Excerpt of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
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It began when Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree first met. He was back home in Provincetown after the war. Maytree first saw her on a bicycle. A red scarf, white shirt, skin clean as eggshell, wide eyes and mouth, shorts. She stopped and leaned on a leg to talk to someone on the street. She laughed, and her loveliness caught his breath. He thought he recognized her flexible figure. Because everyone shows up in Provincetown sooner or later, he had taken her at first for Ingrid Bergman until his friend Cornelius straightened him out.
He introduced himself. You're Lou Bigelow, aren't you? She nodded. They shook hands and hers felt hot under sand like a sugar doughnut. Under her high brows she eyed him straight on and straight across. She had gone to girls' schools, he recalled later. Those girls looked straight at you. Her wide eyes, apertures opening, seemed preposterously to tell him, I and these my arms are for you. I know, he thought back at the stranger, this long-limbed girl. I know and I am right with you.
He felt himself blush and knew his freckles looked green. She was young and broad of mouth and eye and jaw, fresh, solid and airy, as if light rays worked her instead of muscles. Oh, how a poet is a sap; he knew it. He managed to hold his eyes on her. Her rich hair parted on the side; she was not necessarily beautiful, or yes she was, her skin's luster. Her pupils were rifle bores shooting what? When he got home he could not find his place in Helen Keller.
He courted Lou carefully in town, to wait, surprised, until his newly serious intent and hope firmed or fled, and until then, lest he injure her trust. No beach walks, dune picnics, rowing, sailing. Her silence made her complicit, innocent as beasts, oracular. Agitated, he saw no agitation in her even gaze. Her size and whole-faced smile maddened him, her round arms at her sides, stiff straw hat. Her bare shoulders radiated a smell of sun-hot skin. Her gait was free and light. Over her open eyes showed two widths of blue lids whose size and hue she would never see. Her face's skin was transparent, lighted and clear like sky. She barely said a word. She tongue-tied him.
She already knew his dune-shack friend Cornelius Blue, knew the professors Hiram and Elaine Cairo from New York, knew everyone's friend Deary the hoyden who lived on the pier or loose in the dunes, and old Reevadare Weaver who gave parties. Bumping through a painter's opening, picking up paint at the hardware store, ransacking the library, she glanced at him, her mouth curving broadly, as if they shared a joke. He knew the glance of old. It was a summons he never refused. The joke washe hopedthat the woman had already yielded but would set him jumping through hoops anyway. Lou Bigelow's candid glance, however, contained neither answer nor question, only a spreading pleasure, like Blake's infant joy, kicking the gong around.
Maytree concealed his courtship. On the Cairos' crowded porch, she steadied her highball on the rail. He asked her, Would she like to row around the harbor with him? She turned and gave him a look, Hold on, Buster. He was likely competing with fleets and battalions of men. Maytree wanted her heart. She had his heart and did not know it. She shook her head, clear of eye, and smiled. If he were only a painter: her avid expression, mouth in repose or laughing, her gleaming concentration. The wide-open skin between her brows made their arcs long. Not even Ingrid Bergman had these brows. The first few times he heard her speak, her Britishy curled vowels surprised him. He rarely dared look her way.
One day he might accompany Lou Bigelow from town out here to his family's old dune shack. He was afraid his saying "shack" would scare them both. Without her he already felt like one of two pieces of electrical tape pulled apart. He could not risk a mistake.
The foregoing is excerpted from The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022