“It’s a decision we’re both involved in.”

“You’d tell your mother,” he said.

“She wouldn’t put me on the rack.”

“Have I?”

“You will if you don’t get an answer.”

“I suppose you’ve talked to Aunt Rose.”

She didn’t reply, but her silence itself gave him his answer.

“But you won’t talk to me.”

“There are things women understand, Dad.”

“There are things fathers should be let in on. Look, I don’t know why you can’t give me a straightforward answer, and that’s what concerns me.”

“There are issues we need to settle first.”


“Ah, children,” she said, as if she suddenly understood. “That’s why you brought me here to show me those pictographs. This is all about children, isn’t it?”

“Not completely. But you indicated there are issues,” he said. “And I’m betting that’s one. He doesn’t want them, does he?”

“Maybe it’s me who doesn’t.”

“Is it?” Again, her silence was his answer. “You’ve been down this road before, Jenny.”

“See? Right there.” She lifted her arm and pointed an accusing finger at him. Water dripped from the tip in crystal pearls. “That’s why I don’t talk to you.”

“It was only an observation.”

“It was a criticism, and you know it.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“I’m finished swimming. Let’s go.”

He’d blown it. In his imagining, the discussion had gone differently, had ended with them understanding each other, touching heart to heart in the way they used to when she was much younger. Instead he watched her breaststroke away from him to the dinghy, leaving him feeling stupid and treading water.

They threaded their way out of the convoluted gathering of islands. Jenny sat rigid in the bow, fiercely giving him her back. As soon as they hit the open water of the main channel, he headed the dinghy again toward the southwest.

When he saw the sky there, he was, for a moment, stunned breathless.

“Dad?” Jenny said from the bow. She’d seen it, too, and she turned back to him, fear huge in her eyes.

“Good God Almighty,” he whispered.


Rose was in the middle of rolling a piecrust. She’d promised pie for dessert that night, and the kids had volunteered to hunt for blueberries. Though it was late in the season, weeks past the normal time for harvesting berries, at every place the houseboat had anchored so far, they’d had luck with their picking. It had to do with the unusual heat, Rose speculated.

Behind her, Mal came into the galley and encircled her waist with his arms.

“They’re finally gone,” he said.

“Let me wash my hands.” Rose lifted them so that he could see they were covered with flour.

“No time. They’ll be back before you know it.” He turned her, kissed her long but delicately, and said, “And besides, the smell of piecrust is very sexy.”

They made love in their cabin. Afterward, she lay cradled in the crook of Mal’s outstretched arm.

The houseboat was lovely, but there was no privacy. It was a rare pleasure to have the boat to themselves. There was something about this untamed country that stirred the wild in Rose. She smiled, thinking how odd it was to her now that before Mal had come into her life she’d seriously considered joining an order. When she first met him, he’d been a priest, a cleric stumbling in his belief and assigned to a small parish in the great North Woods of Minnesota. Rose had fallen in love with him; terrible events had followed, events not his doing or hers, nor was their love the cause, but in the end, Mal had chosen to leave the priesthood. He hadn’t turned his back on the Church. He’d simply opened his heart to Rose. Something she thanked God for every day.

Mal kissed her shoulder. “They’ll be coming back soon.”

“They’re such good kids,” she said.

“The best.”

“They’re grown now.”

“Not quite, but growing.”

“I remember when they were small. Yesterday, it seems.”

“Nature of the beast. We all grow up.” He spoke softly into her ear. “Do you miss them being small and needing you? Are you thinking we should try again ourselves?”

She smiled. “We just did.”

“You know what I mean.”

She knew. The thermometers. The graphs. And the specialists.

“I’m forty-four years old,” she said. “I think at this point it’s a miracle I’m willing to leave in God’s hands. They’ll be coming back soon. We should get up.”

She moved to rise, but Mal held her down for a moment, gently.

“I love you, Rose,” he said. “I’ll give you anything in the world that I can.”

He looked so deeply, so seriously into her eyes that her heart melted all over again. “You’ve already given me the best thing, sweetheart.” And she kissed him a very long time to let him know how much she appreciated the gift that was his heart.

She dressed and stepped out onto the platform of the bow, looking north across the little bay to the tip of the island where Anne and Stephen had swum to search for blueberries. She didn’t see them. Still hunting, she thought. Her husband came to her side, and they stood together, and then she turned and looked to the southwest.

She gave a little cry and said breathlessly, “Oh, Mal.”

He looked there, too, and uttered in disbelieving horror, “Sweet Jesus.”

The formation stretched from horizon to horizon, a mountain of dark cloud. The leading edge was rounded, like a bow drawn taut. Or, Cork thought later in his recollections, like a great plateau in the sky, shaped by forces so enormous he couldn’t even begin to imagine the scope of their power. The monster rose from the earth itself, straight up tens of thousands of feet in a sheer, curving wall the color of sooted stone. Behind it, there was no sky, only that great unstoppable body of storm. Lightning rippled along the top of the formation and struck deep inside in angry flashes that made the cloud, in moments of brilliance, seem almost translucent. The great plateau of the storm swept toward them with unbelievable speed. Before it, the lake was a swell of turbulent water. Cork understood that in only a few minutes all hell would hit them, hit them there in the open in their flimsy dinghy.

He swung the tiller, and the boat dug a deep, curling trough in the green water. Jenny gripped the bow and bent low as if to make herself more aerodynamic, although it could have been that she was simply cowering in the shadow of what was about to strike. Cork shot back toward the narrow channel where, only a minute before, they’d emerged from the gathering of islands. The outer islands were small and provided little protection. He hoped there was enough time to get well inside the archipelago. Full throttle, he cut along channels where the possibility of submerged rocks had, earlier, made him proceed so carefully. Desperately, he scanned the shorelines ahead, searching for some inlet that might offer the hope of shelter.

The beast struck before he could make them safe.

*   *   *

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