But thinking was all he had. When his other wives had found out about his affairs, they had raged, coldly or tearfully, they had insisted on long sessions into the early hours to deliver their thoughts on broken trust, and eventually their demands for a separation and all that followed. But when Patrice happened across some e-mails from Suzanne Reuben, a mathematician at the Humboldt University in Berlin, she became unnaturally elated. That same afternoon she moved her clothes into the guest bedroom. It was a shock when he slid the wardrobe doors open to confirm the fact. Those rows of silk and cotton dresses, he realized now, had been a luxury and a comfort, versions of herself lining up to please him. No longer. Even the hangers were gone. She smiled through dinner that night as she explained that she too intended to be free, and within the week she had started her affair. What was a man to do? He apologized one breakfast, told her his lapse meant nothing, made grand promises he sincerely believed he might keep. This was the closest he came to pleading. She said she did not mind what he did. This was what she was doingand this was when she revealed the identity of her lover, the builder with the sinister name of Rodney Tarpin, seven inches taller and twenty years younger than the cuckold, whose sole reading, according to his boast, back when he was humbly grouting and beveling for the Beards, was the sports section of a tabloid newspaper.
An early sign of Beards distress was dysmorphia, or perhaps it was dysmorphia he was suddenly cured of. At last he knew himself for what he was. Catching sight of a conical pink mess in the misted full- length mirror as he came out of the shower, he wiped down the glass, stood full on, and took a disbelieving look. What engines of self-persuasion had let him think for so many years that looking like this was seductive? That foolish thatch of earlobe-level hair that buttressed his baldness, the new curtain swag of fat that hung below his armpits, the innocent stupidity of swelling in gut and rear. Once he had been able to improve on his mirror self by pinning back his shoulders, standing erect, tightening his abs. Now human blubber draped his efforts. How could he possibly keep hold of a young woman as beautiful as she was? Had he honestly thought that status was enough, that his Nobel Prize would keep her in his bed? Naked, he was a disgrace, an idiot, a weakling. Even eight consecutive push- ups were beyond him. Whereas Tarpin could run up the stairs to the Beards master bedroom holding under one arm a fifty-kilo cement sack. fifty kilos? That was roughly Patrices weight.
She kept him at a distance with lethal cheerfulness. These were additional insults, her singsong hellos, the matinal recital of domestic detail, and her evening whereabouts, and none of it would have mattered if he had been able to despise her a little and plan to be shot of her. Then they could have settled down to the brief, grisly dismantling of a five-year childless marriage. Of course she was punishing him, but when he suggested that, she shrugged and said that she could just as easily have said the same of him. She had merely been waiting for this opportunity, he said, and she laughed and said that in that case she was grateful to him.
In his delusional state, he was convinced that just as he was about to lose her, he had found the perfect wife. That summer of 2000 she was wearing different clothes, she had a different look around the housefaded tight jeans, flip-flops, a ragged pink cardigan over a T-shirt, her blond hair cut short, her pale eyes a deeper agitated blue. Her build was slight, and now she looked like a teenager. From the empty rope- handled glossy carrier bags and tissue paper left strewn on the kitchen table for his inspection, he gathered she was buying herself new underwear for Tarpin to remove. She was thirty-four, and still kept the strawberries-and-cream look of her twenties. She did not tease or taunt or flirt with himthat at least would have been communication of a sortbut steadily perfected the bright indifference with which she intended to obliterate him.
Excerpted from Solar by Ian McEwan Copyright © 2010 by Ian McEwan. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, 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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