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“Poor Claire!”

“But she wanted him to leave her. That was the point. It has always been the point with Claire. Not to fail honestly would be to fail indeed. And failure is something she doesn’t acknowledge, even to herself.”

As usual Tempest’s strands were many. In conversation she was like a fisherman with a number of lines which she was constantly checking, to see if some unlucky bullhead or catfish might have gone for the bait. But the little painted floats remained imperturbably placid on the current’s mirroring surface. “Surely Nathan could have done something.”

“The point, the rest of the point”—Elaine’s tone grew a touch grim—she was fast beginning to weary of their topic as well as of Tempest’s predictable analysis of it, though she was too good a friend to acknowledge it, “even to herself”: “The point has always been for Nathan not to know. That way a brother can be flesh and blood—and Nathan has always been a bit too much of both—and still remain a—a statue. An equestrian statue. Of a lover, or Perseus, someone who’s on his way to the rescue, and who never budges. And whose credentials therefore never need to be checked out.”

Tempest turned toward the multipaned window and its implied view of water, just out of sight below the bluff. The Wildwoods had had their house built to the highest standards of conservative advanced taste in 1882.

There had always been a problem with damp, like a remnant of a summer cold. Today it was positively a presence, a commanding one, in the library, whose volumes of Opie Read and F. Hopkinson Smith had remained untouched for almost a century, and contributed to the temperature and smell. Something would have to be done about it, before the billowing grasscloth on the walls came down on them like a collapsed circus tent. Not today though.

“How odd to think of him with credentials—after all he’s only her brother. Only and unimaginably other.”

Elaine noted something like a “catch” in Claire’s voice, and hurried onward. The afternoon was speeding along too, though it seemed endless.




“whose volumes of Opie Read and F. Hopkinson Smith had remained untouched for almost a century”

Opie Read (1852–1939) was an American journalist and novelist; Francis Hopkinson Smith (1838–1915) was an American engineer, illustrator, and author. It is plausible that a stuffy American family of certain “conservative advanced taste,” such as the fictional Wildwoods, would have these authors on their shelves.

—Emily Skillings


To read further, see Skillings’s introduction to this work.


John Ashbery (1927–2017) was a poet, art writer, collagist, and translator from the French. His many collections include Breezeway, A Worldly Country (both from Ecco), and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking/Penguin), which received a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and National Book Award. President Obama presented him with a National Humanities Medal in 2012.




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