always bunk with me or at the hotel.â
âThank you. Iâll remember that,â Burns said, holding Glenâs look until the bearded man turned and left. Now he wanted a drink, blood sugar or no blood sugar; Burns could feel the call in his gut, his heartbeat, the roof of his mouth. He went to the sink and drew and drank three glasses of water.
Burns heard a fuss outside and then the clatter of claws on the linoleum of the entry and the Newfoundland came bounding in and burrowed his nose into Burnsâs hand where it hung beside the easy chair in which he slept. He had sat down to read in the small living room and sleep had taken him like an irrefutable force. Now a woman appeared in the entrance, and that was Burnsâs first thought: Sheâs not a girl. He had last seen his son Alec six years ago when he had graduated college in New Haven. Burns had expected his wife to be a girl. Julie removed her knee-length lavender parka and the white knit cap and shook her hair, smiling at him. Without meaning to, Burns stared frankly at her in her white nurseâs dress. It was the first surprise heâd had since heâd been in Alaska: Julie was a woman, a tall woman with pale blond hair that fell below her shoulders. He stood and took her hand.
âWhat are you smiling at?â she said, and smiled. âSit down, Tom. Iâm going to call you Tom, okay? Iâm glad youâre here. How was your flight?â Burns felt things shifting. First all the hunger, and then the nap taking him like a kid, and now this woman in white.
âI fell asleep,â he said. âSorry.â
âItâs too warm in here.â Julie went to the thermostat. âThatâs the one thing about Alaska. Itâs too warm all the time. Thereâs no such thing as a little cold. They keep the hospital at eighty degrees. It reminds me of Manhattan that way.â She sat on the couch and took off her shoes. âAlec talked about you quite a lot. And so did Helen, but youâre quite different than I pictured.â
She stood up, her dress rustling. âYou want a drink?â
âThatâs right. I knew that. Sorry.â Burns watched her splash some Wild Turkey into a plastic tumbler. âOkay, Iâll be right back. Iâve got to get these stockings off. Yes, from Helen I imagined youâd be a bit wrecked or frumpy, you know, dirty overcoat, greasy hair.â
âBottle of tokay?â
âIâm kidding, but your ex-wife can be a bit severe.â
âHelen is a woman with a memory.â
Julie went down a short hallway where Burns could see the edge of a bed. When he saw her dress fall upon the bed, he stood and moved to the kitchen sink, poured a glass of water, and tried to see out the frosted window. He felt agitated. He pressed the glass against his lip. He was deeply hungry again and he felt funny about falling asleep. Napping wasnât his custom, but the sweet closed warmth of the trailer and the wind heaving at the structure, rocking it faintly, had just taken him. He had been doing things by will for ten years now, since the first week after his forty-second birthday, and he was known as a measured man who had placed the remaining components of his life back together purposefully. He was a man who didnât feel things instantly, and now there was this person, Julie, whom he instantly felt quite wonderful about, and suddenly his mission seemed strange and he felt far from home.
She returned in a worn pair of brown corduroys and a simple white turtleneck. His room was at the other end of the trailer, and as she laid out some towels, Burns couldnât take his eyes from her.
âBlazo picked you up all right?â she said.
âThe talkative soul? The whiskey person?â
As she moved about the room, showing him the bureau and the electric blanket control and the closet, he studied her long
Cecilia Aubrey, Chris Almeida