Read The Outlander Online

Authors: Gil Adamson

Tags: #General Fiction, #FIC019000

The Outlander (41 page)

BOOK: The Outlander
7.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

She looked about at her own cell. A heavy metal door with bars, a
well-framed oak door jamb, and a brass lock.
Several pale
circumscriptions on the walls suggested long-resident furniture, now departed — so
it had perhaps been an office or even a counting room, unwisely equipped with a window.
She put a hand round one of the bars and shook it experimentally. A dry grinding issued
from the mortar, and dust filtered down along the wall's uneven plaster.

There was a noise behind her and she turned, startled. A young woman stood
in the outside hall beyond the barred door, a tray in her hands. The man from earlier
was somewhere down the hall, noisily going through drawers. The girl seemed
uncomfortable with the waiting. After a long moment, the man appeared at the door and
worked the lock open, and the girl took one step inside the cell and halted.

“Go on,” he said, “she's not going to eat

The girl blushed deeply and forced herself forward to the spindly chair by
the wall where she set the tray down. The food on the tray smelled familiar, and the
widow reasoned that its cook must live nearby. Then the girl hurried from the room,
turning the corner so sharply she caught her sleeve on the doorframe.

The man stood with a bemused look on his face and watched the girl as she
left the building. Rolling his eyes at the widow, he stepped back and locked the door
again. “Just like a squirrel,” he said, “scared of everything.”
He went jingling down the hall.

The widow heard a drawer rasp open somewhere, followed by the hollow sound
of keys being dropped and hitting wood. An empty drawer. She listened intently, her eyes
going unfocused. A few footsteps. A thump. Then silence for a long time. Had he left and
gone home too? Was the building empty, then, utterly functionless except to house
her? She called out, but no one called back to her. Some airborne
sweetness drifted in through the bars behind her, some late summer tree in bloom,
erupting with the recent rain. A sweetness that mixed with the scent of the cooling
chicken on her tray and leant the little cell an air of putrefaction.

She went over to the chair and looked down at the food. A glass of milk.
She took it up and drank slowly, unable to remember the last time she had tasted milk.
Carrots and yam and roast chicken, presented prettily on a bone china plate decorated
with a cramped pattern of tiny gold and green roses. Someone had decanted a little gravy
into what looked like a tea creamer and set it beside the plate. A bowl with angel food
cake stained deeply by ripe blueberries. The widow's expression was that of a
woman about to descend into a dank basement — part dread, part determination. She
longed to eat but worried the food might not stay down. She bent to see under the cot,
where there was a small bedpan. She fetched it out with the toe of her boot, just in
case, and then she sat down and placed the tray over her knees, and took up the knife
and fork.

stopped rooting in the bullet hole,
removed the bloodied forceps, and peered closely at the wound. His face was inches from
the patient's chest so that his breath blew across the ginger hair. Jude sat up,
panting on the table while his brother held his naked shoulders to steady him. His
entire chest was black and blue. A dark puncture near the collarbone.

“Huh,” the doctor grunted.

“What?” Julian's anxious face appeared over his
brother's shoulder. “What's wrong?”

“Don't know.” He slid the forceps gently back into the
trickling wound and began scrounging again while Jude held his breath. There was a
barely audible sound of metal on metal. And then the doctor withdrew a tiny shard of the
bullet, no bigger than a lost tooth filling and just as shapeless. Jude put his hand out
and the doctor dropped the shard into it. All three men looked at it.

“I was afraid of that,” said the doctor. “Lots of little
pieces in there. Doubt I can get them all.”

Someone came into the outer room and called, “Dad?”

“Here!” he bellowed. Then he rose from his seat and strode to
the cabinet to get some sterile pads, holding the probe behind his back while he
searched. A young man peered around the door frame — he looked at the brothers and
did a doubletake. Quickly he withdrew again.

The metal stool spun slowly from the force of the doctor's
departure. The brothers remained where they were, one holding the other up.

Julian's voice came quietly. “How do you feel?”

Jude shook his head. “Only half dead.”


moments of twilight, when the widow's
cell was dark and the outside sky presented itself as pink and misty and cut by bars,
there came over the muggy air the sound of bats, their voices dry metallic clicks, like
someone trying to wind a rusty clock. The widow lay on her back on the bunk. Her fingers
played with the grit that clung to the blanket, rock dust that had sprinkled down from
her vain attempts to shake the window bars out. She could not stop considering the
objects in her room as some kind of disassembled key to her escape: a chair, a cot, a
dinner tray, a bedpan. She went over them all in her mind, unable to stop searching for
a solution she knew was not there. A dog barked disinterestedly from inside some echoing
place, a barn or shed, answered by other dogs in the dusk.

She sat up, took the tray from the floor, and set it on her lap again,
trying to get a little more food in. She had eaten the angel food cake slowly. It was
dry and fragrant and weightless. Now she began to work on the white slabs of chicken
meat, dipping each slice in gravy. Pausing before putting it in her mouth. It tasted
wonderful, and slowly the nausea subsided. Perhaps the sickness had to do with lack of
food rather than the food itself.

She began to hear things. A woman's voice. A thump.

Down the hallway came candlelight, trembling, growing in intensity. There
were two voices. Then came the sound of a drawer being opened, a few words of argument
between a woman and a man. The keys came out, and the light came up the hall toward her
cell. The man was at the door again. He unlocked it and went away again, leaving a
woman. She was slim and grey-haired and fit, holding a candle. She waited for a moment
by the door, seeing the widow still at work on her dinner, and then she went and sat by
the wall on the little chair. Prim as a schoolmistress, a woman of long hands and face,

“Is the food not good?”

The widow had heard that tone in her own voice, the undercurrent of
bafflement that after such efforts in cooking the dinner was not appreciated. She nodded
vigorously, still chewing.

“It'd be cold by now,” the woman said, dubiously.

“No, it's very good. Did you cook it yourself?”


“Then you live near here?”

The woman was silent for a moment, wondering, her grey eyes twinkling in
the poor light. Then she laughed.

“You could smell it cooking! Of course.”

The widow picked delicately at the scraps on the plate, caught up the last
of the yam with her fork, put the bowl down and the tray to one side and checked her
mouth for crumbs, and sighed with contentment, despite her watcher.

The woman leaned out the open cell door and bellowed, “Allan, will
you please come and get the tray?” There was a muffled curse, and the man came
down the hall. He took up
the tray and was about to collect the
candle, but the woman said, “No, leave that.”

“Does her majesty want anything else?” he said.

She gave him a withering look, and he left again, trudging carefully down
the darkened hallway, the tray jingling slightly, like dull bells. When he was gone, the
woman leaned forward and whispered, “You know they're out there, don't
you? Both of them.”

The widow didn't have to ask who she meant. “Where

“Right on the stoop, sitting on chairs.
their guns, if
you can believe it. It'd be funny if it weren't so weird. They give me the
screaming crawls, those two.” The woman looked quickly over her shoulder as if the
twins might have impossibly good hearing and could take offence at her words. The widow

“Are they your brothers?”

“In law.”

,” the woman said as if that made all
the difference in the world, as if it explained away some niggling worry that had been
afflicting her. She seemed much buoyed by the news, happier to be in her present

“Are you warm enough, my dear? Would you like another blanket? My
husband has a few sweaters that might fit over that . . . outfit of yours.”

“I'm fine, thank you.”

“Can I bring you a little milk for overnight?”

“Don't bother yourself,” the widow said.

The woman sighed and put her hands on her thighs as if to get up, but she
was debating something silently. In this posture, hesitant and tense, on the verge of
speaking, the
widow could see that she was in fact the mother of
the girl who had run out earlier. Here were the same long cheeks, the same hooded eyes,
only more deeply carved. Eventually, the woman stood up. Whatever thoughts might have
been at work in her head, they had been pushed aside. “I'm sorry,” she
said, taking up the candle. “I can't leave this for you. They say you might
burn the place down. I don't think so, but no one listens to me.”

She called for the man. After a long interval he arrived, and together
they locked the door and he shook it to test the lock, and they went away with the
candle so the light faded and then there was only darkness. The sounds of the arguing
voices and the drawer and the keys repeated themselves in reverse order. She waited for
the thump, and after a moment, there it was. The widow lay curled on her bed, listening
to the sounds that came in through the barred window, attending to every animal call,
every gust of wind through the branches, every distant voice. She listened for the
brothers' voices, but knew that she would not hear them.

The widow put her hands over her face and began to laugh, quietly and
deeply, a laugh that verged on tears, and when she was done, her hands remained there,
keeping the dark out, keeping a small, delicate light in.

again after dawn, bearing a breakfast
tray, heralded by marital peevishness as they rambled down the hall arguing. They found
the widow standing by her bed in her outlandish savage costume, the bed made perfectly
as if awaiting inspection. It was the only house chore available to her. The couple
bustled in like two wrangling dogs, nudging and contentious, worrying the tray and the
widow and each
other until the wife bluntly told the husband to get
out, and he did. He retreated down the hall, grumping under his breath.

“My land,” the woman said tartly, sitting herself down with a
defiant thump on the little chair. He had lost, she had won, and now she had taken
residence. Because of this, the widow intuited that her presence offered something of a
spectacle in the town. How could it not? A murderess, dressed to all appearances as an
Indian, arriving restrained with ropes and sitting backward on her saddle, the horses
strolling through a gauntlet of staring faces, some men following along on the sidewalk
under the awnings to get a longer look, children running up through the mud to touch her
horse or speak to her until shrilled back by their mothers. And now the two redheads
sitting in bizarre vigil at the door of this abandoned bank, their rifles still across
their backs. She was a curiosity, certainly, and this woman was likely being pecked to
death with questions about her. During the night the widow had heard whispering at the
window above her bed, the sound of young men's voices, one saying, “I
don't see her,” another saying, “Here, get out of the way.” She
had lain perfectly still, expecting a gunshot, or, if she was lucky, merely something
vile dropped through the bars onto her where she lay curled on the bed. But nothing came
and after a while she knew they had gone away. Her heart was frozen in her chest. They
had called her name: “Mary Boulton.”

“Have your breakfast, dear. You must be starved.”

The woman's voice was gentle. The widow sat down on the cot and
carefully transferred the tray to her knees, contemplating the food on it. Eggs on two
thick slices of seared
ham, a cool slice of buttered toast, a glass
of milk, tea. She took up the knife and fork and delicately sliced a wedge of ham, poked
it into the steaming dome of the egg, bursting it, and drew the dripping result to her
mouth. Every fibre in her body was grateful.

The woman watched this procedure with uncommon attention. After a moment
she realized she was staring rudely, so she extracted a little wad of lace and a crochet
hook from her pocket and set upon it with pinched efficiency. She put the unravelling
ball of thread in the lap of her dress and held it there expertly as it jerked and
hopped. Then, as if in the presence of an intimate, she held forth. “They're
out there again, those two, sitting like stone lions at a gate. You couldn't get a
smile out of either one of them if you paid him. It's absolutely ridiculous. As if
a girl like you could possibly get out of here on your own. You'll be as perplexed
as I was when I tell you they were here till ten o'clock before they finally went
off to the hotel — ten o'clock! Allan thinks they're the best thing
he's ever seen. He can hardly sleep for it. Neither can I, frankly. I've
never understood what motivates a man. It's a pure mystery to me. The older I get,
the less I know about them. They seem simple enough when they're little boys,
don't they? There's no difficulty in seeing what ails them, it's
written on their faces. I just don't know what happens to them when they grow

BOOK: The Outlander
7.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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