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A Nonfiction Marriage

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“Oh, wow,” says Gay. “Rafferty’s a good writer.”

“He’s so intelligent, and he got across everything I kept trying to tell people about the book. And he comments on this certain unknowingness in the book—not exactly vagueness … And I thought, that’s the difference between you and me.”

“What’s the difference between you and me?” says Gay, startled by this shift into the personal.

“You are very specific and comfortable with the specifics,” says Nan. “And I am very comfortable in the fog.” Gay looks mystified, and Nan heads up stairs to take a bath.

Gay says to me, “Did you get that on tape?”

I did.

“That’s great. That is very much 7:30 dialogue in this house.”

Gay and I head to Brio, their neighborhood spot just a few doors down, where he and Nan are to meet old friends: the actor Ben Gazzara, his wife Elke, and Midge Richardson, the former editor-in-chief of Seventeen. Gay tells me where to sit and then orders a Bombay martini. Soon everyone arrives and gets busy drinking. Before long they are all shouting over one another.

Nan leans in close to me and says, “Imagine if this was the surface you landed on every night when you came home.” Earlier, she had lamented Gay’s constant need for social engagement: “A tuna-fish sandwich with the dogs and Masterpiece Theatre—that’s my idea of heaven.” How do you do it? I ask her. “I take a swan dive into the tub and join him because I want to be with him.” I ask her about her dogs. “They are very cheerful,” she says. “That is my rule: cheerful. You have made me think about this, the way he and I are different. I live in the fog—the opposite of rules. Fifty years and I have never been bored. But like Candide, I screen everything out.”

Suddenly Gay hands her the rest of his second martini. She looks at me and says, “I have been ordering drinks that are compatible with his forever because he can’t finish the second half of his drink and he insists that I drink it.” Nan, by the way, is now pretty lit. Actually, everyone is. Out of the blue, a man with long gray hair appears at our table with a guitar and starts to sing in Italian. Elke, a German with a tiny dog hidden under the table and an Ivana Trump aspect, knows every word to every song. Her husband has tears in his eyes. “This is the most fun I’ve had in five years,” he says. Elke and Midge get up to dance, while Ben translates the lyrics for Nan and me. Now more people have joined in, including two young, very sexy Italian girls.

Gay, who is now out of his seat and leaning against the wall next to our table taking all of this in, has the most curious look on his face. “He never lets down his guard,” says Nan, genuinely amazed by her husband’s reaction. “He’s really happy.”

The guitar player starts into “Grande, Grande, Grande,” a popular song in Italy that reached number one in 1972, the same year Gay began to work on Thy Neighbor’s Wife. Nan watches from the table as Gay dances off to join the others. The song floats through the restaurant.

You’re worse than a spoiled kid, you always want the last word.
You’re the most egotistical, overbearing man I’ve ever known.
But there’s some good in you.
At the right moment you can become someone else.
In an instant you become wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and I forget all my worries.


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