Academic journal article Chicago Review

Noble Rot

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Noble Rot

Article excerpt

smile when he said it.

"Isn't it strange how that happens," Butler said, racking the balls in no particular order, the eight ball on the outside left, which bothered Charles. It felt wrong there, a puncture wound, a morbid ulcer, a negative space, a black hole in time.

"How what happens?" he said.

"Forgetting things. Like drinking the wine. It's like that road you were talking about. Something that's just not there, like you just skipped over that part of your life," Butler said. Charles came into the kitchen to get a glass of cold milk before he left. Clemmie was settling a bottle of white wine into the cooler. On the center island, a tray of canapes--smoked salmon rolled and toothpicked onto crusts of bread, little square cucumber-on-whole-wheat sandwiches. He grabbed a handful to have with his milk. He liked the cucumber especially, the way Clemmie did them, layering filmy slices onto a bed of Hellman's mayonnaise, dashing a sprinkle of salt, sprinkling a dash of fresh pepper.

Clemmie flashed him a look, taking in the tuxedo. It was that quick, wise, dismissive look, the one that women do best, the one that sums you instantly, instantly inventories your many shortcomings, the one that tells you you are in more trouble than you can know, poor dumb dog.

"Get something to eat at the other party," she said.

"Now, Clemmie."

"I don't care," she said. "She asked you a month ago."

"Try two weeks." Lianne had finally quit hinting and asked him directly to sit in on the book club meeting, and he had told her about the May eighth party. She had not seemed surprised. Nor had she burst into anger. Not that things could have gotten any worse between them if she had. They hadn't slept together since when? Since their last night at the lake, he now realized.

"Leaving her alone, as scared as she is," Clemmie said. Clemmie herself looked frightened. She was afraid this was it, this issue would finally take them down.

And it might. They had a joint meeting scheduled for Wednesday with Ian Farber, the therapist she insisted on calling Father Christmas, but the marriage might be finished before they got there. They had not talked to each other about this evening, the division in their plans. They had hardly talked at all. They had managed, nevertheless, to wage an intense subliminal war, whose terms were perfectly clear. This night was a breaking point. And the more sharply she had drawn the line, the more stubbornly he had wanted to step across it.

"What can happen?" he said to Clemmie. "She's going to be surrounded by friends all evening. Anyway, I hate these hen parties, and she knows it."

"It's not a hen party. That detective, remember? And if you were there--"

"Oh, so he's still coming?"

Charles had gotten in touch with Freddy Mayfield, a county cop he had once called as a witness, to see if Mayfield would recommend a detective. Mayfield was a Baptist, but he could be trusted. He had testified against his own department in a wrongful-injury suit. He hadn't wanted to, and he hadn't been promoted since--but in his view the truth was the truth, and you told it all. He and Charles had formed one of those odd-couple friendships, mutual respect across polar differences. Charles was pretty sure Mayfield hoped to convert him someday.

He had told Lianne about his plans to hire another detective, but she had kept on with Rider. Apparently she thought they needed one apiece the way things were going.

"He isn't coming, he's here. They're all here already. Your tie is crooked."

She came over and straightened his bow tie. "Quit fidgeting. You're as bad as a boy getting a haircut." She went back to the wine in the ice bucket, settled a cloth around the bottle. "I don't think you have any idea how hard it is to work in a house where it's always so tense," she said. "I wish the two of you would think of me just once."

"It's not always tense," he said. …

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