When Daniel thought back about the days in the brick house, he remembered the furry bedspread and the nervous cat – George Harrison – that Joyce brought with her from the commune upstate. He remembered the long weekends of fondue and olives, of Joyce's enthusiasm for baking oversized, sometimes phallic pastries. He remembered days that that looked, and felt, like the warm brown velvet of the old hanging papasan chair in the corner by the stereo.
The only surviving photo of the period, taken on a chilly Sunday (what was it – February? March?) shows doubt in his then-young ("Christ, was I ever that young?") eyes. Maybe because he already knew that neither the chianti nor the mid-'70s would last. Eventually, the committee would recognize that his unfinished dissertation on Rumi would remain unfinished, and his much-vaunted academic career was a sham. It was a long con, an expensive way to keep him out of the family business and away from his father’s withering contempt for his lifestyle (“Do you know how hard your grandfather worked – how hard I worked – to give you this beautiful life you scorn? It breaks your mother’s heart every time she looks at you”).
That Joyce would leave him a few weeks later, in a deep breath of carpet bags and patchouli-ed gauze, made it all the more unbearable. She left clutching a copy of Dianetics to her chest like a holy relic, gushing about Thetans and her spiritual guide – and new lover – Thad. Thad was the guy who took the goddamn picture, if you can believe it. Daniel couldn't. He found it so bewildering that he waited in bed for Joyce for four days before admitting she wasn't coming back. Eventually his friend – and occasional grass dealer – coaxed him out into the world; he was worried Daniel might starve to death, or maybe grow into the dirty sheets like a particularly heartbroken fungus.
Years later, Daniel would catch the tail end of a documentary about Scientology on a cable station and stare into the eyes of the pale, blonde woman interviewed for minutes before realizing it was Joyce. By then, she was heavy with middle age, poorly made up. Her once summery face had become a sallow and anxious frown. He supposed he was expected to feel sorry for her, but he felt vindicated. "That’s what you get," he said so loudly he alarmed the dog. Daniel then had a sudden craving for food he hadn’t been able to stomach since the winter at the brick house. The next morning he mentioned he would like fondue for dinner and Caroline looked at him, amused.
“Fondue? I thought you hated fondue. We got that set from your Aunt Rachel for our wedding and you let the girls use it as a Barbie hot tub. What on earth put you in the mind of fondue?” “Just had a hankering," he shrugged. "Touch of nostalgia." She shook her head and looked down at her grocery list. “Fondue, of all the things . . .”
He looked at her tidy brown hair against the expanse of pristine gray and white kitchen, recently renovated, in the ample home afforded by his inevitable surrender to his late father's wishes and the family business. It was nothing like the brick house. And he, the jowly gray haired seventy-year old with thinning hair and thick eyeglasses, was nothing like the bearded young man that once fed a naked Joyce an entire bowl of potato salad in bed. Such is life. Such is the point of life.
“Honey,” he said. “What if we got a papasan chair for the bedroom?”