When she was finished, she stepped back and evaluated herself. She looked good: not too dressy, not too casual.
She didn’t want to overdo it. After all, she didn’t know what to expect. It had been a long time — probably too long.
She found her handbag and car keys, then picked up the room key. She turned it over in her hand a couple of times, thinking — «You’ve come this far, don’t give up now.» She nearly left then, but instead sat on the bed again. She checked her watch. Almost six o’clock. She knew she had to leave in a few minutes — she didn’t want to arrive after dark — but she needed a little more time.
«Damn,» she whispered. «What am I doing here? I shouldn’t be here. There’s no reason for it.» But once she said it she knew it wasn’t true.
She opened her handbag and found a folded-up piece of newspaper. After taking it out slowly, almost respectfully, she unfolded it and stared at it for a while. «This is why,» she finally said to herself, «this is what it’s all about.»
NOAH GOT UP at five and kayaked for an hour up the river, as he usually did. When he finished, he changed into his work clothes, warmed some bread rolls from the day before, grabbed a couple of apples and washed his breakfast down with two cups of coffee.
He continued repairing the posts. It was an Indian summer, the temperature over eighty degrees, and by lunchtime he was hot and tired and glad of the break.
He ate at the river because the fish were jumping. He liked to watch them jump three or four times and glide through the air before they vanished into the brackish water.
He stopped working a little after three and walked to a small shed that sat near his dock. He went in, found his fishing pole, some live crickets, then walked out to the dock, baited his hook and cast his line.
Fishing always made him reflect on his life, and he did so now. After his mother died, he could remember spending his days in a dozen different homes. For one reason or another, he stuttered badly as a child and was teased for it. He began to speak less and less, and by the age of five, he didn’t want to speak at all. When he started classes, his teachers thought he was retarded and recommended that his father take him out of school.
Instead, his father took matters into his own hands. He kept him in school and afterwards made him come to the timber yard where he worked, to stack wood. «It’s good that we spend some time together,» he said as they worked side- by-side, «just like my daddy and I did.»
His father talked about animals or told stories and legends common to North Carolina. Within a few months, Noah was speaking again, though not well, and his father decided to teach him to read with books of poetry. «Learn to read this aloud and you’ll be able to say anything you want to.» His father had been right again, and by the following year, Noah had lost his stutter. But he continued going to the timber yard every day simply because his father was there, and in the evenings he read the works of Whitman and Tennyson aloud as his father rocked beside him. He had been reading poetry ever since.
When he got a little older, he spent most of his weekends and vacations alone. Camping and exploring became his passion, and he spent hours in the forest, whistling quietly and playing his guitar for wild animals. Poets knew that isolation in nature, far from people and things man-made, was good for the soul, and he’d always identified with poets.
Although he was quiet, years of heavy lifting at the timber yard helped him become good at sports, and his athletic success led to popularity. He enjoyed the football and track meets, and, though most of his teammates spent their free time together as well, he rarely joined them. He had a few girlfriends in school but none had ever made an impression on him. Except for one. And she came after graduation.
Allie. His Allie.
Most of the summer Allie had to make excuses to her parents whenever they wanted to see each other. It wasn’t that they didn’t like him — it was that he was from a different class, too poor, and they would never approve if their daughter became serious with someone like him. «I don’t care what my parents think, I love you and always will,» she said. «We’ll find a way to be together.»
But in the end they couldn’t. By early September, the tobacco had been harvested and she had no choice but to return with her family to Winston-Salem. «Only the summer is over, Allie, not us,» he’d said the morning she left. «We’ll never be over.» But they were. For a reason he didn’t understand, the letters he wrote went unanswered.
He decided to leave New Bern to help get her off his mind. He went to New Jersey.
He found a job in a scrap yard, separating scrap metal from everything else. The owner, Morris Goldman, was convinced that a war was going to start in Europe and that America would be dragged in again. Noah didn’t care. He was just happy to have a job.