Chapter Five (excerpt, Goshen Cove)
With a rusted saw, Henry Robinson hacked at the narrow opening, the only way through a screen of overgrown brambles and thorn apples that shielded his house from the road, protected him and his family from snoops and trespassers. Last night, returning home none too steady after treating himself to a few in New London, he’d snagged a sleeve and scratched his hands. He wore gloves now, but a thorn pricked his cheek, sure to leave a mark.
“Damn,” Henry said and flung the saw into the weeds behind him. He’d find it later, that afternoon if he got home before dark, tomorrow morning or some other morning if he didn’t. It made no goddamn difference if he ever found the saw again, useless piece of junk. Maybe there was a better one in the Weldin barn, hidden in the mess of tools on the workbench that Henry hadn’t been inclined to investigate. He’d investigate today, if he felt like it.
With the old man gone, there wasn’t much push to get things done around the Weldin place, just plenty of time to pass as he liked, peaceful and quiet, no drunkard of a wife to disgust him, no kids underfoot, whining and crying.
When the old man was alive, Henry worked hard enough to keep him satisfied. He’d owed Isaiah Weldin that much—he didn’t pay worth a damn, but a beggar has to accept what he can get and by the time the old man hired him, Henry hadn’t earned a wage in nearly a month, couldn’t find any other man willing to take him on, not since the last one caught him sleeping in a field, empty bottle by his side.
Henry shielded his face with his gloved hands, pushed through the brambles and stumbled onto the road. He set his jaw, clenched his fists, glanced left, right. The road was clear, no one staring, smirking at his clumsy entrance. Hands shoved in his pockets, he started forward.
An empty road, a sunny morning, two eggs in his stomach, a bottle and a place to lie down waiting for him in the barn. His barn, by rights, no matter if the widow thought otherwise. Henry forgot about his stumble, forgot about his cheek and, for a moment, forgot about the pain that never left his jaw, shifting from tooth to tooth.
Henry kept to the side of the road, close to the bushes. When he heard the clatter of an oncoming cart and felt the rhythmic jolt of hooves behind him, he turned his face away until they passed. He walked with his head down, alone on the road as it curved towards Goshen Cove. About a mile further, he heard footsteps, felt the presence of some other walker heading the opposite direction. That walker called no greeting; neither did Henry.
With a quarter mile to go, Henry lifted his head and picked up his pace, arms swinging, planning how he’d make it to the barn without the old woman catching him. The boy was home, too, had been for some days, another meddling pair of eyes.
If he hurried across the road right before he reached the Weldin place, stuck close to the tall grass around the marsh, slipped through the yard between the barn and the house, the widow couldn’t see to bother him about some chore or other like the steps she’d been after him to fix. Henry felt no particular call to do whatever it was she asked. He didn’t like her any more than she liked him, always acting as if he had some disease she’d catch if he stood too close.
He didn’t like her son either, college boy, never done a real day’s work in his life, spent all his time reading books or riding his goddamn bicycle. The one time Henry shook Daniel Weldin’s hand, the day they met back when the old man was still alive, it made him sick to feel how soft it was, like a girl’s.
Henry came to the place where he planned to cross. He paused, scanned the road, looked towards the Cove, squinting against the morning sun.
Two figures–two women—made their way up the path between the marsh and Weldin’s field, nearing the barn. Henry pulled back into a nest of sharp branches and dropped to a crouch, steadying himself with his fingers.
The old woman, the widow, was in front, all in black. At first, Henry thought the other one was Maggie—they’d had a little fun together once, till she pushed him away, the Irish bitch, told him he stank—but Henry looked again and realized this was no Maggie. This girl was young—he saw that in her step, the swing of her skirt, the way she held her head high, hair loose and tangled in the wind—and he felt a clutch in his groin. He could tell she was fine, finer than any girl he’d seen since coming to this godforsaken stretch of coast.
The widow and the girl passed by the side of the barn. Henry stood up, leaned forward to get a better view. The girl carried something in one hand, a bunch of reeds as far as he could tell, and she ran to catch up with the widow and walk by her side.
Turn, he whispered, turn so I can see your face. He meant it as an order. A glance in his direction to show him just how fine she really was, how much she sensed his presence and his power.
Henry watched the girl cross the yard with the old woman, go up the kitchen steps, disappear into the house. All that time she never turned, never once looked his way.
Disappointment soured his stomach and he felt a twinge in one of his back teeth, the same pain he’d felt before his eyetooth went black and a dentist yanked it out.
Goddamn women, Henry thought, hand pressed to his jaw, always ready to make you feel small.