Saturday, February 15, 2014

Chapter 25 / Gifts

“What are you doing!” Andrew had heard himself shout, as Annie steered left across oncoming traffic. 
“Strawberries!” she said. “Mrs. Shortcake is open!”
And in fact, half of the oncoming cars were turning right, parking scattershot around two big tables set up just off the side of the road. Behind the tables was a battered painted sign, Shortcake Farms.
“Quick,” said Annie, “before they’re gone. We’ll buy two. Choose one.”
The berries all looked the same to him, which was to say perfect, small—no California Chernobyl berries here—and uniformly ripe with their little green hats. Annie was talking to a plump, bespectacled woman who put cash into a cigar box. Andrew observed the rhubarb, wondering if they should buy some of that too, but then you had to cook it, and he put a strawberry in his mouth, and stopped. He chewed it slowly, turning the berry, and its generous juice, over in his mouth. Summer, the berry said. This is going to be the best summer of your life. 
He ate another one, then woke up again to the strawberry table. “Did we buy this?” he said to Annie. 
“Yes,” she said. “One to eat, one to freeze.” 
“What are you going to eat?” he said. Annie twinkled and the woman laughed outright. 
“Mrs. Kaminski, this is my friend Andrew,” said Annie, and Mrs. Shortcake reached out and shook his hand. My friend Andrew. She would have known Ed, only months ago, and now here was Annie, already with a boyfriend.
“They’re quarts, Andy.”
“We pick every morning now, for at least a couple of weeks,” said Mrs. Kaminsky. 
“—We’ll take one more,” said Andy. He gave Mrs. Kaminsky a ten and she gave him back a one and a five. He stared. Two quarts of strawberries cradled in his left arm, and six dollars in his right hand. “I’ve gone to heaven,” he told her, and this time she just smiled. 
“Some summer days,” she said, “it does seem like heaven here.”   
“And Annie’s house rental comes with some possible trouble?” Back in Warren’s office on an overcast Monday in New York, Warren has opened the container and paused over the sweet smell of summer that wafts from it. He has chosen a strawberry and offered them to Andrew, who hesitated, then took one. “I’ll bring you more next week,” he says. They savor their strawberries companionably, and then Warren puts the stem back into the container and offers it to Andrew, who shakes his head. “I eat the top too,” he said. “It tastes so . . . green.” 
“There’s something I should tell you,” Annie had said. 
Andrew put aside his newspaper. “That’s my line.” 
“Seriously,” she said. 
He folded his hands, waited. They had put chair cushions on the outdoor deck so they could sit in the sun, side by side, with their backs against the wall of the screened-in porch and their legs stretched out in front of them. Next to Annie, Chloe lay on her side, for maximum sun exposure. 
Annie told him about the Truro house reservation that had come in the mail last fall, paid for by Ed, without his telling her. 
“He didn’t do things like that, surprise you?” 
“Not on that scale,” she said. “Not ever.” 
“Was he seeing a shrink?”
“No, why?”
“Oh, a shrink might have told him to do that.” 
“No. It might have been a good idea for him to see a shrink, but he wasn’t. But also . . .”  
And she had told him about the photo she had found, the color printout of the naked boy, at the bottom of Ed’s pile of papers. He noticed that she looked him in the eye, with her beautiful green eyes, most of the time while she described this, which made him love her even more, which he doesn’t say to Warren, figuring that Warren knows it anyway. 
And Andrew didn’t know quite what to make of it, but mostly he thought that Ed, being dead, should be left alone. The two pieces of news grieved him, for Ed, and for Annie, but there were ways of looking at them . . . 
“You know men are dorks,” he said. 
“Yes,” she said. 
“And the Internet offers you this whole world of stuff to look at.” 
“—I guess.” 
“I’ll show you some time. You should learn how to do it anyway, for work.” 
“Do you look at porn?”
“—No, but that doesn’t make me a good person, just a medicated person. Who’s never been into kid porn. Who we’re not talking about right now, for a change, we’re talking about you.” 
“He printed it out. He left it where I would find it, once he was gone.” 
Still angry. A good step, but he didn’t want her to stay there. 
“Come closer,” he said, and then he helped her, he gathered her up and held her on his lap. Chloe moved to sit in back of Annie, between his legs. He was covered with them then, these two females, and he could not have been happier, except that she could be happier, and all he could say was, “I don’t know. I wish I could give you a nice, confident reason, but I can’t. 
“You could be like me, and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out why people who purport to love you also slay you, mentally. Or, you could move on. Or, this is severe enough that you might want to talk to someone about it, someone who knows something, not your friend Andrew, who knows nothing except that Ed did love you.” 
She stiffened in his arms. “You don’t know that.” 
“I do. You can be furious with him for a lot of reasons, but not for not loving you.” 
In New York, Andrew and Warren have two minutes left of their time. 
“What do you think?” asks Warren, about Annie’s house in Truro. 
“I think it’s a gift. He meant it for the two of them, then left it to her.” Andrew looks away, to his right, past Warren’s desk, toward the wall of books beyond it. “I think he knew he was going. Just from things she’s said. So he left her, what would have been, for him, a gift. I don’t expect any trouble.” 
Copyright © Debby Mayer


  1. Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I am very eager to get to Cape Cod and see how Annie and Andrew fare. Annie and Andrew seem perfect for each other, but of course, that kind of judgement is much easier made looking at than being within the couple.

  2. I like the mystery, as usual. Two feedback comments: the shift to Warren's office was so abrupt I had to reread it several times. Also "companionably" isn't needed. We get the feeling.

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