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For a few seconds I was terrified.
She had caught up to me under the streetlight. Materializing suddenly in its faint, leaf and branch obscured luminescence like a spirit floating in the summer darkness, a spirit from a past summer that I had conjured out of bittersweet memories, a phantom of lost opportunities come to haunt me and punish me for my sins.
I was spooked only for a moment. Jane was never ethereal enough to be one of the fairie troop.
She kissed me lightly on the cheek, a quick gesture of remote friendship and nothing more. Yet the kiss ignited an inferno of hope-the ever-lurking professor in my brain warned me, the most dangerous of emotions.
Jane was not plain Jane; she was astonishing Jane and dangerous Jane. She was almost the effervescent young woman I had known three decades ago, unchanged in personality from the bubbling little toddler who had bounced down the street in our neighborhood and unchanged in physical appearance from the girl I had held in my arms under the same streetlight in 1948. She wore a cotton print dress with a low-cut, square neck that could have been the same one that she had worn thirty years before. Her body seemed to have the same lithe athletic shape, primed for a tennis match. The pale light or perhaps deft makeup obscured the lines that time must have etched on her round, faintly freckled face. I saw in the dim glow of the streetlight that her brown eyes sparkled with mischief as they always had. Her curly brown hair was still a halo around her head. Her smile was as bright as ever and her laughter as contagious as ever. Jane, touched by time and the tragedy of painful marriage and loss of children, but triumphant over tragedy.
We had met in the lilac-scented dark, by accident we would have said, at a place of love and death and the death of love. Perhaps of murder and the murder of love. But lilacs, I had always though, were flowers of hope and promise.
"It seems so long ago," her sigh hung like a wisp of fog on the humid night air. "air. "Thirty years."
Thirty years ago sighing was not part of her character.
"Or only yesterday," I replied.
Then, stuffy professor that I was, I added ponderously, "The past is always incarnated in the present."
"I'm sure you're right,"
"I used to like it, Jane, when you said I was talking intellectual nonsense."
She sighed again, a hint of weary wisdom, "I've changed my mind about intellectuals, Leo. Sometimes," and her magic laughter returned, "only sometimes, mind you, they know what they're talking about."
I felt the first stirrings of rage in my gut. I fought to keep it down.
My friends had told me that she was the "same old Jane," yet I was not ready for her to enchant me just as she had when I was twenty.
"How much more money do you make now because you are a member of the National Academy of Sciences?" she had touched me lightly on the arm. "What's it worth in hard cash?"
She was grinning wickedly, mocking me, mocking herself, mocking the values of her family, and at the same time congratulating me.
It was election to the Academy that had ended my marriage My wife and our therapist had bitterly attached me for not rejecting the honor because of what it did to Emilie. I knew then that no matter how much I wanted to save the marriage it was finished. So too were the therapy sessions. I had called my fried Packy, as I always did when I was in trouble.
"They're the crazy ones, Leo," he had told me. "Get out while you can."
In fact Emilie had moved out when I refused to attend the therapy sessions any longer. "Your precious National Academy of Sciences," she had snarled. "Is more important than the wife you've exploited all through your marriage.
That was that.
"Maybe you could get a ride on the Chicago subway with it, so long as you had the money for the exact fare," I replied to Jane, trying to organize my response to the surprise of meeting her again at just this-place and control the frenzy that suddenly had begun to flame within me.
There was no reason for me to be angry at her. I told myself. Yet anger was surging up from my gut and threatening to pour out of my mouth.
Had she been waiting for me?
No, that was impossible. She had caught up with me. Besides, she had no way of knowing that I was at the Lake this weekend.
She had hunched her shoulders and giggled as she always had, "I'm sure there's big money in being a university vice president."
"Whatever!" she cackled with glee. "Really big money!"
"Junior partner in a law firm makes more."
She clapped her hands, "Same old Lee. Nothing has changed. Déjà vu all over again."
"I'm staying with Jerry and Maggie Keenan for the Memorial Day weekend," I stammered.
I had learned how to control my explosions of rage, to wall them up inside myself, to give no hint of them though they seemed to tear at me and twist me apart.
"You have grown up OK, Lee," she rested her chin in her hand as if considering me. "Not bad for a fusty old political scientist."
It was a humid, windless night for so early in the season. The Lake was listlessly tapping the shore and the smell of flowering trees permeated the air. My anger ebbed, leaving me emotionally exhausted. I had also learned to hide the
letdown after my rage.
"And you're prettier than you were when you were twenty, Jane."
It was a typically creative compliment from me, a cliché that I had regretted as soon as I had spoken it.
She slapped my arm lightly. "None of your blarney, Professor Kelly…It's the dim light that deceives you."
"It's not that dim and I don't think so."
Then we both became silent, the memories of the dead past throbbing around us.
I almost reached out for her breast just as I had done in 1948. We were both of us flirting with adultery. More or less.
"The same spot," I murmured.
Then she sighed, and somehow in her seriousness both my anger and the possibility of passion renewed evaporated; all that remained was the scent of lilacs and the jasmine and the crab apple trees.
Copyright © 1997 by Andrew Greeley Enterprises, Ltd.