Under the Cottonwoods
by Douglas H. Thayer
[p.173]Reed turned off his car lights and then leaned forward to press his forehead against the steering wheel. Clark and he had played basketball and tennis for Provo High, gone on their missions the same month, graduated from B.Y.U. together, and had for six years now lived in the same Indian Hills ward. Because Camille had called him right after she called Dr. Peters, Reed had arrived while they were still working for a heartbeat, Clark lying on the garage floor.
Reed had covered Clark with the blanket and folded it again when the Berg Mortuary people spread the white sheet over him. And all the time Reed kept thinking that Clark was a doctor and should have had better sense than to let himself have a heart attack or stroke or whatever it was that killed him. He should have stayed in shape.
Reed had hugged Camille and said fiercely, “He’s still yours. You and the boys will all be together again in the next life. Dying isn’t really the end of anything is it?” Her tears had wet through his sport shirt and garments, and he could not describe the sound she [p.174]made. He had put his arm around each of Clark’s three boys and told them that their dad was alive in heaven.
Reed raised his head from the steering wheel when Marilyn turned on the carport light and opened the side door. He got out of the car. He put his arms around her. She was seven months pregnant. “Oh, Reed, it’s so terrible. How is Camille?”
“Bad. Dr. Peters gave her a shot. Clark’s folks are there now and Camille’s are flying in from Denver tomorrow morning. The bishop was over and they had a prayer for Camille and the boys. The house is full of neighbors.”
“Didn’t she want a blessing?”
“No, just a prayer for the whole family.”
“Oh, Reed, I can’t think of Clark dead. You’re the same age.” He held her tighter. “Maybe I should have gone with you.”
“Not in your condition. You can go over when things have calmed down a little.” He was glad she didn’t cry; he’d had enough of crying for one night. He kissed her again. “Come on, let’s go in. The kids all asleep?”
“Yes, hours ago. Even Brad, though he wanted to stay up until you got home. You must be exhausted.”
The house, as if resting, was all clean and ready for Sunday, but it was still warm. The swamp cooler wasn’t working again. Marilyn had the patio doors open to pick up any breeze. They sat down on the sofa. “Oh brother,” he said and lay back.
“Why don’t you take off your shoes, honey?”
He pulled off his shoes and socks and spread his toes wide on the carpet. The sofa faced the patio and he looked out through the screen and above the roofs [p.175]to the black silhouette of mountains against the east night sky. Their friends who had view lots saw west across the whole valley. Clark had built on a knoll that gave a view on every side.
“It seems such a terrible waste,” Marilyn said. “Clark was a good doctor, Camille is beautiful, and they have those three fine boys. The whole family was active in the Church. Clark had absolutely everything a man could want. Maybe the Lord needed him.”
Reed almost said, “Who really knows what the Lord needs?” He took her hand. Clark wasn’t that prepared to die. After the first absolute numbness, all Reed had felt was anger because Clark had been such a fool. He had worked night and day since he had finished his residency and started to practice. In eight years he had bought a home, half a dozen different new cars, a cabin at Sundance, a four-wheel drive truck with a camper, a boat, and he had become a partner in his own clinic. Reed knew that with his doctorate and an associate professorship at B.Y.U., he probably made a third or maybe a fourth of what Clark did … had.
Marilyn’s hand was warm. Clark’s would be the sixth funeral for them in the five months since he had come home from the hospital after his kidney infection—two faculty members had died, Aunt Nelly (they needed the whole family in one big fenced-in plot), Brother Cluff from his old neighborhood, and a freshman. People were dying by the thousands of cholera epidemics in India and Pakistan, and thousands died daily in the world of starvation or in the little wars. And there were the airliner crashes, skyscraper fires, mine disasters, California multi-car freeway accidents, and the bomb explosions.
[p.176]He was becoming almost nervous about picking up the Herald or the Tribune or turning on the TV for the 6 o’clock news. In their Sunday School class somebody was always saying that the last days were here and that every family should have its year’s supply of food, fuel, and clothing put away.
Clark shouldn’t be dead. They had been best friends all through high school. People said that they looked enough alike to be brothers. But other friends their age had heart problems, high blood pressure, emphysema, cancer now, so were becoming sick with the diseases that would kill them eventually.
His kidney infection had knocked him out for a month, the pain bad at times and the weakness almost absolute. The day Doctor Hayes talked of his right kidney’s maybe giving out, assuring him all the time that one kidney was enough, he had another blessing. That night before the sleeping tablets finally put him out, he lay trying to feel his love for the Lord and his belief in eternal life. It had to be a feeling, one at least as strong as the fear. He wanted to escape time, not have any emotion for time. He kept reaching up to feel the pulse in his throat with his fingers.
When he drove up Tenth East he saw the vaults stacked behind the Beezley Monument Company, rows of them, in adult and child sizes. Clark’s vault had been made for months, maybe even a year.
“How’s the infant?”
“Oh, fine. He’s been very quiet all day.”
Marilyn put her right hand on her stomach. The light from the floor lamp behind the sofa led out through the screen and across the patio to the edge of the darker lawn. All his life he had been taught that the family was the unit of exaltation. You didn’t get far in [p.177]the celestial kingdom alone.
“Did Brad get the lawn finished, honey?”
“Yes. He even raked it. He was upset about Clark, so I was glad that he had something to do. He wanted to stay up and watch the late movie until you got home.”
“Did he wash off the driveway?”
When Reed had driven in, Ted Willard still stood watching his sprinkling system plume in the moonlight as he kept that much of the world green. (Thursday Ted had him down in his basement again to show him some new shelves he had built to hold his year’s supply of canned goods.) Walking past the cut lawns, hosed-off driveways, and washed cars was part of going to church on Sunday morning.
Marilyn took her hand from his and put her hand on his knee. “How did the boys take it?”
“Mark found him.”
“Oh, how terrible.”
“Doctor Peters gave all three of the boys shots too.”
“Well at least they’ll get some sleep tonight.”
Reed half turned his head to glance down the hall toward Brad’s and the girls’ rooms. He wanted to say, “But children need to remember the night their father dies. How do they deal with it if they lay drugged and don’t know how they felt?” A father deserved that much.
He kept seeing Clark when they were playing basketball and tennis and running the mile. Their bodies hard, seeming almost to reflect light, they had not even imagined the possibility of their own deaths, or [p.178]even their fathers’ deaths. Clark always liked to get a towel fight started in the showers.
Lying on the cement garage floor, Clark had reminded him of a dead rabbit or deer. Clark had still hunted as much as ever, used his four-wheel drive truck a lot for that, but Reed had finally quit two years ago. His last season he had run across the partially decomposed body of a big four-point buck he had wounded the year before and trailed by the blood into some ledges but hadn’t been able to find, and that had ended it for him. Deer hunting was bad because a buck was a large animal. He was glad that Brad didn’t want to hunt.
Marilyn lifted her hand from his knee to take his right hand in both of hers. She pressed it to her cheek, and he leaned over and kissed her above the ear, her soft body touching him. “I guess you’d like something to eat wouldn’t you?”
“I’m not very hungry, but I guess I should have something.”
“How about a bacon and tomato sandwich and hot chocolate, or do you want something cold to drink?”
“No, that’s fine. I’d like something hot to drink.” (He and Clark used to wash their hamburgers down with long swallows of Pepsi-Cola that burned their throats. Snappy’s made the best hamburgers.)
Marilyn squeezed his hand and stood up. “Several people called while you were away. Nobody will believe that Clark is gone.” She walked across the living room and into the kitchen, and turned on the light.
Brad had come in from cutting the lawn and was in the kitchen drinking a glass of orange juice when Camille had shouted over the phone, “He’s dead! He’s dead! Clark’s dead!”
[p.179]”What’s wrong, Dad?” Brad had said after he’d hung up the phone. “You look kind of funny.”
He had wanted to say, “Dr. Nielsen is very sick, son,” but Camille was a registered nurse. “Dr. Nielsen just died, son.”
“Gee, he taught me in Sunday School.”
“Yes.” And then, inexplicably, they had shaken hands.
Sitting there, Reed picked up the morning Tribune from the coffee table and unfolded it. The front page was the flareups in Indochina and the Middle East again (someone had told him that there were forty-one wars going on all over the world). He refolded the paper and laid it back down. Tomorrow the Tribune would list obituaries for the whole state, the section running to four or five columns. He had begun to see pictures he had last seen in one of his college yearbooks, the pictures small, grey, and out of date. Clark’s obituary wouldn’t be in until Monday.
Reed looked at his watch. It was too late to phone his mother and tell her about Clark. She got the Provo Herald in the evening and Tribune in the morning. She phoned him at his office to tell him as soon as she read or heard that some friend, neighbor, or relative had died. A lot of people had died in the old neighborhood in the last ten years, the old houses divided up into apartments for married B.Y.U. students. His mother talked of the dead as if they were still alive.
The houses, sidewalks, and trees in the old neighborhood hadn’t changed much, just the people. He wished that Marilyn’s father wasn’t dead and that her mother and sister lived in Provo. He wished that his three sisters lived in Provo. He needed more uncles and aunts, he needed his grandparents alive. (His [p.180]father’s parents had stayed in England; only his mother’s parents had immigrated after they joined the Church.) A big family changed the way a person looked at time.
Death was how a person looked at time. Reed stood up from the sofa. Only Christ had promised immortality. At least he couldn’t think of anybody else who had. He saw the bookcase, walked over to it and took down his missionary triple combination and Bible (they were for Brad). He moved over to the lamp and opened the Bible to Matthew and read the marked passages. He had taught the gospel of Christ on his mission. After twenty years his testimony should be like heat and light in his body. Faith was supposed to become knowledge, fact.
“Honey, I’ll be ready in a minute.”
Marilyn stood in the kitchen doorway. “Okay.” Reed put the books on the lamp table and walked over to the screen door. There was still no breeze, but the air was cooler on his naked feet.
The east mountains rose straight up, seemed almost ready to tip down on them all. A view lot would have cost them another three or four thousand at least. Marilyn liked to see out over the valley, see the city lights in the evening, see the twenty-five miles of Utah Lake glittering under the moon. Reed pressed his forehead against the cool aluminum frame and closed his eyes.
He had read in the Herald that the lake was higher this year again, the sloughs spreading out farther toward Provo. Every time a big earthquake hit Turkey or Peru, some idiot TV commentator in Salt Lake cornered a University of Utah geologist for comments about the possibility of a major earthquake on the [p.181]Wasatch fault. The commentator always gave the same facts: eighty-five percent of the state’s population lived in the major valleys along the fault; all of the major canyons feeding into those valleys had dams, some of the reservoirs five miles long and a hundred feet deep. Prehistoric Lake Bonneville had filled the valleys once. Everybody wanted a view lot above the valley floor. The fault ran along the top benches and in some places through Indian Hills.
The sound of the doorbell opened Reed’s eyes and pulled his forehead away from the cool aluminum. “I’ll get it, honey.”
It was Byron Wilson. Reed pushed open the storm door.
“No, Reed, I won’t come in. I’m sorry, I know it’s past eleven, but we saw your light. We just got back and heard about Clark Nielsen. We just can’t believe it. I know you and he were lifelong friends …”
“It’s hard to believe.”
“Why would the Lord take him away from his family now? You just can’t believe it.”
“No, you can’t.”
“Well, I won’t keep you, Reed. I don’t suppose there’s anything we can do to help tonight, except pray I guess.”
“I guess that’s about all.”
“Well, it’s a wonderful thing that we have testimonies of the gospel at a time like this.” They shook hands. “Good night, Reed.”
“Good night, Byron.”
Reed let the storm door close and watched Byron cross the street. He was in the French Department; half the neighborhood was on the faculty or in the administration. Teaching university students helped [p.182]to keep a man believing that all the world was young. Death was always by accident in Indian Hills. They needed old people (four families on their block had new babies and all the new houses were either blond or white brick).
Some Provo men had generations in the Church, had old family houses scattered all through Provo, pioneer houses even. And they had family houses and cemeteries in the Midwest, the East, and then England or Europe. A man needed to go back to the Romans, Greeks, Hebrews, connect onto Bible genealogy, go back to Adam.
Byron vanished behind his storm door, and Reed looked out between the Hafen’s and Thompson’s to the valley lights and Utah Lake under the moon. If he built a tower in the backyard, he and Marilyn could look out over the valley too. As a boy he had climbed telephone poles, high trees, silos, and mountains so that he could see. The earth was supposed to become the celestial kingdom.
Reed reached down and locked the storm door. Every year the valley lights spread farther. A lot of young families were moving in from the West Coast and the East, taking a cut in salary to live in Utah Valley (preferably Provo). The big thing was to be active in the Church, be close to the temple and B.Y.U., and raise your kids away from the drugs, crime, immorality, and race problems. The Church told the members to stay out in the stakes, for the stakes were Zion too, if there was righteousness, but still people came, as if safety were a place. Perfection was safety.
As late as it was, quite a few cars still moved along the freeway, the lights disappearing finally into the [p.183] darkness down toward Spanish Fork and Payson. He stood there. “Not Clark,” he said quietly. Thousands of people in Provo were older than he and Clark. (They both had birthdays the same month.)
Of the five deaths before Clark’s, his Aunt Nelly’s had bothered him the most. Even seeing her in the casket, he could only imagine her alive. His grandparents’ generation was all gone, so now his parents’ generation was on the line. After that it would be his generation. (The last year or two he saw the Beezley Monument vault trucks everywhere he went—coming down the canyon, out in Sanpete Valley, on the freeway, even out in the Uintah Basin. He had begun to expect to see them. Sometimes they had a vault, sometimes not, the delivery already made.)
The foyer tile floor was cool under his feet. Turning, Reed walked back into the front room and sat down again on the sofa. Marilyn came in from the kitchen and put two placemats on the coffee table. “I thought that it would be cooler here than in the kitchen. Who was that at the door?”
“Byron. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do.”
“The Dixons wanted to get everybody together for a neighborhood prayer, but they thought that the hearse was an ambulance. People just won’t be able to believe it. Clark had absolutely everything to live for. I guess there’s just a lot we won’t understand until we get to the next life.”
Reed reached out, took Marilyn’s hand, pressed it to the side of his face. Marilyn smoothed down his hair. “By the way, honey, Brad got a call from the Herald today to say that they had a route for him.”
[p.184]”Well, I’d better get the hot chocolate before it boils over.”
Brad’s name had been on both the Trib and Herald lists for over a year, and he had substituted on two different routes. Reed was glad it was a Herald route. He’d had a Herald route all through high school. He looked down at his feet. He had delivered to the Berg Mortuary. On winter evenings, the crows, come up from the fields, cawed in the trees above him. After the duck season was over, he and Clark went down into the fields to shoot crows. The best spot was behind Kuhni’s by-products plant, where the crows came to feed on the twenty-foot-high pile of bones. (He had toured a mortuary once on a high-school field trip to Salt Lake; the stainless steel tables had drains.)
Clark was the best shot. He was good at everything, his body trim and hard, absolutely coordinated. Five thousand people had cheered them in the state basketball finals their senior year, but most of it had been for Clark. He set up all the plays and made the most points; he always had everything under control.
“You and Clark have been friends all of your lives,” Marilyn said when she set the tray down in front of him.
“Since the fifth grade.”
“The whole thing is terrible.”
He was just stirring his hot chocolate when the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” he said. He brought the phone over to the coffee table.
As he talked he watched the steam rising from the cups, then put the receiver back in the cradle. “Ray saw our lights. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do.”
“Everybody will want to help.”
[p.185]”There’s not much to do.”
“I thought that I would get up early and go over and cook breakfast for Camille and the boys, but the house will be full of relatives. I’ll wait a few days. She’ll need more help then.”
“That makes sense, honey.”
“Did Ray get his coal?”
“Yes. He told me yesterday they got it.” Ray had built a shed for a year’s supply of coal. He had bought a new coal-burning stove and stored it in his garage. Reed drank the hot sweet chocolate. For a week, maybe two, the neighborhood men would cut Clark’s lawns, wash his cars; and the women, glad for the opportunity to show charity, would send food, each pyrex dish identified with a name on a piece of masking tape. Perhaps Camille wouldn’t be able to go into the garage of her new house. Now people sold houses in which there had been too much grief. (The Prophet Joseph Smith had seen the Father and the Son; other people in the Book of Mormon and the Bible had seen them, and particularly the Son.) His mother and father had lived in the same house since they were married. He liked to be in the old house.
He took another drink of the hot chocolate.
Since his father’s retirement, his parents worked in the Provo Temple three days a week. All of the workers were old. When he picked up his mother at the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake, most of the researchers were old. They all wanted to trace every line back to Adam, so have that vision of eternal family. “You’ll get the spirit of genealogy when you’re older, son,” his mother kept telling him. “It’s natural.” During the millennium there would be thousands of temples to do the endowments for the dead.
[p.186]Reed put his cup back on the saucer. Just above his knees his garments made a ridge under his thin summer pants. At times now he had a frenzy to keep all of the commandments, as if that was the only important thing left to do. And he had moments of terror when he thought how old he was. He needed to use every minute of his life to be righteous. (He wanted to spend at least a half an hour a day reading the scriptures.) Everybody was supposed to want the highest degree of the celestial kingdom so that they could be with their families and with God. He wasn’t anybody without Marilyn and the kids. Every day the appointment calendar on his desk grew imperceptibly thicker on the left side. He tried to imagine an appointment calendar for his whole life so far and how thick it would be on the left side.
“You seem awfully quiet, honey. Thinking?”
“A little.” He reached over to touch her and then picked up his sandwich. “That’s good hot chocolate.”
“Will Camille ask you to be one of the speakers?”
“She might; maybe she’ll want me to be a pallbearer.”
“Sometimes I think that a funeral should just be soft violin music and flowers from people’s gardens, and that nobody should say any words.”
She turned her head to look up at the black silhouetted mountains.
He held the hot cup in both hands. Mourners didn’t like facts. He would have to ignore Clark’s closed coffin, the concrete vault, the piled grave dirt covered with a robe of artificial grass. If he spoke, he would be expected to read the important resurrection scriptures, assign Clark to the celestial kingdom, exalt [p.187]him, make him a potential god who created and peopled worlds of his own, bear his testimony to that.
And he could not tell Clark’s mourners that two weeks ago Bob Wiest, his optometrist, had said, “Reed, you have middle-aged eyes. You’ll need bifocals next time.” He tested his eyes constantly now on distant signs and small print close up, and he tried to remember what he had been able to read last year. His teeth were more sensitive to hot and cold and to sweet foods. He was still losing hair.
When the kidney infection was bad, he kept sinking in grey water, too weak to lift his hands or speak to Marilyn, sank into the darkness, rose again slowly, looked around like a seal surfacing. He kept seeing the pictures that thirty-five years earlier his Junior Sunday School teacher had held up to tell stories about Christ healing the leper, raising Lazarus, answering Pilate, carrying his cross, holding out his hands to Thomas.
Every neighborhood needed someone to have been called back from the dead. The bishop needed to bless the man and bring him back, and then they both needed to testify to what had happened. And it shouldn’t seem unnatural. It didn’t have to happen often, maybe once out of every thousand deaths. People should accept things like that. Some days he sat in his office thinking about all the people he knew in the Provo Cemetery. (Each family needed a plot with a wrought-iron fence around it.) A person should be able to talk to somebody who had been called back and ask him what it was like.
He jogged daily around the Smith Fieldhouse indoor track with the other faculty members to slow down his heart so that it wouldn’t wear out so fast, [p.188]checking his heartbeat before and after against his watch. Professor Bolls, emeritus, seventy-five or eighty now, jogged, his white flesh jiggling, the bones pushing through. The afternoons the shower was crowded (he took Brad, and the other faculty members had their sons, some only four or five years old) he saw all the stages of man’s flesh.
This year for the first time Dr. Stone had suggested an electrocardiogram; his mother had warned him about getting too tired shoveling snow. He had that beginning awareness of heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver wearing out, cholesterol beginning to clog the arteries. And there was biological warfare, world pollution, world starvation, atomic warfare, depletion of all resources. (Located across from the cemetery, the Beezley Monument Company had rows of sample headstones on their front lawn. When he drove by in the evening, down the driveway he saw the parked vault trucks.) He set the cup back on the saucer.
“We should have had a breeze before now,” Marilyn said.
He put his arm through hers, and she leaned against him. Toward the end of a pregnancy she always needed to be touched and held more, their bodies meaning less alone. The new baby would have their blood, flesh, and bones again, look like them, their bodies recast again. They and the kids were something whole and beyond themselves, a unity. He reached up to touch Marilyn’s beautiful hair. He needed to know all of the scriptures, to be more than only good. All meaning had to be religious, finally.
“Maybe I should have let Brad stay up. He wanted to ask you something. But the movie was one of those [p.189]horror things again.”
The telephone rang.
“Oh, good heavens,” Marilyn said. “I wonder who that could be. It’s almost twelve o’clock.”
Reed picked up the phone. “Reed, this is Keith Jensen. We saw your light or I wouldn’t have called. I guess you heard about Clark Nielsen?”
“We just can’t believe it. Ruth has been crying ever since we got back and heard about it. He delivered Melissa and Cindy.”
“I remember.” He spoke to Keith for a few minutes and then hung up.
“Keith Jensen?” Marilyn said.
“Yes. They just got back from Salt Lake.”
“Clark was Ruth’s doctor.”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“Poor Camille. I wonder if she’ll go back into nursing.”
“Doctors carry big insurance policies.”
Marilyn took the tray back into the kitchen. Reed stood up and walked to the screen. At the backs of the houses all the bedroom lights were out. In each house the little drama connected with the news of Clark’s sudden death must take place, with its demand for details, proof. Because Clark had been a doctor, his picture in the Herald would be larger than the usual one-inch square. Tomorrow in church, ward members would ask each other about Clark. Those who said the prayers would pray for Camille and the boys, and themselves.
Clark had lain on his side in his air-conditioned garage (he had a shop in the garage) staring into the mirror of the Buick hub cap. Reed had backed the [p.190]Buick out so that the Berg Mortuary people could bring in their cart. When Richard and the other two boys came out to watch, one of the neighbors had hurried them back into the house. Doctor Peters wouldn’t be able to give them a shot every day.
Reading the Herald obituaries one evening in the hospital (a patient had died across the hall the day before), he had suddenly realized that he had lived long enough for most of his own obituary to be written. The number of his survivors and the day, place, and cause of his death were the only essential unknown facts of his life. His obituary picture could already have been taken. He needed a birthday picture of himself for every year so that he could see how he had changed. He wanted sometimes to carry all three of his high school yearbooks to his classes and prove to his students that they weren’t the only people in the world who had ever been young.
Reed turned from the patio screen. Brad in his blue pajamas stood at the end of the sofa. “Son, what are you doing up? I thought you were asleep hours ago.”
“I can’t sleep, Dad. I keep thinking about Dr. Nielsen.”
“Everything will be all right, son.”
“But when I was out doing the lawn this afternoon, he drove by. He honked at me and waved.”
“Oh … ” Then Reed walked over to Brad, put his arm around his shoulder and pulled Brad tight against him. “You believe you’ll see Dr. Nielsen again don’t you, son? I mean your mother and I have taught you that, and you’ve learned it in all your Sunday School and priesthood classes haven’t you? Remember the scriptures I had you look up when Aunt Nelly died?”
“Well think about that. Now you’d better go back to bed.” He pulled Brad tighter against him and then let him go. “Son, have you said your prayers?”
“Why don’t you do that. We love you, son.”
Brad nodded his head a little, turned and walked down the hall, his pajamas becoming darker. He turned off his light, but left his door half open.
Brad had been the only one of the kids old enough to visit Aunt Nelly in the hospital. A little more of her was gone each time, her body becoming more bone than flesh. Reed had always put his hand on Brad’s shoulder as they walked silent to the car.
A man ought to be able to know that he would be resurrected the same way he knew that he was alive. It had to be the same kind of feeling. (I know, son, that through Jesus Christ all men are resurrected. We live after death. I know that. Accept my testimony. Don’t ever worry about time or death; life is eternal.)
“Honey, was that Brad?” Marilyn stood in the kitchen doorway.
“Yes. He couldn’t sleep. Clark drove by this afternoon and waved to him.”
“Oh, he didn’t tell me that.” Marilyn walked over to Reed at the end of the sofa, hugged him, and then they both turned to look out through the screen. “I guess that he still remembers Aunt Nelly too.”
“I guess he’d almost have to.”
“Poor kid. It’s been a sad day for a lot of people. When I think of Camille and those boys, I could cry. You never know how a day will end.”
(His mother said often, “It isn’t the dying that’s hard, it’s the living. We’ve all got to die sometime. [p.192]That’s the Lord’s plan.”)
“I think I’ll go out and water the lawn for a few minutes before I come to bed.”
“Oh, honey, it’s midnight.”
“I’ll only be a few minutes. I just want to catch two or three brown spots where the rainbird never gets.”
“Well I’m going to bed; I’m tired. Don’t be too long.”
He kissed her. “Okay, I won’t.”
Reed stood on the front porch to roll up his pant legs. He turned on the water and pulled the hose out to the parking. Cold water dripped on his feet from the nozzle, and he spread his feet wider.
All the houses on the block were dark, and he named the sleeping families. The Staggs were the only family with a chain-link fence and outside lights at each corner of the house. Stagg had built a special underground fallout shelter with his house (a dentist, he had plenty of money). He had his own emergency power generator to go along with his year’s supply. He had taught his whole family karate and how to shoot. Every three or four months Stagg stood up in testimony meeting and described what each family had to do to be safe now it was the last days and all the prophesies were being fulfilled, especially concerning the gathering of the Jews.
Reed moved from one brown spot to the next, the grass cool under his feet. His father, who did his whole lawn by hand, always watered his parking first so that by the time Reed’s mother had finished the supper dishes, his father had moved back toward the porch. They sat on the steps together, held hands, the water from the nozzle dripping on the cement steps.
And when Reed and Marilyn went down in the [p.193]evenings to visit, old neighbors were out watering their lawns, but mostly women now. His mother told them who was sick, in the hospital, who had fallen and broken a hip, who was in intensive care, dying, or dead. He and Marilyn went to the viewings at the Berg and Walker Mortuaries, and sometimes they went to the funerals, joined the cortege to go to the cemetery. Every year he knew more people out in the cemetery. The cemetery had streets with addresses, and the corner markers were just like those in town. His parents went to more funerals now. They had more friends and relatives dead than alive.
Two weeks ago he had run his mother out to the cemetery to put flowers on Aunt Nelly’s grave, and she met an old friend there she hadn’t seen in over twenty years. They kissed each other, stood arm-in-arm looking east across the cemetery. “The morning of the resurrection will be wonderful,” his mother said. Members of the Church were buried facing east.
Pulling the hose, Reed moved over to water the last brown spot, and he looked out between the houses to the valley lights and Utah Lake. A view lot was better than TV; the valley was always interesting, day or night, and you always had a sense of distance. He watched the valley lights, and then he pulled the hose back to the house and turned it off. Clark had a sprinkling system controlled by an electronic timer.
The rug was soft and warm under his naked feet again as he walked down the hall. Marilyn was asleep, the night lamp burning for him. He got clean pajamas and garments out of the dresser, went into their bathroom and closed the door.
Reed looked down at himself as he soaped under the warm spray. Through the washcloth he felt his [p.194]bones under his flesh. He soaped twice, watched the last of the suds wash down the front of his legs and between his toes. He wiggled his toes. When he got out, he rubbed his body hard with his towel for the feeling (Clark had always used three and four towels when he showered after a game). Reed dropped the towel in the hamper and stood looking into the mirror. He moved his face closer, touched his teeth with his fingers, traced his jaw bone, felt his nose bone, the bone around his eyes, pressed against the thin flesh above his ear to feel his skull., He felt a faint pulse. Slowly he lowered his hand down to his heart to feel the steady beat. He stood for a moment longer, and then he put on his garments and pajamas.
He walked down the hall in the darkness to check the back and the carport doors, and then he locked the patio screen. The rising moon made the patches of trees and the cliffs on the mountains visible now. Morris Swensen, who was in the Geology Department, had told him that the earth’s crust had broken for two hundred miles to form the Wasatch fault, one face rising ten thousand feet above the other. The mountains had resulted from thirty or maybe fifty million years of erosion by wind, water, and earthquakes. His neighbors on the east side of Pawnee Drive, the street highest on the mountain, sometimes found small boulders on their back lawns.
Reed turned and walked across the front room and down the hall. He pushed Brad’s door open a little wider. Brad lay on his side, his sheet pushed down to the bottom of the bed. His radio was still on. Reed turned off the radio and then pulled the sheet up to cover Brad (both windows were open and the breeze had started). Brad opened his eyes, raised his head.  “It’s okay, son,” Reed said and put his hand on Brad’s shoulder. “Everything’s okay.” Brad laid his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes. Reed stood for a moment at the door then pulled it half shut. He checked the girls. They were asleep. He watched them for a moment, then turned down the hall.
When Reed got to his and Marilyn’s bedroom, he switched off the night light, sat down on the bed, lifted his feet, and pulled the white clean sheet up to his chest. He lay there for a moment, everything in the house silent, staring up at the ceiling. He turned to Marilyn, who always slept on her side after the fourth or fifth month. He moved closer to her, her warmth, his body following hers, touching. Very carefully he put his hand on her side. The baby moved. Reed spread his fingers. The baby moved again, swam, strengthened himself. Reed closed his eyes and said his prayers.