In­sight

Prairie Fire - - ARMIN WIEBE - ARMIN WIEBE

T H E M E S S O F P A I N T M A D E O L F E R T want to reach for a cig­a­rette even though he hadn’t smoked for twenty-three years. It was that kind of mo­ment, a long deep-breath crav­ing that fresh air couldn’t quite quench. The ride in her smoker’s car must have trig­gered the yen he thought he had van­quished. If she hadn’t left so abruptly he could have bummed a smoke. But it was more than the scent of tobacco in a woman’s car—it was the north wall of this ne­glected cabin. Win­dow­less, the wall looked as if the dregs of a hun­dred paint jobs had been slapped and splashed on the ply­wood pan­els serv­ing as sid­ing. Fish flies, moths and dried leaves clung to the cob­webs that dulled the colours of the sur­face.

“Start on the north side,” she had said, as they un­loaded five­g­al­lon pails of primer and for­est-green paint, brushes and long-han­dled rollers, paint trays and a bun­dle of rags from her trunk. They set down the sup­plies be­side the rail­road ties that di­vided the drive­way from the over­grown yard. Lawn didn’t ap­ply to the green­ery sur­round­ing the cabin. Olfert gawked at the weath­ered front and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing deck bathed in the morn­ing sun. Rus­tic, a re­al­tor would have said.

As Olfert lifted out the last pail, the woman had pulled a pic­nic cooler from the back­seat. He fol­lowed her as she car­ried the cooler past a half-dead crabap­ple tree and set it on the edge of the deck. Then she had pulled a key from her tat­tered jeans. “Here you go, I’ll pick you up on Sun­day night. Gotta go.” Olfert had pinched the key as she scam­pered back to the car.

“You’re leav­ing?” he’d said, start­ing af­ter her.

She’d opened the driver’s door, stepped one foot in, then called over the door­frame, “The wa­ter turn-on is at the back. Just fol­low the pipe.”

“But I thought—!” The car door slammed on his words. Be­fore he could reach it, the car had backed out of the drive­way, and with a spurt of gravel she’d been gone.

“What’s go­ing on?” he had yelled, then looked around to see if any­one might have heard. Sum­mer fo­liage veiled the neigh­bour­ing cab­ins.

His watch had shown barely eight o’clock. She had picked him up at 6:30. Only the two short­est bars showed on his phone. The bat­tery 20 per­cent. In his drowsy hurry he hadn’t even brought a change of clothes, let alone his charger. Olfert had pow­ered down the phone. No one to call any­way. She hadn’t given him her num­ber; he hadn’t of­fered his.

Mostly in shadow, the wall ap­peared blood­stained, the ruddy paint sag­ging where drips had run down un­til con­gealed. He had a flash of the woman’s face, makeup smeared. He shook him­self. This morn­ing her face had been scrubbed clean so he barely rec­og­nized her from the night be­fore. His belly tight­ened. He not only didn’t know her num­ber, he didn’t know her name. Had she said Liz? Lil? Libby? Surely not—no­body was called Libby nowa­days.

While wan­der­ing about the Ex­change Dis­trict on First Fri­day, Olfert had stum­bled into a gallery host­ing an open­ing for an artist he knew slightly. Both­well cheese and box wine. Large ab­stract can­vasses, bold colours, in your face with an I-dare-you-to-un­der­stand-me at­ti­tude. Wist­fully, Olfert had sur­veyed the room for fa­mil­iar faces, pleas­ing women, erotic im­agery.

Hold­ing court at the wine counter, the artist with his trade­mark crim­son deer­stalker pulled down on his head de­spite the July heat, had been filling a plas­tic gob­let with Mer­lot for a bare-shoul­dered woman. Turn­ing away be­fore he could be ac­knowl­edged, Olfert had stepped up to the raised area where the new paint­ings were hung and peered at a ver­ti­cal 3 x 4 can­vas mostly grey­ish brown with a di­ag­o­nal slash of yel­low­ish white. As he bent to squint at the ti­tle (Rats are lla­mas) on the la­bel card his nos­trils picked up the tur­pen­tine residue of men’s cologne. Olfert straight­ened up to study the can­vas again, strain­ing to dis­cern rats and lla­mas in the egg tem­pera, but move­ment be­side him dis­tracted him and he saw the source of the stale scent. A grey­ing man wear­ing a pullover sweater as a scarf had waved his spec­ta­cles at de­tails in the next paint­ing. “The in­vis­i­ble

is the path to in­trin­sic ex­ter­nal re­al­ity,” the man said to the woman pinch­ing a red-wine gob­let be­side him. She had re­garded the paint­ing with a slight smirk, then caught Olfert star­ing as the man bowed to read the la­bel card. Olfert thought she had winked at him as the other man said, “The Higgs bo­son opens mor­tal en­ergy. Per­fect ti­tle. Pro­foundly enig­matic.” Olfert heard the words, but by then the spaghetti straps on the woman’s vivid sum­mer dress had sent a tremor of blues down his spine. To keep from ogling the woman, he turned back to Rats are lla­mas and waited for the pair to move on. The man’s voice was not soft, how­ever, and at the next paint­ing Olfert heard him say, “The key to joy re­quires a sym­phony of genes.” Should he feel in­ad­e­quate, Olfert won­dered, or call bull­shit? He moved over to the paint­ing the sweater man had first com­mented on. The ti­tle re­ally was The Higgs bo­son opens mor­tal en­ergy. Olfert pe­rused the can­vas from var­i­ous an­gles, step­ping back to change per­spec­tive, but it had only re­minded him of a child’s fin­ger paint­ing that had been snatched away a mo­ment af­ter it had turned to mud.

Then he had sensed the woman be­side him. “Do you paint?” she asked.

The wall made him think of stag­nant wa­ter—a shal­low pol­luted lake seen from the air, the mul­ti­ple colours of the lakebed—sand, rocks, al­gae growth, mud, maybe even the murky ef­flu­ent of his sub­con­scious. Get a grip, he mut­tered. He glanced over to the paint­ing sup­plies he had car­ried to the deck, and spot­ted the cooler Libby (he de­cided) had left him. Should put that in­side, he thought, but un­lock­ing the door seemed like a com­mit­ment he wasn’t sure he was ready to make. He feared the dis­ap­point­ment he would feel when he en­tered. A re­minder of the fan­tasy that got him into this in the first place. A sucker for bare shoul­ders and a smile. The ego boost of one­up­ping the sweater-as-a-scarf guy’s artsy-fartsy talk.

A bat­tered broom leaned against the deck. Sweep the cob­webs and fish­flies from the wall and mull over the pos­si­bil­ity of hik­ing to the high­way and hitch­ing a ride back to the city. Back to his empty clut­tered house. Enough with the artsy talk, he scolded, and he be­gan sweep­ing at the top left cor­ner. At first he fo­cused only on the cob­webs un­der the over­hang of the roof. He pon­dered Libby’s in­struc­tion to turn on the wa­ter at the back of the prop­erty. No, wash­ing the wall with a hose might just drive the dirt into the cracks.

Bal­anc­ing pre­car­i­ously on a rusty chrome chair he’d found be­side the deck, he swept down­ward, clear­ing the de­bris cling­ing to the

paint that made him think of blood. When he paused to claw away webs sticking to the broom straws, a car­toon­ish pro­file of a long­nosed face emerged from the mess of paint. Olfert climbed down to move the chair and when he stepped back he saw an im­age of a man wear­ing a ruddy lapel jacket over a high-col­lared shirt with an as­cot stand­ing in a rain of blood. He swept down to re­veal more, but the lower parts of the fig­ure dis­si­pated into the back­ground. Back on the chair, he brushed off the area be­hind the man’s back and found a woman’s face in pro­file, like a cameo. A faint, larger fe­male head in sil­hou­ette lurked be­hind her. At least they’re not rats and lla­mas, he mut­tered. Traces of anx­i­ety trick­led from his un­der­arms.

Olfert moved the chair and set about clear­ing the over­hang to the end of the cabin, then pro­ceeded to sweep down the wall. Next to the faint woman’s sil­hou­ette a head­less broad-shoul­dered torso loomed, tall, tuxe­doed, robed per­haps—maybe ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal—dark robes over white or grey flan­nel trousers. The lapels ex­posed a white chest or shirt. Maybe a smok­ing jacket. Olfert’s mind shifted back to “ec­cle­si­as­tic.” One who speaks to the assem­bly, he re­called from once hav­ing looked up the word in a dic­tio­nary.

Back turned to the loom­ing head­less ec­cle­si­as­tic, a dark-haired, dark-faced woman, arms folded, her back­less white dress sport­ing flounces at the hip, seemed to be star­ing at a Dick­en­sian old man with white hair, an un­ruly beard and a skull face. A troll squat­ting on a spinet piano, Olfert thought, but when he stepped back the Dick­en­sian fig­ure ap­peared to be crouched on a cat’s head rest­ing its chin on a book.

Get out the primer and cover this mess, he mut­tered. Af­ter all, that’s why Libby brought him out here—and she had promised to re­turn on Sun­day night. Clench­ing the broom, he at­tacked the dirt, de­ter­mined to see only messy paint, but then he saw two part cir­cles re­sem­bling spec­ta­cles peer­ing out of a white cloud. When he stepped back the white patch looked like a plung­ing water­fall, and then more like a chalk cliff. A dark fig­ure sat hunched against the white cliff, knees up, back curved. At the same time the white patch re­sem­bled the lower half of a naked back. The more he looked, how­ever, a darker nude fig­ure seemed to rise from the white chalk, shoul­ders and arms bare, as if sit­ting on a white low-backed sofa chair.

Olfert as­saulted the re­main­ing dirt, not stop­ping un­til he had cleared off the dross down to the splin­tered lat­tice work half­heart­edly cov­er­ing the gap be­tween the ground and the cabin floor. He dropped the broom and headed over to the deck and opened the

cooler, saw beer and grabbed a can. Af­ter a deep swal­low, he glanced at the cabin door, fin­gered the key in his pocket.

Be­ing alone in this place was not what he’d had in mind when he’d an­swered Libby’s query with, “I’ve been known to dip a brush.” On a whim he had added, “Af­ter all, mak­ing tea self-in­ter­acts with the un­bri­dled path to in­trin­sic ex­ter­nal re­al­ity.” She had ac­tu­ally raised an eye­brow, a feat he’d thought pos­si­ble only in books, then nudged him with her hip and mur­mured, “You mal­adroit scamp.” Olfert had al­lowed him­self a ten­ta­tive glow as his mind scram­bled to de­ter­mine if he had been com­pli­mented. He started to mut­ter some­thing about the son of Lady and the Tramp, but had sensed that a Dis­ney ref­er­ence might not earn him an­other nudge from her hip.

In the mid­dle of a swal­low of beer he was jolted by a scream. ” You mal­adroit scamp!” A woman’s voice. He glanced at the drive­way. No car. He tip­toed back to the north wall. The white cliff ac­costed him first. He seemed to de­tect move­ment at its base, but a closer look showed all was frozen. How­ever, he made out three fig­ures strid­ing to­ward what looked like a rider on a bucking horse be­yond the cliff. He heard the scream again. “You mal­adroit scamp!” A cho­rus of women’s voices. Women in long skirts chas­ing a ghostly bronc rider and heap­ing him with scorn. He squinted and for a blink saw a sweater worn as a scarf around the rider’s neck. Then the im­age blurred into a mess of paint.

Still he heard the women scream­ing. Chant­ing the im­pu­ta­tion. Olfert downed the last beer from the can. How had that word en­tered his brain? He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, only to con­front an­other white tur­moil in the lower right cor­ner. The paint swirls re­solved into a fig­ure on its back fend­ing off kicks from an­other a fig­ure loom­ing over it. He heard muf­fled grunts. Re­ally, he must paint this un­ruly wall.

Crush­ing the can in his fist, he plot­ted a strat­egy for do­ing the job, re­mem­ber­ing the prom­ise in the nudge of Libby’s hip. Roll on the primer, let it dry, roll on the for­est green. Even a mal­adroit scamp could do that. But rats and lla­mas, be­fore his very eyes the white cliff trans­formed into a parka hood in a bliz­zard—an Arc­tic ghost in­spir­ing light and awe in the fight­ing fig­ures in the bot­tom right cor­ner. For a sec­ond he heard blow­ing snow.

That’s when he no­ticed how some parts of the wall ap­peared to gleam. Olfert walked up to the wall and ran his fin­gers over the paint. He felt no cracks or peel­ing blis­ters. Tex­ture, yes: where the paint had run, ver­ti­cal grooves in the wood pan­els, rough spots and ridges that

seemed al­most de­lib­er­ate. If the paint job weren’t such a ca­coph­ony of colours there would be no need to re­paint. He wiped his palms up the wall as high as he could reach. For new paint to stick he would need to take a wire brush to the wall. He al­most felt a nudge at his hip.

On his way to look for a wire brush he heard snick­er­ing like rustling leaves, but hu­man, just enough to make him feel like his fly was open be­fore a party of women. No wire brush among the gear she had left him. Maybe a woman wouldn’t think of such a thing. The snick­ers grew into gig­gles. Olfert peeked at his fly, wob­bled a lit­tle, adrift.

He dou­ble-checked ev­ery bag and con­tainer, but found no wire brush or even a scraper. He no­ticed the hor­i­zon­tal sid­ing cov­er­ing the front wall—wide, rough, wavy edged boards, bare. Per­fect for stain­ing. But Libby had not men­tioned stain, had not said much about the job other than she wanted the cabin painted green and that he should be­gin with the north wall. The ra­dio had been play­ing dur­ing the drive up, just loud enough to make con­ver­sa­tion awk­ward, and al­though she had smoked only one cig­a­rette, she kept her side win­dow rolled down so car noise pretty much pre­vented any nor­mal talk and noth­ing wor­thy of a shout had oc­curred. So early on a Satur­day morn­ing her lack of bab­ble had had some ap­peal, as long as he hadn’t con­sid­ered that she might be ig­nor­ing him. He had tried not to gaze at her too ob­vi­ously as she leaned for­ward slightly, grip­ping the wheel at ten and two, eyes in­tent on the road. The two ear­ring holes in her ear­lobe had in­trigued him briefly as he tried to re­mem­ber what had been dan­gling from them when they had sipped box Mer­lot while she en­ticed him to ac­cept this paint­ing job. Week­end at the lake. Help me with a lit­tle paint­ing.

He eyed the cooler, de­cided it was too soon for more beer, and went to look at the south wall. Peel­ing Win­nipeg brown. This wall def­i­nitely needed brush­ing down, even scrap­ing in spots. Cob­webs coated the two small win­dows like grey cot­ton candy. A quar­ter-inch PVC pipe from un­der the cabin merged with a red-wheeled cop­per shut-off valve, then curved and snaked west into the over­grown grass, ferns and seedling poplars. Olfert fol­lowed the pipe for a few steps, then turned back to look at the west wall. Less weath­ered than the south one, the sur­face was still mostly peel­ing paint all the way to the tin vent just be­low the peak. How was he sup­posed to reach that with­out a lad­der? Was she bring­ing a lad­der on Sun­day night? Was that why Libby had said to be­gin with the north wall? But even there he would need at least a steplad­der to do a de­cent job.

A small shed stood against the trees on the north side of the prop­erty and then he spot­ted a di­lap­i­dated out­house tucked in be­side a clump

of trees. Some­thing use­ful, he thought, but when he turned the swivel latch and pulled open the door he was faced with fire­wood stacked six feet high. No ac­cess to the throne.

In­side the shed he found a wooden steplad­der, four steps and the top. He rum­maged through the jum­ble of odds and ends but found no wire brush or scraper. A flat spade hung from a nail next to a buck saw. He took it down, think­ing he might be able to scrape the south wall with it. He grabbed the steplad­der with his other hand and was about to step out­side, when he no­ticed a clear bag hang­ing from a nail with what looked like a large artist’s brush in­side. No, he mut­tered, and car­ried the lad­der and spade to the south wall. Then, re­triev­ing the broom, Olfert con­cen­trated on pre­par­ing the south wall for prim­ing.

The flat spade served pass­ably as a scraper, and he felt an oc­ca­sional nudge at his hip as the paint chips splut­tered down on the dan­de­lions and ferns be­low. He had scraped nearly half the wall when a scrab­ble of voices erupted from the north side. He slapped the wall with the spade, but the bab­ble con­tin­ued and grew louder when he re­sumed scrap­ing. A man’s voice yelled, “Hid­den mean­ing re­sults from pos­i­tive facts,” and a woman screamed back, “True iden­tity lies be­yond per­sonal sex­ual en­ergy.” Two other women cooed in har­mony, “Your move­ment drives self-right­eous si­lence.” Then the voices calmed to back­ground bab­ble punc­tu­ated by a clank­ing drag­ging sound ap­proach­ing from the road. Olfert held his breath and lis­tened. The bab­ble faded. The clank­ing con­tin­ued.

He peered around the cor­ner and choked up. The spade fell from his hand. A woman was drag­ging an alu­minum ex­ten­sion lad­der over the rail­road tie at the drive­way. For a sec­ond she looked naked, but then he saw her pale tan bikini and flip-flops. A peaked straw hat shaded her tawny face. Olfert opened his mouth but his throat was too dry to speak. Timidly, he stepped out to­ward her, open­ing his arms. The woman dropped the lad­der.

“I’m sorry,” he said, low­er­ing his trem­bling arms, em­bar­rassed. “Said you might need this,” she said in a cu­ri­ously youth­ful voice.

“Who?” Olfert asked. He couldn’t keep his gaze off her sinewy weath­ered body, half ex­pect­ing to hear her say, ‘You have to look?’”

“The new one,” she said, plac­ing her hands on her hips as she looked him up and down. Her scru­tiny made him feel un­easy, even guilty.

“Needs work, this place. You the hus­band?”

“No,” he croaked, “just a friend.”

Olfert felt his guilt dou­ble.

“Good then,” she said, lift­ing her hat to wipe her brow. Her sil­ver-streaked cropped hair star­tled him, some­how strange, yet eer­ily fa­mil­iar.

“Be a hot one. Head­ing to the beach. Just down that road.” She pointed. “Come on down when you need a break. It’s quiet. Wa­ter’s clean. No al­gae blooms to­day.” With that she turned and walked away with a wig­gle that could have been de­lib­er­ate or merely a limp. As he watched the woman move along the road, Olfert felt seen through, and painfully for­lorn.

Be­fore the woman was out of sight, the voices re­sumed. That fig­ures, he thought. He tried to shut out the voices by pick­ing up the lad­der, but then couldn’t de­cide where to carry it. So he laid it against the lat­tice cov­er­ing the side of the deck. His stom­ach growled then and he opened the cooler. He pulled out a bag­gie with a sand­wich, and an­other beer. Be­fore he could take a bite the voices erupted in a cho­rus of laugh­ter that rose and fell and rose again, qui­et­ing down to one or two voices then burst­ing out again in a con­ta­gion that shook the en­tire cabin. “Come down when you need a break,” a woman’s hys­ter­i­cal voice cried out, set­ting off an­other cack­ling ex­plo­sion that rat­tled the skewed screen door.

Olfert’s heart thumped like a boom­ing bass. One of his knees gave way and the beer slipped from his hand. He grabbed at the cooler to steady him­self. His other hand braced against the deck, crush­ing the sand­wich. Slowly he sat down on a five-gal­lon pail. The rim of the lid press­ing into his but­tocks felt strangely re­as­sur­ing, un­til a sonorous bass voice cut through an­other crescendo of chortling: “The fu­ture re­lies on to­tal suc­cess.”

“Fu­ture? Fu­ture?” A des­cant of so­pra­nos chanted as the bass re­peated his phrase.

“Suc­cess? Suc­cess?” A sin­gle alto called as if con­duct­ing an auc­tion.

“Im­pos­si­ble,” a vel­vet bari­tone crooned to a close. In the si­lence Olfert’s heart thumped on, while in his mind the bikini woman limped down the road.

Olfert opened the bag­gie and care­fully sep­a­rated half of the crushed sand­wich and slid it out. Bologna and cheese. He chewed like a raven at­tack­ing road­kill. When he’d eaten it, he re­trieved the beer from the grass, cau­tiously popped the can and rushed it to his mouth to catch the foam. Af­ter a big swal­low, he pulled out the other

half of the squished sand­wich and de­voured that. He fin­ished the beer, stuffed the can through the lat­tice, and stood up. He fished the key from his pocket and stomped up the steps and un­locked the door. A rec­tan­gle of sun­light on the kitchen table re­vealed a new wire brush ly­ing on top of two pack­aged dol­lar store pain­ter’s cov­er­alls. Next to it, a white pain­ter’s hat.

The wire brush spurred Olfert into ac­tion and he scolded him­self for not en­ter­ing the cabin sooner. Back out­side, af­ter emp­ty­ing the cooler into the fridge and us­ing the com­post­ing toi­let, he fol­lowed the PVC pipe through the bushes and mos­qui­toes to the back of the prop­erty and turned on the faucet he found there. The mos­qui­toes fol­lowed him back to the cabin where he vig­or­ously brushed down the south wall un­til not a blis­ter of old paint re­mained and his shirt dripped with sweat. In­side the cabin he had a large drink of wa­ter, then stripped to his un­der­wear and slipped on the dis­pos­able cov­er­alls, flimsy and cool on his skin.

He felt Libby’s hip nudge him as he pried open the primer. Maybe this scamp isn’t so mal­adroit af­ter all, he thought. He was hun­gry again by the time he fin­ished prim­ing the over­hang and the win­dow frames, but he switched to the roller with­out miss­ing a beat and re­fused to stop un­til the south wall was all white. Af­ter an­other sand­wich, he sipped a beer while he gazed into the one bed­room with a dou­ble bed. The other two bed­rooms had bunks. He chuck­led at a mem­ory of bunks, then for a mo­ment was over­come with gloom. Did Libby have kids? Olfert shook off his neg­a­tive thoughts, chugged his beer, and headed out­side to at­tack the west wall.

Now that he had com­mit­ted to the task, the wire brush­ing and the paint­ing pro­ceeded with a speed and ease he could not have imag­ined be­fore. A slight breeze fil­ter­ing through the flimsy cov­er­alls kept him cool and mos­quito free. As the af­ter­noon heated up the neigh­bour­hood came alive with voices and laugh­ter from peo­ple strolling past on the way to the beach. For about an hour the peace was shat­tered by a gang of kids on dirt bikes roar­ing up and down the road. From some dis­tance away he heard the rowdy sounds of a drink­ing party, soon drowned out by the roar of lawn mow­ers and the oc­ca­sional whine of a chain­saw. For Olfert the noise func­tioned like a co­coon, drown­ing out his thoughts and help­ing him keep his fo­cus on the job in front of him. He eased into a trance where he felt the odd nudge of her hip and her voice purring, “You mal­adroit scamp,” with an in­flec­tion sug­gest­ing she didn’t re­ally mean the “mal.” Not once through the long af­ter­noon did he hear voices from the north wall.

Af­ter he put away the paint­ing gear for the day, he went back to look again at the north wall, think­ing he would wire brush and prime it first thing in the morn­ing. It was just a mess of paint af­ter all. Sure, he had seen im­ages on the wall, but that could just be his sub­con­scious try­ing to be artsy fartsy and Libby wasn’t im­pressed with that. He stood well back to take in the whole wall at once. But he couldn’t un­see what he had seen. The im­ages seemed even clearer now and with the ache of the day’s work in his bones he be­gan to see even more. A fa­mil­iar face emerged from the top right cor­ner, then formed by the spa­ces be­tween the other im­ages, her body sprawled across the wall.

Olfert passed a few cot­tagers as he walked along the road she had pointed out, but the beach was de­serted when he stepped out on the peb­bled slope to the wa­ter. The sun hov­ered just above the hori­zon and he took a deep breath as he gazed at the shim­mer­ing lake. In the san­dals he had found in the cabin, he walked down the beach in the shal­low lap­ping wa­ter.

Where the shore­line curved into a sand­spit jut­ting into a clut­ter of boul­ders in the wa­ter, two tat­tered turkey buz­zards slumped on the ashen branches of a dead tree. They seemed to be eye­ing him as he ap­proached, but didn’t move even when he came near enough to meet their gaze. He won­dered if he were to look at the north wall from an­other an­gle might he see th­ese birds in that mess of paint.

Past the spit, on a smaller beach, he saw sev­eral large con­vo­luted rocks at the wa­ter’s edge. A last ray from the set­ting sun re­vealed her in her tan bikini nes­tled in a ham­mock-like hol­low of one of the rocks. Her eyes looked wet.

“I miss you,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “Your time will come.”

“Please for­give me,” he said.

“For­given, but not for­got­ten,” she said. “For­give me.”

“I for­give you, but I can’t for­get,” he said.

“I love you,” she said.

“Should I paint over the north wall?”

“For Libby?” she chuck­led. “You’re on your own there, lover.” Olfert looked away over the dark­en­ing wa­ter. When he looked back at the rock he saw only the empty hol­low.p

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