Chapter Ten continued

I carried the letter in shirt pockets for three days, meaning to answer it, composing replies in my head. When I changed clothes, I put it on the dresser, each time thinking it was a piece of business to complete. Then one morning I left it on my dresser with a couple of credit card receipts.

I took a short trip to Reno, to look at a house outside town that Dan's friend had found for me. My specifications had been fairly simple, and based on some knowledge of the typical older rural house. It was precisely what I was looking for–multiple bedrooms and a portion I could easily turn into an apartment, thirty acres of range and outbuildings. It was not convenient to campus, but a half hour commute meant nothing after five years in Denver. We spent the weekend looking at that place, and others for comparison, and then I returned to Denver and the realtor went back to the owners to discuss leasing rather than selling.

When I got back to Denver, I sorted through the trash on the dresser, throwing out the sales slips and feeling a twinge of guilt when I found the letter again. It wasn't so bad; only two weeks had passed; I pocketed it again, resolved to answer it right away; then I forgot it again. The realtor called.

"The Musselmans are willing to do a lease for six months toward sale. In other words, you lease it six months. If you want it, you've paid some of the selling price. If you don't, then they decide what to do next."

"What does that mean?"

"Well, during the six months, they'll probably keep it on the market and want to show it occasionally. If a serious buyer comes along, they'll give you first refusal and then sell it for occupancy at the end of the lease. Or try to buy you out of your lease, if the buyer wants. When your six months are up, if they still don't have a buyer, they'll probably let you rent while they sell it more aggressively. A lot depends on how serious they think you are."

"I don't want to buy it on one weekend's examination."

"How about if I worked them down ten thousand?"

"I'd still want to lease. Three months."

"I don't think they'd go for that."

"Bring them down twenty, and I'll come look at it again."

He didn't speak. Then he said, "I'll try."

The next morning he called again.

"They want to get the place out of their hair. They went for one-thirty."

I agreed to fly out again that evening. We looked the place over, settled the details of the inspection, and drafted the offer. It was not exactly a "handyman's special," but I would be doing some tinkering with the place. My Denver lease was settled amicably. My house was close to the University of Denver, so it was easy to rent. Within three weeks, I was a homeowner again after ten years as a gypsy.

Packing my books, I came upon a spare complete Robert Frost I had meant to give Ruth, and I remembered with some shame that I still had not written. A month had passed. I wrote her a letter that night, explaining the gift of the book and telling her about my departure. I gave the book and letter to Janet to mail. The day before I was to leave for Reno, another letter came to my home. I had been gone all day, arranging last details for the movers, clearing out my office. The letter was in the small bundle of mail stuffed in my box when I got home that evening. I had recognized the handwriting on the envelope, and I opened and read the letter on the porch before unlocking my door. The letter was handwritten, as mine had been.

Dear Thomas,

Since I will never see you again, I guess it's OK to call you that. It would be childish to say how much I'll miss you. I'm thinking seriously about transferring to CSU, so I guess you were the main reason I was coming back to Red Rocks, and I don't mean your classes. Does that embarrass you? I guess I don't care if it does, actually. I feel like hitting you. I would of, if you'd told me what you said in your letter. I guess I was fooling myself, huh? about being friends. Well, I guess in some ways it's better this way. I feel stupid.

You knew what was happening that night. I was lonely for my father, and I wanted you to help me feel better. I don't mean anything dirty. If you had just held me, just for a moment, that would have been enough. That would have been all. I'd have gone home feeling differently about my life. I'd have felt hopeful, at least. That was too much to ask. I don't mean that sarcastically. I mean it really was, and I apologize for wanting it.

I wrote a poem about you, and I hate it. But it's all I have to give you for a going away present. You are allowed to hate it too, of course, but you are not allowed to say so. It's my turn to demand that you don't say anything.

Thank you for the book of poems. I liked the Frost poems we read in class. I'll read it right after I finish reading Storyteller. I got it out of the library.

The poem, like the letter, was handwritten. It was a private matter. She was right; it was not, of course, a very good poem. Reading it, I thought, illogically, of wet kittens. What can you do? I let Sam out and we sat together on the porch, sharing a cigar and the moist, delicate odors of watered grass and dusty cottonwoods. I wanted to get drunk. There would be movers in the morning. I couldn't think of a way to answer Ruth's letter. Life would be so much simpler if, once in a while, there was a right thing to do.

I had movers coming in the morning. I couldn't sleep. I was up all night, doing mindless things, rearranging and repacking things I had already prepared. At four, I was sitting outside again, watching the sky clear. In my head, I had composed a letter to Ruth. "Come with me," was all it said. I was fairly sure she would say yes. Was it what I wanted? No. Was it what she wanted? I didn't think she knew. But she would say yes, and she would be happy–how long?–before she got tired of being so suddenly a woman. I never thought of loving her, and the idea of taking the sincere pleasure of her love without giving it back repulsed me. I couldn't argue down my own logic, any better than I had rebuffed hers, that night on the porch. If she wanted to love me, why not give her what she thinks she wants, let her decide for herself? Would it be so bad, to take her to Reno, to be the mentor of her next two or three years. I could teach her to write; I could help her finish school. She would be happy with me, happy in my house, happy in my bed, and she would make me happy. At last, before first light, I thought, she would be at once my child to train and my lover to enjoy, and my resistance was suddenly no longer inexplicable. That taint. Not that she was stained by that terrible loss of virginity, but that I would feel possessed by her father's ghost. I shuddered, momentarily superstitious. If it weren't for that, only that–I would have done it. I knew it was reason enough; I reasoned with my certainty but did not shake it.

I realized I had been sitting in front of a half-filled box of books like a supplicant at a shrine. I stood up, groaning as my knees resisted and threatened to fail. My lower back was half paralyzed. In five minutes? I thought.

Sam had abandoned me in disgust; she was tucked against a pyramid of luggage, asleep. She didn't even make a polite offer to accompany me outside. At eight, the movers arrived. Sam and I supervised the packing of my limited household. We slept that night in a motel in Idaho Springs. We had decamped.

I am not a U-Hauler. I carried luggage, my toolbox and some power tools, and a bare necessary library in my car, and my portable computer with the new novel on its hard disk. What with the loaded car, Sam, and the heat, I didn't stop overnight in Winnemucca but drove through. Ellen was at Apple Annie's when I hit town in the early evening, and I stopped long enough for her and Sam to exchange pleasantries. Sam brushed a shovelful of dirt into a fan by simultaneously wagging and sitting; Ellen assured her that she was indeed, as she had always suspected, just the best dog. We drove on to Reno, arriving in the deeper, cooler dark of late evening.

We stayed in a motel that night. I had breakfast with the Fussells the next morning and we drove out to the house. The movers were supposed to be two days behind me. If they were a normal moving firm, it would be more like a week. I didn't mind.

"You should have had a woman look at this place before you bought it," Shiera said as she walked through the kitchen. "Look at that." She indicated a soot stain above the stove. She turned the taps and shook her head, then drifted deeper into the house. I heard the toilet flush, then the shower sputtering to life.

"Shiera has an eye for these things," Dan said.

"I'll manage. I bought it for the location as much as anything."

"I'm sure she's thinking of resale value."

"I just bought it!"

Shiera's voice cut in from the living room. "So?"

"She's right. You are going to want to sell it someday."

"I'll burn that bridge when I come to it."

The house had three exterior doors–front, kitchen, and another on the west side of the house that led into what looked, from the remnants of posters on the walls, like a teenaged boy's bedroom. It had its own bathroom with shower; the only tub was a clawfoot antique in the main bathroom. I had walked through the house the second time we looked at it, and I knew that another, smaller bedroom shared a wall with this room. I had checked in Denver, and a prefab door would be an easy modification; I could connect the two rooms.

I planned to clean and then paint the interior, and to add electrical outlets, particularly to the intended apartment, which only had two in one room and one in the other. I mentioned painting, and Shiera offered to choose the colors.

"That's OK, I'm not picky."

"It's no problem. I'll bring some samples out and give you a list."

They left me there with Sam, planning to come back in the afternoon. They had loaned me a futon to sleep on till my furniture arrived. We set it up in the living room to double as a couch. There was an old linoleum table in the kitchen with a couple of chairs, and the appliances were reasonably new–a gas stove, a refrigerator, and an oddly discordant built-in trash compactor in the kitchen, and a washer and dryer, old but serviceable, in the utility room. After the Fussells had left, I went from room to room, seeing the little things one never notices before moving into a house: the crack in the horrid ceiling fixture in one bedroom, the loose wallpaper in the walk-in closet, the stains in the bathtub.

I went out to the barn. My books would be stored there until we had the painting done. Outside, there was a smaller shed with a driveup entrance, like a tractor garage. It had been locked; the lock itself was gone. A couple of ancient gardening tools hung on the walls. Near the kitchen door there was an old redwood picnic table with built-in benches, the wood dry and greyed, with flakes and stains of government green paint. The barn was small. It was clean and spiderwebby, empty of animal odors. The Musselmans hadn't kept horses or cattle, apparently. A room with a plank floor was built into one end. I dragged some loose two-by-fours together there to make a pallet. Something brown departed from the back of the room with a scampering rush when I began moving things around. Possibly a rat, I thought. More likely some local squirrel-type critter. Sam would explain to it how things were going to be. I made a note to get her a booster shot.

There were tall poplars along the north side of the house, intermixed with junipers and chokecherries and an apple tree that had been subsumed into their collage, all so overgrown that they hid the windows on that side of the house. There was a stand of aspens, most of the trunks no thicker than my biceps, the whole of it not much bigger than the house, off to the south. Beyond them a few acres of trees climbed a hill. Sam and I walked out to the isolated aspens, then followed a narrow trail through them. Something had bedded in the center. Deer. And there was a faint smell of skunk. Passing through the aspens, I looked south down a gentle fall of hill. Two ranchhouses were a couple of miles away, and separated by at least a mile. Between them and me ran a meandering dotted line of little trees. A stream, I thought, beyond my fence. I thought of Ellen. This was greener than Battle Mountain, but a great place for horses if you didn't have too many.

When we returned to the house, I got out my drill and the sander attachment, and I cleaned up the picnic bench by sanding the paint and splinters away. Dan and Shiera arrived as I was finishing. I had asked Dan to loan me a power saw for a few days. That led to explaining about the door. He didn't ask why I wanted to connect the rooms. They came around to where I was sanding. Dan had the saw; Shiera was carrying a bundle of paint samples and a yellow legal pad.

"Why are you going to connect the two bedrooms?" she said.

"Sometimes my kids come to visit. That way, they can have a independent area."

She seemed satisfied. We walked through the house, and I found that faced with her suggestions, I did have preferences about how to paint the house. We agreed on a few greens and browns. For the apartment, I steered her back to the blues and whites she'd been suggesting for the other rooms. Eventually we had a full set of colors for the whole house.

"Now let's talk about the exterior," she said then.

"I'm not painting the exterior."

"Thomas, you have to! The trim is peeling."

"Spring," I said. "I have enough to worry about."

"It won't keep till spring."

It was a single-story brick house. The trim looked fine to me. "It'll have to. I don't have time to do that too."

She looked unconvinced, but we returned to the kitchen, where Dan was fiddling under the sink. He came out when he heard us.

"Everything looks OK," he said. "You have a garbage disposal. Here," he said, reaching for an electrical switch near the faucet and simultaneously turning on the cold tap. The disposal growled into action. He flipped the switch again.

"Let's get the stuff in the trunk," Shiera said. "I want to at least take care of the kitchen."

They had brought cleaning materials. In their back seat they had an old end table and a table lamp.

"For loan," Shiera said, offering the lamp.

We spent the afternoon cleaning the kitchen to Shiera's standards. Sam lay beside the futon; Shiera eyed her warily whenever she passed through the living room, convinced that Sam would sneak up onto the bed eventually. Sam would have been offended, had she known.

When we finished the kitchen, we went to their house for dinner. I took a shower while they prepared the meal. We sat on the patio after, watching the dusk thicken and talking about the English department.

"Bill is eager to get together with you," Shiera said. "He and Mattie had us over last week. He's really pleased that you came so early. He wants to arrange meetings with some of the creative writing students this summer. Most of them aren't here, of course. A lot of the kids are down at Tahoe, doing summer jobs, so they could come back up."

"By the way, one guy to watch out for," Dan said. "Aaron Corso. He's the Modern Fiction guy. Hemingway specialist. He teaches the American Lit Early Twentieth Century stuff, including a class that goes from Drieser through Hemingway and Faulkner. You have two strikes going into it with him. One, you are a contemporary fiction writer, and American fiction died with Papa. Two, you have uttered blasphemies."

"About the great baby?"

"Papa Ernie."

"Right. Which Hemingway type is he? The flannel-shirt 'teach your students to gut fish and they'll be better writers' type, the 'nothing is more tidily wiped than a tight sentence' type, or the 'Oh, Ernest, can I feel your biceps again' type?"

"One, with some two."

"I had one of his students last quarter," Shiera said. "The boy had written a fairly daring but not very good poem about how he felt after fucking. He described it as a kind of mellow relaxation, like two puppies sleeping together. They published it in Passes; that's the student literary magazine. Aaron called Todd into his office and criticized his poem as an example of the kind of immature writing that should never be published. As Todd described it, he thought the poem was about intercourse rather than afterglow, and so he called the view of intercourse 'nerveless and infantile.' He announced that Todd must be a virgin and might be sexually retarded. He asked him if he was 'afraid of real women.' Fortunately, Todd isn't too insecure about his sexuality, but it was pretty devastating. He and I went over the poem together, and I told him I thought it was wonderfully androgynous. I thought about reporting the whole thing, but knowing Aaron, he'd just deny the uglier details. Besides, he has tenure and two nice books on Old Bull's Balls."

"Aaron had selected members of the department up to his cabin for dinner last summer," Dan said.

"Oh my God," Shiera said. They both laughed.

"He was living with this worshipful graduate student. We were invited for the whole day. It's a nice place, so we went up early. We figured we'd go for a long walk if things got too oppressive. There was a sheep in a pen when we got there. At noon, he shot it in front of us–me and Shiera, the Manns, Andy Bester and Dean Fredericks, a woman from the history department–"

"Annalee Troup," Shiera explained. "The Winslows were there too. Fortunately, their kids were at camp."

"Yeah. There weren't any children, thank God. So he shot this sheep in the head, then he hung it from a ponderosa and skinned and gutted it. Then he roasted it on a spit. While he had the guts in a mound on the ground, the Edelmans arrived. Mary got out of the car, came over to see what he was doing, saw the viscera, and fainted."

"Apparently he didn't know about aging the meat. It tasted like shit," Shiera said.

"I've wondered about that," Dan said. "How could he not know? He had to know. I think he just didn't want us to miss the whole spectacle. I think he cared more about showing off the macho bullshit than about the meat."

"Otherwise, why not butcher the sheep the day before?" I said.

"Yeah. Obviously, he wanted us to see him kill it. He was really encouraging about coming early." Dan shook his head. "He made fun of Mary Edelman for a week. How she shouldn't eat meat if she couldn't handle where it came from."

"He made a crack about her one day in the hall, and Dan said if he didn't shut up, he'd be drinking steak from a straw. It was an ugly scene. I felt like Maureen O'Hara in a Howard Hawks movie." Shiera was smiling at her husband. It didn't sound like Dan.

"John Ford," Dan said automatically.

It was dark. Behind us, the porch light turned itself on. I jumped.

"Sensor," Shiera said. "You'll want a couple for your place. Really handy. They help make the place look lived it when you're gone, and if you get home after dark, the boogeyman has no place to hide."

Nighthawks patrolled the sky above us, making their strange flatulent cries. The Fussells' house is near the edge of town on the west, and it borders on an empty, overgrown lot, haven for birds and the occasional fox. They have a tiny, handcrafted stone pond and fountain in back with a constant trickle of water that keeps the surface uninteresting to mosquitoes. An owl called from the trees.

"I liked your friend," Shiera said. "Elaine? What's her name?"

"Ellen. Ellen Ardechea."

"Is she really a horse breeder?" Her expression was dubious.


"Unusual. Where do you know her from?"

"She was a student of mine, during the year I was in Utah." I thought of telling her the truth. It couldn't help. I imagined them meeting again, and I didn't want Ellen embarrassed.

"An English major?" she said, scowling.

"No. Freshman English. A couple of semesters."

"And an affair after?" she said. I studied her face.

"No, Shiera. We've never had sex. OK?"

She looked embarrassed. "She's very nice."

"And pretty," Dan added, with a mischieveous glance at his wife.

"Trust you," she said. Then she said to me, "And she makes her living selling horses?"

"No," I said, in a flat tone that Shiera would understand meant we would not discuss Ellen's profession. "She's a friend," I added. It must have seemed to Dan a non sequitur. Shiera and I understood each other.

"Does she sell horses to individuals?"

"I don't think so."

"I just wondered. Dan and I talk about getting a couple of horses some time. They're so expensive to board, though."

"I might get horses," I said. I had been thinking of it, but I didn't know anything about keeping them.

"From her?"

"I doubt it. Most of her horses are mustangs."

"My God. Does she raise them for dog food?"

"No." I was scrambling mentally to remember what we had said at the dinner. "Technically, she's not really a breeder. That is to say, she doesn't raise horses for a living. Her husband was killed in an oilfield accident," I explained, impulsively borrowing the history of a real student about Ellen's age. Ellen had not talked about her "past" at the dinner, as near as I could remember, except for the bare details of our classroom experience. I would have to warn her, if she came to town again. "Once the oil company paid off on the accident insurance, she was in great shape financially. I guess she lives on the interest. I know she doesn't sell the mustangs. She has about a half dozen other horses."

"Well," Shiera said brusquely, "at least she can advise you if you do go horse shopping. Maybe we could hire her to do that for us."

"I can ask her if I see her again."

"Didn't you stop and visit her on the way?"

"It wasn't really convenient. I suppose she comes to Reno occasionally. It must be the big city."

"It's not much farther to Salt Lake," Dan ventured.

"Of course it is! It's twice as far!" Shiera cried.

I confirmed Shiera's estimate.

When I got up to leave, Shiera invited me to spend the night. I declined, reminding her that Sam was waiting for me.

"You should've brought her. It's a lot pleasanter here, till your furniture arrives. Why don't you go get her?"

It would be an hour of driving. It was nearly midnight. I thanked them and went home. Sam was indeed waiting in her travel crate. She reminded me that it was a very vulnerable situation, trapped in a strange house with only the protection of good smells and thin plastic walls. After some disciplined dents had been laid into the soft parts of my hands, we relaxed with a book.

In the morning, Sam continued patrolling the new acreage while I mapped out how to place a door in the bedroom wall. Once I was satisfied I had the best location, I hustled Sam into the car and made a run into town to get the door, a locking knob for the other door in the smaller bedroom, and the extra outlets and wiring. When I got back to the house, Shiera was there, waiting in the Fussell car.

"Thomas, when are you going to get a phone?" she said by way of greeting.

"No hurry," I said. I began wrestling the door out of my trunk.

She jumped out of the car. "Let me help you." Together we got it out and carried it to the porch. I unlocked the front door and we took the prefab inside.

"It's damned inconvenient, coming out here to talk to you," she said as we marched through the house.

"Sorry. They're supposed to turn the service on today. I don't have my phone yet, though."

"Ah-ha! I have just the thing!" Once we had the door against the wall, she hurried outside. In a minute she was back with a tacky little Crackerjack premium phone. "This will connect you to the outside world." She looked around for a phone jack. I followed her into the kitchen, where she found one. She plugged the phone in and put it to her ear. "Bingo," she said. She punched in a sequence of numbers and waited a moment. Then she said, "Dan. Can you hear me OK?"

After they established that the phone was working, she hung up. I thanked her for the phone.

"What I came out here for is to arrange an Old-West style house-raising. I've talked to Walt and Rosemary Mann and Willem Winslow and Annie Edmundson, and they're all game to come out Saturday and paint your house and shovel your barn and bathe your dog, in exchange for an endless supply of beer and fried chicken."

"That would be nice," I said.

"Don't wet yourself in your enthusiasm," Shiera said.

"I'm not a good organizer. I'm afraid they'll be wasting their time."

"What's to organize? They'll bring paintbrushes and so on; you get the paint, you tell them what color goes where, and they boogie. If somebody gets bored, they can go for more chicken."

"OK. The truck should be here by Friday, so we can do some unpacking too."

"Jesus, don't unpack anything until the painting is done!"

"All right."

"Call them and see when it's getting here. It's been three days since you left Denver, right?"

I had an 800 number buried in my papers. I called it; the truck was allegedly in Wendover, and it would arrive tomorrow.

"Well, have them unload it into the barn if they get here tomorrow or Friday, and we'll move it into the house on Sunday."

She was gone a few minutes later.

It took most of the day to install the door; I spent the evening dealing with the electricity. Thursday morning, I took Shiera's notes to town and returned with the paint, some drywall mud to finish around the door, and some cheap rollers and trays for the paint. That afternoon, I painted two of the rooms and finished prepping the door. Dan called Thursday evening.

"The Manns want you over for dinner tomorrow night. And you know about Shiera's army of painters?"


"Rosemary Mann asked us to come to dinner and bring you. I said I'd check."

"OK. What time?"

"Seven. You want to come over here? That might be easier than trying to find your way around. Up to you."

"OK. Is six-thirty soon enough?"

"Come at six; we'll have a drink. The Manns don't."

Walter Mann taught Romantic Poetry. He'd written a book on Wordsworth and contributed a couple of articles to a festschrift on Schiller. Beyond that, I didn't know much about him. I hadn't met his wife.

The movers arrived Friday morning with no warning. As they unloaded the truck, I wondered what they would have done if I hadn't been home. Unload it on the lawn? Come back later? They carried everything except the boxes of books into the two newly painted rooms. The books went into the barn as planned. Thirty-seven liquor boxes. As they went by, I watched for the two boxes of firsts and signed copies; those went inside. Sam supervised the activities, hovering on the periphery just beyond underfoot. The truck was unloaded and gone in an hour.

I latched a new padlock onto the door of the room in the barn, surely a needless precaution here, but a habit of mind Denver had taught me and I could not simply break. Then I filled a bota with water, and Sam and I set out for the aspens and beyond. I wanted to explore the wooded hill. We meandered for half an hour before we hit a barbed wire fence that bounded my land. A wide trail, wide enough for a motorcycle or horses, followed the fence on the other side. Sam and I passed through and walked for another half hour. We saw a small herd of cattle, no more than a couple of dozen, away to the south. A truck was parked near them, and a rider was in among them. Somebody got out of the truck and pointed at me. The rider reined around and then the horse began approaching swiftly. Sam sat down when she noticed them; the rider was a man in his fifties or sixties with a grey mustache. He stopped about twenty feet away. For a moment, I expected to see a holster and gun.

"We're the new neighbors. At the Musselman ranch."

"English professor."


"Don Albers. This is my spread. My son David saw you." The truck had not moved.

"I'm just looking around. That a problem?"

"No. Be careful, though." He let the horse move sidewise a bit, then turned it. Just as he broke eye contact, he said, "My bull's usually up around here after noon." He rode away. Sam and I made good but dignified time back to our side of the fence.

"Don is a history professor," Dan Fussell told me that evening. He's written some children's books, too. He likes to play the uneducated cowboy."

"Does he have a bull?"


Dinner was uneventful. Shiera and I talked about the next day's paramilitary operation. She had actually lined up about ten people besides herself and Dan. Before we left for the Manns', she loaded a trunkful of newspapers into my car. I was to have them down by nine to cover the floors.

As promised, she and Dan were there at nine, bringing with them Ann Edmundson and her friend Tina Muscone. Shiera marshalled everyone through the house, indicating various stations of responsibility, mentioning in passing that it was too bad I hadn't gotten the colors she'd suggested for the living room and master bedroom. By noon, each room had its two painters. I left the painting of the new door for after the walls were complete; I spent the morning reassembling my bookcases on the patio, the afternoon hosting lunch, and the late afternoon supervising the moving of my few pieces of furniture. By ten that night, the beer was gone, the crew was gone, and about half my belongings were where they were supposed to be. Ann and Tina were going to come back Sunday morning and help me manage the books and bookcases. Ann Edmundson was a woman about my age who taught expository writing. Tina was ten, perhaps even fifteen, years younger and ran a flower shop on the west side.

With their help, the books were nearly all shelved in my office by three. Tina announced that she was leaving to make dinner.

"It'll be ready at seven."

"I'll bring Ann home," I said. Tina was taking their car.

"You'll bring both of you," Tina said.

"We insist, Thomas," Ann said. "It's no trouble. Is it, Tina?"

"Absolutely not! It's just another place setting."

The dinner was Greek and wonderful. "Don't let 'Muscone' fool you," Tina said. "My mother's name was Poulodrakis."

We spent the evening discussing opera, children, and desert hiking. Ann had an adult daughter in school back east. She and Tina were devotees of the Seattle Opera and avid backpackers.

"People say the San Francisco Opera, but I prefer Seattle. It's a long drive, so we make an excursion of it. A week of operas!" Ann concluded gleefully.

"We do go to the San Francisco Opera. Ann's exaggerating," Tina added.

They had never been to the Santa Fe Opera. We swapped opera stories over wine and then brandy. Tina Muscone's degree was in music, in voice, but she'd never done anything professionally with it.

"It's so competitive. I didn't like the nastiness. Besides, I didn't want to get paid to sing."

"She keeps up her lessons. I think she should at least participate in recitals," Ann said.

We talked about Tina's voice. We all became sleepy and silly; finally I excused myself. Tina sent with me dolmathes and a slab of moussaka, a cup of olives, another of feta, and some little pastries not quite biscuit or cookie, delicately scented with anise. I protested feebly and pointlessly.

"I'm sure you don't cook for yourself like this," Ann said as they loaded me down with food. "You can take us to dinner some time."

Sam and I had a walk in the moonlight. Reno, we agreed, would be a good place to be.

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