The Constancy of Things

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All it took was that first bite for her to realize that she had indeed been hungry, not just for food, but for pleasure, for life.

By Sheila Kohler | March 1, 2022


The first time Anna saw Salvatore, he asked if he could borrow her goggles. She was doing a few stretches on the pool deck, still wearing those goggles, when he approached. Something had fallen out of his swimsuit pocket, he said, and he needed to dive in to retrieve it. He would just be a minute. Would that be okay?

She noticed how tall he was, observed his lean, muscled body and how his dark hair fell in curls on his forehead. “Of course,” she said and gave him the goggles, following him to the edge of the pool. As he dived down through the water of the deep end, she watched anxiously from the edge, leaning over and holding her breath. He seemed to stay down there for such a long time, circling around and around like a shark looking for prey. She was suddenly afraid he would never resurface.

When he emerged, he took in a great gasp of breath, which made her gasp too. He swam back to the ledge, took off the goggles, looked at the name taped to the back, and handed them back to her. “Thank you, Anna Sarton,” he said. “I got it!” and held up a small Swiss Army knife.

She said that she was glad and turned toward the women’s locker room, though for a minute she wondered why the man had been swimming with a penknife in his pocket.


Anna’s mother was French. She was 18 when she met the man—just a boy really, long-limbed and inexperienced—who would become Anna’s father. It was the early ’60s, and he was spending his junior year abroad in Paris. They were alone one evening, in the back of a car, when he turned to grab her, somehow accidentally swinging his elbow into her eye, and almost blinding her.

“I just had to look at your father to fall pregnant,” her mother would later say, laughing.

Anna could imagine her mother pinioned on the back seat in the half-dark, her gray-green eyes blurry with tears, and she could see him, too, her father, his long legs stretched out, the shadow of baby Anna stirring into life. This, of course, before the advent of the pill in France.

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