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Chapter 26

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. Dark in the dark, he’d eagerly sniff her fingertips and then turn in circles, not seeming to want out so much as relief from the breakneck speed.

Trygve’s wife didn’t introduce herself or even ask who Daphne was. She was on the phone when Daphne got into the car and she remained on the phone all the way to Mass. General, even during the Dunkin Donuts segue. She had stiff hair to her shoulders—blond and white and black and gray and a lot of other colors blended together, like a seasonal floral arrangement. Her cherry-colored suit appeared to have been fitted at an earlier time, for eruptions of something white occurred between every button.

“Huh”—the declarative, not the interrogatory—she offered repeatedly as if coughing for a doctor, although “Unnnnn-believable” was her preferred refrain. Her successive conversations were about real estate, but none seemed to be with clients on either side of the transaction. If not for Queequeg, the ride would have made Daphne feel invisible.

After Trygve’s wife had pulled into a space in the parking garage and got out, Daphne mustered the courage to interrupt the conversation. “Can you leave the back window down a crack for him?”

She stared at Daphne while continuing to listen to her phone, like the request had been the weightiest deliberation in the world. When she leaned back into the car and placed the coffee cup in the cup holder, Daphne realized that that’s what the momentary indecision had been about—whether or not to bring the coffee into the hospital. Still, she used her long thick fingernail to flick a lever, giving Queequeg a few inches of the air.

Daphne lost track of Trygve’s wife at the colossal revolving doors. She was directed to an emergency room waiting area where she saw Trygve speaking with two doctors. She heard one of the doctors say “stroke” and another “regain consciousness.”

When the doctors spirited themselves away through swinging doors, Trygve looked at Daphne in disgust. “You were listening.”

“Thornton Winkill was there at Eugenie’s,” she said, “having it out with your father.”


“We should call the police.”

“No police.”

“Winkill caused this,” she told him. “He left the scene of a crime.”

“Having a stroke is not a crime.”

“How could you have left him there alone?”

“Get out of our life.”

“This has nothing to do with your life.”

“What are you waiting around for?” he asked. “You think you’re gonna get a cut?”

“I don’t want money,” she said. “I want the truth.”

“They’ll all be dead within a month. That’s the truth.”

“Why did you leave him there alone?”

Trygve’s eyes drifted up and over Daphne’s head, and she turned to see Susan Frost arriving with Abigail, the daughter she had met at Simon’s house. And then beyond them a cherry-colored suit was lumbering along in heel-clacking pursuit. “Su-zaaaan!” the wife exclaimed, arms spread wide like a raptor in descent. She hugged the tiny woman, smothering her face in her bosom.

Susan retained her dour expression as Abigail led her toward Trygve, who immediately took to bullying any passing medical personnel to find a doctor to speak to Mrs. Simon Cooper Frost.

A look had claimed Susan’s face—not accusatory, maybe existential. There was no way of knowing whether Das Blaue-Fischreiher-Quartett had expedited or deterred her husband’s demise. She grabbed Daphne’s sleeve in passing, making a fist of the fabric with her knotty, arthritic hand. “God help us.”

Though Daphne had anticipated staying around for the arrival of Linus, Elijah, or Jan if any chose to appear, she knew she had to get out of there. She went to a pay phone to call Andy. When she looked in her bag for change, she saw that she’d taken Simon’s phone.

“Thank you for picking up my line,” she told her boss.

“How is he?”

“He’s had a stroke from what I can tell, and it doesn’t look good.”

“You need to call Paul too,” he said. “I told him what happened.”

“You picked up again?”

“I thought there might be other lives to save.”

Something told her to swing by the parking garage to check on Queequeg. As she reached into the window crack to pet the nervous animal, the phone in her bag rang, causing Queequeg to leap back, away from her and the back window. From his look she feared he might growl, so she walked away with the ringing phone. Finally, after a while of this noise, she took out Simon’s phone and opened it.

“Did I happen to tell you that when it’s your time,” said the voice, “it’s ugly and there’s no one to comfort you? Of course for some people it’s fast—bang in the head. The issue is moot. Still, we all need to pay attention to what we’re wearing.”

“Simon is going to die.”

“You’re all going to die, Daphne.”

She held out the phone to look at its brilliant screen—blue, blue, and more blue, but no letters, no numbers. “Who are you?”

“What a way to go, huh? Being old. Where’s the drama? Where’s the glamour? None of the intrigue of the tennis ball to the ear that took out Montaigne’s younger brother.”

“Who are you?”

“Don’t throw tennis balls at me—no, wait. I think it’s don’t throw bouquets at me, Daphne Passerine, because you know what? People will say we’re in love. And please don’t—whatever you do—don’t ever, ever, ever liken my voice to that of Mrs. Miniver.”

“Who are you?”

“Did you hear me? From what I recall, Greer Garson always sounded like she’d spent the previous forty-eight hours breathing into a paper bag.”

“Just who are you supposed to be?”

“As Bugs Bunny would say, ‘Who’m I makin’ like, Doc?’ Five aspects classical rhetoric. Take a guess, Daph. Take a guess which one I am. I’ll give you a clue: Pass on what’s behind the curtain, but definitely have a look at the box beside which Carol Merrill is now standing.”


“My name is not Pandora.”

“So what’s your name?”

“You guess.”

“Lady Remington?”

“Don’t be smart.”

“I’m not smart.”

“Linus Steinbrenner thinks you are.”

“He thinks I’m an arbiter elegantiae.”

“What is that, like a dumb waiter?”

“Did you know any of them?”

“Oh, Elijah!” the voice exclaimed. “Sweet little Elijah Jane! He never even knew I’m a Jew.”

“Because of your name?”

“Are you back to Pandora again?”

“I told you I need a name.”

“This Pandora charade is all Greek to me. I never learned me no Greek, being the ‘classic autodidact’ I got labeled, with no say in the matter. Picked up the title like chewing gum on the sole of my shoe.”

“Is that where the five aspects of classical rhetoric came from?”

“I have no idea what that means.”

“You just said it to me.”

“I was only repeating hearsay, the hot gossip.”

“So you haven’t been talking to Eugenie,” Daphne asked, “repeating that phrase to her?”

“She made that up,” the voice declared firmly, “along with everything else.”

“She gave me this phone.”

“So? Aren’t I allowed to pop up when and where I want given who I am?”

“Who are you?”

“You guess.”

“Are you a writer?”

“It might be something of a sport for you to glean that information through your interviewer’s wiles.”

“Did you charm people?”

“Do I sound to you beautiful?”

“I don’t know what beautiful sounds like.”

“My life was my own revolution.”

“It sounds like you had a good one then.”

“Really? You think so? Because, honestly, Daph, I wasn’t happy. Not happy at all.”


“Linus Steinbrenner told you he wasn’t happy.”

“I think he was happy at some parts of his life. But he’s sad thinking about other parts.”

“My life was my own revolution, Daphne, although in general life has no point.”

“I don’t want to hear that.”

“But look at you trying to off yourself like life has no point.”

“So what’s your advice?”

“Advice?” she mused. “Well, for starters, don’t bother keeping journals. I kept journals, notebooks and notebooks, but they turned out to be useless. They don’t tell me where I was or what I was doing. At the time I thought, ‘I already know this; why would I ever need to write it down?’ So what did I fill these notebooks with? Bloody feelings! I’d go back looking for the date in May of the previous year on which I told so-and-so I no longer loved him, and all I’d get is feelings, the cheapest commodity your mind can send down to your pen!”

“I don’t keep journals.”

“But you take dictation for the guys. You play secretary.”

“They pay me.”

“Why is it you’ve fallen so hard for them?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Oh, they have so much to say, don’t they?”

“As a matter of fact, they do.”

“None of them actually served in a uniform,” the voice declared, “did they? None with the bayonets to the gut, hand-to-hand combat, mano a mano, up close and personal. Doesn’t that raise an eyebrow for you? Why not you go ask Jan, ‘Daddy, what did you do during the war?’ What exactly was he doing when they hauled Anne Frank off to Auschwitz—or was it Bergen-Belsen where she first touched down? And Linus in his Bethesda bunker playing Chinese checkers.”

“He was on a submarine breaking codes.”

She laughed. “You know that man wasn’t breaking any codes, Daphne. All that dirty stuff for the OSS. Want to hear about it?”

“Not particularly.”

“And Elijah scuttling around Manhattan with his leftie writing and his great-tome-in-progress. Chin up with his astigmatisms, standing firm on his flat feet. I suppose those pesky ration coupons posed him some inconvenience he was able to weather through. Simon is the closest we’ve got to the man of the bunch—taking the risk of at least being in London during the Blitz.”

“You’re being unfair,” said Daphne. “Look at how Elijah later stood out when the McCarthy people called him to testify. Just because he wasn’t drafted doesn’t make him a coward.”

“But he might’ve been a war correspondent, don’t you think? Liebling was a war correspondent long before he got so fat. And look at Simon’s girl Eddie Petersham, killed in Italy while reporting from the front lines. Why didn’t Simon go with her? And how could Jan ignore those murderous years in escapist pursuit of his Trodermann fetish?”

“He was involved with the Dutch resistance,” Daphne argued, “but on top of that he was a pacifist.”

“Him a pacifist?” the voice exclaimed. “With that temper?”

“He lost Maja during the war.”

“Do you know how she died, Daphne?”

After some hesitation she said, “I have my suspicions.”

“Well, your suspicions are right.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I simply want that you know what is true—what is true, for instance, about Linus Steinbrenner, who by all estimations was one very cold fish. Did you know that he refused ever to fly coach or tourist? Did you know that he was overheard at Dumbarton Oaks having a conversation with Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer about ‘the particular body odor of the Negro’? Did you know that he was never happy with his daughters, thought they lacked muchly in looks and social demeanor, were of limited intelligence? To his colleagues he referred to them as ‘Katherine’s girls.’ ”

“People can change,” Daphne argued.

“Or they can just get old and conveniently forget all the messes they’ve left behind.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you are the asker of questions,” the voice replied, “and I am the only one who can answer them.”

“But why not let me ask the questions?”

“The things you’d ask would be severely limited by your lack of comprehension of reality.”

“You sound like Eugenie.”

“Right now I feel like discussing Elijah. Precisely, his going on about everyone ‘running off to Damarsicotta Mills’ one summer or another. Oh, how that man can dramatize his life! Such retrofitted enchantment! He did show up once at the Lowells’—little frog of a fellow, though no one objected. Want to know how many abortions he financed so as to prevent the hatching of future Tweeten froggies?”

“No, I don’t want to know.”

“Three,” said the voice. “Actually four, but one of them was a false bill of sale. But bully for her, that girl from Pawtucket.”

“That’s all you have on him?”

“All those drunks and human odds and ends,” the voice went on. “Like the ones Hemingway described in the Café des Amateurs—the drunkards and their unwashed bodies huddled when it rained. Odds and ends and drunks like Margie Swain but also Elijah and Linus. You do know about them, don’t you? Drinking buddies way after the fact. Think about that, Daphne, how these two men, believing the things that they did, could ever form a friendship. Talk about negative capability! Me, I just don’t get it, how all the things Elijah stood for could be flushed down the toilet in his making nice with a man like Linus Steinbrenner, the big strategist against the Ruskies and the China Reds, seeing only numbers and never actual lives.”

“Linus knows he’s made mistakes.”

“And his worshiping Churchill of all people! For every spiel about ‘Britain’s finest hour’ you have proclamations like his kicker in regard to Indians—‘a beastly people with a beastly religion.’ ”

“Humans are a mess.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” the voice went on in a casual singsong, “all those unfortunate boozers. Poor, unfortunate Margie Swain. No one helped her, least of all Elijah. And does anybody even know where poor, unfortunate Emily was laid to rest?”

“Emily who?”

“Life is one solid mass of irony, Daphne, no seams visible. Irony from here to eternity. Like Elijah and his girl, growing up in virtually the same place. The same goddamned place. All that fuss over a matter of miles on a filling-station map.”

“What girl are you talking about?”

“You must know that your Bucky was accused of stealing the geodesic dome idea from a student at Black Mountain.”

“I knew that.”

“Don’t you believe it?”

“My uncle didn’t believe it.”

“That uncle of yours,” said the voice, “did he ever write books?”

“On rocks. He coauthored two and was working on a third—about a certain kind of quartz—when he died.”

“A real science guy.”

“He read poetry,” said Daphne, “small books he could keep in his pocket. When I was young I would flatten out the wrappers of candy he bought me and then fold them into what I thought were artistic shapes so he could use them as bookmarks. Sometimes he scribbled in a little notebook.”

“Love letters,” said the voice.

“I think they were poems.”

“I don’t know if I should trust you, Daph. I know your bad habits—the lot of them numbered one to ten.”

“Number eleven is that I sometimes secretly record conversations.”

“For the purpose of blackmail?”

“For no purpose,” said Daphne. “If I’m waiting at a bus stop and the man next to me starts complaining about how this bus is chronically late and then proceeds to recount one scenario after another as evidence of the injustices he has suffered, I’ll turn on the recorder in my bag.”

“Are you secretly taping me?”

“At the end of the day,” said Daphne, “I’ll listen to this stranger talking and realize that the stories I remembered are not what he said, and I’ll wonder why my mind held on to certain details and not others. I have a good memory and yet my good memory doesn’t serve the truth.”

She waited for the reply, but there was none—nothing more. She looked down at the glowing phone. She put it to her ear another time before closing it and dropping it into her bag.

She realized she had crossed Charles as she talked but mostly listened and was now somewhere on Beacon Hill. How much it had changed since she lived there when young, almost fifteen years ago. And how little she herself had changed in these same fifteen years. Why did hospitals always do that to us—make us see our lives through a wider lens?

Outside a hospital two years and six months ago, it was dark beyond the parking lot lights; there were no picturesque Beacon Hill side streets. It had nonetheless been her intention to walk the two states home, even though what lie at the end of those two states was no longer home. She was born an exile who only now, prepared to walk in the dark for as long as it took, had realized her true identity.

What did it take to be the hero of your own life? Survival mostly. His mother was born in 1944 on the Alamogordo base in New Mexico, when his grandfather, the anti-Semitic physicist from Lucerne, was working on the Manhattan Project. His grandfather had a disease—people assumed it was polio—that caused him to walk with a severe limp. His grandmother, raised in California, worked as a transcriber for the project and believed in astrology. The family—his mother being their only child—moved to Chicago after the war so that his grandfather could teach at the university.

His mother grew up to marry a physicist. His mother and the physicist had two children; his sister was four years younger. When he was twelve, his mother and sister visited relatives in Michigan. There was a freak gas leak; they both died, but not any of the relatives. He and his physicist father were just beginning the sad journey of being alone when his dog died—hit by a car—two months after the tragedy. His father died when he was a sophomore in college. His lifelong best friend died in a hiking accident when he was a senior in college. His beloved mentor at MIT died quickly of stomach cancer. His second dog was killed by a car near Fresh Pond right before Daphne met him. “I’m through with dogs,” he told her. “You can’t ever be through with dogs,” she replied. He told her that the five people who died on him each had a different zodiac sign, so as far as he was concerned, those five signs were stricken from his grandmother’s astrological chart. “You can never die on me, Daphne,” he told her over and over. “You can’t be the sixth.”

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