'But Then Color Rose to Her Cheeks...'


She wears no makeup, goes unjeweled, and arrives habitually underdressed in the simplest of outfits for an evening, her hair almost too casually pinned or arranged, as if hastily done up at the last minute for whatever black-tie dinner she has been dragged to by her husband. 

Her quiet mien is what I noticed the first time I met her-as if she were thinking of something else, as if she is somewhere else in all our distinguished surroundings. Because she did not demand attention and was apparently without a profession of her own, she could seem entirely ordinary among the knockout women around her. Yet she was always the object of their not quite disguisable admiration. 

A slender, long-waisted figure. Fine cheekbones and dark brown eyes. The mouth is generous, the complexion an even ecru paleness that, unblemished by any variation, seems dispensed over her face as if by lighting. This Slavic evenness, particularly at her forehead under the pinned slant of hair, may account at least in part for the reigning calmness I have always felt from her. 

She nodded, smiled, with a clear direct look into my eyes, and took her place at the table with that quietness of being, the settledness of her that I find so alluring. 

Things went well. Let me entertain you.... I spoke my lines trippingly on the tongue. She was responsive, appreciative in her quiet way. On my third glass of Bordeaux, I thought, under cover of the surrounding conversations, I should take my chances. My confession drew from her an appreciative and noncommittal merriment. But then color rose to her cheeks and she stopped laughing and glanced for a moment at her husband, who sat at the next table. She picked up her fork and with lowered eyes attended to her dinner. Characteristically, her blouse had fallen open at the unsecured top button. It was apparent she wore nothing underneath. Yet I found it impossible to imagine her having an affair, and grew gloomy and even a bit ashamed of myself. I wondered bitterly if she elevated the moral nature of every man around her. 

But then, when dessert was about to be served, the men were instructed to consult the verso of their name cards and move to a new table. I was seated next to a woman TV journalist who expressed strong political views at dinner though never on the screen, and I was not listening, and feeling sodden and miserable, when I looked back and found ... Moira ... staring at me with a solemn intensity that verged on anger. 

She will meet me for lunch up near the museum and then we'll look at the Monets.

Still from the earliest parts of City of God. I know this book is polarizing. I think it helps that I come from a poetry background. I'm not even really reading it as a novel, so much as a thematic poem with various voices.


Anyway as much as I like violence and aggression in literature, I also like writers who, in this age of mockery and ironic, can bring the romance. Doctorow usually does that. I tell you I'm a big softie.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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