What do you want me to do? Philip answers. His voice is unnaturally shrill. Kill it?
A man wearing a straw hat approaches Philip. The man is carrying a stick. Philip takes his wallet out of his back pocket and, without a word, gives him twenty dollars. The man takes the twenty dollars and, likewise, does not say a word to Philip. Back in the car, Nina and Philip do not speak to each other until they have reached Puerto Vallarta and until Nina says, Look there's the sea.
Then, he tells her about Iris.
In bed that night, Philip says, I wonder if the guy in the hat carrying the stick was really the pig's owner. He could have been anyone.
Yes, Nina agrees. He could have been anyone.
These flea bites, she also says, are driving me crazy.
Me, too, Philip says, taking her in his arms.
* * *
She believes Philip loved her but how can she be certain of this? Knowledge is the goal of belief. But how can she justify her belief? Through logical proof? Through axioms that are known some other way, and by, for instance, intuition. Who thought of this? Socrates? Plato? She does not remember; she only remembers the name of her high school philosophy teacher, Mlle. Pieters, who was Flemish, and the way she said Platoe. She should reread Plato. Plato might comfort her. Wisdom. Philosophy. Or study the Eastern philosophers. Zen. Perhaps she should become a Buddhist nun. Shave her head, wear a white robe, wear cheap plastic sandals.
She hears the wind outside shake the branches of the trees. Again, the shutter bangs against the side of the house. Now who will fix it?
Who will mow the lawn? Who will change the lightbulb in the hall downstairs that she cannot reach? Who will help her bring in the groceries?
How can she think of these things?
She is glad it is night and the room is dark.
Time is much kinder at night - she has read this somewhere recently.
If she was to turn and look at the clock on the bedside table, she would know the time - ten, eleven, twelve o'clock or already the next day? But she does not want to look. Instead, if she could, she would reverse the time. Have it be yesterday, last week, years ago.
In Paris, in a café on the corner of boulevard Saint-Germain and rue du Bac. She can picture it exactly. It is not yet spring, still cold, but already the tables are out on the sidewalk so that the pedestrians have to step out into the street. It is Saturday and crowded. The chestnut trees have not yet begun to bloom, a few green shoots on the branches give out a hopeful sign.
She remembers what she is wearing. A man's leather bomber jacket she has bought secondhand at an outdoor flea market, a yellow silk scarf, boots. At the time, she thinks she looks French and chic. Perhaps she does. In any event, he thinks she is French.
Vous permettez? he asks, pointing to the empty chair at her table.
She is drinking a café crème and reading a French book, Tropismes by Nathalie Sarraute.
Je vous en prie, she says, without looking up at him.
She works at an art gallery a few blocks away on rue Jacques-Callot. The gallery primarily shows avant-garde American painters. The French like them and buy their work. Presently, the gallery is exhibiting a Californian artist whose work she admires. The artist is older, well-known, wealthy; he has invited Nina to the hôtel particulier on the Right Bank where he is staying. He has told her to bring her bathing suit - she remembers it still: a blue-and-white checked cotton two-piece. The pool is located on the top floor of the hôtel particulier and is paneled in dark wood, like one in an old-fashioned ocean liner; instead of windows there are portholes. She follows the artist into the pool and as she swims, she looks out onto the Paris rooftops and since night is falling, watches the lights come on. Floating on her back, she also watches the beam at the top of the Eiffel Tower protectively circle the city. Afterward, they put on thick white robes and sit side by side on chaise longues as if they are, in fact, on board a ship, crossing the Atlantic. They even drink something - a Kir royal. She slept with him once more but they did not go swimming again. Before he leaves Paris, he gives her one of his drawings, a small cartoon-like pastel of a ship, its prow shaped like the head of a dog. Framed, the drawing hangs downstairs in the front hall.
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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