(Perchance, a new potable portion from a chapter, this one newly posted with A Republic of Books, the novel in progress to be found elsewhere on this site.)

 

“You’ve never been in love with anyone else?”

“Not that I knew. I’ve often had crushes on women from afar.”

“Anyone I would know?”

“Jane Austen.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No. I wrote an essay about her in my freshman English Lit class at BC. I was very serious. I wrote a time-travel novel just so I could go back and make love to her.”

“Oh my god. You are insane. Really. Anyone else. Anyone alive?”

“I fell in love with Ayn Rand shortly after that. She was alive then. Just a little desiccated. But she quickly assumed possession of my abandoned Roman Catholic soul and the need for certainty in an uncertain world. It was a torrid affair, and that infidelity continued until it drove Margaret crazy. But even when the infatuation was over, I don’t think things were ever that right between Margaret and me. Those are the real wages of philosophy.”

No answer.

Deirdre was still unmoved in her position on the blanket. At the last, I figured she was unconscious. Hadn’t I intended this as some sort of romantic outing? Any mention of Ayn Rand to a knee-jerk liberal was usually enough to cause automatic fuming. But Deirdre lay silent.

Even on a busy beach, the unquiet silence can be palpable when you stop talking.

“But enough of that.” I said

And she turned her head toward me, as if she agreed.

“Is that it?”

“What?”

“What you came here to tell me?”

“I guess it’s context.”

“What’s the text?”

“I feel like I’m in love with you. Either that, or I have the flu.”

“You are very romantic.”

It is a funny thing to consider what will make a boy read. The film From Here to Eternity was handsomely advertised by a poster of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr entangled half-naked on a beach with the waves at their feet. At the time, it was the most sexually electrifying portrait of love that my young eyes had ever seen, and the owner of the small movie theatre in my home town must have agreed because he left it displayed behind the glass of a lobby case for many years after the movie itself had come and gone. But I did not really take notice of it until the summer of 1959, when I turned twelve. A devastating time. That was just about when a new movie appeared called On the Beach. This was a calmer affair by far, especially in that it involved a wooden Gregory Peck in Naval officer’s garb and a teary but fully dressed Ava Gardner, begging to be disrobed. That, and incidentally, the end of the world. I had already tried to read the novel of From Here to Eternity and found it boring. But when I read On the Beach, I was up all night with it, unable to sleep. And when I think of On the Beach today, I always first see Lancaster and Kerr, out of time, and place, and circumstance.

It was, perhaps, a better place to be.