Wednesday, June 2, 1993

The Watch

I wrote this short story, never offered for publication, as a deliberate exercise in the early 1990s. The idea was to take a short story of the past and update it. I used Guy de Maupassant’s (1850-1893) masterly The Necklace, which goes by many titles in translation and is really about the relationship within the couple, not about the necklace. Flaubert wrote his own version, as did Henry James and V. S. Pritchett. Well, I figured, what was good enough for them was good enough for me.

It began, you see, not as a simple deception but simply as a gift. I am too good a businessman not to know the limits of my own success and I take a modest delight in transcending them. At that time, at my age—fifty-three—I could afford to buy for my young second wife, Sylvia, anything she wanted. My company, mine and mine alone, specialized in handsome leather-bound and gilt-edged datebooks, notebooks, address books, memo books, etc. You have got to specialize to succeed big: Exodus, VI.

I wasn't surprised that the sudden rise of the pocket-size personal computer industry had hurt my business not at all, perhaps even encouraged it. Let the buzzards bicker all they want; my line is status, and there is no substitute for the fragrance of genuine morocco, which by the way comes nowadays from southeast Asia. No substitute, in other words, for the real thing, when it comes to status. In an endlessly perverse world, you see, status is the preferred form of truth.

This is scripture out of the N. T., from the Bible for All Businessmen, William Marlow Edition, not available to the general public. From Genesis came my belief in never missing a chance to create a better deal where before there was only darkness; no matter how thick the serpents lie on the ground, Eden may wait just around the corner. Say what you will of mistakes I made, at the end of the day my opponents and colleagues alike know me as a gentle man, grown portly of late, who does his own travelling and buying himself, by himself. The selling you can leave to lesser luminaries in a company; any fool can sell. It takes special genius to know how to buy.

I was on one of my bimonthly buying trips, and had finished three days of business in Singapore—a new contract with a smart young company that produced marbleized endpapers for me, quick to spot an opening as Chinese always are. Having planned a week’s stay, I decided on a surprise swing through Bangkok to investigate printing possibilities there. I don't and never did believe in resting, no matter what day of the week—Deuteronomy, XVII—and I'd never been to Bangkok. I telephoned Sylvia on the other side of the world at the summer house on the Jersey shore and left a message with our fat Barbadian housekeeper about the change of plans. After six years together, Sylvia was used to living on-the-fly and rather enjoyed, I think, my unpredictability.

Bangkok in July was sweltering. I don't need to tell you how heat dampens a man's spirit and leaves him open to temptation. I assured myself in one sticky afternoon I’d best stick with my printers in Hong Kong. The Thais smelled rancid to me: a charmless people too busy trying to make a penny on each side to see where the dollar profits lie. I went back to my hotel and had them change my ticket (Tokyo / Los Angeles / New York) to the next morning. I reminded them to confirm an aisle seat—Travels, XIV—then decided to go out for a walk before dinner. I knew Sylvia would ask me about Bangkok. She always teased me about avoiding the city out of worry about what mischief I might get myself into there.

"Every other man who goes there gets what he wants," she said. “Why shouldn't you? Just don't bring back anything dangerous.”

I wasn't interested in risking any diseases, but I also wasn't sure quite what to bring her instead. I have never been at ease choosing presents. It always seems a little amateurish; and you can easily end up wasting your time on items that aren't first-rate, you see. Still, I went for a walk. It wasn't far from the confines of my hotel, the famous one with a string quartet sawing wood in the lobby, to Patpong, the so-called Street of Sex.

At this point nearly everywhere reminds me of somewhere else. Patpong reminded me of New Orleans—less lascivious than I’d imagined, with little of the pure lust they advertise. I know how to buy; I know what pure lust is. The Thai girls with their long black eyes and their long black hair strode around in miniskirts and invoked me with their hellos, and clung to my arm for a friendly moment, or danced naked to deafening music in ground-floor bars with obscene names and stroboscopic lights where upstairs, no doubt, I could have absolutely anything I desired done to me. This much I saw from the street.

None of that fascinated me as much as the fact that Patpong’s tables and stalls were busy selling every imaginable brand-name fake by the thousands. Fake upon fake, from videos and cassettes to Chanel T-shirts and leather Gucci bags and Kenzo pocketbooks and Cartier watches. Not one of them the real McTavish. Most of Patpong’s clients weren’t desperate men but elderly tourists or American teenagers buying fake Levi's blue jeans or Ray-Ban sunglasses. And there was a real McDonald's on the corner whose antiseptic light made even the available girls look innocent. On a whim I had dinner there and eavesdropped—I'd have made a good spy—on a German trying to convince a slender local lovely to come away with him to Koh Samui for a week.

On a greater whim I finished my cheeseburger, walked ten yards along Patpong, and found myself bargaining over a fake Rolex watch for Sylvia.

My intention, you see, was to buy it simply as a joke. Sylvia and I have no secrets from each other and besides, I had bought her a very handsome gold and jeweled Rolex for our second anniversary for more than ten thousand dollars. I thought it would be rather a good joke to buy her a fake one.

The joke was that it was a beautiful watch. What caught my eye was the style: it seemed deliberately aged, perhaps thirty-five years old, squarish, mannish for a lady, with a tinted face and slant formal numbers, very distinguished, with sleek echos in it of the Art Deco style. I can't say why, but that wristwatch reminded me of Lauren Bacall and those old Bogart films. The watchband was cheap black plastic but even as I glanced over at the others, the watch leaped out at me like Sylvia herself from the table of heavy silver and gold men's Rolex and Omega and Bulova and Patek and Christian Dior imitations. I moved several around experimentally before the vendor pushed the one I wanted before me.

"Let's have a look at you," I said, and held it up and turned it this way and that. I put it back on the table.

"Not bad," I said. "Not much of a watchband, though. What will you take for it?"

His first price, nine hundred baht, was stratospheric.

“Nonsense,” I said, and turned on my heel. He pulled me back. "Just a moment," he said. “Best price." He stabbed away at his calculator and offered me a 5% reduction. "Don't waste my time," I told him, and walked away again. He pulled me back like a stagehand with a hook, told me about his family miseries, and knocked off another point or two. It took me ten minutes, but I chewed him down another forty percent to about eight dollars American, including a replacement leather watchband. I was so engaged in securing this wristwatch for Sylvia that it didn't occur to me look for one for myself.

"Beautiful watch, sah. Taiwan-made, not Hong Kong. Better."

"Don't be absurd. Better? It's a fake," I said.

“Yes, yes," he said, taking the money and counting it with skillful fingers. “But work always better in Taiwan. You wait and see. That why your Rolex more expensive than Hong Kong Rolex."

Oddly enough, it was the fellow in the plane beside me between Bangkok and Tokyo the next morning who confirmed that. It was one of those rumpled youngish men who seem to be perpetually travelling but whom you rarely see among the professionals in the front section. This made me think he might know what he was talking about.

I had taken the watch out and was having a good look at it, in the light of day and all that, and thinking: what a laugh Sylvia will have when I get home. Miriam would've been incensed, of course.

"Handsome watch," said the fellow. "What kind?"

"Rolex," I said.

"Can't beat that," he says. "May I?"

"Be my guest," I said, and handed it over. I let him look for a moment, debating whether to spoil the fun, and finally I asked, as if I weren't sure myself, “How old do you suppose she is?"

"That's a good one," he said. “It's harder to date a Rolex than you might expect. Because they keep ahead of everyone and yet remain classical in terms of style. I’d say—oh, late fifties. Am I warm?”

"Not even tepid," I said, taking the watch back.

“Guess what I paid," I said.

He flushed. Money embarrasses the young.

“I wouldn't presume—" he began.

“Presume away.”

“Nine? No, no,” he corrected himself. "I'll say eight thousand dollars.”

"Seven," I said. "Only seven.”

"In fact," I said conspiratorially, "That's a Taiwan Rolex. Not a Swiss one. Seven dollars. Think I overpaid?"

He took the watch back from me without asking, he was so astonished. He looked like someone about to blow a bubble. He made a careful examination, right down to the silver label and serial number on the back. He peered carefully at the lettering on the face. He shook his head. He said finally, "And we think we're going to beat those people at light industry? We don't have a chance."

"Now you're learning," I said.

He had, no doubt, spotted the ring on my finger. He said casually, "Do you think your wife will know the difference?"

"I'll tell her, of course."

“I wouldn't," he said.

Now it was my turn to be astonished. You may find this difficult to believe, but that possibility hadn't crossed my mind. As I said, Sylvia and I have no secrets from each other. Psalms, X.

"It'll amuse her to have one from Bangkok," I said. "Even if she never wears it. I picked her up a real one, a beauty, a few years back."

He shrugged. "None of my business. Still, that's an exceptionally handsome watch. It's an immaculate copy. No one will ever know the difference. Why spoil it for her?"

I dismissed this right away. Not long afterward he got off the plane in Tokyo, and I had both seats to myself for the duration of the flight. I alone must take responsibility for my decision. But I don't need to tell you that eighteen hours’ flying at thirty thousand feet can do strange things to a man’s judgment. Even in first class.

"Why, it's beautiful," Sylvia said, and laid it across her wrist. "You're outrageous, darling, you know you've already given me one."

"Not one like this," I said.

She had that triumphant glow on her lovely face that I always associate with a square-rigger under full sail; and her auburn hair swept back and shining like her eyes. At a moment like that I would always think that to be childless was not so important to her, that the security and luxury I had given her against the chaos of her own family was enough. Nobody meeting her would ever have guessed what she had made her way up from. Should I tell her the truth? I wondered. Would she see the joke? In this case I wasn't so sure she would. And, to tell you the truth, the watch really shone on her wrist, and I don't think it was the blouse or shoes she was wearing that day in particular. For once, I had got a present right.

I did not tell her the watch was a fake. She was very happy to have me home, and thanked me in her way, even though I could only stay for the weekend and was back in Manhattan on Monday morning.

Our arrangement in the summer was this: I spent four nights in the week at the apartment on East 53rd and then three nights with her out on the shore, unless we had tickets to a show or a concert, for my wife is a music-lover. In that case, she would come in. (I always enjoyed the opera, even before meeting Sylvia, but Miriam and I were not subscribers.) As it was, I did not see her from Monday morning until Friday evening, which was just as well as my sense of time was very confused from travelling halfway around the world and I wouldn't have been very good company. She came to pick me up at the breezy train station, as usual, but I sensed right away something amiss.

“I didn’t want to to trouble you in the city,” she said. “I'm sure it's nothing. It's the new Rolex. I’ve worn it every day, I'm mad about it. But it stopped yesterday. It's the strangest thing. The other one never has."

Mentally I cursed the Thais and all their progeny. How had I let myself be hoodwinked? Perhaps it was simply the quartz. I swallowed and made grumbling noises. That would've been the time to tell her—another opportunity that convenient might not come my way again. But I didn't seize it.

"Leave it to me," I said. "I'm sure it's only the battery. I'll have it replaced on Monday. You're coming in for Mozart on Tuesday, no? So you can wear it that night."

"Be sure to take it in to Samuelson’s," she said. "I don't want just any old dealer fiddling with it, they're not used to to dealing with watches of that quality."

"Don't worry," I said. You notice I didn't exactly agree.

I was relieved, anyway, that she hadn't taken it to some local fellow who might ask her where it came from and get openly suspicious. Down on the shore they have a tendency, I've noticed, to strike back against the outsiders who keep their bread buttered.

I wasn't about to take the watch into Samuelson, who'd sold me Sylvia's anniversary Rolex four years earlier and her necklace last winter and several other items in-between. After all, it was simply a question of replacing a battery. There was a large electronics store around the corner from my offices, run by a family of Koreans. They'd sold me camera equipment from time to time and I noticed they have a selection of digital watches. I went round right off the train first thing Monday morning.

“Stop already, eh?” said the young man at the watch counter when I handed over the Rolex. I didn't like his smile, it seemed to say: Serves you right for being rich enough to buy one of these.

With a tiny screwdriver he pried open the back, a little maliciously, I thought. I said sharply, "Be careful with that."

“Yeah, yeah, careful.”

He pulled the battery out with tweezers like a dentist removing a rotten filling. When he started to open a a package with a new battery, some impulse made me ask him to check the old one first. Over the years you develop instincts that you have to follow, even when behind them lies only bad news.

He nodded and attached my dead battery into some apparatus on the wall. He took it out with some surprise and set it before me on the counter. He said, “Battery okay, no problem,” and looked bored.

I hate the way these foreigners move in, out of their broken sweatshops and their choking cities, and not knowing the first thing about local business practices, they set themselves up and get around important regulations by collaborating with their cousins back home; and when you wander in for a little assistance in a catastrophe of their own people’s making they treat you disdainfully.

I said to this young man, “Pay attention. What’s wrong with it, then? If it isn't the battery?”

He shrugged and indicated the watch’s innards with his screwdriver. "Can be anything, maybe," he said.

We both waited for the other to speak. He skated the battery back and forth like a chess piece on the counter, called out something in his language to someone a counter over, then turned back, surprised I was still there. He said, "You want me to put the battery back?"

"That's exactly what I'd like.”

He did so swiftly, punched the back in place, then pushed the watch over to me. "No charge, sir," he said, and glanced away, waiting for me to leave, not willing to admit his own inadequacy. I did not thank him. I thought: Let him learn the hard way.

At the office everything was shipshape. I left a little early for lunch and went around to Samuelson's over on Madison. I thought: This has gone far enough. I felt a little apprehensive when I walked in, but another client, some woman, was leaving and Samuelson greeted me cheerfully, a grasshopper with his antennae on the alert and his hand out.

"Mr. Marlow, good to see you again, sir. You're looking very well these days."

"Probably this diet Mrs. Marlow's got me on.”

"They do know how to look after us, don't they? Now, what can I do for you this afternoon, Mr. Marlow?"

He wanted to demonstrate how well he remembered my name after not seeing me for over a year. Can't blame him for that—it's a technique I use myself. Labors, I. Names are everything.

I said, “It's about a watch I bought Mrs. Marlow overseas. It seems to be broken.”

“I'll be surprised if we can't take care of it. May I see the watch?"

This was an embarrassing moment for me, but I had steeled myself for it. I will credit Samuelson that his eyes betrayed little of what he must have thought.

He said gently, "It certainly doesn't seem to be running.” He cleared his throat. “May I, uh, ask you Mr. Marlow, how much you paid for this wristwatch?”

From the way he peered closely at the face I suspected he knew. I said, hitting the ball into his court, “About eight.”

I still held out hope he might say: Ah, eight thousand.

"Eight dollars?" he said. But there was no astonished surprise in his voice: he knew the watch was fake.

"That's right.”

His lips were pursed, not sealed. He did not look at me but at the watch as he spoke. "Hong Kong?"

"No, I bought it in Bangkok."

"I was referring to where it was made."

I paused. "I was told by the vendor that the best copies come from Taiwan. Like this one."

He shrugged. "Perhaps, Mr. Marlow. This one smells like Hong Kong to me." He handed it over. "Not a very good copy, I'm afraid."

"What's wrong with it?” I said, a little loudly I'm sure, then caught myself. "Apart from the fact it doesn't work."

"There's nothing wrong with it,” he said, with a little too much emphasis on the word for my taste. “For eight dollars it's probably not a bad buy. But it doesn't resemble a Rolex at all. Except for the fact it bears the name."

He saw I was not impressed with this vague speech.

He said, “Look at the label on the back. It's the wrong color and size and shape, to start with. It's not even well-affixed. The instant I saw that label, I knew your watch hadn't even come out of Taiwan, much less Switzerland. And it says on the face that it's a quartz watch. Rolex simply doesn't make quartz watches, period. Never have. Even more evident, it's not a sweep second hand. See how it ticks off the individual seconds? Rolex has never made a watch like that. And it's missing, at the base of the face, a certain word which you'll see immediately if you look at the Rolex you purchased here several years ago. And look at the quality of the crystal.” He tapped the glass and we listened to the clack of cheapness. He smiled sympathetically. "Do you want me to go on, Mr. Marlow? It's simply a question of professionalism, that's all. I spotted it immediately because it's my line of work to know the difference. You shouldn't feel bad. I have customers come in as you did, but after having paid several thousand dollars for a copy no better than yours. It's a shame.”

I could practically see his antennae waving in triumph. I don't like being made to feel like a fool anymore than the next man; plus I had my company's reputation to think of. When he was finished I said, “Well, what's to be done?”

"The watch is for Mrs. Marlow, of course.”

Was he suggesting I had a mistress? "Yes, of course.”

"Have you given it to her yet?”

"I'm afraid so. I had planned to give it to her as a gag, but she liked it so much—”

"Of course," he said soothingly. "And now you don't wish to tell her?"

“I don’t think so.”

He said delicately, “Perhaps if put the right way—”

"It's too much of an insult.”

"I see."

I said, "Is it an exact copy of a particular Rolex? Perhaps I could purchase a genuine one and exchange watchbands."

I thought my willingness to part with another king’s ransom might disarm him, but it had no effect. He shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid not. Let me show you something." He pulled a hefty book like a phone directory down from the shelf behind him and flipped through it. "There, you see what they've done? Those crafty fellows over in H. K. They've amalgamated two different designs, one from 1947, the other from 1933. Your  Rolex really doesn't exist. It's like a pair of mismatched Siamese twins. Right part of the world, anyway.”

I had made the noble gesture, at least. I said, “And what about repairing this one?"

He said, "Normally, Mr. Marlow, as I'm sure you understand, we legitimate watch dealers absolutely refuse to repair copies. It’s bad for everyone, our customers in particular, if we do. It diminishes the fine watches we sell and it diminishes our clients.”

“Perhaps you could make an exception, Mr. Samuelson. I’ve been a very good customer of yours for many years, as two Mrs. Marlows would attest,” I said, steadily.

“One of our most faithful.  And we appreciate that you came to us with this problem.” He sighed, for both our predicaments. “Let us at least see what’s wrong. Perhaps it’s only a battery.  Any number of shops could install a fresh battery for you, if that’s the case.”

I did not tell him I had already been through this elsewhere. He opened the back expertly with a precision tool, but I noticed he didn't have one of those apparati for testing the battery. He slipped in a new one and said, "I did mention to you that a Rolex is never battery-powered, didn't I? Of course I did. Now let's see what difference a new battery makes.”

It didn't, naturally, make any difference at all. The watch resolutely refused to run.

"Oh, dear,” said Mr. Samuelson. “Just a moment.” He disappeared into a back room and returned with a strange band slipped over his skull with a sort of headlight built-in with, I assume, a magnifying glass. He looked like Jiminy Cricket in a space helmet. He opened the watch’s back again with his little tool and switched on his headlight and peered down.

“Oh, dear,” he repeated.

“What is it?” I dislike being at anyone’s mercy.

He switched off his hi-beam and removed his space helmet.

“Junk, Mr. Marlow,” he said. “Junk, plain and simple. I would suspect your watch wasn't made more than three months ago. And in Bangkok, I bet—it's not even of Hong Kong quality. It's got a lifetime of six months at most. There’s nothing to be done with it. Throw it out. I'll throw it out for you, if you like.”

He was capable of it, too, but I held onto the watchband. “Can't you save the face and replace the innards?”

"One can always save face, Mr. Marlow. We don't do that sort of work here. Besides, it's risky at best. Suppose you repair this watch. Your wife wears it. It's a handsome watch, we must admit this. We see why you bought it and why Mrs. Marlow, with her taste, enjoys wearing it. But supposing she shows it to one of her friends, as we both know women are prone to do? And perhaps one of her friends is observant, as we both know women of taste can be. Women love to talk, they love to talk about each other, they especially love to say nasty things about each other. I really do think, Mr. Marlow, that in this instance, if I may say so, valor is the better part of discretion. I recall that Mrs. Marlow has a fine sense of humor. Perhaps she'll surprise you by laughing it off as a joke.”

“She loves this watch," I said. "She prefers it to the real one I bought from you.”

“She chose that one herself," he said. “You chose this one for her. Of course she prefers it. You could always choose her another.”

A sly salesman, Samuelson; I could spot that one coming a mile away. First, tell me there was no Rolex like this one, not to dream of buying another like it, practically refuse to sell me anything at all, then reverse gears and offer to solve my problem with a brand-new watch for the price of a mortgage. I had to admire his tactics.

He said, "Why let her know that you bought it knowingly? What if you bought it at a duty-free in Bangkok at what you thought was a reasonable price, and then I gave you the bad news? But you felt you absolutely must have a fine watch. We have a distinguished selection, I'm sure we can find something Mrs. Marlow would like equally.”

We were entering the decisive last stages of a sea battle, where two opposing ships-of-the-line square off and let their gun crews blast cannonade after cannonade at each other until someone's masts come down in a tangle. I said, “Well and good, but I want to leave the choice up to Sylvia. Not compound and confuse the problem.”

He said astutely, “What problem is there in receiving a lovely watch? With the same atmosphere as the one it replaces? I'm sure that if she's able to set them side-by-side, she will have no reluctance at distinguishing the finer of the two, a woman of her exquisite—”

I said, "You can't predict. Let's leave it at that. I appreciate your candor, Mr. Samuelson.”

"Not at all, Mr. Marlow. Glad to be of some small service."

That was when he tried to sweep Sylvia's watch nimbly away. But I caught him. And I made him put it together again, old battery and all.

We were to see The Marriage of Figaro the following evening, and fortunately Sylvia, doubtless not wishing to trouble me any further, did not telephone that night to inquire about her watch. I like to be on time; if she has any failing it is a tendency very occasionally to be late. At the opera house she managed to arrive, breathless, barely in time to give me a peck on the cheek and for us to slip into our usual seats before the lights went down. She asked about the watch just as the overture began. I made a playful librarian gesture of silence but could feel her question pressing my hand in hers. Then, at last, the curtain went up.

Mozart’s operas always seem to go by quickly. After only a rattling tune or two, it seemed, we had reached intermission.

I suggested we take a brief stroll outside. The fountain was geysering up and there were couples around it enjoying the sense of getting a little wet. Sylvia’s beauty seemed to me particularly poignant that night, shining in a short gold silk dress I had brought back once from Hong Kong. Perhaps it is only hindsight, but as we walked among the other people she seemed as evanescent as the singing we had heard and the arcing illuminated water.

I said, "Darling, I got some difficult news today. Not at the office. Personal. It's about your watch. Look, we were both a little suspicious when it stopped so suddenly."

I pulled it from my jacket pocket and handed it to her. She only glanced at it an instant, then her eyes came back to my face. Instinctively, I am sorry to say, she buckled the watch back on.

"Surely it's only the battery?" she said.

"I wish it were," I said. "I wish it were."

By now she was looking at me curiously, one hand protectively over her wrist, as if I were trying to take the thing away from her.

"Samuelson has his doubts," I said. I frowned and took a deep sigh. "The truth is he's not sure it can be reliably repaired."

"What does that mean?"

Inside the opera house they were calling us back, blinking the lobby lights in that pantomime that always seems to me more urgent than any music. I said, "Let's not get into it now, we can talk about it in the next intermission."

"Tell me now," she said—rather crossly, I thought. Almost like a little child stamping its foot.

"Look," I said, "the upshot is that it's not really what it purports to be. It's a lemon. These things happen. And what's wrong with it can't be fixed with a new battery." I paused. "If it could be fixed I wouldn't be telling you this. Perhaps I should've paid more attention when I bought it. You've got to be on your toes in that part of the world and I was a bit doggy from all that travel, I guess. I saw it in one of those duty-free places and I thought you had to have it, and I didn't examine it closely enough."

She said, “But surely we can send it back, can't we? The company will have to do something, they have a lifetime guarantee—"

"Of course they do," I said soothingly. “With a new watch, anyway. That doesn't matter. What matters is what we are going to do about replacing it—look, we're going to miss the second act. We can discuss this later." I ushered her into the lobby, talking a mile a minute. "The short and long of it, I'm afraid, is that they haven't made that model for years. It's a collector’s watch, really. I've had Samuelson calling all over the country, to the top vintage dealers, with no luck. The fellow in Bangkok had only that one. I'm just a little worried that if we don't get lucky, you may have to choose yourself another Rolex. Even one from the same era. Ah, we made it," I said, as the lights went down, just in time.

All through the second act I felt her rubbing her wrist a little disconsolately. Otherwise she was taking the bad news passively and rather well, I thought. I enjoyed the second act much more than the first, though Sylvia kept up her rubbing.

I bought us both champagne at the next intermission. Sylvia went to the ladies’ room and when she came back she said wistfully, "A woman just complimented me on my watch. I don't care if it runs or not, it's the most handsome gift you've ever bought me."

I said, "No, you need to have a watch that works. The next one won't be a lemon, I promise."

That was when she glanced at it. Her eyes widened, and her smile followed instantaneously. She said so loudly that everyone around us could hear, “It's running again!"

I couldn't believe it. She held it up to my face—people glancing in our direction—and I saw the hand tick-ticking.

The worst kind of Oriental revenge, I thought. That watch was going to punish me for not hiring its countrymen. Sylvia was going on about having rubbed it like Aladdin's lamp, or having shaken it up, or something harebrained about blood circulation beneath the wrist activating it again. I managed to get her back to her seat and while she sat poised, renewed, attentive to Mozart, I let the music pass by and pondered what I was going to say.

There is no question of you wearing this wristwatch. The fault is mine. It can be spotted as a bastard a mile away. The fault is mine. You cannot wear it in public, it is against every standard I and my company have ever stood for. The fault is mine. I will gladly buy you another one, a real one nearly like it or a dozen. The fault is mine. You must throw that one away.

After the opera we went straight back to the apartment. I began to make my little speech. She was still rubbing her wrist. Her sense of triumph startled me.

I took the requisite deep breath. "I wasn't sure whether I should tell you," I said. “The fact is, Samuelson thinks it might be, well, a copy. A very good one, but a copy nevertheless."

“A copy? What do you mean?"

“A fake," I said.

"But William, all that money—”

"I'm sure I can get the money back. It'll mean some paperwork with the credit card people, but they usually back you up in these situations. I'm afraid I never presumed to know very much about wristwatches."

She stopped me cold. "It's not your fault," she said. "You were hoodwinked.”

"Taken in, let's say."

"I'm afraid," she said, "I'm not being very kind, am I? I'm so glad it's running again. You've never bought me anything that made me happier."

I said, "We don't know who made it, you know. Anyone could've made it."

"I don't care who made it. It's a beautiful watch and I don't care what anyone says, I'm going to wear it as long as it works."

I said, "Are you sure you should?"

She flared. "Why not?”

Keep calm, I thought. She'll listen to reason in a few days.

I said delicately, “It's a little embarrassing, that's all."

That was when she said it.

"You poor, dear fool," she said. “Did you really think I couldn't tell the difference?"

"What?" I said. "I don't believe you."

She was practically laughing. That was what stung me.

“What do you mean by that? You knew and didn’t tell me?”

"I didn't want to upset you," she said. “It was obvious, I could compare it with the other one easily.”

"You knew it wasn't real?"

"Right away." She laughed again.

"And you were going to go ahead and wear it anyway?"

I think I may have shouted. I could see Samuelson and that damned Thai vendor just behind her, chortling away.

She said, “Don't be an old woman. Of course I intend to wear it."

"People don't care," she snapped. "Only you care."

"My success has been built on the error of that assumption."

“‘Error’ is right,” she said.

And walked out of the room.

Six months have passed. Sylvia insists on wearing the watch everywhere. It is still running and she claims it keeps good time. She has refused the offer of a genuine one. Instead she has made me promise that, when next I am in the Far East, I will bring her back a duplicate or two to replace it should it ever stop again. I wonder if this is not a small price to pay for a young and attractive wife. Revelations, XIII?

Do not misunderstand me. It was not an error for me to marry a second time. It does strike me, though, as perhaps a lapse in sound judgment to expect another person to continue to live up to all one's personal ideals. In the end it doesn't surprise me that Sylvia would behave in such a way; I knew all about her and her origins before I married her. What surprises me is that she actually thought I couldn't tell the difference.

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