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20

He was saying, reasoning, Why should it matter so much, Hazel? If people are married, or not? McAlster is only a caretaker. He doesnt know you, or anyone who knows you.

But Hazel Jones did not want to meet the caretaker.

But why not, Hazel? You are here, and he knows I have guests. Its perfectly natural. He opened the house for us, hell want to know if there is anything he can do for you or Zack.

But Hazel did not want to meet the caretaker.

Running away upstairs when McAlsters pickup approached the house.

Gallagher was amused. Gallagher was trying not to be annoyed.

He loved Hazel Jones! He did respect her. Except her quick bright laughter grated against his nerves, sometimes. When her eyes were frightened, and her mouth persisted in smiling. Her way of speaking airily and lightly and yet evasively like an actress reciting lines in which she cant believe.

Gallagher understood: shed been wounded in some way. Whoever was the father of the child had wounded her, surely. She was uneasy in situations that threatened to expose her. It was a wonder she hadnt worn white gloves, pillbox hat, high-heeled shoes to Grindstone Island. Gallagher vowed to win her trust, that he might set about correcting her: for Hazel Joness imagination was primitive.

His Albany relatives would see through her awkward poise, at once. Gallagher dreaded the prospect.

His father! But Gallagher would not think of his father, in terms of Hazel Jones. He was determined that they would never meet.

Yet it was ironic, that he should fall in love with a woman who, in her soul, was more a Gallagher than he was. More conventional in her beliefs, her morality. What is good, what is bad. What is proper, what is not-proper. Hazel hid from the caretaker because she could not bear it, that a stranger might suppose she was Gallaghers mistress, spending Easter weekend with him.

Other women whom Gallagher had brought to stay with him on Grindstone Island hadnt been so self-conscious. These were women of a certain degree of education, experience. An employee like McAlster had no existence for them. Nor would they have cared what he thought of them, not for a moment.

Not that McAlster wasnt the most tactful of men. All Gallagher employees, on Grindstone Island or on the mainland, were tactful. They were hardly likely to ask their employers awkward questions, or in fact any questions at all. McAlster had known Chet Gallaghers wife Veronica for six or seven years always politely calling her Mrs. Gallagher and several summers ago when there apparently ceased to be a Mrs. Chet Gallagher, McAlster had certainly known not to inquire after her.

When McAlster drove away in his pickup truck, Gallagher called teasingly up the stairs:

Haz-el! Hazel Jones! Coasts clear.

They went outside. They hiked down to the river, to the Gallaghers dock.

In the bright sunshine the river was starkly beautiful, a deep cobalt-blue, not so rough as usual. The wind had dropped, the temperature was 43 F. Everywhere snow was melting, there was a frenzy of melting, dripping. Gallagher wore dark glasses to shield his eyes against the sun clattering like castanets inside his skull.

Am I hungover? I am not.

A manic little tune, of castanets. Fortunately, Hazel could not hear it.

How striking the view of the St. Lawrence, from the Gallaghers thirty-foot dock! Gallagher, who had not been out on the dock since the previous summer, and certainly would not be there now except for his guest, pointed out the lighthouse at Malin Head Bay, several miles to the east; in the other direction, a smaller lighthouse at Gananoque, in Ontario.

Hearing himself say, who had not sailed in twelve years, In the summer, maybe we can sail here. You and I and Zack. Would you like that, Hazel?

Hazel said yes she would like that.

It was like Hazel to revert to her usual mood. As soon as shed come downstairs, the issue of the caretaker was forgotten. There could be no protracted hardness or opposition in Hazel, always her moods were melting, quicksilver. Gallagher had never met so intensely feminine a woman, she was fascinating to him. Yet she would not make love with him, she held herself at a little distance from him, uneasy.

He couldnt resist teasing her. She was shielding her eyes against the sun-glare, looking out. He did ask after my guests. The caretaker. Asking if your rooms were all right and I told him yes, I thought so.

Quickly Hazel said yes their rooms were fine. She was not to be baited by Gallagher. She asked if Mr. McEnnis would be coming back the next day.

Gallagher corrected her: McAlster. His name is McAlster. His people emigrated from Glasgow when he was two years old, hes lived on Grindstone Island for more than sixty years. No, he wont be coming back tomorrow.

They were hiking along the rivers edge. Hazel would have descended a treacherous rocky path to the beach, where broken slabs of ice glittered in the sun like enormous teeth, and where storm debris lay in tangled heaps amid sand hardened like concrete, but Gallagher restrained her, alarmed. Hazel, no. Youll turn an ankle.

Theyd hiked more than a half-mile along the river and had some distance to retrace, uphill. From this perspective the Gallagher property appeared immense.

Zack had preferred to remain indoors practicing piano. Because of Easter weekend his Saturday lesson had been postponed until Tuesday after school. Hazel had told Gallagher that Zack had been outdoors for a while, earlier that morning; she spoke apologetically, as if the childs lack of interest in the outdoors would annoy Gallagher.

Not at all! Gallagher was on the boys side. He intended always to be on the boys side. His own father had not much interest in his youngest son except to be disappointed at crucial times, and Gallagher did not intend to model himself after that father. I will make both of you need me and then you will love me.

Gallagher was surprised, Hazel Jones turned out to be so much more robust than hed expected. She was hiking uphill with less effort than he, scarcely short of breath. She was sure-footed, eager. She exuded an air of happiness, well-being. The mid-April thaw was exhilarating to her, the great flaring sun did not overwhelm her but seemed to draw her forward.

Gallagher had wanted to talk with her. He must talk with her, alone. But she eased away from him, as if impatient. Slipping and sliding in the melting snow, that didnt vex her but made her laugh. Nor did she seem to mind that evergreen boughs were dripping onto her head. She was sure-footed and exuberant as a young animal that has been penned up. Gallagher sweated inside his clothes, began to fall behind. Damned if he would call out to the woman, to wait for him. His heart beat hard in his chest.

You love me. You must love me.

Why dont you love me!

Hazel was charmingly dressed for their hike. She wore a windbreaker and a girls rubber boots and on her head was a fawn-colored fedora shed found in a closet at the lodge. Gallagher was forced to recall how when he touched Hazel, in their tender, intimate moments, when he kissed her, she went very still; like a captive animal that does not resist, yet remains slightly stiff, vigilant. You would not guess that the womans body was so young, supple and tremulous with life. Behind her clothes the female body, hot-skinned.

Overhead, hawks were circling. Always there were wide-winged sparrow hawks on Grindstone Island, along the rivers edge. They swooped to their prey in open areas, it was rare for a hawk to penetrate the pine woods. Now their swift shadows passed over the snow-stubbled grass and over Hazels figure, several hawks cruising so low that Gallagher could see the sharp outlines of their beaks.

Hazel, too, noticed the hawks, glancing up uneasily. She began to walk faster as if to elude them.

Damn! Gallagher saw that she was ascending a trail, the rutty remains of a trail, leading farther uphill; Gallagher had intended that they take another fork and return to the lodge, hed had enough of hiking for one day. But Hazel hiked on, oblivious of her companion. The hill they were climbing was a small mountain, densely wooded, with a jagged, uneven surface, sharp diagonal outcroppings of shale ridged with ice; for sunshine came only in sporadic patches here, the interior of the pine woods was shaded, chill. The summit of the hill was impassable, Gallagher recalled. He had not hiked this damned trail in twenty-five years.

Hazel! Lets turn back.

But Hazel plunged ahead, unheeding. Gallagher had no choice but to follow.

Hed bought a house for her and the child in Watertown. A handsome red-brick colonial with two separate entrances, overlooking a Watertown park. But Hazel would not step inside.

In her soul, a shopgirl. An usherette. Shrinking in shame from the judgment of a hired caretaker.

A mistake, loving Hazel Jones. It would be a terrible mistake to marry her.

Gallagher wasnt accustomed to such physical stamina in any female. On Grindstone Island, it was rare for females to hike this mountain. His former wife would have laughed at him if hed suggested such a hike in the melting snow. Gallagher had come to associate females with smoky bars, cocktail lounges, dimly lighted expensive restaurants. At least, females he found sexually desirable. And there was Hazel in her windbreaker and mans hat, hiking a steep hill without a backward glance. Other female guests at Grindstone Island, strolling with Gallagher on his family property, had stayed close beside him, attentive to his conversation.

Another peculiar thing: Hazel was the only visitor to the lodge in Gallaghers memory, female or male, who had not commented on the display of photographs. Guests were always exclaiming at the known faces amid the Gallaghers and their friends, looking so thoroughly at home. Some of the individuals pictured with the Gallaghers were wealthy, influential men whose faces Hazel would not have recognized, but there were numerous public figures: Wendell Wilkie, Thomas E. Dewey, Robert Taft, Harold Stassen, John Bricker and Earl Warren, Deweys vice-presidential running mates in 1944 and 1948. And there were Republican state congressmen, senators. It was Gallaghers habit to speak disdainfully of his fathers political friends, but Hazel had not given him the opportunity for shed said nothing.

She was ignorant of politics, Gallagher supposed. She had not been educated, hadnt graduated from high school. She knew little of the world of men, action, history. Though she read the occasional newspaper columns Gallagher wrote, she did not offer any criticism or commentary. She knows so little. She will protect me.

At last, Hazel had stopped hiking. She was waiting for Gallagher where the trail ended in a snarl of underbrush, in the pine woods. When he joined her, out of breath, sweating, she pointed at a scattering of feathers on the ground, amid pine needles and glistening ice-rivulets. The feathers were no more than two or three inches long, powdery-gray, very soft and fine. There were small bones, particles of flesh still attached. Gallagher identified the remains of an owls prey. There are owls everywhere in these woods. We heard them last night. Screech owls.

And owls kill other birds? Smaller birds? The question was naive, wondering. Hazel spoke with a pained expression, almost a grimace.

Well, owls are predators, darling. They must kill something.

Predators have no choice, have they?

Not unless they want to starve. And eventually, as they age, they do starve, and other predators eat them.

Gallagher spoke lightly, to deflect Hazels somber tone. Like most women she wished to exaggerate the significance of small deaths.

Hazels cheeks were flushed from the climb, her eyes were widened and alert, glistening with moisture. She appeared feverish, still excited. There was something heated and sexual about her. Almost, Gallagher shrank from her.

He was taller than Hazel Jones by several inches. He might have gripped her shoulders, and kissed her, hard. Yet he shrank from her, his eyes behind the dark glasses tremulous.

Damn: he was sweating, yet shivering. At this height the air was cold enough, thin gusts of wind from the river struck his exposed face like knife blades. Gallagher felt a stab of childish resentment, here was a woman failing to protect a man from getting sick.

He pulled at her arm, and led her back down the trail. She came at once, docile.

The owl of Minerva soars only at dusk.

Hazel spoke in her strange, vague, wondering voice as if another spoke through her. Gallagher glanced at her, surprised.

Why do you say that, Hazel? Those words?

But Hazel seemed not to know, why.

Gallagher said, Its a melancholy observation. Its the German philosopher Hegels remark and it seems to mean that wisdom comes to us only too late.

The owl of Minerva. But who is Minerva?

The Roman goddess of wisdom.

Some long-ago time, were talking of?

A very long time ago, Hazel.

Afterward Gallagher would recall this curious exchange. He would have liked to ask Hazel whom she was echoing, whod made this remark in her hearing, except he knew that she would become evasive and manage not to answer his question. Her manner was naive and girlish and somehow he did not trust it, not completely.

Why is it, do you think, the owl of Minerva soars only at dusk? Must it always be so?

Hazel, I have no idea. Its really just a remark.

She was so damned literal-minded! Gallagher would have to be careful what he told Hazel, especially if she became his wife. She would believe him without question.

They left the densely wooded area and were descending the hill in the direction of the lodge. Here in the open sunshine Gallagher would have been blinded without his dark glasses. A smell of skunk lifted teasingly to their nostrils, faint at first and then stronger. It might have been emanating from a stand of birch trees, or from one of the guest cabins. At a distance the smell of skunk can be half-pleasurable but it is not so pleasurable at close range. That inky-cobwebby odor that can turn nauseating if you blunder too close.

Families of skunks sometimes hibernated beneath the outbuildings. The warm weather would have roused them.

Skunks have to live somewhere. Just like us.

Hazel spoke playfully. Gallagher laughed. He was liking Hazel Jones again now that she wasnt leading him up the damned mountain to a heart attack.

Gallagher tried the doors of several cabins until he found one that wasnt locked. Inside, the air was cold and very still. Like an indrawn breath it seemed to Gallagher who was feeling unaccountably excited.

The cabin was made of weatherized logs, built above a small glittering stream. Nearby were birch trees whose trunks were blindingly white in the sunshine. The interior of the cabin was partly shaded and partly blinding. There was a faint but pungent odor here of skunk. There were twin beds, new-looking mattresses loosely covered with sheets, and pillows without pillowcases. On the floor was a hook rug. Standing inside the cabin, with Hazel Jones, Gallagher felt a rush of emotion so powerful it left him weak. He had an urgent impulse to talk to her, to explain himself. He had not talked very seriously with her since coming to the island and their time together was rapidly running out. Tomorrow he would have to drive his little family back to Watertown, their individual lives would resume. He had bought a beautiful house for Hazel and the child but they had not yet come to live with him.

No child. He had no child. If you have lost your way it is best to have no child.

It was then that Gallagher began to speak haphazardly. He heard himself tell Hazel Jones how as a boy hed camped in the woods on summer nights, alone. Not with his brothers but alone. He had a pup tent with mosquito netting. The guest cabins hadnt been built yet. Noises in the woods had frightened him, hed hardly slept at all, but the experiences had been profound, somehow. He wondered if all profound experiences occur when youre alone, and frightened.

It was like wartime in a way, sleeping outdoors, in tents. Except in wartime you are so exhausted you have no trouble sleeping.

He told Hazel that his father had built most of the cabins after the war. Thaddeus had expanded the lodge, bought more land along the river. In fact, the Gallaghers owned property elsewhere in the Thousand Islands which was being developed, very profitably. Thaddeus Gallagher had made money during wartime and hed made a lot more money, after: tax laws highly favorable to the Gallagher Media Group had been passed by the Republican-dominated New York State Legislature in the early 1950s.

(Why was Gallagher telling this to Hazel Jones? Did he want to impress her? Did he want her to know that he was a rich mans son, yet innocent of acquiring riches, himself? Hazel could have no way of knowing if Gallagher shared in any of his family money or if-just maybe!-hed been disinherited.)

Hazel had never asked Gallagher about his family, no more than she would have asked him about his former marriage. Hazel Jones was not one to ask personal questions. Yet now she asked him, with a startling bluntness, if hed been in the war?

The war? Oh, Hazel.

Gallaghers wartime experience was not a subject he spoke of easily. His brash swaggering jocular manner could not accommodate it. His eyes snatched at Hazel Joness eyes, that were so glistening, intense. Just inside the cabin door they stood close together yet not touching. They were very aware of each other. In this small space their intimacy was unnerving to Gallagher.

Did you see the death camps?

No.

You didnt see the death camps?

I was in northern Italy. I was hospitalized there.

There were no death camps in Italy?

It seemed to be a question. Gallagher was uncertain how to answer. While hed been overseas, at first in France and then in the Italian countryside north of Brescia, he had known nothing about the infamous Nazi death camps. He had not really known much about his own experience. Twenty-three days after landing in Europe hed been struck by shrapnel in his back, knees. Around his neck hed worn a collar thick as a horse collar and hed gotten very sick with infections, and later with morphine. He understood that hed witnessed ugly things but he had no access to them, directly. It was as if a scrim had grown across his vision, like a membrane.

Now Hazel Jones was regarding him with a curious avid hunger. Gallagher could smell the fever-heat of the womans body, that was new to him, very arousing.

Why did the Nazis want to kill so many people? What does it mean, some people are unclean-impure-life unworthy life?

Hazel, the Nazis were madmen. It doesnt matter what they meant.

The Nazis were madmen?

Again it seemed to be a question. Hazel spoke with a peculiar vehemence, as if Gallagher had said something meant to be funny.

Certainly. They were madmen, and murderers.

But when Jews came to the United States, the ships carrying them were turned away. The Americans didnt want them, no more than the Nazis wanted them.

Hazel, no. I dont think so.

You dont think so?

No. I dont.

Gallagher had removed his dark glasses. He fumbled to slip them into his jacket pocket, but they slipped from his fingers to the floor. He was startled and somewhat repelled by Hazels intensity, her voice that was strident, uncanny. This was not Hazel Joness melodic female voice but anothers, Gallagher had never heard before.

No, Hazel. Im sure that wasnt the case, what youre saying.

It wasnt?

It was a diplomatic issue. If were talking about the same thing.

Gallagher spoke uncertainly. He wasnt sure of his information, the subject was vague to him, distasteful. He was trying to remember but could not. His breathing was coming quickly as if he were still hiking uphill.

The ships docked in New York harbor but immigration officials wouldnt let the refugees in. There were children, babies. There were hundreds of people. They were sent back to Europe, to die.

But why did they return to Europe? Gallagher asked. He had a flash of insight: he could debate this. Why, if they might have gone elsewhere? Anywhere?

They couldnt go anywhere else. They had to return to Europe, to die.

There were refugees who went to Haiti, I think. South America. Some refugees went as far away as Singapore.

Gallagher spoke uncertainly. He really didnt know. Vaguely he recalled the editorials in the Gallagher newspapers, as in many American newspapers, in the years before Pearl Harbor, arguing against American intervention in Europe. The Gallagher newspapers were very much opposed to F.D.R., in editorials F.D.R. was charged with being susceptible to Jewish influences, bribery. In the columns of certain commentators F.D.R. was identified as a Jew, like his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. For a confused moment the scrim shifted in Gallaghers memory and he saw with a childs curious eyes, a sign in the lobby of a dazzling Miami Beach hotel jewish persons are asked not to frequent these premises. When had that been, in the early 1930s? Before the Gallaghers acquired their private Palm Beach residence on the ocean.

Gallagher said, faltering, Much of this has been exaggerated, Hazel. And it wasnt only Jews who died, it was all sorts of people including Germans. Many millions. And more millions would die under Stalin. Children, yes. Babies. Upheavals of madness like volcanos spewing lavaYou understood, if you were a soldier, how impersonal it is. History.

Youre defending them, then. Much has been exaggerated.

Gallagher stared at Hazel, perplexed. He felt an undercurrent of revulsion for the woman, almost a fear of her, she seemed so different to him, suddenly. He touched her shoulders. Hazel? What is it?

Much has been exaggerated. You said.

Hazel laughed. She was blinking rapidly, not looking at him.

Hazel, Im so sorry. Ive been saying stupid things. You lost someone in the war?

No. I lost no one in the war.

Hazel spoke harshly, half-jeering. Gallagher made a move to embrace her. For a moment she held herself rigid against him, then seemed to melt, to press herself against him, with a shudder. A wave of sexual desire struck Gallagher like a fist.

Hazel! Dear, darling Hazel

Gallagher framed the womans face in his hands and kissed her, and she startled him with the vehemence of her response. They stood in a patch of blinding sunshine. Beyond the cabin, air shimmered with sunshine, there was a glare like fire. Hazel Joness mouth was cold, yet seemed to suck at Gallaghers mouth. Awkwardly, like one unaccustomed to intimacy, with a kind of desperation she pressed against him, her arms around him tightening. There was something fierce and terrible in the womans sudden need. Gallagher murmured, Hazel, dear Hazel. My dear one, in a rapt, crooning voice, a voice distinct from his own. He drew her into the cabin, stumbling with her, their breaths steamed, nervously they laughed together, kissing, trying to kiss, fumbling to embrace in their heavy outdoor clothing. Gallagher drew Hazel to one of the twin beds. Beneath the loose, discolored sheet the mattress was bare. A smell of skunk, bestial, intimate, lifted through the floorboards. It was a strangely attractive odor, not so very strong. Fumbling, laughing, yet without mirth, for she seemed very frightened, Hazel was pulling at Gallaghers jacket, and at the belt of his trousers. Her fingers were clumsy, deliberate. Gallagher thought As she has undressed the child, the mother undressing the child. He was astonished by her. He was utterly captivated by her. So long had Hazel Jones resisted him, and now! In a swath of blinding sunshine they lay on the mattress, kissing, straining to kiss, continuing to fumble with their clothing. Gallagher had long advised himself She is not a virgin, Hazel Jones is not a virgin, I will not be forcing myself upon a virgin, Hazel Jones has a child and has been with a man but now, this Hazel Jones was astonishing to him, gripping him tightly, drawing him to her, deeply into her. In a frenzy the womans mouth sucked at his, he was losing consciousness of himself, in a delirium of animal urgency and submission. In the womans arms he would be obliterated, this was not natural to Gallagher, had not been his experience, not for many years. Not since late adolescence, when Gallaghers sexual life had begun. Now, he was not the stronger of the two. His will was not stronger than Hazel Joness will. He would succumb to the woman, not once but many times for this was the first of many times, Gallagher understood.

Her hair that was damp with perspiration stuck to his face, his mouth. Her breasts were much larger, heavier than hed imagined, milky-pale, with nipples large as berries. He was not prepared for the lavish dark hair of her body, spiky-black at her groin, lifting into her navel. He was not prepared for the muscular strength of her legs, her knees gripping him. I love love love you choked in his throat as helpless he pumped his life into her.

By quick degrees the sun expanded to fill the sky.


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