Read Voices from the Moon Online
Authors: Andre Dubus
Tags: #ebook, #book
HEN CAROL WAS A GIRL
, and her father had spoken to her like this, his face and voice so serious, his speech slow and distinct, as though he studied each word before speaking, she had thought he was stern, and she was frightened. But now she was smiling. She knew she ought not to be, and when she was conscious that again her lips were spread, she drew them in, and tried to return his gaze whose parts were greater than mere seriousness: he was contrite, supplicatory, and he looked trapped too, as if he were lying to her. At twenty-six, she loved him from the distance of a grown daughter, and so more easily, warmly, perhaps more deeply. Yet she felt nostalgia too, a tangible sigh of it in her heart, for the love she had for him when she was a girl: when she believed he was the best father anyone could have, and the most handsome, and that he could do anything on earth she would ever need him to; and she believed that, more than Larry, more even than her mother, she possessed him. When she had outgrown those feelings she had outgrown her fear of him too, and if she had had a choice, she would have chosen the way she loved him now.
She had cleaned her apartment for his visit, and put on a dress, but that was pride, not fear. She had even picked up two blouses and a pair of jeans that had fallen to the closet floor some time ago, and placed them on hangers, and she had slid the closet door shut, which she would have done anyway, but she knew she was doing it to hide two of René’s shirts hanging among her clothes, the shirts touching a blouse on one side and a dress on the other, a charade of their owners. All of this was so foolish and, besides, even if he did peer into her closet like some prying detective of a father, which he was not, René’s shirts were small enough to be a woman’s. So maybe there was still fear, a trace of it, but more likely it was the habitual defense through privacy that one maintained against parents. She had been anxious, though, because of his voice on the phone that morning, and his refusal to tell her why he was coming, save to assure her that the family was in good health, there was nothing to worry about, nothing terrible had happened. Still, when she cleaned her dressing table, she opened the drawer and looked at the vial of cocaine and packet of marijuana. She sat, trying to decide which to employ, before she remembered she had begun by trying to decide whether to use any drug at all. She closed the drawer, stood and glanced about her bedroom whose windows looked out at treetops and down at Beacon Street. She worked for a travel agency and could not afford the apartment but it was worth it and she thought no more about that. She went to the living room, saw on the mantel a Gauloise pack René had forgotten, and brought it to the bedroom and put it in the drawer with the cocaine and marijuana. As she had all her life, she saw this recurrence as a sign: it was meant for her to reach for either the marijuana or the cocaine. But she shut the drawer and sat in the living room, in a wing-backed chair, and waited. Now she was drinking her second Stolichnaya; so was her father, and she watched the level in his glass. She did not want to finish first, and she wished he would hurry.
It was not the vodka that gave her mouth control of itself, so that it smiled when it should not. At times she even laughed, and brought her hand to her mouth, and cleared her throat, and he looked relieved, though puzzled. She felt herself blush too, when she laughed, but there he sat in the old leather-cushioned rocker she had bought from Diana, last year’s roommate who had left to live with her boyfriend in Brookline; they had believed they would remain close friends, but Carol had not seen her since winter, and that once was by chance. So the rocking chair often reminded her of Diana, and of the death of friendship that lovers so often caused, and he sat in that chair and talked about Larry and Richie and his friend Brady the state representative, and she not only felt mirthful but could not keep from showing it. Finally his face became more quizzical than anything else, and he stopped talking, looked at her for a moment, then with two swallows finished his drink while she held in her mouth and savored the last of hers.
“You taught me to dance on your toes,” she said, and took his glass and went to the kitchen. At the sink she ate his onions and tossed out the ice, put in new cubes, poured vodka from the bottle in the freezer, and forked onions from a jar into the glasses, ground pepper over the ice, then in the doorway she stopped and let the smile come and stay.
“You stood on my feet,” he said. “How old were you?
“Eight. No, nine.”
She brought him the drink and sat looking at him.
“That was good,” he said.
“It was. Remember, we’d do it late into the night? Even after Mom went to bed. And I thought Mom was jealous. I thought I could see it in her face at breakfast.”
“You probably did.”
“I didn’t ask.”
“Did you ever?”
“Ask if she was jealous? No.”
“Ask her anything.”
He lit a cigarette, and she knew it was to shift his eyes and his face, and to use his hands, but she quietly waited. How confused they became, these men. For so long she had not known it, even when she first had lovers (not lovers, boys: high school boys), but in college or in her early twenties, she could not recall precisely when, or even what man she had learned it from, she knew with the sudden certainty of one who wakes with the answer to last night’s enigma. No matter how old they were, there was something in them that stopped aging at nineteen and, if they loved her, she could summon it from them at will.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she said.
“Trying to blame you. It was affectionate. You see, it’s so
That’s why I keep laughing like an idiot. You’ve always been—you know what you’ve been. I don’t know about you and Mom. But I’m sure of one thing. If you ever asked her how she felt about something, whatever she said wouldn’t stop you.”
His face reddened and he smiled and looked down at his drink, pinched an onion out of it and put it in his mouth.
“So I’m a selfish bastard,” he said, and chewed and watched her. But she knew he did not mean it, for she had seen in his lowered face, and his smile, that look men wore when they knew they were bad boys yet were loved by a woman anyway. At once she saw him in bed with Brenda, and she glanced at his crotch, then looked at her cigarette, drew from it, seeing him as he must be in Brenda, an aging and grateful bear.
“I always thought of you as a bear,” she said.
“A wiry bear. Just wandering through the woods like it’s all his. Eating berries. Catching fish. But don’t fuck with him.”
“Sounds like a grizzly.”
“That’s when I was a little girl.”
“Tonight? A puppy.”
“Not even a bear cub?”
“Maybe a cub. Ah, Daddy, you crazy wonderful old thing. Let’s dance.”
“I wouldn’t know how. Not to your music.”
“What if I’ve got something you can dance to?”
“Jesus. After today—Don’t you have anything you want to say?”
“Sure. But I’ve got Sinatra too.”
“I do. Think you can handle it?”
“I was dancing to Sinatra when—”
“—I know, I know,” she said, standing, “when I just wore pants to the beach.”
She finished her drink and put out her cigarette, and near the fireplace she kneeled on the carpet and opened the leather cassette box Dennis had given her. He was last fall’s lover. Her cassettes were arranged alphabetically, and she took Sinatra and put it in the cassette player on the mantel, and turned to her father. He stood, and said: “Want to roll back the carpet?”
“Take off your shoes,” and she reached down to a bent leg and pulled off her sandal, then the other one, watching him sitting to untie and remove his shoes. She crossed the room to him, her arms held out, and he took her hand and waist, and together they turned and swayed and side-stepped between her four chairs, then past them to the rectangular space at one end of the room, near her bedroom door. The song was “My Funny Valentine” and he sang it with Sinatra, softly in her ear; and he was her father, yes, but not of a girl anymore, and as a woman she saw him more clearly, as if her own erotic life had given her an equality or superiority that years alone could not have.
So she saw him as a man too, apart from her mother for two years, alone too much (at least without a woman too much), and he had fallen in love with a very lovable young woman. That was all. And her simple feelings about it made her think she ought to feel more but could not, because the love she had given others and taken from them had left her unable or unwilling to look at the complexity of love; had left her knowing only the tight circle that surrounded the lovers themselves, so she could feel little more than recognition of pain touching Larry or Richie. He sang in her ear, and she rested her head on his chest, and thought that no, it was not some jaded selfishness; it was being a woman and having the courage to admit that when you loved, you changed your life, if that was what it took, and you changed other people’s lives, and you could not let even your own children stop you. Because lovers had always to be selfish, turned to each other, their backs to the world, if they wanted to keep their love. As much as she had wanted Diana to stay, for their friendship and to share the rent, she had known Diana was right when she moved the few miles to Brookline, dropped her old life and went to a new one, with the hope that this time this love would be the one that lived and grew like a tree. When you had loved several times, there was a great urge to give up and say it did not exist and had never existed, had always been a trick of nature to keep itself going, and at those times you wanted only to take lovers to help you make it through the nights, as Kristofferson sang. But you had to fight that, even if you did take the lovers, had to keep alive that part of yourself that still hoped, believed, so if love did come you would be ready enough, and strong enough, and then no one could stop you, not even yourself.
Sinatra started “I Get a Kick Out of You” and her father gently moved her backward, and danced a slow jitterbug, his hand on her waist guiding her into a turn, and she circled under their clasped and shifting hands, faced him, her right hand in his left, their free arms waving with the beat, his fingers snapping.
“So you fell in love,” she said. “So what.”
“I’m not sure that’s what it is.”
“What is it then?”
His eyes were closed now, his head moving from side to side with the music.
“I don’t know. Maybe I never will.”
He raised his arm, and she turned toward him and past him, under his arm, and behind her he turned so when she completed hers they were facing.
“Why not call it falling in love?” she said.
He pulled her to him, into a slow dance, but faster and with circles like a waltz, and said: “Because at a certain age you don’t fall. You just sort of gradually sink.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
“What do you call it then?”
“Different. You don’t leap anymore. It’s solid, though.”
“So you sink.”
“Something like that. And you know what? I don’t care what’s wrong with her.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Comes from age.”
They moved apart, holding both hands, then raised their arms and turned from each other, back-to-back, their twisting hands touching, then he took her right with his left, and they danced sideways, back and forth in their rectangle, to the faster beat. At the song’s end he swirled with her, then dipped, his left arm supporting her back as beside her he bent his forward knee and leaned with it, as though to kneel. He pulled her up, and held her, and they danced slowly, silently, to “Little Girl Blue.” She remembered lunch once with René at a French restaurant that he said was good. He was some sort of chemist and was working in Boston now and all she understood about it was that he might go back to France, and he might not. They were eating paté and she was talking about her father and he said he would like someday to meet him.
No you wouldn’t,
she said. He paused, his downturned fork in his left hand, his bread in the right.
Why is that?
She said she had gone to Paris three years ago and when she got back she told her father the Parisians were rude and did not like Americans, and he had said:
If it wasn’t for us, they’d be talking German now.
René smiled and said:
Perhaps we would not talk about history.
And she said:
Besides, I don’t think he likes men who are fucking his daughter.
He chewed, watching her, then drank wine, and said:
And has he met many of these men? Not if I could help it,
she said, and moving on the carpet with her father’s body she knew she would not tell him about René, even if he asked if she were seeing anyone, and for the same reason she had hidden the tracks of René’s life into hers: for too long her lovers had seemed from the start ephemeral, no one to arouse his paternal interest; so she had said nothing about any of them, as an adolescent dilettante might decide to stop drawing her parents’ enthusiasm toward each new avocation.
“Do you go to Mass at all?” he said.
“Not for years.”
“No,” he said. “Why don’t you?”
“I don’t feel anything there anymore. Is that why you don’t go?”
“No. I know it’s there. I just can’t fit it in.”
“Time, you mean?”
“No. My life.”
Gracefully he turned and she followed him, on the balls of her feet, her left hand on the back of his neck, her right hand in his left, rising and swinging outward from their circle.
“Richie does, though,” he said. “Fits it in.”
“Still wants to be a priest?”
“That would be funny. In this family.”
“I hope he does it. I tell you, some days I think he ought to go for one of those monasteries. Where nobody talks.”
“That’s the one. They make good preserves.”