Good Reading : May 2005
BOOKBITE She sat down again upon the sofa, reached up, and commenced untying the complex knot fixing the scarf around her head. I imagined him watching her do so; watching her, by candlelight, as she bared her body for him. “Don’t,” I said. But it was done. The white fabric fell away from her brow. And then I blushed. The hair that tumbled from beneath the scarf was thick and black, but it fell in loose, heavy waves—noth- ing at all like the tight-sprung ringlet lying upon the table. She raked a hand through the fall of her hair as if considering it for the first time. “I have my father’s hair, you see.” “Then who . . .?” She took up the ringlet and ran it between her long fingers. “Who can say? But my guess is that it is the hair of a child. See the ends? They are so fine. It appears like a lock one might retain from an infant’s first haircut.” It was a few moments before I could trust my voice. “I don’t know what to say.” “Then say nothing.” She tilted her head on that slender neck, first to one side, then the other, half closing her eyes as she did so, and breathing deep as if to release an inner tension. It was the first sign she had given that this conversation had cost her something; that the com- posure she seemed to wear so easily was a garment put on with a hard discipline. She rose. “They were drying your cloak in the kitchen. I will see if it is ready. The rain seems to be easing now; I will bring some more tea, and perhaps it may stop entirely while we take it.” “Please, no; I have imposed here long enough.” “Not at all. I am very glad you came. I do not think many women would have done so.” She went out, and I tur ned to the fire, storing up the war mth for my cold walk back down the hill. Despite her words, I felt sad and very foolish and, yes, belittled by the morning’s revela- tions. There was so much I had not known. So much that he had not seen fit to share with me. When she returned, her hair was bound up again in a fresh cloth. As she bent close to me to set down the teapot, I caught a sharp scent of starch and a hot iron. As I sipped the scalding tea, anxious to be done with this encounter, she asked where I was staying. I replied civilly, trying to make light of the vicissitudes of my situation. But she knew Georgetown, and the squalor of the canal, and she knit her brow. There was an irony here that at other times would have made me laugh: an ex-slave, feeling pity for my hardships. She wouldn’t let me leave until the rain had entirely abated, and then she walked with me out the front door and some way down the street. She would, she said, look in on me at the hospital when she retur ned later in the after noon. As I picked a careful path down the hill, I knew I could forgive my husband for his momentary weakness regarding such a woman. What manner of man-adrift and lonely, far from home, emotionally ravaged—would not be drawn to Grace Clement? But I did not know if I could for- give him for the years of silence, and the letters filled with lies. Exracted from March by Geraldine Brooks. Copyright © Geraldine Brooks 2005. Published by Fourth Estate, rrp $29.95. 50 goodreading I felt sad and very foolish and, yes, belittled by the morning’s revelations. There was so much I had not known. So much that he had not seen fit to share with me.