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ON THE COVER
It was her brother Sherman, calling from Denver. Natalie carried the handset back to the dark living room, where she could look out toward where she knew the mountain was. She told Sherman about the letters in the village paper, the Valle Bosque Beacon. She told him she wasn’t certain if she should be frightened or not.
I’ll be there tomorrow, Sherman said. Natalie knew that in one way, it was a response to what she’d said. Still, she was surprised: As she had learned throughout their mostly separate adult lives, Sherman’s visits occurred as preludes to whatever move was coming next. She’d thought Sherman had finally settled in Denver, in a way he hadn’t in LA or Phoenix, or even in Manhattan, where they had grown up. She’d often hoped that by the time they were both in their fifties, Sherman would have found a place to call home, as she had, although it had recently occurred to her that it was possible that, unlike her, a home was not what he desired.
I don’t need protection, she said, but she was glad he would be there.
She and Sherman had always had a special bond. Maybe it was because Sherman had been born only thirteen months after her. Maybe it was because their parents had been much older than those of their friends. But sibling rivalry had never been an aspect of their relationship. Their parents had believed in them, trusted them, and left them to themselves.
Do you remember how it was when we were growing up? Natalie asked Sherman now.
Sherman laughed. I remember that you always had your nose in a book. Some things don’t change, do they?
No, Natalie said. They don’t. But I was thinking about Mother and Daddy. How they believed in us.
Are you okay, Nat? Are you sure you’re not worried about the guy who wrote that letter to the editor?
I was just thinking how, while everyone wished for fairy tale parents, you and I understood that the parents we had were far better than any about whom we had read in the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.
Are you depressed? Sherman asked. Is that why you’re thinking of Mother and Daddy?
I’m not depressed. I’m looking forward to your visit. I was thinking about how close we’ve always been. How close we are still. How, even though we’re both solitary sorts, we know the other will be there, when we need him or her.
Sherman didn’t respond immediately. Natalie tried to picture him in his condo in Denver, but it was a place she’d never been. She put him on a balcony, looking out across the city lights toward the Rockies. He wouldn’t be able to see them any more clearly than she could see Sandia Mountain from where she was sitting in the dark, she thought.
I try to be there, Sherman said at last. I know you’ll be there.
It’s not like I need you, Natalie reminded him in her stern big sister voice.
Now Sherman laughed. No. It’s not like you need anyone. Especially me.
But she did need him, Natalie thought. She might not need anyone else, but Sherman’s existence was as essential to her as her dream of seeing a coyote. Natalie realized that Sherman was waiting for her to speak. I’ll be here, she said. Then they said their goodbyes.* * *
Alison never used to watch TV, but now she turned it on every night after she’d tucked Rachel in. She hated being alone. She’d never been alone in her life until now, and she felt her solitude as a hollowness that might envelop her until she herself ceased to exist.
Tonight she was watching a rerun of some made-for-TV movie she hadn’t even considered watching the first time and didn’t want to watch now, either. The girl who’d been in Little House on the Prairie was in it, but she wasn’t a girl anymore, and one of the guys from St. Elsewhere or maybe it was Hill Street Blues. Old TV stars never died; they just got older and made shitty movies.
Alison was drinking bourbon. This wasn’t a good sign. She didn’t even like bourbon, but she’d wanted something that tasted like how she felt and it was what she’d found when she opened the cupboard where Chris had kept the hard liquor. Wild Turkey. What a name for something you drank. Did it indicate how you’d feel after a couple, or how you felt before you began? She’d had a couple and she didn’t feel wild; she felt even emptier than when she’d started.
She’d thought they’d been reasonably happy. Well, she amended, they’d been mostly happy. Or, she could say, often happy. Okay, sometimes happy.
All right, she admitted it: Sometimes it had been worse than a made-for-TV movie.
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