The President’s Garden

Issue 33 by Jordan Smith

The President’s Garden

It is with some delicacy,” began the note that May had found that morning in the wastebasket in Theo’s study when she went in search of a scrap of paper, that I phrase this apol...” And there the script sputtered and ended. May knew exactly what had happened. Andrew, hearing her leave, had made whatever farewells he could to Ada, then with his usual presumption walked into the study, found paper and pen, and started to write to her, but had run out of ink, and not knowing where Theo kept the ink bottles, had folded the paper in half, and, never dreaming that anyone would look at it, dropped it in the basket and strode out. She could almost hear his steps and the stern closing of the door, both so characteristic of her brother and so different from her husband’s measured stride and firm but always tempered gestures. Theo was a husband who husbanded his force, she thought, as amused by her own phrasing as she was thinking of Andrew’s discomfiture. Her brother, Andrew, all his life an overbearing, self-serious, self-serving man (never, May thought, never really a child), was now in her power, or felt himself to be. She could easily imagine the rest of the note: the circumlocutions preparing the apology for obliging her to witness... Well, he could never, never bring himself to say what exactly she had seen, but he would intimate, careful to no more than imply the new, the sudden secret between them. And he would never come to his point, which was to find out exactly what she intended to do with what she had discovered yesterday afternoon.

Right at the moment, May intended nothing at all. It was a high spring day, the kind when the fullness of the season still outweighed, if only by a hair, the sense of the decline, the fall of the tree blossoms, that would begin soon enough. She had thought to go down to have lunch, but Theo was away, the idea of sitting down to eat alone did not appeal, and she had told the housekeeper to leave some bread and cheese and an apple on the sideboard in case she felt hungry later. And she had considered following her usual routine, which would have meant an hour or two in the grounds after lunch, consulting with Beddoes about the state of the borders and the consistency of the soil, and, most importantly, the layout of the new garden behind the President’s House where her father had lived for almost five decades now. The garden, as she imagined it, would have at its center a cluster of flowering trees—crabapples, perhaps—and a wide outer ring of forsythia, and between these a nesting of circular paths and beds that took you from yellow to rose to blue and then the faint pink of the spring trees. A garden of peace, a garden of unity would be the right memorial to his father’s reign—that was the right word for someone who had held such power for so long, however small the kingdom. As for his new plan, to step down before the fall term began, and to turn his responsibilities over to Andrew and Calvin their youngest brother, and Theo, well, she knew her Shakespeare as well as anyone on the faculty did, and she dreaded the moment when his plan went into effect. Division, decline and fall, these were the inevitabilities. No need then, to rush them into being, to collaborate with time. What else was a routine? And it was her routine that had allowed Andrew to think he could do what he did undetected.

She had this to look forward to: the first version of the new Puccini opera to be performed outside of New York City would be offered in Troy that evening; the tickets had been reserved, the car arranged. She was anticipating the music very much and the slight trace of scandal in the plot even more: an American naval officer and a Japanese...well, what was the right word? None of the terms she knew seemed precise, either too polite to take in the full force of seduction and betrayal or too pejorative, which was not, she told herself, at all how she felt about such things. If on the day before yesterday, her brother, Andrew, chose to... again words failed her, though she had no doubt at all about what she had seen...if he chose to make love with Ada, his brother’s wife, against the sideboard in May’s own dining room with no thought at all that she might return early from morning chapel (since she never did, but who could predict a headache) and find them there, what were the words for that? She had not walked in on them, nothing as vulgar as that, but, as the door closed behind her as she entered the vestibule and she heard the startled sounds, she glanced through the door at the mirror angled above the sideboard, and what she saw there was enough, quite enough. And it was in the mirror that Andrew caught her eye and grimaced. May had gone straight back outside; what she wanted most, she found to her surprise, was to laugh.

And she wanted to tell Theo, but he was in Boston for the week, settling the affairs of his aunt who had died in the winter, childless, and had named him as executor. It was not the sort of news she would trust in a letter; she could not even be sure how he would take it, although their shared sense of the absurd was as important to their friendship as affection was to their marriage; offered a choice, she might well choose the former. Not that she was without passion—he surely was not—but she had never been sure that he shared her conviction that the act of love was a kind of joke played on mankind by a creator with a fondness for the juxtaposition of cruelty and humor. And wasn’t her discovery of Ada and Andrew at play—though it had looked like work from where she stood, outside, you might say, the garden—just such a revelation; it made her laugh, and it brought out a streak of malice in her as well. For the first time she could think of, she had Andrew where neither his eloquence nor his arrogance nor his ruthlessness could help him. What would she do? The question clearly interested him, but she could not be sure whether she was excited, amused, or merely bored by the prospect offered by her hold over him. And she could be no surer what Theo would make of it, if he wished to make anything of it at all.

She had just about decided to return to the garden—that is, to the place where the garden would be—when she heard shouting from the student residence, a three-story stone building with a grander faculty house attached at each end. Before they had moved to one of the several detached houses on campus, she and Theo had lived in one of the dormitory houses, and perhaps this is when she had acquired her not exactly maternal— proprietary might be more the word for it—interest in the well-being of the students. She had no hesitation in entering the dormitory, and she followed the shouts and the sound of someone pounding on the door down the long corridor and up a flight of stairs. On the second-floor landing, she turned right and saw, as she had half-expected, the stocky figure of Peter Clancy, the college bursar, a polite word, thought May, for debt collector. Clancy was not one of them, by which May meant not simply that he was neither a Knox nor a relative by marriage but that he was not an educated man. His father was a coal merchant who served the rougher sections of Albany, and the younger Clancy had learned to brawl as efficiently as he learned to keep accounts and to keep them current. May’s father had hired him as much for the former as for the latter. Not all students were anxious to pay their tuition on time, and if avoiding duns was a kind of game for them, then Clancy was the President’s jack of trumps, rough, effective, and quite willing to be dressed down by the President in public for the methods which insured the college’s fiscal health and his own employment.

A crass and violent man, May thought, although she had hardly expected what she saw. There was a toolbox on the floor beside Clancy, and he had just finished nailing a freshly sawn plank across the door of one of the rooms. When he heard her steps, he turned. He wore a bowler hat and a suit that was too tight; the lapels were flecked with sawdust. His smile was not ingratiating, although perhaps it was meant to be. It reminded her of the fox her gardener had cornered, malevolent, cunning without intelligence. “What are you doing, Mr. Clancy,” she said, trying for the trace of levity that would make it clear she did not take him as seriously as he took himself, “I wasn’t aware you were the college carpenter now as well.”

“I am boarding up this room,” he said.

“I had come to that conclusion myself. Whose room is it, and why are you doing it? If a student has fled without paying his fees, isn’t it unlikely that he will be back?”

“It is James Purdy’s room, Mrs. Maxon. And for all I know, he may still be in it.”

“You have been reading Poe, Mr. Clancy?”

“I have been reviewing Mr. Purdy’s accounts, Mrs. Maxon.”

“And you think it likely that his parents will pay his arrears if he has starved to death in his dormitory room?”

“I think it unlikely that he will allow himself to starve if indeed he is in there, or that he will willingly be separated from his extensive wardrobe and his bottles of whiskey if he is not.”

“And are you aware,” she drew herself up to her full height, knowing how well this trick had worked for her father, “that I disapprove of your methods, and indeed of your employment at this college? And, although I know that my father will not give you notice no matter what I say, I will keep saying it until you do something so outrageous that he has to listen to me. And that this may very well be it?”

“That is for the President to say. Or for Mr. Andrew Knox. I report to him now, since the President has asked him to oversee the finances.”

Of course, May had expected this; the shock was that it had come so soon, before she had time to prepare. Andrew would have the finances in his charge. Well, it suited him. Theo would have the academics to himself, which would please him, and Calvin, who had never shown the slightest interest in either money or study, would oversee enrollments and registration and maintenance and look for a way to retire as soon as he could, which would be when their father died. She ran through these eventualities so quickly that it was clear to her that she had been considering them without being aware of it. Now she had the problem of disengaging with Mr. Clancy without losing face. “My brother has never liked a ruckus. If you will unbatten Mr. Purdy’s hatch, Mr. Clancy, I will make sure that he understands that his continued attendance here depends on bringing his accounts up to date, and neither the President nor Mr. Andrew will be bothered by either of us.”

Clancy seemed sorry to lose the opportunity to inconvenience Mr. Purdy, but he was, May knew, as self-interested as he was ruthless, and without further comment, he reversed the claw hammer he had been using to pound in the nails and began to pry the boards loose. “I am billing Mr. Purdy for damage to the door,” he said, and May saw no reason to argue, although she did see reason to stay until Mr. Clancy had finished, put the plank under one arm, picked up his toolbox, and walked off, the heels of his heavy shoes hitting the tile like a sledge. When he had started down the stairs, she was still in front of Purdy's door, her arms crossed, waiting, and she had a hard time not smiling when the knob began to turn and then the door to open slowly and only a little, and a sliver of Mr. Purdy's face appeared; she had seen him often enough on campus to imagine the rest: too commonplace for an Adonis, too young for a true sybarite—abashed but cheerful, a boy who had never not gotten away with it, whatever it might be.

"You heard what I had to say, Mr. Purdy? And your bill with a fee for damages and interest on the amount in arrears will be paid promptly, or you will receive no credit for this term."

He nodded, and bumped the door shut with one hand, while with the other he seemed to be fumbling with his shirt collar button. And she heard something. It might have been a girl's stifled laughter. Or it might not. If there was a girl in his room, and if anyone, any of the adults in the community came to know of it, he would be expelled. It would be a pity if that happened before he had brought his account up to date.

Would Andrew have the good sense to see things that way? He was all too ready to act in regards to his fellows on principles he didn't practice. There had been the case of Professor Phelps, which had it not ended so badly, would have seemed more funny than otherwise, and the tragedy was all Andrew's doing. That a man in his fifties whose wife had left him, not for another man nor from any evident unhappiness but because she preferred to live with her recently widowed sister on the remote farm where they had been raised, that such a man would develop a fondness for drink, that this would lead him into the company of other men who enjoyed betting on cards and betting on horses, that his ineptitude as a gambler should take such a toll on his finances that he would make the ill-advised decision to drink and play cards with his students who knew both activities better than he did...well, you would think the jokes in the dining halls and the faculty club would have been punishment enough, but Andrew, when the matter could be kept from his attention no longer had pilloried him dismissing him in the middle of term, sending Clancy with the cart to drag his luggage from the house on campus (and not only his, but the trunks and hat boxes and household decorations his wife had left behind), all piled on plain sight, with the driver waiting for directions, Purdy smirking, and the poor man with no place to go.

It still surprised her, how angry this memory could make her, how much she would like to humiliate Andrew, to do unto him as he had done to those who had failed his tests, which were never so much about propriety as they were about discretion. And it was within her discretion to save him. That irony was enough to content her for now, she thought, and perhaps for a good long time, perhaps until Andrew proposed to do something with the college that he really shouldn't do, or something that would diminish Theo. But just as she came to this resolution and, she hoped, to an end of the day's restlessness, just as she had turned the corner of the dining hall and reached the gate in the low stone wall around the courtyard that would soon enough be her garden, her father's garden, she saw Calvin sitting on a bench with his head in his hands and realized that she had not thought about him at all.

Why is it, she thought, that one brother is always the less favored, if not by the parents, then by the world, or by whatever providence doles out the talents that make fortune possible? Or, to put it with less charity, what had Calvin ever been good for? Tepid, inconstant in effort and affections, loyal out of habit or from lack of temptation, competent only because it allowed him to avoid conflict, and now either the buffoon in a comedy of the heart or the wronged husband in a melodrama; however it turned out, he would not reach the level of tragedy. She felt sympathy—it was almost a reflex in his presence—at the same time that she felt impatience. It was not so much that he brought it all on himself as that he endlessly contrived situations where the predictable became the unavoidable. Marrying a woman of spirit, if not of the greatest intelligence, and putting in her way the constant contrast between a hardly passionate husband and his ambitious, unscrupulous brother whose own wife (and May had hardly given Majorie a first thought, let alone a second) was the slenderest of reeds... “Calvin,” she said walking up to him, “what is it?” She could not tell if she sounded more solicitous or more peremptory.

He looked up. She had expected to see him looking stricken, perhaps weeping, for she was so sure that what troubled him was the same discovery that had occupied her thoughts, but to her surprise, he had a thick bandage on one cheek and bruises around both eyes. “Calvin!” she said again, “who did this to you?”

He shocked her again by laughing. “May,” he said. “I am so glad you’re here. I have to tell someone. It has been a long time, but I have at last had it out with him.”

“You were in a fight with Andrew?”

“What, with Andrew? Why would I fight with Andrew? I haven’t seen him for days. No, no. I am not talking about this...” he gestured at his swollen face. “This is not important. This morning I had it out with Father. I told him I wanted nothing more to do with this place. Nothing. I do not wish to be the registrar or to have any part of it. And do you know what he said? He said that I had nothing of my own, and this was the best I could get, and I should take it and be quiet.”

“And he struck you?”

“No, no. That was later. That was an accident. He walked out and slammed the door. What did you think he did? What else does he ever do? But I mean it this time. Let him find another flunky. We have Ada’s money. We can just leave.”

“Have you told Ada this?”

“Yes. I went straight home and told her. She said we should go for a drive, that we could talk about it out at the stables, since she was going riding anyway. She said she had something she wished to discuss."

"Yes?"

"We never got to it. I got the car, and she got her riding clothes, and then I had to tell her about what I said to Father, and clearly that upset her, so I had to calm her down. I told her the money she had from her grandfather's estate and the shares would be more than enough. After all, she has the cottage in Lenox, and that's bigger than our place here. She owns it, free and clear. She keeps a staff there. Somehow that seemed to make it worse. She wasn't speaking at all by the time we reached the stables. I offered to help her saddle up, although you know I don't like horses any better than they like me, but she shoved me, actually shoved me aside, and stalked into the barn. I stayed outside and had a cigarette. When she came out on that mare of hers, I had had enough. I marched over and grabbed for the bridle, and the damned horse shied. I pulled back, lost my balance, and fell, tore my face on the edge of a fence rail as I went down. Oh, she was apologetic enough then, but I wouldn't have it. I held my handkerchief to my face, got back in the car, and drove straight home. Sarah in the infirmary fixed me up,"

"And she did not tell you what she meant to discuss?"

"No. You know her, May. Any mention of money makes her nervous. Her father had those reverses, you remember, when she was a girl, when that bank failed? She thought they would all be out in the street, or her mother did and that set the whole family going. No more private education at Emma Willard, no more horses and frills. Of course her uncle stepped in, and her father's fortune bounced back soon enough. Thick as thieves, those two, and good at what they did. They were never out of the money for long..."

If it were not so sad, May thought, it would be infuriating. All of that envy and greed and a childish selfishness. How had their childhood, that disciplined and civilized raising, turned out two schemers like Andrew and Calvin, and the only difference between them that Andrew knew what he was about and thrived on it, while Calvin had the moral sense of a four-year-old, and just as much self-understanding. It served Calvin right, to have married a woman who shared his love of wealth, but none of his desire for the lack of responsibility it might offer. Ada was far too fond of her position to sin in any but the most conventional ways, and if she meant to confess...No. That seemed hardly likely. Probably she meant only to tell Calvin that she wanted her own bedroom or that one of the maids needed firing.

"I must go now," she said, knowing that Calvin would be the last person to ask why; he seemed to barely notice the comings and goings of others, much less ascribe any significance to them. "Please find me after you speak to Ada."

Calvin only nodded.

The garden was an idea, a hope, fine and hopefully expressed in the elegant set of drawings done for her as a present in Theo's neat architect's hand, for he had trained first as a designer and then as an historian of buildings. But now, so early in its execution, the garden was a slough of mud enclosed by a stone wall on two sides and the brick sides of buildings on the others with a stump in the middle where the dirt-streaked plans were spread, held down at the corners by bits of rock, with two old men studying them. There were two shovels leaning on the stump and a wheelbarrow a little ways away full of manure, and the men were talking, animatedly; the taller one in dirty corduroys and a shapeless hunting jacket was May's father, the longest-lived president the college had known, and his companion, dirtier although in a suit, thinner and only a little shorter, was the head gardener, Archie Beddoes, himself a graduate of the college, where his mother had been a cook who had caught a professor's eye and married him, the sort of scandal that left no one unhappy. It was said that he drank, but so did May's father, and often with Beddoes, which, May had come to feel, was safe and discreet enough, or would be so long as both kept their tempers in check. Even when they didn't, the consequences were not usually dire. Beddoes, cursing and complaining, was always back at work the next morning. They were arguing now, May was certain, and she was equally certain that it hardly mattered.

"Father," she said, as she chose the least sloppy way through the mud and walked up to them, "I won't have you harassing my lieutenant, who is, after all, only carrying out my instructions." She pointed at the plans, but she realized as she looked at her father's stern face, that whatever was troubling him, Beddoes had nothing to do with it.

"I wish to talk to you, May," her father said, and he took her shoulder, as he had when she was a girl, turned her around, and walked her in front of him towards the gate. She felt the tension in his hand, the restraint. They passed the bench where Calvin had been sitting—empty now—but her father ignored her suggestion that they talk there. He was steering her along the flagstone walkway towards the old stone edifice where the college offices were. All of the campus buildings were in the plain, enlightened federal style, except for this one, which, although it seemed much older, almost medieval, was the newest, the determined folly of a donor who was also on the board. Inside, it was all heavy wood furniture and textured wallpaper and dark drapes. The registrar's office was the large one to the left with its banks of files; to the right were the premises Theo would soon occupy as provost and Andrew's small suite where finances were handled. Her father's study was up the broad central flight of stairs and took up the full width of the building. He had not wholly lost his manners. He pulled out one of the chairs from the central table where meetings were held and offered it to her. Then he walked around the table to sit opposite.

Her father was tall, he had once been gaunt and was now only a little fleshy, his beard was full and still had streaks of black. The wire glasses that might have made a less imposing man look scholarly or kindly only made his face more intently hawklike. She was not afraid of him; she never had been, since she recognized a stratagem when she saw one and understood that his anger almost always offered cover for the time he needed to put a plan in place. It was no surprise to her, then, that he began by feigning an irritated concern with what he really cared nothing about.

"Are you still determined to attend the opera this evening despite what you know of its subject and despite your husband's absence?"

"Father, you know that I am, and I know that it doesn't matter at all to you. Will you be supervising my reading next? Or will you just get on with it and tell me what is really troubling you?"

He picked up the pipe that lay on a brass dish on the table and began to roll it in his cupped hands. "When did your husband say that he would be getting back?"

Ah, there it is, May thought; the reason for mentioning the opera at all was to mention Theo's absence. "He did not say. It depends on how quickly the lawyers do their work. There are a number of small legacies."

"And is there any contention?"

"I don't think that is likely." May looked closely at her father. Something in his voice, some strain of anxiety or urgency had caught her ear. "There's no fear about Theo's bequest, Father. His family does everything by the letter. And we hardly need it with his position, although one is never ungrateful. Is there some reason you are anxious for his return?"

"Yes." His words became more measured. "I should like to talk to him about your brothers." He put the pipe on the table, slouched back in his chair and tucked his hands in his jacket pockets as he often did when some matter had been pondered long enough and a decision had been made. "And I should like to ask him to become president of this college when I step down."

She managed not to gasp. "You have spoken about this to Andrew?" Clearly Calvin knew nothing of his father's change of heart.

"I have not, and I will not until I have Theo's agreement. You know that, May. You know that I do things properly. What you mean is have your brothers given me any new reason for displeasure. And as you know this must be the case, what you truly want to know is what they have done."

"I have just spoken to Calvin."

"Calvin... Well, in his case I have accepted defeat. I shall give him what he wants. He thinks it is freedom. That is not what he'll have, not with Ada. He will have a lifetime of her disappointment as she doles out the checks."

So he doesn't know, thought May, and he has turned against Andrew anyway. It was a kind of deliverance that the one advantage she might have sought over her brother, preferment for Theo, was granted without her even asking, and yet the tool she might have used to gain it was still hers.

"And Andrew?"

"It is not Andrew. He would do. He would always do. Or at least he would serve. It is his wife. Twice this week, I have found her in tears, once on the seat under the ginkgo in the old garden and once on the steps of the library. As if she had almost fainted where she stood. And this morning, she came into this office"—he spread his arms to take it in, and the gesture made the place seem a kind of sanctuary and Marjorie’s presence a violation—“and stood there like a statue, a weeping statue, with her hands clutched across her stomach and would not speak. When I asked her what the trouble was, she turned and fled.

"You were not kind to her?"

"There was no time for kindness. In any case, the situation is clear. There is a scandal somewhere, and it is only a matter of time until it is known. Or else she is having a breakdown, as she did after the engagement was announced." He inhaled sharply, as if to steady himself against such infelicities. "In either case, the college cannot afford any closer association with her than we will unavoidably have. I will discuss this with Andrew as soon as Theo returns."

"And how do you think he will respond?"

"As you would expect. Indignation followed by rancor. And then calculation."

He is laughing, thought May. He is silent, his face is stern, but he is laughing. Then she looked up and saw her father's expression, and it was all sorrow.

"Your brothers," he said, looking not at her, but somewhere beyond the sun- streaked window, "they are exactly who they have always been, and education and experience only make them more themselves. Your Theo understands that, May. He and I have talked about Andrew's character—no, not about the position, not yet—and he agrees with my assessment, and not just because he can seldom bear to disagree too stridently. Andrew is a conniver, of course, and he loves himself enough to scheme well, and these are useful qualities, but only if there is someone to make use of them. And of course they are qualities that make no one happy, least of all a sentimentalist like Marjorie. Andrew is only half-smart, so he chose a woman he thought he could deceive into believing that she could be happy with what he had to offer, even without what he withheld. But she is not, and she is almost ready to let everyone know."

"And what about me, Father? Who have I always been?" She could not keep the edge out of her voice, although whether it was whetted by anger at his presumption or fear of what he might say, she did not know. "If it would please you to tell me."

"Nothing of what I know pleases me," he answered, and she was as surprised to see that he was smiling as she had been earlier to recognize his sadness, “except this. You are, you have always been, lucky. Adequate to the task, and lucky too. But you have, you always had, regrettable taste in music and a mild case of Bohemianism. So I know that you will enjoy your Puccini."

If May's first impulse was to go to Marjorie, to offer whatever comfort she could without, somehow, admitting that she knew the cause of the unhappiness, her second thought was to do nothing at all. She had a good deal to consider. There were the responsibilities of Theo's ascendancy, and its ramifications. She had no doubt that he would accept it, but the same loyalty that ensured this would also make certain that he suffered guilt at supplanting Andrew, and she would be the one to find the words that would help spare him at least some of that. But should those words be spoken to him or to Andrew, for if Andrew were to withdraw before Theo even knew of her father's decision, would not things be easier? A letter of sympathy to Marjorie would be simple to draft; she need say nothing more than that she had heard she was troubled and wished it were not so. A second to Andrew, intimating that she... That she what? Her father expected her discretion, and so she would do nothing. She would think about the garden, and the best place to consider the new would be in the old.

All of this had gone through her mind in the time it took to descend the stairs from the president's office and then the steps to the path. To reach the garden, she had only to turn right across the campus green, pass the laboratory building, and go through the black gate. It was well past noon now, she could not be certain how much, and it was hot. Whether it was the sun or the unexpected turns of the day or that she had not really eaten, May felt dizzy and anxious to reach the shade of the trees. She thought she would rest on the bench under the big ginkgo until her head felt clearer; by the time she had passed through the gate, she simply had to sit, and it did not matter that the bench was occupied or even that it was Marjorie who sat there, not weeping, as her father’s fulminations might have led May to expect, but with something sharp, something flinty about her features that May had not seen before. She had a basket beside her, a few early blooming stalks of Asclepius piled in it, and a pruning knife lying on top.

“May I sit with you,” she asked.

Marjorie did not respond, and May, taking the place beside her, was too relieved by the coolness under the leaves, the calm of the well-established garden beds around them, the support of the bench slats to feel the concern she might have. Marjorie, whatever her faults, was never less than polite, but now her silence could have been taken for anger or rebuke, if May was not certain that it was distress that caused her sister-in-law to sit so rigidly, hands clasped in her lap but the fingers squeezing against each other, tension and a release that wasn’t.

“My father says you are troubled,” May began, “and I am sorry. Would you like...”

“What I would like...” Marjorie spoke without turning her head. She had a songlike voice, low but clear; now it was both harsh and whispery at once. “What I would like is for you, for all of you, for your whole damned family, to stop...”

“To stop what?”

Marjorie looked directly at her now, and if her face, still stony, expressed anything, it was incredulity. “To stop,” she said again. “Just that.”

“Do you mean Andrew?” May asked.

“Not just him. Him, yes. But not just him.”

“Then, Ada?”

“Ada?” There was uncertainty now in Marjorie’s expression, then something else. Her hands had gone still in her lap. “Why would Ada matter? She isn’t one of you...”

Before May could reply, she saw that Marjorie would not be misled by anything she might say. Marjorie stood, picked up her basket, and May would have risen too, but the weakness she had felt walking was back now, and she could only watch her sister-in-law walking down the path towards the brook at the garden’s center. She looked both fierce and diminished.

The opera was everything she had expected, from the fugue-like solemnity of the overture to the pathos of the ending, and through it all, just as her father knew, the sense of scandal that always hovers around an unadmitted truth. She was glad that Theo was not there; although he would have been pleased by the music and the production, he would also be quietly disapproving of the sources of her pleasure. She was still at a loss as to how to tell him about Andrew and Ada without giving the impression that she welcomed the opportunity to manipulate the situation to her advantage. As her car pulled away from the music hall and the driver turned to cross the bridge from Troy towards the college, she found that she did not wish to think as much as she thought she should about Theo, his new position, Andrew’s thwarted ambitions, any of it. Later, when she had cause to remember that evening, she would recall only that there was a tune in her head she could hardly recognize, sad and noble and betrayed and foreign.

About the Author

Jordan Smith

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Jordan Smith is primarily a poet, with seven full-length books, most recently Clare's Empire (The Hydroelectric Press) and The Light in the Film (University of Tampa Press, where For Appearances received the first Tampa Review Poetry Prize). His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction and Big Fiction. He lives in upstate New York and teaches at Union College.