Adrian was soft and warm. She had greeted him with warmth when he entered her apartment and she had taken the lead for the evening. She had directed his kisses onto her face and her breasts and now he laid beside her marvelling at her warmth and her sensuality. She had made him feel better somehow. He had not known that he was capable of loving someone like that.
-- Do your parents and friends….
-- Think I'm a model, no.
He remembered O'Neill's Margie, was it Margie, or Maggie? Margie, he decided it was Margie. Margie and Pearl. Those were the two. Margie and Pearl, we may be tarts but we ain't whores. What did Adrian think of herself?
-- Have you ever read The Iceman Cometh?
-- What do you consider yourself to be, I mean when you're by yourself?
-- I suppose a sort of consultant/companion.
Well that was one way to look at it. She got up off the bed and turned on the light. He stared at her naked body, God she was beautiful, a little heavier perhaps than he usually liked his women but she still had the long legs and the flat stomach that he liked.
He went into the bathroom and washed. When he came out she had put on a nightgown and a housecoat. He dressed in front of her and then she saw him to the door. She stood there and she kissed him on the cheek.
In the morning he found that he could not keep himself from thinking about her. On the way to work he found her image intruding into his thoughts and he became aroused. He thought of the way she had kissed him good-bye and that had seemed so sweet and innocent. Strange, she had not let him kiss her on the mouth, that one thing had been reserved, but that she had kissed him on the cheek, that somehow seemed to alter the whole idea of their relationship. God, he hated that word. What was a relationship, marriage, living in sin? What was their relationship, call-girl and client, whore and customer? He didn't care. Was it a sin, was it bad? What had been Hemingway's standard? No, he didn't feel bad after it. He wanted to see her again and again. To spend the night beside her.
He got off the bus and walked to his office. What time was it? Not yet eight. Her service wouldn't be open now. He would have to wait till eleven or later and then he could make an appointment to see her. Funny the street-walkers called it a date. And with Adrian it had been almost like one. Of course he had known before he went to see her what was going to happen. That was the advantage to a girl like her.
finally the time came when he was sure that her service was open. He called and made an appointment to see her at nine in the evening. How many others would she see that night? He wanted to be the last one. For some reason it seemed vitally important that he be the last one, maybe not the last one forever, but at least the last one for that night.
He brought her flowers. She took them and put them in water. His mouth was dry and when she offered him something to drink he gladly took a glass of water. She was wearing the same thin nightgown and housecoat as she had worn the night before. She turned off the lights and lit a candle and took off the housecoat. She sat beside him and she turned to him.
-- How have you been since last night?
-- fine. I couldn't keep from thinking about you. I thought about you all day and I knew that I had to see you again.
-- You did? That's very sweet of you. Here, let me help you with that.
She loosened his tie and pulled it off. Then she unfastened his collar button. He bent over to kiss her and she turned her head so that he kissed her cheek. She turned back to him and pushed down her night gown so that one breast peered out. She guided his mouth to it and held his head while he kissed her. He stopped and she unfastened his shirt the rest of the way. They undressed slowly and when she saw the medal hanging from his neck she paused:
-- What is that?
-- Oh it's a religious medal.
Oh sweet Jesus, he was such a hypocrite. What if the people in church knew how he was in reality. What if they knew that he was given to such base longings? His name would probably be added to the long list of religious hypocrites. Still there was that cardinal who had died in the French whorehouse, well at least he had had good taste in his whores.
-- Relax, I was uncomfortable too the first time I did this.
-- Oh, how long have you been doing this.
-- About six months.
-- How did you….
-- Get into this. I was twenty-eight. I'd been married for six years.
My God, how could her husband have let her go. She was sweet and sensual.
-- We got divorced and I had a degree in history.
Another useless liberal arts graduate, like himself.
-- So I had to do something.
-- Why'd you get divorced.
-- I don't know, people grow apart, they change.
They were naked now and they went over to the bed. She guided his face and hands, she told him what to do. Oh God she was beautiful.
-- Do you know that you're beautiful?
-- Thank you.
It was almost as if she had curtsied. The inflection in her voice carried pleasure and enchantment.
They laid beside each other and she turned towards him. He could feel her warm, softly scented breath on his face and neck. He could have stayed like this all night. It was getting late now, it must be about ten-thirty or eleven. He hoped he was the last person she would see that night.
-- Are you seeing anybody else tonight?
-- I don't know. I might go see some friends, I might be seeing somebody else.
No, he didn't want that. She could at least have lied and left him with the illusion that he had been and would be the only one to make love to her tonight.
She got up and turned on the light. He watched her move, naked, she was beautiful. He watched her back, lean and straight, the gentle swell of her hips. She turned and he admired the flat stomach, the full breasts. Twin towers the Hebrew poet had called them. Yes, they were.
How did one move from client to boy-friend? Did whores, call-girls, ever date their customers? Funny. He was acting like some cliche from the movies, wanting to take her away from all of this. Maybe she was happy, there was another cliche, The Happy Hooker. She hadn't really been so happy in the end had she?
She was dressed now. He picked up his tie and started to fasten it. He might as well ask now as later.
-- Yes, dear?
God, she had called him dear, well it probably didn't mean anything. Still
-- Can I see you again?
-- Sure, any time, just call the service.
-- No, I don't mean that way, I mean can I take you out to dinner, movies, that sort of thing, you know like we were kids and….
-- Everything wasn't pre-arranged.
Did she think that he wanted her to pretend that they were out on a date and the evening would still end the same way? Was that what he wanted? No. He wanted the whole courtship ritual, the dates, the flowers, all of the romantic non-sense.
-- I guess what I'm really asking for is to take you out and for us to be friends. I don't want to be just a John.
-- You mean you want to be my boyfriend.
-- Yes, I don't like the thought of you being in bed with other men but at least I could live with the idea that I was the last one you would see in the evening.
-- I don't know. Aren't you afraid that I'm a little shop-worn for you?
Did it make any difference? He had known another girl who had had what? a platoon? a company? not quite a regiment, he was sure of that, troop through her arms and her bed and it had not diminished his desire for her. Strangely it had gone unconsummated, although there had been one night…. But she was gone now. And besides the wench is dead. Adrian was different from Linda. That went without saying. Linda had gotten hard and bitter, vindictive and spiteful. Adrian. He thought he could see a softness and gentleness in her. She knew how she wanted him to make love to her and she had no hesitation in telling him but still though she could be dominant and demanding he thought that she was not shop-worn. Well, maybe that was an illusion. Still he preferred that illusion.
-- No, I don't think you're shop-worn at all. I think you're beautiful and tender and sweet.
-- I might destroy all your dreams about me.
-- I don't think you will.
-- Let me think about it. Can I call you?
-- Yes. You have my number?
-- Yes, I remember it.
She saw him to the door and again she kissed him on the cheek and wished him a good evening.
In the morning as he laid in bed he thought of calling her again. No, he would not do that. He would let her call him. He got up and showered. His fingers touched the medal. He supposed he had sinned. Whoever joins his body to that of a prostitute…. It was easy enough to dismiss the poor man as a frustrated misogynist but he had been right. It was like he was joined by an invisible chain to all of her other lovers. Lovers. Clients. He was afraid that she would become indispensable to him, and then what? Perhaps he would marry her. Was that funny? Was it likely that she could restrain herself? Would she be like Linda? She had told him about her alternation between celibacy and promiscuity. She had had a series of lovers and then she would swear off men for a while but she could never be faithful. Would Adrian be like that?
He should call and see her again. Demand an answer. No, she would refuse him then. He would wait. And if she never called? She would call, he was certain of that.
His fingers touched the medal again. The nuns had said that it would keep you from committing a mortal sin. Had it? He didn't know. He didn't regret the time he had spent with Adrian. Still he supposed it was some kind of a sin. He thought of the sermons during his high school retreat. Funny, he remembered hearing the same sermon that Deadalus had heard, was it a real sermon, a stock sermon? The little bird that comes and takes away a mountain and not one instant of eternity has begun. There had been Paolo and Francesca, united forever in that fierce flame. Would that be the fate of himself and Adrian, would she be united with him and with all of her lovers through eternity? Was he sorry, did he really believe in the hell that the nuns and brothers had told him about? Oh God, he was such a hypocrite. A religious caterpillar, that was how someone had once described a hypocrite. He should confess. And would the confession mean anything without sorrow, without a firm purpose of amendment. He wanted to see her again so badly, he was sure that he would sleep with her, make love to her, again if he could. Even if he just stayed a client. Still…. He would go and confess and if she called he would see her but he would not touch her. No, even though he wanted her. The thought of her body aroused him. No, be still, quiet.
At noon he would confess.
He walked over to the church near his office. The church near L'Enfant Plaza. He looked at the rough stone of the church and shuddered at the thought of confessing. He had hated the ritual as a child. It was so humiliating and he wondered what these old priests, these old, white clad friars thought of the human passions that they had to deal with. Were they so far gone that they were never troubled by temptations, had it been ground out of them by the seminary? He went into the church, dipped his fingers in the holy water and crossed himself. The light was filtered through the stained glass and he stood and watched the red and blue light move across the wall. The mastery of the artist was shown in his handling of blue light. The light of heaven. Mary's color, kingfisher blue. The line moved slowly. He stared at the windows. There was that Dominican saint pleading with his executioners though he still had the ax embedded in his skull. Strange, he had never bothered to look to see who that was. The image was fascinating though. There was Aquinas, Dominic preaching, preaching to the Albigensians, any decent son of an Albiogenselman who had been to a university, Joyce, himself, another scene where he raised somebody from the dead. Someone was holding the drapery for him.
-- Bless me Father for I have sinned….
The words came out. Did they fly up while his heart stayed below? Was he like old Claudius, unrepentant, lost in his sin? Did it matter? Well, it was done now.
He left and knelt in the pew before Mass. The light had moved across the rug. So what would he do if she called? He would see her, that he knew.
When he went back to work he expected to have her call him. Surely there would be a message by now. Nothing.
When he was at home he thought that she would call. Only someone selling cemetery plots, he didn't need one, he was expecting the rapture.
He waited the next day and again there was silence from her.
There was no point in waiting. He should call and force the issue.
There it was ringing now. That was her. It was.
-- Jim, can you help me?
-- Yes. Jim, I need someone to help me.
-- Yes, of course, what can I do?
-- Come over here now, as fast as you can.
He thought of driving, it would probably be just as fast to walk or take a cab now. No, he would drive over to her apartment. She lived on Connecticut Avenue, just above the Zoo. He got over there and parked a block or so above her building and ran into the building past the concierge's desk. He knocked on her door and she called out asking who it was.
-- Adrian, it's me, Jim.
He heard her removing the chain. The door opened. God, what had happened to her face? That lovely, sensuous face was bruised, the eyes blackened.
-- Oh Jesus, what happened? Was it a….
-- Client, no. It was my boyfriend, Chuck. I'm afraid he doesn't like the idea of me working for the service. He'd been able to take it for a while then when I tried to talk to him about it he didn't want to hear it. He hit me, called me a whore. I guess I am a whore.
-- I don't think I'd ever call you that.
-- It doesn't matter any more does it. I mean what I call myself. There's only what is and if I act like a whore then I guess I am a whore. At any rate he beat me pretty badly. I think it looks worse than it really is though.
-- Do you want me to take you to a doctor, a hospital?
-- I guess I should go. I think I'm just bruised though.
On the way over to the emergency room at the George Washington University Hospital he asked why she had finally called him.
-- After he beat me I had to call someone. I don't know you very well but I liked you the two times we were together.
-- And you had thought of seeing me, without going through the service.
-- Yes. But I love Chuck, at least I thought I did. Maybe I still do. He doesn't like the way I live.
-- I'm not sure I do either.
-- Well, it's not exactly the easiest thing in the world. Jim, I'm not sure how to say this and I don't want you to take it the wrong way but I have been thinking of getting out of the life.
Could she? Didn't the Mafia control things like that? He'd thought the only way women ever left the life was feet first.
-- Is it that easy?
-- Quitting? Sure, all I have to do is say that I want to quit. Maybe you've been watching too many old bad movies. What do you think I am, a white slave?
He wasn't sure, maybe he had seen too many old movies.
-- So why me?
She squeezed his arm, gently but with a firm, steady pressure.
-- I told you, I like you, I think you like me, maybe because of what I am, maybe despite it. I just don't want you to think that I love you, not now, maybe I will later.
So the answer was going to be yes.
-- And are you going back to the service?
She looked out the window at the traffic passing down Connecticut Avenue.
-- I don't know. Not till my face heals, maybe not even then.
-- Adrian, I don't know if it's love or lust that I feel, I just know that I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since the night we met. I haven't been able to think about anything or anyone except you.
They came to a light and Adrian turned to him and kissed him full on the mouth.
-- I can't promise anything, but lets see what happens.
finally they were at the emergency room and they waited for what seemed like and what were in fact hours. finally the intern on duty saw Adrian and examined her and dismissed the injuries as being mere bruises and told her that they would disappear in a couple of days.
-- Do you want me to take you back to your apartment?
-- No, not right now. I think I want to leave there.
-- Where do you want me to take you then?
-- How about your place. I could sleep on the couch if you want.
They had been so intimate already and now she was going to be like some chaste heroine from a fifties movie. Strange. Still, could he stand to have her in the apartment with him and not want to touch her. Why, after what had passed between them, was she being so coy now?
-- You don't have to sleep on the couch. You can sleep with me.
-- Sleep with you, or sleep?
-- Whichever you prefer.
-- Jim, I know I've been a whore and I know you met me as a whore but lets take it easy for now. I think I'm going to be starting a different life now. I can't explain it very well but do you know how sometimes you'll be pulled in two different directions and then suddenly something in you snaps and you have to go in a different direction, maybe one completely different from either of the two that were pulling you apart?
Sure. Collapse theory. He'd read about it years ago. It was supposed to account for all sorts of things, bridge collapses, behavioral changes, fight or flight. Things like that.
-- Well, something like that happened to me tonight and I'm not sure of what I'm going to do but I do know that I can't go back, I can't see Chuck and I can't see any more clients.
-- So what do you want to do?
-- I want to stay with you tonight and then I want to go and get my clothes and books and records and find some place else to stay. Some place where Chuck won't come looking for me. I doubt if he will though.
-- Okay, you can stay with me tonight.
He spent the night on the couch and she slept in his bed.
In the morning he woke up and started to fix breakfast for them. She came into the kitchen and he looked at her face. The bruises were still livid, the swelling about her neck had started to go down though. She brushed back her hair with her hand and came over and kissed him. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down.
-- Thanks for getting me last night. I really had nobody else to turn to.
-- That's okay. So what are you going to do today?
-- Well like I said I'm going to clean out my old place and move on.
-- You can stay here if you like.
-- That's very sweet of you but I can't?
-- Why not?
She put down the cup of coffee and went over to the kitchen window and looked down onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
-- My God, will you look at all of those people down there, hurrying off to some silly government job. Do you think they ever have any idea of what goes on in the real world?
-- Adrian, I don't care about the silly people out there on the street.
-- You should, you know, you're one of them.
-- Maybe, but right now I care about you. Why can't you stay with me?
She walked back to the table and sat down again. She looked at him and smiled.
-- You know I'm not a hooker with a heart of gold.
-- Maybe you're being just a bit unrealistic about me.
-- Maybe I am but isn't that for me to decide?
-- Yes, I guess it is. Let's talk about this after breakfast. Can I have some of those eggs and bacon?
He served her and they ate in silence.
-- Let me drive you back to your place. Like I said you can come back here and stay with me. You don't have to….
-- Well, if you really mean it….
-- I do.
-- Okay then, and if anything happens….
-- Oh God, I'm not going to attack you.
-- I didn't mean that. I meant something else. I meant….
Love. She meant love. He was certain of that. Could he be said to be in love with her or was he in love with his idea of her, with her sensuality perhaps, was that what he had loved? And if he should fall in love with her and she with him, then what?
-- I understand.
At her apartment he helped her pack the records and books. He carefully looked over her collection, and appraised her taste. She liked jazz and sixties rock, she had a complete collection of Brubeck, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, some Ellington, a couple of albums by Ornette Coleman, some early Dylan and the Beatles albums from Help through Let it Be. Her taste in books was more eclectic. She had The Joy of Sex, that seemed a rather obvious choice, some college textbooks, Bill Buckley's spy novels and some by Eric Ambler, some science-fiction; he saw books by Heinlein and Asimov. Oddly there were some religious books as well, including an old cloth-covered Bible that looked well-read and that carried a faded, illegible inscription on the inside cover. Holdovers from her childhood perhaps. Well, every harlot was a virgin once. So he supposed she could have had a religious upbringing.
Everything was packed into boxes and taken out to his car. The bed and the furniture they left till later but her clothes and books and records were packed and moved.
-- You know, I don't regret this at all.
-- I suppose you think I'm a bit of a tramp.
-- No, not at all.
Linda had been a tramp though. He had thought that he was in love with her. She had told him about her loves and he had wanted her as completely and totally as he now wanted Adrian. And she had rejected him time after time. Now she was gone.
-- You know reality usually has a way of being different from what you expect.
-- How do you mean?
-- Oh, like working for the service. You expect a lot of sex, of course, and there is that, and glamor but it's all so phony. I get a little sick of all the puffed up egos I have to massage all the time. Jesus, so some guy works for a congressman or senator, or maybe he is a congressman or senator, and they just passed some silly law. Jesus Christ, do they think anyone will know or care in a hundred years. Tell me can you remember one law passed under the Medici's?
Why was she going on like that? He was just another faceless bureaucrat who hated his trivial job.
-- No, I can't.
-- Right. Of course you can't. But you do remember Leonardo and Raphael. You've seen Raphael's Madonnas in the National Gallery, aren't they more important than some silly law.
Shelley. She was talking about Shelley's idea. The unacknowledged legislator.
-- Yes, I suppose they are.
-- You know, that's one thing I got to hate, those swollen egos. And you know they usually had limp glands too.
-- Most people do.
-- Not lymph glands, limp, most of them had trouble….
-- I see.
-- God, the things I had to do to help some of them….
She paused and looked out the car at the traffic moving along Connecticut Avenue.
-- If I had it all to do over again I think I'd be an artist, maybe go to the Corcoran and study painting.
-- It's not too late to do that, is it?
-- No, I suppose not.
They came to Dupont Circle and she reached across and rolled down his window. He could hear musicians in the park playing. She started drumming her fingers on her thighs in time to the music.
-- Do you like jazz?
-- No, not really.
-- I love it. Can't you feel the rhythms that the guy out there is playing?
He couldn't. All his life he had never been able to hear rhythm. He had gone crazy trying to scan poetry. He couldn't even clap his hands in time to the music when he had gone to prayer meetings. He couldn't feel the rhythms or sing or hear the differences between tones.
-- No, I'm afraid I can't.
-- You poor thing. I should teach you.
They finally got to his apartment and unloaded the car. She put on a record from her collection, one of Brubeck's and started to dance to it.
-- What's that?
-- It's from a jazz ballet that Brubeck wrote back in the sixties, can't you feel the different rhythms? Listen, there's the prince, the hero, he's in 4/4 time; the heroine, there, that's her part in 3/4 and there's a stranger who's going to come in and dance in 2. Can't you hear the difference, can't you feel the rhythms?
-- No, I really can't, I wish I could, I'm really terrible at everything physical.
-- Not everything…. So what kind of music do you like?
She went over to his record shelves. He had a selection of Bach's concerti, operas by Wagner and Mozart and symphonies by Mahler. There were Beethoven's string quartets, the late ones. There were some country music records and some by the Beatles.
-- So do we keep everything separate or do we merge them together?
-- I suppose if we put them together it means we're having a relationship.
-- I guess it would seem more permanent that way.
-- Whichever you prefer.
She went over to him and kissed him.
-- You silly thing, you're sweet and I like you. Lets put them together.
The books and records were taken down, dusted and the shelves rearranged, the clothes hung and then she sat down on the sofa and motioned for him to join her.
-- It's funny, here I am moving in with you and I don't know you at all.
Yes, it was funny. Everything had been reversed. He should have started out by dating her and she should have been coy and resistant until finally, worn down by his charm, she gave in and slept with him or married him or something.
-- It's not funny, it's just…. I guess it's just the way things happen sometimes. Haven't you ever thought that if you fell deeply into love it would be at first sight, with someone who was almost a total stranger before?
-- No, I don't think so. I know that there are people that I like right away and others that I can't stand. If I didn't like a customer and he called a second time I usually tried to find an excuse not to see him. Some people, I never make up my mind about them. As for love….
-- Haven't you ever loved anybody? Didn't you love your husband? I thought you said you loved Chuck.
-- I suppose I did and look at what happened. Love seems so silly somehow, I don't think it really matters.
She couldn't mean that. He loved her. Her grace, her sweetness and sensuality. He loved those. He would not have rushed to her if it had not been out of love. He would not have spent the night on the sofa except out of love.
-- I think it does matter and I love you.
-- It's too early for me to tell….
She motioned with a turn of her head to the bedroom.
-- Don't you want to sleep with me again?
Adrian sat cross-legged, her spine erect; her hands, palms up, rested on her knees.
Light, color, and sound. There had been the light of the church when she had gone with her parents. Blue and red and green light filtered through the stained glass. There was the diffuse light that came through the translucent panes that framed the images, the same kind of light that could be seen filtered through clouds after a storm. She had looked at the raindrops on a pine tree's needles and that had been good and beautiful.
There were the colors of the trees and the grass after a rain when the world had been cleansed and the everything was fresh and the colors darker and more vibrant. There was the color of paint when it was fresh, mixed with oil, it glistened and shined and then as it aged and got dirty the color of the paint took on a different feeling. There were the sections of the Sistine chapel that had been cleaned and Michelangelo's colors stood out clean and vibrant and pure and then there were the sections that had not been cleaned and the colors were dirty and muddy covered by candle soot and four hundred years of devout practices. There were the vibrant colors of Gene Davis or Kenneth Nolan and there were the subdued colors of Rothko. She could see all of it now, even with her eyes closed.
She listened to the music. She could feel the rhythms in her body. When Coltrane was playing the sax she could feel the pain that he had gone through to reach the final exaltation that was there in the final section. There must have been dark and lonely places in his life, she thought she had read that he had kicked a heroin habit, and he had filled the pain with joy and had driven it out. Sometimes the music brought pictures to her mind. When Brubeck played the Pange Lingua March she could see a Black church, probably in New Orleans, and the congregation marching down the aisle, swaying and dancing to the music, to receive communion and the priest dancing along with them and at certain beats she knew that a person had received communion.
It was getting colder now, just as it had been the year before when she and Jim had gone to see Father Adams and he had counselled them on getting married.
She had gone to see him, without Jim, one day in mid-November and had seen the black Alfa spyder with the license tag that said PRIEST and that had a pink and white garter hanging from the rear view mirror. She had asked if it wasn't rather unusual for a priest to have something like that displayed.
-- Yes, I suppose it is and there's a rather long story behind it. Two friends of mine got married recently and one of them, the woman, almost died before the wedding took place. I keep it to remind me that love is as strong as death and jealousy as relentless as Sheol.
-- I see. And is that all there is to it?
-- No, as I say it's a rather long story.
-- Would you tell me about it?
-- What I can I'll tell.
And he had told her about the woman Julia and her mother Margery and her friend Betsy and how Henry Parker had fallen in love with her and had served as her defense attorney through two murder trials and had waited eighteen years for her and had finally won her freedom for her and had married her. He told her how Margery had lost her faith or perhaps she had only thought she had lost it, faith having been once given, perhaps not being possible to lose, and had regained it, or not having lost it, but merely the knowledge of having it, had regained that knowledge. He told her of Betsy, the runaway, the streetwalker, the massage parlor girl, the former heroin addict, Julia's cellmate and friend. And he told her of the love that had pursued them all whether they knew that they were pursued or thought they were the pursuers.
And she had told him of her life, of the failed marriage and the divorce and of living with Jim.
-- Adrian, I don't want to discourage you but what if Jim is unfaithful to you?
-- Why, do you think he will be?
He had folded his hands and swiveled in his chair and stared at his bookcase as if he might find the answer there, he turned back to her and spoke as if he were delivering a verdict on Jim.
-- I don't think I'm revealing any confidences if I say that I've known Jim for several years and that frankly I'm not sure whether or not he really loves you. I think what he loves is more his idea of what you are than what you really are.
-- I'm not sure I understand what you mean.
-- I think what he really loves is the idea that you were a hooker and that he rescued you from a life of shame, maybe you represent some kind of idea of unfulfilled sexuality. The trouble with all of this is that he'll never see the real you. He may always be looking for some new adventure. I think you, on the other hand, may really be capable of loving him.
-- Even though I was a call-girl?
He had looked at her as if he was trying to see into her soul and waved his hand as if to dismiss the whole thing.
-- Some saints have led worse lives until they met their savior. No, I think you have better stuff in you than you suspect.
He paused and stared out the window of his office, stared at the trees that were losing their leaves and at the people walking in the crisp, cool, clear weather.
-- Have you ever noticed that Jim never seems to experience anything directly. It's always related to some book or movie or to something that happened five or ten or twenty years ago. Such people, no matter how much they try or how good they are will never meet God. He's not going to find Him in the Summa, you might find Him, however, because I think you live in the present, in the here and now, and that's where He's to be seen. So the question is what will you do if you find that he can't be faithful to you?
-- I don't want to go through another divorce. I think I would be faithful to him.
-- And would you forgive him? Or would you make his life hell?
-- I don't know.
They had talked and talked and she had opened her heart and soul to him and let him see her fears and her doubts and then the talk had turned back to the story of his friends Julia and Henry and Betsy and she had asked to meet them.
And her life had opened up.
She had started painting and her paintings were full of soft, sensuous colors, shapes imbued with life and movement, the strokes of the brush were long and clean and smooth. There was no freneticism, none of the angry passion of van Gogh, none of the depression that characterized Rothko's later paintings. She would step back and look at them and ask herself if they were too easy; if they were too easy, only facile, clever work, did that make them not art. And she looked at them and thought of Coltrane and his music, did the joy that he expressed in his music come easily or was it from something that he had taken and transformed. She looked at the paintings and she knew that the thoughts, the ideas had not come easily, every stroke was a triumph, that a painting was right was a triumph, when she had the idea right and had put as much of the idea onto canvas as she could and had fought against everything that could go wrong with the painting and had finally finished the painting that that was itself a source of triumph. No, the paintings were not about suffering. She thought, when she looked at them, that they were about suffering and pain that had been transcended and transformed.
When Julia had looked at them she had remembered a lost friend and had cried and she had told her that she thought they were what her friend might have done if she had lived.
And Julia and Betsy and Margery and their friends had taught her about unknowing, about the forgetting of everything that she had learned. There could be no apprehensions or prejudices or expectations or ideas, there was no room for preconceptions of any kind, there was only the silence and the reality. Father Adams had guided her and taught her to hear in the silence and to see into the darkness, to see an imaginary scene and to talk to the people in it, to smell the camel dung and to hear the bleating of the sheep and mostly to listen and to hear what the people she imagined were saying to her. Then, when these scenes began to pale and to hold no pleasure for her he had taught her to listen in silence and to be attentive to gentle touches and when these had passed not to despair.
Sometimes she would listen to music. She would sit there and she would picture a scene and she would let the music carry her along. Sometimes she would sit in silence and try to summon all of her love and yearning and put it into one word or phrase and to let it flow in and out with her breath.
What did she hear in Coltrane's sax as he played, what did she see? Slowly the images formed and swam before her eyes. At first in Jimmy Garrison's bass she could hear the words that Coltrane would speak later in the track, a love supreme, then in the sax itself she could hear the acceptance that had been torn out of him. She drifted and she could see herself and Jim as they had been in the heat of last summer. She saw them laying naked on the bed, her body was turned towards him and she was resting close to him. He had been so strange then, he still was, in some ways, a stranger to her. Then there was the night that Chuck had beaten her and she had called Jim, not because she loved him, not then, but because she was alone and needed someone, anyone, and the intimacy that they had known in bed passed from being that of sex into something, she was not sure love was the name for it, that sex was only a part of, or at least it was for her, and this had started on the night she left Chuck. And now as the saxophone moved into the final track she could hear the love and yearning that were expressed as he played. There was exaltation in there and that could only come from having been in darkness and then moving towards the light. And she could see the light playing about, always on the fringes of the darkness, and the darkness was itself a way towards the light. And there was nothing but the light and it made everything seem dark because everything was absorbed into its own light and outshone by it. And the love that she had denied when she first met Jim, it was there, not only for him but also for that being who was love itself; and she knew the answer, finally, to Father Adams question, if Jim were unfaithful to her she would be hurt but like that lover, that source of love, that Julia had said, quoting a long dead poet, moves the sun and the other stars, she would be faithful, not to him, although, of course physically she would be, but to that overriding love that Coltrane had known and that she tried, however vainly, to show in her paintings. She would be faithful and she would forgive him.
The summer heat had faded and when he walked past the little park in front of his apartment and looked at the trees and remembered the times that he had spent in the park and the girls that he had loved. All of the girls he'd loved before, all the girls that had gone in and out his door.
He thought back to his first fall in Washington. He and Liz had met in English class and she had walked with him to an apartment above Washington circle and had gotten a bottle of wine. Wine as red as her hair. They had sat in the park and drunk the wine, concealed in a paper bag, and had read the poems of Gregory Corso together. There was one tree there that was shedding its leaves and he had thought then, as he did today, of Vladimir and Estragon and poor Lucky, the two tramps always waiting, and the tree barren at first and then with a few leaves. Liz had understood that. And she had turned to him and taken down her hair and let it brush against his face and she had kissed him, she had surprised him when she thrust her tongue down his mouth and he had responded and then she had stopped. Poor Liz. Gone, all that was left was the memory and the sweetness.
Linda had sat in the park with him and they had watched the students at the university come and go and he remembered the townhouses and the little Chinese restaurant where he had dined on abalone and then tried to sell the owner an ad in the university literary magazine. All of that had vanished. Even the theater where he had watched the Marx brothers cavort across the screen and where he had watched Giulietta Masina die and Anthony Quinn cry at her grave, where he had seen Jean Marais transformed by love from a beast into a rather ordinarily handsome man, had gone. He had learned as much there as he had at the university. And Linda and the restaurant and the theater were all gone, vanished.
Adrian still remained. There had been the July heat of their meeting when they had lain naked, with the sheets thrown back and had made love in the dark, the only images their shadows cast on the wall by the light of a solitary candle. There had been the crispness of the fall day in mid-November when he had gone to see Father Jack Adams and make the arrangements for the wedding.
He had seen that old black Alfa spyder with the tag reading PRIEST and the garter hanging from the mirror. Wasn't it strange that a priest should have something like that displayed?
-- Yes, I suppose it is. Adrian came to see me the other day and she asked about it too and I told her that there's a rather long story behind it. I performed a wedding ceremony for two friends of mine recently and one of them, the woman, almost died before the wedding took place. I like to think that love is as strong as death and jealousy as relentless as Sheol and I keep it to remind me of that.
-- I see. And is that all there is to it?
-- No, as I say it's a rather long story. Let's talk about your wedding shall we?
And so he and Adrian had been married on the day after Christmas.
Now he was on his way to see Lee. She was dark, her complexion that of café au lait, with no reddish highlights, her skin was smooth and soft, her hair was long, soft and lustrous black, her features were those of some Grecian goddess, smooth and regular. She reminded him of what Lenny Bruce had said of a singer, that she looked like a statue that someone had painted black.
Lee was exotic in a way that Adrian was not. She had a sweetness that was like Adrian's and she was totally strange and different. When she walked she moved with the grace of the ballet dancer she had trained to be. She was tall and thin, her posture straight and erect, her legs firm and muscular. He had seen her at the barré and watched in envy as she did a plié. She amazed him with her strength and the grace with which she moved. It was not just that she was dark and beautiful but that the darkness and the beauty and the grace should all be combined in her that fascinated him.
She greeted him at the door and took his coat, hung it in the closet and then sat next to him on the sofa. The dark blue satin of her nightgown glistened and gleamed against her dark skin and he looked at her with a hunger that he had not known in months. He leaned over to kiss her and she yielded to him and he felt the pressure of her lips against his.
Adrian had always taken control. When he had met her it had been her hand that guided his, her will that had taken him over. Lee simply yielded to his desire, she seemed to have no desires of her own, it was as if she were totally wrapped up in him and in his desires, as if she had let herself become a part of him. There were times when she seemed almost inert, with no will of her own, and then there were other times, times when she laid beside him and she would turn her body towards him and begin to touch and caress him that he sensed a shyness and diffidence in her, something that she was almost on the verge of saying or expressing but could never quite bring herself to say or to do.
It was in music that Lee seemed most alive. After they had made love she would walk, naked, over to the record shelves and pick out an album and she would close her eyes and let her body move in time to the rhythms of the music and it was then that he sensed that the desires and longings that he could not reach in her were closest to the surface and it was then that he might have, if he had known how, reached out and found what those desires and longings were.
Today she put on a collection of songs from the Big Band era. He laid back and listened and watched her move. She was so beautiful and graceful. When the side ended she turned it over and walked back to the bed and laid beside him. The singer reached the words you took advantage of me and he turned and looked at Lee. He shut his eyes and thought of Adrian and of Lee and of all the other girls, the ones he had loved before, the ones who had gone in and out his door and he wondered if he had ever loved any of them. It always seemed to be something foreign to him, it was always something that would come tomorrow or the day after. Didn't somebody once say that tomorrow was the day that never comes? The guy in the song had taken advantage of the singer because she had fallen in love with him. And when he had given up Lee or she had given him up to what would he turn, would he be faithful to Adrian?
He reached and touched the medal that he still wore, the one that was supposed to protect him from mortal sin and that was to guarantee that he would never be punished in hell. My God, that was a joke.
He felt Lee move beside him and he looked at her and knew that if he saw her again that he would lose Adrian and that if he lost Adrian he might go on and think that he had somehow won Lee. That would seem to make it balance but it didn't. What had he loved in Adrian? Was that really the right word, love? No, it wasn't love, it was more a need or desire. What it really was, he thought, was that she seemed so complete, so much in touch with herself. He thought he was incomplete, fragmented, like some character in a modern novel or play, perhaps he had a little of Lucky in himself.
Jesus Christ, Father Adams had been right. He had told him, before he married Adrian that she might surprise him. He had been right. All his life he had been comparing himself to other people, imitating them, and they hadn't even been real. He had written a master's thesis on authenticity in the modern novel and here he was as false and inauthentic as any character in fiction. God, he was still doing it. Adrian, Lee, they were real and he had taken advantage of both of them. Stop it, damnation, all he could think of was that song and the words didn't even mean what he was making them mean. This had to stop.
And suppose that he did stop would he someday appear on the Donahue show and tell the world how he had gotten in touch with his feelings, would he join all of the other ignorant babblers on all of the mis-begotten shows and the authors of all of the half-witted books on love and feeling and self-discovery? No, that was just as unreal, just as inauthentic.
Perhaps what he wanted was what Adrian and her friends talked about, unknowing. He thought what he wanted was to be hidden away and to be able to forget things. They, Adrian and her friends, were right. He was always thinking, always full of knowledge, he knew Shakespeare and Yeats inside out, he knew the works of Faulkner and Joyce and Beckett, the theology of Aquinas, and he knew nothing.
Adrian knew more than he did. He could see that in her paintings. The things she knew were real. Maybe even Lee knew more than he did. Adrian he was sure of.
And if he stayed with Lee would he lose her and go chasing after some other dream, some other vision of exotic sensuality? And if he did, what then? He would end up like that character….oh sweet Jesus, he was doing it again, finish it, finish the goddamn thought….always looking for some younger, more fascinating creature, and finally when he was sixty he would be looking at pre-pubescent girls, he'd be a dirty old man…. dirty old man, hanging out by the schoolyard gate, looking up every dress he can. Come on, the sixties are long gone, and Linda and Liz and all of the girls that he remembered and the ones that he had barely known. Now there were only the two, Adrian and Lee. Choose, damn you, choose.
He looked at Lee and he knew that the choice had been made.
Adrian uncrossed her legs and slowly opened her eyes. She knew two things. She knew the answer to Father Adams' question and she knew the solution to the painting that she wanted to do.
The problem with this painting, as it was with all of her paintings, was how to render something which was itself inexpressible. She had only paint and canvas and her imagination and the things that she wanted to show were not scenes or images, she could not paint like Raphael or Michelangelo or even Turner or Pollack or Blake, even though she loved those artists, what she had to say was different from what they had said and she had to find a different way to say it. Perhaps Blake was closest to her in spirit, or so she thought, and he had united his vision in poetry and in painting. She knew that she had no facility with words and she envied those who could write. The problem seemed to be that both words and images, both ink and paper and paint and canvas could not express what she wanted to express.
She wanted to show the peace and love and stillness that she had discovered. She had seen some Japanese paintings at the Freer gallery and that had been close to what she wanted.
She did not want to be like Jim, always quoting some author that he admired. She could, she thought, have imitated Pollack or deKooning but then the paintings would not have been hers and she would have lost something. Jim probably thought of her as being unsophisticated and semi-literate because she was not always maundering about some intellectual problem or going off on some tangent about existentialism or Nietzsche or someone. No, she knew the paintings and the painters that she liked and she knew that she could only be like them by being fully herself and that however good or bad they were they had to be her paintings and they had to say the things that she wanted them to say and if no one else liked them she could live with that but that if she did not like them that she could not live with.
It was strange. Jim had learned everything and had forgotten nothing. She was not sure what she had learned, not everything, not as much as he had perhaps, but she had learned what she had needed and then, and this was the important thing, she had forgotten it. Washington was full of people who had learned everything, you saw them on the streets, read about them or read their columns in the newspaper, you saw them arguing on television and they knew everything. They needed to forget, that was what was really needful, the forgetting and the silence, not the knowledge and the noise.
She dressed quickly, she put on old, paint-smeared jeans, a cheap workshirt and a sweater and drove over to Julia's mother's house. Her paints and canvases were stored there and she had decided to begin work on the painting right away.
There was great pleasure in handling the wood for the stretcher and then in feeling the canvas pull taut against the wood and in knocking in the wooden chips that forced the canvas even tighter and more taut. When the canvas had been stretched she applied a ground of gesso, she preferred to work with the unprimed canvas, she liked to regulate the amount and texture of the ground herself rather than letting some guy in a factory do it for her.
She still had the idea fresh in her mind so she looked around and found a sketch pad and she drew the images that she knew would convey the love and peace and stillness, images that were born not of knowledge, not of knowledge as Jim knew it, but of reality.
When she had finished she cleaned up the basement as best she could, said her good-byes to Margery and Julia and went back home. The day's work had gone well, she had the canvas ready, she had the idea straight in her mind and sketched out on paper. Now she had to transfer it from her mind and from her sketchpad onto the canvas and to show the unshowable using only paint and canvas and color and so it would go from reality to an idea to a sketch to a different kind of reality.
It was still early when she got home so she decided to walk over to the Corcoran and see some of her favorite paintings there. She paused at the corner of 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue and thought of going into the record store or of going over to the university bookstore across the street and looking at the art books. She started for the record store and she thought she saw Jim. He was coming up 21st St and there was a very good-looking black girl with him. She was dark, the color of coffee with cream. That must be Lee. Jim had said that there was a black girl in the building where he worked who was very good-looking, he had described her as looking like a statue that someone had painted a dark brown. She had been a dancer at one time hadn't she? Yes, she had studied ballet and modern dance and now she worked for the government. The girl kissed Jim, on the cheek, and they parted. So, they had been married less than a year and he was being unfaithful to her and Father Adams had been right.
She walked into the record store, slowly, deliberately, she wanted to run but she did not want him to see her. She had to control herself. She walked up the stairs and went to the section of the store where they kept the jazz and classical records and started to flip through the records, not seeing the titles or the artists, but because she had to do something to keep control of herself. It had been one thing to know and to achieve a kind of serene acceptance while she sat there and meditated and let her mind follow the music and it was another to realize that she was really faced with the choice of letting him go or of keeping him and that if she kept him that she had to choose between forgiving him and perhaps learning to trust him again or of not forgiving him and making his life hell for him.
She thought of the music again and of what she had learned from the music and from Julia and her friends and she knew she had been right before. She had to forgive him, not for his sake, but for hers, if she did not she would be open to bitterness and rage forever and there would be a kind of despair and hopelessness to her life.
She had calmed down now. She would go back to him and if he told her she would let him know that she had already guessed and that it made no difference, that she would love him despite all of his waverings. Now she could look at the records; she picked out one, paid for it and walked home.
He was there when she arrived. She thought he looked sheepish and guilty. He was going to confess, was he going to say that he was going to leave her? It didn't matter, she knew what her answer was going to be no matter what he said or did.
-- Adrian, I have something to tell you.
-- Is it about Lee?
-- The Black girl that you work with, the one you said looks like a statue that someone painted.
-- What do you know about her?
-- Well she's very pretty, she trained as a ballet dancer, and you're probably sleeping with her.
-- How do you know that, did she….
-- Tell me. No. I was walking down by the university today, I was going to go to the Corcoran, and I'd decided to go into the record store on 21st on my way and I saw you walking down the street with her. I saw her kiss you. That's how I know that she's very pretty and that you're probably sleeping with her.
-- Oh Jesus, you've guessed it. What are you going to do now?
-- That depends on you Jim.
-- You know, Adrian, all my life, at least as much of it as I can remember, I seem to have been living a kind of second-hand life, everything has always been from books and movies and plays and songs. Even now I keep thinking of a poem, it starts out Tomorrow will be love and it seems like love is always something that will happen tomorrow but it never does.
She put down her package, took off her coat and went over to him. She started to unbutton his shirt and she pressed her mouth against his. She paused and she spoke to him.
-- Father Adams told me, before we got married, that you were like that and that you might be unfaithful because you were always looking for something that you could never find. He asked me if I could forgive you. I didn't know then. I know now. You poor silly thing. Love isn't going to be tomorrow, it's today, it's here and it's now. It's me. Come to me.
And Lee and Linda and Liz were forgotten.