My favorite Archaic Smile is the one on the Moschophoros or Calf-Bearer (ca. 570). He looks quite pleased about something. Maybe the little calf on his shoulders is destined to be the centerpiece of a feast, but calves were not common sacrificial animals. I’d like to think he’s a good herdsman reuniting the calf with its mother. His pose was later copied in images of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
This post includes adult content.
Andy collected her bags from the hotel and they took a taxi to Max’s small apartment in Chelsea. It was a modest affair, but no doubt a two-bedroom anywhere in Manhattan was very expensive. The furniture was just as she would have imagined. The forest-green sofa was asymmetrical and modern, yet comfortable, with large matching pillows. Each piece in the apartment appeared unique, handmade, and there was a thick rug on the floor of the living room, in an striking rust-red color. The walls were full of black and white photographs of Rome, Athens, and Paris. “Most of my books are in my office at work,” he said. “Not much room for them here.”
“But it’s perfect. I can picture you reading in this chair,” she said, pointing to a capacious upholstered chair that matched the rug in hue, but differed in shade. He set down her suitcase and took her carryon bag and coat from her, then picked up a remote and turned on the stereo. It was Marvin Gaye: smooth, mellow, and sexy. Surprised, she laughed, stepped out of her shoes and walked over the thick-piled rug, enjoying the softness of it beneath her toes. The view from the window was of Chelsea warehouses, but there was a flower stall on the street below with a profusion of fall colors: yellow, orange, red.
“Andy.” He was behind her, in his shirt sleeves. “Do you know how much I’ve thought about you, since that visit in April? The minute I saw you in the airport, I wanted to throw you down and make love to you.” She turned and he kissed her, his big hands easing around her torso. One went to her upper back, and one cupped her behind, as his tongue met hers. She put her arms around his neck and touched his soft hair. It felt so right to be with him. Strange, yet not-strange. His mouth tasted good. She savored the kiss for a few seconds, and then said, “I wanted you too. I couldn’t, because you were married.”
“I know. I wasn’t ready to tell you about Sandra. But I came because I had to see you.”
“And the cemetery, and the Apollo?”
“That’s what I told myself. But all the time, it was you. God, Andy, it hit me hard every time John spoke of you. To him, you were the most desirable woman in the world.” He buried his face in her neck, open mouthed. She started to feel light-headed. He spoke softly into her ear. “After Sandra’s accident, he avoided mentioning you. And then he died, and I missed him so much. Would it bother you, to talk about him sometimes?”
“No,” she said. “I’d like that.”
They sank to their knees, facing each other, and he placed an open hand over each breast, tracing her curves lightly through the fabric of her cotton shirt. The warmth of his touch excited her, and she involuntarily drew her shoulders back, thrusting her breasts forward into his hands. “I remember these tits,” he told her.
“It’s been a few years, Max. They’re not as perky as when I was twenty-two.” She reached down, running her fingers over the front of his jeans, then pressing her palm against him.
He seemed to shiver, looking into her eyes. “Get your clothes off, Andy.”
She began to undress with a sense of anticipation. She wanted to hurry, but held herself back in order to savor each moment, knowing he was doing the same. She felt a slight trepidation about showing herself to him after so many years. For her own part, she knew she would welcome the sight and feel of his naked body. It could not be otherwise.
When they were both bare-skinned, they paused, each gazing gravely at the other in concentrated appreciation. He studied her with the same intent look he had bestowed on the Apollo, almost as though he was about to reach for a magnifier. His eyes went first to her breasts, then slowly slid down along her waist, hips and thighs as she kneeled on the rug. He took her by the shoulders, and fit his mouth over hers. His kisses were rougher, wilder than John’s. Then he said, “I’m going to keep you naked all weekend.”
He had more chest hair than she remembered. His body was firm and well-muscled. He’s seven years younger than John was when I met him, she thought wonderingly. The dimensions and shape of his penis were still familiar to her, and she pushed him backwards onto the rug to kiss him and close her lips over him, as the heat of arousal surged within her. He made a few low noises, but didn’t interfere with her explorations.
She straddled him, enjoying the feeling of being in charge. Soon he would fill her, complete her, but she would be the one to determine the moment of their union. “It’s been so long,” he said. She could see he was moved, almost to tears. His eyes went to her breasts again as she leaned forward over him, and he caught the left one, kissing the taut nipple.
“So long since you had sex, or since you and I had sex?” she asked. Suddenly, she felt ridiculously happy.
“Both. Andy, I’m glad it’s you.” She slid down onto him and they began to move together.
Today, after our session, I realized that I haven’t had a panic attack since the Institute conference. Max Desmond, a colleague I’ve mentioned before in this journal, came to the conference and suggested that a famous sculpture at the Institute was a fake. I was furious, and that anger shook me up. It rearranged my interior calculus. I devoted all my energies to proving what I already knew, that he was dead wrong.
Then I went to see him in New York, and found myself in bed with him. To be accurate, I was on the floor with him, and then we were in bed, and then on the sofa, and then on his dining table. We didn’t leave the apartment all weekend, and I took the train home feeling sore but languorously, magnificently satisfied. We both know we’ll be seeing each other again.
Max challenges me in a way that John never did. He’s more my antagonist than my teacher. It’s quite invigorating, even if I sometimes want to brain him and wipe that little smile off his face.
Making love to someone you care for, after an interval of many years, is touching. It has all the excitement of the new, yet there is also a comfort level, as when you pick up a book you started long ago, and loved, but laid aside one day for something important. There are still a great many things I don’t know about Max, a fact that delights me. Until I spent that weekend with him, I never realized that he is burdened with an odd Classical name, just as I am. His parents conceived him on a picnic blanket inside the Circus of Maxentius, on the Appian Way in Rome, in the days before tour buses made regular stops there. Maxentius was the last pagan emperor, the unfortunate who lost the battle of the Milvian Bridge to Constantine the Great. He experienced something of a revival a few years ago when his imperial insignia were recovered from their secret resting place on the Palatine Hill. One of the items they found was a mysterious globe carved from exquisite blue chalcedony. Nobody is quite sure what it’s for. All they know for certain is that it’s beautiful.
“The news is both good and bad,” she told Jennet over lunch. “The marble used for the Apollo came from Naxos, which will likely tip the scales in my favor with Max, now that I’ve barraged him with parallels for every feature he claimed was suspicious.”
“That’s great!” said Jennet. “So what’s the bad news?”
“Word got out about Max’s doubts on the provenance, and the Greek government took an interest in the Apollo. Not only do they think it’s genuine, they think it was illegally looted from Delos in the early seventies. We got a letter from the Ministry of Culture asking us to repatriate it.”
“Oh no. I’m sorry.” As Jennet knew, high-profile artworks that had come into the country after 1970 were increasingly subject to such claims.
“We’re still consulting with our lawyers. If the Apollo goes back, I’ll miss him terribly, but the Greeks signaled that they’re willing to give us some really choice vases on permanent loan in exchange for him.”
“Then it’s not a complete loss, but still, you have Max to thank for this whole mess. Are you angry with him?”
“I was, but I can’t stay mad at him for long. I wish I could see him this weekend, but he’s gone camping with Dexter.”
“Jonathan and I are going to see Apollo’s Fire tomorrow afternoon,” said Jennet. “They’re a Baroque orchestra out of Cleveland. Want to come along?”
Andy smiled at the name of the group. John had owned several of their recordings. “Thanks— I appreciate the offer, but since I’m home this weekend, my mother has insisted on the pleasure of my company.”
Arriving at her mother’s house, Andy was surprised to find that today Margaret had a companion, an older man with olive skin and greying black hair, dressed in jeans and a rumpled corduroy jacket. His eyes were large, dark and intense. He reminded her of Carl Sagan, whose television shows had riveted her as a child. Maybe that explained why there was something familiar about him, though she was certain she’d never met him before.
“Paolo Fiore,” he said, shaking her hand, and holding onto it a little longer than she expected. “I’m retired now, but I used to work at the Fels Planetarium.” The historic planetarium, built in the 30’s, was one of Margaret’s favorite haunts. Andy was pleased at the thought that her mother had found a companion, someone with whom to share her thoughts, and —why not?— perhaps more.
“Paolo’s an old friend of mine,” said Margaret. “He’s going to help me set up my new telescope.”
“Your name is Andromeda,” said Paolo. “That’s one of my research interests. In the sixties, when I was just starting out, I studied the radio emissions from M31. I’d like to show you some time. The spiral is very beautiful in ultraviolet light.”
The shock of recognition gripped her. She threw a questioning glance at her mother, who returned her gaze defiantly. For some unfathomable reason, Margaret had decided that it was time. Turning back to her father, she took his hands in hers and smiled, seeing the light of infinite galaxies in his eyes.
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Max is named for the ill-fated emperor Maxentius, who lost the battle of the Milvian Bridge to Constantine. Had Maxentius won, the empire might not have become Christian. His insignia, including what was probably his scepter with a globe of azure chalcedony, were hidden by his soldiers and rediscovered in 2006 on the Palatine Hill in Rome.
My title comes from the early music/Baroque chamber orchestra known as Apollo’s Fire. (They were also mentioned in Sword Dance as a favorite of Jonathan Sebelius.) Of course, “Apollo’s Fire” also refers to Andy’s Archaic statue with its mysterious smile, and the different kinds of “heat” that he generates.
The Philadelphia Apollo is fictional, but I keep hoping that some day he will come to light.
Thanks to my devoted readers who kept up with me through this story, which is sadder and deeper than my others. Some have also complained that the surprise ending is too abrupt, but that’s how it came from the Muse, and it didn’t feel right to pad it. I hope all the threads of the story have been pulled together in a way that feels satisfying.
The three stories (Voynich Affair, Sword Dance, Apollo’s Fire) make up my collection The Mind-Body Problem. Now that I’ve finished serializing all my short stories, it’s time to turn to a full-length novel….