You see men like Walter all over Chelsea and the Village, men who insist, at thirty or forty or older, that they have always been chipper and confident, powerful of body; that they’ve never been strange children, never taunted or despised. Richard argues that eternally youthful gay men do more harm to the cause than do men who seduce little boys
Richard has always been Clarissa’s most rigorous, infuriating companion, her best friend, and if Richard were still himself, untouched by illness, they could be together right now, arguing about Walter Hardy and the quest for eternal youth, about how gay men have taken to imitating the boys who tortured them in high school.
and then she walks on, regretting the lovely little black dress she can’t but for her daughter because Julia is in thrall to a queer theorist and insists on T-shirts and combat boots.
“Darling,” says Virginia, holding her sister’s shoulders in her hands. “If I tell you I’m enchanted to see you now, I’m sure you can imagine how ecstatic I’d have been to see you at the hour you were actually expected.”
“Hello, changelings,” Virginia calls.“Yes,” Angelica says. Already, at five, she can feign grave enthusiasm for the task at hand, when all she truly wants is for everyone to admire her work and then set her free.
“We’ve found a bird,” Angelica announces. “It’s sick.”
“So I understand,” Virginia answers.
“It’s alive,” Quentin says with scholarly gravity. “I think we might be able to save it.”
Vanessa squeezes Virginia’s hand. Oh, thinks Virginia, just before tea, here’s death. What exactly, does one say to children, or to anybody?
“We can make it comfortable,” Vanessa says. “But this is the bird’s time to die, we can’t change that.”
Just so, the seamstress cuts the thread. This much, children, no less but no more. Vanessa does not harm her children but she does not lie to them either, not even for mercy’s sake.
“We should fix a box for it,” Quentin say, “and bring it into the house.”
“I don’t think so,” Vanessa answers. “It’s a wild thing, it will want to die outdoors.”
“We shall have a funeral,” says Angelica brightly. “I shall sing.”
“It’s still alive,” Quentin tells her sharply.
Bless you, Quentin, thinks Virginia. Will it be you who one day holds my hand and attends to my actual final breathing while everyone else secretly rehearses the speeches they’ll deliver at the service?
“There, now,” Virginia says, as she and Angelica arrange grass into a billowy little mound. “She should be quite comfortable, I think.”
“Is it a she?” Angelica asks.
“Yes. The females are larger and a bit more drab.”
“Does she have eggs?”
Virginia hesitates. “I don’t know,” she says. “We can’t tell, really, can we?”
“When she’s died, I shall look for her eggs.”
“If you like. There may be a nest in the eaves somewhere.”
“I shall find them,” Angelica says, “and hatch them.”
Quentin laughs. “Will you sit on them yourself?” he says.
“No, stupid, I shall hatch them.”
“Ah,” says Quentin, and without seeing them Virginia knows he and Julian are laughing, quietly, at Angelica and perhaps, by extension, at her. Even now, in this late age, the males still hold death in their capable hands and laugh affectionately at the females, who arrange funerary beds and who speak of resuscitating the specks of nascent life abandoned, by magic or sheer force of will.
She would ask his forgiveness for shying away, on what would prove to be the day of his death, from kissing him on the lips, and for telling herself she did so only for the sake of his health.
Clarissa, sane Clarissa—exultant, ordinary Clarissa—will go on, loving London, loving her life of ordinary pleasures, and someone else, a deranged poet, a visionary, will be the one to die.