Chapter 6 - A Shadow in the Night.
missile is nuclear.
Can anyone see its shadow in the dark?
Who will catch it?
Who will even know?
Since we were invited, we all pitched in with the preparation for dinner; or rather we stood in each other's way trying to organize a three-course meal. Naturally this was delightful, too.
The same could also be said about the meal, itself. A committee of expert cooks had superbly prepared it. We had shrimp from a can for a shrimp cocktail, spinach from Ross' garden, roast beef from his freezer, cake that Heather had made in the morning, and in-between a bottle of wine from Ross' cellar, the bottle that he had offered earlier, a spicy red wine from a small winery in the Napa Valley some two thousand miles away at the opposite end of the country. Ross said that he had saved it for a special occasion, and that this seemed to be such a one.
With the meal concluded, Ross suggested that we should also consider staying for the night since the storm was brewing up into something much bigger than had been forecast on the weather report. He made some phone calls to confirm that the pattern had changed. The clouds became darker by the minute, moving in much faster now, accompanied by lightning. White caps could be seen on the water. "This is no time for camping," said Ross.
Ross and I had left the balcony where the dinner had been served, to report to the weather service that the storm was bigger than expected and was pulling whitecaps on the open waters. Ross felt that a small-craft warning should have been issued. He had a small telescope set up that he used for measuring the movements of clouds to calculate the wind speed. I voiced my astonishment that this was possible.
"It's nothing accurate," he said and pointed to the ceiling. "There is a small tower on top of the roof that contains the real instrumentation. I only calculate the variance between that and the open sea."
Heather, Tony, and Sylvia were busy clearing the table and finishing up in the kitchen. The dishes were already put away when I brought the empty wineglasses back. Heather had refilled them again to use up the little that had been left from dinner. She called to Ross and suggested that we should join them on the porch once we were done making the weather report. Ross agreed, but added that he first wanted to show me some more of the results of his latest research work.
After the weather report call was made, Ross asked me to wait in his office for a moment while he went back to the kitchen to get us some more to drink. "Is orange juice alright?" he called back.
I told him it would be great. While he was gone I overheard Sylvia on the balcony speaking with Heather. The conversation was about me.
"...You don't need to apologize for what has happened," said Sylvia to Heather.
"I wouldn't dream of it. I had the most wonderful time in my entire life during those days with Peter," Heather replied. "Something like that doesn't happen to one every day. I will never deny something that was so precious to me. But I can't tell you more than that."
"No, please don't."
"You probably wouldn't understand what I mean," said Heather. "I can hardly understand it myself. You're married to him, but I love him just the same. This was the first real love I ever knew. I think you will never know what it took that day to leave him on his way back to you. Running off was the only thing that I could do."
"Don't forget that we are in love, too," said Sylvia.
"Of course you are, but that's not the way it was when I got married to Winston," said Heather. "What a slavery that was! For Winston, everything was allowed, because of my marriage to him, everything cruel that is. Love was no longer a factor. I was a piece of inventory under his control. He said at one time, once you're married you don't need to be in love. I can tell that your marriage will never be like that. Pete would never dream of saying such a thing to you, or to anyone else. I could feel that he was in love with you, even then, both with you and with me, and with others too. Winston, on the other hand, had four girlfriends, and I'm sure he loved none of them. He said it was his right to have them. I can't imagine Pete ever saying a thing like that, not even about Ursula Fleischer. Nor did I feel cheated when Pete talked to me about you, or about her. It was nice to feel his love for you, and for Ursula, because I realized that he felt the same about me. I even have a hunch that he may have come to love you more, because of me. It's just a feeling. Something that was growing while we were together."
"Pete told me that loving you was the most natural thing," said Sylvia.
"I think it had something to do with what had happened to him in East Germany," said Heather.
"Did he tell you much about East Germany?" said Sylvia.
Heather nodded. I could see her reflection in the glass of the hummingbird feeder.
"Tell me, did you feel cheated in any way when he told you about what had happened in East Germany, though it happened only a few days before?" asked Sylvia.
"I've always felt cheated by Winston, never by Pete. It was exciting to hear Pete talk about his experiences, to hear him speak with such deep respect about other women. How could I feel cheated by that? It was nice to be able to sense what he felt, to sense the passion in his love, the joy, and the warmth, even to sense that the passion for love had not died out in the world. It was marvelous to listen to him, to the way he spoke about Steve and his wife. But then I wasn't married to him. Maybe you felt differently. Did the thought of it make you angry?"
"I can understand this," said Heather. "It's a natural reaction if one believes what we were taught. Winston certainly was big in demanding his territorial rights. I think it gave him a sense of security, owning me, not having to worry about my reactions as they were guaranteed to him by contractual loyalty. I think it gave him a sense of status and power. But he never knew the price this exacts from another. Maybe that's why there are so many divorces."
"You were divorced, then?"
Heather shook her head. "No, at first I buckled under," said Heather. "Life became agonizing and dull. It's terrible to see one's sensitivities go out the window. I became irritable. Finally I couldn't deal with the least bit of stress anymore. But it wasn't all his fault, he had a lot of stress to deal with."
Heather started to tell Sylvia all about Winston, how he went from the university to the steel industry as a process engineer. A year later he got laid off when the steel prices eroded. "We were barely able to hold on to our house," said Heather. "He was re-hired only once after that. He was hired for a brief period, to oversee the demolition of six brand new unused blast furnaces, which the company could no longer afford to pay taxes on. This must have felt like cutting his own throat."
Heather said that she and Winston left the city right afterwards, and moved to Kansas where he worked on his father's farm. But the farm was in trouble, too. "It was technically bankrupt like thousands of farms were in the area. More and more the conversation was about cost-cutting, trying to hold off the foreclosure they all knew deep inside would eventually happen. Their only consolation was that they were not alone in this plight. Winston's father always said that 417,000 other farms were bankrupt also. This seemed to give him hope. Then came the drought.
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