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Authors: Martha McPhee

Dear Money

BOOK: Dear Money
Dear Money
Martha McPhee

| 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Martha McPhee

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book,
write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McPhee, Martha.
Dear money/Martha McPhee.
p. cm
1. Floor traders (Finance)—Fiction. 2. Wall Street (New York, N.Y.)—Fiction.
I. Title.
43 2010
813'.54—dc22 2009029923

Book design by Linda Lockowitz

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For my astonishing sisters:
Laura, Sarah, Jenny, Joan
And always for Mark, Livia, and Jasper

I Can't Keep Up

of course, with real estate. The heady days of 2003. Maine. Pond Point, the old Victorian cottage tied together, it seemed, with twine, standing as it does before the dunes with a swath of sea grass like a moat, sweet pea shoots, their blue flowers dancing in a late-afternoon breeze blowing offshore. The beach. Miles of sand, flanked by rivers, one large, one small, spilling into the Atlantic. Little islands floating just offshore, connected at low tide by sandbars that reach to them like arms.

Those wonderful July days, as Emma Chapman declared with that fierce enthusiasm of hers that spoke of a desire to appreciate every chance life gives to her. July—each day's weather a mystery, a surprise. Storms blow in from nowhere to entertain the day. From an immaculate sky, fog settles down thick as cotton while sandpipers and plovers dart about. Thunderheads in the afternoon, towering cumulus, then a crack of thunder. Heart-shattering sunsets. Or simply the stillness of early morning in high season, a scorcher in the offing, but for now, an hour past dawn, towels and bathing suits still damp on the clothesline, the sun rising over the river, heating the woods, bringing the strong smell of pine sap into the kitchen where coffee brewed. On the porch, Emma, squarely facing the ocean in a golden bar of sunlight, seemed to have everything in life, and the only thing more she wanted, it seemed to me, was to own this—the salt air and gratifying geometries of the sea, all that came with this house.

I did not like the house at first. The wind blew right through the walls, and chipmunks and mice had made it (even our beds) their home. It was wet and cold. The screen door banged with an alarming thud. The neighbor's house was occupied by a family of Bostonians—you could tell this by the big
for the Boston Red Sox that appeared everywhere: on their hats, their barbecue aprons, the kites their children sent upward to broadcast their allegiance to the heavens. They greeted us and smiled stiffly in a way that seemed to register a conviction that there would be no further need to continue down the path of fellow feeling.

The Bostonians' cottage was a bit too close. They weeded their flower beds and assiduously mowed a "lawn" that was mostly sand. They prosecuted a passion for golf by purchasing tiny plastic golf sets for their boys, who whacked little golf-ball-sized Wiffle balls across the lot, and when an errant ball landed on the side of the Chapmans' rundown summer rental, the Bostonian boys sat sullenly staring across the lot at our girls, unable to ask for help. Our girls seemed to enjoy their discomfort, but took pity on them, tossing the balls back, which the boys accepted without thanks, and moved their game farther away. "By their fruits you shall know them," my husband, Theodor, noted. "Yeah," I said. But I admired, actually came to envy, Emma's passion for the house, despite the frosty neighbors, and wanted to see it with her eyes since it gave her so much pleasure. The views took in the open Atlantic, sailboats leaning into the breeze, cormorants and seagulls and, on occasion, even seals, their dog-like heads bobbing in the surf.

Emma and Will had been renting the house for six years, driving up from New York for the month with their two daughters, Will commuting back and forth. Emma had found the house. Strolling the beach, she had asked various sunbathers camped beneath umbrellas if they rented their homes, the cottages in the dunes behind them. The elderly couple she eventually found did not rent, but they were charmed by her determination:
Oh, that's your house? That one there? The red one with the turret? It's right out of a Hopper painting. No, no, a Wyeth. It's pure Wyeth. It's from the 1880s? Oh, how I'd love to spend a week there, absorbing all that history.

The couple took her up to the house, showed her around. Every window framed a spectacular view. She could see through the mess of all the guests, the children of nieces and nephews with names like Sacagawea—I kid you not—overrunning the place. The couple had no children of their own. "A view from every window," Emma said. She was exuberant. It was the quality I loved best about her. Emma complimented the children (diapered, juice-stained, sticky fingers). "Sacagawea, what an original name," she said. And she complimented the vintage piano and the antique windowpanes, the fraying curtains. In the turret bedroom she complimented the old photographs hanging crookedly on the wall. "Why, they're Bachrach," she said, examining the signature of one of the prints and noticed they were all signed by him. She flashed her smile on Mrs. Hov ("Chekhov without the
" Mrs. Hov would say). "Yes, they are," Mrs. Hov confirmed, and her milky blue eyes brightened. "I grew up in Connecticut," she said, as if in explanation and to underscore her more prominent past, her voice soft and self-assured. An elegant woman still, with slender fingers that had long ago mastered the piano, today she wore a simple housedress, but yesterday she was the smiling girl in all the sepia-tinted prints.

Mr. Hov was a retired Swift scholar and an amateur poet of the A. E. Housman mold, with a firm yet charming manner. The couple was at the house when Theodor and I arrived with our two girls for a long weekend. The Hovs had come to fix the boiler and were just leaving. I would remember them for a long time, a pair, he a smaller version of her with the same kind blue eyes, hazy with cataracts. Though she had a full head of lovely white hair and he was bald. He was in the middle of reciting a poem he'd written, his voice earnest and mellifluous: "I try the fleeting years to catch. / But, mark thee well, this one firm adage of the sea!" Emma and Will listened; she leaned into his caress, standing on the porch overlooking the dunes and ocean. She wore a smile that, having begun in sincerity, hadn't quite anticipated how long a poem could actually go on, and was striving mightily, along with the poem, to prop herself up.

Upon our arrival, Theodor and I found them in a state of suspension, the elderly man holding forth. "For whom our time has come, / And man is laid beneath the sand, the sod, or sea." It was an ode to Pond Point. Hov's wife had been coming here since the 1930s. Together they bought the house in the 1950s, for a song, with the equity they'd accrued in their primary home. Standing there on the porch of their second home, windblown and kissed by the Maine light, Mrs. Hov, her lips curled, just slightly, with love, watched her husband's gentle hands conduct his words. "The sharpened sands their lips do pulse and / Tongueless, whisper songs most sure. / 'Tis we, not thee, that shall endure, / that shall endure!"

A moment of silence followed and then Emma burst into applause. "Just a little something I wrote in 1983," Mr. Hov said, turning his attention fully to us, my girls' eyes wide with curiosity at the spectacle. "Ah, your guests have arrived," he said. "We've heard all about you, Emma and Will's friends. All good, I can assure you! Welcome, renowned New Yorkers! I invite you all to have a wonderful weekend."

We knew all about Emma's cast of friends. She was always telling stories about her collection of elaborate people—friends marrying in the final stages of fatal cancer; a wife whose slender book of poems about her adulterous love affair with a young buck became a bestseller, publicly shaming her (also adulterous)
husband with both her betrayal and her success; a young bride who prided herself on her Gypsy ancestors, using her lineage to land her a spot on the reality television show
My Wedding Day.
The Hovs were somehow part of that mix, Emma's menagerie.

Within a few sentences Mr. Hov spilled forth what Emma had told them of us, all of it hyperbolic and with exclamations. Like the Hovs, we were characters in the theater of her life, and it did feel that, if you stuck around long enough, some intriguing plot would unfold for you. Mr. Hov was well into the details of local history, the Sagadahoc settlement: "They came in 1607, same as Jamestown, though the settlers did not fare so well." His expression seemed to appreciate the drama of that antique failure. He directed our attention to the piping plovers nesting in the dune grass—his way of saying to be careful as we walked through it to the beach, not to upset the plovers, as they are rare and protected. "Now, no more of us," he said cheerily. "We are out of your hair." He turned to his wife: "Eunice, I am in the car." He enunciated each word with care. Then he left, Eunice trailing slowly, happily behind.

"Don't you just love them?" Emma said, greeting us, kissing us—the flourish of arrival, folding us immediately into her arms. "I'm so glad you got to meet them, because, you know, I'm going to have to kill them." Emma spoke with mischief. "A pity, because they
nice, aren't they?" Then she listed all the other people she'd have to murder in order to buy the place: the ne'er-do-well young niece, her husband, her children and little Sacagawea too. The way Emma talked, you almost believed she would kill. And the way she smiled, lips crimping ever so slightly, like someone who wants to steal a gorgeous piece of fruit from a store's sidewalk display, you almost believed she'd get away with it.

"I love it. I love it. I love it," Emma said, an elegant woman with fine, bird-like bones. She took us on a tour of the house, up and down the stairs, showing us where we would bathe, eat, read, sleep. "In the turret," she said, "the romance of the turret for you." Her spirit, her ecstatic energy, made her seem a good bit taller than her five-foot-two frame. She had straight dark hair that she wore tightly pulled back with a bandeau, blue eyes and a round face, the kind of looks that money easily improved. In her eyes, though, she had the solemnity of a woman who has exactly what she wants.

Will came up behind her and embraced her and leaned down to kiss her on the neck (they were always kissing each other, and I suspected it had more to do with show than anything else, but secretly I wished that Theodor would make a little more show with his kisses) and said sweetly, "I will help you kill them, my love."

"See," she said, turning to Theodor and me, holding us with her eyes, an icy gray-blue. "I married well." She nestled into her husband. "He's so accommodating."

Looking around the place, I could not see the appeal—curtains a hundred years old, the ancient piano so heavy it caused the living room floor to sag. The kitchen hadn't been touched since the Hovs bought the house. The hot water was never hot enough (or so they told us); the floorboards were in need of sanding (my younger daughter got a splinter within minutes of our arrival); fine veins fractured some of the windowpanes. There was a lost museum of cleaning products and insect repellent from the days when gas stations gave such things away with a tank of gasoline, Amway and Gulf Oil products now collectibles worth real money on eBay. Clutter had accumulated in corners where dust bunnies hid, and surely dust mites. I imagined the magnified images of those creatures marching across the television screen, scaring viewers into buying something or other. Some such bug caused my older daughter's skin to itch. "Lice," I whispered to Theodor, lying in our bed, in the somewhat attenuated romance of our turret, that first night.

"Fleas," he whispered back and enveloped me with his strong warm body, kissing my neck.

"I love it when you talk dirty to me," I said.

He saved his affection for when we were alone. We fell asleep to the howl of the wind. It was as if we were camping.

My husband had gone to college with Emma, but they had known each other only by sight: Theodor, the long-haired eccentric who lived in his art studio and smoked Gauloises; Emma, the cute sorority girl with the magnificent smile, cheery friendliness and that good-girl desire to be loved by everyone. We had bumped into each other in a park in Tribeca near their loft (which I later came to envy along with everything else, enormous windows overlooking the Hudson and the sunset, the space immaculate in its spare design, chrome and teak and Senegalese silk around the windows, rosewood cabinets inlaid with camel bone,
here and there, relics of their world travels: a Haitian woodcarving, Polish crystal, a bronze Buddha, Ming vases, a dancing Shiva). Our older daughters, born on the same day of the same year, were toddlers. They began playing and we began talking. We talked all afternoon. We talked until the sun began to go down, a warm June evening, and then, at the suggestion of Emma, who I could already tell bubbled with bright ideas, we walked to a restaurant in Battery Park for dinner overlooking the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty, golden green in the dying light. At the end of the evening our daughters had declared themselves best friends.

Age, of course, stopped us from making such a declaration, but we all seemed high in the way a first date can make you feel. Simply, we fell in love with them as a family, the way that families can do—an appropriate form of dating and romancing for married couples. You see, we each had something that the other wanted. They admired us because we made art and because millionaires, it seems, collect artists (I was a novelist; my husband, Theodor Larson, was a sculptor), and we (or, I should say, I) admired the Chapmans because they made money (or, I should say, Will made money; Emma was a housewife, a stay-at-home mother or whatever it is they are called these days, and spent her time making their life beautiful). And artists, it stood to reason, were wise to collect millionaires.

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