The Calm: An Excerpt From Silver Lake
And then it was autumn again, and Saturdays they would wake early, when the first clean light came up over the oak and fir at the top of the ridge and eased its way down across their glass house and overgrown slope, down to the pitched yards and shingled cottages along the street below their street, down across timber and brush and fallen limbs, across the boulevard all the way to the patient lake, where it would linger on the water, an ancient and forgiving light by noon.
These were cold mornings suddenly and so they dressed quickly in fraying clothes. One made coffee, the other swiped jam across toast. They traded sections of the paper. One started in on the crossword, the other scanned the financial pages. Then they headed out to the garage and pulled on work gloves and selected rakes and clippers, and there was little conversation except to agree the movie they had watched the night before was not sitting well with them. A simple story snapped when stretched into an epic. Actually one man fell asleep before the film ended, and the other man had to wake him only to guide him to the bedroom and back to sleep again.
Rain all week had left the air crisp but also made the ground behind their house muddy and not entirely suitable for the chore at hand, yet each man took a flank of hill as if it were his side of the bed and began pulling out the dead sage and trimming back the excess tea bush and clearing out the persistent sumac. There was nothing to be done about the thicket of rosemary, they’d long since given up. There was enough of a drop-off down to the backyard of the property below theirs so that even at the ledge of their land, they enjoyed an unobstructed vista of the Silver Lake Reservoir.
“It’s so blue today,” Robbie said.
“Too blue,” Carlo said.
“How can it be too blue?”
“It’s like something chemical has been added.”
Robbie slid down a patch of mud so he was standing next to Carlo. This was the year they would turn 40. They had been together 20 years, not counting some early semesters of undedicated collegiate messing around. Robbie pulled off his glove and inserted his forefinger through one of Carlo’s belt loops, tugging him closer, rubbing his nose against Carlo’s neck — Carlo hummed.
It was autumn again and they always looked forward to the season, to the fires they would tend in a stone hearth and the friends at a long table, to what they would roast and what they would decant. They looked forward to the colder nights and the added blanket, the conversations past midnight about new books. The truth was that even before they knew each other (if one could speak of a time before they knew each other), each man was always eager for the decline of summer and the refuge, the rescue of school — and autumn was when they met, and another autumn when they moved to Los Angeles. It was certainly for all these reasons that every fall they felt renewed, but then also because some other heat always abated, because an annual anxiety always burned off and vanished, it seemed, for good. Anxiety related to work and income and debt. Restlessness about lives not lived, the shadow histories that now and then might haunt them, haunt any two people who found each other so early in life. An alien illogical loneliness — it was a kind of ghost grief almost, although to be clear, a grief neither as strange nor ruinous as the one about to wash over them.
“You’re a silly man,” Robbie said. “A lake can never be too blue. Who’s a silly man?”
“I am,” Carlo said.
“What are you?”
“A silly man.”
Back up by the patio off the kitchen, they collected the figs about to fall from a neighbor’s vine that coiled over a high wooden fence.
“Can we remember to pick up some smelly cheese?” Carlo asked.
“Si, signor,” Robbie said.
Also in the neighbor’s yard, there was a regal liquidambar with broad, long-suffering branches, several of which reached across their terrace, and the men liked the tree because it gave them a graceful canopy and screen, and then they could enjoy the seasonal task (a joyfully nostalgic task since they both grew up back East) of raking leaves. Leaves which this year had turned early, had begun to fall early, and so there was already need to sweep off the table and chairs and the twin cedar chaises. They took turns combing a patch of lawn with their better rake, scrapping away the ochre matting to reveal grass that was surprisingly cold to the touch in the morning sun, the ground smelling like sap now, like rich, dark potting soil now, like lust itself.
In the house, in their bedroom, they stripped and threw back the blankets and knelt on the bed, facing each other. Carlo fell back against his heels. Robbie held onto Carlo’s hips, pale hands against dark skin, until he let go and fell back, too. Then they remained like this a while, facing each other without touching, grinning. It was as if they were waking a second time today. Two men together, two against the world. Astonishing.
Peter Gadol is the author of five previous novels, including The Long Rain and Light at Dusk. He teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Otis College of Art and Design. Silver Lake will be published in August by Bleak House Books.
Further reading from the Weekly Literary Supplement:
"How Fiction Works: King James and the Battle for the Novel," by Nathan Ihara
"Geoff in London, Interview in Absentia," by Tom Christie
"Henry Bay’s America: An Excerpt From The Enthusiast," by Charlie Haas
"Wet Metal: An Excerpt From Blame," by Michelle Huneven
"Old World Meets New Age in Thriller Nowhere-Land," by Judith Freeman
"Publishing Your Novel Online," by Alan Rifkin