"Key lime?" I offer, reaching behind the slightly quivering kitten and extracting one from a basket.
"What do you do with it?"
"You squirt some in your beer," Kathryn says.
"I hope...I hope it isn't too much trouble, my just, you know, coming here," the highlighter says, as if the idea of limes used to enhance the flavor of drinks has just defined some complexity for her.
"Look at this! Next Sunday's Times Book Review -- by subscription!" Kathryn says.
"Yes. We alternate with our reading of The Siberian Daily."
"Didn't I tell you he has a clever comeback for everything?" Kathryn says.
As if this weren't a put-down, the highlighter extends her hand and says, "I can't believe my good fortune in being here. I mean, it's very generous of you to have me. Because what a coincidence, my flying to this part of Florida -- I guess I'm in the right part of Florida! -- just when..."
I shake her hand. It is what we might have done from the first, if she had said immediately how happy she was to be where she was, and if Kathryn hadn't plunked the two bags in my hand. Does this happen to other people? This finding oneself suddenly greeting someone, or introducing oneself, long after things have gotten rolling? Roger Vergé once introduced himself to me on the second day of his visit, following his dinner of the night before, and after preparing lunch, for which he'd had me shop earlier that morning. Does some strange, sudden formality overcome people, or is there something I do that makes them feel so immediately a part of the family that they forget social form? I've asked Lowell, and that is his explanation. Just as his sister would never miss an opportunity to express skepticism about me, Lowell lets no opportunity pass when he can reassure me of my worthiness, by putting a positive spin on things. Leaving aside those periods when he is too depressed to speak, that is.
"And so you...you stay out here and create recipes together?" the highlighter asks.
"That sounds so domestic," I say. "No, actually. I have nothing to do with composing the recipes, and now that Lowell has mastered the computer, I sometimes don't even -- "
"Tell her about tracking down the powdered rhino horn," Kathryn says, stroking the collapsed kitten.
"She's talking about my tracking down an herbal mixture Lowell had interest in," I begin.
"Did you go to jail?"
"For importing the rhinoceros."
"I didn't....I didn't import a whole rhinoceros."
"The drug smuggler around the corner would probably be willing to do that for a price," Kathryn says.
The highlighter looks at me, wide-eyed. "She told me about the guy who runs drugs."
"And did she tell you that we disapprove, and that we're spying on him for the federal government?"
"Only kidding. We don't care what out neighbors do."
"For one thing, you'd have to be delusional to live here on the edge of nowhere and think in terms of having a neighbor," Kathryn says.
"I know everybody in my building," the highlighter says. "Of course, there are only four apartments."
"Apartments," Kathryn muses, strolling onto the back deck. "Can you stand here and imagine one going up across the way?"
"No," the highlighter says.
"We've left places because of equally ridiculous scenarios," I say.
"Kathryn told me that you two have lived just about everywhere."
"She did? Well, as an adult I've only -- "
"Rhinoceros," the highlighter says. "Isn't that an aphrodisiac, or something?"
The wall phone rings, sending a short spasm through the kitten, who has dragged itself almost underneath it, before collapsing again.
That is what we were doing, what the three of us were talking about, when a chef whose name I faintly computed called from Coral Gables, in quite a dither, wanting me to inform Lowell that George Stephanopoulos would be calling momentarily.
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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