Issue 4

Prologue, Prosperous Friends

 · Fiction

Such exorbitant crying! Just when the old woman thought she had stopped crying, the girl would start again. The sound raised in the old woman gladness and amazement, and she lay awake to listen, but all she heard was crying; the rest she made up.

Infidelity? Boredom?

The old woman went downstairs to turn off the lights left on for the young couple now upstairs. She went close to the registry to see their names, but decided not to look.

What else did the old woman let herself know?

Their car was like everyone’s car. New York plates. They were a couple; they had signed in under the same name. The girl’s name started with a large and upright I, but she was not wearing a ring and the boy stood apart as if he were single. They were traveling to East Blue Hill but for how long was a question they had answered differently. The girl said maybe six weeks; the boy said three.

The boy, the old woman thought, was very pretty. A girl would cry over losing him, but this much?

The girl’s kind of crying was at a pitch that befitted a graver occasion. The girl’s crying was wholehearted, a baby’s kind, in no way self-conscious; but unlike a baby’s crying, the girl’s had nothing to do with discomfort or hunger. Hers was purely announced sorrow.

The old woman had heard and so had the old man.

The old man, the next morning, looking at the ceiling, asked, “What was that last night?”

The old woman shook her head and said, “Wasn’t it terrible?”

“So she wasn’t moaning?”

“Honestly,” the old woman said, and she looked back at where he lay with his hands behind his head. This was crying, the sound of which made the old woman believe that she, the girl, was in the right. Whatever cause was being fought, the girl deserved to win for her sincerity. Her swept, stripped crying was like an empty room, the boxy shadows on the walls, the unfaded parts against which beds and desks had pressed. Whoever had lived there, slept there, adjusted in front of a mirror there, was dead.

The rooms left by the old woman’s dead are all yet unused. The closets are full; in a laundry basket still are her father’s best shoes in shoe trees, a box, tissue paper.

Spendthrift mourner.

Ten years come August. She should clear out Daddy’s room to add a room to the Wax Hill B&B.

Ed and Aura’s is a farmhouse laddered with additions and trellises of clematis and roses; the inside walls are thin; the floors, slant. The rooms the Kyles let are low-ceilinged in the way of farmhouses, but the best of these, with the morning light, Aura gave to this couple. Aura gave the couple the whitest room because of the girl but also because of the boy. Aura had looked at the two when they were reading the brochures Aura always gives to guests. Aura considered their faces — they were probably not so young, not a girl and a boy, though she was of an age that turned everyone under forty into girls and boys, and so, too, these guests. The girl’s straight eyebrows, her wide-open expression, the girl’s face and the boy’s face — she would not tire of looking at them.

No matter. The couple left the next morning. They left before breakfast, which Aura thought was wasteful.

Age is some of the story. Aura has a spot on her hand that she is watching grow. Halved in a fold of skin for a time, it has looked like shadow, but now the spot is larger and outstandingly itself; nevertheless, Aura believes only she knows the brown declivity for what it is.

Ed is eighty-two and proud of it.

PROSPEROUS FRIENDS © 2012 by Christine Schutt; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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