A question of vision. From the sun’s seat, after all, humanity is an abstraction. Earth a mere spinning blip. Closer, the city a knot of light between other knots; even closer, and buildings gleamed, slowly separating. Dawn in the windows revealed bodies, all the same. Only with focus came specifics, mole by nostril, tooth stuck to a dry bottom lip in sleep, the papery skin of an armpit.

Lotto poured cream into coffee and woke his wife. A song played on the tape deck, eggs were fried, dishes washed, floors swept. Beer and ice carried in, snacks prepared. By midafternoon, all was shining,ready.

“Nobody’s here yet. We could—” Lotto said into Mathilde’s ear.

He pulled her long hair away from her nape, kissed the knob of bone there. The neck was his, belonging to the wife who was his, shining, under his hands.

Love that had begun so powerfully in the body had spread luxuriantly into everything. They had been together for five weeks. The first, there had been no sex, Mathilde a tease. Then came the weekend camping trip and the besotted first time and the morning piss where he found his junk bloodied stem to stern and he knew she’d been a virgin, that she hadn’t wanted to sleep with him because of it.

He turned to her in the new light, dipping her face in the frigid stream to wash it, coming up cheeks flushed and glazed with water, and he knew her to be the purest person he’d ever met, he, who had been primed for purity. He knew then they would elope, they would graduate, they would go to live in the city and be happy together there. And they were happy, if still strange to each other.

Yesterday, he’d found she was allergic to sushi. This morning, when he was talking to his aunt on the telephone, he’d watched Mathilde toweling off out of the shower and it struck him hard that she had no family at all. The little she spoke of childhood was shadowed with abuse. He’d imagined it vividly: poverty, beat-up trailer, spiteful—she implied worse—uncle. Her most vivid memories of her childhood were of the television that was never turned off. Salvation of school, scholarship, modeling for spare change. They had begun to accrete stories between them. How, when she was small, isolated in the country, she’d been so lonely that she let a leech live on her inner thigh for a week. How she’d been discovered for modeling by a gargoyle of a man on a train. It must have taken an immense force of will for Mathilde to turn her past, so sad and dark, blank behind her. Now she had only him. It moved him to know that for her he was everything. He wouldn’t ask for more than she’d willingly give. 

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

After being so long a nomad, he was rooted in this place, rooted in this wife, with her fine features and sad, cattish eyes and freckles and gangly tall body with its tang of the forbidden.

Outside, a New York June day steamed. Soon there’d be the party, dozens of college friends descending on them for the housewarming, though the house was already sizzling with summer. For now they were safe, inside.

“It’s six. We invited them for five-thirty. We can’t,” Mathilde said.

But he wasn’t listening, he put his hands up her peacock skirt and under the band of her cotton panties, sweated through at the crotch. They were married. He was entitled. She tilted her hips back into him and put her palms on either side of the cheap long mirror that was, with the mattress and a ziggurat of suitcases where they kept their clothes, all their bedroom held. A tiger of light from the transoms prowled the clean pine floor.

He slid her underwear to her knees and said, “We’ll be quick.”

Point: mooted. He watched in the mirror as she closed her eyes and the flush crept over her cheeks, lips, the hollow of her neck. The backs of her legs were humid and trembling against his knees.

Lotto felt lush. With what? Everything. The apartment in the West Village with its perfect garden, tended by that British harridan from upstairs, whose fat thighs, even now, were among the tiger lilies in the window. One-bedroom but enormous, underground but rent-controlled. From the kitchen or bathroom, one saw pedestrian feet passing, bunions and ankle tattoos; but it was safe down here, buried against calamity, insulated from hurricanes and bombs by earth and layers of street. After being so long a nomad, he was rooted in this place, rooted in this wife, with her fine features and sad, cattish eyes and freckles and gangly tall body with its tang of the forbidden.

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Such terrible things his mother had said when he’d called to tell her he was married. Horrible things. It made him misty to remember them. But today even the city was laid out like a tasting menu; it was the newly shining nineties; girls wore glitter on their cheekbones; clothes were shot with silver thread; everything held a promise of sex, of wealth. Lotto would gobble it all up.

All was beauty, all abundance. He was Lancelot Satterwhite. He had a sun blazing in him. This splendid everything was what he was screwing now. His own face looked back at him behind Mathilde’s flushed and gasping one. His wife, a caught rabbit. The pulse and throb of her. Her arms buckled, her face went pale, and she fell into the mirror, and it gave a snap, and a crack crazed their heads in uneven halves.

The doorbell gave a long slow trill.

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