She says, “That’s not very kingly,” feeling hurt, and more vulnerable than she wants to be, and probably a little foolish.
He says, “Well, you don’t look especially queenly,” and drops the scrolls in a heap. She despairs at her reflection in the window.
“The gossip magazines are going to love this look,” she says.
“Easy fix,” he says. “Here.” He sweeps up to the balcony’s edge, blotting her from view of the courtyard. So close that she’s immediately on high alert. She steps back. Every muscle clamped.
“You need more width,” she says, with all the calm she can summon.
He begins to windmill his arms like a complete fool. He doesn’t say a word, just churns his arms up and down with intense concentration. And to her own surprise, she starts to laugh. She can’t help it. He does his best deadpan, smile uncracked, but it’s there in the twitch of his eyebrows, the twinkle in his eye.
“What’s your plan here?” she says.
“Trickery,” he says, not missing a step. “Misdirection. Excellent upper-arm strength.”
You may be thinking that this would be an opportune time to push him off the balcony, make it look like an accident, and maybe you wouldn’t be wrong. But he’s still the size of a world-class heavy-weight boxer, and she is still most decidedly not. And yes, she’s eager to please, and yes, even now, he can find ways to disarm her utterly. And yes, this moment, precious as it is, has a kind of power on its own, a force, and the ache of laughter in her abdomen will sustain her a few days longer. Do you really want to take that away from her?
It’s easy to say that it becomes a game for him, and a game for her. In Anne’s case, if it’s a game, the game is Monopoly, her game piece is a pewter chicken décapité, the banker is a scoundrel and a cheat, the properties disintegrate every time she lands on them, and the dice are made of fire. What game is this to him? If he’s winning, does it even matter?
But for her, how’s this for an alternative: On a spectral day in autumn, a cockroach tumbles across Anne’s writing desk like a very squirmy, very small shooting star. It is swift, intrepid. In its wayward progress, it hemorrhages anxiety.