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.”
She handed Daphne what appeared to be a transparent ID card and moved on to Andy’s half. “These will make your day.”
“OK,” said Andy, emerging into the open. “What the hell is this?”
“Laminated four-leaf clover,” said Angela.
He held it up like a bouncer checking a license. “No shit.”
“It’s a special clover they grow in their estate greenhouse—for Lady Helix to give as good luck tokens to brides-to-be. They wanted to share.”
“So if I carry this around,” he asked, “does that mean I myself will have an estate greenhouse before the next High Holiday?”
“So they pay someone to grow mutants?” asked Daphne.
“I guess so,” Angela conceded.
After eight days of hearing the “beautiful voice of our lady,” Daphne had no patience with concealed identity.
“Just who the fuck are these people,” she asked, “and why the fuck are we working for people we don’t know who they are?”
“Syntactically,” said Andy, “you sound like W.”
“You actually sound like my husband,” said Angela. “He says he can’t sleep nights worrying about who they are.”
“One time I dreamt they were David Duke,” said Andy, “and lived on a plantation covered with so much hanging moss I had to use my father’s Deere hedge trimmer to collect my paycheck.”
“Thanks, Andy,” Angela said before walking away. “Now you’ve made my day.”
“How you gonna use yours?” he asked Daphne.
“To help me find my recorder,” said Daphne, throwing her coat on the chair near her desk.
“Why’d you just say that?” she snapped.
He shrugged. “I’m trying to be pretentious?”
She turned her back on him and dialed to listen to her voicemail: Daphne, I just wish you’d call me to talk about setting up this meeting. It’s not just for him, but it’s for your ben— She erased it. In her email queue was another message from Paul that she read and deleted. She studied the four-leaf clover embalmed within plastic. Though she herself never found one, someone else did—found one when they were both looking and gave it to her. He said the odds of finding a four-leaf clover on the first try, as he did, were one in ten thousand.
And yet he had bad luck. When they met, his dog had just been killed by a car near Fresh Pond. “I’m through with dogs,” he told her. “You can’t ever be through with dogs,” she replied. He assured her he had learned his lesson, but then one day he came home with a kitten in each pocket of his jacket. “There was a guy in Harvard Square, real crazy, holding up the pair in one hand, saying he was going to squeeze tight if he didn’t get fifty bucks. I gave him all I had—a twenty—to make him stop.”
“What’s wrong, Daph?” Andy’s voice slipped gently over the cubicle wall. “Something’s been up for a while—for a few months. Since that day you ran away from Manic Birdman.”
She sighed. “He’s not Manic Birdman anymore. With his new heart, he’s turned into Calm Birdman.”
“I was just reading how transplant patients take on ‘propensities’ of their organ donors—like cravings for chocolate. That must mean a calm guy gave Manic Birdman his heart.”
“The guy didn’t give anyone his heart, Andy. He was driving to work one morning and now part of him is counting dead birds at Harvard.”
Shortly before noon, Daphne picked up her ringing phone to hear Linus Steinbrenner asking if she’d mind stopping by his apartment that day. He sounded to her distressed. “I’m on my way,” she told him.
As she gathered her coat and bag, a Fedex guy called out her name. As she prepared to sign the carbon, she saw in the sender field “MSS EUGENIE,” like on the Medford mailboxes. She briefly considered refusing to accept the package; once she had it, she considered throwing it away.
“What’s in the box?” Andy shouted, emerging from his cube. “C’mon, open it, open it!”
“It’s something evil from an evil person.”
“Then shake it at least.”
She stared at the parcel for a moment. For some reason she remembered her junior year of high school, one night when she called Jack. Her assignment was to write about any Greek myth she wanted. Her classmates assumed she’d write about Daphne and Apollo, but she didn’t like that story. She didn’t like any of the stories. She rarely called her uncle, and he was surprised. “I need a story that ends not the way you think.” He told her to write about Pandora’s Jar (it wasn’t a box), because all people remember is the release of demons, of death and disease. They don’t remember that Pandora closed the lid in time to keep hope inside. Daphne was confused. “But if hope is inside the jar,” she said, “we don’t have it.” He said that’s what she should write about: “Do we have hope by holding it close to us or by letting it go?”
“Go on,” said Andy. “Open the box.”
She pulled the embedded strip to slit the cardboard, folded back the flap, and allowed the contents to slide free. Nestled within thickly wadded balls of Sunday Globe comics was something hard, swaddled in white cloth.
“What the hell’s that?” he asked when she freed the device. “A Lady Remington shaver?”
“It’s a phone.”
He laughed. “From what century would that be a phone?”
She held it with disgust. “Old people use these.”
“It’s already glowing.”
“Maybe you should send it back.”
“You want it?”
He made a face. “I think I’d prefer a Lady Remington.”
She unfolded the white wrapping to reveal a T-shirt, now dingy from the newsprint. Its black lettering read: OF ALL THE THINGS I’VE LOST, I MISS MY MIND THE MOST.
“Is this some kind of cellular promotion,” he asked, dumbfounded, “hunting down the few people in the country without phones?”
She looked at him sadly as she wadded and tossed the shirt into a wastebasket. “You’re right about being hunted down.”
“Look,” he said, shaking his head, “the writing’s on the wall and there’s nothing we can do. I really believe the Helix are getting ready to fold the tent soon, move on to something else. I suppose it was good while it lasted even though nobody made money.”
“I don’t care about this job.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“I lost my recorder.”
“Something’s been going on for a while. It’s the old guys, isn’t it?”
Her eyes remained fixed on the ridiculous thing in her hand. “They’re going to die soon,” she said before again looking up. “Knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door.”
“Maybe you should think about seeing Dr. Glazer.”
“Maybe you should think about finding a new job.”
“Where are you going?”
“To see Linus.”
“I thought you saw those guys yesterday?”
What could she say? She was the fixer—with Mary Poppins’s bag of tricks.
Outside in the Square, she worried about Linus but also the other three. As she walked briskly toward Brattle Street, it didn’t seem to matter in what vocal key the passersby were speaking. Girl, boy, girl, boy . . . was anyone really herself anymore? What could Dr. Glazer do for her? She had signed consent forms so he could use an anonymous version of her in his next book. He’d probably already written a happy ending and was annoyed that her life wasn’t conforming to his script. And what good would it do to reconnect with her mother, as Paul kept nagging? It was almost four years since they’d spoken. No, it seemed that the ball was already in motion—nothing to do but follow closely with her eyes to see where it landed. This preoccupation had prevented her from noticing that her bag was ringing.
Somehow the Lady Remington had found its way in with her wallet, her keys, the plastic case containing lipstick and a hairbrush, a 1932 edition of The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Had Andy done this as a joke? She rolled her eyes toward the sky and in doing so noticed that the hands were gone from the Unitarian church clock.
Girl, boy, girl, boy passing on the street—why did everyone on God’s green earth have a fucking phone held to his head? This same breathy Greer Garson voice coming from girl-boy-girl-boy made her feel feverish, queasy.
And here matters came to a head, no longer loitering on the margins of the action, no longer playing coy.
“Connecting,” said the busy construction worker who looked at Daphne—looked at her directly with his thick midwinter tan and the same Death Valley wrinkles as Robert Redford.
She walked faster.
“I said connecting!” said the woman holding a Yorkie wearing a tiny Burberry raincoat. She, too, looked Daphne in the eye. Her dog looked away; its coat was a few sizes too big.
“It’s the necessary angel of Bell Telephone calling you!” Boy on red and black skateboard.
“Pick up if you’re there, Daphne!” Girl with eyebrows plucked down to nothing.
“It’s the necessary angel of Bell Telephone!” Woman dressed like circa-1966 Julia Child.
“The necessary angel trying to patch in Lady Remington!” Tall man with blond mustache for which he must’ve had a special comb.
Daphne realized she was crying the kind of tears that just happened.
“For crying out loud, Daphne”—unexcitable-looking man with eyes like a blood hound’s—“this place is too small for me!”
Finally she stopped and pulled the ringing phone out of her bag. She looked around as if it were apparent that she was in mortal danger, looked around as if a heroic stranger with a mustache comb might intervene to save her life. She placed the phone to her ear.
“For crying out loud, Daphne! Let me say this by way of introduction: Be careful where you die, what you’re wearing. It will come back to haunt you.
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams.”
“You’re not real!” Daphne shouted into the phone.
“Oh, dear. How I do wish I could say you are so right about not being real. But instead I shall quote Morandi. You know him? The painter. There is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality.”
Daphne snapped the thing shut. How could this be another of Eugenie’s hoaxes? How could it be a hoax when this was the same voice she’d been hearing these past eight days? She rubbed the tears from her cheeks with her palm and continued pressing on regardless—what the British did during wars—the phone in her bag ringing incessantly.
Death is the mother of beauty she heard inside her head again and again. Who knew? Who knew that death was the mother of beauty beyond Wallace Stevens? Mistress Eugenie—what did she know but Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Daphne felt like a dog with soapsuds on its tail, futilely running to get away from them.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years.
Something told her to leave the ringing phone on the marble floor of Linus’s lobby. She took the marble stairs two at a time.
“You didn’t hear me that last time,” said Gwen at the door. “I told you to stop smoking, get more sleep, meditate some, eat more grapefruit, and get yourself some lavender hand lotion.”
“You didn’t say anything about grapefruit,” Daphne replied, following again like a penitent schoolgirl.
Linus in his armchair throne appeared as distressed as he’d sounded on the phone. He seemed to have aged ten or twenty years since yesterday, if that were possible when you were already ninety-three. An oxygen tank was nearby; she could tell he’d just been using the mask. He sat as if something in the atmosphere was bearing down on his already collapsed shoulders.
“Linus, what happened?” she asked, rushing to his side.
“Congestive heart failure they tell me.”
“You called me for a reason.”
“You yourself don’t look well.”
“Things are not going right,” she said, dropping onto his sofa.
“I know that, my dear.”
“I’m afraid, Linus. Before I wasn’t, but now—today—I am.”
“Gwen,” he shouted to the extent of his ability. “Please, in here. Daphne needs a glass of brandy.”
“Brandy?” Gwen shouted back. “Who in this day drinks brandy?”
“Bourbon,” Daphne hollered into the distance, “if you’ve got it.”
“Bourbon then,” said Linus. “Straight—no Tylenol chasers.”
“What you need,” Gwen advised upon entering the room, “for your health I mean, is a nice organic fruit wine with no nitrates.”
“Bourbon with some club soda,” Daphne said, “if you’ve got it.”
“Nice organic fruit wine,” Gwen continued, “but I’ll get you the booze this once.”
“You need to go and talk to Eugenie again,” said Linus when Gwen had gone.
She couldn’t look him in the face. “Something’s changed,” she pressed, staring at her hands.
He didn’t reply.
“It was last night.”
“My dear arbiter elegantiae.”
“Anna died in 1938. Everything about last night was 1938.”
He tried to smile. “The White House got its Steinway.”
They sat in silence to the clicking of two out-of-synch wall clocks. His pale blue eyes were more distant than she had seen. He seemed to be gazing at the world from a perch. Someone she once interviewed told her that dying begins with a falling away, on the inside, which allows you to step far outside yourself to perceive that you have become very small.
“Jan with his ‘unearthed recordings,’ ” he continued, staring into the distance. “With his cold corpse.”
Daphne shuddered. “That was awful.”
“The hour that Jan was playing that piece . . . that was one of the days and hours Anna lie in bed.” He paused. “I used to lie next to her, fully clothed. I’d come home in jacket and necktie, a case of papers in my hand, and silently lie down in the quiet room.”
He paused to shake his head, objecting to what his mind was seeing. “When Jan played . . . Such misery for my Anna. And yet . . . it was all still real. There is a pungent reality to pain. Even in its grip, you cannot realize that this horrendous intensity of feeling here and now is so much better than the calm aftermath . . . the removal.”
She looked about, as if for an open script. “You’ve had so much else in your life,” she consoled. “Your life has been colossal.”
“I’m a defeated man,” he declared, just as Gwen arrived with the drink that Daphne was glad to take from her hand.
“I’ve been having a recurring dream,” he continued, once Gwen had gone, “a nice one, where I wake to see a vesper sparrow sitting on my blanket, cocking its head and staring me in the eye. Do you know the bird?”
She shook her head. “My uncle,” she began, looking down at the glass in her hand, “one of my uncles, he loved birds with your passion. He was a geologist.”
“Your brother’s a geologist.”
“Your brother sounds like a good man.”
“He wants to fix global warming,” she said with a faint chuckle and even fainter hope. “He’s on a team of people trying to find a way to suck all the CO2 out of the atmosphere and store it underground.”
In the ensuing silence, she thought to reach into her bag to show him the laminated clover. “This is a cheat clover,” she said, “cultivated in a greenhouse. Tomorrow I’ll bring you my real one.”
“I thought you never found it.”
“I didn’t,” she said, “but someone else did. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”
He closed his eyes. “So much successful foreign policy is simply the result of luck. I was a realist, Daphne, not a progressive. For a while I had a drinking problem—the terrible elephant in the room that Katherine tried to Hoover around.”
She tried to nod. “But you made it through all that.”
He laughed. “They’d let me drive. They’d let me into Bretton Woods stinking drunk.”
She didn’t know what to say.
“I was desperately afraid of planes,” he continued. “Perhaps as a countervailing force to my love of birds. Birds and planes—they fly directly into the wind as they leave the ground, fixing their gaze at a distant point, high above.”
“So you know what you fear.”
“Age does not bring simplification.”
“You achieved good things for the country, Linus.”
“What I needed, Daphne, was more time for contemplation, brutal self-reflection. When I was young, a viable agent in public life, I used time for all the wrong things.”
She shook her head. “We make wrong decisions because we don’t have the luxury of time.”
“Mac Bundy worked for years on a book saying Vietnam was a terrible mistake. He realized his error but didn’t let it gnaw at him. Same for Paul Nitze, who tried to take arms talks with the Russians into his own hands with calamitous results. I do not begrudge either man.”
“The important thing,” she said, “was admitting you were wrong.”
Now he looked concerned. “My entire adult life was about ‘the Russians’—their byzantine web of lies and deceit, what they were willing to do, how far they would skate to the edge. Say ‘the Russians’ now and it seems medieval in the context of oligarchs, people getting rich with Rolex handshakes. Daphne, the Russians will always be a danger to us, never to be trusted.”
He looked exhausted. He had around him several glasses of water, a mug of black tea, tissues and a small faded floral towel rolled up to support his back. “At the end,” he began slowly, “Anna looked like an old woman. Her lips were white at times, blue at times. I was weak, not strong. I wept like a schoolboy, my face wet and red for days.”
She drank the rest of the bourbon.
“Katherine on her deathbed said to me, ‘I’m thinking a lot about my parents, whether I’ll see them as I remember them.’ ” He stopped himself. “I do not grieve for that moment for even the smallest fraction of what I felt and feel for Anna’s moment. I’m a horrid man, Daphne.”
“That’s not true.”
“I think I am now philosophically aligned with Darwin, who believed that the most wondrous aspect of the universe was its vast and perfect indifference.”
“But what about Paine,” she argued, “and his believing in one God, no more, and happiness beyond this life?”
He smiled. “Beyond this life is self-nullifying.”
“What about all the things Paul said about love? What about Augustine?”
She could see it was hard for him to maintain a smile. “Do you know the most beautiful line from his Confessions?”
She shook her head.
“Nondum amabam et amare amabam. Daphne, I loved not yet, yet I loved to love.” He tried to smile but again made with that awful grimace. “I need to rest.”
Her tears made the world bleary. Because of the bourbon she kissed his forehead after he’d closed his eyes. When she found Gwen to tell her she was leaving, Gwen flashed a harsh look. “Be ready.”
Daphne left Linus’s apartment just as the doors of the narrow elevator snapped open to reveal his neighbor Mathilde. She stared with precision before holding out her hand. “This is yours, right?” It was Eugenie’s phone.
“Why do you think that?”
“It was a guess.”
“Linus is resting,” Daphne told her. “You might want to come back.”
“I’ll have to check on him,” she said, shoving the phone into Daphne’s hand.
Daphne took the stairs, the phone resuming its ringing before she reached bottom. In the lobby, the elevator chimed its return. She placed the ringing phone inside the car, pushed the button for the sixth floor, and left the building.