September 2023


Harriet Halliday Renaud

Janie's voice on the phone was very clear and almost brisk, attending only to present business. Scott didn't remember Janie's ever having sounded like that, but then by now she'd had a year at university and it was entirely possible she'd changed in other ways, too.

"Hi, Scott," she said, "I'm glad you called." Scott could picture her holding the receiver to her ear very tightly, not saying anything more because she was so busy listening, so he had to admit that at least in this one way she still seemed the same.

"I seem to have turned up a free evening," he said, carefully, "so I guess I'll drive down later – sometime after dinner?"

"I'll be here," Janie said, not waiting to think it over. "Dad's on vacation, the boys are still at camp, and I'm painting the kitchen chairs."

Scott thought it was very noble of Janie to throw away that bit about the kitchen chairs without leaving any dangle in her voice that he'd have to respond to, because for quite a few years before he'd suddenly stopped, he and Janie had painted her kitchen chairs together exactly two weeks before school started in the fall.

See you," he said, hanging up almost before he was through speaking, impatient as always to slam the front door, get into the elevator, and leave the inescapable reminder that he and his father, apartment tenants, were now a different breed from home dwellers.

Because he was going out to the country later to see Janie, he drove his small foreign car downtown through the traffic. Up until a few months ago, he wouldn't have believed it possible to hate anything as beautiful as the black sports car with the bleached white top. All he'd mentioned needing was something clean on wheels, and he'd gone a little sick when his father gave him the keys to the little convertible and pointed it out to him in front of the building.

It had been early evening, and the car had shone brilliantly new at the curb. It was a big day for his father – Scott heard the excitement in his voice when he said, trying to play it down, "That big deal went through, Scott, so I thought we could afford a treat." But it hadn't been much of a day for him.

It had seemed clear to Scott that if his father thought he could even things up by giving him that kind of an automobile, he must have decided on something fairly major for himself that was not necessarily a car. He hadn't wanted to think about what that probably was because he was pretty sure he knew. In fact, of the whole list of things he didn't want to think about, ever, that was very close to the top, possibly even Number Two. But since he was forced to think quite a bit about what his father was gifting himself with, he hated the beautiful car.

He had to park in a garage a good 10 blocks away from his father's office, and by the time he stepped out of the elevator into his father's air-conditioned showroom, his shirt was wet and cold on his back.

He moved so fast he almost missed Lenny, who Scott felt was one of the few legitimate humans left. Lenny was "Len Piersonne," his father's top designer, a big round man with a soft voice who designed women's clothes 17 hours a day, every day.

"Scotty," Len said, "how's the boy?"

"About C-minus," Scott said. He always played it straight with Lenny. In all the years he'd known him, Lenny had always been a very honest Joe, and two years ago, when Scott's world had sprung its fatal crack, Lenny was one of the few people who had said anything that was helpful.

"My god, kid, it's terrible," he'd said, wiping away at his big bald head as though he were trying to get rid of an idea. "Any way you look at it, it's a terrible thing." It was surprising how a plain statement of the true fact could be a help.

"I see by the clothing ads it's time for school again," Lenny said now. "Changes, changes. I don't see so many combat boots or Chinese rice farmer get-ups or dashikis, even. Everything's getting skinny again, close to the body. Nicer, those clean lines. When do you start back?"

"Couple, three weeks," Scott said. I'll be glad when classes start. Summer gets on my nerves."

"I thought that car would make it more soothing," Lenny said. "I went with your father to pick it up. He was a happy man – buying you that car."

"I'll just bet he was," Scott said, evenly.

Lenny put his hand on Scott's shoulder. "Scotty," he said gently, ducking his big head so he could look into Scott's eyes, "it's been a very rough go for Sam, too. Lonely. You know what I'm saying to you, boy?"

"Yeah, yeah," Scott said, and afraid of what Lenny might say next, he turned away from him abruptly, toward his father's office.

He knocked once, and walked in. His father was sitting behind his cleared desk, holding a pencil between his forefingers. In repose, his face was lined and grey, and he was looking at the pencil as though it were the instrument of his despair. But when he looked up, his public face was alive and cordial – the face of a nimble-witted, fortyish, successful man – someone it might be fun to know, Scott thought, if you didn't happen to remember when he'd been a real father.

"Just stopped by to tell you we've been left again," Scott said, trying to make it light. When it didn't come out that way, his throat closed up and he shifted his eyes from his father's face. "This maid quit without leaving any food around. Thought you might be free for dinner," he said thickly.

"I'm sorry – I didn't know about the woman quitting," his father said quickly. "I've got a – I'm tied up tonight, Scott. How about tomorrow?"

"Skip it," Scott said, already half-turned toward the door. "I never plan that far in advance."

"How about some extra cash?" his father said, unnaturally hearty and booming.

"I'm fixed fine," Scott said, his own voice surprisingly loud.

"Might as well," his father said, and hastily put three 10s on the desk.

They both looked at the hopeless offering for a moment, and then Scott picked it up and turned toward the door again. "Thanks," he said, and saluted with the bills, already walking out.

He was downstairs, in the street, before he could feel the flush under his eyes begin to go away, and then he saw Monica, looking golden, all in summer white, coming toward the office building. He crossed over before she could see him, although he'd known her for quite a long time, during most of which he'd considered her a friend.

Sam had brought Monica home one evening, some years ago, after she had worked on his big fall showing as a consultant, and also as a model. He had deposited her in front of Scott's mother, said, "Her name's Monica; she spins," and gone to set the root-feeders around the apricot trees before dinner.

Monica had explained to Amalie and Scott and Janie that she and her brother had inherited a few sheep along with some property upstate, and that after the first shearing she hadn't been able to get the soft mounds of fleece out of her mind. So she'd bought a spinning wheel and learned how to wash and card and dye and finally spin the raw wool, and the habit had stayed with her. Amalie and Monica got into a detailed discussion about Amalie's current weaving project then. And after that, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Monica's spinning wheel fairly regularly moved into the house alongside Amalie's loom. Janel and Scott were recruited early in the season to help with the carding, but then they were banished from what from then on were secret operations that produced lap robes, ponchos, earmuffs, book bags, and once, a wall hanging Sam thought was so spectacular that he hung it in his newly redecorated showroom.

Monica was model-size tall, fair without being quite blond, with deep brown eyes, and a brilliant, unguarded smile. She was lovely in movement and widely admired in repose, which was the way most people saw her, because she was frequently photographed for magazines. At first, Scott and Janie referred to her as Monica, The Magnificent Model, but gradually, after she'd gone camping and to the beach with them all, and spent a sudden 48-hour flu on one of Janie's brother's bunkbeds, they forgot to pay attention to what she looked like, and often didn't notice when her picture was in a magazine they happened to be reading.

Scott hadn't seen Monica after he'd told his father one day a few months ago what he thought of Sam making time with her. Sam had turned his back and stood looking down into the street that was 29 floors below, and after waiting a long time for him to say something, Scott had gone away. They'd never referred to anything Scott said that time, and Monica's name hadn't come up again between them in any context whatsoever.

Scott stopped for a hamburger now, and started the drive to the country in the early dusk. It was a very long time since he'd taken this particular ride, and he hadn't planned to take it this evening. He'd come home from playing squash, and his hand had reached for the phone to call Janie in almost the same moment that he'd seen the signs of the maid not having shown up.

"It was the spontaneous and unrehearsed act," he told himself, deliberately hamming it up, "of a simple, homesick boy."


When he got to Janie's it was fully dark. The porch light was on, and he came up the walk very quickly, noting from habit that her lawn needed feeding, and the border of begonia had done well.

Janie answered the bell with a drip cloth in her hand, and wearing her standard painting outfit: paint-spattered jeans and a man's shirt tied at the waist and no shoes. She was a small-boned, delicately built girl who was also very healthy and fairly athletic, and especially in bare feet, she had often looked to Scott like a tiny, sturdy elf.

The pleasure at seeing Janie was so great that he forgot, for the moment, about stepping into the house. When he did, Janie shut the door and leaned against it, facing him. In the year or more since he'd seen her, her face had lost its roundness, her blue eyes seemed deeper and larger and she had cut her hair. The dark ponytail was now a short loose bell, all its curl brushed smooth.

"So you're still the girl with the cleanest hair in the world," Scott said, and Janie smiled at him, her eyes suddenly very bright, and then she blew her nose on the drip cloth and wadded it into her pants pocket. He was glad to note that it was still all right to pay Janie a compliment and that she didn't tell him that unfertilized raw eggs were better than anything for giving hair a sheen. There weren't many girls you could trust to understand that a comment about clean hair didn't necessarily have anything to do with hygiene.

He walked away from her, leading the way to the back porch. The floor was carefully covered with newspaper, there were plenty of drip cloths around, and there was a clean dry brush on the floor and a wet one balanced on the edge of a paint can. But instead of all six chairs in assembly line, there was only one, pale yellow, with a few coarse green brush strokes across the seat.

"Janie," he said, very angry, "I taught you when you were 11 about lining up all the chairs and starting with the underside and back." He took a deep breath. "You want to drip on your finished surfaces?" he shouted, and went into the service bathroom to change into the work pants he knew would be there.

When he came out, Janie was idly dabbing at one other chair. "Left to yourself, you are one underorganized woman." Scott told her, nagging, but he felt better. The shouting had loosened some of the hard knot the past two years had tied inside him, and he felt himself even moving more easily.

It seemed to him, from the condition of the yellow coat of paint, that Janie's kid brothers had improved their household habits quite a bit. There had been years when he and Janie had had to use plastic wood filler and sandpaper before they could touch the chairs with fresh paint. He dipped the clean brush into a can of green and started underneath one chair, working with quick, even strokes.

"In case you think I haven't noticed," Scott said, "I've noticed. You're stunning me with your silence."

Janie was painting swiftly now, handling the brush the way he had taught her, letting the paint flow into the tip as she worked, getting all the good out of it before she dipped into the can again.

"I didn't know what to say –" she said.

"That figures," Scott nodded, "when there's nothing worth saying."

" – first," Janie said, suddenly sharp. " Don't get ahead of me, Scott. I didn't know what to say first. But I've just thought of something."

"Janie," he said, painting faster, so that he could finish at least this one piece before he left, "please don't. Don't say it. Everybody else does. You want to tell me I'm withdrawn. I agree. There's not much point in being with anyone, so I draw away. I also agree this is not a mentally healthy attitude. Do you still have to say something?"

"One of my dormmates has been seeing someone from your campus, on vacations, and she told me about Scott Alden's Law of The Intersub– Intersubstitutability Of Women," Janie said, very quietly, her eyes on her work.

This was not the kind of thing he had any intention of discussing with Janie, and Scott put down the brush carefully and got to his feet. "In the common tongue, that means all women are alike. It's not an original idea – just fancy talk. Train your mind on bigger things, girl," he said coolly, and went to change into his own clothes.

When he was ready to leave, he found Janie at the side window, looking out, and over the low hedge he could see the deep, lovely lawns of the house next door. His breath caught in his throat, and he moved away quickly.

"I certainly hope those chairs turn out all right," he said, speaking from a great distance to Janie's still back.

"I also heard about that 'I'll never kiss you' line," Janie said, not turning around.

"And very successful it's been, too," Scott said, backing away. "Gives the girls a goal, trying to break me down. The secret is there isn't any winning combination in the deck – I took out all the pairing cards. Anything as personal as kissing is too – too purely personal. Next thing you know, you're all mixed up with people, and why would anyone want to go around doing a dangerous thing like that?" He could feel the sharp, slatted door against his back, and hear himself jabbering, and he knew it was very necessary that he get to the car and away from Janie and the country.

Janie turned from the window and came toward him. Her face looked tight and a little scared, and she put her hands on his forearms and tried to shake him.

"How long are you going to mourn like this?" she said, and Scott flung her off.

"Janie," he begged, "don't." Something very hot seemed to burst inside him, his head suddenly felt wet, and he realized that he was wiping sweat out of his eyes, and that he was running.

He raced across to the neighboring lawn, through an opening in the hedge, and up to the heavy locked front door that used to swing open so easily. He pounded on it, using his fists and palms by turn, and then he held his finger on the bell. He could hear the chimes ringing and dying in the empty house, and the months of waiting tears filled his nose and throat and shimmered in his eyes.

He sat down on the top step and tried to light a cigarette, but he couldn't get the match lit. Janie came up while he was trying, but she didn't help him. She clicked on a small light over the entrance, and sat down on the step below him, and hugged her knees. A sick yearning for the past rose up in him with such force that he clenched his teeth and made an involuntary sound.

Janie turned around and looked up at him and in the dim door light her tears looked like perfect, separate crystals. He wondered if he had ever told Janie that she was a very neat crier. He remembered that at his mother's funeral Janie had cried the whole time, without a sound, making her grief very visible, and at the same time keeping herself very intact.

Janie turned her head away and wiped her face. "She was a very special lady," she said in her new dormitory diction, addressing the purple cineraria to the right of the steps, "and when she died she left a number of people. Among others, she left me, she left your father…"

"Ah yes," Scott said, dully, no longer able to close out the Number One subject he had pledged himself not to think about. "She certainly left my father," he said.


In the days when he and his father had lived in the glow of his mother's grace and radiance, there had never, of course, been any thought of any one of them leaving or in any way changing the pattern they'd made.

When he was 10 and Janie was eight, she moved next door with three younger brothers and her father, who had been made semi-invalid by the accident that had killed his wife. Janie's father did his freelance editing at home, mostly in a wheelchair, he and Janie kept house together, and the boys learned young how to make beds, sweep, and boil eggs.

"The reason we're batching it is on account of I don't have a mother," Janie told Scott, and Scott said, absolutely sure it would be all right, "You can use mine."

When they told Amalie, she turned from the children's book she was illustrating, and said gravely, "Why, thank you, I've only been waiting to be asked." And that night she trimmed and pinned up Janie's hair, and when she combed it out the next morning, Janie had the short, curly ponytail that she kept until she went away to college.

In those days, Scott used to start down the road at Scout pace about an hour before his father was due on the 5.12 from the city. He would usually spot the yellow convertible just about the time that Sam slowed down, looking for him, and without any awareness that he was doing it, Scott came to watch for the quick joyous greeting that lit his father's face when he first caught sight of him.

Sometimes, after dinner, wearing a very loud shirt and packing down the pipe he only smoked at home, his father said, "I'm driving into town to pick up some leaf mold, Scott. Want to come for the ride?" And because it was an offer that would be made again tomorrow or the next day, Scott could say, offhanded and friendly, "Gee, no thanks, Dad. I promised Janie's boys I'd practice one-fly with them. Those kids are being murdered on the schoolyard every recess."

Growing up, he and Janie played tennis and swam, skied and skated, explored and back-packed, learned to scuba dive and ride. On Saturdays they often took the train into the city, went to museums and art galleries, and ate sandwiches in the park. Afterward, they would visit Sam's showroom and ride the elevators, spotting radio and television personalities whose agents had offices in the building.

When they got older, they had lunch at the Oyster Bar, went to a matinee, and on the way home continued any argument they happened to be having that week.

They started arguing when Scott was 15 and Janie 13, and they argued steadily for two years – about Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, nonobjective art, I Ching and Transcendental Meditation, Hermann Hesse, Elton John, western and continental tennis grips, why there were no great women composers, whether male leads upstaged female leads more often than vice versa, and whether a girl named Desir茅e was a snob or just shy.

Once, when they had been out in an early snow, they tumbled into the house to make hot chocolate, clumsy with cold and arguing wildly, and Amalie came into the kitchen and put out fruitcake and marshmallows, touched their hair gently with her little ritual gesture of love, and went on her way.

"You have the dotingest mother in the whole world," Janie said.

"Observe," Scott said judicially, "how she dotes from a distance."

They made up a song entitled Dotin' From A Distance, and worked up a soft-shoe routine with their mouths full of fruitcake.

The arguing started tapering off shortly after Scott's high school class had its Junior spring ball. Janie wore a white dress, waltz-length, with a full-tiered skirt that swung tenderly when she moved, making a small sound, and shoes with heels. Her mother's pearls were around her throat, and Amalie's pearls were wound around the ponytail, and in her left hand, with careful negligence, she carried Amalie's silver evening bag.

They did not talk at all on the way home from the dance, and when they came to the break in the hedge between their houses, Scott gave a low, bitter laugh that broke exactly in the middle. He was a tall boy by then, who had gotten his sudden growth only the summer before, and he still carried himself with a sober attentiveness to the management of his limbs, as though his new height were a responsibility he was learning to undertake. He had his mother's long eyes, and high cheekbones like his father's and his mouth, which was large now in his thinned-down, unfinished face, was his quickest register of feeling.

"I certainly hope you don't bruise from that mauling my classmates gave you," he said. "At least not where it will show."

Janie turned toward him, her face proud and loving, and put her hand on his arm. "Oh, Scott," she said, softly, and it seemed to Scott that Janie in her white dress, on that clear and fragrant night, was ringed round with light. He bent and kissed her trembling lips, and then he held her for a moment, filled with surprise that it was possible to feel another person whole, in bone and flesh, the way he could feel Janie in his arms.

They did not kiss again, and they walked to Janie's front door through the cool, dark grass, heavy-limbed with wonder, without speaking or touching one another in any way. They had not been prepared for the kind of promise they had found in their kiss, and they examined the discovery with wary elation, still close to those promises of their childhood that had been spoiled by being fulfilled too soon.

And then one late winter afternoon when Scott was 17, his mother and father sat on the amber living-room couch, and he sat on an easy chair, facing them, and Amalie told him that the doctors were agreed she might have a remission, but that as of now she couldn't count on more than six to eight months. She was still wearing her wine velvet town suit, her pale gold hair shone in a low coil, the lovely long hazel eyes seemed almost dark and were brilliant with some kind of excitement, and there was unaccustomed color high on her cheeks. She had partly turned her long, lithe, young woman's body toward Sam, who was sitting up very straight and holding down his kneecaps, a look of stony disbelief on his face.

His mother leaned forward and took one of Scott's hands in both of hers. Her fingers were very cold and trembled slightly, although otherwise, except for the signs of hidden excitement, she looked calm.

"I want you to believe," she said, "because I know it's true – that it's not going to be as – as frightening – as it seems now. There is something – something deep inside ourselves, that we can draw on for the strength to face and bear what we must. It's there for the taking – a spirit – a waiting spirit – that prepares and makes us ready – to be born, to have children, to grow old, to – to lose our teeth – to die, to accept–"

Sam's hand shot out suddenly, as though it had been released, and hit the glass edge of the coffee table. They all looked at the small blur of blood on this knuckle in polite surprise, and then he rose silently and left the room.

"Scott," Amalie said, sternly and urgently, as if there had been no interruption, "there is also something I want you to know and never forget. If I've put my love into you – decently, that is – then you don't need me. Please understand me, darling. Please know it. My whole and decent love in you isn't to bind you to me; it's to free you to love others – many, I hope – many, many others – all your long life…"

She died one hushed dawn, in a fragrant room in her own home, as she had wished, and Sam and Scott moved into the apartment in the city and were very gentle with one another.

At first, Scott went to the showroom every day after his last class at the university, which was in the city, and he and Sam made the major decision of where to eat. After a while, they hired the first of a series of maids who started out agreeing to cook, and the two of them concentrated on seeing all the plays, and Sam bought a complete set of Sherlock Holmes for the nights when there were no new plays and nothing much on television.

That fall, when the cushion of shock began to slip away, and Scott felt the honest, raw pain of loss, he wrote to Janie, "I've been better, but I've been worse. In fact, I was worse when I was better, and if you don't understand this, you don't deserve to. Maybe Christmas, we'll be seeing you."

As it turned out, Scott only met Janie briefly on the steps of the public library in the city, just long enough to tell her that he and Sam were going to skip Christmas and go abroad for the holidays. They came back benumbed by their empty, joyless sightseeing, and made a resolution to start accepting at least some of the invitations that came their way. Scott decided to follow up on some of the girls he met, and Sam joined a chess club and also played games by mail with opponents he never met.

The spring after the first anniversary of Amalie's death was a particularly bad time, but although Scott talked with Janie on the phone once or twice, something in him locked at the thought of seeing her or going out to the country. And when Sam said one evening that he thought they ought to go out and attend to some things around the house themselves, a gust of something close to terror swept through Scott and drained the color from his face, and Sam didn't mention it again.

It was not long after that that the estrangement between Scott and his father began, growing out of what were first small social separations. Sam would mention, at breakfast, trying hard to throw the lines away, that he wouldn't be home for dinner, and Scott would say he hoped he had a good time, and the next morning Sam would very carefully give him a rundown on the evening. The first time he heard his father being apologetic to him, he went to all his classes that day feeling as though he were breathing extremely thin air and couldn't quite fill his lungs enough. After that, when Sam came in late, Scott left very early next morning, to skip the questioning in his father's eyes, and the sound of his new, oddly hesitant voice.

Scott knew about Sam and Monica first from reading about them in the gossip columns, but he told himself it was entirely possible the whole thing was a publicity angle for the business until the night he walked in on them standing in the middle of the apartment, still in their overcoats, kissing.

There was something in their kiss so like the total, unheeding, clumsy embrace of people who have just stumbled upon one another after a desperate search, that for a wild, clouded moment, Scott thought his mother had come back. But when his father looked up and Scott saw his eyes dull and sicken, he knew that the only thing he had seen was his mother's husband kissing another woman.

"Scott," his father said, "Scott– I'm sorry. I thought – I thought you said you were staying with– staying on campus tonight–"

"I guess I'll be leaving now," Scott said hoarsely, the room moving in a reddish haze before his eyes.

"Scott," his father said, "please don't go. I'm sorry, Scott–"

It was later in the summer when Sam gave him the little convertible, and when a classmate admired it, Scott said, "I owe it all to the fact that my father got a special model for himself, too. A live one."


"She certainly left my father," Scott told Janie now, the thoughts he had been living with sounding surprisingly old and tired in works, "but he has filled the void. He's not much like anything he used to be when you knew him – not a family man or anything like that – but I guess he's happy enough. He's got himself no less than Monica, The Magnificent Model."

"Monica," Janie said. "Are you talking about Sam and Monica?"

"I see that you have been a good girl, Janie, and read all your newspapers," Scott said. He hadn't wanted to talk about any of these things, but now he wasn't sorry they'd come up. Speaking to Janie's listening back, he'd heard the self-pity in his voice, and although he couldn't do anything about having lost both his mother and his father, he thought he could at least work on the whine in himself.

"--not from the papers," Janie was saying, still hugging her knees. "I know all about them from seeing Monica in the beautiful flesh, three times a week all summer, sometimes oftener."

Scott felt a nudge of unease, vague as the memory of fear, and he waited a long time, listening to the small, busy night noises, before he spoke. "What are you talking about?" he said. "Do you know?"

"Monica," Janie said, very patiently, turning around. "That flashy high-style lady your father latched onto that we used to dunk in the ocean and once spread mayonnaise all over so that she would be able to go to work next day without too much of a sunburn. She drives out here with Sam and he waters and cuts the grass and prunes and walks around by himself, and she plays dominoes with the boys and cribbage with Dad, and talks to me. Well, not so much talks as cries. She looks terrible with swollen eyes and a red nose."

Scott took a very deep breath and Janie saw him and went on talking as though he had asked a question.

"Mostly she cries because Sam won't marry her. Sam isn't fabulously rich, he's losing his hair, and he's pretty paunchy, but he's the one she wants. She says they're easy together, she says he knows how to give people space, she says he understands everything, and once she said he had more general information than anyone she'd ever known in her whole life, and that made her cry harder than I'd known anyone could cry. I think she was just saying she loves him.

"Anyhow, she's had it with the modeling scene. She's been bored with it for a long time, and she says she hates having to touch up her hair every day and starve to keep skinny, and she's close to being past a good age for it besides. She says it's time she got on with her real life.

"Your mother meant a lot to her, and you do too, and she didn't think of loving Sam this way when things were – when Amalie was – alive. That's something you just have to believe…"

"Well, what," Scott said harshly, forcing the unwilling words, "what's holding up the parade?"

"The prospective bridegroom has a child," Janie said softly. "They're waiting for him to grow up."

Scott let out his breath suddenly, realizing he'd been holding it a very long time. One night his mother had run down these stairs, wearing a long, soft, yellow skirt that lifted and billowed in the light summer breeze, and turning her face up toward his father, she had laughed her easy laugh, full of pleasure. It was a time when all the parts of the pattern and his place in it were known and sure, and he knew now that he was never going to hear that particular safe sound of laughter again. "My whole and decent love in you is to free you to love others," his mother had said, but locked in the memory of the pattern, he had held his breath against the future, and not let himself be freed.

He stood up and turned off the porch light. "We used to have some pretty good times around here," he said, and Janie said, "Yes, we did."

They walked slowly across the lawn kicking gently at stray leaves, and at the break in the hedge, Janie said, "I've got to tell you, Scott. I lied to you about the chairs. I've had the story about having to paint them all ready, so that I could say it to you any time you called. But Monica did them with me last week. I'd given you up for this year – and that's why they weren't all set up. I thought I could get away with just messing up one or two. We were really careful when we did them. We really were. Monica only said 143 times that she hoped you'd be back doing them again next year."

"You couldn't call it exactly a lie," Scott told her, his voice almost completely steady, "when you left enough clues around to solve about three murders. I just wasn't ready to reconstruct the crime. Sometimes – " He stopped when he felt Janie tense and put her hand on his arm.

"Listen," she said, "do you hear that car? They're here. Oh, Scott, I truly didn't know they'd be coming They never say ahead of time."

And then Scott heard his father's strong, glad voice call out. "Janie, we saw Scott's car. Is he–?"


Scott ran across the lawn, and when he reached the walk to Janie's porch he noted, as he used to long ago, the quick joyous greeting that lit his father's face when he first caught sight of him.

He heard Janie's nervous, uneven breathing behind him, and he saw Monica move away from Sam, and as he faced only his father in that last moment before he was to step out of the old pattern forever, the wash of memory came so strongly and with so much pain that his vision blurred. But he reached behind him, and Janie took his hand, and together they walked toward his father and Monica.

"I'm glad," he said, and if it wasn't altogether the truth yet, he hoped that in his decent future, it would be. "I'm glad to see you both," he said.





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Harriet Halliday Renaud | Scene4 Magazine

Harriet Halliday Renaud was a journalist, feature and fiction writer, book reviewer, movie and theatre critic, and editor from 1935 to 2016, for national magazines from Newsweek to Harper's Bazaar. For more of her writings in Scene4, check the Archives

©2022 Lissa Tyler Renaud
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2023 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

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