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It was mid-afternoon on the road halfway between Conway and Waterville Valley when a sign advertising Norwegian knit goods prompted Cynthia to drive the Tourer onto a narrow side road. J.V. looked at the chronometer on his wrist, sighed, and longingly stared at the mountains on both sides of the winding road, pleased and frustrated to see ample snow on the heights. In the compartment between the Tourer�s ceiling and roof, a metal ski rattled as the vehicle bumped over the road. Probably Cynthia�s, he grumbled to himself. She never takes time to secure anything, nor does she care if we ski today or not. Waterville Valley is too far behind us and Cynthia�s hell bent on wasting valuable ski time in a damned shop.
�How does this sound, precious?� he asked hopefully. �Drive back to leave me at the foot of Tecumseh and then come back to browse the knit shop at your leisure.�
Cynthia slowed the car, pulled over and stopped. �You drive, Venny,� she said. �My ankle hurts. I must have twisted it this morning.�
So it�s me and you, trusty Tourer, idling outside a knit shop when we should be conquering new heights, he silently complained, sliding under his wife to take the wheel.� �I�m sorry you�re injured, cherished,� he said, hurrying to get the Tourer underway. �Remind me to rub it for you next time we stop.�
�Uh-huh,� she said absently. �But really, dear one, let us not dwell on it at the risk of distracting ourselves from these magnificent peaks, set high and proud. A lodge in this area would really nestle, Venny, and with all of your favorites nearby: Cannon-Mittersill, Wildcat, Black Mountain, Cranmore, the Inferno. Such dark names. So craggy. Why not something light and gay to dispel danger and invite the gentle-hearted? Or do mountain facilities need lofty, grand titles? I suppose they do, otherwise��
Her voice trailed off.
�Otherwise?� J.V. asked.
�Stop! Oh, Venny, stop!� Cynthia cried.
�Why? Where? Did I pass the knit shop? I didn�t see��
�Just stop! You must!�
He stopped and turned to look past her at a low shack. Out in front, leaning against the door, a ragged child sucked on a finger. High above and behind the shack, the snow on the slope looked deep enough to ski. Along the edge of the road, the snow was melting.
�Back up, please, Venny,� Cynthia said. �There is something here I wish to show you.�
Puzzled by her thoughtful expression and mysterious tone, J.V. put the Tourer into reverse, watched the rearview mirror while backing up several hundred feet, stopped� when directed, lit two cigarettes and passed one to her.
�There,� Cynthia said. �Do you see it?�
On the right was what he guessed to be an abandoned logging road, on the left, snowy fields and thick woods, and on both sides, mountains of average elevation for the region. In the rearview mirror, there was little to see but a farmhouse and barn and the store beyond.� �Tell me what it is I�m supposed to see, precious,� he said.
�A vision,� she said, shutting her eyes and gently rubbing her brow. �A stunning, mentally-taxing vision, a dream to come true in the near future. Oh, Venny, I see it all so clearly.�
He looked again, hunching this time for a better view up the mountain to his left. ��Oh,� he said, �I see it now. There�s a house up there. Must be a summer place because no one�s been up over that road since the snow started. So look, if you�re thinking of buying it and living up there, I have to say��
�I am so disappointed, you of all people,� she sighed. �Here you sit between two spectacular, virgin mountains, unable to envisage what could be done with them. The one on my side is frighteningly precipitous with a boulder at the very top that probably dates back to when the earth was formed. The other is equally impressive, both massive, the two towering over nothing but a country store and some miscellany, crowned jewels presiding over a dreary valley, an unkind fate for such grandeur. I just will not have it, Venny. I want this place to be worthy of their majesty. It must. I insist.�
�So you don�t want the house up there.�
�Good. But you apparently want to build a chalet here.�
She opened her sealskin bag and took out a lipstick. Applying the color, she said: �Back up to that store and park in front.�
She put on her short fur jacket, adjusted it and her mink hat. �Please do it, Venny,� she said.
�Won�t you tell me what you have in mind?�
She smoothed the stretch pants on her thighs and seat, put on dark glasses, and fitted a cigarette to her jeweled holder. Then, showing her bright teeth, she said: �Perhaps a chocolate bar, perhaps something more substantial. But I want it to be a surprise, so please back up.�
�I don�t like surprises,� J.V. complained, turning to watch while backing the Tourer.
�You are so like a small child,� Cynthia said, fondling the back of his neck. �Believe me, Venny,� she continued, �when you hear what I am thinking, it will seem like an early Christmas present -- the finest ever, too.�
He stopped the Tourer and cut the engine. �It�s slushy, precious,� he said. �You�d be smart to put on your waterproof boots before you get out. And by the way, shall I carry you? The sore ankle must be horrible.�
�Do not be silly,� she said. �I do not need to be carried, just pass me the boots and please remove that silly hat. It makes you look�well�silly.� �
J.V. handed over white mukluks with attachable plastic feet to keep them dry and clean, and tops that fit snugly around her upper calves and pulled her black pants all the tighter. She stared at the ski hat, smiled when it was discarded, accepted a light for her cigarette and said: �I am ready.�
�I hope they are,� J.V. mumbled.
�The innocents in the store.�
�What do you mean by that?�
�Aren�t you a bit over-dressed?�
�What is wrong with the way I am dressed?�
�Nothing, but Sugarbush dress is one thing. Here�well, it seems a bit over the top. A plain jacket instead of the fur might look better. From the navel down, you�re all black curves.�
�I have my reasons,� Cynthia sniffed. �Now, if you would escort me, please...�
He got out of the Tourer and adjusted the sweater on his hips. He slowly walked�� around to her side, his thoughts on past and present expectations, Cynthia�s determined behavior at odds with the compliant, readily agreeable person he�d married. He felt like the gigolo of a wealthy old woman as he opened the door for her and glanced at the old store identified on a Coca-Cola sign as �Percy�s�, a two-story, flat-roofed, faded-gray-paint, ramshackle wooden building with old beer signs propped in the dirty display windows and empties in the snow beside the two front steps.
Cynthia drew on black mitts and swung her legs out of the Tourer. Without a word, she stood up, strolled to the doorway and inside.
Reluctantly, J. Venable followed.