In the country along the Gulf Coast, in summer, the period of time between the setting of the sun and total black night is full of sweet mysteries, and has the effect of making the world with all its traffic stop dead still. Minute the sun slips out of sight, a hush grows, plants and trees visibly relax. This is the hour of perfumes and emanations: moonvines bloom, and pale ghosts grieve at the windows of vacant houses—invisible to some, and painfully visible to others. One smells strongly and suddenly the scent of green grass, of dust, the fecund richness of ditches and ponds; and after, all the white flowers that open at night. Under the oak trees the lightning bugs commence their play; dogs and even children are briefly awed. One feels that all the genii of the ancient world, who wait on the mind’s back porch, could, easily, if they chose, break the screen door and run in barefoot, stealthy but gleeful.
On such a summer evening, after a furiously hot day, a lawyer named Tyler Scandrett sat on the front porch of a high old one-story house, shielded from the street by four camphor trees, and a hedge of abelia bushes. His sister. Miss Jeanie, who kept house for him, and who was given to extravagant dreams which she recorded in a gilt-locked diary, was stalking about the grounds with a hose, “cooling things off.” Tyler, who had long since ceased to notice his sister—they’d lived amicably together for thirty-five years—was staring at the luminous apple-green sky, and enjoying a remote and pleasurable nostalgia.
Jeanie, never still, played at rainmaking in the yard, conjuring the heady smells of wet black earth. She gave a little cry, and he asked quickly “What’s the matter?”
She mumbled something.
He made a little sound that could be yes, or no. When he made this sound (people who live long together can condense a hundred words into the clack of a cup set smartly in a saucer, or express paragraphs with .a curl of the lips) she just said “Tsk!” with her tongue tipped against her teeth, and gave a jerk on the hose, which was how she boiled down: “Really, Ty, you act so superior, ’cause you went to law school in Philadelphia, and spent a year in Panama, but I, after all, am two years older than you and a woman.”
Their exchange finished, he dreamed again, and she slank off under the mimosas. He was feeling, somewhere in his mind, that if he wanted he could dredge up from his memory some bitter and rather revolting memories to set his teeth on edge. For a moment he let flicker an image of his father’s face when they had quarrelled on the day after the funeral, the father white with grief for his wife, suddenly livid at his son. Old quarrels, old moments of selfishness... Having distilled the drop of bitterness to make more sweet the perfumed twilight he gently put away the past and concentrated his eyes on the houses barely visible through the trees. Soon the streetlights would come on, one in a green veil of camphor leaves at the comer of the yard, another far down the street; then the interminable games of hide-and-seek would start. He sighed.
Sometimes the voices amongst the leaves saddened him; he’d sit quietly next to Jeanie (always busy with her own thoughts) listening with all his body to the rapidly chanted “Fife-ten-fitteen-twenny-twennyfife-thutty,” the muffled laughs, the cries of the hiders scattering through the trees, finally the exuberant “Coming-reddy-or-not!” followed by the silence of the search. How his body ached in that silence, for then he shared the tension of the concealed and the eagerness of the searcher; memories crowded in on him of Tommy Carly, Teensy McCorquodale, the Sanguanetti twins, his sister Jeanie with hair tossing. He asked himself how it was possible to have been so happy in those old days in the grove, and not to have known in the heart that one was happy, in a golden haze, in a forest of golden trees, in a lost time.