By Karin Ludewig
When I return to the house, it is as if a stage set is in place-stage props coming to life painfully ornate: the mahogany table, ostentatiously set, reflected in its surface a tinkling chandelier, the candelabras on the sideboard. I sense the ghost-like quality of Maab and Harold serving each guest in turn, the delicate operation of separating fish from bone, the meat sliced and arranged on a serving platter, juices already congealing, the silver heavy, outmoded, yet beautifully extravagant amid the constant attention to refilling glasses.
Maab, silent as a spirit, moves slowly. Tonight she wears a dress darkly appropriate with long sleeves and a single piece of jewelry adorning its lapel. My father wears a bathrobe that retains an unhealthy heat like the sweat of disease in a low-ceilinged room on a hot day, a room where the doors and windows remain sealed.
The wine is sweeter than I am used to and as blood red as raspberries. He refills my glass, settles back nursing his drink and listens to a nightingale, one of the last in England, sing from the mulberry tree next to the kitchen. The heat rises from the table like perfume. Through the windows, I watch the light fade, and with it, the outline of the horses on the hill behind the garden.
He coughs, readjusts his bathrobe, runs the fingers of his hand under his robe and across his chest. In spite of the warm drowsiness brought on by the wine, I feel a sudden chill, as if a wall has opened and the air outside is rushing in. Then, as if on cue, Maab pokes her head around the door. “Fog's something terrible tonight. If it’s all the same...I'll be on my way.”
Without looking up, he waves her off, still intent on the wine. But there is someone else standing in the shadows-a lank, dark-haired teenager. Maab pushes past her, retreating back into the hall, leaving the girl alone in the doorway, looking at us. “I know that girl. Where did she come from?” My father nods gravely, as if what I say comes as no surprise. But then the girl, too, retreats. I thought he might. But no, instead he fixes his gaze on someone else.
We laugh as if at a shared joke. “Good!” He gestures for her to join us. I pick up my wine and watch his new wife. Sated, I propose a toast, delighted at the horrified expressions of my family, our friends, and the few neighbors who now join me, their glasses raised, each face magnified, held for a moment at a stupefied angle, some close, others extended to catch the light from the candles.
This excerpt comes from the last chapter of the
novel, “The Animal God.” The excerpt was published as a short story in the literary magazine, HOTEL AMERIKA. The author is currently working on a new novel, “The Art Dealer’s Son,” which is set in Old Chatham, New York not far from where she lives.