To be perfectly frank, she'd said, it wasn't the nicest location or the most attractive house. She had better rentals—one on Drummer Cove and a brand new one right on the bay, for instance. The Skillet Pond place, let's face it, was not exactly modern, and some people thought it was kind of isolated and chilly, there in all those trees. Then she'd said, "Not even a telephone," as if that were the final blight. Hopeless though it sounded, Rudy had insisted on having a look.
The minute they emerged from the lane, the Sturms knew it was perfection. The surrounding oaks were noble. The house was gray, unpretentious, comfortable looking, and it didn't have decks; it had old-fashioned screen porches and a porch swing on the one facing the pond. There was no sign of an outdoor barbecue grill or television antenna. Better yet, there was a male cardinal posing on a branch of the oak by the door. A good omen. It was not the kind of place where disasters happen.
The rental agent, a young and pretty woman whose name was Joyce something, drove up just after they'd got out of the car. "Look around," she called, "It's unlocked." She pronounced "unlocked" as if she meant "not worth locking." Then she said, "I'm going to sit by the boat dock and have a cigarette. Next, we'll go on to the Drummer Cove place."
The house smelled musty and everything was much-worn, but all was neat. "Nice sticks," said Rudolph. Jean knew that meant he approved of the severe. Shaker-style table and chairs, the tall settle, and the Boston rocker. "Um-hunh?" he said at the big fieldstone fireplace. There were no pictures on the walls. He went over to the bookcase and ran his finger along the spines. "And a sunny porch where I can work," she said.
They walked out onto it and stared at the view. "Appropriate name," he said "but without imagination." Under the morning sun, Skillet Pond lay like new stainless steel, an almost perfect circle edged by trees. It was perhaps two hundred yards across and they could just see the handle, an inlet that might be a creek mouth, where it went back into the woods.
"Just the one other house," Jean said, "away on the opposite shore, thank God. And no road between here and there." She watched a bit nervously for his reaction.
"Better still," he said, "it looks closed up. June still a little too frosty for you city folks, eh?"
She laughed. "Rudy, you do good imitations. You could make anybody think you were a weatherbeaten woodsman instead of an antiquarian book dealer. You could for about one minute." She spoke very quickly with a pace that was almost Spanish.
"Miss Joyce." he called to the rental agent, who was just coming up the path from the shore, "we'll take it. For the month. No need to show us the others."
Joyce-something gave them a God-how-I-misjudged-you look. "It's the car," Jean thought. "Confused by the new Audi and also the young-looking woman with the gray-haired man."
* * *
That night, as always, Jean stayed awake until he had fallen asleep. She was pleased and a little surprised at how easy it was—no sudden starts, no leg cramps, no half-intelligible accusations spoken into the pillow. Outside, the night-world was dumb. There was not the slightest sound of breeze or bird or splash to hurt the elegant silence.
* * *
Rudy had planned to go to an estate sale up-cape. Since his retirement from the university, he'd spent full time scouting for rare books at sales and auctions and then reselling.
At breakfast, she said, "You did sleep well?" "Very well. I didn't get up during the night, not once."
"I'm so glad." Since he'd come home again, she always pretended that she wasn't aware of those 3: 00 A. M. risings and the hours he spent pacing in the other room. "I think this place is going to agree with you."
"Of course," he said. "Once upon a time there was a couple who, after many troubles and the departure of his children, dwelt happily in a little cottage by a pretty lake—or, as they call it here, a pond." He paused and reflected. "It's frogs that dwell by a pond, but not this one, apparently." A minute or two later, she heard him starting the car.
She moved her small computer and the piles of page proofs onto a table on the sunny porch and began the indexing job. The day was serene. Every now and then, she would stop to regard the surface—now Dutch blue—and to listen to the birdcalls that were like pinpoints in the envelope of silence.
At noon, she made herself a cup of soup and, after lunch, explored what she hadn't seen of the house. She tried to think about living here for a long, long time, undisturbed.
Rudy returned at 6: 00. She heard the car in the lane and restrained herself from going out to meet him. But she did stand in the doorway. He came in with the bag of groceries and kissed her. She still, after all this time, thought of his kiss as a picturesque act, deliberate, grave, and courtly. The wind had troubled his gray mane and had given his face a ruddy touch. She admired him as he turned and walked to the kitchen. Getting older, Rudy had begun to resemble the Indian on the old penny—a profile of hawkish nobility. Nobody looked like that these days, she thought. The great beak, the reddish hue on the cheekbones, as if he were always just getting angry, the horizon blue eyes. Nobody dared have a face like that nowadays.
He seemed cheerful, though there had been nothing at the sale he wanted to buy. "Seventy dollars for an L. Frank Baum signed first," he said. "Can you believe it?" They had dinner by the light of two green candles.
"I ran across something a bit odd in the nightstand by the bed this afternoon," Jean said. "A box of earplugs. And it's so quiet here."
"Ah," he said, "not in clamorous summer. The city people find wood-noises at night far more nerve-racking than trucks, and sirens, and automatic rifle shots."
"Probably so—but cicadas and crickets only make me sleep better. By the way, I don't think anyone has lived here for some time."
"How do you know?"
"The stack of newspaper by the fireplace and the magazines in the rack. They're all at least three years old."
* * *
The morning surprised them. The light seemed to carom off the water into the bedroom windows and she knew without asking that he'd had no waking, no pacing, no black dreams.
In the afternoon, Rudy went to Dennis to play golf, and she interrupted the indexing to take a swim. As she walked the length of the little dock, she tried to remember when and where she'd last done this. She hesitated, looking at the green water and then at her white hand to see if it trembled. She had been a splendid swimmer, something of a star in college, but for two years she had avoided the long, lonely swims she had once so enjoyed. It would be too easy to swim far out and just give up, let go, stop moving. Living with Rudy, she had come to feel that traitor within us, that anti-self within the self. With Rudy, it was a usurper who took over by force. With her, when the time came, it would be more like an acquiescence.
She sat down on the edge and slipped in. After a minute or two, when the chill had worn off, she found the water friendly, mild, and buoying. She did a lazy-man's backstroke out to the center and then stopped to gaze around the shore. The pond was rimmed by a narrow strand. Behind that rose steep, bushy banks and, higher up, a palisade of tall pines and oaks, a mixture of needle green and broadleaf. There were just two interruptions, where the summer houses faced each other across the water. From her viewpoint in the middle of it, the place seemed to be something like a great, green bowl with a blue bottom. The notion pleased her—a bowl full of peace. "Dropping slow," she thought.
* * *
They woke up early and took a long walk down the lane and along the edge of the salt marsh, carrying binoculars, on the lookout for marsh birds. They talked about some friends they'd known in New York, in the Village. When they talked about people nowadays, it was about friends safely distant and when they spoke of happenings, it was carefully, of those that belonged to the innocuous part of the past. Their conversational life was like a checkerboard, she thought. Step on the white squares only—the black ones are really holes. She startled him by putting an arm around his waist. He seemed to stiffen; then he gently removed it and took her by the hand. His hand felt moist and cold, with a kind of loneliness in it.
There was a light fog that made everything indistinct, muffled their voices, and muted all color. It seemed to her that they had indeed been allowed to walk in an earlier moment of their lives, that time when two people are so mingled by love that they seem indivisible—sharing the same, pulse, the same sight.
* * *
In the afternoon, she worked on the indexing, and he proofread the rare book catalog he was getting ready for the printer. It had turned sunny on the porch. Once a light plane went over; a fox came out of the woods and contemplated the house; two squirrels had a high-pitched dialogue in the big oak by the door. It was all that happened that afternoon.
In the evening, it was a bit chilly and, after dinner, Rudy made a fire in the fireplace. He fell asleep over his book about 10: 30, and they went to bed.
* * *
In her dream there might have been a car, and perhaps she heard its noise as well, but what woke her was the sudden thrashing of his body and, when she was fully awake, he had clenched her wrist in his right hand, and she knew he was sitting up, rigid.
"You heard the car, you heard it!" he said. It was in his old voice, the dread one.
"What was it? A car on the road?" she asked, holding her own voice level. "And please let go of my wrist. You're hurting me."
"Yes, the car. And you heard them talking, too. The car and the voices just as clear as if they were in this room."
"And the voices, what were they saying?" She couldn't stand talking like this, in the dark, and so she turned on her bedside lamp. He was pale, the great beak upthrust and the lips set. His eyes were fixed on the open window that overlooked the pond.
"The engine cut. The car door opened. Confusion of voices and people getting out. He said, "Leave it go, Tina. Get to bed and we'll unload in the morning." Deep voice, bass voice, a growl. Then, close and clear, a woman's voice, "Okay, I'm dead myself. Just bring the bags with the food." Then the sound of feet on wooden steps. Don't be stubborn again, Jean. Don't pretend you didn't hear that."
They were both quiet for a moment. Suddenly, she said "hah!", got up and went to the open window that faced the pond. She pulled the curtain back with a jerk and looked out. "Rudy, come here," she said evenly.
The house on the opposite side of the pond seemed to have been brightly lighted an instant ago, as if she'd caught a nanosecond of afterglow, just as it went dark. She wasn't absolutely sure, but of course it was completely gone by the time Rudy got to the window, with nothing there but the halflight of the waxing moon on the water.
"Nothing to worry about," she said. "Somebody has moved into the place across the pond. They just turned out their lights."
"But they sounded as if they were right here. I swear. You heard it, too, didn't you?" The desperation had died, and his voice had a confused and imploring tone.
She looked at the nickeline surface of the pond for a moment and, magically, it gave her back the thing to say. "Rudy, listen. Yesterday I took a swim, and when I was out to the middle of the water, I noticed that all the sounds from the shore are exaggerated. With those high banks and trees, the whole thing's like a bowl with some trick acoustics. That's why those people sounded so close. At the time I was swimming, I didn't think so much of it—didn't realize it carried so far."
For the first time, he turned and looked her full in the face. Then he smiled a suddenly trusting smile. Once again, it broke her heart a little.
"I see it now; it's a natural version of the Greek theater we saw in Epidaurus! The one where you can stand in the back row and hear a pin drop on the stage!" He smiled at the floor, shaking his head.
"Or the famous whispering gallery in Saint Paul's" she said.
He nodded and climbed back into bed. "Mmm-uh. Yes, I see," he answered and closed his eyes. It was over. She shivered and pulled the curtain to.
Jean listened at the window for a minute or two, as if some slower sound were still to come. At first, she felt guilty for the glib explanation but, as she thought about it longer, it really began to seem possible, the way certain things do seem possible in the middle of the night. So, in her head, she swam out to the center of the pond again and listened, but no sound came. Then, why had that explanation arrived so spontaneously on her tongue? If you say something swiftly, naturally, without thinking, can it be a lie? Lies are calculated, she thought. So—she must have heard something yesterday on the pond and then suppressed it. She lingered, floating on the green surface in her mind, and nothing came but the small lap of water and the empty peace of the sky.
When she finally went to bed, she thought Rudy was sound asleep, but suddenly he seemed to wake. He whispered fiercely, "Do you remember her exact words? Did you notice she said, "I'm dead"?"
* * *
Rudy was already up and dressed when she woke. She found him at a front window of the living room with the binoculars trained on the house on the opposite shore. "Sh!" he whispered. "I've thought of something. If we can hear them loud and clear, they can hear us the same. Keep the windows on this side of the house shut, then."
"Have you seen anything over there?"
"No sign of life. They're probably still asleep. I can't see the car—or cars—because they must be in back of the house. But the windows on this side are all shut and so we couldn't hear their talking anyway, I suppose. Well, I'll find out more as time goes on."
This morning they had breakfast on the back porch instead of the lakeside porch and, though there was really no reason for it, talked in hushed voices. "Now I understand those earplugs you found," he said. "And the fact that Joyce rental-lady didn't want us to take the house. I imagine that her past customers turned up after one night complaining about crowds in the bedroom." His voice had that tone of quirky cheerfulness she knew from before. She was wary, but she went along.
"We could complain about the terrible acoustics. Maybe that house on the bay isn't rented yet."
"And lose our deposit? Then we couldn't afford to stay more than a week," he said. "Besides, I've got to find out now."
"Rudy, Rudy, find out what? Some people came in last night and made some noise, but they couldn't have known they'd wake us up. And everything is perfectly quiet this morning."
Suddenly he was no longer cheerful. "I wanted this to ourselves." His finger trembled a little on the coffee cup handle. "I don't want their voices in my ears, and I don't want their thoughts polluting my head."
"So if anything like last night happens again," she said, "let's move out. The main reason we're here is to get some peace."
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. The quirky, playacting tone was back in his voice. "Oh lovely lady, there is nothing to fear but fear itself." Then he stared directly at her for a moment, eyebrows raised, making his words into a question.
* * *
Rudy took most of the morning to steal through the underbrush in his approach to the house across the pond. He was no redskin and, it would be funny if it were happening to anyone else, she thought. Much of the time she couldn't see him, but she could see Pushes move, saplings bend, and birds fly up suddenly. She was working on the front porch and keeping an eye on his progress. She hadn't been able to talk him out of this reconnaissance and she wondered what would happen if the people over there caught him spying. Their voices, as she imagined them would have sounded tough, city-bred, and short-tempered. In recollection, she could almost hear them. "Leave it alone, Tina." and "I'm dead, myself."
Rudy came back in the early afternoon. He strode onto the porch nodding. "I didn't dream it," he said. Jean had laid out wine and sandwiches and they ate inside, with all the doors and windows closed, which made it seem like winter in the room.
He hadn't actually seen them, he said, but he'd gotten close enough to glimpse the top of a car in the garage and to hear voices out in back of the house. He seemed agitated and, though he wasn't suppose to drink much, he downed three glasses of wine as he talked. She didn't remind him.
"I'd say three or four people—two couples. I heard the voices, but I got only snatches of the words. There was a breeze blowing—and, in fact, that acoustic effect doesn't seem to work if you're in the woods." He drank from his glass and stared at his drumming fingers on the table.
Finally he said, "I don't know whether to tell you, but I think one of them was Conyers. The voice sounded like his and it's a voice I'll remember to the end of my days."
Her heart clutched. But then she remembered the painful lesson: accept the premise. Don't argue. Accept any thinkable premise.
"Conyers was that male nurse or attendant you told me about? And you think he's come here for some reason connected with you?" she asked, trying to keep her voice as toneless as possible.
"What do you think?" His voice was edged. "What did he do in the madhouse? He beat me."
"It was Greenhills Hospital. Don't keep calling it a madhouse."
"Yes," he said, "you're right. But he still beat me. I promised myself I'd kill him if I ever met him again."
"No." She was trying to sound brisk. "We'll find a way to get rid of him. If it really should turn out to be Conyers— though there're probably thousands of men with a voice that sounds like his."
"Oh, I'll verify it," he said reasonably. "And I'll find out why he's here, if, as you point out, it is Conyers." He paused. "That "if" is your word, Jean." He reached over and took her wrist for a moment, not roughly but with a grip. Then his fingers trembled a little as the pressure increased. "If. If. I could trust you a little better if you weren't the one who put me in that place."
"Have you been taking your medication since we've been here, Rudy?"
He didn't answer. They stared motionlessly into each other's eyes but all the time he was crushing her wrist tighter. Her hand had gone numb. The pain was intense. "You put me in that place," he said.
She was getting light-headed. She thought she could picture the two hollow reeds that connect the hand's intelligence to the body. "Rudy," she said, "I've worn out all my answers, but they're still true. I did what I did—and you're alive because of it."
"You divided us," he said. "You thought it was reasonable to put me away, but it was really treasonable. This is a philosophical principle, do you understand, Jean? The principle of two forces that can exist only when they coexist." He paused. "Especially when there is such danger from across the water."
The tone was logical; except for the whiteness of his face and the bright cheekbones, he seemed unperturbed. Just as Jean was growing faint, he released her. Through a mist, she saw him rise from the table and take the car keys from his pocket. "Now I'm going to Orleans—a phone call to make and a few things to pick up at the store."
"Rudy, you're not—"
"No, I'm not. I told you I'm going to make one call and stop at the store." He was almost brusque. He blew her a kiss and went out the door.
He's going to buy a gun, Jean thought, or get one somehow. That was what was on his mind.
* * *
Oh, dear God," she said to herself, "don't let me down again." She had put on her bathing suit, and she sat on the dock in the afternoon sun, intending to swim but for the moment unable to move.
One evening at the Rademachers, just after she'd married Rudy, the party was playing that old-fashioned game of Truth or Consequences. It had seemed silly enough until Frank Rademacher, a little drunk and a little mean in his psychology professor way, had asked the question, "Have you ever killed anybody?" Put to anyone else in the circle, it would have sounded like nothing more than Frank's whiskey conceit. But he had asked it of Rudy. Jean heard the intake of breath. It was as if everybody, without thinking about it, knew the answer.
She had started protesting—it wasn't fair; it was incriminating; wasn't this supposed to be a friendly game? And besides, everybody knew that Rudy had been in the Marines in Korea, an infantry lieutenant, and that meant—Lady doth protest too much, she almost heard them thinking.
And it turned out they were against her, tipsily insistent, and they talked her down as if they smelled blood in the air.
"I'm going to keep you bastards guessing," Rudy had said, head reared back, looking down at them from his height. "I'll take the consequences." It was impossible to tell anything from his face, though she knew that a dozen anecdotes were being born at the moment—all with interpretations of Rudy's look and tone.
Consequences in the end weren't very terrible—he had to push an empty beer bottle across the room with his nose, or something like that. Jean couldn't remember exactly. Afterward, Rudy had said no more to her about this, nor had she dared ask him. How could it be, she thought, that her instinctive answer had been the same as everyone's?
It had been only a few months later that Rudy had undergone what the doctors always referred to as "the first episode."
She slipped into the water and, to shake off the memory, began a fast crawl stroke toward the center of the pond. When she got there, she stopped, turned over, and floated on her back, raising her head a little to listen.
There were, clearly enough, all sorts of shore sounds. She could distinguish at least three bird calls, a very distant dog bark, a clinking of wind chimes that must come from her own porch, a vague rustle that might be some disturbance in the early leaves. It was strange how many things came to her ear today. But there was no way of judging the supposed whispering-gallery effect.
Even in her childhood, she had hated inconclusive things. She agonized over decisions postponed or changes impending. Her father, that good but sententious man, had once said to her, "Your trouble is that you snatch at life—you can't wait for anything in the fullness of time. So, everything you take is unripe or unfinished."
What an irony, she thought, to marry Rudy so quickly and then find that he would make the next years a long incertitude.
Annoyed, she rolled in the water and began to swim toward the opposite shore and the little boat dock in front of the cottage there. She would settle this.
As she came closer, she was making up things to say when somebody should come out and ask her what she was doing there. "Oh, I was having my daily swim when I got a muscle cramp and couldn't make it all the way back to our cottage." No, that sounded flimsy. "Oh, I thought this house was vacant and I decided to take a look. Have you just moved in? We're neighbors." Better, but still not quite convincing.
She walked the last 20 yards, the muddy bottom like cold gelatin around her feet. Then she sat on the boat dock, shivering a little, and tried to wash the mud off. She waited a few moments, looking toward the house, but no door opened and there was no sound. Finally, the right formula came to her. "Could I borrow a towel for a minute?" A request is better than trying to explain. It's hard to be hostile to someone who asks no more than a chance to get dry and warm.
But when she went up the sandy path and knocked at the front door, there was no answer. Why is it that silent houses always spoke of something wrong? That poem she had memorized in the sixth grade. ""Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door." How did it go? "never the least stir made the listeners. . .and the silence surged softly backward. . . ." Something like that. She noticed that the green paint on the door was peeling in places and that there was an accumulation of dead leaves on the sill.
Walking carefully, she moved over to the window and looked into a shadowy room. As she expected, it was the living room. There was no sign either that anyone had been there recently or that no one had been there for a long time. It had the familiar rental cottage look—furnishings with the mars and stains of many strangers, not quite old enough or worn enough to go to the flea market.
She moved along the house front to another window and looked in on a bedroom. Bedrooms should be telltale, but this one was as taciturn as the living room. The brass double bed was neatly made with a green coverlet. The dresser top was a clutter of small shapes she couldn't quite make out. The big wardrobe was closed and there were no clothes or shoes scattered around. On the other hand, a bath towel was hanging over the footrail of the bed. She moved on.
Through an open door, she could look into the room beyond and see dim shapes that just might be clothes hanging from hooks and other shapes that might be luggage. Everything seemed to mouth "long gone way"; still she kept feeling that if she looked intelligently enough there would be a clue to life in the pattern of deserted rooms.
Next to the back wall of the cottage was a tarpaulin-covered pile that must be fireplace wood. She reached under the canvas and verified it. By standing up there and craning, she'd be able to get a look into that farther room.
She was on top of the pile, kneeling and just about to stand when the whole thing collapsed with a rumble of split logs and a clang of something metal.
She managed to jump half free and the canvas contained much of it, but when she hit the ground, a big billet of wood struck her a glancing blow on the right side of her head and she twisted an ankle.
She waited, almost expecting to hear doors opening or to see faces at the windows, but that didn't happen. After a minute, she got up and tested her wounds. The ankle gave a twinge but it supported her. Her fingers came away from the side of her head with some blood, but no more than a stain. She began to feel dizzy. She leaned against the wall of the house for a minute until it passed. Then came a panicky feeling.
Limping as fast as she could, she got around to the front of the house and down the path to the boat dock. She felt a prickle in the back of her neck as if the listeners in hiding had been watching her every instant. Worst of all, she felt stupid—she'd done nothing right.
When she had swum about 40 yards or so out into the lake, the headache came on quite suddenly and for a moment she had to shut her eyes because of the pain. Then it lessened and settled down to a slow tom-tom. She swam steadily until she came again to the center of the pond; then she stopped, turned, and looked back at the cottage. In the late afternoon sun, it looked unchanged, but it had changed. She had been hearing it change.
Indistinct in the splash of her own arms as she swam, there had been voices, and now they were quiet. Definitely, there had been two voices speaking—she'd even caught fragments of words. "She-pash, sup-pash."
In those days when she had been alone in their house and Rudy at Greenhills, she would take a morning shower and become aware, over the noise of the water, of the telephone ringing. She was always sure that it meant dread news.
Then, naked, dripping, hands shaking, she would rush out the bathroom door to no sound at all. At first, she thought she'd had the bad luck to miss the phone. Then she realized that the phone rang only in her head. She determined to dismiss the illusion and finish her shower deliberately—until the day when, at last, the phone was undoubtedly ringing as she stepped onto the bath mat. This time she knew, even as she reached for the receiver, that Rudy had tried to kill himself. The woman on the line from Greenhills must have wondered at the lethargy in her voice as she replied, "Oh, he did? Is he gong to live?"
So our imaginary rings are precursors waiting to become real, the bad news poised on the far edge of the moment that has just begun.
She stopped to listen again. The bowl of woods and water was silent. But there were soundless words that seemed to belong to some nowhere of the past. They came to her at the end of a sentence, "A-diu," something "a-diu." Or could it be "adieu?" Jean decided that she would swim no more in the pond. There was something hallucinatory about being alone on the thin edge between empty depth of sky and water, trapped in self. The world came to you in treacherous sounds.
The sky was darkening; it was later than she had realized and there were clouds in the west that hid the settling sun. The water had a night chill to it. She went from her lazy, long-distance crawl stroke to a faster beat. It seemed strange that the shore was still so far away, the house so small.
Then she realized that she had been swimming slowly because she would have to talk with Rudy when she got home and, in imagination, it was hard to hear what each of them would say. She tried to form her own words.
"Rudy, I went there and the house was empty. No one to be seen at all." "pop"
"I didn't go inside, but I looked through the windows. I thought I sensed somebody inside, listening to me, but that was probably my imagination."
"I tried to stand on the woodpile in back of the house and I had a fall, so I didn't look around any more. I didn't—" "???"
"My God, I forgot to look in the garage to see if there was a car there. Or had been recently. Oh, I guess I blew it."
"But, one thing, Rudy. I guess you may be right. I don't know. Anyway, as I was swimming back, I thought I heard voices over the water. Just pieces of words. But that seems to show you're right, doesn't it?"
"Rudy, you were right. Right. I'm afraid. Let's get out of here as soon as we can. Throw the things in the car and drive back to Cambridge tonight. Are you listening, Rudy?"
She reached for the end of the little wooden dock and pulled herself onto it; she stood up in the chilly gloaming and shuddered.
A few minutes later, dry and dressed in jeans and her navy blue sweater, she went from the bedroom to the kitchen and poured herself a wineglass full of brandy. She sat on the tall kitchen stool and let the fire invade her throat and belly.
The soundless word from the middle of the pond came back to her — "adieu." It was irritatingly like something visible, then at once eclipsed. Or something heard, not quite heard, in the night. Do I wake or dream?
Somehow the memory seemed to have something to do with a book she'd read or a lecture she'd heard and forgotten. Adiue, addio, a-diu —
She took a sip of the brandy and stared at the kitchen counter. The whole phrase, like a hand from a cloud, appeared in front of her mind: "Folie a Deux."
She suddenly saw it on the page. Lasegue, C. and Falret, J. "Lafolie a deux," something, something, annales de psychologic, Paris, 1870-something. It had been included, as a kind of pioneer study, in a book she had indexed some two or three years ago. It was a reprint of an old French treatise on a certain kind of madness. She'd been drawn to it and she read it carefully, almost compulsively — even before Rudy's problems were evident.
How did the argument go? "it has been said that insanity is contagious—" She took another sip of the brandy but did not swallow. . .she paused to listen. "—and that association with such people involves danger for the people who live in continuous contact with them. . .and these cases in which the delusion is shared between. . . ."
The case histories were mostly about women. Poor recluses whose minds had cracked without anybody knowing or caring and younger women, a daughter, an orphan, a niece, living with them. She could almost see them hiding in some page of Zola—red, chapped hands; hair coming loose from the bun; slow faces with no light in the eyes.
How did it go? How did it go? "The mother, about forty years old, is convinced that the priests are set against her and keep her from finding a job. . . . Mme. M., thirty-five-years old, explained that her neighbors were trying to poison her with saffron. . . . Her daughter said there was a man who came to their door and called "hoo, hoo!" like the wind."
Suddenly she put the glass down so hard that the brandy splashed on her hand. She went quickly to the door and out onto the porch. The cottage on the other side of the pond shone with light. There were outside lights that illuminated the clearing around it. A wavering finger of light on the water pointed toward her.
"Oh God," she said aloud, "Oh, Rudy."
Somewhere in that house, Rudy was waiting to kill Conyers. Conyers would come back from wherever he'd been and walk into the house unsuspectingly. Only, of course there was no Conyers here; there were no people staying in the house; there were no voices on the lake. There was only a man and his demons.
Leaving the porch door open, she went quickly down the steps. She ran to the shore, taking a shortcut path that led to the narrow strand. Bushes overhung it in places but most of the way was clear and the sand was firm underfoot. She started along at a trot.
She felt sure that, in her dark clothes, no one could see her without using binoculars. From here, she perceived a thin glaze of light on the far end of the pond and, craning, she saw that their own cottage was dark.
Halfway around, she stopped for a moment to catch her breath and listen. The illusion of the past few days lingered with a strange wisp of expectation—a car coming down the lane, voices. She shrugged with revulsion and then ran on.
She was trying to think of the words, persuasions she could use now that there was no more logic in him. She was convinced that he had been skipping his medication since they had arrived, but without a word of explanation. If she could only talk him into going home with her, at least into taking a tranquilizer. She had to duck low to avoid a tangle of branches leaning across the path.
By the time she approached the cottage, she was walking as noiselessly as possible. She wanted to see him before he saw her. That could not be very hard because he would be listening, probably watching, for the arrival of a car and people coming in the back door.
She paused in the shadow of the last bushes before the clearing; then, taking a breath, ran lightly up to the living room window and looked inside before she drew back. All the lights were on, but the room, like a dilapidated stage set awaiting its actors, was empty.
She edged cautiously up the steps, then to the front door. Over the door there was an outside floodlight that shone directly down. Through the door pane, she looked into an empty hallway. The door itself was ajar.
Jean looked over her shoulder at the pond and across at their cottage. Something was wrong—and for a moment, she did not know what. Then it came to her that she'd left the porch door open and the inside lights on, but now there were no lights.
The first sound came from right beside her, a thunk and a splintering of wood as the rifle round hit the doorpost. The second came across the pond like the cracking of a giant tree.
"Oh, Rudy! Rudy!" she said, as if the whispering gallery effect really existed, and turned to face toward him. After all the illusions of the past few days, this was the sound of reality, the sound that the listeners, without knowing it, had been waiting for.