The professors are having trouble with their marriage.
They have been married for twenty-five years and have each had one affair. They know about the other’s affair and usually they say nothing, though sometimes alone, facing the mirror in the bathroom early in the morning when there is just the first serene violet light through the window, they weep to themselves very, very quietly.
They have other problems, too. His books are more popular than hers, though her books are better than his and they both know this and both think about it and often they wonder if the other person is thinking about it, which the other person usually is. In the evenings they read Lydia Davis short stories.
They have three daughters: Lisa is a junkie, Sally is in prison. The third is a Republican. Their children never call.
It’s time to make a change, to come back together, to ford the rivers that have sprung up between them as if they’d always been there, waiting inside the mountain, ready to rush forth. They know about these things; they’ve read plenty of poems.
They buy a house in Vermont. It is a gabled colonial house, a house with white walls and painted blue shutters, a house with rosebushes and raspberry shrubs, wild strawberries twining up its eastern wall, fruiting towards the sun. It is an old house and will need some work, but that’s okay—he rolls up his sleeves as if to say, I can still feel my hands, and she, she puts on a straw sun hat, picks a marigold from the wild garden, touches her hat, places it there.
They move in the last days of spring, the first days of summer. Behind the house the field of blown buttercups blossoms into a new season’s bloom. Farther down, past the meadow, the fresh forest greens out against a sky as hard and blue as Venetian glass. He puts his arm around her, places his hand on her bare shoulder. Her skin is no longer as soft as it once was and he imagines that he can feel the liver-spotting like raised little pimples under his fingers. He removes his hand, points downfield towards the grove of sugar maples.
“Next spring we’ll tap them,” he says. “Pull something sweet from January’s craw.”
She smiles, wraps a silk shawl around her wintering body.
“Something sweet would be nice,” she says.
And sweet, then, those days that pass. They walk and pick raspberries. In the evenings—for the evenings are still cool—he builds fires out of wood he chopped with his own hands. She plucks strawberries from the vine, goes down to the river and pulls wild rhubarb from the banks, their roots still wet with blue marl. She makes the biggest of pies.
Then one day, their dog, a black Labrador, rushes out of the woods, its face needled with porcupine quills. It whimpers as dogs do. A tear comes to her eye. He finds it funny.
“A dog after my own heart,” he says. “Always looking for something to rut.”
She does not laugh. Instead she goes into the basement to find some pliers. She comes back empty-handed.
“I must have left them in the city,” he says. “Check the fruit cellar.”
Neither of them have been in there yet, and when she enters she finds two things—neither of them pliers. First, a case of homemade dandelion wine. The bottles are dusty and too ambered to see into, but they are also labeled and she reads that the wine is only a few years old.
The next thing she finds is a bear trap.