"Eat," Pythias is saying. Some time has passed; I'm not sure how much. I'm in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, and she is setting a black plate and cup by my foot. "You know it helps you to eat."
I'm weeping: something about Callisthenes, and nightfall, and the distressing disarray of our lives just now. She pats my face with the sleeve of her dress, a green one I like. She's found time to change into something dry. Wet things are draped and swagged everywhere; I'm in the only chair that hasn't been tented.
"He's so young," she says. "He wants a look at the city, that's all. He'll come back."
I let her put a bite of fish in my mouth. Oil, salt tang. I realize I'm hungry.
"You see?" she says.
There's no name for this sickness, no diagnosis, no treatment mentioned in my father's medical books. You could stand next to me and never guess my symptoms. Metaphor: I am afflicted by colours - grey, hot red, maw-black, gold. I can't always see how to go on, how best to live with an affliction I can't explain and can't cure.
I let her put me to bed. I lie in the sheets she has warmed with stones from the hearth, listening to the surf-sounds of her undressing. "You took care of me today," I say. My eyes are closed, but I can hear her shrug. "Making me ride. You didn't want them laughing at me."
Redness flares behind my closed eyelids; she's brought a candle to the bedside.
"Not tonight," I say.
Before we were married, I gave her many fine gifts: sheep, jewelery, perfume, pottery, excellent clothes. I taught her to read and write because I was besotted and wanted to give her something no lover had ever thought of before.
The next morning I see the note she's left for me, the mouse-scratching I thought I heard as I slipped into sleep: warm, dry.
Excerpted from The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon Copyright © 2010 by Annabel Lyon. 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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