Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shirley Hazzard On Being Caught In Flagrante Delicto

Here's the set-up: one afternoon in the 1950s, Paul Ivory, who is engaged to marry Tertia Drage, has just bedded Caroline Bell (and she him) on a lazy afternoon when they think no one will be about. Their idyll is disturbed, however, when Tertia drives up to the house and calls out for him. To forestall her from entering the house, Paul leaps to the window and speaks to her, pretending he is alone.

Paul was at the window now. He was leaning out, laconic. "Good God." He was smiling and leaning and making room for his casual elbows. 'Anything up?' There was the hard intimacy of tone, the naturalness with which he did not use her name. If he had even added so much as "Tertia."

Tertia Drage came right below the window: a pink dress, an upraised face. Perhaps she had not expected Paul to appear at once, but showed no surprise and, despite the standing down there, no sense of disadvantage. Any more than Paul did -- standing easy in, merely, the shirt and tie; and, as far as Tertia was concerned, fully dressed ...
Tertia says it's a beautiful afternoon, they should do something, Paul asks what they should do.
She raised a derisory hand. "You know the possibilities as well as I."

...Out of sight below the window Paul Ivory's bare feet had crossed themselves, negligent as his folded arms. Small fair hairs curled on his naked thighs. "Nothing too arduous," he said, or was saying, when from the fixing of Tertia's limbs he knew that Caro stood beside him.

He knew that Caro had come up behind him and was by his side at the window. Her bare shoulder, perfectly aloof, touched his own. He did not turn, but, as if he himself were Tertia Drage, saw Caro standing naked beside him at that high window and looking down; looking down on the two of them. It was he and Tertia, and Caroline Bell looking down on them. Caro's hand rested on the sill. She was wearing nothing but a small round watch.

Moments passed, or did not pass. Tertia stood impassive. Only that arm stayed raised, her gloved fist clenched and extended like a falconer's. She was looking straight up at Paul; not staring but looking hard and fast at him only. She said, "It's up to you."

"I"ll come down."

For perhaps the first time they met each other's eyes.

At the window Caro did not move. Paul withdrew and took up the rest of his clothes. His departure exposed completely the upper part of her body. Flesh-coloured light was striking her shoulder and making reddish streaks in heavy hair that fell over the collar-bone. Below, Tertia was walking round the car and opening the door. She got in, leaving the driver's seat free. In the room above, the bed creaked as Paul pulled on his canvas shoes. With no more than normal haste he took his own watch from the top of the bureau, glancing at it as he strapped it on. He might have been late for an appointment.
Yeow! I love the charged atmosphere of this confrontation, the heart-stopping moment when Caro appears at the window, and the utterly casual way in which Tertia and Paul indirectly seal their cynical union, and Caro's claim on Paul is obliterated.

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