Sunday, May 22, 2011

FOUR: Truce or Consequences



      Les left Diana's apartment shortly after Olivia’s call, but he didn’t go home. He drove out of Falkes Hollow twenty minutes to Lake Wildmere. It was a manmade lake—a pond, really--at a reclaimed strip-mining operation. While there were forests thick with evergreens and dense fern and mossy underbrush in the hills surrounding Falkes Hollow, Lake Wildmere had few trees and scrubby bushes. The college owned the pond and there was a small cabin and a dock. 
        Les sat on the dock trying to think. Could he have somehow prevented Moira’s suicide? Did his treatment of her during rehearsals play a part in it? Perhaps if he had taken more care-- But before he could follow these thoughts through, Lydia and Olivia whirled into his head. That’s why he was sitting on the dock at--he checked his watch--fourteen minutes after midnight. He had to organize his life before going back to that house and Lydia and the kids. What was he going to say to Lydia? What would he do when she looked at him, knowing that she would know that he now knew that she knew everything?
        He sat listening to night insects and looking into the vast sky sprayed with stars, feeling alone and wrong. 
        It got too cold for him to stay and he was too practical to indulge for long in such drama.
        When he finally got home, the house was dark. Lydia was in bed, turned to the wall. He undressed in the hall and got into bed quietly. She did not move. He lay still. Diana was right about this. Lydia was lying there awake, aware of him, hating him. How long had she known? How many nights had she lain there wishing him dead or suffering or vanished? 
        He went downstairs and lay on the carpet in the study. He wasn’t aware of falling asleep, but he must have since bird sounds surprised him and the windows showed greying light.
        His first impulse was to dress quickly and leave the house before Lydia came down. But he realized if he did that, he would never be able to face her again. He had to have it out with her today. He would tell her that he regretted what had happened, that he was sorry for the pain he must have caused. Maybe then she’d be willing to hear about his unhappiness, why this thing had been able to happen.
         But immediately he heard Diana’s voice mocking Lydia’s: Oh, Les, have you been unhappy and I too blind to see? Am I responsible for your unhappiness? And the chilldrenne? Are they complicit? Shall we all beg forgiveness for driving you out of the house and into the upstairs apartment of a Mellon Bank teller young enough to be your daughter?
        The light gradually brightened outside. He was alert to any sound that might come from the second floor. He was prepared to bolt at the first indication of life from above.
        He thought about Moira. He imagined her lying in her bed, an arm flung up over her head, the other at her side, the hand palm up on the sheets. Or perhaps she had lain on the floor as he lay now, a bottle on its side next to her, a strand of hair caught in her mouth. The possibility that he might bear some responsibility for her suicide wormed into the image. She was a fiercely proud young woman and vulnerable enough to be weakest where she was most proud. In fact, she was an emotional girl, unsure of herself, in need of constant attention. And he didn’t give it to her during rehearsals--partly to prove that a director didn’t need to put up with her carryings on, partly because he didn’t know how to deal with it. 
        And he saw Diana grow more and more enamored of Caleb. Not that anything sexual or intimate could come of it, of course, but she was falling under his spell as many people did. Caleb was a seductively high energy person. He had the ability to be ever astonished by what he was doing; and an even greater ability to manufacture astonishment when he didn’t feel it. Les hated the asshole. And, yes, he was jealous of the way all that astonishment dazzled the students. When he saw Diana being drawn in, he got preoccupied and pissed off. And Moira was there and so he laid into her harder than maybe was necessary.
        And now she was dead.
        And Georganne had driven him crazy with her endless schedules and lists and diagrams and graphs and all she did was get in the way of a productive rehearsal. She was smug and self-contained and clearly allied with Caleb. Did they think he couldn’t see?
        Why did he allow women always to fuck him up?
        All his damn life.
        Beginning with a mother who—no, he would not do this, he would not go over this yet again. And Julie Stuckey. When she dumped him after high school, he didn’t even have so much as an opinion about anything for a long time. He enlisted in the army—to spite his mother--and spent two years in Germany. What he remembered most was the routine VD checkups and treatments. And the theatre. Even though he didn’t understand German, the theatre was a revelation. And when he got out, he went to school, graduated, taught for a couple of years in a junior college where the department secretary Andrea Swindle made his life agony, got an MA and ended up at Falkes Hollow. It was while he was working on his MA in Chicago that he met Lydia. Her father was chairman of the bio-engineering department at the university and she had been subtle, canny, even crafty in her engineering of their relationship. He had fallen in love, or had been put in a state that he misinterpreted as love, before he was aware of what had happened to him. Lydia was pregnant and they were married. She lost the child and began taking the pill. They had Patti and Derek when Lydia wanted them. She hadn’t wanted to move to Falkes Hollow and she made him miserable for having done it.
        He heard footsteps on the stairs. For an instant he imagined himself escaping through a window. Then: it has to be faced. He got up and went to the kitchen and stood in the doorway. Lydia was pouring coffee.
        "Good morning," he said.
        She paused, carafe in hand, and looked at him. "Yes, it is," she said.
        Some moments passed. "I'll have to go to school today after all."
        She busied herself at the toaster. "Oh, yes?"
        "Moira O'Hare committed suicide last night."
        At the silverware drawer. "Moira O'Hare?"
        "A student. Her friends will probably come to school today. I should be there."
        "Indeed," she said. "I'll be on the court this morning." She was wearing a white tennis skirt and blouse and shoes. Her racquet and a gym bag lay on the counter. Her hair (blonde) was pulled back from her face by a white ribbon. She was deeply tanned though it was barely the end of May. She was forty-one, and while her muscles still had the spring of youth, her skin, youthless, was older than forty-one.
        She finished half a piece of buttered toast and smiled. "I'll probably be out all day."
        She put her mug in the dishwasher, picked up her tennis things and left the room.
        He followed. "That's all you're going to say?"
        "People die and we deal with it.”
        "I'm talking about--" His jaw clenched.
        She looked at him, dared him.
        Goddammit, she was going to make it agony to talk about Diana. All right, he wasn't walking into that trap. "Moira O'Hare was my student,” he said. “She was in the play."
        “Of course,” Lydia said with a metallic glint in her black eyes, “it’s harder when you know them. Well, I’m off.”
        Before he could stop himself he said, “You’re really going out!"
        She was at the door. She turned in surprise, even delight. “Yes, Les, I am going out. It is important to me. Is there something else you'd like to discuss?”
        This was the way his students must feel when he slapped them across the face.
        “Is there?” she said.
        “No, I--"
        “I realize that I live a life much duller and less meaningful than yours, but this happens to be a free holiday afternoon as the chilldrenne are spending the weekend with the Balfours.” She was nearly out the door before she added, without really looking at him, “By the way, they miss their father.”
        And the door closed.
        He sat in the ringing quiet for some minutes. Diana was right: Lydia knew about them. She had told Olivia where to call, she even had the phone number. How long had she known? How did she find out? Who else knew?
        He sat at the kitchen table. Why hadn’t he made her talk about it? She was punishing him. He had not seen it clearly, but Diana had. To use Derek and Patti that way! She knew and she was going to make him suffer.
        Well, he wouldn't suffer any more. He got into his car and drove toward school. At Bridge Street, however, he turned downtown instead of up the hill to the college. He parked the car in front of the bank and then he remembered that the bank was closed today. He went to Diana’s apartment. She wasn’t there. He went back to his house, but it was no use, what would he do there?
        He went to school.
        When he pulled into the faculty parking lot, he saw Diana walking toward the theater. He called out. She turned and waved. He ran to her.
        “What are you doing here?” he said.
        “Alexia Farrell called and said they were gathering in the theater for Moira and she wanted me to come. Isn't that sweet?”
        “I’m moving out of the house,” he said. “Lydia and I are separating.”

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