“Sorry to disturb you,” Frank Mott said to Louise. “This gentleman said he was staying with you. We’ll haul him up to bed if you like.”
“Your bedroom or his?” Johnny Mott asked.
“John,” his father warned.
“When you see the mess, you’ll know you’ve found the right room,” Louise told Frank Mott. “Just throw him on top of the mattress.”
Louise went out on the porch. It was already the end of July. There were cicadas calling. In the Blackwell Museum there was a display of a dusty pile of cicada casings, including what was said to be the largest one ever found in the eastern United States.
“What does your expert say this thing is?”
Johnny had come outside while Frank went on to have a fatherly discussion with Brian upstairs, informing him that he was no longer welcome at the Jack Straw and that if he got caught drinking and driving in town, it would be good-bye to his license.
“Let me guess,” Johnny went on. “He doesn’t have a clue.”
“Why don’t you figure it out?” Louise said hotly.
She was furious. She’d been the one to write to Harvard, and now she resented the fact that her garden was a wreck. All the plants were dying. Even the poor lilacs, uprooted and replanted in a precarious row, had lost their leaves.
“Are you saying you want me to?” Johnny said. “Are you asking me to do it?”
Louise looked at him, secretly aghast that she was wearing her mother’s old nightgown, that her hair was in braids. She seemed to be crying over her ruined garden. She would have answered, but she was suddenly tongue-tied, her usual ferocity gone.
Frank Mott came out and shook Louise’s hand, apologizing for the bother in the middle of the night, suggesting that her boarder might need to be directed toward the AA meetings held every Thursday and Sunday at eight and at ten at the town hall.
That night Louise could barely sleep. She dreamed about her mother’s last day on earth. She was small as a bird in her hospital bed, shivering, waiting patiently for the end. She said, “Maybe he’ll still be waiting for me.” Louise had no idea whom she was referring to; her husband, gone so many years, or God, or perhaps an angel. There had been so much that had been left unspoken between them. Louise didn’t know the first thing about her mother, not really, and now it was too late.
She’d had such a restless night, it was nearly ten when she woke. She went downstairs, and while making coffee, she saw something out on the porch. She pushed open the door to find the skeleton of a huge creature laid out, skull and all.
She ran upstairs and shook Brian awake. He followed her, two steps at a time, bleary-eyed. He had been dreaming about being on the cover of Newsweek and didn’t appreciate being woken. He was also dreaming that he was having sex with every woman he’d met at the Jack Straw Bar and Grill—not one at a time, but all at once, a great, gorgeous, heaving mass of local women.
“Shit,” he said when he saw the skeleton.
“Isn’t this a good thing?” Louise said. She thought of Johnny in the garden all night, digging and digging, piling up red dirt. She thought of him crouched on her porch in the dark, thoughtfully working the bones like a puzzle. She had a chill and wished she were wearing her robe.
“Good? Are you kidding me? We were looking for prehistoric. This is nothing but a fucking bear. Ursa fucking major.”
THERE WAS NO longer any reason for Brian Alter to stay, so he phoned his professor, saying it had all been a hoax and they’d been wasting their time. He’d pack up the bones in a box just to show Harvard that he’d tried his best and maybe still get credit for the whole stupid escapade. But first he got in his Volvo and took off, saying he’d be back later to pick it all up. Desperate for a drink, he headed to the bar at the Hightop Inn, since the Jack Straw Bar and Grill wouldn’t have him anymore.
Louise went to examine the skeleton. It was hot, and the air smelled like hay. The skull Johnny had found was huge and sad. It made everything much realer and more pitiful. Louise realized it was a grave they had found, not just a jumbled rubbish heap of bones.
She got dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She didn’t even bother with shoes. She fetched the wheelbarrow and started to work. She wished her mother and aunt had told her the truth about the garden, why it was best left undisturbed. The creature that had been buried here had belonged to someone, been loved. She returned all the bones to the original site, even the bit of bone she carried in her pocket. She was especially careful with the skull. She spent the rest of the day shoveling the whole thing over with dirt and thinking about the way Johnny Mott looked at her.