Chapter 19

In the morning Ada and her car and the child were gone. Owen took inventory. Clothes, baby book, diapers, and money were missing. The passports, not only Ada's and the child's, but his, were gone as well. He thought for a while, and picked up the phone and dialed.

"Mother? I'd like to speak to Ada."

"She's not here."

"Have you seen her?"


"I need to talk to her."

"You need? That's all you've ever thought about. Yourself and your so-called needs. You should be ashamed. I'm ashamed to be your mother."

"I want to talk to her."

"She doesn't want to talk to you."

"Let her decide that."

"She did. She made it very clear. She doesn't want to hear from you."

"Mother, please. She's my wife."

"She was your wife. We'll see how much longer she will be."

"I'm coming over."

"No. If you set foot on this property I will shoot you with your father's shotgun. You will be in the emergency room and the doctors will be pulling birdshot out of you."

"Mother -- "

"I'm not as naive as you think. I can see what happened. That poor girl can scarcely sit down. She looks like she's in shock. I gave her money and she went somewhere safe, away from you."

"Mother -- "

She hung up.

He called back but there was no answer after thirty rings. Despite her threat, he drove to her house, but no one answered the doorbell, and there were no signs of life through the windows. He peered through the squares of glass in the garage doors. Empty.

Ada was driving south. When she reached Wichita she sold her car at a dealership near the airport, accepting their price without haggling. The title was in her name alone. She wondered now whether she'd insisted on this in case she needed to escape, but the self-examination to decide this question would have taken too much effort. One of the salesmen drove her to the bank, where she cashed the check from the sale of the car, and then on to the airport. American Airlines had a flight for Dallas in two hours. She paid cash, using a false name.

In Dallas the next flight to Costa Rica wasn't until the following day. On being assured that there were plenty of seats, she decided not to reserve one, to minimize the chance of being found. She checked herself and Clover into the airport hotel, again with cash, again using a false name.

In the morning she was at the counter an hour before departure and bought a ticket with her credit card. When the statement arrived he would know where she'd gone, if he hadn't figured it out already, but that couldn't be helped. At least she would be out of reach.

The flight was long, and Ada was tired and couldn't sit comfortably. She thought perhaps Owen's assault had torn her rectum; that morning, before leaving Nina's, she'd checked it with a piece of toilet paper, which had come away pink. She hoped she didn't have a bowel movement any time soon.

Clover was cranky, and Ada had forgotten to bring a pacifier. Every time the cabin pressure changed, Clover cried. Ada wanted to nurse her in the seat, but there were other passengers to either side, so she took Clover to the bathroom and suckled her there until the child fell asleep.

By the time Ada staggered off the airplane, she needed sleep herself. She took a cab into town, to the Santo Tomas, and checked in. The hotel was too expensive, a former home of aristocracy, tiled, charming, but it was the only one she could remember, and she was too tired to make the effort to find something cheaper. She passed out without turning down the bedcovers. Clover slept without bothering her.

In the morning she wired her father to come get her. She spent the day walking the city, carrying Clover. She stopped in parks and watched the passersby, looked at the buildings, the vegetation, and the children in their school uniforms, ate the uninspired cooking, browsed in bookstores, smelled the diesel exhaust from the trucks, and thought how foreign everything seemed. Next morning she was stepping out the door for another walk when her brother pulled up in the Land Rover, which was more battered and ancient than ever, her father in the passenger seat. The sight of their faces filled her with joy. She was finally home. She kissed them both and handed Clover to Thomas.

"This is your granddaughter," she said. Clover pulled his beard and squealed.

"Where's Owen?" he asked.

"I left him." At the look on his face she said, "I'll explain later. Let's get my things. I can't wait to get home."

"You haven't been here in, how many years?"

"I know, but it's where I belong. Not that castle I was living in."

The roads were bad, though probably better than they'd been before she moved away, but now that she had something to compare them to she knew how awful they actually were. The drive was much longer than she remembered -- not farther, but slower. They had just turned off the Pan American Highway and were driving between two dusty fields when she shouted, "Stop the car!"

She stood in the road and watched two blue motmots in a tree. She had forgotten their racquet tails, the way they swung like pendulums, the two birds' tails going back and forth in perfect unison, like synchronized metronomes.

"Those birds," she said to Henry, who was looking at her. "I'd forgotten them."

At every turn in the road she saw something familiar -- a view of mountains and forest, a cecropia in flower, a scarlet-rumped tanager, a house, a bridge, a road sign in Spanish. She spent much of the ride comforting Clover, who was upset at the jolting of the ride.

The same houses, the same trees, the same holes in the road outside Santa Elena, but more coffee bushes where there used to be forest, and poles with electric and phone lines on them. Then the muddy lane, and her brother turned right. Half a mile farther was the house. Her family's house, and her own treehouse in back.

"Welcome home," her brother said. After he'd unloaded her bags, he got in a Land Cruiser parked beside the house.

"Aren't you coming in?" Ada asked.

"No. I have my own house. Too many chores. I'll be around soon," he said. "I'm a little busy right now." He drove off.

"You never told me he moved out," she said to her father.

"I thought I had."

"Mi amor," came a voice from behind her.

Ada turned. "Maria."

"Si. Como estas?"

"Muy bien. Y tu?"

"Pura vida."

They embraced.

"Thomas teaches me English," Maria said in a heavy accent.

"We can speak Spanish. I don't mind."

"No. No. I speak English. This is your baby? She is very beautiful. Pretty hair. What you call the color?"


Maria held out her arms, and Clover turned and held out her arms and leaned toward her in response, and Ada handed her over.

They went inside. The house was cluttered now, though still clean, and the kitchen seemed different, more like the kitchen she remembered in Maria's house, the house she had always passed on the way to and from school. The house where Maria had sometimes fed her. Food was on the stove. The air smelled of childhood spices. Maria had set the table. Ada wasn't hungry, but Maria insisted that she eat.

"You are, how you say?" She gestured at Ada.

"Thin? I've always been thin, Maria."

"Not for long," she said in Spanish. "Sit." She brought the food to the table.

After dinner Ada changed Clover's diaper and put her to bed in a wooden crate padded with blankets, upstairs in her old bedroom. The child was sleeping solidly. When Ada returned, Maria was whispering to Thomas and he was smiling. They were holding hands. Ada had never seen her father hold anyone's hand before, not even her mother's, when her mother had been alive. She stood outside the doorway, watching, and trying to sort out her feelings -- happiness, envy, regret, surprise. Maria noticed her and gestured her in.

They stayed late at the table. She told them about her life since she had left, and they told her who had married, who had divorced, who had been born, and who had died. Some of the Quakers had moved away, or split off from the original group. Some had ceased to be Quakers. The farms had reorganized and were working better, and the dairy was a success. The cloudforest preserve had been enlarged, and was becoming famous. She was eager to study it. Her father promised to introduce her to the director.

"That reminds me," he said, rising from his chair. He returned moments later with a book. "I thought you would like this. I was planning to send it to you."

It was a copy of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. "Thank you," she said. She looked at the color plates of gorgeous birds, and wondered where she could find a pair of binoculars.

She asked about her egg collection and the contents of the tree house, and her father said that no one had been in the room for years, almost since she had left, then admitted that the last time he had peered through one of the windows, everything had looked in very bad shape. He had meant to collect her things, but had put it off, not wanting to add to the clutter in the house, and in the end had forgotten. Ada changed the subject. Eventually he started to fall asleep in his chair, as he had done when she was young, and Maria sent them off to their rooms while she cleaned up.

In the morning Ada woke and looked out the window and saw clouds rolling toward the house, eating up and smothering the land, concealing it. Then she could not see the other side of the road that ran past the doorstep. She sat on the front stoop and held Clover until the clouds broke up and the sun emerged. She carried Clover into the kitchen, where Maria was sharpening a knife.

"Maria, can you watch Clover for a while? I want to work. I need a scrub brush and bucket and lye."

The key to her treehouse was lost, and Ada had to jimmy the lock with a screwdriver. Pulling slowly, the door would not open, and though she was afraid of breaking the hinges, she finally had no choice but to force the door.

The room was full of cobwebs and a musty smell, and the litter of rodent droppings. Something had eaten half her collection of bird's eggs and knocked most of the rest to the floor. She took one of her journals from the shelf and opened it. It was spotted with mold, the pages were brittle and yellow, and the dust made her sneeze. She looked at the childish writing. The first entry was about a horse she had loved, at a time when it been bitten by a snake and gone lame. She had forgotten the horse, and her concern for it. There were other entries about her brother's Capuchin monkey and the trouble it caused, the coffee bushes, the cows, school, her mother's illness, and synopses of what she was reading in the latest shipment of books from the United States.

She spent an hour reading, and thinking that she shouldn't have dropped the habit of writing; the days from college onward were unrecorded, except for her memory. She wished she'd had better paper: the pages sometimes broke when turned, but she was unwilling to throw the journals out. She dusted them, gently, and dusted the shelves, and returned the journals to their place. She would find some plastic covers, to prevent further deterioration. The bird log had survived with only a few spots of mold, she was pleased to see, and the quetzal feather was perfectly intact. She wove it into her hair before she started scrubbing. Except for breaks to nurse Clover, Ada worked most of the day, and by evening the room was immaculate, the hinges of the door removed, oiled, and replaced, the chairs repaired, and the mouse hole plugged. She sat on the stoop with Clover and watched the light fade. The sunset was abrupt, and early.

She had forgotten the quiet: no traffic, no background noise, no sirens or helicopters or airplanes, no neighbors mowing their yards, no music. The silence was as in Meeting, full of possibility and expectancy. She sat for hours, listening to nothing. She had forgotten, too, the darkness. No street lights, no ambient glow, only the rare headlights of a car on the road a kilometer away. And she had forgotten how little there was to do -- no movies, a tiny library, roads too bad to bicycle, poor radio reception. Here, with so little to spend time on, she might have watched television; she was glad there was none. She struggled politely with Maria over who would do the chores -- each wanted the other to rest. She played with Clover. But she didn't have enough to do until she took over the vegetable garden, which was healthy, but barely, and verging on overgrown.

Her life became plain, simple, and repetitive, and this was a comfort. She was bored, as she'd expected to be, but the boredom didn't bother her. There would be time in the future to think about the future. For now, now was all she wanted. She refused to think about anything else. She gave away her two dresses, and her shoes, and wore jeans and sandals. She would buy a pair of boots soon. In the meantime, mud between her toes didn't bother her.

She had been in Monteverde a week when the letters started to arrive. Owen pleaded for her to take him back. He made promises, he apologized, he told her that he loved and needed her. She knew this, he said, and she knew how hard he had worked at their marriage. The letters continued for six weeks, almost daily. She did not reply: she did not know what to say, and could not begin. Then there was a pause of a few days, followed by a letter that said he would be flying down within the next week. His replacement passport was due any day. She was forced to reply.

Dear Owen,

Please don't come. I'm not ready. I haven't written because I didn't know what to say. There is nothing to say, yet. If you come, you will be wasting your time, because I won't be able to talk.

I did not enter lightly into our marriage, and I took my promise to you seriously. I still do. But I am trying not to think about what you did, so I will not fall apart.

I am not ignoring you. I simply have to be apart from you for now, until I know what to do. You can continue to write, and I will continue to read your letters, as I have read them all to date. But I can't reply yet. Please be patient.

Two days later a car drove up and Ada heard a knock at the front door. The sound was unfamiliar, because no one she knew knocked -- they opened the door and identified themselves, and waited for someone to tell them to come in. She was in the kitchen, and glanced out the window. A brand-new car sat on the road outside the house. She knew all the cars in Monteverde, and this was not one of them. Her heart turned over, and she whispered to Maria,

"Don't answer the door."

There was no way to reach the stairs without passing through the hall, where she would be visible through the glass pane in the front door, so she remained where she was. There was no way to escape the kitchen.

Another knock. Maria looked at her.

Ada held a finger to her lips, and crouched, so she would not be seen through the kitchen windows. She gestured for Maria to do the same. After a moment, the old woman grasped the seat of a chair, leaned over, and, arms trembling, lowered herself to the floor. The two of them sat with their backs to the cabinet below the sink, the place Ada thought best to hide.

The visitor knocked a third time. There was a pause, and the sound of the front stairs, then silence, but Ada was sure that the visitor was walking around the house, peering in. She didn't dare look. She held her breath and hugged her knees. She hoped that Clover, asleep upstairs, did not wake and start to cry.

The silence was almost absolute, broken only by an occasional passing vehicle, the call of a bird, a far-off bang. Ada guessed that perhaps fifteen minutes passed before the car's engine started and she heard it drive off. She waited a minute, then helped Maria up.

"That was my husband," she said. "I have to go. Now."

Minutes later she was hurrying along the trail to Henry's house, Clover crying in her arms, and a bag with a few diapers and other odds and ends slung over her shoulder.

In the morning, Henry drove her to Limon, where she stayed. Four days later he father sent word that Owen had left Monteverde. Henry fetched her back to the house the next day.

She didn't want to write Owen. She wrote Nina instead. It was probably inappropriate to engage her mother-in-law's help, but the woman had always been sympathetic to her. She asked her to find a divorce lawyer, asked for help in paying his fee, and promised to repay the money as soon as she could.

Ada knew she would be stranded in Monteverde after the divorce, that she would want to return to the larger world, to places with more variety, more choices. That had not changed; that desire was only temporarily suspended. Money was the problem. She had none, and Owen had a great deal. She knew it was practical to demand a settlement, in fact stupid not to, but she couldn't bring herself to ask for anything from him. He offered money. She accepted, without bargaining. She knew she was being unwise -- worse: foolish -- but money had never mattered to her. At least she would be able to repay Nina. She didn't want to think of her husband every time she wrote a check, so she intended simply to leave the money in the bank. She would take back her possessions. In addition, Owen would pay the cost of Clover's support, and her college education. Clover was to stay with Ada. Owen could visit his daughter in Monteverde. Ada began thinking about how to avoid him, during those times.

He stipulated that he see Clover at least four times a year, for at least eight weeks; if necessary, Ada and Clover could spend part of the year with Nina. Owen would pay the travel costs.

The legalities took much longer than Ada had expected. When they were ready, she flew back. They met at Nina's house, where Ada's lawyer, whom she had never met, explained the details. Ada read the document, asked a few questions, and signed. Owen promised to stay away from his house the next day until she had removed the things she wanted, and he had already arranged for a small van, a supply of boxes, and a driver to be at her disposal.

The next morning the driver arrived with the van and she rode over with him. The door opened soundlessly on the house. She was relieved that this would be her last time there. This dwelling was simply too large, and she had never got used to it. There were things she didn't recognize -- furniture, photographs, china, and some pots and pans, with Ada's hidden at the back of the kitchen cabinets. Another woman's clothes shared her closet. Owen hadn't wasted any time.

With Clover in a Snugli, Ada went from room to room, pointing out some of the things that were hers, the driver boxing them up. Each thing she forsook was a goodbye. From the window above her desk, she looked at the back yard. She had never cut back the honeysuckle, and it had taken over the stone wall at the back of the property. How had that escaped her? She took the teddy bear from the desk and handed it to Clover, who embraced it and rubbed her cheek against it.

The last thing she did was to write Owen a note and leave it on the hall table.

Dearest Owen,

I have everything of mine that I want. A few things I left, which you can dispose of as you like.

This is a sad day for both of us, isn't it? I wish I could help you, but I suppose that would contradict the meaning of what we're doing. But should you ever want, you can write, and I will reply. We can never sunder ourselves completely. You are part of me now, and always will be, as I am of you.

Start thinking about the visits. My schedule is certainly more flexible than yours, and we needn't be too formal about the arrangements. Some advance notice is better than none, but I know how busy you are. We'll manage. Remember to allow some time for the mails. In that respect, Monteverde is particularly slow.

You are, and will remain, in my thoughts and prayers. I wish you every happiness.

She set her house key on top of the letter, then took off her wedding ring and set it next to the key. She called his office and left a message that she had finished. Then she pulled the door closed and checked to make sure it was locked. She leaned in at the window of the van and told the driver, "I think I'll walk."

The distance was little more than half a mile. She admired the grand houses, especially her favorite one, which she had always paused at on her bicycle rides. This year she had managed to strike up a friendship with the woman who lived there, and been invited to her famous Christmas party. She made a mental note to send regrets.

The next morning Nina drove her to the airport.

"When are you going to forgive him?" Ada asked.

"That's not for me to do," Nina replied. "That's for you, when enough time has gone by. If it can."

"It already has. He needs you to forgive him, too."

"That boy always disappoints me. I've never seen anyone try so hard, and then do something that ruins everything he's accomplished. He's always been that way."

"I know, but it doesn't matter any more. What happened was between me and him, and you shouldn't take my side. He loves you and he needs you to love him."

"He makes me angry," Nina snapped. "My other children aren't like that. No matter what I did, he always stayed the same. He doesn't even know what a mess he makes of things."

"Yes he does. It tortures him. That's why he tries so hard. He wants to make up for his mistakes."

Nina took the airport turn from I-29. "You were the best thing that ever happened to him. And one of the best that ever happened to me. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you, too. I love you, Nina. You have always been so kind to me. I hope you can be that kind to him."

She had left her things in Nina's attic, not knowing what else to do; there was no room for them in Monteverde, nor any affordable way to ship them there. She checked her suitcase through. That left nothing but two small carry-on bags, one for the child, the other for herself. She carried Clover in the chest sling and the bags in her hands, down the gangway, and took her seat by the window and raised Clover's hand to wave goodbye to Gamma. Then she slid down the window cover and waited for the jet engines to start, remembering her first flight, and her excitement. She had been so very young; looking back, she seemed to herself to have been almost as young and unschooled as Clover was now. She reached into the carryon bag and pulled out a pacifier, and put it in Clover's mouth, to help the child when the cabin pressure changed.