Chapter 11 / Lists
In January, on the plane to Miami, I made two lists.
Things I Miss
Having someone to talk to.
Having someone to take a walk with.
Exercise in general, everything I used to do with or without him, running, swimming, riding my bike.
Our family excursions.
We’d take the dogs to Random Harvest, and after we’d shopped we’d all sit on the porch for coffee and scones. People knew us, and the dogs, and they probably thought we were crazy dog people, which we were, but they liked us, and the dogs.
Once a week we all went to the dogs’ agility class. They were so good at it, leaping the bars, skittering up the V dog walk, braving the tunnel. Good dog! we’d say, good dog! And they would grin their hound grins.
Sex, yes, but what I miss is dancing.
We weren’t great dancers—we were better at sex—but we both loved music and the idea of dancing, so we took lessons. The lessons always required us to learn the cha-cha, which was a silly dance, but they also gave us an excuse to practice the waltz and the fox trot, dances where you held each other, and of course the tango. Few occasions call for the tango—cruises, I suppose, and Ed wouldn’t have set foot on a cruise—but we got really good at the tango.
For a couple of New Year’s Eves Ed put on his tuxedo and I found a way to combine black silk long underwear with my black velvet dress and we went dancing. Then we found a roadhouse on the Massachusetts border where a band we loved played for dancing, and we planned our lives around it. The joint was packed; all you had to do was get up and sort of wiggle, and that made it easy, thought-less, care free. We’d stay for two sets, before Ed started to worry about the dogs.
Things I Don’t Miss
Ed worrying about the dogs. We had agreed we didn’t want children, and then he changed his mind, sort of, but I didn’t, and he got even with the dogs, two beings completely dependent upon us who would never learn to make themselves a sandwich.
Shopping at Guido’s in Great Barrington. Ed loved Guido’s. I found it a long ride for an expensive store filled with people I would never invite to dinner and the feeling was mutual on their part.
Spending my evenings washing dishes. Ed was a great cook, and I knew I should be grateful, but some nights I felt like Cinderella.
Trying to sleep with the light on while he read at night. I read him a line from a Phil Schultz poem: “The edge of sleep is not sleep,” but it made no difference.
I stopped. I was writing quibbles, about the man I loved, although I was aware that now, when I wanted the light out at night, it went out.
Together, we had disdained microwave ovens, but when I saw one at a church rummage sale for $7, I decided to try it, and it changed my life: hot food in minutes, and no pans to wash.
A lack of discretionary time did simplify the life. Would I rather drive to board meetings on winter nights, all over the county, or to Great Barrington? I put the question aside. Things were what they were. Except for my mother, who was flying me to Miami because my stepfather needed bypass surgery, anyone who wanted me to hold their hand for a few days had to come to me, and then they could take me out for dinner. Bring a dress, Ma said, I’ve made dinner reservations.
This life couldn’t last—I wasn’t earning enough, and Tina’s abuse, along with my ancient car, keep me constantly anxious—but I was managing it, day by day. I put away the lists and got out The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene. Soaring briefly above the job, the house, the dog, I had time to read a book.
Chapter 12 / Twinkle
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
He didn’t wake, or even shift. Annie reviewed her options: repeat the question, louder; move the newspapers on the seat next to him, which might be his, or not; pretend she didn’t see the newspapers and sit on them; or return to her assigned seat two rows back and have her kidneys battered all the way from Miami to New York, as the little boy behind her kicked her seat.
“Excuse me,” she said, more loudly.
He still didn’t move. She sighed, torn: not worth it / kid would drive her crazy.
“Wake him up!” said a wiry, leather-tanned woman in the seat in back of him. “Hey! Wake up!” She reached between the seats and slapped him on the shoulder. “Lady wants to sit down!”
“Oh—sure.” He swept the newspapers onto the floor in front of him.
“Thank you. Sorry to wake you.” She got out her book, to indicate that she wouldn’t interrupt him further.
“That’s all right . . . are we there yet?”
“No. We’re still here.”
He smiled, revealing a twinkle of gold at the side of his mouth, and nodded at her copy of The End of the Affair. “You like that?”
“Do you think he’s dead, when she sees him after the air strike?”
“—Yes. I reread it. The description is very clear. . . . You don’t?”
“No.” He drew in his breath slightly, a reverse sigh. “No miracles.”
“This is a work of fiction. It can hold miracles.”
He smiled again, with a flash of gold. “I’ll owe you—I mean, I’ll send you flowers or something—if you’ll change seats with me so I can sit on the aisle.”
“Why didn’t you ask for an aisle seat?”
“—Good question, Ms.—“
He offered his right hand, tilted slightly, palm out. “Andrew Logan.” She grasped his hand—large, warm, dry—just long enough to be polite.
“Ms. Annie. I didn’t ask for an aisle seat because I’m borderline entropic and my company made the reservation for me and probably thought I had kept my childlike wonder all these years. If you prefer the aisle, keep it.”
“I always ask for an aisle seat. If you go into spasms later, we can switch.”
He wanted to talk more, she could tell, but she had so looked forward to finishing the last fifty pages of the book and she didn’t want to be picked up anywhere, but especially not on an airplane. Still, his face—long and lean, fair-skinned, with pale blue eyes—was familiar, along with his name. The shape of his head, his dark blond hair . . . had she seen a photograph? It nagged her as she read, just beyond her mental grasp, she would think of it later today and kick herself for having kept her nose in a book.
By the time breakfast came he had skimmed through the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel and El Neuvo Herald and was at work on the Times. He put it aside to eat.
“What’s new?” she said.
“SOS,” he said, and she nodded, unable to think of anything more except that gold tooth.
“I need some dental work done. Do you recommend gold?”
A laugh rumbled up from him; she’d been right to wait till he had nothing in his mouth. “Yes. It makes people remember you. Who taught you to ask questions?”
“—No one. No one at all. Until about four months ago, when I took a job with the local newspaper. Now I can ask questions all the time.”
He asked her which newspaper, where it was, what kind of stories she wrote. She thought he was just passing the time until she realized that he interviewing her: asking a question, and then a follow-up question, and then another follow-up.
“They can’t be too bad if they let you take a long weekend in your second quarter,” he said.
“I’m being docked for it. But my stepfather’s been ill. My mother bought me the ticket.”
“I’m sorry about your stepfather. But you need a union, Ms. Annie.”
“Forget it, Andrew Logan. They’d close the paper.”
“They all say that,” he said, but she was on another thought. Using his name made it come clear.
“You’re a writer, aren’t you,” she said.
“A reporter. I ask questions.”
“The New Yorker. They devoted a whole issue to your report of the massacre in Cuscútlan.”
“You have an amazing memory, Annie. That was years ago.”
She opened her mouth to tell him that she had saved the issue, unable to discard it even after his book was published. But that might sound obsessive, so she said, “I was working with our local Central American solidarity group.” She paused, embarrassed; out loud, sitting next to him, the word solidarity smacked of limousine, or in this case, Honda liberalism, but his long face was open, listening. “We all read it, as part of our education. And your book, we all read your book, not that one but the earlier one, about living with the guerillas—”
“You read that book?”
“Yeah, I still have it—”
“You all read my book?”
“Well, six of us. The ones who read.”
“Did you all read the same copy?”
Now she laughed. “No, we each bought a copy. To support the author.”
“I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “That doubles the number of people who read that book. Where the hell did you get it?”
“The Marxist bookstore in the Village. The one on 10th Street.”
“Jesus . . . I hope you didn’t write a check.”
“Those who wanted to be followed up by the FBI wrote a check. Those who didn’t paid cash.”
“Your first real smiles, Annie . . . don’t look away, it’s just a reporter’s observation. For me, too, those were glory days.”
“It was a good group.”
“Defused now, deflected?”
“It was easy to keep a high level of rage in the ‘80s. People—”
“Well said. Did you come up with that?”
“No, Ed did. He was the articulate one. Jaime thought up clever demos. I wrote our press releases.”
“Public education is crucial.”
“That’s what we thought. Think. A few of us try to keep the spirit going, but people’s lives change. They realize they’d better pay attention to their children, or get a job. It happened in Cuscútlan, too.”
“It did . . . “ He seemed ready to speak, then changed course. “Ed your husband?”
“—Was. He died.” She could feel her chin lift.
“I’m sorry . . . cancer?”
“I’m really sorry.”
They were silent for a moment, the ghost of Ed tucked between them.
“Kids?” he asked.
“When did Ed die?”
The captain came on the intercom to alert them of their landing. They stored their things as instructed and she felt silly, not a real reporter, because she had been reading a novel, not the daily papers. Traveling, she and Ed had always bought the local newspapers.
When it came time to file out of the plane, she said, “My bag is two rows back. Good luck with your post-election analysis.”
But he waited for her, looking out the window, his legs stretched sideways, just short of the aisle. He didn’t speak again until they were in the airport proper, walking toward transportation.
“Are you dating?”
“Do you have good friends?”
“I mean, male good friends.”
“Yes. From before. Our friends. People I’ve known for years.”
“—I’d like to get to know you, Annie. I won’t ask anything of you. We’ll talk, like we did today. I could—” he looked away. “No. That’s it. We’ll talk. Books, the news.”
Standing, he was even taller than Ed, and his stride was long, like Ed’s. She had been telling herself that she didn’t have to keep up.
“Do you ever come to New York?” he asked.
“—Sometimes. Not often. I have the dog, the consuming job.”
“Let’s do this. Next time you come to New York, call me, OK? I’ll take you to lunch. Here—” He gave her a business card that consisted of his name and a telephone number. “Call me.”
“Shake?” he said. They shook hands and parted. She could feel his card in her coat pocket. She would never get to New York, but the card was a nice souvenir. She would call Jaime tonight . . . remember the guy who wrote about Cuscútlan?
And there he was, by her side again. She turned awkwardly, startled.
“It occurred to me,” he said, “that since this is my idea . . . I should visit you. Can I come calling next weekend?”
“I have to work.”
“The next weekend then.”
“I’ll call you. I’ll take the train up for lunch. If I can sit through lunch, I can’t be too psychopathic, right?”
A twinkle from his gold tooth, and he was gone.
Two days later an envelope arrived for her at the office from him, marked personal . . . a plain business envelope, return address in the west 40s . . . he must have called, to get her last name. She put it aside, took it home, ate dinner, went out to cover a meeting, came back to the envelope, examined it again, made herself open it. Inside were two pieces of paper folded around four $100 bills and one $50. “I figure they docked you $205, and you’re worth at least twice that to them,” said a note scrawled in black ink. “Take it. I’ll call you.”
Take it, and she owed him.
If he sent her $450 a week, it wouldn’t be enough.
He was Guild, he lived alone, probably had plenty of money. It was meaningless to him, this money, her lack of it.
No, it wasn’t. He was precisely right about how much they had docked her and he knew, exactly, how much that cut hurt. She put the envelope in her sock drawer.
Chapter 13 / Dancing
“When she said yes, we could meet for lunch Saturday in Schuyler, I was . . . pleased. It was a date! I got my hair cut.
“After lunch, when I asked her if she’d show me around the city and she said sure, I felt lucky.
“But when I asked her, what do you do here at night? and she said, do you like to dance? I turned to milk. I was hers.”
Andrew is telling Warren, his psychiatrist, about his visit with Annie. He often talks to Warren in stories. They both know he’s distancing himself from his life that way, but the fact that he talks at all about his feelings is a breakthrough, and so they made a deal: he can tell stories as long as each word is absolutely true.
“After that,” says Andrew, “we lived a whole life in 24 hours. Everything but sex,” he adds quickly, looking Warren in the eye, for they sit facing each other in two slightly, but not completely, comfortable chairs, and he wants Warren to know that he has found a person, not a new receptacle.
“She dropped me off at the other hotel in town, the one that isn’t a welfare hotel, and went back to her house to take care of the dog. I got a room and then I walked around, bought a toothbrush, a razor.”
“You had your meds?” Warren’s voice is just audible, more an afterthought in the narrative than a question.
“I had my meds,” says Andrew. “I took each pill the second I was supposed to.” He pauses. “I had figured to keep things spontaneous by not bringing a toothbrush, but I was not going to have to go home because of those fucking pills.
“Anyway, then I sat in a little park across the street from the hotel and had a cigarette. It was cold, but I figured I could last long enough for a butt.
“During that time—the length of one cigarette—a black Isuzu Trooper, with Bronx plates, coupla dudes in the front seats, passed me twice, and another guy, in a gray hooded sweatshirt, found reason to walk through the park twice. No one made eye contact. We just knew we were there, me sitting, like someone who might be waiting for something, them casing me, trying to figure out if I were undercover, or, better, maybe needed something.
“A small rat popped out of his hole and ran across the street, and I thought, this place is OK. No way can you think you’re in East Hampton, or northwestern Connecticut. In fact, even though the light was wrong, and the temperature about 40 degrees too low, there was something about the place that reminded me of towns in Cuscútlan. I could have been sitting in the plaza in San Pedro, or Maria-Teza. The level of traffic, the guys who wanted to sell me something, even the hotel, which was nice enough but two years late in replacing its carpets.
“For dinner we drove east out of the city then north to a roadhouse that had revamped its menu so I could get a steak while she got fish. She knew people there—an older guy, a doctor, and his wife stopped by our table, and later a couple of guys. She introduced me.”
“Everybody’s checking you out,” she said. Sly smile like a wink.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“The Bennetts are part of our Amistad group; Tom and Bruce I know from church.”
“Church,” I said.
She nodded. “I go to church. The Episcopal church, in Schuyler.”
“I said, can we talk about church another time, and again she said sure, as if . . . it were easy.”
He pauses, decides he doesn’t need to tell Warren every single detail, like the sweet way her top lip draws over her teeth when she smiles.
“To go dancing, he says, we drove south again and then east, over a mountain lit up for night skiing, to our second roadhouse of the evening. She said ‘leave your jacket in the car,’ and we trotted up to the place through a snow shower.” He pauses again, watching them in his mind’s eye.
“Inside, the place was packed. There were tables along one wall, but they were filled, and everyone else was just milling, while the band set up. I got her a beer and me a ginger ale, but that was just a courtesy—the bartender would have never known we were there.
“Again she knew people, nodding, saying hi.
“Who are these people?” I asked her.
“The guy over there is on the town board of a town I cover for the paper, she said. He’s a contractor. Probably most of the guys here are contractors. That woman—she nodded toward a babe in a tank top—used to be a friend. She’ll hit on you before the end of the first set.
“Did she hit on Ed? I asked and she started a little smile, like a wink, but at that second there was motion at the door, and everyone turned. The singer was there, she was going enter from the front door. She waited until everybody quieted down, and then she sang—“
For this part Andrew gets up—since he can’t smoke during the sessions, he is allowed to move around—
“O-per-a-tor”—he stands up straight, extends his arms, his palms out. He has a good baritone, and he gives the word everything the singer did, figuring no one is in the waiting room yet. “She holds that for about a minute Warren, honest, then—
“Give me, in-for-ma-tion—
“and then the band starts up—she’s got this amazing blind piano player—and the two backup chicks start their thing behind her, and they all wiggle up to the stand, everybody making room for them. And there we are, in the middle of nowhere. Dancing our butts off to music that rocks. To gospel words.
“Think white soul, Warren. She’s one of these little bullet-shaped women with a nose like a pug who can really belt it out.”
He sits again. Warren waits, quiet, as dark as Andrew is blond. In more than 200 sessions, Andrew has never told a story like this.
“Annie’s a good dancer, and I brought back my Cuscútlano dancing, but kept it cleaner. The babe did come over—peck on Annie’s cheek, then, to me, May I have this dance. Where’s Tony? says Annie, and the babe says, home with the kid. We never go out together.”
She tugged me so she could whisper in my ear. Don’t forget who’s takin’ you home.
Take me home, and I’ll never forget it.
“At the break we went outside so I could have a cigarette. It was snowing a little, but it didn’t look dangerous. People were lighting up and laughing and talking. I said to her, so is this what people do when they’re happy.
“She’d understood everything I had said until then. But now she looked at me with her eyes narrowed and said, What do you mean?
“I mean, I wouldn’t know unless you told me. I mean, this is the best thing that’s happened to me in five years. That’s all I mean.”
“What have you told her,” asks Warren, emphasizing the have.
“She knows about the meds. I told her Sunday. Whether she understands the total bionic nature of my new emotional state, I don’t know. But she may. And she read my book, Warren, remember? When. It. Came. Out. I should fall in love with her for that alone. But anyway, she knows that stuff, you know, what a dork I can be.
“So. Subjects still to be covered—” he looks Warren in the eye—“Polly. Jail. Hospital. Girls.”
Girls? Warren’s eyebrows go up microscopically. Andrew resists, unblinking, as firmly as if they were arm wrestling. “I’ll say prostitute when I tell her,” he says.
Warren nods slightly.
“I have to tell her everything?”
Warren is startled, gives a slight shrug.
“OK,” says Andrew. They have worked together long enough for him to expect an answer that’s a question. What do you want? It depends on what you want.
“You haven’t heard about the blizzard and the dead deer,” says Andrew.
“Or what happened to the babe in the tank top,” says Warren.
Chapter 14 / Blizzard
“The babe,” says Andrew with a shrug, continuing his report. “I got lucky—the next song was a slow one, and I threw myself into Annie’s arms. Really. I wanted to see what it felt like. It felt—” Good. “Normal. And I am not blowing this, the first night, for some guy’s wife.” He laughs briefly, at himself. “See how well I’m taking the meds.”
“Beautifully,” says Warren.
“OK. Annie forgave me for sounding patronizing, and we stayed for the second set. They did some great covers—‘Respect,’ that kind of thing. And the lead singer—Viki—would say something like, OK, now Tommy’s gonna help us on this number, and some contractor in a T-shirt who’d been dancing his ass off would stand with her at the microphone and he’d belt it out, pitch perfect. And I thought, I want to do that.
“At the break we went back out for air. And discovered that the little roadhouse, with its tiny, steamed-up windows, was in the middle of a blizzard. You couldn’t see the other side of the road.
“Shit, said Annie. We’d better go, she said, apologetic, as if I were going to argue. She drives a Honda hatchback the size of rickshaw. It’s good in snow, she said of the car. And she’s a good driver, she uses the shift, the mirrors. I manned the towel to keep the windshield from steaming up. We hadn’t gone more than a few miles—we were starting back up the mountain we had to go over—when we came upon a dead deer stretched across our lane. I expected her to duck into the other lane, around it, but if we skidded, we were dead, so she stopped. An SUV chugged by us, spraying snow, half burying the deer.
“We should move it, said Annie, sounding apologetic again.
“Stay in the car, I said, as if I knew what I was doing.
“Be careful she said, and just as I got out there, in my loafers, a big pickup stopped behind us. A young guy got out—need some help, he said. Sure do, I said, feeling right in the middle of Prairie Home Companion. We each grabbed a back leg of the deer and dragged it off the road. Ten-point buck, he said, dusting off the head. You want it?
“Was he crazy? It must have weighed as much as her car.
“You guys OK? called Annie.
“He wants to know if you want the deer, I said into the car window.
“No, she said, as if it were a normal question. He can take it. You might help him put it in the truck.
“He had a tarp for the truck bed, which was covered with snow anyway, and we slung the deer onto it. There was hardly any blood—the thing died of a broken back—but I did have a flash, just a second, even in the snow and with my neck soaking wet, of piling the bodies into Carlos’s pickup as fast as we could, of trying to get away with our dead and wounded so they wouldn’t get their balls cut off—but I took a deep breath and looked at the kid in front of me, no beard, a contractor in training, took care of his truck, and I said thanks, thanks for stopping, and he said no problem, and we headed for our vehicles.
“Annie leaned out her window and called to the kid, we’re going to need a push. He waved OK, and when our tires spun, he came up behind us and, very gently, tapped us. Where the deer had been, the snow wasn’t so deep, so she got some traction there and we roared up the hill in first gear, the kid behind us, ready to push.
“After what felt like five minutes, we got to the top and started down, and she gave a huge sigh, like expelling a balloon full of tension.
“You all right? I said.
“She nodded, her eyes on the road. She was thinking, hard, and then I remembered. Her house was about 15 minutes from here, on a dry day. My hotel was 15 minutes past that, same dry day. Tonight, we were looking at an hour to the hotel and then a half-hour for her to get back home. Alone. It was one o’clock, and snowing.
“Listen, I said, I’ll sleep in the car. I’ll sleep on the porch. I’ll sleep in the doghouse. We can’t go back to Schuyler.
“It might not be so bad there, she said, closer to the river. Lower elevation. But we have to decide before the parkway. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up my hill, but if we take the parkway, then we can come at the house from the other direction, down the hill.
“Do it, I said.
“OK, she said. She was miserable. She didn’t want me at her house. She wanted to be by herself, she didn’t want to worry about some mental case in her attic. And I would spend the whole night thinking about not jumping her. But we couldn’t go back to Schuyler.
On the parkway, we came up behind a plow and followed it. Fifteen miles an hour, for five miles, but our path was clear, we could relax a little, until her road, which hadn’t been plowed. Someone had been through, a bigger car, but she had traction on one side so we inched down the hill, slithered into the driveway.
“Her house is small and painted in the colors of Mexico. The dog is weird . . . like having a small fox in the house. Chloe. Apparently Chloe had never expected to see Annie alive again. Chloe sat down, pointed her nose at the ceiling, and howled. I thought, maybe I will sleep in the car.
“Do you want a cup of tea or something? Annie asked. In the kitchen light her eyes looked burned out, with dark circles under them, and what I wanted was to sit her on my lap, but also I wanted her to stop doing things for me, so I said I would make her a cup of tea.
“She took the dog out into the yard. There was a red teakettle on the stove, so I put some water in it and turned on the gas. It looked safe enough, so I went outside with them. Annie was shoveling a little path in the yard, toward a bird feeder, so Chloe could get out there and squat. Then she came back onto the deck and stood with me under the roofed part by the door. Everything—bird feeder, fence, trees—was larger than life, rounded up with snow, which was still falling, with a kind of hissing, breathing sound.
“Again, except for the snow, the place felt as remote as a house on the outskirts of a Cuscútlano mountain village. Facing west, we couldn’t see any other houses. There was no sound except for the snow and the only light was around the corner by the back door. We stood farther apart than we’d been all night. She seemed skittish, like the dog, which was now hopping through the snow, looking for mice, I guess. I had a cigarette and we watched the snow change the planet.
“Back inside, the dog was still wired. I was pouring water over a tea bag and Annie was moving something in the living room. OK, Chloe! she said, and the dog started running. Annie’s bedroom is in back of the living room, and the dog ran in from the bed, through the living room, through an orange plastic Hula Hoop Annie was holding, then around a rocking chair and back toward the bedroom. I had been going to ask her why she kept a Hula Hoop next to the fireplace tongs. She was smiling at the dog and saying, good dog, Chloe, good girl!
“Chloe did it again. Bed-door-hoop-rocker, 40 miles an hour, with this completely demented look on her face.
“Do you want your tea? I said.
“Come in for a minute and stand over there, she said.
“So I stood near the alcove where Annie has her desk. And Chloe did it again, Annie raising the hoop a little and cheering her on, as if the dog had done something wonderful. At first Chloe wouldn’t go near me. She reached the end of her run, panted a little, looked at me. Get Andy! said Annie, and Chloe ran away from us entirely, back to the bedroom, where she turned around on the bed three times in about three seconds, a fox dervish, then charged back out to the living room. This time she tapped my foot with her paw before she ran away.
“So I became part of the course. Chloe did this four more times, Annie cheering her on, raising the hoop, me not saying anything, not wanting my voice to throw the dog off, Chloe jumping through the hoop, tapping my foot, circling around Annie to race back into the bedroom, turn circles on the bed, and so on. It was two o’clock in the morning. Finally Chloe stopped, panting, her sides heaving, then drank about a quart of water.”
“What were you thinking while the dog ran around?” asks Warren, sounding genuinely curious.
“—Not much. Well . . . I was glad when Annie told me to stand near the desk. Made me part of the game. The dog was funny, and Annie was smiling, not looking so worn out. Out of the snowstorm, in a tiny house with two skittish females . . . I guess I was happy.”
Chapter 15 / View
“A small electric heater was on in one corner of the bathroom, which was good, because the room was tiled and cold as a crypt. Annie had set out a towel and a toothbrush, still in its plastic package, so I brushed my teeth, looking at the photos on the wall. San Pedro. Her cotton-picking brigade.
“Back in the living room, Annie and Chloe were sitting on the couch together. The dog was chewing a rawhide bone the size of her head and Annie was drinking her tea. She got up immediately. I’ll show you the upstairs room, she said.
“I’m sure I can find it, I said. I couldn’t stand the thought of her butt, in her little black pants, leading me up the stairs.
“OK, she said. I turned on the electric heater up there. You can leave it on all night—it’s safe.
“Before she could move away, I kissed her. Three kisses—top of her head and each cheek, thanking her for the dance, and the driving, and the room upstairs. I held her for a moment, to feel all her various curves and muscles, before she said good night and pulled away.
“That was it, Warren. I stayed upstairs. The heater was on, but it was a very subtle heater, a sort of scat singer of a heater, and the room felt like it was outdoors. Really—there was ice along the bottom edge of the window. The only furnace heat had to come up from downstairs, through a grate in the floor. I wanted to look around, check out the books, but the ceiling was so low I couldn’t stand up straight, and my jacket was downstairs. I thought about getting it, but I didn’t want to make her nervous, so I just went to bed. I took off my pants and shoes and that was it. Then I decided I was being ridiculous, so I took off my sweater and spread it over the down comforter as extra insulation.
“A spray of light from the living room came through the grate until Annie turned it off, and then the house went black. She closed the bedroom door. I listened, not breathing, and it seemed to me that she locked it. I lay there thinking about her feeling safer behind a locked door and that I wouldn’t argue with a locked door, but I especially wouldn’t if I froze to death, and I wondered if she kept the house so cold in order to shrivel me up, and I fell asleep.
“I dreamed we were at an aquarium. Something like the Miami Seaquarium, where I interviewed the source the day before I met her on the plane. The tanks were huge, as if we were walking at the bottom of the ocean, and we stopped at the reef fish, watching them glitter in the aqua water. We were happy, walking around the tanks, which made a loud humming noise, and I woke up to hear a truck rumble by, see its lights. A plow. I closed my eyes again, tried to get the dream back. I liked the feeling of traveling somewhere with her. The plow drove by from the other direction. I hoped it was still snowing, that they wouldn’t get the road cleared.
“Later, still dark, there was a lot of truck noise in the driveway and lights flashing, and I sat up, thinking Jesus, what now. A pickup truck, plowing her driveway. Damn. My ears and nose were freezing. I put the extra pillow around my head to try to warm them.
“Much later I smelled coffee. It was after nine, and the windows were completely frozen over on the outside.
“Downstairs, the house was empty. She’d left a note by the coffeemaker: Walking Chloe. Back soon. Coffee mug, milk. Down here you could see out of the windows. I drank some coffee looking out at the road, at a day that glittered—bright sun, glistening snow, the sky a deep marine blue, every particle visible in crystal-clear air. I stood at her desk, in the utter stillness, and I could feel what it was like to live there, the bay window, the road, the woods . . .
“Then Annie entered the view from the right, running down the hill. She wore a hat with earflaps, a furry hunter’s hat with a visor and a strap under her chin. She was trying to get the dog, Chloe, to pull her, with some success. They slid passed the plowed driveway, both of them grinning, the hound grin, the girl grin . . . and I thought, this woman does not look bereaved.
“She wanted to know if I had slept OK.
“It was more like suspended animation, I said. I don’t think that heater works. I could feel the coffee raising my core temperature.
“It works, she said. And I didn’t turn the thermostat down as low as I usually do. I’m sorry—do you want some toast?
“Not right now.
“OK. I have to go to church soon. It’s in Schuyler. I’ll drop you at the hotel and after the service I’ll treat you to breakfast at the diner.
“Annie, there was a blizzard here last night. We’re lucky not to be lost in a snowdrift.
“If my road’s plowed, all the roads are plowed. And I’m reading the lessons. We rotate readers, it’s my turn.
“Later, in the hotel, I thought I would have liked to hear her read. She’s a tenor, with this sort of gently definite way of speaking. January . . . she was probably reading something about Moses and something from Paul, and they probably sounded as good as they ever had. At breakfast, I asked her which lessons.
“Paul exhorted people, and the Old Testament was Exodus.”
“Rootless, wandering . . .
“—Yes. They’re camping in the desert and dying of thirst and they get pissed off at Moses and he goes to God, who gives them water from a rock.
“What’s the point?
“The Lord is among us.
“Despite all the evidence to the contrary.
“Andrew, I’m not going to argue theology with you. I don’t remember anything I learned in Sunday school and I just went back to church a couple of months ago. I said the Lord is among us. God is not a puppet master in the sky.
“Why did you go back to church a couple of months ago?
“. . . Mostly to keep every day of my life from being exactly the same, a combination of work and chores. To make myself sit still for an hour once a week. And the lessons sounded interesting. I’m what passes for a religion editor at the paper, since if someone calls in and says the lesson this Sunday is from Ephesians I don’t faint with confusion and I know how to spell Ephesians.
“The paper publishes which lesson will be read?
“And the sermon topic. In 6 point. If you call it in on time. We’re the community newspaper, Andrew. And up here, church is community.
The waitress poured us more coffee, and Annie followed her thought. “And evil among us too. As you said, it would be easy for the United States to help Cuscútlan have clean water, everywhere. Then they’d be healthy, and they’d love us.
“And we’d have all those healthy little Cuscútlano babies to deal with.
“Yup. It’s an evil spirit, not a guy with a tail and a pitchfork, that prevents that.
“So you pray against it.
“I pray for the Cuscútlanos. And I told you about our Amistad group raising money for Malpaisillo’s new water system. People here were very generous, even people who barely knew where Cuscútlan is. They knew it was the humane, human thing to do.
She stopped, then went on. I know I’m ridiculous, Andrew.
“You’re not ridiculous.
“Especially to someone like you who’s seen the evil up close, and I know I’m stupid and ineffectual.
“No, you’re neither.
“I can only do what I can do. I haven’t spent much time in Cuscútlan, but we’ve made some good educational headway here.
“I told you, Annie, Amistad’s sending a miniature coffin, inscribed with the name of a dead Cuscútlano civilian, to your Neanderthal congressman once a week for two years, was brilliant. That was an excellent educational effort.
“She smiled again, remembering. It was fun, too, she said.
“I would have liked to stay. I would have liked to wish a year away and find us both ahead of where we were. I couldn’t do either. So I took the train back to New York, and at the station I said, what are you doing next weekend?”
Chapter 16 / Iconoclast
Iconoclast, the article called him.
“Means he’s crazy,” said Jaime.
“Does not. I looked it up.” Annie paused. “‘One who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.’ You’re an iconoclast, Jaime.”
“Well. If you put it that way.”
They were sitting at Annie’s kitchen table. She had gone to the library, found Andrew’s second book, and discovered he had won a Pulitzer Prize for it. On microfilm she had found the Times article that described that year’s prizes.
“This is quite something,” said Jaime. “Who knew . . . You’re sure it’s the same guy.”
“Yes! If nothing else, this photo on the book looks the same. Him, only younger. I hear him on Pacifica now. He’s a co-host for Democracy Today.”
“There’s some way you can look up people on the computer. Matthew probably knows.” Mathew was Kathleen and Doug’s oldest, fourteen. “Or can you do it at the paper?”
“We have one computer where you can do that. I think. It’s so complicated, it gives me a headache. You can look things up in the library. I did.”
“Do you think he’d give a talk for Amistad?
“You read that article?” he said.
“It’s public information. I’m sorry—I’d forgotten you won a Pulitzer.”
“Good. Your mind isn’t cluttered with factoids.” He stopped himself. “Not that I wasn’t happy to receive it. Ecstatic. But that was yesterday.”
“And today is Democracy Today. Amistad would like to present you in a talk. Would you do that?”
“A talk . . .” He cut another piece of pizza, put it on her plate. Annie was working this weekend, and so was he. Settled into the Schuyler Hotel, he had spent two afternoons watching the park from his window and coffee breaks getting to know the staff at the diner. Dinners, he took her out. They had now supported Schuyler’s two restaurants and were back at the one he liked best.
“A talk about what?”
“Whatever aspect of politics you’d like. We’ve hosted talks before, and films. We got fifty people when Deborah Shaffer screened Witness to War. Ten of them asked questions.”
“How many are in Amistad?”
“Hm . . . “ She wiped her fingers before she counted on them, and he wanted to kiss her. “Eight. Six of whom come to meetings, four of whom do anything.”
“I’ll meet with Amistad if you want.”
“Why don’t you want to go public?” Jaime asked him. Meeting with Amistad had turned into coffee at Jaime and George’s, for which Jaime baked apples and Kathleen and Doug brought a homemade hazelnut torte.
“I’m still adjusting . . . moving from iconoclast to pundit. Activist to talking head. I’m not from this area. Your other speakers have been.”
“Smart group of friends,” he said on the way back to Schuyler.
“Set a high culinary standard, don’t they,” she said.
“What?” He said that before they both laughed and she was relieved; he hadn’t noticed.
He kissed her cheek, despite the seatbelt she required. He’d got used to this tiny car, grown to like riding around in it with her. He hadn’t been in her house since that first night, a month ago. They kept carefully to the hotel for him, the house for her, and the weather was dismally cooperative. But the car offered privacy—an easy intimacy inside, with a changing view outdoors.
“Thin,” he said. “You seem to know all the slim people in this area.”
“Oh. I had been going to ask you where we could get a good burger.”
She had to think. “The bar in East Wynham.”
“I’ll meet you there after work.” Annie had to go to the office for the afternoon.
“How will you get there?”
“I’ll take a cab. In Schuyler, there are cabs.”
“It’s half an hour!”
“The cabs in Schuyler are not busy. If I get to know a cab driver, maybe you won’t have to drive me around so much.”
“If you get your driver’s license, maybe I won’t have to drive you around so much.”
“I’m working on it,” he said, and he was, talking with Warren, both of them dealing with their knowledge that the world was better off without him at the helm of two tons of steel.
“I’m remaking myself,” he explained to Annie on Sunday, “for the third time.”
Sunset, and they had stopped at the riverfront in Schuyler before he got his train. Driving home, she realized he had planned it that way, more private than a restaurant, and if she turned around and left him forever, he could walk to the train.
“I’m lucky I got the Pacifica gig,” he said. “As soon as I did, Rush Limbaugh accused left-wing radio of hiring convicted murderers. If I gave a talk here, some enterprising reporter might come up with the dirt, and then your group would be tainted.
“That’s the high road. My real concern is that your friends would tell you to drop me.”
Chapter 17 / Grater
“There’s something you should know” was how he would put it.
He would say this while she was doing something else—years later, she could still remember exactly where she’d been, what she’d been doing, the way one does looking back at a national tragedy. These were not national tragedies but at once something less and something more, striking to the bone, altering her immediate world more than a presidential assassination.
What he remembered was how she stopped what she was doing and turned her full attention to him. She might tilt her head slightly, not unlike her dog, which often sat silently, observing him.
“There’s something you should know,” he said at the diner in Schuyler their second Sunday together. They were sitting in the last booth in the window row that overlooked the street. She faced in, toward the restaurant, and he sat opposite, from where he could keep an eye on a corner of the park.
Annie had worked a full day on Saturday, and she noticed that Andrew was already known at the diner; from the cash register, the owner greeted them, and when the waitress poured coffee Andy gave her $5 and she left the pot on a trivet she took from her apron pocket. Now their breakfast dishes had been cleared and they sat surrounded by the Times, Daily News, Post, and Hudson County Observer. Tina had asked Annie to read each issue of the paper and mark up what could have been done better. A test, Annie knew, but an easy one, and she liked it. She was due in the office at noon, when they would talk about it.
Andrew went outside and leaned against a lamppost, smoking a cigarette and paging through the Daily News, a little ferociously, she thought, visually rustling the pages and neglecting the ash on his cigarette. He returned to their table, bringing a simultaneous waft of fresh air and cigarette smoke, a smell that brought back her childhood; not a bad smell, she thought, she could get used to it again.
And he, in his first view of her from the door, thought how totally absorbed she was in what she was doing. Focused. Comfortable being alone.
“Does it ever get warm here?” he asked.
“You just bought your sweater,” she said, indicating the Navy blue boiled wool. Not to mention the three turtlenecks, three pairs of socks, and a set of long underwear; the sporting-goods store down the street loved him too.
“There’s something you should know,” he said, and she tilted her head slightly, waiting.
“I’m ill,” he said.
“Your wrists. They look like they’ve been through a grater.”
Before he could stop himself he tugged at the sleeves of his turtleneck, just a flick of the third finger of each hand, ensuring that the sleeves were all the way down. “But you didn’t ask,” he said.
“I’m not reporting on you.”
“Still. Conjecture is dangerous.”
“We’re talking about you. Manic-depressive?”
“I wish. I seem to be imbued with the standard despair, alternated with a crashing mental pain, a sort of agonizing migraine all over my body. That’s what persuaded me to break through a window with my hands so I could grab a piece of glass and try to cut out my heart. It had given me nothing but pain.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, as she might have to someone who had lost a loved one in a tragic accident.
“It’s over now. I did time in a hospital, met Warren, and today I’m a mix of the latest in pharmacology and talking therapy, a sort of mental bionic man. Altered. A different person from what I was . . . a year ago.”
“Is that a good thing? I mean, do you like this new person? Do you want to spend the rest of your life as him?”
“—Well, he’s smarter than I was then. And he doesn’t refer to himself in the third person. I’m functional . . . in most ways. There are still a few details to be worked out, but hey, I’m a nice guy.”
“Is that what you want to be?”
“—Annie, I don’t have any choice. I decided to survive. I learned some basic concepts. Like, life isn’t perfect. I gave my health, almost my life, for the Cuscútlano revolution because I believed in it, and it didn’t endure. But Rosendo, my friend whom I hope you’ll meet, gave even more, and he reminds me that we didn’t compromise. That there is no reason to hate myself. Another new concept for me.
“This new person. You. Does it last?”
“As far as anyone knows.”
She turned her head slightly, as if he had slapped her.
“It’s a treatment, Annie. And they come up with new meds every day. Well, every year.”
Across the street, in a narrow window on the second story of a red brick building stood one sunflower in a vase. It must be plastic, but she had enjoyed noticing it, and thinking about the person—a woman, surely—who had put the flower in the vase and then put the vase in the window and thought there, that looks better. In the clarity of the window and the sun on the red brick and the plastic sunflower she thought, he will break my heart.
Digame, he said. Talk to me.
“ . . . Cowboy Junkies.
He needed only two beats. “‘Mama, he’s crazy and he scares me.’” He took her hand on the tabletop. “That girl doesn’t run.”
She didn’t run either. She kissed him at the train station and got through work, and at home that night she listened to “Misguided Angel,” once, because they were a disappointing band, she could never get through the whole CD, and she wished mightily that he hadn’t told her this, and she knew that he had to tell her, so she wished she had someone she could tell, someone she could ask, is this OK?
Ed would say no, find someone normal, but Ed would be jealous of Andrew.
Is he a danger to others? Jaime would ask, and she, the inadequate reporter, had forgotten to ask that. And she hadn’t asked about his wrists because . . . because they were his wrists and he would tell her when he was ready, as he had, and because “you’ve done depressed,” as Kathleen would say. “I had hoped for someone cheerful for you.”
And she would be reduced to saying, but I like him.
Chapter 18 / Rush
Now it was another Sunday, after his meeting with Amistad. Sunset, and they had stopped at the riverfront in Schuyler before his train arrived. Afterward she realized that he had planned it that way: more private than a restaurant, and if she turned around and left him, he could walk to the train.
“I’m remaking myself,” he had said, “for the third time. I’m lucky I got the Pacifica gig. As soon as I did, Rush Limbaugh accused left-wing radio of hiring convicted murderers.”
He said something after that, but, as intended, her mind stuck on murderers. Convicted.
“I hear that Rush Limbaugh exaggerates,” she said.
“He does,” said Andy. “He gets confused, too, about the facts. In this case, I did the crime, and the time.”
“Felony DWI,” she said.
He shook his head. “Manslaughter.” He said the word gently, lingering over the three syllables. “Pled down from Murder 3, depraved indifference to human life.
“Sometimes legal terms are perfectly precise . . . but do you want to hear about this, or do you want to go home?”
“—Both. I wish I could sit down. Let’s go back to the car.”
She had parked in the boat club lot, near signs that said Private Property and Members Only and No Trespassing. She and Ed had always parked here when they wanted the view; some rules were easy to break. In the car, Andy asked her if she would move her seat back, so he could see her as he talked, “and you can look at me, if you like.
“I killed my wife,” he said. “I was depraved. So was she. The most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and a photographer with an eye like no one’s had, before or since. She was the one who took the photo of me at the demo, with the blood running down my face. The shot seen round the world.”
“—Were you wearing a tie?”
“Yes. And a blazer. Did you see the poster for sale in a flea market?”
“Probably. And the photo in newspapers.”
“Well, this beautiful, brilliant, crazy girl wanted me. I could not believe my luck. I was skinnier then. I looked like a starving horse on two feet.
“We got married the week after I graduated from Yale. She didn’t graduate. She dropped out of Wellesley her last semester because she was a brilliant photographer who didn’t need a degree, I was going to support her, and her mother wanted her help in organizing the wedding. Five hundred guests. Her father ran half of Kentucky, my father owned the other half. They needed a NASA computer to create the seating chart.
“We got enough presents to fill an apartment in New York and a house on the Georgia Sea Isles. Her father gave us the house. My father bought us the apartment. If you’re thinking they were two competitive bastards with that especially silken Kentucky drawl, you’re right.
“Anyway, she wrote three hundred thank-you notes. Little cards with her new initials on them. Enough to drive anyone crazy. We had things like silver grapefruit spoons. Did you ever have grapefruit spoons?”
“I found a couple in a flea market.”
“Probably mine. For sale next to the poster.”
He paused and looked at her until she met his gaze. Intent, she thought, but not crazy.
“You didn’t get married right after college did you,” he said.
“Wise already, at a young age.”
“No.” She shook her head. “It was a close call. I handled it—badly. But if you’ve had difficult parents, you don’t want to repeat the experience.”
“—Right, Annie. And the rest of us had loving, sustaining parents. You’re wise and suffused with common sense.”
“Or a fear of commitment. Anyway . . .”
“Anyway, we had all this property and these things—I did love her, in my own 22-year-old way, and after growing up inland, suffocating, I loved being able to see the water from both the apartment and the house . . . anyway, we had to think what we were going to do next, when we weren’t having sex, and I got an assignment to Beirut. On spec, but it was my idea and I sold it and I knew we could make it work. Her pictures were part of the deal, we did it together. Her pictures were so fine—beautiful and deadly. We loved the danger. We left the hotel, squatted in a bombed-out building. She had studied Arabic. I protected her, but she did the talking. Her voice would change. No Kentucky drawl in her Arabic.
“Back home was too tame. We tried things. You never did drugs? Not ever?”
“—Not seriously. I had the example of my parents, alcohol.”
“More common sense.”
“Boring. Except to Ed, who was thirty before he tried a cigarette. So anyway . . . “
“So anyway, I got another assignment and I cleaned up. She didn’t. Two years of hell. I left her, came back. The city was hopeless, so I took her to the sea. She left me, came back. We tried tough love, we tried sweet love. We put her in detox, we took her out. Everyone blamed me, and I did give her the needle that killed her, there were witnesses, but I didn’t start it, Annie, I didn’t start it.
“The case was a power struggle between her parents and mine. Her father wanting me dead, my mother trying to save me.
“You can look it up,” he said.
She didn’t answer, thinking that she should look it up and she couldn’t bear to. He would be portrayed as the criminal, and he is the criminal—
“Digame,” he said again. He didn’t like telling her to talk to him, but sometimes, he was learning, you had to dislodge Annie from her thoughts.
“You don’t use her name,” she said.
“—Her name was Mary. She was known as Polly, and her parents called her Pooh.”
“I went to college with a girl named Pooh. It’s hard to think of now.”
“Think of something else then.”
“—It’s tame here . . . but I like it. Eventually you’ll go away . . . maybe you should just go now.”
This time he looked slapped. “But I like you,” he said.
“You will break my heart.”
“No,” he said, “no. First, I’m smarter. If a beautiful creative girl agrees to spend time with me, I’m not giving that up. Second, it doesn’t matter what I do. Ed broke your heart, right?”
She looked away.
“That’s it. For you, it will happen only once. I can tell.”
“That’s a crazy thing to say, Andy,” she said, turning back to him, “but never mind. Why aren’t you in Rwanda? That’s the story of the ’90s, not this godforsaken Republican backwater.”
“First, this backwater isn’t so bad, story-wise. We’ll talk about that. But . . . OK, let’s spell this out, for both of us. I would give my teeth to go to Rwanda. But I’m not strong enough. For me to tell you that is like cutting my wrists all over again. After three years in the Cuscútlan jungle, I have malarial relapses. I can’t risk losing my goddamned psychotropic meds, or running out of them. I have a job and I shrink I like, and I’m lucky to have both. I spent the ’70s as a murderer, the ’80s as a madman. The ’90s are my last shot at a life.”
He looked at his watch. “The train is due in five minutes. Let’s take me to the station. I’ll leave. You think. I should tell you that I’ll wait for your call, but I won’t. I’ll call you tomorrow, as usual.”
“Chloe,” she said that night, “I am reduced to talking to my dog.”
With this information, he has isolated you. Jaime would say that.
“It happened twenty years ago. He went to jail, got out, did his parole. It’s not like he put a gun to her head. Or is it?” Was she in the way? Did he hope for an accident? She couldn’t say the words out loud.
“He hasn’t killed anyone since. Except, probably in Cuscútlan and later, almost, himself. Oh, Chloe, what a mess. Are we safe? And how do you tell jokes with a person who has killed someone?”
Kathleen, the practicing Catholic: Would she be speechless? No, she wouldn’t be: To go on, you will have to forgive him.
Chapter 19 / Jay
“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 particularly 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 didn’t always feel. Andy was 42, and they both knew that Fitzgerald had died at 44.
“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, 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 Cuscútlan, 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 had 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 were 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 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 He 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 Rosendo and Caroline to the dinner, Andrew hitched a ride uptown with them. 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.”
Chapter 20 / Suckers
“Putting aside theology for a moment—or for as long as you want—first comes your physical safety,” said Paul. “God wants you to be safe.”
With this information Andrew has isolated you.
No. She had always been good at using resources. She went to church. She liked the rector. He was in his 50s, a calm, bespectacled man who had been drawn to ministering as a second, if not a third or fourth, career. Word on the street, and in the congregation, was that in his last parish, in Vermont, he had helped smuggle Cuscútlano refugees into Canada. Or out of Canada, people weren’t sure which, and all he would say was that they were friends, these people, who stayed with him and his family while they got on their feet after leaving their home country.
Annie sat facing Paul, aware of a computer on his desk and a wall of books behind her.
“I’m dating a man who’s done time for manslaughter,” she said. “Pled down from Murder Three. Depraved indifference to human life. This is a new world for me. I need help dealing with it.”
And Paul, who preferred to be called Paul, not Father anything, put aside theology for the moment, and asked about her safety. She felt safer immediately.
“I met him on an airplane, Paul. Do you know the Tom Waits song with the line, ‘only suckers fall in love with total strangers’?”
Paul tapped his forefinger three times, thinking. “The one he does with Bette Midler.”
“So then, you’re in love with Andrew?”
“I like him. I think about him. I mean, I still think about Ed ten times a day, but that’s down from a hundred. And then Andy calls and I’m happy, and I think about something that’s now, not in the past. Or I could, before he started to tell me about his past.
“I like it that he visits me. The last time he visited was Valentine’s weekend, so I decided I would bring flowers for him, when I picked him up at the train station, and I found some beautiful yellow tulips. I don’t usually buy flowers that aren’t in season, but these were such a lovely pale yellow, closed up, ready to open. I couldn’t resist.
“And when the train came in, Andrew had flowers for me—six gorgeous yellow roses. We exchanged our flowers, and a kiss. People at the train station applauded us. We all smiled. But do I just go blithely on, or should I worry about what’s in back of us, what no one at the train station sees?”
“When Andrew visits, do you feel safe with him?”
“Right. Safe. What I was trying to say before, with the song, is that I feel as safe with him as I would with any man who’s a stranger.”
“Which is . . .”
“He’s been to my house only once. During that sudden blizzard we had in January, remember?”
“It was the middle of the night. We had gone dancing, of all things—my idea—and we had talked, all day, and we had driven through a blizzard together . . . in my twenties, that would have been enough. Now it wasn’t. I locked my bedroom door.
“On my road, the nights are dark—black. And silent. I can lie in bed with my eyes open and not see or hear a thing. I like it. If that’s the grave, then the grave isn’t frightening. But this night I lay in the dark, acutely aware that a stranger lay upstairs. Someone I knew nothing about.
“When I picked cotton in Cuscútlan, I lived in a co-ed dorm with strangers from all over the country. And it’s possible that I lay next to Ed for 15 years and didn’t really know him, but that’s another story, let’s stay with Andy today. It was . . . the one-ness of it, or the two-ness, the solitude, the blackness, just the two of us in the pitch dark.
“I did fall sleep, and when I woke up the sun was shining and we were all still alive. I put on the coffee and took Chloe for a walk, and when I came back Andy was up, drinking coffee and playing the piano. I almost burst into tears.
“Say more . . .”
“There was music coming from my house. Live music, played by a person who loves the piano. These days I barely remember to turn on the radio. Andy had opened ‘Skylark,’ which was the song I was learning when Ed died.
“Otherwise, we’re alone only in the car, or in public places. It feels like something we both want. We haven’t slept together, if you’re wondering.”
“And you feel he’s attentive to your comfort, your needs? The flowers were lovely, but in other instances . . . “
“Yes. I wish he could drive. Being in jail, out of the country, in the hospital—renewing his driver’s license was a low priority. Now, staying out of trouble for minor infractions like driving without a license is a high priority. But I think it’s more than that.”
“What does he say about it?”
“I asked him if he’d like to practice in my car, in a parking lot. I told him if he can play the piano, he can drive a car with a stick shift. And it’s easier to take the road test up here.
“He said he would practice with me. But it might be a while before he could take the road test. That seemed like a start, and he does take cabs when he can.”
“Yes. He takes cabs as if he were in Manhattan. He likes to talk to the drivers, among other reasons.”
“And he likes to talk to you?”
“I think so. He’s good at tracking things, like what I’m doing at work, what my friends are doing. He’s a reporter, he tracks things.”
“Not because he likes you?”
“You’re not sure?”
“It’s a matter of gaining confidence. One person leaves you. Another comes along. He might leave too. You’ve learned that.
“But I liked your sermon about God’s plan. About how God has a plan, we just don’t know what it is. It was my plan to grow old with Ed. It wasn’t God’s plan. God has something else in mind. It might be better, it might be worse. We’ll find out. I suppose the sermon was more complex than that.”
“No, that’s a good takeaway. In the meantime, if you’re concerned, look into how forthcoming Andrew is about his responsibility in Polly’s death. Does he acknowledge his share in her death? Does he give an honest appraisal of the situation? Has he made an effort to change himself?
“God forgives everyone. But it’s your decision to forgive Andrew, in prayer with God. Just keep in mind that life is set free by forgiveness. The life God wants for you is freed from the past, by forgiveness.
“But it can wait for the right time. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, as long as you feel safe with Andrew.”
Copyright © 2013 Debby Mayer