Julia says, “There are, however, potato chips on the sofa. An unopened bag, and that’s good enough for me.”
And then the grating, irrepressible whine of a circular saw switched on to spin, to cut the beams, as Marianne has suggested, into precise cubes for carving. Julia moves her shoulders like she has been frightened. She laughs, embarrassed. Marianne stands firmly grounded. She says, looking from Julia back toward the front door, “They’re in the workshop, of course.”
The workshop is a grandfathered two-car garage with a side door that is trimmed with Christmas lights. Here the smell of cedar, of fresh paint and varnishes, is strongest. Marianne pulls the door open. It bounces back toward her after hitting the snow pile to right of it, and Julia moves to hold it, to keep it from hurting her.
There are wooden cats with stuffed human bodies hanging from the garage’s ceiling beams by their necks in a number so high it seems impossible to count. They are dressed as Santa and his elves, as skiers and snowboarders with goggles and helmets, with carved wooden paws, painted black, white, or calico. They are dressed as Pilgrims, as Indians, as Cupid, as Frenchmen in berets and Germans in lederhosen. They are blue- or green-eyed, with thick plastic burrowed in their wooden cheeks for whiskers. They are dressed as baseball and football players, and, more daringly, as members of the current Administration. They are Dracula, Frankenstein, and Robin Hood.
Julia says, whispers, “Holy—”
The cold breeze from the opened door attracts attention. An older woman on the phone looks at them with no recognition, and then again down at the pad of paper in front of her. An older man, his pants, green polyester like those worn by car mechanics, low beneath an enormous stomach, moves a hand from the saw and the engine is killed. He moves his plastic goggles from his face, pushing an unruly nest of white hair back on his head, and takes a pair of glasses with dark, tinted lenses from his shirt’s front pocket. He smiles at them, gapped front teeth, and says, “Hello.” Tucked in the corner behind them, sitting on an old ottoman the size of a fruit crate, is Kate. She is holding a cat’s head, rubbing a small piece of sand paper over its ears, its brow, then blowing.
The man says, lips wider now with his smile, “How are you?”
“I’m well, Grandpa.”
“Yeah? Who’s this?”
Marianne reaches behind her, grabbing Julia’s arm. She wants to cover everything with clean white sheets—her grandparents, Kate in the corner, the cats, the messes of the interior and exterior of the house and workshop—to hide this all from her, to give, instead, an image of purity and nothingness, the image of a clean slate for her to draw on, to draw anything other than the scene before her. Marianne says, “This is Julia.”
“Well, Julia, close the door for me, okay? If you don’t slam it, it won’t shut.”
Marianne watches Julia open the door again, slamming it with both hands and a shoulder. From the force, all the hanged cats do a lazy, uncoordinated jig.
Grandpa says, “That’s what I like! My cats dancing!”
She sees Julia, turning away from the door slowly, moving her head to meet eyes with Kate’s, which have been watching her, undistracted and unblinking, since the moment she’s walked in behind Marianne.
Marianne hears the phone come down on its cradle, her grandfather blowing his nose, but she doesn’t take her eyes off Kate until Kate looks at her, until Kate and Julia both are.
Instead of at Marianne, Kate looks again at the head in her hands. Marianne turns, finding her grandmother coming fast toward her, like a speed walker.