Story — From the May 2015 issue

For Something to Do

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Past Howell, he kept the speedometer needle at seventy for almost six miles, until he was in sight of the mailbox. Then he eased his foot from the accelerator, braked, and turned off the highway onto the road that cut back through the trees. The road was little wider than his car — a dim, rutted passageway that twice climbed into small clearings, but through most of its quarter of a mile kept to tree-covered dimness until it opened onto the yard and the one-story white farmhouse. He left the car in the gravel drive and went in the side door. It was almost seven o’clock in the evening.

“Ev?”

He heard Julie’s voice and passed through the kitchen to see his wife at the end of the hall, coming out of the bedroom. She went to him quickly, kissing him and holding herself against him for a moment before looking up.

“I was starting to worry —”

“They haven’t been here?” Evan asked.

Illustration by Danijel Žeželj

Illustration by Danijel Žeželj

His wife’s hair, smooth and dark, parted on the side and clipped with a silver barrette, hung almost to her shoulders, where it turned up softly and moved as she shook her head. She was twenty-three, with a slight, boyish figure and a perhaps too thin face, though her features were delicately small and even, with freckles that she did not try to conceal, because her husband liked them.

“Did they call?” asked Evan.

“Not a word since Cal telephoned this morning.”

“If they left Detroit at two —” Evan paused. “Isn’t that what Cal said?”

Julie nodded. “He was picking up Ray at two o’clock and coming right on.”

“They would’ve been here three hours ago if he did.”

She started to smile as she said, “Maybe they were in an accident.” In the dimness, but with light coming from the kitchen doorway, her teeth were small and white against the warm brown of her face.

Evan smiled, too, looking at his wife and feeling her close to him. “Thank God for small blessings.”

“Or Cal forgot the way,” she said.

“Or they stopped at a bar.”

Her smile faded. “That’s all we’d need.”

She followed Evan into the kitchen and leaned against the white-painted, oilcloth-covered table as he washed his hands at the sink. She liked to watch him as he lathered his hands vigorously then rinsed them until the callused palms glistened yellow-pink and fresh-looking. She liked what she called his honest farmer tan: face and arms a deep brown with a line across his forehead and upper arms where the color ended abruptly. She even liked his farmer haircut, with too much thinned out from the sides — just as he liked her freckles and the way her hair moved when she shook her head. They had been married less than a year and noticing and liking these things about each other was as important as anything they shared.

“I was beginning to worry about you,” she said.

“It took longer than I thought it would.”

“A reluctant calf?”

Evan nodded, drying his hands.

“Did he pay you?”

“Not yet.”

“He didn’t pay for the brucellosis shots either.”

“He will, when he gets his wheat check.”

“Eight miles both ways and I’ll bet he didn’t even thank you.”

“He mumbled something.”

“Ev, that’s a sixteen-mile round- trip . . . and a messy afternoon in his barn. For what? Eight or nine dollars.”

He looked at her curiously. “That wasn’t a child I delivered, it was a calf.”

“Four years of veterinary medicine to charge eight dollars —”

“Twenty-five. I had to cut.”

“It’s still too little, with the attention you give.”

“Do you expect him to pay more than the calf’s worth?”

She shook her head faintly. “Good Sam.”

He frowned, moving toward her. “Julie, what’s the matter with you?”

“I’m sorry.”

“You sound like Cal, talking about money like that.”

“I said I was sorry.”

For a moment Evan was silent. “You’re upset about them coming, aren’t you?” He was standing close to her now, and he drew her against him gently. “All of a sudden you sound like a different person. Listen, don’t let him get you down like that.”

She closed her eyes, her arms going around his waist. “I was afraid they’d come while you were gone. Then I hoped they would because I didn’t want you to be here.”

“The worrier.”

“Ev, this isn’t like the little worries. First I thought: It’s better if you and Ray don’t meet. Then I thought: No, I don’t want to be here alone. And I wasn’t sure which would be worse.”

“Julie, Ray knows you’re married.”

“That’s just it.”

“But you went with the guy for two years. He can’t be that bad.”

“He was hard to get along with and conceited and . . . I don’t know. I can’t even think of one thing in his favor.”

“Well, maybe he’s grown up.”

“I think that would be asking too much,” Julie said.

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(1925–2013) was the author of more than forty novels, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. This previously unpublished story, which was written in 1955, will appear next month in Charlie Martz and Other Stories (William Morrow).

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