The Elementals

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Authors: Michael McDowell
    “Yes,” said Luker, “but we’d be at the Island for only two or three days at a time—turn to the right a little, you’re in shadow. God only knows how long we’re going to be here . And in case you haven’t noticed, I should point out that there’s not much in the way of diversion at Beldame.”
    “It’ll be worse for you than for me”—she shrugged—“at least I ’ m not old enough to get horny . . .”
    “I’ll be all right,” said Luker. “I’ve been coming here all my life, at least up until you were born. That woman —as Barbara calls her— that woman and I came here once, part of our honeymoon, and she hated the place and said she would never come here again. We only stayed long enough to conceive you.”
    “What? You think that happened here?”
    Luker shrugged. “I think so. That woman and I screwed around a lot before we were married, of course, but then she was on the pill. On our honeymoon she went off it—she didn’t tell me that, of course. And when I found out, we had this huge fight and then didn’t have sex again for like two months—so the timing’s about right for you to have been conceived here.”
    “You’re also saying I was a mistake, aren’t you?”
    “Of course, you don’t really think that I wanted a child . . .”
    “But it’s so weird then,” said India.
    “What is?”
    “That I might have been conceived here and this is the first time I’ve been back since.”
    “I don’t imagine that you remember a whole lot about it.”
    “No,” replied India, “but the place doesn’t seem entirely strange to me, either.”
    “When your mother said she hated Beldame, I guess I knew there was something wrong with the marriage. Anyway, what with one thing and another, I haven’t been back since either—it’s strange to be here.”
    “Lots of memories?”
    “Of course,” he said, and waved her toward the window. India, who had had many thousands of photographs taken of her by her father and her father’s friends, complied without self-consciousness and assumed the poses and the expressions that she knew pleased him. “ But ,” he said, fiddling with the exposure, “I just wanted to warn you that you would pretty much have to entertain yourself.”
    “I know.”
    “And if it gets too bad, just give me the high sign and I’ll slip you a down.”
    India frowned. “I get twisted on downs.”
    “I was joking. You’re not going to need anything here.” The Gulf broke loudly against the shore, and they must speak carefully above the noise. The wind blew off the water, and the thin curtains wrapped themselves delicately around India.
    “The pictures on the wall are mine,” said Luker. “I used to paint when I came here. I used to think I was going to be a painter.”
    “The pictures stink,” said India mildly. “But you’re a good photographer. Why don’t you take these down and put up some prints?”
    “Maybe I will. Maybe that’s going to be this year’s project, if I can get up the energy. I ought to warn you—Beldame’s a pretty low-energy place. You can figure on getting about two things done a day, and one of ’em is getting out of bed.”
    “Luker, I can take care of myself. You don’t have to worry about me. I brought that panel with me that I want to hang over my bed at home, and that’ll take me forever. As long as I’ve got a needle and thread I’ll be all right.”
    “All right,” said Luker then, relieved. “I promise I won’t worry about you.”
    “How long are we going to be here?”
    He shrugged. “I don’t know. It depends. Don’t get antsy.”
    “I’m not. But what does it depend on?”
    “On Big Barbara.”
    India nodded; she understood from Luker’s reluctance to elaborate that this was a matter not yet to be discussed between them. Having finished her unpacking, India shut the suitcase and slid it beneath the bed. She sat before the vanity, and Luker took photographs of her and her mirrored

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