Her father, drunk, argues with Will over politics. Later, his mother visits, nervous and apprehensive, and when she finds a scorpion the size of her thumb she bursts into sobs and soon departs. At the end of each week Myla reads what he has written and believes each line. Yet she accepts with her innate practicality all these mysteries because, after all, the editor far away has sent hard cash, and someone else obviously believes, too, so Will can just sit out there in the potting shed with his imagination and his silences.
One night he heaves himself into her open thighs, so that the bed transforms itself into a dark forest where they lose themselves, and as they finish and lie apart, bruised and dreamy, she whispers, there, feel that?
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Feel what, Will asks, and he thinks of earthquakes or the moon pulling at the tides and whispers back again, feel what? She sleeps, not answering, yet she knows: he has flowered inside her, she has conceived, and this cabin is suddenly a great castle, its rooms adorned with immense fireplaces in towers of rock, a stone bridge arching over their moat, tapestries hanging on the walls of the great hall, and this is a legacy, this place, for all who come afterward, children and grandchildren, and this is their moment in the silence of the universe, their tiny wheel within the endless wheel, stars surrounding them like fate.
But Desdemona is a fictional character, Will argued, a creation out of Shakespeare, but, si, yes, scusi, that was her true palace, just there, no extra charge. Myla combs out her hair, arms raised before the oval mirror with its peeling frame, her naked breasts pulled high. In motherhood her beauty increases. A carton of Murano glass sits atop the stacked luggage: goblets destined to be lost.
From the canals voices float up from the gondolas, and the odors riding on the breeze are jasmine and garlic. They travel in Africa with another couple, his old school buddy, a journalist with assignments, and the second wife, a slender child bride with enormous breasts. In their shared suite at the old Norfolk Hotel they run around in their underwear drinking Salty Dogs, hiding in the gun closets, singing. In the middle of the night he gets out of bed and strolls onto the deck overlooking the lighted waterhole.
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A few other insomniac guests are out there to watch a herd of indolent water buffalo. Somewhere in the night—the suburbs are encroaching—he can hear a boom box. This elaborate tourist stop fails to inspire him, so he leans on the railing conjuring up another Africa, the primeval savannah, distant drums, lost myths. Myla calls her Bambi.
Bambi begins to pay elaborate attention to the water buffalo, to the moonless night and to his face—wearing, he fears, an expression of goofy romanticism. They suck in their breaths, both of them incapable of speech as her breasts flatten against his ribs, and then a movement catches their gaze, a great shadow at the dark edge of the water hole. A big male lion slowly circles that nimbus of spotlights: casual, haughty, watching the warthogs scatter before him as he makes his way toward the herd of buffalo; moving with a regal disdain.
Will and Bambi watch mesmerized inside the blanket as their hearts pound together. The lion springs through the air, bounding off one sleeping buffalo, then another, scattering the herd, and with grunts and a roar the night explodes into action.
You shit, she bellows. When he urges her to quiet down, this energizes her.
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She screams, oh, that goofy look on your face, you were out there playing blanket bingo in front of everybody, rubbing up against those big bazookas of hers, and in the midst of her ranting Myla steps off the bed onto the nightstand, sending a metal washbowl to the floor. The pensive son learns the guitar, suffers asthma, rides the tube with his scrawny pal and talks to Will about writing while his twin brother bounces balls, dribbles balls, strikes balls and watches televised ball games. Look, see, I revise over and over, Will says about his writing. While Will revises again and again, Myla takes the children to the ballet at Covent Garden, to Windsor Castle, to the orchestra on the Embankment, to paintings by Gainsborough and Constable, to Stonehenge, and by mistake to the Rocky Horror Show.
Although her fingers ache with arthritis, Myla takes a weekly ceramics class. They stay busy distracting themselves—often from one another. And they sleep in their flannels, adream in goose down as winter howls around them and as the timbers of the old house creak and sigh.
They touch with domestic formality, with a sexual courtesy, whispering, yes, please, more of that. He stays in the bungalow down at the end of the walkway at the Hotel Bel-Air: a fancy address for the summer, bougainvillea, white swans gliding under the wooden bridge, expenses paid by the studio.
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Having behaved wantonly—and with some other Bambi, not the wife of his friend, never—he has come to rest in this luxurious prison, this fortress of the delicate summer, where in his discreet and lonely evenings at the bar he sits at the table behind the stubby palm tree and writes letters to his children.
He remembers Myla at age fifteen in her short shorts, at age thirty in the yellow sundress, at age forty in her garland of freckles, naked, as she waded in the shallows of an Ozark trout stream. Then, wearing a white suit and manufacturing a smile, she appears at the door to his bungalow. As he dresses for dinner he fumbles through an incoherent apology, then as they stroll toward the patio, violins playing, she confesses that she recently slept with her psychiatrist. The guy with the beard? The Italian? I call him bambino, she responds. He covers up his sadness with anger. Totally unethical, he asserts.
A woman should be able to trust her psychiatrist. Copulation, she informs him, was just a form of therapy. In the bungalow, later, they bathe themselves in white: the lilies at their bedside table, white silk sheets, her white suit thrown aside and the white liquids that oil their senses.
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Beyond the big round bed in Malibu the French doors open onto the beach and surf. In these days his face melts away like wax; he takes blood-pressure medicine that cools his desire and watches her freckled skin turn into soft scales. The children, finished with college, all have loves of their own. Myla and Will stroll the beach recalling the ball games, boyfriends and music recitals, and how on occasion each child seemed to speak in a mysterious poetry.
He reads only biographies and visionary works on astrophysics. Meanwhile, Myla makes lists: groceries, favorite movies, proposed holiday sites and even a list of her meager jewelry, items she intends to be distributed to children, grandchildren or friends on the occasion of her death. In the circular bed they listen to the echoes of the surf in the room as he rubs ointment into her arthritic hands.
When she compliments his touch he asks in his best Bogart tone if she wants to make out, and in their mutual massage, then, they reach for the old fever. Then he wonders to himself, okay, will I ever write again and about what, about what? He presses his palm against her burning forehead and listens as she talks in her sleep.
The train clings to the side of a mountain as below a dark valley pulls at them. Next morning in the city he devours a cheeseburger for breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, and while she continues to sleep he goes for a long walk. On the grounds of a temple with an ancient pagoda he finds a giant prayer bell. Its hammer is a teakwood log suspended on thick chains, and he pays ten yuan to swing it into the echoing bell. For Myla—always clearheaded and never ill—he prays the first prayer he has uttered in years.
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Back at the hotel, amazingly, her fever has broken, and she suggests they might try a little cuddling. When he takes off his clothes and exposes his paunch, she smiles and tells him he has the body of a god. They join themselves like two expensive antiques: good fittings, a few creaking parts, good workmanship.
He enjoys lunches with his cronies: three reporters, the doctor, the psychologist, the librarian and an occasional visitor referred to as the designated listener. Some of them play golf on the weekends, but although most of them arrived in this place because of the fishing none of them actually go for the trout anymore. As a group they favor the written word, sports and gravy. Their consensus is that good reporting is superior to good or even great fiction. They speak to one another in anecdotes because they know that all ideas are untrue. Because their sleep turns restless, they sleep in separate bedrooms.
In the springtime she goes skiing with their daughter, then comes back to renovate her workshop, where she takes up her old hobby, throwing clay pots. As a great storm rages around their house, Amy and Peter hear a terrible noise like a dying giant.
Amy knows that the sound is an ancient oak tree half a mile away being ripped from the ground. Trapped among its roots is a secret that only she can uncover.
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