Outside, in the wind, leaves were falling past the windows. Leaves were landing on the tin roof and sliding down, and Claire shifted and looked out the window. She seemed to Robert to move with a memory of dance.
She still had the pheasants in her arms. She turned again and led Jack and Robert out of the dining room, into the main yard outside, and toward the house. There, she insisted on cleaning the new birds. The men sat at the table, and she hummed and sang a German song as she worked.
Jack shifted in his chair and massaged his thighs. Robert had never seen him admit pain in front of a stranger. Jack had told him that Cecelia massaged his legs when they were hurting, and Robert had thought, Just you wait, enjoy it now, because it’s not going to last.
Robert let out a small gasp and sought to push the terror back, the lovelessness. Claire continued her song. It was a psalm or a hymn, utterly beautiful and peaceful.
“What does it mean?” Robert asked. “What are you singing?”
“It’s the ‘Morning Song,’ ” Claire said. She had finished the birds. She looked euphoric, aglow. She said, “The sun rises. It is glorious. For this I give thanks, O Lord. The sun is glorious. Your will is glorious. Humble me and teach me to do your will. Your will is the morning sunlight, your will is glorious, your work is glorious, teach me to love you. Don’t let a moment lie idle, alleluia. Teach me, teach me glory. Thank you for the loving morning, so we may work. Amen.”
Jack glanced at his watch. “You sing it all day?”
Claire smiled. “It was my aunt’s song. She made it up. She used to sing it first thing every morning. I like to sing it all day. She died two weeks ago. She was a beautiful singer. I sing it now. It reminds me of her. She was too young,” Claire said.
“She was only fifty-six.”
“What did she die of ?” Jack asked.
Claire shrugged, drying her hands on a dish towel. “I don’t know,” she said. “She got real small and tired, and then she died.”
“The words are so much prettier in their own language,” Robert said. “The sound of them, I mean.” Claire nodded and repeated the words in German, speaking them slowly.
“We teach it to the children in school,” she said proudly. “It helps them learn the language. Ours is a dialect, and a mix of languages, unknown anywhere else in the world.” The pheasants had finished draining in the sink, and she wrapped them in freezer paper and labeled them with the date. She put them in a sack. Her eyes were shining, and Robert thought she was seeing through and beyond her visitors, seeing God in them, and that was why she smiled.