- The Incident
When Arthur Randall called to say his wife had died, he could barely speak. Jean said to him, “What is it, Art? Is it Ruth? Has something happened to Ruth?”
Ruth had not been well, and she was eighty-nine years old, so her passing was no surprise. They had all been students together at Boise High School and then at the University of Idaho. All those years ago.
“I’m sorry, Art. Oh, Art, I’m so sorry.”
The death of Jean’s husband twelve years before had come as more of a shock, a heart attack that struck as he approached the sixteenth green. He died four days later. Jean had no idea how she would manage, living alone, but it turned out she managed well enough. She was not good at ordinary tasks—changing light bulbs, pruning bushes; Bill had taken care of those—so she moved into an independent care facility just down the road. “I’m moving into a facility,” she said to her sons, Charlie and Mark, and she laughed her short barking laugh. She and her friends gathered each evening for a cocktail hour they referred to as their symposium.
It was 2005, and Ruth had died, and Art was on the phone urging her to come up to Moscow for the funeral. Jean lived in Boise, where she and Bill had moved after he retired from his law practice in California. They had both grown up in Boise, fleeing as soon as they could, following the end of the war. In California they had become prosperous suburbanites, and when they came back, they brought their prosperity with them.
It would be a long drive to Moscow, where Art had taught economics for many years, and Jean didn’t know how she would get there. So she called Mark. She had made every effort over the years not to load him down with her needs or play upon his guilt, but if he had the time and inclination, she thought it might make a nice outing, just the two of them driving to Moscow. She was reluctant to go alone, afraid of Art’s grief and how he would surround her with it. Jean had been Art’s first choice way back then, and he had only later settled for Ruth. They had all been good friends, especially since Jean and Bill had moved back to Boise. But there were undercurrents. Jean thought Art still loved her.
Mark knew he could deflect his mother’s request if he chose to. Still, he needed to check on her from time to time, and he was always looking for things for them to do together, little trips for them to take to pass the time. Karen found his attentiveness to his mother to be an attractive trait. She was his second wife, and, in her experience, men were mainly selfish, like little boys, and for [End Page 94] Mark not to be selfish allowed for a kind of psychic relaxation on her part. He could go see his mother if he wanted to. It would be a nice drive into the mountains, northward to Moscow.
For Mark family connections had grown more cherished since the death of his father. Charlie still lived back East, and they saw each other no more than once a year. When their children had been young, they had all converged several times for week-long vacations at McCall, visits to the lake engineered by their father, who was not conspicuously patriarchal, but who quietly enjoyed his role among his scattered offspring.
Charlie and Mark kept each other informed about their mother, and so now Mark gave Charlie a call.
“You’re going to drive her to Moscow?”
“I thought I would.”
“That’s two days in the car.”
“Art wants her to be there.”
“She could fly, you know.”
“She wants me to drive her.”
“You are a very patient human.”
Charlie was a professor of English at a college in upstate New York, and he had also become a successful and celebrated poet. When he arrived somewhere for a reading, crowds...