Andrew Logan Montgomery
“I lingered round them…listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
-Emily Bronte; Wuthering Heights
Maria had always said the mountain was dangerous in winter.
We never called her "grandma." She wouldn't allow it. She was the kind of woman who insisted she was sixty-eight well into her ninties, as if iron will could hold back time. Until the very end she dyed her hair jet black and flirted with all the local farmers, more Scarlett O'Hara than Vivian Leigh had ever dreamed of being. Mountain Hollow was her "Tara," three hundred acres of empty woodlands and fallow fields that in her mind was some fairy kingdom, a Promised Land that God had led her to. She had spent every summer of her life there for more than forty years, lingering until the last of the leaves had fallen from the trees. Then, that last winter, she lingered too long, and the first snows caught up with her. The doctors said it was a stroke. Later I learned the truth.
Denise resisted the idea at first, but I think she saw the city was slowly killing me. It was her world, not mine. I remember the moment clearly when she gave in, the way women give in when in reality they are just giving you permission. No surrender was involved. We were lying in Maria's old featherbed, all the windows open. Cool mountain air washed over our naked bodies. I remember the frogs singing from the pond behind the barn, their chorus carried in on the breeze. It was one of those moments--moments that never came in Manhattan--where I felt completely at peace. Tranquility had settled over every nerve, and my mind floated serenely on the glassy surface of sleep.
My arm was around her, my fingers twined up in her hair. "We don't make love like that in the city," she murmured, her cheek resting against my breastbone.
I smiled in the dark. "It's the mountain air."
I could feel her smiling too, but only for a moment. "No, it's you. You're happier whenever we are up here."
I chewed on this awhile in silence, listening to the sounds coming in from the dark. There was a part of me here, left behind like old luggage long before, suitcases packed with memories. I was only really complete when I came back here. Outside, the frogs had been joined by an owl. I think it lived in the barn, terrorizing the field mice that nested in the hay.
"Your childhood is here. You spent every weekend of every summer here. Whenever we come up here, you become young again."
Memories turned over in my mind. I can't remember if I smiled or frowned in the dark. "My mom had always hated it, always hated getting torn away from the social scene. But Dad--Dad was the dutiful son. His mother held court here every summer, and he could never say 'no' to her."
"But you loved it."
"Yeah, I did. I do." I thought about all the times I had trudged around through the woods, or slept out in one of the fields under the stars. There had always been a kind of magic in this place for me, and there was hardly any place I could go here were I didn't cross paths with the ghost of my childhood self, or--for that matter--the ghosts of Maria and my parents. Maybe in the end, that was the part of me that was really lived here...all the dead Mountain Hollow had consumed.
We both lay there quiet for a long while, and Manhattan was a million miles away. Outside, on the lawn, stealthy shadows were passing. The deer were coming for the apples again.
"I know I've been pretty adamant about it," Denise began, "but I've been thinking a lot about it. There's really no reason why I can't move my office and set it up here."
Stunned, I rolled over and propped myself up on my elbow. "But could you actually do that? Leave the city?"
She shrugged. "It's not like it's going anywhere. If I wanted to visit, I could always drive down there."
"But you love the city."
"And I love you." She tapped my chest. "But I know that you are miserable down there. You've got too much of your grandmother in you. Your heart is here."
I think one of the deer had stopped outside to listen to us, hearing our low voices out on the lawn. I could feel eyes watching me from out in the dark, inhuman eyes, silent and breathless.
"I've never spent the winter here though.” I felt a twinge then, a soundless, insubstantial dark like a cloud passing across the moon. “Maria always used to say that the mountain was dangerous in the winter."
Denise sighed. "That was before the county paved the road. You said yourself it was impassable all winter long. But since the Conkleys moved in down the hill the county plows in the winter, or at least up to their place. If we moved in, the county could just plow the rest of the way up."
I nodded. "Yeah, but the house could be cold. It's old."
Denise laughed. "Why are you fighting me on this? You can't tell me that you haven't dreamed of moving up here for years."
"You know I have."
"So stop fighting me and let me graciously sacrifice living in the city for you. I'm trying to make a grand gesture here."
I said nothing, but could see possibilities unfolded in my mind.
"Besides, you've been toying with the idea for awhile now. Last year you installed the new wood stove in the living room and had the attic insulated. I'm not blind, you know."
I kissed her. "No one has ever accused you of that."
"So let's give it a shot. If it's too cold, or if I decide I can't stand living in the middle of nowhere any longer, we can go back."
"You're really serious about this, aren't you."
"What part of what I am saying don't you get?" She flashed me one of her devious smiles. "Besides, you've always said the city is no place to raise a kid, and maybe it's time we started thinking seriously about a family."
"A ha!" I laughed. "Now I see where this is going."
Denise shrugged. "We've put it off too long."
I raised my eyebrow. "You're serious?"
Gently, I rolled her over on her back, her skin velvety against mine. We lay belly to belly in the dark, a very familiar heat building between us. "When were you planning on getting started with this?"
"No time like the present."
And we started making a baby.
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