Maeve

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I keep thinking about Maeve. Or rather Tom’s description of her, at the time he and Cat were having problems. I think Rhianon was somehow involved in all that - I remember seeing her, in that high-necked jumper with a glass of wine in her hand. She looked just like a code of silence. I don’t think Lewis has spoken to her since but that’s okay, she says. I never could look at too much humanity, she says. I’m looking at her, but I keep thinking about Maeve.

Maeve I think misses the snow, and Rupert. Before the thaw you could still go and see his tracks descending. It’s been such a strain on all of us, as everybody says. It’s been a difficult time. Though some people live closer than others to the past. I wonder how Rupert’s mother feels, now she goes out more and can see that nothing’s changed. I wonder if she’s been out there. They’ve replaced that section of the barrier, and put flowers out to rot on the one apposite stake. And the land below is more beautiful than ever. Hilda writes out invitations to dinner - I think she feels guilty for living so close, and without anyone of her own to lose. Hilda At Home is how she writes them. I went for a walk out there yesterday and came back past the side of her house. It’s become narrower since we were children; more difficult. I had my boot toed to the clapboard, and down the ravine to the right an image of my body all twisted and broken. Maeve would have taken it at a run, Maeve. She would have been dancing.

Tom is spending more and more time off at his cabin, though Maeve doesn’t seem to mind. She has other things. She used to say that there was no place left on earth that she would rather be, but it’s different there now, especially since they repossessed Michael’s car. It’s like visiting somebody who is on the way out. Cat keeps saying, ‘It’s only a matter of time now - before they go on and take the rest.’ Aside from the land the cabin’s on I’m not sure what rest there is. Tom was on the porch when it happened, when they took Michael’s car. He was refilling his pipe. He stood there watching, and filling, and they called across the street to him to see they had the right house. I imagine people always know. And what could possibly be the use in him saying anything else? He got through the door and past his family and furniture and half way up the stairs before Cat called out. She said, ‘I guess it’s only a matter of time now.’ The way Tom tells it she didn’t even lift her face from the book she was reading. And Maeve was giggling with her chocolate milk.

Maeve has a new game now. She stands on the fencepost and looks in on Michael. He seems to be as unconcerned as ever - regarding his situation, and the raging fury of all those round him. His wife used to say insentient. And you know there is something about him - I’ve been in the car and seen him stop right in the middle of the turnpike to check if he has his keys, and then drive on, light as a cloud in the sky. Birdsong carhorn shatteredglass meadowwind ... perhaps it’s just as well they took it. And he was still leaving his cello on the back seat some nights. God knows what was under the dash. But he is settling well into immobility - Maeve delivers bulletins: ‘He is in bed in his shirt and tie, writing away, with a cream puff beside him! He’s changing the channels on the tv, with a long spoon!’ Occasionally he notices Maeve. He gives her the big eye and takes a bite, which always makes her squeal.

‘You can’t blame him for being who he is,’ I said to Tom once. ‘What he is,’ he said.

Maeve sometimes asks where Rhianon has gone. I swear that night she was just like a walk into the darkest forest. You’d see her standing behind a doorway in profile, and maybe she’d glance at you, and then away again, and maybe you thought you saw something move. Everyone had thought that the party unmentionable was going to be Mrs. Mayer, whose presence was a show either of tenacity or ignorance. She had given Hilda her dog some weeks previously, for company, as a gift of compassion, only then it turned out to be so ill-tempered that Colleen had had to put a gardening glove over its nose. The dog asphyxiated, and left Hilda all so very upset. She said so much as inviting her was a form of betrayal. She is so persecuted by life. But then Rhianon was pouring people drinks, and touching them on the shoulder to pass, and she was so tall and confident and all alone, and you could tell by the way she leant with one shoulder against the window that she was looking on at all of this for the last time. Tom looked like an apology offered for life, or a bag by the side of the road. Cat was in the kitchen. And I think I thought I was falling. The dog by this time was at the bottom of the ravine, all twisted and broken, beside a mass grave of momentary images. And Maeve was downstairs throughout, in knee socks.

I don’t think Tom’s meeting anyone out there - at the cabin that is. He takes a bag of marking and some poems he hasn’t been able to finish these last ten years. Hilda surmises he hasn’t any others left. The cabin is nicely built though. He set the roof at a vertiginous incline so that he’d be able to stand in the attic once he’d laid a floor. But I suppose that too is now only a matter out of time. You keep losing enemies to the sensibly empowered, and something of the spirit goes too .... He comes back with the marking done. Bernier says his classes are like watching a glacier in action.

Maeve still has the mug I gave her for Christmas, for chocloate milk. It has a pied handle with a button and a little battery-operated whisk within. You get oodles of bubbles. Sometimes she’ll dip her nose. I’m delighted.

As I came back past Hilda’s house she was standing in the window, either chopping something or about to open it. Perhaps to open it, as there was a bonfire somewhere and that smell of wet oak going by, out to hang. I had my hand on the cill and to the right the image of -. She didn’t move or I stop: just a stare carried across two glazing bars, like a box car through a level crossing. The floor in her kitchen is slightly raised. A little way down I heard the door open behind me, and I say her mouth did too.

Cat keeps talking about New York City - about a phD in educational research she could do out there. She has some forms, and intelligent ideas for a proposal. Or maybe she’ll just go and find someone .... It’s once you’ve fought for a marriage that never having wanted it gains a certain poignancy. So now she’s standing on a hilltop on a cold clear day. I imagine she’ll take Maeve with her. And wouldn’t Tom then be left just like Michael?

It was actually Maeve I’d gone to see when I had that argument with Tom. There was some pretext of being worried about Michael, and that’s how we got into it. ‘Well you can’t blame him for being what he is, then,’ I had said, and that was when Tom got angry. ‘If you can’t blame people for what they are then what the fuck have we got a criminal justice system for? Why all the black men on death row? Or criminal psychiatrists? Why have a fucking education system, if people just are as they are?’ ‘You always used to say an education wasn’t about instruction, Tom. It isn’t supposed to tell you how to live, I thought,’ I said. He is trembling now. He is wearing a blue check shirt with a flap on the chest pocket, and Maeve has gone off somewhere else.

She used to call it the machine. She used to say Daddy switch off the machine, when he was angry about something other than things she had done. And when he went up to the Northern Territories with Lewis, she’d say it was the machine that made him go. She didn’t like to be left. They’d sail out around the islands, shoot a bear; eat corned beef. Hand out peaches to Inuits, who have generators now, and rainbows of gasoline. One trip a storm held them over a rock for three days. On others they saw flashes of green in the sky before dawn. Outings of six weeks, or so. It was his atavistic wild, fractionally distilled, and then succeeded by his ataraxic Fall. ‘You could do your howling in front of the tv, like Copper does, if it weren’t for the machine,’ Maeve said to him once. I think they were even watching it at the time, with the forks raised in their hands.

The year Lewis sold the boat Tom built his cabin. It was like that. It took him two months to convince Michael to buy some land for investment purposes, and he was already scratching around for materials, for a new chamber to boil himself away into. If Rhianon ever thought he was building it for the two of them it was because she was younger then, and we were all so taken by the idea. Maeve promised it to Rupert, Rhianon to herself, and I think it’s the reason Michael’s wife stayed on through that summer. If you think of your life as an assembly of details, adding a cabin can be a further few months. Years? And the forest there has a magical quality. When there’s snow and the air is dry and you can feel why they called it New England. Roll over you dark Satanic mills! Paint this on the lids of your biscuit tins! The air goes cold right into the deep of your lungs, the cells of your blood, and needles out through your limbs.