I was watching a documentary about Robert Redford when Robert Redford walked in. He was still dusted over with snow from skiing. In my paint-covered jeans and beanie, I showed him around the house. He lifted things gently and asked questions. I answered carefully.
‘Over there is a music box I’ve had since I was a baby.’ He wound the little box, and it played a warbly tune. ‘Here is a stone from the Great Kei River in South Africa.’ He held the stone. ‘This is a photograph of my father as a young man.’ Robert Redford said, ‘He liked to sail, then.’ I said yes. He said he also sailed, and even though I already knew that from the documentary film, I nodded and said, ‘Oh?’ The flurries outside were bluing the light in which we stood. He tapped my shoulder and flashed his rapid grin. We went for a walk in the cold pines and came back in to do the crossword. We hesitated at the headlines about police brutality and mass shootings. Huddled together at the breakfast table, Robert Redford smoothed my hair as we sat, passing the pen back and forth, trying to locate the correct vocabulary.
Later, we made dinner. Robert Redford poured a wicked good red he’d brought, and I roasted a whole chicken and wee potatoes. The dining room was pretty with its papering of green parrots, and the table set with the pink camellias I’d bought for myself the day before. Every now and then snow slid from the roof in a little whoosh. I sat cross-legged on my chair, and he had his shirt and sweater sleeves pushed up to his elbows. We talked of moths, the different kinds of moths that feed on tears, and I may have cried a little because his voice was so beautiful. To distract him, I asked what kind of animal he would like to be, and he said very fast, ‘A horse.’ He wanted to know my animal and, since I hadn’t been feeling very grand, I told him I would like to be a dormouse. And he looked at me kindly as if he knew exactly how much I had been sleeping lately.
The TV was playing the 11 o’clock news. Someone announced, ‘Tonight, a quiet New England town is shattered by violence—and rises above it.’ Robert Redford looked grave as I expected he would. He held my hand in his across the table while we finished the wine. Then he pushed himself back and did the dishes humming Wild Mountain Thyme. I watched his socked feet glide across my wooden floor. I sang the sweetest verse out loud: ‘I will build my love a bower by yon cool crystal fountain, and round it I will pile all the wild flowers o’ the mountain… Will ye go, lassie, go?’
We didn’t talk about childhood illnesses or divorce that night, nor did we talk about the pains of humanity at large, even if those things which we had in common worried hungrily at the door. Having watched the biography, I knew he carried a deep sadness within him somewhere, and he seemed to locate the deep sadness within me. With small gestures, we acknowledged each other’s aches. We made ourselves a fire, and we watched the reflection of the flames ripple in the old glass windows. Robert Redford asked if he shouldn’t read something, which of course was all I wanted. I pulled down The Yearling and some slender volumes of poetry from the blue shelf. In the lamplight, he was haloed, and his voice rose and fell with a richness that was very satisfying to hear. When he liked a passage, he read it twice, and the second time more slowly. ‘Read the end,’ I told him. And he did. The dog and the cat came into the room, and it seemed that even the dark fir trees outside were listening. ‘Somewhere beyond the sink-hole,’ he read, ‘past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side, and were gone forever.’
I was falling asleep on the couch when Robert Redford kissed my eyelashes and put my head on his lap. He kept reading to me, though, and I drifted off knowing that he would stay all through the night. It was late when I woke again, but I knew he was awake, too. He said, ‘Watch the signs now.’ He said, ‘Take your time—everything’s going to be fine.’ Somehow violin music was playing in the background. The next morning, I found myself dusted over with snow, and I waited until it melted and became remembered snow, before mopping it up, taking my time.
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