They lay facedown on the tables, side by side, their naked buttocks covered by soft white towels, a fat scented candle burning near their heads. Over them stood two therapists, young men, whose hands were heavily slicked with almond oil. Ghostly music played, Bolivian flutes, and in the dark windows of the slopes-side condo that had been lent to them by a contributor—a Salt Lake City hotel developer who’d been with them from the start, the very start—pellets of sleet fell, ticking against the glass.
“Comfortable?” one of the men asked.
“Very,” Mitt said. As usual, he spoke for both of them, a reflex formed through years of public appearances. That this habit might bother his wife had never occurred to him, but now, in the dim, disorienting intimacy of the first couples’ massage they’d ever had, he wondered how well he still knew her, his precious Ann, whose love he’d almost lost at the beginning, when the Church sent him off to Europe for his mission. She’d stayed behind at BYU to wait for him, but one day he got a letter: She’d met someone. The boy was a basketball player, handsome, confident, and though Mitt had finally persuaded Ann not to see him and to honor the solemn pledge they’d made while they were still in their teens, he suspected she’d had a hard time forgetting the fellow.
Mitt’s therapist went to work between his shoulder blades, attacking the knots with greasy thumbs and knuckles. Each spot of tension had a history. The one at the far upper left, beside Mitt’s spine, was the most recent, emerging just last week during a lunch meeting with his Europe person. The subject was NATO, preserving NATO, and Mitt had brought forth, toward the end, some private theories about the fate of the Netherlands long-term and the reliability of Italy. His Europe person seemed unimpressed, and then, as Mitt went on, contemptuous, looking past him at the open kitchen where their Caesar salads were being tossed. A young guy, this expert, Princeton educated, a frequent panelist on the Sunday shows, but already twice divorced, which troubled Mitt—not on moral grounds, on professional grounds. A diplomat should be able to hold his mate.
The heels of his therapist’s hands made widening circles as they spread a warm new puddle of oil across Mitt’s tender, spasmodic lower back. Mitt started to flinch but he contained the impulse, concerned that letting his nerves fire naturally might give the therapist too much information about his inner state. For Mitt, the great crucial challenge of politics was shielding one’s true thoughts and feelings. Sincere convictions, once they came to light, could limit one’s freedom to shift positions.
A robot, the press sometimes called him. They were wrong. So much went on inside him, all unseen, an underground river of doubts and second thoughts, recriminations, impulses, epiphanies.
When the time came for him to roll over on his back, he allowed himself to glance at Ann, whose shadowy, candlelit face he couldn’t read, perhaps because she’d succeeded in truly relaxing. This feat made him jealous, but it also pleased him. The shared evening rubdown had been his idea—the whole Park City ski vacation, too, including the snowboarding lesson of yesterday that drew gawking double-takes from several hotshot youngsters—and, judging by Ann’s behavior at breakfast that morning, the change of pace agreed with her. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her consume an entire plate of eggs, or spread both jam and butter on her toast. Or joke with a waiter about wanting coffee despite the Church’s stand against it. Her high spirits had lifted Mitt out of a funk that he’d been mired in for the last few months, ever since he’d canned his Asia person for appearing, without alerting the Organization, on a CNN program devoted to Chinese censorship. It wasn’t that the fellow had stepped wrong or articulated points that might haunt Mitt in the next election, but that he’d come off as dispassionate and smarmy, a business-as-usual Beltway know-it-all of the type Mitt had vowed to have no truck with. After the show Mitt had phoned him and they’d bickered, bickered cruelly, in vulgar language. Mitt hung up the phone feeling soiled and debased, ashamed at himself for descending to schoolyard ugliness. His father, old George, the mannerly industrialist who’d been pilloried during his 1968 presidential run for claiming to have been “brainwashed” by the military about the effectiveness of the Vietnam War, would have been disappointed with Mitt’s ill temper. Romneys who succumbed to candor lost. It was their family’s inborn hallmark flaw.
The frontal massage, less focused and less painful, required a readjustment of the towels that led Mitt, by an association of images, to recall his wedding in the Temple. He’d felt a sore throat coming on the night before, and at one point during the Sealing and Anointing, after giving the Signs and Tokens through the Veil, and taking instruction in the great apostasy that set in after the savior’s crucifixion and was only corrected in the 1800s by the farm-boy seeker Joseph Smith, he’d turned aside and coughed into one hand. There was nowhere to wipe his soiled fingers, unfortunately, except on the sacred white garments that he’d put on to consecrate his bond with Heavenly Father. He’d stopped himself, though—he’d swallowed back the sputum. Temple Garments were a material oath, not to be soiled or degraded, and when he’d been in the mission field, in France, he’d heard a tale about a Latter-Day Saint whose body had been dragged out of a house fire, horrifically burned except on the smooth skin where it was covered by the holy cloth.