The Tides

The Tides

by Melanie Tem



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780843945744
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/1999
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 4.21(w) x 6.76(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


    That first evening when Faye came into his room — uninvited, unless he'd finally given off some terrible, mysterious summons as he'd been so afraid of doing twenty-eight years ago when she'd left him and the baby; unwelcome, except that his heart leaped in just that ancient and immediate way — Marshall stared and roared her name.


    Funny how he knew precisely, without even pausing to figure it, how long it had been since Faye had vanished, and what her relationship had been to him and their child, and what she'd left behind. He'd never heard from her again, but he'd imagined he would, with trepidation and shameful hope kept himself alert for signs. Funny how clearly he could picture her: piquant face, alabaster skin, the longest nails he'd ever seen on a woman shaped and polished into beautiful claws, clothes always thoughtfully chosen and arranged to appear carefree. He could hear her voice as if she were calling him now, which she was, crooning to him, singing; the sweetness of her voice, speaking and singing, had often both belied and brought out the nasty things she said, the raunchy things she sang. He could smell her flowery fragrance. He could taste and feel her as though she were in his arms, as though her clawed fingers were at his throat.

    She was endangering their daughter. 'I've got my own life to live,' she'd flung at him more than once, screamed or sung at the baby. At least once she'd raised her hand; he'd stepped in just in time, and the blow, incompletely deflected, had shocked himwhen she'd slapped his forearm and spun away, not crying, not apologizing. Singing.

    Funny how clear and present all that was. And often these days, Marshall couldn't remember what he'd had for breakfast, couldn't keep straight in his mind who anyone was to him. Often he had the sense that who he was, the person he'd have thought he'd come to know over the span of his lifetime — how long? seventy years? — was permeable and changeable. Perhaps it always had been thus. Perhaps he never had known for certain who he was.

    He held onto the knowledge of his own name — Marshall Emig — repeating it as though that told him something, but really it didn't. Often he was frightened, sad. Sometimes, though, he merely let what would happen happen, and then he would come back into this reality or some other with the sense of having accrued new memories he couldn't quite place.

   But he remembered Faye.

   Faye was here now.

   'Oh. Faye.'

    If Billie had been there — his wife; his companion; in his life infinitely longer than Faye had been, except that Faye had never really left his life although he'd tried to make her — she'd have understood right away, and she'd have been as upset as he was to see Faye. So for her sake — and because of the guilt, for his own — he was glad Billie was gone somewhere when it happened. He was always unsettled when Billie wasn't there, always had been and lately it was worse. He used to be able to disguise how dependent he was on Billie for security and stability, but he didn't think he was so good at that anymore.

    Maybe that was why Faye had reappeared. Because his mind kept pulling itself loose from the moorings he and Billie together had painstakingly constructed. Because he couldn't be counted on to remember who he was.

    Faye — the memory of Faye; the dread of Faye; the insinuation and memory and, yes (he didn't understand it himself, could scarcely tolerate it) his love of Faye that had always been between them — had hurt Billie too much over the years. He had always done everything in his power to protect Billie from Faye, but he knew that sometimes it hadn't been enough. This time he would do whatever it took.

    Rebecca was there with him. Becky, his daughter — although it was hard for Marshall to believe in any solid way, to remember that he believed, that this slight blonde young woman with the crowded eyes was the same person as the child whose raising had so consumed him for so many years. Years which now, looking back, considering them as a portion, a fraction of his life, seemed so few, so quick.

    Was she, in fact, the same person as the girl-child he'd raised? Was he himself the same person as when he'd been little else but her daddy? Was he the same person as when he himself had been a child — so long ago, a span of time beyond human comprehension, like the age of the universe (yet with an immediacy like the burst of flavor from a capsule punctured by the teeth). Was he the same person as when he'd been with Faye? Was this really Rebecca? What did 'really Rebecca' mean?

    Always given to moody rumination, Marshall could now wander among these thoughts and bits of thoughts for hours, days, periods of time without demarcation. The reality that stretched outward from himself, to which his physical senses provided access and from which they collected data his brain was supposed to process, was showing itself to be considerably less engaging than the reality that stretched inward, behind his eyes and ears and tongue, under his mind, the back of his head expanding, the root of his brain. Many people inhabited the vast bowl-shaped space there, sometimes firm and dry, sometimes shimmering as if with tides.

    A boy in a steel town on the yellow-hazed bank of the Monongahela River: no sensation of growing up there, of passing through, but of being there, being that boy. Going last night and again tonight and again tomorrow night down the steep hill to the Club to retrieve Pop, then back up the hill, Pop staggering and singing, home.

    A young man friends with another young man named Windy Curtis, wrestling each other, lifting weights together, shyly double dating. Windy Curtis always smelled of fish no matter how much cologne he used, and he used a lot. Marshall's nose wrinkled and his head ached from it. The time as Windy's pal, perhaps three years, was the only spell of comradeship Marshall had ever known, and it was as present as it ever had been, though taking place this time in that space behind the boundary through which he looked out on the world as if through the windshield of an enormous and fully loaded truck, Windy as three-dimensional as ever. And Marshall was no longer the boy, the son; he no longer lived in the yellow town. Windy's friend was who he was. The two of them did everything together.

    Faye's lover. God, he was Faye's lover, consumingly, but she, somehow, was not his. Faye's husband. And then she was gone.

    Rebecca's father. Billie's husband. Clerk and then manager of retail clothing stores, work he didn't find especially rewarding but didn't mind, incorporated into his experience of himself because it was part of how to be father of Rebecca, husband of Billie, one of the many men Faye had taken over and passed through. Marshall Emig.

    Not infrequently he did not recognize his daughter when she entered his field of vision. Sometimes he knew she was someone who mattered, but he didn't have a name for what she was to him. Sometimes she was an utter stranger. Both these perceptions had truth to them, as did his equally frequent and equally substantiated apprehensions that she was his daughter.

    He knew her name perfectly well, of course, and could recount episodes out of their shared histories. Sometimes — and Marshall thought these moments were increasingly precious as his mind became more and more confused — he absolutely basked in their father-daughter love.

    Maybe it was a trick. Maybe they were tricking him. Maybe the assumption that you could recognize anybody, that a person had a core identity which remained constant and discernible over time and place and circumstance, was a ruse. Or, at best, a construct which he was not required to accept anymore — was, in fact, incapable of accepting as the tidal spaces opened up behind the face the outer world saw.

    Somebody was always watching him. If it wasn't his wife or his daughter, it was somebody. Every once in a while he got away, and the sense of freedom when he wasn't under their gaze could be exhilarating, until he considered what it meant about his life that he felt freed when what he really was was lost; what it said about him that just being out on the sidewalk or among trees by himself made him feel freed; pretty pitiful, when you thought about it.

    That evening he'd been haphazardly plotting to escape, but he couldn't really keep his mind on it and he doubted he would have done it, even if Faye hadn't shown up. Where would he go? (Sometimes he knew, but he couldn't have said, as if the imagined destination didn't have a name.) Faye being here should have made him want even more to escape. Instead, it made him want to stay. Did Billie know that? He would never tell Billie. It would terrify her. It would break her heart.

    When Faye whizzed in as if she owned the place, scarves flying and prettily gauzing her face, Rebecca was on duty with him. If he had done one thing right with Rebecca it had been to keep from her any knowledge of Faye. She didn't recognize the name he shouted. She didn't even recognize that it was a name. Marshall, her father, was glad of that. But Marshall was afraid of facing Faye alone. He never had been any match for her. If she hadn't left him, he never would have had the strength to leave her, even though he'd known at the time and knew even more clearly looking back that staying with her would have killed him and probably would have killed their child. 'Faye!' he bellowed again, or maybe it was just the one time reverberating in his mind the way words spoken or thought often did now.

    Rebecca looked up in alarm from the papers spread out on the little table. What was she doing there, anyway? Then she got to her feet — wearily, he thought, concerned — and came toward him. 'Dad? What's wrong?'

    Faye wasn't exactly gone, but she wasn't exactly there anymore, either. Gauze from her scarves remained, around the lights, around the face of the young blonde woman leaning too close over him. He pulled back, raised his hand. In her eyes he saw Faye.

    Now she had one hand on each arm of his chair, trapping him there as if her body were a lid and he in a box. She wasn't very big. He knew her from somewhere. He'd have to push up against her in order to free himself, maybe hit her, even knock her down, maybe hurt her. Maybe hurt Faye, once and for all; it wouldn't be the first time he'd wanted to hurt her, but it would be the first time he'd followed through, and the thought gave him energy and direction.

    He readied himself. (He knew her from somewhere. She was somebody important to him. She was his daughter. She was Becky.)

    When she said, 'There's nothing to be afraid of, Dad,' he believed her, but he couldn't allow her to put him in a cage like that. 'Come on,' Rebecca said to him, smiling. She'd always had such a pretty smile, more guarded than her mother's, less brilliant and easy, which was a good indication of her character but made him yearn for her mother as a young woman every time she smiled at him. She put her hand on his arm, but she'd straightened up now and he didn't feel so trapped, and he would never hurt her.

    Now he was paralyzed, imprisoned in his chair by the knowledge that he had been prepared to hurt her, had been designing ways to hurt her for his own benefit. The need to protect his child, the drive to do what was best for her no matter what the cost to him, he had always considered one of the most primitive of instincts. He had, in fact, sacrificed a significant share of his own happiness in order not to hurt her. It was not that he begrudged her that; that's what fathers were supposed to do. But could it be that there were instincts even more primal that would rise out of the mush of his mind now like nightcrawlers out of rain-soaked soil? Something was wrong with his mind. He stared at his daughter in horror.

    'Come on, Dad,' she said gently.

    Marshall was certain she had said that before, she had just said that. Why was she repeating herself? He had heard her the first time. He had not understood what she wanted; he still didn't understand what she wanted, but repeating herself wasn't going to help; the problem was that she wasn't being clear. He scowled.

    Rebecca stood up, away from him (relief, but also a feeling of abandonment, of imminent abandonment: would she really leave him alone? How would he survive alone?). 'Let's go for a walk. You can help me make rounds.'

    He had no idea what she was talking about, and he did not care for her patronizing tone. Nonetheless, Marshall acquiesced, happy to sacrifice his own happiness for his child's. He knew how to do that. She took his arm and walked close beside him, as if they were a young couple out for a stroll in the spring sunshine. Was it spring? Marshall thought it was spring. Was it evening?

    Marshall was proud to have such a pretty young lady on his arm, his own lovely daughter Rebecca for all the world to see. For Faye to see.

    As they made their way out of the room into a hall, where bluish-white fluorescent lights rippled and dazzled off white floors and white walls, Marshall had the sensation of gauze trailing across his face, touching just the thinnest layer of his skin and flesh, and it was light enough to tickle and tease, rough enough to hurt. He flinched away. He smelled a flowery odor that was naggingly familiar and evocative. But he didn't say anything. The human heart requires secrets; Faye had taught him that.

    Rebecca spat, 'Look at that,' and stopped short.

    Marshall looked, saw innumerable things that could have accounted for her distress — holes in the linoleum that turned out to be only darker squares that turned out to be holes after all; doorways that listed; a man with his zipper open.

    Rebecca had let go of him to take a pen and notebook out of her pocket. She scribbled something on what he could see was a list covering most of the page. He couldn't make out what she wrote, and he was curious, a bit wary; was she writing something about him? When she reached for the handrail and flipped it halfway off the wall he saw that all its screws on one end were missing, and the bracket clattered onto the floor. He bent to pick it up, hefted it in his hands. 'I'll fix it for you,' he offered.

    He saw her start to refuse. Then she looked at him. 'That'd be great, Dad. Do you think you could?'

    'I expect I could manage a job of this magnitude,' he advised her with studied irony, and to his gratification she smiled. She had a pretty smile, if she could just let herself go. But maybe it was a good thing she didn't.

    She put her notebook and pen away and took his arm again, hugging it to her. They made their way along a corridor whose length, breadth, direction, and function he found inscrutable. They were in a hospital, he thought, and then fleetingly remembered: This was a nursing home. The phrase appalled him, then slid away.

    Behind and above them, where neither of them noticed — and producing such a slight distortion in light, sound, and air quality that Rebecca wouldn't have thought much of it anyway, though Marshall would — Faye followed them. She'd just got here, and she still found the sheer novelty of it energizing, but she hadn't come all this way, gone to all this trouble, just for the buzz. She liked this place. There were opportunities everywhere. There'd be plenty to keep her amused while she waited for her chance at the real prize. But patience had never been Faye's strong suit. She wouldn't just sit on her hands.

    Marshall was shocked that there were so many people out here, and uneasily he wondered if he was supposed to know any of them. Actually, not a few of them did look familiar, but one of the reasons he'd always had trouble with names was that the world's population (what he'd seen of it, which wasn't much; keenly he regretted not having traveled more, knew he never would now, thought maybe he would, maybe he would go to Greece, he'd always wanted to go to Greece, he would talk to Billie about it when she got back, there was no reason they couldn't go to Greece, they had plenty of money and plenty of time) was made up of types. Physical types. Psychological types. Marshall had made something of a study of the world's types. Consequently, he had difficulty distinguishing one individual from another, and often didn't see much point in doing so.

    There, sitting in a chair against the wall with her purse upright in her lap, was one of the small, frail old-lady type; his mother had been like that, and his daughter Becky would be, too, when she was old. He missed Becky. He hadn't seen her for a long time. He wondered where she was. He gave a courtly little bow to the small old lady.

    Coming down the hall was a drunk. Marshall detested all drunks. This was the happy-drunk type. Jovial, beaming like an imbecile, the guy would have been red-faced if he hadn't been a Negro. He smelled like a brewery, glad-handing you and slurring his words. Marshall knew the type and kept his face stony when the drunk approached, but the young woman on his arm — his daughter; his daughter Rebecca — stopped and was friendly. She oughtn't to do that. That wasn't the way to handle drunks. Marshall made his arm stiff and leaned away from his daughter and the drunk, hoping she'd sense and correctly interpret his disapproval. When they were out of earshot he would sit her down and give her some fatherly advice about drunks (happy drunks, fawning drunks, were the most insidious, whatever their race).

    Among the nurses and aides in white uniforms were several types. The homosexual. The nervous young girl. The brazen young girl. The middle-aged female smoker with gravelly voice, nicotine-stained fingertips exaggerated by long painted nails, and smoky breath.

    Marshall was certain he had never known the names of any of these people. Throughout his life he hadn't taken much interest in more than a few people — his wife Billie, his daughter Rebecca, co-workers as long as they were working with him. (Faye.) Childhood friends; suddenly he was wondering what Winslow Curtis was doing these days. Good old Windy. He stopped and asked of the woman beside him (he couldn't quite place her, but she was somebody close to him so it made sense to ask), 'Did you know Windy Curtis? What's become of him?'

'No, Dad,' she said patiently. Her patience alarmed him. 'You knew Windy before I was born. He died twenty-five years ago or more, of a heart attack.'

    Shock riffled through him, along with a dismaying feeling of deja vu, as though he'd experienced that same shock and vertigo at the news of his friend's death more than a few times before. He must have swayed a little because she put her other hand on his shoulder. 'Oh,' Marshall said, struck as if freshly by the inevitability of both death and mourning. 'Oh. That's too bad. I'll miss him.'

    'You had good times together, didn't you?'

    How did she know that? Did she know Windy? Warily, Marshall nodded. 'We traveled across country together.' (With Faye. Both of us with Faye, although Faye and Windy had never openly admitted it.) Maybe he shouldn't have said that. Maybe he'd given away secret and potentially damaging information about himself (and about Faye, although he couldn't quite see how).

    'During the Depression, when you were just out of high school and couldn't find work.'

    Suspicion now rang in his ears. 'That's right,' he said curtly, and would say no more about Winslow Curtis, whom he would visit as soon as he could get out of this place. (Or about Faye.)

    'Look, Dad,' Rebecca urged. She was trying to distract him. Marshall recognized the ploy. She was trying to force him to turn left. He'd have had no objection to turning left, but he was not about to be forced and certainly not by his own daughter, so he resisted. The pressure on his arm and shoulder subsided. 'They're painting a mural.'

    Despite himself, he turned left, stopped, and looked. Maybe half a dozen people were painting a wall. The glad-handing drunk. A tiny, dark, intense woman of a type he had not encountered often — some sort of foreigner. Another one of the bent old-lady type — this one frail although she wasn't especially small.

    Marshall squinted. It made him uncomfortable to see all these people painting on the wall like misbehaving children. If there was any coherence to the painting, it escaped him. Swatches and globs of random colors, and shapes that bore no resemblance to anything in the real world.

    The drunk was painting the background. 'That's Gordon,' Rebecca told her father, as if he cared what the guy's name was. 'I guess he's painted before.'

    'Sure have, Princess,' the drunk guy boomed, and Marshall, mistrusting his familiar tone, tried to put himself between Rebecca and the man and found he could not; in the attempt he nearly lost his balance and someone, the blonde young woman holding onto his arm, prevented him from doing so. He did not appreciate that. He would bide his time. The drunk, face flushed under the dark jowly skin, was still talking, too loudly, too familiarly. 'Houses, fences, one time a barn with a big high peak, none of the other fellows would go up the ladder. I know what I'm doing.'

    The north wall of the lounge was now a bright satisfying white, with smudges and streaks only here and there. 'Well,' said Rebecca wryly, 'I guess we can't change our minds now, can we?'

    A tall woman in a uniform, a stern-nurse type, shrugged and turned her attention back to the spiral notebook in her hand. 'Maybe it won't look so bad.'

    A woman with a Southern accent said comfortingly, 'At least it's a cheap way to redecorate the lounge.'

    The tiny dark foreign woman was painting stars. She sat crosslegged in one corner, her nose inches away from Gordon's white wall, and used the brush from a child's paint-by-number set to make dozens of dots and rays. The stars were in a formation like a fan: the yellow ones at the wide end were faint and fuzzy, the middle ones were green and blue and purple and round, and at the tip was one bright red star perhaps two inches in diameter with twelve distinct points and the suggestion of three-dimensionality.

    The woman appeared to be talking to herself. When Rebecca raised her voice slightly to say, 'Those are terrific stars, Petra,' she scooted herself around so that the stars were hidden by her small taut body from the view of Rebecca and Marshall, and Marshall heard her muttering curses no lady ought to know.

    A stocky old man in a red flannel shirt and suspenders, smelling as his type always did of sweet pipe-smoke, was making shapes. Lumps. Black hills. He chortled in curmudgeonly glee. 'I don't know what they are, little lady. Hell, I'm ninety-two years old. I don't have to know. You figure it out, you tell me.' His swelling black brush-strokes filled the bottom quadrant of the mural opposite Petra and as high as he could reach from his wheelchair.

    Another of the frail old ladies came down the hall, laboriously, leaning hard to the left and holding onto the handrail with both hands. Rebecca let go of her father's arm to get the old lady a chair. Marshall stood swaying in space until she came back to him, saying (he thought she was not speaking to him, but he couldn't be sure), 'Beatrice, I'm glad you decided to join us.'

    The woman apparently named Beatrice smiled pleasantly and didn't say anything.

    Completely at a loss as to what was going on, Marshall cast about for clues. Circles of light — reflections, he thought, but maybe not — were broken up in the wavy waxed white floor. Sounds were hollow and crowded, sliding into one another or separating out. 'Would you like to paint, Dad?' Marshall didn't know who was speaking, what the speaker was alluding to, whom she was addressing. Her father, presumably.

    Marshall. Honey.

    Faye. He knew who that was, but he couldn't be expected to know what she wanted. He never had known what she wanted. Heart pounding painfully, looking around for her, desperately hoping he'd find her again and desperately hoping he would not. 'Leave me alone,' he told her.

    'Okay,' Rebecca agreed. 'We'll just watch for a while.'

    A very tall wiry man walked up behind Petra, positioned his feet shoulder-width apart, and dropped his hand heavily onto her head. Still painting stars, she ignored him. He stared at the wall. 'Stupid,' he announced in a loud surly voice. 'This is fucking dumb.' Marshall winced and considered telling the guy to watch his mouth, there were ladies present, but couldn't quite put the words in the best order and then forgot.

    Someone handed the tall man a wide paintbrush. 'We need something at the top, Bob. You're the only one who can reach it.'

    Face stormy, Bob regarded the brush. At his feet Petra worked steadily, her undertone of furious Spanish rising and falling like an unmelodic song. 'This is fucking dumb,' he said again, but he finally took the brush.

    Quietly, Beatrice moved her chair up to the wall and picked up a brush. The old woman's strokes were firm, her face set. In bright blue paint and thin lines a cluster of faces emerged, not quite realistic but utterly believable. The grin of one was ragged and desperate; the eyes of another were haunted.

    When she finished the faces Beatrice cocked her head even farther to the left and regarded them critically, made a few minuscule adjustments. Then she painstakingly cleaned her brush, found a can of green paint, and proceeded to set the faces one after another on leafless stems, each of them bending sharply one way or the other.

    'You've painted before, too,' Rebecca observed.

    'When I was a girl,' Beatrice admitted, 'I used to do portraits. That was a long time ago, don't you know.'

    'I am Jesus Christ! They're crucifying me! I am Jesus Christ! They're crucifying me! Ohh! Ohh!'

    Marshall swiveled his head slowly toward the shrieking. Though this was no more peculiar or disturbing than many other things in the world, it did claim his attention for longer than most. Briefly, he thought it might be Faye (she was somewhere close by; he was afraid of her), but then he chided himself. Faye loved making a spectacle of herself, but she would never be ugly like this, scrawny legs splayed and hair unkempt as the batting from a split pillow.

    But this person somehow reminded him of Faye, and he did not dare be reminded of Faye. He closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears. But without clear external visual or auditory stimuli, his own thoughts grew alarmingly louder, brighter, and more tangled, so he took his hands away and opened his eyes wide.

    'It's okay, Dad,' Rebecca said, meaning to reassure. 'Abby, I really don't think Myra can—'

    'She has a right to express herself, too,' said the young lank-haired aide pushing Myra's wheelchair. Myra's eyes were opening in slits and her voice was lowering as she saw the bold colors on the wall in front of her.

    Bob stretched as high as he could and daubed an approximate circle at the juncture of wall and ceiling. It splattered upward, leaving a trail of tiny orange flecks. Rebecca grimaced. The woman with the Southern accent chuckled softly, 'Hadn't planned on repainting the ceiling, huh, boss?'

    'There,' Bob shouted. 'There's your fucking stupid sun son-of-a-bitch,' and threw down the brush and stomped out of the building.

    'Myra' said Abby, taking pains to enunciate. 'Here's a brush and some red paint and a big white space in front of you. Paint something. Show us what you're feeling.'

    'I am Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt,' Myra said conversationally.

    'Well, here, Cleo.' Abby put the dripping brush into Myra's hand and closed her own fingers around it. 'I'll help.'

    Myra looked at her with clear, wide blue eyes. 'You just take your hand away from me, girlie. You just stand there and listen and maybe you'll learn something.' Abby hesitated, then obediently backed away, grinning. Myra leaned so far forward that her long body was bent almost double like a closed safety pin over the restraint, and made a vertical red slash on the wall. Then, her tongue protruding a little and her other hand raised in a loose fist, she made another slash horizontally across the first, forming a rough and dramatic red cross.

    She sat back, dropped the brush full of paint into her lap, and sank into her chair as if she had abruptly fallen asleep. 'My God,' breathed the woman with the Southern accent. 'Here comes Paul.'

    Two aides propelled a spastic young man toward the group in the lounge. His chuffing noises might have signified excitement and might have signified distress and might have signified nothing in particular. Bulging eyes fixed on the mural, he grinned and drooled.

    Rebecca stooped to ready the largest brush with yellow paint. Paul by now could hardly contain himself. He was whooping and twisting in the grasp of the aides, and one of them barely stopped him from shoving the laden brush into his mouth.

    With one loud purposeful grunt he raised his brush back and fell with it against the wall. As he sank to the floor, his arm traced a jagged arc and a yellow streak like a bolt of lightning appeared across the mural. Abby and another aide caught him on the way down and eased him to a sitting position on the paint cloth; he was laughing in his odd breathless way, obviously not hurt and holding the brush aloft.

    Many in the group applauded. To be polite, to avoid drawing attention to himself, Marshall clapped, too, although he saw nothing worth such praise. Rebecca hugged the young man. 'Perfect, Paul! That's perfect!'

    Paul might have said, 'Yeah!'

    Faye whispered to Marshall, 'We can do better than that, you and me,' and very softly blew into his ear.

    Mortified to discover himself hardening for her, and to feel the extent of his terror, he cried out (he did not mean to say her name again, but nothing else would show his desire and his fear; maybe he didn't say her name). His daughter reached to hug him, and he held on. 'It is fun, isn't it, Dad? I'm glad you're here!'

    Sometime later (or earlier, or in a different time sequence, or outside time altogether, or in memory, or in a kind of foretelling), Marshall found himself poised in front of a mostly white wall. A wide paintbrush was in his hand, dripping white paint onto the thigh of his charcoal trousers.

    Faye encircled his hand in both her small, soft, long-nailed ones and laughed, in that delighted and malicious way that had always made him want to run from her at the same time that he would have done almost anything to cause her to laugh like that again, to smile at him like that, to show him he could still please her. 'Aren't we a team, Marshall, honey? Aren't we something?'

    Faye raised his arm high above his head, higher than he could reach without standing precariously on tiptoe and bracing the heel of his other hand against the wall, which was sticky. A jagged yellow streak descended into — or, depending on your perspective, rose out of — the thick waves of white paint like the branch or the root of a tree, maybe dead, being covered or marooned by the rising or falling tide. He shouldn't be doing this.

    Faye squealed, 'Ooo, this is fun!' and shoved his arm up.

    He tried to stop, but she Was quicker and much more wilful than he was, and the yellow zigzag disappeared under thick, rivuleted white.

    'Marshall, what in the world are you doing?' It was Billie. He knew right away that it was his wife Billie, and he was very glad she had come, but he also felt guilty, although he had forgotten what it was he had done wrong. 'Oh, for heaven's sake, look at your clothes!'

    He looked, saw his good charcoal trousers, a burgundy shirt he thought must be new, and respectable black shoes, but no socks. Why was he not wearing socks? Marshall felt himself flush with shame. No wonder Billie was embarrassed. He suspected he embarrassed her a good deal these days, but he never seemed to be aware of it until it was too late. 'I'm sorry,' he said.

    'Becky, for heaven's sake, just look at your father!'

    'Is he okay?'

    'Look at his trousers. Look at his brand-new shirt. A brand-new shirt, first time he's worn it.'

    'How did he get into the paint? I thought Lisa put it all away in the cabinets in the activity room.'

    'Why wasn't anybody watching him? That's why I had to put him here, because I couldn't watch him twenty-four hours a day, but I could watch him better than this.'

    'Dad! You painted over the mural!'

    Uncomprehending, Marshall stared. Then, to get away from all of them, Billie and Rebecca and Faye, he retreated a step. The back of his shirt and the seat of his trousers clung to the wet paint on the wall.

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