Ned Fraser has never seen himself as a husband. His distinguished job at a Boston bank has kept him satisfied while a string of failed love affairs has concerned him little. But no woman has ever affected him the way Anna Lindstrom does. A concert singer of immense charm and beauty, Anna is possessed of a vibrant presence that stands in stark contrast to Ned’s diffidence. And yet despite herself, she can’t help but be drawn to the persistent suitor who plies her with flowers.
Their courtship is short and intense, and the spark that brought them together fuels not only their love, but also a needling undercurrent of volatility. Her passion and narcissism agitate him, while his tempered restraint bores her into resentment. Their opposing personalities lead to anger and conflict, and ultimately to a crossroads that will either tear their young marriage apart or weave it back together, stronger than ever.
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About the Author
An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her memoir Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.
May Sarton (1912–1995) was born on May 3 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her first volume of poetry, Encounters in April, was published in 1937 and her first novel, The Single Hound, in 1938. Her novels A Shower of Summer Days, The Birth of a Grandfather, and Faithful Are the Wounds, as well as her poetry collection In Time Like Air, all received nominations for the National Book Award.
An accomplished memoirist, Sarton came out as a lesbian in her 1965 book Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) was an account of her experiences as a female artist. Sarton spent her later years in York, Maine, living and writing by the sea. In her last memoir, Endgame: A Journal of the Seventy-Ninth Year (1992), she shares her own personal thoughts on getting older. Her final poetry collection, Coming into Eighty, was published in 1994. Sarton died on July 16, 1995, in York, Maine.
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By May Sarton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1982 May Sarton
All rights reserved.
Ned Fraser was forty and thought of himself as a "confirmed bachelor" when an unexpected event catapulted him into marriage. Until that morning when an old friend of his mother's dragged him to a musicale at the Copley Plaza, insisting that he simply had to hear Anna Lindstrom, Ned had considered himself a contented man with no wish to make radical changes in his life. His job was absorbing—he had recently become president of the State Street Trust—Boston was rich in music and for that he had a sustaining passion; and for the rest, he played court tennis three times a week, and belonged to the Tavern Club which provided him with good conversation with men of various capacities and interests. Women did not interest him very much, especially since a rather lackluster love affair had ended a few months earlier, leaving him with the conviction that sex was an overrated pleasure, at least if the woman involved had very little to offer beyond that. He and Janet had parted friends, and she was now engaged to a New York lawyer, much to Ned's relief. He intended to enjoy life, "fancy-free" as he put it, and to keep feeling out, except where Fonzi, his dachsund, was concerned.
But Ernesta Aldrich had been insistent and she was rather a dear, so Ned had agreed to meet her at the Copley Plaza and take her to lunch at the Ritz after the concert. There they were at eleven that Saturday morning, sitting uncomfortably on little gold chairs, when Anna Lindstrom and her accompanist walked out onto the stage. At once Ned sat up straight. What was it about her? She drank the audience in as though it were an elixir, smiling an open childlike smile that seemed to take in every single person to its warmth. Then as the applause died down, she became as grave as she had been a second before apparently lighthearted, and turned to her accompanist, waiting for absolute silence. All performers learn these tricks. In what way then was her way of meeting and captivating an audience unusual? Why, in fact, did Ned have the sensation in his stomach of rising too quickly in an elevator to the eightieth floor?
He took refuge from this alarming sensation in a cultivated detachment. He observed quite coolly the classical profile, the lift of her chin, just as she nodded to her accompanist to begin. He noted that a plain black dress as black as her hair, with a wide white ruffle at the throat, set off the whiteness of her skin, and the astonishing dark blue eyes. And once she had launched into a Fauré song he had heard many times before, he noted the purity and richness of her voice, a fine instrument used with the utmost mastery and tact.
Ned had been an aficionado of these French songs for years, had heard records of Povla Frijsch singing them and then of Maggie Teyte when he was in school, and more recently Janet Baker in London. As he listened to Anna Lindstrom he evoked them all and decided that Lindstrom had their advantage of musical intelligence plus a remarkable instrument, richer than either Teyte or Frijsch could summon. But at that point detachment fell away and he was given to this performer and to the music in a state of acute bliss.
"Aren't you glad you came?" Ernesta Aldrich whispered during the brief intermission after the first songs.
"Very," Ned murmured, "very glad."
"I told you you'd be surprised."
After the concert they decided to walk to the Ritz. It was after all a lovely day, and, as they walked, they discussed the performance.
"Interesting that she chose to open with the French songs and end with Mozart—most singers would have done it the other way around," Ernesta suggested.
"Yes, I suppose so. It seemed quite all right to me."
They had a table in the window, the table Ned Fraser always asked for and always got. He ordered martinis and clams on the half shell while Ernesta left for a few moments. The great white and gold room, its subdued elegance, and the Public Gardens below, a shimmer of just leafed-out trees over rich and varied parterres of tulips seemed extraordinarily beautiful, as though he had not seen them hundreds of times before. Even the napkin as he unfolded its ample damask folds seemed beautiful.
"Wake up," Ernesta said, laughing at him. "You're in a daze."
"Sorry," Ned rose and held her chair for her, "I was just thinking ..."
"We'd better order. The waiter seems to be hovering around."
"Bay scallops, a salad, and coffee?"
That business accomplished, Ned looked across at Ernesta and smiled, "I must thank you for a memorable experience."
"I knew you'd be pleased. You are the only person I know who is as impassioned about music as I am, and I felt sure you would enjoy Anna Lindstrom."
Ernesta Aldrich, Ned thought, looked like everyone else in the room, well-bred, well-dressed, her gray hair rather too tightly curled, her distinguished face wrinkled, the dark eyes hooded and paling a little. But there was a twinkle in those eyes as though she imagined something of note was in the air.
"You're nearly forty, Ned. Aren't you ever going to marry?"
"Well," Ned cleared his throat, "I have no one in mind at the moment, but stranger things have happened, no doubt!" He found himself chortling for no apparent reason. "What's so amusing?"
"I don't see myself as a husband. The idea struck me as humorous, I suppose." At this he laughed aloud.
"You think it's funny, but it seems to me pathetic."
"Pathetic?" Now Ned did wake up. "It's quite tiresome, Ernesta, to be looked on as some sort of freak if one has not wished to marry. I've had a rather good life so far, and if I may say so, a fairly useful one."
"Married to a bank! For me, there is pathos in that."
"But you don't really know, do you?" Ned was not in the mood for needling. He didn't want to be examined by this pitiless old lady like a beetle turned upside down, its legs waving in the air. "I read a lot. I go to concerts. I play court tennis. I have lots of friends—and my job is both demanding and fascinating. I like power and so far I've done rather well." But why make a thing of all this? Ned smiled then, "I'm never bored, Ernesta. Isn't that rather rare?"
"You are hopeless," Ernesta announced as the martinis arrived.
"No doubt." He asked the waiter to bring the clams right away.
Ernesta lifted her glass, daring him, he felt. "To love ... and perhaps marriage," she said. "Sometimes anyway they go together, although not in French novels."
Ned lifted his glass, took a sip, and then set it down. "I don't know why I'm drinking to that. In my view neither love nor marriage implies happiness. Quite the contrary. I have never been as miserable over such long stretches of time as when I was in love."
"Ah, there we have it!"
"What have we got?"
"You've never found the right woman, Ned. It's as simple as that."
"Or as complicated as that. Let's change the subject, shall we?" He was not about to confide in Ernesta although that was clearly what was expected.
"Very well, you secretive man ... I saw your mother at the Friday concert. She looks badly."
"She isn't well. She hasn't been well for years. She has simply not gotten over my father's death thirty years ago. As I need not tell you, she lives on not getting over it. It is her main occupation."
"You can be brutal, can't you?"
"Ernesta, do you remember those awful Christmases, when mother went to bed for the day, the blinds closed, and we tiptoed around, feeling it would be sinful to have any fun? We opened presents surreptitiously or indulged in some wild escapade just to break the pall?"
"It must have been ghastly, but after all, she's old now, and lonely."
"I felt guilty when I saw her because I've neglected her myself lately, I fear."
"Exactly! Mother is a genius at making other people feel guilty. Don't let her do that to you, Ernesta!"
The clams came, and after a moment he went back to the subject, "I want to say something more about mother while I'm at it. She punished us and everyone else around because of her loss—and perhaps her guilt about that loss, who knows? We survived—it was the only way we could—by becoming stoics, by learning to shut our hearts against her grief. If I sound harsh, I can't help it. After all, Paul tried to commit suicide, you know."
"It's tragic," was her only comment.
"Is selfishness tragic? Is making the innocent pay for something for which they are not responsible, tragic? Is reaping what you have sown, tragic? I think of tragedy as having a larger dimension, a moral dimension somehow. Something has to be involved greater than the protagonists ..." But sensing that he was being a trifle sententious, Ned held back and looked across at Ernesta, hesitant, "or don't you think so?"
"I don't know."
"I'll grant you that the loss of my father was tragic in itself. A car goes out of control and plunges over a bridge and a brilliant man dies, for no reason, by pure accident—that was a tragic circumstance. But what my mother made of that loss, the way she has used it, turned tragedy into something else. She chose to use it as the means of stunting her own growth and that of her children." Ned looked up, suddenly self-conscious, "I've said enough, too much maybe—more than I have said before to anyone." He gave a little cough. "I got all stirred up by that singer of yours. She has had a lamentable effect on me, I see."
"You have become rather loveable, old Ned."
"You're laughing at me."
Ernesta chuckled, "Yes, I am. One is permitted to laugh at loveable people, isn't one?" Ned was aware that he was being closely observed and finished his clams in silence. But when he lifted his eyes he caught hers, smiling.
"A penny for your thoughts," he said. "People rarely smile when they are thinking, but you were smiling, so I am curious."
"I was thinking about you."
"Then I'm glad you were smiling, not frowning." But her considering gaze made Ned a little nervous. He had given himself away and he regretted that he had done so.
"I was trying to imagine what went wrong with your love affairs, if you must know."
"I mustn't know," Ned smiled. "And you are not going to be told, so let's change the subject and order coffee. I have an appointment at two."
When the coffee came Ned knew he had to find out more about Anna Lindstrom. He had held off long enough, revealed too much about himself, out of sheer excitement, too keyed up to behave with his usual circumspection.
"Tell me what you know about our singer ... I gather you have heard her before."
"You'd like to meet her," Ernesta teased. "You are smitten," she said with an air of triumph.
"That's going a bit far," Ned took a swallow of his demitasse and set it down. "I found her voice affecting, quite the most affecting voice in its range that I have heard since Kathleen Ferrier, and she only on records, alas. Like hers Anna Lindstrom's is not a cerebral voice. It has blood in it, if you know what I mean. But then the mezzo-soprano often has that quality for me, less like a bird, more like a human being."
"And then she is quite a beauty. Black hair, dark blue eyes ..."
"No, half Italian, half Swedish. Her father was a doctor, her mother is of Italian descent and I think they live together somewhere in Brookline. Anna went to the conservatory here and then to Juilliard. What else can I tell you?"
"Why hasn't she been picked up by an opera company?"
"Oh, she has sung with the New England Opera Company—trust Sarah Caldwell to find a talent like that and know how to use it! I first heard her five years ago at a musicale at Fenway Court. I thought she was marvelous and went up to speak to her afterwards. She was quite radiant, so fresh and unspoiled. But of course she's come a long way since that day, makes concert appearances all over the place, sings as soloist with good orchestras, though not yet with the Boston Symphony."
"We'll have to do something about that," Ned said. "I'm on the Board, you know." He took a slim agenda out of his pocket and made a note. "I don't know that I want to meet her, but I'm certainly interested in hearing her sing again. You know, Ernesta, this kind of special gift, a little more than a talent, does not make its appearance every day. I am greatly in your debt."
"And I in yours for an elegant luncheon, dear Ned." As they said goodbye on Newbury Street she told Ned she thought she would pay a little call on his mother.
Ned looked at his watch. "You'd better wait till tea time, she's lying down now until precisely four."CHAPTER 2
At thirty-four Anna knew that time was running out, and for any performer it is now or never. How she envied writers and painters who could always comfort themselves that the future would justify their long patience in the dark!
"Mamma," she cried out one day as she and her mother were taking a walk along the Fenway, "I feel as though I were under a stone in a graveyard, trying to push it up and shout, 'Listen! I'm here! I exist!'"
"Not so loud, Anna ... that man just ahead of us turned around."
"What if he did? Is it a crime to wish to exist?"
"You don't want to be conspicuous, darling. It is not becoming."
"You sound like father. He was always trying to stop life from happening, wasn't he? He was always putting a damper on fire. It scared him almost to death. How did you ever live with him?" But already the moment of anger had passed and Anna slipped an arm through her mother's, and added more gently, "I'm sorry. I know he was great in his way, but it's not my way."
And so for a little while they walked along together and found the ducks waiting for Teresa to take a bag of bread crumbs out of her big handbag, and soon they were laughing as the greedy flock gathered and fought among themselves.
"Look at that poor one who never gets a chance. Let me throw him something," Anna said. "Quick, Mammal"
But the duck was frustrated again, swimming madly toward the piece of bread, only to be pushed aside by some stronger fellow.
"Damn it, I won't give up!" Anna said, but found the last piece of bread had been taken.
"I guess you'll have to ... for once." So they sat down on a bench and rejoiced together in the balmy air, and the bright leaves of the willow over their heads.
"Oh, Mamma, what would I do without you?" Anna sighed. "Sometimes I wonder why I can't just sing for you and for myself, sing for the sake of the music itself. Ambition is a curse."
"I know, but if you have a gift ... and you know, Anna, you do have an exceptional voice ... you want it to be used. Isn't that part of what ambition is all about? And without ambition who would work as hard as you do? I just wish you didn't have to take it so hard."
They sat for a few moments in silence.
"I feel driven all the time," Anna said then. "There is never any peace. Except when I'm singing."
"Peace?" Teresa smiled.
"Don't tease me ... besides it's almost time for my lesson. We must get back. You know, Mamma, about peace. Most of the time I feel like a swan muddling about on land, heavy and no use to anyone, and then when I am singing I become a swan who has glided into a pond and swims, in its element, free ..."
"Yes, and afterwards, the depression, the letdown," her mother said, as they walked on toward the stand where Anna would take a taxi to her lesson.
Anna realized it had been an unusual moment between them. They were not always able to talk as intimately as they did that morning. There were days when Anna was simply not there, absorbed in thoughts of her own. There were days when she felt as pent up as a wild animal in a cage, pacing about the apartment, days when the slightest frustration brought on a storm. So it had been since she was a child, "like a bolt of loose electricity" her father used to say. "You have to learn control."
Well, she had learned it, Anna thought, lifting her chin. Every one of her teachers had praised her control of her instrument. But control of herself? Anna wondered sometimes whether she would ever learn that. Punishment had never helped. That was her father's way, to tame the wild child by making her go to bed for the day, for instance. And what happened? She closed herself off against him. She used the punishment as some kind of battle, threw herself with fury into an act of defiance like painting a dragon on the wall!
Excerpted from Anger by May Sarton. Copyright © 1982 May Sarton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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