“Can I give you a hand with something?”
He answered over his shoulder: “Sure. How about cutting up some vegetables to fry. There’s plenty in the icebox, and you can find a bowl over there.”
He motioned to the cabinet near the sink, and she took another sip of tea before setting her cup on the counter and retrieving the bowl. She carried it to the icebox and found some okra, courgettes, onions and carrots on the bottom shelf. Noah joined her in front of the open door, and she moved to make room for him. She could smell him as he stood next to her-clean, familiar, distinctive-and felt his arm brush against her as he leaned over and reached inside. He removed a beer and a bottle of hot sauce, then returned to the stove.
Noah opened the beer and poured it in the water, then added the hot sauce and some other seasoning. After stirring the water to make sure the powders dissolved, he went to the back door to get the crabs.
He paused for a moment before going back inside and stared at Allie, watching her cut the carrots. As he did that, he wondered again why she had come, especially now that she was engaged. None of this made much sense to him. But then Allie had always been surprising.
He smiled, remembering the way she had been. Fiery, spontaneous, passionate-as he imagined most artists to be. And she was definitely that. Artistic talent like hers was a gift. He remembered seeing some paintings in the museums in New York and thinking that her work was just as good.
She had given him a painting before she’d left that summer. It hung above the fireplace in the living room. She’d called it a picture of her dreams, and to him it had seemed extremely sensual. When he looked at it, and he often did late in the evening, he could see desire in the colours and the lines, and if he focused carefully he could imagine what she had been thinking with every stroke.
A dog barked in the distance, and Noah realized he had been standing with the door open a long time. He closed it quickly and went into the kitchen.
“How’s it going?” he asked, seeing she was nearly finished.
“Good. I’m almost done here. Anything else for dinner?”
“I have some homemade bread that I was planning on. From a neighbour,” he added as he put the pail in the sink. He began to rinse the crabs, holding them under the tap, then letting them scurry around the sink while he rinsed the next one. Allie picked up her cup and came over to watch him.
“Aren’t you afraid they’ll pinch you?”
“No. Just grab ‘em like this,” he said, demonstrating.
She smiled. “I forget you’ve done this your whole life.”
She leaned against the counter, standing close to him, and emptied her cup. When the crabs were ready he put them in the pot on the stove. He washed his hands, turning to speak to her as he did so.
“You want to sit on the porch for a few minutes? I’d like to let them marinate for a half-hour.”
“Sure,” she said.
He wiped his hands, and together they went to the back porch. Noah flicked on the light as they went outside, and he sat in the older rocker, offering the newer one to her. When he saw her cup was empty, he went inside for a moment and emerged with a refill and a beer for himself. He held out the cup and she took it, sipping again before she put it on the table beside the chairs.
“You were sitting out here when I came, weren’t you?”
“Yeah. I sit out here every night. It’s a habit now.”
“I can see why,” she said as she looked around. “So, what is it you do these days?”
“Actually, I don’t do anything but work on the house right now.
It satisfies my creative urges.”
“How can you… I mean…"
“Morris Goldman. My old boss from up north. He offered me a part of the business just as I enlisted, and died before I got home. When I got back to the states, his lawyers gave me a cheque big enough to buy this place and fix it up.”
She laughed under her breath. “You always told me you’d find a way to do it.”
They both sat quietly for a moment, thinking back again. Allie took another sip of tea.
“Do you remember sneaking over here the night you first told me about this place?”
He nodded, and she went on: “I got home a little late that evening, and my parents were furious when I finally came in. I can still picture my daddy standing in the living room smoking a cigarette, my mother on the sofa staring straight ahead. I swear, they looked as if a family member had died. That was the first time my parents knew I was serious about you, and my mother had a long talk with me later that night. She said to me, ‘I’m sure you think that I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I do. It’s just that sometimes our future is dictated by what we are, as opposed to what we want.’ I remember being really hurt when she said that.”
“You told me about it the next day. It hurt my feelings, too. I liked your parents and I had no idea they didn’t like me.”
“It wasn’t that they didn’t like you. They didn’t think you deserved me.”
“There’s not much difference.”
“I know that I always did. Maybe that’s why my mother and I always seem to have a distance between us when we talk.”
“How do you feel about it now?”
“The same as I did back then. That it’s wrong, that it isn’t fair. It was a terrible thing for a girl to learn, that status is more important than feelings.”
Noah said nothing.
“I’ve thought about you ever since that summer,” she said.