The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist
TableofContents
TitlePage
Praise
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TheAccidentalTourist
AConversationwithAnneTyler
AReader’sGuide
ReadingGroupQuestionsandTopicsforDiscussion
AbouttheAuthor
ByAnneTyler
CopyrightPage
“INDISPUTABLYHERBESTBOOK...
Itleavesoneachingwithpleasureandpain.”
—TheWashingtonPost
“Hilarious...andtouching...AnneTylerisawiseandperceptivewriterwithawarm
understandingofhumanfoibles.”
—St.LouisPost-Dispatch
“Comic...Sweetlyperverse...Anovelanimatedbywittyinventionandlivelypersonalities.”
—Time
“AnneTyler[is]coveringcommongroundwithuncommoninsight....Convincinglyreal.”
—People
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“TENDERANDCOMPELLING...AVERYFINENOVEL.”
—PhiladelphiaInquirer
“Genuinelyfunny...IfanythingcouldbesaidagainstTheAccidentalTourist,it’sthatit’salmost
toocompleteanentertainmentpackage,laughterandtearsalltiedtogether.”
—VanityFair
“AnneTylerisnotmerelygood,sheiswickedlygood.”
—JOHNUPDIKE
“Imbuedwithawarmthandwisdomabouthumannature.Funny,poignant,compassionateand
true.”
—PublishersWeekly
“Delightful...Charming...Fullofsurprisesandwisdom.AllofTyler ’snovelsarewonderful;
thisisherbestyet.”
—LibraryJournal
“Luminous,tone-perfect,andprobablyherbesttodate...Adelicatesoundingoftheoddand
accidentalincursionsoftheheart.”
—KirkusReviews
one
Theyweresupposedtostayatthebeachaweek,butneitherofthemhadtheheartforitandthey
decided to come back early. Macon drove. Sarah sat next to him, leaning her head against the side
window.Chipsofcloudyskyshowedthroughhertangledbrowncurls.
Macon wore a formal summer suit, his traveling suit—much more logical for traveling than
jeans,healwayssaid.Jeanshadthosestiff,hardseamsandthoserivets.Sarahworeastraplessterry
beach dress. They might have been returning from two entirely different trips. Sarah had a tan but
Macondidn’t.Hewasatall,pale,gray-eyedman,withstraightfairhaircutclosetohishead,andhis
skinwasthatthinkindthateasilyburns.He’dkeptawayfromthesunduringthemiddlepartofevery
day.
Justpastthestartofthedividedhighway,theskygrewalmostblackandseveralenormousdrops
spatteredthewindshield.Sarahsatupstraight.“Let’shopeitdoesn’train,”shesaid.
“Idon’tmindalittlerain,”Maconsaid.
Sarahsatbackagain,butshekepthereyesontheroad.
ItwasaThursdaymorning.Therewasn’tmuchtraffic.Theypassedapickuptruck,thenavanall
covered with stickers from a hundred scenic attractions. The drops on the windshield grew closer
together. Macon switched his wipers on. Tick-swoosh, they went—a lulling sound; and there was a
gentle patter on the roof. Every now and then a gust of wind blew up. Rain flattened the long, pale
grass at the sides of the road. It slanted across the boat lots, lumberyards, and discount furniture
outlets,whichalreadyhadadarkenedlookasifhereitmighthavebeenrainingforsometime.
“Canyouseeallright?”Sarahasked.
“Ofcourse,”Maconsaid.“Thisisnothing.”
Theyarrivedbehindatrailertruckwhoserearwheelssentoutarcsofspray.Maconswungtothe
left and passed. There was a moment of watery blindness till the truck had dropped behind. Sarah
grippedthedashboardwithonehand.
“Idon’tknowhowyoucanseetodrive,”shesaid.
“Maybeyoushouldputonyourglasses.”
“Puttingonmyglasseswouldhelpyoutosee?”
“Notme;you,”Maconsaid.“You’refocusedonthewindshieldinsteadoftheroad.”
Sarahcontinuedtogripthedashboard.Shehadabroad,smoothfacethatgaveanimpressionof
calm,butifyoulookedcloselyyou’dnoticethetensionatthecornersofhereyes.
The car drew in around them like a room. Their breaths fogged the windows. Earlier the air
conditionerhadbeenrunningandnowsomeartificialchillremained,quicklyturningdank,carrying
with it the smell of mildew. They shot through an underpass. The rain stopped completely for one
blank, startling second. Sarah gave a little gasp of relief, but even before it was uttered, the
hammeringontheroofresumed.Sheturnedandgazedbacklonginglyattheunderpass.Maconsped
ahead,withhishandsrelaxedonthewheel.
“Didyounoticethatboywiththemotorcycle?”Sarahasked.Shehadtoraisehervoice;asteady,
insistentroaringsoundengulfedthem.
“Whatboy?”
“Hewasparkedbeneaththeunderpass.”
“It’s crazy to ride a motorcycle on a day like today,” Macon said. “Crazy to ride one any day.
You’resoexposedtotheelements.”
“Wecoulddothat,”Sarahsaid.“Stopandwaititout.”
“Sarah,ifIfeltwewereintheslightestdangerI’dhavepulledoverlongago.”
“Well,Idon’tknowthatyouwouldhave,”Sarahsaid.
They passed a field where the rain seemed to fall in sheets, layers and layers of rain beating
down the cornstalks, flooding the rutted soil. Great lashings of water flung themselves at the
windshield.Maconswitchedhiswiperbladestohigh.
“Idon’tknowthatyoureallycarethatmuch,”Sarahsaid.“Doyou?”
Maconsaid,“Care?”
“Isaidtoyoutheotherday,Isaid,‘Macon,nowthatEthan’sdeadIsometimeswonderifthere’s
anypointtolife.’Doyourememberwhatyouanswered?”
“Well,notoffhand,”Maconsaid.
“Yousaid,‘Honey,totellthetruth,itneverseemedtometherewasallthatmuchpointtobegin
with.’Thosewereyourexactwords.”
“Um...”
“Andyoudon’tevenknowwhatwaswrongwiththat.”
“No,IguessIdon’t,”Maconsaid.
He passed a line of cars that had parked at the side of the road, their windows opaque, their
gleaming surfaces bouncing back the rain in shallow explosions. One car was slightly tipped, as if
abouttofallintothemuddytorrentthatchurnedandracedinthegully.Maconkeptasteadyspeed.
“You’renotacomfort,Macon,”Sarahsaid.
“Honey,I’mtryingtobe.”
“You just go on your same old way like before. Your little routines and rituals, depressing
habits,dayafterday.Nocomfortatall.”
“Shouldn’t I need comfort too?” Macon asked. “You’re not the only one, Sarah. I don’t know
whyyoufeelit’syourlossalone.”
“Well,Ijustdo,sometimes,”Sarahsaid.
Theywerequietamoment.Awidelake,itseemed,inthecenterofthehighwaycrashedagainst
theundersideofthecarandslammedittotheright.Maconpumpedhisbrakesanddroveon.
“Thisrain,forinstance,”Sarahsaid.“Youknowitmakesmenervous.Whatharmwoulditdoto
waititout?You’dbeshowingsomeconcern.You’dbetellingmewe’reinthistogether.”
Maconpeeredthroughthewindshield,whichwasstreamingsothatitseemedmarbled.Hesaid,
“I’vegotasystem,Sarah.YouknowIdriveaccordingtoasystem.”
“Youandyoursystems!”
“Also,”hesaid,“ifyoudon’tseeanypointtolife,Ican’tfigurewhyarainstormwouldmake
younervous.”
Sarahslumpedinherseat.
“Willyoulookatthat!”hesaid.“Amobilehome’swashedclearacrossthattrailerpark.”
“Macon,Iwantadivorce,”Sarahtoldhim.
Macon braked and glanced over at her. “What?” he said. The car swerved. He had to face
forwardagain.“WhatdidIsay?”heasked.“Whatdiditmean?”
“Ijustcan’tlivewithyouanymore,”Sarahsaid.
Maconwentonwatchingtheroad,buthisnoseseemedsharperandwhiter,asiftheskinofhis
facehadbeenpulledtight.Heclearedhisthroat.Hesaid,“Honey.Listen.It’sbeenahardyear.We’ve
hadahardtime.Peoplewholoseachildoftenfeelthisway;everybodysaysso;everybodysaysit’sa
terriblestrainonamarriage—”
“I’dliketofindaplaceofmyownassoonaswegetback,”Sarahtoldhim.
“Placeofyourown,”Maconechoed,buthespokesosoftly,andtherainbeatsoloudlyonthe
roof,itlookedasifhewereonlymovinghislips.“Well,”hesaid.“Allright.Ifthat’swhatyoureally
want.”
“Youcankeepthehouse,”Sarahsaid.“Youneverdidlikemoving.”
Forsomereason,itwasthisthatmadeherfinallybreakdown.Sheturnedawaysharply.Macon
switchedhisrightblinkeron.HepulledintoaTexacostation,parkedbeneaththeoverhang,andcut
off the engine. Then he started rubbing his knees with his palms. Sarah huddled in her corner. The
onlysoundwasthedrummingofrainontheoverhangfarabovethem.
two
Afterhiswifelefthim,Maconhadthoughtthehousewouldseemlarger.Instead,hefeltmore
crowded. The windows shrank. The ceilings lowered. There was something insistent about the
furniture,asifitwerepressinginonhim.
OfcourseSarah’spersonalbelongingsweregone,thelittlethingslikeclothesandjewelry.Butit
emergedthatsomeofthebigthingsweremorepersonalthanhe’dimagined.Therewasthedrop-leaf
desk in the living room, its pigeonholes stuffed with her clutter of torn envelopes and unanswered
letters.Therewastheradiointhekitchen,settoplay98Rock.(Shelikedtokeepintouchwithher
students, she used to say in the old days, as she hummed and jittered her way around the breakfast
table.)Therewasthechaiseoutbackwhereshehadsunbathed,plantedintheonlyspotthatgotany
sunatall.Helookedatthefloweredcushionsandmarveledathowanemptyspacecouldbesofullof
a person—her faint scent of coconut oil that always made him wish for a piña colada; her wide,
gleaming face inscrutable behind dark glasses; her compact body in the skirted swimsuit she had
tearfullyinsistedonbuyingafterherfortiethbirthday.Threadsofherexuberanthairshowedupatthe
bottom of the sink. Her shelf in the medicine cabinet, stripped, was splashed with drops of liquid
rouge in a particularly plummy shade that brought her instantly to Macon’s mind. He had always
disapproved of her messiness but now those spills seemed touching, like colorful toys left on the
floorafterachildhasgonetobed.
Thehouseitselfwasmedium-sized,unexceptionaltolookat,standingonastreetofsuchhouses
inanolderpartofBaltimore.Heavyoaktreeshungoverit,shadingitfromthehotsummersunbut
alsoblockingbreezes.Theroomsinsideweresquareanddim.AllthatremainedinSarah’sclosetwas
a brown silk sash hanging on a hook; in her bureau drawers, lint balls and empty perfume bottles.
Theirson’soldroomwasneatlymadeup,assleekasaroominaHolidayInn.Someplaces,thewalls
gaveoffakindofecho.Still,Maconnoticedhehadatendencytoholdhisarmsclosetohisbody,to
walkpastfurnituresidewaysasifheimaginedthehousecouldbarelyaccommodatehim.Hefelttoo
tall.Hislong,clumsyfeetseemedunusuallydistant.Heduckedhisheadindoorways.
Nowwashischancetoreorganize,hetoldhimself.Hewasstruckbyanincongruouslittlejoltof
interest. The fact was that running a house required some sort of system, and Sarah had never
understood that. She was the sort of woman who stored her flatware intermingled. She thought
nothing of running a dishwasher with only a handful of forks stacked inside. Macon found that
distressing. He was opposed to dishwashers in general; he believed they wasted energy. Energy
savingwasahobbyofhis,youmightsay.
He started keeping the kitchen sink filled at all times, adding some chlorine bleach for
disinfectant.Ashefinishedusingeachdish,hedroppeditin.Onalternatedayshepulledtheplugand
sprayedeverythingwithveryhotwater.Thenhestackedtherinseddishesintheemptydishwasher—
whichhadbecome,underhisnewsystem,agiganticstoragearea.
When he hunkered over the sink to let the spray attachment run, he often had the feeling that
Sarahwaswatching.Hesensedthatifheslidhiseyesjustslightlytotheleft,hewouldfindherwith
herarmsfoldedacrossherchest,herheadtippedandherfull,curvedlipsmeditativelypursed.Atfirst
glanceshewassimplystudyinghisprocedure;atsecondglance(heknew)shewaslaughingathim.
Therewasasecretlittlegleaminhereyesthathewasalltoofamiliarwith.“Isee,”shewouldsay,
noddingatsomelengthyexplanationofhis;thenhe’dlookupandcatchthegleamandthetelltaletuck
atonecornerofhermouth.
Inthisvisionofher—ifyoucouldcallitavision,consideringthatheneverdidglanceoverat
her—shewaswearingabrightbluedressfromtheearlydaysoftheirmarriage.Hehadnoideawhen
shehadgiventhatdressup,butcertainlyitwasyearsandyearsago.HealmostfeltthatSarahwasa
ghost—thatshewasdead.Inaway(hethought,turningoffthefaucet),shewasdead,thatyoung,vivid
SarahfromtheirfirstenthusiasticapartmentonColdSpringLane.Whenhetriedtorecallthosedays,
anyimageofSarahwasalteredbythefactthatshehadlefthim.Whenhepicturedtheirintroduction
—backwhentheywerebarelyoutofchildhood—itseemednothingmorethanthebeginningoftheir
parting.Whenshehadlookedupathimthatfirstnightandrattledtheicecubesinherpapercup,they
were already moving toward their last edgy, miserable year together, toward those months when
anything either of them said was wrong, toward that sense of narrowly missed connections. They
werelikepeoplewhoruntomeet,holdingouttheirarms,buttheiraimiswrong;theypasseachother
and keep running. It had all amounted to nothing, in the end. He gazed down at the sink, and the
warmthfromthedishesdriftedgentlyupintohisface.
Well,youhavetocarryon.Youhavetocarryon.Hedecidedtoswitchhisshowerfrommorning
to night. This showed adaptability, he felt—some freshness of spirit. While he showered he let the
water collect in the tub, and he stalked around in noisy circles, sloshing the day’s dirty clothes
underfoot. Later he wrung out the clothes and hung them on hangers to dry. Then he dressed in
tomorrow’sunderwearsohewouldn’thavetolaunderanypajamas.Infact,hisonlyreallaundrywas
aloadoftowelsandsheetsonceaweek—justtwotowels,butquitealotofsheets.Thiswasbecause
hehaddevelopedasystemthatenabledhimtosleepincleansheetseverynightwithoutthetroubleof
bed changing. He’d been proposing the system to Sarah for years, but she was so set in her ways.
Whathedidwasstripthemattressofalllinens,replacingthemwithagiantsortofenvelopemade
fromoneofthesevensheetshehadfoldedandstitchedtogetheronthesewingmachine.Hethought
ofthisinventionasaMaconLearyBodyBag.Abodybagrequirednotuckingin,wasunmussable,
easily changeable, and the perfect weight for summer nights. In winter he would have to devise
somethingwarmer,buthecouldn’tthinkofwinteryet.Hewasbarelymakingitfromonedaytothe
nextasitwas.
Atmoments—whilehewasskiddingonthemangledclothesinthebathtuborstrugglingintohis
bodybagonthenaked,rust-stainedmattress—herealizedthathemightbecarryingthingstoofar.He
couldn’texplainwhy,either.He’dalwayshadafondnessformethod,butnotwhatyouwouldcalla
mania. Thinking then of Sarah’s lack of method, he wondered if that had got out of hand now too.
Maybealltheseyears,they’dbeenkeepingeachotheronareasonabletrack.Separated,demagnetized
somehow,theywanderedwildlyoffcourse.HepicturedSarah’snewapartment,whichhehadnever
seen,aschaotictothepointofmadness,withsneakersintheovenandthesofaheapedwithchina.The
merethoughtofitupsethim.Helookedgratefullyathisownsurroundings.
Mostofhisworkwasdoneathome;otherwisehemightnothavecaredsoaboutthemechanics
ofthehousehold.Hehadalittlestudyinthespareroomoffthekitchen.Seatedinastenographer ’s
chair, tapping away at a typewriter that had served him through four years of college, he wrote a
seriesofguidebooksforpeopleforcedtotravelonbusiness.Ridiculous,whenyouthoughtaboutit:
Maconhatedtravel.Hecareenedthroughforeignterritoriesonadesperatekindofblitz—squinching
hiseyesshutandholdinghisbreathandhangingonfordearlife,hesometimesimagined—andthen
settledbackhomewithasighofrelieftoproducehischunky,passport-sizedpaperbacks.Accidental
TouristinFrance.AccidentalTouristinGermany.InBelgium.Noauthor ’sname,justalogo:awinged
armchaironthecover.
Hecoveredonlythecitiesintheseguides,forpeopletakingbusinesstripsflewintocitiesand
outagainanddidn’tseethecountrysideatall.Theydidn’tseethecities,forthatmatter.Theirconcern
was how to pretend they had never left home. What hotels in Madrid boasted king-sized Beautyrest
mattresses? What restaurants in Tokyo offered Sweet’n’Low? Did Amsterdam have a McDonald’s?
Did Mexico City have a Taco Bell? Did any place in Rome serve Chef Boyardee ravioli? Other
travelers hoped to discover distinctive local wines; Macon’s readers searched for pasteurized and
homogenizedmilk.
As much as he hated the travel, he loved the writing—the virtuous delights of organizing a
disorganizedcountry,strippingawaytheinessentialandthesecond-rate,classifyingallthatremained
in neat, terse paragraphs. He cribbed from other guidebooks, seizing small kernels of value and
discardingtherest.Hespentpleasurablehoursditheringoverquestionsofpunctuation.Righteously,
mercilessly,heweededoutthepassivevoice.Theeffortoftypingmadethecornersofhismouthturn
down,sothatnoonecouldhaveguessedhowmuchhewasenjoyinghimself.Iamhappytosay, he
peckedout,buthisfaceremainedglumandintense.Iamhappyto say that it’s possible now to buy
Kentucky Fried Chicken in Stockholm.Pita bread, too , he added as an afterthought. He wasn’t sure
howithadhappened,butlatelypitahadgrowntoseemasAmericanashotdogs.
“Ofcourseyou’remanaging,”hissistertoldhimoverthephone.“DidIsayyouweren’t?Butat
leastyoucouldhaveletusknow.Threeweeks,it’sbeen!Sarah’sbeengonethreeweeksandIonly
hearaboutittoday.Andbychance,atthat.IfIhadn’taskedtospeaktoher,wouldyoueverhavetold
usshe’dleftyou?”
“Shedidn’tleaveme,”Maconsaid.“Imeanit’snotthewayyoumakeitsound.Wediscussedit
likeadultsanddecidedtoseparate,that’sall.ThelastthingIneedismyfamilygatheredaroundme
saying,‘Oh,poorMacon,howcouldSarahdothistoyou—’”
“WhywouldIsaythat?”Roseasked.“EverybodyknowstheLearymenaredifficulttolivewith.”
“Oh,”Maconsaid.
“Whereisshe?”
“She’s got a place downtown,” he said. “And look,” he added, “you don’t have to bend over
backwards, either, and go asking her to dinner or something. She does have a family of her own.
You’resupposedtotakemysideinthis.”
“Ithoughtyoudidn’twantustotakesides.”
“No,no,Idon’t.Imeanyoushouldn’ttakeherside,iswhatI’mtryingtosay.”
“When Charles’s wife got her divorce,” Rose said, “we went on having her to dinner every
Christmas,justlikealways.Remember?”
“Iremember,”Maconsaidwearily.Charleswastheiroldestbrother.
“Isupposeshe’dstillbecoming,ifshehadn’tgotremarriedtosomeonesofaraway.”
“What?IfherhusbandhadbeenaBaltimoremanyou’dhavegoneoninvitingthemboth?”
“SheandPorter ’swifeandSarahusedtositaroundthekitchen—thiswasbeforePorter ’swife
got her divorce—and they’d go on and on about the Leary men. Oh, it was the Leary men this, the
Leary men that: how they always had to have everything just so, always so well thought out
beforehand,alwaysclampingdownontheworldasiftheyreallythoughttheycouldkeepitinline.
TheLearymen!Icanhearthemstill.Ihadtolaugh:OneThanksgivingPorterandJuneweregetting
readytoleave,backwhentheirchildrenweresmall,andJunewasheadingtowardthedoorwiththe
baby in her arms and Danny hanging onto her coat and this load of toys and supplies when Porter
calledout,‘Halt!’andstartedreadingfromoneofthosecash-registertapesthathealwayswriteshis
listson:blanket,bottles,diaperbag,formulaoutofthefridge...Junejustlookedoverattheother
twoandrolledhereyes.”
“Well,itwasn’tsuchabadidea,”Maconsaid,“whenyouconsiderJune.”
“No,andyounoticeitwasalphabetical,too,”Rosesaid.“Idothinkalphabetizinghelpstosort
thingsoutalittle.”
Rose had a kitchen that was so completely alphabetized, you’d find the allspice next to the ant
poison.ShewasafineonetotalkabouttheLearymen.
“Atanyrate,”shesaid.“HasSarahbeenintouchsincesheleft?”
“She’scomebyonceortwice.Once,actually,”Maconsaid.“Forthingssheneeded.”
“Whatkindofthings?”
“Well,adoubleboiler.Thingslikethat.”
“It’sanexcuse,then,”Rosesaidpromptly.“Shecouldgetadoubleboileratanydimestore.”
“Shesaidshelikedours.”
“Shewascheckingtoseehowyou’redoing.Shestillcares.Didyoutalkatall?”
“No,” Macon said, “I just handed her the double boiler. Also that gadget that unscrews bottle
tops.”
“Oh,Macon.Youmighthaveaskedherin.”
“Iwasscaredshe’dsayno,”hesaid.
Therewasasilence.“Well.Anyhow,”Rosesaidfinally.
“ButI’mgettingalong!”
“Yes,ofcourseyouare,”shetoldhim.
Thenshesaidshehadsomethingintheovenandhungup.
Maconwentovertohisstudywindow.ItwasahotdayinearlyJuly,theskysoblueitmadehis
eyesache.Herestedhisforeheadagainsttheglassandstaredoutattheyard,keepinghishandsstuffed
deepintherearpocketsofhiskhakis.Upinoneoftheoaktrees,abirdsangwhatsoundedlikethe
firstthreenotesof“MyLittleGypsySweetheart.”“Slum...ber...on...”itsang.Maconwondered
ifeventhismomentwouldbecome,oneday,somethinghelookedbackuponwistfully.Hecouldn’t
imagineit;hecouldn’tthinkofanyperiodbleakerthanthisinallhislife,buthe’dnoticedhowtime
hadawayofcoloringthings.Thatbird,forinstance,hadsuchapure,sweet,piercingvoice.
Heturnedawayfromthewindow,coveredhistypewriter,andlefttheroom.
Hedidn’teatrealmealsanymore.Whenhewashungryhedrankaglassofmilk,orhespooned
abitoficecreamdirectlyfromthecarton.Afterthesmallestsnackhefeltoverfedandheavy,buthe
noticedwhenhedressedinthemorningsthatheseemedtobelosingweight.Hisshirtcollarstoodout
aroundhisneck.Theverticalgroovebetweenhisnoseandmouthhaddeepenedsothathehadtrouble
shaving it. His hair, which Sarah used to cut for him, jutted over his forehead like a shelf. And
somethinghadcausedhislowerlidstodroop.Heusedtohavenarrowgrayslitsofeyes;nowthey
werewideandstartled.Couldthisbeasignofmalnutrition?
Breakfast:Breakfastwasyourmostimportantmeal.Hehookedupthepercolatorandtheelectric
skillettotheclockradioonhisbedroomwindowsill.Ofcoursehewasaskingforfoodpoisoning,
lettingtworaweggswaitallnightatroomtemperature,butoncehe’dchangedmenustherewasno
problem. You had to be flexible about these matters. He was awakened now by the smell of fresh
coffeeandhotbutteredpopcorn,andhecouldpartakeofbothwithoutgettingoutofbed.Oh,hewas
managingfine,justfine.Allthingsconsidered.
Buthisnightswereterrible.
Itwasn’tthathehadtroublegettingtosleepinthefirstplace.Thatwaseasy.He’dwatchTVtill
hiseyesburned;thenhe’dclimbthestairs.Hewouldstarttheshowerrunningandspreadhisclothes
inthetub.Attimeshethoughtofskippingthispart,excepttherewassuchadangerinfallingbehind
with your system. So he carried out each step: hanging the laundry, setting up the breakfast things,
flossinghisteeth.Hecouldn’tgotobedwithoutflossinghisteeth.Forsomereason,Sarahhadfound
thisirritating.IfMaconwerecondemnedtodeath,she’dsaidonce,andtheytoldhimhe’dbeexecuted
by firing squad at dawn, he would no doubt still insist on flossing the night before. Macon, after
thinking it over, had agreed. Yes, of course he would. Hadn’t he flossed while in the depths of
pneumonia?Inthehospitalwithgallstones?Inamotelthenighthissonwaskilled?Hecheckedhis
teethinthemirror.Theywereneverentirelywhite,inspiteofallhiscare.Andnowitseemedhisskin
wastakingonayellowishcastaswell.
He turned off the lights, moved the cat over, helped the dog up onto the bed. The dog was a
Welshcorgi,veryshortlegged,buthedidlovetosleepinabed,andsoeverynighthestooderectand
propped his elbows on the mattress and gazed at Macon expectantly till Macon gave him a boost.
Thenthey’dallthreesettlethemselves.Maconslippedintohisenvelope,thecatfittedhershapetothe
warmspotunderhisarm,andthedogploppeddownnearhisfeet.ThenMaconclosedhiseyesand
driftedoff.
Buteventuallyhefoundhimselfconsciousofhisdreams—notbornealongbythembuttediously
constructingthem,quibblingoverdetails.Whenitdawnedonhimthathewasawake,hewouldopen
hiseyesandsquintattheclockradio.Butitwasonlyonea.m.Atthelatest,two.Therewereallthose
hoursstilltobesurvived.
His brain buzzed with little worries. Had he left the back door unlocked? Forgotten to put the
milkaway?Madeoutacheckforhisbankbalanceinsteadofhisgasbill?Herememberedallina
rush that he’d opened a can of V-8 juice and then put the can in the icebox. Oxidation of the metal
seams!Resultinginleadpoisoning!
Theworrieschanged,grewdeeper.Hewonderedwhathadgonewrongwithhismarriage.Sarah
had been his first and only girlfriend; now he thought he should have practiced on someone else
beforehand.Duringthetwentyyearsoftheirmarriagethere’dbeenmoments—there’dbeenmonths—
whenhedidn’tfeeltheyhadreallyformedaunitthewaycouplesweresupposedto.No,they’dstayed
two distinct people, and not always even friends. Sometimes they’d seemed more like rivals,
elbowing each other, competing over who was the better style of person. Was it Sarah, haphazard,
mercurial?WasitMacon,methodicalandsteady?
WhenEthanwasborn,heonlybroughtoutmoreoftheirdifferences.Thingstheyhadlearnedto
ignoreineachotherresurfaced.Sarahnevergottheirsononanykindofscheduleatall,waslaxand
unconcerned. And Macon (oh, he knew it, he admitted it) had been so intent on preparing him for
everyeventualitythathehadn’thadtimetoenjoyhim.Ethanattwo,atfourfloatedupintohisvision
asclearlyasacolorfilmprojecteduponthebedroomceiling.Achortling,sunnylittleboy,he’dbeen,
withMaconastoopedshapeabovehimwringinghishands.Maconhadbeenfierceinteachinghim,at
agesix,howtoswingabat;itwouldhavewrenchedhissoultohaveEthanchosenlastforanyteam.
“Why?” Sarah had asked. “If he’s chosen last, he’s chosen last. Let it be, why don’t you.” Let it be!
Life was so full of things you couldn’t do anything about; you had to avert what you could. She
laughedwhenMaconspentonefallcollectingWackyPacks,whichhadthesejokeystickersinsidethat
Ethanlikedtoplasterhisbedroomdoorwith.He’dhavemorethananyoneinthewholethirdgrade,
Maconvowed.LongafterEthanlostinterest,Maconwasstilldoggedlybringingthemhome.Heknew
itwasabsurd,butstill,therewasthisonelaststickertheyhadnotyetmanagedtogetholdof...
Ethan went away to camp when he was twelve—a year ago, almost exactly. Most boys started
earlier, but Macon had kept delaying it. Why have a child at all, he asked Sarah, if you were only
goingtoshiphimofftosomegodforsakenspotinVirginia?Bythetimehefinallygavein,Ethanwas
inthetopagegroup—atallblondsproutofaboywithanopen,friendlyfaceandanendearinghabit
ofbouncingontheballsofhisfeetwhenhewasnervous.
Don’tthinkaboutit.
HewasmurderedinaBurgerBonanzahissecondnightatcamp.Itwasoneofthosedeathsthat
makenosense—thekindwheretheholdupmanhascollectedhismoneyandisfreetogobutdecides,
instead,firsttoshooteachandeverypersonthroughthebackoftheskull.
Ethanwasn’tevensupposedtobethere.Hehadsnuckawayfromcampwithacabinmate,who
waitedoutsideasalookout.
Blame the camp for not supervising. Blame Burger Bonanza for poor security. Blame the
cabinmatefornotgoingintooandaltering,perhaps,whattookplace.(Lookoutforwhat,forGod’s
sake?)BlameSarahforallowingEthantoleavehome;blameMaconforagreeing;blameeven(hell,
yes)Ethan.BlameEthanforwantingtoattendthatcampandforsneakingofffromit,andforentering
BurgerBonanzalikesomeheadstrongfoolwhileaholdupwasinprogress.Blamehimforsomeekly
movingtothekitchenwiththeothers,forplacinghishandsflatagainstthewallashewasorderedand
nodoubtbouncingslightlyontheballsofhisfeet...
Don’tthinkaboutit.
Thedirectorofthecamp,notwantingtobreakthenewsonthephone,haddriventoBaltimoreto
telltheminperson.Thenhe’ddriventhembacktoVirginia.Maconoftenrecalledthatdirector.Jim,
his name was, Jim Robinson or maybe Robertson—a burly, white-whiskered man with a crew cut,
wearingasuitcoat,asifinrespect,overaRedskinsT-shirt.He’dseemeduncomfortablewithsilence
and did his best to fill it with abrupt little fragments of chitchat. Macon hadn’t listened, or he’d
thought he hadn’t; but now all the fragments came back to him. How Jim’s mother had been a
Baltimoreanherself,borntheyearBabeRuthwasplayingfortheOrioles.HowJim’stomatoplants
hadbeenactingqueerly,producingonlytinygreenmarblesthatfelloffthevinesbeforetheyripened.
HowJim’swifewasterrifiedofdrivinginreverseandavoidedanysituationthatrequiredit.Macon
gave a lot of thought to that now, lying in his bed at night. Could you really drive a car without
reversing?Whataboutatintersections,whereabusdriverpokeshisheadouthiswindowandasks
youtorollonbackafewyardssohecanturn?Wouldsherefuse?Maconimaginedher,staunchand
defiant,glaringstraightinfrontofherandpretendingnottonotice.Thedriverescalatingintocurses,
hornsblowing,otherdriversshouting,“Aw,lady!”Itmadeanicepicture.Hekeptitfirmlyinmind.
Finally he would sit up and wriggle out of his sheet. The dog, sighing, roused himself and
droppedoffthebedtopaddownstairsbehindhim.Thefloorboardswerecoolunderfoot,thekitchen
linoleum cooler still; there was a glow from the refrigerator as Macon poured himself a glass of
milk.HewenttothelivingroomandturnedontheTV.Generallysomeblack-and-whitemoviewas
running—meninsuitsandfelthats,womenwithpaddedshoulders.Hedidn’ttrytofollowtheplot.He
tooksmall,steadysipsofmilk,feelingthecalciumtravelingtohisbones.Hadn’thereadthatcalcium
curesinsomnia?Heabsentlystrokedthecat,whohadsomehowcreptintohislap.Itwasmuchtoohot
tohaveacatinhislap,especiallythisone—aloose-strung,graytweedfemalewhoseemedmadeof
someunusuallydensesubstance.Andthedog,mostoften,wouldbelyingontopofhisfeet.“It’sjust
youandme,oldbuddies,”Maconwouldtellthem.Thecatmadeacommaofsweatacrosshisbare
thighs.
AtlasthewouldslipoutfromundertheanimalsandturnofftheTV.Hewouldputhisglassin
thechlorinesolutioninthekitchensink.Hewouldclimbthestairs.He’dstandatthebedroomwindow
lookingovertheneighborhood—blackbranchesscrawledonapurplenightsky,aglimmerofwhite
clapboard here and there, occasionally a light. Macon always took comfort if he found a light.
Someoneelsehadtroublesleepingtoo,heassumed.Hedidn’tliketoconsideranyotherpossibility—
aparty,forinstance,oraheart-to-hearttalkwitholdfriends.Hepreferredtobelievethatsomeone
elsewasonhisown,sittingupwideawakefendingoffhisthoughts.Thatmadehimfeelmuchbetter.
Hereturnedtohisbed.Helaydown.Heclosedhiseyesandwithouteventrying,hedroppedoffthe
edgeintosleep.
three
Sarah telephoned Macon and asked if she could come get the navy blue rug from the dining
room.
“Navybluerug,”Maconrepeated.(Hewasstallingfortime.)
“Iwouldn’tmentionitexceptyouneverlikedit,”Sarahtoldhim.“Yousaiditwasamistaketo
havearugwherepeoplewereeating.”
Yes,hehadsaidthat.Acrumbcatcher,he’dsaid.Unsanitary.Thenwhydidhefeelthissudden,
wrenchingneedtokeeptherugforhimself?
“Macon,areyouthere?”
“Yes,I’mhere.”
“SowouldyoumindifIcameandgotit?”
“No,Iguessnot.”
“Oh,good.Myapartmenthasthesebarefloorsandyou’venoideahow—”
She would stop by for the rug and he’d invite her in. He’d offer her a glass of sherry. They
wouldsitonthecouchwiththeirsherryandhewouldsay,“Sarah,haveyoumissedme?”Orno,he’d
say,“I’vemissedyou,Sarah.”
Shewouldsay...
Shesaid,“IthoughtI’ddropoverSaturdaymorning,ifthat’sconvenient.”
Butpeopledon’tdrinksherryinthemorning.
Andbesides:Hewouldn’tevenbeherethen.“IleaveforEnglandtomorrowafternoon,”hesaid.
“Oh,isittimeforEnglandagain?”
“Maybeyoucouldcomethisevening.”
“No,mycar ’sintheshop.”
“Yourcar?What’swrongwithit?”
“Well,Iwasdrivingalongand...youknowthatlittleredlightonthelefthandsideofthedash?”
“What,theoilpressurelight?”
“Yes,andsoIthought,‘Well,I’llbelateforthedentistifIstopandseetoitnowandanyway,the
cardoesseemtoberunningallright,so—’”
“Wait.Areyousayingthelightlitup?Andthenyouwentondriving?”
“Well,nothingsoundedanydifferentandnothingactedanydifferent,soIfigured—”
“Jesus,Sarah.”
“What’ssoterribleaboutthat?”
“You’veprobablyruinedtheengine.”
“No,Ididnotruintheengine,foryourinformation.Ijustneedthissingle,simplerepairjobbut
unfortunatelyit’sgoingtotakeafewdaystodoit.Well,nevermind.I’vegotahousekey.I’lljustlet
myselfinonSaturday.”
“MaybeIcouldbringtherugover.”
“I’llwaittillSaturday.”
“ThatwayIcouldseeyourapartment,”Maconsaid.“I’veneverbeeninside,youknow.”
“No,it’snotfixedupyet.”
“Idon’tcareifit’sfixedup.”
“It’sadisaster.Nothing’sbeendone.”
“Howcouldnothingbedone?You’vebeenlivingthereoveramonth.”
“Well,I’mnotsowonderfullyperfectlyefficientasyouare,Macon.”
“Youwouldn’thavetobeefficientto—”
“Somedays,”Sarahsaid,“Ican’tevenmakeitoutofmybathrobe.”
Maconwassilent.
“Ishouldhaveagreedtoteachsummerschool,”Sarahsaid.“Somethingtogivesomeshapeto
things.Iopenmyeyesinthemorningandthink,‘Whybothergettingup?’”
“Metoo,”Maconsaid.
“Whybothereating?Whybotherbreathing?”
“Metoo,sweetheart.”
“Macon,doyousupposethatpersonhasanyidea?Iwanttogoseehiminprison,Macon.Iwant
tositontheothersideofthegridorthescreenorwhatevertheyhaveandI’llsay,‘Lookatme.Look.
Lookatwhatyoudid.Youdidn’tjustkillthepeopleyoushot;youkilledotherpeoplebesides.What
youdidgoesonandonforever.Youdidn’tjustkillmyson;youkilledme;youkilledmyhusband.I
meanIcan’tevenmanagetoputupmycurtains;doyouunderstandwhatyoudid?’ThenwhenI’m
surethathedoesunderstand,thathereallydoesrealize,thathefeelsjustterrible,I’mgoingtoopen
mypurseandpulloutagunandshoothimbetweentheeyes.”
“Oh,well,sweetheart—”
“YouthinkI’mjustraving,don’tyou.ButMacon,Iswear,Icanfeelthatlittlekickagainstmy
palmwhenIfirethegun.I’veneverfiredaguninmylife—Lord,Idon’tthinkI’veeverseenagun.
Isn’titodd?Ethan’sseenone;Ethan’shadanexperienceyouandIhavenonotionof.ButsometimesI
holdmyhandoutwiththethumbcockedlikewhenkidsplaycowboy,andIfoldmytriggerfingerand
feelwhatasatisfactionitwouldbe.”
“Sarah,it’sbadforyoutotalklikethis.”
“Oh?HowamIsupposedtotalk?”
“Imeanifyouletyourselfgetangryyou’llbe...consumed.You’llburnup.It’snotproductive.”
“Oh,productive!Well,goodness,no,let’snotwasteourtimeonanythingunproductive.”
Macon massaged his forehead. He said, “Sarah, I just feel we can’t afford to have these
thoughts.”
“Easyforyoutosay.”
“No,itisnoteasyformetosay,dammit—”
“Justshutthedoor,Macon.Justwalkaway.Justpretenditneverhappened.Gorearrangeyour
tools, why don’t you; line up your wrenches from biggest to smallest instead of from smallest to
biggest;that’salwaysfun.”
“Goddammit,Sarah—”
“Don’tyoucurseatme,MaconLeary!”
Theypaused.
Maconsaid,“Well.”
Sarahsaid,“Well,anyhow.”
“SoIguessyou’llcomebywhileI’mgone,”hesaid.
“Ifthat’sallright.”
“Yes,certainly,”hesaid.
Althoughhefeltacuriousuneasinesswhenhehungup,asifhewerelettingastrangercome.As
ifshemightwalkoffwithmorethanjustthediningroomrug.
ForhistriptoEngland,hedressedinhismostcomfortablesuit.Onesuitisplenty,hecounseled
in his guidebooks, if you take along some travel-size packets of spot remover. (Macon knew every
item that came in travel-size packets, from deodorant to shoe polish.) The suit should be a medium
gray.Graynotonlyhidesthedirt;it’shandyforsuddenfuneralsandotherformalevents.Atthesame
time,itisn’ttoosomberforeveryday.
Hepackedaminimumofclothesandashavingkit.AcopyofhismostrecentguidetoEngland.
Anoveltoreadontheplane.
Bringonlywhatfitsinacarry-onbag.Checkingyourluggageisaskingfortrouble.Addseveral
travel-sizepacketsofdetergentsoyouwon’tfallintothehandsofforeignlaundries.
When he’d finished packing, he sat on the couch to rest. Or not to rest, exactly, but to collect
himself—likeamantakingseveraldeepbreathsbeforedivingintoariver.
Thefurniturewasallstraightlinesandsoothingcurves.Dustmoteshunginaslantofsunlight.
Whatapeacefullifeheledhere!Ifthiswereanyotherdayhe’dbemakingsomeinstantcoffee.He
woulddropthespooninthesinkandstandsippingfromhismugwhilethecatwovebetweenhisfeet.
Then maybe he’d open the mail. Those acts seemed dear and gentle now. How could he have
complainedofboredom?Athomehehadeverythingsetuparoundhimsohehardlyneededtothink.
Ontripseventhesmallesttaskrequiredeffortanddecisions.
Whenitwastwohourstilltakeoff,hestoodup.Theairportwasathirty-minutedriveatthemost,
but he hated feeling rushed. He made a final tour of the house, stopping off at the downstairs
bathroom—the last real bathroom (was how he thought of it) that he’d see for the next week. He
whistledforthedog.Hepickeduphisbagandsteppedoutthefrontdoor.Theheatslammedintohim
likesomethingsolid.
Thedogwasgoingwithhimonlyasfarasthevet’s.Ifhe’dknownthat,heneverwouldhave
jumped into the car. He sat next to Macon, panting enthusiastically, his keg-shaped body alert with
expectation.Macontalkedtohiminwhathehopedwasanun-alarmingtone.“Hot,isn’tit,Edward.
You want the air conditioner on?” He adjusted the controls. “There now. Feeling better?” He heard
somethingunctuousinhisvoice.MaybeEdwarddid,too,forhestoppedpantingandgaveMacona
suddensuspiciouslook.Macondecidedtosaynomore.
Theyrolledthroughtheneighborhood,downstreetsroofedoverwithtrees.Theyturnedintoa
sunnier section full of stores and service stations. As they neared Murray Avenue, Edward started
whimpering. In the parking lot of the Murray Avenue Veterinary Hospital, he somehow became a
muchsmalleranimal.
Macongotoutofthecarandwalkedaroundtoopenthedoor.WhenhetookholdofEdward’s
collar,Edwarddughistoenailsintotheupholstery.Hehadtobedraggedallthewaytothebuilding,
scritchingacrossthehotconcrete.
The waiting room was empty. A goldfish tank bubbled in one corner, with a full-color poster
aboveitillustratingthelifecycleoftheheartworm.Therewasagirlonastoolbehindthecounter,a
waifishlittlepersoninahaltertop.
“I’vebroughtmydogforboarding,”Maconsaid.Hehadtoraisehisvoicetobeheardabove
Edward’smoans.
Chewing her gum steadily, the girl handed him a printed form and a pencil. “Ever been here
before?”sheasked.
“Yes,often.”
“What’sthelastname?”
“Leary.”
“Leary. Leary,” she said, riffling through a box of index cards. Macon started filling out the
form. Edward was standing upright now and clinging to Macon’s knees, like a toddler scared of
nurseryschool.
“Whoa,”thegirlsaid.
Shefrownedatthecardshe’dpulled.
“Edward?”shesaid.“OnRayfordRoad?”
“That’sright.”
“Wecan’taccepthim.”
“What?”
“Saysherehebitanattendant.Says,‘BitBarryintheankle,donotreadmit.’”
“Nobodytoldmethat.”
“Well,theyshouldhave.”
“Nobodysaidaword!IlefthiminJunewhenwewenttothebeach;Icamebackandtheyhanded
himover.”
Thegirlblinkedathim,expressionless.
“Look,”Maconsaid.“I’monmywaytotheairport,rightthisminute.I’vegotaplanetocatch.”
“I’monlyfollowingorders,”thegirlsaid.
“And what set him off, anyhow?” Macon asked. “Did anyone think to wonder? Maybe Edward
hadgoodreason!”
The girl blinked again. Edward had dropped to all fours by now and was gazing upward with
interest,asiffollowingtheconversation.
“Ah,thehellwithit,”Maconsaid.“Comeon,Edward.”
Hedidn’thavetotakeholdofEdward’scollarwhentheyleft.Edwardgallopedaheadofhimall
thewayacrosstheparkinglot.
Inthatshorttime,thecarhadturnedintoanoven.Maconopenedhiswindowandsattherewith
the motor idling. What now? He considered going to his sister ’s, but she probably wouldn’t want
Edward either. To tell the truth, this wasn’t the first time there had been complaints. Last week, for
instance, Macon’s brother Charles had stopped by to borrow a router, and Edward had darted in a
complete circle around his feet, taking furious little nibbles of his trouser cuffs. Charles was so
astonished that he just turned his head slowly, gaping down. “What’s got into him?” he asked. “He
never used to do this.” Then when Macon grabbed his collar, Edward had snarled. He’d curled his
upperlipandsnarled.Couldadoghaveanervousbreakdown?
Maconwasn’tveryfamiliarwithdogs.Hepreferredcats.Helikedthewaycatskepttheirown
counsel.Itwasonlylatelythathe’dgivenEdwardanythoughtatall.Nowthathewasalonesomuch
hehadtakentotalkingoutloudtohim,orsometimeshejustsatstudyinghim.HeadmiredEdward’s
intelligentbrowneyesandhisfoxylittleface.Heappreciatedthehoney-coloredwhorlsthatradiated
sosymmetricallyfromthebridgeofhisnose.Andhiswalk!EthanusedtosaythatEdwardwalkedas
ifhehadsandinhisbathingsuit.Hisrearendwaddledbusily;hisstubbylegsseemedhingedbysome
moreprimitivemechanismthanthelegsoftallerdogs.
Macon was driving toward home now, for lack of any better idea. He wondered what would
happenifheleftEdwardinthehousethewayheleftthecat,withplentyoffoodandwater.No.Or
couldSarahcomeseetohim,twoorthreetimesaday?Herecoiledfromthat;itmeantaskingher.It
meantdialingthatnumberhe’dneverusedandaskingherforafavor.
MEOW-BOW ANIMAL HOSPITAL, a sign across the street read. Macon braked and Edward
lurchedforward.“Sorry,”Macontoldhim.Hemadealeftturnintotheparkinglot.
ThewaitingroomattheMeow-Bowsmelledstronglyofdisinfectant.Behindthecounterstooda
thinyoungwomaninaruffledpeasantblouse.Shehadaggressivelyfrizzyblackhairthatburgeoned
tohershoulderslikeanArabheaddress.“Hi,there,”shesaidtoMacon.
Maconsaid,“Doyouboarddogs?”
“Sure.”
“I’dliketoboardEdward,here.”
SheleanedoverthecountertolookatEdward.Edwardpantedupathercheerfully.Itwasclear
hehadn’tyetrealizedwhatkindofplacethiswas.
“Youhaveareservation?”thewomanaskedMacon.
“Reservation!No.”
“Mostpeoplereserve.”
“Well,Ididn’tknowthat.”
“Especiallyinthesummer.”
“Couldn’tyoumakeanexception?”
She thought it over, frowning down at Edward. Her eyes were very small, like caraway seeds,
andherfacewassharpandcolorless.
“Please,”Maconsaid.“I’mabouttocatchaplane.I’mleavingforaweek,andIdon’thaveasoul
tolookafterhim.I’mdesperate,Itellyou.”
Fromtheglancesheshotathim,hesensedhehadsurprisedherinsomeway.“Can’tyouleave
himhomewithyourwife?”sheasked.
Hewonderedhowonearthhermindworked.
“IfIcoulddothat,”hesaid,“whywouldIbestandinghere?”
“Oh,”shesaid.“You’renotmarried?”
“Well,Iam,butshe’s...livingelsewhere.Theydon’tallowpets.”
“Oh.”
Shecameoutfrombehindthecounter.Shewaswearingveryshortredshorts;herlegswerelike
sticks.“I’madivorsymyself,”shesaid.“Iknowwhatyou’regoingthrough.”
“Andsee,”Maconsaid,“there’sthisplaceIusuallyboardhimbuttheysuddenlyclaimhebites.
Claimhebitanattendantandtheycan’tadmithimanymore.”
“Edward?Doyoubite?”thewomansaid.
Macon realized he should not have mentioned that, but she seemed to take it in stride. “How
couldyoudosuchathing?”sheaskedEdward.Edwardgrinnedupatherandfoldedhisearsback,
invitingapat.Shebentandstrokedhishead.
“Sowillyoukeephim?”Maconsaid.
“Oh, I guess,” she said, straightening. “If you’re desperate.” She stressed the word—fixing
Maconwiththosesmallbrowneyes—asifgivingitmoreweightthanhehadintended.“Fillthisout,”
shetoldhim,andshehandedhimaformfromastackonthecounter.“Yournameandaddressand
whenyou’llbeback.Don’tforgettoputwhenyou’llbeback.”
Maconnodded,uncappinghisfountainpen.
“I’llmostlikelyseeyouagainwhenyoucometopickhimup,”shesaid.“Imeanifyouputthe
timeofdaytoexpectyou.Myname’sMuriel.”
“Isthisplaceopenevenings?”Maconasked.
“EveryeveningbutSundays.Tilleight.”
“Oh,good.”
“MurielPritchett,”shesaid.
MaconfilledouttheformwhilethewomanknelttounbuckleEdward’scollar.Edwardlickedher
cheekbone;hemusthavethoughtshewasjustbeingfriendly.SowhenMaconhadfinished,hedidn’t
say good-bye. He left the form on the counter and walked out very quickly, keeping a hand in his
pockettosilencehiskeys.
OntheflighttoNewYork,hesatnexttoaforeign-lookingmanwithamustache.Clampedtothe
man’s ears was a headset for one of those miniature tape recorders. Perfect: no danger of
conversation.Maconleanedbackinhisseatcontentedly.
He approved of planes. When the weather was calm, you couldn’t even tell you were moving.
Youcouldpretendyouweresittingsafeathome.Theviewfromthewindowwasalwaysthesame—
air and more air—and the interior of the plane was practically interchangeable with the interior of
anyother.
Heacceptednothingfromthebeveragecart,butthemanbesidehimtookoffhisheadsettoorder
a Bloody Mary. A tinny, intricate, Middle Eastern melody came whispering out of the pink sponge
earplugs. Macon stared down at the little machine and wondered if he should buy one. Not for the
music, heaven knows—there was far too much noise in the world already—but for insulation. He
could plug himself into it and no one would disturb him. He could play a blank tape: thirty full
minutesofsilence.Turnthetapeoverandplaythirtyminutesmore.
TheylandedatKennedyandhetookashuttlebustohisconnectingflight,whichwasn’tdueto
leavetillevening.Oncesettledintheterminal,hebeganfillingoutacrosswordpuzzlethathe’dsaved
forthisoccasionfromlastSunday’sNewYorkTimes.Hesatinsideakindofbarricade—hisbagon
one chair, his suit coat on another. People milled around him but he kept his eyes on the page,
progressingsmoothlytotheacrosticassoonashe’dfinishedthecrossword.Bythetimehe’dsolved
bothpuzzles,theywerebeginningtoboardtheplane.
His seatmate was a gray-haired woman with glasses. She had brought her own knitted afghan.
Thiswasnotagoodsign,Maconfelt,buthecouldhandleit.Firsthebustledabout,looseninghistie
and taking off his shoes and removing a book from his bag. Then he opened the book and
ostentatiouslystartedreading.
ThenameofhisbookwasMissMacIntosh,MyDarling,and it was 1,198 pages long. (Always
bringabook,asprotectionagainststrangers.Magazinesdon’tlast.Newspapersfromhomewillmake
youhomesick,andnewspapersfromelsewherewillremindyouyoudon’tbelong.Youknowhowalien
another paper’s typeface seems.) He’d been lugging around Miss MacIntosh for years. It had the
advantageofbeingplotless,asfarashecouldtell,butinvariablyinteresting,sohecoulddipintoitat
random.Anytimeheraisedhiseyes,hewascarefultomarkaparagraphwithhisfingerandtokeepa
bemusedexpressiononhisface.
Therewastheusualmellifluousmurmurfromtheloudspeakeraboutseatbelts,emergencyexits,
oxygen masks. He wondered why stewardesses accented such unlikely words. “On our flight this
eveningwewillbeoffering...”ThewomannexttohimaskedifhewantedaLifesaver.“No,thank
you,” Macon said, and he went on with his book. She rustled some little bit of paper, and shortly
afterwardthesmellofspearmintdriftedovertohim.
He refused a cocktail and he refused a supper tray, although he did accept the milk that was
offeredwithit.Heateanappleandalittleboxofraisinsfromhisbag,drankthemilk,andwentoffto
thelavatorytoflossandbrushhisteeth.Whenhereturned,theplanewasdarker,dottedhereandthere
withreadinglamps.Someofthepassengerswerealreadyasleep.Hisseatmatehadrolledherhairinto
little O’s and X-ed them over with bobby pins. Macon found it amazing that people could be so
unselfconsciousonairplanes.He’dseenmeninwholesuitsofpajamas;he’dseenwomenslatheredin
facecream.Youwouldthinktheyfeltnoneedtobeonguard.
Heangledhisbookbeneathaslendershaftoflightandturnedapage.Theengineshadaweary,
doggedsound.Itwastheperiodhethoughtofasthelonghaul—thegulfbetweensupperandbreakfast
whentheyweresuspendedovertheocean,waitingforthatlighteningoftheskythatwassupposedto
be morning although, of course, it was nowhere near morning back home. In Macon’s opinion,
morning in other time zones was like something staged—a curtain painted with a rising sun,
superimposedupontherealdark.
He let his head tip back against the seat and closed his eyes. A stewardess’s voice, somewhere
nearthefrontoftheplane,threadedinandoutofthedroningoftheengines.“Wejustsatandsatand
therewasn’tathingtodoandallwehadwastheWednesdaypaperandyouknowhownewsjustnever
seemstohappenonaWednesday...”
Macon heard a man speaking levelly in his ear. “Macon.” But he didn’t even turn his head. By
nowheknewthesetricksofsoundonplanesatnight.Hesawbehindhiseyelidsthesoapdishonthe
kitchen sink at home—another trick, this concreteness of vision. It was an oval china soap dish
paintedwithyellowroses,containingaworn-downsliverofsoapandSarah’srings,herengagement
ringandherweddingband,justasshehadleftthemwhenshewalkedout.
“Igotthetickets,”heheardEthansay.“Andthey’reopeningthedoorsinfiveminutes.”
“Allright,”Macontoldhim,“let’splanourstrategy.”
“Strategy?”
“Wherewe’regoingtosit.”
“Whywouldweneedstrategyforthat?”
“It’syouwhoaskedtoseethismovie,Ethan.Iwouldthinkyou’dtakeaninterestinwhereyou’re
sitting.Now,here’smyplan.Yougoaroundtothatlineontheleft.Countthelittlekids.I’llcountthe
lineontheright.”
“Aw,Dad—”
“Doyouwanttositnexttosomenoisylittlekid?”
“Well,no.”
“Andwhichdoyouprefer:anaisleseat?”
“Idon’tcare.”
“Aisle,Ethan?Ormiddleoftherow?Youmusthavesomeopinion.”
“Notreally.”
“Middleoftherow?”
“Itdoesn’tmakeanydifference.”
“Ethan.Itmakesagreatdealofdifference.Aisle,youcangetoutquicker.Soifyouplantobuya
snack or go to the restroom, you’ll want to sit on the aisle. On the other hand, everyone’ll be
squeezingpastyouthere.Soifyoudon’tthinkyou’llbeleavingyourseat,thenIsuggest—”
“Aw,Dad,forChrist’ssake!”Ethansaid.
“Well,” Macon said. “If that’s the tone you’re going to take, we’ll just sit any damn place we
happentoendup.”
“Fine,”Ethansaid.
“Fine,”Maconsaid.
Nowhedidturnhishead;herockeditfromsidetoside.Buthekepthiseyestightlyclosed,and
in time the voices stopped, and he found himself in that edgy twilight that passes for sleep when
you’retraveling.
Atdawnheacceptedacupofcoffee,andheswallowedavitaminpillfromhisbag.Theother
passengerslookedfrowsyandpale.Hisseatmatedraggedanentiresmallsuitcaseofftothelavatory
andreturnedallcombed,butherfacewaspuffy.Maconbelievedthattravelcausesretentionoffluids.
Whenheputhisshoeson,theyfelttootight,andwhenhewenttoshavehefoundunfamiliarpillows
offleshbeneathhiseyes.Hewasbetteroffthanmostpeople,though,becausehehadn’ttouchedsalted
foodordrunkanyalcohol.Alcoholwasdefinitelyretained.Drinkalcoholonaplaneandyou’dfeel
befuddledfordays,Maconbelieved.
ThestewardessannouncedwhattimeitwasinLondon,andtherewasastiraspeopleresettheir
watches. Macon adjusted the digital alarm clock in his shaving kit. The watch on his wrist— which
wasnotdigitalbutrealtime,circular—heleftasitwas.
Theylandedabruptly.Itwaslikebeingrecalledtothehardfacts—allthatfrictionsuddenly,the
grittyrunway,theroaringandbraking.Theloudspeakercameon,purringcourteousreminders.The
womannexttoMaconfoldedherafghan.“I’msoexcited,”shesaid.“I’mgoingtoseemygrandchild
fortheveryfirsttime.”Maconsmiledandtoldherhehopeditwentwell.Nowthathedidn’thaveto
fearbeingtrapped,hefoundherquitepleasant.Besides,shewassoAmerican-looking.
AtHeathrow,therewastheusualsenseofsomerecentdisaster.Peoplerushedaboutdistractedly,
otherpeoplestoodlikerefugeessurroundedbytrunksandparcels,anduniformedauthoritieswere
tryingtodealwithaclamorofquestions.Sincehedidn’thavetowaitforhisluggage,Maconsailed
through the red tape far ahead of the others. Then he exchanged his currency and boarded the
Underground.IrecommendtheUndergroundforeveryoneexceptthoseafraidofheights,andevenfor
themiftheywillavoidthefollowingstations,whichhaveexceptionallysteepescalators...
While the train racketed along, he sorted his currency into envelopes that he’d brought from
home—each envelope clearly marked with a different denomination. (No fumbling with
unfamiliarcoins,nopeeringatmisleadingimprints,ifyouseparateandclassifyforeignmoneyaheadof
time.)Acrossfromhimarowoffaceswatched.Peoplelookeddifferenthere,althoughhecouldn’t
say just how. He thought they were both finer and unhealthier. A woman with a fretful baby kept
saying,“Hushnow,love.Hushnow,love,”inthatclear,floating,effortlessEnglishvoice.Itwashot,
andherforeheadhadapallidshine.SodidMacon’s,nodoubt.Heslidtheenvelopesintohisbreast
pocket.Thetrainstoppedandmorepeoplegoton.Theystoodabovehim,clingingnottostrapsbutto
bulbs attached to flexible sticks, which Macon on his first visit had taken for some kind of
microphone.
He was based in London, as usual. From there he would make brief forays into other cities,
never listing more than a handful of hotels, a handful of restaurants within a tiny, easily accessible
radiusineachplace;forhisguidebookswereanythingbutall-inclusive.(“Plentyofotherbookssay
how to see as much of the city as possible,” his boss had told him. “You should say how to see as
little.”) The name of Macon’s hotel was the Jones Terrace. He would have preferred one of the
Americanchainhotels,butthosecosttoomuch.TheJonesTerracewasallright,though—smalland
wellkept.Heswungintoactionatoncetomakehisroomhisown,strippingofftheuglybedspread
andstuffingitintoacloset,unpackinghisbelongingsandhidinghisbag.Hechangedclothes,rinsed
theoneshe’dwornandhungthemintheshowerstall.Then,afterawistfulglanceatthebed,hewent
out for breakfast. It was nowhere near morning back home, but breakfast was the meal that
businessmenmostoftenhadtomanageforthemselves.Hemadeapointofresearchingitthoroughly
whereverhewent.
HewalkedtotheYankeeDelight,whereheorderedscrambledeggsandcoffee.Theservicehere
wasexcellent.Coffeecameatonce,andhiscupwaskeptconstantlyfilled.Theeggsdidn’ttastelike
eggsathome,butthen,theyneverdid.Whatwasitaboutrestauranteggs?Theyhadnocharacter,no
backbone.Still,heopenedhisguidebookandputacheckmarknexttotheYankeeDelight.Bytheend
of the week, these pages would be barely legible. He’d have scratched out some names, inserted
others, and scrawled notes across the margins. He always revisited past entries—every hotel and
restaurant.Itwastediousbuthisbossinsisted.“Justthinkhowitwouldlook,”Juliansaid,“ifareader
walkedintosomecaféyou’drecommendedandfoundittakenoverbyvegetarians.”
When he’d paid his bill, he went down the street to the New America, where he ordered more
eggsandmorecoffee.“Decaffeinated,”headded.(Hewasajangleofnervesbynow.)Thewaitersaid
theydidn’thavedecaffeinated.“Oh,youdon’t,”Maconsaid.Afterthewaiterhadleft,Maconmadea
noteinhisguidebook.
His third stop was a restaurant called the U.S. Open, where the sausages were so dry that they
mighthavebeenbakedonarooftop.Itfigured:TheU.S.Openhadbeenrecommendedbyareader.
Oh,theplacesthatreaderswroteintosuggest!Maconhadonce(beforehe’dgrownwiser)reserveda
motelroompurelyonthestrengthofsuchasuggestion—somewhereinDetroitorwasitPittsburgh,
somecityorother,forAccidentalTouristinAmerica.Hehadcheckedoutagainatfirstsightofthe
linensandfledacrossthestreettoaHilton,wherethedoormanhadrushedtomeethimandseizedhis
bag with a cry of pity as if Macon had just staggered in from the desert. Never again, Macon had
vowed.Heleftthesausagesonhisplateandcalledforhisbill.
Intheafternoon(sotospeak),hevisitedhotels.Hespokewithvariousmanagersandinspected
sample rooms where he tested the beds, flushed the toilets, squinted at the showerheads. Most were
maintainingtheirstandards,moreorless,butsomethinghadhappenedtotheRoyalPrince.Thefact
wasthatitseemed...well,foreign.Dark,handsomemeninslimsilksuitsmurmuredinthelobby
while little brown children chased each other around the spittoons. Macon had the feeling he’d got
evenmorehopelesslylostthanusualandendedupinCairo.Cone-shapedladiesinlongblackveils
packedtherevolvingdoors,spinninginfromthestreetwithshoppingbagsfullof...what?Hetried
to imagine their purchasing stone-washed denim shorts and thigh-high boots of pink mesh—the
merchandisehe’dseeninmostshopwindows.“Er...”hesaidtothemanager.Howtoputthis?He
hated to sound narrow-minded, but his readers did avoid the exotic. “Has the hotel, ah, changed
ownership?” he asked. The manager seemed unusually sensitive. He drew himself up and said the
Royal Prince was owned by a corporation, always had been and always would be, always the same
corporation.“Isee,”Maconsaid.Heleftfeelingdislocated.
At suppertime, he should have tried someplace formal. He had to list at least one formal
restaurantineverycityforentertainingclients.Buttonighthewasn’tuptoit.Instead,hewenttoacafé
helikedcalledMyAmericanCousin.ThedinerstherehadAmericanaccents,andsodidsomeofthe
staff,andthehostesshandedoutticketsatthedoorwithnumbersonthem.Ifyournumberwascalled
ontheloudspeakeryoucouldwinafreeTV,oratleastaframedcolorprintoftherestaurant.
Macon ordered a comforting supper of plain boiled vegetables and two lamb chops in white
paperbobbysocks,alongwithaglassofmilk.Themanatthenexttablewasalsoonhisown.Hewas
eatinganiceporkpie,andwhenthewaitressofferedhimdesserthesaid,“Oh,now,letmesee,maybe
Iwilltrysomeatthat,”intheslow,pleased,coax-medrawlofsomeonewhosewomenfolkshaveall
hislifeencouragedhimtoputalittlemeatonhisbones.Maconhimselfhadthegingerbread.Itcame
withcream,justthewayitusedtoathisgrandmother ’shouse.
Byeighto’clock,accordingtohiswristwatch,hewasinbed.Itwasmuchtooearly,ofcourse,
but he could stretch the day only so far; the English thought it was midnight. Tomorrow he would
starthiswhirlwinddashesthroughothercities.He’dpickoutafewtokenhotels,sampleafewtoken
breakfasts.Coffeewithcaffeineandcoffeewithoutcaffeine.Baconunderdoneandoverdone.Orange
juice fresh and canned and frozen. More showerheads, more mattresses. Hair dryers supplied on
request? 110-volt switches for electric shavers? When he fell asleep, he thought anonymous rooms
were revolving past on a merry-go-round. He thought webbed canvas suitcase stands, ceiling
sprinklers, and laminated lists of fire regulations approached and slid away and approached again,
overandoveralltherestofhisdays.HethoughtEthanwasridingaplastercamelandcalling,“Catch
me!”andfalling,butMaconcouldn’tgetthereintimeandwhenhereachedhisarmsout,Ethanwas
gone.
ItwasoneofMacon’sbadhabitstostartitchingtogohometooearly.Nomatterhowshortastay
he’dplanned,partwaythroughhewoulddecidethatheoughttoleave,thathe’dallowedhimselffar
too much time, that everything truly necessary had already been accomplished—or almost
everything,almostaccomplished.Thentherestofhisvisitwasspentinphonecallstotravelagents
andfruitlesstripstoairlineofficesandstandbywaitsthatcametonothing,sothathewasforcedto
returntothehotelhe’djustcheckedoutof.Healwayspromisedhimselfthiswouldn’thappenagain,
butsomehowitalwaysdid.InEngland,ithappenedonhisfourthafternoon.Whatmorewasthereto
do?hestartedwondering.Hadn’thegotthegistoftheplace?
Well,behonest:ItwasSaturday.Hechancedtonotice,enteringthedateinhisexpensebook,that
athomeitwasSaturdaymorning.Sarahwouldbestoppingbythehousefortherug.
Shewouldopenthefrontdoorandsmellhome.Shewouldpassthroughtheroomswhereshe’d
beensohappyalltheseyears.(Hadn’tshebeenhappy?)Shewouldfindthecatstretchedoutonthe
couch,longandlazyandlanguid,andshe’dsettleonthecushionnexttoherandthink,HowcouldI
haveleft?
Unfortunately, it was summer, and the airlines were overbooked. He spent two days tracking
downfaintpossibilitiesthatevaporatedtheinstanthedrewclose.“Anything!Getmeanything!Idon’t
have to go to New York; I’ll go to Dulles. I’ll go to Montreal! Chicago! Shoot, I’ll go to Paris or
Berlinandseeiftheyhaveflights.Arethereships?Howlongdoshipstake,nowadays?Whatifthis
wereanemergency?Imeanmymotheronherdeathbedorsomething?Areyousayingthere’sjustno
wayoutofthisplace?”
Thepeoplehedealtwithwereunfailinglycourteousandfullofchirpygoodhumor—really,if
not for the strain of travel he believed he might actually have liked the English—but they couldn’t
solve his problem. In the end he had to stay on. He spent the rest of the week huddled in his room
watching TV, chewing a knuckle, subsisting on nonperishable groceries and lukewarm soft drinks
becausehecouldn’tfaceanotherrestaurant.
Sohewasfirstinline,naturally,atthecheck-incounteronthedayofhisdeparture.Hehadhis
pick of seats: window, nonsmoking. Next to him was a very young couple completely absorbed in
each other, so he didn’t need Miss MacIntosh but sat staring out at the clouds all the long, dull
afternoon.
Afternoon was never his favorite time; that was the worst of these homeward flights. It was
afternoon for hours and hours, through drinks and lunch and drinks again—all of which he waved
away.Itwasafternoonwhentheyshowedthemovie;thepassengershadtopulltheirshadesdown.An
orangelightfilledtheplane,burdensomeandthick.
Once when he’d been away on an unusually difficult trip—to Japan, where you couldn’t even
memorizethesignsinordertofindyourwaybacktoaplace—SarahhadmethisplaneinNewYork.
Itwastheirfifteenthanniversaryandshehadwantedtosurprisehim.ShecalledBeckyatthetravel
agencytoaskhisflightnumberandthensheleftEthanwithhermotherandflewtoKennedy,bringing
with her a picnic hamper of wine and cheeses which they shared in the terminal while waiting for
their plane home. Every detail of that meal remained in Macon’s memory: the cheeses set out on a
marbleslab,thewineinstemmedcrystalglassesthathadsomehowsurvivedthetrip.Hecouldstill
tastethesatinyBrie.HecouldstillseeSarah’ssmall,shapelyhandresolutelyslicingthebread.
Butshedidn’tmeethiminNewYorktoday.
Shedidn’tevenmeethiminBaltimore.
Hecollectedhiscarfromthelotanddroveintothecitythroughagloweringtwilightthatseemed
topromisesomething—athunder-stormorheatlightning,somethingdramatic.Couldshebewaiting
athome?Inherstripedcaftanthathewassofondof?Withacoolsummersupperlaidoutonthepatio
table?
Carefulnottotakeanythingforgranted,hestoppedataSeven-Elevenformilk.Hedrovetothe
vet’stopickupEdward.HearrivedattheMeow-Bowminutesbeforeclosingtime;somehow,he’d
managedtolosehisway.Therewasnooneatthecounter.Hehadtoringtheservicebell.Agirlwith
a ponytail poked her head through a door, letting in a jumble of animal sounds that rose at all
differentpitcheslikeanorchestratuningup.“Yes?”shesaid.
“I’mhereformydog.”
Shecameforwardtoopenafolderthatlayonthecounter.“Yourlastname?”
“Leary.”
“Oh,”shesaid.“Justaminute.”
MaconwonderedwhatEdwardhaddonewrongthistime.
Thegirldisappeared,andamomentlatertheotheronecameout,thefrizzyone.Thisevening
sheworeaV-neckedblackdresssplashedwithbigpinkflowers,itsshoulderspaddedanditsskirttoo
skimpy;andpreposterouslyhigh-heeledsandals.“Well,hithere!”shesaidbrightly.“Howwasyour
trip?”
“Oh,itwas...where’sEdward?Isn’theallright?”
“Sure,he’sallright.Hewassogoodandsweetandfriendly!”
“Well,fine,”Maconsaid.
“Wejustgotonlikeahouseafire.Seemshetookashinetome,Icouldn’tsaywhy.”
“Wonderful,”Maconsaid.Heclearedhisthroat.“SocouldIhavehimback,please?”
“Carolinewillbringhim.”
“Ah.”
Therewasasilence.Thewomanwaited,facinghimandwearingaperkysmile,withherfingers
lacedtogetheronthecounter.Shehadpaintedhernailsdarkred,Maconsaw,andputonablackish
lipstickthatshowedhermouthtobeanunusuallycomplicatedshape—angular,likecertainkindsof
apples.
“Um,”Maconsaidfinally.“MaybeIcouldpay.”
“Oh,yes.”
Shestoppedsmilingandpeereddownattheopenfolder.“That’llbeforty-twodollars,”shesaid.
Macongaveheracreditcard.Shehadtroubleworkingtheembossingmachine;everythinghad
tobedonewiththeflatsofherhands,tosparehernails.Shefilledintheblanksinajerkyscrawland
thenturnedthebillinhisdirection.“Signatureandphone,”shesaid.Sheleanedoverthecounterto
watchwhathewrote.“Isthatyourhomephone,oryourbusiness?”
“It’sboth.Why?Whatdifferencedoesitmake?”heasked.
“Iwasjustwondering,”shetoldhim.Shetoreoffhiscopy,inthatsplay-fingeredstyleofhers,
andputtherestofthebillinadrawer.“Idon’tknowifImentionedbeforethatitsohappensItrain
dogs.”
“Isthatright,”Maconsaid.
He looked toward the door where the first girl had disappeared. It always made him nervous
when they took too long bringing Edward. What were they doing back there—getting rid of some
evidence?
“Myspecialityisdogsthatbite,”thewomansaid.
“Specialty.”
“Pardon?”
“Websterprefers‘specialty.’”
Shegavehimablanklook.
“Thatmustbeadangerousjob,”Maconsaidpolitely.
“Oh,notforme!I’mnotscaredofathinginthisworld.”
Therewasascufflingsoundatthedoorbehindher.Edwardburstthrough,followedbythegirl
with the ponytail. Edward was giving sharp yelps and flinging himself about so joyfully that when
Maconbenttopathim,hecouldn’treallyconnect.
“Now, stop that,” the girl told Edward. She was trying to buckle his collar. Meanwhile, the
womanbehindthecounterwassaying,“Biters,barkers,deafdogs,timiddogs,dogsthathaven’tbeen
treatedright,dogsthathavelearnedbadhabits,dogsthatgrewupinpetshopsanddon’ttrusthuman
beings...Icanhandleallofthose.”
“Well,good,”Maconsaid.
“Notthathewouldbiteme,ofcourse,”thewomansaid.“Hejustfellinlovewithme,likeIthink
Iwastellingyou.”
“I’mgladtohearit,”Maconsaid.
“ButIcouldtrainhiminnotimenottobiteotherpeople.Youthinkitoverandcallme.Muriel,
remember?MurielPritchett.Letmegiveyoumycard.”
Shehandedhimasalmon-pinkbusinesscardthatsheseemedtohavepulledoutofnowhere.He
hadtofighthiswayaroundEdwardtoacceptit.“Istudiedwithamanwhousedtotrainattackdogs,”
shesaid.“Thisisnotsomeamateuryou’relookingat.”
“Well,I’llbearthatinmind,”Maconsaid.“Thankyouverymuch.”
“Orjustcallfornoreason!Callandtalk.”
“Talk?”
“Sure!TalkaboutEdward,hisproblems,talkabout...anything!Pickupthephoneandjusttalk.
Don’tyouevergettheurgetodothat?”
“Notreally,”Maconsaid.
ThenEdwardgaveaparticularlypiercingyelp,andthetwoofthemrushedhome.
Well, of course she wasn’t there. He knew it the instant he stepped inside the house, when he
smelledthatstalehotairandheardthemuffleddensenessofaplacewitheverywindowshut.Really
he’dknownitallalong.He’dbeenfoolinghimself.He’dbeenmakingupfairytales.
Thecatstreakedpasthimandescapedoutthedoor,yowlingaccusingly.Thedoghurtledintothe
diningroomtorollaboutontherugandgetridofthescentofthekennel.Buttherewasnorug—
onlybare,lintyfloor,andEdwardstoppedshort,lookingfoolish.Maconknewjusthowhefelt.
He put away the milk and went upstairs to unpack. He took a shower, treading the day’s dirty
clothesunderfoot,andpreparedforbed.Whenheturnedoffthelightinthebathroom,thesightofhis
laundry dripping over the tub reminded him of travel. Where was the real difference? Accidental
TouristatHome,hethought,andheslidwearilyintohisbodybag.
four
Whenthephonerang,MacondreameditwasEthan.HedreamedEthanwascallingfromcamp,
wondering why they’d never come to get him. “But we thought you were dead,” Macon said, and
Ethansaid—inthatclearvoiceofhisthatcrackedonthehighnotes—“Whywouldyouthinkthat?”
ThephonerangagainandMaconwokeup.Therewasathudofdisappointmentsomewhereinsidehis
ribcage.Heunderstoodwhypeoplesaidhearts“sank.”
Inslowmotion,hereachedforthereceiver.“Yes,”hesaid.
“Macon!Welcomeback!”
It was Julian Edge, Macon’s boss, his usual loud and sprightly self even this early in the
morning.“Oh,”Maconsaid.
“Howwasthetrip?”
“Itwasokay.”
“Youjustgetinlastnight?”
“Yes.”
“Findanysupernewplaces?”
“Well,‘super ’wouldbeputtingitabitstrongly.”
“SonowIguessyoustartwritingitup.”
Maconsaidnothing.
“Justwhendoyoufiguretobringmeamanuscript?”Julianasked.
“Idon’tknow,”Maconsaid.
“Soon,doyoufigure?”
“Idon’tknow.”
Therewasapause.
“IguessIwokeyou,”Juliansaid.
“Yes.”
“Macon Leary in bed,” Julian said. He made it sound like the title of something. Julian was
younger than Macon and brasher, breezier, not a serious man. He seemed to enjoy pretending that
Maconwassomekindofcharacter.“Soanyway,canIexpectitbytheendofthemonth?”
“No,”Maconsaid.
“Whynot?”
“I’mnotorganized.”
“Notorganized!What’stoorganize?Allyouhavetodoisretypeyouroldone,basically.”
“There’salotmoretoitthanthat,”Maconsaid.
“Look.Fellow.Hereitis—”Julian’svoicegrewfainter.He’dbedrawingbacktofrownathis
flashygoldcalendarwatchwiththeperforatedleatherracingband.“HereitisthethirdofAugust.I
wantthisthingonthestandsbyOctober.ThatmeansI’dneedyourmanuscriptbyAugustthirty-first.”
“Ican’tdoit,”Maconsaid.
Infact,itamazedhimhe’dfoundthestrengthtocarryonthisconversation.
“Augustthirty-first,Macon.That’sfourfullweeksaway.”
“It’snotenough,”Maconsaid.
“Not enough,” Julian said. “Well. All right, then: mid-September. It’s going to knock a good
manythingsoutofwhack,butI’llgiveyoutillmid-September.How’sthat?”
“Idon’tknow,”Maconsaid.
The dullness of his voice interested him. He felt strangely distant from himself. Julian might
havesensedthis,forafteranotherpausehesaid,“Hey.Pal.Areyouokay?”
“I’mfine,”Macontoldhim.
“Iknowyou’vebeenthroughalot,pal—”
“I’m fine! Just fine! What could be wrong? All I need is time to get organized. I’ll have the
manuscript in by September fifteenth. Possibly earlier. Yes, very possibly earlier. Maybe the end of
August.Allright?”
Thenhehungup.
Buthisstudywassodimandclose,anditgaveoffthesalty,inkysmellofmentalfidgeting.He
walkedinandfeltoverwhelmedbyhistask,asiffinallychaoshadtriumphed.Heturnedaroundand
walkedoutagain.
Maybe he couldn’t get his guidebook organized, but organizing the household was another
matter entirely. There was something fulfilling about that, something consoling—or more than
consoling; it gave him the sense of warding off a danger. Over the next week or so, he traveled
throughtheroomssettingupnewsystems.Heradicallyrearrangedallthekitchencupboards,tossing
outthelittlebitsofthingsinsticky,dustybottlesthatSarahhadn’topenedinyears.Hepluggedthe
vacuumcleanerintoahundred-footextensioncordoriginallymeantforlawnmowers.Hewentoutto
theyardandweeded,trimmed,pruned,clipped—strippingdown,hepicturedit.UptillnowSarahhad
donethegardening,andcertainfeaturesofitcameasasurprisetohim.Onevarietyofweedshotoff
seeds explosively the instant he touched it, a magnificent last-ditch stand, while others gave way so
easily—tooeasily,breakingatthetopmostjointsotheirrootsremainedintheground.Suchtenacity!
Suchgeniusforsurvival!Whycouldn’thumanbeingsdoaswell?
Hestretchedaclotheslineacrossthebasementsohewouldn’thavetousethedryer.Dryerswere
aterriblewasteofenergy.Thenhedisconnectedthedryer ’swideflexibleexhausttube,andhetaught
thecattogoinandoutthroughtheemptywindowpanewherethetubehadexited.Thismeantnomore
litterbox.Severaltimesadaythecatleaptsoundlesslytothelaundrysink,stooduplongandsinewy
onherhindlegs,andsprangthroughthewindow.
It was a pity Edward couldn’t do the same. Macon hated walking him; Edward had never been
trainedtoheelandkeptwindinghisleasharoundMacon’slegs.Oh,dogsweresomuchtrouble.Dogs
atemammothamountsoffood,too;Edward’skibblehadtobeluggedhomefromthesupermarket,
draggedoutofthecartrunkandupthesteepfrontstepsandthroughthehousetothepantry.Butfor
that,atleast,Maconfinallythoughtofasolution.Atthefootoftheoldcoalchuteinthebasementhe
setaplastictrashcan,withasquarecutoutofthebottom.Thenhepouredtheremainderofasackof
kibble into the trash can, which magically became a continuous feeder like the cat’s. Next time he
boughtdogfood,hecouldjustdrivearoundtothesideofthehouseandsenditrattlingdownthecoal
chute.
Theonlyhitchwas,Edwardturnedouttobescaredofthebasement.Everymorninghewentto
thepantrywherehisbreakfastusedtobeserved,andhesatonhisfatlittlehaunchesandwhimpered.
Maconhadtocarryhimbodilydownthebasementstairs,staggeringslightlywhileEdwardscrabbled
in his arms. Since the whole idea had been to spare Macon’s trick back, he felt he’d defeated his
purpose.Still,hekepttrying.
Alsowithhisbackinmind,hetiedtheclothesbaskettoEthan’soldskateboardandhedroppeda
drawstring bag down the laundry chute at the end of a rope. This meant he never had to carry the
laundryeitherupordownthestairs,orevenacrossthebasement.Sometimes,though—laboriously
scooting the wheeled basket from the clothesline to the laundry chute, stuffing clean sheets into the
bag,runningupstairstohaultheminbythelong,stiffrope—Maconfeltatwingeofembarrassment.
Wasitpossiblethatthismightbesortofsilly?
Well,everythingwassilly,whenyougotrightdowntoit.
TheneighborhoodmusthavelearnedbynowthatSarahhadlefthim.Peoplestartedtelephoning
on ordinary weeknights and inviting him to take “potluck” with them. Macon thought at first they
meantoneofthosearrangementswhereeverybodybringsadifferentpotofsomethingandifyou’re
luckyyouendupwithabalancedmeal.HearrivedatBobandSueCarney’swithabowlofmacaroni
and cheese. Since Sue was serving spaghetti, he didn’t feel he’d been all that lucky. She set his
macaroni at one end of the table and no one ate it but Delilah, the three-year-old. She had several
helpings,though.
Maconhadn’texpectedtofindthechildrenatthetable.Hesawhewassomebodydifferentnow,
somekindofbachelorunclewhowasassumedtoneedaglimpseoffamilylifefromtimetotime.But
thefactwas,hehadnevermuchlikedotherpeople’schildren.Andgatheringsofanysortdepressed
him. Physical contact with people not related to him—an arm around his shoulder, a hand on his
sleeve—madehimdrawinwardlikeasnail.“Youknow,Macon,”SueCarneysaid,leaningacrossthe
tabletopathiswrist,“wheneveryougettheurge,you’rewelcometodropinonus.Don’twaitforan
invitation.”
“That’sniceofyou,Sue,”hesaid.Hewonderedwhyitwasthatoutsiders’skinfeltsounreal—
almostwaxy,asiftherewereaninvisibleextralayerbetweenhimandthem.Assoonaspossible,he
movedhiswrist.
“Ifyoucouldliveanywayyouwanted,”Sarahhadoncetoldhim,“Isupposeyou’dendupona
desertislandwithnootherhumanbeings.”
“Why!That’snottrueatall,”he’dsaid.“I’dhaveyou,andEthan,andmysisterandbrothers...”
“Butnopeople.Imean,peopletherejustbychance,peopleyoudidn’tknow.”
“Well,no,Iguessnot,”he’dsaid.“Wouldyou?”
Butofcourseshewould—backthen.BackbeforeEthandied.She’dalwaysbeenasocialperson.
Whentherewasnothingelsetodoshe’dstrollhappilythroughashoppingmall—Macon’snotionof
hell,withallthosestrangers’shouldersbrushinghis.Sarahthoughtcrowdswereexciting.Sheliked
to meet new people. She was fond of parties, even cocktail parties. You’d have to be crazy to like
cocktail parties, Macon thought—those scenes of confusion she used to drag him to, where he was
made to feel guilty if he managed by some fluke to get involved in a conversation of any depth.
“Circulate.Circulate,”Sarahwouldhiss,passingbehindhimwithherdrink.
Thathadchangedduringthispastyear.Sarahdidn’tlikecrowdsanymore.Sheneverwentneara
mall,hadn’tmadehimgotoanyparties.Theyattendedonlyquietlittledinnersandsheherselfhad
notgivenadinnersinceEthandied.He’daskedheronce,“Shouldn’twehavetheSmithsandMillards
over?They’vehadussooften.”
Sarahsaid,“Yes.You’reright.Prettysoon.”Andthendidnothingaboutit.
Heandshehadmetataparty.They’dbeenseventeenyearsold.Itwasoneofthosemixerthings,
combiningtheirtwoschools.EvenatthatageMaconhaddislikedparties,buthewassecretlylonging
tofallinloveandsohehadbravedthismixerbutthenstoodoffinacornerlookingunconcerned,he
hoped,andsippinghisgingerale.Itwas1958.Therestoftheworldwasinbutton-downshirts,but
Maconworeablackturtlenecksweater,blackslacks,andsandals.(Hewaspassingthroughhispoet
stage.) And Sarah, a bubbly girl with a tumble of copper-brown curls and a round face, large blue
eyes,aplumplowerlip—sheworesomethingpink,heremembered,thatmadeherskinlookradiant.
She was ringed by admiring boys. She was short and tidily made, and there was something plucky
aboutthewayherlittletancalvesweresofirmlybraced,asifsheweredeterminedthatthislooming
flockofbasketballstarsandfootballstarswouldnotbowlherover.Macongaveuponheratonce.
No,noteventhat—hedidn’tevenconsiderher,notforasinglesecond,butgazedbeyondhertoother,
moreattainablegirls.SoithadtobeSarahwhomadethefirstmove.Shecameovertohimandasked
whathewasactingsostuck-upabout.“Stuck-up!”hesaid.“I’mnotstuck-up.”
“Yousuredolookit.”
“No,I’mjust...bored,”hetoldher.
“Well,sodoyouwanttodance,ornot?”
Theydanced.Hewassounpreparedthatitpassedinablur.Heenjoyeditonlylater,backhome,
wherehecouldthinkitoverinacalmerstateofmind.Andthinkingitover,hesawthatifhehadn’t
lookedstuck-upsheneverwouldhavenoticedhim.Hewastheonlyboywhohadnotopenlypursued
her.Hewouldbewisenottopursueherinthefuture;nottoseemtooeager,nottoshowhisfeelings.
WithSarahyouhadtokeepyourdignity,hesensed.
Lord knows, though, keeping his dignity wasn’t easy. Macon lived with his grandparents, and
theybelievedthatnooneundereighteenoughttohaveadriver ’slicense.(Nevermindifthestateof
Marylandfeltotherwise.)SoGrandfatherLearydroveMaconandSarahontheirdates.Hiscarwasa
longblackBuickwithavelvetygraybackseatonwhichMaconsatallbyhimself,forhisgrandfather
considereditunseemlyforthetwoofthemtosittheretogether.“Iamnotyourhiredchauffeur,”he
said, “and besides, the backseat has connotations.” (Much of Macon’s youth was ruled by
connotations.)SoMaconsataloneinbackandSarahsatupfrontwithGrandfatherLeary.Hercloud
ofhair,seenagainsttheglareofoncomingheadlights,remindedMaconofaburningbush.Hewould
leanforward,clearhisthroat,andask,“Um,didyoufinishyourtermpaper?”
Sarahwouldsay,“Pardon?”
“Termpaper,”GrandfatherLearywouldtellher.“Boywantstoknowifyoufinishedit.”
“Oh.Yes,Ifinishedit.”
“Shefinishedit,”GrandfatherLearyrelayedtoMacon.
“Idohaveears,Grandfather.”
“Youwanttogetoutandwalk?BecauseIdon’thavetostandforanymouthingoff.Icouldbe
homewithmylovedones,notmotoringaroundinthedark.”
“Sorry,Grandfather.”
Macon’s only hope was silence. He sat back, still and aloof, knowing that when Sarah looked
she’dseenothingbutagleamofblondhairandablankface—therestdarkness,hisblackturtleneck
blendingintotheshadows.Itworked.“Whatdoyouthinkaboutallthetime?”sheaskedinhisearas
theytwo-steppedaroundherschoolgym.Heonlyquirkedacornerofhismouth,asifamused,and
didn’tanswer.
Thingsweren’tmuchdifferentwhenhegothislicense.Thingsweren’tmuchdifferentwhenhe
went away to college, though he did give up his black turtlenecks and turn into a Princeton man,
crisply, casually attired in white shirts and khakis. Separated from Sarah, he felt a constant
hollowness,butinhislettershetalkedonlyabouthisstudies.Sarah,homeatGoucher,wroteback,
Don’tyoumissmealittle?Ican’tgoanywherewe’vebeenforfearI’llseeyoulookingsomysterious
acrosstheroom.ShesignedherlettersIloveyouandhesignedhisFondly.Atnighthedreamedshe
laynexttohim,hercurlsmakingawhisperysoundagainsthispillow,althoughallthey’ddoneinreal
life was a lengthy amount of kissing. He wasn’t sure, to tell the truth, that he could manage much
morewithout...howdidtheyputitinthosedays?Losinghiscool.Sometimes,hewasalmostangry
with Sarah. He felt he’d been backed into a false position. He was forced to present this impassive
frontifhewantedhertolovehim.Oh,somuchwasexpectedofmen!
Shewroteshewasn’tdatingotherpeople.NeitherwasMacon,butofcoursehedidn’tsayso.He
came home in the summer and worked at his grandfather ’s factory; Sarah worked on a tan at the
neighborhoodpool.Halfwaythroughthatsummer,shesaidshewonderedwhyhe’dneveraskedto
sleepwithher.Maconthoughtaboutthatandthensaid,levelly,thatinfacthe’dliketoaskhernow.
Theywenttoherparents’house;herparentswerevacationinginRehoboth.Theyclimbedthestairsto
herlittlebedroom,allwhiterufflesandhotsunlightbakingthesmelloffreshpaint.“Didyoubringa
whatchamacallit?”Sarahasked,andMacon,unwillingtoadmitthathehardlyknewwhatonelooked
like,barked,“No,Ididn’tbringawhatchamacallit,whodoyouthinkIam?”—asenselessquestion,if
youstoppedtoexamineit,butSarahtookittomeanthathewasshockedbyher,thathethoughther
tooforward,andshesaid,“Well,excusemeforliving!”andrandownthestairsandoutofthehouse.
Ittookhimhalfanhourtofindher,andlongerthanthattomakeherstopcrying.Really,hesaid,he’d
onlybeenthinkingofherwelfare:Inhisexperience,whatchamacallitsweren’tallthatsafe.Hetriedto
sound knowledgeable and immune to passions of the moment. He suggested she visit a doctor he
knew—it happened to be the doctor who treated his grandmother ’s Female Complaint. Sarah dried
her tears and borrowed Macon’s pen to write the doctor ’s name on the back of a chewing gum
wrapper. But wouldn’t the doctor refuse her? she asked. Wouldn’t he say she ought to be at least
engaged?Well,allright,Maconsaid,theywouldgetengaged.Sarahsaidthatwouldbelovely.
Their engagement lasted three years, all through college. Grandfather Leary felt the wedding
shouldbedelayedevenfurther,tillMaconwasfirmlysettledinhisplaceofemployment;butsincehis
place of employment would be Leary Metals, which manufactured cork-lined caps for soft drink
bottles,Maconcouldn’tseehimselfconcentratingonthatevenbriefly.Besides,therushtoandfrom
Sarah’sbedroomonhermother ’sRedCrossdayshadbeguntotellonthemboth.
Sotheymarriedthespringtheygraduatedfromcollege,andMaconwenttoworkatthefactory
whileSarahtaughtEnglishataprivateschool.ItwassevenyearsbeforeEthanwasborn.Bythattime,
Sarah was no longer calling Macon “mysterious.” When he was quiet now it seemed to annoy her.
Maconsensedthis,buttherewasnothinghecoulddoaboutit.Insomeoddway,hewaslockedinside
thestandoffishselfhe’dassumedwhenheandshefirstmet.Hewasfrozenthere.Itwaslikethatold
warningofhisgrandmother ’s:Don’tcrossyoureyes,theymightgetstuckthatway.Nomatterhow
hetriedtochangehismanner,Sarahcontinuedtodealwithhimasifheweresomeoneunnaturally
cool-headed,someonemoreevenintemperamentthanshebutperhapsnotquiteasfeeling.
Hehadoncecomeuponaquestionnairethatshe’dfilledoutinaladies’magazine—oneofthose
“How Happy Is Your Marriage?” things—and where it said, I believe I love my spouse more than
he/shelovesme,SarahhadcheckedTrue.TheunsettlingpartwasthatafterMacongavehisautomatic
littlesnortofdenial,hehadwonderedifitmightbetrueafterall.Somehow,hisrolehadsunkallthe
waythroughtotheheart.Eveninternally,bynow,hewasafairlychillyman,andifyoudidn’tcount
hisson(whowaseasy,easy;achildisnotestatall),therewasnotonepersoninhislifewhomhe
reallyagonizedover.
Whenhethoughtaboutthisnow,itwasarelieftoremindhimselfthathedidmissSarah,after
all.Butthenhisreliefseemedunfeelingtoo,andhegroanedandshookhisheadandtuggedhishair
ingreathandfuls.
Some woman phoned and said, “Macon?” He could tell at once it wasn’t Sarah. Sarah’s voice
waslightandbreathy;thisonewasrough,tough,wiry.“It’sMuriel,”shesaid.
“Muriel,”hesaid.
“MurielPritchett.”
“Ah,yes,”hesaid,buthestillhadnocluewhoshewas.
“Fromthevet’s?”sheasked.“Whogotonsogoodwithyourdog?”
“Oh,thevet’s!”
Hesawher,ifdimly.Hesawhersayingherownname,thelongusoundandthep drawing up
herdarkredmouth.
“IwasjustwonderinghowEdwardwas.”
MaconglancedoveratEdward.Thetwoofthemwereinthestudy,whereMaconhadmanagedto
typehalfapage.Edwardlayflatonhisstomachwithhislegsstraightoutbehindhim—short,pudgy
legslikethedrumsticksofadressedLongIslandduckling.“Helooksallrighttome,”Maconsaid.
“Imean,ishebiting?”
“Well, not lately, but he’s developed this new symptom. He gets angry if I leave the house. He
startsbarkingandshowinghisteeth.”
“Istillthinkheoughttobetrained.”
“Oh,youknow,he’sfourandahalfandIsuppose—”
“That’snottooold!Icoulddoitinnotime.Tellyouwhat,maybeIcouldjustcomearoundand
discussit.Youandmecouldhaveadrinkorsomethingandtalkaboutwhathisproblemsare.”
“Well,Ireallydon’tthink—”
“Oryoucouldcometomyplace.I’dfixyousupper.”
MaconwonderedhowitwouldhelpEdwardtobedraggedtosupperatsomestranger ’shouse.
“Macon?Whatdoyousay?”sheasked.
“Oh,why,um...IthinkfornowI’lljusttrytomanageonmyown.”
“Well,Icanunderstandthat,”shesaid.“Believeme.I’vebeenthroughthatstage.SowhatI’lldo
is,I’llwaitforyoutogetintouch.Youdostillhavemycard,don’tyou?”
Maconsaidhedid,althoughhehadnoideawhereithadgotto.
“Idon’twanttobepushy!”shesaid.
“No,well...”Maconsaid.Thenhehungupandwentbacktohisguidebook.
Hewasstillontheintroduction,anditwasalreadytheendofAugust.Howwouldhemeethis
deadline?Thebackofthedeskchairhithisspineinjustthewrongplace.Theskeykeptsticking.The
typewritertappedoutaudiblewords.“Inimitable,”itsaid.HistypingsoundedjustlikeSarahsaying
“inimitable.” “You in your inimitable way . . .” she told him. He gave a quick shake of his head.
Generally food in England is not as jarring as in other foreign countries. Nice cooked vegetables,
things in white sauce, pudding for dessert . . . I don’t know why some travelers complain about
Englishfood.
In September, he decided to alter his system of dressing. If he wore sweat suits at home—the
zipper-freekind,nothingtoscratchorbindhim—hecouldgofromoneshowertothenextwithout
changingclothes.Thesweatsuitwouldserveasbothpajamasanddaywear.
Heboughtacoupleofthem,mediumgray.Thefirstnightheworeonetobedheenjoyedthefeel
ofit,andhelikednothavingtodressthenextmorning.Infact,itoccurredtohimthathemightas
wellwearthesameoutfittwodaysinarow;skiphisshoweronalternateevenings.Talkaboutsaving
energy!Inthemorningallhehadtodowasshave.Hewonderedifheoughttogrowabeard.
Around noon of the second day, though, he started feeling a little low. He was sitting at his
typewriterandsomethingmadehimnoticehisposture—stoopedandsloppy.Heblamedthesweatsuit.
Heroseandwenttothefull-lengthmirrorinthehall.Hisreflectionremindedhimofapatientina
mental hospital. Part of the trouble, perhaps, was his shoes—regular black tie shoes intended for
dressierclothes.Shouldhebuysneakers?Buthewouldhatetobemistakenforajogger.Henoticed
thatwithoutabeltaroundhiswaist,hetendedtolethisstomachstickout.Hestoodupstraighter.That
eveningwhenitwastimetowashthefirstsweatsuit,heusedextra-hotwatertoshrinkoutsomeofthe
bagginess.
Hefeltmuchworseinthemorning.Ithadbeenawarmnightandhewokeupstickyandcross.
Hecouldn’tfacethethoughtofpopcornforbreakfast.Helaunderedaloadofsheetsandthen,inthe
midstofhangingthem,foundhimselfstandingmotionlesswithhisheadbowed,bothwristsdangling
over the clothesline as if he himself had been pinned there. “Buck up,” he said aloud. His voice
soundedcreaky,outofpractice.
Thiswashisdayforgroceryshopping—Tuesday,whenthesupermarketwasleastcrowdedwith
other human beings. But somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to get going. He dreaded all that
business with the address books, the three tabbed books he shopped with. (One held data from
Consumer Reports —the top-rated brand of bread, for instance, listed under B. In another he noted
prices, and in the third he filed his coupons.) He kept having to stop and riffle through them,
mutteringpricesunderhisbreath,comparinghousebrandstocents-offnamebrands.Oh,everything
seemedsocomplicated.Whybother?Whyeatatall,infact?
Ontheotherhand,heneededmilk.AndEdwardwaslowondogfood,andHelenwascompletely
outofcatfood.
Hedidsomethinghe’dneverdonebefore.HetelephonedTheMarketBasket,asmall,expensive
grocerythatdelivered.Andhedidn’torderjustemergencyrations.No,hecalledinthewholeweek’s
list.“Shallwebringthistothefrontortheback?”theclerkaskedinhertinsellyvoice.
“Theback,”Maconsaid.“No,wait.Bringtheperishablestotheback,butputthedogfoodnextto
thecoalchute.”
“Coalchute,”theclerkrepeated,apparentlywritingitdown.
“The coal chute at the side of the house. But not the cat food; that goes in back with the
perishables.”
“Well,waitnow—”
“Andtheupstairsitemsatthefrontofthehouse.”
“Whatupstairsitems?”
“Toothpaste,Ivorysoap,dogbiscuits...”
“Ithoughtyousaidthedogbiscuitswenttothecoalchute.”
“Notthedogbiscuits,thedogfood!It’sthefoodthatgoestothecoalchute,dammit.”
“Now,lookhere,”theclerksaid.“There’snocalltoberude.”
“Well,I’msorry,”Macontoldher,“butIjustwantthesimplestthing,itseemstome:onepuny
box of Milkbone biscuits up beside my bed. If I give Edward my buttered popcorn it upsets his
stomach.OtherwiseIwouldn’tmind;it’snotasifI’mhoardingitallformyselforsomething,buthe
hasthissensitivitytofatsandI’mtheonlyoneinthehouse,it’smewhohastocleanupifhegetssick.
I’mtheonlyonetodoit;I’mallalone;it’sjustme;itseemseverybody’sjust...fledfromme,Idon’t
know,I’velostthem,I’mleftstandingheresaying,‘Where’dtheygo?Whereiseverybody?Oh,God,
whatdidIdothatwassobad?’”
His voice was not behaving right and he hung up. He stood over the telephone rubbing his
forehead.Hadhegivenherhisname?Ornot.Hecouldn’tremember.Please,please,lethimnothave
givenherhisname.
Hewasfallingapart;thatmuchwasobvious.Hewouldhavetogetagriponhimself.Firstthing:
out of this sweat suit. It was some kind of jinx. He clapped his hands together briskly, and then he
climbed the stairs. In the bathroom, he yanked off the sweat suit and dropped it into the tub.
Yesterday’shungfromtheshowercurtainrod,stilldamp.Therewasn’tachanceitwouldbedryby
tonight. What a mistake! He felt like a fool. He’d come within an inch, within a hairsbreadth of
turning into one of those pathetic creatures you see on the loose from time to time—unwashed,
unshaven,shapeless,talkingtothemselves,paddingalongintheirinstitutionalgarb.
Neatly dressed now in a white shirt and khakis, he gathered the damp sweat suit and carried it
downtothebasement.Itwouldmakegoodwinterpajamas,atleast.Heputitinthedryer,wedgedthe
exhausttubeinthewindowagain,andsetthedials.Bettertoconsumealittleenergythantofallinto
despairoverasoggysweatsuit.
Atthetopofthebasementstairs,Edwardwascomplaining.Hewashungry,butnotbraveenough
to descend the stairs on his own. When he caught sight of Macon he lay flat, with his nose poking
over the topmost step, and put on a hopeful expression. “Coward,” Macon told him. He scooped
Edward up in both arms and turned to lumber back down. Edward’s teeth started chattering—a
ticketyticklikericeinacup.ItoccurredtoMaconthatEdwardmightknowsomethinghedidn’t.Was
the basement haunted, or what? It had been weeks now, and Edward was still so frightened that
sometimes,setinfrontofhisfood,hejuststoodtheredismallyandmadeapuddlewithoutbothering
tolifthisleg.“You’rebeingverysilly,Edward,”Macontoldhim.
Just then, an eerie howl rose from . . . where? From the basement’s very air, it seemed. It
continuedsteadily;itgrew.Edward,whomusthavebeenexpectingthisallalong,kickedoffinstantly
with his sturdy, clawed hind legs against Macon’s diaphragm. Macon felt the wind knocked out of
him.Edwardwhompedintothewallofdampbodybagsontheclothesline,rebounded,andlandedin
thecenterofMacon’sstomach.Maconsetonefootblindlyinthewheeledbasketandhislegswentout
fromunderhim.Hesteppeddownhardintoemptyspace.
He was lying on his back, on the clammy cement floor, with his left leg doubled beneath him.
Thesoundthathadsetallthisinmotionpausedforonesplitsecondandthenresumed.Itwasclear
nowthatitcamefromthedryer ’sexhausttube.“Shoot,”MaconsaidtoEdward,wholaypantingon
topofhim.“Wouldn’tyouthinkthatidiotcatwouldknowthedryerwasrunning?”
Hecouldseehowitmusthavehappened.Attemptingtoenterfromoutside,she’dbeenmetbya
whistlingwind,butshehadstubbornlycontinuedintothetube.Hepicturedhereyespressedintoslits,
herearsflattenedbackbyalint-filledgale.Wailingandprotesting,shehadnonethelessclungtoher
course.Whatpersistence!
MaconshookEdwardoffandrolledoveronhisstomach.Evensosmallamovementcausedhim
agony.Hefeltalumpofnauseabeginninginhisthroat,butherolledoncemore,dragginghisleg
behindhim.Withhisteethset,hereachedforthedoorofthedryerandpulleditopen.Thesweatsuit
slowly stopped revolving. The cat stopped howling. Macon watched her bumbling, knobby shape
inchingbackwardthroughthetube.Justasshereachedherexit,theentiretubefelloutofthewindow
andintothelaundrysink,butHelendidn’tfallwithit.Hehopedshewasallright.Hewatcheduntilshe
scurriedpasttheotherwindow,lookingjustslightlyrumpled.Thenhedrewabreathandbeganthe
long,hardtripupthestairsforhelp.
five
Oh, I’ve erred and I have stumbled,” Macon’s sister sang in the kitchen, “I’ve been sinful and
unwise...”
She had a tremulous soprano that sounded like an old lady’s, although she was younger than
Macon.Youcouldimaginesuchavoiceinchurch,somecountrykindofchurchwherethewomen
stillworeflatstrawhats.
I’mjustaluckypilgrim
OntheroadtoParadise.
Maconwaslyingonthedaybedinhisgrandparents’sunporch.Hisleftleg,encasedinplaster
from mid-thigh to instep, was not painful so much as absent. There was a constant dull, cottony
numbnessthatmadehimwanttopinchhisownshin.Notthathecould,ofcourse.Hewassealedaway
fromhimself.Thehardestblowfeltlikeaknockonthewallfromaneighboringroom.
Still,hefeltakindofcontentment.Helaylisteningtohissisterfixbreakfast,idlyscratchingthe
cat who had made herself a nest in the blankets. “I’ve had trials, I’ve had sorrows,” Rose trilled
merrily,“I’vehadgriefandsacrifice...”Onceshegotthecoffeestarted,shewouldcomehelphim
acrossthelivingroomtothedownstairsbathroom.Hestillfounditdifficulttonavigate,especially
onpolishedfloors.Nowadayshemarveledatallthosepeopleoncrutcheswhomheusedtotakefor
granted. He saw them as a flock of stalky wading birds, dazzlingly competent with their sprightly
hopsanddebonairpivots.Howdidtheydoit?
His own crutches, so new their rubber tips were not yet scuffed, leaned against the wall. His
bathrobe hung over a chair. Beneath the window was a folding card table with a wood-grained
cardboardtopandricketylegs.Hisgrandparentshadbeendeadforyears,butthetableremainedset
upasifforoneoftheireternalbridgegames.Maconknewthatonitsundersidewasayellowedlabel
readingATLASMFG.CO.withasteelengravingofsixplump,humorlessmeninhigh-collaredsuits
standinguponaboardlaidacrosstheverysametable.FURNISHINGSOFDECEPTIVEDELICACY,
thecaptionsaid.Maconassociatedthephrasewithhisgrandmother:deceptivedelicacy.Lyingonthe
sunporchfloorasaboy,hehadstudiedherfragilelegs,fromwhichheranklebonesjuttedoutlike
doorknobs.Hersolid,black,chunky-heeledshoeswereplantedsquarelyafootapart,nevertapping
orfidgeting.
HeheardhisbrotherPorterupstairs,whistlingalongwithRose’ssong.HeknewitwasPorter
becauseCharlesneverwhistled.Therewasthesoundofashowerrunning.Hissisterlookedthrough
thesunporchdoor,withEdwardpeeringaroundherandpantingatMaconasifhewerelaughing.
“Macon?Areyouawake?”Roseasked.
“I’vebeenawakeforhours,”hetoldher,fortherewassomethingvagueaboutherthatcaused
herbrotherstoactput-uponandneedywhenevershechancedtofocusonthem.Shewasprettyina
sober,primway,withbeigehairfoldedunobtrusivelyatthebackofherneckwhereitwouldn’tbea
bother.Herfigurewasaveryyounggirl’s,butherclotheswerespinsterlyandconcealing.
Shewrappedhiminhisbathrobeandhelpedhimstandup.Nowhislegactivelyhurt.Itseemed
thepainwasamatterofgravity.Athrobbingachesankslowlydownthelengthofthebone.WithRose
supportinghimononesideandacrutchontheother,hehobbledoutofthesunporch,throughthe
livingroomwithitsshabby,curlicuedfurniture.Thedogkeptgettingunderfoot.“MaybeIcouldstop
andrestamoment,”Maconsaidwhentheypassedthecouch.
“It’sonlyalittlefarther.”
Theyenteredthepantry.Roseopenedthebathroomdoorandhelpedhiminside.“Callmewhen
you’reready,”shesaid,closingthedoorafterhim.Maconsaggedagainstthesink.
At breakfast, Porter was cheerily talkative while the others ate in silence. Porter was the best-
lookingofalltheLearys—moretightlyknitthanMacon,hishairabrightershadeofblond.Hegave
an impression of vitality and direction that his brothers lacked. “Got a lot to do today,” he said
between mouthfuls. “That meeting with Herrin, interviews for Dave’s old job, Cates flying in from
Atlanta...”
Charlesjustsippedhiscoffee.WhilePorterwasalreadydressed,Charlesstillworehispajamas.
He was a soft, sweet-faced man who never seemed to move; any time you looked at him he’d be
watchingyouwithhissorrowfuleyesthatslanteddownwardattheoutercorners.
Rose brought the coffeepot from the stove. “Last night, Edward woke me twice asking to go
out,”shesaid.“Doyouthinkhehassomesortofkidneyproblem?”
“It’stheadjustment,”Maconsaid.“Adjustmenttochange.Iwonderhowheknowsnottowake
me.”
Portersaid,“Maybewecouldrigupsomesortofsystem.Oneofthoselittleroundpetdoorsor
something.”
“Edward’skindofportlyforapetdoor,”Maconsaid.
“Besides,”Rosesaid,“theyard’snotfenced.Wecan’tlethimoutonhisownifhe’snotfenced
in.”
“Alitterbox,then,”Portersuggested.
“Litterbox!Foradog?”
“Whynot?Ifitwerebigenough.”
Maconsaid,“Useabathtub.Theoneinthebasement.Noonegoesthereanymore.”
“Butwhowouldcleanit?”
“Ah.”
TheyalllookeddownatEdward,whowaslyingatRose’sfeet.Herolledhiseyesatthem.
“Howcomeyouhavehim,anyway?”PorteraskedMacon.
“HewasEthan’s.”
“Oh. I see,” Porter said. He gave a little cough. “Animals!” he said brightly. “Ever considered
whattheymustthinkofus?Imean,herewecomebackfromthegrocerystorewiththemostamazing
haul—chicken,pork,halfacow.Weleaveatnineandwe’rebackatten,evidentlyhavingcaughtan
entireherdofbeasts.Theymustthinkwe’rethegreatesthuntersonearth!”
Maconleanedbackinhischairwithhiscoffeemugcuppedinbothhands.Thesunwaswarming
thebreakfasttable,andthekitchensmelledoftoast.Healmostwonderedwhether,bysomedevious,
subconsciousmeans,hehadengineeredthisinjury—everyelaboratestepleadinguptoit—justsohe
couldsettledownsafeamongthepeoplehe’dstartedoutwith.
Charles and Porter left for the factory, and Rose went upstairs and ran the vacuum cleaner.
Macon,whowassupposedtobetypinghisguidebook,struggledbacktothesunporchandcollapsed.
Since he’d come home he’d been sleeping too much. The urge to sleep was like a great black
cannonballrollingaroundinsidehisskull,makinghisheadheavyanddroopy.
OnthewallattheendoftheroomhungaportraitofthefourLearychildren:Charles,Porter,
Macon,andRose,clusteredinanarmchair.Theirgrandfatherhadcommissionedthatportraitseveral
years before they came to live with him. They were still in California with their mother—a giddy
young war widow. From time to time she sent snapshots, but Grandfather Leary found those
inadequate. By their very nature, he told her in his letters, photos lied. They showed what a person
lookedlikeoverafractionofasecond—notoverlong,slowminutes,whichwaswhatyou’dtaketo
study someone in real life. In that case, said Alicia, didn’t paintings lie also? They showed hours
insteadofminutes.Itwasn’tGrandfatherLearyshesaidthisto,buttheartist,anelderlyCalifornian
whose name Grandfather Leary had somehow got hold of. If the artist had had a reply, Macon
couldn’trememberwhatitwas.
Hecouldremembersittingfortheportrait,though,andnowwhenhelookedatithehadavery
clear picture of his mother standing just outside the gilded frame in a pink kimono, watching the
paintingtakeshapewhileshetoweledherhairdry.Shehadfluffy,short,brittlehairwhosecolorshe
“helpedalong,”assheputit.Herfacewasatypenolongerseen—itwasn’tjustunfashionable,ithad
vanishedaltogether.Howdidwomenmoldtheirbasicformstosuitthetimes?Weretherenomoreof
thoseroundchins,roundforeheads,andbruised,baroquelittlemouthssopopularintheforties?
Theartist,itwasobvious,foundherveryattractive.Hekeptpausinginhisworktosayhewished
she were the subject. Alicia gave a breathless laugh and shooed away his words with one hand.
Probablylatershehadgoneoutwithhimafewtimes.Shewasalwaystakingupwithnewmen,and
theywerealwaysthemostexcitingmenintheworld,tohearhertellit.Iftheywereartists,why,she
had to give a party and get all her friends to buy their paintings. If they flew small planes on
weekends, she had to start pilot’s lessons. If they were political, there she was on street corners
thrustingpetitionsonpassersby.Herchildrenweretooyoungtoworryaboutthementhemselves,if
therewasanyreasontoworry.No,itwasherenthusiasmthatdisturbedthem.Herenthusiasmcamein
spurts,aviolentzigzagofhobbies,friends,boyfriends,causes.Shealwaysseemedabouttofallover
thebrinkofsomething.Shewasalwaysgoingtoofar.Hervoicehadanedgetoit,asifatanymoment
it might break. The faster she talked and the brighter her eyes grew, the more fixedly her children
staredather,asifwillinghertofollowtheirexampleofsteadinessanddependability.“Oh,whatisit
with you?” she would ask them. “Why are you such sticks?” And she would give up on them and
flounce off to meet her crowd. Rose, the baby, used to wait for her return in the hall, sucking her
thumbandstrokinganoldfurstolethatAlicianeverworeanymore.
SometimesAlicia’senthusiasmturnedtoherchildren—anunsettlingexperience.Shetookthem
all to the circus and bought them cotton candy that none of them enjoyed. (They liked to keep
themselves tidy.) She yanked them out of school and enrolled them briefly in an experimental
learningcommunitywherenooneworeclothes.Thefourofthem,chilledandmiserable,sathunched
inarowinthecommonroomwiththeirhandspressedflatbetweentheirbareknees.Shedressedasa
witchandwenttrick-or-treatingwiththem,themostmortifyingHalloweenoftheirlives,forshegot
carriedawayasusualandcackled,croaked,scuttleduptostrangersandshookherraggedbroomin
theirfaces.Shestartedmakingmother-daughteroutfitsforherselfandRose,instrawberrypinkwith
puffedsleeves,butstoppedwhenthesewingmachinepiercedherfingerandmadehercry.(Shewas
alwaysgettinghurt.Itmayhavebeenbecausesherushedso.)Thensheturnedtosomethingelse,and
somethingelse,andsomethingelse.Shebelievedinchangeasifitwereareligion.Feelingsad?Find
anewman!Creditorsafteryou,rentdue,childrenrunningfevers?Movetoanewapartment!During
oneyear,theymovedsooftenthateverydayafterschool,Maconhadtostanddeliberatingawhile
beforesettingoutforhome.
In 1950, she decided to marry an engineer who traveled around the world building bridges.
“Portugal.Panama.Brazil,”shetoldthechildren.“We’llfinallygettoseeourplanet.”Theygazedat
herstonily.Iftheyhadmetthismanbefore,theyhadnorecollectionofit.Aliciasaid,“Aren’tyou
excited?” Later—it may have been after he took them all out to dinner—she said she was sending
themtolivewiththeirgrandparentsinstead.“Baltimore’smoresuitableforchildren,really,”shesaid.
Did they protest? Macon couldn’t remember. He recalled his childhood as a glassed-in place with
grown-upsrushingpast,talkingathim,makingchanges,whilehehimselfstayedmute.Atanyrate,
onehotnightinJuneAliciaputthemonaplanetoBaltimore.Theyweremetbytheirgrandparents,
twothin,severe,distinguishedpeopleindarkclothes.Thechildrenapprovedofthematonce.
Afterthat,theysawAliciaonlyrarely.Shewouldcomebreezingintotownwithanarmloadof
flimsygiftsfromtropicalcountries.Herprintdressesstruckthechildrenasflashy;hermakeupwas
toovivid,likeaforeigner ’s.Sheseemedtofindherchildrencomical—theirnavy-and-whiteschool
uniforms, their perfect posture. “My God! How stodgy you’ve grown!” she would cry, evidently
forgettingshe’dthoughtthemstodgyallalong.Shesaidtheytookaftertheirfather.Theysensedthis
wasn’tmeantasacompliment.(Whentheyaskedwhattheirfatherhadbeenlike,shelookeddownat
herownchinandsaid,“Oh,Alicia,growup.”)Later,whenhersonsmarried,sheseemedtoseeeven
moreresemblance,foratonetimeoranothershe’dapologizedtoallthreedaughters-in-lawforwhat
theymusthavetoputupwith.Likesomenaughty,gleefulfairy,Maconimagined,shedartedinand
outoftheirlivesleavingatrailofirresponsibleremarks,apparentlyneverconsideringtheymightbe
passedon.“Idon’tseehowyoustaymarriedtotheman,”she’dsaidtoSarah.Sheherselfwasnowon
herfourthhusband,arock-gardenarchitectwithawhitegoatee.
It was true the children in the portrait seemed unrelated to her. They lacked her blue-and-gold
coloring;theirhairhadanashycastandtheireyeswereasteelygray.Theyallhadthatdistinctcenter
groovefromnosetoupperlip.AndneverinamillionyearswouldAliciahavewornanexpression
soguardedandsuspicious.
Uncomfortably arranged-looking, they gazed out at the viewer. The two older boys, plump
Charles and trim Porter, perched on either arm of the chair in white shirts with wide, flat, open
collars.RoseandMaconsatontheseatinmatchingplaysuits.RoseappearedtobeinMacon’slap,
although actually she’d been settled between his knees, and Macon had the indrawn tenseness of
someone placed in a physically close situation he wasn’t accustomed to. His hair, like the others’,
slantedsilkilyacrosshisforehead.Hismouthwasthin,almostcolorless,andfirmedabit,asifhe’d
decidedtotakeastandonsomething.ThesetofthatmouthechoednowinMacon’smind.Heglanced
at it, glanced away, glanced back. It was Ethan’s mouth. Macon had spent twelve years imagining
Ethanasasortofexchangestudent,avisitorfromtheoutsideworld,andhereitturnedouthe’dbeen
aLearyallalong.Whatapeculiarthingtorecognizeatthislatedate.
Hesatupsharplyandreachedforhistrousers,whichRosehadcutshortacrosstheleftthighand
hemmedwithtiny,evenstitches.
Nooneelseintheworldhadtheslightestideawherehewas.NotJulian,notSarah,notanyone.
Maconlikedknowingthat.HesaidasmuchtoRose.“It’snicetobesounconnected,”hetoldher.“I
wishthingscouldstaythatwayawhile.”
“Whycan’tthey?”
“Oh,well,youknow,someonewillcallhere,Sarahorsomeone—”
“Maybewecouldjustnotanswerthephone.”
“What,letitgoonringing?”
“Whynot?”
“Notansweritanytime?”
“Mostwhocallmeareneighbors,”Rosesaid.“They’llpopoverinpersoniftheydon’tgetan
answer.Andyouknowtheboys:Neitheroneofthemlikesdealingwithtelephones.”
“That’strue,”Maconsaid.
Julianwouldcomeknockingonhisdoor,planningtoharanguehimforlettinghisdeadlineslip
past.He’dhavetogiveup.ThenSarahwouldcomeforasoupladleorsomething,andwhenhedidn’t
answershewouldasktheneighborsandthey’dsayhehadn’tshownhisfaceinsometime.Shewould
trytogetintouchwithhisfamilyandthetelephonewouldringandring,andthenshewouldstartto
worry.What’shappened?shewouldwonder.HowcouldIhavelefthimonhisown?
Lately,Maconhadnoticedhe’dbeguntoviewSarahasaformofenemy.He’dstoppedmissing
her and started plotting her remorsefulness. It surprised him to see how quickly he’d made the
transition. Was this what two decades of marriage amounted to? He liked to imagine her selfreproaches.Hecomposedandrecomposedherapologies.Hehadn’thadsuchthoughtssincehewasa
child,dreamingofhowhismotherwouldweepathisfuneral.
Inthedaytime,workingatthediningroomtable,hewouldhearthetelephoneandhe’dpause,
fingersatrestonthetypewriterkeys.Onering,tworings.Threerings.Rosewouldwalkinwithajar
ofsilverpolish.Shedidn’tevenseemtohear.“Whatifthat’ssomekindofemergency?”hewould
ask. Rose would say, “Hmm? Who would call us for an emergency?” and then she would take the
silverfromthebuffetandspreaditattheotherendofthetable.
TherehadalwaysbeensomefamilymemberrequiringRose’scare.Theirgrandmotherhadbeen
bedridden for years before she died, and then their grandfather got so senile, and first Charles and
laterPorterhadfailedintheirmarriagesandcomebackhome.Soshehadenoughrightheretofill
hertime.Orshemadeitenough;forsurelyitcouldn’tbenecessarytopolisheverypieceofsilver
every week. Shut in the house with her all day, Macon noticed how painstakingly she planned the
menus;howoftenshereorganizedtheutensildrawer;howsheironedevenherbrothers’socks,first
separatingthemfromthecleverplasticgripssheusedtokeepthemmatedinthewashingmachine.
ForMacon’slunch,shecookedarealmealandserveditonregularplacemats.Shesetoutcut-glass
dishesofpicklesandolivesthathadtobereturnedtotheirbottleslateron.Shedollopedhomemade
mayonnaiseintoatinybowl.
Macon wondered if it ever occurred to her that she lived an odd sort of life—unemployed,
unmarried, supported by her brothers. But what job would she be suited for? he asked himself.
Althoughhecouldpictureher,cometothinkofit,asthemainstayofsomemusty,antiquelawfirmor
accounting firm. Nominally a secretary, she would actually run the whole business, arranging
everythingjustsoonheremployer ’sdeskeverymorningandallowingnoonebelowherorabove
her to overlook a single detail. Macon could use a secretary like that. Recalling the gum-chewing
redheadinJulian’sdisastrousoffice,hesighedandwishedtheworldhadmoreRoses.
Hezippedapagefromhistypewriterandsetitfacedownonastackofothers.Hehadfinished
withhisintroduction—generalinstructionslikeAsubwayisnotanundergroundtrainand Don’t say
restroom,saytoilet—andhe’dfinishedthechaptercalled“TryingtoEatinEngland.”Rosehadmailed
thoseoffforhimyesterday.Thatwashisnewstratagem:sendinghisbookpiecebypiecefromthis
undisclosedlocation.“There’snoreturnaddressonthis,”Rosetoldhim.“There’snotmeanttobe,”
Macon said. Rose had nodded solemnly. She was the only one in the family who viewed his
guidebooks as real writing. She kept a row of them in her bedroom bookcase, alphabetized by
country.
In midafternoon, Rose stopped work to watch her favorite soap opera. This was something
Macondidn’tunderstand.Howcouldshewastehertimeonsuchtrash?Shesaiditwasbecausethere
wasawonderfullyevilwomaninit.“Thereareenoughevilpeopleinreallife,”Macontoldher.
“Yes,butnotwonderfullyevil.”
“Well,that’sforsure.”
“Thisone,yousee,issoobvious.Youknowexactlywhomtomistrust.”
Whileshewatched,shetalkedaloudtothecharacters.Maconcouldhearherinthediningroom.
“Itisn’tyouhe’safter,sweetie,”shesaid,and“Justyouwait.Ha!”—notatallherusualstyleofspeech.
A commercial broke in, but Rose stayed transfixed where she was. Macon, meanwhile, worked on
“TryingtoSleepinEngland,”typingawayinadogged,uninspiredrhythm.
Whenthedoorbellrang,Rosedidn’trespond.Edwardwentmad,barkingandscratchingatthe
door and running back to Macon and racing again to the door. “Rose?” Macon called. She said
nothing.Finallyhestoodup,assembledhimselfonhiscrutches,andwentasquietlyaspossibletothe
hall.
Well,itwasn’tSarah.Aglancethroughthelacecurtaintoldhimthatmuch.Heopenedthedoor
andpeeredout.“Yes?”hesaid.
ItwasGarnerBolt,aneighborfromhome—ascrawnylittlegraymanwhohadmadehisfortune
incleaningsupplies.WhenhesawMacon,everylineinhispert,pointedfaceturnedupward.“There
youare!”hesaid.ItwashardtohearhimoverEdward,whowentonbarkingfrantically.
“Why,Garner,”Maconsaid.
“Weworriedyouhaddied.”
“Youdid?”
MacongrabbedatEdward’scollar,butmissed.
“Saw the papers piling up on your lawn, mail inside your screen door, didn’t know what to
think.”
“Well,Imeanttosendmysisterforthose,”Maconsaid.“Ibrokemyleg,yousee.”
“Now,howdidyoudothat?”
“It’salongstory.”
Hegaveupblockingthedoor.“Comeonin,”hetoldGarner.
Garner took off his cap, which had a Sherwin-Williams Paint sign across the front. His jacket
was part of some long-ago suit, a worn shiny brown, and his overalls were faded to white at the
knees. He stepped inside, skirting the dog, and shut the door behind him. Edward’s barks turned to
whimpers.“Mycarisfullofyourmail,”Garnersaid.“BrendasaidIoughttobringittoyoursister
andaskifsheknewofyourwhereabouts.AlsoIpromisedyourfriend.”
“Whatfriend?”
“Ladyinpedalpushers.”
“I don’t know any lady in pedal pushers,” Macon said. He hadn’t realized pedal pushers still
existed,even.
“Sawherstandingonyourporch,rattlingyourdoorknob.Callingout,‘Macon?Youinthere?’
Skinnylittleladywithhair.Lookedtobeinhertwentiesorso.”
“Well,Ican’timaginewhoitwas.”
“Squinchinginandshadinghereyes.”
“Whocoulditbe?”
“Trippingdowntheporchstepsinhergreattallpointyhighheels.”
“Thedoglady,”Maconsaid.“Jesus.”
“Kindofyoung,ain’tshe?”
“Idon’tevenknowher!”
“Goingroundthebackofthehousetocallout,‘Macon?Macon?’”
“Ibarelymether!”
“Itwasherthattoldmeaboutthewindle.”
“Windle?”
“Windletothebasement,allbrokeout.Fallsetsinandit’llturnyourfurnaceon.Wasteallkinds
ofenergy.”
“Oh.Well.Yes,Isupposeitwould,”Maconsaid.
“Wethoughtyoumight’vebeenburglarizedorsomething.”
Macon led the way to the dining room. “See, what happened,” he said, “I broke my leg and I
cametoliveatmyfamily’stillIcouldmanageformyselfagain.”
“Wedidn’tseenoambulancethoughornothing.”
“Well,Icalledmysister.”
“Sister ’sadoctor?”
“Justtocomeandtakemetotheemergencyroom.”
“WhenBrendabrokeherhiponthemissingstep,”Garnersaid,“shecalledtheambulance.”
“Well,Icalledmysister.”
“Brendacalledtheambulance.”
Theyseemedtobestuck.
“IguessIoughttonotifythepostofficeaboutmymail,”Maconsaidfinally.Heloweredhimself
intohischair.
Garner pulled out another chair and sat down with his cap in his hands. He said, “I could just
keeponbringingit.”
“No,I’llhaveRosenotifythem.Lord,allthesebillsmustbecomingdueandsoforth—”
“Icouldbringitjustaseasy.”
“Thanksanyway.”
“Whydon’tIbringit.”
“Totellthetruth,”Maconsaid,“I’mnotsosureI’llbegoingbackthere.”
This hadn’t occurred to him before. He placed his crutches together delicately, like a pair of
chopsticks,andlaidthemonthefloorbesidehischair.“Imightstayonherewithmyfamily,”hesaid.
“Andgiveupthatfinelittlehouse?”
“It’skindofbigforjustoneperson.”
Garnerfrowneddownathiscap.Heputitonhishead,changedhismind,andtookitoffagain.
“Look,” he said. “Back when me and Brenda were newlyweds we were awful together. Just awful.
Couldn’tneitheroneofusstandtheother,I’llneverknowhowwelasted.”
“Wearen’tnewlyweds,though,”Maconsaid.“We’vebeenmarriedtwentyyears.”
“Brendaandmedidnotspeaktoeachotherforverynearlyeverybitofnineteenandthirty-five,”
Garnersaid.“JanuarytoAugust,nineteenandthirty-five.NewYear ’sDaytillmysummervacation.
Notasingleblessedword.”
Macon’sattentionwascaught.“What,”hesaid,“noteven‘Passthesalt’?‘Openthewindow’?”
“Noteventhat.”
“Well,howdidyoumanageyourdailylife?”
“Mostly,shestayedovertohersister ’s.”
“Oh,then.”
“Themorningmyvacationbegan,IfeltsomiserableIliketodied.Thoughttomyself,‘Whatam
Idoing,anyhow?’CalledlongdistancetoOceanCityandbookedaroomfortwo.Inthosedayslong
distancewassomebigdeal,letmetellyou.Tookalltheseoperatorsandsoforthanditcostamint.
Then I packed some clothes for me and some clothes for Brenda and went on over to her sister ’s
house.Hersistersays,‘Whatdoyouwant?’Shewasthetypethatlikestoseedissension.Iwalkright
past her. Find Brenda in the living room, mending hose. Open my suitcase: ‘Look at here. Your
sundress for dining in a seafood restaurant,’ I tell her. ‘Two pairs of shorts. Two blouses. Your
swimsuit.’ She don’t even look at me. ‘Your bathrobe,’ I say. ‘Your nightgown you wore on our
honeymoon.’ActslikeI’mnoteventhere.‘Brenda,’Itellher.Isay,‘Brenda,Iamnineteenyearsold
and I’ll never be nineteen again. I’ll never be alive again. I mean this is the only life I get to go
through,Brenda,sofarasIknow,andI’vespentthisgreatlargechunkofitsittingaloneinanempty
apartmenttooproudtomakeup,tooscaredyou’dsayno,butevenifyoudidsaynoitcan’tbeworse
thanwhatIgotnow.I’mtheloneliestmanintheworld,Brenda,sopleasecometoOceanCitywith
me.’AndBrenda,shelaysdownhermendingandsays,‘Well,sinceyouask,butitlookstomelike
youforgotmybathingcap.’Andoffwewent.”
Hesatbacktriumphantlyinhischair.“So,”hesaid.
“So,”Maconsaid.
“Soyougetmypoint.”
“Whatpoint?”
“Youhavetoletherknowyouneedher.”
“See,Garner,Ithinkwe’vegonebeyondlittlethingslikelettingherknowI—”
“Don’ttakethispersonally,Macon,butIgottolevelwithyou:There’stimeswhenyou’vebeen
sortoffrustrating.I’mnottalkingaboutmyself,mind;Iunderstand.It’sjustsomeoftheothersinthe
neighborhood,they’vebeenputoffalittle.Takeduringyourtragedy.Imeanpeopleliketoofferhelp
atoccasionslikethat—sendflowersandvisitattheviewinghourandbringcasserolesforafterthe
service. Only you didn’t even have a service. Held a cremation, Lord God, somewheres off in
Virginiawithoutawordtoanyoneandcomehomedirectly.PegEveretttellsyoushe’sputyouinher
prayersandSarahsays,‘Oh,blessyou,Peg,’butwhatdoyousay?YouaskPegifhersonmightcare
totakeEthan’sbikeoffyourhands.”
Macongroaned.“Yes,”hesaid,“Ineverknowhowtobehaveatthesetimes.”
“Thenyoumowyourlawnlikenothinghashappened.”
“Thegrassdidkeepongrowing,Garner.”
“Wewasalldyingtodoitforyou.”
“Well,thanks,”Maconsaid,“butIenjoyedthework.”
“SeewhatImean?”
Maconsaid,“Now,wait.Justtoinsertsomelogicintothisdiscussion—”
“That’sexactlywhatImean!”
“YoustartedouttalkingaboutSarah.You’veswitchedtohowIdisappointtheneighbors.”
“What’sthedifference?Youmightnotknowthis,Macon,butyoucomeacrossasapersonthat
chargesaheadonyourownsomewhat.Justlookatthewayyouwalk!Thewayyou,like,lunge,lope
ondownthestreetwithyourheadrunningclearinfrontofyourbody.Ifafellowwantstostopyou
and,Idon’tknow,offerhiscondolences,he’dbeliabletogetploweddown.Now,Iknowyoucare,
andyouknowyoucare,buthowdoesitlooktotheothers?Iaskyou!Nowondersheupandleft.”
“Garner,Iappreciateyourthoughtsonthis,”Maconsaid,“butSarah’sfullyawarethatIcare.I’m
notastongue-tiedasyouliketomakeout.Andthisisn’toneofthoseopen-shut,can-this-marriagebe-saveddeals,either.Imean,you’rejustplaingoddamnedwrong,Garner.”
“Well,”Garnersaid.Helookeddownathiscap,andafteramomenthejammeditabruptlyonhis
head.“IguessI’llfetchyourmailin,then,”hesaid.
“Right.Thanks.”
Garnerrosetohisfeetandshuffledout.HisleavingalertedEdward,whostartedbarkingallover
again.TherewasanemptyspellduringwhichMaconlookeddownathiscastandlistenedtothesoap
opera from the living room. Meanwhile Edward whined at the door and paced back and forth,
clickinghistoenails.ThenGarnerreturned.“Mostlycatalogs,”hesaid,flinginghisloadonthetable.
Hebroughtwithhimthesmelloffreshairanddryleaves.“Brendasaidwemightaswellnotbother
withthenewspapers;justthrowthemout.”
“Oh,yes,ofcourse,”Maconsaid.
He stood up and they shook hands. Garner ’s fingers were crisp and intricately shaped, like
crumpledpaper.“Thanksforstoppingby,”Macontoldhim.
“Anytime,”Garnersaid,lookingelsewhere.
Maconsaid,“Ididn’tmean,youknow—IhopeIdidn’tsoundshort-tempered.”
“Naw,”Garnersaid.Heliftedanarmandletitdrop.“Shoot.Don’tthinkathingaboutit.”Then
heturnedtoleave.
Assoonashedid,Maconthoughtofafloodofotherthingsheshouldhavementioned.Itwasn’t
allhisfault,hewantedtosay.Sarahhadalittletodowithittoo.WhatSarahneededwasarock,he
wantedtosay;someonewhowouldn’tcrumble.Otherwise,whyhadshepickedhimtomarry?Buthe
heldhispeaceandwatchedGarnerwalkout.Therewassomethingpitiableaboutthetwosharpcords
thatrandownthebackofGarner ’sneck,cuppingalittleditchofmappedbrownskinbetweenthem.
When his brothers came home from work, the house took on a relaxed, relieved atmosphere.
Rose drew the living room curtains and lit a few soft lamps. Charles and Porter changed into
sweaters. Macon started mixing his special salad dressing. He believed that if you pulverized the
spicesfirstwithamarblemortarandpestle,itmadeallthedifference.Theothersagreedthatnoone
else’sdressingtastedasgoodasMacon’s.“Sinceyou’vebeengone,”Charlestoldhim,“we’vehadto
buy that bottled stuff from the grocery store.” He made it sound as if Macon had been gone a few
weeksorso—asifhisentiremarriagehadbeenjustabrieftripelsewhere.
ForsuppertheyhadRose’spotroast,asaladwithMacon’sdressing,andbakedpotatoes.Baked
potatoeshadalwaysbeentheirfavoritefood.Theyhadlearnedtofixthemaschildren,andevenafter
theywerebigenoughtocookabalancedmealtheyusedtoexistsolelyonbakedpotatoeswhenever
Alicialeftthemtotheirowndevices.TherewassomethingaboutthesmellofaroastingIdahothat
wassocozy,andalso,well,conservative,wasthewayMaconputittohimself.Hethoughtbackon
years and years of winter evenings: the kitchen windows black outside, the corners furry with
gatheringdarkness,thefourofthemseatedatthechippedenameltablemeticulouslyfillingscoopedoutpotatoskinswithbutter.Youletthebuttermeltintheskinswhileyoumashedandseasonedthe
flouryinsides;theskinsweresavedtilllast.Itwasalmostaritual.Herecalledthatonce,duringoneof
their mother ’s longer absences, her friend Eliza had served them what she called potato boats—
restuffed, not a bit like the genuine article. The children, with pinched, fastidious expressions, had
emptiedthestuffingandproceededasusualwiththeskins,pretendingtooverlookhermistake.The
skinsshouldbecrisp.Theyshouldnotbesalted.Thepeppershouldbefreshlyground.Paprikawas
acceptable, but only if it was American. Hungarian paprika had too distinctive a taste. Personally,
Maconcoulddowithoutpaprikaaltogether.
While they ate, Porter discussed what to do with his children. Tomorrow was his weekly
visitationnight,whenhewoulddriveovertoWashington,wherehischildrenlivedwiththeirmother.
“Thethingofitis,”hesaid,“eatingoutinrestaurantsissoartificial.Itdoesn’tseemlikerealfood.
Andanyway,theyallthreehavedifferenttastes.Theyalwaysargueoverwheretogo.Someone’sona
diet, someone’s turned vegetarian, someone can’t stand food that crunches. And I end up shouting,
‘Oh,forGod’ssake,we’regoingtoSuch-and-Suchandthat’sthat!’Sowegoandeverybodysulks
throughoutthemeal.”
“Maybe you should just not visit,” Charles said reasonably. (He had never had children of his
own.)
“Well,ofcourseIwanttovisit,Charles.Ijustwishwehadsomedifferentprogram.Youknow
whatwouldbeideal?Ifwecouldalldosomethingwithtoolstogether.Imeanliketheolddaysbefore
thedivorce,whenDannyhelpedmedrainthehotwaterheaterorSusansatonaboardIwassawing.If
Icouldjustdropbytheirhouse,say,andJuneandherhusbandcouldgotoamovieorsomething,
thenthekidsandIwouldcleanthegutters,weather-stripthewindows,wrapthehotwaterpipes...
Well,thathusbandofhersisnouseatall,youcanbetheletshishotwaterpipessitaroundnaked.I’d
bringmyowntools,even.We’dhaveafinetime!Susancouldfixuscocoa.Thenattheendofthe
eveningI’dpackupmytoolsandoffI’dgo,leavingthehouseinperfectrepair.Why,Juneoughtto
jumpatthechance.”
“Thenwhynotsuggestit,”Maconsaid.
“Nah.She’dnevergoforit.She’ssoimpractical.Isaidtoherlastweek,Isaid,‘Youknowthat
front porch step is loose? Springing up from its nails every time you walk on it wrong.’ She said,
‘Oh,Lord,yes,it’sbeenthatway,’asifProvidencehaddecreedit.Asifnothingcouldbedoneabout
it. They’ve got leaves in the gutter from way last winter but leaves are natural, after all; why go
againstnature.She’ssoimpractical.”
PorterhimselfwasthemostpracticalmanMaconhadeverknown.HewastheonlyLearywho
understood money. His talent with money was what kept the family firm solvent—if just barely. It
wasn’taverywealthybusiness.GrandfatherLearyhadfoundeditintheearlypartofthecenturyasa
tinware factory, and turned to bottle caps in 1915. The Bottle Cap King, he called himself, and was
calledinhisobituary,butinfactmostbottlecapsweremanufacturedbyCrownCorkandalwayshad
been;GrandfatherLearyranadistantsecondorthird.Hisonlyson,theBottleCapPrince,hadbarely
assumedhisplaceinthefirmbeforequittingtovolunteerforWorldWarII—afarmoredamaging
enthusiasm,itturnedout,thananyofAlicia’s.Afterhewaskilledthebusinesslimpedalong,never
quitesucceedingandneverquitefailing,tillPorterbouncedinstraightfromcollegeandtookover
themoneyend.MoneytoPorterwassomethingalmostchemical—avolatilesubstancethatreactedin
variousinterestingwayswhencombinedwithothersubstances.Hewasn’twhatyou’dcallmercenary;
hedidn’twantthemoneyforitsownsakebutforitsintriguingpossibilities,andinfactwhenhiswife
divorcedhimhehandedovermostofhispropertywithoutawordofcomplaint.
It was Porter who ran the company, pumping in money and ideas. Charles, more mechanical,
dealtwiththeproductionend.Maconhaddonealittleofeverythingwhenheworkedthere,andhad
wastedawaywithboredomdoingit,fortherewasn’treallyenoughtokeepathirdmanbusy.Itwas
onlyforsymmetry’ssakethatPorterkepturginghimtoreturn.“Tellyouwhat,Macon,”hesaidnow,
“whynothitcharidedownwithustomorrowandlookoveryouroldstompingground?”
“No,thanks,”Macontoldhim.
“Plentyofroomforyourcrutchesinback.”
“Maybesomeothertime.”
They followed Rose around while she washed the dishes. She didn’t like them to help because
she had her own method, she said. She moved soundlessly through the old-fashioned kitchen,
replacingdishesinthehighwoodencabinets.Charlestookthedogout;Maconcouldn’tmanagehis
crutchesinthespongybackyard.AndPorterpulledthekitchenshades,meanwhilelecturingRoseon
howthewhitesurfacesreflectedthewarmthbackintotheroomnowthatthenightswerecooler.Rose
said,“Yes,Porter,Iknowallthat,”andliftedthesaladbowltothelightandexamineditamoment
beforesheputitaway.
They watched the news, dutifully, and then they went out to the sun porch and sat at their
grandparents’cardtable.TheyplayedsomethingcalledVaccination—acardgamethey’dinventedas
children,whichhadgrownsoconvolutedovertheyearsthatnooneelsehadthepatiencetolearnit.
Infact,morethanoneoutsiderhadaccusedthemofalteringtherulestosuitthecircumstances.“Now,
justaminute,”Sarahhadsaid,backwhenshe’dstillhadhopesoffiguringitout.“Ithoughtyousaid
aceswerehigh.”
“Theyare.”
“Sothatmeans—”
“Butnotwhenthey’redrawnfromthedeck.”
“Aha!ThenwhywastheonethatRosedrewcountedhigh?”
“Well,shediddrawitafteradeuce,Sarah.”
“Acesdrawnafteradeucearehigh?”
“No,acesdrawnafteranumberthat’sbeendrawntwotimesinarowjustbeforethat.”
Sarahhadfoldedherfanofcardsandlaidthemfacedown—thelastofthewivestogiveup.
MaconwasinquarantineandhadtodonateallhiscardstoRose.Rosemovedherchairovernext
tohisandplayedoffhispointswhilehesatback,scratchingthecatbehindherears.Oppositehim,in
the tiny dark windowpanes, he saw their reflections— hollow-eyed and severely cheekboned, more
interestingversionsofthemselves.
Thetelephoneinthelivingroomgaveanippedsqueakandthenafullring.Nobodyseemedto
notice.RoselaidakingonPorter ’squeenandPortersaid,“Stinker.”Thetelephonerangagainand
then again. In the middle of the fourth ring, it fell silent. “Hypodermic,” Rose told Porter, and she
toppedthekingwithanace.
“You’rearealstinker,Rose.”
Intheportraitontheendwall,theLearychildrengazedoutwiththeirveiledeyes.Itoccurredto
Macon that they were sitting in much the same positions here this evening: Charles and Porter on
either side of him, Rose perched in the foreground. Was there any real change? He felt a jolt of
somethingveryclosetopanic.Herehestillwas!Thesameasever!WhathaveIgoneanddone?he
wondered,andheswallowedthicklyandlookedathisownemptyhands.
six
Help!Help!Calloffyourdog!”
Macon stopped typing and lifted his head. The voice came from somewhere out front, rising
aboveastringofsharp,excitedyelps.ButEdwardwastakingawalkwithPorter.Thismustbesome
otherdog.
“Callhimoff,dammit!”
Maconrose,proppinghimselfonhiscrutches,andmadehiswaytothewindow.Sureenough,it
wasEdward.Heseemedtohavetreedsomebodyinthegiantmagnoliatotherightofthewalk.Hewas
barkingsohardthathekeptpoppingoffthegroundperfectlylevel,allfourfeetatonce,likeoneof
thosepulltoysthatbouncestraightupintheairwhenyousqueezearubberbulb.
“Edward!Stopthat!”Maconshouted.
Edward didn’t stop. He might not even have heard. Macon stubbed out to the hall, opened the
frontdoor,andsaid,“Comeherethisinstant!”
Edwardbarelyskippedabeat.
It was a Saturday morning in early October, pale gray and cool. Macon felt the coolness
creepinguphiscut-offpantslegashecrossedtheporch.Whenhedroppedonecrutchandtookhold
oftheironrailingtodescendthesteps,hefoundthemetalbeadedwithmoisture.
Hehoppedovertothemagnolia,leaneddownprecariously,andgrabbedtheleashthatEdward
wastrailing.Withoutmucheffort,hereeleditin;Edwardwasalreadylosinginterest.Maconpeered
intotheinkydepthsofthemagnolia.“Whoisthat?”heasked.
“Thisisyouremployer,Macon.”
“Julian?”
Julianloweredhimselffromoneofthemagnolia’sweak,sprawlingbranches.Hehadalineof
dirtacrossthefrontofhisslacks.Hiswhite-blondhair,usuallysoneatitmadehimlooklikeashirt
ad,struckoutatseveralangles.“Macon,”hesaid.“Ireallyhateamanwithanobnoxiousdog.Idon’t
hatejustthedog.Ihatethemanwhoownshim.”
“Well,I’msorryaboutthis.Ithoughthewasoffonawalk.”
“Yousendhimonwalksbyhimself?”
“No,no...”
“Adogwhotakessolitarystrolls,”Juliansaid.“OnlyMaconLearywouldhaveone.”Hebrushed
offthesleevesofhissuedeblazer.Thenhesaid,“Whathappenedtoyourleg?”
“Ibrokeit.”
“Well,Iseethat,buthow?”
“It’skindofhardtoexplain,”Macontoldhim.
Theystartedtowardthehouse,withEdwardtrottingdocilelyalongside.JuliansupportedMacon
astheyclimbedthesteps.Hewasanathletic-lookingmanwithacasual,saunteringstyle—aboater.
Youcouldtellhewasaboaterbyhisnose,whichwasrawacrossthetipeventhislateintheyear.No
one so startlingly blond, so vividly flushed in the face, should expose himself to sunburn, Macon
alwaystoldhim.ButthatwasJulianforyou:reckless.Adashingsailor,aspeedydriver,afrequenter
of singles bars, he was the kind of man who would make a purchase without consulting Consumer
Reports.Heneverseemedtohaveamoment’sself-doubtandwasproceedingintothehousenowas
jauntilyasifhe’dbeeninvited,firstretrievingMacon’sothercrutchandthenholdingthedooropen
andwavinghimahead.
“How’dyoufindme,anyway?”Maconasked.
“Why,areyouhiding?”
“No,ofcoursenot.”
Julian surveyed the entrance hall, which all at once struck Macon as slightly dowdy. The satin
lampshadeonthetablehaddozensoflongverticalrents;itseemedtoberottingoffitsframe.
“Yourneighbortoldmewhereyouwere,”Juliansaidfinally.
“Oh,Garner.”
“I stopped by your house when I couldn’t reach you by phone. Do you know how late you’re
runningwiththisguidebook?”
“Well,youcanseeI’vehadanaccident,”Maconsaid.
“Everybody’sheldup,waitingforthemanuscript.IkeeptellingthemIexpectitmomentarily,but
—”
“Anymoment,”Maconsaid.
“Huh?”
“Youexpectitanymoment.”
“Yes,andallI’veseensofaristwochaptersmailedinwithnoexplanation.”
Julianledthewaytothelivingroomashespoke.Heselectedthemostcomfortablechairandsat
down.“Where’sSarah?”heasked.
“Who?”
“Yourwife,Macon.”
“Oh.Um,sheandIare...”
Macon should have practiced saying it out loud. The word “separated” was too bald; it was
something that happened to other people. He crossed to the couch and made a great business of
settling himself and arranging his crutches at his side. Then he said, “She’s got this apartment
downtown.”
“You’vesplit?”
Maconnodded.
“Jesus.”
EdwardnosedMacon’spalmbossily,demandingapat.Maconwasgratefultohavesomethingto
do.
“Well,Jesus,Macon,whatwentwrong?”Julianasked.
“Nothing!” Macon told him. His voice was a little too loud. He lowered it. “I mean, that’s not
somethingIcananswer,”hesaid.
“Oh.Excuseme.”
“No,Imean...thereisnoanswer.Itturnsoutthesethingscanhappenfornoparticularreason.”
“Well,you’vebeenunderastrain,youtwo,”Juliansaid.“Shoot,withwhathappenedandall...
She’llbeback,onceshe’sgottenoverit.Ornotgottenoveritofcoursebut,youknow...”
“Maybeso,”Maconsaid.HefeltembarrassedforJulian,whokeptjigglingoneDocksider.He
said,“Whatdidyouthinkofthosefirsttwochapters?”
Julianopenedhismouthtoanswer,buthewasinterruptedbythedog.Edwardhadflowntothe
hallandwasbarkingfuriously.TherewasaclangthatMaconrecognizedasthesoundofthefront
doorswingingopenandhittingtheradiator.“Hush,now,”heheardRosetellEdward.Shecrossedthe
hallandlookedintothelivingroom.
Julian got to his feet. Macon said, “Julian Edge, this is my sister Rose. And this,” he said as
Charlesarrivedbehindher,“ismybrotherCharles.”
NeitherRosenorCharlescouldshakehands;theywerecarryingthegroceries.Theystoodinthe
centeroftheroom,huggingbrownpaperbags,whileJulianwentintowhatMaconthoughtofashis
MaconLearyact.“MaconLearywithasister!Andabrother,too.Who’dhaveguessedit?ThatMacon
Learyhadafamilyjustneverenteredmymind,somehow.”
Rosegavehimapolite,puzzledsmile.Shewasn’tlookingherbest.Sheworealongblackcoat
that drew all the color from her face. And Charles, rumpled and out of breath, was having trouble
withoneofhisbags.Hekepttryingtogetabettergriponit.“Here,letmehelpyou,”Juliansaid.He
took the bag and then peered into it. Macon was afraid he’d go off on some tangent about Macon
Leary’sgroceries,buthedidn’t.HetoldRose,“Yes,Idoseeafamilyresemblance.”
“You’reMacon’spublisher,”Rosesaid.“Irememberfromtheaddresslabel.”
“Addresslabel?”
“I’mtheonewhomailedyouMacon’schapters.”
“Oh,yes.”
“I’m supposed to send you some more, but first I have to buy nine-by-twelve envelopes. All
we’ve got left is ten-by-thirteen. It’s terrible when things don’t fit precisely. They get all out of
alignment.”
“Ah,”Juliansaid.Helookedatherforamoment.
Maconsaid,“Wewouldn’twanttokeepyou,Rose.”
“Oh!No,”shesaid.ShesmiledatJulian,hoistedhergrocerieshigher,andlefttheroom.Charles
retrievedhisbagfromJulianandsloggedafterher.
“TheMaconLearyNine-by-TwelveEnvelopeCrisis,”Juliansaid,sittingbackdown.
Maconsaid,“Oh,Julian,dropit.”
“Sorry,”Juliansaid,soundingsurprised.
Therewasapause.ThenJuliansaid,“ReallyIhadnoidea,Macon,Imean,ifyou’dletmeknow
whatwasgoingoninyourlife...”
He was jiggling a Docksider again. He always seemed uneasy when he couldn’t do his Macon
Learyact.AfterEthandiedhe’davoidedMaconforweeks;he’dsentatree-sizedbouquettothehouse
butneveragainmentionedEthan’sname.
“Look,”hesaidnow.“Ifyouwantanother,Idon’tknow,anothermonth—”
Maconsaid,“Oh,nonsense,what’samissingwifeortwo,right?Ha,ha!Here,letmegetwhat
I’vetypedandyoucancheckit.”
“Well,ifyousayso,”Juliansaid.
“After this there’s only the conclusion,” Macon said. He was calling over his shoulder as he
madehiswaytothediningroom,wherehislatestchapterlaystackedonthebuffet.“Theconclusion’s
nothing,acinch.I’llcribfromtheoldone,mostly.”
He returned with the manuscript and handed it to Julian. Then he sat on the couch again, and
Julianstartedreading.Meanwhile,MaconheardPortercomeinthebackway,wherehewasgreeted
byexplosivebarksfromEdward.“Monster,”Portersaid.“DoyouknowhowlongI’vebeenlooking
for you?” The phone rang over and over, unanswered. Julian looked at Macon and raised his
eyebrowsbutmadenocomment.
MaconandJulianhadmetsomedozenyearsago,whenMaconwasstillatthebottle-capfactory.
He’d been casting about for other occupations at the time. He’d begun to believe he might like to
workonanewspaper.Buthe’dhadnotraining,notasinglejournalismcourse.Sohestartedtheonly
wayhecouldthinkof:Hecontributedafreelancearticletoaneighborhoodweekly.Hissubjectwasa
craftsfairoverinWashington.Gettingthereisdifficult,hewrote,becausethefreewayissoblankyou
start feeling all lost and sad. And once you’ve arrived, it’s worse. The streets are not like ours and
don’tevenrunatrightangles.Hewentontoevaluatesomefoodhe’dsampledatanoutdoorbooth,
but found it contained a spice he wasn’t used to, something sort of cold and yellow I would almost
describeasforeign,andsettledinsteadforahotdogfromavendoracrossthestreetwhowasn’teven
partofthefair.ThehotdogIcanrecommend,hewrote,though it made me a little regretfulbecause
Sarah,mywife,usesthesamekindofchilisauceandIthoughtofhometheminuteIsmelledit.Healso
recommended the patchwork quilts, one of which had a starburst pattern like the quilt in his
grandmother ’s room. He suggested that his readers leave the fair no later than three thirty, since
you’llbedrivingintoBaltimorerightpastLexingtonMarketandwillwanttopickupyourcrabsbefore
itcloses.
HisarticlewaspublishedbeneathaheadlinereadingCRAFTSFAIRDELIGHTS,INSTRUCTS.
Therewasasubheadunderthat.Or,itread,IFeelSoBroke-Up,IWanttoGoHome.Untilhesawthe
subhead,Maconhadn’trealizedwhattonehe’dgivenhispiece.Thenhefeltsilly.
ButJulianEdgethoughtitwasperfect.Julianphonedhim.“Youthefellowwhowrotethathot
dogthingintheWatchbird?”
“Well,yes.”
“Ha!”
“Well,Idon’tseewhat’ssofunny,”Maconsaidstiffly.
“Whosaiditwasfunny?It’sperfect.I’vegotapropositionforyou.”
TheymetattheOldBayRestaurant,whereMacon’sgrandparentsusedtotakethefourchildren
on their birthdays. “I can personally guarantee the crab soup,” Macon said. “They haven’t done a
thingtoitsinceIwasnine.”Juliansaid,“Ha!”againandrockedbackinhischair.Hewaswearinga
poloshirtandwhiteducktrousers,andhisnosewasabrightshadeofpink.Itwassummer,ormaybe
spring.Atanyrate,hisboatwasinthewater.
“Now, here’s my plan,” he said over the soup. “I own this little company called the
Businessman’sPress.Well,little:Isaylittle.Actuallywesellcoasttocoast.Nothingfancy,butuseful,
you know? Appointment pads, expense account booklets, compound interest charts, currency
conversionwheels...AndnowIwanttoputoutaguidebookforcommercialtravelers.JusttheU.S.,
to begin with; maybe other countries later. We’d call it something catchy, I don’t know: Reluctant
Tourist...Andyou’rethefellowtowriteit.”
“Me?”
“IknewtheminuteIreadyourhotdogpiece.”
“ButIhatetotravel.”
“I kind of guessed that,” Julian said. “So do businessmen. I mean, these folks are not running
aroundthecountryforthehellofit,Macon.They’dratherbehomeintheirlivingrooms.Soyou’ll
behelpingthempretendthat’swheretheyare.”
Thenhepulledasquareofpaperfromhisbreastpocketandsaid,“Whatdoyouthink?”
Itwasasteelengravingofanoverstuffedchair.Attachedtothechair ’sbackweregiant,feathered
wingssuchasyouwouldseeonseraphiminantiqueBibles.Maconblinked.
“Yourlogo,”Julianexplained.“Getit?”
“Um...”
“Whilearmchairtravelersdreamofgoingplaces,”Juliansaid,“travelingarmchairsdreamof
stayingput.Ithoughtwe’dusethisonthecover.”
“Ah!”Maconsaidbrightly.Thenhesaid,“ButwouldIactuallyhavetotravelmyself?”
“Well,yes.”
“Oh.”
“But just briefly. I’m not looking for anything encyclopedic, I’m looking for the opposite of
encyclopedic.Andthinkofthepay.”
“Itpays?”
“Itpaysabundle.”
Well, not a bundle, exactly. Still, it did make a comfortable living. It sold briskly at airport
newsstands,trainstations,andofficesupplyshops.HisguidetoFrancedidevenbetter.Thatwaspart
of a major promotion by an international car-rental agency—slipcased with The Businessman’s
ForeignPhraseBook,whichgavetheGerman,French,andSpanishfor“Weanticipateanupswingin
cross-border funds.” Macon, of course, was not the author of the phrase book. His only foreign
languagewasLatin.
Now Julian restacked the pages he’d been reading. “Fine,” he said. “I think we can send this
throughasis.What’sleftoftheconclusion?”
“Notmuch.”
“AfterthisIwanttostartontheU.S.again.”
“Sosoon?”
“It’sbeenthreeyears,Macon.”
“Well,but...”Maconsaid.Hegesturedtowardhisleg.“YoucanseeI’dhavetroubletraveling.”
“Whendoesyourcastcomeoff?”
“NottillthefirstofNovemberattheearliest.”
“So?Afewweeks!”
“ButitreallyseemstomeIjustdidtheU.S.,”Maconsaid.Akindoffatiguefelloverhim.These
endlesslyrecurringtrips,BostonandAtlantaandChicago...Helethisheaddropbackonthecouch.
Juliansaid,“Thingsarechangingeveryminute,Macon.Change!It’swhatkeepsusintheblack.
Howfardoyouthinkwe’dgetsellingout-of-dateguidebooks?”
MaconthoughtofthecrumblingoldTipsfortheContinentinhisgrandfather ’slibrary.Travelers
wereadvisedtoinvertawineglassontheirhotelbeds,testingthesheetsfordamp.Ladiesshouldseal
thecorksoftheirperfumebottleswithmeltedcandlewaxbeforepacking.Somethingaboutthatbook
impliedthattouristswereallinittogether,equallyanxiousanddefenseless.Maconmightalmosthave
enjoyedatripinthosedays.
Julian was preparing to go now. He stood up, and with some difficulty Macon did too. Then
Edward, getting wind of a leavetaking, rushed into the living room and started barking. “Sorry!”
Macon shouted above the racket. “Edward, stop it! I figure that’s his sheep-herding instinct,” he
explainedtoJulian.“Hehatestoseeanyonestrayingfromtheflock.”
Theymovedtowardthefronthall,wadingthroughablurofdancing,yelpingdog.Whenthey
reachedthedoor,Edwardblockedit.Luckily,hewasstilltrailinghisleash,soMacongaveonecrutch
to Julian and bent to grasp it. The instant Edward felt the tug, he turned and snarled at Macon.
“Whoa!”Juliansaid,forEdwardwhenhesnarledwastrulyugly.Hisfangsseemedtolengthen.He
snappedathisleashwithanaudibleclick.ThenhesnappedatMacon’shand.MaconfeltEdward’shot
breath and the oddly intimate dampness of his teeth. His hand was not so much bitten as struck—
slammedintowithajoltsuchasyou’dgetfromanelectricfence.Hesteppedbackanddroppedthe
leash.Hisothercrutchclatteredtothefloor.Thefronthallseemedtobefullofcrutches;therewas
somesplintery,spikyfeelingtotheair.
“Whoa,there!”Juliansaid.Hespokeintoasuddensilence.Thedogsatbacknow,pantingand
shamefaced.“Macon?Didhegetyou?”Julianasked.
Maconlookeddownathishand.Therewerefourredpuncturemarksinthefleshypart—twoin
front,twoinback—butnobloodatallandverylittlepain.“I’mallright,”hesaid.
Juliangavehimhiscrutches,keepingoneeyeonEdward.“Iwouldn’thaveadoglikethat,”he
said.“I’dshoothim.”
“Hewasjusttryingtoprotectme,”Maconsaid.
“I’dcalltheS.P.C.A.”
“Whydon’tyougonow,Julian,whilehe’scalm.”
“Orthewhat’s-it,dogcatcher.Tellthemyouwanthimdoneawaywith.”
“Justgo,Julian.”
Julian said, “Well, fine.” He opened the door and slid through it sideways, glancing back at
Edward.“Thatisnotawelldog,”hesaidbeforehevanished.
MaconhobbledtotherearofthehouseandEdwardfollowed,snufflingabitandstayingcloseto
theground.Inthekitchen,Rosestoodonastepstoolinfrontofatoweringglass-frontedcupboard,
accepting the groceries that Charles and Porter handed up to her. “Now I need the n’s, anything
startingwithn,”shewassaying.
“Howaboutthesenoodles?”Porterasked.“Nfornoodles?Pforpasta?”
“Eforelbowmacaroni.Youmighthavepassedthoseupearlier,Porter.”
“Rose?”Maconsaid.“ItseemsEdward’sgivenmealittlesortofnip.”
Sheturned,andCharlesandPorterstoppedworktoexaminethehandheheldout.Itwashurting
himbynow—adeep,stingingpain.“Oh,Macon!”Rosecried.Shecamedownoffthestepstool.“How
didithappen?”
“Itwasanaccident,that’sall.ButIthinkIneedanantiseptic.”
“Youneedatetanusshot,too,”Charlestoldhim.
“Youneedtogetridofthatdog,”Portersaid.
TheylookedatEdward.Hegrinnedupatthemnervously.
“Hedidn’tmeananyharm,”Maconsaid.
“Takesoffyourhandattheelbowandhemeansnoharm?Youshouldgetridofhim,Itellyou.”
“See,Ican’t,”Maconsaid.
“Whynot?”
“Well,see...”
Theywaited.
“YouknowIdon’tmindthecat,”Rosesaid.“ButEdwardissodisruptive,Macon.Everydayhe
getsmoreandmoreoutofcontrol.”
“Maybeyoucouldgivehimtosomeonewhowantsaguarddog,”Charlessaid.
“Aservicestation,”Rosesuggested.Shetookarollofgauzefromadrawer.
“Oh,never,”Maconsaid.Hesatwhereshepointed,inachairatthekitchentable.Heproppedhis
crutchesinthecorner.“EdwardaloneinsomeExxon?He’dbewretched.”
RoseswabbedMercurochromeonhishand.Itlookedbruised;eachpuncturemarkwaspuffing
andturningblue.
“He’susedtosleepingwithme,”Macontoldher.“He’sneverbeenaloneinhislife.”
Besides,Edwardwasn’tabaddogatheart—onlyalittleunruly.Hewassympatheticandhecared
aboutMaconandploddedafterhimwhereverhewent.TherewasafurrowedWonhisforeheadthat
gavehimalookofconcern.Hislarge,pointed,velvetyearsseemedmoreexpressivethanotherdogs’
ears; when he was happy they stuck straight out at either side of his head like airplane wings. His
smellwasunexpectedlypleasant—thesweetishsmellafavoritesweatertakesonwhenit’sbeenfolded
awayinadrawerunwashed.
Andhe’dbeenEthan’s.
OnceuponatimeEthanhadbrushedhim,bathedhim,wrestledonthefloorwithhim;andwhen
EdwardstoppedtopawatoneearEthanwouldask,withthesoberestcourtesy,“Oh,mayIscratchthat
for you?” The two of them watched daily at the window for the afternoon paper, and the instant it
arrivedEthansentEdwardboundingouttofetchit—hindlegsmeetingfrontlegs,heelskickingup
joyfully.Edwardwouldpauseafterhegotthepaperinhismouthandlookaroundhim,asifhopingto
be noticed, and then he’d swagger back all bustling and self-important and pause again at the front
hallmirrortoadmirethefigurehecut.“Conceited,”Ethanwouldsayfondly.Ethanpickedupatennis
ball to throw and Edward grew so excited that he wagged his whole hind end. Ethan took Edward
outsidewithasoccerballandwhenEdwardgotcarriedaway—tearingaboutandshoulderingtheball
into a hedge and growling ferociously—Ethan’s laugh rang out so high and clear, such a buoyant
soundfloatingthroughtheaironasummerevening.
“Ijustcan’t,”Maconsaid.
Therewasasilence.
Rosewrappedgauzearoundhishand,sogentlyhehardlyfeltit.Shetuckedtheendunderand
reachedforarollofadhesivetape.Thenshesaid,“Maybewecouldsendhimtoobedienceschool.”
“Obedienceschoolisforminorthings—walkingtoheelandthings,”Portertoldher.“Whatwe
havehereismajor.”
“It is not!” Macon said. “It’s really nothing at all. Why, the woman at the Meow-Bow got on
wonderfullywithhim.”
“Meow-Bow?”
“WhereIboardedhimwhenIwenttoEngland.Shewasjustcrazyabouthim.Shewantedmeto
lethertrainhim.”
“Socallher,whydon’tyou.”
“MaybeIwill,”Maconsaid.
Hewouldn’t,ofcourse.Thewomanhadstruckhimasbizarre.Buttherewasnosensegoinginto
thatnow.
On Sunday morning Edward tore the screen door, trying to get at an elderly neighbor who’d
stoppedbytoborrowawrench.OnSundayafternoonhesprangatPortertokeephimfromleaving
onanerrand.PorterhadtocreepouttherearwhenEdwardwasn’twatching.“Thisisundignified,”
PortertoldMacon.“WhenareyougoingtocalltheKit-Katorwhateveritis?”
MaconexplainedthatonSundaystheMeow-Bowwouldsurelybeclosed.
Mondaymorning,whenEdwardwentforawalkwithRose,helungedatapassingjoggerand
yankedRoseoffherfeet.Shecamehomewithascrapedknee.Shesaid,“HaveyoucalledtheMeowBowyet?”
“Notquite,”Maconsaid.
“Macon,”Rosesaid.Hervoicewasveryquiet.“Tellmesomething.”
“What’sthat,Rose?”
“Canyouexplainwhyyou’relettingthingsgoonthisway?”
No,hecouldn’t,andthatwasthetruth.Itwasgettingsohewasbafflingeventohimself.Hefelt
infuriated by Edward’s misdeeds, but somehow he viewed them as visitations of fate. There was
nothinghecoulddoaboutthem.WhenEdwardapproachedhimlaterwithamangledbeltofPorter ’s
trailingfromhismouth,allMaconsaidwas,“Oh,Edward...”
He was sitting on the couch at the time, having been snagged by an especially outrageous
moment in Rose’s soap opera. Rose looked over at him. Her expression was odd. It wasn’t
disapproving;itwasmorelike...Hecastaboutfortheword.Resigned.Thatwasit.Shelookedat
him the way she would look at, say, some hopeless wreck of a man wandering drugged on a
downtownstreet.Afterall,sheseemedtobethinking,therewasprobablynotmuchthatyoucoulddo
forsuchaperson.
“Meow-BowAnimalHospital.”
“Is,ah,Murielthere,please?”
“Holdonaminute.”
Hewaited,bracedagainstacabinet.(Hewasusingthepantrytelephone.)Heheardtwowomen
discussingFluffballCohen’srabiesshot.ThenMurielpickedupthereceiver.“Hello?”
“Yes,thisisMaconLeary.Idon’tknowifyouremembermeor—”
“Oh,Macon!Hithere!How’sEdwarddoing?”
“Well,he’sgettingworse.”
Shetsk-tsked.
“He’sbeenattackingrightandleft.Snarling,biting,chewingthings—”
“DidyourneighbortellyouIcamelookingforyou?”
“What?Yes,hedid.”
“I was right on your street, running an errand. I make a little extra money running errands.
George,it’scalled.Don’tyouthinkthat’scute?”
“Excuseme?”
“George.It’sthenameofmycompany.Istuckaflyerunderyourdoor.LetGeorgedoit,itsays,
and then it lists all the prices: meeting planes, chauffeuring, courier service, shopping . . . Gift
shopping’s most expensive because for that I have to use my own taste. Didn’t you get my flyer? I
reallystoppedbyjusttovisit,though.Butyourneighborsaidyouhadn’tbeenaround.”
“No,Ibrokemyleg,”Maconsaid.
“Oh,that’stoobad.”
“AndIcouldn’tmanagealoneofcourse,so—”
“YoushouldhavecalledGeorge.”
“Georgewho?”
“Georgemycompany!TheoneIwasjusttellingyouabout.”
“Oh,yes.”
“Thenyouwouldn’thavehadtoleavethatnicehouse.Ilikedyourhouse.Isthatwhereyoulived
whenyouweremarried,too?”
“Well,yes.”
“I’msurprisedsheagreedtogiveitup.”
“The point is,” Macon said, “I’m really at the end of my rope with Edward here, and I was
wonderingifyoumightbeabletohelpme.”
“SureIcanhelp!”
“Oh,that’swonderful,”Maconsaid.
“Icandoanything,”Murieltoldhim.“Searchandalert,searchandrescue,bombs,narcotics—”
“Narcotics?”
“Guardtraining,attacktraining,poison-proofing,kennelosis—”
“Wait,Idon’tevenknowwhatsomeofthosethingsare,”Maconsaid.
“Icaneventeachsplitpersonality.”
“What’ssplitpersonality?”
“Whereyourdogis,like,nicetoyoubutkillsallothers.”
“Youknow,IthinkImaybeovermyheadhere,”Maconsaid.
“No,no!Don’tsaythat!”
“Butthisisjustthesimplestproblem.Hisonlyfaultis,hewantstoprotectme.”
“Youcantakeprotectiontoofar,”Murieltoldhim.
Macontriedalittlejoke.“‘It’sajungleoutthere,’he’ssaying.That’swhathe’stryingtosay.‘I
knowbetterthanyoudo,Macon.’”
“Oh?”Murielsaid.“Youlethimcallyoubyyourfirstname?”
“Well—”
“Heneedstolearnrespect,”shesaid.“FiveorsixtimesaweekI’llcomeout,forhoweverlong
ittakes.I’llstartwiththebasics;youalwaysdothat:sitting,heeling...Mychargeisfivedollarsa
lesson.You’regettingabargain.MostIchargeten.”
Macontightenedhisholdonthereceiver.“Thenwhynottenforme?”heasked.
“Oh,no!You’reafriend.”
He felt confused. He gave her his address and arranged a time with the nagging sense that
somethingwasslippingoutofhiscontrol.“Butlook,”hesaid,“aboutthefee,now—”
“Seeyoutomorrow!”shesaid.Shehungup.
At supper that night when he told the others, he thought they did a kind of double take. Porter
said, “You actually called?” Macon said, “Yes, why not?”—acting very offhand—and so the others
tooktheircueanddroppedthesubjectatonce.
seven
When I was a little girl,” Muriel said, “I didn’t like dogs at all or any other kinds of animals
either.Ithoughttheycouldreadmymind.Myfolksgavemeapuppyformybirthdayandhewould,
like,cockhishead,youknowhowtheydo?Cockhisheadandfixmewiththesebrightroundeyes
andIsaid,‘Ooh!Gethimawayfromme!YouknowIcan’tstandtobestaredat.’”
Shehadavoicethatwanderedtoofarinalldirections.Itscreechedupward;thenitdroppedtoa
raspy growl. “They had to take him back. Had to give him to a neighbor boy and buy me a whole
differentpresent,abeauty-parlorpermanentwhichiswhatI’dsetmyheartonallalong.”
SheandMaconwerestandingintheentrancehall.Shestillhadhercoaton—abulky-shouldered,
three-quarterlength,nubbyblackaffairofatypelastseeninthe1940s.Edwardsatinfrontofheras
he’dbeenordered.Hehadmetheratthedoorwithhisusualdisplay,leapingandsnarling,butshe’d
moreorlesswalkedrightthroughhimandpointedathisrumpandtoldhimtosit.He’dgapedather.
Shehadreachedoverandpokedhisrearenddownwithalong,sharpindexfinger.
“Now you kind of cluck your tongue,” she’d told Macon, demonstrating. “They get to know a
cluckmeanspraise.AndwhenIholdmyhandout—see?Thatmeanshehastostay.”
Edward stayed, but a yelp erupted from him every few seconds, reminding Macon of the
periodicbloopsfromapercolator.Murielhadn’tseemedtohear.She’dstarteddiscussingherlesson
plan and then for no apparent reason had veered to her autobiography. But shouldn’t Edward be
allowedtogetupnow?Howlongdidsheexpecthimtositthere?
“Iguessyou’rewonderingwhyI’dwantapermanentwhenthishairofmineissofrizzy,”she
said.“Oldmop!ButI’llbehonest,thisisnotnatural.Mynaturalhairisrealstraightandlanky.Times
I’vejustdespairedofit.ItwasblondwhenIwasababy,canyoubelievethat?Blondasafairy-tale
princess.PeopletoldmymotherI’dlooklikeShirleyTempleifshewouldjustcurlmyhair,andso
shedid,sherolledmyhaironorangejuicetins.Ihadblueeyes,too,andtheystayedthatwayfora
longlongtime,awholelotlongerthanmostbabies’do.PeoplethoughtI’dlookthatwayforeverand
they talked about me going into the movies. Seriously! My mother arranged for tap-dance school
whenIwasn’tmuchmorethanatoddler.Nooneeverdreamedmyhairwouldturnonme.”
Edwardmoaned.MuriellookedpastMacon,intotheglassofapicturethathungbehindhim.She
cuppedahandbeneaththeendsofherhair,asiftestingitsweight.“Thinkwhatitmustfeellike,”she
said,“wakinguponemorningandfindingyou’vegonedark.Itnearaboutkilledmymother,Icantell
you.OrdinarydulloldMuriel,muddybrowneyesandhairasblackasdirt.”
Maconsensedhewassupposedtooffersomeargument,buthewastooanxiousaboutEdward.
“Oh,well...”hesaid.Thenhesaid,“Shouldn’twebelettinghimupnow?”
“Up?Oh,thedog.Inaminute,”shesaid.“Soanyway.Thereasonit’ssofrizzyis,Igotthisthing
calledabodyperm.Youeverheardofthose?They’resupposedtojustaddbody,butsomethingwent
wrong.Youthinkthisisbad.IfIwastotakeabrushtoit,myhairwouldspringstraightoutfrommy
head.Imeanabsolutelystraightout.Kindoflikeafrightwig,isn’tthatwhatyoucallit?SoIcan’t
evenbrushit.IgetupinthemorningandthereIam,readytogo.Lord,Ihatetothinkofthetangles.”
“Maybeyoucouldjustcombit,”Maconsuggested.
“Hardtodragacombthroughit.Allthelittleteethwouldbreakoff.”
“Maybeoneofthosethick-toothedcombsthatblackpeopleuse.”
“IknowwhatyoumeanbutI’dfeelsillybuyingone.”
“Whatfor?”Maconasked.“They’rejusthangingthereinsupermarkets.Itwouldn’thavetobea
bigdeal.BuymilkandbreadorsomethingandanAfrocomb,noonewilleventhinktwice.”
“Well,Isupposeyou’reright,”shesaid,butnowthatshe’dgothiminvolveditseemedshe’dlost
interest in the problem herself. She snapped her fingers over Edward’s head. “Okay!” she said.
Edwardjumpedup,barking.“Thatwasverygood,”shetoldhim.
Infact,itwassogoodthatMaconfeltalittlecross.Thingscouldn’tbethateasy,hewantedto
say.Edwardhadimprovedtooquickly,thewayatoothachewillimprovethemomentyoustepintoa
dentist’swaitingroom.
Murielslippedherpurseoffhershoulderandsetitonthehalltable.Outcamealongblueleash
attachedtoachokechain.“He’ssupposedtowearthisallthetime,”shesaid.“Everyminutetillhe’s
trained.Thatwayyoucanyankhimbackwheneverhedoessomethingwrong.Theleashissixdollars
even,andthechainistwoninety-five.Withtaxitcomesto,let’ssee,nineforty.Youcanpaymeatthe
endofthelesson.”
SheslippedthechokechainoverEdward’shead.Thenshepausedtoexamineafingernail.“IfI
break another nail I’m going to scream,” she said. She took a step back and pointed to Edward’s
rump. After a brief hesitation, he sat. Seated, he looked noble, Macon thought—chesty and solemn,
nothinglikehisusualself.ButwhenMurielsnappedherfingers,hejumpedupasunrulyasever.
“Nowyoutry,”MurieltoldMacon.
MaconacceptedtheleashandpointedtoEdward’srump.Edwardstoodfast.Maconfrownedand
pointedmoresternly.Hefeltfoolish.Edwardknew,ifthiswomandidn’t,howlittleauthorityMacon
had.
“Pokehimdown,”Murielsaid.
Thiswasgoingtobeawkward.Heproppedacrutchagainsttheradiatorandbentstifflytojab
Edwardwithonefinger.Edwardsat.Maconclucked.Thenhestraightenedandbackedaway,holding
outhispalm,butinsteadofstaying,Edwardroseandfollowedhim.Murielhissedbetweenherteeth.
Edwardshrankdownagain.“Hedoesn’ttakeyouseriously,”Murielsaid.
“Well,Iknowthat,”Maconsnapped.
Hisbrokenlegwasstartingtoache.
“InfactIdidn’thavesomuchasakittenthewholeentiretimeIwasgrowingup,”Murielsaid.
Was she just going to leave Edward sitting there? “Then a couple of years ago I saw this ad in the
paper,Makeextramoneyinyouroffhours.Workaslittleorasmuchasyou like. Place was a dogtrainingfirmthatwentaroundtopeople’shouses.Doggie,Do,itwascalled.Don’tyoujusthatethat
name?Remindsmeofdog-do.Butanyhow,Iansweredthead.‘TobehonestIdon’tlikeanimals,’I
said,butMr.Quarles,theowner,hetoldmethatwasjustaswell.Hetoldmeitwaspeoplewhogotall
mushyaboutthemthathadthemosttrouble.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Macon said, glancing at Edward. He had heard that dogs developed
backachesiftheyweremadetosittoolong.
“Iwasjustabouthisbestpupil,itturnsout.SeemsIhadawaywithanimals.SothenIgotajobat
theMeow-Bow.BeforethatIworkedattheRapid-EzeCopyCenterandbelieveme,Iwaslookingfor
achange.Who’sthelady?”
“Lady?”
“TheladyIjustsawwalkingthroughthediningroom.”
“That’sRose.”
“Issheyourex-wife?Orwhat.”
“She’smysister.”
“Oh,yoursister!”
“Thishousebelongstoher,”Maconsaid.
“Idon’tlivewithanybodyeither,”Murieltoldhim.
Maconblinked.Hadn’thejustsaidhelivedwithhissister?
“Sometimes late at night when I get desperate for someone to talk to I call the time signal,”
Murielsaid.“‘Atthetonethetimewillbeeleven...forty-eight.Andfiftyseconds.’”Hervoicetook
onafruityfullness.“‘Atthetonethetimewillbeeleven...forty-nine.Exactly.’Youcanreleasehim
now.”
“Pardon?”
“Releaseyourdog.”
MaconsnappedhisfingersandEdwardjumpedup,yapping.
“Howaboutyou?”Murielasked.“Whatdoyoudoforaliving?”
Maconsaid,“Iwritetourguides.”
“Tourguides!Lucky.”
“What’sluckyaboutit?”
“Why,youmustgettotravelallkindsofplaces!”
“Oh,well,travel,”Maconsaid.
“I’dlovetotravel.”
“It’sjustredtape,mostly,”Maconsaid.
“I’veneverevenbeenonanairplane,yourealizethat?”
“It’sredtapeinmotion.Ticketlines,customlines...ShouldEdwardbebarkingthatway?”
MurielgaveEdwardaslit-eyedlookandhequieted.
“IfIcouldgoanywhereI’dgotoParis,”shesaid.
“Parisisterrible.Everybody’simpolite.”
“I’dwalkalongtheSeine,liketheysayinthesong.‘YouwillfindyourloveinParis,’”shesang
scratchily,“‘ifyouwalkalongthe—’Ijustthinkitsoundssoromantic.”
“Well,it’snot,”Maconsaid.
“Ibetyoudon’tknowwheretolook,isall.Takemewithyounexttime!Icouldshowyouthe
goodparts.”
Maconclearedhisthroat.“Actually,Ihaveaverylimitedexpenseaccount,”hetoldher.“Inever
eventookmywife,or,um,my...wife.”
“Iwasonlyteasing,”shetoldhim.
“Oh.”
“YouthinkImeantit?”
“Oh,no.”
Shegrewsuddenlybrisk.“Thatwillbefourteenforty,includingtheleashandthechokechain.”
ThenwhileMaconwasfumblingthroughhiswalletshesaid,“Youhavetopracticewhathe’slearned,
andnooneelsecanpracticeforyou.I’llcomebacktomorrowforthesecondlesson.Willeightinthe
morningbetooearly?I’vegottobeattheMeow-Bowatnine.”
“Eightwillbefine,”Macontoldher.Hecountedoutfourteendollarsandallthechangehehad
looseinhispocket—thirty-sixcents.
“Youcanpaymetheotherfourcentstomorrow,”shesaid.
ThenshemadeEdwardsitandshehandedtheleashtoMacon.“ReleasehimwhenI’mgone,”she
said.
Macon held out his palm and stared hard into Edward’s eyes, begging him to stay. Edward
stayed,buthemoanedwhenhesawMurielleave.WhenMaconsnappedhisfingers,Edwardjumped
upandattackedthefrontdoor.
Allthatafternoonandevening,MaconandEdwardpracticed.Edwardlearnedtoplophisrump
down at the slightest motion of a finger. He stayed there, complaining and rolling his eyes, while
Maconcluckedapprovingly.Bysuppertime,acluckwaspartofthefamilylanguage.Charlesclucked
overRose’sporkchops.PortercluckedwhenMacondealthimagoodhandofcards.
“Imagineaflamencodancerwithgallopingconsumption,”RosetoldCharlesandPorter.“That’s
Edward’strainer.Shetalksnon-stop,Idon’tknowwhenshecomesupforair.Whenshetalkedabout
herlessonplanshekeptsaying‘simplistic’for‘simple.’”
“Ithoughtyouweregoingtostayoutofsight,”MacontoldRose.
“Well?Didyoueverseeme?”
“Murieldid.”
“Iguessso!Thewayshewasalwayspeeringaroundyourbackandsnooping.”
Therewereconstantslammingsoundsfromthelivingroom,becauseEdward’snewleashkept
catching on the rocking chair and dragging it behind him. During the course of the evening he
chewedapenciltosplinters,stoleapork-chopbonefromthegarbagebin,andthrewuponthesun
porchrug;butnowthathecouldsitoncommand,everyonefeltmorehopeful.
“When I was in high school I made nothing but A’s,” Muriel said. “You’re surprised at that,
aren’t you. You think I’m kind of like, not an intellect. I know what you’re thinking! You’re
surprised.”
“No,I’mnot,”Maconsaid,althoughhewas,actually.
“ImadeA’sbecauseIcaughtontothetrick,”Murieltoldhim.“Youthinkit’snotatrick?There’s
atricktoeverything;that’showyougetthroughlife.”
Theywereinfrontofthehouse—bothoftheminraincoats,foritwasadamp,drippymorning.
Murielworetruncatedblacksuedebootswithwitchytoesandneedleheels.Herlegsroseoutofthem
like toothpicks. The leash trailed from her fingers. Supposedly, she was teaching Edward to walk
right.Insteadshewentontalkingaboutherschooldays.
“SomeofmyteacherstoldmeIshouldgotocollege,”shesaid.“Thisoneinparticular,wellshe
wasn’tateacherbutalibrarian.Iworkedinthelibraryforher,shelvingbooksandthings;shesaid,
‘Muriel,whydon’tyougoontoTowsonState?’ButIdon’tknow...andnowItellmysister,‘Yoube
thinkingofcollege,hear?Don’tdropoutlikeIdroppedout.’I’vegotthislittlesister?Claire?Her
hairneverturned.She’sblondasanangel.Here’swhat’sfunny,though:shecouldn’tcareless.Braids
herhairbackanyoldhowtokeepitoutofhereyes.Wearsraggyjeansandforgetstoshaveherlegs.
Doesn’titalwaysworkthatway?Myfolksbelieveshe’swonderful.She’sthegoodoneandI’mthe
badone.It’snotherfault,though;Idon’tblameClaire.Peoplejustgetfixedinthesecertainframesof
otherpeople’sopinions,don’tyoufindthat’strue?ClairewasalwaysMaryintheNativitySceneat
Christmas.Boysinhergradeschoolwerealwaysproposing,butthereIwasinhighschoolandno
oneproposedtome,Icantellyou.Aren’thighschoolboysjustsofrustrating?Imeanthey’dinvite
meoutandall,liketodrive-inmoviesandthings,andthey’dactsotenseandsecret,sneakingone
armaroundmyshoulderinchbyinchliketheythoughtIwouldn’tnoticeandthendroppingahand
down,youknowhowtheydo,lowerandlowerwhileallthetimestaringstraightaheadatthemovie
likeitwasthemostfascinatingspectaclethey’deverseenintheirlives.Youjusthadtofeelsorryfor
them. But then Monday morning there they were like nothing had taken place, real boisterous and
horsing around with their friends and nudging each other when I walked past but not so much as
sayinghellotome.Youthinkthatdidn’thurtmyfeelings?Notoneboyinallthattimetreatedmelike
asteadygirlfriend.They’daskmeoutonSaturdaynightandexpectmetobesonicetothem,butyou
thinktheyeveratelunchwithmenextMondayintheschoolcafeteria,orwalkedmefromclassto
class?”
She glanced down at Edward. Abruptly, she slapped her hip; her black vinyl raincoat made a
bucklingsound.“That’sthe‘heel’command,”shetoldMacon.Shestartedwalking.Edwardfollowed
uncertainly.Maconstayedbehind.Ithadbeenhardenoughgettingdownthefrontporchsteps.
“He’ssupposedtomatchhispacetoanything,”shecalledback.“Slow,fast,anythingIdo.”She
speededup.WhenEdwardcrossedinfrontofher,shewalkedrightintohim.Whenhedawdled,she
yanked his leash. She tip-tapped briskly eastward, her coat a stiff, swaying triangle beneath the
smallertriangleofherhairblowingback.Maconwaited,ankle-deepinwetleaves.
Onthereturntrip,EdwardkeptclosetoMuriel’sleftside.“Ithinkhe’sgotthehangofit,”she
called.ShearrivedinfrontofMaconandofferedhimtheleash.“Nowyou.”
He attempted to slap his hip—which was difficult, on crutches. Then he set off. He was
agonizingly slow and Edward kept pulling ahead. “Yank that leash!” Muriel said, clicking along
behind.“Heknowswhathe’ssupposedtodo.Contrarything.”
Edward fell into step, finally, although he gazed off in a bored, lofty way. “Don’t forget to
cluck,”Murielsaid.“Everylittleminute,youhavetopraisehim.”Herheelsmadeascrapingsound
behindthem.“OnceIworkedwiththisdogthathadneverinherlifebeenhousebroken.Twoyearsold
andnotonebithousebrokenandtheownerswerelosingtheirminds.FirstIcan’tfigureitout;thenit
comes to me. That dog thought she wasn’t supposed to piddle anyplace, not indoors or outdoors,
eitherone.See,noonehadeverpraisedherwhenshediditright.Didyoueverhearofsuchathing?I
hadtocatchherpeeingoutdoorswhichwasn’teasy,believeme,becauseshewasallthetimeashamed
andtryingtohideit,andthenIpraisedhertobitsandafterawhileshecaughton.”
Theyreachedthecorner.“Now,whenyoustop,hehastosit,”shesaid.
“ButhowwillIpractice?”Maconasked.
“Whatdoyoumean?”
“I’monthesecrutches.”
“So? It’s good exercise for your leg,” she said. She didn’t ask how the leg had been broken.
Come to think of it, there was something impervious about her, in spite of all her interest in his
privatelife.Shesaid,“Practicelots,tenminutesasession.”
“Tenminutes!”
“Nowlet’sstartback.”
Sheledtheway,herangular,sashayingwalkbrokenbythejoltofhersharpheels.Maconand
Edwardfollowed.Whentheyreachedthehouse,sheaskedwhattimeitwas.“Eightfifty,”Maconsaid
severely.Hemistrustedwomenwhoworenowatches.
“I have to get going. That will be five dollars, please, and the four cents you owe me from
yesterday.”
Hegaveherthemoneyandshestuffeditinherraincoatpocket.“Nexttime,I’llstaylongerand
talk,”shesaid.“That’sapromise.”Shetrilledherfingersathim,andthensheclickedofftowardacar
thatwasparkeddownthestreet—anaged,gray,boat-likesedanpolishedtoahighshine.Whenshe
slidinandslammedthedoorbehindher,therewasasoundlikefallingbeercans.Theenginetwanged
andrattledbeforeittookhold.Maconshookhishead,andheandEdwardreturnedtothehouse.
BetweenWednesdayandThursday,Maconspentwhatseemedalifetimestrugglingupanddown
DempseyRoadbesideEdward.Hisarmpitsdevelopedapermanentache.Therewasaverticalseamof
paininhisthigh.Thismadenosense;itshouldhavebeenintheshin.Hewonderedifsomethinghad
gone wrong—if the break had been set improperly, for instance, so that some unusual strain was
beingplaceduponthethighbone.Maybehe’dhavetogobacktothehospitalandgethislegrebroken,
probablyundergeneralanesthesiawithallitshorrifyingcomplications;andthenhe’dspendmonths
in traction and perhaps walk the rest of his life with a limp. He imagined himself tilting across
intersectionswithagrotesque,lopsidedgait.Sarah,drivingpast,wouldscreechtoahalt.“Macon?”
Shewouldrolldownherwindow.“Macon,whathappened?”
Hewouldraiseonearmandletitflopandtotterawayfromher.
Ortellher,“I’msurprisedyoucareenoughtoinquire.”
No,justtotteraway.
Most likely these little spells of self-pity (an emotion he despised ordinarily) were caused by
sheer physical exhaustion. How had he got himself into this? Slapping his haunch was the first
problem; then summoning his balance to jerk the leash when Edward fell out of step, and staying
constantlyalertforanysquirrelorpedestrian.“Sss!”hekeptsaying,and“Cluck-cluck!”and“Sss!”
again. He supposed passersby must think he was crazy. Edward loped beside him, occasionally
yawning,lookingeverywhereforbikers.Bikerswerehisspecialdelight.Wheneverhesawone,the
hairbetweenhisshouldersstoodonendandhelungedforward.Maconfeltlikeamanonatightrope
thatwassuddenlysetswinging.
Atthisuneven,lurchingpace,hesawmuchmorethanhewouldhaveotherwise.Hehadalengthy
viewofeverybushanddesiccatedflowerbed.Hememorizederuptionsinthesidewalkthatmighttrip
him. It was an old people’s street, and not in the best of repair. The neighbors spent their days
telephoningbackandforthamongthemselves,checkingtoseethatnoonehadsufferedastrokealone
onthestairsoraheartattackinthebathroom,abrokenhip,blockedwindpipe,dizzyspelloverthe
stovewitheveryburneralight.Somewouldsetoutforawalkandfindthemselveshourslaterinthe
middle of the street, wondering where they’d been headed. Some would start fixing a bite to eat at
noon, a soft-boiled egg or a cup of tea, and by sundown would still be puttering in their kitchen,
fumblingforthesaltandforgettinghowthetoasterworked.Maconknewallthisthroughhissister,
who was called upon by neighbors in distress. “Rose, dear! Rose, dear!” they would quaver, and
they’d stumble into her yard waving an overdue bill, an alarming letter, a bottle of pills with a
childprooftop.
In the evening, taking Edward for his last walk, Macon glanced in windows and saw people
slumpedinfloweredarmchairs,litblueandshiverybytheirTVsets.TheOrioleswerewinningthe
secondgameoftheWorldSeries,butthesepeopleseemedtobestaringattheirownthoughtsinstead.
Maconimaginedtheyweresomehowdragginghimdown,causinghimtowalkheavily,toslouch,to
growshortofbreath.Eventhedogseemedploddinganddiscouraged.
Andwhenhereturnedtothehouse,theothersweresufferingoneoftheirfitsofindecisiveness.
Wasitbettertolowerthethermostatatnight,ornot?Wouldn’tthefurnacehavetoworkharderifit
werelowered?Hadn’tPorterreadthatsomeplace?Theydebatedbackandforth,settlingitandthen
beginningagain.Why!Maconthought.Theywerenotsoverydifferentfromtheirneighbors.They
were growing old themselves. He’d been putting in his own two bits (by all means, lower the
thermostat),butnowhisvoicetrailedoff,andhesaidnomore.
Thatnight,hedreamedhewasparkednearLakeRolandinhisgrandfather ’s’57Buick.Hewas
sittinginthedarkandsomegirlwassittingnexttohim.Hedidn’tknowher,butthebittersmellofher
perfumeseemedfamiliar,andtherustleofherskirtwhenshemovedcloser.Heturnedandlookedat
her.ItwasMuriel.Hedrewabreathtoaskwhatshewasdoinghere,butsheputafingertohislipsand
stopped him. She moved closer still. She took his keys from him and set them on the dashboard.
Gazingsteadilyintohisface,sheunbuckledhisbeltandslippedacool,knowinghanddowninsidehis
trousers.
Hewokeastonishedandembarrassed,andsatboltuprightinhisbed.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘What is your dog like?’ ” Muriel said. “ ‘I bet he’s a model of
goodbehavior,’theytellme.Butyouwanttohearsomethingfunny?Idon’townadog.Infact,the
onetimeIhadonearound,heranoff.ThatwasNorman’sdog,Spook.Myex-husband’s.Firstnight
weweremarried,SpookranofftoNorman’smom’s.Ithinkhehatedme.”
“Oh,surelynot,”Maconsaid.
“Hehatedme.Icouldtell.”
They were outdoors again, preparing to put Edward through his paces. By now, Macon had
adjustedtotherhythmoftheselessons.Hewaited,grippingEdward’sleash.Murielsaid,“Itwasjust
likeoneofthoseWaltDisneymovies.Youknow:wherethedogwalksallthewaytotheYukonor
something. Except Spook only walked to Timonium. Me and Norman had him downtown in our
apartment,andSpooktookoffandtraveledthewholehowevermanymilesitwasbacktoNorman’s
mom’shouseinTimonium.Hismomcallsup:‘WhendidyoudropSpookoff?’‘What’reyoutalking
about?’Normanasksher.”
Shechangedhervoicetomatcheachcharacter.MaconheardthethinwhineofNorman’smother,
the stammering boyishness of Norman himself. He remembered last night’s dream and felt
embarrassedalloveragain.Helookedatherdirectly,hopingforflaws,andfoundtheminabundance
—a long, narrow nose, and sallow skin, and two freckled knobs of collarbone that promised an
unluxuriousbody.
“Seemshismomwokeupinthemorning,”shewassaying,“andtherewasSpook,sittingonthe
doorstep.Butthatwasthefirstwerealizedhewasmissing.Normangoes,‘Idon’tknowwhatgotinto
him.Heneverranoffbefore.’Andgivesmethisdoubtfulkindoflook.Icouldtellhewonderedifit
might be my fault. Maybe he thought it was an omen or something. We were awful young to get
married. I can see that now. I was seventeen. He was eighteen—an only child. His mother ’s pet.
Widowed mother. He had this fresh pink face like a girl’s and the shortest hair of any boy in my
schoolandhebuttonedhisshirtcollarsallthewaytotheneck.MovedinfromParkvilletheendof
junioryear.Caughtsightofmeinmystraplesssundressandgoggledatmeallthrougheveryclass;
otherboysteasedhimbuthedidn’tpayanymind.Hewasjustso...innocent,youknow?Hemademe
feellikeIhadpowers.Therehewasfollowingmearoundthehallswithhisarmsfullofbooksand
I’d say, ‘Norman? You want to eat lunch with me?’ and he’d blush and say, ‘Oh, why, uh, you
serious?’Hedidn’tevenknowhowtodrive,butItoldhimifhegothislicenseI’dgooutwithhim.
‘Wecouldridetosomeplacequietandtalkandbealone,’I’dsay,‘youknowwhatImean?’Oh,Iwas
bad.Idon’tknowwhatwaswrongwithme,backthen.Hegothislicenseinnotimeflatandcamefor
meinhismother ’sChevy,whichincidentallyshehappenedtohavepurchasedfrommyfather,who
was a salesman for Ruggles Chevrolet. We found that out at the wedding. Got married the fall of
senioryear,hewasjustdyingtomarrymesowhatcouldIsay?andattheweddingmydaddygoesto
Norman’smom,‘Why,IbelieveIsoldyouacarnotlongago,’butshewastoobusycryingtotake
much notice. That woman carried on like marriage was a fate worse than death. Then when Spook
runsofftoherhouseshetellsus,‘IsupposeI’dbestkeephim,it’sclearasdayhedon’tlikeitthere
withyou-all.’Withme,iswhatshemeant.ShehelditagainstmeItookhersonaway.SheclaimedI
ruinedhischances;shewantedhimtogethisdiploma.ButIneverkepthimfromgettinghisdiploma.
Hewastheonewhosaidhemightaswelldropout;saidwhybotherstayinginschoolwhenhecould
makeafinelivingonfloors.”
“Onwhat?”Maconasked.
“Floors.Sandingfloors.HisunclewasPritchettRefinishing.Normanwentintothebusinessas
soonaswegotmarriedandhismomwasalwaystalkingaboutthewaste.Shesaidhecouldhavebeen
anaccountantorsomething,butIdon’tknowwhoshethoughtshewaskidding.Henevermentioned
accountingtome.”
Shepulledadoghairoffhercoatsleeve,examinedit,andflickeditaway.“Solet’sseehim,”she
said.
“Pardon?”
“Let’sseehimheel.”
Macon slapped his hip and started off, with Edward lagging just a bit behind. When Macon
stopped, Edward stopped too and sat down. Macon was pleasantly surprised, but Muriel said, “He’s
notsitting.”
“What?Whatdoyoucallit,then?”
“He’skeepinghisrearendabouttwoinchesofftheground.Tryingtoseewhathecangetaway
with.”
“Oh,Edward,”Maconsaidsadly.
Hepivotedandreturned.“Well,you’llhavetoworkonthat,”Murielsaid.“Butmeantime,we’ll
goontothedown-stay.Let’stryitinthehouse.”
Maconworriedthey’dmeetupwithRose,butshewasnowheretobeseen.Thefronthallsmelled
ofradiatordust.Theclockinthelivingroomwasstrikingthehalfhour.
“ThisiswherewestartonEdward’srealproblem,”Murielsaid.“Gettinghimtoliedownand
stay,sohewon’tallthetimebejumpingatthedoor.”
Sheshowedhimthecommand:twotapsofthefoot.Herbootmadeacrispsound.WhenEdward
didn’trespond,shebentandpulledhisforepawsoutfromunderhim.Thenshelethimupandwent
throughitagain,severaltimesover.Edwardmadenoprogress.Whenshetappedherfoot,hepanted
andlookedelsewhere.“Stubborn,”Murieltoldhim.“You’rejustasstubbornastheycome.”Shesaid
toMacon,“Alotofdogswillactlikethis.Theyhatetoliedown;Idon’tknowwhy.Nowyou.”
Macontappedhisfoot.Edwardseemedfascinatedbysomethingofftohisleft.
“Grabhispaws,”Murielsaid.
“Oncrutches?”
“Sure.”
Maconsighedandproppedhiscrutchesinthecorner.Heloweredhimselftothefloorwithhis
catinfrontofhim,tookEdward’spawsandforcedhimdown.Edwardrumbledthreateningly,butin
the end he submitted. To get up again, Macon had to hold onto the lamp table. “This is really very
difficult,”hesaid,butMurielsaid,“Listen,I’vetaughtamanwithnolegsatall.”
“You have?” Macon said. He pictured a legless man dragging along the sidewalk with some
viciousbreedofdog,Murielstandingbyunconcernedandcheckinghermanicure.“Idon’tsuppose
youeverbrokealeg,”heaccusedher.“Gettingaroundisharderthanitlooks.”
“Ibrokeanarmonce,”Murielsaid.
“Anarmisnocomparison.”
“Ididittrainingdogs,infact.GotknockedoffaporchbyaDobermanpinscher.”
“ADoberman!”
“Cametotofindhimstandingoverme,showingallhisteeth.Well,Ithoughtofwhattheysaidat
Doggie,Do:Onlyoneofyoucanbeboss.SoItellhim,‘Absolutelynot.’Thosewerethefirstwords
that came to me—what my mother used to say when she wasn’t going to let me get away with
something.‘Absolutelynot,’ItellhimandmyrightarmisbrokensoIholdoutmyleft,holdoutmy
palm and stare into his eyes—they can’t stand for you to meet their eyes—and get to my feet real
slow.Anddurnedifthatdogdoesn’tsettlerightbackonhishaunches.”
“GoodLord,”Maconsaid.
“I’vehadacockerspanielflydirectlyatmythroat.Meanestthingyoueversaw.HadaGerman
shepherdtakemyankleinhisteeth.Thenheletitgo.”
Sheliftedafootandrotatedit.Heranklewasaboutthethicknessofapencil.
“Haveyouevermetwithafailure?”Maconaskedher.“Somedogyoujustgaveupon?”
“Notaone,”shesaid.“AndEdward’snotabouttobethefirst.”
ButEdwardseemedtothinkotherwise.Murielworkedwithhimanotherhalfhour,andalthough
hewouldstayoncehewasdown,heflatlyrefusedtoliedownonhisown.Eachtime,hehadtobe
forced.“Nevermind,”Murielsaid.“Thisisthewaymostofthemdo.Ibettomorrowhe’llbejustas
stubborn,soI’mgoingtoskipaday.Youkeeppracticing,andI’llbebackthissametimeSaturday.”
ThenshetoldEdwardtostay,andsheacceptedhermoneyandslippedoutthedoor.Observing
Edward’serect,resistingposture,Maconfeltdiscouraged.Whyhireatraineratall,ifshelefthimto
do the training? “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said. Edward gave a sigh and walked off,
althoughhehadn’tbeenreleased.
All that afternoon and evening, Edward refused to lie down. Macon wheedled, threatened,
cajoled; Edward muttered ominously and stood firm. Rose and the boys edged around the two of
them,politelyavertingtheireyesasifthey’dstumbledonsomeprivatequarrel.
Thenthenextmorning,Edwardchargedthemailman.Maconmanagedtograbtheleash,butit
raisedsomedoubtsinhismind.WhatdidallthissittingandheelinghavetodowithEdward’sreal
problem?“Ishouldjustshipyouofftothepound,”hetoldEdward.Hetappedhisfoottwice.Edward
didnotliedown.
In the afternoon, Macon called the Meow-Bow. “May I speak to Muriel, please?” he asked. He
couldn’tthinkofherlastname.
“Muriel’snotworkingtoday,”agirltoldhim.
“Oh,Isee.”
“Herlittleboyissick.”
Hehadn’tknownshehadalittleboy.Hefeltsomeinnerclickofadjustment;shewasaslightly
differentpersonfromtheonehe’dimagined.“Well,”hesaid,“thisisMaconLeary.IguessI’lltalkto
hertomorrow.”
“Oh,Mr.Leary.Youwanttocallherathome?”
“No,that’sallright.”
“Icangiveyouhernumberifyouwanttocallherathome.”
“I’lljusttalktohertomorrow.Thankyou.”
Rose had an errand downtown, so she agreed to drop him off at the Businessman’s Press. He
wantedtodelivertherestofhisguidebook.Stretchedacrossthebackseatwithhiscrutches,hegazed
at the passing scenery: antique office buildings, tasteful restaurants, health food stores and florists’
shops,allpeculiarlyhard-edgedandvividinthelightofabrilliantOctoberafternoon.Roseperched
behindthewheelanddroveatasteady,slowpacethatwasalmosthypnotic.Sheworealittleround
basin-shapedhatwithribbonsdowntheback.ItmadeherlookprimandSundayschoolish.
One of the qualities that all four Leary children shared was a total inability to find their way
around.Itwasakindofdyslexia,Maconbelieved—ageographicdyslexia.Noneofthemeverstepped
outsidewithoutobsessivelynotingallavailablelandmarks,clingingtoafixedanddesperatemental
map of the neighborhood. Back home, Macon had kept a stack of index cards giving detailed
directionstothehousesofhisfriends—evenfriendshe’dknownfordecades.Anditusedtobethat
wheneverEthanmetanewboy,Macon’sfirstanxiousquestionwas,“Whereexactlydoeshelive,do
youknow?”Ethanhadhadatendencytoforminconvenientalliances.Hecouldn’tjusthangoutwith
theboynextdoor;oh,no,ithadtobesomeonewholivedwaybeyondtheBeltway.WhatdidEthan
care? He had no trouble navigating. This was because he’d lived all his life in one house, was
Macon’stheory;whileapersonwho’dbeenmovedaroundagreatdealneveracquiredafixedpoint
ofreferencebutwanderedforeverinafog—adriftupontheplanet,helpless,prayingthatjustbyluck
hemightstumbleacrosshisdestination.
At any rate, Rose and Macon got lost. Rose knew where she wanted to go—a shop that sold a
specialfurnitureoil—andMaconhadvisitedJulian’sofficeahundredtimes;butevenso,theydrove
in circles till Macon noticed a familiar steeple. “Stop! Turn left,” he said. Rose pulled up where he
directed. Macon struggled out. “Will you be all right?” he asked Rose. “Do you think you can find
yourwaybacktopickmeup?”
“Ihopeso.”
“Lookforthesteeple,remember.”
Shenoddedanddroveaway.
MaconswungupthreegranitestepstothebrickmansionthathousedtheBusinessman’sPress.
Thedoorwasmadeofpolished,goldenwood.Thefloorinsidewastiledwithtinyblackandwhite
hexagons,justunevenenoughtogivepurchasetoMacon’scrutches.
Thiswasn’tanordinaryoffice.ThesecretarytypedinabackroomwhileJulian,whocouldn’t
standbeingalone,satoutfront.Hewastalkingonaredtelephone,loungingbehindadeskthatwas
laden with a clutter of advertisements, pamphlets, unpaid bills, unanswered letters, empty Chinese
carryout cartons, and Perrier bottles. The walls were covered with sailing charts. The bookshelves
heldfewbooksbutagreatmanyantiquebrassmariners’instrumentsthatprobablydidn’tevenwork
anymore.AnybodywitheyescouldseethatJulian’sheartwasnotintheBusinessman’sPressbutout
on the Chesapeake Bay someplace. This was to Macon’s advantage, he figured. Surely no one else
would have continued backing his series, with its staggering expenses and its constant need for
updating.
“Rita’s bringing croissants,” Julian said into the phone. “Joe is making his quiche.” Then he
caughtsightofMacon.“Macon!”hesaid.“Stefanie,I’llgetbacktoyou.”Hehungup.“How’stheleg?
Here,haveaseat.”
He dumped a stack of yachting magazines off a chair. Macon sat down and handed over his
folder.“Here’stherestofthematerialonEngland,”hesaid.
“Well,finally!”
“This edition as I see it is going to run about ten or twelve pages longer than the last one,”
Maconsaid.“It’saddingthebusinesswomenthatdoesit—listingwhichhotelsofferelevatorescorts,
whichonesservedrinksinthelobbies...IthinkIoughttobepaidmore.”
“I’lltalkitoverwithMarvin,”Juliansaid,flippingthroughthemanuscript.
Maconsighed.JulianspentmoneylikewaterbutMarvinwasmorecautious.
“Sonowyou’reontheU.S.again,”Juliansaid.
“Well,ifyousayso.”
“Ihopeit’snotgoingtotakeyoulong.”
“Icanonlygosofast,”Maconsaid.“TheU.S.hasmorecities.”
“Yes,Irealizethat.InfactImightprintthiseditioninsections:northeast,mid-Atlantic,andso
forth;Idon’tknow...”Butthenhechangedthesubject.(Hehadaratherskitterymind.)“DidItell
youmynewidea?Doctorfriendofmineislookingintoit:AccidentalTouristinPoorHealth.Alistof
American-trained doctors and dentists in every foreign capital, plus maybe some suggestions for
basicmedicalsupplies:aspirin,MerckManual—”
“Oh,notaMerckManualawayfromhome!”Maconsaid.“Everyhangnailcouldbecancer,when
you’rereadingaMerckManual.”
“Well, I’ll make a note of that,” Julian said (without so much as lifting a pencil). “Aren’t you
goingtoaskmetoautographyourcast?It’ssowhite.”
“Ilikeitwhite,”Maconsaid.“Ipolishitwithshoepolish.”
“Ididn’trealizeyoucoulddothat.”
“Iusetheliquidkind.It’sthebrandwithanurse’sfaceonthelabel,ifyoueverneedtoknow.”
“AccidentalTouristonCrutches,”Juliansaid,andherockedbackhappilyinhischair.
MaconcouldtellhewasabouttostarthisMaconLearyact.Hegothastilytohisfeetandsaid,
“Well,IguessI’llbegoing.”
“Sosoon?Whydon’twehaveadrink?”
“No,thanks,Ican’t.Mysister ’spickingmeupassoonasshegetsdonewithhererrand.”
“Ah,”Juliansaid.“Whatkindoferrand?”
Maconlookedathimsuspiciously.
“Well?Drycleaner ’s?Shoerepair?”
“Justanordinaryerrand,Julian.Nothingspecial.”
“Hardwarestore?Pharmacy?”
“No.”
“Sowhatisit?”
“Uh...shehadtobuyFurnitureFood.”
Julian’schairrockedsofarback,Maconthoughthewasgoingtotipover.Hewishedhewould,
infact.“Macon,domeafavor,”Juliansaid.“Couldn’tyoujustonceinvitemetoafamilydinner?”
“We’rereallynotmuchforsocializing,”Macontoldhim.
“Itwouldn’thavetobefancy.Justwhateveryoueatnormally.Whatdoyoueatnormally?OrI’ll
bringthemealmyself.Youcouldlockthedogup...what’shisnameagain?”
“Edward.”
“Edward.Ha!AndI’llcomespendtheevening.”
“Oh,well,”Maconsaidvaguely.Hearrangedhimselfonhiscrutches.
“Whydon’tIstepoutsideandwaitwithyou.”
“I’dreallyratheryoudidn’t,”Maconsaid.
Hecouldn’tbearforJuliantoseehissister ’slittlebasinhat.
Hepeggedouttothecurbandstoodthere,gazinginthedirectionRoseshouldbecomingfrom.
He supposed she was lost again. The cold was already creeping through the stretched-out sock he
woreoverhiscast.
Thetroublewas,hedecided,Julianhadneverhadanythinghappentohim.Hisruddy,cheerful
facewasunscarredbyanythingbutsunburn;hisonlyinterestwasaridiculouslyinefficientformof
transportation. His brief marriage had ended amicably. He had no children. Macon didn’t want to
soundprejudiced,buthecouldn’thelpfeelingthatpeoplewhohadnochildrenhadnevertrulygrown
up.Theyweren’tentirely...real,hefelt.
Unexpectedly, he pictured Muriel after the Doberman had knocked her off the porch. Her arm
hunglifeless;heknewtheleadenlookabrokenlimbtakeson.ButMurielignoredit;shedidn’teven
glanceatit.Smudgedanddisheveledandbattered,sheheldherotherhandup.“Absolutelynot,”she
said.
Shearrivedthenextmorningwithagauzybouffantscarfswellingoverherhair,herhandsthrust
deepinhercoatpockets.Edwarddancedaroundher.Shepointedtohisrump.Hesat,andshebentto
pickuphisleash.
“How’syourlittleboy?”Maconaskedher.
Shelookedoverathim.“What?”shesaid.
“Wasn’thesick?”
“Whotoldyouthat?”
“Someoneatthevet’s,whenIphoned.”
Shewentonlookingathim.
“Whatwasit?Theflu?”heasked.
“Oh,yes,probably,”shesaidafteramoment.“Somelittlestomachthing.”
“It’sthattimeofyear,Iguess.”
“Howcomeyouphoned?”sheaskedhim.
“IwantedtoknowwhyEdwardwouldn’tliedown.”
SheturnedhergazetowardEdward.Shewoundtheleasharoundherhandandconsideredhim.
“Itapmyfootbutheneverobeysme,”Maconsaid.“Something’swrong.”
“Itoldyouhe’dbestubbornaboutit.”
“Yes,butI’vebeenpracticingtwodaysnowandhe’snotmakingany—”
“Whatdoyouexpect?YouthinkI’mmagicalorsomething?Whyblameme?”
“Oh,I’mnotblaming—”
“Youmostcertainlyare.Youtellmesomething’swrong,youcallmeonthephone—”
“Ijustwantedto—”
“Youthinkit’sweirdIdidn’tmentionAlexander,don’tyou?”
“Alexander?”
“YouthinkI’msomekindofunnaturalmother.”
“What?No,waitaminute—”
“You’re not going to give me another thought, are you, now you know I’ve got a kid. You’re
like,‘Oh,forgetit,nopointgettinginvolvedinthat,’andthenyouwonderwhyIdidn’ttellyouabout
himrightoff.Well,isn’titobvious?Don’tyouseewhathappenswhenIdo?”
Macon wasn’t quite following her logic, perhaps because he was distracted by Edward. The
shrillerMuriel’svoicegrew,thestifferEdward’shairstooduponthebackofhisneck.Abadsign.A
verybadsign.Edward’slipwasslowlycurling.Gradually,atfirstalmostsoundlessly,hebeganalow
growl.
Muriel glanced at him and stopped speaking. She didn’t seem alarmed. She merely tapped her
foottwice.ButEdwardnotonlyfailedtoliedown;herosefromhissittingposition.Nowhehada
distinct,electrifiedhumpbetweenhisshoulders.Heseemedtohavealteredhisbasicshape.Hisears
wereflattenedagainsthisskull.
“Down,”Murielsaidlevelly.
Withabellow,Edwardsprangstraightatherface.Everytoothwasbareandgleaming.Hislips
were drawn back in a horrible grimace and flecks of white foam flew from his mouth. Muriel
instantly raised the leash. She jerked it upward with both fists and lifted Edward completely off the
floor.Hestoppedbarking.Hestartedmakinggarglingsounds.
“He’schoking,”Maconsaid.
Edward’sthroatgaveanoddsortofclick.
“Stopit.It’senough!You’rechokinghim!”
Still, she let him hang. Now Edward’s eyes rolled back in their sockets. Macon grabbed at
Muriel’s shoulder but found himself with a handful of coat, bobbled and irregular like something
alive.Heshookit,anyhow.MurielloweredEdwardtothefloor.Helandedinabonelessheap,hislegs
crumplingbeneathhimandhisheadfloppingover.Maconcrouchedathisside.“Edward?Edward?
Oh,God,he’sdead!”
Edwardraisedhisheadandfeeblylickedhislips.
“See that? When they lick their lips it’s a sign they’re giving in,” Muriel said cheerfully.
“Doggie,Dotaughtmethat.”
Maconstoodup.Hewasshaking.
“Whentheylicktheirlipsit’sgoodbutwhentheyputafootontopofyourfootit’sbad,”Muriel
said.“Soundslikeasecretlanguage,justabout,doesn’tit?”
“Don’tyouever,everdothatagain,”Macontoldher.
“Huh?”
“Infact,don’tevenbothercomingagain.”
Therewasastartledsilence.
“Well,fine,”Murielsaid,tighteningherscarf.“Ifthat’sthewayyoufeel,justfineanddandy.”
ShesteppedneatlyaroundEdwardandopenedthefrontdoor.“Youwantadogyoucan’thandle?Fine
withme.”
“I’dratherabarkingdogthanadamaged,timiddog,”Maconsaid.
“Youwantadogthatbitesallyourfriends?Scarsneighborkidsforlife?Getsyouintolawsuits?
Youwantadogthathatesthewholeworld?Evil,nasty,angrydog?Thatkillsthewholeworld?”
She slipped out the screen door and closed it behind her. Then she looked through the screen
directlyintoMacon’seyes.“Why,yes,Iguessyoudo,”shesaid.
Fromthehallfloor,Edwardgaveamoanandwatchedherwalkaway.
eight
Now the days were shorter and colder, and the trees emptied oceans of leaves on the lawn but
remained,somehow,asfullasever,soyou’dfinishrakingandlookupwardtoseeagreatwashof
orangeandyellowjustwaitingtocoverthegrassagaintheminuteyourbackwasturned.Charlesand
PorterdroveovertoMacon’shouseandrakedthereaswell,andlitthepilotlightinthefurnaceand
repaired the basement window. They reported that everything seemed fine. Macon heard the news
withoutmuchinterest.Nextweekhe’dbeoutofhiscast,butnooneaskedwhenhewasmovingback
home.
EachmorningheandEdwardpracticedheeling.Theywouldtrudgethelengthoftheblock,with
EdwardmatchingMacon’sgaitsoperfectlythathelookedcrippledhimself.Whentheymetpassersby
nowhemutteredbuthedidn’tattack.“Seethere?”Maconwantedtotellsomeone.Bikerswereanother
issue,butMaconhadconfidencetheywouldsolvethatproblemtoo,eventually.
HewouldmakeEdwardsitandthenhe’ddrawback,holdingoutapalm.Edwardwaited.Oh,he
wasn’t such a bad dog! Macon wished he could change the gestures of command—the palm, the
pointed finger, all vestiges of that heartless trainer—but he supposed it was too late. He tapped his
foot. Edward growled. “Dear one,” Macon said, dropping heavily beside him. “Won’t you please
consider lying down?” Edward looked away. Macon stroked the soft wide space between his ears.
“Ah,well,maybetomorrow,”hesaid.
Hisfamilywasnotsohopeful.“Whataboutwhenyoustarttravelingagain?”Rosesaid.“You’re
notleavinghimwithme.Iwouldn’tknowhowtohandlehim.”
Macontoldhertheywouldgettothatwhentheygottoit.
Itwashardforhimtoimagineresuminghistravels.Sometimeshewishedhecouldstayinhis
castforever.Infact,hewisheditcoveredhimfromheadtofoot.Peoplewouldthumpfaintlyonhis
chest.They’dpeerthroughhiseyeholes.“Macon?Youinthere?”Maybehewas,maybehewasn’t.No
onewouldeverknow.
One evening just after supper, Julian stopped by with a stack of papers. Macon had to slam
Edwardintothepantrybeforeheopenedthedoor.“Hereyouare!”Juliansaid,strollingpasthim.He
worecorduroysandlookedruggedandhealthy.“I’vebeenphoningyouforthreedaysstraight.That
dogsoundsawfullycloseby,don’tyouthink?”
“He’sinthepantry,”Maconsaid.
“Well, I’ve brought some materials, Macon—mostly on New York. We’ve got a lot of
suggestionsforNewYork.”
Macon groaned. Julian set his papers on the couch and looked around him. “Where are the
others?”heasked.
“Oh, here and there,” Macon said vaguely, but just then Rose appeared, and Charles was close
behind.
“IhopeI’mnotinterferingwithsupper,”Juliantoldthem.
“No,no,”Rosesaid.
“We’vefinished,”Maconsaidtriumphantly.
Julian’sfacefell.“Really?”hesaid.“Whattimedoyoueat,anyhow?”
Macondidn’tanswerthat.(Theyateatfive-thirty.Julianwouldlaugh.)
Rosesaid,“Butwehaven’thadourcoffee.Wouldn’tyoulikesomecoffee?”
“I’dlovesome.”
“Itseemsalittlesilly,”Maconsaid,“ifyouhaven’teaten.”
“Well, yes,” Julian said, “I suppose it does, Macon, to someone like you. But for me, homebrewedcoffeeisarealtreat.Allthepeopleinmyapartmentbuildingeatout,andthere’snothingin
anyofthekitchensbutacouplecansofpeanutsandsomedietsoda.”
“Whatkindofplaceisthat?”Roseasked.
“It’stheCalvertArms—asinglesbuilding.Everybody’ssingle.”
“Oh!Whataninterestingidea.”
“Well, not really,” Julian said gloomily. “Not after a while. I started out enjoying it but now I
thinkit’sgettingmedown.SometimesIwishforthegoodold-fashionedwayofdoingthings,with
childrenandfamiliesandoldpeoplelikenormalbuildingshave.”
“Well,ofcourseyoudo,”Rosetoldhim.“I’mgoingtogetyousomenicehotcoffee.”
Sheleft,andtheotherssatdown.“So.Areyouthreeallthereis?”Julianasked.
Maconrefusedtoanswer,butCharlessaid,“Oh,no,there’sPortertoo.”
“Porter?WhereisPorter?”
“Um,we’renottoosure.”
“Missing?”
“Hewenttoahardwarestoreandwethinkhegotlost.”
“Alittlewhilebeforesupper.”
“Supper.Youmeantoday.”
“He’sjustrunninganerrand,”Maconsaid.“Notlostinanypermanentsense.”
“Wherewasthestore?”
“SomeplaceonHowardStreet,”Charlessaid.“Roseneededhinges.”
“HegotlostonHowardStreet.”
Maconstoodup.“I’llgohelpRose,”hesaid.
Rosewassettingtheirgrandmother ’sclearglasscoffeemugsonasilvertray.“Ihopehedoesn’t
takesugar,”shesaid.“Thesugar-bowlisemptyandEdward’sinthepantrywhereIkeepthebag.”
“Iwouldn’tworryaboutit.”
“Maybeyoucouldgotothepantryandgetitforme.”
“Oh,justgivehimhiscoffeestraightandtellhimtotakeitorleaveit.”
“Why,Macon!Thisisyouremployer!”
“He’sonlyherebecausehehopeswe’lldosomethingeccentric,”Macontoldher.“Hehasthis
one-sided notion of us. I just pray none of us says anything unconventional around him, are you
listening?”
“Whatwouldwesay?”Roseasked.“We’rethemostconventionalpeopleIknow.”
Thiswasperfectlytrue,andyetinsomeoddwayitwasn’t.Maconcouldn’texplainit.Hesighed
andfollowedheroutofthekitchen.
Inthelivingroom,Charleswasdoggedlydebatingwhethertheyshouldanswerthephoneincase
itrang,incaseitmightbePorter,incaseheneededthemtoconsultamap.“Chancesare,though,he
wouldn’t bother calling,” he decided, “because he knows we wouldn’t answer. Or he thinks we
wouldn’t answer. Or I don’t know, maybe he figures we would answer even so, because we’re
worried.”
“Doyoualwaysgivethismuchthoughttoyourphonecalls?”Julianasked.
Maconsaid,“Havesomecoffee,Julian.Tryitblack.”
“Why,thankyou,”Juliansaid.Heacceptedamugandstudiedtheinscriptionthatarchedacross
it. “CENTURY OF PROGRESS 1933,” he read off. He grinned and raised the mug in a toast. “To
progress,”hesaid.
“Progress,”RoseandCharlesechoed.Maconscowled.
Juliansaid,“Whatdoyoudoforaliving,Charles?”
“Imakebottlecaps.”
“Bottlecaps!Isthatafact!”
“Oh,well,it’snobigthing,”Charlessaid.“Imeanit’snothalfasexcitingasitsounds,really.”
“AndRose?Doyouwork?”
“Yes, I do,” Rose said, in the brave, forthright style of someone being interviewed. “I work at
home;Ikeephousefortheboys.AlsoItakecareofalotoftheneighbors.They’remostlyoldand
theyneedmetoreadtheirprescriptionsandrepairtheirplumbingandsuch.”
“Yourepairtheirplumbing?”Julianasked.
Thetelephonerang.Theothersstiffened.
“Whatdoyouthink?”RoseaskedMacon.
“Um...”
“Butheknowswewouldn’tanswer,”Charlestoldthem.
“Yes,he’dsurelycallaneighborinstead.”
“Ontheotherhand...”Charlessaid.
“Ontheotherhand,”Maconsaid.
ItwasJulian’sfacethatdecidedhim—Julian’spleased,perkedexpression.Maconreachedover
totheendtableandpickedupthereceiver.“Leary,”hesaid.
“Macon?”
ItwasSarah.
Maconshotaglanceattheothersandturnedhisbacktothem.“Yes,”hesaid.
“Well, finally,” she said. Her voice seemed oddly flat and concrete. All at once he saw her
clearly:Sheworeoneofhiscast-offshirtsandshesathuggingherbareknees.“I’vebeentryingto
getintouchwithyouathome,”shesaid.“Thenitoccurredtomeyoumightbehavingsupperwith
yourfamily.”
“Issomethingwrong?”heasked.
He was nearly whispering. Maybe Rose understood, from that, who it was, for she suddenly
beganananimatedconversationwiththeothers.Sarahsaid,“What?Ican’thearyou.”
“Iseverythingallright?”
“Who’sthattalking?”
“Julian’shere.”
“Oh,Julian!Givehimmylove.How’sSukie?”
“Sukie?”
“Hisboat,Macon.”
“It’sfine,”hesaid.Orshouldhehavesaid“she”?Forallheknew,Sukiewasatthebottomofthe
Chesapeake.
“IcalledbecauseIthoughtweshouldtalk,”Sarahsaid.“Iwashopingwecouldmeetforsupper
somenight.”
“Oh.Well.Yes,wecoulddothat,”Maconsaid.
“Wouldtomorrowbeallright?”
“Certainly.”
“Whatrestaurant?”
“Well,whynottheOldBay,”Maconsaid.
“TheOldBay.Ofcourse,”Sarahsaid.Sheeithersighedorlaughed,hewasn’tsurewhich.
“It’sonlybecauseyoucouldwalkthere,”hetoldher.“That’stheonlyreasonIsuggestedit.”
“Yes,well,let’ssee.Youliketoeatearly;shallwesaysixo’clock?”
“Sixwillbefine,”hesaid.
When he hung up, he found Rose embarked on a discussion of the English language. She
pretendednottonoticehehadrejoinedthem.Itwasshocking,shewassaying,howsloppyeveryday
speech had become. How the world seemed bound and determined to say “the hoi polloi,” a clear
redundancyinviewofthefactthat“hoi”wasanarticle.How“chauvinist”hadcometobeashorthand
termfor“malechauvinist,”itsoriginalmeaningsadlylosttocommonknowledge.Itwasincredible,
Charleschimedin,thatafemalemoviestartraveled“incognito”whenanyfoolshouldknowshewas
“incognita” instead. Julian appeared to share their indignation. It was more incredible still, he said,
howeveryoneslungaroundtheword“incredible”whenreallytherewasverylittleonearththattruly
defiedcredibility.“Credence,”Maconcorrectedhim,butRoserushedinasifMaconhadn’tspoken.
“Oh,Iknowjustwhatyoumean,”shetoldJulian.“Wordsaregettingdevalued,isn’tthatright?”She
tuggedhandfulsofhergraytubeskirtoverherkneesinachildlikegesture.Youwouldthinkshehad
neverbeenwarnedthatoutsiderswerenottobetrusted.
ToentertheOldBayRestaurant,Maconhadtoclimbasetofsteps.Beforehebrokehisleghe
hadn’t even noticed those steps existed—let alone that they were made of smooth, unblemished
marble, so that his crutches kept threatening to slide out from under him. Then he had to fight the
heavyfrontdoor,hurryingabitbecauseRosehadtakenawrongturndrivinghimdownanditwas
alreadyfiveaftersix.
Thefoyerwasdarkasnight.Thediningroombeyondwasonlyslightlybrighter,litbynetted
candlesonthetables.Maconpeeredintothegloom.“I’mmeetingsomeone,”hetoldthehostess.“Is
shehereyet?”
“NotasIknowof,hon.”
Sheledhimpastatankfulofsluggishlobsters,pasttwooldladiesinchurchyhatssippingpale
pinkdrinks,pastawholefieldofemptytables.Itwastooearlyforanyoneelsetobeeating;allthe
othercustomerswerestillinthebar.Thetablesstoodveryclosetogether,theirlinensbrushingthe
floor,andMaconhadvisionsofcatchingacrutchonatableclothanddraggingthewholethingafter
him, candle included. The maroon floral carpet would burst into flames. His grandfather ’s favorite
restaurant—hisgreatgrandfather ’stoo,quitepossibly—wouldbereducedtoaheapofcharredmetal
crabpots.“Miss!Slowdown!”hecalled,butthehostessstrodeon,muscularandathleticinheroffthe-shouldersquare-dancedressandsturdywhitecrepe-soledshoes.
Sheputhiminacorner,whichwasluckybecauseitgavehimaplacetoleanhiscrutches.But
justashewasmatchingthemupandpreparingtosetthemaside,shesaid,“I’lltakethoseforyou,
darlin’.”
“Oh,they’llbefinehere.”
“Ineedtocheckthemupfront,sweetheart.It’sarule.”
“Youhavearuleaboutcrutches?”
“Theymighttriptheothercustomers,honeybunch.”
Thiswasunlikely,sincethetwoothercustomerswereclearacrosstheroom,butMaconhanded
hiscrutchesover.Cometothinkofit,hemightbebetteroffwithoutthem.ThenSarahwouldn’tget
theimpression(atleastatfirstglance)thathe’dfallenapartinherabsence.
Assoonashewasalonehetuggedeachshirtcufftillaquarter-inchofwhiteshowed.Hewas
wearing his gray tweed suit coat with gray flannel trousers—an old pair of trousers, so it hadn’t
matteredifhecutonelegoff.CharleshadfetchedthemfromhomeandRosehadhemmedthem,and
she’dalsotrimmedhishair.Porterhadlenthimhisbeststripedtie.Theyhadallbeensodiscreetly
helpfulthatMaconhadfeltsad,forsomereason.
The hostess reappeared in the doorway, followed by Sarah. Macon had an instant of stunned
recognition;itwassomethinglikeaccidentallyglimpsinghisownreflectioninamirror.Herhaloof
curls, the way her coat fell around her in soft folds, her firm, springy walk in trim pumps with
wineglassheels—howhadheforgottenallthat?
He half stood. Would she kiss him? Or just, God forbid, coolly shake hands. But no, she did
neither; she did something much worse. She came around the table and pressed her cheek to his
briefly,asiftheyweremereacquaintancesmeetingatacocktailparty.
“Hello,Macon,”shesaid.
Hewavedherspeechlesslyintothechairacrossfromhis.Hesatagain,withsomeeffort.
“Whathappenedtoyourleg?”sheasked.
“Ihadakindof...fall.”
“Isitbroken?”
Henodded.
“Andwhatdidyoudotoyourhand?”
Heheldituptoexamine.“Well,it’sasortofdogbite.Butit’snearlyhealedbynow.”
“Imeanttheotherone.”
Theotheronehadabandofgauzearoundtheknuckles.“Oh,that,”hesaid.“It’sjustascrape.
I’vebeenhelpingRosebuildacatdoor.”
Shestudiedhim.
“But I’m all right!” he told her. “In fact the cast is almost comfortable. Almost familiar! I’m
wonderingifIbrokealegoncebeforeinsomepreviousincarnation.”
Theirwaitressasked,“CanIbringyousomethingfromthebar?”
She was standing over them, pad and pencil poised. Sarah started flipping hastily through the
menu, so Macon said, “A dry sherry, please.” Then he and the waitress turned back to Sarah. “Oh,
my,”Sarahsaid.“Letmesee.Well,howaboutaRobRoy.Yes,aRobRoywouldbenice,withextra
cherries.”
That was something else he’d forgotten—how she loved to order complicated drinks in
restaurants.Hefeltthecornersofhismouthtwitchingupward.
“So,”Sarahsaidwhenthewaitresshadgone.“WhywouldRosebebuildingacatdoor?Ithought
theydidn’thaveanypets.”
“No,thisisforourcat.Helen.HelenandIhavebeenstayingthere.”
“Whatfor?”
“Well,becauseofmyleg.”
Sarahsaidnothing.
“Imean,canyouseememanagingthosestepsathome?”Maconaskedher.“TakingEdwardfor
walks?Luggingthetrashcansout?”
But she was busy shucking off her coat. Beneath it she wore a gathered wool dress in an
indeterminate color. (The candlelight turned everything to shades of sepia, like an old-fashioned
photograph.)Maconhadtimetowonderifhe’dgivenherthewrongidea.Itsounded,perhaps,asifhe
werecomplaining—asifhewerereproachingherforleavinghimalone.
“Butreally,”hesaid,“I’vebeengettingalongwonderfully.”
“Good,”Sarahsaid,andshesmiledathimandwentbacktohermenu.
Theirdrinksweresetbeforethemonlittlecardboarddisksembossedwithcrabs.Thewaitress
said,“Readytoorder,dearies?”
“Well,”Sarahsaid,“IthinkI’llhavethehotantipastoandthebeefPierre.”
The waitress, looking startled, peered over Sarah’s shoulder at the menu. (Sarah had never
seemed to realize what the Old Bay Restaurant was all about.) “Here,” Sarah said, pointing, “and
here.”
“Ifyousayso,”thewaitresssaid,writingitdown.
“I’lljusthavethe,youknow,”Maconsaid.“Crabsoup,shrimpsaladplatter...”Hehandedback
hismenu.“Sarah,doyouwantwine?”
“No,thankyou.”
Whentheywerealoneagain,shesaid,“Howlonghaveyoubeenatyourfamily’s?”
“SinceSeptember,”Maconsaid.
“September!Yourleg’sbeenbrokenallthattime?”
Henoddedandtookasipofhisdrink.“TomorrowIgetthecastoff,”hesaid.
“AndisEdwardovertheretoo?”
Henoddedagain.
“WasitEdwardwhobityourhand?”
“Well,yes.”
He wondered if she’d act like the others, urge him to call the S.P.C.A.; but instead she
meditativelypluckedacherryofftheplasticswordfromherdrink.“Iguesshe’sbeenupset,”shesaid.
“Yes,hehas,infact,”Maconsaid.“He’snothimselfatall.”
“PoorEdward.”
“He’sgettingkindofoutofcontrol,totellthetruth.”
“Healwaysdidhaveasensitivitytochange,”Sarahsaid.
Macon took heart. “Actually, he’s been attacking right and left,” he told her. “I had to hire a
specialtrainer.Butshewastooharsh;let’sfaceit,shewasbrutal.Shenearlystrangledhimwhenhe
triedtobiteher.”
“Ridiculous,”Sarahsaid.“Hewasonlyfrightened.WhenEdward’sfrightenedheattacks;that’s
justthewayheis.There’snopointscaringhimmore.”
Maconfeltasuddenrushoflove.
Oh, he’d raged at her and hated her and entirely forgotten her, at different times. He’d had
moments when he imagined he’d never cared for her to begin with; only went after her because
everybodyelsehad.Butthefactwas,shewashisbestfriend.Thetwoofthemhadbeenthroughthings
thatnooneelseintheworldknewof.Shewasembeddedinhislife.Itwasmuchtoolatetoroother
out.
“Whathewants,”shewassaying,“isasenseofroutine.That’sallheneeds:reassurance.”
“Sarah,”hesaid,“it’sbeenawfullivingapart.”
Shelookedathim.Sometrickoflightmadehereyesappearadarkerblue,almostblack.
“Hasn’tit?”hesaid.
Sheloweredherglass.Shesaid,“Iaskedyouhereforareason,Macon.”
Hecouldtellitwassomethinghedidn’twanttohear.
Shesaid,“Weneedtospelloutthedetailsofourseparation.”“We’vebeenseparated;what’sto
spellout?”heasked.
“Imeantinalegalway.”
“Legal.Isee.”
“Now,accordingtothestateofMaryland—”
“Ithinkyououghttocomehome.”
Their first course arrived, placed before them by a hand that, as far as Macon was concerned,
was not attached to a body. Condiment bottles were shifted needlessly; a metal stand full of sugar
packetswasmovedahalf-inchover.“Anythingelse?”thewaitressasked.
“No!”Maconsaid.“Thankyou.”
Sheleft.
Hesaid,“Sarah?”
“It’snotpossible,”shetoldhim.
Shewasslidingasinglepearlupanddownthechainatherthroat.Hehadgivenherthatpearl
when they were courting. Was there any significance in her wearing it this evening? Or maybe she
caredsolittlenow,ithadn’tevenoccurredtohertoleaveitoff.Yes,thatwasmorelikely.
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t say no before you hear me out. Have you ever considered we might
haveanotherbaby?”
Hehadshockedher,hesaw;shedrewinabreath.(Hehadshockedhimself.)
“Whynot?‘heaskedher.“We’renottooold.”
“Oh,Macon.”
“This time, it would be easy,” he said. “It wouldn’t take us seven years again; I bet you’d get
pregnant in no time!” He leaned toward her, straining to make her see it: Sarah blossoming in that
luscious pink maternity smock she used to wear. But oddly enough, what flashed across his mind
insteadwasthememoryofthosefirstsevenyears—theirdisappointmenteachmonth.Ithadseemedto
Macon back then (though of course it was pure superstition) that their failures were a sign of
somethingdeeper,someessentialincompatibility.Theyhadmissedconnectionsinthemostbasicand
literal sense. When she finally got pregnant, he had felt not only relieved but guilty, as if they had
succeededinputtingsomethingoveronsomeone.
Hepushedthesethoughtsbackdown.“Irealize,”hesaid,“thatitwouldn’tbeEthan.Irealizewe
can’treplacehim.But—”
“No,”Sarahsaid.
Hereyeswereverysteady.Heknewthatlook.She’dneverchangehermind.
Macon started on his soup. It was the best crab soup in Baltimore, but unfortunately the spices
hadatendencytomakehisnoserun.HehopedSarahwouldn’tthinkhewascrying.
“I’msorry,”shesaidmoregently.“Butitwouldneverwork.”
Hesaid,“Allright,forgetthat.Itwascrazy,right?Crazynotion.Bythetimethatbabywastwenty
we’dbe...Aren’tyougoingtoeat?”
Sheglanceddownatherplate.Thenshepickedupafork.
“SupposeIdidthis,”Maconsaid.“SupposeIpackedasuitcasewithyourclothesandknockedon
yourdoorandsaid,‘Comeon,we’regoingtoOceanCity.We’vewastedlongenough.’”
Shestared,anartichokeheartraisedhalfwaytohermouth.
“OceanCity?”shesaid.“YouhateOceanCity!”
“Yes,butImeant—”
“Youalwayssaiditwaswaytoocrowded.”
“Yes,but—”
“Andwhatclothescouldyoubetalkingabout?They’reallinmyapartment.”
“Itwasonlyamannerofspeaking,”Maconsaid.
“Really,Macon,”shetoldhim.“Youdon’tevencommunicatewhenyoucommunicate.”
“Oh, communicate,” he said. (His least favorite word.) “All I’m saying is, I think we ought to
startover.”
“I am starting over,” she said. She returned the artichoke heart to her plate. “I’m doing
everythingIcantostartover,”shesaid,“butthatdoesn’tmeanIwanttolivethesamelifetwice.I’m
tryingtobranchoffinnewdirections.I’mtakingsomecourses.I’mevendating,alittle.”
“Dating?”
“I’vebeengoingoutwiththisphysician.”
Therewasapause.
Maconsaid,“Whynotjustcallhimadoctor.”
Sarahbrieflyclosedhereyes.
“Look,”shesaid.“Iknowthisishardforyou.It’shardforbothofus.Butwereallydidn’thave
muchleft,don’tyousee?Lookwhoyouturnedtowhenyoubrokeyourleg:yoursisterRose!You
didn’tevenletmeknow,andyoudohavemytelephonenumber.”
“IfI’dturnedtoyouinstead,”hesaid,“wouldyouhavecome?”
“Well...butatleastyoucouldhaveasked.Butno,youcalledonyourfamily.You’recloserto
themthanyoueverweretome.”
“That’snottrue,”Maconsaid.“Orrather,it’struebutit’snotthepoint.Imean,inonesense,of
coursewe’recloser;we’rebloodrelations.”
“Playing that ridiculous card game no one else can fathom,” Sarah said. “Plotting your little
householdprojects,Rosewithhercrescentwrenchandhersolderinggun.Cruisinghardwarestores
likeotherpeoplecruiseboutiques.”
“Asotherpeoplecruiseboutiques,”Maconsaid.Andthenregrettedit.
“Pickingapartpeople’sEnglish,”Sarahsaid.“Haulingforththedictionaryateveryopportunity.
Quibblingovermethod.Thekindoffamilythatalwaysfastenstheirseatbelts.”
“ForGod’ssake,Sarah,what’swrongwithfasteningyourseatbelt?”
“They always go to one restaurant, the one their grandparents went to before them, and even
theretheyhavetorearrangethesilverandsetthingsupsothey’resittingaroundthetablethesame
waytheysitathome.Theyditheranddeliberate,can’tsomuchascloseacurtainwithoutthisgroup
discussionbackandforth,toandfro,alltheprosandcons.‘Well,ifweleaveitopenitwillbesohot
butifwecloseitthingswillgetmusty...’Theyhavetohavetheirsixglassesofwatereveryday.
Their precious baked potatoes every night. They don’t believe in ballpoint pens or electric
typewritersorautomatictransmissions.Theydon’tbelieveinhelloandgood-bye.”
“Hello?Good-bye?”Maconsaid.
“Just watch yourself some time! People walk in and you just, oh, register it with your eyes;
peopleleaveandyoujustlookawayquickly.Youdon’tadmittocomingsandgoings.Andthebest
house in the world might come on the market, but you can’t buy it because you’ve ordered these
addresslabelsfortheoldhouse,athousandfivehundredgummedlabels,andyouhavetousethem
upbeforeyoumove.”
“Thatwasn’tme,itwasCharles,”Maconsaid.
“Yes,butitcouldhavebeenyou.Andhiswifedivorcedhimforit,andIdon’tblameher.”
“Andnowyou’reabouttodothesamedamnthing,”Maconsaid.“Ruintwentyyearsofmarriage
overwhetherIfastenmyseatbelt.”
“Theywereruinedlongago,believeme,”Sarahsaid.
Maconlaiddownhisspoon.Heforcedhimselftotakeadeepbreath.
“Sarah,”hesaid.“We’regettingawayfromthepoint.”
Afterasilence,Sarahsaid,“Yes,Iguessweare.”
“It’swhathappenedtoEthanthatruinedus,”Macontoldher.
Shesetanelbowonthetableandcoveredhereyes.
“But it wouldn’t have to,” he said. “Why, some people, a thing like this brings them closer
together.Howcomewe’relettingitpartus?”
Thewaitresssaid,“Iseverythingallright?”
Sarahsatupstraighterandstartedrummagingthroughherpurse.
“Yes,certainly,”Maconsaid.
The waitress was carrying a tray with their main dishes. She cast a doubtful look at Sarah’s
antipasto.“Isn’tshegoingtoeatthat,orwhat?”sheaskedMacon.
“No,Iguess,um,maybenot.”
“Didn’tshelikeit?”
“Shelikeditfine.Takeitaway.”
The waitress bustled around the table in an offended silence. Sarah put aside her purse. She
lookeddownathermeal,whichwassomethingbrownandgluey.
“You’rewelcometohalfmyshrimpsalad,”Macontoldherwhenthewaitresshadgone.
Sheshookherhead.Hereyesweredeepwithtears,buttheyhadn’tspilledover.
“Macon,”shesaid,“eversinceEthandiedI’vehadtoadmitthatpeoplearebasicallybad.Evil,
Macon.Soeviltheywouldtakeatwelve-year-oldboyandshoothimthroughtheskullfornoreason.
I read a paper now and I despair; I’ve given up watching the news on TV. There’s so much
wickedness,childrensettingotherchildrenonfireandgrownmenthrowingbabiesoutsecond-story
windows, rape and torture and terrorism, old people beaten and robbed, men in our very own
government willing to blow up the world, indifference and greed and instant anger on every street
corner. I look at my students and they’re so ordinary, but they’re exactly like the boy who killed
Ethan.Ifithadn’tsaidbeneaththatboy’spicturewhathe’dbeenarrestedfor,wouldn’tyouthinkhe
wasjustanyone?Someonewho’dmadethebasketballteamorwonacollegescholarship?Youcan’t
believeinasoul.Lastspring,Macon,Ididn’ttellyouthis,IwascuttingbackourhedgeandIsawthe
bird feeder had been stolen out of the crape myrtle tree. Someone will even steal food from little
birds!AndIjust,Idon’tknow,wentkindofcrazyandattackedthecrapemyrtle.Cutitallup,ripped
offthebranches,slasheditwithmypruningshears...”
Tearswererunningdownherfacenow.Sheleanedacrossthetableandsaid,“Therearetimes
whenIhaven’tbeensureIcould—Idon’twanttosoundmelodramaticbut—Macon,Ihaven’tbeen
sureIcouldliveinthiskindofaworldanymore.”
Maconfelthehadtobeterriblycareful.Hehadtochooseexactlytherightwords.Heclearedhis
throatandsaid,“Yes,um,Iseewhatyoumeanbut...”Heclearedhisthroatagain.“It’strue,”hesaid,
“whatyousayabouthumanbeings.I’mnottryingtoargue.Buttellmethis,Sarah:Whywouldthat
causeyoutoleaveme?”
Shecrumpleduphernapkinanddabbedathernose.Shesaid,“BecauseIknewyouwouldn’ttry
toargue.You’vebelievedallalongtheywereevil.”
“Well,so—”
“This whole last year I felt myself retreating. Withdrawing. I could feel myself shrinking. I
stayedawayfromcrowds,Ididn’tgotoparties,Ididn’taskourfriendsin.WhenyouandIwentto
thebeachinthesummerIlayonmyblanketwithallthosepeoplearoundme,theirsquawkingradios
andtheirgossipandtheirquarrels,andIthought,‘Ugh,they’resodepressing.They’resounlikable.
So vile, really.’ I felt myself shrinking away from them. Just like you do, Macon—just as you do;
sorry.Justasyouhavealwaysdone.IfeltIwasturningintoaLeary.”
Macontriedforalightertone.Hesaid,“Well,thereareworsedisastersthanthat,Iguess.”
Shedidn’tsmile.Shesaid,“Ican’taffordit.”
“Afford?”
“I’mforty-twoyearsold.Idon’thaveenoughtimelefttowasteitholingupinmyshell.SoI’ve
takenaction.I’vecutmyselfloose.Iliveinthisapartmentyou’dhate,allclutter.I’vemadeawhole
bunchofnewfriends,andyouwouldn’tlikethemmucheither,Iguess.I’mstudyingwithasculptor.I
always did want to be an artist, only teaching seemed more sensible. That’s how you would think:
sensible.You’resoquicktobesensible,Macon,thatyou’vegivenuponjustabouteverything.”
“WhathaveIgivenupon?”
Sherefoldedthenapkinandblottedhereyes.Anappealingblurofmascarashadowedtheskin
beneaththem.Shesaid,“RememberBettyGrand?”
“No.”
“BettyGrand,shewenttomyschool.Youusedtolikeherbeforeyoumetme.”
“IneverlikedanyoneonearthbeforeImetyou,”Maconsaid.
“YoulikedBettyGrand,Macon.Youtoldmesowhenwefirstwentout.YouaskedmeifIknew
her.Yousaidyouusedtothinkshewasprettyandyou’dinvitedhertoaballgamebutsheturnedyou
down.Youtoldmeyou’dchangedyourmindaboutherbeingpretty.Hergumsshowedanytimeshe
smiled,yousaid.”
Maconstilldidn’tremember,buthesaid,“Well?So?”
“Everything that might touch you or upset you or disrupt you, you’ve given up without a
murmuranddonewithout,saidyouneverwanteditanyhow.”
“IsupposeIwouldhavedonebetterifI’dgoneonpiningforBettyGrandallmylife.”
“Well,youwouldhaveshownsomefeeling,atleast.”
“Idoshowfeeling,Sarah.I’msittingherewithyou,amInot?Youdon’tseemegivingupon
you.”
She chose not to hear this. “And when Ethan died,” she said, “you peeled every single Wacky
Packstickeroffhisbedroomdoor.Youemptiedhisclosetandhisbureauasifyoucouldn’tberidof
himsoonenough.Youkeptofferingpeoplehisjunkinthebasement,stiltsandsledsandskateboards,
andyoucouldn’tunderstandwhytheydidn’tacceptthem.‘Ihatetoseestuffthereuseless,’yousaid.
Macon,IknowyoulovedhimbutIcan’thelpthinkingyoudidn’tlovehimasmuchasIdid,you’re
notsotornapartbyhisgoing.Iknowyoumournedhimbutthere’ssomethingsowhat-do-you-call,
so muffled about the way you experience things, I mean love or grief or anything; it’s like you’re
tryingtoslipthroughlifeunchanged.Don’tyouseewhyIhadtogetout?”
“Sarah,I’mnotmuffled.I...endure.I’mtryingtoendure.I’mstandingfast,I’mholdingsteady.”
“Ifyoureallythinkthat,”Sarahsaid,“thenyou’refoolingyourself.You’renotholdingsteady;
you’re ossified. You’re encased. You’re like something in a capsule. You’re a dried-up kernel of a
man that nothing real penetrates. Oh, Macon, it’s not by chance you write those silly books telling
peoplehowtotaketripswithoutajolt.Thattravelingarmchairisn’tjustyourlogo;it’syou.”
“No,it’snot,”Maconsaid.“It’snot!”
Sarahpulledhercoaton,makingasloppyjobofit.Onecornerofhercollarwastuckedinside.
“Soanyway,”shesaid.“ThisiswhatIwantedtotellyou:I’mhavingJohnAlbrightsendyoualetter.”
“Who’sJohnAlbright?”
“He’sanattorney.”
“Oh,”Maconsaid.
Itwasatleastafullminutebeforehethoughttosay,“Iguessyoumustmeanalawyer.”
Sarahcollectedherpurse,stoodup,andwalkedout.
Macon made his way conscientiously through his shrimp salad. He ate his cole slaw for the
vitamin C. Then he finished every last one of his potato chips, although he knew his tongue would
feelshriveledthefollowingmorning.
OncewhenEthanwaslittle,notmorethantwoorthree,hehadrunoutintothestreetafteraball.
Maconhadbeentoofarawaytostophim.Allhecoulddowasshout,“No!”andthenwatch,frozen
withhorror,asapickuptruckcamebarrelingaroundthecurve.Inthatinstant,hereleasedhisclaim.
In one split second he adjusted to a future that held no Ethan—an immeasurably bleaker place but
also, by way of compensation, plainer and simpler, free of the problems a small child trails along
withhim,theendlessdemandsandthemessandthecontestsforhismother ’sattention.Thenthetruck
stopped short and Ethan retrieved his ball, and Macon’s knees went weak with relief. But he
remembered forever after how quickly he had adjusted. He wondered, sometimes, if that first
adjustment had somehow stuck, making what happened to Ethan later less of a shock than it might
havebeen.Butifpeopledidn’tadjust,howcouldtheybeartogoon?
Hecalledforhisbillandpaidit.“Wastheresomethingwrong?”thewaitressasked.“Didyour
friendnotlikehermeal?Shecouldalwayshavesentitback,hon.Wealwaysletyousenditback.”
“Iknowthat,”Maconsaid.
“Maybeitwastoospicyforher.”
“Itwasfine,”hesaid.“CouldIhavemycrutches,please?”
Shewentofftogetthem,shakingherhead.
Hewouldhavetolocateataxi.He’dmadenoarrangementsforRosetopickhimup.Secretly,
he’d been hoping to go home with Sarah. Now that hope seemed pathetic. He looked around the
diningroomandsawthatmostofthetableswerefilled,andthateverypersonhadsomeoneelsetoeat
with.OnlyMaconsatalone.Hekeptveryerectanddignifiedbutinside,heknew,hewascrumbling.
Andwhenthewaitressbroughthimhiscrutchesandhestoodtoleave,itseemedappropriatethathe
hadtowalknearlydoubled,hischinsunklowonhischestandhiselbowsjuttingoutawkwardlylike
thewingsofababybird.Peoplestaredathimashepassed.Somesnickered.Washisfoolishnessso
obvious?Hepassedthetwochurchyoldladiesandoneofthemtuggedathissleeve.“Sir?Sir?”
Hecametoastop.
“Isuspecttheymayhavegivenyoumycrutches,”shesaid.
He looked down at the crutches. They were, of course, not his. They were diminutive—hardly
morethanchild-sized.Anyothertimehewouldhavegraspedthesituationrightoff,buttodayithad
somehow escaped him. Any other time he would have swung into action—called for the manager,
pointed out the restaurant’s lack of concern for the handicapped. Today he only stood hanging his
head,waitingforsomeonetohelphim.
nine
Back when Grandfather Leary’s mind first began to wander, no one had guessed what was
happening.Hewassuchanupright,firmoldman.Hewasallsharpedges.Definite.“Listen,”hetold
Macon, “by June the twelfth I’ll need my passport from the safe deposit box. I’m setting sail for
Lassaque.”
“Lassaque,Grandfather?”
“IfIlikeitImayjuststaythere.”
“ButwhereisLassaque?”
“It’sanislandoffthecoastofBolivia.”
“Ah,”Maconsaid.Andthen,“Well,waitaminute...”
“ItinterestsmebecausetheLassaquanshavenowrittenlanguage.Infactifyoubringanyreading
mattertheyconfiscateit.Theysayit’sblackmagic.”
“ButIdon’tthinkBoliviahasacoast,”Maconsaid.
“Theydon’tevenallow,say,acheckbookwithyournameonit.Beforeyougoashoreyouhave
tosoakthelabeloffyourdeodorant.Youhavetogetyourmoneychangedintolittlecoloredwafers.”
“Grandfather,isthisajoke?”
“Ajoke!Lookitupifyoudon’tbelieveme.”GrandfatherLearycheckedhissteelpocketwatch,
then wound it with an assured, back-and-forth motion. “An intriguing effect of their illiteracy,” he
said, “is their reverence for the elderly. This is because the Lassaquans’ knowledge doesn’t come
frombooksbutfromliving;sotheyhangoneverywordfromthosewhohavelivedthelongest.”
“Isee,”Maconsaid,fornowhethoughthedidsee.“Wehangonyourwords,too,”hesaid.
“That may be so,” his grandfather told him, “but I still intend to see Lassaque before it’s
corrupted.”
Maconwassilentamoment.Thenhewentovertothebookcaseandselectedavolumefromhis
grandfather ’ssetoffadedbrownencyclopedias.“Giveithere,”hisgrandfathersaid,holdingoutboth
hands.Hetookthebookgreedilyandstartedrifflingthroughthepages.Asmellofmoldfloatedup.
“Laski,”hemuttered,“Lassalle,Lassaw...”Heloweredthebookandfrowned.“Idon’t...”hesaid.
Hereturnedtothebook.“Lassalle,Lassaw...”
Helookedconfused,almostfrightened.Hisfaceallatoncecollapsed—aphenomenonthathad
startled Macon on several occasions lately. “I don’t understand,” he whispered to Macon. “I don’t
understand.”
“Well,”Maconsaid,“maybeitwasadream.Maybeitwasoneofthosedreamsthatseemreal.”
“Macon,thiswasnodream.Iknowtheplace.I’veboughtmyticket.I’msailingJunethetwelfth.”
Maconfeltastrangecoldnesscreepingdownhisback.
Thenhisgrandfatherbecameaninventor—spokeofvariousprojectshewastinkeringwith,he
said,inhisbasement.Hewouldsitinhisredleatherarmchair,hissuitandwhiteshirtimmaculate,his
black dress shoes polished to a glare, his carefully kept hands folded in his lap, and he would
announce that he’d just finished welding together a motorcycle that would pull a plow. He would
earnestlydiscusscrankshaftsandcotterpins,whileMacon—thoughterriblydistressed—hadtofight
down a bubble of laughter at the thought of some leather-booted Hell’s Angel grinding away at a
wheatfield.“IfIcouldjustgetthekinksironedout,”hisgrandfathersaid,“I’dhavemyfortunemade.
We’ll all be rich.” For he seemed to believe he was poor again, struggling to earn his way in the
world.Hismotorizedradiothatfollowedyoufromroomtoroom,hisfloatingtelephone,hiscarthat
camewhenyoucalledit—wouldn’ttherebesomeapplicationforthose?Wouldn’ttherightperson
payanarmandaleg?
HavingsatoutontheporchforoneentireJunemorning,studiouslypinchingthecreasesofhis
trousers,heannouncedthathehadperfectedanewtypeofhybrid:flowersthatclosedinthepresence
oftears.“Floristswillbemobbingme,”hesaid.“Thinkofthedramaticeffectatfunerals!”Hewas
working next on a cross between basil and tomatoes. He said the spaghetti-sauce companies would
makehimawealthyman.
Bythen,allthreeofhisgrandsonshadlefthomeandhiswifehaddied;soRosealonetookcare
ofhim.Herbrothersbegantoworryabouther.Theytooktodroppingbymoreandmoreoften.Then
Rosesaid,“Youdon’thavetodothis,youknow.”
Theysaid,“What?Dowhat?Whatareyoutalkingabout?”Andothersuchthings.
“Ifyou’recomingsooftenonaccountofGrandfather,it’snotnecessary.I’mmanagingfine,and
soishe.He’sveryhappy.”
“Happy!”
“Ihonestlybelieve,”Rosesaid,“thathe’shavingtherichestandmost...colorful,really,timeof
hislife.I’llbetevenwhenhewasyoung,heneverenjoyedhimselfthismuch.”
Theysawwhatshemeant.Maconfeltalmostenvious,oncehethoughtaboutit.Andlater,when
thatperiodwasover,hewassorryithadbeensoshort.Fortheirgrandfathersoonpassedtopointless,
disconnectedmumbles,andthentoastaringsilence,andatlasthedied.
EarlyWednesdaymorning,MacondreamedGrandfatherLearywokehimandaskedwherethe
centerpunchwas.“Whatareyoutalkingabout?”Maconsaid.“Ineverhadyourcenterpunch.”
“Oh,Macon,”hisgrandfathersaidsadly,“can’tyoutellthatI’mnotsayingwhatImean?”
“Whatdoyoumean,then?”
“You’velostthecenterofyourlife,Macon.”
“Yes,Iknowthat,”Maconsaid,anditseemedthatEthanstoodjustslightlytotheleft,hisbright
headnearlylevelwiththeoldman’s.
Buthisgrandfathersaid,“No,no,”andmadeanimpatient,shaking-offgestureandwentoverto
thebureau.(Inthisdream,Maconwasnotinthesunporchbutupstairsinhisboyhoodbedroom,with
thebureauwhosecut-glassknobsRosehadstolenlongagotouseasdishesforherdolls.)“It’sSarah
Imean,”hisgrandfathersaid,pickingupahairbrush.“WhereisSarah?”
“She’sleftme,Grandfather.”
“Why,Sarah’sthebestofallofus!”hisgrandfathersaid.“Youwanttositinthisoldhouseand
rot,boy?It’stimewestarteddiggingout!Howlongarewegoingtostayfixedhere?”
Maconopenedhiseyes.Itwasn’tmorningyet.Thesunporchwasfuzzyasblottingpaper.
Therewasstillasenseofhisgrandfatherintheair.Hislittleshaking-offgesturewasonethat
Maconhadforgottenentirely;ithadreappearedonitsown.ButGrandfatherLearywouldneverhave
saidinreallifewhathe’dsaidinthedream.HehadlikedSarahwellenough,butheseemedtoview
wivesasextraneous,andhe’dattendedeachofhisgrandsons’weddingswitharesignedandtolerant
expression. He wouldn’t have thought of any woman as a “center.” Except, perhaps Macon thought
suddenly, his own wife, Grandmother Leary. After whose death—why, yes, immediately after—his
mindhadfirstbeguntowander.
Maconlayawaketilldawn.Itwasarelieftohearthefirststir-ringsoverhead.Thenhegotup
andshavedanddressedandsentEdwardoutforthepaper.BythetimeRosecamedownstairs,hehad
startedthecoffeeperking.Thisseemedtomakeheranxious.“Didyouusethemorningbeansorthe
eveningbeans?”sheasked.
“Themorningbeans,”heassuredher.“Everything’sundercontrol.”
She moved around the kitchen raising shades, setting the table, opening a carton of eggs. “So
today’sthedayyougetyourcastoff,”shesaid.
“Looksthatway.”
“Andthisafternoon’syourNewYorktrip.”
“Oh,well...”hesaidvaguely,andthenheaskedifshewantedabaconcouponhe’dspottedin
thepaper.
Shepersisted:“Isn’titthisafternoonyou’regoing?”
“Well,yes.”
Thefactofthematterwas,hewasleavingforNewYorkwithouthavingmadeanyarrangements
for Edward. The old place wouldn’t accept him, the new place had that Muriel woman . . . and in
Macon’sopinion,Edwardwasbestoffathomewiththefamily.Rose,nodoubt,woulddisagree.He
heldhisbreath,butRosestartedhumming“Clementine”andbreakingeggsintoaskillet.
At nine o’clock, in an office down on St. Paul Street, the doctor removed Macon’s cast with a
tiny,purringelectricsaw.Macon’slegemergeddead-whiteandwrinkledandugly.Whenhestoodup,
his ankle wobbled. He still had a limp. Also, he’d forgotten to bring different trousers and he was
forced to parade back through the other patients in his one-legged summer khakis, exposing his
repulsive-lookingshin.Hewonderedifhe’deverreturntohisold,unbrokenself.
Drivinghimhome,RosefinallythoughttoaskwhereheplannedtoboardEdward.“Why,I’m
leavinghimwithyou,”Maconsaid,actingsurprised.
“Withme?Oh,Macon,youknowhowoutofhandhegets.”
“What could happen in such a short time? I’ll be home by tomorrow night. If worst comes to
worstyoucouldlockhiminthepantry;tosshimsomekibblenowandthentillIgetback.”
“Idon’tlikethisatall,”Rosesaid.
“It’svisitorsthatsethimoff.It’snotasifyou’reexpectinganyvisitors.”
“Oh,no,”shesaid,andthensheletthesubjectdrop,thankheaven.He’dbeenfearingmoreofa
battle.
Hetookashower,andhedressedinhistravelingsuit.Thenhehadanearlylunch.Justbefore
noonRosedrovehimdowntotherailroadstation,sincehedidn’tyettrusthisclutchfoot.Whenhe
steppedfromthecar,hislegthreatenedtobuckle.“Wait!”hesaidtoRose,whowashandinghisbag
outafterhim.“DoyousupposeI’muptothis?”
“I’m sure you are,” she said, without giving it anywhere near enough thought. She pulled the
passengerdoorshut,wavedathim,anddroveoff.
In the period since Macon’s last train trip, something wonderful had happened to the railroad
station. A skylight in shades of watery blue arched gently overhead. Pale globe lamps hung from
brass hooks. The carpenters’ partitions that had divided the waiting room for so long had
disappeared, revealing polished wooden benches. Macon stood bewildered at the brand-new,
gleamingticketwindow.Maybe,hethought,travelwasnotsobad.Maybehe’dgotitallwrong.He
feltalittlesprigofhopefulnessbeginning.
But immediately afterward, limping toward his gate, he was overcome by the lost feeling that
alwaysplaguedhimonthesetrips.HeenvisionedhimselfasastarkFigure1inathrongof2’sand
3’s.LookatthatgroupattheInformationcounter,thoseconfidentyoungpeoplewiththeirknapsacks
and sleeping bags. Look at the family occupying one entire bench, their four little daughters so
dressedup,sostiffinnewplaidcoatsandribbonedhats,youjustknewthey’dbemetbygrandparents
attheotherendoftheline.Eventhosesittingalone—theoldwomanwiththecorsage,theblondewith
herexpensiveleatherluggage—gavetheimpressionofbelongingtosomeone.
Hesatdownonabench.Asouthboundtrainwasannouncedandhalfthecrowdwentofftocatch
it, followed by the inevitable breathless, disheveled woman galloping through some time later with
far too many bags and parcels. Arriving passengers began to straggle up the stairs. They wore the
dazedexpressionsofpeoplewhohadbeenelsewheretilljustthisinstant.Awomanwasgreetedbya
manholdingababy;hekissedherandpassedherthebabyatonce,asifitwereapackagehe’dbeen
findingunusuallyheavy.Ayounggirlinjeans,reachingthetopofthestairs,caughtsightofanother
girl in jeans and threw her arms around her and started crying. Macon watched, pretending not to,
inventing explanations. (She was home for their mother ’s funeral? Her elopement hadn’t worked
out?)
Nowhisowntrainwascalled,sohepickeduphisbagandlimpedbehindthefamilywithallthe
daughters. At the bottom of the stairs a gust of cold, fresh air hit him. Wind always seemed to be
howlingdowntheseplatforms,nomatterwhattheweatherelsewhere.Thesmallestofthedaughters
hadtohavehercoatbuttoned.Thetraincameintoview,slowlyassemblingitselfaroundapinpointof
yellowlight.
Mostofthecarswerefull,itturnedout.Macongaveuptryingtofindacompletelyemptyseat
andsettlednexttoaplumpyoungmanwithabriefcase.Justtobeonthesafeside,heunpackedMiss
MacIntosh.
Thetrainlurchedforwardandthenchangeditsmindandthenlurchedforwardagainandtook
off.Maconimaginedhecouldfeellittlescabsofrustonthetracks;itwasn’taverysmoothride.He
watched the sights of home rush toward him and disappear—a tumble of row houses, faded vacant
lots,laundryhangingrigidinthecold.
“Gum?”hisseatmateasked.
Maconsaid,“No,thanks,”andquicklyopenedhisbook.
Whenthey’dbeentravelinganhourorso,hefelthislidsgrowheavy.Helethisheadfallback.
Hethoughthewasonlyrestinghiseyes,buthemusthavegonetosleep.Thenextthingheknew,the
conductor was announcing Philadelphia. Macon jerked and sat up straight and caught his book just
beforeitslidoffhislap.
Hisseatmatewasdoingsomekindofpaperwork,usinghisbriefcaseasadesk.Abusinessman,
obviously—oneofthepeopleMaconwrotehisguidesfor.Funny,Maconneverpicturedhisreaders.
Whatdidbusinessmendo,exactly?Thisonewasjottingnotesonindexcards,referringnowandthen
to a booklet full of graphs. One graph showed little black trucks marching across the page—four
trucks, seven trucks, three and a half trucks. Macon thought the half-truck looked deformed and
pitiable.
Justbeforetheyarrived,heusedtherestroomattherearofthecar—notideal,butmorehomey
thananythinghe’dfindinNewYork.HewentbacktohisseatandpackedMissMacIntosh.“Goingto
becoldthere,”hisseatmatetoldhim.
“Iimagineso,”Maconsaid.
“Weatherreportsayscoldandwindy.”
Macondidn’tanswer.
He believed in traveling without an overcoat—just one more thing to carry—but he wore a
thermalundershirtandlongjohns.Coldwastheleastofhisworries.
InNewYorkthepassengersscatteredinstantly.Maconthoughtofaseedpodburstingopen.He
refused to be rushed and made his way methodically through the crowd, up a set of clanking, dark
stairs, and through another crowd that seemed more extreme than the one he had left down below.
Goodness, where did these women get their clothes? One wore a bushy fur tepee and leopardskin
boots. One wore an olive-drab coverall exactly like an auto mechanic’s except that it was made of
leather. Macon took a firmer grip on his bag and pushed through the door to the street, where car
hornsblastedinsistentlyandtheairsmelledgrayandsharp,liketheinteriorofadeadchimney.Inhis
opinion, New York was a foreign city. He was forever taken aback by its pervasive atmosphere of
purposefulness—thetightfocusofitsdrivers,thebriskintensityofitspedestriansdrillingtheirway
throughallobstacleswithoutaglancetoeitherside.
Hehailedacab,slidacrosstheworn,slipperyseat,andgavetheaddressofhishotel.Thedriver
startedtalkingatonceabouthisdaughter.“Imeanshe’sthirteenyearsold,”hesaid,nosingoutinto
traffic,“andgotthreesetsofholesinherearsandanearringineachhole,andnowshewantstoget
another set punched up toward the top. Thirteen years old!” He either had or had not heard the
address.Atanyrate,hewasdrivingalong.“Iwasn’teveninfavorofthefirstsetofholes,”hesaid.“I
told her, ‘What; you don’t read Ann Landers?’ Ann Landers says piercing your ears is mutilating
yourbody.WasitAnnLanders?IthinkitwasAnnLanders.Youmightaswellweararingthrough
yournoseliketheAfricans,right?Itoldmydaughterthat.Shesays,‘So?What’swrongwitharing
throughmynose?Maybethat’swhatI’llgetnext.’Iwouldn’tputitpasther,either.Iwouldnotputit
pasther.Nowthisfourthsetgoesthroughcartilageandmostoftheseear-piercingplaceswon’tdo
that; so you see how crazy it is. Cartilage is a whole different ball game. It’s not your earlobe, all
spongy.”
Macon had the feeling he wasn’t fully visible. He was listening to a man who was talking to
himself,whomayhavebeentalkingbeforehegotinandmightpossiblygoontalkingafterhegot
out. Or was he present in this cab at all? Such thoughts often attacked while he was traveling. In
desperation,hesaid,“Um—”
Thedriverstoppedspeaking,surprisinglyenough.Thebackofhisnecktookonanalertlook.
Maconhadtocontinue.Hesaid,“Tellhersomethingscary.”
“Likewhat?”
“Like...tellheryouknowagirlwhoseearsdroppedoff.”
“She’dnevergoforthat.”
“Makeitscientific.Sayifyoupuncturecartilage,itwillwitherrightaway.”
“Hmm,”thedriversaid.Hehonkedhishornataproducetruck.
“ ‘Imagine how you’d feel,’ tell her, ‘having to wear the same hairstyle forever. Covering up
yourwitheredears.’”
“Thinkshe’dbelieveme?”
“Why not?” Macon asked. And then, after a pause, “In fact, it may be true. Do you suppose I
couldhavereaditsomeplace?”
“Well,now,maybeyoudid,”thedriversaid.“There’sthissortoffamiliarringtoit.”
“Imightevenhaveseenaphotograph,”Maconsaid.“Somebody’sears,shriveled.Allshrunken.”
“Wrinkly,like,”thedriveragreed.
Maconsaid,“Liketwodriedapricots.”
“Christ!I’lltellher.”
ThetaxistoppedinfrontofMacon’shotel.Maconpaidthefareandsaid,asheslidout,“Ihopeit
works.”
“Sureitwill,”thedriversaid,“tillnexttime.Tillshewantsanoseringorsomething.”
“Nosesarecartilagetoo,remember!Nosescanwithertoo!”
Thedriverwavedandpulledintotrafficagain.
After Macon had claimed his room, he took a subway to the Buford Hotel. An electronics
salesman had written to suggest it; the Buford rented small apartments, by the day or the week, to
businessmen. The manager, a Mr. Aggers, turned out to be a short, round man who walked with a
limpexactlylikeMacon’s.Maconthoughttheymustlookveryoddtogether,crossingthelobbytothe
elevators. “Most of our apartments are owned by corporations,” Mr. Aggers said. He pressed the
“Up”button.“Companieswhosendtheirmentothecityregularlywilloftenfinditcheapertobuy
theirownplaces.Thenthoseweekstheapartmentsareempty,theylooktometofindothertenants,
helpdefraythecosts.”
Maconmadeanoteofthisinthemarginofhisguidebook.Usinganinfinitesimalscript,healso
notedthedecorofthelobby,whichremindedhimofsomeold-fashionedmen’sclub.Onthemassive,
claw-footed table between the two elevators stood a yard-high naked lady in brass, trailing brass
draperiesandstandingonbrassclouds,holdingaloftasmall,dustylightbulbwithafrayedelectric
corddanglingfromit.Theelevator,whenitarrived,haddimfloralcarpetingandpaneledwalls.
“MayIask,”Mr.Aggerssaid,“whetheryoupersonallywritetheAccidentalTouristseries?”
“Yes,Ido,”Macontoldhim.
“Well!”Mr.Aggerssaid.“Thisisarealhonor,then.Wekeepyourbooksinthelobbyforour
guests.ButIdon’tknow,Isomehowpicturedyoulookingalittledifferent.”
“HowdidyouthinkIwouldlook?”Maconasked.
“Well,maybenotquitesotall.Maybeabit,well,heavier.More...upholstered.”
“Isee,”Maconsaid.
Theelevatorhadstoppedbynowbutittookitstimeslidingopen.ThenMr.AggersledMacon
down a hall. A woman with a laundry cart stood aside to let them pass. “Here we are,” Mr. Aggers
said.Heunlockedadoorandturnedonalight.
Macon walked into an apartment that could have come straight from the 1950s. There was a
square sofa with metallic threads in its fabric, a chrome-trimmed dinette set, and in the bedroom a
doublebedwhoseheadboardwasquiltedincream-coloredvinyl.Hetestedthemattress.Hetookoff
hisshoes,laydown,andthoughtawhile.Mr.Aggersstoodabovehimwithhisfingerslaced.“Hmm,”
Macon said. He sat up and put his shoes back on. Then he went into the bathroom, where the toilet
boreawhitestripreadingSANITIZED.“I’veneverunderstoodthesethings,”hesaid.“Whyshouldit
reassuremetoknowthey’vegluedapaperbandacrossmytoiletseat?”Mr.Aggersmadeahelpless
gesturewithbothhands.Macondrewasideashowercurtainprintedwithpinkandbluefish,andhe
inspected the tub. It looked clean enough, although there was a rust stain leading down from the
faucet.
In the kitchenette he found a single saucepan, two faded plastic plates and mugs, and an entire
shelf of highball glasses. “Usually our guests don’t cook much,” Mr. Aggers explained, “but they
might have their associates in for drinks.” Macon nodded. He was faced with a familiar problem,
here:thenarrowlinebetween“comfortable”and“tacky.”Infact,sometimescomfortablewas tacky.
He opened the refrigerator, a little undercounter affair. The ice trays in the freezing compartment
wereexactlythesamekindoftrays—scummyaquaplastic,heavilyscratched—thatRosehadbackin
Baltimore.
“Youhavetoadmitit’swellstocked,”Mr.Aggerssaid.“See?Anaproninthekitchendrawer.My
wife’sidea.Protectstheirsuits.”
“Yes,verynice,”Maconsaid.
“It’sjustlikehomeawayfromhome;that’showIliketothinkofit.”
“Oh,well,home,”Maconsaid.“Nothing’shome,really.”
“Why?What’smissing?”Mr.Aggersasked.Hehadverypale,fine-grainedskinthattookona
shinewhenhewasanxious.“Whatmorewouldyouliketoseeadded?”
“To tell the truth,” Macon said, “I’ve always thought a hotel ought to offer optional small
animals.”
“Animals?”
“Imeanacattosleeponyourbedatnight,oradogofsomekindtoactpleasedwhenyoucome
in.Youevernoticehowahotelroomfeelssolifeless?”
“Yes,but—well,Idon’tseehowIcould—therearesurelyhealthregulationsorsomething...
complications,paperwork,feedingallthosedifferent...andallergies,ofcourse,manyguestshave
—”
“Oh,Iunderstand,Iunderstand,”Maconsaid.Inthemarginofhisguidebookhewasnotingthe
numberofwastebaskets:four.Excellent.“No,”hesaid,“itdoesn’tseemthatpeopleevertakemeup
onthat.”
“Willyourecommendusanyway?”
“Certainly,”Maconsaid,andheclosedhisguidebookandaskedforalistoftherates.
Therestoftheafternoonhespentinhotelsthathe’dcoveredbefore.Hevisitedmanagersintheir
offices, took brief guided tours to see that nothing had slid into ruin, and listened to talk of rising
costsandremodelingplansandnew,improvedconferencesettings.Thenhereturnedtohisroomand
switched on the evening news. The world was doing poorly; but watching this unfamiliar TV set,
propping his aching leg and braced in this chair that seemed designed for someone else’s body,
Maconhadthefeelingthatnoneofthewarsandfamineshesawwerereal.Theyweremorelike,oh,
staged.Heturnedoffthesetandwentdownstairstohailacab.
AtJulian’ssuggestion,hewasdiningontheverytopofanimpossiblytallbuilding.(Julianhada
fondnessforrestaurantswithgimmicks,Maconhadnoticed.Hewasn’thappyunlessaplacerevolved,
orfloated,orcouldbereachedonlybycatwalk.)“Imagine,”Julianhadsaid,“theeffectonyouroutof-town client. Yes, he’d have to be from out of town; I don’t suppose a native New Yorker . . .”
Maconhadsnorted.Nowthecabdriversnorted,too.“Cupofcoffeetherewillcostyoufivebucks,”he
toldMacon.
“Itfigures.”
“You’rebetteroffatoneofthoselittleFrenchyplaces.”
“That’sfortomorrow.In-townclients.”
Thetaxicoasteddownstreetsthatgrewdarkerandmoresilent,leadingawayfromthecrowds.
Maconpeeredoutofhiswindow.Hesawalonemanhuddledinadoorway,wrappedinalongcoat.
Wispsofsteamdriftedupfrommanholecovers.Alltheshopswerelockedbehindirongrilles.
Attheendofthedarkeststreetofall,thetaxistopped.Thedrivergaveanothersnort,andMacon
paid his fare and stepped out. He wasn’t prepared for the wind, which rushed up against him like a
great flat sheet of something. He hurried across the sidewalk, or was propelled, while his trousers
twistedandflappedabouthislegs.Justbeforeenteringthebuilding,hethoughttolookup.Helooked
upandupandup,andfinallyhesawafaintwhitepinnacledwindlingintoadeep,black,starlesssky
eerilyfaraway.HethoughtofoncelongagowhenEthan,visitingthezooasatoddler,hadpausedin
frontofanelephantandraisedhisfaceinastonishmentandfallenoverbackwards.
Inside,everythingwasstreakypinkmarbleandacresoftexture-lesscarpeting.Anelevatorthe
sizeofaroomstoodopen,halffilledwithpeople,andMaconsteppedinandtookhisplacebetween
two women in silks and diamonds. Their perfume was almost visible. He imagined he could see it
ripplingtheair.
Havechewinggumhandy,hewroteinhisguidebookastheelevatorshotupward.Hisearswere
popping. There was a dense, un-resonant stillness that made the women’s voices sound tinny. He
tuckedhisguidebookinhispocketandglancedatthenumbersflashingoverhead.Theyprogressed
bytens:forty,fifty,sixty...Oneofthemensaidthey’dhavetobringHaroldsometime—remember
Haroldwhenhegotsoscaredontheskilift?—andeveryonelaughed.
Theelevatorgaveasortofliltandthedoorslidopenwithoutasound.Agirlinawhitetrouser
suit directed them down a corridor, into a spacious darkness flickering with candles. Great black
windows encircled the room from floor to ceiling, but Macon was taken to a table without a view.
Lone diners, he supposed, were an embarrassment here. He might be the first they’d ever had. The
arrayofsilverathissingleplacecouldeasilyserveafamilyoffour.
Hiswaiter,farbetterdressedthanMacon,handedhimamenuandaskedwhathewantedtodrink.
“Drysherry,please,”Maconsaid.Theminutethewaiterleft,Maconfoldedhismenuintwoandsat
onit.Thenhelookedaroundathisneighbors.Everyoneseemedtobecelebratingsomething.Aman
andapregnantwomanheldhandsandsmiledacrossthemoonyglowoftheircandle.Aboisterous
grouptohislefttoastedthesamemanoverandover.
The waiter returned, balancing a sherry neatly on a tray. “Very good,” Macon said. “And now
perhapsamenu.”
“Menu?Didn’tIgiveyouone?”
“Therecouldhavebeenanoversight,”hesaid,notexactlylying.
Asecondmenuwasbroughtandopenedwithaflourishbeforehim.Maconsippedhissherryand
consideredtheprices.Astronomical.Hedecided,asusual,toeatwhathethoughthisreadersmighteat
—notthequenellesorthesweetbreadsbutthesteak,mediumrare.Afterhe’dgivenhisorder,herose
andslidhischairinandtookhissherryovertoawindow.
Allofasuddenhethoughthehaddied.
Hesawthecityspreadbelowlikeaglitteringgoldenocean,thestreetstinyribbonsoflight,the
planetcurvingawayattheedges,theskyapurplehollowextendingtoinfinity.Itwasn’ttheheight;it
wasthedistance.Itwashisvast,lonelydistancefromeveryonewhomattered.Ethan,withhisbouncy
walk—howwouldheeverknowthathisfatherhadcometobetrappedinthisspireintheheavens?
HowwouldSarahknow,lazilytanningherselfinthesunshine?Forhedidbelievethesuncouldbe
shiningwherevershewasatthismoment;shewassoremovedfromhim.Hethoughtofhissisterand
brothers going about their business, playing their evening card game, unaware of how far behind
he’d left them. He was too far gone to return. He would never, ever get back. He had somehow
traveledtoapointcompletelyisolatedfromeveryoneelseintheuniverse,andnothingwasrealbut
hisownangularhandclenchedaroundthesherryglass.
Hedroppedtheglass,causingameaninglesslittleflurryofvoices,andhespunaroundandran
lopsidedly across the room and out the door. But there was that endless corridor, and he couldn’t
manage the trip. He took a right turn instead. He passed a telephone alcove and stumbled into a
restroom—yes,amen’sroom,luckily.Moremarble,mirrors,whiteenamel.Hethoughthewasgoing
tothrowup,butwhenheenteredoneofthecubiclesthesickfeelinglefthisstomachandfloatedtohis
head.Henoticedhowlighthisbrainfelt.Hestoodabovethehotelpressinghistemples.Itoccurredto
himtowonderhowmanyfeetofpipeatoiletatthisaltituderequired.
He heard someone else come in, coughing. A cubicle door slammed shut. He opened his own
dooracrackandlookedout.Theimpersonallushnessoftheroommadehimthinkofsciencefiction
movies.
Well,thisdifficultyprobablyhappenedhereoften,didn’tit?Ormaybenotthisdifficultyexactly
but others like it—people with a fear of heights, say, going into a panic, having to call upon . . .
whom?Thewaiter?Thegirlwhomettheelevator?
He ventured cautiously out of the cubicle, then out of the restroom altogether, and he nearly
bumpedintoawomaninthetelephonealcove.Sheworeyardsandyardsofpalechiffon.Shewasjust
hangingupthephone,andshegatheredherskirtsaroundherandmovedlanguidly,gracefullytoward
the dining room. Excuse me, ma’am, I wonder if you would be so kind as to, um . . . But the only
requestthatcametomindroseupfromhisearliestchildhood:Carryme!
The woman’s little sequined evening purse was the last of her to go, trailed behind her in one
whitehandasshedisappearedintothedarknessoftherestaurant.
Hesteppedovertothetelephoneandliftedthereceiver.Itwascooltothetouch;shehadn’ttalked
long. He fumbled through his pockets, found coins and dropped them in. But there was no one he
could contact. He didn’t know a soul in all New York. Instead he called home, miraculously
summoning up his credit card number. He worried his family would let the phone ring—it was a
habit,bynow—butCharlesanswered.“Leary.”
“Charles?”
“Macon!”Charlessaid,unusuallyanimated.
“Charles,I’mupontopofthisbuildingandasortof...sillythinghashappened.Listen:You’ve
gottogetmeoutofhere.”
“Youout!Whatareyoutalkingabout?You’vegottogetmeout!”
“Pardon?”
“I’mshutinthepantry;yourdoghasmecornered.”
“Oh.Well,I’msorry,but...Charles,it’slikesomekindofillness.Idon’tthinkIcanmanagethe
elevatorandIdoubtIcouldmanageastairwayeitherand—”
“Macon,doyouhearthatbarking?That’sEdward.Edwardhasmetreed,Itellyou,andyouhave
tocomehomethisinstant.”
“ButI’minNewYork!I’mupontopofthisbuildingandIcan’tgetdown!”
“EverytimeIopenthedoorhecomesroaringoverandIslamthedoorandheattacksit,hemust
haveclawedhalfwaythroughitbynow.”
Maconmadehimselftakeadeepbreath.Hesaid,“Charles,couldIspeaktoRose?”
“She’sout.”
“Oh.”
“HowdoyouthinkIgotintothis?”Charlesasked.“Juliancametotakehertodinnerand—”
“Julian?”
“Isn’tthathisname?”
“Julianmyboss?”
“Yes, and Edward went into one of his fits; so Rose said, ‘Quick, shut him in the pantry.’ So I
grabbedhisleashandheturnedonmeandnearlytookmyhandoff.SoIshutmyselfinthepantry
insteadandRosemusthaveleftbythenso—”
“Isn’tPorterthere?”
“It’shisvisitationnight.”
Maconimaginedhowsafethepantrymustfeel,withRose’sjamslinedupinalphabeticalorder
andtheblackdialtelephonesoancientthatthenumberonitsfacewasstilltheoldTuxedoexchange.
Whathewouldn’tgivetobethere!
Now he had a new symptom. His chest had developed a flutter that bore no resemblance to a
normalheartbeat.
“Ifyoudon’tgetmeoutofthisI’mgoingtocallforthepolicetocomeshoothim,”Charlessaid.
“No!Don’tdothat!”
“Ican’tjustsitherewaitingforhimtobreakthrough.”
“Hewon’tbreakthrough.Youcouldopenthedoorandwalkrightpasthim.Believeme,Charles.
Please.I’mupontopofthisbuildingand—”
“Maybeyoudon’tknowthatI’mpronetoclaustrophobia,”Charlessaid.
One possibility, Macon decided, was to tell the restaurant people he was having a coronary. A
coronarywassorespectable.Theywouldsendforanambulanceandhewouldbe,yes,carried—just
whatheneeded.Orhewouldn’thavetobecarriedbutonlytouched,amerehumantouchuponhis
arm,ahandonhisshoulder,somethingtoputhimbackinconnectionwiththerestoftheworld.He
hadn’tfeltanotherperson’stouchinsolong.
“I’lltellthemaboutthekeyinthemailboxsotheywon’thavetobreakdownthedoor,”Charles
said.
“What?Who?”
“The police, and I’ll tell them to—Macon, I’m sorry but you knew that dog would have to be
doneawaywithsoonerorlater.”
“Don’tdoit!”Maconshouted.
Amanemergingfromtherestroomglancedinhisdirection.
Maconloweredhisvoiceandsaid,“HewasEthan’s.”
“Doesthatmeanhe’sallowedtotearmythroatout?”
“Listen.Let’snotbehasty.Let’sthinkthisthrough.Now,I’mgoingto...I’mgoingtotelephone
Sarah.I’mgoingtoaskhertocomeoverandtakechargeofEdward.Areyoulistening,Charles?”
“Butwhatifheattackshertoo?”Charlesasked.
“He won’t, believe me. Now, don’t do anything till she comes, you understand? Don’t do
anythinghasty.”
“Well...”Charlessaiddoubtfully.
Maconhungupandtookhiswalletfromhispocket.Herummagedthroughthebusinesscards
andtorn-offsnippetsofpaper,someofthemyellowwithage,thathekeptinthesecretcompartment.
WhenhefoundSarah’snumberhepuncheditinwithatremblingfingerandheldhisbreath.Sarah,he
wouldsay,I’mupontopofthisbuildingand—
Shedidn’tanswer.
Thatpossibilityhadn’toccurredtohim.Helistenedtoherphonering.Whatnow?Whatonearth
now?
Finally he hung up. He sifted despairingly through the other numbers in his wallet—dentist,
pharmacist,animaltrainer...
Animaltrainer?
He thought at first of someone from a circus—a brawny man in satin tights. Then he saw the
name: Muriel Pritchett. The card was handwritten, even hand-cut, crookedly snipped from a larger
pieceofpaper.
Hecalledher.Sheansweredatonce.“Hel-lo,”roughly,likeawearybarmaid.
“Muriel?It’sMaconLeary,”hetoldher.
“Oh!Howyoudoing?”
“I’m fine. Or, rather . . . See, the trouble is, Edward’s got my brother cornered in the pantry,
overreacting.CharlesImean,healwaysoverreacts,andhereIamontopofthisbuildinginNewYork
and I’m having this kind of, um, disturbance, you know? I was looking down at the city and it was
milesaway,miles.Ican’tdescribetoyouhow—”
“Let’smakesureI’vegotthisright,”Murielsaid.“Edward’sinyourpantry—”
Maconcollectedhimself.Hesaid,“Edward’soutsidethepantry,barking.Mybrother ’sinside.He
sayshe’sgoingtocallthepoliceandtellthemtocomeshootEdward.”
“Well,whatadumbfoolidea.”
“Yes!” Macon said. “So I thought if you could go over and get the key from the mailbox, it’s
lyingonthebottomofthemailbox—”
“I’llgorightaway.”
“Oh,wonderful.”
“Sogood-byefornow,Macon.”
“Well,butalso—”hesaid.
Shewaited.
“See, I’m up on top of this building,” he said, “and I don’t know what it is but something has
scaredthehelloutofme.”
“Oh,Lord,I’dbescaredtooafterIwentandsawToweringInferno.”
“No,no,it’snothinglikethat,fireorheights—”
“Did you see Towering Inferno? Boy, after that you couldn’t get me past jumping level in any
building.Ithinkpeoplewhogoupinskyscrapersarejustplainbrave.Imeanifyouthinkaboutit,
Macon,youhavetobebravetobestandingwhereyouarerightnow.”
“Oh,well,notsobraveasallthat,”Maconsaid.
“No,I’mserious.”
“You’remakingtoomuchoutofit.It’snothing,really.”
“Youjustsaythatbecauseyoudon’trealizewhatyouwentthroughbeforeyousteppedintothe
elevator.See,underneathyousaid,‘Okay,I’lltrustit.’That’swhateveryonedoes;Ibetit’swhatthey
doonairplanes,too.‘Thisisdangerousasallget-outbutwhatthehay,’theysay,‘let’sflingourselves
outonthinairandtrustit.’Why,yououghttobewalkingaroundthatbuildingsoamazedandproud
ofyourself!”
Macongaveasmall,drylaughandgrippedthereceivermoretightly.
“Nowhere’swhatI’mgoingtodo,”shesaid.“I’mgoingtogogetEdwardandtakehimtothe
Meow-Bow.Itdoesn’tsoundtomelikeyourbrotherismuchusewithhim.Thenwhenyougetback
fromyourtrip,weneedtotalkabouthistraining.Imean,thingsjustcan’tgoonthisway,Macon.”
“No,theycan’t.You’reright.Theycan’t,”Maconsaid.
“Imeanthisisridiculous.”
“You’reabsolutelyright.”
“Seeyou,then.Bye.”
“Well,wait!”hesaid.
Butshewasgone.
Afterhehungup,heturnedandsawthelatestarrivalsjustheadingtowardhimfromtheelevator.
Firstcamethreemen,andthenthreewomeninlonggowns.Behindthemwasacouplewhocouldn’t
be past their teens. The boy’s wrist bones stuck out of the sleeves of his suit. The girl’s dress was
clumsyandtouching,hersmallchinobscuredbyamonstrousorchid.
Halfway down the corridor, the boy and girl stopped to gaze around them. They looked at the
ceiling,andthenatthefloor.Thentheylookedateachother.Theboysaid,“Hoo!”andgrabbedboth
thegirl’shands,andtheystoodthereamoment,laughing,beforetheywentintotherestaurant.
Macon followed them. He felt soothed and tired and terribly hungry. It was good to find the
waiterjustsettinghisfoodinplacewhenhesankbackintohisseat.
ten
I’ll be honest,” Muriel said, “My baby was not exactly planned for. I mean we weren’t exactly
evenmarriedyet,ifyouwanttoknowthetruth.Ifyouwanttoknowthetruththebabywasthereason
wegotmarriedinthefirstplace,butIdidtellNormanhedidn’thavetogothroughwithitifhedidn’t
wantto.It’snotlikeIpushedhimintoitoranything.”
ShelookedpastMaconatEdward,wholayproneonthefronthallrug.He’dhadtobeforced
intoposition,butatleasthewasstayingput.
“Notice I let him move around some, as long as he stays down,” she said. “Now I’m going to
turnmyback,andyouwatchhowhedoes.”
She wandered into the living room. She lifted a vase from a table and examined its underside.
“Soanyhow,”shesaid,“wewentaheadandgotmarried,witheverybodyactinglikeitwastheworld’s
biggesttragedy.Myfolksreallynevergotoverit.Mymomsaid,‘Well,Ialwaysknewthiswasgoing
tohappen.BackwhenyouwerehangingoutwithDanaScullyandthem,oneoranotherofthemnocountboysalwayshonkingoutfrontforyou,didn’tItellyouthiswasgoingtohappen?’Wehada
littlebittyweddingatmyfolks’church,andwedidn’ttakeahoneymoontripbutwentstraighttoour
apartmentandnextdayNormanstartedworkathisuncle’s.Hejustsettledrightintobeingmarried—
shoppingwithmeforgroceriesandpickingoutcurtainsandsuch.Oh,youknow,sometimesIgetto
thinking what kids we were. It was almost like playing house! It was pretend! The candles I lit at
suppertime,flowersonthetable,Normancallingme‘hon’andbringinghisplatetothesinkforme
towash.Andthenallatonceitturnedserious.HereI’vegotthislittleboynow,thisgreatbigsevenyear-oldboywithhisclompyleathershoes,anditwasn’tplayinghouseafterall.Itwasforreal,all
along,andwejustdidn’tknowit.”
Shesatonthecouchandraisedonefootinfrontofher.Sheturneditadmiringlythiswayand
that.Herstockingsbaggedattheankle.
“WhatisEdwardupto?”sheasked.
Maconsaid,“He’sstilllyingdown.”
“Prettysoonhe’lldothatforthreehoursstraight.”
“Threehours?”
“Easy.”
“Isn’tthatsortofcruel?”
“Ithoughtyoupromisednottotalklikethat,”shetoldhim.
“Right.Sorry,”Maconsaid.
“Maybetomorrowhe’llliedownonhisown.”
“Youthinkso?”
“Ifyoupractice.Ifyoudon’tgivein.Ifyoudon’tgoallsoft-hearted.”
ThenshestoodupandcameovertoMacon.Shepattedhisarm.“Butnevermind,”shetoldhim,
“Ithinksoft-heartedmenaresweet.”
Maconbackedaway.HejustmissedsteppingonEdward.
ItwasgettingclosetoThanksgiving,andtheLearysweredebatingasusualaboutThanksgiving
dinner. The fact was, none of them cared for turkey. Still, Rose said, it didn’t seem right to serve
anything else. It would just feel wrong. Her brothers pointed out that she’d have to wake up at five
a.m.toputaturkeyintheoven.Butitwasshewho’dbedoingit,Rosesaid.Itwouldn’tbetroubling
themany.
Thenitbegantoseemshehadhadanulteriormotive,forassoonastheysettledonturkeyshe
announcedthatshemightjustinviteJulianEdge.PoorJulian,shesaid,hadnoclosefamilynearby,
and he and his neighbors gathered forlornly at holidays, each bringing his or her specialty.
Thanksgivingdinnerlastyearhadbeenavegetarianpastacasseroleandgoatcheeseongrapeleaves
andkiwitarts.Theleastshecoulddowasofferhimanormalfamilydinner.
“What!”Maconsaid,actingsurprisedanddisapproving,butunfortunately,itwasn’tthatmuchof
asurprise.Oh,Julianwasuptosomething,allright.Butwhatcoulditbe?WheneverRosecamedown
thestairsinherbestdressandtwospotsofrouge,wheneversheaskedMacontoshutEdwardinthe
pantry because Julian would be stopping by to take her this place or that—well, Macon had a very
strong urge to let Edward accidentally break loose. He made a point of meeting Julian at the door,
eyeing him for a long, silent moment before calling Rose. But Julian behaved; no glint of irony
betrayedhim.HewasrespectfulwithRose,almostshy,andhoveredclumsilywhenheusheredherout
thedoor.Orwasthattheirony?HisRoseLearyact.Macondidn’tlikethelooksofthis.
ThenitturnedoutthatPorter ’schildrenwouldbecomingforThanksgivingtoo.Theyusually
came at Christmas instead, but wanted to trade off this year due to some complication with their
grandparentsontheirstepfather ’sside.Soreally,Rosesaid,wasn’titgoodtheywerehavingturkey?
Children were such traditionalists. She set to work baking pumpkin pies. “We gather together,” she
sang, “to ask the Lord’s blessing . . .” Macon looked up from the sheaf of stolen menus he was
spreadingacrossthekitchentable.Therewasanoteofgaietyinhervoicethatmadehimuneasy.He
wondered if she had any mistaken ideas about Julian—if, for instance, she hoped for some kind of
romance. But Rose was so plain and sensible in her long white apron. She reminded him of Emily
Dickinson;hadn’tEmilyDickinsonalsobakedforherniecesandnephews?Surelytherewasnoneed
forconcern.
“Myson’snameisAlexander,”Murielsaid.“DidItellyouthat?InamedhimAlexanderbecause
Ithoughtitsoundedhigh-class.Hewasneveraneasybaby.ForstarterssomethingwentwrongwhileI
was carrying him and they had to do a Caesarean and take him out early and I got all these
complicationsandcan’teverhaveanymorechildren.AndthenAlexanderwassoteenyhedidn’teven
looklikeahuman,morelikeabig-headednewbornkitten,andhehadtostayinanincubatorforever,
just about, and nearly died. Norman said, ‘When’s it going to look like other babies?’ He always
calledAlexander‘it.’Iadjustedbetter;Imeanprettysoonitseemedtomethatthatwaswhatababy
oughttolooklike,andIhungaroundthehospitalnurserybutNormanwouldn’tgonearhim,hesaid
itmadehimtoonervous.”
Edwardwhimpered.Hewasjustbarelylyingdown—hishaunchesbraced,hisclawsdigginginto
thecarpet.ButMurielgavenosignshehadnoticed.
“MaybeyouandAlexandershouldgettogethersometime,”shetoldMacon.
“Oh,I,ah...”Maconsaid.
“Hedoesn’thaveenoughmeninhislife.”
“Well,but—”
“He’s supposed to see men a lot; it’s supposed to show him how to act. Maybe the three of us
couldgotoamovie.Don’tyouevergotomovies?”
“No,Idon’t,”Maconsaidtruthfully.“Ihaven’tbeentoamovieinmonths.Ireallydon’tcarefor
movies.Theymakeeverythingseemsocloseup.”
“OrjustouttoaMcDonald’s,maybe.”
“Idon’tthinkso,”Maconsaid.
Porter ’schildrenarrivedtheeveningbeforeThanksgiving,travelingbycarbecauseDanny,the
oldest,hadjustgothisdriver ’slicense.ThatworriedPorterconsiderably.Hepacedthefloorfrom
the first moment they could be expected. “I don’t know where June’s brain is,” he said. “Letting a
sixteen-year-oldboydriveallthewayfromWashingtonthefirstweekhehashislicense!Withhistwo
littlesistersinthecar!Idon’tknowhowhermindworks.”
To make it worse, the children were almost an hour late. When Porter finally saw their
headlights,herushedoutthedooranddownthestepswellaheadoftheothers.“Whatkeptyou?”he
cried.
Dannyunfurledhimselffromthecarwithexaggeratednonchalance,yawningandstretching,and
shookPorter ’shandasakindofafterthoughtwhileturningtostudyhistires.HewasastallasPorter
now but very thin, with his mother ’s dark coloring. Behind him came Susan, fourteen—just a few
monthsolderthanEthanwouldhavebeen.ItwasluckyshewassodifferentfromEthan,withhercap
ofblackcurlsandherrosycheeks.Thiseveningsheworejeansandhikingbootsandoneofthose
thickdownjacketsthatmadeyoungpeoplelooksobulkyandgraceless.ThenlastcameLiberty.What
aname,Maconalwaysthought.Itwasaninventionofhermother ’s—aflightywomanwhohadrun
away from Porter with a hippie stereo salesman eight and a half years ago and discovered
immediatelyafterwardthatshewastwomonthspregnant.Ironically,Libertywastheonewholooked
mostlikePorter.Shehadfair,straighthairandachiseledfaceandshewasdressedinalittletailored
coat.“Dannygotlost,”shesaidseverely.“Whatadummy.”ShekissedPorterandherauntanduncles,
butSusanwanderedpasttheminawaythatleteveryoneknowshehadoutgrownallthat.
“Oh, isn’t this nice?” Rose said. “Aren’t we going to have a wonderful Thanksgiving?” She
stoodonthesidewalkwrappingherhandinherapron,perhapstostopherselffromreachingoutto
Dannyasheslouchedtowardthehouse.Itwasdusk,andMacon,happeningtoglancearound,sawthe
grown-ups as pale gray wraiths—four middle-aged unmarried relatives yearning after the young
folks.
For supper they had carry-out pizza, intended to please the children, but Macon kept smelling
turkey. He thought at first it was his imagination. Then he noticed Danny sniffing the air. “Turkey?
Already?”Dannyaskedhisaunt.
“I’m trying this new method,” she said. “It’s supposed to save energy. You set your oven
extremelylowandcookyourmeatallnight.”
“Weird.”
AftersuppertheywatchedTV—thechildrenhadneverseemedtowarmtocards—andthenthey
wenttobed.Butinthemiddleofthenight,Maconwokewithastartandgaveseriousthoughttothat
turkey.Shewascookingittilltomorrow?Atanextremelylowtemperature?Whattemperaturewas
that,exactly?
Hewassleepinginhisoldroom,nowthathisleghadmended.Eventuallyhenudgedthecatoff
hischestandgotup.Hemadehiswaydownstairsinthedark,andhecrossedtheicykitchenlinoleum
and turned on the little light above the stove. One hundred and forty degrees, the oven dial read.
“Certaindeath,”hetoldEdward,whohadtaggedalongbehindhim.ThenCharleswalkedin,wearing
large,floppypajamas.Hepeeredatthedialandsighed.“Notonlythat,”hesaid,“butthisisastuffed
turkey.”
“Wonderful.”
“Twoquartsofstuffing.Iheardhersayso.”
“Twoquartsofteeming,swarmingbacteria.”
“Unlessthere’ssomethingtothismethodwedon’tunderstand.”
“We’llaskherinthemorning,”Maconsaid,andtheywentbacktobed.
Inthemorning,MaconcamedowntofindRoseservingpancakestothechildren.Hesaid,“Rose,
whatexactlyisityou’redoingtothisturkey?”
“Itoldyou:slowheat.Jam,Danny,orsyrup?”
“Isthatit?”Maconasked.
“You’redripping,”RosesaidtoLiberty.“What,Macon?See,Ireadanarticleaboutslow-cooked
beefandIthought,well,ifitworkswithbeefitmustworkwithturkeytoosoI—”
“Itmightworkwithbeefbutitwillmurderuswithturkey,”Macontoldher.
“ButattheendI’mgoingtoraisethetemperature!”
“You’dhavetoraiseitmightyhigh.You’dhavetoautoclavethething.”
“You’dhavetoexposeittoanuclearflash,”Dannysaidcheerfully.
Rosesaid,“Well,you’rebothjustplainwrong.Who’sthecookhere,anyhow?Isayit’sgoingto
bedelicious.”
Maybeitwas,butitcertainlydidn’tlookit.Bydinnertimethebreasthadcavedinandtheskin
wasalldryanddull.Roseenteredthediningroomholdingtheturkeyhighasifintriumph,butthe
onlypeoplewholookedimpressedwerethosewhodidn’tknowitshistory—JulianandMrs.Barrett,
oneofRose’soldpeople.Juliansaid,“Ah!”andMrs.Barrettbeamed.“Ijustwishmyneighborscould
seethis,”Juliansaid.Heworeabrass-buttonednavyblazer,andheseemedtohavepolishedhisface.
“Well,theremaybealittleproblemhere,”Maconsaid.
Rosesettheturkeydownandglaredathim.
“Ofcourse,therestofthemealisexcellent,”hesaid.“Why,wecouldfilluponthevegetables
alone!InfactIthinkI’lldothat.Buttheturkey...”
“It’spurepoison,”Dannyfinishedforhim.
Juliansaid,“Comeagain?”butMrs.Barrettjustsmiledharder.
“Wethinkitmayhavebeencookedataslightlyinadequatetemperature,”Maconexplained.
“Itwasnot!”Rosesaid.“It’sperfectlygood.”
“Maybeyou’dratherjuststicktothesidedishes,”MacontoldMrs.Barrett.Hewasworriedshe
mightbedeaf.
But she must have heard, for she said, “Why, perhaps I will,” never losing her smile. “I don’t
havemuchofanappetiteanyhow,”shesaid.
“AndI’mavegetarian,”Susansaid.
“SoamI,”Dannysaidsuddenly.
“Oh,Macon,howcouldyoudothis?”Roseasked.“Mylovelyturkey!Allthatwork!”
“Ithinkitlooksdelicious,”Juliansaid.
“Yes,”Portertoldhim,“butyoudon’tknowabouttheothertimes.”
“Othertimes?”
“Thosewerejustbadluck,”Rosesaid.
“Why, of course!” Porter said. “Or economy. You don’t like to throw things away; I can
understandthat!Porkthat’sbeensittingtoolongorchickensaladleftoutallnight...”
Rosesatdown.Tearswereglazinghereyes.“Oh,”shesaid,“you’reallsomean!Youdon’tfool
meforaninstant;Iknowwhyyou’redoingthis.YouwanttomakemelookbadinfrontofJulian.”
“Julian?”
Julian seemed distressed. He took a handkerchief from his breast pocket but then went on
holdingit.
“Youwanttodrivehimoff!Youthreewastedyourchancesandnowyouwantmetowastemine,
butIwon’tdoit.Icanseewhat’swhat.Justlistentoanysongontheradio;lookatanysoapopera.
Loveiswhatit’sallabout.Onsoapoperaseverythingrevolvesaroundlove.Anewpersoncomesto
townandrightawaythequestionis,who’shegoingtolove?Who’sgoingtolovehimback?Who’ll
losehermindwithjealousy?Who’sgoingtoruinherlife?Andyouwanttomakememissit!”
“Well,goodness,”Maconsaid,tryingtosortthisout.
“Youknowperfectlywellthere’snothingwrongwiththatturkey.Youjustdon’twantmetostop
cookingforyouandtakingcareofthishouse,youdon’twantJuliantofallinlovewithme.”
“Dowhat?”
Butshescrapedherchairbackandranfromtheroom.Juliansattherewithhismouthopen.
“Don’tyoudarelaugh,”Macontoldhim.
Julianjustwentongaping.
“Don’tevenconsiderit.”
Julianswallowed.Hesaid,“DoyouthinkIoughttogoafterher?”
“No,”Maconsaid.
“Butsheseemsso—”
“She’sfine!She’sperfectlyfine.”
“Oh.”
“Now,whowantsabakedpotato?”
Therewasakindofmurmuraroundthetable;everyonelookedunhappy.“Thatpoor,deargirl,”
Mrs.Barrettsaid.“Ifeeljustawful.”
“Metoo,”Susansaid.
“Julian?”Maconasked,clangingaspoon.“Potato?”
“I’lltaketheturkey,”Juliansaidfirmly.
Atthatmoment,Maconalmostlikedtheman.
“It was having the baby that broke our marriage up,” Muriel said. “When you think about it,
that’sfunny.Firstwegotmarriedonaccountofthebabyandthenwegotdivorcedonaccountofthe
baby,andinbetween,thebabywaswhatwearguedabout.Normancouldn’tunderstandwhyIwasall
thetimeatthehospitalvisitingAlexander.‘Itdoesn’tknowyou’rethere,sowhygo?’hesaid.I’dgo
earlyinthemorningandjusthangaround,thenurseswereasniceascouldbeaboutit,andI’dstay
till night. Norman said, ‘Muriel, won’t we ever get our ordinary life back?’ Well, you can see his
point, I guess. It’s like I only had room in my mind for Alexander. And he was in the hospital for
months,forreallymonths;therewaseverythinginthisworldwrongwithhim.Youshouldhaveseen
ourmedicalbills.Weonlyhadpartialinsuranceandtherewerethesebillsrunningup,thousandsand
thousandsofdollars.FinallyItookajobatthehospital.IaskedifIcouldworkinthenurserybutthey
saidno,soIgotakindof,morelikeamaid’sjob,cleaningpatients’roomsandsoforth.Emptying
trashcans,wet-moppingfloors...”
She and Macon were walking along Dempsey Road with Edward, hoping to run into a biker.
Murielheldtheleash.Ifabikercame,shesaid,andEdwardlungedorgavesomuchasthesmallest
yip,shewasgoingtoyankhimsohardhewouldn’tknowwhathithim.ShewarnedMaconofthat
before they started out. She said he’d better not object because this was for Edward’s own good.
Maconhopedhe’dbeabletorememberthatwhenthetimecame.
ItwastheFridayafterThanksgivingandthere’dbeenalightsnowearlier,buttheairdidn’thave
a real bite to it yet and the sidewalks were merely damp. The sky seemed to begin about two feet
abovetheirheads.
“Thisonepatient,Mrs.Brimm,shetookalikingtome,”Murielsaid.“ShesaidIwastheonly
personwhoeverbotheredtalkingtoher.I’dcomeinandtellheraboutAlexander.I’dtellherwhatthe
doctorssaid,howtheydidn’tgivehimmuchofachanceandsomehadevenwonderedifwewanteda
chance,whatwithallthatmightbewrongwithhim.I’dtellheraboutmeandNormanandthewayhe
wasacting,andshesaiditsoundedexactlylikeastoryinamagazine.Whentheylethergohomeshe
wantedmetocomewithher,takeajoblookingoutforher,butIcouldn’tonaccountofAlexander.”
Abikerappearedattheendofthestreet,agirlwithaBaskin-Robbinsuniformbunchingbelow
herjacket.Edwardperkedhisearsup.“Now,actlikeweexpectnotrouble,”MurieltoldMacon.“Just
goalong,goalong,don’tevenlookinEdward’sdirection.”
The girl skimmed toward them—a little slip of a person with a tiny, serious face. When she
passed,shegaveoffadefinitesmellofchocolateicecream.Edwardsniffedthebreezebutmarched
on.
“Oh,Edward,thatwaswonderful!”Macontoldhim.
Murieljustclucked.Sheseemedtotakehisgoodbehaviorforgranted.
“Soanyhow,”shesaid.“TheyfinallydidletAlexandercomehome.Buthewasstillnobigger
than a minute. All wrinkles like a little old man. Cried like a kitten would cry. Struggled for every
breath.AndNormanwasnohelp.Ithinkhewasjealous.HegotthiskindofstubbornlookwheneverI
hadtodosomething,gowarmabottleorsomething.He’dsay,‘Whereyouoffto?Don’tyouwantto
watchtheendofthisprogram?’I’dbehangingoverthecribwatchingAlexanderfightforair,and
Normanwouldcall,‘Muriel?Commercial’sjustaboutover!’ThennextthingIknew,therewashis
motherstandingonmydoorstepsayingitwasn’thisbabyanyhow.”
“What?Well,ofallthings!”Maconsaid.
“Canyoubelieveit?Standingonmydoorsteplookingsopleasedwithherself.‘Nothisbaby!’I
said.‘Whosethen?’‘Well,thatIcouldn’tsay,’shesaid,‘andIdoubtifyoucouldeither.ButIcantell
you this much: If you don’t give my son a divorce and release all financial claims on him, I will
personallyproduceDanaScullyandhisfriendsinacourtoflawandtheywillswearyou’reaknown
tramp and that baby could be any one of theirs. Clearly it’s not Norman’s; Norman was a darling
baby.’Well.IwaitedtillNormangothomefromworkandIsaid,‘Doyouknowwhatyourmother
toldme?’ThenIsawbyhisfacethathedid.Isawshemusthavebeentalkingbehindmybackforwho
knows how long, putting these suspicions in his head. I said, ‘Norman?’ He just stuttered around. I
said‘Norman,she’slying,it’snottrue,Iwasn’tgoingwiththoseboyswhenImetyou!That’sallin
thepast!’Hesaid,‘Idon’tknowwhattothink.’Isaid,‘Please!’Hesaid,‘Idon’tknow.’Hewentoutto
thekitchenandstartedfixingthisscreenI’dbeennagginghimabout,windowscreenhalfwayoutof
itsframeeventhoughsupperwasalreadyonthetable.I’dmadehimthisspecialsupper.Ifollowed
afterhim.Isaid,‘Norman.Danaandthemarefromway,wayback.Thatbabycouldn’tbetheirs.’He
pushedupononesideofthescreenanditwouldn’tgo,andhepushedupontheothersideanditcut
hishand,andallatoncehestartedcryingandwrenchedthewholethingoutofthewindowandthrew
itasfarashecould.Andnextdayhismothercametohelphimpackhisclothesandheleftme.”
“GoodLord,”Maconsaid.Hefeltshocked,asifhe’dknownNormanpersonally.
“So I thought about what to do. I knew I couldn’t go back to my folks. Finally I phoned Mrs.
Brimmandaskedifshestillwantedmetocometakecareofher,andshesaidyes,shedid;thewoman
shehadwasn’tanyuseatall.SoIsaidIwoulddoitforroomandboardifIcouldbringthebabyand
she said yes, that would be fine. She had this little row house downtown and there was an extra
bedroomwheremeandAlexandercouldsleep.Andthat’showImanagedtokeepusgoing.”
They were several blocks from home now, but she didn’t suggest turning back. She held the
leashlooselyandEdwardstruttednexttoher,matchingherpace.“Iwaslucky,wasn’tI,”shesaid.“If
itwasn’tforMrs.BrimmIdon’tknowwhatI’dhavedone.Andit’snotlikeitwasallthatmuchwork.
Justkeepingthehousestraight,fixingherabitetoeat,helpingheraround.Shewascrippledupwith
arthritisbutjustasspunky!It’snotlikeIreallyhadtonurseher.”
She slowed and then came to a stop. Edward, with a martyred sigh, sat down at her left heel.
“Whenyouthinkaboutit,it’sfunny,”shesaid.“AllthattimeAlexanderwasinthehospitalseemedso
awful,seemeditwouldgoonforever,butnowwhenIlookback,Ialmostmissit.Imeantherewas
somethingcozyaboutit,nowthatIrecall.Ithinkaboutthosenursesgossipingatthenurses’station
andthoserowsoflittlebabiessleeping.ItwaswinterandsometimesI’dstandatawindowandlook
outandI’dfeelhappytobewarmandsafe.I’dlookdownattheemergencyroomentranceandwatch
theambulancescomingin.YoueverwonderwhataMartianmightthinkifhehappenedtolandnear
an emergency room? He’d see an ambulance whizzing in and everybody running out to meet it,
tearing the doors open, grabbing up the stretcher, scurrying along with it. ‘Why,’ he’d say, ‘what a
helpfulplanet,whatkindandhelpfulcreatures.’He’dneverguesswe’renotalwaysthatway;thatwe
hadto,oh,putasideournaturalselvestodoit.‘Whatahelpfulraceofbeings,’aMartianwouldsay.
Don’tyouthinkso?”
ShelookedupatMaconthen.Maconexperiencedasuddentwistinhischest.Hefelttherewas
somethingheneededtodo,somekindofconnectionhewantedtomake,andwhensheraisedherface
hebentandkissedherchapped,harshlipseventhoughthatwasn’ttheconnectionhe’dintended.Her
fistwiththeleashinitwascaughtbetweenthemlikeastone.Therewassomethinginsistentabouther
—pressing.Macondrewback.“Well...”hesaid.
Shewentonlookingupathim.
“Sorry,”hesaid.
ThentheyturnedaroundandwalkedEdwardhome.
Danny spent the holiday practicing his parallel parking, tirelessly wheeling his mother ’s car
backandforthinfrontofthehouse.AndLibertybakedcookieswithRose.ButSusanhadnothingto
do,Rosesaid,andsinceMaconwasplanningatriptoPhiladelphia,wouldn’theconsidertakingher
along?“It’sonlyhotelsandrestaurants,”Maconsaid.“AndI’mcrammingitintooneday,leavingat
crackofdawnandcomingbacklateatnight—”
“She’llbecompanyforyou,”Rosetoldhim.
However,SusanwenttosleepwhenthetrainwashardlyoutofBaltimore,andshestayedasleep
for the entire ride, sunk into her jacket like a little puffed-up bird roosting on a branch. Macon sat
nexttoherwitharockmagazinehe’dfoundrolledupinoneofherpockets.HesawthatthePolice
were experiencing personality conflicts, that David Bowie worried about mental illness, that Billy
Idol’sblackshirtappearedtohavebeenrippedhalfwayoffhisbody.Evidentlythesepeopleledvery
difficult lives; he had no idea who they were. He rolled the magazine up again and replaced it in
Susan’spocket.
IfEthanwerealive,wouldhebesittingwhereSusanwas?Hehadn’ttraveledwithMaconasa
rule.Theoverseastripsweretooexpensive,thedomestictripstoodull.Oncehe’dgonewithMacon
toNewYork,andhe’ddevelopedstomachpainsthatresembledappendicitis.Maconcouldstillrecall
hisfranticsearchforadoctor,hisownstomachclenchinginsympathy,andhisreliefwhentheywere
tolditwasnothingbuttoomanybreakfasts.Hehadn’ttakenEthananywhereelseafterthat.Onlyto
BethanyBeacheverysummer,andthatwasnotsomuchatripasakindofrelocationofhomebase,
with Sarah sunbathing and Ethan joining other Baltimore boys, also relocated, and Macon happily
tighteningallthedoorknobsintheirrentedcottageorunstickingthewindowsor—oneblissfulyear
—solvingaknottyproblemhe’ddiscoveredintheplumbing.
In Philadelphia, Susan came grumpily awake and staggered off the train ahead of him. She
complained about the railroad station. “It’s way too big,” she said. “The loudspeakers echo so you
can’thearwhatthey’resaying.Baltimore’sstationisbetter.”
“Yes,you’reabsolutelyright,”Maconsaid.
Theywentforbreakfasttoacaféheknewwell,whichunfortunatelyseemedtohavefallenupon
hardtimes.Littlechipsofceilingplasterkeptdroppingintohiscoffee.Hecrossedthenameoutofhis
guidebook.Nexttheywenttoaplacethatareaderhadsuggested,andSusanhadwalnutwaffles.She
saidtheywereexcellent.“Areyougoingtoquotemeonthis?”sheasked.“Willyouputmynamein
yourbookandsayIrecommendedthewaffles?”
“It’snotthatkindofabook,”hetoldher.
“Call me your companion. That’s what restaurant critics do. ‘My companion, Susan Leary,
pronouncedthewafflesremarkable.’”
Maconlaughedandsignaledfortheirbill.
After their fourth breakfast, they started on hotels. Susan found these less enjoyable, though
Macon kept trying to involve her. He told a manager, “My companion here is the expert on
bathrooms.”ButSusanjustopenedamedicinecabinet,yawned,andsaid,“AlltheyhaveisCamay.”
“What’swrongwiththat?”
“WhenMamacamebackfromherhoneymoonshebroughtusperfumeddesignersoapfromher
hotel.OnebarformeandoneforDanny,inlittleplasticboxesanddrainageracks.”
“IthinkCamayisfine,”Macontoldthemanager,whowaslookingworried.
LateintheafternoonSusanstartedfeelingpeckishagain;sotheyhadtwomorebreakfasts.Then
they went to Independence Hall. (Macon felt they should do something educational.) “You can tell
yourcivicsteacher,”hesaid.Sherolledhereyesandsaid,“Socialstudies.”
“Whatever.”
The weather was cold, and the interior of the hall was chilly and bleak. Macon noticed Susan
gaping vacantly at the guide, who wasn’t making his spiel very exciting; so he leaned over and
whispered,“Imagine.GeorgeWashingtonsatinthatverychair.”
“I’mnotreallyintoGeorgeWashington,UncleMacon.”
“Humanbeingscanonlygo‘into’houses,cars,andcoffins,Susan.”
“Huh?”
“Nevermind.”
They followed the crowd upstairs, through other rooms, but Susan had plainly exhausted her
supplyofgoodhumor.“Ifitweren’tforwhatwasdecidedinthisbuilding,”Macontoldher,“youand
Imightverywellbelivingunderadictatorship.”
“Weareanyhow,”shesaid.
“Pardon?”
“Youreallythinkthatyouandmehaveanypower?”
“YouandI,honey.”
“It’sjustfreespeech,that’sallwe’vegot.Wecansaywhateverwelike,thenthegovernmentgoes
on and does exactly what it pleases. You call that democracy? It’s like we’re on a ship, headed
someplaceterrible,andsomebodyelseissteeringandthepassengerscan’tjumpoff.”
“Whydon’twegogetsomesupper,”Maconsaid.Hewasfeelingalittledepressed.
Hetookhertoanold-fashionedinnafewstreetsover.Itwasn’tevendarkyet,andtheywerethe
firstcustomers.AwomaninaColonialgowntoldthemthey’dhavetowaitafewminutes.Sheled
themintoasmall,snugroomwithafireplace,andawaitressofferedthemtheirchoiceofbuttered
rumorhotspikedcider.“I’llhavebutteredrum,”Susansaid,shuckingoffherjacket.
Maconsaid,“Uh,Susan.”
Sheglaredathim.
“Oh, well, make that two,” he told the waitress. He supposed a little toddy couldn’t do much
harm.
Butitmusthavebeenanexceptionallystrongtoddy—eitherthat,orSusanhadanexceptionally
weakheadforalcohol.Atanyrate,aftertwosmallsipssheleanedtowardhiminanunbalancedway.
“Thisissortoffun!”shesaid.“Youknow,UncleMacon,IlikeyoumuchbetterthanIthoughtIdid.”
“Why,thankyou.”
“I used to think you were kind of finicky. Ethan used to make us laugh, pointing to your
artichokeplate.”
“Myartichokeplate.”
Shepressedherfingertipstohermouth.“I’msorry,”shesaid.
“Forwhat?”
“Ididn’tmeantotalkabouthim.”
“Youcantalkabouthim.”
“Idon’twantto,”shesaid.
Shegazedoffacrosstheroom.Macon,followinghereyes,foundonlyaharpsichord.Helooked
backatherandsawherchintrembling.
IthadneveroccurredtohimthatEthan’scousinsmissedhimtoo.
Afteraminute,Susanpickedhermugupandtookseverallargeswallows.Shewipedhernose
withthebackofherhand.“Hot,”sheexplained.Itwastruesheseemedtohaverecoveredherself.
Maconsaid,“Whatwasfunnyaboutmyartichokeplate?”
“Oh,nothing.”
“Iwon’tbehurt.Wasitfunny?”
“Well, it looked like geometry class. Every leaf laid out in such a perfect circle when you’d
finished.”
“Isee.”
“Hewaslaughingwithyou,notatyou,”Susansaid,peeringanxiouslyintohisface.
“Well,sinceIwasn’tlaughingmyself,thatstatementseemsinaccurate.Butifyoumeanhewasn’t
laughingunkindly,Ibelieveyou.”
Shesighedanddranksomemoreofherrum.
“Nobodytalksabouthim,”Maconsaid.“Noneofyoumentionshisname.”
“Wedowhenyou’renotaround,”Susansaid.
“Youdo?”
“Wetalkaboutwhathe’dthink,youknow.LikewhenDannygothislicense,orwhenIhadadate
fortheHalloweenBall.Imeanweusedtomakesomuchfunofthegrown-ups.AndEthanwasthe
funniestone;hecouldalwaysgetustolaugh.Thenhereweare,growingupourselves.Wewonder
whatEthanwouldthinkofus,ifhecouldcomebackandseeus.Wewonderifhe’dlaughatus.Orif
he’dfeel...leftout.Likewemovedonandlefthimbehind.”
The woman in the Colonial gown came to show them to their table. Macon brought his drink;
Susanhadalreadyfinishedhers.Shewasabitunsteadyonherfeet.Whentheirwaitressaskedthemif
they’dlikeawinelist,SusangaveMaconabright-eyedlookbutMaconsaid,“No,”veryfirmly.“I
thinkweoughttostartwithsoup,”hesaid.Hehadsomeideasoupwassobering.
ButSusantalkedinareckless,headlongwayallthroughthesoupcourse,andthemaincourse,
and the two desserts she hadn’t been able to decide between, and the strong black coffee that he
pressed upon her afterward. She talked about a boy she liked who either liked her back or else
preferredsomeonenamedSissyPace.ShetalkedabouttheHalloweenBallwherethisreallyjuvenile
eighth-graderhadthrownupalloverthestereo.ShesaidthatwhenDannywaseighteen,thethreeof
themweremovingtotheirownapartmentbecausenowthattheirmotherwasexpecting(whichMacon
hadn’t known), she wouldn’t even realize they were gone. “That’s not true,” Macon told her. “Your
mother would feel terrible if you left.” Susan propped her cheek on her fist in a sort of slipshod
manner and said that she wasn’t born yesterday. Her hair had grown wilder through the evening,
givingheranelectrifiedappearance.Maconfounditdifficulttostuffherintoherjacket,andhehadto
holdherupmoreorlessbythebackofhercollarwhiletheywerewaitingforataxi.
Intherailroadstationshegotaconfused,squintylook,andoncetheywereonthetrainshefell
asleepwithherheadagainstthewindow.InBaltimore,whenhewokeher,shesaid,“Youdon’tthink
he’smadatus,doyou,UncleMacon?”
“Who’sthat?”
“Youthinkhe’smadwe’restartingtoforgethim?”
“Oh,no,honey.I’msurehe’snot.”
Shesleptinthecarallthewayfromthestation,andhedroveverygentlysoasnottowakeher.
Whentheygothome,Rosesaiditlookedasifhe’dwornthepoorchildrightdowntoafrazzle.
“Youwantyourdogtomindyouineverysituation,”Murielsaid.“Evenoutinpublic.Youwant
toleavehimoutsideapublicplaceandcomebacktofindhimwaiting.That’swhatwe’llworkonthis
morning.We’llstartwithhimwaitingrightonyourownfrontporch.Thennextlessonwe’llgoonto
shopsandthings.”
She picked up the leash and they stepped out the door. It was raining, but the porch roof kept
themdry.Maconsaid,“Holdonaminute,Iwanttoshowyousomething.”
“What’sthat?”
Hetappedhisfoottwice.Edwardlookeduncomfortable;hegazedofftowardthestreetandgave
asortofcough.Thenslowly,slowly,oneforepawcrumpled.Thentheother.Heloweredhimselfby
degreesuntilhewaslyingdown.
“Well!Gooddog!”Murielsaid.Shecluckedhertongue.
Edwardflattenedhisearsbackforapat.
“Iworkedonhimmostofyesterday,”Maconsaid.“ItwasSundayandIhadnothingtodo.And
thenmybrother ’skidsweregettingreadytoleaveandEdwardwasgrowlingthewayheusuallydoes;
soItappedmyfootanddownhewent.”
“I’mproudofbothofyou.”
ShetoldEdward,“Stay,”holdingoutahand.Shebackedintothehouseagain.“Now,Macon,you
comeintoo.”
Theyclosedthefrontdoor.Murieltweakedthelacecurtainandpeeredout.“Well,he’sstayingso
far,”sheannounced.
Sheturnedherbacktothedoor.Shecheckedherfingernailsandsaid,“Tsk!”Tinybeadsofrain
trickleddownherraincoat,andherhair—reactingtothedamp—stoodoutincorkscrews.“Someday
I’mgoingtogetmeaprofessionalmanicure,”shesaid.
Macontriedtoseearoundher;hewasn’tsurethatEdwardwouldstayput.
“Haveyoueverbeentoamanicurist?”sheasked.
“Me?Goodness,no.”
“Well,somemengo.”
“Notme.”
“I’dlikejustoncetogeteverythingdoneprofessional.Nails,skin...Mygirlfriendgoestothis
placewheretheyvacuumyourskin.Theyjustvacuumallyourpores,shesays.I’dliketogothere
sometime.AndI’dliketohavemycolorsdone.Whatcolorslookgoodonme?Whatdon’t?What
bringsoutthebestinme?”
Shelookedupathim.Allatonce,Macongotthefeelingshehadnotbeentalkingaboutcolorsat
allbutsomethingelse.Itseemedsheusedwordsasasortofbackgroundmusic.Hetookastepaway
fromher.Shesaid,“Youdidn’thavetoapologize,theotherday.”
“Apologize?”
Althoughheknewexactlywhatshewasreferringto.
Sheseemedtoguessthat.Shedidn’texplainherself.
“Um,Idon’trememberifIevermadethisclear,”Maconsaid,“butI’mnotevenlegallydivorced
yet.”
“So?”
“I’mjust,whatdoyoucall.Separated.”
“Well?So?”
Hewantedtosay,Muriel,forgiveme,butsincemysondied,sexhas...turned.(Asmilkturns;
thatwashowhethoughtofit.Asmilkwillalteritsbasicnatureandturnsour.)Ireallydon’tthinkofit
anymore.Ihonestlydon’t.Ican’timagineanymorewhatallthatfusswasabout.Nowitseemspathetic.
But what he said was, “I’m worried the mailman’s going to come.” She looked at him for a
momentlonger,andthensheopenedthedoorforEdward.
Rose was knitting Julian a pullover sweater for Christmas. “Already?” Macon asked. “We’ve
barelygotpastThanksgiving.”
“Yes,butthisisareallyhardpatternandIwanttodoitright.”
Macon watched her needles flashing. “Actually,” he said, “have you ever noticed that Julian
wearscardigans?”
“Yes,Iguesshedoes,”shesaid.
Butshewentonknittingherpullover.
It was a heathery gray wool, what he believed they called Ragg wool. Macon and both his
brothers had sweaters that color. But Julian wore crayon colors or navy blue. Julian dressed like a
golfer.“HetendstowardtheV-neckedlook,”MaconsaidtoRose.
“Thatdoesn’tmeanhewouldn’twearacrewneckifhehadone.”
“Look,”Maconsaid.“IguesswhatI’mgettingat—”
Rose’sneedlesclickedserenely.
“He’s really kind of a playboy,” he said. “I don’t know if you realize that. And besides, he’s
younger.”
“Twoyears,”shesaid.
“Buthe’sgotayounger,Idon’tknow,styleofliving.Singlesandapartmentsandsoon.”
“Hesayshe’stiredofallthat.”
“Oh,Lord.”
“He says he likes homeyness. He appreciates my cooking. He can’t believe I’m knitting him a
sweater.”
“No,Iguessnot,”Maconsaidgrimly.
“Don’ttrytospoilthis,Macon.”
“Sweetheart, I only want to protect you. It’s wrong, you know, what you said at Thanksgiving.
Loveisnotwhatit’sallabout.Thereareotherthingstoconsiderbesides,allkindsofotherissues.”
“Heatemyturkeyanddidnotgetsick.Twobighelpings,”Rosesaid.
Macongroanedandtoreatahandfulofhishair.
“Firstwetryhimonarealquietstreet,”Murielsaid.“Someplacepublic,butnottoobusy.Some
out-of-the-waylittlestoreorsomething.”
Shewasdrivingherlonggrayboatofacar.Maconsatinfrontbesideher,andEdwardsatin
back,hisearsouthorizontalwithjoy.Edwardwasalwayshappytobeinvitedforacarride,though
very soon he’d turn cranky. (“How much longer?” you could almost hear him whine.) It was lucky
theyweren’tgoingfar.
“I got this car on account of its big old trunk,” Muriel said. She slung it dashingly around a
corner.“Ineededitformyerrandbusiness.Guesshowmuchitcost?”
“Um...”
“Only two hundred dollars. That’s because it needed work, but I took it to this boy down the
streetfromwhereIlive.Isaid,‘Here’sthedeal.Youfixmycarup,Iletyouhavetheuseofitthree
nightsaweekandalldaySunday.’Wasn’tthatagoodidea?”
“Veryinventive,”Maconsaid.
“I’vehadtobeinventive.It’sbeenscrapeandscrounge,nailandknuckle,eversinceNormanleft
me,”shesaid.Shehadpulledintoaspaceinfrontofalittleshoppingcenter,butshemadenomoveto
get out of the car. “I’ve lain awake, oh, many a night, thinking up ways to earn money. It was bad
enoughwhenroomandboardcamefree,butafterMrs.Brimmdieditwasworse;herhousepassed
on to her son and I had to pay him rent. Her son’s an old skinflint. Always wanting to jack up the
price. I said, ‘How’s about this? You leave the rent where it is and I won’t trouble you with
maintenance.I’lltendtoitallmyself,’Isaid.‘Thinkoftheheadachesyou’llsave.’Soheagreedand
nowyoushouldseewhatIhavetodealwith,thingsgowrongandIcan’tfixthemandsowejustlive
withthem.Leakyroof,stopped-upsink,faucetdrippinghotwatersomygasbill’soutofthisworld,
butatleastI’vekepttherentdown.AndI’vegotaboutfiftyjobs,ifyoucountthemallup.Youcould
say I’m lucky; I’m good at spotting a chance. Like those lessons at Doggie, Do, or another time a
courseinmassageattheY.Themassageturnedouttobeadud,seemsyouhavetohavealicenseand
all like that, but I will say Doggie, Do paid off. And also I’m trying to start this research service;
that’s on account of all I picked up helping the school librarian. Wrote out these little pink cards I
passedaroundatTowsonState:We-SearchResearch.Xeroxedtheseflyersandmailedthemtoevery
MarylandnameintheWriter’sDirectory.MenandWomenofLetters!Isaid.Doyouwantalongslow
illness that will effectively kill off a character without unsightly disfigurement? So far no one’s
answeredbutI’mstillhoping.TwicenowI’vepaidforanentireOceanCityvacationjustbygoingup
and down the beach offering folks these box lunches me and Alexander fixed in our motel room
every morning. We lug them in Alexander ’s red wagon; I call out, ‘Cold drinks! Sandwiches! Step
rightup!’Andthisisnotevencountingtheregularjobs,liketheMeow-BoworbeforethattheRapidEze. Tiresome old Rapid-Eze; they did let me bring Alexander but it was nothing but copying
documentsandtediousthingslikethat,canceledchecksandinvoices,littlechitsofthings.I’venever
beensodisinterested.”
Maconstirredandsaid,“Don’tyoumeanuninterested?”
“Exactly.Wouldn’tyoube?Copiesofletters,copiesofexams,copiesofarticlesonhowtoshop
for a mortgage. Knitting instructions, crochet instructions, all rolling out of the machine real slow
andstatelylikethey’resuchabigdeal.FinallyIquit.WhenIgotmytrainingatDoggie,DoIsaid,‘I
quit.I’vehadit!’Whydon’twetrythegrocery.”
Maconfeltconfusedforasecond.Thenhesaid,“Oh.Allright.”
“Yougointothegrocery,putEdwardonadown-stayoutside.I’llwaithereinthecarandseeif
hebehaves.”
“Allright.”
HeclimbedfromthecarandopenedthebackdoorforEdward.Heledhimovertothegrocery.
He tapped his foot twice. Edward looked distressed, but he lay down. Was this humane, when the
sidewalkwasstillsowet?Reluctantly,Maconsteppedintothestore.Ithadtheold-fashionedsmellof
brown paper bags. When he looked back out, Edward’s expression was heartbreaking. He wore a
puzzled,anxioussmileandhewaswatchingthedoorintently.
Maconcruisedanaislefulloffruitsandvegetables.Hepickedupanappleandconsidereditand
setitdownagain.Thenhewentbackoutside.Edwardwasstillinplace.Murielhademergedfromher
carandwasleaningagainstthefender,makingfacesintoabrownplasticcompact.“Givehimlotsof
praise!”shecalled,snappingthecompactshut.MaconcluckedandpattedEdward’shead.
Theywentnextdoortothedrugstore.“Thistimewe’llbothgoin,”Murielsaid.
“Isthatsafe?”
“We’llhavetotryitsoonerorlater.”
They strolled the length of the hair care aisle, all the way back to cosmetics, where Muriel
stoppedtotryonalipstick.MaconimaginedEdwardyawningandgettingupandleaving.Murielsaid,
“Toopink.”Shetookatissuefromherpurseandrubbedthepinkoff.Herownlipstickstayedon,asif
it were not merely a 1940s color but a 1940s formula—the glossless, cakey substance that used to
clingtopillowcases,napkins,andtherimsofcoffeecups.Shesaid,“Whatareyoudoingfordinner
tomorrownight?”
“For—?”
“Comeandeatatmyhouse.”
Heblinked.
“Comeon.We’llhavefun.”
“Um...”
“Justfordinner,youandmeandAlexander.Saysixo’clock.NumberSixteenSingletonStreet.
Knowwherethatis?”
“Oh,well,Idon’tbelieveI’mfreethen,”Maconsaid.
“Thinkitoverawhile,”shetoldhim.
Theywentoutside.Edwardwasstilltherebuthewasstandingup,bristlinginthedirectionofa
Chesapeake Bay retriever almost a full block away. “Shoot,” Muriel said. “Just when I thought we
weregettingsomeplace.”Shemadehimliedownagain.Thenshereleasedhimandthethreeofthem
walkedon.Maconwaswonderinghowsoonhecoulddecentlysaythathehadthoughtitoverandnow
remembered he definitely had an invitation elsewhere. They rounded a corner. “Oh, look, a thrift
shop!”Murielsaid.“Mybiggestweakness.”ShetappedherfootatEdward.“Thistime,I’llgoin,”she
said.“Iwanttoseewhattheyhave.Youstepbackabitandwatchhedoesn’tstanduplikebefore.”
ShewentinsidethethriftshopwhileMaconwaited,skulkingaroundtheparkingmeters.Edward
knewhewasthere,though.HekeptturninghisheadandgivingMaconbeseechinglooks.
MaconsawMurielatthefrontoftheshop,pickingupandsettingdownlittlegildedcupswithout
saucers, chipped green glass florists’ vases, ugly tin brooches as big as ashtrays. Then he saw her
dimlyinthebackwheretheclotheswere.Shedriftedintosightandoutagainlikeafishindarkwater.
Sheappearedallatonceinthedoorway,holdingupahat.“Macon?Whatdoyouthink?”shecalled.It
wasadustybeigeturbanwithajewelpinnedtoitscenter,agreatfalsetopazlikeaneye.
“Veryinteresting,”Maconsaid.Hewasstartingtofeelthecold.
Murielvanishedagain,andEdwardsighedandsettledhischinonhispaws.
Ateenagedgirlwalkedpast—agypsykindofgirlwithlayersofflouncyskirtsandapurplesatin
knapsackplasteredalloverwithGratefulDeademblems.Edwardtensed.Hewatchedeverystepshe
took;herearrangedhispositiontowatchafterherassheleft.Buthesaidnothing,andMacon—tensed
himself—feltrelievedbutalsoalittleletdown.He’dbeenpreparedtoleapintoaction.Allatoncethe
silenceseemedunusuallydeep;nootherpeoplepassed.Heexperiencedoneofthosehallucinationsof
sound that he sometimes got on planes or trains. He heard Muriel’s voice, gritty and thin, rattling
along.“Atthetonethetimewillbe...”shesaid,andthenshesang,“Youwillfindyourlovein...”
andthensheshouted,“Colddrinks!Sandwiches!Steprightup!”Itseemedshehadwebbedhismind
withherstories,woundhiminslendersteelythreadsfromherlife—herShirleyTemplechildhood,
unsavorygirlhood,Normanflingingthescreenoutthewindow,Alexandermewinglikeanewborn
kitten, Muriel wheeling on Doberman pinschers and scattering her salmon-pink business cards and
gallopingdownthebeach,allspikylimbsandflyinghair,haulingalittleredwagonfulloflunches.
Thenshesteppedoutofthethriftshop.“Itwaswaytooexpensive,”shetoldMacon.“Gooddog,”
shesaid,andshesnappedherfingerstoletEdwardup.“Nowonemoretest.”Shewasheadingback
towardhercar.“Wewanttotrybothofusgoinginagain.We’lldoitdownatthedoctor ’s.”
“Whatdoctor ’s?”
“Dr.Snell’s.I’vegottopickupAlexander;IwanttoreturnhimtoschoolafterIdropyouoff.”
“Willthattakelong?”
“Oh,no.”
Theydrovesouth,withtheengineknockinginawaythatMaconhadn’tnoticedthefirsttime.In
frontofabuildingonColdSpringLane,Murielparkedandgotout.MaconandEdwardfollowedher.
“Now, I don’t know if he’s ready or not,” she said. “But all the better if he’s not; gives Edward
practice.”
“Ithoughtyousaidthiswouldn’ttakelong.”
Shedidn’tseemtohearhim.
They left Edward on the stoop and went into the waiting room. The receptionist was a gray-
haired woman with sequined glasses dangling from a chain of fake scarabs. Muriel asked her, “Is
Alexanderthroughyet?”
“Anyminute,hon.”
MurielfoundamagazineandsatdownbutMaconremainedstanding.Heraisedoneoftheslats
ofthevenetianblindtocheckonEdward.Amaninanearbychairglancedoverathimsuspiciously.
Maconfeltlikesomeonefromagangstermovie—oneofthoseshadycharacterswhotwitchesbacka
curtaintomakesurethecoastisclear.Hedroppedtheblind.Murielwasreadinganarticlecalled“Put
ontheNewSultry,ShadowedEyes!”Therewerepicturesofdifferentmodelslookingmalevolent.
“HowolddidyousayAlexanderwas?”Maconasked.
Sheglancedup.Herowneyes,untouchedbycosmetics,weredisquietinglynakedcomparedto
thoseinthemagazine.
“He’sseven,”shesaid.
Seven.
SevenwaswhenEthanhadlearnedtorideabicycle.
Maconwasvisitedbyoneofthosememoriesthatdenttheskin,thatstrainthemuscles.Hefeltthe
seatofEthan’sbikepressingintohishand—thecurled-underedgeattherearthatyouholdontowhen
you’retryingtokeepabicycleupright.Hefeltthesidewalkslappingagainsthissolesasheran.He
felthimselfletgo,slowtoawalk,stopwithhishandsonhishipstocallout,“You’vegothernow!
You’ve got her!” And Ethan rode away from him, strong and proud and straight-backed, his hair
pickingupthelighttillhepassedbeneathanoaktree.
MaconsatdownnexttoMuriel.Shelookedoverandsaid,“Haveyouthought?”
“Hmm?”
“Haveyougivenanythoughttocomingtodinner?”
“Oh,”hesaid.Andthenhesaid,“Well,Icouldcome.Ifit’sonlyfordinner.”
“Whatelsewoulditbefor?”sheasked.Shesmiledathimandtossedherhairback.
Thereceptionistsaid,“Hereheis.”
Shewastalkingaboutasmall,white,sicklyboywithashaved-lookingskull.Hedidn’tappearto
havequiteenoughskinforhisface;hisskinwasstretched,hismouthwasstretchedtoanunattractive
width,andeveryboneandbladeofcartilagemadeitspresenceknown.Hiseyeswerelightblueand
lashless,bulgingslightly,rimmedwithpink,magnifiedbehindlarge,wateryspectacleswhoseclear
frameshadanunfortunatepinkishcastthemselves.Heworeacarefullycoordinatedshirt-and-slacks
setsuchasonlyamotherwouldchoose.
“How’ditgo?”Murielaskedhim.
“Okay.”
“Sweetie,thisisMacon.Canyousayhi?I’vebeentraininghisdog.”
Macon stood up and held out his hand. After a moment, Alexander responded. His fingers felt
likeacollectionofwiltedstringbeans.Hetookhishandawayagainandtoldhismother,“Youhaveto
makeanotherappointment.”
“Surething.”
Shewentovertothereceptionist,leavingMaconandAlexanderstandingthere.Maconfeltthere
wasnothingonearthhecouldtalkaboutwiththischild.Hebrushedaleafoffhissleeve.Hepulledhis
cuffsdown.Hesaid,“You’reprettyyoungtobeatthedoctor ’swithoutyourmother.”
Alexanderdidn’tanswer,butMuriel—waitingforthereceptionisttoflipthroughhercalendar—
turnedandansweredforhim.“He’susedtoit,”shesaid,“becausehe’shadtogosooften.He’sgot
theseallergies.”
“Isee,”Maconsaid.
Yes,hewasjustthetypeforallergies.
“He’s allergic to shellfish, milk, fruits of all kinds, wheat, eggs, and most vegetables,” Muriel
said.Sheacceptedacardfromthereceptionistanddroppeditintoherpurse.Shesaidastheywere
walkingout,“He’sallergictodustandpollenandpaint,andthere’ssomebeliefhe’sallergictoair.
Wheneverhe’soutsidealongtimehegetsthesebumpsonanyuncoveredpartsofhisbody.”
She clucked at Edward and snapped her fingers. Edward jumped up, barking. “Don’t pat him,”
shetoldAlexander.“Youdon’tknowwhatdogfurwilldotoyou.”
They got into her car. Macon sat in back so Alexander could take the front seat, as far from
Edward as possible. They had to drive with all the windows down so Alexander wouldn’t start
wheezing.Overtherushofwind,Murielcalled,“He’ssubjecttoasthma,eczema,andnosebleeds.He
hastogettheseshotsallthetime.Ifabeeeverstingshimandhehasn’thadhisshotshecouldbedead
inhalfanhour.”
AlexanderturnedhisheadslowlyandgazedatMacon.Hisexpressionwasprimandcensorious.
Whentheydrewupinfrontofthehouse,Murielsaid,“Well,let’sseenow.I’monfulltimeatthe
Meow-Bowtomorrow...”Sheranahandthroughherhair,whichwasscratchy,rough,disorganized.
“SoIguessIwon’tseeyoutilldinner,”shesaid.
Maconcouldn’tthinkofanywaytotellherthis,butthefactwashewouldneverbeabletomake
that dinner. He missed his wife. He missed his son. They were the only people who seemed real to
him.Therewasnopointlookingforsubstitutes.
eleven
Muriel Pritchett was how she was listed. Brave and cocky: no timorous initials for Muriel.
Maconcircledthenumber.Hefigurednowwasthetimetocall.Itwasnineintheevening.Alexander
wouldhavegonetobed.Heliftedthereceiver.
Butwhatwouldhesay?
Besttobestraightforward,ofcourse,muchlesshurtful;hadn’tGrandmotherLearyalwaystold
themso?Muriel,lastyearmysondiedandIdon’tseemto...Muriel,thishasnothingtodowithyou
personallybutreallyIhaveno...
Muriel,Ican’t.Ijustcan’t.
Itseemedhisvoicehadrustedover.Heheldthereceivertohisearbutgreat,sharpclotsofrust
werestickinginhisthroat.
HehadneveractuallysaidoutloudthatEthanwasdead.Hehadn’tneededto;itwasinthepapers
(page three, page five), and then friends had told other friends, and Sarah got on the phone . . . So
somehow,hehadneverspokenthewords.Howwouldhedoitnow?OrmaybehecouldmakeMuriel
doit.Finishthesentence,please:Ididhaveasonbuthe—.“Hewhat?”shewouldask.“Hewentto
livewithyourwife?Heranaway?Hedied?”Maconwouldnod.“Buthowdidhedie?Wasitcancer?
Wasitacarwreck?Wasitanineteen-year-oldwithapistolinaBurgerBonanzarestaurant?”
Hehungup.
He went to ask Rose for notepaper and she gave him some from her desk. He took it to the
diningroomtable,satdown,anduncappedhisfountainpen.DearMuriel,hewrote.Andstaredatthe
pageawhile.
Funnysortofname.
WhowouldthinkofcallingalittlenewbornbabyMuriel?
Heexaminedhispen.ItwasaParker,aswirlytortoiseshelllacquerwithacomplicatedgoldnib
thathelikedthelooksof.HeexaminedRose’sstationery.Creamcolored.Deckleedged.Deckle!What
anoddword.
Well.
DearMuriel.
Iamverysorry,hewrote,but I won’t be able to have dinner with you after all. Something has
comeup.Hesignedit,Regretfully,Macon.
GrandmotherLearywouldnothaveapproved.
Hesealedtheenvelopeandtuckeditinhisshirtpocket.ThenhewenttothekitchenwhereRose
keptagiantcitymapthumb-tackedtothewall.
Driving through the labyrinth of littered, cracked, dark streets in the south of the city, Macon
wonderedhowMurielcouldfeelsafelivinghere.Thereweretoomanymurkyalleysandstairwells
full of rubbish and doorways lined with tattered shreds of posters. The gridded shops with their
ineptly lettered signs offered services that had a sleazy ring to them: CHECKS CASHED NO
QUESTIONS,TINYBUBBA’SINCOMETAX,SAMEDAYAUTORECOLORING.Eventhislateon
acoldNovembernight,clustersofpeoplelurkedintheshadows—youngmendrinkingoutofbrown
paperbags,middle-agedwomenarguingunderamoviemarqueethatreadCLOSED.
He turned onto Singleton and found a block of row houses that gave a sense of having been
skimpedon.Theroofswereflat,thewindowsflushandlackingdepth.Therewasnothingtospare,no
excess material for overhangs or decorative moldings, no generosity. Most were covered in
formstone, but the bricks of Number 16 had been painted a rubbery maroon. An orange bugproof
bulbgloweddimlyabovethefrontstoop.
Hegotoutofthecarandclimbedthesteps.Heopenedthescreendoor,whichwasmadeofpitted
aluminum.Itclatteredinacheapwayandthehingesshrieked.Hewinced.Hetooktheletterfromhis
pocketandbentdown.
“I’ve got a double-barreled shotgun,” Muriel said from inside the house, “and I’m aiming it
exactlywhereyourheadis.”
Hestraightenedsharply.Hisheartstartedpounding.(Hervoicesoundedlevelandaccurate—like
hershotgun,heimagined.)Hesaid,“It’sMacon.”
“Macon?”
Thelatchclickedandtheinnerdooropenedseveralinches.HesawasliverofMurielinadarkcoloredrobe.Shesaid,“Macon!Whatareyoudoinghere?”
Hegavehertheletter.
Shetookitandopenedit,usingbothhands.(Therewasn’tatraceofashotgun.)Shereaditand
lookedupathim.
Hesawhehaddoneitallwrong.
“Lastyear,”hesaid,“Ilost...Iexperienceda...loss,yes,Ilostmy...”
Shewentonlookingintohisface.
“Ilostmyson,”Maconsaid.“Hewasjust...hewenttoahamburgerjointandthen...someone
came,aholdupman,andshothim.Ican’tgotodinnerwithpeople!Ican’ttalktotheirlittleboys!You
havetostopaskingme.Idon’tmeantohurtyourfeelingsbutI’mjustnotuptothis,doyouhear?”
Shetookoneofhiswristsverygentlyandshedrewhimintothehouse,stillnotfullyopeningthe
door, so that he had a sense of slipping through something, of narrowly evading something. She
closedthedoorbehindhim.Sheputherarmsaroundhimandhuggedhim.
“EverydayItellmyselfit’stimetobegettingoverthis,”hesaidintothespaceaboveherhead.“I
knowthatpeopleexpectitofme.Theyusedtooffertheirsympathybutnowtheydon’t;theydon’t
evenmentionhisname.Theythinkit’stimemylifemovedon.Butifanything,I’mgettingworse.The
first year was like a bad dream— I was clear to his bedroom door in the morning before I
remembered he wasn’t there to be wakened. But this second year is real. I’ve stopped going to his
door. I’ve sometimes let a whole day pass by without thinking about him. That absence is more
terrible than the first, in a way. And you’d suppose I would turn to Sarah but no, we only do each
other harm. I believe that Sarah thinks I could have prevented what happened, somehow—she’s so
usedtomyarrangingherlife.Iwonderifallthishasonlybroughtoutthetruthaboutus—howfar
apartweare.I’mafraidwegotmarriedbecausewewerefarapart.AndnowI’mfarfromeveryone;I
don’thaveanyfriendsanymoreandeveryonelookstrivialandfoolishandnotrelatedtome.”
Shedrewhimthroughalivingroomwhereshadowsloomedaboveasinglebeadedlamp,anda
magazine lay face down on a lumpy couch. She led him up a stairway and across a hall and into a
bedroomwithanironbedsteadandavarnishedorangebureau.
“No,”hesaid,“wait.ThisisnotwhatIwant.”
“Justsleep,”shetoldhim.“Liedownandsleep.”
Thatseemedreasonable.
Sheremovedhisduffelcoatandhungitonahookinaclosetcurtainedwithalengthofflowered
sheeting.Shekneltanduntiedhisshoes.Hesteppedoutofthemobediently.Sherosetounbuttonhis
shirt and he stood passive with his hands at his sides. She hung his trousers over a chair back. He
droppedontothebedinhisunderwearandshecoveredhimwithathin,witheredquiltthatsmelledof
bacongrease.
Next he heard her moving through the rest of the house, snapping off lights, running water,
murmuringsomethinginanotherroom.Shereturnedtothebedroomandstoodinfrontofthebureau.
Earringsclinkedintoadish.Herrobewasold,shatteredsilk,thecolorofsherry.Ittiedatthewaist
withatwistedcordandtheelbowswereclumsilydarned.Sheswitchedoffthelamp.Thenshecame
overtothebedandliftedthequiltandslidunderit.Hewasn’tsurprisedwhenshepressedagainsthim.
“Ijustwanttosleep,”hetoldher.Buttherewerethosefoldsofsilk.Hefelthowcoolandfluidthesilk
was.Heputahandonherhipandfeltthetwolayersofher,cooloverwarm.Hesaid,“Willyoutake
thisoff?”
Sheshookherhead.“I’mbashful,”shewhispered,butimmediatelyafterward,asiftodenythat,
sheputhermouthonhismouthandwoundherselfaroundhim.
In the night he heard a child cough, and he swam up protestingly through layers of dreams to
answer.Buthewasinaroomwithonetallbluewindow,andthechildwasnotEthan.Heturnedover
and found Muriel. She sighed in her sleep and lifted his hand and placed it upon her stomach. The
robe had fallen open; he felt smooth skin, and then a corrugated ridge of flesh jutting across her
abdomen.TheCaesarean,hethought.Anditseemedtohim,ashesankbackintohisdreams,thatshe
hadasgoodasspokenaloud.Aboutyourson,sheseemedtobesaying:Justputyourhandhere.I’m
scarred,too.We’reallscarred.Youarenottheonlyone.
twelve
Idon’tunderstandyou,”RosetoldMacon.“Firstyousayyes,you’llbehereallafternoon,and
thenyousayyouwon’t.HowcanIplanwhenyou’resodisorganized?”
Shewasfoldinglinennapkinsandstackingthemonthetable,preparingherannualteaforthe
oldpeople.Maconsaid,“Sorry,Rose,Ididn’tthinkitwouldmatterthatmuch.”
“Last night you said you’d want supper and then you weren’t here to eat it. Three separate
morningsthesepasttwoweeksIgotocallyouforbreakfastandIfindyouhaven’tsleptinyourbed.
Don’tyouthinkIworry?Anythingmighthavehappened.”
“Well,IsaidIwassorry.”
Rosesmoothedthestackofnapkins.
“Timecreepsuponme,”hetoldher.“Youknowhowitis.ImeanIdon’tintendtogooutatall,
tobeginwith,butthenIthink,‘Oh,maybeforalittlewhile,’andnextthingIknowit’ssolate,much
toolatetobedriving,andIthinktomyself,‘Well...’”
Rose turned away quickly and went over to the buffet. She started counting spoons. “I’m not
askingaboutyourprivatelife,”shesaid.
“Ithoughtinasenseyouwere.”
“Ijustneedtoknowhowmuchfoodtocook,that’sall.”
“Iwouldn’tblameyouforbeingcurious,”hesaid.
“Ijustneedtoknowhowmanybreakfaststofix.”
“You think I don’t notice you three? Whenever she’s here giving Edward his lesson, everyone
starts coming out of the woodwork. Edging through the living room—‘Just looking for the pliers!
Don’tmindme!’SweepingtheentirefrontporchtheminutewetakeEdwardoutforawalk.”
“CouldIhelpitiftheporchwasdirty?”
“Well,I’lltellyouwhat,”hesaid.“TomorrownightI’lldefinitelybehereforsupper.That’sa
promise.Youcancountonit.”
“I’mnotaskingyoutostayifyoudon’twantto,”shetoldhim.
“Of course I want to! It’s just this evening I’ll be out,” he said, “but not late, I’m sure of that.
Why,IbetI’llbehomebeforeten!”
Althoughevenashespoke,heheardhowfalseandshallowhesounded,andhesawhowRose
loweredhereyes.
He bought a large combination pizza and drove downtown with it. The smell made him so
hungry that he kept snitching bits off the top at every stoplight—coins of pepperoni, crescents of
mushroom.Hisfingersgotallstickyandhecouldn’tfindhishandkerchief.Prettysoonthesteering
wheel was sticky too. Humming to himself, he drove past tire stores, liquor stores, discount shoe
stores,theHot-TonightNoveltyCompany.Hetookashortcutthroughanalleyandjouncedbetweena
doublerowofbackyards—tinyrectanglescrammedwithswingsetsandrustedautopartsandstunted,
frozen bushes. He turned onto Singleton and drew up behind a pickup truck full of moldy rolls of
carpet.
The next-door neighbor ’s twin daughters were perched on their front stoop—flashy sixteenyear-olds in jeans as tight as sausage casings. It was too cold to sit outside, but that never stopped
them.“Heythere,Macon,”theysing-songed.
“Howareyou,girls.”
“YougoingtoseeMuriel?”
“IthoughtImight.”
HeclimbedMuriel’ssteps,holdingthepizzalevel,andknockedonthedoor.DebbieandDorrie
continuedtowatchhim.Heflashedthemabroadsmile.Theysometimesbaby-satwithAlexander;he
hadtobenicetothem.HalftheneighborhoodsatwithAlexander,itseemed.Hestillfeltconfusedby
Muriel’snetworkofarrangements.
ItwasAlexanderwhoopenedthedoor.“Pizzaman!”Macontoldhim.
“Mama’sonthephone,”Alexandersaidflatly.Heturnedawayandwanderedbacktothecouch,
adjustinghisglassesonhisnose.EvidentlyhewaswatchingTV.
“Extra-largecombination,noanchovies,”Maconsaid.
“I’mallergictopizza.”
“Whatpartofit?”
“Huh?”
“Whatpartareyouallergicto?Thepepperoni?Sausage?Mushrooms?Wecouldtakethoseoff.”
“Allofit,”Alexandersaid.
“Youcan’tbeallergictoallofit.”
“Well,Iam.”
Maconwentonintothekitchen.Murielstoodwithherbacktohim,talkingonthephonewithher
mother.HecouldtellitwashermotherbecauseofMuriel’shigh,sad,queruloustone.“Aren’tyou
goingtoaskhowAlexanderis?Don’tyouwanttoknowabouthisrash?Iaskafteryourhealth, why
don’tyouaskaboutours?”
Hesteppedupbehindhersoundlessly.“Youdidn’tevenaskwhathappenedwithhiseyedoctor,”
shesaid,“andhereIwassoworriedaboutit.Iswearsometimesyou’dthinkhewasn’tyourgrandson!
ThattimeIsprainedmyanklefallingoffmyshoesandcalledtoseeifyou’dlookafterhim,whatdid
yousay?Said,‘Nowletmegetthisstraight.Youwantmetocomeallthewaydowntoyourhouse.’
You’dthinkAlexanderwasnothingtodowithyou!”
Macon presented himself in front of her, holding out the pizza. “Ta-da!” he whispered. She
lookedupathimandgavethatperkysmileofhers—anornate,VictorianV.
“Ma,”shesaid,“I’mgoingnow!Macon’shere!”
Ithadbeenalong,longtimesinceanyonemadesuchaneventofhisarrival.
HewenttoJulian’sofficeonaMondayafternoonandhandedoverwhathe’ddoneontheU.S.
guidebook.“ThatwrapsuptheNortheast,”hesaid.“IguessnextI’llstartontheSouth.”
“Well,good,”Juliantoldhim.Hewasbentoverbehindhisdesk,rummagingthroughadrawer.
“Excellent.Liketoshowyousomething,Macon.Now,whereinhell—ah.”
He straightened, with his face flushed. He gave Macon a tiny blue velvet box. “Your sister ’s
Christmaspresent,”hesaid.
Maconraisedthelid.Inside,onabedofwhitesatin,wasadiamondring.HelookedatJulian.
“Whatisit?”heasked.
“Whatisit?”
“Imean,isthisa...whatyouwouldcall,dinnerring?Orisitmeanttobe,rather...”
“It’sanengagementring,Macon.”
“Engagement?”
“Iwanttomarryher.”
“YouwanttomarryRose?”
“What’ssooddaboutthat?”
“Well,I—”Maconsaid.
“Ifshe’llagreetoit,thatis.”
“What,youhaven’taskedheryet?”
“I’llaskheratChristmas,whenIgiveherthering.Iwanttodothisproperly.Old-fashioned.Do
youthinkshe’llhaveme?”
“Well, I really couldn’t say,” Macon said. Unfortunately, he was sure she would, but he’d be
damnedifhe’dtellJulianthat.
“She’s got to,” Julian said. “I am thirty-six years old, Macon, but I tell you, I feel like a
schoolboyaboutthatwoman.She’severythingthosegirlsinmyapartmentbuildingarenot.She’sso.
..true.Wanttoknowsomething?I’veneverevensleptwithher.”
“Well,Idon’tcaretohearaboutthat,”Maconsaidhastily.
“Iwantustohavearealweddingnight,”Juliantoldhim.“Iwanttodoeverythingright.Iwantto
joinarealfamily.God,Macon,isn’titamazinghowtwoseparatelivescanlinkuptogether?Imean
twodifferentnesses?Whatdoyouthinkofthering?”
Macon said, “It’s okay.” He looked down at it. Then he said, “It’s very nice, Julian,” and he
closedtheboxgentlyandhandeditback.
“Now, this is not your ordinary airplane,” Macon told Muriel. “I wouldn’t want you to get the
wrongidea.Thisiswhattheycallacommuterplane.It’ssomethingabusinessmanwouldtake,say,to
hoptothenearestcityforadayandmakeafewsalesandhopbackagain.”
Theplanehewasreferringto—alittlefifteen-seaterthatresembledamosquitooragnat—stood
justoutsidethedoorofthecommuter ’swaitingroom.Agirlinaparkawasloadingitwithbaggage.
Aboywascheckingsomethingonthewings.Thisappearedtobeanairlinerunbyteenagers.Even
thepilotwasateenager,itseemedtoMacon.Heenteredthewaitingroom,carryingaclipboard.He
readoffalistofnames.“Marshall?Noble?Albright?”Onebyonethepassengerssteppedforward—
justeightortenofthem.Toeachthepilotsaid,“Hey,howyoudoing.”Helethiseyesrestlongeston
Muriel. Either he found her the most attractive or else he was struck by her outfit. She wore her
highestheels,blackstockingsspatteredwithblacknetroses,andaflippylittlefuchsiadressundera
shortfatcoatthatshereferredtoasher“funfur.”Herhairwascaughtalltoonesideinagreatbloom
offrizz,andtherewasasilverydustofsomekindonhereyelids.Maconknewshe’doverdoneit,but
atthesametimehelikedherconsideringthissuchanoccasion.
Thepilotproppedopenthedoorandtheyfollowedhimoutside,acrossastretchofconcrete,and
up two rickety steps into the plane. Macon had to bend almost double as he walked down the aisle.
Theythreadedbetweentworowsofsingleseats,eachseatasspindlyasafoldingchair.Theyfound
spaces across from each other and settled in. Other passengers struggled through, puffing and
bumping into things. Last came the copilot, who had round, soft, baby cheeks and carried a can of
DietPepsi.Heslammedthedoorshutbehindhimandwentupfronttothecontrols.Notsomuchasa
curtainhidthecockpit.Maconcouldleanoutintotheaisleandseethebanksofknobsandgauges,the
pilotpositioninghisheadset,thecopilottakingafinalswigandsettinghisemptycanonthefloor.
“Now,onabiggerplane,”MaconcalledtoMurielastheenginesroaredup,“you’dhardlyfeel
thetakeoff.Buthereyou’dbetterbraceyourself.”
Muriel nodded, wide-eyed, gripping the seat ahead of her. “What’s that light that’s blinking in
frontofthepilot?”sheasked.
“Idon’tknow.”
“What’sthatlittleneedlethatkeepssweepingroundandround?”
“Idon’tknow.”
Hefelthe’ddisappointedher.“I’musedtojets,notthesetoys,”hetoldher.Shenoddedagain,
acceptingthat.ItoccurredtoMaconthathewasreallyaveryworldlyandwell-traveledman.
Theplanestartedtaxiing.Everypebbleontherunwayjoltedit;everyjoltsentaseriesofcreaks
through the framework. They gathered speed. The crew, suddenly grave and professional, made
complicatedadjustmentstotheirinstruments.Thewheelslefttheground.“Oh!”Murielsaid,andshe
turnedtoMaconwithherfacealllitup.
“We’reoff,”hetoldher.
“I’mflying!”
Theyrose—withsomeeffort,Maconfelt—overthefieldssurroundingtheairport,overastand
oftreesandagridofhouses.Above-groundswimmingpoolsdottedbackyardshereandtherelike
palebluethumbtacks.Murielpressedsoclosetoherwindowthatsheleftacircleofmistontheglass.
“Oh,look!”shesaidtoMacon,andthenshesaidsomethingelsethathecouldn’thear.Theengineson
thisplanewereloudandharsh,andthePepsicanwasrollingaroundwithaclatteringsound,andalso
thepilotwasbellowingtothecopilot,sayingsomethingabouthisrefrigerator.“SoIwakeupinthe
middleofthenight,”hewasshouting,“damnthing’sthuddingandthumping—”
Murielsaid,“Wouldn’tAlexanderenjoythis!”
Maconhadn’tseenAlexanderenjoyinganythingyet,buthesaiddutifully,“We’llhavetobring
himsometime.”
“We’llhavetotakejustlotsoftrips!FranceandSpainandSwitzerland...”
“Well,”Maconsaid,“there’sthelittlematterofmoney.”
“JustAmerica,then.California,Florida...”
CaliforniaandFloridatookmoneytoo,Maconshouldhavesaid(andFloridawasn’tevengiven
spaceinhisguidebook),butforthemoment,hewasbornealongbyhervisionofthings.“Look!”she
said,andshepointedtosomething.Maconleanedacrosstheaisletoseewhatshemeant.Theairplane
flew so low that it might have been following road signs; he had an intimate view of farmlands,
woodlands,roofsofhouses.Itcametohimverysuddenlythateverylittleroofconcealedactuallives.
Well,ofcoursehe’dknownthat,butallatonceittookhisbreathaway.Hesawhowrealthoselives
were to the people who lived them—how intense and private and absorbing. He stared past Muriel
withhismouthopen.Whatevershehadwantedhimtolookatmustbelongpastbynow,butstillhe
wentongazingoutherwindow.
Porterandtheothersweretalkingmoney.OrPorterwastalkingmoneyandtheotherswerehalf
listening. Porter was planning ahead for income taxes. He was interested in something called a
chickenstraddle.“Thewayitworks,”hesaid,“youinvestinbabychicksrightnow,beforetheendof
theyear.Deductthecostoffeedandsuch.ThensellthegrownhensinJanuaryandcollecttheprofit.”
Rosewrinkledherforehead.Shesaid,“Butchickensaresopronetocolds.Orwouldyoucallit
distemper.AndDecemberandJanuaryaren’tusuallyallthatwarmhere.”
“They wouldn’t be here in Baltimore, Rose. God knows where they’d be. I mean these are not
chickensyouactuallysee;they’reawaytomanageourtaxes.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Charles said. “I hate to get involved in things someone else would be
handling.It’ssomeoneelse’swordthosechickensevenexist.”
“Youpeoplehavenoimagination,”Portersaid.
Thefourofthemstoodaroundthecardtableinthesunporch,helpingRosewithherChristmas
present for Liberty. She had constructed an addition to Liberty’s dollhouse—a garage with a guest
apartment above it. The garage was convincingly untidy. Miniature wood chips littered the floor
aroundastackoftwig-sizedfirelogs,andacoilofgreenwiremadeaperfectgardenhose.Nowthey
were working on the upstairs. Rose was stuffing an armchair cushion no bigger than an aspirin.
Charleswascuttingasheetofwallpaperfromasamplebook.Porterwasdrillingholesforthecurtain
rods.Therewashardlyelbowroom;soMacon,whohadjustcomeinwithEdward,stoodbackand
merelywatched.
“Besides,”Charlessaid,“chickensarereallynot,Idon’tknow,veryclassyanimals.Iwouldhate
togoroundsayingI’machickenmagnate.”
“Youdon’tevenhavetomentionthefact,”Portersaid.
“Beefmagnate,now;thatIwouldn’tmind.Beefhasmoreofaringtoit.”
“They’renotofferingastraddleforbeef,Charles.”
Maconpickedupsomecolorphotosthatsatbesidethewallpaperbook.Thetopphotoshoweda
windowinaroomhedidn’trecognize—awhite-framedwindowwithlouveredshuttersclosedacross
itslowerhalf.Thenextwasagroupportrait.Fourpeople—blurry,outoffocus—stoodinalinein
front of the couch. The woman wore an apron, the men wore black suits. There was something
artificial about their posture. They were lined up too precisely; none of them touched the others.
“Whoarethesepeople?”Maconasked.
Roseglancedover.“That’sthefamilyfromLiberty’sdollhouse,”shesaid.
“Oh.”
“Hermothersentmethosepictures.”
“It’safamilywithnothingbutgrown-ups?”heasked.
“One’saboy;youjustcan’ttell.Andone’sagrandpaorabutler;JunesaysLibertyswitcheshim
backandforth.”
Maconlaidthephotosasidewithoutlookingattherestofthem.HeknelttopatEdward.“Acattle
straddle,”Charleswassayingthoughtfully.MaconsuddenlywishedhewereatMuriel’s.Hewrapped
hisarmsaroundEdwardandimaginedhesmelledhersharpperfumedeepinEdward’sfur.
Oh,aboveallelsehewasanorderlyman.Hewashappiestwitharegularschemeofthings.He
tendedtoeatthesamemealsoverandoverandtowearthesameclothes;todropoffhiscleaningona
certainsetdayandtopayallhisbillsonanother.Thetellerwhohelpedhimonhisfirsttriptoabank
wasthetellerhewenttoforeverafter,evenifsheprovednottobeefficient,evenifthenextteller ’s
linewasshorter.TherewasnoroominhislifeforanyoneasunpredictableasMuriel.Orasextreme.
Oras...well,unlikable,sometimes.
Heryouthfulnesswasnotappealingbutunsettling.ShebarelyrememberedVietnamandhadno
ideawhereshe’dbeenwhenKennedywasshot.Shemadehimanxiousabouthisownage,whichhad
not previously troubled him. He realized how stiffly he walked after he had been sitting in one
positiontoolong;howhefavoredhisback,alwaysexpectingittogooutonhimagain;howonce
wasplentywhenevertheymadelove.
Andshetalkedsomuch—almostceaselessly;whileMaconwasthekindofmantowhomsilence
wasbetterthanmusic.(“Listen!They’replayingmysong,”heusedtosaywhenSarahswitchedthe
radiooff.)Shetalkedaboutblushers,straighteners,cellulite,hemlines,winterskin.Shewasinterested
in the appearance of things, only the appearance: in lipstick shades and nail wrapping and facial
masquesandsplitends.Once,ononeofhermoreattractivedays,hetoldhershewaslookingvery
nice,andshegrewsoflusteredthatshestumbledoveracurb.Sheaskedifthatwasbecauseshehad
tied her hair back; and was it the hair itself or the ribbon; or rather the color of the ribbon, which
she’dfearedmightbejustalittletoobrightandsetoffthetoneofhercomplexionwrong.Anddidn’t
hethinkherhairwashopeless,kerblammingoutthewayitdidintheslightestbitofhumidity?Tillhe
wassorryhehadeverbroughtitup.Well,notsorry,exactly,buttired.Exhausted.
Yetshecouldraiseherchinsometimesandpiercehismindlikeablade.Certainimagesofherat
certain random, insignificant moments would flash before him: Muriel at her kitchen table, ankles
twinedaroundherchairrungs,fillingoutacontestformforanall-expense-paidtourofHollywood.
Muriel telling her mirror, “I look like the wrath of God”—a kind of ritual of leavetaking. Muriel
doingthedishesinherbigpinkrubbergloveswiththecrimsonfingernails,raisingasoapyplateand
trailingitairilyovertotherinsewaterandbeltingoutoneofherfavoritesongs—“WarisHellonthe
HomeFrontToo”or“IWonderifGodLikesCountryMusic.”(Certainlyshelikedcountrymusic—
long, complaining ballads about the rocky road of life, the cold gray walls of prison, the sleazy,
greasyheartofatwo-facedman.)AndMurielatthehospitalwindow,ashe’dneveractuallyseenher,
holdingamopandgazingdownattheinjuredcomingin.
Thenheknewthatwhatmatteredwasthepatternofherlife;thatalthoughhedidnotloveherhe
loved the surprise of her, and also the surprise of himself when he was with her. In the foreign
country that was Singleton Street he was an entirely different person. This person had never been
suspectedofnarrowness,neverbeenaccusedofchilliness;infact,wasmockedforhissoftheart.And
wasanythingbutorderly.
“Whydon’tyoucometomyfolks’houseforChristmasdinner?”sheaskedhim.
Maconwasinherkitchenatthetime.Hewascrouchedbeneaththesink,turningoffavalve.For
amomenthedidn’tanswer;thenheemergedandsaid,“Yourfolks?”
“ForChristmasdinner.”
“Oh,well,Idon’tknow,”hesaid.
“Comeon,Macon,pleasesayyes!Iwantyoutomeetthem.MathinksI’mmakingyouup.‘You
madehimup,’shesays.Youknowhowsheis.”
Yes, Macon did know, at least from second hand, and he could just imagine what that dinner
wouldbelike.Booby-trapped.Fullofhiddendigsandhurtfeelings.Thefactwas,hejustdidn’twant
togetinvolved.
Soinsteadofanswering,heturnedhisattentiontoAlexander.HewastryingtoteachAlexander
howtofixafaucet.“Now,”hesaid,“youseeIshutthevalveoff.WhatdidIdothatfor?”
Allhegotwasaglassypalestare.ThiswasMacon’sidea,notAlexander ’s.Alexanderhadbeen
hauledawayfromtheTVlikeasackofstones,plunkedonakitchenchair,andinstructedtowatch
closely.“Oh,”Murielsaid,“I’mnotsureaboutthis.He’snotsoverystrong.”
“Youdon’thavetobeTarzantofixakitchenfaucet,Muriel.”
“Well,no,butIdon’tknow...”
SometimesMaconwonderedifAlexander ’sailmentswereallinMuriel’shead.
“WhydidIshutoffthevalve,Alexander?”heasked.
Alexandersaid,“Why.”
“Youtellme.”
“Youtellme.”
“No,you,”Maconsaidfirmly.
TherewasabadmomentortwoinwhichitseemedthatAlexandermightkeepupthatstareofhis
forever. He sat C-shaped in his chair, chin on one hand, eyes expressionless. The shins emerging
fromhistrouserswerethinasTinkertoys,andhisbrownschoolshoesseemedverylargeandheavy.
Finallyhesaid,“Sothewaterwon’twhooshallover.”
“Right.”
Maconwascarefulnottomaketoomuchofhisvictory.
“Now, this leak is not from the spout, but from the handle,” he said. “So you want to take the
handleapartandreplacethepacking.Firstyouunscrewthetopscrew.Let’sseeyoudoit.”
“Me?”
Maconnoddedandofferedhimthescrewdriver.
“Idon’twantto,”Alexandersaid.
“Lethimjustwatch,”Murielsuggested.
“Ifhejustwatchedhewon’tknowhowtofixtheoneinthebathtub,andI’mgoingtoaskhimto
managethatwithoutme.”
Alexander took the screwdriver, in one of those small, stingy gestures of his that occupied a
minimumofspace.Heinchedoffthechairandcameovertothesink.Maconpulledanotherchairup
closeandAlexanderclimbedontoit.Thentherewastheproblemoffittingthescrewdriverintothe
slot of the screw. It took him forever. He had tiny fingers, each tipped with a little pink pad above
painfully bitten nails. He concentrated, his glasses slipping down on his nose. Always a mouthbreather,hewasbitinghistonguenowandpantingslightly.
“Wonderful,”Maconsaidwhenthescrewdriverfinallyconnected.
At each infinitesimal turn, though, it slipped and had to be repositioned. Macon’s stomach
musclesfelttight.Muriel,foronce,wassilent,andhersilencewasstrainedandanxious.
Then, “Ah!” Macon said. The screw had loosened enough so that Alexander could twist it by
hand.Hemanagedthatpartfairlyeasily.Heevenremovedthefaucetwithoutbeingtold.“Verygood,”
Maconsaid.“Ibelieveyoumayhavenaturaltalents.”
Muriel relaxed. Leaning back against the counter, she said, “My folks have their Christmas
dinnerinthedaytime.Imeanit’snotatnoonbutit’snotatnighteither,it’smorelikemidafternoon,
orthisyearit’sreallylateafternoonbecauseI’vegotthemorningshiftattheMeow-Bowand—”
“Lookatthis,”MacontoldAlexander.“Seethatgunk?That’sold,rottedpacking.Sotakeitaway.
Right.Nowhere’sthenewpacking.Youwinditaround,windevenalittlemorethanyouneed.Let’s
seeyouwinditaround.”
Alexanderwrappedthethread.Hisfingersturnedwhitewiththeeffort.Murielsaid,“Usuallywe
haveagoose.MydaddybringsagoosefromtheEasternShore.Ordon’tyoucareforgoose.Would
youratherjustaturkey?Aduck?Whatareyouusedtoeating,Macon?”
Maconsaid,“Oh,well...”andwassavedbyAlexander.Alexanderturned,havingreassembled
thefaucetwithoutanyhelp,andsaid,“Nowwhat?”
“Nowmakesurethescrewiswellin.”
Alexanderresumedhisstruggleswiththescrewdriver.Murielsaid,“Maybeyou’dratheragood
hunkofbeef.Iknowsomemenarelikethat.Theythinkpoultryiskindofpansy.Isthathowyouthink
too?Youcantellme!Iwon’tmind!Myfolkswon’tmind!”
“Oh,um,Muriel...”
“Nowwhat,”Alexanderordered.
“Why,nowweturnthewaterbackonandseewhatkindofjobyou’vedone.”
Maconcrouchedbeneaththesinkandshowedhimwherethevalvewas.Alexanderreachedpast
himandtwistedit,grunting.Wasn’titodd,Maconthought,howlittleboysallhadthatsameslightly
green smell, like a cedar closet. He rose and turned on the faucet. No leak. “Look at that!” he told
Alexander.“You’vesolvedtheproblem.”
Alexanderfoughttoholdagrinback.
“Willyouknowhowtodoitthenexttime?”
Henodded.
“Nowwhenyou’regrown,”Maconsaid,“youcanfixthefaucetsforyourwife.”
Alexander ’sfacesquinchedupwithamusementatthethought.
“‘Stepback,dearie,’youcansay.‘Justletmeseetothis.’”
Alexandersaid,“Tssh!”—hisfacelikealittledrawstringpurse.
“‘Letarealmantakecareofthis,’youcantellher.”
“Tssh!Tssh!”
“Macon?Areyoucomingtomyfolks’,oraren’tyou?”Murielasked.
Itseemedunreasonabletosayhewasn’t.Somehoworother,hehadgothimselfinvolvedalready.
thirteen
Muriel’sparentslivedoutinTimonium,inadevelopmentcalledFoxhuntAcres.Murielhadto
showMacontheway.ItwasthecoldestChristmasDayeitherofthemcouldremember,buttheydrove
withthewindowsslightlyopensothatAlexander,ridinginback,wouldnotbebotheredbythedog
hair. The radio was tuned to Muriel’s favorite station. Connie Francis was singing “Baby’s First
Christmas.”
“Youwarmenough?”MurielaskedAlexander.“Youdoingokay?”
Alexandermusthavenodded.
“Youfeellikeyou’rewheezingatall?”
“Nope.”
“No,ma’am,”shecorrectedhim.
Sarah used to do that, too, Macon remembered—give their son a crash course in manners
anytimetheysetouttovisithermother.
Murielsaid,“OnceIwasridingAlexanderuptownonsomeerrandsforGeorge?Mycompany?
AndIhadthesetwocatsinthecarjustthedaybefore?AndIdidn’tthinkathingaboutit,cleanforgot
tovacuumlikeIusuallydo,andallatonceIturnaroundandAlexander ’sstretchedacrosstheseat,
flatout.”
“Iwasn’tflatout,”Alexandersaid.
“Youwerejustasgoodas.”
“IwasonlylayingdownsoIwouldn’tneedsomuchair.”
“Seethere?”MurielsaidtoMacon.
They were traveling up York Road now, past body shops and fast food outlets all closed and
bleak.Maconhadneverseenthisroadsoempty.Heovertookavanandthenataxicab;nothingelse.
SwagsofChristmasgreenshungstifflyaboveausedcarlot.
“Hecangetshots,though,”Murielsaid.
“Shots?”
“Hecangetshotstokeephimfromwheezing.”
“Thenwhydoesn’the?”
“Well,ifEdwardwastomoveinIguessthat’swhatwe’ddo.”
“Edward?”
“Imeanif,youknow.IfyoumovedinonapermanentbasisandEdwardcametoo.”
“Oh,”Maconsaid.
Brenda Lee was singing “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus.” Muriel hummed along, tipping her
headperkilyleftandrighttokeeptime.
“Wouldyoueverthinkofdoingthat?”sheaskedhimfinally.
“Doingwhat?”hesaid,pretendingnottoknow.
“Wouldyoueverthinkofmovinginwithus?”
“Oh,um...”
“Orwecouldmoveinwithyou,”shesaid.“Eitherwayyoupreferred.”
“Withme?Butmysisterandmy—”
“I’mtalkingaboutyourhouse.”
“Oh.Myhouse.”
Hishouseswamupbeforehim—smallanddimandabandoned,hunkeredbeneaththeoaktrees
likeawoodchopper ’scottageinafairytale.Murielglancedathisfaceandthensaid,quickly,“Icould
understandifyoudidn’twanttogobackthere.”
“It’s not that,” he said. He cleared his throat. He said, “It’s just that I haven’t given it much
thought.”
“Oh,Iunderstand!”
“Notyet,atleast.”
“Youdon’thavetoexplain!”
She pointed out where to turn, and they started down a winding road. The eating places grew
sparserandshabbier.Therewerescratchylittletrees,frozenfields,awholevillageofdifferent-sized
mailboxesbristlingattheendofadriveway.
Every time the car jounced, something rattled on the backseat. That was Macon’s Christmas
present to Alexander—a kit full of tools that were undersized but real, with solid wooden handles.
Macon had hunted those tools down one by one. He had rearranged them in their compartments a
dozentimesatleast,likeamisercountinghismoney.
Theypassedasegmentofrickrackfencethatwasdissolvingbackintotheground.Murielsaid,
“Whatisyourfamilydoingtoday?”
“Oh,nothingmuch.”
“HavingabigChristmasdinner?”
“No,RosehasgonetoJulian’s.CharlesandPorterare,Idon’tknow,Ithinktheysaidsomething
aboutcaulkingthesecond-floorbathtub.”
“Oh,thepoorthings!Theyshouldhavecomewithustomyfolks’.”
Maconsmiled,picturingthat.
He turned where she directed, into a meadow dotted with houses. All were built to the same
generalplan—brickwithhalf-storiesofaluminumsidingabove.Thestreetswerenamedfortreesthat
weren’tthere,BirchLaneandElmCourtandAppleBlossomWay.Murielhadhimmakearightonto
AppleBlossomWay.Hepulledupbehindastationwagon.Agirlburstoutofthehouse—achunky,
prettyteenagerinbluejeansandalongyellowponytail.“Claire!”Alexandershouted,bouncinginhis
seat.
“That’smysister,”MurieltoldMacon.
“Ah.”
“Doyouthinkshe’sgood-looking?”
“Yes,she’sverygood-looking.”
Claire had the car door open by now and was hoisting Alexander into her arms. “How’s my
fellow?” she was asking. “What did Santa Claus bring you?” She was so unlike Muriel that you’d
neverguesstheyweresisters.Herfacewasalmostsquare,andherskinwasgolden,andbypresentdaystandardsshewasprobablytenpoundsoverweight.Aftershe’dsetAlexanderdown,shestuffed
her hands awkwardly into the back pockets of her jeans. “So anyhow,” she told Macon and Muriel.
“MerryChristmas,andallthat.”
“Look,”Murielsaid,flashingawristwatch.“SeewhatMacongaveme.”
“What’dyougivehim?”
“Akeytagfromathriftshop.Antique.”
“Oh.”
Withherhousekeyattached,Murielhadneglectedtosay.
Maconunloadedthingsfromthetrunk—Muriel’spresentsforherfamily,alongwithhishostess
gift—and Alexander took his toolbox from the backseat. They followed Claire across the yard.
Murielwasanxiouslyfeelingherhairasshewalked.“YououghttoseewhatDaddygaveMa,”Claire
told her. “Gave her a microwave oven. Ma says she’s scared to death of it. ‘I just know I’ll get
radiation,’shesays.We’reworriedshewon’tuseit.”
Thedoorwasheldopenforthembyasmall,skinny,graywomaninanaquapantsuit.“Ma,this
isMacon,”Murielsaid.“Macon,thisismymother.”
Mrs.Duganstudiedhim,pursingherlips.Linesradiatedfromthecornersofhermouthlikecat
whiskers.“Pleasedtomeetyou,”shesaidfinally.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Dugan,” Macon said. He handed her his gift—a bottle of cranberry
liqueurwitharibbontiedaroundit.Shestudiedthat,too.
“Justputtherestofthosethingsunderthetree,”MurieltoldMacon.“Ma,aren’tyougoingtosay
hellotoyourgrandson?”
Mrs. Dugan glanced briefly at Alexander. He must not have expected anything more; he was
alreadywanderingovertotheChristmastree.Unrelatedobjectssatbeneathit—asmokedetector,an
electricdrill,amakeupmirrorencircledwithlightbulbs.MaconlaidMuriel’spackagesnexttothem,
andthenheremovedhiscoatanddrapeditacrossthearmofawhitesatincouch.Fullyathirdofthe
couchwasoccupiedbythemicrowaveoven,stilljauntilydecoratedwithalargeredbow.“Lookat
mynewmicrowave,”Mrs.Dugansaid.“Ifthat’snotjusttheweirdestdurnthingIeverlaideyeson.”
SheclearedacrumpleofgiftwrapoffanarmchairandwavedMaconintoit.
“Somethingcertainlysmellsgood,”hesaid.
“Goose,”shetoldhim.“Boydwentandshotmeagoose.”
She sat down next to the oven. Claire was on the floor with Alexander, helping him open a
package. Muriel, still in her coat, scanned a row of books on a shelf. “Ma—” she said. “No, never
mind, I found it.” She came over to Macon with a photo album, the modern kind with clear plastic
pages.“Lookhere,”shesaid,perchingonthearmofhischair.“PicturesofmewhenIwaslittle.”
“Whynottakeoffyourcoatandstayawhile,”Mrs.Dugantoldher.
“Meatsixmonths.Meinmystroller.Meandmyfirstbirthdaycake.”
Theywerecolorphotos,shiny,theredsalittletooblue.(Macon’sownbabypictureswereblackand-white, which was all that was generally available back then.) Each showed her to be a chubby,
gigglingblonde,usuallywithherhairfixedinsomecoquettishstyle—tiedinasprigatthetopofher
head,orindoubleponytailssohighlyplacedtheylookedlikepuppyears.Atfirstthestagesofher
life passed slowly—it took her three full pages to learn to walk—but then they speeded up. “Me at
two.Meatfive.MewhenIwassevenandahalf.”Thechubbyblondeturnedthinanddarkandsober
andthenvanishedaltogether,replacedbytheinfantClaire.Murielsaid,“Oh,well,”andsnappedthe
albumshutjustmidwaythrough.“Wait,”Macontoldher.Hehadanurgetoseeheratherworst,ather
mostoutlandish,hangingoutwithmotorcyclegangs.Butwhenhetookthealbumawayfromherand
flippedtotheverylastpages,theywereblank.
Mr. Dugan wandered in—a fair, freckled man in a plaid flannel shirt—and gave Macon a
callusedhandtoshakeandthenwanderedoutagain,mumblingsomethingaboutthebasement.“He’s
fretting over the pipes,” Mrs. Dugan explained. “Last night it got down below zero, did you know
that?He’sworriedthepipes’llfreeze.”
“Oh,couldIhelp?”Maconasked,perkingup.
“Now,youjustsitrightwhereyouare,Mr.Leary.”
“Macon,”hesaid.
“Macon.AndyoucancallmeMotherDugan.”
“Um...”
“Murieltellsmeyou’reseparated,Macon.”
“Well,yes,Iam.”
“Doyouthinkit’sgoingtotake?”
“Pardon?”
“Imeanyou’renotjustleadingthischildaroundRobinHood’sbarnnow,areyou?”
“Ma,quitthat,”Murielsaid.
“Well,Iwouldn’thavetoask,Muriel,ifyouhadevershowedtheleastbitofcommonsenseon
yourown.Imeanfaceit,youdon’thavesuchagreattrackrecord.”
“She’sjustworriedforme,”MurieltoldMacon.
“Well,ofcourse,”hesaid.
“Thisgirlwasnotbutthirteenyearsold,”Mrs.Dugansaid,“whenallatonceitseemedboysof
theveryslipperiestcharacterjustcamecrawlingoutofthewoodwork.Ihaven’thadagoodnight’s
sleepsince.”
“Well,Idon’tknowwhynot,”Murieltoldher.“Thatwasyearsandyearsago.”
“Seemedeverytimeweturnedaround,offshe’dgonetotheSurf’n’TurfortheTorchClubor
theHi-TimesLoungeonHighwayForty.”
“Ma,willyoupleaseopenupyouandDaddy’sChristmaspresent?”
“Oh,didyoubringusapresent?”
Murielrosetofetchitfromunderthetree,whereClairesatwithAlexander.Shewashelpinghim
set up some little cardboard figures. “This one goes on the green. This one goes on the blue,” she
said.Alexanderjitterednexttoher,impatienttotakeover.
“Claire was the one who picked that game for him,” Mrs. Dugan said, accepting the package
Murielhandedher.“Ithoughtitwastooadvanced,myself.”
“Itisnot,”Murielsaid(althoughshehadn’tevenglancedatit).ShereturnedtoMacon’schair.
“Alexander ’sjustassmartasatack.He’llcatchoninnotime.”
“Nobody said he wasn’t smart, Muriel. You don’t have to take offense at every little thing a
personsays.”
“Willyoujustopenyourpresent?”
ButMrs.Duganproceededatherownpace.Shetookofftheribbonandlaiditinaboxonthe
coffeetable.“YourdaddyhasabitofcashforyourChristmas,”shetoldMuriel.“Remindhimbefore
you go.” She examined the wrapping. “Will you look at that! Teeny little Rudolph the Red-nosed
Reindeers all over it. Real aluminum foil for their noses. I don’t know why you couldn’t just use
tissuelikeIdo.”
“Iwantedittobespecial,”Murieltoldher.
Mrs. Dugan took off the paper, folded it, and laid it aside. Her gift was something in a gilded
frame.“Well,isn’tthatnice,”shesaidfinally.SheturnedittowardMacon.ItwasapictureofMuriel
andAlexander—astudioportraitindreamypastels,thelightingsoeventhatitseemedtobecoming
fromnoparticularplaceatall.MurielwasseatedandAlexanderstoodbesideher,onehandresting
delicatelyuponhershoulder.Neitherofthemsmiled.Theylookedwaryanduncertain,andverymuch
alone.
Maconsaid,“It’sbeautiful.”
Mrs.Duganonlygruntedandleanedforwardtolaythephotobesidetheboxofribbons.
Dinner was an industrious affair, with everyone working away at the food—goose, cranberry
relish, two kinds of potatoes, and three kinds of vegetables. Mr. Dugan remained spookily quiet,
althoughMaconofferedhimseveralopenersaboutthebasementplumbing.Murieldevotedherselfto
Alexander.“There’sbreadinthatstuffing,Alexander.Putitbackthisinstant.Youwantyourallergyto
startup?Iwouldn’ttrustthatrelish,either.”
“Oh,forLord’ssake,lethimbe,”Mrs.Dugansaid.
“Youwouldn’tsaythatifitwasyouhekeptawakeatnightwithitchyrashes.”
“HalfthetimeIbelieveyoubringonthoserashesyourselfwithallyourtalk,”Mrs.Dugansaid.
“Thatjustshowshowmuchyouknowaboutit.”
Maconhadasuddenfeelingofdislocation.WhatwouldSarahsayifshecouldseehimhere?He
imaginedheramused,ironicexpression.Roseandhisbrotherswouldjustlookbaffled.Julianwould
say,“Ha!AccidentalTouristinTimonium.”
Mrs.Duganbroughtoutthreedifferentpies,andClairescurriedaroundwiththecoffeepot.Over
her jeans now she wore an embroidered dirndl skirt—her gift from Muriel, purchased last week at
Value Village. Her layers of clothing reminded Macon of some native costume. “What about the
liqueur?”sheaskedhermother.“ShallIsetoutMacon’sliqueur?”
“MaybehewantsyoutocallhimMr.Leary,hon.”
“No,please,Macon’sfine,”hesaid.
Hesupposedthere’dbeenalotofdiscussionabouthisage.Oh,nodoubtaboutit:Hewastoo
old,hewastootall,hewastoodressedupinhissuitandtie.
Mrs.Dugansaidtheliqueurwasjustaboutthebestthingshe’deverdrunk.Maconhimselffound
itsimilartothefluoridemixturehisdentistcoatedhisteethwith;he’denvisionedsomethingdifferent.
Mr.Dugansaid,“Well,thesesweet-tasting,pretty-coloreddrinksareallverywellfortheladies,but
personallyIfavoralittlesippingwhiskey,don’tyou,Macon?”andheroseandbroughtbackafifth
ofJackDaniel’sandtwoshotglasses.Themereweightofthebottleinhishandseemedtoloosenhis
tongue.“So!”hesaid,sittingdown.“Whatyoudrivingthesedays,Macon?”
“Driving?Oh,um,aToyota.”
Mr.Duganfrowned.Clairegiggled.“Daddyhatesanddespisesforeigncars,”shetoldMacon.
“Whatisit,youdon’tbelieveinbuyingAmerican?”Mr.Duganaskedhim.
“Well,asamatteroffact—”
AsamatteroffacthiswifedroveaFord,he’dbeengoingtosay,buthechangedhismind.He
tooktheglassthatMr.Duganheldouttohim.“IdidoncehaveaRambler,”hesaid.
“YouwanttotryaChevy,Macon.Wanttocometotheshow-roomsometimeandletmeshow
youaChevy.What’syourpreference?Family-size?Compact?”
“Well,compact,Iguess,but—”
“I’ll tell you one thing: There is no way on earth you’re going to get me to sell you a
subcompact.Nosir,youcanbegandyoucanwhine,youcangetdownonbendedknee,Iwon’tsell
you one of those deathtraps folks are so set on buying nowadays. I tell my customers, I say, ‘You
thinkIgotnoprinciples?You’relookingherebeforeyouatamanofprinciple,’Itellthem,andIsay,
‘YouwantasubcompactyoubettergotoEdMackenziethere.He’llsellyouonewithoutathought.
Whatdoeshecare?ButI’mamanofprinciple.’WhyMurielherenearaboutlostherlifeinoneof
themthings.”
“Oh,Daddy,Ididnot,”Murielsaid.
“CamealotcloserthanI’dliketoget.”
“Iwalkedawaywithoutascratch.”
“Carlookedlikealittlestove-insardinecan.”
“WorstthingIgotwasaruninmystocking.”
“Muriel was taking a lift from Dr. Kane at the Meow-Bow,” Mr. Dugan told Macon, “one day
whenhercarwasoutofwhack,andsomedurnfoolwomandriverswungdirectlyintotheirpath.See,
shewashangingaleftwhen—”
“Letmetellit,”Mrs.Dugansaid.SheleanedtowardMacon,grippingthewineglassthatheldher
liqueur.“Iwasjustcominginfromthegrocerystore,carryingthesefewoddsandendsIneededfor
Claire’s school lunches. That child eats more than some grown men I know. Phone rings. I drop
everythingandgotoanswer.Mansays,‘Mrs.Dugan?’Isay,‘Yes.’Mansays,‘Mrs.Dugan,thisisthe
BaltimoreCityPoliceandI’mcallingaboutyourdaughterMuriel.’Ithink,‘Oh,myGod.’Rightaway
myheartstartsupandIhavetofindsomeplacetosit.Stillhavemycoaton,rainscarftiedaroundmy
headsoIcouldn’tevenhearallthatgoodbutIneverthoughttotakeitoff,that’showflusteredIwas.
Itwasoneofthosehardrainydayslikesomeoneispurposelyheavingbucketsofwateratyou.Ithink,
‘Oh,myGod,nowwhathasMurielgoneand—’”
“Lillian,youaregettingwayoffthesubjecthere,”Mr.Dugansaid.
“Howcanyousaythat?I’mtellinghimaboutMuriel’saccident.”
“He don’t want to hear every little oh-my-God, he wants to know why he can’t have a
subcompact.LadyhangsaleftsmackinfrontofDr.Kane’slittlecar,”Mr.DugantoldMacon,“andhe
hasnochoicebuttoramher.Hehadtherightofway.Wanttoknowwhathappened?Hislittlecaris
totaled.LittlebittyPinto.Lady’sbigoldChryslerbarelydentsitsfender.Nowtellmeyoustillwanta
subcompact.”
“ButIdidn’t—”
“AndtheotherthingisthatDr.Kanenever,everofferedheranotherridehome,evenafterhegot
anewcar,”Mrs.Dugansaid.
“Well,Idon’texactlyliveinhisneighborhood,Ma.”
“He’s a bachelor,” Mrs. Dugan told Macon. “Have you met him? Real good-looking, Muriel
says.Firstdayonthejobshesays,‘Guesswhat,Ma.’Callsmeonthephone.‘Guesswhat,mybossis
singleandhe’srealgood-looking,aprofessionalman,theothergirlstellmeheisn’tevenengaged.’
Then he offers her that one lift home and they go and have an accident and he never offers again.
Evenwhensheletshimknowshedon’thavehercarsomedays,heneveroffersagain.”
“HedoesliveclearupinTowson,”Murielsaid.
“Ibelievehethinksyou’rebadluck.”
“HelivesupinTowsonandIlivedownonSingletonStreet!Whatdoyouexpect?”
“NexthegotaMercedessportscar,”Claireputin.
“Well,sportscars,”Mr.Dugansaid.“Wedon’teventalkaboutthose.”
Alexandersaid,“CanIbeexcusednow?”
“IreallyhadhighhopesforDr.Kane,”Mrs.Dugansaidsadly.
“Oh,quitit,Ma.”
“Youdid,too!Yousaidyoudid!”
“Whydon’tyoujusthushupanddrinkyourdrink.”
Mrs.Duganshookherhead,butshetookanothersipofliqueur.
Theyleftintheearlyevening,whenthelastlighthadfadedandtheairseemedcrystallizedwith
cold. Claire stood in the doorway singing out, “Come back soon! Thanks for the skirt! Merry
Christmas!”Mrs.Duganshiverednexttoher,asweaterdrapedoverhershoulders.Mr.Duganmerely
liftedanarmanddisappeared—presumablytocheckonthebasementagain.
Trafficwasheaviernow.Headlightsglowedlikelittlewhitesmudges.Theradio—havinggiven
uponChristmasforanotheryear—played“ICutMyFingersonthePiecesofYourBrokenHeart,”
andthetoolboxrattledcompanionablyinthebackseat.
“Macon?Areyoumad?”Murielasked.
“Mad?”
“Areyoumadatme?”
“Why,no.”
SheglancedbackatAlexanderandsaidnomore.
ItwasnightwhentheyreachedSingletonStreet.TheButlertwins,bundledintoidenticallavender
jackets, stood talking with two boys on the curb. Macon parked and opened the back door for
Alexander,whohadfallenasleepwithhischinonhischest.Hegatheredhimupandcarriedhiminto
the house. In the living room, Muriel set down her own burdens—the toolbox, Alexander ’s new
game,andapieMrs.Duganhadpressedonthem—andfollowedMaconupthestairs.Maconwalked
sideways to keep Alexander ’s feet from banging into the wall. They went into the smaller of the
bedrooms and he laid Alexander on the bed. “I know what you must be thinking,” Muriel said. She
tookAlexander ’sshoesoff.“You’rethinking,‘Oh,nowIsee,thisMurielwasjustonthelookoutfor
anybodyintrousers.’Aren’tyou.”
Macondidn’tanswer.(Heworriedthey’dwakeAlexander.)
“Iknowwhatyou’rethinking!”
ShetuckedAlexanderin.Turnedoffthelight.Theystartedbackdownstairs.“Butthat’snotthe
wayitwas;Iswearit,”shesaid.“Oh,ofcoursesincehewassinglethepossibilitydidcrossmymind.
Who would I be kidding if I said it didn’t? I’m all alone, raising a kid. Scrounging for money. Of
courseitcrossedmymind!”
“Well,ofcourse,”Maconsaidmildly.
“Butitwasn’tlikeshemadeitsound,”Murieltoldhim.
Sheclatteredafterhimacrossthelivingroom.Whenhesatonthecouchshesatnexttohim,still
inhercoat.“Areyougoingtostay?”sheasked.
“Ifyou’renottoosleepy.”
Insteadofanswering,shetippedherheadbackagainstthecouch.“Imeantareyougivingupon
me.Imeantdidyouwanttostopseeingme.”
“WhywouldIwanttostopseeingyou?”
“Afterhowbadshemademelook.”
“Youdidn’tlookbad.”
“Oh,no?”
Whenshewastired,herskinseemedtotightenoverherbones.Shepressedherfingertipstoher
eyelids.
“LastChristmas,”Maconsaid,“wasthefirstonewehadwithoutEthan.Itwasveryhardtoget
through.”
HeoftenfoundhimselftalkingwithheraboutEthan.Itfeltgoodtosayhisnameoutloud.
“Wedidn’tknowhowtohaveachildlessChristmasanymore,”hesaid.“Ithought,‘Well,after
all,wemanagedbeforewehadhim,didn’twe?’ButinfactIcouldn’trememberhow.Itseemedtome
we’d always had him; it’s so unthinkable once you’ve got children that they ever didn’t exist. I’ve
noticed:IlookbacktowhenIwasaboy,anditseemstomethatEthanwassomehowthereeventhen;
justnotyetvisible,orsomething.Soanyway.IdecidedwhatIshoulddowasgetSarahawholeflood
of presents, and I went out to Hutzler ’s the day before Christmas and bought all this junk—closet
organizersandsuch.AndSarah:Shewenttotheotherextreme.Shedidn’tbuyanything.Sotherewe
were,eachofusfeelingwe’ddoneitallwrong,actedinappropriately,butalsothattheotherhaddone
wrong;Idon’tknow.ItwasaterribleChristmas.”
HesmoothedMuriel’shairoffherforehead.“Thisonewasbetter,”hesaid.
Sheopenedhereyesandstudiedhimamoment.Thensheslippedherhandinherpocket,came
upwithsomethingandheldittowardhim—palmingit,likeasecret.“Foryou,”shesaid.
“Forme?”
“I’dlikeyoutohaveit.”
Itwasasnapshotstolenfromherfamilyalbum:Murielasatoddler,clamberingoutofawading
pool.
Shemeant,hesupposed,togivehimthebestofher.Andsoshehad.Butthebestofherwasnot
that child’s Shirley Temple hairdo. It was her fierceness—her spiky, pugnacious fierceness as she
foughtherwaytowardthecamerawithherchinsetawryandhereyesbrightslitsofdetermination.
Hethankedher.Hesaidhewouldkeepitforever.
fourteen
You would have to say that he was living with her now. He began to spend all his time at her
house,tocontributetowardherrentandhergroceries.Hekepthisshavingthingsinherbathroom
and squeezed his clothes among the dresses in her closet. But there wasn’t one particular point at
which he made the shift. No, this was a matter of day by day. First there was that long Christmas
vacationwhenAlexanderwashomealone;sowhyshouldn’tMaconstayonwithhimoncehe’dspent
the night there? And why not fetch his typewriter and work at the kitchen table? And then why not
remainforsupper,andafterthatforbed?
Though if you needed to put a date on it, you might say he truly moved in the afternoon he
movedEdwardin.He’djustgotbackfromabusinesstrip—anexhaustingblitzoffivesoutherncities,
not one of which was any warmer than Baltimore—and he stopped by Rose’s house to check the
animals.Thecatwasfine,Rosesaid.(ShehadtospeakaboveEdward’syelps;hewasfranticwithjoy
andrelief.)ThecathadprobablynotnoticedMaconwasmissing.ButEdward,well...“Hespendsa
lotoftimesittinginthehall,”shesaid,“staringatthedoor.Hekeepshisheadcockedandhewaitsfor
youtocomeback.”
Thatdidit.HebroughtEdwardwithhimwhenhereturnedtoSingletonStreet.
“Whatdoyouthink?”heaskedMuriel.“Couldwekeephimjustadayortwo?SeeifAlexander
cantakeit,withoutanyshots?”
“Icantakeit!”Alexandersaid.“It’scatsthatgettome;notdogs.”
Muriellookeddoubtful,butshesaidtheycouldgiveitatry.
Meanwhile,Edwarddartedmadlyalloverthehousesnufflingintocornersandunderfurniture.
ThenhesatinfrontofMurielandgrinnedupather.HeremindedMaconofaschoolboywithacrush
onhisteacher;allhisfantasieswererealized,herehewasatlast.
Forthefirstfewhourstheytriedtokeephiminaseparatepartofthehouse,whichofcoursewas
hopeless.HehadtofollowMaconwhereverhewent,andalsohedevelopedanimmediateinterestin
Alexander.Lackingaball,hekeptdroppingsmallobjectsatAlexander ’sfeetandthensteppingback
tolookexpectantlyintohisface.“Hewantstoplayfetch,”Maconexplained.Alexanderpickedupa
matchbook and tossed it, angling his arm behind him in a prissy way. While Edward went tearing
afterit,MaconmadeamentalnotetobuyaballfirstthinginthemorningandteachAlexanderhowto
throw.
AlexanderwatchedTVandEdwardsnoozedonthecouchbesidehim,curledlikealittleblond
cashewnutwithasquinty,blissfulexpressiononhisface.Alexanderhuggedhimandburiedhisface
in Edward’s ruff. “Watch it,” Macon told him. He had no idea what to do if Alexander started
wheezing.ButAlexanderdidn’twheeze.Bybedtimehejusthadastuffynose,andheusuallyhadthat
anyhow.
MaconlikedtobelievethatAlexanderdidn’tknowheandMurielslepttogether.“Well,that’sjust
plain ridiculous,” Muriel said. “Where does he imagine you spend the night—on the living room
couch?”
“Maybe,”hesaid.“I’msurehehassomeexplanation.Ormaybehedoesn’t.AllI’msayingis,we
shouldn’thithiminthefacewithit.Lethimthinkwhathewantstothink.”
Soeverymorning,MaconroseanddressedbeforeAlexanderwoke.Hestartedfixingbreakfast
andthenrousedhim.“Seveno’clock!Timetogetup!Gocallyourmother,willyou?”Inthepast,he
learned, Muriel had often stayed in bed while Alexander woke up on his own and got ready for
school.Sometimesheleftthehousewhileshewasstillasleep.Maconthoughtthatwasshocking.Now
he made a full breakfast, and he insisted that Muriel sit at the table with them. Muriel claimed
breakfastmadehersicktoherstomach.Alexandersaiditmadehimsick,too,butMaconsaidthatwas
justtoobad.“Ninety-eightpercentofallAstudentseateggsinthemorning,”hesaid(makingitupas
he went along). “Ninety-nine percent drink milk.” He untied his apron and sat down. “Are you
listening,Alexander?”
“I’llthrowupifIdrinkmilk.”
“That’sallinyourhead.”
“Tellhim,Mama!”
“Hethrowsup,”Murielsaidgloomily.Shesathunchedatthetableinherlongsilkrobe,resting
herchinononehand.“It’ssomethingtodowithenzymes,”shesaid.Sheyawned.Herhair,growing
outofitspermanentatlast,hungdownherbackinevenrippleslikethecrimpsonabobbypin.
Alexander walked to school with Buddy and Sissy Ebbetts, two tough-looking older children
fromacrossthestreet.Murieleitherwentbacktobedordressedandleftforoneoranotherofher
jobs,dependingonwhatdayitwas.ThenMacondidthebreakfastdishesandtookEdwardout.They
didn’tgofar;itwasmuchtoocold.Thefewpeopletheyencounteredwalkedrapidly,withjerkysteps,
likecharactersinasilentfilm.TheyknewMaconbysightnowandwouldallowtheireyestoflick
over his face as they passed—a gesture like a nod—but they didn’t speak. Edward ignored them.
Otherdogscouldcomeupandsniffhimandhewouldn’tevenbreakstride.Mr.Marcusi,unloading
crates outside Marcusi’s Grocery, would pause to say, “Well, hey there, stubby. Hey there, tub of
lard.”Edward,smuglyoblivious,marchedon.“WeirdestanimalIeversaw,”Mr.Marcusicalledafter
Macon.“Lookslikesomethingthatwasbadlydrawn.”Maconalwayslaughed.
Hewasbeginningtofeeleasierhere.SingletonStreetstillunnervedhimwithitspovertyandits
ugliness, but it no longer seemed so dangerous. He saw that the hoodlums in front of the Cheery
MomentsCarry-Outwerepatheticallyyoungandshabby—theirlipschapped,theirsparsewhiskers
ineptlyshaved,anuncertain,unformedlookaroundtheireyes.Hesawthatoncethemenhadgoneoff
towork,thewomenemergedfullofgoodintentionsandswepttheirfrontwalks,pickedupthebeer
cansandpotatochipbags,evenrolledbacktheircoatsleevesandscrubbedtheirstoopsonthecoldest
days of the year. Children raced past like so many scraps of paper blowing in the wind—mittens
mismatched,nosesrunning—andsomewomanwouldbraceherselfonherbroomtocall,“Youthere!
Iseeyou!Don’tthinkIdon’tknowyou’reskippingschool!”Forthisstreetwasalwaysbacksliding,
Macon saw, always falling behind, but was caught just in time by these women with their carrying
voicesandtheirpushyjaws.
Returning to Muriel’s house, he would warm himself with a cup of coffee. He would set his
typewriter on the kitchen table and sit down with his notes and brochures. The window next to the
tablehadlarge,cloudypanesthatrattledwheneverthewindblew.Somethingabouttherattlingsound
remindedhimoftraintravel.TheairportinAtlantamusthavetenmilesofcorridors, he typed, and
thenagustshookthepanesandhehadaneeriesensationofmovement,asifthecrackedlinoleum
floorwereskatingoutfromunderhim.
Hewouldtelephonehotels,motels,DepartmentsofCommerce,andhistravelagent,arranging
futuretrips.HewouldnotethesearrangementsinthedatebookthatJuliangavehimeveryChristmas
—aBusinessman’sPressproduct,spiral-bound.Inthebackwerevarioushandyreferencechartsthat
helikedtothumbthrough.ThebirthstoneforJanuarywasagarnet;forFebruary,anamethyst.One
square mile equaled 2.59 square kilometers. The proper gift for a first anniversary was paper. He
wouldponderthesefactsdreamily.Itseemedtohimthattheworldwasfullofequations;thatthere
mustbeananswerforeverything,ifonlyyouknewhowtosetforththequestions.
Thenitwaslunchtime,andhewouldputawayhisworkandmakehimselfasandwichorheata
canofsoup,letEdwardhaveaquickruninthetinybackyard.Afterthathelikedtoputteraroundthe
houseabit.Therewassomuchthatneededfixing!Andallofitsomebodyelse’s,nothisconcern,so
hecouldapproachitlightheartedly.Hewhistledwhileheprobedthedepthofacrack.Hehummedas
he toured the basement, shaking his head at the disarray. Upstairs he found a three-legged bureau
leaningonacanoftomatoes,andhetoldEdward,“Scandalous!”inatoneofsatisfaction.
It occurred to him—as he oiled a hinge, as he tightened a doorknob—that the house reflected
amazinglylittleofMuriel.Shemusthavelivedheresixorsevenyearsbynow,butstilltheplacehad
anairoftransience.Herbelongingsseemedhastilyplaced,superimposed,notreallymuchtodowith
her. This was a disappointment, for Macon was conscious while he worked of his intense curiosity
about her inner workings. Sanding a drawer, he cast a guilty eye upon its contents but found only
fringedshawlsandyellowednetglovesfromtheforties—cluestootherpeople’slives,nothers.
Butwhatwasithewantedtoknow?Shewasanopenbook,wouldtellhimanything—morethan
he felt comfortable with. Nor did she attempt to hide her true nature, which was certainly far from
perfect.Itemergedthatshehadanastytemper,ashrewishtongue,andatendencytofallintospellsof
self-disgustfromwhichnoonecouldrouseherforhours.ShewasinconsistentwithAlexandertothe
point of pure craziness—one minute overprotective, the next minute callous and offhand. She was
obviouslyintelligent,butshecounteractedthatwiththemostglobalcaseofsuperstitionMaconhad
everwitnessed.Hardlyadaypassedwhenshedidn’ttellhimsomedreaminexhaustivedetailandthen
siftthroughitforomens.(Adreamofwhiteshipsonapurpleseacametruetheverynextmorning,
sheclaimed,whenadoor-to-doorsalesmanshowedupinapurplesweaterpatternedwithlittlewhite
boats. “The very same purple! Same shape of ship!” Macon only wondered what kind of salesman
wouldwearsuchclothing.)ShebelievedinhoroscopesandtarotcardsandOuijaboards.Hermagic
number was seventeen. In a previous incarnation she’d been a fashion designer, and she swore she
couldrecallatleastoneofherdeaths.(“Wethinkshe’spassedon,”theytoldthedoctorasheentered,
andthedoctorunwoundhismuffler.)Shewasreligiousinablurry,nondenominationalwayandhad
nodoubtwhatsoeverthatGodwaslookingafterherpersonally—ironic,itseemedtoMacon,inview
ofhowshe’dhadtofightforeverylittlethingshewanted.
He knew all this and yet, finding a folded sheet of paper on the counter, he opened it and
devouredherlurchingscrawlasifshewereastranger.Pretzels.Pantyhose.Dentist,heread.Pickup
Mrs.Arnold’slaundry.
No,notthat.Notthat.
Then it was three o’clock and Alexander was home from school, letting himself in with a key
thatheworeonashoelacearoundhisneck.“Macon?”he’dcalltentatively.“Isthatyououtthere?”He
wasscaredofburglars.Maconsaid,“It’sme.”Edwardleaptupandwentrunningforhisball.“How
wasyourday?”Maconalwaysasked.
“Oh,okay.”
ButMaconhadthefeelingthatschoolneverwentverywellforAlexander.Hecameoutofitwith
hisfacemorepinchedthanever,hisglassesthickwithfingerprints.HeremindedMaconofahomeworkpaperthathadbeenerasedandrewrittentoomanytimes.Hisclothes,ontheotherhand,wereas
neataswhenhe’dleftinthemorning.Oh,thoseclothes!Spotlesspoloshirtswitharestrainedbrown
pinstripe,matchingbrowntrousersgatheredbulkilyaroundhiswaistwithaheavyleatherbelt.Shiny
brownshoes.Blindingwhitesocks.Didn’theeverplay?Didn’tkidshaverecessanymore?
Macon gave him a snack: milk and cookies. (Alexander drank milk in the afternoons without
complaint.)Thenhehelpedhimwithhisschoolwork.Itwasthesimplestsort—arithmeticsumsand
readingquestions.“WhydidJoeneedthedime?WherewasJoe’sdaddy?”
“Umm...”Alexandersaid.Blueveinspulsedinhistemples.
Hewasnotastupidchildbuthewaslimited,Maconfelt.Limited.Evenhiswalkwasconstricted.
Evenhissmileneverdaredtoventurebeyondtwoinvisibleboundariesinthecenterofhisface.Not
thathewassmilingnow.Hewaswrinklinghisforehead,raisinghiseyesfearfullytoMacon.
“Takeyourtime,”Macontoldhim.“There’snohurry.”
“ButIcan’t!Idon’tknow!Idon’tknow!”
“YourememberJoe,”Maconsaidpatiently.
“Idon’tthinkIdo!”
Sometimes Macon stuck with it, sometimes he simply dropped it. After all, Alexander had
managedwithouthimuptillnow,hadn’the?Therewasapeculiarkindofluxuryhere:Alexanderwas
not his own child. Macon felt linked to him in all sorts of complicated ways, but not in that
inseparable,inevitablewaythathe’dbeenlinkedtoEthan.HecouldstilldrawbackfromAlexander;
he could still give up on him. “Oh, well,” he could say, “talk it over with your teacher tomorrow.”
Andthenhisthoughtscouldwanderoffagain.
The difference was, he realized, that he was not held responsible here. It was a great relief to
knowthat.
WhenMurielcamehomeshebroughtfreshairandbustleandexcitement.“Isitevercold!Isit
everwindy!Radiosaysthreebelowzerotonight.Edward,down,thisminute.Whowantslemonpie
fordessert?Here’swhathappened:IhadtogoshoppingforMrs.Quick.FirstIhadtobuylinensfor
her daughter who’s getting married, then I had to take them back because they were all the wrong
color,herdaughterdidn’twantpastelbutwhiteandtoldhermotherplainasday,shesaid...andthen
Ihadtopickuppastriesforthebridesmaids’partyandwhenMrs.Quickseesthelemonpieshesays,
‘Oh,no,notlemon!NotthattackylemonthatalwaystasteslikeKool-Aid!’I’mlike,‘Mrs.Quick,you
don’thaveanybusinesstellingmewhatistacky.Thisisafresh-baked,lemonmeringuepiewithouta
traceofartificial...’Soanyway,tomakealongstoryshort,shesaidtotakeithometomylittleboy.
‘Well,foryourinformationI’mcertainhecan’teatit,’Isay.‘Chancesarehe’sallergic.’ButItook
it.”
Sherangedaroundthekitchenputtingtogetherasupper—BLT’s,usually,andvegetablesfroma
can. Sometimes things were not where she expected (Macon’s doing—he couldn’t resist
reorganizing),butsheadaptedcheerfully.Whilethebaconsputteredintheskilletsheusuallyphoned
her mother and went over all she’d just told Macon and Alexander. “But the daughter wanted white
and...‘oh,notthattackylemonpie!’shesays...”
If Mrs. Dugan couldn’t come to the phone (which was often the case), Muriel talked to Claire
instead.EvidentlyClairewashavingtroublesathome.“Tellthem!”Murielcounseledher.“Justtell
them! Tell them you won’t stand for it.” Cradling the receiver against her shoulder, she opened a
drawerandtookoutknivesandforks.“Whyshouldtheyhavetoknoweverylittlethingyoudo?It
doesn’tmatterthatyou’renotuptoanything,Claire.Tellthem,‘I’mseventeenyearsoldandit’snone
ofyouraffairanymoreifI’muptoanythingornot.I’mjustaboutagrownwoman,’tellthem.”
But later, if Mrs. Dugan finally came to the phone, Muriel herself sounded like a child. “Ma?
Whatkeptyou?Youcan’tsayacoupleofwordstoyourdaughterjustbecauseyourfavoritesongis
playingontheradio?‘Lara’sTheme’ismoreimportantthanfleshandblood?”
EvenafterMurielhungup,sheseldomreallyfocusedondinner.Hergirlfriendmightdropby
andstaytowatchthemeat—afatyoungwomannamedBernicewhoworkedfortheGasandElectric
Company.Orneighborswouldknockonthekitchendoorandwalkrightin.“Muriel,doyouhappen
tohaveacouponforsupporthose?Youngandslimasyouare,Iknowyouwouldn’tneedityourself.”
“Muriel,SaturdaymorningIgottogototheclinicformyteeth,anychanceofyougivingmealift?”
Muriel was an oddity on this street—a woman with a car of her own—and they knew by heart her
elaboratearrangementwiththeboywhodidherrepairs.Sundays,whenDominickhadthecarallday,
nobody troubled her; but as soon as Monday rolled around they’d be lining up with their requests.
“Doctorwantsmetocomeinandshowhimmy...”“IpromisedI’dtakemykidstothe...”
IfMurielcouldn’tdoit,theyneverthoughttoaskMaconinstead.Maconwasstillanoutsider;
theyshothimquickglancesbutpretendednottonoticehewaslistening.EvenBernicewasbashful
withhim,andsheavoidedusinghisname.
BythetimethelotterynumberwasannouncedonTV,everyonewouldhaveleft.Thatwaswhat
mattered here, Macon had discovered: the television schedule. The news could be missed but the
lotterydrawingcouldnot;norcould“EveningMagazine”oranyoftheactionshowsthatfollowed.
Alexander watched these shows but Muriel didn’t, although she claimed to. She sat on the couch in
frontofthesetandtalked,orpaintedhernails,orreadsomearticleorother.“Lookhere!‘Howto
IncreaseYourBustline.’”
“Youdon’twanttoincreaseyourbustline,”Macontoldher.
“‘Thicker,MoreLuxuriousEyelashesinJustSixtyDays.’”
“Youdon’twantthickereyelashes.”
He felt content with everything exactly the way it was. He seemed to be suspended, his life on
hold.
Andlater,takingEdwardforhisfinalouting,helikedthefeelingoftheneighborhoodatnight.
This far downtown the sky was too pale for stars; it was pearly and opaque. The buildings were
muffleddarkshapes.Faintsoundsthreadedoutofthem—music,rifleshots,thewhinnyingofhorses.
MaconlookedupatAlexander ’swindowandsawMurielunfoldingablanket,asdelicateanddistinct
asasilhouettecutfromblackpaper.
OneWednesdaytherewasaheavysnowstorm,startinginthemorningandcontinuingthrough
the day. Snow fell in clumps like white woolen mittens. It wiped out the dirty tatters of snow from
earlierstorms;itsoftenedthestreet’sharshanglesandhidthetrashcansundercottonydomes.Even
thewomenwhoswepttheirstoopshourlycouldnotkeeppacewithit,andtowardeveningtheygave
upandwentinside.Allnightthecityglowedlilac.Itwasabsolutelysilent.
Thenextmorning,Maconwokelate.Muriel’ssideofthebedwasempty,butherradiowasstill
playing. A tired-sounding announcer was reading out cancellations. Schools were closed, factories
wereclosed,MealsonWheelswasnotrunning.Maconwasimpressedbythenumberofactivitiesthat
people had been planning for just this one day—the luncheons and lectures and protest meetings.
What energy, what spirit! He felt almost proud, though he hadn’t been going to attend any of these
affairshimself.
Thenherealizedhewashearingvoicesdownstairs.Alexandermustbeawake,andherehewas
trappedinMuriel’sbedroom.
Hedressedstealthily,makingsurethecoastwasclearbeforecrossingthehalltothebathroom.
He tried not to creak the floorboards as he descended the stairs. The living room was unnaturally
bright,reflectingthesnowoutside.Thecouchwasopened,amassofsheetsandblankets;Clairehad
sleptoverthelastfewnights.Maconfollowedthevoicesintothekitchen.HefoundAlexandereating
pancakes, Claire at the stove making more, Muriel curled in her usual morning gloom above her
coffee cup. Just inside the back door Bernice stood dripping snow, swathed in various enormous
plaids.“Soanyhow,”ClairewastellingBernice,“Masays,‘Claire,whowasthatboyyoudroveup
with?’Isaid,‘Thatwasnoboy,thatwasJosieTappwithhernewpunkhaircut,’andMasays,‘Expect
metobelieveacock-and-bullstorylikethat!’SoIsay,‘I’vehadenoughofthis!Grillings!Curfews!
Suspicions!’AndIleaveandcatchabusdownhere.”
“They’rejustworriedyou’llturnoutlikeMurieldid,”Bernicetoldher.
“ButJosieTapp!ImeanGodAlmighty!”
TherewasageneralshiftingmotioninMacon’sdirection.Clairesaid,“Heythere,Macon.Want
somepancakes?”
“Justaglassofmilk,thanks.”
“They’reniceandhot.”
“Maconthinkssugaronanemptystomachcausesulcers,”Murielsaid.Shewrappedbothhands
aroundhercup.
Bernicesaid,“Well,I’mnotsayingno,”andshecrossedthekitchentopulloutachair.Herboots
left pads of snow with each step. Edward toddled after her, licking them up. “You and me ought to
buildasnowman,”BernicetoldAlexander.“Snowmustbefourfeetdeepoutthere.”
“Havethestreetsbeencleared?”Maconasked.
“Areyoukidding?”
“Theycouldn’tevengetthroughwiththenewspaper,”Alexandertoldhim.“Edward’saboutto
losehismindwonderingwhereit’sgotto.”
“Andthere’scarsabandonedalloverthecity.Radiosaysnobody’sgoinganywhereatall.”
ButBernicehadhardlyspokenwhenEdwardwheeledtowardthebackdoorandstartedbarking.
Afigureloomedoutside.“Who’sthat?”Berniceasked.
MurieltappedherfootatEdward.Helaydownbutkeptonbarking,andMaconopenedthedoor.
HefoundhimselffacetofacewithhisbrotherCharles—unusuallyrugged-lookinginavisoredcap
withearflaps.“Charles?”Maconsaid.“Whatareyoudoinghere?”
Charles stepped in, bringing with him the fresh, expectant smell of new snow. Edward’s yelps
changed to welcoming whines. “I came to pick you up,” Charles said. “Couldn’t reach you on the
phone.”
“Pickmeupforwhat?”
“YourneighborGarnerBoltcalledandsaidpipesorsomethinghaveburstinyourhouse,water
allovereverything.I’vebeentryingtogetyousinceearlymorningbutyourlinewasalwaysbusy.”
“Thatwasme,”Clairesaid,settingdownaplatterofpancakes.“Itookthereceiveroffthehook
somyfolkswouldn’tcallmeupandnagme.”
“ThisisMuriel’ssister,Claire,”Maconsaid,“andthat’sAlexanderandthat’sBerniceTilghman.
MybrotherCharles.”
Charleslookedconfused.
Cometothinkofit,thiswasn’taneasygrouptosortout.Clairewasherusualmingledself—
rosebud bathrobe over faded jeans, fringed moccasin boots that laced to her knees. Bernice could
havebeenalumberjack.Alexanderwasneatandpolished,whileMurielinherslinkysilkrobewas
barelydecent.Also,thekitchenwassosmallthatthereseemedtobemorepeoplethanthereactually
were. And Claire was waving her spatula, spangling the air with drops of grease. “Pancakes?” she
askedCharles.“Orangejuice?Coffee?”
“No,thankyou,”Charlessaid.“Ireallyhavetobe—”
“I bet you want milk,” Muriel said. She got to her feet, fortunately remembering to clutch her
robetogether.“Ibetyoudon’twantsugaronanemptystomach.”
“No,reallyI—”
“Itwon’tbeanytrouble!”Shewastakingthecartonfromtherefrigerator.“How’dyougethere,
anyways?”
“Idrove.”
“Ithoughtthestreetswereblocked.”
“Theyweren’tsobad,”Charlessaid,acceptingaglassofmilk.“Findingtheplacewasthehard
part.”HetoldMacon,“IlookedituponthemapbutevidentlyIwasmizzled.”
“Mizzled?”Murielasked.
“Hewasmisled,”Maconexplained.“WhatdidGarnersay,exactly,Charles?”
“Hesaidhesawwaterrunningdowntheinsideofyourlivingroomwindow.Helookedinand
sawtheceilingdripping.Couldhavebeenthatwayforweeks,hesaid;youknowthatcoldspellwe
hadoverChristmas.”
“Doesn’tsoundgood,”Maconsaid.
Hewenttotheclosetforhiscoat.Whenhecameback,Murielwassaying,“Nowthatyoudon’t
haveanemptystomach,Charles,won’tyoutrysomeofClaire’spancakes?”
“I’vehadahalfadozen,”Bernicetoldhim.“Theydon’tcallmeBig-AssBernicefornothing.”
Charlessaid,“Uh,well—”andgaveMaconahelplesslook.
“Wehavetobegoing,”Macontoldtheothers.“Charles,areyouparkedinback?”
“No,infront.ThenIwentaroundbackbecauseIcouldn’tgetthedoorbelltowork.”
There was a reserved, disapproving note in Charles’s voice when he said this, but Macon just
said airily, “Oh, yes! Place is a wreck.” He led the way toward the front of the house. He felt like
someonedemonstratinghowwellhegotonwiththenatives.
Theypushedopenthedoorwithsomedifficultyandfloundereddownstepssodeeplyburiedthat
both men more or less fell the length of them, trusting that they would be cushioned. The sunlight
sparked and flashed. They waded toward the street, Macon’s shoes quickly filling with snow—a
refreshingsharpnessthatalmostinstantlyturnedpainful.
“Iguesswe’dbettertakebothcars,”hetoldCharles.
“Howcome?”
“Well,youdon’twanttohavetodriveallthewaybackdownhere.”
“Butifwetakejustone,thenoneofuscandriveandonecanpushifwegetstuck.”
“Let’stakemine,then.”
“Butmine’salreadyclearedanddugout.”
“ButwithmineIcoulddropyouoffhomeandsaveyouthetripbackdown.”
“ButthatleavesmycarstrandedonSingletonStreet.”
“Wecouldgetittoyouaftertheyplow.”
“Andmycarhasitsenginewarmed!”Charlessaid.
Wasthishowtheyhadsounded,alltheseyears?Macongaveashortlaugh,butCharleswaited
intentlyforhisanswer.“Fine,we’lltakeyours,”Macontoldhim.TheyclimbedintoCharles’sVW.
Itwastruetherewerealotofabandonedcars.Theysatinnoparticularpattern,featurelesswhite
mounds turned this way and that, so the street resembled a river of drifting boats. Charles dodged
expertlybetweenthem.Hekeptaslow,steadyspeedandtalkedaboutRose’swedding.“Wetoldher
Aprilwastooiffy.Betterwait,wetoldher,ifshe’ssosetonanoutdoorservice.ButRosesaidno,
she’lltakeherchances.She’ssuretheweatherwillbeperfect.”
Asnow-coveredjeepinfrontofthem,theonlymovingvehiclethey’dyetencountered,suddenly
slurredtooneside.Charlespasseditsmoothlyinalong,shallowarc.Maconsaid,“Wherewillthey
live,anyhow?”
“Why,atJulian’s,Isuppose.”
“Inasinglesbuilding?”
“No,he’sgotanotherplacenow,anapartmentneartheBelvedere.”
“Isee,”Maconsaid.ButhehadtroublepicturingRoseinanapartment—oranywhere,forthat
matter, if it wasn’t her grandparents’ house with its egg-and-dart moldings and heavily draped
windows.
Allthroughthecitypeoplewerediggingout—tunnelingtowardtheirparkedcars,scrapingoff
theirwindshields,shovelingsidewalks.Therewassomethingholidaylikeaboutthem;theywavedto
eachotherandcalledbackandforth.Oneman,havingclearednotonlyhiswalkbutasectionofthe
street as well, was doing a little soft-shoe dance on the wet concrete, and when Charles and Macon
drovethroughhestoppedtoshout,“Whatareyou,crazy?Travelingaroundinthis?”
“Imustsayyou’reremarkablycalminviewofthesituation,”CharlestoldMacon.
“Whatsituation?”
“Yourhouse,Imean.Waterpouringthroughtheceilingforwhoknowshowlong.”
“Oh,that,”Maconsaid.Yes,atonetimehe’dhavebeenveryupsetaboutthat.
BynowtheywerehighonNorthCharlesStreet,whichtheplowshadalreadycleared.Maconwas
struckbythespaciousnesshere—thebuildingssetfarapart,widelawnsslopingbetweenthem.Hehad
nevernoticedthatbefore.Hesatforwardtogazeatthesidestreets.Theywerestillcompletelywhite.
Andjustafewblocksover,whenCharlesturnedintoMacon’sneighborhood,theysawayounggirl
onskis.
Hishouselookedthesameasever,thoughslightlydingyincomparisonwiththesnow.Theysat
inthecaramomentstudyingit,andthenMaconsaid,“Well,heregoes,Iguess,”andtheyclimbed
out. They could see where Garner Bolt had waded through the yard; they saw the scalloping of
footprintswherehe’dsteppedclosertopeerinawindow.Butthesidewalkborenotracksatall,and
Maconfounditdifficultinhissmooth-soledshoes.
Theinstantheunlockedthedoor,theyheardthewater.Thelivingroomwasfilledwithacool,
steady, dripping sound, like a greenhouse after the plants have been sprayed. Charles, who was the
firsttoenter,said,“Oh,myGod.”Maconstoppeddeadinthehallwaybehindhim.
Apparentlyanupstairspipe(inthatcoldlittlebathroomoffEthan’soldroom,Maconwouldbet)
hadfrozenandburst,heavenonlyknewhowlongago,andthewaterhadrunandrununtilitsaturated
theceilingandstartedcomingthroughtheplaster.Allovertheroomitwasraining.Chunksofplaster
had fallen on the furniture, turning it white and splotchy. The floorboards were mottled. The rug,
when Macon stepped on it, squelched beneath his feet. He marveled at the thoroughness of the
destruction; not a detail had been overlooked. Every ashtray was full of wet flakes and every
magazinewassodden.Therewasagraysmellrisingfromtheupholstery.
“Whatareyougoingtodo?”Charlesbreathed.
Maconpulledhimselftogether.“Why,turnoffthewatermain,ofcourse,”hesaid.
“Butyourlivingroom!”
Macon didn’t answer. His living room was . . . appropriate, was what he wanted to say. Even
moreappropriateifithadbeenwashedawayentirely.(Heimaginedthehouseundertwelvefeetof
water,uncannilyclear,likeacastleatthebottomofagoldfishbowl.)
Hewentdowntothebasementandshutoffthevalve,andthenhecheckedthelaundrysink.Itwas
dry.Ordinarilyheletthetaprunallwinterlong,aslenderstreamtokeepthepipesfromfreezing,but
thisyearhehadn’tthoughtofitandneitherhadhisbrothers,evidently,whentheycametolightthe
furnace.
“Oh,thisisterrible,justterrible,”CharleswassayingwhenMaconcamebackupstairs.Buthe
wasinthekitchennow,wheretherewasn’tanyproblem.Hewasopeningandshuttingcabinetdoors.
“Terrible.Terrible.”
Maconhadnoideawhathewasgoingonabout.Hesaid,“Justletmefindmybootsandwecan
leave.”
“Leave?”
Hethoughthisbootsmustbeinhiscloset.Hewentupstairstothebedroom.Everythingherewas
sodreary—thenakedmattresswithitsbodybag,thedustymirror,thebrittleyellownewspaperfolded
onthenightstand.Hebenttorootthroughtheobjectsontheclosetfloor.Therewerehisboots,all
right,alongwithsomewirehangersandalittlebookletofsomesort.AGardener’sDiary,1976. He
flippedthroughit.Firstlawn-mowingofthespring,Sarahhadwritteninhercompactscript.Forsythia
stillinbloom.Maconclosedthediaryandsmoothedthecoverandlaiditaside.
Boots in hand, he went back downstairs. Charles had returned to the living room; he was
wringingoutcushions.“Nevermindthose,”Maconsaid.“They’lljustgetwetagain.”
“Willyourinsurancecoverthis?”
“Isupposeso.”
“Whatwouldtheycallit?Flooddamage?Weatherdamage?”
“Idon’tknow.Let’sgetgoing.”
“Youshouldphoneourcontractor,Macon.Rememberthemanwhotookcareofourporch?”
“Nobodyliveshereanyhow,”Maconsaid.
Charlesstraightened,stillholdingacushion.“What’sthatsupposedtomean?”heasked.
“Mean?”
“Areyousayingyou’lljustletthisstay?”
“Probably,”Macontoldhim.
“Allsoakedandruined?Nothingdone?”
“Oh,well,”Maconsaid,wavingahand.“Comealong,Charles.”
But Charles hung back, still gazing around the living room. “Terrible. Even the curtains are
dripping.Sarahwillfeeljustterrible.”
“Idoubtshe’llgiveitathought,”Maconsaid.
Hepausedontheporchtopullhisbootson.Theywereoldandstiff,thekindwithmetalclasps.
Hetuckedhiswettrousercuffsinsidethemandthenledthewaytothestreet.
Oncetheyweresettledinthecar,Charlesdidn’tstarttheenginebutsatthere,keyinhand,and
lookedsoberlyatMacon.“Ithinkit’stimewehadatalk,”hesaid.
“Whatabout?”
“I’dliketoknowwhatyouthinkyou’reuptowiththisMurielperson.”
“Isthatwhatyoucallher?‘ThisMurielperson’?”
“Nooneelsewilltellyou,”Charlessaid.“Theysayit’snoneoftheirbusiness.ButIcan’tjust
standbyandwatch,Macon.IhavetosaywhatIthink.Howoldareyou—forty-two?Forty-threenow?
Andsheis...butmorethanthat,she’snotyourtypeofwoman.”
“Youdon’tevenknowher!”
“Iknowhertype.”
“Ihavetobegettinghomenow,Charles.”
Charleslookeddownathiskey.Thenhestartedthecarandpulledintothestreet,buthedidn’t
drop the subject. “She’s some kind of symptom, Macon! You’re not yourself these days and this
Murielperson’sasymptom.Everybodysaysso.”
“I’mmoremyselfthanI’vebeenmywholelifelong,”Macontoldhim.
“Whatkindofremarkisthat?Itdoesn’tevenmakesense!”
“Andwhois‘everybody,’anyway?”
“Why,Porter,Rose,me...”
“Allsuchexperts.”
“We’rejustworriedforyou,Macon.”
“Couldweswitchtosomeothertopic?”
“IhadtotellyouwhatIthought,”Charlessaid.
“Well,fine.You’vetoldme.”
ButCharlesdidn’tlooksatisfied.
The car wallowed back through the slush, with ribbons of bright water trickling down the
windshieldfromtheroof.Thenoutonthemainroad,itpickedupspeed.“Hatetothinkwhatallthat
saltisdoingtoyourunderbody,”Maconsaid.
Charlessaid,“Inevertoldyouthisbefore,butit’smyopinionsexisoverrated.”
Maconlookedathim.
“Oh,whenIwasinmyteensIwasasinterestedasanyone,”Charlessaid.“Imeanitoccupiedmy
thoughts for every waking moment and all that. But that was just the idea of sex, you know?
Somehow,therealthingwasless...Idon’tmeanI’mopposedtoit,butit’sjustnotallIexpected.For
onething,it’srathermessy.Andthentheweatherissuchaproblem.”
“Weather,”Maconsaid.
“When it’s cold you hate to take your clothes off. When it’s hot you’re both so sticky. And in
Baltimore,itdoesalwaysseemtobeeithertoocoldortoohot.”
“Maybe you ought to consider a change of climate,” Macon said. He was beginning to enjoy
himself. “Do you suppose anyone’s done a survey? City by city? Maybe the Businessman’s Press
couldputoutsomesortofpamphlet.”
“Andbesidesitoftenleadstochildren,”Charlessaid.“Ineverreallycaredmuchforchildren.
Theystrikemeasdisruptive.”
“Well,ifthat’swhyyoubroughtthisup,forgetit,”Maconsaid.“Murielcan’thaveanymore.”
Charles gave a little cough. “That’s good to hear,” he said, “but it’s not why I brought it up. I
believewhatIwastryingtosayis,Ijustdon’tthinksexisimportantenoughtoruinyourlifefor.”
“So?Who’sruininghislife?”
“Macon,faceit.She’snotworthit.”
“Howcanyoupossiblyknowthat?”
“Canyoutellmeoneuniquethingabouther?”Charlesasked.“Imeanonereallyspecialquality,
Macon,notsomethingsloppylike‘Sheappreciatesme’or‘Shelistens...’”
ShelooksouthospitalwindowsandimagineshowtheMartianswouldseeus,Macon wanted to
say.ButCharleswouldn’tunderstandthat,soinsteadhesaid,“I’mnotsuchabargainmyself,incase
youhaven’tnoticed.I’mkindof,youcouldsay,damagedmerchandise.Somebodyoughttowarnher
awayfromme,whenyougetrightdowntoit.”
“That’s not true. That’s not true at all. As a matter of fact, I imagine her people are
congratulatingheronhercatch.”
“Hercatch!”
“Someone to support her. Anyone,” Charles said. “She’d be lucky to find anyone. Why, she
doesn’tevenspeakproperEnglish!Shelivesinthatslummyhouse,shedresseslikesomekindofbag
lady,she’sgotthatlittleboywhoappearstohavehookwormorsomething—”
“Charles,justshutthehellup,”Maconsaid.
Charlesclosedhismouth.
TheyhadreachedMuriel’sneighborhoodbynow.Theyweredrivingpastthestationeryfactory
withitstangledwirefencelikeoldbedsprings.Charlestookawrongturn.“Let’ssee,now,”hesaid,
“wheredoI...”
Macondidn’toffertohelp.
“AmIheadingintherightdirection?Ornot.SomehowIdon’tseemto...”
They were two short blocks from Singleton Street, but Macon hoped Charles would drive in
circlesforever.“Lotsofluck,”hesaid,andheopenedthedoorandhoppedout.
“Macon?”
Maconwavedandduckeddownanalley.
Freedom! Sunlight glinting off blinding white drifts, and children riding sleds and TV trays.
Cleared parking spaces guarded with lawn chairs. Throngs of hopeful boys with shovels. And then
Muriel’shousewithitswalkstilldeepinsnow,itssmallroomssmellingofpancakes,itscozymixof
womenloungingaboutinthekitchen.Theyweredrinkingcocoanow.BernicewasbraidingClaire’s
hair. Alexander was painting a picture. Muriel kissed Macon hello and squealed at his cold cheeks.
“Comeinandgetwarm!Havesomecocoa!LookatAlexander ’spicture,”shesaid.“Don’tyoulove
it?Isn’thesomething?He’saregulardaVinci.”
“Leonardo,”Maconsaid.
“What?”
“NotdaVinci.ForGod’ssake.It’sLeonardo,”hetoldher.Thenhestampedupstairstochange
outofhisclammytrousers.
fifteen
I’msorryI’msofat,”Macon’sseatmatesaid.
Maconsaid,“Oh,er,ah—”
“IknowI’musingmorethanmyshareofspace,”themantoldhim.“DoyouthinkI’mnotaware
of that? Every trip I take, I have to ask the stewardess for a seatbelt extender. I have to balance my
lunchonmykneesbecausethetraycan’tunfoldinfrontofme.ReallyIoughttopurchasetwoseats
but I’m not a wealthy man. I ought to purchase two tickets and not spread all over my fellow
passengers.”
“Oh,you’renotspreadingalloverme,”Maconsaid.
Thiswasbecausehewasverynearlysittingintheaisle,withhiskneesjuttingouttothesideso
that every passing stewardess ruffled the pages of Miss MacIntosh. But he couldn’t help feeling
touchedbytheman’sgreat,shiny,despairingface,whichwasasroundasababy’s.“Name’sLucas
Loomis,”themansaid,holdingoutahand.WhenMaconshookit,hewasremindedofrisenbread
dough.
“MaconLeary,”Macontoldhim.
“Thestupidthingis,”LucasLoomissaid,“Itravelforaliving.”
“Doyou.”
“Idemonstratesoftwaretocomputerstores.I’msittinginanairplaneseatsixdaysoutofseven
sometimes.”
“Well,noneofusfindsthemallthatroomy,”Maconsaid.
“Whatdoyoudo,Mr.Leary?”
“Iwriteguidebooks,”Maconsaid.
“Isthatso?Whatkind?”
“Oh,guidesforbusinessmen.Peoplejustlikeyou,Iguess.”
“AccidentalTourist,”Mr.Loomissaidinstantly.
“Why,yes.”
“Really?AmIright?Well,whatdoyouknow,”Mr.Loomissaid.“Lookatthis.”Hetookholdof
hisownlapels,whichsatsofarinfrontofhimthathisarmsseemedtooshorttoreachthem.“Gray
suit,” he told Macon. “Just what you recommend. Appropriate for all occasions.” He pointed to the
bag at his feet. “See my luggage? Carry-on. Change of underwear, clean shirt, packet of detergent
powder.”
“Well,good,”Maconsaid.Thishadneverhappenedtohimbefore.
“You’remyhero!”Mr.Loomistoldhim.“You’veimprovedmytripsahundredpercent.You’re
theonewhotoldmeaboutthosespringyitemsthatturnintoclotheslines.”
“Oh,well,youcouldhaverunacrossthoseinanydrugstore,”Maconsaid.
“I’vestoppedrelyingonhotellaundries;Ihardlyneedtoventureintothestreetsanymore.Itell
mywife,Isay,youjustaskher,Itellheroften,Isay,‘GoingwiththeAccidentalTouristislikegoing
inacapsule,acocoon.Don’tforgettopackmyAccidentalTourist!’Itellher.”
“Well,thisisverynicetohear,”Maconsaid.
“TimesI’veflowncleartoOregonandhardlyknewI’dleftBaltimore.”
“Excellent.”
Therewasapause.
“Although,”Maconsaid,“latelyI’vebeenwondering.”
Mr.Loomishadtoturnhisentirebodytolookathim,likesomeoneencasedinahoodedparka.
“I mean,” Macon said, “I’ve been out along the West Coast. Updating my U.S. edition. And of
courseI’vecoveredtheWestCoastbefore,LosAngelesandallthat;Lord,yes,Iknewtheplaceasa
child;butthiswasthefirstI’dseenofSanFrancisco.Mypublisherwantedmetoadditin.Haveyou
beentoSanFrancisco?”
“That’swherewejustnowgotontheplane,”Mr.Loomisremindedhim.
“SanFranciscoiscertainly,um,beautiful,”Maconsaid.
Mr.Loomisthoughtthatover.
“Well, so is Baltimore too, of course,” Macon said hastily. “Oh, no place on earth like
Baltimore!ButSanFrancisco,well,Imeanitstruckmeas,Idon’tknow...”
“IwasbornandraisedinBaltimore,myself,”Mr.Loomissaid.“Wouldn’tliveanywhereelsefor
theworld.”
“No,ofcoursenot,”Maconsaid.“Ijustmeant—”
“Couldn’tpaymetoleaveit.”
“No,meeither.”
“YouaBaltimoreman?”
“Yes,certainly.”
“Noplacelikeit.”
“Certainlyisn’t,”Maconsaid.
ButapicturecametohismindofSanFranciscofloatingonmistliketheEmeraldCity,viewed
fromoneofthosestreetssohighandsteepthatyoureallycouldhangyourheadoverandhearthe
windblow.
He’dleftBaltimoreonasleetydaywithicecoatingtheairportrunways,andhehadn’tbeengone
allthatlong;butwhenhereturneditwasspring.Thesunwasshiningandthetreesweretippedwith
green.Itwasstillfairlycoolbuthedrovewithhiswindowsdown.Thebreezesmelledexactlylike
Vouvray—flowerywithahintofmothballsunderneath.
OnSingletonStreet,crocuseswerepokingthroughthehardsquaresofdirtinfrontofbasement
windows. Rugs and bedspreads flapped in backyards. A whole cache of babies had surfaced. They
cruisedimperiouslyintheirstrollers,propelledbytheirmothersorbypairsofgrandmothers.Old
people sat out on the sidewalk in beach chairs and wheelchairs, and groups of men stood about on
corners, their hands in their pockets and their posture elaborately casual—the unemployed, Macon
imagined,emergingfromthedarkenedlivingroomswherethey’dspentthewinterwatchingTV.He
caughtsnatchesoftheirconversation:
“What’sgoingdown,man?”
“Nothingmuch.”
“Whatyoubeenupto?”
“Notawholelot.”
He parked in front of Muriel’s house, where Dominick Saddler was working on Muriel’s car.
The hood was open and Dominick was deep in its innards; all Macon saw was his jeans and his
gigantic,raggedsneakers,abandofbarefleshshowingabovehiscowhidebelt.Oneithersideofhim
stoodtheButlertwins,talkingawayamileaminute.“Soshesaystouswe’regrounded—”
“Can’tgooutwithnoonetillFriday—”
“Takesawayourfakei.d.’s—”
“Won’tletusanswerthephone—”
“Wemarchupstairsandslamourbedroomdoor,like,justalittleslamtoletherknowwhatwe
thinkofher—”
“Andupshecomeswithascrewdriverandtakesourdooroffitshinges!”
“Hmm,”Dominicksaid.
Maconrestedhisbagonthehoodandpeereddownintotheengine.“Caractingupagain?”he
asked.
TheButlertwinssaid,“Heythere,Macon,”andDominickstraightenedandwipedhisforehead
withthebackofhishand.Hewasadark,good-lookingboywhosebulgingmusclesmadeMaconfeel
inadequate.“Damnthingkeepsstallingout,”hesaid.
“How’dMurielgettowork?”
“Hadtotakethebus.”
Maconwashopingtohearshe’dstayedhome.
He climbed the steps and unlocked the front door. Just inside, Edward greeted him, squeaking
anddoingbackflipsandtryingtoholdstilllongenoughtobepetted.Maconwalkedthroughtherest
ofthehouse.Clearly,everyonehadleftinahurry.Thesofawasopenedout.(Clairemusthavehad
anotherfightwithherfolks.)Thekitchentablewaslitteredwithdishesandnoonehadputthecream
away.Macondidthat.Thenhetookhisbagupstairs.Muriel’sbedwasunmadeandherrobewasslung
acrossachair.Therewasasnarlofhairinthepintrayonherbureau.Hepickeditupbetweenthumb
andindexfingeranddroppeditintothewastebasket.Itoccurredtohim(notforthefirsttime)thatthe
worldwasdividedsharplydownthemiddle:Somelivedcarefullivesandsomelivedcarelesslives,
and everything that happened could be explained by the difference between them. But he could not
have said, not in a million years, why he was so moved by the sight of Muriel’s thin quilt trailing
acrossthefloorwhereshemusthavedraggeditwhensheroseinthemorning.
Itwasn’tquitetimeforAlexandertocomehomefromschool,sohethoughthewouldwalkthe
dog.HeputEdwardonhisleashandlethimselfoutthefrontdoor.WhenhepassedtheButlertwins
again they said, “Hey, there, Macon,” singsong as ever, while Dominick cursed and reached for a
wrench.
ThemenstandingonthecornerwerediscussingarumorofjobsinTexas.Someone’sbrotherin-lawhadfoundworkthere.Maconpassedwithhisheadlowered,feelinguncomfortablyprivileged.
Heskirtedawelcomematthathadbeenscrubbedandsetouttodryonthepavement.Thewomenhere
tookspringcleaningseriously,hesaw.Theyshooktheirdustmopsoutofupstairswindows;theysat
ontheirsillstopolishthepaneswithcrumpledsheetsofnewspapers.Theystaggeredbetweenhouses
with borrowed vacuum cleaners, rug machines, and gallon jugs of upholstery shampoo. Macon
roundedtheblockandstartedhome,havingpausedtoletEdwardpeeagainstamaplesapling.
Just as he was approaching Singleton Street, whom should he see but Alexander scurrying up
ahead.Therewasnomistakingthatstifflittlefigurewiththeclumsybackpack.“Wait!”Alexanderwas
crying.“Waitforme!”TheEbbettschildren,somedistanceaway,turnedandcalledsomethingback.
Maconcouldn’thearwhattheysaidbutheknewthetone,allright—thathigh,mockingchant.“Nyahnyah-nyah-NYAH-nyah!”Alexanderstartedrunning,stumblingoverhisownshoes.Behindhimcame
another group, two older boys and a girl with red hair, and they began jeering too. Alexander
wheeled and looked at them. His face was somehow smaller than usual. “Go,” Macon told Edward,
and he dropped the leash. Edward didn’t need any urging. His ears had perked at the sound of
Alexander ’s voice, and now he hurtled after him. The three older children scattered as he flew
throughthem,barking.HedrewupshortinfrontofAlexander,andAlexanderknelttohughisneck.
WhenMaconarrived,hesaid,“Areyouallright?”
Alexandernoddedandgottohisfeet.
“Whatwasthatallabout?”Maconaskedhim.
Alexandersaid,“Nothing.”
Butwhentheystartedwalkingagain,heslippedhishandintoMacon’s.
Thosecoollittlefingersweresodistinct,soparticular,sofullofcharacter.Macontightenedhis
grip and felt a pleasant kind of sorrow sweeping through him. Oh, his life had regained all its old
perils.Hewasforcedtoworryonceagainaboutnuclearwarandthefutureoftheplanet.Heoftenhad
the same secret, guilty thought that had come to him after Ethan was born: From this time on I can
neverbecompletelyhappy.
Notthathewasbefore,ofcourse.
Macon’s U.S. edition was going to be five separate pamphlets now, divided geographically,
slipcased together so you had to buy all five even if you needed only one. Macon thought this was
immoral.HesaidsowhenJulianstoppedbyfortheWestCoastmaterial.“What’simmoralaboutit?”
Julianasked.Hewasn’treallypayingattention;Maconcouldseethat.Hewasfilingmentalnoteson
Muriel’shousehold,nodoubttherealpurposeofthisunannounced,unnecessaryvisit.Eventhough
he’dalreadycollectedhismaterial,hewaswanderingaroundthelivingroominanabstractedway,
firstexaminingaframedschoolphotoofAlexanderandthenabeadedmoccasinthatClairehadleft
onthecouch.ItwasSaturdayandtheotherswereinthekitchen,butMaconhadnointentionofletting
Julianmeetthem.
“It’s always immoral to force a person to buy something he doesn’t want,” Macon said. “If he
onlywantstheMidwest,heshouldn’thavetobuyNewEnglandtoo,forheaven’ssake.”
Juliansaid,“IsthatyourfriendIhearoutthere?IsitMuriel?”
“Yes,Isupposeitis,”Maconsaid.
“Aren’tyougoingtointroduceus?”
“She’sbusy.”
“I’dreallyliketomeether.”
“Why?Hasn’tRosegivenyouafullreport?”
“Macon,”Juliansaid,“I’msoongoingtobearelativeofyours.”
“Ah,God.”
“It’sonlynaturalI’minterestedinknowingher.”
Maconsaidnothing.
“Besides,”Juliantoldhim,“Iwanttoinvitehertothewedding.”
“Youdo?”
“SocanItalktoher?”
“Oh.Well.Iguessso.”
Maconledthewaytothekitchen.Hefelthe’dmadeamistake—thathavingactedsothorny,he’d
causedthismeetingtoseemmoreimportantthanitwas.ButJulian,asithappened,wasbreezyand
offhand.“Hello,ladies,”hesaid.
Theylookedup—Muriel,Claire,andBernice,seatedaroundasheafofnotebookpaper.Macon
reeledtheirnamesoffrapidlybutgotstuckonJulian’s.“Julian,ah,Edge,my...”
“Futurebrother-in-law,”Juliansaid.
“Myboss.”
“I’ve come to invite you to the wedding, Muriel. Also your little boy, if—where’s your little
boy?”
“He’soutwalkingthedog,”Murielsaid.“Buthe’snottoogoodinchurches.”
“This’llbeagardenwedding.”
“Well,maybe,then,Idon’tknow...”
Murielwaswearingwhatshecalledher“paratrooperlook”—acoverallfromSunny’sSurplus
—and her hair was concealed beneath a wildly patterned silk turban. A ballpoint pen mark slashed
acrossonecheekbone.“We’reenteringthiscontest,”shetoldJulian.“Writeacountry-musicsongand
win a trip for two to Nashville. We’re working on it all together. We’re going to call it ‘Happier
Days.’”
“Hasn’tthatalreadybeenwritten?”
“Oh,Ihopenot.Youknowhowtheyalwayshavethesephotographsofcouplesinmagazines?
‘MickJaggerandBiancainhappierdays.’‘RichardBurtonandLizTaylor,in—’”
“Yes,Igetit.”
“Sothismanistalkingabouthisex-wife.‘Iknewherinanothertimeandplace...’”
She sang it right out, in her thin scratchy voice that gave a sense of distance, like a used-up
phonographrecord:
Whenwekissedintherain,
Whenwesharedeverypain,
Whenwebothenjoyedhappierdays.
“Verycatchy,”Juliansaid,“butIdon’tknowabout‘sharedeverypain.’”
“What’swrongwithit?”
“Imean,inhappierdaystheyhadpain?”
“He’sright,”BernicetoldMuriel.
“Rain,brain,drain,”Julianreflected.“‘Whenourlivesweremoresane,’‘Whenweusedtoraise
Cain...’”
“Letitbe,whydon’tyou,”Macontoldhim.
“‘WhenIhadn’tmetJane,’‘Whenshedidn’tknowWayne...’”
“Wait!”Bernicesaid,scribblingfuriously.
“Imayhavetappedsomehiddentalenthere,”JuliantoldMacon.
“I’llseeyoutothedoor,”Maconsaid.
“ ‘When our love had no stain,’ ‘When she wasn’t insane . . .’ ” Julian said, trailing Macon
through the living room. “Don’t forget the wedding!” he called back. He told Macon, “If she wins,
youcouldcoverNashvillefreeforyournextU.S.edition.”
“Ithinkshe’splanningontakingBernice,”Macontoldhim.
“‘Whenweguzzledchampagne...’”Julianmused.
“I’llbeintouch,”Maconsaid,“assoonasIstartontheCanadaguide.”
“Canada!Aren’tyoucomingtothewedding?”
“Well,thattoo,ofcourse,”Maconsaid,openingthedoor.
“Waitaminute,Macon.What’syourhurry?Wait,Iwanttoshowyousomething.”
Julian set down the West Coast material to search his pockets. He pulled out a shiny, colored
advertisement.“Hawaii,”hesaid.
“Well,Icertainlyseenopointincovering—”
“Notforyou;forme!Forourhoneymoon.I’mtakingRose.”
“Oh,Isee.”
“Look,”Juliansaid.Heunfoldedthead.Itturnedouttobeamap—oneofthoseuselessmapsthat
Macon detested, with out-sized, whimsical drawings of pineapples, palm trees, and hula dancers
crowdingtheapple-greenislands.“IgotthisfromTheTravelPeopleIncorporated.Haveyouheard
ofthem?Aretheyreliable?Theysuggestedahoteloverhereon...”Hedrewaforefingeracrossthe
page,huntingdownthehotel.
“IknownothingatallaboutHawaii,”Maconsaid.
“Somewherehere...”Juliansaid.Thenhegaveup,perhapsjustatthatmomenthearingwhat
Maconhadtoldhim,andrefoldedthemap.“Shemaybeexactlywhatyouneed,”hesaid.
“Pardon?”
“ThisMurielperson.”
“Whydoeseveryonecallher—”
“She’snotsobad!Idon’tthinkyourfamilyunderstandshowyou’refeeling.”
“No, they don’t. They really don’t,” Macon said. He was surprised that it was Julian, of all
people,whosawthat.
AlthoughJulian’spartingwordswere,“‘Whenwestuffedonchowmein...’”
Maconshutthedoorfirmlybehindhim.
HedecidedtobuyAlexandersomedifferentclothes.“Howwouldyoulikesomebluejeans?”he
asked.“Howwouldyoulikesomeworkshirts?Howwouldyoulikeacowboybeltwith‘Budweiser
Beer ’onthebuckle?”
“Youserious?”
“Wouldyouwearthatkindofthing?”
“Yes!Iwould!Ipromise!”
“Thenlet’sgoshopping.”
“IsMamacoming?”
“We’llsurpriseher.”
Alexander put on his spring jacket—a navy polyester blazer that Muriel had just paid a small
fortunefor.Macondidn’tknowifshewouldapproveofjeans,whichwaswhyhe’dwaitedtillshewas
offbuyingcurtainsforawomaninGuilford.
ThestorehedrovetowasaWestern-wearplacewhereheusedtotakeEthan.Ithadn’tchangeda
bit. Its wooden floorboards creaked, its aisles smelled of leather and new denim. He steered
Alexandertotheboys’department,wherehespunarackofshirts.Howmanytimeshadhedonethis
before?Itwasn’tevenpainful.Onlydisorienting,inaway,toseethateverythingcontinuednomatter
what.Thestudentjeanswerestillstackedaccordingtowaistandinseam.Thehorseytiepinswerestill
arrayed behind glass. Ethan was dead and gone but Macon was still holding up shirts and asking,
“Thisone?Thisone?Thisone?”
“WhatI’dreallylikeisT-shirts,”Alexandersaid.
“T-shirts.Ah.”
“Thekindwithasortofstretched-outneck.Andjeanswithraggedybottoms.”
“Well,thatyouhavetodoforyourself,”Maconsaid.“Youhavetobreakthemin.”
“Idon’twanttolooknew.”
“Tellyouwhat.Everythingwebuy,we’llwashabouttwentytimesbeforeyouwearit.”
“Butnothingprewashed,”Alexandersaid.
“No,no.”
“Onlynerdswearprewashed.”
“Right.”
AlexanderchoseseveralT-shirts,purposelytoobig,alongwithanassortmentofjeansbecause
he wasn’t sure of his size. Then he went off to try everything on. “Shall I come with you?” Macon
asked.
“Icandoitmyself.”
“Oh.Allright.”
Thatwasfamiliar,too.
AlexanderdisappearedintooneofthestallsandMaconwentonatourofthemen’sdepartment.
He tried on a leather cowboy hat but took it off immediately. Then he went back to the stall.
“Alexander?”
“Huh?”
“How’sitgoing?”
“Okay.”
In the space below the door, Macon saw Alexander ’s shoes and his trouser cuffs. Evidently he
hadn’tgotaroundtoputtingonthejeansyet.
Someonesaid,“Macon?”
He turned and found a woman in a trim blond pageboy, her wrap skirt printed with little blue
whales.“Yes,”hesaid.
“LaurelCanfield.Scott’smother,remember?”
“Of course,” Macon said, shaking her hand. Now he caught sight of Scott, who had been in
Ethan’s class at school—an unexpectedly tall, gawky boy lurking at his mother ’s elbow with an
armloadofathleticsocks.“Why,Scott.Nicetoseeyou,”Maconsaid.
Scott flushed and said nothing. Laurel Canfield said, “It’s nice to see you. Are you doing your
springshopping?”
“Oh,well,ah—”
He looked toward the stall. Now Alexander ’s trousers were slumped around his ankles. “I’m
helpingthesonofafriend,”heexplained.
“We’vejustbeenbuyingoutthesockdepartment.”
“Yes,Iseeyouhave.”
“SeemseveryotherweekIfindScott’srunthroughhissocksagain;youknowhowtheyareat
thisage—”
Shestoppedherself.Shelookedhorrified.Shesaid,“Or,rather...”
“Yes, certainly!” Macon said. “Amazing, isn’t it?” He felt so embarrassed for her that he was
pleased,atfirst,toseeanotherfamiliarfacebehindher.Thenherealizedwhoseitwas.Therestood
hismother-in-law.“Why!”hesaid.WasshestillMotherSidey?Mrs.Sidey?Who,forGod’ssake?
Luckily,itturnedoutthatLaurelCanfieldknewhertoo.“PaulaSidey,”shesaid.“Ihaven’tseen
yousincelastyear ’sHuntCup.”
“Yes, I’ve been away,” Mrs. Sidey told her, and then she dropped her lids somewhat, as if
drawingacurtain,beforesaying,“Macon.”
“Howareyou?”Maconsaid.
Shewasflawlesslygroomed,industriouslytended—ablue-hairedwomanintailoredslacksand
aturtleneck.HeusedtoworrythatSarahwouldagethesameway,developthesamebrittlecarapace,
butnowhefoundhimselfadmiringMrs.Sidey’sresolve.“You’relookingwell,”hetoldher.
“Thankyou,”shesaid,touchingherhairdo.“Isupposeyou’rehereforyourspringwardrobe.”
“Oh,Macon’shelpingafriend!”LaurelCanfieldcaroled.Shewassochirpy,allofasudden,that
Macon suspected she’d just now recalled Mrs. Sidey’s relationship to him. She looked toward
Alexander ’sstall.Alexanderwasinhissocksnow.Onesockroseandvanished,steppingintoaflood
ofbluedenim.“Isn’tshoppingforboyssodifficult?”shesaid.
“Iwouldn’tknow,”Mrs.Sideysaid.“Ineverhadone.I’mhereforthedenimskirts.”
“Oh,theskirts,well,Inoticethey’reofferinga—”
“Whatfriendareyouhelpingtobuyfor?”Mrs.SideyaskedMacon.
Macondidn’tknowwhattotellher.Helookedtowardthestall.IfonlyAlexanderwouldjuststay
hiddenforever,hethought.Howtoexplainthisscrawnylittlewaif,thispoorexcuseofachildwho
couldneverholdacandletotherealchild?
Contraryasalways,Alexanderchosethatmomenttostepforth.
He wore an oversized T-shirt that slipped a bit off one shoulder, as if he’d just emerged from
some rough-and-tumble game. His jeans were comfortably baggy. His face, Macon saw, had
somehowfilledoutinthepastfewweekswithoutanybody’snoticing;andhishair—whichMaconhad
startedcuttingathome—hadlostthatshavedpricklinessandgrownthickandfloppy.
“Ilookwonderful!”Alexandersaid.
Maconturnedtothewomenandsaid,“Actually,Ifindshoppingforboysisapleasure.”
sixteen
Thereisnosoundmorepeacefulthanrainontheroof,ifyou’resafeasleepinsomeoneelse’s
house. Macon heard the soft pattering; he heard Muriel get up to close a window. She crossed his
visionlikethegleamofheadlightscrossingaceiling,whiteandslimandwateryinalargeplainslip
fromGoodwillIndustries.Sheshutthewindowandthestillnessdroppedoverhimandhewentback
tosleep.
Butinthemorninghisfirstthoughtwas,Oh,no!Rain!OnRose’sweddingday!
Hegotup,carefulnottowakeMuriel,andlookedout.Theskywasbrightbutflat,thecolorof
oyster shells—not a good sign. The scrawny little dogwood in back was dripping from every twig
andbud.Nextdoor,Mr.Butler ’sancientheapofscraplumberhadgrownseveralshadesdarker.
Maconwentdownstairs,tiptoeingthroughthelivingroomwhereClairelaysnoringinatangle
of blankets. He fixed a pot of coffee and then called Rose on the kitchen phone. She answered
instantly,wideawake.“Areyoumovingtheweddingindoors?”heaskedher.
“We’vegottoomanygueststomoveitindoors.
“Why?Howmanyarecoming?”
“Everyonewe’veeverknown.”
“Goodgrief,Rose.”
“Nevermind,itwillclear.”
“Butthegrassisallwet!”
“Weargaloshes,”shetoldhim.Shehungup.
Sinceshe’dmetJulianshe’dgrownsoairy,Maconthought.Soflippant.Lackingindepth.
Shewasrightabouttheweather,though.Byafternoontherewasaweak,palesun.Murieldecided
toweartheshort-sleeveddressshe’dplannedon,butmaybewithashawltossedoverhershoulders.
She wanted Alexander to put on a suit—he did have one, complete with waistcoat. He protested,
though,andsodidMacon.“Jeansandagoodwhiteshirt.That’splenty,”Macontoldher.
“Well,ifyou’resure.”
Lately,she’dbeendeferringtohimaboutAlexander.Shehadfinallygiveninonthequestionof
sneakersandshe’dstoppedpolicinghisdiet.Contrarytoherpredictions,Alexander ’sarchesdidnot
fallflatandhewasnotovertakenbyragingeczema.Atworst,hesufferedamildskinrashnowand
then.
The wedding was set for three o’clock. Around two thirty they started out, proceeding selfconsciously toward Macon’s car. It was a Saturday and no one else in the neighborhood was so
dressedup.Mr.Butlerwasstandingonaladderwithahammerandasackofnails.RafeDaggettwas
taking his van apart. The Indian woman was hosing down a glowing threadbare carpet that she’d
spread across the sidewalk, and then she turned off the water and lifted the hem of her sari and
stampedaroundsothecarpetradiatedlittleburstsofdroplets.Everypassingcar,itseemed,labored
under a top-heavy burden of mattresses and patio furniture, reminding Macon of those ants who
scuttlebacktotheirnestswithloadsfourtimestheirownsize.
“IthinkI’msupposedtobethebestman,”MacontoldMurielafterhe’dstarteddriving.
“Youdidn’tmentionthat!”
“AndCharlesisgivingheraway.”
“It’sarealwedding,then,”Murielsaid.“Notjusttwopeoplestandinguptogether.”
“That’swhatRosesaidshewanted.”
“Iwouldn’tdoitlikethatatall,”Murielsaid.Sheglancedtowardtherearandsaid,“Alexander,
quit kicking my seat. You’re about to drive me crazy. No,” she said, facing forward, “if I was to
marry,knowwhatI’ddo?Nevertellasoul.ActlikeI’dbeenmarriedforyears.Slipoffsomewheres
toajusticeofthepeaceandcomebacklikenothinghadhappenedandmakeoutlikeI’dbeenmarried
allalong.”
“ThisisRose’sfirsttime,though,”Macontoldher.
“Yes, but even so, people can say, ‘It sure took you long enough.’ I can hear my mother now;
that’swhatshe’dsayforcertain.‘Suretookyoulongenough.Ithoughtyou’dnevergetaroundtoit,’
iswhatshe’dsay.IfIwasevertomarry.”
Maconbrakedforatrafficlight.
“IfIwasevertodecidetomarry,”Murielsaid.
He glanced over at her and was struck by how pretty she looked, with the color high in her
cheeksandthesplashyshawlflungaroundhershoulders.Herspike-heeledshoeshadnarrow,shiny
anklestraps.Henevercouldfigureoutwhyanklestrapsweresoseductive.
The first person they saw when they arrived was Macon’s mother. For some reason it hadn’t
occurredtoMaconthatAliciawouldbeinvitedtoherdaughter ’swedding,andwhensheopenedthe
front door it took him a second to place her. She was looking so different, for one thing. She had
dyedherhairadarktomatored.Sheworealongwhitecaftantrimmedwithvibrantbandsofsatin,
andwhenshereacheduptohughimawholeculvertofmetalbanglesclatteredandsliddownherleft
arm.“Macon,dear!”shesaid.Shesmelledofbruisedgardenias.“Andwhomaythisbe?”sheasked,
peeringpasthim.
“Oh,um,I’dlikeyoutomeetMurielPritchett.AndAlexander,herson.”
“Really?”
Apolitelyinquisitivelookremainedonherface.Evidentlynoonehadfilledherin.(Orelseshe
hadn’tbotheredtolisten.)“Well,sinceIseemtobethemaîtred’,”shesaid,“I’llshowyououtback
wherethebrideandgroomare.”
“Roseisnotinhiding?”
“No,shesaysshedoesn’tseethelogicinmissingherownwedding,”Aliciasaid,leadingthem
towardtherearofthehouse.“Muriel,haveyouknownMaconlong?”
“Oh,kindof.”
“He’s very stuffy,” Alicia said confidingly. “All my children are. They get it from the Leary
side.”
“Ithinkhe’snice,”Murielsaid.
“Oh,nice,yes.Allverywellandgood,”Aliciasaid,throwingMaconalookhecouldn’tread.
ShehadlinkedarmswithMuriel;shewasalwayssophysical.Thetrimonhercaftannearlymatched
Muriel’sshawl.Maconhadasuddenappallingthought:Maybeinhismiddleagehewasstartingto
choose his mother ’s style of person, as if concluding that Alicia—silly, vain, annoying woman—
mighthavetherightanswersafterall.Butno.Heputthethoughtawayfromhim.AndMurielslipped
freeofAlicia’sarm.“Alexander?Coming?”sheasked.
They stepped through the double doors of the sun porch. The backyard was full of pastels—
Rose’soldladiesinpaledresses,daffodilsseteverywhereinbuckets,forsythiainfullbloomalong
the alley. Dr. Grauer, Rose’s minister, stepped forward and shook Macon’s hand. “Aha! The best
man,”hesaid,andbehindhimcameJulianinblack—nothiscolor.Hisnosewaspeeling.Itmustbe
boatingseasonagain.HeputagoldringinMacon’spalmandsaid,“Likeforyoutohavethis.”Fora
moment Macon imagined he was really meant to have it. Then he said, “Oh, yes, the ring,” and
droppeditinhispocket.
“I can’t believe I’m finally getting a son-in-law,” Alicia told Julian. “All I’ve ever had is
daughter-in-laws.”
“Daughters,”Maconsaidautomatically.
“No,daughter-in-laws.”
“Daughters-in-law,Mother.”
“Anddidn’tmanagetokeepthemlong,either,”Aliciasaid.
WhenMaconwassmall,heusedtoworrythathismotherwasteachinghimthewrongnamesfor
things.“Theycallthiscorduroy,”she’dsaid,buttoninghisnewcoat,andhehadthought,Butdothey
really? Funny word, in fact, corduroy. Very suspicious. How could he be sure that other people
weren’tspeakingawholedifferentlanguageoutthere?He’dexaminedhismotherdistrustfully—her
foolishfluffofcurlsandherflickery,unsteadyeyes.
Now here came Porter ’s children, the three of them sticking close together; and behind them
June,theirmother.Wasn’titunusualtoinviteyourbrother ’sex-wifetoyourwedding?Particularly
when she was big as a barn with another man’s baby. But she seemed to be enjoying herself. She
pecked Macon on the cheek and cocked her head appraisingly at Muriel. “Kids, this is Alexander,”
Maconsaid.Hewashopingagainsthopethatthey’dalljustfallintogethersomehowandbefriends,
whichofcoursedidn’thappen.Porter ’schildreneyedAlexandersullenlyandsaidnothing.Alexander
knottedhisfistsinhispockets.JunetoldJulian,“Yourbrideislookingjustradiant,”andJuliansaid,
“Yes,isn’tshe,”butwhenMaconlocatedRosehethoughtshelookedtenseandfrayed,asmostbrides
doifpeoplewouldonlyadmitit.Sheworeawhitedress,mid-calflengthbutverysimple,andalittle
puffoflaceornetorsomethingonherhead.Shewastalkingtotheirhardwareman.Andyes,there
wasthegirlwhocashedtheirchecksattheMercantileBank,andovernexttoCharleswasthefamily
dentist.MaconthoughtofMaryPoppins—thoselate-nightadventuresheusedtoreadtoEthan,where
allthetradespeopleshowedupbehavingnothingliketheirdaytimeselves.
“I’mnotsureifthere’sbeenanyresearchonthis,”Charleswastellingthedentist,“buthaveyou
evertriedpolishingyourteethwithaT-shirtafterflossing?”
“Er...”
“AplaincottonT-shirt.Onehundredpercentcotton.Ithinkyou’regoingtobeimpressedwhenI
havemynextcheckup.See,mytheoryis—”
Muriel and June were discussing Caesareans. Julian was asking Alicia if she’d ever sailed the
Intracoastal Waterway. Mrs. Barrett was telling the mailman that Leary Metals used to make the
handsomeststampedtinceilingsinBaltimore.
AndSarahwastalkingtoMaconabouttheweather.
“Yes,Iworriedwhenitrainedlastnight,”Maconsaid.Orhesaidsomething;somethingorother
...
HewaslookingatSarah.Reallyhewasconsumingher:herburnishedcurlsandherround,sweet
face,andthedustingofpowderonthedownalongherjawline.
“Howhaveyoubeen,Macon?”sheaskedhim.
“I’vebeenallright.”
“Areyoupleasedaboutthewedding?”
“Well,”hesaid,“IamifRoseis,Iguess.ThoughIcan’thelpfeeling...well,Julian.Youknow.”
“Yes,Iknow.Butthere’smoretohimthanyouthink.Hemightbeaverygoodchoice.”
Whenshestoodinthiskindofsunlighthereyesweresoclearthatitseemedyoucouldseetothe
backs of them. He knew that from long ago. They might have been his own eyes; they were so
familiar.Hesaid,“Howhaveyoubeen?”
“I’vebeenfine.”
“Well.Good.”
“Iknowthatyou’relivingwithsomeone,”shetoldhiminasteadyvoice.
“Ah,yes,actuallyI...yes,Iam.”
Sheknewwhoitwas,too,becauseshelookedpasthimthenatMurielandAlexander.Butallshe
saidwas,“Rosetoldmewhensheinvitedme.”
Hesaid,“Howaboutyou?”
“Me?”
“Areyoulivingwithanyone?”
“Notreally.”
Rosecameoverandtouchedtheirarms,whichwasunlikeher.“We’rereadynow,”shesaid.She
toldMacon,“Sarah’smymatronofhonor,didIhappentomentionthat?”
“No,youdidn’t,”Maconsaid.
ThenheandSarahfollowedhertoaspotbeneathatuliptree,whereJulianandDr.Grauerwere
waiting.Therewassomekindofmakeshiftaltarthere—somelittletableorsomethingcoveredwitha
cloth; Macon didn’t pay much attention. He stood beside the minister and fingered the ring in his
pocket.Sarahstoodacrossfromhim,lookinggravelyintohisface.
Itallfeltsonatural.
seventeen
Murielsaid,“Inevertoldyouthis,butawhilebeforeImetyouIwasdatingsomebodyelse.”
“Oh?Whowasthat?”Maconasked.
“HewasacustomerattheRapid-EzeCopyCenter.Hebroughtmehisdivorcepaperstocopyand
westartedhavingthisconversationandendedupgoingouttogether.Hisdivorcewasawful.Really
messy.Hiswifehadbeentwo-timinghim.Hesaidhedidn’tthinkhecouldevertrustawomanagain.
Itwasmonthsbeforehewouldspendthenight,even;hedidn’tlikegoingtosleepwhenawomanwas
inthesameroom.ButbitbybitIchangedallthat.Herelaxed.Hegottobeawholedifferentman.
Moved in with me and took over the bills, paid off all I still owed. Alexander ’s doctor. We started
talking about getting married. Then he met an airline stewardess and eloped with her within the
week.”
“Isee,”Maconsaid.
“ItwaslikeIhad,youknow,curedhim,justsohecouldelopewithanotherwoman.”
“Well,”hesaid.
“Youwouldn’tdoanythinglikethat,wouldyou,Macon?”
“Who,me?”
“Wouldyouelopewithsomeoneelse?Wouldyouseesomeoneelsebehindmyback?”
“Oh,Muriel,ofcoursenot,”hetoldher.
“Wouldyouleavemeandgohometoyourwife?”
“Whatareyoutalkingabout?”
“Wouldyou?”
“Don’tbesilly,”hesaid.
Shecockedherheadandconsideredhim.Hereyeswerealertandbrightandknowing,likethe
eyesofsomesmallanimal.
ItwasarainyTuesdaymorningandEdward,whowassqueamishaboutrain,insistedhedidn’t
need to go out, but Macon took him anyway. While he was waiting in the backyard beneath his
umbrella, he saw a young couple walking down the alley. They caught his attention because they
walkedsoslowly,asiftheydidn’trealizetheyweregettingwet.Theboywastallandfrail,inragged
jeansandasoftwhiteshirt.Thegirlworeaflatstrawhatwithribbonsdownthebackandalongish
limpcottondress.Theyswunghands,lookingonlyateachother.Theycameuponatricycleandthey
separated to walk around it; only instead of simply walking the girl did a little sort of dance step,
spinningherskirtout,andtheboyspuntooandlaughedandtookherhandagain.
Edwardfinally,finallypeed,andMaconfollowedhimbackintothehouse.Hesethisumbrellain
thekitchensinkandsquattedtodryEdwardoffwithanoldbeachtowel.Herubbedbrisklyatfirst,and
thenmoreslowly.Thenhestoppedbutremainedonthefloor,thetowelbunchedinhishands,thetincansmellofwetdogrisingallaroundhim.
When he’d asked Sarah whether she was living with anyone, and Sarah had said, “Not really,”
whatexactlyhadshemeantbythat?
The rain stopped and they put Edward on his leash and went out shopping. Muriel needed
bedroomslipperswithfeathersonthem.“Red.High-heeled.Pointy-toed,”shesaid.
“Goodness.Whateverfor?”Maconaskedher.
“I want to clop around the house in them on Sunday mornings. Can’t you just see it? I wish I
smokedcigarettes.IwishAlexanderwasn’tallergictosmoke.”
Yes,hecouldseeit,asamatteroffact.“Inyourblack-and-goldkimono,”hesaid.
“Exactly.”
“ButIdon’tbelievetheysellthosefeatheredslippersanymore.”
“Inthriftshopstheydo.”
“Oh.Right.”
Lately,Maconhadbeguntolikethriftshopshimself.Intheusualseaofplastichehadfound,so
far,afoldingboxwoodcarpenter ’srule,aningeniouswheeledcookiecutterthatleftnowastespace
betweencookies,andaminiaturebrasslevelforAlexander ’stoolbox.
Theairoutsidewaswarmandwatery.Mrs.Butlerwasproppingupthesquashedgeraniumsthat
floppedinthewhite-washedtireinheryard.Mrs.Patel—outofherluminoussariforonce,clumsy
andunromanticintight,bulgyCalvinKleinjeans—wassweepingthepuddlesoffherfrontsteps.And
Mrs. Saddler stood in front of the hardware store waiting for it to open. “I don’t guess you’d have
seenDominick,”shesaidtoMuriel.
“Notlately.”
“Lastnighthenevercamehome,”Mrs.Saddlersaid.“Thatboyjustworriesthedaylightsoutof
me. He’s not what you would call bad,” she told Macon, “but he’s worrisome, know what I mean?
Whenhe’sathomehe’ssomuchathome,thosebignoisybootsallovertheplace,butthenwhenhe’s
awayhe’ssomuchaway.Youwouldn’tbelievehowthehousefeels;justempty.Justechoing.”
“He’llbeback,”Murielsaid.“Tonight’shisturntohavethecar.”
“Oh,andwhenhe’soutwiththecarit’sworstofall,”Mrs.Saddlersaid.“TheneverysirenIhear,
Iwonderifit’sDommie.Iknowhowhescreechesroundcorners!Iknowthosefastgirlshegoesout
with!”
Theyleftherstillstandingthere,distractedlyfingeringhercoinpurse,althoughthehardwarestoreownerhadunlockedhisdoorbynowandwascrankingdownhisawnings.
OutsideashopcalledRe-Runs,theyorderedEdwardtostay.Heobeyed,lookingputupon,while
theywentin.Murielsiftedthroughstacksofcurled,brittleshoesthathadhardenedintotheshapesof
otherpeople’sfeet.Sheshuckedoffherownshoesandsteppedintoapairofsilvereveningsandals.
“Whatdoyouthink?”sheaskedMacon.
“Ithoughtyouwerelookingforslippers.”
“Butwhatdoyouthinkofthese?”
“Icanlivewithoutthem,”hesaid.
HewasfeelingboredbecauseRe-Runscarriednothingbutclothes.
MurielabandonedtheshoesandtheywentnextdoortoGarageSaleIncorporated.Macontriedto
inventaneedforarustymetalRolodexfilehefoundinaheapoftirechains.Couldheuseitforhis
guidebooks in some way? And make it tax-deductible. Muriel picked up a tan vinyl suitcase with
roundededges;itremindedMaconofapartlysuckedcaramel.“ShouldIgetthis?”sheasked.
“Ithoughtyouwantedslippers.”
“Butfortravel.”
“Sincewhendoyoutravel?”
“Iknowwhereyou’regoingnext,”shesaid.Shecameclosertohim,bothhandsclutchingthe
suitcase handle. She looked like a very young girl at a bus stop, say, or out hitching a ride on the
highway.“IwantedtoaskifIcouldcomewithyou.”
“ToCanada.”
“Imeanthenextplaceafterthat.France.”
HesetdowntheRolodex.(MentionofFrancealwaysdepressedhim.)
“Juliansaid!”sheremindedhim.“Hesaidit’sgettingtobetimetogotoFranceagain.”
“YouknowIcan’taffordtobringyou.”
Murielreplacedthesuitcaseandtheylefttheshop.“Butjustthisonce,”shesaid,hurryingalong
besidehim.“Itwouldn’tcostmuch!”
Macon retrieved Edward’s leash and motioned him up. “It would cost a mint,” he said, “not to
mentionthatyou’dhavetomisswork.”
“No,Iwouldn’t.I’vequit.”
Helookedoverather.“Quit?”
“Well,attheMeow-Bow.ThenthingslikeGeorgeandthedogtrainingI’lljustrearrange;ifI
wastotravelIcouldjust—”
“YouquittheMeow-Bow?”
“Sowhat?”
Hecouldn’texplainthesuddenweightthatfellonhim.
“It’snotlikeitreallypaidmuch,”Murielsaid.“Andyoudobuymostofthegroceriesnowand
helpmewiththerentandall;it’snotlikeIneededthemoney.Besides,ittooksomuchtime!TimeI
couldspendwithyouandAlexander!Why,Iwascominghomenightsliterallydeadwithexhaustion,
Macon.”
They passed Methylene’s Beauty Salon, an insurance agency, a paint-stripping shop. Edward
gaveaninterestedglanceatalarge,jowlytomcatbaskingonthehoodofapickup.
“Figuratively,”Maconsaid.
“Huh?”
“You were figuratively dead with exhaustion. Jesus, Muriel, you’re so imprecise. You’re so
sloppy.Andhowcouldyouquityourjoblikethat?Howcouldyoujustassumelikethat?Younever
evenwarnedme!”
“Oh,don’tmakesuchabigdealaboutit,”Murielsaid.
Theyarrivedatherfavoriteshop—anamelesslittleholeinthewallwithatumbleofdustyhats
inthewindow.MurielstartedthroughthedoorbutMaconstayedwherehewas.“Aren’tyoucoming
in?”sheaskedhim.
“I’llwaithere.”
“Butit’stheplacewithallthegadgets!”
Hesaidnothing.Shesighedanddisappeared.
Seeinghergowaslikeshuckingoffagreat,draggingburden.
HesquattedtoscratchbehindEdward’sears,andthenheroseandstudiedasun-bleachedelection
posterasifitheldsomefascinatingcodedmessage.Twoblackwomenpassedhim,pullingwirecarts
fulloflaundry.“ItwasjustaswarmasthisselfsamedayI’mspeakingtoyoubutsheworeaveryvery
furcoat...”
“May-con.”
Heturnedtowardthedooroftheshop.
“Oh,Maay-con!”
Hesawamitten,oneofthosechildren’smittensdesignedtolooklikeapuppet.Thepalmwasa
redfeltmouththatwidenedtosqueak,“Macon,pleasedon’tbeangrywithMuriel.”
Macongroaned.
“Comeintothisnicestorewithher,”thepuppeturged.
“Muriel,IthinkEdward’sgettingrestlessnow.”
“There’s lots of things to buy here! Pliers and wrenches and T-squares . . . There’s a silent
hammer.”
“What?”
“Ahammerthatdoesn’tmakeasound.Youcanpoundinnailsinthedeadofnight.”
“Listen—”Maconsaid.
“There’s a magnifying glass all cracked and broken, and when you look at broken things
throughthelensyou’dswearthey’dturnedwholeagain.”
“Really,Muriel.”
“I’m not Muriel! I’m Mitchell Mitten! Macon, don’t you know Muriel can always take care of
herself?”thepuppetaskedhim.“Don’tyouknowshecouldfindanotherjobtomorrow,ifshewanted?
Socomeinside!Comealong!There’sapocket-knifeherewithitsownwhetstoneblade.”
“Oh,forLord’ssake,”Maconsaid.
Buthegaveagrudginglittlelaugh.
Andwentoninside.
OverthenextfewdaysshekeptbringingupFranceagainandagain.Shesenthimananonymous
letterpastedtogetherfrommagazineprint:Don’tFoRgettOBUYplANeTicketforMuRiel.(Andthe
telltalemagazine—withlittleblocksclippedoutofitspages—stilllayonthekitchentable.)Sheasked
him to get her her keys from her purse and when he opened her purse he found photographs, two
slickcoloredsquaresonthinpapershowingMuriel’seyesathalfmast.Passportphotos,plainly.She
musthavemeantforhimtoseethem;shewaswatchinghimsointently.Butallhedidwasdropher
keysinherpalmwithoutcomment.
He had to admire her. Had he ever known such a fighter? He went grocery shopping with her
unusuallylateoneevening,andjustastheywerecrossingashadowedareaaboysteppedforthfroma
doorway.“Giveoverallwhatyouhaveinyourpurse,”hetoldMuriel.Maconwascaughtoffguard;
theboywashardlymorethanachild.Hefroze,huggingthesackofgroceries.ButMurielsaid,“The
hellIwill!”andswungherpursearoundbyitsstrapandclippedtheboyinthejaw.Heliftedahandto
hisface.“Yougetonhomethisinstantoryou’llbesorryyouwereeverborn,”Murieltoldhim.He
slunkaway,lookingbackatherwithapuzzledexpression.
WhenMaconhadcaughthisbreathagain,hetoldMurielshewasafool.“Hemighthavehada
gun, for all you knew,” he said. “Anything might have happened! Kids show less mercy than
grownups;youcanseethatanydayinthepapers.”
“Well,itturnedoutfine,didn’tit?”Murielasked.“Whatareyousomadat?”
He wasn’t sure. He supposed he might be mad at himself. He had done nothing to protect her,
nothing strong or chivalrous. He hadn’t thought as fast as she had or thought at all, in fact. While
Muriel . . . why, Muriel hadn’t even seemed surprised. She might have strolled down that street
expectinganeighborhere,astraydogthere,aholdupjustbeyond—allequallypartoflife.Hefelt
awedbyher,anddiminished.Murieljustwalkedon,humming“GreatSpeckledBird”asifnothing
particularhadhappened.
“Idon’tthinkAlexander ’sgettingapropereducation,”hesaidtoheroneevening.
“Oh,he’sokay.”
“I asked him to figure what change they’d give back when we bought the milk today, and he
didn’thavethefaintestidea.Hedidn’tevenknowhe’dhavetosubtract.”
“Well,he’sonlyinsecondgrade,”Murielsaid.
“Ithinkheoughttoswitchtoaprivateschool.”
“Privateschoolscostmoney.”
“So?I’llpay.”
Shestoppedflippingthebaconandlookedoverathim.“Whatareyousaying?”sheasked.
“Pardon?”
“Whatareyousaying,Macon?Areyousayingyou’recommitted?”
Maconclearedhisthroat.Hesaid,“Committed.”
“Alexander ’sgottenmoreyearsofschoolaheadofhim.Areyousayingyou’llbearoundfor
alltenyears?”
“Um...”
“Ican’tjustputhiminaschoolandtakehimoutagainwitheverypassingwhimofyours.”
Hewassilent.
“Justtellmethismuch,”shesaid.“Doyoupictureusgettingmarriedsometime?Imeanwhen
yourdivorcecomesthrough?”
Hesaid,“Oh,well,marriage,Muriel...”
“Youdon’t,doyou.Youdon’tknowwhatyouwant.Oneminuteyoulikemeandthenextyou
don’t.Oneminuteyou’reashamedtobeseenwithmeandthenextyouthinkI’mthebestthingthat
everhappenedtoyou.”
Hestaredather.Hehadneverguessedthatshereadhimsoclearly.
“Youthinkyoucanjustdriftalonglikethis,daybyday,noplans,”shesaid.“Maybetomorrow
you’llbehere,maybeyouwon’t.Maybeyou’lljustgoonbacktoSarah.Ohyes!IsawyouatRose’s
wedding.Don’tthinkIdidn’tseehowyouandSarahlookedateachother.”
Maconsaid,“AllI’msayingis—”
“AllI’msaying,”Murieltoldhim,“istakecarewhatyoupromisemyson.Don’tgomakinghim
promisesyoudon’tintendtokeep.”
“ButIjustwanthimtolearntosubtract!”hesaid.
Shedidn’tanswer,andsothelastwordrangintheairformomentsafterward.Subtract.Aflat,
sharp,emptysoundthatdampenedMacon’sspirits.
At supper she was too quiet; even Alexander was quiet, and excused himself the minute he’d
finishedhisBLT.Macon,though,hungaroundthekitchen.Murielwasrunningasinkfulofwater.He
said, “Shall I dry?” Without any sort of warning, she whirled and flung a wet sponge in his face.
Maconsaid,“Muriel?”
“Justgetout!”sheshouted,tearsspikingherlashes,andsheturnedawayagainandplungedher
hands into water so hot that it steamed. Macon retreated. He went into the living room where
AlexanderwaswatchingTV,andAlexandermovedoveronthecouchtogivehimspace.Hedidn’t
sayanything,butMaconcouldtellhe’dheardfromthewayhetensedateachclatterinthekitchen.
Afterawhiletheclattersdieddown.MaconandAlexanderlookedateachother.Therewasasilence;
asinglemurmuringvoice.Maconroseandreturnedtothekitchen,walkingmorequietlythanusual
andkeepingaweathereyeout,thewayacatcreepsbackafterit’sbeendumpedfromsomeone’slap.
Murielwastalkingonthephonewithhermother.Hervoicewasgayandchirpybutjustashade
thickerthanusual,asifshewererecoveringfromacold.“Soanyhow,”shesaid,“Iaskedwhatkind
oftroubleherdogisgivingherandthelady’slike,‘Oh,notrouble,’soIaskher,‘Well,what’shis
problem,then?’andthelady’slike,‘Norealproblem.’Isay,‘Ma’am.Youmusthavecalledmehere
forsomereason.’Shesays,‘Oh.Well.That.’Shesays,‘Actually,’shesays,‘Iwaswonderingabout
whenhemakes.’Isay,‘Makes?’Shesays,‘Yes,whenhemakesnumberone.Hemakeslikelittlegirl
dogsdo,hedoesn’tlifthisleg.’Isaytoher,‘NowletmeseeifI’vegotthisstraight.Youhavecalled
meheretoteachyourdogtolifthislegwhenhetinkles.’”
Her free hand kept flying out while she talked, as if she imagined her mother could see her.
Maconcameupbehindherandputhisarmsaroundher,andsheleanedbackagainsthim.“Oh,there’s
neveradullmoment,Itellyou,”shesaidintothephone.
Thatnighthedreamedhewastravelinginaforeigncountry,onlyitseemedtobeamedleyofall
thecountrieshe’deverbeentoandevensomehehadn’t.ThesterilevastspacesofCharlesdeGaulle
airportchitteredwiththosetinybirdshe’dseeninsidetheterminalatBrussels;andwhenhestepped
outdoors he was in Julian’s green map of Hawaii with native dancers, oversized, swaying near the
dots that marked various tourist attractions. Meanwhile his own voice, neutral and monotonous,
murmured steadily: In Germanythe commercial traveler must be punctual for all appointments,in
Switzerlandheshouldbefiveminutesearly,inItalydelaysofseveralhoursarenotuncommon...
He woke. It was pitch dark, but through the open window he heard distant laughter, a strain of
music,faintcheersasifsomesortofgameweregoingon.Hesquintedattheclockradio:threethirty.
Whowouldbeplayingagameatthishour?Andonthisstreet—thisworn,sadstreetwherenothing
wentrightforanyone,wherethemenhaddead-endjobsornoneatallandthewomenwererunning
tofatandthechildrenwereturningoutbadly.Butanothercheerwentup,andsomeonesangaline
from a song. Macon found himself smiling. He turned toward Muriel and closed his eyes; he slept
dreamlesslytherestofthenight.
Themailmanrangthedoorbellandpresentedalong,tube-shapedpackageaddressedtoMacon.
“What’sthis?”Maconasked.Hereturnedtothelivingroom,frowningdownatthelabel.Murielwas
readingapaperbackbookcalledBeautyTipsfromtheStars.Sheglancedupandsaid,“Whynotopen
itandfindout.”
“Oh?Isthissomeofyourdoing?”
Sheonlyturnedapage.
AnotherpleafortheFrancetrip,hesupposed.Hepulledoffthetapeononeendandshookthe
packagetillacylinderofglossypaperslidout.Whenheunrolledit,hefoundafull-colorphotoof
twopuppiesinabasket,withDR.MACK’SPETVITESaboveitandacalendarforJanuarybelowit.
“Idon’tunderstand,”hesaidtoMuriel.
Sheturnedanotherpage.
“Whywouldyousendmeacalendarforayearthat’shalfgone?”
“Maybethere’ssomethingwrittenonit,”shetoldhim.
HeflippedthroughFebruary,March,April.Nothingthere.May.ThenJune:ascribbleofredink
acrossaSaturday,“Wedding,”hereadout.“Wedding?Whosewedding?”
“Ours?”sheaskedhim.
“Oh,Muriel...”
“You’llbeseparatedayearthen,Macon.You’llbeabletogetyourdivorce.”
“But,Muriel—”
“IalwaysdidwanttohaveaJunewedding.”
“Muriel,please,I’mnotreadyforthis!Idon’tthinkIeverwillbe.ImeanIdon’tthinkmarriage
oughttobeascommonasitis;Ireallybelieveitoughttobetheexceptiontotherule;oh,perfect
couplescouldmarry,maybe,butwho’saperfectcouple?”
“YouandSarah,Isuppose,”Murielsaid.
ThenamebroughtSarah’scalmface,roundasadaisy.
“No,no...”hesaidweakly.
“You’resoselfish!”Murielshouted.“You’resoself-centered!You’vegotallthesefancyreasons
forneverdoingasinglethingIwant!”
Thensheflungdownherbookandranupstairs.
Macon heard the cautious, mouselike sounds of Alexander as he tiptoed around the kitchen
fixinghimselfasnack.
Muriel’ssisterClairearrivedonthedoorstepwithasuitcasespillingclothesandhereyespink
with tears. “I’m never speaking to Ma again,” she told them. She pushed past them into the house.
“Youwanttoknowwhathappened?Well,I’vebeendatingthisguy,see:ClaudeMcEwen.OnlyIdidn’t
letontoMa,youknowhowshe’sscaredI’llturnoutlikeMurieldid,andsolastnightwhenhecame
formeIjumpedintohiscarandshehappenedtocatchsightofmefromthewindow,noticedhehada
bumper sticker reading EDGEWOOD. That’s because he used to go to a high school called
EdgewoodPrepinDelaware,butMathoughtitwasEdgewoodArsenalandthereforehemustbean
Armyman.Soanyhow,thismorningIgetupandtheresheisfittobetied,says,‘Iknowwhatyou’ve
beenupto!OutallhourslastnightwiththeGeneral!’andIsay,‘Who?Thewhat?’butthere’snever
any stopping her once she gets started. She tells me I’m grounded for life and can’t ever see the
Generalagainorshe’llhavehimhauledupforcourt-martialandallhisstarsrippedoffhisuniform,
soquickasawinkIpackedupmyclothes...”
Macon,listeningabsentlywhileEdwardsighedathisfeet,hadasuddenviewofhislifeasrich
andfullandastonishing.Hewouldhavelikedtoshowitofftosomeone.Hewantedtosweepoutan
armandsay,“See?”
ButthepersonhewouldhavelikedtoshowittowasSarah.
RoseandJulianwerebackfromtheirhoneymoon;theyweregivingafamilysupperandMacon
andMurielwereinvited.Maconboughtabottleofverygoodwineasahostessgift.Hesetthebottle
onthecounter,andMurielcamealongandsaid,“What’sthis?”
“It’swineforRoseandJulian.”
“Thirty-sixdollarsandninety-ninecents!”shesaid,examiningthesticker.
“Yes,well,it’sFrench.”
“Ididn’tknowawinecouldcostthirty-sixninety-nine.”
“Ifiguredsince,youknow,this’llbeourfirstvisittotheirapartment...”
“Yousuredothinkalotofyourfamily,”Murielsaid.
“Yes,ofcourse.”
“Youneverboughtmeanywine.”
“Ididn’tknowyouwantedany;youtoldmeitmakesyourteethfeelrough.”
Shedidn’targuewiththat.
Laterthatdayhehappenedtonoticethatthebottlehadbeenmoved.Andwasopened.Andwas
halfemptied.Thecorklaybesideit,stillimpaledonthecorkscrew.Acloudylittlejuiceglassgave
offthesmellofgrapes.Maconcalled,“Muriel?”
“What,”sheansweredfromthelivingroom.
He went to the living room doorway. She was watching a ball game with Alexander. He said,
“Muriel,haveyoubeendrinkingthatwineIbought?”
“Yes.”
Hesaid,“Why,Muriel?”
“Oh,Ijusthadthisirresistibleurgetotryitout,”shesaid.
Thenshelookedathimwithslittedeyes,tiltingherchin.Hefeltshewaschallenginghimtotake
someaction,buthesaidnothing.Hepickeduphiscarkeysandwentouttobuyanotherbottle.
Maconfeltshyaboutattendingthisdinner,asifRosehadturnedintoastranger.Hetooklonger
than usual dressing, unable to decide between two shirts, and Muriel seemed to be having some
troubletoo.Shekeptputtingonoutfitsandtakingthemoff;brightlycoloredfabricsbegantomount
onthebedandonthefloorallaroundit.“Oh,Lord,IwishIwasjustatotallynotherperson,”she
sighed.Macon,concentratingontyinghistie,saidnothing.Herbabyphotogrinnedoutathimfrom
theframeofthemirror.Hehappenedtonoticethedateontheborder:AUG60.Nineteensixty.
WhenMurielwastwoyearsold,MaconandSarahwerealreadyengagedtobemarried.
Downstairs,DominickSaddlerwassittingonthecouchwithAlexander.“Nowthishereisyour
pastewax,”hewassaying.Heheldupacan.“Youneverwanttopolishacarwithanythingbutpaste
wax.Andherewehaveadiaper.Diapersmakerealgoodragsbecausetheydon’tshedhardlynolint.I
generally buy a dozen at a time from Sears and Roebuck. And chamois skins: well, you know
chamoisskins.Sowhatyoudois,yougetyourselftheseheresuppliesandacaseofgoodbeeranda
girl,andyouheadonouttoLochRaven.Thenyouparkinthesunandyoutakeoffyourshirtandyou
andthegirlstarttopolishing.Ain’tnosweeterwaythatIknowoftouseupaspringafternoon.”
Dominick’s version of a bedtime story, Macon supposed. He was baby-sitting tonight. (The
Butlertwinshaddates,andClairewasoutwiththeGeneral.Aseverybodyreferredtohimnow.)In
payment, Muriel’s car would be Dominick’s to use for a week; mere money would never have
persuadedhim.HeslouchednexttoAlexanderwiththediaperspreadoveroneknee,musclesbulging
underaT-shirtthatreadWEEKENDWARRIOR.AGreeksailorcapwastippedbackonhisheadwith
aJudasPriestbuttonpinnedabovethevisor.Alexanderlookedenthralled.
Murielcametappingdownthestairs;shearrivedcraninghernecktoseeifherslipshowed.“Is
thisoutfitokay?”sheaskedMacon.
“It’s very nice,” he said, which was true, although it was also totally unlike her. Evidently, she
haddecidedtotakeRoseforhermodel.Shehadpulledherhairbackinalowbunandsheworea
slim gray dress with shoulder pads. Only her spike-heeled sandals seemed her own; probably she
didn’t possess any shoes so sensible as Rose’s schoolgirl flats. “I want you to tell me if there’s
anythingnotright,”shesaidtoMacon.“Anythingyouthinkistacky.”
“Notathing,”Maconassuredher.
She kissed Alexander, leaving a dark red mark on his cheek. She made one last survey in the
mirrorbesidethefrontdoor,meanwhilecalling,“Don’tlethimstayuptoolatenow,Dommie;don’t
lethimwatchanythingscaryonTV—”
Maconsaid,“Muriel.”
“IlooklikethewrathofGod.”
TheLearychildrenhadbeenraisedtobelievethatwhenaninvitationinvolvedameal,theguests
shouldarriveexactlyontime.Nevermindthattheyoftencaughttheirhostessincurlers;theywenton
doingwhattheyweretaught.SoMaconpressedthebuzzerinthelobbyatpreciselysixtwenty-seven,
andPorterandCharlesjoinedtheminfrontoftheelevator.TheybothtoldMurielitwasnicetosee
her.Thentheyrodeupwardinagloomysilence,eyesfixedonthenumbersoverthedoor.Charles
carriedapottedjadetree,Porteranotherbottleofwine.
“Isn’tthisexciting?”Murielsaid.“We’retheirfirstinvitedguests.”
“Athomenowwe’dbewatchingtheCBSEveningNews,”Charlestoldher.
Murielcouldn’tseemtothinkofanyanswertothat.
Bysixthirtysharptheywereringingthedoorbell,standinginahushedcorridorcarpetedinoffwhite.Roseopenedthedoorandcalled,“They’rehere!”andsetherfacelightlyagainsteachoftheirs.
SheworeGrandmotherLeary’slace-trimmedcompanyapronandshesmelledoflavendersoap,the
sameasalways.
Buttherewasastripofpeelingsunburnacrossthebridgeofhernose.
Julian,nattyandcasualinanavyturtleneckandwhiteslacks(whenitwasn’tyetMemorialDay),
fixedthedrinkswhileRoseretreatedtothekitchen.Thiswasoneofthoseultra-modernapartments
wheretheroomsallswamintoeachother,sotheycouldseeherflittingbackandforth.Julianpassed
around snapshots of Hawaii. Either he had used inferior film or else Hawaii was a very different
placefromBaltimore,becausesomeofthecolorswerewrong.Thetreesappearedtobeblue.Inmost
of the photos Rose stood in front of flower beds or flowering shrubs, wearing a white sleeveless
dress Macon had never seen before, hugging her arms and smiling too broadly so that she looked
olderthanshewas.“ItellRoseyou’dthinkshewentonourhoneymoonbyherself,”Juliansaid.“I’m
theonewhotookthepicturesbecauseRoseneverdidlearnhowtoworkmycamera.”
“Shedidn’t?”Maconasked.
“ItwasoneofthoseGermanmodelswithallthebuttons.”
“Shecouldn’tfigureoutthebuttons?”
“Itellher,‘PeoplewillthinkIwasn’teventhere.’”
“Why,Rosecouldhavetakenthatcameraapartandputittogethertwiceover,”Maconsaid.
“No,thiswasoneofthoseGermanmodelswith—”
“Itwasn’tverylogicallyconstructed,”Rosecalledfromthekitchen.
“Ah,”Maconsaid,sittingback.
Sheenteredtheroomwithatrayandplaceditontheglasscoffeetable.Thenshekneltandbegan
tospreadpâtéonlittlecrackers.Therewassomechangeinthewayshemoved,Maconnoticed.She
wasmoregraceful,butalsomoreself-conscious.SheofferedthepâtéfirsttoMuriel,thentoeachof
herbrothers,lasttoJulian.“InHawaiiIstartedlearningtosail,”shesaid.Shepronouncedthetwoi’s
in “Hawaii” separately; Macon thought it sounded affected. “Now I’m going to practice out on the
Bay.”
“She’stryingtofindhersealegs,”Juliansaid.“Shetendstofeelmotion-sick.”
Maconbitintohiscracker.Thepâtéwassomethingfamiliar.Itwasroughintexturebutdelicate
in taste; there was a kind of melting flavor that he believed came from adding a great amount of
butter. The recipe was Sarah’s. He sat very still, not chewing. He was flooded by a subtle blend of
tarragonandcreamandhome.
“Oh,Iknowjustwhatyou’regoingthrough,”MurielsaidtoRose.“AllIhavetodoislookata
boatandIgetnauseous.”
Macon swallowed and gazed down at the carpet between his feet. He waited for someone to
correcther,butnobodydid.Thatwasevenworse.
Inbedshesaid,“Youwouldn’teverleaveme,wouldyou?Wouldyoueverthinkofleavingme?
Youwon’tbeliketheothers,willyou?Willyoupromisenottoleaveme?”
“Yes,yes,”hesaid,floatinginandoutofdreams.
“Youdotakemeseriously,don’tyou?Don’tyou?”
“Oh,Muriel,forpity’ssake...”hesaid.
Butlater,whensheturnedinhersleepandmovedawayfromhim,hisfeetfollowedhersoftheir
ownaccordtotheothersideofthebed.
eighteen
MaconwassittinginahotelroominWinnipeg,Manitoba,whenthephonerang.Actuallyittook
him a second to realize it was the phone. He happened to be having a very good time with a
mysteriousobjecthe’djustdiscovered—anivory-paintedmetalcylinderaffixedtothewallabovethe
bed.He’dnevernoticedsuchathingbefore,althoughhe’dstayedinthishotelontwoprevioustrips.
When he touched the cylinder to see what it was, it rotated, disappearing into the wall, while from
within the wall a light bulb swung out already lit. At the same moment, the phone rang. Macon
experienced an instant of confusion during which he imagined it was the cylinder that was ringing.
Thenhesawthetelephoneonthenightstand.Stillhewasconfused.Noonehadhisnumber,sofaras
heknew.
Hepickedupthereceiverandsaid,“Yes?”
“Macon.”
Hisheartlurched.Hesaid,“Sarah?”
“HaveIcaughtyouatabadtime?”
“No,no...HowdidyouknowwhereIwas?”
“Well,Julianthoughtyou’dbeineitherTorontoorWinnipegbynow,”shesaid,“soIlookedin
yourlastguidebook,andIknewthehotelswhereyoudiscussednightnoisesweretheoneswhereyou
stayedyourself,so...”
“Isanythingwrong?”heasked.
“No,Ijustneededafavor.WoulditbeallrightwithyouifImovedbackintoourhouse?”
“Um—”
“Justasaplacetostay,”shesaidhastily.“Justforalittlewhile.Myleaserunsoutattheendof
themonthandIcan’tfindanewapartment.”
“Butthehouseisamess,”hetoldher.
“Oh,I’lltakecareofthat.”
“No, I mean something happened to it over the winter, pipes burst or something, ceiling came
down—”
“Yes,Iknow.”
“Youdo?”
“Yourbrotherstoldme.”
“Mybrothers?”
“I went to ask them your whereabouts when they wouldn’t answer their phone. And Rose said
she’dbeenovertothehouseherselfand—”
“YouwenttoRose’s,too?”
“No,Rosewasatyourbrothers’.”
“Oh.”
“She’slivingthereforawhile.”
“Isee,”hesaid.Thenhesaid,“She’swhat?”
“Well,Junehashadherbaby,”Sarahsaid,“sosheaskedPortertokeepthechildrenawhile.”
“ButwhatdoesthathavetodowithRose?”hesaid.“DoesRoseimaginePortercan’topenatin
ofsoupforthem?AndhowcomeJunesentthemaway?”
“Oh,youknowJune,shealwayswaskindofabirdbrain.”
She sounded like her old self, when she said that. Up till now there’d been something careful
about her voice, something wary and ready to retreat, but now a certain chuckly, confiding quality
emerged.Maconleanedbackagainsthispillow.
“Shetoldthechildrensheneedstimetobond,”Sarahsaid.
“Timetowhat?”
“Sheandherhusbandneedtobondwiththebaby.”
“Goodgrief,”Maconsaid.
“WhenRoseheardthat,shetoldPortershewascominghome.Anyhowshedidn’tthinktheboys
wereeatingright,PorterandCharles;andalsothere’sacrackinthesideofthehouseandshewanted
togetitpatchedbeforeitspreads.”
“Whatkindofcrack?”Maconasked.
“Somelittlecrackinthemasonry;Idon’tknow.Whentheraincomesfromacertaindirection
waterseepsinabovethekitchenceiling,Rosesays,andPorterandCharleswereplanningtofixitbut
theycouldn’tagreeonthebestwaytodoit.”
Maconslippedoutofhisshoesandhoistedhisfeetupontothebed.Hesaid,“SoisJulianliving
alonenow,orwhat?”
“Yes, but she brings him casseroles,” Sarah said. Then she said, “Have you thought about it,
Macon?”
Hisheartgaveanotherlurch.Hesaid,“HaveIthoughtaboutwhat?”
“Aboutmyusingthehouse.”
“Oh.Well.It’sfinewithme,butIdon’tbelieveyourealizetheextentofthedamage.”
“Butwe’dhavetofixthatanyway,ifweweretosellit.Sohere’swhatIwasthinking:Icouldpay
fortherepairsmyself—anythingtheinsurancedoesn’tcover—withwhatI’dordinarilyuseforrent.
Doesthatseemfairtoyou?”
“Yes,ofcourse,”Maconsaid.
“AndmaybeI’llgetsomeonetocleantheupholstery,”shesaid.
“Yes.”
“Andtherugs.”
“Yes.”
After all these years, he knew when she was leading up to something. He recognized that
distractedtonethatmeantshewasbracingherselfforwhatshereallywantedtosay.
“Incidentally,”shesaid,“thepaperscamethroughfromthelawyer.”
“Ah.”
“Thefinalarrangements.Youknow.ThingsIhavetosign.”
“Yes.”
“Itwaskindofashock.”
Hesaidnothing.
“Imean,ofcourseIknewthattheywerecoming;it’sbeennearlyayear;infacthecalledahead
and told me they were coming, but when I saw them in black and white they just seemed so brisk.
Theydidn’ttakeintoaccountthefeelingsofthething.IguessIwasn’texpectingthat.”
Macon had a sense of some danger approaching, something he couldn’t handle. He said, “Ah!
Yes!Certainly!Thatseemsanaturalreaction.Soanyway,goodluckwiththehouse,Sarah.”
Hehungupquickly.
His seatmate on the flight to Edmonton was a woman who was scared of flying. He knew that
before the plane had left the ground, before he’d looked in her direction. He was gazing out the
window,keepingtohimselfasusual,andheheardherswallowingrepeatedly.Shekepttighteningand
releasinghergrasponthearmrestsandhecouldfeelthat,too.Finallyheturnedtoseewhothiswas.
A pair of pouched eyes met his. A very old, baggy woman in a flowered dress was staring at him
intently,hadperhapsbeenwillinghimtoturn.“Doyouthinkthisplaneissafe,”shesaidflatly,not
exactlyasking.
“It’sperfectlysafe,”hetoldher.
“Then why have all these signs about. Oxygen. Life vests. Emergency exits. They’re clearly
expectingtheworst.”
“That’sjustfederalregulations,”Maconsaid.
Thenhestartedthinkingabouttheword“federal.”InCanada,woulditapply?Hefrownedatthe
seataheadofhim,considering.Finallyhesaid,“Governmentregulations.”Whenhecheckedtheold
woman’sexpressiontoseeifthismadeanybettersensetoher,hediscoveredthatshemusthavebeen
staringathimallthistime.Herfacelungedtowardhim,grayanddesperate.Hebegantoworryabout
her.“Wouldyoulikeaglassofsherry?”heasked.
“Theydon’tgiveussherrytillwe’reairborne.Bythenit’smuchtoolate.”
“Justaminute,”hesaid.
He bent to unzip his bag, and from his shaving kit he took a plastic travel flask. This was
somethinghealwayspacked,incaseofsleeplessnights.Hehadneverusedit,though—notbecause
he’dneverhadasleeplessnightbutbecausehe’dgoneonsavingitforsomeoccasionevenworse
than whatever the current one was, something that never quite arrived. Like his other emergency
supplies(thematchbook-sizedsewingkit,thetinywhiteLomotiltablet),thisflaskwasbeinghoarded
for the real emergency. In fact, its metal lid had grown rusty inside, as he discovered when he
unscrewed it. “I’m afraid this may have . . . turned a bit, or whatever sherry does,” he told the old
woman.Shedidn’tanswerbutcontinuedstaringintohiseyes.Hepouredthesherryintothelid,which
wasmeanttodoubleasacup.Meanwhiletheplanegaveacreakandstartedmovingdowntherunway.
The old woman drank off the sherry and handed him the cup. He understood that she was not
returningitforgood.Herefilledit.Shedrankthatmoreslowlyandthenletherheadtipbackagainst
herseat.
“Better?”heaskedher.
“MynameisMrs.DanielBunn,”shetoldhim.
Hethoughtitwasherwayofsayingshewasherselfagain—herformal,dignifiedself.“Howdo
youdo,”hesaid.“I’mMaconLeary.”
“I know it’s foolish, Mr. Leary,” she said, “but a drink does give the illusion one is doing
somethingtocope,doesitnot.”
“Absolutely,”Maconsaid.
Hewasn’tconvinced,though,thatshewascopingallthatwell.Astheplanegatheredspeed,her
freehandtightenedonthearmrest.Herotherhand—theoneclosesttohim,clutchingthecup—grew
white around the nails. All at once the cup popped up in the air, squeezed out of her grip. Macon
caughtitnimblyandsaid,“Whoathere!”andscreweditontotheflask.Thenhereplacedtheflaskin
hisbag.“Oncewe’reofftheground—”hesaid.
Butaglanceatherfacestoppedhim.Shewasswallowingagain.Theplanewasbeginningtorise
now—the nose was lifting off— and she was pressed back against her seat. She seemed flattened.
“Mrs.Bunn?”Maconsaid.Hewasscaredshewashavingaheartattack.
Instead of answering, she turned toward him and crumpled onto his shoulder. He put an arm
aroundher.“Nevermind,”hesaid.“Goodness.You’llbeallright.Nevermind.”
Theplanecontinuedslantingbackward.Whenthelandinggearretracted(groaning),Maconfelt
theshudderthroughMrs.Bunn’sbody.Herhairsmelledlikefreshlyironedteacloths.Herbackwas
largeandboneless,amoundedshapelikethebackofawhale.
Hewasimpressedthatsomeonesooldstillwantedsofiercelytolive.
Then the plane leveled off and she pulled herself together— straightening and drawing away
fromhim,brushingattheteardropsthatlayinthefoldsbeneathhereyes.Shewasfulloffolds,wide
and plain and sagging, but valiantly wore two pearl buttons in her long, spongy earlobes and
maintainedacoatofbraveredlipstickonamouthsowrinkledthatitdidn’tevenhaveaclearoutline.
Heasked,“Areyouallright?”
“Yes,andIapologizeathousandtimes,”shesaid.Andshepattedthebroochatherthroat.
Whenthedrinkcartcameheorderedheranothersherry,whichheinsistedonpayingfor,andhe
orderedoneforhimselfaswell,eventhoughhedidn’tplantodrinkit.Hethoughtitmightbeneeded
for Mrs. Bunn. He was right, as things turned out, because their flight was unusually rough. The
seatbelt sign stayed lit the whole way, and the plane bounced and grated as if rolling over gravel.
Every now and then it dropped sharply and Mrs. Bunn winced, but she went on taking tiny sips of
sherry. “This is nothing,” Macon told her. “I’ve been in much worse than this.” He told her how to
givewiththebumps.“It’sliketravelingonaboat,”hesaid.“Oronwheels,onrollerskates.Youkeep
yourkneesloose.Youbend.DoyouunderstandwhatI’msaying?Yougoalongwithit.Yourideit
out.”
Mrs.Bunnsaidshe’dcertainlytry.
Notonlywastheairunsteady,butalsolittlethingskeptgoingwronginsidetheplane.Thedrink
cart raced away from the stewardess every time she let go of it. Mrs. Bunn’s tray fell into her lap
twicewithoutwarning.AteachnewmishapMaconlaughedandsaid,“Ah,me,”andshookhishead.
“Oh, not again,” he said. Mrs. Bunn’s eyes remained fixed on his face, as if Macon were her only
hope. Once there was a bang and she jumped; the door to the cockpit had flung itself open for no
goodreason.“What?What?”shesaid,butMaconpointedoutthatnowshecouldseeforherselfhow
unconcernedthepilotwas.Theywerecloseenoughtothefrontsoshecouldevenhearwhatthepilot
was talking about; he was shouting some question to the copilot, asking why any ten-year-old girl
withhalfagrainofsensewouldwearametalnightbraceinasaunaroom.“Youcallthataworried
man?”MaconaskedMrs.Bunn.“Youthinkamanabouttobailoutofhisplanewouldbediscussing
orthodontia?”
“Bailout!”Mrs.Bunnsaid.“Oh,my,Ineverthoughtofthat!”
Maconlaughedagain.
He was reminded of a trip he’d taken alone as a boy, touring colleges. Heady with his new
independence, he had lied to the man sitting next to him and said he came from Kenya, where his
fatherledsafaris.Inthesamewayhewaslyingnow,presentinghimselftoMrs.Bunnasthismerry,
tolerantperson.
Butaftertheyhadlanded(withMrs.Bunnhardlyflinching,bolsteredbyallthosesherries),and
she had gone off with her grown daughter, a very small child ran headlong into Macon’s kneecap.
This child was followed by another and another, all more or less the same size—some kind of
nurseryschool,Maconsupposed,visitingtheairportonafieldtrip—andeachchild,asifpowerless
toveerfromthecoursethefirsthadset,careenedoffMacon’skneesandsaid,“Oops!”Thecallran
downthelinelikelittlebirdcries—“Oops!”“Oops!”“Oops!”—whilebehindthechildren,aharassedlooking woman clapped a hand to her cheek. “Sorry,” she said to Macon, and he said, “No harm
done.”
Onlylater,whenhepassedamirrorandnoticedthegrinonhisface,didherealizethat,infact,
hemightnothavebeenlyingtoMrs.Bunnafterall.
“Theplumbersaysitwon’tbehardtofix,”Sarahtoldhim.“Hesaysitlooksbadbutreallyjust
onepipeiscracked.”
“Well,good,”Maconsaid.
He was not as surprised this time by her call, of course, but he did feel there was something
disconcerting about it—standing in an Edmonton hotel room on a weekday afternoon, listening to
Sarah’svoiceattheotherendoftheline.
“I went over there this morning and straightened up a little,” she said. “Everything’s so
disorganized.”
“Disorganized?”
“Whyaresomeofthesheetssewninhalf?Andthepopcornpopper ’sinthebedroom.Wereyou
eatingpopcorninthebedroom?”
“IguessImusthavebeen,”hesaid.
He was near an open window, and he could look out upon a strangely beautiful landscape: an
expanseofmathematicalflatness,withstraight-edgedbuildingsrisinginthedistancelikeachild’stoy
blocksonarug.Itwasdifficult,inthesesurroundings,torememberwhyhe’dhadapopcornpopper
inthebedroom.
“Sohow’stheweatherthere?”Sarahasked.
“Kindofgray.”
“Hereit’ssunny.Sunnyandhumid.”
“Well,it’scertainlynothumidhere,”hetoldher.“Theair ’ssodrythatraindisappearsbeforeit
hitstheground.”
“Really?Thenhowcanyoutellit’sraining?”
“Youcanseeitabovetheplains,”hesaid.“Itlookslikestripesthatjustfadeawayabouthalfway
downfromthesky.”
“IwishIweretheretowatchitwithyou,”Sarahsaid.
Maconswallowed.
Gazingoutofthewindow,heallatoncerecalledEthanasaninfant.Ethanusedtocryunlesshe
wastightlywrappedinablanket;thepediatricianhadexplainedthatnewbabieshaveafearofflying
apart. Macon had not been able to imagine that at the time, but now he had no trouble. He could
picturehimselfseparating,fallingintopieces,hisheadfloatingawaywithterrifyingswiftnessinthe
eeriegreenairofAlberta.
InVancouversheaskediftherainvanishedthereaswell.“No,”hesaid.
“No?”
“No,itrainsinVancouver.”
Itwasrainingthisminute—agentlenightrain.Hecouldhearitbutnotseeit,exceptforthecone
of illuminated drops spilling beneath a street lamp just outside his hotel room. You could almost
supposeitwasthelampitselfthatwasraining.
“Well,I’vemovedbackintothehouse,”shesaid.“MostlyIjuststayupstairs.ThecatandI:We
campinthebedroom.Creepdownstairsformeals.”
“Whatcatisthat?”heasked.
“Helen.”
“Oh,yes.”
“IwentandpickedherupatRose’s.Ineededcompany.Youwouldn’tbelievehowlonelyitis.”
Yes,hewouldbelieveit,hecouldhavesaid.Butdidn’t.
Soheretheywereinthesameoldpositions,hecouldhavesaid:Hehadwonherattentiononly
by withdrawing. He wasn’t surprised when she said, “Macon? Do you . . . What’s her name? The
personyoulivewith?”
“Muriel,”hesaid.
Whichsheknewbeforesheasked,hesuspected.
“DoyouplanonstayingwithMurielforever?”
“Ireallycouldn’tsay,”hesaid.
He was noticing how oddly the name hung in this starchy, old-fashioned hotel room. Muriel.
Suchapeculiarsound.Sounfamiliar,suddenly.
Ontheflightback,hisseatmatewasanattractiveyoungwomaninatailoredsuit.Shespreadthe
contentsofherbriefcaseonherfoldingtray,andsheriffledthroughcomputerprintoutsheetswith
herperfectlymanicuredhands.ThensheaskedMaconifhehadapenshemightborrow.Thisstruck
him as amusing—her true colors shining out from beneath her businesslike exterior. However, his
only pen was a fountain pen that he didn’t like lending, so he said no. She seemed relieved; she
cheerfullyrepackedallshe’dtakenfromherbriefcase.“IcouldhaveswornIswipedaballpointfrom
my last hotel,” she said, “but maybe that was the one before this one; you know how they all run
togetherinyourmind.”
“Youmustdoalotoftraveling,”Maconsaidpolitely.
“DoI?SomemorningswhenIwakeupIhavetocheckmyhotelstationeryjusttofindoutwhat
cityI’min.”
“That’sterrible.”
“Oh,Ilikeit,”shesaid,bendingtoslipherbriefcaseunderherseat.“It’stheonlytimeIcanrelax
anymore.WhenIcomehomeI’mallnervous,can’tsitstill.Iprefertobea...movingtarget,you
couldsay.”
Maconthoughtofsomethinghe’doncereadaboutheroin:howit’snotapleasure,really,butit
socompletelyalterstheusers’bodychemistrythatthey’reforcedtogoononcethey’vestarted.
He turned down drinks and dinner, and so did his seatmate; she rolled her suit jacket expertly
intoapillowandwenttosleep.MacongotoutMissMacIntoshandstaredatasinglepageforawhile.
Thetoplinebeganwithbrowsbristling,herhairstreakedwithwhite. He studied the words so long
thathealmostwonderediftheywerewords;thewholeEnglishlanguageseemedchunkyandbrittle.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the loudspeaker said, “we will be starting our descent . . .” and the word
“descent”struckhimasaninvention,someneweuphemismconcoctedbytheairlines.
AftertheylandedinBaltimore,hetookashuttlebustotheparkinglotandretrievedhiscar.It
waslateeveninghereandtheskywaspaleandradiantabovethecity.Ashedrovehecontinuedtosee
thewordsfromMissMacIntosh.Hecontinuedtohearthestewardess’sglidingvoice:complimentary
beveragesandthecaptainhasaskedusandtraysinanuprightposition.Heconsideredswitchingon
theradiobuthedidn’tknowwhatstationitwassetto.MaybeitwasMuriel’scountrymusicstation.
Thispossibilitymadehimfeelweary;hefelthewouldn’thavethestrengthtopressthebuttons,and
sohedroveinsilence.
He came to Singleton Street and flicked his signal on but didn’t turn. After a while the signal
clickedoffonitsown.Herodeonthroughthecity,upCharlesStreet,intohisoldneighborhood.He
parked and cut the engine and sat looking at the house. The downstairs windows were dark. The
upstairswindowsweresoftlyglowing.Evidently,hehadcomehome.
nineteen
MaconandSarahneededtobuyanewcouch.TheysetasideaSaturdayforit—actuallyjusthalf
aSaturday,becauseSarahhadaclasstoattendintheafternoon.Atbreakfast,sheflippedthroughan
interior decorating book so they could get a head start on their decision. “I’m beginning to think
alongthelinesofsomethingflowered,”shetoldMacon.“We’veneverhadafloweredcouchbefore.
Orwouldthatbetoofrilly?”
“Well,Idon’tknow.Iwonderaboutwinter,”Maconsaid.
“Winter?”
“ImeanrightnowinthemiddleofJuneafloweredcouchlooksfine,butitmightseemoutof
placeinDecember.”
“Soyouprefersomethinginasolid,”Sarahsaid.
“Well,Idon’tknow.”
“Ormaybestripes.”
“I’mnotsure.”
“Iknowyoudon’tlikeplaids.”
“No.”
“Howdoyoufeelabouttweeds?”
“Tweeds,”Maconsaid,considering.
Sarahhandedoverthebookandstartedloadingthedishwasher.
Macon studied pictures of angular modern couches, cozy chintz-covered couches, and period
reproductioncouchescoveredincomplexfabrics.Hetookthebooktothelivingroomandsquinted
atthespotwherethecouchwouldbesitting.Theoldone,whichhadturnedouttobetoowaterlogged
tosalvage,hadbeencartedaway,alongwithbotharmchairs.Nowtherewasjustalongblankwall,
withthefreshlyplasteredceilingglaringaboveit.Maconobservedthataroomwithoutfurniturehad
autilitarianfeeling,asifitweremerelyacontainer.Oravehicle.Yes,avehicle:Hehadasenseof
himselfspeedingthroughtheuniverseashestoodthere.
WhileSarahgotdressed,Macontookthedogout.Itwasawarm,goldenmorning.Neighbors
weretrimmingtheirgrassandweedingtheirflowerbeds.TheynoddedasMaconwalkedpast.Hehad
notbeenbacklongenoughforthemtofeelateaseyet;therewassomethingalittletooformalabout
their greetings. Or maybe he was imagining that. He made an effort to remind them of how many
yearshehadlivedhere:“I’vealwayslikedthosetulipsofyours!”and“Stillgotthatnicehandmower,
Isee!”Edwardmarchedbesidehimwithabusybodywaggleofhishindend.
Inmoviesandsuch,peoplewhomadeimportantchangesintheirlivesaccomplishedthemand
weredonewithit.Theywalkedoutandneverreturned;ortheymarriedandlivedhappilyeverafter.
In real life, things weren’t so clean-cut. Macon, for instance, had had to go down to Muriel’s and
retrievehisdog,oncehe’ddecidedtomovebackhome.Hehadhadtocollecthisclothingandpack
up his typewriter while Muriel watched in silence with her accusing, reproaching eyes. Then there
wereallkindsofotherbelongingsthathediscoveredtoolatehe’dforgotten—clothesthathadbeenin
thewashatthetime,andhisfavoritedictionary,andtheextra-largepotterymughelikedtodrinkhis
coffeefrom.Butofcoursehecouldn’tgobackforthem.Hehadtoabandonthem—messy,trailing
stringsofhimselfclutteringhisleavetaking.
BythetimeheandEdwardreturnedfromtheirouting,Sarahwaswaitinginthefrontyard.She
woreayellowdressthatmadehertanglow;shelookedverypretty.“Iwasjustwonderingaboutthe
azaleas,”shetoldMacon.“Weren’twesupposedtofeedtheminthespring?”
“Well,probably,”Maconsaid,“buttheyseemallrighttome.”
“InApril,Ithink,”shesaid.“OrmaybeMay.Noonewasheretodoit.”
Macon veered away from that. He preferred to pretend that their lives had been going on as
usual.“Nevermind,Rosehaswholesacksoffertilizer,”hesaid.“We’llpickupsomefromherwhile
we’reout.”
“Noonewasheretoseedthelawn,either.”
“Thelawnlooksfine,”hesaid,moreforcefullythanhe’dmeantto.
They shut Edward in the house and climbed into Macon’s car. Sarah had brought along a
newspaperbecausetherewereseveralfurnitureads.“ModernHousewares,”shereadoff.“Butthat’s
allthewaydownonPrattStreet.”
“Mightaswellgiveitatry,”Maconsaid.Prattwasoneofthefewstreetsheknewhowtofind.
After they left their neighborhood, with its trees arching overhead, the car grew hotter and
Macon rolled his window down. Sarah lifted her face to the sunlight. “Be a good day to go to the
pool,”shesaid.
“Well,ifwehavetime.Iwasthinkingofaskingyoutolunch.”
“Oh,where?”
“Anywhereyoulike.Yourchoice.”
“Aren’tyounice,”shesaid.
Macondrovepasttwounshavenmentalkingonacorner.Sarahlockedherdoor.Maconthought
ofwhatthemenwouldbesaying:“What’scomingdown,man?”“Notallthatmuch.”
The sidewalks grew more crowded. Women lugged string-handled shopping bags, an old man
draggedagrocerycart,andagirlinafadeddressleanedherheadagainstabusstopsign.
At Modern Homewares, huge paper banners covered the plate glass windows. SPECIAL FOR
FATHER’SDAY!theyread.Sarahhadn’tmentionedthatthiswasaFather ’sDaysale.Maconmadea
pointofmentioningithimself,toshowitdidn’tbotherhim.Takingherarmastheyentered,hesaid,
“Isn’tthattypical.Father ’sDay!They’llcapitalizeonanything.”
Sarahlookedawayfromhimandsaid,“Alltheyseemtohaveisbeds.”
“Isupposeitbeganwithrecliningchairs,”Maconsaid.“ABarcaloungerforDad,andnextthing
youknowit’sawholedinetteset.”
“Couldweseeyourcouches,”Sarahtoldasalesmanfirmly.
The couches were all of the straight-back, Danish sort, which was fine with Macon. He didn’t
reallycare.Sarahsaid,“Whatdoyouthink?Legs?Orflushwiththefloor.”
“It’sallthesametome,”hesaid.Hesatdownheavilyonsomethingcoveredinleather.
Sarahchosealong,lowcouchthatopenedintoaqueen-sizedbed.“Macon?Whatdoyousay?”
sheasked.“Doyoulikewhatyou’resittingonbetter?”
“No,no,”hesaid.
“Well,whatdoyouthinkofthisone?”
“It’sfine.”
“Don’tyouhaveanyopinion?”
“Ijustgaveyoumyopinion,Sarah.”
Sarahsighedandaskedthesalesmanifheofferedsame-daydelivery.
They’d been so efficient about picking out the couch that time remained for other errands as
well. First they drove to Hutzler ’s and bought queen-sized sheets. Then they checked the furniture
departmentforarmchairs;therewasaFather ’sDaysalethere,too.“Maybewe’reonaroll,”Sarah
toldMacon.Buttheyweren’tasluckywiththearmchairs;nothinglookedjustright.NottoMacon,at
least.Hegaveuptryingandstoodwatchingakiddieshowonarowoftelevisionsets.
After Hutzler ’s they went to get fertilizer from Rose, but Macon braked on the way and said,
“Wait! There’s my bank.” It had come upon him unexpectedly—the branch where he rented a safe
depositbox.“IneedmypassportfortheFrancetrip,‘hetoldSarah.“Mightaswellpickitupwhile
I’mhere.”
Sarahsaidshe’djustwaitinthecar.
He had to stand in line; two elderly women were ahead of him. They were checking out their
jewelsforSaturdaynight,helikedtoimagine.Orclippingtheircoupons—whatevercouponswere.
Whilehestoodtherehekeptfeelingthepresenceofsomeonebehindhim.Forsomereasonhedidn’t
wanttoturnandfindoutwhoitwas.Hejustkeptstaringahead,everynowandthenglancingathis
watchinabusinesslikeway.Thispersonbreathedverygentlyandsmelledlikeflowers—bitter,reallife flowers, not the kind in perfume bottles. But when he finally squared his shoulders and looked
around,hefoundonlyanotherstrangerwaitingforherjewels.
Itwasn’ttruethatMurielhadwatchedinsilenceashepacked.Actually,shehadspoken.Shehad
said,“Macon?Areyoureallydoingthis?Doyoumeantotellmeyoucanjustuseapersonupand
thenmoveon?YouthinkI’msomekindof...bottleofsomethingyoudon’thaveanyfurtherneed
for?Isthathowyouseeme,Macon?”
Histurnforthevaulthadarrived,andhefollowedagirlinaminiskirtacrossacarpetedarea,
intothewindowlesscubiclelinedwithdrawers.“Iwon’tneedtotakemyboxtotheotherroom,”he
toldthegirl.“Ijustwanttogetonething.”
She gave him his card to sign and accepted his key. After she had unlocked his box she stood
back, scrutinizing her nails, while he rummaged through various papers for his passport. Then he
turnedtotellherhewasfinished,butallatoncehewassomovedbyhertactinlookingelsewhere,by
the delicacy that people could come up with on their own (for surely it wouldn’t have been written
into the bank’s instructions) . . . Well, he must be going soft in the head. It was the weather or
something;itwastheseasonorsomething;hehadnotbeensleepingwell.Hesaid,“Thankyouvery
much,”andtookbackhiskeyandleft.
Athisgrandfather ’shouse,Rosewasoutfrontpruningthehedge.Hergardeningsmockwasan
enormousgrayworkshirtinheritedfromCharles.Whenshesawtheircarpullupshestraightenedand
waved. Then she went on pruning while they consulted her about fertilizers. “For azaleas and what
elsedoyouhave,andromeda,acid-lovingplants...”shemused.
Sarahsaid,“Wherearethechildrentoday?”
“Children?”
“Yournephewandnieces.”
“Oh,theywenthometotheirmother.”
Sarahsaid,“Ijustassumed,sinceyouhadn’tmovedbackwithJulian...”
“Well,notyet,ofcourse,”Rosesaid.
Macon, anxious to guard her privacy, murmured, “No, of course not,” practically at the same
moment,butSarahsaid,“Why?What’skeepingyou?”
“Oh,Sarah,youwouldn’tbelievewhatastateIfoundtheboysinwhenIcamebackhere,”Rose
said.“Theywerelivingintheirpajamassoasnottohavetoomuchlaundry.Theywereeatinggorp
fortheirsuppers.”
“I’mnotevengoingtoaskwhatgorpis,”Sarahsaid.
“It’samixtureofwheatgermandnutsanddried—”
“Butwhataboutyourapartment,Rose?WhataboutJulian?”
“Oh,youknow,IkeptlosingthatapartmenteverytimeIturnedaround,”Rosesaidvaguely.“I’d
headoneblockeasttothegrocerystoreandthenturnwesttogetbackagainandI’dalwaysbewrong;
always.Theapartmentbuildingwouldhaveworkedovertotheeastsomehow;Idon’tknowhow.”
Therewasasilence.FinallyMaconsaid,“Well,ifyoucouldgetussomeofthatfertilizer,Rose.
..”
“Certainly,”shesaid.Andshewentofftothetoolshed.
TheyhadlunchattheOldBayRestaurant—Sarah’sidea.Maconsaid,“Areyousure?”andSarah
said,“Whywouldn’tIbe?”
“Butyoualwaystellmeit’sboring,”Maconsaid.
“Thereareworsethingsthanboring,I’vedecided.”
Hedidn’tthinkthatwasmuchofarecommendation,buthewentalongwithit.
Therestaurantwasfull,eventhoughitwasbarelynoon,andtheyhadtowaitafewminutestobe
seated. Macon stood by the hostess’s podium trying to adjust to the dimness. He surveyed the other
dinersandfoundsomethingoddaboutthem.TheywerenottheusualOldBaycrowd—middleaged,
onefacemuchlikethenext—butanassortmentofparticularandunusualindividuals.Hesawapriest
offering a toast to a woman in a tennis dress, and a smartly suited woman with a young man in an
orange gauze robe, and two cheerful schoolgirls loading all their potato chips onto the plate of a
smallboy.FromwherehestoodMaconcouldn’thearwhatanyofthesepeopleweresaying;hehadto
guess. “Maybe the woman wants to join a convent,” he told Sarah, “and the priest is trying to
discourageher.”
“Pardon?”
“He’spointingoutthatsortingherhusband’ssockscanbeequallywhatever-he’d-call-it,equally
holy.Andtheyoungmaningauze,well...”
“TheyoungmaningauzeisAshleyDemming,”Sarahsaid.“YouknowAshley.PeterandLindy
Demming’sson.My,he’sagedpoorLindytwentyyearsinthelastsixmonths,hasn’the?Idon’tthink
they’reevergoingtogetoverthis.”
“Ah,well,”Maconsaid.
Thentheywereshowntoatable.
SarahorderedsomethingcalledaWhiteLadyandMaconorderedasherry.Withtheirmealthey
had a bottle of wine. Macon wasn’t used to drinking in the daytime; he grew a little fuzzy. So did
Sarah,evidently,forshedriftedoffinthemiddleofasentenceaboutupholsteryfabrics.Shetouched
hishand,whichwaslyingonthetablecloth.“Weoughttodothismoreoften,”shesaid.
“Yes,weoughtto.”
“YouknowwhatImissedmostwhenwewereseparated?Thelittle,habitualthings.TheSaturday
errands. Going to Eddie’s for coffee beans. Even things that used to seem tiresome, like the way
you’dtakeforeverinthehardwarestore.”
Whenhefoldedherhandintoafistitwasround,likeabird.Ithadnosharpangles.
“I’mnotsureifyouknowthis,”shesaid,“butforawhileIwasseeinganotherman.”
“Well,fine;whatever;eatyoursalad,”hetoldher.
“No,Iwanttosayit,Macon.Hewasjustgettingoverthedeathofhiswife,andIwasgettingover
thingstoosoofcourse...Well,westartedoutveryslowly,westartedasfriends,butthenhebegan
talking about getting married someday. After we’d given ourselves some time, he meant. In fact I
thinkhereallylovedme.HetookithardwhenItoldhimyou’dmovedback.”
ShelookedstraightatMaconwhenshesaidthat,hereyesasuddenblueflash.Henodded.
“But there were these things I had trouble with,” she said. “I mean good things; qualities I’d
always wished for. He was a very dashing driver, for instance. Not unsafe; just dashing. At first, I
likedthat.Thenbitbybititbegantofeelwrong.‘Double-checkyourrearviewmirror!’Iwantedto
tellhim.‘Fastenyourseatbelt!Inchpaststopsignsthewaymyhusbanddoes!’Heneverexamineda
restaurant bill before he paid it—shoot, he didn’t even take his credit card receipt when he walked
awayfromatable—andIthoughtofallthetimesIsatstewingwhileyoutottedupeverylittleitem.I
thought,‘WhydoImissthat?It’sperverse!’”
Like“eckcetera,”Maconthought.
LikeMurielsaying,“eckcetera.”AndMaconwincing.
Andtheemptinessnow,thethinnesswhenhehearditpronouncedcorrectly.
HestrokedthedimpledpeaksthatwereSarah’sknuckles.
“Macon,Ithinkthatafteracertainagepeoplejustdon’thaveachoice,”Sarahsaid.“You’rewho
I’mwith.It’stoolateformetochange.I’veuseduptoomuchofmylifenow.”
Youmeantotellmeyoucanjustuseapersonupandthenmoveon?Murielhadasked.
Evidentlyso,wastheanswer.ForevenifhehadstayedwithMuriel,thenwouldn’tSarahhave
beenleftbehind?
“Afteracertainage,”hetoldSarah,“itseemstomeyoucanonlychoosewhattolose.”
“What?”shesaid.
“Imeanthere’sgoingtobesomethingyouhavetogiveup,whicheverwayyoucutit.”
“Well,ofcourse,”shesaid.
Hesupposedshe’dalwaysknownthat.
Theyfinishedtheirmealbuttheydidn’tordercoffeebecausetheywererunninglate.Sarahhad
herclass;shewasstudyingwithasculptoronSaturdays.Maconcalledforthebillandpaidit,selfconsciouslytotalingitfirst.Thentheysteppedoutintothesunshine.“Whataprettyday,”Sarahsaid.
“Itmakesmewanttoplayhooky.”
“Why don’t you?” Macon asked. If she didn’t go to class, he wouldn’t have to work on his
guidebook.
Butshesaid,“Ican’tdisappointMr.Armistead.”
They drove home, and she changed into a sweat suit and set off again. Macon carried in the
fertilizer,whichRosehadpouredintoabucket.Itwassomethingshreddedthathadnosmell—oronly
a harsh, chemical smell, nothing like the truckloads of manure the men used to bring for his
grandmother ’s camellias. He set it on the pantry floor and then he took the dog out. Then he made
himselfacupofcoffeetoclearhishead.Hedrankitatthekitchensink,staringintotheyard.Thecat
rubbed against his ankles and purred. The clock over the stove ticked steadily. There was no other
sound.
Whenthetelephonerang,hewasglad.Heletitringtwicebeforeheansweredsoasnottoseem
overeager.Thenhepickedupthereceiverandsaid,“Hello?”
“Mr.Leary?”
“Yes!”
“This is Mrs. Morton calling, at Merkle Appliance Store. Are you aware that the maintenance
policyonyourhotwaterheaterexpiresattheendofthemonth?”
“No,Ihadn’trealized,”Maconsaid.
“Youhadatwo-yearpolicyatacostofthirty-nineeighty-eight.Nowtorenewitforanothertwo
yearsthecostofcoursewouldbeslightlyhighersinceyourhotwaterheaterisolder.”
“Well,thatmakessense,”Maconsaid.“Gosh!Howoldisthatthingbynow?”
“Let’ssee.YoupurchaseditthreeyearsagothisJuly.”
“Well,I’dcertainlyliketokeepthemaintenancepolicy.”
“Wonderful.I’llsendyouanewcontractthen,Mr.Leary,andthankyoufor—”
“Andwouldthatstillincludereplacementofthetank?”Maconasked.
“Oh,yes.Everypartiscovered.”
“Andthey’dstilldotheyearlycheckups.”
“Why,yes.”
“I’ve always liked that. A lot of the other stores don’t offer it; I remember from when I was
shoppingaround.”
“SoI’llsendyouthecontract,Mr.—”
“ButIwouldhavetoarrangeforthecheckupmyself,asIrecall.”
“Yes,thecustomerschedulesthecheckup.”
“MaybeI’lljustscheduleitnow.CouldIdothat?”
“That’sawholedifferentdepartment,Mr.Leary.I’llmailyououtthecontractandyoucanread
allaboutit.Byebye.”
Shehungup.
Maconhunguptoo.
Hethoughtawhile.
Hehadanurgetogoontalking;anyonewoulddo.Buthecouldn’tthinkwhatnumbertodial.
Finallyhecalledthetimelady.Sheansweredbeforethefirstringwascompleted.(Shehadnoworries
about seeming overeager.) “At the tone,” she said, “the time will be one . . . forty-nine. And ten
seconds.”Whatavoice.Somelodious,sowellmodulated.“Atthetonethetimewillbeone...fortynine.Andtwentyseconds.”
He listened for over a minute, and then the call was cut off. The line clicked and the dial tone
started.Thismadehimfeelrebuffed,althoughheknewhewasbeingfoolish.Hebenttopatthecat.
Thecatalloweditbrieflybeforewalkingaway.
Therewasnothingtodobutsitdownathistypewriter.
Hewasbehindschedulewiththisguidebook.NextweekhewassupposedtostartonFrance,and
hestillhadn’tfinishedtheconclusiontotheCanadabook.Heblameditontheseason.Whocouldsit
aloneindoorswheneverythingoutsidewasblooming?Travelersshouldbeforewarned,hetyped,but
thenhefelltoadmiringasprayofwhiteazaleasthattrembledontheledgeofhisopenwindow.Abee
crawled among the blossoms, buzzing. He hadn’t known the bees were out yet. Did Muriel know?
WouldsherecallwhatasinglebeecoulddotoAlexander?
...shouldbeforewarned,hereadover,buthisconcentrationwasshotnow.
Shewassocareless,sounthinking;howcouldhehaveputupwithher?Thatunsanitaryhabitshe
hadoflickingherfingerbeforesheturnedamagazinepage;hertendencytousetheword“enormity”
asifitreferredtosize.Therewasn’tachanceinthisworldthatshe’drememberaboutbeestings.
Hereachedforthephoneonhisdeskanddialedhernumber.“Muriel?”
“What,”shesaidflatly.
“ThisisMacon.”
“Yes,Iknow.”
Hepaused.Hesaid,“Um,it’sbeeseason,Muriel.”
“So?”
“Iwasn’tsureyouwereaware.Imeansummerjustcreepsup,Iknowhowsummercreepsup,
andIwaswonderingifyou’dthoughtaboutAlexander ’sshots.”
“Don’tyoubelieveIcanmanagethatmuchformyself?”shescreeched.
“Oh.Well.”
“What do you think I am, some sort of ninny? Don’t you think I know the simplest dumbest
thing?”
“Well,Iwasn’tsure,yousee,that—”
“A fine one you are! Ditch that child without a word of farewell and then call me up on the
telephonetoseeifI’mraisinghimright!”
“Ijustwantedto—”
“Criticize,criticize!TellmeOodlesofNoodlesisnotabalancedmealandthengooffanddesert
himandthenhavethenervetocallmeupandtellmeI’mnotagoodmother!”
“No,wait,Muriel—”
“Dominickisdead,”shesaid.
“What?”
“Notthatyouwouldcare.Hedied.”
Maconnoticedhowthesoundsintheroomhadstopped.“DominickSaddler?”heasked.
“It was his night to take my car and he went to a party in Cockeysville and coming home he
crashedintoaguardrail.”
“Oh,no.”
“Thegirlhehadwithhimdidn’tgetsomuchasascratch.”
“ButDominick...”Maconsaid,becausehedidn’tbelieveityet.
“ButDominickdiedinstantly.”
“Oh,myLord.”
HesawDominickonthecouchwithAlexander,holdingaloftacanofpastewax.
“Wanttohearsomethingawful?Mycarwillbejustfine,”Murielsaid.“Straightenthefrontend
andit’llrungoodasever.”
Maconrestedhisheadinhishand.
“IhavetogonowandsitwithMrs.Saddlerinthefuneralhome,”shesaid.
“IstheresomethingIcando?”
“No,”shesaid,andthenspitefully,“Howcouldyoubeanyhelp?”
“IcouldstaywithAlexander,maybe.”
“Alexander ’sgotpeopleofourowntostaywithhim,”shesaid.
Thedoorbellrang,andEdwardstartedbarking.Maconheardhiminthefronthall.
“Well,I’llsaygood-byenow,”Murielsaid.“Soundslikeyouhavecompany.”
“Nevermindthat.”
“I’llletyougetbacktoyourlife,”shesaid.“Solong.”
Hekeptthereceivertohisearforamoment,butshehadhungup.
He went out to the hall and tapped his foot at Edward. “Down!” he said. Edward lay down, the
humponhisbackstillbristling.Maconopenedthedoorandfoundaboywithaclipboard.
“ModernHousewares,”theboytoldhim.
“Oh.Thecouch.”
Whilethecouchwasbeingunloaded,MaconshutEdwardinthekitchen.Thenhereturnedtothe
hall and watched the couch lumbering toward him, borne by the first boy and another, just slightly
older, who had an eagle tattooed on his forearm. Macon thought of Dominick Saddler ’s muscular,
corded arms grappling beneath the hood of Muriel’s car. The first boy spat as he approached the
house,butMaconsawhowyoungandbenignhisfacewas.“Aw,man,”thesecondonesaid,stumbling
overthedoorstep.
Macon said, “That’s all right,” and gave them each a five-dollar bill when they’d placed the
couchwherehedirected.
Afterthey’dgonehesatdownonthecouch,whichstillhadsomesortofcellophanecovering.
Herubbedhishandsonhisknees.Edwardbarkedinthekitchen.Helenpaddedinsoftly,stoppedstill,
eyedthecouch,andcontinuedthroughtheroomwithanoffendedair.Maconwentonsitting.
When Ethan died, the police had asked Macon to identify the body. But Sarah, they suggested,
mightprefertowaitoutside.Yes,Sarahhadsaid;shewould.Shehadtakenaseatonamoldedbeige
chairinthehallway.Thenshe’dlookedupatMaconandsaid,“Canyoudothis?”
“Yes,”he’dtoldher,evenly.Hehadfelthewasbarelybreathing;hewaskeepinghimselfvery
level,withmostoftheairemptiedoutofhislungs.
Hehadfollowedamanintoaroom.Itwasnotasbadasitcouldhavebeenbecausesomeonehad
foldedawadoftowelingunderthebackofEthan’sheadtohidethedamage.Alsoitwasn’tEthan.Not
therealEthan.Oddhowclearitsuddenlybecame,onceapersonhaddied,thatthebodywasthevery
leastofhim.Thiswassimplyanuntenantedshell,althoughitboreadistantresemblancetoEthan—
the same groove down the upper lip, same cowlick over the forehead. Macon had a sensation like
pressingagainstablankwall,willingwithallhisbeingsomethingthatcouldneverhappen:Please,
pleasecomebackinside.Butfinallyhesaid,“Yes.Thatismyson.”
He’dreturnedtoSarahandgivenheranod.Sarahhadrisenandputherarmsaroundhim.Later,
whentheywerealoneintheirmotel,she’daskedhimwhathehadseen.“Notreallymuchofanything,
sweetheart,”hehadtoldher.Shekeptathim.WasEthan...well,hurt-looking?Scared?Hesaid,“No,
hewasnothing.”Hesaid,“Letmegetyousometea.”
“Idon’twanttea,Iwanttohear!”she’dsaid.“Whatareyouhiding?”Hehadtheimpressionshe
was blaming him for something. Over the next few weeks it seemed she grew to hold him
responsible,likeabearerofbadtidings—theonlyonewhocouldsayforafactthatEthanhadtruly
died. She made several references to Macon’s chilliness, to his appalling calm that night in the
hospital morgue. Twice she expressed some doubt as to whether, in fact, he was really capable of
distinguishingEthanfromsomesimilarboy.Infact,thatmaynothavebeenEthanatall.Itmayhave
beensomebodyelsewhohaddied.Sheshouldhaveascertainedforherself.Shewasthemother,after
all;sheknewherchildfarbetter;whatdidMaconknow?
Macon said, “Sarah. Listen. I will tell you as much as I can. He was very pale and still. You
wouldn’tbelievehowstill.Hedidn’thaveanyexpression.Hiseyeswereclosed.Therewasnothing
bloodyorgruesome,justasenseof...futility.ImeanIwonderedwhatthepurposehadbeen.His
armsweredownbyhissidesandIthoughtaboutlastspringwhenhestartedliftingweights.Ithought,
‘Isthiswhatitcomesto?Liftweightsandtakevitaminsandbuildyourselfupandthen—nothing?’”
Hehadn’tbeenpreparedforSarah’sresponse.“Sowhatareyousaying?”sheaskedhim.“Wedie
intheend,sowhybotherlivinginthefirstplace?Isthatwhatyou’resaying?”
“No—”hesaid.
“Itallcomesdowntoaquestionofeconomy?”sheasked.
“No,Sarah.Wait,”hehadsaid.
Thinkingbackonthatconversationnow,hebegantobelievethatpeoplecould,infact,beused
up—coulduseeachotherup,couldbeofnofurtherhelptoeachotherandmaybeevendoharmto
each other. He began to think that who you are when you’re with somebody may matter more than
whetheryouloveher.
Lordknowshowlonghesatthere.
Edwardhadbeenbarkinginthekitchenallthistime,butnowhewentintoafrenzy.Somebody
musthaveknocked.Maconroseandwenttothefrontofthehouse,wherehefoundJulianstandingon
theporchwithafilefolder.“Oh.It’syou,”Maconsaid.
“What’sallthatbarkingIhear?”
“Don’tworry,he’sshutinthekitchen.Comeonin.”
HeheldthescreendooropenandJuliansteppedinside.“ThoughtI’dbringyouthematerialfor
Paris,”Juliansaid.
“Isee,”Maconsaid.Buthesuspectedhewasreallyhereforsomeotherreason.Probablyhoping
tohurrytheCanadabook.“Well,Iwasjustthisminutetouchingupmyconclusion,”hesaid,leading
thewaytothelivingroom.Andthen,hastily,“FewdetailshereandthereI’mnotentirelyhappywith;
maybealittlewhileyet...”
Julian didn’t seem to be listening. He sat down on the cellophane that covered the couch. He
tossedthefolderasideandsaid,“HaveyouseenRoselately?”
“Yes,wewereovertherejustthismorning.”
“Doyouthinkshe’snotcomingback?”
Maconhadn’texpectedhimtobesodirect.Infact,Rose’ssituationhadbeguntolooklikeoneof
thosepermanentirregularitiesthatcouplesneverreferto.“Oh,well,”hetoldJulian,“youknowhow
itis.She’sworriedabouttheboys.They’reeatinggloporsomething.”
“Thosearenotboys,Macon.They’remenintheirforties.”
Maconstrokedhischin.
“I’mafraidshe’sleftme,”Juliansaid.
“Oh,now,youcan’tbesureofthat.”
“Andnotevenforadecentreason!”Juliansaid.“Orforanyreason.Imeanourmarriagewas
working out fine; that much I can swear to. But she’d worn herself a groove or something in that
house of hers, and she couldn’t help swerving back into it. At least, I can’t think of any other
explanation.”
“Well,itsoundsaboutright,”Macontoldhim.
“I went to see her two days ago,” Julian said, “but she was out. I was standing in the yard
wonderingwhereshe’dgottowhenwhoshoulddrivepastbutRoseinperson,withhercarstuffed
fullofoldladies.Allthewindowspackedwiththeselittleoldfacesandfeatheredhats.Ishoutedafter
her,Isaid,‘Rose!Wait!’butshedidn’thearmeandshedroveonby.Thenjustatthelastminuteshe
caughtsightofme,Iguess,andsheturnedandstared,andIgotthefunniestfeeling,likethecarwas
drivingher—likeshewasjustglidingpasthelplessandcouldn’tdoathingbutsendmeonelonglook
beforeshedisappeared.”
Maconsaid,“Whydon’tyougiveherajob,Julian.”
“Job?”
“Why don’t you show her that office of yours. That filing system you never get sorted, that
secretarychewinghergumandforgettingwhoseappointmentiswhen.Don’tyouthinkRosecould
takeallthatinhand?”
“Well,sure,but—”
“Callherupandtellheryourbusinessisgoingtopieces.Askifshecouldjustcomeinandget
thingsorganized,getthingsundercontrol.Putitthatway.Usethosewords.Getthingsundercontrol,
tellher.Thensitbackandwait.”
Julianthoughtthatover.
“Butofcourse,whatdoIknow,”Maconsaid.
“No,you’reright.”
“Nowlet’sseeyourfolder.”
“You’reabsolutelyright,”Juliansaid.
“Lookatthis!”Maconsaid.Heheldupthetopmostletter.“Whydoyoubothermewiththis?I
just wanted to appraise you folks of a wonderful little hotel in . . . A man who says he wants to
‘appraise’us,doyoureallysupposehe’dknowagoodhotelwhenhesawone?”
“Macon,”Juliansaid.
“Thewholedamnlanguagehasbeenslaughtered,”Maconsaid.
“Macon,IknowyoufeelI’mcrassandbrash.”
ThistookMaconamomenttoanswer,onlypartlybecausehefirsthearditas“crashandbrass.”
“Oh,”hesaid.“Why,no,Julian,notat—”
“ButIjustwanttosaythis,Macon.Icareaboutthatsisterofyoursmorethananythingelseinthe
world.It’snotjustRose,it’sthewholewayshelives,thathouseandthoseturkeydinnersandthose
eveningcardgames.AndIcareaboutyou,too,Macon.Why,you’remybestfriend!Atleast,Ihope
so.”
“Oh,why,ah—”Maconsaid.
Julianroseandshookhishand,manglingallthebonesinside,andclappedhimontheshoulder
andleft.
Sarah came home at five-thirty. She found Macon standing at the kitchen sink with yet another
cupofcoffee.“Didthecouchgethere?”sheaskedhim.
“Allsafeandsound.”
“Oh,good!Let’sseeit.”
She went into the living room, leaving tracks of gray dust that Macon supposed was clay or
granite.Therewasdustinherhair,even.Shesquintedatthecouchandsaid,“Whatdoyouthink?”
“Seemsfinetome,”hesaid.
“Honestly,Macon.Idon’tknowwhat’scomeoveryou;youusedtobedownrightfinicky.”
“It’sfine,Sarah.Itlooksverynice.”
She stripped off the cellophane and stood back, arms full of crackling light. “We ought to see
howitopensout,”shesaid.
Whileshewasstuffingthecellophaneintothewastebasket,Maconpulledatthecanvasstrapthat
turned the couch into a bed. It made him think of Muriel’s house. The strap’s familiar graininess
remindedhimofallthetimesMuriel’ssisterhadsleptover,andwhenthemattressslidforthhesaw
thegleamofClaire’stangledgoldenhair.
“Maybe we should put on the sheets, now that we’ve got it open,” Sarah said. She brought the
sackoflinensfromthefronthall.WithMaconpositionedattheothersideofthecouch,shefloateda
sheetaboutthemattressandthenbustledupanddown,tuckingitin.Maconhelped,buthewasn’tas
fastasSarah.Theclaydustorwhateveritwashadworkeditselfintotheseamsofherknuckles,he
saw.Therewassomethingappealingabouthersmall,brown,creasedhandsagainstthewhitepercale.
Hesaid,“Let’sgivethebedatrialrun.”
Sarahdidn’tunderstandatfirst.Shelookedupfromunfoldingthesecondsheetandsaid,“Trial
run?”
Butsheallowedhimtotakethesheetawayandsliphersweatshirtoverherhead.
MakinglovetoSarahwascomfortableandsoothing.Afteralltheiryearstogether,herbodywas
sowellknowntohimthathecouldn’talwaystellthedifferencebetweenwhathewasfeelingandwhat
shewasfeeling.Butwasn’titsadthattheyhadn’ttheslightestuneasinessaboutanyonewalkinginon
them?Theyweresoalone.Henestledhisfaceinherwarm,dustyneckandwonderedifsheshared
thatfeelingaswell—ifshesensedalltheemptyairinthehouse.Buthewouldneverask.
WhileSarahtookashower,heshaved.TheyweresupposedtogotoBobandSueCarney’sfor
supper.WhenhecameoutofthebathroomSarahwasstandinginfrontofthebureau,screwingon
little gold earrings. (She was the only woman Macon knew of who didn’t have pierced ears.) He
thoughtRenoircouldhavepaintedher:Sarahinherslipwithherheadcockedslightly,plumptanned
armsupraised.“I’mreallynotinthemoodtogoout,”shesaid.
“Meneither,”Maconsaid,openinghisclosetdoor.
“I’dbejustascontenttostayhomewithabook.”
Hepulledashirtoffahanger.
“Macon,”shesaid.
“Hmm.”
“YouneveraskedmeifIsleptwithanyonewhilewewereseparated.”
Maconpaused,halfwayintoonesleeve.
“Don’tyouwanttoknow?”sheaskedhim.
“No,”hesaid.
Heputontheshirtandbuttonedthecuffs.
“Iwouldthinkyou’dwonder.”
“Well,Idon’t,”hesaid.
“Thetroublewithyouis,Macon—”
Itwasastonishing,theinstantaneousflareofangerhefelt.“Sarah,”hesaid,“don’tevenstart.By
God,ifthatdoesn’tsumupeverysinglethingthat’swrongwithbeingmarried.‘Thetroublewithyou
is,Macon—’and,‘Iknowyoubetterthanyouknowyourself,Macon—’”
“The trouble with you is,” she continued steadily, “you think people should stay in their own
sealedpackages.Youdon’tbelieveinopeningup.Youdon’tbelieveintradingbackandforth.”
“Icertainlydon’t,”Maconsaid,buttoninghisshirtfront.
“Youknowwhatyouremindmeof?ThetelegramHarpoMarxsenthisbrothers:No message.
Harpo.”
Thatmadehimgrin.Sarahsaid,“Youwouldthinkitwasfunny.”
“Well?Isn’tit?”
“Itisn’tatall!It’ssad!It’sinfuriating!Itwouldbeinfuriatingtogotoyourdoorandsignforthat
telegramandtearitopenandfindnomessage!”
Hetookatiefromtherackinhiscloset.
“Foryourinformation,”shesaid,“Ididn’tsleepwithanyonethewholeentiretime.”
Hefeltlikeshe’dwonsomekindofcontest.Hepretendedhehadn’theardher.
BobandSuehadinvitedjustneighbors—theBidwellsandanewyoungcoupleMaconhadn’tmet
before.Maconstuckmainlytothenewcouplebecausewiththem,hehadnohistory.Whentheyasked
ifhehadchildren,hesaid,“No.”Heaskediftheyhadanychildren.
“No,”BradFredericksaid.
“Ah.”
Brad’swifewasintransitbetweengirlhoodandwomanhood.Sheworeherstiffnavybluedress
andlargewhiteshoesasiftheybelongedtohermother.Bradhimselfwasstillaboy.Whentheyall
wentoutbacktowatchthebarbecue,BradfoundaFrisbeeinthebushesandflungittolittleDelilah
Carney.Hiswhitepoloshirtpulledloosefromhistrousers.DominickSaddlercametoMacon’smind
likeadeep,hardpunch.Herememberedhow,afterhisgrandfatherdied,thesightofanyoldperson
couldmakehiseyesfillwithtears.Lord,ifhewasn’tcarefulhecouldendupfeelingsorryforthe
wholehumanrace.“Throwthatthinghere,”hesaidbrisklytoDelilah,andhesetasidehissherryand
held out a hand for the Frisbee. Before long they had a real game going—all the guests joining in
exceptBrad’swife,whowasstilltooclosetochildhoodtoriskgettingstuckthereonavisitback.
Atsupper,SueCarneyseatedMaconatherright.Sheputahandonhisandsaiditwaswonderful
that he and Sarah had worked things out. “Well, thank you,” Macon said. “Gosh you make a really
goodsalad,Sue.”
“Weallhaveourupsanddowns,”shesaid.Forasecondhethoughtshemeanthersaladsweren’t
consistentlysuccessful.“I’llbehonest,”shetoldhim,“there’vebeentimeswhenIhavewonderedif
Bob and I would make it. There’s times I feel we’re just hanging in there, you know what I mean?
TimesIsay,‘Hi,honey,howwasyourday?’butinsideI’mfeelinglikeaGoldStarmother.”
Maconturnedthestemofhisglassandtriedtothinkwhatstephe’dmissedinherlogic.
“Likesomeonewho’ssufferedalossinawar,”shesaid,“andthenforeverafterwardshehasto
goonsupportingthewar;shehastosupportitlouderthananyoneelse,becauseotherwiseshe’dbe
admittingthelosswasfornopurpose.”
“Um...”
“Butthat’sjustapassingmood,”shesaid.
“Well,naturally,”Maconsaid.
HeandSarahwalkedhomethroughairasheavyaswater.Itwaseleveno’clockandtheteenagers
whohadeleveno’clockcurfewswerejustreturning.Theseweretheyoungestones,mostofthemtoo
youngtodrive,andsotheywerechauffeuredbygrownups.Theyjumpedoutofcarsshouting,“See
you! Thanks! Call me tomorrow, hear?” Keys jingled. Front doors blinked open and blinked shut
again.Thecarsmovedon.
Sarah’s skirt had the same whispery sound as the Tuckers’ lawn sprinkler, which was still
revolvingslowlyinapatchofivy.
Whentheyreachedthehouse,MaconletEdwardoutforonelastrun.Hetriedtogetthecatto
come in, but she stayed hunched on the kitchen window ledge glaring down at him, owlish and
stubborn; so he let her be. He moved through the rooms turning off lights. By the time he came
upstairs Sarah was already in bed, propped against the headboard with a glass of club soda. “Have
some,”shesaid,holdingouttheglass.Buthesaidno,hewastired;andheundressedandslidunder
thecovers.
ThetinklingofSarah’sicecubestookonsomemeaninginhismind.Itseemedthatwithevery
tinkle,hefelldeeper.Finallyheopenedadoorandtraveleddownanaisleandsteppedintothewitness
stand. They asked him the simplest of questions. “What color were the wheels?” “Who brought the
bread?”“Weretheshuttersclosedoropen?”Hehonestlycouldn’tremember.Hetriedbuthecouldn’t
remember. They took him to the scene of the crime, a winding road like something in a fairy tale.
“Tellusallyouknow,”theysaid.Hedidn’tknowathing.Bynowitwasclearfromtheirfacesthathe
wasn’tmerelyawitness;theysuspectedhim.Soherackedhisbrain,butstillhecameupempty.“You
havetoseemysideofthis!”hecried.“Iputitalloutofmymind;Iworkedtoputitout!NowIcan’t
bringitback.”
“Noteventodefendyourself?”theyasked.
Heopenedhiseyes.Theroomwasdark,andSarahbreathedsoftlynexttohim.Theclockradio
said it was midnight. The midnight-curfew group was just returning. Hoots and laughter rang out,
tires scraped a curb, and a fanbelt whinnied as someone struggled to park. Then gradually the
neighborhoodfellsilent.Itwouldstaythatway,Maconknew,tilltimefortheone-o’clockgroup.He
would first hear faint strands of their music and then more laughter, car doors slamming, house
doorsslamming.Porchlightswouldswitchoffallalongthestreet,graduallydimmingtheceilingas
hewatched.Intheend,hewouldbetheonlyoneleftawake.
twenty
TheplanetoNewYorkwasalittlebirdofathing,buttheplanetoPariswasamonster,more
like a building. Inside, great crowds were cramming coats and bags into overhead compartments,
stuffing suitcases under seats, arguing, calling for stewardesses. Babies were crying and mothers
weresnappingatchildren.Steeragecouldnothavebeenworsethanthis,Maconfelt.
He took his place next to a window and was joined almost immediately by an elderly couple
speaking French. The man sat next to Macon and gave him a deep, unsmiling nod. Then he said
somethingtohiswife,whopassedhimacanvasbag.Heunzippeditandsortedthroughitscontents.
Playingcards,anentiretinofBand-aids,astapler,ahammer,alightbulb...Maconwasfascinated.
Hekeptslidinghiseyestotherighttotryandseemore.Whenawoodenmousetraptumbledout,he
begantowonderifthemanmightbesomesortoflunatic;butofcourseevenamousetrapcouldbe
explained,givenalittlethought.Yes,whathewaswitnessing,Macondecided,wasjustoneanswerto
thetraveler ’seternalchoice:Whichwasbetter?Takeallyouown,andstruggletocarryit?Ortravel
light, and spend half your trip combing the shops for what you’ve left behind? Either way had its
drawbacks.
Heglanceduptheaisle,wheremorepassengerswerearriving.AJapanesemanfestoonedwith
cameras,anun,ayounggirlinbraids.Awomanwithalittleredvanitykit,herhairadarktent,her
faceathintriangle.
Muriel.
Firsthefeltakindofflushsweepthroughhim—thatfloodofwarmththatcomeswhensomeone
familiar steps forth from a mass of strangers. And then: Oh, my God, he thought, and he actually
lookedaroundforsomemeansofescape.
Shewalkedtowardhiminagraceful,pickyway,watchingherfeet,andthenwhenshewasnext
tohimsheraisedhereyesandhesawthatshe’dknownallalonghewasthere.Sheworeawhitesuit
thatturnedherintooneofthoseblack-white-and-redwomenheusedtoadmireonmoviescreensasa
child.
“I’mgoingtoFrance,”shetoldhim.
“Butyoucan’t!”hesaid.
The French couple peered at him curiously, the wife sitting slightly forward so as to see him
better.
More passengers arrived behind Muriel. They muttered and craned around her, trying to edge
past.Shestoodintheaisleandsaid,“I’mgoingtowalkalongtheSeine.”
ThewifemadealittleOwithhermouth.
ThenMurielnoticedthepeoplebehindherandmovedon.
Maconwasn’tevensureitwaspossibletowalkalongtheSeine.
Assoonastheaislewasclearedhehalfstoodandpeeredoverthebackofhisseat,butshehad
vanished.TheFrenchcoupleturnedtohim,eyesexpectant.Maconsettleddownagain.
Sarahwouldfindoutaboutthis.Shewouldjustsomehowknow.Shehadalwayssaidhehadno
feelingsandthiswouldconfirmit—thathecouldtellhergood-byesofondlyandthenflyofftoParis
withMuriel.
Well,itwasnoneofhisdoingandhe’dbedamnedifhe’dassumetheblame.
By the time it was dark they were airborne, and some kind of order had emerged inside the
plane.Itwasoneofthoseflightsasfullyprogrammedasadayinkindergarten.Safetyfilm,drinks,
headphones, dinner, movie. Macon turned down all he was offered and studied Julian’s file folder
instead. Most of the material was ridiculous. Sam’n’Joe’s Hotel, indeed! He wondered if Julian had
madeituptoteasehim.
Awomanpassedwearingwhiteandheglancedathersurreptitiously,butitwasnooneheknew.
Justbeforetheendofthemovie,hegotouthisshavingkitandwenttouseoneofthelavatories
neartherear.Unfortunatelyotherpeoplehadhadthesameidea.Bothdoorswerelocked,andhewas
forcedtowaitintheaisle.Hefeltsomeonearriveathisside.HelookedandtherewasMuriel.
Hesaid,“Muriel,whatin—”
“Youdon’townthisplane!”shetoldhim.
Headsturned.
“Andyoudon’townParis,either,”shesaid.
Shewasstandingveryclosetohim,facetoface.Shegaveoffascentthatbarelyeludedhim;it
was not just her perfume, no, but her house; yes, that was it—the smell inside her closet, the
tantalizingunsettlingsmellofotherpeople’sbelongings.Maconpressedhislefttemple.Hesaid,“I
don’tunderstandanyofthis.Idon’tseehowyouknewwhichflighttotake,even.”
“Icalledyourtravelagent.”
“Becky?YoucalledBecky?Whatmustshehavethought?”
“ShethoughtIwasyoureditorialassistant.”
“Andhowcouldyouaffordthefare?”
“Oh, some I borrowed from Bernice and then some from my sister, she had this money she
earnedat...andIdideverythingeconomy-style,ItookatraintoNewYorkinsteadofaplane—”
“Well,thatwasn’tsmart,”Maconsaid.“Itprobablycostyouthesame,inthelongrun,ormaybe
evenmore.”
“No,whatIdidwas—”
“Butthepointis,why,Muriel?Whyareyoudoingthis?”
Sheliftedherchin.(Herchincouldgetsosharp,sometimes.)“BecauseIfeltlikeit,”shesaid.
“YoufeltlikespendingfivedaysaloneinaParishotel?That’swhatitwillbe,Muriel.”
“Youneedtohavemearound,”shesaid.
“Needyou!”
“Youwerefallingtopiecesbeforeyouhadme.”
Alatchclickedandamansteppedoutofoneofthelavatories.Maconsteppedinsideandlocked
thedoorquicklybehindhim.
Hewishedhecouldjustvanish.Iftherehadbeenawindow,hebelievedhewouldhavepriedit
open and jumped—not because he wanted to commit any act so definite as suicide but because he
wanted to erase it all; oh, Lord, just go back and erase all the untidy, unthinking things he’d been
responsibleforinhislife.
Ifshehadreadevenoneofhisguidebooks,she’dhaveknownnottotravelinwhite.
Whenheemerged,shewasgone.Hewentbacktohisseat.TheFrenchcoupledrewintheirknees
tolethimslidepast;theyweretransfixedbythemoviescreen,whereablondewearingnothingbuta
bathtowelwaspoundingonafrontdoor.MacongotoutMissMacIntoshjustforsomethingtopinhis
mind to. It didn’t work, though. Words flowed across his vision in a thin, transparent stream,
meaningless. He was conscious only of Muriel somewhere behind him. He felt wired to her. He
caughthimselfwonderingwhatshemadeofthis—thedarkenedplane,theinvisibleoceanbeneathher,
themurmurofhalf-realvoicesallaroundher.Whenheturnedoffhisreadinglightandshuthiseyes,
heimaginedhecouldsensethatshewasstillawake.Itwasafeelingintheair—somethingalert,tense,
almostvibrating.
By morning he was resolved. He used a different lavatory, toward the front. For once he was
gladtobeinsuchalargecrowd.Whentheylandedhewasalmostthefirstoneoff,andhecleared
Immigration quickly and darted through the airport. The airport was Charles de Gaulle, with its
space-agepodsofseats.Murielwouldbethoroughlylost.Heexchangedhismoneyinhaste.Muriel
muststillbeatBaggageClaims.Heknewshewouldcarrylotsofbaggage.
Therewasnoquestionofwaitingforabus.Hehailedacabandspedoff,feelingwonderfully
lightweightallofasudden.Thetangleofsilveryhighwaysstruckhimasactuallypleasant.Thecityof
Paris,whenheentered,wasaswideandpaleandluminousasacoolgraystare,andheadmiredthe
hazethathungoverit.Hiscabraceddownmistyboulevards,turnedontoacobbledstreet,lurchedtoa
stop.Maconsiftedthroughhisenvelopesofmoney.
Nottillhewasenteringhishoteldidherecallthathistravelagentknewexactlywherehewas
staying.
It wasn’t a very luxurious hotel—a small brown place where mechanical things tended to go
wrong,asMaconhaddiscoveredonpastvisits.Thistime,accordingtoasigninthelobby,oneofthe
two elevators was not marching. The bellman led him into the other, then up to the third floor and
downacarpetedcorridor.Heflungopenadoor,loudlyexclaiminginFrenchasifovercomebysuch
magnificence.(Abed,abureau,achair,anantiqueTV.)Maconburrowedintooneofhisenvelopes.
“Thankyou,”hesaid,offeringhistip.
Once he was alone, he unpacked and he hung up his suit coat, then he went to the window. He
stoodlookingoutovertheroof-tops;thedustontheglassmadethemseemremovedintime,partof
someotherage.
Howwouldshemanagealoneinsuchanunaccustomedplace?
Hethoughtofthewayshenavigatedarowofthriftshops—thewayshecruisedastreet,deftand
purposeful,greetingpassersbybyname.Andtheerrandsshetooktheneighborson:chauffeuringMr.
Maniontothereflexologistwhodissolvedhiskidneystonesbymassaginghistoes;Mr.Runkletothe
astrologer who told him when he’d win the million-dollar lottery; Mrs. Carpaccio to a certain tiny
grocery near Johns Hopkins where the sausages hung from the ceiling like strips of flypaper. The
placesMurielknew!
Butshedidn’tknowParis.Andshewasentirelyonherown.Shedidn’tevenhaveacreditcard,
probablycarriedverylittlemoney,mightnothaveknowntochangewhatshedidcarryintofrancs.
Mightbewanderinghelpless,penniless,unabletospeakawordofthelanguage.
Bythetimeheheardherknock,hewassorelievedthatherushedtoopenthedoor.
“Yourroomisbiggerthanmineis,”shesaid.Shewalkedpasthimtothewindow.“Ihaveabetter
view,though.Justthink,we’rereallyinParis!ThebusdriversaiditmightrainbutItoldhimIdidn’t
care.Rainorshine,it’sParis.”
“Howdidyouknowwhatbustotake?”heaskedher.
“Ibroughtalongyourguidebook.”
Shepattedherpocket.
“WanttogotoChezBillyforbreakfast?”sheasked.“That’swhatyourbookrecommends.”
“No,Idon’t.Ican’t,”hesaid.“You’dbetterleave,Muriel.”
“Oh.Okay,”shesaid.Sheleft.
Sometimesshewoulddothat.She’dpressintillhefelttrapped,thensuddenlydrawback.Itwas
likeatugofwarwheretheotherpersonallatoncedropstherope,Maconthought.Youfallflatonthe
ground;you’resounprepared.You’resoempty-feeling.
He decided to call Sarah. At home it was barely dawn, but it seemed important to get in touch
withher.Hewentovertothephoneonthebureauandpickedupthereceiver.Itwasdead.Hepressed
thebuttonafewtimes.Typical.Hedroppedhiskeyinhispocketandwentdowntothelobby.
The lobby telephone was housed in an ancient wooden booth, very genteel. There was a red
leather bench to sit on. Macon hunched over and listened to the ringing at the other end, far away.
“Hello?”Sarahsaid.
“Sarah?”
“Whoisthis?”
“It’sMacon.”
“Macon?”
Shetookamomenttoabsorbthat.“Macon,whereareyou?”sheasked.“What’sthematter?”
“Nothing’sthematter.Ijustfeltliketalkingtoyou.”
“What?Whattimeisit?”
“Iknowit’searlyandI’msorryIwokeyoubutIwantedtohearyourvoice.”
“There’ssomekindofstaticontheline,”shesaid.
“It’sclearatthisend.”
“Yousoundsothin.”
“That’sbecauseit’sanoverseascall,”hesaid.“How’stheweatherthere?”
“How’swho?”
“Theweather!Isitsunny?”
“Idon’tknow.Alltheshadesaredown.Idon’tthinkit’sevenlightyet.”
“Willyoubegardeningtoday?”
“What?”
“Gardening!”
“Well,Ihadn’tthought.Itdependsonwhetherit’ssunny,Iguess.”
“IwishIwerethere,”hesaid.“Icouldhelpyou.”
“Youhatetogarden!”
“Yes,but...”
“Macon,areyouallright?”
“Yes,I’mfine,”hesaid.
“Howwastheflightover?”
“Oh,theflight,well,goodness!Well,Idon’tknow;IguessIwassobusyreadingthatIdidn’t
reallynotice,”hesaid.
“Reading?”shesaid.Thenshesaid,“Maybeyou’vegotjetlag.”
“Yes,maybeIdo,”hetoldher.
Fried eggs, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, omelets. He walked blindly down the sidewalk,
scribblinginthemarginsofhisguidebook.HedidnotgonearChezBilly.It’spuzzling,hewrote,how
the French are so tender in preparing their food but so rough in servingit. In the window of a
restaurant,ablackcatclosedhereyesathim.Sheseemedtobegloating.Shewassomuchathome,so
sureofherplace.
Displays of crushed velvet, scattered with solid gold chains and watches no thicker than poker
chips. Women dressed as if for the stage: elaborate hairdos, brilliant makeup, strangely shaped
trousers that had nothing to do with the human anatomy. Old ladies in little-girl ruffles and white
tightsandMaryJanes.MacondescendedthestepstotheMétro;heostentatiouslydroppedhiscanceled
ticketintoatinyreceptaclemarkedPAPIERS.Thenheturnedtoglareatalltheotherswhoflungtheir
tickets on the floor, and as he turned he thought he saw Muriel, her white face glimmering in the
crowd,buthemusthavebeenmistaken.
Intheeveninghereturnedtohishotel—footsore,legmusclesaching—andcollapsedonhisbed.
Not two minutes later he heard a knock. He groaned and rose to open the door. Muriel stood there
with her arms full of clothes. “Look,” she said, pushing past him. “See what-all I bought.” She
dumped the clothes on the bed. She held them up one by one: a shiny black cape, a pair of brown
jodhpurs, a bouffant red net evening dress sprinkled with different-sized disks of glass like the
reflectorsonbicycles.“Haveyoulostyoursenses?”Maconasked.“Whatmustallthishavecost?”
“Nothing!Ornexttonothing,”shesaid.“Ifoundaplacethat’slikethegranddaddyofallgarage
sales.Awholecityofgaragesales!ThisFrenchgirlwastellingmeaboutitwhereIwenttohavemy
breakfast.Icomplimentedherhatandshetoldmewhereshegotit.Itookasubwaytraintofindit;
your book’s really helpful about the subways; and sure enough there’s everything there. Tools and
gadgetstoo,Macon.Oldcarbatteries,fuseboxes...andifyousaysomething’stooexpensive,they’ll
bring the price down till it’s cheap enough. I saw this leather coat I would have killed for but that
neverdidgetcheapenough;themanwantedthirty-fivefrancs.”
“Thirty-fivefrancs!”Maconsaid.“Idon’tknowhowyoucouldgetanycheaperthanthat.Thirtyfivefrancsisfourdollarsorso.”
“Oh,really?Ithoughtfrancsanddollarswereaboutthesame.”
“Lord,no.”
“Well,thenthesethingsweresuperbargains,”Murielsaid.“MaybeI’lltryagaintomorrow.”
“Buthowwillyougetallthisstuffontheplane?”
“Oh,I’llfigureoutsomeway.Nowletmetakeitbacktomyroomsowecangoeat.”
Hestiffened.Hesaid,“No,Ican’t.”
“Whatharmwoulditdotoeatsupperwithme,Macon?I’msomeonefromhome!You’verun
intomeinParis!Can’twehaveabitetogether?”
Whensheputitthatway,itseemedsosimple.
They went to the Burger King on the Champs-Elysées; Macon wanted to recheck the place
anyhow. He ordered two ‘Woppaires.’ “Careful,” he warned Muriel, “these are not the Whoppers
you’reusedto.You’llwanttoscrapetheextrapickleandonionoff.”ButMuriel,aftertryinghers,
saidshelikeditthewayitwas.Shesatnexttohimonahardlittleseatandlickedherfingers.Her
shoulderstouchedhis.Hewasamazed,allatonce,thatshereallywashere.
“Who’slookingafterAlexander?”heaskedher.
“Oh,differentpeople.”
“Whatdifferentpeople?Ihopeyouhaven’tjustparkedhim,Muriel.Youknowhowinsecurea
childthatagecan—”
“Relax.He’sfine.ClairehashiminthedaytimeandthenBernicecomesinandcookssupperand
anytimeClairehasadatewiththeGeneralthetwinswillkeephimorifthetwinscan’tdoitthenthe
GeneralsaysAlexandercan...”
SingletonStreetroseupinfrontofMacon’seyes,allitscolorandconfusion.
AftersupperMurielsuggestedtheytakeawalk,butMaconsaidhewastired.Hewasexhausted,
infact.Theyreturnedtotheirhotel.IntheelevatorMurielasked,“CanIcometoyourroomawhile?
MyTVsetonlygetssnow.”
“We’dbettersaygoodnight,”hetoldher.
“Can’tIjustcomeinandkeepyoucompany?”
“No,Muriel.”
“Wewouldn’thavetodoanything,”shesaid.
Theelevatorstoppedathisfloor.Hesaid,“Muriel.Don’tyouunderstandmyposition?I’vebeen
marriedtoherforever.Longerthanyou’vebeenalive,almost.Ican’tchangenow.Don’tyousee?”
Shejuststoodinhercorneroftheelevatorwithhereyesonhisface.Allhermakeuphadworn
offandshelookedyoungandsadanddefenseless.
“Goodnight,”hesaid.
Hegotout,andtheelevatordoorslidshut.
Hewenttobedimmediatelybutcouldn’tsleepafterall,andendedupswitchingontheTV.They
wereshowinganAmericanwestern,dubbed.Rangycowboysspokeafluid,intricateFrench.Disaster
followeddisaster—tornadoes,Indians,droughts,stampedes.Theherostuckinthere,though.Macon
hadlongagonoticedthatalladventuremovieshadthesamemoral:Perseverancepays.Justoncehe’d
like to see a hero like himself—not a quitter, but a man who did face facts and give up gracefully
whenpushingonwardwasfoolish.
Heroseandswitchedthesetoffagain.Hetossedandturnedalongtimebeforeheslept.
Large hotels, small hotels, dingy hotels with their wallpaper flaking, streamlined hotels with
king-sized American beds and Formica-topped American bureaus. Dim café windows with the
proprietorsdisplayedlikemannequins,claspingtheirhandsbehindtheirbacksandrockingfromheel
totoe.Don’tfallforprixfixe.It’slikeamothersaying,“Eat,eat”—allthosecoursesforcedonyou..
.
In the late afternoon Macon headed wearily back to his own hotel. He was crossing the final
intersectionwhenhesawMurielupahead.Herarmswerefullofparcels,herhairwasflyingout,and
her spike-heeled shoes were clipping along. “Muriel!” he called. She turned and he ran to catch up
withher.
“Oh,Macon,I’vehadthenicestday,”shesaid.“ImetthesepeoplefromDijonandweendedup
eating lunch together and they told me about . . . Here, can you take some of these? I think I
overbought.”
Heacceptedseveralofherparcels—crumpled,used-lookingbagsstuffedwithfabrics.Hehelped
hercarrythemintothehotelanduptoherroom,whichseemedevensmallerthanitwasbecauseof
the piles of clothing everywhere. She dumped her burdens on the bed and said, “Let me show you,
now,whereisit...”
“What’sthis?”Maconasked.Hewasreferringtoanoddlyshapedsoftdrinkbottleonthebureau.
“Oh,Ifoundthatinthefridge,”shesaid.“Theyhavethislittlefridgeinthebathroom,Macon,
andit’sjustfullofsoftdrinks,andwineandliquortoo.”
“Muriel,don’tyouknowthosecostanarmandaleg?They’llputitonyourbill,don’tyouknow
that?Now,thatfridgeiscalledamini-bar,andhere’swhatyouuseitfor:Inthemorning,whenthey
wheelinthecontinentalbreakfast,theybringapitcherofhotmilkforsomestrangereasonandyou
justtakethatpitcherandstickitinthemini-barsolateryoucanhaveaglassofmilk.Otherwise,Lord
knowshowyou’dgetyourcalciuminthiscountry.Anddon’teattherolls;youknowthat,don’tyou?
Don’tstartyourdaywithcarbohydrates,especiallyunderthestrainoftravel.You’rebetterofftaking
thetroubletogotosomecaféforeggs.”
“Eggs, ugh,” Muriel said. She was stepping out of her skirt and trying on another—one she’d
justbought,withlongfringesatthehem.“Iliketherolls,”shesaid.“AndIlikethesoftdrinks,too.”
“Well, I don’t know how you can say that,” he said. He picked up the bottle. “Just look at the
brand name: Pschitt. If that’s not the most suspicious-sounding . . . and there’s another kind called
Yukkie,Yukkery,somethinglikethat—”
“That’smyfavorite.Ialreadyfinishedthoseoff,”Murielsaid.Shewaspinningherhairontop
ofherhead.“Wherewehavingdinnertonight?”
“Well,Idon’tknow.Iguessit’stimetotrysomeplacefancy.”
“Oh,goody!”
He moved what appeared to be an antique satin bedjacket and sat down to watch her put her
lipstickon.
Theywenttoarestaurantlitwithcandles,althoughitwasn’tquitedarkyet,andwereseatednext
toatall,curtainedwindow.TheonlyothercustomerswereAmerican—fourAmericanbusinesstypes,
plainlyenjoyingthemselvesoverfourlargeplattersofsnails.(SometimesMaconwonderedifthere
reallywasanycallforhisbooks.)
“Now, what do I want?” Muriel said, studying the menu. “If I ask them what something is in
English,doyouthinkthey’llbeabletotellme?”
“Oh,youdon’thavetobotherdoingthat,”Maconsaid.“JustorderSaladeNiçoise.”
“Orderwhat?”
“I thought you said you’d read my guide. Salade Niçoise. It’s the one safe dish. I’ve been all
throughFranceeatingnothingbut,dayinanddayout.”
“Well,thatsoundskindofmonotonous,”Murielsaid.
“No,no.Someplacesputgreenbeansinit,somedon’t.Andatleastit’slow-cholesterol,whichis
morethanyoucansayfor—”
“IthinkI’lljustaskthewaiter,”Murieltoldhim.Shelaidhermenuaside.“Doyousupposethey
callthemFrenchwindowsinFrance?”
“What? I wouldn’t have the slightest idea,” he said. He looked toward the window, which was
paned with deep, greenish glass. Outside, in an overgrown courtyard, a pitted stone cherub was
cavortinginafountain.
ThewaiterspokemoreEnglishthanMaconhadexpected.HedirectedMurieltowardacreamof
sorrelsoupandaspecialkindoffish.Macondecidedtogoforthesoupaswell,ratherthansitidle
whileMurielhadhers.“There,”Murielsaid.“Wasn’thenice?”
“Thatwasarareexception,”Maconsaid.
She batted at the hem of her skirt. “Durn fringe! I keep thinking something’s crawling up my
leg,”shesaid.“Whereyougoingtomorrow,Macon?”
“OutofParisaltogether.TomorrowIstartontheothercities.”
“You’releavingmeherealone?”
“Thisishigh-speedtravel,Muriel.Notfun.I’mwakingupatcrackofdawn.”
“Takemeanyway.”
“Ican’t.”
“Ihaven’tbeensleepingsogood,”shesaid.“Igetbaddreams.”
“Well,thenyoucertainlydon’twanttogogallivantingofftomorenewplaces.”
“Last night I dreamed about Dominick,” she said. She leaned toward him across the table, two
spotsofcolorhighonhercheek-bones.“Idreamedhewasmadatme.”
“Mad?”
“Hewouldn’ttalktome.Wouldn’tlookatme.Keptkickingsomethingonthesidewalk.Turned
outhewasmadbecauseIwouldn’tlethimusethecaranymore.Isaid,‘Dommie,you’redead.You
can’tusethecar.I’dletyouifIcould,believeme.’”
“Well,don’tworryaboutit,”Maconsaid.“Itwasjustatraveldream.”
“I’mscareditmeanshe’smadforreal.Offwhereverhe’sat.”
“He’snot,”Macontoldher.“Hewouldn’tbemad.”
“I’mscaredheis.”
“He’shappyasalark.”
“Youreallythinkso?”
“Sure!He’supthereinsomekindofmotorheaven,polishingacarallhisown.Andit’salways
springandthesunisalwaysshiningandthere’salwayssomeblondeinahaltertoptohelphimwith
thebuffing.”
“Youreallythinkthatmightbetrue?”Murielasked.
“Yes, I do,” he said. And the funny thing was that he did, just at that moment. He had a vivid
imageofDominickinasunlitmeadow,achamoisskininhishandandabig,pleased,cockygrinon
hisface.
Shesaidattheendoftheeveningthatshewishedhewouldcometoherroom—couldn’the?to
guardagainstbaddreams?—andhesaidnoandtoldhergoodnight.Andthenhefelthowshedrewat
him,pullingdeepstringsfrominsidehim,whentheelevatorcreakedawaywithher.
Inhissleepheconceivedaplantotakeheralongtomorrow.Whatharmwoulditdo?Itwasonly
adaytrip.Overandoverinhisscattered,fitfulsleephepickeduphisphoneanddialedherroom.It
wasasurprisewhenhewokeinthemorning,tofindhehadn’tinvitedheryet.
Hesatupandreachedforthephoneandrememberedonlythen—withthenumbreceiverpressed
to his ear—that the phone was out of order and he’d forgotten to report it. He wondered if it were
somethinghecouldrepairhimself,acordunpluggedorsomething.Heroseandpeeredbehindthe
bureau.Hestoopedtohuntforajackofsomekind.
Andhisbackwentout.
Nodoubtaboutit—thatlittletwang!inamuscletotheleftofhisspine.Thepainwassosharpit
snaggedhisbreath.Thenitfaded.Maybeitwasgoneforgood.Hestraightened,aminimalmovement.
Butitwasenoughtobringthepainzinginginagain.
Heloweredhimselftothebedinchbyinch.Thehardpartwasgettinghisfeetup,buthesethis
faceandaccomplishedthattoo.Thenhelayponderingwhattodonext.
Oncehehadhadthishappenandthepainhadvanishedinfiveminutesandnotreturned.Ithad
beenonlyafreakythinglikeafootcramp.
Butthen,oncehe’dstayedflatinbedfortwoweeksandcreptaroundlikeaveryoldmanfor
anothermonthafterthat.
Helayrearranginghisagendainhismind.Ifhecanceledonetrip,postponedanother...Yes,
possiblywhathe’dplannedforthenextthreedayscouldbesqueezedintotwoinstead.Ifonlyhewere
abletogetaroundbytomorrow.
Hemusthavegonebacktosleep.Hedidn’tknowforhowlong.Hewoketoaknockandthought
itwasbreakfast,thoughhe’dleftinstructionsfornonetobebroughttoday.ButthenheheardMuriel.
“Macon?Youinthere?”Shewashopinghehadn’tleftParisyet;shewasheretobegagaintogowith
him.Heknewthatasclearlyasifshe’dannouncedit.Hewasgratefulnowforthespasmthatgripped
himasheturnedawayfromhervoice.Somehowthatshortsleephadclearedhishead,andhesawthat
he’d come perilously close to falling in with her again. Falling in: That was the way he put it to
himself. What luck that his back had stopped him. Another minute—another few seconds—and he
mighthavebeenlost.
Hedroppedintosleepsosuddenlythathedidn’tevenhearherwalkaway.
When he woke again it was much later, he felt, although he didn’t want to go through the
contortionsnecessarytolookathiswatch.Awheeledcartwaspassinghisroomandheheardvoices
— hotel employees, probably—laughing in the corridor. They must be so comfortable here; they
mustallknoweachothersowell.Therewasaknockonhisdoor,thenajingleofkeys.Asmall,pale
chambermaidpokedherfaceinandsaid,“Pardon,monsieur.”Shestartedtoretreatbutthenstopped
and asked him something in French, and he gestured toward his back and winced. “Ah,” she said,
entering, and she said something else very rapidly. (She would be telling him about her back.) He
said,“Ifyouwouldjusthelpmeup,please,”forhehaddecidedhehadnochoicebuttogocallJulian.
Sheseemedtounderstandwhathemeantandcameovertothebed.Heturnedontohisstomachand
thenstruggledupononearm—theonlywayhecouldmanagetorisewithoutexcruciatingpain.The
chambermaid took his other arm and braced herself beneath his weight as he stood. She was much
shorter than he, and pretty in a fragile, meek way. He was conscious of his unshaven face and his
rumpledpajamas.“Myjacket,”hetoldher,andtheyproceededhaltinglytothechairwherehissuit
jackethung.Shedrapeditaroundhisshoulders.Thenhesaid,“Downstairs?Tothetelephone?”She
lookedoveratthephoneonthebureau,buthemadeanegativemovementwiththeflatofhishand—a
gesturethatcosthim.Hegrimaced.Shecluckedhertongueandledhimoutintothecorridor.
Walking was not particularly difficult; he felt hardly a twinge. But the elevator jerked
agonizingly and there was no way he could predict it. The chambermaid uttered soft sounds of
sympathy.Whentheyarrivedinthelobbysheledhimtothetelephoneboothandstartedtoseathim,
buthesaid,“No,no,standing’seasier.Thanks.”Shebackedoutandlefthimthere.Hesawhertalking
totheclerkatthedesk,shakingherheadinpity;theclerkshookhishead,too.
MaconworriedJulianwouldn’tbeinhisofficeyet,andhedidn’tknowhishomenumber.Butthe
phone was answered on the very first ring. “Businessman’s Press.” A woman’s voice, confusingly
familiar,threadingbeneaththehissoflongdistance.
“Um—”hesaid.“ThisisMaconLeary.TowhomamI—”
“Oh,Macon.”
“Rose?”
“Yes,it’sme.”
“Whatareyoudoingthere?”
“Iworkherenow.”
“Oh,Isee.”
“I’mputtingthingsinorder.Youwouldn’tbelievethestatethisplaceisin.”
“Rose,mybackhasgoneoutonme,”Maconsaid.
“Oh,no,ofalltimes!AreyoustillinParis?”
“Yes,butIwasjustabouttostartmydaytripsandtherearealltheseplansIhavetochange—
appointments,travelreservations—andnotelephoneinmyroom.SoIwaswonderingifJuliancould
doitfromhisend.MaybehecouldgetthereservationsfromBeckyand—”
“I’lltakecareofitmyself,”Rosesaid.“Don’tyoubotherwithathing.”
“Idon’tknowwhenI’mgoingtogettotheothercities,tellhim.Idon’thaveanyideawhenI’ll
be—”
“We’llworkitout.Haveyouseenadoctor?”
“Doctorsdon’thelp.Justbedrest.”
“Well,restthen,Macon.”
Hegaveherthenameofhishotel,andsherepeateditbrisklyandthentoldhimtogetonbackto
bed.
Whenheemergedfromthephonebooththechambermaidhadabellboytheretohelphim,and
between the two of them he made it to his room without much trouble. They were very solicitous.
Theyseemedanxiousaboutleavinghimalone,butheassuredthemhewouldbeallright.
Allthatafternoonhelayinbed,risingtwicetogotothebathroomandoncetogetsomemilk
from the mini-bar. He wasn’t really hungry. He watched the brown flowers on the wallpaper; he
thoughthehadneverknownahotelroomsointimately.Thesideofthebureaunexttothebedhada
streakinthewoodgrainthatlookedlikeabonymaninahat.
At suppertime he took a small bottle of wine from the mini-bar and inched himself into the
armchairtodrinkit.Eventhemotionofraisingthebottletohislipscausedhimpain,buthethought
thewinewouldhelphimsleep.Whilehewassittingtherethechambermaidknockedandletherselfin.
Sheaskedhim,evidently,whetherhewantedanythingtoeat,buthethankedherandsaidno.Shemust
havebeenonherwayhome;shecarriedabatteredlittlepocketbook.
Later there was another knock, after he had dragged himself back to bed, and Muriel said,
“Macon?Macon?”Hekeptabsolutelysilent.Shewentaway.
Theairgrewfuzzyandthendark.Themanonthesideofthebureaufaded.Footstepscrossedthe
floorabovehim.
Hehadoftenwonderedhowmanypeoplediedinhotels.Thelawofaveragessaidsomewould,
right?Andsomewhohadnocloserelatives—sayoneofhisreaders,asalesmanwithoutafamily—
well,whatwasdoneaboutsuchpeople?Wastheresomekindofpotters’fieldforunknowntravelers?
Hecouldlieinonlytwopositions—onhisleftsideoronhisback—andswitchingfromoneto
theothermeantwakingup,consciouslydecidingtoundertaketheordeal,plottinghisstrategy.Then
hereturnedtoafretful,semi-consciousness.
Hedreamedhewasseatedonanairplanenexttoawomandressedallingray,averynarrow,
starched,thin-lippedwoman,andhetriedtoholdperfectlystillbecausehesensedshedisapprovedof
movement.Itwasaruleofhers;heknewthatsomehow.Buthegrewmoreandmoreuncomfortable,
and so he decided to confront her. He said, “Ma’am?” She turned her eyes on him, mild, mournful
eyesunderfinelyarchedbrows.“MissMacIntosh!”hesaid.Hewokeinaspasmofpain.Hefeltasifa
tiny,cruelhandhadsnatcheduppartofhisbackandwrungitout.
Whenthewaiterbroughthisbreakfastinthemorning,thechambermaidcamealong.Shemust
keepgruelinghours,Maconthought.Buthewasgladtoseeher.Sheandthewaiterfussedoverhim,
mixinghishotmilkandcoffee,andthewaiterhelpedhimintothebathroomwhilethechambermaid
changedhissheets.Hethankedthemoverandover;“Merci,”hesaidclumsily.Hewishedheknewthe
Frenchfor“Idon’tknowwhyyou’rebeingsokind.”Aftertheyleftheateallofhisrolls,whichthe
chambermaidhadthoughtfullybutteredandspreadwithstrawberryjam.ThenheturnedontheTVfor
companyandgotbackinbed.
He was sorry about the TV when he heard the knock on the door, because he thought it was
Murielandshewouldhear.ButitseemedearlyforMurieltobeawake.Andthenakeyturnedinthe
lock,andinwalkedSarah.
Hesaid,“Sarah?”
Sheworeabeigesuit,andshecarriedtwopiecesofmatchedluggage,andshebroughtakindof
breezeofefficiencywithher.“Now,everything’stakencareof,”shetoldhim.“I’mgoingtomake
yourdaytripsforyou.”Shesetdownhersuitcases,kissedhisforehead,andpickedupaglassfrom
hisbreakfasttable.Asshewentofftothebathroomshesaid,“We’verescheduledtheothercitiesandI
startonthemtomorrow.”
“Buthowdidyougetheresosoon?”heasked.
Shecameoutofthebathroom;theglasswasfullofwater.“YouhaveRosetothankforthat,”she
said, switching off the T V. “Rose is just a wizard. She’s revamped that entire office. Here’s a pill
fromDr.Levitt.”
“YouknowIdon’ttakepills,”hesaid.
“Thistimeyoudo,”shetoldhim.Shehelpedhimriseupononeelbow.“You’regoingtosleep
asmuchasyoucan,soyourbackhasachancetoheal.Swallow.”
Thepillwastinyandverybitter.Hecouldtasteitevenafterhe’dlaindownagain.
“Isthepainbad?”sheaskedhim.
“Kindof.”
“How’veyoubeengettingyourmeals?”
“Well,breakfastcomesanyway,ofcourse.That’saboutit.”
“I’ll ask about room service,” she told him, picking up the phone. “Since I’ll be gone so . . .
What’sthematterwiththetelephone?”
“It’sdead.”
“I’llgotellthedesk.CanIbringyouanythingwhileI’mout?”
“No,thankyou.”
Whensheleft,healmostwonderedifhe’dimaginedher.Exceptthathersuitcasessatnexttohis
bed,sleekandcreamy—thesameonesshekeptontheclosetshelfathome.
HethoughtaboutMuriel,aboutwhatwouldhappenifsheweretoknocknow.Thenhethought
abouttwonightsago,orwasitthree,whenshehadstrolledinwithallherpurchases.Hewonderedif
she’dleftanytraces.Abeltlostunderthebed,aglassdiskfallenoffhercocktaildress?Hebeganto
worryaboutitseriously.Itseemedtohimalmostinevitable;ofcourseshe’dleftsomething.Theonly
questionwas,what.Andwhere.
Groaning,herolledoverandpushedhimselfupright.Hestruggledoffthebedandthensagged
to his knees to peer beneath it. There didn’t seem to be anything there. He got to his feet and tilted
overthearmchairtofeelaroundtheedgesofthecushion.Nothingthereeither.Actuallyshehadn’t
goneanywherenearthearmchair,tohisrecollection;norhadshegonetothebureau,butevensohe
slid out the drawers one by one to make sure. His own belongings— just a handful—occupied one
drawer. The others were empty, but the second one down had a sprinkling of pink face powder. It
wasn’t Muriel’s, of course, but it looked like hers. He decided to get rid of it. He tottered into the
bathroom,dampenedatowel,andcamebacktoswabthedrawerclean.Thenhesawthatthetowelhad
developedalargepinksmear,asifawomanwearingtoomuchmakeuphadwipedherfacewithit.He
folded the towel so the smear was concealed and laid it in the back of the drawer. No, too
incriminating. He took it out again and hid it beneath the armchair cushion. That didn’t seem right
either. Finally he went into the bathroom and washed the towel by hand, scrubbing it with a bar of
soaptillthespotwascompletelygone.Thepaininhisbackwasconstant,andbeadsofsweatstood
outonhisforehead.Atsomepointhedecidedhewasactingverypeculiar;infactitmustbethepill;
andhedroppedthewettowelinaheaponthefloorandcrawledbackintobed.Hefellasleepatonce.
Itwasn’tanormalsleep;itwasakindofburial.
He knew Sarah came in but he couldn’t wake up to greet her. And he knew she left again. He
heard someone knock, he heard lunch being brought, he heard the chambermaid whisper,
“Monsieur?”Heremainedinhisstupor.Thepainwasmuffledbutstillpresent—justcoveredup,he
thought;thepillworkedlikethoseinferiorroomspraysinadvertisements,theonesthatonlymask
offendingodors.ThenSarahcamebackforthesecondtimeandheopenedhiseyes.Shewasstanding
overthebedwithaglassofwater.“Howdoyoufeel?”sheaskedhim.
“Okay,”hesaid.
“Here’syournextpill.”
“Sarah,thosethingsaredeadly.”
“Theyhelp,don’tthey?”
“Theyknockmeout,”hesaid.Buthetookthepill.
She sat down on the edge of the mattress, careful not to jar him. She still wore her suit and
lookedfreshlygroomed,althoughshemustbebushedbynow.“Macon,”shesaidquietly.
“Hmm.”
“Isawthatwomanfriendofyours.”
Hetensed.Hisbackseizedup.
“Shesawme,too,”shesaid.“Sheseemedverysurprised.”
“Sarah,thisisnotthewayitlooks,”hetoldher.
“Whatisitthen,Macon?I’dliketohear.”
“Shecameoveronherown.Ididn’tevenknowtilljustbeforetheplanetookoff,Iswearit!She
followedme.ItoldherIdidn’twantheralong.Itoldheritwasnouse.”
Shekeptlookingathim.“Youdidn’tknowtilljustbeforetheplanetookoff,”shesaid.
“Iswearit,”hesaid.
Hewishedhehadn’ttakenthepill.Hefelthewasn’tinfullpossessionofhisfaculties.
“Doyoubelieveme?”heaskedher.
“Yes,Ibelieveyou,”shesaid,andthenshegotupandstarteduncoveringhislunchdishes.
He spent the afternoon in another stupor, but he was aware of the chambermaid’s checking on
himtwice,andhewasalmostfullyawakewhenSarahcameinwithabagofgroceries.“IthoughtI’d
makeyousuppermyself,”shetoldhim.“Freshfruitandthings;youalwayscomplainyoudon’tget
enoughfreshfruitwhenyoutravel.”
“That’sveryniceofyou,Sarah.”
He worked himself around till he was half sitting, propped against a pillow. Sarah was
unwrapping cheeses. “The phone’s fixed,” she said. “You’ll be able to call for your meals and all
whileI’mout.ThenIwasthinking:AfterI’vefinishedthetrips,ifyourbackisbetter,maybewecould
do a little sightseeing on our own. Take some time for ourselves, since we’re here. Visit a few
museumsandsuch.”
“Fine,”hesaid.
“Haveasecondhoneymoon,sortof.”
“Wonderful.”
Hewatchedhersetthecheesesonaflattenedpaperbag.“We’llchangeyourplaneticketfora
laterdate,”shesaid.“You’rereservedtoleavetomorrowmorning;nochanceyoucouldmanagethat.
Ileftmyownticketopen-ended.JuliansaidIshould.DidItellyouwhereJulianisliving?”
“No,where?”
“He’smovedinwithRoseandyourbrothers.”
“He’swhat?”
“ItookEdwardovertoRose’stostaywhileIwasgone,andtherewasJulian.HesleepsinRose’s
bedroom;he’sstartedplayingVaccinationeverynightaftersupper.”
“Well,I’llbedamned,”Maconsaid.
“Havesomecheese.”
Heacceptedaslice,changingpositionaslittleaspossible.
“Funny, sometimes Rose reminds me of a flounder,” Sarah said. “Not in looks, of course . . .
She’slainontheoceanfloorsolong,oneeyehasmovedtotheothersideofherhead.”
He stopped chewing and stared at her. She was pouring two glasses of cloudy brown liquid.
“Applecider,”shetoldhim.“Ifiguredyoushouldn’tdrinkwinewiththosepills.”
“Oh.Right,”hesaid.
Shepassedhimaglass.“Atoasttooursecondhoneymoon,”shesaid.
“Oursecondhoneymoon,”heechoed.
“Twenty-onemoreyearstogether.”
“Twenty-one!”hesaid.Itsoundedlikesuchalot.
“Orwouldyousaytwenty.”
“No,it’stwenty-one,allright.Weweremarriedinnineteen—”
“Imeanbecauseweskippedthispastyear.”
“Oh,”hesaid.“No,itwouldstillbetwenty-one.”
“Youthinkso?”
“Iconsiderlastyearjustanotherstageinourmarriage,”hesaid.“Don’tworry:It’stwenty-one.”
Sheclinkedherglassagainsthis.
TheirmaindishwasapottedmeatthatshespreadonFrenchbread,andtheirdessertwasfruit.
She washed the fruit in the bathroom, returning with handfuls of peaches and strawberries; and
meanwhileshekeptupacozypatterthatmadehimfeelhewashomeagain.“DidImentionwehada
letter from the Averys? They might be passing through Baltimore later this summer. Oh, and the
termitemancame.”
“Ah.”
“Hecouldn’tfindanythingwrong,hesaid.”
“Well,that’sarelief.”
“AndI’vealmostfinishedmysculptureandMr.Armisteadsaysit’sthebestthingI’vedone.”
“Goodforyou,”Maconsaid.
“Oh,”shesaid,foldingthelastpaperbag,“Iknowyoudon’tthinkmysculpturesareimportant,
but—”
“WhosaysIdon’t?”heasked.
“IknowyouthinkI’mjustthismiddle-agedladyplayingartist—”
“Whosays?”
“Oh,Iknowwhatyouthink!Youdon’thavetopretendwithme.”
Maconstartedtoslumpagainsthispillow,butwasbroughtupshortbyamusclespasm.
Shecutapeachintosections,andthenshesatonthebedandpassedhimoneofthesections.She
said,“Macon.Justtellmethis.Wasthelittleboytheattraction?”
“Huh?”
“Wasthefactthatshehadachildwhatattractedyoutothatwoman?”
Hesaid,“Sarah,Isweartoyou,Ihadnoideashewasplanningtofollowmeoverhere.”
“Yes,Irealizethat,”shesaid,“butIwaswonderingaboutthechildquestion.”
“Whatchildquestion?”
“Iwasrememberingthetimeyousaidweshouldhaveanotherbaby.”
“Oh,well,thatwasjust—Idon’tknowwhatthatwas,”hesaid.Hehandedherbackthepeach;he
wasn’thungryanymore.
“Iwasthinkingmaybeyouwereright,”Sarahsaid.
“What?No,Sarah;Lord,thatwasaterribleidea.”
“Oh,Iknowit’sscary,”shetoldhim.“IadmitI’dbescaredtohaveanother.”
“Exactly,”Maconsaid.“We’retooold.”
“No,I’mtalkingaboutthe,youknow,theworldwe’dbebringinghiminto.Somucheviland
danger.Iadmitit:I’dbefranticanytimewelethimoutonthestreet.”
MaconsawSingletonStreetinhismind,smallanddistantlikeJulian’slittlegreenmapofHawaii
andfullofgailydrawnpeoplescrubbingtheirstoops,tinkeringwiththeircars,splashingunderfire
hydrants.
“Oh,well,you’reright,”hesaid.“Thoughreallyit’skindof...heartening,isn’tit?Howmost
humanbeingsdotry.Howtheytrytobeasresponsibleandkindastheycanmanage.”
“Areyousayingyes,wecanhaveababy?”Sarahasked.
Maconswallowed.Hesaid,“Well,no.Itseemstomewe’repastthetimeforthat,Sarah.”
“So,”shesaid,“herlittleboywasn’tthereason.”
“Look,it’soverwith.Can’tweclosethelidonit?Idon’tcross-examineyou,doI?”
“ButIdon’thavesomeonefollowingmetoParis!”shesaid.
“Andwhatifyoudid?DoyouthinkI’dholdyoutoblameifsomeonejustclimbedonaplane
withoutyourknowing?”
“Beforeitlefttheground,”shesaid.
“Pardon?Well,Ishouldhopeso!”
“Beforeitlefttheground,yousawher.Youcouldhavewalkeduptoherandsaid,‘No.Getoff.
Gothisminute.IwantnothingmoretodowithyouandIneverwanttoseeyouagain.’”
“YouthinkIowntheairline,Sarah?”
“Youcouldhavestoppedherifyou’dreallywanted,”Sarahsaid.“Youcouldhavetakensteps.”
Andthensheroseandbegantoclearawaytheirsupper.
Shegavehimhisnextpill,butheletitstayinhisfistforawhilebecausehedidn’twanttorisk
moving. He lay with his eyes closed, listening to Sarah undress. She ran water in the bathroom,
slippedthechainonthedoor,turnedoffthelights.Whenshegotintobeditstabbedhisback,even
thoughshesettledcarefully,buthegavenosign.Heheardherbreathingsoftenalmostatonce.She
musthavebeenexhausted.
Hereflectedthathehadnottakenstepsveryofteninhislife,cometothinkofit.Reallynever.
His marriage, his two jobs, his time with Muriel, his return to Sarah—all seemed to have simply
befallenhim.Hecouldn’tthinkofasinglemajoracthehadmanagedofhisownaccord.
Wasittoolatenowtobegin?
Wasthereanywayhecouldlearntodothingsdifferently?
He opened his hand and let the pill fall among the bedclothes. It was going to be a restless,
uncomfortablenight,butanythingwasbetterthanfloatingoffonthatstuporagain.
In the morning, he negotiated the journey out of bed and into the bathroom. He shaved and
dressed, spending long minutes on each task. Creeping around laboriously, he packed his bag. The
heaviest thing he packed was Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, and after thinking that over a while, he
tookitoutagainandsetitonthebureau.
Sarahsaid,“Macon?”
“Sarah.I’mgladyou’reawake,”hesaid.
“Whatareyoudoing?”
“I’mpackingtoleave.”
Shesatup.Herfacewascreaseddownoneside.
“But what about your back?” she asked. “And I’ve got all those appointments! And we were
goingtotakeasecondhoneymoon!”
“Sweetheart,”hesaid.Heloweredhimselfcautiouslytillhewassittingonthebed.Hepickedup
herhand.Itstayedlifelesswhileshewatchedhisface.
“You’regoingbacktothatwoman,”shesaid.
“Yes,Iam,”hesaid.
“Why,Macon?”
“Ijustdecided,Sarah.Ithoughtaboutitmostoflastnight.Itwasn’teasy.It’snottheeasyway
out,believeme.”
Shesatstaringathim.Sheworenoexpression.
“Well,Idon’twanttomisstheplane,”hesaid.
Heinchedtoastandingpositionandhobbledintothebathroomforhisshavingkit.
“You know what this is? It’s all due to that pill!” Sarah called after him. “You said yourself it
knocksyouout!”
“Ididn’ttakethepill.”
Therewasasilence.
Shesaid,“Macon?AreyoujusttryingtogetevenwithmeforthetimeIleftyou?”
Hereturnedwiththeshavingkitandsaid,“No,sweetheart.”
“Isupposeyourealizewhatyourlifeisgoingtobelike,”shesaid.Sheclimbedoutofbed.She
stood next to him in her nightgown, hugging her bare arms. “You’ll be one of those mismatched
couples no one invites to parties. No one will know what to make of you. People will wonder
whenevertheymeetyou,‘MyGod,whatdoesheseeinher?Whychoosesomeonesoinappropriate?
It’sgrotesque,howdoesheputupwithher?’Andherfriendswillnodoubtbeaskingthesameabout
you.”
“That’s probably true,” Macon said. He felt a mild stirring of interest; he saw now how such
couples evolved. They were not, as he’d always supposed, the result of some ludicrous lack of
perception,buthadcometogetherforreasonsthattherestoftheworldwouldneverguess.
Hezippedhisovernightbag.
“I’msorry,Sarah.Ididn’twanttodecidethis,”hesaid.
Heputhisarmaroundherpainfully,andafterapausesheletherheadrestagainsthisshoulder.It
struckhimthateventhismomentwasjustanotherstageintheirmarriage.Therewouldprobablybe
still other stages in their thirtieth year, fortieth year—forever, no matter what separate paths they
chosetotravel.
He didn’t take the elevator; he felt he couldn’t bear the willynilliness of it. He went down the
stairsinstead.Hemanagedthefrontdoorbybackingthroughit,stiffly.
Outonthestreethefoundtheusualbustleofaweekdaymorning—shopgirlshurryingpast,men
withbriefcases.Notaxisinsight.Hesetoffforthenextblock,wherehischanceswerebetter.Walking
wasfairlyeasybutcarryinghisbagwastorture.Lightweightthoughitwas,ittwistedhisbackoutof
line.Hetrieditinhislefthand,thenhisright.Andafterall,whatwasinsideit?Pajamas,achangeof
underwear, emergency supplies he never used . . . He stepped over to a building, a bank or office
buildingwithalowstonecurbrunningarounditsbase.Hesetthebagonthecurbandhurriedon.
Upaheadhesawataxiwithaboyjuststeppingoutofit,buthediscoveredtoolatethathailingit
wasgoingtobeaproblem.Raisingeitherarmwasimpossible.Sohewasforcedtoruninanabsurd,
scuttling fashion while shouting bits of French he’d never said aloud before: “Attendez! Attendez,
monsieur!”
Thetaxiwasalreadymovingoffandtheboywasjustslippinghiswalletbackintohisjeans,but
thenhelookedupandsawMacon.Heactedfast;hespunandcalledoutsomethingandthetaxibraked.
“Mercibeaucoup,”Macon panted and the boy, who had a sweet, pure face and shaggy yellow hair,
openedthetaxidoorforhimandgentlyassistedhimin.“Oof!”Maconsaid,seizedbyaspasm.The
boyshutthedoorandthen,toMacon’ssurprise,liftedahandinaformalgood-bye.Thetaximoved
off.Macontoldthedriverwherehewasgoingandsankbackintohisseat.Hepattedhisinsidepocket,
checkingpassport,planeticket.Heunfoldedhishandkerchiefandwipedhisforehead.
Evidently his sense of direction had failed him, as usual. The driver was making a U-turn,
heading back where Macon had just come from. They passed the boy once again. He had a jaunty,
stiff-leggedwayofwalkingthatseemedfamiliar.
IfEthanhadn’tdied,Maconthought,wouldn’thehavegrownintosuchaperson?
He would have turned to give the boy another look, except that he couldn’t manage the
movement.
The taxi bounced over the cobblestones. The driver whistled a tune between his teeth. Macon
foundthatbracinghimselfononearmprotectedhisbacksomewhatfromthejolts.Everynowand
then,though,apotholecaughthimoffguard.
Andifdeadpeopleaged,wouldn’titbeacomfort?TothinkofEthangrowingupinheaven—
fourteenyearsoldnowinsteadoftwelve—easedthegriefalittle.Oh,itwastheirimmunitytotime
thatmadethedeadsoheartbreaking.(Lookatthehusbandwhodiesyoung,thewifeagingonwithout
him;howsadtoimaginethehusbandcomingbacktofindhersochanged.)Macongazedoutthecab
window,consideringthenotioninhismind.Hefeltakindofinnerrush,aracingforward.Thereal
adventure, he thought, is the flow of time; it’s as much adventure as anyone could wish. And if he
pictured Ethan still part of that flow—in some other place, however unreachable—he believed he
mightbeabletobearitafterall.
ThetaxipassedMacon’shotel—brownandtidy,strangelyhome-like.Amanwasjustemerging
withasmallanxiousdogonhisarm.AndthereonthecurbstoodMuriel,surroundedbysuitcasesand
string-handledshoppingbagsandcardboardcartonsoverflowingwithredvelvet.Shewasfrantically
waving down taxis—first one ahead, then Macon’s own. “Arrêtez!” Macon cried to the driver. The
taxilurchedtoahalt.Asuddenflashofsunlighthitthewindshield,andspanglesflewacrosstheglass.
The spangles were old water spots, or maybe the markings of leaves, but for a moment Macon
thought they were something else. They were so bright and festive, for a moment he thought they
wereconfetti.
TheAccidentalTourist
ANNETYLER
AReader’sGuide
AConversationwithAnneTyler
Q:CanMaconbe de s cribe das anaccide ntaltouris tinhis ownlife ?Canwe all?
AT:CertainlyM aconcan,butIwouldn’tsaythataccidentaltourismisauniversalcondition.Somepeopleseemtohaveverymeticulousitinerariesfortheirlives.
Q:Ethan’s trag icde athlooms ove rallofthe characte rs inthis nove l.Whyare s omanycharacte rs ang ryat,oratle as tdis approving of,Maconforhis manne rofg rie ving ?
AT:Becausetosomeonenotveryperceptive,M acon’smannerofgrievingdoesn’treallylook lik egrief.
Q:Is its implyine rtiathatpre ve nts Maconfromde aling withEdward’s mis be haviorfors olong ?Whydoe s he findthe proce s s oftraining Edwardtobe s odifficultandpainful?
AT:WhileIwaswritingthisbook ,Iwonderedthesamething.Iask edmyself,WhydoIseemtobegoingonandonaboutthisridiculousdog,whohasnothingtodowiththemainplot?ThenwhenM urielask edM acon,“Doyouwantadogwho’sangryall
thetime?”(orwordstothateffect),Ithought,Oh!Ofcourse!That’sexactlywhathewants!Thisdogisangryforhim!
Q:Wouldyouag re e thatEdward’s re actions toMurie lmirrorMacon’s tos ome de g re e ?
AT:Oh,Ithink EdwardiswayaheadofM aconinhisreactions.
Q:Whatdoe s Sing le tonStre e tre pre s e ntforMacon?
AT:Otherness.Theoppositeofhisownnarrowself.
Q:Macon,like manycharacte rs inthis nove l,fe e ls trappe dbyothe rpe ople ’s pe rce ptions ofhim.Doe s Murie ls e e Maconas he trulyis ,oras s ome one he wants tobe ?
AReader’sGuide
AT:Neither,really.Sheseesthepersonsheherselfwantshimtobe;butsinceshe’sanacceptingandnon-judgmentaltype,whohereallyisturnsouttobeallrightwithher.
Q:Macon’s frie nds andfamilyare mos tlydis approving of“ thatMurie lpe rs on.” Is its implyamatte rofclas s pre judice ?
AT:Classforthemostpart;butalsopersonalitystyle.Toafamilysoundemonstrative,M urielwouldbeabitdaunting.
Q:IfnotforMurie l’s pe rs is te nce ,wouldMaconhave made adiffe re ntchoice ?
AT:Yes,certainly.M urielisaprettypowerfulforce.
Q:InTheAccidentalTourist,youwrite ofMacon:“ He be g antothinkthatwhoyouare whe nyou’re withs ome bodymaymatte rmore thanwhe the ryoulove he r.” Ultimate ly,doe s Maconlove Murie l?
AT:Ithink hereallydoes.
Q:Maconre me mbe rs finding amag az ine quiz inwhichSarahans we re dthats he love dhe rs pous e more thanhe love dhe r.Howaccurate was he rans we r?Was Sarahcorre ctinwriting thats he love dMaconmore thanhe
love dhe r?
AT:HeranswerreflectedherlimitedunderstandingofM acon,Ibelieve,morethanthetruesituation.
Q:Is Maconbe ing hone s twhe nhe te lls SarahthatMurie l’s young s ondidnotdrawhimtoMurie l?
AT:Ididmeanthattobehishonestanswer.Ifanything,hersonwasanegativequality—atleastinthebeginning.
Q:This nove le xplore s the ve xe dnature ofromanticre lations hips .Dothe couple s thathave forme dove rthe cours e ofthis nove ls tandachance ?
AT:Yes,ofcoursetheydo.Theseareflawedrelationships—asallare—andtheyrequirecompromise—asalldo.Butatleastonememberofeachcouplehasfoundawaytomak ethosecompromises.
Q:The Le arys are atonce re markable comicfig ure s andde e plyhumancharacte rs .Howdifficultis ittoachie ve this de licate balance andne ithe rve e rintoparodynorahumorle s s characte rs tudy?
AT:Inearlydrafts,whenIdidn’tk nowtheLearysallthatwell,Ididveeroveroneortheotheredgefromtimetotime.Butthemostrewardingexperienceinwritinganovelisthegraduallydeepeningunderstandingofitscharacters;andonceIk newtheLearys
better,thebalancecamenaturally.
Q:Is the Le arys ibling s ’g e og raphicdys le xiatre atable ?
AT:Speak ingfrompersonalexperience,Iwouldsayabsolutelynot.It’sbiological.
Q:WillRos e andJulian’s re lations hips urvive the trans planttothe Le aryhome s te ad?
AT:Yes,J ulianwillbecomeafunnysortofquasi-Leary,purelyoutofloveforRose,andahelpfulliaisontotheoutsideworld.
Q:Is the re anyhope forPorte rorCharle s ?
AT:Well,notmuchhopethey’lltrulychange,ofcourse.Buttheyseemcontentedastheyare.
Q:Doyouhave the narrative fairlywe llmappe doutbe fore yoube g inwriting anove l,ordoyoufindyours e lftaking de tours ?Forins tance ,didyouknowallalong howthis nove lwoulde nd?
AT:Imapmybook soutinaverycursoryway—say,aboutapageforeachnovel—andIalwaysthink Ik nowhowthey’llend,butI’malmostalwayswrong.InthecaseofTheAccidentalTourist,IactuallybeganachapterinwhichM aconstayedwithSarah.Butit
didn’twork ;somethinginthecharactersthemselvespersuadedmetheendingwouldhavetobedifferent.
Q:Doyourcharacte rs e ve rs urpris e you?
AT:Allthetime.
Q:Whatdoyoumos te njoyaboutyourlife as write r?Andle as t?
AT:Thebestpartaboutbeingawriteristheexperienceoflearning,gradually,whatitislik etobeapersoncompletelydifferentfromme.Thehardpartisthatforyearsonend,Iamwork inginavacuum.Isthisastoryanyonewillbelieve?Anyonewillcareabout?
Iwon’tk nowthatuntilI’mfinished.
Q:Ifyoucouldinvite anywrite r,living orde ad,toatte ndare ading g roupme e ting todis cus s the irwork,whowoulditbe ?Whatwouldyoumos tlike tole arnfromhe rorhim?
A:Iwouldratherreadthewriter,nothearhimorhertalk .Ik nowthatfrombeingawritermyself:whatIhavetosay,Ihavealreadysaidthroughmystories.
Q:Whatare youre ading rig htnow?
AT:Lately,IhavefalleninlovewithAnnPatchett’sBelCanto.It’samesmerizingnovel,moving,amusing,andenlightening.AndIamtellingeveryonetowatchforM aryLawson’sCrowLake,asoon-to-be-publishednovelaboutafamilyoforphansinthe
northernmostreachesofCanada.
ReadingGroupQuestionsandTopicsforDiscussion
Would you characterize yourself as an accidental tourist in your own life? Do you know
anyoneyoumightconsideranaccidentaltourist?
Whatkindoftravelerareyou?WouldyoufindMacon’sguideshelpful?
Macon has come up with a technique to avoid contact with others on airplanes. Public
transportation can lead to an awkward intimacy with strangers. How do you handle such
situations?DoesMacon’sapproachworkforyou?
TherewasnomemorialserviceforEthaninBaltimore.Whoseideadoyouthinkthatwas?
DoyouagreewithGarner,Macon’sneighbor,whochastiseshimfornothavingone?
Macon’s style of mourning offends many people, including his wife. Do their complaints
haveanymerit?
AccordingtoMacon,“itwastheirimmunitytotimethatmadethedeadsoheartbreaking.”
Discussthemeaningofthisstatement.
What is the significance of Macon and Susan’s conversation about Ethan? What do they
eachgainfromit?
Whydoesn’tMaconrepairhishouseafteritisseriouslydamagedbywater?
The loss of a child can be devastating to a marriage. How do you think a relationship
survivessuchacataclysmicevent?
Macon believes he became a different person for Sarah. How much do we change in the
nameoflove?Howmuchshouldwechange?
DoyouthinkSaraheverreallyunderstoodMacon?
MaconrealizesthatwhileheandSarahtriedtoohardtohaveachild,oncetheyhadEthan,it
madetheirdifferencesthatmuchmoreglaring.Doyouthinktheywouldhaveremainedtogether
ifEthanhadlived?
Maconremarksthathejustdidn’twanttogetinvolvedwithMurielandhermessylife,but
somehowhehas.Doesthisringtrue?DidMurielsimplyoverwhelmhim?
Initially, Macon and Alexander are very wary of each other. Discuss the nature of Macon
andAlexander ’srelationshipandwhattheyhavetooffereachother.
Rose decides to love Julian despite her brothers’ obvious disapproval. What do you think
driveshertomakesuchadifficultdecision?
Julian describes Rose’s retreat back to the Leary house as though she’d worn herself a
grooveorsomethinginthathouseofhers,andshecouldn’thelpswervingbackintoit.Doyou
thinkRosehasmadeamistake?
DoyoufindyourselfasfascinatedbytheLearysasJulianis?Whyorwhynot?
WhenRosedeclaresthatsheandhersiblingsarethemostconventionalpeoplesheknows,
Maconcannotexplainwhyhedisagreeswithher.Canyou?
Do you think the Learys will ever purchase an answering machine? Do you think Julian
mightsliponeinthehouse?
Doyouordoesanyoneyouknowsufferfromgeographicdyslexia?
WhydoesSarahreturntoMacon?Doyouthinktheycouldhaveworkeditoutorhadthey
usedeachotherup?
Macondoesnotthinkhehasevertakenstepsinhislifeandacted.Doyouthinkthisinsight
isaccurate,orisitaproductofthehelplessnesshefeelsinthewakeofhisson’sdeath?
DoyouthinkMaconhasmadetherightdecisionintheend?Willtherelationshipworkout?
Doyouthinkanyofthecouplesinthisnovelstandachance?
Intheend,Maconcomfortshimselfwiththethoughtthatperhapsthedeadage,andarepart
oftheflowoftime.Doesthisideacomfortyou?
If you could learn more about a particular character in this novel, which would it be and
why?
Would your group recommend this novel to other reading groups? How does this novel
comparetootherworksthegrouphasread?
AbouttheAuthor
AnneTylerwasborninMinneapolisin1941butgrewupinRaleigh,NorthCarolina.She
graduatedatnineteenfromDukeUniversityandwentontodograduateworkinRussianstudiesat
ColumbiaUniversity.AnneTyler ’seleventhnovel,BreathingLessons,wasawardedthePulitzerPrize
in1988.SheisamemberoftheAmericanAcademyandInstituteofArtsandLetters.Shelivesin
Baltimore.
FromthePulitzerPrize-winningauthorofBreathingLessons
ANNETYLER
Hernewnovel
THEAMATEURMARRIAGE
Arichandcompellingnovel,spanning
threegenerations,aboutamismatched
marriage—anditsconsequences.
Availableinbookstoreseverywhere
PLEASEVISITwww.aaknopf.com
ByAnneTyler
IfMorningEverComes
TheTinCanTree
ASlipping-DownLife
TheClockWinder
CelestialNavigation
SearchingforCaleb
EarthlyPossessions
Morgan’sPassing
DinnerattheHomesickRestaurant
TheAccidentalTourist
BreathingLessons
SaintMaybe
LadderofYears
APatchworkPlanet
BackWhenWeWereGrownups
Thisisawork offiction.Names,characters,places,andincidentsareeithertheproductoftheauthor’simaginationorareusedfictitiously,andanyresemblancetoactualpersons,livingordead,businessestablishments,events,orlocalesisentirelycoincidental.
ABallantineBook
PublishedbyTheRandomHousePublishingGroup
Copyright©1985byAnneTylerM odarressi
Readinggroupguidecopyright©2002byAnneTylerM odarressiandTheRandomHousePublishingGroup,adivisionofRandomHouse,Inc.
Allrightsreserved.
PublishedintheU nitedStatesbyBallantineBook s,animprintof
TheRandomHousePublishingGroup,adivisionof
RandomHouse,Inc.,NewYork .
Ballantineandcolophonareregistered
trademark sofRandomHouse,Inc.
Reader’sCircleandcolophonaretrademark s
ofRandomHouse,Inc.
www.thereaderscircle.com
LibraryofCongressCataloging-in-PublicationData:2002090731
ThiseditionpublishedbyarrangementwithAlfredA.Knopf,adivisionofRandomHouse,Inc.
FirstBallantineBook sEdition:M ay2002
www.randomhouse.com
eISBN:978-0-307-41683-4
v3.0
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