Will leans out of the driver's-side window toward his wife. "It's not too late to
change your mind," he says.
Her dark glasses show him the houses on their side of the block, greatly reduced and warped by the convexity of each lens. The fancy wrought-iron bars on their neighbor's windows, the bright plastic backboard of the Little Tikes basketball hoop one door down, the white climbing rose, suddenly and profusely in bloom, on the trellis by their own mailbox: it's as if he were studying one of those jewel-like miniatures painted in Persia during the sixteenth century; the longer Will looks, the more tiny details he finds.
"Did you remember to bring pictures?" Carole asks.
He points to an envelope on the seat beside him. "I mentioned the pool at the hotel?"
"Babysitting services? Pay-per-view?"
"Come on, Will," Carole says, "don't do this to me."
"Make me feel guilty." Her bra strap has slipped out from the armhole of her sleeveless dress, down one shoulder. Without looking, she tucks it back where it belongs.
"You know I'd make it up to you," he tells her. She smiles, raises her eyebrows so they appear above the frames of her sunglasses.
"And how might you do that?" she asks him.
"By being your sex slave."
She reaches behind his neck to adjust his collar. "Aren't you forgetting something?" she says.
"You already are my sex slave."
"Oh," Will says, "right." The errant strap has reemerged, a black satiny one he recognizes as belonging to the bra that unhooks in front.
Carole ducks her head in the window to brush her lips against his cheek, a kiss, but not quite: no pucker, no sound. For a moment she rests her forehead against his. "I just can't deal with it. You know that. I can't talk about Lukenot with people I don't know. And the same goes for your brother." She pulls back to look at him. "If you weren't such a masochist, you wouldn't be going either."
I'm curious, Will thinks of saying. It's not as simple as masochism. Or as complicated. Carole steps back from the car door.
"See you Sunday," she says, and her voice has returned to its previous playful tone. "Call if you get lonely."
"Oh, I doubt that'll be necessary." Will turns the key in the ignition. "I'll be too busy connecting with old friends. Blowing on the embers of undergraduate romance . . ."
"Checking out the hairlines," she says. "Seeing who got fat and who got really fat."
Will glances in the rearview mirror as he drives away, sees his wife climb the stairs to their front door, the flash of light as she opens it, the late June sun hot and yellow against its big pane of glass.
Something about the cavernous tent defeats acoustics: the voices of the class of '79, those Cornell alumni who made it back for their twenty-fifth reunion, combine in a percussive assault on the eardrum, the kind Will associates with driving on a highway, one window cracked for air, that annoying whuh-whuh-whuh sound. He moves his lower jaw from side to side to dispel the echoey, dizzy feeling. Psychosomatic, he concludes. Why is he here, anyway? Does he even want to make the effort to hear well enough to engage with these people? Everyone around him, it seems, isn't talking so much as advertising. Husbands describing vacations too expensive to include basic plumbing, referring to them as experiences rather than travel, as in "our rain forest experience." And, as if to demonstrate what good sports they are, wives laughing at everything, including comments that strike Will as pure information. "No, they relocated." "Ohio, wasn't it?" "The kids are from the first marriage." "She fell in love with this guy overseas."
Excerpted from Envy by Kathryn Harrison Copyright © 2005 by Kathryn Harrison. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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