The Catswold Portal
By Murphy, Shirley Rousseau
Eos ISBN: 0060765402
He ran pounding through the forest, his tennis shoes snapping dry branches as he stretched out in a long lope. Running eased the tightness, the tension. He was tall and lean, dark haired. Dodging between the broad trunks of redwood trees he headed uphill toward the mountain, swerving past deadfalls, trampling ferns that stroked his bare legs like animal paws. Strange thought, Alice's kind of thought, animal paws. He shivered, but not from the cold. It was dusk; Alice would be cleaning up, putting away her paints, washing her brushes, thinking about dinner, wondering whether to go out or open something. She wouldn't speak to him while he was still working, would go out to the kitchen and stand looking in the freezer.
She would have done those things. Had done them, once. The pain ran with him, he couldn't shake it, couldn't leave it alone.
Months after the funeral he had started to heal, to mend, the hurting began to dull, some feeling returning besides rage and grief. But now suddenly his pain was raw again, the last few days were as if her death had just happened, her body in the wrecked car ... He swerved away from the ravine and ran steeply up between boulders, but at the foot of Mount Tamalpais he turned back. It was dark now within the forest, though the sky above the giant redwoods still held light. He ran downhill again for a long way before lights began to flicker between thetrees from isolated houses braving the forest gloom. The chill air held the smoke of fireplaces and he could smell early suppers cooking. Alice would be saying, Let's just get a hamburger, I don't feel like cooking, don't feel like getting dressed. She'd fix herself a drink, go to shower off the smell of inks and fixative, slip on a clean pair of jeans. His breath caught, seeing her body wet from the shower, little droplets on her breasts, her long pale hair beaded with water.
He was in sight of the village now; it stretched away below him, the last light of evening clinging along the street and to the roofs of the shops. He could hear a radio somewhere ahead, and the swish of cars on the damp macadam, then suddenly the streetlights burst on all at once. His feet crushed fallen branches then he hit the sidewalk and an explosion of speed took him past the library, the building's tall windows reflecting car lights against the books. He could smell frying hamburgers from the Creek, and farther on something Italian from Anthea's. He swerved past villagers closing up shop, and each looked up at him. "Hey, Brade!" "Evening, Braden." He dodged the first Greyhound commuters returning from the city. "Hey there, West." "Nice night for running." He nodded, raised a hand, and pounded on past. His long body reflected running distortions in the shop windows. Crossing the dead-end lane to the garden where his studio stood among other houses, he glanced up the hill toward Sam's Bar that stood at the edge of the forest, thought of stopping for a beer, but then went on.
He cooled down on the veranda, poured himself a bourbon. Pulling off his tennis shoes, sitting sprawled in the campaign chair, he stared up at the tangled garden that began at his terrace and climbed the hill above him; a communal garden shared by the six houses that circled it. It was a pleasant, informal stretch of bushes and flowers and dwarf trees creating a small jungle. Two of the three houses above were dark. The lights in the center house went off as he watched, and his neighbor came out, her dark skin hardly visible against the falling night, her white dress a bright signal. She crossed the garden to the lane with long, easy strides, waving to him. "Evening, Brade," her voice rich as velvet. He lifted a hand, smiling, watched her slide into her convertible and turn at the dead end beside Sam's, drive slowly down the lane and into the traffic of the busier road, heading for the city. But when a cat cried on the terraces above, he shivered, unsteady again. He could see its eyes reflected for an instant, then it was gone.
As he rose to go in, he felt for a split second the warmth of anticipation. His eager mood burst suddenly: Alice wasn't there. Alice was dead. The loneliness hit him like a blow, and he turned back and poured another whiskey.
Evening was the worst. They had liked to sit on the terrace after a day's work, unwinding, watching the garden darken, watching the stars come spilling above the redwood forest that crowned the hill above the upper houses. In the evenings they had shared little things, random thoughts, coming together in a new way after working all day side by side in the studio, seldom talking, just being near each other. In the evenings Alice came alive in a different way from her deeply concentrating, working self, as if the night stirred a wild streak in her. Sometimes she would rise from the terrace and, carrying her drink, would walk up the garden to stand looking at the tool shed door.
And now suddenly Alice's death hit him as if it had just happened -- his frenzy as he tore at the jammed car door, as he beat at the window. Alice lay twisted inside, her hair tangled in the steering wheel, blood running down her face. The rescue squad tried to cut the door away with gas torches, but he had fought them, crazy with fear that they'd burn her ... Continues...
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