The Sound Of The String After Story

An Adventure of Her Own
   
    As the airplane touches the runway all of the passengers pull out their cell phones, Blackberries, and other digital handcuffs. They begin connecting to their lives outside of the plane. Some of them connect to their business, some to their family, and some just need to be connected to something, even sadly, if it’s just a satellite handshake to a saved file.
    Gordon just sits, content that his whole world is within inches of him and, though he may have outside responsibilities, nothing needs his immediate attention. Lise has already cleaned and straightened the seating area that she and Gordon occupy. Nervous energy consumes her. For the first time in her life she is living an adventure of her own.
    She has seen clients come in and out of her life and go into the bush while she’s waited patiently in camp. She’s made their evenings and mornings comfortable, calm, and warm with no surprises and nothing unexpected except the occasional birthday cake or special dinner request; maybe a romantic table for two by the river at sunset, complete with white linens and candles. She’s provided a special scotch or a fine cigar for the client who arrives by private jet. She’s accommodated diet restrictions, organic meals, vegetarian meals, specialty coffees and teas, crisp clean bed sheets inside a luxury tent, and turn down service. All of these things she’s given to hunters and wives for years, watching every morning as they drive into the bushveld for adventure and listening intently when they return, bringing with them the stories of the day. She’s done all of these things for others while having no adventure of her own. She’s never complained but always felt unfulfilled and stacked other things in her life on top of the feeling so it didn’t float to the surface.
    “Gordon, do you have everything?”
    “Yes Lise.”
    “Where’s your passport?”
    “In my pocket, where’s yours?”
    She nervously rifles through her purse at the suggestion that her passport may not be where she left it.
    “Here it is, right here, I’ve got it.”
    Gordon pulls Lise down into her seat. Surprised by his tight grip she looks at him not knowing if she’s done something wrong. Her eyes well with tears, and she looks down not knowing what else to do.
    “Gordon, I’m so scared.”
    “Lise, I’m here.”
    Her voice trembles, the pitch and volume both rise as she speaks,
    “Gordon, I have nothing. I’m sure by now all of my credit cards have been cancelled, the bank accounts were in Lucas’ name. I’m in a foreign country, away from my family, with a foreign man I barely know, and I have no clothes. The only thing I do have is some South African Rand and that’s worth next to nothing here.”
    The other passengers begin to stare at the couple, wondering if the young woman needs help or needs to be helped away from Gordon. Gordon takes both of her hands in one of his. He softly lifts her chin and moves the hair that’s covering her eye behind her ear.
    “Lise, you’ve known me for more than three years.”
    Sharply, as the fear surfaces, “I’ve known you for a minute here and there, an afternoon or two, and a couple of walks, one of which ended in tragedy.”
    “Lise,” he pauses and looks through her eyes and into the part of her that he knows holds the truth, “Lise, you may not know my life…but you know my heart. I won’t ever let anything happen to you, you know already Lise…that if you know my heart… you know I love you. You don’t need anything to make this work. It’s going to work. It’s already done.”
    She wraps him in her arms and the passengers resume doing the things that are their own business.
    “Gordon,” she whispers, “I love you too.”
    “Dry your tears Lise, we’ve got a lot to do, together, and Lise, please just believe.”
    “Gordon, now…I believe everything.”
    A porter catches Lise just as she approaches the baggage claim.
    “Bags Madam, can I carry your bags?”
    “No thank you.”
    “Madam, I’ll take your bags.”
    “Thank you no.”
    “I’ll carry them to your car for you.”
    “I don’t have any!”
    “You flew from South Africa with no luggage?”
    The stress of the badgering and reminding her of what she has done surfaces again. She spins on her heels to face the porter.
    “Yes, I flew from South Africa to America with no luggage. I bought a ticket at Johannesburg Airport with the money I had saved for three years in a Christmas account for an emergency. At the last minute possible I closed my account, bought the ticket, and boarded the plane. Three years I saved, since I met the man standing next to me. Three years I saved to risk it all and now I have nothing, nothing but him. I have no luggage, in fact, I have no clothes, I have no money but the change from my ticket, so please, sir, stop pestering me!”
    She spins back to take Gordon’s waiting arm and the baggage area erupts with applause at the stifling of the pestering porter. Lise blushes as she pulls in close again to Gordon.
    “Ten minutes in America Lise and you’re a hit.”
    “I’m so embarrassed.”
    “You could have just hit him, may have been more subtle.”
    “Don’t say that, Gordon.”
    “Lise, you gave him what he deserved.”
    “Gordon.”
    “Lise?”
    “I’m hungry.”
    “If you can wait just a little I’ll take you to some place special.”
    “I’m not dressed for someplace special.”
    “You’ll be fine, besides, we don’t have a choice do we?”
    “Don’t remind me, Gordon.”
    “We’ll take care of it all Lise, don’t worry. Lise your nervous and you have every reason to be nervous but the one thing you can’t be nervous about is me. Trust me like a child because that’s the way I trust you. I have no idea what’s going on in South Africa, what we’re in for or what we’ll loose; all I know is what I’ve gained and I’d loose everything and start over again if that’s what it takes to keep you. I also know what we need to do is breathe, while we can, just breathe. We’ll take care of the things we can now, the rest we’ll figure out.”
    “Gordon.”
    “Yes.”
    “Let’s go home.”
    He picks up the backpack, the duffle, and the bow case and they walk toward the exit. At the ramp heading outside she slips her thumb under the shoulder strap of the duffle and shifts it from his shoulder to hers. Gordon doesn’t protest because he knows it makes her happy to share the burden. The decision was hers and in the fragile place that she’s in what she needs most is to be in control of her own decisions. Offering or accepting a small gesture sometimes has value far greater than the gesture itself. They catch a shuttle bus to the long-term parking and then walk the rest of the way to Gordon’s jeep.
    “We have a jeep?”
    “It doesn’t carry much, it doesn’t pull much, it doesn’t look like much, but it’s fun to drive and it’s great for the snow.”
    “We have snow?”
    “Yes, Lise, we have snow. A few more months and we’ll have some.”
    “It’s so hot and humid, I can’t imagine we get snow.”
    “We get four good seasons in Virginia. I like fall the best, but spring is beautiful when everything turns green, summer can be miserably hot and humid like now, and winter everything turns grey and brown and looks dead but it’s just surviving the frozen earth and air until spring comes again.”

Going Home

    They drive to the exit and onto the highway and make for the little town that is their home. Gordon pulls off the highway and drives by the old polo fields.
    “Horses!”
    “Yep, this place is full of them.”
    “I want one!”
    “You do?”
    “I want a horse, a saddle, and I want boots and jeans, and a hat, a cowboy hat.”
    “You do? How about renting one first? Take a trail ride.”
    “You don’t like horses, Gordon?”
    “I love horses, Lise, but they’re a terrible amount of work and money. There’s boarding, feeding, exercising, bedding, shoeing, and tooth care, not to mention vet bills. An old man told me years ago about horses, you put money into the front and all you get is dung out of the back and that’s not a sound place to put your money. I think they’re a wonderful tool for someone who knows how to use them, it’s a beautiful thing watching them work and compete, but I’m just too simple to want a complication like a horse in my life. For me, they’re just  dung vending machines.”
    “I still want the boots and the hat.”
    “We’ll get you closets full if you don’t get the horse.”
    “Gordon, this is quite the adventure for me, I’m sorry if I act like a child.”
    “I asked you trust like a child, it’s okay to have wonder like one too.”
    They turn south and drive into town for some groceries before heading home. Lise sees the town come into view and reads all the store signs out loud.
    At the grocery store Gordon places a new can of baking powder, some fresh ground coffee, and seven Granny Smith apples into his cart without saying anything. Lise just looks at all of the isles, bright, neat and clean.
    “You should never go shopping when your hungry Gordon, you buy more than you need.”
    “Who told you that?”
    Not wanting to say his name out loud, she thinks about Lucas and the little things he did and said that, left on their own, wouldn’t amount to much but cumulatively turned into control. She says nothing.
    “Lise, it’s okay, we’re going to have times when both of our pasts find us, innocently, and we don’t have to fear them or give them any power. You can say Lucas, we can talk about Lucas, and we don’t have to hide from Lucas.”
    “I can’t yet, Gordon, thank you for saying that, but not yet.”
    She loses her interest in the grocery store so they pay for the three oddly un-similar items and leave.
    Across the road Gordon stops again.
    “What now?”
    “Come on, you’ll see.”
    They walk under a large lighted sign and into the store named Blueridge Outfitters. Past the camping and hiking, past the canoeing and kayaking, past the watches and sunglasses to the back left of the store where the women’s clothes are displayed. The racks are filled with colors and textures, cottons, synthetics, wools, and blends. Lise smiles but doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to spend money that’s not hers but the gesture is obvious. She just doesn’t know how to start and she’s never had a man shop for clothes with her so she looks but doesn’t touch anything.
    “I’ll bet you’re a small, a size four.”
    She blushes and says nothing like an awkward moment on a first date when something too personal is exposed. Gordon, enjoying the moment, walks headfirst into it.
    He pulls a pair of cargo pants off of the rack and holds them up, then a pair of shorts, slacks like khakis but with a sheen to them that makes them dressier.
    “Try them on, unless you don’t like them.”
    She smiles, grabs them in her arm, and disappears into the changing room. While she’s gone Gordon gets t-shirts, nice fitted button up tops, long sleeve pullovers, a fleece jacket, and a vest. He mixes and matches the clothes so they can be worn now and layered into the fall. He starts handing them over the top of the changing room door and the clothes fall to a pile because she can’t catch them all as fast as he drops them over.
    “Gordon stop!” She laughs, and he acts straight bewildered.
    “What Lise, we traded for a horse didn’t we?”
    She laughs again, “I’m gonna miss that horse!”
    She steps out with layers of clothes, tags hanging everywhere, and a big grin.
    “Do you like them?”
    “Love ‘em Gordy.”
    “Good, now it’s your turn.”
    “What do you mean, my turn?”
    “Go pick some for yourself.”
    “There’s so much already.”
    “That’s not much,” then he whispers, ”Besides, you need underwear.”
    “Gordy,” she whispers back grabbing his bicep with both her hands and pulling herself up close to his ear, “I don’t wear any.” Then she turns away with a grin and closes the dressing room door behind her, latching it with emphasis.     
    When she comes out Gordon takes the whole pile of clothes to the counter and tells the cashier they’re not quite finished yet. He walks back to Lise, still browsing the sale racks.
    “Let’s look at shoes, you need some sandals, a pair of hiking boots, some running shoes, and whatever else you like.”
    “Gordon, slow down.”
    “Well, you’re going to need them all so let’s get them.”
    “Gordon, it takes time to buy shoes and I really am hungry.”
    “Can’t we just go home?”
    Sad that she didn’t share his enthusiasm for the shoes he turns and takes both of her hands, “ I’m sorry Lise, I was a little carried away. I can get a little O.C.D. when I’m happy.”
    They pay for three large shopping bags full of clothes and go to the Jeep.
    “Gordon, I’ve got to tell you something.”
    Still feeling odd about how the shopping ended, Gordon expects the worst, “Yes Lise.”
    “I’ve never had a personal shopper, much less a man personal shopper.”
    He laughs.
    “That was really fun, Gordon, thank you.”
    “Pleasure, Lise, now let’s let a man make you dinner too.”
    “Pleasure, Gordon.”
    They turn west out of town and drive with the radio just above the wind noise of the Jeep.
    “Look at all of the trees, everywhere. I’ve never seen so many trees in one place.”
    “They’re beautiful aren’t they? See that one with the fruit that looks like a brain? That’s an Osage Orange tree.”
    “It’s creepy looking.”
    “Someday I’ll show you how to make a bow out of one.” A half hour out of town they turn off of the main road onto a two-lane, then off of the two-lane to a single gravel drive. As they make their way down through a canopy of oak trees they see Gordon’s girlfriends. He stops and rolls down the window.
    “Hi sweetheart, still nursing I see.”
    “Lise just watches as they come near.”
    “It’s okay, she won’t hurt you.”
    “Gordon, what are you talking about?”
    “You Lise, they’re afraid of you.”
    “You’re the hunter.”
    “I still love them Lise. Talk to them, they’re all girls.”
    “I can see that! Uh, hi babies, hi girls.”
    At the sound of the new voice the deer explode in all directions and run for safety. Across the creek bed a large doe turns to look at Lise, she stomps her foreleg, and blows in discontent before bounding out of site.
    “She told you,” Gordon laughs.
    “I think she’s jealous of the new girl.” Lise says.
    “She’ll get used to you, just talk nice to her. We’ll take  walks this way so they get to know you.”
    “I don’t know about that big one.”
    “We can always take care of her this fall.”
    “How can you talk to them, then kill them? I couldn’t do it.”
    “I’m a tender hunter Lise, a sensitive hunter, a peaceful hunter. I love them but realize the balance we share. You can love things and realize the need to take a few each year, like apples from a tree, or fish from a pond. You have to have balance and perspective. I love apples, I love fish from the pond, and I love deer. I eat them all and I’m very careful not to be greedy about any of them.”
    He drives on slow toward the little mountain ahead then turns left up the driveway and as they climb the hill he takes a breath, hoping she’ll like it.
    “Gordon, it’s beautiful.”
    “It’s not much but if you stay it’ll be something special.”
    “It already is, Gordon.”
    It’s just a little log cabin, alone in the woods, out of wind and harms way. It’s a place to rest, to meditate, to be safer than safe. Lise feels safer than she’s ever felt and she’s half a world away from all that she’s ever known that was safe in the past.
    They walk to the porch and find a dog waiting, moderately sized and obviously mixed. Gordon sits in the chair and Lise sits in the other beside him.
    “Hey Boo, how you been?”
    The dog moves into Gordon and puts its head down offering the back of its neck to a scratch.
    “Aw Boo, I missed you too.”
    “Boo?”
    “Sorry Lise, please allow me to introduce you.”
    “Please.”
    “Miss Lise, may I introduce to you Mr. George E. Boo and Boo, may I introduce to you Miss Lise (not wanting to say her last name) our new…well…just…it’s a long story Boo so just love her like I do.”
    The dog shifts his head up, wags his stump tail, and pants. He steps to the right and in between Lise’ legs. He submissively buries his forehead into her lap. It’s the first time she’s touched a dog since Mika and when she digs her fingers into the thick coat behind his ears tears fall from her eyes. She bends over to smell him, he’s old but still smells like a puppy, she puts her fingers under his jaws and pulls him firm into her face and cries. 


Where’s The Fire

    Gordon leaves Lise and Boo to bond. He opens the house and the front and back windows to get the air moving. He turns the oven on 425 and grabs a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup, and the rest of the stuff he needs from a small pantry with a heavy, rough sawn wooden door. He talks to himself while Lise and Boo walk to the edge of the yard where the woods begin.
    “Two cups flour, two-thirds cup shortening, a little salt, a little more sugar, two heaping tablespoons of baking powder, and one cup of milk.”
    He mixes all of the dry ingredients then cuts in the shortening until it all looks like rough cornmeal. Then, he adds the milk, only as much as he needs to get the dry mix wet, and folds it all together. He throws the dough onto the counter and spreads it thick by hand and then cuts eight biscuits with a drinking glass. He folds the leftover dough into the ninth. Carefully the dough rounds are placed into a small, square, baking pan so they are bound at the sides and will rise instead of spread. Wetting his fingers with the leftover milk he pats the tops of the biscuits until they are mostly covered, then he opens the oven door and slides them onto the middle rack to bake.
    While he cleans he looks out to see Lise and the dog lying in the leaves. Boo’s head on her stomach and Lise with a big handful of last falls leaves to her face smelling the earthy, musty, organic connection to the land that’s now her home. He washes the bowl, and cuts the apples into chunks. He adds a handful of sugar, a few tablespoons of flour, a heaping spoon of cinnamon, a little nutmeg, and some brown sugar. He makes his grandmother’s crust recipe and rolls the halves onto waxed paper. He looks out again to see Boo licking tears from Lises’ face, he’s not sure weather to go to her or let her have the moment to herself. He trusts the dog and knows if something were wrong Boo would fetch him.
    He flips a crust into an old, glass pie plate and carefully kneads it into the bottom then pokes a few holes through it. The filling is dumped in and piled high, then Gordon slices six pats of butter and arranges them evenly onto the gooey apple mixture. The other crust goes on top and the entire overhanging excess is rolled up and onto the edge of the plate. Gordon takes a sharp paring knife and makes delicate cuts into the top that look like apple leaves and the pie is complete. Out come the biscuits, in goes the pie and then the rush starts,
    “Come on lets go, Lise.”
    “I thought you were making dinner.”
    “I said a man was making you diner, I didn’t say it was me. Get in the jeep we’ve gotta run.”
    He starts the jeep and drives to the dog and Lise before they are off the ground and pushes the door open. The dog gets there first and takes his normal seat, in front, next to Gordon; he looks confused at Lise, wondering where she’s going to sit and then queries Gordon for the answer.
    “Back, Boo…back.”
    Not well received, the dejected dog goes where he is told. He makes it plainly obvious by his passive aggressive slowness that he’s not happy with the new order in the jeep.     Lise sits and before she can say anything Gordon drives off.
    “Where’s the fire?”
    “In the oven if we don’t get home in an hour.”
    “Where are we going?”
    “To see a friend of mine.”
    “We have to see him before dinner? Why are you driving so fast? You’re making me nervous.”
    “Yes, to get to his house on time, and trust me. Put your seat belt on and hold that pan of biscuits between your feet.”
    They slide onto the gravel road and go opposite the way they came in. Deeper into the woods they pass small houses, trailers, and shacks. They pass a few old family farms and Lise admires the rolling pastures, ponds, and Black Angus cattle. Too many lefts and rights for her to keep up with and all of the landscape vaguely the same.  She wonders how she’ll ever find her way around this place and she starts, again, to feel alone.
    Gordon, in his rush to please her, neglects to think about the strangeness of what he’s doing. He drives on thinking of pleasing her without realizing she’s not pleased at all.
    “Gordon, can’t you slow down?”
    “We’re almost there Lise, just bear with me a minute longer.”
    They pass a faded white country church, the Pastors house beyond it and just after there’s a home with a sign. A large sign with flames in yellow, red, and black and a pig. Lise reads the words, “Sonny’s Best”.
    Gordon pulls in and parks behind the two cookers made from five hundred gallon fuel tanks both softly releasing thick, grey hickory smoke. Relieved at the time he made, he slows himself, remembers her feelings and says,
    “Lise, I’m sorry that was a little rushed but it’s all good now we’re here, and this is one of the places I cherish, I hope you understand.”
    He picks up the biscuits from the floor and hurries to her side so he can open her door for her.
    “Stay Boo, we’ll be back.”
    They walk inside the house and Lise finds it’s not a house but a little country store with a living area built onto the back. Behind the counter is a tall, old black man, skinny enough to show the veins under his skin, with large hickory smoked glasses, and a cigarette wedged into the far left corner of his mouth. He smiles and the dingy little country store becomes brighter, and so does Lise. There is a wood stove in the corner and the dust, bark, and debris from last winter’s woodpile is swept neatly into a pile but still on the floor. The floors are worn old heart pine never having been refinished since the home was built decades, maybe a century before. The counter and display fixtures are old quarter sawn oak from years past too. The kind you would see in old pharmacies or banks.
    Next to the cash register sits a large jar of hard-boiled eggs submerged in pink pickling liquid. Beside the jar is a plastic set of tongs for retrieving the eggs still wet from recent use. A hand written sign on a 3” x 5” card is taped to the jar, it reads Boneless Chicken. Lise notices the sign and wants to laugh out loud but isn’t sure in her new surroundings if it’s a joke or not so she keeps it to herself.
    “Gordon! How you been? It’s good to see you.”
    “Hey Sonny, I missed you, brought you some biscuits.”
    “Brought something else I see, who’s this lovely lady?”
    “Lise may I,” she nods, “Lise this is the best barbeque cook in the state, and his name is Sonny, Sonny this is my,” he stumbles, “this is Lise and I am lucky enough to have her staying with me for a while.”
    “Man you are lucky, maybe if you and the dog don’t screw up you two can convince her to stay.”
    “That’s what I’m hoping Sonny.”
    “Well, it’s my pleasure Miss Lise.”
    Fully blushed she shakes his hand and says, “Pleasure Mr. Sonny.”
    “Sonny please, everyone calls me Sonny.”
    “Pleasure.”
    “So Sonny, this is Lise’ first time here from South Africa and you’re the first meal we’ve had since we’ve landed so can we have just a small sample of everything to go.”
    “Have an iced tea on the porch and give me ten minutes, I’ll fix ya up good.”
    “Thanks Sonny, you’re the best.”
    “That’s what the sign says.”
    They both smile and look each other in the eye because Gordon meant the compliment deeper than the flamboyant, cartoon road sign. They both know it but, as men do with each other, bypass the depth of their respect for each other and move quickly forward as if the emotion didn’t happen but remembering to themselves that it did.
    Lise and Gordon sit on the porch sipping iced tea while Sonny goes to work assembling his best. Pulled pork from a dry rubbed Boston Butt that was eight hours in the smoker, the last two finished in a shallow bath of vinegar water; pork ribs with a hardened “bark” on the outside and pink flesh underneath that falls off of the bone; chicken breasts wearing crispy skin painted with Sonny’s own recipe barbeque sauce. He lights another cigarette and pulls down three small plastic containers for the sides. Green beans cooked all day with bacon, vinegar, and a few hot peppers, creamy fine cut coleslaw, and potato salad, thick cut with small bits of sweet pickles, celery seeds, and dose of hot, dry, English mustard. Everything is loaded into a plain brown bag and as Gordon pays he shakes Sonny’s hand again and says,
    “Sonny, thanks again for everything.”
    “Good to see you alive man.”
    “You to Sonny.”
    Gordon turns to leave and as he pushes open the screen door with his knee Sonny says,
    “Hey Gordy.”
    “Yep.”
    He tosses a biscuit across the store to Gordon who catches it in his left hand.
    “Boo may need a snack for the ride home. Hate to torture the dog with all of those good smells.”
    “Thanks Sonny.”

Dinner For Two

    Opening the door, Lise walks into the home for the first time. She breathes the rich, thick, smell of apple pie. Gordon spreads all of the food out on the dining room table and Lise finds the plates and flatware and makes two place settings. Gordon checks the pie and they sit down to eat.
    “Lise, can I say a blessing?”
    “Of course you can.”
    He takes her hand and bows his head, “Dear Lord, we thank you for this food you’ve provided, for our time on earth thus far, and for your time on our behalf. We hope and pray for the people we have left behind, that you care for them like you have us, and we pray that all of those less fortunate than us receive the many blessings that you have given us. We also hope that some day we will be forgiven by you, and forgiven by them. Amen.”
    A weepy “Amen” comes from Lise.
    “It’s going to work Lise, if you ever have any doubt I’ll bring you all of the way home myself and see that you get wherever you want to be safe, I promise, Lise. So let’s eat.”
    She pulls in a deep breath and starts at the food with both hands. A small portion of everything is neatly assembled onto her plate and she tries to act as polite as she can stand too, eating delicately, and slowly. Gordon sees the restraint and the pressure inside not to load everything into her mouth at once so he raises three ribs still together and says,
    “Lise, sometimes, you just gotta use your fingers!”
    At that he devours the ribs, eating them sideways at first to remove the main slabs of meat, then sliding the bones through his front teeth one at a time, scraping every bit of spice and meat that remains. He finishes the first volley with the ribs and looks at her with a clown-like smile from the gooey spice stain spreading from the corners of his mouth. She laughs and attacks her plate like a dog that only gets fed once a day.
    Gordon leaves the table not bothering to ask to be excused because Lise’ mouth is full and her attention is fixated on her plate. He opens a Cabernet and pours two glasses, removes the hot apple pie from the oven to cool, sets a carton of vanilla ice cream on the counter to soften.
    “Cheers Lise.” He holds his glass toward her. She wipes her mouth and hands clean, and raises her glass.
    “To us, Gordon, to us.”
    The glasses touch and the meal, almost recklessly, continues until they are both satisfied that their lives at the moment are complete.
    Gordon collects the dishes and urges Lise just to sit and let him do for her tonight. He clears the table to new again, pours a second glass of wine for each of them, and attends to the pie. He cuts the pie with an extremely sharp filet knife making as little damage to the crust as possible and places two small slices onto dessert plates he’d slipped into the oven to warm after the pie was removed. He wets a tablespoon under the faucet and draws it through the ice cream horizontally to craft a long slab, instead of a scoop, that covers the pie slices evenly. Finally, he dips into the fresh coffee bag and pinches three fingers of the dark, rich, grounds and sprinkles them on top of the deserts letting the grounds spill at will onto the ice cream, the crust, and plate below. Holding them high above his head like a flamboyant waiter he delivers one to Lise setting it down in front of her as if he were presenting something alive and fragile.
    “Oh my, Gordon, it’s beautiful.”
    “I hope it’s good, it’s been a while since I’ve had anyone to cook for.”
    She cuts down through the end with her fork and makes a path through the coffee grounds. As she takes it into her mouth she closes her eyes to enhance her concentration.
    “Now take a sip of the Cabernet Lise, can you taste it? The pungent coffee and the oak of the Cab wake up your taste buds. The fruits in the wine and the apples make them happy, then the shortening, the cream, and the vanilla blankets your pallet and smoothes it all away.”
    “It’s wonderful Gordon, I couldn’t have done better myself.”
    “It’s just pie, Lise, it’s a simple thing. A simple pleasure in a good moment, it makes me very content.”
    She finishes the pie slowly and thinks about what Gordon had said. She ponders her own list of best pleasures, a conversation, a good meal with a friend, sitting in the sun, smelling the rain, being held, a glass of wine, and a hot shower.
    “Lise, are you here?”
    “Oh, sorry, I was drifting.”
    “I could see that, anything I can do?”
    “I need a shower.”
    “Right there.” He points to the bedroom.
    “I’ll do the dishes, take a shower, take a bath, or whatever you need.”
    She picks up the wine glass and kisses him on the cheek as she leaves him at the table.
    In the bedroom she finds small bathroom with cedar paneling, white tiled floor, and a claw-foot tub with a wrap around shower curtain. She turns on the hot water and while it’s warming up she undresses, adjusts the temperature, and slips between the curtains. The steam consumes her, the water makes her skin turn red, and she turns to put her face just below the showerhead and breathe in the heat. She looks down to see the grime from her body running down the drain and she thinks that it’s the last part of Africa that she’s carried with her. It makes her sad to see it go.
    Gordon finishes the dishes thinking what a wonderful thing it is to have Lise in the house. He looks into the living room to see Boo asleep in front of the woodstove that won’t be lit for three more months. With the kitchen squared away he walks into the bed room to find Lise face down on the bed laying on top of the white cotton sheets wearing one of Gordon’s oxford dress shirts, sleeves rolled up, and her legs extending from a pair of his boxer shorts. He sits at the foot of the bed and picks up her foot and begins to massage it rolling his fist along the bottom. She makes no sound at all so he continues with the other foot.
    “Gordon, we have to talk.”
    “I know, Lise.”
    “I am so happy right now, and I’m so comfortable here.”
    “I’m happy to hear you say that, Lise.”
    “It’s just that…”
    “Lise, I know. You are a married woman.” Her muscles constrict at the sound of it, she can’t believe what she’s doing. She pushes her face into the pillow in shame. She thinks about her mother and father, and how she was raised not to do this kind of thing. She thinks about her friends and then she thinks of seeing Lucas and his lawyer in court.
    “Lise, listen to me please, people are going to say awful things about you and me. I don’t care what they think about me, I know who I am. I do hope your parents to learn to like me some day. Lise, I don’t want what they say about you to be true. No matter what they say, we’ll know the truth. I want to laugh with you, and when you need it, cry with you. I want to walk with you, hold you, and build a life with you. What you think I want I do want, Lise, but it can wait. It can wait until the business with your past life is completely complete. We have more than that now, and we have that to look forward to. I want you to be free of all of your burdens, like no other people ever existed in our lives or ever will again, and I want it to be you that tells me when it is our time.”
    Lise rolls over and looks at the ceiling and tears roll from the outside corner of each eye.
    “Gordon.”
    “Lise?”
    “You make me so happy.”
    “That’s all I‘ve ever wanted Lise. Just a chance… to make you happy.”
    She wraps him in her arms. He puts his nose into the nap of her neck, breathes and can’t believe it’s true. A tear squeezes from his eye and Lise feels it settle on her shoulder. They sit on the bed looking into each other’s eyes.
    “Lise?”
    “Yes Gordon?”
    “The spare bedroom is on the other side of the house. I’ll be there. I'll you meet me for breakfast?”
    “Pleasure, Gordon, Pleasure,” and as she pulls away she kisses him.
    “Sleep well, Gordon.”
    “Thank you, Lise, sweet dreams.”