The clock on the wall said half past two. The sound of a woman's high heels could be heard on the marble floor. Sexton Beecher didn't turn around to look.
"I'll be outside at four," he said. "I'll give you a ride home."
I don't even know you, she might have said, except that Mrs. Yates was leaning in Honora's direction lest she miss a word. Honora was silent, which the man took for acquiescence. She noticed this time that his eyes weren't really gray, but green, and that perhaps they were set too close together. His forehead was awfully high, and when he smiled, his teeth were slightly crooked. And there was something cocky in his manner, but that might just be the salesman in him, she thought. Honora laid these flaws aside as one might overlook a small stain on a beautifully embroidered tablecloth one wanted to buy, only later to discover, when it was on the table and all the guests were seated around it, that the stain had become a beacon, while the beautiful embroidery lay hidden in everybody's laps.
Sexton returns with a can of oil from the car. Honora finds a piece of castile soap wrapped in a tea towel in her suitcase. He removes his jacket and rolls his sleeves. His left forearm is already tanned from leaning it out of the window of the Buick. Honora feels a small ping in her abdomen and looks away.
The tap retches and sprays a stuttering dome of brown water into the sink. Honora jumps back, not wanting the water on her suit.
"It's the rust," he says. "They said the water was turned on, but I didn't know for sure. A valve was stuck in the basement."
Together they watch the water clear.
His shirt is dirty at the back. She reaches over to brush it off. He leans against the lip of the sink and bends his head, letting her touch him in this way. When she stops, he straightens. She holds out the soap and together they wash their hands in the bulbous stream of water. She scrubs the marcasite-and-pearl earrings. He watches as she puts them on.
"Should I bring the picnic in, or do you want a nap?" he asks. She feels herself blush at the word nap. "I haven't been upstairs yet," she says.
"There's a bed. Well, a mattress. It looks clean enough."
So her husband had looked for a bed even before he searched for the furnace.
"There are blankets in the trunk," she says.
After a time, Honora stopped thinking of him as "the typewriter salesman" and began to think of him as Sexton. He drove over from Portsmouth eight times in the three months that they courted, telling his boss that he was onto something big in Taft. He was from Ohio, he told Honora, an American heading in the wrong direction. He'd had a year of college on the co-op program, but the freedom of traveling and the possibility of fat commissions had lured him east, away from the classroom. He made good money, he said, which might or might not be true; she couldn't be absolutely sure. Yes, there was the Buick, but she couldn't ignore the too-tight collars and a sole coming loose from a shoe. The sleeves of some of his shirts were frayed at the cuffs.
They courted in the Buick with all the typewriters (Fosdick's Nos. 6 and 7), her mother's house too small for any sort of privacy. Sexton was charming and persistent in a way Honora had never experienced before. He told her that he loved her. He also told her that he had dreams. One day there would be a Fosdick in every household, he said, and he would be the man to put them there.
"Will you marry me?" he asked her in May.
On his sixth visit, Honora noticed that Sexton could hardly contain his excitement. A stroke of luck, he said in the Buick when finally they were alone. His boss knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. An abandoned house, but upright nevertheless. All they had to do, in place of rent, was take care of it and fix it up.
Copyright © 2002 by Anita Shreve
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