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Authors: Susan Minot

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BOOK: B0042JSO2G EBOK
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You’re being quiet today, he said.

Just thinking.

He let her think for a while.

Then she said, I won’t ask you.

Ask me what?

If it was the same.

What?

For you.

Ann.

I mean, if it mattered as much. I don’t know why I … really … why I go on about it.

You can go on about it.

Yes. She laughed. That’s just it. I could. She thought for a while more and when she spoke seemed to address herself more than him. But why bother?

So I’ll know? he said.

She looked at his face. She could still see the face she’d first seen in him though now it was older. She could still see it. She smiled. You can never know, she said.

 

She communed with herself in the Slaters’ bathroom needing a pause in the socializing. On the wall was a framed cartoon of a woman kissing her husband’s golf balls and a caption saying that would make his putter rise. The grey and red curtains with kettles on them were faded nearly white between the folds and torn near a rusty hook and a green stain made a leaf shape in the sink. The Slaters were not poor. Lila had said that in New England the rich let old things stay old.

When she came out through the low-ceilinged living room Harris Arden was coming in the doorway, stepping in sideways. He was too big to step in straight. He crouched, accustomed to stooping through doorways, and his features picked up a sharp shadow from a yellow lamp and she saw a new expression of being inwardly lit up from talking to people, sort of fortified by the attention. So he had that expression too.

He walked toward her with his long legs. A cone of light was thrown onto the wall from a lampshade painted with nautical flags. His tall legs kept coming toward her. The windows had black panes with glints of light. She watched him walking toward her again and again. Laughter came from outside. She smiled. He half-smiled back. Doubt swept through her. He was mysterious and the otherness
of his life suddenly struck her. She wanted to be thrown onto his back and hauled off. She wondered how warm his skin was or how cool or how soft at the throat. She wanted to climb around on him. She looked at his arms and wondered what they’d do with a girl. He seemed to have a thousand decisions made inside him and many secrets and she wanted to know what they were and to study him and watch the secrets change. She wanted, she wanted. She felt drowsy and alert at the same time. In the long time of crossing the room as they neared one another among the squeaking wicker chairs and the model boat encased in glass and the straw rug, it struck her that he would not be here long, their time was limited and perhaps she ought to do something and be more forward but then she thought they had found each other. There was a glass-topped bamboo table in the middle of the room in front of a sofa making the space narrow and as they reached it at the same time Ann Grant knocked its corner jarring a bowl of sea glass. He caught her elbow.

Careful, he said. And he gripped her arm.

He might just as well have lifted her slowly into the air and flung her up against the wall or slapped her across the face or tripped her and thrown her onto the floor.

She sidestepped him with a bright look and opened the door onto the deck and the summer night and the low voices and was glad for the darkness. She had a smile plastered across her face. She tried to stop it and found she could not. God she thought this is ridiculous. It was what her mother might have said and a curious thing to say to herself since ridiculous was the opposite of what she believed this was.

Constance stood at the bureau picking things up.

I ought to tell you about the will, said Ann Lord.

Constance dropped the top back on a jade jar. Margie stopped hugging her knees and put her feet on the floor. At the window Teddy turned his head but kept his body facing out.

You don’t have to, Teddy said.

She can if she feels like it, Margie said.

Obviously she feels like it if she’s bringing it up, said Constance.

You can address me directly, said the woman on the bed. I am still here.

I don’t care about the will, Teddy said into the glass.

Will you leave the light on?
their feet pattering above her I
can hear you up there
the glass chandelier on the table shaking
back in bed right now!

It’s being divided up among the four of you, you and Nina, so I hope you’ll care a little. And the little girls and of course Julian.

Constance stood over the chest at the foot of the bed. So we shouldn’t expect anything unusual? she said, wanting to end the discussion.
Will you read it again just one more time

I don’t know what you expect, said her mother.

Constance’s face twisted a little and she left the room.

Did I say something?

Teddy followed after her.

What’s the name of the one at night? said Ann Lord.

What? said Margie. Oh you mean Nurse Homans.

I don’t like her.

She doesn’t seem too bad.

I want to get rid of her.

Mother, why?

Shall I get Constance to do it?

No, I’m just wondering why.

I told you, I don’t like her.

No reason?

Margie’s little arms around her neck were strangling her
don’t go Mother don’t go please
Ann tried to stand up and her legs wobbled lifting the two of them
you’re always going

I’ll get Constance to take care of it.

No, I will. I just wanted to know a good reason.

There is no good reason. Don’t waste your life waiting for good reasons, Margie. You’ll wait and wait.

Now she had that terrible look on her face.
When are you coming
back? Why can’t I come?
She should not have had children, she did not know how to answer their eyes. She tried to think of something to say. The ceiling was there with its uneven plaster.

I’m a writer now, she said.

Margie leaned forward, her expression changed. What?

She pointed up. My blank page.

Charlie Elisophen’s fiancée was describing the terrible heat in Malaysia where she grew up. They were sitting on a stone wall below the terrace. Ann had left a space between her and Harris Arden. Buddy lay on the grass looking up at the sky and Carl’s friend Monty had such pale hair it seemed to glow in the dark. Harris Arden asked her about the colonists and she shrugged and said the whole thing was much simpler than people thought and over-emphasized here and the natives didn’t really want to govern themselves and it was not really something you could understand if you hadn’t lived there. Harris said he had been there but guessed not long enough. Buddy who hadn’t appeared to be listening said, I don’t suppose there’s anyone here to speak for the natives.

Lizzie Tull’s silhouetted bushy head came bouncing down the lawn. She plopped herself down beside Harris Arden and began interrogating him. Ann listened to many of the same questions she’d asked, feeling she at least knew him better, but was sorry she’d not been as enthusiastic as Lizzie since Harris was smiling at her exclamations.

So if you’re so perfect, Lizzie said, why aren’t you married?

Ann braced herself for the answer which was eclipsed by a rocket whistling off the porch followed by a crack. They were shooting off Roman candles. Lizzie jumped up first and the others followed. Buddy crawled up the little slope on his hands. Ann stood, Harris Arden stayed sitting. She didn’t move. They’d not exchanged a word all night.

Are you having a good time? he said in a quiet voice.

Sure.

How are you?

It seemed one of the more intimate things anyone had ever said to her.

Fine. She sat back down beside him. That was quite a rescue tonight.

I thought she might have hit her head. That would have been bad. Head injuries are not good.

It scared me for a minute, Ann said. Gigi gets in a lot of trouble.

She’s an interesting person, he said.

Gigi was often the subject of conversation. Gigi had gotten arrested, a boy had climbed up to her window, she cracked up the car. But Ann had never heard anyone refer to her as an interesting person.

Later she and Harris Arden took back the putt-putt he’d brought Gigi in after the accident. She sat on the plank in the middle holding her sandals with his sweater wrapped shawl-like around her and her bare feet cooled by the sheet of water sliding front to back in the bottom.

Do you know about boats? she said as he stepped into the stern.

Not at all. He pulled the cord and nothing happened. He pulled again and it started.

There’s a safety light, she said.

We don’t need a light. There’s a moon.

She felt content with him steering behind her. The wind was soft on her face. The water was still and lights from the houses onshore made little paths of pleated light coming down.

You look like an Indian princess, he said.

She didn’t know what to say to that.

Do you prefer a full moon? he said. Or a half?

I like them both. Then she remembered. But one is always better?

Yes.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter, she said.

His voice was nearly blotted out by the humming motor. Everything matters, he said.

If there had been a part of her not in thrall with him that part was now gone.

 

Well it doesn’t matter now, she said.

Of course it does.

It did …

It still matters, he said.

How can it? How can it matter anymore?

It matters inside, he said.

Where’s that? Can we go there together?

In a way.

She was silent. They looked at each other in silence.

 

Leaning into the deep sill of the screened window they faced the dark lawn and the bay beyond. The group on the flowered sofas was behind them, Lila with tea and Carl’s arm around her, Ralph with ankles crossed telling about the latest wedding, his twelfth time as an usher. Kevin Holt mixed drinks with Gigi at the leather bar cart.

Back there you had an expression on your face. It made me want to kiss you.

He was very close so she didn’t turn her head but her eyes shifted in his direction.

Are all the boys in Chicago like you?

Sure, we’re all over the place.

Ann looked out and saw a figure on the lower lawn. At first she thought it was one of the men working on the tent then saw it was Buddy. He walked by without glancing toward the house. His shirttails were out. It was like him to be wandering around in the night leaving lost things behind him. Buddy held loosely onto things. She felt a wave of affection for him, having affectionate feelings in abundance.

There’s a rock garden down there, she said, feeling bold.

Is there?

You want to see?

He pushed back from the sill. Without turning to the others they opened the screen door to the long porch and went out. At another time Ann would have glanced back to the girls. This was different. This was hers.

5. T
HE
R
OCK
G
ARDEN
 
BOOK: B0042JSO2G EBOK
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