fascinating person I have ever met,” he will tell her ten days hence, slapping at his and her mosquitoes with his free hand as they walk arm in arm around the lake, “and I’ve got a good notion to throw everything else out the window, except my work of course. It would be the intelligent thing to do, and I’m the sort to do it.”)
At dinner, he sits down beside her and begins plying her with questions. His mind ranges all over the place like a searchlight, seeking out the corners where she usually has to play by herself. If arrogance is the refusal to squander yourself on the unpassionate and the unfascinating, then he is arrogant. But toward her there is a generosity of spirit she recognizes as rare, an attention that is larger than self-consciousness. The world around them is soon canceled, but nevertheless, after dinner, when he asks Christina to join him for a walk on the terrace, she feels something close to terror and says she has to go upstairs and work some more.
As she climbs the baronial staircase to her room, she can’t resist looking back at him. He has opened the French doors and gone outside by himself. Back and forth he marches on the blustery terrace, as if he owns the place, red hair rippling in the wind, yellow shirt blazing through the gloaming, canvasing the lay of the land from under his shaggy brows.
It’s as though he’s known exactly the moment she will look back. With a sweeping motion of his arm, he is summoning her to change her mind and join him. She can see his mouth shaping the words: “Come out.”
She manages a nervous wave and keeps climbing the stairs. Safe in her room, she brushes her teeth with a tingly spearmint toothpaste and settles down in her bed to read some more of
. Eventually she turns out the light and falls asleep. She dreams that she is walking along a street with her present lover, the one who awaits her back in Iowa City. Suddenly she looks up and there is the arrogant red-haired composer, standing in an open upstairs window filled with green plants. He is motioning to her: “Come up.”
“Sorry,” she says to the lover. “I have to go.”
Facing south at kitchen sink in morning
Christina wandered into Rudy’s study and turned on his desk lamp. She trailed her fingers along his closed Yamaha grand (he had bought it the day after he watched Laurence Olivier’s deathbed scene in
: “What am I waiting for? If not now, when?”).
She sat down at his desk and stroked the cool flanks of the brass elephant, perusing the day’s junk mail she had placed on Rudy’s desk earlier, an indulgence she continued to allow herself (along with his recorded telephone message, which she could not bring herself to erase).
Today’s mail that had not needed to be forwarded to Rudy’s executor had included a letter from Verizon, with its priceless boast in red on the envelope: WE HAVE PULLED OUT ALL THE STOPS TO GET YOU TO COME BACK !
Christina gave an appreciative snort and slid the envelope beneath Rudy’s Seiko watch, still on Daylight Saving Time from last April, and admired her arrangement. The composition of the two objects gave her a visceral satisfaction, perhaps akin to that experienced by her grave-neighbor-to-be, Gertrude von Kohler Spezzi, when she had scooped out another inch of belly from a stone torso.
Bud announced his return from the great beyond. He shot through the door when she opened it, and protested angrily when she didn’t follow him to the kitchen but instead flung herself out into the freezing December evening.
“Ah, Christ, Rudy, enough is enough!” Christina yelled. “Verizon wants you back and so do I!”
A lonely dog answered from somewhere below. She returned to the house and lit some candles, humming a swatch of an unidentifiable hymn. She caught herself humming almost constantly now, as if to compensate for the abrupt withdrawal of music from her life.
She picked up the cat’s
Laird Hunt, KATE BERNHEIMER