The Bog (part five)
“She stays with us, and then she goes to Bren’s and so forth. I’d have to ask her.”
Bren… Laurel wasn’t sure who this was. Rachel, to read her voice, was ticked. Because the invitation itself was upending, or because Jeff’s mother set up camp in Rachel’s guest room and made declarations: “I brought my own mattress.” (She did. It inflated, theirs sitting for a month propped against the wall.) “I need the car Saturday. Give me your card so I can buy my food.” (The diets, and the ailments they were meant to cure…)
“So, email me when she gets there. It’s my job to invite her.”
“Hmm!” Rachel said. “That’s true.”
“I don’t care if she says no.”
“You and me.”
Laurel was about to say, “We should try to get some sleep.”
She was now hosting a dinner. She ought to run a plan through her head, drowsing. But a noise, that had been coming on in stealth, grew insistent enough to have a definite character. The character was of plodding feet.
“Oh, it’s not a bear!” Rachel said.
They heard it shuffle, halt, cough.
“It’s Laurel!” Laurel called out, hostessy already.
“Ladies! It’s Dana! Dana Jenkins.”
“Not that creepy guy,” Rachel said, low, not out of earshot. But she meant Duffet.
“Dana, are you alone?”
“Yes, ma’am. I wonder if you remember me?”
Laurel hadn’t seen Dana since high school, forty years past, and couldn’t recall his picture turning up on the Boggies’ website, or the local paper’s. He was probably fat and grey. He had probably seen her picture, since Duffet included this in the fanned array of team photos on the home page. She hadn’t liked Dana in school, and didn’t like in general people who had treated you as a punchline getting matey decades later with no acknowledgement.
But then again… “Why are you ‘ma’am-ing’ me, Dana?”
He grunted into the light of the lantern. “You sound like my wife.” He gave a nervous laugh.
“Why are you here?” Rachel said.
“Keeping an eye on things.”
“What things? This isn’t your land. Aren’t you breaking the law?”
They heard his coat sleeve swish, saw his arm rise against the sky, pointing.
“You know what it’s like out here when the moon’s full, and you’re camped up on the ridge? Everything lit up like a stadium. Unbelievable. You can watch deer go across. We used to see owls…one time maybe a coyote. Maybe not.”
He eased down, onto the seat of his pants, putting a palm on the cooler. “Think they’d let you have a little campfire out here?”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Well, I’m not here to make trouble. Kind of cheerful, having a fire. We used to do hotdogs and marshmallows.”
“Uh huh. A cookout’s nice.”
Rachel, speaking softly to a crazy man and gripping her phone, was backing; she was behind Dana, standing and above his head, dipping hers like someone who searched for a big stick, or a rock.
Laurel said: “How’s your family, Dana? How’s the business?”
“And is that good or bad?”
“Good for the bank.”
She hadn’t heard this news. It came to her she’d stopped getting flyers from Jenkins. These had gone straight from the mailbox to recycling.
“But you’re logging,” Rachel said.
“Nope. We got held up on that.”
“Well, Jeff, my husband, thinks if the land belongs to you, it’s not right what those people… That Duffet…”
“You think so too,” Laurel said.
“I really don’t care. I just know what makes sense.”
“It doesn’t though. It’s like any kind of thing between neighbors. It’s like…you don’t want someone putting a bar next door to you, staying open til two am, drunks parked all over your street. But your street is zoned, so no one could do that.”
Dana said: “It’s not up to me, anyhow.”
She could have answered, “It’s up to the courts.” Laurel’s wish was not to convert Dana, but to move him along. “The woods are family property, in a sort of trust? Only…your brother doesn’t live here now.”
“Wouldn’t make any difference to Rocky. He thinks we’d plant walnuts or something, if Harry logged it out. Maybe lease the scrub around the bog for training exercises…”
“What, the Free Landers?”
She had bleated this, and Dana said, “No, the liability’s not worth it. Not to me, and I gotta have some say, since I’m the one handling things. Land doesn’t pay the way people get it in mind.”
“Laurel,” Rachel said, her voice with a calling-to-account edge, “I’m going to bed.”
Rachel had it in her to be inspired by Facebook memes that coached take risks, challenge yourself, and Laurel was proud of her sister for that…for being not too much in thrall to Jeff’s worldview, for keeping calm.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)