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The Woman in the Window / (by A. J. Finn, 2018) -

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The Woman in the Window /    (by A. J. Finn, 2018) -

The Woman in the Window / (by A. J. Finn, 2018) -

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The Woman in the Window / (by A. J. Finn, 2018) -
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2018
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A. J. Finn
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Ann Marie Lee
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upper-intermediate
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13:42:37
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Woman in the Window / :

.doc (Word) a_j_finn_-_the_woman_in_the_window.doc [869.5 Kb] (c: 8) .
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audiobook (MP3) .


: The Woman in the Window

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Sunday, October 24 1 Her husbands almost home. Hell catch her this time. There isnt a scrap of curtain, not a blade of blind, in number 212the rust-red townhome that once housed the newlywed Motts, until recently, until they un-wed. I never met either Mott, but occasionally I check in online: his LinkedIn profile, her Facebook page. Their wedding registry lives on at Macys. I could still buy them flatware. As I was saying: not even a window dressing. So number 212 gazes blankly across the street, ruddy and raw, and I gaze right back, watching the mistress of the manor lead her contractor into the guest bedroom. What is it about that house? Its where love goes to die. Shes lovely, a genuine redhead, with grass-green eyes and an archipelago of tiny moles trailing across her back. Much prettier than her husband, a Dr. John Miller, psychotherapistyes, he offers couples counselingand one of 436,000 John Millers online. This particular specimen works near Gramercy Park and does not accept insurance. According to the deed of sale, he paid $3.6 million for his house. Business must be good. I know both more and less about the wife. Not much of a homemaker, clearly; the Millers moved in eight weeks ago, yet still those windows are bare, tsk-tsk. She practices yoga three times a week, tripping down the steps with her magic-carpet mat rolled beneath one arm, legs shrink-wrapped in Lululemon. And she must volunteer someplaceshe leaves the house a little past eleven on Mondays and Fridays, around the time I get up, and returns between five and five thirty, just as Im settling in for my nightly film. (This evenings selection: The Man Who Knew Too Much, for the umpteenth time. I am the woman who viewed too much.) Ive noticed she likes a drink in the afternoon, as do I. Does she also like a drink in the morning? As do I? But her age is a mystery, although shes certainly younger than Dr. Miller, and younger than me (nimbler, too); her name I can only guess at. I think of her as Rita, because she looks like Hayworth in Gilda. Im not in the least interestedlove that line. I myself am very much interested. Not in her bodythe pale ridge of her spine, her shoulder blades like stunted wings, the baby-blue bra clasping her breasts: whenever these loom within my lens, any of them, I look awaybut in the life she leads. The lives. Two more than Ive got. Her husband rounded the corner a moment ago, just past noon, not long after his wife pressed the front door shut, contractor in tow. This is an aberration: On Sundays, Dr. Miller returns to the house at quarter past three, without fail. Yet now the good doctor strides down the sidewalk, breath chugging from his mouth, briefcase swinging from one hand, wedding band winking. I zoom in on his feet: oxblood oxfords, slick with polish, collecting the autumn sunlight, kicking it off with each step. I lift the camera to his head. My Nikon D5500 doesnt miss much, not with that Opteka lens: unruly marled hair, glasses spindly and cheap, islets of stubble in the shallow ponds of his cheeks. He takes better care of his shoes than his face. Back to number 212, where Rita and the contractor are speedily disrobing. I could dial directory assistance, call the house, warn her. I wont. Watching is like nature photography: You dont interfere with the wildlife. Dr. Miller is maybe half a minute away from the front door. His wifes mouth glosses the contractors neck. Off with her blouse. Four more steps. Five, six, seven. Twenty seconds now, at most. She seizes his tie between her teeth, grins at him. Her hands fumble with his shirt. He grazes on her ear. Her husband hops over a buckled slab of sidewalk. Fifteen seconds. I can almost hear the tie slithering out of his collar. She whips it across the room. Ten seconds. I zoom in again, the snout of the camera practically twitching. His hand dives into his pocket, surfaces with a haul of keys. Seven seconds. She unlooses her ponytail, hair swinging onto her shoulders. Three seconds. He mounts the steps. She folds her arms around his back, kisses him deep. He stabs the key into the lock. Twists. I zoom in on her face, the eyes sprung wide. Shes heard. I snap a photo. And then his briefcase flops open. A flock of papers bursts from it, scatters in the wind. I jolt the camera back to Dr. Miller, to the crisp Shoot his mouth shapes; he sets the briefcase on the stoop, stamps a few sheets beneath those glinting shoes, scoops others into his arms. One tearaway scrap has snagged in the fingers of a tree. He doesnt notice. Rita again, plunging her arms into her sleeves, pushing her hair back. She speeds from the room. The contractor, marooned, hops off the bed and retrieves his tie, stuffs it into his pocket. I exhale, air hissing out of a balloon. I hadnt realized I was holding my breath. The front door opens: Rita surges down the steps, calling to her husband. He turns; I expect he smilesI cant see. She stoops, peels some papers from the sidewalk. The contractor appears at the door, one hand sunk in his pocket, the other raised in greeting. Dr. Miller waves back. He ascends to the landing, lifts his briefcase, and the two men shake. They walk inside, trailed by Rita. Well. Maybe next time. Monday, October 25 2 The car droned past a moment ago, slow and somber, like a hearse, taillights sparking in the dark. New neighbors, I tell my daughter. Which house? Across the park. Two-oh-seven. Theyre out there now, dim as ghosts in the dusk, exhuming boxes from the trunk. She slurps. What are you eating? I ask. Its Chinese night, of course; shes eating lo mein. Lo mein. Not while youre talking to Mommy, youre not. She slurps again, chews. Mo-om. This is a tug-of-war between us; shes whittled Mommy down, against my wishes, to something blunt and stumpy. Let it go, Ed advisesbut then hes still Daddy. You should go say hi, Olivia suggests. Id like to, pumpkin. I drift upstairs, to the second floor, where the views better. Oh: There are pumpkins everywhere. All the neighbors have one. The Grays have four. Ive reached the landing, glass in hand, wine lapping at my lip. I wish I could pick out a pumpkin for you. Tell Daddy to get you one. I sip, swallow. Tell him to get you two, one for you and one for me. Okay. I glimpse myself in the dark mirror of the half bath. Are you happy, sweetheart? Yes. Not lonely? She never had real friends in New York; she was too shy, too small. Nope. I peer into the dark at the top of the stairs, into the gloom above. During the day, sun drops through the domed skylight overhead; at night, its a wide-open eye gazing into the depths of the stairwell. Do you miss Punch? Nope. She didnt get along with the cat, either. He scratched her one Christmas morning, flashed his claws across her wrist, two quick rakes north-south east-west; a bright grid of blood sprang to the skin, tic-tac-toe, and Ed nearly pitched him out the window. I look for him now, find him swirled on the library sofa, watching me. Let me talk to Daddy, pumpkin. I mount the next flight, the runner coarse against my soles. Rattan. What were we thinking? It stains so easily. Hey there, slugger, he greets me. New neighbors? Yes. Didnt you just get new neighbors? That was two months ago. Two-twelve. The Millers. I pivot, descending the stairs. Where are these other people? Two-oh-seven. Across the park. Neighborhoods changing. I reach the landing, round it. They didnt bring much with them. Just a car. Guess the movers will come later. Guess so. Silence. I sip. Now Im in the living room again, by the fire, shadows steeped in the corners. Listen . . . Ed begins. They have a son. What? Theres a son, I repeat, pressing my forehead against the cold glass of the window. Sodium lamps have yet to sprout in this province of Harlem, and the street is lit only by a lemon-wedge of moon, but still I can make them out in silhouette: a man, a woman, and a tall boy, ferrying boxes to the front door. A teenager, I add. Easy, cougar. Before I can stop myself: I wish you were here. It catches me off guard. Ed too, by the sound of it. Theres a pause. Then: You need more time, he says. I stay quiet. The doctors say that too much contact isnt healthy. Im the doctor who said that. Youre one of them. A knuckle-crack behind mea spark in the fireplace. The flames settle, muttering in the grate. Why dont you invite those new people over? he asks. I drain my glass. I think thats enough for tonight. Anna. Ed. I can almost hear him breathe. Im sorry were not there with you. I can almost hear my heart. I am, too. Punch has tracked me downstairs. I scoop him up in one arm, retreat to the kitchen. Set the phone on the counter. One more glass before bed. Grasping the bottle by its throat, I turn to the window, toward the three ghosts haunting the sidewalk, and hoist it in a toast. Tuesday, October 26 3 This time last year, wed planned to sell the house, had even engaged a broker; Olivia would enroll in a Midtown school the following September, and Ed had found us a Lenox Hill gut job. Itll be fun, he promised. Ill install a bidet, just for you. I batted him on the shoulder. Whats a bidet? asked Olivia. But then he left, and she with him. So it flayed my heart all over again when, last night, I recalled the first words of our stillborn listing: LOVINGLY RESTORED LANDMARK 19TH-CENTURY HARLEM GEM! WONDERFUL FAMILY HOME! Landmark and gem up for debate, I think. Harlem inarguable, likewise 19th-century (1884). Lovingly restored, I can attest to that, and expensively, too. Wonderful family home, true. My domain and its outposts: Basement: Or maisonette, according to our broker. Sub-street, floor-through, with its own door; kitchen, bath, bedroom, tiny office. Eds workspace for eight yearshed drape the table in blueprints, tack contractor briefs to the wall. Currently tenanted. Garden: Patio, really, accessible via the first floor. A sprawl of limestone tile; a pair of disused Adirondack chairs; a young ash tree slouched in the far corner, gangling and lonely, like a friendless teenager. Every so often I long to hug it. First floor: Ground floor, if youre British, or premier ?tage, if youre French. (I am neither, but I spent time in Oxford during my residencyin a maisonette, as it happensand this past July began studying fran?ais online.) Kitchenopen-plan and gracious (broker again), with a rear door leading to the garden and a side door to the park. White-birch floors, now blotched with puddles of merlot. In the hall a powder roomthe red room, I call it. Tomato Red, per the Benjamin Moore catalogue. Living room, equipped with sofa and coffee table and paved in Persian rug, still plush underfoot. Second floor: The library (Eds; shelves full, cracked spines and foxed dust jackets, all packed tight as teeth) and the study (mine; spare, airy, a desktop Mac poised on an IKEA tablemy online-chess battlefield). Second half bath, this one blued in Heavenly Rapture, which is ambitious language for a room with a toilet. And a deep utility closet I might one day convert into a darkroom, if I ever migrate from digital to film. I think Im losing interest. Third floor: The master (mistress?) bedroom and bath. Ive spent much of my time in bed this year; its one of those sleep-system mattresses, dually adjustable. Ed programmed his side for an almost downy softness; mine is set to firm. Youre sleeping on a brick, he said once, strumming his fingers on the top sheet. Youre sleeping on a cumulus, I told him. Then he kissed me, long and slow. After they left, during those black, blank months when I could scarcely prize myself from the sheets, I would roll slowly, like a curling wave, from one end to the other, spooling and unspooling the bedclothes around me. Also the guest bedroom and en-suite. Fourth floor: Servants quarters once upon a time, now Olivias bedroom and a second spare. Some nights I haunt her room like a ghost. Some days I stand in the doorway, watch the slow traffic of dust motes in the sun. Some weeks I dont visit the fourth floor at all, and it starts to melt into memory, like the feel of rain on my skin. Anyway. Ill speak to them again tomorrow. Meanwhile, no sign of the people across the park. Wednesday, October 27 4 A rangy teenager bursts from the front door of number 207, like a horse from the starting gate, and gallops east down the street, past my front windows. I dont get a good lookIve awoken early, after a late night with Out of the Past, and am trying to decide if a swallow of merlot might be wise; but I catch a bolt of blond, a backpack slung from one shoulder. Then hes gone. I slug a glass, float upstairs, settle myself at my desk. Reach for my Nikon. In the kitchen of 207 I can see the father, big and broad, backlit by a television screen. I press the camera to my eye and zoom in: the Today show. I might head down and switch on my own TV, I muse, watch alongside my neighbor. Or I might view it right here, on his set, through the lens. I decide to do that. Its been a while since I took in the facade, but Google furnishes a street view: whitewashed stone, faintly Beaux-Arts, capped with a widows walk. From here, of course, I can set my sights only on the side of the house; through its east windows, Ive a clear shot into the kitchen, a second-floor parlor, and a bedroom above. Yesterday a platoon of movers arrived, hauling sofas and television sets and an ancient armoire. The husband has been directing traffic. I havent seen the wife since the night they moved in. I wonder what she looks like. Im about to checkmate RookandRoll this afternoon when I hear the bell. I shuffle downstairs, slap the buzzer, unlock the hall door, and find my tenant looming there, looking, as they say, rough and ready. He is handsome, with his long jaw, his eyes like trapdoors, dark and deep. Gregory Peck after a late evening. (Im not the only one who thinks so. David likes to entertain the occasional lady friend, Ive noticed. Heard, really.) Im heading to Brooklyn tonight, he reports. I drag a hand through my hair. Okay. You need me to take care of anything before I go? It sounds like a proposition, like a line from a noir. You just put your lips together and blow. Thanks. Im fine. He gazes past me, squints. Bulbs need changing? Its dark in here. I like it dim, I say. Like my men, I want to add. Is that the joke from Airplane? Have . . . Fun? A good time? Sex? . . . a good time. He turns to go. You know you can just come on in through the basement door, I tell him, trying for playful. Chances are Ill be home. I hope hell smile. Hes been here two months, and I havent once seen him grin. He nods. He leaves. I close the door. I study myself in the mirror. Wrinkles like spokes around my eyes. A slur of dark hair, tigered here and there with gray, loose about my shoulders; stubble in the scoop of my armpit. My belly has gone slack. Dimples stipple my thighs. Skin almost luridly pale, veins flowing violet within my arms and legs. Dimples, stipples, stubble, wrinkles: I need work. I had a down-home appeal once, according to some, according to Ed. I thought of you as the girl next door, he said sadly, toward the end. I look down at my toes rippling against the tilelong and fine, one (or ten) of my better features, but a bit small-predator right now. I rummage through my medicine cabinet, pill bottles stacked atop one another like totem poles, and excavate a nail clipper. At last, a problem I can fix. Thursday, October 28 5 The deed of sale posted yesterday. My new neighbors are Alistair and Jane Russell; they paid $3.45 million for their humble abode. Google tells me that hes a partner at a midsize consultancy, previously based in Boston. Shes untraceableyou try plugging Jane Russell into a search engine. Its a lively neighborhood theyve chosen. The Miller home across the streetabandon all hope, ye who enter hereis one of five townhouses that I can survey from the south-facing windows of my own. To the east stand the identical-twin Gray Sisters: same box cornices crowning the windows, same bottle-green front doors. In the rightthe slightly Grayer Sister, I thinklive Henry and Lisa Wasserman, longtime residents; Four decades and counting, bragged Mrs. Wasserman when we moved in. Shed dropped by to tell us (to your faces) how much she (and my Henry) resented the arrival of another yuppie clan in what used to be a real neighborhood. Ed fumed. Olivia named her stuffed rabbit Yuppie. The Wassermen, as we dubbed them, havent spoken to me since, even though Im on my own now, a clan unto myself. They dont seem much friendlier toward the residents of the other Gray Sister, a family called, fittingly, Gray. Twin teenage girls, father a partner at a boutique MandA firm, mother an eager book-club hostess. This months selection, advertised on their Meetup page and under review right now, in the Grays front room, by eight middle-aged women: Jude the Obscure. I read it too, imagined I was one of the group, munching coffee cake (none handy) and sipping wine (this I managed). What did you think of Jude, Anna? Christine Gray would ask me, and Id say I found it rather obscure. Wed laugh. Theyre laughing now, in fact. I try laughing with them. I take a sip. West of the Millers are the Takedas. The husband is Japanese, the mother white, their son unearthly beautiful. Hes a cellist; in the warm months, he rehearses with the parlor windows thrown open, so Ed used to hoist ours in turn. We danced one night in some long-gone June, Ed and I, to the strains of a Bach suite: swaying in the kitchen, my head on his shoulder, his fingers knotted behind me, as the boy across the street played on. This past summer, his music wandered toward the house, approached my living room, knocked politely on the glass: Let me in. I didnt, couldntI never open the windows, neverbut still I could hear it murmuring, pleading: Let me in. Let me in! Number 206208, a vacant double-wide brownstone, flanks the Takedas house. An LLC bought it two Novembers ago, but no one moved in. A puzzle. For nearly a year, scaffolding clung to its facade like hanging gardens; it disappeared overnightthis was a few months before Ed and Olivia leftand since then, nothing. Behold my southern empire and its subjects. None of these people were my friends; most of them Id not met more than once or twice. Urban life, I suppose. Maybe the Wassermen were onto something. I wonder if they know whats become of me. A derelict Catholic school abuts my house to the east, practically leans against it: St. Dymphnas, shuttered since we moved in. Wed threaten to send Olivia there when she misbehaved. Pitted brown stone, windows dark with grime. Or at least thats what I remember; its been a while since I laid eyes on it. And directly west is the parktiny, two lots across and two deep, with a narrow brick path connecting our street to the one directly north. A sycamore stands sentry at either end, leaves flaming; an iron fence, low to the ground, hems in both sides. It is, as that quotable broker said, very quaint. Then theres the house beyond the park: number 207. The Lords sold it two months ago and promptly cleared out, flying south to their retirement villa in Vero Beach. Enter Alistair and Jane Russell. Jane Russell! My physical therapist had never heard of her. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I said. Not in my experience, she replied. Binas younger; perhaps thats it. All this was earlier today; before I could argue with her, she laced one of my legs over the other, capsized me onto my right side. The pain left me breathless. Your hamstrings need this, she assured me. You bitch, I gasped. She pressed my knee to the floor. Youre not paying me to go easy on you. I winced. Can I pay you to leave? Bina visits once a week to help me hate life, as I like to say, and to provide updates on her sexual adventures, which are about as exciting as my own. Only in Binas case its because shes picky. Half the guys on these apps are using five-year-old photos, shell complain, her waterfall of hair poured over one shoulder, and the other half are married. And the other half are single for a reason. Thats three halves, but you dont debate math with someone whos rotating your spine. I joined Happn a month ago just to see, I told myself. Happn, Bina had explained to me, matchmakes you with people whose paths youve crossed. But what if you havent crossed paths with anyone? What if you forever navigate the same four thousand vertically arranged square feet, and nothing beyond them? I dont know. The first profile I spotted was Davids. I instantly deleted my account. Its been four days since I glimpsed Jane Russell. She certainly wasnt proportioned like the original, with her torpedo breasts, her wasp waist, but then neither am I. The son Ive seen only that once, yesterday morning. The husband, howeverwide shoulders, streaky brows, a blade of a noseis on permanent display in his house: whisking eggs in the kitchen, reading in the parlor, occasionally glancing into the bedroom, as though in search of someone. Friday, October 29 6 My French le?on today, and Les Diaboliques tonight. A rat-bastard husband, his little ruin of a wife, a mistress, a murder, a vanished corpse. Can you beat a vanished corpse? But first, duty calls. I swallow my pills, park at my desktop, knock the mouse to one side, enter the password. And log on to the Agora. At any hour, at all hours, there are at least a few dozen users checked in, a constellation sprawled across the world. Some of them I know by name: Talia from the Bay Area; Phil in Boston; a lawyer from Manchester with the unlawyerly name of Mitzi; Pedro, a Bolivian whose halting English is probably no worse than my pidgin French. Others go by handles, me includedin a cute moment, I opted for Annagoraphobe, but then I outed myself to another user as a psychologist, and word swiftly spread. So now Im thedoctorisin. Shell see you now. Agoraphobia: in translation the fear of the marketplace, in practice the term for a range of anxiety disorders. First documented in the late 1800s, then codified as an independent diagnostic entity a century later, though largely comorbid with panic disorder. You can read all about it, if you like, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. DSM-5 for short. Its always amused me, that title; it sounds like a movie franchise. Liked Mental Disorders 4? Youll love the sequel! The medical literature is uncommonly imaginative when it comes to diagnostics. Agoraphobic fears . . . include being outside the home alone; being in a crowd, or standing in a line; being on a bridge. What I wouldnt give to stand on a bridge. Hell, what I wouldnt give to stand in a line. I like this one, too: Being in the center of a theater row. Center seats, no less. Pages 113 through 133, if youre interested. Many of usthe most severely afflicted, the ones grappling with post-traumatic stress disorderare housebound, hidden from the messy, massy world outside. Some dread the heaving crowds; others, the storm of traffic. For me, its the vast skies, the endless horizon, the sheer exposure, the crushing pressure of the outdoors. Open spaces, the DSM-5 calls it vaguely, anxious to get to its 186 footnotes. As a doctor, I say that the sufferer seeks an environment she can control. Such is the clinical take. As a sufferer (and that is the word), I say that agoraphobia hasnt ravaged my life so much as become it. The Agora welcome screen greets me. I scan the message boards, comb the threads. 3 MONTHS STUCK IN MY HOUSE. I hear you, Kala88; almost ten months and counting here. AGORA DEPENDENT ON MOOD? Sounds more like social phobia, EarlyRiser. Or a troubled thyroid. STILL CANT GET A JOB. Oh, MeganI know, and Im sorry. Thanks to Ed, I dont need one, but I miss my patients. I worry about my patients. A newcomer has emailed me. I direct her to the survival manual I whipped up back in the spring: So You Have a Panic DisorderI think it sounds agreeably jaunty. Q: How do I eat? A: Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh . . . there are lots of delivery options available in the US! Those abroad can likely find similar services. Q: How do I get my medication? A: All the major pharmacies in the US now come straight to your door. Have your doctor speak to your local pharmacy if theres a problem. Q: How do I keep the house clean? A: Clean it! Hire a cleaning agency or do it yourself. (I do neither. My place could use a wipe-down.) Q: What about trash disposal? A: Your cleaner can take care of this, or you can arrange for a friend to help. Q: How do I keep from getting bored? A: Now, thats the tough question . . . Et cetera. Im pleased with the document, on the whole. Would have loved to have had it myself. Now a chat box appears on my screen. SALLY4TH: hello doc! I can feel a smile twitching on my lips. Sally: twenty-six, based in Perth, was attacked earlier this year, on Easter Sunday. She suffered a broken arm and severe contusions to her eyes and face; her rapist was never identified or apprehended. Sally spent four months indoors, isolated in the most isolated city in the world, but has been getting out of the house for more than ten weeks nowgood on her, as shed say. A psychologist, aversion therapy, and propranolol. Nothing like a beta-blocker. THEDOCTORISIN: Hello yourself! All okay? SALLY4TH: all ok! picnic this morning!! Shes always been fond of exclamation marks, even in the depths of depression. THEDOCTORISIN: How was it? SALLY4TH: i survived! :) She likes emoticons, too. THEDOCTORISIN: You are a survivor! How is the Inderal? SALLY4TH: good, im down to 80mg THEDOCTORISIN: 2x a day? SALLY4TH: 1x!! THEDOCTORISIN: Minimum dosage! Fantastic! Side effects? SALLY4TH: dry eyes, thats it Thats lucky. Im on a similar drug (among others), and from time to time the headaches nearly rupture my brain. PROPRANOLOL CAN LEAD TO MIGRAINE, HEART ARRHYTHMIA, SHORTNESS OF BREATH, DEPRESSION, HALLUCINATIONS, SEVERE SKIN REACTION, NAUSEA, DIARRHEA, DECREASED LIBIDO, INSOMNIA, AND DROWSINESS. What that medicine needs is more side effects, Ed said to me. Spontaneous combustion, I suggested. The screaming shits. Slow, lingering death. THEDOCTORISIN: Any relapses? SALLY4TH: i had a wobble last week SALLY4TH: but got thru it SALLY4TH: breathing exercises THEDOCTORISIN: The old paper bag. SALLY4TH: i feel like an idiot but it works THEDOCTORISIN: It does indeed. Well done. SALLY4TH: thanx :) I sip my wine. Another chat box pops up: Andrew, a man I met on a site for classic-film enthusiasts. Graham Greene series @ Angelika this w/e? I pause. The Fallen Idol is a favoritethe doomed butler; the fateful paper planeand its been fifteen years since I watched Ministry of Fear. And old movies, of course, brought me and Ed together. But I havent explained my situation to Andrew. Unavailable sums it up. I return to Sally. THEDOCTORISIN: Are you keeping up with your psychologist? SALLY4TH: yes :) thanx. down to just 1x week. she says progress is excellent SALLY4TH: meds and beds is the key THEDOCTORISIN: Are you sleeping well? SALLY4TH: i still get bad dreams SALLY4TH: u? THEDOCTORISIN: Im sleeping a lot. Too much, probably. I should mention that to Dr. Fielding. Not sure I will. SALLY4TH: ur progress? u fit for fight? THEDOCTORISIN: Im not as quick as you! PTSD is a beast. But Im tough. SALLY4TH: yes u r! SALLY4TH: just wanted to check on my friends herethinking about u all!!! I bid Sally adieu just as my tutor dials in on Skype. Bonjour, Yves, I mutter to myself. I pause for a moment before answering; I look forward to seeing him, I realizethat inky hair, that dark bloom to his skin. Those eyebrows that bolt into each other and buckle like laccent circonflexe when my accent puzzles him, which is often. If Andrew checks in again, Ill ignore him for now. Maybe for good. Classic cinema: Thats what I share with Ed. No one else. I upend the hourglass on my desk, watch how the little pyramid of sand seems to pulse as the grains dimple it. So much time. Nearly a year. I havent left the house in nearly a year. Well, almost. Five times in eight weeks Ive managed to venture outside, out back, into the garden. My secret weapon, as Dr. Fielding calls it, is my umbrellaEds umbrella, really, a rickety London Fog contraption. Dr. Fielding, a rickety contraption himself, will stand like a scarecrow in the garden as I push the door open, the umbrella brandished before me. A flick of the spring and it blooms; I stare intently at the bowl of its body, at its ribs and skin. Dark tartan, four squares of black arranged across each fold of canopy, four lines of white in every warp and weft. Four squares, four lines. Four blacks, four whites. Breathe in, count to four. Breathe out, count to four. Four. The magic number. The umbrella projects straight ahead of me, like a saber, like a shield. And then I step outside. Out, two, three, four. In, two, three, four. The nylon glows against the sun. I descend the first step (there are, naturally, four) and tilt the umbrella toward the sky, just a bit, peek at his shoes, his shins. The world teems in my peripheral vision, like water about to flood a diving bell. Remember, youve got your secret weapon, Dr. Fielding calls. Its not a secret, I want to cry; its a fucking umbrella, wielded in broad daylight. Out, two, three, four; in, two, three, fourand unexpectedly it works; Im conducted down the steps (out, two, three, four) and across a few yards of lawn (in, two, three, four). Until the panic wells within, a rising tide that swamps my sight, drowns out Dr. Fieldings voice. And then . . . best not to think of it. Saturday, October 30 7 A storm. The ash tree cowers, the limestone glowers, dark and damp. I remember dropping a glass onto the patio once; it burst like a bubble, merlot flaring across the ground and flooding the veins of the stonework, black and bloody, crawling toward my feet. Sometimes, when the skies are low, I imagine myself overhead, in a plane or on a cloud, surveying the island below: the bridges spoked from its east coast; the cars sucked toward it like flies swarming a lightbulb. Its been so long since I felt the rain. Or windthe caress of wind, I nearly said, except that sounds like something youd read in a supermarket romance. Its true, though. And snow too, but snow I never want to feel again. A peach was mixed in with my Granny Smiths in this mornings FreshDirect delivery. I wonder how that happened. The night we met, at an art-house screening of The 39 Steps, Ed and I compared histories. My mother, I told him, had weaned me on old thrillers and classic noir; as a teenager I preferred the company of Gene Tierney and Jimmy Stewart to that of my classmates. Cant decide if thats sweet or sad, said Ed, who until that evening had never seen a black-and-white movie. Within two hours, his mouth was on mine. You mean your mouth was on mine, I imagine him saying. In the years before Olivia, wed watch a movie at least once a weekall the vintage suspense flicks from my childhood: Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Saboteur, The Big Clock . . . We lived in monochrome those nights. For me, it was a chance to revisit old friends; for Ed, it was an opportunity to make new ones. And wed make lists. The Thin Man franchise, ranked from best (the original) to worst (Song of the Thin Man). Top movies from the bumper crop of 1944. Joseph Cottens finest moments. I can do lists on my own, of course. For instance: best Hitchcock films not made by Hitchcock. Here we go: Le Boucher, the early Claude Chabrol that Hitch, according to lore, wished hed directed. Dark Passage, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacalla San Francisco valentine, all velveteen with fog, and antecedent to any movie in which a character goes under the knife to disguise himself. Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe; Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn; Sudden Fear!, starring Joan Crawfords eyebrows. Wait Until Dark: Hepburn again, a blind woman stranded in her basement apartment. Id go berserk in a basement apartment. Now, movies that postdate Hitch: The Vanishing, with its sucker-punch finale. Frantic, Polanskis ode to the master. Side Effects, which begins as a Big Pharma screed before slithering like an eel into another genre altogether. Okay. Popular film misquotes. Play it again, Sam: Casablanca, allegedly, except neither Bogie nor Bergman ever said it. Hes alive: Frankenstein doesnt gender his monster; cruelly, its just Its alive. Elementary, my dear Watson does crop up in the first Holmes film of the talkie era, but appears nowhere in the Conan Doyle canon. Okay. What next? I flip open my laptop, visit the Agora. A message from Mitzi in Manchester; a progress report courtesy of Dimples2016 in Arizona. Nothing of note. In the front parlor of number 210, the Takeda boy draws his bow across the cello. Farther east, the four Grays flee the rain, charging up their front steps, laughing. Across the park, Alistair Russell fills a glass at the kitchen tap. 8 Late afternoon, and Im pouring a California pinot noir into a tumbler when the doorbell chimes. I drop my glass. It explodes, a long tongue of wine licking the white birch. Fuck, I shout. (Something Ive noticed: In the absence of others, I swear more often and more loudly. Ed would be appalled. Im appalled.) Ive just seized a fistful of paper towels when the bell rings again. Who the hell? I thinkor have I said it? David left an hour ago for a job in East HarlemI watched him from the studyand Im not expecting any deliveries. I stoop, cram the towels against the mess, then march to the door. Framed within the intercom screen is a tall kid in a slim jacket, hands clasping a small white box. Its the Russell boy. I press the Talk button. Yes? I call. Less inviting than Hello, more gracious than Who the hell? I live across the park, he says, almost shouting, his voice improbably sweet. My mom asked me to give you this. I watch him thrust the box toward the speaker; then, unsure where the camera might be, he slowly pivots, arms orbiting overhead. You can just . . . I begin. Should I ask him to deposit it in the hall? Not very neighborly, I suppose, but I havent bathed in two days, and the cat might nip at him. Hes still on the stoop, box held aloft. . . . come in, I finish, and I tap the buzzer. I hear the lock unbuckle and move to the door, cautiously, the way Punch approaches unfamiliar peopleor used to, back when unfamiliar people visited the house. A shadow piles up against the frosted glass, dim and slim, like a sapling. I turn the knob. Hes tall indeed, baby-faced and blue-eyed, with a flap of sandy hair and a faint scar notching one eyebrow, trailing up his forehead. Maybe fifteen years old. He looks like a boy I once knew, once kissedsummer camp in Maine, a quarter century ago. I like him. Im Ethan, he says. Come in, I repeat. He enters. Its dark in here. I flick the switch on the wall. As I examine him, he examines the room: the paintings, the cat spread along the chaise, the mound of sodden towels melting on the kitchen floor. What happened? I had an accident, I say. Im Anna. Fox, I add, in case he goes in for formalities; Im old enough to be his (young) mother. We shake hands, then he offers me the box, bright and tight and lashed with ribbon. For you, he says shyly. Just set that down over there. Can I get you something to drink? He moves to the sofa. Could I have some water? Sure. I return to the kitchen, clear up the wreckage. Ice? No, thanks. I fill a glass, then another, ignoring the bottle of pinot noir on the counter. The box squats on the coffee table, next to my laptop. Im still logged in to the Agora, having talked DiscoMickey through an incipient panic attack a little while ago; his thank-you note is writ large across the screen. Right, I say, sitting beside Ethan, setting his glass in front of him. I snap the computer shut and reach for the gift. Lets see what weve got here. I tug the ribbon, lift the flap, and from a nest of tissue remove a candlethe kind with blooms and stalks trapped inside like insects in amber. I bring it to my face, making a show of it. Lavender, Ethan volunteers. I thought so. I inhale. I lav lovender. Try again. I love lavender. He smiles a bit, one corner of his mouth tipping upward, as though tugged by a string. Hes going to be a handsome man, I realize, in just a few years. That scarwomen will love it. Girls might love it already. Or boys. My mom asked me to give this to you. Like, days ago. Thats very thoughtful. New neighbors are supposed to give you gifts. One lady came by already, he says. She told us that we didnt need such a big house if were such a small family. I bet that was Mrs. Wasserman. Yes. Ignore her. We did. Punch has dropped from the chaise onto the floor and approaches us gingerly. Ethan leans forward, lays his hand on the rug, palm upward. The cat pauses, then slithers toward us, sniffing at Ethans fingers, licking them. Ethan giggles. I love cats tongues, he says, as though confessing. So do I. I sip my water. Theyre covered in little barbslittle needles, I say, in case he doesnt know the word barb. I realize Im not certain how to speak to a teenager; my oldest patients were twelve. Shall I light the candle? Ethan shrugs, smiles. Sure. I find a matchbox in the desk, cherry red, the words THE RED CAT marching across it; I remember dining there with Ed, more than two years ago now. Or three. Chicken tagine, I think, and as I recall, he praised the wine. I wasnt drinking as much then. I strike a match, light the wick. Look at that, I say as a little claw of flame scratches at the air; the glow blossoms, the blossoms glow. How lovely. Theres a soft silence. Punch figure-eights around Ethans legs, then vaults to his lap. Ethan laughs, a bright bark. I think he likes you. I guess so, he says, crooking a finger behind the cats ear and gently niggling it. He doesnt like most people. Bad temper. A low growl, like a quiet motor. Punch is actually purring. Ethan grins. Is he an indoor-only cat? He has a cat flap in the kitchen door. I point to it. But mostly he stays inside. Good boy, Ethan murmurs as Punch burrows into his armpit. How are you liking your new house? I ask. He pauses, kneading the cats skull with his knuckles. I miss the old one, he says after a moment. I bet. Where did you live before? I already know the answer, of course. Boston. What brought you to New York? I know this one, too. My dad got a new job. A transfer, technically, but Im hardly going to argue. My rooms bigger here, he says, as though the thought has just occurred to him. The people who lived there before you did a big renovation. My mom says it was a gut job. Exactly. A gut job. And they combined some of the rooms upstairs. Have you been to my house? he asks. Ive been a few times. I didnt know them very wellthe Lords. But they had a holiday party every year, so thats when Id come over. It was nearly a year ago, in fact, that I last visited. Ed was there with me. He left two weeks later. Ive started to relax. For a moment I think its Ethans companyhes soft-spoken and easy; even the cat approvesbut then I realize that Im reverting to analyst mode, to the seesaw give-and-take of QandA. Curiosity and compassion: the tools of my trade. And in an instant, for a moment, Im back there, in my office on East Eighty-Eighth, the small hushed room sunk in dim light, two deep chairs opposite each other, a pond of blue rug between them. The radiator hisses. The door drifts open, and there in the waiting area is the sofa, the wooden table; the slithering stacks of Highlights and Ranger Rick; the bin brimming with chunks of Lego; the white-noise machine purring in the corner. And Wesleys door. Wesley, my business partner, my grad-school mentor, the man who recruited me into private practice. Wesley BrillWesley Brilliant, we called him, he of the sloppy hair and mismatched socks, the lightning brain and thunder voice. I see him in his office, slouched in his Eames lounger, long legs arrowed toward the center of the room, a book propped in his lap. The window is open, gasping in the winter air. Hes been smoking. He looks up. Hello, Fox, he says. My room is bigger than my old room, Ethan repeats. I settle back, fold one leg over the other. It feels almost absurdly posed. I wonder when I last crossed my legs. Where are you going to school? Home school, he says. My mom teaches me. Before I can respond, he nods at a picture on a side table. Is that your family? Yes. Thats my husband and my daughter. Hes Ed and shes Olivia. Are they home? No, they dont live here. Were separated. Oh. He strokes Punchs back. How old is she? Shes eight. How old are you? Sixteen. Seventeen in February. Its the sort of thing Olivia would say. Hes older than he looks. My daughter was born in February. Valentines Day. Im the twenty-eighth. So close to leap year, I say. He nods. What do you do? Im a psychologist. I work with children. He wrinkles his nose. Why would children need a psychologist? All sorts of reasons. Some of them have trouble in school, some of them have difficulty at home. Some of them have a tough time moving to a new place. He says nothing. So I suppose that if youre homeschooled, you have to meet friends outside of class. He sighs. My dad found a swim league for me to join. How long have you swum? Since I was five. You must be good. Im okay. My dad says Im capable. I nod. Im pretty good, he admits modestly. I teach it. You teach swimming? To people with disabilities. Not, like, physical disabilities, he adds. Developmental disabilities. Yeah. I did that a lot in Boston. I want to do it here, too. How did you start doing that? My friends sister has Down syndrome, and she saw the Olympics a couple years ago and wanted to learn to swim. So I taught her and then some other kids from her school. And then I got into that whole . . .he fumbles for the wordscene, I guess. Thats great. Im not into parties or anything like that. Not your scene. No. Then he smiles. Not at all. He twists his head, looks at the kitchen. I can see your house from my room, he says. Its up there. I turn. If he can see the house, that means hes got an easterly view, facing my bedroom. The thought is briefly bothersomehes a teenage boy, after all. For the second time I wonder if he might be gay. And then I see that his eyes have gone glassy. Oh . . . I look to my right, where the tissues should be, where they used to be in my office. Instead theres a picture frame, Olivia beaming at me, gap-toothed. Sorry, Ethan says. No, dont be sorry, I tell him. Whats wrong? Nothing. He scrubs his eyes. I wait a moment. Hes a child, I remind myselftall and broken-voiced, but a child. I miss my friends, he says. I bet. Of course. I dont know anyone here. A tear tumbles down one cheek. He swipes at it with the heel of his hand. Moving is tough. It took me a little while to meet people when I moved here. He sniffles loudly. When did you move? Eight years ago. Or actually nine, now. From Connecticut. He sniffles again, brushes his nose with a finger. Thats not as far away as Boston. No. But moving from anywhere is tough. Id like to hug him. I wont. LOCAL RECLUSE FONDLES NEIGHBOR CHILD. We sit for a moment in silence. Can I have some more water? he asks. Ill get it for you. No, its fine. He begins to stand; Punch pours himself down his leg, pooling beneath the coffee table. Ethan walks to the kitchen sink. As the faucet runs, I get up and approach the television, haul open the drawer beneath the set. Do you like movies? I call. No answer; I turn to see him standing at the kitchen door, gazing at the park. Beside him, the bottles in the recycling bin glow fluorescent. After a moment, he faces me. What? Do you like movies? I repeat. He nods. Come take a look. Ive got a big DVD library. Very big. Too big, my husband says. I thought you were separated, Ethan mumbles, crossing toward me. Well, hes still my husband. I inspect the ring on my left hand, twist it. But youre right. I gesture at the open drawer. If youd like to borrow anything, youre welcome to it. Do you have a DVD player? My dads got an attachment for his laptop. Thatll work. He might let me borrow it. Lets hope so. Im starting to get a sense of Alistair Russell. What sort of movies? he asks. Mostly old ones. Like, black-and-white? Mostly black-and-white. Ive never seen a black-and-white movie. I make full moons of my eyes. Youre in for a treat. All the best movies are black-and-white. He looks doubtful but peers into the drawer. Nearly two hundred slipcases, Criterion and Kino, Universals Hitchcock boxed set, assorted film noir collections, Star Wars (Im only human). I inspect the spines: Night and the City. Whirlpool. Murder, My Sweet. Here, I announce, prying loose a case and handing it to Ethan. Night Must Fall, he reads. Its a good one to start with. Suspenseful but not scary. Thanks. He clears his throat, coughs. Sorry, he says, sipping his water. Im allergic to cats. I stare at him. Why didnt you say so? I glare at the cat. Hes so friendly. I didnt want to offend him. Thats ridiculous, I tell him. In a nice way. He smiles. Id better go, he says. He returns to the coffee table, sets his glass on it, bends to address Punch through the glass. Not because of you, buddy. Good boy. He straightens up, shakes his hands over his thighs. Do you want a lint roller? For the dander? Im not even sure Ive still got one. Im okay. He looks around. Can I use your bathroom? I point to the red room. All yours. While hes in there, I check the sideboard mirror. A shower tonight, for sure. Tomorrow at latest. I return to the sofa and open my laptop. Thanks for your help, DiscoMickey has written. Youre my hero. I rattle off a quick reply as the toilet flushes. Ethan emerges from the bathroom a moment later, rubbing his palms on his jeans. All set, he informs me. He treads to the door, hands stuffed in pockets, a schoolboy shuffle. I follow him. Thanks so much for coming by. See you around, he says, pulling the door open. No, you wont, I think. Im sure you will, I say. 9 After Ethan leaves, I watch Laura again. It shouldnt work: Clifton Webb gorging on the scenery, Vincent Price test-driving a southern accent, the oil-and-vinegar leads. But work it does, and oh, that music. They sent me the script, not the score, Hedy Lamarr once griped. I leave the candle lit, the tiny blob of flame pulsing. And then, humming the Laura theme, I swipe my phone on and take to the Internet in search of my patients. My former patients. Ten months ago I lost them all: I lost Mary, nine years old, struggling with her parents divorce; I lost Justin, eight, whose twin brother had died of melanoma; I lost Anne Marie, at age twelve still afraid of the dark. I lost Rasheed (eleven, transgender) and Emily (nine, bullying); I lost a preternaturally depressed little ten-year-old named, of all things, Joy. I lost their tears and their troubles and their rage and their relief. I lost nineteen children all told. Twenty, if you count my daughter. I know where Olivia is now, of course. The others Ive been tracking. Not too oftena psychologist isnt supposed to investigate her patients, past patients includedbut every month or so, swollen with longing, Ill take to the web. Ive got a few Internet research tools at my disposal: a phantom Facebook account; a stale LinkedIn profile. With young people, though, only Google will do, really. After reading of Avas spelling-bee championship and Theos election to the middle school student council, after scanning the Instagram albums of Graces mother and scrolling through Bens Twitter feed (he really ought to activate some privacy settings), after wiping the tears from my cheeks and sinking three glasses of red, I find myself back in my bedroom, browsing photos on my phone. And then, once more, I talk to Ed. Guess who, I say, the way I always do. Youre pretty tipsy, slugger, he points out. Its been a long day. I glance at my empty glass, feel a prickle of guilt. Whats Livvy up to? Getting ready for tomorrow. Oh. Whats her costume? A ghost, Ed says. You got lucky. What do you mean? I laugh. Last year she was a fire truck. Man, that took days. It took me days. I can hear him grin. Across the park, three stories up, through the window and in the depths of a dark room, theres the glow of a computer screen. Light dawns, an instant sunrise; I see a desk, a table lamp, and then Ethan, shucking his sweater. Affirmative: Our bedrooms do indeed face each other. He turns around, eyes cast down, and peels off his shirt. I look away. Sunday, October 31 10 Weak morning light strains through my bedroom window. I roll over; my hip cracks against my laptop. A late night playing bad chess. My knights stumbled, my rooks crashed. I drag myself to and from the shower, mop my hair with a towel, skid deodorant under my arms. Fit for fight, as Sally says. Happy Halloween. I wont be answering any doors this evening, of course. David will head out at sevendowntown, I think he said. I bet thats fun. He suggested earlier that we leave a bowl of candy on the stoop. Any kid would take it within a minute, bowl and all, I told him. He seemed miffed. I wasnt a child psychologist, he said. You dont need to have been a child psychologist. You just need to have been a child. So Im going to switch off the lights and pretend no ones home. I visit my film site. Andrew is online; he posted a link to a Pauline Kael essay on Vertigostupid and shallowand beneath that, hes making a list: Best noir to hold hands through? (The Third Man. The last shot alone.) I read the Kael piece, ping him a message. After five minutes, he logs out. I cant remember the last time someone held my hand. 11 Whap. The front door again. This time Im coiled on the sofa, watching Rififithe extended heist sequence, half an hour without a syllable of dialogue or a note of music, just diegetic sound and the hum of blood in your ears. Yves had suggested I spend more time with French cinema. Presumably a semi-silent film was not what he had in mind. Quel dommage. Then that dull whap at the door, a second time. I peel the blanket from my legs, swing myself to my feet, find the remote, pause the movie. Twilight sifting down outside. I walk to the door and open it. Whap. I step into the hallthe one area of the house I dislike and distrust, the cool gray zone between my realm and the outside world. Right now its dim in the dusk, the dark walls like hands about to clap me between them. Streaks of leaded glass line the front door. I approach one, gaze through it. A crack, and the window shudders. A tiny missile has struck: an egg, blasted, its guts spangled across the glass. I hear myself gasp. Through the smear of yolk I can see three kids in the street, their faces bright, their grins bold, one of them poised with an egg in his fist. I sway where I stand, place a hand against the wall. This is my home. Thats my window. My throat shrinks. Tears well in my eyes. I feel surprised, then ashamed. Whap. Then angry. I cant fling wide the door and send them scurrying. I cant barrel outside and confront them. I rap on the window, sharply Whap. I slap the heel of my hand against the door. I bash it with my fist. I growl, then I roar, my voice bounding between the walls, the dark little hall a chamber of echoes. Im helpless. No, youre not, I can hear Dr. Fielding say. In, two, three, four. No, Im not. Im not. I toiled nearly a decade as a graduate student. I spent fifteen months training in inner-city schools. I practiced for seven years. Im tough, I promised Sally. Scraping my hair back, I retreat to the living room, yank a breath from the air, stab the intercom with one finger. Get away from my house, I hiss. Surely theyll hear the squawk outside. Whap. My finger is wobbling on the intercom button. Get away from my house! Whap. I stumble across the room, trip up the stairs, race into my study, to the window. There they are, clustered in the street like marauders, laying siege to my home, their shadows endless in the dying light. I bat at the glass. One of them points at me, laughs. Winds his arm like a pitcher. Looses another egg. I knock harder on the glass, hard enough to dislodge a pane. Thats my door. This is my home. My vision blurs. And suddenly Im rushing down the stairs; suddenly Im back in the dark of the hall, my bare feet on the tiles, my hand on the knob. Anger grips me by the throat; my sight is swimming. I seize a breath, seize another. In-two-three I jolt the door open. Light and air blast me. For an instant its silent, as silent as the film, as slow as the sunset. The houses opposite. The three kids between. The street around them. Quiet and still, a stopped clock. I could swear I hear a crack, as of a felled tree. And then and then it bulges toward me, swelling, now rushing, a boulder flung from a catapult; slams me with such force, walloping my gut, that I fold. My mouth opens like a window. Wind whips into it. Im an empty house, rotten rafters and howling air. My roof collapses with a groan and Im groaning, sliding, avalanching, one hand scraped along the brick, the other lunging into space. Eyes reel and roll: the lurid red of leaves, then darkness; lights up on a woman in black, vision blanching, bleaching, until molten white swarms my eyes and pools there, thick and deep. I try to cry out, my lips brush grit. I taste concrete. I taste blood. I feel my limbs pinwheeled on the ground. The ground ripples against my body. My body ripples against the air. Somewhere in the attic of my brain I recall that this happened once before, on these same steps. I remember the low tide of voices, the odd word breaching bright and clear: fallen, neighbor, anyone, crazy. This time, nothing. Arm slung around someones neck. Hair, coarser than my own, rubs my face. Feet scuffle feebly on the ground, on the floor; and now Im inside, in the chill of the hall, in the warmth of the living room. 12 You took a tumble! My vision fills like a Polaroid print. Im looking at the ceiling, at a single recessed light socket staring back at me, a beady eye. Im getting something for youone second . . . I let my head loll to one side. Velvet fizzes in my ear. The living room chaisethe fainting couch. Ha. One second, one second . . . At the kitchen sink stands a woman, turned away from me, a rope of dark hair trailing down her back. I bring my hands to my face, cup them over my nose and mouth, breathe in, breathe out. Calm. Calm. My lip aches. I was just headed next door when I saw those little shits chucking eggs, she explains. I said to them, What are you up to, little shits?, and then you sort of . . . lurched through the door and went down like a sack of . . . She doesnt finish the sentence. I wonder if she was going to say shit. Instead she turns, a glass in each hand, one filled with water, one with something thick and gold. Brandy, I hope, from the liquor cabinet. No idea if brandy actually works, she says. I feel like Im in Downton Abbey. Im your Florence Nightingale! Youre the woman from across the park, I mumble. The words stagger off my tongue like drunks from a bar. Im tough. Pathetic. Whats that? And then, in spite of myself: Youre Jane Russell. She stops, looking at me in wonder, then laughs, her teeth glinting in the half-light. How do you know that? You said you were going next door? Trying to enunciate. Irish wristwatch, I think. Unique New York. Your son came by. Through the mesh of my eyelashes I study her. Shes what Ed might call, approvingly, a ripe woman: hips and lips full, bust ample, skin mellow, face merry, eyes a gas-jet blue. She wears indigo jeans and a black sweater, scoop-necked, with a silver pendant resting on her chest. Late thirties, Id guess. She must have been a baby when she had her baby. As with her son, I like her on sight. She moves to the chaise, knocks my knee with her own. Sit up. In case youve got a concussion. I oblige, dragging myself into position, as she sets the glasses on the table, then parks herself across from me, where her son sat yesterday. She turns to the television, furrows her brow. What are you watching? A black-and-white movie? Baffled. I reach for the remote and tap the power button. The screen goes blank. Dark in here, Jane observes. Could you get the lights? I ask. Im feeling a little . . . Cant finish. Sure. She reaches over the back of the sofa, switches on the floor lamp. The room glows. I tip my head back, stare at the beveled molding on the ceiling. In, two, three, four. It could use a touch-up. Ill ask David. Out, two, three, four. So, Jane says, elbows on her knees, scrutinizing me. What happened out there? I shut my eyes. Panic attack. Oh, honeywhats your name? Anna. Fox. Anna. They were just some stupid kids. No, that wasnt it. I cant go outside. I look down, grasp for the brandy. But you did go outside. Easy does it with that stuff, she adds as I knock back my drink. I shouldnt have. Gone outside. Why not? You a vampire? Practically, I think, appraising my armfish-belly white. Im agoraphobic? I say. She purses her lips. Is that a question? No, I just wasnt sure youd know what it meant. Of course I know. You dont do open spaces. I close my eyes again, nod. But I thought agoraphobia means you just cant, you know, go camping. Outdoorsy stuff. I cant go anywhere. Jane sucks her teeth. How long has this been going on? I drain the last drops of brandy. Ten months. She doesnt pursue it. I breathe deeply, cough. Do you need an inhaler or something? I shake my head. That would only make it worse. Raise my heart rate. She considers this. What about a paper bag? I set the glass down, reach for the water. No. I mean, sometimes, but not now. Thank you for bringing me inside. Im very embarrassed. Oh, dont No, I am. Very. It wont become a habit, I promise. She purses her lips again. Very active mouth, I notice. Possible smoker, although she smells of shea butter. So its happened before? You going outside, and . . . ? I grimace. Back in the spring. Delivery guy left my groceries on the front steps, and I thought I could just . . . grab them. And you couldnt. I couldnt. But there were lots of people passing by that time. It took them a minute to decide I wasnt crazy or homeless. Jane looks around the room. You definitely arent homeless. This place is . . . wow. She takes it in, then pulls her phone from her pocket, checks the screen. I need to get back to the house, she says, standing. I try to rise with her, but my legs wont cooperate. Your son is a very nice boy, I tell her. He dropped that off. Thank you, I add. She eyes the candle on the table, touches the chain at her throat. Hes a good kid. Always has been. Very nice-looking, too. Always has been! She slides a thumbnail into the locket; it cracks open, and she leans toward me, the locket swaying in the air. I see she expects me to take it. Its oddly intimate, this stranger looming over me, my hand on her chain. Or perhaps Im just so unaccustomed to human contact. Inside the locket is a tiny photograph, glossy and vivid: a small boy, age four or so, yellow hair in riot, teeth like a picket fence after a hurricane. One eyebrow cleft by a scar. Ethan, unmistakably. How old is he here? Five. But he looks younger, dont you think? I would have guessed four. Exactly. When did he get so tall? I ask, releasing the locket. She gently shuts it. Sometime between then and now! She laughs. Then, abruptly: Youre okay for me to leave? Youre not going to hyperventilate? Im not going to hyperventilate. Do you want some more brandy? she asks, bending to the coffee tabletheres a photo album there, unfamiliar; she must have brought it with her. She tucks it beneath her arm and points to the empty glass. Ill stick with water, I lie. Okay. She pauses, her gaze fixed on the window. Okay, she repeats. So a very handsome man just came up the walk. She looks at me. Is that your husband? Oh, no. Thats David. Hes my tenant. Downstairs. Hes your tenant? Jane brays. I wish he were mine! The bell hasnt chimed this evening, not once. Maybe the dark windows put off any trick-or-treaters. Maybe it was the dried yolk. I subside into bed early. Midway through graduate school, I met a seven-year-old boy afflicted with the so-called Cotard delusion, a psychological phenomenon whereby the individual believes that he is dead. A rare disorder, with pediatric instances rarer still; the recommended treatment is an antipsychotic regimen or, in stubborn cases, electroconvulsive therapy. But I managed to talk him out of it. It was my first great success, and it brought me to Wesleys attention. That little boy would be well into his teens now, almost Ethans age, not quite half mine. I think of him tonight as I stare at the ceiling, feeling dead myself. Dead but not gone, watching life surge forward around me, powerless to intervene. Monday, November 1 13 When I come downstairs this morning, sloping into the kitchen, I find a note slipped beneath the basement door. eggs. I study it, confused. Does David want breakfast? Then I turn it over, see the word Cleaned above the fold. Thank you, David. Eggs do sound good, come to think of it, so I empty three into a skillet and serve myself sunny-side up. A few minutes later Im at my desk, sucking the last of the yolk and punching in at the Agora. Morning is rush hour hereagoraphobes often register acute anxiety after waking up. Sure enough, were gridlocked today. I spend two hours offering solace and support; I refer users to assorted medications (imipramine is my drug of choice these days, although Xanax never goes out of style); I mediate a dispute over the (indisputable) benefits of aversion therapy; I watch, at the request of Dimples2016, a video clip in which a cat plays the drums. Im about to sign off, zip over to the chess forum, avenge Saturdays defeats, when a message box blooms on my screen. DISCOMICKEY: Thanks again for your help the other day doc. The panic attack. Id manned the keyboard for nearly an hour as DiscoMickey, in his words, freaked out. THEDOCTORISIN: Anytime. You better? DISCOMICKEY: Much. DISCOMICKEY: Writing b/c Im talking to a lady whos new and shes asking if there are any professionals on here. Sent her your FAQs. A referral. I check the clock. THEDOCTORISIN: I might not have much time today, but send her my way. DISCOMICKEY: Cool. DISCOMICKEY HAS LEFT THE CHAT. A moment later, up pops a second chat box. GrannyLizzie. I click on the name, skim the user profile. Age: seventy. Residence: Montana. Joined: two days ago. I flick another glance at the clock. Chess can wait for a seventy-year-old in Montana. A strip of text at the bottom of the screen reports that GrannyLizzie is typing. I wait a moment, then another; either shes whipping up a long message or its a case of senioritis. Both my parents used to stab at the keyboard with their index fingers, like flamingos picking their way through the shallows; it took them half a minute just to bash out a hello. GRANNYLIZZIE: Well hello there! Friendly. Before I can respond: GRANNYLIZZIE: Disco Mickey gave your name to me. Desperate for some advice! GRANNYLIZZIE: Also for some chocolate, but thats another matter . . . I manage to get a word in edgewise. THEDOCTORISIN: Hello to you! Youre new to this forum? GRANNYLIZZIE: Yes I am! THEDOCTORISIN: I hope that DiscoMickey made you feel welcome. GRANNYLIZZIE: Yes he did! THEDOCTORISIN: How can I help you? GRANNYLIZZIE: Well I dont think you can help with the chocolate Im afraid! Is she effervescent or nervous? I wait it out. GRANNYLIZZIE: The thing is . . . GRANNYLIZZIE: And I hate to say it . . . Drum roll . . . GRANNYLIZZIE: I havent been able to leave my home for the past month. GRANNYLIZZIE: So THAT is the problem! THEDOCTORISIN: Im sorry to hear that. May I call you Lizzie? GRANNYLIZZIE: You bet. GRANNYLIZZIE: I live in Montana. Grandmother first, art teacher second! Well get to all that, but for now: THEDOCTORISIN: Lizzie, did anything special happen a month ago? A pause. GRANNYLIZZIE: My husband died. THEDOCTORISIN: I see. What was your husbands name? GRANNYLIZZIE: Richard. THEDOCTORISIN: Im so sorry for your loss, Lizzie. Richard was my fathers name. GRANNYLIZZIE: Has your f ather died? THEDOCTORISIN: He and my mother both died 4 years ago. She had cancer and then he had a stroke 5 months later. But Ive always believed that some of the best people are called Richard. GRANNYLIZZIE: So was Nixon!!! Good; were developing a rapport. THEDOCTORISIN: How long were you married? GRANNYLIZZIE: Forty seven years. GRANNYLIZZIE: We met on the job. LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT BY THE WAY! GRANNYLIZZIE: He taught chemistry. I taught art. Opposites attract! THEDOCTORISIN: Thats amazing! And you have children? GRANNYLIZZIE: I have two sons and three grandsons. GRANNYLIZZIE: My sons are pretty cute, but my grandsons are beautiful! THEDOCTORISIN: Thats a lot of boys. GRANNYLIZZIE: Youre telling me! GRANNYLIZZIE: The things Ive seen! GRANNYLIZZIE: The things Ive smelled! I note the tone, brisk and insistently upbeat; I clock the language, informal but confident, and the precise punctuation, the infrequent errors. Shes intelligent, outgoing. Thorough, tooshe spells out numbers, and writes by the way instead of btw, although maybe thats a function of age. Whatever the case, shes an adult I can work with. GRANNYLIZZIE: Are YOU a boy, by the way? GRANNYLIZZIE: Sorry if you are, its just that girls are sometimes doctors too! Even out here in Montana! I smile. I like her. THEDOCTORISIN: I am indeed a girl doctor. GRANNYLIZZIE: Good! We need more of you! THEDOCTORISIN: Tell me, Lizzie, whats happened since Richard passed? And tell me she does. She tells me how, on returning from the funeral, she felt too frightened to walk the mourners beyond the front door; she tells me that in the days following, it felt like the outside was trying to get into my house, and so she drew the blinds; she tells me about her sons far away in the Southeast, their confusion, their concern. GRANNYLIZZIE: Ive got to tell you, all joking aside, that this is really upsetting. Time to roll up my sleeves. THEDOCTORISIN: Naturally it is. Whats happening, I think, is that Richards passing has fundamentally altered your world, but the world outside has moved on without him. And thats very difficult to face and to accept. I await a response. Nothing. THEDOCTORISIN: You mentioned that you havent removed any of Richards belongings, which I understand. But Id like you to think about that. Radio silence. And then: GRANNYLIZZIE: Im so grateful to have found you. Really really. GRANNYLIZZIE: Thats something my grandsons say. They heard it in Shrek. Really really. GRANNYLIZZIE: May I speak to you again soon, I hope? THEDOCTORISIN: Really really! Couldnt help myself. GRANNYLIZZIE: I am really really (!!) grateful to Disco Mickey for pointing me to you . Youre a doll. THEDOCTORISIN: My pleasure. I wait for her to sign off, but shes still typing. GRANNYLIZZIE: I just realized I dont even know your name! I hesitate. Ive never shared my name on the Agora, not even with Sally. I dont want anyone to find me, to pair my name with my profession and figure me out, unlock me; yet something in Lizzies story snags my heart: this elderly widow, alone and bereaved, putting on a brave face beneath those huge skies. She can crack jokes all she wants, but shes housebound, and thats terrifying. THEDOCTORISIN: Im Anna. As I prepare to log out, a last message pings on my screen. GRANNYLIZZIE: Thank you, Anna. GrannyLizzie has left the chat. I feel my veins rushing. Ive helped someone. Ive connected. Only connect. Where have I heard that? I deserve a drink. 14 Tripping down to the kitchen, I roll my head against my shoulders, hear the crackle of my bones. Something catches my eye overhead: In the dim recesses of the ceiling, at the very top of the stairwell three stories up, theres a dark stain glaring at mefrom the trapdoor of the roof, I think, right beside the skylight. I knock on Davids door. It opens a moment later; hes barefoot, in a wilted T-shirt and slouched jeans. I just woke him up, I see. Sorry, I say. Were you in bed? No. He was. Could you look at something for me? I think I saw water damage on the ceiling. We head up to the top floor, past the study, past my bedroom, to the landing between Olivias room and the second spare. Big skylight, David says. I cant tell if thats a compliment. Its original, I say, just to say something. Oval. Yes. Havent seen too many like that. Oval? But the exchange is over. He eyes the stain. Thats mildew, he says, hushed, like a doctor gently breaking news to a patient. Can we just brush it off? Not going to fix it. What will? He sighs. First I need to check out the roof. He reaches for the trapdoor chain and tugs. The door judders open; a ladder slides toward us, screeching; sunshine bolts in. I step to one side, away from the light. Perhaps I am a vampire after all. David drags the ladder down until it bumps against the floor. I watch him as he mounts the steps, his jeans taut against his rear; then he disappears. See anything? I call. No response. David? I hear a clang. A plume of water, mirror-bright in the sunlight, pours onto the landing. I draw back. Sorry, David says. Watering can. Its fine. Do you see anything? A pause, then Davids voice again, almost reverent. Its a jungle up here. It was Eds idea, four years ago, after my mother died. You need a project, he decided; so we set about converting the rooftop into a gardenflower beds, a vegetable patch, a row of miniature boxwoods. And the central feature, what that broker called the pi?ce de r?sistance: an arched trellis, six feet wide and twelve long, thick with leaves in spring and summer, a shady tunnel. When my father had his stroke later on, Ed placed a memorial bench within it. Ad astra per aspera, read the inscription. Through adversity to the stars. Id sit there on spring and summer evenings, in the gold-green light, reading a book, sipping a glass. Ive scarcely thought of the roof garden lately. It must be wild. Its totally overgrown, David confirms. Its like a forest. I wish hed come down. Some kind of trellis over there? he asks. Tarp covering it? Wed sheathe it in its tarp every autumn. I say nothing; I just remember. You should be careful up here. Dont want to step on this skylight. Im not planning on going up there, I remind him. The glass rattles as his foot taps it. Flimsy. Branch falls on that, its gonna take out the whole window. Another moment passes. Its pretty incredible. Want me to take a picture? No. Thanks. What do we do about the damp? One foot drops to the ladder, then the other as he descends. We need a pro. He arrives at the floor, slots the ladder into place. To seal the roof. But I can use a paint scraper to get rid of the mildew. He folds the trapdoor back into the ceiling. Sand down the area. Then put on some stain block and some emulsion paint. Do you have all that? Ill get the block and the paint. Itd help if we could ventilate in here. I freeze. What do you mean? Open some windows. Doesnt have to be on this floor. I dont open windows. Anywhere. He shrugs. Itd help. I turn to the stairs. He follows me. We go down in silence. Thank you for cleaning up the mess outside, I say, mostly to say something, once were in the kitchen. Who did that? Some kids. Do you know who? No. I pause. Why? Could you rough them up for me? He blinks. I press on. Youre still comfortable downstairs, I hope? Hes been here two months, ever since Dr. Fielding suggested that a tenant would be useful: someone to run errands, dispose of the trash, assist with general upkeep, et cetera, all in exchange for reduced rent. David was the first to answer my ad, posted on Craigslist; I remember thinking his email was terse, even curt, until I met the man and realized hed been downright chatty. Just relocated from Boston, experienced handyman, nonsmoker, $7,000 in the bank. We agreed on a lease that afternoon. Yeah. He looks up, at the lights sunk in the ceiling. There a reason you keep it so dark? A medical reason or something? I feel myself flush. A lot of people in my . . . Whats the word here? . . . position feel exposed if the lights too bright. I gesture to the windows. And theres plenty of natural light in this house in any case. David considers this, nods. Are you getting enough light in your apartment? I ask. Its fine. Now I nod. If you find any more of Eds blueprints down there, just let me know. Im saving them. I hear the snicker of Punchs door flap, see him slink into the kitchen. I really do appreciate all that you do for me, I continue, although Ive mistimed ithes moving toward the basement door. With the . . . trash and the housework and everything. Youre a lifesaver, I add, lamely. Sure. If you wouldnt mind calling someone to take care of the ceiling . . . Sure. Punch bounds onto the island between us and drops something from his mouth. I look at it. A dead rat. I recoil. Im gratified to see that David does, too. Its a small one, with oily fur and a black worm of a tail; its body has been mauled. Punch watches us proudly. No, I scold him. He cocks his head. He really did a number on it, David says. I inspect the rat. Did you do this? I ask Punch, before I remember Im interrogating a cat. He springs from the island. Look at that, David breathes. I glance up: On the opposite side of the island, hes bent forward, his dark eyes glittering. Do we bury it someplace? I ask. I dont want it rotting in the trash. David clears his throat. Tomorrows Tuesday, he says. Trash day. Ill take it all out now. You got a newspaper? Does anyone anymore? That came out more pointed than I intended. I follow up quickly. I have a plastic bag. I find one in a drawer. David extends his hand, but I can do this myself. I snap the bag inside out, tuck my hand inside, gingerly grasp the carcass. A little shiver jolts me. I tug the bag over the rat and seal the band at the top. David takes it from me and slides open the trash receptacle beneath the island, dumps the dead rat inside. RIP. Just as hes yanking the garbage bag from its container, theres a sound from downstairs; the pipes sing, the walls start talking to one another. The shower. I look at David. He doesnt flinch; instead he knots the bag at the top and slings it over his shoulder. Ill take this outside, he says, striding toward the front door. Its not as though I was going to ask him her name. 15 Guess who. Mom. I let it slide. How was Halloween, pumpkin? Good. Shes chewing on something. I hope Ed remembers to watch her weight. Did you get a lot of candy? A lot. More than ever. What was your favorite? Peanut MandMs, of course. Snickers. I stand corrected. Theyre little, she explains. Theyre like baby Snickers. So did you have Chinese for dinner or Snickers for dinner? Both. Ill have a word with Ed. But when I do, hes defensive. Its the one night of the year she gets to eat candy for dinner, he says. I dont want her getting into trouble. Silence. With the dentist? With her weight. He sighs. I can take care of her. I sigh back. Im not saying you cant. Thats what it sounds like. I bank a hand against my forehead. Its just that shes eight years old, and a lot of kids experience significant weight gain at this age. Girls especially. Ill be careful. And remember she already went through a chubby phase. You want her to be a waif? No, that would be just as bad. I want her to be healthy. Fine. Ill give her a low-calorie kiss tonight, he says. A Diet Smooch. I smile. Still, when we say goodbye, its stiff. Tuesday, November 2 16 In mid-Februaryafter nearly six weeks shriveled inside my house, after I realized that I wasnt Getting BetterI contacted a psychiatrist whose lecture (Atypical Antipsychotics and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Id attended at a conference in Baltimore five years back. He didnt know me then. He does now. Those unfamiliar with therapy often assume that the therapist is by default soft-spoken and solicitous; you smear yourself along his sofa like butter on toast, and you melt. It aint necessarily so, as the song goes. Exhibit A: Dr. Julian Fielding. For one thing, theres no sofa. We meet every Tuesday in Eds library, Dr. Fielding in the club chair beside the fireplace, me in a wingback by the window. And although he speaks softly, his voice creaking like an old door, hes precise, particular, as a good psychiatrist should be. Kind of guy who steps out of the shower to piss, Ed has said, more than once. So, Dr. Fielding rasps. An arrow of afternoon light has shot into his face, making tiny suns of his glasses. You say that you and Ed argued about Olivia yesterday. Are these conversations helpful? I twist my head, glance at the Russell house. I wonder what Jane Russell is up to. Id like a drink. My fingers trace the line of my throat. I look back at Dr. Fielding. He watches me, the grooves in his forehead scored deep. Maybe hes tiredI certainly am. Its been an eventful session: I caught him up on my panic attack (he seemed concerned), on my dealings with David (he seemed uninterested), on my chats with Ed and Olivia (concerned again). Now I look away once more, unblinking, unthinking, at the books on Eds shelves. A history of the Pinkerton detectives. Two volumes on Napol?on. Bay Area Architecture. An eclectic reader, my husband. My estranged husband. It sounds to me as though these conversations are causing you some mixed feelings, Dr. Fielding says. This is classic therapist argot: It sounds to me. What Im hearing. I think youre saying. Were interpreters. Were translators. I keep . . . I begin, the words forming in my mouth unbidden. Can I go here again? I can; I do. I keep thinkingI cant stop thinkingabout the trip. I hate that it was my idea. Nothing from across the room, even thoughor perhaps becausehe knows this, knows all of it, has heard it over and over. And over. I keep wishing it wasnt. Werent. I keep wishing it had been Eds idea. Or no ones. That wed never gone. I knot my fingers. Obviously. Gently: But you did go. I feel singed. You arranged a family vacation. No one should feel ashamed of that. In New England, in winter. Many people go to New England in winter. It was stupid. It was thoughtful. It was incredibly stupid, I insist. Dr. Fielding doesnt respond. The central heating clears its throat, exhales. If I hadnt done it, wed still be together. He shrugs. Maybe. Definitely. I can feel his gaze on me like a weight. I helped someone yesterday, I say. A woman in Montana. A grandmother. Shes been inside for a month. Hes accustomed to these abrupt swervessynaptic leaps, he calls them, even though we both know Im willfully changing the subject. But I steam ahead, telling him about GrannyLizzie, how I shared my name with her. What made you do that? I felt she was trying to connect. Isnt that whatyes, there it is: Isnt that what Forster exhorted us to do? Only connect? Howards EndJulys official book club selection. I wanted to help her. I wanted to be accessible. That was an act of generosity, he says. I suppose so. He shifts in his seat. It sounds to me as though youre getting to a place where you can meet others on their terms, not just your own. Thats possible. Thats progress. Punch has stolen into the room and is circling my feet, eyes on my lap. I hitch one leg beneath the other thigh. How is the physical therapy going? Dr. Fielding asks. I scan my legs and torso with my hand, like Im presenting a prize on a game show. You too can win this disused thirty-eight-year-old body! Ive looked better. And then, before he can correct me, I add, I know its not a fitness program. He corrects me all the same: Its not only a fitness program. No, I know. Is it going well, then? Im healed. All better. He looks at me evenly. Really. My spine is fine, my ribs arent cracked. I dont limp anymore. Yes, I noticed. But I need a little exercise. And I like Bina. Shes become a friend. In a way, I admit. A friend I pay. Shes coming on Wednesdays these days, is that right? Usually. Good, he says, as though Wednesday is a day particularly suitable for aerobic activity. Hes never met Bina. I cant picture them together; they dont seem to occupy the same dimension. Its quitting time. I know this without consulting the clock hunched on the mantel, just as Dr. Fielding knows itafter years in practice, both of us can time fifty minutes almost to the second. I want you to continue with the beta-blocker at the same dosage, he says. Youre on one-fifty Tofranil. Well increase it to two-fifty. He frowns. Thats based on what weve discussed today. It should help with your moods. I get pretty blurry as is, I remind him. Blurry? Or bleary, I guess. Or both. You mean your vision? No, not my vision. Its more . . . Weve discussed thisdoesnt he remember? Or have we discussed it? Blurry. Bleary. I could really use that drink. Sometimes Ive got too many thoughts at once. Its like theres a four-way intersection in my brain where everyones trying to go at the same time. I chuckle, a bit uneasy. Dr. Fielding knits his brow, then sighs. Well, its not an exact science. As you know. I do. I know. Youre on quite a few different medications. Well adjust them one by one until we get it right. I nod. I know what this means. He thinks Im getting worse. My chest tightens. Try the two-fifty and see how you feel. If it gets problematic, we can look at something to help you focus. A nootropic? Adderall. The number of times parents asked me whether Adderall would benefit their kids, the number of times I turned them down coldand now Im angling for it myself. Plus ?a change. Lets discuss it as and when, he says. He slashes his pen across a prescription pad, peels away the top sheet, offers it to me. It twitches in his hand. Essential tremor or low blood sugar? Not, I hope, early-onset Parkinsons. Not my place to ask, either. I take the paper. Thank you, I say as he stands, smoothing his tie. Ill put this to good use. He nods. Until next week, then. He turns toward the door. Anna? Turning back. Yes? He nods again. Please get that prescription filled. After Dr. Fielding leaves, I log the prescription request online. Theyll deliver by five P.M. Thats enough time for a glass. Or even deux. Not just yet, though. First I drag the mouse to a neglected corner of the desktop, hesitantly double-click on an Excel spreadsheet: meds.xlsx. Here Ive detailed all the drugs Im on, all the dosages, all the directions . . . all the ingredients in my pharma-cocktail. I stopped updating it back in August, I see. Dr. Fielding is, as usual, correct: Im on quite a few medications. I need two hands to count them all. And I knowI wince as I think itI know Im not taking them as or when I should, not always. The double doses, the skipped doses, the drunk doses . . . Dr. Fielding would be furious. I need to do better. Dont want to lose my grip. Command-Q, and Im out of Excel. Time for that drink. 17 With a tumbler in one hand and the Nikon in the other, I settle down in the corner of my study, cupped between the south and west windows, and survey the neighborhoodinventory check, Ed likes to say. Theres Rita Miller, returning from yoga, bright with sweat, a cell phone stuck to one ear. I adjust the lens and zoom in: Shes smiling. I wonder if its her contractor on the other end. Or her husband. Or neither. Next door, outside 214, Mrs. Wasserman and her Henry pick their way down the front steps. Off to spread sweetness and light. I swing my camera west: Two pedestrians loiter outside the double-wide, one of them pointing at the shutters. Good bones, I imagine him saying. God. Im inventing conversations now. Cautiously, as though I dont want to be caughtand indeed I dontI slide my sights across the park, over to the Russells. The kitchen is dim and vacant, its blinds partly down, like half-shut eyes; but one floor up, in the parlor, captured neatly within the window, I spot Jane and Ethan on a candy-striped love seat. She wears a butter-yellow sweater that exposes a terse slit of cleavage; her locket dangles there, a mountaineer above a gorge. I twist the lens; the image sharpens. Shes speaking quickly, teeth bared in a grin, her hands a flurry. His eyes are on his lap, but that shy smile skews his lips. I havent mentioned the Russells to Dr. Fielding. I know what hell say; I can analyze myself: Ive located in this nuclear unitthis mother, this father, their only childan echo of my own. One house away, one door down, theres the family I had, the life that was minea life thought lost, irretrievably, except here it is, right across the park. So what? I think. Maybe I say it; these days Im not sure. I sip my wine, wipe my lip, raise the Nikon again. Look through the lens. Shes looking back at me. I drop the camera in my lap. No mistake: Even with my naked eye, I can clearly see her level gaze, her parted lips. She raises a hand, waves it. I want to hide. Should I wave back? Do I look away? Can I blink at her, blankly, as though Id been aiming the camera at something else, something near her? Didnt see you there? No. I shoot to my feet, the camera tumbling to the floor. Leave it, I sayI definitely say itand I flee the room, into the dark of the stairwell. No ones ever caught me before. Not Dr. and Rita Miller, not the Takedas, not the Wassermen, not the gaggle of Grays. Not the Lords before they moved, nor the Motts before they split. Not passing cabs, not passersby. Not even the postman, whom I used to photograph every day, at every door. And for months Id pore over those pictures, reliving those moments, until at last I could no longer keep up with the world beyond my window. I still make the odd exception, of coursethe Millers interest me. Or they did before the Russells arrived. And that Opteka zoom is better than binoculars. But now shame live-wires through my body. I think of everyone and everything Ive caught on camera: the neighbors, the strangers, the kisses, the crises, the chewed nails, the dropped change, the strides, the stumbles. The Takeda boy, his eyes closed, fingers quaking on his cello strings. The Grays, wineglasses aloft in a giddy toast. Mrs. Lord in her living room, lighting candles atop a cake. The young Motts, in the dying days of their marriage, bellowing at each other from opposite ends of their Valentine-red parlor, a vase in ruins on the floor between them. I think of my hard drive, swollen with stolen images. I think of Jane Russell as she looked at me, unblinking, across the park. Im not invisible. Im not dead. Im alive, and on display, and ashamed. I think of Dr. Brulov in Spellbound: My dear girl, you cannot keep bumping your head against reality and saying it is not there. Three minutes later, I step back into the study. The Russells love seat is empty. I glance at Ethans bedroom; hes in there, crouched over his computer. Carefully, I pick up the camera. Its undamaged. Then the doorbell rings. 18 You must be bored as hell, she says when I open the hall door. Then she folds me into a hug. I laugh, nervously. Sick of all those black-and-white movies, I bet. She surges past me. I still havent said a word. I brought something for you. She smiles, dipping a hand into her bag. Its cold, too. A sweaty bottle of Riesling. My mouth waters. Its been ages since I drank white. Oh, you shouldnt But shes already chugging toward the kitchen. Within ten minutes were glugging the wine. Jane sparks a Virginia Slim, then another, and soon the air wobbles with smoke, rolling overhead, roiling beneath the ceiling lights. My Riesling tastes of it. I find I dont mind; reminds me of grad school, starless nights outside the taverns of New Haven, men with mouths like ash. Youve got a lot of merlot over there, she says, eyeing the kitchen counter. I order it in bulk, I explain. I like it. How often do you restock? Just a few times a year. At least once a month. She nods. Youve been like thishow long did you say? she asks. Six months? Almost eleven. Eleven months. Pressing her lips into a tiny O. I cant whistle. But pretend I just did. She jams her cigarette into a cereal bowl, steeples her fingers, leans forward, as though in prayer. So what do you do all day? I counsel people, I say, nobly. Who? People online. Ah. And I take French lessons online. And I play chess, I add. Online? Online. She sweeps a finger along the tide line in her wineglass. So the Internet, she says, is sort of your . . . window to the world. Well, so is my actual window. I gesture to the expanse of glass behind her. Your spyglass, she says, and I blush. Im kidding. Im so sorry about She waves a hand, lights a fresh cigarette. Oh, hush. Smoke leaks from her mouth. Do you have a real chessboard? Do you play? I used to. She slants the cigarette against the bowl. Show me what you got. Were waist-deep in our first game when the doorbell rings. Five sharpthe pharmacy delivery. Jane does the honors. Door-to-door drugs! she squawks, shuttling back from the hall. These any good? Theyre uppers, I say, uncorking a second bottle. Merlot this time. Now its a party. As we drink, as we play, we chat. Were both mothers of only children, as I knew; were both sailors, as I hadnt known. Jane prefers solo craft, Im more into two-handersor I was, anyway. I tell her about my honeymoon with Ed: how wed chartered an Alerion, a thirty-three-footer, and cruised the Greek Isles, pinballing between Santorini and Delos, Naxos and Mykonos. Just the two of us, I remember, scudding around the Aegean. Thats just like Dead Calm, Jane says. I swallow some wine. I think in Dead Calm they were in the Pacific. Well, except for that, its just like Dead Calm. Also, they went sailing to recover from an accident. Okay, right. And then they rescued a psychopath who tried to kill them. Are you going to let me make my point or not? While she frowns at the chessboard, I rummage through the fridge for a stick of Toblerone, chop it roughly with a kitchen knife. We sit at the table, chewing. Candy for dinner. Just like Olivia. Later: Do you get a lot of visitors? She strokes her bishop, slides him across the board. I shake my head, shake the wine down my throat. None. You and your son. Why? Or why not? I dont know. My parents are gone, and I worked too much to have many friends. No one from work? I think of Wesley. It was a two-person practice, I say. So now he has a double load to keep him busy. She looks at me. Thats sad. Youre telling me. Do you even have a phone? I point to the landline, lurking in a corner on the kitchen counter, and pat my pocket. Ancient, ancient iPhone, but it works. In case my psychiatrist calls. Or anyone else. My tenant. Your handsome tenant. My handsome tenant, yes. I take a sip, take her queen. That was cold. She flicks a speck of ash from the table and roars with laughter. After the second game, she requests a tour of the house. I hesitate, just for a moment; the last person to examine the place top to bottom was David, and before that . . . I truly cant recall. Binas never been beyond the first story; Dr. Fielding is confined to the library. The very idea feels intimate, as though Im about to lead a new lover by the hand. But I agree, and escort her room by room, floor by floor. The red room: I feel like Im trapped in an artery. The library: So many books! Have you read all of them? I shake my head. Have you read any of them? I giggle. Olivias bedroom: Maybe a little small? Too small. She needs a room she can grow into, like Ethans. My study, on the other hand: Ooh and aah, says Jane. A girl could get stuff done in a place like this. Well, I mostly play chess and talk to shut-ins. If you call that getting stuff done. Look. She sets her glass on the windowsill, slides her hands into her back pockets. Leans into the window. Theres the house, she says, gazing at her home, her voice slung low, almost husky. Shes been so playful, so jolly, that to see her looking serious produces a kind of jolt, a needle skidding off the vinyl. Theres the house, I agree. Nice, isnt it? Quite a place. It is. She peers outside a minute longer. Then we return to the kitchen. Later still: Get much use out of that? Jane asks, roaming the living room as I debate my next move. The sun is sinking fast; in her yellow sweater, in the frail light, she looks like a wraith, floating through my house. Shes pointing to the umbrella, leaning like a drunkard against a far wall. More than youd think, I reply. I rock back in my chair and describe Dr. Fieldings backyard therapy, the unsteady march through the door and down the steps, the bubble of nylon shielding me from oblivion; the clarity of outside air, the drift of wind. Interesting, says Jane. I believe its pronounced ridiculous. But does it work? she asks. I shrug. Sort of. Well, she says, patting the umbrella handle as you would a dogs head, there you go. Hey, whens your birthday? You going to buy me something? Easy there. Coming up, actually, I say. Sos mine. November eleventh. She gawks. Thats my birthday, too. Youre kidding. I am not. Eleven eleven. I lift my glass. To eleven eleven. We toast. Got a pen and paper? I fetch both from a drawer, lay them before her. Just sit there, Jane tells me. Look pretty. I bat my lashes. She whips the pen across the sheet, short, sharp strokes. I watch my face take form: the deep eyes, the soft cheekbones, the long jaw. Make sure you get my underbite, I urge her, but she shushes me. For three minutes she sketches, twice lifting her glass to her lips. Voil?, she says, presenting the paper to me. I study it. The likeness is astonishing. Now that is a nifty trick. Isnt it? Can you do others? You mean, portraits besides yours? Believe it or not, I can. No, I meananimals, you know, or still lifes. Lives. I dont know. Im mostly interested in people. Same as you. With a flourish, she scribbles her signature in one corner. Ta-da. A Jane Russell original. I slip the sketch into a kitchen drawer, the one where I keep the good table linens. Otherwise itd probably get stained. Look at all those. Theyre scattered like gems across the table. Whats that one do? Which one? The pink one. Octagon. No, six-agon. Hexagon. Fine. Thats Inderal. Beta-blocker. She squints at it. Thats for heart attacks. Also for panic attacks. It slows your heart rate. And whats that one? The little white oval? Aripiprazole. Atypical antipsychotic. That sounds serious. Sounds and is, in some cases. For me its just an add-on. Keeps me sane. Makes me fat. She nods. And whats that one? Imipramine. Tofranil. For depression. Also bed-wetting. Youre a bed wetter? Tonight I might be. I sip my wine. And that one? Temazepam. Sleeping pill. Thats for later. She nods. Are you supposed to be taking any of these with alcohol? I swallow. Nope. Its only as the pills squeeze down my throat that I remember I already took them this morning. Jane casts her head back, her mouth a fountain of smoke. Please dont say checkmate. She giggles. My ego cant take three in a row. Remember that I havent played in years. It shows, I tell her. She snorts, laughs, exposing a trove of silver fillings. I inspect my prisoners: both rooks, both bishops, a chain gang of pawns. Jane has captured a single pawn and a lonely knight. She sees me looking, swats the knight onto its side. Horse down, she says. Summon the vet. I love horses, I tell her. Look at that. Miracle recovery. She rights the knight, strokes its marble mane. I smile, drain the last of my red. She eases more into my glass. I watch her. I love your earrings, too. She fingers one of them, then the othera little choir of pearls in each ear. Gift from an old boyfriend, she says. Does Alistair mind you wearing them? She thinks about it, then laughs. I doubt Alistair knows. She spurs the wheel of her lighter with her thumb, kisses it to a cigarette. Knows youre wearing them or knows who theyre from? Jane inhales, arrows smoke to one side. Either. Both. He can be difficult. She taps her cigarette against the bowl. Dont get me wronghes a good man, and a good father. But hes controlling. Whys that? Dr. Fox, are you analyzing me? she asks. Her voice is light, but her eyes are cool. If anything, Im analyzing your husband. She inhales again, frowns. Hes always been like that. Not very trusting. At least not with me. And whys that? Oh, I was a wild child, she says. Dis-so-lute. Thats the word. Thats histhats Alistairs word, anyway. Bad crowds, bad choices. Until you met Alistair? Even then. It took me a little while to clean myself up. It couldnt have taken that long, I thinkby the looks of her, she wouldve been early twenties when she became a mother. Now she shakes her head. I was with someone else for a time. Who was that? A grimace. Was is right. Not worth mentioning. Weve all made mistakes. I say nothing. That ended, anyhow. But my family life is stillher fingers strum the airchallenging. Thats the word. Le mot juste. Those French lessons are totally paying off. She grits her teeth in a grin, cocking the cigarette upward. I press her. What makes your family life challenging? She exhales. A perfect wreath of smoke wobbles through the air. Do it again, I say, in spite of myself. She does. Im drunk, I realize. You knowclearing her throatit isnt just one thing. Its complicated. Alistair is challenging. Families are challenging. But Ethan is a good kid. And I say this as someone who knows a good kid when she sees one, I add. She looks me in the eye. Im glad you think so. I do, too. She bats her cigarette on the lip of the bowl again. You must miss your family. Yes. Terribly. But I talk to them every day. She nods. Her eyes are swimming a bit; she must be drunk, too. Its not the same as them being here, though, is it? No. Of course not. She nods a second time. So. Anna. Youll notice Im not asking what made you this way. Overweight? I say. Prematurely gray? I really am soused. She sips her wine. Agoraphobic. Well . . . If were trading confidences, then I suppose: Trauma. Same as anyone. I fidget. It got me depressed. Severely depressed. It isnt something I like to remember. But shes shaking her head. No, no, I understandits not my business. And Im guessing you cant invite people over for a party. I just think we need to find you some more hobbies. Besides chess and your black-and-white movies. And espionage. And espionage. I think about it. I used to take photographs. Looks as though you still do. That deserves a smirk. Fair enough. But I mean outdoor photography. I enjoyed it. Sort of Humans of New York stuff? More like nature photography. In New York City? In New England. We used to go there sometimes. Jane turns to the window. Look at that, she says, pointing west, and I do: a pulpy sunset, the dregs of dusk, buildings paper-cut against the glow. A bird circles nearby. Thats nature, isnt it? Technically. Some of it. But I mean The world is a beautiful place, she insists, and shes serious; her gaze is even, her voice level. Her eyes catch mine, hold them. Dont forget that. She reclines, mashing her cigarette into the hollow of the bowl. And dont miss it. I fish my phone from my pocket, aim it at the glass, snap a shot. I look at Jane. Attagirl, she growls. 19 I pour her into the front hall a little past six. Ive got very important things to do, she informs me. So do I, I reply. Two and a half hours. When did I last speak to someone, anyone, for two and a half hours? I cast my mind back, like a fishing line, across months, across seasons. Nothing. No one. Not since my first meeting with Dr. Fielding, long ago in midwinterand even then I could only talk for so long; my windpipe was still damaged. I feel young again, almost giddy. Maybe its the wine, but I suspect not. Dear diary, today I made a friend. Later that evening, Im drowsing through Rebecca when the buzzer rings. I shed my blanket, straggle to the door. Why dont you go? Judith Anderson sneers behind me. Why dont you leave Manderley? I check the intercom monitor. A tall man, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, with a bold widows peak. It takes me a momentIm used to seeing him in living colorbut then I recognize Alistair Russell. Now what might you be after? I say, or think. I think I say it. Definitely still drunk. I shouldnt have popped those pills before, either. I press the buzzer. The latch clacks; the door groans; I wait for it to shut. When I open the hall door, hes standing there, pale and luminous in the dark. Smiling. Strong teeth bolting from strong gums. Clear eyes, crows feet raking the edges. Alistair Russell, he says. We live in two-oh-seven, across the park. Come in. I extend a hand. Im Anna Fox. He waves away my hand, stays put. I really dont want to intrudeand Im sorry to disturb you in the middle of something. Movie night? I nod. He smiles again, bright as a Christmas storefront. I just wanted to know if youd had any visitors this evening? I frown. Before I can answer, an explosion booms behind methe shipwreck scene. Ship ashore! the coastliners wail. Everybody down to the bay! Much hubbub. I return to the sofa, pause the film. When I face him again, Alistair has taken a step into the room. Bathed in white light, shadows pooled in the hollows of his cheeks, he looks like a cadaver. Behind him the door yawns in the wall, a dark mouth. Would you mind closing that? He does so. Thanks, I say, and the word slides off my tongue: Im slurring. Have I caught you at a bad time? No, its fine. Can I get you a drink? Oh, thanks, Im all right. I meant water, I clarify. He shakes his head politely. Have you had any visitors tonight? he repeats. Well, Jane warned me. He doesnt look like the controlling type, all beady eyes and thin lips; hes more a jovial lion-in-autumn sort, with his peppery beard, his hairline in rapid retreat. I imagine him and Ed getting on, laddishly, hail-fellow-well-mettishly, slinging back whiskey and swapping war stories. But appearances, et cetera. Its none of his business, of course. Still, I dont want to look defensive. Ive been alone all night, I tell him. Im in the middle of a movie marathon. Whats that? Rebecca. One of my favorites. Are you Then I see that hes looking past me, dark brow furrowed. I turn. The chess set. Ive filed the glasses neatly in the dishwasher, scrubbed the bowl in the sink, but the chessboard is still there, littered with the living and the dead, Janes fallen king rolled to one side. I turn back to Alistair. Oh, that. My tenant likes to play chess, I explain. Casual. He looks at me, squints. I cant tell what hes thinking. Usually this isnt a challenge for me, not after sixteen years spent living in other peoples heads; but perhaps Im out of practice. Or else its the drink. And the drugs. Do you play? He doesnt answer for a moment. Not in a long time, he says. Is it just you and your tenant here? No, Iyes. Im separated from my husband. Our daughter is with him. Well. He throws one last look at the chess set, at the television; then he moves toward the door. I appreciate your time. Sorry to bother you. Of course, I say as he steps into the hall. And please thank your wife for the candle. He pivots, looks at me. Ethan brought it over. When was that? he asks. A few days ago. Sunday. Waitwhat day is today? Or Saturday. I feel annoyed; why should he care when it was? Does it matter? He pauses, his mouth ajar. Then he flashes an absent smile and leaves without another word. Before I tilt myself into bed, I peer through the window at number 207. There they are, the family Russell, collected in the parlor: Jane and Ethan on the sofa, Alistair seated in an armchair across from them, speaking intently. A good man and a good father. Who knows what goes on in a family? I learned this as a grad student. You can spend years with a patient and still theyll surprise you, Wesley told me after wed shaken hands for the first time, his fingers yellow with nicotine. How so? I asked. He settled himself behind his desk, clawed his hair back. You can hear someones secrets and their fears and their wants, but remember that these exist alongside other peoples secrets and fears, people living in the same rooms. Youve heard that line about all happy families being the same? War and Peace, I said. Anna Karenina, but thats not the point. The point is, its untrue. No family, happy or unhappy, is quite like any other. Tolstoy was chock-full o shit. Remember that. I remember it now as I gently thumb the focusing ring, as I frame a photo. A family portrait. But then I set the camera down. Wednesday, November 3 20 I wake with Wesley in my head. Wesley and a hard-earned hangover. I wade my way down to the study, as if through a fog, then run into the bathroom and vomit. Heavenly Rapture. As Ive discovered, I throw up with great accuracy. I could go pro, Ed says. One flush and the mess slides away; I rinse my mouth, pat some color into my cheeks, return to the study. Across the park, the Russells windows are empty, their rooms dim. I stare at the house; it stares back. I find I miss them. I look south, where a beat-up taxi drags itself down the street; a woman strides in its wake, coffee cup in hand, goldendoodle on a leash. I check the clock on my phone: 10:28. How am I up this early? Right: I forgot my temazepam. Well, I keeled over before I could remember it. It keeps me unconscious, weighs me down like a rock. And now last night swirls in my brain, strobe-light dazzly, like the carousel from Strangers on a Train. Did that even happen? Yes: We uncorked Janes wine; we talked boats; we wolfed chocolate; I took a photo; we discussed our families; I arranged my pills across the table; we drank some more. Not in that order. Three bottles of wineor was it four? Even so, I can stomach more, have stomached more. The pills, I say, the way a detective cries Eureka!my dosage. I double-dosed yesterday, I remember. Must be the pills. I bet thosell knock you on your behind, Jane giggled after Id downed the lot, chased them with a slug of wine. My head is quaking; my hands are shaking. I find a travel-size tube of Advil hidden in the back of my desk drawer, toss three capsules down my throat. The expiration date came and went nine months ago. Children have been conceived and born in that time, I reflect. Whole lives created. I swallow a fourth, just in case. And then . . . What then? Yes: Then Alistair arrived, asking after his wife. Motion beyond the window. I look up. Its Dr. Miller, leaving the house for work. See you at three fifteen, I tell him. Dont be late. Dont be latethat was Wesleys golden rule. For some people, this is the most important fifty minutes of their week, he would remind me. So for Christs sake, whatever else you do or fail to do, dont be late. Wesley Brilliant. Its been three months since I checked up. I grip the mouse and visit Google. The cursor flashes in the search field like a pulse. He still occupies the same endowed adjunct chair, I see; hes still publishing articles in the Times and assorted industry journals. And hes still in practice, of course, although I recall that the office moved to Yorkville over the summer. I say the office, but really it wouldve been just Wesley and his receptionist, Phoebe, and her Square card reader. And that Eames lounge chair. He adores his Eames. That Eames but not much else. Wesley never married; his lectureship was his love, his patients his children. Dont you go feeling sorry for poor Dr. Brill, Fox, he warned me. I remember it perfectly: Central Park, swans with their question-mark necks, high noon beyond the lacy elms. Hed just asked me to join him as junior partner in the practice. My life is too full, he said. Thats why I need you, or someone like you. There are more children we can help together. He was, as ever, right. I click on Google Images. The search yields a small gallery of photographs, none especially recent, none especially flattering. I dont photograph well, he once observed, uncomplaining, a roily halo of cigar smoke churning overhead, his fingernails stained and split. You dont, I agreed. He hitched one bristly brow. True or false: Youre this tough on your husband. Not strictly true. He snorted. Something cant be strictly true, he said. Its either true or it isnt. Its either real or its not. Quite true, I answered. 21 Guess who, Ed says. I shift in my chair. Thats my line. You sound like hell, slugger. Sound and feel. Are you sick? I was, I reply. I shouldnt tell him about last night, I know, but Im too weak. And I want to be honest with Ed. He deserves that. Hes displeased. You cant do that, Anna. Not on medication. I know. Already I regret having said anything. But really. I know, I said. When he speaks again, his voice is softer. Youve had a lot of visitors lately, he says. A lot of stimulation. He pauses. Maybe these people across the park The Russells. maybe they can leave you alone for a little while. As long as I dont go fainting outside, Im sure they will. Youre none of their business. And theyre none of yours, I bet hes thinking. What does Dr. Fielding say? he continues. Ive come to suspect that Ed asks this whenever hes at a loss. Hes more interested in my relationship with you. With me? With both of you. Ah. Ed, I miss you. I hadnt meant to say ithadnt even realized I was thinking it. Unfiltered subconscious. Sorrythats just the id talking, I explain. Hes quiet for a moment. Finally: Well, now its the Ed talking, he says. I miss this, toohis stupid puns. He used to tell me I put the Anna in psycho-anna-lyst. Thats terrible, Id say, gagging. You know you love it, hed reply, and I did. Hes quiet again. Then: So what do you miss about me? I hadnt expected this. I miss . . . I begin, hoping the sentence will complete itself. And it spouts from me in a torrent, water pluming from a drain, a burst dam. I miss the way you bowl, I say, because these idiot words are first to my tongue. I miss how you can never tie a bowline right. I miss your razor burn. I miss your eyebrows. As I speak, I find myself climbing the stairs, past the landing, into the bedroom. I miss your shoes. I miss you asking me for coffee in the morning. I miss that time you wore my mascara and everybody noticed. I miss that time you actually asked me to sew something. I miss how polite you are to waiters. In my bed now, our bed. I miss your eggs. Scrambled, even when sunny-side up. I miss your bedtime stories. The heroines rejected the princes, opting instead to pursue their doctorates. I miss your Nicolas Cage impression. It got shriller postWicker Man. I miss how for the longest time you thought the word misled was pronounced mizzled. Misleading little word. It mizzled me. I laugh wetly, and find Im crying. I miss your stupid, stupid jokes. I miss how you always break a piece off a chocolate bar before eating it instead of just biting into the fucking chocolate bar. Language. Sorry. Also, it tastes better that way. I miss your heart, I say. A pause. I miss you so much. Another pause. I love you so much. I catch my ragged breath. Both of you. No pattern here, not that I can seeand Im trained to discern patterns. I just miss him. I miss him, I love him. I love them. Theres a silence, long and deep. I breathe. But, Anna, he tells me, gently, if A sound downstairs. Its quiet, just a low roll. Possibly the house settling. Wait, I say to Ed. Then, clearly, a dry cough, a grunt. Someone is in my kitchen. I have to go, I say to Ed. What But Im already stealing toward the door, phone clutched in one hand; my fingers glance across the screen911and my thumb hovers over the Dial button. I remember the last time I called. Called more than once, in fact, or tried to. Someone will answer this time. I stalk down the stairs, hand slick on the banister, the steps beneath my feet invisible in the dark. Round the corner, and light swerves into the stairwell. I slink into the kitchen. The phone trembles in my hand. Theres a man by the dishwasher, his broad back to me. He turns. I press Dial. 22 Hi, David says. For fucks sake. I exhale, quickly cancel the call. Tuck the phone back into my pocket. Sorry, he adds. I rang the bell about half an hour ago, but I think you were asleep. I must have been in the shower, I say. He doesnt react. Probably embarrassed for me; my hair isnt even wet. So I came up through the basement. Hope thats okay. Of course its okay, I tell him. Youre welcome to anytime. I walk to the sink, fill a glass with water. My nerves are shot. What did you need me for? Im looking for an X-Acto. An X-Acto? X-Acto knife. Like a box cutter. Exactly. X-Acto-ly, I say. What is wrong with me? I checked under the sink, he continues, mercifully, and in that drawer by the phone. Your phones not plugged in, by the way. I think its dead. I cant even remember the last time I used the landline. Im sure it is. Might want to fix that. No need, I think. I move back toward the stairs. Ive got a box cutter in the utility closet up here, I say, but hes already trailing me. At the landing I turn and open the closet door. Black as a spent match inside. I yank the string beside the bare bulb. Its a deep, narrow attic of a room, folded beach chairs slumped at the far end, tins of paint like flowerpots on the floorand, improbably, toile wallpaper, shepherdesses and noblemen, the odd urchin. Eds toolbox sits on a shelf, pristine. So Im not handy, hed say. With a body like mine, I dont need to be. I unlatch the box, rummage. There. David pointsa silver plastic sheath, the blade peeking out at one end. I grasp it. Careful. I wont cut you. I hand it to him gently, the blade aimed toward myself. Its you I dont want cut, he says. A little flicker of pleasure within me, like the bud of a flame. What are you doing with this, anyway? I tug the string again, and once more its night in here. David doesnt move. It occurs to me as we stand there in the dark, me in my robe and David with a knife, that this is the closest Ive ever been to him. He could kiss me. He could kill me. The guy next door asked me to do some work. Open some boxes and put some stuff away. Which guy next door? The one across the park. Russell. He walks out, heads for the stairs. How did he find you? I ask, following him. I put up some flyers. He saw one in the coffee shop or someplace. He turns and looks at me. You know him? No, I say. He came by yesterday, thats all. Were back in the kitchen. Hes got some boxes need unpacking and some furniture to assemble in the basement. I should be back sometime in the afternoon. I dont think theyre there. He squints at me. How do you know? Because I watch their house. It doesnt look like anybodys home. I point to number 207 through the kitchen window, and as I do, their living room flushes with light. Alistair stands there, a phone cradled between cheek and shoulder, his hair just out of bed. Thats the guy, says David, heading toward the hall door. Ill be back later. Thanks for the knife. 23 I mean to get back to EdGuess who, Ill say; my turn this timebut theres a knock on the hall door a moment after David walks through it. I go to see what he needs. A woman stands on the other side, wide-eyed and lissome: Bina. I glance at my phonenoon exactly. X-Acto-ly. God. David let me in, she explains. He gets better-looking every time I see him. Where does it end? Maybe you should do something about that, I tell her. Maybe you should shut your mouth and get ready to exercise. Go change into real clothes. I do, and after Ive unfurled my mat, we begin, right there on the living room floor. Its been almost ten months since Bina and I first metalmost ten months since I left the hospital, my spine bruised, my throat damagedand in that time weve become fond of each other. Maybe even friends, as Dr. Fielding said. Warm out today. She lays a weight in the hollow of my back; my elbows wobble. You should open a window. Not happening, I grunt. Youre missing out. Im missing out on a lot. An hour later, with my T-shirt sucking at my skin, she hauls me to my feet. Do you want to try that umbrella trick? she asks. I shake my head. My hair clings to my neck. Not today. And its not a trick. Its a good day for it. Nice and mild outside. NoIm . . . no. Youre hungover. That, too. A small sigh. Did you try it with Dr. Fielding this week? Yes, I lie. And how was it? Fine. How far did you make it? Thirteen steps. Bina studies me. All right. Not bad for a lady your age. Getting older, too. Why, whens your birthday? Next week. The eleventh. Eleven eleven. Gonna have to give you a seniors discount. She bends down, packs her weights into their case. Lets eat. I never used to cook muchEd was the chefand these days FreshDirect delivers my groceries to the door: frozen dinners, microwave meals, ice cream, wine. (Wine in bulk.) Also a few portions of lean protein and fruit, for Binas benefit. And my own, shed argue. Our lunches are off the clockit seems Bina enjoys the pleasure of my company. Shouldnt I be paying you for this? I asked her once. Youre already cooking for me, she replied. I scraped a black chunk of chicken onto her plate. Is that what this is? Today its melon with honey and a few strips of dry bacon. Definitely uncured? Bina asks. Definitely. Thanks, lady. She spoons fruit into her mouth, brushes honey from her lip. I was reading an article about how bees can travel six miles from their hive in search of pollen. Whered you read that? The Economist. Ooh, The Economist. Isnt that amazing? Its depressing. I cant even leave my house. The article wasnt about you. Doesnt sound like it. And they dance, too. Its called a Waggle dance. She snaps a bacon strip in two. How did you know that? There was an exhibit on honeybees at the Pitt Rivers in Oxford when I was there. Thats their natural history museum. Ooh, Oxford. I remember the waggle dance in particular because we tried to imitate it. A lot of bumbling and thrashing. Much like the way I exercise. Were you drunk? We were not sober. Ive been dreaming about bees ever since I read the article, she says. What do you think that means? Im not a Freudian. I dont interpret dreams. But if you did. If I did, Id say that the bees represent your urgent need to stop asking me what your dreams mean. She chews. Im going to make you suffer next time. We eat in silence. Did you take your pills today? Yes. I havent. Ill do it after she leaves. A moment later, water lunges through the pipes. Bina looks toward the stairs. Was that a toilet? It was. Is someone else here? I shake my head, swallow. Davids got a friend over, sounds like. What a slut. Hes no angel. Do you know who it is? I never do. Are you jealous? Definitely not. You wouldnt like to waggle dance with David? She flicks a crumb of bacon at me. Ive got a conflict next Wednesday. Same as last week. Your sister. Yes. Back for more. Would Thursday work for you? The odds are excellent. Hooray. She chews, swirls her water glass. You look tired, Anna. Are you resting? I nod my head, then shake it. No. IveI mean, yes, but Ive had a lot on my mind lately. This is hard for me, you know. All . . . this. My arm sweeps the room. I know it must be. I know it is. And exercise is hard for me. Youre doing really great. I promise. And therapy is hard for me. Its hard to be on the other side of it. I can imagine. I breathe. Dont want to get worked up. One last thing: And I miss Livvy and Ed. Bina sets her fork down. Of course you do, she says, and her smile is so warm I could cry. 24 GRANNYLIZZIE: Hello, Doctor Anna! The message appears on my desktop screen with a chirp. I set my glass to one side, suspend my chess game. Im 30 since Bina left. A banner day. THEDOCTORISIN: Hello Lizzie! How are you feeling? GRANNYLIZZIE: Doing better, thank you kindly. THEDOCTORISIN: Great to hear. GRANNYLIZZIE: I donated Richards clothing to our church. THEDOCTORISIN: Im sure they appreciated that. GRANNYLIZZIE: They did and its what Richard would want . GRANNYLIZZIE: And the students in my third grade class made a big get well card for me. Its enormous. Glitter and cotton balls everywhere. THEDOCTORISIN: Thats very sweet. GRANNYLIZZIE: Honestly I would give it a C , but its the thought that counts. I laugh. LOL, I type, but then I delete it. THEDOCTORISIN: I worked with kids, too. GRANNYLIZZIE: Did you? THEDOCTORISIN: Child psychology. GRANNYLIZZIE: Sometimes I feel like that was my job . . . I laugh again. GRANNYLIZZIE: Whoa whoa whoa! I almost forgot! GRANNYLIZZIE: I was able to take a little walk outside this morning! One of my old students dropped by and got me out of the house. GRANNYLIZZIE: Just for a minute, but it was worth it. THEDOCTORISIN: What a terrific step. It will only get easier from here. That might not be true, but for Lizzies sake, I hope otherwise. THEDOCTORISIN: And how wonderful that your students are so fond of you. GRANNYLIZZIE: This is Sam. No artistic instincts at all, but he was a very nice child and now hes a very nice man. GRANNYLIZZIE: Although I forgot my house key. THEDOCTORISIN: Understandable! GRANNYLIZZIE: Wasnt able to get back inside for a moment. THEDOCTORISIN: I hope that wasnt too frightening. GRANNYLIZZIE: A little freaky but I keep a spare in our flower pot. I have beautiful violets in bloom. THEDOCTORISIN: We dont have that luxury in NYC! GRANNYLIZZIE: Laughing Out Loud! I smile. She hasnt quite mastered it. GRANNYLIZZIE: I must go make lunch. Friend coming over. THEDOCTORISIN: Go do that. Im glad you have company. GRANNYLIZZIE: Thanky ou! GRANNYLIZZIE: : ) She logs out, and I feel radiant. I may do some good before I am dead. Jude, Part Sixth, Chapter 1. Five oclock and alls well. I finish my match (40!), sip the last of my wine, and walk downstairs to the television. A Hitchcock doubleheader tonight, I think as I open the DVD cabinet; maybe Rope (underrated) and Strangers on a Train (criss-cross!). Both starring gay actorsI wonder if thats why I paired them. Im still on my analysts kick. Criss-cross, I say to myself. Ive been monologuing a lot lately. Stick a pin in that for Dr. Fielding. Or perhaps North by Northwest. Or The Lady Vanish A scream, raw and horrorstruck, torn from the throat. I spin toward the kitchen windows. The room is silent. My heart drums. Where did it come from? Waves of honeyed evening light outside, wind shifting in the trees. Was it from the street or And then again, dredged from the deep, shredding the air, full-blooded and frenzied: that scream. Coming from number 207. The parlor windows gape, the curtains restless in the breeze. Warm out today, Bina had said. You should open a window. I stare at the house, my eyes flicking between the kitchen and parlor, swerving up to Ethans bedroom, back to the kitchen. Is he attacking her? Very controlling. I dont have their number. I wriggle my iPhone from my pocket, drop it on the floorFuck.and dial directory assistance. What address? Sullen. I answer; a moment later an automated voice recites ten digits, offers to repeat them in Spanish. I hang up, punch the number into the phone. A ring, purring in my ear. Another ring. A third. A fo Hello? Ethan. Shaky, quiet. I scan the side of the house, but cant find him. Its Anna. Across the park. A sniffle. Hi. Whats going on there? I heard a scream. Oh. Nono. He coughs. Its fine. I heard someone scream. Was that your mom? Its fine, he repeats. He just lost his temper. Do you need help? A pause. No. Two tones stutter in my ear. Hes hung up. His house looks at me neutrally. DavidDavids over there today. Or has he returned? I rap on the basement door, call his name. For an instant I fear that a stranger will open the door, explain sleepily that Davids due back in a little while and would you mind if I went back to bed, thanks so much. Nothing. Did he hear it? Did he see it? I ring his number. Four tones, long and unhurried, then a generic recorded greeting: Were sorry. The person you have called . . . A womans voicealways a woman. Maybe we sound more apologetic. I press Cancel. Stroke the phone as though its a magic lamp and a genie will spout forth, ready to dispense his wisdom, grant my wishes. Jane screamed. Twice. Her son denied that anything was wrong. I cant summon the police; if he wouldnt come clean to me, he certainly wont say anything to men in uniform. My nails carve sickles into my palm. No. I need to speak to him againor better still, to her. I jab the Recent button on my screen, press the Russells number. It rings just once before its picked up. Yes? says Alistair in his pleasant tenor. I catch my breath. I look up: There he is, in the kitchen, phone at his ear. A hammer in his other hand. He doesnt see me. This is Anna Fox from number two-thirteen. We met last Yes, I remember. Hello. Hello, I say, then wish I hadnt. I heard a scream just now, so I wanted to check on Turning his back to me, he places the hammer on the counterthe hammer; was that what alarmed her?and claps his hand to the nape of his neck, as if hes comforting himself. Sorryyou heard a what? he asks. I hadnt expected this. A scream? I say. No: Make it authoritative. A scream. A minute ago. A scream? Like its a foreign word. Sprezzatura. Schadenfreude. Scream. Yes. From where? From your house. Turn around. I want to see your face. Thats . . . theres been no scream here, I can promise you that. I hear him chuckle, watch him lean against the wall. But I heard it. And your son confirmed it, I think, although I wont tell him thatit might aggravate him, might incense him. I think you must have heard something else. Or heard it from somewhere else. No, I distinctly heard it from your house. The only people here are myself and my son. I didnt scream, and Im pretty sure he didnt, either. But I heard Mrs. Fox, Im so sorry, but I have to goIve got another call coming in. Everythings fine here. No scream, I promise you! You Have a good day. Enjoy the weather. I watch him hang up, hear those two tones again. He lifts the hammer from the counter, leaves the room through a far door. I gawk at my phone in disbelief, as if it might explain things to me. And just then, as I look back toward the Russell house, I see her on her front stoop. She stands still for a moment, like a meerkat sensing a predator, before descending the steps. Twists her head that way, then this, then that way again; finally she walks west, toward the avenue, the crown of her head a halo in the sunset. 25 He leans in the doorway, shirt dark with sweat, hair matted. An earbud is plugged into one ear. Whats that? Did you hear that scream at the Russells? I repeat. I heard him return just now, barely thirty minutes after Jane appeared on the stoop. In the meantime my Nikon has veered from window to window at the Russell house, like a dog snouting out foxholes. No, I left about a half hour ago, David says. Went down to the coffee shop for a sandwich. He lifts his shirt to his face, mops up the sweat. His stomach is corrugated. You heard a scream? Two of them. Loud and clear. Around six oclock? He eyes his watch. I mightve been there, only I didnt hear much, he says, pointing to the earbud; the other swings against his thigh. Except for Springsteen. Its practically the first personal preference hes ever expressed, but the timing is off. I steam ahead. Mr. Russell didnt say you were there. He said it was just him and his son. Then Id probably left. I called you. It sounds like a plea. He frowns, takes his phone from his pocket, looks at it, frowns deeper, as though the phone has let him down. Oh. You need something? So you didnt hear anyone scream. I didnt hear anyone scream. I turn. You need something? he says again, but Im already moving toward the window, camera in hand. I see him as he sets out. The door opens, and when it closes, there he is. He trips quickly down the steps, turns left, marches along the sidewalk. Toward my house. When the bell rings a moment later, Im already waiting by the buzzer. I press it, hear him enter the hall, hear the front door crack shut behind him. I open the hall door to find him standing there in the dark, eyes red and raw, the blood vessels frayed within them. Im sorry, Ethan says, hovering on the threshold. Dont be. Come in. He moves like a kite, feinting first toward the sofa, then to the kitchen. Do you want something to eat? I ask him. No, I cant stay. Shaking his head, tears skittering down his face. Twice this child has set foot in my house, and twice hes cried. Of course, Im accustomed to children in distress: weeping, shouting, pummeling dolls, flaying books. It used to be that Olivia was the only one I could hug. Now I open my arms to Ethan, spread them wide like wings, and he walks into them awkwardly, as though bumping into me. For an instant, and then for a moment, Im holding my daughter againholding her before her first day of school, holding her in the swimming pool on our vacation in Barbados, clutching her amid the silent snowfall. Her heart beating against my own, a beat apart, a continuous drumline, blood surging through us both. He mutters something indistinct against my shoulder. Whats that? I said Im really sorry, he repeats, prying himself free, skidding his sleeve beneath his nose. Im really sorry. Its fine. Stop saying that. Its fine. I brush a lock of hair from my eye, do the same for him. Whats going on? My dad . . . He stops, glances through the window at his house. In the dark it glowers like a skull. My dad was yelling, and I needed to get out of the house. Wheres your mom? He sniffles, swipes at his nose again. I dont know. A couple of deep breaths and he looks me in the eye. Sorry. I dont know where she is. Shes fine, though. Is she? He sneezes, looks down. Punch has slipped between his feet, grating his body against Ethans shins. Ethan sneezes again. Sorry. Another sniffle. Cat. He looks around, as if surprised to find himself in my kitchen. I should go back. My dadll be angry. Sounds as though hes already angry. I tug a chair back from the table, gesture to it. He considers the chair, then darts his eyes back to the window. Ive gotta go. I shouldnt have come over. I just . . . You needed to get out of the house, I finish. I understand. But is it safe to go back? To my surprise, he laughs, short and spiky. He talks big. Thats all. Im not afraid of him. But your mom is. He says nothing. As far as I can see, Ethan doesnt display any of the more obvious hallmarks of child abuse: His face and forearms are unmarked, his demeanor bright and outgoing (although he has cried twice, lets not forget that), his hygiene satisfactory. But this is just an impression, just a glance. And he is, after all, standing here in my kitchen, slinging nervous looks at his home across the park. I push the chair back into place. I want you to have my cell number, I tell him. He nodsgrudgingly, I think, but itll do. Could you write it down for me? he asks. You dont have a phone? A shake of the head. Hemy dad wont let me. He sniffles. I dont have email, either. Not surprising. I fetch an old receipt from a kitchen drawer, scribble on it. Four digits in, I realize Im writing out my old work number, the emergency line I reserved for my patients. 1-800-ANNA-NOW, Ed used to joke. Sorry. Wrong number. I slash a line through it, then jot down the correct one. When I look up again, hes standing by the kitchen door, looking across the park at his house. You dont have to go back there, I say. He turns. Hesitates. Shakes his head. Ive gotta head home. I nod, offer him the paper. He pockets it. You can call me anytime, I say. And share that number with your mom too, please. Okay. Hes moving toward the door, shoulders back, back straight. Bracing for battle, I think. Ethan? He turns, one hand on the doorknob. I mean it. Anytime. He nods. Then he opens the door and walks out. I return to the window, watch him walk past the park, climb the steps, push his key into the lock. He pauses, draws a breath. Then he disappears inside. 26 Two hours later, I sluice the last of the wine down my throat, stand the bottle on the coffee table. I prop myself up, slowly, then tip to the other side, like the second hand of a clock. No. Haul yourself to your bedroom. To your bathroom. With the shower gushing, the last few days flood my brain, filling the fissures there, welling up in the hollows: Ethan, crying on the couch; Dr. Fielding and his high-voltage glasses; Bina, her leg braced against my spine; that whirlpool of a night when Jane visited. Eds voice in my ear. David with the knife. Alistaira good man, a good father. Those screams. I squeeze a slug of shampoo into one hand, smear it absently into my hair. The tide rises at my feet. And the pillsGod, the pills. These are powerful psychotropics, Anna, Dr. Fielding advised me at the very beginning, back when I was woolly on painkillers. Use them responsibly. I press my palms against the wall, hang my head beneath the faucet, my face lurking within a dark cave of hair. Somethings happening to me, through me, something dangerous and new. Its taken root, a poison tree; its grown, fanning out, vines winding round my gut, my lungs, my heart. The pills, I say, my voice soft and low amid the roar, like Im speaking underwater. My hand sketches hieroglyphs on the glass. I clear my eyes and read them. Over and over, across the door, Ive written Jane Russells name. Thursday, November 4 27 He lies on his back. I run a finger along the fence of dark hair that partitions his torso from navel to chest. I like your body, I tell him. He sighs and smiles. Dont, he says; and then, with my hand idling in the shallows of his neck, he catalogues his every flaw: the dry skin that makes terrazzo of his back; the single mole between his shoulder blades, like an Eskimo marooned on an expanse of flaggy ice; his warped thumbnail; his knobbed wrists; the tiny white scar that hyphenates his nostrils. I finger the wound. My pinkie dips into his nose; he snorts. How did it happen? I ask. He twists my hair around his thumb. My cousin. I didnt know you had a cousin. Two. This was my cousin Robin. He held a razor against my nose and said hed slit my nostrils so that I only had one. And when I shook my head no, the blade sliced me. God. He exhales. I know. If Id only nodded okay, it wouldve been fine. I smile. How old were you? Oh, this was last Tuesday. Now I laugh, and so does he. As I surface, the dream drains away like water. The memory, really. I try to scoop it up in my palms, but its gone. I press a hand against my forehead, hoping to smooth away the hangover. Cast the sheets to one side, ditch my nightclothes as I walk to the dresser, check the clock on the wall: 10:10, a waxed mustache on its face. I slept for twelve hours. Yesterday has faded like a flower, yellow and wilted. A domestic dispute, unpleasant but not uncommonthats what I heard. Overheard, really; its none of my business. Perhaps Ed is right, I think as I clop down to my study. Of course hes right. A lot of stimulation: yes, indeed. Too much. Im sleeping too much, drinking too much, thinking too much; too much, too much. De trop. Did I involve myself like this with the Millers when they arrived back in August? They never visited me, no, but still I studied their routines, tracked their movements, tagged them like sharks in the wild. So it isnt that the Russells are particularly interesting. Theyre just particularly nearby. Im concerned for Jane, naturally. And especially for Ethan. He just lost his temperthat must be a pretty ferocious temper. But I cant approach, say, Child Protective Services; theres nothing to go on. At this point it would do more harm than good. That I know. My phone rings. This happens so infrequently that for a moment Im confused. I look outside, as though its a birdcall. The phone isnt in the pockets of my robe; I hear it buzzing somewhere above me. By the time Ive reached my bedroom and found it in the trough of the sheets, its gone mute. The screen reads Julian Fielding. I hit Redial. Hello? Hi, Dr. Fielding. I missed you just now. Anna. Hello. Hello, hi. Many benedictions all round. My head throbs. Im callingone minute . . . His voice shrinks, then returns, hard in my ear. Im in an elevator. Im calling to make sure you filled your prescription. What prescriptah, yes; the pills Jane collected for me at the door. I did, in fact. Good. I hope you dont think this patronizing, me checking in on you. I do, in fact. Not at all. You should experience the effects quite quickly. The rattan on the stairs scratches at my soles. Swift results. Well, Id call them effects rather than results. No shower-pisser, he. Ill keep you posted, I assure him, descending to the study. I felt concerned after our last session. I pause. I No. I dont know what to say. My hope is that this adjustment in your medication will help. Still I say nothing. Anna? Yes. I hope so, too. His voice shrivels again. Sorry? A second later hes at full volume. These pills, he says, are not to be taken with alcohol. 28 In the kitchen, I chase the pills with merlot. I understand Dr. Fieldings concern, I do; I recognize that alcohol is a depressant, and as such, ill-suited to a depressive. I get it. Ive written about itJuvenile Depression and Alcohol Abuse, Journal of Pediatric Psychology (volume 37, number 4), Wesley Brill, coauthor. I can quote our conclusions, if necessary. As Bernard Shaw said, I often quote myself; it adds spice to my conversation. As Shaw also said, alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life. Good old Shaw. So come on, Julian: These arent antibiotics. Besides, Ive been mixing my medicines for almost a year, and take a look at me now. My laptop sits in a pane of sunlight on the kitchen table. I pry it open, visit the Agora, walk two new recruits through the drill, weigh in on yet another drug debate. (None of them are to be taken with alcohol, I preach.) Onceonly onceI cast a quick look at the Russell house. Theres Ethan, tapping away at his deskplaying a game, I suppose, or writing a paper; not surfing the Internet, anywayand in the parlor Alistair sits with a tablet propped in his lap. A twenty-first-century family. No Jane, but thats fine. None of my business. Too much stimulation. Goodbye, Russells, I say, and turn my attention to the television. GaslightIngrid Bergman, never more luscious, slowly going insane. 29 Sometime after lunch, Im back at the laptop when I see GrannyLizzie enter the Agora, the little icon beside her name morphing into a smiley face, as though to be present on this forum is a pleasure and a joy. I decide to beat her to the punch. THEDOCTORISIN: Hello, Lizzie! GRANNYLIZZIE: Hello Doctor Anna! THEDOCTORISIN: Hows the weather in Montana? GRANNYLIZZIE: Rainy outside. Which is OK for an indoor gal like me! GRANNYLIZZIE: Hows the weather in New York City? GRANNYLIZZIE: Do I sound like a hillbilly saying that? Should I just say NYC?? THEDOCTORISIN: Both work! Its sunny here. How are you doing? GRANNYLIZZIE: Today has been tougher than yesterday, to be honest. So far. I sip, roll the wine around my tongue. THEDOCTORISIN: That happens. Progress isnt always smooth. GRANNYLIZZIE: I can tell that ! My neighbors are bringing groceries to me at home. THEDOCTORISIN: How terrific that yove got such suportive people around you. Two typos. More than two glasses of wine. Thats a pretty decent batting average, I think. Pretty damn decent, I say to myself, sipping again. GRANNYLIZZIE: BUT: The big news is that . . . my sons will be visiting me this weekend. Really want to be able to go outside with them. Really really! THEDOCTORISIN: Dont be hard on yourself if its not meant to be this time around. A pause. GRANNYLIZZIE: I know this is a harsh word, but its difficult for me not to feel like a freak. Harsh indeed, and it needles my heart. I drain my glass, pull back the sleeves of my robe, rush my fingers over the keyboard. THEDOCTORISIN: You are NOT a freak. You are a victim of circumstance. What youre going through is hard as hell. Ive been housebound for ten m onths and I know as well as anyone how difficult this is. PLEASE dont ever think of yourself as a freak or aloser or anything other than a tough and resourceful person whos been bravev enough to ask for help. Your sons should be proud of you and you should be pruod of yourself. Fin. Not poetry. Not even decent Englishmy fingers slipped on and off the keysbut every word was true. Strictly true. GRANNYLIZZIE: Thats wonderful. GRANNYLIZZIE: Thank you. GRANNYLIZZIE: No wonder youre a psychologist. You know just what to say and how to say it. I feel the smile spreading across my lips. GRANNYLIZZIE: Do you have a family of your own? The smile freezes. Before answering, I pour myself more wine. It brims at the lip of the glass; I bow my head, slurp it down to high tide. A drop rolls off my lip, down my chin, onto my robe. I smear it into the terry cloth. Good thing Ed isnt watching. Good thing nobodys watching. THEDOCTORISIN: I do, but we dont live together. GRANNYLIZZIE: Why not? Why not, indeed? Why dont you live together, Anna? I lift the glass to my mouth, set it down again. The scene unfolds before me like a Japanese fan: the vast flats of snow, the chocolate-box hotel, the ancient ice machine. And to my surprise, I begin to tell her. 30 Wed decided ten days earlier to separate. Thats the starting point, the once-upon-a-time. Or ratherto be entirely fair, to be strictly trueEd had decided, and I had agreed, in principle. I admit I didnt think it would happen, not even when he summoned the broker. Couldve fooled me. Why, I reason, isnt for Lizzie to concern herself with. With which it is not for Lizzie to concern herself, as Wesley might insist; he was a stickler for dangling prepositions. I assume he still is. But no: The why isnt important, not here. The where and the when I can provide. Vermont and last December, respectively, when we packed Olivia into the Audi and revved onto 9A, over the Henry Hudson Bridge, and out of Manhattan. Two hours later, wending through upstate New York, wed hit what Ed liked to call the back roadswith lots of diners and pancake places for us, he promised Olivia. Mom doesnt like pancakes, she said. She can go to a crafts store. Mom doesnt like crafts, I said. As it turned out, the back roads of the region are remarkably fallow when it comes to pancake places and crafts stores. We found a single lonely IHOP in easternmost New York, where Olivia dredged her waffles in maple syrup (locally sourced, claimed the menu) and Ed and I arrowed glances at each other across the table. Outside, a light snow began to shake down, frail little kamikaze flakes smiting themselves against the windows. Olivia pointed with her fork and squealed. I jousted her fork with my own. Therell be a lot more of that at Blue River, I told her. This was our final destination, a ski resort in central Vermont that Olivias friend had visited. Classmate, not friend. Back to the car, back on the road. The ride was quiet, on the whole. We hadnt said anything to Olivia; no sense spoiling her vacation, Id argued, and Ed nodded. Wed forge ahead for her. So in silence we swept past broad fields and little streams lacquered with ice, through forgotten villages and into a feeble snowstorm near the Vermont border. At one point Olivia burst into Over the Meadow and Through the Woods, and I piled on, trying and failing to harmonize. Daddy, will you sing? Olivia pleaded. Shes always done that: asked rather than ordered. Unusual in a child. Unusual in anyone, I sometimes think. Ed cleared his throat and sang. It was only as we reached the Green Mountains, bulging like shoulders from the earth, that he began to thaw. Olivia had gone breathless. Ive never seen such things, she wheezed, and I wondered where shed heard those words in that order. Do you like the mountains? I asked. They look like a rumpled blanket. They do. Like a giants bed. A giants bed? Ed repeated. Yeslike a giant is sleeping under a blanket. Thats why its all lumpy. Youll be skiing on some of these mountains tomorrow, Ed promised as we hugged a tight turn. Well go up, up, up in the ski lift, and then down, down, down the mountain. Up, up, up, she repeated. The words popped from her lips. You got it. Down, down, down. You got it again. That one looks like a horse. Those are his ears. She pointed at a pair of spindly peaks in the distance. Olivia was at that age when everything reminded her of a horse. Ed smiled. What would you call a horse if you had one, Liv? We are not getting a horse, I added. Id call him Vixen. A vixen is a fox, Ed told her. A girl fox. He would be fast like a fox. We considered this. What would you call a horse, Mom? Dont you want to call me Mommy? Okay. Okay? Okay, Mommy. Id call a horse Of Course, Of Course. I looked at Ed. Nothing. Why? asked Olivia. Its from a song on TV. What song? From an old show about a talking horse. A talking horse? She wrinkled her nose. Thats dumb. I agree. Daddy, what would you call a horse? Ed glanced in the rearview. I like Vixen, too. Whoa, Olivia breathed. I turned. Space had opened up beside us, beneath us, a vast chasm gutted from the land below, a huge bowl of nothing; thatched evergreens at the bottom of the void, rags of mist caught in midair. We were so close to the edge of the road that it felt like floating. We could peer into the well of the world. How far down is that? she asked. Far, I answered, turning to Ed. Can we slow up a bit? Slow up? Slow down, whatever? Justcan we go slower? He decelerated slightly. Can we slow down more? Were fine, he said. Its scary, said Olivia, her voice curled up at the edges, hands edging toward her eyes, and Ed eased up on the gas. Dont look down, pumpkin, I said, twisting in my seat. Look at Mommy. She did so, her eyes wide. I took her hand, gathered her fingers in my own. Everythings fine, I told her. Just look at Mommy. Wed arranged to lodge outside Two Pines, about half an hour from the resortCentral Vermonts finest historic inn, bragged the Fisher Arms on its website, a slick collage of hearths in full bloom and windows frilly with snow. We parked in the small lot. Icicles hung like fangs from the eaves above the front door. Rustic New England decor within: steeply pitched ceiling, shabby-genteel furniture, flames playing in one of those photo-friendly fireplaces. The receptionist, a plump young blonde whose name tag read MARIE, invited us to sign the guest registry, primped the irises on the desk as we did so. I wondered if she was going to address us as folks. You folks here to ski? We are, I said. Blue River. Glad you made it. Marie beamed at Olivia. Storms coming in. Noreaster? suggested Ed, trying to sound local. She trained her laser smile on him. A noreaster is more of a coastal storm, sir. He nearly flinched. Oh. This is just a storm-storm. But itll be a whopper. You folks be sure to lock your windows tonight. I wanted to ask why the windows would be unlocked the week before Christmas, but Marie dropped the keys into my palm and wished us folks a pleasant evening. We trundled our luggage down the hallthe Fisher Arms many amenities did not include bellhop serviceand entered our suite. Paintings of pheasant flanked the fireplace; layer cakes of blankets sat on the edges of the beds. Olivia made straight for the toilet, leaving the door ajar; she was afraid of strange bathrooms. Its nice, I murmured. Liv, Ed called, whats the bathroom like? Cold. Which bed do you want? Ed asked me. On holidays, he and I always slept separately, so that Olivia wouldnt crowd the bed when she inevitably climbed in. Some nights she ferried herself from Eds bed to my own and back again; he called her Pong, after that Atari game with a four-bit ball bouncing between two bars. You take the one by the window. I sat on the edge of the other bed, unzipped my suitcase. Better make sure its locked. Ed swung his bag onto the mattress. We began to unpack in silence. Beyond the window, curtains of snow shifted, gray and white in the creeping dusk. After a moment, he rolled up one sleeve and scratched at his forearm. You know . . . he said. I turned to him. The toilet flushed and Olivia burst into the room, hopping from one foot to the other. When can we get up to ski? Dinner was to be prepacked PBandJs and assorted juice boxes, although Id stowed a bottle of sauvignon blanc amid my sweaters. By now the wine was room temperature, and Ed liked his whites really dry and really cold, as he always notified waiters. I rang the front desk, asked for ice. Theres a machine in the hallway just past your room, Marie told me. Make sure to give the lid a real hard push. I took the ice bucket from the minibar beneath the television, walked into the corridor, spotted an old Luma Comfort model humming in an alcove a few steps away. You sound like a mattress, I informed it. I gave the lid a real hard push and back it slid, the machine exhaling into my face, frosty cold, the way peoples breath looks in spearmint-gum commercials. There was no trowel. I rummaged within, the cold scorching my hands, and shook the cubes into the bucket. They clung to my skin. So much for Luma Comfort. Thats where Ed found me, wrist-deep in ice. He appeared suddenly at my side, leaning against the wall. For a moment I pretended not to see him; I stared into the basin of the machine, as though its contents fascinated me, and continued to scoop ice, wishing hed leave, wishing hed hold me. Interesting? I turned to him, didnt bother feigning surprise. Look, he said, and in my head I completed the sentence for him. Lets rethink this, maybe. Ive overreacted, even. Instead, he coughedhed been battling a cold in recent days, ever since the night of the party. I waited. Then he spoke. I dont want to do it this way. I squeezed a fistful of ice cubes. Do what? My heart felt faint. Do what? I repeated. This, he answered, almost hissing, sweeping one arm through the air. A whole happy-family holiday, and then the day after Christmas we . . . My heart slowed; my fingers burned. What do you want to do? Tell her now? He didnt say anything. I withdrew my hand from the machine, slid the lid shut. Not real hard enough: It jammed halfway down. I propped the bucket of ice on my hip, tugged at the lid. Ed gripped it and yanked it. The bucket rolled away from me, clattering to the carpet, spattering cubes across the floor. Shit. Forget it, he said. I dont want anything to drink. I do. I knelt to rake the cubes back into the bucket. Ed watched me. What are you going to do with those? he asked. Should I just let them melt? Yes. I stood and set the bucket atop the machine. You seriously want to do this now? He sighed. I dont see why we Because were already here. Were already . . . I pointed to the door of our suite. He nodded. I thought about that. Youve been thinking a lot lately. I thought, he continued, that . . . He went quiet, and I heard the click of a door behind me. I twisted my head to see a middle-aged woman moving down the corridor toward us. She smiled shyly, eyes averted; picked her way through the ice cubes on the floor, walked on to the lobby. I thought that youd want to start healing right away. Thats what youd say to one of your patients. Dontplease dont tell me what I would or wouldnt say. He said nothing. And I wouldnt talk that way to a child. Youd talk that way to their parents. Dont tell me how Id talk. More nothing. And as far as she knows, theres nothing to heal. He sighed again, rubbed at a spot on the bucket. The fact is, Anna, he told me, and I could see the weight in his eyes, that broad cliff of his brow near collapse, I just cant take this any longer. I looked down, stared at the ice cubes already softening on the ground. Neither of us spoke. Neither of us moved. I didnt know what to say. Then I heard my voice, soft and low. Dont blame me when shes upset. A pause. And then his voice, softer still. I do blame you. He breathed in. Breathed out. I thought of you as the girl next door, he said. I braced myself for more. But right now I can barely look at you. I screwed my eyes shut, inhaled the cold tang of ice. And I thought not of our wedding day, nor of the night Olivia was born, but of the morning we harvested cranberries in New JerseyOlivia shrieking and laughing in her waders, buttery with sunblock; slow skies above, the September sun drenching us; a vast sea of rose-red fruit all around. Ed with his hands full, his eyes bright; me clutching our daughters sticky fingers. I remembered the bog waters risen to our hips, felt them flood my heart, surge into my veins, rise within my eyes. I looked up, gazed into Eds eyes, those dark-brown eyes; Completely ordinary eyes, he assured me on our second date, but to me they were beautiful. They still are. He looked back at me. The ice machine thrummed between us. Then we went to tell Olivia. 31 THEDOCTORISIN: Then we went to tell Olivia. I pause. How much more would she want to know? How much more can I bear to tell her? My heart already hurts, aching within my chest. A minute later, theres still no response. I wonder if all this is hitting too close to home for Lizzie; here I am talking about a separation from my husband when shes lost hers irrevocably. I wonder if GRANNYLIZZIE HAS LEFT THE CHAT. I stare at the screen. Now I have to remember the rest of the story on my own. 32 Dont you get lonely up here by yourself? I wriggle from sleep as a voice questions me, male, flat. I unpaste my eyelids. I was born lonely, I guess. A woman now. Creamy contralto. Light and shadow flicker in my vision. Its Dark PassageBogie and Bacall making bedroom eyes across a coffee table. Is that why you visit murder trials? On my own coffee table stand the remnants of my dinner: two drained-hollow bottles of merlot and four canisters of pills. No. I went because your case was like my fathers. I swat at the remote beside me. Swat again. I know he didnt kill my stepmoth The TV goes dark, and the living room with it. How much have I drunk? Right: two bottles worth. Plus lunchtime. Thats . . . a lot of wine. I can admit it. And the drugs: Did I take the right quantity this morning? Did I take the right pills? Ive been sloppy lately, I know. No wonder Dr. Fielding thinks Im getting worse. Youve been bad, I chide myself. I peek into the canisters. One of them is almost depleted; twin tablets crouch within it, little white pellets, at either side of the bottle. God, Im very drunk. I look up, look at the window. Dark outside, deep night. I cast about for my phone, cant find it. The grandfather clock, looming in the corner, ticks as though trying to get my attention. Nine fifty. Nine fiffy, I say. Not great. Try ten to ten. Ten to ten. Better. I nod to the clock. Thanks, I tell him. He gazes at me, all solemn-like. Lurching toward the kitchen now. Lurchingisnt that how Jane Russell described me, that day at the door? Those little shits with their eggs? Lurch. From The Addams Family. The gangly butler. Olivia loves that theme song. Snap, snap. I grasp the faucet, duck my head beneath it, jerk the handle toward the ceiling. A whip of white water. Plunge my mouth forth, gulp deeply. Drag one hand along my face, totter back to the living room. My eyes wander across the Russells house: Theres the ghost-glow of Ethans computer, with the kid bent over the desk; theres the empty kitchen. Theres their parlor, merry and bright. And theres Jane, in a snow-white blouse, sitting on that striped love seat. I wave. She doesnt see me. I wave again. She doesnt see me. One foot, then the other, then the first foot. Then the otherdont forget the other. I melt into the sofa, loll my head on my shoulder. Shut my eyes. What happened to Lizzie? Did I say something wrong? I feel myself frown. The cranberry bog stretches before me, shimmery, shifting. Olivias hand takes my own. The ice bucket smashes on the floor. Ill watch the rest of the movie. I open my eyes, unearth the remote from beneath me. The speakers exhale organ music, and theres Bacall, playing peekaboo over her shoulder. Youll be all right, she vows. Hold your breath, cross your fingers. The surgery sceneBogie doped up, specters revolving before him, an unholy carousel. Its in your bloodstream now. The organ drones. Let me in. Agnes Moorehead, rapping at the camera lens. Let me in. A flame waversLight? suggests the cabbie. Light. I turn my head, look into the Russell house. Jane is still in her living room, on her feet now, shouting silently. I swivel in my seat. Strings, a fleet of them, the organ shrilling beneath. I cant see who shes shouting at, or at whom shes shoutingthe wall of the house blocks my view of the rest of the room. Hold your breath, cross your fingers. Shes really bellowing, her face gone scarlet. I spy my Nikon on the kitchen counter. Its in your bloodstream now. I rise from the sofa, cross to the kitchen, paw the camera with one hand. Move to the window. Let me in. Let me in. Let me in. I lean into the glass, lift the camera to my eye. A blur of black, and then Jane jumps into view, soft around the edges; a twist of the lens and now shes clear, crispI can even see her locket winking. Her eyes are narrowed, her mouth wide. She jabs the air with one fingerLight?jabs again. A lock of hair has swung from her head, flopping against her cheek. Just as I zoom in further, she storms to the left, out of sight. Hold your breath. I turn to the television. Bacall again, almost purring. Cross your fingers, I say along with her. I face the window again, Nikon at my eye. Once more Jane enters the framebut walking slowly, strangely. Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse; even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach. Her hands scrabble at her chest. Something slender and silver has lodged there, like a hilt. It is a hilt. Now the blood surges up to her throat, washes it with red. Her mouth has gone slack; her brow is creased, as though shes confused. She grips the hilt with one hand, limply. With the other she reaches out, her finger aimed toward the window. Shes pointing straight at me. I drop the camera, feel it rappel down my leg, the strap snagging in my fingers. Janes arm folds against the window. Her eyes are wide, pleading. She mouths something I cant hear, cant read. And then, as time slows to a near halt, she presses her hand to the window and keels to one side, wiping a bold smear of blood across the glass. Im stricken where I stand. I cant move. The room is still. The world is still. And then, as time lurches forward, I move. I spin, shake the camera strap loose, lunge across the room, my hip butting into the kitchen table. I stumble, reach the counter, wrench the landline from its dock. Press the power button. Nothing. Dead. Somewhere I remember David telling me as much. It isnt even plugged David. I drop the phone and race to the basement door, yell his name, yell it, yell it. Seize the doorknob, pull hard. Nothing. Run to the stairs. Up, upcrashing against the walloncetwiceround the landing, trip on the final step, half crawl to the study. Check the desk. No phone. I swear I left it here. Skype. My hands jumping, I reach for the mouse, streak it over the desk. Double-click on Skype, double-click again, hear the sweep of the welcome tone, bash 911 into the dial pad. A red triangle flashes on the screen. NO EMERGENCY CALLS. SKYPE IS NOT A TELEPHONE REPLACEMENT SERVICE. Fuck you, Skype, I shout. Flee the study, rush the steps, whip around the landing, crash through the bedroom door. Near bedside table: wineglass, picture frame. Far bedside table: two books, reading glasses. My bedis it in my bed again? I grab the duvet with both hands, snap it hard. The phone launches into the air like a missile. I pounce before it lands, knock it beneath the armchair, reach for it, grip it tight in my hand, swipe it on. Tap in the passcode. It trembles. Wrong code. Tap it in again, my fingers slipping. The home screen appears. I stab the Phone icon, stab the Keypad icon, dial 911. 911, what is your emergency? My neighbor, I say, braking, motionless for the first time in ninety seconds. Shesstabbed. Oh, God. Help her. Maam, slow down. Hes speaking slowly, as if by example, in a languid Georgia drawl. Its jarring. Whats your address? I squeeze it from my brain, from my throat, stammering. Through the window I can see the Russells cheery parlor, that arc of blood smeared across their window like war paint. He repeats the address. Yes. Yes. And you say your neighbor was stabbed? Yes. Help. Shes bleeding. What? I said help. Why isnt he helping? I gulp air, cough, gulp once more. Help is on the way, maam. I need you to calm down. Could you give me your name? Anna Fox. All right, Anna. Whats your neighbors name? Jane Russell. Oh, God. Are you with her now? No. Shes acrossshes in the house across the park from me. Anna, did . . . Hes pouring words in my ear like syrupwhat kind of emergency dispatch service hires a slow talker?when I feel a brush at my ankle. I look down to find Punch rubbing his flank against me. What? Did you stab your neighbor? In the dark of the window I can see my mouth drop open. No. All right. I looked through the window and saw her get stabbed. All right. Do you know who stabbed her? Im squinting through the glass, peering into the Russells parlorits a story below me now, but I see nothing on the floor except a floral-print rug. I brace myself on my toes, strain my neck. Still nothing. And then it appears: a hand at the windowsill. Creeping upward, like a soldier edging his head above the trench. I watch the fingers swipe at the glass, drag lines through the blood. Shes still alive. Maam? Do you know who But already Im bolting from the room, the phone dropped, the cat mewling behind me.

  • Winston The Wizard / - (Williams, 2014)    Winston The Wizard /
  • Mulan /  (Disney, 2012)    Mulan / (Disney, 2012)
  • The Lion King /   (Disney, 2012)    The Lion King /
  • Pinocchio /  (Disney, 2012)    Pinocchio / (Disney,

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