Private Lives ~ Bruce Ducker


The call caught Elliot off guard, as if he’d been caught peeping into a window of Amanda Ward’s bedroom.  In fact, when the phone rang, he was standing in the enclosed sun porch, in his very own home, stealing an oblique glance at the Ward home.  And wondering—in an idle and muddled whimsy of Amanda—whether behind all that substantial brick she was at home, whether either of the two windows he could see, one up, one down, impenetrable in daylight by reflection of the southern sun and at night by the lined drapes, concealed her and Victor sitting amiably, doing whatever it is partners in an established and secure marriage find to do.

The developer of their particular and privileged neighborhood had intentionally stuttered the lots, so that no house stared squarely into the façade of another.  It was an architectural nod to gentility: it was rude to stare, even if one were a house.   The Slaymakers had added the porch to their handsome Tudor to brighten the home in months of short light.  The prospect Elliot enjoyed included three of the Slaymakers’ trees—the American elm and the silver maple, dormant but weeks from bud, the Engleman spruce—and across the road the elm, maple and evergreen of the Wards.  The Ward flowerbeds would spill color from the day they were planted through the first frost, but as yet they had not been turned.  Abundant, that was the word he wanted.  At the curb cut of the Wards’ driveway on a cedar post that had weathered silver stood the Ward mailbox, ducks on the wing, rising from cattails.

Elliot could see up the gravel drive to the northerly corner of their house.  The master bedroom, he knew, was in the rear, on the far corner.  Had its windows been visible, he would have been watching them.

These serene and sturdy houses were not the couples’ only point of contact.  The Wards and the Slaymakers enjoyed an occasional evening of bridge together, took in a random movie, usually an art-theatre film, once a year traded dinners.  Elliot’s law firm had done Victor and Amanda’s estate plan, and the Slaymakers had briefly consulted Victor, a psychologist, when their eldest son had a bumpy year at school.  Elliot remembered with gratitude Victor’s sound counsel, and with resentment his refusal to send them a bill.

Elliot was not as a rule given to teasing.  But he had gotten laughs at parties by hailing Victor as a cynical psychologist, rather than a clinical one.  After the first time Victor merely smiled and nodded, but, marking an initial wince, Eliot had made it a running gag.

The couples occupied for each other perhaps not that most intimate circle of friends but the next concentric ring.  Of Amanda, Sybil had reservations.  It was true that she chattered about trivialities, travel, spas, cosmetic surgery.  Sybil found that self-absorbed, underscored by the fact that she was too pretty for her years.  Once, to Elliot, Sybil called her a flirt.    Victor, naturally, she found substantial.  As a foursome, Sybil gravitated to Victor.  That left Amanda to Elliot.

He answered the first ring.  “Elliot,” she said in a tight breath, “ it’s Amanda,” and caught him unprepared.  He took a self-conscious moment to respond, to find the proper tone of warmth.   Then he waited, in the custom, for her to state her business.

“I don’t how to begin,” Amanda said.  In the pause Elliot gathered himself, found that posture of counselor, a man used to fielding the problems of others.

“Just tell me what’s up.”

“Can I come see you?” The telephone wires sharpened her voice, “On a professional basis?”

“Professional?”  Elliot asked only because she had emphasized the word.


“Of course.”

He visualized his next day’s calendar and offered several times.  They agreed on one, and he hung up pleased with his secret.  The work of a tax lawyer does not often engage one’s psychological insights, but he was gratified somehow in the urgency of her word and, in the studied way she said them.  He was always flattered when trusted with another’s matters, but here he had a second, darker response.  The visit would add dialogue to his mute daydreams on the sun porch.


In their own conversations, Sybil managed to make Amanda an object of private fun.  Amanda’s itineraries, Amanda’s garden, Amanda’s shoe closet.  As the couples glided through their middle years, freed from the exigencies of child-rearing and finances, Sybil’s interests had become increasingly socieatal, increasingly somber.  She was lately concerned over what she called the world situation, and always had a disease in need of organization or a landlocked nation in need of beneficence.

Eliot was pleased for her, but it seemed so serious.  Her appearance followed her interests, and grew sensible—that was her adjective whenever Elliot commented on a new article of clothing—as she moved from lover to manager.  It was during this period that she’d adopted a new palette –colors for a wardrobe that attended her emerging focus.   It was all, he told himself with a logic tinged by the melancholy that attends the loss of romance, an appropriate heading for his wife to set.  After all, she was good at it: adequately educated, Junior-League trained, efficient.  He wondered, though, why the causes she chose were always so distant, at least an ocean from home, and so obscure.  And why it was that she could not simultaneously oversee the earth’s downtrodden and maintain some flair in her dress.


He chewed on none of these thoughts the next day, as he walked into his firm’s waiting room to retrieve Amanda.  Federalist, the designer had told the firm’s executive committee, that was the style of the furniture, and all the partners agreed, thinking reverentially of Hamilton,Jeffersonand their essays.  He took a moment to study her before she became aware of him.

Amanda sat perched on the edge of a burgundy leather settee, her hands folded on her knees, taut and alert.  Her slender and stockinged legs crossed at the ankle, and he noted the angle at which they interrupted the line of brass rivets about the couch’s frame.  She might have been applying for a legal position, but for her age.  And except for her dress.  The tweed suit alone, doubtless some designer whose name Elliot would not know—would have cost a new lawyer a month’s salary.  He spoke her name, she rose and, though their evening custom was to touch cheeks, here they immediately seemed to agree on four hands, each gripping the other’s wrists, trapeze style.  He held hers a split second after she’d let go.

Other women clients wore perfume, he was sure of it, though he couldn’t remember any.  Her scent was faint as wildflower and wonderfully out of place.  He guided her by the elbow down a corridor lined with shelves of books.  She remarked on how grave it all seemed, and he said, not meaning to poke fun at either her or the life he led, “Yes, yes.  Serious business, this.”

The fact was he didn’t especially care for Victor.  The man was too tall, too assured.  He had kindly eyes that he could crinkle at will.  He had turned them once or twice on Elliot trying to inject sincerity into a political argument, humaneness he called it, as if he had some sort of patent on understanding.  That was what Elliot liked least about the man, this sincerity.  Not his athleticism or his lean, cowboy looks, or the intuitive way he had with people.  Especially women.  Victor seemed to think whatever flimsy degree he needed as a therapist conferred transcendent powers of compassion.  And the damn thing was, just acting that way established his authority.

In Elliot’s office, Amanda and he sat away from the desk at a small table he used for tête-à-têtes, its maple drum top and the ubiquitous lined pad between them.  At the top of the page, he printed her name and the date, mostly to signal to her that he took her at her word—this was to be a professional consultation.  That was another thing, his refusal to bill for their consultation.  Coming as it did right after Victor had sent his law firm a substantial check for setting up the trusts, it seemed a reprisal.

“I don’t know where to start,” she said, beginning again.  “I’ve rehearsed this, but sitting here what I had in mind to say seems wrong.  I shouldn’t have come,” she added but made no move to leave.

“Just take your time,” Elliot replied.  He considered other, more intimate responses but hung back.  The heather cast of her suit caught up in her gray eyes and somehow complicated their color.  When she began to talk, he found himself staring at her mouth.

“I’m not even sure if this is the kind of thing you know anything about.”

“I’m a tax lawyer,” he said gently.  “But my practice touches on a wide variety of matters.  Usually corporate, of course, but estate planning involves me in family issues.  Personal issues,” he offered.

“Family law?”

“No,” he quickly disclaimed.  The caste of lawyer to which Elliot belonged looked down on matrimonial practice.  “No, our firm does some of that when absolutely necessary, but I have little contact with it.”  He often used the sentence at cocktail parties to distance himself from advice-seekers, from unwanted and casual inquiries, but here once spoken he regretted it was out.

“Oh,” she said, disappointed.

“Amanda, whatever it is, tell me.  In my years of practice, I’ve heard just about everything.”  The statement was a gross exaggeration, but the intimate nature of what he imagined she wanted to tell him goaded him on.  Not his shyness, but his usual professional reserve began to fall away.  The more personal her need, the less qualified he was to address it, and the more he wanted to.

“I’m sorry,” she examined her flawless manicure and thumbed at a cuticle.  “I’ve false-carded you.  This isn’t about the law.”

He realized his fascination was, not improper, unusual.  As if while turning through television stations he had come across naked figures.  Curious that she would introduce a term from their bridge table.  Was it an attempt to bring the home, his home, into the conversation?  Elliot waited.

She rubbed at an invisible spot on the nail of her thumb.  “I can only blurt it out,” she said at last.  “I believe Victor is having an affair.”

“What makes you think that?”  If this wasn’t a legal matter, Elliot reasoned, if she’s not here to see me in my legal capacity, then there’s no call for restraint.  No need to warn her that a professional needed objectivity and that, on the subject of her marriage, of her, he was not objective.

She cocked her head as if trying to see a different him.

“A wife can tell, Elliot.  Victor talks all the time of a colleague.”  She spoke an unfamiliar name. “They’ve served on committees together,” Amanda explained.  “I’ve met her, functions.”

“And?”  Elliot couldn’t believe his fortune.  He needed to decide where to direct this.

“He talks of her all the time.”

“And what gives you cause for suspicion?”

“Well, that, for one thing.  And I’ve met her.  She’s gorgeous.”

“Come now, Amanda.  There are very few women who can compete…” and he put his hands out palms up, as if presenting a platter.  He meant to indicate her beauty.  She ignored the stumble, the confused gesture.

“All he talks about is this woman, her problems—apparently she’s in a difficult business partnership, bickering over money—her quandary.  What about me?  What about my quandary?”  Liquid swelled in her lower lids and twin tears seeped out.  She daubed them away before they had a chance to run.  When had she retrieved the tissue?  She held it balled in a fist.

“Amanda, let’s be realistic.  Victor admires this woman, she comes to him for help.  So far that’s all we know.  Do you have any evidence of…?”  Elliot let the word go.  Adultery was too clinical, sex too bald.  She shook her head and from the force of her reaction he feared she would begin to cry for real.

His question made her color.  “Victor has always been, how can I say this, very physical.  And lately, he’s not.  He’s not interested at all.  In me.”  She looked up.  If you could round up all the wrinkles that she’d had removed, Sybil loved to gossip about her, you could make raisins out of an entire vineyard.

“I find that hard to believe.”

Amanda was not unused to the occasional cocktail party proposition.  Alert for signs, she looked at him and found only the chaste compliment of a friend.

“Well, thank you.  But it’s true.”

“Have you talked to him about it?”  Again the head-shake, again Elliot considered that he might be helping neither her nor his own cause, whatever his was, that he would have to cut closer to the bone.  He reached across the small table and put his hand over her fist.

“And that’s it?  His declining interest?”

“Not declining, Elliot.  Absent.  I’ve begged.  I’ve done…this is not easy for me to talk about…everything I know how.”  Her voice sunk to an incendiary hush.  “Believe me,” and here she gave a little embarrassed laugh, “everything.”

“Amanda, perhaps you first need to gather the facts.  His appetite…” Elliot started.  That was his established practice—first, marshal the facts, then research a problem until the answer formed itself.   Elliot liked to think that he settled on the solution the way a falling leaf settles on the ground.  He was not comfortable with the topic of Victor’s impotence or indifference, Victor’s dalliances.  “His appetite….  You mustn’t jump to conclusions.  Men reach a certain age and they change.”

“I wish it were that,” she said, not admitting the possibility.

“It’s quite likely.  The few facts you have suggest that, rather than anything more…”  He let sensational go by.  Considered lubricious, irresponsible.


“You think so?”

“Of course.  You’re not the only gender that changes.” He picked the softer noun deliberately.  “Just because menopause grabs all the headlines at the supermarket newsstands….” This produced the smile he’d aimed for.  She put her other hand on top of the pile and squeezed his.

“I suppose.  But I don’t think….”

“You’re reacting to suspicions, Amanda.  Suspicions, at a time in life when all of us have insecurities about our marriages.  It’s only natural.”

“Perhaps I am.”

“Of course you are.  Before the execution comes the trial.  And before that the arrest.”

“And before that the crime?”

“Only with the guilty.”  She laughed, and the movement of her head loosed a second pair of tears that she, freeing her hands and dispersing the pile, blotted away.

“Elliot, can I ask you…?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Will you speak to him?”

He wanted to expand his role in this little drama.  She had not sought him out as a lawyer.  What might be unethical at the bar was perfectly innocent here.  No harm in his extending help if she felt it would be useful.   He found himself wondering about her scent.  Would it be too personal to ask?   Indelicate?

“Speak to him?  I wouldn’t know what to say.  I can’t simply come out and inquire whether he’s sleeping with this woman.  Or considering it.”  The first flowering shrubs, he thought.  That wonderful morning when you walk out to get the newspaper and the aroma of lilac bushes has blown in overnight.  Not that far away now, any day.   It would be like Amanda to change her scent with the seasons.

“You’ll think of a way.  You’re so good with words.  Please, Elliot.  I would so appreciate knowing.  Anything at all.”

He considered pointing out that he had no training for this sort of thing, that ministers or therapists or even columnists for the lovelorn were a better source of advice.  He considered saying no.  But only for a moment.  He agreed to take on the task.  He already had an idea of how to approach it.  He took her to the door and here, standing in the closed office, leaned his face to hers.  Amanda moved forward and put her lips to his cheek, the softest touch.  Then she placed the tips of her fingers on the spot she had kissed, and uttered words too quietly for him to understand, the only one he made out was Dear.

She let herself out.

The best perfume, he mused, plays not in the nostrils, but in the memory.  Memory past and future.  The paper of his legal pad showed a stain, a washed-out yellow that deepened to buttercup where the liquid of the tissue had leaked through.  He tore off the page, crumpled it with great satisfaction, and tossed it in the trash.


Elliot had never been in Victor’s office, in any therapist’s office for that matter.  He found himself contemplating the deliberation, the motives—isn’t that what this was about?—that was revealed in its layout and decor.  Victor’s was the first suite off the elevator.  One entered a small foyer that served as a waiting room.  It held no receptionist, only a commonplace sofa and chairs, a stack of stale and unoffending magazines on a coffee table.  A short hall, each end protected by a door, then led to the inner office, guarding, Elliot supposed, the privacy of the conversation within.  From the far side of that office a separate exit led back to the building hallway.  The design allowed patients to pass into and from the consulting room without confronting each other.

The main room was both ordinary and precise, its furniture vaguely modern but comfortable.  Two Eames chairs, upholstered in black leather against rich teak, and two couches were grouped in a circle, and seemed to invite a visitor to find his own comfort.  Elliot noticed a worn track on the carpet by the window, where some patients apparently paced.  He selected one of the reclining chairs and Victor took the one opposite.

“Is this right?” he asked, to make sure he hadn’t arrogated Victor’s place.

“There is no right,” Victor answered with an easy smile and Elliot chalked the opening point for the opponent.

“I mean to see you,” Elliot hesitated over the echo, “on a professional basis.”

“I can’t do that.  You’re a friend.  I’m flattered you came to me.  You tell me generally about the matter and I’ll recommend you to someone.”

“Are you going to duck out of this behind some concept of ethics?”  Elliot smiled to cover his unease.  Victor made it clear he was used to that.

“There are good reasons for the rule.  Perhaps they don’t apply in the practice of law.”  He waited.  Was he aware of Amanda’s visit?  Had husband and wife had it out, would his plan fall apart and he be exposed?

“We have canons of ethics as well.”

Victor gave a nod that said, Of course you do.  “I simply meant the circumstances of the professions are different.”

“If you’re not going to accept me as a patient, I wonder whether I should proceed.”

Elliot had embarked on the practice of tax law because it was largely an intellectual exercise.  In a way it was like raking leaves.  Transactions, assets and desires arrived in disarray and the lawyer’s job was to order them, to build appropriate piles, so that by the end of his task he had imposed neatness.  The field had little of the confrontation and melodrama that were the nourishment of the television shows.  Elliot had found both law school and his first years in a large firm distressingly competitive, and this branch of the law, shunned by many for its scholarship and complexity, suited him.  He was unused to the situation in which he now found himself—the possibility that this apparently trivial conversation was indeed a negotiation over something of importance to both of them.

“If you’re having second thoughts,” Victor said off-handedly, “by all means let’s drop it.  It may help to tell you, even though I’m not accepting you as a patient, that whatever you say here is confidential.  You have my word on it.  As a doctor.”  Of course he acts comfortable.  He faces this with every new visit.  He’s at home.  Elliot took a breath through his mouth and pressed on.

“I’m considering embarking on a course of conduct that I realize is faulty, wrong.  But I can’t seem to stop myself.  I need some advice.”

“What kind of conduct?”

Elliot’s original plan was to go to Victor and tell him the truth.  He had no practice at dissembling and felt sure a therapist would be skilled at discovering falsehoods.  To tell him the truth and then engage him in a discussion on the prospect of marital infidelity.

“It’s a woman.  Understand, I’ve been faithful to Sybil all these years.  Without a glimmer, really.  I’ve never thought of anything like this.  Now there comes this woman—you don’t know her, I see her at work, she’s a colleague—and she’s all I can think of.”

Victor pursed his lips.  It was his only reaction.  He rose.  “I’ll get you a name.  He’s a very good man, you’ll get along.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

Elliot wasn’t sure Victor had heard him.  He walked to the desk and wrote with a fountain pen on a pad, a small, white pad.  “You and Sybil are friends of mine.  I shouldn’t be your doctor.”  He tore off the sheet, walked back and handed it to Victor.

That was another thing.  They’re always referring to themselves as doctors.  They’re the only Ph.D.’s outside a university who do that.

“He’s in the book.  I can get you his number if you like.”

“No, no.  I’ll find it.”  Elliot made to rise, but Victor’s fingers lifted, the smallest movement, to indicate he had something else.

“I’m very fond of Sybil.  You know that.  We both are.”

He had brought Amanda into the conversation.    Elliot froze—what would come next?

“And speaking as a friend, I’d hate to see you jeopardize a marriage of twenty-one years…?”

“Twenty-two in April.”  For their twentieth, the Slaymakers had given a party on the country club patio.  The Wards were there.  Amanda had worn an off-white silk blouse and black velvet slacks.  Do women still call them slacks?

“…of twenty-two years for something so silly as a fling.  You’re a sensible man, Elliot.  Your practice of tax law involves you in investments, am I right?  That may be a helpful way to think of it.  The risks here don’t justify the rewards.”

That evening at the party it had grown chilly, and Amanda had fetched a cardigan sweater.  She put it on just before he asked her to dance.  It was soft to the touch, cashmere she told him, and a becoming shade of yellow.

“Lemon chiffon,” she told him.  “It’s supposed to be a cool shade, but at the moment I’m interested in warmth.”

Victor said something Elliot didn’t catch.  Instead, he nodded his head as if he were absorbing, indeed persuaded by, the advice.  Then he used what he’d decided to say.

“Since we’re friends, and not doctor-patient,” Victor had provided the opening.  “Since we’re friends, I’ll ask you something I couldn’t ask the man,” here he held up the slip of paper Victor had given him, “who will be my therapist.  Have you ever done anything similar?”

Victor watched him evenly.  “I wonder,” his voice had lost none of its warmth, a knack, Elliot realized, which was in itself a device to coax an immediate and bogus intimacy.  “I wonder whether you came to me with your problem because you believe that I have.  You know, a lot of people choose their analyst because they think they know the answers he’ll give.”

Victor didn’t wait for Elliot’s denial.  It took him the briefest moment to decide to answer, a long second for which he closed his eyes.

“I never have.  In this office I see a lot of the harm that infidelity, distrust, breach of faith cause.  I know our profession is famous for its supposed vacuum of fixed points, but I don’t subscribe.  Everything isn’t relative, anything doesn’t go.”

The interview was over and they rose together.  “This has been very helpful,” Elliot said, showing the slip of paper.  “Thank you.  I do wish you’d bill me for your time.”

“You go see that man,” Victor said, ignoring the request.  “He’s quite good.”

In the elevator Elliot congratulated himself on the way he had put his skills to the mission.  He had found what he’d come for, and at very little cost of stance.  Interesting, too, the way Victor had, the setting, the manner.  Not at all what Elliot imagined a therapist’s room to be, darkened, a single couch, a chair set behind the reclining head of the analysand.

Still, not something he wanted to try again.  Complete loss of position.  Victor Ward had the advantage from the get-go.


“You’re dawdling this morning.  Avoiding the office?”  Sybil poured him a second cup of coffee, in itself an expansion of routine.  Leave it to Sybil to notice.  She’d be on to a schedule change faster than lipstick on the collar.

“I have to stop at the Wards this morning.  Discuss some papers.”  He touched the briefcase he’d propped by the breakfast table.  Better to explain his visit in advance.  He would park in the Wards’ drive.  “I’ll take my coffee and look them over on the porch.”

Victor Ward also kept regular hours.  Elliot knew from his own appointment that Victor’s first patient arrived at 8:30.  Sure enough, a few minutes after eight, Victor’s red roadster backed out of their property.

Elliot pulled into the very drive, trying to move from his mind the lurid, delicious symbolism.  He slammed the car’s door harder than he intended.  Underneath his foot the gravel gave a satisfying crunch.  He remembered Victor saying that every spring he had the gravel raked and washed, to prevent it from compacting.  The flowerbeds were freshly turned and Elliot’s eyes watered at the tangy smell of fertilizer.  This very weekend she would likely be out, kneeling and preparing the earth for the flats of annuals she put in each spring.  Last year this time he’d stopped by and chatted as she knelt on the ground and trowelled perfect, conical holes into the soil.  She had no plan, she told him, she liked to spread out the plantings and prepare all the beds before deciding what colors would go where.  Not art, she’d said smiling, just improvisation.

Elliot stood a moment to consider the Ward home.  It was a blockish, Georgian building, freshly trimmed in white.  Amanda had added working shutters, and had them pointed forest green and hinged with black iron, after a sketch she’d found in a book.  The drive bowed through a port-cochere that had, he knew from the neighborhood’s history, once welcomed carriages.  It was a handsome house, looking for all the world as the Wards did.  Handsome, substantial, tasteful.

And private.  How private with its regular windows, shuttered outside and draped within, how readily it could close itself off from view.  Someone had trimmed the wisteria in front of the library window, to clear the prospect.  From where he stood he could see into the library, that was doubtless where they would sit, see the turn of the drape.  He knew the fabric, a rich cream backdrop on which a pattern of birds of paradise repeated.   He had, he realized, been in that room only during evenings, when the draperies were closed, when the house opened its doors and just for the moment the private lives of its inhabitants were –what? –suspended? Stored upstairs?  Dressed in costume?

Amanda answered the door and offered her hand.  He shook it and remarked on her dress.  It was a floral print.  It fitted her closely to the waist, where it flared in a way he thought had gone out of style.  The belt was a tied sash, in the same print.  Over it she wore the yellow sweater, its sleeves pushed up.  He mentioned it.  Lemon chiffon.

“You’re very observant,” she said to his compliment.

“For a tax lawyer?”

“For a man.”

She seated him in the library, and insisted on coffee.  He looked down on the wisteria, noticed the vine-ends and the blue-violet buds.  She returned carrying a tray with china service and a silver pot.  Then easily she poured and served, and sat back wearing a look that was both patient and expectant.

“You’re not dressed for gardening.”

“I’m going into town today.”  When she crossed her legs at the knee they gave a satiny whisper.

“Can I give you a ride?”

“I’ll take my car, I have errands.  Elliot, what have you found?”

He had thought through his words.  It was a bit like giving legal advice.  One must include the proper balance of risk, the proper disclaimers of certitude.  Of course it wasn’t legal advice, he told himself again.  This was a personal matter, and personal wishes can be weighed.  But still.  One needs to consider how the advice will sound if things turn out differently than expected, if the advice is exposed to the light.

“Amanda, I want you to realize that I don’t have a definitive answer.  I wasn’t able to confront Victor, only to talk in generalities.  We talked disposition, philosophy.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, we talked as adults.  This is a time in life that people like us, you and me, who have led one life faithfully and happily, may find themselves wondering about paths not taken.  It’s only natural.  And some of us wonder whether we’ll have another chance.”

“Another chance for what?”

“For whatever.  To go off to the tropics and administer to the savages.  Or join the circus,” his eye came upon a photograph in the bookshelves, Victor and Amanda in summery clothes on the deck of a sailboat, “or sail away.  To be a pirate, or whatever….” He disliked the word, the kids had adopted it as a slogan and now he had used it twice.

The books in the shelves lay in surprising disarray.  They had been pushed in so that the photographs could be displayed, a wedding party, kids in ski gear, a daughter in cap and gown.  Interesting, he thought.  He remembered reading somewhere that scent, unlike sight or sound, travels on actual molecules.  If he withdrew a book and opened its pages he could capture the scent of her, not an incorporeal wave but the actual particles of scent from her body.

“Are you thinking of becoming a pirate, Elliot?  Boarding another man’s boat and stealing Maureen O’Hara from under his nose?”

“Not Maureen O’Hara,” he said, and uncomfortable, he glanced into his coffee, surprised to find it gone.

He had a sudden vision.  The two of them were in a bare room: a single chair, in which he sat, and a bed.  She was on the bed.  Fully dressed.  In the sweater.  Sitting shoeless with her hands around her legs, her head resting on her knees.  She was troubled.  He wanted to move to her, but wasn’t sure where to touch her.   Perhaps lightly, on the back, on that cashmere expanse….

When he looked up she was examining him.

“Amanda.  Victor and I discussed the possibilities of life.  We agreed that everyone should examine them.  And I must tell you I think you’re right about him.  I think he’s seeing someone else.”

She gave the briefest shudder, mostly in the brow, and Elliot thought that she brightened.  Not with joy but with attention, the way a small animal instantly grows alert at a shadow or creak that may bring menace.

Elliot had now entered that house, he had entered the library with its drapes pulled back and its glimpse of his own house across the road, just the corner, the sun porch where he so often stood.  He was thrilled by the words he’d spoken.  He could see himself on his sun porch looking across to this room, and he knew he would relive the pleasure of this visit each time he saw her windows.

What he said would remain behind him, like cigar-smoke, no—better, like the subtle scent she wore.  It would linger in the fabric of the room, in the tufted ottoman and the comfortable wing chairs covered in damask.  He had entered the house to stay, in a way, he knew, that created for himself and its occupants a new and private life.