Jane Hamilton
PAGE 4
An Excerpt from Chapter One
Continued
I often had the fanciful thought that the pond would save us; it would be the one thing that would postpone our deaths by scorching as the climate of our part of the world changed. We were going to spend the long summer months ahead thinking always of the relief of our own unspoiled waters. Most afternoons our daughters, Emma and Claire, and I, and occasionally Howard, farmer, husband, and father, would walk the thirty yards down the wooded path to the jewel of the property, the clear water gurgling up from a spring into a seven-acre pond. There were no leeches, no film or scum or snapping turtles, no monstrous vestiges from the Cretaceous Age lurking in the depths. There, under the blazing sun, were cool, clean ripples spreading from their mysterious source and fanning to the shore, while trout circled beneath.

I needed to get out of bed. Howard, in his quiet, sissing voice, soothing as a dove, had told me to sleep in, but I should have been up to help him, should have woken hours earlier. I lay still and took another minute to smell: I smelled the warm, sweet, all-pervasive smell of silage, as well as the sour dirty laundry spilling over the basket in the hall. I could pick out the acrid smell of Claire's drenched diaper, her sweaty feet, and her hair crusted with sand. The heat compounded the smells, doubled the fragrance. Howard always smelled and through the house his scent seemed always to be warm. His was a musky smell, as if the source of a muddy river, the Nile or the Mississippi, began right in his armpits. I had grown used to thinking of his smell as the fresh man smell of hard work. Too long without washing and I tenderly beat his knotty arms with my fists. That morning there was alfalfa on his pillow and cow manure embedded in his tennis shoes and the cuffs of his coveralls that lay by the bed. Those were sweet reminders of him. He had gone out as one shaft of searing light came through the window. He had put on clean clothes to milk the cows.

I knew just then, in a brief glimmer of truth, that the stink and mess, the frenetic dullness of farming, our marriage, the tedium of work and love — all of it was my savior. Half the world seemed to be scheming to escape husbands or wives, but I was planted firmly enough, striving, always striving, to take root. I was sure that that morning our family was connected by a ribbon of pure, steaming, binding, inviolable stench, going from room to room and out to the barn. I was so far from my mistakes of the school year, never considering in the freedom of summer that my winter's missteps could strain our vigorous bonds.

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