A Fine Romance
During a humid, windless afternoon on the island of St John, Tiffany Longworth, duped by a counterfeit taxi driver just after she left the boat from St. Thomas, was being
dragged whisked carted to a small hotel in Cinnamon Bay. And though the kidnappers seemed in disagreement whether to ask for money or the release of political prisoners, there was no doubt that Corso was the leader--his white teeth, dark visage and courtly voice almost reminding her of the husband lover she'd only two weeks ago broken up with. She kept finding something attractive in him, as if her will to believe that would undo the reality of what was happening in this hotel room, where the electric fan mounted on the wall blew a febrile, halitotic[?],dying, feeble fetid breath so like exhaustion that Tiffany realized just how fatigued she herself was.
Now two of Corso's men were trying to assure her that she wouldn't be hurt--the short one with the Indian profile
picking sucking his teeth. She was terribly hungry, aware of a dull fear that the stuffy hotel room would be home for a long time, while the still air outside buzzing with mosquitoes was a worse alternative, the phony entire brochure-image of her visit to St. John becoming stained with the sordid poverty and want of these primitive unhappy men. Her only hope was to get a message to the American sailors who were carousing next door. Or to draw Corso closer, to convince him that her family would not put up a ransom. That she had a disease . . .
throbbed insistently rang. Trudy Devereux, wearing a T-shirt that depicted a map of several Caribbean islands, which sprawled downward over her unbound breasts, had already filled almost twelve long yellow pages and flipped them over the back of the pad. Reluctantly, she pushed the "Talk" button on her phone. She knew it would be Ray, her ex, though she hoped it would be Frederick, her new lover, Frederick the conductor, his plump hand waving the baton that made so many instruments work in unison.
"What?" she said.
"You must be writing," Ray said.
"I want you to see what I'm working on."
She imagined him in his loft, paintings leaning against a wall, his long hair beginning to gray, some woman's underwear tossed on a chair, his own smile borrowed from the Mona Lisa. They liked each other better as friends and sometime lovers, so they had divorced and she'd kept him on her Authors Guild health insurance for several years. "You're my only confidante," he always said.
She huffed. "Why is it always a bad time for me but a good one for you?"
"No, no, no. Not now. How about 1:30, then lunch on me!”
"Can you keep your hands to yourself?"
"Promise! Listen, I'm sorry I interrupted you. You know I love your work."
"You used to!" She
flicked fucked clicked him off.
In the current annual Romance conventions held in places like New Orleans, he might have been one of the long-haired models in leather jock straps, hooted at and cheered by a crowd of women; the men like Lacedaemonian warriors preening before a battle with the Persian Army, only here the prize of battle was a modeling contract and appearance on the cover of a Romance novel. Which indeed had happened to Ray. He'd appeared on the cover of Trudy's first book years ago, just for income, he'd said, since his art was not selling anywhere. Following her time with Ray she could write for days, sometimes in a kind of softened twilight state, and she became not only her heroine but the men who appeared out of dark corners, the men in Italian suits who boarded planes and wore rings with mysterious crests, the men with creased smiles and resonant voices who would be cruel in bed and later arrange for flowers to be brought with breakfast. But ever since 9/11 she’d been asking herself if she wanted to write this kind of book when people were being blown to bits only as far away as the nearest radio or TV set, though the idea of relevance made her sick. Her field was so crowded! All those younger readers, all those subscribers to the Romance Writers' Report, submitting their novels for contests like "The Golden Heart," "Love and Laughter," "The Winning Man," "From the Heart," scanning the reports for the latest interests of Avon Books or Ballantine or Harlequin Mill & Boon, Ltd. or Leisure Books or Silhouette Books (who were getting out of the Paranormal category but were interested in twists on twins that change places, or books that contained a kidnapping, which had given Trudy an impetus to continue with the very book she was working on).
And if the sailors next door came to her rescue? Would they rape her in the heat of that moment? Would she now be able to seize the revolver one of the men had rested on the teak bureau? Corso's voice caressing the air. The danger of this moment intertwined with the boredom that had driven her to come here in the first place. She looked at Corso, at the revolver that looked dusty and unused, at the men who twitched to his commands, his authority filling the room with vibrant energy.
But there were other issues. She was going to Frederick’s rehearsal of his orchestra in Ossining tonight, and she ought to have said so to Ray. She remembered the evening last week with Frederick at a Middle-Eastern restaurant in Nyack. The old brick structure housing the restaurant had once been the town jail, and in the rear, on the way to the rest room, she passed a barred window in an original wall, on the other side of which was a small room—one of the old cells—and a table covered with flowers. Over the window was a plaque commemorating the jail, which had been built at the turn of last century. She imagined a bunk bed, a prisoner who smoked too much, a toilet bowl without seat, a rust-stained sink. Overhead these days he'd have a small TV which blared until curfew. Somewhere there must be a surveillance camera. Being observed day and night in itself a punishment. Maybe Corso had been treated this way. Maybe this is how he'd gathered his little gang, meeting with them after their joint release, filled with resentments against the gringo world.
Later, as the boat pulled away from the island, she felt the wind in her face, the spray that needled its coldness up and down her legs in her
orange white slacks (thank God she'd taken more than shorts and the adorable flimsy Donna Karen top).
"Senorita, you wish to smoke?" One of the men, short, square, offered her a cigarette from his crumpled pack. He smelled of unwashed clothes. Work. Anxiety. Manured fields. Kitchens with no ventilation. Fried plantain. Urine.
That dinner in Nyack, Trudy had worn long white pants and a blue, sleeveless top, its first three buttons undone, abundant freckles sprinkled like confetti along her arms and across her modest cleavage. Too much sun, she knew, but she couldn't help it. Before they sat down, she'd bent over the table to scoop up white dip with a spear of raw carrot, and she knew that Fredrick was admiring the tightness of her rear end, her straight, narrow legs, the small, exploratory bites she took of her crudité. Attractive, too, were the taut lines of her face—the dramatic slope of her cheekbones partly the result of sunken tissue around the upper lip, as she began to age. But she was beautiful. She had the look of models who had extracted their rear molars. Her eyes shone. Frederick ran his hand up and down her back, sliding it over her bare shoulder, down her arm.
"Deje de hacer eso! Vayese! You!" Leaning out of the pilot cabin, Corso waved the man away from her. Then he said something that Tiffany understood to mean they would split up in Charlotte Amalie. But she couldn't make out who she'd be with. She was hungry and she was settling into a
debilitating ennui boredom. The coolness of the twilight wavering green indifferent crepuscular sea failed to invigorate either her earlier terror or her reason. Perhaps, she thought, she was fatigued and was losing too much sense of how desperate her situation was. She looked up at Corso who had stepped out of the cabin and was facing the ever-nearer Charlotte Amalie, its lights and tilting boats, his profile like something she remembered from an old dream magazine ad her mother's album movie. The image of the woman, the actress, in that film, whatever it was, had almost formed in her mind, when two of her captors began singing, holding their arms outward to embrace the sun heated acrid saline sea-spray air, their small dark heads like those of Guatemalan clay figures she'd seen in an exhibit in The Museum of Natural History. They sang on key, with little yipping sounds and laughter.
In the dining area, there had been two men with balalaikas, one man with a drum between his legs. Trudy was thumping her foot to the music, her forehead gleaming like porcelain, her small ears like perfect sculptures, but she refused Frederick's invitation to dance. Frederick, stout and perspiring, at times scholarly-looking in the way he pursed his lips, was aglow from the wine and the insistent beat of the instruments. His boyish smile was of the sort seen in Medieval paintings of saints, in contrast to the testy patron who had commissioned the work and was lurking in the shadows—something Frederick knew from a father who had been for so long critical of his son's attempts at a career. "You should work with me," he'd said, "where the real world is." Frederick had trained at the Crouse College of Music in Syracuse and at Juillard, where he now taught. Real estate and insurance simply did not galvanize him the way Brahms or Mozart did, especially when he was up at the podium with his baton, controlling the harmonies, the timing, the exuberance of all those instruments—all those men and women in their chairs, reading the sheet music before them, looking up for his guidance, their hands invisibly tethered to his will. Somewhere in the midst of all his plumpness, at times Trudy could see authority, self-knowledge.
And if she ran, Tiffany thought, if she could lose herself among the street people in Charlotte Amalie, Corso would never risk shooting at her. Corso. His name
rattled reverberated in her being like a church bell in Venice, echoing among the pensiones and trattorias, dispersing itself in the openness of the Grand Canal. Corso. She imagined sitting with him in San Marco's, near one of the several orchestras, this one playing Debussy, the thin waiter taking their order for champagne, dusk drifting over the lagoons like fragrant smoke.
The phone rang. “Shit!” She thought it was Ray.
“It’s me. Else.”
It was her friend Else Thompson, whose cabin was opposite her own at Blessing
Lake. Else often hitched a ride there from her apartment on the Westside.
“As if I didn’t know who ‘me’ is by now.”
“We’re a bit cranky this morning.” Else played one of the two cellos in Frederick’s orchestra and never hesitated to be direct—asking, once she learned Trudy was dating the conductor, “Does he make good music in bed?”
‘It’s this new book.”
“Well, I won’t keep you. The Lake Association wants to use chemicals to control the weeds. I’m concerned about the geese. We need to speak up.” Else, a widow and occasional journalist, was good at that, pressing for road repairs on the dirt track that led to the cabins or insisting on rules for playing music at night because of renters who liked to sing in their canoes under a full moon. She enlisted Trudy’s help whenever she could.
“What to you want me to do?”
“Write a letter.”
“Really, I’m very busy. What do I care about those filthy birds who always deposit their green turds on my lawn?”
“You’re such a city girl! This is important!”
“I thought that copper sulfate was safe. Isn’t that what they’re using?”
“If we had children, we wouldn’t feel so safe. Never mind the geese.”
Trudy could imagine her gray-haired steely friend beginning to raise a fist. She understood how the woman had escaped the Nazis in her native Norway.
“Just one letter,” Else continued.
They parried back and forth, until Trudy agreed, and Else asked, “Are you going to rehearsal tonight?"
"If I ever get there!"
When she looked up at Corso, she saw him drawing on the pad on his lap. He was sketching the approaching city, the prow of the boat breasting the sea, and she could feel a pressure within her, as if she too were plowing through salty currents in an aftermath of love. He held up the pad for her to observe his work. The charcoal strokes were bold and rhythmic, capturing the sensation of the
orgasmically rolling boat, and in his fabricated distance was the suggestion of crowded streets. If only she could lose herself there, slip away, disappear somewhere into that scene.
Trudy pulled off at the Canal Street exit and parked across the street in front of an auto repair shop that was opposite an old industrial building, the top floor of which was inhabited by Ray. The dust from 9/11 that had coated the street, the buildings, the parked cars, the faces of pedestrians, the shop windows, had become a dingy gray that even now seemed to inhabit the air. The floor beneath Ray's studio loft was rented by a Black repertory company that produced original one-act plays. A fire door could be triggered open by any of the tenants from their living quarters. She pushed Ray’s bell and looked around the unrehabilitated interior of the ground floor, always on the qui vive for details a heroine might have to reckon with. The scaling plaster of the walls and the ochre-stained ceiling looked like the theater set of a war drama. There were barrels filled with refuse, old lathing, crumpled embossed tin and broken linoleum tiles wrapped in plastic. In the dust left by construction work, she could see the delicate footprints of rats drawn to the odors and crumbs of the repertory company's coffee shop.
Ray buzzed her in.
"Hey! What do you think? Not bad, eh?" Corso held the sketch against his broad chest. Then he leaned forward and whispered, "Don't worry. I will take care of you." For a moment, she believed him. What could be more assuring than to be in his enfolding muscular hairless sun-bleached [haired huh?] arms, while the deep blue of a Caribbean evening absorbed the heat rippling up from the beaches and traffic of St. Thomas, cooling the decks of cruise ships, a rich hue pervading her body with excitement, as if the city that was her being had flung open its doors, and the same ineluctable physics lowering the temperature of the busy port had also released a shimmering heat from her turbulent wracked sensate animal soul.
She had to shield her eyes from the bright light coming into the loft, which had once been the third floor of a printing plant. On a long work table was the equipment he used for photography and design. He'd built a little dark room against the wall. Lately, he implied he had a big project coming up. Really big, he said, and winked. Two living areas had been walled off, on either side of a huge rectangle, leaving an immense space between that was lit in the daytime primarily by the sun flowing through the safety glass of the skylight. Ray had attached two rows of aluminum reflectors to enhance the light on cloudy days—the way they used to, he said, on the old outdoor sets in Hollywood, in D. W. Griffith's day, which had accounted for the squint of characters in The Birth of a Nation.
Tiffany looked up and noted Corso's uplifted profile against the bluish light, as the boat swerved into the harbor, but more impressive were his sketches in the pad that he was allowing her to examine. Some were of another place, a sugar-cane field, with workers in straw hats; there was a mill with smokestacks; and smaller studies with piles of thick stalks, peasants with boots and shotguns. There were trees with zigzags carved in their trunks, and a fine linear outline of a bird like one of the petroglyphs she'd seen in pictures of the old plantation forest on St. John. Corso laughed and she looked up. He said, "Did you know my great-grandfather was a Sephardic Jew?" As the boat slowed down and puttered toward its mooring, one of the men began to
snort cough inhale a white powder off a sing, and Corso, looking at her, put his finger to his lips, to warn her not to say or try anything. It was becoming like a tour, she thought. So far, what abuses had she suffered? And who would care? Who would care she had been slashed across the face kidnapped?
The sun, glancing off huge mirrors, was in their eyes. Ray had neglected to fold up his reflectors, which now blazed with light directly over the portable easel on which he had set his enlarged, textured photos, which he had further altered by whiting out the detail irrelevant to his purpose. "I can hardly see anything in this light!" Trudy complained. She had already seen enough. Ray had enlarged the cover of her first book, Passion in Velvet, but this version featured a commercial artist's version of Ray himself as the long-haired, shirtless Adonis leaning over a newly awakened adolescent girl. At least, that's what she was now. Originally, she had been a well-endowed blonde, her hair splayed out on a plush maroon pillow, her body twisted to one side in an access of eroticized grief. Ray had thinned the woman's body. Reduced the breasts to nascent curves. Made the v of her crotch narrower, longer. And replaced the fixed stare of bold need with a look of innocent amazement.
"What is she supposed to be admiring," Trudy asked, "your penis?"
"Well, if the shoe fits!" Ray guffawed.
Against the wall he turned the steel crank that folded the reflectors out of the way and then rushed to join her. His jeans were old and puffy at the knees, and the odor of turpentine coming off his hands was not only giving Trudy a headache but seeping through her mouth into her taste buds—as if she'd been sucking mentholated lozenges. Dotting the outlines of the man and girl in the photo-poster were sequins, and Ray had textured part of their faces with a kind of gray stucco material.
Tiffany noted that one of her captors had coarse, callused hands, and she wondered if he had worked in the cane fields. And how his pencil-thin torso could flex and stiffen in love. Why was she thinking such things when her life was in danger? Or was it? The men were so courteous.
But with the reflected light out of her eyes, she could now take in the other photo-poster, or painting, or whatever he called it. It was based on a blow-up of her photo that had appeared on the back cover of Passion in Velvet. Ray evidently hadn't dared to encrust her visage with extraneous materials, but the outlines around her eyes were dark as from excess mascara, and he had somehow lengthened her cheeks to give her a drawn and serious look which at the same time resembled the hunger drawn into the faces of vampires. Most of her features had been whited out, her mouth a smudge of black ink, her nose two bullet-hole nostrils, but Ray had succeeded in conveying in this face that was not quite a cartoon, loneliness and pride. Anger. And she hated him for it, for flaunting his own cleverness. At least he hadn't aged her terribly. But he could have! She upbraided herself for being anywhere near him. What did he want? She declined his offer of lunch. Money, he must be needing money, she thought. “What do you want me to say?’ she asked.
“Say if you like it or not. I don’t want you to feel insulted.” He put his arm around her waist.
She could feel his strong fingers closing into a grip, pulling her toward him.
“Well, I’m not. And you can just stop that. I hope you’re not broke again.”
“Did I say I was?” He held his hands up. “Did I ask you for anything? Jesus!”
“Since you ask, I think they’re puerile. Something out of Andy Warhohl’s trash can. Whatever do you have in mind?”
“It’s satire!” he said. “That’s just the point. It’s meant to be trash.”
“And me? And my book? Are we trash?”
“No, no, no. It’s all about presentation. How it spins off into a world by itself.” He leaned against a nearby work table, hands palms up. “Don’t you see?” His ponytail, half-gray, dry, looked disreputable, his hair odorous—not the glistening mane of years ago, not the attractively aged hair that fell loose and framed his face in her bedroom at the cabin as he bent over her, his joy a moaning counterpoint to the brittle song of crickets. Was that only last year?
“Well, let me know how it turns out. I’ll try to see what you mean. But I don’t know if I can.” Already, she felt sorry for him, the way his talent bent itself to a commercial task. She kissed him on the cheek and left, but not before rubbing up against him as she pulled away. Ray smiled unhopefully.
The small boat they were in now allowed the swell from their headlong progress to rush over the sides, for it rode through the water deep in the stern. The Indian-looking men with deep tans scrutinized her from time to time, almost like third-world doctors in a squalid clinic, and she shuddered. Corso was at the wheel in the little pilot cabin, clenching a cigarillo in his teeth (Tiffany thought of a movie with Zachary Scott, his thin, triangular face, the satanic embezzler’s smile), smoke creating a haze around his head. He had before him a long, wide sketching pad. She longed for a bath. And as the distance closed between St. John and the port of Charlotte Amalie, the phosphorus wake of the green water a glowing hem that trailed behind them, one of the men spat overboard, making an ugly sound in his throat. He looked at her defiantly and one more iota of hope unmoored itself from her thoughts. Could Corso control them? She hadn't yet focused on the contradiction forming in her soul, that Corso, the leader of this entire venture—which had so little shape or meaning to it—was also her savior.
Trudy sat in the space of the Eucharistic Chapel at Maryknoll Seminary. She didn't want to be very much in evidence as Frederick conducted rehearsal. During the actual performance of the Magnificats in January, there would be a gate or screen, and she'd be able to see only the side of the choral group that would be divided into two parts facing each other over the heads of the orchestra and Frederick's pumping arms. Just now he was leaning over his sheet music, his hand poised in the air, while the players in the string section—including Trudy's friend Else and the widower Leonard Abernathy—stared straight ahead, their bows upright, wisps of fatigue drifting across the faces of those who'd come here after a full day's work. Opposite the musicians, and on their wooden grandstand, were the singers, not yet in the outfits they'd wear for the performance, the long skirts, the open gowns, the men in tuxes—everyone now in chinos, skirts, cotton slacks. For some reason the singers seemed more energized than the orchestra.
Sitting here now, in the recess among the cool marble and the empty tabernacle and the faint hint of rose water, looking at the back of Frederick's somewhat pear-shaped silhouette, the baton firm in his pinched fingers, Trudy thought of Ray as he used to be. A forbidden urge swept over her, as she peered past the rehearsal group down into the enormous space of the basilica, looking up at the high ceiling, its cross beams; dropping her gaze down along the columns, behind which was a vaulted walkway with stained-glass scenes depicting the Stations of the Cross. She almost imagined making love here, Ray holding a blanket over them in the high, draughty sacred space.
The other night at dinner, Frederick had been in a nearly manic state, as he’d rattled on about music and his childhood and his father, the man who had not believed in him. It was almost interesting to Trudy, to watch her new lover discuss his redemption from a parent's ill will, knowing later he’d be damp from hours of perspiring, his ego wide and hungry in spite of fatigue, something too demanding in his embrace. She knew that somehow she was using Ray to make it more interesting to be with Frederick later, when she would watch his amazement as she undressed and drew him to her and listened to his breathless praise, felt the slow enfolding of his heat around her, the cascading collops of his love, her orgasms an incoming rush of tide, wave after wave, Frederick squealing, she herself dilating into an infantile field of total sensation, almost passing out as Frederick flowed into his condom and her limbs seemed to extend themselves to every corner of the room, her body throbbing . . .
She thought of Tiffany Longworth trying to escape to St. Thomas. Pursuit down the streets of Charlotte Amalie, among the street hawkers and pimps. But she stopped herself from going further. Instead, while the singers began their harmonies, she thought about the Chinese motifs in the external appearance of Maryknoll, its green-tiled roof high above the Hudson River and the downward slope to Ossining and the prison. Getting to the chapel, she'd passed a series of paintings in which Christ was preaching to Chinese children, in a flat landscape. All one saw of him was his back, his raised arms, his lemony aureole the same hue as the interiors of peonies. Thinking now of Tiffany and Corso and Ray and Frederick seemed no more out of place than these pictures of Christ speaking Aramaic, proselytizing Asian children in the middle of bosky northern Westchester.
Corso spun the wheel and the boat came about. His two underlings stopped singing and grew serious, looking astern at the suddenly receding Charlotte Amalie as Corso steered them back through the remnants of their own wake. They were returning to St. John and Tiffany didn't know why. Corso was
patriarchal[?] imperious, and when they docked in Cruz Bay, within sight of the regular ferries from St. Thomas and the crowd of taxi drivers harassing the disembarking tourists, he rapidly issued instructions in Spanish to his men who positioned themselves between Tiffany and the side of the boat that was now bumping against the little pier.
"I will be back," he said to her. "Do not worry."
He leaped onto the dock, and she couldn't help but admire his adroitness, though for the first time she felt truly afraid. Never before had he left her alone with the other men. And as she observed him swing his
narrow-hipped way hurriedly toward the ferry berth, she heard the Indian—it was the only way she could think of him—mutter something to the other man, who was very dark, with a poorly trimmed mustache, eyes bloodshot from drink or the salt spray that had been in their faces as they sped back from Charlotte Amalie. She looked at the men and they smiled—their glistening teeth like an ad, if she could ignore the stained t-shirts and the glandular odors of work that wafted from their ancient seeming bodies like stale sex.
All that night and into morning, Trudy dreamt of her first husband, Josh Devereux, and relived the accident that had taken his life. When she woke, she could still see his pianist's hands gripping the wheel. And her father. The dream had also brought him back. Now, in its aftermath, she remembered the evenings he had spent in his study, until he stood up, all 6'7" of him, pipe clenched in his teeth, the fiction he churned out receiving the axe by anonymous editors, his aggrieved face harder to re-adjust each morning as he went to his teaching job in Hartford, Connecticut. Her mother had given up an adventurous youth for a man with the kind of modest ambition that, while keeping them away from undue risk, did not carry their income aloft. The war had something to do with all that. At least so Trudy surmised. She was born after her father had come back from Europe. She knew he'd been among those soldiers who'd opened the death camps. But he'd only said, "You really don't want to know."
She remembered her mother’s warnings about gaining weight. What she oughtn't to eat. They would practice at luncheons in the good hotels how to be crisp with headwaiters, how to steer among the creamy desserts, how not to mention the daughter who'd died before Trudy was born. If that lost daughter was the sorrow that dragged at her father, she had to give her mother credit for not pretending there was nothing wrong. Both her parents at times would sit opposite each other in the living-room and generate pain so tangible that walking between them was like breaststroking through the icy early morning waters of a mountain lake. It was simpler if she went into her room and read her Nancy Drew mysteries. Or played with Samantha, the huge Angora cat, who sooner or later raked her arm or leg, behaving only for her mother. Or tried the makeup she'd bought with her friend Angela. Or listened to the Rubinstein recordings her father loved so much. She had theories about her parents. Perhaps the first child was not by her father. Perhaps her mother so detested his literary ambition that she'd ruined the both of them with mockery and resentment. Or Trudy herself was a disappointment, avoiding her parents once she went to Oberlin, not finishing her degree; running away with her piano teacher, a divorced man awakened to sudden conscience by the war beginning in Southeast Asia but not skilled enough to drive on the left side of the road on the way to Edinburgh.
The Indian gave her a semi-bow and
politely gallantly waved his hand toward the tiny wheelhouse that also served as a sleeping cabin. Along either side, the built-in long cushioned benches could be extended by hinged wings that lay flat to the sides. Pulled out, the wings were supported by 2x4's that Corso had cut to size. Four or five people could sleep here in reasonable comfort. With the food cooler and the extra gasoline in the fifty-gallon drum that was tied down in the stern, and given a gentle sea, this boat, Tiffany realized, could probably reach Cuba. But she wasn't going into the cabin and she shook her head. The other man raised his arms helplessly. The Indian again bent at the waist and motioned her inside. Before they knew it, she whirled about, pushed the dark man in the face, and leaped onto the dock. Years of tennis had made her ankles strong, and she landed in a runner's crouched position, but the Indian had already darted to the side of the boat and vaulted over her head, alighting several feet beyond her, his blunt arms swung wide to shoo her back like a stray dog chicken. She saw several people at the ferry berth watching them, and she screamed, "Help me! Somebody help me!" The Indian swept her up in his arms and handed her kicking and struggling to the other man who dragged her into the cabin, squeezing her breasts and sliding his hand down between her legs into her crotch. She bit his hand when he tried to cover her mouth and she was certain that she'd almost severed the last joint of his pinky. He howled and slapped her with unsuppressed glee repeatedly. By now, the watchers at the ferry berth had started running toward them, and the Indian had jumped aboard, started the boat, and brought them swerving out of the bay toward the Caribbean side of the island. Tiffany felt a a welt forming on her cheek, her upper lip swollen and bleeding where it had been slammed into her teeth. Her would-be rapist—if that's what he was, if he hadn't merely been trying to get her out of the pubic public eye and was grabbing her wherever he could—was tearfully binding his finger with an unclean handkerchief.
Trudy had been young and beautiful, adoring her husband's cool wit and the movement of his knowledgeable hands along her body (they should know about this in Oberlin!) and she remembered the frown that pulled her mother's patrician face into a mask of contempt whenever Trudy would say, "You don't understand, there is no age difference between us. In many ways, he's younger than I am. Inside."
"You mean, he's just a boy?" her mother quipped.
"Well, maybe. Like Daddy is. You know how men can be."
"Do I?" her mother offered, drifting away, her back turned, the closed study, where her husband labored at his ineffectual prose, like a ship run aground, with her still on the bridge scanning the night sky.
Trudy remembered the scene between her father and Josh. Her father's tobacco-stained teeth visible as he talked and clenched his pipe between them. He swept his hand aloft in an unexpectedly graceful gesture, then the other one.
"Love is love," he'd said. "Age, I suppose, doesn't matter."
He'd looked at his wife for approval. Tight-lipped but not grim, upright in her chair but not prudish, she had seemed almost jealous at what could have been for her a second chance—had she met her own Josh, had she not grown so comfortable so quickly in the lanky arms of a boyish novelist manqué.
It took them half an hour to reach the area of Reef Bay Plantation, where they anchored offshore for two hours, before a man waved to them from the old settlement that came to land's edge and more than anything else reminded Tiffany of the shore that Conrad's Lord Jim had stood on as Marlow sailed away, leaving Jim behind among his
unlettered childish innocents first nation[?] savages. The Indian started the boat and brought them slowly in. It was Corso on shore, amid signs warning tourists to drink water, not soda, to avoid dehydration. And it was Corso who stepped aboard, shaking his head, disappointed, telling her, "You should not have done that." He produced a knife of the kind used for reaming cleaning fish—long, serrated on one side, unspeakably sharp on the other.
"Now," he said, "we might have to hurt you if you don't behave. You understand?" He pressed the point
between her breasts against her throat.
"Take that away," she gasped. "Can't you see I'm already hurt?"
"Ah." He lowered the knife and gently touched her cheek. "We can help that."
He spoke to the Indian, who made his way toward the tourist-information hut and broke into it.
"You know," Corso said, "my men would not have done anything to you. They are too afraid of me to
flaunt disobey my orders.”
But Josh Devereux was cautious about their future and thought of the lake cabin he’d inherited from his father as a fail-safe alternative. “Who knows?” he’d said to her. “At least here we’ll always have a place to live.” His greatest fear, she now understood, was of being mediocre. Or was it hers? Oddly, it had never bothered her father. She remembered the blood trickling out of Josh's ears and nose. The Morris Minor on its side. Her body pulled by gravity into Josh's but also by the vacuum his death had instantly created. And now, for some reason, she felt the pain of having lost a sister she’d never seen, whose absence she'd been conceived to remedy, filling the empty space with herself.
With Tiffany Longworth.
The first-aid kit that the Indian returned with had some alcohol, band-aids, peroxide, cotton. She wouldn't allow any of the men to touch her help, touching a wad of cotton to the mouth of the alcohol bottle and patting the welt on her face. My God, she thought, what will happen to me? She couldn't have imagined that she'd spend the next several days in an open-air cottage on the Cinnamon Bay campground, worrying about the falling coconuts as she made her way to the outside toilets, snatching her feet away from the holes of
huge spidery land-crabs, sweating at night on her cot as the little electric fan that Corso had brought from Cruz Bay blew the pitilessly dense air toward her, while outside the wild mongooses, brought years ago to the island to deal with rats, fought with and maimed the cats that she would see left half-alive on the floor of the outdoor commissary where she and Corso had breakfast—and where she would finally come to think that it wasn't so bad, any of it, as long as she could be with him, because something in her had given way, that part of her habituated to comfort and the care that health beauty requires. The everyday instinct—which she knew now it wasn't—that urged her well-being as first, foremost, necessary as the sun, had withered away and left behind a thrilling scorn for the safe, the secure, the bourgeois.
She thought back to the years when her income from Josh's estate was being eaten up. At Blessing Lake, her lovers spent their days drinking wine on the dock or driving to a bar on Route 22 in Brewster or waiting for her to finish writing her stories that seemed to them an aberration when she could have the real thing, which they offered frequently. One day she snapped up an armful of Harlequin and Silhouette Romances and buried herself in them for two consecutive days, while a lover—Charles, a Nam veteran and, at the time, a doctoral student in history—busied himself scooping weeds out of the shallows with a newly purchased rake, until he experienced a sudden flashback to the Mekong Delta and the friends he'd lost there. He spent the rest of the afternoon smoking joints, watching a family of Canada geese that paddled from dock to dock and begged stale bread from the summer residents. In the morning, when she awoke, Trudy found no evidence of him, not even a note.
"All those romances seemed to clear my head," she told Ray years later.
Then her father died. Trudy's mother sold the house in Hartford and moved to Saratoga, to be near some cousins, and to be able to spend part of her summer at Lake George. She became nervous and flighty, renewed old acquaintances, started going to the racetrack, and though Trudy tried to see her often, her mother seemed to withdraw into a kind of silliness that culminated when she became engaged to a retired art dealer who had specialized in paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites. At her father's grave Trudy had felt both sorrow and relief. He'd been found slumped over his typewriter, unshaven, pages strewn across the room.
After the funeral, her mother said, "I burned them. They were terrible. He didn't know what he was doing."
And now her mother was dead. A sudden and swift cancer. Trudy had wept when she returned to the lake cabin from her mother's funeral. She became determined to do well for herself, to write for an audience that would buy books (contrary to her father's notion that the less a book sold, the more likely it was important). She read more romances and then wrote one about a young girl traveling to England, where she met a man like Josh, but with a sinister past, a man whose German wife had mysteriously disappeared on the Continent. And the girl went with him in search of her, ending up in a small village in the south of France, finding the wife besotted with drink and a lover who tried to attack the tall, deft husband, Duncan Heath, III. It was no match. Duncan's athleticism was more than appearance. The girl—Hillary—was by then deeply in love with him. When they returned to England, she caressed his brow, smoothed away his cares, and gave her young body into his hands.
Trudy called the book, A Chest of Jewels. But the title was changed to Passion in Velvet by the third editor she'd sent it to, and she met Ray at a conference, and he wound up winning the modeling contest and posing for the cover after the editor persuaded the
publisher of a new series to give Trudy a chance.
"Something different here," he'd said, "even within the usual conventions. Something terribly sad but romantic."
Ray, who knew all the photographers and who had a darkroom of his own (there seemed nothing he couldn't do with a negative or a document), offered himself in every conceivable way; and Trudy, feeling not so much lonely as simply unattached, at loose ends, indulged herself, taking him with his long hair, smooth voice and habit of smiling while looking off into the distance, never understanding why in the years to follow, after the divorce, they could remain friends, why she didn't move on, why she was content to allow her body the drug, the solace that Ray was, without any connection to the real current of her life. Which was what? But with Ray, she’d felt safe, if in some crucial way unnoticed, while her heroines increased their risks book after book, searching for fulfillment.
Corso brought her to a tourist cabin at Cinnamon Bay. It had an electrical outlet and two of its sides were screen walls, allowing air to flow through from the beach, though the cabin was built up against a hill that blocked and repelled any breeze. At night, the hill and surrounding vegetation were alive with small animals and frequent screams. The several cots were soggy and mildewed from humidity. There were two shelves along the cinder-block wall, and below them a worm-eaten red-stained table with two splintery benches. Set in the front screened wall was a heavy door with two locks. Outside, on the cement patio, was an iron barbecue grill bolted to a vertical steel pipe. The roof of the cabin slanted like a lean-to's, allowing the coconuts that fell from the trees to bounce and roll to the ground. Posted on a palm tree that one had to pass on the way to the outside toilets and showers was a sign that invited
tourists unwitting travelers her guests to eat the coconuts but to please dispose of the shells properly. NO LITTERING PLEASE. Tiffany, itchy from no-see-ums and the mental effect of hearing squadrons of drifting, lonely mosquitoes seeking the blood they needed to propagate themselves, stumbled toward the toilets at least twice a day—she held everything in for as long as she could, even though Corso's Indian helper was the soul of politeness and always faced the beach while he waited for her to finish. Corso had warned him to look for writing implements that Tiffany might use to scrawl a message in one of the stalls.
“What?” she said into the phone.
“What do you mean, what?” It was Else. “Don’t I ever get you in a good mood.”
“Oh, no, dear! I thought it was someone else.”
Else snorted. “I wonder who.”
“No chance I’ll tell you either.”
“Hah!” Else was not easily put off. In the summers at Blessing Lake, she swam naked every morning to Trudy’s dock and back—sometimes pausing for some of Trudy’s coffee while standing shoulder-deep in the water. Later, she would practice her cello, still adjusting to a widowhood that was several years old. Resilient, she had grown close to the other cellist in Frederick’s orchestra—Leonard Abernathy, a tall widower from Scarsdale.
Now Else needed a lift to her cabin, since her car was in the shop. She wanted to rake leaves and clean the property. She lived almost within walking distance, near Columbia University, but Trudy demurred. “Else, I’m just so involved in this new book.”
“Actually,” Else replied, “it doesn’t matter much. I’m just a little bored. Are you coming to the next rehearsal?”
“I doubt it. You don’t think Frederick will care, do you?”
‘Darling, anything you do is sacred, even when you ignore him.”
They chatted a bit and then hung up, but Trudy was remembering the phone call of the
“Listen,” Ray said, “I hate to ask you, but I’m really short of cash this month.”
“What about all that new work you showed me?”
“I wanted you to see what I was doing. My new show won’t be until spring. I can’t stop working now just to make a few dollars.”
“Run out of old girlfriends to mess up the pictures of?”
“Don’t be a bitch . . . ”
This morning, after Else’s call, her apartment was almost as cool as the kitchen in the cabin at the lake. A mist rose from the Hudson, and if she leaned over her terrace and peered north, she'd see the George Washington Bridge shrouded in fog, vehicle lights moving like little alien beings. Less than an hour ago, Frederick's cheerful high-pitched voice had come twanging over the phone, and she’d suddenly remembered watching him when he was conducting the orchestra at a concert in Maryknoll last spring, dressed in tails, his pants too short, his wrists and white sleeves extruding from his coat. Every time he raised his arms, the coat hiked up and the tails opened, then closed like a long black gill as his arms descended, and dilated again, and closed. His boyish face gleaming, his smile a perfect crescent. But when he conducted, his shoulders seemed broad and powerful, the fingers of his right hand clamped on the baton. And she had been jealous, watching the soprano eye him, nodding, launching Mozart's "Exsultate, juibilate" even as she smiled, the woman's throat pulsing, her dark thick hair swept back from her face and down her back like the sleek fur of an animal freshly into her majority. Trudy had completely surprised herself. Jealous of that singer! Indeed, Frederick was leaning toward the soprano, smiling with more than the acknowledgment of a cue, his eyes lit with what Trudy knew was the sexual energy inherent in all music and art and literature, his music filling the small church, the relief panels of the Stations of the Cross that lined both walls of the nave depicting in the last scenes a languorous Christ whose waxen, androgynous body could have been that of a young male rock star's or a girl's.
“Let’s start over,” Ray had said soothingly…
She was remembering Frederick withdrawing his penis, sighing, rolling off her as if to turn to his small orchestra and prod them into the next movement. His back damp, his
skin soft as a child's. ("Aren't you sweet, Fred." She patted his large rump. Trailed her long-nailed index finger up his groin. Held his exhausted member in her hand. "You are perfectly cute.") He had this time bruised her upper arms with his strong hands and yelped when he discovered what he'd done.
"My God! Why didn't you tell me I was doing that?"
Actually, she hadn't felt his grip. They’d gone to a friend of Frederick's recital at the Juilliard School. And there'd been a reception, where the performers needed praise more articulated and detailed than could be conveyed by the applause. Or by "You were great! Wonderful!" Yes, but in what respect and to what degree? And what were your favorite moments? The cadenza? My phrasing of "suspire, suspire?" It was entirely to Frederick's credit that he hadn't sought reviews of his love-making.
Yesterday, Tiffany had been forced out of a cool retreat she'd found for herself. Three wild donkeys had entered the area and come to a halt, perfectly serene in the shade, less than two yards away, ears twitching—watched from a close distance by the Indian in his baseball cap. One of the privileges that Corso allowed her was to sunbathe when the beach was empty and at its hottest, as it was during the middle hours of the day, and now she was hidden among the trees. Late in the evening, he would take her to the edge of a small dune for the breeze and a moon whose glare tumbled through the tropical air. But later, after Corso left, she would have to sleep on the cot flanked by the sleeping forms of the two
henchmen accomplices, their open-mouthed breathing, and she would long not only for an early sunrise but for the return of Corso from St. Thomas, where he conducted business, some of it, she assumed, concerning her.
"How are you? I should have asked you that first." Ray's affectation of a concerned, consoling voice jarred her, as if he'd been eavesdropping. . . . there was so much she had to remind herself of, the differences, the cultural nuances, the . . . "so I figured I could ask you . . . " . . . strange compatibility of their bodies, but the way that money snaked in and out of his thoughts, she could almost see it . . .fanged and . . . could she ignore . . .
"You know," she said, "you still owe me from last year."
"God," he moaned, "you make me feel like a gigolo."
"You said it, I didn’t."
But there was still no news as to what he was demanding, and she wondered just how much cash she could raise. She needed clothes. Her current outfits were sun-bleached and tatty, and though the men had taken a suitcase full of her things, the frequent and careless washing of cold-water-only dresses and tops when they went to town for supplies had created a wardrobe of baggy, wrinkled fits that made her look like one of the
homely domestics on the boat to Charlotte Amalie.
It was good this morning, working almost against any expectation of a readership. Perhaps it was the full-page ad in today's Times that had featured the life-sized face of Lila Wentworth Paddington, in which teased-out blond hair swirled about plumpish features with the hint of a smirk—globular pearl earrings suspended like small satellites, her hands folded into each other in a gesture of victory, a huge sapphire ring reflecting the photographer's flash, and the very expensive watch showing 6:33 p.m. Time for cocktails. It was the eyes, the unintelligent eyes that revolted Trudy. The woman could have been a checkout girl in the A&P! And the book, described as a treasure to give or keep, was small. Specially priced. Her third. Or was it her fifth? Trudy's own last book had
been the victim of a depleted promotions budget, though her agent had hinted at something else, as if they hadn't wanted to throw good money into a book that wouldn't sell anyway. And it hadn't. But it hadn't failed, either. The publisher had made some thousands. But she hadn't earned all of her advance. That was the real failure. In a violent, self-accusatory mood, she'd almost stopped paying her dues to the Romance Writers Association. And here was this woman all over the back page of the "A" section, where Trudy never wanted to be in the first place, where publishers put a false and captured face that no real person could ever inhabit.
Now she was remembering her one bad ovary, her twisted fallopian tube, so early a problem that she and Josh would never have been able to conceive a child, nor
would she feel the terror of turning on her own babies without meaning to, an inadvertent Medea, none of that. She remembered how with Frederick, something remote, unknown, had broken loose in her, as he’d hovered over her and she’d bunched the flab of his waist in her hands in a frenzy.
It was the morning after the Indian had slaughtered a chicken behind the tourist cabin that Tiffany begged Corso to explain what he wanted of her.
"He's a Santeros," Corso said, pointing to the Indian who was at the moment carrying trash down to the garbage cans at the foot of the hill. "So you mustn’t be upset. It's not like Voodoo, you know. He's just worried. He was asking the spirit for help." Tall, deep-voiced, Corso spoke in soothing tones.
"He's worried? Why don't you answer my questions? I still don't know if you intend to hurt me."
She knew even as she said it that she was not in danger, but she hoped that he would volunteer more information if he perceived anxiety in her. She had by now assumed that money was involved. After all, her father was the head of a conglomerate that controlled companies with products as varied as frozen pies, shoes made in Brazil, computer paper, textiles, telephones, and certain unspecified pharmaceuticals. Early on, Corso had verified who her father was, and referred to Thomas Longworth as an American mogul who hadn't the slightest idea of the damage he did. But when Tiffany pressed him for details, Corso always turned moodily away—stared off into the distance at a launch returning to St. John from the island of Tortola or at the incredible stenciling of a setting sun that streaked the sky with the blushing remains of day. She knew instinctively that his painting, his art, and this gloomy turn in his nature were like vines twined around the
tree slender axis pole of his life. But it wasn't until this morning that she also understood there was something that personally involved her. Or her father. And she wondered just how long it would take her family to contact the police because they hadn't heard from her or been able to reach her. But she was partly to blame for that. "I just need to be alone, completely alone," she'd told her mother, that morning in East Hampton, as the sea washed in a gray tide that each year crept ever closer to her parents' deck, her mother's elegant profile lifted in thought, seen against the cloudy day like a cameo ever so slightly yellowed in its jeweled but tarnished setting. "What are you really telling me, dear," her mother asked, "that you have forgotten Jeffrey, or that you're trying to? Or that you can't confide in us anymore?"
Standing outside the Juilliard auditorium at Lincoln Center, Frederick grinned fatuously and kissed Trudy's hand.
"You are so beautiful," he said.
Indeed she was. Finished with writing for the day, she had soaked in the tub, perfuming the water with essential oils that left her skin so smooth she moved through the air without friction or any palpable sense of the elements around her. She hadn't expected to do more work on her book, but now that she had, the freedom it produced in her seemed to fill her spirit, lifting her out of herself. At the same time her breasts ached, and an urgency all through her being startled her as she looked at Frederick. Is it really possible, she thought, to be in love with him?
"I suppose you have a right to know," Corso said. He hunched over the rotted picnic table in the cabin. Just above his tanned forehead was a thin white line created by the border of his yachting cap. He looked vulnerable, like someone in the midst of healing. Or had that not yet begun? Was he in some way still searching for the wound? It seemed too ironic that she, his captive, should be sympathetic. But she couldn't help it, once he began the story of his sister: The madness that ruined her youth; the Cuban refugee doctor in Miami prescribing an experimental drug produced by a company in the conglomerate overseen by Thomas Longworth; reading about her father, who assured the public that there had been a tragic error in the data generated by an outside testing laboratory; that financial damages would be awarded to the patients affected. What, Corso asked Tiffany, could bring his
beloved so nearly his twin that it ached to be apart from her when they were children sister back from the physical grave? Even before her actual death, she had already perished in the grave of her mental illness. Did she, Tiffany, really think that money would console his family for the way his sister had asphyxiated in the middle of the night, gasping through her asthmatically collapsed bronchii?
With sudden clarity, Trudy felt that Frederick, in spite of his arrant lack of godly physique, had touched her deeply, the sine wave of his touch echoing in a rising and falling, almost tidal but certainly pleasurable sense of herself, beyond the crass approbation of the crowd, surpassing the cool glitter of what she'd always seen as the unshakeable edifice of . . . now, shining down on her as from . . .
"Is this an eye for any eye?" Tiffany asked.
"I thought it should be so," Corso replied. "At first. I was filled with hatred. I could think only of a death, something to crush your father's
capitalist patriarchal heart."
He placed his hands together and held them in front of his lips. He stared down at the cracked cement floor of the cabin and sighed heavily.
"Now," he said, "I want to do a portrait of you."
"But why?" She was tired but anxious to talk more, while the Indian was down near the beach, taking his walk.
"I thought I would send it to your father."
"You want money, then."
"No." He clasped his hands behind his back and walked slowly to the screen wall that faced the hill behind the cabin. Out there was a scuffle of small animals, beneath the racket of crickets.
"You want my father to know what you might do to me." She sat on the sagging bed, the unpleasant odor of insect repellent rising from the mattress like
an athlete's chemical sweat.
He turned and faced her. "I did not say that. I would never hurt you." She realized, then, that she had for days now been wanting him to need her.
January 22 was a cold, clear day, the remnants of two previous storms lining the walkway from the parking lot with cindery ice and tamped-down snow, while the pagoda-like tower of the stone Maryknoll seminary building with its roof tiles suggested a warmer climate, one lit by extravagant dawns, bathed in greenish hues. Looking up at the observation area in the tower, one expected a helmeted medieval Chinese soldier to be shading his eyes against the sun as he surveyed the surrounding lowlands for signs of an advancing enemy force.
The Choral Society would be performing four Magnificats and a "Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God." At rehearsals, Trudy knew there’d been difficulty with the modern piece by Arvo Pärt, some of the violinists sawing away with more hope than expertise, their genial pink countenances so distorted by strain it was almost comical in recollection.
Within the apse of the chapel, wooden folding chairs had been arranged in concentric semi-circles around the orchestra dais that faced the tiers of benches where the singers would file in soon, music in hand, the men in dark suits, the women in black, with white ruff collars. In the eastern end of the chapel, outside the immediate area of the musicians and singers, were the long pews that the Maryknoll fathers filled each morning for services, especially on Sunday, when worshippers from the neighboring communities attended for reasons of faith or curiosity about this building that overlooked the Hudson Valley. One could almost see down to the river, where the correctional facility, Sing Sing, sadly reduced from its days as the home of the electric chair, seemed to crumble
into the water. The high walls of the chapel, the stained-glass windows so remote in the clerestory formed by the high nave that the scenes they depicted could not be
distinguished, combined with the bas-relief plaques in the aisle depicting Christ's journey to Calvary, to produce in Trudy's mind not so much awe as regret. It was the first thing she'd felt entering the chapel, before looking for her friend Else, who suddenly had been forced to abandon her part in the performance because of severe arthritic pain in her fingers. Looking about the chapel, Trudy was reminded of her mother's failed attempts at piety—humility always crushed by something judgmental, unforgiving. "Your father," she once said, "doesn't believe in God. Not since he came back from the war." Trudy saw in her mother's eyes a dimming sense of disappointment, something more than lost promise or a faded youth. "Actually," she went on, "I don't think he believes in anything."
"Not even in you?" Trudy had asked.
Wasn't it wrong to be in his arms, after he'd admitted his hatred of her father? Hadn't he, after all, been the author of all her discomfort this past week, and hadn't he shown cruelty to his men, so that she knew he wasn't just a victim but someone who could very well begin a new cycle of pain all on his own, creating new injustices by perpetrating them on others? His mouth this moment moving across her nipples was like a circle of flame and her body ached, emerging from its coldness, as from a position she had too long maintained, and she stopped him and explored his chest with her own mouth, his smoothly muscled chest, where she traced the hollow of his sternum with her tongue and felt his hand sliding between her legs, her wetness there like the
spilled hope effluvium of a broken vow. How firm he was, how insistently he pressed against her, how hard the mold of his thigh as he lifted his leg over hers and stroked her hair and held her breasts with the fingers of one hand spread from nipple to nipple, a pianist of love achieving a full octave on the instrument of her bovary body. Perhaps it was only pain that she felt, his suffering invading her like an organism that thrived in the bruised interiors of rejected and forlorn brothers and sisters companions, who lay awake at night gasping for
air, as if some creature were feeding on their lungs. Indeed, he seemed to fill her with his breathing, the moist heat of his being penetrating her, where she was helpless to prevent it, to even call out. "Oh, God," she whispered, "oh, my dear Corso, I want you inside me!"
There was Else. With her were two couples, the men former colleagues of her friend Leonard at the Catholic university where he’d taught. One of them—tall, wearing wire-rim glasses, his demeanor detached and mournful, his smiling younger wife with hair already gray, belying the age difference between them—said how pleased he was to meet such a famous writer. The other man was frail, his monkish pallor in marked contrast to his wife, who shook hands with Trudy as if she were striking a bargain. Else patted the vacant chair next to her for Trudy to sit down. "Look at him. You'd think he was Leopold Stokowski." She pointed at Frederick who had just positioned himself in front of the conductor's podium, holding both ends of the baton. He stood on tiptoe and scanned the rows of singers, then looked down and took a head count of his orchestra. For a moment, he'd forgotten that a substitution for Else had been made, and he did not recognize the young woman with a cello next to the other cellist, Leonard Abernathy, who seemed poised for adventure. Frederick turned to the audience. There, in the last row of chairs, just in front of the baptismal font with its rose marble, was Else and next to her Trudy, bundled in a high-neck ski sweater, wearing tapered leggings, perusing her program. He was pleased when he saw her look up. Aware of his gaze, Trudy blew him a kiss and his entire body prickled with joy, but he nodded sternly and then directed himself to the leader of the choral group, a balding, pink-cheeked former Dean of Students who in retirement was devoting himself to concerts and Rotary luncheons. He smiled and bowed at Frederick, who himself bowed in turn. Both men faced their constituents. Both men lifted their arms, their limp hands all at once straightening into a kind of salute. But it was just practice, since so many of the audience were still arriving. Then Frederick left his little dais and the podium, and retired into the corridor that led into the huge antechamber of the chapel. He slipped behind a heavy maroon drape into a passageway that led to a toilet.
. . . if she was seeking change, why should it be among so many people alien to her, including the man who…the sun shedding its light in an excess of . . .permanence . . .that only now . . . a heartfelt lack of . . .
When Frederick returned, he walked briskly to the podium, and the audience, including those in the pews in the eastern end, clapped and whispered "yes, yes," and several priests beamed, while the faint hum of the heating units seemed a chant already in progress, not as counterpoint but as an irresistible humming behind the lips, dozens of people already spiritually inclining themselves in the afternoon light that passed through the high clerestory windows and transformed itself into a shifting glow of reds and blues.
Their future, if they had any at all, Tiffany thought, might rest on Corso's ability to endure her Americanness, her North Americanness. But then she realized that there would be no family for either one of them, once Corso . . . but would he?
Amazed by her tender feelings, Trudy watched nearby couples find each other's eyes. Frederick looked superb up there at his podium, his face taut with concentration, his plumpness transformed by the occasion and a new tux into maturity of style, his authority, his genius—however small—in full evidence as he tapped his baton on the music stand and nodded at the choirmaster who bowed.
Trudy was not very happy that Ray had begged for the $700 he needed for supplies. She'd never expected to get back the other loans, but now she resented all of them. Her weakness. She had needed to remind herself, after she'd finished with Tiffany's adventure, why it was that men in her life took advantage of her. She knew that she encouraged it, and scolded herself, almost hearing her mother's tone of voice, as she asked why, exactly why she had given Ray that money, when any fool could see he would always be a taker, his good looks in decline, the prospects for his art about as sound as the currency of a small republic. But lending the money had made her superior. It had given her a sense of independence.
. . . she knew her love would always be tethered to the doubtful enterprise of his revenge or his need to control it, but she wouldn’t let herself be seen holding up a bank, wearing a beret, an Uzi hung from a strap around her shoulders. Something in her, nevertheless, had fallen away, the life she’d known with such ease, the petty irritations of style and forced congeniality, the artificial languor induced by a lack of passion, the long, dull catalogue of self-stimulated lovers . . . If there was a future with Corso, it couldn’t be exclusively on his terms. Nor could their love be understood as built on the sacrifice of his sister. And they would live where? How? But that didn’t have to matter right away. She knew what she would give up, not for him but for herself. The future would be lived! Not talked about.
Frederick swept his hand aloft. The music began, while the sopranos and altos delivered their text with gusto, the first word, the first Magnificat flooding the chapel with the spiritual force of Mary's amazement that she had been selected to incarnate the divinity. Trudy was almost jolted out of her reverie, but as the performance swept along, and the tenors and the basses joined their male resonances to the pious voices of the women, she remembered Ray telling her, "You pretend to rise above it all, but you're just as bourgeois as everyone else!" The chorus was singing the "Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God," that appendage to the Magnificats, in which Mary sings as she ascends to her son, received into his maternal arms, her dormition, her final sleep now a rounded completion of her spirit's journey on earth. Looking at Frederick's inspired, heated face, his hands that pummeled the air and then swept and swooped like a pair of doves, Trudy thought he had never, never looked so fine.
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