For someone born and bred right here in the rainwater basin of the central great plains, Llewellyn Jones—the mayor and presumptive leader of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska—is showing a sad lack of common sense. His ladyfriend and bedfellow for the past twenty-five years, Alvina Closs, is flummoxed.
“Can’t you wait an hour?” she is saying.
“You can still get in nine holes—maybe even eighteen—after it blows over.”
“I’ve got a tee time reserved,” he answers. “I’m expected.”
“We don’t live in Miami!” Alvina counters, shrilly. “It’s not as if there’s a crowd of people waiting to play. Why can’t you wait?”
“I’m going now, Viney,” he says. Just like that. No explanation. No compromise.
“You and your goddamned golf.”
He gives her a level, noncommittal look. “I’ll be home by happy hour,” he says. Then he turns around and walks up the stairs and toward the bedroom, his posture erect, his gait processional. If he thinks I’m going to follow him up there, Viney says to herself, molars clenched, he’s got another thing coming.
Plenty of others share Viney’s agitation. The smallest and least civilized townsfolk are the most distraught: the babies, all of them, even the easy ones, are confounding their mothers with uncharacteristic, colicky behavior. The babies have been fed and changed and burped and read to and sung to and walked and held but still they are out of sorts. They are determined to cry, naptime be damned. There are grumpy toddlers, too, throwing tantrums, caterwauling in unison. Family pets all over town are nervous and misbehaving—fluttering, howling, hissing, gnawing, mauling lace curtains, and mangling good leather shoes even though they know better. Premenstrual girls are arguing with their mothers, moping in front of the television, or daydreaming on polyester bedspreads behind violently slammed doors. Teenage boys contemplate their troubled complexions with dismay. Afternoon trysts are not going well. Noses tickle without relief. The carpenters in town curse and measure again, cut again, curse again, measure again. At the Williamses’ mansion, Miss Hazel’s most promising student strikes a C-sharp. Hazel cringes in the parlor; in the kitchen, her younger sister, Wauneeta, cringes, too. Downtown at the piano hospital, Blind Tom experiences a sudden unaccounted-for burst of tinnitus as he applies a cotton swab saturated with milk to a stained bit of ivory he found last week by the side of the road near Hallam. Next to the old train depot, the aged citizens encamped at the St. David’s Home for the Elderly are experiencing intestinal problems; not a one of them, not even Mr. Eustace Craven, whose bowels have emptied like clockwork for every one of his ninety-eight years, has had a decent BM all day.
And in the living room of the house that has been Llewellyn Jones’s primary place of residence for a quarter of a century, Viney turns her back on the mayor and plants herself at the picture window—arms folded, mouth adamantly stitched shut, brows lowering, wearing an expression that no one but her dearest friend has ever seen.
Viney rarely frowns. She does five minutes of facial exercises and acupressure every morning and makes an effort to keep her countenance (a word she routinely mispronounces as continence) relaxed and neutral. Time needn’t be the enemy. A person doesn’t have to spend a fortune on face-lifts and creams. Alvina Closs is seventy-four years old, almost seventy-five, but she looks at least ten years younger. Maybe even fifteen.
She scrutinizes the ballooning clouds advancing from the south. The baby-blanket blue of the sky is darkening, graying. She can hear Llewellyn banging around in the bedroom, opening and closing bureau drawers. He must be changing into his shorts.
Viney can’t for the life of her imagine what’s gotten into him. The mayor is usually so easygoing, a model of the compromising spirit. It’s one of the many reasons they’ve stayed together for so long.
Many positive things could be said of Viney’s late husband, Waldo, but a flexible nature was not one of them. They had sex in the same position their entire married life, and Waldo required some form of red meat at every meal. He’d choke down a slice of turkey at Thanksgiving, but that was the extent of it. Chicken? “Dirty birds,” he’d say, although that didn’t keep him from eating eggs fried in butter eight days a week. Fish? Forget it, even when his friends brought home fresh perch from the Big Blue. It was meat, meat, meat with Waldo, which is why—Viney knows this for a fact—he dropped dead of a massive heart attack when he was only thirty-two years old, leaving her a young widow with four kids. He had a beautiful body. She’s still mad at him.
The window needs cleaning. They haven’t had a good rain for days—although Viney’s oldest daughter said it sprinkled up in Omaha yesterday. The topsoil is parched, the wind has been relentless. There’s dust on everything. Viney takes up yesterday’s newspaper and her spray bottle of water and Coke and gets to it.
The picture window is a relatively new addition. Waldo installed it back in 1962, not long before he collapsed in the parking lot of the Surf’n’turf, where they’d gone to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Waldo was handy, that was one of his attributes. He made a lot of improvements to the house when he was alive. Up and down ladders, hammering, hoisting, sawing, drilling. All those comforting male noises.
Alvina Closs has been a widow longer than she was married. She’s been an adulteress longer than she’s been a wife. She would have dried up for sure, grown shut down there—and in her mind and heart, too—if it hadn’t been for Llewellyn Dewey Jones, and Hope.
Welly comes back downstairs and goes out through the kitchen door, not exactly slamming it but giving the action just enough oomph to set the door harp clanging overenergetically. What’s wrong with him?
Viney hears him out in the backyard, thumping his shoes together, clearing off the dirt between the spikes. She pictures great bricks of dense sod being flung about the yard, and then falling into a serene, elliptical orbit with Welly at the center: a small angry god in argyle socks, giving birth to a new solar system in which the terrain of every planet is an immense, impeccably groomed PGA golf course.
Viney resumes window-cleaning. She does a few nasolabial stretches and waits for Welly to reappear. Surely he won’t leave without patching things up.
Viney’s house is one of the oldest in town, if not the finest or fanciest: a whitewashed two-story saltbox built back in 1910 by her great-grandfather as a wedding present for her grandparents. Her mother, aunts, and uncles were born here, as was Viney, as were Viney’s four children. She keeps her house, and Welly keeps his, even though they’ve been sleeping together since the nation’s bicentennial.
In part, it’s for appearances’ sake—but it’s also because the house provides Alvina Closs with a sense of personal and historical continuity. Frankly, she’s never cared a good goddamn what people think of her and Llewellyn and their unusual arrangement, and she’s always deeply regretted the fact that Welly and the children didn’t move in here after Hope went up.
But that’s a sore subject and another story entirely.
Welly is in the attached garage now—another of Waldo’s contributions—opening the garage door with the remote. Maybe he won’t come back inside to say good-bye after all.
The phrase friable earth voices itself in Viney’s mind suddenly. Where has she heard that expression? What does it mean? She goes to look it up.
In 1966, Viney replaced the family Bible on the lectern with a massive Webster’s International Collegiate Dictionary. She makes a point of learning a new word every day and then using it in conversation. Staying mentally agile is crucial as one ages. There is no reason why a person should stop learning. Yesterday’s word was sangfroid.
And then she remembers: One of her granddaughters—the one who’s having so much trouble getting pregnant—told her recently that she was diagnosed as having a friable uterus. Viney was a registered nurse for over thirty years and maintains a keen interest in the medical field; nevertheless this expression was unfamiliar. She didn’t have the heart to ask what it meant at the time, and a good thing, too:
Friable, she reads. Brittle. Readily crumbled. Pulverable.
How in the world does a uterus crumble?
Viney looks up. Llewellyn has backed out of the garage and is loading his clubs into the trunk of his Marquis. He’s going then, without a word. His expression—normally so benign and handsome—bears a sour residue, the result, she supposes, of their recent spat.
The sex in the beginning was very good, probably because it felt illicit, even though their adultery was completely sanctioned—more than that, encouraged—by Llewellyn’s wife, Hope.
Viney and Welly still have sex, at least once a month, after lunch. Welly is an improviser, a person who bends, goes with the flow. They have their routines, of course, but overall their life together has been one of freedom, quiet adventure, and discovery—both in and out of the bedroom. Viney has kept them on a semivegetarian lacto-ovo diet since 1980—relying heavily on Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices: What’s Missing from Your Body? and The Vegetarian Guide to Diet and Salad by N. W. Walker. She credits this with their physical health, mental acuity, and active love life. Viney pictures the two of them engaged in stimulating conversation over glasses of beet juice until they are well into their hundreds. Dr. Walker himself lived to be 110. No one has yet found any reason whatsoever why the human body should die.
All those years ago, when she charged through the front door of McKeever’s Funeral Home, and, ignoring staff urgings to be reasonable (“State law my ass!” she proclaimed), stormed down to the basement prep room to see Waldo’s pre-embalmed remains—such a strange word in that context, remains, because at that point Wally was still all there—she noticed a protrusion, something like a tent pole, midway down the sheet.
“What’s that?” she’d asked, even though she had a pretty good idea. She was thinking about the fact that it was her fifteenth wedding anniversary, her husband was dead, and never once had they had sex with her on top.
Malwyn McKeever repositioned himself so that she no longer had a view of Waldo’s nether regions. “It’s a reflex,” Mal said, clearly embarrassed by the question. “A common postmortem reflex.”
“That figures,” Viney muttered. She had stopped crying and was starting to feel the undertow of a fierce, angry grief. She was young and foolish enough back then to believe that the worst thing in the world had just happened to her. She didn’t know anything.
She was curious to hear about how embalmers deal with postmortem stiffies—imagining this almost made her laugh—but Mal’s face was as pink as a medium-rare steak. So she picked out a coffin, signed the papers, and (vowing to never put herself through the experience of laying eyes on him again) bid farewell to her beautiful dead husband’s erect remains.
She could never in a million years have gotten Waldo to drink carrot-ginger juice on a daily basis or sit through a program on educational television.
Why, just last night she and Welly were watching one of those science shows on PBS about stem cell research and a whole new branch of study called regenerative medicine. There’s a group of doctors now who believe that people with spinal cord injuries can walk again. They’ve done things like remove stem cells from people’s noses and pack them into the spinal cords of people who’ve broken their backs or necks or are suffering from some other kind of damage to their nervous systems. Lo and behold, those cells start regenerating. People who’ve never been able to do so much as wiggle a toe have started flexing their feet! They’ve even done this with a person’s heart, a young boy whose idiot friend was playing around with a nail gun and shot him right through the left ventricle. Nobody believed it was possible to regenerate heart tissue, but sure enough, they’ve done it!
Viney tried to engage Welly in a conversation about the TV show when they were getting ready for bed, but for some reason he was unusually quiet (possibly the subject matter was upsetting given their shared history, the wheelchair-bound, and so forth) so she didn’t push him.
Even though they have never officially tied the knot, they are bound together in all the ways that matter—through the rituals of everyday living, dependability, courtesy, and an innate sense of when to talk and when to keep still.
All the emphasis on honesty these days is, in Viney’s opinion, a bad idea. Living with another human being is a stormy enough proposition without stirring up trouble over this and that and every last little thing. As far as she can tell, this obsession with talking and listening, sharing feelings and so on, hasn’t done one blessed thing for the institution of marriage. Just look at the statistics. Viney’s own children are example enough of the state of things: one divorced, one separated, one in counseling. None of Welly’s kids have ever even gotten married. Viney has always felt sad for them—and for Welly, too, with no grandbabies—but maybe it’s for the best. Cohabitation is not for the faint of heart.
Viney regrets getting snippy. She shouldn’t have made a fuss, pushed him like that. It’s one of those men things, a matter of pride, and there’s nothing she can do now to stop him. She watches him slam the trunk closed and walk around to the driver’s side door. He could use some new golf shoes. She got him that pair a couple of Christmases ago. It’s not like he hasn’t gotten good use out of them.
A wind kicks up. The bamboo chimes shudder; the whirligig in the rose bed spins madly. Welly starts the car. A cloud of exhaust is instantly dissipated.
It’s August! Viney thinks with sudden clarity. That’s what it is, that explains everything. The Joneses always get owly in late August. Criminy, the whole town does for that matter, it’s not as if what happened to them didn’t happen to the rest of us.
Welly’s children must be feeling it, too—Bonnie a few blocks away, Larken and Gaelan up in Lincoln. Poor kids. None of them are happy, none of them have ever really settled down. Viney glances at the photographs of Llewellyn and Hope’s children, prominently displayed on the fireplace mantle along with the pictures of her own blood kin.
Feeling a burst of sympathy and contrition, Viney hurriedly pushes open the screen door and scurries out to the curb to wave good-bye, but it’s too late. Welly is already turning the car onto Bridge Street. He doesn’t see her.
Viney sighs. That man does love to whack things with a stick. Funny. He’s not even very good at it.
She gives an assessing look to the accumulating clouds off to the southwest, checks the thermometer on the garage, and sniffs the air. The wind is high now, and cooling. The thick humid air that’s hovered over town for the past few days is being pushed aside.
Viney goes in. She changes into footless tights and a leotard. She’ll do her exercise video and then figure out something for dinner.
Maybe he’ll get to the club and run into Alan or Glen. They’ll have a drink. That’s probably what he’ll do. He won’t tee off when it’s sure to storm soon.
Viney shoves Young at Heart Yoga into the VCR and pushes the Play button.
While the FBI reminds her of the penalties associated with video piracy, she unrolls her mat, sits down in lotus, and closes her eyes.
It’s Friday. They’ll have frozen lemon pepper filets and that new Stouffer’s Spinach Souffle. She’ll whip up a salad from Dr. Walker’s cookbook. She’ll make a fresh lime and celery juice tonic and mix it with spring water.
The music begins. The steady, sangfroid voice of the yoga instructor encourages her to relax, relax. Breathe.
And for dessert, they’ll have big dishes of that fat-free rocky road that Welly likes so much.
The living aren’t the only ones unsettled. The dead—especially the fathers—are also perturbed by the mayor’s behavior.
There he goes, they’re thinking: kicking up dust with that gas guzzler he drives, hell-bent to engage in his favorite form of outdoor recreation, putting himself in the path of what any fool could see is a developing thunder cell, and at the worst possible hour of the day.
The dead fathers of Emlyn Springs are obstinate homebodies. They value routine. They keep close to their caskets.
This rootedness isn’t entirely owed to the fact that they’ve been planted in the landscape. For the farmers, it’s a matter of habit. They spent their lives knee-deep in loess, spring water, and manure; laying drain tile; planting, tending, and harvesting crops. A shackled vigilance to the soil and to the moods of the provincial sky was essential. It was possible to leave, but for a few hours at most, and only for the most pressing of reasons: a drive into town twice a year without fail to go to church; up to Beatrice to pick up a new transmission for the tractor; over to Branson, Missouri, to see traveling magicians, lion tamers, Up with People, or some other cultural event that the mother of their children arranged, and at which their presence, however grudging, was mandated. Ever black about the face and hands, pungent, abidingly crumby with dirt no matter how much they scrubbed, their bodies over time became so embedded with earth—and most of them lived long—that their skin evolved, adapted, developing a subdermal stratum composed of equal parts skin and soil. For the farmers, the transition to being dead and buried was hardly noticeable.
But even the nonfarmers are perfectly happy staying put. There may not be anything spectacular about the landscape in this part of Nebraska, but it’s home. If you leave, you’re gonna cry is what they’ve always said, but not everyone listens.
The most compelling reason behind their constant presence, however, is this: The dead are often called into service as what for lack of a better term could be called outfielders, catching those disquieted souls who die unwillingly, with rude, terrifying suddenness (victims of car accidents, gun blasts, natural disasters, and the like) and conveying them home. These kinds of deaths aren’t common in Emlyn Springs, but the dead fathers maintain a proud readiness.
In the meantime, they are not idle. Far from it.
Several of them are plein air painters. Being submerged in the landscape has given them a new appreciation for it. Their awareness of color is deeper and more refined; after all, they themselves provide at least some of those colors: the robust burgundy of milo seed heads, the eerily dense green of emerging soybeans. Many are engaged in ongoing scientific experiments. Others are linguists.
To label their pursuits as hobbies would be misleading. The dead fathers of Emlyn Springs are not dilettantes. They work long and hard. They postulate formulas and equations with assiduity and then set about the long, slow, solitary business of proof. This makes them very happy. Eternally happy.
Meet some of them. Observe their labors. Tread lightly.
Mr. Merle Funk, farmer (1874-1930), is preoccupied with subtle differences in grasshopper physiology. Waldo Closs, insurance salesman (1930-1962), studies the fragile nervous system of the four-leaf clover. Obediah Purdy, pharmacist and bicycle enthusiast (1826-1899), transcribes dialectical variations in bee-speak. And leading the landscape artists is Dr. Gerallt Williams (1902-2000), family physician and specialty carpenter.
When it comes to the animal kingdom, their studies are focused exclusively on native birds. They’re done with cattle and hogs. They’re fed up with chickens. Ezra “the Egg King” Krivosha (1888-1982)—who put Emlyn Springs on the map by promoting it as the Fancy Egg capital of the world—no longer cares one whit about the inner lives of exotic laying hens, but he’s fascinated by the social interactions of snow geese. And since his death a hundred years ago, Fritz Bybee, Esq., has been recording the genealogical history of a single family of pied-billed grebes.
Other dead fathers are engaged in researching the impact of weather upon the underbelly of the Nebraska landscape—and, by extension, upon all remains that are there interred: Mr. Roy Klump, owner of Roy’s Roofing (1930-1998), records the varying sound waves produced by different sizes of hail and notes their effect upon postmortem hair growth. Myron Mutter (1898-1982), pastor, observes the way that electrical currents passing through the earth in advance of a thunderstorm affect hearing loss. And Mr. Ellis Cockeram, podiatrist and choir-master (1903-1979), is devising a means of measuring tornado-force winds by observing the escalating sensations that occur in his left fourth metatarsal.
The dead are just as certain as the living that a storm is on its way today, and soon—not by observing the sky, but through a particular chemical agitation in the soil, along with various corresponding skeletal anxieties. (Thankfully, Mr. Cockeram’s toes are unaffected.) Their softer remains are growing incrementally more acidic, and the earthworms, preferring a sweeter cuisine, are burrowing away.
Dead fathers don’t ask for much: solitude and quiet and detachment from the emotional vicissitudes of the living. They don’t thrill to demonstrative mourners. They can’t abide recklessness. And nothing upsets them more than willful stupidity.
Ergo, as far as they’re concerned, Llewellyn Jones deserves whatever he gets for behaving with such reckless disregard for the rules of storm safety, rules that each and every one of them can tick off in their sleep.
And now the mayor is at the country club, parking his ’89 Marquis next to Bud Humphries’ ’84 F-150, shouldering his bag and heading directly for the first hole tee-off.
What the hell is he thinking?
Decoding the motivating forces behind human behavior is the academic province of dead mothers. In contrast to their male counterparts (those curmudgeons, digging in their fleshless heels, barking out rules with a catechismal self-importance), dead mothers—ah!—they travel.
They would insist, somewhat defensively, that travel is a requisite of their studies in cross-cultural behavioral psychology. But truth be told, it’s mainly because they are weight-sensitive. When grounded, the dead mothers feel every footstep of every human being all over the world.
It was something like this when they were pregnant. Their children’s feet trounced around inside them like so many mischievous elfin sprites. Bubbly, they were. Effervescent when they quickened, like soda pop in the gut. That was how they made their presence known. So lightly.
But now! The heaviness of all of them. The pitter-patter of little feet has become a nonstop cacophony of stones.
The dead mothers’ travels are interrupted when something of significance is about to happen, something involving a living child, for example, or a spouse. At such times, they are called back from wherever they are, whether it’s across the state or on the other side of the ocean. They come willingly, without resentment.
One among them is being called back now: Aneira Hope Jones (1940-1978). She is halfway around the world, visiting the town of Pwllheli on the Lln Peninsula of North Wales. Among the dead mothers of Emlyn Springs, Hope tends to travel farther and stay away longer; but then, she’s always been different.
Hope knows this much: Her presence is required, and so she sets out, returning to the land and the people with whom she was once one flesh.
Llewellyn Jones is teeing off. The dead are paying attention.
Rule Number One! Merle Funk barks out. Don’t go under a large tree that stands alone!
Lightning illuminates the sky. The dead fathers start counting:
One cornhusker, two cornhuskers, three cornhuskers . . .
Llewellyn is in the rough. Hope arrives—her unexpected appearance is barely noticed by her comrades—and she watches with the rest of them.
Rule Number Two! Fritz Bybee chimes in. Don’t stay in a place where you are taller than your surroundings!
He’s certainly played better, muses Roy Klump. He used to beat me on that hole every time.
Llewellyn’s wedge shot—into the pond—corresponds with the next thunderbolt, as if he himself were summoning the elements.
The air inside the clouds a mile to the southwest is becoming agitated. Groggy humidity is being dragged up from the earth.
Llewellyn is standing knee-deep in water.
Rule Number Three! the fathers cry together, Don’t fish from a boat or stand on a hilltop or in an open field!
To which Ellis Cockeram adds, Lightning kills more people than all other kinds of storms put together!
A tunnel of supercooled air is gearing up to jettison downward.
Llewellyn crests the hill to the green. He sinks the putt. More thunder.
The dead mothers join the fathers, chanting One cornhusker, two cornhuskers . . .
Picking up his ball, Llewellyn hurries to the number five tee-off, the highest point of the Emlyn Springs golf course. From here he can see miles in all directions—over to his family’s land, long ago vacated by them, not sold, but turned over to more capable and less sorrowful hands. He can see the cemetery where a cenotaph marks the place his wife, Hope, would be buried, if only they could find her. To the north are his two oldest children, out of harm’s way, he hopes, out of the danger zone. He imagines seeing his youngest, Bonnie, on one of the back roads, pedaling her bicycle in the furious way she’s had since she was small. But no. Whatever else her siblings think of her, Bonnie has a good head on her shoulders. She wouldn’t be out on her bike in weather like this.
Here he goes. Burying the tee. Settling into his stance.
What is the fool thinking? wonders Alvina’s dead husband, Waldo.
Rule Number Four! warns Pastor Myron Mutter, desperately. Never hold on to or be near anything made of metal!
Mayor Jones—whose first name is pronounced with a sound not found in the English language, a palatal push of air—breathes in the sight of his homeland, and then—Llewellyn—Hope whispers, sending her breath into the double l’s the Welsh way, giving his name the sound of a reticent breeze.
He looks down, prepares, still as granite. Suddenly he swings: his club arcs up—forcefully, theatrically, with intent—and then down, slamming into the ball as the thunder roars again, swinging through, cutting a semicircular swath through space and then freezing momentarily, long enough to form with his club a straight vertical line, a perfect conduit between earth and sky, and then there is a crack and a sizzle and a sword of light.
The motion of the ball outlasts the living force behind it; it hurtles skyward with a marvelous ease, and even after the mayor’s heart is stunned into stillness by ten million volts of electrical current, the ball sails onward, upward, disappearing into the roiling clouds, moving in opposition to the hail that is now beginning to fall.
In the clubhouse cocktail lounge—where there’s a good view of the fifth-hole tee—the mayor’s friends are temporarily confused. They cannot see that the single hailstone that seems to be rising miraculously in resistance to the laws of gravity is really an ordinary pockmarked Titleist 100.
Then their eyes, losing sight of the ball, trace a line earthward and land upon the stilled form of Llewellyn Dewey Jones (1934-2003), physician, baritone, four-term mayor of Emlyn Springs, Nebraska, and now-dead father.
Hail is bludgeoning the clubhouse roof. Bud Humphries, the country club bartender, town council chairman, and volunteer paramedic, snatches up the defibrillator and rushes outside. Hail, obedient, downward-falling hail, pummels his shoulders; he will be sore tomorrow and for weeks to come. This soreness will be fought with numerous applications of Bengay, which he will purchase from the town’s only drugstore, Lloyd’s Drugs, and here is Owen Lloyd now, pharmacist, war veteran, knocking over his martini glass in his haste to get down from the bar stool and call the fire station. The two other men in the clubhouse, Alan Everett Jones (no relation) and Glen Rhys Thomas, leave their peanuts and pitcher of beer and follow Bud outside, even though the storm is still directly, dangerously overhead. They go because they are men of Llewellyn’s generation, few in number, men who have stayed put as their sons and daughters moved away in all four directions, to bigger towns and even bigger cities.
They reach him, their fallen friend. Bud performs CPR, knowing that the mayor is gone, and yet still here, and so deserving of their best efforts. Llewellyn would have done the same for any of them. They could all tell a different story about a time they watched Dr. Jones labor over the body of some poor soul who had clearly passed on—and saw the look on his face when he couldn’t postpone that passage.
Owen Lloyd has finished his phone call and hurries outside—as best he can, with one good leg and one prosthetic one. He has remembered to bring a blanket.
These living men, fathers all, cover their friend, standing guard over him in the pelting hail, the pouring rain. They stand: waiting, witnessing. From town comes the sound of the firehouse siren. The volunteer firefighters, who they’ve known for years, known by their first and middle and last names, are on the way.
The storm subsides, passes. The air is cooling. Bud stops giving CPR. They might as well carry Llewellyn inside.
The babies fall into a tear-stained slumber, so exhausted that they may even bless their frazzled mothers by sleeping through the night. In the bodies of the teenage girls who are not yet mothers the blood arrives. One native son sneezes, another has an orgasm. A teenage boy pops a pimple. A toenail falls off. The carpenter slides the board into place. In Miss Hazel Williams’s parlor, the piano student strikes a B-natural. At St. David’s, Eustace Craven finally succeeds in moving his bowels.
The dead sigh and look to the place where Llewellyn will be buried, right over there, next to the unoccupied bit of earth that has been reserved for his wife. Cenotaphs are such a waste of real estate.
The rain comes and soaks the ground. Cool and clean, it is a great relief to all concerned. The dead get back to work. They barely registered Hope’s presence, so few of them notice that she has already, once again, gone missing.
And above the field that has been in Llewellyn Dewey Jones’s family for over a century, three birds, all native to Nebraska but of disparate species, are traveling earthward on a cold downdraft. After uttering a few words to one another—too quickly for the dead ornithologist fathers to translate—they fly off in different directions.
No one notices Llewellyn’s Titleist 100, bearing a crescent-shaped cut on one side, looking like a partially peeled exotic fruit. It continues to arc up into the sky until it disappears.
It does not come down.