"It is the absence of facts that frightens people:
the gap you open, into which they pour
their fears, fantasies, desires.”
― HILARY MANTEL, Wolf Hall
We’re having a good time—bottle of red wine, spaghetti, we’re here in our garden, warm breeze scented with lilac, light on its way out.
Others, though, are having a better time. In Newport it’s three hours later—already more advanced than we—and those others sit not only with their spouses but with four friends on a verandah overlooking the Atlantic, torch-lights behind them, the ocean a swath of black, only its sound in the cove—easy waves, rolling pebbles—announcing it. Theirs is an understated ocean. Their wine is better, their dinner later, and there’s laughter. One of the women has on your favorite perfume, and were we there, its scent would come our way. Someone in the kitchen with deft hands has cooked their meal, another serves it attentively, and there is no guilt.
But each guest knows in his longing that elsewhere others are having an even better time. Just outside D.C., for example, on a marble terrace overlooking the Potomac there’s a similar dinner—the same number of couples plus one—and it’s the addition of that couple that has made all the difference. The wine a little older, and the food, though served in smaller portions, richer—ah, but that one couple, the man black, the woman white—has energized the group, put everyone at their best. Listen: people are joking in German, saying sexy things in Italian, cursing in Russian, laughing in French. They’re almost raucous, but just shy of raucous—they know exactly where the line lies—it is there, in the mist above them; it will not descend. And look how well they’re dressed: the men in linen shirts, earth-tone slacks, the women’s breasts exposed slightly from each trimmed dress, each guest almost completely in the moment, this warmest night of the year.
They, too, though, know of those others, those betters, off the coast of Carolina in the stateroom of the hundred-foot Harmonium as it drifts in its easy private sea. The same number are there, but there’s a confidence, an intimacy lacking in the others. Same wine as Washington but more of it, plates garnished more imaginatively, dinner not even on until midnight, a little dancing just before, a switch of partners for one spin around the circular floor, and now they’re at table: how hearty they are, each of them an artist, not a banker among them, each smart & funny, intuitive & wise, their humor more subtle, implied. When they speak—which is often—there’s a largesse about them, a sense of kindness toward their host. They know each other well, the ship rocks languorously, honeysuckle scent from the coast. They could communicate simply by looking into each other’s eyes.
And we all know that after dinner that is what they do. A little tipsy but none drunk, they move to love each other on the deep carpet of the stateroom floor—all of them there, each knowing the others’ secrets, fit bodies melting into fit bodies, one moving being, many skin tones, many special sighs, the ship swaying imperceptibly, each to each to each, and as the first rays of sun fall across the bow someone says, Let’s sleep…
And we here, in this pitiful garden...
From Night of Pure Breathing, Hanging Loose Press (Brooklyn), 2011
Gerald Fleming is the author of The Choreographer (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2013), Night of Pure Breathing (Hanging Loose Press, 2011), and Swimmer Climbing onto Shore (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2005). He lives in California.