Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 6 No. 1 | Spring 1984 (Seattle) /// Issue 7 of 24 /// Master# 55 of 73

peculiarities of the stone: bacon, popcorn, layer cake, as if one had need of reminders of nourishment in such a place. The artificial light made the underground pools seem as clear as air, down to the glitter of coins lining their beds. Here and there, colored bulbs projected false greens and oranges onto the mineral pillars and rock drifts, making her think of a movie theater. In a broad corridor they passed single file by a small casket holding the dried body of an ancient Indian, shrunk down to the size of a child, a natural mummy. Why only one? Later, the guide switched off the lights so the tourists could experience the totality of underground darkness, and Evelyn felt immediately the first stage of petrification. In short time, they were told by the tour guide’s voice, their eyes would become too fragile for the daylight. But her eyes were becoming stones, harder than they had ever been; it was they that would break the light. Blind is dead, she thought, it is the beginning. Then the guide snapped his torch back on, drawing their vision to it in supplication, and the line continued on. With Greg it had been the passageways of the pine forests, left behind forever when they came to the Midwest, though they didn't know it then. The northwestern forests were different from the woodlands here. Those had little underbrush, and one could walk easily among the naked lower trunks of the evergreens, their bottom branches skeletonized because the sunlight was absorbed far above in the green spires. Beneath it was cool and silent and the color of rust, with a soft floor of needles, and under that, a mountain. It was like being inside somewhere. She had always thought of that brown silence as belonging to a room, where, season to season, nothing changed. In Indiana, the forests were restless? always in flux, one act of insects and flowers following another in a striving effort to live while the trees turned colors until they died and then were reborn. She had followed Greg through these woods too, her feet stumbling, always wondering what he saw, for they spoke as little here as anywhere. And though she could follow his eyes to the same spot, and ponder the same complexity in the bark of a fallen tree or the vegetable fringe of a mud creek, she never really knew. And she wondered too what she would see if she were alone, she was still thinking about that, and even what she would be looking at, for these were his paths and not hers. Evelyn folds the card up and puts it back into the envelope, then the letter. What was the question he asked? What is it that makes you feel loved? But it was longer than that. There was something else in it. She cannot reconstruct the odd sentence as he phrased it, but instead of getting the letter out again, she decides to try to get the gist of it anyway. What is it, when someone you love . . . but that is the difficulty. It has been so long since there was a question of love that she cannot entertain the premise, so long since the heart murmur they had tacitly hoped was benign invisibly swelled, like the voices of tree frogs, whose sound unaccountably filled the summer nights of the little house they had rented one year. It had swelled, literally, to the size of the heart itself, amplifying the syncopation until it burst. Greg died without summoning consciousness after the operation, and Evelyn went home from the hospital alone, wondering what she should have done. The frame of her reality went back to that, the solitary life, as if she had been living it all along. And as it was strengthened by the passing of year after quiet year, she began to look out from it at other people as if she knew nothing of their world. But it was she who was on the outside. She observed couples as a beggar might look into an illuminated window at night, wondering at the quality of warmth. It was if she had never married, had never herself shared an interior of gold windowlight. She had learned this from her mother, how to be a woman alone, and it was what she knew best after all. One of the places where she lived in her early widowhood, when she was still uncertain about money, was a small duplex on the south side of Indianapolis. The other half of the house was inhabited by a family of eight, small people with slow southern tongues. The children had tangled hair and went barefoot in summer, and they often came to her door, at first asking for errands or chores to do for a quarter, then later to visit. The only one who never came was the eldest daughter, who in any event was not a child though she might seem to be. She was nineteen and stayed mostly in the house, coming out only occasionally to sit on the porch, usually with one or two of her sisters. They would bring her to the steps, stay with her a few minutes, then be off on missions of their own. For a while, Evelyn thought the girl did not speak. She only sat quietly, her long brown hair tied back, watching something on the street or in the sky. When Evelyn passed, she seemed to draw into herself and become smaller. And then one day the little girls stopped Evelyn on the porch as she was entering her part of the house. “I don’t have jobs for you today,” she said, but they wanted her to sit down with them. “This here’s Lois,” said one, who looked ten but was probably fourteen. When she spoke, she showed dark front teeth. “She’s a lady too.” “Hello, Lois,” said Evelyn, and to her surprise, Lois looked up and smiled. “Hello," she said and then looked away again, but she was still smiling. Evelyn sat down on the other side of the steps and looked at the sky too. “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” she said. Lois looked at her shyly. “Real pretty,” she said. Her speech sounded damped, as if her sinuses were closed, but it could be understood. The two sat across from each other on the steps for a while, and eventually the children drifted away. Together, they watched the sky. Then Lois turned her face toward Evelyn again. “You got a man?” she asked. “No,” Evelyn replied. “Me neither.” There was a pause. Then Lois told her a story. “Was a man came to see me once, but he ain’t never come back.” Evelyn nodded. “We was to Burger King,” Lois told her. “But he ain’t never come around here no more.” Evelyn looked at the tiny woman, her hair catching the light of the sunset, and tried to imagine the date. “My pa says won’t no man have me,’1 Lois said then, stretching her arms out and rubbing one and then the other. She looked at Evelyn again. “Won’t no man have you neither?” Evelyn shook her head. “No,” she answered. Lois sighed. “Won’t no man have us, neither one,” she said. And then they sat in silence through one more change in the sky, sharing a bond. Now Evelyn thinks of how often she has repeated this line to herself, like a caption that she keeps beneath her: won’t no man have me. She thinks of the question that she can’t quite , recall and applies it to that. Jerome the geologist sits at his desk in a cave and composes questions about love. Evelyn gives back her false answers to the sky. “Won’t no man have me,” she says, pretending to be Lois. But she is herself, hiding, keeping just out of sight down the hill by a jungle of blackberry vines. The line is not hers, not even after all these years since she stole it. Lois is still sitting on the steps, remembering her trip to Burger King, waiting-for Evelyn to give it back. When did it become so hard to tell the truth? She picks up the envelope again and gets out the letteer. What is it, when done by someone you care for, makes you feel loved? The question is still the same, but the answer seems to change shape in her mind as she looks for it, and she feels the drab weather of subterfuge beginning to gather behind her eyes. Clouds without rain: A long season, a hard path. She wonders if there is still time to go back. • Sharon Lynn Pugh is a Bloomington, Indiana, writer. Claudia Cave is a Salem artist. 30 Clinton St. Quarterly