Draw comfort from your own very existence;
Search your perimeters with fluid fingers,
And find the tensor capacity of yourself.
Then kiss the borders of the other world;
Eradicate the interface.
Let two by two be one;
Until eternity is done.
Calculations. That's what Asa was up to. They affected him like locoweed. Joyce quickly learned to recognize when the activity she so dreaded was about to happen. First he'd close the Journal and stare at its cover as though he'd never be opening it again. Then he'd start sharpening pencils by the box full. Out would come fresh reams of canary yellow paper. Three slide rules would lie on the desk, including that infernal yard- long monster he otherwise never used. But even blindfolded, Joyce could have told when he was into his fugue. He'd become impotent. Then what physical contact he did make with her was like the clasp of a pithed frog. "Don't go," she'd once begged and held him tightly around the chest. She hadn't been asking for love but pleading with him not to depart this life. Ordinarily, when he wrote or thought, he'd be mumbling away as though engaged in a five- or six- way conversation with himself. He and she had talked about that. He'd laughed it off, said it was merely his insanity in mufti; that it wasn't anything to be alarmed about..
But the articulated prattlings stopped during the calculations. Then he'd occasionally hiss like a snake or growl like a wolf or let out a single whistle or snort, as though he were a crocodile. Words were banished from the realm of the calculations. A world without words utterly terrified Joyce.
Time, too, seemed to change character for him. "Aren't you supposed to go to New York today, sweet?" If, after some minutes, he'd respond at all, it would be a grunt or: "They can get along without me. This cannot." Annabelle Crowe called late one morning and begged Joyce to bring him to the phone. Something wonderfully exciting had come up and Annabelle was certain Asa would want to know about it immediately. "No I cannot come," was all he'd said, even after Joyce plumped herself right down in his lap and forced him to listen. Joyce had felt a fleeting satisfaction about that. For she was still a little jealous of Annabelle. (Well, maybe more than just a little.) She'd resented Annabelle's being so certain about what would break into Asa's trance. Annabelle had been wrong. Joyce had been right, her certitude was like the possessive mother's who, watching her son in the ocean, knows that only she knows he cannot swim.
Calculating! For days on end, he wouldn't wash or shave or eat or sleep. His heart pounded as though it wanted to escape his chest. "Do you have high blood pressure, dearest?" Naturally, he didn't answer. He consumed coffee by the gallon. And it was either ask Millie to fix another pot [Joyce didn't know where to begin] or risk his distractedly burning his hands while brewing his own. When duty compelled Joyce to leave, she'd often wonder if she'd ever see him alive again.
But when Asa turned off the desk lamp, put away his big slide rule and hoisted his handful of pencils like a claimed sheaf of wheat, Joyce knew that they would soon elevate love and life to new planes of possibility. First, he'd rest. In fact wearily grinning, he'd allow her to undress him, tuck him in bed and cuddle him to sleep. He'd sleep around the clock. Then Millie would fix a Pennsylvania breakfast. And Joyce would sit across the table and savor his every mouthful. Often, he'd show her the outcome of his calculations and explain their significance. If the House was in recess, they'd usually go off somewhere on a vacation (which they'd often do even when the House wasn't in recess).
Wherever they went, he always took along the current volume of his Journal and almost always set aside some part of his day for purely philosophical work. Philosophy enhanced rather than detracted from their sharing of each other. Their love was integrally bound up in it, she knew. Indeed, philosophy was the ultimate source of their love. It rejuvenated him so totally that Joyce found herself thinking the word with a capital P. The philosopher was, totally, her Asa Zook. She hated the calculations most of all because when he was feeding them raw chunks of his soul, he was no longer the philosopher. He was no longer Asa Zook.
Now as she watched him from the bed, her thoughts made her shiver . She gathered a handful of muslin to her lips just in case she started to bawl.
Asa, Asa, she wanted to call out. Don't leave! Don't perish in the choke hold of whatever that is. Run, run, run to me before it's too late.
She did not call out, of course. And she had to concede a necessary relationship between the purgatory he was now crossing and the providence he was trying to reach on the other side.
Annabelle Crowe or Fisher Adrian would probably call today to see if he still exists. Millie might ask if he would be coming down to supper. And the children would inquire about Uncle Asa. Ray and Poppa needed no words to transmit their concern.
Annabelle Crowe! She'd driven Joyce absolutely nuts, at first. The flaunty twitch of her unharnassed hiney prompted Joyce, just after they'd met, to whisper to Asa, "Does she always run around the lab without drawers?" When he answered, "I believe so," Joyce nearly lost control. So he'd lied after all, and this strumpet in butcher linen was just one more among the Asa Zook seraglio. Of course, she'd never say a thing like that to him (not in public, at least). But she couldn't resist asking just how he knew a thing like that. "Annabelle mentioned it." Which was a partial relief. But from Annabelle's behavior, it was obvious that Asa Zook was free to explore and verify the hypothesis, firsthand, any time (and doubtless anywhere) he chose. It was to secure her flank against the Crowe bitch that Joyce took keen interest in the progress of Asa's scientific vis- à- vis philosophical pursuits. And it was Annabelle Crowe, herself, who actually propelled Joyce into the heart of Asa's research.
Asa had called the office one afternoon and said they were just about to go public with the Mamaluchee paradigm. It would be a New York Academy of Science lecture during a special symposium on animal intelligence Fisher Adrian had arranged. And if Joyce had the time to come up..."Actually..." she was about to explain why it would be impossible, that the HEW hearings were about to start and...When Asa said Annabelle would deliver the paper, and he was sure her presentation would be stunning, Joyce completed the sentence: "...I will be there, dear." She immediately called in Pam Peterson, said she simply had to attend the symposium, that the background was essential for her pediatric mental health research bill, that...Pam (bless her) recommended the entire senior staff go along. Which was a splendid idea, since Joyce was still married to Roger, since several Hill newsies were already curious about her absenteeism and since the symposium would give her a good excuse for having delayed her subcommittee's hearings. The entourage would provide ass cover.
"She is very beautiful," Pam had said as Annabelle walked to the lectern. Joyce gave Pam a blank stare. Blushing, Pam looked down at her steno pad. Bill Griffith, who maintained Joyce's itinerary, leaned over and drawled, "She sure is. Can you get me an introduction?" Thank god he hadn't said 'Joyce.' For a redheaded science reporter for the Times immediately looked their way. But Pam (bless her some more) jumped in: "Why of course, Bill," she said discreetly loud enough for Redhead to overhear her, if he was listening, which, of course, the sonofabitch was, Joyce was sure.
A hush spread throughout the auditorium, and Annabelle Crowe began to fill the space with rich and beautiful sound (damnably rich and beautiful). But what Annabelle had to say soon claimed Joyce's attention.
Annabelle opened with a summary of "Asa Zook's 'Phaseogram.'" Joyce had unsuccessfully tried to assimilate his article on it in Mind. And Asa had talked to her about the hypothesis at rambling length. But now, hearing Annabelle collect and encapsulate the whole thing in a single mouthful...Now Joyce began to feel the meaning. Began to know it as she knew all things of importance to her. I really see it, really understand it. Pants- peeing understand, by the G- sassafras!
Joyce not only thought she understood the phaseogram. She liked it. That something without definite size could actually exist at all warmed her. I mean...she was saying to herself as Annabelle illustrated the concept of wave phase with a lantern slide...I mean, the phaseogram sounds like poetry. It was reassuring to dismiss the notion of the mind as tiny wheels spinning and little hammers clanking away like in the aspirin commercials, which was how science usually sounded to Joyce in the first place.
"The phaseogram is relationships among brain parts, not the parts per se," Annabelle was saying and Joyce was hearing. Annabelle illustrated her point by analogy to a book. "Surely no one would seriously equate War and Peace with ink and paper. Likewise with mind versus brain." The difference, though, between a book and the phaseogram was: "The phaseogram embodies the logic of waves."
Annabelle turned to Asa's predictions. "Scrambling the brain will not scramble memory." Scramble the brain? Before Annabelle's lecture, Joyce would have upchucked at the very thought. Now the prospect utterly thrilled her.
Annabelle translated the general prediction into the specific language of the laboratory experiment. She showed a diagram of a salamander's brain and recounted the various ways in which she'd scrambled it. Then she showed slides of reassembled brains. The next slide summarized what she called "her control operations"; she went carefully down the list and explained why and how she isolated each variable from the main issue. To Joyce, what Annabelle described sounded like applied John Stuart Mill.
Then came photographs and descriptions of what Joyce knew to be the Mamaluchee paradigm, although (shucks!) Annabelle didn't call it that at all. [Blessed little Julio. Joyce was going to have to send a few breaks his way, she thought; and she jotted a reminder to herself in her notebook.]
Now came the results. Annabelle's pace picked up. Like one left jab after another, the findings came, again and again scoring the point: the jumbled brain housed an unjumbled psyche. And by implication, scrambling had not disheveled the Mamaluchio's minds. Hooray! Joyce wanted to jump up and shout. But the audience made no stir. What's a matter with you'se guys? The team just made a crucial first down. Did it pass over your peaked little heads?
Annabelle neared her conclusion. This ought to be good, really good, Joyce thought. But Annabelle astonished her. Instead of a bombshell about the nature of the mind, Annabelle seemed to wind up on a dissembling note: "We are fully aware of the limitations of our results. While our data are wholly predicted by phaseogramic theory, we nevertheless appreciate the need for more work." More work? What the hell is she saying up there? Joyce was in disbelief.
"However," Annabelle declared, "I should like to make this final point quite emphatic. The experiments presented today deny that the storage of neural information is a direct function of the brain's anatomy. Anatomy does not explain memory. Thank you."
Babble in low tones began among small groups, turned into a polite buzz and quickly spread throughout the auditorium to coalesce into a din. Joyce repeated Annabelle's concluding remarks to herself. Asa had once said there were two foreseeable theories of memory, one anatomical, the other the phaseogram. If anatomy wasn't it, then, by implication, the phaseogram was. What was the matter with these goddamn scientists, anyway? Why always these confusing last minute caveats? Why can't they come right out and say what they really believe, in plain English? The phaseogram worked, didn't it? What more proof do you want? Scientists were more conservative than Southern Democrats. And no more honest, either, not to themselves.
Annabelle was counterattacking some bald sonofabitch when Joyce returned her attention to the podium. People were lined up at floor microphones to ask questions. Joyce could see Asa slouched on a front row seat. A huge, angry- looking man wearing a plaid shirt and champing on an unlit cigar approached him. Asa stood, and the man shook his hand and slapped him on the shoulder.
Annabelle deferred the next question to Asa. God what awful clothing he wore, Joyce thought as he walked up the platform steps. She became apprehensive for him. These guys will eat him up! But he leaned into the microphone and utterly astonished her.
"Your statement is both illogical and inconsistent with the empirical evidence," Asa said. Then he walked to the blackboard and, with a hieroglyph of symbolic logic, rubbed the questioner's nose in whatever error the poor guy had committed. Asa's tone was even and friendly. But the effect was as brutal as...As what, Joyce? Socrates!
Asa proceeded to do essentially the same thing to another paralogistical perpetrator. Here was a side of him Joyce had never even suspected. There was something he'd fight about, after all: Truth. Several persons drifted out of the lines for the floor mikes, Joyce observed. Sophists, no doubt, who recognized the lethal buzz of the gadfly. Would he fight like that over me? Joyce decided not to risk an answer to herself. But he sure was making her horny. And she wouldn't even get a chance to be alone with him today, damn it.
"Do you have any comments, Mrs. Winfield?" Redhead pushed his way toward her and asked.
"Yes, Mr. Munson," she turned and smiled. "This is precisely the sort of basic research our bill is all about. Of course, I'm not qualified to speak on the technical merits of the phaseogramic theory. But it could be that we were witnessing a small piece of scientific history in the making here today. I'm certainly glad we came up."
And Annabelle Crowe had given Joyce Page something else that day. Joyce realized it after she and the staff gang moved forward to congratulate and ostensibly meet her: confidence. Confidence to be Mrs. Asa Zook. She wanted to hug Annabelle for that. Of course she didn't. But some cue in their behavior must have attracted Redhead. For his beady little grays eyes darted between Annabelle and Joyce as they shook hands. Eyes that knew Annabelle Crowe and Joyce Page shared much more than this day's passing acquaintance. Politics suddenly dictated a drastic change in the life style of Joyce Page. As the courthouse cant went, Joyce later mused, Annabelle had initiated the inexorable train of events.
The senior staffers were "relieved" when Joyce called them in and told them. Pam, in addition, was "thrilled and happy" for her. A priori, Joyce feared Roger would be a problem. Or at least she started out thinking she'd have a tough time concocting the right story and angle. But then she thought about Poppa Zook slaughtering hogs. He always did it himself, he'd told her, so as not to foist the responsibility off onto anyone else. You had to be "quick and direct" he'd said. And painless, she'd tried to add. "Death is never painless, child," Poppa replied. But you didn't have to confound necessity with hand- wringing and exculpation, which merely accrued to the final agony, she concluded and which meant you either did it or you didn't. Quick and direct. Or not at all. It was the Zook way. And she'd have to start getting used to such ways.
It did hurt, Roger admitted, deeply. But he wasn't totally surprised. And he was utterly charming. She was being forthright with him, which he genuinely appreciated, he said, because it made credible the good things she said about their years together. He'd probably love her for the rest of his life, and he'd like to think that they'd always be dear friends. What a darling he truly and unqualifiedly was being, she said. But she did beg off going to bed with him, even for old time sake.
Joyce had taken her own car, for she'd wanted the long, uninterrupted interval by herself to think it all out carefully. Just after crossing the Jersey line, she was seized by a wave of panic so intense she had to pull off the road and stop. She and Asa had never discussed marriage, per se. And here she was, reverting to type [one of his expression]; here she was, proceeding from her own assumptions, arranging his and everybody else's lives without one solitary pause to discuss, clarify, entreat -- as though the whole world were her very own private toy. "I never even asked him," she mewled. How do you know he'll even have you? Silly girl, these are things you just know! She conceded the point to herself and got rolling again. Of course he'd marry her -- when, where and how she wanted him to. And that wasn't the point, was it? No, it wasn't she admitted. She'd just brought up the ego thing to avoid what really ate at her: "Ought I?" And especially now that she fully understood the significance of his work.
"Am I worthy?" The question made her wince. But she forced herself to continue the cross examination. "Would I be bad for him? Ruin him? Be hanging around his neck, demanding, insisting, cajoling him to bleed on the floor as a demonstration of his love? Distract him from his work? I'd rather die. I'd give him up, first."
Maybe he did need an Annabelle Crowe. She'd be absolutely perfect for him. Ten miles from the farm, Joyce almost turned the car around and headed back for Washington. But abruptly ending things might destroy him. And what if she could bring him true happiness? "Oh, Asa, what? What is the right thing?" She knew only one person with enough wisdom to help her.
Poppa Zook was currying an old horse outside the stable when she arrived. She didn't even bother to go into the house. Or even close her car door behind her. She just ran to him.
"Let's walk out to the end of Millie's flower garden," he suggested. He sat as immovable as a chunk of basalt on the stone bench beside her and let her talk it all out. Except for just a hint of a twinkle at the corners of his eyes -- which he always wore around the children -- Poppa remained expressionless until Joyce stopped speaking and started blubbering. Then he took her shoulders, smiled and looked into her face. "You're already his wife, child. And you're my daughter. No piece of paper'll alter that one way or the other now, will it?" She put her head on his chest. To this very day she could remember the stroke of his heart: Boom! a powerful proclamation of life, followed by a long pause, and: Boom! She felt so safe.
"I want to show something to you, dear," he said. "I was planning to wait till it was finished and let it be a surprise. But you need it more now than later." He led her by the hand into his woodwork shop beside the stable. "Here," he said, gesturing for her to look under a sheet of canvass. "This is yours." It was a rocking chair. In her mind's eye, right then and there, Joyce could picture precisely where the chair should set in Asa's room. No, not Asa's room. Their room!
The wedding was in Dr. Overfield's church. Asa's friend Pietro Dicampo came down from New York to perform the ceremony. The 'Do- you- take' segment was in Greek, in which language Joyce had learned to say, "I do." She couldn't recall now if she wore her own or Millie's pea green dress. They both wore pea green. Mom? Joyce couldn't even picture her now. Who else was there? The office gang, of course. Dad (head still full of silver stars). Fish Adrian and his wife. Annabelle Crowe (naturally). Poppa and Ray. And Timothy. The other children. Even the baby, whom Mrs. Overfield held while Millie and Ray stood at the altar. Let's see who else. Julio Hernandez (and the proud little stinker refused to let her pay his carfare). And oh yes, that woman. The one with the handsome twin boys. Mrs. Wagner. Anita, that's what her name was. In a flash, Joyce had known from the way the two held and beheld each other, Anita and Asa had held and beheld each other many times before. Oh well!
When the House finally recessed, Asa took her to Japan. She'd forgotten most of the places and her gift shop Japanese had faded. Asa spoke the language fluently, and her memory quickly recovered. He knew the country in a way no tourist ever does. At his suggestion, and after resting for a day in Tokyo, they began "at the top of the country," up in Hokkaido and worked their way south. "That street was off- limits," he'd said as they strolled through Sapporo. Did he want to go down there, now, and see what it looked like? Oh, he'd been down there. What about the MPs? Asa laughed. He'd bought an old Japanese army uniform and disguised himself as a laborer. Wasn't that a very serious offense? Off- limits was the real offense, he insisted. As they boldly strode along the scene of Asa's military misdemeanor, Joyce appreciated the attraction. It was the city's red- light district. They continued until the street led out of town and became a country road. Eventually they were alongside a river. They passed a park full of baseball diamonds and then came to a bridge, which he led her across. On the other side, he exclaimed, "It's no longer here!" but did not elaborate. Oh well!
He called her attention to the mountains some of whose peaks still bore snow. They started back to Sapporo along an alternate route. When a taxi slowed to see if they wanted a lift, Joyce gave Asa the choice of either a) their riding; or b) his carrying her piggyback the rest of the way.
At Sendai, Asa was pleased, he told her, to find no trace of bomb damage to the city's municipal buildings. In the industrial zone between Tokyo and Yokohama, he insisted they get off the train and walk around. Incendiary raids had totally devastated the region, he said; all that had remained standing after the war were smoke stacks, which had reminded him of the remnants of a forest fire. But industry had reclaimed the region. "The lesions of war had been healed by the commerce of everyday life," he said. It seemed like a miracle to her, Joyce allowed. (Allowed? Where had she picked up that?) But Asa insisted, "It is Nature's will expressing itself through human hands."
They spent several days at a palace of a hotel above Kanazawa. Mount Fuji, they agreed to save for a later visit (which they soon took).
They went down to Nara where she and Roger had gone several times. At the indoor Buddha, Joyce wanted to crawl through a square, head- sized hole cut through the base one of the temple's giant wooden pillars. Roger hadn't let her do it. To her astonishment, Asa also objected. Astonishment, because it was the only instance in which he'd ever insisted she not do something.
She protested: "I've given up letting anyone tell me what to do or not do with my person, especially a man." She stamped her foot. The Duke of Windsor or the Prince of Wales or the Baron of Something- or- Other had slithered through that space. It was an experience she'd wanted for a long time. And it was unfair of Asa even to suggest...
He drew her close to him and held her tightly. "It's too narrow," he begged. "Please don't go." Instead of the ridiculous college girl stunt (and he might have been right, anyway), she went and stood before the great Nara Buddha and prayed silently for Momma Zook's forgiveness.
In Kobe, they borrowed a car from a language professor (Asa actually had a friend?) and drove north through the Rokko Mountains into the interior of Hyogo Prefecture, stopping for the night in a village named Yabu, at an inn where the ancient concierge immediately raised both arms and then embraced "Zooku- san, Zooku- san." Then they bowed and bowed; and finally Asa introduced "Abe- san" to Joyce as his "tamadachi." More bowing. That evening they sat stocking footed, chop- sticking glutinous balls of plain rice, kompaiing each other with sips of warm saki and conversing in Japanese. Abe- san explained to her that his and Asa's un- Japanese embrace was something he'd learned from Zooku- san. Joyce had never heard Asa sing before (and would not have imagined it possible). But Zooku- san and Abe- san, accompanying themselves with much slapping of thighs and forearms, began a serenade Joyce did not understand one word of. Would Asa please translate for her? He couldn't, he said, and he doubted that Abe- san himself could, literally, at least. The words came from an ancient and sacred cantillation -- in Altaic, he thought -- and the mode of communication was meter and intonation. "Just listen to the rhythm and the sound," Asa suggested. Then Asa asked if Abe- san would object if Joyce joined them. The old man seemed to shut Joyce's gender out of his mind, and the three exchanged chants ["Ooo! Tsssooooo! Chi. Nai!"] without her having the foggiest idea of what or whether she was articulating, but certain in the depths of herself that she was proclaiming how magnificent it was to be here and alive and in love. Joyce eventually asked why Mamma- san was out there in the kitchen slaving away at the steaming rice pot. Couldn't she join them? Abe- san acted as though he hadn't heard her. Conceding Joyce the philosophical high ground, Asa suggested that her persistence might embarrass Mamma- san. Joyce duly yielded. After several more rounds of song and saki, she realized that Asa, stocking footed, was carrying, her over his shoulder, thump! thump! thump! down the narrow, paper- paneled hallway to their room, and...
They breakfasted on eggs poached in fish broth and seaweed (ugh, Joyce thought when the tray arrived; but it was absolutely scrumptious); more steaming rice, rich frothy green tea (instead of the urine- colored liquid she'd come to think of as Japanese tea); and what Asa said were a special treat in her honor [which Joyce would not have associated with Japanese culture]: whole- wheat rolls in the form of cushion- soft domes of pure delight. After good- byes to Abe- san, they continued north in Hyogo (the direction confused her until Asa showed her the map). Near lunch time, they stopped at another village where Asa bought her a kimono at the local "Komin- kan," which he translated: "Citizen's public hall." They spent the night in a mountain town Asa said was famous for its fish hatchery; and where they dined on trout sukiyaki. (Joyce'd always thought the dish required beef? No, Asa said, and when they got back to the Pacific coast, he'd take her to a restaurant whose specialty was sukiyaki with squid . [Ugh!]) The next day, they arrived at a high cliff overlooking the Sea of Japan, near a village Asa had not visited before, where the inns were reputedly known for their hot springs and where the markets displayed king crabs so immense and crawly that the sight of them caused Joyce to pee the pants Asa had recommended she put on as a hedge against sudden updrafts of sea air.
They returned to Kobe via an alternate route, through the city of Himeji. There, an Imperial summer palace intrigued Joyce, but Asa wanted to visit a veteran's hospital. He bought flowers for the head nurse who knew him. He must have anticipated Joyce's unease for he volunteered, "We were not lovers in the physical sense, Joyce." But the sight of so many armless, legless, noseless and jawless human beings unnerved Joyce. Asa asserted, "The world is full of such holding places, dear." And then he said nothing at all during the rest of the day.
Joyce wanted to skip Hiroshima. But Asa said it was a "sacred" part of their trip. She didn't tell him then that she felt as though they were gawking. And his near- total silence during the day unsettled her. She covered up but then had a terrible nightmare.
The dream scene was a concentration camp whose inmates were Japanese school children. Two guards goose- stepped in front of the barbed wire fence. One was Poppa Zook. "Heil Hitler," he said to the other guard. Then he unholstered a Luger and began shooting the children. "Gotta be quicker and directer 'n this," he said to the other guard. The other guard was Asa. Joyce wanted to scream out. "Go fetch Raymond," Poppa said to Asa. "Round up them gooks and we'll cook 'em all with an atom bomb." Asa shook his head no. Poppa took a paper from his coat pocket. "It's the law," he said. The paper bore the title of one of her current legislative bills. Wait! Wait! she tried to cry out. There was a misunderstanding. The bill was meant to save the children. But her voice didn't work.
Then she was wide awake, terrified, uncovered, off the mattress, on the tattami in a cold sweat. She crawled back under the quilt, awakened Asa and told him of the dream. He listened. Then he suggested that her worst fear was the transformation of good into evil. Perhaps she doubted herself. She cried then, and he held her quietly for a while. Eventually, he told her about killing a bird when he was a boy. "We invent Philistines for ourselves, Joyce. We're Nature's children, dear, not gods." Or had he actually said, 'Not God's.' She didn't inquire. But she felt safe in his arms. Soon she felt better. And...It was morning, and she felt alive again, she told him. But could they skip Nagasaki? He kissed her, said he wanted to visit Beppu, which was also on Kyushu Island; but, no, they didn't have to go to Nagasaki.
On the ferry back from Kyushu, Asa met a Japanese biochemist and the two got into a highly technical conversation about a new antibiotic he called coppermycin. Asa said coppermycin would greatly interest one of his colleagues. "Fisher Adrian," he said to Joyce. The biochemist, who became very charming to her after the shop talk ended, removed a vial of blue powder from his briefcase and gave it to Asa.
Everywhere in Japan, absolutely everywhere, it was the same thing over and over again, Asa striking up conversations with total strangers, engaging them with a county chairman's ebullience, including, while not actually kissing, certainly talking and kidding (no less) with the children. "Would you like to live here permanently, dear?" Joyce asked. He said he would not, that his apparent outgoingness was an attempt to reduce the cultural dissonance, although he did admit a kinship with the Japanese people. He usually managed, he said, to get along well in a society where he was ever- conscious of being an outsider.
"It is my natural state," he said. "But with the Japanese I believe I suffer strong subconscious guilt." About what? He talked at length of Manila, of atrocities his platoon had encountered at a maternity hospital, of how, for the first time in his life, he'd been "seized by the clamp of vengeance." Two submachine guns had been issued to his squad for house- to- house fighting. He'd insisted on taking one, had even struck down a comrade for the prize. "I became an instrument of the God of Wrath, of the universal evil I had repudiated as a child." The Japanese? Their sons had been his victims. But they too felt guilt, he believed (she disagreed but said nothing). They too seemed to sense that the true antidote was love; which he believed the Japanese showed toward him; and which he guaranteed he felt for them. Something had always puzzled her about him, she confessed. How come he'd worn his combat infantry badge and ribbons? If it wasn't too painful for him, could he explain that to her. It was not painful. First, they were the stigmata of the misbegotten romanticism he'd pursued as a youth. But he'd had a far more compelling motive. He paused and let her ask, what? His eyes twinkled, and he answered: "To avoid KP."
On the way back to the States, she showed him around Honolulu. And she was so thoroughly refreshed when they got home that she plunged right into her campaign and beat the e- living tar out of her opponent for yet another term in the House.
They set up permanent residence with Poppa and the family (where else?). Washington was completely out of the question, she insisted when he suggested they take an apartment there. To minimize travel time for both of them, and so that she could be with him on at least a few weekday nights, they rented a small apartment within a brisk walk (for his legs ) of Havering and a quick taxi ride to LaGuardia for her. They enjoyed strolling through New York, although (and he was puzzled) she absolutely refused to go into Central Park at night; or stop for a bite to eat in the Bowery (which she didn't try to explain). They discovered a mutual passion for used bookstores. He was learning Yiddish from a colleague (the plaid shirt and cigar wearer, she believed), and he liked to practice it -- or Italian -- at the open air markets where they shopped. To her surprise, she realized she was learning these languages herself. He enjoyed concerts, tolerated plays, sat silently through ballet or opera, fell asleep at the movies and was completely ignorant of sports. To her amazement, he liked to dance. And he had a strange penchant for ordering glasses of beer but taking only a sip or two of his own. Out of self- preservation, Joyce let lie the history behind the dancing and the beer. Occasionally, they'd go out to dinner with Annabelle and Fish; and once with Fish and Mrs. Adrian. When time was tight, and they couldn't spare a trip to a restaurant, he did the cooking. But they did not entertain; not at all. Their evenings belonged to his philosophy, her homework and their lovin' (from which he curiously dropped the 'g'). Weekends they always went home.
His personal affairs, "Oi!" Fortunately, his car was in Ray's fleet registry; otherwise, she was sure, he would have driven without license plates. Operator's permit? It had expired before he joined the army. He'd had to obtain a social security card years before to begin his internship; but he had no idea where it was. He'd not registered for the draft, but immediately did so when she said she might be politically embarrassed if he didn't. To her mortification, he'd never filed an income tax return; and she discovered an unopened letter from the IRS asking him to explain. She had to enlist the aid of one of Dad's old fraternity brothers to straighten out the mess. Luckily, Asa had claimed zero dependents on his withholding declaration and had substantially overpaid his taxes. Given the technical nature of the violation, and the prowess of one of the best tax lawyers in New York, Asa got off with only a fine.
Yet he was surprisingly prompt about paying bills, usually with cash stuffed into an envelope. He kept no records or receipts. He had no checking account. But she was astonished by the amount he had in savings. (Thrift was another Zook way.)
He did not use his title, she discovered from his passport application, but consented to so when she said it would be helpful to her career. He had never voted. But he registered and voted for her. (Which so thoroughly pleased her that she cried.)
His wardrobe? Old army uniforms, work clothes, two new gabardine suits she bought for their trip to Japan and one out- of- style blue pinstriped, obviously not chosen by him but by someone with an intimate knowledge of every inch of his body. (Oh well!) His socks clearly were meant to be worn with sandals or toeless shoes. His underwear, which he washed himself, was indeed unmentionable. He owned a dozen perfectly fitted broadcloth shirts which he rarely wore; they also bore the touch of devotion to his every physical detail. He'd owned no dress overcoat (and caused her to stamp her foot when he couldn't understand the harm of wearing a sheepskin jacket to the Metropolitan Opera House).
Their routines varied with her schedule and his work. When he was heavily engaged in theoretical pursuits, he seldom went to New York, often stayed at the farm or sometimes went off camping, occasionally to a godawful shack near the most terrifying surf she'd ever seen in her entire life. "You don't swim in that, do you darling?"
"Anymore!" She became panicky at the thought of his ever having been tossed about in...in that! And she threw her arms about his chest. "Please promise never, ever to go in there again." He patted her reassuringly but did not promise.
Her work took on richer significance. And it wasn't just power any more. She gradually became aware of qualities emerging from her she'd always hoped might really be there, but had come to doubt. She was becoming tolerant of human frailty, she discovered. The Congress, which she'd once called "the House of Reprehensibles," she began to see quite differently. Of course, she still knew full well what went on. It was her business to know. "But much good actually occurs here," she insisted to a political reporter who asked for her comments on the most recent scandal. The love she bore for Asa every moment of every day, she thought, must have surfaced. Perhaps it rubbed off on those about her. She'd known too many phonies, and all too well, not to recognize the sincerity of her colleague's reactions to her. "You're absolutely radiant, my dear," the whip came over to say at the start of the new caucus. And whereas, before, her charm had been a carefully wielded instrument, it was now simply the way she was. For now she was Mrs. Asa Zook.
He'd been right about how she'd feel when they couldn't be together. He was always a part of her, increasingly so as they grew closer, closer, closer. He was always with her wherever she went, she always felt. Always, except when the calculations had him.
And they now had him in a death grip, she was sure. She wanted to roll over and cry out to him, Asa, Asa, come back. She buried her face in the pillow. For she could not bear to watch him any longer. "Did you say something, dear?" Joyce uncovered her face and looked around, not believing her ears. He was standing up at the desk hoisting a fistful of pencils.
Copyright, 1996 by Paul Pietsch, all rights reserved. May be copied for personal, educational or other non-commercial "fair-use" purposes, as defined by U.S. copyright law.
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