Excerpt

She stands before the spotted mirror. A dime sized pool of expensive moisturizer spreads in the heat of her palm. Miranda wonders what Adam looks like. She tries on a long black skirt, throws it impatiently on the bed, then Nile green silk pants with wide legs. She tries on the black skirt again. Then a violet knit top, which she rejects because it emphasizes her breasts. Once a vexation to her on account of their smallness, her breasts had done all right with age. She’s glad he won’t be seeing her naked. Or in a bathing suit. Well, she is nearly sixty now and her body shows the marks of bearing two strong healthy sons. Her legs which, he had said, caused him a desire that was painful in its intensity when he saw them in her first miniskirt—September 1965—but which she’d always thought too thick, too straight, these had gone flabby. She’s tried—swimming, running, yoga—but nothing really helps. Most of the time she doesn’t think of it, she doesn’t really care. It’s one of the benefits of age; such things have lost their power to scald. She looks at the lines around her eyes, her mouth. Her face has not ceased to please her, but it could never be the face that he had loved.

Miranda has heard something, vaguely, some tragedy about Adam’s wife. A suicide. She was not, to her shame, sorry. She would not ask details. Even to say the woman’s name, even after all these years, would be an offense against her pride; and this, too, had seemed to her excessive. But it was an impulse she could not give up.

Bitterness.

Pride.

Grievance.

Of course it would be better to be free of them. Of course.

He has left the flat too early. He plans a route that in its indirectness will consume the extra time. He walks half a block in the wrong direction to the Fountain of the Tortoises, four elegant flirtatious boys, flaunting their nearly childish sex, playing with their near girlishness, arranging, seductively, the unserious angles of their limbs. As a boy he was, he knows, never elegant, and never dared to be flirtatious. If it weren’t for Miranda, he might never have been a boy. Only a musician. Nothing like these marble creatures offering sex as if it were a perfectly good but unimportant joke.

He steps onto the Ponte Garibaldi. His eye is caught by a strange knot of inexplicable color. The river rushes into a man-made waterfall. A vortex. Plastic bottles, trapped, bob up and down in the whirlpool but do not progress downstream, appearing to be tied to something although he knows that they are not. They bob and sink, they sparkle, they wink; they are a clutch of throwaway jewels, delightful but unvaluable, emerald, ruby, sapphire. Yet what are they really? Containers for sweet drinks or carbonated water. Where did they come from? Where do they go? Does someone come and collect them every night, using a special net, a long string bag at the end of a pole or stick? It cannot be a good thing, plastic bottles in the river. It must be a sign of wastefulness, of carelessness, a malign use of resources. They will collect somewhere, do harm, perhaps to innocent animals or birds. But he allows himself to be charmed by them. It is early October, but the sun falls straight and purposeful, hot on his shoulders as an August morning in Connecticut. He walks to the center of the bridge. If he turns to the right, he sees the distant specter of Saint Peter’s, which he has never liked, standing as it does for everything he turns his mind against, that he knows quite well, is the reality of Rome. Power: imperial, ecclesial. Finished now.

Turning to the left, he sees the older campanile of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, gentler, undemanding. And as if made from another substance, or an entry from another dream, the mountains, covered, even now in snow. What mountains are they? This is the kind of thing he never knows, that Miranda always knew. But what he wants to look at now is not the dome of Saint Peter’s or the tower of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, or the snow covered hills. He wants to be looking at the winking bottles: the color, the silly,joyful, purposeless activity, the vivid game of catching sun. And it seems to him possible that in the improbableness of its heat, its lavishness, its wrongheaded generosity, to allow himself to give up the responsibility the habit of northern judgment, and to enjoy the spectacle of the playful bobbing plastic bottles, the colorful unnatural blues and greens—the temporary pleasure of what, if it must be given its proper name, would be called: detritus in a vortex. But why, he asks himself, why think of what is proper? Why invoke the word “propriety?” Not in this light. Not right now.

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