The Art of Love № 223

Born in London in 1973, Terrence Gelb was another young British writer in the making, or as Gelb considers himself, unmade. The son of the prolific writer Julian Gelb and a French au pair, Terrence Gelb’s childhood was delegated to a German nanny of the highest order, which spurred a lifelong passion for nannies, who forbid him from reading in his spare time, lest he follow in his father’s admirably doomed footsteps, which spurred a lifelong passion for books. Today Gelb speaks to us of the act of reading, as we lure him into explicit commentary upon his vigorously annotated romance with the economist Lara White, who committed suicide on March 16, 2012.

INTERVIEWER

Your latest piece in the New Yorker compared the act of reading to . . . well let’s say it was a highly unusual comparison. It suggests, at least to myself, that reading is the ultimate form of dilettantism. Speaking of which, we have kept up with your personal life, against our better aesthetic and moral judgment.

GELB

Is that how you want to open this interview?

INTERVIEWER

What really transpired between you two?

GELB

Much has already been said, so I feel pressured to say something new. I never told the press what happened the day before she killed herself. I’ll say it here. You can print it with glee.

INTERVIEWER

This is a literary journal.

GELB

I assure you, everything that transpired was of a literary nature.

INTERVIEWER

Go on, then.

GELB

I remember every word.

“What, is that supposed to upset me?” she said, looking at the photograph. “Imagine how much better the photograph would have been if I’d been in it,” she added.

You see, when you ask what transpired between us, I am reminded of Beckett’s cautionary statement: “The mistake one makes is to speak to people.”

Of course, I hadn’t spoken to her. She just started speaking, mostly to herself, a clear pattern that had emerged two weeks prior. The “she” in question is Lara, or so I mean the principal “she” of the moment. That moment lasted a few good years, or a few bad years, depending on one’s view. I refuse to think of what transpired between us, however, as significant. I still find it difficult to say her name: Lara White. In any case, it was one day in our lives, representative if you like, but formless. I had a photograph in my hands, which were, despite my nearly ecclesiastical poise, trembling. I remember looking down at my hands and feeling both detachment and surprise at the fact that they were trembling. Does it make sense to say one feels detachment, that one feels detached?

INTERVIEWER

You would be asking if the absence of feeling is a feeling. A question for the post-structuralists, we tend not to read them here.

GELB

First I looked at my trembling hands and then I looked at the photograph, which was in them, or rather, I was holding it gingerly at the bottom left edge between the thumb and index finger of my left hand, since I am left-handed. It had been weeks since I had worked up the nerve to look at it. I had pulled it out of my coat pocket by accident, as I was fumbling around for the house keys. I had forgotten that the photograph was in the pocket of that coat, since it was my backup winter coat, I hadn’t brought it out to wear for half the winter. I had just happened to clean out the small attic lavatory during a few moments of peace and quiet, and wanted to wear it out again. Lord Lish the benefactor [laughs] had been seen in one quite like mine. So the photograph was in my trembling hand and Lara had spotted it within seconds of my entering the doorway. It was as if the photograph were lit by a sacred light, as though I had brought it out of the ambry, rather than on my way back from long hours at the bar. I looked at her cold and unsmiling face, trying to imagine what it would be like to substitute one woman for another. Yet what was there to imagine? I couldn’t exactly agree with her, even if a substitution was very much in order.

INTERVIEWER

I don’t understand. Lord Lish?

GELB

Oh, come the fuck on. At any event, the photograph was of another woman, a more attractive woman, and myself. A woman in Paris, not a neophyte by any means, who came from a long line of mistresses. Her family knew John Betjeman, Francis Ponge. Those were different times. I very gently alluded to the existence of this photograph in the interview with Vanity Fair last March, but I speak of it frankly for the first time here.

INTERVIEWER

Fine with us. What did you say to her?

GELB

“I wouldn’t want to upset you, darling,” I said, moving towards her. I saw that the kitchen light was on, giving the place an orange glow. The hallway was dark. The first thing I saw was the pale nape of her neck, her hair twisted up into a loose bun. I noticed that she had been chopping vegetables, ready to toss into one of her fine salads. A soup had been prepared, slender cucumber sandwiches on the side. Half a bottle of wine. A healthy block of gruyère from our friends, who had just moved to Kips Bay. We knew them from London, they moved long after we bought our place. They have a place in Oxfordshire as well. Painters.

“Do you only make appearances in your own house?” she said. I suppose she meant that we hadn’t been out of the house in ages. It was a strange way of putting it. In fact, it made no sense at all. Then she walked into the living room and said “Hello,” addressing my discarded favorite, my much-read copy of Cesare Pavese’s Diaries — although in the past few years I admit to having grown tired of him — which she picked up off the dining table and promptly flung into the fireplace. She pushed it around a bit with her father’s prosthetic limb and said, “Goodbye,” a rather childish touch, I thought at the time. We can presuppose a rapidly progressive atrophy of the book’s vitality and sentiment as it flamed then turned to chaste grey ashes. It was a winter night, and there was a desolate feeling about the house that had nothing to do with us, mostly to do with the abandoned kittens outside, little and lost, meowing in the snow.

INTERVIEWER

Painters, you say.

GELB

Yes.

INTERVIEWER

Who took the photograph?

GELB

The person who took the photograph was a photographer, not affiliated with her half-sister who was also a photographer — a woman who fancied herself the next Diane Arbus, perennially bloodshot in the eye and unemployed — though there had been some debate, as she looked quite like how I had imagined her half-sister, before I knew what her half-sister looked like. The important thing was that she was a photographer, not a woman photographer. I wanted to ask if she found it important to be a photographer on some days, and just a woman on others, but the timing never seemed right.

I suppose that was Lara’s main concern with me, that I hadn’t yet asked the question. And in this case, I am referring to a very different sort of question, generally known as the question. I had grown increasingly concerned with her concern, as couples are wont to do. Her logic, to the extent that I could follow it, went something like this: if I hadn’t yet asked the question, then either I was too afraid to ask, despite desperately wanting to ask, or the reverse, completely loath to ask the question and much too afraid to admit it. If it was the first case, then she would have to lower her standards for romance, by which I mean somehow increase the credibility of her affection, in order to guide me into that metaphysical place whereby the question might be happily asked. If it was the latter, then she would have to wait until it was appropriate to abandon me.

Now I can hardly speak to this wretched picture I’ve painted of our domestic conflict. It seems like the most exhausted page in a luridly conventional book. But she couldn’t have been more off course, as asking the question had nothing to do with fear or desire.

INTERVIEWER

How do you mean?

GELB

Asking the question had only to do with asking the question. She hadn’t noticed, in all these years, that I had never asked anyone a question. There was something about questions, and the asking of them, that I had loathed ever since I was a child. I had just about made it through the entirety of my adult life without asking a single question, no slight achievement, if you try to contemplate it for a moment. The characters in my fiction ask questions all the time, but I don’t. And then it became quite suddenly imperative that I ask a certain question, the question that left Lara restless, thoroughly heartbroken, until I could find the means to ask it.

INTERVIEWER

How on earth have you gotten by without asking a question?

GELB

Throughout my childhood, I was quiet as a monk — not at home, I played soccer after school, but I was the silent clever one in the classroom. My reputation preceded me. It spread, for awhile everyone was infected. There was a day when none of my classmates asked a question, and the teacher resigned. Later on in my adolescence and undergraduate years I relied upon my rare ability to listen, which drew everyone in, Lara was no exception I must say, drew them in just like — as they are fond to say here — flies to honey.

INTERVIEWER

Conversationally you sound less English than I expected.

GELB

I suppose you are right on that score. I met Lara in London, and after living in New York for a year, her accent was stronger than ever and mine had all but whimpered into nothingness. Oh those were the days of sentiment. Oh when Lara appeared, how lovely she was at first. She was a blonde, like the others, but oh so sweet and practical when I met her. I could almost gush about it. When we first moved to New York, we were both rather shy and we knew no one at the important parties. I think we all embarrass ourselves eventually. Everything felt professional, a bit terrifying, I clung to Lara most nights, with endless gratitude. My father was quite ill at the time, he was writing his last novella, Against Expression. A great succés de scandale.

At any rate, I remember what my father said about overcoming the age of thirty. He said he began, at the age of thirty, to feel that his literary mystique was running out. Not an unreasonable thing to say, though his readership was never more solid, more ardent, actually, than during his early thirties, after the publication of Belinda at the Savoy, a story cycle that changed my life when I read it at the tender age of 14. It should be read more widely.

He also said that respectability was abruptly and coarsely demanded of him. I suppose that was a reference to my mother, and our nanny, but that has been written about more than the subject warrants.

INTERVIEWER

Your father, the late Julian Gelb.

GELB

The noblest Gelb there was.

INTERVIEWER

I met your father at a late-night reading in Chelsea, the establishment isn’t there anymore, I’m afraid, and I was only briefly in London. Still, there was company with whom your father was associated back then, and we seemed always to have been setting off, in a taxi, to those brilliant rooms for lunch, in parties of six or eight, with distinguished visitors from Vienna and extra bottles of claret and my co-editors James and Barker to add to the delight of the times. It may interest you that I made the mistake of mentioning Belinda. There was a long silence. After the reading, your father and I went out for a drink and it didn’t come up again. Lovely man.

GELB

Yes, and skilled at noticing, if not mentioning, mistakes. Right to the very end, I always felt a need to come to him as though for a purpose, to do what was right and necessary and to leave vindicated. All very stupid feelings. I usually left feeling angular instead, his scotch went straight to the legs, I don’t know how he drank so much of it.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us more about the other woman.

GELB

You mean the woman in the photograph.

INTERVIEWER

The woman of the year.

GELB

Lara’s friend was not similar to Lara at all. She was literary. I was reminded of their dissimilarity as Lara held the photograph in her short, fat fingers. Lara had put on a lot of weight, it even transferred to her fingers. The photograph was a triptych, an image split into three, something like Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Francoise X — I abbreviate her last name for obvious reasons, a Chinese surname, for she was married to a wealthy Chinese broker — called the photograph “A Study of Three.” On the back of the photograph was a Joycean quote, in small neat script, “I desire to press in my arms the loveliness which has not yet come into the world.” Little did Lara know that I had seen the photograph before, that I had my own copy, inscribed on the back, “La Jolie Rousse xxx.” Francoise had made a special print for me, the contrast had been played up. It was developed in her colleague’s darkroom in Paris. Lara had received her print in the mail at her office on York Avenue. I received mine in person while vacationing in London, two weeks before Christmas.

Francoise flew in from Paris to meet with me in Hampstead, where I was staying in a small cramped flat that belonged to my young and fashionably depressed nephew. I was reading my nephew’s books — what are the youth reading these days? — and a line flew out at me from the yellowed page, complete and decrepit in its essence, forma mentis: “Women, as we Dutch say, were all over me.” A sparkling interruption of my quotidian thoughts. And as I was savoring this particular line, I looked out the window to see a flash of crimson hair in the courtyard, conjuring an entire church of women in my mind upon that vulnerable winter morning. Francoise X. I was overwhelmed by the desire to run out of the house. Hadn’t Nietzsche warned us of the most characteristic quality of modern man, “the strange contrast between an inner life to which nothing outward corresponds, and an outward existence unrelated to what is within” and wasn’t the correct response, given this state of being, to flee from all those evenings in which Francoise was sure to outdo herself?

INTERVIEWER

You are at ease asking questions.

GELB

Indeed, I ask questions, now that Lara is dead.

INTERVIEWER

How do you explain it?

GELB

At this juncture I feel obligated to clarify that to ask questions within the sanctity of one’s mind is not at all equivalent, as an act, to posing questions outwardly in the presence of other individuals. I had only ever managed to silence the external act, I suppose. I have always been fond of asking questions internally, as anyone might do. To continue along this line of thought, and to bring this confession more rapidly to a close — I’m rather feeling like a parody of Louis Althusser, shoot the bitch and write a book, as it were — by 9:58 that evening my tongue was silenced within the plush, rejuvenating confines of Francoise’s perfect . . . It is not the sort of thing one forgets. She had won my heart, insofar as my heart indicated a general route to my penis, a delicate swine she was, writhing beneath me for days, in a state of distraction, limbs folded back in revelatory grandeur, as my nephew spent his nights in Berlin in some apartment of the seemingly poor. “Have pity on me, Lara,” I whispered, as Francoise, famished from the waist down, lowered herself upon my blistering eyes and the happy analog click of her SLR — I remember now it was a Nikon — made its aural mark upon the room. Filled with the urge, yet again, to ask if she thought it was important to be a photographer on some days, and just a woman on others, I nearly spurted the question, but thought better of it and took a Valium.

INTERVIEWER

Striking.

GELB

Offensive?

INTERVIEWER

Possibly. We leave that to our readers to decide.

GELB

I admit that Valium wasn’t the right choice, there are better choices these days, although I don’t know what the kids take anymore. As you can see, the timing wasn’t ideal to ask Francoise such a question, not to mention that I hadn’t cultivated the methodology of asking questions, I would have felt too exposed. You might go so far as to argue that the question had been answered for me. This brings me back to that winter night with Lara, the night before her suicide.

She had been chopping vegetables, she had burned the Pavese, looking calmer than usual, and she had seen the photograph in my hand. Then she took me into the bathroom, where I saw she had drawn herself a bath, and began undressing me. I acquiesced. I didn’t see where this was going. She took off all her clothing as well, her black wool dress, the grey stockings with the secretary line down the middle, slowly, deliberately. She said, “The first sign of obscenity is proof of triviality,” squeezing shower gel into the palm of her hand. I could sense she was entering one of her philosophical moods. We had a great Edwardian bath, she had filled it with neon pink bath bubbles, you know the kind you get from Lush, those bath bombs named after various implausible states of mind, very tawdry. Anyway, the photograph was still in my left hand, though the hand had stopped trembling. I imagined Lara in another life, thin as she once was, with beautifully hard, round breasts, sliding onto the cold bare floor and making love to me for behaving so passively. I thought, if she would only be a bit more audacious, oh how I would worship her, I would even take her seriously! But the thought never occurred to her, I suppose, that making love, at its best, is so very like fighting. And perhaps was intended to be. She firmly believed in the separation of the two appetites. No appreciation, ah! mise à mort!

She lathered the shower gel into the folds of her body. There were no endearing, timid efforts to caress my prick, sensibly, as that is an act not without its consequences. She ran the water again, holding some gel under the faucet to make more bubbles. She turned away from me. On the edge of having a ghastly cry, surely, I thought. I moved closer to her and turned her face toward mine. As I looked at Lara’s face, her eyes and nose seemed to belong to someone else, to Francoise in fact, though I wondered if this was a sign that my obsession with Francoise had gone a little too far, even by my standards. And, of course, Francoise herself had gone much too far, farther than I had formerly thought she was capable of.

INTERVIEWER

Was this done out of spite?

GELB

I doubt Francoise had the explicit intention to hurt either of us. I think she had aimed to please Lara in some obscure manner, a manner unfathomable to the laddish mind. I continued to look at Lara’s face, god help me, a face which I had seen virtually every day for what felt like the better part of a century, a face with which I couldn’t manage to ally myself, as superimposed and beggarly as it was. And yes, it was a smallish face with lumpy features, enlarged pores and patchy medium-olive skin, pale blue eyes that were a touch too close together, a heavy scar on the right just below the cheekbone, and thin lips that, when spread into a smile, looked as though someone had cruelly slit the face like a jack-o-lantern. It agitated me, for it coerced me not only into looking, as one does at what appears to be a terrible accident, but having to resign myself, having to endure the facts, the exposed reality of what it was, what is, what wouldn’t be. Yes, the mediocrity of her face was a quasi-living reminder of tragedy in the world, psychological entrapment, the degradation of my soul, which perhaps had elegantly escaped from me one night as I looked at the world from a hotel window in Brussels — a moment in my early twenties characterized by irrationality and longing, Pauvre Belgique! — but which in greater likelihood was about to spiral down the drain of our bathtub.

Ah! And, lest one forget, there are such marvelous faces in the world! Faces a person wants to observe, and closely. I did miss that long Grecian nose, Francoise, a remarkable face, hers, the long Grecian nose lightly dusted with freckles, thin as a blade at the bridge, and the exquisite symmetry of those nostrils! It was a pleasure that nose, just to watch it take in the Parisian air.

Lara and I nestled in the bathtub, bubbles foaming around us. I drew closer to her and cradled against her side, so warm and forgiving, so unlike her face, so very unlike the photograph. She was crying.

I pleaded with her. “Don’t cry! Don’t be this way!” It was so gauche. Everything had been in slow motion up to this point in the evening. It was essential that I act quickly. Difficult, you know, when submerged in a bubble bath. Lara’s face had completely morphed into the image of Francoise, framed with dangerously red hair, except for the mouth, I couldn’t get rid of the mouth. The mouth remained. I missed the long red locks and raven pubis. I carried Lara, naked, dripping, lifted her out of the bath, the water looked as though it were sagging, it was almost brown, and I put her on the bed. Dabbing her eyes with my yellow silk handkerchief, I left the room, still naked, with the offending photograph clenched in my teeth. I dried off with a fresh Egyptian cotton towel, drained the bath, clothed myself, and before returning to the bedroom, stood in the doorway for just a moment, with rugged inclination, observing Lara’s body crumpled beneath the sheets. She looked sad, sunken, a vaguely religious animal wrapped in mauve cloth. I missed Francoise tangled up in glamorous dark blue French linen.

INTERVIEWER

One mustn’t skip steps, for an author of truth and delicacy must surely find time to catch the reflection of his reflection. What followed?

GELB

She said, “What about the complexity of human feeling and sensation? What of the subterranean movements of my soul, which, as my one true lover, you ought to trace every gorgeous waking moment of our shared life?”

“Darling Lara, all accounts of motivation simplify,” I reminded her, feeling every inch the modern primitive.

INTERVIEWER

For some of us, your prose is like the voice of God.

GELB

That is flattering. But then, I am Jewish, so it would have to be the Jewish God.

INTERVIEWER

Of course, as you wish.

GELB

I don’t wish it, in fact. The last Jewish God of prose died without consolation. Leonard Michaels, I mean.

INTERVIEWER

Michaels was great. We were one of the first to publish him. As an American, I think you should write only about love.

GELB

Funny and charming that you should say this. Because that day in particular severely impacted my ability to write about love. Lara had just referred to the subterranean movements of her soul, and as soon as the words came out of her mouth, I ached for a radical recasting of the love relationship. A love relationship that was minute, unsensational, without gross events that comprise the telling of a story, overflowing with direct sensory contact, mostly in the direction, once again, of my penis, the center of my being, and who could justify where the center of one’s being was ultimately to be located? I had not made these arrangements, after all, and I didn’t wish to restrict anyone’s freedoms with regards to acknowledging the theatricality of my prick, but at the very least there could be an intricate understanding of the functional extension of my silent monologue with it.

INTERVIEWER

An unspoken understanding that it’s best for women not to intervene, or even to interpret, certain matters of the heart.

GELB

Or prick.

INTERVIEWER

I see. So you are saying that Lara White, as an economist, couldn’t understand your profession.

GELB

I think that is accurate.

I remember she cried out, with feverish intent, “Is this all there is?” The phrase caught hold of her. She cried out again, and again.

Finally she got to the point and cried, once more not looking at my prick: “You can’t even bring yourself to speak of marriage! Why! My god, why, why have I wasted all this effort upon you!”

I steeled myself for the performance of a lifetime: “I can’t begin to consider all there is! Dearest Lara, I can’t begin to consider all there is, unless you are asking me to become a caricature of a writer, and I would humble myself in this way if I could, as there is nothing more becoming, more amusing, more dear, in the end, than to be a mere caricature, but please do not ask me to execute the kind of solution that would put to an end the very foundation of our love.”

And her face, so void of content, reached a point of alarming formlessness. It was no longer Lara, nor was it Francoise. It was unclear what sort of “face” was before me. Oh the ashen-blue light that had taken hold of that formlessness! The adagio of her mouth and the peroxide rash of hair were moonlighting their way through the house. Her eyes were peeling golden baubles. Finally it all dissolved. I covered my eyes with my hands. Interpreting this as a sign of complex ethical sensibilities burgeoning within yet another compartment in which she wholly, unreflectively believed — the soul — she couldn’t draw an inference to the best explanation: a bright vermilion sensation of hostility towards the proximity of excessive opacity, co-mingling with the truth that correct behavior is often sacrificed to fantasy.

But fantasy — it is no longer easy to come by. I could hardly fantasize, and so I could hardly write about love. This remains. I can hardly write love.

INTERVIEWER

But you write sex. James Salter has taken notice.

GELB

I can’t imagine why. He writes it best, everyone knows that.

INTERVIEWER

Actually, he is dead. It is possible that Lara White was entirely aware of Francoise X, who was only attracted to you as a torso with a penis attached. That is a distinct possibility. After all, as you said, they were once friends. On a separate note, I read in New York Magazine that Lara had her own place on Jane Street. She could easily have had her own affairs.

GELB

That is correct, Lara stayed there at the weekend, usually fortnightly.

That night, Lara was weakly reviewing her life, telling me so many intimate things, things unnecessary to recount, raging as if flung out of time and space, and I could see — I could feel — that her heart was dying. An unfortunate feeling to have. Until today I haven’t thought of my improbable conversation with Lara that night, for tragedy is improbable in the mind and matter of those who experience it — a delusion to think that greater understanding is gained by the ostensibly direct experience of it, no, the victim of tragedy is an observer, not a participant. She was diminishing before me. I could think of nothing to do. It was one of those moments that had to represent the exhaustion of all possible moments. There was nothing left. All I can say is that a faceless woman was seen going out of a room.

She was right about one thing. A person can distinguish himself in New York simply by being happy. She said this, rather boldly, when we first moved to the city. I haven’t become any happier over the years. I have, however, become more famous. I knew I would become famous not for my work, but for these loveless minutes that masqueraded as hours, years, mathematical theorems, and so they became famous among readers, the only people who count in the world. I knew then, as I do now, that my story would be read. I thought of myself as a solitary, ideally hermetic individual until Lara took her life and the letters, or e-mails, rather, were published, now this rambling recollection of our final conversation is on its way to publication. No longer the pure man of letters. These words will live alone in the mind of the reader, abundantly dispassionate, and perhaps these words will resuscitate interest in the primal body, the body of man. I expect to be understood by the French.

INTERVIEWER

Under assault, the reader will cease to read.

GELB

Yes. But I worry.

INTERVIEWER

You do?

GELB

I worry:

Why do I think this way? Am I hopeful of future pits into which I may fall? Is there a point to overlook in a new way, as I bring a new and compelling twist to literary misogyny? Am I still sucking on Proust? What is important to remember, after all? So, perhaps not the women themselves, not Lara White or Francoise X but there are these memories of them, and as it stands, very few memories are worth remembering, and was this really my final conviction? Are we meant to become increasingly epistemological in our old age? Is the question of one’s forties, “How can one know one’s own convictions at their raw center, from which all action and inaction pours forth into the caverns of humanity?” What’s left for one’s fifties? Sixties? Julian Gelb died at the age of 63. I will be the first to admit that my writing has been worse for wear, that it worsens the more of life is put in it.

Damn it all: Lara White! Francoise X! Women and the entire poetry of memory! None of us will be remembered by our finest qualities and accomplishments, our qualms and our qualia. The simple, animal gestures — only! — these are the methods by which we will be preserved. There is nothing else to write. Nothing else to live by.

INTERVIEWER

It sounds as though in your last moments together, you debated reality. I am reminded of Hemingway: the paroxysm of human and animal trajectories between yourself and Lara White bring to mind Hemingway’s understanding of the matador and the bull; the fraught citations, the shattering of the illusion of a geometrical balance between Dionysian and Apollonian energies, and I suggest, perhaps, that your recent work demonstrates there can be no convulsive moment in which man is unified, not even into linguistic embodiment, only clenched fists and la règle du jeu, ultimately leading towards the opposite of fusion.

GELB

Indeed. I have cratylistically abolished all attempts at reproduction of the self through language, a displacement of the foreclosure of meaning. There can only be deferral of self-knowledge, the continuous rustle of the cape, the fall of toy soldiers, the private language of childhood, the unsolvable riddle of man. I recall the words that confirm the veracity of your observation:

She, the faceless, screamed, “Where is the photograph? Where is it?”

I had taken away the photograph, you see, and placed it in our bread cabinet. She was still weeping and screaming under the bed covers. I said, “I don’t see how it can possibly matter where it is. It should never have been sent to you. You ought never to have seen it. It was a mistake for you to open the envelope and look at it so closely. You could never pull off a close reading, anyhow. You think, you incorrectly assume, that it is evidence of an orgy, of oblique bodies soiling a mattress, and you are afraid, afraid of so much, afraid to go back to London, afraid of the secondhand smoke, afraid to attend Richard’s parties — remember Richard? — just because he stabbed his wife in the thigh last November, afraid of death in general…”

“Aren’t I real to you?” she sobbed.

I said, “No, you are a bit of sullen abstract flab to me, I’m afraid. You evoke nothing in me other than an unsparing clarity.”

In the midst of her throes of glassy-eyed sobbing, she looked beautiful once again. I was awestruck. I said nothing to her after that. I couldn’t.

INTERVIEWER

How did the day end?

GELB

In truth, I had forgotten she was pregnant. I took solace in my isolated virility. Perhaps, still truthfully, there is nothing more romantic to me than a dark, quiet room.

INTERVIEWER

Thank you for your time, Terrence.

GELB

No, thank you.