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An Excerpt from David Orsini’s
Bitterness / Seven Stories


In September, exactly a year after Neal had died during the Meuse-Argonne offensive within the forests east of Verdun, Deirdre agreed to join her sister Moira and her husband as well as their parents on an afternoon’s sail across Newport waters. They were (she saw because of their carefully modulated smiles) very pleased that she was for the first time in more than a week consenting to enter a day’s colorful progress. That she had on more than one occasion excused herself from their amiable excursions seemed almost a natural thing. For she was adjusting slowly to her husband’s having died in the war and to this vacant afterward which was unmitigated by those flickering moments when she believed him to be in the sun-touched shadows of the parlor or the library or her bedroom, here in her parents’ summer home on Ocean Drive.

After the early months of Neal’s being dead, she had discouraged any conversation that would too prosaically define her feelings about him or about the long, sleepless nights she had taught herself to endure or about the loneliness that frightened her and would not leave her. Nor would she express to these four relatives whom she respected and loved—or, for that matter, to the friends who had been very close to her and her husband—her uneasy memory of the two years when she and Neal were alive together and happily married.

So often in this year of her grieving, she had seen Neal standing ruggedly before her or heard his husky voice in a room nearby. She remembered accurately, as if they were speaking to each other right now, the private dialogues which had made their union both idiosyncratic and enjoyable. She remembered, too, all the specific places and occasions which had been the colorful excuses for their being together. On those days, they had appeared (her mother used to tell her) both compatible and ideal. With her titian-hair and light-skinned willowy frame and his tall, sun-bronzed muscularity, they belonged to no one but each other. Was it any wonder that her memory of the happiness she had shared with Neal had at first drawn from her both solacing and grateful tears? So, too, had his having consented to her and not only having consented to, but having needed her supremely and vigorously and absolutely. Nothing (she told herself in the first months after his death) could steal those years from her. Their reality became insistent and vivid whenever her memory gave her husband back to her. But gradually, even against her will, her days with Neal began to seem dreamlike and mysterious. Into death he had vanished and vanished too was the palpable reality of their being together.

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