The Lost American
I pray you, do not fall in love with me, For I am falser than vows made in wine.
As You Like It
Housework had become important, a time-filling ritual, and Ann moved dutifully through the apartment, vacuuming carpets already vacuumed, tidying things already tidied and dusting where no dust had had time to collect, from the previous day. She tried to concentrate upon what she was doing but by now the ritual had become mechanical as well as dutiful, like so much else. She’d expected the uncertainty, of course: the doubts even. For there to have been any other reaction, after what had happened and where they were, would have been more unsettling than the feelings she now had, because it would have been unnatural. But it should have gone by now. Lessened at least. Not got worse. She stopped the vacuum abruptly, the movement a physical correction. Only some things seemed to have got worse. To think everything had would be to exaggerate and it would be wrong – dangerous – to exaggerate: certainly not the way to settle and adjust, imagining things to be worse than they really were. The hostility had definitely gone, from the other wives. Eddie insisted that it had never existed in the first place, dismissing the impression as her confused response to the trauma of the divorce and the reaction of her family and the abruptness of the Moscow posting, but Ann knew she wasn’t confused. They had been hostile. She’d rationalised the attitude, even understood it, now she’d lived in Moscow. The Western diplomatic community in the Soviet capital was an enclosed, insular and – her strong opinion – claustrophobic existence, the same faces at the same receptions and parties with the same small-talk and the same gossip. She’d been a subject of that gossip – maybe she still was, because not everyone had come round and was friendly now – the woman half her husband’s age who’d wrecked a happy marriage. And if she’d done it once, she could do it again. Especially in the unnatural circumstances of where they were and how they lived, crammed together in constant contact. Bloody hypocrites. She’d seen the flirtations and guessed the affairs and those she hadn’t guessed had soon been reported, on the gossip-mill. At least she and Eddie had been honest. Refused to lie and confronted all the consequences: the bitterness and the recriminations and the nastiness – God, the nastiness! – which was more than any of them were doing.
Ann abandoned the unnecessary dusting, sitting in a chair – forward, on the edge, not relaxed – arriving at another ritual, the increasing (daily almost) reflection of what that honesty had cost. She told Eddie and Eddie told her that each had expected to happen what had happened but she knew that wasn’t true. She certainly hadn’t anticipated her family’s reaction. She knew they’d be upset, obviously – they couldn’t be anything else. But she’d thought they would have come round to accepting the situation by now, not gone on behaving like some parody of Victorian rectitude, practically refusing any longer to acknowledge her existence. Whenever her mother wrote, which was only ever in response to her letters, never initiating any correspondence herself, there was always the conclusion involving her father – ‘Daddy sends his regards’ – but Ann knew that was a lie and that her father had done nothing of the sort. And what father sent his regards, for God’s sake! It wasn’t a parody of Victorian rectitude: it was Victorian rectitude. And it was hurtful and unnecessary and cruel and was one of the reasons – one of the main reasons – why she was so miserable.
She looked across the room at the drinks tray and then at her watch and then at the drinks tray again and decided against it, pleased at her control. Quite a lot of the women started cocktails at four, but she hadn’t, not yet. And neither would she, Ann determined. That would be giving in and she didn’t give in. She hadn’t given in to her family nor to the unpleasantness of Eddie’s divorce… Ann stopped, examining the word. Had Eddie’s divorce been unpleasant? Of course it had, on the surface. The tight-lipped meetings with the lawyers and the financial arrangements and the division of property, the dismantling of years together. But there hadn’t been from Ruth anything like the sort of reaction that had come from her family. And from Ruth it could have been expected. She was, after all, the abandoned wife, saddled with two bewildered sons and an empty house and empty memories, wondering where she went wrong which wasn’t a question for her, because Ruth hadn’t gone wrong anywhere. She hadn’t had affairs and she hadn’t drank and she hadn’t failed and she hadn’t, when Eddie announced he’d fallen in love with someone else, railed against him or fought him or hated him. Eddie said he’d imagined her behaving like that, because that was the sort of woman Ruth was, but Ann didn’t believe that, either. She was surprised – another uncertainty – and she knew Eddie was, as well. No sneers and no reproaches. It was Ruth who initiated the letters, more often than not: always chatty, always friendly. And always ‘love to Ann’. The discarded wife could send love to the woman who had replaced her and the best her father could manage was regards and that a lie, Ann thought bitterly.
She returned, to the beginning of the reflection. The honesty had cost a lot, for them both. So had it been worth it? Another part of the ritual. Increasing, too. Of course it had been worth it, she decided, in familiar reassurance. She loved Eddie as much – more – as she ever had and she knew he loved her. It was just Moscow. If it been any other posting to any other embassy, somewhere where they could have had outside friends and outside interests and driven a hundred miles out into the country on Sundays, if they’d felt like it, then Ann was positive everything would have been all right. She made another mental pause. Everything was all right, between her and Eddie. Which was all that mattered. Moscow was important to Eddie’s career, vitally so. All she had to do was endure it and be as philosophical about it as she could and ignore her bloody stupid family, like they were ignoring her, and wait until the next posting. She supposed Langley was a possibility, after Moscow. Ann decided she’d like that. Eddie was almost certain to be upgraded: as high as G-15 was a possibility because he had a lot of experience and was respected because of it. If he got G-15 they’d probably be able to afford something in Georgetown, the district of Washington she liked best. But maybe not, with the support he paid Ruth and the kids. If not Georgetown, Alexandria then. She liked that almost as much. It would be wonderful to be in Washington. There’d be concerts and plays at the Kennedy Centre. And New York was only an hour away on the shuttle so they could see the Broadway shows whenever they wanted. And drive out into the country whenever they wanted to go and out to restaurants and not have to wait three hours for service and make friends with people they wanted to be friendly with, not those forced upon them by some restricted, hemmed-in environment. Moscow was an unnatural existence so it automatically followed that she should feel unnatural in it. Endure it, until the next posting, she thought again; that’s all she had to do.
It was gone five before she took the first drink, while she was preparing dinner and she made it last until Eddie came home, promptly at six, which was another ritual. She was waiting, directly inside the apartment entrance. He kissed her and held her tightly and she held him tightly back, needing his closeness. He did love her and she loved him. Just endure it, she thought.
Ann fixed his drink and made another for herself and said, ‘Steak. That OK?’ At least they were able to eat well, with access to the embassy concessions.
‘Wait until I can teach you how to cook them outside.’ Eddie Blair was a tall, heavy man of casual, almost slow, movements. He spoke slowly, too, the Texas accent pronounced. The slowness and the frequent references to cook-outs and range riding and the tendency to dress in jeans and sports shirts for the more casual parties conveyed to some the impression of country-boy stolidness, which was intentionally misleading. Blair was one of the most highly regarded foreign service officers within the Central Intelligence Agency, already at supervisor rank.
‘I’m looking forward to it,’ said Ann, honestly. ‘How was your day?’