When Laura said she had more photos of the group marriage, I was surprised by the eagerness in my voice. “Can I see them?”
“Sure. But I’d better get lunch on at the moment.”
Taking me at my word, Laura served the kids hot dogs, potato chips and soda. Dante and Chloe, who never get to eat that way, were delighted. To the grownups, Laura served coq au vin, potatoes and richly buttered carrots. There was wine, and for dessert chocolate cake with ice cream. Though I tried to eat lightly, I was immobilized for a good hour just digesting, and imagining the debates that Matt and Laura must have over diet. Six months earlier, at the age of seventy-seven, Marco had had triple by-pass surgery. Laura was fifteen years younger than Marco, and as the conversation turned to clot busters and angiogenetic drugs, I realized that she may have a lot of nursing to do some day, and face a long widowhood.
A couple of hours later, Laura told the men that she had promised to show me something, tapped my arm and led me into the family room. From a cabinet there she pulled out a big black album and we sat down together on the couch. The first page showed my father at Flemming Lake, stirring a pot on the campfire. He was wearing his Tyrolean hat, the one he always took on camping trips, and the picture immediately pulled me back into that time. Then there were photos of the four adults, Leif and Dad both stripped to their waists and wearing tool belts as they erected corner posts for the house that was never finished. There were photos of us kids hoeing in the fields, snapshots of the four adults with their nude bodies submerged in the hot tub, of a meal with everyone gathered at the table. There was a shot of the four of them with their arms covered to the elbows in grape pulp, looking incredibly pleased with themselves. Seeing them, I felt a sudden, unexpected tug of longing, an overwhelming desire to relive all the foolishness and disaster.
We sat side by side as I slowly turned the pages, savoring, but at first we didn’t say much to each other, just “I remember that dress” and “you looked so pretty when you wore your hair that way.” Laura hadn’t written anything in the album either, no captions, dates or identification. The last few pages were from the years afterward, when Dad and Laura tried to make a go at the property: before and after pictures of the farmhouse renovations, shots of Dad hammering a fence post, Darby dressed as a vampire for some kind of Halloween party, a Christmas the four of us had there. The only hint of the end came in the solitary picture on the last page. It showed Dad at his birthday party. There was a cake with candles in front of him, and he was smiling in acknowledgement of the camera. But his cheeks were hollow. Over his shoulder I spotted a stack of boxes on the living room floor, and the bookshelf behind it was empty. The picture must have been taken sometime in the weeks after the property was sold, when he and Laura were packing up. Knowing Dad as I knew him, the smile on his lips didn’t fool me; I could read the darkness in his eyes. The mood of the picture seized me; I couldn’t stop looking at it for a long time, and then I asked Laura for a Kleenex.
She handed me the whole box. “You all right?”
“I’m fine. Just something in this room I’m reacting to.”
We laughed.I blew my nose and Laura, too, grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes. But seeing her cry broke open a valve inside me. I couldn’t clamp back the streams.