desolation she had never in her life felt before. It was as if through those words alone she had discovered the nature of their life together, and she felt closer to him for that moment than she had in years. Her eyes filled with tears and she blurted out, “Yes, stay, go on and stay if you want to!” Rushing up the stairs and standing bewildered above, shouting hoarsely back, “Stay if you want to!” and running to her room, weeping helpless, unfamiliar tears as the voice below cried, “Helen, honey! Helen! Helen!”
She stirred; the holly leaves scraped gently outside the window.
Oh, take me now.
A breeze had sprung up from the bay. Huge iron-red clouds of dust blew across the station, swept upward from time to time on sudden gusts of air. Here, high above, the clouds shifted, spread against the sky in a translucent haze the color of rust. Through this haze the sun shone feebly and enveloped everything below—station, people, and all—in an immense coppery light, dim and horizonless as a Turner landscape, where even moving objects seemed to remain suspended, like flies in amber. The interior of the limousine in which Loftis sat now was fashioned in livid bluish fabric resembling the color of a bruise. In front of him was a folded-down jump seat, also draped in this cheerless hue, upon which he had thrown one leg, tapping his foot in time to music from a restaurant across the street. A guitar strummed. A plaintive juke-box voice, gentle and long-suffering, sang distantly:
You know that you are free to go dear
Don’t worry if I start to cry …
And Loftis, intent above all to forget his terrible pain, tried to hear the words, humming along with them in a thin falsetto tenor. Past the window, which he had closed against the dust, a woman’s crazy hat drifted, trailing pink cloth flowers on a veil; the woman herself, then, rear-view—big, bovine, in a motley of cheap and tawdry clothes, plump sunburned arms warding off the dust like snow or sleet, and the woman’s countrified voice receding faintly: “My, my, ain’t this a shame.” In her wake Barclay followed, carrying a bucket of water. Watching him, Loftis felt a tug of nausea at his stomach. His head ached dully from the whisky of the night before. He leaped out of the door and walked toward the hearse, following Barclay, panting a little as he strode through the dust. “Hey! Oh, son! Son!” By the front of the hearse the boy turned and paused, wondering.
“Yes, sir?” Barclay said. He was a pale slim boy of about nineteen. He had pimples and on his upper lip a fringe of timid pubescent hair, and he stood gaping in wonderment as Loftis bore down upon him, breathing heavily.
“Ah, well. Is it——” Loftis hesitated.
The boy said nothing. Although it was not his fault, he was afraid he would be held to blame for the broken radiator pipe. All morning he had worried: about whether he would please or not; about the fit of his brand-new black suit. He was conscientious and incorruptible and right-minded, a young man born to worry. Already the complexities of life, and of becoming a mortician, were oppressive and somehow unjust; he worried about these, too. The morning had given him no end of trouble. He felt that surely Mr. Casper was going to fire him and because he had worried about this he had scarcely let himself notice Loftis, even though he knew now that the man standing before him was the nearest kin to the remains he had driven all this way to fetch.
“Yes, sir?” he repeated hesitantly.
There was a faint grin on Loftis’ face. “Uh … having trouble?”
The boy smiled back uneasily. “Yeah … Yes, sir. It’s fixed now, though.” He turned toward the engine and opened the hood. “The pipe here …” Poor guy, he thought: I reckon he is grief-stricken.
Loftis leaned over his shoulder. “You know these Packard motors are funny,” Barclay heard him say. “They’re funny. I had a Packard once back in
Phil Hester, Jon S. Lewis, Shannon Eric Denton, Jason Arnett