This story uses an unusual point of view: the first person plural. An older couple, speaking as "we," attempts to give an account of their daughter's peculiar marriage. "Hecla Tower" appeared in Shenandoah.
After the breakup, our daughter found an apartment in a small river town not far from where she and David had lived. Its wide bay window overlooked the railroad yards along the Susquehanna. Morganna enjoyed watching the locomotives as they jostled boxcars and gondolas with the purposefulness of ants.
That's how she described the view in one of her rare letters home. She also told us, "I'm absolutely alone for the first time in my life and my joy is so profound that it frightens me a bit."
It frightened us, too. From childhood, Morganna had been unusually self-contained, her friendships cool and fleeting. Her marriage seemed remarkably similar, we thought-a long-term contractual arrangement, more cordial than connubial. And now she had walked out on David. She had given up her teaching assistantship at Bucknell, where they both taught. And she was describing her new isolation in terms that sounded like a spiritual conversion.
Of course parents will take a few shreds of information about their kids and imagine the worst. The stingier the facts, the more elaborate the scenario. Morganna had always shunned the telephone. Her occasional letters were as generic as the messages in greeting cards-- they might have been written by any daughter to any mother and father, or so we grumbled to ourselves. And her emails were nothing more than the sort of sentence fragments you'd shout from the window of a moving car.
Whereas David continued to write us often and openly after the split. There was the occasional pleasant surprise of a phone call, too, his voice resonant and reassuring even if he offered little hope that Morganna would be back. Thanks to his reports, we had the sense of listening in on their strained conversations. We were able to picture the apartment Morganna variously referred to as her escape hatch, her celibate's cave, and her womb with a view. We were even able to imagine ourselves aboard the freight train that took the two of them past Hecla Tower.
"I love you," David had said on the morning Morganna left, pausing in the doorway on his way to teach an eight-o'clock class. He caught Morganna's eye for what might have been the first time in days, then leaned forward to kiss her.
"This is just so frontal," Morganna said, choking over the word as if it were a wad of meat. She raised a hand to her mouth.
"And I allowed myself to hope that counseling might make a difference," David said.
"Oh, it's made a difference, all right," Morganna said. "Dr. Sones has managed to turn our relationship into a project. A business startup with goal setting, long term and short. Who would have thought that a marriage needed an infrastructure, for Christ's sake? With my parents shelling out for these sessions like a couple of greedy venture capitalists. And now they're generously offering to send us off on a restorative, romantic junket to Morocco. Why freaking Morocco?"
Well, if Morganna had asked us, we would have explained that Morocco might be the most exotic destination within an easy flight out of New York. Stray a few steps from the beaten path-- into the dank fistulas of a medina or onto the featureless verge of the Sahara-- and your baseline assumptions get a good roughing up. It probably was naïve of us, but we thought Morganna might find some relief from the spell, as we thought of it, that had come over her in elementary school.
Morganna would have been eight or nine when she first heard an old family story that had taken on the density and layered meanings of a folk tale.
Her great-grandfather Bertram Seep was a Cape Breton farm boy. He was out mending fences one hot summer day and climbed a lone oak tree to catch the breeze stirring the leaves. Sitting in his perch, he could hear fiddle music and voices from a church's picnic grove over the hill. The sounds were filtered by the distance to a reverberant hum.
Bertram spotted a lovely woman approaching from that horizon. Or, not a woman but an older girl, he judged from her unrestrained gait. And lovely seeming because the closer she came, the more her features were eclipsed by the broad brim of a straw hat.
She made a beeline for his tree. She was at the trunk now, visible only as the concentric rings of a broad skirt and the hat with its violet ribbon. Maybe she hoped to find ripe raspberries along the fencerow, Bertram thought. He was about to call down to her when he heard a rustle. Unaware that someone was sitting twenty feet above, she had pulled up her skirt and was peeing. Bertram closed his eyes and kept them shut until he was certain she had gone.
Back at the house, he washed up and changed his shirt without a word to his family, then jogged to the grove to look for the hat with the violet ribbon. He didn't hesitate as he walked up to the girl, certain that the brass tumblers within some sort of celestial lock on happiness had been aligned in his favor.
Bertram Seep and Herma Welker were married two years later. Over their long lives they shared a rare degree of happiness that set them ever so slightly apart, as if they were peers living among country folk and too modest to mention the fact.
Morganna seemed to have absorbed this story whole and literally. She became as nervously focused as a birdwatcher. Life's lessons were encoded all around us and masqueraded as everyday events, she told us in so many words. The chance cuneiform of fallen branches on a lawn, the handlike wave of a wind-agitated fern-we walk around blind to these messages, our eyes clouded by conditioning.
We thought that the story of Bertram and Herma would lose its hold on Morganna in the way that fairytales seem less magical over time. Instead, her preoccupation with mystical codes and signals became bolder in adolescence, in the same way that her facial features were emerging in their mature form. Camped out in her bedroom, she dealt Taro cards, consulted the I Ching, and studied the works of Rudolph Steiner. She pondered random fragments from randomly selected books as if they were the transcribed whispers from another realm.
When Morganna was seventeen, we stood by as she selected colleges with the help of a Ouija board. The plectrum nosed the letters L-L-E-N and then stalled. Was she supposed to apply to a Welsh school? Then it occurred to her that the letters might be in reverse order. She applied to Grinnell and Bucknell. The first turned her down, and so it was she ended up at the Pennsylvania school where she was to meet David.
Morganna and David had just returned from a short honeymoon to the coast of Maine when we invited them for the weekend. They gave us a brief sketch of their trip, then settled into what seemed to have become a familiar line of disagreement.
"There's nothing odd about deciphering messages in the environment," Morganna was saying as we finished dessert one evening. "The ancients did it."
"What do you mean, the ancients did it?" David asked, challenging her but speaking pleasantly, in the slightly indulgent way we guessed he used with students.
"What I mean is, they built these observatories way up on mountaintops, right? And it wasn't just to watch the stars and planets scooting along in their boring orbits. They were after deeper meanings."
"Their mistake, Morganna," David said. "All they got for their trouble was a flimsy cosmology."
"So you're saying there's no meaning in patterns."
"Some repetitions lead you to valuable conclusions," David told her. "Others have no meaning. Like the drip of the faucet out there in the kitchen."
"If it's a musical drip, with a certain cadence--."
"You're reading the cadence into it, Morganna. You're sticking the label 'music' on it."
"So there's no music in the natural world?"
"An interesting question." David stopped there for a moment, possibly having heard the patronizing edge in his voice. He twisted uncomfortably in his chair, then began again. "That dripping faucet is like a billion monkeys tapping away at typewriters. Sooner or later they'll generate a convincing poem, a well-plotted novel. But someone has to be there to pluck the once-in-a-millennium gem from all the crap."
"But it's still a gem," Morganna said.
"So maybe that's what I do, David. I'm an inspector of chance events."
"Sorry, Morganna, but I don't see how that helps you arrive at a working representation of reality."
"It doesn't. Why settle for your constructed version of reality when I can just sit here and pay attention? To the alignment of this fork with the pattern of the tablecloth. To that subtlest of smirks on your face. What I mean is, I'm better off taking my cues from the moment than relying on some elaborate Rube Goldberg creation in my head."
We mistook this at the time for a healthful, intellectually invigorating exchange. In fact, we were witnessing the tremors of a relationship about to crumble.
While working as a teaching assistant at the college, Morganna began using photography as a way of seining the visual world for possible messages. David called to describe the process for us, and there was concern in his voice, as if he were running through a list of medical symptoms. She would perch on a particular cliff of red stone above the Susquehanna River with an old-fashioned Speed Graphic and shoot the current's roiling cuneiform. Armed with alphabets of the most graceful scripts (Singhalese, Arabic), she discovered sentence fragments in the photos, then used them as the titles of her presentation prints. Sable made violent. Lost atop tossed butte. Strode the riskful cars.
After Morganna settled into her apartment, she noted attractive details that had gone overlooked in her inspection of the place. There was the reddish glass in the transom above the front door. Glows warmly, exactly like tomato aspic, she wrote us. There was the almost-daily scent of cookies baking from the people downstairs, which had the Pavlovian effect of sending her into the kitchen to make tea. She liked the dark walnut strip in the blond maple flooring that formally outlined the perimeter of her four rooms. Reminds me of cheapo supermarket ice cream mom used to get, half chocolate and half vanilla.
Not until she took down the fussy curtains of the previous tenants did she note the view of the bustling railroad yard, with a blue sliver of the Susquehanna River just beyond. If she rolled backwards in her office chair, into the bay window of the room she called her study (she also slept there), she could watch the engines horsing around their strings of somber-colored freight cars.
The trains kept her company in a distant and agreeable way, like the background murmur of librarians when you sit down with an absorbing book. At night, a mast of three signal lights glowed above the yard. They were the colors of gumdrops, changing from green to amber, from amber to red, speaking with a hidden intelligence.
We called Morganna and she went on for several minutes about the signals. "It's my round-the-clock Zen koan," she said.
But the signals were there for railroad engineers, we said, stating the obvious. She couldn't expect them to offer her any useful information.
"We've been over this before. I'm not after information. I watch the signals because they subvert the intellect rather than fattening it up with data. Whereas for David, frankly, collecting information was becoming a form of self abuse. It was like stuffing some poor old goose for fois gras. His intellect became dangerously engorged, grossly distended."
Morganna took a bus home for Sunday dinner, staying only long enough to help with the meal, eat, then clean up. She was drying dishes when she said, "With David there are no issues. Just discussion points. And a relationship needs issues, wouldn't you agree? They're like the grit in a chicken's gizzard. David himself said that."
We asked if he had been referring to marriage.
"No, to theoretical economics. But a good metaphor is pliable. As David might put it. Which he probably did, since he has a way of infiltrating my thoughts every waking instant."
To us, that sounded like one of the defining elements of a love affair, and we said as much. But Morganna went on as if she hadn't heard. "There was someone, my friend Gail, who gave me a warning early on. She told me she detected this singed ozone smell around David. It's like his mind is a Van de Graaff generator, she said, zapping out these high-voltage transactions."
We suggested that her friend sounded like a highly impressionable person.
"And you know, that's exactly the sort of person I need stationed around me," Morganna said, waving an heirloom gravy boat for emphasis. "Remaining open to impressions-isn't that our big challenge?"
Morganna found work as a freelance indexer. Publishers mailed galleys to her apartment and she e-mailed the indexes back. It intrigued her that the product-- an alphabeticized list of words, accompanied by numbers out of sequence-- was both stripped of meaning and also richly suggestive. As she saw it, the book's text itself was glutted with words and extraneous thoughts.
It was spring and the open windows behind Morganna's desk brought in the green stink of the brim-full Susquehanna and the perfume of anti-static cloths from a neighbor's drying laundry. As she worked, she could hear the genial two-note chords of air horns from down in the freight yard. Some trains went up along the river, some went down. And each Friday evening around the time she would be stirring an end-of-the-workweek Martini, a shorter freight with an orange caboose pulled out of town along a track that curved through her neighborhood. The little train came back the following afternoon, sounding a cheerful greeting with its air horns like a fishing smack returning to its snug harbor.
One Friday after the train had tooted and click-clacked its way out of town, Morganna walked down her street to the tracks, then stepped along the ties in the direction the freight had gone. The right-of-way was bordered by abandoned factories of rosy brick, so small as to be cute, and she wondered what sort of quaint products had been manufactured inside. The line entered a woods she hadn't noticed before. Trees came close and met overhead to block out the sun. The rails rounded a sharp bend, and the air became cool and damp as the black maw of a tunnel came into view. It leaked a thick mist that Morganna could feel around her ankles. The year eighteen seventy-eight had been chiseled into the keystone of the portal. She guessed the tunnel was curved because there was only the slimmest crescent of daylight at the other end. Water dripped from the roof of the bore. She thought she heard the rustling of bats.
DO NOT ENTER TUNNEL, David responded when she e-mailed him about her discovery. WALK OVER HILL. SAME DESTINATION, LESS RISK.
For all her faultfinding, Morganna did credit David with a fund of common sense. She continued to visit the portal of tunnel and went no further, content to meditate on what that route might hold in store for her.
Maybe rails are like creases in your palm, she suggested to David in a message he forwarded to us. Determining a destiny, not just a destination. She added a line from the index she happened to be working on. Tower, Tuscan, 142. Her eyes had alighted on the entry just as the little Friday evening freight had sounded its horns. You have to wonder, she added.
NO, you always have the option of NOT wondering, David wrote back.
It was a Thursday evening when Morganna knocked off work, stirred a cocktail, turned off the lights, and took her station by the bay window. The signals down in the freight yard glowed green green amber. As she toasted the end of another day, the signals were like incandescent olives in the chilled glass. It occurred to her that, as far as she could recall, there had always been at least one red light among the three. Until now. Which could be interpreted as an invitation.
She dialed David's number. They had agreed to have no real-time communication for at least a year after the separation, and she was breaking their rule.
"No, there's no emergency," she said when David asked if she was in trouble. "It's just that I've been thinking about the Tuscan tower. It would have a tile roof and those heavy brackets under the roof overhang, right? I found an illustration on the Internet."
"I guess that sounds accurate."
"And it seems railroads have towers of some sort. I was reading about that, too."
"Correct," David said. "Railroads have what are called towers. Control towers, with a guy up there keeping an eye on things."
"Let me think. Could be. Where I grew up in New Jersey you'd see stuccoed towers with tile roofs. Like skinny little villas along the tracks, it seemed to me."
"Well, I was wondering if you might help me out. I'm curious about this particular freight train. I thought maybe you could show me how to climb on the thing. It doesn't go much faster than a walk."
"You're serious? You want to hop a freight? There's a big risk. Loss of limb. Loss of entire head, possibly."
"If puny Bob Dylan could manage to hop a freight with a guitar strapped to his back--."
"Dylan fabricated that Woody Guthrie crap. Don't kid yourself, Morganna. This is dangerous stuff--."
"There's no need to shout, David. You've got a phone in your hand. Anyway, I should hang up. I'm violating our agreement, and I'm sorry to have troubled you."
"Wait a minute. Hear me out. If you're determined to hop a train, first of all you don't want a boxcar. One, the door's too high up. Two, there's no alternate way out if trouble comes along. Three, if somebody shuts the door, you're sealed inside. A gondola's the thing. It's got low sides and this convenient little ladder. Not to mention a terrific view. You feel like you're on a hayride, a fast and filthy and screamingly loud hayride."
"You mean, you actually rode a freight? Where were you headed?"
"I had no idea until I got there. I just dig trains."
"Well, David, I'm flabbergasted that you'd do such a thing."
"I give into the occasional whim."
"So you run alongside the train and sort of jump?"
"Morganna, I can't demonstrate over the phone. You want help?"
She said that, yes, she would welcome help, on the condition that they would return to their separation after hopping the freight.
She would need serious boots, he told her. She should wear denim because it was dark in color and also offered protection from abrasion if she couldn't stay on her feet when getting off a moving train. Work gloves. A windbreaker.
"Tomorrow afternoon around 5 or so, if you can make it," she said. "I'll fix us an early dinner."
David showed up at her apartment dressed in black, from construction boots to a snug wool cap. Morganna, accustomed to seeing him in wash-and-wear shirts and permanently creased beltless slacks, stood back and gave a low wolf whistle before letting him inside.
"Damn it, but you look threatening," she said.
"Why, thank you. I brought water, wine, bread, cheese, chocolate. And a roadmap, because we'll probably end up hitchhiking back."
Over dinner, David explained that the only sentient parts of a freight train with a caboose were its head and tail ends. "So the ideal would be a gondola in the middle of the string of cars."
They walked down her street to the tracks. Their heavy boots clomped over the ties and gravel.
"We look like trouble," Morganna said. "But I don't feel like trouble. I feel kind of nervous."
"That doesn't sound like you."
"Well, I don't always sound like me. I mean-do I?"
David let the question pass. "Things should work out all right," he said. "Warm night. And these tracks are wobbly, so the freight won't be able to make much speed."
They walked along the line to the woods, then chose a spot behind low-growing shrubs so that they weren't likely to be spotted from the train.
"Remember, we hide here until the engine passes us," David said. "Then we jog alongside the train before grabbing the ladder. You've got to get up to speed or you risk getting yanked off your feet and-who knows what."
The train appeared later than usual that evening, its powerful headlight casting fantastic shapes in the darkness as the locomotive approached. At least a dozen cars rattled past before a gondola materialized. David slapped Morganna's arm and they emerged from the woods and broke into a run. The train was traveling deceptively fast. Morganna grasped the ladder at one end of the car, high enough to allow drawing up her legs. Her feet flailed, searching for a rung, and then she felt David grasping her ankles and setting them in place. She clambered over the side and into the car, with David following just as they entered the tunnel.
The train slam-banged through the stone bore, then emerged into a misty stretch of the Susquehanna's other branch, with no buildings or roads in sight. Lightning bugs flashed in pulses, and the scents of fox grape and honeysuckle were heavy in the air.
"Indians!" Morganna said, shouting over the noise of the train, and David's mouth opened in an inaudible laugh. It did seem as though the train had tunneled back though time, so that they might spot Lenni Lenape campfires at the river's edge. Signals came up out of the darkness and flew past. Garnet red, lemon-drop yellow, and the emerald green of encouragement, permission, license. The far-off lights of farms across the river were inching past, but the train had picked up speed and now seemed to be somewhat out of control. Morganna wondered if the engineer, having left civilization behind, was toking up and letting it rip. Her feet levitated with each bounce of the car and she tightened her grip on the edge of the gondola's low wall. The freight's ungodly clatter rebounded from the cliffs.
"Too fast!" she screamed, and the words were ripped from her by the wind. "Too goddamned fast." David stood upwind, legs splayed, squinting out at the night like a ship's captain surveying the storm-tossed sea.
A mast of signals went past, green and red. Then came a row of houses, old and slumped, echoing the rat-a-tat of the train. A patch of woods gave way to a clearing in which a tall brick building stood commandingly, its second-story windows aglow.
"A tower," Morganna shouted. "My god, it's my tower."
They got a glimpse of a man standing in a pool of light. Improbably natty in a sports jacket and deerstalker hat. Smoking a pipe. Holding a stick aloft as if in a salute. A sign on the tower read Hecla.
The train lost speed. There was an acrid, industrial odor.
"Brakes," said David.
The train curved into a siding and was pulling up to a lone signal that shone red. There was a lurch as they came to a stop. Air bled from along the train like a crowd of sighing people experiencing some communal disappointment. They could make out sounds from the river now. Frogs down along the water's edge and peepers from shrubs along the tracks. A small stream, invisible in the dark, made its agreeable chuckle.
"Five thirteen," David said, looking at his watch. "Sun'll be up soon. What a ride, hey?"
"Hecla," Morganna said, whispering. She felt like a stowaway. "Was that the name of the tower? What a lonely job for the guy. So, why was he holding that pole or whatever? It looked like a ceremonial sword."
"The guy writes out a message for the train's crew, maybe telling them where to stop, then attaches it to a string loop at the end of the stick. The train comes along and someone on board puts out an arm to snare it."
"To think, he does nothing but watch trains pass in the night. What a lovely occupation."
"Well, you have the river slurping by in the night. Frogs and toads serenading you. And those mysterious-looking hills on the other shore. Handsome."
"The view, you mean?"
"No, the guy with the stick. Although I can't remember whether I caught his profile or got a full-face view. Of course, face or no face, you can tell a lot about a person by their bearing. And he had all kinds of bearing."
"Right. Suggesting-what. A good upbringing. College. And then a couple of unfortunate career choices led him to take this lonely job. Of course he might be seeking solitude because of a relationship gone terribly wrong--."
"This whole adventure started with nothing more than a line in an index, remember? Suddenly you've got an Ivy Leaguer with a Rathbone profile out here pining for a love. Sounds sketchy."
"How would he get to the tower?"
"I didn't see a car, so I'm guessing he must hike in from that little scrap of a town."
"He's like Rapunzel, the poor guy. Stranded out there. Watching people of privilege as they dine in the dining car, recline in the sleeping car, lounge in the parlor car--."
David took the bottle of wine and a corkscrew from his backpack. "There hasn't been a passenger train on this line in thirty, forty years," he said.
Morganna accepted the bottle of wine and took a drink. "Still, he'd have to be as lonely as hell, like the modern-day equivalent of a lighthouse keeper. I might pay him a visit."
David made a small sound of exasperation, joining the train's chorus of exhalations.
"David, for god's sake, can't you handle a bit of spontaneity?"
"Well, I'm on a freight train in the middle of nowhere, aren't I, having a pre-breakfast snort? You call that rational and calculating?"
"Anyway, I've decided. I'm going to show up at the tower. What's the harm in that?"
"You can't just show up empty handed," he said. "Bring the guy something to eat."
"I could pick up a bag of donuts
"Donuts? If you're going to all the trouble of visiting him, you might as well put yourself out a little. Make something from scratch."
"Like a cake? Or maybe he'd prefer a pie. All of our cookbooks are with you, by the way."
"Why not make both? There are a couple of remarkably good recipes I could send you. One is for a pound cake flavored with Pernod, that licorice-flavored stuff. And another for an apple pie made from Granny Smith apples and a couple shots of creme de cassis."
A large manila envelope arrived in the mail from David. There was a photocopy from an old Lackawanna Railroad timetable, dated 1933, with a circled listing for Hecla Tower; a roadmap on which he had highlighted a route; and photocopies of the two recipes he had mentioned.
"You got the stuff?" David called to say. "Hecla is probably a contraction of the name of the nearby town, Hechts Landing. You should be able find your way there if you follow the twists and turns shown on the map. And I sent you those can't-fail recipes."
Morganna thanked David, then faltered as she began to ask him a favor. "You know, coming up out of the dark, I might scare the hell out of this person. He'd have a gun, possibly. You could come along, if you wanted. As a chaperone, sort of."
"Thanks, Morganna, but my Kevlar vest is at the cleaners. Anyway, I'd feel kind of superfluous."
"I should bring something to drink, I suppose."
"Thermos of good coffee should do it. French roast."
"Cream and sugar?"
"Make it black and strong. He's a railroader, after all."
It was dusk when Morganna drove out of town, the food and Thermos in a wicker basket buckled into the seat beside her. David's map was difficult to read by the dashboard light, so she began making left-hand turns as they came up in order to stay close to the river and the tracks.
Hechts Landing announced itself with a homemade sign. The town amounted to nothing more than a single street, its half-dozen houses facing the tracks and the river beyond. Up ahead, the pavement ended at a barrier of rusted barrels. It looked as though a trail continued from there. Morganna got out of the car, tweaked at her jeans and tucked in her blouse, then set off with the basket.
There was a chance the man in the tower might live in one of the slouching homes. She scanned the facades of each as if looking at the photos of men in an on-line dating service. The first was well kept in a fussy way. Probably the home of retirees. The second had several major appliances on its wraparound porch, signaling chronic unemployment, bad habits, lives run amuck. The next three were abandoned. The last house on the street had a beauty parlor sign out in front, with a smaller sign appended to it offering Brown Eggs. She didn't associate the man in the tower with a wife who did hair, or with the futility of marketing eggs in a spot with absolutely no traffic. So maybe he lived back in the woods, growing beans and spinning uncompromised Thoreau-esque thoughts.
Morganna left the glow cast by the yellow porch lights of the last house, swinging her wicker picnic basket to keep her courage up. The path ducked this way and that between thickets of briars that grabbed at her clothing. Sumacs held up their pointed fruit clusters like odd little freak heads. She passed a mast of signals, and then the outline of the tower became visible the night sky. Its windows glowed dull orange. Coming close, she stopped and listened for sounds of activity, of commerce or communication. But she heard only bullfrogs and the grouchy nighttime call of some bird she didn't know. On the other side of the tracks, the river was moving swiftly past as if it felt some special urgency by night.
At first, there appeared to be no way inside the tower. Morganna frightened herself with the crazy notion that this man really was a Rapunzel, sustained by a railroad witch who tossed the occasional sandwich up to him. Then, circling around, she saw an exterior stairway to a small landing from which hung a couple pairs of socks. A person's form played across the windows up there, and she shrank back into the underbrush, cursing herself for being so impulsive. She was about to leave the basket at the foot of the stairway and slip away. But the scent of the baked goods shored up her sense of purpose. She went up the stairs, her feet thumping the treads as an announcement.
She paused at the door. The room was dimly lit. She could make out the silhouette of the man seated at a desk, speaking on the telephone. She knocked. The man began pinwheeling with one arm. Motioning her to enter? Telling her to beat it? Working out a writer's cramp?
The man hung up as she entered. The room had large windows all around and smelled of oil, of pipe smoke, possibly of sweat. A man's workplace. The room was dominated by a large black metal box, suspended from the ceiling and studded with faceted glass lenses, some glowing. Reds, oranges, indigo, the strange bluish white of skim milk. A map, it was, with the names of local towns. A breeze came though the windows, rustling the old green roller shades and stirring carbon paper copies on the man's desk.
The man swiveled in his chair, facing her but his features lost in shadow. Lanky, clean shaven, maybe thirty-five. She didn't know who it was until he spoke.
"Nice of you to drop in," he said.
Morganna was relaying all this to us by phone, and we were confused. So, who was this person?
"Don't you see? He planned the whole damned thing. Set it up. Set me up. Like in chess. Checkmate in six moves. David, it was David."
But David has a beard, we pointed out, still trying to piece the scene together. He'd worn a beard ever since she'd met him.
"Had a beard. Shaved it. And the first thing I said to him, practically, when I got a good look, was I didn't know if I could live with the sinister little curl to his upper lip."
"In a manner of speaking. Let me finish. So there I was with my little Goldilocks basket full of goodies. I could have turned on my heel. But I served him. I watched that funny mouth eating. Coffee and cake, but not the pie. He said that we should save the pie for Maynard."
"The tower man. That was part of the deal David made with him, promising to stop off with dessert in exchange for vacating the tower. So, we walked back into town to this cutely prissy house. And I just sat there at the table in Maynard's kitchen while these two men interacted. I have to say I enjoyed watching David. That new mouth of his, for one thing. But mainly I liked the way he reached out to Maynard, making him feel at ease, making him feel interesting out there in an old house on the edge of that nothing town, with his spooky job and nobody else at home, not even a pet. I felt myself relaxing about being tricked. It occurred to me that clever and loving aren't exactly mutually exclusive. I mean, would you agree? And with that thought I just began easing up totally, which felt so good-this sounds plenty weird, I know-so good that I began to cry. I mean, I really roared. Maynard was scared to death. He probably had never in his life seen a grown woman emote, and here I was turning into a puddle right in his nice little kitchen. Eventually I pulled myself together and we three did the dishes, Maynard's and mine, chatting like old friends. Then Maynard had to go back to the tower, and David and I said 'so long' to him like this was our house and he was our brother or something. I'd have to say it was probably the-what. Maybe the coziest moment of my life. Next thing, we were sitting down at the table, holding hands. We talked until the sun was about to come up, and then David got his car out from behind Maynard's barn and drove us home."
Coziest, we repeated in unison, not sure we understood. And again, as one, Home?
From over the phone came the dropped-the-car-keys jangle of Morganna's childhood laugh.
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