STORIES VOLUME ONE

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GROUND LIGHTS

By L. T. Fawkes

He is restless.  He prowls.  She watches his progress, how he rests one linen-sleeved elbow on the mantel, how his eyes sift the faces in the crowd, how he shifts his shoulders, tilts his head to overheard conversation, how he walks in the long, even strides of one who is accustomed to covering distances quickly.

He moves toward the French doors and pauses, starts when one of the waiters touches his arm to offer a drink from the silver tray on his palm.  She takes in the hollows and gleams of his face in quick glances, lines and planes so fine they could be cut into marble, the soft shine his dark hair captures from the little candelabra behind him.

She is not shy but she does not allow her eyes to linger on the big, wild dark eyes for fear of accidently drawing them.  She notices the right hand pocketed in the linen trousers and the left, hanging, clenched.

She inquires.  No, the name cannot be Bill.  I’m asking the name of that one, squeezing the lime into his glass.  Bill?  Not possible.  Surely it’s something more exotic.  And he does what?  Imports?

Disappointing.  She expected to hear he was a mercenary, for example, or a gambler.  But there must be something extraordinary about him.  What a fine-looking man he is.

She continues to observe him.  Now he moves to the piano where a young woman in sheer pink is playing. He stands nearby, hands clasped behind him.  The musician glances up.  He smiles and nods and moves on.  The musician turns to watch him go, then settles down once more to her music.

She remarks to herself that he certainly has presence.  Now he stops near the bar and speaks with an older man, white-haired, distinguished.  The older man steps closer to hear and nods.

When he’s speaking he fixes his probing eyes on the older man.  When he listens he turns his head slightly and his eyes roam the room.  And now, as he listens, his attention is on her.  She is unexpectedly singled out.

A woman, talking in a group, laughs and steps back, interrupting the line of sight, moves forward again to take a man’s elbow and the circuit is reconnected, a two-twenty line Oh my but he is beautiful.

She smiles, not calculatedly but involuntarily, the result of nervous laughter building somewhere very near her stomach.  He makes his excuses to his companion and takes a step in her direction and she catches her breath.  There are times when she has the gift of prophecy and this is one of those times.

But suddenly here is her hostess, at last she has a free moment to show off the library. “Come along, it’s so nice to see you again.  I hear you had an encouraging note from an editor.  Have you reworked the story and sent it back yet?  It’s all so exciting.  I hope you’re finding some good material here at my little party, dear.”

She glances over her shoulder.  There he stands, his lips suggesting an ironic smile.  He shrugs, turns, and she glimpses his lean figure as he roams into the crowd once again.

She is steered along a hall, the party noise fading, and into the deep silence of the library.  So many books.  Floor to ceiling.  Strong smell of furniture polish, long, gleaming library table, big, dark desk, heavy leather chairs, stone fireplace, long windows, books.

“Yes, I’m awfully proud of our library,” her hostess says, her voice soft as velvet.  “You must come and work here sometime, will you?  Over here is the reference section.  Oh, yes, we’ve been accumulating books for many years.”

“Now over here, novels, poetry here, and that far section is the classics.  Bill?  Oh, ho, you have been finding material.  No, I don’t know him well myself.  He’s an acquaintance of my husband’s.”

There is a sound in the hall.  “Oh,” says the hostess, “here is Mr. Glinn, the publisher.  Come and meet the young woman I mentioned, Mr. Glinn.”

She shakes a firm hand and answers direct questions.  Mr. Glinn is all business.  Even his smile is economic.  Yes, sir, she would like very much to send some of her work along, thank you.

The hostess and Mr. Glinn have run into each other’s friends here and there.  They exchange messages.  His wife is fine and was looking for the hostess earlier in the evening.  Their boy is doing well at school.  She feels awkward.  She reads titles across the book shelves and tries not to appear to be eavesdropping.

“Oh, look how diligent our young writer is,” says the hostess.  “Ready to roll up her sleeves and go to work when there’s a party in the next room.  But why don’t you go on back and find your young man, dear.  And will you close the doors behind you, please?”

She regrets noticing a touch of red in the hostess’s cheek, a certain intensity in Mr. Glinn’s expression.  She wonders if maturity is the process of acquiring more and more bits of information that one must keep to oneself.

She feels strange re-joining the party, removed, as if it has shifted into another gear in her absence.  It seems as if there are half again as many people now, and none of them is him.

She is served a drink and moves to the edge of the crowd so as not to be jostled.  The crowd moves, too, and she edges along, looking for breathing room, finds it near the French doors where he stood earlier.

She turns, parts the thin gauze curtains and sees the large, lighted patio with big umbrella tables and geometric gardens running down the slope.  Her eye slips on down to the lighted pool and beyond, down to where the earth falls away and becomes black sky.  She knows, bringing her eyes back up and squinting to penetrate the blackness, that stars ought to be visible since it is a clear night, but she is blinded to the stars by the ground lights.

She turns back to the party and recognizes rising anxiety.  There are too many strangers, unfamiliar social codes, too much noise, too much brilliance.  She feels buried.  She wanders to the bar, leaves the half-empty glass there, looks around for someone to talk to, any friendly face, wanders through the crowd into the hall, glances back once, looks for the hostess who is, of course, absent, pulls open the heavy front door and steps out onto the long front porch.

The long, broad driveway, lit by lanterns on posts and lined with big cars.  Gleaming chrome.  Three uniformed chauffeurs talking, smoking.  Shadows.  Distant party noise.  Warm fragrance of honeysuckle somewhere nearby.

She walks along the porch to the end.  Wide side lawn and then woods.  Left of the woods, lights of traffic on the avenue and in the distance, down in the valley, the soft glow of the town.  It is time she started home.

She reaches the broad porch steps and stops, hears a throat being cleared in the darkness at the other end of the porch, searches the shadows, sees the figure in white linen come into the light.

“Hello.”  His voice is low and grainy. “Leaving?”

“Yes.”

“I was about to speak to you earlier.”

“I know.”

He tucks his hands into his trouser pockets.  He is standing close now.  His eyes prowl the landscape, past the chauffeurs in the driveway, past the avenue lights, they dip into the valley, arc into the obscure sky, veer into the dark woods, come along the side of the house, peeking in the long windows, and finally they seize her eyes and hold.  He has such deep and restless eyes.

Long moments pass.  She waits while the creature inside her who acts out the real emotions squirms and screams.

Finally he sighs. “Like to go have coffee somewhere?”

“Yes.”

Even though she understands clearly even now that she will certainly spend large parts of her spirit running to keep in front of whichever restless winds happen to be lifting him away, and if she felt buried when she was blinded to a clear night sky by the ground lights, well, involving herself with this man will be infinitely worse, yes, she knows that, and she also knows that this is a man who will not ration her but will use her up quickly, definitely, all at once, yes, she sometimes has the gift of prophecy, yes, she knows that.

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