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Northern Lights

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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It swung off the tar road, changing gears and growling.

Herb Wolff hurried out. ‘There she is, there she is!’ he wailed. He brushed his coat and stood erect. ‘There she is, all right.’

The bus cleared the turn.

‘Sure wish everybody was here for this,’ said Wolff. ‘This is something. Harvey! I can’t believe it.’

Perry took a step and stood alone. The Greyhound’s brakes hissed and forms moved behind the tinted windows and Perry searched for familiar movements. The door opened with another strange hiss, and the great grey cave was transfixing dust and trembling. Perry peered into the tinted glass.

Harvey stepped off alone. He carried a black bag with white stitching.

‘Well, hey!’ he said.

Without seeing, Perry gave him a great hug.

‘Hey!’

‘Yeah, you look fine. You do!’

‘And my God, here’s Grace! Grace. You’re beautiful.’ They hugged and Grace was smiling and wet-eyed and Perry was grinning.

‘Yeah, yeah. You’ve got some tan there.’

‘Sure!’

‘You look great. You do, I can’t believe it.’

‘Skinny! Look at that.’

‘Hey, it’s old Wolff! How the devil is old Wolffie?’

‘This is something. It is. You look great, Harv. You do. This is really something.’

‘I’m fine. I am. Where’s my parade? Shouldn’t they have trumpets and flags and things? How’s my honey-Grace?’

Grace kissed him again, still clutching his arm. ‘Happy, happy,’ she said. ‘You’re so skinny, aren’t you?’

‘Skinny? Lean and mean. How’s my brother? How’s brother Paul?’

‘I’m fine. Here, let me have that bag. I can’t get over it, you look great. Really.’

‘I am great,’ Harvey said. ‘Now where the devil is everybody?’

‘Sunday.’

‘Sunday? Is it Sunday? Sunday! Incredible.’

‘Give me that blasted bag.’

‘Come on,’ Grace said. ‘Let’s get you home. Some skinny hero.’

Everybody started hugging again, then Harvey released the bag and Perry took it and they stood in a circle on the street. Harvey’s bad eye was barely noticeable. He was tall and too skinny. His voice had the old nasal tinkle. ‘Sunday!’ he said. ‘Some bloody day to come home on. Where’s old Jud Harmor? Thought sure old Jud would be here with bands and ticker tape and stuff.’

‘He’s around. Here, let’s get into the car and we’ll get you home. You did get skinny, didn’t you?’

‘Sure, and you got chubby. You look great anyway. And Grace. Grace is still a honey. And even old Wolffie looks good, so what we need is a good drink to celebrate. Hey, Wolffie! You got a nice drink we can all celebrate with?’

Wolff blinked and shook his head.

‘No bloody drink?’

‘No. Geez, I’m sorry. Really. Nobody said anything about … I would’ve had the whole town here if somebody just …’

‘No bloody drink? No parade, no drink. Where the devil is everybody? Some awful hero worship.’

‘Everybody’s in church, Harv.’

‘Some hero worship.’ Harvey grinned and pointed at his bad eye. ‘So, how you like my pretty souvenir? Better than a lousy limp, don’t you think?’

‘Doesn’t look bad at all.’

‘I’m thinking about patching her up. You know? A little class.’

‘Doesn’t look bad at all, Harv.’

‘Glad you like it. Now all we need is a drink and everybody’s happy. Are you happy, Wolff?’

Wolff vigorously shook his head, grinning.

‘Fine. Everybody’s happy.’

Grace took Harvey’s arm and walked him towards the car. Church bells began ringing. One of the dogs began to bark, sitting back on its haunches with its nose up towards the steeple. Perry was trembling. He opened the trunk and threw the bag in and slammed it shut.

‘Remind me never to come home again on Sunday,’ Harvey said.

‘Anytime is a good time. You look great.’

‘Glad I didn’t wear my uniform. Look plain silly coming home in a uniform and no parade.’ Harvey shook hands with Wolff, then stood with his hands on his hips and looked up and down Mainstreet. The bells were ringing loud.

‘Let’s get you home.’

‘So long, Wolffie,’ Harvey said. ‘You’re a helluva man. Good man. War’s over, baby.’

Wolff grinned.

Perry started the engine and backed up and drove up Mainstreet.

‘That weasel,’ Harvey said.

Perry awoke before dawn. He went to the pond, sat on the rocks, waited for daylight. Then he showered and dressed and had coffee and drove into town. It was still early and the shops were closed. He cruised up Acorn Street, past Addie’s boarding house. Her window was on the top floor but it was shuttered and there were no lights. He drove back up Mainstreet. It was Monday, there was nothing much to do. He unlocked the office, rolled up the blinds, sat at his desk. The pens were in their glass jar, papers were in folders, the desk was clean and in order, the folders were filed. He put his head in his arms. His mouth was dry from a night of drinking beer and laughing and listening to Harvey tell about the bus ride from Minneapolis, the hospital, a few things about the war.

After a time he got up to sweep the office. Then he switched on the ceiling fan. He typed out a loan application for a dumbeyed farmer named Lars Nielson. Then he made coffee. Then he put the application into an envelope and typed the address on to a sticker and stuck the sticker to the envelope, then he drank his coffee. There was nothing much to do. He should’ve become a preacher he thought. The town needed a good preacher. Stenberg, the crusty usurper. And Harvey was home. And Grace was happy and wanted a child. There was nothing much to do. He drank more coffee and passed the morning at the window, watching the town come to life, watching morning shadows come out of the eastern forest, pass over the town. He was melancholy but it was an entirely rational melancholia, nothing outright crazy about it. He should’ve become a preacher. And Harvey was home and Grace was happy, except she wanted a child, and the old man was dead, and Perry was thinking that things would have been better if he’d become a preacher. With the old man gone, the town needed a good preacher.

The ceiling fan spun round and round. He typed out soil reports, read the morning paper, then towards noon he gave up, locking the office and walking on to the street to mail the Nielson application. He felt flabby and restless. It was another hot day. The tips of some of the pines were turning brown. Standing on the post office steps, he looked up the street and wondered what to do next. A tractor turned off Route 18. Black smoke coming from a pipe on the hood obscured the farmer’s face. Perry decided to find Addie for a long lunch.

She was not in the library. He browsed the stacks, waiting, finally taking a world atlas into the reading room where he smoked and looked at the maps and pictures. It was something he and Harvey used to do, a passion for maps and exotic unseen places. He sat over the atlas a long time. Except for the fans and a woman stacking books behind him, the library was quiet.

He was not sure how long he slept, if at all, but suddenly he was wide awake, surprised to find himself in the chair. The atlas had fallen to his lap. He’d been thinking about Harvey’s bad eye. Thinking or dreaming, he wasn’t sure. The eye was brilliant blue, rolling untethered like a marble, opaque and shining as though lighted from within. The dead eye seemed to have its own life, rolling about in the socket, reckless and eager and full of trouble and blue light.

Feeling a little foolish, Perry blinked and rubbed his eyes and returned the atlas to the shelf.

It was nearly one o’clock.

The woman stacking books looked at him suspiciously.

He grinned at her and shrugged. ‘Just waiting for Addie,’ he said.

‘Snoring, too.’
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