We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we
anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and
were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay
its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about
in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the
only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are
not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the
present usually hurts.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées (#47)
There is nothing more terrorising than the possibility that nothing is hidden. There's nothing more scandalous than a happy marriage.
- Adam Phillips, Monogamy
His hand is growing cold; still she holds it. Sitting at his bedside,
she does not cry. From time to time, she lays her cheek against
his, taking slight comfort in the rough bristle of unshaved hair,
and she speaks to him a little.
I love you, she tells him.
I always will.
Je t'aime, she says.
Rain is predicted for tonight and she hears the wind rise outside. It blows through the branches of the oak trees and she hears a shutter bang against the side of the house, then bang again. She must remember to ask him to fix it - no, she remembers. A car drives by, the radio is on loud. A heavy metal song, she cannot make out the words. Teenagers. How little they know, how little they suspect what life has in store for them - or death.
They may be drunk or stoned. She imagines the clouds racing in the night sky half hiding the stars as the car careens down the dirt road, scattering stones behind it like gunshot. A yell. A rolled-down window and a hurled beer can for her to pick up in the morning. It makes her angry but bothers him less, which also makes her angry.
A tune begins going round and round in her head. She half recognizes it but she is not musical. Sing! he sometimes teases her, sing something! He laughs and then he is the one to sing.
He has a good voice.
She leans down to try to catch the words:
Anything can happen on a summer afternoon On a lazy dazy golden hazy summer afternoon
She is almost tempted to laugh - lazy, dazy? How silly those words sound and how long has it been since she has heard them? Thirty, no, forty years. The song he sang when he was courting her and a song she has rarely heard before or since. She wonders whether it is a real one or a made-up one. She wants to ask him.
Gently, with her index finger, she turns the gold band on his ring finger round and round. Her own ring is narrower. Inside it, their names are engraved in an ornate script: Nina and Philip. Over time, however, a few of the letters have worn off - Nin and Phi i. Their names look like mathematical symbols - how fitting that is.
Nothing is engraved inside his ring. The original ring slipped off his finger and disappeared into the Atlantic Ocean while he was sailing alone off the coast of Brittany one summer afternoon.
A lazy dazy golden hazy - the tune stays in her head. In the morning when he leaves for work, Philip kisses her goodbye and in the evening, when he returns home he kisses her hello. He kisses her on the mouth. The kiss is not passionate - although, on occasion, it is playful, and he slips his tongue in her mouth as a reminder of sorts. Mostly, it is a tender, friendly kiss.
How was your day? he asks.
She shrugs. Always something is amiss: a broken machine, a leak, a mole digging up the garden. She never has enough time to paint.
Yours? she asks.
What was his answer?
He is an optimist.
We had a faculty meeting. You should hear how those new physicists talk! Philip shakes his head, taps his forehead with his finger. Crazy, he says.
Excerpted from I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck. Copyright © 2011 by Lily Tuck. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Monthly Press. 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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