With her inimitable compassion and wit, Hempel introduces characters who make choices that seem inevitable, and whose longings and misgivings evoke eternal human experience.
For readers who have known Hempel's work for decades and for those who are just discovering her, this indispensable volume contains all the stories in Reasons to Live, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, Tumble Home, and The Dog of the Marriage. No reader of great writing should be without it.
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The house next door was rented for the summer to a couple who swore at missed croquet shots. Their music at night was loud, and I liked it; it was not music I knew. Mornings, I picked up the empties they had lobbed across the hedge, Coronas with the limes wedged inside, and pitched them back over. We had not introduced ourselves these three months.
Between our houses a tall privet hedge is backed by white pine for privacy in winter. The day I heard the voice of a woman not the wife, I went out back to a spot more heavily planted but with a break I could just see through. Now it was the man who was talking, or trying to he started to say things he could not seem to finish. I watched the woman do something memorable to him with her mouth. Then the man pulled her up from where she had been kneeling. He said, "Maybe you're just hungry. Maybe we should get you something to eat."
The woman had a nimble laugh.
The man said, "Paris is where you and I should go."
The woman asked what was wrong with here. She said, "I like a beach town."
I wanted to phone the wife's office in the city and hear what she would sound like if she answered. I had no fellow feeling; all she had ever said to me was couldn't I mow my lawn later in the day. It was noon when she asked. I told her the village bylaws disallow mowing before seven-thirty, and that I had waited until nine. A gardener, hired by my neighbor, cared for their yard. But still I was sure they were neglecting my neighbor's orchids. All summer long I had watched for the renters to leave the house together so that I could let myself in with the key from the shelf in the shed and test the soil and water the orchids.
The woman who did not want to go to Paris said that she had to leave. "But I don't want you to leave," the man said, and she said, "Think of the kiss at the door."
Nobody thinks about the way sound carries across water. Even the water in a swimming pool. A week later, when her husband was away, the wife had friends to lunch by the pool. I didn't have to hide to listen; I was in view if they had cared to look, pulling weeds in the raspberry canes.
The women told the wife it was an opportunity for her. They said, "Fair is fair," and to do those things she might not otherwise have done. "No regrets," they said, "if you are even the type of person who is given to regret, if you even have that type of wistful temperament to begin with."
The women said, "We are not unintelligent; we just let passion prevail." They said, "Who would deny that we have all had these feelings?"
The women told the wife she would not feel this way forever. "You will feel worse, however, before you feel better, and that is just the way it always is."
The women advised long walks. They told the wife to watch the sun rise and set, to look for solace in the natural world, though they admitted there was no comfort to be found in the world and they would all be fools to expect it.
The weekend the couple next door had moved in their rental began on Memorial Day I heard them place a bet on the moon. She said waxing, he said waning. Days later, the moon nearly full in the night sky, I listened for the woman to tell her husband she had won, knowing they had not named the terms of the bet, and that the woman next door would collect nothing.
The Dog of the Marriage copyright © 2005 by Amy Hempel
Table of Contents
On Amy Hempel
REASONS TO LIVE
In a Tub
Tonight Is a Favor to Holly
Celia Is Back
Nashville Gone to Ashes
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried
Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep
Three Popes Walk into a Bar
The Man in Bogotá
When It's Human Instead of When It's Dog
Why I'm Here
Today Will Be a Quiet Day
AT THE GATES OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
The Most Girl Part of You
Rapture of the Deep
The Day I Had Everything
To Those of You Who Missed Your Connecting Flights Out of O'Hare
And Lead Us Not into Penn Station
In the Animal Shelter
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom
The Lady Will Have the Slug Louie
Under No Moon
Tom-Rock Through the Eels
The Rest of God
Church Cancels Cow
The Children's Party
The New Lodger
THE DOG OF THE MARRIAGE
Jesus Is Waiting
What Were the White Things?
The Dog of the Marriage