For most of his life he'd hated Sundays. Their gnawing stillness, the faint memories of religion. A day loneliness won. But in these last years that quiet little dread had faded. He and Hillary made a point of cooking a big breakfast and taking a walk on the common afterward. In winter they read the paper together by the fire in the front room and often walked into the town for a film in the evening. In spring and summer they spent hours in the garden. They weren't unhappy people.
From the pack on his bedside table he took a cigarette. He rolled it idly between thumb and forefinger. Would it be taken away, this life of theirs? Was Ben coming here for an answer? He smoked the cigarette down to the filter, then returned the shoe box to its shelf and closed the door of his wardrobe. Ben was married now, had two children. That's what he'd said on the phone; they'd spoken only a minute or two. Did he still wonder why he'd never heard?
Through the window Owen could see his sister clearing their tea mugs from the garden table. There had been other men she'd gone out to dinner with over the years. A Mr. Kreske, the divorced father of a sixth-form student, who'd driven down from Putney. The maths teacher, Mr. Hamilton, had taken her to several plays in the city before returning to Scotland. Owen had tried to say encouraging things about 71
these evenings of hers, but then the tone of her voice had always made it clear that that's all they were, evenings. I N T H E K I T C H E N , Hillary stood by the sink, arranging roses in a vase.
"I see you made up the guest room," he said.
She looked directly at him, failing to register the comment. He could tell she was trying to remember something. They did that: rested their eyes on each other in moments of distraction, as you might stare at a ring on your finger.
"The guest bed. You made it up."
"Oh, yes. I did," she said, drawn back into the room. "I thought if dinner goes late and he doesn't feel like taking a train . . ."
Sitting again at the table, Owen picked up the tray. In it he could see his reflection, his graying hair. What would Ben look like now? he wondered.
"Chives," she said. "I forgot the chives."
They'd met through the firm, of all places. The Globe had Ben working on a story about differences between British and American lawyers. They went to lunch and somehow the conversation wandered. "You ask all sorts of questions,"
Owen could remember saying to him. And it was true. Ben had no hesitation about inquiring into Owen's private life, where he lived, how he spent his time. All in the most guileless manner, as though such questions were part of his beat. 72
"I hope he hasn't become allergic to anything," Hillary said, setting the chives down on the cutting board. Though Ben had been in London nearly a year, he hadn't seen much of the place. Owen offered himself as a guide. On weekends they traveled up to Hampstead or Camden Town, or out to the East End, taking long walks, getting lunch along the way. They talked about all sorts of things. It turned out Ben too had lost a parent at a young age. When Owen heard that, he understood why he'd been drawn to Ben: he seemed to comprehend a certain register of sadness intuitively. Other than Hillary, Owen had never spoken to anyone about the death of his mother.
"I come up with lots of analogies for it," he could remember Ben saying. "Like I was burned and can't feel anything again until the flame gets that hot. Or like people's lives are over and I'm just wandering through an abandoned house. None of them really work. But you have to think the problem somehow."
Not the sort of conversation Owen had with colleagues at the office.
He picked up the cloth and wiped it again over the reflective center of the tray. Owen and his sister were so alike. Everyone said that. From the clipped tone of their voice, their gestures, right down into the byways of thought, the way they considered before speaking,