He’d loved her, because through the skin and bone of her back he could feel her heart beating, and he felt sorry. I respect you Martin. That was the point. He respected her, too. She was the woman he slept with and faced death with. He’d though they agreed. That they were modern only to the extent of not being vitalists, of facing the future and hoping that if love was organic then it could be synthesized out of respect, out of the memory of being in love, out of pity, out of familiarity and physical attraction and the bond of the daughter they both loved as parents. That they would not leave each other. That the project mattered. He’d thought they had an agreement.
Her skin smells wet with tears and sweet with booze when he kneels at her feet and leans towards her. She comes down off the sofa and puts her mouth on his and pushes, strokes, bites. He shuts his eyes. It’s last year. It’s no year. he touches her ribs and shoulder blades, and feels both comforted and alarmed by the ease with which he can control his behavior, by the arbitrariness of attitude. When they have nothing to fight over, nothing to strain against, necessity flags. What does it matter what they’ve done? What does it matter what they do? The evening is free.
How easy it would be for a roving reporter, a Don Daizy or Cliff Quinlan, to stop these people one by one and say to each in turn, ‘I don’t want you to tell me your name, I want you to tell yourself who you are,’ and for the camera to record the given face as the person did so, whatever surprise or discouragement crossed it as he or she confronted a world that was not a spherical enclosing screen on which pictures were projected, but a collection of objects to which the given person dared to belong. It was a dreadful vision: in the mall and beyond, an infinity of carriers of latent awareness. The infection of the earth by seeing human beings.
There was an answer: if you looked for patterns, you found them. If you didn’t look, they weren’t there. Probst wasn’t born yesterday, after all. He knew there was no God, no conspiracy, no meaning; there was nothing whatsoever. Except shirts. By gravitation, seemingly, he’d found the shirts he wanted. They came in three colors, the maroon and black, a green and black, and a yellow and black. The latter two looked clownish, and another man already had his hands on them. The man had a mustache. It was Harvey Ardmore.
They scrimmaged. Angry looks and mutters of surprise and consternation. They backed off.
Following Greener, however, Dem preferred to choose a room’s furnishings rather than choose the verbiage that furnished their details.
A writer can write ‘the room had a couch,’ or a writer can just give up writing, go out and drag a couch back into the room, having selected the appropriate model—it’s this total specificity, this absolute precision, that allowed Dem, having left the arts, to once gain keep her exterior flawless and her interior private, her own.
I looked at the electric fire, at the tangerine grin of its single coiled bar, and wondered if it would be rude if Jane and I left within half an hour. I prepared myself externally by “setting” my face. It was during the first or second year of our marriage, while I was working hardest on the Ph.D., that I contracted my habit of “setting” my face to resemble an appropriate emotional state—humble in post offices (because the staff are always so sullen), generous in shops, distracted at the university (to impress the students), arrogant in buses, confident with my parents, genial with Jane, sober with Max’s parents, and so on. It came about, I think, because I spent all day at home and had no one to show my face to until I blundered out on to the busy London street—and suddenly, people were looking at me, staring at e, and I had to appear correct. That is also why I began the trick of the solemn little cough.
Jane’s on the point of saying something thoughtful, something sympathetic—because the story starts to sink in—but at the same time she doesn’t want to seem like she’s encouraging him or pitying him, and she doesn’t want his sob story to be a pickup line, she wants it to be true.