The Chapel of Misgivings
The phone call came in the middle of the night on a Sunday in November, and Cal Wooglin was vaguely awake. A moment before, he’d turned onto his side toward his girlfriend, Beth, who was facing the wall. The phone woke her, and, even as she reached for the receiver, Cal wondered how it had been established she should be nearer the phone when he was the lighter sleeper. But that was the story of his thirty-some years—how things got arranged without his input or consent.
The room was suffused with the neon haze from the 7-Eleven on Moultrie Avenue a block away and a street lamp on McCants that cascaded shadows over the ceiling. The digital numbers on the clock were stark red—2:14—when Beth picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” she said in a groggy voice.
A cold front was moving from North Carolina into the Lowcountry, and the wind keened under the eaves, but Cal was not of sufficient clarity of mind to appreciate the nuances of barometric pressure. In the torpor of semisleep he’d been pondering how he was going to install the windows at the Beaufains’ house at ten o’clock in the morning, if, at that same hour, he was screwing Melanie McAlister. The phone call disrupted his strategizing, and he hoped it was a wrong number and not a crisis with one of Beth’s children—Beth Jr., probably, the little whiner, because Beth’s ex had Beth Jr. and Rocco for the weekend.
“Oh, hello, Ed,” Beth said, and that was enough to jerk Cal awake. “Yeah, sure. I’ll put him on.”
Beth pulled the springy phone cord across the coverlet, and between Beth’s handing over the receiver and Cal’s taking it, he channel surfed his options of escape. At that hour it wasn’t going to be Ed McLaughlin, the window supplier, or Eddie T.—with whom Cal played softball in the Charleston B-League—or Edgardo, his college roommate. Cal thought of grabbing his chest with feigned angina, or pleading with Beth to say she’d thought he was there, but he was so taken off guard all he could think of was, if Beth owned a cordless phone, he could have carried it down the hall to the breakfast nook.
“Hey, Ed,” Cal said into the receiver. His voice was mock cheeriness.
“Yes, sir. Where are you, sir?”
“Phoenix,” Ed said, “where I’ve always been.”
Cal pictured Ed not in Phoenix, but at Lake Powell, sitting in shorts and sunglasses in his swivel fishing seat on the houseboat, the sun bright on his gray crew cut, red cliffs in the background, not really fishing in the sense of working at it, but waiting for a fish to lumber up from the bottom and hit his lure. Ed trusted in the dumbness of bass or trout or human beings and had made his living from it, selling overpriced furniture in six states.
“Good to hear from you,” Cal said. “How’d you know—”
“—I got your number from Andrea’s address book.”
Ed didn’t say anything more, and Cal didn’t think he should, either. If it was two in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, it was after midnight in Phoenix. Finally Cal said, “Yeah, well, Ed, it’s the middle of the night here.”
“That’s why I called now,” Ed said. “I thought I’d get you.”
There was a pause.
“Andrea’s dead,” Ed said.
Cal got wider awake and went shivery, conscious now of the wind and the light. He saw Beth next to him with her eyes closed, but sure as hell listening. “Dead,” Cal heard himself say. “Well, shit.”
“That’s how come I have her address book,” Ed went on. “It was with her things when they were sent back from Belize.”
Beth turned on the light on her side of the bed, and the peach paint on the walls burst like fireworks. Cal fixed his gaze on the Picasso poster of three hands around a flower that he’d asked Beth two hundred times to take down. Who? Beth mouthed.
“She was scuba diving,” Ed said. “She had an embolism.”
“Well, shit,” Cal said again. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry?” Ed said. “Sorry is nothing. Sorry is too fucking late.”
Cal let out a sigh and waited for Ed to calm himself. A few seconds passed.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Ed said. “You’re an asshole, Cal, and, I don’t mind adding, the worst scumbag ever to walk the face of this suddenly godforsaken planet. But I want to do what I think Andrea would have wanted. I personally don’t give two fucks in a blind alley whether you are at her funeral. But she, Andrea . . .” Ed paused, and there was a hitch in his voice. “ . . . loved you.”
Another longer pause intervened. Cal said nothing.
“All the sacrifices she made in her life,” Ed went on, “the money she spent meeting you in different places, always thinking you were going to pan out—those are my words—and then you married Natalie. But, by God, even that didn’t stop you.”
Cal looked at Beth. “But she—”
“I see your side of it, too. You had a sure thing. You can’t help what someone else feels. Do you know, by the way, Emma sides with you? She says you have qualities, whatever the fuck that means. If you do—and I hope so—they’re sure as hell invisible to me. At least so far. Anyway, there it is. What do you think?”
“I should be at the funeral,” Cal said.
“It’s on Thursday,” Ed said. “I’ll get you a ticket.”
The next morning Cal was exhausted. Of course, he’d had to explain the situation to Beth. She knew Andrea was a girlfriend from his former life out West, and she knew Ed was Andrea’s father and Emma was her mother because Cal had called them his “family,” since he’d never had family. That he should go to a funeral, though, for an ex-girlfriend from Phoenix was a hard sell.
“What about Rocco’s teacher’s conference?” Beth had asked. “And Thursday is Beth Jr.’s dance recital. What about your softball game?”
“I wasn’t invited to the teacher’s conference,” Cal said, “and Beth Jr. doesn’t want me at her recital.”
“It sets back our get-well program.”
“I didn’t plan on Andrea’s dying,” Cal said.
“It’s not a good time.”
“Andrea was thirty years old,” Cal said. “When would it have been a good time for her to die?”
By nine he’d showered, shaved, and was out of the house, and the first thing he did was stop for coffee at the 7-Eleven and call Melanie McAlister. “I’m glad you phoned,” Melanie whispered. “Harold’s home. He’s not feeling well.”
“I just wanted to say—”
“Call me in a few days,” Melanie said.
“It might be more like a week,” Cal said.
He hung up and drove to the office, which was a tan prefab in the industrial park off the number seven bypass. Pulling in, he was surprised to see Roger, who had quit last Thursday, loading the special-order windows for the Beaufain house onto the truck.
“After all those phone calls, they ’peared in the night,” Roger said. “Hallelujah.”
“A miracle,” Cal said. “You never know.”
“Bill of lading was stuck in the door,” Roger said. “I never saw no driver.”
Roger was in his fifties and had grizzled stubble on his jaws and graying hair sticking out from a Redskins cap. He spent every available waking minute working on his 1962 Mercury Monterey, which the salt air was turning to rust.
“I thought you quit,” Cal said.
“I decided I liked putting in windows better than not eating,” Roger said. “And I need to reline the brakes.”
“You could have bought three new cars for what you have in that Mercury.”
“Maybe,” Roger said, “but, in the meantime, what would I have done with myself?”
It was three years ago almost to the day when Cal had got into the window business. He’d been standing naked in a bedroom on the third floor of a mansion on the East Battery, looking toward Fort Sumter. A tourist from New Jersey named Jocelyn had just fucked his brains out for a second time, and, as he was gazing out to sea, she put her arms around him from behind. “You are so lucky to live down here,” she said.
He’d said yes, though in fact he lived in a trailer in Summerville, fifteen miles inland. The boats crossing his vision, the cloud shadows, the hazy sunlight pouring across the calm sea—everything was right there in front of him, visible. Jocelyn snuggled against his back. He noticed the enormous windows, twenty feet high, double-paned, reinforced glass for hurricane resistance. They must have cost a thousand dollars apiece. And he remembered then the imperfect windows in his aunt’s house in Cutbank, Montana, where he’d grown up. That window glass had been made in the forties, probably—and half the year, it seemed, it was etched with ice. Jocelyn finagled her hands along the beginnings of his belly flab, and right then he’d thought, If I can get the fuck out of here, I’ll go into the window business.
The Beaufains were building a beach house on Sullivan’s Island, and because Cal had replaced windows for a neighbor after the last hurricane, he was hired on for the Beaufains’ project. They had crazy ideas—a hexagonal window over a stairway, a ten-by-two-foot slice high up on the east wall to provide non-glare lighting for the art to be displayed in the living room below, a beveled oval for the custom-made front door, and a series of mosaic stained-glass pieces in the breakfast nook. Cal had done seventy standard windows already, and with these custom-made ones he was securing his fortune.
He fitted the hexagonal glass above the stairway, which was tricky because he had to work from an insecure ladder braced on a riser. Then he worked through lunch on the stained glass, which had leaded frames. Minimal carpentry was an asset, and he’d learned fast as an apprentice. From that harrowing sunrise with Jocelyn, he’d got a job with a home-improvement company, which he’d parleyed into being a window installer for a company in downtown Charleston, and then to buying out a dealer in Mount Pleasant, who’d wanted to spend time in Florida with his grandchildren. Two months later, he’d met Beth coming out of a Star Trek sequel he hadn’t wanted to see in the first place.
Roger delivered the rest of the windows midafternoon at the precise moment Cal needed help installing the two-by-ten glass near the ceiling of the east wall. After that, a piece of cake—the bathroom windows, the arched window above the kitchen sink, and the etched oval in the front door. Dr. Beaufain, a retired neurosurgeon from Connecticut, arrived at four-thirty to check on things.
“Amazing,” he said. “Wonderful. Calbert, you’re a genius.”
“Roger here is the real brains,” Cal said. “I’m only the owner.”
“Roger, you’re a master.”
“I have a sixty-two Merc,” Roger said. “I don’t know ’bout bein’ a master.”
Dr. Beaufain had won a skins game at Palmetto Dunes, and he paid Cal the remainder on the contract, plus a $500 bonus for “speed completion,” which Cal split with Roger as incentive to stay on the job while Cal was in Arizona.
Loading his equipment, Cal pondered the events of the day, beginning with Ed’s phone call, certainly the low point. After that, everything had been near perfect. He confessed the truth to Beth, and got off the hook when he was about to lie to Melanie. Then, thinking of excuses to make to the Beaufains about their overdue windows, there was Roger loading them onto the truck. Cal had worked all morning at the house with minimal complications, and Roger had come in the afternoon at the exact moment he was needed. Dr. Beaufain arrived as they’d finished and had won money at golf so he paid off the contract plus the bonus. From this streak of propitious coincidences, Cal thought maybe something was afoot for good against evil, but he was still leery. If there was one thing for certain, it was you didn’t know what was going to happen next.
Normally after a contract-in-full settlement, Cal hied himself to the nearest bar and drank enough Dickel to nullify his personal anguish and restlessness, but that afternoon he took a walk on the beach. The cold front passing in the night had cleansed the air, and overhead was shiny blue tinged with orange and pink cirrus, whose refracted colors burnished the whitecaps and sea swells. Three shrimp boats labored with their nets out, and a stream of gulls following the boats danced and twisted in the dusk light. Across the harbor, Charleston was a pastel of squares and spires gleaming in the last sun.
Andrea would have loved such a moment. She loved dusk, calm, change. But she was dead and gone forever. To be gone forever was what the living expected of the dead, but it was a shock to Cal, who had never thought of dying, except that once, when he was so happy he wanted to jump from Dominguez Butte.
“So who died?” Beth Jr. asked that night at dinner. She was chewing Domino’s pizza with anchovies and put the question not to Cal, but to her mother.
“One of Daddy’s old flames,” Beth said.
“He’s not my daddy,” Beth Jr. said. “He’s not even my stepfather.”
“You mean the person was on fire?” Rocco asked.
“You dope,” Beth Jr. said. “Old flame means she was the one Cal was screwing before Mom.”
“In fact,” Cal said, “before your mother, I was married to Natalie.”
“Oh, jeez,” Beth Jr. said. “Another one? You are such a loser.”
If he’d been asked, Cal could have recited his history, which may or may not have established the point he wanted to make. After Cutbank High School, a friend’s mother offered him a job as a guide for Westward Ho, which specialized in delinquent rescue. Despite good SATs and an admission to Montana State, he’d decided on adventure and spent two years helping troubled teens in the Bridger Wilderness, the Bob Marshall, and Glacier National Park. One summer, he branched out and worked for Rock-n-Row as a river guide on the Arkansas in Colorado, which was where he’d met Andrea and her parents. Ed had brought the family to Colorado Springs for a vacation because Andrea had been interested in Colorado College. The Springs had Pikes Peak, the Air Force Academy, and the Garden of the Gods, but Emma, the wife, wanted to take a raft excursion because there were no rivers in Phoenix, so they’d ventured two hours west to the Arkansas, and found themselves with Cal in a rubber boat.
Andrea, the daughter, was tall and lean, blondish hair, intense dark eyes. On his trips Cal usually geared his chatter to the older folks—about the geological history of the river, the nutrient requirements of ponderosas and birches, the occasional warbler in the willows or the hawk soaring overhead—but he talked to Andrea only. In Browns Canyon there were stretches of whitewater to demonstrate his expertise with currents and eddies and submerged rocks. Andrea nestled her bare feet against his on the bottom of the boat.
On the way back on the bus, she expressed a desire for Cal to show her the arsenic mine tailings in the Collegiate Peaks. “I want to photograph trash,” she said, “as well as the good stuff like snow. Unless you have other girlfriends.”
“If I did,” Cal said, “they would now and forever be in the past.”
“Good,” Andrea said. “I’ll ditch my parents.”
They explored Chalk Creek Canyon, climbed Mt. Elbert west of Leadville, and traced the defunct railway line up Monarch Pass. In the interim, they made love every which way, on boulders, against aspen trees, and in the back of his Nissan truck. On the night before she went back to her parents, she said, “I have a confession to make.”
“You never asked if I had any boyfriends.”
“I have work to do.”
“Work to do where?”
“The West is a big place. And you’re going back to school.”
This conversation changed Cal’s perception of what he was getting into, and what had seemed like a pretty easy let’s-stay-together-until-later was apparently absent the let’s-stay-together part. “Okay,” he said. “I understand.”
He saw Andrea sporadically—that was their way—a few days in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a long weekend at Arches, three days with her parents on a houseboat at Lake Powell. He loved her enthusiasm, her peace, her ambition as a photographer. One June he met her for a week at Tuolumne Meadows, where Andrea took fifteen roles of photographs of wildflowers and mountain streams and rocks in disparate light and one roll of his penis. Their last night, watching the stars and a new moon, she told him she was getting married.
“Huh?” Cal said. “Getting married to whom?”
“No one you know.”
“There you have it.”
They made love a last time in the cold grass.
He was back in college after that, twenty-four years old, and he met Natalie in a horticulture class. Cal thought her exotic—long blonde hair, Zenko earrings, and a family-owned plant nursery in South Carolina.
They married and traveled in Spain and Portugal, but life got serious, and they decided to work in her family’s nursery business in Charleston.
From the beginning, Cal was cheerful with customers but struggled with the plants. He watered, fertilized, even discussed philosophy, but the plants didn’t have many new ideas. The humidity in Charleston was stifling, there were cockroaches, and the ocean made him think more about mortality. His restlessness manifested itself in nights in bars, from which he came home slovenly and late. He explained to Natalie his half-baked idea of life based on TV movies, avoiding responsibility, and experiences in the wilderness, but it came out piecemeal, blurry, and mainly incoherent. Natalie was angry, and there followed a painful disentanglement, which resulted in his moving into a trailer in Summerville, where he was living when he met Jocelyn and got into the window business.
The next disaster was Beth and her two desperate children, who ate fast food three meals a day.
So was that the history of a loser? Cal had to admit maybe it was.
The flight Ed had booked zigzagged from Charleston to Atlanta to Chicago to Denver before it arrived in Phoenix. The turbulence kept Cal from sleeping, and to combat his scenarios of the plane exploding into flames midair, he sought refuge in memory—the evening when he and Andrea had hiked up the arroyo to Dominguez Butte, crossed a sandstone bridge, and came out on the wide, flat stone. They ate cold chicken and a macaroni salad Andrea had made and drank red wine Cal had carried in his pack. They made a fire from pieces of rabbittbrush and mesquite and slept on a foam pad laid out on the warm rock. When it cooled down, they’d made love, turning over and over again so each of them had a view of the stars that pelted the universe.
The plane jolted down in Phoenix at ten after seven, and he staggered up the expandable walkway. Emma was at the gate. She looked older, her eyes submerged in wrinkles, the skin of her arms saggy. How much of the gray in her hair had shown up in the last week? “I’m glad you made it,” she said, and she gave him an embrace he didn’t expect.
“Thanks for meeting me. I have only this carry-on.”
Emma took his arm, and they walked through the concourse. “The service is tomorrow morning,” Emma said. “Andrea liked mornings.”
“I know she did,” Cal said. “On the plane I was remembering—”
“Don’t do that,” Emma said. “I’ll cry.”
Emma steered him toward the escalator. “This isn’t easy for Ed, either. But I kept saying you were Andrea’s friend.”
“Thank you for thinking that.”
Emma stopped at the top of the escalator and hugged him again.
At the Holiday Inn Express at Exit 162, Cal ate chicken cacciatore in the grill next to the lobby. Beth had asked him to call when he got in, but he didn’t want to hear news about Beth Jr.’s latest crisis, or Rocco’s complaints about take-out Chinese, so instead he lay on the bed and conjured up various memories of Andrea—her molting naked from her blue sleeping bag one morning in Escalante Canyon, the red and gold leaves in late October when they’d climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine, making love in the rain on the beach in Oregon—but such moments would never happen again, and Cal felt lost. His body didn’t know the time, and his mind couldn’t rest. Ed would have financed Andrea on any photo excursion she’d wanted to make on any continent, but for reasons inexplicable Andrea had liked being with Cal. He called her cell on a Wednesday, and by Friday night they were in Cheyenne or the Black Hills or even Anchorage. Concomitant with adventure, naturally, was sex—different, new every time, better than great. Part of it was not seeing each other very often, but another part was two perfectly matched bodies, each attuned to the silent instructions of the other. They knew together the nuances of soft and softer, too much and not enough, how close the agonizing was to the sublime.
Cal took a shower, sat in the maroon chair with a towel around his waist, and picked up the Chicago Tribune he’d found on the plane. A serial killer was loose in Winnetka, the Middle East was in its eternal turmoil, and the rich were getting richer. The question was this: how could he navigate his way in the world without Andrea? She’d been the only constant in chaos, the beacon on the high seas of confusion. How was he going to make his way from here?
He started his new life with a phone call, punching in the numbers he knew from memory. An answering machine came on: “Ashbery Plant Nursery. We’re closed right now, but please leave a message, and we’ll call you back as soon as possible.”
“Listen, Natalie,” Cal said, “I’m sorry.”
After that he dozed fitfully with the TV on low volume, and he was wakened by three sharp knocks on his door. “Cal, open up,” Ed said. “I know you’re in there.”
“How do you know that?” Cal said.
“Open the damn door.”
Cal opened the door, and Ed burst in. He was taller than Cal by three inches and heavier by fifty pounds, and he was dressed in shorts, a green shirt, and Tevas. Cal knew right away he’d been drinking.
“What’re you doing dressed in a towel?” Ed said. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
Ed kicked Cal’s overnight bag. “We’re going sightseeing.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Ed stepped closer. “Do you know what I’ve been doing the last couple of days? I’ve been going through Andrea’s photographs—landscapes of various places, pictures of her friends, and all those artsy-fartsy things she did. I found a dozen or so photographs of a man’s penis.”
“Is there a question here?” Cal asked.
“Get dressed,” Ed said, “or I’ll take you into the street in that towel.”
Ed drove west in his Lexus SUV on Ray Road, which merged into the Desert Foothills Parkway. Lights of cars and houses flashed by. Neither of them spoke. Ed rolled down his window, and Cal did likewise to make more noise in the cab. The road climbed into the mountains, and the lights of the houses fell away behind them.
Finally Ed whirred up his window. “I want to ask you something.”
Ed rolled up Cal’s window from the driver’s panel, and for another minute they drove along, Cal focusing on the red and green lights on the console. They turned a corner, and the lights of Phoenix appeared below them like stars across a black sea. Ed turned west, away from the lights, toward a larger darkness.
“So why did you marry Natalie?” Ed asked. “Why not Andrea?”
“Andrea was married to someone else. I went to college with Natalie . . .”
“Did you ever wonder how Andrea saw you if she was married?”
“I assumed she told her husband she was taking photographs. She liked seeing different places in different seasons.”
“She was never married,” Ed said.
“What do you mean she was never married?”
“You heard me. She didn’t even have a boyfriend.”
Ed slowed and curved off onto a dirt road. The headlights of the Lexus bounced over rocks and holes and illuminated cholla and prickly pear along the edge. Cal rolled down his window again. The air was cool, dry, and stars were out.
“Do you remember Lake Powell and the houseboat?” Ed asked.
“Sure,” Cal said. “You didn’t like me then, either. What about it?”
Ed was silent.
“We could see both directions down the lake,” Cal said. “Navajo Mountain was north. We built a fire and drank wine, and I remember waking and there were ten million stars.”
“That’s it?” Ed asked. “That’s what you think happened?”
“What else?” Cal said.
The dirt road ended at a turnaround littered with bottles and paper. They were above the desert, and a few lights were scattered across the blackness. To the north, cars streamed along I-10 to and from Los Angeles. Ed slowed and stopped the car.
“You probably wonder why I brought you up here,” Ed said.
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Here’s the irony—you’re the one person in the world I’d like to kill, but the last person I would.” Ed stared straight ahead for a few seconds, then turned off the headlights. “But I don’t want to talk about that now. I brought you here because when Emma and I were young, this is where we used to come. In those days there were two tire marks, ours, and no trash, no lights out here except the interstate. That was thirty years ago. I had a Chevy pickup then, and we lay on the hood of the truck with our backs against the windshield and watched the airplanes and the satellites, the moon if there was one, and meteors burning out in the sky.”
“I never saw you as romantic,” Cal said.
“I was, though,” Ed said. “Still am.” He paused. “Where do you want to go, Cal? I’ll send you to Tibet or the Cameroon. I have money. What about Madagascar? Or you can stay here.”
“Here?” Cal said. “You mean here? What for?”
“That’s the issue,” Ed said. “You’ve got to see what for.”
“You mean all this time I was scared for nothing?”
Ed started the engine and turned on the headlights. “I hope it wasn’t for nothing,” Ed said. “It wasn’t meant to be for nothing.”
At seven-thirty the next morning, Cal left his bags behind the desk and waited for Emma out in front of the Holiday Inn. He was dressed in khakis and a short-sleeved shirt with a collar. After the reception, he had to go back to Charleston, to Beth’s get-well program with her two children who hated him, but the night before had made Cal ponder the future in a different way. Ed the furniture dealer, Ed the rich man, Ed who loved Emma. Ed was willing to send Cal to Tibet or the Cameroon, but at the same time said he could “stay here.” “Here” meaning where?
Cal supposed he could guide again. He had led camping exursions into the Superstitions, taken kayakers on Lake Powell wilderness trips, and had boated for a company that had permits for the Grand Canyon. Someone always needed to know upstream from downstream, and which way was into the backcountry and which way was out. As he used to tell Andrea, west was really east, if you went far enough. But now there was Cal Wooglin Windows with a client base, goodwill, and capital sunk into inventory. He had to go back.
Emma drove up in her Volvo station wagon with hibiscus, zinnias, and roses overflowing from the open windows. Cal opened the passenger door, picked up a potted orchid from the seat, and got in. Emma was dressed in a white blouse and gray skirt.
“You look nice,” Cal said.
“So do you.”
“Casual,” he said. “Andrea liked casual.”
In a few minutes they were on I-10 heading south, Cal holding the orchid in his lap.
“If I’d known Ed was coming to see you last night,” Emma said, “I’d have called ahead.”
“I was petrified most of the time,” Cal said. “He took me to that place—I’m not sure where it was—west of the city.”
“Where we conceived Andrea,” Emma said. “We were young once like you and Andrea.”
They cleared the city and turned off to the east into scrubby farmland. The road was paved for a mile or so, but past a chile farm it went to gravel and ran along a dry arroyo lined with mesquite and palo verde. “That’s it there,” Emma said.
Emma pointed to a low adobe building under a few ragged cottonwoods. “Andrea’s studio.”
They turned into a driveway. The adobe was simple—four walls and a flat roof—and nearby was a hackberry tree, a circular well with a bucket pulled up on a rope, and an untended garden. A few people were clustered in the yard—Ed and several women who looked familiar. Cal had seen photographs of most of Andrea’s friends, but he couldn’t put names to faces. A few children were playing under the cottonwoods at the edge of the arroyo.
Emma parked in front, and several people, including Ed, came over to carry in the flowers. Ed didn’t look at Cal, who handed the orchid to a blond kid and moved off a few steps. A woman in a purple robe came over and introduced herself as Virginia.
“You’re Cal,” she said.
“I was before I got here,” Cal said. “Are you the minister?”
Virginia laughed. “This?” She pulled at her sleeve. “This is an academic gown. Andrea did a series of photos of women in gowns, and we were asked to wear something. Ruby over there has on a priest’s robe, Julia, a wedding gown—she’s inside—and Phyllis, who’s not here yet, is coming in a prom dress.”
“Appearances are deceiving,” Cal said.
“That was the message,” Virginia said.
They watched the parade of flowers go past.
“Andrea called this her Chapel of Misgivings,” Virginia said. “She never knew what to do about you.”
“She had misgivings?”
“You can’t be blind,” Virginia said, “though I guess you’ve tried to be.”
Another car drove in with a couple of men in it, followed by a van with several women and children. Andrea’s brother—Cal recognized him from photographs, the same lean frame and blondish hair and dark eyes—came out of the studio carrying a two-year-old boy, though Andrea had never talked about a nephew. Emma took the boy in her arms.
Virginia excused herself, and Cal walked around the studio to a window and looked in. Folding chairs had been set up, and Andrea’s photographs lined the walls—arsenic tailings from a mine, a red maple leaf from Maine, a field of lupine at Tuolumne Meadows, half a dozen photographs of women in gowns. His penis was displayed, too, which he thought unnecessary.
“You haven’t been inside yet,” a woman’s voice said.
Cal turned and saw a redhead in a long white dress coming toward him.
“I’m Julia. I was with Andrea in Belize.” The woman took Cal’s hand.
“We all know who you are,” Julia said. “Andrea talked about you all the time.”
“I hope some of it was good,” Cal said. “You were on the boat, then?”
“The dive was a break from the sitting on the beach,” Julia said. “Andrea liked to do things.”
“That was my impression,” Cal said.
“We’re almost ready to start,” Julia said. “Will you come in?”
Cal nodded but didn’t move. “I need to get myself organized.”
“It’s not easy for any of us,” Julia said. “I understand. You have an extra reason . . .”
Julia turned away, and Cal continued around the house, where Andrea’s brother was shepherding the children toward the house. “Come on, Cal,” he said. “We’re going to start.”
Cal passed the garden that, months before, had gone to seed, and the ground was littered with cottonwood leaves. The dry arroyo in front of him descended to a river basin a half-mile distant, and random seeds floated in the air. A kestrel flew across the arroyo, and the smaller birds, feeding in the mesquite and rabbitbrush, disappeared into the thickets.
Then Emma appeared still holding her grandson. “We need you now, Cal,” she said.
“But I’m not ready.”
“We’ve done what we can,” Emma said. “What we all had to do. You understand we wanted her to tell you—we begged her—but she decided she loved you too much to risk it.”
“Dominguez Butte?” Cal said.
“This is Andrew,” Emma said. “He has your eyes.” She paused. “Come inside now. Everyone is waiting.”
Emma took hold of Cal’s arm, and Cal felt his life elsewhere swept away—his truck, Beth and her children, the window business—and he understood everything about the past and all he would ever need to know of the future.