Robert Louis Stevenson, he read in his Letters, called marriage "a sort of friendship recognized by the police." Charmed, Maytree bought a red-speckled notebook to dedicate to this vexed spherenot to marriage, but to love. More red-speckled notebooks expanded, without clarifying, this theme. Sextus Propertius, of love: "Shun this hell." From some book he copied: "How does it happen that a never-absent picture has in it the power to make a fresh, overwhelming appearance every hour, wide-eyed, white-toothed, terrible as an army with banners?" She was outside his reach.
Of course she glared at Maytree that fall when he came by barefoot at daybreak and asked if she would like to see his dune shack. Behind his head, color spread up sky. In the act of diving, Orion, rigid, shoulder-first like a man falling, began to dissolve. Then even the zenith and western stars paled and gulls squawked.
Her house was on the bay in town. He proposed to walk her to the oceannot far, but otherworldly in the dunes. She had been enjoying Bleak House. Men always chased her and she always glared.
She most certainly did not ask him in. His was a startling figure: his Mars-colored hair, his height and tension, his creased face. He looked like a traveling minstrel, a red-eyed night heron. His feet were long and thin like the rest of him. He wore a billed fishing cap. An army canteen hung from his belt. She had been a schoolgirl in Marblehead, Massachusetts, when he went West.
Just a walk, he said, sunrise. We won't need to go inside.
In his unsure smile she saw his good faith. Well, that was considerate, brickish of him, to say that they would not go in. She agreed. She had not seen the dunes in weeks.
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
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