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The Crossword Puzzle (#4)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:

The Crossword Puzzle

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

To see all published chapters of “The Crossword Puzzle” click here


For several days Paige and Nola visited Spencer at the clinic; but he barely acknowledged their presence.  And then one day as they were leaving, a nurse told Paige that her visits upset him and it would be better if she let him rest and digest his meals without stress.  Paige, shocked but still in control of her ability to scheme, said she understood completely, but began to walk back to Spencer’s room, “to get my watch,” she explained.  “I left it there until I could get his repaired.”  She had a way of sliding past all opposition.

Paige saw that an attractive blonde doctor was taking his pulse and immediately sensed that something was going on between her husband and the Swiss doctor whose name, she learned, was Ingrid Hesse. “This Dr.Hesse has the hots for my husband,” she muttered to Nola.  “I can see it in her eyes.”

Nola tried to remove such thoughts from Paige’s mind, but she was not particularly convincing.  There was little concern for alarm, she insisted, since Dr. Boyer had assured her that Spencer would be home within the week.

Paige found the printed note on her vanity.  “Gregor intends to film you in the carriage house. Beware.”  She gasped and then made sure that In the several additional days that her husband was gone, she stayed away from Gregor. Nola had reclaimed her bedroom and aside from being annoyed by the little holes in the walls that Hines had made by hanging so many of his framed posters, she was able to resume her daily schedule with Spence when he returned. She refused, however, to be on call during evening hours since gossip made it impossible for her to remain in the house after hours.  Although Spence thought the nightly flights entirely unnecessary, he agreed.

Several days had passed and at every meal eaten in the servant’s kitchen, Gregor expected Hines to beg him to allow him to stay in the two back rooms. Mrs. Ellington persisted in presenting the case for such a purpose, but Hines claimed to be content with the turret room provided it was renovated as promised. Gregor was puzzled by Hines’ new enthusiasm for the tower chamber and when he discovered that his photos and tapes had been stolen, he believed he now knew why: Hines had taken the photos and would somehow, someway try to use them to get even with Gregor for refusing to allow him to live in the back rooms.

Gladys, meanwhile, began to wonder how Gregor had gotten the photographs developed.  They were too pornographic for him to take into town for processing.  Gregor had no friends in town – at least none that she knew of – so where were they processed?  The kids all had digital cameras and there were few places that still had dark-rooms.  On a hunch she went to the old farrier’s shed and even though the thick curtains were open, she found red bulbs in a string of sockets.  “So this is where he does it!” she said, and her admiration for the man she had regarded only as a stableman and groundskeeper grew.  She thought of glamorous movie star posters and imagined herself, hair styled and face made up, wearing sexy lingerie.  “Yes, he and I could go into business together doing glamor shots,” she murmured. Her inheritance would be enough to get the business started.

With Spence’s approval, Hines had an entertainment unit installed in the master bedroom along with two reclining chairs and a small refrigerator.  He used satellite feed to bring in all possible channels and In the evenings, he would build a fire in the fireplace and the two men would sit in the room and enjoy the “henless” evenings.

Nola’a new evening schedule began as dinner ended.  Forlornly, she’d watch Spencer as they ate and kept remembering the evenings they spent laughing and exchanging ideas; but she knew how volatile Paige was and that it was best for her to keep herself out of harm’s way. The relief she had experienced doing Zen meditation put visiting the Zen Buddhist Assembly of Morton at the top of her list of things to do. She did not know that The Council had already decided to end their operation on the last day of July; yet when she entered their office in February and asked to become a member, they said nothing and simply charged her a full year’s membership.

It was a cold night when, carrying her own zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat), she entered the shabby meditation room and was appalled by its condition – the scraped and blistered clashing paint schemes, the faulty hinges that prevented doors from being shut, the holes and stained areas of what was once a beautiful walnut floor – she nearly left without saying a word.  There were only eight shivering people sitting facing a dark or multicolored wall in the meditation room and yet a Council member walked around like a drill sergeant carrying a kyoasaku (hitting stock) ready to whack them on the shoulder should anyone slump into dreamland. Hypothermia and not lack of sleep, Nola thought, would soon have them all verging on unconsciousness.  She turned and looked at the fireplace. The room was so cold and so much cold draft came down the chimney that she again wanted to leave; but then she thought of Paige, who had expressed a desire to include religion in her life, and especially Spencer, who had actually expressed a desire to join the Assembly, and kept her place.

At the first fifty-minute break, she asked the woman sitting next to her, “Is it possible to close the flue?”

“No,” the woman replied, “it’s broken and they have no more money to repair the zillion things that are broken in his house.”  Then she added, “The roof leaks so bad that the snow turns the attic into a kind of mini-Alps.”

After services, Nola approached the council and offered to pay for the roof’s repair.  Over the years she had accumulated government saving bonds and she still had the Certificate of Deposit that Paige had given her.

The initial ecstatic response could hardly be put into words.  If or when, the ZBA sold the building, a good roof would raise the asking price.  But then, the intrusion of divinity into their dilemma occurred to them.  Nola was surely divinely sent and, accordingly, the council blessed her and wondered how, as Buddhists, they could properly thank her while still respecting the mandate of humility.  The roof, after all, would cost $20,000 to repair or replace.  And she was willing to pay this amount? Yes, she could just about afford it.  To her it was an investment in her social future.

But as the roofing contractor proceeded with the work, the ardor of the council cooled and the role of divinity lessened. They began to wonder why Nola was being so generous.  What was in it for her?

Roofers seize whatever opportunity the weather affords them, and in a matter of cold but dry and windless days, the work was completed. The repairs took all of Nola’s savings, but she did not regret the expense.  Fate or Faith had delivered her from alienation with her sister and the charges of scandalous behavior from which she might never recover.  She also did not want to be ashamed of the assembly that she expected both Spencer and Paige to join.  In its present state the building was an embarrassment.

In Mid-February, Nola stopped into the Council’s office to announce, “Since the roof is finished, I’d like to undertake an immediate renovation of the meditation room.  I’d like to make it suitable for two evening classes of yoga a week, which I, as a certified teacher, would conduct if you agree to it.  The Council would, of course, fix the fees, collect and keep the money. As you know, in Soto Zen the practitioners face the wall, so walls must be painted a very light color.”

“And why is that?” Sri Bashumitsu (Patrician Mahoney) the Council president obtusely asked.

Nola, who after all was going to do the work and spend her own money on the project, did not feel like a supplicant. In a tone that was somewhat less than obsequious, she said, “Because it all depends on the Ganzfeld principle.  When we stare into a bright, featureless space, the light bounces back from the space and has a salubrious effect on the eye.  Psychologically, it conduces to the meditative state.  As the wall is now, it is a dark jumble of color and stickers and some graffiti and is not anything that will induce the mind to relax.” Then she turned and added,

 “When the building’s repaired, you’ll attract more Zen people.  You could fix the bedrooms and rent out the rooms to paying guests.  Some of them may want to study to become lay-ordained monks or nuns.  You could even open a shop to sell home-make religious articles and garments!”

Someone murmured, “What excellent ideas!”  Eyes furtively glanced at other eyes as the council secretly smirked.  “Why didn’t we think of that?” one asked as she looked around at the others and snickered.

Sri Bashumitsu dismissed her with a tart, “Thank you so much.”

Undaunted, she paid a carpenter to repair the flue, windows, and doors, and hired a local painter to cover the ceiling and walls in a neutral cream-color paint. She rented a sanding machine and with a few male members spent evenings grinding away years of abuse from the parquet floors. A coating of spar-varnish was applied and the room began to hint of its former beauty.  Paige donated several brass candlesticks and an old wind-up clock for the mantlepiece and supplied a banzai tree and an ikebana floral piece for the plaster statue of the Buddha (the only one she could find) on an old walnut table she had to the room’s decoration.  The result of the renovation was startling and everyone marveled at the change.  More than a dozen new members joined the sangha. The Council decided to postpone ending their monastic venture.

Though the Council members felt renewed hope that they could create a monastic center, they still couldn’t understand Nola’s desire to help. The more renovation she did and was praised for, the more they resented her interference.  When she was present, they regarded her with polite distain, but when she was not present, they referred to her as “LB” which stood for Lady Bountiful, and, as beggars inevitably do, they assumed further entitlements.  In front of the congregation, Shi Bashumitsu pointedly asked, “Do you intend to use the same cream color paint for the bedrooms?”  Nola said that she regretted that she could not afford to pay for more than the meditation hall. The president expressed regret, and thus began in earnest the denigration of Nola and her gifts.  Yes, the Council conceded amongst themselves, it was nice to have a polished wood floor in the meditation hall for her to use for yoga classes; but it surely was not the salvific boon that Nola was undoubtedly boasting about.   What was she up to giving yoga classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings?  Was she trying to secure the good opinion of others in order to exploit them for some ulterior commercial purpose?  Who knew where she would take her yoga devotees once they helped to establish it?  Yes, Nola had to be up to something.  Despite many theories, they had not come close to guessing Nola’s motive.

At the Ghent house nothing had been done to the turret to accommodate Hines. Since Gregor adamantly refused to allow Hines to live in the two unused rooms – a decision Paige wholeheartedly supported, Hines still used Roland’s room – without the wall posters – and would have been content to make the arrangement permanent were it not for the upcoming Easter holiday when Roland was expected to return.  The few times that Roland called the house, he spoke to Jules who gave his uninhibited opinions about Hines.  Roland, a natural peacemaker, responded, “Let him stay with you. You have plenty of room and he can sleep on a cot.  It won’t kill either of you. Keep my bedroom locked.”

At the Zen Center, membership immediately increased; but news from the Ghent house was not nearly so encouraging. Spencer Ghent, secretly indulging in coconut cream candy, relapsed and needed to be taken to the clinic in Media.  After a few days he announced that he was transferring to the main clinic in Lucerne, Switzerland, for additional treatment which he said he needed.  Although he was able to use a computer for one hour a day to contact Nola about the puzzles, he still had no phone capability and could be reached otherwise only by mail. Isolation was considered part of the cure and Paige and all other family members and friends were not welcome in or near the sanatorium.  Ghent was to have a stressless period in which to recover from his dietary rule-breaking during the Easter holiday.

The children, who spent most of their home visit with their friends, returned to school, and life for Nola returned to its unusual normal.  Paige, at first, showed a kind of defiance and spent nights and even a several days at a time away from home.  She was jittery and uncommunicative; and when Nola pleaded with her to spend some time doing Zen meditation, she expressed a reluctance to join the Zen Assembly, saying that she needed a little more time to consider what such a move would do to her position in society.  She did attend yoga classes as did Ellis Foyle, a man Paige found strangely exciting.  She decided that she would attend at least until the kids and, she expected, Spencer, came home for the summer vacation in June. Meanwhile, having been told by one of the local dilettantes that she had a talent for art, she began to take lessons in town twice a week.

The time Spencer had spent in the clinic seemed to improve his health and good humor. He gained nearly ten pounds and although he still wore “safety” underpants, his libido benefitted greatly by the absence of unexpected bowel movements.  The Lucerne “spa” as he called it had an interfaith chapel and he had been able to meditate sitting on a cushion for an hour each week.  He had Jules mail to him his old Buddhist robes and were it not for his thick, wavy hair he would have looked like a true abbot and not one of the numerous candidates the Council was testing to replace the old man they were still stuck with.  Spencer’s executive poise returned to him and he began to give Dharma talks whenever other Buddhists were present in the Chapel.  He found in the sanatorium’s library several books on Buddhism that he regularly consulted.  That they were in both the Pali (old school) and Prajnaparamitra (reform school) Canons did not seem to matter much to him or to his audience.  There was an ego.  There was no such thing as an ego.  There was reincarnation.  There was no such thing as reincarnation.  In true professorial style he seemed to make sense no matter what he taught; and he naturally relied on the universal diversities of the Buddha’s Message to support any position he took.  Aside from all this, he had become more handsome, albeit in a more mature way.  He had sent photographs of himself; and while Paige showed them to anyone who would look, Nola spent hours alone in her bedroom praying to dislodge the man from her mind. Just before Memorial Day in May, he returned to his home in Morton, Pennsylvania.

The crossword puzzles continued to pour out of his and Nola’s bubbling imaginations, but this time Paige made no comment about their teamwork. Nola, determined to establish a “non-Spence” social life for herself, had joined a book club that met on Friday evenings.  On Saturday night she had joined the local Square Dance Society and learned old forms of folk dancing as well as modern Texas line dancing.  On Sunday, after riding horses around the estate with Paige, she’d return to her room to write her own diary, embellishing it with the intention to someday write a novel that would be at least as good as the books she reviewed at the club on Friday evenings. Unfortunately, she used fictitious names when referring to real people, and the servants who in secret regularly read the private pages all tended to assume that she had somehow learned about their more colorful histories.  Contempt for Nola rose concomitantly.

Paige, along with oil paint and charcoal, had found the solace of leather once again – but not with Gregor – and all seemed to be well at the Ghent house. When Gregor told her that he missed their sessions together, she explained that she and Spence had entered a new phase in their lives here and she could no longer be the cause of jealousy or embarrassment to her husband. Claiming that their insurance agent should clean out the two back rooms lest the debris there catch fire, she asked him to remove everything that he kept there and to record for insurance purposes the serial numbers of any equipment and to list all personal property he considered valuable. When he submitted only his television’s serial number to Jules.  She believed that she was no longer vulnerable to blackmail images of herself and never ascended the steps to his apartment again.

Spencer was a completely different man when he returned.  He spoke on the phone frequently with his children, but otherwise kept to himself and Hines. Since Mrs. Eglington was now thoroughly convinced about dietary matters, she kept his colitis under control.  He did require “maintenance” treatments and twice a week Hines drove him into Media to the Clinic’s branch for day-long hydrotherapy and massage sessions. Hines would go to the library or the movies while he waited.  Spencer would return from his treatment so enthusiastic about the procedures that he expressed a need to share the Lucerne’s methods with the world.  An architect was summoned and a large addition to the small clinic was planned.  The project took so much of his time that for many weeks Nola had to create one-hundred percent of the Chat R. Box puzzles.

Spencer did find time to attend a few evening meditation sessions at ZBA’s renovated “temple” and he and Hines practiced yoga at home in private, using the instructions offered on a DVD.  Whenever he went to the temple, he’d be asked to speak; and, invariably, he testified glowingly to everyman’s need to spend at least a few hours of his week in contemplation of the really important things in life.

He also accompanied the entire sangha when they went to the Masonic Temple’s auditorium to watch a showing of the film, Amongst White Clouds.

“You know,” Spence privately said to Nola as an appreciative comment on the film, “For twenty years we’ve had a hundred-twenty acres of reclaimed land in Schuylkill County.  I bet the trees have grown back in all that time.  It would make a great place to establish a colony of hermitages for folks who just want to get away from this irritating so-called civilized life. Let’s go up this weekend and have a look at it.  I want a woman’s opinion.”

Paige had made other plans and insisted that the two of them should go and report on the condition of the area.   Since the land had been given to them as wedding presents by an eccentric uncle of Spencer’s, the parcels were separate. Paige owned the sixty acre half of the property that contained the trail into the land; and Spencer owned the other half, the hilltop that contained an old cabin.  “There’s probably bears and mountain lions to contend with,” Paige warned, “and maybe a few snakes and spiders, but otherwise you might have good shelter there.  It should require only one night to decide whether or not the place is fit for hermitages.”

Nola, also enthusiastic about living in an isolated hermitage, agreed to go.  She discussed the possibilities with Ellis Foyle who, since his wife had not returned as planned, was also interested in joining the independent group of people who lived alone without distractions.

Also joining them in their expectation of the un-interfered with life, was the latest candidate for the abbacy, a handsome young man from Kerala, India, Vikram Chaudan, whose purpose in coming to the U.S. was actually to find a hospital to accept him as a surgical resident.  But he needed a permanent and respectable place to stay and a Zen monastery that charged him nothing was certainly that.  He read a few books about Soto Zen on the evening before he came to the ZBA to apply.

The Council found him to be an acceptable candidate and had even adjusted his name to sound more Japanese, calling him Victoru Roshi.  Vikram was a graduate of a third rate medical school in India in which he had finished at the bottom of his class.  Nevertheless, his good looks and charm carried him along the waters of social refinement, “like Shiva’s seed on the leaf,” as The Council ladies put it, and delivered him to them. When Vikram learned that Nola was a registered nurse who could also type, he asked her to help him to write to the various medical institutions – of which there were hundreds – in the United States and Canada to ask to be considered for a position as a surgical resident.  Included in his resumé was a copy of his academic record which, Nola thought but did not express, should have resulted in paroxysms of laughter in the various Admission’s offices. The photograph he chose to submit with the requests failed to convey his good looks.  To Nola, he looked rather sleepy in the photos. To Paige, it was providential that most of the work they did was done in the Ghent house.  Seeing him banished the ugly thoughts she had about her own husband and gave Gregor some needed competition.

Spencer decided, “We can go to the land this weekend. We’ll go in our old Ford truck that Gregor uses. “It’s a great idea for a puzzle theme.  We can call it Roughing It.  What do you think?”

Nola did not know what to think. Without approaching erotomania, there is a state in which lonely people tend to magnify or even transmute the meaning of a simple statement or gesture made by someone whom the lonely person considers a potential lover. “Nice jacket!” said casually by someone passing, is examined for all possible meanings, none of which has anything to do with garments.  “You look really nice today,” is practically a proposal of marriage. At the very least, the conclusion will be reached that not only were such statements an overture to an affair, but that an overt admiration of the figure wearing the garment was a public announcement of romantic interest.  People in a normal love affair hear many such remarks. They tend to smile automatically in response and forget the compliment.  But lonely people are like starving beggars – though they do not realize this.  A crumb thrown to them is devoured with desperate hopes for more. Another response to such a remark may be had by more sober persons.  The compliment then flits around the mind like a mayfly, titillating it briefly with possibilities.

Knowing this did not prevent Nola from giggling to herself about Spencer Ghent’s frequent shows of sexual desire and his intended week-end jaunt.  Perhaps some kind of priapic medicine had been prescribed for him in Switzerland.  “What if?” began to play its tantalizing game in her mind as she got into bed that night and pulled the covers up.

Nola looked forward anxiously to spending a night in an isolated cabin with Spence. How would he react to her when they were alone?  She remembered what Ellis Foyle had said about Razzle games and wondered how Spence was responding to her absences from home in the evening.  One night at dinner he had said to her in a joking manner, “Go ahead and go do your vampire things or whatever you do when the sun goes down.  I only know it gets pretty lonely around here.”  Paige immediately changed the subject.

Perhaps it was those unproductive years that gave him such a proprietary attitude toward the puzzles, but, increasingly he realized that he no longer needed an in-home registered nurse and that that the larger salary Paige had given Nola could justifiably be considered payment for her contribution to the puzzles. Though he had promised that the syndication would be in their names jointly, he now decided that Nola had already been paid for her part of the work.  “Oh,” he responded when she mentioned the syndication of the puzzles, “my attorney’s working on it.  It’s more complicated than we thought.”  He went to his gun collection and selected a revolver and a rifle. “Who knows what we’ll find, on the land,” he said. “Gregor can do without the truck for a few days.  If bears bother us in the cabin, we can always move and sleep in the truck bed.” He found an old tarp and two of the kids new sleeping bags and tossed them it in the back of the truck.

As they drove to Schuylkill County, Nola decided against bringing up the issue of syndication in fear that she’d start some kind of argument.  She knew that Spencer had been talking to his lawyer quite frequently in recent days, and she was content to believe that the subject of their conversation was, as Spencer had said, the syndication problem.

It began to rain, and having been told that the cabin was old and run-down, she noticed on the map that there was a motel and gas station just before the turn-off to the land.  “According to your map,” she said, “this is the last point of civilization for miles.  Why don’t we check in here?  There’s a cafeteria of some sort attached to the station.  They’re open and maybe the owner can give us some news about the place.”

Spencer responded harshly.  “Whose investigation is this?  Yours or mine? Our one chance to sleep together in privacy and you want to check into a motel.  What do we get? Two rooms?” he asked sarcastically.  “One for smokers and one on the other end of the place for non-smokers?Or were you planning to register as my wife?  Proof? Is that what you’re looking for? Some kind of sexual harassment?” He drove past the station and made a sharp left onto the dirt trail that led onto the land.

Nola, stunned by his outburst, said nothing.

The land was beautiful.  The deciduous trees were still bright green and the pines stood like sentries every fifty feet or so.  “I’m sorry,” Spence said.  “I don’t know what’s gotten under my skin. I know the bears have stopped hibernating and anything with fur on it is protecting its young.  But Nola! I’ve missed you so much at night.  And this is my first big outing.  I was really looking forward to being alone with you.”  He reached across and mussed her hair.  “Please forgive me.  I’m an old crank who’s nuts about a beautiful young thing.  It’s hell sitting home alone watching Tv.  Hines gets on my nerves.  A little of him goes a long way, indispensable as he has become.”

 “There are times I just don’t understand you,” Nola forced herself to reply.  She changed the subject to the land.  “The place looks perfect for hermitages.”  Someone had planted fruit trees as part of the reclamation project after strip mining had all but destroyed the land. “I see peach trees and apple… and cherry, too; but the fruit’s tiny and hardly ripe enough to pick.  And there are blackberry bushes all over the place.”

The trail led up to the cabin.  “Well, lookie here!” Spence said affecting delight.  “Hunters or visitors of some kind have repaired the cabin, or so a real estate agent in the county has told me.”  This was a lie, of course. Spencer had ordered immediate repairs.  “Bully for them that they’ve made the cabin more livable.  A key to the front door is supposed to be in a geranium pot on the left side of the door.”

Nola looked around and said, “There doesn’t seem to be another thing that needs doing to this place.  It will furnish a great headquarters while the smaller hermitages are being built.”  Spencer agreed. He even tested the water from a nearby stream and found it to be pure and delicious.  There were chamberpots under the beds and an outhouse, but these, he allowed, were part of rustic living.

As Nola unassembled the camping gear she had brought, Spencer suddenly said, “Zip the two sleeping bags together.  We’ll need each other to keep warm.  It gets cold as hell up here at night.” There was an odd subtlety in the way he made the request that made her hesitate.  Clearly, his intention was to make love to her, but his request lacked even a hint of romance.  Yet, she acquiesced and joined the two sleeping bags.  Regardless of his crude approach, she had wanted to make love to him for a long time.  And that time had come.

After dinner they sat before the fireplace and talked about the rustic life and then he simply said, “It’s bedtime now. Let’s have at it.”

He followed her into the sleeping bag and roughly tried to remove her nightgown.  In the flickering light of the fireplace, she could see the expression on his face.  He did not try to kiss her or make even a tender gesture.  He rubbed himself a few times against her thigh, and then lifting himself up he shifted his weight until he was on top of her.  Nola suddenly pushed him away and began to scramble out of the sleeping bag. “If this is your idea of love making, buy yourself one of those plastic blow-up dolls.”  She finally got free of the bag and began to change into her outdoor clothing.

Nola did not even try to make sense of his performance.  She began to unzip her half of the sleeping bag while he cursed her for being a “cock teaser.”

“Is the truck locked?” she asked.  “I’ll go sleep in it.”  She saw the keys on the table and quickly picked them up.  “I’ll see you in the morning when maybe your sanity has returned.”  She retreated to the truck still hearing Spencer curse her for having deceived him.  The truck was old and did not have bucket seats.  “Thank God!” she said as she wiggled into the sleeping bag and curled up on the seat.  “A blow up doll!” she whined; and then she began to cry.

In the morning, Spencer took the truck to check the property for more streams that could be used by the hermitages.  The smell of coffee and bacon filled the hill top as Nola made breakfast; but an hour passed and Spencer did not return.  Fearing that he had had an accident with the truck, she took the rifle and some extra rounds and went to look for him.  There were the usual bird sounds as she trudged down the trail and suddenly she detected the sound of laughter.  She stepped carefully to get closer and saw Spencer speaking on a cell phone to someone in an excited voice.  She listened and could tell he was speaking to a woman.  She retreated, walking up the trail until she came to the cabin.   She drank some coffee and ate a few pieces of “fireside toast.”  Then she walked outside the cabin in a circle some hundred feet in diameter.  From what she could see, the lower land looked fit for vegetable gardens.  To be sure, they’d need a geologist’s opinion.

Spencer’s opinion differed.  He returned ebullient, “I’ve given the place a good going over,” he said, and I figure we can charge $30,000 per leased unit.  Everything’s pre-fab and it wouldn’t be Wabi Sabi unless the floor was dirt.The walls have to be strong because of the bears.  And they will all need fresh water. We’ll build cisterns and outhouses. Some may want hothouses attached.  We’ll have to get prices for those.”

After they had eaten he announced that regardless of what he had promised Paige, they’d have to stay another night.  “We need to experience life here on the mountain before we subject greenhorns to the dangers of the wild.”  Knowing how Paige would react, Nola objected.  Spence silenced her by telling her that he was still her boss.  “My wife is my responsibility,” he said.  “You can miss square dancing or whatever it is you do with those farmers.”

There was a small waterfall near the cabin. Nola, trying to be conciliatory, suggested, “After we clean up the kitchen let’s take some photographs of it.”

Spencer grunted and said simply, “Maybe. First I want to bathe there.” Nola cleaned the breakfast and lunch dishes while Spencer went to the falls to bathe and dress. Feeling that she was being punished for not capitulating to him the previous night, she was awkward and confused.  The guilt for hoping to use the weekend as a romantic getaway mixed with the anger she felt at his behavior towards her.  Nothing was happening the way she assumed it would; and she didn’t know how to approach him to regain some semblance of the friendship or teamwork that they had for so long enjoyed.  They were antagonists in the cabin and she was hurt and bewildered by the situation.

After Spencer dressed he checked the truck.  Nola came out of the cabin and joined him, using the excuse that she wanted to make sure she had removed all of her things. “Listen,” he said, I saw some interesting rocks – colorful ones – throughout the upper areas of the site. They’ll make a nice fireplace or entrance adornment.  I’ll recheck and photograph the waterfall while you gather the stones.”

Nola said that she would and then added, hoping to continue the conversation, “I don’t know how the others feel about killing deer, but I did see deer scat all over the place.”

“Hmm,” he said as he checked his watch and got into the truck.  “You keep looking for rocks but make sure you take the rifle with you… not for the deer, but for the bears.  I don’t think you’ll see any snakes.”

He drove away, but she could see in the damp clearing that the truck had not taken the trail to the falls, and his distinctive hiking boots had left no marks on the damp ground, either.  Suspicion spurred her to clarify the confusion.  She walked down to the lower part of the hill that was more level and with a long hundred-foot measuring tape she did mark with orange tags good places for cabins and gardens to be built.  She wrote a number on each tag and recorded it in a notebook.  She saw no colored rocks anywhere and continued to go down the trail.

Noon had come and he had not returned and she could hear no sound of an engine.  She continued to follow his tire tracks to the road and the motel came into view.  His truck was parked outside one of the rooms and beside the truck was a new Volvo that had a sticker bearing a medical insignia of some kind on the windshield.  Staying as far back as she could, she recorded the Volvo’s license plate’s number. Slowly, and letting her suspicions fill in all the gaps that had been blank, she returned to the cabin.  She marked a few more hermitage sites and then went into the cabin and found a tattered book on camping in a cabinet and, tucked inside her sleeping bag, tried to read it, but she was crying and could not concentrate on anything except her overwhelming disappointment and childishness. Soon darkness fell and the light from a single kerosene lamp was the only light in the cabin.  Finally, she fell asleep.

It was late in the morning when Spencer returned. She had remained in bed, trying to read. “Come on!” he said gruffly.  “Let’s go!  Paige is gonna have a fit.”

Nola dressed quickly and got into the truck.  She did not ask him where he had been all night, but he volunteered that he had gotten stuck in a ditch and had to go down to the motel to ask some men there if they’d help him.  Naturally, they couldn’t do anything until morning.  Nola pretended that she believed him and asked routinely curious questions. “How deep in the mud were you?”  “Did they pull you back out with a chain?”  “I guess that we ought to stay on the trail until we can lay gravel down.”

After thirty minutes of silence, he began to talk about Paige’s sexual preferences. “What does she say Gregor does to her?” he asked in the most innocent voice he could create. Nola refused to comment about Paige, saying that she didn’t know and wouldn’t discuss it if she did.  Spencer revealed in sordid detail what the last groundsman had told him.  “Yes, rough.  My lady likes the rough stuff.”

Nola wondered, “How did I ever let myself get romantically involved with him?” She repeatedly asked herself this as she tried to forget how witty and charming he usually was.  She thought about the car parked next to his at the motel.  It probably belonged to that blonde Swiss physician.  It had to be a torrid love affair for him to get her to drive an hour and a half all the way up there.

They drove in silence, stopping only to get gas.  Nola felt both the tension of fearing what Paige would say about their being a day late in returning and more, she felt the bewildering disappointment that is created by realistic expectations that somehow go awry.  She had every reason to assume that it would be a romantic weekend or, at least, a “fun” weekend; what she did not take into consideration was what Spencer was anticipating. Projecting thoughts and desires onto someone else and then making assumptions about results is invariably a mistake. Nola knew that – a fact which made her feel even worse. Now she was sure to be admonished for having taken an extra day with Spencer. Oh yes, she thought, it would be her fault.  She prepared for the inevitable scene as they pulled up to the portico at two o’clock.

Paige did not disappoint.  “I guess you two love birds had quite a nice time nesting in that broken down cabin.”

Spencer answered.  “I drove the truck into a ditch and needed help to get out.  The muscles between my shoulder blades are in some kind of spasm.  Instead of making things worse by your ridiculous imagination, could you try to get the knots out of my back?”  With that Paige followed him into the master’s bedroom; and after hearing maudlin pleas that Nola could not quite understand, she heard the bed begin to thump.  For an hour she watched the illuminated hands of her clock measure out the grunts and groans and yelps of an old ritual before she finally took a shower and prepared for dinner.

At dinner, without explanation, Spencer announced that he intended to return to Switzerland to complete his therapy.  “Also,” he casually added, “I just got an email from a man I forgot to mention – a fellow patient I made friends with in the Clinic who runs a home in Akita on the Sea of Japan side of the island.  He had said that the home had been created to care for the homeless people who lost everything after the Fukushima disaster.  Little by little the home’s population had dwindled as the people found residences closer to their work places or went to live with relatives.  He has room, he assures me, to accommodate the old Abbot at ZBA. My friend’s term of therapy is expiring In Lucerne, and if we want to bring the old demented Abbot to him, he’ll happily accept him. Caring for the sick, he explained to me, was his way of expressing gratitude for having been spared in the nuclear catastrophe.  What do you think?”

Nola, surprised that this was the first she was hearing about such a plan, thought that The Council would be delighted.

“I’ve been teaching my friend – his name is Yoshi – colloquial English.   As one of my teaching tools I’ve gotten him interested in crossword puzzles.  I’ve developed variations on the puzzle theme which have proven to be very instructive to him.  I’ve promised to continue the exercises – much like people used to play chess.  I’m speaking, of course, before the electronic age.”

“How is the Abbot supposed to get there?” Paige asked.

“If all goes well, someone from the council has to bring the old man to meet me and him at the Cairo Airport and then I’ll personally escort him to his new home in Akita.  I’ve already checked with the Japanese authorities and there should be no problem.”

That evening, as Nola was sorting the garments she’d ask to be laundered, Paige came to her room.  “Is it true that he had car trouble?” she whispered.

“That’s what he told me.  I didn’t see it, myself.”  Nola did not tell her about the Volvo and the motel. “And for the record, this is the first I’ve heard about returning to Lucerne or going to Japan.”

“I could tell you were surprised. Did you have sex with my husband?”


“I believe you.  I checked your two sleeping bags.  Yours was absolutely clean and his was full of semen.  He’s too lazy to get up and clean himself.”

“It was so cold up there at night.  I can’t fault him for not wanting to get up and clean himself in icy water.”

“He tried so many new positions with me this afternoon.  Why is he so interested in sex lately? I have the feeling that he’s practicing on me.”

“Maybe somebody is inspiring him.”

“That doctor from the clinic?”

“I don’t know.  As you can tell from the important things he “forgot” to tell us, I don’t know too much about his private life.  I do know that I think it’s time that we considered him to be as cured as he’s ever going to be of colitis.  Really, Paige… I’m no longer needed around here.  We can compose the crossword puzzles by email, text, or phone.”

“No! I don’t want you here for him.  I need you.”  She began to cry.  “My life is falling apart.  Things that I was so sure of have not come to pass; and things I never expected are deluging me. Things are so upside-down that I don’t want Spence to know that I’m personally asking you to stay.  If he thinks that, he’ll fire you for sure. He’s been seeing his attorney lately and I hope and pray it’s about your puzzle stuff.”

All Nola could say was, “I know exactly how you feel about the upside-down business.  But I’ll stay awhile longer if you think you really need me.”

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