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IN THE EARLY evening, high-altitude clouds in the western sky formed a thin yellow wash which became richer over the hour, and then thickened until a filtered orange glow hung above the giant crests of parkland trees; the leaves became nutty brown, the branches glimpsed among the foliage oily black, and the desiccated grasses took on the colors of the sky. A Fauvist dedicated to improbable color might have imagined a landscape this way, especially once sky and ground took on a reddish bloom and the swollen trunks of elderly oaks became so black they began to look blue. Though the sun was weakening as it dropped, the temperature seemed to rise because the breeze that had brought faint relief all day had faded, and now the air was still and heavy.
The scene, or a tiny portion of it, was visible to Robbie Turner through a sealed skylight window if he cared to stand up from his bath, bend his knees and twist his neck. All day long his small bedroom, his bathroom and the cubicle wedged between them he called his study had baked under the southern slope of t nike ireland online he bungalow’s roof. For over an hour after returning from work he lay in a tepid bath while his blood and, so it seemed, his thoughts warmed the water. Above him the framed rectangle of sky slowly shifted through its limited segment of the spectrum, yellow to orange, as he sifted unfamiliar feelings and returned to certain memories again and again. Nothing palled. Now and then, an inch below the water’s surface, the muscles of his stomach tightened involuntarily as he recalled another detail. A drop of water on her upper arm. Wet nike ireland promo code . An embroidered flower, a simple daisy, sewn between the cups of her bra. Her breasts wide apart and small. On her back, a mole half covered by a strap. When she climbed out of the pond, a glimpse of the triangular darkness her knickers were supposed to conceal. Wet. He saw it, he made himself see it again. The way her pelvic bones stretched the material clear of her skin, the deep curve of her waist, her startling whiteness. When she reached for her skirt, a carelessly raised foot revealed a patch of soil on each pad of her sweetly diminishing toes. Another mole the size of a farthing on her thigh and something purplish on her calf—a strawberry mark, a scar. Not blemishes. Adornments.
He had known her since they were children, and he had never looked at her. At Cambridge she came to his rooms once with a New Zealand girl in glasses and someone from her school, when there was a friend of his from Downing there. They idled away an hour with nervous jokes, and handed cigarettes about. Occasionally, they passed in the street and smiled. She always seemed t nike ireland online store o find it awkward—That’s our cleaning lady’s son, she might have been whispering to her friends as she walked on. He liked people to know he didn’t care—There goes my mother’s employer’s daughter, he once said to a friend. He had his politics to protect him, and his scientifically based theories of class, and his own rather forced self-certainty. I am what I am. She was like a sister, almost invisible. That long, narrow face, the small mouth—if he had ever thought nike ireland clearance about her at all, he might have said she was a little horsey in appearance. Now he saw it was a strange beauty—something carved and still about the face, especially around the inclined planes of her cheekbones, with a wild flare to the nostrils, and a full, glistening rosebud mouth. Her eyes were dark and contemplative. It was a statuesque look, but her movements were quick and impatient—that vase would still be in one piece if she had not jerked it so suddenly from his hands. She was restless, that was clear, bored and confined by the Tallis household, and soon she would be gone.
He would have to speak to her soon. He stood up at last from his bath, shivering, in no doubt that a great change was coming over him. He walked naked through his study into the bedroom. The unmade bed, the mess of discarded clothes, a towel on the floor, the room’s equatorial warmth were disablingly sensual. He stretched out on the bed, facedown int ireland o his pillow, and groaned. The sweetness of her, the delicacy, his childhood friend, and now in danger of becoming unreachable. To strip off like that—yes, her endearing attempt to seem eccentric, her stab at being bold had an exaggerated, homemade quality. Now she would be in agonies of regret, and could not know what she had done to him. And all of this would be very well, it would be rescuable, if she was not so angry with him over a broken vase that had come apart in his hands. But he loved her fury too. He rolled onto his side, eyes fixed and unseeing, and indulged a cinema fantasy: she pounded against his lapels before yielding with a little sob to the safe enclosure of his arms and letting herself be kissed; she didn’t forgive him, she simply gave up. He watched this several times before he returned to what was real: she was angry with him, and she would be angrier still when she knew he was to be one of the dinner guests. Out there, in the fierce light, he hadn’t thought quickly enough to refuse Leon’s invitation. Automa nike ireland tically, he had bleated out his yes, and now he would face her irritation. He groaned again, and didn’t care if he were heard downstairs, at the memory of how she had taken off her clothes in front of him—so indifferently, as though he were an infant. Of course. He saw it clearly now. The idea was to humiliate him. There it stood, the undeniable fact. Humiliation. She wanted it for him. She was not mere sweetness, nike ireland nfl and he could not afford to condescend to her, for she was a force, she could drive him out of his depth and push him under.
But perhaps—he had rolled onto his back—he should not believe in her outrage. Wasn’t it too theatrical? Surely she must have meant something better, even in her anger. Even in her anger, she had wanted to show him just how beautiful she was and bind him to her. How could he trust such a self-serving idea derived from hope and desire? He had to. He crossed his legs, clasped his hands behind his head, feeling his skin cool as it dried. What might Freud say? How about: she hid the unconscious desire to expose herself to him behind a show of temper. Pathetic hope! It was an emasculation, a sentence, and this—what he was feeling now—this torture was his punishment for breaking her ridiculous vase. He shoul nike ireland head office d never see her again. He had to see her tonight. He had no choice anyway—he was going. She would despise him for coming. He should have refused Leon’s invitation, but the moment it was made his pulse had leaped and his bleated yes had left his mouth. He’d be in a room with her tonight, and the body he had seen, the moles, the pallor, the strawberry mark, would be concealed inside her clothes. He alone would know, and Emily of course. But only he would be thinking of them. And Cecilia would not speak to him or look at him. Even that would be better than lying here groaning. No, it wouldn’t. It would be worse, but he still wanted it. He had to have it. He wanted it to be worse.
At last he rose, half dressed and went into his study and sat at his typewriter, wondering what kind of letter he should write to her. Like the bedro nike ireland careers om and bathroom, the study was squashed under the apex of the bungalow’s roof, and was little more than a corridor between the two, barely six feet long and five feet wide. As in the two other rooms, there was a skylight framed in rough pine. Piled in a corner, his hiking gear—boots, alpenstock, leather knapsack. A knife-scarred kitchen table took up most of the space. He tilted back his chair and surveyed his desk as one might a life. At one end, heaped high against the sloping ceiling, were the folders and exercise books from the last months of his preparations for finals. He had no further use for his notes, but too much work, too much success was bound up with them and he could not bring himself to throw them out yet. Lying partly across them were some of his hiking maps, of North Wales, Hampshire and Surrey and of the nike ireland contact abandoned hike to Istanbul. There was a compass with slitted sighting mirror he had once used to walk without maps to Lulworth Cove.
Beyond the compass were his copies of Auden’s Poems and Housman’s A Shropshire Lad. At the other end of the table were various histories, theoretical treatises and practical handbooks on landscape gardening. Ten typed-up poems lay beneath a printed rejection slip from Criterion magazine, initialed by Mr. Eliot himself. Closest to where Robbie sat were the books of his new interest. Gray’s Anatomy was open by a folio pad of his own drawings. He had set himself the task of drawing and committing to memory the bones of the hand. He tried to distract himself by running through some of them now, murmuring their names: capitate, hamate, triquetral, lunate . . . His best drawing so far, done in ink Nike ireland and colored pencils and showing a cross section of the esophageal tract and the airways, was tacked to a rafter above the table. A pewter tankard with its handle missing held all the pencils and pens. The typewriter was a fairly recent Olympia, given to him on his twenty-first by Jack Tallis at a lunchtime party held in the library. Leon had made a speech as well as his father, and Cecilia had been there surely. But Robbie could not remember a single thing they might have said to each other. Was that why she was angry now, because he had ignored her for years? Another pathetic hope.
At the outer reaches of the desk, various photographs: the cast of Twelfth Night on the college lawn, himself as Malvolio, cross-gartered. How apt. There was another group shot, of himself and the thirty French kids he had taught in a boarding s nike ireland store chool near Lille. In a belle époque metal frame tinged with verdigris was a photograph of his parents, Grace and Ernest, three days after their wedding. Behind them, just poking into the picture, was the front wing of a car—certainly not theirs, and further off, an oasthouse looming over a brick wall. It was a good honeymoon, Grace always said, two weeks picking hops with her husband’s family, and sleeping in a gypsy caravan parked in a farmyard. His father wore a collarless shirt. The neck scarf and the rope belt around his flannel trousers may have been playful Romany touches. His head and face were round, but the effect was not exactly jovial, for his smile for the camera was not wholehearted enough to part his lips, and rather than hold the hand of his young bride, he had folded his arms. She, by contrast, was leaning i nto his side, nestling her head on his shoulder and holding on to his shirt at the elbow awkwardly with both hands. Grace, always game and good-natured, was doing the smiling for two. But willing hands and a kind spirit would not be enough. It looked as though Ernest’s mind was already elsewhere, already drifting seven summers ahead to the evening when he would walk away from his job as the Tallises’ gardener, away from the bungalow, without luggage, without even a farewell note on the kitchen table, leaving his wife and their six-year-old son to wonder about him for the rest of their lives.
Elsewhere, strewn between the revision notes, landscape gardening and anatomy piles, were various letters and cards: unpaid battels, letters from tutors and friends congratulating him on his first, which he still took pleasure in reread nike air max ireland ing, and others mildly querying his next step. The most recent, scribbled in brownish ink on Whitehall departmental notepaper, was a message from Jack Tallis agreeing to help with fees at medical school. There were application forms, twenty pages long, and thick, densely printed admission handbooks from Edinburgh and London whose methodical, exacting prose seemed to be a foretaste of a new kind of academic rigor. But today they suggested to him, not adventure and a fresh beginning, but exile. He saw it in prospect—the dull terraced street far from here, a floral wallpapered box with a louring wardrobe and candlewick bedspread, the earnest new friends mostly younger than himself, the formaldehyde vats, the echoing lecture room—every element devoid of her.
From among the landscape books he took the volume on Versailles he had borrowed from the Tallis library. That was the day he first noticed his awkwardness in her presence. Kneeling to remove his work shoes by the front door, he had become aware of the state of his socks—holed at toe and heel and, for all he knew, odorous—and on impulse had removed them. What an idiot he had then felt, padding behind her across the hall and entering the library barefoot. His only thought was to leave as soon as he could. He had escaped through the kitchen and had to get Danny Hardman to go round the front of the house to collect his shoes and socks.
She probably would not have read this treatise on the hydraulics of Versailles by an eighteenth-century Dane who extolled in Latin the genius of Le N?tre. With the help of a dictionary, Robbie had read five pages in a morning and then given up and made do with the illustrations instead. It would not be her kind of book, or anyone’s really, but she had handed it to him from the library steps and somewhere on its leather surface were her fingerprints. Willing himself not to, he raised the book to his nostrils and inhaled. Dust, old paper, the scent of soap on his hands, but nothing of her. How had it crept up on him, this advanced stage of fetishizing the love object? Surely Freud had something to say about that in Three Essays on Sexuality. And so did Keats, Shakespeare and Petrarch, and all the rest, and it was in The Romaunt of the Rose. He had spent three years drily studying the symptoms, which had seemed no more than literary conventions, and now, in solitude, like some ruffed and plumed courtier come to the edge of the forest to contemplate a discarded token, he was worshiping her traces—not a handkerchief, but fingerprints!—while he languished in his lady’s scorn.
For all that, when he fed a sheet of paper into the typewriter he did not forget the carbon. He typed the date and salutation and plunged straight into a conventional apology for his “clumsy and inconsiderate behavior.” Then he paused. Was he going to make any show of feeling at all, and if so, at what level?
“If it’s any excuse, I’ve noticed just lately that I’m rather lightheaded in your presence. I mean, I’ve never gone barefoot into someone’s house before. It must be the heat!”
How thin it looked, this self-protective levity. He was like a man with advanced TB pretending to have a cold. He flicked the return lever twice and rewrote: “It’s hardly an excuse, I know, but lately I seem to be awfully lightheaded around you. What was I doing, walking barefoot into your house? And have I ever snapped off the rim of an antique vase before?” He rested his hands on the keys while he confronted the urge to type her name again. “Cee, I don’t think I can blame the heat!” Now jokiness had made way for melodrama, or plaintiveness. The rhetorical questions had a clammy air; the exclamation mark was the first resort of those who shout to make themselves clearer. He forgave this punctuation only in his mother’s letters where a row of five indicated a jolly good joke. He turned the drum and typed an x. “Cecilia, I don’t think I can blame the heat.” Now the humor was removed, and an element of self-pity had crept in. The exclamation mark would have to be reinstated. Volume was obviously not its only business.③

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