I once knew a woman who liked to imagine Love in the guise of a sturdy dog, one that would always chase down the stick after it was thrown and return with his ears flopping around happily. Completely loyal, completely unconditional. And I laughed at her, because even I knew that love is not like that. Love is a delicate thing that needs to be cosseted and protected. Love is not robust and love is not unyielding. Love can crumble under a few harsh words, or be tossed away with a handful of careless actions. Love isn't a steadfast dog at all; love is more like a pygmy mouse lemur.
Yes that's exactly what love is: a tiny, jittery primate with eyes that are permanently peeled open in fear. For those of you who cannot quite picture a pygmy mouse lemur, imagine a miniature Don Knotts or Steve Buscemi wearing a fur coat. Imagine the cutest animal you can, after it has been squeezed so hard that all its stuffing has been pushed up into an oversized head and its eyes are now popping out in overflow. The lemur looks so vulnerable that one cannot help but worry that predator might swoop in at any instant to snatch it away.
Marianne Engel's love for me seemed built on so flimsy a premise that I assumed it would come apart the moment we stepped through the hospital doors. How could a love based on a fictional past survive into an actual future? It was impossible. That kind of love was a thing to be snatched up and crushed in the jaws of real life.
That was my fear but this Christmas Day had shown me that Marianne Engel's love was not feeble. It was strapping, it was muscular, it was massive. I thought that it could fill the entire hospital. More important, her love was not reserved only for me; it was shared generously with strangers — people she didn't think were friends from the fourteenth century.
All my life I had heard foolish stories about love: that the more you give away, the more you have. This has always struck me as nothing more than a violation of basic mathematical principles. But watching Marianne Engel share her love so widely awakened in me the weirdest of romantic feelings: the opposite of jealousy.
Excerpted from The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Davidson Media Inc. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.