Another Marvelous Thingby Laurie Colwin
Another Marvelous Thing is perfect for anyone who knows firsthand that opposites actually do attract. These spare and unsentimental stories display how two very different people a tough-minded and tenderhearted woman and an urbane, old-fashioned older man fall in love despite their differences, get married, and give birth to a child. See more details below
Another Marvelous Thing is perfect for anyone who knows firsthand that opposites actually do attract. These spare and unsentimental stories display how two very different people a tough-minded and tenderhearted woman and an urbane, old-fashioned older man fall in love despite their differences, get married, and give birth to a child.
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My wife is precise, elegant, and well-dressed, but the sloppiness of my mistress knows few bounds. Apparently I am not the sort of man who acquires a stylish mistress the mistresses in French movies who rendezvous at the cafés in expensive hotels and take their cigarette cases out of alligator handbags, or meet their lovers on bridges wearing dashing capes. My mistress greets me in a pair of worn corduroy trousers, once green and now no color at all, a gray sweater, an old shirt of her younger brother's which has a frayed collar, and a pair of very old, broken shoes with tassels, the backs of which are held together with electrical tape. The first time I saw these shoes I found them remarkable.
"What are those?" I said. "Why do you wear them?"
My mistress is a serious, often glum person, who likes to put as little inflection into a sentence as she can.
"They used to be quite nice," she said. I wore them out. Now I use them for slippers. They are my house shoes."
This person's name is Josephine Delielle, nicknamed Billy. I am Francis Clemens, and no one but my mistress calls me Frank. The first time we went to bed, my mistress fixed me with an indifferent stare and said: "Isn't this nice. In bed with Frank and Billy."
My constant image of Billy is of her pushing her hair off her forehead with an expression of exasperation on her face. She frowns easily, often looks puzzled, and is frequently irritated. In movies men have mistresses who soothe and petthem, who are consoling, passionate, and ornamental. But I have a mistress who is mostly grumpy. Traditional things mean nothing to her. She does not flirt, cajole, or wear fancy underwear. She has taken to referring to me as her "little bit of fluff," or she calls me her mistress, as in the sentence: "Before you became my mistress I led a blameless life."
But in spite of this I am secure in her affections. I know she loves me not that she would ever come right out and tell me. She prefers the oblique line of approach. She may say something like: "Being in love with you is making me a nervous wreck."
Here is a typical encounter. It is between two and three o'clock in the afternoon. I arrive and ring the doorbell. The Delielles, who seem to have a lot of money, live in a duplex apartment in an old town house. Billy opens the door. There I am, an older man in my tweed coat. My hands are cold. I'd like to get them underneath her ratty sweater. She looks me up and down. She gives me her edition of a smile a repressed smile that is half smirk, half grin.
Sometimes she gets her coat and we go for a bracing walk. Sometimes we go upstairs to her study. Billy is an economic historian who teaches two classes at the business school. She writes for a couple of highbrow journals. Her husband, Grey, is the resident economics genius at a think tank. They are one of those clashing couples, or at least they sound like one. I am no slouch either. For years I was an investment banker, and now I consult from my own home. I too write for a couple of highbrow journals. We have much in common, my mistress and I, or so it looks.
Billy's study is untidy. She likes to spread her papers out. Since her surroundings mean nothing to her, her work place is bare of ornament, a cheerless, dreary little space.
"What have you been doing all day?" she says.
I tell her. Breakfast with my wife, Vera; newspaper reading after Vera has gone to work; an hour or so on the telephone with clients; a walk to my local bookstore; more telephoning; a quick sandwich; her.
"You and I ought to go out to lunch some day," she says. "One should always take one's mistress out for lunch. We could go dutch, thereby taking both mistresses at once."
"I try to take you for lunch," I say. "But you don't like to be taken out for lunch."
"Huh," utters Billy. She stares at her bookcase as if looking for a misplaced volume and then she may give me a look that might translate into something tender such as: "If I gave you a couple of dollars, would you take your clothes off?"
Instead, I take her into my arms. Her words are my signal that Grey is out of town. Often he is not, and then I merely get to kiss my mistress which makes us both dizzy. To kiss her and know that we can go forward to what Billy tonelessly refers to as "the rapturous consummation" reminds me that in relief is joy.
After kissing for a few minutes, Billy closes the study door and we practically throw ourselves at one another. After the rapturous consummation has been achieved, during which I can look upon a mistress recognizable as such to me, my mistress will turn to me and in a voice full of the attempt to stifle emotion say something like: "Sometimes I don't understand how I got so fond of a beat-up old person such as you."
These are the joys adulterous love brings to me.
Billy is indifferent to a great many things: clothes, food, home decor. She wears neither perfume nor cologne. She uses what is used on infants: baby powder and Ivory soap. She hates to cook and will never present me with an interesting postcoital snack. Her snacking habits are those, I have often remarked, of a dyspeptic nineteenth-century English clubman. Billy will get up and present me with a mug of cold tea, a plate of hard wheat biscuits, or a squirt of tepid soda from the siphon on her desk...
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This is a lovely, subtle, ironic collection of connected short stories. This is just to point out that your publisher's description is incorrect. The lovers in the story do not get married and have a child. I won't spoil it by revealing the actual ending, but that's not it.