Monday
Jun022014

Eclipse

Nina Solomon


 

The dining room, painted pale rose, nearly floated with light from the Tiffany chandelier, its iridescent bowls like translucent orchids. It was a luminous room—a room for dinner parties. The ten-foot high windows reflected the glowing glassine interior. It was dark outside but felt like morning. At any time of day, this room would surely be resplendent. Michael had gone in search of more champagne. Inda had said she'd wait. She could have waited for him forever.

Inda knew the layout of this apartment well; it had belonged to Bianca, her mother's closest friend, who had lived here until her death almost two years earlier. There was nothing familiar now. Two flights up, in the same elevator bank and the identical layout, her parents occupied the apartment they had lived in since they'd moved from Brooklyn Heights fifteen years ago. Her mother still had some cartons left unpacked.

The new tenants, the Handriches, gave benefits almost every weekend. Furs and Burberry overcoats crowded together on the metal coat rack set up in the marble vestibule, and afterwards plastic wineglasses tumbled down the staircase like loose change. Society people, her mother had told her when the new tenants bought the apartment. It had taken them over a year to renovate, six months longer than was permitted. The building fined them five hundred dollars for each day's delay.

Everything but the floor plan in this vast apartment had been altered. Bianca's massive oil paintings and prints left not even a shadow on the soft, stippled walls. Voile half-curtains, pulled taut between two brass rods, hung at the windows like an early frost. The floors were covered with carpets from exotic places. Bianca had preferred bare windows and floors. She never wore shoes inside, except when she painted and then always a pair of red sandals.

Glass cabinets, filled with Mrs. Handrich's collection of art glass, were almost brought to life by concealed bulbs. Inda recognized the style of the pieces from exhibits she had seen at the Metropolitan: Daum and Gallé vases, a Tiffany inkwell, long-stemmed Venetian crystal in vibrant colors, objects formed out of opalescent glass in the likeness of flora and fauna.

What a contrast to the heaviness of her parents' dining room—burgundy curtains in dull velvet at the two windows, and the oak Parson's dining table so heavy it could not be moved unless all the leaves were taken out, and only then by four strong sets of arms lifting it at all four perfect corners. The finish was smooth and gleaming, with only a tiny mark from where Bianca had dropped the ashes from her burning cigarette. Her mother had tried to fill the mark with a waxy brown crayon, but it never held.

At two o'clock, the sun surmounted the dark interior courtyard and entered the dining room, warming a patch of carpet where Inda's cat would bask until the sunlight shrank to a pencil-thin sliver, when he'd roll onto his back, the light lasering his soft white underside. To cover the walls, her mother had chosen a strange brown felt that absorbed sound and dust, which the cat used as a scratching post, leaving long streaking claw marks and pilled felt. Goya lithographs depicting the brutality of the Napoleonic Invasions and several of the Proverbs were spaced evenly around the hexagonally shaped room in brushed-silver frames. The sconces above the mantelpiece and table lamps gave off an opaque light that her father said was irksome to read by but caused no glare.

The only color in her parents' dining room was above the mantelpiece where hung Bianca's oil painting of two girls. The painting was titled "Soaring," and it almost seemed possible that the two girls, one wearing a red pinafore, the other blue trousers, could unhook and sail into the distance. For Inda, it was the closest thing to freedom she'd ever known.

Now, as Inda stood in the Handriches' newly decorated dining room, all she felt were absences. Bianca's and Michael's as well. It had been in this same room in which she now waited for Michael that Bianca had taught her how to smoke, to curl the end of her tongue while inhaling. Before she died, Bianca had a face-lift. She hadn't wanted to look sick. Inda remembered how Bianca's face had grown almost transparent, thin blue veins fluttering at the surface of her pale skin after her mastectomy. Inda and Michael had visited her in the hospital.

"Isn't anyone going to mention my cleavage?" Bianca had asked, opening her hospital gown. Inda glanced down at the scuffed linoleum tile. She hadn't wanted to stare. As she pictured Bianca's cavernous chest, she felt twinges behind her knees. But when she looked up, she saw that Bianca's chest had been reconstructed and was larger and fuller than before. Bianca smiled mischievously and motioned for a cigarette. "If I'm going to be sick, I might as well look great." Inda thought how her own breasts had become painful and swollen after she and Michael had returned from Florida this past December and how all she had wanted was for them to return to their normal size.

After Bianca died, Alfred sold the apartment, auctioned off most of Bianca's artwork, and moved out to their weekend house in Connecticut to write. Inda had called her mother nightly on the yellow telephone in her small dorm room to make sure she was all right—I'm fine, she'd answer too quickly, You ask strange questions. That semester, Inda developed a rash from her elbows to her neck that burned all winter.  

 

The hostess, Rachel Handrich, a woman in her mid-forties, wearing crepe pants and gold thong slippers, approached, took Inda's arm, and led her from the dining room towards the bedroom wing. Mrs. Handrich had always nodded to Inda courteously when they passed each other in the courtyard, but until she discovered that Inda was dating the son of a well-known human rights lawyer, she'd never even asked her name.

It was the end of the summer. Michael and Inda had been dating for almost four years, since their senior year of high school. Summers had begun to feel like endings. As predictable as the cloak of Monarchs shadowing the dunes every August, the time to separate growing near, Michael would tell her she was becoming too clingy and Inda would begin to notice the telltale distance in his eyes.

"Nothing's wrong," he'd always say. But this August, he'd said they needed some time apart. Inda hadn't understood. Why now, when they were each leaving for their respective colleges the following week? Michael was applying for a Fulbright. A year abroad. Time apart seemed all they had lately.

Mrs. Handrich led Inda down the long hallway. "You must have your cards read, India, dear."

She had been mispronouncing Inda's name all evening, but did it with such authority that Inda never corrected her.

"But Michael will be looking for me," she said.

"All the young people have been raving about the tarot card reader," said Mrs. Handrich. "They say she's the life of the party."

Inda could walk this corridor with her eyes closed. The moldings and archways were identical to those in her parents' apartment. The only difference was that this hallway appeared wider because of the absence of bookshelves. Inda's father was a book collector, and any available wall space was given to the thousands of volumes in his collection—uncut first editions, world literature, philosophical treatises, books on music, art, psychology, history.

Michael loved browsing through her father's library, finding the unexpected hidden within the pages of an unmarked spine. Her father and her brother Alex had indexed the books long ago. They talked of alphabetizing. Her father took up bookbinding. When Inda had needed to do research in high school, her father would bring out the tall ladder and ferret out any book on any given subject. He once found his gold watch stuck between the pages of Goethe. He thought he had lost it more than ten years before at the movies. He said it was too valuable to wear, and never put it on his wrist again.

 

The only books visible in the Handriches' apartment were glossy coffee table volumes on world travel and art glass. Meticulously placed track lights shone on the Japanese prints that adorned the raw silk walls. The ceilings appeared higher.

They stopped in front of a room stuffed with supple leather couches and dark polished woods. Brass lamps with emerald green shades warmed the room. Not a trace of Bianca's studio remained. It had been a room of confidences. It was there that Inda had learned of Bianca's many lovers, that Inda had first told Bianca she'd slept with Michael. Bianca always offered Inda a cigarette, a symbolic gesture of their bond, because Inda never smoked with anyone else. Whenever Bianca's pale blue eyes focused on her, resting for a rare moment like a still boat, Inda knew she could tell her anything.

 

The hostess nudged Inda through the doorway. "Michael won't even know you're gone," she assured her. A piano sonata trickled in from hidden speakers. Everything in the room was pristine. The closets were probably dust- and clutter-free, organized with labeled boxes containing winter storage. She pictured her brother's room upstairs—red- and orange-striped curtains and bedspread and a red canvas beanbag chair by the window. A bulletin board with all his awards and newspaper articles fixed in place like butterflies with colorful plastic pushpins. The servants' bells to the right of the doorjamb were still intact. When a bell was pressed, a white box in the kitchen would register: Chamber Number Two, Library, Master Bedroom, Study. Her brother had poured glue over the buzzer, and whenever it was pressed, it stuck, ringing incessantly until her father released it with a screwdriver. If she pressed this button she wondered if Michael would come.

The tarot card reader was dressed in crinkled turquoise, her auburn hair closely cropped. She offered Inda a seat across from her and spread her hands on the round glass coffee table in front of her. Inda could see the turquoise blur of the woman's skirt through the glass. Her fingers were long and thin, white and veinless. Every so often, there was a tinkling sound from her dangling silver earrings. Inda remembered the carnival Alex and some friends had organized on the back deck at their summerhouse. For twenty-five cents they levitated the neighborhood kids. Margaret LeBow from the next block wore a kerchief covering one eye and traced the lines in Inda's palm. She told her that she would be married once and have two children.

The reader turned one card after the other, laying them out in a mysterious pattern. Inda wondered whether the cards had been shuffled, when she could get up and return to the kitchen to find Michael, and why Mrs. Handrich had hired a fortuneteller in the first place.  

"You are overly attached to someone," the woman told her as she continued to turn cards without looking up. Her voice gave nothing away. It was impossible to tell if she even took herself seriously. "The cards say you have an over-attachment to someone," she repeated. Inda uncrossed her legs, which were beginning to stick together, and recrossed them. She wished she'd worn stockings.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. Michael had been away most of the summer playing squash in England. Inda had spent the summer at the beach where her parents and brother were now. She'd wait until two in the afternoon to telephone the dormitory where he was staying, hoping to catch him before he went out for the evening, but never more than once a day.  

"We'll still get married some day, right?" she'd asked him on the telephone. The breaks and pauses in the overseas connection unnerved Inda. "Michael?" she'd asked again.

Time apart. A part of time. A time of parting.

The tarot cards were laid out like stepping-stones on the table. This woman was mistaken. More than anything, Inda would have liked to be more attached. When she was with Michael, she'd felt at the center of things, sought after at parties and envied by the girls in his dorm when she'd visit. In his gaze she came alive. She'd always been afraid that someone would discover her ordinariness. Michael was captain of the squash team, valedictorian of his class. When she was with him, she found herself using words she'd only seen in print, as if it were natural. Lately, though, even when she was with him, she felt herself slipping more and more into the periphery. When she'd visited him for House weekend, he hadn't even held her hand as they crossed the campus. Inda saw a dark card floating on the thick watery-green glass table. She wanted to find Michael.

"You will be making some changes."

Inda looked up at the ceiling, smooth and white and untouched. Once, in a fit of rage, when Alfred told Bianca he was having an affair with a poet whom he would later marry, she splattered the ceiling with blood red paint. When Inda was ten, her brother convinced her to switch bedrooms. She slept in the tiny maid's room. From her bed, she could touch her dresser with her feet and, if she reached far enough, she could just touch her desk. Her father had ordered her a metal office desk with blue drawers, to replace the low Formica table with the red swivel chair she'd had since she was seven, but she could never study at the new desk. She preferred to work with people around. Her room was too quiet. Her brother's room was so large she'd felt adrift. The following night, back in her own room, she had stared at the pink ceiling. She'd never noticed how much soot had accumulated in the corners or how the pipe radiator was ringed with dust like dark black eyes.

"The next two years will be a period of turmoil and adjustment," the reader advised. "But the changes will be positive."

She turned over three more cards, laying them out carefully. One depicted a woman bound and blindfolded. In the far background stood a house or castle on a hill.

"It means sorrow," the woman told her.

The next card looked like a jester. "The Page of Cups," she told Inda. "The symbol for a child—a loss perhaps."

For the first time since Inda had sat down, the woman looked up, her eyes as still as Bianca's. The reader's earrings shook but made no sound. Inda shifted in her seat and looked away.

Her father had never been so stern. Are you planning to keep the baby? Is he going to marry you? he'd demanded as she stood at the door of his study. He turned away and looked out the window over brownstone rooftops, then removed his glasses, wiping the lenses with his shirttail.

"Would you like to hear more?" the reader inquired.

"No, thank you," Inda answered.

She wanted to ask her to rearrange the cards and read them again. Inda got up. Her knees felt weak. She watched as the woman shuffled the cards—colors flashing like a filmstrip, ready for her next customer.

 

Michael was in the kitchen in the middle of a group of men, colleagues of his father's, Inda supposed. The men all wore rippling silk ties in pale yellow or crimson. They were discussing a recent squash tournament. Michael had come in second place. Inda went over to him. He took her hand and played with her fingers, bending the first knuckle of her index finger back and forth the way he always did.   

"It won't be much longer," he said, handing her a glass of champagne. "Where have you been? Flirting?" Then he laughed. Three plump black currants floated in the bubbles.  

"I was having my cards read," Inda told him.

"Nothing about me, I hope," Michael said.

"No, nothing," she answered.  

The kitchen had been remodeled, with spotless white cabinets and Lucite pulls, a white granite floor, a stainless steel stove. Striped blue Roman shades hung at the large window. The deep porcelain sink where Bianca had washed out her paintbrushes had been removed, along with the glass-fronted pine cabinets.

Inda remembered a lunch at Bianca's. Michael had brought dessert. Bianca had set before them an array of foods, all from jars or plastic containers, which she served with sterling silver serving spoons—a meal comprised entirely of hors d'oeuvres: nuts and hard salami, peppercorn brie, marinated olives, white bean spread, gherkins, dense black bread. Inda's mother never bought prepared food, not even frozen vegetables. She shelled peas and snapped the ends off string beans, foraged in markets for blue-green broccoli and sweet turnips. Bianca speared an olive and bit it in half, removing the pimento before eating the rest. Inda's mother preferred black olives—packed in water. Occasionally, she'd still mention how Inda had ruined the velvet love seat when she was five by wiping her hands on the fabric after eating Spanish olives.

They'd gotten the couch from an upholsterer who said the client just never bothered to pick it up. For the cost of the fabric, they could have it. It was a Victorian couch with swirling designs carved into the rosewood frame. Silky red velvet flowed in and out of the creases and tufting. On nights when she couldn't sleep, Inda would curl up on the velvet couch, her knees bent, the way her mother always did after her morning coffee. Eventually the couch was recovered in Velveteen—a more durable fabric made from short sheared cotton, camel-colored, that bristled and left red marks on Inda's cheeks but wouldn't stain.

During lunch, Bianca had offered Inda and Michael wine though Inda was still two months shy of her eighteenth birthday. Bianca believed even children should drink a touch of wine with meals, a sip of coffee with dessert. Inda's mother always objected.

"Just half a glass," Inda had said, drawing an imaginary line across the heavy blue goblet in front of her. She had watched as Bianca filled it halfway and then added a splash more, just for the hell of it, she said. Michael had asked for orange juice.

"The only thing I have without alcohol is tap water," she told him. "Choose your poison."  

After lunch, they sat on the floor in Bianca's studio. It smelled of linseed oil, cigarettes, and modeling wax. An unfinished charcoal drawing was on an easel. It was of Inda's mother in profile, the two deeply etched charcoal lines between her brows.

"She's going to hate it, Bianca said. "Just like she hates every painting I've ever done of her. She's so beautiful, especially when no one's looking. Your mother was the talented one. She had babies. I had abortions."

 

When Inda's parents bought their apartment, the architect drew up plans to relocate the kitchen closer to the dining room. The butler's pantry and washrooms were demolished to create a large square space. The only disadvantage was that there was no natural light, only a narrow window to the airshaft that was covered by cabinets. A small steel exhaust fan did not provide adequate ventilation and Inda's mother had insisted they have an electric stove, but she still sometimes thought she smelled gas. The fluorescent fixtures cast a bluish light that turned the grey hair of Inda's father to yellow. The ceiling had been dropped for more light, but it was never bright enough.

The Handrich kitchen felt so open. This was a kitchen in which croque-monsieurs were served with tea. Inda could imagine walking in to a waiting breakfast. The wall between the butler's pantry and the maid's room that was Inda's room upstairs had been removed to create a breakfast nook. An L-shaped banquette covered with blue leather cushions occupied the corner by the window. It probably got a lot of sun in the early morning.

On the night of her high school graduation, Inda's father almost caught Michael in her room. He had to sneak out the back door and down the metal staircase, his shoes in his hands. It was close to two o'clock in the morning. They had thought everyone was asleep. When Inda and Michael heard her father's footsteps in the kitchen, they both froze.

"Is everything all right, Inda?" he called.

"Yes, everything's fine," she answered, barely breathing.

"Goodnight, then," he said.    

 

It had been in this very spot. Michael had crept out of the apartment and down the back stairs. As she looked at him now, she saw in his face the absence of recollection. During the past few weeks he'd taken her to The Elephant Man, and Children of a Lesser God, and they'd even eaten at the Algonquin. Michael's father had made reservations for the four of them at Lutèce for their last night in New York. Tickets and reservations made and confirmed before the breakup.

"Let's hear your French," asked a man with a deep tan. Michael obliged, seemingly embarrassed. He'd studied at the Lycée. Inda was the only one in the group who didn't speak French. She smiled and laughed at the appropriate spots, taking her cues from Michael. Michael put his arm around her waist and continued speaking. She looked well, he'd said. She'd lost five pounds in two weeks. She hadn't told anyone the reason she was losing weight was because since the breakup she was afraid of choking and could only eat small amounts. She was becoming more and more uneasy about eating alone.

Inda smiled at Michael and excused herself, placing her half-emptied champagne flute on the spotless white tablecloth. In the dining room, someone handed her another flute. Michael still loved her. If only she could be with him always. She took a sip of champagne, the currants bitter on her tongue. A server in a white ruffled shirt passed with a tray of salmon roe and sour cream on pumpernickel triangles. Even though she didn't like caviar, she accepted one and walked over to the window. The dining room curtains, a fine gauge silk, could be parted only a finger-width at the center, like eyelids. She saw her hand behind the fabric half in shadow, then almost as if under a microscope, the swirling pattern of her fingerprints enlarged and grotesque. She worried about marring the fabric and withdrew her hand, wiping it on the cocktail napkin.

The day of the solar eclipse when Inda was nine her mother had spent the morning closing shutters, unclasping the tiebacks from their brass hooks and allowing the curtains to fall together in stiff, unmoving folds, shooing Inda and her brother away from the windows for fear that they might damage their eyes. It was only mid-morning, but it had felt as dark as night. When her mother's back was turned, Inda crept behind the velvet curtains and peered out. She opened the window and let her hand graze the sooty wrought-iron railing. The air had felt different somehow, rarified, oddly buoyant, more like water, the sky obscured as if she were looking through grey cellophane. The lily fountains below sprayed water as if in slow motion. Even from her vantage point five flights up, the shadows of the small trees in the center of the courtyard seemed almost imperceptibly out of focus, curving like crescent moons and feathering the black concrete with tiny constellations. 

In her mind, she had pictured Bianca's painting, bringing the image of the two girls on the swing into sharp delineation as she'd tried to imagine herself with them soaring over the top of the green eaves into the blue expanse—a vertiginous sensation that caused the hairs on Inda's neck to tingle. It was only in Bianca's painting, and in the hypnotic fractured images she saw through the window, that Inda had ever experienced this frisson within her, this degree of clarity. Soon her eyes began to pulse and she began to feel slightly frightened. Quietly, she slipped back through the curtain, letting the fabric fall together once more as if it had never been disturbed. Even then, at nine years of age, she knew she would never see anything the same way again.  

 

As she stood in Mrs. Handrich's dining room, her image reflected in the windowpane, Inda felt as if she were behind glass. She calculated in her mind the approximate year of the next solar eclipse. She'd be in her mid-thirties, a long way off. The baby would have been fifteen years old by then. A man wearing a pink polo shirt walked into the room with a glass of champagne. He held it by the stem and peered into the curio cabinet. In a quick motion like the turn of a page, he opened and closed the rounded glass door and left the room. Inda noticed a blank spot in the cabinet where light shone but there was no object, like an extinguished star.

When Bianca and Alfred had lived here, a mahogany door with a stained-glass panel leaned against the wall. They had salvaged it from a gutted brownstone in Brooklyn and, for as long as Inda could remember, debated what to do with it. Alfred wanted it to be properly hung or taken to their home in Washington Depot and made into a table. Bianca liked it where it was, catching the light every so often and casting a splatter of color on the walls.

Inda returned to the kitchen to find Michael. The caterers were packing up, washing serving bowls, covering large trays of food with foil, removing napkins from wine glasses. Michael and the group of yellow- and crimson-tied men were gone. Inda wondered, as she walked down the hall looking for Michael, what had happened to the stained-glass door.

Michael was playing pool in the library with some colleagues of his father. Over the table hung a huge, double-bowled fixture. The room was painted dark moss green, chrome chairs with purple velvet seats placed around it in pairs. Upstairs, Inda used to study in the library at the large burled table, reading from flaking first editions of Twain and Melville on a leather bench. Michael smiled at her as he prepared his shot. He was always better with an audience. When his turn was finished, he motioned to her to come over.

"Have you seen my father or Peggy?" he asked.

Inda shook her head.

"I was wondering when they were going to leave." He pressed his hand into the small of her back. "Your parents are still out at the beach, aren't they?"

"Yes," she answered.

Michael knew she didn't like sleeping in the apartment alone. She would walk around the dark empty rooms listening for strange sounds, turning on lights and checking to make certain the front and back doors were locked.

"I'll keep you company, if you like," he offered in the half-whisper she knew so well. Inda felt his breath against her cheek. Summer suddenly seemed far away. It was a full moon. The ocean would be at low tide. On a night this clear, the waves would be streaked silver, the walkways bright, even at midnight. "But I have to leave first thing in the morning. Squash practice."         

The Handriches' hallway twisted as Inda retraced her steps. The central foyer was laid with ivory-colored marble. Her heels clicked as she walked. She pictured the green diamond-patterned wall-to-wall carpet in her parents' apartment, widening and narrowing like a mossy sea down the twisting corridor. A floor-to-ceiling mirror had hung opposite the fireplace until the day it was shattered by a ball thrown by her brother. Inda had always scrutinized her body as it moved through space in the crystalline mirror. Without it, her body seemed to have no boundaries. 

Inda thought about a birthday party when she was seven or eight. Her birthday fell on the cusp between summer and fall, usually the first day of school or just before Labor Day. Her father had hung twisting ribbons of crepe paper from the moldings. She'd had a coconut cake that her mother had gone to the East Side to purchase, made by the owner, but which none of the girls would try. The next year she asked her mother for a chocolate cake, but she bought the same cake. "It's the best," she told Inda.   

Parties were infrequent events in their house. "Too much bother," her mother said. Inda had spent every New Year's Eve watching the fireworks from Bianca's living room windows. The adults' glasses were never empty: Scotch, Wild Turkey, double Martinis. Bianca loved to entertain—impromptu soirées with other artists, actors, or writers, midnight chats after the theater. Inda had felt privileged to enter this uncensored world. During her senior year of high school she had a Halloween party. She invited all of Michael's friends. Bianca had lent her strands and strands of beads and a velvet skirt and silk blouse. Michael arrived late, a rainbow-colored wig on his head. He kissed her and handed her a package of pink snowball cupcakes. A hundred people streamed through the apartment that night, and Inda knew only a handful. She was sorry she'd had the party. She had only wanted to be with Michael.

Afterwards, when Inda was clearing away the last of the debris, she discovered one of the pink snowball cupcakes smashed against the dining room window, the coconut and chocolate and cream mingled together, hovering in the dark reflection. At five in the morning, lying in bed unable to fall asleep, even through the thick impenetrable walls, she could hear the sound of her mother vacuuming.             

 

She found Michael's stepmother Peggy in the room that, two flights up, was her parents' bedroom. She was on the telephone. This had been Bianca's bedroom. Everything had been white—white sheets, white walls that disappeared, a canopied bed covered with netting so white it gave the impression of mist. She and Alfred had slept in separate rooms.

Inda's parents still used the bedroom set they'd bought when they got married—twin cherry wood bed frames, dressers and matching mirrors. There were six working fireplaces in the apartment, one in each bedroom except her parents' room where it had been sealed off. Each November, her mother instructed the handyman to cover the mantels with clear plastic so that the smoke from other apartments wouldn't seep through, and each winter the walls cracked into eggshell patterns from the lack of humidity, revealing layers of colors underneath, cerulean blue, peach, and, under that, a jade green.

In the middle of the night, well past an age when it was considered appropriate, Inda would quietly enter her parents' room and sleep on the floor next to her mother's side of the bed. It was easier to sleep with the sound and smell of her mother's breathing. Her mother never said anything, but she began locking the bedroom door at night. When Inda told her mother that she was pregnant, her mother had remained quiet for a while. Finally, she put her hand on Inda's shoulder.

"How long has this been going on?" she asked.

 

Shimmering oriental wallpaper now covered the walls in Bianca's former bedroom. A massive walnut desk that looked too large to fit through the door occupied most of the space. Peggy sat on a zebra-striped chair by the window and sipped from a tall glass of mineral water with a wedge of lime. Each night before bed, she ate a whole grapefruit and cleansed her face over a steaming bowl of purified water and fresh lemon juice. She was no more than thirty-seven, the mother of a sixteen-year old son, but to Inda she seemed far removed from her own life. She motioned for Inda to join her.

She placed the receiver down. "Inda, I've been meaning to talk to you. Would you like a soda or anything?" Inda shook her head and sat down next to Peggy.           

Last Christmas, Peggy had given Inda a silk peignoir far too sophisticated and sheer for her taste, but Michael insisted on her wearing it. It exaggerated all the curves in her body and made her want to pull the sheets up to her shoulders. She would have liked to be more like Peggy in certain ways, willowy with perfectly coifed blond hair, a personal dressmaker, her main concern to keep current. Perhaps if she had grown up in this apartment without dust or clutter or too many potential places to lose things, she might have felt comfortable in silk, or might even have been someone else entirely. 

"Fred and I are both so sorry that you and Michael broke up. We just wanted you to know that we're sure that you will get back together, eventually."

Inda felt a prickling down her spine as Peggy smiled and took another sip of her drink. Her cheekbones were brushed with fuchsia like an exotic bird. As Inda looked at Peggy's features, she realized that she would someday be Peggy's age.

"You and Michael are young. If you had met a few years later, you probably wouldn't need this space."

Michael had obviously discussed this with his father and Peggy, along with his plans to apply for a Fulbright and, after that, law school. It was a predictable pattern, already mapped out. They didn't want him to veer off course.   

Peggy leaned towards her as if to tell a secret. For a moment, Inda forgot where she was, feeling the certain presence of her mother. "I mean, look at Fred and me—it took him forever to get over the bachelor fantasy after the divorce. It will all work out, you'll see. He really does love you. We all do," she added.

Like a flash, Inda saw a glimpse of the future—in a few years, when Peggy began to notice tiny lines around her eyes, she'd consult a noted plastic surgeon, and eventually if they ran into each other on the street, she would not even remember Inda's name. Inda wanted to believe everything Peggy was saying, for the plays and dinners to continue, for Michael never to love anyone but her.

All at once, as if the lenses of a telescope had merged, she was in three rooms simultaneously—her parents' bedroom, Bianca's white boudoir, and this unidentifiable room in Mrs. Handrich's apartment with Peggy. The rooms collapsed like the shuffling tarot cards, turned too quickly to see any one by itself. As she sat, she felt at any moment that Bianca or her mother might walk in.

When she blinked, Michael stood backlit in the doorway, pinned by the halogen spotlights. In the glare, his features were indistinguishable. He could have been Alfred looking for Bianca. The whole time they dated, Michael had never once entered her parents' bedroom. Over one arm, he held his jacket. A small duffel was slung over his shoulder. She felt her stomach spinning with the centrifugal force of the gleaming silver machine that separated blood in the laboratory. The doctor had told her that she had a nice tan as he readied his instruments for the procedure. The four hours it took to have the abortion was the only time Michael had ever waited for her.  

She wanted to get back to the beach as soon as possible. She wished she'd never left. Michael called to her. Are you ready to leave? he asked. Inda sat almost immobilized, stuck between floors, still waiting, only no longer certain for what. He looked at his watch, an early graduation present from his father. She remembered that the true moment of total eclipse had lasted only a few minutes, but the darkness seemed to go on forever.