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Perry nodded, not looking up.
‘You hear me call out? I did call out.’
‘I heard you. I’m all right. I would have been okay.’
It was so fast he didn’t remember it. He lay back. Harvey chuckled and shrugged.
‘I can swim,’ Perry insisted. ‘I was all right.’
‘You’re some great fish, all right.’
They rested awhile. Then without talking they dressed and followed the creek to a footbridge, got on to a path that carried them to Pliney’s Pond and from there to the house.
Harvey did not talk about the near-drowning, and Perry pretended it hadn’t happened. He convinced himself it hadn’t. That evening Harvey drove into town to see Addie and Perry stayed up late watching the driveway, and he fell asleep thinking coloured thoughts: Addie, Grace, the beady-eyed creature and the cold water rushing through him.
He stuck to his rigours. He exercised. He ate cottage cheese and eggs. He went to bed early, arose early, worked enough to satisfy his conscience, took care to be kind to Grace.
In September school started and Grace resumed the teacher’s routine: seven a.m. mornings, lipstick and makeup, talk of her new kids, bright talk that showed interest and concern and affection. He drove her in each morning, dropped her off, had coffee, then watched the leaves change through his Mainstreet window. He did not see much of Addie. Most evenings, Harvey would take the car and Perry felt no great desire to ask questions.
He began paying attention to things. He took short walks into the surrounding woods, sometimes alone and sometimes with Grace or Harvey. He looked for colours and connections. It was hard to tell where it started.
Unwinding towards the simple past, he was searching in a vague way for the first elements. Complexity to elementals, a backward tracing. It was not easy. He did not have the old man’s extraordinary sense of the past or future. That had been one of the problems. He preferred warmth to cold, and from one of those early memories he recognized a lingering sense of great warmth loss, as if yanked sleeping from a bed, or as if something warm had been pulled from him. He did not know where it started. It may have started with the elements. He knew them from college, ninety-two chemical elements. He saw them around him, or imagined them. The elements of matter, the red tinge in the soil, the ore country periphery. Chlorophyll in the leaves being beaten away by September, revealing other pigments, autumn coming, and he tucked it away as knowledge to spring on Harvey. And the alchemist’s elements: fire, water, air and earth. And the great anatomical humours, the cardinal humours that flowed like north woods tides: cold blood, phlegm, yellow bile and melancholy sacs of black bile. Black bile struck him as important. He learned of it somewhere. He pricked open capsules of cellulose and inspected the pulp. He opened bulbs of honeysuckle and smelled the grease. Inside himself, he suspected, he would sometimes find a sac of black bile, and he would prick it open and smell it, too, rub his nose in it. He exercised, took the walks, listened to Harvey, kept his eyes open.
In a moment of openness, he told Grace about the sac of black bile he carried around in his belly.
‘You mean pus?’
‘Black bile. It’s hard to explain. It could be responsible for all this.’
‘You’re sweet,’ she said.
‘I won’t tell the relatives.’
‘But I want ice cream. Otherwise I’ll squeal. I’ll tell them all that you’re loony and carry around black bile in your gut. Maybe the black bile causes your pot.’
‘What?’ He stiffened. ‘I’m exercising. I’m looking pretty good. Look here, don’t you think so?’
‘Yes,’ she smiled.
‘Tarzan. You’ll look like Tarzan someday, just keep it up.’
‘Seriously. Don’t I look skinny?’
‘Black bile,’ she whispered. ‘Pus gut.’
‘Okay for you.’
‘I won’t tell the relatives if you take me in and buy me some ice cream. Is it a deal? Pus gut.’ She kissed him.
‘You’re a sleeper.’
‘That’s another good idea,’ she whispered. ‘Smothered by ol’ pus gut.’
They drove in and ate ice cream in Wolff’s drugstore. It was Friday night. Wolff was doing a good business. The stores were open along Mainstreet and the August shoppers were out.
Grace held his hand and they walked up the street, the streetlamps were on, Grace looked in the windows. She liked clothes. She tried on capes and sweaters in the J. C. Penney store. Perry stood with arms folded and watched the high-school girls.
She showed him a garment. ‘Do you like it?’
‘I guess. What the hell is it?’
‘A smock.’ Her lower lip dropped.
‘I don’t know. Try it on.’
‘If you don’t like it …’
‘I don’t care, try it on. I’ll tell you then.’
It was tight on her. She was heavy in the chest. She stood before the mirrors, turning. The fabric was filled with printed apples. She put it back on the rack.
Outside, squat women stood with baskets on their arms.
Up and down Mainstreet, boys were driving their fathers’ cars, an elbow out the window, radios on, sniffing the Friday night air. The high-school girls roamed the streets in tight frantic bands, heads together. Perry watched them. Their tiny asses and spangled jeans.
The movie was letting out.
Harvey and Addie were crossing the street. They looked good. Harvey was talking and they were together and holding hands and Addie’s black hair bounced on her back. They both walked fast, taking long steps, and they crossed the street and Addie waved. Perry watched them come up.
‘We’re going swimming,’ Addie said. ‘It was an awful movie so now we’re going swimming.’
‘What do you think?’
‘You both ought to come,’ Harvey said loudly. ‘I can vouch that Paul is one great swimmer. He can be lifeguard. You both have to come.’
Addie pried Grace’s hand off Perry’s arm. ‘We’ll go out to the lake. I know the perfect spot. It’ll be a perfect night.’
Grace stuck to her smile.
‘We were just in town for ice cream and shopping.’
‘A night swim,’ said Addie.
‘That’s all right.’
‘Okay then,’ she grinned. ‘Poop on you. Too bad for you.’
Perry looked at her sandals.
‘Have a good swim.’
‘Crumb,’ Addie smirked.
On the drive home, Grace sat apart.
‘You didn’t want to go did you?’
Her lower lip stuck out. ‘You could have gone if you wanted to. I didn’t know.’
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