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THE PLEASURE OF YEARS/Patricia Henley ON THE DECK, AFTER their first cookout of the year, Molly came out of the kitchen with a plastic cutting board, an Opinel knife with a water-bleached wooden handle, and one Bartlett pear from Argentina, knobby and yellow. Cheerfully out-of-season. "This'll go nice with the white wine," Molly said. Bax had been thinking of a glass of skim milk and a plate of Oreos for dessert. But what MoUy was after was mood. The sky luminous, bluegreen at dusk. No mosquitoes yet. A little swing music coming from the house next door, which was a good hundred yards away. The psycho dogs down the lane mercifuUy quiet. Right before dinner they had walked around their acre and checked out the growth, the strawberry blossoms, the pink peonies. They had been together long enough to plant and wait and enjoy growth in their yard: six years Ui July. "Looks good," Bax said about the pear. Molly sat down on the deck step. With the cutting board glowing on her lap, she deUcately sficed the Bartlett into eighths and each eighth she trimmed of core and seeds. Her hands were deft, square, competent , her square nails polished with French Buff, almost bare. Bax liked knowing the color of her nail poUsh and her dress size and the way she organized the glove box Ui her car, every little thing, surprises, gifts in his humdrum. He was charmed by her. As she cut up the pear MoUy talked and it took Bax a moment to tune Ui to what she said Ui such a murmur, an after-dinner reverie. ". . . yes, it was a gift from Stephen, this knife. He'd gone to France without me and that was his way of saying he missed me. ..." He felt she'd planned to tell him this. There was a reason she'd chosen the Opinel knife to cut the pear. He thought of aU the times he'd used it, how he'd actually favored it over their other knives. He would never look at it again Ui quite the same way. He had nothing against Stephen. They'd never even met. He usuaUy thought, Better that Molly had been occupied those years with a man who obviously wasn't right for her than if she'd been with the love of her life. That was aU in the past. The void. Bax was a nightstand Buddhist and one of the Buddhist teachers he'd been reading had said, "Last year's Super Bowl is Ui the same void with the CivU War." Ditto, other marriages. Bax himself had not been married before. He liked to say, "I saved myself for you, Moll." The Missouri Review · 65 "That was before the serious fights," Molly said. She offered him a slice of the pear, grainy and sweet. She chewed hers thoughtfully. "I've been feeling kind of bad about old Stephen." Bax took another slice. "He's not so old," he said. In truth, he did think of Stephen as getting old. He was nearly sixty to Bax's thirtyseven . Molly was forty-three. Their neighbor's teenaged daughter started up a riding mower and began chugging around her property, cutting grass in the near-dark, the sweatbands on her wrists Day-Glo green. Like fireflies. Rascal, Bax's yellow cat, zipped up on the deck from out of nowhere, spooked by the lawn mower. Bax thought again about building a fence, planting a row of Russian olive trees: privacy—he wanted more of it. He said, "So why're you feeling bad about old Stephen?" Molly ate the last of her share of the pear slices; then she set the cutting board aside and stared toward the mock orange, which bloomed Ui creamy wild profusion. "Time passes and you forget the worst." "You do?" "Almost." And then she proceeded to tell him that she wanted to contact Stephen to apologize for all she had done to him back Ui the bad old days. Lies she told. Selfish demands she made. Poor judgment all around on her part. She said, "Would that bother you? In any...


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