I WORKED LATE THAT NIGHT but by five o'clock the next morning I couldn't sleep anymore. The temperature hadn't gotten much below eighty during the night but now there was a breeze and I couldn't bear sleeping through it. I took a shower and stood naked in the middle of the loft with only the beginnings of the morning light from the street. I felt almost human. I wasn't sweating. The oscillating fan on the divider which partitioned off the kitchen area blew at me. I put a Stan Getz tape in the deck and stretched out on an upholstered wicker chaise and watched while the onset of daylight revealed the canvases all around me.
And I saw this Belinda Stuart creature I'd been painting for the past two years.
She was a tall woman with a fair complexion and high, wide cheekbones, a flat forehead: a serious, almost somber face which at thirty-nine retained still a few clues to the pretty little girl she must once have been. Dark blond hair which had once been flaxen, now held by the ancient headband dating from the sixties, hair now tucked behind her ears, hanging straight almost to her shoulders. A straight, conventionally Waspish nose, a long upper lip and a wide mouth, long legs and narrow hips not much wider than they'd been in the old days at Mount Holyoke.
Her appearance was somewhat deceiving since she radiated in the remote features a very now air of self-discipline, self-possession, and lucidity that can so easily strike others as a trifle daunting. She knew that people frequently took a look or two at her and concluded that she was impervious and invulnerable.
Somewhere in her I saw that she was at least as prey to the uncertainties and insecurities of life as anyone else. But not even Jack had ever grasped the truth, Jack who had seen her at the bottomed-out lows and had the best reasons to want to understand. Not even Jack.
Perhaps the eyes were what stood in the way.
There was something in the impulsive, challenging pale green eyes that made you wonder what she must have been like as a girl, twenty years ago, just discovering her own femaleness and its powers. Men who paid attention to such subtleties were bound inevitably to speculate about what toll that challenge must have taken on herself as well as on others, what hearts might lie broken in the wake of those eyes.
Brazen eyes, that's what Sally had called them.
So much for thinking about yourself in the third person. Maybe it wasn't altogether healthy to paint pictures of yourself for two years. Inevitably you wound up thinking about yourself too damn much, and that was something I'd never before been interested in doing. Well, it was too late to bellyache about it now. I'd never been one to look awfully closely at things, at life, at relationships. Sally used to tell me I'd missed a lot.
Late into countless college nights Sally had tried to explain her facts of life to me, but I'd never proven a very apt pupil. She had told me that I'd apparently come equipped with a set of psychological blinders to protect me from the rest of the world and its reactions to me. She always told me I was just Belinda wanting to stay that way, but I was bound to learn that was a hopeless goal, an impossibility. And I hadn't known what to say because I hadn't known what exactly she was talking about. Life had seemed basically simple to me then.
I had possessed an ability to focus my attention on my purposes, determined to attain them. Sally understood about my single-mindedness, whether it came to doing well in my studies or reading all of C. P Snow or making Jack Stuart a good wife. She understood about the psychological blinders and maybe she had been right.
Maybe without my blinders I'd have been able to see what was coming. Maybe. But then again ...
The next time I paid any attention to what time it was, my back was stiff from working and I looked a