Ted had been terribly sick in Saulieu, a combination of too much wine and a poisonous fish soup, and no one to blame but himself. He had chosen the night in Saulieu to be difficult about money, explaining to Bettina that a room and dinner for two plus wine at the glorious Côte d’Or was an extravagance they could not afford. It was only their third day in France, and he was not yet comfortable in francs. Gasoline was expensive, and it was necessary to keep a reserve for contingencies. The travel agent had said that Spain would be cheap, but she had also said that it would be warm in Europe; and when they had landed at Orly it was cold, 40 degrees, and raining. And the room at the Continental had been very expensive, though he had wisely prepaid in Chicago.
They had driven hesitantly into the parking lot at the Cote d’Or, their little rented Renault conspicuous between two black Citröen sedans. The Cote d’Or had the appearance of an elegant country house. A bushy cat lay dozing on the doormat, and the trees in the courtyard were changing in a blaze of red and gold. Bettina read the specialties from the Michelin guide: terrine royale, timbale de quenelles de brochet eminence, poularde de Bresse belle-aurore.Two stars, 23 rooms. She rolled down the window and smiled slowly, arching her eyebrows. They could smell the kitchen. He asked if she minded, and she said she didn’t. It’s so damned expensive, he said. She said, “I’m so tired.” Ted said, “We’ll take a nap before dinner.”
They booked into the shabby hotel down the street, and Ted took a stroll around town while she slept. In the Basilique St. -Andoche he sat a moment in meditation, and then in prayer—her good health, his good health, their future together. Then he lit a taper and stood watching it burn; the air was chilly and damp inside the church. Later, they had an aperitif in a cafe and returned to the hotel to dine at a table by the front window. From the window they could see the Cote d’Or through the trees, a little privet hedge in front and a rosy glow within. It had begun to rain, and the hotel dining room was drafty and cold. Ted ordered the fish soup and roast chicken and knew right away that he had made a terrible mistake. Bettina ordered a plain omelet, and they ate in silence, looking out the window through the rain at the alluring Cote d’Or. He knew he had been very stupid; it was one of the best restaurants in France. To kill the taste of the soup, he drank two bottles of wine. Bettina, exhausted, went to bed immediately after dinner. Ted walked across the street alone to have a cognac at the tiny bar off the dining room of the Cote d’Or. There were two large parties still at table, and much laughter; they were talking back and forth. Ted’s French was not good enough to eavesdrop seriously, but they seemed to be talking about American politics, John F.Kennedy, and the primary campaign, still months away. He heard, “Weees-consin” and “Wes Virginia” and then a blast of laughter. He wondered who they were, to have such detailed knowledge of American elections. The room was very warm. Ted picked up a copy of Le Monde, but the text was impossible to read. Inside, however, was a piece on the Kennedy stratégie.It depressed him, not speaking French or reading it. It would be better in Spain, where he knew the language and admired the culture. His stomach was already sour, and he had three cognacs before returning to the hotel to be sick.
The weather improved as they drove south. They had a cheerful, lovely drive on secondary roads to Perpignan. They lunched on bread and cheese, choosing pretty places off the road to eat. And Bettina’s strength returned. Her color improved, and she lost the preoccupied look she had had for three weeks, ever since the miscarriage. Five months pregnant, and it had seemed to Ted that she could get no larger. When she began to cramp early one evening, neither of them knew what it was, or what it meant; she was alarmed, but passed it off as an upset stomach. At midnight he had rushed her to the hospital, and in two hours knew that she had lost the babies, a boy and a girl. She had been pregnant with twins, and that was such a surprise because there were no twins on either side of the family. Of course there was no chance of saving either one, they were so tiny and undeveloped. The doctor said that Bettina was perfectly healthy, it was just something that had happened; she would have other children. Ted listened to all this in a stunned state. He did not know the mechanics of it, and when the doctor explained, he listened carefully but did not know the right questions to ask; there were certain obvious questions, but he did not want to seem a fool. Bettina had been wonderfully brave that evening, and later in the car rushing to the hospital, displaying a dignity and serenity that he had not known she possessed. It was the first crisis for either of them, and she had been great. To Ted, the doctor said that the twins were a shock to her system. She was a perfectly normal, healthy girl but this was her first pregnancy and twins after all, what a surprise; it was simply too much. All this in the corridor outside Bettina’s room, the two of them whispering together as if it were a conspiracy. The doctor had taken him out of earshot, but the door was open and Ted could see Bettina in her bed, and he knew she was watching them even though she was supposed to be asleep. Dr. McNab put his hand on Ted’s shoulder and spoke confidentially, man-to-man. Ted gathered that this was information best kept to himself, the “shock to her system.” He was flattered that the doctor would confide in him; the night before, the nurses had been brusque. He had sat in the waiting room for two hours with no word from anyone, and no idea what was happening except that it was precarious. The truth was, he had not had time to become accustomed to the idea of being a father; and now he wouldn’t be one, at least not this year. But he accepted without question the doctor’s explanation (such as it was) and cheerful prognosis. Of course they would have other children.
Bettina was not communicative, lying in her bed, the stack of books unread, staring out the window or at the ceiling. She cried only once, the next morning, when he arrived in her room with a dozen roses. No, she said, there was no pain; there had been, the night before. Now she was—uncomfortable. She wondered if, really, she were not the slightest bit relieved. She looked at him and frowned. Wrong word. Not relieved, exactly. But they had been married only a year and hardly knew each other, and children were a responsibility. Wasn’t that what her mischievious friend Evie had said? Didn’t everyone say that children would change their life together, and not absolutely for the better: diapers, three A.M.feedings, colic, tantrums, unreliable baby sitters. She had quoted an Englishman to him: The pram in the hallway is the enemy of art.Ted was not amused. So she had reassured him, of course, that was no argument for not having children, children were adorable and everyone wanted a family; but still. As the doctor said, they were both young. And they were happy on the practical surface of things, their house, their friends, Ted’s job. And Ted was preoccupied, too; as it happened, he was working with the senior partner on his first big case. The senior partner was a legend on La Salle Street, and he seemed to look on Ted as a protege. Ted described the case in detail to her as she lay in the narrow hospital bed; and as if to confirm his estimate of his excellent prospects with Estabrook, Mozart they were interrupted by the nurse bearing an aspidistra with a get-well card signed by the man himself in his muscular scrawl, E.L.Mozart.
Bettina was home in four days. She went immediately to her desk in the bedroom, to look at the poem she had been writing. She had been very excited about it, but now the poem seemed—frivolous. About one inch deep, she said to Ted that night at dinner. And derivative, and the odd part was that it was derivative of a poet she did not admire: e.e. cummings, with his erratic syntax and masculine sensibility. She had not seen that when she was working on the poem, nor had it seemed to her one inch deep. As she spoke, she knew that her life was changed in some unfathomable way. It was not simply the miscarriage, it was something more; the miscarriage had released hidden emotions. How strange a word it was, “miscarriage,” as in miscarriage of justice. And the form that Ted had been given to sign did not use the word at all; the word on the form was “abortion.” That night he got the idea of a vacation.
Europe, he blurted. It was entirely spur-of-the-moment, and she doubted it would ever happen. What about Mozart and the big case? The trip would have to wait until the case was settled—as, miraculously, it was, the following week, a fine out-of-court settlement for the client. This was an omen, and Ted was elated. He had never been to Europe or even out of America. Bettina had been two years before, the summer of her senior year in college. Ted was courting her then and wrote her every day from Chicago, where he was in his final year at law school. She had given him an itinerary, carefully typed by her father’s secretary. Ted had sent her three or four long letters to every city on the itinerary, places he knew only from an atlas, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Lausanne, Venice, Florence, Rome. The letters were his way of holding her. Ted was terrified that she would meet someone sexy in Europe and would have a love affair that would change her forever. And then she would be lost to him. Later, he learned that the letters were the cause of much hilarity, some of it forced. Bettina was traveling with her roommates, the three of them determined to have an adventure before settling down and marrying someone. The letters were somehow inhibiting, and irritating in their wordy insistence and blunt postmark, CHICAGO.
All those damned letters, Evie St. John said later. God,Ted. It was like being followed by your family, watched.Just once we wanted to arrive at the hotel and find nothing at the desk. It was as if you were on the trip with us, and it was supposed to be girls-only. Or maybe Peggy and I were jealous. The only letters we got were from our mothers, asking us about the weather and reminding us to wash our underwear. But really, it was a bit much, don’t you think? Bettina couldn’t get away from you, even when we found those boys in Florence, especially when we found those boys in Florence. The cutest one was after Bettina. But there were four letters of yours at the hotel in Florence and it just made her sick with—it wasn’t guilt. What was it? he had asked. I don’t know, Evie replied. Disloyalty, perhaps. Well, he said. What happened in Florence? Laughing: I’ll never tell.
They arrived at last on the Costa Brava. Spain was everything he imagined. They chose a pretty whitewashed town with a small bullring, a lovely 14th-century church, and two plain hotels. The hotel they chose was near the church, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. The room was primitive, but they would use it only for sleeping. It was late afternoon, and they changed immediately and went to the beach. Bettina smiled happily; it was a great relief being out of the car.
The path to the beach wound through a stand of sweet-smelling pines. They spread their towels on the rough sand, side-by-side. Bettina was carrying a thick poetry miscellany. She murmured, “Isn’t this nice,” and at once lay down and went to sleep. She didn’t say another word. Her forehead was beaded with sweat. She was lying on her side, her thighs up against her stomach, her cheek dead against her small fists. Her brown hair fell lifeless and tangled in a fan over her forearm. She looked defenseless, fast asleep. Ted looked down at her, his shadow falling across her stomach. He thought she needed a new bathing suit, something Bardot might favor, black or red, snug against the skin. The one she had on was heavy and loose, made in America. In her Lake Forest bathing suit she looked complacent and matronly, though she was obviously worn out from the drive, all day long in their small car on narrow roads, dodging diesel trucks and ox carts and every 50 kilometers a three-man patrol, the Guardia Civil, Franco’s men, sinister in their black tricorns and green capes and carbines, though they looked scarcely older than boys, nodding impassively when Bettina waved. She thought they looked more droll than sinister; as Americans, she and Ted had nothing to fear from the Guardia Civil.He stepped back and looked at Bettina again. From her rolled-up position on the towel, she might have been at home in bed on the North Shore instead of on a sunny Mediterranean beach. Her skin was very white in the fading sun.
Ted turned and walked to the water’s edge. There were no waves. The water seemed to slide up the sand, pause, and die. He looked left and right. The beach was wide, crescentshaped and cozy. There were two other couples nearby, middle-aged people reading under beach umbrellas. Down the beach a girl stood staring out to sea. Presently a man joined her and they stood together. They were very tan, and Ted was conscious of his own white skin and frayed madras trunks. The girl wore a white bikini, and the man had a black towel around his waist. The girl stood with her legs apart, her arm around the man’s dark shoulders; they were both wearing sunglasses. Ted looked back at Bettina. She was faced in his direction, but she had not moved. He turned back to the water, thinking how different it was from the shore at Lake Michigan—the fragrance of the beach, pine mixed with sea and sand, and the swollen bulk of two great rocks a hundred feet offshore. This coast was complicated and diverse, a place to begin or continue a love affair sin vergüenza.It was nothing at all like mediocre Lake Michigan; it was as different from Lake Michigan as he was from his American self. He walked into the water, chilly around his ankles. The woman in the bikini and the man in the towel were walking up the beach in the direction of the hotel, holding hands.
Ted began to swim in a slow crawl, feeling the water under his fingernails. He wished Bettina were with him at his side. The water slid around his thighs, slippery, a sexual sensation. He imagined them swimming together nude, unfettered in the Mediterranean. He swam steadily, kicking slowly, hot and knotted inside, his throat dusty and the sun warm on his back. Bettina would never swim nude but now and again he could coax her out of her bra and she would swim around and around in circles; this was always late at night in the deserted pool of the country club, after a party, illicit summer adventures before they were married. He slowed a little, lost in the sentimental memory of them together. The sensation mounted, a thick giddiness, incomplete. Ahead were the great rocks rising from the water ten feet apart. From his perspective they looked like skyscrapers, and beyond them nothing but the serene blue-gray Mediterranean and the milky sky overhead. He wanted to climb the nearest rock to the summit and sit in the last of the afternoon sun. But above the waterline the rock was smooth, no hand holds anywhere. The stone was warm to his touch and smooth as skin. When he tried to climb, his hands kept slipping, and at last he gave up and floated, the curve of the brown rocks always on the edges of his vision. Then on impulse he took a deep breath and dove, kicking and corkscrewing through the murky water. He could not see the bottom. Almost immediately the water chilled, offering resistance. He did not fight it, saving strength and breath. He struggled deeper, hanging in the heavy water, darkness all around him, the bottom out of sight. Something nudged his arm, and he felt a moment of panic. Lost, he had the sensation of rising in an elevator. The elevator was crowded with old men, their faces grim. Mozart was in front of him, lecturing in his flat prairie accent. There was a ringing in his ears, and he tried to push forward to get out through the heavy doors, away from the old men. He was dazzled by a profusion of winking red lights, a multitude of floors, all forbidden. Mozart would not yield, and the elevator came slowly to a halt, the atmosphere morbid and unspeakably oppressive. He recognized the faces of those around him, friends, colleagues, clients. Then his hand struck stone and the hallucination vanished. He had arched his back like a high-diver in mid-air, hanging upside down, watching afternoon light play on the flat surface of the water. Losing breath, he thought of the girl in the white bikini, so trim and self-possessed, and provocative as she stared out to sea. He wondered if she had had many lovers. Certainly a few, more than he had had; and more than Bettina, though they would all be about the same age. It was hard to know exactly how old she was, she could be 18 or 25; but a hard-muscled and knowing 18 or 25, having grown up in Europe. If the three of them met, what would they have to say to each other? He could describe for her the ins and outs of an Illinois Land Trust and the genius of E.L.Mozart. Bettina could talk to her about pregnancy or e.e.cummings. Well, there would be no common experience. And Bettina was so shy and he so green. She looked like a girl who would know her own mind, where she had been and where she was going. The cavalier with her looked like he knew his own mind, too. She moved beautifully, like a dancer or athlete. He thought of embracing her in the darkness and silence of the deep water.
When he broke the surface, gasping, he heard his name and turned to see Bettina on the beach, calling. The people under the umbrellas had put their books down and were rising, curious. Bettina saw him and dropped her hands, in an abrupt gesture of irritation and relief. She stood quietly a moment, shaking her head, then walked slowly back to the towel. The bells of the church began to toll, the dull sounds reaching him clearly across the water. He smiled, never having heard church bells on a beach. He shook his head to clear his ears of water. The bells stopped, and there was no echo; the girl and her escort had disappeared down the beach. Ted remained a moment, treading water, looking closely at the rocks and knowing there was a way up somehow. There was always a way up. Perhaps on the far side, he could look on it as the north face of the Eiger, an incentive for tomorrow’s swim. He pushed off and began a slow crawl back to the shore, where Bettina was already gathering their things.
They went directly to their room and made love, quickly and wordlessly; a model of efficiency, she thought but did not say. Ted had been ardent and a little rough, and now they lay together in the semidarkness, smoking and listening to two workmen gossip outside their window. Ted lay staring at the ceiling, blowing smoke rings. She was looking into an oval mirror atop their dresser beyond the foot of the bed. She was nearsighted and could not see her features clearly, but she knew how drained she looked, her sallow complexion, dead eyes, and oily hair, the pits. She hadn’t washed her hair in a week, since they left Chicago. She touched it with her fingertips, then worked it into a single braid and brought it over her shoulder and smelled it—sweat, fish, and seaweed, ugh. It had to be washed, but she had no energy for that or for anything; no energy, or taste for food, drink, or sex. She had loved listening to the bells, though. The truth was, she looked the way she felt. Her looks were a mirror of her state of mind as surely as the mirror on her dresser reflected her looks, and there was no disguise she could wear. What should she do, put on a party hat? Pop a Miltown? No chance of that; she distrusted tranquilizers and had not filled the prescription the doctor gave her. She disliked suburban life as it was—how much more would she dislike it tranquilized? She felt as if half of her was empty. She was a fraction, half empty. She thought that something had been stolen from her, some valuable part of herself, and it was more than a fetus; but she did not know what it was or who had taken it. She felt so alone. She inhabited a country of which she was the only citizen; one citizen, speaking to herself in a personal tongue. Sometimes in her poetry she could hear a multitude of voices, a vivifying rialto in the dead suburban city. On the beach she had felt abandoned; and when she looked across the water and did not see him, she didn’t know what to do; he had been there a moment before, looking at that girl. So she had gone to the water’s edge and called, in a jokey way; then she was filled with a sudden dread and called again, yelled really, just as he broke the surface, spraying water every which way, his arm straight up—and looked at her so shamefacedly, as if he had been caught red-handed. Then the bells began to toll and she listened, startled at first; they were so mournful and exact, church bells from the middle ages, tolling an unrecognizable dirge. The church would have been built around the time of the beginning of the Inquisition, and she imagined the altar and the simulacrum behind it, an emaciated, bloody, mortified Christ, wearing a crown of thorns sharp and deadly as razor blades, the thorns resembling birds’ talons. And for a long moment, within hearing of the bells, everything stopped, a kind of ecstatic suspension of all sound and motion. She turned away, fighting a desire to cry; she wanted tears, evidence of life.
She felt a movement next to her, Ted extinguishing his cigarette, sighing, and closing his eyes. Smoke from the Spanish tobacco hung in layers in the air, its odor pungent and unfamiliar. She stubbed out her own Chesterfield. He murmured, “Forty winks before dinner, Bee.” She absently put her hand on his chest, his skin slick with sweat though the room was no longer warm—watching herself do this in the mirror, her hand rising slowly from her stomach, making its arc, and then falling, and he covering her hand with his own. He had nice hands, dry and light, uncalloused. She felt his heart flutter, and the tension still inside him; she wondered if he could feel her tension as she felt his. Probably not, she was so emotionally dense sometimes, and he was not that kind of man.
It was almost dark now. The workmen had gone and she could hear gentler voices, hotel guests moving along the path to the terrace. She said, “Teddy?” He made a sound and squeezed her hand. “Nothing,” she said. He said, “No, what?” in a muddy voice.
She said, “Go back to sleep, Teddy.” He stirred and did not reply. It was quiet outside. She said quietly, “It’s silly.” She looked at the ceiling, there was a ghost of a shadow from the light outside.”Are you still sexy?” He laughed softly. “A little.” She said, “Me, too.” He rolled over on his side, facing her.
She smiled at him, wrinkling her nose in a way that he liked; this was a sign of absolution.”Did you know that?”
He grunted ambiguously and kissed her stomach. Then he reached over her shoulder and took one of the Chesterfields from the pack on the bedside table, lit it, and offered it to her. She shook her head, watching all this dimly in the mirror; she had to crane her neck to see over him when he reached for the cigarette. Then the flare of the match in the glass. She turned to look at him squarely. “I’ll bet you didn’t.” He said, “Did too.” She shook her head. “Huh uh.” “I know all about you, Bettina.”
Dense, she thought; an underbrush. Her poetry was dense, too, but she liked it that way.
He began to make jokes about the various ways he knew all about her, “Bettina through the ages.” He always knew what she was thinking, as she was an open book; she wore her heart on her sleeve, more or less. Then he began to talk about himself, his disappointment with his white skin and collegeboy bathing suit, as obvious as a fingerprint or a sore thumb. He said he wanted to lose his nationality, and she should lose hers, too. They would become inconspicuous in Europe, part of the continent’s mass. Perhaps he would become an international lawyer with offices in Lisbon and Madrid, master of half a dozen languages, a cosmopolitan. They would have a little villa on the Costa Brava within sight of the sea, a weekend place. He knew they would love the Costa Brava. He described swimming alone to the rocks, thinking of her, then diving, the water cold and heavy below the surface, and the hallucination that had transported him to La Salle Street, an elevator crowded with old men, red lights everywhere and no exit, a morbid oppression. The stone was slippery and warm to the touch, unfamiliar, the rocks sheer as Alps, no inhibitions on the Costa Brava—though what that had to do with it, with her, he couldn’t say. At any event, he didn’t. She said, “Thinking about me? And then a real hallucination?” He said, “Yes.”
She said, “Nuts. You were watching that femme fatale in the bikini. The one with the flat stomach.”
“No,” he said. “It was you. You’re my favorite.”
She lay quietly, holding her breath; she had a moment of déjà vu, come and gone in an instant. She tried to recapture it, but the memory feathered away. Distracted, she said, “I’ll never have a flat stomach, ever again.” She prodded her soft belly. It was as if there was an empty place in her stomach, an empty room, a VACANCY.There was no spring or bounce to her, her muscles were loose. Almost a month, and she had not returned to normal; depressed, always tired, petulant, negative, frequently near tears. But what was normal? She was an anomaly. She had a young mother’s flabby body, but she was not a young mother.”And I need a new bathing suit.” She looked at the coral-colored Jantzen lying crumpled in the corner; ardent Teddy, he couldn’t wait. He couldn’t get it off fast enough. What a surprising boy he was in Europe, so curious about things, a young husband.At home he was reserved, wanting so to fit in. They both looked at the bathing suit. There were bones in the bra and she didn’t need bones. She didn’t need bones any more than the femme fatale did, except now she might, now that she looked like a young mother. Was her body changed forever? She looked at him in the darkness and then turned away, blinking back tears. She wanted him to touch her and say that he loved her body, would love it always, that it was a beautiful young body even in the coral-colored Jantzen, Marshall Field chic. His cigarette flared and he blew a smoke ring. She sighed; there would be no tears after all. And he would not tell her that she had a beautiful young body, even if he believed it. Tomorrow she would buy a new bathing suit, a bathing suit a la mode. No bikinis, though. Bikinis were unforgiving. She said, “He was much too old for her.”
“Who was?” Teddy rose and stepped to the window, peeking out through the blind. “That man she was with. That senorito in the black towel.” “So,” he said. “You were watching him.” “Why not?” she said. “Jesus, he was a handsome man.”
She took her time bathing and dressing, selecting a white skirt and a blue silk shirt and the pearls Teddy had given her at their wedding. She washed her hair, and took care making up her eyes. It was nine before they presented themselves on the terrace. Lanterns here and there threw a soft light. Each table had a single candle and a tiny vase of flowers and a jar of wine. The tables were set for two or four; they were round tables with heavy ladderback chairs. One of the waiters looked up, smiling, and indicated they could sit anywhere. It was an informal seating. The terrace was not crowded, and conversation was subdued in the balmy night. The handsome senorito and his girl were at a table on the edge of the terrace, overlooking the sea. They were holding hands and talking earnestly. Bettina led the way to an empty table nearby, also on the edge.
The moon was full and brilliant. The sea spread out before them, steely in the moonlight, seeming to go on forever. The drop to the sea was sheer, and although it was a hundred feet or more Ted felt he could lean over the iron railing and touch the water. The rocks were off to their left, dark masses in the water. From the terrace the rocks did not look as large as skyscrapers. A way out to sea there was a single light, a freighter bound for Barcelona. Ted looked at Bettina, but she was lost in some private thought, absently twisting her pearls around her index finger, her eyes in shadows. She did it whenever she was nervous or distracted, and he wondered what she was thinking about now, so withdrawn; probably the handsome couple at the table nearby. She had seated herself so that she could look at them, and perhaps guess their provenance. She loved inventing exotic histories for strangers.
The waiter arrived and took their order. Conversation on the terrace rose and fell in a low murmur. There was laughter and a patter of French behind him. Bettina looked up, raising her chin to look over his shoulder, her fingers working at the pearls. Ted sat uncomfortably a moment, then poured wine into both their glasses. Bettina touched hers with her fingernails, click, and smiled thanks. She was still looking past him, concentrating as if committing something to memory. “Isn’t it pretty?” She said, “Another world.” “Did you imagine it like this? I didn’t.” She said, “I didn’t know what to expect.” He said, “You’re twisting your pearls.”
“You gave them to me.” She took a sip of wine. “I have a right to twist them, if I want to.” She said after a moment, “I wish I had brought my poem with me, the one I was working on. It was the one that began as one thing and then when I got out of the hospital it was another thing, the one I told you about after, that night. There’s one part of it that I can’t remember. Isn’t it a riot? I wrote it and now I can’t remember it.”
“Begin another,” Ted said. “That’s the great thing about writing poetry, all you need is a pencil and a piece of paper.” And a memory, he thought but did not say.
“No, there’s this one part. I have to know what it is because I want to revise it. I want to revise it here. It means a lot to me, and I know I’ll remember if I try.” “Is it the beginning or the end?” “The middle,” she said. “Good,” he said and laughed. She looked at him, confused. “I figured the poem was about me. Or us. Us together.” “No,” she said. “It wasn’t.” “What was it about, Bee?”
She looked away, across the water, her chin in her hands. The breeze, freshening, moved her hair, and she tilted her chin and shook her head lightly, evidently enjoying the sensation.”Me, the baby, that’s what the poem was about.” She smiled without irony or guile.”What happens when things are pregnant.” She took a sip of wine, holding the glass by its stem in front of her eyes. She said, “I’ll never be able to think of them separately, as distinct and different personalities, a brother and a sister. It’ll always be just, ‘the baby.’” “You were extremely brave,” he said. She gestured impatiently. “No,” she said. “That isn’t it.”
“Still,” he began, then didn’t finish the sentence. Why was she so reluctant to take the credit that was hers? If you couldn’t take the credit you deserved, you couldn’t take the blame either and you ended up with nothing, always in debt to someone else. But he did not want to argue, so he said, “I didn’t know what was going on.” “Like the other night in Saulieu.” “What night was that? You mean, when I got so sick?” “Teddy,” she said. “Sometimes, you know, you could just ask.” “All right then,” he said. “I’m asking.”
She looked at him innocently, the beginnings of a smile. “I thought a lawyer never asked a question without knowing the answer to it.” When he reacted, she said, “Please, don’t be angry. This is so pretty, and I’m happy to be here. I feel like a human being for the first time in ages, and I feel that it’s possible, right here. This country is so old, and it’s gone through so much.” She glanced over his shoulder and smiled; he heard a flurry of laughter.”You know, we’re not so dumb. We don’t know everything. Probably we don’t know as much as those two, but we can learn. I feel.” She leaned toward him across the table, sliding her hand forward like a gambler wagering a stack of chips.”I feel we don’t try for the best there is. We’re surrounded by nonentities, like you in your elevator, all those organization men. What did you call it? You called it morbid, that atmosphere.”
He nodded, touched by her sincerity. But what they didn’t know would fill an encyclopedia. And he didn’t like her reference to organization men, and he didn’t know what she meant about the night in Saulieu; then he got it.”It was just a restaurant, Bee. I didn’t have the money straight and didn’t know how expensive things were. And how lousy that hotel would be. I thought it was important to keep a reserve for emergencies.” She nodded, Sure. “See?”
She looked at him across the table, wondering if she could make clear what it was that she felt. She wanted him to listen—and here, this terrace, this table, the Mediterranean, this was the place. She had been stupid to mention Saulieu, off the subject. She took another sip of wine.”But there are times when you shouldn’t leave me. The night in Saulieu was one of the times, and the night in the hospital another. You and McNab in the corridor, talking about me.You wouldn’t look at me while you were talking to him, and I didn’t know what it was that was so secret. If it was secret, it couldn’t be anything good, isn’t that right? So I thought something was being kept from me, and I felt excluded, you two men in the corridor and me in bed.”
He said, “I didn’t know. I thought you were asleep. It’s what McNab wanted. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I was too dumb to ask the right questions.” He looked around him, embarrassed; their voices were sharp in the subdued ambiance of the terrace.
“It’s that you have to stand up for what’s yours, Teddy.” She filled his wineglass and her own. She looked at both glasses, full, and smiled. She watched him closely, wondering if he had really listened, and if he understood. Probably he had, he looked bothered. In the candlelight she thought him good-looking, a good-looking American; he only needed a few years. The Costa Brava became him. And her, too. Spain gave her courage. She gave a bright laugh. “I was brave, was I?” “Yes.” “Tell me how brave?”
He said, “Brave as can be.” Her eyes were sparkling, brilliant in the soft light.
“Oh,” she said suddenly, lowering her voice. “Oh, Teddy. Turn around.”
He did as she directed. The handsome senorito and the girl were embracing. She had her bare arms around his neck. Her head was thrown back as she leaned into him, on tiptoe. Against the light and motion of the moon and the sea, it was an exalted moment. Bettina whispered, “I know who they are.” She commenced a dreamy narrative, a vivid sketch of him, a romantic poet and playwright like Garcia Lorca, close to the Spanish people. There was definitely something literary and slightly dangerous about him. As for her, she was a political, a young Pasionaria, a woman of character and resolve. They had been in love for ages, exiled together, now returned to Catalonia incognito. . . .
Bettina took his hand and held it. She described the poem she had been working on, reciting a few of the lines, the ones she could remember. She was going to write another poem, and McNab would be a character in it. She was going to write it tomorrow on the beach, while he climbed to the summit of the largest rock. What better place to write? The Costa Brava was a tonic. In time she would be as healthy and resolute as the girl in the bikini, and he would be as lean and dangerous as the man in the towel.
Ted opened his mouth to make a comment, then thought better of it. He looked out to sea and it occurred to him suddenly that they were sitting literally on the edge of Europe, the precipice at their feet a boundary as clear and present as the Urals or the Atlantic. He had never considered the Mediterranean a European sea, and Spain herself was always on the margins of modern history. A puff of wind caused the candles to flicker and dance. Ted imagined the air originating in north Africa, bringing the scent and languor of the Sahara or the Casbah. There were two lights now on the horizon. What a distance it was, from their stronghold in the heart of America to the rim of Europe! Was it true that everything was possible in Europe? Ted thought of the Spanish war and the 20 years of peace, the veinte anos de paz,that had followed. Franco’s hard-faced paz.He had read all the books but could not imagine what it had been like in Catalonia. He had thought he knew but now, actually in the country, face to face with the people and the terrain, he had no idea at all.