Back – at the ranch, filled with fried seafood and a sense of contentment, I kicked off my shoes, plopped back in my recliner, and punched the remote on, ready for some serious chilling. I remembered that the TV didn’t work just about the time the static would have reminded me if I hadn’t remembered. Duh. You’re out in the boonies for less than a day, Rick, already your mind had started to go to corn pone.
Well, how about a book? I wasn’t a rabid reader but still remembered how. Old George certainly had left a house full of books to choose from, with bookcases in the living room, bedroom, and the studio. You can tell a lot about a person by seeing what’s on their bookshelves; let’s see how George’s tastes in literature ran. I knew practically nothing about the man, but I was betting he’d mostly read action-packed thrillers, with maybe a few westerns thrown in.
There were in fact a total of five books that loosely fit the description of thriller—two each by Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton, one by Nelson DeMille—in and amongst the two dozen “general interest” novels that filled the top shelf of the bedroom bookcase. In addition to those five were a couple of early Vonneguts (Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle), Pat Conroy’s Beach Music, and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, with the balance made up of science fiction classics. Even more curious than either the make-up of that shelf or that I had misjudged George so badly was the fact that I had read every single title at some point in my life.
The bottom two shelves were dedicated to books about King Arthur, mostly novels. I had no idea there were so many. I’d read exactly one of those, The Once and Future King, more than fifteen years ago. OK, maybe George and I didn’t have identical tastes in reading, just top shelf reading.
I should say, the bottom two shelves were dedicated to King Arthur, save one book. Sitting there alone, brave in her solitude with nothing but violent companionship, was Best Women’s Erotica 1999. Inscribed in the front was, “For those nights when I’m not there. Lacey.”
The studio bookcase appeared to be filled with art books, mostly of the “how to paint” variety with a handful of “these guys were better at it than you’ll ever be” books thrown in. I didn’t examine it in any further detail.
The living room shelves caught all of the oddballs; every house has a few. Reference books: dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, and 2005 Almanac. A double handful on how-to fix almost everything, catch fish, and make your garden beautiful and unique. Two travel books about sightseeing on the South Carolina coast, Joy of Cooking, and a well-thumbed copy of Windows 95 for the complete dummy. The rest of this bookcase was crammed full of . . . well, I wasn’t not sure exactly how to describe this category. Mythology and New Age Religious studies, perhaps, although that seems judgmental. The Time-Life series on Mysteries of the Unknown. Multiple volumes on ancient places like the Valley of the Pyramids, Ancient Babylon and Assyria, Machu Picchu, and Stonehenge. Books on Celtic culture, ancient religions, world myths, witchcraft, the Tao-te Ching and a Guide to Modern Wiccan Practices. Oh, my.
If you can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their bookshelves, what exactly had I learned about George Foster?
I selected the thinnest of the King Arthur novels, dubious about my interest in the subject, and immediately got engrossed in a ribald tale about Guinevere’s abduction by a rival king Melwas. Lancelot was trying to persuade Arthur to ride forth and rescue her but the king kind of liked his new bachelorhood and was in no hurry to go, particularly with all of the women of the castle cozying up to him, even his half sister the sultry Morgana. Nothing like what I expected. But the day had been long and tiring, and 40 pages in I found myself nodding off, so I headed to bed.
Above the bed hung a haunting painting of a golden-haired pregnant woman, her chin resting on a hand as she stared off into the distance. I’d noticed it when I was changing out the beds, but had been preoccupied wrestling with the balky mattresses and hadn’t given it much mind. But now it captured me fully in its magic and demanded attention. What an expression.
The artist was none other than G Foster himself.
I never sleep well in a strange place and woke twice during the night, the second time dreaming of the golden-haired woman.