Who list her hount, I put him owte of dowbte,
As well as I may spend his tyme in vain:
And, graven with Diamonds, in letters plain
There is written her faier neck rounde abowte:
Noli me tangere, for Cesars I ame;
And wylde for to hold though I seme tame.
--Sir Thomas Wyatt
It was well past the time when anyone should feel the least bit embarrassed by asking for another drink. The worst of the day, in fact, was nearly over -- that tedious span of muggy afternoon when one deeply regrets the second helping of Crab Louis and the second (or was it the third?) Scotch, while the sun -- fat and yellow and simple as a kid's drawing -- blazes away in an impossibly blue sky complete with the corniest of cotton clouds, and one must, somehow, maintain the pretense that one is having a hell of a good time on one's day off.
A faint breeze had sprung up; now it stirred the drapes in the open window of the guest room upstairs; through that window one could see the pool and the patio and much of the gently sloping land beyond as it led to the row of apple trees marking the distant edge of the property line. The untended woods behind the apple trees were already being absorbed by night; the childish disk of the sun was settling into the highest of the branches where it created the illusion that the treetops were burning up -- furiously but silently. And, across the vast expanse of exquisitely clipped lawn (in the hard, oblique light, it appeared to have a perfect nap, like quality velvet) were creeping the long, inky shadows that signaled the steady advance of evening. Soon -- but, thank God, not too soon -- it would be time to dress for dinner.
The only sound was the steady splash of someone swimming. Ted Cotter and his wife Laney -- the nickname still persisted from her Vassar days -- were stretched out side by side on reclining chairs by the pool, his eyes covered with green sunglasses, hers with a yellow plastic gadget shaped like two picnic spoons, their handles joining over the bridge of her nose. Neither had moved for some time.
Both Ted and Laney enjoyed hearing it said that they made a handsome couple; they'd heard it often and had come to expect it. No one meeting Laney for the first time ever believed she was in her forties; she had the sleek, fine-boned figure that is usually called "thoroughbred." Ted had the look of a successful middle-aged man who keeps himself fit; the gray sprinkled liberally through his thick hair was the perfect touch for a man who liked to think of himself as mature and resourceful and steady under fire -- a man who would naturally take command in any disaster. Ted and Laney did, indeed, make a handsome couple, and if, during their twenty-two years of marriage, neither had been seriously unfaithful to the other, it had not been for lack of opportunity.
Reclining in a third chair, set off some ten feet to the side of the others, was Billy Dougherty, Ted's old executive officer from his last command in the war, now Ted's employee. Billy appeared to be built entirely out of slabs of thickly bunched muscle, and he looked more like a roughneck steel worker than what he was, the general superintendent of the "Old Reliable" Indian Works in Millwood. Though only a year younger than Ted, Billy had never lost something of the perpetual boy -- maybe it was his winsome, lopsided grin or his habit of rubbing the back of his neck and looking off to one side as though he were about to say, "Aw, shucks, ma'am," in a Jimmy Stewart voice -- and he had always been successful with the sort of woman who mistakenly thinks she can make something of him.
Billy sat up and yawned and lit a cigarette; he leaned forward to get a better view of Gloria Cotter swimming laps in the pool. She had passed on the Crab Louis, had eaten instead half a grapefruit, two rye crackers, and a cube of Swiss cheese; she had not been offered a gin and tonic, and, if she had, would have refused; she thought that adults (or, as she caught herself still referring to the despite the fact that she had recently turned twenty-one, "grown-ups") drank too much.
>Copyright © 1999 by Keith Maillard. All rights reserved. Published by the permission of the publisher, Soho Press.
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