Blue Heron Quartet
At a famous cemetery near the end of 2002, a woman who needs reminding to stay alive crosses paths with the man who drafted the terms of the Cold War. The former diplomat now wants to talk to the dead—namely, the great love he lost more than six decades before. So do his three friends, also prominent intellectuals whose “quartet” is masterminded by a mystic with strange powers. While the men want desperately to return to a lost past, the woman, Daphne, has been running away from her own—the quantum physicist who had hoped to solve the problem of time. Although she takes Mistress Eugenie for a grifter, the woman’s machinations illuminate dormant, interconnected mysteries. Daphne’s journey reveals that the past is neither static nor ever truly complete, that time’s phantom traces allow us to discover whom history has ghosted. Love remains the measure of all things, freeing us from imprisonment by time and tragedy.
The old man in the khaki windbreaker had picked the wrong day to be alone. Bleakness hung in the air with the ghostly drape of Spanish moss. The old man seemed to Daphne distressingly lost within the windbreaker, the cemetery, the context of her life. And yet here he was holding blue light. Continue Reading →
Once upon a time a girl named Daphne made a nuisance of herself by running away—after her father had moved out and was maneuvering to take her brother to the other side of the country. Continue Reading →
“Victor Slocum’s second heart came from a guy killed in a car crash,” Daphne told Linus Steinbrenner at the cemetery. “He was only nineteen, the guy. He was known for having a ‘Zen-like’ demeanor—very calm.” Continue Reading →
“Ninety-nine and a half and an old-school hawk,” said Daphne’s boss from over her shoulder. “Vietnam recant, cussed out McNamara. I just read a book.” Continue Reading →
For the better part of a year when she couldn’t find work, Daphne took many walks through Mount Auburn Cemetery and read a lot of Robert Nozick, a philosopher who could express his degree of certainty to the fractional level—“I one-quarter think,” “I three-quarters think.”
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“Do you know that song?” Elijah Tweeten asked a dozen or so yards into his shuffle down the corridor. Continue Reading →
Four days after Das Blaue-Fischreiher-Quartett offered Daphne a job, Linus Steinbrenner was sent home to his apartment on Sparks Street with a rotating team of part-time nurses and the reinstatement of Gwen. All Daphne’s communication with the men was supposed to be routed through Simon’s son, Trygve, but Linus broke that rule. He phoned on New Year’s Day to propose their first meeting be at Mount Auburn Cemetery on “the Feast of the Epiphany.” Old men at a cemetery in January was something that should never happen, but Daphne could not sway Linus, especially once he narrowed the rendezvous to that same bench near Willow Pond. Continue Reading →
Early in 1956, Simon Cooper Frost found himself hounded by virtue of being a husband. Like a hail of gunfire came the interview requests from McCall’s—all because he was husband to a woman whom tens of thousands of readers believed not much different from themselves.
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Trygve Frost hit the brakes in front of a drooping walkway canopy leading to what looked like a Knights of Columbus lodge on the skids. Swags of icicle lights clung for dear life to the faded crimson canvas. On the left a fluorescent salon called Totally Now Nails; on the right a white-stucco church right out of a Bolivia travel brochure if not for near-total strangulation by a deceased native vine. Continue Reading →
Daphne could find nothing online about a Mistress Eugenie of Medford, Massachusetts—nothing but the fact that someone named Vernon St. Urgis was paying the property taxes at that address. Her searches for “Mr. Dowling” in relation to Winkill were similarly fruitless. Continue Reading →
“You were telling some suspenseful stories of the Blitz,” the Woman in Green prodded.
“Is that what I was doing?” Simon snapped. “I thought I was sleeping.” Continue Reading →
“Did I mention I hate this cage?” Daphne complained as she closed herself in.
The four men occupied the same positions in Trygve’s car as the week before. Continue Reading →
With the buzz-click of the lock release, Daphne entered the lobby of Linus’s building and stood with a racing heart. She had been delivered, was now protected—like Esmerelda to Notre Dame or a scarlet tanager to an Audubon sanctuary. The marble lobby contained an elevator with incredibly narrow doors, but she opted for taking the stairs two at a time. Continue Reading →
Each day of Jan’s voyage had been blessed with blue skies and undulating, acrobatic clouds—visually, Stravinsky’s Petrushka. But now the darkening view was identical from where he came to where he was headed, wind pummeling a deck preemptively swept of leisure chairs.
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“If I don’t frighten, things don’t get done, people don’t get changed”—another college kid whose hunger for story made him a Pixar rendition of himself. “So unlike the noble decade of Dr. King!” Jan’s words were barely recognizable coming from the Asian shopkeeper smoking outside her dry cleaners. Continue Reading →
The morning after Jan’s arrival in Belmontville, a telegram addressed to him was delivered to the Voorhees house: “They want more money for Maja.” Continue Reading →
It wasn’t long after Daphne left the Ludenberrys’ that she was on Massachusetts Avenue heading toward Porter Square, where We the People were armed with phones. “Every era’s a rude era!” and “Do you need a religion to envision human happiness?” She recognized the Quartet’s words, though they didn’t work so well coming from the mouths of strangers. Continue Reading →
Daphne’s voices had now collapsed to a one-woman show, running everywhere and anywhere she could hear people talking on the phone. She supposed she could call Dr. Glazer to ask for help. But the help she’d received two years ago came not from him but her own devices—two nickels on Bucky. That’s what got her out of bed in the morning on time for work; that’s what got the comb through her hair and the coffee in her thermos. Conversely, she could call Mistress Eugenie and cry uncle: “OK, you win. I’ll give you the money, whatever it is you want. Just make your curse go away.” Though Paul and Andy knew about her gig with the Quartet, neither knew about Eugenie, so there was no one but the Quartet to talk to about the woman’s powers. Continue Reading →
The mapmakers gave it no name, being a place you could take or leave. In that sense, the Steinbrenner island, like its neighboring hundreds, was its own kingdom. Continue Reading →
Eugenie greeted her summoned regiment as before, pulling them into her hot, noisy house.
“You need my help,” she told Daphne. Continue Reading →
Daphne was unbuttoning her coat when the Live Every Day events coordinator popped her face into the space Daphne shared with Andy and a cubicle partition. “I come bearing gifts from the Helix.” Continue Reading →
The girls hadn’t known each other before that day; still, they held hands as they ran off. They wanted to hide because of the thrill of being found. They were too impatient to wait for the ceremony to begin and end and the games to recommence with dress-defiling vigor. They wanted the payoff now. Everything good in the land was happening right now. Continue Reading →
The day began with a creeping stillness, Daphne waking to find it a minute past six by the silent watch on her wrist. Lifting her head proved a task; someone had left an anvil at the base of her skull. Continue Reading →
Howard Apswith’s summer suit with the esquire jacket had been stained over the winter by a ceiling leak, but he told his wife he would wear it just the same because it came from Garfinckel’s. Stain or no stain, its light color made for a picture as Howard walked up over a knoll with his large protruding stomach and girls on either side. “Look what I found!” Continue Reading →
Daphne returned from the movie to find her cubicle under assault by a ringing phone.
“I have something of yours.” It was Eugenie. Continue Reading →
Queequeg was not a calm dog—nor a happy one from what Daphne could see. She kept reaching her arm as far as she could over the back seat to succor his whimpers. Dark in the dark, he’d eagerly sniff her fingertips and then turn in circles, not seeming to want out so much as relief from the breakneck speed. Continue Reading →
When Daphne awoke she picked up Simon’s phone and then set it back down on the bedside table. It glowed when she touched it and stopped when she let go—powered, it appeared, by a current from elsewhere. There was no place to insert an adapter to an everyday outlet. She called Andy and then Gwen on the real phone. She told Andy she wouldn’t be in the office; she was told by Gwen that a nurse had been called in, that Linus’s family was heading to Boston, that Simon had not regained consciousness. Continue Reading →
Early Friday morning Daphne was awakened by the phone. It was Gwen calling in the dark, telling her that Linus had been admitted to Mount Auburn Hospital. Daphne arrived at the hospital to find the waiting area anchored by two middle-aged women and some younger people with babies. The middle-aged women were hugging, sloppy luggage having fallen in a heap on the floor beside one of them. Gwen sat reading a book, and Jan sat talking to another man, old but not quite as old as the Quartet. Continue Reading →
“Hungarians are famously inclined to delusions of eminence and persecution,” Yuli Arkadievich Tynyanov warned his prized student. Despite the cancer, his eyes retained the capacity to twinkle. “I would avoid your Hungarian boyfriend at all costs.” Continue Reading →
Daphne was again awakened by a ringing phone—her first groggy thought being that Elijah had gone, maybe Elijah and Jan both. Then she realized it was Linus’s phone that you couldn’t turn off. Her tears from the night before made her eyes feel swollen shut. She ignored the ringing as she showered and dressed and shut the door behind her. “Answer the goddamned phone!” someone shouted down the stairway when she reached bottom. Continue Reading →
At the packed Christ Church in Cambridge, Tessa Frost read an excerpt from the Camus essay “Love of Life” that brought tears to the eyes of those who could hear her. Her sister read from an epistle of Paul (that there be no divisions among you), and a succession of old men in blue and gray suits read from Simon’s writing. The dignitaries and political celebrities arrived late to their reserved pews, some shaking hands along the way as if at a fundraiser. The service was simulcast for lesser-tier mourners at the MIT Chapel, giving the mostly foreign-born undergraduates in attendance a glimpse of American intellectualism as it faded from public life: I was lucid and smiling before this unique play of appearances. A single gesture, I felt, would be enough to shatter this crystal in which the world’s face was smiling. Something would come undone—the flight of pigeons would die and each would slowly tumble on its outstretched wing. Continue Reading →
The Faucet King lived on the fourth floor of an art nouveau building noticeably lacking a doorman. Comparable residences each way on 86th featured doormen with epaulets and loud whistles. The owners of this building, however, still considered themselves socialists. And everyone knew that socialists didn’t pay people to open doors for them. Continue Reading →
The Cadillac pulled up in front of Jan’s gray house just as the front-room lights were switched on. Daphne saw Martha Downey’s square silhouette clash together long black curtains to shut out the sad day. Continue Reading →
The Steinbrenner funeral presented another cramped, dignitary-laden challenge for the city of Cambridge, seriously upsetting Harvard Square traffic on a workday. The First Parish Church already felt plunked down in the middle of a pedestrian mall—a grimy house of worship as UUA houses go. The A-listers wanting to pay their respects had to suck it up and make do. Continue Reading →
Daphne let Elijah and Fifi off at Linus’s apartment, where the mourners were assembling to mostly fret about war. She returned to her office to rummage through the clutter atop her desk. Somewhere there was a pad on which she’d written the campus building where Ed Dowling said he’d be waiting during a break in his conference. Continue Reading →
Daphne returned home that night to find a Fedex box under her mailbox in the lobby—from “MSS EUGENIE.” After shaking it to make sure it didn’t contain anything hard, she took it upstairs and opened it to find another white T-shirt: I SHOT ANDY WARHOL AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CRUMMY T-SHIRT. She smoothed the shirt out on the table and sat staring at the black letters. Within this cloud of loneliness she felt a spark of hope with the memory of having taped part of the goings-on at Eugenie’s that last Monday night. Eugenie gave her back the recorder at Mass. General; it had to be somewhere in the apartment. Continue Reading →
It had been snowing without incident in the early afternoon when something made the mercury take a flying leap. By nightfall, the temperature settled somewhat but was nowhere near freezing. The balmy fog had Queequeg turning in circles of tingly excitement—though only for a few minutes. All too soon came the brutal yank at the collar and then the shove to make him scuttle into his prison. Continue Reading →
Daphne arrived at Simon’s favorite café to find the surviving half of the Quartet seated and pondering a pair of stainless teapots like they were a chessboard. Continue Reading →
Daphne couldn’t stop thinking of Queequeg, the dog who survived a pulverizing crash unscathed but for the fact he was blind. Going blind was the stuff of legend—Saul of Tarsus and movies in which Rock Hudson is a brain surgeon. Thinking about a blind dog somehow put a damper on Daphne’s outrage at the many human parasites operating freely in the world. For this reason, she agreed to meet the ghostwriter when he emailed her with “Das Quartett book killed in bunker: debrief?” in the subject line. Continue Reading →
Daphne declined a ride back to the Square, opting to walk so that she could think about the remaining characters that would have populated the ghostwriter’s Das Blaue-Fischreiher-Quartett—the Turtle and the Flying Dutchman, the lonely-hearts Serb, Vern Sturgis the lookalike mobster, the stand-up Welsh Pavarotti, Martha Downey the apprehensive Skylark driver, Gwen Counts the online Avon Lady, the mysterious Mr. Dowling, the elusive and at-large Mistress Eugenie. When she returned to her office she found her brother waiting in the chair beside her desk.
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Less than a month after the mistress’s phones had been laid to rest, the war in Iraq began. Eugenie’s Winkle was paralyzed in a wheelchair, but the tragedy only made him more lethal. Although witnesses said he saw and even seemed to recognize the assailant whom the media had come to call La Femme Nikita, he insisted his assassination attempt was bankrolled by that master soldier of fortune, George Soros. Continue Reading →