Boom and Bust

by Thomas McGuane

Here was what she remembered: she ran off the road in her car. She was drunk and wearing only the dress in which she'd spent the night dancing. She'd waved down a car for help, but when the three men got out so slowly, she ran. After that it was snow and wind, and then this. But what was this, the warm and vaguely pleasant outer room of death? Evelyn Whitelaw was wrapped in several army blankets, her head turned against a grey-and-white striped ticking pillow. The lamp on the bedside had pine trees on its shade, and panels that were meant to imitate buckskin with edges laced not with rawhide but shoelaces. The room smelled of cold wood and beyond the uncurtained window the flat winter light contained no detail. Evelyn ran her hands over herself and discovered that she was in the same black dress but noticed pants and an old blue sweater folded over a chair, it seemed for her use. Some of the tension went out of her body, and she was aware of some sound past the window. She couldn't think what had made her run, but still remembered the feeling that there'd been no choice. A nice room but nevertheless she was locked inside it. Possibly this was a mistake that would painfully embarrass her gracious hosts. Or maybe she was enslaved.

Evelyn looked down into a yard that was enclosed by a shelter belt of caragana and evergreens, grown tangled together and unkempt, banked by graying snow, fastened here and there by bits of debris that seemed to have blown from the general refuse of the house into the nearest thing that stopped the wind, newspapers, binder twine, grocery store plastic bags. She started as a figure appeared below her dragging a length of wood and placed it on a rick of logs and branches, perhaps firewood, that had already been started in the enclosure. An empty flagpole stood to one side, its ropes slapping in a steady wind. The figure below was a man, encumbered by heavy clothing and a faded navy blue hat whose ear flaps were drawn alongside his face, and he continued for as long as she watched to drag wood from out of her sight into the square that was being steadily formed by the logs. What was he building? A shelter? A shelter for what? Nothing about this procedure changed, and in its repetition there was something grim that Evelyn wished to see no more of. She turned away from the window and looked at the clothes on the chair, hesitant to put them on. When she dropped the blanket from her shoulders, she regarded the black dress, previously fashionable, as some annoying slut suit and unhesitatingly rid herself of it and replaced it with the baggy, warm, and clean clothing on the chair. She made the dress as small a ball as she could and put it on the chair where it began to expand. She compressed it again and pressed it between the rungs. She was ready to be seen, should there be anyone to see her.

Her door was locked. She went back to the window and thought at first to signal to the figure below but saw that there were now two people dragging pieces of wood and adding them to a rough square. She noticed her clothing, dense woolen pants that seemed to be military surplus and a loose cotton garment on top, something to be worn in a gymnasium, with the word Arcularis in faded blue across the front, perhaps the name of a ship or a train. She imagined an observation car speeding through, tracks alongside the view below her, raised from the scene as she was, the train Arcularis, as she observed the peculiar wood-dragging in the whirling snow of the inhabitants. The carcass of a huge leafless cottonwood hung over the yard and the patterns of human activity below, patterns which Evelyn could not begin to understand. Perhaps it would come to life in the spring but that did not appear possible. It looked like a dead tree and its black trunk was outlined in the seams of its bark by the new flying snow that made vertical crooked lines up and down its length, almost to the crown, where it turned black once again, perhaps above the flying snow. The crown was composed entirely of the frantic shapes of the leafless limbs. Somehow these arboreal corpses seemed to be returning to life.

There was nothing to read in the room except an old Norwegian Bible next to the bed. Evelyn glanced at it, then made the bed, crossing from one side to the other, pulling the gray blanket tight until it was quite as tight as a drum. She plucked out the corner of the pillow so that everything was perfectly symmetrical and turned to the dresser and wash-stand where she could see herself, her face somewhat interrupted by a fading decal that said, "Big Brother and the Holding Company." A key lay on the dresser and when she moved it, she saw that its shape had discolored the wood beneath it in a dark outline of the key. There was a lock in the top drawer but the key did not fit it. The drawer opened perfectly well without a key and inside were advertising materials for a Packard automobile, a coin from Mexico, and a flat carpenter's pencil advertising a lumber company in Miles City, Montana.

Evelyn pulled a chair up beside the window where initials were carved into the sill. Ice had formed around the upper edge in a smooth bluish arc suggesting the window of a church. The square of logs and branches had not gone further and the people in the yard were no longer there. Into this emptiness, a dog appeared with a face divided black and white almost exactly down the middle. He had a tail that curved high over his back and he sped around the yard sniffing the ground intently before departing from Evelyn's view. She had begun to remember cows in flight across the country in cattle trucks she'd seen, and other cattle that had circled her in the snow, when? Last night. Last night when she'd run off the road, when the truck and the men had come up, the flash of starlight on opening doors. She had a great conviction that she'd been right to flee, though the flight and the sense of being overtaken by snow, by driven clouds of stinging snow, the cows and then it all just not so gradually stopped and now she was here. Her anxiety had subsided and, hearing footsteps ascending the stairs toward her, she became hungry, as though confident that whoever was coming would be aware of her need for food.

Evelyn knew that the door would open. She stood well away from it, in front of the window, imagining the window could be an exit, though not expecting such a necessity. When the door did open, she immediately recognized one of the figures from the snowy yard, a rather short and stocky woman with a nose in the exact center of her face, straight, springy hair, and a small round mouth. Her face was red, probably from the cold, and she had a very direct gaze. "Well, you are up." she said. She walked past Evelyn and looked into the yard.

"Yes. Thank you."

"And are you rested?" she demanded.

"I am, yes."

"You may call me Esther."

"How do you do, I'm Evelyn."

"Yer lucky to be alive. If Torvald hadn't gone out with his bale feeder, you'd of froze. You was near froze as it is. Most of the time Torvald just spikes a round bale, cuts the strings and rolls it down a hill about a mile away. But the weather had got so fearful he says 'I'm worried about the cows,' and goes out with the feeder only this time the block heater come unplugged and the hydraulics was kaflooie. Had to use a can of ether, smell it clear to the house, and I'm thinkin Torvald was like to blow hisself up. Took half the night, but lucky for you you wasn't clear froze yet, no more froze than Torvald. He said he found you in the middle of a big circle of cows."

"I'm very grateful to you." Evelyn was trying to put all this into a void in her memory.

"Well, how'd did you get there?"

"I went into the ditch. I was looking for help."

"Should've stayed with your outfit and waited for help to come along."

Evelyn decided not to say what it was that put her to flight and thought it was better and shorter to leave the assumption in place that she was foolish enough to try to cross a snowfield at night in search of help. No explanation for fighting a blizzard in a party dress seemed adequate. She was comfortable now and hungry and the old clothes were warm. "I'd better feed you," said Esther. She lifted the black dress from the chair and turned her eyes to Evelyn.

"Oh, not necessary at all, " said Evelyn. "If I could impose on you for a lift into town, I'll grab something there."

"Impossible. We're snowed in."

"Oh."

"We been waiting for this."

"To be snowed in?"

"Oh, you betcha." Esther went out the door. "Your food is ready when you are." Evelyn thought about the two in the yard and marveled that there were people who actually longed to be snowed in, people for whom there was never enough isolation.

Evelyn went hesitantly out the door onto a landing that looked down onto a table, a landing she must have seen before, unless she'd been carried here, a thing she could not remember and that produced another unsettling blank in her memory that must have begun in the snowfield. She had never "passed out," and the very notion made her queasy. Too many friends had awakened to some lummox toiling over their bodies. Nevertheless, she went down the stairs she must have gone up and there found a meal prepared for her of bread and eggs and some kind of drink that she tried upon sitting down and that was a cold liquid that referred to oranges. Esther came back in and put a piece of hot meat on the table. "I wonder—this is very nice, mmmmm—if I could borrow the phone?" Esther was frowning at the question before she'd even heard it.

"No phone," she said firmly. Evelyn didn't know whether that meant there was no phone or that she couldn't use it. Esther then pointed to the meat with subdued glee. "Moose," she said.

Moose 'n eggs, thought Evelyn. Must turn to prayer. She was feeling a bit better and thought to look for anomalies in her surroundings.

The room where Evelyn sat adjoined at one el a small kitchen and at another, a passageway, lighted from a single but invisible source that cast a yellow, angled glow across which a large, strangely dressed, and rather shambling figure passed, without a glance her way, with a kind of boarding-house anonymity. Perhaps he, too, was snowed in. While Evelyn contemplated these things, picked at her eggs, and plotted creative disposal of the moose, Esther set another place beside her with a comparable meal. When Evelyn raised an enquiring and smiling gaze, Esther spat out the words, "Donald! Our son!"

Donald, seemingly cued by his mother's words, strode into the room at that moment, a great big man with a remarkably bushy grey beard and piercing black eyebrows. "Hullo!" he said and sat down with such force that Evelyn was afraid his chair would break. He looked like any other rancher except that his hair was in curlers. Peering closely at his breakfast, he offered a great paw in Evelyn's direction by way of introduction and said, "I am Donald, and I apologize for appearing before you deshabille. Normally, I am zipped up in my coveralls making myself useful to Papa on the farm. But we're snowed in. And this is the weekend and I do as I please, especially on these exciting Saturday nightsl Chores are done, and the cows are asleep, the sheep are uh askew and th—"

"Donald, that will do!" came a rough voice from the kitchen that did not belong to Esther. Donald's face seemed to compress, his eyes to narrow, as he took this in with a bleak but seemingly unyielding fatalism. Evelyn craned to see where the voice came from.

"Is it true we're snowed in?"

"Um."

"And the phone?"

"Not available at this time."

"Oh," said Evelyn, "and what are you building in the yard, a cabin?" She wished the owner of the voice in the next room would show himself.

"That's uh that's a sort of um bonfire for Grandpa—"

In the doorway appeared an older man with high cheekbones and small, close-set eyes, not an old man, but a coarse and energetic character who identified himself as Torvald Aadfield. Donald raised dark eyebrows, darker than the wide fan of beard, and oddly peaked just over the bridge of his nose, giving the impression that he had never seen his father before or had seen him but was struggling to remember anything specific about him. Mr. Aadfield caught this and nodded to himself and in general suggested that Donald was grimly incorrigible.

"We're snowed in," Mr. Aadfield said.

"See?" said Donald.

"How's the moose?" asked Aadfield. Evelyn allowed a helpless expression to appear on her face. "Very good for you. Prepared it myself. With a seven mag."

"Walking food doesn't have a long life around Dad."

"I remember the lean times," said Mr. Aadfield. "Montana is a boom and bust economy."

Aadfield had been taught to recite this in grammar school. It often came in handy, and the family applied it to nearly everything. Evelyn couldn't contribute to the conversation, and her feigned affability did little to conceal her discomfort.

"I went to San Francisco for a Mott the Hoople concert during one of those booms," said Donald. "Spent six months in a cross-dressers' revue, very big with the tourists in a tourist town. I dreamt of saving enough to buy my own ranch. I thought I could hoof my way into the cattle business! But it was a bust."

"You're in the cattle business," said Aadfield. "Go look."

"Yes," sighed Donald, "but one that can never grow. I have many happy memories of those days, the outfits, so full of meaning, up all night with my disturbed friends, racing to the sea in the foggy morning, lumbering along in our frocks past the Penguin's Prayer sculpture, breaking out on Ocean Beach at dawn to storm the surfers in their wetsuits." He turned to look at his father but continued speaking to Evelyn. "He buys cheap bulls, he ships the heifers that should go back into the herd, he won't fertilize, he irrigates with a shovel and won't sprinkle—" Donald was rather agitated. The plastic cylinders festooning his head clattered. The old couple looked at each other in fond support. Evelyn couldn't make out whether this was for her or some routine between the two men. But Donald was storming around so that the noise of his sandals on the floor and against the furniture was a dismaying backdrop to his remarks. "He won't take a cheap Farm-Home loan or sign up with the Great Plains Program—" Mr. Aadfield was shrinking with truculence and embarrassment. His wife closed her hands over his. "He won't use gated pipe because he likes to see me out there dragging mud-covered canvas, soaking wet in a cold wind. He won't buy a calf table when—"

"Donald's a great roper. We wouldn't want to miss that," his father suggested timidly.

"He's got mom flanking calves like she was in a rodeo. And tonight, to save a few bucks, he's gonna cremate grandpa." The older people winced to have this stated so boldly. And it was a good while before Aadfield spoke. Clearly Donald's indiscretion had shaken them.

"Snowed in, has to be done," he said complacently. He smiled genuinely at Evelyn who was beginning to feel snug without quite understanding it.

"I'm very grateful. Really, there is a telephone, isn't there?"

"Line's down," barked Aadfield, the last word on the subject.

"Home cremation's illegal as hell but, like the man said, we're snowed in and even a minor calamity can help boom-and-busters economize. You're lucky you weren't on your feet when Dad found you, might've had you popped for trespassing." The only window in the room opposite the doorway to the kitchen was animated by whirling snow.

"Torvald!" said Esther Aadfield in a voice that was nearly a shout. "Fill the bird feeder!" Aadfield pretended she was too far away to hear.

"Donald," said Mr. Aadfield, "we've got work to do." The older man seemed mildly elated by this information and he clapped his calloused hands together. He rose from his chair and gave Evelyn a brusque glance indicating it was the moment when womenfolk must get out of the way, a glance Evelyn interpreted as face-saving after the barked command to fill the bird feeder. She thought the life of the Aadfields must be made of these little pairings. It gave her some grasp of the situation in which she found herself, a situation she found hard to fathom; at the same time, there was relief in her enforced patience. She began to stop wondering about the telephone.

The men left the table without anyone suggesting what Evelyn might do with herself, though it was obvious her job was to wait for the storm to pass. From a nearby room, music suddenly boomed, old psychedelic music. Mr. Aadfield passed the kitchen doorway, shaking his head for Evelyn's benefit and muttered, "Crazyhorse," contemptuously. Evelyn heard him go out and shortly thereafter Donald appeared in insulated coveralls, no longer a housebound Bohemian artifact but now a rather conventional bearish winter farmer. He had a Great War surplus campaign coat over his arm and he gestured for Evelyn to follow him in a way that suggested hurry. As she crossed the kitchen behind him, he draped the army coat over her shoulders and opened a narrow door into a cold storage room, reaching familiarly around the inside wall to turn on the electricity. Evelyn followed after a hesitation—"You're safe with me: my wan and ambiguous sexuality wouldn't offend a gnat"—and entered a room piled high with crates and rough shelves that stored canned foods. "I love having a houseguest." Donald went straight to a far corner where he began removing burlap feed sacks from something leaning there, something which proved to be a corpse, rigid with cold storage and rigor mortis. Having revealed it, Donald stepped back and bent slightly forward, hands clasped together in fascination. "Grandpa," he said with purring delight. "He's so much more pleasant like this. That's his uniform from the Norwegian Navy."

The corpse was balanced in the corner of the two concrete walls, a small old man dressed in a pristine navy blue uniform complete with epaulets. "Rescued from a Norwegian lightship that got torpedoed by a German sub. Thirty years later he was a county commissioner in Montana and the uniform still fits." Rubbing his capacious stomach ruefully, Donald said, "If grandpa's genes were what they were cracked up to be, I'd be still in the chorus line. Instead, I spend my days on the wrong end of a number-two irrigating shovel or hitting the zerk fittings on dad's front end loader with a half-frozen grease gun!" A sob broke from his throat, which Evelyn knew was not genuine. Her eyes were riveted on this peculiar effigy. It was certainly not a person. It wasn't remotely horrifying, though it did produce a strong sense of the ridiculous, perhaps due to the uniform, which was something of a Gilbert and Sullivan touch.

Evelyn asked a cautious question: "What's he doing here?"

"Oh, boy," sighed Donald. '"What's he doing here.' Well, Evelyn, we're going to do a home burial, a home cremation. My parents felt uh felt very uhm oppressed by granddad and promised themselves that they wouldn't spent two cents burying him. I will say that they told him that to his face. They said to him, 'You've been very cheap and mean. You never fed your cows in the winter. When you die, we're not going to spend one cent burying you. We're not buying you a headstone and we're not notifying your hometown newspaper in Trondhjem. You will be forgotten.' My mother and father are hard but they're not unkind. When Grandpa said he preferred cremation, my father said, 'You buy the matches.' It was a great moment, the one time Dad stood up to him, and it was kind of family joke, you know a Norwegian family joke where it's not at all funny, that Grandpa bought a box of kitchen matches and my folks have saved them for about ten years and they still have them and tonight the old fellow goes up in smoke, which may be illegal: that's why we had to wait until we were snowed in to do it. As a family, we feel we need to kind of take revenge on Grandpa's body. We really couldn't handle him when he was alive. Everyone on the place was half-starved while he paid into a pension plan through the Odd Fellows. And he had a high-dollar pinky ring which was totally inappropriate and which he swallowed when he knew the end was at hand. Said we'd only use it to buy train tickets out. These were all more or less jokes but serious enough that he actually did swallow the ring. My folks and I are just unwilling to go in and get it even though it's pretty obvious we could use the money. At one point, there was some discussion of what he'd been eating but that's about as close as we got. Now—" he rapped his knuckles on the corpse's stomach "—you'd have to get that ring with a chisel or tire tool or some damn thing."

Evelyn was shivering from the cold and could not quite keep her eyes off the remains. The temptation to blame it for everything was attractive. Evelyn's father had died some time ago and there had been much misunderstanding between them. She wondered what it might be like to have a cheerless effigy like this to blame things on, something for quiet days. Donald said he was uncomfortable having it lean like cordwood against the wall, and he put it in a small wagon, towing it around the room looking for a better place. It would not have been hard to impute some sort of consciousness to the corpse as it got this tour, though it faced the ceiling. "I remember when the damn thing was jumping around barking orders," he said.

"My dreams change every day," Donald said. "Sometimes I'm still the Future Farmer of America. I just want bigger calves, bigger weaning weights, better success in breeding back the cows and cheaper bulls. For years I've had a great interest in going to Mars. It seems more and more possible. If I hang onto my share of Grandpa's pension and invest it wisely, I could be on one of the first trips. When I heard they'd found evidence of water there, I got excited. I thought. Whoa, I could have it all: a hot tub on Mars! Here is good, I think." He lifted the corpse out of the wagon and stood it in an upended metal stock tank where it took on the air of a roadside shrine south of the border.

Evelyn tried to see the merits of a hot tub on Mars, the red planet all around with troubled, complicated Earth hanging on the far edge of the void. Donald was gazing reflectively at his grandfather. "I'm sort of orchestrating the funeral tonight. There will be modest pageantry, and music. If only he could talk, ay? I can tell you, he'd say we were doing everything all wrong." Viewed from the Red Planet, casual wounding within families would seem trivial.

"What kind of music?" Evelyn could not picture music.

"I have some bitching tunes." With this he reached deep into his beard in thought. His eyes moved slowly from side to side. "I have blasts from the past."

"So much snow," said Evelyn. "If only you had a phone. Is he going to stay propped up okay? A few flowers would make a big difference. I could call my sister. Sooner or later, someone's got to give me a lift."

•••

Evelyn sat at the kitchen table with a pile of old magazines never quite taking her eyes off the weather. She had inquired about all the distances, to the county road, to town, across the fields, to the interstate highway, and finally Mrs. Aadfield, at the stove with a towel over her shoulder, told her she would just have to accept her situation, that it was unlikely to last more than another night. Evelyn was looking at the meat on a platter atop the stove.

"That's not that moose, is it?"

"No, and I'd offer you TV but Donald backed over the dish with the swather and the reception is not so good. Sometimes it skips off the stratosphere and we get Red Deer, Alberta. Dad watches it anyway, just for the movement. Says it helps his eyes."

Evelyn said, "Can't I make something?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know, a pie. Could be that."

"What're you gonna make it out of?"

"I don't know, you got any apples?"

In fact they had a cellar full, and once Evelyn had them piled on the table, she abandoned herself to peeling them while she tried to remember how to make pie crust. She was feeling less surly as she made something happen with her paring knife. None of these people knew what a terrible cook she was, and she wanted to bask in their not finding out. At the critical moment, Mrs. Aadfield removed a box from the freezer and handed it to her: it was a brown generic box that said PIE CRUST, and inside were perhaps thirty pie crusts in a stack. "Jeez," said Evelyn, "how do you get them apart?" But this did head off some fears about finishing the pie.

Eventually, Aadfield and his son Donald reappeared in the kitchen to a somewhat stern look from Mrs. Aadfield, suggesting that being indoors, which they obviously craved, was a luxury to which they were not yet entitled. Nevertheless they stood shoulder to shoulder, pounding their hands together, then turned to pull off their insulated coveralls, stamping up and down and seeming to become smaller as clothes piled around their feet.

Donald said, "That old brocklefaced, crooked-homed, prolapsed, swinging-bagged, broken-mouthed, spavined whore chased Dad and me up on the wagon again. One of us ever trips we're gonna be toast."

"She's going to town," said Aadfield sternly. "I've had enough. Don was that close to going for the big ride."

"Must be three foot out there," said Donald to Evelyn, turning his palms up hopelessly.

"Can't you go to the shop and build something?" asked Esther Aadfield in a tone of exasperation.

"No, Ma, we can't. The propane line is froze and we can't get heat to it."

The old couple left the room, Esther strongly suggesting that Evelyn might watch the pie. Donald remained, elbows on the table, a meditative look on his face. Her experience of men caused her to look immediately for the pretext at hand, but she soon found there was none. He simply wanted to talk, he was interested in her, and Evelyn found herself inclined to surprising trustfulness. He wanted to know what she was doing walking around in the blizzard. Torvald Aadfield appeared in silhouette, snow dusted, pouring bird seed into a clear plastic cylinder.

Evelyn leaned back and looked vaguely at the ceiling. She really thought this over. Then she described the men getting out of the old sedan and her sense of foreboding, her instinct that she would only have one narrow opportunity to avoid a fate that they held in their hands. But what she said was, "It was my fault for sliding into the ditch all right but these men, they were sort of uh, uh looming." But no, that wasn't it so much as the differing speeds at which their faces arose and were first struck by the light from the two cars. As she went over this in her mind, it was suddenly very clear that she had been right, that if she hadn't run, something very terrible might have happened.

Donald nodded a certain confirmation of her thoughts. "Those might have been ordinary men," he said, "believing all the women in the world are a bunch of Lorena Bobbitts, probably just regular fellas leading decent lives, but when you get them together there's this one other fella—and you can't see him, you can't even see him—but he's there all right, and there's no telling what he's liable to do." Evelyn found herself sitting very straight as she thought about this. She was trying to understand why, when she had a momentary case of the horrors, it always gave her such perfect posture.

A chinook wind began to blow in the early afternoon, sowing panic among the Aadfields that the roads would thaw. The temperature steadily climbed until melted snow began to run from the gutters. The roads would soon be passable and any mission of seeing Grandpa off would be subject to the interfering visits of neighbors. Thriving on this emergency, Donald announced, "We've got to make our move." Evelyn, reading a front-page story in an out-of-date Enterprise about the advance of Africanized bees north from Texas with a predicted local arrival in about thirty years, noted that the Aadfields were immobilized. Donald looked from one to the other in moderate disgust. "Let's put an end to this," he said to them. "That old man is gone."

"Donald—"

"What can you say of a man whose last words were, 'I stood up for my water rights'? When I came back from San Francisco thirty-five years ago, he said, 'You no-good fairy.' He never spoke to me again. Years in this house without a word between us! Nor did he have a kind word for you. I say, let's burn the evidence." Staring fixedly at a picture of swarming bees, Evelyn heard a moan from the old people. Finally, Aadfield spoke.

"Donald, you're going to have to light the match, I can't do it."

"Me!" The family seemed paralyzed.

Evelyn looked up and said, "I really shouldn't be here."

In the extraordinary silence of the kitchen, Evelyn could hear herself open the newspaper to the classifieds as though it was a schooner tacking in rough seas. Nordic Track. Illness forces sale. She raced on and read others in an effort to beat back the extraordinary sadness that seemed to fill the room, available babysitters, archery sets, pop-up campers, sporting goods, help wanted, pet grooming, firewood, swing sets—until finally it became unbearable and Evelyn put the paper down and said, "Okay, I'll do it, I'll light the match, it's the least I could do. Then can I go?" Considering its content, this was delivered in a remarkably flat tone, and aware of that, Donald leaved close to Evelyn, his beard rustling drily against her ear and whispered, "Atta girl, you get out there and set fire to that stiff. You call the shots."

Evelyn pointedly ignored the rest of the arrangements, though she was impressed with the renewed vigor of the Aadfields as they began to prepare for the cremation. None of this struck her as particularly morbid, though when Donald wheeled a hand dolly through the kitchen, she began to feel something of a chill. It was a windy dusk, quickly turning dark when they were finished, and Donald, with a look of signification and gratitude, placed the box of kitchen matches on the table. Evelyn looked at them and thought that she would have no trouble with this task at all. She picked them up and asked, "Now?" The Aadfields nodded eagerly, and Evelyn was touched by their childlike unanimity. She put on the coveralls handed her by Mr. Aadfield and went outside, feeling at once enveloped by the whirling air that was taking the snow from the roofs and marvelously liberated to be outside the house. The matches themselves made her feel extraordinarily responsible, and she protected them from the descending moisture.

The heap of wood was a jumble in the darkness, but as her eyes adjusted she could see a mass of carefully crumbled newspapers at its base. She assumed that the cadaver was in there somewhere, but for now it was tinder and firewood. Her hair kept blowing over her face, and she reached behind and shoved it under the heavy collar. Now she could see the faces in the window, the three faces in different windows. She knelt by the paper, sheltering it with her body from the wind. The first match failed so abruptly that she looked into the box to see how many remained, because it had been made clear to her that any old match wouldn't do and that she had to get the job done with these matches somehow associated with the penny-pinching of the deceased. She had been struck by the helpless look of the faces in the window, not the competent household that had rescued her from the snowfield but three cripples waiting for the fire they could never have started without her arrival. This would be no problem if she could light a match, which she did by making a great shelter of her body and then, with difficulty, setting a bit of paper alight and then another until a cheerful glow blossomed at the base of the pile. She stood up, overcome be a feeling of usefulness. Her hair blew free of her clothing once again and whipped around her face as the little fire spread into a general blaze at the base of the wood that finally began to burn, at first quietly and then with spontaneous speed until the pile of wood became a globe of light etched by limbs and branches and revealing with increasing clarity, like the tiny figure in a fertilized egg, the corpse blue in its uniform then black against the rising intensity of light. At last, as Evelyn retreated from the heat, the corpse waved its limbs about as though signaling to a cold outer dark, semaphore from a Norwegian lightship. It had become little more than a silhouette, a human figure in the fire, and at that moment Evelyn thought of her father who must have been at least this, an outline, an accumulation of hope and pain. She knelt down and struggled to keep from weeping. In one lighted window, Evelyn saw Mrs. Aadfield, steel bowl in one hand, whisking a meringue with terrific energy; in another, Aadfield was watching television with his fingers in his ears. On the second floor, a light went on in a window that was flung open almost at the level of the flames and psychedelic music filled the air: Donald leaned out, his hands on the sill, his beard hanging into invisibility, calling, "Captain Beefheart! I just love Captain Beefheartl"

Evelyn turned to the fire where the corpse was now a whirling speck in a small white inferno that illuminated angled streaks of snow far overhead. It felt as though something had at last begun to leave her. Beyond, she could just glimpse peace.