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Lily, Molly, and Inez are women of a certain age, of a certain bearing, of a certain class. Late one dire night, Molly telephones from Connecticut to catch Lily up with the news: Inez's corpse -- near-naked but wearing boots -- has been discovered propped up "like a broom" in a corner of her Soho loft. It is an occasion ripe for an all-night heart-to-heart conversation, bouncing deliriously from one evasion to the next -- until the pair of talk-crazy, talk-weary women have successfully diverted themselves with ...
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Lily, Molly, and Inez are women of a certain age, of a certain bearing, of a certain class. Late one dire night, Molly telephones from Connecticut to catch Lily up with the news: Inez's corpse -- near-naked but wearing boots -- has been discovered propped up "like a broom" in a corner of her Soho loft. It is an occasion ripe for an all-night heart-to-heart conversation, bouncing deliriously from one evasion to the next -- until the pair of talk-crazy, talk-weary women have successfully diverted themselves with all the wonderfully vagrant stuff of life . . . with everything, in fact, except grief.
Molly said, "She died standing up."
I said, "What?"
Molly said, "Standing up. Inez. Hello?"
I said, "Hello, Molly. Who? Inez?"
Molly said, "They found Inez propped up --- propped up like a broom."
I said, "Inez? Like a what? A broom? God, Molly. What time is it?"
Molly said, "In the corner of the room. Inez was dressed in only her underwear. She was wearing boots."
I said, "Boots? Wait. Let me turn on the light, Molly. God, Molly, it's one o'clock in the morning. It's quarter past one in the morning, Molly."
Molly said, "Old fleece-lined boots. Do you know the kind I am talking about, Lily? The old-fashioned kind. Galoshes."
I said, "Galoshes? You woke me up, Molly. Hello?"
Molly said, "The kind of boots with buckles. The kind of boots you might wear in the snow or wear in the winter."
I said, "Winter? No, today is May twenty-third."
Molly said, "Yesterday. Yesterday was May twenty-third -- Tuesday. Claude-Marie said they found Inez on Tuesday."
I said, "Where? Found Inez where, Molly? Oh, God, poor Inez."
Molly said, "Strange, isn't it? Isn't this the strangest thing you've ever heard, Lily? Not just about the boots, strange aboutgravity. Gravity -- I am not even going to get into gravity. And I am no scientist, Lily. But you don't have to be a scientist to know about gravity. Everyone knows about gravity. Little kids know about gravity. Still -- I have never, no, I have never heard of anything like this -- have you, Lily? Like Inez? Like someone dying standing up? Have you ever in your whole life? Lily? Hello? Are you there?"
I said, "Oh, God, Molly, are you calling me all the way from Connecticut?"
Molly said, "In her bra and her panties and Inez was wearing those boots, those galoshes, and Inez was standing right there as you stepped out of the old elevator. The decrepit old freight elevator -- remember? Hello, Lily?"
I said, "Hello, yes. I am here. I am right here, Molly. You know what I thought of when the phone rang? I thought: Oh, my God, this may be Leonard."
Molly said, "I am not even in bed yet. I am not even undressed yet. What time did you say it was? Quarter past one?"
I said, "My watch is ten minutes fast. It's twenty after."
Molly said, "But what was I saying? Oh -- the elevator -- remember? You have to man that elevator yourself and no one is ever there to fix it if it stops or if it gets stuck. It did once. Yes, swear to Cod. The woman still in the elevator kept shouting: Get me out of here! I can hear her. I can hear her shouting clear as day and as if it were yesterday."
I said, "Oh, my God, Molly, Inez."
Molly said, "No, not Inez. The woman. The woman in the elevator, but yes, Lily -- poor Inez. Yes. Inez was standing right there as you got out of the elevator and one of her arms was reaching out."
I said, "What? Inez's arm? Hello, Molly, I can hardly hear you. Can you speak into the receiver?"
Molly said, "Hello -- is this better? Inez's arm was what I said and as if Inez was about to shake someone's hand or as if Inez had just finished shaking someone's hand only -- and this was what Claude-Marie said. Claude-Marie said, you could have missed her -- missed Inez. Claude-Marie said, if, for instance, you had stepped out of the old elevator really quickly because the old elevator had made it and you were relieved and you weren't really thinking and you walked into the room without really looking, the way people do, you could have walked right past her -- past Inez was what Claude-Marie said."
I said, "Molly, Molly, I can still barely hear you. There is something wrong with this phone. I could barely hear Leonard either when he telephoned."
Molly said, "Lily, can' you hear me now? I am shouting and my throat is going to get sore, and what I am talking about is how Claude-Marie said you could have walked right past her -- past Inez -- and how you could have walked right past the gardenia plants."
I said, "Gardenia plants? Oh, now I can hear you. I can hear you fine, Molly. It's the rain, maybe. It rained all day yesterday."
Molly said, "At least half a dozen gardenia plants -- remember how all of them were always in bloom? Inez had a way with them -- a green thumb was what. And remember, Lily, how Inez would sometimes put a gardenia in her hair? God, Inez had thick hair. God, how I envied lnez's hair. Lily?"
I said, "No, I love your hair. You have wonderful hair, Molly."
Molly said, "I am still sitting here at my desk and I cannot stop thinking -- thinking about the gardenias and all the trouble Inez went to. The stand she had built for them especially. The stand right underneath the skylight and right where the plants got all the light. Light is the one thing I do know, Lily. Light is important."
I said, "Poor Inez. I was sound asleep when you called, Molly."
Molly said, "Yes, poor Inez, but what I started to tell you was how Claude-Marie said you could have walked right past the gardenia plants and right past the big butcher block counter where Inez used to chop up the vegetables, and remember how Inez was also always talking to someone on the telephone? Inez had this extra long extension cord, and Inez could talk for hours on the phone -- and as Claude-Marie said, you could have kept right on walking, walking past the couch, the secondhand couch Inez was always talking about and saying how she would get rid of it -- throw the couch out -- how she would put the couch out on the street for the bums to sleep on, and how she would buy another, a brand new leather couch that she had seen a picture of and that she had her heart set on."
Excerpted from Interviewing Matisse, or The Woman Who Died Standing Up by Lily Tuck Copyright © 2006 by Lily Tuck. Excerpted by permission.
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