With the buzz-click of the lock release, Daphne entered the lobby of Linus’s building and stood with a racing heart. She had been delivered, was now protected—like Esmerelda to Notre Dame or a scarlet tanager to an Audubon sanctuary. The marble lobby contained an elevator with incredibly narrow doors, but she opted for taking the stairs two at a time.
When she got to Linus’s third-floor apartment, the door was opened by a woman with a stern expression. “I’m Gwen,” she said. “You must be the Daphne girl.”
“As you can see,” said Daphne, “I’m much older than a girl.”
“You look like you’re coming down with something—not what we want for Linus.”
“I’m not sick,” said Daphne. “This is the way I always look.”
“Well it ain’t a good look,” Gwen warned, motioning for her to skedaddle inside. “You need to stop smoking, get more sleep, meditate some, and get yourself some lavender hand cream.”
“I don’t smoke,” Daphne said in defense, trailing Gwen from foyer to hallway to cluttered large room.
“Then you can count that one less thing to put on your to-do list.”
Linus had a home of good and fine things—the walls and most of the upholstery in neutral shades of what Benjamin Moore called historic colors. The neutrality was anchored by black-oak Craftsman furniture, though Daphne got the sense that the contents of this, presumably the living room, had been edited down from other places and lives, what with the Federal-period consoles, leather wing chairs, clusters of Roseville-looking pottery.
“Don’t be frightening Daphne,” Linus announced, entering the room from another hallway. His gait was fragile; he held a thin section of newspaper. He himself looked like a thin section of newspaper.
“If I don’t frighten,” Gwen replied, “things don’t get done, people don’t get changed.”
“We like Daphne just the way she is.”
“OK,” Gwen began, nodding toward the large square coffee table, “so I put out some cheese and crackers. You got your food, your bottled H20. There’s some just-made coffee in the kitchen. And now I’ve got to go to work.”
She disappeared into the hallway from which Linus had entered.
“She’s leaving?” Daphne asked.
“Oh, no,” Linus replied, “she’s going to use the computer in my study to do her other job. It used to be Avon Calling. Do you remember that? Women’s cosmetics. But now she makes her sales over the Internet. She has been delivered—thanks to this glorious information highway—from the need to ring doorbells.”
“Linus,” Daphne began, little able to disguise her preoccupation, “something strange is going on.”
“I think it has something to do with Mistress Eugenie,” she began warily, taking off her jacket. “You know how I feel about her, so I don’t have to tell you I’m no fan. Since those two times I met with her I’ve felt like there are so many coincidences.”
“We must sit down for this, my dear,” he said, recommencing his slow gait to an armchair that was most decidedly his chair. It was surrounded by waist-level stacks of books that served as both demarcation columns and towering tables for spiral-bound notebooks and old leather-bound things—conference proceedings perhaps, or executive briefings—randomly occupied by floral mugs bearing stained teabag tags. As she sat on an adjacent striped sofa—crimson and ivory, Harvard colors—she noticed on the floor, in a tangle of extra-long black cable, one of those corporate phones with buttons for several other lines.
“So you say there are coincidences.”
“In what I hear people say,” she confessed. “I mean, in what I overhear people say on the street talking into their phones. I keep hearing things I have recently said or people have said to me—simple things though. I hear parts of these conversations. And it’s only happened on the days I’ve met with you and the group.”
Their last meeting was at Simon’s stately fieldstone house, just down the street from Harvard Divinity School, where Daphne was introduced to the woman Elijah had called Suzie Chapstick. The tiny hostess had a voice like Bette Davis’s; the knuckles on her arthritic hands looked like ornamental drapery hardware from Pottery Barn.
“So it happened at Simon’s house?”
She nodded. “But not at his house—out in the world, on my own.”
“Did it happen today?”
She could still hear the words “A place where imagination is possible.” She had turned toward their source whizzing past—a college kid on his phone—when the rapid-fire counter-comment was lobbed from the opposite direction: “I fear that I am losing faith.” This from a girl whose voluminous cleavage prevented her from zipping her down jacket.
Next up: “If you can’t be yourself, who do you suppose will stoop to doing it for you?” The speaker was a frazzled-looking woman, wiry pieces of her gray-streaked hair shooting out in all directions, as if she’d had a hand placed firmly on a particle accelerator. She stood near a pole marking a bus stop, trying to hold the phone to her ear while hunting for something elbow-deep within her large handbag. She had the look of a mom who ought to be telling the person on the other end to put away the ice cream and pick up that pile of towels on the bathroom floor. Instead she told her phone, “If you can’t be yourself, who do you suppose will stoop to doing it for you?”
Walking home after the meeting at Simon’s, Daphne had heard a frazzled-looking dad walking between two adolescent boys say into his phone, “I admire his poetry, but I don’t have the stomach for his life.” The man looked like Bill Gates; the boys looked like they’d just been given detention. The expression on his face said that he didn’t know what he was going to do with these two, that he was tired of their mother always giving in to them. And yet the words that came from his mouth were “I admire his poetry, but I don’t have the stomach for his life.”
Daphne nodded again. “It happened just ten minutes ago, and several times before that with these random people. Last Monday I thought I was jumping to conclusions, but now I can see it’s beyond my control. It’s something happening, like something is replaying on a continuous loop.”
He thought in his deliberate way. “Let what Simon suggested at Mistress Eugenie’s be your new motto,” he declared. “Cerca trova.”
She sighed. “My mind is playing tricks on me, Linus. More sleep and lavender hand cream won’t help. Maybe I’m going crazy.”
“You are not going crazy, my dear. But it is my experience that when we perceive oddities to be occurring externally, at an extrasensory level, it’s usually that we’re actively divining those elements that can make any occurrence appear outside of the ordinary. Hence my advice of cerca trova. Within yourself, Daphne.”
Again she stared at him perplexed. “I look and look,” she said, “really I do. And yet I never find what I’m looking for. I spent my entire childhood looking for a four-leaf clover and never hit pay dirt. Whenever we visited the country with open fields of grass I’d lie for hours on my stomach inspecting each clover stem, and then I’d get the holler that it was time to go. I’d hedge my bets by grabbing clumps for my pockets, to continue checking offsite—but to the same dismal results. With searching and finding, I have no staying power.”
“You need to have faith.”
“But I’m like you,” she argued. “You told me you’re having a crisis of faith. Is that the reason for Eugenie—cerca trova because God has let you down?”
“Has God let you down, Daphne?”
There was an irritating buzzing noise, the doorbell, and Daphne, distracted, could hear Gwen walking to the foyer like someone in a tussle backstage, concealed behind many lowered curtains. She struggled for a way to answer Linus’s question. “I’ve never had any one figure to blame,” she finally admitted.
“Thomas Paine believed that we are all born democrats, and only through an acquired education in fear do we take refuge in magic.”
“I think I believe that, too,” she said, nodding. “Though I don’t think I was a born democrat. I’ve really had to work at it.”
“So you have no use for the Christian philosophy?”
She took another moment to think. “You know what I never liked about Christianity? Paul. Yes, Linus, your Paul, even though my brother’s name is Paul and I love my brother. I always thought St. Paul was a jerk who didn’t like women, a real control freak with no sense of humor and no real love. I also got the sense that he didn’t like animals.”
“I agree with Daphne” came Elijah’s voice—husky in intended tone though failing in delivery—trailed closely by a trace of body beneath a dollop of beret. “Paul was one mean sonofabitch!”
“None of that mouth from you,” Gwen cautioned, hovering over the critic like a motorcycle cop—one willing to take away his drop-box raincoat and battered valise.
The sight and sound of Elijah gave Daphne temporary relief from the dour topic of religious belief, especially when Gwen snatched the beret from his head with a Simpsons “yoink.”
“But Elijah,” Linus began in mock-distress, “wasn’t it your D. H. Lawrence who advised us to trust the tale, not the teller?”
“What do you mean my D. H. Lawrence?” he replied as he set himself down—actually tilting and then falling into place—next to Daphne. She reached over to hold him steady.
“If Paul is going to be my Paul,” Linus countered, “then Lawrence shall be your Lawrence.”
Daphne felt it her duty to mediate the feud she had started. “It’s not just Paul but all those apostles and saints,” she rationalized. “So many of them seem to have had a diagnosable personality disorder. They’d mount this whole conversion edifice to make the fact that they couldn’t get along with other people seem like it was because they were too preoccupied with being God’s direct reports.”
Elijah smiled. “I’ll buy that.”
“Paul had so much anger,” she went on. “There was a sportswriter for my college paper who seemed to me the embodiment of Paul. He was very talented but only interested in sports, and he was perpetually mad that other student journalists didn’t think that the Final Four was as important as filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court. He walked around looking like he was ready to pick a fight. He always wore his high school football jersey. At graduation he sat alone in the bleachers after everyone had left, with his black gown open over his jersey and jeans and his sneakers, his elbows on his knees, punching his right fist into the palm of his other hand. That’s how I will always picture Paul, because for him Jesus was like the Final Four that his fellow Roman sophisticates belittled as something for the lowly simple-minds and their unrefined palates.”
The loud buzzer again pierced the domesticity of Linus’s apartment, and Daphne tried to focus on the task at hand and not her worries about the something strange that was going on. She grabbed the notebook-in-progress from the bag at her feet and flipped back the cover. The pages on which she had written had become loose and wavy, whereas the clean sheets ahead were disciplined and confined to regiment.
“And of course I’m expecting you’ll doctor all my comments to the content and syntax of Bertrand Russell,” Elijah said merrily.
“Oh, of course,” she replied with a forced smile—one that gradually went south when she read her attempt to summarize in one sentence the copious, scattershot notes from last session: “The BHQ believe (??) in a scientifically provable something (??) in another dimension in which the dead, all the souls of mankind, inhere (??)—but that the Christian compulsion to love and optimism about the future is what should guide man in his lifetime.” She reread the sentence and crossed it out; that’s not what she remembered from last time.
“Daphne appears to be fretting,” announced Elijah. “Don’t be afraid to tell me you have issues with Bertrand Russell, because it’s generally the most scintillating minds that do.”
“I don’t have issues,” she said, “because I don’t have a scintillating mind.”
She again read the re-crossed-out sentence: not at all what she remembered from last time. What she remembered was a lot of talk about Spinoza and Schopenhauer—and Elijah begging the group not to say “Spinoza and Schopenhauer” together because it reminded him of a Cole Porter lyric. And then there ensued a minor three-to-one feud in which Jan Kindermans refused to believe that the song “You’re the Top” did not include the lyric “You’re the top; you’re the cat’s pajamas.” She flipped over the paper in the notebook and used the other end of the pen to tap on the page impulsively, repeatedly, like twenty-something smokers to their packs of Camels.
Linus had been smiling at her approvingly all this time. “I can see that our arbiter elegantiae is eager to begin.”
Jan and Simon entered the room in a boisterous gale. They were already bickering, with Simon cursing Trygve’s driving. When both were greeted and sat themselves in twin leather chairs, and after they briefly complained about the quality of cheese—not Gwen’s blocks of Gouda and cheddar per se but the sorry state of cheese-making domestically—their talk turned to the current administration and the United Nations and Britain and France and Russia and an aborted segue into the Suez Crisis and then a desert war. Daphne didn’t bother recording this rollicking part of the proceedings but instead played waitress, fetching coffee and making tea with bags of Salada and securing from Linus’s pantry an alternative kind of fibrous though very stale cracker at Simon’s demand (“This? Not this!”).
As the men locked horns about whose daily source of international news was more reliable, it occurred to Daphne that unlike the originals, all members of this Fab Four were still very much alive and, for the moment at least, kicking sand in one another’s faces. Then she noticed that Simon had noticed her eating stale crackers and nodding at their observations. He raised his hand toward the notebook and idle pen at her side. “Our discussions have again devolved into mere politics!” he shouted. “We aren’t giving Daphne anything relevant to record!”
“Politics are not mere!” Jan shot back.
“We’re too old for politics anyway,” Elijah said with a sigh, causing Daphne to rub her hands and lap free of crumbs and pick up her pen.
“We are never too old for politics,” Jan countered, “because we ourselves constitute a polity.”
With the issuance of polity the banter accelerated, Daphne began scribbling, and before long some dearly held belief was said to be unraveling fast. For the first time in her role as arbiter elegantiae, she felt she couldn’t keep pace.
“What did you say was unraveling fast?” she asked at the first available break.
“I can’t remember!” Jan shouted.
“Because it was that fast!” Simon scoffed.
“Faster than a cough among the Brontës!” Elijah added.
“Whatever it is this thing that’s unraveling fast,” Simon added, “we are in one of Carlyle’s ‘rude eras.’ ”
“Every era’s a rude era!” Elijah proclaimed.
Here they all deferred to Daphne for affirmation—a situation she hadn’t noticed until the elongated pause caused her to look up. “I myself have not lived a moment that wasn’t rude,” she declared.
“We four have lived through periods where the pressing national concern seemed to have historical heft but turned out to be otherwise,” Linus declared, “a mere hiccup of import. But these right now are times that try men’s souls.”
“Oh, that blasted phrase!” Simon scoffed. “Reagan quoted Paine—I can never forget that.”
Linus appeared shocked. “Simon! So the idea is lost to its recent appropriator?”
“Too recent for me,” Simon snapped. “The eighties were a wasteland in American politics, our economy debased to hash with ketchup.”
“Arthur Miller called it the ‘Reagan trance,’ ” Elijah observed, “when writers ‘felt surrounded by an ever-expanding suburbia of the mind.’ ”
“But there were fighters coming out of those times!” Jan said with much enthusiasm. “I remember recoiling at the theatrical protests with those rock and roll stars and that ‘we are our world’ gimmicky and ballyhoo, the men in those rubber suits to represent prophylactics—so unlike the noble decade of Dr. King!
“And for a time I retreated from what they call ‘activism,’ only to have shamed myself before myself for allowing questions of taste to direct my moral compass. For years now I’ve met with these people, and I see them continuing to work with diligence—diligence!—and staying the course through the sabotaging of healthcare reform and this No Child Left Behind malarkey. And I see them now, still, at the anti-war protests on the Common—wearing their shirts with the marijuana plants! And marching with their teenage children wearing these shirts with the marijuana plants!”
“Yes, bully for the marijuana plants!” Simon bellowed. “But we are again off track!”
“And who do you suppose derailed us?” Jan yelled.
“My dear Ms. Daphne,” Elijah gently pleaded, leaning toward the group’s scribe. “Can you help us out here?”
She wasn’t sure what they wanted from her. She remembered some marginal observations way back at the front of her notebook. She rifled through the wavy pages to find the spot. “I was just looking back on my notes from the meeting before last time,” she said, “at the café, and I noticed how Jan had used the phrase ‘tensional integrity.’ Was that by any chance a conscious use of the language of Buckminster Fuller?”
“Why, I must say you are a brilliant audience!” Jan replied, genuinely surprised. “Yes, yes, it was a phrasing most certainly borrowed from Bucky! Tensegrity!”
Linus glowed at Daphne. “I told you she was exceptional.”
“He was five-five,” Simon said matter-of-factly, “in height I mean. Would’ve made Elijah here look like Wilt Chamberlain.”
“I manage to look like Wilt Chamberlain quite on my own,” Elijah protested.
“His head was too big for his body,” Jan added, “too many ideas! He wore eyeglasses bigger than Elijah’s—Coke bottles. And he was a Herculean talker!”
“He once calculated that he spoke 7,000 words an hour,” said Linus.
“And those naps of his,” said Simon. “Now they were certainly crazy. You’d be talking to him in the car, and he’d be asleep. Then the car would hit a pothole and he’d snap to, continuing right where you left off when you noticed his snoring.”
“I hope he wasn’t driving,” Elijah muttered.
“He hated to be behind the wheel!” Jan yelled.
“Bucky took many random and instantaneous daytime naps,” Linus told Daphne, “so that his need for sleep was only three hours each night.”
“And that diet of his,” Simon continued, “steak, spinach, Jell-O. That was all.”
“And tea,” Linus added, “cup after cup after cup.”
“He told me he drank so much tea,” Jan explained, “because he gave up being a liquor drinker—and he’d been a liquor drinker since adolescence. And that was caused, he told me, by the fact that he loved to draw as a boy but his mother took his pencils away. Fuller men were not meant to be artists with pencils. Why, they were meant to go to HARVARD! Be DOCTORS!”
“He loved so many things,” Linus observed, “from the highly complex to the highly commonplace. As a young man he had been agog about the chrome nickel steel that Henry Ford introduced for Model A radiator grilles. The artist Noguchi, his great friend, had used chrome nickel steel on his bust of Bucky.”
“I met him once, briefly,” Elijah announced, almost like a penitent seeking absolution. “All I can say is that my pessimism was the brown and stinging balsamic vinegar to his extra-virgin optimism.”
“That doesn’t surprise us!” Simon said with a laugh.
“Optimism was Bucky’s creed!” Jan exclaimed.
“He believed,” Linus began, “that humanity’s major problems were hunger and homelessness, and at the end of his life he put his mind to those problems rather than to the more glamorous whiz-kid world of technology. He was a much different man from me.”
“According to Bucky’s statistical reckoning,” Simon explained, “global poverty was supposed to have been eradicated—wiped out!—three years ago.” He paused to shake his head. “Ethiopia and Somalia—he would be shocked. Though unlike all of us, he would not be discouraged—or angry—by this loathsome failing on the part of the first world.”
Linus added judiciously, “He believed, ultimately, that his life did not belong to himself but to the universe.”
“He had a Jamesian fondness for this concept of the universe!” Jan exclaimed approvingly.
Simon made a theatrical gesture of wincing: “No—more—James I’m telling you!”
Elijah made an equally theatrical gesture of providing an aside to Daphne: “In a way, Jan is like a frontier lawman hung up on hunting down the James Gang.”
“For your enlightenment, Signor Balsamic,” an indignant Jan replied, “I am not hung up on any person, concept, philosophy, or food substance, being that I do not recognize hung up as a verb form!”
After an icy silence Daphne felt obliged to mediate. “I’ve always liked Fuller’s personal philosophy of the trimtab,” she said, “the very end of the rudder on a ship, I mean. It’s a sad but realistic view of a person’s insignificant place in the world, but it’s also optimistic about the strangeness in the way one person can make things work out, scientifically, against huge odds.” She paused and added, “I didn’t put that very elegantly.”
“On the contrary,” Elijah replied, “you have reminded me of the paradoxical nature of the metaphors we choose to articulate our deepest, strongest ideas. If for Fuller it was the ship’s rudder that stood for optimism, with Larkin it was the tits on the ship’s figurehead that stood—pertly one must assume—for extreme despair.”
“Nothing lewd here!” Jan cautioned.
“Is despair lewd, Jan?” Elijah asked with a chuckle. “Larkin, like with so much of Hardy’s best work, beautifully captures the pain of ultimate debasement that’s inherent in any kind of intense human longing for an object that is made majestic—whether it’s God or the girl:
and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past,
Right to the last.”
Trygve’s fanatical honking was something Daphne had grown used to, like the bell indicating the final round of Jeopardy. Jan stood up and shouted, “At last our ship has arrived!”
“But you just got here,” Daphne complained, looking at her wrist.
“Has that watch of yours stopped again?” asked Linus.
“I don’t know,” she replied, “but I can tell it hasn’t been a full hour, just like last week it wasn’t a full hour. I was just starting to feel that my note-taking has improved dramatically.”
“Save that exuberance for our next session, Daphne,” Elijah advised. “And don’t forget the radical equation of Me = Bertrand Russell.”
With Gwen’s expert supervision, the three wayfarers were coated up efficiently; Daphne would even describe their departure as swift.
“Why is it every time we get together everyone suddenly has to go?” Daphne asked when Linus’s three friends had left the apartment. “No wonder the group’s unraveling fast.”
“Who said the group was unraveling fast?”
She thought for a minute. “I don’t know why I said that.”
“You are nonetheless right, my dear Daphne,” he conceded. “Men of our age needn’t be busy. We needn’t have schedules. Remember the wisdom of Keats: Diligent indolence is the secret of life.”
“But did you practice that,” she asked, “diligent indolence? No, how could you have as steward of the twentieth century?”
“Diligent indolence is the secret of the happy life.”
“You weren’t happy?”
He managed a wan smile. “Who was ever happy?”
“You were happy with Anna Hahn, weren’t you?”
“Who was ever happy at ninety-three? To say that I am fast approaching death is comical; I was fast approaching death several decades ago. I’m living on highly borrowed time—on ludicrous time, Daphne. In that regard I am quite like this country of ours with its absurd deficits, both sacred and profane—to Mother Nature and Chinese capitalists.”
“Is that why you let Gwen go? Is that why you stopped taking your heart medications?”
He continued to smile.
“You can’t let Gwen go again,” she declared. “Would you want it on your conscience if she had to go back to ringing doorbells?”
“I assure you, Daphne, that I will be compliant until the end.”
“Then why use your phone without the rest of the Quartet?”
There was a long pause. “When I don’t take my pills, that is despair in a conspicuous realm. When I defy the mandate of Eugenie, Daphne, that is despair in another realm entirely.”
“I don’t like her realm, Linus. We should all just forget it.”
He smiled again. “When I told you I feared I was losing faith, I was referring to my faith in the un-faith of the Quartet’s endeavor.”
“You mean the pagan element?”
“I would never use the word pagan in reference to Eugenie.”
“Are you saying there’s some religious aspect to her spiel?”
“Nor would I use the word spiel. I suppose you could say that I find myself longing to return to humbled ignorance. I miss the idea of surrendering to the universe my vulnerability and inability to know.”
“Are you talking about William James’s universe?”
“Yes, I suppose. Or perhaps Thomas Paine’s universe. I’ve been thinking much lately about his philosophies. He wrote, ‘I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.’ What more, really, does one need than that?”
“I guess nothing,” she consented. “Because when you have the belief, that’s everything.”
He smiled. “Cerca trova, Daphne.”
She thought for a moment. “You know what I told you about grabbing all that clover to find a four among the threes? After my brother moved to California—when my parents divorced, Paul lived with my dad—he came back to visit us for the first time for a month in the summer. I was so happy! The day before he flew back to Galt, where he lived, we went to visit relatives in Pennsylvania, in Bucks County with the Amish. There was so much clover in their yard that summer. Normally I’d spend hours and hours in single-minded pursuit. But I wanted to spend as much time as I could with Paul before he left me. When we got ready to get in the car, I grabbed fistfuls of clover to stuff in my pockets, going through most of it on the drive home and then continuing at the kitchen table. When I came to my last stem, despondent as usual, Paul went to his suitcase and got his airplane glue. He traveled with airplane glue because he was always at work on his intricate models. His planes were so complex that you never saw him working on the thing in its entirety, just engine parts and landing gear, as would a real mechanic. And so Paul sat down with his airplane glue and my mother’s tweezers, and with some careful bisecting and gluing, he created a four-leaf clover—one that reeked of airplane glue.”
Linus had at some point fallen asleep. His spontaneous slumber was something Gwen seemed to know instinctively, for there she was, providing Daphne the opportunity for a question.
“Can I ask you something while he’s asleep?”
“Make it fast,” said Gwen as she grabbed a plaid blanket off another chair, “because this one’ll wake up.”
Daphne shook her head at the snoring man. “How tiring it must be to live through that much time.”
“It goes real fast is what I hear,” said Gwen, unfolding the blanket to place around Linus. “It’s already started to go fast for me.”
“I hate to think about having time. It’s just more things I won’t accomplish, more good times that won’t be had by me.”
When Gwen finished tucking in the blanket she made a face. “That was your question?”
Daphne motioned for them to move away from the dreamer. “What do you think of Mistress Eugenie?”
Linus’s caretaker gave Daphne a considered look. She was probably middle-aged, but something about her carriage and manner—not to mention the flawlessly applied makeup—expanded the credible range to anywhere between forty and sixty. “I met her once,” she said. “I had to pick him up at her place. She makes like she’s some bad-ass voodoo woman, you know? But she’s just tryin’ to get somewhere, work the system. And hey, ain’t we all?”
“So you think she’s just like the tarot readers handing out fliers in Harvard Square?”
She shook her head.
“You think she actually has some kind of power?”
“She’s something else, that one.”
Gwen told of how the four of them had become the able characters Daphne first met only since they started seeing Eugenie the previous summer. “Linus was sick,” Gwen explained, “and me, I know sick. Linus was sick like he was dying. The daughters were here, that prissy lawyer with the bicycle and the—what the heck you call them things?—the fanny packings. All of them hovering like everyone’s ready to get their cut and split. Believe me: I know those kinds of folks. But since Linus starts seeing her, right? Like, he’s some other dude—all this energy comin’ from somewhere, all this walkin’ and goin’ out to cemeteries and all that nature stuff. And don’t we know that man is old.”
This wasn’t what Daphne wanted to hear when she left Linus’s apartment—things unexplainable. What she desperately needed was the voice of an expert explaining away magical thinking—a voice from her brother’s world to tell you why marble rarely contains fossils or where on the floor of the Atlantic the oldest basalt could be found or which carbonate mineral reacts readily with cool, dilute hydrochloric acid to produce the visible bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.
Walking home down Linnaean Street and Massachusetts Avenue—past the dingy drugstore and the basement video store and the café where she’d met with the Quartet—the assaults resumed. It seemed like a grade-school play in which everyone had some kind of line to deliver—the embracing couple with the she part yakking away to elsewhere or the guy walking his beagle as he spoke with resolution into a device concealed by his shaggy hair.
“What you do is you play on people’s vanity that the universal is somehow unique to them,” the woman said as her lover grabbed more firmly at her waist.
“Idiots tend to think that teasing is the be-all and end-all to public life,” the shaggy-haired man said as his dog paused to pee on the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
“We need you to go there if that’s what she wants,” “My loving son waits for no man or beast,” “My theory is you believe and you do so willingly.” These salvaged, recycled, or repurposed phrases crisscrossed Daphne’s path like missiles illuminating the night sky over a foreign capital, like Scud firings arcing across Baghdad or Tel Aviv during the last Gulf War—deadly to their targets but a novelty to slouching, indifferent television viewers halfway around the globe.