John Rowland, Mary, Italy discussed on The New Yorker: Fiction


He had taken a wrong turning. What a remarkable landscape, he said, looking round. Hills and narrow cornfields descended steeply toward the water. The color of the hills was sharpened by the fine, hard blue of limestone boulders, and the small cornfields were bleaching already in midsummer. The ditches were ragged, the garden over ground with foxglove and smells and thistles, the milk sour 5 hours after it had been put in the tanker. She had no interest in views herself, so she just looked up at the high blue sky and saw that a hawk had halted in the air above them. It was like a pause in her life, the hawk above them perfectly still. But just then her mother came out to see who the stranger was. He took off his helmet and said hello to her mother very courteously. He introduced himself as John Rowland, an English painter who lived in Italy. Mary did not remember exactly how it happened, but after a while, he walked into the kitchen with them, and sat down to tea. Two years since, but she had never given up hoping that she would see him again, perhaps this evening. The postman had said that some one special in the commercial hotel expected her. She felt happiness such as she had not known for years, so that she spoke to her bicycle, and it seemed to her that her happiness somehow glowed in the pearly Ness of the cold evening sky. In the white fields turning blue in the dusk, in the cottage windows she passed. Her mother and father were rich and happy, the twin had no earache, and the kitchen fire did not smoke. Now and then she smiled at the thought of how she would appear to him, taller, and with breasts now and a black lace dress, the sleeves of which roughed out into wide frills as they fell over her wrists. She forgot about the rotted tire, mounted, and cycled quickly down the hill. The 5 street lights were on when she pedaled into the village. There had been a cattle fair that day, and the Main Street was covered with dung. The townspeople had their windows protected against the animals with wooden half shutters and makeshift arrangements of planks and barrels. Some were out scrubbing their own pieces of foot path with bucket and brush. There were cattle wandering around mooing the way cattle do when they're in a strange street, and drunken farmers with sticks trying to identify their own. When she came to the shop window of the commercial hotel, Mary heard loud conversation and men singing. The window was frosted glass so she could not identify any of them, she could just see their heads moving about inside. It was a shabby hotel. The yellow washed walls needed a coat of paint, they hadn't been done since the time de valera came to the village during the election campaign 5 years before. De valera had gone upstairs and sat in the parlor, and written his name with a penny pen in an autographed book, and sympathized with misses Rogers on the recent death of her husband. Mary thought of resting her bicycle against the Porter barrels under the shop window and then climbing the three stone steps that led to the hall door, but suddenly the latch of the shop.

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