Authors: Susan Minot
Connie, Margie said. He doesn’t mean it that way.
I just think we should think of her first. Am I crazy?
Maybe she would like it, Teddy said quietly. He’d learned long ago that in these matters his sisters would decide without considering his opinion.
Maybe? She can’t even blow out one candle much less sixty-five. I think it’s a terrible idea.
As if we’d have sixty-five candles, Margie said.
Nina stood over Constance’s shoulder and watched what she was doing. We can still celebrate it, she said. Let’s have a cake and eat it.
Your philosophy of life, Margie said fondly.
Why not? A card in Constance’s hand caught her eye. Who the hell is Peach Howe?
She used to live across the street, Teddy said.
That’s right, Constance said, and looked at her brother with surprise.
What? he said. I’m not that out of it.
So what’s going to happen to the house? said Nina, moving around. She’d arrived that afternoon and had yet to be affected by the heavy air emanating from the room upstairs.
Jesus, Nina. She’s not gone yet, Margie said. Margie lived nearby in an apartment in Central Square but still came home to do laundry. Since June she’d been living full time on Emerson Street back in her old room, next to the guest room where Constance was staying. Nina’s room was on the third floor with its own phone line but she had an apartment in New York now. Teddy lived twenty minutes away in Weston with his wife Lauren and twin daughters where he had a contracting business. His partner was picking up the slack while he spent time at his mother’s.
She tried to talk to us about the will, Constance said. But no one could really handle it.
Speak for yourself, Teddy said.
We could handle it, Margie said. It was just weird.
Nina brushed her hand over some things in the room, going by the mantelpiece. The only thing I want is the volcano painting, she said, and pointed out toward the hall.
Which happens to be the most valuable thing in the house, Constance said.
It was Daddy’s, Nina said.
She’s still breathing up there, you guys, Jesus, Margie said.
We’re just being practical, Constance said with no conviction whatsoever.
Teddy’s wife Lauren brought in a tray with glasses of iced tea with mint sprigs from the garden. She was wearing a stretchy flowered dress with flounces at the knee.
You look pretty today, Teddy said when she sat down beside him.
Thanks, she said. I feel totally fat in this dress.
We should probably sell it, Constance said. And divide it up.
It could generate its own income if you rented it, Lauren said. I was once a real estate agent, you know.
No one responded.
If one of us lived here it’d be a place we could all come to, Margie said. Maybe Teddy wants to live here.
This house, he began. It’s not, you know … the best things didn’t happen here.
No, Margie said.
Its a great house, Nina said. But who wants to live in Cambridge?
Margie looked at her.
Sorry. I mean I wouldn’t want to. A thought occurred to her. Why don’t you live here? She looked at everyone. Margie should live here.
Oh I couldn’t, Margie stuttered sitting up and looking pleased. It’s way too big … Her eyes were bright. Then she saw the way Nina’s mouth was slightly open and saw she wasn’t serious and blushed and when neither Constance nor Teddy commented she felt her blush turn prickly. Right, she said, and smiled as if she’d been joking all along.
And in this way nothing was settled.
They lay entwined on unraveling sail bags. Ann Grant had managed to keep her clothes on but they were all shifted around. Her mouth felt overripe. Squares of moonlight showed up on the floor of the shed and on Harris Arden’s face. She leaned up on an elbow and looked at him lying with his eyes closed breathing in a controlled way. He took her hand and led it to his hips and pressed it
on his pants. He held her arm so she wouldn’t take it away and moved her palm over him and when he relaxed his hand she kept moving hers the way he’d shown her. A groan came from the back of his throat, his hand fumbled at her shirt to pull it aside, trying to touch her breasts. She watched his face with its eyes closed and kept moving her hand on him and his head pressed harder against the sail bag. He reached between her legs and her elbow firmly pushed his arm away and his hand strayed back to her shirt and with a jerk pulled it down. He touched her skin slowly and quietly as if the slowness assisted his sense of touch, then his eye opened a sliver to see what he was touching and she saw a gleam in his eye nearly cruel which thrilled her. He closed his eyes and his breath began to come shorter and deeper and he pressed his head back. God his face was beautiful like that. She kept moving her hand and his breath deepened and she watched her hand moving in the shadow then glanced back at his face with the head pressing back staying still. She saw him sort of wince and his mouth open and she heard something catch in the back of his throat which he held sort of ticking there for a long moment then he let air out trailing off nearly whimpering. His face broke into pieces as if in pain then gently relaxed to being placid again but more so. His eyes opened. He looked past her then toward her through her then he saw her and his arms came up surrounding her in a sudden surge as if he were gathering a spinnaker in a high wind pulling her in and pressing her face to his chest. He pulled her in tight.
After a while he relaxed his grip but still held on and kept her close. He murmured in her ear as if reciting a prayer, low and run together, YoualrightyouO.K.?youfeelO.K.?
I’m fine, she said.
That was so—
She lay against his chest. The thought did not come to her and there was no decision to ask, the question simply came out unconsidered and of its own accord. You don’t have a girlfriend or anything do you? she said.
Actually, he said right away in a tender voice indicating that this couldn’t possibly matter to them, I do.
She stiffened in his arms. You do.
I thought you knew that.
How would I know that?
From Carl. I thought Carl might have told you.
I didn’t ask Carl. Her voice was suddenly very small.
The air in the sail closet changed.
Ann Grant’s eyes were no longer dreamy, they were alert. Her arms became aware of the distinction of his body separate from hers. His body took on its own dimensions, lying alongside her now ominous and strange.
After a while he said, Are you O.K.?
Harris Arden was quiet.
She said, Where is she?
Ann moved her hand off Harris Arden’s arm and though she still leaned against him she no longer clinged on.
She’s … He cleared his throat. Actually she’s coming tomorrow. Here?
She’s taking a seaplane with some people called the Tobins.
Their cousins, Ann whispered.
They’re coming first from Boston—
Ann Grant sat forward.
Don’t go away, he said.
She did not move further away but did not lean back either. The little shed was no longer sanctuary-like. Its walls seemed to dissolve and she was drawn out to the little grass outside and the sharp rocks below and the water stretching to nowhere.
What’s her name? Ann’s voice was dull but her mind was lively
this isn’t all this couldn’t be all there is something else I don’t know there’s something more to know maybe it will be worse but it will be more it will shift this it will lift me up from this low place I have suddenly been plunged into I cannot suddenly be so low when just moments ago I was so high up
Maria, he said.
Maria, said Ann Grant.
I’ve known her a long time. She waited for me while I was in Korea—
Maria, Ann said.
They were silent for a while.
Are you going to marry her?
Again he did not pause but answered matter-of-factly. We’re supposed to get married in September.
Ann felt a dull blow hit between her legs. She turned to face him square on. She’s your fiancée, she accused.
It was as if an explosion had gone off and now smoke rolled from it filling the air.
Yes, he said.
She could hardly see him anymore in the swirling smoke. It swirled around isolating her. So what are you doing here if you have a fiancée in Chicago?
His answer came right away. Falling in love, he said.
A great wind blasted up clearing the smoke and she saw her feet beneath her standing at the edge of a cliff. So that was it, that was the other part. It came to her in this little shed. So this is what night is for, she thought, this is what arms are for. This is why that window is there, why people sleep at night, why they lie beside each other, what life is. This was the point. She split out of the world with him and everything around them became something sealing off the two of them with no time in it and no endings and no loss or worry. She was full. She set herself back against him very slowly and was silent for a while then turned and touched his face like an explorer with an archeological find and kissed him and lay back again. The great thing was happening to her. She looked up and saw the white painted rafters showing up in the darkness and smelled the wet rope in the corners and saw the pointed flags hanging against the windows in the pitched roof. Her mind spread
evenly over everything.
nothing had ever sounded like
that falling in love
Every defense she’d ever consciously or unconsciously taken refuge behind suddenly dropped like the buildings you saw demolished in clouds of dust and in its place a new scaffolding was thrown up, a structure upon which she could build a life. His arm was integral to this structure and with its support she felt wide and strong. There seemed to be no difference between herself outside and in. Up until then her personality had been a thing fluctuating in and out of sight like grass underwater and now it was all equally in focus. She was solid, whole. She saw through the window a spiky branch black as antlers in the moonlight.
Look, she said.
He looked. Do you love trees too?
He pulled her near, staying quiet as he did it. He did not know what he did or how everything was changed.
She had no task in front of her, no living room to redo or tickets to pick up, no dinner party to plan, no children to be fetched or novel to be read or phone to be answered, no blue suit to try on when she got home. She stared upward and the ceiling stared back. Stick with the concrete, she told herself. It helped ward off the pain. She tried to think of concrete things. Where she’d lived. Let’s see. In New York the first apartment with Phil with the hissing radiators, then the bigger one off Park and Seventy-seventh where Margie was born and they put her in the bottom drawer, then the farmhouse they took for the weekends which Phil never came to, then after the divorce the Rolands’ carriage house with iron bannisters. Ted’s brick house she never liked, then the house in Connecticut he let her redo and the tangled greenhouse she restored and how the light came in the dusty windows. The rentals. In Easthampton with a black pool. The driftwood one with the dune grass brushing the deck. Paul was carrying a bucket of crabs from the marsh pond. The yellow saltbox on Three O’Clock Island with the lighthouse.
The narrow townhouse she and Oscar took in London, the mill in Provence with the well in the courtyard, the château they shared with the Cutlers with rows of lavender, the villa with the Rolands with the aviary frescoes in the dining room, the mist in Florence, a fireplace going at Christmas, whitewashed walls in Patmos with the pots of rosemary by the blue steps … there were little pots of rosemary downstairs on the porch, and bushes of hydrangea and an ancient rhododendron … on Gray Gable Road she’d had a tulip magnolia tree blooming cream and pink, and dark eaves and terra cotta tiles in the hall, coming home from school in brown and green shoes, her room had a cranked window with lead panes and ruffles on the bed, a ledge with a china couple dancing a waltz, a brown and yellow radio she listened to doing her math, singing out the window, looking in the mirror, singing on the stage at school … what was that? Bees buzzing, or was it a cocktail party on the other side of the fence? She lay under the covers like a clothespin with the bed all around her.
I live in a house of my own, she thought. All I want is someone here beside.
I’m thinking of the sail closet, she said.
You remember that?
Of course I remember.
It was nice, she said. Then bad then nice again.
I remember it as nice.
I’d never done that so soon with someone.
I hadn’t—well not like that.
Not with me you mean.
No. Not like that.
You said sometimes it was better not doing everything.
Did I? I must have thought so—for a minute.
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach when you told me.
I thought you knew.