The Elementals

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Authors: Michael McDowell
roof. The dune slid gracefully along the verandah, and had trapped an oaken swing that hung in chains from the ceiling.
    India crept around to the other side of the house. It was the same there, though the sand began at not so high a point, and its slope to the bare ground was gentler. She longed to go inside the third house to see whether the dune continued within the rooms in the same gentle curves, or whether the walls and windows had held against the sand. Would she be able to stand before a window and look through the glass into the interior of the dune?
    She hesitated at the corner of the verandah. Her curiosity was intense: she had forgot all her animosity toward her father for bringing her to this godforsaken place.
    Yet something kept India from mounting the steps of the verandah; something told her not to peer into the windows of that house where no one came to stay; something held her even from pushing her toe into the last grains of white sand that had spilled from the top of the dune onto the bare ground at her feet. Luker called her name, and she ran back to help him unload the Scout.
    Chapter 6

    After the Scout was unpacked, India went room by room through the house that belonged to the McCrays. Thinking of the frigid decorator-opulence of Big Barbara’s house in Mobile, she was surprised by its homely but well-grounded taste. Luker explained that the vacation house had been refurnished when they bought it in 1950 and, except for replacing upholstery, cushions, and draperies, which quickly rotted in the salt air, it had been untouched since then. All that was lacking to India’s mind was carpets on the wooden floors, but Luker said that it was impossible to keep carpets clean when sand was being tracked through the house all day.
    The first floor of each of the houses of Beldame consisted of three large rooms: a living room that ran the length of the house along one side, and, opposite this, a dining room at the front and a kitchen at the back. The single bathroom had been made out of a corner of the kitchen. On the second floor four bedrooms were set into the corners, each with two windows and a single door opening onto a central hallway. A narrow staircase descended to the first floor, and an even narrower set of stairs led up to the third. This top part of each house was a single narrow room, with a window at either end, which had always been made over to servants.
    India was given the second floor bedroom that at the front looked out over the Gulf and from the side provided an entrancing view of the destructive dune that was devouring the third house. It contained a double bed of iron with brass insets, a painted vanity, a chifforobe, a wicker writing desk, and a large standing cupboard.
    While India was unpacking, her father wandered into the room; he sat on the edge of the bed and loaded film into his Nikon.
    “Which room did you take?” asked India.
    “That one,” he said, pointing at the wall she shared with the other bedroom at the front of the house. “That’s been my room since ’ 53 . Big Barbara has the one cate r corner from this, next to me.
    “So,” he said, lifting the camera and quickly taking a couple of photographs of his daughter as she stood before the open suitcase, “how do you like Beldame?”
    “I like it very much,” she said quietly, and meant him to understand more than that.
    “I thought so. Even if it is the end of the world.” She nodded. “That’s very New York of you, you know.”
    “What is?” she asked.
    “Unpacking your suitcase first thing.”
    “Why is that such a New York thing to do?” she asked defensively, pausing between the suitcase and the dresser.
    “Because when you’re finished you’ll snap it shut and stick it under the bed—these houses don’t have any closets, I suppose you’ve noticed—and you’ll say to yourself, ‘Well now we can get down to business! ’ ”
    India laughed. “That’s right. I guess I’m thinking of Fire

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