I followed the Professor to the kitchen, and slowly sink to my knees on the mountain, and I wonder where Peace is. I heave the cooler on the kitchen counter, and I curl to my side on the mountain, and aches fade away. Far away, in another room, I hear greetings at the door.
The Professor snapped his fingers in my face. One! Two!
'Ace! I need you! Front and centre!' he barked.
'What?' I looked around, momentarily panicked. I was in a kitchen. The Spenser's kitchen. Everything was where it was supposed to be. Despite the warmth from the oven, I shivered. The Doctor guided me to a stool and I gratefully sat.
'Doctor, what happened? I felt like I was gone for a minute.'
He studied my face, his eyes gone flinty. 'Take a deep breath, Ace. What do you smell?'
'I smell... turkey cooking. I smell potatoes, coffee, cinnamon...Oh!'
'Yes?' He smiled.
'I feel better!'
'I thought you would. There's nothing to bring you back to Earth like the smell of a Thanksgiving feast. Did I ever tell you that the first Thanksgiving wasn't in Massachusetts at all? Here, give me that phial, and keep an eye on the door.'
'Remind me not to eat the potatoes.'
'Do not eat the potatoes. No, it was in Florida, fifty-six years earlier. Some time in September, I believe. The Timucuan and the Spaniards who founded St. Augustine had a peaceful meal together, and the Catholic priests said a mass of thanks. Is the coast clear?'
'The coast is clear. So what happened then?'
'To the Spanish?'
'No, dummy, the Timucuans.'
He pocketed the phial, then peeked into the oven. He signalled me to watch the hall.
'Oh, they're extinct. Disease, war, exploitation, the usual with your species. Same thing nearly happened the next time.'
'No, in Virginia. The point, Ace, is that when different societies...'
'Wait a minute! What about Frobisher?' I asked, remembering Canadian Thanksgiving.
'What?... Oh, Martin Frobisher!' said the Professor. 'Oh, Hello, Jack! Happy Thanksgiving!'
'Hi ya, Doc,' said Jack Kraft, making a beeline to the fridge. 'Same to ya. What's cookin', girly? Good to see you up and around. You ought ta live in the woods, 'cause you sleep like a log.'
I tore up my mental enemies list and threw the bits to the wind. I summoned my sweetest smile (I do too have one!).
'Hello, Mr. Kraft! It's good to see you again.'
'Again? Did I miss something?' Oh, whoops.
'I think we both did, sir.' I said, and we both turned to the Professor, who was absentmindedly juggling three yams. He noticed our stares and chuckled nervously.
'The trick is to keep two in the air,' he said, catching them neatly. 'Ace, why don't you find Sally? I'm sure the table needs setting.'
I slid off the stool. 'All right. You two are obviously about to have a conversation I'd find very interesting, so it's imperative I go.'
Jack handed me a glass of iced tea. 'That's the spirit. On your way, give this to Gladys, will you? And send the three pilgrims back, too, if they've arrived. That's a good girl.'
Behind him, the Professor smiled apologetically, and mimed taking a deep breath.
The smells of turkey, potatoes, coffee and cinnamon tickle my consciousness and I struggle to a sitting position. I can still feel the symptoms ticking away, but they've abated for now.
I can't have laid there long, but the mist has been swept away and there's a ghostly trace of warmth in the bright sunlight. I flex my stiff fingers and toes, stretch my legs and struggle to my feet. I take one more pull from the thermos and set the oxy regulator. I shake the glaze from my gloves and pull them on. I challenge the sky and it withdraws.
I think of a stone on a lawn far away, and the person waiting for me there, and the blank space where someday a date would be carved.
'Not today, Ace' I think, 'There's a few miles in this old girl yet.'
I start the ascent to Misery Hill.
'I simply struggle to stay awake,' said Gladys, gingerly accepting the glass of cool tea, 'But you people are so interesting and so kind to me! I hate to miss a single moment.'
'It's alright, dear, we understand. You've been through quite a lot,' said Sally. 'We're just happy you're here now.'
We were in the Spenser's spacious living room; Gladys reclined on the sofa as Sally changed the bandage on her head. Gladys frowned, 'This is your home, nurse? Have you seen mine? Jack built me a mansion. It's lovely.' She blinked back tears. 'Oh, I wish I could remember living there! Such luxury!'
'Sally, can I talk to you?' I asked, eager to leave the room, ' I'm supposed to set the table?'
'I shouldn't leave her alone... I'll only be gone a moment, Gladys. Why don't you rest your eyes?' Sally said, 'It's this way, Ace.'
As we left, Gladys studied her hands, sadly puzzled, then lay back and closed her eyes. She looked tiny and lost. She'd been so terrifying last night.
'Right through this arch, Ace,' said Sally, suddenly all business as we swept into the huge dining room. 'Everything's in the cabinet there; use the orange china but not the silver flatware. Set it up for ten.' She turned and had her hands on my shoulders before I could evade her. She searched my eyes. ' I know you have a million questions, Ace. But you shouldn't be thinking of them and I'm not allowed to answer them.' I shrugged her off.
'Yeah, I know. I'm the last to know anything.'
Softly, she said, 'Actually, I think that would be poor Gladys, don't you?'
I now understand how Gladys felt. As I clamber over the ridge my mind is occupied by equally bright points; the memories of thirty-five years ago and the inescapable now. The intervening years have faded to vague impressions. Right now, here and then, I'm struggling to remember what fork goes where.
'Why do you even need two?' I wonder out loud.
(The short ones for salad. It is commonly placed next to the plate.)
(Hah! I knew you'd show up! Thanks, Smokey!)
(No, to the left of the plate... That's it.)
(Bugger! So how's it hanging? You in the 'don't tell Ace' brigade, too?)
(I'm afraid it has failed to perform any physical function for a considerable number of years, rude one. I thank you for reminding me. And, yes, I am afraid I cannot assuage your impatience for answers. But, Ace, answer one of mine?)