sixteen, Kitty insisted she go on the birth control pill. Then one night Kitty had invited over a neighbourhood boy Luce liked and dimmed the lights,calling over her shoulder, “Enjoy yourselves. I won’t be back for three hours.” Luce had felt dizzy from fear and nothing much had happened—not then or since.
In the days when they had talked together about such things, her mother warned her not to expect sex to be like the glorified Hollywood depictions. But she stopped trusting her mother’s insights on love after Kitty fell for Lee Pronski.
Meanwhile, there were too many nagging questions about love. She longed to be swept away but how could she fall in love without losing all sense of herself? She didn’t want to suffer the fate of lovers in Greek myths or romantic novels. It was cheesy and grim to die in a cave like Katherine, the adulterous wife in
The English Patient
and it smacked of self-indulgence. And how do you tell a frog from a prince, or recognize a frog is a prince? He wasn’t going to show up in satin tights and slippers that turn up at the toes, now was he? There was no simple answer. And, just as she was convinced that she needed to keep on searching, she was equally sure she would never find anyone who would make it worth her while to surrender to the transporting love she craved.
She supposed her yearning was the sort of thing Lee used to deconstruct in her women’s studies courses. She could imagine what the Polish Pumpkin might say: the signifier is looking for a non-existent object to signify. She smiled wistfully. Is that what she was up to? The perfect lover with the perfect nose, and a row of perfect toes? Well, love was the ultimate floating signifier as far as she could tell. The word referred to something no scholar could define or concretize. Anyway, her feelings about love were convoluted, and their complexity left her bewildered. Too bad she couldn’t follow the example of Asked For Adams and seek refuge in axioms that glorified paradox, like, say, telling oneself that withoutdoubt hope wouldn’t live. If one found paradoxes comforting, that is. Personally, she found them sickening.
May 20, 1797
I have suffered a grave misfortune.
Earlier this evening, Father and I stood together on the balcony outside the salon belonging to Madame Gritti. We were waiting for the guests to arrive in her small apartment (called a
, which overlooks the Piazza San Marco. Father admires Madame Gritti. He wags his head sheepishly when I tease him that the independent ways of Venetian women should help him forgive me mine. In their
, upper-class wives entertain their
—the escorts who act like second husbands. I notice that Father is pleased if Madame Gritti icily ignores her
and he winces whenever this fellow appears a few steps behind her, bowing to her one minute and the next running to fetch a hot chocolate drink.
She, at least, found Father interesting enough to offer him her apartment and he has invited some of the élite of Venice to see the sketches from Monsieur Pozzo. Despite my warning, Father had insisted on going ahead with his purchase, saying I had acquired my knowledge of art from Peabody’s guidebook. His lack of suspicion is out of character, and I fear the effect this city is having on him. He was no longer in good humour by the time we found ourselves on the balcony watching the angry mob in the square. They were smashing the doors of anyone sympathetic to the French because they believe the Doge and hiscouncil betrayed them by surrendering their city. At one end of the square, we heard boys yelling,
“Viva San Marco!”
And by the Molo, brigades of French soldiers rushed into the melee, shouting,
“Viva la libertá!”
“They are not bringing freedom to Venice, Father. This is tyranny. Do we need to have the French consul to our party?”
“He declined, child. And I worry the others will not come. Let us check to see if Monsieur Pozzo has