Read Every Last Cuckoo Online

Authors: Kate Maloy

Tags: #General Fiction

Every Last Cuckoo

BOOK: Every Last Cuckoo
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E
VERY
L
AST
C
UCKOO

a novel by
Kate Maloy

ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL

For my mother, E
LIZABETH
H
ARDY
M
ALOY
, and her mother, B
ESSIE
W
ATSON
H
ARDY
, my first storytellers. For my aunt, A
NN
F
OSTER
H
ARDY
, my inspiration for Sarah.

Contents

PART I
Prologue
Chapter 1
|
Chapter 2
|
Chapter 3
|
Chapter 4
|
Chapter 5
|
Chapter 6
|
Chapter 7
|
Chapter 8
|
Chapter 9
|
Chapter 10

PART II
Chapter 11
|
Chapter 12
|
Chapter 13
|
Chapter 14
|
Chapter 15
|
Chapter 16
|
Chapter 17
|
Chapter 18
|
Chapter 19
|
Chapter 20
|
Chapter 21
|
Chapter 22
|
Chapter 23
|
Chapter 24
|
Chapter 25
|
Chapter 26
|
Chapter 27
|
Chapter 28

Acknowledgments
Praise for
Every Last Cuckoo
Also by Kate Maloy

PART I

 

RUNNING ON FEAR ALONE, Sarah Lucas follows her dog Sylvie down a long meadow and onto a disintegrating ski trail in the woods. Sylvie, a black Lab, holds her tail out stiffly from the base of her spine; she is all business. Sarah carries a heavy down parka for Charles, just in case. A sleeve falls loose and tangles between her legs; she nearly goes down. Panic fills her lungs and throat, displacing her breath as she tries to keep up with the dog. Her heart strains, an overtaxed engine. Sarah curses herself for not having said to Charles, “Be careful,” as always. She had rushed off with a friend; she had failed to voice the necessary charm. In her last glimpse of her husband, he had his walking stick in hand, his daypack over his shoulder. He was pleased to be setting out—and then he did not come back. Sarah had returned home to find the house empty and Sylvie waiting, frenzied.

Sarah feels both young and old, amazed that she can move so fast but aware that it might kill her. When she reaches the topmost point of the trail, she can see where Charles struck off through recently melted and refrozen snow. It has a thick crust, which he broke with each step. He wasn't wearing his snowshoes.

Sarah wads the parka more securely under her arm and moves carefully off the ski trail. She places her feet in the depressions Charles left, thinking wildly,
Whither thou goest
. Her pace now is unbearably slow. Her pulse thuds in her throat and behind her eyes. She squints to see ahead, but Charles's trail, which
descends into a deep ravine, goes out of sight behind a house-size boulder.

Finally, Sarah sees him down. The broken snow reveals that he fell steeply and rolled. His mongrel terrier, Ruckus, is close beside him, a furry appendage. The little dog looks up and whimpers as Sarah approaches, but he stays put. Charles lies sprawled on his back, his head lower than his feet, one leg bent wrong. Sarah reaches his side and falls to her knees. A sudden soft keening escapes her. He is icy to her touch, his lips are blue, he does not stir. Frantically she feels for a pulse. It is there, but faint. She quickly wraps her husband in the parka, tucking it as far beneath his motionless body as she can. He murmurs something, and his eyelids flutter, but he doesn't awaken. She fumbles in the pocket of her coat for her cell phone, her hands shaking violently. She enters a number, hears a crackling emptiness. She wails in frustration, breaks the failed connection, and tries again to punch in 911. When a woman answers, Sarah stammers with cold and fear as she tries to explain where Charles is. She has to give their address, then directions to the entrance of the trail, then an estimated distance to the point at which Charles left the easy route and began breaking through the old snow. She is weeping by the time the operator understands where to send the EMTs on their snowmobiles.

Sarah lies down as close to Charles as she can, trying to warm him with her body and her breath, feeling for his heartbeat. The dogs curl up close as well. Charles does not move.

Chapter 1

T
HAT FALL AND WINTER
Sarah felt events conspiring toward some menacing end. She told herself this was baseless, nothing more than a symptom of the seasonal plunge into cold and lengthening dark, but her anxiety persisted.

Her dread first began to surge during an illness that came over her on a midnight in November. She left her bed at the first roiling and moved to the window seat across the room, not wanting to wake Charles. Cold air flowed down from the stars, up from the river, and through the open casement beside her. She gulped it like an antidote, though it turned the fever sweat to icy pinheads in her pores. She was alarmed by her racing heart, too aware of her skin—how touchy it was with the onset of illness, how furnace-dry beneath the moist sheen.

Sarah held herself perfectly still, trying to quell the swelling nausea by force of will, as she had done since childhood, hating the stink and sound of the body's gross defenses. She preferred drawn-out suffering to the quick but horrible relief.
Hot and cold, she set herself adrift, hoping to sleep again and fool whatever virus or toxin had invaded her. Soon she entered a suspended awareness in which she was conscious yet assailed by images her conscious mind did not produce. Where had she seen that piece of road, that sweet rise and bend that now un-spooled behind her eyes? The ocean, or perhaps a lake, lay to the right of it, a fringe of trees and a tucked cottage to the left. Up ahead, around a curve, a causeway crossed the wide water, but from where to where? Sarah tried to remember, but it was like snatching at milkweed fluff in the air. The very attempt sent it out of reach.

This kind of thing happened more with age. Sarah was seventy-five. She had lived many thousands of days, so it was not surprising that scenes from an hour here or a moment there should surface at random. Her memories were beads jumbled loose in a box, unstrung. Everything—people, events, conversations—came and went so fast that only a fraction of the beads were ever stored at all. Few were whole, many cracked; most rolled away beneath pressing, present moments and were gone forever. What was the point?

Still, Sarah felt she should remember that road. Something about it.

Fully awake now, she slipped from the window seat and stumbled urgently across the hallway to the bathroom. On her way she heard Charles utter an inflected snort that meant,
What's happening? Where are you?

She closed the bathroom door and fell to her knees, thankful that she had scrubbed the toilet just that day. The porcelain was clean enough that she cooled her cheek on it between eviscerating heaves.

Charles knocked softly after a decent interval. He would never just come in, not while she was on the floor, clammy and trembling. “Just a minute,” she called, flushing the toilet. She rose and glimpsed her face, gone ashy, in the mirror. She rinsed her mouth, brushed her teeth, rinsed again, and went out of the bathroom into Charles's embrace.

“Why didn't you wake me?” he asked, looking down at her, his white hair standing in tufts, his eyes naked without glasses.

“So you could do what?” Sarah answered, filled with relief, welcoming the pale euphoria that always rose in her when illness faded.

“Well, how about now? Want tea?”

“No, thanks. Just put me back to bed.”

Charles, still lanky and straight at eighty, still courtly at moments like this one, held Sarah's arm and steered her to their room and her side of their bed. He lifted her legs and feet onto the mattress, smoothed the covers over her, and felt her forehead. “Hot,” he said. “I'll get the thermometer.”

“No need,” Sarah replied, exhausted. “Fever's going down.”

BOOK: Every Last Cuckoo
4.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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