From her window marshland stretched for miles. If not for egrets and gulls, it reminded her of the moors behind the parsonage, how the fog often hovered and descended as if sheltering some sweet compulsion the age was not ready to see. On clear days the jagged skyline of Atlantic City was visible—Atlantic City, where all compulsions had a home. "Everything's too easy now," she said to her neighbor, "nothing resisted, nothing gained." Once, at eighteen, she dreamed of London's proud salons glowing with brilliant fires and dazzling chandeliers. Already her own person—passionate, assertive— soon she'd create a governess insistent on rights equal to those above her rank. "The dangerous picture of a natural heart," one offended critic carped. She'd failed, he said, to let religion reign over the passions and, worse, she was a woman. Now she was amazed at what women had, doubly amazed at what they didn't. But she hadn't come back to complain or haunt. Her house on the bay was modest, adequate. It need not accommodate brilliant sisters or dissolute brothers, spirits lost or fallen. Feminists would pay homage, praise her honesty and courage. Rarely was she pleased. After all, she was an artist; to speak of honesty in art, she knew, was somewhat beside the point. And she had married, had even learned to respect the weakness in men, those qualities they called their strengths. Whatever the struggle, she wanted men included. Charlotte missed reading chapters to Emily, Emily reading chapters to her. As ever, though, she'd try to convert present into presence, something unsung sung, some uprush of desire frankly acknowledged, even in this, her new excuse for a body.
Here and Now
for Barbara There are words I've had to save myself from, like My Lord and Blessed Mother, words I said and never meant, though I admit a part of me misses the ornamental stateliness of High Mass, that smell of incense. Heaven did exist, I discovered, but was reciprocal and momentary, like lust felt at exactly the same time— two mortals, say, on a resilient bed, making a small case for themselves. You and I became the words I'd say before I'd lay me down to sleep, and again when I'd wake—wishful words, no belief in them yet. It seemed you'd been put on earth to distract me from what was doctrinal and dry. Electricity may start things, but if they're to last I've come to understand a steady, low-voltage hum of affection must be arrived at. How else to offset the occasional slide into neglect and ill temper? I learned, in time, to let heaven go its mythy way, to never again be a supplicant of any single idea. For you and me it's here and now from here on in. Nothing can save us, nor do we wish to be saved. Let night come with its austere grandeur, ancient superstitions and fears. It can do us no harm. We'll put some music on, open the curtains, let things darken as they will.