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

Time for a Showing

Tall glasses of ice water with a lemon slice in each. Sliced tomatoes with cottage cheese on crisp lettuce with sunflower seeds sprinkled over. Some cold roast beef and some crusty bread.

“I tell you, Phile,” she said, “if I had to pick a favorite brother—”

“Don’t,” he said.

In his white shirt and tie, he said a blessing—bless him. “And be with Evie tonight at her showing,” he prayed. She knew her favorite brother.

There was Ammon like a pine tree and looking as fierce as an Old Testament prophet, those deep sockets burning with the Holbrook grey-blue eyes and scarcely a twitch of a smile to his pinched mouth. He never said much, though—seventy years old if a day—which was just as well because with his adenoid problem the poor man had the same voice as a child. As if his windpipe was pinched.

Then Virgil left home like the maverick, with his one hundred dollar bill for managing to get a high school diploma and zigzagged to Florida where he made thousands, maybe millions, developing in real estate—and maybe other things besides sand and orange trees that shouldn’t be looked into and she didn’t want to think about. While Wally—with a down-to-earth name, finally, Momma and Pop!—had just retired from teaching geology at the University of Arizona.

Those were the pine tree brothers that she was a berry bush among. Phile was tallest and straightest of the lot. He’d even modeled for her once, in overalls, standing on a bucket so she could get the perspective she wanted. And her sarcastic simpleton art instructor? “Is your brother a ghost?” “No.” “Why is he levitating then?”

Levitating on a bucket? she wanted to say.

As for the berry bush, she could paint a self-portrait with her eyes blindfolded—if she cared to. Cheeks forthright and cheery like flower petals. Face aglow with scarcely a wrinkle in the plumpness. [67] Like a trusting child. Didn’t people expect fatness to be happy? Jolly? So be it, if that’s the way she looked—fresh-eyed and a good hair rinse—the way she felt inside.

“Merry Lynne called,” he said. The sorrow.

Then he stuffed his mouth with lettuce and chewed and chewed while she nearly choked on her ice water with the lemon slice. She saw lightning. Thunder boomed closer. She had to wait till he swallowed which he was slow to do. His eyes were deepset like the other pine trees. Twenty years and he still said it the same, probably saw her the same—not plain “Marilyn” but “Merry Lynne” the cheerleader and Miss Idaho and Miss Princess herself. Miss Floozie too if you wanted to know—and somebody’s husband who was supposed to be a friend of Phile’s. And what about the time Phile borrowed money so she could go see her dying Aunt Mae in Sacramento and Virgil and Merry Lynne’s own brother-in-law saw her checking into a Nevada dude ranch with Phile’s so-called friend? “Merry Lynne called.” The news stunned her.

“She just terminated a relationship with an engineer in Peru, she told me.”

“A relationship.”

“It was a difficult relationship,” he said. “She’s now in a fragile space.”

“A fragile space.”

“She has multiple sclerosis.”

He was an angel.

“She’s already using a cane.”

An angel.

Now she chewed lettuce, taking her time. Twenty years, she thought, with her Persian cats and Russian mink and Lincoln Continental.

As though he read her thoughts, Phile said, “She keeps in touch. Not often. But it isn’t a bolt like out of the blue. I mention it to Wally whenever she calls.”

“To Wally?”

[68] “I knew it would upset you, Evie. You and Merry Lynne could never see eye to eye. Ammon felt the same way about her.”

She slumped in the wicker chair. Trying to make herself small so she wouldn’t break through, she slumped.

“She could come to your showing. Oh, no, Evie, she’s not here now. But you’ll be on for three weeks. You’ll find you’ve got lots in common, I’m sure. She’d like your showing. I always felt that Merry Lynne had an artistic personality. And after twenty years, who knows what might—”

“Miracles,” she said.

“Yes, except it wouldn’t have to be a miracle. It’s twenty years. You might—you’ve changed too, Evie.”

“I should hope.”

Her cottage cheese and tomato were half gone. The remains looked dismal. Drops of rain hit the windows.

“So you’ll take her back—you’ll marry her again,” she said. Phile wasn’t the sort for cohabiting, not in his ranch-style.

“We weren’t ever divorced.”

“Oh, Phile, what was all that with lawyers and agreements and papers—?”

He repeated, “Evie, we weren’t ever divorced. But that doesn’t mean—not necessarily—that we’ll be like before. I’m not so big a fool as you always tell yourself.”

“You think Marilyn—Merry Lynne is going to live here with the likes of Renata and Frederica and—who’s the big one?—Kirsten? She rides a different wave, believe me. Married or unmarried.”

“It’s twenty years, Evie.”

“Twenty years, twenty days. You know your problem, Phile? You never went on a mission. Ammon—he went and baptized people in Tennessee. Virgil—well, he had his own mission of dollars and cents and made his own conversions. Wally was in Mexico. You’d have made a tremendous missionary, Phile, if the Korean War hadn’t come. Why don’t you go now? Tell Marilyn—Merry Lynne—you’re going on a Mormon mission. Tell her she can come [69] along too if she wants.”

Merry Lynne speaking for the church, bringing the word of God to the doorsteps. Eve knew the incongruity of what she spoke, but she pushed all the harder.

“She never got baptized, Evie.”

“Twenty years. Things change. You’re going on a mission, tell her. If she wants to come too, she gets baptized. Who knows, Phile? Maybe if I’d gone on a mission, maybe if I’d gotten some people under the water, I wouldn’t do the nutty stuff I do now. You’re right. I’m a buttercup. What do I want to drive a buttercup around the city for? And as for this silly showing tonight—”

“Evie!” he cried. “You didn’t roll up your windows!”

He bolted as a wall of rain hit the house, blotting out his green lawn and weeping birch. When he came back, he was soaked, all six feet and three inches of straightness. His dark hair with its streaks of grey lay slicked like a raincap.

While he went to find dry clothes, Eve paced in her bare feet, her sneakers doffed. Merry Lynne. Here she was using the name. Why was she making her way back to them like a sick wind? Did she still wear the same perfume that gave Eve hayfever? And cane or no cane—oh my, but it was a terrible thing, not to wish on anybody—would there be cat hair so your clothes were next thing to pollinated from a hello-goodbye and nothing in between? There was lots she wanted to know. She stood on her toes to see the B shelf of records. Fidelia, Carmen, Albert Herring.

“You should have gone to Africa with Albert Schweitzer,” she cried when Phile came back with a new white shirt and light blue summer trousers, his tie in perfect place. “You should have had children and grandchildren. Carloads of them. They’d enjoy your Peter Grimes and Pearl Fishers.”

She saw the hurt in the bottom of his eyes. Thorns on the berry bush.

The rain rattled the rooftiles. She came to the window beside him and watched the water pour from the sky and sheets stream [70] from the eaves. Currents flowed in the street and her drenched yellow beetle looked like a pet left out of doors.

“Sell a policy to yourself.” She had to lift her voice against the sound of the water. “You need a policy against the Merry Lynnes of the world.”

Thunder jarred the floor.

He climbed on a stool to close a window. “Evie.” He turned to her, speaking from the heights. “What you said—”

“Said when? I don’t take it back—”

“About your showing. And what you said to Wally about your not going on a mission because you wanted to get your degree and start teaching. And the way you are being now—”

“Anybody would do things differently if they got a chance.”

He stepped down. The blue rose in the sockets and his mouth let his teeth shine in a smile. “I’m proud of your showing, Evie.”

The rain didn’t last long. But it was sufficient to itself and what it did. The street in front of Phile’s house rippled clear across. The gutters ran like irrigation ditches. Phile said he would come with her. According to the radio, water covered hubcaps downtown. The railroad underpass on Circle Drive was a swimming hole. Sewers backed into basements.

He had to put on a suit so he wouldn’t shame her showing.

“You know your problem?” she said when he returned in a grey summer seersucker. “Trust. How do you know the cane’s for real? I believe it’s real only when a bonafide doctor tells me.”

“Evie—”

“You tell her, ‘Before you come through my door, I want a bonafide affidavit from a bonafide doctor.'”

Phile offered to drive his Peugeot but acquiesced to the beetle, dripping in the driveway. The flowers glistened. Some leaned as though they carried a weight. Petals strewed the ground.

“You should avoid Pawnee Avenue,” he said. “The radio says—”

She chose her own way, window down a couple of inches. Merry [71] Lynne would take over. How much for Phile’s records? The noisier the grinding the more priceless, she suspected. Merry Lynne would know their value or she’d soon find out. Phile would acquiesce. To Merry Lynne he would acquiesce like an angel.

“You make her show you,” she said.

“You keep going toward Pawnee, you’ll never reach your apartment house.”

When she saw kids canoeing on 18th, she decided it was her turn to acquiesce.

With Merry Lynne in the house, he hadn’t a record, old or new. Only after she left. With all said and done, she couldn’t say she regretted the woman’s absconding.

At her apartment Phile waited for her to shower and dress. He began picking up her clutter and she hustled her heels before he got out the vacuum. She found in her refrigerator a daisy corsage with a card from him.

“The caretaker let me in this morning,” he explained, “while you were hanging.”

“I could pick my favorite brother without two seconds to ponder.”

“Don’t,” he said.

The flowers matched her yellow muu-muu. Phile pinned them on and the tent-lady was ready. Smile so big that he bussed her pink cheek.

“Evie,” he said, “it’s not like she left and gave me nothing.”

“You take her to a bonafide doctor all the same.”

“I envied Wally in Mexico. But after I got out of the army, there was Merry Lynne. She was a risk, but everything is a risk. Even your showing is a risk.”

“Even my showing.”

His eyes darkened. “I knew more about the risk than you think. I knew Merry Lynne better than you think. I couldn’t leave her and go on a mission.”

Was he trying to levitate before her very eyes?

[72] “She isn’t heartless. She never was.”

“And I’m no artist,” she said. “I know.”

So what if I do crazy things? she wanted to say. I got friends who still come to my showing, and I got old students who liked the tent-lady, let them chortle as they may, and they’ll come too. They’ll say Evie, you’ve done some lovely things here. And I’ll smile and think, I know it. Because I have. Even if I never painted the ocean. But I won’t ask them what lovely things. I won’t expect them to point out the trunks because that would be too much to ask—even from friends.

“Evie, where do you think I first got my records?”

“You mean your Ezios and Enricos—”

“She sent them to me. They were her father’s. Who’s perfect?” he said. “Let me touch you if you are.”

She looked enormous in her bedroom mirror, rosy-faced in her yellow dress, ballooning like she could blow away with the winds of revelation.

He came to the bedroom door. “You’ve got your painting, Evie. And Merry Lynne—”

“She’s got her cane,” she cried desperately, “lucky doll.”

It took fancy maneuvering over the wet streets to reach the gallery. They guided themselves from the announcement on the car radio. Even so, coming down Stratton, she saw a large pool at its intersection with 23rd.

“We’ll take it, Phile,” she said.

“No, Evie, not here!”

She barreled in. Water sprayed like wings to carry them through. Then the motor died. And they were floating, the wheels raised from the pavement. Three boys in swimming trunks paddling a canoe nearby pointed and haw-hawed as the nose of the car turned slowly like the needle of a broken compass to the west and then to the north. Lifted, she felt no control.

The boys left their canoe at the curb and waded over. They [73] pushed the beetle across, the water starting to dampen the floorboards. She had to wait half an hour before it would start again. Floated right off the earth she had. Strange sensation, cut loose and frightened. From her barns and fields and gardens, her ponds and woods. Everyone had needs. She needed her painting, Phile his records and—and—whatever it was. Even Merry Lynne. Sometimes you needed more than yourself, whatever the cost and whatever the pain, whatever the sorrow.

She couldn’t get a free breath again until the motor caught and she was rolling on with Phile to her showing.

[66] different. She liked music to paint to.

[61] Eve knew well the sorrows of her brother Phile, clouding her mind as they did often enough. But often enough she had her own tribulations to stare down, her sky no more clear than any normal human being could expect a sky to be. No everlasting blue for her. Oh no.

The day of her showing though was not a day of tribulations, only a day of rushing and running as though she were a newspaper the wind blew. Back and forth, back and forth. But it was also a day—though she didn’t expect it when that day began—that Phile’s sorrows swelled for her with the freshest of pain.

It took six trips, buzzing in her Volkswagen from her Rosewood Villa apartment to the Carraway Gallery on the river. Her brother Phile’s Peugeot would have cut them to four, maybe three. He’d have helped load and unload her paintings because he wouldn’t let anybody drive his polished white station wagon except himself, pale and starchy at the wheel. But she hadn’t had the stamina to make claims on his skinny pride and strength. Her underarms were sopping, her dress like adhesive. If she didn’t catch her death going from outdoor heat to indoor chill—well, Evie, all fools have their angels, Phile liked to say.

Even so she could have called him, not knowing yet what news he had to break her composure with. Wasn’t he always there when she needed him, her baby brother still selling for New York Life but only enough to make his “retirement” livable? He would scold [62] her this afternoon when she stopped for late lunch, exasperated she hadn’t asked for help. But as she scrubbed one of her rags across her forehead and around her neck and felt the ends of her clipped hair bunched with damp, she called herself wise. Today even a sigh raised sweat. Think of Phile immaculate in coat and tie, in pajamas and robe, in gardening shirt and trousers. Even, she had no doubt, in his underwear. He’d be much happier listening to his records, some so old you could barely hear Tetrazzini or Melba or Ruffo through the crackle and rasp.

“Landscape Paintings by Eve Holbrook.”

There they were, her paintings, stacked against the walls upon which they were to be hung and, if all her right friends came, admired. Bare walls now. A bare room. Jane Clayton-Osborne sat down and cried at her first showing, she’d said. How could she ever manage to hang them? Space like you never saw! she’d told Eve. She’d collapsed in the middle of this very floor, her work in piles around her, she said, and cried.

Well, Eve wouldn’t cry. Here was one of her earliest she’d chosen to show. “Do the woodline around the lake,” her instructor had instructed. You knew where the water began. The rest in the class swept blobs of color across the canvass. Herself, she preferred to see the trunks. Her manifesto: let me see the trunks!

Eve was fifty-six, Phile fifty-three. Since retiring from teaching with her twenty-five years in Grade 9 math and algebra at Rolly Haymore High School, she’d gotten fatter. Not fat, which she was already, but fatter. From the time she started teaching, she wore muu-muus, though she didn’t know that was what they were called till they came in style in the sixties. Tent-lady, the kids called her as she billowed down the hall. Hot weather, cold weather—tent-lady.

She had four brothers like pine trees. She was the berry bush, the fern, as they lifted toward the sky above her.

She found a stepladder. Glass and frame made some of her paintings heavy. She should have been a miniaturist like Jane [63] Clayton-Osborne. But Jane stretched ceilingward. She gazed across the tops of heads the way her brothers did. She could narrow in by choice. But if you come from a farm with brothers like pine trees, you wanted to see the forest line, not narrow in. She’d looked at the moss since before she stopped believing in fairies, and she was tired of it.

Her father showed her the piglets at the teats of the old sow. She rolled under the rugs with Phile that Pop and Momma pulled across the stubble to clean. She polished her Sunday shoes with blacking from the woodstove. She wanted the woodline and she wanted the trunks.

She stood back to survey. She might not win prizes like at 4H. In one of her summer classes, held among the woods and mountains, she’d wanted to paint the ocean for its mood. “You ever lived near the ocean?” the instructor cried. “No.” “You ever been on the ocean?” “No.” “Was your father a sea captain?” “No.” “Did he ever see the ocean?” “No.” “Then why”—throwing out his hairy arms—”do you want to paint the ocean?”

So she had lakes and woods, fields and barns, cows, gardens, and ponds.

Might as well instruct her to cast her brush over the sprawl of empty desks after a day in the classroom. Who’d ever catch a lifetime of squirming kids? The chalkdust on the blackboard? Her desktop creaking with papers?

“Painting!” Phile had said. “I should think you’d want to rest. What’s wrong with staying at home?”

Nothing, if you were like Phile. Look at his name. Philemon. What could Pop and Momma have been thinking? Shorten it to Phile. Phile of New York Life. Then if you were crude enough, it became “vile.” Poor boy. “You vile thing.” “Here, Vile, come boy.” “Don’t be so—vile.” And if it was Marilyn—no telling in the passions of love what combinations that woman would come up with.

“You know your problem?” she told her brother. “It’s that Marilyn.” Merry Lynne she called herself to anybody’s face. But Eve [64] had refused the make-over. She wouldn’t let it off her tongue, whatever Phile in his immaculate ranch-style said. “You turn around and look her in the eye. ‘You’re a tramp,’ tell her. ‘You weren’t worth my valuable time,’ tell her. ‘I got better things to do.’ Admit it, Phile, you made a mistake marrying a tramp. Don’t be proud. ‘I’m a fool,’ tell yourself.”

“That was twenty years ago.”

“Twenty years. Twenty days. Don’t let a rotten peach stain.”

If she’d told him once, she’d told him enough times that the whole business should by now be laundered out of his system. Didn’t he know about laundry and scrubbing floors and walls and washing dishes? Not just the last twenty years since Marilyn had gathered up her three Persian cats and her Russian mink coat and driven away to California in the 1963 Lincoln Continental she’d put Phile in hock for. For five years before that she’d been so frightened of nicking her manicure that she did no scrubbing. What do they say now? A “wimp.” Yes, dear; no, dear. Her little brother like a pine tree—and a wimp. All in the same breath.

Even with air-conditioning in Carraway Gallery, she dripped. Among her streams and meadows and woods, she dripped.

With Phile the sting still pained. Sorrow. From Marilyn’s sting. He was a man who needed children, grandchildren. Something more than an eccentric tent-lady who was his sister and embarrassed him. Joan and Renata singing Christmas carols in stereophonic sound—that was beautiful, heavenly. But those pale voices—Galli-Curci and Lehmann and Enrico himself—coming through an electrical storm. Poor Phile. Two people to tango. A good man and a good woman. Not a sad man and a silly sister.

“Yellow!” he cried. “Your car’s yellow! Who did that?”

“Larry Ludachowska. One of my old students. He’s starting his own shop, and I wanted to help him out.”

“You want to be a canary? Or is it a buttercup? You want people to think buttercup? With red pinstripes?”

[65] “You don’t have to ride in my little beetle.”

“Ha!” he said. “Ha!”

And opened the door to his ranch-style for her.

So that was over. Finished like a harvest. Quick in the flourish, Phile would leave her be. When she stopped in the drive alongside the smooth nap of the lawn and the color exploding from his flower beds—marigolds and snapdragons and daisies and poppies and anything else that might have spilled through the Garden of Eden with all the profusion Phile could summon—when she turned off the key she knew he’d plant both slippers on the outdoor carpet of his porch and, thin hands on thin hips, read out the act of riot.

As she answered she unstuck her dress from her skin, wiped her forehead and neck with a soggy Kleenex, and walked—as tall as his Adam’s apple—into his air-conditioned living room. With dignity. She had no difficulty with Phile in holding her aplomb high.

Tie and shirt. You didn’t invite a guest for a light lunch in Phile’s house, not even your tent of a sister, without a tie and shirt.

“You got your lawn chairs put away?” she said. “It’s lighting up like machine guns in the west.”

“You think I don’t hear the thunder?”

“With Enrico or Luciano? It’s not that close yet.”

“But Evie,” he said as she dropped at his kitchen table, “why yellow? I’ll serve on the sunporch. ‘There goes Evie Holbrook,’ they’ll say. ‘Like a buttercup.'”

“So they notice me. I like to be noticed.”

He shook his head. He even smiled. He was a good man, this Phile. He told her to sit with the plants and he’d bring lunch. She looked like she’d been through a hanging, he said. “You should have let me help.”

“Be sure you’re there tonight.”

“Right next to your buttercup,” he promised.

She heard thunder in the distance. A good sound in the heat. No music. “Either you listen or you talk. No in-between stuff.” Christmas-time was listening time for her. In her “studio,” it was