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.
She eagerly searched and found the recorder in her coat pocket and pressed play. The device rarely failed her. But all she heard was that familiar sound of vacancy—white noise, a shell to the ear. She continued to listen as the digits of time clicked away. The absence of sound ought to have been like the universe ought to have been—with the past exactly the same as the future. But the silence seemed to Daphne progressing toward something, just like the universe was progressing toward something by cooling and losing its density. She was about to press stop when she heard the click of something engaging.
“Did you really think you’d heard the last me of me, Daphne?”
It was the voice from the blue phones.
“I have some parting words for the arbiter elegantiae. Are you ready? Love that is static in time—how is that real? It changes as we change; it lives on. We return to the past when we can no longer remember our previous selves who have died. We feel abandoned. We’ll never forget certain people, but as these departed selves fade into nothing, we ransack our memories for anything to help us hold on. Edith Wharton said it best: Life is the saddest thing next to death. You have to love life more than anything, Daphne. You have to love life to understand what it means. Didn’t you listen to Camus’s words at the church? There are no limits to loving.“
Soon the recorder reverted to the absence of sound, and after a few minutes Daphne made it stop. “Yes,” she told her empty apartment, there are no limits to loving. They had gone away just for the weekend, for her birthday. He woke her early by kissing every part of her face—over and over, as if there wasn’t enough time. She remembered hearing the words to “Ebb Tide,” her eyes still closed:
First the tide rushes in,
plants a kiss on the shore,
then rolls out to sea
and the sea
is very still, once more
It was like a circle, the administration of love; it came and it went away. In everything they did together, she had begun to sense the quantum theory of superposition he often talked about—being in two places at the same time. If the world can be in any configuration, any possible arrangement of particles or fields, and if the world can be in another configuration, then the world can also be in a state that is a superposition of the two, where the amount of each configuration that is in the superposition is specified by a complex number. The tide is always rushing in and rolling out to sea at the same time.
He was just going out to get them coffee. She grabbed the recorder from the bedside table and played his voice saying “I love you.” She had unintentionally flicked on the recorder the day before, when it was in her bag and they were talking in the car.
“It makes me sad that you have that—like you think I’ll at some point stop.”
She shook her head. “Sometimes I don’t think it’s real that you love me.”
“Hearing my voice makes it seem like I am the past tense.”
To show him her faith that he would never stop saying “I love you,” she erased the sequence with his voice. Meanwhile, he went out for coffee and never came back.
When they gave Daphne her keys back, it was just an envelope full of individual keys smelling like rubbing alcohol. There was no key ring, no leopard-print rabbit foot from Sonja Rosenberg. For days and days, Daphne didn’t want to breathe, for with every breath, she felt herself actively becoming more distant from him, from the time he was breathing in the same atmosphere. She’d count the breathing. Drinking half a bottle of vodka and passing out made it worse. You woke to all those lost breaths.
Mercifully, the real phone rang to pierce the sound of absence. She was surprised to hear Andy’s voice. “Turn on CNN.”
“Has the war started?”
“No, it’s worse—or maybe better.”
“I don’t have cable. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Go to your computer.”
“You I don’t have Internet.”
“You’re hopeless, Daphne.”
“What is it?”
Her wiles kicked in. “Wait, I’m feeding the cats of the people upstairs while they’re away. I have their keys.”
“Call me when you turn on CNN.”
She took the keys and went upstairs. The cats met her with their meowing accusations. How much of a civic degenerate was she to have forgotten their evening meal? She turned on the countertop television and then pulled back the can tab.
CNN was reporting live from the street outside the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York, where Thornton Winkill had been shot by an assailant who fled on foot. Two separate sets of tourists—Austrians and Brazilians—had videotaped the attack and lent CNN their footage. Winkill had been dining with real estate developers. A number of people saw the shooter but just stood there as she fled, including the two men with Winkill. The videos clearly showed what the reporter’s voiceover called “a stout woman in ornamental South Asian dress” shoot him point blank in the chest.
Daphne called Andy on her neighbors’ phone. “It’s so late. Are you up with the baby?”
“I’m her crying coach on the graveyard shift, to give Lori a break. I can’t believe what a big deal they’re making out of this. You’d think they shot Bush.”
“It’s not they,” she said, “it’s she.”
“I know! A short fat she.”
“She’s not really fat.”
He laughed. “How do you know?”
“They called her ‘stout.’ ”
“It’s so weird,” said Andy. “Like he got his payback for what he did to Simon. Don’t you think so, Daph?”
She was troubled. “Who made themselves the decider on payback?”
She went back to CNN after saying goodnight. Now the correspondent was talking to bystanders who’d seen the whole thing. A man who’d been walking his dog said, “This is the weirdest thing—sort of like John Lennon’s assassination in front of the Dakota.”
The correspondent immediately clarified that Winkill was not killed, although he had no compunction against asking the guy if he thought this was a terror attack.
“It looked like a terror attack on one person,” the dog-walker replied. “We used to call that attempted murder.”
The two clips of the shooting were played and replayed back to back, and the Austrian with the camera explained that after 9/11, all tourists in New York had their cameras with them at all times, “because you have to be ready for the attack to happen.” When asked why they didn’t try to tackle or chase the shooter, bystanders said they were so surprised by her appearance and demeanor that they were “stunned into doing nothing.” According to an older woman who had come upon the scene just as the assailant fled, “The witnesses looked like they’d been put under a spell. I sometimes teach freshman English at Hunter, and I immediately thought of the Sirens in Homer.”
The Brazilian who filmed one of the shooting sequences calmly pointed out, “I heard one shot and there she was with her arm straight out and the gun at the end of it. But she hadn’t shot him yet. I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid that she would shoot me or other people. There were more shots, but she was in another position. And more shots and she was back to the first position. They say she shot him only once though.”
One of the men Winkill had been with—a venture capitalist named Avi Sklar—seemed to agree with this recounting of events. “It was like . . . crazy. Know what I’m sayin’? It was like she was in two different places at the same time.”