Getting the four old men out of the Cadillac and into the house involved a familiar struggle for which Daphne had zero nostalgia. Eugenie greeted her summoned regiment as before, pulling them into her dark core as an intent atom would any loose electron.
“You need my help,” she told Daphne.
“What I need,” said Daphne, “is for you to stop what you’re doing to me.”
They were clustered in the foyer, waiting for the unsheathing and dumping of coats, when suddenly all attention was cued stage-left.
“Du hast es geschafft!” exclaimed Jan, rushing into the room with the Buddha and the shrouded portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Now colonizing its square footage was a grand piano, lid raised and ready for a test drive.
“Where on earth did you get that?” asked Daphne, rushing in after Jan.
“I have lucky charms,” Eugenie said with a smile.
Daphne walked around the perimeter of the glistening instrument, keeping one hand on the wood as an equestrian would a thoroughbred’s buttocks. It was a Steinway.
“Looks like a decommissioned concert grand,” said Jan, trailing her path.
Their behavior clearly irritated the hostess. “Stop doing that or you both turn to butter!”
“Much retired,” said Jan, “but exceptional! extraordinary!”
“Will you play some Sibelius?” asked Daphne. “Or the Tchaikovsky he ripped off?”
“Too old!” he said, stopping and leaning into the instrument’s curve of hip. “Dead in the joints! Et in Arcadia ego!”
“How about some Fats Waller?” she asked Simon.
“Maybe when my ego has limbered up.”
“Your ego,” said Elijah, “could do back flips to Hong Kong any time of the day or night.”
“Artur Rubinstein played my piano,” Eugenie announced.
“How do you know?” asked Daphne.
“This is number 300,001 Steinway made. Identical twin to number 300,000 given to White House in 1938.”
Daphne made a face. “How come it doesn’t have gold eagles on its legs?”
Eugenie laughed. “My eagles are kind to detach and go in closet with reindeer and tiki lights.”
“Why do you have to have some crazy story for everything?”
“The White House,” the mistress continued, “now they have West Wing to put many Steinway pianos. Me, I am forced to downsize.”
“So now you’re down a séance setup,” said Daphne, glancing toward the other room.
“Yes,” she conceded with a frown. “I don’t have the spare.”
“Why did you call us here?”
“So you are hearing voice of our lady!” Eugenie exclaimed with a clap.
The men looked apprehensively at Daphne.
“And you are happy with her beautiful voice?” Eugenie pressed.
“Happy?” Daphne replied, incredulous.
“What does she sound like?” asked Simon.
Sound like? What did she sound like? “I don’t know. Greer Garson?”
“What is she telling you?” Simon pressed.
Daphne shook her head. “It’s just a voice I hear when other people talk. It’s a voice with nothing behind it.”
The room temperature was again intense, as were the dueling radios providing the familiar cacophony. They left the Steinway for the other room, stopping to molt in the lobby, and seated themselves at the burl walnut table. Mistress Eugenie promised refreshments and disappeared into the house’s darkness.
“Heavens, the woman torments me!” Simon shouted.
“Is it Winkill again?” Daphne asked, for her ears could make out nothing from the smashed-together sounds.
“He with the juvenile ‘Out of My Face Coalition,’ ” Simon continued, “One Nation under God, and now another hateful outfit called the Lexington Group. I’ve been following that cretin since our showdown.”
“What’s the Lexington Group?” she asked.
“That’s all they do is form propaganda groups with tax-exempt status. But this one especially frightens me as it contains a number of key senators. I was tempted to say ‘highly regarded,’ but they are highly regarded only within their lot. Customary conservative social agenda—no abortion or stem cell research but rah-rah on the AK-47s within forty-eight hours—but this element takes the cake: The wholesale withdrawal of any national assistance, regardless of circumstance. Medicaid, WIC coupons, food stamps, all farm subsidies. A forty-dollar check for milk and infant cereal—nada! And it gets better: eliminating veteran’s benefits. Get rid of the Office of Veterans’ Affairs! That such proposals should occur when this is still my sovereign democratic nation and not when we’ve been conquered by fascists.”
“Why do they call themselves Lexington?”
“Something to do with their quick response to the shot heard round the world, I imagine. They can’t get enough of that Revolutionary musket imagery adored by the NRA. They get their money from some couple who endow evangelical colleges.”
Mistress Eugenie emerged from the darkness holding a tray of china. She set the tray on the table to reveal the ornament as red dragons chasing red dragons.
“Ah ha!” shouted Simon gleefully. “What timing, Eugenie! Staffordshire—the preferred tableware of fascists!”
“Why not check?” their coy mistress asked Daphne.
“Who else would question Eugenie? Who else would have doubts I have authentic dragons?”
Daphne stared alternately at her and the cup before lifting it to read that it was Staffordshire.
The mistress winked at Simon. “Woe is Eugenie! I have the heirloom china and no VIPs to have come to this house! Wait till you see my Limoges!”
Daphne was losing patience. “When are you going to tell me why?”
“Why I am I hearing things from people on their phones?”
“Our lady!” the mistress exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Daphne conceded, “your lady who I don’t want to hear.”
“I don’t know that answer so ask me something I know.”
“How do I know what you know?”
“Trial and error I would imagine,” Simon suggested, taking the cup and saucer handed him.
Daphne slipped her hand into the shoulder bag on her lap and turned on the recorder. “I don’t understand your theory about the Four Corners.”
Eugenie sighed before dropping herself into a chair. “Don’t you know Earth is flat—the square Four Corners—and if you try like brave small mouse on leaf to sail to other side you fall off edge? You fall off edge like Amerigo Vespucci and get made the French fry by red dragons like ones on my teacups and Vespucci maps.
“But these hepcats come to King of Spain and say, ‘Juan Carlos, Earth is round. Don’t listen to these squares.’ And Spanish King calls Naples mafia and says, ‘Find me da guy.’ And so Italian guy discovers South America and kills millions wholesome Americans with awful diseases. Is this a good thing if I tell you Earth is round?”
Daphne blew on the hot tea in her cup. “Thanks for the history lesson.”
“Everything needs the four,” Eugenie continued, “this Quartet with my guys. My Beatles they could only be four, not five or two. You know what T. S. Eliot wrote Four Quartets?”
Daphne glanced at Elijah.
“That is beautiful work because he was hearing quartets of Beethoven. I hear quartets of Bartok, Shostakovich, Debussy, Ravel. I hear four Beatles.”
“You really listen to Bartok?” Daphne asked.
“Whenever I play Beatles songs I get clear connection for my Nathaniel Hawthorne,” Eugenie continued. “And you know what, you? I think maybe I ask him about our lady’s voice what’s bugging you.”
“You’re kidding,” said Daphne. “Nathaniel Hawthorne is your guy on the other side?”
Their hostess smiled.
“Hawthorne was a recluse and a fatalist,” said Elijah. “He and his wife were forever having money troubles. He thought himself obscure and unappreciated.”
“I had planned to write my dissertation on some of his works,” said Daphne.
“Why didn’t you?” asked Elijah.
“Everyone was doing Hawthorne,” she said, taking a sip, “it was a craze. The thing I remember is his marrying the pretty sister, not the smart one.”
“Let’s say we take hands and listen for their breaths,” said Eugenie.
“Whose breaths?” asked Daphne.
“The dead ones.”
“If you’re talking about a séance, no way.”
“We should have séance to comfort these spirits,” Eugenie explained. “They need time to speak. And maybe help you fix problem.”
Jan slapped his hand on the table. “Mid-nineteenth-century America had a million spiritualists. Now THAT was a craze!”
“The conditions were ripe,” added Simon. “Spiritualism billed itself as a scientific religion, and it was democratic in that anyone could become a medium.”
“Yes!” added Jan. “Mediums believed that spirits spent eternity rising through spheres toward a top level.”
“How many spheres were there?” asked Daphne.
“And more important,” added Elijah, “did they cheat?”
“Those levels all hokey,” said Eugenie, waving the thought away with her hand. “I do not buy that stuff. People like making up rules, like with Monopoly game, you know? Who plays that game with rules? They all want railroads and hotels in New York, so they make up rules like ‘I kill your guy if you land right . . . HERE!’ The dead ones—we don’t know nothin’ but what they say, what they tell us, how they talk to us. Me, do I go asking them, ‘Hey, did you shave long beard?’ ‘Do you wear the bikini?’?”
Eugenie slapped her hands on the table. “OK, so we don’t listen for the breaths. But how about I turn your cards?”
Daphne rolled her eyes. “If you know everything about my life and you know everything about their lives and you know everything about life that can be known, why on earth do you need to turn cards?”
The mistress slid her teacup and saucer aside with an elbow and with one swooping movement laid out a cascade of cards that she appeared to have conjured from under the table. “Because I am addict,” she confessed, “like opium fiend. Cards for me are like cha-cha shoes for Imelda Marcos. What can I say?” She plucked one card from the spread and turned in over. “Again we have Nine Pentacles.”
“I’ve seen it already,” said Daphne.
“The lovely lady with the yellow dress and red flowers like teacup dragons and this falcon on her hand she has tamed. She has tamed this falcon like some tame the fox. She has yellow dress like the yellow bird. Your Mister Dowdy, the man with yellow bird who gave you the watch, eh? His wife died, yes?”
Daphne folded her arms.
“Maybe Mister Godfather was looking for next wife,” she proposed. “Maybe he was looking for female company. Your mother was looker lady.”
“Don’t talk about my mother or my father.”
“Whenever you think of mother and father,” Eugenie advised, “you have to remember Mister Dowdy.”
“You’re a con,” said Daphne.
“Why be tree when you can be archer who shoots arrows to moon?”
“I don’t want to hit the moon.”
“You don’t have to hit, just aim, like your uncle told you.”
“Don’t talk about my uncle either.”
“So what you want we chat about—Bucky Fuller?”
“Don’t tell me he was your confident.”
“Not him, but I don’t put nickels on him at cemetery.”
She was now outright angry. “So you know every goddamned thing I do?”
“Dear Daphne,” Linus broke in, “we all regret being privy to this information. We respect your privacy. Mistress Eugenie will understand when I say we apologize.”
“Look, it’s not a secret,” she snapped. “When I’m at Mount Auburn I always leave two nickels on Fuller’s gravestone.”
“People will die who will die,” said Eugenie.
“I told you I’m not superstitious.”
“We ourselves have things we do for luck,” said Elijah, causing all in the group to look to him for an illustration of this claim. He thought for a moment and then reached to pick up the valise on the floor by his side. He pulled from it his blue phone that he fiddled with before turning it toward her to reveal the stored genie of DAPHNE. “I keep you in here for luck.”
“And I do as well!” Simon shouted, rummaging in his sagging pocket for his own phone, causing a cascading effect of Jan and Linus doing likewise. Daphne was confronted with four glowing renditions of her name in capital letters, like the gravestones at Mount Auburn.
Not to be outdone, Mistress Eugenie rummaged within the folds of her saris to find a matching phone that she thrust at Daphne.
“Not that again,” said Daphne. She was too tired to shout.
“There is someone you want to talk to.”
“Please stop it.”
“You have the Uta.”
“We’ve got to go now,” said Daphne as she stood.
As the group readied themselves to leave, Eugenie tried several times to slip the phone into Daphne’s jacket pocket or deposit it within her shoulder bag. It reminded Daphne of Harpo Marx trying to get someone to take hold of his leg.
Outside under the long canopy, as Daphne lamented being right back where she started, a chest blast of music could be heard coming from the house, causing the group to stop and turn.
“Well that Steinway is certainly getting played!” Jan exclaimed.
“Yes, but by whom?” asked Simon.
It was without a doubt the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-four” being belted out ragtime style, all pedals down. Daphne walked from the canopy’s lighted path into the frozen yard, to get a better look. The picture window—with its many-colored bottles and glass heart shot through by beams of floodlight—looked sad, like a remote alcove of some monstrous Gothic cathedral. “I guess that’s her,” she said.
“Or maybe it’s Hawthorne signaling the fall of Usher!” Elijah exclaimed.
“Even I can hear it,” said Simon, who had followed Daphne onto the dead grass. “Looks like she’s finally turned off all those radios.”
“Or opened a window,” said Daphne.
“I thought they were painted shut!” Jan shouted.
Once the company was reassembled in the car, multiple requests were issued for the Sibelius.
“I’m sincerely sorry,” Linus told Daphne as she queued the disc, “for what we put you through in there. And that we all remain in the dark about this voice.”
The others chose silence for the encore presentation.
“The Sibelius I wish I were playing right now,” said Jan near the end of the encore, “is ‘The Death of Melisande’ from Pelléas and Mélisande.”
“I’ve heard the Ravel version,” said Daphne.
“What composer could resist Maeterlinck’s play?” asked Linus.
“Mélisande dies without telling Pelléas how she felt about him,” said Jan. “Regret, regret, regret!”
“And yet it’s the audience who regrets,” said Linus, “isn’t it? Pelléas is simply miserable.”
“Joyce said that all novelists have only one story that they tell over and over,” Elijah observed. “And Somerset Maugham thought a writer lucky if his one story was a good one.”
“I guess it would be sad,” said Daphne.
“What would be sad?” he asked.
“If your one story was of regret.”
“Daphne,” Simon declared in a kind voice, “I certainly wish I’d had a sport of a daughter like you.”
“Ditto for all of us,” said Elijah.
“You are worth multiple Dachshunds!” Jan shouted.
Pained by the guilt of them thinking her better than she was, she felt she owed them honesty. “I tried to kill myself once,” she said, slowing to make a left-hand turn. “I swallowed a handful of Tylenol with bourbon. I don’t remember any of it.”
“Did someone help you?” Jan shouted.
“I had a therapist,” she told them, “for a while.”
The men were troubled by not knowing what to say.
“Dear Daphne,” asked Linus, “why were you happy three years ago and not now?”
That was something she asked herself all the time. Why was it all or nothing?
Maybe it was the T-shirt that seemed to never go away. It was made for people who worked at JCPenney and bore the slogan “It’s all inside.” Someone had wedged the shirt between some furniture in transit, and it was left in one of the trucks leased by the moving company for which he worked weekends. He brought the shirt home, washed it, and was wearing it the Saturday she met him, when his co-worker had cut his shin and bled on the street outside her apartment building. They were movers but nobody had a first-aid kit. She brought them bandages and gauze and a role of white tape and found herself staring at the words “It’s all inside,” thinking of the many things they could mean. Perhaps that everything she needed could be found inside of him, or that the valuable things about him were not immediately apparent, or that he was one of those men who unhealthily kept everything inside. She had pulled the shirt out of the dryer so many times the words were faded to insignificance, though neither could stuff it in the trash. He was wearing the shirt the day when it was no longer all inside but outside—everywhere.
“As you said to me,” Elijah advised. “No one should be alone.”
Something told her that this was the gesture that indicated the end—this chauffering these four illustrious men around in Sonja Rosenberg’s Caddy. Something told her—sadly—it was the end.
“You know,” she said, glancing sideward to Jan, “I think maybe I do understand your Heimat. In fact, I think this moment right here is my Heimat. For some reason, I feel that I’m on my way home.”