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They sat at a rectory table, fire in the stone hearth burning. A pilgrim’s feast. Neighbors. Autumn — leaves driven against the house. He put food in his mouth with the food in his mouth he hadn’t chewed enough to swallow.
“I could go out tomorrow.”
He leaned into her.
“I could find somebody next week. A companion, people seek company — to eat with, read the newspaper with, whatever we do, this is natural. Someone to talk to. Poor Beryl can’t do it. Past a certain age, you can’t argue this, women — of course it’s sad. Well, I find it sad.”
He poured wine for the girl and the firelight, thrown, hissed and shattered in it. The glass was dipped in gold — a golden circle — buoyant, living.
At last he swallowed; this seemed to hurt him. A tremor kept moving through him and through everything he touched. One shoulder sloped low. Years on the mound. The joy of it.
“Maybe not everywhere but certainly here,” he went on. “She has me, naturally, but when I go?”
Shaking, all of him. And the windows shook and wind in the trees and the first bright scraps of snow.
Halloween. Talk of costumes — the children’s, the grandchildren’s. Someone was going as mulch, somebody else as a stop sign.
“I’m going as who I used to be,” one of them said.
The girl turned back to him.
“That face,” Phillip said, “is not attractive.”
She had been tearing skin from the fat of her cheek, tatters of it, to swallow. She was sorry. Why was she sorry? Now she was sorry she had said she was sorry.
“Please,” Phillip said, impatient.
His wife was three chairs away, laughing. She was absolutely silent when she laughed. Good breeding, she called it, indignant. Her father had brayed like a mule. He had struck her once with a pitchfork — her husband had. For something. A lost key? A broken cup? Unforgiveable. But she forgave him.
“Poor Beryl. It doesn’t matter that she used to be beautiful or that she’s smart and easy to talk to. Beryl is stuck with me and when I die, Beryl will be stuck alone. That’s the way it is. Who wants her? You reach a certain age and nobody — nobody wants anybody, really.”
After dinner they gathered at the larger hearth and listened to the wind in the chimney. A deer approached and watched them, standing in the dark field. The first the girl had seen. The deer were dying — a mite of some kind. They fell sick and walked madly in circles.
Leaves struck the glass of the windows and lay, one upon the other, in a fringe around the house. A glassblower’s house. He was talking. She was in love with him but he was married. He had hair like a cherub’s, like a painting of hair. Firelight was on it. His hands — she couldn’t explain it — he caught her watching them as he moved. He had had them insured, he laughed, for thousands. Tens of thousands, even. They meant that much to him.
They drank brandy and he kissed her in his kitchen, a surprise. Not a word. He turned her to him.
Now she slipped into the hall where the heat didn’t reach and made her way to his children’s room. His girl was named for a month in summer, his boy for a tree that grew nobly on a continent far away.
Beryl, the girl thought. A mineral. A pilot flying in darkness over the far Serengeti.
She lay down with the boy above the covers. You could love children and nobody stopped you. You were allowed. And they were let to love you, too.
People were already putting on coats by the time she came back into the room. She had fallen asleep in the boy’s bed. The deer had come closer and watched her, the girl dreamed, its breath fogging the glass, fever glazing its eyes. A springtime deer, it couldn’t help itself. The spots on its hide still showed.
She would name her children simple names. Meriwether. Linnaeus. Hidalgo — no. Sam. Jack. Jane. Just names. Not the names of stars or places. Not trees.
So many trees in these hills. She would never leave.
He studied in Venice. He liked Venetian glass.
Simple. Bob. The glassblower’s name was Bob. He kept tabs of acid in a candy tin in a drawer beside his bed. In Scotland once he had fallen asleep, tripping, in a field of passing flowers. A flock of sheep closed in around him. Bob, they said. They said, Bob Bob Bob.
Rain — no. Maybe Wen.
Beryl will live to be a hundred and marry again, and the glassblower will go off with somebody else, a girl, not this girl, not a farm girl, a plump and sullen Venetian girl, and Phillip will be dead in days. An old man, nimble, in swimming trunks. A Halloween swim, his custom. A last act. A passable dive. The fallen leaves still burning.
About the Author
Noy Holland’s latest work is I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like: New and Selected Stories, out now from Counterpoint Press. Noy’s debut novel, Bird, came out in 2015 to much critical acclaim. Other collections of short fiction and novellas include Swim for the Little One First (FC2),What Begins with Bird (FC2), and The Spectacle of the Body (Knopf). She has published work in The Kenyon Review, Antioch, Conjunctions, The Quarterly, Glimmer Train, Western Humanities Review, The Believer, NOON, and New York Tyrant, among others. She was a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council award for artistic merit and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She has taught for many years in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, as well as at Phillips Andover and the University of Florida. She serves on the board of directors at Fiction Collective Two.
From I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like. Used with permission of Counterpoint Press. Copyright © 2017 by Noy Holland.