Did I? His gaze is far off, tunneling past her.
He looks pale, she thinks. Hes wearing a red button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he inhabits it so loosely that it billows around him like a pastry puff. He looks as if hes lost weight. He has lost weight. So has she. They havent eaten much, either of them, this past year.
A mosquito lands on his neck. She swats at it, and he flinches. A bug, she says.
A firefly alights on one of her tulips, and another one, casting the garden in a sputter of light. The girls will be arriving soon.
Not for another twenty-four hours.
Thats soon enough.
Another mosquito lands on him.
The bugs love you, she says. Remember how we used to say that to the kids? Mornings before summer camp and we were coating them in Calamine? The mosquitoes loved Leo most of all.
She knows what hes thinking. That memory is selective, even in small matters like this one. But its true, she thinks. Leo was the most bit-up of the kids. The bugs found him the sweetest, as did she.
He rises from his chair. I need to get a haircut.
David, its nine oclock at night.
I mean tomorrow, he says, all impatience. Ill go into town before the girls arrive. He checks his reflection in the porch window. Hes patting down his hair, straightening out his shirt collar as if he has somewhere to go.
You look good, she says. Handsome. He still has a full head of hair, though its grown silver over the years. When, she wonders, did this happen? Its taken place so slowly she hasnt noticed it at all.
Shes sitting in a lawn chair, and she turns away from him. Its been a year since Leo died, and on the teak garden table, pressed beneath a mound of books, sits a pile of programs for the memorial. There will be a service at the Lenox Community Center; then theyll go to the cemetery for the unveiling.
You changed into tennis shorts, he says.
I was thinking of hitting some balls.
The court is lit.
He shrugs, then goes back to the Times. He skims the editorial page, the letters, and now hes on to the arts. He folds the paper like origami, over and over on itself.
She steps off the porch and disappears into the garden. She continues along the stone path, which winds past the bushes to where their tennis court lies. The garage is next to it, and as she steps inside and flips on the court lights, the clays gets flooded in a pond of illumination.
She stands at the baseline with a bucket of balls, another bucket waiting in the garage behind her. Shes in her shorts and an indigo tank top, her sneakers laced tightly, her hair tied back, though a few strands have come loose in the nighttime heat. She breathes slowly, in and out. She hits serve after serve into the empty opponents court, taking something off the second serve, putting more spin on it, then returning to her first serve, hitting one ace after another. She serves into the deuce court and the ad court and the deuce court again. She empties one bucket of balls, and now she returns with the other bucket. Occasionally when she serves, her ball hits another ball lying on the clay, and they bounce off each other. There are a hundred and fifty tennis balls now, maybe two hundred, the court covered in fuzz the color of lime. Sweat drips down her forehead and singes her eyes. She simply leaves the balls lying there and returns to the house.
Did you get it out of your system?
She doesnt respond.
So this is it, he says.
Excerpted from The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Copyright © 2012 by Joshua Henkin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, 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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