THE EXTINCTION OF
Jacob M. Appel
Edie Crossgrove liked to say that shed inherited Sammy from the previous owners of the house. That had been in the summer of (Good heavens! How time evaporated!) 1967, the summer the race war threatened to tear the very mortar out of the democratic brickwork. Edie had been on a stepladder in the breakfast nooklaying shelving paper in her new cupboards, mulling over a fresh theory regarding Old Mother Hubbardwhen a lanky young black man appeared on the kitchen steps and rapped his knuckles on the storm door. He leaned forward at the shoulders in a permanent hunch, the sort of deformity a laborer might develop from years stooped over a vacuum cleaner, or a leaf blower, but that also might come from serving well-off white people. When he finished knocking, he removed his tweed cap and held it to his chest with both hands. Edie could not imagine what business this man had at her back door, but he seemed quite the opposite of the lanky young black men burning up Detroit and Newark, so she put on her slippers and steered her course between cartons of newspaper-shrouded glassware. Her baby-girl Rhodesian ridgeback, Hans Christian Andersen, lumbered after her. It was a torrid afternoon, matted with pollen and the scent of tea roses.
Yes? asked Edie, propping the storm door open several inches.
Im here to mow the lawn, said the young man.
Oh, I see, echoed Edie. Youre here to mow the lawn. Shed been in the house only ten days, and it hadnt crossed her mind that grass needed to be cut regularly, that it didnt simply stop growing when it reached the appropriate heightlike puppies or children. Very well, she said. Mow the lawn.
The young man remained on the porch. He shuffled his feet nervously, his eyes downcast. The sun reflected off an unpleasant scar that ran from his Adams apple to the base of his left ear. He reminded Edie of a shy bellhop waiting for a tipand thats when she realized he wanted to agree upon the price. Of course. But what did one pay a grown adult to tend ones lawn? Edie didnt wish to appear cheap, but shed just purchased a twenty thousand dollar suburban home on a freelance folklorists income. She had far more uncut grass than she had money to spare.
Ill pay you twenty-five dollars, said Edie. In advance.
Some of the tension melted from the mans shoulders. Mrs. Tidings, maam, she paid me fifteen.
Well, Im not Mrs. Tidings, said Edie. Ill pay you twenty-five.
Thank you, maam. he said.
Let me just find my purse.
Thats all right, maam, he said. Sammy trusts you. Nobodys never run off on me with a lawn. Sammy grinned. Lawns dont travel none too well.
Edie smiled backto be polite, to seal the bargain. And that was that.
Every other Tuesday, for thirty-seven years, Sammys van pulled up at the curbside, loaded with mowers and blowers and clippers. Hed gone through a series of used vehicles over the decadesfirst a taupe DeSoto with corroded bumpers, then a cortege of Dodges and Plymouthsbut he never once skipped work on account of car trouble. (Although for a stretch he did squeeze his hand-mower sideways into a station wagon that hed borrowed from his sisters husband.) In the autumn, he cleared the leaves and helped Edie plant bulbs. In the winter, he shoveled snow. On those winter mornings when there was no snow, Edie wasnt sure exactly what he didbut she paid him anyway, much like keeping a lawyer on retainer.
As the years passed, Sammys stoop grew increasingly pronounced. When Edie glanced out the kitchen window, her employee was often slumped so far over the riding mower that only the vehicles turns reassured her that he was still alive. What remained of his hair, a frail monks ring, faded to a ghostly white. While he didnt smokeor at least Edie had never seen him smokingSammy developed a deep, brassy cough that filled many a checkered handkerchief with phlegm. Yet he never phoned in sick. Not once. Nor did he excuse himself for deaths or illnesses in his family. As far as Edie knew, hed never even taken a vacation, a suspicion at least partly confirmed after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, when Sammy admitted that he hadnt ever flown in an airplane. (He called it an aero-plane.) But at twenty-five dollars per lawnhis rates never changed over a third of a centurywho could possibly afford a vacation?
So Sammy grew older. And Edie grew older. Her ankles swelled; her joints throbbed. One night a clot of blood broke free from her heart-wall and plugged up the left side of her brain. Meanwhile, the row of black birches that Sammy had planted for her alongside the property line developed into saplings, then full-fledged trees, until one crashed onto Edies VW during a gale, and the rest acquired fungal cankers and had to be destroyed. The aging gardener (Who knew if Sammy were fifty-five or seventy!)arrived each week in the same bib overalls, his massive hands sporting the same padded jersey gloves, his broad face smiling eternally like an early Christian martyr in pain.
And then, one day, he didnt show up.
At first, Edie hardly noticed. Shed been so worn down after the stroke, so frustrated trying to write with her left hand, that it wasnt until Wednesday afternoon that she realized Tuesday had come and gone without Sammy. But even then, she didnt think much of it. Emergencies came up, after all. Tires blew out. Teeth chipped. Past sixty, if it wasnt something it was something else. Besides, there was no denying that a single absence in thirty-seven years was a mighty fine track recordthe sort of accomplishment you might phone in to one of those morning radio programsso she wasnt complaining. But when a second week went by without any sign of Sammy, Edie began to grow concerned. It dawned on her that he might be ill or incapacitatedor (God forbid!) something worse. She hoisted herself onto her newly-installed staircase lift, thinking she would telephone him from the extension in the kitchen. It wasnt until she opened her address book that she grasped that she had no contact information for Sammy. No address, no phone number, nothing. Theyd always conducted their business face-to-facethe old-fashioned way. As ridiculous as it seemed, Edie suddenly discovered that she didnt even know Sammys last name.
She dialed the operator. Operator? Yes, the surname is Tidings. Julius Tidings.Or possibly Jerome. But Dr. Tidings had been pushing seventy when shed bought the house from himthat would make himone hundred seven years old. Scratch that. Would you please try a Maggie Tidings, maybe Margaret.I honestly dont know. Cant you check the whole metro area? Mrs. Tidings had been considerably younger, a fragile woman who wore her auburn hair up in a pompadour. If anybody would know about Sammy, she would. Oh, you dont, said Edie. I see. No, thats all. She hung up the phone, on the verge of panic. What sort of woman had she been all these years that she didnt know the last name of her own gardener? Had she really been sooblivious?
When Edie had purchased the house in East Salem, with the bulk of her fathers insurance money, her friends had scoffed. Back then, single women didnt buy three-bedroom suburban homes on their own. But after her parents accidenttheyd won a ski vacation in a sweepstakes and been crushed by an avalancheshe wanted to grow up quickly. Already, at Vassar, shed found her lifes calling. Nursery rhymes. Fairy tales. Why not have a solid home-base from which to conduct her research undisturbed? So what if the neighbors though her peculiar. (And hadnt they thought her peculiar!Surgeons and orthodontists who reminded her of Charles Bovary.) It was only now, crippled, isolated, that she second-guessed herself. Why hadnt she ever offered Sammy a raise? Why hadnt she taken an interest in his life? She couldnt let him disappear like her parents hadleaving all of those unanswered and unanswerable questions. Yet the more she though about it, the more she understood that she knew virtually nothing about him. She didnt know where he lived. Or if he were married. All she knew was that he had a sister whose husband had once owned a weather-beaten station wagon.
During those early days of Sammys absence, Edie sat at the bay windows in the living room and watched the street for his van. Each approaching vehicle raised and then dashed her expectations, as though her mood were harnessed to a passing siren. She knew the situation called for actiondrastic actionbut what? Phone the police and tell them that her gardener had disappeared? Theyd indulge her just long enough to stash their report in a cylindrical filing cabinet. She considered putting up flyers, wheeling herself door-to-door in the hope that Sammy had mowed other lawns in the area. Another possibility was placing an advertisement in the local paper. Yet each of these options struck her as somehow unacceptablehumiliating, quite franklyand while she desperately wanted Sammy back, she wasnt about to beg publicly for his return. Besides, what if hed once committed a petty crime, like stealing a pork-chop, and had been on the lam all these years? Her advertisement might bring the law down on him. No, far better to wait. She would work on her manuscript and he would return.
Edie was up to revising her chapter on Lucy Locket:
lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
There was not a penny in it,
Only ribbon round it.
When Edie was a girl, every school kid had known that versealthough probably not that Lucy Locket was a gold-digging English barmaid whod passed her lovers onto actress-prostitute Kitty. Now, both rhyme and reason had been long forgotten. Or nearly forgotten, relegated to the memories of a few old souls like Edie. Thats what her book was all aboutpreserving these fading fables and rounds and limericks. A challenging enough project under the best of circumstances, not rendered any easier by the grief of Sammys disappearance. It became nearly impossible when that noxious woman next doorthe same meddlesome creature who was always on her case about hiring a homecare attendantbegan pestering Edie about the lawn.
And I use the term lawn generously, said Liz. What you have now might properly be called a meadow. My husband says its a fire hazardand he was trained as an engineer, so if anyone should know, he should.
Liz served as the language arts coordinator at a local elementary schoolin theory a lover of wordsbut the similarities between her and Edie stopped there. The program she administered taught American kids traditional African songs and Aborigine bedtime stories. To Liz Blatch, this multiculturalism embodied progress. To Edie, it was linguistic pollution by a saccharine name. Not that there was anything wrong with African music or Aborigine bedtime storiesindeed, they ought to be preserved and treasuredbut not scattered haphazardly like some sort of cultural seasoning. Lizs work was the folkloric equivalent of spreading an invasive species, or of interbreeding purebred dogs. But what could you expect from a woman who wore maroon toe-polish and a medical alert bracelet shaped like a valentine?
Theres no need to exaggerate, said Edie. Its only been a month or so.
Its been at least six weeks, retorted Liz. I dont mean to give you a hard time, Miss Crossgrove, but you could graze sheep out there. A child could trip and die in that grass, and nobody would notice.
Edie pulled her blanket over her knees. It was nearly ninety degrees outside, but ever since the stroke, shed suffered perpetual chills. I thought you didnt have any children, said Edie.
Thats not the point.
By the time you have children, said Edie, Ill have the lawn mowed.
They were in the parlor, a dimly-lit catacomb of curios and knickknacks gathered on Edies fairytale-hunting expeditions. Liz rose from the sofa and reseated herself on the sagging loveseat beside Edies wheelchair. She reached forward, as though to touch her hostesss arm, but drew back. I dont want to sound presumptuous, said Lizin a tone she might use to warn a third grader who lacked permission to visit the restroomBut dont you think it might be better if there were someone to look after you?
Are you volunteering? snapped Edie.
This caught the young educator off-guard. Well, I could certainly help find someone.I mean.
Im doing quite alright on my own, thank you, said Edie. My only problem is that Sammythe man who mows my lawnhas gone missing.
That perked Liz up. Thats all. Why didnt you say so? Im sure if I spoke to our Julio, hed be able to squeeze you inand hes not too pricey at all
Im waiting for Sammy to come back.
Liz toyed with her wedding ring. How long do you expect that will be?
Edie shrugged. As long as it takes.
Now, really, Mrs. Crossgrove
You heard me, dear. Im waiting for Sammy to come back.
Edie considered trying to explain the matter furtherbut there was no way to teach the whole of life to a woman half her age. Anything she said would somehow make her relationship with Sammy sound illicit.
Whats Julio like? Edie asked.
Whats he like? repeated Liz. I dont know. I think hes Peruvian.And very reliable.Are you sure you dont want me to send him over tomorrow?
Oh, absolutely not, answered Edieher tongue loosened by age and stroke. I just wanted to check if you were sleeping with him.
Sammy had only been inside Edies house once. Shed come back early from swimming at the municipal poolit must have been that first summer after she moved inand hed just finished trimming the weeds that were continually poking up between the flagstones on the patio. Maybe because he knew she wasnt home, Sammy had taken off his t-shirt and tied it around his neck like a bandanna. His chest hairs were coarse and irregular. Edie wore only her bathing suit, a two-piece shed purchased in college on a whim. While they stood together, appraising Sammys handiwork, the sky went overcast. A hard breeze raised the gooseflesh on Edies arms. Then rain started falling in enormous beads, splattering on the deck like bird eggs dropped from a height.
My heavens, exclaimed Edie. Were in for a show.
The clouds pulsed with light andafter a short intervalrolled with thunder. Hans Christian Anderson yelped and cowered in the privet.
Two miles away, said Sammy.
Dont you know about thunder-counting, Miss Crossgrove? You take the number of seconds between the lightning and thunderclap, and you cut that number in half, and half-againand then you know how far away the storm is sitting.
I didnt know that, said Edie. Youd better come inside before you get soaked.
She darted up the kitchen stairs. Sammy held back. He stood just beyond the porch eaves, getting whipped by wind and water.
Come on, called Edie.
Sammy looked up at the sky and wiped a sheet of water off his brow. I suppose that would be okay.
Inside, Edie handed him a bath towel and poured him out a cup of tea. She slipped into her bathrobe. You might as well hunker down until it blows over, she said. No use catching pneumonia.
Sammy waited awkwardly beside the table. The tea cup stood untouched, sending off a brew of vapor.
You all right? she asked.
Sure thing, Miss Crossgrove. I justwellsome folks wouldnt want me in their house like this.
Did he mean shirtless? Or did he mean as a black man?
Oh, said Edie. Wouldnt they?
The words sounded wrong as soon as she said them. Either nave or flirtatious, somehow the opposite of reassuring. Luckily, Sammy caught sight of the books on the table and diverted the conversation.
Baby books, he said.
He tentatively leafed through the topmost volume.
Not mine, objected Edie. Or, rather, theyre minebut not in that way. Its what I do for a living.
Sammy looked up curiously. Youre a writer, Miss Crossgrove?
Oh, no. I study childrens storiesfairy tales, nursery rhymes. Theyre going extinct, Im afraid. Each generation knows fewer and fewer.Im tracking their disappearance.
Sammy nodded. She sensed he had absolutely no idea what she was talking aboutthat she might just as well have said that she earned her keep by weighing angels.
Do you know any nursery rhymes? she asked.
Like Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, she suggested, or Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross?
He returned the book to the stack. Im sure I dont remember.
How about fairy tales? persisted Edie.
Sammy shrugged. Im too old for fairy tales. Their eyes met and then he looked away quickly. I think Im through for the morning, Miss Crossgrove.
Oh, certainly, agreed Edierummaging through her business cabinet for the envelope with his twenty-five dollars .
She had the good sense not to invite him inside again.
But now she wished she had. Her inability to connect with Sammyto transcend race, class, whatevernow struck her as one of her greatest failures. What made it worse was that in the field, on a fairytale hunting mission to Micronesia or Kamchatka or Appalachia, shed have culled his childhood memories out of him over the course of hours, pressed him politely but firmly until she wore down his defenses. Yet in her own home, at her own kitchen table, shed accomplished nothing. After thirty-seven years, she hadnt learned enough about Sammy to fill an index card. Or maybe shes learned a great deal about Sammy, everything she needed to know, but none of it was the sort of tangible knowledge you could catalogue like a nursery rhyme or make use of in a missing-persons search.
It wasnt quite true that Sammy had never been inside the house again. Hed been in the vestibule briefly, on that morning fifteen years later, when Edie had come down the stairs to find Hans Christian Anderson curled up dead beside the umbrella stand. Shed opened the front door and waited in the entryway, her entire body quivering. It wasnt just the loss of the dog that unsettled heras horrid as that wasbut somehow also the reminder that the ridgeback was all she had. No husband. No children. (By choice, of courseWho wanted to spend a lifetime changing diapers and washing laundry and shaking out rectal thermometers?But still!) All Edie had now was a puppy who was now seventeen years old and lifeless. She leaned into the open closet, hiding herself among the heavy old coats as shed done as a girl. The scent of her Mama was still trapped in the faux-fur linings. I want her back, she screamed into the fabric. She wasnt sure whether she was thinking of her mother or her dog. Edie was still screaming when Sammy stepped into the foyer.
Miss Crossgrove? he asked tentatively.
He removed his cap and stashed it in his pocket.
Oh, Sammy, she said. Do you know how Chicken Little feels when the sky starts falling? I feel like that now.
Sammy turned on the hall lights and spotted the cadaver.
Its gonna be alright, Miss Crossgrove, he said. Sammys gonna take care of everything. He scooped the dog up in his arms and carried her limp body across the threshold with all the tenderness of a bridegroom. Edie followed him, almost robotically. Do you have anything to wrap her up in? asked Sammy.
Edie didnt answer. She realized she was still wearing her nightgown. It didnt come halfway down her thighs, but Sammy wasnt looking.
I know what well do, he said. Ive got just the thing.
He carried the lifeless form to the curbside and deposited it gently on the grass. Then he slid open the side-door of his van and started removing books from a wooden crate. Bibles. For my church, he explained. But if theyre good enough for the Good Book, I suppose theyre good enough for Miss Andersen. (Only Sammy could call an old, dead dog by her last name!)
Thank you, said Edieher voice barely audible.
No need to cry, soothed Sammy while he set the body into the makeshift coffin. Miss Andersens done her duty. Shes earned her rest. He replaced the lid of the crate. Miss Andersenshes in dog heaven. Surrounded by meat-on-the-bone and all those toys she done buried. Aint that right, Miss Andersen?
The idea of dog heaven had never entered Edies mind, but she found the prospect surprisingly reassuring. So much more plausible, somehow, than an afterlife for humans. Yet it also had all the makings of a fairytale. While Sammy dug a grave beneath the wisteria arbor, laboring in determined silence, she reflected on the ease with which he spoke of a paradise of dog toys. As much as she loved stories, her talent was for cataloguing them, never creating them. She admiredeven enviedthose who could shape a fantasy out of inchoate nothing.
Would it be alright if I say a psalm? asked Sammy.
Edie nodded. She watched his lips move, but didnt absorb the words. After that, he filled the grave quickly.
Youll get a new dog, said Sammy. Youll feel much better.
I hope dog heaven is a nice place, said Edie.
You know it is, he answered. Then he patted her on the side of the shoulder, very hesitantly, as though touching a scalding object. You take good care of yourself, Miss Crossgrove, he said. Ill be seeing you in two weeks.
But I owe you
Not for today, he said. Im no undertaker.
Each passing day brought more resolution to Edies memories. She uncovered new ones too, like hidden markers at the corner of a cemetery: The morning Sammy had wished her a happy July Fourth, the occasion shed seen him tuck a sprig of forsythia above his ear when he thought that nobody was watching. Daydreaming had never come easily to Edieparticularly after her parents deaths, she hadnt allowed her thoughts to driftbut now she found her mind chasing every last wisp of fancy. Her writing fell by the wayside. Some days, she didnt bother to dress until the afternoon. Often shed be seized with an ideamaybe that Sammy had left a glove in the mismatched clothing binand shed dig through the mounds of socks and slippers in search of a traceable label. None of these efforts ever panned out, of course. Sammy hadnt left so much as a photograph or a footprint. One night, Edie woke in a dreadful panic, afraid shed imagined him entirely. It took a lengthy inventory of her own memories to convince herself otherwise.
But so what? So Sammy had existed. The problem was that she had absolutely no claim on himno recognized right to pursue him. They hadnt been friends, even implicitly, not like Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. And she hadnt been secretly in love with him like that butler character was with the housekeeper in The Remains of the Day. Most certainly not. Their relationship was far simpler than that: Professional. Employer and employee. But not in the way Ray Crock and the fry cooks at McDonalds were employer and employee. She wanted to tell people that he was the man whod buried her dog, but that sounded absolutely nutty out-of-context. There was the problem with human relationshipsyou could never really explain them. Sammy had simply been Sammy. Why wasnt it enough of a claim on him that she cared what had happened to him? Obviously, it wasnt.
The second time Liz Blatch came over to complain about the state of Edies yard, she brought along her husband. Ted Blatch was a short man with a long face. He traded currency on Wall Streetbut his bachelors degree had been in chemical engineering, which somehow made him an authority on lawn care.
Im not a lawyer, he explained. But Ive done some extensive research and I know full well what Im talking about.
Im sure you do, agreed Edie.
The last time Ted Blatch had been in her parlor, hed explained to her the advantages of resurveying the property line. Hed wanted to split the costs. Before that, it had been an overhanging crabapple limb.
This state has something called an attractive nuisance doctrine, Miss Crossgrove, said Blatch. And what youve got out frontthat pasture of yoursis unquestionably an attractive nuisance.
Edie surveyed the backs of her hands, wishing she might read the liver spots like tea leaves. You know what that reminds me of? she asked. That scene in that picture, you know which one, where Marlon Brando explains the Napoleonic Code.to Vivian Leigh.What was the name of that picture?
Liz glanced pointedly at her husband. He cupped his fist in his palm.
Please try to focus, Miss Crossgrove, he said. Nobodys talking about Vivian Leigh.
I thought I was, answered Edie. Ive got it. On the Waterfront.
Youre not listening to me, Miss Crossgrove, insisted Blatch. A homeowner has responsibilities. Youve got to think about safety.and, to be honest, property values.Youve got no right to grow a forest on your lawn.
Whats wrong with a forest? snapped Edie. It was a forest before it was a lawn, wasnt it? And its more natural this waybetter for the environment.
So youre just going to let it keep growing? demanded Blatch.
Until Sammy comes back, answered Edie. Then, well see.
Please, Miss Crossgrove, interjected Liz. This is an untenable situation. Were not the only other people on this block. Seymour Klein is going to come over here one day this week and mow the place himself.
I warned him about the liability, added Ted. But he doesnt care. He says hes an OB-GYN and hes had it up to here with liability.
Edith removed her glasses and cleaned them on her quilt. I wouldnt do that if I were Dr. Klein, she said. She didnt remember Klein ever moving in, but she was willing to concede his existencefor arguments sake. That would be a grave error in judgment.
But what other choice does he have.Do we have? asked Liz. Youre painting us into a corner. Were on your side, Miss Crossgrove.
Oh, there are sides now, said Edie. Well Sammys on my side and Sammy doesnt like strangers mucking about with his lawn.
I guess thats his problem, said Blatch.
He killed a man, you know, continued Edie. About fifteen years ago, in North Carolina. He caught a fellow mowing one of his lawnsa Mexican, I thinkand Sammy pumped him full of buckshot.
Thats just awful, cried Liz. A man like that has no business in East Salem. He should be in jail.
He was. Nearly six months. But he was a World War II vet and the other guy was illegal, so they gave him a break.In any case, I wouldnt go cutting one of Sammys lawns without permission. Hes very possessive, proprietarylike a coyote. It wouldnt surprise me if there werent booby-traps in that grass, even landmines.
Edie enjoyed watching the color rise in Liz Blatchs bony face. Making up Sammys life was like writing a fairytale. It was genuinely fun. Deep down, it also left her a bit uneasyakin to lying about a death in the familybut who was to say that Sammy wouldnt kill the obstetrician if he ever caught him on Edies lawn? After thirty-seven years, people developed attachments.
Ted Blatch stood up swiftly. I dont like being threatened, Miss Crossgrove.
Im not threatening anyone, said Edie. Im just looking out for your safety.Id hate to see someone injured over a few blades of grass.
Come on, Liz, said Blatch. We dont need to take this.
Liz rose reluctantly. If you reconsider, Miss Crossgrove.
I have reconsidered.
It wasnt On the Waterfront. Most certainly not. That wouldnt make any sense at all. It was A Streetcar Named DesireThe picture had to take place in Louisiana, dear, because thats the only state they have the Napoleonic Code.
Liz shook her head, as though reprimanding a child.
Enough, honey, Ted said sharply. Shes doing this on purpose.
Edie also wanted the Blatches to depart. She looked up at Liz and asked: Tell me something. How is Julio in the sack?
That was the one advantage of growing oldit let you be nasty with impunity.
At first, Edie felt relief. But then an intense despair overtook her. She watched the Blatches retreating up the front walkthey were arguing something fierce nowand she was reminded of her own powerlessness. What could she do if this alleged obstetrician really did attempt to mow her lawn? She knew the answer to that question all too well: Absolutely nothing. She might craft up any stories she wanted about Sammy, but talking didnt make it so. At the end of the day, she didnt have so much as a guard dog to protect her. Not that Hans Christian Andersen had been much of a guardian.but at least shed had a powerful yelp. In the high grass, the obstetrician might have mistaken her for a pit-bull or a German shepherd.
Edie laughed. That anybody could mistake her ridgeback for an attack dog! A retreat dog was more like it. But Sammy had been wrong about one thingshed never replaced the animal. If there really were a dog heaven, it might well be contiguous with human heaven, and Edie didnt like the idea of walking more than one dog at a time. So she was a one-dog womanand that dog was in a crate under the arbor.
The crate! Where the idea came from, Edie didnt knowbut it came. Hadnt the crate contained Bibles from Sammys church? And possibly an address label? Under the circumstances, Hans Christian Andersen would forgive her.
Edie wheeled hard toward the side door, forgetting there was no lift at the entrance to the garage. Then she backtracked through the kitchen and into the sunlight. She hadnt been outside in monthsnot since shed started having the groceries deliveredand she was shocked at how high the grass had grown. The hedgerows were creeping into the flowerbeds, and maple saplings had sprouted up willy-nilly. Beside the driveway, where the ridgeback was buried, the arbor had collapsed under the weight of the lilac and wisteria vines. Motoring across the undergrowth was like riding on horseback over a mountain range. Twice, Edie nearly fell out of the chair. When she finally reached the gravesite, she realized that she didnt have a shovel. She had no choice but to lower herself to the ground and to burrow through the dirt by hand.
The earth gave way with surprising ease. It had rained the night before, leaving the soil soft and damp and cool. Crabgrass tickled Edies ears, but she didnt bother to scratch them. All that mattered was finding that cratebefore time and the elements might do any further damage. If only she could remember precisely where Sammy had lain the animal to rest..
Tears of frustration trickled down Edies cheeks. Shed dug a long trough, and several cratersthe arbor looked like it had been shelled by cannonbut shed uncovered not so much as a splinter. Was it possible the box had decayed entirelythat other animals had scavenged the bones? And then she hit wood! A solid thump. Edie used a stone to scrape away the earth until the address on the crate was clearly visible, lacquered in transparent tape and preserved for the ages.
Thats when the first paroxysm seized her. The numbness lay in her left
side now, her good side. She couldnt move. She couldnt scream. She was
lying on her front lawn, but the grass was far too high for anybody to see
her. Edie thought all was without hope when she spotted Sammy, smiling,
chugging over the rise on his mower. He was slashing the grass, plowing a
path toward her rescue. But he was a young, robust Sammy, wearing
sunglasses, whistlingmounted atop a shiny red chassisand even as Edie
reached out toward him, she saw that he wasnt coming any closer. Soon the
distance between them started increasing, slowly at first, then faster, like
a locomotive pulling away from the land of fairytales.