Tuesday
May072013

HUMINT

Evelyn Somers


 

It's the person you don't see for decades, and then you are together again at a wedding reception for an affluent friend's promising son in a low-slung suburban banquet center, or at a class picnic in a green city park for one of the tentative "-fifth" reunions, and she, or he, embraces you like you last saw each other yesterday and everything about you is remembered, understood; you have changed, but you are still who you were. It's so good to see you. You. I remember. I know you.

But does she? He? Remember? And do you know them?

Handsome Kendall started things by retiring and coming home for good. Earlier in their marriage, when he'd always been traveling, Stella had imagined that in their maturity they would grow together like a modern-day Baucis and Philomen. They'd attend concerts in the city. They'd jog as a kind of healthy midlife foreplay. But as it turned out, they hardly knew each other. They were not the same people they'd been—or had he ever been that person? To change it now would be laborious; it was easier just to keep to their familiar roles. He was addicted to work? He would pick up another job, using acumen gained during his years in international business. She was a "business widow"? She'd keep on thinking of herself as a self-sufficient soul and of Kendall as a kind of fortuitous, graying housemate.

Well, their middle age wasn't the intimate communion Stella had hoped for. But there were pluses in this situation: with "retired" Kendall she still had money because he hadn't stopped working. She had a permanent roommate, who helped with the chores (before, he'd been gone for months, and once a year, at a stretch, and she'd had to do everything from yard work to plumbing). A roommate with great technology skills, who wanted frequent sex. It was good: the tech knowledge was useful, and now that she'd drained the pool and couldn't swim every day, Stella welcomed the sex.

So Kendall started it, and once the ball of change got rolling, it gathered velocity. No going back. Things were starting to happen. One morning on the brick patio, Kendall was in sweats after finishing his workout. The look suited him: athletic but not excessively sweaty. In the distance, the heavy haze was like a scrim in front of the cityscape. It would mean a smog alert when they turned on the news. Behind him was the dry swimming pool, a long, inset coffin with a sturdy mesh cover that looked like a rectangular rug laid over the yard. She felt a recklessness bubbling up in her. He was her husband, yet not. Something about him coming home a stranger was cutting her loose, changing the plan.

There was a story to the pool, but it was hard to deconstruct. When she thought about it, Stella decided it must have started with the curious job she'd had after graduation, in a Thai restaurant in a crowded Asian neighborhood downtown, where they'd paid her in cash. The owner's friends and family came and went by taxi, and there had been relentlessly loud chatter in Thai, and not many customers on her late-evening shift, which left her folding the stained and threadbare napkins and listening to conversations she couldn't understand.

That job had led to unintentional friendships—she was adventurous but not outgoing and got nervous when people befriended her—with the mostly volunteer staff of an alternative radio station next door, who came over for Phat Thai, which led to her meeting Kendall, who was a night DJ with his own talk show, and that led to them sleeping together several nights in her downtown apartment (not a habit of hers). Unexpectedly, Kendall pursued her, and they began dating. She liked animals, and so did he. She was mentally competitive; she liked trivia games, and he did also, and they vied to beat each other. They didn't move in together—he needed solitude to focus on his graduate studies—but they spent whole days together, lazing around and having sex. He had some younger friends, a couple who were already married, and they all hung out on weekends and played with the friends' baby son.

Then the wedding, with forty guests, and one of Kendall's cousins on guitar playing "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" as they walked down the aisle together. Stella wouldn't wear white—she loved color—and Kendall, who was deep in a Master's thesis, could not go on a honeymoon. Then Kendall graduated and departed the radio station for the world and left Stella alone a great deal in the house they'd bought in the suburbs: his new position paid well but required constant, last-minute traveling. She'd "kept house" (whatever that meant; how would you lose something that big?), finished her own MFA, worked at creative jobs in the city but missed a Kendall she'd half invented, and missed reliable sex—masturbated when he was gone for so long. And then one day, for no reason, she didn't want to do that anymore. It was a little humiliating. She didn't want a lover, either, because they'd taken vows. She would put in a swimming pool instead.

She'd found a company that was going out of business and bought the pool kit (rectangular) at a clearance price. She'd hired the excavating and the concrete work, and for the bulk of the other labor an unemployed neighbor and sons had worked for her; they'd installed the wall panels and drains and done the plumbing. They'd done it all. She'd put on jeans and boots and worked alongside them, on the pool wall. She'd learned to do some manual labor, but learned also that it wasn't as interesting as something ought to be that cost so much and changed the entire look of your yard.

Then it was finished. She and Kendall seeded new grass around the patio, one rare long weekend when he was home. Later, when the grass was established, it was plush and perfect, a green coiffure inside their privacy fence, and it made her imagine that the world was a giant head on which a million preternatural hairstylists and dermatologists and plastic surgeons were forever occupied with their various species of earth-sculpting work.

It was done now, no returning to the way the yard—her world—had been, so she swam. Swimming daily was better than self-induced orgasm in those years of her mid-twenties, and afterward she was limp and unwound. Some time later, nine months after a vacation when Kendall came home for three whole weeks, Andrea was born, and Stella loved her, and because of the pool Stella had had built, the profound tattoo on their yard, Andrea became a competitive swimmer when otherwise she might have taken ballet and had recitals. Then Andrea was a teenager, sunbathing behind the privacy fence, topless in the green coiffure, tanning her young white breasts, sniping at Stella when she reminded Andrea about cancer and aging. Stella learned how hard it is to care for a person who is bent on being your enemy. But eventually Andrea came around; the teen years were waning. She was a young woman, no longer oppositional—very poised. She was an adult, on the brink of higher education. She wanted to go to medical school. She loved science, too, and wore sunscreen now; she made healthy decisions. She didn't have much of a relationship with Kendall, but that didn't bother her, apparently.

 

There was more to the pool story, about the pool being drained: By the time Andrea was a senior in high school, Stella's widowed mother, Daphne, had accelerated dementia. They had been close in later years, and Stella, an only child, looked after her single-handedly for Daphne's last thirty months. She'd fixed her dinners of salad, fruit cocktail and chicken or hot dogs and watched Daphne babble and wave the hot dogs around, like an orchestra conductor's baton (which actually looked like fun). She'd dressed Daphne in the tasteful separates she used to choose on her own; she'd taken her to a gerontologist; she'd split, counted and doled out her pills. She'd bathed her, shampooed and brushed her long gray hair; she'd laundered the clothes Daphne spit food on and rubbed the brown stains out of her underpants. She'd removed all poisons from her house, vanished the car from her garage. She'd taken away her goldfish because something awful could happen to it.

The demented phase only lasted two and a half years, although it seemed to go on and on and on. Then it was over: during Andrea's high-school graduation party, the once-beautiful Daphne, from whom Stella had inherited twenty-three quality chromosomes that manifested their genetic governance in a mix of left-brain skills and imaginative proclivities, wandered outside and walked on water until she drowned in the swimming pool Stella had helped build with her own hands.

Young Andrea bounced back quickly. She was desensitized to pain from dissecting rubbery things in her biology classes and having an absentee father. Also from being young. And, truthfully, she had been secretly looking forward to this loss: she gained some money from it. And her grandmother had behaved absurdly, eating mashed potatoes with her hands or doing the hot-dog conducting. During the oration by a very short Baptist minister at Andrea's baccalaureate, she'd shouted, "Shut up, you goddamn holy pipsqueak!" Not to mention she'd repeated everything fifty times for the last few years Andrea had known her. At the end, Daphne had regressed into pure paranoia: Stella was trying to poison her; men came into her room at night and tried to have sex with her; Kendall was an Israeli, a woman, a spy, an embezzler—why else was he always gone?; Andrea had had a secret abortion; she was a junkie.

But the tragedy stunned Stella. Outside work, she was reserved. The friends she and Kendall had had together in graduate school were long gone. They'd moved away, and there had been no replacements. It had not really sunk in before that with her father dead and Kendall traveling always, only Daphne truly knew her. Stella stopped swimming and drained and covered the pool permanently, but before that, she took up digital photography and photo editing. It happened because she grew totally obsessed in those first postmortem weeks, with photographing the empty pool where her mother had died. First the whole thing, and then creepy closeups of small sections. She bought some photo-editing software. She'd had no training in design, but if she could learn to build a swimming pool, she could learn this. She found she liked it. It felt like playing with Play-doh on a computer screen, but it was not; you couldn't touch what you made. Soon she had a series of swimming-pool photographs. When Kendall moved back in, she stored them on a flash drive so he wouldn't find them.

 

Now Stella was looking at the scene of suave, sweaty, brown-haired Kendall in front of the covered pool, wondering why the points in your life where you made crucial choices weren't marked so you understood what they were at the time. In hindsight, they were marked, but the signs popped up when you were far past them. Pop! Look at that, what you did—the situation it turned into.

Kendall was staring at her, and she had to say something. Nothing entered her mind, so she asked what he was thinking about.

"Virtual assistants," he said.

Later he claimed it was an utterly random remark, based on a short article he'd seen in a magazine about emerging career fields. But she took it seriously.

"Really? Why?"

"I think you ought to be one."

She was doubtful, but she could see him liking the idea, now that he'd said it. He was excitable. When he got interested in something, he waved his arms comically. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. Yes! he said. Stella could work at home. Contribute to the household income and keep her hand in the work force yet be "geographically uncircumscribed." They could have more sex.

This Kendall who'd just come home focused on the most irrelevant minutiae sometimes—he would see a cat hair on a plate from across the table and scream about it. But when he was in this excited mode, his perceptions were broader—even existential. He was right, Stella thought. She was tired of everything, and especially the way she'd been being. Why not join the new legions of telecommuters? Be there, yet here? Contributory? "Uncircumscribed"? The recklessness she'd been feeling ticked up several notches.

That same week she quit her latest position, one she'd held for eleven years, as creative director of the Science Center downtown. When the weeks of notice were up, it only took an hour or so to liquidate her office. She updated her resume, and after a few more weeks, she received an expression of interest from a man named Waldo ("Where is he?" Kendall asked.). He wanted to hire her as his virtual assistant because her cover letter mentioned having built a swimming pool in her back yard. He liked a person who could shovel dirt yet be inventive.

The first week was training. There were videos to watch and documents to read. Waldo sent some twenty links and attachments, but she could only open a handful; they were basic instructional documents about travel planning and appointment-scheduling software. The rest were Lorem-ipsum dummy text. She told Waldo this, but his e-mailed reply ignored her demand for readable instructions. There's a constant tug-of-war between the big picture and the details, he said. That's why I need someone who can do what you can do.

A few days later, she received her first task: he asked her to design a "playful defensive strategy with some teeth in it." Have fun with it, he wrote.

Defense against who? I'm still not sure what you do, exactly, she e-mailed back.

I make the virtual plankton swarm, cause the invisible fish to school and orchestrate the major waves, he replied. I'm the hand that feeds you.

That sounds like God.

God calls a multitude. Yours is a solo assignment.

And that sounds like a spy movie, she said.

Closer to the mark.

In a follow-up message sent immediately afterward he charged, I thought you could do this. You built a swimming pool.

It's empty, she wrote. I drained it because it killed my mother.

Swimming pools don't kill people. People kill people. How do you feel about her dying?

Sad.

Ah, I see. You are on an adventure. Just remember: Grief is the DMV of life. You have to go there at certain intervals to renew your humanity.

 

Eight months after Kendall's permanent return, and a few weeks after Stella had started her new job working for Waldo, an old "friend" showed up out of the blue. Not a friend, really, a college classmate, Eve Ringer. Eve was that person you don't see for decades. She was a concert pianist now; she traveled with famous symphonies. Eve had called Stella on her cell on Stella's way home from Fed-exing a packet to Waldo. She had gotten the cell number from the Science Center. She was about to be here, in the city, for an Orchestra Hall concert in which she would play Chopin's First Piano Concerto.

The concert was on a Saturday evening. Eve was arriving the Thursday before and staying in the Mariott downtown. Stella remembered her slightly. She hadn't known her well at all, but because Eve had called, and because it was clear that she expected an invitation, Stella asked her out to the house. All the while, when she was making these arrangements with Eve on the phone, she tried to think of what you could say to someone you hadn't seen in twenty-five years. What did they have in common? Did Stella have any experience, really, with music?

She thought of Daphne, conducting with hot dogs.

Over dinner the next night something Kendall said about Andrea and the MCAT reminded her of college and Eve, and when she told him about the impending visit, he snapped at her for not remembering that he was leading an important seminar that same Thursday, eight hours' drive away. Stella didn't know anything about a seminar—or maybe she did. The more Kendall went on about it, the more it sounded familiar—though that could have been because he kept saying, "You remember, right?"

On Thursday morning he packed the car. The seminar would feature hardware demonstrations and training, and at one point in the process of helping load two laptops, Kendall's, printer, scanner, answering machine and other equipment she hadn't been aware they owned, Stella noticed something.

 "You're taking everything that has memory," she said.

"I'm taking what I need," he said.

"My computer?"

"No. Why would I take your computer? You need that for work."

"I don't know. Will you be back?" she asked. "I saw you pack your sweats."

He blushed, deep and red. "Of course. When it's over," he said.

Before leaving he went and found the dog and the cat and gave them each a pet treat: salmon for the cat, beef liver for the dog.

"Can I call you?"

"Why not?" he said. "Don't forget to check in with Waldo."

She hugged him and thought that she'd miss the sex, and he gave her bottom a friendly pat, and soon he drove away in his compact silver hatchback with the eye of Horus decal on the hatch.

 

Beyond Eve's shoulder, when she opened the door, Stella saw a red two-door import with out-of-state plates: that would be a rental. Eve stepped inside grasping a bottle of merlot by its thick midriff. Stella cast about in her memory. Yes, this must be her, but there were things that were different from the nineteen-year-old whose dim hologram still inhabited Stella's brain. This mature woman was not just dark, like the girl she remembered, but outright swarthy, with a deeper voice than Stella thought she should have—she smoked, maybe? (But that didn't seem like the vice of a concert pianist.) She was taller than she should have been, with narrow-set, blue eyes. Those eyes focused hard, through square-rimmed glasses when she played: Stella had looked her up on YouTube. Based on the small picture on the concert flyer, Stella had expected lean lines and hard, small breasts, like a tween girl's, made additionally age-confounding by the tight, shimmery formal gowns that were concert attire.

Now Eve wore jeans, and they showed muscular thighs that hadn't been in the flyer. Her breasts looked larger, but then again, she was wearing a loose sweater. She put down the wine and hugged Stella. "You don't look any older," she said.

"Swimming," said Stella. "And sex. You've changed. You grew thighs, didn't you? And breasts."

Eve only missed half a beat. "I hope you like merlot?" she asked, retrieving the bottle from the hall table.

Just then, Bed barked, "Ararrararararararararrarf," provoking Stella's guest to inquire a little nervously, "You have a dog?"

"Yes, I like it occasionally."

Eve stared.

"Merlot," said Stella.

"I thought you meant the dog."

"His name's Sir Bedivere, but we call him Bed."

Eve kept staring. "I hope a dry red is okay," she finally said.

They sat in the living room. Glasses appeared on the end tables—Stella had gotten them without paying much attention to what she was doing, while Eve talked casually about being so booked always that it was a nightmare, and Stella idly wondered whether Waldo's scheduling software could help. The glasses were clear goblets with amber stems. Stella had had to wash them out because she and Kendall hardly drank. Then she'd dried them carefully, checking for cat hairs. The cat was Salty, and he had eaten Daphne's goldfish, but she wouldn't bring him up to Eve: he was hiding under the buffet and would, if history repeated itself, stay there for an hour after Eve left.

Watching Eve raise the glass to her lips and then set it down again to say something, Stella remembered that the wineglasses had been a long-ago gift from Daphne, before her mother started shopping for things that made no sense: spackle and dried peppers.

Bed, on the deck, whined and whined at the back door, in the kitchen. He yipped and fussed, more vocal than usual. There's a dangerous stranger here, he was saying. Let me in.

"It's so nice to be here, even if it's for work," Eve sighed, leaning against the sofa back like she lived in Stella's house too. She had removed her sandals, which also seemed presumptuous. They hadn't seen each other in decades and hadn't known each other even then, and she came right in with dry wine and took her shoes off.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarf?"

"Wait a minute," said Stella. She went to let Bed in. He wasn't going to shut up. By the time she came back, Eve was pouring herself another glass. Bed trotted over and sniffed around the roots of the potted China doll tree by the sofa and then lay down on Eve's sandals and growled.

Stella apologized. "He likes to lie on shoes."

"What kind of dog is he?"

"A poodle," said Stella, feeling a little surprised; she'd thought anyone could see that.

"Big poodle," said Eve.

"A Standard," Stella explained.

"To standards," said Eve, raising her glass and nodding at Stella's. "Where would we be without them?" Stella lifted her glass in the toast and was about to take a sip but thought suddenly that Bed seldom growled and had never showed any interest in the China doll before, though Salty liked its dirt for a backup potty. She put down her glass.

Eve put hers down too. "And you named him Bed because...?" she asked. Her blue-eyed glance slid around, analyzing the room, the dog.

"Bedivere is the knight who threw Arthur's sword in the lake when Arthur was dying. First he threw in his own sword and lied about it to preserve the king's, but the second time he obeyed Arthur and threw in Excalibur, and the hand of the Lady of the Lake came up out of the water and seized it."

Eve was unconcerned about how this legend fit the dog. "You like living here?" she inquired.

"Where do you mean, 'here'?"

"In the suburbs. In your lovely house."

Stella wondered if she should just pretend to drink the wine. When she'd e-mailed Waldo that she was taking the afternoon off to entertain an old friend, his reply was a warning: Stella. Use your loaf. She couldn't pretend to drink it unless Eve looked away. She could take her wine into the kitchen and pour it out and come back with an empty glass, but that would be obvious.

"Yes, I like living here. It's a little boring. I took up photography recently."

"Was that before or after Kendall came home?" Eve asked quickly.

"How do you know he came home?"

Eve was wiggling her bare toes, one at a time. Stella's second and third toes would not move independently. Eve's did. Her toes were dark and long, and Stella recalled that women with dark skin should look for cancerous moles between their toes.

"They told me at the Science Center," Eve said. "He came home, and that's why you left your job."

"I got another job," said Stella.

"And—you enjoy the new job more?"

"I'm not so circumscribed."

Eve's toes stilled. She'd noticed the portraits of Andrea. There were three 5x7's on the mantel in recycled twist-tie frames that Stella's secret sister from the Science Center had made for her one Christmas: Andrea in diapers. Andrea, aged six, in the fork of a forked tree. Andrea recessing in a teal bridesmaid's gown at someone's wedding. There should have been a digital frame, too, but Kendall had obviously taken it.

Eve got up and padded over barefoot to look at the pictures, her back to Stella, and Stella poured her wine down the crack between the loveseat cushions. She hoped the Scotchgard would deal with it.

Eve whirled around suddenly. Her eyes went to Stella's empty wineglass, which Stella had quickly righted and was holding to her lips. "How about a refill?" Eve said.

"Why not?" said Stella, wondering what the effect on her was supposed to be. If it was to turn blue and drop dead, she was screwed.

Use your loaf.

"I have a little bit of a headache," said Stella intuitively, cautiously. "I'm not sure why."

Eve agreed with her. "You might start feeling dizzy and need to lie down for a while. I don't mind. You might feel suddenly chatty. You might even fall asleep."

"How do you know all this?" said Stella.

"Merlot affects some people that way."

"Ah," said Stella, and allowed herself to slump limply over on the loveseat, pressing her head against the burgundy lilies. Bending like this made her aware of a small roll of fat growing at her waist, now that she didn't swim.

 "I feel dizzy," she moaned.

Eve came over and slipped a pillow under her head. "It's strong wine. Is that better?"

"Mmm..."

"Tell me about the Thai restaurant, Stella. It's been so long since we've seen each other. You used to work there."

"You did too, didn't you? Before you went to the conservatory?"

She couldn't see Eve react, but Stella knew she had. It was a lie, but "Eve" wouldn't be sure of that.

"It was a long time ago," said Eve, after a few seconds.

"You knew Kendall. He used to come in before his radio show. All the station personnel. The manager? He was an anarchist."

The anarchist held little interest for Eve. "Tell me about Kendall. His work..."

If that was what Eve wanted her to talk about, Stella would use her loaf. "My mother thought Kendall was an Israeli spy," murmured Stella. She had one eye closed. That cheek was pressed hard against the pillow. The other was open, viewing a swatch of thick carpet at the foot of the couch.

"An Israeli? Why did she think that?"

"I never had the chance to ask her. She died, unexpectedly. He doesn't have an accent. He's one hundred percent American. Why would he be anything else? Though truthfully, he's never let me see his passport."

 "Was your mother ill?" asked Eve.

"That's not what killed her."

"It was an accident?"

"A terrible accident," said Stella. "She fell into the swimming pool and drowned. It's still a mystery how it happened."

Eve pressed for details. Stella's eye was on the carpet, which was not unlike their pretty green lawn transposed to cream. She heard Waldo's digital voice in her head: "...strategy with teeth in it." Her own toes could not move independently, but words could proceed from her mouth independent of facts.

Eve was asking where Kendall was. Stella didn't know, and she didn't want Eve to know she didn't, so she prevaricated. In the Science Center, everything had been explained to a fault: it was the insistence on unbreakable natural laws, without the bizarre surprises of life. Stella didn't know where Kendall was, but she wouldn't embalm him in process and method. She would make up something absurd.

She let her imagination go. She pictured the little Honda with the eye of Horus on a West Coast highway; there was a flat tire. An unplanned overnight in Bakersfield. A motel, a sleazy black-haired woman named Jasmine that he didn't know Stella knew about, his fellow spy and paramour, with long tresses and a three-year-old stepson and a husband who had no idea what she was. There was to be a handoff of information stored on the evacuated hardware. The assignation had been relocated to Bakersfield because of the flat tire, even though Jasmine despised Bakersfield. There were plane tickets to South America. A document Stella had only gotten a glimpse of. Maybe it was Israeli. She told all this to Eve.

Eve didn't say anything. Stella wondered if she believed her.

Then, without warning, Eve asked who'd killed Daphne. "Swimming pools don't kill people," she observed.

Stella opened the eye that was pressed to the pillow and turned her head to see Eve. "Did you hack Waldo's e-mail?" she said.

 "So he's your handler, too." Eve smiled. "Or is Waldo really Kendall? You can go to sleep now," she said. "I'm surprised you haven't already."

Stella closed her eyes. She feigned sleep. And then, for whatever reason, she actually fell asleep.

She woke because Salty was lying on her head, purring. The mindless faithfulness of the automatic coffeemaker: the smell of coffee filled the room. It would have been brewed since six. It was nine the next morning, and Eve had departed.

 Bed whined at the back door. Eve had put him out, or he'd slipped out when she opened the door. The pool cover was ajar. The two wineglasses sat unrinsed by the sink, with little puddles of ruby liquid in the bottoms, and a few drowned fruit flies. Stella let Bed in, and he ran in a circle around her and then to Kendall's study, but Kendall had not been back. The house was like a silent music box, the cylinder stripped of the bumps that recorded the tune. She might never see him again. His equipment was still gone.

Stella fed Bed and the cat and poured some scorched coffee. She pulled apart the loveseat. It smelled like alcohol.

Later that morning, she sat down to the computer. There was an e-mail from Waldo. Well done, it said. They think Kendall's in South America. Of course they haven't been able to find the car. Why Bakersfield? Why the Jewish bit?

All I did was make things up.

Well done.

Are you Kendall? she replied. Because if you are, you left me alone too long, and I don't even care who you are. I didn't see the signs until it was too late. I should have never married you.

I'm not Kendall.

Tell him what I said, then, she wrote.

 Her last e-mail bounced back.

 

Later she realized her flash drive with the swimming pool pictures was gone.

She went outside and fixed the pool cover. What a strange, hollow mausoleum. Only Daphne could have killed Daphne, by walking innocently into her own tomb, but Stella wished she had at least seen it coming and said good-bye.

On Saturday evening Stella put on a black and white dress, gold hoops and long black jacket, and Choo heels. She felt like a diva in mourning—but it was right for an arts event in the city. She drove into the city.

At the box office she picked up the complimentary ticket she'd called about. No one had told them yet that she didn't work for the Science Center anymore.

The dark woman who came onstage and sat down at the piano was the real Eve: small-breasted, lighter-skinned, assured, with the square glasses. Even from her box above, this distance from the stage, Stella could see the difference.

When the music began, Stella scoured her memory for the girl Eve, who'd lived in her dormitory for one year but who was never there because she was always at the fine arts building practicing.

Who were you? Who are you? thought Stella. She repeated the questions, concentrating, but there was no sign that the pianist was a telepath—and Stella might have been thinking about herself.

Kendall had lived a double life for so many years, using Stella as a cover, but now he had removed himself from her. He wouldn't come back.

What had she lost? Not a husband. The chance to have made an impression on someone, an imprint. Who would remember her? Who knew and had been affected by her? Daphne was dead, and Andrea wouldn't care until Stella died, which was the way it was supposed to be.

The true Eve Ringer played some shorter selections and then, finally, the Chopin concerto. Afterward, she stood and bowed. The audience rose and applauded, and she went back to the piano and played an encore by Erik Satie.

Stella listened to the charming Gnosienne No. 3. She might sell the house now—how could she do it without Kendall to sign the papers?

Below, overeager people were hurrying up the aisles in a rush to get out first and not get caught in traffic. She wanted Eve to stop playing and order them to sit back down; they were being rude. Stella remembered now: Eve used to do things like that. She'd been volatile, and mean if you interfered with her music. Once, she had cussed Stella out for not giving her a message about an audition. She wasn't likeable, and when she didn't come back their sophomore year, the other girls in the dorm were glad.

After the concert, Stella was hungry. When you were grieving, you had to live, but you didn't want the usual things. She drove to the place where the Thai restaurant had been. It was still there—it was Vietnamese now. She went in and ordered a meal.

The neighborhood had the old feel, but everything had changed. The radio station was gone. The wait staff was Vietnamese, but they spoke English. The restaurant was still family owned, without the taxis and covert exchanges. The tables were different. The napkins were heavy and red. The shrimp was good. She couldn't eat it all. Her attire was out of place, but it wasn't a problem. The great disappointments were your own fault, thought Stella, because you'd foolishly expected something else.