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Authors: Robert Girardi

Madeleine's Ghost

BOOK: Madeleine's Ghost
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HIGH PRAISE FOR
ROBERT GIRARDI'S
MADELEINE'S GHOST
,
A WORK OF “MESMERIZING GENIUS”
*

“THE NARRATIVE ZINGS ALONG … I've never been sure what a beach book is, but there's a good chance
Madeleine's Ghost
is one. It is so freshly observed that the sound of surf won't distract you. When you laugh out loud, nobody will complain.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“[AN] ATMOSPHERIC, SWEET-NATURED FIRST NOVEL about the miraculous power of love … filled with a rich cast of supporting characters.”      —
San Francisco Chronicle

“[GIRARDI] WEAVES A TALE THAT KEEPS YOU ON THE EDGE WELL INTO THE NIGHT … After you pick this one up you'll be waiting for more.”      —
New York Post

“HAUNTING … AN ENGROSSING, FAST-PACED DEBUT that moves almost effortlessly between New York, New Orleans and the 19th-century South … Mr. Girardi deserves a round of applause for pulling off the incredible ending. Potentially unbelievable, in the writer's capable hands, it is a sterling example of tight, finely honed storytelling.”      —
The Washington Times

“Readers have waited too long for Robert Girardi's peculiar, mesmerizing genius. With the publication of
Madeleine's Ghost
, they may now experience his penchant for the grit and history of cities, for the beguiling passions that bind men and women, and, above all, for the hauntedness in all of us.”

—Colin Harrison, author of
Bodies Electric
*

“PROVOCATIVE … GIRARDI ACHIEVES A NEW FLAWLESS RHYTHM as the narrative moves between places from the decay of Brooklyn's slums to the sensually rendered atmosphere of New Orleans.… It's a compelling tale with a radiantly polished finish.”      —
Booklist

“A spirited debut deftly mingling past, present, and the vastly different worldviews of New Orleans and New York.… Entrancing scenes and characters, exquisite timing, and a mausoleum full of plot twists make for a fluid and truly memorable delight.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“A ghost story complete with an inexhaustible panoply of sensational effects … 
Madeleine's Ghost
entertains mightily.”

—New York Newsday

“A FIRST NOVEL OF ASTONISHING ACCOMPLISHMENT … with startlingly few slips and a shimmering style … [Girardi] drives his tale along with sensuous prose.” —   
Publishers Weekly

“[Madeleine's Ghost]
draws us back to the bar of light at the foot of the closed door in the dark house in the dead of night, and then reminds us why we are standing there. Reading this prose, you begin to think that if you kicked open that door, there, in upholstered chairs, would be Nabokov, Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe reading Girardi's book as well.” —    Don Snyder, author of
From the Point

A Delta Book
Published by
Dell Publishing
a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway
New York, New York 10036

Copyright © 1995 by Robert Girardi

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. For information address Delacorte Press, New York, New York.

The trademark Delta® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.

eISBN: 978-0-440-33399-9

Published simultaneously in Canada

v3.1

This book is for my father—

SAM H. GIRARDI

1917–1992

—WHO TOLD ME STORIES.

I
t is history that teaches us to hope.

—R
OBERT
E. L
EE

Contents
Part One:
A S
AINT FOR
B
ROOKLYN

S
tones are falling from the ceiling of my apartment. First one, then two, then dozens. I take refuge beneath the kitchen table as they bounce and dance across every surface, denting the toaster, gouging into the old linoleum of the floor. The falling stones are like a rain of hail, but so absurd in this setting that I want to laugh.

The first stone hit five minutes ago with a solid thump on the arm of the orange Naugahyde easy chair in the living room, then rolled into my lap. It was egg-shaped and smooth and wet, as if it had just been dredged up from the bottom of the river. A second hit the television and fell behind the gas heater in the fireplace. I counted five more like warning drumbeats; then I ran for the table. Now they bounce and roll all over, making quite a racket. They don't seem to come from anywhere. There are no holes in the ceiling. The stones flash into air just below the tin egg-and-anchor molding and fall as if they are falling from a great height.

The whole manifestation lasts about ten minutes. I wait fifteen minutes more before emerging carefully into the daylight from beneath the table. The smooth stones lie in piles in the kitchen, in the living room across the rug, on the couch, and on the television set, which appears undamaged. There are no stones in the bathroom or in my bedroom, but I find the largest pile heaped up on the bare floor in Molesworth's old room when I push open the door.

I take about an hour and a half to remove all the stones to the garden. The job requires five trips with a full suitcase, which I empty in the corner of the yard under the dry-rotted grape trellis. There is quite a little mound out here now, enough to pave a short walkway. I kick at it in frustration before I go back upstairs to collapse on the couch.

This is the second time in the last three weeks.

1

I
T IS
about two in the afternoon, Tuesday, mid-June, with the sun hot on my back and the sky seared and brown-looking above the island. The collar of my shirt is soaked with sweat. Just a block away the Manhattan Bridge creaks ominously in the heat, its abutments age blackened and massive as the pyramids. I am wearing an unseasonable tweed jacket, swamp green corduroy pants, a heavy powder blue oxford cloth button-down, and a regimental stripe tie—the only presentable outfit in my closet. I am shaved and sober and calling on Father Rose in the rectory of St. Basil's Cathedral on Jay Street in Brooklyn.

A flat-faced woman in thick spectacles answers the door cautiously, pressing her nose against the barred peephole like a deep-sea diver in an old-fashioned brass helmet peering out at the ocean floor.

“I'm here to see the priest,” I say.

“Father isn't seeing anyone right now. He's busy,” she says, and goes to shut the peephole.

“Wait, I have an appointment.”

“Step back,” she says.

I step back, and a moment of silence follows in which the woman scowls and looks me up and down. I get the feeling she doesn't care for the striped tie. It's hardly the welcome one expects at the front door of a church, but I don't blame her. This neighborhood is bad, loomed over by the same projects to the east that threaten my derelict neighborhood just to the south.

At last she nods, slides the bolts, and opens the door. A dismal smell pervades such places, rectories and army barracks, places reserved exclusively for the use of men: ammonia and boiled cabbage dinners and long, terrible Sunday evenings without the sound of a woman's voice.

We go into a narrow hallway and up some stairs lined with dark paneling and hung with faded nineteenth-century prints of saints and
Jesus praying in the Garden at Gethsemane, apostles sleeping the sleep of the craven behind Him in the weeds, and enter a small waiting room set with two rows of old pews and a few rump-sprung easy chairs. On an end table there are yellow copies of
Catholic Digest
and
Highlights for Children
magazine. I settle down to wait with the adventures of Goofus and Gallant in the latter as the woman goes to warn the priest.

Father Rose is lining up a putt when I am ushered into his chambers a few minutes later. He is hunched over the putter at one end of a mock putting green of AstroTurf, the hole opposing him an odd contraption that resembles a large aluminum daisy.

“Father Rose?” I say. “I'm Ned Conti, I called yesterday …”

This is not the moment to speak. The priest, hardly aware of my presence, follows through with the putt. The ball goes awry, hooks to the left, and rolls under a chair. He gives a small strangled sound, and his shoulders slump. Waiting for him to recover, I glance around the room. It is bright and cheery, free from the religious gloom that pervades the rest of the rectory. Golf trophies stand dustless in glass-fronted shelves to one side. Autographed photos of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer flank the abstract sixties-era crucifix hanging beside a window overlooking the handball courts in the asphalt park across the street.

BOOK: Madeleine's Ghost
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