Callme if you needme

Raymond Carver



We had both been involved with other people that spring, but when June came and school was out we decided to let our house for the summer and move from Palo Alto to the north coast country of California. Our son, Richard, went to Nancy's grandmother's place in Pasco, Washington, to live for the summer and work toward saving money for college in the fall. His grandmother knew the situation at home and had begun working on getting him up there and locating him a job long before his arrival. She'd talked to a farmer friend of hers and had secured a promise of work for Richard baling hay and building fences. Hard work, but Richard was looking forward to it. He left on the bus in the morning of the day after his high school graduation. I took him to the station and parked and went inside to sit with him until his bus was called. His mother had already held him and cried and kissed him goodbye and given him a long letter that he was to deliver to his grandmother upon his arrival. She was at home now finishing last-minute packing for our own move and waiting for the couple who were to take our house. I bought Richard's ticket, gave it to him, and we sat on one of the benches in the station and waited. We'd talked a little about things on the way to the station.

'Are you and mom going to get a divorce?' he'd asked. It was Saturday morning, and there weren't many cars.

'Not if we can help it,' I said. 'We don't want to. That's why we're going away from here and don't expect to see anyone all summer. That's why we've rented our house for the summer and rented the house up in Arcata. Why you're going away, too, I guess. One reason anyway. Not to mention the fact that you'll come home with your pockets filled with money. We don't want to get a divorce. We want to be alone for the summer and try to work things out.'

'You still love mom?' he said. 'She told me she loves you.'

'Of course I do,' I said. 'You ought to know that by now. We've just had our share of troubles and heavy responsibilities, like everyone else, and now we need time to be alone and work things out. But don't worry about us. You just go up there and have a good summer and work hard and save your money. Consider it a vacation, too. Get in all the fishing you can. There's good fishing around there.'

'Waterskiing, too,' he said. 'I want to learn to waterski.'

'I've never been waterskiing,' I said. 'Do some of that for me too, will you?'

We sat in the bus station. He looked through his yearbook while I held a newspaper in my lap. Then his bus was called and we stood up. I embraced him and said again, 'Don't worry, don't worry. Where's your ticket?'

He patted his coat pocket and then picked up his suitcase. I walked him over to where the line was forming in the terminal, then 5 embraced him again and kissed him on the cheek and said goodbye.

'Goodbye, Dad,' he said and turned from me so that I wouldn't see his tears.

I drove home to where our boxes and suitcases were waiting in the living room. Nancy was in the kitchen drinking coffee with the young couple she'd found to take our house for the summer. I'd met the couple, Jerry and Liz, graduate students in math, for the first time a few days before, but we shook hands again, and I drank a cup of coffee that Nancy poured. We sat around the table and drank coffee while Nancy finished her list of things they should look out for or do at certain times of the month, the first and last of each month, where they should send any mail, and the like. Nancy's face was tight. Sun fell through the curtain on to the table as it got later in the morning.

Finally, things seemed to be in order and I left the three of them in the kitchen and began loading the car. It was a furnished house we were going to, furnished right down to plates and cooking utensils, so we wouldn't need to take much with us from this house, only the essentials.

I'd driven up to Eureka, 350 miles north of Palo Alto, on the north coast of California, three weeks before and rented us the furnished house. I went with Susan, the woman I'd been seeing. We stayed in a motel at the edge of town for three nights while I looked in the newspaper and visited realtors. She watched me as I wrote out a cheque for the three months' rent. Later, back at the motel, in bed, she lay with her hand on her forehead and said, 'I envy your wife. I envy Nancy. You hear people talk about "the other woman" always and how the incumbent wife has the privileges and the real power, but I never really understood or cared about those things before.

Now I see. I envy her. I envy her the life she will have with you in that house this summer. I wish it were me. I wish it wore us. Oh, how I wish it were us. I feel so crummy,' she said. I stroked her hair.

Nancy was a tall, long-legged woman with brown hair and eyes and a generous spirit. But lately we had been coming up short on generosity and spirit. The man she had been seeing was one of my colleagues, a divorced, dapper, three-piece-suit-and-tie fellow with greying hair who drank too much and whose hands, some of my students told me, sometimes shook in the classroom. He and Nancy had drifted into their affair at a party during the holidays not too long after Nancy had discovered my own affair. It all sounds boring and tacky now—it is boring and tacky—but during that spring it was what it was, and it consumed all of our energies and concentration to the exclusion of everything else. Sometime in late April we began to make plans to rent our house and go away for the summer, just the two of us, and try to put things back together, if they could be put back together. We each agreed we would not call or write or othenvise be in touch with the other parties. So we made arrangements for Richard, found the couple to look after our house, and I had looked at a map and driven north from San Francisco and found Eureka, and a realtor who was willing to rent a furnished house to a respectable middle-aged married couple for the summer. I think I even used the phrase second honeymoon to the realtor, God forgive me, while Susan smoked a cigarette and read tourist brochures out in the car.

I finished storing the suitcases, bags and cartons in the trunk and backseat and waited while Nancy said a final goodbye on the porch. She shook hands with each of them and turned and came toward the car. I waved to the couple, and they waved back. Nancy got in and shut the door. 'Let's go,' she said. I put the car in gear and we headed for the freeway. At the light just before the frceway we saw a car ahead of us come off the frceway trailing a broken muffler, the sparks flying. 'Look at that,' Nancy said. 'It might catch fire.' We waited and watched until the car managed to pull off the road on to the shoulder.

We stopped at a little café off the highway near SeLastopol. Eat and Gas, the sign read. We laughed at the sign. I pulled up in front of the café and we went inside and took a table near a window in the back of the café. After we had ordered coffee and sandwiches, Nancy touched her forefinger to the table and began tracing lines in the wood. I lit a cigarette and looked outside. I saw rapid movement, and then I realized I was looking at a hummingbird in the bush beside the window. Its wings moved in a blur of motion and it kept dipping its beak into a blossom on the bush.

'Nancy, look,' I said. 'There's a hummingbird.'

But the hummingbird flew at this moment and Nancy looked and said, 'Where? I don't see it.'

'It was just there a minute ago,' I said. 'Look, there it is. Another one, I think. It's another hummingbird.'

We watched the hummingbird until the waitress brought our order and the bird flew at the movement and disappeared around the building.

'Now that's a good sign, I think,' I said. 'Hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are supposed to bring luck.'

'I've heard that somewhere,' she said. 'I don't know where I heard that, but I've heard it. Well,' she said, 'luck is what we could use. Wouldn't you say?'

'They're a good sign,' I said. 'I'm glad we stopped here.'

She nodded. She waited a minute, then she took a bite of her sandwich.

We reached Eureka just before dark. We passed the motel on the highway where Susan and I had stayed and had spent the three nights some weeks before, then turned off the highway and took a road up over a hill overlooking the town. I had the house keys in my pocket. We drove over the hill and for a mile or so until we came to a little intersection with a service station and a grocery store. There were wooded mountains ahead of us in the valley, and pastureland all around. Some cattle were grazing in a field behind the service station. 'This is pretty country,' Nancy said. 'I'm anxious to see the house.'

'Almost there,' I said. 'It's just down this road,' I said, 'and over that rise.' 'Here,' I said in a minute and pulled into a long driveway with hedge on either side. 'Here it is. What do you think of this?'

I'd asked the same question of Susan when she and I had stopped in the driveway.

'It's nice,' Nancy said. 'It looks fine, it does. Let's get out.'

We stood in the front yard a minute and looked around. Then we went up the porch steps and I ualocked the front door and turned on the lights. We went through the house. There wore two small bedrooms, a bath, a living room with old furniture and a fireplace, and a big kitchen with a view of the valley.

'Do you like it?' I said.

'I think it's just wonderful,' Nancy said. She grinned. 'I'm glad you found it. I'm glad we're here.' She opened the refrigerator and ran a finger over the counter. 'Thank God, it looks clean enough. I won't have to do any cleaning.'

'Right down to clean sheets on the beds,' I said. 'I checked. I made sure. That's the way they're renting it. Pillows even. And pillowcases, too.'

'We'll have to buy some firewood,' she said. We were standing in the living room. 'We'll want to have a fire on nights like this.'

'I'll look into firewood tomorrow,' I said. 'We can go shopping then too and see the town.'

She looked at me and said, 'I'm glad we're here.'

'So am I,' I said. I opened my arms and sEe moved to me. I held her. I could feel her trembling. I turned her face up and kissed her on either cheek. 'Nancy,' I said.

'I'm glad we're here,' she said.

We spent the next few days settling in, taking trips into Eureka to walk around and look in store windows, and hiking across the pastureland behind the house all the way to the woods. We bought groceries and I found an ad in the newspaper for firewood, called, and a day or so afterwards two young men with long hair delivered a pick-up truckload of alder and stacked it in the carport. That night we sat in front of the fireplace after dinner and drank coffee and talked about getting a dog.

'I don't want a pup,' Nancy said. 'Something we have to clean up after or that will chew things up. That we don't need. But I'd like to have a dog, yes. We haven't had a dog in a long time. I think we could handle a dog up here,' she said.

'And after we go back, after summer's over?' I said. I rephrased the question. 'What about keeping a dog in the city?'

'We'll see. Meanwhile, let's look for a dog. The right kind of dog. I don't know what I want until I see it. We'll read the classifieds and we'll go to the pound, if we have to.' But though we went on talking about dogs for several days, and pointed out dogs to each other in people's yards we'd drive past, dogs we said we'd like to have, nothing came of it, we didn't get a dog.

Nancy called her mother and gave her our address and telephone number. Richard was working and seemed happy, her mother said. She herself was fine. I heard Nancy say, 'We're fine. This is good medicine.'

One day in the middle of July we were driving the highway near the ocean and came over a rise to see some lagoons that were closed off from the ocean by sand spits. There were some people fishing from shore, and two boats out on the water.

I pulled the car off on to the shoulder and stopped. 'Let's see what they're fishing for,' I said. 'Maybe we could get some gear and go ourselves.'

'We haven't been fishing in years,' Nancy said. 'Not since that time Richard was little and we went camping near Mount Shasta. Do you remember that?'

'I remember,' I said. 'I just remembered too that I've missed fishing. Let's walk down and see what they're fishing for.'

'Trout,' the man said, when I asked. 'Cut-throats and rainhow trout. Even some steelhead and a few salmon. They come in here in the winter when the spit opens and then when it closes in the spring, they're trapped. This is a good time of the year for them. I haven't caught any today, but last Sunday I caught four, about fifteen inches long. Best eating fish in the world, and they put up a hell of a fight. Fellows out in the boats have caught some today, but so far I haven't done anything today.'

'What do you use for bait?' Nancy asked.

'Anything,' the man said. 'Worms, salmon eggs, whole kernel corn. Just get it out there and leave it lay on the bottom. Pull out a little slack and watch your line.'

We hung around a little longer and watched the man fish and watched the little boats chat-chat back and forth the length of the lagoon.

'Thanks,' I said to the man. 'Good luck to you.'

'Good luck to you,' he said. 'Good luck to the both of you.'

We stopped at a sporting goods store on the way back to town and bought licences, inexpensive rods and reels, nylon line, hooks, leaders, sinkers, and a crecl. We made plans to go fishing the next morning.

But that night, after we'd eaten dinner and washed the dishes and I had laid a fire in the fireplace, Nancy shook her head and said it wasn't going to work.

'Why do you say that?' I asked. 'What is it you mean?'

'I mean it isn't going to work. Let's face it.' She shook her head again. 'I don't think I want to go fishing in the morning, either, and I don't want a dog. No, no dogs. I think I want to go up and see my mother and Richard. Alone. I want to be alone. I miss Richard,' she said and began to cry. 'Richard's my son, my baby,' she said, 'and he's nearly grown and gone. I miss him.'

'And Del, do you miss Del Shraeder, too?' I said. 'Your boyfriend. Do you miss him?'

'I miss everybody tonight,' she said. 'I miss you too. I've missed you for a long time now. I've missed you so much you've gotten lost somehow, I can't explain it. I've lost you. You're not mine any longer.'

'Nancy,' I said.

'No, no,' she said. She shook her head. She sat on the sofa in front of the fire and kept shaking her head. 'I want to fly up and see my mother and Richard tomorrow. After I'm gone you can call your girlfriend.'

'I won't do that,' I said. 'I have no intention of doing that.'

'You'll call her,' she said.

'You'll call Del,' I said. I felt rubbishy for saying it.

'You can do what you want,' she said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. 'I mean that. I don't want to sound hysterical. But I'm going up to Washington tomorrow. Right now I'm going to go to bed. I'm exhausted. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for both of us, Dan. We're not going to make it. That fisherman today. He wished us good luck.' She shook her head. 'I wish us good luck too. We're going to need it.'

She went into the bathroom and I heard water running in the tub. I went out and sat on the porch steps and smaked a cigarette. It was dark and quiet outside. I looked toward town and could see a faint glow of lights in the sky and patchos of ocean fog drifting in the valley. I began to think of Susan. A little later Nancy came out of the bathroom and I heard the bedroom door close. I went inside and put another block of wood on the grate and waited until the flames began to move up the bark. Then I went into the other bedroom and turned the covers back and stared at the floral design on the shects. Then I showered, dressed in my pyjamas, and went to sit near the fireplace again. The fog was outside the window now. I sat in front of the fire and smoked. When I looked out the window again, sometLing moved in the fog and I saw a horse grazing in the front yard.

I went to the window. The horse looked up at me for a minute, then went back to pulling up grass. Another horse walked past the car into the yard and began to graze. I turned on the porch light and stood at the window and watched them. They were big white horses with long manes. They'd gotten through a fence or an unlocked gate from one of the nearby farms. Somehow they'd wound up in our front yard. They were larking it, enjoying their breaLaway immensely. But they were nervous too; I could see the whites of their eyes from where I stood behind the window. Their ears kept rising and falling as they tore out clumps of grass. A third horse wandered into the yard, and then a fourth. It was a herd of white horses, and they were grazing in our front yard.

I went into the bedroom and woke Nancy. Her eyes were red and the skin around the eyes was swollen. She had her hair up in curlers and a suitcase lay open on the floor near the foot of the bed.

'Nancy,' I said. 'Honey, come and see what's in the front yard. Come and see this. You must see this. You won't believe it. Hurry up.'

'What is it?' she said. 'Don't hurt me. What is it?'

'Honey, you must see this. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm sorry if I scared you. But you must come out here and see something.'

I went back into the other room and stood in front of the window and in a few minutes Nancy came in tying her robe. She

looked out the window and said, 'My God, they're boautiful. Where'd they come from, Dan? They're just beautiful.'

'They must have gotten loose from around here somewhere,' I said. 'One of these farm places. I'll call the sheriffts department pretty soon and let them locate the owners. But I wanted you to see this first.'

'Will they bite?' she said. 'I'd like to pet that one there, that one that just looked at us. I'd like to pat that one's shoulder. But I don't want to get bitten. I'm going outside.'

'I don't think they'll bite,' I said. 'They don't look like the kind of horses that'll bite. But put a coat on if you're going out there; it's cold.'

I put my coat on over my pyjamas and waited for Nancy. Then I opened the front door and we went outside and walked into the yard with the horses. They all looked up at us. Two of them went back to pulling up grass. One of the other horses snorted and moved back a few steps, and then it too went back to pulling up grass and chewing, head down. I rubbed the forehead of one horse and patted its shoulder. It kept chewing. Nancy put out her hand and began stroking the mane of another horse. 'Horsey, where'd you come from?' she said. 'Where do you live and why are you out tonight, Horsey?' she said and kept stroking the horse's mane. The horse looked at her and blew through its lips and dropped its head again. She patted its shoulder.

'I guess I'd better call the sheriff,' I said.

'Not yet,' she said. 'Not for a while yet. We'll never see anything like this again. We'll never, never have horses in our front yard again. Wait a while yet, Dan.'

A little later, Nancy was still out there moving from one horse to another, patting their shoulders and stroking their manes, when one of the horses moved from the yard into the driveway and walked around the car and down the driveway toward the road, and I knew I had to call.

In a little while the two sheriff's cars showed up with their red lights flashing in the fog and a few minutes later a follow with a sheepskin coat driving a pick-up with a horse trailer behind it. Now the horses shied and tried to get away and the man with the horse trailer swore and tried to get a rope around the neck of one horse.

'Don't hurt it!' Nancy said.

We went back in the house and stood behind the window and watched the deputies and the rancher work on getting the horses rounded up.

'I'm going to make some coffee,' I said. 'Would you like some coffee, Nancy?'

'I'll tell you what I'd like,' she said. 'I feel high Dan. I feel like I'm loaded. I fecl like, I don't know, but I like the way I'm feeling. You put on some coffee and I'll find us some music to listen to on the radio and then you can build up the fire again. I'm too excited to sleep.'

So we sat in front of the fire and drank coffee and listened to an all-night radio station from Eureka and talked about the horses and then talked about Richard, and Nancy's mother. We danced. We didn't talk about the present situation at all. The fog hung outside the window and we talked and were kind with one another. Toward daylight I turned off the radio and we went to bed and made love.

The next afternoon, after her arrangements were made and her suitcases packed, I drove her to the little airport where she would catch a flight to Portland and then transfer to another airline that would put her in Pasco late that night.

'Tell your mother I said hello. Give Richard a hug for me and tell him I miss him,' I said. 'Tell him I send love.'

'He loves you too,' she said. 'You know that. In any case, you'll see him in the fall, I'm sure.'

I nodded.

'Goodbye,' she said and reached for me. We held each other. 'I'm glad for last night,' she said. 'Those horses. Our talk. Everything. It helps. We won't forget that,' she said. She began to cry.

'Write me, will you?' I said. 'I didn't think it would happen to us,' I said. 'All those years. I never thought so for a minute. Not us.'

'I'll write,' she said. 'Some big letters. The biggest you've ever seen since I used to send you letters in high school.'

'I'll be looking for them,' I said.

Then she looked at me again and touched my face. She turned and moved across the tarmac toward the plane.

Go, dearest one, and God be with you.

She boarded the plane and I stayed around until its jet engines started and, in a minute, the plane began to taxi down the runway. It lifted off over Humboldt Bay and soon became a speck on the horizon.

I drove back to the house and parked in the driveway and looked at the hoofprints of the horses from last night. There were deep impressions in the grass, and gashes, and there were piles of dung. Then I went into the house and, without even taking off my coat, went to the telephone and dialled Susan's number.






Si me necesitas, llámame


Los dos habíamos estado involucrados con otras personas esa primavera, pero cuando llegó junio y terminaron las clases decidimos poner en alquiler nuestra casa en Palo Alto y trasladarnos a la costa más al norte de California. Nuestro hijo, Richard, pasaría el verano en casa de la madre de Nancy, en Pasco, Washington, donde podría trabajar y ahorrar algo de dinero para la universidad. Ella estaba al tanto de la situación en casa y ya estaba buscándole un empleo por la temporada. Había hablado con un granjero que aceptó tomar a Richard para que juntara heno y arreglara alambrados. Un trabajo duro, pero Richard estaba conforme. Lo llevé a la terminal el día después de su graduación y me senté con él hasta que anunciaron su ómnibus. Su madre ya lo había despedido llorando y le había dado una larga carta que él debía entregar a la abuela en cuanto llegara. Prefirió quedarse terminando las valijas y esperando a la pareja que alquilaría nuestra casa. Yo compré el pasaje de Richard, se lo di y me senté a su lado en uno de los bancos de la terminal. En el viaje hasta allá habíamos hablado un poco de la situación.

–¿Van a divorciarse? –había preguntado él.

–No, si podemos evitarlo –le contesté. Era un sábado por la mañana y había poco tránsito–. Ninguno de los dos quiere llegar a eso. Por eso nos vamos; por eso no queremos ver a nadie durante el verano. Y por eso te enviamos con la abuela. Para no mencionar el hecho de que volverás con los bolsillos llenos de dinero. No queremos divorciarnos. Queremos estar solos y tratar de solucionar las cosas.

–¿Aún amas a mamá? Ella dice que te sigue queriendo.

–Por supuesto que la amo. Deberías saberlo a esta altura. Sólo que hemos tenido nuestra cuota de problemas, y necesitamos un poco de tiempo juntos, a solas. No te preocupes. Disfruta el verano y trabaja y ahorra un poco de dinero. Considéralo unas vacaciones de nosotros. Y trata de pescar. Hay muy buena pesca por allá.

–Y esquí acuático. Quiero aprender.

–Nunca hice esquí acuático. Haz un poco de eso también. Hazlo por mí.
Cuando anunciaron su ómnibus lo abracé y volví a decirle:

–No te preocupes. ¿Dónde está tu pasaje?

Él se palmeó el bolsillo de su campera. Lo acompañé hasta la fila frente al ómnibus, volví a abrazarlo y le di un beso en la mejilla. Adiós, papá, dijo él y me dio la espalda para que no viera sus lágrimas.

Al volver a casa, nuestras valijas y cajas estaban junto a la puerta. Nancy estaba en la cocina tomando café con los inquilinos, una joven pareja de estudiantes de posgrado de matemática, a quienes había visto por primera vez en mi vida pocos días antes, pero igual les di la mano a ambos y acepté una taza de café de Nancy mientras ella terminaba con la lista de indicaciones de lo que ellos debían hacer en la casa en nuestra ausencia y adónde debían enviarnos el correo. Su cara estaba tensa. La luz del sol avanzaba sobre la mesa a medida que pasaban los minutos. Finalmente todo pareció quedar en orden, y los dejé en la cocina para dedicarme a cargar nuestro equipaje en el coche. La casa a la que íbamos estaba completamente amueblada, hasta los utensilios de cocina, así que no necesitábamos llevar más que lo esencial.

Había hecho los quinientos kilómetros desde Palo Alto hasta Eureka tres semanas antes, y alquilado entonces la casa amueblada. Fui con Susan, la mujer con la que estaba saliendo. Nos quedamos en un motel a las puertas del pueblo durante tres noches, mientras recorría inmobiliarias y revisaba los clasificados. Ella me vio firmar el cheque por los tres meses de alquiler. Más tarde, en el motel, tirada en la cama con la mano en la frente, me dijo: “Envidio a tu esposa. Cuando hablan de la otra mujer, siempre dicen que es la esposa quien tiene los privilegios y el poder real, pero nunca me lo creí ni me importó. Ahora, en cambio, entiendo qué quieren decir. Y envidio a Nancy. Envidio la vida que tendrá a tu lado. Ojalá fuera yo la que va a estar contigo en esa casa todo el verano. Cómo me gustaría. Me siento tan gastada”. Yo me limité a acariciarle el pelo.

Nancy era alta, de pelo y ojos castaños, de piernas largas y espíritu generoso. Pero últimamente venía baja de espíritu y de generosidad. El hombre con el que estaba viéndose era colega mío, un divorciado de eterno traje con chaleco y pelo canoso, que bebía demasiado y a quien a veces le temblaban un poco las manos durante sus clases, según me contaron algunos de mis alumnos. Él y Nancy habían iniciado su romance en una fiesta, poco después de que ella descubriera mi infidelidad. Suena aburrido y cursi; es aburrido y cursi, pero así fue toda aquella primavera, nos consumió las energías y la concentración al punto de excluir todo lo demás. hasta que, en algún momento de abril, comenzamos a hacer planes para alquilar la casa e irnos todo el verano, los dos solos, a tratar de reparar lo que hubiera para reparar, si es que había algo. Los dos nos habíamos comprometido a no llamar, ni escribir, ni intentar el menor contacto con nuestros amantes. Hicimos los arreglos para Richard, encontramos los inquilinos para nuestra casa y yo miré en un mapa y enfilé hacia el norte desde San Francisco hasta Eureka, donde una inmobiliaria me encontró una casa amueblada en alquiler por el verano para una respetable pareja de mediana edad. Creo que incluso usé la expresión “segunda luna de miel”, Dios me perdone, mientras Susan fumaba y leía folletos turísticos en el auto estacionado fuera de la inmobiliaria.

Terminé de cargar las cosas en el coche y esperé que Nancy se despidiera por última vez en el porche. Yo saludé desde mi asiento y los inquilinos me devolvieron el saludo. Nancy se sentó y cerró su puerta. “Vamos”, dijo y yo arranqué. Al entrar en la autopista vimos un coche con el escape suelto y arrancando chispas del pavimento. “Mira”, dijo Nancy y esperamos hasta que el coche se salió de la autopista y frenó, antes de seguir viaje.
Paramos en un café cerca de Sebastopol. Estacioné y nos sentamos a una mesa frente a la ventana del fondo. Pedimos sandwiches y café, yo encendí un cigarrillo mientras Nancy deslizaba el dedo por las vetas de la madera de la mesa. Entonces noté un movimiento por la ventana y al mirar en esa dirección vi un colibrí en los arbustos allá afuera. Sus alas vibraban en un borroso frenesí mientras su pico se internaba en una de las flores.

–Mira, un colibrí –dije, pero antes de que Nancy levantara la cabeza el pájaro ya no estaba.

–¿Dónde? No veo nada.

–Estaba ahí hasta hace un momento. Ahí está. No; es otro, creo.

Nos quedamos mirando hasta que la camarera trajo nuestro pedido.

–Buena señal –dije–. Los colibríes traen suerte, ¿no?

–Creo haberlo oído en alguna parte –dijo Nancy–. No podría decir dónde pero sí, no nos vendría mal un poco de suerte.

–Una buena señal. Me alegro de que hayamos parado aquí.

Ella asintió, dejó pasar un largo minuto y probó su sandwich.

Llegamos a Eureka antes del anochecer. Pasamos el motel en la ruta donde había estado con Susan dos semanas antes, nos internamos por un camino que subía una colina que miraba al pueblo y pasamos frente a una estación de servicio y un almacén. Las llaves de la casa estaban en mi bolsillo. A nuestro alrededor sólo se veían colinas arboladas y praderas con ganado pastando.

–Me gusta –dijo Nancy–. No veo el momento de llegar.

–Estamos cerca –dije–. Es más allá de esa loma. Ahí –y enfilé el coche por un camino flanqueado de ligustros–. Ahí la tienes. ¿Qué opinas? Esa misma pregunta le había hecho a Susan cuando hicimos el mismo camino para ver la casa por primera vez.

–Me gusta; es perfecta. Bajemos.

Miramos a nuestro alrededor en el jardín del frente antes de subir los escalones del porche. Abrí la puerta con la llave que traía y encendí las luces adentro. Recorrimos los dos dormitorios, el baño, el living con muebles viejos y chimenea y la cocina con vista al valle.

–¿Te parece bien?

–Me parece sencillamente maravillosa –dijo Nancy y sonrió–. Me alegra que la hayas en-contrado. Me alegra que estemos aquí. –Abrió y cerró la heladera, luego pasó los dedos por la mesada de la cocina. –Gracias a Dios está limpia. Ni siquiera hace falta una limpieza.

–Nada. Hasta nos pusieron sábanas limpias. La alquilan así.

–Tendremos que comprar algo de leña –dijo Nancy cuando volvimos al living–. Con noches así debemos usar la chimenea, ¿no?

–Mañana. Podemos hacer unas compras también. Y recorrer el pueblo.

Nancy me miró y dijo nuevamente:

–Me alegra que estemos aquí.

–Yo también –dije y abrí los brazos y ella vino hacia mí. Cuando la abracé sentí que temblaba. Le alcé el mentón y la besé en ambas mejillas.

–Me alegra que estemos aquí –repitió ella contra mi pecho.

Durante los días siguientes nos instalamos, recorrimos las calles del pueblo mirando vidrieras y dimos largos paseos por el bosque que se alzaba atrás de la casa. Compramos provisiones, yo encontré un aviso en el diario que ofrecía leña, llamé y poco después aparecieron dos muchachos de pelo largo en una camioneta que nos dejaron una carga de aliso en el garaje. Esa noche nos sentamos frente a la chimenea y hablamos de conseguir un perro.

–No quiero un cachorro –dijo Nancy–. No quiero nada que implique ir limpiando a su paso o rescatando lo que quiere mordisquear. Pero me gustaría un perro. Hace tanto que no tenemos uno... Creo que podríamos arreglarnos con un perro aquí.

–¿Y cuando volvamos, cuando termine el verano? –dije yo y entonces reformulé la pregunta: –¿Estás dispuesta a tener un perro en la ciudad?

–Ya veremos. Pero busquemos uno, mientras tanto. No sé lo que quiero hasta que lo veo. Revisemos los clasificados y veamos qué pasa.

Aunque los días siguientes seguimos hablando de perros y hasta señalando los que nos gustaban frente a las casas por las cuales pasábamos, no llegamos a nada y seguimos sin perro. Nancy llamó a su madre y le dio nuestra dirección y teléfono. Richard ya estaba trabajando y parecía contento, dijo la madre. Y ella se sentía bien. Nancy le contestó:

–Nosotros también. Esto es como una cura.
Un día íbamos por la ruta frente al océano y, desde una loma, vimos unas lagunas que formaban los médanos muy cerca del mar. Había gente pescando en la orilla y en un par de botes. Frené a un costado de la ruta y dije:

–Vamos a ver qué están pescando. Quizá valga la pena conseguirnos unas cañas y probar.

–Hace años que no vamos de pesca. Desde que Richard era chico, aquella vez que fuimos de campamento cerca del monte Shasta, ¿recuerdas?

–Me acuerdo. Y también me acuerdo de cuánto extraño pescar. Bajemos a ver qué están sacando.

–Truchas –dijo uno de los pescadores–. Trucha arcoiris y algún que otro salmón. Vienen en el invierno, cuando el mar horada los médanos. Y, con la primavera, cuando se cierra el paso, quedan atrapados. Es buena época, ésta. Hoy no pesqué nada pero el domingo saqué cuatro. De lo más sabrosos. Dan una batalla tremenda. Los de los botes creo que sacaron algo hoy, pero yo todavía no.

–¿Qué usan de carnada? –preguntó Nancy.

–Lo que sea. Lombrices, marlo de choclo, huevos de salmón. Basta tirar la línea y dejarla reposar hasta el fondo. Y estar atento.
Nos quedamos un rato pero el hombre no sacó nada y los de los botes tampoco. Sólo iban y venían por la laguna.

–Gracias. Y suerte –dije al fin.

–Que tengan suerte ustedes también. Los dos –contestó el hombre.

A la vuelta paramos en una casa de artículos deportivos y compramos unas cañas baratas, unos rollos de tanza y anzuelos y carnada. Sacamos unalicencia también y decidimos ir de pesca la mañana siguiente. Pero esa noche, después de la cena y de lavar los platos y poner unos leños en la chimenea, Nancy dijo que no iba a funcionar.

–¿Por qué dices eso? ¿A qué te refieres?

–No va a funcionar, enfrentémoslo –dijo ella sacudiendo la cabeza–. No quiero ir a pescar y no quiero un perro. Creo que quiero ir a lo de mi madre y estar con Richard. Sola. Quiero estar sola. Extraño a Richard -dijo y empezó a llorar–. Es mi hijo, es mi bebé, y está creciendo y pronto se irá. Y lo extraño. Lo extraño.

–¿También extrañas a Del, a Del Schraeder, tu amante? ¿Lo extrañas a él también?

–Extraño a todo el mundo. A ti también. Hace mucho que te extraño. Te he extrañado tanto durante tanto tiempo que te he perdido. No sé cómo explicarlo mejor. Pero sé que te perdí. Ya no me perteneces.

–Nancy –dije yo.

–No, no –dijo ella y negó con la cabeza. Sentada en el sofá de frente al fuego siguió negando y negando y luego dijo: –Voy a tomar un avión para allá mañana. Cuando me haya ido puedes llamar a tu amante.

–No voy a hacer eso. No tengo la menor intención de hacer eso.

–Sí, lo harás. Vas a llamarla en cuanto me haya ido.

–Y tú vas a llamar a Del –dije. Y me sentí una basura por decirlo.

–Haz lo que quieras –dijo ella secándose las lágrimas con la manga–. Lo digo en serio. No quiero parecer una histérica, pero me iré mañana. Mejor me iré a acostar ahora; estoy exhausta. Lo lamento. Lo lamento mucho, por los dos. Pero no vamos a lograrlo. Ese pescador, hoy. Nos deseó suerte a los dos. Yo también nos deseo suerte. Vamos a necesitarla.

Entonces se encerró en el baño y dejó correr el agua. Yo salí a los escalones del porche y me senté a fumar un cigarrillo. Estaba oscuro y silencioso, apenas se veían las estrellas en el cielo. Jirones de niebla del océano ocultaban el valle y el pueblo allá abajo. Me puse a pensar en Susan. Oí que Nancy salía del baño y oí que se cerraba la puerta del dormitorio. Entonces entré y puse otro leño en la chimenea y esperé hasta que se avivara el fuego. Luego fui al otro dormitorio. Abrí la colcha y me quedé mirando el estampado floral de las sábanas. Me di una ducha, me puse el pijama y volví frente a la chimenea. La niebla ya llegaba a las ventanas del living. Fumé mirando el fuego y, cuando volví a mirar por la ventana, creí ver algo que se movía en la niebla.

Me acerqué a la ventana. Un caballo estaba pastando en el jardín, entre la niebla. Alzó la cabeza para mirarme y volvió a su tarea. Vi otro cerca del auto. Encendí la luz del porche y me quedé mirándolos. Eran caballos grandes, blancos, de largas crines, seguramente de alguna granja de los alrededores con algún alambrado caído y vaya a saberse cómo habían llegado hasta nuestra casa. Parecían estar disfrutando inmensamente su escapada. Pero se los notaba un poco nerviosos también: podía verles el blanco de los ojos desde la ventana. Sus orejas iban y venían al ritmo de sus mordiscos. Un tercer caballo apareció entonces y luego un cuarto, todos blancos, pastando en nuestro jardín.

Fui al dormitorio a despertar a Nancy. Tenía los ojos enrojecidos y los párpados hinchados, y se había puesto ruleros y había una valija abierta a los pies de la cama.

–Nancy, tienes que venir a ver esto. No vas a creerlo. Vamos, levántate.

–¿Qué pasa? Me estás lastimando. Qué pasa.

–Querida, tienes que ver esto. No voy a lastimarte. Perdona si te asusté. Pero tienes que levantarte y venir a ver esto.

Pocos minutos después estaba a mi lado en la ventana, atándose la bata.

–Dios, son hermosos. ¿De dónde vienen? Qué hermosos son.

–De alguna granja vecina, supongo. Voy a llamar al sheriff para que ubique al dueño. Pero quería que los vieras antes.

–¿Morderán? Me gusta acariciar a aquél, el que acaba de mirarnos. –No creo que muerdan. No parecen esa clase de caballos. Pero ponte algo encima si vamos a salir. Hace frío afuera.
Me puse la campera encima del pijama y esperé a Nancy. Abrí la puerta y salimos y nos acercamos caminando hasta ellos. Todos levantaron sus cabezas. Uno resopló y retrocedió unos pasos, pero volvió a tironear del pasto y mascar como los demás. Apoyé mi mano entre sus ojos y le palmeé los flancos y dejé que su hocico me oliera. Nancy estaba acariciando las crines de otro, mientras murmuraba: “¿De dónde vienes, caballito? ¿Dónde vives y qué haces aquí en medio de la noche?”, mientras el animal movía su cabeza como si entendiera.

–Será mejor que llame al sheriff –dije.

–Todavía no. Un rato más. Nunca veremos algo igual. Nunca, nunca tendremos caballos en nuestro jardín. Un rato más, Dan.

Poco después, mientras Nancy seguía yendo de uno a otro, palmeándolos y acariciándolos, uno de los caballos comenzó a rumbear hacia la ruta, más allá de nuestro auto y supe que era momento de llamar.

En pocos minutos vimos las luces de dos patrulleros en la niebla y poco después llegó una camioneta con un acoplado para caballos, de la que bajó un tipo con gamulán, que se acercó a los caballos y necesitó un lazo para lograr que entrara el último en el acoplado.

–¡No le haga daño! –dijo Nancy.

Cuando se fueron volvimos al living y yo dije que iba a hacer café y pregunté a Nancy si quería una taza.

–Te diré lo que quiero –dijo ella–. Me siento bien, Dan. Me siento como borracha, como... No sé cómo, pero me gusta. No quiero dormir; no podría dormir. Haz un poco de café y a ver si encuentras algo de música en la radio y puedes avivar el fuego.

Así que nos sentamos frente a la chimenea y bebimos café y escuchamos viejas canciones por la radio y hablamos de Richard y de la madre de Nancy y bailamos. Ninguno aludió en ningún momento a nuestra situación. La niebla seguía allí, detrás de las ventanas, mientras hablábamos y éramos gentiles el uno con el otro. Hasta que, cerca del amanecer, apagué la radio y nos fuimos a la cama e hicimos el amor.

Al mediodía siguiente, luego de que ella terminara su valija, la llevé al aeródromo desde donde volaría a Portland y de allí haría el trasbordo que la dejaría en Pasco por la noche.

–Saluda a tu madre de mi parte. Y dale un abrazo a Richard. Y dile que lo extraño. Y que lo quiero.

–Él también te quiere. Lo sabes. En cual-quier caso, lo verás después del verano. –Yo asentí. –Adiós –dijo ella. Y me abrazó. Yo le devolví el abrazo–. Me alegro por anoche. Los caballos. La charla. Todo. Ayuda. No lo olvidaremos –y empezó a llorar.

–Escríbeme, ¿quieres? –dije yo–. Nunca pensé que fuera a pasarnos. En todos estos años. Nunca lo pensé. Ni un sola vez. No a nosotros.

–Te escribiré. Mucho. Las cartas más largas que hayas visto desde las que me enviabas en el secundario.

–Las estaré esperando.

Ella me miró largamente y me acarició la cara. Entonces me dio la espalda y se alejó por la pista rumbo al avión.

Ve, mi más querida, y que Dios esté contigo.
Ella abordó el avión y yo me mantuve en mi lugar hasta que se encendieron los motores y la nave empezó a carretear por la pista y despegó sobre la bahía y se convirtió en una mancha en el horizonte.

Volví a la casa, estacioné el coche y miré las huellas que habían dejado los caballos la noche anterior, los trozos de pasto arrancado y las marcas de herraduras y los montones de bosta aquí y allá. Entonces entré en la casa y, sin sacarme el saco siquiera, levanté el teléfono y marqué el número de Susan.