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Authors: Andre Dubus

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BOOK: Voices from the Moon
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She saw the boy when he took her to his bars. He had two favorites, near his stores, where he drank with men he called his friends, but they could not be, not really. In her life, a friend was a woman you spoke to on the telephone four or five times a week, and bought gifts for, something inexpensive that reminded you of her when you saw it in a shop, and you visited each other and drank coffee or tea or, if at night, a little wine; and you tried to make time at least twice a month for dinner together in a restaurant, or lunch and shopping in Boston, though it was usually once and sometimes not even that because you both had men in your lives, and some of the women had children too. And with your friend you talked, you did not banter; and you knew as much and probably more about her than her husband or lover did, and she knew as much about you. Though no woman knew, or ever would know, about that year with Larry when she learned how heedlessly she could draw someone’s life into her own, into the lustful pleasure and wicked dreams of her marriage, when she had learned that the state of being married, which had opened that life to her, was the very state that kept her from being a slut. So she had to take herself, and her slut with her, and go away from the marriage, and Larry; and she had to hold down that part of her being she had, she supposed now, always known was there, but in the nether reaches of her soul, where it was supposed to be, far from the light of sun and moon, to live only in the solitude of masturbation. She had to push it down again, into an oubliette, and keep it covered with the weight of a new life, and then with the solidity of a man who, by chance, or the circumstance of their being in-laws, turned out to be Greg.

So that, by trying to save herself, she had become again a woman she could not have, even two years ago, predicted herself to be. Now she had broken promises so implicit that you never spoke them:
I will not make love with your father, take him from you and you from him, and your home, and Richie, and
—So she was still a scandal to her self, the self who believed in honor, in trying one’s best to be a decent human being whose life did not spread harm. Sometimes, for no immediate reason save that her mood suddenly changed, she saw her vagina and its hair as a treacherous web, and with luxurious despair she imagined the faces of women, wives and lovers of men whom she had drawn to her from their places at the bar until they sat across the coffee table from her and Larry on the couch, and when Larry left she drew them across the room and into her body, where she spent them and then expelled them forever from her life. Because she and Larry never brought the same one home twice, even if they saw him again in a bar, even if he came to sit with them, for they were afraid that no man could believe his second night with Brenda was anything but collusion between wife and husband, and so perversion. And once she walked them to the door, she took their lovemaking into her bed, and lived it again with Larry, and as his passion crested hers did too, again, and she embraced both him and the lover, and they grew up and around her, like wisteria.

She did not believe any of these men ever felt used; but she knew they ought to, and most of them would not have gone home with her and Larry, would not have accepted the gambit nightcap, had they known the truth beyond her body, her face. So in those moods she punished herself, whether or not the men knew she deserved it; she punished herself by sustaining and deepening the mood with memories of her lies to the men (how many times had she pretended to be seduced? and how many times had she murmured:
I’ve never done this before
?) and with imagining the faces of the women who loved them, carvings of betrayal that hung like masks before her eyes.

No: she would never tell that shame to one of her friends but she told everything else and she knew they did too, and that was the friendship. It was as deep as her own feelings about herself, and she could not feel in harmony with the world unless she had that friendship with at least one woman. She was, she thought, more fortunate than most: she had three women she loved. While the men Greg called friends were carpenters and electricians and cops and men who made telephone parts at Western Electric, and Greg only knew them because he liked drinking in the same places they did, stand-up bars where nearly everyone drank beer, and there was no blender and a bartender could work months without using a cocktail shaker, and only kept lemons and limes in the fruit bin, and not many of them, or they would soften and turn brown. Bartenders called them shot-and-a-beer bars. Brenda liked the ones Greg brought her to; she liked standing at the bar, and watching the men; and she liked the ceiling fans, and not having a jukebox or electronic games, and having the television on only for ballgames or hockey or boxing. She liked the men Greg called his friends too; they were in their forties and fifties and sixties, were near-courtly toward her, lit her cigarettes and were not profane unless Greg was, and then only moderately, never the words she had been hearing from her friends, and saying with them, since her teens. She did not feel superior to them because they worked with their hands. Her father had been a house-painting contractor, but he and one man had done all the work, and they also laid hot top on driveways.

What she did feel was baffled: when she walked into a bar with Greg, and he saw his friends, he called their names, he waved, their faces brightened and they beckoned him and Brenda to the bar, made room for them, bought them drinks, and Greg and the men touched each other. Always. Handshakes and pats on the back and squeezes of biceps, squeezes and rockings of shoulders. Then their strange talk began, or seemed in some mysterious way to continue from the patting and squeezing, and she listened to them, intently because she was baffled, but amused too, because she could listen for two hours or more, and still learn almost nothing about their lives. They talked about their lives, but not the way she and her friends did. She could not tell whether they were married badly or well; and, with some of them, whether they were married at all. She could not tell how they felt about their work, nor most of the time what it even was. She learned these from Greg, in the car going home to her apartment. But they talked about their lives: they told stories about themselves, about mutual friends, or a man they worked with, and when she first went to the bars with Greg she told him she knew now why he called talking to his drinking friends shooting the shit. His drinking friends: he called them that. There were others she had never met, and they were his hunting friends or his fishing friends and some of them were both; but it seemed that, when she was able to keep track of the names in his hunting and fishing stories, there was one man he went with for trout fishing, and two or three for deer hunting, but one of those went deep-sea fishing too, and another may have been his trout fishing friend.

When she became a regular with Greg at the bars, she began to see what was beneath the men’s stories, and their teasing each other about their mortality defined by their enlarged stomachs, and their hair graying or vanishing or both; and their other talk that was rarely serious, yet somehow was not dull either. They were trying to be entertaining, and hoping to be entertained. It was the reason they gathered to drink. And she began to think about Richie, as she stood at the bar, and during the days too, when she mused about this difference between men and women she had not remarked so clearly in Larry; for, like her, Larry had three close friends, and they talked seriously about acting and dancing, and death and love, and books they had read and movies they had seen. But in Richie and his friends she saw no difference at all, except alcohol and tobacco, from Greg and his friends. The essence of the friendships was sharing a game or sport or beer-drinking, and she could no more imagine Greg talking soberly and deeply with one of his friends than she could imagine Richie sitting in a living room and talking quietly with one of his about what he wanted and loved and feared.

My God, there was something about boys that domestic life and even civilization itself could not touch, and often they were infuriating and foolish, and yet when they lost that element, as boys or men, they became dull. So as a woman you were left having to choose between a grown boy and a flat American male, and either was liable to drive you mad, but at least with the boy your madness was more homicidal than suicidal, as it was with the other. No wonder the men at the bar, and on the hunting and fishing trips, called themselves
the boys.
They said:
I’m going to have a beer with the boys; I’m going fishing with the boys,
and in their eyes there was a different light, of distance, of reverie, and of fondness, as if they were unfolding a flag they had served when they were young.

And Greg still fought. His friends did not; and after the one fight she saw, they had patted him, squeezed him, and laughed and told him he’d better leave that stuff to the kids, or get himself a younger heart. He had won. He told Brenda once that his ex-wife Joan had said to him, many times:
The trouble with you is nobody’s ever beaten you.
Brenda said: Is that true? and he told her he thought it probably was, because he could remember getting the shit kicked out of him, but never losing. She was surprised by the fight she saw, in the bar near the beach store, because she was neither frightened nor scornful nor compassionate. She watched with excitement yet from an odd distance, as though watching two strangers have an equally-matched marital quarrel. The reason for the fight was as shallow as the other exchanges in that bar, and later she knew the true reason was simply a need they had not outgrown. The other man, in his late twenties or early thirties, said to the bartender that she—and he looked down the bar at Brenda—was too young and pretty to have all them old turkeys around her. He said it loudly, and he meant to say it loudly, and Greg was gone from her, was up the bar and turning the man to face him, then they were like two male dogs. They did all but sniff asses and scratch the earth: they growled and snapped and pushed, and she watched, and Greg’s friends watched, and everyone else watched, save the bartender who talked too, tried from across the bar to at least try to stop what he knew he could not. Then Greg swung and the other did and they punched and grappled and fell holding each other to the floor, and by then she knew, without knowing how she knew, that also like dogs they would not hurt each other. That was when she understood why they were fighting. They rose from the floor punching, then the young man went backward and down, got up quickly, and men grabbed him from behind, Greg’s friends held him, and the two yelled at each other till the bartender, still at his post, yelled louder and told them both to shut the fuck up. Then he told the young man to leave and come back another night when he didn’t want trouble. The bartender was not young either. That’s probably why he told him to leave, Greg said later, and because anyway the guy had started it and he wasn’t a regular. The young man took his change from the bar and left without looking at anyone, and Brenda watched his face as he walked, the blood over one eye and at his mouth. Greg was not bleeding, and he was laughing and buying a round for her and his friends, then he said make it a round for the house, and he overtipped the bartender, as he always did. Once she had told him he tipped too much, from sixty to a hundred percent, and he had said he had the money and the bartenders needed it and worked for it, and if he wanted to save money he’d buy a six-pack or two and drink them at home.

She watched his back; he still looked down at the water in the fountain, and it occurred to her that she had never watched him when he was oblivious of her. She had watched him when he pretended not to know she was, while he worked in his stores. But always she knew he felt her eyes on him. Perhaps he did now too. Though she did not think so, for he was a tired-looking man of forty-seven (forty-eight soon, in November) whose back and shoulders and lowered head showed weariness as a face does. Had he known she was watching, he would be standing tall now, and he would have crossed the lawn minutes earlier with quickened movements, for he was proud that she loved him. He had sculpted a style for himself, until he became that style, or most of him did, so he could take money from the world and hold onto enough of it to allow him to walk its streets with at least freedom from want and debt and servitude. On some nights, in her bed, when he had drunk enough, that style fell away like so much dust and he spoke softly to her, his eyes hiding from hers, and told her how happy he was that she loved him, how he woke each morning happy and incredulous that this lovely young woman loved him; told her that when he first saw it lighting her eyes, when he and Richie and she were eating dinners after the marriage, all of his thinking told him what he saw in her eyes could not be there, not for him; and his heart nearly broke in its insistence that he did see what he saw, and that he loved her too. And he said he would not blame her if she woke up one morning knowing it was all a mistake, that he was just someone she had needed for a while, and left him.
she said to him.

Nor did she know why. He was good to her, and he made her laugh. He liked to watch her dance. He had watched Larry, as a father will watch a son perform anything from elocution to baseball to spinning a top. But that was not why he liked to watch her. Nor was it the reason he understood what she was trying to do with her body, and the music, on a stage or here in her living room. His senses told him that. And he knew why she danced, and why she had to keep dancing, while other people—her parents in Buffalo, and her two older sisters whose marriages had taken one to Houston, and the other to Albuquerque, and some of her friends too, though not the close ones—did not understand why she worked so hard at something and was content to remain an amateur. But Greg did. He was neither surprised nor amused when she told him she taught dance to make a living, but she could not remember ever wanting to be a professional dancer, though she had to dance every day, whether she was working with a company or not. She had seen recognition in his eyes. He listened, and nodded his head, and stroked his cheek, then said:
Some people have things like that, and they don’t have to make money at it. It’s something they have to do, or they’re not themselves anymore. If you take it away from them, they’ll still walk around, and you can touch them and talk to them. They’ll even answer. But they’re not there anymore.
She said:
Are you talking about yourself?
His eyes shifted abruptly, toward hers, as if returning from a memory.
Me? No. I was thinking what Richie would be like, if they shut down the stables, and Catholic churches, and banned cross-country skiing.
He had been sitting on this couch, and she had been standing in front of him. Then she sat beside him.
What’s yours?
she said.
I don’t have one,
he said.
My father did. He was a carpenter.
She said:
I thought he worked for the railroad.
He smiled and touched her cheek.
He did,
he said.
He was a carpenter at home. At night, and on the weekends. God, you should have seen that house grow.

BOOK: Voices from the Moon
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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