When he'd been a kid, Frank Pembleton had been certain that the most beautiful thing in all the world was the inside of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the way it vaulted over him in elegant, austere shelter when he walked through alone (always alone; having anybody else clattering along next to him would have spoiled it). Even now he can close his eyes and smell the wood and stone, the wax, the hushed rose petal and thorn of so much faith.
When he'd been older, a young man straying out of teenagehood and into the adult world, the most beautiful thing -- apart from attractive young women who felt the same way -- was the feel of words in his mouth and knowledge in his hands, belonging to him as surely as the rhythm of his feet on the pavement or the particular angle of his chin when he won an argument. It felt good, it tasted looked sounded smelled good. Every sense engaged. Every new piece of language and information sinking into his skin until he was sure people could see it there as sure as they saw that skin's blackness.
Here, now. With his wife in his arms, close enough for him to to smell the perfume she only dabs behind her ears and on the pulse of her throat, a breath of roses every time her heart beats. Mary with her dark skin overlapping and intertwining with his dark skin and soaked full of knowledge, holding him so surely with her hands against his back, and as Mary's dress swirls to clasp his trouser legs when she steps up against him, Frank has no doubts about what -- in this whole wide world -- is the most beautiful thing