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‘Betrayed,’ she giggled.
Perry left them. The new forest motion was back. And there was sound. The groups were mingling. Like compounds forming, electrons splitting and taking new orbits, shared spheres. From somewhere, music was coming on to the lawn, the lanterns were swaying. Bishop Markham was lecturing, Jud Harmor was squinting towards the sky. There was a hum in the forest. Perry wondered if old Jud felt it, or heard it.
He watched Grace move through the crowds. It was a fine big party, she was good at it. She listened to people. She wore dresses; it wasn’t often she wasn’t in a dress: in the garden, walking, combing her hair out. She wormed through the crowd and hooked his arm. ‘Hungry?’ He shook his head. ‘You aren’t drunk?’
‘Nope. Don’t always ask that.’
‘A nice party, isn’t it?’ She was whispering.
‘Yeah. You did a nice job.’
‘Be nice then. Talk to people,’ she whispered.
‘You aren’t sick?’
‘I’m fine, hon.’ He pulled free and held a paper plate that leaked potato salad. ‘I’m okay, really. How are all your lovely church friends? How’s the Reverend Stenberg?’
‘Stop that. He’s a nice man.’
‘I know it. I’m sorry.’ He glanced over at the bomb shelter. Some luck, he thought. He rambled the yard and listened while people told him about things.
‘A heat storm.’
It was Jud. His hat was pushed back. ‘A heat storm,’ he said. ‘Just a heat storm.’
People began looking up.
‘Rain,’ said Bishop Markham. ‘It’s rain, all right.’ Bishop was GOP, Jud was Democratic-Farmer-Labour.
‘Shit,’ Jud cackled. He shook his head and winked at Perry. ‘Guess I know a heat storm when I see it.’
The first cool air came in one breath, and a dark splotch in the sky spread out, sliding down and out like a vast sheath or covering or mask. ‘Heat storm,’ said old Jud. He pulled his hat down to settle it. People stood with hands on hips to watch. Lars Nielson hustled his family to the car and drove away.
Others began to leave.
‘It’s a heat storm all right,’ said Jud Harmor. There was a single long wind and the lanterns blew horizontal. Jud’s face was turned up. ‘I can see it,’ he said.
The wind died, turned warm, then turned cold, then turned warm again. Headlights were snapping on.
‘Where’s Harvey?’ Grace was beside him. ‘People are leaving, he should be here.’
The wind whipped the tablecloths.
People rushed for their cars. Jud Harmor stood alone, gazing at the sky with hands on hips. The wind was rushing to Lake Superior. Motors and headlights and opalescent beacons were flaring. Perry carried things inside, rushing, returned for armloads of bottles and cups and plastic forks, papers and bottle openers, party trash, wrappings and containers and leftover birthday cake.
‘Where’s Harvey?’ someone hollered.
Perry folded up the chairs and carried them inside, stacked them on the porch. ‘Where the devil is Harvey?’
‘Heat storm, heat storm,’ Jud Harmor chanted. He was now in a lawn chair, his straw hat gone. His bony face was sawed into a million upward-thrust planes. his eyes were pointed to the sky. ‘Lo,’ he chanted, ‘a heat storm. Watch the mother come.’
Perry touched his shoulder. ‘Better be moving on, Jud. She’s coming in fast.’
The old man cackled. ‘Nothin’ but a miserable heat storm. Can’t see what all this fuss is. You won’t see but a heat storm.’ Lightning flashed and the old man’s skull shined like a jewel.
Grace came out wearing a sweater. She was hugging herself. ‘Where’s Harvey?’
The old mayor cackled. ‘Takin’ target practice. You two gotta watch that boy. Ha, ha!’ He started to cough.
Perry went to the shelter. Some rotten luck. Rusty old jealousy. The emotion surprised him. He climbed the bomb shelter and stood on its roof. The wind was hard. Lightning showered in big fluffy puffs, and through the forest, looking out to Route 18, he saw the parade of retreating tail-lights winding towards Sawmill Landing. He called out and listened and heard a soft answer. Some rotten miserable awful luck, he thought.
Inside the concrete shelter, lanterns swung from the ceiling and the old generator was going.
‘Ha! Not so crazy after all!’ Harvey was grinning, rocking in the old man’s discarded rocking chair. He faced a cement wall. Addie lay on a cot. The shelter was strangely warm and livable. ‘Beginning to worry for you,’ Harvey said. ‘I was just telling Addie how worried I was. Thought you got caught in it. Nuclear war, you know. You got to be careful. Got to be careful ’cause that fallout is powerful stuff. Rots your testicles off.’
‘Just a heat storm, Jud says.’
‘Ha! Old Jud doesn’t have to worry about his testicles.’
Grace came in smiling, carrying the birthday cake. She handed out pieces on scallop-edged napkins.
‘An end-of-the-world party,’ Harvey said happily. He was loud. ‘Can’t think of a better place for it, can’t imagine nicer people to end the world with. Too bad the old man’s not here.’
‘It’s quiet outside,’ said Grace.
‘Ah,’ Harvey said. ‘The solemn silence. The silent solemnity.’ He stared at Perry. ‘Sure you want to stay, brother? Don’t remember you giving me much help building this thing. Sure you want to stay?’
Perry shrugged. Grace cut more cake and the lanterns dangled from the ceiling.
‘It’s just a heat storm, Harv.’
‘Ha. Tell that to your testicles. Just ask the buggers. See what they say.’
‘Let’s just all go outside.’
‘And be doomed?’
Gently, Grace bent over Harvey, felt his forehead. ‘You’ve a fever. Are you sick?’ She inspected his face, frowning. The lanterns dangled from the ceiling.
‘He’s just a silly pirate,’ Addie said.
Harvey stood up. He was loud. ‘Right! Absolutely right. Addie, that Addie’s something, isn’t she? When all this blows over and the streets are safe again, then I’m taking Addie to the swamps of New Guinea. I’ve decided.’ He struck a pose that could have meant anything. Addie laughed. ‘Yes, I’ve decided. We’ll begin a new life. Yes. Yes, we’ll plant seed, new seeds, seeds that I’ve prudently set aside for just such catastrophes. I have many seeds. A bull, you know. Yes. Yes, we’ll sail on a blighted sea for a new land, we’ll arrive … arrive, so to speak and so on, arrive on a new and dawning day, again so to speak, and Addie will make Indian carvings, reminders to our hordes of forthcoming descendants, and I … yes, I’ll search the jungles for food and shelter and primitive niceties, and we’ll start afresh.’
‘You’re drunk,’ Grace said.
‘Or perhaps Africa,’ said Addie, who seemed to be enjoying it. ‘You haven’t forgotten Africa?’
‘Don’t egg him on.’
The bomb shelter was very warm, concrete hot, and the lanterns were swinging.
‘Africa,’ Harvey stammered. ‘Ah, yes. Where are we going?’
‘Outside,’ Perry said.
Harvey stared. ‘Think of your testicles, man.’
Addie helped with him. They led him outside.
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