When Tobin discovered her in the field, she was lying on her side, facing away from him. He was at a distance, but he could tell she wasn’t dead because her arm moved. Still, the sight of her on the ground made his stomach clench. She wore a pinkish colored dress and he couldn’t see her face, so it made him think of the painting of his mother that hung over the mantel in his father’s house. In the painting his mother lay in a field, posed for his father, in an imitation of Wyeth’s Christina’s World. In his father’s painting, his mother’s dark hair hung down her back almost to the ground. Her dress was the color of bleached lobster shell. He didn’t like to look at the painting, because sometimes it seemed as if her shoulder was canted more than others, as if she were slowly turning, and soon he might find her frightening eyes glaring at him.
Mary Walker was nothing like his mother, and she wasn’t old like Wyeth’s Christina with her clawed hand and thin crippled arm.
She didn’t move as he approached her. The grass was flattened like a nest around her. She looked like a stunned bird, like one that had flown into a window, fooled by reflection. One arm was folded across her chest, and the other stretched out in front of her. There were red welts, probably insect bites, on her arms. He wondered how long she’d been in the field, and why she’d returned to the mountain. It was just three days ago when her husband fell. The morning heat, muggy and hazy, lay over the land, muting the world.
The sun was rising and the tall yellow grass glistened. Sweat trickled down his side. Her hair was dark and short and some of it stuck straight up from the top of her head. Her hair had been long before. There were scratches and nicks on her legs. A bloodstain, the size of a palm, bloomed through the material of her dress near her hip. It scared him. Her eyes were closed. He knelt next to her, touched her shoulder.
“Michael?” she said.
“No,” he said. He knew it was her husband’s name. Maybe she was dreaming.
She rolled onto her back. Her eyes were green, not looking at him. The buttons at the neck of her dress were open, and he saw the ridge of her collar bone and the place where the skin dropped into a pocket—the curve where her breasts began, whiter skin.
“Are you hurt?” he asked. “There’s blood.”
She raised herself a little, swept her hand over her hip.
“I walked into a branch,” she said. “Or maybe it was the sideboard.” She shut her eyes and let out a short burst of air, a quick sob.
“You should get up,” he said, and put his hand around her upper arm to help her, felt the bone right through her flesh.
She turned her eyes on him, full of water, green. “You’re the Gough boy.”
He looked away. The buttons on her dress were tiny and thin, like shavings from the inside of a shell. She called him a boy and he thought to correct her. He was fifteen, almost sixteen, and already through high school, having been put ahead.
“I saw you,” she said.
He felt a wash of anxiety. Where? What did she see?