“Are you interested in astronomy?” Perry said as they came up to the door of her cabin.
“Eh? Oh, you mean that old telescope. Well I am, sort of. I'm not really an expert though, and that instrument is pretty old. I actually started out with astrology but I got more interested in looking at the craters on the moon than I was in worrying about which house it was in.” She looked at him. “I suppose you think astrology is crazy, huh?”
“No, why did you think I would?”
“Most folks do, I guess.”
“Well, not me. I don't believe in it, but I don't think people who do are crazy,” he pursed his lips, making his whiskers writhe interestingly. “Mind you I do think some people take it way too seriously.”
“Ah, that was me, once upon a time,” she unlatched her door. “Here we are. Go on in and make yourself at home. If you need it there's a bathroom in the left corner. I just need to pop next door.” She slipped away.
It was dim inside the cabin. The windows were very small and with high sills. Perry could see a number of candelabras but no means to light them, but in any event there was still plenty of early twilight left. He could see well enough, not to read, but enough not to trip over the furniture, such as it was.
The walls, floor, and ceiling were all finished with plain pine boards. In the approximate centre of the room there stood an old fashioned pot-bellied stove, near which, on the right, were a pair of small couches. On the other side of the room stood a sewing machine behind the front door. Facing the door there was a basic looking kitchen area with a sink and a few cupboards. A small dining area occupied the area between the sewing machine and kitchen. It was cosily close to the stove, which was lit and too hot to touch, so Perry elected to sit there and wait for his hostess to return. Either side of the kitchen were doors to other rooms. He guessed the one on the left led to the bathroom and he supposed the right-hand door led into Hazel's bedroom.
While he waited he wondered if Hazel found him attractive. He was not especially attracted to her. She was plump, where he preferred slimness — like Ayalet?
Hazel wore spectacles and those just did not light any sparks for him, however hard he tried to be rational about it. (He imagined, that people who needed spectacles would have two lovers: the one they saw with vision corrected and the one they saw without. Once he'd got that idea into his head he could not dislodge it.) The seconds stretched into minutes. Perry started to wonder what he would do if Hazel wanted him to stay over. It might be nice to get intimate with a woman, but maybe, also, that would that complicate things too. He berated himself for planning too far ahead and began to wonder instead what was keeping her. Behind one of the sofas he noticed a odd-looking ornament. He stood and crossed over to look at it. It turned out to be an ant farm. His understanding of Hazel fell apart completely. In a few short minutes he had discovered she had once had a penchant for astrology, before turning astronomer; and here she was studying ants. The door banged open and Hazel burst in bearing a large box.
“Here, let me help with that,” Perry hurried to relive her of the burden. “Why didn't you let me come with you and help you with that?”
Puffing, Hazel said: “I had no idea there was going to be so much. Yvette told me she had dropped it off at the house next door, but she didn't say how much there was.”
“What is it, anyway?” Perry was itching to pull back the lid and see.
“Just the latest batch of cloth for my sewing. Yvette weaves it, I sew it.” She pulled the lid off. Inside were four fat rolls of woollen cloth, each about half a metre long. “I hope you like the colours? There're no squid in our waters this time of year, so there'll be no more black dye until next spring. Anyway, I should have you some new clothes to wear by the end of the week.” She pushed the box of fabric under her sewing table and headed to the kitchen cupboards. “Do you like pork chops?”
“Like them? I love them.”
“They are good. There's a lot of wild boar in our woods.”
The cabin soon filled with rich aroma of frying pork as Hazel pottered happily enough over the stove, flipping game-dark chops, which had a thick rind of fat on them, in a sizzling pan and tossing slices of potato in another. In other pans she boiled up a medley of carrots, beans and peas. Perry, meanwhile used the bathroom to freshen up and spent the rest of the time peering at the ants scurrying about in their glass-walled universe and perusing the various books on her crudely built book shelves. There, he saw, a mixture of tomes covering subjects ranging from the astrological to the strictly scientific astronomical, as well other books on more domestic subjects such as dressmaking techniques. There was even, he was intrigued to see, a book on anger management. One shelf appeared to be all fiction, although he recognised none of the titles, nor were the authors familiar to him. At last he heard Hazel summon him to the table.
“This looks fantastic, Hazel," he said as he sat down. “It smells even better. I confess I am ravenous.”
“Then don't stand on ceremony, dig in, boy!”
Hazel's portions gave a clue to the girth of her ample hips. Toward the end, Perry had to struggle a little to finish off the last few slices of fried potato. But seeing Hazel's clean plate encouraged him to make a special effort to clear his plate as a compliment to his cook, as much as to match his hostess's own prodigious appetite. They had talked little while eating, most of what was said related to the sourcing of the food and other trivia.
“Phew, Hazel. I'm fit to burst. You certainly know how to put on a good spread. I thank you and my stomach says thank you, too.”
“Thank you. I just wish I had a little more self control. Food seems to go straight to my hips.”
Perry stared at the chop bone on his plate, wishing he could think of something gallant to say. Nothing he could think of sounded both sincere and gracious. In the end he decided to offer to wash the dishes. He stood up and said: “You must let me wash this lot for you.”
She rose with him. “I will not. It'll just take me a minute to clear away while I make some coffee and then we can sit down by the stove.” She looked at his eyes, which were clouded with uncertainty. “Go on and sit down. You're the guest, remember. I don't have visitors very often, so you have to indulge me.”
He gave in. He watched her pile everything in the sink, before pouring some boiling water into a coffee pot, which she brought over and put on the arm of the sofa opposite him. She sat next to the pot. “We'll let that brew a while. Now where do I begin?”
“At the beginning ...?” Perry smiled, encouragingly.Chapter Fourteen