On a summer-like night in May, Michaelene Whelan, a girl of eight, was dragged from her dreams by deranged laughter. She awoke bare-chested, the top sheet kicked off her bed on this hot night, her horripilate, thin body suddenly chilled from fear, and looked toward the conflux of lurking shadows in the bedroom . . . but there was no one there. The commotion was coming from outside. She went to the window and poked her head through fluttering, green corduroy curtains.

A banshee, lit by the glow of a yard light, hummed on the asphalt road. Then the banshee stumbled backward into a chain-link fence, becoming corporeal: a woman, clearly mad, clad in a white nightgown, clutching at her breast. A dark-haired little boy, wearing pajamas and cradling a teddy bear, and an even tinier girl with golden curls, also in nightclothes, holding a cloth doll, were standing there. They sucked their thumbs and watched.

The woman sang this song:

“I’m in the midst of a beautiful dream/The mountains are gold like summer wheat, I must go to the mountains/My roots are planted in the sky/My branches in the ground/If the world ends, I’ll fly.”

Michaelene’s father, Wild Bill, a shirtless, jeans-clad, hippie-looking man, came out onto the porch. He scratched his arms, yawned and lit a hand-rolled cigarette.

“Hey, lady,” he called calmly, swirls of smoke enveloping his head.

The woman stopped singing and examined her hands, convulsively jerking her fingers.

“What you-all doin,” the man said.

“I have to get to the mountains, sir.”

“At two in the mornin, ma’am?”

“There is so much hate.”

“I might even agree with ya there.” The hippie flicked ashes onto the spring grass, the unreality of the scene not rattling him—so his daughter, from her viewing place, observed.

“You can see it too?” the woman said.

“What say we discuss this over coffee, tomorrow. Bet you-all’ll feel different.”

“If you knew what Satan was up to. We should evacuate. Have you been saved, sir?”

“Not lately, ma’am.”

The woman collapsed on the road and intoned, “‘The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd.’”

Porch lights came on. Dogs barked, coyotes howling counterpoint from the woods beyond the fields. Peepers and bullfrogs sang choruses from the wetland down the street.

Michaelene watched as her father navigated the porch stairs, feeling his way—for he was blind—to the fence gate and beyond. His hands searched until he contacted the woman’s stringy hair. He knelt and held her as she wept. The children responded with their own cries. He gestured for them to come to him, and he put his arms around them all.

“Shut the hell up!” a neighbor yelled from nearby.

“Shit,” the old hippie said. He pulled the woman up and led her to the house.

Michaelene donned her father’s t-shirt with a tattoo parlor logo that she used for a nightgown and walked down the hall. Her father sat on the couch, rubbing his dirty long hair with his hands. The woman stood and stared blankly, black circles under her eyes. The kids sat on the floor in front of the television, watching as if it were on. Michaelene held out her hand, and the little girl came to her and took it. The boy sucked his cheeks in, making a fish mouth shape.

“You awake, kiddo?” her father said.

“I couldn’t help it, Bill.”

The woman rolled her head and sang again.

Michaelene said shyly, “That is a real pretty song, ma’am.”

“Where do you live?” the old hippie said.

“It’s Mrs. ElainE Miller, Bill,” Michaelene said. “With a capital ‘E’ at the end of her name? And her kids, Courtney and Jason.”

“How did you know my name, child?” Mrs. Miller asked.

“You write the food column for the Macoupin County weekly,” Michaelene said. “‘Eats with ElainE.’ I made your broccoli marinated in vinegar.”

“Give us directions to Colorado,” Mrs. Miller said, “and we will leave you nice folks and be on our way.”

“I live over by Route 4,” Courtney blurted out.

“The big white house with the porch,” Michaelene told her father. “Sheriff’s car out front?” She squeezed the little girl. “I seen you playin dress-up—you was wearin a ballerina costume at the Shop & Save, sweetheart.”

Courtney beamed and said to Michaelene, “I have me pretend beauty pageants. Is your daddy blind?”

“Hush,” her mother said.

“It’s okay, ma’am, legally I am,” Wild Bill said. “But I see shapes. We will escort y’all home.”

There was a horrible shriek from behind the house.

“Barn owl got somebody’s pup I bet,” Wild Bill said. “That black lab, Sally, across the street, had six pups.”

Courtney said anxiously, “What if our pup wonders away?”

“Wanders,” Michaelene corrected. “She means wander, Bill.”

“All right,” Mrs. Miller said. “The blind shall lead us. Mr. . . . ”

“Whelan.” Wild Bill groped for a crumpled sport coat on the floor and pulled it on over his bare chest. “Your husband busted me a few times. Don Ed’s good people, though.”

“Where is your bride?”

“In the Staunton cemetery, ma’am. Died of pneumonia ten years ago.”

“Right after I was born,” Michaelene said.

The peculiar band of people walked down the street toward the white house, the girls holding hands. There was musical accompaniment: the raging low alto of a cat in heat, defending her honor from a tom as black as the tree shadows.

“That’s our cat, Jimmy Dean.” Courtney walked on tiptoe, sidestepping pea-sized rocks. “My daddy says we got to get him fixed.”

“The world’d be better off if all boys was fixed,” Michaelene said.

“Listen to my pint-size feminist,” Wild Bill said.

They turned left on Elm Street. Jason ran ahead to his house.

“Sorry your mommy’s dead,” Courtney whispered. “My mommy is crazy.”

Michaelene patted her head.

Sheriff Miller opened the door and received his family. Michaelene waited by the picket fence. The men talked in low tones, but she could hear snatches of words:

“Wife isn’t well, Bill, third break-down this year.” “Sad, man.” “Thanks for carin’.”

Wild Bill groped his way back to his daughter. He put his arm around her bony shoulders, and they went on their way.

“What was wrong, Daddy?” she said.

“Hon, Miz Miller real sick. Sheriff says she all right she just gets her sleep.”

“Why is she sick?”

“Don’t know, sprout. Like your mom and me got so sick that time.”

“The ’tastrophe?”

“Yeah. Heads get sick just like the body does. Describe the moon for me.”

The girl looked up and gaped. “It is full and bright. I can see the Lake of Dreams, up at the top. ’S’not really a lake—cain’t swim it, like Gillespie Lake. The craters look like big purply blue scars, like somebody blowed ’em up. Centuries ago, my teacher said, some monks in Europe saw a meteor hit the moon.”

“Is that right?”

Michaelene took her father’s right hand and twirled her body in a circle as if they were dance partners. “They were outside, meditatin on the sky, and wham!”

“Imagine what they must have thought,” her father said.

“Why are mamas and daddies so unhappy?”

Her father felt her tiny ribs heave and listened to her small breaths in his ear. He patted her back.

“Like you said, babe—wonder-wander. Maybe everybody in the freakin world is like that.”

“I will never be a bride.”

“Bet you will. Most women do.”

“Not me, I know too much,” Michaelene said. “I think we need some ice cream, Daddy.”

“Okay, Michaelene talking machine, callin me Daddy because you know I like it, because you want ice cream,” her father said, lifting her up and onto his shoulders and shuffling on. “You-all are my eyes. Wonder-wander, and don’t crash us into the Lake of Dreams, girlfriend.”

Ice cream and moonlight and embraces—all pleasures were ephemeral, Michaelene knew. They lived on welfare, and the town felt sorry for them. She remembered hearing a recording of her mother’s favorite singer Peggy Lee: “‘Is that all there is.’ ”

And she had understood the sense of those words.


* * *

Sunday, December 9, 2008


Dear Kathleen and Lisa,

Congrats on your family’s upcoming joyous event! At least we hope it is joyous! Kidding! I so enjoyed talking to the two of you last week.

I will go through this process myself one day, with my own dear precious Courtney. My wedding day, July 16th, 1999, was the BIGGEST of my uneventful life. (Nothing ever happens to ladies, you know what I mean.)

Free advice: Lisa, you give your fiancé WHAT FOR, let him know who is b-o-s-s, pronto. Mama Kathleen? Is there a BIG LUG running things for you, too?

My big lug is a county sheriff, which in Soybeania is like being God Almighty. If women ran the world—but do not get me started.

Lisa, moving from St. Louis, becoming a country gal, you will need to get to know where things are around here, the cafes (The Cracked Egg, in Brighton, is the best breakfast), etc.—AND mustn’t forget the Kravanya Funeral Home, in Gillespie. We will all end up there in the end. Kravanya’s has its Christmas trees lit up, which depresses me, because Christmas to a bride means o-n-e thing, four times the housework of the other nine months. Other attractions: the gold-domed Carlinville courthouse and our famous Sears prefab house neighborhood. People come from all over to see that.

That will be some commute for your husband, Shipman to St. Louis, but it keeps the big lug AWAY from home more. Kidding!

MY LIFE. Last weekend I catered a wedding for three hundred people. Plus, I had the hubby’s eighty-five-year-old Alzheimer’s dad, Ernie, lives in the basement, had to cook & take care of, etc., & plus I cooked for the Shipman Rotary on that Tues.

You may have noticed the capital E in ElainE. That is my own invention. There are too many Elaines in the world, but only one ElainE. The big lug thinks I am affected, but he puts up with it because ElainE is also the C-O-O-K, the M-O-T-H-E-R of the darlings, the M-A-I-D & the ___________ (unmentionable). I recently read Dr. Wayne Dyer’s advice on relationships, so learned to be emotionally available & how to talk to big lugs. I am the NEW IMPROVED ME.

I got home tonight, had a trunk full of groceries to carry in and put away—by myself. Try to get a h-u-b-b-y to HELP. Did Father Ernie’s supper first, so it was late tonight when I finally noticed all the messages on the machine, and then it was too late to call you girls.

Lisa, sorry to tell you, men are concupiscent. I got that fifty-dollar word from my “Word Power ‘Word A Day’ Calendar.” Take away the “cupiscent,” what you got left? CON. Free advice for the bride to b-e! Kidding!

Hang in there, gals. Jesus is Lord.


Yours completely,

ElainE Miller, Pres., Country Catering.



Monday, December 10, 2008


Dear Courtney,

Have a wonderful first grade day! I can see you opening your lunch box and finding mommy’s letter folded right above the tuna fish sandwich and Snickers bar!

Christmas is coming! Santa is watching, you know! You are my angel girl!

I will hold you in my arms as soon as you climb off the school bus!

Love and kisses,





Monday, December 10, 2008


Dear Jason,

You playing Tiny Tim in the Christmas pageant! Mommy is so proud of her baby boy! I will buy thirty tickets to “A Christmas Carol” for all the relatives!

See you after play practice, sugar!





Monday, December 10, 2008


Dear Donnie,

Hope you like the fruit salad. Why you diet is beyond me.

As always, I will pray for your safe return from patrol. It seems like people are a lot meaner these days. Why is the country suddenly as dangerous as city streets?

I am about to drive Grandpa Ernie to the senior center for the day.

I know you are unhappy with me about the Born Again business. I can leave if you want.

And yes, I took my medication today.


Your bride,




Monday, December 10, 2008


Dear Mama,

I am covered with hives again, scratching my skin away until I am a mess of red welts. I cannot ease my anxiety, and no pill can either. The Lord is testing me, this I know, and I have always been good at tests, but I am sorely tried this mid-day.

The voices stay with me. Tell no one this. I cannot bear the thought of Christmas. I might spare all of you and run away.

Pray for me.






Don Ed Miller sits on the edge of the bed and strokes his sister-in-law Lynoria’s pale shoulder above the lace of her white pajama top. She lies on white sheets, her arms folded, a white goose down comforter folded down below her feet. Her freckled face is dark and light.

“You all right?” Don Ed says softly. His handlebar mustache gives him a somber appearance.

Lynoria’s dark-lidded eyes are tightly clenched against the stark midday light, which filters through a huge icicle hanging from the roof, creating a blinding coruscation through the chintz curtains. Her husband French had been stabbed to death last autumn, and still she mourns.

“He was a hero. He fought back,” Don Ed says.

“That makes me feel better. All the sympathy cards say sorry he passed. He didn’t pass. Cars pass. He was murdered. I smell. Sorry. Haven’t bathed in a while.”

French’s clothes still hang in the closet, shoes and boots neatly placed on the wooden floor. His spring and winter jackets and caps hang from hooks behind the bedroom door.

“I half expect him to walk in,” Don Ed says.

“So do I.”

“You ever tell him?”

“Tell him what?”

“You know what.”

“I thought about it,” Lynoria says, rolling onto her side and looking out the window. “I just couldn’t find the courage to say, ‘Honey, I robbed the cradle, I slept with your baby brother before we were married.’ Would he have married me if he’d known?”

“I thought I’d check in,” Don Ed says.

“Maybe get a little on the side.” Lynoria smiles, drumming her fingers against her stomach, light reflecting off her gold wedding ring.


“Tell me the thought hadn’t crossed your mind.”

Don Ed stands and walks to the window. He presses a finger to the ice coating on the inside of the glass until the warm fingertip melts through to the windowpane.

“I will give you the benefit of the doubt, Donnie; you’re my Christmas care package.”

She shades her eyes, seeing Don Ed as blackness, like an eclipse, in the strong sunlight. “I’m fifty-two-years-old, and I’m a widow. Oh god. You and me: not again, Donnie, not ever. Besides, you’re seeing Liz Scala, in Piasa.”

“Jesus Christ,” Don Ed mutters.

“Why are you surprised,” Lynoria says. “Piasa has less than a hundred people. Hard not to notice the sheriff’s car at the Scala place, on the days when Liz’s airline pilot husband is away on flights.”

“I haven’t had sex with ElainE since I don’t know when,” Don Ed says. “Not since Courtney was born.”

“You are kidding.”

Don Ed pulls on his heavy winter coat. “ElainE’s starting up the goddamn catering business again. Says she can handle it fine this time.”

“She still writing the notes?”

“Ever’ goddamn day,” Don Ed says. “Courtney told me her mother’s love weighs too much.”

The furnace kicks on in the basement, setting off a breeze of heat across the floor, ruffling the curtains.

She watches him smooth his mustache ends. He appears to look out at the cottonwood tree in the side yard, massive and bare, its enormous branches ice-tipped. He is really watchin my reflection in the window. She remembers him when they were young, lying on the floor of the barn loft and making love, riling the horses below. Your body is a ship; my body is the ocean, the flower child, Lynoria, had cooed to him.

“Well,” her brother-in-law says.

“So,” Lynoria says.



Saturday, December 22, 2008


Dear Kathleen and Lisa,

Greetings on this FRIGID morning. I have not heard from you but I understand it is Christmas and all, and your family must be gathering.

It has been a quiet week in Soybeania. Last night, during commercials of Law and Order, the hubby loves his cop shows, I had to listen to every detail of HIS D-A-Y. A good wife has to do these things. Deputies and other business, a Khoury League beginning-of-baseball-season banquet. Guess who’ll cater that little blast for FREE, & no snot-nosed little boy will even say T-h-a-n-k-s.

It is time to get down to business, unless Lisa has changed her mind about getting married. Kidding! You MUST get married, Lisa, everybody MUST! You are born, get married, die, go to heaven, get forgotten. God works in mysterious ways, all right.

So I will give you an example of a nice Summer Supper for our HOTHOTHOT June temps, for my new girlfriends.

I need to know: How many folks? Do you serve liquor or no alcohol at all in anything, period? I do not care—it is your wedding of course. Alcohol nearly destroyed my family, but that’s a subject for when WE GIRLS become neighbors.

Get r-e-a-d-y, MOUTH WATERING, yep yep yep: sliced Italian beef, turkey breast & ham, with condiments of mayonnaise, butter, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing etc., Bar B.Q. sauce. Assorted breads, buns. People make their own sandwiches. Trust me, Lisa, they LIKE THIS, & you specifically said Country Reception, & this is the R-E-A-L McCoy. Also, potato salads—three kinds—pasta, Jell-O salads, three kinds & colors (bride colors if I can), cut-up fruits and veggie trays, rice pudding with raisins, assorted crackers (I prefer Nabisco products over Hydrox, but you tell me) and potato chips.

U.P.S. is knocking, back in a sec.



Don Ed drives the squad car past his mother-in-law’s house in Eagarville. The old woman is standing out in her driveway, bundled up in a coat, mittens and a headscarf. She is trying to break an ice sheet off the concrete with the blade of a garden hoe. He turns on the siren, pulls the car in the driveway and honks.

“Mounties to the rescue,” she hollers.

He puts his sheriff’s hat and gloves on, steps out into the frigid air and says, “Mother Ericksen, you-all gone nuts?”

“I like the cold,” the old woman says, breathing hard. “My stories is over and “Ellen” ain’t on yet. So I look out at this here glare ice, decide to break ’er up. I quit.”

“You are too old for this,” Don Ed says, patting her head.

“Do not mess with the hair, bud. I have just got my Christmas perm. What brings you out this way?”

“Patrollin,” Don Ed says. “Nobody gets into trouble this kinda weather.”

“Lynoria Miller must be in trouble constantly.” Mother Ericksen arches her eyebrows.


“I hear you stop by her place regular. In fact, today you was there twenty minutes ago.”

“Yes,” Don Ed says calmly, wondering how she knows, “to see if my sister-in-law was okay.”

“Luisa Shade called me from Brighton Road. Said she seed your car turn into Lynoria’s driveway. She been worried.”

“You mean, she thought there might be some juicy gossip to start up,” Don Ed says. “You ladies believe those soap operas are real.”

“Do not mock my stories, Mister,” Mother Ericksen says. “They are based on true incidents.”

“You get your note today?”

“Don’t I get a note from my daughter ever’ day?” Mother Ericksen stamps her feet on the driveway. “Pretty much on the same theme, right now.”

“Runnin away?”


“I used to like openin my lunch box,” Don Ed says, “gettin little love notes.”

Mother Ericksen trembles from the sharp northwest wind. There is the sharp hissing sound of a jet plane, passing overhead toward Lambert Field in St. Louis, almost echoless in the cold.

“Old biddies say there was no free sex when we was kids, no drugs. Elders was listened to; marriage sacred. Bullshit—pardon my French.

“All these roads, when they was dirt, held lonely, isolated people. A bride was nothin but a prisoner. Our daddies were hard drinkin, so held down by religion and sech that inside them, it was like an anvil was pressin the life from they souls. That is my opinion. The sons, they sewed wild oats; daughters was farmed out as breeders. I know; I was there.

“All ElainE Ericksen ever wanted was to be a bride. What the hell was that? She wanted to be a word. And she inherited her daddy’s black moods.

“I was a bride in the old sense, and I wouldn’t wish that life on nobody. Not that Jerry was a bad man, God rest his soul.”

A pair of bald eagles soars along the curves of Piasa Creek, flying low along the ridge behind the house.

“Looka them magnificent creatures,” Mother Ericksen says. “I got Constant Comment and pumpkin pie.”

“That sounds temptin, but no ma’am, I need to get goin.”

“We gotta talk.”

“Let Christmas pass first. I’ll pick you up for church at six, Christmas Eve.”

“All right.”

Don Ed helps her to the front door then he walks to the patrol car, removes his hat and squeezes in behind the steering wheel. He rolls down the window, leans out and calls out, “Maybe I’ll show a counselor some of the letters, get an expert opinion. Stay away from that ice patch, young lady!”

Mother Ericksen shouts, “That’ll be the day, you tell me what to do.” She laughs and waves.



Part 2, 1:00 pm.


I am back, girls.

Courtney’s Play Skool Oven arrived from “Santa,” thank goodness, and I just had to assemble it before I came back to you.

Where were we? For all this, plus punch & coffee (no cake, as we agreed: c-a-k-e is a specialty item), I would charge only . . . five dollars per person! a bit more if I supply the napkins, plastic silverware (I ain’t washing dishes!), and plastic cups.

Lisa will fit right into our little life around here. Big Lugs out bowling, fishing, hunting, CUSSING, CAROUSING, DRINKING. Ladies at church, hospital volunteers, picnics, book clubs, tea parties (we have a lovely tea room out here, up near Shipman, where fine ladies gather). Lisa, do not let your new hubby get a G-U-N. Not only do they shoot them they spend all their nights rubbing oil on the __________ (unmentionable) things.

Shoot—doorbell. Mailman’s here, busy busy busy. Back in a sec.



“Donnie-boy,” Ron Miller says, as he stuffs a wad of Red Man chewing tobacco in his jaw. “How you-all?”

“Just fine, Uncle Ron,” Don Ed says, blowing on his hands. “You?”

“Not bad for an old fart. Nothin to do but feed the hogs, set by the fire, watch cable TV, play the stock market on that Internet.”

The men stand near the gas pumps at the Casey’s in Staunton. Ron is filling up his old Ford pickup. Don Ed had been about to drive off when his uncle pulled up. Ron tops off his tank and spits tobacco juice onto the concrete.

“Jesus H. Christ, fifty-seven dollars fer gas. I saw ElainE this afternoon.”

“You did?”

“She was up in Mt. Olive, comin outta the florist’s there. Big bundle a flowers on her arm. I honked, but she didn’t look up. How is yer wife?”


“You say so.”

“What was ElainE doing all the way over in Mt. Olive,” Don Ed says.

“She had on a long down coat, mind, but you could still see it.”

“See what?”

“Don Ed, a weddin dress, the fat, lacy bottom of it, and she had on black high-heels and a veil.”

“You’re sure it was ElainE?” Don Ed says. “She doesn’t budge on cleaning day.”

“She budged today, in a weddin dress,” Ron says. “You renewin your weddin vows?”

“I better drive over to home, see what’s up.”

“Bring Courtney and Jason out to my place, see my new kittens,” Ron says.

“I will, so long as you don’t try to give them the kittens. Stay warm.” Don Ed jogs toward the car. He climbs in the squad car and roars off.



“Part 3, 1:15


The mailman had to tell me about his hard life.

I have written you these long letters, pouring out my soul, and it is like a voyage. I regret to inform you I cannot do your wedding. I find I cannot cook another thing.

Lisa, two becoming one is a lie. There is no process known to man that will allow for two to melt into one flesh. Press together as hard as you wish, let the big lug enter you as big lugs are wont to do, and still you will be alone, still as his seed flows into you, butt or vagina, his choice. You will suffer alone, you will feel the hopelessness, and you alone will know God does not answer, for God is the Biggest Lug and big lugs never speak, and

I hope you die.

Go to hell.


Elaine Miller”

Don Ed reads this letter in their bedroom. It was on the bed in an unsealed, addressed envelope. Where is his bride? He looks out the bedroom window onto Elm Street, the elm trees having succumbed to disease years ago, now supplanted by silver maples and dogwood. Smoke rises from all the chimneys of the block. Only sparrows and crows are about, and even they perch quietly on electric wires and low branches of trees.

He looks down at the floor. A folded sheet of paper is under the four-poster bed. He kneels to retrieve the note, his daily missive from his wife, and finds a letter in an envelope shoved under the bed. He opens the letter and reads:


“December 19, 2008


Mrs. Miller,

Frankly, your letter of December 9 was off-putting and upsetting to my daughter. Pulling Lisa and me into your personal life was embarrassing and bizarre for us. Of course we wouldn’t work with you. We hoped you wouldn’t contact us again. I am asking you to stop. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.


Sincerely yours,

Kathleen Wunderlich


Don Ed’s note for the day reads:


“December 22


Dear Hon,

I am sorry I threw the wedding ring the other day. I put it on your dresser. The good news is, no more notes.




PS. Am this minute on my way to visit with Great-Aunt Constance and Daddy.”


Don Ed drives a hundred miles an hour along Route 138, the siren screaming. He speeds across the Interstate 55 overpass, into the town of Mt. Olive then drives several blocks and turns north, toward the Mt. Olive cemetery.

Off to the left, he sees the tall monument to Mother Jones, the legendary labor union champion from the turn of the century. He drives on, the car’s wheels spinning on ice and gravel, until he comes to a side road and turns east. He watches and drives, his eyes searching through the clusters of headstones, until he spots her in the distance, appearing and reappearing through the spaces between graves, sees her sitting all in white, sitting in the snow on this frigid late afternoon. Her blue Nova is parked up ahead. He pulls over and jumps out of the squad car, the lights still flashing, door open to the elements.

He runs, following a path of strewn yellow roses. When he finally sees her, he turns and retches in the snow.

ElainE leans against the headstone of her great-aunt Constance, head lolling to one side, knees drawn up. Her wedding dress is spattered with blood and brains, her brown hair a clot of dark blood. Don Ed’s .12-gauge Remington shotgun is cradled between her knees. Her left thumb and right hand still clutch the trigger.

Her father Jerry’s grave is to her right, just a plain concrete slab, sunk into the ground with his name and dates and Mother Ericksen’s name and birth date are listed, only lacking her death date.

Church bells toll the hour in Mt. Olive then recorded organ music comes on: O Little Town of Bethlehem. There is the steady hum and throb of vehicles on the interstate. Children skate in the schoolyard across the frozen baseball field, screaming and running about in their snowsuits and boots.

Don Ed collapses in the snow, his back to his wife, the way his back has been to her for twenty years, but always before he heard her breathing, more recently heard her crying herself to sleep; only now she is silent, freezing solid now.

He feels his eyelids freezing shut, ice layers forming on his mustache with each breath, his lips frosting over, turning brittle. His radio suddenly crackles to life:

“Sheriff, come in—over . . . Don Ed—over? Lady by Mt. Olive reports a gunshot—over. Don Ed?”

He stands and brushes the snow from his coat and pants. He pushes his booted feet through the snow, plowing through the slight hash mark tracks of birds, a fox’s paw prints, deer hooves. He climbs in the car and reaches for the radio microphone.

“Don Ed? I am callin Bill England at the State Police—”

“I am at the scene, Mel.”

“What you got, Sheriff? Over?”

Don Ed watches a murder of crows gather on the oak trees surrounding his wife’s body.


“It’s a suicide. Shotgun. A female.”

“We know her?” Mel asks. “Over.”

“ElainE Miller,” Don Ed says, his voice empty, weary. “ElainE with two capital E’s.


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