A story – this red-headed girl very late on my first night out on the Italian Line’s Christoforo Colombo – saying she was glad she was on this trip because she feared her engagement back in Scarsdale was a horrible mistake.
So she takes this ring – saying, when I met you tonight I knew I’d have to do this. She takes the ring and hurls it into the North Atlantic.
This is what I wrote the other night
NO! – fiction! – ring not over the rail – and deathly afraid of stopping with anyone anywhere – and, well outside fiction, did not stop on that ship until I met the wrong woman – the wrong girl, a laughing, loud non-redhead, a Texan, I could hear my brother (who was also on his way to Europe that summer but safely on a British Cunard liner), my brother and others say “How charming” – my brother – the family I came from of to little use to me when I met people outside fiction –
The ring was there – and it did feel like she had put me on the spot – saying that meeting me this night convinced her she would have to get rid of the ring – put me on the spot so firmly that she ¬might have firmly cast the ring into the North Atlantic in the course of our necking at the boat deck rail—necking as the Chistoforo Colombo was moving toward the South Atlantic. She might have thrown the ring.
But she didn't.
I see her – this picture of her in reality that is on and in my brain – as clearly as if it were hours ago that the sky over the ocean, over us, was turning red with the dawn – actually a range of colors from hot orange to luke-warm purple – this dawn still so clear it could, this dawn, have been a just-passed dawn, not a dawn that was just-passed fifty years ago – her, the picture of her, with something of my own aspiration and my own suspicion of commitment in her, but still her, whom I can never really know, not me, whom I hope to know. And although I see her hand, just disentangled from me, held out – slightly pink, slightly freckled – to display the ring – her hand in memory slightly scented – I do not, do not, do not, do not see the other hand disentangle and slide the ring off and hurl it into the ocean. This is fiction. This is me running from myself. This is me falsifying, like my literary enemies, so as to get the focus off myself, off what I know – me so filled with aspiration and – excerpt for the effects of the night’s Strega and the brandy – so unsure, at not quite 21, just feeling my way, though in favor in my mind of total immersion in the flow and life and sex and beauty and love and death and grandeur – but instead I am, then and when I wrote last night, just putting a toe in – running into the coward's shelter – fiction!
For she does not take off the ring with the fingers of the other hand disentangled from me and she does not lean back while still in my arms and throw that ring into the ocean –
And although I wrote it I do not see a diamond of a size so large that it would signal my family, if they were somehow to see it, that she did not come from Our Kind of People. It makes a point, making the diamond that big, but it diminishes the story.
Helps me run from the story, from unbearable beauty and aspiration and the ever-present possibility of betrayal.
As I write I see her soft hair, her soft hand and her light eyes, and I smell the ocean and I remember her own scent, and I feel aroused by her that night – though I will not, that night, choose her over all others I seek – for this is not precisely the picture I seek – her skin lightly freckled, like mine though unlike mine soft and lightly scented –
Though not shiny and clear and olive as in the fiction I write in my head but must not turn into lies on paper – her skin not nearly Italian enough.