Fiction by George Singleton
My neighbor couldn’t put a four-piece puzzle of Florida together, but he’d been likable. We never talked politics or religion, or history, literature, television shows that don’t involve a laugh-track, music, baseball, health insurance, how America is supposed to be welcoming to immigrants. Reese’s the weatherman, six and eleven, for one of the minor stations, one of those places, I guess, still called “local access,” like channel 3 for people without cable. He’s not a meteorologist—not a person who actually went to college and got a degree in one of the Atmospheric Sciences—rather, a man with a degree in Communications from one of the satellite campuses who didn’t know enough about sports or foreign name pronunciation but could somehow point at a town and say, “Rain.” He could say, “According to doppler radar” and “According to the National Weather Service,” and go from there without stumbling much. His father-in-law owned the station, if it matters. I had liked Reese. He owned the looks for TV—young Clark Gable, minus the mustache. I wished that I had his handsome features, to be honest. Reese didn’t mind walking right into my house around noon, pouring himself a couple bourbons, then just sitting there watching me as I worked, doing my job from home, which happened to be as a slightly sought-after copyeditor hired out by both big-time publishing houses, and university presses. I know what I know from reading everything from biographies to novels to cookbooks. Reese slept late, and didn’t mow his yard because he’d paid attention one time about a piece before his segment that concerned a woman with a degree in horticulture and a focus in sustainable agriculture who pointed out things about water, pesticides, gasoline, global warming, et cetera. Because Reese and I never talk about economics, either, it might be he’s a plain skinflint, I don’t know. Me, I don’t cut the grass because I’m flat-out lazy that way, and I’ve talked myself into believing that St. Francis of Assisi looks down on me smiling, for offering sustenance and protection to snakes, rabbits, does that need to bed down their fawns, foxes, box turtles, and the occasional teenager unable to sneak booze anywhere else. Reese and I both have houses set back from the road, maybe two acres of what I think is porcupine grass, but I don’t know for sure, then woods that are pine. I know it’s pine. Pine’s not hard to figure out, especially after burning it in the fireplace, then having the flue catch on fire from all the sap or whatever. Off in the distance, maybe two hundred yards away, is the river.
So, anyway, that’s Reese: He gets home around one in the morning, he sleeps until eleven, he tries to put a puzzle of Florida together (this is my imagining what he does), and then he comes over and walks right in and opens my kitchen cabinet. He might ask, “What’re you reading?” and I might say, “This is a fascinating book about tramp art.” I wonder if he keeps a little spray can of Binaca to spritz himself before standing in front of the green screen and going, “Hot and humid.”
Then he might say, “It’s supposed to get up to 98 degrees tomorrow.”
And then I might say, “I wonder what the real-feel temperature will be.”
“A hundred and five,” he’ll say.
Reese’s not the problem. It’s his wife, Deadora, which, if you ask me, sounds like a made up name but I’ve never asked her. Four syllables—Dee-uh-door-uh—but when she’s at my front stoop, weekly, wanting me to sign some kind of petition’s she’s made up, I go “Dead Ora” in my head. If her husband looks like a knock-off Gable, she’s a dead-ringer for the actress Michelle Pfeiffer circa Married to the Mob, and Deadora fashions herself an actress, at least on the Little Theatre circuit. She’s made up petitions that didn’t faze me, ones that I thought sounded fair and rational—like not shooting fireworks in the county except on July 4, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve, and never past ten o’clock. She made up a petition about needing speed bumps just about everywhere, something about a need for more shade trees, probably a rant that concerned no need for gunfire even though we lived outside the city limits where no noise ordinance existed. Deadora wanted me to sign some kind of missive about outdoor lights confusing migratory birds, a manifesto denigrating people who drove their garbage to the recycling center without sporting some kind of bungee-cord-strapped tarp on the back of their pick-ups, a manifesto about not leashing dogs to trees but keeping them inside fences, something about car mufflers, a bunch of them. If she comes over after Reese has gone off to his job reading a teleprompter, I smell booze on her breath.
Sometimes she’s not wearing appropriate clothing to visit a neighbor, not that I’m a prude. By this I mean, sometimes she shows up wearing a negligee and says things like, “Hey, Edgar, would you be kind enough to help me? I need some help.” She always looks over my shoulders, as if checking for someone else living in my house, namely, I suppose, a wife or girlfriend. One time she said, “I’m going to take this to County Council next week if I can get a hundred signatures. I think we need a three-way stop sign, there at the intersection of Canaan and Old Canaan Road. You wouldn’t be opposed to a three-way, would you?”
Understand, most of my time’s spent on dealing with grammar and punctuation, with misspellings and inconsistencies. But I’m not averse to understanding double-entendres and nuance. This one particular time, when Deadora felt compelled to worry over traffic, she pointed west with her left arm, and a boob fell from her teddy, or camisole, or whatever it’s called. I said to her, “Let me go get a pen.”
Again: Not a prude, but All In when it comes to Male Code, which means not screwing the neighbor’s wife. And although I overheard Deadora mutter something about my being gay on this particular three-way occasion, gin on her breath, I held nothing against her and thought about how maybe I should be writing my own a memoir of sorts.
So that’s the background. I guess I could add more true tales. I could go into detail about Reese coming over and telling me about how he was the only person at the television station who believed in global warming, which made me like him more so, and how the Traffic Woman in the morning made stuff up in regard to collisions and detours on I-85, because her husband owned an Overstocks Outlet out on highway 9. I could point out how I caught Deadora standing barefoot on one of my fire ant mounds one time, then ringing the doorbell over and over and asking if I owned any Benadryl. I said I didn’t. She asked, then, if I’d pee on her feet, because that’s what worked with jellyfish stings. I’d said that I’d not had any water in a couple days and couldn’t muster a urination, sorry.
Whenever Deadora showed up, I kind of ran through all these anecdotes and instances in my mind, one after the other. I made bets with myself: Petition about Noise, Animals, Traffic. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes not. So when she came over wearing a bikini, of all things, and said, “Have you ever read Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I want you to help me be Martha. Will you think about helping?” I could only put down the manuscript I read about the history of distance runners in Kenya, and say, “Indubitably,” though I’d never read the play, only seen the movie starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, like, four hundred times. That movie—though Deadora didn’t know it—might’ve caused the end of my marriage, five years earlier, just before my ex-wife, I imagined, drank herself to death somewhere above the state line.
Deadora handed me her latest petition, directed toward the Catawba Little Theatre, which involved their re-thinking year after year godawful productions of Guys and Dolls and My Fair Lady and The Music Man and The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! The King and I, and South Pacific, hell, of every musical ever invented. Oh, I signed immediately, though I didn’t know what Deadora expected of me. How did musicals help small towns? I thought. Who fucking goes around singing dialogue? In what world do people walk down a sidewalk going, “Some enchanted evening/you may see a stranger”? If you ask me, and I’m just a copyeditor, so I might not know, anyone walking around spouting out such lines in public is either going to get shunned or punched or placed into an institution. Why would a small town Little Theatre corrupting field-tripping eighth graders and fearful, closeted ex-cotton mill executives ever want to dive into, I don’t know, Rogers and Hammerstein? But I liked the idea. I said to my neighbor, “Yeah, I’m with you on this.”
She said, “Will you promise to help out in some way? Reese has already promised to audition for George, even though he’s not acted since college.”
I thought back to the movie. Four actors and a lot of lines. I said, “I won’t act, but I’ll try to help out somehow. I’ll put up flyers, you know. I’ll do something back stage,” like an idiot. Not one of her petitions had worked out yet, so I didn’t foresee any consequences.
This happened around one o’clock. It was April. The temperature was an unseasonably warm eighty-six degrees, with little wind.
The Catawba Little Theatre, established in 1998, was set up in an old metal quonset hut ex-feed and seed store, just a couple miles from the Landsford Locks on the Catawba River, a place built in 1823 so white people could cruise up and down the river to see their kin, so cotton and tobacco farmers could ferry their crops south even during low water droughts, something like that. Slaves moved boulders out into the river and placed them in V-shapes, establishing weirs. One time I worked on a book about the situation, published by one of those historical presses. Anyway, spider lilies grow on the rocks, and they’re rare and endangered, from what I’ve read. Botanists from all over the world come down to the river mid-May to mid-June and ooh and aah over these botanical wonders. Once or twice a year there’s an item in the weekly paper about poachers getting caught, wanting to re-pot these spider lilies in places like, I don’t know, the Hudson River, or the Ganges, or the vases on set of reality TV shows.
There’s a state park at Landsford Locks, open Dawn to Dark, with picnic tables, shelters, the old Lock Master’s roofless rock house, and so on, just down the road from my house. Trails pretty much follow the river. People bring kayaks and canoes into the area. The river doesn’t move much faster than a box turtle intent on its prey of ground cover. I live in this area because my ex-wife Janie inherited the land, and it wasn’t a long commute to her job teaching Ethics at a technical college imbued by students who wished, mostly, to become dental hygienists or police officers. Janie fell in love with a man who taught welding or diesel repair, I forget, and I guess because of her ethics training in philosophy she realized how I should keep her family’s house. Here I am. It’s a normal brown cedar plank-sided house, maybe 1600 square feet, next to Reese and Deadora on one side, and a copse of woods on the other that, in time, will get razed and turned into a a brace of pre-built manufactured homes, I’m betting, as Charlotte expands outward. The Catawba River’s in front of me and, drunk, my best time sprinting from driveway to water’s edge is thirty-seven seconds. Because of its proximity to the state park entrance, and I guess because my house looks like a ranger’s station, I get visitors often, wanting to know where they can set up their tents or RVs, or they bring along dead snakes and ask me to identify them. I always say, “Water moccasin,” though no cottonmouths live this far north in South Carolina.
My worst time down to the river, if it matters, is two hours, because I tripped, hit my head, and took a slight nap.
When this latest petition showed up I happened to work on some woman’s memoir about traveling the Lower Forty-Eight in search of unmarked graves. Not that I’m stupid, but maybe I didn’t know state borders as well as I should and, in the attic, I found Janie’s old United States puzzle up in the attic. I brought it down and pieced it together on a card table where I liked to work. Sure enough, the memoirist—most of this story had little to do with grave sites of strong, smart women pre-Susan B. Anthony like she set up to write, and more to do with a child she gave up for adoption when she was a first-year college student—drove from West Virginia to Delaware without passing through Maryland or Pennsylvania, then Texas to Kansas without the panhandle of Oklahoma. I guess I could’ve plain unfolded a paper map on the table, but I’d read a novel once about a character who kept one of these puzzles in his back seat and threw the pieces out his car window every time he crossed into another state, and I thought it might be appropriate. Not that I’m always prone to procrastinate, but I found myself slightly bored with this memoir, and more than a few times turned over all the states and connected them upside down. Then I daydreamed about what people in Utah might think about living so far east that no clouds of locusts ever appeared.
I don’t want to enter ex-wife Child Janie’s mindset, but a number of the states’ two-letter abbreviations got worn off, like FL, CA, and—I found this odd—NJ.
So I sat there on my screened porch that overlooked scattered woods, made a bet with myself, jumped to the last chapter, and sure enough—through one of those spit-in-a-tube tests the writer found her long-lost given-up-for-adoption daughter living in Alaska—when Reese showed up through my side door. I said, “I’m out here.”
He didn’t stop by my liquor cabinet. I could tell from his heavy footsteps that something might be amiss in his daily life. I don’t want to come off as any kind of cinephile, but Reese held the countenance of actor Murray Hamilton, both as Mr. Robinson in The Graduate, and Mayor Vaughan in Jaws. He stood by my table and didn’t look down at the manuscript, nor the puzzle.
Off in the distance, a deer snorted. I heard a small plane overhead. Reese smelled of Aqua Velva, and his gastrointestinal tract emitted a ping. I said, “What?”
I thought about standing up, because I’d read a fascinating manuscript one time about human behavior vis-a-vis body positioning. The book never got published, though, because the writer got convicted for second-degree manslaughter somewhere between final draft and publication date.
Reese shuffled one foot—he wore Old School loafers, pennies included—like a stereotypical bull. He said, “You think you’re so smart.”
With this I went ahead and stood up. I don’t know why I thought it necessary to say, “Well, yeah, I am. I do, because I am.” And then, I guess to beat him to his usual punch, I said, “Today it’s only going to be eighty degrees. Rain is in the forecast for Thursday.”
Reese stepped back. He held his arms out by his side in a way I didn’t like. “Did you know that if a copperhead gets moved away from the immediate territory of its birth, it’s like a death sentence? You might as well go ahead and chop off the snake’s head, rather than move it far from its home.”
I figured this was supposed to be some kind of euphemism, some kind of analogy or metaphor. I said, “Then I guess every copperhead living in a zoo was born at the zoo. Every copperhead living in a Reptile House or herpetarium got born right there. One time I watched a copperhead in,” I looked down at the puzzle pieces, “North Dakota. There are no copperheads in North Dakota. But I guess that one landed there somehow. Maybe it got adopted and brought up by a regular Hog-nosed snake before it could understand its normal habitat.”
Reese said, “I think you know what I’m talking about, son.”
In my mind I thought about where my fireplace poker stood inside, plus the two baseball bats and my best knives. “Are you drunk already? I hope it’s your day off. I hope Flip or Perry’s working for you tonight.” I looked at my watch. It was barely after four.
“You might not know it, but Deadora’s named after one of Shakespeare’s more famous characters. So I don’t blame her for doing anything she finds necessary to star in the Catawba Little Theatre’s productions.” Reese said, “I thought, though, that you might not take advantage of her when she was most vulnerable.”
I didn’t say, “Desdemona’s the character, you idiot, not Deadora. There’s no Deadora in Shakespeare.” I didn’t say this because I have this thing about being wrong, and for all I knew there might’ve been a Deadora in Cymbeline, or one of those other plays not shown or taught often. And I’ll give both Deadora and Reese this: There’s a tree called a Deodar. Maybe Deadora’s parents got confused while naming their daughter.
Reese said, “My wife says you tried to take advantage of her, when she was obviously defenseless and undergoing mental pains.”
I sat back down. I reminded myself that since Janie left I’d started every day by either doing a hundred burpees, or pushing hard on the house’s far wall, trying to get it to 180 degrees. I figured that I could take poor Reese in about three good right crosses. “She came over here for me to sign another petition, I did, and she left, Reese. That’s it. She wasn’t wearing much when it came to late-day clothing, but I didn’t fall for any of her advances. Male code, buddy. You should know me by now.”
“She said you said you’d be in the play with her, playing George, which is supposed to be my part.”
“No,” I said. “I said I’d help. Not act. You think I want to be involved in the goddamn Little Theatre? I don’t even want to be out in public. I’m not all that happy when you show up.”
Reese shook his head. He didn’t make eye contact. He looked down at my table, picked up the puzzle piece that represented Florida, and said, “One place I’ve always want to go was the Baja peninsula.”
He pronounced it Bah-jaw.
Then he spit on me, and left.
I get hired out more and more by rich men who self-publish their godawful novels, autobiographies, or self-help books that involve ways to succeed in life. This started happening about the same time Amazon started putting out “independently published” works, plus when every editor with whom I’ve ever worked took calls, then directed “writers” to me. I’m not complaining, at least not much. Some of the books have been publish-worthy. Some have ended up selling a slew, out of the writers’ trunks, or on their various social media sites, or in person should a motivational speaker be involved. It’s made me wonder how much—or little—Shakespeare or Edward Albee could sell if they’d had such odd opportunities and convenience.
Understand that Reese, sure enough, hadn’t been relieved by those other weather-people, Flip or Perry, both of whom worked the morning or weekend shifts. He left, I went and made my own self about a quadruple bourbon, and I sat back down to copyedit the I-Bet-My-Child-Wants- to-Know-How-I-Ended-Up narrative. I don’t want to come across as one of those people who can get so deep in thought that he or she doesn’t recognize goings-on about him-or herself, but I jumped visibly, and accidentally slid Arizona straight off the table, when Deadora yelled into my ear, “‘You son-of-a-bitch, Edgar, what the hell did you tell my husband!”
I’m not too proud to say I might’ve released a little urine into my underwear.
I got out of my chair as if it were spring-loaded. It couldn’t have happened in reality, but I took my right hand and held it to my pate, should I hit the exposed beam on the porch—that’s how high I thought I jumped. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I thought I heard a chatter of squirrels sounding off, setting off an alarm to their comrades.
It wasn’t yet dusk. From where I sat, and if I squinted and moved my head back and forth incrementally, I could still see people off in the distance, dealing with their kayaks or canoes. I said, “Goddamn you, Deadora, you about gave me a heart attack.”
Later on I would chastise myself for using such a cliché, and try to invent other medical catastrophes to illicit a similar feeling. You almost burst my appendix. Goddamn it, you about spasmed a tumor, you about dislodged a couple blood clots I’ve been safekeeping.
Deadora’d changed clothes from earlier. She now wore a regular pair of designer blue jeans—maybe manufactured in Nashville, what with the rhinestone-studded back pockets—and a red-and-white checkered blouse that, if cinched above her navel, might’ve made her look like an extra on Hee-Haw. She took my glass and drank half of it. “Reese came back from here saying you said we’re having an affair, and that it’s been going on since I starred in Chicago at the Catawba Little Theatre.”
I didn’t want to say, “Listen, Slick, I’ve never seen one of your productions because I have something against musicals in general, and little theatre in particular.” But I did. I said, “Listen, Slick,” and went straight through with it. I said, “Reese thought it necessary to spit on me.”
Deadora laughed. She laughed and laughed. She took my glass again and drained it. “He spits on me all the time! Where he’s from, it’s a sign of admitting he’s scared. He can’t help it! It’s what comes natural!”
Reese didn’t look Peruvian to me. He didn’t appear to be the kind of person that took pointers from a llama. I might be wrong, but I kind of remember his telling me that he grew up in Montgomery. I said, “Huh.”
“Anywho,” Deadora said. “I came by again to thank you. Because of your signature, and I guess because of everyone else’s, but you were the final one, Keller’s going ahead with a plan to run Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and I’ll be playing Martha! Keller’s the director!”
She kind of jumped up and down a little and clapped her hands in tiny palpitations. She clapped, I imagined, like a llama might chatter its teeth. Understand that, though I had zero training in such things, I questioned some of this story. Most of this story. All of it. Like, Deadora came to get a signature on her petition early afternoon, and some kind of small-town director agreed to a production a few hours later?
I said, “Good on you, Deadora. That’s fantastic news.”
“Remember how you said you’d help out?”
I thought back. It hadn’t been but five or six hours, but a lot had occurred since then, most of which involved wiping off, then scrubbing, my face.
“Keller’s bringing in two professional actors to play Nick and Honey, all the way from Wilmington. They’re professionals! As you may or may not know, the Catawba Little Theatre has a couple Angels who give enough money for such things to happen.”
I got up, went to my bourbon, and poured two glasses so I didn’t have to share with my neighbor. I handed her one glass. “I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Professionals!” she said. Deadora said, “And I’m keeping you to your word, you said you’d help.”
I thought, Stand at the door and take tickets. I thought, Walk around with a flashlight and work as an usher. “Yeah,” I said.
“So,” Deadora said. “You have an extra bedroom, right?”
I walked into the den. Deadora followed me. I picked up the channel changer, turned on the TV, and went for her husband’s station. It ended up too late for the six o’clock news, too early for the eleven, and they showed a re-run of Murder, She Wrote. Like I said, it was one of those local stations. If it matters, I called the station about twice a week asking that they show Lost in Space or My Favorite Martian. Maybe it cost too much money to run those shows in syndication.
I said, “Yeah, I got two extra bedrooms, technically. I’m supposed to be using one for an office, but I can’t get much wi-fi working unless I come out here to the porch.”
Deadora nodded and held an unnaturally broad smile. I’d never noticed that she might’ve held a mouth with forty-six or fifty teeth, one right after the other, straight down into her esophagus. She said, “We wouldn’t want to put you out. Keller made it clear that he didn’t want to put you out. You, or us. There’s no telling how long the play might run! You never know! It might be six weekends, or it might go on for a year. I know you’re the kind of person filled up with trivia, Edgar, but do you know how long Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? played on Broadway?”
I said, “What?” I said, “Wait, what are you talking about?”
Deadora coughed twice into her bent left elbow. Then she poured herself more bourbon. I’m not proud of this, but ever since Reese started helping himself to my liquor, I’ve been pouring plain, normal—though still good—Jim Beam into an empty Blanton’s bottle, the one with the horse atop the cork. “It went from October 1962 until May 1964. There were 664 performances. Uta Hagen was the original Martha, who I’ll be playing. Do you know who Uta Hagen is?”
I nodded. I knew, for I’d copyedited a pretty great book one time about the influences of Gene Wilder, who’d been taught by Ms. Hagen. I said, “I’m not following you, Dead Ora,” accidentally calling her by what I called her in my mind.
Deadora opened her mouth in a way that reminded me of a tunnel on I-40, going through the mountains. “You can either host the actor who’s playing Nick, or the actress playing Honey. I think they’re both in their mid-twenties, if it matters. And they’re professionals. You get to choose, and we’ll take care of the other one. Doesn’t matter.”
I looked at the TV screen. This particular episode of Murder, She Wrote starred Howard Morris, best known for his portrayal of Ernest T. Bass on that Mayberry show. I tried to pay attention to my neighbor. I said, “I might’ve said I’d help, but I didn’t say anything about letting a stranger stay in my house. I got things to do, Deadora. I have to concentrate. Some actor hanging around’s going to mean someone walking in circles all the time, spewing out lines. Or wanting me to make comments about their abilities. I’m no critic.”
Howard Morris played a character named Uncle Ziggy. “Come on, please,” Deadora said.
And then, of course, the front door blew open and Reese stomped in. I’d never thought about how he probably didn’t need to sit around the set between seven and eleven, that he could, for all I knew, drive all the way up to Charlotte, watch half a basketball game, and return to say, “Tomorrow’s going to be unusually warm for February,” or whatever.
He could give the weather, go act in a play, then return to give the weather again.
“I knew it!” he yelled out. He kind of bellowed, “I knew I’d find you here, Edgar.”
I didn’t say, “Well, I live here. It’s my home.” No, I reached across Deadora and picked up the bourbon bottle by the neck, not thinking—until later, at the Catawba Little Theatre premiere—that George does the same thing in that play, that he smashes it on the mantle.
Yes, it wasn’t until later, while I sat in the second row, right in the middle, uncomfortably seated upon a metal folding chair at what had been a nice feed and seed, the scent of fertilizer still palpable, that I thought, Oh, they played me. They played me hard.
I thought, My idiot neighbors mimicked Martha and George, there in my den, my kitchen, my porch. It was their way of practicing, getting into character, all that crap about “method acting.”
A couple months later, after a cast party of sorts at Deadora and Reese’s house, Vanessa, who played Honey in the production, and who lived in my spare bedroom, said, “I thought the play came off a lot better than I imagined it would.” She’d walked over with me when the party dwindled down to Little Theatre hangers-on.
I’m not too proud to say that I moped around in my own den, disappointed that I never recognized how I’d been used. I said, “Yeah.”
She said, “Let’s celebrate. I’m not ready for bed.”
I said, “I promised myself I’d hike out and look at the spider lilies tomorrow morning. They’re in full bloom.” I said, “Nothing against you, Vanessa, but I’m pissed off at myself about how I became a non-paid landlord of sorts.”
Vanessa laughed. She didn’t look anything like the actress Sandy Dennis. If anything, she looked more like a young Elizabeth Taylor. I know that this straddles a line somewhere between Cruel and Spiteful, but I wanted a photo of Vanessa, maybe sprawled out on the couch, to send to my ex-wife and her diesel-engine-teaching paramour. Vanessa said, “You could’ve had Warren sharing space with you, Edgar. Then I guess a rumor would go around here about your being gay.” Warren played Nick, of course. “Because you chose to host me, you only come off as some kind of pervert, seeing as you’re, what, forty, and I’m twenty-five?”
I said, “I’m only thirty-eight.”
She said, “Close enough, right?.”
I said, “Tomorrow I need to get up early because I want to see the lilies, and I have to finish up some work on a manuscript about Baudelaire.” Then, for some reason—who in this area knows about Baudelaire anymore?—I thought it necessary to, I guess, “mansplain” the French poet. I should’ve known better.
Vanessa helped herself to a bottle of Pernod I’d had on the shelf forever. She shook her head, then stared at me. I thought she might spew out something from the play, a series of Martha’s lines—“I stand warned,” or “That was the way it was supposed to be,” or “Are you getting angry?” Or “You can’t afford good liquor.” Plain “Shut up.” She said, “Les Fleurs du Mal.”
“Sorry,” I said.
She drank straight from the bottle. Then she took my hand and said she wanted to go with me to see the spider lilies, after she made an eight A.M. phone call that she’d been putting off. She pulled me back toward her room. I shook my head No. Vanessa pointed out that the temperature in the morning would be only seventy degrees, with zero percent precipitation, light winds from the south.