That year it was Andy, the youngest of their boys, who was coming, and when the phone rang Doris thought it must be him.
“Maybe they’ve got car trouble,” she said.
“Maybe they haven’t left yet,” Ed replied.
But it was a woman from Wegmans, the store that had their dinner. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re canceling all deliveries. It’s because of the snow.”
“Snow?” asked Doris.
She looked out the kitchen window at their street, Royal Crescent. They’d come when it was new, when Ed had returned from the war and finished college and then a doctorate and come to Rochester to work at Kodak. The houses had seemed like mansions in the fifties. “It isn’t snowing here,” she reported.
But the woman said it would be. “A foot by noon and two feet by tonight and wind chills of thirty below.”
“They said a dusting or maybe nothing.”
“That’s not what they’re saying now.”
“But that dinner’s our Thanksgiving.”
“It isn’t me, m’am. It’s the snow. I’m sorry. I really am.”
It was shortly before nine and, if Andy hadn’t called, he and Jen and the grandchildren were out on I-90, facing the kind of storms there could be in upstate New York. When the boys were still swimming, the family had driven to a meet in Corning, in the winter, and the weather had gotten bad and then worse and there was talk of stopping the meet early. Some of the parents had taken their boys and gone home, but Dan had done well in his qualifying heats, and Tom was on a relay that would lose if he didn’t stay, and Andy was too young to participate but was generally willing to sit and watch. By the time it was over, the snow was coming in sheets and there was wind and, by the time they hit the thruway, the road was a mess but Ed was beyond talking to. If we stop, no telling when we can start again, he kept saying. No telling how much work I’ll have to miss and how much school for the boys and, even if we find a motel, how are we going to eat for two days? Now he was somebody’s eighty-year-old grandpa stooped and swaying in her kitchen, his once handsome face puffy, his hair white and wild, his hands dusky and sometimes shaking, the backs covered with ragged, red spots.
“Well?” she asked when she’d given him the news.
“Well, what do you think?”
“What am I supposed to think?”
Doris thought how easily she or anyone could send him sprawling with a push. Instead she asked if they could get the dinner themselves, and the woman said they could.
“Could someone help us load it in the car?”
“Absolutely,” said the woman.
“And you’ll have it all ready?”
“I’ll put it together now.”
Doris told her they’d be over and hung up, and Ed waved his hands as if, after fifty-three years of marriage, he’d finally seen everything.
“What’d you say that for?”
“What else could I say?”
“You could tell them to do their jobs.”
“It isn’t them, it’s the storm.”
“What storm?” he roared, pointing to the window and looking; they both looked. A snowflake drifted past, another, several. For a moment there were none and then there were another two or three and, by the time Ed had tried the weather channel and heard about a flood in Texas and Doris had tried Andy’s cell and gotten a series of recordings, the flakes were more than just a few.
Ed had backed the car out, and Doris had gotten in. Between them on the seat was an old rubber boot.
“I want to get the buckle fixed,” he said.
“Does it have to be today?”
“Yeah,” he said. “If it’s going to snow,” he said.
The house across the street had been the Spectors’ and, in the old days, Helen Spector had invited Doris and the other Royal mothers for coffee and they’d sat in her kitchen and talked about their children and their husbands and their houses and the schools and what they’d seen on television or at the movies. But as the kids had gotten older, the coffees had gotten fewer and then stopped, and then Carl had passed and Helen had sold the house to a couple with a motorboat who’d sold it to a man who lived alone and kept his shades drawn and the car in the garage with the door closed, and now it was owned by a woman with an eleven-year-old son and a boyfriend Doris sometimes saw and sometimes didn’t. The next house was the Bromleys’, Pete and Betty, whose son had weight-lifted with Tom and Dan when the two of them were doing it twice a day and drinking carrot juice and other concoctions that were fine with Doris as long as they bought them themselves and said what was in them and didn’t leave them rotting in the refrigerator. They’d had a daughter a year behind Dan who’d been a cheerleader when Dan was playing football but by then Betty was unhappy with the house and they’d bought a bigger one a mile or so away and, except once in a while around town, Doris never saw them again. In fact, of all the first families, there were just them and the Olneys, and the Olneys had a cottage in Maine they went to every summer and Doris and Ed had a condo in Florida they went to every winter and, besides, Ed had gone to college but a technical institute not a liberal arts college and Doris had finished high school but that was all. The Olneys had met at Oberlin, and Sue had studied painting and sculpture and still took lessons and filled their house with pieces she’d done and others she’d collected and went to museum shows and lectures and films and read books and thought about them, and Paul was a chemist and worked at Kodak, the same as Ed, but the two of them might have been from different planets. They might have fought for different countries in the war, or so it seemed when the discussion came to politics which, thanks to the women, it almost never did. Rather than watch Paul stiffen as Ed supported Reagan or even Nixon or mocked the do-gooding lame brains opposed to nuclear energy, everyone spoke in coded generalities until Ed began to fidget and then nod and Doris had to wake him up and take everybody home. Once the kids were gone, the two couples had settled into watching each other’s comings and goings and promising, when they met, to get together soon although they never did.
“Looks like the Olneys are away,” Doris said as they passed.
“Paul and Sue. They usually have Thanksgiving with the Teetermans but the house is all dark and I haven’t seen them today.”
“Are the Teetermans people I’m supposed to know?”
“Phillip and Loretta.”
“Never heard of them.”
“They have a son named Jeff and a daughter named Tracy. Jeff was a year ahead of Tom, and Tracy was a year ahead of Dan, and Phillip and Loretta were in Parents Forum.”
“Everybody was in Parents Forum.”
After Royal, they turned onto Pine Crest and drove past the Sullivans’ house, or former house. The Sullivans were an older couple; their children were grown by the time Doris and Ed had their three. Doris only knew they were the Sullivans because it said so on the wrought iron lamp post in their yard, and she’d only known that Mr. Sullivan had gone to a nursing home when she no longer saw him in the yard after work or on weekends and she’d asked and that’s what someone had said. After that the yard had been cut by someone Doris never saw, until one day the sign was gone and there was a car she didn’t know in the driveway and, after that, when she drove by, Doris looked at the house and looked away, as she did now but only after she’d noticed the yard and the driveway and the roof, noting that there wasn’t any snow on the roof or on the roof of the next house, formerly the Weinbergers’, or the next house, formerly the Ginns’. Then they turned onto Indian Trail and the houses were bigger and older and there were fewer that she knew or had ever known, just the Isaacs’ where there was nothing on the yard or driveway and what little was on the roof she couldn’t see for sure. There might have been the faintest whitening or it might have been the uncertain black-gray color of the roof, she’d never before had reason to look at it closely nor the roof on the next house, a house that had once caught fire. Again the yard and the driveway were fine, and the road was still fine, but the roof looked a little whiter than she remembered, a little softer, but how could you be sure about a roof? Then they turned onto List and passed the grade school, and there was no longer any doubt. Just beyond it was the middle school, and just beyond that was the high school, and the snow gusted in great dark swarms across the fields that ran between and all around them. It seemed ready to consume the schools and with them her boys, her memory of her boys, her memory of all the years they’d gone to one or the other of the schools and she’d dropped them off and picked them up and gone to conferences with their teachers and concerts and plays and PTA meetings and swim meets and tennis matches and football and lacrosse games. She felt as if the storm was ready to consume a part of her, and she was relieved when they were past the schools and entered the commercial strip that separated Irondequoit, their town, from the city.
A sign in the shoemaker’s window said “Closed.”
“He’s closed,” said Doris when they pulled in.
“How do you know?’
Doris pointed, and Ed looked, but he turned off the motor and got out.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to see for myself.”
“See what for yourself?”
“If he’s there.”
“How could he be there?”
“How should I know? People do all kinds of crazy things.”
He walked up along the car, one hand on the hood, one hand holding the boot as he took his now slow and careful steps to the door and looked in, and Doris wondered how long the sign had been there. A day? A week? Two weeks? A year? She wondered how the shoemaker could still be in business. He’d been there since she remembered, and he’d never seemed old but he’d never seemed young and, anyway, everybody they knew had gotten old. Maybe he had a son who was helping him or a nephew or some other kind of help, or maybe he was old but by some miracle hanging on, or maybe he’d sold the business and she hadn’t heard. After walking to the window and looking through it and looking, again, at the sign and then, again, through the window, Ed walked back along the car and got in.
“He’s closed,” he said, brushing the snow off his pants.
Until the seventies, it was just another supermarket in a plaza farther down Hudson. Doris had taken the boys when they were little and let them go on increasingly long searches for what she needed and, whenever they got bored, she could go on about her shopping and know that people would be watching and that she’d hear if the boys called. Over the years, she got to know where everything was on every shelf, and she got to know the people who worked there, Don in the meat department and Ted in the bakery and Delores and Vivian at check-out and all the people she didn’t know except by sight but always nodded to and sometimes spoke to, and then there were the Wegmans, of course, Mr. Wegman and his sons when they were in. And she could always count on meeting someone from Royal or the surrounding streets or some other parent from one or another of the boys’ schools or sports teams. Then the Wegmans had built the first of the new superstores, a monstrosity the size of a commercial jet hangar or convention hall, and Doris occasionally saw people she knew but it was never as comfortable. The conversation always drifted toward the size of the place, the challenge of finding things or finding your shopping cart if you left it on one of the thirty-odd aisles and forgot and, while prices were good and the selection was amazing and the employees were courteous and competent and attractive and professionally dressed, you never saw them twice or seemed to and their friendliness was the kind that left you feeling like you didn’t have a friend in the world. With the holiday and the storm, the parking lot was jammed and, inside, because the holiday had left the store short of staff, things were even worse. Despite her efforts to pull him one way or the other, Ed kept running into people and, when they got to the deli section, the counter was three and four deep and there was just the one woman doing everything.
“Can I help you?” she asked when it was finally their turn. But when Ed said their name, she seemed to see them for the first time.
“What’s the matter?”
“What’s wrong with it now?”
“Nothing, but—I didn’t know. I mean, I couldn’t tell on the phone.”
“You couldn’t tell what on the phone? We’ve seen bigger storms than this. We drove all the way to Corning in a storm like this. Remember that, Dory? Remember that swim meet? We didn’t let it bother us. We just jumped in the car and barreled through.Boom!” he said, making a fist and extending his arm at the startled woman.
But when they were ready to leave, when the woman had gotten their dinner and put it in a box and gotten a boy to carry it, the snow had changed from flakes to a steady, bone-white powder, and seeing it through the window by the exit, Ed wanted candles, batteries too. “Meet you at the car,” he said and stomped off, leaving Doris to realize that she didn’t have a key.
“Ed!” she called, fumbling through her pockets.
But he was gone, and he didn’t reappear, and she and the boy stood there, watching as the world outside the window changed to winter.
“We could go look for him,” she said.
“It’s all right.”
“You could go back to your department and we could get you when we’re ready.”
“It’s all right. Really.”
Doris was struck by the boy’s poise and gentleness for all the anger of his appearance. His hair was moussed into short golden spikes and his nose and one eyebrow were pierced and there was stubble on his jaw that spread disreputably up his otherwise smooth and youthful cheeks. She wondered if boys had changed since her boys were fifteen or maybe sixteen like this boy. It certainly looked that way on television and in the newspaper and from what she saw on her own, the boys and the girls she saw them with, and she was relieved when the boy produced a genuine if slightly mocking smile. He shifted the weight of the box in his arms, and she asked if it was heavy.
“He should be just a minute. Have you worked here long?”
“Pretty long. Since the summer.”
“It must be hard with all your school work.”
She asked where he went to school and expected him to say Irondequoit, the high school her boys had attended, but instead he said East Ridge, the school across town, on the working side of town. West Irondequoit had all the scientists from Kodak and Xerox and Bausch & Lomb, and East Irondequoit had everybody else, and it showed in the high school, in the lack of New York State Regents scholars and Advanced Placement courses and the lack of kids who went to the best colleges and in the performance of their athletic teams. It was all about money, Ed had always said. The districts were separate, and with lower incomes to tax the east had lower budgets, lower salaries, and less equipment. Doris had gone to games against East Ridge and watched the kids and watched the parents on the other side and thought how trapped they looked, how seriously they took the score. She asked where the boy was going for Thanksgiving, and when he said he was going to his aunt’s house she asked how many there would be.
“Twenty-eight,” he replied. “Twenty-nine with my brother’s new baby.”
“That’s quite a gathering. Is your aunt cooking it all?”
“She’s cooking some, and my mom’s cooking some and bringing it over, and my other aunt and my uncle and my grandmother are cooking some.”
“So everybody’s helping. That’s nice.”
Doris spoke as if she’d had many such Thanksgivings although they’d only tried it once. She and Ed were from Chicago, and when the boys were old enough, they’d driven there for the holiday but had found the traffic impossible and hadn’t tried it again.
“Are people coming from out of town?”
“Yeah, with the storm.”
“No, I mean you’re lucky to have so much family around.”
A minute later, Ed returned and took Doris by the arm and they started outside, and it was cold, and the snow stung her face and bare hands like a thousand tiny pins, and at one point they almost fell. The snow was just enough to be slick, and Ed pulled on Doris and Doris pulled on Ed until the boy took the dinner in one arm and used his other to steady them as they tried to walk without pulling one another down. Eventually, the boy got them to the car and put the dinner in the trunk and helped Doris with her door and said goodbye and refused a tip, and then Ed got in and started the motor and backed out, and for the first time since the woman had called that morning, Doris was feeling happy and relaxed. In a minute, they’d be home and could put the dinner in the oven and light a fire in the living room fireplace and set out some cheese and crackers and olives and nuts and, once Andy arrived, the snow wouldn’t matter. They could watch it come down and feel safe and happy inside with each other and with a fire and the dinner, a dinner they’d earned whether or not they’d done the cooking. But when Ed turned back onto Hudson, when he was back on the road but this time with bad visibility and uncertain traction, he failed to see a car coming from his right and struck it, their big Cadillac pushing Sue Olney’s little Honda to the far curb and crumpling her front driver’s-side fender so badly the car could no longer drive.
“I don’t know.”
“Then why’s she waving at us?”
Doris again said she didn’t know, but then—very slowly, her nerves still singing, her thinking still startled and slightly foreign—she realized that she did: the Honda, a little one, a blue one, the sticker from the art gallery on the back left window and the familiar face staring from the front left window.
“Sue who?” asked Ed.
“Our neighbor, Sue—Sue Olney.”
“What’s she doing here?”
After checking that Doris was all right and assuring her that he was, he pulled the car around, up in front of Sue’s car, and parked it against the curb and opened his door just long enough for snow to blow in, all over them. Cars were honking and pulling around and backed up in both directions, but Ed looked at the boot and put it on and got out, and watching him from the car, watching the way his upper body swung and pivoted, Doris could tell what he was doing. He was putting his weight to the left, booted foot, using it for traction as he took smaller, lighter steps with his right until he got to the curb and used his booted foot to go ahead, to sweep a place for his right as he continued around to Doris and cleared a place for her and opened her door and helped her out. By then Sue had gotten out, and the three of them stood on the curb, only Ed with a hat, only Sue wearing gloves, their heads and shoulders frosted by the thickly falling flakes.
“I thought it was you!” Sue said, laughing. “How nice to run into you!”
“I’m so sorry,” said Doris.
“Forget it! Besides, we haven’t talked in months! How are you? How was your summer? Say, Ed, you’re missing a boot!”
“It’s a long story.”
“Life’s a long story,” Sue continued, waving her hand as if to wave the weather away. “We’re supposed to be having dinner with the Teetermans but Paul got chest pain in the middle of the night and they’ve got him up at North Side.”
“No!” said Doris.
“Oh, he’s fine. And his tests are all fine but you know how hospitals are. They keep telling me ‘at his age you can’t take any chances.’ As if I wouldn’t know! I was just running home to get him a change of clothes and something to read and to shower and change clothes myself before the storm hit.”
“Looks like it hit,” said Ed.
“And then some,” she replied, laughing, and Doris wondered why she was acting the way she was. Her husband was sick, and she’d just missed being hurt or even killed herself, and now she was stuck in a blizzard with a car she’d have to have towed, and she was talking as if she were chatting beside a pool.
Had she hit her head? Was she in a state of shock?
“Speaking of Wegmans, you’ll never guess who I saw the other day, Doris. Remember Mr. Brewster?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Oh, you remember him. The band teacher.”
“At the high school?”
“At the middle school.”
“Arnie Brewster!” Ed exclaimed. “There’s a guy I haven’t thought about in twenty years!”
“Longer,” said Doris.
“I wish it were twenty years,” said Sue. “Anyway, I saw this man in one of the first aisles, and he looked familiar but I couldn’t place him, and I was trying not to stare, but he looked so familiar it was driving me crazy. And you know how it is at a grocery store, you run into somebody in the first aisle and you see them in the next aisle and the next. I was running into him for the third or fourth time and wondering who he was but trying not to stare when he stopped and looked at me and said, ‘You had a son named Rick who played the flute and a son named Todd who played the clarinet and a daughter named Kate who played the trumpet.’”
“How on earth did he remember?” asked Doris.
“He said he’s been retired for fifteen years but still remembers all the kids,” said Sue. “He said he had a daughter in the high school when Todd was there which means she was there when Andy and Dan were there. Did you know that? Do you remember a girl named Brewster?”
“What was her first name?”
“Anne, I think he said. Anne or maybe Diane.”
A man stopped and pulled his SUV up over the curb, alongside their cars but out of danger of being hit. He told them to get in and get warm, and Ed told the ladies to go ahead, he’d stay out and wait for the police, and when an officer arrived Doris watched as he looked at the cars and at Ed and his one boot and spoke to him and then came over and spoke to them.
“You ladies saw the accident?”
“Are you kidding, officer, we are the accident!” Sue replied so gaily he looked at her as he’d just looked at Ed. He asked if anyone was hurt, and Sue said no, they were fine, so he called a tow truck but not an ambulance, and a few minutes later the truck roared away with Sue’s car and the three of them continued home in the Cadillac which had damage to the bumper and the grille but was drivable.
“Not here yet,” said Doris when they got to the Olneys’. She was looking three driveways down to their own.
“They’ll get here,” Ed replied.
“They’re probably wondering where you are,” said Sue. “They’ve probably been calling and calling, so I’d better let you go.”
Doris and Ed were sitting in the front, and Sue was sitting in the back, and they’d already said they’d help her with her car, fixing it and paying for anything the insurance didn’t cover and getting her to the hospital to see Paul or anywhere else she needed. They said it all again, but she insisted that she was fine, she could drive Paul’s car, a Subaru, a four-wheel drive, or she could call and ask the Teetermans. She thanked them for the lift and told them not to feel bad and started to get out but saw the flagstone walk, now just a line of oblong depressions leading from the driveway to their door in the front.
“You want me to shovel it?” Ed asked.
“Oh, it’s not that,” she replied. “I was thinking about the day Paul made it.”
“I remember that day,” said Doris.
“Yes. I looked out the kitchen window and saw your old Chevy station wagon all down to the ground with something heavy and Paul pulling out flagstones and trying not to drop them on—Rick, I guess it was. You only had the one child, I remember.”
“Do you remember how hot it was?” Sue asked. “Do you remember how hot it always was back then? There weren’t any trees so there wasn’t any shade. We just had the maple in the front and the locust and the ornamental cherry in the back, all of them saplings.”
“And we just had our maple and the little willow,” said Doris. “We could see from our house to the Greens’ house at the other end.”
“And they could see us,” said Ed. “We had to keep our shades down.”
“Oh, Ed,” said Doris.
“But he’s right,” said Sue. “There weren’t any trees, and all the houses were right next to each other and all at ground level, and with all the kids you never knew what they’d left open or closed or which ten of them would walk in when. Do you know that there were sixty children on Royal between the ages of five and fifteen? Mary Cuthpert and Phyllis Rush and I sat at the block party the year the Bergethons had it and that’s what we came up with. Sixty-two. Now there might be a dozen, and you never see them out playing, not together, not like they used to. They’re all different ages now.”
“They’re all in daycare now,” said Ed. “They’re all from different families. You talk to a neighbor now and they tell you this kid’s from that father and this one’s from that mother and the kid’s with the father this week and the mother that week and some other father the next week. Now there’s all kinds of people living on the street.”
“And there’s us,” said Sue. “What kind of people are we?”
Doris was turned sideways in her seat and looking back as they talked, so she noticed when Sue began to tremble. She didn’t know if she was laughing or crying or finally reacting to what had happened or whether she was simply cold.
“Paul took his shirt off,” Sue continued, still trembling although her speech was steady. “That day with the flagstones, he took it off, and I didn’t care, but I didn’t know if the neighbors would care, so I asked him to put it back on. We used to think about things like that. We used to think about a lot of things nobody thinks about now.”
For a moment no one spoke, and there was just the throb of the motor and the steady flop-flop of the wipers and the silent fall of the snow on the windshield, on the hood, and on the windows all around them. Then Doris asked about the hospital again.
“If you don’t want us to drive, we understand, but Andy should be here soon and he could drive you, and I know he wouldn’t mind.”
Sue looked at her. The trembling stopped.
“When was the last time you saw Andy?”
“And how many days will he be here—two, maybe three?”
Sue reached over the seat and gently squeezed Doris on the upper arm, and Doris realized that in all their years of watching and knowing everything about each other’s lives they’d never hugged or even shaken hands. They’d never been close enough to make it comfortable or distant enough to make it casual and, anyway, with neighbors there was never any rush. They were always going to be there.
“Have a nice holiday,” Sue said.
“Thank you,” Doris replied, putting her free hand on top of Sue’s and looking directly at her. “Have a nice holiday.”
“Yeah,” said Ed. “And say the same to Paul.”
“I will,” said Sue.
She got out of the car and ignored the ankle-deep snow on the walk until she reached the step, which was clear enough that she could stamp the snow from her feet and bend and brush her ankles and the bottom of her slacks before she opened the door and went inside and switched on a lamp, as it was by then afternoon and the light was already weakening. She waved from a window, and they both waved back, and Ed eased the car down the driveway and then down the street to their own driveway, pulling slightly past it before slowly backing in.
“What are you doing now?”
“I don’t know about the engine. It might not start again if we leave it.”
He said that if they had to call for a tow, the car should face out so the tow truck could hook it up. He pushed the button for the door and tried to back in the narrow, single-car garage. But the driveway was slick and the wheels kept spinning and the car kept sliding, and after two attempts he stopped and left it, and when Andy arrived he asked what it was doing there and was upset when they explained. He asked if they’d been hurt. He asked if Sue had gotten hurt. He asked if Ed had gotten a ticket, and instead of the celebration Doris had imagined, instead of talking to Sarah about her first year at school and Ben about the ray gun he was aiming at everybody and asking more about the drive from Cleveland and how awful it must have been and how grateful she and Ed were that they’d come anyway, Doris kept asking herself the question Andy kept stepping around: when would they be too old to drive and how they would know and what would any of them do then? What if Paul died or was too sick to live at home again and Sue moved away and she and Ed were the last ones on Royal, the last of all those young families who’d helped each other and owed each other?
And to make things worse, instead of showing any worry or any respect for Andy’s worry, Ed kept dismissing him, needling him the way he needled all the boys but, for some reason, needled Andy in particular.
“Your mother’s talking like it was a major collision.”
“Wasn’t it, Dad? I thought Mrs. Olney got her car wrecked.”
“It wasn’t wrecked.”
“Could she drive it?”
“She didn’t try. The police didn’t let her try. And anyway, she’s got a Honda, so who cares? Those cars don’t have a chassis. All they are is folded-over sheet metal. They’re wrecked if you tap ’em with your finger.”
“You could have killed her, Dad.”
“Don’t blame me, blame the Japanese. Blame her for buying the damn car.”
Then, when dinner was ready, Ed was missing and Doris let herself feel the anger she’d been controlling all day.
If only she’d left him home!
If only she’d gone to get the dinner herself! If only she hadn’t married him!
Her first year in high school, she’d passed the gym and heard shouting and looked in and seen a lot of boys and one boy sitting on the floor, against the wall, watching the other boys play basketball. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and she remembered the length of his legs and the power in his arms and the ease and power of his attention. But mostly it was the profile she’d noticed, the set of his head, a small but particular angle that made it look as if whatever problem he looked at long enough he could solve. It was back in the Depression and of all the boys at Peltner High he’d looked like the one who’d make it, and he had. And as much as he’d changed, as much as his posture had stooped and his once graceful movements had stiffened and failed, he could still look at things and get that angle, that power, and the years would, for an instant, disappear. It had happened that morning when he’d tried to get the weather report. He’d turned on the television but hadn’t got a picture, just a blank blue screen, and had fiddled with the cable box, his attention youthful and complete. It had happened that afternoon, when he and Andy argued. She’d bought the grandchildren gifts and given Ben a model airplane, and he brought it to Ed to put together, and despite the distraction, despite the fact that she sat there wishing he’d brought Andy or even her the plane, there it was, that focus, that confidence.
And, now, there it was again.
After looking around the house, she’d gone to the kitchen and looked out the window and seen the great white flakes the snow had changed back to. The woman in the Spectors’ old house had a light on her porch, and they had one on theirs, so the flakes were lit from the front and from behind and very pretty, and Doris stood and watched them tumbling and shining until she saw one place where the darkness seemed darker than it should or the snow seemed less or maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her. No there it was; there he was. She wasn’t sure until she saw his head, that angle of his head. He was standing at the end of the driveway. He was wearing no coat but he was wearing his boots, both of them; she looked until she could just see the tops above the deepening drifts. For a moment, she thought they’d had it, that the accident or hearing about Paul or the stress of the grandchildren visiting or arguing with Andy had driven him over the edge, that he’d wandered out crazed, until she saw what he was looking at—the car, the Cadillac, the kind of car two poor kids from south Chicago could never hope to own. He was out there inspecting it, wondering, she supposed, the cost of fixing it, and, furious, she went to the front door and threw it open ready to shout his name.
But the wind had died, and the air was cold and would carry what she said, and the houses would bounce it up and down the street as if a dozen fed-up housewives were shouting. She looked over at the Olneys’ and saw that, like many of the houses, it was dark and that snow had covered the roof and the driveway and the yard so smoothly, so perfectly, it appeared that Sue and Paul were gone, which before long they would be. Before long some other family would come and make the house theirs; and then another and another, and the Olneys would be forgotten, just as the others had been, just as her parents had been, just as she and Ed would be forgotten.
“How’s it look?” she asked.
“Not bad,” he said, as he pulled on a piece of trim. “But I’ll have to look in the daylight. I’ll have to open up the hood and look inside. How’s dinner?”
“Is everybody sitting down?”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I am,” she replied, feeling her anger rise again but this time feeling it rise through and past her and up into the night and the cold and what was left of the storm. It was like speaking a new language or one she’d forgotten. It was like standing in that other doorway, the one at the gym, wondering what to do, what to say when that long-armed boy suddenly turned his head and looked at her.
“I’m sorry, Ed.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t tell you I was out here.”
“I mean, I’m sorry about the accident.”
“What about it?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t see it coming.”
“You weren’t driving.”
“But I could have looked. I could have looked out my side and told you what I saw.”
Ed stood before her, a stranger, a ghost floating in some cold and shining nowhere she had once called her life.
But she knew what he would say.
What he always said.
“Oh, come on, Dory!”
As in, “Oh, come on, Dory, you’re being silly!” or “Oh, come on, Dory, you’ll make us late!”
“Oh, come on, Dory!” he said now. “We made it, didn’t we? Who cares about the rest?”