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Judith Grover McMonigle Flynn scooped up a handful of dirt, tossed it onto the bootbox, and bowed her head. At her side, Cousin Renie intoned the prayers for the dead.
"'Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, 0 Lord...'"
The words echoed in Judith's ears as she gazed down at the sturdy cardboard box that held her first husband's remains. Dan McMonigle had been dead for five years, but, Judith reflected, he had traveled more since his early demise at age forty-nine than in the last decade of his sedentary life. From the squalid rental house on Thurlow Street to the Grover home on Heraldsgate Hill, from the old toolshed in the backyard to the commodious Edwardian basement, he'd finally come to rest under the evergreens at the family cabin.
"'From the morning watch even until night let Israel hope in the Lord...'"
Dan had enjoyed the cabin, as much as he had enjoyed anything other than stuffing his face, guzzling booze, and making Judith's life miserable. His business schemes had ruined their finances, his disposition had soured their marriage, and eventually, his gluttony a destroyed him. As Judith was wont to put it, when Dan hit over four hundred pounds, he blew up. It wasn't precisely true, but it was close enough.
"May he rest in peace. Even if he was the biggest jerk I ever met. Amen." Renie closed the prayer book and grabbed a shovel. "We did it, coz. Mike will be pleased. And Joe ought to feel relieved."
Judith, however, was still standing motionless at the other side of the shallow grave. There were tears in her black eyes. For whom? she wondered. For Dan, who had sympathy only for himself andstrangers? For Mike, who had loved Dan as a father, but resented the harsh treatment of his mother? For herself, she who had been more relieved than grief-stricken when Dan died? Or for the eighteen years they had wasted, with Judith struggling to keep their travesty of a family together and Dan losing the fight against his self-destructive demons? Judith saw that Renie was looking at her, half-smiling, half-frowning.
"Well?" Renie demanded, shoveling dirt over the bootbox. Judith didn't say anything. Renie shrugged and kept shoveling. "That's okay. Go ahead and cry. You never did much when Dan was alive. At least not around me. If Joe were here, he wouldn't blame you, either."
Joe. Her second husband's name stopped the tears and brought a smile to Judith's face. She squared her wide shoulders, forced her statuesque figure to stand erect, and picked up the other shovel. The May sun filtered through the vine maples. Fallen branches covered with moss crisscrossed the dark earth. New ferns, budding trilliums, wood violets, and wild ginger grew around the little hollow. It was so peaceful in the forest, Judith thought, with the sound of the river rolling past and the spring air tinged with the lush scent of new growth. Across the river, above the cottonwood, Douglas fir, and alder trees, Mount Woodchuck sat comfortably with its winter crown of snow.
Renie threw out more dirt, then began stomping about, evening off her handiwork. She grasped a small vine maple branch and snapped it in two. "I'll make a cross to put on top," she said. "Or should I form a 'D' for Dink?"
Judith's expression was wry. "It'll work either way.,, She waited for Renie to complete her task, crossed herself, and collected both shovels. The cousins headed back up the little rise to the cabin.
For over half a century, the rustic summer home had sheltered the Grover clan. Only in the past few years had the younger generation developed other interests, and in the process, become weaned away from the verdant forest and outdoor plumbing. The cabin had suffered neglect. Moss covered the shingles; the front-porch floorboards were rotting; the downspouts, blown away in a winter windstorm, lay rusting among the salmonberry bushes.
Still, the interior provided a snug retreat. No one could have guessed by looking at the exterior that the little cabin could sleep at least ten without resorting to sleeping bags. The living room contained a fold-out couch and a Murphy bed; the two bedrooms next to the kitchen held a double and two twins, respectively; the loft had yet another double bed. The furniture was old and inexpensive, an eclectic grouping of cast-off wooden chairs and tables. Grandma Grover's homemade curtains hung at the windows, their serviceable blue-and-white plaid faded by the sun. Linoleum covered the floor, cracked and patched, worn away by four generations of work shoes, wedgies, bedroom slippers, sandals, sneakers, combat boots, hiking boots, fishing boots, and, in high summer, bare feet.
Though the world had changed in over fifty years, the cabin had not. The kitchen's wood stove remained, as did the sink with no running water. The cousins had stopped nine miles down the highway in Glacier Falls to pick up ice for the icebox. There was no electricity, and the outhouse was a good twenty yards from the back door. While the younger generation of Grover-McMonigle-Jones et al. found it a bore to rely on Coleman lanterns for fight and on their own devices for entertainment, Judith and Renie enjoyed getting back to Nature, at least occasionally.
"I'll start a fire," said Judith, delving into the wood box. "It may be spring, but it's still cool."
"I suppose we can't haul water from the river like we used to before we learned about germs," mused Renie. "Do you think The Artist will mind if we dip into his well?"
Judith was crumpling old newspaper. "He never has. Of course, it's been a while since we've been over there."A Fit of Tempera. Copyright © by Mary Daheim. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.