I had no choice, Jane liked to tell her friends. Nobody else would come. Why not?
Deer season, said Jane.
Deer season. Of course.
Nobody would come. Nobody could. Nobody was around, I was told.
Who told you?
The deputy. Deputy . . . Deputy . . . What’s his name, again?
Treat. It was Deputy Treat who set Jane straight. She had walked into the kitchen with her shopping, found the small round hole in the middle of one of the glass panes in the window over the sink. She called the sheriff’s number. They said somebody would be along. Jane waited in the front room. She wouldn’t wait in the kitchen. The hole in the glass was level with her eyes as she stood at the window. She showed it to the deputy. She knew what it was.
“That’s a bullet hole, isn’t it?” Jane asked Treat.
“I’d say so.” Treat turned and looked around the kitchen, up and down.
The hole in the window glass was about the size you could pass an ordinary pencil through. There were glass crumbs on the sill and in the sink. Two long cracks went like spokes from the hole to the woodwork around the window pane.
“The window’s finished,” said Jane.
“Part of it, anyway,” said the deputy.
“That glass will have to be replaced.”
“I’ll have to get somebody out here.”
“Why?” asked the deputy. “Look, you get a new piece of glass, drop it in there. Points. A little putty. Done. Put your husband on it. You’ve got a husband, don’t you?”
“As a matter of fact,” said Jane, “no. I’ll have to call somebody.”
“Good luck,” said the deputy.
“Good luck? What do you mean?”
“Good luck getting anybody. Today. This week, the next couple of weeks. Nobody’s around.”
“Not around? Where are they?”
“Everybody’s in camp.”
“Deer camp. This is deer season, you know.”
“I guess I’d forgotten,” said Jane.
“You bet,” said Treat. “Rifle season. First day, today. Everybody’s at deer camp. They’re hunting. Nobody’s around. Look there.”
He stepped across the kitchen and bent to the floor at the wall opposite the window. He picked something off the floor, put it on the counter beside the sink. A small copper-colored cone, a little lopsided at the apex.
“That’s the bullet?” Jane asked. “Just lying there, on the floor?”
“Sometimes they kind of run out of juice, bullets,” said Treat. “No telling where a bullet will end up.”
“I stand at that window,” said Jane. “I’m at the sink right there. Every day. It could have killed me.”
“It could have, but it didn’t. You weren’t here.”
“I’ll call Arthur. Arthur Tavistock. Do you know him?”
“He once came and fixed a window upstairs that the ice broke. Artie Tavistock. He could fix this.”
“I don’t doubt he could, except for what I said: he’s in camp. He’s in camp up on Mount Nebo with Cola and them.”
“What about O’Hara? Rory O’Hara? He’s a builder, isn’t he?”
“He is. But he’s up at camp with the others. He and Cola are cousins.”
“What am I supposed to do, then?”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Deputy Treat said. “Well, but, wait a minute. One thing you could do. You could try Eli.”
“Eli? Eli Adams?”
The deputy nodded. “Call Eli,” he said.
“Why call Eli? Isn’t he in deer camp with the rest?”
“Eli don’t hunt,” said Treat. He grinned. “Never has. His old lady don’t let him. Or, she didn’t.”
“Eli? Eli’s like the village idiot, isn’t he?” asked Bram.
“The village idiot?”
“Isn’t he? You’re talking about Eli Adams, right?”
“Of course he’s not the village idiot,” said Jane. “What a thing to say. What gave you that idea? Now, it’s true, Eli probably didn’t go to Princeton. But, then, neither did you.”
“Neither did you go to Princeton,” Jane went on. “You didn’t even get into Princeton, as I recall, in spite of Daddy. Does that make you the village idiot?”
“You’re a snob. That’s your problem with Eli. That’s all it is. Snobbery.”
“Snobbery? Problem with Eli? I have no problem with Eli. I hardly know Eli.”
“As for being a snob,” said Bram. “I might admit to that.”
“Thank you,” said Jane.
Jane sat at the kitchen table and watched Eli. She watched his back, his shoulders. A compact man, not young, but fit and trim. He was wearing a blue shirt that had been through the wash a thousand times.
Eli had dismounted the window sash with the damaged pane. To do that, he’d used a little flat steel bar that he had taken from a toolbox he’d brought with him and set on the counter beside the sink. The sash he’d laid carefully on the counter. Now Jane watched as Eli rapped the glass pane sharply with the bar. The glass broke at the bullet hole, and the pieces fell out onto the counter.
“I guess we really better had fix it, now, hadn’t we?” Eli asked. He turned, smiling, to look at Jane.
“I guess so,” said Jane. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Adams?”
“Who’s Mr. Adams? I’m Eli.”
“On the coffee? Sure.”
Jane rose from the table and went to stand beside Eli at the sink. He was picking out broken pieces of the glass that were stuck in the window’s woodwork. She got the coffee things together.
“Somebody shot at the house,” said Jane. “The deputy thought so, too. He found the bullet. Somebody shot out the window. Can you believe it?”
“First day?” said Eli. “Sure, I can believe it. First day, fellows are a little keen, a little quick, sometimes, you know? That’s all.”
“That’s all? I could have been standing right there, where you are now. I could have been killed.”
“But you weren’t here.”
“That’s what the deputy said. What of it? That was just luck.”
“You think so?”
“Point is,” Eli went on, “nobody was shooting at you. Nobody was shooting at your house. A rifle like that? A round from it can kill a deer a couple of miles away. Point is, it wasn’t aimed at you.”
“I feel so much better,” said Jane.
“Water’s boiling,” said Eli.
The place had been in Jane’s family since, say, 1950, an era when three quarters of the college and university faculties of the eastern United States were busily buying up the derelict buildings and idle pastures abandoned by the busted dairy farmers of Vermont. The professors and their families needed summer places. In particular, overeducated and underpaid, they needed cheap summer places. For them, the paintless, plumbing-less, wood-heated, candle-and-kerosene-lit homesteads of this unprosperous state were well suited—until they burned up or fell down. They offered fresh air, active life outdoors, wholesome food, useful physical work, and mild and strictly temporary adversity. They offered, as well, a refuge from bondage to the academy, a place to go when students, colleagues, rivals, superiors, crowded in. Jane’s father, a medievalist from Ann Arbor, called their Vermont place the Fuck You Farm.
“Saw your brother at the p.o., other day,” said Eli. “Don’t think he knew who I was.”
Eli had cleaned the bits of glass from the window sash. Now he swept them off the counter into the cupped palm of his other hand and dropped them into a wastebasket.
“Bram? Maybe he didn’t see you,” said Jane.
“He saw me, all right. He about ran me down. Looked right through me like I wasn’t there.”
“Bram? Bram’s the one who wasn’t there, probably.”
“Up here for a while, now, is he?”
“Not for long. He’s working on a book.”
“You mean he’s writing a book?”
“That’s right. He came up here to finish it.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s a novel.”
“A novel? That’s fiction, ain’t it?”
“I hope so,” said Jane.
Jane poured two cups of coffee and set one down on the counter where Eli was working on the window sash.
“Half and half?” she asked. “Sugar?”
“Just black’s good,” said Eli. He picked up his cup and took a quick, polite sip, nodded, then put the cup down out of harm’s way at some distance from the sash. Jane went back to her place at the table. She drank her coffee and watched Eli work. He bent over the sash and used a square of sandpaper half the size of a playing card to smooth the little step in the woodwork where the window pane seated. From his toolbox he took a small metal can and an artist’s paintbrush, quite fine. He unscrewed the top of the can, dipped the brush, and began stroking liquid from the can onto the sanded surface of the woodwork.
“What’s that?” Jane asked him.
“Linseed,” said Eli. “Fills the wood. Seals it.” He fitted the top back onto the oil can and wiped the brush on a rag from the toolbox. He turned to face Jane. He drank his coffee.
“Now we give her a minute,” said Eli.
Jane smiled at him. “You’ve fixed a few windows in your time, I think,” she said.
“I think so, too,” said Eli. “When Grace and I bought our place? It had been old Harley Cabot’s. He’d lived there alone for years, years, until one day he turned up dead in his rocker by the stove. Well, Harley hadn’t much of anybody in the way of family. Nobody, really. Place stood empty for a couple of years, more. When Grace and I took it on, there were squirrels in the attic, coons in the bedroom, porcupines in the cellar. We got the house, shop, and twenty acres: five thousand dollars. Nobody believes that today, but, on the other hand, it came to about a thousand per coon—not nothing, the way it seemed to Grace and me at the time. Anyway, most of the windows were busted. Harley had stuck up newspaper over some of them. We fixed them all up, every window. New glass, new putty, the works. Grace was better at the windows than me. She was better at most things than me.”
“I was sorry to hear about Grace,” said Jane. “I didn’t ever get to know her very well, but I always liked her.”
“She liked you, too, said she did. She didn’t like everybody, you know. Your husband. She didn’t like your husband.”
“That’s okay,” said Jane. “Neither did I.”
The Fuck You Farm. Their father was serious, he insisted. One more committee, one more conference, one more journal article, one more seminar, and the groves of academe would see him no more. He’d chuck it, load the station wagon, and light out for the green hills. There, he’d plant a big garden; can, pickle, and preserve the produce; get a couple of piglets, a spring lamb; tap his sugar maples. What else? Bees. He’d keep bees, for Christ’s sake. Who’d had bees? An old-timer. Kept bees, wrote about them. Virgil.
It never happened. It couldn’t have. A summer idyll was very well, but when the frost hit the unripe tomatoes, and the southbound geese began to pass overhead in their ragged, clamorous battalions, a rustic scholar’s soul turned to the advantages of faculty housing and the snug little bungalow near campus; to the mostly congenial colleagues; to the faculty club; to Erasmus, Aquinas, Scotus, and whoever the hell. The station wagon was loaded again, and pointed west.
At the end of a long and distinguished career, their father retired full of honors, his name given to a biennial series of lectures on Augustine of Hippo. He died peacefully at last, not on the steep and rock-bound acres of the Fuck You Farm, but in a condo in Vero Beach, like everybody else. He never lived in Vermont out of season, barely visited it. His son, Jane’s brother Bram, did, in a manner of speaking, though only in a manner of speaking.
There was a story about that. Bram and a girlfriend drove up to Vermont for their spring break from college. The month was March. Bram’s plan was to build fires in the fireplaces, cook meals on the wood stove, and, one way and another, not to stray far from the bedroom. The last part proved out. The night of their arrival at the Farm, it snowed a foot and a half, and the next morning the thermometer stood at thirty below. Bram’s car wouldn’t start. The woodshed was snowed in. If they hadn’t been rescued by the town road crew, the two would have frozen to death. As it was, they survived, but they were not the same. Bram went back to school early, a thing scarcely to be believed. The girl was never seen again.
Eli laid a bead of putty along the woodwork where the new pane would go. He beveled it with his putty knife. He went into his toolbox and took out three pieces of window glass. He tried to position each of them in turn on the fresh putty in the window. One was too big, the other two were a fit.
Jane smiled. “You’re prepared, aren’t you?” she said. “Do you carry little pieces of glass around with you wherever you go?”
“I do when I’m on a window job,” said Eli. He held one of the panes up to the light.
“This is old glass,” he said. “Look at it.”
He held the glass out to Jane, who took it from him. The glass was thin, almost like paper, and its surface was not regular, but rippled and dimpled.
“You’d better take the other one,” said Eli. “This old glass is some brittle. It will break, easy. It might even break when I put it in there and try to set the points.”
“No,” said Jane. “Please use that one. It’s old and brittle. It’s flawed. I like it.”
Eli nodded. “Me, too,” he said. “Okay, you’ve got it: old and rippled it is.”
“And flawed,” said Jane.
“And flawed,” said Eli. “Flawed, for sure.”
When did you know? her friends asked Jane. Not for some time, or quickly?
Quickly, I think.
A day? A week?
Say a week after the business of the window. The thing was, suddenly he was everywhere. I went to the bank, he was there. I went to the market, to the town clerk, he was there. Even to the vet. My dog was sick. His dog was sick.
Did you think he was following you?
No. More as though I was following him. I was following him but I didn’t know it.
Didn’t know it, yet.
Exactly. Not yet.
You must have known something.
I must have.
Carefully, Eli laid the new-old glass on the putty seal he had prepared for it. Carefully, he pressed the pane evenly down into place. He turned the sash over and placed it on the counter, outside up. He shook half a dozen diamond-shaped steel glazier’s points out of a box onto the counter and used a small screwdriver to push them into the woodwork around the pane, holding it.
“Almost done,” said Eli.
“More coffee?” Jane asked him.
Eli raised his cup. “Still working on what you gave me,” he said.
“Can I heat it up for you, then?”
“I wouldn’t fight you.”
Jane took Eli’s cup to the coffee pot. She filled his cup and handed it to him.
“How is it you’re not out with the rest, today?” she asked. “You don’t hunt, I guess?”
Jane smiled at him. “Because Grace didn’t like hunting, the deputy said.”
“That’s true, she didn’t. She didn’t like anything where animals got hurt.”
“She wouldn’t let you go hunting, the deputy said.”
Eli paused. He laughed. “Young Treat? He would say that. No, Grace never told me I wasn’t to go to camp. Fact is, I never much went in for it, deer season. Oh, I suppose camp’s all right. I like getting out in the woods, sure, I like that. And I’ve got a deer rifle—just like the one drilled your window, probably. But going into camp? I don’t know. What’s in it? You’re up there. You freeze to death. You sit around with a bunch of fellows you’ve known all your life. You play cards. You tell stories. You sight in your rifles. You drink beer. You piss off the porch. You go home. See? Most of that I can do on my own, except for shooting. Grace didn’t hold with guns.” Eli shook his head. “Well, come to it, then,” he said, “I guess I could do that, too, now, shooting. Couldn’t I?
“So, no,” Eli finished, “I’m not a hunter. Lucky for you.”
“How do you mean? Why for me?”
Eli smiled. “If I was a hunter, you’d do well to get your window fixed before Christmas. So, lucky for you I’m not.”
“Lucky for me,” said Jane.
“What?” Bram asked. “Who? You’re marrying who? Eli? You mean that Eli. Our Eli? Eli from Eli?”
“Do you know another Eli?” Jane asked him.
“No, I don’t know another Eli. I wish I did. Because marrying this Eli? No.”
“Category mistake,” Bram said. “Eli? Eli pulls your car out of the mud. He comes with his chainsaw and clears away the tree that fell across your driveway . . .”
“He fixes your shot-out kitchen window,” said Jane.
“Absolutely, he does. He fixes your window. Hell, yes. He’s a useful man, Eli. Turn his hand to anything. But he doesn’t take you down the aisle. All right? He doesn’t sleep with you—well, okay, maybe he sleeps with you. But he doesn’t marry you.”
“Who does, then?”
“Oh, any number of eligible fellows. Maybe you marry a rich asshole like Steve.”
“I tried that.”
“To be sure, you did. Not a success. So, you marry a poor scholar, like Dad. A medievalist. God forbid, you say? Well, then how about a musician? A writer? A third baseman? A bank robber? I don’t care. But you don’t, don’t, don’t, do not marry Eli. Get it?”
“I already have,” said Jane.
It wasn’t easy for him growing up.
No. His father died when he was little. Some kind of accident in the woods. His mother was alone. There was no money. She couldn’t always provide. He lived with cousins, friends. He says he’s stayed on every couch in town.
He says when he went in the Navy it was the first time he knew where he was going to sleep that night, the first time he felt he knew where he belonged.
He knew where he belonged, but he also knew he didn’t want to belong there. He belonged here. He got out, came back home.
Didn’t he work for the sheriff’s office?
He was a deputy. He still is. He’s done a lot of things.
And his wife?
She was older than Eli.
A little. She was a teacher.
I always think he’s a handsome man, a good-looking man, in a way, Eli.
I’ll tell him.
You will not.
“Bram’s shocked,” said Jane.
“He ought to be shocked,” said Eli. “I’m a little shocked, myself. Ain’t you?”
“Not at all.”
“Takes a good deal to shock you, I guess.”
“I guess it does, at that,” said Jane. “Do you think you could move over a little?”
“Do I have to?”
“I’d be grateful.”
“One thing with your brother, though,” said Eli.
“When I run into him at the p.o. now, he knows who I am.”
“I bet he does.”
Eli turned to Jane. “So, you ain’t shocked,” he said. “But ain’t you a little bit surprised?”
“A little, maybe. You?”
“More than a little. After that first day? The day with the window? I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there.”
“Trust your luck. You’re the one who said everything is luck.”
“I ought to remembered,” said Eli. “I’d have felt better then. I’d forgotten. I thought I might have to wait for next deer season. You know? Might have to come sneaking around up here and shoot another window.”
“You never,” said Jane.