A Star Tribune serialized novel by Richard Horberg


Chapter 7 continues

The story so far: Allen feels light dancing with Helen Vorgt.


Ah, the movies. The theater, the Liberty, was just around the corner from Main Street. The marquee was rarely lighted and there was only a single aisle down the middle. The owner, John Mix, was also the projectionist. His wife, always smoking a cigarette, took tickets. On Friday and Saturday nights, it was crowded. He saw many of his students there. On the screen he saw Bob Hope in “Sorrowful Jones.”

One Saturday he drove to Bemidji and in the book section of a department store bought Thomas Wolfe’s “Of Time and the River” and John Dos Passos’ “U.S.A.,” both of them Modern Library Giants. When he told Orville Christopherson that he was reading “U.S.A.,” Orville leaned close and said he’d heard there were some good sex scenes in it — and made Allen promise to let him borrow it.


Early in November, Dave Meyers told Allen that he had found a suitable apartment for his wife above the hardware store — the previous occupants had just moved out — and was driving down to the cities over the weekend to get her. A few days later, on his way to the grocery store, Allen ran into them on the street. He had expected her to be beautiful, as Dave was handsome. She was not. She was simply a pleasant-looking young woman, with light brown hair, slender and neat, wearing very little makeup, a plain skirt and flat shoes. She did have some charm.

They had a cup of coffee together at The Food Box. Allen asked her what she thought of the town.

“I think I’m going to like it,” she said, “Dave told me in his letters how nice it is, but I really wasn’t prepared to find that it really is. Actually, I was prepared for something much worse.”

She liked all the trees, she said, and the quiet streets. “They don’t even have names, do they? And all the houses are white, isn’t that right? And so spacious.”

Dave laughed. “Jean’s usually not so ebullient,” he said. “I must have brought her to the right place.”

Allen told her he knew exactly how she felt.

“And everything’s so quiet. Not only at night but during the day too. I would never believe I was living above a hardware store. We have windows on three sides. I know Dave had to look a long time — I’m afraid I was very impatient — but I’m glad now that he didn’t settle for something less.” She smiled at Dave, fairly quivering with pleasure. “I have to keep reminding myself that I’m living in a small town in northern Minnesota.”

Allen asked her if she was going to look for a job in Stone Lake or if she was going to stay home.

“Oh, I’m going to stay home for a while and enjoy it. Besides, there are things that need fixing up.”

Dave put his hand on her shoulder. “I told Allen how good you are with the sewing machine, honey. And with a paint brush. I told him how creative you are.”

“Oh, no, not me. Not really. But I do try.”

“She’s also very modest.”

She told Allen, somewhat to his surprise, that she and Dave had traveled a little bit when he was still taking classes, between quarters and during the summer. They’d been to San Francisco and New York and Mexico. In addition, one summer when she was 15, her parents had taken her and her sister to London, where her father had some research to do, while she and her mother and sister toured the city. “But you know,” she said, “this is better. I wouldn’t want to live in New York or San Francisco or London. I don’t even like Minneapolis very much, to tell the truth. But I think I’m going to love it here.”

Allen reminded her that the streets were unpaved.

“Oh,” she said with delight, “I’m very good with a broom.”

Before they parted, she promised to have Allen over for dinner sometime, as soon as she had fixed things up. Allen said he looked forward to it.

He liked her very much.


Chapter 8

The first snow came early in November — large, persistent flakes that fell during the night and by morning covered the town to a depth of three inches, like a feathery blanket tossed down from the sky, sparkling in the sunlight.

The snow made the houses look even farther apart, individual outposts scattered spaciously about the landscape. Backyard gardens, long spaded up, were indistinguishable from lawns. Migratory birds had left. Moles were in hibernation. Ahead lay only winter.

Allen found it beautiful, like a work of art.

In all of his classes that day, as he had been advised by one of his professors in the College of Education (useful advice for once), he put aside his lesson plans and read snow poetry.

They read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snow-Storm,” John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snow-Bound,” Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Desert Places,” Shakespeare’s “Winter Song” and others. His students, gazing at the snow outside as he read, were transported to a land they knew well — but, he was sure, had never seen before.

The sun that brief December day

Rose cheerless over hills of gray,

And, darkly circled, gave at noon

A sadder light than waning moon …


Tomorrow: Chapter 8 continues.