Up Country

Propping the screen door open with her shoulder, Tanya shouts, “Hello, hello!” She is a large woman, tall not fat, with long arms and legs and big feet. She is not as tall as she once was. Her dyed blondish hair is pulled back into a fraying elastic ponytail holder, and strands have worked loose and fly around her face. She has driven up from the city through pouring rain and is sweaty despite the rental car’s air-conditioning. She drops her black duffel bag, takes off her cork platform sandals, and adds them to the welter of sneakers, flip-flops, and child-sized Crocs piled inside the front door. She walks up a few steps to the living room.

Crepe-paper streamers loop from wall to wall at a height of four and five feet, weaving over and under each other to create a huge, tangled web. Four girls glance at Tanya, but she doesn’t hold their attention, and they turn back to their work, taping the multicolored streamers to the walls. A woman’s sharp voice comes from the left, from in back of a wooden counter: “Did you not hear me? I said, knock it off! I don’t believe it!” The two bigger girls drift off, the two younger giggle at each other and stare at Tanya.

“Somebody’s here,” one of them says, continuing to tape.

The house is Isabel’s, Tanya’s oldest friend. It had been Isabel and Don’s, bought thirty years ago, when their daughters, mothers of these girls, were six and eight, but now Don is dead, and the house is Isabel’s. It sits on a wooded hillside two hours outside New York City, with a few other houses on a small lake where everyone can swim, paddle kayaks or canoes, or splash around. This weekend the house is full: Isabel’s two daughters, two sons-in-law, the four grandchildren, and now Tanya, who is visiting from California. Through the glass wall on the far side of the living room, Tanya sees gray-black evergreens, and on the deck rail, a towel and swimsuit left out in the rain and some bright-colored flotation devices. Tanya had met the children three years ago, when Don died; the youngest child was a baby. Tanya jokes that she comes to the East Coast now only for funerals, but for this trip no one has died.

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