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A DRY SEASON / Greg Johnson //TV TO, YOU'RE NOT a failure," Eleanor says. "That's 1 \l nonsense." She sounds exasperated, downright angry, but then she laughs. A loud, ribald laugh that Nora, after fifteen years, knows not to take personally. The laugh is Eleanor's typical response to human problems: it clears the air, puts the situation in perspective. For that, Eleanor says, is what Nora has gotten herself trapped inside. A "situation." Nora says, caustically, "You mean I've even failed at that? Being a failure?" Eleanor makes a gesture with her hands—fingers outspread, held clutched above her ears. Pulling out her hair. Go ahead, Nora thinks. "It's just that you're so intense, so damned serious," Eleanor says. She laughs again, though less convincingly. "You've always been that way, you know. Ever since college." "Have I?" Nora says. Eleanor smokes thoughtfully, staring past Nora's shoulder to the parched, bumpy lawn. The lawn leads down to the lake, not quite visible through the massive ridge of trees, and throughout this stale, restless conversation with her oldest friend, her college roommate, Eleanor Jenks, Nora has let her thoughts wander down to the lake, the rippling, cool water. Only eleven a.m., it's already ninety in the shade. It's August, the dog days. A thick, settled heat—a murderous heat has hugged the lake and its environs ever since Nora's arrival the previous week. The heat, the three of them have decided, is beyond remedy. Neil takes a cold shower after work, but ten minutes later, he says, he's covered in sweat. While he's at work, Eleanor and Nora sit out on the redwood deck as they're doing now, sipping iced tea or margaritas in the morning shade of an enormous elm, wearing practically nothing. Short shorts, halter tops. Their hair pulled back, tied carelessly with rubber bands. But still the heat is stifling, and occasionally Nora has trouble getting her breath: last night she sat up suddenly in bed, gasping for air, her throat and tongue feeling unnaturally dry, parched. For Nora, only a swim in the lake brings relief, a luxurious total immersion with her limbs outspread, her head leaned back until the water laps over her calm face, her closed mouth and eyes. 202 · The Missouri Review "I think it's the weather," Eleanor says at last. "It's affected Neil, too; have you noticed how anxious he seems about work? Does Mr. so-and-so really appreciate him, will the dastardly so-and-so get promoted instead, that kind of thing. He's usually good about leaving his work at the office, but lately he's been coming home with that grim look around his mouth, full of doom and gloom. And now you—" As she talks, the ash on Eleanor's cigarette grows impossibly long—nearly an inch, Nora guesses. She has watched it obsessively, scarcely listening, yet knowing that Eleanor will notice the ash at the last possible moment—just in time—and then flick it into the ashtray as if nothing had happened. As if there'd been no suspense, no danger. And then she'll keep talking. "Nora, are you all right?" Eleanor says, interrupting herself. "Listen, kid," she begins, in a gentler tone, "you really shouldn't worry—" but then she follows Nora's wide-eyed gaze down to the cigarette and quickly moves her hand toward the large, Mexican ashtray, already heaped with Eleanor's butts. As they sit watching in silence, the ash falls. There's nothing worse, Nora resolves, than a boring houseguest. That evening, before Neil gets home, she changes into a white sundress she hasn't yet worn during this trip. It's the only good dress she brought, and half-consciously she's been saving it for some special occasion; but they seldom go out, and in any case the lake people never dress for anything. Twice they have gone to a nearby tavern for ribs and draft beer; occasionally Nora and Eleanor go shopping in town, but like everyone else, they wear as little as possible. Appraising herself in the mirror, she wonders...


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