When Daphne awoke she picked up Simon’s phone and then set it back down on the bedside table. It glowed when she touched it and stopped when she let go—powered, it appeared, by a current from elsewhere. There was no place to insert an adapter to an everyday outlet.
After calling Andy and then Gwen on the real phone, she sat on the edge of her bed in the apartment where she lived alone.
Alone meant no people, no pets, no plants. That’s what alone meant. A glass of water left since sometime, a shade that couldn’t be made straight no matter which side you pulled, a corner into which innocent items were enticed by the popularity of the heap. How long had it been going on, living as if out of a suitcase? She’d been at this place over a year—a year and four months—and most of her possessions were still in boxes, pyramids of them, just like her nomadic life with her mother. She did have a phone—what people now called a land line—but she had no Internet connection, which caused stupefaction in whomever she told, like mentioning that you did your own dental work. She supposed it was easy to live this way when you had no accountability, no one to tidy up for should that person decide to drop by.
She told Andy she wouldn’t be in the office; she was told by Gwen that a nurse had been called in to stand watch over Linus, who was by no means up to traveling to Boston to stand a sad watch for Simon, who had still not regained consciousness. She looked at the blue phone once again before getting up and on with the day; she knew she had to do something and now had an idea.
Being that it was February, the cemetery was empty of SUVs tooling up and down the curving roads, as happens in spring as reliably as trees coming into leaf. Today as always there was the heavy scent of some coniferous tree or bush on Central Avenue, just before you got to the Adams stone. This beguiling scent originated in a thicket, on a slope where the springtime lilies of the valley were startlingly dense, squeezed leaf over leaf into the bleacher seats, eagerly awaiting the first pitch. It had to be something common, this scent, but Daphne needed a person walking beside her to tell her what.
The phone in her bag started ringing like a lone car alarm at 3 a.m. She was surprised it had taken so long. She needed to find a tree for it, one with humanity built in, the big old David Copperfield kind abundant with meaning—a beech perhaps, silver or copper. There was a Norway maple almost ninety feet tall, and a sycamore maple reaching almost seventy feet. Whose forms did these invading trees take? Somewhere in here there had to be a tree for Anna Hahn Steinbrenner and a tree for Mary Baker Eddy and a tree for Bucky and Bundy and Fannie Farmer and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Maybe someone had already put a down payment on one for her.
Yarrow Path became her destination because of the thought of that one black oak—Querus Velutina—that always seemed pregnant with triplets. Daphne called this oak Calista, after the name on a nearby headstone, and dubbed her the goddess of fertility. Today Calista stood tall, proud of her fecund protrusion. Daphne touched the tree and walked around it looking for another deformation, a cavity into which she could insert a phone. But there was no hole to be found, on the tree or in the ground. She stood back, at a distance, to behold the goddess, and suddenly the pregnant part of the oak looked exactly like a man’s face, an old man’s face. During her years of looking at this tree she had never seen in the massive deformation a face, but here it was, large and angry, ravaged with deep, dark lines. “What have you done to me?” it seemed to be asking.
The phone’s continued ringing told her no, she had been wrong, so she set off toward Bellwort Path and Bucky’s grave. She passed a rugged-looking groundskeeper in a Patriots jacket. He held several wooden stakes in his right hand—stakes with royal blue flags at the ends. He must have wondered why she wasn’t answering her phone, but this was a cemetery; one didn’t ask questions.
Quite often Fuller’s gravestone bore some idiosyncratic arrangement of found objects, discrete offerings from visitors whose intentions would remain forever obscure. Today it was a triangle of small twigs, which she had seen a number of times before.
She’d had dreams—nightmares—about this grave. She was having sex with an urgency that felt violent and her partner a distant stranger with no clues as to his humanity. It would end in the out of doors, with thunder and lightning and a torrential downpour. And then there was a flash of recognition that the fucking was happening on Bucky and Anne’s grave, and Daphne and this force would collapse into the earth atop the headstone—into a black hole of earth with the weight of the stone, falling fast into the dark, down to the two decomposed corpses.
She placed Simon’s phone next to the triangle. Today there would be no placement of nickels, the ritual she began in the fall of 2001—when tragedy belonged to everyone—as a way to stay alive. But with the phone ringing and ringing like a wailing child, crying out to the leafless trees, she changed her mind. Not there, she thought, bending down to answer the cry.
“That’s juniper you’ve been smelling,” the voice announced when Daphne put it to her ear. “You knew that, didn’t you?”
She had already set out toward Willow Pond. “I probably did.”
“Some advice, Daphne: Don’t let men choose you. I never chose a man myself—idiotic, like a wrapped-up woman in Istanbul or Cairo—but never learned to recognize the broad-shouldered seducers who were landmines set to go off at a certain time and place. On the other end of the spectrum, though, keep an eye out for men who fall in love too quickly. They all do, of course, and fall out of it just as fast. But keep in mind that a man in love does not necessarily have anything interesting to say, and thus can be a drain on one’s affections.”
“Men don’t choose me,” said Daphne.
“Oh, and another thing,” the voice went on, “don’t waste your years of good health fretting over the existence of God.”
“Everyone frets over the existence of God.”
“Eliot, with his clean and washed Anglican deity, wrote, ‘Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehoods,’ but isn’t that a refutation of the falsehood of God?”
“If there’s no God,” Daphne asked, “who or what is making you happen?”
She laughed. “The universe will have its way, Daphne. God will not be mocked.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Look at Victor Slocum’s second heart—his second life, his second chance. Isn’t that mocking ourselves, mocking our God?”
“Anybody would want a second heart,” Daphne argued. “A second chance. For all the parts to be put back in working order. I don’t begrudge Victor Slocum.”
“But you did begrudge Victor Slocum.”
“I was thinking of the dead who don’t have a say in the matter.”
The voice laughed. “One’s impulse was always to write to the dead. I use the pompous ‘one’ because I’m speaking here about writers. Writers was all there was in my time. Writing about the dead is what I did whenever I picked up a pen. Little did I know how soon is now. Soon, soon is now, Daphne. I don’t like this place, quite frankly, where I am. To be honest, it scares me. Don’t go getting any high, wide, and handsome thoughts about the afterlife. To me it seems pregnant with catastrophe.”
“Do you have to stay there?”
Now the voice laughed with gusto. “Can you find a way to get me a visa? Pull some strings, Daph. Get me that thirty-day passport stamp, a weekend nod through Checkpoint Charlie, overnight shore leave. I promise I’ll come back this time without a sailor. I’ll be a good girl this time.”
“I can’t help you,” Daphne said in frustration.
The other end was silent.
“I have too many living people to worry about. I can’t start worrying about the people who aren’t.”
“Four barely living people are hardly a lot to worry about.”
“Yes,” said Daphne, “they are a lot.”
When she closed the phone, no one put up a fight. Holding the inert device, she imagined the voice at the other end to have bent down to place her own phone on a wooden dock and then, barefoot, walked to the end of that long dock, dove off, and swam into the horizon. It was always warm and always summer at the other end; it was always before dark.
She had reached her destination, eerily still in its winter incarnation but a body of water just the same. She was surprised that whoever ran things here hadn’t decided to drain the pond—to “winterize” as you would a golf course—but there was probably an ecosystem to consider. With all her brute strength, with all her Beast in the Jungle determination, she pulled back her arm and flung Simon’s phone high into the air over Willow Pond. It was all in the flex of the back muscle, not pulling but releasing, for the force was already present and accounted for in the archer’s stance. She watched the odd piece of technology twirl slowly in the arc of its descent. On impact it smacked a slim glazing of ice, leaving a small bit of turbulence in its wake.
“I could fine you five hundred bucks for that.”
She turned to see the man in the Patriots jacket still holding the stakes, standing on the road above. “I forgot to put that in the coffin with her,” she yelled up at the man, who nodded and walked away.
Farther away on the same road she saw a stopped car, an older sedan. The passenger side was parked away from her field of vision, but when that door opened, a hand emerged—a Tales from the Crypt hand, fingers splayed—to clamp down onto the vehicle’s hood. She didn’t need to wait to see what kind of creature followed.
“We’ve come to collect you,” said Jan as she reached the car. “Round you up!”
“How on earth did you know I was here?” she asked.
“Elijah needs company at the hospital,” he said, looking back inside the car, where he obviously intended to be. “I have to attend a memorial lecture at which I shall be feted like I was already memorial myself.”
“How is Simon?” she asked, looking inside to see Martha Downey behind the wheel.
“Same dour picture I’m afraid.”
“Did you know he’d been fighting with Winkill when I went to Eugenie’s yesterday?” she asked, moving to facilitate his reentry.
“Yes, yes, I was told,” he said, gripping the open door with both hands as he turned to fall back inside. “We shall speak no more of that monster.”
“So you’ve been to Mass. General?” she asked, getting into the backseat.
“Dr. Kindermans was up and out of the house by eight,” said Martha.
“Took a taxi there,” he said, “and was given a LIFT back to Cambridge by some foolish fellow who works at MIT.”
“So I have been conscripted,” said Martha with apprehension.
“Yes!” came his enthusiastic reply. “Conscripted! Face down your fears, Martha! You can rise to the occasion! You can do it!”
Martha’s bleak expression gave evidence of her predicament. “I haven’t driven in Boston since 1993.”
“I can drive, Martha,” Daphne offered, sliding to the center of the seat and leaning toward the front, as children used to do.
“No,” she said. “Since my late husband, I am the sole person authorized to operate this car. My insurance company wouldn’t allow for that—or my husband if he were here. This was his pride and joy, this car.”
As Martha slowly made their way out of Mount Auburn, Daphne asked, “So what kind of car is this?”
“Buick Skylark,” said Martha.
Jan made a noise of recognition and then did something very surprising—to Daphne at least. He sang. “Sky—lark, have you anything to say to me.” He paused. “Words by Johnny Mercer, tune by Hoagy Carmichael.”
“My uncle told me,” said Daphne, “that the reason the male skylark can sing for several minutes at a time so high in the sky is that the females look for that ability when choosing a mate.”
“You know birds, do you?”
“Not really. Just what I’m told.”
“In the song,” he said, “the singer asks advice from a bird!”
“That’s so human,” said Daphne. “Thinking the bird would have any interest in us.”
“What about our lady?” asked Jan. “Has she anything to say to you?”
Daphne felt embarrassed that Martha had to hear this. “Nothing,” she told him. “And I don’t like that phrasing our lady—it sounds religious.”
“And you, of course, are not!”
For the duration of the ride, Jan offered continuous commentary on Martha’s numerous wrong turns and missed exits. It was already 3:30 by the time the Skylark pulled into the massive MGH compound.
“Will you be OK driving home?” Daphne asked Martha.
“We have a plan!” Jan shouted.
Martha nodded. “I’m going to park in the garage here and then meet my sister Vera and her husband at the Harvard Gardens across the street at four o’clock. We’ll have dinner, and then I’ll follow Walter back to Cambridge.”
“Ingenious!” bellowed Jan.
As they made their way toward the ICU, Daphne could see that Jan was someone who rose to the occasion of a crisis—that his way of dealing with worry was to keep active, keep moving, keep talking.
They found Elijah sitting alone like a turtle on a rock. His rock was situated across some rows of seats from where Susan Frost and her daughters, Tessa and Abigail, and their husbands waited. Tessa looked just like her sister—tall enough but more so big-boned, with shoulders and arms of a perfect spherical line. Daphne had no idea where the Frost children came from—not their towering but lithe and handsome father and especially not their diminutive mother. One of the husbands had bad posture and held the magazine he was reading—The Economist—close enough to his bearded face to give the normal reader a headache. The other was almost too ordinary to warrant description.
Jan claimed the seat on one side of the turtle and Daphne the other, moving the valise to the floor.
Elijah gripped and held Daphne’s hands in each of his. “I’m afraid it’s time to disband,” he said, looking at her and Jan. “Like the James Gang.”
“Nonsense!” scoffed Jan.
“They’ve got Jesse,” said Elijah sadly.
“Then we’ll devise a plan to help him escape!” cried Jan.
“He may do that in his own way,” said Daphne.
Elijah let go of her hands and then removed the large circles of his glasses to rub his eyes. Jan looked at her in that familiar way—on the verge of consternation but not quite getting there. He looked down at his large hands resting over the coat on his lap. “Things don’t look good for Linus,” he said. “I spoke with Judith. His other daughter is on her way from Spain.”
“I’ll be next,” said Elijah with a nod.
“Nonsense!” Jan said again. “If anyone’s going it’s me. Long overdue.”
Daphne couldn’t think of any words to make either man feel better. “Let’s hope it’s peaceful for Simon,” she finally said. It had not been peaceful yesterday at Eugenie’s.
“I don’t know if any end is peaceful,” said Elijah. “As Larkin wrote, death is no different whined at than withstood.”
“But he wrote that without himself having first died,” said Jan with a sour face.
“Most things may never happen: This one will.”
“Has anyone heard anything from her,” asked Daphne, “Eugenie?”
“I don’t doubt she has the ability to disappear,” said Jan.
“I haven’t spoken with her since Monday,” said Elijah, “when we all were together.”
“So why was Simon there with her alone?” she asked.
Just then three young people reverently entered the ICU waiting room—two men and a woman—and scanned the tense faces before recognizing Jan. They waved but remained where they stood.
“Behold!” shouted Jan. “My students have come to fetch me!”
“Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” said Elijah.
“Are you OK going off again like this?” asked Daphne. “You’ve been going all day. You should rest.”
“Going all day will see to it that I rest tonight,” he said, getting up. And then he added somberly, “Unless I hear otherwise.” He placed his large hand on Elijah’s small bony shoulder before walking over to Susan Frost and her daughters. He leaned down to kiss each of them and then vigorously shook hands with the now standing husbands. He next walked over to shake and hold the hand of a woman sitting between two teenage boys—people from another crisis. Daphne now felt small-minded for having lost sight of Jan’s vocation. This was the first time she’d seen him in the life of his making—the man of God, the man of the word, compassionate toward the suffering of strangers, a pillar of strength during times of fear. He shortly left with his three disciples.
“Shall we take temporary leave,” proposed Elijah, “from the intensity of his place?”
Daphne carried his absurdly heavy valise and he shuffled at her side outside the ICU waiting room, into the noise and the hallway commotions of a life-and-death hospital. They settled on some upholstered chairs near a window, where a heavyset woman in a wheelchair had been deposited and fallen asleep. If it wasn’t for the woman’s periodic snoring, Daphne might think she were dead.
“I never thought I would live this long,” Elijah told her after she had settled him into the chair and surrounded him with his drop-box raincoat and beret and the all-important valise. “I never wanted to, still don’t. It’s not something I asked for.”
“Everyone wants a long life when they go to a fortuneteller,” said Daphne. “A long line with no breaks.”
“I should have gone at fifty-five,” he said, his eyes vacant—or rather, blankly staring into the middle distance. “I remember thinking then that if a doctor told me I had six months to live, I would be relieved.”
“But would you really have been ready?”
“What people mean by ‘ready’ is having made provisions for loved ones who survive them. I never had to worry about that.”
“Because of Pandora?”
He continued his middle-distance stare, blinking a few times with those lash-less lids. Then he looked down. “I have a confession to make.”
She knew he had a confession to make—all along she knew he had a confession. She didn’t think it would be to her that he would make it, however.
“I gave her the name Pandora because I never knew her.”
She gave him the benefit of her silence. “If strangers have a name,” she finally said, “they aren’t strangers.”
“She was a woman I saw daily at the New York Public Library in 1944 and into the next year. In Room 304, the main reading room. On many days she was the only woman there in the entire room. It was a man’s place. But that wasn’t why I stared—because she was the only woman. To call her lovely is a slight to my memory. Light brown hair that caught the light, green eyes of a beguiling hue—sometimes emerald, sometimes gray. She reminded me of a hummingbird. She would buzz in at two-thirty and alight on her one preferred flower and there remain, although agitated. She would look up from her books as if seeing the world anew, each time. She had such an intelligent way of looking. Oftentimes she’d appear startled that other human beings were going about their business all around her. I don’t think she ever once noticed me staring. I was invisible to her, and yet it did not bother me that I was invisible to her.
“With some women at the time, they would refuse to see you if you were my age and in civilian clothes. If they caught you staring, they might shout, ‘Why aren’t you in uniform?’ But I could tell this was not the case in my being invisible to Pandora. In fact, it gave me a privileged vantage point, the omniscient narrator. I was determined to find out everything about her. One day I would ask, surely. One day I would speak to her. But something held me back, sought to prolong the mystery. I was not shy with women, so it was not shyness. I felt that the longer I maintained my privileged vantage point, the more I might learn about human nature.
“And then one day she wasn’t there—and another day and another. I told myself she had gone to visit an aunt in the Midwest—that was the innocent story, although I knew it could be that she had married and was carried away by the man who’d won her. It was after V-E Day—a wounded soldier may have been sent home to her. Still, that didn’t seem right either, because of the way she’d been so immersed in her work, with such passion, day after day. She was nowhere near completion of her project; I could tell that. And even if she had a man, he’d probably still have been abroad. So I hoped for her return.
“And then a week or so after her disappearance from my life, I was sitting at a lunch counter and just by chance picked up a scruffy, days-old newspaper I never read. I turned a section and there was her face, unmistakable. It was her smiling face—that face of so much wonder. I knew it so well it gave me a start to see it in a context beyond myself. ‘Woman found dead in 86th Street apt.’ I put the paper down before it burned my hands. I didn’t even read the name.”
Daphne wasn’t surprised by his story.
“I had constructed this tower of Eros,” he continued, looking straight ahead, “so real it was to me. With shame I mourned, but the mourning was the most powerful feeling of my life. The heaving in my stomach was brutal enough. I understood the violence with which Lear cried out, the relinquishment of the self. How could a fictionalized love have such power?
“Madness—psychosis—can always be justified. Chesterton, for instance: The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”
“Why did you tell the Quartet she was real?”
“I didn’t tell,” he said. “In Montreux that day, it was all feeling.” Still he didn’t move his eyes, even when addressing her. “How could I say I was weeping over the death of woman I never even knew? I doubt I said anything concrete one way or another.”
She couldn’t process this. “But what do you believe about death and the afterlife?”
“I desired to believe, Daphne. You have to understand that.” Now he looked at her, beseechingly and tired. “My willingness to participate in the Quartet and this antic when I knew my great love was entirely fictional? Perhaps it shows the extent of my belief that imagination makes existence possible.”
She shook her head. “But you know it’s not the truth.”
“My book on Larkin was in publication when he died, was there with the printer. I had titled it No Elsewhere Underwrites My Existence, because that’s what Larkin wrote. And for some reason, my heart said to take out the No in the title. Some people understood why I did; others didn’t. There’s nothing to divide the real and the imagined, but there is definitely something to divide people.”
She didn’t want to hear about divides.
He closed his eyes and added, “The elsewhere that underwrites our existence is poetry, Daphne, is art in all of its nervy manifestations—Camus or Sibelius or the James Gang or statecraft. You will only find consolation if you’ve found poetry.”
She sat with him—for a minute, for two minutes, and then it became five. She blotted her eyes with the lining of her jacket as a hospital worker arrived to wheel away the snoring woman. Elijah, too, had fallen asleep. Like any one of the apostles at Gethsemane or Linus Steinbrenner in his armchair throne. Taking up the bulk of his open valise was four or five inches of manuscript. She was surprised he could even lift so much paper. She looked up from this thought to see Mistress Eugenie standing before her, in living color with her forehead dot and her interconnected saris with the Velcro and today an olive-green parka on top of everything.
“You let your Winkle do that to Simon,” Daphne told her. “You’re evil.”
The mistress made a face like a butcher rationalizing the price of pastrami. “Simon—he wanted meeting.”
She shrugged. “Maybe he knew it was time for that.”
“So you fed him mussels as a last meal?”
Eugenie frowned. “He was my guest. You got that, you?”
“Winkill is a horrible person.”
She shrugged again. “Simon gets what he wants.”
“And is that what Winkill wanted?”
The mistress reached within her saris to produce Daphne’s recorder. “Take it and don’t leave at my place again.”
Daphne took the recorder. “You know there’s no Pandora.”
She smiled. “The name is not true, but the lady is there.”
“Then you should tell Elijah.”
The mistress made a grand gesture of rolling her eyes and knocking on her skull as if it were a coconut. “Don’t you know nothing? Elijah does not want to know.”
Daphne shook her head. “I’m tired of this game. All it can do is kill them.”
“I have for you two things,” said Eugenie with a frown. “This”—here she pulled from her saris a page that had been torn from a book—“for you to read later. And now police tip.”
“You have to watch out for Va-Va-Voom, okey-doke? And Monkeyman too, like I told you.”
“And now what?”
“Now,” said Eugenie, pulling the hood with its strip of mangy fur over her head, “you are mistress for Quartet.” She turned and walked away in her sturdy stride, down the long corridor until she disappeared.