Monday, October 24, 2011

SEVENTEEN: You Your Emily Dickinson and I My Robert Frost

            "Derek said they’re sad.”
            “He said she pissed herself in school.”
            It was late. They were sitting at the kitchen table. She had made a pot of tea. Derek and Patti had finally gone to sleep after he promised he’d stay overnight. He and Lydia had been talking for more than an hour. He told her how he had come to crash into the mailbox on Starke Street and she told him how she’d gone with Patti to Lake Wildemere. How they had sat on the dock and talked. How they had cried together. No, she hadn’t thought to notify the school.
There were silences when there was nothing more to say or when they both realized that the next thing either might say would be hurtful. At least, he thought, they were trying to be unhurtful. It was nearly midnight. He was exhausted but he wanted to talk as long as she wanted to. They hadn’t mentioned Diana and he was hoping they would not.
Lydia had taken off her hair band and with her elbows on the table she held her hair behind her ears.
“Do you love her?” she asked simply and he could see--or rather he could sense--the effort it was costing her to ask openly and without accusation, without implication.
He couldn’t answer her as straightforwardly as she had asked.
She waited.
Finally he said, “I think I’ve been wondering for a while now if you ever loved me. Really loved me.”
She closed her eyes a moment. “We will talk about that,” she said, again simply, “if you want. But just now we need to talk about you and Diana Heard.”
You and Diana Heard. There it was. Clean. Direct. Unthreatening. She almost sounded concerned for him.
“Do you love her?”
In his lap under the tabletop he clasped his hands together. “Yes,” he said. And then, “I do. Yes.”
She touched her teacup with the fingertips of both hands. It was her grandmother's wedding china. Her hair fell on either side of her face.
“My father didn’t like you,” she said. “He didn’t trust you. He thought you were arrogant and manipulative.”
He had heard these things before, but they were always said with her quiet, wounding precision. And then he would hurl something ugly at her and slam the door as he left to show that violence was a reality even if it wasn't an actual option. But tonight something was different. She was not attacking. She was asking questions truly, engaging him truly.
“Though I remember,” she was saying, “that he did appreciate your telling him my sense of humor was delightful. I think he thought he was responsible for my sense of humor. Mother liked you well enough, though she never said so to him.” She took a deep breath. “I thought you were brilliant. Not in a bio-engineering way. In a creative way that neither I nor either of my parents could approach. Mother long ago had taken piano lessons. Father said that any field of science was a more imaginative pursuit than any art. And I...”
She pulled her hair back again. “I didn’t care that you were manipulative,” she said. “I was better at that than you were. I know you’ve always thought I manipulated you into marriage. I know you think I tricked you about my being pregnant. And I’ve let you think that. I’m not sure why.”
He'd never thought he was tricked. He had always believed she'd been pregnant. Hadn’t he? But if that was true, what had he resented all these years? What did he still blame her for?
“Maybe because it kept you off balance,” she was saying, “as if it were a source of power—for me, not you. I don’t know. But it isn’t true. I was pregnant.” She looked directly at him and said, “Yes, I loved you. I really loved you.”
She spoke deliberately, easily. “I had spent my life surrounded by intellects and artists, or at least academics. And always one or another of them trying to find his way in to me—a new faculty member or the son of an old faculty member. Or once or twice a daughter.” She almost smiled. “And every one of them reminded me of my father. Only less so. They were always, finally, lesser. You, though, you were dangerous. You had been to places and not the obvious ones and not just to do research for your next deadly book or your next pointless conference presentation. You respected my father no more than you had to. You dropped consonants purposely when you spoke and you made it part of the power of your language. There was danger in your muscles and in your eyes when you got angry. When you swore you really meant it. And when you were tender, you were like a child or a…I don’t know, an acolyte or something. Devoted, careful, aware. You tended my heart. You…uplifted me.”
She looked at her fingers touching the empty cup. “Yes, I loved you really.” 
She put the band back in her hair and she poured herself more tea. “I hated coming here. I don’t think I liked Chicago all that much but I hated coming here and for a few years I believed it would be temporary. I am aware that that hatred closed off a part of me to you. I am aware that the delightful sense of humor of my youth has lost its delight and much of its humor. That it has been replaced by a…honed rancor that has…diminished me. Perhaps I have not been aware just how much…damage…it has done.”
She sat still.
He knew he was supposed to say something now, but he also knew it mustn't be the wrong thing.
“I guess I’ve never wanted to admit how much you...hate…living in Falkes Hollow,” he said. “I was so happy when I got the job. I didn't think I’d finish college let alone get an MA. And they hired me without a PhD, what were the chances of that? I guess it didn’t occur to me until too late that you weren’t happy.”
“I don’t know that I still hate it,” she said. “Some time ago it became…tolerable. Reality.”
“Some time ago we stopped liking each other.” He brought his hands together on the table top. He hadn’t touched his tea. “For lots of reasons.”
"Ah," she said.
“We stopped wanting to understand each other,” he said. “Or believing there was something to understand. I think."
            "We stopped caring.”
She let a moment pass before she asked, “What do you want to do?”
He hesitated, then said, “I don’t know.”
“Have you been staying with her?”
“No.” He tried to read the look in her eyes.
“I have been past her house. She rents the little apartment on the top floor, yes?”
“It’s small, though perhaps not for those who live on love." She caught herself. "No. No wicked tongue tonight.” She took a breath. “If not with her, then where are you staying?”
“I’m all right,” he said, “It’s temporary.”
She acknowledged the evasion with a nod. “What are we going to tell Derek and Patti?”
“I can’t stay here,” he said. “It won’t work. It would be worse for them to be in the middle of that--you know what would happen--than to…deal with this…with us being separated.”
“Terrible things could have happened today,” she said. “When the hospital called,
“Yes,” he said.
“They each could have been killed.”
“Yes,” he said. “I know.”
“Or worse.”
He was quiet.
“Do you want a separation?” she said. “A legal separation?”
“I don’t know, I guess not yet, I mean--”
“A divorce?”
He was beginning to feel the way he felt just before he lost control of the car. “It doesn’t have to be decided by tomorrow, does it?”
"What will we tell them?"
            "The truth. That things are up in the air. They’ll understand.”
            They sat looking at their teacups.
“The daybed in the study is still made up.”
“I can’t stay tonight.”
“You promised them, you told them--”
“I would have told them anything. I’ll be here first thing. Classes start tomorrow. I can miss the morning faculty meeting. My class is at two."
She got up slowly and put the teacups in the sink, came back for the teapot and put it on the counter. He saw suddenly that she looked exhausted, too.
“Can I take your car?" he said. "Should I call a cab?"
            She gave him her keys and she walked him to the door.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thanks for coming to the hospital.”
She nodded.
“For talking.”
She nodded again.
“I’ll be here before they wake up. They don’t need to know I didn’t stay the night. How about seven-thirty?”
“They’ll be up before then.”
“Okay, seven?”
“Do as you need to do,” she said.
After he left, she sat at the kitchen table for some minutes. Then she switched off the lights and went upstairs. She opened the door to Patti’s room and she looked inside. The bed was empty.
There was a twinge of fear. She checked the bathroom. Empty. She opened the door to Derek’s room and stood in the doorway. In the near darkness she could see them sleeping in each other’s arms.
She didn’t move, made not a sound, but he awoke.
“Is Dad here?” he said.
“No, sweetheart,” and before he could say anything else, “but he’ll be here first thing in the morning and we’ll all have breakfast together and we’ll talk, okay?”
He was a shadow on the bed and she was a silhouette in the doorway. “Sometimes I hate him,” he said without hatred.
 “I know, sweetie.” She went into the room and sat on the bed and she touched the side of his face with one hand and with the other she smoothed Patti’s hair as she slept. “Sometimes I hate him too.”

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