Blue Heron Quartet
On a gray day several months before the start of the Iraq War, Daphne Passerine’s chance encounter at Mount Auburn Cemetery draws her into a secret pact among four prominent but fading intellectuals of a bygone era. What these very old men desire as the skies darken on liberal democracy is to reconnect with first loves who’d died tragically young more than six decades before—and to do so via cell phones from a mystic.
Daphne’s reluctant journey down the rabbit hole of the men’s pasts—all the while fending off Mistress Eugenie’s intrepid pursuit—leads to her own otherworldly connection on the mystic’s phones. In seeking to protect the brilliant reputations of Blue Heron Quartet, she discovers female brilliance that history has all but obliterated—and at the same time confronts truths about her own lost love and broken family. History, as she comes to see, is not static or ever truly complete. We mistake death as a story’s end, when in fact the “truth” of a narrative can be seen from new positions and shifting angles as survivors age. Only by loving life’s strange interconnectedness can we free ourselves and those we’ve lost from being prisoners of time and tragedy.
Between Daphne and Willow Pond stood another complication—an old man holding blue light.
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.
Victor Slocum’s heart came from a guy killed in a car crash,” Daphne told Linus Steinbrenner at the cemetery.
“Ninety-nine and a half and an old-school Dem,” said Daphne’s boss from over her shoulder. “Vietnam recant, cussed out McNamara. I just read a book.”
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 the philosopher Robert Nozick, who could express his degree of certainty to the fractional level—“I one-quarter think,” “I three-quarters think.”
“Do you know that song?” Elijah Tweeten asked a dozen or so yards into his shuffle down the corridor.
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.
There was a time Simon Cooper Frost found himself hounded by virtue of being a husband. Like a hail of gunfire came the requests from McCall’s through February, March, and April of 1956.
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.
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.
“You were telling some delightfully suspenseful stories of the Blitz,” the reporter prodded Simon.
“Did I mention I hate this cage?” Daphne complained as she closed herself into Queequeg’s domain.
With the buzz-click of the lock release, Daphne entered the lobby of Linus’s building and stood with a racing heart.
Each day of Jan’s voyage had been blessed with blue skies and undulating, acrobatic clouds—the visual equivalent of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.
“If I don’t frighten, things don’t get done, people don’t get changed.” Another boy with a phone—college-aged, but his hunger for story made him seem not past fifteen, a Pixar rendition of himself.
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.”
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.
Daphne’s voices had now collapsed to a one-woman show, running everywhere and anywhere she could hear people talking on the phone.
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.
Getting the four old men out of the Cadillac and into the house involved a familiar struggle for which Daphne had zero nostalgia.
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.”
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.
The day began with a creeping stillness, Daphne waking to find it a minute past six by the silent watch on her wrist.
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.
Daphne returned from the movie to find her cubicle under assault by a ringing phone. “I have something of yours.”
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.
When Daphne awoke she picked up Simon’s phone and then set it back down on the bedside table.
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.
“Hungarians are famously inclined to delusions of eminence and persecution,” Yuli Arkadievich Tynyanov warned his newest—and by his reckoning his last—student.
Daphne was again awakened by a ringing phone—her first groggy thought being that Elijah had gone, or maybe Elijah and Jan both—another twofer day for Das Blaue-Fischreiher-Quartett.
By the 26th of February, most of America was lurching toward spring. The White House, however, stuck to its script, prompting news networks to make shopping lists for covering the neoconservatives’ war.
The Faucet King lived on the fourth floor of an art nouveau building noticeably lacking a doorman.
The Cadillac pulled up in front of Jan’s gray house just as the front-room lights were switched on.
The Steinbrenner funeral presented another cramped, dignitary-laden challenge for the city of Cambridge, seriously upsetting Harvard Square traffic on a workday.
After dropping Elijah and Fifi at the Ludenberrys, Daphne returned to her office to rummage through the clutter atop her desk.
Daphne returned home that night to find a Fedex box under her mailbox in the lobby—from “MSS EUGENIE.”
It had been snowing without incident in the early afternoon when something made the mercury take a flying leap.
Daphne arrived at Simon’s favorite café to find the surviving half of the Quartet seated and pondering a stainless-steel teapot like it was a chessboard.
Daphne couldn’t stop thinking of Queequeg, the dog who survived a pulverizing crash unscathed but for the fact he was blind.
Less than a month after five of Eugenie’s phones had been laid to rest, the war in Iraq began. Eugenie’s Winkle was paralyzed from the single bullet wound, but the tragedy only made him more lethal.