David walked over and hugged her. When he squeezed, the crumbs on her shirt crunched.
"I'm glad it's only us," David said.
"Oh, David," she whispered, and pulled him to her. "Sometimes I don't know why you love me."
It didn't help everything, but it helped.
There was nothing left unaccounted for in David's mind. He kept a running tab of his beneficent deeds, his good husbandry. Yet what occurred to him after he'd made her happy was: Why can't I always be this good? Why can't I be here with her completely now?
It was because of the book, he realized as he sat down at his desk again and brought it up on-screen. The book preoccupied him, gnawed at him. This book, unfinished, was always there. He'd started it just over a year ago, as an idea for a video game, but it had grown into something more. It was his top secret and he worked on it like a double agent, when she was out, when she was doing the dishes or surfing the Web-marriage's half-blind times. David kept the manuscript in a large box under the desk in his study. The writing had been a process of fitful stops and starts, of bursts and binges, of terrible dead ends. He was stuck now, stuck badly, but he refused to give up. The structure was complex, perhaps overly so, but the story was impossible to tell straight. Stymied, he had to step away from it for long periods at a time. He ignored it for weeks and weeks on end. He often worried there was nothing there; then he came around, sure that there was. And after Alice fell asleep, he sometimes wandered back to his study and took it out of the box to have a look. There's something about hard copy that a screen could never convey. He had a test he liked to take. It was the mark of a strong narrative that any page plucked by chance should be gripping, should pull the reader along like a current. David read one. It was gripping! It did pull! A new idea occurred to him, a new direction to follow, possibly a way around this impasse. He thought for a moment, then found the chapter and wrote down several notes.
"David," Alice said. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing," he said, and stood still.
"Then come to bed."
He put the box back under the desk. He'd write tomorrow morning, first thing. In bed, sentences flashed like meteors in his mind.
But the next day their brightness had dimmed. While it wasn't clear to him why one night should make such a difference when it came to inspiration, it did.
It was also not clear to him how Alice had put on the weight. She began their marriage at a ripe 165, a big woman to begin with, large- boned, tall, five foot eleven in bare feet; by their thirteenth year, 288. It wasn't clear to David how this had happened because her diet was so strictly limited. She was allergic to shrimp, mussels, oysters, escargot-anything with a shell. At a dinner party once, she accidentally ate a dropperful of clam sauce, and the hives she broke out in, white at their tops and pink at the base, swelled her eyes closed and turned her arms into a crazy moonscape. Her breathing was shallow. There was a doctor in the house. He happened to be allergic to bees (Alice was too) and he hit her with a shot of adrenaline (she'd forgotten her EpiPen), and she quickly deflated and lost her spots. Cashews were out, almonds, macadamias, all out of the question. Peter Pan peanut butter might as well have featured the skull and crossbones on the label. Alice rationed her poisons every day. She had a checklist on the refrigerator door, with a small table at the bottom of the sheet for her numerical conversions: a little of this, divided by that, times a little of this. Substitute mushrooms, subtract the difference for the grapefruit. It was an allergic person's algebra, David thought, watching her tabulate before her meal, a subdiscipline of alchemy.
His love for his wife was renewed. When Alice ate, she leaned over her plate and chewed dreamily, staring into blankness, a void that hovered just off to the side of David's left breast. Every few bites, she tucked her hair neatly behind her ear-her mind running through fields, eating always relaxed her-and youthfulness was restored to her features. She was the young woman he had married. With a bit of imagination-Alice was now thirty-five-he could make out the girl she was before they'd met. He didn't disturb her. She was very hungry. How could he have dreamed of losing her?
Excerpted from Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross Copyright © 2010 by Adam Ross. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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