So what did you think?” Todd said, taking the book from Becky and hefting it, as if instead of reading she might have torn out some pages. Becky stood a while holding back the hotel drapes, looking at the ocean. She turned up the AC. She picked up the remote and turned on the TV.
“Ugh,” she said.
Becky liked her husband’s face and how tanned and intelligent it looked, but she hated that thing he did with his eyebrows sometimes. Like how a teacher looks at you when you tell him you think you deserve a higher grade.
She made a face that was supposed to mean We’ll both be happier if we don’t talk about this. But Todd never picked up on faces like that.
“It’s not really my thing,” Becky said, leaning forward as she pretended to search for something under the bed. Her robe fell open a little, and she left it like that, even tried to reveal a little more, because if there was one thing guaranteed to stop Todd talking about books and history, it was a naked boob. Which could be annoying, but not as annoying as when he said things like “What’s not to get?” or “Let me try and explain,” or “Take a little time and think it through.”
Becky gave a wrench of her shoulder and bounced on the bed, exposing a whole breast.
Todd looked at it, blinked. He looked back at his book.
“What’s not to get?” he said.
Becky sighed and turned down the volume on the TV. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s like, first of all, she’s about twenty, and he’s almost forty. That’s gross. Then it’s like, so she’s got this little dog. Who cares? I mean, I get that it’s a symbol and everything, and it’s in the title so you’re supposed to think about it, but . . . it’s as if he didn’t even do anything with it. The whole story’s like that. It just didn’t really seem to go anywhere.”
“It’s Chekhov,” Todd said, as if that would be the end of the argument. Chekhov, master of the short story, what else is there to say? “It’s a classic. ‘The Lady with the Little Dog.’”
And there it was: Chekhov. A classic. Who could disagree?
“I know,” said Becky. “I know who Chekhov is. I’m just saying, it didn’t work for me.”
“But the details,” said Todd. “All these lovely, delicate little moments.”
He began to read out loud, slowly, looking up now and then, as if reading to an audience. [End Page 51]
“‘Yalta was barely visible through the morning mist, white clouds stood motionless on the mountaintops. The leaves of the trees did not stir, cicadas called, and the monotonous, dull noise of the sea, coming from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep that awaits us.’”
Todd stood for a moment with his hand up, looking at the book.
“I love that the sea is described as dull and monotonous,” he said. “It’s a romantic moment, but this . . . this monotony is a part of it. I think that’s so perfect, so well observed.”
“See, to me?” Becky said, “To me that part just sounds pretentious.”
Todd didn’t say anything. He was still looking at the book, reading silently. He shook his head as he read. She could guess what he was thinking. Oh, such wonderful prose, he was thinking. Oh, the monotony and eternity. Oh, how sublime it all is, being able to appreciate something as perfect and well-observed as a story by Chekhov.
Becky kept the volume on the TV down, waiting for him to go on and explain how great the short story was and how he just didn’t see how she couldn’t see it. But all he said was, “Ah, well,” as he tossed the book onto the bed and left the room.
All of Becky’s friends had said, when she decided to marry Todd, “Well, as long...