from SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, by Elizabeth Hardwick
There was a man who brought me my first pair of reading glasses, which I did not need. He was a romantic figure, mostly because he had studied French and adored the difficult r's of that language. He was tall and good-looking and not very truthful. he was corrupted by an uncertain nature and no one understood his fits of self-expansion or his disappearances into torpor and melancholy. And yet a vanity and rather pleasant carelessness seemed to survive in all his moods.
This man spoke of his attraction to "experience" and I gathered that what is meant is an attraction to something contrary to oneself, usually a being or habit lower, more dangerous, risky. His experience included a forgotten marriage, entanglements with waitresses, hairdressers, women who sold tobacco at the hotel, drifting, pretty women, all losers. One of his passions was for educating women, and he spoke to them of his interests at that time--James Branch Cabell and the poems of Verlaine. He bore a great name whose dignity extended throughout our county. The members of his family were alarmed by his pretensions. Strolling about Main Street, blond and tall and coarse as a Goth, he presented himself as a sensual aesthete, Southern, intellectual in the University of Virginia manner. His hunger for experience was not so much deep as wide. Like an actor he created spaces around himself, and when others were talking there was an arranged, dramatic silence drawn across his face.
When I think back, he is wearing brown. Coming toward me. We are near the library, in the shade of old trees, near a peaceful house with a walled garden. Gothic revival, white columns in the distance. Everything washed in a harsh, hard light. He is thirty and I am eighteen. No power of mind can decipher why the difference in our ages defined everything to me, cast over every clarity a dark and sinister puzzle. There in the light, his exorbitant desire to please. Large, square teeth and something of the useless energy of a large, affectionate dog. The leap and lunge of his greeting.
His curiosity flamed over a word, an adjective over the seductiveness of the fact that I was taking down a volume of Thomas Mann from the library shelves. Eros has a thousand friends.
His car was beautiful, black, with a canvas top and sides. From our first meeting he would drive me home and drop me at the corner of our street, a block or so from my house. The action signaled his love of the illicit, his need to infect the scene with the fumes of a mesalliance. Throw out a corrupting ambiguity, also.
For him, some years later he went with a girl to a lake in eastern Kentucky and there suddenly jumped off a high bridge.