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.
On a picture-perfect afternoon in June, Daphne found herself at Mount Auburn waiting at this special bench for Elijah and Jan. Even when she was alone these days, she wasn’t by herself. She had adopted Queequeg—eighty pounds worth, assessed by a jittery veterinary specialist at Tufts as having negligible sight in his left eye. She called him Bucky. He got along with the cats and liked to lean heavily into your legs whenever you sat. Being that he was now the opposite of a seeing-eye dog, she brought him places she would not have thought to bring a sighted dog. And most places accepted him, even the cemetery. A guard gave Daphne an orange sticker to apply to his collar, identifying him as a Visiting Service Dog.
This was surely the day of days to be here, the robins posing majestically with those fabulous Edwardian bosoms—or else running chest-forward past each other without looking sideward, like young ballerinas trying to be swans. There were a lot of white butterflies suddenly; apparently someone’s God had decided to open the attic windows just this once. And claques of starlings in thick grass, like big game hunters in the bush. The lawns had certainly got on, but who’d want to mow when everything was this lush? It was the same aversion that kept a mother putting off that first trip to the barber—as if this could prevent baby from turning to boy.
Daphne glanced down at the blue watch that had stopped ticking at 12:01. They would arrive together, Elijah and Jan, if they made it here alive—the former having moved in with the latter. Not long after the funerals, the Ludenberrys left Cambridge for San Francisco, rendering Elijah homeless. Luckily there was Jan’s gray Gothic house, which had become a new conquest for the order-making Anguiano sisters. The consensual reorg was overseen by Martha Downey and occasionally by Ingrid, even though Ingrid, at seventy-nine, was at the threshold of being overseen herself.
Jan’s house acquired further younger blood via Gwen Counts’s eleven-year-old grandson, Darien, a piano prodigy looking for some worthy instrument to play on. Gwen had come over when Daphne was helping arrange things in Elijah’s new room, a former junk-filled study on the first floor. Jan made a mess pulling off the tarp to reveal his ballroom grand, knocking over a floor lamp that hit and smashed a vase containing mummified flowers.
Gwen shook her head at the piano’s condition. “It’s like my granddad’s tractor with a beech tree growing right through it.”
Jan’s white hair flared out at both sides as he pondered the decrepit state of his domain. “We will have to have it tuned of course.”
She nodded. “He’s the only kid anyone knows who’ll take the piano over hip-hop. Maybe he’ll be the next Ray Charles.”
He shot her a short-tempered look. “Is he blind?”
She made a face. “Of course he’s not blind.”
“We’ll then he can’t be the next Ray Charles. But he can be the next Fats Waller.”
“He’s not fat either.”
“The next Art Tatum then! The next Glen Gould!”
“Glen Gould,” she said, nodding. “The boy adores Glen.”
Jan had recently taken a fall with Spinoza, his new long-haired dachshund, and had been using a menacing cane he insisted was temporary. “If you didn’t want to fall,” asked Elijah, “why’d you get a breed of dog known for being constantly underfoot?” Oddly enough, in between the Chopin and Mozart, Darien learned to play “Honeysuckle Rose” on the tuned-up Steinway; when he did, Spinoza would sit under the piano’s bridge. “We’ll put his basket under there!” cried Jan. “Spinoza loves Fats!”
Daphne felt like she had known Jan and Elijah forever, since the time both were young. There were banner advertisements for the cemetery hanging prominently on the gate in a few places on Mount Auburn Street: Beautiful, Timeless . . . and Still Available. Once when Daphne was driving Elijah and Jan home, Jan pointed to the banner, jabbing his finger repeatedly onto the Caddy’s passenger window: “Just like you, Daphne!”
The ghostwriter said the era of the Quartet would die with the Quartet, and that she ought to accept that. But she had a hard time taking advice from someone with so many secrets. She thought of him as not longed for this world despite the fact that he seemed so up on modern espionage and intelligence. Everything he loved—secrecy—was on the outs and all that he loathed—hero worship—was reaching new heights of fetishism. He had definite ideas for fixing the world—switch to a flat income tax, legalize all narcotics, take out certain Russians in Moscow, Chechnya, and the Ukraine (one of them Putin). Still, he had become her friend.
Same for the nurse with clogs, who liked to try out jokes on her. He hoped she could help him resolve a joke he’d been working on for ten years. “Woman on the Upper West Side—OK, so it’s my grandmother Norma who likes to see matinees with her buddies at the Lincoln Plaza, which her friend Ruth calls ‘the Holocaust Six.’ UWS Woman can’t accept that her husband of fifty years has died—my grandfather Maurie always insisted on driving in Manhattan even if it meant that no one ever saw him. Finding a parking spot took longer than a movie’s running time.
“UWS Woman in denial continues to tell people that Maurie’s parking the car. ‘Norma, where’s Maurie?’ ‘Parking the car.’ Come to find out, Norma had two husbands she was married to for fifty years—one on the Upper West and one on the Upper East. It worked out well because they were always parking cars at different times—and now she can’t accept that both have died. The punchline has to contain ‘alternate side parking.’ ” He was exhausted after presenting his case. “You have to help me make it work.”
Both he and the ghostwriter had wanted to be part of the group that traveled to Lake Michigan in May to disperse the ashes. Jan and Elijah had decided for her—he needed to be set free on that fateful body of water where Bucky had committed ego-cide. Dr. Glazer placed himself in the center of the action so that he could claim to have been the reason for a happy ending in the book he was writing. Daphne didn’t care since he had offered to cover everyone’s airfare out of his advance—Paul and Jen, Andy and Lori, Jan, Elijah, Big Nurse, the ghostwriter, and of course Daphne.
Daphne didn’t want Jan and Elijah to make the trip, but they couldn’t be stopped. The ghostwriter had the connections to hire out a small tour boat. “Here lies one whose name was writ on water”—it was Elijah, bundled in his drop-box raincoat, who quoted Keats. Daphne pulled strands of hair off her face to see the white dust from the canister stream away from her in the frenzied wind.
It was on the frigid lake that she realized how much she’d taken Andy for granted—he and Lori were the reason she was alive. That night in 2001 they’d gone out to see a movie, any movie, because it was so hot. After Legally Blonde, they looked for something to sop up more dew-point time and settled on cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. Why on earth did Lori suggest they bring one to Daphne? It was pure coincidence they knocked on the door. Daphne had left on the lights and the stereo—no need to worry about an electric bill; the front door was unlocked.
Before the Michigan trip, Daphne had met the killer, the man on the motorcycle. His name was Lawrence Sanford but people called him Sandy, “like the Dodger pitcher” he pointed out when it seemed there was nothing else to fill the space between them. His life, she learned from listening, amounted to one blow after another—none of them recovered from. Sandy Sanford would never make it onto a billboard paid for by Live Every Day, but he did say he was sorry.
Daphne visited her mother and Ford in their fancy neighborhood in Westport, where they ate only vegetables and fresh fish. Ford had a white brush cut and a perpetual look of frustration. He’d been estranged from both of his sons, and now—because of Daphne’s overture, he said—was thinking of calling and “tearing down the wall.” He also offered to fly her to Connecticut anytime on either of his two planes. The woman Jack loved now spent, by her own estimation, half of her life in the sky—with another man, true, but still off of the earth.
Every day, the book Daphne was editing took her into different pasts, where she’d search for ways to tell a story that would never be “the truth” but something truer than every alternative. Why do we return to the past again and again and again? She would never stop asking that. She’d been afraid of growing so much older than he’d ever be. He would remain young and full of potential as she, like a tree, grew notched and gnarled by all the things she failed to accomplish, by squandering the time he had been denied. Still, the way the world works is: you look for survivors before bagging the dead. And when we ourselves die, we all become the same age—maybe even the same person.
When her phone rang—the kind of phone everyone had—she put it to her ear as Bucky leaned into her leg. There was brief silence, but she was not at all surprised by what the voice had to say: “The most beautiful words in the English language are summer afternoon.” §