Africa.”

“Fuck you.” She stood out of the chair. “I could visit you in Chicago.”

“So visit me in Africa.”

“For what, a weekend? How long do you think I can leave Einar?”

He sat down at the table and she walked out onto the porch. She screamed, and again even louder, then slammed the screen door when she came back in. “Did you even stop to wonder how I might feel about it?”

“It’s a chance to do something I think’s important.”

“And when I want to take care of my grandfather, that’s what? A waste of my life?”

“Now you’re just being mean.”

The application was spread across the table and she snatched a page, wadded it up and pitched it hard against his chest, at the same time suffering that peculiar dislocation of having been standing to the side and watching herself react like a child. She placed her hands on the table, leaning toward him. Her voice came out choked. “I don’t give a shit where you go.”

He reached across the table, taking her hands, holding on to them. He was smiling. “Not even the tiniest little pinch of shit?”

Unlike her, he couldn’t stay mad, and that’s why arguing rarely got them anywhere.

She shifted on the chair in the darkness. Beyond the porch, McEban’s house stood unlighted and vague in the distance, but a light was on in Rita’s Airstream, parked along the south side of the house, and the moonlight was sparkling in sweeps across the irrigated pastures, glowing on the stones spaced along the drive.

She tried to envision her father’s face because she found it comforting to imagine that the dead might care for her. She pictured them waiting-thousands of years’ worth of souls-with their arms outstretched, welcoming.

When she drives the two-lanes that wind through the Bighorns she often stops to sit beside the descansos erected in the borrow ditches. Simple crosses, some hung with wreaths of plastic flowers, once a teddy bear, once a baseball glove, almost always a message of loss: Look homeward, Angel. If tears could build a stairway to Heaven. Your memory is my treasure. She wonders what she might write to mark the place where her father died. Something to let him know she does not mourn.

She stood and started toward the kitchen, stopping abruptly when she heard the porchboards grind, and when a dark figure rose at the window her heart spiked and her legs jerked her backward.

“Did I scare you?” Just a whisper through the screening.

She leaned into the table, her right leg still pumping, cocked up on the ball of her foot. She’d nearly fallen.

“Hell yes, you scared me.” She bent the leg up, digging at a cramp in her calf. “What are you doing out there?”

“Nothing.” He bobbed up higher, spreading his arms and moaning like a cartoon ghost.

“Goddamnit, Kenneth, get in here.”

The front door screeched on its hinges when he stepped into the room. “Were you thinking about something scary?” He was giggling.

“I was thinking about my dad.”

She opened the refrigerator, and they squinted against the light.

“You want to go riding?”

“I’ll bet you sneak down here all the time, don’t you?”

“Sometimes I do.” He looked toward the bedroom. “Uncle Paul never notices. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She set the yogurt back in the refrigerator and closed the door.

“Do you?” he asked.

“Do I what?”

“Want to go riding?”


“It’s too hot to sleep,” he said.

He waited while she dressed, and they walked through the dappled shadows the moon cast through the cottonwoods along the creek bottom, then over a plank footbridge to the barn, the chirring of crickets and the rush of water loud in the darkness, their footfalls muffled in the duff.

He had a brown-and-white pinto bridled, the reins looped over a corral pole, and as they approached he chanted, “There now, there now,” so the horse wouldn’t shy, but his voice was so childishly shrill it sounded like the call of a night bird.

“We can both ride Spencer,” he told her.

The horse nuzzled his broad forehead into the boy’s chest, pushing him back a step, and he turned the animal against the side of the corral.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“McEban says our dog could ride Spencer.”

“You don’t have a dog.”

“He meant if we did.”

She stepped to the horse’s flank, resting an arm across his hips. “It’ll just take a minute to saddle him.”

“He’s good to go the way he is,” he said, and the horse nickered softly, as if to vouch for him.

She stood up onto the second rail, sidestepping to the horse’s withers and swinging a leg over. Kenneth still stood on the ground, reaching out to her, and she gripped his wrist, pulling him up behind her. He was light as a cat, all bone and sinew and eagerness, and the horse hadn’t even raised his head, standing like he’d gone to sleep.