Equal Love

Equal Love

by Peter Ho Davies
Equal Love

Equal Love

by Peter Ho Davies


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Peter Ho Davies's award-winning debut collection, The Ugliest House in the World, drew comparisons to the work of Raymond Carver, James Joyce, and V. S. Naipaul. The Washington Post hailed it as "astounding . . . Davies has left a unique, definitive footprint in the soil of contemporary short fiction." In his new collection, Davies's unforgettable characters—a Chinese son gambling with professional mourners, a mixed-race couple who experience a close encounter—strive for a love that transcends time, race, and sexuality. These are the stories of a sandwich generation—children of one century, adults of the next—caught between debts to their parents and what they owe their own offspring. Shot through with humor and grace, Equal Love confirms Davies's reputation as one of his generation's foremost writers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618006991
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/17/2000
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

PETER HO DAVIES’s novel, The Fortunes, won the Anisfield-Wolf Award and the Chautauqua Prize and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Welsh Girl, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and a London Times best-seller, as well as two critically acclaimed collections of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Harpers, the Atlantic, the Paris Review, and Granta and has been anthologized in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and The Best American Short Stories.

Read an Excerpt

"Of modern North American cases, one of the earliest
and most widely reported abductions occurred in the
early sixties to a mixed-race couple in New
Hampshire." -Taken: Twelve Contemporary UFO Abduction
Narratives, K. Clifford Stanton
Helen is telling the colonel about the ship now, and
Henry, sitting stiffly on the sectional sofa beside
his wife, can't look up. He stares at the colonel's
cap, the gold braid on the rim, where it rests on the
coffee table next to the latest Saturday Evening Post
and the plate of tunafish sandwiches Helen has laid
"What color were the lights, Mrs. Hull?" the colonel
wants to know, and Helen says, "Blue."
The colonel makes a check mark.
"Baby blue," Helen adds. She looks at Henry, and he
nods quickly. He thought the lights were a cop at
"Baby blue," the colonel repeats slowly, his pen
scratching along. He's resting his clipboard against
his khaki knee. His pants leg is crisply ironed, and
his shoes glint. Henry wishes he could see what the
colonel is writing.
"Is that usual?" he asks. "Blue lights? In these
cases, I mean."
"I'm afraid I couldn't say," the colonel says.
"'Cept I believe aircraft lights are usually red and
"Yes, sir."
"Then this wouldn't be an aircraft?"
"That's what we're aiming to determine," the colonel
says. "Sir." His smile reminds Henry of Richard
There's a pause, and then Helen asks, "Won't you have
a sandwich, colonel?" and the colonel says, "Thank
you, ma'am. Don't mind if I do." He takes one and
lays it on his plate, but doesn't take a bite.
Henrythought the lights were a cop at first. They'd
already been stopped once on the drive back from
Niagara. He could have sworn he'd been doing less
than sixty. The cop had shone his flashlight in
Henry's face - black - and then Helen's - white.
"Any trouble here, ma'am?"
"Not at all, officer," she told him, while Henry
gripped the wheel with both hands.

It was meant to be a second honeymoon. Not that
they'd had a first, really. They'd been married for
seven years. Henry had been serving in Korea, a
corporal in the signals, when he'd been caught in the
open by a grenade. Helen was his nurse in Tokyo. He'd
heard that some of the white nurses refused to touch
the black GIs, but she didn't mind. The first day she
gave him a sponge bath, he tried to thank her-not
sure if he was more embarrassed for her or himself
(he felt an erection pushing at the slit of his
pajama pants)-but she told him not to be silly. He
always remembered that. "Don't be silly." Like it was
"I'm just saying I appreciate it," he said, a little
stung. "The nature of the race matter and all."
"The race matter doesn't matter to me," she told him
briskly. "And it shouldn't matter to you." Later she
came back and he asked her to scratch his back, below
the shoulder blade where it itched him fiercely, and
she did.
Perhaps it was the thought of losing his arm. He was
so relieved when she told him they'd saved it. She'd
been changing the dressing on his hand, unwinding the
bandages from each fat finger. He whooped with joy.
He asked her to have a drink with him. She said she
didn't think so and his face fell, but then she
laughed, her teeth as bright as her uniform. "Oh,"
she said, turning his hand over to wash it. "You mean
after your release? Why, of course. I'd like that. I
thought you meant now. You shouldn't be drinking now,
not with your medication." And then she wound his
hand up again in fresh white bandages.
Her tour had finished three weeks later, but she'd
stayed on in Tokyo, and by the time his discharge
came through, they were lovers. They ate sushi
together and she wore beautiful multicolored kimonos
and it all seemed perfectly natural. He'd been in the
army for nine years, so he hung on to her now as the
next thing in his life, and one night after a fifth
of whiskey-"Why, Henry Hull, you're stinko"-he asked
her to marry him. "Of course," she said, and he
laughed out loud. "Of course!" They'd gone back to
New Hampshire, where she had a job in a hospital in
Manchester. He'd found work at the local post office,
and they'd been married within the month.
They'd made a good life together. Helen's parents had
been kind to him, after some reservations. "They know
better than to try and stop me when I want
something," Helen told him. Her brother called Henry
a hero and a credit to his race at the small
reception after their wedding at the town hall. Henry
appreciated it, but it only reminded him that he was
the one black man in the room. His own parents were
long since dead, and his sister, Bernice, back in
Summer Hill, had refused to come when she heard Henry
was marrying a white woman. "What for?" she wanted to
know, and when Henry said, "For the same reasons
anybody gets married," she told him no, she didn't
believe it.
Henry didn't know what to say to that. He could hear
her kids, his nephews and nieces, in the background,
yelling, and then a baby's sharp, sudden sobs.
"I gotta go," Bernice said. They hadn't talked since.
His brother, Roy, had been more sympathetic. "You and
me been dreaming about white girls since we were
boys. Bernice thinks that's all wrong and maybe it
is, but a man's got to follow his dream. 'S only
natural to want what you can't have." But Roy hadn't
come either.
Henry and Helen did have a good life, though. Decent
friends. Enough money. Helen had even taught him to
skate. He liked his job, was proud of the uniform,
and Mr. Rhodes, the postmaster, treated him well. The
first week, when there'd been a little trouble over
Henry's eating at the local sandwich shop, Mr. Rhodes
had stepped across the street and told the owner that
none of the postmen would be eating there again if
Henry didn't. And just like that the shop integrated,
although Henry told Helen he wouldn't have made
anything of it himself.
"Why not, for Pete's sake?" she'd asked him, and when
he shrugged she'd exclaimed, "You're too darned
dignified for your own good sometimes."
He was the only black man he knew in Manchester, but
he followed the news of lunchroom sit-ins and the
Freedom Riders and joined the NAACP, although he was
a lifelong Republican, like his father and his
grandfather before him. He met more Negroes, but they
all seemed a little shy of each other, almost
sheepish. "Far as civil rights goes," one of them
pointed out to him, "New Hampshire ain't exactly
where it's at."
What nagged Henry was that it was all too good,
unreal somehow, more than he deserved. He thought of
his brother and sister and all the kids he'd grown up
with. Why had he been the one singled out, plucked up
by life and set down here? It made him a little
scared to have something. Helen said he was just
being superstitious, but he couldn't shake the idea.
He thought one day he'd wake up, or someone would
come along and take it all away. When Helen had
miscarried the first time, the spring before, along
with the worry for her, he'd felt an awful relief
that finally something terrible had happened. He'd
been so ashamed he hadn't known how to comfort her,
except to keep trying. But when she'd miscarried the
second time, that summer, he'd decided they couldn't
go through it again. They'd been distant these last
few months, Helen insisting she still wanted a child,
had always wanted one, Henry doubtful, thinking She
wants one more now she maybe can't have one,
wondering if this was how she had once wanted him, wo
ndering if he was no longer enough for her, which was
why the idea of a trip to Niagara felt like such an
Helen had laughed and called him a romantic but taken
his hand across the dinner table.

The colonel wants to go back over the details again,
as if he's trying to trip them up. "I thought you
said it was cigar-shaped, Mrs. Hull?"
"From a distance," Helen says impatiently. "Up close,
you could see it was a disk." She looks at Henry for
"We had a pair of binoculars along for the trip," he
says. "I thought it might be a star at first. But
when I pulled over at a lookout and used the glasses,
whatever it was was definitely moving." The colonel
is silent, so Henry hurries on, a little breathless
but feeling that more is required of him. "A little
later it came to me that I'd left the car running the
first time while I leaned on the roof with the
binocs. I thought the vibrations from the engine
might have been the problem, see, so I pulled over
again, stepped away from the car before I put the
glasses on it. And it was still moving."
Henry wants the colonel to write this down, but his
pen doesn't move. The colonel doesn't even ask him
about the binoculars-his service issue 10 3 42
"Spinning," Helen says. "Don't forget it was
spinning. That's what gave it the twinkling effect."
"Right," Henry says. "The lights that looked like
they were moving across it from a distance were
actually fixed to the rim." He makes a circling
motion in the air with his index finger while the
colonel stares at him.
"Did you write that down?" Helen asks, and the
colonel blinks and says, "Yes, ma'am. I got
it. 'Twinkling was spinning.'"
They had agreed before the colonel arrived that Helen
would do most of the talking. Henry hadn't wanted
them to tell anyone about what they had seen right
from the start, but Helen insisted on calling her
sister, Marge. Hadn't Marge seen a UFO herself
in '57? Henry shrugged. He'd never believed Marge's
story, but he knew Helen needed to tell someone, and
Marge at least wouldn't make fun of them. But it
hadn't stopped there. Marge put Helen on to a high
school science teacher she knew, and he told her they
should really notify the air force. Now here was the
colonel with his clipboard. Henry hadn't wanted to
meet him, but Helen had had a conniption fit.
"Henry Hull! How's it going to look," she said, "if
I'm telling this story and my own husband won't back
me up?"
Henry told her it wouldn't make any difference, but
what he really thought was that nothing he said would
help her, might even make her less
believable. "You're a white woman married to a
colored," he wanted to tell her. He didn't think
anyone would believe them, but Helen wasn't having
any of that. "Of course they'll believe us," she
said. "So long as we tell the truth. We have to try,
at least. You've no gumption, Henry, that's your
whole trouble." It seemed so easy to her, but Henry
had had to work hard to be believed most of his life.
Now he can see that Helen is getting tired of going
over the same story again and again.
"I'm not telling you what it means," she says. "I'm
just telling you what I saw. We were hoping you could
explain it to us."
But the colonel just spreads his hands and
says, "Sorry, ma'am."
"You act like we're lying."
"No, ma'am," the colonel says quickly. "I assure you."
Henry knows what's coming next. Helen wants to get on
to the part inside the ship, the stuff Henry doesn't
remember. He asked her not to talk about it, but she
told him she couldn't promise. "What if it's a matter
of national security?" she said. "It's our duty,
isn't it? Think what it could mean for the future of
everyone." So now she explains to the colonel how she
only remembered this part later, in her dreams. Henry
feels himself shrink, but the colonel just makes
another scratch with his pen, and Helen starts to
tell him about the aliens-the short gray men-and
their tests.
"Gray?" The colonel looks from Helen to Henry, Henry
to Helen.
"Gray," she says, and he writes it down.
"And short," she adds. "But not like dwarfs, like
In her dream, Helen says, she remembers them scraping
her skin with a strange metal instrument. "Like a
dentist might use, only different. It tickled," she
recalls, without a smile. Then she remembers them
pushing a long thin needle into her navel. "That
really hurt," she says, "but when I cried out they
did something and the pain stopped at once. They
seemed sorry. They told me it was a pregnancy test."
The colonel, who has been taking notes with his head
down, not looking at them, glances up quickly.
"Oh, of course I'm not pregnant," Helen says
brusquely, and Henry sits very still. This is what he
feared all along-that they wouldn't be able to keep
their private business out of this.
"Have you ever heard of anything like it?" Helen
asks. The colonel tells her he hasn't.
"You have no memory of this?" he asks Henry, who
shakes his head slowly. He's racked his brains, but
there's nothing. Helen can't understand it. "How can
you not remember?" she cried the first time she told
him, as if he were the one being unreasonable.
"Helen tells me I was in another room on the ship,
drugged or something, but I don't recall." He wishes
he could support her now, but also, in the back of
his mind, he resents her dream, his weakness in it.
Helen presses on. She says she knows how it sounds,
but she has proof. "I'm just getting to the best
part," she says. "The part about Henry's teeth."
"Teeth?" the colonel says, and this time Henry sees a
twitch to his lips that makes him feel cold inside.
"That's right," Helen says, and Henry can tell she's
seething now. The aliens, she explains slowly, as if
to a child, were surprised that Henry's teeth came
out and Helen's didn't. "They didn't understand about
dentures," Helen says. Henry feels his mouth grow
dry. They have argued about this part. He didn't want
her to tell it, but Helen feels it's the
clincher. "How could we make that up?" she asked him
last night. "Plus there's the physical proof."
"This was after the other tests," Helen says. "They
were as curious as kids. I'm jumping ahead a little,
but don't mind me. Anyway, after we were done, the
one I think of as the doctor, he left the room, and
the grayer one, the leader, he told me they were
still finishing up with Henry. Anyhow, a few seconds
later the doctor runs back in. He seems very excited
and he asks me to open my mouth. Well, I don't quite
know why, but I wanted to get this over with, so I
obliged, and before you know it he'd pushed his
little fingers in my mouth and he was pulling on my
teeth. Well! You can imagine my surprise. I slapped
his hand away quick as I could. He was pulling quite
hard too, making my head go up and down. 'What do you
think you're doing?' I said, and then he held out his
other hand, and can you guess what he had?"
The colonel shakes his head slowly.
"Why, Henry's dentures. There they were, sitting in
his little gray hand. Well, I snatched them up at
once. I don't know what I was thinking. It made me so
worried about Henry, I guess. That and the fact that
he's always losing them, or pretending to lose them,
She pauses, and Henry thinks he should say something.
"They pinch me," he mumbles. "And they click. I don't
like them so good."
Helen laughs. "I tell him he looks like a fool
without them, but he doesn't care. He has such a fine
smile, too."
Henry looks past the colonel's shoulder and out the
picture window. He does not smile. It's October, and
the first snow is beginning to fall in the White
"Anyway, I snatched them up, and then the leader
started in about why my teeth were different from
Henry's, so I had to explain all about dentures,
about how people lose their teeth as they get older
or, like Henry here, in accidents. I thought it was
funny they were so flummoxed by dentures, but you
know, now that I come to think about it, I don't
remember seeing their teeth. They had these thin
little slits for mouths, like I said before, and when
they talked it was as if they didn't move their lips."
"Did they speak English?" the colonel asks. "Or was
it more like telepathy?"
"Maybe," Helen says. "Like voices in my head, you
mean? That certainly could explain it."
"And their fingers?" the colonel asks
seriously. "Would you say they had suckers on them?
Small pads maybe?"
Helen pauses and looks at him hard. "No," she says
very clearly. "I would have remembered something like
There is an awkward pause before she goes on more
"Anyway, to cut a long story short, I thought the
whole thing about the dentures was funny and I
remember laughing, but it must have been one of those
nervous laughs, because afterward when I looked at my
hand where I'd been gripping them, I'd been holding
them so tight that the teeth had left bruises." And
here Helen holds out her hand to the colonel. He
leans forward and takes it and turns it to the light.
Henry can just see the crescent of purpling spots in
the flesh of her palm.
Helen nudges him. Henry doesn't move for a moment,
but then he decides. She's his wife. He'll try to
help. He holds a handkerchief over his mouth and
slips his plate out. He passes it to her, and with
her free hand she places it in her palm so that the
false teeth lie over the bruises. The denture
glistens wetly, and Henry looks away in embarrassment.
"See," Helen says triumphantly. "Now that's evidence,
isn't it?"
"It's something, ma'am," the colonel says, peering at
Henry's teeth. "It's really something."

Henry has tried his damnedest to remember what
Helen's talking about. But he can't do it. It's the
strangest thing, he thinks, because he recalls the
rest of the trip-start to finish-vividly.
They'd gotten up at five A.M., packed the car, and
been on the road to Niagara by six. Henry wanted to
get a good start on the day. It was September, peak
foliage. "What impossible colors," Helen breathed,
sliding across the seat to lean against him. "Better
than Cinerama," he told her. He'd sung a few bars
of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and made her laugh,
and she'd done her best Dinah Shore: "Drive your Chev-
ro-lay, through the U.S.A." She'd got impatient with
him the evening before for simonizing the car,
bringing out the gloss in the two-tone paint job.
Now, he saw, she was proud.
But when they stopped for brunch at a diner in
upstate New York, Henry felt uneasy. The din in the
place died when they entered, and the waitress seemed
short with them. He ordered coffee and a doughnut,
but Helen had the short stack and took her time over
her coffee. When he called for the check, she looked
up and asked what his hurry was, and he said they
still had a ways to go. Didn't he know she had to let
her coffee cool before she could drink it? "Have a
refill or a cigarette," she said, pushing the pack of
Chesterfields across the table, but he told her a
little sharply he didn't want either. He felt people
watching him. Helen finished her coffee and went to
the bathroom, leaving him alone for five long
terrible minutes. He could hear a child crying
somewhere behind him, but he didn't turn to look.
When she came back he hurried her out before she
could retie her scarf, leaving a big tip. He had to
stop to urinate fifteen minutes later and she made
fun of him for not going earlier. "You're like a
boy," she said, and so he told her how he had felt
in the diner.
"Oh, Henry," she said. "You were imagining it."
It made him mad that she wouldn't believe him,
wouldn't take his word for it, but he didn't want to
spoil the trip with a fight and he let her half
convince him, because he knew it would make her feel
better. He played with the radio, pushing buttons
until he found some Harry Belafonte. Helen just
didn't notice things the way he did. He loved her for
it, this innocence, cherished it, though he couldn't
share it (found his own sensitivity sharper than
ever, in fact). That night when he stopped at two
motels and was told that they were full, he didn't
make anything of it, and when she said as they left
one parking lot, "You'd think they'd turn off their
vacancy sign," he just let it ride.
"Must be a lot of lovers in town," she added, and
squeezed his thigh.
When they finally found a room at a place called the
Falls Inn, she pulled him to her and he started to
respond, but when she told him she'd forgotten her
diaphragm, he pulled away.
"It'll be okay," she told him. "Just this once." She
clung to him for a moment, holding him against her,
before he rolled off. They lay side by side staring
at the ceiling as if it were the future. After the
second miscarriage, Helen had been warned that she
might not be able to carry a baby to term. "We can't
take the risk," Henry told her softly, but she turned
away. "You're afraid," she said, curled up with her
face to the wall. The knobs of her spine reminded him
of knuckles. "I'm afraid of losing you," he said at
He told her he'd go out and get prophylactics, but
driving around in the car, he couldn't. He stopped
outside one store and sat for fifteen minutes,
waiting for the other cars in the lot to leave,
listening to the engine tick as it cooled. He was
afraid of losing her, he knew, though the admission,
so abject and ineffectual, shamed him. But behind
that fear was another-a dim, formless dread of his
own children and what they might mean for the
precarious balance of his marriage, which made him
shudder. There was one more car in the lot, but
before it left a police cruiser pulled in, and Henry
backed out and drove slowly back to the motel.
When they were first married, Helen used to call him
by a pet name, Big, burying the tight curls of her
permanent against his chest. He would stroke her neck
and answer in the same slightly plaintive baby
talk, "Little" or "Little 'un." It was how they had
comforted themselves when they felt small and puny
beside their love for each other, but remembering it
now only made him feel hopeless before the
childlessness that loomed over them. Helen was asleep
when he got in, or pretending, and he lay down beside
her as gently as possible, not touching but aware of
her familiar warmth under the covers.
The next day had started better. They'd gone to the
falls and been overwhelmed by the thundering white
wall of water. They bought tickets for the Maid of
the Mist. Henry bounced on the springy gangway and
made her scream. They laughed at themselves in the
yellow sou'esters and rain hats the crew passed out
and then joined the rest of the identically dressed
crowd at the bow railings. "Oh look," Helen said,
pointing out children, like miniature adults in their
slickers and hats, but Henry couldn't hear her over
the crash of the falls. "Incredible," he yelled,
leaning forward, squinting in the spray as if in
bright light. He could taste the mist in his mouth,
feel the gusts of air displaced as the water fell.
Suddenly he wanted to hold his wife, but when he
turned to Helen, she was gone. He stumbled from the
railing looking for her, but it was impossible to
identify her in the crowd of yellow slickers. He felt
a moment of panic, like when she'd left him in the
restaurant. He bent down to see under the hats and
hoods of those around him, conscious that he was
startling them but not caring. In the end he found
her in the cabin, her head in her hands. She told him
she'd thrown up. She didn't like boats much in
general, she reminded him, and looking at the falls
had made her dizzy. "I didn't want you to miss them,
though," she told him, and he could see she'd been
crying. He put his arm around her, and they sat like
that until the trip was over. The other passengers
began to file into the cabin around them, taking off
their hats and jackets and hanging them on pegs until
only Henry and Helen were left in theirs.
They had planned to go on into Canada that afternoon,
the first time they'd been out of the country since
Korea, but instead they turned around, headed back
the way they'd come. It was late afternoon, but Henry
figured they could be home by midnight if he got a
clear run and put his foot down.

The colonel has a few more questions, and he asks if
they'd mind talking to him separately. Henry feels
himself stiffen, but Helen says, "Of course." He can
tell she wants to go first, so he gets up and says
he'll take a walk. He'll be back in about fifteen
minutes. He steps out into the hall and finds his
topcoat and hat and calls for Denny, Helen's dog. He
walks out back first, and from the yard he can see
Helen inside with the colonel. He wonders what she's
saying as the dog strains at the leash. Probably
talking more about her dreams. She thinks maybe the
little gray men took one of her eggs. She thinks she
remembers being shown strange children. They had
agreed that she wouldn't talk about this, but Henry
realizes suddenly he doesn't trust her. It makes him
shudder to think of her telling these things to a
When he takes Denny around the front of the house, he
is startled to find a black man in his drive,
smoking. The young man drops the cigarette quickly
when Denny starts yapping. He is in an air force
uniform, and Henry realizes that this must be the
colonel's driver. He feels suddenly shy. He tells
him, "You startled me," and the young airman
says, "Sorry, sir." And after a moment, that seems
all there is to say. That sir. Henry lets Denny pull
him up the drive, whining. The poor dog hasn't been
out for hours and as soon as they're at the end of
the drive squats and poops in full view of the house.
Henry holds the leash slack and looks the other way.
When they walk back a few minutes later, the airman
is in the colonel's car. The windows are fogged.
Henry knocks on the driver's-side glass.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?"
The airman hesitates, but his breath, even in the
car, is steaming.
"I could bring it out," Henry offers, and the young
man says, "Thank you." And it's the lack of a sir
that makes Henry happy. He takes Denny inside and
comes back out in a few minutes with two cups of
coffee and climbs into the car with the boy. He sets
them on the dash, where they make twin crescents of
condensation on the windshield. When Henry sips his
coffee, he realizes he's left his teeth inside with
Helen, and he's suddenly self-conscious. He thinks he
must look like an old fool, and he wants to be
silent, keep his mouth shut, but it's too late. The
airman asks him how he lost them.
"A fight," Henry says. And he tells a story he's
never told Helen, how he got waylaid by a couple of
crackers when he was just a boy. They wanted to know
his mama's name, but for some reason he refused to
say. "I just call her Mama," he said. "Other folks
call her Mrs. Hull." But the boys wanted to know her
first name, "her Chrustian name." Henry just kept on
saying he didn't know it and then he tried to push
past them and leave, but they shoved him back and lit
into him. "I don't know what I was thinking," he says
now over his coffee, "but it was very important to me
that those fellas not know my mama's name. Mrs.
Hull's all I'd say. I knew it, of course, although I
never called her by it or even rightly thought of her
by it. But I'd be damned if I'd tell them, and they
beat the tar out of me for keeping that secret."
"Yeah, but I bet those boys got their share," the
airman says, and Henry smiles and nods. He can't be
more than eighteen, this driver. They talk about the
service. The boy is frustrated to be a driver in the
air force. He wants to fly. Henry tells him how he
was put in the signals corps: "They liked having me
fetch and carry the messages." The boy, Henry thinks,
is a good soldier, and he feels a surge of pride in
him. But then the coffee is finished and Helen is at
the front door.
"Henry!" She doesn't see him in the car. "Henry!"
He's suddenly embarrassed and gets out of the car
quickly. "There you are," she says. "It's your turn."
Henry ducks his head back into the car to take the
empty mugs and sees the airman looking at him
strangely. "Eunice," he offers awkwardly. The young
man's face is blank. "My mother's name. Eunice
Euphonia Hull. In case you was wondering." He closes
the car door with his rear, moves toward the house.
Inside, he hands Helen the two mugs, and she takes
them to wash up.
Back on the sofa, Henry sees that his dentures are
lying beside the plate of sandwiches, but he feels
uncomfortable about putting them in now.
The colonel asks him to describe his experiences, and
Henry repeats the whole story. They'd been making
good time until the cop stopped them around ten-
thirty, and even then Henry had still expected to
make it home by one. He explains how they noticed the
lights a little after that and about twenty minutes
later how they began to sense that the object was
following them, how he had sped up, how it had kept
pace. Finally he describes it swooping low over the
road in front of them and hovering a hundred yards to
their right. He'd stopped, still thinking it could be
a chopper, and got out with the binoculars, leaving
Helen in the still running car. But after getting a
closer look he'd become uneasy, run back, and they
had left in a hurry. They couldn't have been stopped
more than ten minutes, but when they got home it was
almost dawn, hours later than they expected.
"Mrs. Hull," the colonel says, "claims you were
screaming when you came back to the car. About being
Henry feels a moment of irritation at Helen.
"I was yelling," he says. "I was frightened. I felt
that we were in danger, although I couldn't tell you
why. I just knew this wasn't anything I understood."
He pauses, but the colonel seems to be waiting for
him to go on.
"I was in Korea. I mean, I've been under fire. I was
never afraid like this."
"These dreams of your wife's," the colonel asks. "Can
you explain them at all?"
"She believes them," Henry says quickly. "Says
they're more vivid than any dreams she remembers."
"Can you think of anything else that might explain
Henry pauses. He could end it all here, he thinks. He
looks at his dentures on the coffee table, feels the
flush of humiliation. He opens his mouth, closes it,
slowly shakes his head.
The colonel waits a moment, as if for something more.
Then: "Any dreams yourself?"
"No, sir," Henry says quickly. "I don't remember my
The colonel clicks his pen-closed, open, closed-calls
Helen back in, thanks them both for their time. He
declines another sandwich, puts his cap under his
arm, says he must be going, and they follow him out
to where his driver holds the door for him. The car
backs out, and they watch its taillights follow the
curve of the road for a minute. Henry wonders if the
colonel and his driver will talk. If the colonel will
make fun of their story. The thought of the young man
laughing at him makes him tired. But then he thinks,
no, the colonel and the airman won't share a word.
The boy will just drive, and in the back seat the
colonel will watch him. Henry feels like he let the
boy down, and is suddenly ashamed.
They stand under the porch light until the car is out
of sight. "Well," Helen says, and he sees she's
glowing, almost incandescent with excitement. "I
think we did the right thing, don't you?" He feels
his own mood like a shadow of hers. Bugs ping against
the bulb and he flicks the switch off. In the
darkness, they're silent for a moment, and then he
hears the squeal of the screen door as she goes
It's not late, but Helen tells him she's about done
in. The interview went on for almost four hours. She
goes up to bed, and Henry picks up in the living
room, carries the cups and plates through to the
kitchen, fills the sink to soak them. The untouched
sandwiches he covers in Saran Wrap and slides into
the refrigerator. He drops his dentures in a glass of
water, watches them sink. Then he goes up and changes
into his pajamas, lays himself down beside his
already sleeping wife, listens to her steady
breathing, dreams about the future.
A few w

Table of Contents

The Hull Case 1 Brave Girl 21 The Next Life 35 Small World 49 How to be an Expatriate 70 Frogmen 82 Equal Love 96 Sales 107 Everything You Can Remember in Thirty Seconds is yours to Keep 126 On the Terraces 141 Cakes of Baby 156 Today is Sunday 170

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Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald, author of The Blue Flower, The Bookshop

I read Equal Love with great admiration. Davies' variations on a theme are brilliant, with very complex feelings, often indicated by seemingly small actions, so that the comparison with Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man is justified (for once).

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