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Eveningby Susan Minot
A new lens passed over everything she saw, the shadows moved on the wall like skeletons handing things to each other. Her body was flung back over a thousand beds in a thousand other rooms. She was undergoing a revolution, she felt split open. In her mattress there beat the feather of a wild bird.
Where were you all this time? she said. Where have you been?
I guess far away.
Yes you were. Too far away.
They sat in silence.
You know you frightened me a little, she said. At the beginning.
He smiled at that.
You looked as if you didn't need anyone, she said.
But those are the ones who need the most, he said. Don't you know that?
I do now, she said. Too late.
Never too late to know something, he said.
Maybe not, she said. But too late to do any good.
She lifted the yellow suitcase and banged it against her leg. She dragged it over the polished floor. The ceiling of Grand Central towered above her with arches and glass panes and squares of sunlight.
She was not late and did not have to hurry. The clerk in the window bowed his forehead like a priest in confession and pushed her ticket through. Across the great domed room she spotted a redcap with a cart and though she usually would have carried her bag to save money decided this was a special occasion. She was on her way to a wedding. She signaled to him.
The redcap flung her suitcase onto his cart. Whoever you're going to meet, he said, he's a lucky guy.
The heat in New York had been terrible and the air underground at the gate was heavy and close. When the train came out of the tunnel she saw thunderheads turning the sky yellow and grey. The rain started, ticking the window with scratches then pouring over it in streams. Crowds of cat-o'-nine-tails surged in a wave as the train blew past. By the time they reached Providence the rain had stopped and it was hot again with a hot wind blowing in the open doors. The engine shut off and they waited in the station. No new passengers got on. It was as if the world had paused on this late morning in July. She held her book loosely and watched out the window.
The station in Boston was shadowed in scaffolding dark as a cave with bands of light on the paneled benches and few travelers. The redcap who took her bag was young and did not say a word. He pushed a contraption with a bad wheel and had trouble steering through the door. She came out of the damp entranceway into the brightness of the turn-around beyond where she saw among the parked cars the dark green MG. The doors were open and she saw in front Buddy Wittenborn and in the driver's seat Ralph Eastman and a third person with his back to her. The person was standing with one foot up on the running board. When she got close Ralph caught sight of her and jumped out of the car and Buddy looked over with a lazy smile. Only when she was near did the back turn around and the long leg come off the running board and she saw the man's face. He was wearing squarish dark glasses so she couldn't see his eyes. She noticed his mouth was full though set in a particular firm way, the combination of which affected her curiously. She felt as if she'd been struck on the forehead with a brick.
The person's face seemed lit from within.
Ralph Eastman gave her a kiss on the cheek asking how was the career girl from New York and Buddy Wittenborn slid off the front seat and hugged her and ducked back turning his head and pushing his glasses back on his nose. He was wearing a disheveled shirt buttoned up wrong and a belt outside the belt loops and even with the beanie on his head looked as always handsome.
Ralph tipped the redcap, taking charge of the bags. She was trying to look at any other place other than at the person in the sunglasses.
Oh, Buddy said. This is Arden.
She was far enough away from the person that not to shake his hand was not rude. She didn't dare shake his hand. Hi, she said and smiled brightly. Her handbag fell to the ground.
That's Ann, Buddy said.
Hello Ann. The person had a deep voice which came from somewhere deep in his chest. We've been waiting for you, Ann. It was also kind of rough.
She caught a lipstick rolling and looked up. The person was not smiling. She blushed and looked back down. Am I that late? We stopped for a while in Providence . . . She felt the black glasses facing her.
Ralph slammed the back hatch. A late train has been figured into the calculations.
He's sure we'll miss the ferry, Buddy said.
On the contrary, just what I plan to avoid. So let's go.
The person was walking away from the car. He bent to pick something off the ground.
Harris, Ralph called, starting the car.
The person came back on long slow legs and got into the backseat beside Ann. It was an MG station wagon and the windows tilted in. He held up some keys attached to a Saint Christopher medal. These yours? he said.
God, Ann said, taking her keys. Thank you. That was idiotic. She looked straight at him. Which is your name?
They both are.
In what order?
Which is better? The face was placid and she could not read the eyes behind the glasses.
I don't know. They're both good.
No, the person said and he smiled for the first time. One is always better.
It was 1954 and Ann Grant was twenty-five years old.
They drove north. She liked being the girl in a car with three boys. They drove through Revere where the water was purple at the shore and the highway was raised above the tract houses, past gas stations with enormous signs shaped like horses, and miniature golf courses with waterfalls and orange dinosaurs. They passed motels with teepee cabins and restaurants shaped like pagodas and restaurants shaped like barns with plastic cows outside. They exited to Danvers winding past steeples and fudge stores with pink script writing back onto the highway where green countryside flickered out the window behind the person's profile. His name was Harris, Ralph was the one to say, Harris Arden. She sat beside Harris Arden in the backseat and they talked and now and then he turned toward her. He'd grown up in Virginia, was born in Turkey, had lived in Switzerland. His father was a diplomat, raised in St. Louis, his mother was Turkish which explained his coloring. Harris Arden lived in Chicago now, he said, and worked in a hospital.
Then Ann Grant realized who he was. He was Doctor R, Carl's friend, whom he'd served with in Korea. But it wasn't Doctor R as she had thought but Doctor Ar for Arden. She had pictured someone older.
You're the musician, she said.
Not so much anymore.
Isn't your band playing at the wedding?
What's left of it.
And you're a doctor too? Buddy said, prying open a beer with a Swiss Army knife. Who wants a cold one?
No one took him up on it. The person didn't seem to hear and stared out the window.
Ann sings, Ralph said, facing forward driving.
Does she? The person looked interested.
Just for fun, Ann said. Just in little places.
In New York little places are pretty big.
These really are little, she said. It's not even my job.
Ann's a pretty good singer, Buddy said.
I'd like to hear her sing, said the person in the sunglasses looking ahead.
Have you moved her?
She was sitting up this morning. Mrs. Lord.
The smell of rose water.
I'm sorry I'm late, said Ann Lord. We stopped for a long time in Providence.
Mrs. Lord, you have a visitor.
Ann Lord opened her eyes. No he's not, she said. It wasn't a visitor, it was Dr. Baker.
Afternoon Ann. Mercifully Dick Baker did not shout at her. His sleeves were rolled above the elbows, a stethoscope hung around his neck.
Afternoon, she said. I look a fright.
Nonsense, he said. You've never looked a fright. He came in every other day. Dick Baker was a friend of the Lords' and used to come often to dinner parties when Oscar was still alive--they had entertained more then--and as he held Ann Lord's wrist he remembered once watching her leave the dining room and disappear down the dark hallway toward the kitchen. She'd been wearing a dress with a pink sheen to it and the sheen had retained the light after her legs and arms and head had disappeared in the gloom. He checked her pulse against his watch, remembering the sheen.
After a while she said, Where am I?
You're in Cambridge in the house on Emerson Street. His dry fingers pressed near her ears. He wasn't looking at her, feeling around the way doctors do, as if they're blind.
I don't mean that, she said, fixing him in her gaze. That's not what I mean.
You're doing fine.
He had bent over the beds of many patients, but it was always different when you knew the person. It had an extra dimension to it. Dr. Baker was not a spiritual man. He considered himself a practical man. His job was simply to figure out what the heck the problem was and do his damndest to fix it and if he couldn't then move on and hope with the next one he could. He had been as straightforward with her as he was able. The treatment might give her some time but as far as curing this type of cancer . . . no that wasn't likely. There was no doubt about it when you knew the person the job changed. He felt less effectual when he knew more of the person's life. Not that he knew a great deal about Ann Lord. She was one of those mysterious women, not that he knew a great deal about women either. He knew she'd been married three times--the children came from the different husbands--and there was a hint of a racy life singing in nightclubs in New York which Dick Baker had never heard her mention and then that tragedy with her son. . . . His wife Bertie said Ann Lord was just like other women, maybe a little more stylish if you had to say something, but like other women. Bertie frankly found her a little distant and cold. Dr. Baker found them all mysterious to a point and Ann Lord had her own brand of mystery. She always looked well turned out and was a little cool then she would surprise you with a little jolt of something witty and inviting. It was nearly flirtation and challenged something in him. Of course he did not relate that to his wife. He knew that much about women.
How long Dick, she said.
It was not the first time she'd asked. They didn't always want to know. More often than not they didn't want to know the truth.
Dick. Her hand took his sleeve.
Dr. Baker glanced back at the nurse who gave a sort of nod and cast her glance to the side. He leaned down.
Let's just say you won't see the leaves change this year, he said.
When's Nina coming?
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