Sport 38: Winter 2010
Palindrome / Glass
They came to a halt in front of Bronwyn's house but their conversation had not yet reached a point of pause where they might plunge the linings of their pockets and flap their hems and toe the gutter and gently kick the wheel of the angled car, where Harvey might say 'This is you, then?' and Bronwyn might say 'Yes—but if you want—' and Harvey might say 'For a moment, maybe,' or 'Better show my manners, walk you to the door' or 'Be nice to share a glass of something small', and so instead they slowed to an almost-stop, pacing, shifting their weight, and Harvey (he was still talking) turned his face very quickly up to the dark flank of the house and then away again, as if he wished to save his first impression (this was where she slept and woke and dressed) for a time when he was not mid-speech, when his hands were not cupped, emphatic, trying to hold the whole shivered form of their long walk home in the space between. He went on—
'So my family had this children's Bible when I was growing up—you know, scary propaganda-style, real Aryan Jesus, totally homoerotic, muscular, arching back against the cross like he's writhing. One of those books that you come back to as an adult and you're kind of scared for yourself, like you're confronting your subconscious for the first time—I mean, this book taught me to read—and you think, God, those images are still there probably, in my mind—they like form my waking thoughts probably—they're the templates or whatever for my selfhood, or the pattern of my deepest brain—however much that frightens me and however much I try to leave it all behind. But anyway, there was this one picture, this full-page picture, of Judas hanging from the tree, and he has this treebranch gored right into him—into his side, like that—and he's bleeding from it—I mean, this is a children's Bible—and the idea that even the tree meant him harm—that he deserved even that—it fascinated me. I suppose they meant it as a companion to the spear, you know, Jesus's spear page 132 wound, same place, but this was a branch and something living, not something forged and dead. I must have spent hours looking at it. It was my favourite picture because it scared me so bloody much. What I mean is—there was one thing that that picture—that whole book, really—seemed to encapsulate for me, or demonstrate, and that was this idea that for something to be truly beautiful it also had to be truly terrifying. That's one thing that I like about Catholicism. I do. The idea that beauty is something to be scared of. You know—sacred and profane—the idea that they need each other, they invite each other— that overlay. You can't have one without the other.'
He fell silent, suddenly embarrassed (now he looked like he had been ranting—he looked like a poor listener—he looked unattractive, self-centered, small) and glanced at her—the streetlight casting its yellow slantways across her neck. It was now and they were here, on the pavement, and she would invite him up in a moment, and upstairs (the house was still only spectral to him, white-curtained, formless, full of hush) he would kiss her, if she let him do it, if she let him come. He couldn't really see her in the dark—just the high cream of her cheek and four spokes of lash in shadow—but he imagined. The little point of her tongue. Her fingernails. The unexpected tassel of her armpit hair (he had glimpsed it when she lifted her arm to gesticulate, at dinner, and he'd felt a thump of surprise in his groin and in his throat—he probed the feeling at once, fearing his own small-mindedness, his own shock, but was pleased to discover that he was not disgusted, only intrigued, admiring, wanting to touch it, wanting to twine his finger in the wisp of it and feel it tug and catch) and the molten weight of her small breasts that would fit (he imagined) like a fluid measure in the cup of his hands. It was now and they were here and in his mind he unbuttoned her, pulled the crawling teeth of her zipper down to the base of her spine, slid his thumb beneath the waistband of her stockings, fitted his hand to her thigh and drew it downward to feel the nylon roll and grip his knuckles, down. He kissed her. In his mind he kissed her. And she raised her arms above her head to place the heels of her hands against the wall behind the pillow to brace and she arched her neck and she offered up her jawbone like a sickle moon for him to bite and he put his face in that tufted notch beneath her arm, his cheek, his nose, and page 133 breathed her while he turned her like a fluted piece of matchwood on a lathe.
A car whined past them in the anxious yowl of second gear, up the road and over the saddle (that tonal shift into third, regretful, descending to a lower rung) and down the seam of the valley, curving down past the turnoff to the dump and the abandoned garages grown over with ivy and weed (they could no longer hear the sound of its engine) until a silver lip appeared at the neck of the V and the road emptied out to an impossible surf, no beach at all, just a rind of worn stones and lather, and the car turned west to make the scalloped journey around the coast, in and out of the bays, with the tussock whipping whitely in the blackness, and the wind.
'I mean,' Harvey added, 'corruption and denial and all the bad stuff about the Catholics, I know that's tied up in that same attitude— how being afraid means you're not able to question or challenge the system or anything—I know that. I'm just saying that it does appeal to me. As an idea.'
Bronwyn said, 'You know what this reminds me of? In the first Harry Potter book, when they're discussing what might be in that grubby package that Hagrid took to Gringotts, the package that's really the philosopher's stone, and Harry says it must be really valuable, and Ron says it must be really dangerous, and then Hermione says, "or both." The idea that something has to be dangerous because it's valuable, or valuable because it's dangerous.'
'That's exactly right,' Harvey said, full of relief. He plunged his hands into his pocket linings and flapped the hem.
Bronwyn said, 'Did you see how I just came back at your children's Bible with my children's Bible?'
'Maybe we just righted some massive imbalance in the universe.'
She was being sly now, teasing, and so he smiled and rocked on the balls of his feet and nodded up at the house and said, 'This you, then?'
'This is me.'
He let himself appraise it: freestanding, high, set back on a flat piece of land some ten feet above the road. A flight of crooked stairs page 134 cut into the hill, each step with a worn stripe of white paint on its nosing so the edge would show in the dark. The house itself was stacked, alleylike, made of weatherboard and bricked up to its waist. It was trimmed like a postage stamp underneath the eaves. Bay windows on the first floor, narrow sash windows above, a balcony. He nodded. He couldn't see most of the garden from where he stood—the small stripe of earth where Bronwyn staked tomatoes and runner beans and lettuce hearts in perfect rows of six, or the fire pit which sat four bricks deep beneath the level of the lawn, or the old pohutukawa by the uphill fence where a pair of tui courted every morning and doubled their song. In the house next door a light went on above the veranda and the ranch slider rattled back eight inches or so. A man's voice said, 'Go on, dumb cat,' and there was a quick motion of grey. The ranch slider closed again. The light stayed on and in the new glaze of it Bronwyn's house seemed even darker and more still.
Harvey's gaze came down. The clay bank above the pavement had shrunk concave from the rains so the gas and water pipes were lifted out of the earth, flayed—without the weight of the earth around them they shivered and seemed to buck and bend toward the heavy trucks that passed. He could see a buried railroad sleeper in the clay and guessed the bank had once been a retaining wall, in some tangled muddy time before the tramlines and the turbine and the hill road, before the crossroads at the saddle, before the cinema was built, the library, the video store with its papered windows and broken neon hum, before the row of cornerstores, each with its frontage of fruit boxes and dented squash and daffodils that sold in cones of newsprint, tied with string. Before the war, before the streets were named—Washington, Cleveland, Harrison, Adams, and further out toward the sea, Ontario, Alberta, Quebec—homesick Americans, Bronwyn had told him, stationed here, and by the time the war was over and they went home nobody could remember the old Maori names, for the hill, for the saddle, for the fertile valley that emptied its pebbles into the bay. So they stuck—Brooklyn, it stuck—and all the years went by, and then it was her house, dark, hulking, a brick and timber shadow she shared with—who again?
'Just me and one other girl,' Bronwyn said. 'Pippa, she's a nurse.page 135
She's up in Taupo this weekend for that walking marathon thing they do around the lake.'
And there she said it—the house was empty, and they would be alone.
'It's nice,' said Harvey.
'There's a great view from the living room,' she said, 'over the harbour. You can come up if you want.'
'Sure,' he said, too quickly, thrusting the flat of his hand out to let her go first. He was a puppet—toylike, lurching—and now his mouth was dry. He followed her up the crooked stairs, watching the tight sinew at the backs of her ankles, the way the back of her shoe released her heel and then grasped it again with each step. She was so good at this, he thought—this game, the dance of it—much better than he was. At dinner she had been careful and teasing and quick to blush, twisting her pendant around and around. From the bar afterwards they'd drifted, over the hill and through the backstreets with her a half-step ahead always, touching the back of his hand at each crossroads to tell him where to turn—they hadn't held hands exactly, hadn't done more than brush and whisper, but at the Town Belt they'd taken the shortcut over the old white wall and he'd placed his hand in the small of her back, strongly, with his palm flat and fingers spread—she was warm—and when she was over, dusting her hands on her knees, she'd turned and smiled so swiftly, to let him know—well, he wasn't sure exactly what—but that was just it—how she could be both fervent and bashful in a single glance—the game of it. How she could retreat from him and pull him on, together. She was a good flirt, he thought, and better than he was.
Bronwyn was slight, with freckles that fused and shrank according to the seasons, and a grainy mix of colours in her hair. She had pale lashes and a ruddy glow to her skin, that pinkish light that seems to hover at babies' edges, at their wrists and fingers, and in Bronwyn some trick refraction had trapped and kept the glimmer while all the other babies grew and dimmed. She wore pale cotton dresses and bookish cardigans and tweed and always managed (Harvey thought) to look thoroughly fresh, protected somehow, as if she had just stepped through a doorway from another, cleaner world.
It was the third time they had tried to make it work together. The page 136 first two times had been at his apartment. It had been fine up until the very end, up until the kiss, when he pulled her in and she crooned into his mouth from the back of her throat and they began to clutch for buttons and kick their way out of their trousers in the murky half-light of his tiny room. He had ruined it both times. The first time he called her baby without thinking and the second time he said I love you into the bone of her shoulder, not really by accident (he'd known that she would pull away and slap at him and flop crossly down onto the bed like everything was wasted and spoiled) but from a wash of helpless need to say the words to her, to utter them. That was months ago. Tonight he would keep a careful distance and act not like he needed her but like he was shy and wistful—like he wanted her only in a sweet, bewildered way—like he just wanted to suspend it all (that knowing) and stay unhatched with her, unsullied, as if he had not yet come to realise how it all would have to end.
At the door he hung back while she fished in her purse for a key and fitted it into the lock. He put his hands back in his pockets and turned on his heel—there was nothing much to look at, a rotary line, pegs in a rotting wicker basket, dirty pots and broken things, but he looked around him and kept nodding as if all the air and shadows pleased him very much. The door knuckled open and she stepped inside, flipped a light, dropped her purse on the sideboard, bent to slip off her shoes, shrugged out of her jacket, threw it aside. He hovered in the doorway: her quiet kitchen, clean, ordered, all the cookbooks shelved above the stove, a wooden bowl of apples, a row of copper-bottomed pans.
'Nice place,' he said. He was a little drunk—not reeling, but his voice was sounding thick to him, and strange.
'I'll put some music on in the living room,' she said. 'What do you like?'
'Oh—anything, anything's fine.'
'You have to give me a ballpark.'
He waved his arm. '1971.'
'Big ballpark,' she said with a half-smile. 'All right.'
'Is it shoes off?'
'Shoes on is fine. I don't care.'
He took them off and placed them next to hers, twitching them page 137 straight so the heels sat together. Bronwyn ran a glass of water and stood tall, her hand gripping the edge of the sink, while she drank it down. She didn't need to fill the silence, he thought, didn't need to perform herself, didn't need to rush forward through the minutes to the fumble and the kiss, and after. He wondered if it meant she'd done this many times before—that it was other boys, and other men, who had given her this coolness and this practiced glassy calm.
Bronwyn padded through the house, turning on lights, opening doors, showing him. She was right about the view—the harbour lights like a spill of coloured oils, the flat haze of the far valley, Somes Island like a distant fist of nothing in the harbour, matt black against the water shine. She turned on the lamp next to the sofa but he stepped forward and said, 'Leave it off for a while. It spoils the view to get the reflection.'
'You don't mind drinking in the dark?' She was teasing him again.
'It's just a shame to spoil that view.'
'If wasn't for those trees we'd be able to see right downtown,' she said, pointing, 'right down the length of Willis St to Parliament. But I'd never want anyone to chop them.'
'What are they—kahikatea?'
'Yeah. My niece calls them dinosaur trees.'
'They're gorgeous,' he said. 'They always have such a fighting look, I reckon. Like they've been through a whole lot.'
She went to the stereo and knelt down, drawing her fingertip over the spines.
'All right,' she said. '1971.'
'How long have you lived here?' Harvey was at the window. Out in the harbour the midnight ferry was rounding the Mt Victoria headland, dragging behind it two puckered threads of white.
'Nearly two years. It's the longest I've stayed anywhere. I love the location. Everyone knows you in Brooklyn. It's like a village of hobbits or something. When you go to buy milk or fags or whatever it is and everybody waves at you and calls you by your name. And it's close to town.' With the tip of her finger she pulled out Wild Horses and fitted it into the mouth of the player. She wiped the edge clean of dust and twisted the volume knob down so it started low. 'Can't go page 138 wrong,' she said.
They looked at each other.
'Do you want something to drink?' she said.
'Actually—where's your loo?' he said. 'Sorry.' She pointed him down the hallway and up a narrow flight of wooden stairs. 'On the left,' she said. The house had a soapy, girlish smell—of laundry or scented candles or some kind of softening agent that worked on the curtains and the linen when she was not at home. There was a hanging fern above the bath and a row of lotions on the sill and plump folded towels in the cubby next to the sink. He remembered to put the seat down afterwards and then smiled into the mirror in three different ways.
When he returned she was back in the kitchen, peeling the collar from a bottle of wine. There were two clean glasses on the sideboard next to a bowl of nuts.
'Hi,' he said, and then felt ridiculous.
'You want wine, right?' Bronwyn said, holding up a bottle by the neck and making a face to show it was poor.
'Lovely,' said Harvey. 'Yes.'
'It's not very wonderful.'
'I won't be able to tell—not much of a connoisseur.'
'Oh—' she said, titling the bottle back, 'you'd prefer beer?'
'No,' he said. 'No, no. Wine is great. Thank you. Thanks.'
'I'm interested in what you were saying on the way home,' she said as she began to uncork the bottle. 'About beauty and fear together.'
'I've just been thinking about that. It seems to me that being afraid of something means not fully understanding it. Or believing somehow that you can't understand it. And what I wonder is—or the question I want to ask you, I guess, is whether you think that one of the reasons that that idea of beauty appeals to you in the way it does has something to do with the fact that you're a man.'
'Uh-oh,' he said.
She laughed. 'No—I mean, just thinking of Catholicism, or Christianity in general really—there are no female agents in the Christian understanding of things. All the women in the Bible are so page 139 lame. They're figures. Like Mary is a figure. Or an idol. You know that idea of the virgin, the mother, and the whore—those are the three options, they're categories—and women can't be protagonists in the same way that men can, in fairytales and all of that. So what I was thinking was, this idea of beauty as something to be afraid of—which means something that you don't really understand, or can't understand—'
'You think that it's insidious or something. As an idea.'
'Not insidious exactly,' she said, pulling the cork and beginning to unwind it off the coil of the screw with her fingers.
'Or that it makes people look at women in a way that's unfair.'
'I just think that it kind of takes it for granted that it's the man who's the one who's watching, the observer. I mean in a kind of general sense. Because beauty is something that we all want to see in other people. We want to be with people who are beautiful to us.'
'Yeah, but if that's something that everyone wants—'
'But I think it's different,' she said. 'For women. Women who are with men, I mean. I think the whole idea of it is different.'
'Why, though?' he said. 'I don't think I get what you're saying.'
'Because women are figures already,' she said. 'Or mysteries already. I mean in the general sense. And your thing about fear—your thing that beauty should be terrifying. For that to be true some little part of you has to believe that you can't understand it—that it's bigger than you are, and unknowable somehow.'
'But I don't get how that's not the same for a woman who looks at a man and finds him beautiful.'
'I guess I just feel like it's different,' she said. 'Like if you called a woman beautiful that would kind of be the highest compliment you could give her. It's not the same as calling her powerful or strong or something like that. But when a woman calls a man beautiful it's kind of beside the point somehow. It's not about his essential self, that unknown part, the mystery. It's more like an extra.'
'I don't know,' he said. She pushed a glass toward him.
'I might have been a Catholic if the women weren't so lame,' she said. 'All those big cathedrals and the rituals and everything. I like all of that stuff.'
'Too many nuns,' he said. 'And too many priests.'page 140
'Anyway,' she said. 'What shall we toast to?'
Bronwyn held her glass up and raised her eyebrows at him, half-smiling so the point of her canine showed. He raised his own glass and said, 'To good friends,' and they clinked. But straight away he shook his head and rolled his shoulder and put his hand up to stop her drinking—
'Time out,' he said. 'That was dumb. I would never say that. Let me think of something else. Time in.'
'Time out,' she said crossly, setting down her glass. 'We agreed no time outs. And anyway you can't time out then time in so quickly, it throws me off.'
'Sorry.' He looked at her and made a face. 'Is it ruined?'
'It's not ruined. It's going great. This is the best one we've done.'
'To good friends,' he said, mocking himself. 'I can't believe I said that.'
'You were trying to trap me before.'
'I wasn't! When?'
'When you said 1971. After our whole conversation about that. And then I don't know whether I should pretend that I'm not sure which albums were released in that year and I should go and look at all the covers or whether I should just pretend I do know but from some other conversation at some other time.'
'That's part of the game!' he said. 'I'm not trying to trap you.'
'Did you think I'd choose Blue?'
'I thought you'd go for L.A. Woman actually.'
'Are you still having fun?'
'Yes,' he said. 'Yes, it's going great. But you would never be like you're being if it really was the first night.'
'How am I being?'
'All Gender Theory 101.'
'I thought that was a good conversation.'
'No,' he said, 'it is. I'm enjoying it.'
'Why are you so afraid of Gender Theory 101?'
'It's not like it's Gender Theory 301. You'd fail 301. Or 601. The PhD class.'
'Then I'd be in trouble.'page 141
'I liked walking home.'
'Yeah,' he said. 'I guess it's just that I know how much is underneath that conversation. All the other conversations that we've had. You know?'
She looked at him. 'I think a big part of me does really forget it isn't real. I mean actually forgets. I'm all nervous and clammy and everything, and I want you to like me so much. It's weird.'
'You're the right kind of nervous,' he said. 'You're cute nervous.'
'No,' she said, vaguely, not hearing him.
He came forward. 'Bronwyn. Kiss me.'
'It's time out. Just once. I miss you.'
'You'll ruin it,' she said. 'It's all about the waiting.'
'The weirdest thing for me is not being able to tell you I love you all the time.'
'Stop it,' she said, swatting him.
'I like our time outs,' he said. 'It's like coming home. I don't like the no-time-out rule.'
'It's because they make us break focus and it's never the same afterwards.'
'What if I kissed you really quickly? You can close your eyes.'
'No! Compose yourself. I'm going to time in.'
'All right.' He sucked in his cheeks and blew them out again. 'OK, Fräulein. Go.'
'OK. Time in.' She held up her glass for him to clink. 'What shall we toast to?'
He looked at the table for a moment before speaking. 'I know the old official toasts from the British Navy,' he said at last, looking up. His voice had changed—he was hesitant again, shyer. 'Just one of those weird miscellanies you pick up wherever. They had seven—one toast for each day of the week.'
'That's cool,' she said. 'So what's Saturday?'
He held up his glass. 'To our sweethearts and our wives,' he said. 'May they never meet.'
Bronwyn laughed. 'May they never meet,' she agreed, and held his gaze over the rim.
She was right—it was different now. The time out had made them page 142 more reckless, more secure in themselves. Now he felt roguish, not as awkward any more, because the kiss was guaranteed again, because it was a game, because she loved him, because he knew. But the huge uncharted feeling had been lost.
'Absent friends and those at sea,' he said. 'That's Sunday. And Thursday is a bloody war and a quick promotion.'
'We'd better meet up on Thursday then, for a drink.'
'But don't tell everyone about it,' he said. 'It won't work if everyone knows.'
'I guess we don't want everyone to get promotions.'
'I suppose you get the promotion because of how well you fight in the bloody war,' Harvey said, thinking about the phrase for the first time. 'That makes sense if it's the navy.'
'Shall we go into the living room?'
'I think we have to,' he said, 'before your view starts going to waste.'
He sat down on the couch facing the window, and when Bronwyn went to sit on the floor by the coffee table he said, 'How about you sit by me,' and patted the couch next to him. He was bolder than he might have been before. Bronwyn came, almost unthinking, with that glazed look that meant that she was forming a thought in her mind.
'But anyway,' she said, sitting down and drawing her leg up underneath her, 'I still don't feel like I've said it properly, why I can't quite swallow your idea quite yet.'
'OK,' he said. 'Do you see the ferry?' It was coming in to dock.
'Yeah,' she said, shifting her gaze to the window. 'I was in the café on the Lynx once, making the crossing, and we hit a patch of white water and this entire wall of cappuccino cups just slid forward and all came crashing down.'
'I hate the Lynx.'
'It's the way it works,' she said, making a sine curve motion with the cup of her hand. 'It doesn't plough the waves, it rides them. So you get sicker.'
He looked at her mouth and thought about shifting his leg so it touched her knee. 'What were you going to say?'
'Yeah,' she said. 'OK. So it's this idea about the lover and the beloved. The idea that the man is always cast in the role of the lover page 143 and the woman is always cast in the role of the beloved. That we see beauty when a man is a good lover and when a woman is good at being the beloved.'
'Not always,' Harvey said.
'I know not always—'
'I mean it doesn't have to be like that,' Harvey said. 'You don't have to be like that.'
'But that's the way it happens,' she said. 'I mean, to bring it back to Catholicism, what you were talking about before. I think that for us to even understand beauty in that way—that it's something to be afraid of, that we have to not understand it in some way—that's a gendered idea. Or it has gendered consequences. Because beauty is gendered. It's not just an ideal—it has two halves. That's what I'm saying.'
'But you're looking at it in such a narrow way,' he said. 'I can find that picture of Judas fascinating and still want to be in a dynamic relationship with someone who—'
'But can I?'
'What does that mean?'
'Can I believe in that same idea in the same way, as a woman?'
'You're acting like gender is such a fixed thing.'
'I'm not saying that,' she said. Her cheeks were getting flushed. 'I'm not saying that this is how things have to be, or should be. I'm just making—'
'You kind of are, though. You keep talking about this "general sense"—'
'And you keep using this idea of "we", like "this is what we believe", when what you really mean is you. As in, everybody but you.'
'And that just seems like defensiveness to me,' Harvey said. 'Like if I was to say "this is the way things are so this is the way they're always going to be", I would be a monster. Right? Or I'd be participating in this whole idea, the patriarchy or whatever, in a way that you're automatically exempt from, just because of—'
'I'm just saying we have to confront the differences,' Bronwyn said.
'But you're talking about it like it's an essential difference. That page 144 men and women are fundamentally different.'
'At the moment, I that it's true that their circumstances are fundamentally—'
'But see what you're doing? You're saying "at the moment" so you can duck out of the fact that you believe this categorically.'
Bronwyn was silent.
'Sorry,' Harvey said. 'I'm not attacking you. Maybe we should change the subject.'
'No,' she said. 'I'm all right. I'm interested.'
'I just feel like I've had countless conversations that have happened in just this way—where someone's trying to tell me both that it sucks the way things are, and it sucks the way things are never going to change, and that's such a safe place to occupy, you know. It's such an us-and-them attitude.'
'But I do think that things are going to change.'
'So what's your solution?'
'The whole situation,' Harvey said, waving his hand. 'Feminism. The Bible. The lover and the beloved. How do you personally act, in your own life, in a way that embraces change?'
'I ask questions.'
'Can I ask questions?'
'Of course you can.'
'And what am I supposed to ask questions about?'
'I don't know!' she cried. 'Questions that will help you see the people around you better! So you stop seeing them as ideas that you're afraid of, and you start seeing them as people!'
'But you keep saying the experience of being a woman is opaque to a man.'
'That's not what I keep saying!'
'It kind of sounds like it.'
'Maybe because every time I start to speak you either interrupt me or twist away my words somehow—'
'Hey,' he said. 'Hold up. I think you're not making as much crystal sense as you think you're making, Bronwyn.'
'Why don't you tell me it's because I'm drunk, Harvey?'
He ran his hands over his face. 'Are we still playing the game?'page 145
'We are not still playing the game!' Bronwyn leapt up from the couch and went to the window.
'Well,' Harvey said, casting around for something, 'excuse me for not knowing every precise rule at every precise step along the way!'
'Oh, that's great,' she said, turning. 'That's wonderful. Please can you now tell me that I'm manipulative and controlling and please can you tell me about how I love to set the rules and how you're always so helpless about everything all the time.'
They looked at each other.
'Fuck this,' he said. 'Fuck this. I'm tired. I don't want to fight with you. I'm sorry. I just want to go to bed.'
'Fine,' she said, then, a moment later, 'I'm sorry.'
'I'm sorry.' She came back and sat down next to him, and they didn't speak for a while.
'Let's go to bed,' Bronwyn said at last.
'I'll rinse our glasses out.'
Harvey took his time in the kitchen. He rinsed the globes twice in hot water and then slowly wiped them dry. He thought about the other times, the two nights at his apartment when he had ruined it by needing her—needing to rush ahead to the familiar, needing to say it—and how exasperated Bronwyn had been, but only for a moment, and after that they'd slept together in a marveling, wondering way, because they were both still full of newness from the game. And then after that when they were limp and spent on Harvey's bed and she was stroking his stomach with the flat of her hand and he was moving his hand like a pincer around the back of her neck, just feeling, they were so tender with each other, recounting how they'd played it, their attraction, how they'd been. He placed the glasses back in the cupboard and stood for a moment, looking through the window at the dark form of the wind.
When he got to the door of the bedroom she turned to him with her mouth already poised and said, 'Does it make you think back to our real first night together? At Mighty Mighty and that weird party afterwards with that guy who fell asleep on me?'
'Not really,' Harvey said.
'It doesn't, really. I mean, I do feel like I've never kissed you before, page 146 or slept with you. That feeling's kind of nice—to go back to that state where you're nervous about everything.'
'But the newness really feels new.'
'Yeah,' he said. 'I think so.'
'It's a strange place to be in,' he said. 'Kind of like everything's in reverse. Like you're seeing it all backwards, those first moments, you're seeing it backwards in the light of everything that's happened since.'
All the trappings, he was thinking, as he looked about the room. The picture frames above the dresser, the gifts he'd given her, the books they'd read together, the nights he'd slept here, all the months, the years, the sounds they'd made, the aloe plant on the windowsill, the ticket stubs on the edge of her mirror, her clothes hanging in the open wardrobe, the weight in his arms, his chest, the yellow light.
'For me it's more like I'm seeing us through a pane of glass,' said Bronwyn. 'Like I can't quite touch you, or me, and all I can do is watch.'
Harvey was exhausted suddenly, and sat down on the edge of her bed to remove his socks. She turned away to unclasp her necklace and they didn't speak for a while, each of them undressing very slowly, staring down, taking off each item with great weariness and care like it was the night before a very long voyage that they would embark upon together, on a steamship or an overland train or some other hulking craft with rust and rivets and a noisy ceaseless rhythm that would soon become its own kind of silence, a necessary roar. He followed her to the bathroom in his underpants and they brushed their teeth together, side by side, and then they spat and rinsed and Harvey peed again and Bronwyn wiped her face with a cotton pad. She turned on the hallway nightlight and went back to the kitchen to check that the chain was on. Harvey returned to the bedroom and stepped out of his boxer shorts and stood naked with his hands loose below his hips, glazing at a spot above the wainscot where the wallpaper had dried and come away. He heard her pad into the room behind him. He felt old and very tired.
'I don't think I want to do anything tonight,' Bronwyn said.
'That's all right.'page 147
They pulled back the cold sheets and lay down. Bronwyn rolled onto her side and Harvey slid in behind her, putting his whole arm across her body and then sliding it back so his hand cupped the small soft place between the swell of her hipbone and her bottom rib. He tucked his knees behind hers and she rubbed his calf with the sole of her foot, gently, twice, and then she was still. After several minutes her breathing turned deep and quiet and he watched the room over her shoulder and wondered what he would be thinking in this moment, if this was the first time he had really touched her, if all of it had only just begun.