Another Marvelous Thing

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Authors: Laurie Colwin
which predicted the fluctuation of interest rates. He had two sisters, Helena and Alice. Helena, Francis seemed to remember, lived with her husband and children in Scotland. He could not remember what Alice did. Perhaps Billy had never said. Grey had studied Russian and as an undergraduate had had a fellowship for a year at the University of Leningrad. He was a minor expert on iron curtain country economies.
    He was five feet eleven and a half, had wavy brown hair, and wore the kind of glasses the National Health gives out—plain, round, with a wire rim. He liked racket sports—had Francis once entertained the notion of playing squash with him?—and also loved soccer.
    The only subject on which Billy was forthcoming about Grey was his relationship to the natural world: he was a trout fisherman, a tier of flies, a finder and cataloger of bird’s nests, fossils, animal bones. He was interested in flora and fauna of all kinds, in contrast to Francis, who liked cut flowers and domestic animals such as Irish terriers and beef cows.
    And what did this amount to? Billy’s real life was Grey. They almost looked alike: well made, dark-haired, solid.
    These reflections made his heart pound.
    Every once in a while he would try to snag another crumb of information from his beloved.
    â€œAbout you and Grey,” he would begin. A perfectly blank look would cover Billy’s features. She did not approve of this sort of conversation. Francis had to admit that she had never solicited anything about Vera: he had always told her more than she ever wanted to know.
    â€œWhy not discuss it?” Francis said.
    Billy gave him a long look and said it was a moral issue.
    â€œI don’t see this as a moral issue,” Francis said.
    â€œHow fascinating,” said Billy. “You don’t see adultery as a moral issue.”
    â€œNo, I don’t,” Francis said defensively. “This is the twentieth century. We are two grown people who are hurting no one at all. We are sincerely fond of one another. I think what we are doing is entirely on the up-and-up. And besides, if it is immoral, you don’t have much right getting sticky on smaller points like not talking about your husband.”
    When Francis looked at Billy he saw an expression on her face he had never seen before, of awful sadness and tension. It made him realize that she did see this as a moral issue. How far apart they were!
    â€œDo you feel you’re doing something wrong?” said Francis in the fatherly tone he could not prevent and which she hated.
    â€œObviously.”
    â€œSo why do you do it?”
    â€œObviously I can’t triumph over my immoral side,” said Billy, and that was the end of that conversation.
    Francis had actually been shocked. How hopeless it seemed ever to know another person!
    Often he asked Billy if he might stay over and sleep with her in her bed just to see what she would say. He felt he was entitled to this barometer of her feeling.
    He asked as he was putting on his coat.
    â€œWhy don’t we go over to your house and sleep in your bed?” she said, as she often did.
    Francis, of course, did not answer because he did not ever want Billy to know what great appeal this idea had for him. As he drove home slowly in the snow he wondered how he was going to account for his time when Vera called, if, in fact, she had called during the day. He made up a double feature of outer-space horror movies— Avengers from Planet X and Shards of Death . Francis often went to what Vera thought were idiotic films, but he considered them material and often used them in his columns.
    But Vera had not called all day, and when she did call, she was tired and Francis was tired and therefore he did not get to use his invented movies. This depressed him. Even more depressing was the icy coldness of the sheets as he slipped into bed. He lay half frozen and then, in a fit of longing, he dialed Billy’s

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