Tonight, before Kathryn arrives, Lowell's new love interest will be arriving for drinks. She has no idea that he is a famous chef who has published numerous cookbooks, writes a monthly column for one of the most prestigious food magazines, and teaches seminars on the art of sautéing in St. Croix, where we are put up annually at the Chenay Bay Beach Resort. I have met this woman, who has a name like something out of a cheap English romance, Daphne Crowell, exactly once, when I stumbled into them -- literally -- on the back deck. It was a moonless night, exceedingly dark, and the two of them had gone downstairs to observe our neighbor's speedy little boat coming around the point with another load of drugs. She had been wearing my bathrobe, which she simply helped herself to, after taking it from the hook on the back of my bathroom door. There she was, leaning against the rail at the edge of the deck like a car's hood ornament, when I awoke from slumbering under a blanket on a chaise longue just in time to see her untie the sash and pull off the robe, giggling as she held it forward to flap in the breeze -- my robe -- like some big flag at a parade. I'm sure the silly gesture was equally appreciated by our neighbor, whose own "secretary" wears night goggles for land-to-shore vision, in case the police are waiting in ambush with their panthers, or whatever intimidating beasts they currently favor. Anyway: Daphne is a fool, but nobody ever said Lowell didn't like to waste his time. A recipe he will fret over forever, but any woman will do -- particularly on a night when Kathryn, whom he is still intimidated by, is arriving, all big-city bluster and Oh, how are you doing out here in the boonies? Since starting a graduate program in writing at the New School, she treats everyone as interesting material. She has been trying for years to see if she can make me mad by insisting that I read The Remains of the Day, which -- I have not told her, and will not -- I have, in fact, viewed on television. I understand completely that she wishes me to see myself as some pathetic, latter-day servant who has wasted his life by missing the forest for the trees. If she thinks I live to serve, she's wrong. I simply live to avoid my previous life.
"Everything ready out here?" Lowell calls. He has opened the French doors and is propping them open with cement-filled conch shells. Everything ready, indeed: he's the one who set out the cheese torte, under the big upside-down brass colander. All I had to do was bring out the gallon of Tanqueray, the tonic, and some Key limes. My Swiss Army knife will do for slicing, and even mixing.
"Are you going deaf, Richard? Half the things I ask you, you don't respond to."
He's mad at me not because I haven't answered, really, but because I refused to drive to Miami to get his sister. The ride wouldn't have bothered me, but two and a half hours with Kathryn in a car would be more than I could take, by approximately two hours and twenty-five minutes.
"Richard...is there a possibility that not only do you not hear me, but that you have no curiosity about why I'm standing here, moving my lips?"
"I thought maybe you'd just had something tasty," I say.
A pause. "You did hear me, then? You just chose not to answer?"
"What's the point of these random women?" I say.
He walks toward me. "I don't know why it upset you so much that she borrowed your robe," he says. "Anything that smacks of exuberance, you insist upon as seeing as drunken foolishness."
"Remember the Siberians," I say. "And the one you picked up in South Beach, who wanted to sue for palimony after one weekend."
He looks at my knife, open to the longest blade, next to the bottle of gin. "This was your idea of a stirrer?" he says.
"She's so spontaneous and uninhibited," I say. "Let's see if she doesn't just use her finger."
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
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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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