Authors: Anita Shreve
Copyright Â© 1993 by Anita Shreve
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
WHERE OR WHEN (from “BABES IN ARMS”)
Words by LORENZ HART Music by RICHARD RODGERS
Copyright Â© 1937 (Renewed) by CHAPPELL & CO., INC.
Rights for the Extended Renewal Term in U.S. controlled by WB MUSIC CORP. and WILLIAMSON MUSIC CO.
All Rights Reserved
Used by Permission
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Where or when: a novel/Anita Shreve.
1. Man-woman relationshipsâNew EnglandâFiction. 2. First lovesâFiction.
-13: 978-0156-03127-1 (pbk.)
-10: 0-15-603127-2 (pbk.)
Existence permeates sexuality and vice versa, so that it is impossible to determine, in a given decision or action, the proportion of sexual to other motivations, impossible to label a decision or act “sexual” or “non-sexual.” There is no outstripping of sexuality any more than there is sexuality enclosed within itself. No one is saved and no one is totally lost.
I remember everything.
A kiss at the nape of the neck.
You said you used to have a dream. When we were children, you dreamed that the nipples of my breasts burst through the fabric of my blouse. And when we were grown, you said the dream came back to you, and you had not had it in all the years in between.
When we were children, we whispered words like novices at vespers. We were children and afraid to say the words aloud. I believe this gave us longings that would last a lifetime.
But that afternoon, what did I know of indelible connections?
It was a September afternoon, a Sunday afternoon, and I remember that it was raining. There were a hundred people in the wood-paneled library at the college, and a stack of books on a table by the door. Some friends were there, and my husband, Stephen. My daughter was not. I watched my husband gesture with his glass, embrace with a sweep of his hand (the wine spilling a bit over the rim) the entire room of people, as if he might still his own anxieties by becoming my most exuberant supporter. It was Stephen in a gray sweater and a blazer, who was standing by the table with the booksâthe books and that day's newspaper, with my own picture in an advertisement.
Earlier that day, when we had driven to the college, Stephen had been quiet in the car. The onion sets that spring had been washed away by heavy and unexpected rains. Stephen had missed one payment at the bank, might miss another soon.
It wasn't anything that Stephen had done or had not done. All the onion farms were going.
The farm that Stephen might lose was set upon the dirt. They called it “black dirt,” a soil as black as soot. Each year, in the spring, when the water had receded, if the sets had not been washed away, the tender shoots sprouted up from the soil in perfect rows and turned the black dirt to a shimmery onion green.
But the farm was not mine. Never mine.
It was the first time there had been a party, though there had been other books, other collections. The book, as you saw, was a slim volume with a paper cover in a matte finish, a slim volume of some thirty poems. This book would gain little more attention than the others had, though there was the party this time and money for an advertisement, just the one.
For the picture for the advertisement, I had been asked to wear a black jersey, and at the studio the photographer had removed my glasses, had taken the clips from my hair and mussed it with his fingers. The result was a likeness, recognizable as me, though essentially dishonest.
At the party, I stood at the edge of a small room while people moved around and past me and sometimes stopped with a sentence or a word. I remember that my editor came up to me and said, in a moment of unwarranted optimism, a friendly unwarranted optimism meant to deflect attention from the fact of the disappointingly small printing, that this slim volume would change the direction of my life. And I had smiled at him as if I, too, might share this optimism, though I had thought then that my life would not change, not beyond the small, seismic vibrations of a child growing, of a house slowly settling into the soil, or of a marriageâin unmeasurable, infinitesimal incrementsâdisappearing.
I am in disgrace now. Removed from a state of grace.
When you and I were children, we learned of death. It was in the inevitability of a final separation, a death against which we were helpless. And even as adults, leaving you was always brutal.
I always wanted to ask: Did your wife give you the leather jacket? Did you wear other clothes, a tie perhaps, a shirt, that she had given you and that I touched?
Toward the end of the party, my editor made a toast. When it was over, I looked up. Within the crowd, I searched for Stephen. He was by the door, his back against the wall, draining his glass.
I watched my husband set the glass upon the stack of books, leaving a wet circle on the matte finish of the top cover. I watched Stephen leave the party without a backward glance.
VEN ON THE BAY SIDE
, the waves are spiking, spitting their caps off the crests. He likes it this wayâhard and bright; these are the best mornings. The gulls, the rats of the sea, push against the wind, then swoop and dive for their catch. The old men are on the bridge, as they are every Sunday, braced against a railing that cannot last another year, even though he has been thinking this for years and the railing never gives. The bridge is wooden, nearly a mile long, the ride rattling in good weather, slick and treacherous when the spray freezes over the thick wooden slats. The bridge connects the mainland to a slender sliver of beach, and in the summer the bridge shakes under the weight of the Dodge Caravans and the Jeep Cherokees with their women and children, their beach umbrellas and blankets, their coolers of sodas and sunblock. But by now, the second week in September, the summer people have cleared out, and Charles and the old-timers finally have the place to themselves.
Charles sails the aging charcoal Cadillac gracefully along the rough planking. He nods and waves at the men in their stained parkas, plaid jackets, and baseball caps, their shoulders hunched against the wind, watching their lines for a tug that looks slightly different than the pull of the current. He drives this bridge two, three times a day, takes the car each time to the end. Sometimes he gets out to cross the dunes to the ocean side, to look out toward Lisbon or Rabat, or to watch the fishing boats come in around the bar to the harbor, south of the bridge. At other times he simply sits in his car, listening to Roy Orbison, nursing a beer, maybe two, until it's time for his next appointment or to drive back to the house, where Harriet and his children seem always to be waiting for him.
Today they need milk for breakfast, and he knows he shouldn't have taken this detour. But the morning is too fine, he rationalizes, to have missed. Beside him there is the half gallon of two percent, a heavy Sunday paper this week, and a greasy bag of jelly doughnuts he has bought for the kids, although he knows that by the time he arrives home, his children already will have eaten a breakfast that did not require milk. Harriet will disdain the doughnuts, will not even open the package, will set them aside on the counter until, inside the spotted bag, they will grow hard around the edges and finally be inedible. Thinking this, Charles is determined to eat at least one, even though, as a rule, he doesn't like sweets. He parks the Cadillac in the small circle of blacktop that grows more circumscribed each year by the encroaching sand, takes a doughnut from the bag, gets out of the car, and walks toward the dunes, which prevent him from seeing the ocean side. He has on his jeans, a white dress shirt he's been wearing since Friday, and a black hooded sweatshirt over that. Unthinkingly, he has worn his leather shoes with the tassels, his dress shoes, and as he walks they quickly fill up with sand along the edges. He bites into the doughnut; the jelly squirts over his fingers. With his free hand he tries to remove his shoes and his socks. He licks his fingers; the sand is cold on the soles of his feet. How quickly the warmth leaves the sand in September, he is thinking.
The view from the top of the dunes is always worth the small climb. The sea is charged, yet still a vivid navy. Whitecaps appear and vanish like blips on a radar screen. He descends the dune and walks toward the water. The gulls hang motionless in midair, unable to make headway against the wind. Even the sand, a thin sugar above the crust left by high tide, echoes the spray off the whitecaps, stinging as it does against his bare feet. But it is the blue, a deep inexhaustible blue, which speaks to him of clear uncomplicated days, that stops him. He wants, as he always wants, to have it, to possess it, to take it with him, to take it out when he needs it. For he knows that by this afternoon, this particular blue will be goneâreplaced by muted colors, grays or greens.
“Hey, Charlie Callahan. You takin' in the rays, or what?”
Charles turns to see the speaker, but he already knows by the gravelly voice that it is Joe Medeiros, a presence in town, a client. Joe made his money as a draggerman and looks the part: two-day growth of beard, a plaid quilted jacket worn so badly in the elbows you can see the polyester, stained chinos. One of Joe's front teeth is badly discolored. Medeiros is a man embarrassed by his teeth and consequently never smiles. Charles can smell the stale breath even in the salt air. He knows it's bourbon.
“Fishing?” Charles asks.
“Had my line in. Saw your car. Can't pull anything but pogies.”
Charles waits, shoes in one hand, the other in the pocket of his jeans. He knows this won't be a casual visit. Joe is wheezing from the awkward climb up the dunes. Joe won't be interested in the view either.
“How's business?” Joe pulls a pack of Carltons from his jacket pocket, lights one away from the wind.
Charles shrugs, a practiced and familiar shrug. “Hanging in there. Same as everybody.”