Why not love? Real love?
Not Cathy on the moors, not Scarlet on the stairs, not Bogart and Bacall--or Lucy and Ricky.
Why not a love story about real people finding a way to forge a real and enduring love together?
That's The Unfallen. It's about adults--Gwen is 35, Devin is 38. It's about second chances--and knowing what went wrong the first time. It's about the politics of sex and sexual politics. It's about love as worship with love-making as its holiest sacrament. It's about a man who yearns to commit and a woman who jealously hoards her sovereignty. It's about learning to give, learning to share, learning to trust--learning to love.
The Unfallen is a very sexy book about philosophy and a very philosophical book about love and longing. It's written about and for smart, productive people who live to love their lives...
Gwendolyn Jones is a beautiful woman who is angry about being treated as a beauty object and who covers her anger with a stinging wit. An American who has spent most of her life in England, she grew up in achingly solitary circumstances; she not only expects to fall back on her own resources, she is sure that people will betray her at the worst possible moment. She is very playful sexually and she has learned that she can control men by giving them a kind of forwardness they had never dared to wish for. Gwen is the single-mother of a 17-year-old boy. She works as a woman's page columnist for The Boston Globe.
Their dishes had been cleared and their coffee had grown cold, but when they stepped out to the street it was still early evening. She pulled his arm around her and snuggled in tight against him. She said, "Take me down to the waterfront, sailor, and I'll show you my tattoos."
"You have no tattoos," he scoffed.
She ran her free hand along the tight wall of his stomach. "Prove it..."
The walked down along Congress Street to the Quincy Market then cut under the expressway to the park on Atlantic Avenue beside Long Wharf. On the way he talked to her about a distinction he'd been trying to make.
"It's your 'Love among the nerds' in a different way. Two different kinds of language, and all humans use both. I call them fathertongue and mothertongue. The terms aren't mine--they're Thoreau's originally--and they don't have very much to do with gender. I think our nerds are fabulously competent in fathertongue and largely tongue-tied in mothertongue. Here's the distinction: Fathertongue is any notational system. Although mothertongue can borrow symbolic language for convenience, any completely mothertongue idea can be conveyed without abstract notation. Everything you hope to say to me in an encyclopedic kiss is mothertongue, and I am a most avid student. All true art is an attempt to communicate and amplify mothertongue ideas--passions!--in fathertongue."
"I used to sing to Spencer when he was little. It didn't matter what I sang, simply that I sang."
"I sing that way to Hunter every night, even when he's asleep. When he's frightened or angry or over-tired, I'll sit him back to chest in my lap and put my mouth right by his ear and just murmur to him softly. It doesn't matter what I say, because the embrace and the murmuring and the confidence in my voice communicate the true message: 'everything's okay'."
She clasped her arms around his middle as they walked. "I think you must be a wonderful father. Would you plant a baby in me?"
The question shocked him. Almost he stammered. "...Not tonight."
"Not even after I've shown you my tattoos...?"
His face was serious. "I'm very happy right now, I can't tell you how happy. I want to make sure I do nothing to wreck my happiness."
"Mister, I'll leave you wrecked and happy."
He walked four or five paces before he spoke. "I know you're just making a joke, but I don't like that kind of joke. The implication, first, is that I don't have a right to decide what I will and won't do with my own body. Very sexist. And second, the joke implies that my integrity is of no importance to you."
"Yes. You're right, both counts. My apologies."
He smiled. "Does this mean you won't show me your tattoos?"
She tugged thoughtfully at her chin. "...Not tonight." She laughed and broke free of him and darted down to the waterfront. They had the little park all to themselves and Devin had expected they would. Across the harbor the lights from the airport were blinding. Overhead the moon was kissing the fleecy clouds. When Gwen threw her head back, the skyscrapers of downtown Boston seemed to hang upside down, suspended from the sky.
He stepped up behind her and kissed the back of her head. He wrapped his arms around her middle, his thumbs brushing against the base of her breasts. It wasn't intentional, not quite.
She grabbed his hands in hers and pressed them full to her breasts and held them there. She turned her head back and sought his mouth with hers, explaining her ardor fully with an encyclopedic kiss. When she turned back to face the airport, she slid his hands down the front of her, down her belly to the tops of her hips. She pressed her hands on his, pressing her body back against his, pressing her response to him into his pronounced response to her.
She said, "I'm not a virgin, Devin. I didn't sleep with Dirk just the once, and I haven't been... celibate since then." He took a breath to speak but she reached over her head with one hand and gently pinched his lips together. "Let me finish. With Dirk I answered the call of my body in ignorance, and I paid for my ignorance. Later I answered the call of my body in full knowledge, in full control. But with you it's more than my body calling, it's my body and my mind and my... soul, I think. It's an utterly new experience, strange and dangerous and thrilling and very frightening. Nothing's going to happen tonight, as much as I might want it to. You control your body and I control my body, and we're both wise enough to foresee the disasters Lord Byron and his minions so gleefully overlook. But I want you, Devin Dwyer, I want you pretty bad. It's only fair to let you know."
Devin tried to speak but he couldn't. He kept trying to form words but he couldn't. Anyway, his breath was gone.
She spun in the circle of his arms and pressed his hands full to her behind so he would know she wanted them there. She said, "Don't talk. Just kiss."
That he could do. He kissed her hard and he pulled her body tight to his. He ran his hands up her back from her behind, along the thick weave of her sweater to her shoulder blades, to her neck, to her head. He plowed his fingers into her hair at the base of her scalp and pushed her mouth still more urgently to his own. It was an encyclopedic kiss, explaining his ardor fully. When he released her, she seemed unsteady.
She said, "That was..."
"Effective..." She laughed and skirted away. She skipped over to a park bench. "Come sit here, if you would be so kind." He sat on the bench and she climbed onto his lap, straddling him. "Isn't this lewd? You make me so reckless, so... wanton. I want you inside me, Devin. Very badly. But I won't let myself, not yet. So I want you next to me, so I'll know what I'm missing."
"You are a tease."
"You haven't seen the half of it." She pulled on the skirt of her frock, pulling it out from between them. She pressed herself hard to him.
"I haven't seen anything yet." He tenderly kissed the skin of her neck along the path described by the gold chain. He pushed his hands beneath her dress and pressed his fingers into the warmth of her behind, pressing her tighter against him.
"Pantyhose. An impregnable fortress. Better than chastity belts and they never rust or squeak."
He said, "Don't talk. Just kiss."
They kissed and explored each other's bodies in the most chaste and intimate of ways. After a long time she pulled away and put her lips beside his ear. Speaking just with her breath, her voice barely there at all, she said, "Do you know that I'm as vain as a kitten? I can't imagine that there's anyone who doesn't want to have me in his lap, stroking my fur, scratching behind my ears. I know it's not true, but I always feel that way, anyway."
His lips were brushing against the wispy fine hairs beside her own ear. "I'm sure every man who's ever looked at you would like to have you in his lap like this."
"While he's looking at me, yes. But after he's gotten to know me? Most men know in two minutes. The fools know in two hours. Once or twice a true idiot has hung in there for two weeks or more."
"...What are you talking about?"
"Nothing. Everything. What are we, five days now? You haven't found me cutting and I haven't found a thing in you I want to cut. You show great promise, Doctor Dwyer."
"...You've lost me completely."
She buried her face in his shoulder and gently bit the skin. "You've found me. Completely..."
Devin Dwyer is the son of a Boston immigrant family who very proudly upholds his family's traditions. An M.I.T. astrophysicist, he is the polar opposite of the aloof, insectile scientist. He sheds the warmth of family everywhere and he builds webs of interdependence to all those who surround him. Because of who he is and because of the lessons he learned from his parents and grandparents, Devin is a fanatic about integrity. As the result of an ugly divorce, he has become a fanatic about the truth. He has custody of his five-year-old son and they live together in a brick townhome in the inner city of Boston.
She was silent for a long, long time, and when she finally spoke there seemed to be no connection to what had gone before. "I love to talk on the telephone. Did you know that? We've traded so much email and whispered so many secrets mouth to ear, and I've actually felt cheated. There's so much missing from a telephone call, but so much that's so tellingly there if you listen for it. It's as if the world were a fabric, like a tablecloth, and the telephone pinches two spots of the fabric together, so that two people who are tens or thousands of miles apart are precisely and perfectly next to each other. Mouth to ear, close enough to breathe and whisper and sigh. So much is hidden, but so very much more is revealed."
She could hear him breathing and she could feel him smiling and she knew his green eyes were enflamed. "Gwen, I'll always love you. You can be hurt if you have to, but don't ever be jealous. No one could ever replace you in my life..."
"No. It can't be that way. I don't believe in loyalty, personal loyalty. If you said that to the people who know me, I'm sure they'd be surprised, because I'm sure I seem to be devoutly loyal to them. But what I'm loyal to is principle, and if I might seem to be faithful to a person, it's because that's the means of expressing fidelity to the principle. I won't say I never betray a principle, because sometimes I do--by mistake. But I never knowingly betray a principle."
A hint of the contempt crept back into her voice. "No matter how much it hurts."
She heard the puff of air that came before his smile of acceptance. "In any conflict between bad and worse, bad is as good as it gets."
"Is having me so very much worse than... not?"
"The words are, 'I love you', those words, that order. If I betray my own ego, there's no 'I'. Then no 'love'. And soon enough no 'you'. You wanted to find love among the nerds and here it is, the calculus of loss, the mathematical language of pain..."
"What if... What if I were to say, 'I love you'?"
He chuckled. "Is this an auction? Are you placing a bid?"
"Please don't... Please don't be cruel."
"Gwen, I know you love me."
"You love me more than anything, like I love you. I'm in you all the time, you're always talking to me in your head. I'm in you to the bone. I'll be with you forever. I'll be with you on the day you die."
"Then... God, Devin, why?"
"You don't have to say it. You don't have to feel it. Well, you do have to feel it. But you have to live it. It can't be something that you feel and don't do. 'Just the one or the other, the action or the vision, could never be enough for me.' Someone I love said that. I know you love me, Gwen. I know you love me more than any man you've ever known or ever will know. But I know you love something else even more..."
She was trapped and she knew it and she knew he knew it and still she spoke sharply. "So my love for you has to be unconditional, is that it?"
He issued the softest of chuckles and she knew it wasn't derision and she knew it was, the worst sort, the derision of the comically harmless. "I'd hate that. I want to earn everything I get, and I want to earn your love more than anything else. Real love can be endlessly accepting, but how could it be unconditional? There are billions of women on the Earth and you're the only one I love. I'm the only man you love. Your love can't be unconditional. But it can't be expressed in the subjunctive, either."
"Ouch," she said. "He pricked me with an arrow from mine own quiver." She laughed.
"Gwen, I've... I've missed you, too."
He could hear her smiling. "Is it the arrows and quivers you've missed, then?"
"The prickings and the quiverings, I think."
"Do you dare intimate that I quiver?"
"I was speaking of myself."
"Just to see you."
"No. I can't just see you. I can't look at you without touching you. I can't think of you without wanting you. Is that what you want to hear? But it has to be both, Gwen, just the way you said. The thought and the deed, and either one alone is nothing. Love-making as the expression of love and every loving thought an act of love-making. I love to be inside you, you know that. I love to be enveloped by you. I love to be locked together with you from our heels to our hips to our shoulders to our lips. But that's just one way I have of making love with you, and not always the best way. I love to cook with you. I love to sit beside you in the car. I love to walk next to you and feel your legs brushing against mine. I love to talk with you, Gwen, I love it right now. I love to think of you, and you're so much a part of my thoughts that I don't have any thoughts that you're not a part of. You're there with me always, always right beside me in my mind. Do I want to see you? Do I want to make love with you? I want it so much it makes me crazy. I want to kiss you until I can't breathe. I want to touch your skin and I want never to stop touching your skin..."
She was crying and he knew she was crying and he knew if he was with her he'd hold her and then they would make love. And he would love her. And he would hate himself.
"It has to be both," he said. "The action is the idea and the idea is the action. Without that, there's nothing. I want both. I want everything..."
"...And what if you can't have everything?"
She could hear the phone shift against his head and she knew he had shrugged. "You know the answer... It's funny, I guess. This is the way to get drummed out of the Union of the Men. Integrity is viewed with suspicion in every context, but it is held to be completely without meaning or merit in the bedroom. 'A stiff prick has no conscience' is what the boys say to each other, one of those clumsy jokes otherwise decent people use to excuse their worst impulses. But that is when principles matter, when they're challenged, when your every yearning and appetite is crying for the one thing your will must forbid. Integrity is wholeness. Undivided. Undiverted. Undiluted."
"That's what it means."
"Do you... do you cry for me sometimes, Devin?"
"I've cried for you every day since the day I met you, since you made me cry in Harvard Square. I used to enjoy it more..."
She was standing at the window and she could see his wry grin in the blackness beyond the halo of the streetlight.
"But that doesn't change anything, Gwen. I love you forever. I love you more than I've ever loved any woman, more that I ever will love any woman. I'll love you every day until the day I die. But that doesn't change anything."
She said nothing. When there's nothing you can do, do nothing.
Very softly, very sadly, he said, "Don't call me too often."
"Does that mean it's all right if I call again?"
He was quiet for a very long time and then finally he spoke even more softly. "Don't call me too often..."
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Greg Swann with his son, Cameron.