‘You shut your fucking mouth Travers,’ he says, but not angrily or loudly, he says it firmly and resolutely and self-assuredly, even repeating, in a low, nodding murmur to himself, ‘you shut your fucking mouth.’ No one over the age of twenty-two has made eye contact in what seems like years. The tumescent throb that has lurched in Berlin’s chest, that had emptied once the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, has now become, he realizes, just a hollow chasm that is waiting to be filled, and not in any way by something kind or pleasant. It is immunologically incompatible, that cavity of trepidation between honesty and dishonesty and loyalty and hypocrisy, sure to manifest a hyperacute rejection of any ambivalent transplant, ready to inflame and clump and agglutinate the foreign, morbid, truth-untruth substance. Berlin looks to Julie. And the worst of it is every impression, every stamp or speck or atom of his body squandered on any feeling but that feeling he felt with that first touch, every diluted, titrated second of consciousness not entirely devoted to the utter surrender of all senses, of all capacity to doubt, of all choice, and just to love with the marrow of the bones, the deep, aching love that exuviates its moult of passion the very moment it begins to dry or darken, only to reveal underneath a more brilliant, coruscating desire, burning like a sun of infinite iron, twirling and pirouetting like an early autumn leaf through sienna-bathed, bucolic-lined streets, dual-ivory cones of light searching those streets, always finding the always-receding end, the unattainable possession, here and then there, always chasing but always having… every moment not entirely consigned to that feeling is a moment wasted, Berlin feels. And yet those moments are afforded in such tragically meager minutes, hours, weeks of the year, it almost feels as if his entire body is in a perpetual condition of decay, of temporizing in between those soul-replenishing moments, that if there is just one more second between those pilgrimages, his body may just decay into an ineluctable, inexorable state of longing. And if she feels the same surely this cannot be worth it. Unless of course she still mistakes, like he did and still every so often does, longing for lust, surrendering to passion for surrendering to circumstance, purgatory, and mistaking it further for contentment because that can be easy, too. Oh, wicked love.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself,’ Frank says sententiously. He holds the glass of whiskey in between his middle finger and thumb, swirling it like it is a fine wine. As the liquid rounds the glass-end facing the flame it assumes and reflects the light to make the amber into a pale-fire color, before rounding the glass. As it does this quickly it looks like the constant, catoptric, obliquely-scanning luminosity of a lighthouse.
‘Oh, Frank! Like you didn’t have -‘ Margaret looks dolefully at Berlin and then back with impertinence to Frank, ‘- have women over here.’
Ben Travers and the candle. ‘No, Margaret, not when we were together.’ ‘And when was that? Last year? Two, four, six years, twenty years ago? Together in the same room? House? City? Where are we drawing the line here?’ Her voice is lymphatic but constrained.
‘No, no no no. We are not playing moral equivalence here.’ She postures matter-of-factly. ‘Sure we are. Yes, Frank – sure we are. That your favorite game, isn’t it? The U.S. is just as bad as the USSR? Money laundering is as evil as murder? A screaming baby on a train might as well be a bomb threat. So what are we differentiating now? Ben has treated me well. You and I have not been together for a long time. You know that is true, I know it is true.’
Frank just stares. A look of struggle comes into his face, his eyebrows shift from rested to centered, and anger flushes over him, seemingly to his resistence. Showing anger is like showing your cards. He turns in conniption to Ben Travers: ‘How dare you come into my house, under my roof -‘
‘- Frank -‘
Suddenly he turns towards her and his face retracts back to a halcyon look, then through to a pitiful despondency. ‘What is it? What do you need? You want to go out more? You want to go to state fairs? Have another kid? Sleep – sleep together more? What do we need? What do you need?’
‘No, Frank. No. Look at what has happened. After all this time, we try this simple meal for our daughter’s birthday. And here we are, the sky has opened up and is coughing like hags, the food wasn’t able to be delivered, and now… Does this just not seem like a sign? I’ve tried, I really try…’
‘The universe isn’t against you, Margaret.’ ‘I know it’s not, Frank, it’s against us.’ ‘- ‘ ‘- ‘
‘So what, we split up?’ ‘Split up – How many times can this thing fracture before it breaks? How many times can we keep trying before it becomes insane?’ ‘Remember those vacations we took when we were younger? When things got tense we would just jet off to Europe or Asia…’ Frank’s fingers were crossed in supplication. ‘We can’t afford that, Frank.’ She looks innocently and insecurely to Ben Travers, who has chanced to look at the transpiring conversation but as soon as his eyes are met he reacquaints himself with the candle. ‘I know we can’t afford it, but what if we did it anyway?’ ‘So then what? We fix this for two weeks and then we come back to even more debt and we flounder around in it until we drown? Why do we keep postponing the inevitable?’ ‘Margaret, who cares about money? We’re drowning already, we might as well drown in tropical waters.’ ‘That’s the attitude that put us in this situation. You’re so damn imprudent.’ ‘When did life start getting so much longer for you? We used to talk about never doing exactly what we’re doing now – when did we put on these adult masks and have to pretend we know what we’re doing? We made that promise.’
‘Frank, we have kids –’ ‘No, we can’t blame the kids. We used to bring Berlin everywhere. This is about us.’ ‘Just because we’ve been together for a long time doesn’t mean that we always will be, or that we’re supposed to be. Do you want to fight all the time? It’s not good for us. It’s not good for the kids.’
‘So, what? Clean cut, it’s over? We’ve tried that. Are we just going to be tangled together forever, with roses and thorns, and never be able to stop hurting each other?’
‘This isn’t Jeopardy, Frank. I don’t have the answers. No one has the answers. I’ve prayed over it and –’
‘Margaret, please. Not with the prayers. This is about what’s in this room.’ ‘He is in this room. He is everywhere –’ ‘Oh, goddammit!’ Frank says.