Some in Their Body's Force

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force;
Some in their garments, though newfangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse . . .

—Shakespeare, Sonnet XCI

IN THE SPRING OF HIS JUNIOR YEAR AT COLLEGE, PETER Danto fell, as he put it, in lust. It was 1962, and he had turned nineteen; he was trying on his attitudes like clothes. That spring he wanted a life in the theater. He played supporting roles in Major Barbara and Othello and Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Flies. In this last play, he portrayed King Aegisthus—jaded, motivated not so much by desire as by reason.

Clytaemnestra was acted by a girl named Inger; she was attending Radcliffe for a year. He had heard rumors about her. She had that glacial blonde beauty supposed to be characteristic of Swedes, and she was rich. Her father was variously reported as a prince, a chancellor of the university, the designer of Volvos, and a shipping magnate. She was the Ping-Pong champion of Europe, the youngest of seven sisters. She carried a gun in her purse, it was whispered, and she was slated to marry a duke when she went home.

The director said he wanted her for Clytaemnestra because of her accent. The director was of the opinion that the cast should know why they had been chosen; he went around the table, discussing attributes. According to his, the director’s, opinion, the Queen should be an alien presence in Argos. It was a play about pretension and unpretentiousness; Inger had the latter quality, he said. The director wanted The Flies to be about estrangement, and he repeated this often.

Her face was round and soft, her feet were bare. She was high-breasted and slim-hipped; she wore a greenstriped tank top and white skirt. Her laugh came easily. They read through their parts without stopping, and Peter focused—in the intervals when Aegisthus was silent—on Inger’s legs: the way they tapered to her ankles, the muscularity, the hint of less-firm flesh above the knee. He invited her for coffee; she said yes.

There was a coffee shop nearby called “Casablanca”; photographs of Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Sidney Greenstreet lined the bar. Boccherini emerged from the walls. Peter and Inger selected a table in a green bower of plants. He discoursed on the Oresteia, its relevance to the Vichy government and Nazi-occupied France. Sartre’s text belonged, he said, to the literature of resistance: it was an inquiry into power, a parable of usage and abuse.

They ordered cappuccino. She watched wide-eyed. He would remember the components of that instant: lamplight, music, the Danish pastry, the speculative intensity with which they disagreed. When she shook her head for emphasis, her yellow hair cascaded. Reaching for the sugar, he grazed her hand with his hand. “Du schwarzer Zigeuner,” she said.

“What does that mean?”

“You dark gypsy. ‘Ach,'”—she hummed a phrase—“’Du schwarzer Zigeuner.'”

“Tell me about Uppsala.”

“There’s little to tell,” Inger said. “We have a house like you’d imagine: many windows with flowerpots. Fir trees by the balcony.”

“Do you miss it?”

“A little.”

“Right now?”

“My father’s very serious,” she said. “You, Peter, are you serious?”

“I’m a bad actor,”he said.

She disconcerted him by taking this at face value; he had assumed she would smile. “Then why do you do it?” she asked.

He drank, “I don’t know, really.”

“For fun,” said Inger. “To show you’re not my father.”

She smiled. Her front teeth were uneven. They talked about their roles. Peter said that killing Agamemnon had been, in Clytaemnestra’s case, not so much a matter of sexual passion or envy as an acte gratuit. It all hinged, he maintained, on whether Agamemnon had slept with Clytaemnestra before his ritual cleansing in the bath. If she killed him after sex, there might indeed have been a passionate revulsion. But if she killed her husband while he washed, the knife-thrust was dispassionate. The text suggested that this was so: Agamemnon’s feet were smelly, his hair unclean. So he was prinking up for purity—getting ready, making certain not to mess the carpets. Offstage, Cassandra was being gang-banged by the palace guard.

Inger swallowed. Foam from the cappuccino flecked her upper lip. He was making it all up, of course, aroused by her attention. He felt reckless and inventive; he asked about her sisters and she told him she had none. When they parted for the evening, she pressed against him briefly—and they agreed to meet again after rehearsal that week.

Peter lived in Adams House. His room had bay windows that gave on a courtyard, a sleeping alcove, and a bathroom lined with tile. There was what once had been a functioning fireplace; the walls were wood-paneled. He could pretend to independence once inside the door, but the foyer of his entry was a trial. She printed her name in block letters on the sign-in sheet. Laundry was being delivered on the second floor. Inside, he kissed her several times. Inger was suddenly shy. He fumbled with her buttons while she sat on the bed.

“Be careful,” Inger said.

Her body was thin, her breasts small. She said, “I want some music,” and he played Leon Bibb Sings Love Songs on his new stereo set. At “The Water Is Wide” he took off his shoes, and during “Down in the Valley” he removed his shirt. He was self-conscious about this, since he had many pimples on his back. When she closed her eyes, he closed his also, in gratitude. They kissed again, and some seconds later he opened his eyes to find her watching him. They smiled. When he pulled back her hair, her face had a baby’s smooth roundness, and the small hairs at her neck were white. He said, “I want to be with you,” and tugged off her skirt. He took off his pants and lay down.

Leon Bibb completed “Dance to Your Daddy” and began again. His voice was high. Peter penetrated Inger; she was unresistant. She was not helpful, however, and seemed to be in pain. He asked her if she was worried, and she shook her head; he asked her was it safe for him to be inside her, and she said she took the pills. He asked her was she happy being on his casting couch, and she tried to smile. He pretended expertise.

When they finished, she said, “I want to shower.”

“I’ll join you,” Peter said.

In the shower she sang to him, softly. What he thought of as her high spirits returned. She soaped him, and they pressed up against each other, and he said Aegisthus had a better time than Agamemnon in his bath. “It’ll be better next time,” he said.

“What will?”

“The sex. It’s always an improvement the second time.”

This was not a statement he could verify. Inger placed the soap back in the soap dish, rinsed herself off, and stepped out of the stall. By the time he too emerged, she was dry and collecting her clothes.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“No.”

“What is it?”

“ ‘It’ll be better the next time,’ ” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

“You make me feel foolish.”

“No.”

“Could you please turn off that record?” Inger asked.

He could not bring himself to say the line was borrowed, that he had read it in a book. “We have to get to rehearsal,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Are you hungry?”

She shook her head.

“Will I see you again?”

“At rehearsal,” she said.

HIS DAUGHTER WENT TO SCHOOL IN ARIZONA. THEY had argued lengthily as to whether she should go that far, whether she was old enough or really had to leave. The local school system was so destructive they had no choice, Judy said; peer pressure to fail was too great. She was learning nothing but the names of drugs and cars. “One more year like this,” said Judy, “and our little darling will have her own little darlings. We’ve got to get her out.”

So they sent her to a boarding school in the suburbs of Tucson. The admissions officer admired Lucinda. “She’s one tough cookie, isn’t she?” he asked. Peter felt forced to agree. She was thick-tongued and torpid, who had been his quicksilver child. She fell in love, that first semester, with a horse named Bill. She wrote detailed descriptions, with photos enclosed, of Bill at rest and eating, of Bill in his stall or by the river, in the mountains, with the ribbons that she won for riding him in novice class.

By spring she was no novice, and Peter ordered a thousand-dollar saddle. He bought her boots and a coat and cap and tack; he sent her books on dressage. Judy said he was being extravagant, doting from a distance, and Peter agreed. But he preferred to picture her in stalls rather than in the back seats of cars; he’d rather that she mucked about with horses than with punks. Lucinda called on his birthday and said, “Bill loves you too.”

“We haven’t met,” said Peter.

“No. But you should see him, Daddy. With that saddle.”

“Yes.”

“He’s got you to thank. So we both wish you happy birthday.”

“Thank you, darling.”

“I’m going to buy him,” she said. “Right now he belongs to the whole school.”

“I’m on the upstairs phone,” said Judy. “Buy who?

“With the money Nanno left me. I can do what I want with it, right?”

He shifted the receiver. “I’m not sure Nanno meant it that way.”

“Bill’s mine,” she said. “He knows it, too. He just despises it if any other girl gets on. That Missy Tief, for instance.”

“It’s your father’s birthday,” Judy said. “Not yours. We’ll discuss this later.”

“Happy birthday, Daddy.”

“Yes.”

“I’ll see you in three weeks.”

“We miss you,” Peter said.

HE HAD BROKEN HIS ANKLE; HE WALKED WITH A cane. He had fallen down the office stairs. Since he was vice president of an insurance agency, this called forth humor from friends. “How about your coverage?” they asked. “Does it cover your own office? What’s the policy on sliding down a banister instead?”

The stairs were wide and smooth, no obstacle. He traveled them ten times a day. Later he would ask himself what had distracted him, what whiff of springtime in the air or birdsong or engine caused him to fall. He landed unevenly; his right ankle buckled and he heard a single popping sound. He lay there, then built himself back to his feet. He could not put weight on the foot. He stood, leaning against the wall of the building, feeling the brick, balancing, waiting for what seemed a rainstorm to subside. There was no rainstorm, but there was a roaring in his ears, and the air went cold. He sat. His head dropped to his knees. He spent some time trying to decide whether his head had dropped to his knees involuntarily or whether he had lowered it on purpose. Blood coursed through his head. It seemed palpable, a liquid he could see with his eyes closed.

The village of Sandgate, in the Berkshires, their home, celebrated Memorial Day. Peter took his son to the parade. Sam was nine, excited. They had an invitation to Mrs. Welling’s porch. They walked together from West Street to Main Street, slowly. “Do you miss your sister?” Peterasked.

Sam shrugged.

“Having someone to go to the pool with?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She never takes me.”

“This summer she will,” Peter promised. “And she’ll teach you tennis, too.”

“I bet.”

“She plans to,” Peter said.

“Do you think you’ll play tennis again?”

His cane was ebony, with a steel tip, and intricately carved. He flourished it. “Of course.”

“I want you to teach me,” said Sam.

“I’ll come along. I’ll be coach.”

“She’ll probably go horseback riding.”

“Well, I want to see her.”

“I don’t.”

Larry Welling, Jr., waited on the porch. Larry was fifty, a bachelor. “How’s the leg?”

“It’s mending,” Peter said. He settled himself on a chaise longue. “They’ve cut me out of the cast.”

Larry was a large man, blockish, fond of fishing; his hair was white. Sandgate perched on the Cold River, along the Mohawk Trail.

Mrs. Welling appeared. “You handsome man,” she said. “You sit right there.”

He put a hand on Sam’s neck. “The boys’ day out,” he said. “We’re giving Judy a rest.”

“Good morning,” Mrs. Welling said to Sam. She poured lemonade. “Could I interest you in this?”

“Say ‘thank you,’ ” Peter said.

“Thank you.”

She was seventy-seven years old, she told anyone who asked, and just as much inclined to dance as way back when; if you asked her to go waltzing she’d be happy to accept.

Sarah Beame closed the screen door. The porch required paint. “How’s Judy?”

“She’s on a diet.”

“Oh? Which one?”

“The Scarsdale one,” said Sam. He perched himself on Peter’s chair. “The one where the doctor got killed.”

The adults laughed. Volunteer firemen assembled. The bowling-team captain was Sam’s teacher, and he noticed Sam and waved. It had rained that morning, and the lawns were wet. The sidewalk glistened, and Main Street was washed, expectant.

Mrs. Welling offered pie. “I’ll cut a piece for Judy, too. You take it back to her.”

“Lemon meringue,” Peter said. “She’d shoot me.”

Bill Peaslee walked up the steps. He stretched, then took a seat. “How’d you do last night?” asked Larry.

Bill drew his index finger sharply past his throat. “Birds,” he said. “I never did like to bet birds.”

“Dogs, though. Now that’s another thing.”

“Not me. I got no stomach for it.” Bill sighed. “I take a lady to the track, and if they’re racing dogs, why then I’ll sit on my hands.”

Mrs. Welling turned to Sam. “You eat this piece we saved for your mother, okay? Or have some gingersnaps.”

Sam took two. A labrador barked in its sleep. A girl walked by in white thong sandals; the light outlined her legs. Sam went “oompah, oompapah” and leaned out over the rail. Peter felt a spasm of excitement, a sudden lifting. The girl smiled—at him, possibly, or at the tableau on the porch. They were at home here; this was home; he accepted coffee in dead Mr. Welling’s own cup.

PETER AND INGER WENT WALKING TOGETHER ONE Thursday; it was a fine spring day. They walked through Cambridge streets and then the Mt. Auburn Cemetery; fresh flowers were everywhere and many people were visiting. They looked at marble griffins and studied the inscriptions on the more imposing crypts. Inger was familiar with the creed of Christian Scientists. Mary Baker Eddy was supposedly not dead, she said, but just asleep; a telephone was supposed to be kept near the grave. When Mary Baker Eddy woke up and wanted something, the only thing she had to do was make her wishes known.

They found themselves in streets he did not recognize, with family grocery stores and plumbing shops and bars. They continued. The sun was hot. He was wearing old, torn clothes, and his hair was long; the crowd looked at him with disdain. Men stared at Inger openly, and some of them whistled and snickered. He heard a drum roll down the street, the sound of trumpets, and then a band playing. “Where are we?” Inger asked.

“Watertown, I think.”

“So many people here,” she said. “For lunch.”

Men sold balloons and ice cream; there were crepe-paper garlands on the lampposts. Men waved flags. “I just remembered,” Peter said. “It’s Memorial Day.”

The sound increased. There were floats and police cars and, in the nearing distance, the sound of piccolos. She clapped her hands delightedly. “Let’s watch.”

They took positions by a fire hydrant. Policemen on motorcycles rolled past. The queen of the parade was draped in red, white, and blue. Her float was flowerstrewn. She twirled a baton in her left hand and blew kisses with her right; she switched hands as she drove by Peter and Inger and, for a moment, lost the beat. There were horses and firemen and men from the Rotary Club walking in business suits; there were Boy Scouts in uniform, and Little Leaguers with the name of their sponsors on their backs. Men held banners and wore sashes reading “United Way.”

“Do you want a hot dog?” Peter asked.

“A what?”

“A frankfurter,” he said. “A little sausage in a bun.”

She laughed. “I know what a hot dog is, silly I didn’t hear your question.”

“Well, do you want one?”

“Yes.”

He tried to attract the vendor’s attention but failed. The man pushed on, clanging his bell. Then the sky went dark. It was without significance, a single shadow, yet the scene in front of Peter darkened in aspect also. Something triggered a storefront alarm. Inger wore a white dress that buttoned to the waist, with mother-of-pearl buttons and a ruff of eyelet lace. He was with a foreign woman while the Veterans of Foreign Wars paraded down Main Street. He himself was alien, a make-believe gypsy whose pockets were full. He took Inger by the elbow and stepped back.

“HOW WAS IT?” JUDY ASKED THEM.

“Fine.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?” She took Sam’s coat.

“Mmm. I’m hungry.”

“Didn’t Daddy get you anything?”

“Just pie.”

“And gingersnaps,” said Peter. “And lemonade.”

“I’m still hungry.”

“Yogurt,” Judy said. “That’s what we’re having for lunch.”

“With honey and raisins?”

“With raisins,” she said.

Judy was polishing silver. She did this when dieting in order to keep out of the kitchen and still keep her hand in, she said. Today she was so hungry she could eat the knife.

“‘I eat my peas with honey,'” Peter said. “I’ve done so all my life. It might taste kind of funny, but it keeps them on the knife.'”

“Did you thank Mrs. Welling?” she asked.

“We did.”

“And how was the parade?”

“Fine.”

“Not long enough,” said Peter.

Judy turned back to the spoons. She had demitasse spoons and soup spoons and tea spoons and serving spoons on the table in the dining alcove; she had completed the forks.

“Can we go swimming?” Sam asked.

“Not now.”

“But Tony’s going swimming.”

“I can’t take you,” Peter said. “And your mother’s busy.”

“How’s the leg?” she asked him.

“All right. I sat and watched things, mostly.”

Tony Neff appeared. His parents had decided that they couldn’t go to the pool, but could they go out in the woods? Peter cored an apple, offered a portion to each of the boys—giving his son, scrupulously, the smaller piece—and said yes. They ran to their fort in the woods. Peter watched them as they cartwheeled down the slope: motion unrestricted. He moved to where his wife was sitting, leaned down, and kissed her hair. “How was your morning?”

Judy set the rag and polish on a serving tray. “I have a headache,” she said.

“Maybe it’s the silver polish.”

“No. This diet.”

“You look terrific,” he said.

“Five more pounds. Five more and I’ll weigh what I weighed when we married.”

“Five less pounds.”

“You know what I’m saying.”

“I love you.”

“Yes.”

He lowered himself to a chair. “Let’s take a trip.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere,” he said. “Sweden, maybe. Or Norway. I’ve never seen a fjord.”

His failure to have seen a fjord seemed, for an instant, serious. Peter closed his eyes. Mrs. Welling had been affable, solicitous. She had walked them to the intersection at the bank.

THE FAMILY WENT TO PRINCE ISLAND IN JULY. THEY rented a house on the north shore; theirs was a private beach. Judy had spent summers on the island in her childhood, and she said the place was magic still, a panacea for each ailment of the soul. She meant that sentiment, she said, although it might sound overwrought. They had proven lately that sunshine makes a person cheerful, whereas clinical depression can be induced by the dark.

Who proved that? Peter asked, and she said psychologists. Sociologists, he said, or physiologists, maybe, but it sounded wishful to him—the kind of attitude induced by skillful advertising, a tourist bureau somewhere that needed to drum up new trade. Well, anyway, she said, this island is my magic place, it’s everything I need. It’s long days lazing on the beach, and fish, and gin-and-tonics on the porch at sunset, a chance to play Scrabble and dream.

Helicopters buzzed the coast. Peter listened to the radio. Men stood by the wharf, surf casting. They had waders on, or bathing suits; they had Styrofoam coolers, and beer. Where fish broke the water, or birds gathered, or where there was a sudden darkness, men cast; they stood for hours, smoking, catching nothing he could see. Sometimes a rod would stiffen and bend; there would be a flurry of adjustments, a palpable attention. Then the line would part or the rod go slack, the fisherman would bring in a piece of dripping wool or wood.

Peter watched. He himself was thick-fingered; he had no desire to fish. But something in the manner of the men at the tide line arrested him; they had an equilibrium and purpose he lacked. They were hunting something and it did not matter if they caught it, yet it mattered how they caught it and how they passed the time. They focused on procedure with the passion of initiates. He lay and drank and dozed. He was healing, he assured himself; he had been more tired than he knew.

On Saturday evening there was a dance at the Grange. Lucinda did not want to go; all those boys with cowboy hats and gum. So Judy drove Sam to the hall and Peter returned to collect him. A woman approached his parked car. “Peter Danto?”

He recognized her vaguely. “Yes?”

“I’m Janice Easterman. You knew me as Janice Saxe.”

“Of course.” He opened the car door, embarrassed.

“You haven’t changed,” she said. He stood. She offered him her hand.

“It’s lovely to see you.”

“I mean it. You look just the same.”

“Our eyes get older,” he pronounced, “along with the object perceived.”

She smiled. Her breasts were fuller than he remembered, her ankles more substantial. She wore expensive, casual clothes: white pants with a drawstring, a silk shirt. Her sandals were gold, her skin dark. They made conversation about what he was doing here, about coincidence and how long it had been since they had last met.

“Are you married?” she asked.

“Yes. With two children.”

“Your first wife?”

He nodded. “And you?”

“Congratulations,” Janice said. “That’s some kind of record, I think. I’m in the process myself.”

“Of marriage?”

“Divorce. We’ve been divorcing since we got married. Sometimes it seems like”—she laughed—“since before we got married. But this time there’s lawyers involved.”

The square dance was over. Children jostled out of the Grange, some with their arms still crossed or do-si-do-ing with their partners. Doors slammed. Mothers started their car radios and turned on their lights. “Are these two yours?” he asked.

“Lydia. Bill. Meet Peter Danto.”

“I knew your mother long ago.” He coughed, then cleared his throat. “It’s nice to meet her children.”

Sam appeared. He came to Peter shyly. They repeated introductions, and Lydia said, “We met inside. At the Virginia reel.”

Janice was scanning the crowd; she gave him her profile. He watched. The memory of sex, he thought, can be as powerful as its expectation; their one previous encounter compelled him now again. He remembered it with clarity. They had gone to the movies together in August in Manhattan; it had been a wet night. She wore dungarees and a wool shirt, and the shapelessness of her apparel made her seem all the more shapely by contrast. He invited her back for a drink. When she accepted he knew she would accept him also; she put her arm around his waist as they waited for the light.

“I have to go now,” Janice said. “It was a real pleasure seeing you.”

“Good-bye.” The children nodded, and she offered her right cheek to him. He kissed it lingeringly. She rarely had an orgasm the first time with a partner, she had said, and she would take her pleasure by helping him have his. This phrase remained with Peter eighteen years thereafter, and he wanted to recite it in the parking lot. Their children were at their elbows, however, and there was confusion at the exit ramp. “I remember you,” he said.

“Do call.” She smiled and was gone.

“Who was that?” Sam asked.

“An old friend,” Peter said. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“No.”

“Not even the Virginia reel?”

“I couldn’t hear. I don’t know the directions and everybody was talking.”

“I’m sorry.”

Magnanimous, Sam said, “It isn’t your fault, Daddy.”

“No,” he said. “Let’s go.”

His daughter had grown beautiful. He had been prepared for this but not for its sudden coming, the transformation in one summer from pudgy adolescence to cleanlimbed grace. It took him by surprise. In the grocery store or post office he watched men watching her—their sidelong glances or open admiration, the space they gave her where she walked or the banter at the check-out line. She wore shorts and a halter; her breasts were unbound. The length of her legs and the way that they tapered, the ridge of her pelvis and the hooded stare she offered when he asked her for more coffee—all of this, he told himself, had come about overnight. The telephone rang incessantly. “Ma Bell’s best customer,” he said. “ ‘Reach out and touch someone.’ ”

“They all go through it,” Judy said.

“Miss Yellow Pages, 1981. The model for the princess phone.”

“We could get her a separate number at home.”

“Yes.”

Lucinda took up water-skiing with the absolute attentiveness she had shown to Bill. She was out on the bay every morning. She learned to ski backward, and also with one slalom ski. She would crisscross her wake, leap and glide. He watched her from the porch. She would emerge from the water, dripping, shaking her head, her tank suit the color of flesh. Wind-surfers angled past their house in what he came to think of as a purposeful display. The sun unrolled a golden carpet in the waters where she swam. “Our Venus on the half-shell,” Peter said.

She also went swimming at night. She said she loved the freedom of it, chilly black water and phosphorus and not knowing when you shut your eyes where you were in the water, not knowing if the thing that bit you was your buddy or a crab. “Be careful, Lucy,” he said. She said she was being careful and that under the sign of the Crab it didn’t matter anyway what bit you in the night. Celestial navigation was the key. It meant learning how to tell the signs up in the zodiac, to know the difference between, say, Orion and Sagittarius. She bet he would never know the difference between Sagittarius and Orion if he was forced to steer by them, if Orion came right down and slapped him in the face.

“Orion’s not likely to do that,” he said.

“There’s shooting stars.”

“They don’t exactly slap you in the face.”

“They do me. Every night when shooting stars come this direction, I feel it,” said his daughter. “Just like a signal.”

“From light-years away?”

She nodded.

“Henny Penny thought so too,” he said. “And Chicken Little.”

“It’s a matter of timing. They might have been right.”

The speed of her retort alarmed him. “ ‘Live every day,’ ” he said, “ ‘as though that day will be your last. Someday you’re bound to be right.’ ”

“That’s from Breaker Morant,” Lucinda said. “That’s his line, isn’t it?”

“You saw Breaker Morant?”

“Last Thursday, remember? At the Community Center.”

She was escaping him, he knew, her memories and knowledge no longer his to control. “I worry anyhow,” said Peter, “about this nighttime swimming.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Promise?”

“Yes.” She was placatory, dismissive; her horoscope instructed her to go with the flow.

“Can I come too?”

Lucinda turned to him with Judy’s tolerance. “It’s a free ocean,” she said.

HIS MOST RECENT PASSION WAS FOR A PHOTOGRAPH. He had been leafing through the autobiography of a movie star. The man was a great and advertised rake; he had squired leading ladies since the thirties and was—or so the flap copy claimed—“baring all.” He told about his love affair with a figure skater and what she did with him one afternoon in the practice rink; he told about his walk-on roles in pornographic films. He had worn a fake beard and wig. One underground classic kept the camera focused “between navel and knee”; he said he had been widely recognized nevertheless. He told about the hiring system in Hollywood’s heyday and the degree of business acumen in starlets who start on the couch. He had a chapter called “3-D: Drink, Dogs, and Drugs.” He listed blondes, brunettes, and redheads in terms of their competency on horseback and in bed; he had been married six times.

One woman, however, commanded the author’s respect. Peter saw her photograph. She had been reading a book. The other women in the photo section were wearing bikinis or low-cut gowns; they were smiling at the camera or brandishing pistols and whips. But Isabella Morris was attending to the text. Her brow was lightly furrowed, her posture upright yet relaxed; she sat in a white deck chair on what seemed to be a porch. Her dress was white; it buttoned to her throat. Peter recognized this woman as a woman he had known.

Her last name when he had met her was no longer Morris; she had been sixty, and frail. She was the aging mother of a briefly famous singer he had dated in New York. She had called him “Mr. Danto” with formality that felt unforced; he had been their houseguest in Katonah. She discussed Camus and Gaston Bachelard with him at breakfast, after he had spent the night disporting in her daughter’s bed. He needed sleep. He crept back to his quarters at dawn, and at seven she sounded the gong. It rang in the hallway outside. He would wake and wash and shave, anxious to cover the night’s fierce tumult, the way Betty had raked her fingernails across his back and had bruised his neck. He would drag himself to breakfast, where Isabella quartered oranges and offered toast with no crust.

The actor mourned Isabella. She had been the one pure lady in his impure life. He said as much. He said she had no public name and did not belong in a rogue’s gallery. They met and courted in Manhattan during World War II, and he had been the happiest man, the most entirely blessed on leave. They stayed together at the Plaza, and everything was champagne and violets and declarations of fidelity for ever and ever; she had been—here he borrowed a phrase from a script—“a pearl among white peas.” He had gone to Hollywood after the war. He spent the first three days just waiting for her call, for Isabella to join him and to share his life. She did not call. Her telephone conversation, when he called, was brief. He accepted an invitation to a yachting party, and there he met a pretty girl, and they started dating each other. One night at a restaurant she told him she was pregnant, and he woke up the next morning married, with a whiskey hangover and a telegram slipped under his door that read, “Darling I’ll be out to join you next Wednesday Stop All business finished back east Stop I hate the phone Stop All my love forever Isabella.”

The actor reproduced this telegram in his book. He berated himself for one whole paragraph, saying he had missed the opportunity of marriage to a splendid woman because he was impatient. He would never forgive himself; he counseled those who read this text or saw that photograph to pause a moment for love. Her face was lean. Her nose was patrician, her eyes downcast. She had dark lipstick on and what looked like a white wave in her short hair. She wore a strand of beads, a bracelet, and no ring. The photograph was dated 1943. She was soon to marry someone who later died in the Alps. As a young and wealthy widow she did not lack for suitors but chose to live alone. She raised her daughters to be intellectual and athletic, and polite. His girlfriend, Betty, had such enthusiastic, instantaneous orgasms that Peter felt irrelevant. She sang torch songs at The Dugout, then folk-rock, then tried scat-singing. She strained her vocal chords, however, and was told to rest. She told him that she did not miss the life of a nightclub singer, not in the slightest, and would rather be in France. He did not wish to go to France, and they separated without rancor.

Peter turned to this photograph often. He had known Isabella D’Augrement well, and had known her daughter intimately. He admired her good works, her charitable enterprise and unflagging determination to aid the deaf. She was fluent in sign language, and her servants all were deaf. They would clear the table and offer wine mutely, politely, nodding as Peter thanked them until he nodded back.

Yet her love affair with the actor had the force of revelation. It was common knowledge once, he read, and made the gossip columns. The actor’s ghostwriter might have written for permission for the photograph and, perhaps, to ask if she had anything to say. She would have had nothing to say. She had told him, Peter, nothing. The image of this society lady as a supple beauty once, not dessicated and severe but nakedly embracing her lover in the Plaza—this image haunted him. It was a reproach. It argued lost youth, transience, the irretrievable past. He wanted to retrieve it and could not.

ONE NIGHT HE DID DECIDE TO JOIN LUCINDA FOR A swim. There was a bright three-quarters moon; he looked down from the dune’s height at two heads bobbing in the waves. He heard what he could swear was laughter; the heads appeared and then disappeared together. He shouted from the stairwell’s crest, “Lucy, are you all right?” When he started down, however, he had to watch his footing; his ankle hindered him. The stairs were steep. For a moment he lost sight of her among the waves and rocks. By the time he reached the cliff’s base she was standing at the waterline, wrapped in a white towel and holding a dry suit. “I could have sworn you were in trouble,” Peter said.

“No, Daddy.”

“Was there someone with you?”

“I was diving.”

“I saw two heads. I heard you laughing.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I was worried,” Peter said.

“Don’t be. I can swim.”

They ascended. She had not answered his question, he knew, and he knew not to ask it again. Next morning, she said, “Sagittarius. Ted’s a Sagittarius. That’s why we get along.”

“Who’s Ted?” he asked her at breakfast.

“A friend.”

“Does he live here?”

“Not all year round,” she said. “He comes from Arizona too.”

“You go to school in Arizona, remember? You come from Massachusetts.”

“Anyway,” she said. She helped herself to beach-plum jelly. Peter waited. He could hear her eat her toast. “Anyway what?”

“Anyway nothing. You asked.”

“Does he go swimming with you?”

“Yes.”

“On the buddy system?”

She looked around the table. “Why such a federal case? You’re making a federal case out of nothing, you know.”

“I myself,” he said, “was once a Sagittarius. I used to go swimming with girls.”

“Big deal.”

Peter finished his juice. “The beginning of wisdom,” he said, “is knowing when to quit. I never was a Sagittarius. I never went swimming. I’d like to meet Ted.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll invite him over.”

“Tonight?”

“You’re a Taurus,” she said. “People don’t go around changing their signs.”

“I suppose not.”

“The leopard his spots,” Judy said. She had been fryingeggs.

“Will you buy Bill?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” Lucinda turned to her mother. “I haven’t thought about it much.”

“Then don’t. Bill’s doing fine without you, right?” Judy said. “You shouldn’t buy a horse unless you want it worse than anything.”

“Passata la commedia,” said Peter. “Now it’s Ted.”

INGER LEFT FOR A TOUR OF AMERICA AFTER THE LAST class. She would not return in the fall. They sat, legs touching, in the last row of the lecture hall; she took the seat by the door. The Flies had been a success. Their pictures appeared in the Crimson together. The portly, bespectacled French professor wiped his lectern before every session, then used a separate handkerchief for his hands and mouth. His specialty was Baudelaire and the “voyage motif.” He sported a bow tie and unwrinkled suits. He wore pink shirts, always, and had a moustache.

She wanted Peter to accompany her; they could visit the Grand Canyon together, she said, and San Francisco. There were cars and relatives and rooms available everywhere; they could be each other’s traveling companion. This proved impossible. He had a summer job, and his parents would not have approved. Her parents would certainly not have approved, and she was planning to visit friends of her parents in Chicago and Aspen.

She called him every night of the first week they were apart. She sent him letters from the Grand Canyon and Taos and Yellowstone Park. He loved her circumlocutions, he wrote, and her funny, twisted English, and he thought about the hand that wrote it and the wrist and elbow and arm and shoulder and everything connected to the shoulder.

By degrees, however, Inger’s letters grew less frequent and her language less ardent. He turned his attention elsewhere, and the last time she called he was in bed with a girl from summer school. “This isn’t a good time to talk,” he said. When he called back later she told him she would fly to Sweden from New York, not Boston. He could meet her at the airport if he wished.

He did wish, and he tried to get to New York but could not find a car and anyway had been planning to attend the Red Sox game that night. He pictured himself at the airport with Inger, wrapping his arms around her and declaring with intensity that they were star-crossed lovers whose paths would cross again. The picture faded. He knew he could not persuade her of his vivid passion; it was unpersuasive.

In the years that followed, Peter heard of Inger often. She became rumor’s subject once more. Rumor had it that she slept with Ingmar Bergman and bore his child but stayed married to an Italian industrialist nevertheless. The industrialist was sterile, and she therefore had his sanction to sleep with men of superior qualities and blood. She worked with refugees in Kenya and Thailand; she renounced her singing career but made pornographic films. She became a surgeon in Brazil.

Peter heard one story he did believe to be true. He encountered the director of The Flies. The director had prospered; he was returning from the festival at Cannes. “Les Mouches,” he said. “Can you believe it? All those years ago ...” In Cannes, he said to Peter, he had met that Swede again; they were driven in the same car to the village of Valbonne. Ike and Tina Turner were playing in Valbonne, and celebrants from the festival drove up for the last show He would have known her anywhere, he claimed; she had the same wild accent and green eyes.

The road from Cannes was narrow, and traffic slow. Someone in the party produced cocaine. When it was passed to Inger, she inhaled deeply and started to laugh. She said she had powdered her nose. She called Cannes the end of the world. The director described this with precision, and the image grew actual to Peter. Her long neck was arched, her body taut; she seemed convulsed with mirth. The limousine negotiated a hairpin turn; Inger fell to the floor. She spread her hands and crossed her legs and extended herself as if on a cross. He could not tell if this was a seizure or a pose. She lay there, twisted, grinning, till the car reached Club Valbonne—then gathered herself from the floor and walked off.

She had been crazy, the director said. She had absolutely refused to acknowledge him. She had been so spacy it was like the Hayden Planetarium right there in that car, in her eyes. Whatever she was into she was into absolutely, and he, Peter, should be grateful he’d got out.

HE PICKED HIS WAY ALONG THE BEACH. THEIRS WAS A rocky shore, with much litter and weed and many points where boulders made the going difficult. There were clay cliffs and freshwater streams. He walked for a full hour, heading east. The tide had washed away all traces of previous passage; he saw no footprints but his own. He did see Clorox bottles and beer cans, a torn beach sandal on the dunes, charred stumps and rocks in a circle.

Peter favored his ankle, testing footholds, anxious not to hurt himself so far from help. Sweating, he pulled off his shirt. He tied it to the branch of a fallen scrub oak tree, where he could collect it on the journey back. The cliffs behind him had huckleberry, gorse, and beach plum; there was poison ivy in abundance also. At his feet was a tangle of skate cases and mussel and horseshoe-crab shells. He came upon the object of his walk.

Two freshwater streams formed a cove. There were clay cliffs on either side, and a brickworks facing north. He had not been there in years. The place was familiar, however, its slope to the shoreline unaltered. Fog increased. Someone had tied a ladder to the scree-strewn dunes, and he clambered up it gratefully. A single brick chimney remained. There was a waterwheel and a network of pulleys and gears. The iron rail had rusted and the sluice had been clogged and silted in. Wooden archways gave on nothing. The crossbeams had sprung and the structure collapsed. Whole timbers lay at his feet. Initials had been carved in them, and hearts, and telephone numbers.

Yet the kiln he had come to was massive, its height intact. Small seabirds fled his approach. They fluttered past him noisily. He conceived of the brickworks at work. He saw men shaping clay, then firing it, then stacking and loading the brick on barges and floating them off with the favoring tide. Peter sat. He closed his eyes. He imagined horses would be grazing where men cleared off timber to burn. The waterwheel powered the bellows. It was hot. It was noontime, possibly, and time for lunch; a gong would sound three times. Men lay beneath the smokestacks or took their ease on the beach. Some chewed tobacco; some had cigarettes and pipes. They adjusted their caps. They talked about old Norton and his skinflint ways, the Mosler safe he had, the combination, the carriage, the daughter, too, who’d just as soon see you struck dead as smile, the big-mouthed bass at the head of the creek, the herring run that week. There would be a chopping contest at the fair next Thursday, and Norton’s white Belgian by himself would pull more weight than Brady’s team. The prize at ringtoss was to get to dunk the fireman; it had been a good year.

He had few friends. He had been a “ladies’ man” and now was a “family man.” He had acquaintances, of course, and men he could consult in need; he was sociable. But on the shore he felt himself abandoned, distinguished from the sea wrack only by his sentient alertness to the distinction as such. And for an instant even this faded, even that self-consciousness was washed into transparency. A buoy clanked out in the channel. In the nearing distance, he heard horns. The dream of fair women was with him, his daughter taking pride of place; she frolicked in the waves. The stream had not yet silted in nor production on the mainland proved the more efficient. The barges had not grounded or been sunk. He pictured three such chimneys while yet the brickworks thrived. Demand for brick was at its height; there were many who sat watching from the cove. Some sat slack-jawed, dozing, toying with their food or pipes; some boasted of their prowess or offered their opinion on the merits of a dog. Some gloried in their birth, some in their horse. Hope and fuel seemed inexhaustible, the future that is now the past still flaring, fiery bright.

She twirled and floated, oblivious. She and all her company swam by as though in thrall. The water was his arms. She was wearing a snorkel and therefore kept her face submerged; her hair fanned out around her like thick weed. He loved her unreservedly. Beauty decomposed. Had she been able or willing to listen, he would have told her so. She whistled in the spume.

PETER DANTO IS THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD AND AN insurance broker in the Berkshires. He plans to build a windmill as an alternative energy source. Now that their daughter is away at school, and Sam so often busy, his wife considers buying into or establishing a business. She is sure-fingered, with a taste for children’s clothes; she is gifted at and interested in puppetry, also. They do amateur theatricals and pageants for the holidays at home.

The Dantos are a three-car family. He drives a Saab and a Buick sedan and a yellow Datsun pickup truck; his ankle heals more slowly than he hoped. He is afflicted with nostalgia for imagined opportunity that had not been, when offered, opportune.

Judy does the crossword puzzle. “What’s eight letters for traitor?” she asks. “Beginning with q-u.”

“Quisling.”

“That doesn’t mean traitor.”

“Close enough.”

“I looked it up,” she says. “It means collaborationist.”

“Fellow-traveler,” he says.

She fills in the letters with pencil, provisionally. When she is certain of a word, she writes the letters with pen.

“Imagine,” Peter says, “getting your name known for that. Imagine Mr. Quisling’s children, and his cousins and his aunts.”

“What was that Frenchman called? The man who ran Vichy?”

“Pierre Laval,” he says. “Or le Maréchal Pétain. There is a whole host of quislings. But they all have his name.”

She lights a cigarette. Her hands, she says, indicate most clearly that she is no longer young. You cannot counterfeit youth with your hands. “What’s twelve letters starting with c,” Judy asks, “that means both beginning and end?”

“Commencement,” Peter says.

The long reach before him looks calm. Cliffs and thick spruce entanglements rise on either side; the finger of water he follows seems an extension of flesh. It is slate-gray, however, then black when the moon goes down. He has taken on provisions at the head of the fjord, at a harbor he cannot pronounce. There are herring, flatbread, ice, and aquavit. ­