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|Publisher:||Leapfrog Press MA|
|Edition description:||1 ED|
|Product dimensions:||5.35(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.81(d)|
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A bedroom in Paris, everything white: sheets, walls, a long ceramic dish of narcissus, the reflection of the moon on the river outside the windows, a medieval wall bleached by moonlight, a scented candle flickering on the mantel.
She sits and faces him, this man, almost a stranger. She sits on his bare thick thighs, straddling his thighs. She feels his large strong hands divide her back with its bony trail, reach for places hidden from her; her face is in the crook of his shoulder, her mouth on his neck, her hands on the sides of his face. His scent is new, but familiar: citrus, vetiver. She will devour him, she will save him, she will worship him for giving this back to her.
A bedroom near Chicago; her husband's voice, abrupt, impatient: "Suzanne ...?"
"Are you finished?"
"Did you come?"
"Oh, yes ... yes, yes."
Suzanne felt him roll off, watched as he padded away. She touched her cheek, it was wet, she was crying. She was thinking about a man she had loved when she was twenty. "Alain," she said when she heard the water pounding from the shower.
She grabbed her robe, her slippers, shuffled downstairs, flicked on the coffee maker. She reached for the dog's leash. In the window's reflection, she saw a small woman with a mass of fading reddish hair. The old dog yawned and they stepped outside together, blurry eyed, to fetch the paperfrom the end of the long frosty driveway. Commuters on their early way into the city passed, someone appeared to recognize her, raised a tentative, gloved hand, she turned too late to respond.
"The Volvo needs to be brought in this morning," Barry was saying. "Don't forget to tell them about the windshield wipers, this time." He unfolded the paper and pushed the Home section across the table to her place. "Can you get a ride from someone in your office? I have a late appointment. Where did you put that jam I brought back from California?"
She rose, found it immediately. It was in front of the milk on the top shelf of the refrigerator.
"God, this stuff is great. You can't find anything like this here."
They had recently returned from the Napa Valley where they had celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in a small luxurious hotel stuck precariously on a hill above the vineyards. That morning they had taken a hot air balloon ride over the area and Barry had toasted their clever good fortune as they drank local champagne in a field of wild poppies. That night, after a heart-stopping dinner of sauteed foie gras and chanterelles, veal chops tied with sage and fig tarts with armagnac gelato, Barry had made love to her. (Twice a week: a sex life based on some national statistic.) Afterward, Suzanne had gone into the Italian tiled bathroom and turned the shower on full blast and wept because she knew she would have to sleep with this man for the rest of her life. He would certainly outlive her.
February: a day that begins in darkness with a lecture on women and myth. This was Women's Studies, a study of everything that came before, but from a woman's perspective.
"Imagine Pocahontas," she told her class. "She is 13. Maybe she has been off collecting berries--they say we were gatherers. Or perhaps she is in the teepee of her aunt weaving baskets with the women when she hears them bringing in the prisoner. Maybe she was sent there by her father so she will not witness what happens next. She is 13, she is motherless."
Suzanne flicked a slide onto the screen behind her: a pastel-washed drawing from a children's book. Pocahontas' round girlish arms encircle the bearded head of Captain John Smith resting awkwardly on the block as warriors surround him with raised axes. If she were teaching about myth and men, she might mention the historically incorrect method of execution and that white-haired John Smith was only 32 at the time.
"Does she cry to the mighty and great Powhatan, 'Save him, father, I want him for my own?' Like some of our Biblical ancestors, Pocahontas seems to have a predilection for strangers, a fascination with the unfamiliar: scent, taste, language, custom. She apparently loves their unpredictability, the inability to place them, to know their lives.
Not long after this, she was abducted by the colonists and held hostage in the complicated inevitability of those early skirmishes. But before she is returned to her people, she has fallen in love with another John, John Rolfe. She marries him and goes with him to England to live."
Suzanne clicked, pivoted, replaced the picture of the girl with an engraving of Pocahontas made shortly after her arrival in England.
"Here we see her at 22, as elegant as any lady of the court--where she was an enormous success, by the way. She is dressed a la mode, a smart bowler perches on her striking black hair; pearls drop from her tiny ears, a starched ruff surrounds her long thin neck. Pocahontas. Rebecca Rolfe. Imagine."
That was what Suzanne did, this was her trick. She was like Scheherezade, but with a twist. She was a fortune teller, but in reverse--she imagined for others. She recreated what had been lost, conjured up the objects and moments of the past. When she looked into their sleepy, dulled eyes and saw something recorded there--excitement or recognition or even a kind of educated dreaminess--she knew she had been a success.
The end of office hours: Suzanne saw the last of her students, ostensibly about a topic for her final paper, but the girl suddenly burst into tears. She is pressured, passionate. She doesn't know if she really wants to teach, but her parents think it is a good idea; she doesn't know if she wants to marry, but the young man who loves her thinks it is a good idea. Here she twisted the shiny ring on her finger--a beacon of brilliant light in the fluorescent office gloom.
"What should I do?" she begged.
From where Suzanne sat, she could see the cold flat lake and clusters of students and the trees stretching their skeletal limbs towards the dead gray sky. If she leaned a certain way she could see the magnificent doily dome of the Bha'i Temple, but she could not see the future.
She wished to say something comforting, or at least intelligent, supportive. In the past, she might have talked about all the possibilities of a woman's life, she might have even cited episodes from her own life; she would have compared it to weaving or knitting, called it a giant tapestry made from friends and children and work, but she found lately she couldn't say a thing. It was as if her throat was parched, dry with disease.
In her dreams she was always falling off the edge of things: cliffs, ladders, missing the final step to slip down a flight of stairs, or hanging from the severed limb of a great tree. Nothing seemed clear. She went back to the eye doctor again and again, until, finally, to get rid of her, he prescribed glasses, simple magnifying glasses she could have bought for a fraction of the cost at the local dime store.
Everything she had imagined was completed, her children were almost grown, away from home: Joshua was in law school, Amy was finishing her junior year of college. She lived in a large, handsome home furnished with objects and books and pieces of furniture that reflected a life time of travel and taste and interest. She had an old dog. A book based on the dissertation she had finally completed after almost twenty interrupted years of graduate study was being published later in the spring.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Everyone who was going to divorce, had, and now they were starting to die. A woman with whom she had come to the college was dying of breast cancer; another had been recently diagnosed. A colleague who taught history was hospitalized with AIDS; one of her husband's friends suffered a heart attack on the tennis courts one Sunday morning. He was 51.
Even the children were not safe: a boy from her son's class in high school skidded his Honda Civic into a Vermont snow bank and was killed instantly. A neighbor's daughter, 26, pregnant with her first child, dropped dead suddenly of a clot to her brain on the streets of Seattle. Suzanne brushed off her black jersey dress and her black suede pumps and marched obediently to the college chapel and then she put them carefully away for what she knew would be more frequent appearances.
"Don't do it," she said to the student.
"What? Don't do what?" She jumped, seemed alarmed.
"Oh, dear, I don't know," Suzanne said and glanced at her watch. She shuffled some papers and began impatiently to pack her briefcase, the traditional signaling of the end of the conference. "Maybe the issues of personal freedom in To The Lighthouse," she said helpfully, although no one had mentioned the novel at all.
Suzanne met Robert in an exercise class during this long, wet winter. He was a banker with a bad back.
Robert Parrish left his office early. Heading north from the Loop before the traffic, he drove directly to a fitness center near the Northwestern campus. His orthopedist had recommended exercise for his bruised back, this low impact dance class with an emphasis on Stretch and Flex. He changed and stood in the back of the dark studio, alone, for thirty minutes sometimes, waiting patiently for his fellow students, women: housewives with older children, secretaries, teachers from the elementary school nearby.
Suzanne was frequently late, always in a hurry. That winter she wore a big rough coat her husband had discarded years ago, a field coat from a hunting catalog, outsized, the leather collar turned up, and long soft scarves and twice-wrapped mufflers she unwound and discarded as she hurried into the studio. When it rained or snowed, she wore a big felt hat that hid her face and made her look young and vulnerable.
Shunning the locker room, she undressed in the back where it was shadowy and there were hooks and benches, undressed the way dancers learn in tight studio situations, with a minimum of movement and a maximum of grace, stepping out of faded jeans, pulling up leotards under one of the big sweatshirts from their schools or teams her children had given her over the years.
There had been a narrow space like this at the first ballet school she had attended, an enclosed porch of the neighborhood house where Miss Morgan had founded her School of Dance. She remembered shivering out of her clothes--winter in Boston--and into her leotards as a child of five and six. The mothers sat on benches and knitted while the little gifts took class. Sometimes, afterwards, they would go out for tea and tiny cakes with one of the other mothers.
She still wore ballet leotards with long sleeves and low necks and backs, footless tights pulled over the leotards and rolled at the waist for accent, everything black or pink, everything worn and stretched and a hundred years old. Dressed, she squatted and shook her big leather handbag until it revealed a covered elastic. Standing loosely, leaning on one hip, pressing her crooked feet into a high arch by pushing back on her toes, bending them under, she twisted her long wild hair into a careful chignon with several quick turns of her hands. She had been doing this all her life.
She knew Robert watched her. She wondered if he simply liked to observe women in those private moments Degas captured in his art. She had read somewhere that Degas was the first chronicler of working women: dancers, circus performers, laundresses, prostitutes.
Robert's interest in her at first was that simple, about gesture, movement. He had been an athlete as a young man, taken pleasure in the ability of his body to execute certain feats with grace and ease. He ran cross-country, he did the decathlon, he raced French bicycles across the low mountain ranges of his boyhood California under the sponsorship of a local shop. A football scholarship had propelled him from a small valley town to the university and his present life, and he admired her ability to perform the intricate steps, the careful placement of hands and feet. He had never attended the ballet in his life. Oh, once they took the children to the Nutcracker at Christmas.
She smiled at him sometimes, but she rarely spoke--this wasn't a social occasion for her. The banter, the gossip, the normal pleasantries were beneath her; she was serious, aloof. She knew the other women thought she was showing off, but she had stopped worrying about being popular after high school. She began to look forward to Robert's attention; she found herself playing to it sometimes, becoming more balletic, dreamier and yet making the movements sharper, more precise, the way she had learned.
As for him, he was so drawn to her, to her movements that were so graceful, intensely female, they seemed almost holy. He stood as close to her as he felt proper, watching the small sharp turning of her head, the sweep of her arched arms, the quick light movements of her feet. He sensed a connection between the two of them, as if they alone understood this life of the body, its integrity and the beauty of bone, muscle, flesh.
Once, she came early so she could tape her left ankle. She had tripped on the dog's lead that morning, but refused to miss a class. She sat with one leg tucked under, distracted, intense, twisting the flesh colored elastic bandages in a careful figure eight. Raising her head, she looked up and saw Robert watching and asked, "Do you go in for bondage?"
He laughed in surprise. "I was thinking about football. They used to shave our legs to here." He bent and tapped his shin. "Before they taped them. Otherwise you'd pull the hair off, too. The pain would be terrible."
She winced, and in a voice so low he had to lean very close to hear, described how she was taught to fashion a small slipper of gauze to tuck inside a toe shoe; how the blisters never hardened enough to callous, because the next day you opened them again, and how the lambswool she stuffed into the toes would become so encrusted with blood she had to soak it to loosen.
"See, smooth," he said, indicating his shin.
She ran her hand across it.
"The hair never grows back."
What People are Saying About This
Do you want to know what it's like, life in its glory, the one last affair? Forget the bestseller list. Read this. -- Author of The Arm of Flesh
Carnal love lights up this delicious novel as brilliantly as a halogen lamp. Jaffee entraps the reader in exquisitely detailed sexual and gustatory pleasures; at the same time she explores, and explodes, the notion of civilized mid-life divorce. -- Author of Women, Animals and Vegetables
Annette Williams Jaffee is an elegant writer and The Dangerous Age is a taut and compelling tale of late love. -- Author of Tunnel of Love
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A woman leaves her husband for her lover and ends up alone, the lover having gone back to his wife after his heart attack. Episodic and not much depth of character.