Swan House A Novella David Gelernter “Yup, the girl is Ada Landau.” Then he turned the photo over and lookedat the back: Saul Sharfstein and Ada, Swan House, April 1940, in brown ink.
She said, “I think it’s the most romantic picture I’ve ever seen.” He turned it over again and they both considered it. They were a man of seventy-eight and a woman in her mid-thirties, sitting away from the others, patients and visitors and nurses clustered on the rear patio of the Westchester Home for Senior Citizens—Union of Progressive Jewish Charities. A formerly grand house. It was fall 1996 and he had given her the photo yesterday, as promised.
Her mid-length satin hair (incurling along the bottom edge) stood still like drapery when she moved her face. He was a big man with deep handsome eyes.
Eventually he said, “I guess I see what you mean. She was beautiful.” His voice had the rough authority of a heavy truck advancing.
“It’s not only that. She is beautiful, and you’re handsome, but that’s not what I mean.” She looked right at him and the intensity of her eyes shook him—they had the improbable iridescence of a glow-in-the-dark sea creature. “What I mean is,” she said, “the way she’s resting her fingertips on your chest. Your right arm pressing her close—you can see how strong it is. And there’s something in your face. . . .” “Lust?” Smiling.
She shook her head without looking up. “I mean—not that lust isn’t included.” She looked up and smiled back tentatively. Her voice was a surprising dark clarinet alto. She had long legs and her all-over blondness, mother-of-pearl. Her jaw line was more emphatic and her skin coarser than they might have been, but her pale distant prettiness (white daffodil) affected him powerfully. He felt the high heat of her curiosity playing over him like a flashlight beam.
“Possessiveness?” he tried. “Ownership?” Then, half to himself, “Arrogance?” “Tell me about it,” she said. “You promised you would.” It was a sunny silver afternoon in New Rochelle, the day after a hurricane
About the Author
David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale.