The Hotel Montana lay between the Capitol and the river on the east side of the avenue, and was built in two long wings of attached buildings which faced each other across a central courtyard. The two wings were connected by another gable-roofed building at the end, were built from blocks of quarried stone, and were painted a soft crème for the spring. There were rose bushes and day lilies in the courtyard, while beech and plane trees budded out behind both wings. I had an apartment on the second floor of the wing which faced south towards the Capitol.
Now in that apartment Marceline and I dressed for brunch. Sunlight streamed through the windows, and I could see dust motes in the sharply slanted light. Marceline took black pleated stirrup pants from the overnight bag she carried, paired them with point-toe flats, and pulled a fisherman’s sweater over her head. The sleeves of the sweater came past her wrists, and I saw again that her arms were very slender. She tousled her hair and I watched her as she dressed. The motes swirled in the sharply slanted light.
We left the apartment. It was a fine morning for a walk: the breeze was still cool, but the day was already warm and the air was fragrant with the spring. Tomorrow was Easter Sunday. We walked through the courtyard and then turned right towards downtown. Then we were at the river. Far below the arched stone bridge, the river flowed swollen and muddy. It was spring and the river was swollen. It was much better to look at the sky and the downtown buildings which revealed themselves as we turned left beyond the bridge and walked down the hill into downtown. We worked our way through the streets to the brick-paved mall at St. Clair.
At the Duchess Café across from the Old Capitol we took an outside table near the jeweler’s clock and had coffee before ordering. In that air the fragrance of the coffee was wonderful and I breathed very deeply. Parents and their small children walked through the mall, and the children raced ahead and shrieked with delight before the fountains. It was pleasant to be away from work or thoughts of work, and I resolved to keep my thoughts with Marceline.
The waiter came back with our mimosas, and then someone else brought out a basket of warm rolls beneath a white linen napkin. The butter was from local farms and was drawn by metal scoops which left designs. It was all very Southern and very charming. We ate the rolls with the fresh butter and enjoyed our coffee. Then we sipped from the flutes and looked at each other across the table.
“My, aren’t we decadent,” Marcy said.
“I’ll say we’re decadent. This is grand and you were an angel to think of it.”
“I’ll say it’s grand.”
“It’s grand. I’ll be damned if it isn’t grand.”
Marcy sipped her mimosa. “Were you ever married?” she asked.
“No. I lived with someone once,” I said. “It was very long ago.”
“I was married for three years, right after school. I thought it would ruin me.”
I waited, but she didn’t say anything else. Marceline was many things, but she was not ruined. I was the ruined one, in that moment and all moments afterward. In a moment the waiter brought fresh mimosas and cups of blueberries with sweet cream. The sweetness of the blueberries balanced the tartness of the cocktails. We ordered garden omelets with sour cream and toast and enjoyed sitting there by the fountains in the sun.
“It really is true,” Marcy said as we ate. “You don’t drive very much.”
“Why should I? We travel enough for work.”
“I’ll say we do. Really, why don’t you drive?”
“I really haven’t thought about it. I’m close to the things I love and I’m a part of this place now. I see things when I walk. I talk to people and learn about things and truly belong here. I suppose I’ve always wanted to belong.”
“You belong all right.”
“Eat,” Marcy said, buttering a slice of toast.
“It’s good,” I said, busy once again with the eggs. I touched the eggs to the sour cream and lifted them to my mouth.
“Everything is so very good today.”
“I want to know everything about you, Mister,” Marcy said. “Everything.”
“There’s not much to know.”
“Oh, bloody hell,” Marcy said. “Enough of that, already. You and your modesty.”
“Hubris, you mean.”
“You’re anything but arrogant, Joe.”
“You’ll see,” I said. “I’ll show you arrogance.”
Marcy smiled and touched my hand across the table. “Show me at home,” she said. “Be arrogant with me in bed.”
It’s a lovely thing on such a morning to sit at a table in the sun with the woman you love. Here in the mall we were sheltered from the breeze and the sun was very warm. It was pleasant to live in this town and have work that you truly loved. We had another coffee after we ate, paid the check, and then followed the rail line which bisected the street. Across the way families were spreading blankets on the lawn of the Old Capitol.
“Imagine this place as it was a hundred years ago,” I said. “People getting off the train and checking into a boarding house or hotel. No cars, no phones.”
“You’re from another time,” Marcy said.
“I’m sure it’s only nostalgia. Come on. I need to check in at the bookstore.”
We walked along Broadway and the old rail line and looked into the windows of all the shops.There were galleries with paintings and sculpture works from local artists and we passed a window display where a girl was arranging hats and spring dresses. She wore lace gloves and a hat herself and she was very young. I thought she must have been working in her mother’s shop. The buildings were all two-story in the Victorian style and were painted in soft pastels. The tall windows on the upper floors all had arches or other decorative touches. There were small round tables on the sidewalk where couples drank coffee and talked among themselves. This side of the street was cooler and deeply shaded. A man wearing an old fishing cap knelt in a doorway and carved from a block of cedarwood. The shavings from the cedar smelled dry and sweet and fresh. There were historic markers on the buildings, and it seemed that everyone looked at Marceline as we passed.
Poor Richards’s wasn’t far and I held the door for Marcy as we entered. The store was narrow and high-shelved, with paint-flecked wooden ladders resting against some of the shelves. The owner, Jason Turnbull, was a poet, a dealer in rare books, and a very good friend. He looked up from behind the central counter as we walked inside.
“Haven’t seen you in a week,” Jason said as Marceline and I walked over the creaking floorboards to the counter. His eyeglasses rested at the tip of his nose. We shook hands, warmly. I was usually in the shop every couple of days.
“You know how it is,” I said. “All I’ve done is work.”
“I have the book you wanted. It came in yesterday.”
“That’s grand.” I had ordered a signed copy of Robert Penn Warren’s World Enough and Time.
Jason reached beneath the counter. I held the book and looked at the dust jacket. Then, holding the spine carefully in my left hand, I opened it to the signature.
“He signed with his nickname,” Jason said. “He saved that for family and friends, you know.”
“I didn’t know. Marceline, look at this.”
“Red,” Marcy said, reading the signature. “I did read this once. Long ago.”
“Jason, I’m overwhelmed. It came so quickly, too. Thank you, my friend.”
“It’s nothing,” Jason said. He brought out a bottle from behind the counter and poured bourbon into stoneware mugs. “Let’s celebrate. But don’t tell Mother about this,” he said.
“Not a word,” I said. “What shall we drink to?”
“To literature,” Marceline said. “And to literary men.” We touched glasses and drank.
“Good to see you so happy, Joe,” Jason said.