In early November the winds came, channeled and low and disunited and formed tall above the mountains yet, a shredding over the crumpled spine of the Great Smoky Mountains and down long chutes of white pine and bare sweet birch and almost visible against the stars, itself without temperature except in what it gathered. It was dry and thunder split open high above dry and empty and the sky was grained with blue and gray like dawn sucked backwards by some colossal reconsideration. Sound became distant, the roar at last resolved into rain. The houses under the wall of the mountain darkled in the first cold rains of late November, tall and huddled together like horses poised assward to absorb gray northers. People seemed to be asleep, a vague reconfiguration of human confinement. The first spits of snow flew at three thousand feet.
The town grew smaller. The windows outnumbered doors, although he wasn’t sure what that was suggesting. Now in the grainy first light of Thanksgiving Day there was a sort of parlor despondency where photographs of the dead outnumbered the living and expectation lagged. Strolling with the revolver, now working and loaded, his father’s huge stevedore greatcoat clenched around him with its own immutable gravity, Will suspected that St Bonaventure as a whole was made up of people who would not mind (being shot) never waking (and that he was losing responsibility for these illusions).
By December his plans moved beyond the scope of his anxiety and he had little choice but to act. The phone began ringing. He was surprised that women alone were responding and in these responses he was reacquainted with the enormous lien of time. He wasted through the first several prospects merely getting up to speed. He was surprised by his own rudeness. He was unwilling to discuss base strategies or timetables, lapsed into brooding silences, offered no refreshments. They left openly bewildered, hostile. Their anger was a fundamental incentive. He sipped his coffee, watched them to their cars. He marveled over what sort of disappointments in their lives could have led them to his door.
By the end of March he was aware that a woman called Min Reclay would somehow be bound up with him until death and the possibilities were numerous and not altogether untragic but this was eased by the copper cast of her skin and her odor of bathsteam and the hospitality basket of fresh pastries, fruit and tiny bottles of vanilla refilled with armagnac and rye whiskey brought out of the backseat of her 72 Dodge Rambler with South Dakota plates. She was tall and preternaturally clean and called him Willcroe almost as an aside with her cyan-red lips and when the conversation lagged he could just make out the sound of her skin against the coarse weave of her shirt. In the hard low afternoon light of the kitchen he watched the shadow of his head move across her and felt his heart luff and sag and the agonizing humiliation of his age and he was amazed he could speak at all.
She moved in some two hours later carrying her few bags to the room she had picked out, Emily’s old room, just off the kitchen.
That evening she worked on her car till late and he put Bessie Smith on his 1915 Victor Victrola and brought her a beer and stayed on the porch and tilled his tulip soil with his fingers and watched her move in this arrangement. She’d pulled on ratty coveralls and had the airhorn off the carburetor and her beer balanced on the radiator cap and he wondered what conventions should apply and how he should look at her or if he should at all. Her pale gray coveralls glowed in the dusk. He looked at the soil and saw that two of his fingers were stuck in August’s empty eye sockets, the skull papery and polished.
‘Nobody in town can bake a sweet jelly roll like mine, like mine
No other one in town can bake a sweet jelly roll so fine, so fine
It’s worth lots of dough, the boys tell me so
It’s fresh every day, you’ll hear ’em all say
Don’t be no dunce, just try it once
You’ll be right in line
Somebody told me I made the best jelly roll in town, I say in town
You must admit that I’m a jelly roll bakin’ hound, bakin’ hound
Good jelly roll, jelly roll is so hard to find
We always get the other kind
Nobody in town can bake a sweet jelly roll like mine’