- When you embrace someone, clasp them for days at a time.
— Irene McKinney
Marie’s parents ran the Galena Store and Guest Cottages for the fishermen lured there by the Big Wood River with its trout the size of a man’s arm, her father boasted, or he might say enormous from eating the arms of men, depending on who the fishermen were, and what he thought he could sell them. Galena, Idaho, population six. Almost a ghost town. The wind could be fierce. Her mother said it was the crying of all the silver prospectors who went up into the Sawtooth Mountains and never came back, or the lament of the Shoshone mothers whose babies died of fever that hard winter when the medicine shipment was delayed. Marie’s older sisters called her Toad. They had no imagination. They never saw more than one side to a story. Marie played in the dark dirt beneath the store, made doll furniture from crates and staves. She tried to make tea dishes from mud. She stashed mud-balls in her sisters’ hats and shoes. Her mother whipped her with a mixing spoon. Her sisters boarded in town so that they could go to school. By the time Marie got there, the other kids already knew that she was a toad. “So shy,” the teacher wrote on Marie’s report card. Kids teased her, but that stopped when she was older, bigger, willing to fight back. She prayed she would never have to stand before the class and give a book report.
A ski lodge opened at Sun Valley when Marie was fifteen. She worked there as a chambermaid, making beds and sweeping floors as she had done in her parents’ cottages. After that, she waitressed at the Ram. She thought someone was staring at her, but that must have been foreknowledge: he turned his head just as she did, the same angle and speed, so that he first looked at her the moment she first looked at him. She felt a chill in her spine, almost dropped her tray. He said he was a trombonist. She joined him at a table. When he played with his band, she watched his lips buzzing against the mouthpiece, the shirtsleeves he rolled up between numbers, the Samoan girl in a grass skirt tattooed on his forearm, her lithe body undulating as he moved the brass slide.
The night after that, they entered the Hokey Pokey Marathon. Marie had never danced with a man before. She asked him if he thought they would win the dance. He said ridiculous things: they would be crowned prince and princess, and she would be his companion, and live in his castle, where he had golden plates and a pretty clean bed. That was the foolish side of him. She tried to get him to talk about his war service, the Battle of the Coral Sea, the fires he fought when the Gray Lady exploded. His stubble was coarse when his cheek brushed past hers on the second day, softer on the third night when the man in the other remaining pair crumpled to the floor and couldn’t get up. Marie and the trombonist danced another five minutes to seal their victory, and then he kissed her. Kissed her goodbye. He was pining for the East and his girlfriend, and he left on the next train.
Marie almost didn’t miss him. She had her own tiny room on the top floor of the lodge, a hotplate and kettle, a blue willow teacup and saucer. She had learned the color of his eyes, the sound of his breathing, the smell of his sweat, the ragged tone of his voice when he said, “She never wavered, she kept her head up and went down like the Lady she always was.” She knew the warmth of his hand on her arm, and the jut of his nose, and how his skin dimpled in the curves of his ears.