From Ultimates: "At a dinner in St. Paul, Minn, Mayor John
McDonough limited the oratory of each speaker - all politicians -
to the time he could, or would, hold 25 pounds of ice in his bare hands."
We were quiet all the back into the city. Freddy made a few attempts at small talk, but was met by the eerie silence of my sister and the disquieting quiet on my part. There was nothing left for any of us to say, really. I was getting out of what had been my uncomfortable existence and doing it while I still had a chance to undo what my father had done so long ago. It was, really, my own small memorial to the man who had sired me, a return to complacent normalcy.
Brianna drove like a demon, or someone possessed by one. She hunched over the wheel and stared intently at the road. I thought I saw her squinting a few times from my position in the shotgun seat. Once I turned and looked back at Freddy, alone in the rear and realized that she was watching Brie also. I think we were nervous, a bit frightened actually, that she might decide at a certain point to just drive, hell-bent-for-leather, into a tree or a utility pole and kill us both, maybe even herself.
Of course I knew she was happy with the life she led. I knew she adored the man in England with whom she had become connected. We had talked about him, and Iíd met him at least a dozen times during the time I was living there with Drew. He was nice, if a bit common, rich if a bit overly stuffy about it. But she was content and he seemed pleased to have her company. She wasnít young anymore, but she looked terrific. At thirty-six she was just at the edge, a little too much her fatherís child and not enough our motherís clone. But she handled it well, with good clothes and great hair and a wardrobe that killed. She would easily last in her work for another ten years barring anything that might accidentally age her.
"Iím sorry, Brie," I muttered, almost under my breath. "I just canít keep doing this."
She was silent, still staring hard at the road. My skin goosebumped as I felt her hand suddenly touch mine on the seat. I smiled a tiny smile. She was sending me a message that she didnít want to share with Freddy. I avoided looking back at her, for my sisterís sake.
"Max, youíre a man. You make your own decisions. You said so," Brianna said.
"Donít thank me. Donít thank anyone. Itís your choice."
"And if I marry?"
"Well, whoís to say thatís wrong, Max? After all our parents were married."
"And Daddy wasnít a part of all this when they were first together."
"But he was happy, donít you think?" Her voice took on a sullen quality.
"I think so. I think he liked who he was, who we all were."
"He did. I think he did."
She went silent again after that as we approached the city lights glowing in the distance. Once we were on the west side of Manhattan, heading down Riverside Drive, she addressed Freddy for the first time.
"Can I drop you, please?" she said.
"Iíll go back with you to the apartment, thanks."
"Can I drop you, please?" Brianna repeated.
"Fine," Freddy responded. "You can leave me at 53rd Street and Ninth."
"Why there?" I asked.
"I have to see a man about a dog," she said, sardonically. I didnít like the tone of it. "Iíll call you in an hour, Max."
"Iíll be home."
"Iíll call." Brianna pulled the car up to the northwest corner of the intersection and braked to a sharp stop. Freddy bounced back against the seat. Then, without another word, she opened the door and left the vehicle. Brianna instantly gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb.
More than an hour passed and Freddy hadnít called me, so I tried her number but got nothing, not even the machine. Brianna had gone to bed, leaving me alone to wander through our parentsí apartment, the home Iíd called my own for so many years. There were things there I couldnít bear to touch just yet, things that had been so personal, so much a part of their lives. I went into the library and perused the book bindings on the shelves, seeking something unique, something I couldnít connect to either of them, or to my life as a youngster. It was hard, but I ultimately found a small collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I hadnít read her in years and wasnít sure Iíd want to now, but I opened the book and took a look at it and was actually surprised, not once but twice.
The first surprise was the fly-page, that blank page between the cover and the title page on the right hand side of the volume. It bore an inscription, a dedication almost, signed by the author herself and directed at my grandmother.
I hadnít really given Granny Elaine much thought lately. Her name had come up, of course, in my fight with Brianna, but that was all the time Iíd spent dwelling on her. How Iíd loved her. How she had adored me. The inscription brought her back to me without emotion and without even a sense of loss or absence. And yet, there was something nagging at me when read what Millay had written:
"To Lainie, who knows all there is to know and reveals so very little. With my heart, Edna St. Vincent Millay."
Underneath that inscription, but in the same hand, were these lines, obviously from a poem of hers, "She loves me all that she can, And her ways to my ways resign; But she was not made for any man, And she never will be all mine."
I didnít know the poem, but I thought the writing was beautiful and certainly would describe Elaineís relationship with any woman she knew. I wondered if there had been anything between them, if there had been an affair or a one-night stand or anything. I realized that now, with both mother and grandmother gone, there was no one I could ask. Even Tooie, her friend, might have had an answer, but Tooie was dead now also and I would never find the answer to my new and sudden question.
I opened the book, Second April, and looked for the quote, but this particular poem wasnít among the contents of this particular collection. I did find a poem that I stopped and read all the way through, one that touched me deeply. It was called "Dirge."
"Boys and girls that held her dear,
Do your weeping now;
All you loved of her lies here.
Brought to earth the arrogant brow,
And the withering tongue
Chastened; do your weeping now.
Sing whatever songs are sung,
Wind whatever wreath,
For a playmate perished young,
For a spirits spent in death.
Boys and girls that held her dear,
All you loved of her lies here."
I found myself, at the end of the poem, weeping softly, tears splashing on the page. I closed the book quickly, fearing Iíd damage it, smudge the words, dull the sentiments. I put the book down and left the room, then went back and fetched it out again. I went down the long hallway toward my bedroom, carrying it with me and wondering if I should share it with Brianna. I felt a bit foolish that a piece of quiet poetry should get me into such a state, but I realized, instantly on thinking this, that I was in need of release, that nothing so far had given me the right to unleash the emotional burden that my parentsí death had put me to. I knocked on Briannaís door.
I heard her moving inside the room, then I heard her voice.
"I want to show you something."
"What is it?" Her voice through the door was muted and soft.
"A poem. I just found it. You should read it."
"A poem? Really?"
"Brie, you should read it."
There was silence from the other side of the door. Then she opened it. It was instantly clear to me that sheíd been weeping also.
"This may help you," I said, handing her the book. "It helped me."
"What am I looking at here?"
"The poem called ĎDirgeí, about halfway through."
"Okay. Iíll read it. Thanks." She closed the door, keeping me out. I smiled to myself and went on into my room. There was still no call from Freddy. I picked up the phone on my desk and tried her number again, but there was still no answer.
I sat down, took off my shoes and socks, then my necktie. I was sitting on the edge of my old bed with its too soft mattress, wondering about the future. My parents had been tenants in this building for most of my life and I had grown up here. I wasnít going back to Drew, back to England. I was determined to stay in New York and pursue my aborted education, find a career that suited me and establish a real life. I thought about keeping this place. It was large, but Iíd need large once I established myself and I thought I could rent out the other three bedrooms for an income while I was back at Columbia. That was a plan, the plan. That was the way to go.
There was a knock on the door and before I could say anything the door opened and Brianna walked in, the Millay book in her hand. She held it out to me. I reached up for it and gave her a nod. She nodded back at me and then turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. I put the book on my night stand and took off my shirt and my pants, leaving me with just my shorts. I check my wristwatch and saw the time, Freddy was almost two hours late calling. I picked up the phone and dialed her number again but there was still no response - no machine, no Freddy. I was beginning to worry.
I picked up the book of poetry and thumbed through it reading poems at random, which is the only way I can read a collection of poems. I liked most of them, but a few seemed a bit arch and over the top to me. Several more affected me instantly and I cried, sometimes before Iíd finished the words on the page. This book was certainly having a cathartic effect on me and my sister. It seemed more than ever that I was fated to find this particular book, to read it and to find that relief in tears I needed.
I waited as long as I could for Freddy to call me, but when four hours were up, and she hadnít checked in with me and wasnít reachable, I redressed myself and set out to find her, find out what was going on with her. I couldnít make myself believe that she was letting Brianna have the final word about us and our friendship, our relationship. That just wasnít like Freddy. She was stronger than that. I knew it. So I set out to find her and determine our next course of action. It turned out to be as dreadful an experience as hearing of my parentsí sudden death.