A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.
Her husband's almost home. He'll catch her this time. There isn't a scrap of curtain, not a blade of blind, in number 212 -- the rust-red townhome that once housed the newlywed Motts, until recently, until they un-wed. I never met either Mott, but occasionally I check in online: his LinkedIn profile, her Facebook page. Their wedding registry lives on at Macy's. I could still buy them flatware. As I was saying: not even a window dressing. So number 212 gazes blankly across the street, ruddy and raw, and I gaze right back, watching the mistress of the manor lead her contractor into the guest bedroom. What is it about this house? It's where love goes to die.
I am an artist first, a censor second. I had to remind myself of this two years ago, when I trudged to the third-floor flat of a communal apartment block, where my widowed sister-in-law and her four-year-old son lived. She answered the door with a thin frown of surprise. She wasn't expecting me. We had never met.
I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there's the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I'm already thinking of Vinny's chocolaty eyes, shampoo down Vinny's back, beads of sweat on Vinny's shoulders, and Vinny's sly laugh, and by now my heart's going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny's place on Peacock Street and not on my own stupid bedroom. Last night, the words just said themselves, "Christ, I really love you, Vin," and Vinny puffed out a cloud of smoke and did this Prince Charles voice, "One must say, one's frightfully partial to spending time with you too, Holly Sykes," and I nearly weed myself laughing, though I was a bit narked he didn't say "I love you, too" back. If I'm honest. Still, boyfriends act goofy to hide stuff, any magazine'll tell you.
The play -- for which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper -- was written by her in a two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.
After escaping from the farm, Eddie drove through the night. Sometimes he thought he could feel his phantom fingers brushing across his thighs, but above the wrists he now had nothing. Dark stains covered the terry cloth wrapped around the ends of his wrists; his mother had stanched the bleeding with rubber cables. For the first hour or so, the divot-riddled road jostled the car, increasing the young man's agony, and he clenched his teeth through the sickening pain.
Behold the man. He shuffles out of Clappison's courtyard onto Sykes Street and snuffs the complex air -- turpentine, fishmeal, mustard, black lead, the usual grave, morning-piss stink of just emptied night jars. He snorts once, rubs his bristled head, and readjusts his crotch. He sniffs his fingers, then slowly sucks each one in turn, drawing off the last remnants, getting his final money's worth. At the end of Charterhouse Lane he turns north onto Wincolmlee, past the De La Pole Tavern, past the sperm candle manufactory and the oil-seed mill. Above the warehouse roofs, he can see the swaying tops of main and mizzenmasts, hear the shouts of the stevedores and the thump of mallets from the cooperage nearby.
The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax. At half-past two she had gone wistfully over the rooms for what she'd supposed was the final time; after that there had been a nerving-up, giving way to a steady deflation, and now, at almost five, here she was again, listening to the echo of her own footsteps, feeling no sort of fondness for the sparsely furnished spaces, impatient simply for the couple to arrive, move in, get it over with.
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are. Today's young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention. Lately, though, I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about the people I lost.
The Santa Ana winds are shredding the bark off the eucalyptus trees in long white stripes. A friend and I risk the widowmakers by having lunch outside, during which she suggests I tattoo the words HARD TO GET across my knuckles, as a reminder of this pose's possible fruits.