Friday, May 12, 2006


Yesterday would have been the thirtieth anniversary of my marriage to my first wife, Lila. She was (and I trust still is) an Irish Catholic lass with freckles and a taste for mischief in her lovemaking.

We fought often. In fact we fought constantly when we weren’t in bed. She’s an artist, a perhaps that was the problem. Creative types are certainly self-absorbed, and as marriage is all about sacrifice, a writer who marries an artist is asking for trouble. Someone has to do a bulk of the giving, and neither of us were willing to compromise. Though we never grew to be close friends in the way that Ruth (my second ex) and I did, there was a definite fire--a mixture of lust and devotion--that I’ve never been able to recreate. She gave me two gorgeous daughters, my finest achievement in life being those two brief acts of pollination.

I celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the marriage to my first wife by almost calling her. I sat next to the phone in my bathrobe, hand hovering over the receiver for the better part of an hour. Finally I gave up and fired up the grill. I had two venison round steaks marinating in a ziplock of olive oil, black pepper, garlic, sea salt and Pinot Noir. I tossed them on low heat next to a foil-wrapped, organically grown baking potato. I then sautéed a couple pounds of shitakes and some greenhouse zucchini. Since this was an entirely local meal, I paired it with a friend’s homemade Chambourcin. It’s a delightful dry red wine with green pepper and grassy qualities that make it a nice fit for wild game. It’s grown in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as in New York and parts of Australia, where they make a lovely sparkling wine from this varietal. Chambourcin is one of those much-maligned French-American cultivars that is either derided or ignored by the likes of those insipid writers for Wine Spectator or that nincompoop of the first order, Robert B. Parker. It’s a tricky wine for food pairing, and it’s admittedly hard to find well-made (though aren’t all wines?). My friend’s bottle was delightful, aged two years and made without oak. I’ve come to regard the use of oak (especially by California winemakers) with the same level of contempt as someone who puts ketchup on a fine porterhouse or those who pour hazelnut flavored syrup into a cup of good coffee.

In any case, after this solitary orgy that took up most of the day and evening, I retired to my back patio with a glass of tawny port so I could work on a story by lamplight. It was a balmy evening, and I smelled the thickness of coming rain. My story is about the last black cowboy in Montana, a fellow hired by a Republican rancher to illegally eliminate the endangered grizzly bear that killed his prized bird dogs. Based on a true story. I’m slipping it to a friend who is slipping it to a friend at The New Yorker. If it’s published there I’ll let my readers know…it’s almost time I revealed my identity anyway. In any case, it’s the first short story I’ve written in ages, and I think it’s pretty fucking good, if I don’t say so myself.

Around midnight I was dozing in my lawn chair and a fine mist had begun falling, dampening the draft of the story and curling the pages. I heard a soft knock at the front door, so I stumbled through the apartment and undid the chain. It was a surprise as this complex becomes something of a ghost town after the students leave.

I found Yu standing there. She was wet and crying, her cheeks purple in the streetlight. Her hair was unbraided…the first time I’d seen her this way, and it hung about her shoulders like a main of kelp. She was gorgeous. “My husband kick me out,” she said. “He find me with another man.”

“Heavens, my dear! Come in.” She rushed into my arms.

I fixed her a roasted red pepper/tomato soup with fresh produce I had on hand. I have to admit that since I was in a hurry to serve I had to use a can of tomato paste, though ordinarily I’d allow time to thicken the stock properly. I cut parsley and fresh mint from my dooryard herb garden to garnish. Dab of fresh sour cream from a local dairy.

She ate gratefully and over a bottle of Vouvray I learned that her lover was none other than Billy Clayhouse, a student who had impregnated another of my writerlings last semester. I was angry at Billy and made a note to confront him. As a marine sniper who’d done a tour in Iraq (Falluja), Clayhouse had seen hell, though that doesn’t excuse his behavior. He was also a fatherless Kiowa whelp from Oklahoma with the (tragically) common Native American mother plagued by alcoholism. He was raised by grandparents who managed to give him some respect for the old ways. Over lunch he once told me he’d been poisoned as a fetus by his mother’s drinking and he now blamed all women for his fetal alcohol syndrome, which left him with a short attention span and made writing a horrible chore. This was, he said, why he treated women so miserably. I told him that writing was a horrible chore anyway, and that I also treated women miserably, but never on purpose. I also told him to stop his fucking whining: if he couldn’t tell that women as a gender were the only hope for this world then he had no soul and might as well quit writing and go for his MBA. He left in a huff and I haven’t spoken with him since. And to think that I once considered fixing him up with my youngest daughter, Billie Trout. The miserable fuck.

The upshot of all this was that Yu had finally learned that she loved her husband. “He a computer nerd, but also he is gentle and kind. He didn’t get mad at me but just cried and blamed his self for not paying enough attention to me. I don’t know what to do, Professor Trout. He said that maybe it be best if we divorce!”

She wept.

I held her on the couch, smelling her hair and feeling her little frame like some kind of strange and delicate bird in my arms. I was a perfect gentleman, though I’d be a miserable liar if I didn’t admit that the ermine stirred in his warren somewhere down below. I managed, however, to keep the troublesome creature at bay.

We concocted a plan. What they needed was a period of separation after which they could re-evaluate their relationship. I asked her to join the summer writing session in Tuscany. She protested saying they didn’t have much money: he was only an assistant professor and not yet tenured, and her parents in China, although wealthy, had disowned her. I offered to loan her some money from my wine fund, though in truth I don’t have much to spare. Oh well, these things generally take care of themselves.

She fell asleep in the crook of my arm. I fell asleep too, and I dreamed I was a black bear and she a fawn curled up in my claws. My bear-self watched the Yu-fawn, mouth watering.

Finally, I dreamed of my lost Lila, my first lovely bride. We were married thirty years ago, when I was as young and confused as delicate little Yu. I’m still confused, but I’m now old and have recognized that this is just how life works. All we can ask for is the company of a kind stranger who might fix us a bowl of soup and listen to our troubles, resisting his urge to ravage the young fawn curled helplessly in his ragged old claws. I am in love with Yu, and Lila. I’m in love with life. And I know that this too shall pass.

No comments: