The Getty kouros, purchased for nine million dollars in 1985, is believed by many to be a forgery. According to the Getty:
Certain elements of the statue have led to this questioning, especially a mixture of earlier and later stylistic traits and the use of marble from the island of Thasos at a date when its use is unexpected.
What the museum does not mention is that some of the paperwork accompanying the kouros was definitely fraudulent. I have my doubts about the authenticity of this statue, but it’s a very appealing piece.
This chapter includes adult content.
Over homemade pasta at Dino’s, which even Max had to agree was delicious, they began to talk of books. “What have you been reading?” she asked.
“Saul Bellow,” he said. “Norman Mailer.”
“Ah, taking the master class in misogyny.”
“Not at all. I happen to enjoy their prose,” he said mildly.
“When I read Bellow, not to mention Mailer, it’s like falling into a vat of testosterone. Suddenly I’m plunged into a world where the only minds that matter are male. I might as well be in ancient Greece.” She took a sip of wine. “You know what it is? It’s homoerotic. Men loving men, maleness, masculinity. Men, men, men.”
“What’s wrong with being a man and seeing the world as a man does?”
“Nothing, unless you have tunnel vision. By which I mean that you can’t recognize in a woman anything more than a tunnel.”
He twirled a forkful of fettucini. “And I suppose your favorite author is still Nabokov?” he said.
“I won’t deny that. Prose author, anyway.”
“You still have a crush on the pedophile Humbert Humbert?” This was an old argument from 1989, their year together.
“It’s not a crush. It’s more the artistry of Nabokov, that you can’t help but admire Humbert even as you recognize he’s a monster.”
“You don’t want old Humbert to paint your toenails?”
“Stop it. That’s completely unfair.” He was treading on dangerous ground.
“The slenderness of her downy limbs, like the velutinous surface of an infant butterfly’s tibia, ignited a lambent fire in my loins,” he declaimed, ridiculously, as she silently shook her head. “I bet you like John Banville, too.”
“What if I do?”
“I’m still waiting for him to write a book-length work without using the word flocculent,” he said witheringly.
“That’s enough. Let’s talk about something else.” The verbal battle was beginning to remind her, disturbingly, of the days when Max would put a stop to such combats by launching himself at her and tickling her until she begged for mercy. Then he would partially relent, stipulating that he would use his mouth now instead of his fingers. He would hold her down on the rug, gnawing at her ribcage like a hungry bear and pawing her breasts until they both grew unbearably excited. He would part her thighs with an insistent knee, and…Stop that. Max was married. She mustn’t let her thoughts wander in this direction. They should go back to Parnell, now.
“Yes, let’s,” he said, breaking in on her thoughts. “There’s something you need to know. I’m thinking of writing a paper about your Apollo.”
“You are?” She was diverted by this news. “Is that what you’re giving the keynote on?”
“No. I thought that might be… ungrateful given your kind invitation to the conference. But I’m going to bring it up at the roundtable on the Apollo, and I’m hoping you’ll allow me to examine the piece while I’m here.”
“What do you mean?” She didn’t like the sound of this.
“The Apollo. I’m going to demonstrate that it’s a fake.”
I felt guilty for not telling John that he wasn’t the first, but after all, he never asked me. I knew intuitively that this was how he saw me, and how he wanted to see me. He turned off the lights before he began undressing, perhaps self-conscious about his body, but I wasn’t disappointed. I liked his chest hair, which was soft and rather sparse, his lanky frame, still clothed in strong ropy muscles in spite of his age, even the thin, firm layer of fat over his abdomen. He had narrow hips, and his penis was long and elegant like the rest of him. He rolled on a condom before I could tell him that it didn’t matter, and took me in his arms, kissing me once more before he slid into me. After a couple of strokes, he asked me how it felt, whether I was OK. I nodded into his shoulder, silently. It felt wonderful, and I wanted to moan, to make him go faster, and harder. Instead I began to move, pressing my hips upward to meet him. He took a surprisingly long time to come, and I was able to enjoy myself, though not to reach an orgasm. Finally, he tensed and, very much in spite of himself, grabbed my behind in his hands and drove into me hard.
Oh dear. This is all very explicit, isn’t it? Does it make you wonder whether I’m coming on to you, Jim, when I write this way? That’s not my intent. In order to understand my life with John, you have to understand our sexual relationship. And besides, I need to write it. After I finished the last few entries, I read them compulsively, over and over again, and felt comforted. But I’m very glad I didn’t try to tell you all this in person. To speak all these things aloud would be unthinkable. And perhaps it is better if I call you Dr. Fenske.
That first time, I thought we were done, but after a while John said that we hadn’t had dessert, and he got out a box of chocolate covered cherries. Good ones with liqueur in them, not those nasty Russell Stover things. He pulled me into his lap, naked on the bed, and started to feed me the cherries, one at a time. As the chocolate melted onto his fingers, he wiped them on my nipples, and then bent his head to lick my breasts clean. I wonder whether you noticed my breasts, Dr. Fenske? Most men do, even now. They have caused issues of self-esteem for me, because I’m not always certain whether a success at work is due to my merit or my breasts. Thank goodness that most academic journals are blind-reviewed.
I had a panic attack today, while I was in the grocery store. There is always that first period of confused terror at what is happening inside my body, before I recognize the symptoms and begin to tell myself not to worry, to let it pass, to breathe deeply but slowly until the choking lump in my throat subsides. I want to burst screaming out of doors, to outrun whatever is clutching at me, and head for the hills. The ancients thought that panic was caused by the goat-footed god. Oddly enough, it helps me to imagine that Pan is the one pursuing me, as he does lovely young maidens or youths over the spare landscapes of Greek vase paintings. He has a massive, erect member, which precedes the rest of him as he races to overtake the object of his passion. Quite humorous, he is. Poor Pan was unlucky in love. Usually his prey escaped him through a transformation— Pitys became the pine tree, and Syrinx the reed. I picture myself running until I tire, then slowing and then becoming safely rooted in the earth, to engage in an incremental process of contemplative growth, sprouting and budding into something strange and new.
After another couple of trysts at his house, John asked me to marry him. He said that perhaps he was an old fool, and a selfish one, but that he loved me deeply and wanted us to be together. He didn’t want any more children, and he pressed me again about whether I did. By this time, I’d explained to him that I couldn’t have children. I always had very heavy periods, and when I reached my early twenties, the bleeding was so bad that it caused recurrent, severe anemia. The doctors explained that there was no known cause, and no treatment except hysterectomy. Everyone thought it was tragic, that I was losing my ability to reproduce at such a young age. They all tried to comfort me by explaining that I could adopt, or even use a surrogate. One of the other graduate students, who happened to be a Catholic and a man, told me that I could never be truly fulfilled as a woman unless I was a mother. In short, people’s reaction to my condition was worse than the reality of it.
Even John worried that I would eventually change my mind in favor of adoption, or leave him for a younger man who was interested in fatherhood. I think it was my steadfast denial of this that caused him to propose. His belief that he had deflowered me may also have been a factor. He told me that he might not be young, but that he had a great deal to offer. Certain assets, including his house, were to go to his children, but he would see to it that I was provided for. He would guide my career, and his retirement would coincide with my graduation, so his job would be no constraint. We would travel wherever we needed to, and he would continue his research.
I have often wondered why I have no desire to be a parent. I suspect that I get it from my mother, Margaret Whipple, a very eccentric woman to say the least. Mother is an academic too, a Medievalist whose life’s work has been a study of the early fourteenth-century text of Ovid moralisé, an Old French version of the Metamorphoses. When Mother became pregnant with me, she told the father, whoever he was, to begone and darken her doorstep no more. To this day, I don’t know the identity of my father, and she refuses to divulge it, saying that he was nobody of importance. Mother has always been a prickly, socially inept person, who preferred her books to all human intercourse. Of course, my existence proves that on at least one occasion, she preferred intercourse to books. I picture some unsuspecting FedEx man or plumber, suddenly pulled into the bedroom to confront a fierce, naked Margaret. Once she found herself saddled with me, however, she took a kindly interest in her offspring, as she might have done with a particularly engaging and educable pet. She was quite physically affectionate, at least when I was a young child, but left me to my own devices much of the time. She claims that I toilet-trained myself, and taught myself to read, with very little guidance.
At this point, Dr. Fenske, I imagine you saying to yourself that of course Andy has a Daddy thing— quite obviously, she never had a father, so she married John to fill that gap. I have spent many a sleepless night asking myself this question, though only after John died. While we were married, I never tried to psychoanalyze our relationship. Looking back, I can see that our sexual life could be construed this way, on both my side and his. Once he reconciled his conscience to the fact that I was in my twenties, John reveled in my youthfulness. He loved to hold me on his lap, to kiss me and feed me candies. On the other hand, he never talked down to me when it came to the life of the mind, and he listened with respect to what I had to say. We even co-authored a paper once, on the seventeen year old Artemisia Gentileschi and how she had come to paint the masterful, heartbreaking “Susanna and the Elders” in 1610. It is ironic that this example springs to mind, as many claimed that the painting was her father’s work.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: That I could “never be fulfilled as a woman” unless I had children was said to me many years ago by a fellow graduate student (male). It amazes me, the way certain men presume to define womanhood. They don’t know jack about being a woman. And why does nobody ever talk about what a man must do in order to “to be fulfilled as a man”?
I wrote this story to please myself, which is how the pointy-headed discussion of Bellow, Mailer, Nabokov and Banville got into the mix. Andy’s opinions reflect my own. For me, reading the work of Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow was like a slap in the face. Bellow could not imagine the possibility of a woman who was his intellectual equal. I left the character of John Elliott ambiguous. Obviously he was drawn to Andy because of her youth and physical beauty, but without a brilliant mind, her looks would have meant nothing to him. Andy idolized him and never quite considered herself his equal. But I like to think that he knew better.
As for my deep attachment to Humbert Humbert, I offer no excuses.