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‘Don’t worry, Jud.’
‘No disrespect, Reverend.’
‘So long, Jud.’
‘Say hey to your pa, now.’
Perry smiled and waved.
‘He’s dead!’ Jud hollered.
‘You’re some politician, Jud.’
‘And you ain’t exactly a reverend, neither.’ The old man waved. ‘Take care, son. Tell that brother Harvey I’ll get his blasted parade for him, hear?’
‘You tell him now. Get his medals patched on.’
‘And listen. Hey! I wanted you to tell him this. Tell him that losing one eye never hurt a blind man. You tell him that for me. Perk him up.’
‘Tell him the town thinks he’s a hero. Tell him we’re all proud.’ Jud was grinning, waving his hat. ‘Tell him anything you want. A pack of lies, anyway. Okay? Hell, tell him he’s lucky to be alive, that’s what. Tell him I thought he was dead or something, that’ll clear his head awhile. That Harvey. Some rascal, isn’t he? You got to be careful now.’
‘Take her easy, son.’
‘Geronimo!’ he wailed, and coughed, and spat in the street.
Perry decided to try the lake.
He swung off Route 18 and parked along the path leading to the beach. He walked fast, beginning to worry about the time.
At a small footbridge he slowed for breath, then kept on at an easier pace as the path gradually widened and the forest thinned out, finally ending in a sandy clearing that looked down on the lake.
He stopped there. He was but of shape and sweating. Addie’s Olds was parked along the gravel lane that ran from the lake to the junk yard. He felt a little better. He found some shade and sat down to wait.
The lake was hard grey-blue, so calm it looked iced over, and there were no clouds, and it was mid-afternoon of summer with nothing to do. He put his hand down and squeezed the roll of fat under his ribs. Harvey’d never had that problem. Why not? Something to do with dominant and recessive genetics, most likely; or breeding, the old man’s feeling at the time, or their separate moods, black bile and yellow, it was hard to say. The Bull, said the old man about Harvey, and that was that, and it was too bad. And like Jud said, maybe the old man wasn’t crazy after all. Thinking about old Jud, Perry started grinning. Hard to tell if the old mayor was playing a great fool’s game, darting in and out of time as if it didn’t matter or exist, always confusing the living with the dead and Perry with Harvey and both of them with the old man. Every two years either Herb Wolff or Bishop Markham opposed Jud in the town elections, and every two years Jud got re-elected. Everything was always the same, Jud and the trees and the lake.
He sat in the shade and waited. He pitched stones down the embankment and watched them roll to the beach. He thought awhile about doing some exercises. Sweat off the fat rolls, turn lean, watch Grace’s happy face, stir up some energy, get healthy, sit-up and push-up himself into bullhood and happiness. It was awfully hot.
The first movement was gentle. It was just a splash of light in the lake. He watched the splashes lap towards him like waves, moving in delicate arcs closer, and he stood up to watch.
She swam close to shore then turned and swam on her back.
Her arms reached from the water and dipped. He was too far away to hear the sound of her swimming.
After a time she waded ashore. She bent forward, her hands braced on her knees, her hair flopping forward in a wet black bunch.
She was very slender. She walked on her heels, and she was wet and her skin was walnut-coloured and shining.
Perry moved down the embankment for a better look. He was smiling. He found a log and sat down again, his hands folded nervously.
She wore a white swimsuit.
With her back to him, she walked on up the beach, stopping now and then to bend down, picking things up, throwing pebbles out into the lake, skipping rocks. She was slender and she walked and played like an athlete, bent forward and swinging her arms and walking on her heels. She walked a quarter mile up the beach. For a moment she disappeared in a stand of pines, then she was back and coming towards him.
She walked with her chin forward. Perry wanted to laugh. He was smiling and watching and sweating. Her hair lay over her shoulders in two black heaps, and she was lean and athletic, walked with long loping steps, on her heels, her arms swinging.
Perry watched her come down the beach. Her shoulders were brown.
Then, like a deer, she stopped. She seemed to look in his direction, her head turning up. Then she sprang for the water.
It startled him. He called out, but she dived headlong for the lake and white spray flashed and she was gone under and the lake bubbled ivory from the spot where she dived.
Finally emerging, she shook her head. Then she sprang high like a fish. She seemed to hover there, a strong golden arc suspended over the water, then she went under, her feet kicking at the last instant.
She emerged again further out.
‘Addie!’ he shouted. He stood up and waved.
She raised her hand. He couldn’t be sure if it were a wave or another swimming stroke, for the hand poised for only a moment then it was gone and she was swimming again for the centre of the lake. He grinned. She could be very quick. He could not make out her face. He waved hard.
She swam straight out, long arched strokes, and soon he saw only the wake of her swimming. He felt fine. He walked away slowly, for it was a hot day.
That July was quiet. The forest was being burnt out. People in town talked about forest fires, and the farmers talked about how the corn was already ruined, and Perry and Harvey walked and fished and played some tennis.
Except for the heat, it was not a bad time. Harvey was cheerful, always eager to get into the woods. He talked about building a house in Nassau, about taking a bike tour through Canada, about going to live in Montana or Oregon. While he never talked much about the war or losing his eye, he didn’t seem bitter and even sometimes appeared to treat it all as a great adventure that, if opportunity came, he wouldn’t mind repeating. At night they sometimes played Scrabble, sometimes watched television, sometimes drove in for a beer at Franz’s Glen. It was not such a bad time. The newspaper sent out a reporter and Harvey was written up again, the lead story, and Grace clipped the piece and pasted it into a scrapbook. She had a scrapbook for Harvey and another for Perry. Harvey’s was nearly full. She said she was keeping them for her old age and for her children when they came. In town, everyone asked about Harvey, raved about the newspaper article. There were pictures of Harvey and Perry and Grace and the old house.
‘It’s a pack of lies,’ said Harvey.
‘It says you’re a hero. See here?’
‘True, true enough,’ he said. ‘But it’s still a pack of lies. I’m gonna sue and retire to Tibet. I’ve always wanted to retire to Tibet. You two can visit me. How does that sound? I’ll have you flown out. I’ll sue them for every penny.’
‘It calls you a hero,’ Grace said. ‘Look at that. You’re a hero.’
‘That’s the only truth in the whole article.’
‘It says you’re fondly remembered by everyone in town. Look, it’s got Herb Wolff saying what a fine fellow you are. And Bishop Markham and the mayor. It says the mayor’s going to give you a parade.’
‘Should hope so. My God. How many heroes does one town need before they fork over a few parades? I should hope so. Maybe I won’t sue if they fork over a nice parade. Does it say the hero lost his eye?’
‘No,’ Grace said. ‘It says you were badly wounded and that you served your community and country and everything.’
Harvey had his stocking feet near the fire. He was lying on the floor, head on a pillow. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘This is some ticklish decision. I’ll have to get myself a crooked lawyer. I don’t know. Suing is always ticklish, you know. Maybe I’ll just accept the parade and sordid apologies. A tough decision. What do you think? Tibet sounds awfully good, doesn’t it? Or maybe Africa. A hundred thousand could take us a long way. A trip to Africa, small enough price for a pack of lies. Let’s have a beer. Let’s drink to Jud’s parade, what do you say?’
Harvey’s face was red by the fire. It was relaxing time, after-supper time, and they drank beer and played Scrabble.
In a while, Harvey got up and went outside. Perry knew where he was going. An hour later, Harvey was still in the bomb shelter.
Through July, they stayed close to the house. Harvey settled himself into the upstairs bedroom, sleeping late, sometimes walking alone into the woods.
There was no rain.
They stayed close to the house, but with Harvey there was a new sense of motion, energy that seemed to bundle and gather. At night Perry sometimes heard him through the old timbers, pacing upstairs, moving things, flushing the toilet, going out to sit in the bomb shelter. They stayed close to the house and surrounding woods. Perry would drive in to work, roll up the blinds, daydream, drive home. He didn’t see anything of Addie. She was awfully young anyway.
Harvey talked about Africa and Nassau, talked on and on. He talked about fishing and the woods and the old days with their father. He talked about buying a sailboat and sailing the Mediterranean with a locker full of food and drink, getting a tan, getting healthy, enjoying things, having some adventures. He talked about buying a house in Alaska. Or Boston or Miami or Las Vegas or Berlin or Australia, jumbling them all together sometimes, getting red and eager.
‘We’ve got to get out and really see these woods,’ he said one Saturday. ‘Seriously. Do you realize these woods are the best left in the entire country? Seriously. Lord knows how long they’ll last. You’ve got to get deep into them. None of this piddling around on the outskirts, you’ve got to get right in. When you start to think about it, there just isn’t a lot of forest left anymore. We ought to go, you and me.’
‘Not me, Harv. Mosquitoes and all that. You know how I hate mosquitoes.’
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