The night before her husband's funeral, Lila Horacék had a dream in which several oranges rolled down the aisle of St. Peter's Lutheran and thumped against Frankie's coffin. What kind of person bowls oranges in a church? she wondered, but when she turned to the back, all she could see were marble vases towering above the pews, each vase crowded with a spray of white snapdragons. There would be no flowers at Frankie's funeral the next day, no wreaths, bouquets or sermons of any kind. Frankie had said he wanted a Bach cantata or Mozart's Ave verum corpus. Maybe his golf buddies could say a quick eulogy, but nothing fancy. At ninety-seven, Lila understood her husband's desire for simplicity. Life was complicated; death should be simple.
Before the service, one of the ushers escorted Lila to her seat. His name was Patrick. Lila knew him from previous visits to the church. She and Frankie had preferred to think of themselves as visitors to St. Peter's, not members. Patrick remarked on the satisfactory turnout. "Your husband had many friends," he said. He thrust out his hand to steady her cane, which trembled like a bass string. She tried not to read too much into the gesture or his kind words. He would see it his duty to comfort the bereaved, she thought. An obligation to reassure us our loved ones will be remembered.
"You don't know the half of it," she said. Lila jerked her cane out of his grasp, leaving Patrick to snatch the air with his fist. "Frankie was a great man."
Patrick turned from her and sneezed. That's just how Frankie died, she felt like saying. One sneeze, and poofcardiac arrest! She kept quiet, though, let him cradle her elbow as though it were a sparrow's nest. She wanted to ask him out for coffee after the funeral, but she worried how that might sound. Patrick was in his seventies, handsome in his black suit with white hair slicked to his scalp, a daisy pom pinned to his shirt pocket. He reminded her a little of her son, Stephen, the tidinesshow Stephen might have dressed had he lived.
"What're you doing after?" She bit her lip. So she was flirting. What the hell. How many chances does a widow get to speak honestly with a man?
Patrick spoke quietly. "After this we're burying your husband, Mrs. Horacék."
"I mean after the burial. Do you have plans?"
"I'm taking my granddaughter to church."
"We're in church."
"I mean her church. She has her confirmation today."
There was a moment in which the sweep of dresses and starched suits, the rasp of shoes shuffling down the marble floor, people coughing and clearing their throats, echoed all through the nave, and then an organ wheezed out the first few bars of a hymn. Lila squinted at the shiny coffin, imagining Frankie lying down with his jaws wired shut, arms folded carefully over his chest. What if Pastor James had decided to ignore her request for a simple ceremony? What if he goes ahead and begins with a sermon? Could she slip away without too many people noticing?
Lila smiled through her teeth at Patrick, felt her neck and chest and now every part of her body, it seemed, straining towards him. The simple task of making conversation suddenly had become burdensome, much more impossible than floating through the routines of a funeral. She leaned down to loosen her shoe strap. Her ankles were crammed into a pair of navy-blue heels, and her skin plumped out around the straps, full as spring cactus. After she laid her cane against the bench and lifted the red hymnal, she recalled her previous night's dream and how Frankie would have bolted upright and stared down at those oranges gathered under his coffin. "What's all this for?" he'd have said. He'd have turned his head to the sky, and now Lila imagined a hole opening up in the ceiling, doves fluttering down on a shaft of white light. Maybe they aren't doves, she thought. Maybe they're pigeons. A vision of pigeons. A pigeon visionFrankie would've gotten a kick out of that. He'd have insisted on pigeons.
She didn't know if she believed in heaven. All her friends were dead; they must have gone somewhere. After so many years cheating death, she didn't know what she believed. If she conversed more in her head now than in the world, was that a sign of senility or loneliness? St. Peter's had hosted five pastors since Lila first became a member. Mr. Simms, her neighbor, often reminded her how many presidents she'd outlived: ten, no, eleven.
"Here you are now," Patrick said as he slipped a program into her lap. Programs, she thought. They're handing out programs. Damn. Sorry, Frankie.
"I've got one foot in the grave myself," she said as Patrick turned. She would later regret this statement. She'd meant to relieve him temporarily of the burden of acting solemn. She wouldn't have minded if people left during the service to answer their cell phones or if they ran out to put more coins in their parking meters. A screaming child would have been welcome, too. Of course people don't bring children to funerals unless they must, and Lila's friends' childrenand grandchildrenwere all grown. Patrick smiled before he returned to the sanctuary. Maybe he believed her comment had more truth in it than she'd intended. For one, she already had her tombstone laid out next to Frankie's at the Holy Cross Cemetery, the "2" and "0" carved beside her name, two blank spaces on the rock left for the remaining digits. Some fool had told her she might as well get those first two numbers started.
A few months after Frankie's funeral, on a pleasant, cloudless day in October, Lila's kidneys started failing and a chill seeped into her bones so deep it choked off her breath, leaving the skin around her lips waxy and pale. She thought she might have gotten food poisoningshe'd always been a bit lactose intolerantbut her stomach didn't bother her so much as her chest. Her ribs ached as though someone were squeezing them with a leather belt. For three days she lay in bed gnawing one corner of her pillow case, listening to her breath crackle, staring at the ceiling fan whose blades seemed to bend, melt, and ripple like snakes. Her eyes watered and her throat cottoned.
On Sunday, her neighbor Mr. Simms came to complain about the TV, and when Lila didn't answer he brought the landlord to open her door. They found her in the bathroom, collapsed around the base of the toilet. In her left hand was the silver flusher. An ambulance took her to St. Jude's Hospital out on East Travis Parkway. When she finally regained consciousness, she found herself alone in a room beside a tall window. Behind the glass a pigeon beat one of its wings against the concrete ledge. The sun shone on brick and pigeon shit and glinted off cars parked in the lot across the street. Lila wanted to open the window and let in some fresh air but found she couldn't lift her arms. Tubes sprawled from one wrist, and the hospital gown chafed her skin. The silence in the room swelled. An airplane flew overhead. She could hear the low growl of its turbineand something else, a steady electric pulse, maybe a monitor stationed outside her room. She felt exhausted, but the fluorescent lights and ceiling tiles bore down on her like a scream, and she knew she wouldn't get to sleep.
A doctor entered and began what he called a mental-status exam: Do you know your name? Do you know where you are? Do you know what day it is today? Do you know why you're here? She answered each question slowly, deliberately. In her mind, she planned her escape. When the doctor finished his speech about the risk of another stroke and left the room, she would yank the tubes out of her arm and lift herself out of bed. If the window was locked she'd throw something at the glassmaybe the goose-neck lamp or quartz paperweight on the little table next to her bed. Like in the movies, she'd hide in the bathroom. When the staff rushed in, she'd slip behind them, out the door and down the hall to the closest exit. This doctor didn't know what he was saying. She didn't need any help. She had to get out of there.
"This is going to make you sleepy."
He inserted a syringe of clear fluid into a plastic bag above Lila's head. Lila hadn't noticed the bag. How long had it been dangling there?
"I haven't had too much sun," she said. "There's got to be something you can do."
"We're doing all we can. You just need to sleep right now."
"Not for me, you fool. For Stephen."
The doctor vanished and in his place stood Patrick, holding a white paper bag, the kind used for take-out at La Posada, her favorite Mexican restaurant. At first she thought she might have been transported there, delivered to her table on the patio between the agave and bougainvillea. The same spot where Stephen, when he was three, sat in his wooden high chair clutching his toy dinosaur. She could smell the mole, the limòn squeezed over tacos de pescado. Then Patrick leaned over and said he'd found out from a friend at church that she was sick and decided to bring her dinner: enchiladas verdes, brown rice, refried beans, chips and salsa. "I don't know how you expect me to eat this," Lila said, pulling herself out of her dream. She regretted her tone, remembering how she'd spoken to him at St. Peter's. It was precisely because he was so nice to her that she could not keep the irritation out of her voice, could not keep from compromising his generosity with scorn. "I'm lactose intolerant."
"I'll scrape off the cheese," Patrick said, smiling. "And you're welcome."
A peach-colored recliner, its back cushion missing, had been shoved into the far corner of the room beneath the black TV bolted to the wall. Patrick pulled the chair close to the bed and tried to open the food packaging without making noise, but the Styrofoam squeaked and the plastic crinkled and he told Lila they'd almost certainly have their food confiscated. "Better eat fast," he said. Lila laughed. With Patrick there, she felt rejuvenated. In his white Polo shirt, blue parka and jeans, he looked even younger than he had at Frankie's funeral. His cheeks were windburned, and a belt of cool air lifted off his clothes, a phenomenon Lila associated with the arrival of winter, which in Texas came as fronts that lasted a week, maybe two. She thought of her neighbor, Mr. Simms, raking leaves out in his yard. He'd mulch and bag them, and the dusty smell of shredded leaves would sting her nostrils and stick to the back of her throat.
"I can't sleep," she said as Patrick raised a forkful of enchiladas to her mouth.
"Don't stress about it."
"I keep thinking I'm supposed to remember something. I can't remember what."
"Tell me about Stephen."
She sat up, blinked rapidly. "How do you know Stephen?"
"You were calling his name a while ago."
"Oh." Lila chewed a small bite of enchilada. The sweet green sauce slid down her throat and slaked her thirst, and the chile spices satisfied her in a way hospital food never could. For some reason she felt like a cigarette, though she quit when she got engaged to Frankie almostgood God. "Has it been seventy-six years?" she said.
Patrick lowered the fork. "Seventy-six years since what?"
"Nineteen-twenty five, wasn't it?"
For a moment, she stared at his face in the sunlight sliding between the curtains, wishing she could tell him how thankful she was for his presence. For showing up in his parka and jeans. For his white hair that still held slivers of brown. For the edges of his face that appeared softened now, not wrinkled as beforethe light having smoothed his cracked, sunburned skin. He managed to look old and young at the same time, and Lila wondered how that could be. How could he be here? Lower beneath his earlobes and across his jaw, she detected the soap and pine fragrance of his cologne.
"I don't think Jim ever put up that fence," Lila said. "The bastard."
"Who are you talking about?"
"He was just being polite. Yes, some people don't know how to act around the bereaved. Why is that? Because we're too dug in with the dead ourselves?"
"Tell me who Stephen was."
She turned to Patrick, surprised to hear him say that name: "He's my son."
She remembered the day when she and Frankie drove to Redwater Ranch to sell the property. She'd waited in the car while Frankie spoke with the buyer. It was December. Leaves had fallen off the pecan trees; the leaves were withered and brown and scuttled over the sidewalk, scraping their corners against the cement like stiff rags. The bare branches cast webbed shadows over the yard and presented a labyrinth over which Lila's eyes traveled aimlessly. It had been less than six months since Stephen died, and Lila couldn't look at anything without feeling an overwhelming sense of dread. On the drive out to the country, she'd been stitching up a rip in one of Frankie's sweaters and a collar button popped off. She held the button in her palm and stared at it for half an hour: the indented rim, the four holes that resembled flower petals. The button's perfect geometry confused her, made her want to cry.
Frankie had said Lila should go into the house one last time to say goodbyenot to Stephen, she could never do thatto the life they'd made for themselves while Stephen was alive. When they pulled into the gravel driveway, she couldn't budge from her seat. With her window cracked, the button clenched in her fist, she stared at the shadows over the yard and listened to leaves rustling down the sidewalk. The screen door smacked shut, and Jim O'Donnell came bounding toward Frankie, already standing in the middle of the yard. Jim was a tall man with reddish, chapped-looking skin and curly brown hair stuffed under a tan fedora. He shuffled some papers and tucked them into a large briefcase that weighed down the left side of his body, making him tilt at an angle. Jim and Frankie shook hands. As they talked, Frankie kept his eyes on the ground and nodded once or twice at the car, looking at Lila, whose somber expression only added to the awkwardness between the two men.
"Wrote to the railroad commissioner myself," Frankie said. "See about putting up a fence, but I'll warn ya, I never did get a straight answer from those people."
Oh, Frankie, stop talking! she wanted to say. He doesn't care about your damn letters to the commissioner. He wants the land. Just give it to him and get us out of here.
Before the men parted, Frankie reached out and squeezed Jim's hand. Jim's forehead wrinkled slightly, a vein popped out along his left temple, and his neck flushed crimson. "I'll see what I can do," Jim said.
Frankie and Lila were hosting a fundraiser at Redwater for Project Refuge that summer. Frankie had been smart enough not to stash all his oil money in the bank. He and his coworkers would give to private charities to clear their consciences. Lila was on the board of at least thirteen different charities back then. This was 1934. They called them women's clubs. Hard to squeeze a penny out of anyone then, but Lila and her friends found safety in numbers. Still, she wondered how she made time for her child.
She and Frankie and Stephen lived in town but spent most of their summer at the ranch. Project Refuge helped keep kids off the streets by providing food, shelter, and clothing. The Project got kids into after-school programs, set them up with reading coaches, tutors and mentors. Books from the library were a great distraction. Lila was happy to raise money for a good cause. The Horacéks got the name for their place, "Redwater Ranch," from the sign the previous owners had left at the entrance, a big cast-iron marker with letters on hinges that rotated in the wind like a giant weather vane. Lila liked the name, and Frankie didn't see any point spending money to have the sign torn down. With its wrap-around porch, stone paths leading to various parts of the yardgarden plot, tennis court and poolthe house could easily accommodate a family, although Lila and Frankie would have no other children after Stephen. Beyond the house was a barn with pigs and chickens, and a field in which Maine-Anjou heifers and two chestnut thoroughbreds, Marty and Jackson, grazed. Evenings, Frankie and Lila would sit on the porch and watch white-tailed deer come out of the woods to eat acorns scattered over the limestone outcrop.
Stephen and his friend Allen were both nine that summer. Allen's father, Gil, used to play squash with Frankie at Moore's Athletic Club in town, and he was also Frankie's accountant for a time. His parents often visited Redwater for barbecues and Easter luncheons but usually left Allen with the governess. Why hadn't they brought their boy over on previous occasions? Lila didn't think they were simply afraid he'd break something, as Frankie had once suggested. There was something different about him, not the type Stephen would have hung out with at school. Allen was short for his age. He had whitish-blond hair that curled around his ears, and he was always using the back of his arm as a tissue. He liked to flick his tongue in and out of the gap created by a missing incisor, and he could fix you with eyes so intense, two needle-points of light, you'd have thought he was sizing you up for a killing. No way Stephen would have played with him except for the fact that they were the only kids at Redwater that weekend.
"There's an irony for you," Lila told Patrick in the hospital. "We found ourselves in the company of women and men who thought children ought to be provided for but not seen. Who thought it wasn't right slogging along the little ones for a weekend fundraiser at somebody's country home. God forbid a bunch of laughing kids bother the respectable ladies and gentlemen! America's children ought to be taken off the streets, they argued. But don't stop there. Drop them onto the lap of some respectable, middle-aged nanny. Come back to them when they're ready for college. And shame on you if you don't shove at least two more languages down their gulletFrench or Latin, the respectable tonguesand have them reading Chaucer by age nine."
Stephen and little Allen could do nothing but chase jackrabbits and build sandcastles in the horseshoe pits. They couldn't play in the barn because Project Refuge had insisted Frankie convert the place into a dance hall and bar. No one had money to pay for servers in those days, so Refuge volunteers would serve food and drinks. You'd see men in suits darting in and out of the barn quick as foxes, carrying trays of tomato-juice cocktails, ginger ale, bourbon and Scotch. For dinner they served cold appetizers: rainbow-rye bread, canapés of smoked salmon, celery stalks stuffed with crabmeat, sandwiches with mock pate de foie gras. Stray chickens fluttered up or darted between their legs. No one could be hired to keep the pool clean, either, and anyway they were taking pictures of Refuge founders on the deck and needed a glassy surface between men and camera, so where else could the children play?
Allen's motherCindy Korbaland her husband Gil, whose tuberculosis was in its early stages then and probably kept hidden from most of the guests, would make polite conversation with Frankie and Lila. Lila didn't remember what they talked about but it probably didn't go beyond their sons' health and education. Mrs. Korbal had not begun teaching yet, but she served on the board at Edgewood Elementary. Why do the parents of the worst kids always serve on school boards? They want to be around when their child gets in trouble, that's why.
"I never told anyone this before," Lila said to Patrick, "but after the accident, I started following Cindy after I got off work."
Lila's shift at the library ended at four o'clock. Instead of going home to prepare supper, she caught the number five trolley and rode it to Heidinger Street, walked three blocks uphill, and ducked behind the mountain laurel shrubs at the Korbal residence. Lila stared into the downstairs windows as Cindy swept through a living room lit by tall white candles. Sometimes Cindy wore a purple bathrobe and rose-patterned slippers and hurried from kitchen to living room waving several items which, on the surface, appeared to have been chosen at random but which Lila figured must have had a special significance: a spatula, a phonebook, a bronze candle snuffer. In the living room, standing in front of the mantel with her back to Lila, Cindy once ripped out a page of the phonebook and balled it in her fist. She lit the paper with a candle and dropped the burning wad onto a silver tray. Flames leapt around the paper, its edges curled inwards and blackened, and smoke drifted up in one thick ribbon. Then Cindy stoked the charred paper with her spatula, stabbing the tray a few times until tiny flakes of ash spiraled above the mantel and tumbled through the air around her shoulders. She dumped and scraped the remaining ashes off into the fireplace and returned the tray and spatula to the kitchen. What did all this mean? Clearly Cindy had lost her mind, but this wasn't what Lila had hoped for; Lila wanted evidence of child abuse, drugs, some criminal activity that might finally put Cindy where she belonged: in jail. "I wasn't spying," Lila explained to Patrick. "I was checking on things. Life at the Korbal residence. And I worried about Allen. I wouldn't have cared if they'd arrested me for trespassing. My suffering had rendered me invisible."
Sometimes Cindy would rush out the front door with Allen in tow. They'd turn the corner and continue up the hill toward the butcher shop. A nickel bought a decent-sized chop in those days. It wasn't sirloin but it could feed a small family. With her black hair, long neck and pointy chin, black heels clicking down the sidewalk, Cindy gripped Allen by his wrist and with her other hand rifled through a cashmere purse for that one lonely nickel. She had to return to prepare Gil's supper before he got home. She knew Gil was dying; by now everybody knew Gil was dying. Cindy wanted his last evenings on earthcocktails with a Daily Sun unfolded on his lap, dinner beside the radio and a glowing fire if it was cold out, a bed with two fluffed goose-down pillowsall of it had to be absolutely perfect. Sometimes Lila would follow them up the sidewalk at a safe distance, gritting her teeth and clenching her fists, secretly hoping Cindy would turn and catch her. Lila could have leapt up and grabbed her throat. Usually Lila remained crouched behind the mountain laurel. She'd stare at the windows, dusk reflected in the glass and burning softly behind her in the cedars. She'd think about those pages burning, Cindy stoking that mantel fire with a spatula. When it got too uncomfortable to remain crouched there, when the flint cut into her knees and roots seemed to claw her skin, Lila would pull herself off the ground and wander home through the dark.
Refuge donors who knew the Korbals wouldn't have criticized them for letting Allen run wild that weekend of the accident, just as they didn't scoff at their denying him the good discipline a football or soccer team could provide, or the way Cindy and Gil dispensed with after-school activities altogether. "Cindy's got too much on her plate," the Redwater guests said. "She and Gil need time to themselves." The tuberculosis would finally beat Gil a few years after Stephen's death, and by that time Lila no longer wanted revenge against the Korbals. "Maybe I wanted Gil to die sooner," she told Patrick. "Maybe I wanted Cindy's grief to dovetail mine. If I'd had my eyes open, I'd have seen how she suffered." You could have guessed by the way she spilled her ginger ale, letting the glass tilt sideways in her hand, the way she clung to Gil's elbow and stared vacantly at cows chewing cud in the pasture. She talked to no one. Mumbled to herself occasionally. She was exhausted.
Frankie delivered his fundraising speech from a wooden chair on the tennis court. He shouted into the crowd about raising targets, meeting annual goals and percentages. Lila remembered looking at his chair with mildew stains sprawling up and down the legs, thinking how rotten that wood must be, how the chair should be replaced. Frankie talked about poverty and remolding America's Youth, government failures, economic failures. At times he pulled out a red handkerchief and wiped sweat off his forehead, and afterwards he thanked everybody for coming, shouting long-winded "thank-you's" that seemed to scatter through the trees. The crowd applauded, broke apart, and drifted toward the bar and banquet tables, and it was then that Cindy came up behind Lila and tugged her elbow. Lila turned. Cindy held her beige heels in one hand, empty cocktail glass in the other. Her eyes were bloodshot. Thin strands of hair fell across her face and clung to her lips. "Would you mind if I take the kids to see Frankie's thoroughbreds? Allen's been bugging me about it all afternoon."
"They can't be ridden."
Cindy raised her hand with her heels in it and scratched behind her ear. The heels dangled and shed bits of grass and dirt, but she didn't seem to mind. Was she drunk? For a few moments the women stared at each other, and then Cindy's eyes widened. "I didn't mean" Cindy stepped back and squinted. "Only for a look."
Lila imagined Cindy lifting Stephen onto Marty's back"Hold him still with your legs," she might say as she plops Stephen and Allen up behind Marty's neck. She would tell Stephen to grab the mane. She'd step back, and with no saddle, unbridled, the horse would bolt.
"Marty kicks, Cindy. Keep the boys off the fence."
"Of course," Cindy said.
A prickling sensation burned up the back of Lila's skull after Cindy disappeared into the crowd. If Allen and Stephen did become friends, I might have to deal with this woman for a long time, she thought. It might not just be the fundraisers. I might have to put up with her defiance for years. "Ridiculous," she told Patrick in the hospital, "how much I worried about those horses. Frankie should have sold them when we bought the ranch. He didn't know anything about keeping horses."
Then the rye bread disappeared from the banquet table. Black flies started invading the butter trays, and someone must have taken the leftovers into the kitchen. Lila was going inside to see about the food situation when Melinda, a young woman Lila knew from the Solstice Charity House, came up the sidewalk asking if she had seen Cindy or Allen. Melinda wore a blue Mexican dress and huarache sandals. She scratched a mosquito bite on her left kneecap. "Gil was looking for them about a half hour ago," Melinda said, adding in a harsh whisper, "I think he's ready to go home."
"Stephen's with them," Lila said. "You mean Gil hasn't seen them?"
"Nobody has seen them."
Lila's heart dropped. It occurred to her that Cindy must have let the boys run off even before she came to ask Lila about letting them visit Frankie's thoroughbreds.
"That's what I'm asking you."
Now Lila felt like slapping Melinda, but instead she hurried across the tennis court, almost slipping on the St. Augustine grass as she turned to the side of the house. There probably wasn't any reason to panic, but where could they have gone? She expected to find Stephen in the stables, lying on a pile of hay, wet with blood from where Marty kicked him in the head. She went past the garage, the barn, onto the cow trail. Later she'd remark how incredible it was that she never thought of the train. After the accident it was all anyone talked about, but as Lila ran that day she could not have predicted that Allen and Stephen would abandon the stables out of boredomthe horses weren't there, they were out roaming the pasture. Cattlegaurds. Poison oak. Barbed wire. How could these possibilities have eluded her?
But when she reached the stables, she heard the train whistle, the hiss of steam that cut right through the stand of mesquite behind which she stood. Impulsively, she lunged through the branches toward the sound, hardly feeling the thorns, and emerged on the other side with her arms pricked and bloodied. She must have jumped over half a dozen snake holes. How did she ever let Frankie buy this goddamn place? Why couldn't they have stayed poor like everybody else? In her mind she kept shouting at him even though she knew she ought to be shouting at Cindy. She ran, lost her breath, walked, regained breath, ran. A quarter mile down the tracks, the locomotive huffed and slid to a halt. Steam blew sideways off its chimney and shrouded the tender. Her legs ached. Her chest hurt. The side of Lila's dress was torn up to her thigh. Anyone coming out of the woods that instant might have thought she'd been raped. She'd leaned down to pull a cactus spine out of her ankle when Gerald Haff stepped out from behind the brush pile. Mr. Haff owned farmland on the other side of the tracks, two hundred acres. He turned to check the hay tarp he'd laid on the ground, probably wanted to make sure the rocks he'd set on the brass grommets were heavy enough.
The way Lila remembers it, a gust of wind lifts the tarp.
"Don't go down there," he yells to her. Waves his hands. "Don't."
She guesses what's under there when the tarp settles and molds arms, legs, bones. Seems impossible, but she knows he has covered up a human body, a child. Later, they will tell her Stephen's shoelace got stuck under the sleeper and she will ask the detective what that means, "sleeper," because it seems too kind a word. "Killer" would be more appropriate. Ties, he will say. They support the rails. Sleepers support the rails and ballast supports the sleepers. How? She means, How did you let this happen? The detective will say, Not sure. It's the way railroads are built.
She takes her eyes off the fabric long enough to see Gerald Haff rushing toward her. He grimaces, blinks hard and keeps his gaze fixed to the ground. He wears a pair of overalls with one strap unbuckled and a T-shirt stained with grime and sweat. Bits of hay cling to his pant legs; his boots are speckled with mud or cow manure. His pace quickens as he takes the slope up from the tracks and waves his hands to block Lila's view, but he still won't look at her. By the time Lila realizes it's Stephen beneath that hay tarp, something solid knocks her downpunches the air from her lungs. She scrambles on the ground. Gravel and broken glass cut her dress and skin. Gerald lifts her. "No, Mrs. Horacék," he says. "No, no. There's nothing we can do here."
"Help," she screams. Again she slips to the ground, or the ground slips from her. Her stomach must be bleeding. She feels a cooling inside her.
Gerald lifts her and keeps her up this time. He starts dragging her away from the crowd now gathered around the tarp: the conductor, Cindy and Allen among them. She coughs in the dust, spits, kicks, screams, but Gerald and another man drag her back to the house. They carry her to the pool and lay her on the flagstone. Maybe they think she's crazy, and their only recourse will be to toss her in the pool. They're going to hold her underwater. How ridiculous. "I'm not crazy," she says. "Don't throw me in the pool."
A man looks down at her. "Of course not."
He's a doctor. She hopes he's a doctor.
"Can you please go help my son? I think he's injured."
The doctor turns to the people behind him. He holds a syringe up to the light. A glass vial rests in his other hand. Gerald pins Lila's arms to the edge of the pool, nods to the doctor to go ahead. "She probably had too much sun," Gerald says. Nobody seems to understand what has happened at the railroad tracks. The doctor hesitates, squinting in the light, then sticks the syringe in her arm and slides the plunger down through the clear plastic tube. Gerald says, "We should get her out of the sun."
"Dr. Hendricks was a real doctor," Lila says. "Not like the fools in this place. Dr. Hendricks was Gil and Cindy's doctor."
"What'd he give you?"
"Morphine." Lila points to the window. "Could we get some air?"
Patrick tries the window. The glass rattles, but dry paint covers the lock and the frame won't budge.
"I have a better idea," she says. "Go get me a wheelchair."
Lila waits, looks out the window. She doesn't understand why she could never talk to Frankie about how she felt that day. Or about the way people treated her after, always cautious, polite, and distant. Why she never told him about her spying on the Korbals. Her invisibility. She figures now the dull silence hovering around them after Stephen's death probably saved their marriage, probably saved Frankie from the anguish of knowing his son died and his wife had been there. She looks down at the parking lot thinned of cars. Spears of sun cut through clouds, and the reflection of a band of light like a child's rendering of a bird spreads over the beige-textured wall opposite her bed. She waits, but she is calm. "Get us out of here," she says when Patrick returns.
He has come back with the wheelchair and a blanket. He drapes the blanket over his arm and pats the chair's blue-gray seat. "Let's go."
A feeling of relief passes through her, and she can't hold back her words. "You get to my ageif you get to my ageand all you want to do is be of some use to somebody. I've been doing charity work my whole life. Did I already tell you that?"
"That's good of you. You'll be remembered."
She smiles. "I never cared about that sort of thing."
Patrick lifts her off the bed and sets her gently into the wheelchair. "Here we are now." He spreads the blanket over her lap and puts the tray with the leftovers by the door for the nurses to take away.
"Nobody cleans," she says. "They'll take me away before they touch that food."
When they enter the hall, a staff member behind the reception desk calls to them, but his voice is harmless and distant, and Patrick and Lila aren't stopping. They head into the elevator, slip past the lobby, and exit through the revolving glass doors. The brisk October wind presses Lila's gown to her shins, numbs her earlobes and fingertips, and sets her heart floating across the hospital lawn. A few patients huddle beside a bench, smoking cigarettes and blowing into their fists. Patrick suggests a turn through Greenfield Square Park. They stop at a coffee stand with a bin out front full of oranges, bananas and yellow grapefruit. Lila tells Patrick to buy her an orange but he picks a grapefruit instead. Her words are lost in the wind, and they no longer talk about Stephen or Frankie, Gil or Cindy, or anybody Lila remembers from her Redwater days. When they cross the street and get safely behind a row of Oldfield pines, Patrick drapes his coat over her legs, tucks the padded sleeves under her thighs. She holds the grapefruit in her lap, spreads her fingers over the smooth rind. The cold cuts through the coat and seeps into her bones.