Evangaline pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the solarium. The sun wavered low on the thin horizon, casting strange shadows through the branches of the poplars at the far end of the lawn. Already the valley sank in varying degrees of twilight, punctuated by thin lines and dark patches of early night. It was as if someone had spilled a bottle of india ink from the Farm on the crest of the ridge, letting it run its slow course down the hillside, blotting the landscape as it went. Soon, the lights would be coming on in the town, under the ugly glass of the dome. But you couldn’t see that from the Farm. Not that you would want to. Evangaline shivered and let the door close behind her.
The makeshift sunroom was cluttered with overgrown plants, cuttings from this or that garden in the Old World, handed down and nursed through the generations with hope they might once more thrive in the dry hills of the North. But their roots needed coaxing before they’d take hold in such unfamiliar ground. Then again, Evangaline reminded herself, didn’t we all?
She drew aside the branches and fronds until she found her way into the workspace near the far windows. The last of the sun’s rays fell across the crowded desk and the fine figure bent over it: Evangaline’s older cousin, Nora.
“Still out here?” Evangaline asked.
Nora lifted her head in surprise. She set her trimming shears down on the desk.
“Just finishing now.”
Nora was only a few years older than Evangaline, but the difference in age showed tremendously. When Evangaline looked in a mirror, all she saw were kness and elbows and a mass of stray blonde hairs breaking free from the braids that bound them near her scalp. Even in her dinner dress, she felt shabby, barely more than a child. Nora, on the other hand, had always been trim and elegant, even as a girl. Her sleek dark hair and fine dark lashes and red pouting lips were so perfectly manicured they might as well have been painted on, like a china doll’s. You barely noticed the patches on the elbows of her deep blue sweater, and even their grandfathers old work trousers hung neatly on her hips. Evangaline sighed.
“That’s good,” she said.
Nora put aside the cutting she had been working on and wiped her brow.
“Time to wash up for dinner,” Evangaline added. ”They’ll be waiting.”
Nora smoothed a stray hair behind her left ear.
“It’ll be dark soon,” Evangaline continued, a little more forcefully. The shadows on the front lawn were getting longer. Soon they’d stretch up to the porch.
Nora put the shears back in the top drawer. ”There was a car earlier,” she said. ”Any news?”
There had been a car, a little after noon. But it was only Mr. Hendricks and his wife, driving in from their homestead at Sussex Station. The last of the fuel for their generator had given out, and they’d had nowhere else to go.
Evanagline remembered that, as a child, a visit from the Hendricks was the event of a season. Mrs. Hendricks had some training on the piano, and she’d play dances well into the evening. When everyone had grown tired, they would pull the chairs together in the parlor and listen to Mr. Hendricks read from one of his books. In the Old World, the Hendricks great great great grandfather had been a poet, or some other man of words, who had managed to steal away a volume or two on his crossing. Evangaline remembered how she would curl up in Nora’s arms, and they’d fall asleep to the sound of Mr. Hendricks reciting Thomas:
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
But that was all a long time ago now. Before the Territorial Congress. Before the Dome. Before the homesteads began to close, and familiar voices fell silent on the radio.
“No,” Evangaline said, returning to the present to answer her cousin’s question. ”Not this afternoon.”
Nora frowned. She took a silver case from her back pocket and drew from it a cigarette, which she lit deftly and let hang from the corner of her mouth. The end blazed, a solitary beacon against the purple-red of the distant horizon. Nora shook out the match.
“Not even a letter?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Evangaline repeated, watching her cousin’s gaze shift toward the road. ”Maybed tomorrow.”
“Hang tomorrow!” Nora said with sudden ferocity. She struck the workbench with her fist, rattling the tools and wires and little glass vials inside. Under other circumstances, the sound might have been pleasant—like windchimes. As the tinkling of the instruments died down, Evangaline could hear the murmur of the radio in the parlor. The language was unfamiliar: cold and ominous. The NBB programming out of Derby Station had cut out two weeks earlier. It had been like this ever since.
“Won’t you come in for dinner?” Evangaline asked. Anything to drown out that sound.
Nora frowned and pulled her journal from the little bookshelf by the desk. Evangaline frowned. Her cousin kept everything in that blasted book. Ever since Evangaline’s father had died, Nora brought it out to his desk in the study every night. She sat with her little stub of a charcoal pencil, making sketches, tallying figures, marking detailed times in tables. Evangaline thought it more than a little extravagant—all that paper! One of the foreigners who came to the market in town would surely pay a fortune for it. But it was too late for that now.
“Can’t,” Nora said dully, flipping open to a dog-eared page. She read quietly, a little trail of smoke hovering around her thin fingers.
“But the others,” Evangaline said impatiently. Mr. and Mrs. Hendricks were waiting, not to mention the Simons and the Clarks, who had come in the weeks preceding.
“Hang the others!” Nora said impatiently. She turned, looking up from her book with deep lines pressed around her eyes.
Evangaline knew those lines. She’d seen them first when Nora’s horse had thrown a shoe when they were girls, then again when the pipes had rusted out on the lower third. Most recently, she had seen them when the foreign man had come up the drive in his black car. She had seen them when Nora stood arguing with him on the front porch. Evangaline knew the lines meant trouble.
“It’ll be dark soon,” she pleaded. ”Please come inside.”
“To do what?” she asked sincerely. ”Put on my brave face? Drink what’s left of the wine? Make small talk like a child, speaking in riddles? To dance around the things that no one will say—the one damn thing left still worth talking about?”
She shook her head sadly.
“No,” she said, “I won’t come inside.” She closed the book and walked to the window, looking out on the gently sloping lawn and the row of sycamores that separated them from the valley.
“You say it’s getting dark,” she said quietly. Her lips pressed tightly together in a smile Evangaline had not seen before. ”Do you think I can’t see it? That I can’t feel it under my skin?”
Nora turned unexpectedly, pulling up the sleeve of her sweater, revealing the pale of her forearm beneath. She slapped the flesh angrily with the fingers of her opposite hand, gesturing wildly for emphasis. The intensity frightened Evangaline.
“Yet you ask me,” Nora continued, “To come in and smile, and be a devil.” She banged her open palm on the table. ”I say I won’t do it.”
Evangaline’s hands trembled. ”Don’t do anything stupid,” she whispered. But it was there in her cousin’s eyes—those perfect dark lines on that perfect doll face. What could Evangaline ever hope to do against that?
Nora turned her back and paged once more through the journal.
“Where are the things I brought back last week?” she asked, not raising her eyes.
“In the storeroom,” Evangaline replied flatly. Inside, she could hear the voices of the Simpsons and the Hendricks, transfigured, though, by the crooked path of the sound down the hallway. She felt like that, an imperfect copy of herself, marred and deformed by the journey that had left her standing here, starring at the woolly blue pattern on the back of her cousin’s shirt. She thought she might be ill.
“Bring me the sack,” Nora said curtly. Evangaline could see the silhouette of the cigarette against the setting sun as Nora paused to exhale a plume of smoke from the corner of her mouth. ”There’s a light in a case. And some batteries.” She began to gather things from the workbench and place them, one at a time, into a sack she removed from one of the drawers.
Evangaline’s feet would not budge in the direction of the storeroom, no matter how hard she begged them. She was rooted in place, watching as the outline of her cousin grew less and less distinct in the gathering darkness.
“Don’t do this,” she managed at last, the sound of her voice barely a whisper. The Clark’s laughter seemed more substantial, and them a world away, under the gas lamp at the dinner table. ”You can’t leave me here.”
Nora said nothing, only shoved tools into the bag. Then she turned, abruptly, the faintest glimmer of her features visible in the glow of the dying cigarette ember. Her eyes were swimming blue, aching with rage and pride and love—and something Evangaline had never noticed before: fear. At once, her firm posture collapsed and she held open her arms. Evangaline ran to her.
“Oh my dear,” Nora said, stroking her young cousin’s hair, “Of course I can’t.”
Nora smelled like lemon balm and dry grass, same as she always had, even on those distant evenings in the parlor when they had fallen asleep in each other’s arms. Evangaline began to weep.
“I can’t leave you,” Nora repeated, drying Evangaline’s eyes, “Not here.” Evangaline sniffled. She did her best to firm her mouth and harden her chin.
“Not when this is all you’ve known,” Nora said sadly. ”Not when you shrink from the cars on the drive and the shadows on the lawn and the shade of mortality you think walks two steps behind me. I can’t leave you in the dark.”
Nora took a step back. She picked up the journal and the work sack from the table and gathered them in her arms. Evangaline knew what was coming, but, somehow, she wasn’t afraid.
Her cousin laid a hand on Evangaline’s shoulder.
“I have to strike out into it,” Nora said, “To bring back a little light to leave you when I’m gone.”
She kissed Evangaline’s forehead and unwrapped her young cousin’s clenched fingers. Into them she slid the journal. When Nora walked away, Evangaline couldn’t bear to turn around to see it. She held perfectly still until she heard the banging of the front screen door, the last creaking of the loose board on the steps. The only sound, now, was the foreign murmurs of the radio.
She opened to the first page of the journal. Written in smudged pencil were the words:
Go not gentle.
Evangaline closed it again, looking out into the inky valley.
“It’s getting dark,” she said aloud. She turned and walked inside to wash for dinner.