The Third Boy
“Once, we were playing hide-and-seek, and I could not find her. I was just starting to panic when she appeared at the back door.”
Well, however long ago it was, it feels even longer. It was the year that your father was on sabbatical. One of his collaborators, affiliated with Saint Hilda’s, had put together a grant to work on a Rameau opera, Castor and Pollux. It had long been your father’s dream to do something like this as Rameau was out of favor in the U.S., if he’d ever been in favor, and no one seemed to care about the Baroque. He found us a house — actually part of a refurbished barn — that he selected on account of its high ceilings and also because it came with a piano, and moved us all to Oxfordshire. I was already five months pregnant, so I felt that I knew you in a way. And absolutely thrilled to spend the final months of my pregnancy unemployed and out of reach of my mother, who had already warned me that she thought I’d find motherhood “challenging,” that she feared that I wasn’t a “natural mother.”
The house was just outside of Oxford City proper in a town called Nuneham Courtenay. We were at the end of a paved lane off the Reading Road. Close by was the Ring Road — torn along by screaming cars or stunned with traffic — and just beyond that the austere circus of the University itself, but where we were seemed straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel: fields shocked to a Van Gogh yellow by blooming rapeseed, or stitched over with pink fritillaries, or somberly productive with the nodding, knee high wheat of late spring. The Thames was just beyond the fields and if you were standing on the rail fence that bordered our yard, you could just make out the shimmer of water, although the land dropped in such a way as to make it not quite clear. There were cows along the banks and one saw the cows and knew, at least, that the cows were seeing the river.
Our time in Oxford as one of my happiest. That’s where you were born, and Castor and Pollux, when it was finally rolled out, was a triumph. When it wasn’t raining, I would sit with you on a blanket in the soft English sun reading novels. And even the rain seemed a benediction to me. I felt as shielded by it as the deer who showed up to nibble at the hedges. It was…