“Mrs. Aldridge. Hello.”
“Mindy, please,” she says. “How are you? My God, it’s been ages.”
“I’m all right. How are Jeff and Sarah?”
“They’re great, just great. Jeff’s an investment banker in New York. Sarah’s a potter, married with twin girls. They live down in Virginia, just outside Washington.”
“Twins,” he says, shaking his head. He used to baby-sit Jeff and Sarah when they were kids. “What brings you up here in the middle of winter?”
“I live in Dublin year-round now,” she says, emphasis on the I, meaning Mr. Aldridge is history. “I love it. It’s so beautiful, so . . . basic. I mean, sure, we’ve got indoor plumbing and oil furnaces and satellite dishes, but in some ways things around here haven’t changed much in two hundred years.” She laughs. Her eyes are brown and mischievous with deep lines at the corners. “Of course, I can fly off to Aruba any time I want.”
Mrs. Aldridge had been one of a group of young mothers who spent their summers at the Dublin Lake Club, playing tennis, sitting on the beach and talking, watching their children swim. She wasn’t as pretty as Mrs. Carroll, didn’t have a knockout body like Mrs. Shaw, but she was the one Teddy thought about when he went to bed at night, a bottle of lotion — same brand he’s holding right now — hidden under his mattress. Mrs. Aldridge liked to tease him and squeeze his biceps and tell him how muscular he was getting. Sometimes when he came to the house to babysit, he’d get a peek down the front of her blouse as she bent down to kiss the children goodbye. But the best moments were the lazy summer afternoons by the lake — Calderwood lounging on the grass, pretending to read a book — when Mindy Aldridge stood up from her towel to walk down to the water with the bottom of her swimsuit riding up her ass, and she’d slip her index fingers under the seam of the fabric, pulling it over the soft white flesh back down to the line of her tan.
She asks where he lives now and he says Los Angeles. He tells her he’s a lawyer.
“Nope,” he says, grinning. “Came close a few times.”
“How long are you home for?”
“Just the weekend. My dad . . . ” He lifts one hand then lets it fall.
“I know, I’m sorry. I see your mom around town sometimes. Tell them hi for me.”
They walk out of the store together. He calls her Mindy and that makes her smile. He wants to follow her home and curl up under a blanket with her in front of the fire. He wants to tell her how he used to fantasize about her, tell her how his heart would race when he’d watch her get up from her towel and walk down to the lake. It isn’t sex he wants from her now — though that has certainly crossed his mind — it’s youth, hers as well as his own. All those possibilities, as infinite as stones.
He drives up the hill through Dublin and turns onto Lake Road past the entrance to the club. The road is narrow and packed hard with snow. A pick-up truck with a raised snowplow blade comes by in the opposite direction, the driver lifting one finger from the steering wheel to say hello. Calderwood tells himself he should call his parents and give them a little time to prepare, but he can’t bring himself to do it. Right now he’s going on adrenaline and inertia, crunching LifeSavers with his teeth. He passes the McDowells’ driveway, a rusty chain blocking the entrance; then the Thorstens’, salmon-pink shutters winking between the leafless trees. Practically every house on this road holds some memory for him — his first kiss on Alice Thorsten’s back porch, the Nelsons’ crazy grandmother wandering around in her orange wig and purple housecoat with a Mason jar full of caterpillars, Ricky Knorr accidentally chopping off his toe with an ax. On the southern edge of the lake, Calderwood stops and gets out of the car. The lake is frozen, white on white; the sky is a flat dull gray, not overcast so much as devoid of light, as if the sun had stopped trying. Only the pine trees have any color, that deep dark green of winter. The wind lifts a patch of snow and sends it looping and twirling like a mad skater across the ice. A hawk circles overhead. There is, Calderwood has to admit, a kind of stark beauty to the place — something basic, as Mindy Aldridge said — but he can’t imagine spending an entire winter here. Not without a cellar full of liquor.
He gets back in the car and drives past the golf course, past the fourth tee and the little wooden pro shop. His father, known to almost everyone as Big Ed, was the club champion for a number of years, Teddy tagging along as his caddie. A master of the miraculous comeback, his father would play with joking indifference; then, when the pressure was on, he’d hit some amazing recovery shot from the woods, needle his opponent into missing a three-foot putt, and chip in from a sand trap on the last hole to win. “Every golfer gets in trouble,” his father used to tell him. “It’s how you get out of trouble that counts.”
Calderwood thumbs another LifeSaver from the roll and bites down hard.
The old man probably thought he could live his whole life like that — juggling bank accounts and filing false tax returns, investing in race horses, setting up his mistress in a pied-à-terre in Boston. Thought he could break all the rules and still find a way to pull it out in the end, everyone laughing and shaking his head, saying, “Man, that Big Ed, how does he do it.” Now he’s up here in their old summer house — the only asset he could salvage when his business collapsed — cancer eating his body, Social Security and Medicare paying the bills.
The house overlooks Stone Pond on Old Marlborough Road. Calderwood puts the car in low gear as he turns into the long steep driveway. On the curve halfway up the hill the Escort’s wheels start to spin and the car slides sideways toward a ditch. He tries to back down the hill, but the undercarriage scrapes on a rock so hard it sounds like there’s a hole in the muffler. The car is tilted to left, the driver’s door nestled against a tree. Calderwood pounds the steering wheel with the heel of his hand and inadvertently blows the horn. He’s going to have to call a wrecker to tow him out.
Crawling across the seat, he gets out and puts his parka on. He leaves his travel bag in the trunk and walks up the hill, the leather soles of his loafers slipping in the snow. The windows of the house are dark, but there’s a small blue station wagon parked in the turnaround. The steps have been shoveled and salted, a pathway cleared to the car. Calderwood pauses for a moment, then starts up the steps. As he nears the top step, a cry comes from the house — a howl so deep and unnerving he grabs the handrail to keep his balance. He clambers up the steps to the landing and tries to enter the house, but the storm door is locked. He calls out and bangs on the glass with the heel of his hand. The curtains are drawn and he can’t see in the windows. No one comes to the door. As scrambles back down the steps, another scream comes from the house.
Calderwood runs around the side past the dining room windows, knee-deep snow pulling his loafers from his feet. The lights are on in the kitchen. His mother, Ruth, is standing by the sink, looking out the window at a pair of cardinals on the birdfeeder. When the next cry comes, she does not flinch, acts as if she doesn’t hear it as she raises a cup to her lips. Calderwood stumbles into her line of sight. When she sees him, her hand goes to her heart. They meet in the mudroom and he gathers her in his arms. She is much thinner than he remembers, her spine bent and knobby under her woolen sweater. He is still hugging her when the cry comes again.
He draws back and says, “Jesus, Mom, what the hell’s going on?”
She shrugs. “It’s the pain, honey.”
“Can’t the doctors give him something?”
“They have, but he won’t take it.”
She leads him into the kitchen and asks if he wants some tea. Teddy nods and takes off his parka and sits down at the table. Ruth fills the kettle from the tap then lights the burner and puts the kettle on the stove. Her hair has gone completely gray; her dark brown eyes are droopy and her jowls hang in waxy folds. The lines on the sides of her mouth are so deep that her chin seems hinged like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Another howl comes from the living room. Calderwood glowers at the closed door that leads to the hall. Ruth gets a jar of honey from the cupboard and sets it on the table. She asks him if he wants milk for his tea and he says no. He picks at the chipped enamel on white metal tabletop. Unspoken questions, his and hers, dangle in the air. Ruth pours the tea and sits down across the table. Calderwood winds the honey round and round his spoon. The next cry from his father is not as loud as the others. There’s a short pause, then Hah, almost like a taunting laugh.
“Not much longer now,” Ruth says, and he does not know if she means the howling or his Big Ed’s life.
“Mom, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Oh, Teddy, I did.”