(Short story originally published in The New England Review)
The day before Tommy Donoso tainted the town water, Sophie was in a pre-soirée panic. She and Richard were having their best friends over Monday evening and there was a daunting amount to do. Sophie had been attacking her yard for days, upturning stubborn roots, injecting manure with a vicious-looking trowel, rubbing dormant oil in the peach tree buds. Still to do: edge two new perennial borders—one sun, one shade—with bricks she had lugged by herself from the brick yard.
One could compensate with pretension for just about any shortcoming. Lynn and Rod rented a flat in Inman Square and had precious little to show for a decade together save a few dying geraniums on their fire escape. She supposed they did have a happy marriage, but they didn’t have a garden, didn’t have a child, which they wanted, didn’t have room for a dog. There was, from Sophie’s point of view, much to envy in Sophie herself, although secretly Sophie envied Lynn and Rod the fact that they didn’t have a house or child, that Lynn’s career was taking off, that they didn’t have dog. Envy was a stubborn weed in Sophie’s garden.
Blonde, in her mid-thirties, Sophie had a perky blunt haircut and a nervous smile. She could be generous but usually this generosity served to feed her narcissistic wound. She seemed perpetually distracted, and people who did not know her well considered her somewhat vapid. She was not unaware of the image she projected, but made little effort to change it. It was, she thought, one of the few powers left to her.
Sophie was astute, but less astute than she thought she was. For example, the day before the well was tainted, Sophie was not entirely aware that her husband was not as loving as he could be; that she resented him for not loving her more; that their sex life was dead; that she resented maternity, having as yet failed to succeed at anything else; that she was annoyed with Lynn on several counts; and that, for some time now, she had been having erotic dreams about Mason de Guy, whose many children fanned out from his photo stand like an obscene floral bouquet.
Richard woke to money worries. He, like Sophie, had come from a nouveau-riche family to whom material wealth meant nearly everything. His parents now lived in Darien but his mother would never forget the times her mother made soup from broccoli stems. On the sly she still hoarded vegetable roots and turkey bones, bought toothpaste in bulk from Caldor’s. And, despite Sophie’s protests, his mother painstakingly cut out coupons for Sophie from the Sunday newspaper supplement, secretly disapproving of Sophie and urging her to save, save, save. “A penny saved is a penny earned,” she always told Sophie. Richard could not help it: he agreed with his mother about his wife.
On this morning Richard was feeling particularly anxious. Winter had been bad. They owed nearly ten thousand dollars in taxes and it had been six months since they had put a dime into Sarah’s college fund. And here was Sophie, oblivious as usual, thinking somebody was going to bail them out. Sophie’s family had hit the jackpot when she was just a baby, so it was hard for her to realize that the pot could someday be empty. He could not get through to her on the subject. Padding into the kitchen to fetch a cup of coffee, he thought, Did the hollyhocks really have to be in bloom? She had red carnations already; did she need yellow ones, too? Really, was all of this strictly necessary? To Richard life consisted of what was strictly necessary, with hardly a pleasure, or a dream.
Seven a.m. and sitting upright at an orderly desk in front of her laptop, Lynn, a freelance writer, was looking forward to dinner with Richard and Sophie.
As she stared at the screen waiting for an end to come to her for her article, “Haunting Your House for Halloween,” Lynn remembered how inadequate Sophie made her feel, although she had to admit she was a great cook. She loved eating Sophie’s food. To be fair, though often distracted and self-congratulatory, Sophie was a generous soul. After Lynn had a miscarriage Sophie had brought around enough food for a month. Lynn also loved their little Sarah, although it tore her up inside when Sarah ran to Rod’s arms first, clearly finding him the more nurturing one. Perhaps Sarah could feel Lynn’s brittleness. Sometimes, when Lynn saw Sarah, she had to fight the urge to cry.
Getting the ending suddenly for her article, Lynn remembered her friend’s unbelievable pretentiousness. Lynn had grown up in London and Dorset, born to money that dried up soon after her birth through squandering and the usual aristocratic ill-luck. While she had a genuine pedigree, Lynn was tight with money. Whenever she made dinner for Sophie and Richard it was strictly a barbecue affair. Secretly, she envied Sophie her obliviousness to money and looked down on her friend’s self-invented WASP heritage. The antique home, the gardens. “Oh yes, your AW-chuds,” she teased Sophie about the few stick-like trees she had bought from a mail-order catalog, although it would be years before they bore fruit. Sophie had even been talking about buying a hunting dog—a regular mutt from the pound wouldn’t do. Not even a show-line Springer would do for Sophie. No, it had to be a genuine field-bred Springer, the kind with tight, suspicious eyes and a long slender snout. The kind with big webbed paws and an arrogant temperament. What did Sophie, a nouveau-riche Jew from New York, know about bird hunting? Lynn’s grandfather had actually hunted grouse on their country estate. She could remember the enormous tea parties her grandmother would orchestrate for the men—fox hunts that went on all morning, covering acres of dense brush and fragrant meadows, and still never leaving their own land. It annoyed Lynn to think that Sophie thought she could just buy this background, when Lynn, who possessed it in memory, could not afford to live it for real.
Rod, slowing up for traffic on Storrow Drive, braced himself for yet another uncomfortable dinner. While he loved Lynn, and would never dream of doing anything to hurt her, over the last few years he had found himself growing increasingly attracted to other women, including Sophie. That was not to say that he liked her. In fact, he was generally bored by her self-satisfied prattle about this purchase or that lawn work, about Sarah’s new sentence or Richard’s latest coup at the law firm. But he had to admit she had gorgeous tits. Unlike Lynn’s trim, almost boyish figure, Sophie’s body had erotic motherly curves; she was nearly plump. She would be leaning over him, serving him yet a second helping of bouillabaisse, and he would see those hard nipples of hers sticking out of her thin blouse and he would smell the citrusy man’s cologne she liked to wear. Later, with Lynn, he would find himself thinking about Sophie. He and Richard liked to shoot hoops after dinner, pretending they were still in college and not balding professionals, while Lynn and Sophie cleaned up. Sometimes they all piled into bed with Sophie and Richard to watch a movie. He and Sophie always nodded off like children. Sweetly, innocently. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. If only, he wished, she’d get those knockers out of his face.
Just as Sophie was getting out of bed, the phone rang. It was her mother, calling from Hicksville.
“How’re you doin’? I hear you’re going to get our heat wave. Do you have a pool you can go to?”
Sophie sprang into an inexplicable rage.
“You have been the nightmare of my life,” she said to her mother, who had desperately high cholesterol. “I wish you had beaten me to death before my baby teeth fell out.”
Sophie, shocked by her own words, heard a dial tone but not the weeping far away, in a town where the water wasn’t tainted.
In West Cambridge, the windows were already open to the muggy air. The heat wave, due in that afternoon, could already be felt. From the tony Victorian homes in her neighborhood, there were cries of disbelief, revelation, joy.
Richard, sitting bare-chested in the kitchen, greeted his wife with a scowl.
“Do you have to keep these seedlings in the kitchen?” he pointed his long nose to the rows of pepper plants by the window. “Every time you water them, I’ve got to clean up the dirt on the floor.”
“You’ve got a petty spirit, Richard,” said Sophie, still thinking of Mason. “I don’t know why I ever married you. In August you’ll eat those peppers without any complaints.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to make a pigsty of our kitchen,” he said, ignoring the marriage comment. “Put ‘em in the basement.”
“And carry the water down there every day? Are you insane?”
Sophie could have sworn she heard him mutter “cunt” under his breath, but before she could reply she was cut short by the sound of Sarah’s shuffling slippers. Two feet tall, naked except for a pee-swollen diaper, little Sarah stood by the kitchen door with a scrap of ragged sheepskin stuffed up one nostril.
“Oh, God,” muttered Sophie, seeing her daughter, “My ball and chain.” Then, stung by instant remorse, she bent down to give Sarah a big hug. “Hello, sleepyhead. Want some breakfast?”
Sophie turned to Richard. “Can you dress her? I’ve got to get to work early this morning.”
“No.” Sophie looked up at Richard, as if debating with herself. Then she said, “I think I’m in love.”
Richard stared at his wife.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Not at all.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this. How the hell am I supposed to react?”
“I don’t know. Just don’t hit me,” Sophie said, wincing and beginning to move toward the window. Their daughter blinked from the kitchen door.
“I’m not going to hit you. I’m not going to hit you, for God’s sake,” he said. As he walked out Richard said half-jokingly to her, “He won’t be interested. You’re too neurotic, and you have a poor body image.”
Sophie stuck her tongue out at her husband’s hairy, retreating shoulder blades.
The drive to Sarah’s daycare was literally hell on wheels. Cars had backed up along Storrow Drive for more than a mile. People were honking at one another. In one car, at a stop light, Sophie saw a mother turn around and slap her toddler crisply on the face. In another car a woman driver turned and bit her companion passionately on the shoulder. He growled at her but didn’t bite back, and Sophie saw that the woman’s teeth had drawn blood. In Cambridge, along Garden Street, a traffic cop placed there to help children cross the road had unzipped his fly and was taking a long arcing pee in front of the Christ Church.
She parked in front of the church and, holding Sarah’s little hand, went in. Children were crawling on all fours in the hallway; parents were chasing them, some playfully, others in a rage. “You’re a nasty, stupid boy, Tommy,” Sophie heard someone saying. In Sarah’s classroom, a little girl was busy painting another girl’s tongue with black tempera paint. Noisette, the class guinea pig, had been let out of her cage and was squealing in terror as one boy tried to remove its toenails with scissors. Sophie knew she should not leave Sarah here, but she felt she just had to see Mason. Sarah clung pitifully to her mother’s legs and wouldn’t let go. At first Sophie kissed and reassured her. Then, losing patience, she shook her legs and Sarah went flying back. Shutting the door against Sarah’s cries of Mommy! Mommy! Sophie headed off to work.
Mason, who drank only bottled water, had not been affected by the poisoning. He wondered absently why his wife Liz was rubbing herself against him like a cat in heat. He had barely escaped the house in one piece, and was actually relieved to find himself in the sterile atmosphere of his lab. They had had a good love life until their third child was born and then, he didn’t quite know why, the feeling just died inside him. He still loved Liz, although sexual frustration was turning him into even more of a workaholic than his obsessional nature required.
It was unseasonably hot outside, and when Mason stepped into the air-conditioned rooms of his university office building, he sighed. He would have a few hours of uninterrupted work. Capable of laser-like focus, endowed with more than his fair share of rationality, Mason worked without even noticing his surroundings. He didn’t notice the photographs of his wife and kids. He didn’t notice when his secretary came in to ask a question. Apparently he had answered it to her satisfaction. After a few hours he noticed in a distracted way that he had to take a leak, and so stood up from his chair. He left the office and walked down the hall toward the men’s bathroom, vaguely gazing to his right, then left. Hoping, perhaps, to see Sophie?
Mason de Guy hardly ever thought about Sophie. But when he did, he got a distinct feeling, a tingling in the groin. He didn’t admit to himself that he was attracted to her sexually, but did admit to himself that he liked her as a person. He was one of those rare men who did not let himself indulge in sexual fantasy, but involved himself in love entanglements only when love was present. Or, at least, the potential for love. Mason was not very experienced with women, having married his college sweetheart. But when he thought of Sophie at all he thought with pleasure that she was one of the few people in the world who could make him laugh.
Sophie, who had been hiding in the mail room, saw Mason’s back retreating down the hallway. She thought of the last time she had seen him. She had literally been shaking with love, cracking some ridiculous joke that made him break into a wide, boyish grin. This was the third time she had gone up to the mailroom from her office on the floor below, in hopes of bumping into him. She sat for hours looking out her window towards his, as if watching for a falling star. First, the utter darkness. Then the lights switched on. The briefcase being set down by an invisible arm on the air conditioning unit. Finally, if she were lucky, his profile, always serious, always concerned. When she could no longer see him, she got up from her desk and walked the stairs, heart pounding.
Sophie was miserably disappointed. Sarah’s expensive hours of daycare, now inexplicably treacherous, her own hurried indifference that morning—for what? So she could search a mailbox she knew to be empty? So she could sneak around doors, peer down hallways? So she could look out of her office window and, one flight up, see his blue shirt and the shadow of his body against the glass? His body. She imagined it pressed to her own, the crisp poplin cotton of his neatly pleated trousers, ironed by another woman, becoming creased and rumpled against her. But for months she remained in her glass cubicle and he in his. Sometimes, she thought she saw him looking for her, but that could have been her imagination. It felt so lonely.
Sophie now doubted whether even her pretentious dinner party would make her feel better. What she had, she no longer wanted, and what she wanted could only be glimpsed retreating down a hallway.
Richard got home early, as per her request.
“Hurry your ass up!” she said to him the moment he stepped through the door. He was drenched in sweat from his walk home. “You’re always soooo slow!”
Setting down his briefcase, Richard stared with hatred at his wife.
“You’re such a bitch sometimes,” he said to her. Luckily, Sarah, who had miraculously survived daycare, was watching “Sesame Street.” Richard went upstairs, got changed, and began to take orders.
“It’s almost six!” cried Sophie when the table wasn’t set by then. “They’ll be here in half an hour and the fish isn’t even fully marinated!”
“It’ll be fine,” he reassured her. Finally, outdoors by the grill, Richard got his wife’s attention. She had just turned on the gas and, having failed to light the flame, was holding the box of matches out to him. He lit the barbecue, then asked, “So, did you see lover boy?”
“No,” she said, depressed.
“Why not?” said Richard, “change your mind?”
“No, I just didn’t see him,” she said. “It was bad luck.”
“Bad luck,” sniffed Richard. “I’ll say. You know that if you ever have an affair, I’ll leave you.”
“No you won’t. You love me. You love Sarah.”
“I’ll leave. You’re not the only person with the hots for somebody.”
“Now what does that mean?” she said, but suddenly her face broadened into a mirthless smile as Lynn and Rod pulled into the driveway in their silver Toyota. Their car, Sophie noticed, looked as if it were smeared with excrement.
That night, Sophie had vivid dreams. Between midnight and one she dreamed she was Hitler’s concubine. Before rising to this exalted position she had to pass a special Aryan I.Q. test. Those who failed, died. She was in a large studio with three huge film screens up on the wall. The atmosphere was like that on a game show. The first curtain pulled back to reveal a pathetic-looking old Hasid dressed in black. Sophie, herself a Jew, had to guess what, according to Hitler, he was.
“A dirty cockroach!” she cried out in German, knowing it was the only answer that would save her. A loud, happy-sounding bell began to ring, signaling that she had answered correctly. Then the curtains on the second screen parted. There, an enticing chocolate cake, a pair of worn shoes with a tag on them, and a pitcher of zesty pink lemonade danced on the screen. Quickly, quickly, the clock was ticking! What did they have in common? What was the key?
“A church bazaar!” Sophie cried out gleefully, and once more the bells were set a-ring-ting-tinging. She glanced to her right and saw Hitler looking down approvingly at her. Afterwards Dolfie, as he liked to be called, took her to a department store and waited along with all the other bored-looking men while she tried on dresses. He bought her a red dress.
Between one and one-fifteen, roughly, Sophie dreamed she was flying over Hicksville, Long Island, on a wooden door. She saw the house in which she was born, saw her Aunt Gertrude’s modest little ranch and the pizza parlor where she used to hang out with her high school friends. The next moment she was flying over JFK airport, where there had been a terrible airplane crash. The door flew down so low that Sophie could make out pieces of the fuselage, tall violent flames, and the smell of charred flesh. The dream woke her up long enough for her to feel the fearful pounding of her heart.
By dawn she was nearly awake, dreaming torpidly about Mason. They had just finished a cozy lunch and now, having gotten no more than a few feet beyond the restaurant door, he was pressing her to a rough concrete wall. Pressing against her with everything that he had in him and had never acted upon in his whole sorry life.
She had wanted him for nearly a year, without knowing why. Was it like her own raw life crouching, waiting to spring? She knew it to be so from the smallest signs: his eyes that sought her out when he entered a room. The way, when she told him her father had been diagnosed with cancer, he took her hand, pressed it with his own strong fingers. She had always remembered that. To Sophie, simple kindness, simple human decency, had become erotic.
Having slept on the sofa, Richard woke up in a rage.
“What the hell was that all about last night?” he said, facing Sophie in the kitchen. “Are you trying to destroy the one friendship we have?”
“Me destroy? I’m not trying to destroy anything. It was Lynn who called me a spoiled Jap.”
“Only after you called her a frigid bitch. And what was that vulgar remark Rod made about your breasts?”
Sophie sighed. What was the use of fighting? What was the use of any of it, when she knew that her marriage was over, that she’d never see Lynn and Rod again, that today was the day she would finally tell Mason she loved him? The thought sustained her through the realization that her little dinner party had been a drunken disaster, even though they’d hardly touched their wine. Halfway through the first course Rod had begun playing air guitar and singing, “One of these days, a ha, I’m gonna squeeze those bubbies, oh yeah.” They’d left before she had even served dessert, with Lynn in tears.
But Sophie no longer cared about Rod or Sarah, Lynn or Richard. She didn’t even care about the obliquely barbed remark Richard had made before the party, which of course he would now deny, that led her to think he had had some brief affair. She wanted only to dissolve in Mason like one of his science experiments, all granules of measured powder. Clear, soft, unresisting. She could be that way with someone gentle. Then flies could feed off her for all she would care.
Mason de Guy, waking up on Tuesday morning to a gorgeous blue New England sky, felt an unfamiliar twinge of something he’d considered long dead within himself. He had passed forty several years before, but today he recognized an almost boyish desire for trouble. On Monday evening he had had one glass of wine at a cocktail party, wine with a single tainted ice cube in it. It was not enough to alter him truly, but by Tuesday morning he felt he would crack wide open with the unbearable rigidity of his life. His compact, athletic body felt numbed by the orderly pattern he had imposed upon it—walking to the train, going to the chemistry lab, lifting jars and noting results, helping with the dinner dishes, reading books to his children. His body tingled now in waking, almost hurting to love.
Leaving the house that morning, Mason paused in the doorway and turned to Liz:
“Will you know me in ten years?” he asked her.
“Yes, of course,” she said, looking at him strangely.
“Will you know me in twenty?”
“Yes—what’s this about?”
“Will you know me in thirty?”
“Cut it out,” she sighed.
“Who’s there?” she asked automatically.
“See, you’ve forgotten me already!”
“Oh Jesus, Mason,” she said. But he was laughing inexplicably.
It was not the Sophie she disliked sitting next to Mason on the dilapidated steps of a condemned building near the lab. Not the Sophie of Sarah, of lost tempers, lawn chairs, and hands deep in mud and forgetfulness. They were sipping iced coffee out of paper cups and were just talking. She told him about her dreams of him. Yet even now, he would not flirt with her. He listened matter-of-factly, as if to data for which there was no theory, and which therefore made no sense.
“I’m not in love with you,” he said, frowning.
But Sophie would not accept this. She understood that for Mason it was not enough to feel something. He had to wake up to the idea of it. She was real at that moment to him, too real. But later, she knew, she would become the idea he sought without knowing that he sought it.
She told him jokingly of the disastrous dinner party, of Richard calling her a bitch. But instead of laughing with her, tears sprang to his eyes. The sight of his tears shocked her, moved her beyond imagining.
“Mason,” she said, tears coming suddenly to her own eyes as she took in what looked to her like empathy in a man. “Are those tears for me?”
Just then he stood up. She stood up, too, and he reached out his hand and Sophie felt his fingers glide over the contours of her face. One finger touched her lips before falling softly against the upturned palm of her hand. She thought she would faint.
“You’re a good person, Sophie,” he said.
Mason smiled, taking pleasure in the thought that his gesture had been the first spontaneous thing he had done in years. His heart pounded with the power of this immediacy, this disarrangement of order.
They stood without speaking, and Sophie took immediate pleasure in the thought that silence could be truer than words. When she sought his downcast eyes he looked at her, a questioning expression on his tired, intelligent face. Sophie’s hand tingled where he had touched her. When their eyes met she shivered, and the thought came to her: “I love this man.”
Suddenly Mason looped his arm around her waist and pulled Sophie to him, spilling their drinks, and she smelled his cologne on his neck and her fingertips reached up to touch his hair, just the way she had imagined and imagined and imagined in her dreams.
By Wednesday, the violence and rioting in the area had reached such dangerous levels that sensible people stayed in their homes. Nobody dared to go to work. Children stayed out of school, and their happy cheers echoed throughout the abandoned streets. Phone calls—employees threatening employers, citizens threatening politicians, husbands threatening lovers—were no longer connected by MA Bell, most of whose workers had already walked off their jobs or been fired. Buses were not running. There had been too many fatalities between warring pedestrians, dog-walkers, motorists, and hapless drivers. Having failed at finding a fast-working antidote, the governor of Massachusetts had declared a state of emergency and called in federal relief workers, but even they disobeyed their commands and stayed home, unable to locate any source of relief even for themselves.
Sophie and Richard sat at their kitchen table, not looking at one another. He knew about her—because, of course, she had told him. They looked at their hands, helpless as children. Sarah cowered in her room, fearing her parents, although their voices hardly rose above a whisper.
“Do you love him?” asked Richard.
“I think so,” Sophie replied. “That is, there are things I love about him. I don’t know him very well.”
Richard paused, as if wondering whether to go on.
“What things?” he finally asked. He began to cry.
“Don’t cry,” said Sophie, who still loved Richard, but no longer knew what had held them together, what he had given her, or she him.
The serum, by Wednesday, has grown less potent. Sophie is able to stifle her impulse to tell Richard the things she loves about Mason. It would be a senseless cruelty, and Sophie is not cruel by nature. In fact, it was, she realizes, Richard’s own inability to take that had made it so hard for her give. She was drowning in her own stopped waters.
Richard sips his coffee.
“Will you see him again?”
“Tomorrow,” says Sophie, smiling. The loveliness of his kiss had surprised her, for all she had dreamed of it. He kissed her softly but relentlessly. The pressure of his mouth against hers had grown harder, and she opened herself for his tongue.
Sophie changed the subject. The night before, Richard had been fired from his job for calling one of his firm’s partners a fucking asshole. He had been given one week to clear out.
“What are you going to do without your job?”
“There are other firms,” says Richard. “I’ll get another job.”
“But where? You’re forty years old.”
“I went to Yale,” says Richard feebly, “Law Review.”
“A lot of good that did you.”
“That’s not fair,” he responds weakly, still thinking about what Sophie could love about Mason. “We’re neither of us great successes. But we have each other. We have Sarah. I know I could be kinder to you—”
He imagines sex between Sophie and Mason, and starts to cry again. Sophie feels sorry for him. They had loved each other once. Suddenly Richard slams his hand so hard against the kitchen table that an edge cracks. Nursing his hand, he says, “I’d like to kill you.”
“No you wouldn’t,” Sophie says. For some reason, she feels no fear or pain. She is thinking about a B&B where she has agreed to meet Mason.
Suddenly Richard exclaims, “Oh go, go! I don’t give a fuck!”
Sarah, whom they have forgotten, consoles herself by masturbating in a corner of her room.
On Thursday, Sophie can no longer remember why she had spent so much time or money on lawn chairs, perennials, and smoked salmon. She is not thinking of Richard’s perpetual dismay with her. She has nearly forgotten Sarah, as if, in order to live, she had to return to a time before her daughter had been born, to retrieve the good person she had once nearly been but abandoned along some closed-down road.
And who knows what might have happened had Sophie found that good person. Or not even good, but just real. True to something, even if it were only to her own disordered impulses. She had thought, before Sarah was born, that she would have made a fine sculptor. She even went so far as to buy some clay. But Richard had not approved of the mess or the time it took from more important things, like him.
Mason de Guy, she thought on Thursday, would never treat his wife this way. If she wanted to sculpt, he would build her a studio. He would hire a cook. He would not let her not become the person she thought she ought to be. But no man could solve the question of who she was meant to become. Sophie knew that as well as she knew that at that very moment she’d hitch a ride with any vehicle of change.
Sophie is late for the appointed rendezvous. She is afraid he has left, but finally she spots him across the cozy foyer of the B&B. The inn, on the outskirts of Mason’s own home town, is abandoned except for a bent and shriveled little man, maybe a hundred years old, whose milky eyes see only images from the distant past.
Oh, the exquisite pleasure of it. The softness. Yes, softness—from a man. They would lie together and he would caress her body very slowly until the impulse took her to run her hands across his chest. He would undress her slowly, amazed at the thought that passed through his mind as he did so: he was in love with this woman.
Mason doesn’t see Sophie but is gazing through a window at the other end of the foyer, hand to his brow, as if awaiting a ship at sea.
Sophie takes a step forward. She doesn’t wave to Mason, doesn’t shout. She looks at the old man and decides he will determine her fate. If he tells Mason the woman has arrived, it was meant to be. If he doesn’t, then not. A French door divides them. She opens her mouth but finds no sound escaping her lips. The old man is looking down, always down, into the past. What does he care for lovers?
Something presses on her chest, and she can’t breathe. The old man looks up, alert to some sound, perhaps her own heart pounding. He stares at her with milky eyes. Then he turns his head down again. Soon, Sophie herself turns and walks away.
On Friday, the police raid Tommy Donoso’s garage, where he is discovered, along with his pals, dipping butterflies in Clorox. Tommy and his friends are arrested. Released later that afternoon, they are told that their parents have suspended their Nintendo privileges for one full week. The town is gradually returning to normal. The plows and garbage trucks are out in full force, as after a winter storm, clearing debris and broken store windows from the streets. The children attend soccer practice and Little League once more. The orthodox Jews walk in somber groups to the synagogue. Everyone begins to forget.
Everyone, it seems, except Mason, in a neighboring town. He thinks of Sophie and wonders why she never showed up. There must, he is convinced, be some rational explanation. Perhaps he misunderstood the time.
Sophie is in her garden, with the cellular phone wedged against her neck. She has invited Lynn and Rod for dinner on Sunday. After breakfast, she takes off in the mini van for the local nursery. The perennial borders are a mess, and she needs more lawn chairs. Richard prepares a brief for work, having forgotten, as do his colleagues, that he called one of them a fucking asshole. Sophie dreams of Hitler, of flying over JFK, where there has been an airplane crash. No survivors known. On Monday Mason de Guy will go to work breathless, but Sophie will speak only of her dinner party, and garden, and lawn chairs. She will remember nothing except her dreams. And Mason, who remembers everything, will wonder why Sophie no longer seems to love him.