rivista internazionale di cultura

ENGLISH dept

SHORT STORIES

Mary Morris: Clue

(Two women, a teacher and a taxidermist.
Two families snowed-in together, a board-game,
a theft of misterious motives.
A story about getting stuck and moving on . . . )


My husband’s family lives in northern Vermont, in a place called the NortheastKingdom, and once every few years or so we travel up there. I prefer to go in summer when we can take the kids along Lake Champlain and pretend we’ve got sightings of Chessy, the giant serpent said to inhabit the lake, but for Tim the holidays are family time. I don’t like to go in winter because there is always the chance of being snowed in, but that’s when Tim likes to go so we do.

We hadn’t been north in several years when my husband began feeling the tug of home. His father had died two years before and we’d gone up for the funeral. He had made one or two more short trips to see his mother and help her move to Arizona to be with her sister. But his sister, Doreen, and her kids—two boys who were close in age to Penny and Sarah—were still up there and Tim wanted to see them.

It is a long drive to the NortheastKingdom. The kids play the road game where you make a tugging motion in the air and try to get the diesel trucks to honk their horns. Sarah gets twenty and Penny gets fourteen which we think are great numbers, but Penny throws herself against the door until we think she’ll fall out of the car and we have to give them each two dollars. Then they play connect the dots while Tim sings this song he made up about being king of the NortheastKingdom.

Just beyond Stowe the landscape changes. Here it once was all dairy farms and rolling hills. Now there are ski chalets, vacation homes, getaway places for the rich. Tim’s parents had what was left of a farm, just north of Hardwick and Tim had grown up chopping wood in that ramshackle place. Summers he fished and now he has actually not such a bad job in administration with Parks and Recreation in the city.

Tim’s parents partitioned their farm years ago. Doreen lives in a 50’s pre-fab on the last remaining strip of their land. When Tim’s mother moved to Arizona, she sold the old farmhouse along with the plot of land she’d been saving for Tim. Though she gave him his share of the money, Tim was mad about that; he thought that someday he’d come back and settle there, though I knew he never would.

There are lakes nearby where people from Boston have their summer homes and there are dirt roads which lead to backwoods cabins where hermits still live. We drive eight hours, straight to Doreen’s place, which is, of course, where Tim grew up. I can see he gets that dreamy look in his eyes as he gets closer to home and I know that when he thinks of his life, he sees these hills and farmlands and it is everything he remembers.

I try not to think about these trips until they happen. For me there is a sense of obligation. It is what a person does in a marriage. Still I always feel a tightening in my chest as we turn off the main road on to the dirt one that leads to their property. It’s a bumpy ride and when we get there, there’s only the old pick-up out front with a flat tire. The house is dark and it’s clear that no one is home. I give Tim the eye, but he looks away. “Come on,” he says to Sarah and Penny, “Everyone out.” We are met with a blast of freezing cold air. We ring the bell three or four times, but no one answers. Then with a shrug Tim gives the door a shove. It’s open so we walk in.

*

Doreen’s house is dark with dishes piled in the sink, old chicken bones, mashed potatoes, spinach from last night’s meal. In the fridge we find a slice of old cheese, some opened cans of pop. But there’s no milk or juice, no Coke or nibbles for the kids. “She wasn’t expecting us,” I say.
“How could she not be expecting us?” Tim replies. He is wearing his park rangers uniform, something he never wears unless he is at work. “It’s not like we drive eight hours every day to see them.”
“She didn’t remember we were coming. There’s nothing here.”
“I told you,” he says, “she’s probably gone to the store.” He gives me that exasperated look, like I’m really bothering him, but I’m already one step ahead. He’s bothering me. I wander into the living room, gazing out the window. It’s beginning to snow. Big white flakes sail past the window. We’re going to be stuck here, I think, with nothing to eat and nowhere to go. “You told her we’d be here today, right? . . . ”
“Melanie,” Tim turns to me, “would you please shut up?”

We walk through Doreen’s house. In the bedroom the bed is unmade, exercise clothes hang, drying from a huge exercise machine that takes up half the room. I peer into the kid’s rooms where their beds, which are shaped like B-52 bombers, are also unmade. Clothes are strewn everywhere. Maybe they’ve been taken hostage; maybe there was an invasion—an assault from Canada, Martians. Obviously these are signs of sudden departure.

In the old den water bubbles in aquariums with no fish in them. But the aviary is filled with love birds, all snuggled up, and lots of dogs who sound hungry seem to be barking from somewhere. Robbie collects World War II military paraphernalia and assorted German helmets fill a bookshelf. Nice decor. Several copies of Reader’s Digest lie strewn over the floor.

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