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Authors: Ellen Feldman

The Unwitting (36 page)

BOOK: The Unwitting
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Or was I being willfully naïve again?

A FEW DAYS
later, I told Abby I had run into Elliot on Fifth Avenue. It was a Sunday morning at the end of February. She was lying on her stomach on the floor, poring over an article in
The New York Times
about the Rolling Stones. Now she looked up at me.

“How did you feel?”

I had to think about that for a moment. “Angry. Sad. Strangely wise. Almost appreciative.”

“Not sorry?”

“No regrets, if that’s what you mean.”

She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “Does that mean you’re never going to get married again?”

I heard the fear in her voice. She was worried about me, but she was also apprehensive for herself. When she packed her books and records and clothing to go off to college next fall, would she have to find room in her baggage for me?

“You never know,” I tried to reassure her. “Maybe I just have to set my sights lower. The woods aren’t exactly full of men like Daddy.”

“You know what I keep remembering? Something he taught me. Only I didn’t know he was teaching me anything when it happened. I was little, like seven or eight. We were in the park, and Grandma Claire was coming for dinner that night. I started making fun of her. This was before she and I became kind of friends. You know, how she called herself a poor widow lady, and always said give her the
smallest piece of meat or cake, stuff like that. I was trying to make him laugh, the way you always did when I imitated her, but he stopped me. He said it was okay for you to be mad at her, because she wasn’t a good mother to you, but we should try to be nice to her, because she probably went through some bad times herself. Until then, I always thought of her as silly old Grandma Claire. Daddy made me see she was a person with her own story, and it probably wasn’t a happy one.”

I remembered the time years ago when Abby had defended my mother—“Grandma Claire is all alone,” she’d said—and I’d wondered where this child had come from. Now I knew.

“So you see what I mean about the woods not being full of men like Daddy?”

A siren went by in the street below.

“Then why were you so mad at him?”

I started to say that I’d never been angry at him, but she was no longer a child, and I was the one who was always sounding off about truth.

“Life has its ambiguities.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I stood, went down the hall to my bedroom, and opened the top drawer of Charlie’s dresser. His journal was still there. I took it out. For a moment I stood debating. I didn’t have to give her the whole diary. I could tear out the final pages, the ones about Woody. I knew some mothers would say I should. But I would not sacrifice Charlie and spare me. I carried the journal back to the living room and handed it to her.

“What’s this?”

“You read my version of what happened in that article. This is Daddy’s. And it cuts closer to the bone.”

“It’s a kid’s notebook.”

“We were young once.”

She rolled onto her stomach again, propped herself up on her
elbows, and opened the journal. Her long hair fell forward so that I couldn’t see her expression. That was all right. That was fine. She was going to have to work this out for herself.

I stood watching her and not seeing her. I was in another living room. Instead of light spilling across the floor, smoke swirled in the overheated air. All around me, girls and men swayed toward one another and back, like a tide dragged by a full moon. Charlie was leaning over me, one hand propped against the wall northwest of my head, isolating us from the others, binding us together. And Billie Holiday was on the turntable, singing about what love could make you do. But Billie had it wrong. She was warning of the transgressions and misdemeanors. I was thinking of the glue that held you, no matter what.

For
Liza Bennett
and
Richard Snow
and again, always
for Stephen

Sources and Acknowledgments

Two first-rate nonfiction accounts of the cultural Cold War proved invaluable in researching this book:
The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters
by Frances Stonor Saunders, published in the United Kingdom as
Who Paid the Piper?
, and
The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America
by Hugh Wilford. For information about Richard Wright, I have relied heavily on my late friend Hazel Rowley’s splendid biography,
Richard Wright: The Life and Times. The Muses Are Heard
, Truman Capote’s gimlet-eyed account of his trip to Leningrad with the touring company of
Porgy and Bess
, was a crucial source, though with the exception of Mrs. Ira Gershwin, none of the characters he mentions appear here. Jennet Conant’s description of Paul Child’s questioning during the McCarthy era in
A Covert Affair
also proved helpful. Mike Wallace’s CBS News Special “In the Pay of the CIA” is available on tape, though of course there were no allegations against
Compass
magazine or Charles Benjamin, both of which exist only in my imagination.

I am indebted to Jay Barksdale of the Allen Room of the New York Public Library and Mark Bartlett and the entire wonderful staff of the New York Society Library for help in research and for creating safe harbors for writers.

Many friends and colleagues were generous with information, inspiration, and support during the research and writing. I am grateful to Andre Bernard, Laurie Blackburn, Jane Brodman, Robert Caro, Gilda Delmonaco, Edward Gallagher, JoAnn Kay, Joe Keiffer, Judy Link, Warren Wechsler, and Ann Weisgarber. I am especially indebted to Stacy Schiff and Fred Allen, who are as gifted at editing as they are at friendship.

I have had the good fortune to fall into excellent publishing hands, including Hana Landes, Karen Fink, Annie Chagnot, and all the good people at Spiegel & Grau, and in London, Veronique Baxter at the David Higham Agency, and Paul Baggaley, Francesca Main, Emma Bravo, Camilla Elworthy, and the entire extraordinary team at Picador. And finally, I am deeply grateful to my superb editor and inspired publisher, Cindy Spiegel, and to Emma Sweeney, my cherished friend who turns agenting into an art form.

B
Y
E
LLEN
F
ELDMAN
The Unwitting
Next to Love
Scottsboro
The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
Lucy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ELLEN FELDMAN, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of the novels
Scottsboro
, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize,
Next to Love
,
The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
, and
Lucy
. She lives in New York City.

www.ellenfeldman.com

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