Chapter 4 Summary
The fourth chapter, “The Silk Road,” opens with a description of Princess Si-Ling Chi, a figure from Chinese legend. A silkworm cocoon falls into her teacup and she has one of her maids unravel it. Cal discusses how she feels this story is like a long role of silk that she is unwinding: if she follows it back far enough, she will find Lefty and Desdemona on the Jean Bart. However, the two switch ships and leave Athens for America aboard the Giulia. Cal remembers a tradition where people leaving for America unravel a ball of string that is held by someone on the shore.
Lefty and Desdemona have devised a secret plan that they carry out aboard the Giulia. Desdemona goes below and Lefty stays on the deck in order to give everyone the impression that they are strangers. Over time, they begin smiling at each other, and they are eventually even talking to each other. This sets off a round of gossip aboard the ship. Is Lefty sincere, or is he just passing time? Others claim to have introduced Lefty and Desdemona to each other. Ultimately, they get married and spend their wedding night aboard a lifeboat.
On their first night together as husband and wife, as Desdemona takes off her clothes. Beneath, she is wearing a corset, and “in the lingerie Desdemona saw herself through new eyes, her thin waist, her plump thighs; she felt beautiful, desirable, most of all: not herself.” It is at this point that she overcomes the uncertainty she feels about her new relationship with Lefty. They make love in the lifeboat and the captain watching it rocking in the ocean says “oh, to be young again.”
As they continue on their journey, they begin to expand their plans. They invent background stories that are based loosely on their own lives, forcing them to make deals over who gets to claim which relative. They plan to go to Detroit, though they do not agree on what to do when they arrive. Lefty wants to open a casino, whereas Desdemona thinks that he should go to school to become a professor. For herself, Desdemona is eager to continue working with silk moths. One night, it is too cold in the lifeboat for them to make love and they fall asleep in each other’s arms trying to keep warm. When they wake up, the captain is hovering. He asks them to look up and they see New York. Gazing at the Statue of Liberty, Lefty reflects that he has seen enough torches in his time. Desdemona, on the other hand, is happy to see a woman, hoping that maybe it will mean there will not be so much war in America.