Part 1 (1/1)

Rabbit Remembered John Updike 270090K 2022-07-22

Rabbit Remembered.

John Updike.

Chapter 1.

JANICE HARRISON goes to the front door when the old bell sc.r.a.pes the silence. Decades of rust have all but destroyed its voice, the thing will die entirely some day, the clapper freezing or the wires shorting out or whatever they do. Whenever she says she wants to call the electrician, Ronnie tells her it's on his list of home improvements, he'll get to it. He likes to do things himself. Harry was all for letting other people do them. A twinge in her hip slows her progress out from the sunny worn kitchen, through the dining room, whose shades are drawn to keep the Oriental rug from fading and the polished mahogany tabletop from drying out, into the front room, where the reproduction cobbler's bench in front of the gray cut-plush sofa causes a detour that has worn a pale path in the carpet. A big brown Zenith television, its top loaded with her mother's dusty knickknacks, blankly stares where her father's Barcalounger used to be. They don't sit out here and watch on the sofa like they used to. Ronnie likes the little Sony in the kitchen for the evening news, watching while he eats, and Nelson when he's stuck at home after work has the computer upstairs that he says is more fun than television because it's interactive. He wasn't so interactive with his wife that Teresa didn't move back to Ohio with the two children over a year ago. He and Roy, who is fourteen now, do a lot of e-mail, mostly rude jokes (one especially shocking joke this summer went Remember when the Kennedys used to drown only one woman at a time?), as if e-mail was as good as having a real father under the same roof. Often Janice doesn't hear the bell at all, even when she's in the house or the backyard garden. She finds pinched in the door these notices from deliverymen who had to go away or cards from salesmen who didn't get to make their pitch. She's grateful for that but still it makes her feel isolated; suppose somebody rang she was dying to see? She doesn't know who that would be, though. So many she cared about are dead. The heavy walnut door with its tall sidelights of frosted gla.s.s patterned in floral arabesques, the door that she has been going in and out of most of her life off and on, has been swollen and sticking all summer with a humidity that never produced rain. Now it swings open more easily, with a dry crack, fall crispness being in the air at last. The girl-woman, really, close to Nelson's age-who stands on the front porch looks vaguely familiar. She has a broad white face, her eyes wide-s.p.a.ced with some milk in their blue and middle-aged crinkles at the corners beginning to develop. Taller than Janice by a bit, she fills her beige summer dress well, the cotton taut across her bosom and lap. She wears a navy-blue sweater draped over her shoulders like the young women at the Pearson and Schrack Realty office do, manning their glowing computers, giving a businesslike air. She asks, ”Mrs. Angstrom?” Janice is taken aback. ”I was,” she allows. ”My husband's name now is Harrison.” The girl blushes. ”I'm sorry, I did know that. I wasn't thinking.” The girl's milky-blue eyes widen and Janice feels this stranger is actually trembling, her body aquiver in its careful quiet clothes, a creature somehow trapped on the welcome mat, in the rectangular shade of the brick-pillared porch. Behind her, cars swish by on Joseph Street with a fresh dry sound. A s.h.i.+ny-new, brick-red Lexus stands at the dappled curb, under the still-green maples. A cloud overhead and the shadow is almost chilling: that's how you feel the new season, the shadows are sharper and darker, and the crickets sing under everything. With the terrible drought this summer the leaves are turning early, those of the horse chestnuts curling brown at the edges, and the front yards where no one has watered have turned to flattened straw, a look Janice remembers from childhood, when you are closer to the ground and summer is endless. ”My mother died two months ago,” the girl begins again, taking a breath to steady her trembling, both her hands holding a small striped purse in front of her belly. ”I'm sorry,” Janice says. Nelson deals with crazy people at his work all the time and says they're not to be afraid of. She deals with people trying to buy or sell houses, the most money a lot of them will ever have to think about, and they can get high-strung and irrational, too. ”I've never married, she was all the family I had.” So, despite her respectable clothes, this is a beggar. ”I'm sorry,” Janice says again, in a harder tone, ”but I don't believe I can help.” Her hand moves to swing the heavy door shut. Nelson is off at the treatment center and Ronnie playing golf at the club with some other retirees so she is alone in the house. Not that the girl looks violent. But she is bigger than Janice, bigger-boned, with a dangerous fullness to her being there, as if defiantly arrived at the end of a long wavering, like a client taking the plunge of offering thirty thousand more than she can afford. Her eyes are set in squarish sockets showing the puffy look of sleeplessness and her hair, cut raggedly short the way they do it now, is mixed of lightbrown and darker-brown and gray strands. ”I don't think you can either,” she agrees. ”But my mother thought you might.” ”Did I ever know your mother?” ”No, you never met. You knew each other existed, though.” Janice does wish Nelson were here. He could tell at a glance if this person were over the edge, and give it one of those names he had- bipolar, schizophrenic, paranoid, psychotic. Psychotic, you see and hear things, and can murder without meaning it, and then in court seem so innocent. The varnished grain of the door under her hand calls out as a potential s.h.i.+eld and a slammed end to this encounter, but the something pleasant and kind and calm about the girl, who is these as well as troubled and trembling, holds the door open. The dry warm air of this early-fall day in southeastern Pennsylvania-children tucked back into school, the midmorning streets quiet, the vegetables in the backyard gardens harvested or gone to seed-lies on Janice's face as a breath from the past, her visitor having come from this same terrain. ”I nursed her at the end, she didn't like hospitals, they made her feel penned up,” the light, considerate, shaky voice goes on. ”This is your mother,” Janice says, in spite of herself entering in. ”Yes, and of course being a nurse I could do that, administer the meds and see that she was kept turned in the bed and all that. Only it was strange, doing it for your mother. Her body had all these meanings for me. She didn't like being touched, as long as she had strength. Though she could come on free and easy with some people, she was really a freak about her privacy, even with me. She didn't like telling me anything, except then when she knew she was dying.” The girl as her nervousness eased has skipped a stage of her story without being aware of it. ”What did you say this had to do with me?” Janice asks. ”Oh. I guess-I guess you were married to my father.” A mail truck coasts by, one of those noseless vans they have now, white with a red and blue stripe. They used to be solid green, like military vehicles. Mailmen used to be men; now theirs is a mail-lady, a young woman with long sun-bleached hair and stocky tan legs in shorts who pushes her pouch on a three-wheeled cart ahead of her along the sidewalk. It is not time for her to go by yet, but across Joseph Street, another young woman comes out on the righthand porch of the semi-detached house opposite. For years and years that address was occupied by a couple that had seemed old and changeless to her. Then they went off to a.s.sisted living, and a young couple has moved in, with hanging plants on the porch they fuss at, and music that booms out over the neighborhood through the window screens, and two small children who go to pre-school. ”Maybe you should come inside,” Janice says, stepping back invitingly, though admitting to her home this piece of a shameful dead past disgusts as well as frightens her. Inside, the girl, her face and arms as white as if summer had never been, hangs in the dim-lit living-room clutter like one more piece of furniture that time's slow earthquake has jostled out of place. She seems, as Harry used to, a bit out of scale. Janice is used to her house with average-sized people in it, herself and Nelson and Ronnie, though Ronnie's Alex is big, when he visits from Virginia, and Judy and Roy when they lived here took up plenty of s.p.a.ce with their music and games and sibling compet.i.tion. Though with one a girl and the other a boy and over four years between them it wasn't as bad as it could have been. ”Would you like any coffee?” Janice asks. ”Or tea-that's what my husband drinks now, for his blood pressure, and now I've got the habit.” ”No, honestly-I couldn't take anything on my stomach right now. I've been thinking of what I'd say for so long, and then it came out all backward. My name is Annabelle Byer.” Janice is used to hearing the word as ”buyer.” For every seller there is a buyer. ”Like I said, I'm single. I'm going to be forty next year. I'm a practical nurse, at St. Joe's for thirteen years, and these last five I've been in home care, those that need an L. P. N., though the number that can afford it is going down, with the tightening up of what Medicare will pay for.” ”Do sit down at least,” Janice says, to reduce the interloper's radiant, unsettling bulk. The girl sits on the sofa, where like everybody else she sinks down lower than she expects, her bare knees brightly upthrust. A few hasty tugs on her skirt reduce the amount of thigh that shows. Janice takes the green wing chair, with the matching arm doilies, folding her hands palm-up in her lap as her mother used to do, setting herself to listen, if the thudding of her heart lets her. Her heart is caught in a net of calculation as to how this innocently disgusting intrusion will affect her life and disturb her peace. With Ronnie being so steady compared to Harry, she has known peace. ”My mother worried that I hadn't married,” Annabelle tells her, from her relaxed voice already more at home than Janice thinks is quite seemly. ”She wondered if it had been her fault, making me distrust men, or s.e.x or something, out of her own experience. I would tell her, That's silly. Dad, as I called him, was a wonderful man. He died when I was sixteen, but still I grew up with this good masculine image. He would toss me all around, even when I was eleven or so, and taught me to ride the tractor and whatever all else a child can do to help run a farm-pick apples and strawberries and feed the chickens and whack back the bushes and poison ivy. We even did carpentry together and he taught me to shoot his gun. I had two brothers, Scott and Morris, I always got along good with-being country children, we did a lot together. And then I had boyfriends, normal enough, though I guess compared to city boys they were shy, but after high school I got a job as a nurse's aide in a nursing home called Sunnyside, out toward the old fairgrounds-?” She is checking to see if Janice is listening. Janice nods and says, ”I've heard of it. Sunnyside.” ”And then I went for a year's degree and pa.s.sed the boards and after I entered service at St. Joe's the boys weren't so shy, some of them were even married doctors, but some weren't, and it all seemed normal to me except, you know, lightning never struck, the question never got popped. Maybe I didn't want to hear it. I'd tell my mother, It's no big deal, if it happens it happens, you're still a person, but it worried her sick, somehow, that I stayed independent, as if she were preventing something, especially after she sold the farm and I asked her to move in with me, we could manage a larger place together, over on Eisenhower Avenue-” Janice's heart jumps. She once lived on Eisenhower Avenue, with Charlie Stavros, at number 1204, back in the Sixties, when everybody was going crazy. But it shouldn't surprise her; the stately street, fallen away from its heyday of one-family mansions staffed by black or Irish servants, was where the better, safer rentals were, for misfits like her and Charlie or then this girl and her mother. ”-she would be so afraid of being in the way, she'd tell me she'd stay in her room if I brought back a man, but actually I had lived alone in Brewer enough to be wary of bringing men back, they can get rough, and I was in my thirties by then and the good men were married to somebody else. When she saw she was dying-by the time the tumors were detected, oat-cell carcinoma of the lung, the cancer had spread to the lymph system and the bones-she told me that I had more family than I knew. She told me that Dad hadn't been my real father, that he had loved her enough to take her with somebody else's baby. I wasn't a year old, my grandparents in West Brewer were taking care of me while she worked in this restaurant over toward Stogey's Quarry, where she met my-where she met Frank Byer. He moved fast-I guess his own mother had died not long before and a farm needs a woman. Not that he wasn't crazy about her-he was. He was in his forties and she in her twenties and I could see when I got to be, you know, observant that they still had a lot going between them. He kidded her about being fat but then he was fat himself.” Janice hates hearing about these very common people. ”Didn't you wonder,” she asks impatiently, ”how you were born before your parents married?” Through the semi-transparent curtain across the front-room picture window-gla.s.s curtains they call them, though they're just cloth-she can see that the woman across the street is still out on her porch, fussing idly with a longnosed watering can, as if she is listening. But at this distance she can't be. The girl's being here seems shameful to Janice. Shameful and shameless. ”Well, they were vague,” Annabelle tells her. ”You know how it is to be a child, you a.s.sume everything around you is just naturally the way it is, you grow into it. Scott was only a year behind me in school; the cut-off date came in February and I was born in January and he in November of the next year. I was always the youngest in my grade, maybe that's one of the reasons I always felt, you know, so innocent. The other kids always seemed to know more than I did, and did things. I was always the good girl who went straight home when the school bus did.” The girl is beginning to talk to Janice as if she's an aunt of sorts, if not her mother. Janice doesn't consider herself a great success as a mother and doesn't want to try it again. She asks, though, ”Are you sure you wouldn't like to have any coffee? I must make myself a cup of tea, there are so many questions buzzing around in my head. This is quite some news you're bringing, if it's true.” She stands up, but then so does Annabelle, and follows her into the kitchen, when Janice had hoped to put a little distance between them, to think in. It's like the Jehovah's Witnesses you let past the door, they seem such poor pasty souls, yet get you so entangled, one Bible quote after another, all these headlines that prove something in Revelations, you feel you'll never get free of them. She doesn't like being crowded in her own kitchen. She has never been very clever at household tasks, it used to make Harry sarcastic (not that his mother had been any Martha Stewart or that he was Mr. Handy himself, unlike Ronnie or that nice Webb Murkett they used to know), so for Janice it has been a relief to switch with Ronnie, after his doctor advised him, from coffee to tea. She never used to get the amount of grounds right, whereas with tea you put the bag in the mug and the mug in the microwave and that's all there is to it. She uses plain old Lipton, it used to sponsor some radio program she listened to as a girl, the drip-drip song, or was that Maxwell House? Doris Kaufmann and others keep urging her to try herbal tea, or jasmine or green tea that is now supposed to be so good for you, preventing everything from hiccups to colon cancer, but Janice can't see the point of a drink with no kick in it at all. It takes two minutes and twenty seconds to heat. Annabelle watches the electronic countdown for a while and then moves to the back windows, looking through the sunporch. ”What a nice sunny back yard,” she says. ”The front of the house is so dark.” ”The maples. They keep growing. We've lost some trees over the years. There was a beautiful big copper beech shading the side that I miss. Are you sure you wouldn't like a drink of something?” Janice can't bring herself to use the girl's pretentious, storybook name. She is thinking that what she herself really wants, to cus.h.i.+on this shock, and get her through this strangeness, is a gla.s.s of dry sherry. ”A gla.s.s of water would be lovely.” ”Just water? With ice?” ”Oh no, not ice. You'd be amazed at the amount of microbes that live in ice.” Harry had always made her feel impure, even when he was in the wrong. She hands the girl her tumbler of clear liquid. Fingerprints on fingerprints. Now they use DNA-not that O. J. didn't go free anyway. That long-legged prosecutor outsmarted herself, and that black lawyer was slick. The girl seems minded from the way she faces to go out the back door and sit on the sunporch with its view of the vegetable garden and the old swing set, but Janice firmly heads back to the living room, gloomy and little used. It's on the way out. She has the girl go first and lags behind her enough to s.n.a.t.c.h the Taylor sherry bottle from inside the dining-room sideboard and unscrew the cap and tip a little into her tea. The hearty, tawny tang of the liquor arises and erases the antiseptic scent the girl trails, a kind of cool mouthwash, from the back of her neck and her bare arms. ”So I expect you've told me about all there is to know,” she says when they have settled again, on the same furniture. Annabelle does not concede this. She resumes, ”I was saying about my parents, as a child I never knew when they got married, and when I grew old enough to be curious, my mother allowed that maybe I had come before the wedding, since Dad's mother was still alive but ailing and a marriage might have hastened her death. This seemed to figure, it being back in 1960, before things got liberal.” What got liberal? Janice asks herself. Abortion, she supposes. And young couples living together. But these things happened then too, only deeper in the dark. The year 1959 seems very close, as close as the beating of her heart, which beat then too, back in the tunnel of time, that same faithful muscle, in its darkness and blood. She doesn't want to prolong the discussion, though; she doesn't want to get involved, though there is a tug, back into the past's sad damp pit. The girl seems to read her mind. ”Yes, my mother described it,” she says, ”the, whatever you could call it, affair. She and my-she and your husband, Mr. Angstrom, lived together I guess on Summer Street for three months. He never knew if she had gone ahead and had me or not. I knew him, you know. I met him a few times, without knowing who he was. I mean, his relation to me. He was once a patient when I was still at St. Joe's. An angioplasty, I think it was. He was a charmer. Full of jokes.” ”He died in Florida,” Janice says accusingly, ”not six months later. Of a heart attack. He was only fifty-six.” As if these hard facts, so hard to her at the time, might force Harry and this girl apart. ”He should have had a bypa.s.s, it sounds like. They weren't quite as standard then.” ”He didn't want it. He didn't want to have his body meddled with. He was afraid of it.” Janice's voice startles her by cracking, and her eyes by burning near tears, as if accusing herself of not making Harry's life worth living. She hadn't called him down in Florida, when he had wanted her to. He had been begging for her forgiveness, and she hadn't given it. ”And then before that,” this girl insensitively is going on, ”when I was still an aide at Sunnyside, a boy I knew back in Galilee called Jamie and I-we were living together, actually, in a little apartment on Youngquist Boulevard, the building went condo and that broke us up, but that's I guess another story-went to look at Toyotas over on Route 111. We bought one, eventually, though not that day, when Mr. Angstrom was there. He seemed so nice, I was struck. He paid attention to me, he didn't just talk to the man, or try to pressure us the way car salesmen like to.” ”It wasn't exactly his calling, selling,” Janice volunteers. ”He didn't really have a calling, after high school.” But how beautiful he had been, Janice remembers, in those highschool halls-the height of him, the fine Viking hair slicked back in a ducktail but trailing off in lank s.e.xy strands like Alan Ladd's across his forehead, the way he would flick it back with his big graceful white hands while kidding with the other seniors, like that tall girlfriend of his called Mary Ann, his lids at sleepy halfmast, the world of those halls his, him paying no attention of course to her, a ninth-grader, a runt. They didn't begin with each other until they both worked at Kroll's in Brewer, she behind the nut and candy cases and he back from his two years in the Army, having been in Texas and never sent to die in Korea after all. He often mentioned Korea as if he had missed out on something by not going there to fight and coming back home to a peaceful life instead. n.o.body wants war but men don't want only peace either. ”Yes,” Annabelle hisses, too eager to agree, not really understanding how simple we all were back then, ”he was a wonderful athlete, I remember the clippings up in the showroom, and then my mother said. She had gone to another high school, that used to play his. She talked a lot about him, once she got started, before she... went. I know about you, and Nelson, and the time your house burnt down, my mother kept track of all that in the papers, I guess. She was interested. The way she spoke, at the end, she didn't have any grudge. It was the times, she said. He was caught, what else could he do? Anyway, I was no prize, she would tell me.” Ruth and her views, beneath consideration these many years, have invaded the living room. ”My goodness” is all Janice can think to say, as the sherry moves into her veins and begins to tint this nightmare a more agreeable color. What harm could what happened forty years ago do her now? ”He visited her, you know,” this young woman goes on, her gestures growing freer, her body bigger as she crosses and recrosses her white legs on the sofa, the beige cotton dress riding higher on her thighs. Her hair, too, seems too short, and bounces a bit too much as her head comes forward. There is some vanity, some push, in that hair-its many-colored thickness, its trendy trampy cut, long and short mixed up together. ”The year he died, I guess. Somehow he had found our farm.” ”He did?” This is horrible. Harry's affair with Thelma she and Ronnie have together buried, never mentioning it once they were past the courts.h.i.+p stage of confessing everything. They had triumphed, they were the survivors, Harry and Thelma were shades, corpses, sinking deeper into bloodlessness in their buried coffins, their skins crumbling, drawing tight like that little sacrificed Peruvian girl they found on the mountaintop, unbearable to think about. But to hear now that at the same time he was seeing Thelma he was chasing that fat old s.l.u.t all over Diamond County is as if Harry from beyond the grave is denying her peace just as he did when alive. He couldn't just be ordinary, respectable, dependable. He thought he was beyond that. This girl, both shy and, pleasant yet with something not quite right about her, is his emissary from the grave. Janice wants nothing to do with it, with her. She asks, ”Why would he do that?” The girl puts her knees together to lean forward for emphasis but her dress is so short the triangle of her panties shows anyway. ”To find out about me, my mother said. She wouldn't tell him. She wanted to keep me pure from him. Then I guess when she saw she would be, you know, leaving me, she had second thoughts and wanted me to know.” The girl's eyes are less milky now, here in the muted living-room light, and flash with importance, the importance her story gives her. ”Why?” Janice cries, fighting back a pressure. ”Why not let the past lie? Why stir up what can't be helped? Excuse me,” she says. ”I must refresh my tea.” She doesn't even pretend to go into the kitchen, she pours some more dry sherry into the cup right there at the sideboard, where the girl could see if she turned sideways to look. But back in the front room Annabelle sits staring across at the heavy green gla.s.s egg, with a bubble inside, on top of the dead television with the other knickknacks Bessie Springer had collected as a sign of her prosperity as Daddy's car business took hold. Mother and her fur coat, Mother and her blue Chrysler-it was a simpler world back then, when your pride was satisfied with such things. The girl, with all that leg bared by sitting low on the sofa and her navy sweater fallen off her naked arms, has a s.l.u.ttish way of putting forth her body that must be her own mother living in her. And there is a blandness, a fatherless blankness, her face in profile taking the light as mutely as the egg of green gla.s.s. She senses Janice's eye on her and turns her face and says, ”It's so embarra.s.sing, isn't it? My turning up like this. Embarra.s.sing to me, embarra.s.sing to you.” She has a plump upper lip that gives her smile a childish, questioning quality. She looks easy to bruise. ”Well,” Janice p.r.o.nounces, back in her wing chair with a fortified mug whose healing tang settles her more broadly in the pose of authority. She vowed years ago never to let herself run to fat like her mother did but she did admire the way in her last years, her husband gone, her generation dying off, Mother took charge of things, keeping a grip on the family pocketbook, standing up for her notions of decency and propriety. Living here in this house, Janice feels still surrounded by her-Bessie Springer's adamant unchanging furniture, her fixed sense of her own worth. Koerner mulishness, Mother would call it when being funny at her own expense. ”Maybe that was your mother's idea, to embarra.s.s everybody,” Janice tells the girl. ”What earthly good did she think telling you all this would do, at your age? Make mischief, is the sum of it. And who's to say it's true, any of it?” Though she feels it is-a whiff of Harry, a pale glow, an unsettling drift comes off this girl, this thirty-nine-year-old piece of evidence. ”Oh, she wouldn't have made it up, it poured out of her. It wasn't her nature, to make things up. She used to say of these detective novels she was always reading, 'How do they make all this up? They must have a screw loose.' And she showed me my birth certificate, at a hospital in Pottstown. 'Father unknown,' it said.” ”Well, that's it, unknown,” Janice presses on, like a lawyer urging a case she knows is bad. ”You asked why,” Annabelle says. ”I think she thought”- suddenly tears reflect light in her eyes, the plump upper lip quivers out of control-”you people could help me, somehow.” She laughs at her own tears, quickly swipes at her face with expert hands, hands used to giving-rubbing, holding, patting, seizing- a nurse's care. ”I was so alone, she must have thought. I haven't had a serious relations.h.i.+p for years. And my brothers, Scott went to Seattle and Morris to Delaware-he was the angriest when she sold the farm and moved in with me in Brewer. He had thought he could work the place and live on it but it wouldn't have been fair for her to have left it all to him. Not that a farm that size could support anybody any more. Even my dad-even Frank-had to run the towns.h.i.+p school buses to make ends meet.” ”Is this about money, then?” Janice asks, alert now, the muddle showing its nub. Money is something she has a feel for; it's in her Springer veins. She acted as accountant for her father, and then for Nelson as best she could, until he had so much to hide. Ronnie has his own savings and pension but she handles her inheritance still, when the CDs come due and at what interest and how to keep capital-gains taxes from biting into the mutual funds: the managers of some run up gains just to make their annual reports look good. This girl won't get a penny from her. Janice sips from her mug and looks at the interloper levelly. Annabelle considers the question, rolling her eyes upward. ”No-o, I don't think so. I clear twenty an hour from the agency and often work twelve-hour s.h.i.+fts. My mother left us a fair amount, even divided by three. The farm had only a tiny mortgage on it, in terms of today's money. And she held down a respectable job, the last fifteen years, with this investments advisory firm in the new gla.s.s building downtown. She used to laugh at herself, putting on heels and pantyhose every morning, after being such a country slob. She got her weight down to one fifty-five.” ”It's wonderful to work,” Janice concedes. ”Women of our generation came late to it.” It disquiets her to link herself with Ruth, Ruth the unspeakable, holding her husband captive on the other side of Mt. Judge, Ruth the treacherous mucky underside of everything respectable. ”No, it's not about money,” Annabelle says, edging herself forward on the sofa preparatory to getting to her feet, readjusting the sweater about her shoulders, and regripping her little purse, striped yellow, black, and red. ”It was about family, I guess. But never mind, Mrs. Harrison. I can see you'd rather not get involved, and that's no surprise, to be honest. It was my mother's idea, and she was half out of her head with the medications. Dying people aren't the most sensible, often, though you'd think they should be. I did this for her and not for me, because she asked me to.” She stands, looking down on Janice. ”Well now, wait.” ”You've been patient, actually. I know what a shock it must be.” Those deft, solid hands fiddle with her hair, its artful tousle, as if it were she who had felt the shock. Janice says in her own defense, ”You can't just show up and drop a thing like this on a body.” ”I didn't know how else to do it. It didn't seem the sort of thing to put in a letter or over the phone.” Trained to move fast, she takes the few steps it needs to the door, and puts her hand on the doork.n.o.b, an old-fas.h.i.+oned one with a raised design worn s.h.i.+ny with the years, like bra.s.s lace. She tugs the sticky door open with a snap that leaves a little reverberation in the air, a cry that dies away. There is a poignance in this strong female body, the way it moves almost like a man's, like those women soccer players who beat China this summer. Janice keeps losing daughters: Becky, and then Teresa leaving Nelson after nearly twenty years, and Judy at nineteen secretive and surly, living entirely within her whispering Walkman headset, shutting out her grandmother. She begins, ”Annabelle, I'm sorry if I seemed stupid-” ”You did not seem stupid. I seemed stupid. You seemed suspicious, and why not? Thank you for the gla.s.s of water.” ”I need to think, and talk to Ronnie and Nelson.” ”Nelson. That's right. My brother. I think of him as a little boy. My mother said how, those months they were together, your husband was always talking about him, upset about him.” Now the girl is out on the porch, standing on the coco-fiber welcome mat, thin late-morning traffic making its whisper behind her, the dusty tired nibbled maple leaves throwing sun-dotted shadow down on the new red Lexus parked by the curb. Bought with her inheritance, Janice guesses. The nosy young neighbor across the street was off her porch at last. ”How can we reach you, if we need to?” Annabelle's feet, in low beige heels, drum on the porch boards, then stop. She turns to say, ”I'm in the book. B-Y-E-R. I'm listed as 'A.,' the only one with just that letter. Don't call after nine at night, please. I get up at five-thirty.” Her mother's toughness shows. ”But you don't have to call at all.” Then her bright round face is a child's again; she smiles the way children do, in sudden blurred forgiveness. ”I won't expect it. It was nice to meet you. I had thought you'd be shorter.” ”When I was married to your father,” Janice says, high enough on the sherry to attempt a joke, ”I looked shorter.” It feels then that she is sneaking through the rest of the day, flickering through the parched September brightness in her black Le Baron convertible, with gray cloth interior, a 1995, the last year they made this model. She wonders why Chrysler discontinued it. Janice loves this car, the way it handles, the way she imagines she looks in it, her head in a fluttering headscarf and her DKNY Buying the Le Baron five years ago was the most extravagant thing she ever did for herself, as a widow at least. Not that she was still a widow after she married Ronnie. She was a second wife and he her second husband. There is a kind of racy glamour in a second marriage, though it can never be like the first, so solemn, both of you so serious with the vows and the being together all night every night and n.o.body saying no, and all your parents still alive and watching if you make a mistake. She had made a mistake, a terrible one, and others besides, if you consider Charlie a mistake, which she never could, really. He freed her up and restored her sense of worth. And the strangest thing was he kept Harry's friends.h.i.+p and even on her mother's good side-he knew how to get around Bessie Springer. Dear Charlie died two or was it three years ago, living alone in an apartment in the southwest section of Brewer, the old Polish and Greek blocks before the Hispanics moved in, they found him on the sofa dead with an unfolded newspaper on his chest, just closed his eyes for a nap and slipped away. Charlie was like that, understated in everything, his poor weak heart that she was always worried about straining during lovemaking just coolly decided at last to stop. Like the death of your parents it leaves you with one less witness to your life when a man you loved dies. Looking back from this distance, she can't think any more that Harry was all to blame for their early troubles, he had been just trying life on too: life and s.e.x and making babies and finding out who you are. Second marriages were lighter. You just expect a little companions.h.i.+p, a little fun that harms no one else. Nelson kids her about the convertible, calls it her Batmobile, but she knows it's just his disappointments talking, his own marriage such a sad fizzle, not even a real divorce. He says he can't afford it, and Teresa doesn't want it until Roy is eighteen. Or until, Janice thinks, the right man comes along, out there in Akron. Odd, after all those years of Daddy's Toyotas, she has gone back to American cars. Ronnie never left. Married to Thelma, he drove a succession of an insurance salesman's drab, safe cars, modest but adequate like the benefits your loved ones reap when you're out of the picture as they say, she can't remember the makes, Chevrolets or Fords. Just thinking about those years, Thelma having an affair with Harry almost right up to when she died, gives Janice a hollow sore feeling. Now Ronnie drives a new Taurus, a silvery gray like a Teflon skillet, with the 1999 styling turning everything into oval blobs-the taillights and headlights and recessed door handle shaped alike, and the back, where the trunk lifts up, a continuous blob across, like a mustache or a roll of pre-mixed cookie dough being squeezed in the middle. Cars used to have such das.h.i.+ng shapes, like airplanes, back when gas was cheap, twenty-five cents a gallon. At noon she shows a house over in a new development south of Maiden Springs to a young couple who had hoped for something smaller. They don't build new houses small any more, Janice has to tell them, land is too expensive and people have too much money. And yet this same couple looks horrified at a perfectly nice and well-kept-up row house on the north side of Brewer, with a terraced front yard planted in English ivy and a third floor converted to an apartment (outside stairs) for some additional income until they need the s.p.a.ce when their family expands. ”Is it a,” the young man asks, ”a mixed neighborhood?” He may be in his mid-twenties but already looks overweight and soft, and fussy and potentially irritable as fat people are, being pinched by their clothes and strained by lugging their bodies around. So many young people now, even the girl this morning, have a sunless indoor look. Janice has always taken a good tan, one of the few things she could always like about herself. That, and her legs never being piano legs. She tells him cheerfully, ”There may be a few upwardly mobile minorities living a block or so down, but it's basically upper-middle-income families, perfectly safe for you and your children when they come along. It's an area that has kept its corner groceries and little service shops, a lot of people now are moving back from the suburbs to enjoy the convenience of city life, the stimulation of it. They want the ethnic variety, for their children as well as themselves. Trendy restaurants are opening up around here, and some new boutiques coming into upper Weiser Street, where the buildings have been boarded up so long. Believe me, inner city is in now.” ”I can't imagine myself pregnant climbing all those steps,” the female prospective buyer says, looking up the long terraced slope, with its concrete steps and pipe railing painted a swimming-pool greeny blue to match the gingerbread porch trim. As these blocks, with their industrial repet.i.tion of steps, retaining walls, porches, fanlighted doors, and s.h.i.+ngled steep gables, pa.s.sed from the owners.h.i.+p of the Pennsylvania-German working cla.s.s to that of a more varied population, the trim and window frames and doors were painted more festively, in carnival colors-teal, canary yellow, purple, a pale aqua like some warm remembered sea. Generations have, Janice restrains herself from saying. The exercise would do you good, Miss Prissy-pants. ”Some people build carports out back,” she says. ”You need a permit but it's legal. If you don't want even to walk up and look, let's see what new listings come in next week. The ones in your range get snapped up pretty quickly. It's hard to believe, considering all the hard times the region has known, but there's a bit of a realestate boom on in Diamond County. To be safe buyers offer over the asking price. People from Philadelphia retire here now. They say they love the slower pace, the friendliness.” And yet, she does not add, Brewer all the years of her growing up was considered a fast, crummy town, a town run by gangsters and crooked cops and the enforcers for the steel and coal and textile companies, a town where children could buy numbers slips at the cigar store and so-called cathouses filled the half-streets around the railroad station. It queasily occurs to her that from where she is standing, here on the high side of Locust Boulevard with its big view of densely built blocks-bricks and asphalt s.h.i.+ngles and treetops-falling away down to the curving river a mile away, a descending view pierced by the county courthouse with its boxlike gla.s.s annex and the other gla.s.s box across from where Kroll's used to be, she is only a few streets above Summer, where that girl this morning was conceived, if you can believe her story. The thought makes Janice feel sick yet at the same time exalted, as if she stands on the lip of a canyon that only she can see. She lives; those who had worked her humiliation in that far-off season are dead. She doesn't go back to Mt. Judge for lunch, where the mail-lady will have left bills and advertis.e.m.e.nts in the foyer, and the afternoon sun will be swinging around into the living room, inserting a wedge of golden dust motes behind the Zenith. She doesn't want to go back to the house, it's been spoiled by that girl's visit, the past rising up like that. Instead she has a tuna-salad sandwich and Diet at the West Brewer Diner, which is open twenty-four hours a day. They used to come over here after dances in Mt. Judge, and the place has changed owners and generations of waitresses have come and gone, but the layout, the low booths along the windows on two sides and the long counter backed by quilted aluminum with the slot where the cooks serve the orders up and even the little individual jukeboxes with pages of pop and country cla.s.sics, is unchanged. A slender dark-browed girl of startling beauty waits on Janice, such beauty among the middle-aged and pudgy pimpled teen-age other waitresses that Janice's eyes sting. Dark hair, dark eyes, straight nose, firm round chin, soft mouth. Greek, Italian, Armenian even: Janice being herself dark-complected responds to such looks. When the girl speaks, the county's comfortable dragged accent-”So, hon, what can I bring ya?”-tumbles out and with it a vision of her sad future: the marriage, the pregnancies, the heavy meals, the lost looks. The blazing beauty dwindled to a shrill spark, a needle of angry discontent lost in these streets lined with row houses and aluminum awnings and little front porches where the patient inhabitants sit and soak in the evening heat and wonder where it all went. The television slowly goes from selling you perfume and designer jeans to selling you Centrum and denture adhesive as used by aged movie stars. It is a mistake to be beautiful when young and Harry made that mistake but not Janice; she still has what Mother called room to grow, back when she thriftily used to buy her daughter's clothes two sizes too big. She leaves the waitress a dollar tip though the sandwich and Diet came to less than five dollars, counting the quarter she put in the jukebox to hear Patsy Cline's ”Crazy” one more time before she dies. Patsy Cline, dead young in a plane crash just like that poor Kennedy boy. And then it's not Patsy Cline's version but that of some young pop ”diva,” so that's a quarter wasted. West Brewer is on the way to bridge at Doris Kaufmann's in Penn Park, where the streets get curving and expensive, off the Brewer grid. Her name was Kaufmann when Janice first knew her and then Eberhardt, and a few years ago Eberhardt died and Doris managed to land Henry Dietrich, the grandson of the founder of Dietrich Hosiery, which didn't close its doors until after the war. To get there Janice has to drive on Weiser past Emberly Avenue, which would lead to Emberly Drive and then to Vista Crescent, where she and Harry and Nelson had lived until the house was burned down by racist neighbors because of what was going on inside. She could hardly blame them, it was terrible what Harry permitted to go on, for whatever selfish reason. How utterly selfish he was she had never realized before marrying Ronnie, who was so responsible and methodical. Some men don't think before they jump, and others do. And now this thirty-nine-year-old showing up, acting just like him, and innocent. Janice likes bridge for the socializing and hearing what real estate is doing in Penn Park but today it gives her a slight headache at the back of her skull. First she overbids, and then in compensation underbids, stopping at three spades when they should have been, it turns out, in small slam. Doris, her partner in that round of Chicago, is not pleased, though with pointed good manners she tries not to show it. ”With twelve points in your own hand,” she says, shuffling with that ripping sound expert shufflers make, ”after I opened, showing at least thirteen in mine, and with four spades including two honors, you might at least have gone to game.” ”Your s.h.i.+ft to diamonds confused me. I had only two.” ”I was showing you a second suit incase. That's called communication,” Doris says, slapping down the made deck and picking up a red-filtered Newport she left smoking in her ashtray. She is one of the last women Janice knows who still smoke, though she is close to seventy if not quite there yet; she won't say. Janice defends herself: ”I thought it might be a convention I didn't know.” If she has let Doris down in this hand, Doris has let her down lately by becoming old: wrinkled even in the flat of her cheeks like Clint Eastwood, her eyelids drooping down on her lashes, her long brown hands like two claws scrabbling at the cards. Doris's thick bejewelled rings, acc.u.mulated residue of her husbands, sit loose on her bony fingers; her bracelets clatter on her wrists. Janice used to admire her knowingness on all subjects but Doris has betrayed her by becoming an irritable, half-deaf know-it-all hag. Now she snaps, ”I would scarcely be going to a weak two after opening one spade.” The two other women at the table, which is set up in the Dietrichs' huge living room like a little life raft at sea, are Amy McNear, who also got into real estate after her husband pa.s.sed on, and Norma Hammacher, whom Janice when she gets to know her better will ask if she's related to Linda Hammacher. It was Linda Hammacher, a girl she worked with at Kroll's, whose apartment and bed over in Brewer with a view of the gas tanks along the river she and Harry used to borrow when they were both at Kroll's and first going together. Things had happened to her since she was a silly freshman adoring him in the halls. She had let her boyfriend in junior year of high school, Jerry Nagle, feel her up and come against her stomach in his father's Packard, and then in senior year Warren Bixler used to French-kiss her and use her hand to jerk himself off after the movies, it was gross but really helped her understand what happened, and then the summer after graduation Daddy had rented for a month a Methodist camp-meeting cottage in Rehoboth, Delaware, where being in a bathing suit all day and taking a tan deep as a Polynesian's made her feel loose and free. She fell in that summer with a pack of Was.h.i.+ngton, D.C., kids raised wild in homes with their fathers off in the service or the diplomatic corps. They would cruise the boardwalk and Baltimore Avenue all day and at night head in cars up to Whiskey Beach, where a big pink house had been owned by a du Pont and slit-eyed tall towers stared out to sea as if still watching for submarines, and the college boys would make something called Purple Jesus with grape juice and vodka in galvanized garbage cans, it was the first time in her life she had drunk anything stronger than beer. She had decided as the weeks wore on that it was time and she let a wide-shouldered boy with a narrow a.s.s from Chevy Chase do it to her, there in the dunes on a sandy blanket, the bonfire just over the s.h.a.ggy profile of the next dune. She saw the gleam of light on the rubber of the Trojan he put on: that was prudent and considerate of him but probably made it hurt more than it would have with their natural lubrication, it hurt but it was done, she was a full woman as of August 1954, his first name was Grant, how horrible that she had forgotten his last name, but he had to go back with his family the next day, or the day after, and she wouldn't have let him do it to her again, she was too sore and scared at herself. ”Janice. Your bid,” Doris was saying. ”Pa.s.s,” she says, though there are some aces and kings peeping up from the fanned cards. She and Grant wrote for a while but she didn't like her own handwriting and thinking of things to say and let the correspondence die. Even then, woozy on Purple Jesus and embarra.s.sed to think somebody from the bonfire party might come up over the dune to pee, she had liked being on her back, supporting the world in the form of this boy's hard-breathing body, knowing she was built to take it, his painful thrusts, his whimper as he came. Men are surprisingly touching when they come, so grateful for a minute. There had been a boyfriend or two after that, while she worked in the office of Daddy's used-car business, filing and keeping accounts, before he got the Toyota franchise and anybody had heard of a j.a.panese car, but away from the beach sun she seemed to lose something, what little glamour she had, which was why she had liked Florida eventually. To get away from her parents, she was turning twenty and nothing was happening, she took the job at Kroll's, behind the nut-and-candy counter, the white smock they gave her had ”Jan” st.i.tched on the pocket when her parents had always called her her full name ”Janice,” p.r.o.nouncing it juicily, decisively, their only child, prized, protected. At Kroll's there turned out to be, working at the most menial job, in s.h.i.+pping and receiving, this tall beautiful guy she remembered from Mt. Judge High, where he had been the star of the basketball team when she had been a runty freshman with skinned-back hair bangs couldn't hide. He also ran the 440 and the mile relay for track but it was for basketball that people remembered him by then, those that did. He seemed lost and funny, apologetic almost, after his two years in the Army and a few dead-end jobs. It was with him for the first time, thinking about it all day behind the counter, that she knew, just as certain as falling asleep, as plain as taking a meal or inserting a Tampax, that she was going to make love, f.u.c.k and be f.u.c.ked, instead of just letting it happen against her better judgment the way it usually was. With everybody else on the street doing everyday things, they would drive down Warren Avenue in Harry's old Nash toward Linda Hammacher's pipeframe bed, which squeaked and jerked back and forth so much they got to laughing sometimes and had to finish on the floor, her back pressed on the threadbare carpet and all the dust mice under the bed a few feet from her face, plus a single flesh-colored forgotten slipper. Harry was less methodical and steady a lover than Ronnie is, less big, not that it matters the way men think, but she was so excited by his s.h.i.+ning torso naked above her and her memory of how heroic he had been on the court gleaming with sweat that she would come, pus.h.i.+ng up shamelessly once he was rooted inside her. It helped to be down there in the floor grit. She was slow at some things but not at coming. Even now at the age of sixty-three she gets compliments from Ronnie. She smiles to herself at this secret of hers. Everybody Doris glances around suspiciously and says, ”There must have been some points out there. I had only three, a jack and a queen.” While Norma redeals the cards Janice dares ask her, ”Norma, are you by any chance a relation of a Linda Hammacher? She and I worked at Kroll's together, back in the Fifties.” Norma pauses, the cards freezing in her hands. ”I had a second cousin Linda.” ”Where is she now?” ”She died.” ”Oh no! Well, I guess we're getting to that age.” ”It was years ago. She was young, relatively. It was rather mysterious.” ”How so?” Janice asks. ”Some said of AIDS, though the paper said just of a long illness. Her family didn't like to talk about it. She had been married and divorced.” ”Oh dear,” Janice says, truly shocked; a piece of remembered happiness has been poisoned. ”It was very tragic,” Norma p.r.o.nounces. ”d.a.m.n. Count your cards. I should have the last one, and I don't.” As if to comfort Janice for having distracted the dealer, Amy during the next deal fills her in on the latest twist in the saga of a great parcel of land in the east of Diamond County, six thousand acres once held by Bethlehem Steel for its low-grade iron content and now sold to a Canadian developer who, tired of battling his farmer neighbors on every proposed development, had, all legally, turned this bit of William Penn's woods into a borough, with forty voting citizens, all but three of them company employees. Already they had voted in a managed landfill that would take four hundred tons a day of Philadelphia's garbage, trucked up the Turnpike in caravans of garbage trucks, and a water park involving a pool the size of a football field and a hundred-fifty-foot-high rubber-raft ride and an illuminated par-three golf course. ”Now they're talking of a ten-story retirement-home complex and a half-mile racetrack for these little miniature racing cars that apparently are all the rage in Maryland,” Amy says. ”Well,” Janice says, ”I guess it's the future.” Doris didn't quite hear and crabbily says, ”Are you talking about the Y2K bug? Deet says it's all been overblown, to whip up more income for the computer companies.” Norma says, ”Two clubs. At least I think that's what I'm supposed to say when I have a powerhouse.” Janice from her hand sees she will not have to bid, no matter what Doris bids, and in quiet celebration eats a few sugar-toasted peanuts from the pale-green porcelain bowl Doris and Deet had bought in China when they took a tour there last fall, set on a round-topped carved table they also bought there-the Chinese love to s.h.i.+p, even stone lions weighing as much as a boulder, in fact they will even s.h.i.+p boulders, they see a lot of beauty in boulders, Doris has told them-and which matches another carved table at the corner opposite for the other two players, to hold Waterford crystal water and these bowls and Doris's ashtray (you can't complain since she's the hostess, blowing smoke into all of their lungs), while she thinks of how Harry used to love nibbly things, to the point where it killed him, and of how women like Doris are so fanatic about keeping a home up, a place for everything and everything in its place. She could never be like that, making a false religion out of your furniture. Even her mother hadn't been like that, though she liked nice things once Daddy began to make money at the lot. It's a kind of bullying, all these expensive s.h.i.+pped souvenirs of their expensive foreign trips on display, stacking up like the jewelry on Doris's hands from her previous marriages, cleaning ladies coming in to dust them like museum attendants. For the last two rounds Doris offers them vermouth in little with rose-tinted stems from Venice, and by the time she is at the door saying goodbye and see you in a week Janice wonders how she could ever have been so down on dear old Doris, who has had her to her lovely home so often and gave her so much good advice during those harrowing years with Harry. Harry, Harry, he was the problem, Janice decides, that girl showing up claiming to be his daughter, no wonder she couldn't concentrate on the bridge, losing a dollar seventy cents and going down two on a three-no-trump bid Doris explained to her she could have made easily if only she had kept her diamond stopper. He made these messes but never cleaned up after himself, even now, dead ten years, leaving it up to the living.

Brewer pours by her in her Le Baron, a river of bricks and signage. People use that word in planning-board hearings as to whether or not there is too much of it; realestate values shoot up when a community cuts down on signage and buries its electric wires. Janice halts at stoplights and then the flow resumes, a stream of sights deepened by a lifetime's familiarity. She crosses the Weiser Street Bridge, with its cast-iron light stanchions and its plaque naming some dead mayor whose name never took. As a girl she always wondered why the bridge didn't arch up in the air like the Running Horse Bridge a half-mile to the south did, or slant down to the Brewer side like the Youngquist Boulevard Overpa.s.s to the north did. The river was shallowest here. A ford in this spot started the settlement in Indian days. In her girlhood the river was solid black with dunes of coal silt. They cleaned that up decades back so that now motorboats use the water and some people swim and even the fish are back. Nineteenth-century industrial cities, she remembers sad-looking Mr. Lister telling them in the realty cla.s.s on Property and Development Law, made a big mistake by turning their backs on their waterfronts. Now soon it will be another century yet, with its own mistakes, no doubt. She drives straight up Weiser past the white brick sprawl of the Schoenbaum Funeral Directors, it used to be a single small office, with gloomy conical evergreens out front. She wonders how much longer she can stay out of their clutches, with Mother's long-lived Koerner genes fighting Daddy's shorter-lived ones. On the west side of Weiser Square the new four-story shopping center with its gla.s.s-enclosed atrium for concerts and civic affairs still hasn't attracted the shops and eateries the planners promised. Along the east side the buildings are much as she remembers them from girlhood; though the facades have been changed over the years and a number have their plate gla.s.s boarded up or whited out from the inside, she can recognize the broad windows of what had been Schaechner's Furniture and the narrowing shape of the entrance to Arnold's Footgear, where her mother would take her for patent-leather party shoes and where at a machine you could see the bones of your feet move in a ghostly green light that it turns out gave you cancer. These buildings, two whole blocks of them, above the first floor have windows with decorative brick frames and arches and elaborate overhangs at the top, like castles of a kind. The biggest, Kroll's main rival as a downtown department store, still has its name enduring in painted script a story high on the side that shows: Fineman's, where the cool bas.e.m.e.nt restaurant was such an attraction for weary shoppers and the teen clothing on the fourth floor was a little more ”New York” than in Kroll's, a little sharper and more frisky-tight angora sweaters in ice-cream shades, broad cinch belts in s.h.i.+ny fake leather, slinky nylon blouses, wool skirts that came down almost to your socks and tugged on your hips with their swaying weight, making you feel more feminine. ”New York” was a way of saying ”Jewish” but even Mother with all her prejudices admitted the cut and fabric of the dresses at Fineman's was better, and she could never resist the b.u.t.terscotch sundaes in the bas.e.m.e.nt restaurant. As a child Janice was enchanted by the open-scrollwork elevators and the vibrating wire tracks sending money and receipts rattling around on the ceiling. All that, all that fragrant luxury of appetizing goods, gone, just a fading name on an empty building, Fineman's. Across Weiser Square a little up from Fineman's still stand the four great pillars of Brewer Trust, now absorbed into something called MellPenn, a great green sign lit from within blocking out the old name carved in granite. She and Harry were so lucky that time, the bottom fell out of gold and silver a month or so later. Above the Square, between Sixth and the railroad tracks, where the downtown movie theatres had been, a row of palaces you could escape into, mirrors in the long lobbies and paper icicles hanging from the marquees, there is just nothing-an asphalt parking lot on one side and a great dirt hole on the other, where some developer of an inner-city mixed-residence housing complex, s.h.i.+ning towers on the billboarded architect's projection, has run out of other people's money. There had been a pet store here, and a music store run by Ollie Fosnacht, Chords 'n' Records. Janice can scarcely believe so much is gone and she is still here to remember it. Daylight drains from this dry September day. The street is half in shadow. Above Mt. Judge some high thin clouds are fanned like a hand of cards. The car clock says five-twenty. The homeward traffic north on Weiser and along Cityview Drive makes as much of a rush as you ever get, now that the stores and the middle cla.s.s have deserted the downtown. Just the poor are left, white old ladies and young male Hispanics spending pennies at the Rexall's and the McCrory's, the last surviving five and ten. Nelson deals with these people, the less fortunate, at the adult treatment center, they call it Fresh Start, a few blocks west of where she is now, this side of the old coughdrop factory. Strange, how cheerful working with these hopeless people makes him. It's his family that depresses him. She hopes he gets home after she has had a chance to tell Ronnie about the girl. Nelson will get too involved. The man on the car radio is excited about some multiple killing in Camden, a man shooting his estranged wife and the three small children, the oldest having made it as far as the back yard but gunned down there against the wire fence. How can he be so excited? It happens all the time now. Cornered by police a mile away, the man shot himself in the head. The suspect was white, the announcer feels obliged to say, since around here with violence you think of blacks first. For months there have been ma.s.s murders on television, the schoolchildren in Colorado and then the man beheading women in Yosemite Park and the man in Georgia who had lost a hundred thousand dollars at day trading on the Internet and blamed everybody but himself. He left a long pious note asking G.o.d to take his dear wife and little ones whereas the teen-age killers in Colorado mocked and killed the girl who said she believed in G.o.d. Either way, you killed them dead, sending them straight to Heaven or to nowhere, to an emptiness like that big orange hole in the middle of Brewer. It makes you wonder about belief, if just a little isn't enough, too much makes you a killer, handing out tickets to Heaven like that terrible man Jones in the South American jungle. Janice has never not believed in a G.o.d of some sort but on the other hand never made a thing of it like Mother or in his weird way Harry. They felt something out there, reflecting back from their own good sense of themselves. Exalted. Eternal. The yellowing memorial plaques along the wall at St. John's, the stained-gla.s.s Jesus above the altar, His hands out in a gesture of embrace or despair. You need something. Harry could joke about religion himself but didn't like others to, it had been a grief between him and Nelson. Nelson had learned to scoff to get Harry's goat. And then he became a do-gooder laying his life down for others as they say. Another slap at his parents. The whole late summer was soured for Janice, even the two weeks in August at the Pocono place with Judy and Roy visiting their father from Ohio, by the Kennedy boy's having fallen from the sky with his poor wife and sister-in-law, they must have been screaming, screaming, hitting the water like a black wall. The news a.n.a.lysts said it took just seconds but what seconds they must have been, how can you keep believing in a G.o.d that would let that happen, it took you back to his father's being shot, so young and leader of the free world even if it was true he had prost.i.tutes brought into the White House, it took her back to the baby's drowning, little Becky, such an innocent, well who isn't an innocent G.o.d might argue. All those Turks in the earthquake, tens of thousands sleeping in their beds at three in the morning. Even these men waiting on Death Row are mostly schizophrenics, Nelson claims, and all child abusers were themselves abused, so they're just pa.s.sing it on, honoring their father and mother. She is up past the park now, getting free of the city, rounding the mountain. The viaduct is off to her right, its arches and the houses scattered in the valley at its feet sharp in the low afternoon light, s.h.i.+ngles and shrubs, and in the distance blue hills whose name she will never know. Halfway to Mt. Judge, part of a mall that never really took off and now is a failing antique, the four-screen cineplex advertises BLUE EYES BLAIR WITCH SIXTH SENSE CROWN AFFAIR. She leaves 422 and turns off, at the brownstone Baptist church, into her town, going up Jackson Street and after three blocks right on Joseph. She navigates without thinking under the Norway maples that she can remember half the size they are now, small enough a child could reach the lowest branches with a jump. She climbed into one once that had a hornet's nest, and couldn't climb down fast enough to avoid getting stung. Now the maples are grown so big the sidewalks in some sections of town are buckling. Joseph Street used to be sunnier, in her memory-more open above the telephone wires and streetlamps, which used to be yellow and not blue in tinge. The houses were full of staid older people instead of these young families that hang these meaningless banners from the porches, as if every day was a holiday. She slides the Le Baron to a stop along the curb, too worn-out and worried by her day to drive around to the garage in the alley and come up through the back yard. That awful couple who wouldn't even look at the row house on Locust Boulevard. So sn.o.bby, without any basis. If no woman was willing to climb steps pregnant the human race would have died out ages ago. She gets out and stretches muscles stiff from too much sitting. The big stucco house at 89 Joseph has not looked quite right to her eyes since the big copper beech came down. Harry used to say the place reminded him of an overblown icecream stand. And there was a bareness, without the tree. It seems an age since this morning and that girl-like a dream except it wasn't on