“That first time I met her, at the party, she said,
‘I have an English father and an American mother
and I went to school in London and Providence, Rhode Island,
and at some point I had to choose,
so I moved back to London and became the sort of person
who says puh-son instead of purr-son.’
For the first person she had chosen an accent
halfway between the other two.
It was so elegant I fell in love on the spot. Later,
I understood that it was because I thought
that little verbal finesse meant
she had made herself up entirely.
I felt so much what I was and, you know,
that what I was was not that much,
so she just seemed breathtaking.”
“Her neck was the thing, and that tangle of copper hair.
And, in those days, her laugh, the way
she moved through a room. Like Landor’s line—
she was meandering gold, pellucid gold.”
“Her father was a philosopher,
fairly eminent in that world, and the first time
I was there to dinner, they talked about California wines
in deference to me, I think, though it was a subject
about which I was still too broke to have a thing to say,
so I changed the subject and asked him
what kind of music he liked. He said, ‘I loathe music.’
And I said, ‘All music?’ And he said—
he seemed very amused by himself but also
quite serious, ‘Almost all music, almost all the time.’
and I said ‘Beethoven?’ And he said
‘I loathe Beethoven, and I loathe Stravinsky,
who loathed Beethoven.'”
“Later, in the night, we talked about it.
‘It’s feelings,’ she said, laughing. ‘He says
he doesn’t want other people putting their feelings into him
any more than he wants,’ and then she imitated
his silvery rich voice, ‘them putting their organs
into me at great length and without my consent.’
And she rolled onto my chest and wiggled herself
into position and whispered in my ear,
‘So I’ll put my feelings in you, okay?’
humming it as if it were a little tune.”
“Anyway, I was besotted. In that stage, you know,
when everything about her amazed me.
One time I looked in her underwear drawer.
She had eight pair of orange panties
and one pair that was sort of lemon yellow, none of them
very new. So that was something
to think about. What kind of woman
basically wears only orange panties.”
“She had the most beautiful neck on earth.
A swan’s neck. When we made love, in those first weeks,
in my grubby little graduate student bed-sit,
I’d weep afterward from gratitude while she smoked
and then we’d walk along the embankment to look at the lights
just coming on—it was midsummer—and then we’d eat something
at an Indian place and I’d watch her put forkfuls of curry
into that soft mouth I’d been kissing. It was still
just faintly light at midnight and I’d walk her home
and the wind would be coming up on the river.”
“In theory she was only part-time at Amnesty
but by fall she was there every night, later and later.
She just got to be obsessed. Political torture, mostly.
Abu Ghraib, the photographs. She had every one of them.
And photographs of the hands of some Iranian feminist journalist
that the police had taken pliers to. And Africa,
of course, Darfur, starvation, genital mutilation.
The whole starter kit of anguished causes.”
“I’d wake up in the night
and not hear her sleeper’s breathing
and turn toward her and she’d be looking at me,
wide-eyed, and say, as if we were in the middle of a conversation,
‘Do you know what the report said? It said
she had been raped multiple times and that she died
of one strong blow—they call it blunt trauma—
to the back of her head,
but she also had twenty-seven hairline fractures
to the skull, so they think the interrogation
went on for some time.'”
“—So I said, ‘Yes, I can tell you exactly
what I want.’ She had her head propped up on one elbow,
she was so beautiful, her hair
that Botticellian copper. ‘Look,’ I said,
‘I know the world is an awful place, but I would like,
some night, to make love or walk along the river
without having to talk about George fucking Bush
or Tony fucking Blair.’ I picked up her hand.
‘You bite your fingernails raw.
You should quit smoking. You’re entitled, we’re entitled
to a little happiness.’ She looked at me,
coolly, and gave me a perfunctory kiss
on the neck and said, ‘You sound like my mother.'”
“We were at a party and she introduced me
to one of her colleagues, tall girl, auburn hair,
absolutely white skin. After she walked away,
I said, ‘A wan English beauty.’ I was really thinking
that she was inside all day breathing secondhand smoke
and saving the world. And she looked at me
for a long time, thoughtfully, and said,
‘Not really. She has lymphoma.’
I think that was the beginning of the end.
I wasn’t being callow, I just didn’t know.”
“Another night she said, ‘Do you know
what our countrymen are thinking about right now?
Football matches.’ ‘Games,’ I said. She shook her head.
‘The drones in Afghanistan? Yesterday they bombed a wedding.
It killed sixty people, eighteen children. I don’t know
how people live, I don’t know how
they get up in the morning.'”
“So she took the job in Harare and I got ready
to come back to Berkeley, and we said we’d be in touch
by e-mail and that I might come out in the summer
and we’d see how it went. The last night
I was the one who woke up. She was sleeping soundly,
her face adorably squinched up by the pillow,
a little saliva—the English word spittle came to mind—
a tiny filament of it connecting the corner of her mouth
to the pillow. She looked so peaceful.”
“In the last week we went to hear a friend
perform some music of Benjamin Britten.
I had been in the library finishing up, ploughing
through the back issues of The Criterion and noticing
again that neither Eliot nor any of the others
seemed to have had a clue to the coming horror.
She was sitting beside me and I looked at her hands
in her lap. Her beautiful hands. And I thought about
the way she was carrying the whole of the world’s violence
and cruelty in her body, or trying to, because
she thought the rest of us couldn’t or wouldn’t.
Our friend was bowing away, a series of high, sweet,
climbing and keening notes, and that line of Eliot’s
from The Wasteland came into my head:
‘This music crept by me upon the waters.'”