“OK, Warren,” said Andrew, “I told her.”
“Good. How did it go?”
“—She’s still speaking to me. At least on the phone. I don’t know . . . I probably sounded like Gatz spinning the tale of Gatsby.”
Warren couldn’t help laughing, and Andy smiled; he liked getting a laugh out of anyone, but especially from his shrink.
“And I know,” he said, “‘There are no second acts in American lives,’ but . . . Fitzgerald went to Princeton, what did he know. I’m determined to outlive him.”
“You will,” said Warren, with a confidence he was starting to feel.
“Good. I guess. But I don’t know what to do next. I think I’ve told her enough for a while.”
“OK . . . what else?”
“—Yes, what else.”
“—Nothing. I’m obsessed with this.”
“Tell me about the book. How’s the book going.”
Some days, Andrew came out of Warren’s office on a high, coasting just above and beyond the anxiety and guilt, and he kept moving. In the building’s foyer he passed the Famous Actor who was Warren’s next patient, he was sure, and Andrew tried, in a split second, to ascertain how the FA was doing, whether Warren was in danger, whether he would ever be seen alive again, and then Andrew was on Tenth Street, and on a good day he might stride out to Sixth Avenue and whistle for a cab. He offered the driver a cigarette, they had a smoke together, and he heard a story from Nairobi or Tel Aviv or Minsk, the windows open on the noise and the air and the long-legged brown-skinned girls running across the street—“what’re you looking at!” one of them said fiercely last week; “at you, darlin’,” he said gently, “because you are so beautiful,” and “yes, lady, bee-yoo-tee-ful,” said the shy Namibian driver, and this gazelle of a girl, with her frightened eyes, finally bit off a smile—“that’s right, and don’t you forget it!” and they all grinned and had a good day. At the Columbia gym he got a handball game within fifteen minutes. He remembered to eat dinner and then spent the evening at the radio station, researching, writing, prepping for words of praise.
On a bad day, Andrew didn’t even see the Famous Actor, he probably walked right over him, even though the FA was just as tall as he and evidently had a personal trainer. Andrew stepped out on Tenth Street as if he had never been there before and walked it, back and forth, over to Fifth, back to Seventh, at once seeing and not seeing everything there, everything he would never have.
“So you end up an old guy in pajamas in an apartment,” Warren had said. “You’ve written books and articles, you’re someone that people look to, to find out the truth about their world. Is that the worst thing?”
“No, that is not the worst thing, Warren, the worst thing is to have no libido. If these damned pills take away sex, I will . . ."
“I will stop taking them!” Andrew said, realizing he sounded like a child, but what he wanted was a child—a son, and a daughter, and he had had them, briefly, in Cuscutlan, how he had loved that boy, and his sister, and their mother, too, who had left him at the end of the war, gone back to the kids’ father to start a new nation, blah blah.
But children needed a home and a mother and a job, a structure as complex as a cathedral or even these brick houses, with their taxes and ceiling leaks, and now he realized that he had seen these two little girls playing hopscotch before and he didn’t know how many times he had passed them, so he'd better move on before he frightened them because he was not their father or even a friend, someone they could say hi to and talk about school, so he pushed himself off Tenth Street and walked the 100 blocks to the radio station, where he spent the night listening and watching, like a bear in a den.
And if it was an in between day, a day when he was perhaps cheerfully resolute about dying of loneliness, he might nod to the FA and step outside into the sun or the rain, looking for an hour of shelter. He would use his cell phone to call Rosendo and Caroline’s house to see if anyone was home.
On this day Caroline answered, so he walked over to Waverly and stood squarely in front of their solid brick house, visible in the monitor. Maria-Tzeja let him in, to the scent of fresh coffee and the milk steaming. They smiled at him, these two lovely women, at his request they called him querido and darling, laughing, embracing him in Spanish and English. Caroline led him to the living room, with its light from the west and walls of bright contemporary art from all over the world. She sat in her seat, away from the window.
“Where are los guapos,” he said, settling in his seat, on the couch in front of the window, because no one cared about blowing out his brains.
“The kid has friends,” she said, “he went with them after school. Rosendo and Carlos will pick him up on their way home.”
Carlos and Maria-Tjeza, his wife, lived in the garden apartment of this brownstone and looked after Rosendo and Caroline and their 10-year-old son, Luis. Looking after them included being armed at all times and driving them in a nondescript car that changed regularly.
Maria-Tzeza brought Andrew a mug of coffee and sat down with them. “What’s the dirt?” she said to him in Spanish.
“Something’s going down at the World Trade Center,” he said, “but that’s all I know.”
Caroline nodded. “Rosendo heard that too. He said to stay above Canal Street.”
“For how long?”
She shrugged. “Until it happens.”
They were silent for a moment, visited by ghosts. A car passed by below and Caroline stirred.
“Still speaking to me.”
“That’s a start. Valentine’s Day is Sunday, you know.”
“Valentine’s Day,” said Andrew, who hadn’t known. “Do you do Valentine’s Day? Did you buy Rosendo a heart-shaped box of chocolates?”
She shook her head. “I found a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back. I don’t have to wait till his birthday to give it to him.”
They all laughed at this, the perfect gift for Rosendo, barely as tall as the elegant Caroline, tough and quiet, el negociador.
“Annie would look good in that.”
“You can’t have it. But it’s a great store—I’ll go there with you, if you want to look for something. We could go tomorrow.” In truth, Caroline couldn’t imagine Annie’s mindset, to be dating this soon. But men did it all the time, she reminded herself.
“Do they have cars? I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy her a car.”
“Mmm, Andy, that’s a little overboard, don’t you think?”
“Well, yes. And not at all romantic, unless you buy her . . . a Miata or something.”
“She needs a new car, Caroline. The defrost doesn’t work on hers and it has about a million miles on it.”
“Ask Carlos when the next police auction is,” said Maria-Tzeja.
“Brilliant!” Andy took out his phone.
“They’ll be home in five minutes. Talk to him then. He’ll go with you.”
And they did come home in five minutes. Handshakes, embraces, Spanish, English. Andy and Luis shook hands like the men they were and then gave each other five.
“How’s your girlfriend, guapo,” said Luis.
“She’s fine, guapo, thank you for asking, how’s yours.”
Luis frowned with distaste. “I’m too young to have a girlfriend.”
“Do you think I’m old enough?”
Rosendo and Caroline were going out to a dinner, so Andy joined Luis, M-T and Carlos in the downstairs apartment. Carlos closed the curtain against the darkening garden. Maria-Tzeja served chicken stew at their big kitchen table. They spoke Spanish.
“What’s the dirt,” said Luis, and they all looked at him.
“The dirt,” said Andrew, “has been swept under the rug. What’s the dirt with you, at that crazy school.” The UN school was rife with gossip, they had found, even in the lower grades.
Luis only shrugged, so they spoke of cars—Carlos relished the challenge of buying cars at the police auctions—and everything else except the World Trade Center and black leather jackets, which were secrets.
When Carlos left to drive to the dinner, Andrew hitched a ride uptown with the other part of the family. Luis showed him to the door, with M-T sitting above them on the stairs; a puzzled frown crossed the boy’s face, an echo of his mother’s, and he said, “Are we safe here?”
“—Yes,” said Andrew. “Here we are safe.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer