What Do Ducks Do in Winter?
by Lewis B. Horne

Mansion, Magic, and Miracle

[13] They said our valley had the softened light of England. That’s why they were coming from Hollywood to make the film. Perhaps they were right if they caught us in the spring before the sun turned brazen and the desert dried to rattlesnake weather. For in the spring, when the desert was flowering and fragrant, the evening sweater-cool, there was a gentleness in the blue sky, a serenity in the air that suggested some greener land few of us ever thought of and none had ever seen. During World War II, distances challenged and evoked dream. We were isolated. We had, if not the shape, at least the feel of a hamlet or dingle. To the south was the wide irrigated mesa where the town spread out, to the east the mountains, large and varicolored and hauntingly shaped, to the north the river bed, wide and sandy.

Near the river bed, even in spring, no one could have found the landscape of England. In two places it served as the town dump. Beyond the dump that flashed sunlight into the eyes was the rolling sand, radiating the sky’s heat. The sky was like metal there, the mountains across the way sharp and jagged. But the movie—it was about a conscientious objector—was not to be shot on the river but on the edge of the mesa. Near the Hill.

Any road coming off the mesa came downhill. But only the single paved road from town came down “the Hill.” There, looking out over the alfalfa fields, the citrus groves, the farms and pasturing [14] cows, advance crews built part of an English mansion, looming large and dark. Looking at it hard enough, you imagined yourself in another place. But as you started up the Hill, it compressed, and you saw as you passed that the men had built a façade. It was beautifully done, that façade. Even if you drove up Lee Hirman’s road and looked close, it looked real. The windows worked. The big front door opened and shut with lock and hinges. The shrubs were real. Wide gravel walks crossed the front and a large lawn was planted. But behind the front were braces and supports, the extra boards and materials.

When we rode up on our bikes one day—Ken and William Conner and I—hoping to get some scraps of wood, we found a guard. He sat in the shade on a pile of boards behind the façade. He wore dress-slacks—not a uniform, not Levis—and a short-sleeved sport shirt. He smoked cigarettes fiercely and spoke so rapidly we could hardly understand him.

“What?” Ken said.

“Boysmdre?” His mouth was wide, a thin and rubbery line with a twitch to it. He scarcely parted his lips.

“Yeah, we live around here,” said William. “We came to see if we could get some of those scrap boards.” The man muttered that they weren’t his to give away. We asked when the movie stars were going to come. He didn’t know and he didn’t care that he didn’t know. He was bored, had to stay up all night. What were they going to do with the mansion when it was all over? Blow it up. In the movie, it was supposed to get bombed. Real airplanes? “I want to see that,” said William as we rode away.

On the Hill, we coasted down. Faster and faster across the little ridges of tar. Bump bump bump. The speed was frightening toward the bottom. Suppose the machine failed and came apart? Suppose a tire blew? Fear increased exhilaration. “We’ll have to find out when they’re going to bomb,” said William again as we coasted together at the bottom of the Hill. “I want to see that.”

Looking back at the mansion, I said, “We sure will” From this [15] distance the mansion made you feel again you were in another place. Except for thinking of the guard. We wanted the scraps for a magician show we were readying, fixing a stage in our storeroom next to the chicken pen. No help on the Hill.

“Let’s try the dump,” William said. “There ought to be some stuff there.”

Close to the river the ditches got shallower, the big cottonwoods gave way to mesquites, and we found ourselves panting the last half-mile through powdery dust that the tire wheels tracked deeply. There we found the cast-off junk of town and valley—heaps of papers, sofa cushions, car seats, radio shells. “There’s nothing in this junk,” said Ken abruptly. “Let’s go back. It’s too hot.”

“Wait a bit.”

We worked through piles, burning our fingers if we touched metal. In one spot were old toys we had thrown out during one of Mom’s cleanings. Beyond the dump was the sand, bright enough to make you squint, and beyond that rocks and hills as red and raw as a sore. I said, “How long would it take to walk to those hills?”

“You’d dry up.”

The danger intrigued. “Half day?”

“Don’t expect me to go along,” said William.

“Take a canteen—”

“Not me,” said William.

Like a movie. I’d be a prospector struggling, a lone cavalryman crawling … The water-hole at last—ah! I pulled up my shirt and wiped away the sweat. The dump turned ugly. “Let’s go,” I said. “Aren’t you guys thirsty? What you going to find here?”

William kicked over an old radio. Its insides glittered. “We’ll have to figure out how to get some stuff from the Hill, I guess.”

“With the guard.”

“I’ll figure something out.”

The storeroom we were using barely kept out the rain and dust. It did not protect from the heat. We found mice in its corners, saw [16] a garter snake once slide under its floor. One midnight my father shot a skunk there that had been after the chickens. The family trusted nothing of delicacy or value to it. But for the magician show, no ordeal dissuaded. With pull-down blinds, we covered the walls of our stage area. We stitched together rips and nailed the long rolls across the bare boards. For a curtain, we strung a line of baling wire and hung from it a quilt William’s mother gave us, cotton spilling out, patchwork unpatching. We tacked black paper to a table, hiding it from top to floor, and sawed and hinged a small trapdoor in its top. William Conner was the magician, while Ken and I managed the mechanics of the performance. I crouched beneath the table to pull on the trapdoor and make a Buddha-like incense burner disappear. Ken from the other side of the stage pulled invisible threads and strings that gave life to a blue ropesnake, caused a flower to grow, handkerchief to float. Such illusions we could create!

But what a greater illusion, I thought, had the people from Hollywood managed. When we came back from the dump, I could see from the western sunlight burning through the door behind me every nail on the blinds, every thumb tack on the black cardboard covering the table. Even the name spread across the backwall, shiny as it was, looked shabby. MISTOFO THE MAGICIAN. I remembered coming home from town in time for milking and Ken and William saying, “Hey, look what we did.” With the sun pouring on the wall, the letters shown like gold. Pure gold. Sabu might have discovered it in a sunken treasure cave. “How’d you do it?” Christmas wrapping paper, they said. Up close you could see ragged edges from the dull scissors, paper so brittle it might tear, color flaking off in tiny chips. Back away and—MISTOFO, it glowed.

But the stage? Shabby, I said to myself, turning to go for my milking clothes. Still if we could get some boards, William Conner insisted, we could raise the stage, paint it maybe. Something as good as the mansion on the Hill. With an open area underneath, what fantastic feats we could perform! But the guard, what about the guard?

[17] “Let’s go up there again.” said William one evening a few days later. “We’ll scout.”

He sat on the front steps of the mansion. smoking his cigarette, peering out over the valley. eyes squinted against the sun, lowering to his left. When he stood as we approached. I saw that his trousers bagged because his legs were too thin to assert themselves, his arms red-haired bones coming from his shirt sleeves, his neck a piece of wood, pale and petrified, raising his head with a rubble of features. I hadn’t remembered him being so small. He said something like, “Back, huh?”

William asked about the boards, but he still didn’t know. Didn’t know who to ask, a man like him, all he did was put in his time, don’t ask no more of him.

“Can we scout around?”

“Stay out of them shrubs if you do. It’s my butt if you break them shrubs. They start shooting soon.” A spurt of words, face grimaced. Smoke hazed his features, flowing from his mouth and sifting double-plumed from his nose.

We followed William. I’d like to have walked through the doorway, but the watchman sat again, staring down at Lee Hiram’s farm. William went from one spot to the next, up behind the façade, down to a mesquite along the road. He stood, musing, peering, through half-closed eyes.

“What d’you think?” asked Ken.

William nodded as a submarine captain might or a commando surveying his field of operation. “Yeah,” he said. “We might make it.” Back at the porch he said ostentatiously, “Too bad none of them boards is available.”

“Up to me they’d be yours. But this country—Roosevelt and the rich they got everything sewed up. I don’t give a shit if you take them boards.” Bad talk. The three of us looked at each other. “Who lives in that place down there?” He nodded at Lee Hiram’s farm. “A regular beaver, ain’t he? Been going like crazy—whole yard full of kids. Every day.”

[18] “He works hard,” I said. “And all his kids, too.” The Hiram kids were propped up as models too often for us to praise them lavishly, but we had our valley’s honor to defend and the Hirams certainly put their shoulders to the wheel, worked with a will like there was only today. Et cetera. “And Ronnie Hiram used to be a patrol leader.” We praised him, though we weren’t yet old enough to be scouts.

“One of them, huh?”

“He’s in North Africa now,” I said. “Fighting. He’s Lee Hiram’s oldest boy.”

“A brave soldier, I expect?”

“He’s stopping Rommel,” said William. That’s the way the magazines and newspapers described it.

“He’ll get his,” said the guard. “Playing old Roosevelt’s games for him.”

Smarting with indignation, we coasted down the Hill, shadows long as a cloud’s across Lee Hiram’s field. He and Bob, the boy next in age to Ronnie, were bringing the milk cans out for the creamery truck. Lee Hiram was tall and cadaverous. “What d’you think of that guy?” said William as we started pedaling again.

“I bet he’s a spy,” said Ken. “You see how he watched Lee Hiram’s place?”

As the home of the valley’s one military hero, the Hiram farm took on strategic import. We were proud of Ronnie. None of us doubted he would come home like Barney Ross with medals flashing. Besides, his mail was getting censored.

By the church house where William Conner turned to go home, William outlined his strategy. We’d go up to the mansion about sundown. One of us would talk with the guard while the other two snuck off the boards we needed. Hide them in Lee Hiram’s ditch and come back with the car that Ken and I were learning to drive. I was unsure. “That old fart has eyes in the back of his head.”

“Okay. You do the talking then,” said William, “and Ken and me will get the boards. We aren’t afraid.”

[19] But the next evening, the cast arrived. Filming began at once—an alfalfa field was turned into a haying countryside, an adobe house transformed into an English cottage. It took a whole afternoon for Helmut Throne to hop a fence and greet a hayer. It took another afternoon for him to approach a cottage, scattering carefully gathered white chickens. I would sit in the shade of a tree and dream myself into some vision, imagining what the camera captured, and then our valley was England. The blue sky softened, the white clouds blazed less fiercely, and the air to my skin was momentarily damp.

“Look at that,” said William a couple of weeks later. “People all over the place.”

But the weekend following was quiet. Saturday night we biked to the mansion. William told me, “You just keep talking, keep his attention. Ken and me will do the rest.” Talk about what?

“Where your buddies?” He sat like a scratchy-winged spirit, brooding. Seeing him against the dark mansion with the pinprick shade-and-glow of cigarette in the shadow, I felt disoriented, in another place far from home. The lights of Lee Hiram’s house—kids bathing for Sunday School next morning—was a comforting anchor, a grip for me in the dark drift I moved in. “Buddies not with you?”

When the lie that blocked my throat broke loose, it came in as swift a cataclysm as his own question. “Stayed at home.” I listened hard for Ken and William. The cigarette seethed. Frightened of the silence, I engaged the enemy. “What do you do when they’re shooting?”

“Sleep,” he said.

“You don’t watch the movie stars?”

“Shit.” I was about to say something else when the words shot out like dozens of small rocks, as though designed, I thought, to wound. “Look, boy, I have to work for my wages. Movie stars. I seen plenty of them. And what are they? People—like you and me. Only shit, they ain’t as good. That Flake woman—beautiful, you think? Well, let me tell you, boy, I seen her drunk as a skunk many a time.”

[20] “Awww—”

“Drunk as a skunk, I tell you. Why didn’t they finish up this afternoon? You want to know why? Because when she got out here, she was too loaded to stand up. Fell down over there by them flowers. Drunk, I tell you. If I got drunk on the job, you know what would happen, don’t you? Sure you do. I got to work for my grub.”

“Well, she is beautiful.”

“You seen her when she gets out of bed in the morning, before she gets that hair combed?” I was silent. I couldn’t tell whether I really heard skittering sounds or not. The guard asked, “What’d you say that old man’s name is down there?” He spoke as though he referred to an antagonist. “The one with all them kids?”

I told him and he wanted to know what Lee Hiram did for a living.

“Farms.”

“Bigger fool him. Much money in it?”

My dad worked in town, farmed on the side, so I couldn’t say. “He works hard,” I said.

“You told me that already. Does he make any money?”

“He has nine kids.” “Eight,” he said. “You told me one of them’s off fighting Roosevelt’s war.”

“He’s a good man,” I said. “He pays his tithing. Nobody’s ever heard him cuss. He’s a good Mormon. And besides he’s a patriarch.”

“What’s that?” I told him about patriarchs and about patriarchal blessings. He chuckled. “The things you people believe.” He pitched his cigarette into the darkness.

“Don’t you believe anything?”

“Sure,” he said. He lit another cigarette. “Whatever I can see. These eyes right here—” he gestured at two gun muzzle cavities above the match’s light— “They see, then I believe. They don’t—” The smoke he blew out touched my eyes and nostrils, rubbing my lungs with brown fingers. “Look, somebody dies—he goes to heaven [21] or to some place else. right? The ticker stops and he goes, one way or another. That what you say?”

“Something like that.”

He shook his head. I could see that much. “No. sir. Down there he goes. back into old mother, that’s where he goes. I seen. You ain’t never seen a dead man, have you? Didn’t think so. That’s all he is. Dead. Bleed him out. Dead. dead, dead. Good for fertilizer, that’s all. Cremation for me and let the old wind take me. I’ll never know no better. Just what we see, buddy, what we see. That’s it. The cemetery—it’s a compost heap. The whole shitting earth’s a cemetery.”

“That’s not what Lee Hiram says,” I said, standing. Surely, William and Ken had finished.

“Just what we see,” he said. “What I hear.” He called after me. “That’s all we know, buddy.”

William and Ken were waiting for me on the road. “Did you do it?” I asked.

“Sure,” said William, full of braggadocio. “What’d you think we did.”

“I think he heard.”

William was skeptical. “Why didn’t he say something then?” I didn’t know.

I didn’t sleep well. I took my bath for Sunday, but I felt smudged with the guard’s cigarette, colored with the taint of his words. I didn’t feel any better for lying to him, stirring up some of my own internal sediment, except I told myself he deserved it. What treasure did his smoking nostrils guard anyway? What business had he to make fun of the Hirams, of all of us in the valley?

All the same, I wished we’d not taken the boards. I wished I hadn’t stood on the Hill in arm’s reach of the man. I could sense those eyes up there looking out across the valley, not with interest or liking or love, not with boredom or dislike or hate, but with indifference—looking out as though we and everything else in the valley were dross.

[22] Next morning before Sunday School, we drove up, the three of us, spruced in slacks and white shirts. Ken was at the wheel, barely able to see over the hood. No traffic on the roads then. There were not any boards in Lee Hiram’s ditch either.

“Where they gone?” asked William.

“He’s got them back,” I said. I replied quickly as though I already knew what we’d find.

They didn’t believe.

“He came down after we left. I know he got them,” I said, seeming to itch all over with smoke. “He must have heard you like I said last night.”

“Why didn’t he stop us then?”

“He didn’t want to,” I said. “Don’t you see that? He wanted to let us go as far as we would. If we did that—?” What? I wondered. If we did that then—? It came on me. “We’re as bad as he is.”

I couldn’t get him out of my mind. He squatted behind my eyes, bony, as though stripped of all superfluous beauty-making flesh. Body had no beauty, any more than the river bed or the out-used discards in the dump. He had only the essentials of energy and matter, being and bone. Nothing extra. I had said we were as bad as he. But what did that mean? Our stealing? Itwas wrong, yes, but we knew it. He didn’t care. What then? If doing wrong meant nothing, neither then did doing right. That was it.

William and Ken were eager to get on with the magician show. Without more preparations. But what kind of entertainment would that be? “We got what we need,” said William. “The disappearing Buddha, the snake, the floating handkerchief—”

“You won’t fool anybody.” I didn’t ask the big question: Why do you want to fool anybody?

“We fooled your sisters.” William was right. Melissa and Jane, the two youngest in the family, were overflowing with curiosity, so we previewed a growing flower. They blinked at its miraculous levitation on Ken’s black string.

“Sure,” said Ken. “Melissa and Jane were tricked.”

[23] “That was before,” I said.

“Before what?”

“Before—” I felt afire, flaming inside as well as out. “Look,” I said. “We were going to do things to the stage, right? Now we can’t because of—because of that old fart at the mansion. What kind of show can we put on now? We can’t play tricks—not good ones—unless we have the right stuff. It’s not worth it.”

“You were ready before.”

“That was before,” I said. “Before we found out how to do it better.”

William cussed. “Tell you what. Let’s go to the dump again. See what we can find. If we don’t find anything—” We changed our clothes, retrieved our bicycles, and headed out.

The dump seemed closer this time. The dust on the road powdered our sweaty skin. At the river, even William could see it was hopeless. The sun drained away color so that the bare heaved up plain of garbage smote us. Our old toys. Discards. Paraphernalia shucked off. Rubbish. We tried to salvage something. But we burned fingers, cut knees, without reward. “Forget it,” said William finally, “let’s go.”

Irritated that we’d come for nothing, wanting to say I told you so, I pedaled back silently, fiercely, hoping Ken or William would say something, hoping they would give me an excuse to swear. But they huffed up the dirt road as silently, as fiercely—perhaps as despairingly—as I.

And then with news of the Tunisian campaign, word came of Ronnie Hiram’s death. My father brought the news home from work. Probably an accident, I thought. After he’s been in battle, performed bravely, heroically, probably a jeep had overturned, a rifle misfired, something hideous that would taunt us all.

In the midst of that news—all of us sitting at supper with no great desire to eat—William called. “Hey, they’re bombing the mansion tonight.”

[24] “Haven’t you heard?” I told him above the murmur of voices at the table. He was silent. “You still going?” I asked finally.

“Probably not. You?”

“No.”

Later while Ken and I were milking, Maud Conner called for the Relief Society. She wanted Mom to help with a meal for the Hirams.

Shy, Mom wanted someone to go with her. Dad was irrigating and I was the oldest, so I was chosen. It was dark when we started off in the car, a kettle of soup between my feet, two loaves of bread warm between us. When we turned in to Lee Hiram’s place, Mom asked, “What’s that racket?” I remembered the bombing. Flares burst. Two large searchlights speared the sky. In brief flashes the mansion was lit up, smoke drifting across it. A voice squawked from a loudspeaker.

Mom muttered to herself and told me to take the bread while she carried the soup. Lee Hiram came in from the bedroom. Tall like Ronnie. For all the severity of bone and structure, his face had a gentleness to it. His mouth was wide with no tightness against the teeth. His eyes were large and pulled down slightly on the outer corners, tempering his weather-burned skin with sadness. His forehead was tall.

Mom handed over the food. They’d already eaten, he said. Two of the girls put the soup in the fridge. Lee Hiram sniffed the bread. “It smells delicious.”

“If we can help—”

“We’re grateful.”

He knew we were anxious to leave. At the door Mom said, “Give Jenny our love.”

“Yes, yes.” He looked up at the Hill. “They’re very busy up there tonight.”

“I don’t know why,” Mom said suddenly in a voice untypical of her, “I don’t know why these things happen.”

Lee Hiram patted her hand as though she were the one who [25] needed comforting. “It tests our faith, doesn’t it?” he said. He looked toward the Hill. The booms and yells rocked against us. The spears of light leaned from one side of the sky to the other. We heard a scream. “Remember us in your prayers,” he said as he turned back into the house.

That night in bed I wanted to pray. Help Lee Hiram, I wanted to ask. And Sister Hiram. Help all the Hirams in—I picked up words from church—in their hour of distress, in their hour of need. But I was stopped by a vision of the guard. He stared out over the valley. Sitting there in the middle of all that racket, in the middle of bombs falling and houses crumbling and bodies exploding. With his cigarette, not caring. Sitting there—as I tried, as we all tried, to sleep.

The bombing was the last big scene. The rest of the film would be shot in Hollywood. Monica Flake and Helmut Throne left. William wondered what would happen to the mansion, but I didn’t care. I’d have been happy had it really been bombed. But that, too, was fake. The façade stood just as regally against the sky as ever.

I went up there by myself after the memorial service for Ronnie. The thought that the spy might know how Ronnie Hiram died—plainly, without glory, as I thought—humiliated me.

“What you back for?” This time he came from around the end of the façade, buttoning the fly of his trousers. “Don’t know nothing about them boards. Tell your buddy that. How many times you gonna ask?”

“I just came to look around.” Would he taunt me about the boards we’d taken? Had I thought a moment, I’d have known. He didn’t need to say anything: neither side would admit what it had done. To do so would make the incident a friendly jest. The guard had no friends. Of that I’m sure. I didn’t want him for a friend.

“Been a lot doing down there lately.” He nodded toward Lee Hiram’s farm.

He wouldn’t ask me what. So I said, “His boy got killed.” He squatted on the steps without saying anything. So I went on. “He [26] got killed in action—at EI Guettar. That was the big battle. He was a hero, a real hero, like—like—! You read about them. That was the kind of hero he was. Defeating Rommel’s army.”

“All by hisself?” Like a single eyebrow raised.

“They did—all of them. They stopped the best they had. And Ronnie was one of our best.”

“You know a lot about it.”

“Sure,” I said. “Didn’t they call Lee Hiram from Washington?”

He didn’t blink. “Roosevelt hisself, huh?”

“Okay, don’t believe me. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to. But I say somebody from the Secretary of the Army—not the Secretary himself—but somebody from his office—”

“Okay, okay.” It sounded like -kay, -kay, ticks in the throat. “He’s better off for it anyway. All them kids. Better off anyway.” He continued speaking, looking out over the valley—across Lee Hiram’s fields and orchard, over the cottonwoods lining the distant road, out to the low rim of the mountains that looked so large and barren from the dump on the river. He muttered away. Something about kids, families, wives. He’d had wives, two of them—one an alcoholic, one a nympho. “D’you know what that means—nympho? You’ll find out. Have a daughter in Frisco, working in the shipyards or some damn thing, screwing around, making hay out of Roosevelt’s war. Raised her by picking fruit with the Okies, doing God knows what, and look at it, piss on it, what d’you get for it? C’mon, what d’you get? Not one shitty thing. Your soldier boy. What does he get? Tell me that. What does he get?”

“He’ll get a medal,” I cried. “You wait and see.”

“I don’t wait for nothing, buddy.”

I looked at the mansion. They would be tearing it down soon. Already it looked sad. The stone covering was pulling off to show lathe underneath. Shrubs and grass were yellowing. Already—shabby. I thought of our magician’s stage—shabby. Of Ronnie Hiram—not shabby. It couldn’t be. But somehow rotten, wrong, that he should be killed, something miserable that took the prime [27] out of what you looked at, drained the green, discolored the sky.

There was no joy to coasting down the Hill. No excitement. If only the bike would come apart, pitch me end over end into the Johnson grass, riding, like a wave, the sob I could feel building up in my chest.

As I came to the bottom of the Hill, nearing Lee Hiram’s fence, I saw his two youngest playing near the ditch. No water ran in it. But as I tore forward, the smallest ran into the road. I could see our paths colliding, my own trajectory. I yelled, twisting my wheel.

I thought for a few seconds that I flew. But I spilled into the dry irrigation ditch, bicycle on top of me. The sky pulsed a moment. The abrasions on my skin, hidden under clothes, burned. As I untangled myself, I found a large tear in my Levis. My nose dripped blood.

A handkerchief appeared. Lee Hiram’s. His face was above me. He helped pull off the bicycle. “You all right?” he said. “Elly should know better. I was just coming to get her. She really should know better.”

Sister Hiram appeared. She was heavy, without shape, her hair pulled back into a low bun. “What’s the matter, Lee?” she kept saying as the older of the two children cried again and again that Elly had run into the road. Lee Hiram explained as they both helped me up. I was embarrassed by their concern.

More of the kids appeared. Sister Hiram insisted I come in for a minute. One of the kids wheeled the bike, which seemed not to have been hurt, and I sat at the kitchen table while Sister Hiram squeezed a lemon for lemonade. She got the cubes from the fridge. “Please,” I said. “I’m all right.”

“Any boy likes lemonade on a hot day.” Lee Hiram and his wife sat at the table with me. Finally Sister Hiram said, “You were one of Ronnie’s scouts, weren’t you?”

“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m not twelve yet.”

“That’s too bad,” she said. “I’m sorry you didn’t know him.”

“Yes,” said Lee Hiram. “Mama and me—we know that there are [28] more important things for him now.” He went on to say that it had been hard, Ronnie’s death, especially at first, but they knew the Lord had need of special souls.

“Yes,” I said. I was anxious to speak a truth. “All us kids liked him. Whether we were scouts or not.”

Lee Hiram smiled. A quiet smile. Resigned, pleasant—even happy. Register of his belief and faith. As though he knew something, had seen something face to face, for all that part of the best was killed. With the trust he revealed, he looked as old, as ageless, as Abraham might. Hadn’t angels visited that ancient patriarch? Hadn’t he triumphed over ordeal?

Coming out of Lee Hiram’s driveway, I looked back at the Hill.

There was the mansion. From where I stood, it looked real, two infant clouds riding above it. Real—the way it looked down across the valley. Like it was really someone’s house. I could believe in it with pleasure because tomorrow the guard would be gone. I could smile even. Not the way Lee Hiram smiled. Lee Hiram had a special smile, so special, so miraculous, I could never match it. But I could smile and think of the magician’s show, still ready to start. Sure. We would baffle the kids—William Conner, Ken, and I—we could create a mystery. Great, I thought. Great. To think of them, all of them, smiling wide-eyed with wonder.