From the Publisher
"Her best work yet, assured, supple, exhilarating in its nerve and cool momentum" Joan Didion
"A stunning novel...a powerful story that cuts back and forth in time to give us both the defining moment in a woman's life and an understanding of how that moment has reverberated through the remainder of her days...Her evocation of her heroine's passion for Harris Arden is so convincing, her depiction of the world she inhabits is so fiercely observed...The difference between [Monkeys and Evening] attests to Susan Minot's growing ambition and assurance as an artist" Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"An absorbing drama...Minot writes with quiet perceptiveness and grace, pulling the reader into Ann's deathbed reverie" Elle
"A brilliant lyric performance" John Casey
"In spare and lovely language, Susan Minot has set forth a real life, in all its particularity and splendor and pain. This is the task of the novelist, and in Evening Minot has succeeded admirably" Roxana Robinson, New York Times Book Review
"It astounds in its craftsmanship and imprints itself indelibly on the heart...A haunting work of art that moves at the pace of a suspense thriller" Sheila Bosworth, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"Evening is a beautifully realized work...more mature and confident than anything she has written...An exquisite novel" Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe
"A wonderful, truthful, heartbreaking book. . .. Evening vindicates the wildest assertions any of us have made about Susan Minot's talent" Tom McGuane
"Evening is a supremely sensual, sensitive and dramatic novel...So rich in color and motion, music and atmosphere" Donna Seaman, Booklist
"I was swept up in it...It moved me and made me cry" D. T. Max, New York Observer
In Evening, Minot's highly crafted, lyrical prose carries the reader through layering, drifting circles of memory....Part of the joy of Minot's prose is that it asks for, and survives, close scrutiny. -- National Post(Toronto)
In her powerful third novel Susan Minot mesmerizes with her convincing evocation of Lord's final semiconscious state, wherein time and place crisscross, the lines between real and imagined blur, and the difference between resignation and regret is indistinguishable. -- Time Magazine
An absorbing drama. . . Minot writes with quiet perceptiveness and grace, pulling the reader into Ann's deathbed reverie. -- Elle
One of the pleasures of this book lies in the elegance and assurance of the prose. . . .The narrative drive is sustained by the mounting tension of the early story. . . .In spare and lovely language, Susan Minot has set forth a real life, in all its particularity and splendor and pain.
The New York Times Book Review
It astounds in its craftsmanship and imprints inself indelibly on the heart. . .A haunting work of art that moves at the pace of a suspense thriller. New Orleans Times-Picayune
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A dying woman's abiding passion for a lover she met in her 20s propels this eloquent third novel by the gifted author of Monkeys and Folly. As 65-year-old cancer patient Ann Grant Lord drifts in and out of a morphine-induced haze, her recollections range back and forth between 1954 and 1994, mulling over the influences that have shaped her life. In particular, she clings to the memory of Harris Arden, the young doctor she met at the wedding of her best friend, Lila Wittenborn, and their brief affair, which he ended to marry another. Resigned to a life without bliss, Ann subsequently sang in cabarets and accumulated husbands, survived motherhood, widowhood and the death of her 12-year-old son but never knew another passion like the one she felt for Harris. With insight and sensitivity, Minot sketches the small daily travails of the deathbed vigils shared by Ann's friends and step-siblings and keeps tension high by skillfully foreshadowing (or back-shadowing) certain of the novel's largest, saddest events, all the while withholding longed-for particulars. The day after the wedding, we eventually learn, the Wittenborns suffered a crushing loss. The juxtaposition of Ann's heartbreak with the more universal tragedy that affected her friend's family accentuates the novel's achingly poignant climax. As the end nears, Ann's drug-induced hallucinations, memories and imagined conversations with Harris all merge into one roiling stream in which Minot's flair for dramatization comes to the fore, rendering her heroine's experience of love at first sight plausible and enviable. Minot has created in Ann a woman whose ardent past allows her to face death while savoring the exhilaration that marked her full and passionate life. (PW best book of 1998)
This new work from the acclaimed author of Monkeys features an older woman who looks back on her 25th year, feverishly recalling the weekend when she met and lost the love of her life.
...[A] powerful story...gives us both the defining moment in a woman's life and an understanding of how that moment has reverberated throughout the remainder of her days....Evening is more suspenseful that her earlier fiction....a complex portrait of a woman, told in fractured, fragmented takes -- attests to Ms. Minot's growing ambition and assurance as an artist. -- The New York Times
New York Observer
I was swept up in it. . .It moved me and made me cry.
Evening is a supremely sensual, sensitive and dramatic novel . . .So rich in color and motion, music and atmosphere. -- Booklist
In spare and lovely language, Susan Minot has set forth a real life, in all its particularity and splendor and pain. . . .This is the task of the novelist, and in Evening Minot has succeeded admirably -- The New York Times Book Review
Evening is a beautifully realized work. . .more mature and confident than anything she has written. . .An exquisite novel. -- The Boston Globe
As I Lay Dying
The plot in Susan Minot's luscious new novel, Evening, is deceptively simple. Bedridden with terminal cancer, 65-year-old Ann Lord drifts in and out of a morphine-induced reverie, recalling her husbands, children, and social life. But the most prominent thing in her mind is a long romantic weekend in the late 1950s. She was 25, and attending her best friend's wedding on an island off the coast of Maine. Also attending was the handsome Harris Arden: "Ann had had feelings with a few other boys and with each there was something particular to the person which was unique and it seemed that the particular feeling around Harris Arden was more unique than usual. There was something larger in him, in his stillness, in the way he moved. She watched him carry the suitcases to the car not hurrying but purposeful and intent and sort of angry."
Obviously Ann falls for him and he for her. There's just one catch -- two days later another wedding guest arrives, Arden's fiancée. How will things turn out?
This is a thinking reader's love story, not a Harlequin Romance. It's a love story the way The Great Gatsby is a love story. Minot's tale even ends with an auto accident as dramatic as the one that occurs on the road beneath the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.
You'll find thatEvening surpasses Gatsby in terms of eroticism, however. Minot's sex scenes are dense and extended, and the earth moves for Ann even more than it did for nurse Barkley in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Yet no child happening upon Minot's sex scenes would have a clue about what was going on. For example, "There was nothing to seal off the world. The black sky did not cover them, it was the opposite of a covering, it drew them up. The sky was an example of how far distance could go. I go on forever, it said, nothing can be contained."
I recently spoke with Susan Minot about her work, but we concentrated on Thanatos, not Eros. Hell, I didn't even kiss her -- and I was going to when we first met.
Wait. I don't mean that the way it sounded. Minot and I rendezvous as strangers at a Greenwich Village French restaurant (her choice!). I recognize her from her photo. She's never seen me before in her life. Yet she leans toward my face as if she expects one of those Euro-peck greetings. I know Minot has spent time in Italy writing the script to Bernardo Bertolucci's movie, "Stealing Beauty," so I lean toward her as well -- only realizing at the last moment that not even the French buss when they meet as strangers. I whip my head back. Minot appears to miss this awkward gesture.
At our table I rub my sweaty hands on my pants and get her talking about EVENING. She reveals she took five years to write it. "I started the novel in '92," she tells me. "And I was very much in the note stage. When I started work on the Bertolucci movie I was still trying to keep the novel going, but I was taken away from it when I was working on the set. When the film was over, I thought, If I don't get back to this and grab it, it's going to melt. So for the last year and a half I left New York and lived in different places, staying in friends' summer homes in the winter, just to really concentrate on the book and get it done fast." She smiles at the word "fast," adding, "A year and a half later."
How did Minot keep track of alternating between Ann's deathbed and her memories of the wedding party? Did she map the scenes out?
She nods. "There was a general structure to the book that was mapped out, but really only after half of it had been written. That's when I then tried to organize the plot a bit. It's really the backstory of the wedding, those three or four days that give the book its structure. Then the going back and forth became an intuitive thing with each draft."
I ask her to list the books that she loves. The first title off her lips is that grand Russian love story, Anna Karenina. When did she first read it? "I don't know. Probably as a teenager. I read the novel again a couple of times. If I could have written any book, Anna Karenina would be it."
We then talk about Dawn Powell. I mention the new biography of this overlooked New York writer, and Minot praises Powell's diary. Does Minot keep a diary? "I have a journal that I've been keeping for a long time. I have nearly 100 volumes."
Then I ask, "Do you ever think about your own mortality and what will happen to your journal?"
Suddenly she is frowning. "I never think about mortality," she sneers with icy sarcasm. "How can you ask that? I just wrote a book about a woman dying."
I think fast. "That doesn't mean you think about your own death."
"Oh yes it does," Minot says. "It absolutely does. You can't spend five years writing about what it's like to die without thinking about what it's going to be like to die." She pauses. "I think about death more in terms of how it makes life meaningful than what happens afterwards. That's unknowable." Then she adds, "The things that go through my mind every day are the things that were going through Ann Lord's mind as she is dying."
I backtrack to why I brought up the idea of mortality. "But your journals -- do you care if they're printed after you're dead?"
"It's out of my control," she answers. "No one would want to publish 100 volumes of my journals."
"With web sites, who knows," I say. "Readers may want to download the 'One Hundred Journals of Susan Minot.'"
The moment after I speak her name, she says, "Let me tell you how to pronounce it really." I referred to her as Min-knot. Wrong. "It's what you do with gold," she laughs. "You mine it." Ah. Susan Mine-it. "It's the most flattened-out Americanized version possible."
I practice saying her name, "Susan Minot, Susan Minot, Susan Minot." Then I stop. I could be misconstrued as a lovelorn fool. Then Minot tells me that she's just finished writing the screenplay of Evening for Disney. Wow. I'm impressed that they'd want to make an intelligent movie that has no car chases or special effects.
"There actually are a lot of special effects in Evening," Minot said. "The sort of dreamlike back and forth in time. People walking on water. Birds flying into a room. Grass growing out of a bed."
Ah. I forgot to mention the magic realism attending Ann Grant's death.
"Here's another book I can promote," Minot suddenly says. "I just wrote an introduction to Louise de Vilmorin's Madame De. I never knew it was a short story. I just knew the Max Ophuls film."
Then Minot reveals that she spends much of her time in Africa. She talks about taking the Lunatic Express, an "old rattletrap train that was probably built in the '40s" that runs across the Tsavo desert between Kenya and Tanzania. I ask her if Africa has become her place, like it had for Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham (Minot having praised Out of Africa and West with the Night).
"I feel that I am exploring the world and places that I don't know well," she tells me. "When you look at all the practical problems in the world it sometimes seems a little indulgent to be writing." She pauses, then says, "I do believe that it is worthwhile to write." Adding, "Though not in an apparent, practical way."
As the interview ends and I hand Minot a copy of her lovely unpractical love story Evening to sign, it dawns on me that our conversation could have come from the book. Although Ann never had to endure a grilling by a book reviewer, she does recall awkward encounters in her life. She remembers a dinner date when a boy (not Arden) tries to give her a wedding ring. She refuses to accept it. He walks out of the restaurant into the snow. "He turned around. There were wet streaks on his face. He wiped them with a flat palm, and his gaze shot upward to the windows of the lounge where they had sat, considering something -- how things might have gone otherwise -- thinking what he left behind...."
I thanked God that it was too early for snow and that I wasn't in fact some lovelorn fool, and stepped out of the restaurant to the sidewalk of Sixth Avenue.
David Bowman, barnesandnoble.com
Minot (Folly) aims high in taking a long look at the beginning and end of a love-lifein a project that's not without its gripping moments but that requires an excess of artifice to stay aloft and doesn't steadily convince.
Ann Lord, 65, is dying of cancer, attended by a nurse and her various adult offspring from three not-so-happy marriages. In matters of love, Ann's entire life, it seems, has been in one way or another less than blissfulthough all might have been otherwise if things had been slightly different back in 1954when Ann was 25during a gala seaside weekend celebrating a friend's marriage. Those were the three days when Ann met ('The person's face seemed lit from within'), loved ('The great thing was happening to her'),and lost (to another, by a cruel twist of fate) the ultra-handsome doctor and Korea vet whom she (though not necessarily the reader) fell in love with at first sight ('His tall legs kept coming toward her').
Minot's decision to pin the whole weight of the novel on one weekend causes much strain, and her best successes come when she drops romance altogether and lets her character (a Mrs. Ramsay) meditate on loss and the passing of time ('They would last and not she. The things in the house were not herself.'). Elsewhere, though, the burden of making the 40-year-ago weekend (the highest point in one's life) significant enough for the book to work tempts the author back into her familiar Hemingway-style filler-mode ('Ann had had feelings with a few other boys and with each there was something particular which was unique and it seemed that the feeling around Harris Arden was more unique than usual') or into topping the story with a sensational event to try to up the psychological ante. As always with Minot, moments of incisive and telling beauty, mood, and atmosphere, but also, in this case, much that's much less.
Read an Excerpt
A new lens passed over everything she saw, the shadows moved on the wall like skeletons handing things to each other. Her body was flung back over a thousand beds in a thousand other rooms. She was undergoing a revolution, she felt split open. In her mattress there beat the feather of a wild bird.
Where were you all this time? she said. Where have you been?
I guess far away.
Yes you were. Too far away.
They sat in silence.
You know you frightened me a little, she said. At the beginning.
He smiled at that.
You looked as if you didn't need anyone, she said.
But those are the ones who need the most, he said. Don't you know that?
I do now, she said. Too late.
Never too late to know something, he said.
Maybe not, she said. But too late to do any good.
She lifted the yellow suitcase and banged it against her leg. She dragged it over the polished floor. The ceiling of Grand Central towered above her with arches and glass panes and squares of sunlight.
She was not late and did not have to hurry. The clerk in the window bowed his forehead like a priest in confession and pushed her ticket through. Across the great domed room she spotted a redcap with a cart and though she usually would have carried her bag to save money decided this was a special occasion. She was on her way to a wedding. She signaled to him.
The redcap flung her suitcase onto his cart. Whoever you're going to meet, he said, he's a lucky guy.
The heat in New York had been terrible and the air underground at the gate was heavy and close. When the train came out of the tunnel she saw thunderheads turning the sky yellow and grey. The rain started, ticking the window with scratches then pouring over it in streams. Crowds of cat-o'-nine-tails surged in a wave as the train blew past. By the time they reached Providence the rain had stopped and it was hot again with a hot wind blowing in the open doors. The engine shut off and they waited in the station. No new passengers got on. It was as if the world had paused on this late morning in July. She held her book loosely and watched out the window.
The station in Boston was shadowed in scaffolding dark as a cave with bands of light on the paneled benches and few travelers. The redcap who took her bag was young and did not say a word. He pushed a contraption with a bad wheel and had trouble steering through the door. She came out of the damp entranceway into the brightness of the turn-around beyond where she saw among the parked cars the dark green MG. The doors were open and she saw in front Buddy Wittenborn and in the driver's seat Ralph Eastman and a third person with his back to her. The person was standing with one foot up on the running board. When she got close Ralph caught sight of her and jumped out of the car and Buddy looked over with a lazy smile. Only when she was near did the back turn around and the long leg come off the running board and she saw the man's face. He was wearing squarish dark glasses so she couldn't see his eyes. She noticed his mouth was full though set in a particular firm way, the combination of which affected her curiously. She felt as if she'd been struck on the forehead with a brick.
The person's face seemed lit from within.
Ralph Eastman gave her a kiss on the cheek asking how was the career girl from New York and Buddy Wittenborn slid off the front seat and hugged her and ducked back turning his head and pushing his glasses back on his nose. He was wearing a disheveled shirt buttoned up wrong and a belt outside the belt loops and even with the beanie on his head looked as always handsome.
Ralph tipped the redcap, taking charge of the bags. She was trying to look at any other place other than at the person in the sunglasses.
Oh, Buddy said. This is Arden.
She was far enough away from the person that not to shake his hand was not rude. She didn't dare shake his hand. Hi, she said and smiled brightly. Her handbag fell to the ground.
That's Ann, Buddy said.
Hello Ann. The person had a deep voice which came from somewhere deep in his chest. We've been waiting for you, Ann. It was also kind of rough.
She caught a lipstick rolling and looked up. The person was not smiling. She blushed and looked back down. Am I that late? We stopped for a while in Providence . . . She felt the black glasses facing her.
Ralph slammed the back hatch. A late train has been figured into the calculations.
He's sure we'll miss the ferry, Buddy said.
On the contrary, just what I plan to avoid. So let's go.
The person was walking away from the car. He bent to pick something off the ground.
Harris, Ralph called, starting the car.
The person came back on long slow legs and got into the backseat beside Ann. It was an MG station wagon and the windows tilted in. He held up some keys attached to a Saint Christopher medal. These yours? he said.
God, Ann said, taking her keys. Thank you. That was idiotic. She looked straight at him. Which is your name?
They both are.
In what order?
Which is better? The face was placid and she could not read the eyes behind the glasses.
I don't know. They're both good.
No, the person said and he smiled for the first time. One is always better.
It was 1954 and Ann Grant was twenty-five years old.
They drove north. She liked being the girl in a car with three boys. They drove through Revere where the water was purple at the shore and the highway was raised above the tract houses, past gas stations with enormous signs shaped like horses, and miniature golf courses with waterfalls and orange dinosaurs. They passed motels with teepee cabins and restaurants shaped like pagodas and restaurants shaped like barns with plastic cows outside. They exited to Danvers winding past steeples and fudge stores with pink script writing back onto the highway where green countryside flickered out the window behind the person's profile. His name was Harris, Ralph was the one to say, Harris Arden. She sat beside Harris Arden in the backseat and they talked and now and then he turned toward her. He'd grown up in Virginia, was born in Turkey, had lived in Switzerland. His father was a diplomat, raised in St. Louis, his mother was Turkish which explained his coloring. Harris Arden lived in Chicago now, he said, and worked in a hospital.
Then Ann Grant realized who he was. He was Doctor R, Carl's friend, whom he'd served with in Korea. But it wasn't Doctor R as she had thought but Doctor Ar for Arden. She had pictured someone older.
You're the musician, she said.
Not so much anymore.
Isn't your band playing at the wedding?
What's left of it.
And you're a doctor too? Buddy said, prying open a beer with a Swiss Army knife. Who wants a cold one?
No one took him up on it. The person didn't seem to hear and stared out the window.
Ann sings, Ralph said, facing forward driving.
Does she? The person looked interested.
Just for fun, Ann said. Just in little places.
In New York little places are pretty big.
These really are little, she said. It's not even my job.
Ann's a pretty good singer, Buddy said.
I'd like to hear her sing, said the person in the sunglasses looking ahead.
Have you moved her?
She was sitting up this morning. Mrs. Lord.
The smell of rose water.
I'm sorry I'm late, said Ann Lord. We stopped for a long time in Providence.
Mrs. Lord, you have a visitor.
Ann Lord opened her eyes. No he's not, she said. It wasn't a visitor, it was Dr. Baker.
Afternoon Ann. Mercifully Dick Baker did not shout at her. His sleeves were rolled above the elbows, a stethoscope hung around his neck.
Afternoon, she said. I look a fright.
Nonsense, he said. You've never looked a fright. He came in every other day. Dick Baker was a friend of the Lords' and used to come often to dinner parties when Oscar was still alivethey had entertained more thenand as he held Ann Lord's wrist he remembered once watching her leave the dining room and disappear down the dark hallway toward the kitchen. She'd been wearing a dress with a pink sheen to it and the sheen had retained the light after her legs and arms and head had disappeared in the gloom. He checked her pulse against his watch, remembering the sheen.
After a while she said, Where am I?
You're in Cambridge in the house on Emerson Street. His dry fingers pressed near her ears. He wasn't looking at her, feeling around the way doctors do, as if they're blind.
I don't mean that, she said, fixing him in her gaze. That's not what I mean.
You're doing fine.
He had bent over the beds of many patients, but it was always different when you knew the person. It had an extra dimension to it. Dr. Baker was not a spiritual man. He considered himself a practical man. His job was simply to figure out what the heck the problem was and do his damndest to fix it and if he couldn't then move on and hope with the next one he could. He had been as straightforward with her as he was able. The treatment might give her some time but as far as curing this type of cancer . . . no that wasn't likely. There was no doubt about it when you knew the person the job changed. He felt less effectual when he knew more of the person's life. Not that he knew a great deal about Ann Lord. She was one of those mysterious women, not that he knew a great deal about women either. He knew she'd been married three timesthe children came from the different husbandsand there was a hint of a racy life singing in nightclubs in New York which Dick Baker had never heard her mention and then that tragedy with her son. . . . His wife Bertie said Ann Lord was just like other women, maybe a little more stylish if you had to say something, but like other women. Bertie frankly found her a little distant and cold. Dr. Baker found them all mysterious to a point and Ann Lord had her own brand of mystery. She always looked well turned out and was a little cool then she would surprise you with a little jolt of something witty and inviting. It was nearly flirtation and challenged something in him. Of course he did not relate that to his wife. He knew that much about women.
How long Dick, she said.
It was not the first time she'd asked. They didn't always want to know. More often than not they didn't want to know the truth.
Dick. Her hand took his sleeve.
Dr. Baker glanced back at the nurse who gave a sort of nod and cast her glance to the side. He leaned down.
Let's just say you won't see the leaves change this year, he said.
When's Nina coming?
She can't come till Friday. She's in rehearsal.
I'd think she'd want to be here, said Aunt Grace. Constance has come all the way from Paris. I'd think Nina could make it from New York.
Mother understands, Margie said.
I hope she's right.
I think so, Constance said. Fergus, down.
Fergus, stop bothering Constance. She thinks she's a person, Aunt Grace explained, gazing fondly at her terrier. I just hope Nina doesn't regret it later.
It's Nina's big break supposedly, Margie said.
There'll be another break, said Aunt Grace. If she's good. Something else will come along. Your mother won't. Aunt Grace was an unlikely ally of Ann Lord's. Her younger brother had been Ann's second husband and when Ted Stackpole left her a widow Grace had stepped in to help. Having no family of her own she had the space to do it. She had never married and lived alone with her dog.
She'll be here this weekend, Margie said.
Let's hope Ann is lucid.
What do you mean? She's been lucid.
So far, said Aunt Grace mysteriously.
When Teddy came downstairs he looked as if he'd been away on a long trip.
He's been up there an awful lot, Aunt Grace said. I hope he can handle it.
He's doing fine, Constance said.
So different from his father, said Aunt Grace. Teddy was Ted Stackpole's son. His father couldn't stand sick people.
She lay on her back staring up at the canopy. Her thoughts went round and round and it was like spinning staring up at the trees the way she used to when she was young. She could not focus or stop or hold on to a thought for very long. She watched things blur by and now and then a bright light like the sun flashed through the leaves. She saw the water lying in lozenge shapes in the marshes past Portland and a face like a mask with dark glasses on it. He was asking her where she worked. Where . . . she could not remember. It was either the bookstore or the auction house or doing errands for Mrs. Havemeyer or cataloguing for Mr. Stein. She remembered the plaid shirt Buddy Wittenborn had been wearing and the rattle of the MG with the windows open and how the summer light threw a fuzzed screen over the trees. She saw a tilted field of purple lupin, a sign which said Free Beets Monday but she could not remember which job she'd been at the day before, the jobs were all folded together, or which little apartment she'd been in, they were folded together too, the one on Sixty-eighth Street with the bay window and geranium, the one with the slanted floor above Madison, there was a punch-out clock in the basement of Scribners', a navy wool jacket she wore, the slippery rugs in Mrs. Havemeyer's foyer, smoke hanging in the air at Sling's, Fiona fishing an onion out of a martini glass, the streets Sunday morning Fifth Avenue deserted . . . it all floated by, random and nearly transparent. They were the props of her life but she had no more sense of them than one does for the stage scenery of a play one saw ages ago then forgot. No doubt at the time they affected her, stirred some reaction, irritated or pleased her, but now most of them gave off neither heat nor cold and she watched them drop into the gaping dark hole of meaningless things she had not forgotten, things one level up from the far vaster place where lay all the unremembered things.
Now vivid before her was the sight of a road narrowing up a hill with humps of trees on either side like a gate and the frame of a windshield thrumming and the back of Ralph Eastman's tidy haircut being blown in fingerprint gusts and Buddy swigging from his beer, lips sideways. The car was moving forward but encased in memory it seemed still and suspended, as if the configuration in the car, the person beside her with his elbow resting on the window, his hand dangling, the skin darker at the knuckles, the window framing a sky of indistinct clouds and tall grasses flashing by, as if it were a delicately rendered structure wired and bolted together reflecting mirror-like the configuration of her heart.
She opened her eyes not knowing where she was. The room had gotten dark. The pain rose in her and she remembered. That's right, this is what she was now. In her sixty-five years Ann Lord had kept herself busy and was not particularly reflective but now forced to lie here day after day she found herself visited by certain reflections. Life would not hold any more surprises for her, she thought, all that was left was for her to get through this last thing. But her eyes were as sharp as ever and she saw everything that went by.
She knew the room. It had been her room for some time. She had known other rooms and lived in other houses and been in other countries but this was the last room and she knew what was coming to her in it. It was coming to her slowly and the room remained indifferent. The bedposts rose up with notched pinecones at the end and the narrow desk stood there shut with the key in the keyhole and on the bureau were the silver frames with her children in little squares and little ovals. The windows faced two ways, toward the beech tree and the high fence with spear tips separating it from the next yard and the near corner facing down to the end of the garden and lawn and all the time she felt the engine chugging quietly beneath her manufacturing pain ceaselessly. It was not going fast enough. She wanted it to speed up but whenever she urged it forward the effort only bound her faster to life. So she pretended she wasn't trying, pretended she was being borne along at whatever speed the wheels wanted to take her, pretended indifference. She ought to be good at pretending, she thought, she'd had a lifetime of doing it.
Then she saw in the murky light the tombstone shape of a large bird sitting on the windowsill. It looked like an owl or a hawk. When it lifted to fly away it spread its wings and flapped once and glided out on stiff wings which seemed held up by string. Its round heavy body soared upward and she watched it with a beating heart till the canopy above her intervened and the bird was blocked from her sight.
So she had them remove the canopy. Constance and Margie rolled off the white ruffled cover while she sat tilted but erect in the armchair by the window in her Dior nightgown. Constance had done her hair like Empress Josephine with gold string and Margie looked like a gypsy with her long skirt and tangled hair. They clapped the wooden slats together like Chinese instruments and yanked up the bowed pieces bridging the posts. When she resumed her position in bed the room had opened up and she could see more. There were not so many things open to her now and she was not going to miss the few which were. She could see the upper windows and the upper walls and the whole of the ceiling.
She felt herself being drawn up. She left behind the making of plans and the wondering about the future and a strange anticipation visited her. Something was calling to her. She heard soft paws crossing the floor above her. A blur passed by the window, a cloud of fidgeting butterflies. She smelled sea water, she smelled burnt sugar. Someone was making a cake. The sound of fingernails scraped the wainscoting behind the bamboo bookshelf. She scanned the shelves of her life. First she was Ann Grant then Phil Katz's wife then Mrs. Ted Stackpole then Ann Lord. Bits of things swam up to her, but what made them come? Why for instance did she remember the terrace at Versailles where she'd visited only once, or a pair of green and white checkered gloves, a photograph of city trees in the rain? It only demonstrated to her all she would forget. And if she did not remember these things who would? After she was gone there would be no one who knew the whole of her life. She did not even know the whole of it! Perhaps she should have written some of it down . . . but really what would have been the point in that? Everything passed, she would too. This perspective offered her an unexpected clarity she nearly enjoyed, but even with this new clarity the world offered no more explanation for itself than it ever had.
They drove past houses set up on swollen banks, houses with four windows in front and four on the side with dark shutters against the clapboard, houses with porches, sometimes with American flags. They talked about music and found themselves in agreement on a number of small points of taste which Ann Grant found surprising but which the person did not seem to.
In Waldoboro they stopped for lunch at Moody's Diner which had green booths and Formica tables edged in aluminum. Ralph refused the clam roll fearing poison. Buddy had the meatloaf special and a hotdog and piece of pie. Harris Arden she remembered ordered a hamburger and black coffee. When his plate arrived the sunglasses came off.
He put them on the table. Ann looked instinctively away as one was taught to if there was an eclipse of the sun. Then she looked back. His eyes were very light which was a surprise with the caramel cast of skin, between light grey and blue. They squinted as if the world were too bright. He bit into his hamburger and chewed and the eyes looked for an instant at her then out the window. It was as if someone had pierced her chest. She felt it in her toes. It was a marvelous feeling. She picked up her grilled cheese with no appetite whatsoever.
Sitting in the diner among the dark shadows and gleaming curves with the bright day outside Ann Grant felt as if she were both a stranger to herself and more herself than she'd ever been. Her elbow lay on the table, the door swung open to the kitchen, the pine shadows darkened the back window, all was dense with meaning. For no reason that she could name she was overcome with a sense of destiny. Her body carried the conviction more than her mind, the sensation came over her slowly that something important was happening, there was a decidedly new quality to everything around her, things were sharper and brighter, the air amplified sound. She had not yet pinpointed the change to her having met this person, she was being too pleasantly carried along to need to name it. But something made her feel as if she were floating and it had begun the moment she'd seen the person's face.
You forgot, she said.
I never forgot.
Well, she said.
Don't be like that.
How would I know you never forgot?
You should have known.
How? How was I ever to know?
Ann, he said and took her hand.
Forgetting, remembering . . . why should I care?
I couldn't forget you, he said.
What difference does it make anyway? she said.
It makes a difference.
I don't know.
You made a difference, he said. You changed my life.
And I never got to see it, she said.
Your life. I never got to see your life.
Nothing's perfect, he said.
No, she said.
They were both smiling.