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VVtoanJliaLApiilJ Charles Havert Noah has promised to help bury the Olcotts first thing in the morning . As he waits in the kitchen for Arthur, he watches Alice at the sink. She pours a brown paper bag of strawberries into a copper colander . One by one, she picks at the pyramid of strawberries—odd shaped, tumorous—prizing out the leafy tops with the point of a paring knife. She slices each berry down the middle and sets the halves to soak in a bowl of brandy. The empty bag lies tipped on its side, blotted with juice, full of sunlight. Last night Mark brought the strawberries, along with the news about Ben and Claire Olcott. Their children, Jake and Julia, were spending the night with Mark's family, and he'd dropped by the Olcotts' to fetch Jake's teddy bear. Ben's note was taped to the front door. Mark found the bag of strawberries on the kitchen table and their bodies in the bedroom. Then he recruited a burial crew from what remained of the neighborhood. Once Mark had left, Alice told Noah that they needed to talk, that she had something to tell him, something about Ben. She told him that she'd slept with Ben seven times, five in Ben's bed and twice in their own. The affair, though she didn't like to call it that, had begun with the troubles—after the refinery bombings and the first quarantines—and ended four months ago, in April. It hadn't been love, she said; it was just for fun, a distraction. They hadn't been lovers so much as playmates , and though they hadn't played often, they had played, and now she wanted Noah to know. The details poured out of her in a Pentecostal rush, and though he knew he ought to hate them—hate seemed in order—he couldn't hate her or a rival so newly dead. Just the other day he'd seen Ben, redfaced , drenched in sweat, pushing a lawn mower across his front yard. Nobody mowed lawns anymore. The two struck him as such an unlikely coupling. Ben was so small, so neat and contained, whereas Alice was drawn to a larger scale, big-boned and long-waisted, expan17 Ecotone: reimagining place sive. When he tried to imagine the two of them at play, he pictured a tiny Ben clambering over the landscape ofAlice's body, like Cary Grant scaling the face of Mount Rushmore. "I love you," Alice said, once she'd reached the end of her confession . "What?" "I love you, Noah. I've always loved you. I always will love you." "Why?" "I love you because you're an honorable person," she said. "You're the most honorable person I've ever known." Just then he wanted to slap her—never before had he raised a hand to her—but she grasped his hand and held it to her cheek, and when she let go, he kept it there. "Love is loaves and fishes," she said. "What?" "Love." She took his face roughly in her hands. "This is important, Noah. Are you listening to me?" "I'm listening." "Love is not of this world. Love is not finite. Love is—" Her hands flew away, scooping the air. "Loaves and fishes. Do you understand me, Noah? Do you?" "What do you want me to say?" "I want you to say what's in your heart. I want you to say that you forgive me." "Then I forgive you." "I want you to say what's in your heart. I want you to really mean it." "But I do mean it," he said. "Forgiveness is in my heart." He understood her need to unburden herself in these last days, to cast off the ballast of her sins, to travel light into the next stage; and she did appear visibly lightened, full of light, and drunk on love, love, love. Caught up in a fever of confession, she seemed hungry for more sins to share, and when she asked him if he had anything to tell her, anything to confess, all he could come up with was his fleeting...


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pp. 17-32
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