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Glass__Julia_-_The_Three_Junes

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Glass__Julia_-_The_Three_Junes

Three Junes

JULIA GLASS

PANTHEON BOOKS, NEW YORK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    JULIA GLASSwas awarded a 2000 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in fiction writing and has won several prizes for her short stories, including three Nelson Algren Awards and the Tobias Wolff Award. ―Collies,‖ the first part ofThree Junes, won the

    1999 Pirate‘s Alley Faulkner Society Medal for Best Novella. She lives with her family in New York City, where she works as a freelance journalist and editor.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

    FOR THEIR SPONSORSHIPof prizes and grants that helped support and encourage my work, I thank the New York Foundation for the Arts, theChicago Tribune, theBellingham

    Review, Literal Latté, and the Pirate‘s Alley Faulkner Society (especially Joe DeSalvo, Rosemary James, and H. Paul and Michael X. St. Martin). For giving generously of their time and expertise to answer various research questions, I thank Dr. John Andrilli of Saint Vincents Medical Center in New York City and John and Christine Southern of C&J Medals in Reading, England. And for sharing with me their wee bit of Scotland (which I have embellished), I am happily indebted to my McKerrow cousins across the ocean, most of all Matthew, Gordon, and Allan.

    For support of a more intimate kind, I thank my longtime companion, Dennis Cowley, and my parents, as well as Bette Slayton. Thanks must also go to the readers whose thoughtful responses helped me persevere: Lindsay Boyer, Shelley Henderson, Alec Lobrano, Daniel Menaker, Katherine Mosby, Nick Pappas, Tim and Jessalyn Peters, Mark Pothier, Lory Skwerer, Lisa Wederquist, James Wilcox . . . and the late Robert Trent, unforgettable and deeply missed.

    Finally, for the enthusiasm, trust, and know-how that turned this story into a book, I am profoundly grateful to Dan Frank and, above all, to three remarkable women: my agent, Gail Hochman; my editor, Deborah Garrison; and Laura Mathews, loyal friend and muse.

For Alec and Oliver, my extraordinary sons

Assuming that our energies are sufficient, love is interminable.

    JIM HARRISON,The Road Home

Contents

    Dedication

    Epigraph

    Collies, 1989 Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three

    Upright, 1995 Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

    Chapter Eleven

    Chapter Twelve

    Chapter Thirteen

Boys, 1999

    Chapter Fourteen

    Chapter Fifteen

    Chapter Sixteen

    Chapter Seventeen

Acknowledgments

    About the Author

    Collies

    1989

    ONE

    PAUL CHOSE GREECEfor its predictable whiteness: the blanching heat by day, the rush of stars at night, the glint of the lime-washed houses crowding its coast. Blinding, searing, somnolent, fossilized Greece.

    Joining a tourthat was the gamble, because Paul is not a gregarious sort. He dreads fund-raisers and drinks parties, all occasions at which he must give an account of himself to people he will never see again. Yet there are advantages to the company of strangers. You can tell them whatever you please: no lies perhaps, but no affecting truths. Paul does not fabricate well (though once, foolishly, he believed that he could), and the single truth he‘s offered these random companionsthat recently he lost his wifebrought down a

    flurry of theatrical condolence. (A hand on his at the breakfast table in Athens, the very first day: ―Time, time, and more time. Let Monsignor Time do his tedious, devious work.‖ Marjorie, a breathy schoolmistress from Devon.)

    Not counting Jack, they are ten. Paul is one of three men; the other two, Ray and Solly, are appended to wives. And then, besides Marjorie, there are two pairs of women traveling together, in their seventies at least: a surprisingly spry quartet who carry oversize binoculars with which they ogle everything and everyone, at appallingly close range. Seeing the sights, they wear identical, brand-new hiking boots; to the group‘s

    communal dinners, cork-soled sandals with white crocheted tops. Paul thinks of them as the quadruplets.

    In the beginning, there was an all-around well-mannered effort to mingle, but then, sure as sedimentation, the two married couples fell together and the quadruplets reverted more or less to themselves. Only Marjorie, trained by profession to dole out affection equally, continues to treat everyone like a new friend, and with her as their muse, the women coddle Paul like an infant. His room always has the best view, his seat on the boat is always in shade; the women always insist. The husbands treat him as though he were vaguely leprous. Jack finds the whole thing amusing: ―Delightful, watching you cringe.‖ Jack is their guide: young and irreverent, thank God. Reverence would send Paul over the edge.

    Even this far from home there are reminders, like camera flashes or shooting pains. On the streets, in the plazas, on the open-decked ferries, he is constantly sighting Maureen: any tall lively blonde, any sunstruck girl with a touch of the brazen. German or Swedish or Dutch, there she is, again and again. Today she happens to be an American, one of two girls at a nearby table. Jack has noticed them too, Paul can tell, though both men pretend to read their shared paper—day before yesterday‘sTimes . By no means beautiful, this girl,

    but she has a garish spirit, a laugh she makes no effort to stifle. She wears an eccentrically wide-brimmed hat, tied under her chin with a feathery scarf. (―Miss Forties Nostalgic,‖ Maureen would have pegged her. ―These gals think they missed some grand

    swinging party.‖) Little good the hat seems to have done her, though: she is sunburnt geranium pink, her arms crazed with freckles. The second girl is the beauty, with perfect pale skin and thick cocoa-colored hair; Jack will have an eye on that one. The girls talk too loudly, but Paul enjoys listening. In their midtwenties, he guesses, ten years younger than his sons. ―Heaven. I am telling you exquisite,‖ says the dark-haired

    girl in a husky, all-knowing voice. ―A sensual sort ofcoup de foudre .‖

    ―You go up on donkeys? Where?‖ the blonde answers eagerly.

    ―This dishy farmer rents them. He looks like Giancarlo Giannini. Those soulful sad-dog

    eyes alone are worth the price of admission. He rides alongside and whacks them with a stick when they get ornery.‖

    ―Whacks them?‖

    ―Oh just prods them a little, for God‘s sake. Nothing inhumane. Listen—I‘m sure the ones that hump olives all day really get whacked. By donkey standards, these guys live

like royalty.‖ She rattles through a large canvas satchel and pulls out a map, which she

    opens across the table. The girls lean together.

    ―Valley of the Butterflies!‖ The blonde points.

    Jack snorts quietly from behind his section of theTimes . ―Don‘t tell the dears, but it‘s

    moths.‖

    Paul folds his section and lays it on the table. He is the owner and publisher of theYeoman, the Dumfries-Galloway paper. When he left, he promised to call in every other day. He has called once in ten and felt grateful not to be needed. Paging through the news from afar, he finds himself tired of it all. Tired of Maggie Thatcher, her hedgehog eyes, her vacuous hair, her cotton-mouthed edicts on jobs, on taxes, on terrorist acts. Tired of bickering over the Chunnel, over untapped oil off the Isle of Mull. Tired of rainy foggy pewtered skies. Here, too, there are clouds, but they are inconsequential, each one benign as a bridal veil. And wind, but the wind is warm, making a cheerful fuss of the awning over the tables, carrying loose napkins like birds to the edge of the harbor, slapping waves hard against the hulls of fishing boats.

    Paul closes his eyes and sips his ice coffee, a new pleasure. He hasn‘t caught the name for it yet; Jack, who is fluent, orders it for him. Greek is elusive, maddening. In ten days, Paul can say three words. He can say yes, the thoroughly counterintuitiveneh . He can

    wish passersby in the eveningas everyone here does himkalespera. And he can

    stumble over ―if you please,‖ something likeparicolo (ought to be a musical term, he

    decides, meaning ―joyfully, but with caution‖). Greek seems to Paul, more than French or Italian, the language of love: watery, reflective, steeped in thespian whispers. A language of words without barbs, without corners.

    When he opens his eyes, he is shocked to see her staring at him. She smiles at his alarm. ―You don‘t mind, I hope.‖

    ―Mind?‖ He blushes, but then sees that she is holding a pencil in one hand and, with the other, bracing a large book on the edge of her table. Her beautiful companion is gone. Paul straightens his spine, aware how crumpled and slouched he must look. ―Oh no. Down the way you were. Please.‖

    ―Sorry. How was I?‖ Paul laughs. ―A little more like this?‖ He sinks in the chair and crosses his arms.

    ―That‘s it.‖ She resumes her drawing. ―You‘re Scottish, am I right?‖

    ―Well thank God she hasn‘t mistook us for a pair of Huns,‖ says Jack.

―Not you. You‘re English. But you,‖ she says to Paul. ―I can tell, the way you saidlittle,

    the particular way yourt ‘s disappeared. I‘m wild about Scotland. Last year I went to the

    festival. I biked around one of the lochs. . . . Also, I shouldn‘t say this, you‘ll think I‘m so typically rudely American, but you look, you know, like you marched right out of that Dewars ad. The one, you know, with the collies?‖

    ―Collies?‖ Paul sits up again.

    ―Oh, sorry—Madison Avenue nonsense. They show this shepherd, I mean a modern one, very tweedy, rugged, kind of motley but dashing, on the moors with his Border collies. Probably a studio setup out in L.A. But I like to think it‘s real. The shepherd. The heather.

    The red phone boothcall box, right? . . .Inverness. ‖ She draws the name out like a tail

    of mist, evoking a Brigadoon sort of Scotland. ―I‘d love to have one of those collies, I‘ve heard they‘re the smartest dogs.‖

    ―Would you?‖ says Paul, but leaves it at that. Not long ago he would have said, My wife raises colliesnational champions, shipped clear to New Zealand. And yes, they are the smartest. The most cunning, the most watchful.

    ―Hellohere you are, you truants you.‖ Marjorie, who‘s marched up behind Jack, bats his arm with her guidebook. ―We‘re off to maraud some poor unsuspecting shopkeepers. Lunch, say, at half past one, convene in the hotel lobby?‖ Paul waves to the others, who wait beyond the café awning. They look like a lost platoon in their knife-pleated khakis and sensible hats, bent over maps, gazing and pointing in all directions. ―Tally ho, Marj!‖ says Jack. ―Half one in the hotel lobby. Half two, a little siesta; half three, a little . . . adventure. Pass muster with you?‖

    ―Right-oh,‖ she says, saluting. She winks, accepting his tease.

    This has become their routine: The first full day of each new place, Marjorie directs an expedition for souvenirsas if to gather up the memories before the experience. While

    the others trail happily behind her, Jack and Paul read in a taverna, hike the streets, or wander through nondescript local ruins and talk about bland things, picking up odd stones to examine and discard. Paul buys no souvenirs. He should send cards to the boyshe

    did when they were in fact boysbut the kinds of messages adults send one another on

    postcards remind him precisely of the chatter he dislikes so much at drinks parties or sitting on a plane beside yet another, more alarming breed of strangers: those from whom you have no escape but the loo.

    There‘s one on every tour, Jack says of Marjorie: a den mother, someone who likes to do his job for him. And Marj is a good sport, he says, not a bad traveler. He likes her. But she exasperates Paul. She is a heroine out of a Barbara Pym novel: bookish, dependable, magnanimously stubborn, and no doubt beneath it all profoundly disappointed. At an age when she might do well to tint her hair, she‘s taken up pride in her plainness as if it were a charitable cause. She dresses and walks like a soldier, keeps her hair cropped blunt at

    the earlobes. She proclaims herself a romantic but seems desperately earthbound, a stickler for schedules. Jack tells her again and again how un-Greek this attitude is, but she is not a when-in-Rome type of tourist. (―Right then: three on the dot at the Oracle, tea time!‖ Marjorie, sizing up Delphi.)

    She turns now and waves to her regiment, strutting through the maze of tables. Jack smiles fondly. ―O gird up thy loins, ye salesmen of Minotaur tea towels!‖ The American

    girl laughs loudly, a laugh of unblemished joy.

    WHEN THE WAR ENDED,when Paul shipped back to Dumfries from Verona, he found out,

    along with his mates, that half the girls they‘d known in school had promised themselves to Americanseven, God forbid, to Canadians. Many were already married, awaiting their journey across the Atlantic with the restless thrill of birds preparing to migrate. Among them were some of the prettiest, cleverest, most accomplished and winning of the girls Paul remembered.

    Maureen might have been one of those brides, if she‘d chosen to be. But Maureen, pretty, outspoken, intrepid, knew what she wanted. She did not intend to wager away her future. ―Those gals haven‘t a clue what they‘re in for, no sir. The man may be a prince, sure, but

    what‘s he hauling you home to? You haven‘t a clue, not a blistering clue.‖ She said this to Paul when she hardly knew him. Paul admired her franknessthat and her curly

    pinkish blond hair, her muscular arms, her Adriatic eyes.

    When Paul came back, he was depressed. Not because he missed the war; what idiot would? Not because he lacked direction, some sort of career; how thoroughlythatwas

    mapped out. Not even because he longed for a girl; for someone like Paul, there were plenty of prospects. He was sad because the war had not made him into what he had hoped it wouldworse, he came to realize, what so many similar fools hoped it would. He supposed he could assume it had made him a man, whatever that meant, but it had not given him the dark, pitiless eye of an artist. All that posturing courage (all that aiming, killing, closing your eyes and haplessly pretending to kill but rarely knowing if you had); the simultaneous endurance and fear of deaththe dying itself heard in keening rifts

    between gunfire or in continuous horrific pleadingsall those dire things, Paul had

    thought when he shipped out, might plant in him the indelible passion of a survivor, a taut inner coil like the workings of an heirloom watch. He had told this rubbish to no one and was grateful to himself for that much. Of the virtues his father preached, discretion began to seem the most rewarding: it kept people guessing and sometimes, by default, admiring. Mornings he spent at the paper: proofing galleys, answering telephones, cataloguing local events. He learned the ropes as his father expected. But after a late lunch at the Globe, often alone, he might wander into the bar, lose all sense of time and obligation. At night he sat in a neglected room of his parents‘ large cold house and tried to write short stories.

    Paul was a good reporterlater he would win awardsbut everything he tried to conjure

    from his heart sounded mealy and frail when he took it out to read in the morning.

    The first year after the war was a time of modest anticipation. There was immense relief, drunken cheer, a stalwart sense of vindication. But the people he knew were careful not to voice grand expectations. When Paul stood back to consider the girls he courted, their dreams seemed to him self-consciously stunted; to be fair, so was his enthusiasm for courtship.

    Maureen was not one of the girls from school. She worked at the Globe, sometimes as cook or barkeep, sometimes as a maid for the upstairs rooms. Always variety, she said. Always good company. Maureen flowered in the company of men. On nights she took the bar, she‘d smoke, pour tall whiskeys, and hold her own on politics and farming. She told Paul without hesitation exactly what she thought of his father‘s editorial opinions. (―Ah, the specially elegant ignorance of gentlemen!‖ she crooned—a remark that made

    him smile for days.)

    One winter night after dinner, when his sisters had a dance show turned up so loud that it made his work more discouraging than usual, Paul took his father‘s Humber and aimlessly cruised the town, stopping at last in the High Street.

    The night crowd at the Globe was rural, more working-class than the customers at lunch. Feeling sorry for himself, despising his unshakable sense of superiority, Paul drank too much and argued too sharply. He knew now that it was just a matter of time before he‘d give it up: ―the fiction of the fiction,‖ he‘d come to call it. At closing time he was the last man in the bar. He had no desire to face the cold, to be hit by the disappointment of no one‘s company but his own. He watched Maureen wipe the snifters, lock the till, polish the bar to a glassy sheen.

    ―Collided with the ghost,‖ she said abruptly. ―I finally did.‖

    Paul laughed. ―You don‘t believe that rot.‖

    Maureen looked at him with cold sincerity. ―Sure I do.‖ She‘d been sweeping the stairs,

    she told him, when she stepped into a sharp chill on the landing. ―Like falling through the ice. Ten degrees‘ drop, I‘d swear. And Marcus, y‘know, he always balks at following me up those stairs.‖ Marcus was her dog, an arthritic old black and white collie.

    Paul ran through all the rational explanations: obscure drafts, trapped pockets of air . . . a wild imagination. Maureen shook her head at each one.

    ―Poor gal,‖ she said. ―I‘da steered clearathat man, no mystery there.‖ The ghost, said

    believers, was the roaming soul of a susceptible lass seduced by Bobbie Burns, who broke as many hearts as he wrote poems. The Globe had been his lair, and his upstairs rooms were hallowed, their unremarkable knickknacks like relics in a chapel. How predictable, Paul had always thought, that someone would invent a ghost. Another cheap lure for tourists. Maybe he‘d write an article on the ghost and its role in commerce.

    ―Well then, Miss, I wouldn‘t want to see you spooked. Shall I run you home?‖

    ―If you don‘t mind Marcus along.‖ She put on her coat without waiting for Paul‘s assistance and went behind the bar again. Looking in the mirror behind the bottles of whiskey, she ran her fingers quickly through her hair and smoothed it back over her collar. Then she pulled a lipstick from her pocket and, so deftly he hardly saw her do it, colored her lips. When she turned around, her mouth was a deep, startling red. While she helped the dog onto the front seat of the car, between them, Paul warmed up the motor. It was a harsh, snowless night, and the streets were empty. ―Pity,‖ said Maureen. ―No one‘ll half believe I was on the town with Mr. Paul McLeod. Pardon me;Lieutenant McLeod, town hero, resident intellect. Lieutenant McLeod theeligible .‖

    By enunciating the word, she let him know that she knew she was not in the running. In front of the house Maureen shared with her mother, Paul turned off the motor and listened to her gossip, never meanly but with relish. He was surprised at how much he enjoyed listening. The car was warm now, and the windows had shed their crystalline frost. Softened by heat, the leather of the seat felt luxurious, as if the two of them sat in a dim after-hours club. The old dog slept happily between them, like a child. They came to talk about war brides when Maureen mentioned how a girl she‘d been friends with forever had gone off to a place called Quaqtaq. She removed a glove and, in careful block letters, spelled out the name in the condensation of her breath on the windscreen. The girl had since written Maureen to tell her what a shock it had been to arrive there. ―A name like that, some garbled croak of a place you can‘t even pronounce, what would you expect? Every whichway, she says, the land is what‘s called ‗tundra.‘‖ Maureen shivered for emphasis. ―Snow and blinking ice from September to May. All the creatures white. White bears, white rabbits, white foxes, white owls, white everything you could dream of. As if it was all scared bloodless. Half the year, your eyes just pine for green.‖ She laughed at her pun. ―Well no thank you sir, that would‘ve been my RSVP to that invitation.‖

    Paul watched Maureen extinguish her cigarette on the sole of a shoe and tuck the end into the cuff of a coatsleeve. She was looking out the windscreen when she said, ―I for one

    would never want a military manthe kind, I mean, who lives for that life. Not if he was the Second Coming incarnate.‖

    ―A fierce opinion,‖ said Paul.

    ―I‘m twenty-six. An old maid, Mum drones on. A cloudy marble. Too set in my ways, she says—that dirge.‖ She laughed, a sharp summery laugh.

    ―And what would you trade it for, this independence you so clearly prize?‖ Paul was twenty-five. He was likely, in a year or so, to marry one of two girls he knew, both daughters of friends of his father, both lovely and suspiciously compliant. Maureen laughed again and leaned into her seat. She accepted another cigarette from Paul and let him light it. She stroked her dog, her affection absentmindedsecond nature,

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