From her window marshland stretched for miles. If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City, where all compulsions had a home. "Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor, "nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen, she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers. Already her own person—passionate, assertive— soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture of a natural heart," one offended critic carped. She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign over the passions and, worse, she was a woman. Now she was amazed at what women had, doubly amazed at what they didn't. But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt. Her house on the bay was modest, adequate. It need not accommodate brilliant sisters or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen. Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all, she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art, she knew, was somewhat beside the point. And she had married, had even learned to respect the weakness in men, those qualities they called their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try to convert present into presence, something unsung sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged, even in this, her new excuse for a body.
It’s the last few hours of a county fair, or the ninth inning, score tied, in a small-town high school big game, everything that’s going to happen destined to feel inevitable. Everett’s favorite cow has yet to win a prize, and what occurs next on the field will likely determine whether a certain boy, years later, will run for mayor, or still be known as the guy who dropped the ball. Elsewhere in the same town Pastor William is writing down his sermon on what it takes to live a moral life, confusing rectitude with deprivation, and his wife’s frequent, unapologetic nothing-for-you-tonight-dear. Tomorrow, no doubt, because this happens in towns both large and small, seventh-grade Joshua, who knows the answer, but won’t go to the chalkboard because he has a hard-on, is thought to be dumb. That is, until he proves he’s not, the answer written down in code for Mr. Zenner to see, perhaps to understand. Sharon the beauty is also smart and her pet pig wins Best in Class, but she won’t accept the award. The family needs money, but the prize is given by the DAR, and she wants to take a stand. It seems inevitable that in a town this size Joshua and Sharon will marry, but she goes to a faraway college, meets Nathaniel, a city boy who knows nothing about pigs but something about integrity. They fall in love and the rest, as they say, is history—babies and hardship, grad school and in her case visits to the now curious place that was home— Joshua working the counter at Beal’s Hardware, Thursday night bingo at the church— how things could have been had she not become someone else.