The Women | Chapter 28 of 41 - Part: 1 of 2

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 10560 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER 7: IN THE LONG SHADOW OF MOUNT FUJI

Frank was shouting, his voice booming out till the house rang with it, and everybody, not least Miriam herself, had been on tenterhooks for three days now and counting. Guests were coming. He was always impossible when people were expected, arranging and rearranging his prints and screens and pottery over and over, grouping the furniture first in one corner and then another and finally dragging it into the center of the room, where it would remain for all of fifteen minutes before he changed his mind yet again. He devoted hours alone to the floral arrangements or to draping his Chinese, Turkoman or Persian carpets over one chair or the other so that they fell just so, and on this occasion—the Japanese were coming and he was so wound up you would have thought the Emperor himself was about to breeze through the door—he went to a rosewood chest in the vault to dig out his eighteenth-century Japanese robes118 so that he could display them beside his prints. But what was he bellowing about now?

Whatever it may have been—a spot of tarnish on a serving spoon, lint on the carpet, an insufficient fire in one of the guest rooms—it was no concern of hers. He had half a dozen of his lackeys running around the place as if they’d been scorched, the cook had her instructions and another housemaid had been taken on to oversee the arrangements. No, her concern—her only concern—was to see to her dress so that she could stand beside him and greet the guests with a pure ethereal serenity and the daintiest of Oriental bows. And certainly Frank had harangued her on this latter point—the form, duration and posture of the bow—till she wanted to scream.

Now, in the privacy of the bedroom, with a good bed of coals in the fireplace and two fresh splits of oak laid atop them because it was cold as a tomb in this rambling stone and stucco citadel with its leaks and drafts and the windows that might as well have been made of transparent paper for all the good they did at keeping the weather out, she practiced before the mirror, dipping her torso and rising again with her eyes radiant and a full-lipped smile spreading across her face till her dimples shone like a girl’s, How nice to meet you, Hayashi-San, enchantée—or no, that wasn’t the right note at all. She should keep silent, letting her eyes do the talking for her—wasn’t that the way the Oriental women did it? Of course, they were nothing but chattel, no better than dogs, unless they were the painted courtesans who coquetted the night away with a passel of leering old men who had nothing more to recommend them than the yen in their pockets. And that horrible rice wine. She’d known a few Japanese in Paris—Japonisme was all the rage in those days; she imagined it still was—and they’d been decent enough, she supposed, with a good command of French, but then they were the artistes and by all accounts Hayashi-San was certainly not artistic in the least. No, he was a businessman. Manager of the old Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. And he was coming to be wooed. Well, all right, she thought, bowing before the mirror, she would woo him, then. For Frank’s sake.119

She was just cinching her blue shantung silk wrapper over an emerald-green V-necked chemise that would show prettily at her throat, thinking with some satisfaction that this was the very quintessence of the Oriental look, perhaps with the addition of a string of pearls and the jade pin of a smiling tumescent Buddha she’d picked up as a curiosity in a stall on the avenue d’Ivry some years back, when Frank came hurtling through the door. He was in a state. His hair was standing out from his head like a collapsed halo and his eyes were so inflamed he looked as if he’d been up all night long. But he hadn’t been. She could testify to that.

My God, Miriam, what are you thinking?” he shouted, and he was so agitated she could see the flecks of spittle leaping from his lips. “Get dressed. They’ll be at the station any minute now, don’t you realize that? I give you one task only—to dress yourself so you don’t look like a, a”—he couldn’t seem to find the properly insulting term and ran on ahead of himself—“and what do you do? Are you intentionally trying to ruin this for me? Is that it?”

She tried to ignore him, slipping into the seat at her vanity to see to her hair, which she’d pulled back with a comb so as to mimic the pictures of the geisha in Frank’s woodblock prints, and her eyes, which she’d extended vertically with two triangular slashes of kohl, but she felt herself hardening. “Look like a what, Frank?”

“I haven’t time for this, Miriam,” he warned, and as if he couldn’t help himself, he went to the chair in the corner and moved it three inches closer to the writing table. “Just get yourself dressed. Now!”

She was watching him in the mirror, his erratic movements, the twitching of his limbs and the pent-up tarantella of his feet on the carpet, trying to sympathize—the Japanese were coming for an extended stay and he would have to be on his mark the entire time if he hoped to nail down the biggest commission of his life, she understood that and she wanted to give him all the love and support she could—but she didn’t like his tone. Not one bit. “Ah am dressed, Frahhnk,” she said, protracting each syllable in her best high-Memphis drawl.

He whirled round on her suddenly and took the room in three strides, dipping low so that his face loomed beside hers in the mirror. She was sure he was about to make some sort of nasty comment, his lips curling, eyes gone cold as day-old coffee, when there was a sudden crash from the other room, a muted curse and the clatter of running feet. Frank flinched, threw an angry look over his shoulder, and then came back to her, his hands sinking into her shoulders like the claws of a bird. “Don’t you start,” he hissed, his face right there, his breath hot in her ear. “You dress yourself and be there to greet them at the door—the door, do you hear me?—when I get back from the station. And for God’s sake, maintain yourself.”

Icily, with as much command as she could summon, she reached up to remove his hands, then twisted round and rose to face him. “I thought I would go along with the Oriental theme, this robe, my Buddha pin—I’m trying to please you, Frank, that’s all. You should see that.” A tearful note crept into her voice and she couldn’t help it. “There’s really no call for cruelty.”

“You’re ridiculous!” he shouted. “Look at yourself. A wrapper, for God’s sake? And that preposterous makeup? You’re like a parody—No, I mean what I say. Are you trying to insult these people?”

She observed, as quietly and steadily as she could, that he was in Oriental costume—the absurd linen trousers that billowed out from his thighs and clung tight to his ankles like something out of an illustration for The Arabian Nights, the wooden clogs, the cutaway tunic that fell to his knees and a risible hat that looked like a cross between a cardinal’s biretta and a Russian ushanka—and so why shouldn’t she follow suit?

“What I wear is none of your business.”

“I could say the same.”

And now a voice was calling from the other room, some fresh crisis erupting: “Mr. Wright, Mr. Wright, could you come here a moment, please?”

“Listen,” he said, “Miriam, I beg of you—you’re the most charming woman in the world, the most brilliant, and I just need for you to dress as you normally would, as if we were going out to the theater or to dine on Michigan Avenue. Not Tokyo. Not Yokohama Bay. But here, in the United States.”

She was uncertain of herself now—perhaps the silk wrapper was too informal, perhaps he was right, and she supposed the eye shadow was a bit garish—but she couldn’t help contradicting him nonetheless. “I’ll dress any way I please,” she said.

“Mr. Wright! Mr. Wright!”

“Yes, I’m coming,” he shouted over one shoulder before turning back to her. “What I want, Miriam—what I require, what I need more than anything—is an adornment.” He paused, glaring at her, trying to stare her down, intimidate her, and the insolence of him, the lordliness, was infuriating—as if he could preach to her, as if she would listen to one word. “An adornment, Miriam, not an anchor.”

Still, when the carriage, followed by the automobile, came up the drive and into the courtyard half an hour later, she was there at the door, in her choker and beads and a gray peau de soie dress cut at mid-calf beneath her midnight-blue cape and a matinee hat that presented her perfect face as if it had been framed. And when she saw Hayashi-San in his Western suit, spats, mustache and slicked-back hair, she bowed as deeply as the hat would allow her and whispered “Komban wa” in the most delicate voice she could muster, just as Frank had taught her.

 


Dinner that night was nothing less than an ordeal, akin, she supposed, to what the flagellants must have experienced when they paraded themselves through the streets of Rome, blood drying in streaks, ritual humiliation, that sort of thing. At least for her, at any rate. For his part, Frank was having the time of his life, his voice rising and falling with the inevitability of waves beating at the shore as he regaled the assembled company with his views on the Japanese character, the parlous state of contemporary architecture, the use of natural materials, the samisen as opposed to the banjo and just about anything else that came into his head, along with a barrage of jokes, stories, snippets of song and limericks so hoary they would have fallen dead in the last century. The food was uniformly awful. The cook had attempted a Japanese theme, presenting the usual pork and gravy, fried fish and boiled cabbage with an accompaniment of little bleached mounds of white rice so impossibly adhesive it was as if she’d melted down a pot of Wrigley’s chewing gum. And the chopsticks. Frank had had Billy Weston carve them from scraps of pine—as if Hayashi-San and the rest couldn’t imagine how to perforate a bit of meat with the tines of a fork— and the Japanese just stared at them as if they’d never seen such a thing before in their lives. But it was hilarious, wasn’t it?

Frank was at the head of the table, of course, and she was seated in her usual place, at his right, while Hayashi-San and his painted little wife sat across from her and Frank’s mother commanded the far end of the table, where Russell Williamson and Paul Mueller and his wife tried to find common ground with the two mute students Hayashi-San had brought along with him as his entourage. Hayashi-San’s consulting architect, a short slight man in his forties with an absolutely immobile face—Yoshitake-San—was on Miriam’s immediate right, and throughout the meal he would turn to her at intervals and present her with brief guttural comments out of his English primer.

“Good evening,” he said when first they’d sat down, and then he repeated the phrase several times in succession, and she, playing along, returned the greeting or observation or whatever it was, until, on the third or fourth repetition, it began to take on a new meaning altogether and it was all she could do to restrain herself when “Good night” would have been more appropriate. “The weather is pleasant, is it not?” he observed next. And then, after sitting silent through Frank’s dissertation on the quarrying of native stone in its naturally occurring sedimentary layers so as to deliver it intact to the landscape, he cleared his throat and asked her if he might light her fire. “I beg your pardon?” she said, and he produced a cigarette case, offered her a cigarette and lit it for her even as Frank flashed his disapproval. She smiled then and Yoshitake-San, lighting his own cigarette, smiled back.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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