Authors: Hanya Yanagihara
I hope you can forgive me for my poor communication, and that this very long letter might go some way in assuring you of my continued interest and affection. I will be back in your city in a fortnight and do hope I may be allowed to call on you again, if only to ask your forgiveness in person.
I wish you and your family all good health and belated holiday greetings. I await your reply.
Yours very sincerely,
For a few moments, David merely sat, stunned by the story that Charles had related, a story that had the effect of abruptly deflating his own giddy happiness, but also any annoyance he may have felt for his grandfather. He thought with pity of poor young James, whose life was now, as Charles had said, transformed, and who would be haunted by this event forever—he was not to blame, but he would never quite believe that fact. He would spend his adulthood either trying to apologize for what he thought he had done or denying it. One path would make him feeble; the other, bitter. And poor Charles, to have once again brushed against death, to once again be associated with the loss of someone so young!
But he was also aware of a shame of his own, for until his grandfather had handed him the letter, he had quite forgotten about Charles Griffith.
Or—not forgotten, perhaps, but ceased to be curious about him. The idea of marriage itself had similarly lost any of the sense of intrigue it had once had, even if that intrigue had been tempered by wariness. It seemed, suddenly, a declaration of timidity to allow oneself to be shuttled into a marriage, to surrender the idea of love for stability, or respectability, or dependability. And why would he resign himself to a dun-colored life when he could have another? He pictured himself—unfairly, he knew, for he had never seen Charles Griffith’s house—in a spacious but plain white clapboard structure, prettily bordered with hydrangea bushes, sitting in a rocking chair, a book in his lap, staring at the sea like an old lady, waiting for his husband’s heavy tread on the front porch. In that instant, he was again
furious at his grandfather and his grandfather’s desire to condemn him to a colorless existence. Did his grandfather think that was the best he might imagine for himself? Did he, despite his protestations to the contrary, believe that the best place for him was an institution, if not a literal one, then a domestic one?
It was with these confused thoughts that he entered his grandfather’s drawing room, shutting the door behind him a touch too forcefully, which caused his grandfather to look up at him, surprised. “I apologize,” he mumbled, to which his grandfather said only, “What had he to say?”
He handed his grandfather the pages, silently, and his grandfather took them, and unfolded his glasses, and began to read. David watched him, able to discern by his deepening frown how far into Charles’s narrative he had ventured. “My goodness,” said his grandfather, at last, removing his glasses and refolding them. “Those poor boys. That poor family. And poor Mister Griffith—he sounds wretched.”
“Yes, it’s a terrible thing.”
“What does he mean when he says he was embarrassed by your last conversation?”
He told his grandfather, briefly, about Charles’s loneliness, about how forthcoming he had been, and his grandfather shook his head, not with disapproval but with sympathy.
“So,” he said, after a silence, “are you planning on seeing him again?”
“I don’t know,” David replied, after his own silence, looking into his lap.
A third silence ensued. “David,” said Grandfather, gently. “Is something the matter?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been so—distant. Are you feeling all right?”
He realized then that his grandfather thought he was entering one of his illnesses, and as bothered as he was by this, he also wanted to laugh at how incorrectly his grandfather had interpreted his life, at how little he truly knew of him, though understanding this made him sad as well.
“I am perfectly fine.”
“I thought you enjoyed talking to Mister Griffith.”
“He certainly seems to enjoy talking to you. David. Don’t you think?”
He stood then, seizing the poker and jabbing at the fire, watching the neatly stacked logs spit and tumble. “I suppose.” And then, when Grandfather said nothing: “Why do you want me to get married?”
He could hear the surprise in his grandfather’s voice. “What do you mean?”
“You say it is my decision, but it certainly seems as though it is yours. Yours and Mister Griffith’s. Why do you want me to get married? Is it because you think I cannot do better for myself? Is it because you think I cannot take care of myself?”
He could not turn to look at his grandfather’s face, but he felt his own grow hot, both from the fire and from his display of impertinence.
“I do not know, nor understand, what prompted this,” his grandfather began, slowly. “As I have told not just you but all of you, I have worked to ensure that the only reason my grandchildren need marry is for companionship. You, David,
had indicated you were interested in the possibility; it is only because of that that Frances began indicating that we were open to offers. As you know, it was
who had declined a number of offers before even meeting the gentlemen—perfectly good candidates, I might as well tell you—and so, when Mister Griffith’s offer arrived, Frances suggested, and I agreed, that I ought to urge you to at least
to entertain the idea of indulging the man before wasting yet more of everyone’s time.
“This is for
future happiness, David—all of it. It is not for my pleasure, nor for Frances’s, I assure you. This is being done for
and only for you, and if I sound resentful, or peeved, I do not mean to be—only bewildered.
are the one responsible for making the decisions, and it is at
prompting that this process is even underway.”
“And so, because I had rejected so many previous candidates, I
was left with—who? People no one else would consider? A widower? An old man with no education?”
At this, his grandfather rose to his feet so swiftly that David was afraid he meant to strike him, and grabbed David’s shoulders and made him face him.
“You astound me, David. I did not raise you nor your siblings to speak of other people like this. You are young, yes, younger than he is. But you are—I had thought—wise, and he is clearly tenderhearted, and many marriages are made on much, much less. I don’t know what has inspired this—this tantrum, this suspicion of yours.
“He is obviously fond of you. He may even love you. I imagine he would be amenable to discussing whatever concerns you may have, about where you might live, for example. He has a house in the city; he had never indicated to Frances that you must live in Massachusetts, if that’s what’s troubling you. But if you are truly not interested in him, you are obligated to tell him. You owe the gentleman that. And you must do so in person, and do so with kindness and gratitude.
“I don’t know what is happening to you, David. Over the past month, you have changed. I have meant to speak to you of it, but you have been so unavailable.”
His grandfather stopped, and David turned away again to look at the fire, hot with shame.
“Oh, David,” his grandfather said, softly. “You are so dear to me. And you are indeed correct—I
want you to be with someone who will care for you: not because I think you incapable of caring for yourself but because I believe you would be happiest with another. In the years since you returned from Europe, you have become less and less a part of the world. I know your sicknesses have been trying—I know how depleted they leave you and, moreover, how ashamed you are of them. But, child, this is a man who has endured great sorrow and illness in his past and has not run from them; he is therefore a man worth considering, because he is a man for whom your happiness will always be his concern.
is who I want for you.”
Together, they stood in silence; his grandfather looked at him, and David looked at the floor. “Tell me, David,” said his grandfather, slowly, “is there somebody else in your life? You can tell me, child.”
“No, Grandfather,” he said to the ground.
“Then,” his grandfather said, “you must write to Mister Griffith at once and tell him you accept his offer to see him again. And at that meeting, you must either break off relations entirely or you must tell him of your intentions to continue communications. And if you
decide to keep speaking with him, David—and though you have not asked me, I think you ought—then you must do so with sincerity and with a generosity of spirit of which I know you to be capable. You owe the man that. Will you promise me this?”
And David said he would.
The next few days were unusually busy—the family gathered for Wolf’s birthday one evening, and Eliza’s the evening after—and so it was not until the following Thursday that he was able to meet Edward outside the school after his class, and then walk with him to his boardinghouse. Along the way, Edward slipped his left arm through David’s right, and David, who had never before walked arm in arm with someone, squeezed Edward’s closer, though he had first looked behind him to see if the coachman had witnessed it, for he did not want it reported to Adams and, therefore, to his grandfather.
That afternoon, as they lay together—David had brought with him a fine wool blanket in a soft pigeon-gray that Edward had exclaimed over, and in which they now swaddled themselves—Edward talked of his friends. “A misfit bunch,” he laughed, almost boastfully, and so they seemed to be: There was Theodora, the prodigal daughter of a rich family in Connecticut, who aspired to be a singer in “one of your dreaded nightclubs”; Harry, a penniless but exceedingly handsome young man who was the companion of “a very wealthy banker—your grandfather would likely know him”; Fritz, a painter, who sounded like little more than a wastrel (though of course David did not say this); and Marianne, who was attending art school and gave drawing lessons for money. They were of a kind: young, poor (though only some by circumstance of birth), carefree. David pictured them—Theodora, pretty, slim, nervous, with lustrous dark hair; Harry, blond and black-eyed and full-lipped; Fritz, sallow and twitchy with a long, thin smirk; Marianne, with a guileless
smile and heaps of peach-colored curls. “I’d very much like to meet them someday,” he said, though he wasn’t sure he did—he wanted to pretend they did not exist, that Edward was his alone—and Edward, as though he knew this, merely smiled and said he someday might.
Too soon, it was time for him to leave, and as he was buttoning his coat, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Oh, no—I forgot to mention it, I’m leaving tomorrow!”
“Yes, one of my sisters—one of the two in Vermont—she’s soon to have a baby, and I’m going to see her and the others.”
“Oh,” he said. (Would Edward not have told him if he hadn’t asked to see him? Would David have announced himself as usual at the boardinghouse and sat in the parlor, waiting for him to make an appearance? How long would he have waited—hours, yes, but how many?—before admitting failure and retreating to Washington Square?) “When will you be back?”
“At the end of February.”
“But that’s so long!”
“Not so long! February is brief. Besides, it shan’t be the very end—February twentieth. Not long at all! And I’ll write you.” A slow, insinuating smile crept over Edward’s face, and he flung the blanket aside and stood and wrapped his arms around David. “Why? Shall you miss me?”
He colored. “You know I shall.”
“But that is so dear! I am so honored.” Over the weeks, Edward’s speech had lost some of its theatricality, its dramatic expressiveness, but now it had returned, and, hearing its inflections once more, David was suddenly uncomfortable—what had not perturbed him before seemed now false and insincere and oddly troubling, and it was with genuine sadness, but also some other feeling, something unnamable but unpleasant, that he bade Edward goodbye.
But by the following week, any discomfort he had felt had dissipated, replaced by pure longing. How swiftly had Edward transformed him! How dreary life was without him! Now his afternoons were once again empty, and he spent them as he once had: reading
and drawing and embroidery, though most of his time was spent daydreaming, or on listless strolls through the park. He even found himself walking to the café where they had almost had their first coffee, and this time sitting and ordering a cup, which he drank, slowly, darting glances at the door whenever it opened as if the person who stepped through it might be Edward.
He was returning from a visit to the café when Adams told him a letter had arrived for him, which turned out to be from Charles Griffith, inviting David to dinner at his house when he was in the city the following week. He accepted, politely but with no sense of anticipation, meaning only to honor his grandfather’s request, and Charles’s own to apologize in person, and the evening of their meeting he arrived home from the café so late that he barely had time to change and pat some water on his face before he’d had to climb into the waiting hansom.
Charles Griffith’s house was near David’s childhood home, although directly off Fifth Avenue. That house had been large, but Charles’s was even larger, and notably grander, with a wide, curved marble staircase that led to the parlor floor, where his host awaited him, standing as soon as David entered. They shook hands, formally.
“David—it is so good to see you.”
“And you,” he said.
And to his surprise, this was to be true. They sat in the splendid parlor—David thinking of how sniffy Peter, who cared about such things, would be if he saw this space, with its overly rich textiles and colors, its overly plush sofas, its profusion of glittering lamps, its brocade-hung walls almost bare of paintings—and once more, conversation came naturally. David inquired about James, and saw an expression of sorrow move across Charles’s face (“I thank you for asking, but he is very much the same, I’m afraid”), and they spoke of the continuing silence from the Delacroix family, and how they had each spent the holidays.
As they were seated for dinner, Charles said, “I remember you said oyster stew was one of your favorites.”
“It is,” he said, as a tureen wafting a delectably scented steam was
brought to the table, and a ladleful of soup placed in his bowl. He tasted it—the broth was rich and well-seasoned, the oysters fat and buttery. “It’s delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
He was touched by the gesture, and something about the stew—such a humble, honest dish, made more humble and honest in this overwrought dining room, with its long, shining table that could have accommodated twenty but instead sat only two, its bowls of fresh-cut flowers wherever he looked—and the kindness that had inspired it made him feel warmly toward Charles, made him want to offer him something in return. “Do you know,” he began, accepting a second serving of the stew, “that I was born quite near here?”
“I wondered,” Charles said. “You had earlier mentioned your parents died when you were still young.”
“Yes, in seventy-one. I was five, John was four, and Eden was two.”
“Was it the flu?”
“Yes—they died so fast. My grandfather took us in immediately afterward.”
Charles gave a shake of his head. “The poor man—to lose his son and daughter-in-law—”
“Yes, and to be saddled with three little devils, all in less than a month!”
Charles laughed. “I’m sure you weren’t.”
“Oh, but we were. Though, as difficult as I was, John was worse.”
They both laughed at this, and he found himself, as he’d not done in some time, recounting the few memories he had of his parents: They had both worked for Bingham Brothers, his father as a banker, his mother as a lawyer. In his memories, they were always leaving—in the morning, to work; in the evening, to dinners and parties or to the opera or theater. He had a vague, gauzy image of his mother as a neat, slender woman with a long, straight nose and masses of dark hair, but he could never be certain whether this was truly his memory of her, or whether it was one he had constructed based on a small drawing of her that he had been given when she died. Of his father, he could remember even less. He knew he was fair-haired
and green-eyed—his grandfather had adopted him as an infant from a German family in his employ with too many children and too little money, and had raised him alone—and that it was from him that David and his siblings had inherited their coloring. He remembered that he had been gentle, but also more playful than their mother, and that on Sundays, after they’d returned from church, he would have David and John stand in front of him as he stretched out two closed fists. They would get to choose—David one week, John the next—which fist secreted candy, and if they guessed incorrectly, he would always turn to walk away, and they would protest, and he would return, smiling, and distribute it to them anyway. Grandfather would always say that David was like their father in temperament, and John and Eden resembled their mother.
Mentioning his siblings led to a discussion of them, and he described how John and Peter had grown increasingly alike in sensibility and habit in the years since they married, and how they both worked for Bingham Brothers—in an echo of their parents, John was a banker and Peter a lawyer. Then there was Eden, and her studies at medical school, and Eliza’s charitable work. Charles knew of their names—everyone did, for they were always appearing in the society columns, spotted attending this gala or hosting that costume party, Eden written of admiringly for her sense of style and wit, John for his conversational skills—and asked if he was fond of them, and although David was not overly concerned with Charles’s opinion, he found himself fibbing and saying he was.
“And so you and Eden are the rebels, then, for not entering the family business. Or perhaps John is the rebel, for he is outnumbered, after all!”
“Yes,” he said, but he was growing anxious, for he knew the direction the conversation would now take, and before Charles could ask, he offered, “I
want to work with my grandfather—I did. But I—” And, to his embarrassment and horror, he was unable to speak further.
“Well,” said Charles, quietly, into the silence David had left, “but you are a wonderful artist, I am told, and artists should not spend
their lives toiling in banks. I’m sure your grandfather would agree. Why, if any member of
family were to ever demonstrate any artistic skill in the slightest, you can be certain we wouldn’t expect them to spend their time tallying numbers and charting sea routes and appeasing traders and brokering arrangements! But, sadly, it seems that there is very little chance of that, as the Griffiths are, I’m sorry to say, workaday people in the extreme!” He laughed, and the mood grew lighter, and David, having recovered himself, finally laughed with him, feeling a swell of gratitude for Charles.
“Practicality is a virtue,” he said.
“Perhaps. But too much practicality, like too much of any virtue, is very dull, I think.”
After their dinner and drinks, Charles walked him down to the entryway. David could tell, from the way he tarried, the way Charles held his hand in both of his, that he wished to kiss him, and although he had had a pleasant evening, although he could even admit to himself that he liked the man, indeed, liked him very much, he was unable to stop himself from looking up at Charles’s face, flushed red from wine, and the stomach that not even his cleverly cut waistcoat could conceal, and comparing him unfavorably with Edward, his spare, slim frame, his smooth, pale skin.
Charles would not demand affection from him, he knew, and so David merely put his other hand atop Charles’s own in what he hoped was a conclusive gesture, and thanked him for a lovely evening.
If Charles was disappointed, he did not betray it. “You are most welcome,” he said. “Seeing you has been a bit of happiness for me in a very trying year.”
“But the year is young.”
“True. Though, if you might see me again, it would guarantee that it will only improve.”
He knew that he ought to say yes, or if not yes, that he must tell Charles he would have to decline his offer of marriage, and was so deeply grateful for it and honored by it—and he was—and wished him every happiness and good fortune.
But for the second time that evening, speech failed him, and
Charles, as if understanding that David’s silence was a kind of acquiescence, merely bent and kissed his hand and opened the door to the chilled night, where the Binghams’ second coachman stood on the sidewalk, snow speckling his black coat, patiently holding open the hansom door.