Five Points, Vol. 8 No. 2Spring 2004
From Hayden Carruth, “I preferred independence, and I emphasized that in my poetry, in my prose too, I think, and in my life.”
Madison Smartt Bell
“Beryl,” she told him, when he asked her name. In full it was Beryl Cornelia Fallsworth. She had an aunt who went by “Con.” “Beryl” was her father’s fancy, and in grade school the other kids had jeered at it, so that she came home complaining, wreathed in tears. Why couldn’t she have had some ordinary name? Her father, tipsy as he always was by six, had said half-mockingly, Did you want to be another Jennifer—Jennifer number eight-hundred-and-forty-two. Knowing he meant to jolly her out of it, she’d flown into a rage and wept much harder. Later, older, now for instance, she’d recognized the name as an asset.
Karl, whose name she had not quite caught, repeated the word in a savoring tone, beryl, as if he weighed upon his tongue a morsel of the stone it designated. At once she was moved by his air of recognition, removed some small distance from the mobbed ballroom with its clang of shouting voices and wedding music fractured by the bad acoustics. She could feel it in the bottoms of her feet, so powerfully that later, that same night, she’d let him touch and tongue her secret pearl.
That was unlike her. But what was she like? At the office they called her, “Ms. Fallsworth,” to be sure. She dressed severely, as young lawyers must, accenting her good looks by repressing them in her garments—a tactic she thoroughly understood. There were no casual Fridays at “Wiley, Craven, Snivel and Cringe” (as Karl had rechristened the firm, playing on the actual initials). Sometimes the joke would surface in the midst of a tedious meeting with some client, so that she’d have to struggle not to burst into inappropriate laughter, and often she was truly afraid that she might address the senior partner, Cranston, as Mr. Craven… She was a strawberry blonde, petite, flat-chested. Karl could lift her and manipulate her like a doll. She’d worn, the night they met, a sort of doll’s ballgown, a blue which set off her beryl eyes, skirt extravagantly flared, the low and square-cut bodice drawing a straight line across the honey-toned skin of her chest, where someone else might have displayed décolletage. “You have no breasts,” Karl said, when he peeled it down—but with fascinated rapture, and she was thrilled, since all her other lovers, infrequent as they were inept, had passed this feature over without comment.