The Sureness of Horses, Chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9
I wanted to tell Jorge outright that he was, to quote Ray, “history.” But, as well as I got on with Ray, he would have written me off in a heartbeat. “Life is about loyalty,” he said repeatedly. I’d seen him turn on people dramatically if he thought they’d been disloyal.
How could I warn Jorge without exposing the hopelessness of his situation? I had an opportunity when he came into the lunchroom one morning. I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle before joining a conference call. As Jorge walked over to me, I stood up. There wasn’t much time, so I came right to the point. “Are you getting your résumé out?”
“I’m going to tough it out here.”
“The Valley’s hot. If I were you, I’d be looking. I found some leads for you. Here’s a list.”
He looked it over. “No, I’ve decided to hang in.”
“Jorge, I’m late for my conference call, but as a friend, I tell you it’s time for you to start a gonzo job search. You’ve got great skills. The response you’ll get from these people will make you feel better, even if you stick around here.”
Jorge shrugged. He’s taller than I am, and well built, so it was confusing when he assumed a helpless posture. I feared then that he wasn’t going to do one thing for himself until they walked him out the door.
After dinner I pulled out the book Cliff had given me at the ranch. The book began centuries earlier, before the land was broken up into ranches, with the story of the natives, the Costanoans. The creek that ran through the ranch had been wilder then, providing not only steelhead trout, which still swam the creek, but salmon too. Now, except when it flooded, nobody thought much about San Francisquito Creek that ran through Jasper Ridge Ranch.
Cliff detailed the way the ranch had changed hands, ending up with Senator Stanford; the University owned it now. It had been used for artillery practice during both world wars. I found myself missing Diana. What if I just called her—why not? “How was your day?” I asked.
“Rob took the kids to the beach, someplace called Half Moon Bay, so I’ve had some time off.”
“I’ve been reading Cliff’s book. Who would think Cliff could make Jasper Ridge Ranch interesting?”
“I love the trail ride along the stream. That’s one thing that’s better than Texas by a long shot—we don’t have many green trails like that. I’m on my way to the ranch right now, to check on the horses.”
“How about some company?” I asked.
“I’ll only be there for a few minutes—Rob’s bringing the kids back at eight. I doubt it’s worth your time.”
“I’d like to see the ranch at night. Can I pick you up?”
She hesitated. “No, thanks. But how about I meet you there in fifteen minutes?”
At the ranch, the moon hung low over the far hills, behind Jasper Ridge itself. Because of the oaks, the hill’s outline against the sky was blurry, making it unclear where the hill ended and the sky began.
The ranch had none of its midday busyness; except for a light in a distant barn, we were alone. The first stars had come out. The moon was close to full; I could see quite clearly without lights. I took a deep breath, trying to let the ranch fill me up.
Diana had already led Gray Cloud out of his paddock and tied him to a rail inside the lighted barn. “I let someone ride him today, so I want to make sure he’s okay.”
“You just like to spend time out here,” I said.
“You’re starting to understand me.” Diana put a halter on Artemis and tied her next to Gray Cloud. She pulled back Gray Cloud’s upper lip in a light, pointing out purple numbers inside. “See that tattoo? Every Thoroughbred has one, to mark horses for the track.”
“So they know for certain which horse won the race?”
“Right.” Diana hesitated before she said, “You’ve got it,” as if I’d asked a not-too-bright question. She carried her saddle from the tack room and threw it over Gray Cloud’s Dutch door.
“Why do you use such small saddles?”
“Jumping,” said Diana. “Western saddles are like easy chairs, but you can’t move with the horse.” As she started oiling her saddle, I hoped she wasn’t tiring of my questions.
“I rode once or twice, with Amelia,” I said. “We were part of a long train of slow horses. They had saddle horns, so I guess they were Western. I’d hate to come over a jump and land on that horn.”
I wondered how to ask her if I could ride and chanced one more question. “If I were to give these little saddles a try, what special equipment would I need?”
“You’re really interested?” She seemed surprised, maybe even slightly pleased. “You wouldn’t need much. A boot with a heel would get you started.”
I looked at my loafers. “I have a pair of cowboy boots at home—Wellingtons. That’s all I need?” This was getting real, which made me a little nervous.
Diana took her time, too, thinking it over. “I have an extra saddle and a spare helmet. I could scare up a western saddle—they are safer.”
“No, if I were to do it with you, I’d try one of those little ones—it’s not too dangerous, is it?”
“Maybe you could ride Artemis. She’s in the next barn or I’d bring her out. She wouldn’t throw you. If she trips on a front foot, you could even come off.”
“How likely is that?”
“At a walk—as fast as I’d start you out—not at all.”
I hesitated. “Maybe I could ride her on that trail by the creek?”
She laughed. “Not the first day!”
As she carried her shiny-clean saddle to the tack room, she looked like she lived there. When she walked back over to me, I fought the urge not to reach out and kiss her.
That night I dreamed I was walking up above Jasper Ridge Ranch. A bear appeared in a field and then began chasing me. Bears are fast, but I had a head start and somehow knew that if I could get to the water, I’d be safe. Naked on a hot, sunny day, I dashed downhill with the bear gaining on me. I made the creek and jumped in. The cool water felt good. The bear entered downstream, his attention now on fishing. I tried to catch salmon in my hands before they got to the bear, but they slipped away. I held one briefly, but it was squishy in my hands and escaped. The bear feasted on it. I gave up and lay back in the cool water. The bear could have his fish. Artemis came over next to me and drank from the stream.
I rolled over and slept in late.
Diana and I still didn’t go out at night, but we spent time on the phone and had an occasional cup of coffee together. We asked each other about our histories as if we were studying for exams. Rob’s Dallas law firm, with its new branch up on Sand Hill Road, was one of the biggest in the country.
“Wow, my life seems tame in comparison, I’m afraid,” I said. We were back in the café on a weekday afternoon.
“Not really.” She leaned forward. “You’re more interesting than those guys Rob used to bring home, I assure you.” When I rolled my eyes, she laughed. “Tell me more about your job—I don’t know anything about Silicon Valley.”
I explained how I had been involved in sales from the technical end and was now working with customers full time, directly with the CEO. After a while I told her about Jorge. “Theoretically he can get himself out of the dog house,” I said, “but Sherry—the owner’s wife—indicated it’s just a required step on his way out.”
“Ouch.” Diana looked away. “If you told your friend, you could lose your own job. So, you are stuck in the middle. ”
I heard myself sigh. “You got it. I go to the office determined to tell him as much as I can without telling him outright. I even called people who could help him—two managers in other companies and a headhunter. When I told him, he barely took the list. I don’t think he’s called anyone.”
“You talk about him like he’s your brother. You say he’s an engineer?”
“I hired Jorge, and I like him—he’s my friend and he is my cousin, just not by blood. He has an associate degree in electronics. I helped him and his wife move out here from El Paso. They were so thankful that they asked me to be their daughter’s godfather. At some level I feel responsible.”
“Really, what does that mean?”
“Eva’s five now, so I haven’t done much yet. I show up at her birthday parties loaded down with presents. I’ve put aside a little money to help with her college. I don’t know.”
She stirred her coffee and nodded slowly. “So Jorge has problems getting along with customers?”
“Most customers love Jorge. He can set up a killer sound system in an hour and fix most problems over the phone. You’d like him if you met him, Diana.”
“Is he a poet, too?”
I laughed. “Jorge? No. He’s like an engineer without the degree. He has a knack for systems. I think he’s not looking around because he thinks a miracle will happen and he’ll keep his job. When I was in management, I learned that sometimes you have to be blunt. I have no idea what Lydia’s telling him. Poetry? No, he has no idea I write poetry. Nobody at work does. I’d rather they’d think of me as a good business guy, a pro. Imagine a tight situation comes up. Would you send out your poet?”
Diana laughed. “That sounds a little negative, but I guess I understand. Still, I want to see more of your poetry. I want to know you.”
“Okay—you can laugh with me at my latest ‘accomplishment’—a rejection slip from Poetry magazine. I just got it in the mail and threw it in my briefcase, proud that it was initialed by the editor, with a scrawled ‘sorry.’”
“May I see it?”
“This is probably a mistake,” I said, finding the poem, with its paper-clipped rejection slip, “but I’ll read it to you.”
“Invitation to the Opera
When one comes, along with fundraising letters
from my daughter’s pricey college, small magazines
that published my work—magazines I keep renewing
but seldom find time to read—even gold-embossed
credit-card offerings to my ex-wife, it’s
the opera invite I can’t throw away.
It would be so good if I could get my daughter to go.
I wonder whether to subscribe or just pick one or two.
Perhaps start with a familiar name:
La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, Aida, or Carmen.
Or how about these colorful ads for the new ones:
The Death of Klinghoffer or Nixon in China—
any program that puts the stars in tails and flowing gowns.
Some Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday, maybe next year
I’ll be there, part of the daringly dressed audience as the lights dim.
Imagine me in that heart-stopping quiet
just before the songs echo into the night.”
“That’s a winner,” Diana said. “We always went to the opera opening in Dallas.”
There was that we again. She must have seen some emotion on my face, because she said, “Sorry, old habits die hard. Say, I have a girlfriend who lives for the opera. Can I have a copy for her?”
“Sure, take this one.” I removed the rejection slip and handed her the paper.
“If you’ll send me an email copy, I’ll forward it to Sally. She loves opera and poetry both, so she’ll love this. How many times did you re-write it?”
“A bunch—it’s embarrassing. I’m sure I’ve re-written it sixty times at least, not including little one-word changes. When I read it to you I worried that ‘daringly dressed’ is too strong. It doesn’t fit somehow. I think I’ll delete it.” I crossed it out and reread the line to myself.
“Sounds like that guy who kept rolling the rock up the hill. Sisyphus, right? Do you really want to be like that?”
“It’s part of who I am. I get a poem going, you know, and just work on it. I’m not sure why. It nags at me, wanting me to change a word or a line break or something.”
Diana moved closer to me and reread the poem. “I can see where it works better without those two words. And I see what keeps you coming back.”
“There’s a reading Friday. Maybe you could come.”
After another long look at the poem, now with two words crossed out, still sitting on the table, she smiled. “It wouldn’t be a date, right?”
“Of course not,” I said. “How does a ‘shared cultural event’ sound?”
The night of the poetry reading Diana was as insistent on driving herself as I was intent on picking her up, so we compromised by meeting at the café, which was near the reading. I got there early and went over the opera poem in my car. When I saw her enter the parking lot in her huge white SUV, I was glad we were meeting here first. I don’t know if it’s an environmental concern or some class issue, but I knew I’d feel a lot better pulling up alongside the other poets in my little Audi wagon than I would have in her land-yacht with Texas plates.
Diana walked to my car fast, purposefully, which I found appealing, and climbed in. Everything about her—her reddish dark hair, her eyes set off by just a hint of makeup, the way she dressed—tonight a matching sweater and skirt with a scarf—seemed perfect. And, let’s face it, sexy. I’d had dreams of kissing her and, looking over at her in my car, I decided that tonight, when I walked her back to her car at the café, I’d try.
We drove a few blocks of the “South of Oregon” half of Palo Alto, my home turf. “This area had been orchards and a dairy farm until the fifties, when it was divided into smallish home lots and sprinkled with a couple of strip malls and fifteen or twenty churches,” I told Diana. “The reading is in a Quaker meeting house.”
We walked into the lobby of the simple one-story structure, already buzzing with poets. I steered Diana toward a Stanford anthropologist, a newer poet who’d already won an award for his poetry. Seeing them chatting relaxed me—I had worried whether she’d be comfortable here.
As we stood in line for me to sign up for reading, Jim, a regular, cut in front of us. Jim was well over six feet, with thinning hair not quite enclosed in a bandanna—a hill of a man, almost a mountain. Diana stepped back. Did an odor follow in his trail? I knew that Jim wasn’t the kind of poet who would appeal to her—and not just because he lived in a trailer in a friend’s driveway.
Out of Jim’s earshot, I whispered to Diana, “He can be a little overwhelming, but Jim was a founder of this group and writes good, strong stuff—he once wrote a poem about Whitman that I love. You’ll see—he reads before the break. I don’t read until after.”
We walked into the carpeted meeting hall, where chairs faced one another in an oval. The podium was at one end of the oval, in front of a fireplace.
“There must be sixty people here,” said Diana. “Will they all read?”
“No, half, I’d guess.” A few poets brought props. One read a poem that picked up the rhythm of a Conga drum he played. Another read a poem about her sister and passed around a faded snapshot of the two of them as children. But most of them, often shyly, unfolded a wrinkled piece of paper and just read a poem.
The anthropologist read a short poem—first in English, then in Spanish. The English version, with so many short one-syllable Anglo-Saxon diphthongs, made me wonder if anyone could make it sound as lyrical as the smooth Spanish.
The poems were as diverse as the people: some had a political slant, some were a bit angry, even more were humorous. The funniest moment came when an older woman read a poem about a frog-licking contest. Diana smiled and nodded through most of them.
Jim, in his tie-dye bandanna, played a kazoo before he started his poem.
What do you do
when you can’t have her
any more but she makes you a Teddy Bear
with a pretty vest
and a tiny book about artists for it to read
when you’re not home and a headband
like you wear and a little button heart so you’ll
always have love. If only
she hadn’t said that. I took it home,
opened the seam between its legs . . .”
Diana said, “Oh, no. No.”
I touched her arm.
Jim’s voice got louder as he went on:
“. . . Oh my god,
its poor flat head with its
silly sad mouth and its
shiny black eyes, bobbing helplessly
back and forth, up and down. Its cotton insides
getting all torn up and jammed
up its neck.”
Diana’s face was taut. “It’s just awful.”
“Shhh, it takes courage to read a poem like that. Let him finish, at least.”
Jim modulated his voice down for the ending.
“. . . it’s starting
to stink. When it gets too bad
I’ll leave it outside her kitchen door, hanging
by its little headband.”
Diana wrinkled her brow and kept moving in her seat, leaning forward and then back, crossing and uncrossing her legs. She leaned over. “That was just plain sick.”
“There’s misogyny, I’ll admit, but in there somewhere is a plea of loneliness.”
“I can’t believe nobody walked out.”
“Diana! Look, a few people are clapping.”
She looked me up and down. “I’m sorry, but I’m leaving.”
“But I’m reading after the break.”
“No one would put up with that in Dallas, I assure you. I don’t belong here. Men.” She shook her head. “I bent the rules to come out tonight, a mistake I won’t make again.” She stood to leave. “Take me to my car.”
When I hesitated, she said, “If you can’t give me a ride, I’ll have to walk.”
I put my head down and followed her. People moved their knees aside to let us pass. When we got out the door, I didn’t look back, but I knew people were staring.
We didn’t say a word as we got into my car and drove toward hers.
At the café parking lot, she hopped out of my car without a word and climbed up into her SUV. I walked to her window. She lowered it and said, “Thanks for inviting me. I wish it had worked out differently.” She started her engine and drove off.
I took deep breaths of the cool air as I watched her taillights brighten at the stop sign and dim, then disappear.
“Goodbye Diana,” I said under my breath as I drove back to the Friends Meeting House.
Two ships that passed in the night, I thought. Later, falling asleep, I pictured my freighter and her cruise ship on opposite courses a mile apart.
Early the next morning, Saturday, I dreamt I was back in the lonely days of my divorce. As my half-waking dream went on, Diana somehow replaced Liz, leaving me as well. I turned over and tried to get control of my thoughts. How could I have been so wrong about Diana? What would I miss about her? Sitting across from her at the café in that riding outfit, I’d miss that. I’d miss the hope of having a woman in my life secure enough that I could count on her. I’d miss horses, too. Perhaps I could take riding lessons on my own, but where would that lead? At any rate the relationship was nipped in the bud. I tried to analyze my actions at the poetry reading, wondering if they might mirror the way I’d driven Liz away, but, as hard as I can be on myself, I couldn’t see it that way. Diana had been close to insufferable. What lesson could I learn from that?
On that sour thought I got out of bed. After coffee, I whipped up an instant breakfast and blueberries in the blender and started in on my day. I usually bathe Keats in the shower, but today I used the kitchen sink. It wasn’t big enough for a full-grown beagle. Water splashed all over the kitchen as I sudsed him down and rinsed him off. I grabbed two towels, one for each side of the dog.
The phone rang, followed by Diana’s slightly amplified voice on the answering machine. “Wade, are you there? I’d really like to talk to you. I’m sorry about last night.”
Keats shook wildly, soaking my pants. Diana made me into Prufrock . . . decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse. I picked up the phone. “Oh?”
“I don’t want to talk about that other guy’s poem, but would you mind answering one question about your poem, the opera one?”
What was she thinking? “Sure.”
“I read the poem to Sally, my friend in Dallas, over the phone. She’s a free spirit, but she may be just who I needed to talk to. At any rate, she completely turned me around about last night’s meeting. But, still, I have a question. The guy in your poem has never been to the opera. My question is, have you?”
“That’s easy enough. A handful of times, yes.”
“I guessed that. Even though the guy in the poem supposedly hasn’t been to the opera I felt you must have. And I guessed you liked it.”
“Well, yes,” I said, feeling uneasy for shading the truth in my poem.
“Sally says they call poems like that confessional poems? Is that right?”
“I prefer the phrase self-referential, but, yes, that’s the popular term.” I wanted to get off the phone.
“But aren’t you supposed to say what actually happened? That’s where I’m confused. I mean, you’ve been to the opera but the guy in your poem hadn’t.”
“It’s a gray area. A self-referential poem has to be true, but in its own way . . .”
“What I hope you’re telling me is there’s some chance that the guy with the bandanna never even touched a Teddy Bear.”
I laughed into the phone louder than I intended. “Sorry.” When I settled down I said, “For the sake of Teddy Bears everywhere, I wish that could be true, Diana. But . . . I doubt it. We’ll never know for sure, of course. I guess I could ask Jim . . . ”
“Anyway, I’m not pleased with how I acted.” She hesitated. “I’m not sure I’ve ever been shushed before—but I deserved it, I was interrupting a poem. And poems mean more to you than they do to me. Some of those poets seemed so negative. I like positive people who get out and do things.”
She could still rattle me. “Like what?”
“I don’t know, just about anything—you know, throw dinner parties, ride horses, go skiing, things.”
“Those worlds are pretty distant from mine.”
“You sound like you’ve written me off.”
She could be blunt, for sure. “Perhaps, but you seem different today.”
“Wade . . . how . . . how about lunch tomorrow?”
No wonder Shakespeare compared women to the ever-changing moon. I finally said, “I guess we could meet downtown—Il Fornaio or Evvia, even Maddelena’s.”
“Oh, I was thinking of you coming over here,” she said. “I wanted you to see how I fixed this place up.”
Now that I had wanted to see. “Sure.”
Before I hung up she gave me her address. It was about where I’d guessed, one of those new luxury downtown condos. Thirty years ago Palo Alto might have been a sleepy college town, but no longer. These multimillion-dollar apartments were part of a new America. What did it say about me that I resented what I’d never even been inside?
I’d stayed away from my office as much as possible in order to avoid Jorge, whom I feared might show up in my office at any time. I’d fallen behind in the sales report Ray asks me to present to him every Monday. Diana’s invitation gave me all sorts of new energy and I decided to pop into work on a Saturday and get the report out of the way with little chance of seeing Jorge.
For the report, I wanted to update fifteen customer situations. I sent a few Emails so I’d have up-to-the minute information. Noon here on Monday would be the afternoon on the East coast, so I’d get a few timely replies.
I was consolidating data when Jorge plopped himself down in my guest chair and said, “You should have protected me, you sonofabitch.”
“Oh, Jorge, what’s going on?”
“You see the CEO every day, Wade. The owner. You couldn’t do anything?”
I turned toward him, face to face. “I did all I could, Jorge, really. The company is in a lot of trouble. Tell me exactly what Lydia has done.”
“Put me on probation, the bitch.”
I tried to seem surprised, but I’m not sure he bought it. I took a different tack, a somber tone. “We kind of saw that coming, didn’t we?”
Jorge stood up by my window, which overlooked the parking lot. “You really couldn’t do anything?” I shook my head as I watched the few people coming to work on a Saturday. Suddenly he sighed deeply. The roach coach made its noisy entrance, staccato notes playing on its musical horn. “Well, you could at least buy me a cup of coffee,” he said.
“Sure.” As we walked downstairs I asked Jorge if he’d called those managers I’d given him. “At least call that guy at H.P.—Larry used to be a neighbor, the nicest guy in the world, and interested. He’s expecting you to call him.”
“It may not be necessary. I’m doing a lot better. Lydia’s been civil, almost nice, ever since I started this probation thing. She even smiled at me yesterday. Besides, I have you in my corner. I still do, right?”
At the food truck I turned directly to him. “Of course I’m in your corner, Jorge, but I’m out of management so I’ve kind of lost my vote. Technically I work for Lydia now, too. By the way, you’d better watch it around her when she smiles. I mean that.”
Jorge shook his head and changed the subject. “So are you and this Diana . . . you know?” He gyrated his hips forward.
“No, we’re not . . .” I said, rolling my eyes and awkwardly mimicking his hip motion. “But I’m hoping we’ll still ride horses. And she’s invited me to lunch.”
“Horses? Man, you’re going to get yourself killed.” He hit me on the shoulder. After he ordered coffee, speaking to the barrista in Spanish, he turned to me and said, “This Diana must be some woman.”
Once we walked back upstairs, I stood outside my office and tried to get him to leave, saying, “Meanwhile, call those numbers. Start with Larry and mention my name.”
“Ever since you interviewed me on campus down in El Paso, Wade, I’ve trusted you. You’re a big part of the reason I took this job. Face it, Marita and I wouldn’t be in California if it weren’t for you. We’re proud you’re Eva’s godfather.”
I inhaled in a huge breath and held him by both shoulders. “Jorge, I couldn’t help you last month, and I can’t now. But in that job search world, you’ve got to network. They’re all expecting to hear from you. At least call Larry, okay?”
As he left, he nodded, but I doubted he’d call anyone.
A week earlier, when Diana walked out of the poetry reading, I was convinced things were over. I continued to find her appealing, but it seemed our worlds were too far apart. The next day, when she turned around and invited me to her condominium, I was not only delighted, I was confused.
Saturday morning I drove to the posh condominium area of Palo Alto near downtown. I found her address and parked on the street. I pushed a button next to her name. When she picked up, I said, “Hi honey, I’m home.”
She laughed. “Oh you are silly, Wade. Come on up.” She buzzed me into a small elevator. The door opened at the top floor onto an outdoor alcove. A teak loveseat and an impressive half-size brass statue of a horse flanked her condo’s front door.
She gave me a quick hug. “It’s good to see you again.”
In the kitchen, a table in the corner was colorfully prepared for two. When I realized she’d set it for us, complete with cut flowers, it gave me the unexpected warm feeling of being wanted.
“Let me show you around,” she said, leading me. The table in the dining room could seat twelve or fourteen people easily, and the living room was even more obviously a place to entertain. English foxhunting scenes were interspersed among more modern artwork. I imagined she might give great dinner parties.
Diana showed me her own suite, complete with a fireplace and balcony. The bed was topped with a small mountain of pillows. The wall across from the fireplace held several mounted crosses. One was at least a foot tall, almost square, with four red-and-white arrowhead tips in the center. “Isn’t this a Maltese cross?” I asked.
She nodded. “From Valletta. I used to bring a cross home from every trip.” She pointed to a black one. “I like this one, from Kenya.”
“So you’re religious?”
She laughed. “I know Californians dismiss where I’m from as the Bible belt. But that’s where I’m from. If it weren’t for my faith, I couldn’t have gotten through the last eighteen months. No way.”
Some of the pictures scattered around the room included horses and dogs. Diana was jumping in several of them, sometimes big jumps—the rails she was clearing were shoulder high. It reminded what a horsewoman she was. Who said do one thing well? I was pretty sure it was part of Zen.
She pointed to a picture of herself with a frizzy-haired blonde woman about her age, with red-framed glasses and a big smile. “That’s Sally, my friend from Dallas I called when I got home from the reading, the one who loves poetry and opera. Since I showed her your opera poem, she’s been a fan of yours and got all hissy at me for walking out—she called me rude.” Diana took a deep breath. “I don’t like to think of myself that way, but I’m afraid she’s right. I’m truly sorry.”
“I’d like to meet her sometime and thank her.” I searched the other photographs, curious about her husband. “No pictures of Rob?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “They seem to have gone missing on the trip out here.”
Diana showed me the kid’s bedrooms and the guest room, where her cat, Micah, was sprawled in the sun shining on the bed. Diana paused at the next door, which opened to her room, complete with a balcony. “That’s the painting you helped me load up.” It didn’t seem as large as when I took it from her trailer.
Looking at her photographs, I could make out the Great Wall of China in one shot, and the Pyramids in the background of another. “You travel? Unless I go to Mexico with Amelia, there’s not much on my horizon.”
“Rob and I were always taking trips. I’ve finally come around to thinking travel might be a fool’s paradise after all. I haven’t been out of the country since we separated except once, to Merida in the Yucatan. Rob thought we could patch things up in a foreign place. It didn’t work, of course, although I did like that part of Mexico.”
I took a seat at the kitchen counter while she made lunch.
She glanced over at me as she whipped up a sauce, folding in spices. She toasted bread and put some fish, basted in sauce, under the broiler. “We can start with this salad. Sorry, the tomato’s a bit green. Here’s a little bottle of wine, sound good?”
“I’ll do the honors.” I grabbed the corkscrew and pulled the cork. Through the window I could see a hint of the University’s red roofs and the hills beyond. “Quite the view,” I said.
“I liked the idea of being near shopping and restaurants. I walk a lot.” She sighed and took in a long breath. “I’ve been working up the courage to tell you how Rob and I hit the rocks, so here goes. Rob and I met at a sophomore mixer at SMU and were together our last three years of college. It went by effortlessly. We got married the summer before he started law school. It was all kind of a dream. Then Beth and Robbie came along . . . the dream grew. Eleven years. Then . . .” She pulled back.
I reached out and touched her arm.
“This might be a good time to serve lunch,” she said.
After preparing and serving plates for us, she continued. “One day, out of the blue, I got this call from a woman across town. She said Rob was involved with her daughter, an Aggie student with a summer job at the firm.” She turned away. Her eyes watered. “A second-year intern. Such a cliché.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry.”
She used a linen napkin to dry her eyes. “When he first told me, I was determined to make the marriage work. He said the affair was over, but . . . he was still looking at other women. Before then I guess I’d always glanced the other way. I spent hours in the gym to compete—I went a little crazy. One day I bought six hundred dollars worth of lingerie at Neiman-Marcus.”
I raised my eyebrows. “That’s a lot of skivvies.”
Diana smiled and winked. “Oh, these were a lot more than skivvies. But push-up bras and lace panties aren’t probably something I’m supposed to talk about with men. I have to admit one of the reasons I’m not dating is it’s so foreign for me. My experience with men pretty much started and ended with Rob.”
I’d guessed that and nodded as I ate the fish, which was delicious.
“At any rate, a few months later I got jealous of a woman at a party. Maybe that last flirtation was innocent, I’m not sure, but one way or the other I stopped caring right then. I could tell you the exact moment. No trust, no glue.”
After we’d finished she cleared the dishes. “It’s been three years now since I left that big house in Dallas. It had seven bedrooms and a second kitchen out by the pool. I’ve kind of been standing on one foot.”
I shook my head. “For standing on one foot, you seem awfully stable.” I took her hand. “You’re going slowly. That seems to be your style. You’ve put your kids first. I doubt you’ll ever be sorry for that. And Rob’s law firm definitely seems to be . . .” I looked around. “To be cushioning life’s blows.”
She shrugged. “The firm’s grown fast. It’s still Rob’s father’s, but Rob’s office out here is where all the growth is. The Enersystems account, you know, the account Jolene’s husband, Billy Tyler, heads up? The company has energy projects all over the world now. It’s become the biggest account in the firm.”
We made small talk as if we were old friends with nothing left to decide, when, in reality, nothing at all had been decided. As we finished, I noticed the music she had playing softly in the background. She seemed so much kinder today, so much softer. I asked, “May I have this dance?”
She felt good in my arms. It took all my control not to try to kiss her.
On leaving, as we passed through her front door, we touched. I moved this way and she moved that and I felt my arms around her and I leaned down and kissed her. We guided ourselves to the loveseat outside the front door.
After a few more embraces she looked at her watch. “I worry Rob will come back.” Then she shrugged. “Of course he’s much more likely to be late than early. And he has to phone me to get in. I wouldn’t give him a key. He didn’t like that one bit.”
When I said, “Let’s go back inside,” the huskiness of my voice surprised me.
She took my hand but shook her head. She held the back of my neck for another kiss, but she said, “I’m not sure I’d trust myself.”
Still, we continued. As we got as breathless as teenagers, she said, “We’d better not get too disheveled.”
She smiled up at me. “Don’t stop, though.”
We went on for a few more minutes until she said, “You’d better go now.” But she didn’t make any sudden move to get up, and we enjoyed ourselves a while longer.
After that afternoon, Diana loosened up on the no-date rule. I still didn’t come over on the nights she had Beth and Robbie, but we spent the other evenings together. She made wonderful dinners, after which we’d snuggle and make out.
She continued to be nervous about making love, so we moved toward more intimacy without actual intercourse. It was a period of anticipation; perhaps the joy of the hunt, despite my always having refuted it, really is in the chase.
My horseback riding picked up as well. I rode Artemis twice a week, while Diana taught me horsemanship—everything from how to control your mount while you slip the bridle over its head to the subtle messages you give a horse as you ride.
She kept teaching me until an incident when I was learning to trot. She rode Gray Cloud. I was up on Artemis next to her on the oval track that surrounds the polo field at Jasper Ridge Ranch. In a trot, the horse moves both legs on one side, then the other, so I concentrated on how Artie’s back was moving up and down with each step, working to get the knack of rising and falling with her. I didn’t notice doing it, but I loosened my reins. Unfortunately, just then the wind blew a gate open across the field and Gray Cloud shied; he spun around in place. Diana was able to stay mounted, but in reaction my horse shied too—a sudden sharp twist to the left—and I fell off on her right. The wood-chip track was softer than I expected, but I lay there for a moment, not sure what had happened. I was more embarrassed than hurt, but I won’t soon forget the fear on Diana’s face as she knelt beside me. She was close to tears.
Once I sat up, she said, “This is my fault. We’re going to have to get you real lessons. Your back is healed, right?”
“Yes, truly, 100%.”
”Great. I’ll find someone here at the Ranch. Edward doesn’t like to teach ‘up downs,’ as he calls beginner lessons, but maybe he’d make an exception. We’ve got you way beyond the basics, so maybe he’ll do it.”
Soon I was taking lessons from Edward and a couple of other teachers at the Ranch. Diana and I still rode regularly, too, side by side in the training rings and occasional trail rides off the ranch. She seemed more relaxed once she didn’t feel she had to teach me everything. She’d review what I’d learned, but she happily handed her tutelage over to those who did it all day long.
For my birthday Diana took me to the Village Pub in Woodside, where I’d always wanted to go but never felt I could afford. It was considered one of the best restaurants in the San Francisco bay area, and it lived up to its promise.
We started the evening early because Rob was returning the kids at eight thirty. We were among the first few dinner guests so the waiters were extremely attentive, almost hovering.
Back at her condo, she gave me my presents, Jodhpur boots and “half-chaps,” leathers to protect my calves. Once I tried them on it was time to leave.
Diana and I talked about Christmas plans long before Thanksgiving. We told each other we wanted to be together for Christmas, but she felt duty-bound to return to her family in Texas. “Tradition can provide security in a time of change,” she said on the phone one night.
I had no comeback to Diana’s logic. Thank goodness Amelia would be coming to visit me from Bard.
I thought about trying to persuade Diana how comforting it would be for Beth if she and Amelia could spend time together. I wanted Beth to see how Amelia had made Paly work for her, but I had to face the fact I still hadn’t met Diana’s kids—we’d talked about them for hours, but always in absentia, so I never brought them up with Amelia.
I’d spend Christmas without Diana, and, though she said she didn’t care about Rob, it bothered me that she’d be with him. But I knew she was right—her kids should be with their grandparents for the holidays. There was nothing I could say.
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3, 4, and 5
Look for Chapter 10 on Monday, March 21st
Warm thanks to Jane Hirshfield and Jim Standish for permission to use their poems, to which they retain all rights.
© Kevin Arnold November, 2015