“I don’t know how to do this,” Ferdinand said. The books looked up at him from the floor, gruesome and gawking. He wanted more than anything to shut them.
“Approach me with joy,” Jordan said, looking pale on the bed, “Or not at all.”
“Is it that simple?” Ferdinand asked.
“Then I envy you,” Ferdinand continued. He took off his shirt and set it down on the divan.
“Life isn’t simple,” Jordan told him. “But this is.”
Ferdinand sat down beside her and put his hands on her bare shoulders. He thought about her elbows and her collar bones and the arch of her ribs. He thought of them in blue silk; he thought of them in charcoal tweed. She was always the same, underneath. It occurred to him then that he had only ever seen her naked.
“It isn’t simple,” he said at last. ”I am not simple. I will approach you with my anger and cowardice and fear and awe because they are mine. But I have never known a thing like joy and I won’t offer an imitation. Joy is yours. I won’t touch it.”
“You’re cleverer than I am,” Jordan said, looking up at him. ”Truer and more steadfast. Which of us will prevail?”
“I’ve already lost,” Ferdinand told her. ”Consider me an offering of supplication.”
“I won’t accept a concession,” she insisted.
He kissed her. Her lips were cool. They tasted more of questions than answers.
“We’re both conceding,” he said at last.
“Yes,” Jordan agreed. ”Those of us who are about to die salute you.”
“It’s madness,” Ferdinand said, seeing the way her eyes laughed at their own joke, “How beauty survives in a world like this.”
He kissed her again, then: her neck, her collar bones, the flat space between her breasts. Each motion of his lips was like a breath. He took her in through his nostrils, felt her go red in his lungs, pumped her out into his fingers and through the folds of his wrinkled brain. A feeling followed the wave in its wake. It was a rounded sensation, warm and wet and mild and pleasant.
Perhaps this was happiness. Perhaps this was joy.