Daphne returned home that night to find a Fedex box under her mailbox in the lobby—from “MSS EUGENIE.” After shaking it to make sure it didn’t contain anything hard, she took it upstairs and opened it to find another white T-shirt: I SHOT ANDY WARHOL AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS CRUMMY T-SHIRT. She was relieved not to have another phone to get rid of, but the fact that a T-shirt was all that the box contained somehow made her lonely.
She smoothed the shirt out on the table and sat staring at the black letters. Within this cloud of loneliness she felt a spark of hope with the memory of having taped part of the goings-on at Eugenie’s that last Monday night. Eugenie gave her back the recorder at Mass. General; it had to be somewhere in her apartment.
She eagerly searched and found the recorder in a jacket pocket and pressed play. The device rarely failed her. But all she heard was that familiar sound of vacancy—white noise, a shell to the ear. She continued to listen as the digits of time clicked away. The absence of sound ought to have been like the universe ought to have been—with the past exactly the same as the future. But the silence seemed to Daphne progressing toward something, just like the universe was progressing toward something by cooling and losing its density. She was about to press stop when she heard the click of something engaging.
“Did you really think you’d heard the last me of me, Daphne?”
It was the voice from the blue phones.
“No, I’m not going to haunt you forever and ever. It doesn’t work that way. But I have some parting words for the arbiter elegantiae. Are you ready? Love that is static in time—how is that real? It changes as we change, but it lives on. We return to the past when we can no longer remember our previous selves who have died. We’ll never forget certain people, but as these departed selves fade into nothing, we ransack our memories for anything to help us hold on.
“We’re only given one shot at a time, and we have to make a choice. Edith Wharton hit the bull’s-eye: Life is the saddest thing next to death. You have to love life more than anything, Daphne. You have to love life to understand its meaning. Didn’t you listen to Camus’s words at the church? I know that I am wrong, that we cannot give ourselves completely. Otherwise, we could not create. But there are no limits to loving, and what does it matter to me if I hold things badly if I can embrace everything?”
Soon the recorder reverted to the absence of sound, and after a few minutes Daphne made it stop.
They had been on vacation—on vacation and in love, exactly the conditions Americans want to find themselves in. He woke her early by kissing her all over her face—kissing her over and over, as if there wasn’t enough time. He was going out to get them coffee. She grabbed the recorder from the bedside table and played for him his voice saying “I love you.” She had secretly taped him.
“Why do you need to tape me saying that? You think I’ll ever stop?”
“No,” she said. “It’s that sometimes I don’t think it’s real that you love me.”
“Hearing myself say that makes it seem like the past tense. I don’t like it.”
To show him her faith that he would never stop saying “I love you,” she erased the tape. Meanwhile, he went out for coffee and never came back.
Ever since she was a child who couldn’t shoot an arrow she felt it—the sense that her life was unremarkable. But with him, she felt her life not necessarily transformed but overlaid with an opposite energy. She had begun to sense the theory of superposition—what he often talked about—in everything they did together. Quantum theory said that you could be in two places at the same time—that was superposition. If the world can be in any configuration, any possible arrangement of particles or fields, and if the world could also be in another configuration, then the world can also be in a state that is a superposition of the two, where the amount of each configuration that is in the superposition is specified by a complex number. With him, she felt she could be unremarkable and remarkable at the same time.
Mercifully, the phone rang to pierce the sound of absence. She was surprised to hear Andy’s voice. “Turn on CNN.”
“Has the war started?”
“No, it’s worse—or maybe better.”
“I don’t have cable. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Go to your computer.”
“I told you I don’t have an Internet connection.”
“What is it?”
Here her wiles kicked in. “Wait, I’m feeding the cats of the people upstairs while they’re away. I have their keys.”
“Call me when you turn on CNN.”
She took the keys and went upstairs. The cats met her with their meowing accusations. How much of a civic degenerate was she to have forgotten their evening meal? She turned on the countertop television as she pulled open the tab on a tin can.
CNN was reporting live from the street outside the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York, where Thornton Winkill had been shot by an assailant who fled on foot. Two separate sets of tourists—Austrians and Brazilians—had videotaped the attack and lent CNN their footage. Winkill had been dining with real estate developers. A number of people saw the shooter but just stood there as she fled, including the two men with Winkill. The videos clearly showed what the reporter’s voiceover called “a stout woman in ornamental South Asian dress” shoot him point blank in the chest.
Daphne called Andy on her neighbors’ phone. “What’s with you being up so late?”
“I thought I’d keep the baby company while she cries. Anyway, I can’t believe what a big deal they’re making out of this. You’d think they shot Bush.”
“It’s not they,” she said, “it’s she.”
“I know! A short fat she.”
“She’s not really fat.”
He laughed. “How do you know?”
“They called her ‘stout.’ ”
“Like a lager or Falstaff.”
“I’d say Falstaff was fat and not stout.”
Daphne went back to CNN after she hung up. Now the correspondent was talking to bystanders who’d seen the whole thing. One man who’d been walking his dog said, “This is the weirdest thing—sort of like John Lennon’s assassination in front of the Dakota.”
The correspondent immediately reminded viewers that Winkill was not killed. The correspondent also had no compunction against asking bystanders their opinions on whether this was a terror attack.
“It looked like a terror attack on one person,” said the dog-walker. “You used to call that murder.”
“Attempted murder,” the correspondent clarified.
The two clips of the shooting were played and replayed back to back, and the voice of the Austrian with the camera explained that after 9/11, all tourists in New York had their cameras with them at all times, “because you have to be ready for the attack to happen.”
When asked why they didn’t try to tackle the shooter or chase after her, the bystanders said they were so surprised by her appearance and demeanor that they were “stunned into doing nothing.”
According to an older woman who had come upon the scene just as the assailant fled, “The people who witnessed it looked to me like they’d been put under a spell. I never usually come down here, honestly, but my son’s fiancé wanted to eat at this new place. I teach sometimes at Hunter—freshman English—and I immediately thought of the effect of the Sirens in Homer.”
The Brazilian who filmed one of the shooting sequences was the most articulate witness. He calmly pointed out, “I heard one shot and there she was with her arm straight out and the gun at the end of it. But she hadn’t shot him yet. I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid that she would shoot me or other people, but I put my camera to my eye and there were more shots, but she was in another position. And more shots and she was back to the first position. They say she shot him only once.”
One of the men Winkill had been with—a venture capitalist named Avi Sklar—seemed to agree with this recounting of events. “It was like . . . crazy. Know what I’m sayin’? It was like she was in two different places at the same time.”