“Will do,” Allegra said. “Gladly.”

The next week a few of the new plantings died, withering, it seemed, overnight. That seemed like a rip-off. It didn’t seem fair that after all those hours of hard labor she’d wind up with nothing. Louise drove back down the Mass Pike to Harvest Hill to complain. They said anything could have ruined the plants—not enough fertilizer, too much rain, shade, aphids. This made gardening seem like a much more precarious endeavor than Louise had imagined. She didn’t have her receipts, so they wouldn’t return her money. They suggested she buy more. Something heat tolerant, bug tolerant, water tolerant, she assumed. She chose lilacs, a hardy variety, and a few small azaleas, along with some beans and tomatoes. She kept the receipts this time.

She put in all of the new plants in a single day, wrenching her back in the process. When she was done, she was not only filthy, but famished as well. She really could have used a drink. She realized she had no food in the house, no wine. Nothing but macaroni and cheese and sedatives. She had the sense that she was becoming her mother in her saddest period, and she was only twenty-two, not sixty. Louise braved the town and went out, driving her mother’s Jeep, which was nearly rusted out through the floor. There was the pizza kitchen, the coffee shop, and the Hightop Inn—the nicest place in Blackwell, mostly filled with tourists who couldn’t find suitable accommodations in Lenox or Williamstown. Louise switched the radio on. Prince’s “When Doves Cry” was playing. She felt old and out of it, no longer a college student and nothing else instead. She hastened over to the Jack Straw Bar and Grill. It would be her first time inside.

The Jack Straw was a casual, wood-paneled place, busier in the summertime and on weekends. On Friday nights there were dart games that had once or twice ended in tragedy when fights flowed out into the parking lot. Louise realized that she was both under- and overdressed. She had grabbed a light Chanel jacket from her mother’s closet, but was wearing it over a white undershirt, along with denim shorts she’d had since high school and a pair of knee-high rubber gardening boots. She didn’t have on a lick of makeup. Her red hair was hooked up with a thick rubber band, whirled into a crazy-looking ponytail with bits of grass threaded through the strands.

“Hey,” she said to the bartender when she sat down. She figured it was better to be alone at the bar than at a table meant for two.

“Hey,” the bartender said back, not bothering to look away from the Red Sox game on the tube.

“I’ll have a glass of sauvignon blanc,” Louise told him.

“Chardonnay,” the bartender offered. He turned and saw it was that girl everyone expected to go crazy. He quickly backtracked. “I could look for sauvignon blanc in the storeroom if that’s what you really want. Like if you had to have it or something.”

“Chardonnay,” Louise said agreeably. She ruefully noticed mud streaking her arms. “And a grilled cheese sandwich with fries.”

That had been her favorite meal when she was a little girl, only her drink of choice had been chocolate milk instead of white wine. She went to the toilet to wash up. There she learned that people in Blackwell seemed to fall in and out of love fairly often, and they could be vengeful when their romances didn’t work out. Names and phone numbers were written all over the wall, along with several nasty remarks about the length, or lack thereof, of one gentleman’s private parts. On this several women seemed to agree.

When Louise got back to the bar, her dinner was waiting for her. The place had begun to fill up. The Eel River Kayak Company had just let out and several of the boatmen were there. The hospital was changing shifts, and Kelly’s repair shop had just shut down for the day. Someone had fed the jukebox. “When Doves Cry” yet again. Several men stood in a group at the end of the bar. One of them gazed at Louise, then whispered to his buddy, and they both laughed.


Louise hated being a redhead. She blushed to the roots of her hair. She signaled the bartender over. “Why don’t you tell that guy to go to hell for me,” she said.

“Tell him yourself,” the bartender suggested, clearly not a believer in chivalry. “He’s a cop.”

Louise paid and stood to leave. She’d only eaten half her grilled cheese sandwich. She knew she looked ridiculous. Maybe that was why she felt so reckless.

“Go to hell,” she called to the last man at the bar.

He turned to her, stunned. All conversation at that end of the bar stopped. There was a play being called on TV. The Red Sox were down one.

Louise suddenly thought that the man at the bar was too handsome to have ever bothered making a lewd remark about her. He was tall and lanky with dark hair, just gorgeous. Even a shy person like Louise could feel the heat he cast. She must have misunderstood. Who did she think she was anyway? She felt transparent and foolish. She turned and rushed out of there. No wonder she’d never come to the Jack Straw before. It was a dump. She was breathing hard when she got behind the wheel of her mother’s old Jeep. There were thousands of blackflies in the air, so many that you’d probably choke if you tried jogging out there. Dusk was the hour they loved best of all. Louise’s heart was pounding stupidly. That handsome man was staring out the window, watching her, but she sped away. If he wanted to give her a ticket, he’d have to find her first.

Most Popular