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  • Now, Look
  • Sydney Lea (bio)

What follows, I must acknowledge straight off, is far more tale than report, however firmly I may have founded it on things Mattie told me. I don’t mean to speak ill of her husband, a longtime hero of mine after all, who told me many another story. But I loved Mattie too, even if in her later years we stopped talking the way we once did. I hope she didn’t think me a contributor to Evan’s decline, though I suspect she did—as perhaps, unwittingly, I was. I know less, not more, about such matters and others as I tend toward Mattie’s and Evan’s age as their years ran out.

How accurate can it be, my vision and version of Mattie on the day I remember? How can I so vividly imagine her scowling at my back through her bedroom window, right up to the point where I cross the Tannery Bridge and disappear on the other side of the river alders, having dumped her man on a ratty cot in his shop? I’m headed to my river camp on this, my last day here for the summer. I’ll be driving downcountry when the sun comes up again.

It’s getting on daylight, and Mattie can see that the maple whips have a touch of flame already in the back lot. Winter’s around the corner. She’s told me more than once how she used to love the time between now and snow, only that little hint of color to start, but the wind coming back soon [End Page 1] to lay foam lines on the big lake to the north. The salmon and brook trout move into the shallows in later September: she’d stand on the bridge when she was a girl and drop pebbles in the pool below the dam, just to watch the fish shoot out, then drift back.

Fact is, the wind is stiffening up right now: two ravens are fighting it to get upriver. They gain two yards and give back one, flopping around like laundry on a line. The mountain ash berries in her dooryard aren’t even red yet, but the cedar waxwings are mobbing them. How she adores the light off those birds!

“You don’t have to live with that old man,” she whispers at where I just stood.

But enough of this contrivance, this present tense. Years have gone by since that dawn.

Evan had been a hero of Mattie’s too, back when they were courting, when weather meant a thing or two, just as she was dreaming now. As soon as the buck deer came into rut, the town was all women in daylight. She missed her husband then; she missed him a lot of the year, come to think of it. He was the best-looking young fellow of them all, she claimed, and no two ways about it. He’d get done in the woods on Saturday evenings, and the two of them would go somewhere: maybe only a walk, or sometimes a canoe ride, or even a dance if there was one.

It didn’t matter, dancing or walking or paddling, he was always turned out nicely: how on earth could a bachelor get his shirt that white? You saw it, plain and crisp, even after dark. Same with his teeth. He had them all in those days; they’d almost blind her in sunlight, even if he did chew snoose like all the other damned hardheaded lumberjacks. Handsome enough to make a horse eat her own bedding. I remember her using that expression, as if she couldn’t help using it, then blushing ever so slightly after.

It wasn’t all how Evan looked, she said. He could just do things. He drove logs in April, first one hired, best paid but Biscuit the cook, who’d been doing the drive since Evan was a baby. That river scared Mattie half to death until he quit, too old for it, he said, at forty. It scared her, but she knew he was a hero to a lot of the other...