Post Road Magazine #1

Plan of a Story That Could Have Been Written If Only I Had Known It Was Happening

Gail Hosking Gilberg

My frustrated uncle walks through the newsroom at CBS in New York where he works. “Where in the Hell can I send my niece to college?” he mutters. A news writer, a few years back from Paris and The Herald Tribune, stands up and tells my uncle he has the perfect college for me. My uncle comes home and hands me the address. “Here, write them.”

That autumn we pull up to the college football field on our way to my freshman dorm. The news writer has left CBS to work for this college that he and his brother once attended, and that I will soon call home. I shake the hand of the man who has directed my fate with the mention of a place. Be sure to write that I met his British wife the same day and that I became their baby-sitter. They are the first adults to offer me a glass of wine.

Many years later we are all good friends, my husband included. The news writer and his wife lead the life we want to have—simple, creative, and unpretentious. Shelves of books line their walls. Delicious, healthy meals with good bottles of wine on their table. Classical music. Stacks of the New York Times. A smattering of comfortable furniture, an Amish rocker by the fireplace, a view out to the garden. He tells us stories of the college in his day. I tell him about growing up as a military brat and how it was my father died in war. Be sure to weave in how his wife rarely mentions her soldier father, a British officer, and her life in Cairo before THE WAR killed him, and her sister died from pneumonia because no one was home to attend to her. Don’t forget to add that the news writer’s wife and her brothers had looked longingly out at Cairo’s dirt roads for their returning mother who kept falling in love with men and following them to places like South America. See if you can count the boarding schools she went to, or how many lonely Christmases she spent in the company of strangers. Go back and tell her you understand why she hates to visit England now.

The news writer retires early and takes trips as a travel writer. His wife learns to take photographs so she can accompany him. I hunger for their returning stories. I look for his writing in the newspaper. When I see him again I listen to details about safaris in Africa, mountain climbing in France, and castles in Scotland. I follow maps hanging on their bathroom wall. His wife says to me one day out of the blue: “You are lucky to have your teaching job—something that’s just yours.” Later they spend three weeks on a Greek island in a spacious, seaside house. We are surprised when she comes back speaking Greek.

When the wife calls with a lachrymose voice and asks to speak to my psychologist husband, that they must come to see him NOW, my husband tells me he thinks he knows what is wrong. I say he can’t be right. They will not speak of divorce. They can not be at war. “You wait and see,” he tells me. An hour later they are there, walking past me drained of eternal youth, empty of friendly words. Describe the restless air they brought with the rain and how soaked I was with shock.

She leaves for Greece and the man she thinks she loves there, but doesn’t call me to say goodbye. She disappears from my life and I don’t know where to put that. Mention that the Greek guy is ten years younger and that they plan to spend half the year in Greece and half the year in India. Days go by and then weeks. The news writer can not sleep. He loses weight. He sits on our couch, drinks our wine and speaks of their life together. He tells us more than I imagined, more than his usual, quiet self ever has. It feels like a wasteland of memory. An endless shedding of tears. If only it had been more quarrelsome, he says, it would have been easier. “Now who do we want to be when we grow up?” I ask my husband.

Months turn to a year. She returns and leaves. Returns and leaves. Sometimes for only a few days. They meet in Paris. She wrings her hands and cries. The news writer listens. Weeps. Watches her return to Greece. The divorce comes through. He sits down to re-write the novel he wrote in better times.

He mentions it is tempting to go through boxes of old photographs and begin piecing together an autobiography of sorts. But then he says that it would be too painful and that’s why he likes writing fiction. He remembers a picture I once showed him of my father on the Champs Elysees, and sends along a copy of one of him and his wife—perhaps on the same spot, certainly the same year. Paris was lotus land, he writes. That was a happy time.

“I need your recipe for honey chicken!” he says to me over the phone.

I find an old postcard from his wife who had written me during their trip to Antigua long ago. She mentioned how they weren’t in a hurry to return home, how they could be happy in Antigua a while longer. Was the a while longer a clue? She says they’ll come visit us once the winter abates and the weather is more predictable. Some things are harder than weather to predict.

I would guess, as those left behind often attempt to do when collecting the pieces, that war still sinks into his wife’s memory. I would imagine an unliberated tortured soul, destruction played out from long ago, someone caught in war’s aftermath. War never ends, they say. It just comes home. But all this is a hazardous conjecture. An émigré’s desire to explain. A coup by the opposition. A Goddamn relentless, crazy revolution.

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