Authors: Marcia Talley
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
“Now. Tell me what’s wrong.”
Georgina pulled herself into a ball, knees to her chest, and rocked back and forth, sobbing. “Diane’s dead.”
“Your therapist? My God! Are you sure?”
Georgina nodded her head, her lips a thin, tight line. “Look.”
Georgina pointed. I stood and passed through a pair of French doors. A cold wind blew in off the lake. I stood shivering on a balcony, surrounded by tall trees. Ivy snaked along a brick wall that separated the Sturges property from the park. Inside its boundaries lay piles of dead leaves, patches of snow, a small cedar tree, rocks, a blue shoe. Another blue shoe, attached to the leg of a woman wearing a blue suit. A woman whose body now lay broken over the face of a boulder, one leg bent cruelly under the other, her left arm flung out over her head, her eyes blank and wide. From the size of the dark stain that had spread over the surface of the boulder and from the unnatural angle of the woman’s head, I knew she was very, very dead.
a division of
Random House, Inc.
New York, New York 10036
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.
Copyright © 2000 by Marcia Talley.
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.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.
Hard-handed men, that work in Athens here,
Which never labour’d in their minds till now;
And now have toil’d their unbreathed memories
With this same play, against your nuptial
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Act 5, Scene 1
Believe it or not, there are advantages to having
had cancer. When the bloodmobile folks come to town, for one, they’re not the least bit interested in siphoning blood from you, even if you’ve got some rare blood type known only to God and six people on a remote island off the coast of South Carolina. Two, I get my mammograms at half price. Third, I’ve discovered one can get away with being a bit eccentric. If you decide to take up skydiving or transcendental meditation, for example, or suddenly become a vegetarian addicted to broccoli sprouts, people may think you’re a little nuts, but they don’t give you a hard time about it. They just nod their heads, peek at each other sideways, and whisper knowingly,
That’s probably why my sister Ruth thought I’d be interested in those New Age gizmos she sells in her shop on Main Street in downtown Annapolis when they’ve never particularly interested me before. She had just telephoned to say she’d be coming over with “a little something” to show me. I shuddered. The last time she’d
brought me “a little something”—bamboo curtains meant to slow down fast-moving
between the family room and the kitchen—it had ended up costing me seventy-four dollars just to get them hung.
While I waited for Ruth, I sat at my kitchen table going through the mail. The kitchen was particularly pleasant that day, unusually warm and bright, with sunshine flooding the room, reflecting off the thin layer of snow covering the ground outside. Spread out before me were all the Christmas cards I had missed while I was out in Colorado attending the birth of my first grandchild—a little girl named Chloe, after one of my son-in-law Dante’s clients. A particularly wealthy and grateful woman, she had brought him a lot of new bodies to massage. To me, “Chloe” was the title of a raucous old Spike Jones tune with gongs and bells, but my daughter Emily liked the name because it sounded like a warm, spring breeze. I looked it up—“Chloe” is a Greek word meaning “young, green shoot.” Not very zephyr-like, but I wasn’t going to mention it.
I shuffled through the greeting cards, looking first for ones from absent friends. With enthusiasm I slit the envelopes open with a kitchen knife so I could catch up with lives via hastily scribbled notes or elaborate, mass-produced Christmas letters in which happy family groups smiled out at me smudgily from poor-quality photocopies.
Beneath an oversized seasonal communication from State Farm Insurance, I uncovered a manila envelope from a plastic surgeon in Severna Park I had consulted about reconstructive surgery just before leaving for Colorado Springs. Reconstruction. I liked that word. It evoked visions of something new and wonderful rising from the ruins. I daydreamed about it while putting the teakettle on to boil, wondering what my chest would
look like after surgery when they removed the bandages for the first time. The plastic surgeon had shown me samples of her work; photographs of other women, naked from the waist up, with black rectangles covering their eyes. I imagined my own picture—a dark oblong wearing light brown curls, a crooked smile, and just below my shoulder and to the right, a pert little hill jutting out of a ravaged plain.
I measured some jasmine tea into a silver tea ball and dropped it into the pot to steep. While I waited, I opened the envelope from the doctor. It contained a letter encouraging me to call her office “at my convenience” to confirm the surgery, and a two-page, legal-looking consent form. Reading this stuff required a strong stomach and an equally robust cup of tea, so I poured myself a mug, covered the pot with a cat-shaped tea cozy, and had just settled down to plow my way through the small print when the telephone rang.
“Hi, Hannah, whatcha doing?”
“Looking over some stuff from Dr. Bergstrom. I’m trying to decide about reconstructive surgery.”
“I’d sure have it if I were you.”
Easy for her to say. My sister Georgina was a C-plus-plus to my insignificant A-minus.
“Listen to this.” I dragged a chair over to the telephone and settled into it. “ ‘These are my wishes if I am ever in a persistent vegetative state …’ Yuck! I’m nervous enough about going through more surgery without being reminded of all
!” I tossed the document toward the kitchen table, where it ricocheted off a potted geranium, floated to the tiles, and slid under the refrigerator. It had been a little over a year since my mastectomy, and the memory of the surgery and my long recovery was still fresh in my mind. “I’m thinking
about not going through with it, now that they mention the risk.”
Georgina sounded bubbly. It must have been one of her up days. I could hear high-pitched squabbling in the background, the twins from the sound of it, Sean and Dylan, who were seven. “It will be fine, Hannah. You’ll be fine. Better than fine.”
I rested my head against the wall with the receiver to my ear and didn’t say anything. My sisters didn’t talk to me very much about
these days. I suspect they had convinced themselves that if you didn’t talk about
Keeping the receiver clamped to my ear and uncoiling the cord as far as it would go, I walked to the refrigerator, stooped, and retrieved the document, shaking off a couple of greasy dust bunnies that clung to the edges. “I think I’ll add a line to this form, Georgina. If I should end up in a persistent vegetative state, I’m saying I want them to start hydration and artificial nutrition and then I want you to remind Paul to call his lawyer and sue the pants off them.”
Georgina chuckled. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“You better, or I’ll come back to haunt you.” I laid the document on the table near the Christmas cards and took another swig of tea. “How’s it with you?”
“Busy. Trying to keep the kids out of Scott’s hair while he’s working.”
“Why doesn’t Scott get an office outside the house? I don’t know how you stand it! As much as Paul and I enjoy each other’s company, we’d soon be at each other’s throats if I had him hanging around the house all day.”
“Scott’s working on it. He’s got his eye on a place off York Road in Towson, and if he can land this big Mahoney account, he’ll have it made.” Scott was a CPA, and I couldn’t imagine how he managed to work, let
alone land any big accounts, with three children underfoot. Sean had evidently popped Dylan, or vice versa, because there was a piercing wail and Georgina’s voice became muffled. “Sean! Cut it out! Now! Trucks are for playing, not for hitting. And turn down that TV!” Poor Georgina. I sometimes baby-sat for my nephews, identical down to the sandy hairs on their mischievous little heads, and it was exhausting. No wonder Georgina stayed so thin. And now there was baby Julie to trip over, born when Georgina was in her late thirties, just turned four and prancing about everywhere.
Over the background of the TV, playing cartoons at a decibel level high enough to rupture all eardrums within a half-mile radius, Georgina persisted, “Help me remember something.”
“How do you stand the noise?” I asked, but she didn’t give any indication that she heard me.
“Where did we live when I was two?”
I didn’t have to rack my brain to come up with an answer to that. I could still remember the sunny days, the faultless blue of the Mediterranean sky, and the smoky outline of Mount Vesuvius in the distance across the sea. “Dad was stationed in Sicily then.”
“Who took care of us?”
“What do you mean, who took care of us? Mother did. And Marita, the maid. Why do you ask?”
“It’s something I need to know for my therapy.”
Georgina had been seeing a therapist who was helping her deal with a protracted postpartum depression. In my opinion, all she needed to cure what ailed her was to get her husband out of the house and hire a baby-sitter once or twice a week, and I told her so.
“It’s not just the pressure at home, Hannah. Lionel was absolutely beastly at church this Sunday.”
The Senior Warden at All Hallows Church in Baltimore where Georgina played the organ was a piece of work. After listening to Georgina’s complaints, I decided that he was the psychotic who needed therapy, not Georgina. I thought about the organ concert where I had last seen the odious Lionel—Mr. Streeting to his friends—pacing self-importantly in his slimy, silver-gray polyester suit, peering over the tops of oversized tortoise-shell eyeglasses and making two-finger come-hither gestures as he seated the audience. How Georgina could stand even to look at the man—his black hair, laced with gray, parted too neatly on the side, and so thick with hair cream you could see the tooth marks of his comb—was beyond me. Streeting controlled every aspect of All Hallows, from the choir director to the Junior Warden, from the Altar Guild to the church secretary, even the rector, with an uncompromising hand. Look up “prick” in the dictionary and there’s his picture, right between “pricey” and “prickle.”
Georgina’s antipathy knew no bounds as she launched into her latest diatribe. “The hymns are always too loud for him, never too soft. I’m to play faster or slower, depending upon the phase of the goddamn moon. During the prelude today I caught sight of him in my mirror, flapping his arms like a wounded bird. I thought someone had died, for Christ’s sake! Then the light on the console started flashing off and on and I knew he wanted me to quit playing but I only had sixteen bars to go so I ignored the SOB.” She paused for breath. “And then, do you know what he did?”
“I hate to think.”
“He oozed up to me after the service, tapped his watch, and said, ‘We simply
start the services on
time. Your prelude was two minutes over, Mrs. Cardinale.’ Honestly!”