The Smell of Lilies

An American novelist and short-story writer who feels happiest when working abroad, MARTHA GELLHORN wrote her first novel in Paris at the age of twenty-three. As a foreign correspondent she covered the Civil War in Spain; Munich; Czechoslovakia; Finland; and the war in China before Pearl Harbor. London was most frequently her headquarters during the Second World War, and there she makes her home today.

by MARTHA GELLHORN

SHE had been waiting for him. The door opened gently. There were no sudden movements, no unexpected noise in this house. She held out her arms and he came across the room and kissed her hand and her forehead. He pulled the chair closer to her chaise longue and look her hand in his. She watched him, with happy eyes and slightly parted lips. Her asthma is better, he thought. He smiled, hoping there was nothing mechanical or weary about what he felt as a grimace of the mouth.

“I’ve brought you a present,”he said. It was more of a present than he could afford. He took a small velvet box from his pocket and gave it to her. “Oh,”she said. “Oh, James.”

It was a pin: three stalks of lily of the valley, with leaves, bound together by a gold band. The leaves were palest green enamel, the flowers while, small pearls imitated dew. He was, himself, sick to death of lilies of the valley, her favorite flower. She tried to fasten the pin to her pretty dotted swiss negligee, but her hands trembled. A bad sign, he thought. He took the jewel from her and got it more or less properly placed and she moved her head to see it, and then touched it carefully.

“Our sixteenth,”she said in her low hesitant voice, the voice that had to be rationed, using the breath that was so costly and difficult to keep in her body. “I can’t, believe it. I remember the day we were married as if it were now. Where have the years gone? Oh darling, your beautiful present.”

He knew very well where the years had gone. Doubtless she remembered their wedding day better than he did, since she had so little to remember. He could think of nothing at all to say, so he kissed her hand again, and as he bowed his head, she stroked his hair. Then she talked; she saved everything to tell him.

At last she believed she really knew and understood the Bach Concerto in D Minor. She had been playing it over and over and listening with all her attention. And she had read the Chekhov stories he sent her, weren’t they sad, weren’t they perfect, motionless stories which said everything. The squirrels were now settled down to married life, and Mrs. S. was a bustling mother, a competent Hausfrau, and Mr. S. as anyone could see was feeling his responsibilities. Three days ago he scampered in through the open French window and studied her room. Soon they would all come. But the robins had left, it was a great loss, probably the squirrels irritated them, being such active noisy little beasts. Had he ever seen the garden lovelier; Aunt Lucy and Sarine were beside themselves with pleasure over it. Aunt Lucy had given a little bridge party last week, three other ladies, what a twit she had been in, worrying Sarine about the sandwiches and the cake and the cookies, but it was a great success and Aunt Lucy talked of nothing else, she had enough village news to last for half a year. Ted was so good, so constant, so generous of his time, and also encouraging, he was sure she was getting better.

At the name Ted, he listened hoping to hear something beyond her words. Ted was always good, constant, encouraging, and had been for years. How many? Nine years, now. Ted was the ideal doctor, and as much of a fixture as Aunt Lucy, Sarine, and more of a fixture than the squirrels. He saw that she was tiring herself, she had talked enough. It was his turn. Since she never asked about his life, he did not speak of it. Had she simply lost interest; did she fear to know; did she feel she would not understand, as if his life was something lived among foreigners, in a country she had never seen? Besides, what report could he give? I go to the store at nine and leave at five. I sit at my desk and plan layouts, correct copy, write copy. They tell me to push a new line in airplane luggage. They say they want to get rid of last year’s fur coats. The China Department informs me they have bargain stuff from Copenhagen. Sometimes I smoke and look at the sky. Sometimes I think of a fast selling idea and rush into Blick’s office, full of hopped-up, necessary enthusiasm, and pour it out with trimmings, and that way I prove I am a man keen on his work. At five I often walk in the park, walking off the taste of the day, before I go home. What was there to tell? He would speak, as usual, of a play he had seen, a movie, pictures, a record he had bought. It was no use to talk of people; she knew none of them, he saw very few anyhow, they were without meaning to him also. He could not speak of Maggie, who was all, absolutely all, that concerned him.

2

HE HEARD his voice as a monotone, heavy with boredom. He tried to force color and warmth into the sounds he was making. She listened, fascinated. His voice droned on and on: Arthur Miller, Brando, the gifted young American painter Perlin whose pictures of Italy, the Boston Symphony recording of Bartók’s. . . . The insect murmur from the garden matched his words and accompanied them. She lay now in the beginning of shadow, the afternoon was ending. The house was silent around them, although Sarine would be busy in the kitchen and Aunt Lucy was supposedly alive upstairs and not glued to her chair. This room would make a perfect picture, cool, Degas without ballet girls perhaps. He spoiled it, of course; it was not a room that a man could fit into.

Strange how she never tired of anything; she had kept this soft green wallpaper, printed with delicate clusters of lilies of the valley, for thirteen years. Yet it was so fresh that she must have had her room done several times, always in the same design. Her bed in the corner, disguised as a large divan, was covered with the same rosy damask, the windows were curtained in the same faded rose material. Her writing table, which was an ornament since she could not sit at it, the tables by her chaise longue, by her bed, the long table against the far wall were tobacco-brown, lovingly polished pieces of wood made in the eighteenth century by Englishmen who knew their craft; but they were never moved, the order of the room remained the same. And everywhere, for as long as he could remember, there was this luxury of flowers, in bowls, in small porcelain vases, in great glass jars, and always the air held the same light sweet scent of lilies of the valley. Since nothing else changed, why should she alter the colors and the pattern of her becoming room?

He began to talk of plays he had not seen, discussing the rival reviews, and he studied his wife, thinking that facts were facts and this was indeed their sixteenth wedding anniversary and therefore she was thirty-seven years old and would be thirtyeight in two months, but facts did not obey any known laws in this house, time was nothing but a theoretical idea here, for she looked as she always had. In a terrible, sinister way, he felt that she grew younger on her chaise longue, year after year. Whereas he grew much older, faster than time, far ahead of time, on the 15th floor of Berkeley’s, crouched there in his neat white cell high above Fifth Avenue.

She was beautiful and new and fragile as the spring. Yet she had suffocated and fought for air, felt the muscles clamp around her heart; she had gone through this often, she could expect such agony at any time, without warning. And she lived with fear. She lived in horror of death, and the horror grew the longer she waited. Her face should have been drawn and her eyes wild. Instead, her face was smooth and of the clear color of a shell. The curve of her cheek was as touching as it had been when she was a girl. Her eyes had the same look of innocence. Her hair still played that amazing trick of seeming to blow in shadows of curls around her temples and ears. She had always worn her hair long. It was loosely tied back, with a narrow satin bow, the color of her eyes. Should there not be gray in that bright, brown mane? She was unmarked and unused; her hands, her arms, her lovely breast, her impossibly small waist, her beautiful legs, her knees, a perfection of the mechanics of bone, all as before, as remembered. Everyone spread and sagged, faded, bloated. His own body repelled him with its new creases, and patches of flabbiness. Time scarred the whole human race, except Annette.

He knew, as a wickedness in himself, that he could have cared more, somehow joined in her pain and her terror, if only she showed how her life had hurt her. On the other hand, perhaps it was pure bravery to show nothing. He tried to make himself see that and honor her for it. But he could not quite believe it; he did not know, there was no way of knowing; she would not speak of her illness. He suspected that she had shut her mind, refusing death by refusing to think; he suspected that she stayed young because she would not grow. She lay forever on her chaise longue, or on the worst days in her bed, and denied this helpless immobility, denied that anything was different, denied even that he and she were anything but man and wife, as other men, other wives.

He could not imagine what he had found to say; now the words ground to a stop. He was tormented by the need for a cigarette, but naturally he could not smoke here. He felt hot. He would have liked to sleep for twelve hours or play two hard sets of tennis and go swimming. Annette reached for her handkerchief and he looked furtively at his watch. It was still the fourteenth of April, still the garden crackled and hummed in the failing sunlight, and he had delivered his lecture on contemporary art, crawled over that mountain pass of time, in less than a quarter of an hour. He was shaken and sick with something he knew too well, hopelessness, and an anger that had no focus, and pity for them both, and the sense of waste. He could also remember how he had loved her, which was his own pain, altogether different from hers. He remembered the joy and the power and the immense hope of his loving her. It was as if he remembered a happy man and that man was now long dead.

Sarine opened the door, without knocking. There would be no intimate scene to disturb and Mrs. Whiteley could not, in any case, raise her voice to call “Comp in.”Sarine brought a tray and laid it on the table by the chaise longue.

“Evening, Mr. James,” she said, as if she had seem him since early afternoon.

“ How are you, Sarine?”

“Not too bad, Mr. James. We’re all doing fine, aren’t we now, Miss Annette?”

She was a tall, ugly, bony, strong, colored woman in her fifties, who smiled for no one except his wife, her Miss Annette. He had thought about Sarine’s life often, and with shame. If he could not save himself, he could at least save Sarine. Once, years ago, he offered to finance Sarine’s escape; she could find work anywhere, she could live in her own house, he held out Harlem with the greatest doubt, still it seemed better, closer to life, than the virginal dolled-up attic of the white frame house in Grangeville. Sarine was not too old to marry; perhaps too old for children, by then, but not too old for a man. She was healthy, she had a right to live. Sarine apparently was a slave who had nothing to love but her chains. Leave Miss Annette, her little saint, Miss Annette who couldn’t do a thing for herself, and was like Sarine’s baby? Sarine had never trusted him, after that, probably no longer liked him, if ever she had liked him.

“I brought you a cocktail too, Miss Annette.” Sarine poured lemonade from a small glass pitcher into a cocktail glass and gave the glass to Annette who smiled her thanks, that wonderful smile, the smile of a pleased and grateful child. He took bottles from the tray and mixed a martini. Sarine looked at him, saying silently all she meant to say: now you be careful, don’t you tire our baby, don’t you stay more than an hour, don’t you say anything to upset her. Then she left them to their ritual.

Usually, he raised his glass and said, “To you.”

She smiled at him, exactly as she smiled at Sarine, and said, “To you, darling.”

Tonight he said, “To our sixteenth.”

“Yes. Oh James, James, darling. I have so much to thank you for. Sixteen years. And you’ve never made me unhappy, never hurt me, never a quarrel. Nothing but your love and your kindness, all that time. I can only thank God for sending you to me.”

He could not answer or look at her. She was used to silence. To drink without smoking was not the same thing, but it helped. He poured another martini. He asked if he might hear the Bach concerto and she told him where the record was. He listened to the racing intricate music, stopped listening, and drank more martinis. The sky was greenish blue, with the light going quickly. His allotted hour was finished. He would see her again for a few moments after breakfast, and then he would take his train back to New York, and this visit, like countless others, would be behind him, and he would organize his mind to forget it.

He kissed her again on the forehead, pressed her hand gently, smiled from the door, called Sarine, and turned and hurried out of the house. He would cross Necher’s fields and get into the woods and walk fast along the darkening path until he came to the top of the hill. Then he would sit down and smoke one cigarette and try to think of nothing. Then he would come back and face the evening meal with Aunt Lucy. He might even run in the woods, although running was only a gesture, only the compulsion of his body, for he never ran as he wanted to, away.

3

THE table was round, so Aunt Lucy could not, properly, sit at the head of it but she did anyhow. He sat at her right, the guest of honor. He always felt a guest in this house, and not a very certain one: any wrong move and Aunt Lucy and Sarine would chuck him out. This was a peculiar way to feel since it was not only his house but he had been born in it, in the bedroom next door, formerly his father’s and mother’s, now Aunt Lucy’s. Of course, when the house became a hospital and shrine, it had changed so much that it no longer resembled the place where he had grown up. His mother ran a feeding station for the Orangeville boys; she had felt guilty because she could not give him brothers and sisters to keep him company, and she was always afraid that James would be lonely, the only child of middle-aged parents. His mother had not cared how her house looked, or what happened to it, as long as it was filled, positively roaring, with life.

From the beginning, Aunt Lucy, consulting Annette’s wishes, sensibly and ruthlessly arranged this old remembered house to fit Annette. They enlarged the real living room, downstairs, to make Annette’s bedroom because they could move her into the garden from there, and the squirrels could come to call, and she could watch the flowers growing, close at hand. They changed the dining room into a dressing room and bathroom for Annette. They did wonders to the kitchen so that now it had become a noiseless odorless operating theater. It had to be odorless, because of Annette’s asthma. Aunt Lucy made his room, where now they ate at the round table, into a snug, chintzy Victorian parlor. Here she could receive her softspoken lady friends; the room was not directly above Annette, and their footsteps would not disturb her. Here, he had once hung his pennants, his cases of butterflies, his stuffed fish; he had done his homework, thrown his clothes on the floor, slept well and dreamed triumphantly. They kept the tiny guest room, only changing it into a bower of rosebuds and blue lover’s knots, and it was known politely as James’s room. The bathroom was unrecognizably pretty; it had been a bare splashed-up box in his time. In the attic, Sarine was content with her white-painted iron bedstead, her cushioned rocking chair, and her shower bath from Sears Roebuck. Well, why not, he thought. They live here, I don’t. It was a little jewel of a house, and had cost quite a lot: luckily, his mother carried a heavy life insurance.

Because they believed these to be his favorite dishes, they always gave him the same dinner, and always, as now, Aunt Lucy said how too bad it was that he had to eat that unhealthy restaurant food in New York when what he needed was this nice home cooking.

Stuffing fried chicken and corn soufflé into his mouth, he began a wordless conversation. “Oh no, Aunt Lucy, you’ve got it wrong. I eat dinner at home every night. My beloved is interested in cookery as a game, a sport. She has never heard of a balanced diet and probably never will. Last night, for instance, we had a brownish slippery mess which was a mixture of bamboo shoots and almonds and strips of meat said to be duck. You might not believe me, but it was delicious.”

Suddenly he noticed the silence. Aunt Lucy, unlike Annette, was not used to silence. He said, “Well, I have to work, you know.”

“Of course you do, dear boy. And how is everything at the store? ”

“About the same.”

She would not ask anything more. The only work she understood was her father’s work, he had been the Methodist minister in Petersfield, South Carolina. She thought that was good work. She also had a dim idea of what Judge Mallin, her little sister Bea’s husband, Annette’s father, had been up to. On the whole, she did not think men’s work was any of her business; they worked, as they should, to earn the money to keep their wives. In return, their wives were loving, ornamental, served them excellent food, and kept pretty homes for them, as Annette did. Heaven knew it was the least men could do, considering. James was very sweet and aware of his duties, but there must have been times. What had he done to use Annette up, in less than four years? She had given Annette to him in perfect health, and when she came back, to bring Annette to this house and nurse her, Annette was a pitiful little white thing, dying before her eyes. Lucy Blair knew exactly what James had done, but she would not put it into words in her mind. God had been especially kind to her, granting her Annette to mother, after her dear parents died in the Accident. She had this joy without paying any harsh and terrible price. They were all happy women here, and perhaps James, who was in a sense guilty, had been God’s instrument, and in any case she had long since decided she was not to judge him. Smoothly round, serenefaced, white-haired, Aunt Lucy sat in her rightful place and ate her way daintily through piles of food.

4

HELPING himself to another popover, he said, “Annette looks fine.”

Aunt Lucy’s eyes lighted; now, at last, they were launched on her subject. It is her life’s work, he thought, it is reasonable for her to want to talk about nothing else.

“She is looking well, isn’t she? I’m so glad you said so. I can never be sure if I’m really seeing her, you know, looking at her so hard all the time. Well, we haven’t had a bad attack, really not an attack at all since, let me see, it would be March tenth, yes, it was well after you left us the last time.” (Reproach, he thought, and followed his usual technique of continuing to chew.) “I can’t think what happened. There may have been some dust from the garden or maybe she overtired herself.” (How in God’s name? he thought.) “She just had enough strength to ring the bell by her bed, and Sarine and I flew downstairs and while Sarine held her up and gave her the drops, I telephoned Ted and he got here in no time at all, he must have put his coat over his pajamas, I don’t know what. Well, it was terrible for a while; oh that poor angel, that lamb of light, I can never tell you, James, what that child is. There she was choking, fighting, you could see the pain she was in, and somehow she managed to smile at us. Ted gave her an injection and massaged her; I don’t know what he does, it’s just a miracle; and he saved her again. What would we do without Ted?”

“You didn’t write me.”

“No, Annette forbade me. She said it was useless to worry you. She thinks of you all the time, James. Ted said to me once that he believes what keeps Annette alive is the thought of you and the hope of seeing you again.”

“Did he?”

“Yes, he did. And I said to him, no man ever had a more devoted loving wife than Annette.”

He ate some more; it was wonderful how, if you kept your mouth full, you were excused from speech.

Presently he said, “Ted is very fond of Annette, isn’t he?” It was a daydream he made for himself, in the cell on the 15th floor of Berkeley’s store. Ted would come to him, man to man, noble with his sandy crew-cut, and say, “James, I am afraid this will break your heart, but Annette and I . . .”

“He loves her,” Aunt Lucy said, “the way we all do. If he’s told me once, he’s told me a thousand times, that she’s the bravest, sweetest patient he’s ever had.”

“And Annette is very fond of him?”

“Why, you know that, James. She’s the most grateful person on earth. She even thanks the flowers for growing, she thanks us all for every little thing we do for her. She can’t thank Ted enough for his care of her.”

There are also the bills, James thought, it is not entirely on this spiritual level of the healer, wrestling with death. There are the bills.

“I was wondering,” he said. Now how could he possibly say it? He picked at the apple pie, and sloshed the thick cream around his plate. “Living so much alone, seeing no one, only you and Sarine and Ted, I was wondering if she wouldn’t . . .”

“James,” Aunt Lucy said, in a granite voice, “if you are going to start being jealous of that poor helpless dying angel, it is the ugliest and most unworthy thing I ever heard.”

“Oh no,” he said. “Oh no, you don’t understand.”

“I’m sure I don’t.”

He gave up; besides it was foolish and hopeless. Ted was thirty-live years old and not crazy and, though unmarried and officially blameless, he was not likely to be a eunuch. No man would start off with a woman in Annette’s condition. Not start off, not marry. Probably Ted attended to vital needs in New York or Hartford or Boston. Probably, having seen so many married couples, he was steering clear of the whole business. What did he know about Ted ? Nothing, except that he couldn’t take him. It was Ted, old Dr. Bartlett’s sparkling new assistant, who told him, when he came back from the war, about Annette’s heart and her asthma, in medical terms which he did not understand, and finished by saying, “I am afraid that she cannot stand anything, Whileley, you know what I mean? I am afraid you will have to be a brother and sister, in some ways, from now on. Of course, medicine is not an exact science and there can always be a miraculous change.” No change. Splendid Ted. The perfect doctor. He had learned, from Ted, the trick of kissing Annette’s hand; this did not interfere with her precarious intake of breath.

“I think I’ll go for a walk, Aunt Lucy. Delicious dinner. I’ll thank Sarine downstairs.”

“You’ll be very quiet, coming in, won’t you, dear?”

5

TED was waiting for him in the hall. It was always arranged this way. Ted paid his first call at the Whiteley house whenever James came up from New York. This gave James plenty of time to catch the 9:40 for the city. Immediately after breakfast, having already thanked Aunt Lucy and Sarine for his visit, James went to say good-by to his wife. She looked as lovely in the morning; she looked as if she had slept better than any other adult on the American continent. He promised to write more. She could not write at all; he got his news from Aunt Lucy. He announced that he would send any good books he read. He kissed her forehead or her cheek, complimented heron her beauty, told her to keep up the good work, and let himself quietly out of the room. For, at just that moment, as he left, there was another expression in her eyes, which he knew well. It was the look not of a pleased and grateful child, but of a hurt lost lonely child, unjustly punished. He never wanted to see that, and during the last four years he had consciously turned his head, to avoid seeing. He would not feel guilty about Maggie, who on earth had a right to suggest that he was guilty; but he did not wish to see that particular look in his wife’s eyes.

When he had closed the door silently behind him, there was Ted. They would now walk down the road, away from the house, smoke, and have a frank chat about Annette’s health. And then his train, his train, his train, which by now he was longing for with hunger, with passion.

“Well?” Ted said, as always.

“She looks fine, don’t you think?”

“Yes, she’s doing nicely just now. We had a bad one in March, Miss Blair tell you? It shook Annette a lot. She can’t get used to them, poor girl. I don’t mean the pain. No one ever gets used to pain. It’s the idea she can’t learn to accept.”

“ Dying? ”

“Well, yes. And each attack brings it nearer, obviously. It’s a wonder to me how her heart stands up. She knows that, too. But she can’t. . .”

“I know.”

“I wish there was some way to help her. Spiritually, I mean. It’s not my field.”

“Not mine. A minister, I should think. Have you ever talked to Aunt Lucy?”

“She doesn’t want to think about it, any more than Annette.”

“Annette said you thought she was getting better.”

“Better than she was in March. Better than on her worst days. But not better. You know that.”

“ Yes.”

“Of course, she’s amazingly strong in her will. She may live a very long time. There’s nothing new to tell you, James.”

“No.”

“Well, I suppose you want to be getting to your train? ”

“Yes, I’ll have to. Thanks for everything, Ted.”

They were back at the front door. James picked up his suitcase and walked quickly down the road. Ted entered the house. Already, walking away, with the house at his back, with the train ahead of him, he could start forgetting. He would not have to come again until her birthday in June.

6

HE KICKED open the door, shouting, “Maggie, Maggie.” She sprang up from a welter of papers, her paint box dropped on the door, as usual she seemed to have painted herself as well. Holding the bourbon bottles like dumbbells, he hugged her fiercely. She had her arms around his neck, she kissed him. They made sounds as if they had been running towards each other, over a great distance.

“Look what I brought you,” he said, at last.

“Oh goody! Oh wonderful! Let’s drink them both tonight. Jim. You’ve been gone so long.”

“Since yesterday morning.”

“Awful.”

They stood and looked at each other. “I’m shy,” Maggie said. “You’ve been gone so long I don’t know how to treat you. What shall we do next?”

“Well, drink.”

“What a good idea.”

She busied herself in the kitchenette, a small hell-hole. There was only the big room and the bathroom and the kitchenette, they hardly ever lost sight of each other.

“What have you been doing?” he asked, collecting the fallen sheets of drawing papers.

“A bra ad. A beauty. It may be the best bra ad ever done. I think it ought to bring in $500. Here,” she said, showing him her work of art.

“Golly,” he said.

“Why? No, please. Say why. Is it indecent?”

“No, not indecent. But, golly.”

“Good. Then we’ll have $500 and we’ll take a trip.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. Africa. Chile.”

“What are we having for dinner?”

“Chile. That’s why I said it of course. It’s a Chilean dish. It seems to be based on pancakes and fish.”

“Where did you learn about it?” He was always enchanted by this, her monkey curiosity, every day she came home with something added to the glorious optimistic jumble in her mind.

“I have a friend who knows a Chilean. But don’t let’s eat until late. Your drink.”

He raised his glass. “To you, Maggie. Maggie darling. And to being home.”

“Yes.” But she was still shy.

“What’s been going on, during my long absence? ”

“Bill and Jessie were having lunch at my drugstore and when I said I was alone they said they’d come and cheer me up and bring wine and then somehow Mark and Andy showed up too, so we ate an immense amount of spaghetti and gallons of ghastly red wine and discussed.”

“What?”

“Oh, you know. Discussed. The way they do.”

The way they did, he corrected her silently. She used to have a constant salon, it seemed; her flat here on 39th Street was convenient, she was hospitable and lively, people came, bringing contributions to the general welfare, and stayed and stayed and talked and talked. It took a while for them to drift away. She had been twenty-four when he moved in; her friends were her age. It would have been against their principles to remark on this open liaison. But James seemed terribly old to them, a man of forty then, he made them nervous, they didn’t understand him, or they didn’t understand his being so much older, they didn’t call him “sir” because they weren’t that kind, but they might have. And he really didn’t know what they were talking about, he could not see what excited them so, he could not remember himself at twenty-four, or anyhow he had not been like this. He was a silent spectator; they took his silence for disapproval, whereas it was only uneasiness. Now they came if Maggie asked them, which was rarely; they always appeared, as if by magic, whenever he was away. I have taken her friends too, he thought. What haven’t I taken? Four years of her life, half her flat, including her half share of the expenses, there isn’t any end to what I won’t take from Maggie.

“Drink up,” Maggie said, anxiously. “I don’t like the look in your eye.”

“I was thinking.”

“Yes, I know. I don’t like it a bit when you think. Did you order your new suit?”

“Not exactly. No.”

“Oh why? Did you change your mind? I thought it was lovely, so handsome and practical too. I can’t wait to see you in it.”

It was not that he couldn’t think of a lie, he had become a talented liar, but he did not wish to lie to Maggie, not ever if he could help it.

“I spent the money on something else.”

“Oh.”

She might well say “Oh” with that note of shocked disappointment. After all, it was her money too. If he had not saved it to buy a suit, he could have spent it here, on their life; he could have spent it on her. He had thought of himself going without a suit; he had not thought of Maggie, and it now occurred to him that he was down-atheel, dingy, and that his shabbiness hurt Maggie’s pride.

“I hadn’t thought,” he said.

“What is it, Jim?”

“I spent it on a pin, a present for Annette. I can’t give her anything, except something like that. It was our sixteenth wedding anniversary, you know. I guess I did it out of guilt. Not nice, is it? And I hadn’t thought about you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, looking crushed. “It just puts it off. In a few months anyhow, we’ll have the money again. Or this bra ad, yes, the bra ad. So it doesn’t matter a bit.”

“It does.”

“ Please,” she said. “It’s over. Don’t let’s worry about it. What a damn silly thing to worry about.”

But she did not ask what the pin was like, or how it had been received. She had this in common with Annette; there were things she refused to talk about.

The dishes were stacked and dirty in the kitchenette. Clothes slopped from the chairs on to the floor. Maggie’s paint box lay as fallen. The used glasses settled in wet rings on the table, the ash trays overflowed. They had abandoned everything, suddenly, as if seized by panic. His absence and the reason for it still stood between them. They had to find each other again, they could not afford or endure this strangeness. There was no other way but this, this best and unbelievable, always renewed, always miraculous, gentle, fierce and healing.

“Jim.”

“My dearest ?”

“How I love you. Just you. Nobody in the world but you. Good night.”

He held her head against his chest, he held his arm warm around her, and she slept easily. He was too tired to sleep, and too happy now, he wanted to stay awake with his happiness. He drifted into familiar fantasy, rearranging the past. They were in Naples. It was a warm spring night and Maggie and he, standing on the balcony, could smell marvelous things, camellias, magnolias, tuberoses, he was not sure, and below them lay the shining water, and black and high and magical across the bay were the mountains. They had an ice bucket with champagne in the room and the huge Italian letto matrimoniale. In the morning they visited the town. He could not imagine Maggie in any sort of uniform, which created a difficulty because how then did she manage to be there. She was there, simply, looking like herself, like a small boy who made a good thing out of selling papers. She didn’t look like that of course, and not at all like a small brown teddy bear, but she gave you a feeling of both; short beaver-fur hair, brown skin, brown bright eyes, did monkeys have happy eyes? no; little, girl, very little girl, blown into her clothes somehow, always a belt cinched tight around her middle, always looking wonderful, unexpected, young.

There was Rome; Rome was his favorite place to go on leave with Maggie. Maggie loved Rome. Later they met in Paris. He had to make this up, as he had never been to Paris; his Division was the hard-luck kind, they had a long dismal war, from Africa, mountain-climbing desperately and endlessly up Italy, only brought to the center of the world as reinforcements during the Battle of the Bulge. Paris was perfect too, silver and perfect, and Maggie was the toast of the town. They met in London just once. They had a room in the Dorchester high above the park. It rained; they stayed in bed most of the time. The war was nothing, it happened in between his leaves with Maggie.

He moved Maggie, now, tenderly; rubbed his shoulder, stretched, rolled over on his side and closed his eyes. None of it true, he thought, can’t get away with it, can’t fool with the past. It’s there, you can’t change it. It’s just there, all the time.

None of it true. On his infrequent leaves, he slept. He slept like the dead and the sick. And then got silently, unlaughingly, stonily drunk: and then went back to the regiment. He never had Maggie, he never had any woman. How could he, with his beautiful, beloved young wife dying at home? He had a superstitious terror that if he took a woman, even the ugliest bargain-rate whore, it would kill Annette like lightning. And all he wanted was for Annette to live, only that; let Annette live until he could come home and make her well. He worked, that was what he did in the war. It wasn’t so bad; it kept him from thinking. Company commander, battalion commander, second in command of the regiment, never wounded, always there, dependable Jim, not much fun, serious guy, took the war seriously, had some trouble of his own, got the work done. No Maggie, only the joyless years.

7

MAGGIE worked steadily at her drawing board for two days. She worked hard, because she did everything hard, and she did not mind this job at all, she thought it was a joke, money for jam, drawing these never-never-land women in various ludicrous positions — just now with breasts stuck out, as if they were offering peanuts to elephants — and getting paid for it. She did not worry, she drew: she got paid, maybe not for all of the silly women but for enough of them. She didn’t want money except to live, and had no exalted idea of how to live. This time, she wanted money badly.

Her agent had said the Nu-Way people were pleased with her work on the E. Z. Two-Twist Girdle: the Tip-Cup, said her agent, is a big chance for you, you might get a contract. $500 now, Maggie thought, the hell with contracts. She left the wash drawing with her agent’s secretary. Then she waited at home for the agent’s report. She smoked and roamed about the room and brooded on money.

Couldn’t that miserable Dame aux Camélias in the country see for herself how Jim looked? Couldn’t she and that household of female hogs cut down a little; what did they live on anyhow, caviar and shredded orchids with cream? Didn’t she give a damn, so lost in her successful career of dying, that her legal husband, that self-sacrificing crazy-generous angel and darling, looked like a rug peddler or a bum from under the bridges? Did they ever think about that? How did Jim feel, in those baggy worn-out clothes; what did they think at the office? They probably thought he drank or gambled his money away, maybe they were having conferences about him and saying he looked too awful, it was a disgrace to the store, they’d have to get a sharper-looking fellow for the job. Oh not that, who cared about that? Him. Him. Him. He was beautiful and he was hers and she wanted him to look beautiful and sleek and young, the way he ought to. In dark gray flannel. She knew exactly how he would look, with his black hair and his black eyebrows and his thin stylish nose and his long bitter mouth, and then his shape, made for that suit, good shoulders and good legs and not loose and hangy around the waist, the way city men were. They have to buy it, Maggie thought, I want that suit.

They did buy it too. Her agent telephoned to congratulate her and said that Wallenstein at NuWay wanted to talk to her himself, he suggested a conference in his office day after tomorrow at three, Wallenstein thought she had something, very sexy her stuff was, they planned to work her in on their fall line.

Maggie ordered the suit herself, taking no chances. Jim’s birthday was not until February, it would have to be a Spring Present. She felt nervous, now that she had given the order, Jim was very touchy, but he couldn’t refuse, not when it mattered so much to her. Damn that woman, what did she wear, Balenciaga bedjackets probably. A man who earned thousands a year ought to be able to buy himself as many suits as would hang in a closet, and so he could if he didn’t have to support those bloodsuckers in Connecticut.

Jim explained it to her, before he moved in; he wanted her to listen and she did, though she hated it. What it came to, obviously, was that with keeping them all in crepe de Chine sheets and larks’ tongues and the most expensive medicine they could possibly find, and after paying taxes which needless to say they never considered, he had about $3000 left for himself. Just enough, Maggie thought, to go on eating so he can go on working, very liberal of them. “It isn’t only that I can’t give you anything, Maggie,” he’d said, “I can’t even keep you. Not even food and rent. Do you see? I’m sixteen years older than you and a pauper. Now what?” She’d told him, with dignity, that if he thought she wanted to be a kept woman, and then she couldn’t go on like that, and hurled herself into his arms, crying, and saying she loved him and didn’t he love her and they could get a bigger bed on the installment plan and if he didn’t want to live with her she’d just as soon be dead.

“I do not care, for myself,” Maggie said, looking at their room, which was not a very nice room, chewed up, not awfully fresh, mustard-colored on the whole, but theirs and they were happy in it. That woman, what was she thinking, what was she doing, what did she know, how dared she call that love? He won’t take the suit, Maggie thought, he’ll look black and angry and hurt and pinched around the nose, he won’t take the suit he’ll be so beautiful in. James, returning, found her in tears on the bed, immediately thought she was ill and felt a cold shaking emptiness in his stomach, held her in his arms, begged her to tell him what had happened, and was so wildly relieved when he heard that he said he was delighted, he would love to have the suit, she was marvelous, he was going to give her a Spring Present too, only never frighten me like that again. Never.

James’s Spring Present was to be a weekend trip. Long Island somewhere, he thought. Maggie took the matter in hand. Couldn’t they go to the shack Bill and Jessie rented in the Adirondacks? Jessie had flu so they weren’t using it, so much nicer than a hotel.

“We could catch trout and tie a rope around each other and be mountaineers.”

They went. Maggie caught a fish, not a trout whatever it was. It lay flapping on the bank by the stream and she was seized with remorse and threw it back into the water, saying she would never eat fish again. They climbed a mountain — Maggie insisted it was a mountain — and made love in a nest of rhododendron bushes at the top. That was all James remembered of the mountain.

8

LITTLE things, James told himself, little things, not worth noticing. How could he not notice them? Hank Martin arrived from Chicago, without warning. He had been James’s roommate, hundreds of years ago, at Yale. Yale was what his mother saved for, longer and harder than he ever saved for a suit or anything else. Hank called him at the office, very hearty, Hank was a successful lawyer, one of the friendly, reassuring type who could not talk to you without laying a hand on your shoulder, arm, or knee. The squeeze and pat system of communication. Hank had been a successful campus politician before. They were oddly assorted roommates.

“I know it’s short notice, Jim, but how about having dinner tonight with Ruth and me?”

Leave Maggie? Say what, to Maggie?

“I’m terribly sorry, Hank, if only I’d known you were coming. I’m tied up. It’s damn bad luck for me.55

“No, for us. Well, lunch tomorrow?”

“This is awful. I’ve got a business thing and I can’t put it off. How about next week? I seem to have a terrible week right now. Lunch conferences, you know.”

“We’re only here three days. I’ll try to wire in advance next time. Sudden trip, I didn’t know I had to come, myself.”

“What a deal,” James said, with too much sincerity. “Give my love to Ruth, will you?”

That would be one of the last, he thought, not that there had ever been many, and fewer still after the war. He didn’t eat lunch any more, better for his figure, foolish waste of money. He could not see Hank. Not talking about Maggie was like hiding her.

Or was Maggie his excuse? How did I come to this place where I am, James wondered. I’m all right, only I want to be left alone. It had something to do with being a failure, of course. He did not mind that either, what he could not stand was acting, dressing it up, keeping the ball in the air. That hopeless talk — how’re you boy; fine fine fine, how’re you; dandy, never better — followed by the determined optimistic brag, the plans, the deals, the triumph, the money. No wonder none of his friends could talk to each other, having to lie all the time, lying to each other and themselves about everything being wonderful, more than they could have hoped. I am not who I wanted to be, James thought, and my work is nothing except a pay check; this is a perfectly usual condition; I have Maggie and I am not obliged to pretend out of office hours. Everyone cannot be Tolstoy or President, James told himself, success is the great American error. Maggie is all I have or need or want.

Maggie’s sister, the married one from Minneapolis, came to New York with her husband for some reason or other. Maggie’s family was not clear to James, she had a father and mother, they owned a drug store, they lived in a small town in Missouri, and she had a brother in San Francisco and the sister in Minneapolis. She never wrote to them or thought about them, as far as James knew. She didn’t have anything against them, she just wasn’t interested. She was an orphan gypsy, in fact. But there was no way to get out of seeing the sister. Maggie explained that to James apologetically; she’d meet them at their hotel and have dinner and be home early. She did not say, I’ll bring them here for a drink first, so you can all meet. It did not occur to James that Maggie was ashamed of her sister in mutation mink and a fancy hat, and ashamed of her brother-in-law and his brassy sales talk. They were not James’s kind, they would revolt him. She was not ashamed of herself because James had chosen her and she was his pupil. She had learned everything she knew from James; you could hardly expect to get an education at Buxton High in Missouri.

9

IT HAD been a specially worthless day at the store. There was nothing to get angry about, there was simply nothing. The day went, on and on, by three o’clock he was promising himself Maggie as if he had not seen her for months. He left his office on the dot of five and walked directly home. He made plans for her evening’s pleasure. The weather was lovely, couldn’t they take a boat somewhere, up the river, or to Staten Island, after all New York was surrounded by water, not that they benefited from it. Full of these modest hopes, he opened the door and saw at once that something was wrong, Maggie sat still, and unoccupied, looking out of the window. What you saw from the window was the flat brick front of a dingy hotel, across the street; there was no reason ever to look out the window.

“ Maggie?”

“Darling?”

“What is it?”

“Well . . .”

But she could not, or would not, tell him. She launched into an aggrieved recital about her agent and what did he expect and those Nu-Way fiends and their ghastly trusses for the female form. He believed none of it. They took the boat to Staten Island and it might as well have been winter or they might as well have stayed at home. As they walked back to the flat from the subway, he began to think that he didn’t want to know what was on her mind, he felt menaced.

In bed, in the dark, she curled against him.

“Maggie, tell me now.”

“ Kiss me.”

“Now. Tell me.”

She had been feeling odd, she consulted Jessie, Jessie arranged an appointment with her doctor four days ago, today she went back; now she knew.

His heart made heavy sick thudding sounds.

“But how? But why?” he said. After all this time.

She reminded him of the nest of rhododendron on the mountain, it was the only possible explanation.

In a faraway, brittle voice, Maggie said, “You don’t want it, of course?”

Want it? He couldn’t think, he had to catch hold of something first, so he could think at all. Suddenly she rolled away from him, gasping with sobs.

“Can’t you say something? You can say something. Anything. I didn’t do it on purpose. What do you think? Do you think I planned it so I could trap you? I couldn’t help it!”

He caught hold of that, of her, he hold her so close that it hurt, saying over and over, “I love you, I love you, don’t cry, something will happen, Maggie, I love you.”

The darkness was a hole to crawl into. Time, he thought, give us time. He felt stupid with tiredness and on the edge of sleep. She was quiet now in his arms. He reminded himself that he must think, and could not. There was no place to begin. From the darkness, he heard his voice, but surely he was thinking, not talking?

“It could kill you,” he said. She moved at his side. “Aunt Lucy thinks that’s what finished Annette. It was in Georgia at boot camp. Annette had a room in a boardinghouse in town, awful, squalid, she couldn’t do anything about it, she wasn’t a girl who could fix anything. I knew she was delicate, my God yes, I knew about her asthma all right. I imagined asthma was like hay fever or something, a damned nuisance, I didn’t know really. When she told me about the baby, it seemed the most wonderful thing that ever happened. A son, I thought, and she’ll have him to look after and keep her happy while I’m away and I’ll have them both to come back to. That was what I thought. Divine Providence, everything arranged in the best way you could hope for. She miscarried in the sixth month and nearly died, that’s what they wrote me. Her heart, her asthma complicating it, I don’t know what. They never bothered to tell me before, the whole bunch of prize fools, that she’d had rheumatic fever when she was eleven and they always knew she had a wacky heart. What do they live by anyhow; I bet her poor doting parents were the worst of the lot. Aunt Lucy treated her like glass, but they never talk about anything they don’t like. If I’d known about her heart then.”

In the dark, very gently, Maggie kissed his shoulder.

“And what have you been thinking all this time?” he said. “I never told you anything. I wanted to keep it away from us so we could live here alone. That’s as hopeless as everything else.”

“No, no,” Maggie said vaguely.

“I can’t tell the truth about Annette anyhow, because I don’t remember. It doesn’t seem true, whatever I say. But I was in love with her, I know that, even if I can’t believe it now. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world, and much more, not like all the rest of us ordinary mortals. I couldn’t get over her marrying me; who was I; how did I deserve anything so lovely? Then after vve were married I moved right into a splendid role, the Tower of Strength. I admired myself very much, I thought I was a Tower of Strength to beat hell. Every day I’d hurry home from work to that apartment we had in the village and find my beautiful wife sitting in chaos, and then I’d soothe her and comfort her and take over. I was a great one for taking over. But it didn’t worry me, it was going to be just a phase. Because very soon now I would be the famous rich great writer, translated into forty languages, and then I’d put my wife on a satin cushion where she could be my inspiration. Naturally great writers took a while to get recognized, look at their early lives, they all had to work at stupid little jobs, for a start. I was in the tradition, I thought it was perfect, including Annette’s helplessness. It makes me sick to think about it.”

“Don’t, Jim,” Maggie said.

“I’ve started, you might as well hear it all. Not that there’s much, I haven’t had a very varied life. There was joining-up and Georgia, and all that. Then my division went to Africa. I got Aunt Lucy’s letter there, in 1942. Annette would never have another child and probably not recover from this one. On and on. I didn’t believe her. I thought that she and Sarine were hysterical old women, and doctors are all the same. I thought Annette needed me, just me, once I got back I’d cure her. So I did get back, and even after Ted warned me, I couldn’t help myself. I’d been gone for three and a half years. I walked into her room and saw her and picked her up and kissed her, the way a man kisses his wife. She had an attack at once. It was probably excitement but also moving her, kissing her hard. I watched it. She was strangling, she couldn’t get enough air to breathe, and then there was the pain in her heart and what it did to her eyes and her face. I never saw anything worse and I knew it was true then, they were right, I couldn’t cure her, nothing could. I left that night, when everything was under control again, and I went to Hartford to a cheesy hotel. I had a fine orgy of drunkenness and despair, for about two weeks, and then I went back to work, same old job, waiting for me the way they promised. That was ten years ago. Maybe you never get used to dying yourself but you certainly got used to someone else dying. I haven’t any idea what Annette thinks because she hasn’t talked to me. She’s always the same, sweet and calm and beautiful and delighted to see me and full of little chat about the things she chats about. Of course I’ve got no reason to worry, I have a good secure job and when I’m too old for it. the store has its own pension scheme. How do people manage,” he said. “My God, that’s what I want to know. How do people manage?”

Maggie took him in her arms and held his head against her breast, making little sounds without words, smoothing his hair, his cheek, rocking him gently against her. She had never imagined that she could help him; he was all her help, her certainty, wiser than she, older, strong, he was the one who would keep her from being a silly cheap woman with nothing much to do in the world. And she thought he was used to the stale story of Annette, and such a good man that of course he would not abandon his invalid wife, but that was all: a duty he fulfilled and did not think about, a habit that cost him more than he could afford but he was too generous to care. Fool, she told herself, wicked fool; holding him and loving him. She knew better now. She had to save his life, she had to, and she would.

Maggie had not foreseen that he would be ashamed of every word he had said, shrugging his shoulders in his office, as if shrinking away from his disgust. Whining, he thought, so sorry for himself, poor little fellow, scrounging sympathy. He could taste it in his mouth. He could not remember when he had loathed himself more. At the end of the day he telephoned Maggie and announced in a flat voice that he had to dine with Blick, and ate at an automat and went to a movie, hoping she would be asleep by the time he got home.

Maggie settled herself, with a new patience, to say nothing and wait. After days of this, each more leaden and disappointing than the last, she believed she understood him. It was not too bad, the only thing she did not want to lose was Jim.

They stood, wedged in the kitchenette, she washing plates, he drying them, and Maggie said, with extreme casualness, “Jessie knows a sort of doctor, seems she had a little trouble herself once. I’ve got the money, from the Nu-Way garter belt. So we don’t have to worry about it any more.”

“No. No. No.”

“Well what?” she said, close to tears, her hands limp in the dishpan. “What then?”

“Oh Maggie. Leave these damned dishes. Come here.”

He pulled her on to his lap, in their one creaking comfortable chair, and said, “Maggie, what do you want to do? You, yourself.”

“I’m like you. I can’t get used to it. I don’t know. But if it was just me, Jim, I want to have the baby. We could get an orange crate and fix it a bed here in our room and then there’d be you and me and our little brown baby.”

He laughed. Heaven, she thought, what a long time it’s been. He laughed and hugged her and said, “Naturally, Of course. Of course there’s nothing else at all. You and me and our little brown baby in an orange crate.”

They had a Practical Talk. This was Maggie’s unfavorite kind of talk but she listened and nodded her head wisely. They would be just as poor, the one thing he could not do was cut off any of the Grangeville supplies. Of course, in time he would get a raise, it was automatic, and in more time, about six or seven years, he would get Blick’s job, and the Orangeville needs were stationary so they could expect to live fairly decently. Yes, yes, Maggie murmured, nodding her head. It would be cruel to break this to Annette on her birthday, so he would have to stay over an extra day, or at least the whole morning, if it was possible to talk to Annette then. On the other hand, what with time and money, it was better not to make a special trip to see her. Yes, yes, Maggie agreed. The only snag was divorce laws, he didn’t know about them, and certainly couldn’t afford the six weeks and the trip to Reno but probably they could get a divorce in Connecticut, on the grounds of so many years actual separation. Maggie nodded. She was to be very careful while he was gone, it was these early days that were tricky. Oh yes, Maggie said, yes indeed.

Now, on the train, he could not plan the sentences he knew he would have to say. There was no picture in his mind of him, standing, sitting, in Annette’s room and saying, “After thirteen years of no marriage, I want my freedom.” He found he had a cracking headache and preferred to think of Maggie’s little brown baby, who was as clear to him as if already born, already burbling and waving his legs in the orange crate.

10

THERE was a small cake, with white icing and pink sugar roses and one candle, to grow on. For him there was a half bottle of champagne, a drink he detested, but it was routine for birthday parties. There was the collection of Emily Dickinson’s poems, his present for Annette: no absurd extravagance, this time; he had other obligations. Annette looked at least ten years younger than her age, and especially lovely in a soft blue, ruffled, tucked, gathered robe which Aunt Lucy had made, as her birthday gift. Then there was dinner with Aunt Lucy, and a never-ending night, then the usual brisk after-breakfast talk with Ted, who had sent a lavish box of chocolates the day before. With Ted’s permission (“She’s really much better, give her a kick too, make her realize how well she is”) he opened Annette’s door, thinking that this was perhaps the last time he would see her and feeling an unsteady light-headed sense of relief.

“I’ve come to talk to you, Annette,” he said; oh fool, he obviously wasn’t coming to beat her, and he must find some reasonable voice, not this croak.

“How lovely, how wonderful. It’s the best birthday present of all. I didn’t know you could stay over. No one told me. A birthday surprise?”

“Well.”

“Pull your chair out of the sun, darling. It’s getting so hot. Is it terribly hot in the city?”

“Quite hot.”

“My darling. I think it’s wicked that they won’t give you a vacation. It would be so lovely and restful if only you could come here for two weeks.”

Ah. Forgot it, he thought, such an old lie that he’d forgotten it. He spent his annual two weeks with Maggie, mostly at Jones Beach.

None of the beginnings work, he thought. And said, in a perfectly indecipherable voice, indecipherable even to himself, “Do you ever think about us, Annette?”

“James. I think of us all the time.” She smiled, lighted up, shone like the sun. “I think of us as a miracle. There isn’t anything miraculous about me loving you, I knew I would all my life, from the first day I met you. Do you remember, at the Partridges’? I still write, I mean I dictate a letter to Aunt Lucy every year, to Sarah Partridge because she introduced me to you, or you to me, which was it? The miracle is you, James, you’re the miracle.”

He said nothing, and looked at his nails which seemed very far-off and peculiar, hardly the sort of nails you would expect to see.

“We haven’t had the life we meant to have,” she said gently. “But think of the people, the poor people, who lose their love, and see it all as a failure, and have to go through a horrible divorce, and then try to start again, worn-out and second-hand. My health,” she said, having difficulty with the word, “has been a terrible trial, but it hasn’t killed anything. Thai’s what makes it all right, you see, what makes living beautiful for me.”

And how about me, he shouted in his mind, me James, the miracle man, what is supposed to make life beautiful for me? I am in fine health, rude health, I haven’t got the appetites of a flower or a bird, I am not safely slowed down on a chaise longue. He hated her. Ho plainly hated her. The word “love” made him sick, made him retch. He must remember to tell Maggie. I am not going to say I love you, Maggie, because love is a dirty word, it’s blackmail, it’s the word people use when they mean absolute cannibal possessiveness. And throughout all eternity, I will eat you, you will eat me. Christ. He wanted to shake her, hit her, sitting there like a beautiful fresh clean hen on that goddamned egg, her love.

“I gel lonely,” he said, fiat, like a weather report.

“Dearest. I know, I know. You’ve never said anything, I knew you always wanted to spare me. I know about loneliness. It’s worst at night. I always hope you are asleep, not feeling that.”

Her hand was stretched out to him; he ignored it.

“Do you think about the child, ever?” Now it was like a policeman, impersonal third-degree. I didn’t give you rheumatic fever, I didn’t make your misshapen heart, if you’d had the sense to mention a simple fact like that I’d have damn well seen to it you never got pregnant, you wouldn’t have to lie on a chaise longue at least not all the time, you would long since have been handed over to the care of a better, gentler, richer man, and it wouldn’t matter, honey, it wouldn’t matter, baby, you’d be surprised, you just need a caretaker-man to love, it doesn’t have to be me.

Since she did not answer, he let his nails alone, and looked at her. And was horrified to see her eyes, the unjustly punished child, but more, much more and worse: anguish. “I don’t, I swear I don’t,” she whispered. “ I did for years, I tried always to hide it. How can they live with me if I am like that, mourning for what I’ve lost and can never have. I never saw his grave, did he have a grave, I couldn’t ask. I cannot put that on to you and to them, as well, not that too. I don’t think of the child any more. I promise you I don’t .”

He turned his head, and looked at the garden. He would not see her, nor respond to that pain. He would not. Dead. Long dead. There is life to fight for, he thought, not always death, not always what is past, failed, gone. Now, he told himself, now is what matters. Now.

“I would like to have a child.” What a quaint way of saying it. Will you dance the minuet with me? I would like. I must. I will. I am going to. A little brown boy with Maggie’s hair and eyes. in an orange crate in our room, next to our bed.

She took in her breath, with a hard grating sound. He rose, ready to get the drops, first emergency treatment, suddenly realizing that he could talk her to death. His hands were sweating.

“Annette!”

But now she turned on him eyes that were alight with wonder, something almost insane, an insanity of hope.

“Adopt a baby?” she said. “James! Could we? Could we? Would it be fair, I could do so little for it. But Aunt Lucy and Saline. Here? Here in the garden, playing and laughing in the garden? A very little baby? I could help to bathe it. Would you ? It would be ours, it would be ours, we’d make it ours. I can still sew, I could sew clothes for it, and later I could teach it to read, I think I could.”

“No,” he said, heavily. He got up from the chair and walked through the open French windows and stood in the garden: the squirrel’s tree, the roses growing along the fence, the bird’s fountain. Nothing, he thought, she understands nothing; we might be shouting at each other from different planets. Help to bathe it. She isn’t guilty, he thought with terrible weariness, she has committed no crime, she doesn’t prefer death to life. She is blind and completely unreal from these years of nothingness, but she isn’t guilty. Why can’t she die? Fighting to live on a chaise longue, lighting off the terrors at night, fighting off the need of a child. Why can’t she die? Die. God, make her die.

He had to go back. He had to finish this, although who knew how it would end. The rocketing hope was gone from her eyes, clouded over with a milky strange fixed look, ready to be fear. If he tormented her long enough, if he confused her so that she did not know what was happening to her and to her tiny world, if he made the walls shake and the garden slant and the sunlight turn gray, she could also lake leave of her anchorage, that slight whatever-it-was that kept her bound to this time and this place. Thirteen years was a very long time to wait for death; aside from her heart, there was no telling what state her mind was in; if you hurt it enough, it might give too. All right, now, now was the time for the axe and the final blow. However it would end.

“I love,” he began, and saw it happening. Saw the fear, saw her push back against the pillows, recoiling as if he had come towards her with murderous hands, saw the fear slipping too and behind it nothing, her eyes already going dull and empty.

I love you,” he said. “It is all right, Annette. I love you. ”

Then he rang for Sarine and pulled open the door, and ran from the house, like an old man, running down the road. They could look after her, it was their job now. They could hardly expect him to give her anything more.

BLICK had told him not to come back to the office today. Compassionate leave. Blick was a perfectly decent fellow. They all were. Maybe they hated the job as much as he did, but put on a better show. Maybe they didn’t hale the job but that was no reason to despise them. He was not exactly a man who had the right to despise anyone. He would just walk around a bit first, it might be easier later on.

He went up the stairs slowly, wishing there were more of them. Then he opened the door slowly, wishing he had forgotten his key, wishing that Maggie would be out. Maggie was there, and turned to him, her face warm with love and concern and hope, and saw what she saw. He did not have to tell her. He knelt by her chair, smelling paint, and hid his face in her lap.

Grief, he thought, that is what this is: I never knew. No one can live with it. It’s beyond caring, beyond hope. A big gray emptiness. We can’t, we can’t.

Maggie’s hand was on his shoulder. He moved, raised his head, and took her hand which was cold. She was looking out of the window. Her face showed nothing.

“Maggie,” he said. “Maggie please.”

She turned her head and looked at him.

“Maggie, don’t. Maggie, wait. Wait. She’ll die. She has to die. It can’t go on. Maggie, wait”

She did not answer. After a while he got up, his knees hurting and creaking, and sat in the comfortable chair. It grew dark.

In the darkness, across a great distance, he talked to her. His voice seemed to echo, as if he were calling to her on the other side of a canyon.

“Maggie, listen. Turn your face. I beg you to listen.”

She stirred, moved, he saw a pale blur.

“If you think I couldn’t because I love Annette, you are wrong. I wished her dead. I prayed for her to die.” He did not know what he expected, perhaps that Maggie would cry out against this crime. He felt it as a crime, and now something terrible he would always keep with him, a knowledge of himself that he could not escape. Maggie was silent. Did she not believe him; was she too repelled to speak?

“I could even have done it, I think, I’m not sure but I think so, said it all, if it had killed her quickly, at once.” Is it true, he asked himself, it may be true. Who am I? “But not what I saw. What it was going to be. That she’d go on lying there, forever in that room, and mad. Crazy. With those eyes.”

Maggie was doing something. What? Putting her hands over her ears, not to listen, not to hear this horrible stuff? Shaking herself, to shake him off, to writhe away from this whole vile story, from all he had to say and was? He was afraid of everything now. He could hardly understand what he was saying, or his voice. “You’re young. I’m not really old. We’ll be free some day, maybe not too long off, but we will be. We can have the baby; we’ll be free later. We can count on that, we can, Maggie.”

My God, he thought, my God.

“No,” Maggie said, shouting the word across the now enormous room.

No. God in heaven, no. Waiting for a funeral, every day, hoping for it with all their strength so they could marry. Dancing on a coffin. I must be mad myself. And besides, it was all very well to live together, you could get away with that, fashion had gone so far, provided you were discreet, but illegitimate children; no one had them, he’d never known anyone; he’d lose his job as soon as they heard, the child would starve; there might even be laws; they’d lake the child to an institution; what has happened, James thought, I don’t even know what I’m thinking.

“I don’t care about the rules,” Maggie said harshly. “Or if it got too tough, we could go to another city and say we were married. If it was only you and me, I wouldn’t care. But I’m not going to have a father for my child, on loan. Do you hear? Half there, on loan from a damned ghost who won’t die!”

She must have been crying, she made ugly sounds, as if the breath in her throat was metal, and she got up and bumped against the card table and the book case and he could hear her heavy on the stairs as she went down to the street.

Later he turned on the lights and went into the kitchenette and opened a can and heated the brownish stuff in a saucepan and sat at the table before the uneaten food, not knowing what he was waiting for.

Blick said to his secretary, “I think Mr. Whiteley’s wife must be worse.”

“ Poor man.”

Every evening he came home with fear, and found Maggie there, gentle, quiet; they seemed to him like two shadows, performing underwater rites of eating, sleeping, washing, as if they were real people. The fear was so heavy that it ended by numbing him. When he came home now he counted the stairs to their flat, thinking of nothing. The note was on the bed. He walked across the room and picked it up steadily. It was there because it had to be, he had known he would come back one of these days and find it.

“Dear Jim; I have gone to that doctor of Jessie’s who fixes things. Afterwards, I am going with Jessie to the Adirondacks for a week or two. It will be nice to lie in the sun. Then I’ll come back. I suppose our life will be kind of sad and dull here but maybe that’s the way life is, when you get older. Take care of yourself. Maggie.”

He folded the note and put it back on the bed. He took off his hat and sat in Maggie’s chair, by the drawing board. Wait, wait, be said to himself. No. Wait for what? He thought of Maggie where she was now, and suddenly he was bent over, holding his head, breathing through his mouth, fighting off panic and nausea. After a while he went into the dark little bathroom and drank a glass of water and wiped his face with a towel. Then he came back and stood in the center of the room.

Sad and dull. No. No, my darling, it doesn’t have to be. There is no law. It depends on the company you keep. It doesn’t have to be, it won’t be for you, there’s plenty of time for you. Annette feeding on him, he feeding on Maggie. Well, no. He could prevent that, anyhow. You just have to be careful of the company you keep, my little one.

He looked at the room: the bed, the drawing board, the scarred old office desk where Maggie hid her disorderly tools and her underclothes, the card table whore they ate, the homemade book case, the hideous lamp, the radio and record player, bought on the installment plan too. He looked at the floor where the nonexistent orange crate would not stand. He pulled two big suitcases from under the bed, and began to pack.