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What Mabel did next.

There was a foolish grin on his face.

'Damn him', she thought. That's where Jack always started; he knew I needed light from the window to put the groceries away. She heard the sound of his ladder being hoisted at the side window. With moistened fingers she doused the candles.

"Won't you have one of these cookies?" She held out the round tin, expectantly.

The table had been cleared except for tea cups, a half full bottle of wine and the cookie tin.

The offer had come on the spur of the moment. "'Supper' will not be much but I can open a can or two; you're welcome to stay," she had said. "It will be my way of paying you for what you have done." He had insisted on fetching the wine; a rich burgundy which she had pretended to enjoy.

The meal was more than grub from cans. The basket had contained a loaf of French bread and a slab of cheese. She had opened a can of beef stew which she served in large bowls; the larger portion ladled into his.

She had watched him break off a piece of bread and dip it into the stew. His hands, she noticed, were clean and his hair had been combed; 'that's why it took so long to get the wine', she thought.

After a false start or two the conversation started to flow. Soon they were sharing glimpses of their lives. 'Did Carolyn ever marry that sailor?' 'Where did Eddie end up going to graduate school?' 'Do you recall the name of that girl he brought here that summer?' 'I didn't know Peter's wife had twins.'

She poured more tea without asking as was her habit. "Vinnie?" she started, then thought better and silenced herself.

His stare captured her attention.

"I hate to ask this," she began. "Do you think we can have that pile of fence moved? I saw it out there. It's been that way, how long?"

"I'll take care of it, I was thinking the same thing," he spoke too quickly.

"I didn't mean for you to do it." How could she make him understand that? "It's such an eye sore and," she paused in thought, "such a reminder."

"I was thinking the same thing," he repeated, "I'll get rid of it."

"How did that start? It's been so long. What was it, 1977 or 78?"

'77 I think, '78 was the second gas shortage and we were speaking again by then."

"Barely," she laughed.

"It was the stair thing, remember? We were sitting out back there, all of us were. Jack and yourself, Nell and me and four or five of the kids. We had a little fire going and the kids were roasting marshmellows. We got into this conversation about how to fix creaking stairs. Jack's the one that brought it up. He said that was one of the things he was going to do that next week; seems you had a tread that was squeaking. So I asked how he was going to go about it and you know Jack, that set him off. He thought I was going to tell him how to do it. Before I knew what was happening we had an argument going."

"Yes I knew Jack." She said, a glazed look in her eyes. "I knew Jack."

"I didn't mean it that way," he said defensively.

"I know you didn't," she said, seeming to satisfy him.

"First thing I knew, Jack got up and moved his chair away from us. That's when he said he would sit on his own property. The next weekend he had that lumber on top of his car when he pulled in. Naturally I objected to him putting up a fence between us. We got into it and if you and Nell hadn't come out to settle us down who knows what would have happened. It has been out there ever since."

They sat in silence, each contemplating the past in their own way.

"That was such a nice thing you did, calling him," Helen broke the silence.

"That was Nell. She pestered me to make the call. You were calling her all the time and I could see how much good it was doing her, you doing that."

"I was heartbroken that I couldn't go to the funeral."

"I know," his voice was shallow. "You sent flowers and all those cards. They were appreciated. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to Jack's funeral."

"I understood," she said. "It was too soon."

"Helen, can I ask yo

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