Genuine kouros statues are rare enough that they are given individual names. The “New York Kouros” is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He’s one of the oldest Greek kouroi and still has a very stylized, “geometric” appearance, with bulging eyes. Interestingly, however, there is scarcely a trace of the Archaic smile. This makes me question the theory that the smile was the result of early Greek experiments in carving the new medium of marble.
Andy stood at the door of John’s office, surveying the tall mahogany shelving, the heavy desk and office chair, the small picture of Edith and the larger one of herself with John on their honeymoon. A few months after John’s death, she had cleaned out the contents of his bedroom and bath. She wasn’t sentimental about his clothes. Reasoning that someone else could make better use of them, she gave them all to Goodwill except for a favorite brown sweater with patch pockets. It had his evergreen scent, and she liked to wrap herself in it and lounge on the sofa in winter, drinking tea and reading. His skis, his clarinet, his luggage, all went to Goodwill. But his study remained untouched.
During the years of their marriage, John’s study had been his work space, his private domain. She never entered it without an invitation, and she wouldn’t have dreamed of snooping through his things. After his death, it comforted her to sit in his big chair, slowly turning around and around, seeing the same books and pictures that he had seen every day. Now she switched on his computer. It didn’t contain much: a few financial spreadsheets, of which she also had copies, and old drafts of various papers long since published. John had, in fact, been a bit of a Luddite, only reluctantly taking to the computer when it became clear that journals and publishers would no longer accept manuscripts prepared the old-fashioned way. He had maintained a wide correspondence, and spent much of his time writing letters in a beautiful, controlled hand of which Andy was envious. She herself was old enough to have received elementary school lessons in penmanship, a skill now deemed superfluous in the schools. It was one of the few subject areas she had failed to master.
She trailed her hands over the bookshelves. John’s books reflected his personality, and many of them contained his handwritten notes. The study was large, one of the most spacious rooms in the house, and had the morning light as well as the best views of the garden. She decided that she would clear enough shelves to let her marry her library with John’s, and use the study herself.
Now she went to the tall file cabinets and began to sort through the drawers. There was a set of personal papers having to do with John’s family and childhood; these she would offer to Sarah-Jane and Thomas. Two drawers were wholly taken up with xeroxed articles and offprints, alphabetized by author. Other drawers held drafts of John’s older papers, and records of permissions to publish photographs. Several bulging file folders held collections of letters from colleagues and former students; each was carefully labeled with the name of the correspondent.
Finally she went to the desk, which had its own separate file drawer. It contained a series of folders labeled by year, all with the initials MD. She pulled out a folder and began to read. It was a letter from a colleague or student, who spoke of his emotion on first visiting the house where John Keats lived beside the Spanish Steps in Rome, and on seeing a garden snail slowly gliding across the humble gravestone of Keats in the Protestant cemetery. She read on for a while, admiring the author’s sensitivity to the beauties of the ancient city, and his uncanny ability to recreate its sights in the mind of the reader. John must have loved this. Looking at the last page, she saw that it was from Max. So they corresponded. For years, it would seem. Did John keep this from me? No. It simply hadn’t occurred to him that his friendship with Max would be of such import to her.
On several occasions during their marriage, John had mentioned Max, noting that he shared many interests with her and urging her to contact him regarding this or that art historical issue on which she was working. These suggestions had always made her uncomfortable. Occasionally she was able to report that she’d talked to Max at a conference or read some of his work, and with this John had seemed satisfied.
She picked up the bundle of files, took them to the kitchen table, her favorite workspace, and made a pot of tea.
John’s son and daughter were shocked and displeased by our marriage. Before our wedding (we eloped, and had an idyllic honeymoon in Sorrento and Capri), Sarah-Jane invited me to lunch. She was, and is, five years older than I, an attorney who gave up her practice after several rounds of in vitro produced a much-anticipated pregnancy. From the start, we had different world views. Her objective in asking me to lunch was twofold. First, she wanted to dissuade me from marrying John.
“Papa only wants a nursemaid for his old age,” she told me over shrimp cocktails at the revolting country club she had selected as the lunch venue. “Have you thought of that?”
In fact, I had not thought of it, but I was so naïve that the prospect did not worry me. I foolishly pictured myself taking his blood pressure, or bringing him tea and toast on a tray. In the event, we were both fortunate that he did not suffer a long illness. John died suddenly from a stroke, which crept up to him on soft feet. I awoke that fine morning, when I was forty-one, to find him already beginning to grow cold beside me. We had been married sixteen years.
Sarah-Jane’s second objective was to learn whether my union with John would lead to progeny who might compete with her own children-to-be, who were still no more than rays of light passing through a rack of test tubes, somewhere in St. Louis. At least I eased her worries on that point. Finally she suggested that I was a gold-digger, making use of my feminine wiles to fleece her dotard father of his riches. As she said this, her gaze lingered on my cleavage.
I laughed. “If I wanted money, why would I pick John? He’s not a big spender.” She had to admit that this was true. Elliott was a Scottish name, and her father had always shown a Scotsman’s proverbial frugality. I still cannot decide whether it was a virtue or a vice. John would spend on important things, but he was fussy about small things, and though he was an abstemious eater, he hated it whenever I left food on my plate at a restaurant, or threw away leftovers after they sat in the refrigerator too long. We didn’t buy each other gifts on the usual days, and when there were gifts, they were modest: a book, a glass vase, a corkscrew with an inlaid wood handle.
“I’m marrying John because I love him,” I told her. “If you’re worried about the financial arrangements, I suggest you talk to him.” She did. I suspect that she delivered some ultimatum involving denial of access to a precious future grandchild. In this she miscalculated, for John had as little interest in his grandchildren as I did. He suffered them to come unto him when they arrived, and he made sure that Sarah-Jane and Thomas received their share of his estate, but that was all. They were both quite incensed when he sold their childhood home in order to take up with me, even though they received the proceeds.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: When I was in Rome, I saw the Keats-Shelley house beside the Spanish Steps, but I didn’t go inside. I wish I had, because the museum possesses a good collection of their manuscripts. Keats died there of TB in 1821.
I walked past the Protestant cemetery while I was wandering about in Rome, but oddly enough, I couldn’t find the entrance! I love old graveyards. I’d like to go back and see that one, and also Père Lachaise in Paris.
I have always thought how very difficult to go through your beloveds belongings once they had shuffled off this mortal coil. Selfishly, I hope I never have to. What a stepdaughter. (I much prefer this non smiling kouros.)
Haha! Not a fan of the Archaic Smile? Well, it’s an acquired taste. I am fond of the smiling fellas.
Yes, I haven’t had to do that sad task but it seems most of us will experience it at some point in our lives.
Intriguing that there was a connection between John and Max… I wonder what that is going to be about.
And ouch, what a nasty daughter.
Haha! I’ve noticed that people can get really nasty where questions of inheritance are raised. Human nature, I suppose.
Sylvie G said:
You are brave to explore these waters Linnet 🙂
Thank you Sylvie. It’s the most “serious” story I’ve written. Usually I prefer a very light touch with plenty of humor.
I comment before reading this chapter, sorry. But I love the protestant cemetery; yes, entrance is a little bit hidden, you have to walk up the back street of it. This is my favourite tomb (although I paid hommage also to Keats’ grave, of course): https://wormwoodscrubs.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/dscn6376-copy.jpg
I’m determined to find it next time. On my last visit I was wandering about alone, quite dehydrated, and finally I had to give up. I kept looking at that wall and thinking, “there’s cool shade inside if I could only get in.” A secret garden!
That grave sculpture is lovely. I’m sure there are many treasures there.
Rome still on my to do list, as is Pere Lachaise, but i share your like of old cemeteries, used to go often to the one in Edinburgh and imagine the lives of people hundreds of years ago. Strange also how the monuments themselves reflect the changing view of people about death and life…
John knew her well, didn’t he to gift her the book and urge her to move on… I hope she manages to merge her things with his and make it her own, i just feel it is time for her to become more herself, or find out who she is without the constant comparison/aspiration/modelling to his ideals 🙂
Interesting about the correspondence with Max, wonder if John knew more than he said…
The daughter is quite something, but then again… doesn’t strike me a warm family relationship in any case, what with him feeling little attachment to the grandchildren. And i think you are right, when money is concerned things can become nasty very quickly.
Graveyards are amazing places, peaceful and beautiful yet full of sadness and history. I like to read the names on the stones, especially the old-time ones, and I like the sculptures.
Yes, I think the story’s about whether Andy can move on with her life even though John was her soulmate. It’s not only a matter of dealing with grief and loss but of creating herself anew, since John was so dominant in shaping her identity as a young woman.