Bellissima — September 2010
They are living on top of each other even now. How funny after so long and so much to still breathe each other’s air? Not quite the departure she’s been looking for after a lifetime on the eastern seaboard—in preparatory schools and universities, in small apartments and odd jobs—but he has dreamed of this for some time, on many long nights in tiny, broken beds; from steaming city streets and hot, crowded trains, the MBTA, the IRT: Ophelia, Virginia, an empty half mile of shoreline, and the deep, dense waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
First thing in the door, Peter takes the phone off the hook—an old rotary, black and heavy as an anvil, Bakelite, hung from the kitchen paneling—and dials Time and Temperature. As long as he can remember, the sound of the recorded voice on the other end of the phone has been a touchstone for him. Round and symmetrical, the number fit well traced inside the palm of his hand, across his lifeline and his heartline, the day he had first learned to dial it. Committed to memory then and now impossible to forget. The sum of all integers is even; the odds of which are what? He swears he remembers when only five digits were needed and the sum of them was always even as well. Now he must ask: What are the chances of that? (There is a formula for all of this somewhere if only he could put it down on paper—but where in the hell is the paper? And by now he can surely kiss his father’s Meisterstück good-bye.)
A dial tone, four rings, and then a raspy response: “Hello?” It is a man’s voice, shrill and attenuated, as though coming from a long distance away, perhaps from the bottom of a deep and rancid well.
“Oh,” Peter says. “Hello?”
“Yes?” says the man. “Did you want something?”
“No,” Peter says. “I’m sorry. I was expecting a tape recording.”
Peter hears the man breathing with some difficulty, the opening and closing of tiny little tubes constrained by an unseen force. Bronchitis perhaps, or maybe something much worse.
The man says, “This is the point where you state your business or you hang up.”
Spencie adjusts the blinds. The horizon beyond them—the point, the water, the bay—is perfectly flat and steel gray, hovering like a mirage above a desert.
“I know how to talk on the telephone,” Peter says, his pulse quickening.
“You sure could have fooled me,” says the man. He coughs directly into the phone. Not into his sleeve or over his shoulder, but directly into the mouthpiece. Peter feels the nagging urge to wipe the side of his face.
“I guess it’s a wrong number,” Peter says. “I’m sorry I bothered you.”
“Damn right it’s a wrong number. Speaking of numbers: I’ve got your number now, buddy. I see who’s calling me. Try it again and see what happens!”
“Come on,” Peter says, “I said I was sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“Fuck you,” says the man.
A loud metallic click and the line is dead. There follows the empty silence of tens, perhaps hundreds of miles. Spencie pulls the shades all the way up: The light from the shore is white and blinding. She ties the cord off on a wire nail hammered halfway into the trim and bent towards the floor.
“And the winner is?” she says.
Peter fingers the numbers on the rotary dial. Was it possible he misdialed after all?
“So?” says Spencie, her hands now on her hips. “What’s the verdict?”
“Say what?” says Peter.
“Drumroll, Peter? We’re all dying to know! I haven’t seen my watch in days. Or our alarm clock. I couldn’t tell you if it was morning or midnight.”
“Oh,” Peter says. “Well, apparently we don’t need to tell the time anymore.”
Spencie takes off her blouse. Underneath she is wearing a tiny, form-fitting tank top. She fans herself several times with her sleeve. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand.
“We don’t need a lot of things around here,” Spencie says. “Razors, deodorant, soap, toothpaste. Why would on earth we need to know the time?”
“Or the temperature either,” Peter says. “Apparently you either know, or you don’t need to know.”
“Of course! It makes perfect sense to me, just like everything else.” Spencie crinkles up her nose. She fans herself again with her blouse, and then ties it around her waist. “Well, it’s warm, Peter. I can tell you that much. It’s very warm and I stink!”
Bellissima, the house itself, unchanged—clapboard, white, two stories with a fireplace on the southern side, Honor Bilt (the original catalog is here, somewhere, nested deep in a box of house things, passed down along with the will, the maps, the deed) and now approaching seventy—still stands at the farthest end of the long dirt road that dead-ends on the small, slight cliff overlooking the water. Everything is smaller than Peter can remember. It is hard for him to imagine two grown adults sleeping here, living here from day to day. How much worse must it have been with a child in tow?
How did his grandparents, his father’s parents, ever manage? With Peter under foot, they must have been beside themselves. They must have ached for privacy but they never said a word or let on that he was a problem. Certainly there must have been times when their patience was worn paper-thin. When Peter’s parents were in town, where did they all sleep? He doesn’t have the first clue, nor is he sure how he and Spencie, even just the two of them, will make a go of this. No, the math is all wrong.
“Can you find the switch?” Spencie says. “For the fan?”
“I’m looking,” says Peter. “Bear with me. I know it’s here somewhere.”
The nearest house, the shotgun cabin named The Ark, is a shell of its former self. Once owned by Martha and Joseph Gibbs—the black couple that had became part of the Elkins family—The Ark has fallen into deep disrepair. Peter had almost missed it, it was Spencie who had noticed it first—tucked away in a nest of brambles, wrapped in poison ivy and wisteria, its sagging roof covered with moss and fully caved in above the side door, its foundation crumbling, its chimney deconstructed by treasure hunters and do-it-yourselfers needing antique bricks for backyard barbecues and patios. It had nearly been destroyed once by fire, had been rebuilt and made better, continuously improved upon, mostly by hand, until how long ago? It was in his lifetime to be sure, just like the nonsense with Time and Temperature.
Peter had tried to explain to Spencie exactly who they were, Martha and Joseph, their grandchildren, and what they had meant to Peter and the rest of his family. He had tried to explain to Spencie what The Ark had meant to them, to all of them, but especially to him. But when he thought about it harder, when he tried to put a finer point on it, and convert it all into words, everything outpaced him; everything ran away, turned the corner, and raced into the darkness.
“They were friends of my grandparents,” Peter had said finally, watching The Ark recede in the rear view mirror. “They would be spinning in their graves if they could see it now.”
Ten years in the city, ten years of mediocre—and then just plain bad—luck. The building up and then the tearing down, brick by brick, the unwinding of everything, deal by deal. The writing was on the wall. Just as it always had been. Eight years bookended: the Twin Towers and their ashes, the fall of Lehman, the bankrupted Merrill. Peter’s little research firm and Andy’s boutique trading house. Microscopic losses in the bigger picture, but losses nonetheless. And a loss is a loss. Not-quite-so-innocent bystanders caught up in the wake, taken out by the turbulence of loose regulations and greed.
Peter thinks of other ways it could have gone down, but it all seems perfectly choreographed in retrospect, clearly written in the stars: The Twin Towers, again (they got it right the second time). Iraq, again. Afghanistan, again. Katrina. Deepwater Horizon.
“When once upon a time everyone gathered around the television to watch men walk on the moon,” Andy had said one night just before the end, “now everyone gathers around the tube to watch the Helpless Machine.” That broken piece of Halliburton hardware, that amalgam of cut-rate cement and graft, and the ocean’s crust endlessly bleeding.
The incontestable urge to avert the gaze was dominant. The papers, the Internet, the radio: Everyone seemed perfectly content—no, thrilled—to ride the system all the way down to the bottom. All the speculating and all the gawking that came afterwards merely added to the sense that no one was in charge, that no one was running the show, and that no one had been for some time. No matter how hard you tried not to look, you couldn’t do anything but. For whatever it was worth, and for all of Andy’s sins and misgivings, he had completely fucking nailed it.
The Helpless Machine.
Their desire to make sense of everything is as lost to Peter and Spencie now as is the skyline: The Chrysler and Empire State buildings, One Chase Plaza. Their most basic details committed to memory. They had tried to put the puzzle pieces back together, of course, but the effort required proved to be too much. Everything was saddled then with an overwhelming sense of weakness and regret. Some ran for the door. Some walked. Some crawled. Peter and Spencie both got there, eventually. In their own time, they had both realized the jig was finally up. They had both seen the exit sign at the exact same time, over a leisurely, hung-over breakfast in a musty shoreline hotel in New Hampshire.
All that remains is a tidy little bank account—funded in part by the last of Peter’s dividends, in part by Spencie’s meager income—and everything they have here with them now. The material and a small window in which to rebuild, a small window in which to rework what they have become into what they could possibly be, what they ultimately want to be, just as soon as they can determine exactly what that comprises.
“God, it’s hot, Peter!” Spencie fans herself again, pulls her hair up off her neck. “We have to do something about this heat before I burst into flames.”
“I know. Believe me, Spence. The switch is here somewhere. You’ll be the first to know when I find it.”
The gleaming steel and glass are all gone. The dinners at Keens, Delmonico’s. Handpicked courses in Little Italy. Also Tao, always worth the effort to get there, it seemed. The Oak Bar, the bars at the Gramercy, at the Hudson. Spencie’s gallery, Peter’s firm, the one that always paid the tab. The apartments: Kips Bay, Murray Hill (still their favorite), and the last one, the one on Barrow Street (the one that had witnessed the worst of everything).
They are all gone now, as is everything else from before, and everything afterwards is this: Peter’s and Spencie’s resurrected life together is framed by the geometry of nature: They are bordered on three sides by rolling fields full of rye and alfalfa, and tall stalks of sweet corn—cotton even, fenced with wire descending into decay, rusted barbs falling buried into the heavy gray loam—and thick mixed forests of tupelo and ash and loblollies. The fourth side: They are braced up above the waterline, settled square into a little cliff with an uninterrupted view up and down the shore: creamy, bright yellow sand bridged with fallen pines and (when it is clear) Tangier Island in the distance. Above them: Crows fly, and ducks, mergansers, geese and gulls, triangulating, feeling for home.
Spencie had wanted more than this. Nothing extravagant, mind you. She had only wanted to take what was left—all the little puzzle pieces—somewhere overseas and put them back together over there. Maybe in Nantes, or possibly in Lisbon. Peter recalls what she had wanted was something very much like this, only not here. He, on the other hand, had wanted to give home one more chance—he had wanted to redefine the word home once and for all—and for some reason, perhaps for that particular reason, he had chosen not to question why Spencie had finally conceded.
“Have you seen the step-ladder?” Peter asks.
“Why? So I can hang myself?” Spencie says. “Sure. It’s right here. Have you seen the rope?”
“No,” Peter says. “I’m looking for the Goddamn switch. I think it’s above the cupboard.”
Spencie glowers and puts her two hands up in frustration.
Beyond the rotted hull of The Ark there is St. Aidan’s, a small, stone parish with a slate roof—set far back from Ferry Road, nearly hidden from view in a stand of hickory and sweet gum trees—whose blue and white road signs streaked with rust, planted north and south on 644, proudly proclaim “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
The current rector had left on their front stoop, while Peter and Spencie were miles away this morning at the Home Depot in Irvington—see the columns of chicken wire, row upon row of infant boxwoods, of resin-covered railroad ties and whiskey barrels cut in two for planting—a gift basket containing cheese and crackers, some fruit, and a split of sparkling wine. Attached is a type-written note, encouraging them to attend services once they are “settled in.” Someone, the rector perhaps, or maybe his secretary, had squeezed into the margins of the bottom right-hand corner, “We’d love to see you!”
Spencie trips over the basket now and in a huff slams it onto the counter. “I’d love to see them,” she says, “give us a hand with this mess!”
Aside from the rector’s visit, which neither is upset over missing, Peter and Spencie have been undisturbed by other humans. Here—though they are awakened nightly by raccoons and opossums creeping through the small wood that doubles for a backyard, looking for leftovers, feeding off everything that is not sealed up or locked down, strewing garbage and recycling everywhere—the sight of another person is a rare thing.
A pack of wild dogs tears through the woods every night unabated. Peter and Spencie can hear them coming and going in the darkness, barking and howling like nobody’s business. Although they have not yet seen the animals in person, this afternoon Peter saw what is most certainly their handiwork: During a quick jog, he found in a shallow ditch beside their dirt driveway, the hollowed-out body of a doe, its front legs broken, its nose and eyes missing.
While Spencie rested in the one empty chair, unable to face the momentous task before them, Peter circled back, like a spy behind enemy lines, with a shovel and a tarp. He wrapped the animal in the tarp and buried her remains as deeply as he could beneath a tall red elderberry.
Now they will settle into darkened silence, the loudest of all voices, telling them they are no longer who they thought they were: the lapping of the receding tide, a fisherman’s ancient Philco broadcasting gospel music and news from the war, the baying of the wild hounds on their hunt. Soon, the immense night above them will be filled with light: Algol and Marchab, Rigel and Gemma, and Regulus—the anchor of Spencie’s Leo—shining down.
“Nah,” Peter says, catching his sleeve on a loose, risen nail by the cupboard. “They’re too busy mending that vast moth-eaten, musical brocade. That’s become a full-time job from what I understand.”
Spencie looks around the room and sighs. “I give up!” she says. “My brains have boiled. Damnit! I’ve got nothing left!” Tears squeeze from the corners of her eyes.
“Honey,” Peter says. “Hang in there. We’re so close now.”
“Don’t!” Spencie shouts, waving a hand in front of her face and gritting her teeth. “Don’t you dare patronize me!”
Peter remembers his grandfather and Joseph installing the massive, belt-driven fan. It took the two men almost all day to get it up the stairs and into the attic. The blades were like airplane propellers and the men had had to saw into the joists to mount the thing into the center of the ceiling. The wiring was as thick as Peter’s forearms it seemed, and the belt was as long as Peter was tall. When they finally turned it on for the first time, the belt slipped and squealed and screeched, and then the fan sounded like a DC-10 taking off. The resulting fresh air that was pulled up from the shore and through the house was a blessing. Instantly they had gone from sweltering to almost chilly. Peter recalls the incessant, smothering heat, and the endless rising panic from being too hot for too long. Just like now, he thinks. If only he could remember where his grandfather had hidden the switch.
“I’m not,” Peter says. “I’m not patronizing you. I am as hot as you are.”
“No way,” Spencie says. “I don’t believe you.”
“Feel me.” Peter lifts up his shirt and shows his stomach.
“Are you kidding me? Go to hell, Peter.”
“Seriously! I’m burning up.”
“I can’t think straight,” Spencie says. “And you being a dick is not helping any. I’m trying to be positive.”
“I know you are,” Peter says. “You’re a good girl.”
“There you go again. Just stop it! I’m serious!”
“Sorry! I know. It’s like a nervous tic at this point.”
“It’s like I’m talking to an idiot at this point.”
“Spence. Come on. That was mean.”
“You haven’t seen ‘mean’ yet, Peter.” Spencie puts the heels of both her hands to her eyes and holds them there. When she pulls them away there are white circles on her cheeks where all the blood has escaped. But nature abhors a vacuum and soon the white is replaced by her dusky gray lids, her darkened half-moons.
“I’m trying to look on the bright side, Peter. But look at this shit!”
The kitchen, such as it is, is covered over with their unpacked baggage, their boxes and their groceries, Tupperware and glasses, plates and cups, rolls of paper towels. There are dishtowels here and there stacked in tall white piles. Sauté pans and baking sheets, copper cookware and Pyrex bowls. Even a pasta maker still dusted with flour. When in the world had they last used that?
“At least there’s just the two of us,” Peter says.
Spencie stops rummaging through a drawer and looks at him sideways.
Peter, missing the cut of her eyes, says, “I mean, really. What a nightmare that would be, if there was another Elkins in the mix? Rolling around here in the middle of all this? Can you imagine that?”
“No, Peter,” Spencie says. “No. I can’t imagine it at all.” She drops two handfuls of silverware straight onto the linoleum and stomps onto the back deck. There is the sound of the screen door slamming behind her. Despite the flimsiness of the door, the tightness of the springs helps create the loudest of all slams. A Grand Slam. Spencie’s tank top is soaked through with sweat and she has slicked her hair back from her forehead. She stands at the edge of the deck with her knees locked and her back arched. She is a sine curve.
Every corner of Bellissima is filled now with their belongings—with everything that fit into their Barrow Street walk-up and then some, everything from their College Point storage unit, too—so that passage on the first floor is almost impossible, and so that only one of the bedrooms upstairs is currently habitable. There are boxes everywhere, stacked floor to ceiling, filled with books: Peter’s Ben Graham and Bernstein and Bogle, and Peter’s favorite Rogers (Angell and Kahn). Spencie’s Eliot and Langston Hughes and Rita Dove, John Berryman and Mark Strand, her Hölderlin and her Rilke, one of which is a first edition. Every one of Spencie’s children: her rangefinders and lenses and about a dozen different flashes. All of their compact discs, records, and cassettes. Peter’s old mixed tapes ready to be digitally preserved if he could only just find the time. Spencie’s Bach. Of course her Albinoni. And by all means her Schubert. Peter’s Coltrane, Monk, and Mingus are a counter-melody, offering balance and levity.
Leaning against the walls are all manner of rackets and clubs, squash and racquetball and tennis, Peter’s guitars, piles of Spencie’s shoes. Vacuum-packed bags of winter clothes (which in theory they will now need fewer of) guard the entry way to the porch. And of course there are all the pictures: albums of photos, family portraits, his and hers, framed and unframed, shoeboxes of loose Polaroids stacked beneath end tables and beside the sofa. The negatives as well, multiples of them, from every one of Spencie’s shows.
Peter carves out a little tunnel between the sink and the cabinet, and finds his way to the refrigerator, a decrepit Frigidaire. The thing sounds rheumatic, like it could quit on them at any minute, but for now it is cold enough for the bluefish they bought at a roadside market outside Sandy Point, after the Home Depot, after the primer and the new set of keys and the stack of almond-toned switch plates. It is cold enough also for the wine they bought in Irvington.
“A wine store!” Spencie had almost yelled. “Here of all places!”
Peter opens the bottle (an absolute miracle he can put his hand right on the corkscrew!) and tunes the stereo to a station out of Galax. There is persistent, distracting static, however, and news from the war broadcasting out into the Saturday evening dusk. So Peter sets the turntable out—with the wires dangling in mid-air from the back of the receiver—between two speakers wedged into the windows opened out onto the deck and the screened porch.
Peter puts on a record. He pours two plastic cups full of white wine and steps out onto the deck. The screen door chuffs shut behind him.
“I’m sorry, Spence,” he says. “I didn’t think.”
Spencie stares off into the trees, refusing to face him. He brushes her bicep with the back of his hand. She jumps and pulls away as if he has just scalded her pale, mottled skin.
“Spence? I am. Really. So. Sorry.”
Peter puts the wine down on the deck. He takes off his loafers and sits down, cross-legged, on the broken boards. There are blades of grass embedded in his leather soles. His legs are slick with sweat.
“I wasn’t thinking just then,” he says. “It just came out. I didn’t mean anything by it. You know that, right? I wasn’t thinking about her.”
Mergansers crisscross the sky. Far above and behind them, a crimson curtain covers the whole wide west above the trees. The eastern sky is split in two by the puffy white remains of Dulles contrails dissolving eastwards.
In time Spencie sits down beside him.
“You know what?” he says.
“What?” she huffs.
“I stink, too.”
“No, you don’t. You never stink. Don’t even try it.”
“No, I think I do,” Peter says, and he makes a big show of taking a long sniff under the collar of his shirt. “No, wait. It is you after all.”
“Shut up!” she says. She takes a drink from her plastic cup. She leans into him, and then elbows him hard in the ribs.
“Son of a bitch!” Peter says. “That hurt!”
“That’s what you get,” Spencie says, laughing. “You’re lucky I’m so tired. Otherwise.” She balls up her tiny fist in his face.
Sundown. The silence, as they listen closely, is not silent at all. It is filled with many sounds: Lionel Hampton live in Paris (one of the few albums Peter could find without a hassle) the receding tide, the gulls overhead and the terns taking flight. The muddled buzzing of a conversation carried over the telephone wires stretches through the woods and down to the other end of the peninsula: the semisolid resonance of words in motion.
Dot-dot-dash. Dit-dit-dah. Dot-dot-dash.
“Do you,” says Spencie, “want anything from the kitchen?”
What is the equation for permanent attraction? Must passion include some physical variable? Does beauty play an exponential role? The last twenty years, despite everything else that can be said about them, have left Spencie physically unscathed. She is, as far as Peter can tell, ageless. On occasion, he can (due to some trick of the light or some change in his mood) still see her exactly as she appeared when they first met, before her existence became mingled, irreversibly intertwined, with his: tall and slim with small but firm, athletic breasts, fair-skinned and freckled, her dark brown hair—so dark it is nearly black, revealing thin threads of Spanish heritage woven in between the Nordic ones—worn more often up than down, an aquiline nose, sharp blue eyes rimmed with dusky half-moons perched at the peaks of her cheeks. The first time he saw her he thought that she must have been crying. Her “raccoon eyes” she called them. She hated her shadowy eyes with a bitter passion, tried everything she could to cover them up and hide them away. He loved them in a way that he could never quite express.
Two sides of the same equation.
Peter doesn’t remember the first time exactly, but early on in their life together he discovered he could look at Spencie and see her exactly as she was when they had first met, when they were complete, nameless strangers. It is not something that he can do on command, regardless of desire or how much he practices. Rather it is something fleeting, quite similar to déjà vu in its striking quickness, both in its arrival and its departure, and also in the slight, confusing sadness the experience leaves him with afterwards.
Peter likens the whole thing to staring at the repetitive patterns of a fence or an ornate wall. Eventually the wires or the pickets or the stones and mortar and their collective dimensions dissipate and everything floats in space right before your very eyes. Which of these is the real object and which is the illusion? Which of these are manifestations of corporeal reality? Just because the sensation lasts only a brief moment, just long enough for you to reach out and try to touch it—just because the failure of the touch to connect sends everything back again into its prescribed realm—doesn’t necessarily answer the question of fact or fiction.
Peter tries this parlor trick now, exhaling and letting go of the rest of the day. He reaches back nearly twenty years, hopeful but not convinced he will be successful this time around. Spencie rests her elbows on her bended knees. Her long toes are pointed toward the bay. Her unpolished nails. Her slender calves. Her muscular thighs. There is a dark streak across her forehead where she has wiped her brow with her dirty blouse. There are a few gray hairs at her temples, but those have been there all along. He can count them from memory. She is, after all is said and done, at least on the surface, completely unchanged.
Spencie leans into Peter again and takes another drink. Peter does in fact see her now as would a stranger, and the effect nearly stops his heart. An equation for passion has been solved.
“No, Spence,” he says. “No, thank you.”
Her beauty is undeniable, but her confidence also is so much a part of why he is still drawn to her, her assuredness in the face of all this chaos and uncertainty. At the heart of it all, she seems unshakable. Does she realize how much he depends on her? He hopes that she still sees in him that priceless youthful conviction he once had, when he seemed to always know the right word, the right phrase in any language, the right tip in any currency.
“You sure?” she says. “A snack or something?”
“No,” he says. “I just can’t face being in there right now.”
“We can drive into town,” she says. “Get dinner. Relax a little bit and try again tomorrow.”
“Yeah. We could do that,” he says, “but you really need a shower.” He waves his hand in front of his nose.
“Fuck you, Peter!” She punches him again, hard in the ribs, and he nearly spills his drink.
“Damn, Spence!” he says. “I’m going to call the police.”
“Do it!” she says. “Do it, and I’ll tell them you kidnapped me, tied me up, and dragged me to the ends of the earth.”
“I admit it,” he says. “I did just that. And then I made you my sex slave. I’ll confess everything and then won’t they be impressed?”
“Please!” she says. “Get over yourself already.”
The vibraphone and the trap set, the applause, the sounds of the incoming tide are as hypnotic as a metronome. The activities of the day, the shopping and the cleaning and the unpacking, and of course the burying of the dead deer, have all, now that he is sitting down, begun to wash over him in heavy circular waves of fatigue. The surface of the broken deck beneath him is unsteady and uneven. He feels as though he has just come ashore with the muscles of his legs and feet strained from balancing for months on a slippery foredeck, his footing continually giving way beneath him. He feels as though, really, he is still moving.
Suddenly, Spencie springs to her feet. “I know: We can eat the basket!”
“Episcopalian?” Peter says. “My favorite!”
Back inside, Peter picks up the needle and moves it over a track: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
“Is this okay?” he asks.
“Turn it up a little bit,” she says, “if you don’t mind.”
Spencie guts the basket from the rector and holds high the cheese and crackers. She spreads everything out on a cutting board suspended over the great iron sink. Peter thinks it must have taken at least three men to deliver and install the thing back in the beginning, back when Bellissima was first being built. Holding the cutting board suspended with one hand, and the split of sparkling wine in the other, Spencie makes the sign of a blessing: A minor sacrilege that will more than suffice. The peace that passes all understanding.
Shanthi. Shanthi. Shanthi.
“Well,” she says. “I’ll be damned.”
“What?” Peter says. “What’s wrong now? Go ahead: Let me have it.”
Spencie sets the cutting board and the bottle back down on the last clean spot on the counter. She reaches up beside the kitchen cabinet and flicks on the switch for the attic fan. The sharp squeal of the belt slipping against steel is followed by clacking of the metal slats in the ceiling opening up like venetian blinds. The heavy motor takes its time warming up. The fan blades slowly get up to speed, and soon the early evening breeze is being pulled throughout the house. The brisk air inside is now cool enough that Peter wonders where he packed his sweaters.
“What do you know about that?” Peter says. “It was right there all the time.”
Spencie pulls her hair back and fans herself with her hands.
“Now how about another drink?” she says.