Saturday, June 13, 2009

Very Old Bones

A spirited 64-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man. But the older woman is his aunt, and the younger man is married.

Wait, there’s more! He’s vulnerable, struggling toward sanity after what amounts to a nervous breakdown, and his aunt has accepted the responsibility to care for him during his recovery.

This situation is a brief but powerful section of William Kennedy’s novel Very Old Bones, which I finished reading recently. Kennedy is one of my favorite writers. All of his books push boundaries: of language, of sex, of morality, even of reality. But in 1954, when Aunt Molly and her nephew Orson become intimate at an old country hotel where he’s recovering, the boundary that’s pushed has to do with tenderness and propriety.

Orson misses his wife, Giselle, who spends months on the road taking photos for Life magazine. Molly misses her dead husband, Walter. Together, the four of them waltz to music on a record player.

Step, slide, pivot, reverse, my hand on Molly’s back, her full breasts against me, our thighs touching through her dress and my trousers as we spun around the floor, she so young, and I so beyond age of any number, just keepers of love in our arms, we creating love with our presence, my cheek against hers, her hair touching my eyes. When the music stopped I started it again, and we heard the scratchings and skips of the song and we danced to that too, and then I replayed it again, yet again, and neither of us said anything, nor did we fully let go of one another while I moved the needle back to the beginning. Her hair, its yellow all but gone into gray, was what Giselle’s would be like years from now, her body in its age fuller than Giselle’s.

    “Do you love her very much still?” Molly asked.

            “I do. As you still love Walter.”

            “We are serious people about our love.”

            “We love. It’s what we do.”

            And then I kissed her as one kisses one’s love, a long kiss, and then I stopped and we held each other, neither of us there, of course, both of us looking at love, of course. And it looks alike sometimes.

Later, before a fire in a hearth, Molly tells Orson of the greatest sadness of her life. She already knows his. It is clear to Orson that the two are falling in love “with each other’s failed love.”

[W]e sat on the sofa and watched the fire grow, me keeping my distance from her, yet close, close, and we looked at one another and we smiled at what we saw. I had to touch her face, and then her hair, and then her neck, and I had to let my hand move down to her breast, and I touched that, and she said, “Yes, do that,” and I felt the softness and the fullness with just that one hand. She touched my face and ran her fingers through my hair, kissed me with the fullness of her mouth, then took my hand and put it back in my lap.

            “We must find a way not to be naughty,” she said.

 That quickly, the affair of an evening ends. But the longing for love's satisfactions continues.

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