Ada hated the commute; anything more than an hour seemed eternal. The days she didn't have to drive to campus she studied on the third floor. Machines in general alienated her, even such simple things as washers and driers, but automobiles were the worst, even though she'd had her license for several years now. She disliked the feeling of being in charge of a large and lethal machine, and operating it through the pedals and the steering wheel. It was like operating a body by remote control: what she did wasn't quite in sync with the actions the machine took, and the sensations were fuzzy and secondhand. Since she'd almost finished her dissertation she only needed to visit campus once a week. Studying at home was more enjoyable, and she didn't waste time in the car.
She had always risen before the sun, and still did, but now she changed in her dressing room from her pajamas into a tee shirt and jeans, quietly, so as not to wake her husband, who liked his sleep. When she'd changed her clothes she went into the bathroom and brushed her hair. She wore it long now, for the first time in her life, to please him, and though it had taken years to grow down her back, she was still unaccustomed to the length, especially the maintenance: washing it took longer, and it had to be brushed, and a hairdresser had to trim it regularly. She had always cut it herself, before she married.
When she'd brushed the hair and bound it back with a clip, she removed a pill from her 28-day pack, and flushed it down the toilet. That done, she went up the narrow uncarpeted stairs. She liked the cold wood under her bare feet, the dozen stairs up, then halfway down the hall and through the door and across the room to her desk: her morning ritual.
They had been in the house two years, since Owen had made what he called his first "serious money" and decided he wanted something more impressive than the Brookside bungalow they'd been living in. Ada had thought the house ostentatious and beyond their means, but she had agreed, on condition that half the third floor be hers. On the east side of the third-floor hall were two small rooms and a half bath, and on the west the big room that ran the length of the house, the room that belonged to her. It had three dormer windows, the middle one wide enough for a small desk. She'd been smitten the first time she walked into that space, and though she felt guilty for agreeing to the purchase of the house, she knew she couldn't have stopped Owen in the end. He had been determined to buy something larger, and they'd both liked this house, so she really shouldn't feel that this was too extravagant. And yet she always felt a twinge, because this room was the size of some of the houses in the village where she'd grown up.
There were the three dormers along the outside, facing west, and the higher, smaller windows at the north and south ends of the room. Knee walls leaned in at shoulder height. She loved the angles and windows, and the interior shape. It was the retreat she had yearned for since leaving Monteverde and her tree house. Because she disliked hiring help she had fixed up the room herself, sanding and sealing the floor, and painting the walls white, to keep the colors simple and few. With five uncurtained windows the room was saturated with light on all but the grayest days, and with space: it held only her desk and chair and a bookshelf, an armchair and reading lamp, a phone on the wall and a small, worn kilim under the desk, to keep her bare feet off the cold floor.
On a morning when she'd risen late and tired from a sleep full of dreams about the past she sat in the chair, at the desk in the middle dormer, in front of her books and papers and typewriter, looking at the back yard. Usually, she had no trouble getting started. Usually, she simply plunged in. Sometimes she worked well into the afternoon, until hunger pangs woke her from her trance. Occasionally she didn't notice any of it -- time, hunger, errands she'd intended to run, the phone -- and when Owen came home in the evening he would find her, and know that she hadn't moved from the chair except to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water (not even noticing as she did). Then, his loving tirade breaking around her ears, he would deliver what she'd named The Lecture. She knew it by heart, she knew that every word was true, but still she forgot to eat, and bring in the mail, and stretch her legs occasionally.
She looked at the red honeysuckle draped over the stone wall at the back of their property. It was getting out of hand and ought to be cut back. She hadn't weeded her flowers and vegetables in more than a week, either, and she should have been spending more time at Human Rescue and the City Union Mission. She'd become too wrapped up in school and house and husband.
On the desk sat her old, tattered teddy bear, the same one she'd brought from Monteverde at sixteen. Except photographs and letters, it was her only memento of home. She hugged the bear. Home. She missed Monteverde now, though she'd been eager to leave it and begin another life. How different, how unexpectedly different, that life had turned out to be, a life adorned with roses. The first time Owen had taken her to meet his mother, Nina had spent an hour showing Ada the roses in her garden. A hundred cultivars, a garden that had been featured in national magazines. Then, a few years later, the wedding in the rose garden in Loose Park, a favorite local spot for weddings, with the fountain, and the stone pillars and roses everywhere, everything laid out prettily, but with more than a hint of anarchy in the abundant vines.
She wanted -- expected, because she'd never seen any other kind -- a simple, Quaker wedding: the two of them, their immediate families, the silence followed by the simple promise, the signed certificate. He produced plans for things she'd never imagined: a wedding cake, a "reception" (which had to be explained to her), entertainment, even a special bridal dress.
"This is too elaborate," she said. And much too costly, she wanted to add.
"We're only going to do it once."
"But it's for us. I don't want to spend time thinking about the arrangements. It shouldn't be so much -- work. I want to feel what's happening."
"Yes. I don't want to be distracted with all these arrangements, and all these people. I want to feel the importance of what we're doing."
He compromised; later, she would find this was out of character, but he didn't want to alienate her. The compromises suited her no better than they did him -- the dress was too formal, the ceremony too formal, and most of the meaning had vanished from it.
Before the wedding, since she hadn't seen her family for a decade or so, Owen had paid to fly her father and brother up from Costa Rica. When he'd discovered that they didn't own suits he'd tried to rent formal wear for them. He couldn't understand that they were simply unable to wear such clothes. He had been embarrassed by their plainness and their awkwardness -- their strangeness -- but he had almost managed to hide this, even from Ada. But her father and brother looked out of place at the wedding rehearsal, and her father, always one to avoid disagreement when he could, had simply stayed in place when instructed to "give the bride away". He understood what was meant, but thought the action improper. Ada had never heard the expression. When it was explained to her she was outraged. Why was her father supposed to "give her away"? She belonged to herself; she wasn't chattel to be transferred from one man to another. The wedding ceremony was changed, and the giving-away part was dropped.
Following the rehearsal Nina had somehow managed to maneuver Ada into a corner by herself, and asked: "Do you know what you're getting into?"
"Yes, of course."
"Are you ready? Everything is different when you're married, and you... Are you sure he's... you're right for each other?" She flipped a hand in a circle, as if she wasn't sure how to say what she meant.
"I've never fit in," Ada said. "But I want what my parents had. I want a family. I want that faithfulness, that devotion. A lifetime together. He's wanted me so long... " How to say it? That he'd already proved his devotion? He'd given up the fighting, the outbursts, the drinking. He'd behaved himself perfectly for more than a year. He had changed for her. But these were matters not to be discussed with Nina; if she didn't know about them, they would hurt her, or at least alter her opinion of her son. Ada didn't want to disillusion her.
Nina sighed, and squeezed Ada's hand, and looked into her eyes, and a moment later Owen was there, and the conversation changed. Nina had been working herself up to something, Ada never learned what.
At the wedding itself there were surprises Owen hadn't mentioned: the string quartet that serenaded the guests; the number of guests, more than a hundred (when Ada reproached him with the number later, he'd protested that it was only a fraction of the number he'd wanted to invite, and that many of his friends had been offended at being left out, and he'd only invited the absolutely necessary ones); the pictures she kept being posed for (but that part had turned out all right, because she'd met Sarah). Later, her chief impression of the day was of her own discomfort. The dress, though not a bridal gown, was more formal than she was accustomed to. She had trouble walking -- though the heels on her shoes were short, she'd never worn anything but flats before; after the ceremony, she'd gone barefoot, which had embarrassed Owen, but she refused to totter any longer. She'd fallen on the stone stairs down into the rose garden, and only been saved by Owen reaching out and stopping her fall. She'd looked up at him, and been startled to see a frown.
"I'm not used to these shoes," she whispered.
The rehearsal hadn't prepared her, and the ceremony still seemed like something from a foreign culture and she had no idea what part she was to play. Instead of Ada and Owen facing each other, with everyone silent, they faced the minister, who talked. Why was a minister necessary? Wasn't the marriage between the two people? She pondered this while the man spoke the ritual words. An intermediary was a superfluous distraction. And all these other people around them -- best man. What was a "best man"? The ceremony went on much too long. It was an artifice. Her feeling was relief when she could finally say "I do," and the rings were on their fingers, and the kiss given and taken. Then she felt embarrassment, and knew she was blushing, because she had been preoccupied with herself. Instead of feeling the weight of promising to spend her life with this man, she had felt only an inappropriate emotion: the lessening of her discomfort that the worst of the ritual was at an end. But despite her blush, everyone had applauded, and one or two had even cheered, and Owen had beamed at her. The thought had occurred to her that he liked her blush, that he was interpreting it as evidence that confirmed an interpretation he had of her, and the heat in her face intensified.
At the reception, she had winced when her ankle turned.
Owen held her by the elbow. "Why don't you take them off?" he asked.
"I think I will," and she kicked the shoes under a table.
He smiled at her. "Better?"
"Yes. I should have thought of it myself. But I feel much shorter now." She laughed.
He looked down at her. "It's your only flaw. You'll do."
She hooked a finger behind one lapel of his suit and tugged him down, closer to her face. "Together," she whispered. "Isn't that a wonderful word?"
"Yes," he answered. "Exactly how I feel."
Later, a picture of the moment surfaced among the photographs of the occasion. Sarah had caught them at the perfect moment. Ada had always been bothered by her own face in photographs: its expression was usually inappropriate to the occasion. And in most of the photographs of the wedding her face looked fearful. But in this photograph, her happiness had been exactly right, and Owen's had matched. Immediately, she seized on it as her favorite memento of the wedding. That, and the photograph of herself squeezing her husband in her arms, taken moments later. That Sarah had managed to capture these seemed to be a good omen.
Would that the moment had been the end, and they had been alone then. But their affectionate exchange had been interrupted by a blond matron she didn't know, offering congratulations. Then there had been a procession of strangers; Owen and his mother seemed to have a vast circle of friends. The succession of faces bewildered Ada, and she had no idea how to react to them, how to act, except to nod, and murmur, and thank them after they'd spoken. Many of the women embraced her, though she was unknown to them. She couldn't understand why. She felt as she had at sixteen, on starting college: where had all these strangers come from? Which ones did she need to remember, and how would her brain keep track of the names? What were their customs? She found herself standing by the punch bowl, frozen, for half an hour next to Owen while he chatted with one of them after another. These people looked like statues: flawless clothes, hair, teeth, shoes. Was there a factory somewhere, stamping them out? They seemed never to have doubted themselves. She hoped she never saw them again, because, looking at them, she knew she would never measure up to their expectations.
That night, in bed with Owen, surrounded by roses in vases and with the scent filling the air, he had been disappointed. Today, staring out her window at the back yard, the answer came to her: he had expected her to be a virgin. The poor man had thought her innocent. She pitied that, but there was nothing she could do about it, nor would she have, even had she been able to: her virginity wasn't a thing she'd owed him. But she did owe him for all the other things since -- the comfort in which he kept her, his insistence that she go back to school, his willingness to pay for her further education. She often didn't understand him, but for one who loved money and the million meanings it carried, he was always generous. He had paid the airfare to bring her father and brother up from Costa Rica; they couldn't afford it.
When they had arrived, they had been far more out of place than Ada herself. She had had years to adapt, as much as she could, to this strange world. But she had been kept busy, or away from her father and brother, in the ceremony, and unable to help them. Nina had seen their discomfort. She had understood, without having to be told, that they never saw people in suits, never attended weddings in rose gardens; that they came from a little village of little houses of farmers who wore work boots and jeans, only varying their garb for changes in the weather. Nina kept by the two men and guided them. They had never seen a limousine before, much less ridden in one. Their customs and habits, both in their daily life and their religious practice, were plain in the extreme. When the ceremony ended, her father's relief was palpable. His blue cotton had been the focus of the scene among the women's vivid silks and the men's subfusc wools. Even later, in the wedding pictures, the eye went to Thomas and Henry first, they were such a chromatically discordant note. Ada hadn't cared; she'd felt only love, and compassion for their discomfort.
Now she longed to see father, and home, and Henry. Owen would give her the money to fly down, if she asked. He never grudged giving, he usually asked why she didn't simply write a check, but she didn't like to depend on him, to feel that she owed him. The money was his because he brought it in. For her, to be subsidized was to be the junior partner. She'd hated it when he'd paid off her student loans. The times she'd tried to explain, he hadn't understood; he thought money a tool. She knew she should quit school and go back to work so she could have some money of her own; though the jobs she'd had, or looked at, had all been boring, surely something better was hiding somewhere, waiting to be discovered if only she looked hard enough. It was time to grow up. Only an obsessive would earn a second Ph.D. when she could be doing something useful, or at least earning a little money. A lot of people didn't like what they did for a living, but they still rose every morning and put in their eight hours. They didn't sponge off an indulgent husband, even if they had tried the job market and found it wanting. Even if there seemed to be no place in that market for them. Even if they should have pursued an academic career. But that would have required moving, and her husband would never have done that.
How had she ended up in this grand house married to this man she didn't understand? Every time he spoke to her, his words sounded translated. It must have been contagious, because Ada herself was becoming cautious with her speech. Owen was that way with everyone but his mother. Nina was so much more patient and perceptive than her son that they hardly seemed kin. Ada had more in common with her mother-in-law than her husband. Owen was always trying to improve her. He'd married her for who she was, and immediately started encouraging her to change. She liked jeans and sneakers, but he was always after her to get better clothes and shoes. When he insisted, she would go, and shop, relying on her mother-in-law for advice. Without Nina she would be constantly in error. When she thanked her, the woman always said that it was her pleasure, that she had no one left but Ada and Owen, and Owen had always been "too self-sufficient". She would say, "What am I supposed to do, spend all my time on my rose garden?" She wants grandchildren, Ada thought. Why didn't I see it? She wants them here, where she can see them and hold them and play with them. Here, not in Chicago and Denver, where her visits are always limited. Two trumped one. It was time to talk to Owen again about children, and to talk more forcefully. She wouldn't put up with his reneging any longer -- she was ready. She would insist. She couldn't continue not telling him what she was really doing; the deception was eating at her, every day. He seemed to want her to spend her life earning one doctorate after another. A second Ph.D. would be enough. Too much.
Since she didn't seem to be getting any work done she took the checkbook from the drawer and began balancing it. What was this one made out to Sarah? And the register entry in Owen's handwriting? Startling. She should call Sarah. They hadn't got together in weeks.
She used the phone in the living room. Sarah's answering service was taking the calls, and Ada left a message. After she hung up, she heard noises from the kitchen. Owen hadn't gone.
She stepped in and kissed her husband on the cheek. He was eating his invariable breakfast: coffee, an English muffin, bacon and scrambled eggs. He wiped his lips. She kissed him again, on the mouth.
"Not studying?" he asked.
"I came downstairs to call Sarah."
"That's why I had that phone installed up there. So you could call out, or I could call you."
"I forgot. It's still new." She crossed the room, toward what she thought of as the first refrigerator. "I haven't talked to her in a couple of weeks. I thought maybe we could go to lunch."
"Why did you make friends with that dyke?"
"She's not a dyke. She's very feminine." But he knew that. Why did he attack Sarah at every opportunity? "She's bisexual. She has a boyfriend." Who was bisexual, too, but no need to mention that. Ada could imagine the jokes. Endless. She opened the refrigerator door and looked inside. "Where's the milk?" she asked. "We had a full carton yesterday."
"It's in the other refrigerator. I put it in the wrong one."
"Why do we need two refrigerators?" she asked, and crossed the dozen steps to the other end of the kitchen. "It's so wasteful."
"You win. Get rid of one." He sipped his coffee. "I have to go to Topeka tomorrow. You could drop me off and go on to Manhattan and pick me up on the way back."
She brought the milk to the table. He had set a plate and utensils and glass for her, as he always did, though she never ate in the morning. She filled her glass. "Lemieux wants some changes, and I have to do some research in the library. I'll be all day."
"I don't understand why you put yourself through this. It never ends."
"It was your idea. You said I should go back to school, it's the only thing I enjoy."
"Yeah, but sometimes I wonder why. Especially something like agricultural economics."
There was the translator again. He had pushed hard for her to go back to school. Why was he pretending she'd taken the initiative? She would have to ignore the comment about her subject; he wouldn't understand that she'd chosen it in the hope of helping her people back home.
She watched him take a bite of the muffin. He always ate his food the same way: a bite of egg, a bite of bacon, a bite of muffin. Any remainder he was as likely as not to leave untouched, but that rarely happened; he usually estimated accurately enough to finish them all together. Why didn't he put the egg and the bacon between the muffin halves and make a sandwich? That would be simple. That would work perfectly. "Why do you always eat the same thing?" she asked.
"Because it's so good."
Because it was a habit, she thought. He used his habits to save time. He was obsessed with saving time, and being as efficient as possible, but he was always juggling. If he'd just sit down and work his way through each thing in succession he'd get more done, but she knew he didn't believe that, and she knew further that he would never be able to do one thing at a time, not only because of the kind of work he did, but because of his own psychic needs. He enjoyed the juggling; it made him feel productive. She watched his eyes scan the paper, forward and back. The way reading eyes moved had always surprised her, skipping back, without even noticing, to pick up words and phrases they'd missed.
His eyes narrowed for a moment, his pupils contracted, and he glanced her way, then returned to his reading. The cadence of his eyes changed, becoming more regular. Ada almost asked him what was wrong, but held her tongue. When he turned the page, his eyes returned to the broken rhythms of true reading.
"Is there anything interesting?" she asked.
"Just the usual. Wars, murders, corruption."
"Reading the paper always makes me sad," she said.
"Really." He closed the section, fit it between the front pages and the business section, folded the entire newspaper in quarters, and set it on the seat to his right, away from her. "Coffee cold," he said, and dumped it into the sink. Sitting again, he poured a fresh cup.
"I miss the coffee at home," Ada said.
"Monteverde? Is it different?"
"Probably not. I'm sure it's my imagination, making things better than they were, imagining them perfect."
"Go back," he said. "Find out."
"Go back?" She was careful to keep the italics from her speech.
"For a visit. It's been a long time. Your dad will be glad to see you." He set the cup on the table and glanced at his watch. "Just be sure you don't stay there." He wasn't looking at her.
"This is my home, dear." She grasped his hand in hers. "Why would I leave? I belong here." Best not to go, after all. How could she ever thank him for all he'd given her? By not going. He'd be too worried about her never coming back, and she would worry, too, thinking about him. But there was more to this than generosity. He was trying to distract her, she wondered from what.
"I always think you'll go back to that other guy."
"That was years ago. That's all over. I don't even know where he lives."
A tic passed over his cheek for a moment. She wondered, squeezing his hand, how to assure him. Had he been looking through her record albums? Had he noticed Wyatt's solo album, and the Euphoria record, and all the albums on which Wyatt was credited on keyboards? She would have got rid of them, could she have borne to. They were a time bomb. Someday Owen might notice the common thread in them all.
"I keep my promises," she said. "I'll never leave."
How could she breach the subject? She'd quit taking her pills a year ago. Maybe she was infertile, but she couldn't talk about it. He thought she was taking them. She could tell him straight out. She imagined the conversation:
"I think I'm infertile." Telling him about the pill she flushed every morning.
His outrage. Then, when the conversation settled down, he'd say that he might be the sterile one, and she would reply:
"I know about Amy."
"Amy was a friend. That's all she was."
"I know you got her pregnant."
"Who told you that?"
"I knew it. I remember when we were walking across campus we bumped into her, and the way she acted, I could see that you were lovers."
"No," she insisted. "It was obvious. She was mad for you. It was obvious you'd slept together. But yes someone told me about the baby" she did, sobbing so hard she could barely speak, all about how you loved me instead of her -- and her husband starting to speak, Ada rushing on with what she was saying, to cut him off: "It doesn't matter who told me. It doesn't matter and I don't care and you shouldn't, either. I know she had an abortion."
"I had nothing to do with that. I mean, I didn't ask her to."
"Maybe. You probably pressured her. Or maybe you waited and heaved a sigh of relief when she said she was going to have one. Did you pay for it?"
"Why? Does it matter?"
"I'm only talking about this because I know -- " she took a breath -- "I know you don't have a fertility problem. The problem has to be me."
"I'm not even sure I was the father. It could have been someone else."
"Who?" She shook her head. "She was mad for you. Why deny it?"
"Well, it could have been someone else."
"Why did you pay for the abortion?"
He didn't reply. She lifted a hand, in a waving-goodbye gesture, and dropped it back to the table.
"Never mind. That was before we were together.
It was between you and her. I want to talk about us.
We talked about this before the wedding, and you agreed,
and you've been putting it off ever since.
I can't conceive. I want children. I'm going to have them.
That means adopting. I'm going to call an agency.
Promise not to drag your feet in the interviews."
"Ada? Ada? Where are you?"
"Sorry. Daydreaming. What were we talking about? Promises! Promises. I want to talk about children. You promised me." He started to speak, and she interrupted: "Now don't. Don't be evasive."
"We already talked about this. We were going to wait two more years."
"No we weren't. That was your decision." Hers, and her actions, had been entirely different.
"If you say so."
"I do. One reason I said I'd be your wife was because I want a family. You agreed, to get me to marry you, and you've been backing out ever since."
"We're still young."
"I don't care. You promised. I want to kee -- I want to start trying."
He pushed his plate toward the center of the table, and his chair away. "All right. I know when I'm beaten. Let's do it."
"Do you mean it? You're not going to delay again?"
"Yes. No. I mean let's do it." He looked at his watch and stood. "I'm supposed to meet someone in fifteen minutes." He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "I love you," he said. "Do you know how beautiful you are? What a jewel you are? How lucky I am to have you?"
He turned away, saying, "I really have to go."
Beautiful? What did he mean by that? It was so vague. It could mean anything. But that didn't matter. He was saying that he treasured her. And at long last he had agreed to have children; they wouldn't be a surprise. She stood to follow him, to give him a kiss, but as she passed the phone it rang, and she heard Owen's car start at the same moment. The way he drove, he'd be gone in a moment, so she answered the call.
"It's me," Sarah said. "I was going to call you today, but you beat me to it. I have some new clothes in. Can you come for a shoot?"
"Yes. Sarah, I've always wondered... No. It doesn't matter."
"You're worried I'll make a pass at you someday?"
Wild laughter. "I guessed right. No. I don't have any designs on you. You'd turn me down. It wouldn't work, anyway. Not with you."
"Good. I'm glad that's settled. What time?"
The studio was in an old red brick building in Westport several blocks off the Trafficway, above a restaurant. Sometimes, especially during lunch or in the evening, the kitchen noise was audible in the back; Sarah used her front rooms for the waiting area and the studio. She made a living from commercial photography, portraits, and wedding pictures; she had been the photographer at Ada's wedding, had thought her striking, and had asked Ada to model for her. The modelling had continued, but mostly as a pretext: they liked to talk to each other.
Sarah, finished with her last appointment, was rummaging through the clothes when she heard the knock and opened the door to Ada. Ada, the punctual girl, was late for the first time. More surprising, she seemed unaware of her tardiness. The usual cup of coffee sat cooling on the table next to the wooden chair. This should be a good session -- Ada had her preoccupied look on. But the new clothes were wrong; they were too bright for Ada's mood.
"Change of plans," Sarah said. "We'll go with what you're wearing now."
She used a neutral gray background and the wooden chair.
"No sandals," she said. "Bare feet."
Ada complied. She hadn't spoken since she'd arrived. Sarah began to talk at random about the weather, friends, a party, her boyfriend Dougal, with the trigger in her hand, shooting at the moments Ada reacted. She switched to the big camera, something she rarely did because the plates were expensive, but today was right for it, the shots she was getting were few, but good.
"How's your thesis coming?"
Ada finally smiled. "Dissertation. Harder than the other one. I wouldn't have started if I'd known."
"Botany was simple, all I had to do was prove my hypothesis. I didn't have to satisfy everyone's political agendas."
"How's your garden?"
"Yes. Why don't you come over on Saturday? We can weed it. That's the best time in the world to talk, when you're weeding." Look of eagerness.
Click. "I'd rather not."
"Owen will be out of town."
"Okay. Weeding might be fun. We've never done that." Change plates. "Saturday's good. I was planning a day off. I need a change of pace."
Pause. "Come to the back. I'll be there." Absent look.
Missed that, it would have been fantastic. There was something mercurial about her today.
"Raise your hand over your head, palm down, like this." Sarah gestured.
"Flatten your hand." The bitten nails were visible, but not enough. "Turn it forward a bit. There. Hold it." She waited until Ada looked annoyed. Click.
Ada laughed. "Sneak!"
Change plates. Great laugh, with the hand still above the head. Another shot missed.
It was a long session, and not altogether satisfactory. Ada began to tire, her face looked drawn, but that was interesting, it was something Sarah hadn't seen. She hated to prolong the shoot, but she was hoping for something extreme. She didn't get it. Instead, Ada grew listless and withdrawn, waiting for the end. Sarah finally declared it finished.
Ada said, "I meant to ask Owen this morning, but I forgot. Why did he write you a check?"
"He said he wanted a portrait of the two of you, but he really wanted a look at your pictures."
"Oh no." The air seemed to go out of her. "You sold him some."
"Well, yes. I did. Don't tell me I wasn't supposed to. He's your husband, for God's sake." She had put the cameras away; now she was folding the tripod.
"I don't care if you show them to strangers -- well, yes I do -- but it bothers me more if you show them to someone, to my husband... It's embarrassing. Some of those pictures are silly. I don't want him to see them."
Sarah stopped. "Which ones?"
"The anachronistic ones. The ones that make me look like a Rossetti painting."
"But that's how you do look. Like Elizabeth Siddal. Except your face is thinner. Don't glare. You're frightening me."
"What's next?" Ada snapped. "Dress me up in a medieval gown and make me wear a conical hat with gauze hanging from the top? Stare off into the distance, looking pensive? I hate that! I'm not like that!"
This was the sort of sharp reaction she'd wanted, and now the camera was put away. "I know you're not," Sarah said. "But you look that way. There's nothing wrong with it. You look like... Yourself. Nobody else. You're a great model."
"I'm tired of it." She pressed a palm to her cheek. "I never wanted to be different. I want to be... ordinary."
"That's the one thing you can never be."
"Oh, Sarah. You, of all people? I thought you would understand."
"You've got it reversed. I want to be like you. Don't change."
"Because you have nothing to be ashamed of."
Ada groaned. "I give up."
Sarah waited until it was obvious Ada had nothing more to say. "Do you want anything? More coffee?"
"No," she said. Then, "Yes, there is something. The newspaper."
"Under the end table."
Ada rummaged through the mess of newsprint, the folds rounded and no longer lined up, the pages out of alignment with each other. She found the section she wanted, saying, "Owen saw something he didn't want me to read," as she flipped the sheets and scanned. "It's just like him. He took the paper to work... He throws away the Sunday want ads so I can't look at the job listings." She turned a page, and stared.
Sarah watched her friend, but Ada was immobile. "What's wrong? Did someone die?" But Ada didn't respond, and Sarah came to sit beside her on the couch, and took the newspaper from her hands. "Wyatt Packard?" she asked. "He's living in Lawrence? The man is brilliant. Dougal loves his music. He covers some of his songs." She was halfway through the article when Ada spoke:
"He didn't call."
"What do you mean?"
Ada didn't answer.
"Oh. It was him," Sarah said. "That love affair you mentioned. It was him? He was the one?"
"That's why Owen took the newspaper. He didn't want me to know."
"Stop talking to yourself. What are you saying?"
Ada's eyes refocused from distant to near, and she looked at Sarah. "Pardon?"
"What were you muttering about?"
"Owen. That article." She indicated the newspaper. "He took the paper with him this morning because he thinks I'm still in love with Wyatt."
Sarah almost asked whether there wasn't some truth in that opinion. "Was Wyatt your boyfriend in college? The one you told me about?"
Ada seemed disinclined to speak, staring at the middle distance again, so Sarah finished the article and laid it in her friend's lap.
Ada looked down and closed the pages without reading. "May I keep this?"
"Of course. What are you going to do?"
"Are you going to call him? See him? Talk about old times?"
"No. Why would I? It was years ago, I was younger, and now I'm married."
"And he didn't call you."
"What do you mean?"
"That's what you said. He didn't call you."
Ada went to the front window, her back to Sarah, parted the curtain, and watched the street. Traffic noise rose; the light must have changed to green. Then the roar diminished; the light must have changed back to red. "It was such a shock," she said. "I didn't expect it, after all this time. I'd finally managed to forget." She came to the sofa, sat, and leaned toward Sarah. "I love my husband," she said. "He needs me, and I need that, and him, and I want to make a family, and we're going to do that... " She looked into her friend's eyes for a moment. "We're joined, you see. I'm not going to look Wyatt up. It would be too dangerous. Owen would be hurt. I'll learn to forget again, like before, but I'll keep just enough memory to wish him well. He'll always be a part of me. He formed me."
Sarah said, "That solo album is one of Dougal's favorites. Couldn't you get it autographed? It would be the perfect birthday present."
"He's probably unlisted. He's a very private person. I'll ask the alumni association to forward a letter."
"Good." Sarah was gloating. "Dougal will be so happy. He worships the man's music."
Saturday morning it rained, but Sarah came anyway. They spent the morning talking in the kitchen, with long pauses while they watched the drizzle. "It reminds me of home," Ada remarked. "Although it didn't rain quite this way. But there was always a lot of moisture. We were up on the mountain, the clouds blew in from the ocean. When the air wasn't raining, the plants were dripping. Mist and fog. The sun was rare. The place was depressing. That's why I like clear skies. I'd be happy in Arizona."
"Is that why you're blue today?"
"I've been blue all week."
There was a long silence while they watched the rain. "Why do you and Owen not like each other?" Ada asked.
"It goes back a long way. I can't explain. Have you asked him?"
"Yes, but he always dodges the question."
"Better you don't know. You'd wish you didn't."
"I don't understand why he hired you to take the pictures at our wedding."
"It surprised me, too."
"Maybe because you're the best. He always wants the best of everything."
Sarah snickered. "Yes, of course. Why didn't I think of that?"
"You're so good at what you do. The way you see space. The way you notice people's clothing and posture, the incompatibilities of adjacent buildings. I never see those things until you point them out. Faces and bodies, clothing and rooms. How do you do it?"
"I've always been that way. I see the things I look at. Look for. Doesn't everyone?"
"You're so lucky to do what you love. You have your independence. Your work. You're fortunate."
"Come on, what's all this?" Sarah waved her hand, indicating the room, the big house, the back yard. "Like this doesn't count? Trust me, you wouldn't want to trade places. You have a husband, and lots of money. You're in school."
"I don't want those things. No, I mean I didn't want to go back to school. I do want to be married, but I only went back to school because my jobs were so meaningless." She walked to the window and looked out at the rain. "I want to find something, something worthwhile. That's what's missing. After I got the first doctorate, it was missing, and it's missing now. I had those rotten jobs and those horrible bosses after I finished my botany, and I loathed them, I simply loathed them." She pressed her palms and forehead to the window panes. "When am I going to find the thing I love? When? Owen loves building his houses, you love your photography, Wyatt loves his music. But I'm almost thirty, and I still don't know what I want to do. Why isn't there anything for me?"
"Ada -- "
"It's not just that. There's the other thing. I've never been able to explain to anyone, no one's ever understood, except Wyatt. I always feel like a spectator, like I'm the only one who doesn't know what's going on, like everything has a different meaning for me than it does for everyone else. But it's the same," she said. "It's the same as not having a calling. I'm always outside. I'm always looking in. I thought it would change when I married, but Owen doesn't understand. He'll never understand. He doesn't want to understand, because it threatens him. When he sees that I feel this way, he thinks he's not a man, not a good husband because he can't give me the feeling that I belong, and he -- he ignores it because he can't stand to think he's failed me, and that's the way he feels when I try to tell him this. He thinks I'm rejecting him. He resents that I feel this way."
"Owen isn't the problem. You are."
"I know," she cried. "But what can I do? How can I change who I am?
Even in Monteverde I felt like a foreigner.
I've never learned the language, the language everyone else knows."