Love by Grace Paley, 1979
The magic trick:
Reveling in the past and then celebrating the present
There are many different love stories. There are many short stories called “Love.” Few though discuss the kind of love we see in this story: the comfortable love in middle age.
Most of this story revels in the past. The married couple at the center discuss their former loves. She’s writing poems about young love. He’s thinking about the way she used to be and how that drew him to her long ago. It seems youth is gone and the world of passion has passed them by.
But it hasn’t. The story continues, and she makes peace with a former friend of her political protest days. This time the trip down memory lane doesn’t simmer as some kind of sad reminder of former glories. It lights the couple’s fire for the present. The story ends with an affirmation of their present-tense love for each other. Suddenly the previous focus on the past found throughout the story doesn’t play like a gloomy catalogue of closed chapters; it serves only as happy backstory for their continued romance. And that’s quite a trick on Paley’s part.
In a hazy litter of love and leafy green vegetables I saw Margaret’s good face, and before I remembered our serious differences, I smiled. At the same moment, she knew me and smiled. So foolish is the true lover when responded to that I took her hand as we passed, bent to it, pressed it to my cheek, and touched it with my lips.