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.
“What’s wrong?” she asked with alarm. “Has something happened?”
“I wanted to see you.”
He looked so different every time she saw him during these years before midlife kicked in. Men aged like the devil in their thirties—the weight, the laugh lines, the thickening skin all happened aggressively. She saw him only a few times a year, so the losses were more striking and painful. She hugged him thankfully and apprehensively, like he was someone come back from the dead.
“You know I hate surprises,” she said upon release.
“I hope it’s not a surprise that your office is closing after today.”
“Yeah, how about that? No more words of inspiration to make single mothers stay off the WIC coupons.”
“Maybe you can go back to clubbing baby seals.”
“Look at you!” she said. She felt his arm as if determining how safe a bicycle tire was to ride on.
“I’ve been reading the obits of your Quartet friends,” he said.
“They got buried under news about WMD.”
“Andy said Teddy Kennedy was at both funerals.”
“It was all the names people our age don’t even know. People like Paul Nitze. The Clintons blew them off.”
She could tell he wanted to get down to business. “Did you talk to Ed Dowling?”
“And what? You can’t spin our past any other way.”
“I thought it would fill in the gaps for you.”
“There was just one gap called the United States of America. I missed you and Dad on the other side of the world. You had it different.”
“What do you mean different? Don’t you think I missed Mom—and you?”
“You had a complete family.”
“It was an alt-family.”
“Ed Dowling said he thought Mom didn’t want to leave Dad.”
“That’s probably true.”
“Why couldn’t they stick to messing up each other’s lives and leave us alone? Why didn’t she just leave Dad for Jack?”
“She thought that would fuck us up.”
“But she fucked us up even more!”
“I don’t know, Daphne. Neither of them could be with anyone. They were both strange.”
“I never wanted to be that kind of strange,” she objected.
“You have to call her.”
She tried changing the subject. “So you’re getting married to that woman.”
“Why is everyone in the universe suddenly named Jen?”
“Because there were too many people in the universe suddenly named Courtney.”
She looked at him with such affection. “You’re way smarter than me.”
“Daphne, Mom doesn’t know anything about what’s been going on with you—I never told her what you did. I kept my word. She has something important to tell you.”
“Is she dying?”
He sighed in resignation. “Fuck, Daphne. Jack might be your father. She’s been wanting to tell you that for a long time. Forever in fact.”
She wasn’t shocked, only numb.
“You’ve probably always known that, haven’t you? You always know the truth. You just won’t come out of your world.”
She looked down at her hands. “I tried and it died.”
He leaned toward her. “You need to do it on your own, not through anyone else.”
She wanted more than anything to remain defiant. “Do you think Jack crashed his plane on purpose?”
“I don’t know.”
“That would make sense, wouldn’t it? Suicide has a genetic line.”
“Yeah, but you weren’t successful. You broke that line.”
She looked away and laughed. “Remember that singing reindeer in the Rudolph movie? ‘There’s always tomorrow.’ ”
“Don’t fuck with me, Daph. Don’t fuck with me when I love you.”
She wished something would happen to stop her from sobbing . . . and it did—a shout of “Holy shit!” from the lobby near the elevators. Daphne and Paul ran out to see a very large Fedex box making noises where it had been deposited at the center of the floor space.
“I’m calling Animal Control,” said Andy on his phone. “It’s something in there and there’s more than one.”
“Who left that?” asked Paul.
“I don’t know,” said Andy. “It was dumped there.”
“I hope it’s got air holes,” said Paul.
“It’s probably from The Helix,” said Andy. “They’ve sent a couple Tasmanian devils.”
“Don’t go near there,” said Paul.
It was too late. Daphne was already reading the label, touching it. “Get my scissors,” she said.
Andy was talking to someone official, nervously pacing. Paul had lifted his hands in confusion.
“In my top left drawer,” she told her brother, who left and shortly returned with the pair. He paused before bending down. “Stand back,” he told her.
“No,” she replied. The box had become quiet with their voices so close.
He carefully slit the white tape at the center as his sister pulled with sudden fury at the corners of the two cardboard flaps.
“Don’t be Pandora!” yelled Andy, cutting away from his call.
Daphne heaved at one flap to reveal four blinking eyes.
“Cats,” said Paul.
Andy came closer. “Who the fuck Fedexes cats?”
“How come they didn’t make cat noises?” said Paul.
Daphne could not speak. The two black and white animals, skinny and mangy, stood side by side on hind legs, stretched to nothing, blinking and straining to sniff this new world. She felt she had lost touch with everything real as she scooped up one in each hand, pulling their hungry, elongated forms up and out and close to her body. They were warm and breathing, living on together. “These ones don’t,” she said through tears.
Andy tipped the box lid to look at the attached label. “Who’s Eugenie with no last name?”
Paul stared at his sister cradling the unboxed animals. “You’re a funny one, Daphne.”