Authors: Carolyn Cooke
Also by Carolyn Cooke
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2011 by Carolyn Cooke
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by
Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are
registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cooke, Carolyn, [date]
Daughters of the Revolution / Carolyn Cooke. — 1st ed.
1. School principals—Fiction. 2. Preparatory school students—
Fiction. 3. Preparatory schools—New England—Fiction.
4. New England—Fiction. 5. School integration—Fiction.
6. Social conflict—Fiction. 7. Teenage boys—Fiction. 8. Teenage
girls—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Falling in Trees 6, 2007
© Elijah Gowin. Courtesy Robert Mann Gallery, New York
Jacket design by Chip Kidd
For Randall Babtkis
and for Zack and Callie Babtkis
eck Hellman, walking home from gross anatomy and his basement cadaver, felt buoyed by the sleazy promise of spring: a yellow sky above, the gray snow on the ground turned to a slush that poured sloppily down the storm drains to the ocean.
He climbed the stairs up the side of the house, calling their new kitten’s name—
—into the empty air. Mrs. O’Greefe, the landlady, immediately appeared behind him, her dress pulling tight against her body, and told him cats ran away all the time, hid out. “They’re like children,” she said. “They’ll suffer and die rather than show they want you.”
“Do they?” Heck asked.
“That they do, Mr. Hellman.”
Mrs. O’Greefe’s husband was in prison—“incarcerated,” Mrs. O’Greefe said—for killing a man in a bar under “compromised” circumstances. Mrs. O’Greefe had once owned her own hair salon in town, but she was now reduced to renting out half her house, living downstairs in one bedroom with a hot plate and a shower stall, watching Heck’s small family revel in the comforts she’d once known. She longed to have her husband back, she told Heck one night when, drunk, she came up the back stairs to change a fuse. Sometimes she couldn’t sleep, thinking about it. Who wouldn’t miss marriage? she asked Heck gently, her eyes red. She wished she still had it all.
A dish of milk sat on the porch, looking rained on and sooty. Heck’s daughter, EV, insisted on feeding the kitten great troughs of milk, and used the stuff up that way. The sinister look of the
milk in the bowl made Heck imagine Graham Greene had run afoul of a car, as their previous cats had done.
It was a shabby house, all they could afford. The staircase up the side separated Heck and his wife Lil’s quarters from Mrs. O’Greefe’s. Just beyond the storm door, Lil stirred Rob Roys in an old mayonnaise jar. EV, three years old, knelt on the floor and stared deeply into the rubber plant. Heck caught the ghost of his own face in the glass.
Part of him belonged here—to this family, in this kitchen. The checkerboard flooring ran partway up the walls.
Mrs. O’Greefe had told them with pride before they took the rental. “Never any water damage!”
He closed the door behind him and set down his briefcase—his father’s briefcase, too good to throw away, though his father had repaired the broken handle with a wire hanger and the case was no longer handsome, or easy to hold. A tang of formaldehyde and phenol hung in the air, which came, Heck realized, from himself.
The child looked up and ran toward him, leaping through the air. Lil called, “Careful, Eavieeee!” as she always did, drawing out the name, and as always he dropped the wire-handled briefcase and caught his daughter in his arms. Her hands attached to his face like suction cups. Then Lil handed Heck his glass and kissed him; the first sip of scotch melted on his tongue.
In the kitchen, Lil stuffed green peppers with hash. EV dropped to the floor and played with two tiny dolls in the potted rubber plant. She moved them around in the dirt and spoke in each of their voices.
“I’m a nickel,” one doll said.
“I’m a penny,” said the other.
“No sign of the kitten?” Heck asked Lil. She shook her head, but EV looked up from her dolls and said, “I see him.”
“Graham Greene isn’t here,” Lil told her gently. “Remember we looked for him outside?”
“I see him,” EV insisted.
“Where is he, then?” asked Heck, smiling.
“But where has he gone?”
“Graham Greene gone
“He isn’t dead, honey,” Lil said. “He’s just out and about.”
Lil shot Heck a tragic look and sipped her drink. She was wearing dungarees and an old navy wool sweater. He’d knit the sweater himself when he was fifteen; his mother had taught him how. Both the dungarees and the sweater looked as if they could slip off her body without her unfastening anything. Two chopsticks held her dark hair up, but barely.
“So,” she said, sipping. “Hard day at the corpse?”
Heck didn’t like the way she referred to Mrs. X., his cadaver, as a corpse. Mrs. X.’s face was always covered with a cloth, but he’d removed her lungs and ovaries, studied the structure of her ruined knee, and squinted through sections of her circulatory system like a boy looking down the dark tube of a seashell.
“So,” he said, “tomorrow I’m meeting Rebozos to see that German kayak.”
“Really, Heck? In this weather?”
“We might take it out for a few minutes along the shore.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Rebozos wants us to have it while he’s in Mexico this summer. We could have good times with a boat.”
,” Lil added witheringly.
“EV’s not a baby. Are you a baby, EV?”
“I’m your baby,” EV said, her voice going up like a rocket. Then her voice came back down and she said, “And I am Mommy’s baby.”
“I asked you not to call me Mommy,” Lil said. “I don’t like it.”
“What do you want her to call you?” Heck asked, surprised.
Lil touched the chopsticks in her hair. “You can call me Mei-Mei.”
“My-My-My,” said EV.
“See?” said Lil.
Heck got down on the floor and played with EV. He lay on his back and lifted her so that her round stomach rested against the bottoms of his feet. He spread her little arms across his hands. “Airplane!” she shouted. A line of drool dropped from her mouth onto Heck’s cheek.
“Mrs. O’Greefe told me today that a certain person might be p-a-r-o-l-e-d and coming home—coming here,” Lil said. “I think she’s not as happy about it as she lets on.” They’d joked before about the murderer returning: “Over my dead body,” Lil had said.
“That could be arranged,” he’d said.
Mrs. O’Greefe had made her husband’s felony sound like a failure of communication, one she expected Lil and Heck to understand, like a political crime, or a tragic misunderstanding between black and Irish. She made it sound as if Mr. O’Greefe was not only the perpetrator of the crime he had committed but also the victim.
When Heck brought the new kitten home, Lil had been on a Graham Greene jag. She’d read
The Man Within, The Third Man, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American
The Heart of the Matter
, all in the time it had taken Heck to get halfway through
The Power and the Glory
. When she’d finished, she’d looked around hungrily, and he’d given his book over.
Heck went out one last time and called unsuccessfully for
the kitten in the dark. What kitten ever came when called? Then he brushed his teeth, stripped down to his shorts, climbed into bed and waited for Lil to finish her drink. They took turns in the evenings, reading to EV and putting her to bed. His wife called the quarter hour that followed this ritual—the dregs of her second Rob Roy—the “moment of bliss” she needed to survive, but it seemed less like bliss to Heck than a romantic sorrow he tried to avoid. He heard the scratchy record playing Billie Holiday, and the ice knocking in her glass as she lifted it, then set it down. (The blond-wood table wore her rings.) He skimmed the
in bed while he waited for her, but his mind was on the contemptuous spit of rain against the windows. Massachusetts had consecrated its first black bishop, who was also to be the summer minister on Capawak Island. The Boston Strangler had struck again, an older woman, sixty-three. Total annihilation was mutually assured: Anyone could push a button and destroy everyone else. A draft of air carried the scent of Lil’s perfume. Heck tried to imagine everything he knew and cared for blown to bits—baseball, his wife’s mouth, his wife, his baby daughter—atomized. He looked across the bed to the blocky tower of her reading:
Tropic of Cancer
—a dirty book, she promised—
Ship of Fools
, the Graham Greene novels. Whenever he finally finished a book Lil said had changed her life, she was on to something else.
He lay on his back, stroking himself and thinking about the morning. The plan was to meet Archer Rebozos at the boathouse at seven. Then, if it wasn’t raining, they’d take the kayak along the shore off Wilde Point. This is what he’d told Lil. In fact, Rebozos had talked about going farther, eight miles out, to Capawak—a classic test for Wampanoag braves. Heck hadn’t mentioned the eight-mile trip. He knew Lil wouldn’t like it.
Heck had offered to take sandwiches. Otherwise, Rebozos might suggest going out for lunch, and Heck had just a dollar in his wallet until Friday. It was a hell of a way to live, Lil supporting
all three of them with her job as a detective for the Better Business Bureau. He was only near the end of his first year of medical school, an old man at twenty-nine. He’d wanted to be a minister, had flirted with divinity until his mid-twenties. He still believed, somehow, in it. (“That’s a strange idea,” his mother said when he confessed.) For Heck not to be too much like his father, that’s what his mother wanted.