Writing a novel is, as someone else said, pathological. The writer goes along for years with voices in her head. Below are some of the conversations that Andrew and Annie have been having in my head lately. I think they move the story along.
The first conversation is right after the March blizzard (Chapter 21), when Annie was snowed in with no phone service.
“Andrew, it was a snow storm. They happen.”
“It was the Storm of the Century. Initial caps. Probably three hundred people died.”
“It was more like a hundred and fifty. Which is too bad . . .”
“Are you praying for them?”
“I’m pausing to remember them. Don’t be obnoxious.
“Andrew, I could tell you that I’ll think about moving to New York, but I probably won’t. What I’ll think about is Kathleen’s Exploratory Committee and her Listening Tour in this school bus she’s bought. We’re meeting tonight to plan.
“Not only what would I do and where would I live, but . . . at a certain point, you burn your bridges. Widowed small-town reporters don’t just waltz back into Manhattan. Or Staten Island.
“Plus, I like it up here. My friends are here. Except for you.”
“That’s probably the greatest number of words you’ve ever said to me at one time.”
“Andrewwww . . . first, that’s not true, and second, are you listening.”
“Selectively. Your friends are there except for me. I’m smiling, can you hear it?”
“I can, you know. Your gold tooth is showing.”
“If you’re my friend, you know I mean well, but I can be a dunderhead.”
“Is that Warren’s assessment?”
“Probably. But Caroline said it. She has a way of getting to the heart of the matter.”
To Warren, Andrew said, “I’m getting confused over what I should tell you and what I should tell her.”
“Is there anything you shouldn’t tell her?”
“I end up saying some things twice. They’re boring enough said once.”
“Nice wheels.” Andrew lit a cigarette, kicked the tires of the Ford Escort.
“Dull. They don’t rent Mustangs.”
“Just as well. Killer car. How’s Azul?” Annie’s Honda was in the shop, with something terminal, Andrew was sure.
“She needs a transmission job.”
Andrew winced. “Sorry . . . what are you thinking?” He drew her toward him and they leaned against the Ford together.
It was late April, Andrew’s first trip to Schuyler in weeks. Only nine Branch Davidians had survived the Waco siege.
“Slimy,” he had replied to both Warren and Annie when they asked him how he felt about his weeks in Waco.
“Once,” he told Warren, “I would have got back there. I would have reported from inside.”
“But . . .”
“I found I didn’t want to die for the Branch Davidians. Or the radio station, for that matter.”
“Why does that disappoint you about yourself?”
“Maybe I should just sell life insurance.”
“—That’s a long leap, as you know. Did the show want you to go inside?”
“No. They were probably afraid I would, that I would do something crazy. They sent me to Waco because they had to. I don’t have the background to cover the Middle East, via the World Trade Center. I have the background to cover government sieges.”
“Your reports were excellent . . . are you sure you didn’t get inside, ever?”
Andrew gave a big, innocent shrug. “As far as anyone can tell.” His talks with Warren might be confidential, and Warren already knew he was crazy, but some days, even therapeutically, Warren could operate on a need-to-know basis.
And Annie . . . “Ed read somewhere that people who keep up with the news have a greater tendency to depression,” she told him.
“Did Ed keep up with the news?”
Now Annie leaned against him, and he had arrived here, in this godforsaken Republican backwater, as Annie called it, in daylight. The air hadn’t slapped him as he got off the train, as it did habitually; it didn’t caress him, either, this wasn’t Miami, but it left him alone. And there was Annie, glowing in her blond hair and a satin baseball jacket of black and white, with a full body hug.
He loved even her problems, which seemed not intractable, or for life.
“I can’t afford it,” she said about the transmission job. “But it’s cheaper than a buying new car.”
“You know . . . if you lived in the city, you wouldn’t need a car.”
“Andrew, I’m about to burst into tears as it is. Please stop with that.”
“Sorry. I’m trying to be logical. If you want the transmission job, I’ll cover it. But you probably shouldn’t put that much money into Azul. I know you’re fond of the car,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“I can’t stand the thought of junking her. Do you think I could have her stuffed?”
He stopped himself just short of saying we could use it for parts. We.
“We can see,” he said.
At breakfast Saturday in the diner, Annie took out a folder. “Catherine leases her car,” she said, “she gave me the info. Would you look at it? It’s only $100 a month . . .”
Andrew winced again. “Honey, that’s such a bad deal.”
“It’s a way of having a good car when you can’t afford one.”
“Let me see what I can get you at a police auction, OK?” Andrew was taking out his cell phone.
“Drug dealers don’t drive Hondas.”
“In fact, they do, but they make low riders out of them . . . dammit, why don’t you have better cell coverage up here?”
“Because cell towers are a blight on the horizon. Why don’t the phone companies come up with better technology?”
By Sunday the plans were made. There was an auction Wednesday morning; Andrew and Carlos would attend. They discussed the details by phone in Spanish; a budget of up to $10,000, transferred from Andy to Carlos, since Carlos had a driver’s license.
And in the diner Sunday morning, after Annie had been to church and Andrew had watched the park action—three quick deals, among people who knew each other—from his hotel room, he said, “Could I come calling this afternoon? I could take a cab, knock on your front door. I could bring cookies or something. You could show me your gardens when they aren’t buried by a blizzard. You probably have beautiful gardens.”
“The yard is a mess. But yes, you can come over,” she said, aware of how easy it was to say that, “and I won’t ask you to rake. If you take a cab, I’ll have more time to straighten up.”
“Don’t straighten up. Pretend it’s a surprise visit.”
“I’m actually happier when things are tidy. You won’t believe that when you see the house. Will you go for a walk with Chloe and me?”
“I’m wearing my new boots.”
“We’re taking the next step,” Annie told Chloe as she stuffed two weeks’ worth of junk mail into the recycling bag. She stopped, looked at her watch, dialed Kathleen’s number.
“We’re taking the next step,” she told Kathleen.
“Good! I mean, it’s good, right? That’s why you’re telling me?”
As long as you feel safe with Andrew, Father Paul had said.
“I mean, he seems as normal as anyone.”
“He does,” said Kathleen. “And more so than many. If you feel like talking later, call again. If we’re putting the kids to bed, leave a message.”
“Perfect. I’m taking him to the train at seven, then I’ll call you.”
Copyright © Debby Mayer