What the hell, he groused, dropping his Mont Blanc on the desk and putting the iMac to sleep. Once again, nothing doing.
It was noon so he escaped to the kitchen, switched on NPR, warmed the bean soup, sliced a baguette, and poured a glass of apple cider to the accompaniment of the latest foul news. Politics is seeping under the doors, he thought, oozing down chimneys, snuggling up in queen-sized beds, riding shotgun in SUVs, insinuating itself into classrooms, commuter trains, appropriating every conversation. Good government, like good art, would conceal itself. That’s what he thought and was surprised when two lines popped into his head:
… O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.
He chuckled bitterly. Yeats wrote that in the 1930s when monsters were on the thrones and politics was lethal. Thomas Mann was right about the priority of politics, but Yeats demurred because he was, well, Yeats.
Soup, bread, and cider consumed, his eyelids began to feel heavy. A nap? Am I that defeated, that old, Subjectivity whined. And Objectivity replied, You bet.
On his way to the stairs he glanced ruefully at his desk. The abandoned work lay there— supply without demand. He felt like a ten-year-old who never got a hug, let alone a dog.
He started up the steps in the certainty that one page of a Brodsky essay would be sufficient to send him into oblivion, when the doorbell blared. It scared him, that inhuman half-bell, half-buzz that came with the house. It was like an air-raid alert, waking him just in time to see the fatal flash. How long had it been since he’d heard that awful doorbell? Six months? A year? Come to that, how long since anybody else had set foot in his house? Must be a brace of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Couldn’t be the mailman. UPS? Had he ordered something? Never mind, he thought, and continued bedwards.
Again, the insistent bell, two quick jolts. FedEx would just have dumped whatever it was and left by now. He contemplated hiding. Lately, he approached any encounter as he might a duel. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d waited out the Witnesses. When the bell shrieked a third time then a fourth, it felt like the secret police were about to flatten the door. Should he go to the basement?
Steeling himself, he went back down the steps and manfully opened the door. It was a woman, a good-looking young woman. He recognized her at once. But that was impossible. It had been decades — how could she look the same as she did then, the same as she still did in his concupiscent and sentimental dreams?
She stepped across the threshold, smiled, softly said his name. Her white dress was short and the chestnut hair still long, same as in his precious faded Polaroid.
“I won’t ask how you are,” she said in that voice that always thrilled him. “I know how you are. I’m sorry.”
“But you married him. You had three children,” he stammered stupidly.
“Yes, that’s how it looked.”
“I don’t understand. It was years ago, decades.”
“Of course, you don’t understand.” She reached out and brushed the back of his hand where the spots were, and he felt the old electricity.
“When was the last time you wrote something really good, something as good as ‘Unrequited’ or ‘Nostalgia for November’?
He took a step back. “That’s a cruel question.”
Her smile expressed sympathy. She sighed.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have come. But I felt I should finally say goodbye.”
She looked at him like a statue of a goddess. “Poets and beloveds die; muses don’t. They just move on, toujours au courant.”
An access of grief unsteadied him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Those old poems —”
She held up her hand. “Don’t say it. It’s no use. Just come here and give me a kiss.”
He did. The kiss was warm, familiar, shocking. It flummoxed him.
“Good,” she said, reaching behind her for the doorknob, knowing exactly where it was. She smiled, ever young yet so much older than he was.
“Now, go on upstairs and take that nap.”
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