Chapter Eleven (part iii)

The meal was convivial in a way Will had almost forgotten. He and James sat across from each other drinking wine and talked of everything—of how they had both distrusted intuition for all their lives and yet believed in it anyway, that the song one sings is the mirror of an idea, that the slip of the tongue reveals a preoccupation. They talked of the past, of the years they had worked together and of the time much earlier when they had been boys and then young men and the shape their lives would take was unclear to them still, so that a kind of map life existed in which they saw the broad outlines of the future spread before them without any real knowledge of what permutations would occur or any sense of what the fleshed out world would be: the bleakest season of the mind, the worn spot in the heart. Will told James of the only time in his life he’d gone deer hunting and in a windy dawn had seen the eyes of a buck down the barrel of a rifle. When his uncle had said, “Now, Will, shoot now,” he had pulled away and sent his shot booming into the open sky and felt the mud oozing over his boot tops as he fell backward from the recoil. It was a story he had almost forgotten. He was lost in it when he finished, remembering the wind as it lashed at his coat, the wet dawn, the sounds of the earth breaking into morning.

They spoke of their wives, of their daughters and work. James was fresh from a whole slew of reading on Vietnam, the Slough of Despond as he called it, and he launched into one of his perfect précise (the kind that had awed every judge and law clerk who had ever met him) in which he made the history of Southeast Asia and the western intervention there seem as real and plastic as the food on the table. It was after that, when they’d turned on the news and heard about the bombing halt, that Will had had an uncertain buoying of his hopes. He still felt it, though uneasily as he started down the front steps toward his car, the globe on the porch throwing a yellow pool of light into the darkness.

In the car, waiting for the windshield to clear, Will tried telling himself it was Christmas. In a way he could feel that it was. The bombs were stopping. Somewhere in bomb shelters—in foxholes if they existed now, some peace was descending through the cold air upon the earth.

Will adjusted the mirror and and set out for home. When he came up on Belmont Road, he realized he wasn’t going to turn left. He kept on straight, heading down Massachusetts Avenue, aware of how beautiful the city was at night. He had always thought it was, and here in the early hours of Christmas morning it had a kind of stately calm which seemed gradually to envelop him. With an overwhelming sense of deja vu, Will realized where he was going. Past empty intersections and Foggy Bottom. Along the looping circle in the buildingless night. The dim blue light of the Lincoln Memorial glowed out on the reflecting pool.


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