Part 1, Chapter 7 Summary

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Three evenings a week, Babette Gladney goes to the other side of town and teaches a course on proper posture to a group of adults in the Congregational church basement. Most of her students are old, and sometimes Gladney goes to watch her teach them how to sit, stand, and walk correctly. It is as if the adults can somehow postpone death if they practice proper grooming and personal habits.

Babette talks to her students about things of which they have undoubtedly never heard, yet they nod in agreement as she speaks to them as if it is their last great hope to redeem their bodies from a lifetime of bad habits: “It is the end of skepticism.”

Tonight Gladney walks home with Babette; in the moonlight their house looks old and washed out. The children are doing homework and the couple goes to their rather disheveled and certainly lived-in bedroom. They have a mild debate about what they want to do tonight, each of them wanting to do only what will most please the other. Babette finally says she will read her husband something erotic because she knows he enjoys it, but she refuses to read anything that contains common or vulgar vernacular for lovemaking.

Gladney is always honest with each of his wives, or at least honest about present things. There is always more they can share, of course, as marriages and memories accumulate. He and Babette share many things, and their sharing is a “form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust.”

They talk about their parents, their childhoods, their friendships, their discoveries, their former loves, and their fears. (The one fear they do not discuss is the fear of death.) No detail is too small for them to share; they “create a space” between their feelings at the time and their feelings as they speak them now.

Gladney decides he wants to hear something erotic from the twentieth century and goes to Heinrich’s room to find a “trashy magazine,” the kind that contains letters people write about their sexual exploits and fantasies. Gladney thinks this is a kind of double fantasy: people write down their imagined thoughts and then have them read by people across the nation.

In a “stack of material,” Gladney finds several very old photo albums; he and Babette spend hours sitting in bed and examining the past. Several of the albums are at least fifty years old, and Gladney wonders who of them will die first. 

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