IN THE SUMMERS Kate went to Paris, where she studied at the Sorbonne and took a position as a counselor at an American camp for girls. In her senior year at Wellesley she became engaged to Henry Partridge, the young man she’d once ignored who was the cousin of a cousin once removed, hardly a cousin at all. After graduation Kate came home, to plan her wedding and to care for her mother, who was ill with cancer, bedridden, with only a little time left. Kate sat by her mother’s bedside and read to her in French. She gazed out the window. After that first year they spent apart, on the day before she went back to school, she’d seen the trail his boots had left in the snow. She’d known he’d come, then turned away.
“We found bones in there,” her mother told her one night. She was delirious sometimes and Kate had to lean in close to hear. She was talking about the garden and about that time when Kate seemed so distant. “We thought that was why you were acting so peculiarly that summer when you were fifteen. We thought you were under a spell. Then I realized it was a man.”
“There was no man,” Kate said.
Later when she went out to sit on the porch with her aunt, she asked Hannah about the bones.
“We stopped using the back garden after that.” It was true; the lower, newer garden where the soil wasn’t as rich or as red was now the plot of land they cultivated. Tomato plants had been set in a row, but after Kate’s mother fell ill, no one had bothered to weed and there were brambles everywhere.
The wedding date was pushed up, to ensure that Kate’s mother would be able to attend. Kate had already bought her dress in Boston. It was June, but overcast. Kate had an argument with the pastor, who would not shorten the service to accommodate Kate’s ailing mother, who often needed to lie down. Kate was defiant and wouldn’t back down, and in the end the pastor agreed to a truncated ceremony.
“If you’re getting married on your mother’s account, don’t,” Hannah said to her the week before the wedding. “All she wants is your happiness. She’s convinced there’s another man.”
KATE WANTED TO see him before she was married. She found the place easily enough, as if she’d been there only the day before, even though it had been years. When she reached the clearing, she stopped and gazed at the house. She thought about the first time she’d gone inside. There were still stories about him in town. Every new group of elementary school children started the rumors up all over again. There was a monster in the woods they said, he’d eat you up, leaving only the bones. He was half ape, half bear, but he knew how to speak. And he knew tricks as well. He could call to you as if he was injured, then leap upon you. Mothers and fathers in Blackwell told their children that if they didn’t finish their dinners, the monster wouldn’t be very happy. They used him as a cautionary tale: That was what happened to bad boys and girls, they were banished to the woods.
There was a flurry of panic when Lucy Jacob was murdered on Route 17. Kate had been away in France that semester and hadn’t heard the sad news until after she came home. Lucy had been riding her bike and someone had abducted her. She was missing all winter long until the snow melted. At last they found her with her neck broken out in the woods. She’d only been fourteen. People went out in search parties, but they found no evidence of the monster or of anything else. Things quieted down after the pastor gave a sermon in which he stated that monsters were men’s imaginings and that men had to take responsibility for the horror in the world. Be sure of one thing, he had told them. It was a man, not an imaginary being, who had taken Lucy from them.
When she was almost at his door, Kate couldn’t bring herself to go farther. She didn’t know how to explain her long absence to Matthew, she didn’t understand it herself. She clearly didn’t understand anything, so she went away. It was not until she was home that night that she dared to speculate that perhaps if she had actually seen him, she would not have gone back to town. She might have been ready to give up the world that she knew. But even if she’d gone forward that afternoon, he hadn’t been there. He’d been at a lake miles away, up in the mountains. He’d caught several fish and spied some herons. When he returned, he found a long, red hair in the grass outside his door. He wrote a poem that night and went into town. He crept into the yard and left it inside the old garden. Kate found it there the next morning.
If I met you now, I would tell you to
beware of men who think they’re bears and bears who
think they’re men.
Here’s my advice:
Run over the mountain.