The true story of Dorian Gray’s granddaughter.
This work is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce this work, in whole or in part, without obtaining my written permission.
of Grandma Adele Lewit Stern,
in Paris forever with Grandpa Henry,
her violin, a pot of coffee, bread and butter, a stack of books,
and all the time in the world
to read with her feet up.
but I'm afraid either this wallpaper goes,
or I do."
Oscar Wilde's last words,
Paris, November 30, 1900.
i. She Is All My Art
"A masterpiece," Justin Clarence Whittington declares. On an easel, in a life-size photograph, a young woman stretches languorously, odalisque fashion, upon the same chaise of Chinese brocade from which Justin sings her praises. She is the most lovely creature in, Justin thinks, well, in creation. Beside her work of art, Miranda Alejandra de Armas Chace stands lost in thought. The fingers of her left hand stir the mild September air in an unconscious caress. Justin's voice reaches her through a mist of solitude.
"She takes my breath away," Justin tells Miranda. "I will show her at my gallery."
"No one will ever show her," Miranda whispers. Even at Radcliffe, where Justin first knew her, there was in Miranda that inward tautness, that intensity of experience and expression, of one whose genius sets her apart. He glances at her now with concern.
"Mandy, it’s time you come back to town and let your work be seen. You have been in this wilderness for seven years. What better excuse than this lovely girl to mark your triumphant return?" He approaches the photograph, studying the jade depths of the girl's eyes. "Who is she? She looks to be about twenty, but no one is twenty anymore."
Miranda ignores him. When she has been working, only serious talk engages her.
"She's taken a year off from a rural college to try her luck in the fashion machine," Justin continues. “Haute couture has been her ambition since she began to study her mother's Vogue at age eight. She's a cousin of yours, Mandy, or you would not have let her through your door."
"Papa's brother Lee's Aunt Ellen's daughter," Miranda answers automatically.
"Now about that showing."
"I will never show her." Miranda walks to the cutting table and begins cleaning up. Justin follows.
"Someone in that monstrous clan of yours, that Cuban-Mayflower hybrid that spans New England like an amalgamated bank, sent the girl to you with a note. Use her as a model, Miranda, they pleaded. A portrait by you and the child is off and running." Miranda's examines a contact sheet. Justin stands behind her, taking her shoulders in his hands. "You are the kind cousin. You decide give the girl a glass of milk and a few of Greg’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. To wish her the best of luck, then to put her on the next train to Manhattan to begin her adventure. Then in walks this woman child." Miranda's eyes close. "You, who have spent your life with women the world worships, have never glimpsed her peer."
"You see her," Miranda breathes, turning to him, "as she is." Miranda glides to the glass doors. Sunlight dances on the scalloped Sound.
"She loves it here," Miranda whispers. "She comes to see me. She swims every day."
"I will meet her." Justin fears a certain distraction in Miranda's thoughts. "What is her name?"
"I won’t tell you."
"I understand. I am married." Justin grips Miranda's arm lightly in his hands. They leave the shadow of the awning to cross the patio. Miranda squints into the sunshine, appears at last to awaken from her darkroom trance. The sky carries torn sheets of cloud across the blinking sun. "Speaking of marriage, I must battle my way to Manhattan. Vicki is having writers over again."
"Hold on, I believe I may be cooking for them. That would explain Vicki’s insistence that I attend." They reach the overgrown garden. Miranda plucks a daisy and pokes Justin's chin with it.
"Silly. You must know if you're cooking."
"Why don’t you join us?"
"I have plans."
"The girl. Perhaps I can stay a bit longer. I think I’m doing a menu which takes a very long time, but only at the last minute. Have I ever told you that Vicki fancies herself Madame Pompadour?"
"Justin, I have work to do," Miranda says, but he steers her forward.
"When Vicki married me, she said she had ambitions to become the queen of literary life in the city. Instead, she runs a sort of soup kitchen. Well, a reduction kitchen."
"Vicki has so much to give."
"That much is true and I stand by her in spirit. About the girl, I have only one question--"
"I haven't asked."
"You don't waste that face on trifles. No, you can't have a print of Doria--"
"Doria," Justin says. "Of course." Miranda turns from him. Justin knows how resentful his friend becomes over imagined betrayals. They are on their seventy-third reconciliation.
"Precious, I'm sorry."
"You tricked me."
"I am punished. I had only those eyes to haunt me. Now I have a name. Soon I will know her voice, the way she walks."
"Go," Miranda says, flushing. Justin pursues her across the broad lawn toward the water.
"Mandy, you can’t continue like this. You abandon your career when every fashion editor from Tokyo to Milan is courting you. For seven years you show nothing. You give photographs away only to that wooly-haired painter of yours, Brad Dumphries, whose work is that curious mixture of shoddy craft and vainglorious intention that makes him a representative American artist. Thus far your disappearance has made you more famous than if you had stayed in SoHo." Miranda slows slightly. "I know that you don’t give a damn what people think." Justin tugs Miranda about. Her paisley skirt clings to her narrow hips. "But I will not allow you to bury yourself alive."
"Why don’t you leave me alone?" There are tears in Miranda's eyes. Justin takes her chin in his hands, kisses her.
"All right. I'll just go." But Miranda weeps.
"Justin, what am I going to do?"
"You're going to take a vacation. You've been working too hard, that's all. Come back to town. See the galleries, meet this season's immortals." They walk the strand.
"I can’t face New York. All those artists. There is almost," Miranda shivers, "a community of artists."
"I think about Doria night and day. I can't work, I can't sleep, without her. I must see her when I wake."
"You have a new friend." Justin pulls Miranda close. They stand at the water's edge.
"Doria has no idea what I do. She looks at my finest work in fifteen years. She tells me they're pretty, but that they don’t look like her." Miranda laughs a helpless laugh. Her eyes dart nervously down the beach. "I keep the poor girl in my studio. I bore her to tears, Justin. I know it, but I can’t let her go."
"I'm mad about her. I see her when I close my eyes. When I open them, I see her again. She's--"
"A college girl."
"I know, Justin. But she is all my art to me now."
ii. Spun of Sunbeams
"Doria," Greg calls down the beach to them. Miranda shivers.
"Already?" she asks.
"She phoned from Hempstead. I fetched her and stuck her in the studio." Greg--cook, butler, gardener, and general get-it-done guy--turns back to the house. He wears loose bright green surfer's trunks decorated with small gray turtles. He is powerfully muscled.
"Vicki," he tells Miranda over his shoulder, "will have to order pizza for the writers." Miranda chases him.
"But you have to cook."
"Oh, the writers won’t mind. Food to a writer is just an accompaniment to drink."
"Leave, Justin. Now."
"I'll call her," Justin says, producing and electronic device the size of a lipstick. "Better yet," he says, pushing a button, "I can't get a signal."
Doria sits at the piano in the shadiest corner of the studio. She picks her way carelessly through the third Chopin prelude. Her long legs are crossed beside the pedals and she sways. Justin stands in the open door. The girl's neck is long and frail beneath the luxuriant tumble of golden hair. Miranda's sandals tap the wooden floor. Doria turns. Her lips have that fullness which invites comparisons to fruit. Her eyebrows are pronounced, her lashes almost inconveniently thick.
"You play with marvelous expression," Justin tells her.
"My teacher, Mrs. Wing, told me I march to the beat of my own metronome." Her green eyes rivet him. Justin cannot look away, nor would he.
"Miranda has told me--"
"Miranda, you didn't say your boyfriend was the notorious Justin Whittington."
"I must disillusion you. Notorious Justin Whittington is a forward for Regents Club in Jamaica. I am Harmless Justin Whittington, of midtown Racquet."
"Papa and Mum talk about you all the time."
"Finance, or La-dee-da?" Justin asks. That his name circulates on divergent plains of interest, Wall Street and Park Avenue, has seldom afforded Justin such satisfaction.
"Both. Papa buys airlines and sells them back to employees. When there was society, Mum was in it."
"Where is she now?"
"Best place for her. Today's blue pages belong between the white and the yellow." Justin draws Doria toward the divan. Everything the girl wears is cropped--a white V-neck sheared high across her belly, and a pair of dungarees, nipped just above what could be called short and just below what could be considered a waistline. She has the figure of an Athenian, the face of a Raphael, and the education of a sophomore. Miranda pulls her toward the door.
"Doria is going to sit for me out-of-doors."
"Well, she can sit indoors for me first."
"No," Doria says to both of them. "I want a drink. Then I want a swim. After that, Harmless and I will pose together and you can take a picture for my book."
"You sweet darling," Justin tells her. "I've waltzed around for years trying to provoke Miranda into a session. I have at times placed a loaded camera in her hands." Doria drops onto the divan. Justin settles beside her. Miranda paces back and forth. Greg descends the spiral stairwell with flutes balanced on his palms. Miranda throws a sheet over Doria’s portrait and sighs. More of a huff than a sigh, really. "What did you first hear about me?" Justin asks.
"You married that actress. The one who always gets murdered."
"On screen. Off, Lucinda wields the knife."
"I'm going to call Vicki," Miranda interrupts. "I'll say you're on your way."
"Do." Justin takes Doria's hand. He leads her to the patio. "On second thought I will cook. Ask her please to ring up Dag's. I'll need pork, beans, marshmallows, smoked hake, risotto, hot dog rolls, prosciutto, KoolAid, snaps, lemon ice, raspberries, caramel corn, espresso, marzipan, clown plates, truffles..." His voice fades into the distance.
"After you and Lucinda split, you met Victoria Adams, the mystery writer."
"Lucinda and I were too compatible. A case of irreconcilable similarities."
Justin leads Doria down the garden path.
"Mum read me something about Victoria smashing up Tiffany's."
"That was the day after we returned from our honeymoon. Vicki was returning a few things and suddenly emerged from a prolonged block. Her writing process involves a great deal of wreckage. But enough about wives. Tell me all about you." To Justin's astonishment, she does.
iii. Immortal Beauty
"I never knew Daddy. He died before I was born."
"That's all right. He comes to me when I'm alone. Mum says he's shy." Justin steers Doria through beds of yellow winged laburnum and white narcissus with staring pheasants' eyes toward an archway of purple starred clematis. They find a bamboo love seat, stained rich amber by rain and time. Sunlight tumbles through a laurel tree. Children's voices, like Andean flutes, float from the neighbor's beach. "Wherever I go," Doria says, "women stop what they're doing to watch me. Men follow me. Daddy says they can't help it. They are like sleepwalkers. He laughs and tells me to be patient. He says one day soon they won't bother me."
"He is a wise ghost. Youth is a summer's day."
"He's not a ghost. He doesn't moan or wear white. I could tell you he's imaginary, but he's not. Mum hangs out with him. She says when a man loves two people as much as Daddy loves us, he doesn’t die. He just stops writing thank you notes."
"Miranda’s like that. Are you in love with one boy or two?"
"None. I won't ever be. Mum says love is the bait of life's trap. First comes boyfriend, then marriage, then twenty years of driving car pool and juggling priorities."
"You will be lonely someday. Marriage will seem like a way to be with another person."
"I will be old someday. Then I can relax. Mum doesn't miss all the attention. My stepdad, Roger, adores her. She has tons of friends. How old are you?"
"Is that why you look tired?" Doria asks. Justin laughs.
"Knowledge fatigues. Expectations diminish to the point of the realistic."
"I'd rather die."
"Death," Justin says, with a wave of his hand. "Aren't you curious to know how your story goes? Down here with us?"
"Then, Beauty, I condemn you to live."
Doria, dripping, stands before the photograph. Sand clings to her ankles. Her ribs rise and fall.
"You've convinced me," she says. "I want to fall in love, but I still don't want to marry. I want to stay young and beautiful forever. Or at least until everyone thinks I shouldn’t play young roles."
"You would escape time's arrow."
"Whatever. I'm saying I want to try something radical. Where are the towels?"
"Are you willing to exchange your soul for the promise of immortality? The closet by the stairs."
"My complexion must stay super-fresh." Doria fetches two, wraps one around her waist, hands the other to Justin. "My bust must remain pert and my hips boyish, in as far as decent androgyny permits."
"Never to know the shame of love. That is what you must ask for," Justin tells her, gently drying her hair. "Demand that your heart will honor your lips' promises."
"Never crow's feet," Doria says. "Always thigh gap. That's more what I'm after."
"Ask that the man you love today will not bore you tomorrow. Require that what is perfect, and pure, and new, stay that way."
"I demand from the gods that gave Miranda the gift of the artist that I can eat anything I want and keep the waif look, the one we’ve got here. I require that my hair shall neither tire nor fade, and graying is right out. I don't care how dignified and natural it is. Also, I don't want to have another cramp, not next week, not ever. And I want nails like buttah." She leans back against Justin and pulls his arms around her terry-wrapped self. "What's in this for you, anyway, old man?"
"I wondered when we would get to that," Justin says, embracing her. "I am to be your guardian spirit." Doria cuddles and sighs.
"You are. But there's more, isn't there?"
"You will be my vengeance. For my own lost youth." Doria shivers. Justin arranges the second towel over her shoulders.
"Creepy," Doria says. "You serious?"
Justin guides her closer to the easel.
"Miranda loves you as you will never be loved again. She has granted you an enduring legacy so that men, women, and even girls like yourself, will worship your image."
"I do look good. Tell me. What do I have to do to seal the deal?" Justin whispers in her ear. Doria giggles. "Oh, come on! I can't say that out loud." Justin nods. Doria takes a deep breath. "I'm pretending this is truth or dare," Doria says. "I’m twelve, I'm at a slumber party, and I have to say this even though it’s stupid."
"Yes. Truth or dare."
"O mirror of love," Doria says. "What’s next?" Justin whispers to her. "Vessel of time. I offer my soul for your body. I freely give myself," Justin whispers once more, her arms tightly around her, "in exchange for the gift of eternal youth."
The room darkens. Outside the window, the willow branches hang absolutely still.
"A kiss," Justin murmurs. Doria turns to him, eyes closing. "No, child. I am only witness here."
"Who am I supposed to kiss, then?" she asks. Justin spins her back to the portrait and again whispers in her ear. She shivers and pulls the towel tighter about herself.
"Don't watch. If you ever tell anyone I did this..." But Justin does watch. Doria leans close to the portrait. She inclines her head, gazes into her own eyes, and presses her lips to her lips.
Thunder explodes. Wind pounds the glass doors. Doria cries out and throws herself into Justin's arms. The darkroom door flies open. In a flash of lightning, Miranda stands with bare arms outstretched, palms lifted to the sky.
"Damn you to hell, Justin. What have you done to her?"
i. Of Tragedy Born
During his midday departure from his offices the following Monday, a sojourn that often lasts as long as four hours and never less than two, Justin pays a visit to his favorite great‑aunt, Deirdre Eleanor Astor Whittington. Didi, mother to Justin's twin aunts Priscilla and Penelope, spent the years between the wars as a housewife and mother of modern high finance. Rockefellers, Carnegies, later Gettys, Mellons, and Morgans, all came to her for consultations. They listened attentively to the small woman, whose chestnut hair was pulled into a loose bun, tell them about the budding trade‑and‑investment system. Now Didi greets Justin in the sewing room. Surrounded by newspapers, she covers a legal pad with notes that have long proved indecipherable to the most desperately curious. In her eighties, Didi still works all morning. Afternoons are reserved for family. Only Bear, her husband, lives in the great house, though one or more great‑grand‑nieces or nephews are often deposited for the day.
"Bear asked me just yesterday where you've been hiding." Didi does not rise from her rocker. Justin leans to kiss her cheek.
"How is the old man?" Justin asks.
"He's trouble is what he is. We'll go up and see him after tea." Until recent years, Bear's job was to run errands. Didi gave him two lists each afternoon, one on each side of a strip of brown paper cut from a shopping bag. The first was for the Market, the other for the market. Downtown, Bear usually bought. Didi held onto her stocks and they eventually panned out. There had been only one afternoon, in October of 1929, when Didi gave Bear a long list of stocks to sell. The very next day, he watched the commotion on the trader's floor with curiosity. He was not at all sure why the other husbands hadn't sold their wife's stocks the day before as he had. On the way home, as always, Bear picked up the perishables for the cook.
"What's wrong?" Didi asks Justin now. "You look like you just crashed your Schwinn Rocket."
"My fanny," Didi says. "You didn't come all this way just to see me." Justin smiles. He often comes for precisely that reason.
"I quibbled with Miranda."
"Must have been your fault and you're still fretting over it." Didi rings her bell.
"There's this girl."
"Shame. You just married again, didn't you? That mystery writer."
"All writers are mysteries. Does the name Doria Gray mean anything to you?" Justin asks. Didi looks through her window at the summer day.
"Doria. You won't leave that new one, will you? All this divorce. In my day, a man had his club." Didi walks to the door. "Martin! Tea and cakes! Now!" Absolute silence reigns. For thirty years Didi has sworn she will fire Martin. The septuagenarian has long been impervious to her threats. Her loudest imprecations comfort him like the purring of his ancient calico, Pickles. "Does what’s-her-name—"
"Victoria. But I was telling you about Doria," Justin reminds. Didi slips a pack of smokes from her sleeve. She lights up and tumbles into her rocker.
"Doria out of Mark and Catherine Bolton Gray?"
"I believe so," Justin tells her. Half a century back, the sewing room was furnished from the crumbling Whittington house in Storrs, Vermont. Colonial pieces mingle uncertainly with the art nouveau fixtures of the East River house. A stodgy three‑hundred‑pound oak table stands beneath a glittering chandelier of worked bronze and angled mirrors. An enormous chest of drawers, containing five generations of Whittington documents and photographic albums, partially obscures a white porcelain radiator, which rises from the corner in a gleaming obelisk.
"Girl really a train stopper?" Didi asks. With a nod Justin acknowledges that Doria could slow, if not arrest, the motion of a train. "What’s the snag with Miranda?" Martin arrives with tea. Montaigne III, Didi's Dandie Diamont terrier, who shares his mistress’ opinion of the servant, lowers his head and attacks. Martin raises his foot and Montaigne III brakes and barks. "Hush, Monty!" Didi commands, taking the tray. "I’ll speak with you later, Martin." Martin saunters from the room.
"Miranda has been working too hard."
"Did you kiss the girl, Justy?"
"No. Well, once."
"It was this way," Justin insists. "I hadn’t heard from Mandy in weeks. I dropped in to check on her." He explains how he found his friend lost in a summer infatuation. He was introduced to Doria, who took a liking to him. They went for a stroll together. They swam in the Sound, though the water was quite chilly. They returned to the studio, where they admired Doria's portrait, while they dried themselves and warmed up.
"Who warmed up who, Justy? Don’t get smart with me."
Doria is, as Didi surmised, rather fetching. Miranda was a bit jealous of her sudden attachment to Justin. She found Justin innocently drying Doria’s hair, and unceremoniously threw him, her oldest friend, out on his ear.
"What all are you leaving out?"
Reluctantly, Justin explains about Doria's fears, her playful vows before the photograph, and the sudden storm. It had been quite dramatic.
"What did you tell the girl?" Didi suspends Justin's sugar cube over his cup.
"Only that, in a decade or two, her portrait might look a bit glossier than the original." Didi drops the cube with a splash.
"Let me get this straight. You show up at Mandy’s. You borrow her girlfriend. Then you dance the little beauty's skeleton before her eyes." Justin reaches for his cup. Didi pulls it away. On the far side of her sits a plate of his favorite fudge-stripe cookies. "Have I about got it?" Didi asks. Justin frowns. He reaches for a cookie. Didi lifts the plate out of reach.
"I suppose there's something to what you say."
"Justin Clarence Whittington. What have you got to say for yourself?" Justin reaches for his tea with one hand, and the cookies with the other.
"I mean about the girl."
Montaigne III marches beside Didi with the same fierce air which distinguished his sire, Montaigne II, and his grandsire, Montaigne the Brave. He leads Didi through the columned vestibule and pauses, paw raised, then proceeds along the mahogany-paneled hallway past the smoking room and the ballroom with its dozen velvet-draped windows. He slows beside the dining room, where Bear and Didi's place settings, glittering islands of silver, are sequestered by the polished length of the table. He crosses the room on its long axis and, after securing the serving pantry, barks an all-clear. Fearlessly, he leaps the succession of the back stairwell's risers and establishes a beachhead on the upstairs landing.
The second floor stands beyond time's grasp. Here Justin, Didi's arm in his, is a tow-headed boy again. His mother's laughter rises to him from the garden, where she and the twins played croquet on a lost summer's afternoon. On the patio his father and Uncle Jack talk politics, over the solemn clink of ice cubes in amber whiskey. No, all is quiet.
Montaigne III traverses the library. Beside the hearth stands a Dutch silver spirit-case with siphons of soda-water and large cut-glass tumblers. Justin is shy in the presence of General George Wilcox Hamilton Whittington, who eyes him from within a massive oak frame above an inlaid table covered with financial publications. The general defends Mount Saratoga against a British force superior in numbers but inferior in salt beef and hard biscuit. His plump cheeks and sturdy stockinged legs lend him a carefree air. With three sharp barks, Montaigne III heralds Didi's arrival. A recliner swivels to face them. Bear, with his rising shock of white hair, his huge arms swinging by his sides, fights his way upright. He looks like a polar bear.
"Justy!" he shouts. Justin steps forward to submit to his great-uncle's bear hug. "New one didn't throw you out?"
"She will," Didi answers for her grandnephew. "Who do you think Justin's got himself tangled up with?" Justin takes his habitual place on the Tadjiki hassock.
"I said who do you suppose Justin's got himself tangled up with?" Didi yells into Bear’s ear. "A new Bolton girl, that's who." As if stuck by a musket ball, Bear falls heavily back into the yawning chair. "What year was it Kathy brought Cathy down, and Cathy ran off with Mark Gray?" Didi calls after him.
"After the war. You seen Kathy?" Bear asks Justin. "She ask about me?"
"Hush, you old fool. That’s right. Spring of forty-seven." Didi settles onto the settee and continues. "Catherine, who we called Cathy, the mother of your little Doria, was hands down the loveliest deb this side of the Mississippi." Bear murmurs something about Kathleen being even prettier. "Hush now," Didi tells him. "The Boltons were Boston people from way back. Ezekiel Bolton started out a stevedore and ended up richer than a two-term mayor. Old Puritan, tried to keep his daughter and granddaughter locked up and moral, but they liked dresses and hats."
"Kathy’s nice," Bear says.
"That’s enough out of you. Bear met Kathy once. Been silly on her ever since. The Bolton women have an effect on men. Where was I? Oh yes. Old Zeke kept Kathy and Cathy locked up in his Marblehead mansion until Cathy turned sixteen, when she busted out the way a girl will, the way her mom had. Told Kathy she was heading for New York City and Mom could stay home or come along. So Cathy came on down, saw the sights, found out what boys were for and where the dresses were made, and didn’t spend much time in Boston after that. Remember that April, Bear? The one just before Ted and Rudy popped the question to Pris and Pen?"
Priscilla and Penelope are now grandmothers. Justin has heard the tale of how the twins’ beaux had proposed on the same night, under the same moon, side by side, on bended knees.
"Kathy and Cathy created a commotion in every father and son who watched them cross Madison Avenue. I sent Bear, and the twin’s suitors Ted and Rudy, up to the fishing lodge in Wadenskill. Keep them safe and sound."
"Not dry, though," Bear says, and chuckles. There was hard drinking at the lodge in those days. The help did the fishing, along with their other chores. "Old men were forgetting their wedding vows every time Kathy asked one of them which way to the Waldorf. Young men were forgetting their own names when Cathy smiled. Mark Gray was no different. You’ve heard of Mark Gray?" Didi asks Justin, who rises to make himself a Shirley Temple. "Flying ace, second war. Golden boy, gave the Huns hell. Well, Mark Gray stumbled on Cathy and Kathy coming out of Saks under new hats. He was the genuine war hero, Mark Gray was. We all knew him from the newsies. Handsome, nice uniform, talking British and all. Mark joined up with that pack that followed Cathy down Fifth Avenue every afternoon, but he was quicker than our local boys. He snuck into Monsieur Caublochon's, guessing Kathy and Cathy would want all the dresses in the window. He passed himself off with the shop girls as the new fitter. Cathy came in with her handbag full of Bolton money she had squirreled away when the old man wasn’t looking. Mark got Cathy into the fitting room while Kathy was busy with something French out front. Mark proposed to Cathy in front of all those mirrors, while he was pinning her. Story was Cathy, vain as any girl, had one eye on the ace and the other on herself in the mirrors. She heard that accent, and said, Yes, I think I will marry you. But you’ll have to get a job where you won’t be looking at girls’ legs all day. She thought he was a fitter, not a fighter."
Justin eats his cherry and sips his grenadine-and-ginger-ale. He steps to the window and looks to where a tugboat inches into view on the East River. He sees the girl in the dress shop in front of the mirrors. The handsome pilot with the girl’s skirts gathered in his hands like a bouquet of flowers, murmuring words of love.
"We mothers were pleased to have Cathy off the market, I'll tell you," Didi continues. "She made our local debs, even the twins, pretty as they were, look like yesterday’s fish. As for our boys, she made them behave like the shameless skirt-chasers they are, and I'm not just talking about the young ones." Bear wears a foolish smile. "Hush," Didi tells him, though he’s silent. "Well, Cathy brought Mark up to Marblehead to old Zeke. Surprise was the stick-in-the-mud took to Mark Gray well enough. The lad had a way about him. Anybody could see that he could do an honest day's work, now that he was done blasting Huns out of the sky. Still, Bolton sent a private dick to London just to check what people Mark Gray was. You know what they say. No snob like a new snob."
Didi's fetches a cigarette from a silver box on the table. Justin hoists a two-foot battlefield Strettfield artillery piece from the side table, lifts the firehammer and releases it to produce a small blue flame. Didi lights up.
"Turned out Mark's father was a regular Dusty Naughtright. The kind people won't even tell you what he's done. Course, British folks are born ashamed and die mortified."
"Didi," Justin prompts. "What’s all this got to do with Doria?"
"Hold your horses. For one thing, it meant Cathy would be back in New York for a second run on every mother's son. For another, we all thought Mark's wooing Cathy had been sweet and romantic, she getting out from under old man Bolton. We were rooting for her, even though we wanted to get rid of her. Sure enough old Zeke locked Kathy and Cathy back up in his Marblehead castle as soon as he got the news from the dick. Refused to let the girl out even to tell Mark goodbye. Remember, Bear? Not because of anything the boy had done," Didi's smoking cigarette emphasizes. "This was strictly a sins-of-the-father situation."
Silence. Time. Blue smoke rings.
"So," Justin prompts.
"Mark landed on the ocean side of old Bolton's place in a Bobwit 111. Clear night, end of June. Catherine dropped a rope made of trousseau sheets from her tower and ran down to the beach with only a couple of suitcases and maybe a dozen hat boxes. Mark kissed her. Flew her to New York where they boarded the Q.E. just before she floated. We mothers had a little party the day we heard. We wished the couple a good life in London, where we would never have to see either the front or the back of Kathy or Cathy again." Didi leans forward. Suddenly she frowns. "But something bad happened. Something just awful."
Bear holds his great head in his hands and rocks. Behind him, on the mantelpiece, the golden cylinders of the ormolu clock spin with liquid sloth.
"Cathy and Mark didn’t settle down right away. They were married shipboard but instead of going to London they took a year to sail the world. Bear’s buddy Doug Philips tangoed right into them one night in Buenos Aires. A few months later that old busybody Lucy Winslow's boy Henry tripped over them drinking tea in a garden in Kyoto. Figuring out what continent the Grays were on became a kind of game for everybody who had nothing better to think about. When the dust settled as much as it was ever going to, Mark and Cathy didn’t settle in London after all. Guess Mark’s father had been such a scoundrel he thought he better just make a fresh start. He and Cathy set up house in Venice, a pretty little place from what we heard, over top of one of those canals. Cathy opened a school for blind children. She was trained for that. They were about to start a family when old Bolton sent a man after them."
Bear, cupping his ear, shakes his head sorrowfully.
"This man Bolton hired found Cathy and Mark having a picnic on the Lido."
"They fought it out," Bear bellows.
"Keep your pants on! Who's telling the story?"
One smoke ring. Another. Bear whimpers.
"Like I said, the gun found Cathy and Mark picnicking on the beach," Didi says. "He kicked a peck of sand into their pasta."
"In the pasta?" Justin repeats, as if this were the crime. Didi's hand reappears with a fresh cigarillo. Justin leaps to his feet, hoists and fires the cannon. Didi draws contentedly.
"He did. Mark stood up and broke the fellow's nose for him. So what does the gun do? He demands satisfaction as if he were a gentleman. He and Mark meet at the same spot next morning."
"Mark got his man?" Justin asks. "He was a crack shot, naturally."
"Yes and no. Truth to tell, they shot each other dead as doorknobs."
"No." Justin rises, steps to the window, presses his forehead to the cool glass. He follows the sweep of lawn over the stone river wall. He sees the Lido at dawn.
"Dead!" Bear cries.
"The other fellow cheated, see. Otherwise, as you say, Mark would have winged him, pinned a note to his chest, and sent him home to his father-in-law. Best regards, no hard feelings, come for Christmas."
Justin stares out at the river.
"But the man pretended to lose his nerve and call the thing off. He waited until Mark lowered his gun, then shot Mark through the shoulder. Mark traded his gun to his left and shot the dog down, but not before the dog got off another shot. So they both bit bacon, the good and the ugly."
In his mind’s eye, Justin sees two men, one tall and slender, with long fair hair and flashing eyes, the other a dumb, powerful brute, pace off the sand. He sees the puffs of smoke, watches the men tumble to earth.
"Catherine?" he asks.
"Cathy came on home," Didi tells him. "Moved back to Boston but not to the castle. Taught at the Carroll Home for the Blind. Had her baby daughter with her. Baby must have been a wedding present. Happened on those honeymoon voyages. Mothers called it the danger of privacy on the high seas."
Justin gazes past her. Doria's life had begun in tragedy.
"Boys all went after Cathy again, soon as she was back. Cliff Russell left his father's bank the day he heard. Instead of taking the car downtown, he took it to Boston. Settled in the house across the street from Cathy on Beacon Hill. Became a painter--funny, fuzzy things. No one could make head or tail of them. Courted Cathy with flowers for eleven years, morning and night. Also treats for the baby--chocolates, dolls, picture books he painted and sewed up himself. Cathy liked Cliff all right. She married him right around the time old Bolton passed on. Your Aunt May and Wilbert play doubles with Cathy and Cliff out at the Hills Club. Cathy's a good looking woman, May tells me, for her age. No surprise there."
"Is the girl," Bear stutters. "Is she real pretty?"
"Bear," Justin tells his great-uncle. "Doria is as lovely as a song."
"I've never been to a literary party before," Doria confesses. "What happens?"
"Small books orbit big books. Big books get chairs."
Justin leads Doria to a cluster of guests. A woman with a long neck, tiny black eyes and wonderful emeralds, holds court.
"Doria Gray Russell," Justin announces. "Just published Requiem For a Noun, a pastoral lyric in the Southern tradition."
There is a moment of silence. Heads nod cautiously.
"I've heard wonderful things about it," the seated woman pronounces. "Have you started anything new?"
"I don't really--"
"Mustn't tell, darling," Justin interrupts. "A young woman must guard a book project as she would her honor." He pulls Doria toward a dapper fellow in a cowboy hat. The man straddles a piano stool at the center of a circle of robust young men.
"Doria Gray Russell. Back from touring The Unbearable Whiteness of Linen. Now in its third printing."
"Yesss," one of them says. "Who's your agent?"
"Doria is with Spanky Champagne. Incomparable Universal Talent."
"Advance?" another asks. "Film? Paperback?" They all move closer.
"Steady." Justin places a hand on two broad chests and pushes. He draws Doria onward. Victoria Adams lies across a Bahaus chair wearing a rose chenille gown, backless, nearly frontless, and high on the thigh. There’s a young man under her.
"Doria Gray Russell," Justin tells them. "You've read her book on the Boulder New Age scene, Naropa on Five Feelings a Day: The Karma Lite Nuns."
"Doria, you are perfect," Victoria extends her hand, palm downward. "How damn young are you?"
"Tell her exactly," Justin advises. "It looks calculating."
"Well I don't mind telling you," Vicki says, "I wish you were fully fifteen years older and more than usually plain."
"Doria will never be older."
"Justin has been so frisky since he met you at Mandy's. You've got him quite stirred up."
"Hi," the guy under Victoria says.
"Breux Calhoun." Justin tells Doria. "A novelist of ideas. Not always good ideas." Breux, with dimpled chin, auburn curls, and sparkling blue eyes, stands and arranges his jacket.
"Doria, this is my best looking boy. Use him but don't break him."
Victoria rises and leads Justin off by the tie. A faint odor of frangipanni lingers.
"So you're not actually a writer? Even in the afternoon?" Breux asks.
"I'm a drop-out," Doria says. "Have I seen your books?"
Doria and Breux stand by art on a long wall.
"Unlikely. I have only published one very, very promising short story."
"What do you write about?"
"Dogs." Breux hands Doria a tiny ebony box and a doll-house metal spoon. She follows Breux’s example and sniffs a spoonful. Her nose twitches like a bunny rabbit's.
"Jeepers," she says. "That tickles. What are you working on?"
"A bestseller. I've discovered the formula. A story that combines melodrama and spiritual surrender."
He pulls Doria to him.
"You talk funny. What about the dogs?"
"You walk funny. What about them?"
"You're squeezing me."
"I'm kissing you."
He is indeed. She frees herself at last and leans back against his arms.
"Breux Calhoun. You devil."
"No," he tells her. "Distraction."
iii. Holy Mother
"Mother Guttierez," Justin addresses the tall, solemn woman who stands at the edge of the gathering. "I would like to introduce you to Victoria.."
"I have heard so much about you," Mother Laura, of the Mission of Heavenly Mercy of San Salvador, tells Victoria. "Justin has assured me that you will be as devoted a mother as you are a wife."
"Motherhood is an inherited disease of teen to middle-aged women. Sexually transmitted. Takes the form of one or more motile parasitic organisms who leave the host with blue veins, stained blouses, and no weekends."
"Darling, such wild talk. The truth is Victoria awakened only last night, weeping. She had a dream in which she was searching in a dark wood. She heard a child crying..."
"I was running the other way as fast as I could," Victoria assures Mother Laura, "but my feet were so heavy."
"Pardon me. Why do you ask us for a daughter, rather than a son?"
Victoria coughs mid-Gibson.
"Ask for a daughter? What are you talking about? Babies wreck your complexion. Stretch you out like an old sock. In the end, they come after your pearls and your bedroom set."
"You beseige our order every week with requests for--"
"I’m sorry, Sister. You’re cracked."
"Darling," Justin stage whispers. "The letters."
Victoria laughs shrilly.
"I hate to tell you this, Laurie--can I call you Laurie? Justin takes care of all our correspondence. You forget, I write all day. I'm not about to go writing letters for charity. Justin does all that. In the morning he won't let me have my damn coffee or my reading glasses until I've signed something or other. If he wasn't as rich as Cresus I'd swear he was robbing me blind. He's old school. Steal from your wife, give to the poor."
"Mrs. Whittington, we appreciate your generosity. As you know we have recently opened the Victoria Whittington Memorial Eye and Organ House."
"Eyeballs and kidneys? What do you mean memorial? It’s been two years since my last book, but I'm not dead. And it’s not Victoria Whittington."
"Dumpling. We were offered the fertility clinic. I told you--"
"Justin, you're sleeping at the Plaza tonight."
"Mrs. Whittington. What I must know is this. Do you truly wish, in your heart, for a child?"
"Laurie, for the last time, Mrs. Whittington is Justin’s ex. She’s in Paris spending it faster than she can change it into euros. I’m Victoria Adams, you call me Vickie. Now about the baby. I need a baby like I need a bad dye job. I’m happy to support your hospital, but please don’t be naming anything after me. I’m not dead and I’m not remaindered. I’m going to go get another drink. Can I get you one, Laurie? All right, nice to meet you then. Justin, you better have some answers."
She strides off.
"What a spirit," Justin tells Mother Laura. "Victoria loves to play games. You know how writers are. The truth is she talks about nothing but how much she wants a little girl baby. She is obsessed with nursery furniture, little pink and blue clothes, socket plugs. She's ready, I tell you. Now about the Justin Whittington surgery theater. Let’s have a word in my study, shall we?"
iv. Fight Fiercely
"Punctuality," Justin tells Miranda, "is the thief of time."
"It's almost nine. You said seven."
"It is almost always almost nine." Justin leads Miranda into the recesses of the Harvard Club. "Now I assure you, you will find our alma mater preserved here. Overcooked vegetables, underfed minds, dismal things on the walls." Justin heads toward the dining room.
"Justin. I don't want dinner."
"How rude of me not to explain. I wouldn't think of dining here. The Harvard Club is only for cocktails, Halloween, and accountants."
"I came here to tell you that I will never see you again."
"Never is a dreary word, darling. Almost as dreary as always. Perhaps a drop of sherry would temper your resolve."
"You tricked me."
"Please, let us not have words. I dislike arguments of any kind. They animate ones expression and are often convincing."
"Everything amuses you."
"Not if it amuses others."
"I'm tired of your games. I thought you were my friend."
"Don't speak. You may say what I will always regret."
"You stole Doria from me. You brought her to the city and turned her into one of your admirers."
"Ah, Doria. She neglects you and I am chided. The faithful taking the whipping for the busy. Come and have that drink. I'll let you in on a secret about our young friend." They enter the bar. "Doria has met a boy. This boy has published a very, very promising short story in the Paris Review. In the style of Cormack McCarthy, but with dogs not horses."
"I don't care."
"You must read McCarthy. He is Faulkner crossed with Tarantino. Anyway, Doria’s boy wrote a story, All the Pretty Pups. Doria is smitten. All young women are helpless before a man with a pen, especially if he has dimples. Breux has three." Miranda looks askance. "Chin." Justin touches her chin. "One can argue with the cheeks, but not with the cheeks and the chin. One can only wait them out."
"I don't like the way you talk about Doria."
"I don't like your Pappagallos."
Miranda bursts into tears. Justin pulls her close.
"I'm sorry. You didn't pay too much for them, I hope. They are practical."
"Life is brutal and badly lit, but that doesn't mean we have to dress for it. Tomorrow we'll drop by Fratelli-Rosetti. I know a girl there. I know all the girls there."
"Hasn't Doria been to see you?"
"She hasn't called." Miranda's eyes rain fresh tears. Justin shelters her. "I miss her."
"Sweetheart, Doria must behave abysmally to everyone about whom she cares deeply." He daubs at Miranda's eyes with a crimson napkin. He offers her a sip of vermouth and orange bitters. "One's self, at her age, is selfish."
"She hasn't told me about Breux."
"Victoria buys him clothes. I buy him books. He wears both to our parties."
Laughter sounds from a neighboring table. A silver-haired waiter conveys a platter back to the kitchen. Miranda looks about. The dining room houses a collection of boys as weathered and innocent as hymnals. A shriveled creature wearing bottle-bottom spectacles and a tattered Harvard tie sleeps. Across from him, a fit-looking fellow of the same vintage munches a salad.
"Age," Justin notes, "sucks." He scans the xeroxed menu. "I recommend only the popovers. It may be necessary to do something desperate about Doria. That, of course, requires careful consideration."
Six glasses are arrayed before them. The clock strikes eleven.
"I think you are wrong, Miranda, but only the intellectually lost argue. I have carefully considered our two positions and I am bound to tell you that I am persuaded of the correctness of my view."
"I don't even have Doria's portrait. Besides, I will never show my work. I want nothing to do with critics. I will not be part of this city's aptly named art marketplace."
"Miranda, hush. Culture isn't the sort of thing decent people discuss."
"It's perfectly easy to be cynical."
"Not at all."
"If you cared about me--"
"I am devoted to you. You cannot keep Doria locked up. You've seen that already. Open her cage and she will fly a great circle and return."
"I just wish she would come and see me. Her portrait isn't just another--"
"It is a magical thing," Justin assures her.
"This is the only way," Justin insists. Miranda blinks away her tears.
"All right," she tells Justin. "Show the portrait at your gallery. Doria has it. I'll come for an hour."
iv. Mirror, Mirror
Breux and Doria are in Doria’s Chelsea apartment, she at her makeup table, Breux at his phone.
"Do you mind," Breux asks, "if I objectify you for the purposes of idealization?"
"As long as I don’t die."
"Why should you die?"
"So that you can rework me in memory."
"I see. That is an idea," Breux says, and attacks his phone for a moment. "Seriously," he says when the creative fit has passed. "How do you look fresh and rested, while I—"
"Look like you took me clubbing till four, then out to breakfast, made love to me instead of letting me sleep, and then worked on your very, very promising first novel."
It is true that Doria is as rosy and alert as one lazy summer afternoon a month before. Yet she and Breux have been adrift in a sea of alcohol, under clouds of cannabis, buoyed by pills, for weeks. Most days they sleep a few hours in the afternoon.
"How do you do it, night after night?" Breux asks. Doria makes her way to the bathroom, and runs a bath. She settles, with a sigh, into the water. She smiles, feeling like a new girl who needs a new outfit. She dries off, opens her walk-in closet, and pushes aside a row of blouses. Miranda's portrait beckons from the shadows. Doria lifts it from the closet and sets in on the sink.
"Poor thing. You wook terrible. Bad boyfwiend made you stay out wate again?" She shakes her finger at herself. "Made you dwink all those Margawitas?"
"Who are you talking to?"
"Well ask yourself to let me in. I have something for you."
"You always have something for me, Breux Calhoun. Keep writing."
"The writer needs experience."
"I think you've had enough experience today."
Suddenly, Doria turns pale. Trembling, she leans over and studies the photograph closely.
Doria grips a towel rack.
"Where were we last night?"
Above her, on the portrait's gently curved hip, is a pink rose pierced by a silver dagger. Beneath are tattooed the words, Tempus fur amoris est.
"Where weren't we? We ended up at The Box. I played virtual pool. You went off with Candy. I couldn't find you for hours."
Doria looks at her own hip. Her skin is unmarked.
"Kitten? We've got to leave an hour ago. We’re meeting some people at Avenue A for sushi."
"Did I say anything about a tattoo?"
"You did. I informed you that it was illegal to deface a national monument."
"Did I do it anyway?"
"You would remember, sweetheart. Tatoos hurt. Besides, I checked you all over. You're pristine, like the chapel."
"Mom's going to kill me."
"For what? Let me in. I have to grunge. I can't possibly go east looking like this. Have you seen my studs?"
Doria hides the portrait.
"The critic stands squarely before the artist in life, and on top of him in death," Justin says.
"Shut it," Victoria tells him. She and Justin linger among early guests at the entrance to his Fifty‑Seventh Street gallery. Bernard Sylvan Miles, editorial director of Art, gives his hosts a perfunctory nod, then dictates into a phone as he wanders past Miranda's photographs.
"If Bernard were not so painfully under dressed, one might almost forgive him for being so over educated."
"Zip it, Justin. Paradoxes are to the Wasp what puns are to the Jew. What's Miles talking about? I thought he was a publisher."
"A publisher does nothing and takes everything. Miles is an editor."
"He's taking notes. He must write something."
"Editors dictate. It's what they call dialogue."
Beyond the tinted doors, limousines settle to the curb. Passengers alight trailing wraps and husbands.
"I need my lipstick. Where did I put my purse?"
"Here," Justin says, taking the lipstick from his pocket.
"You take such good care of me. That was why I married you, wasn’t it?"
"You married me because you love me."
Victoria suddenly pulls Justin toward the door, where she kisses him theatrically. Justin, eyes wide, notes that Elizabeth Greeley, Victoria's arch rival, has just reached the curb in a swirl of pleated cream off-the-shoulder up-one-leg and down-the-other Bill Blass chiffon.
At almost eleven, the opening is in full swing. The nearest champagne is being swung about on a tray by a tall boy who, despite his black tie and white arm cloth, looks as if he just stepped out of the garage of his parents' house in Syosset.
"Let me take that bottle," Justin tells him. "Bring the gentlemen with the track lit-heads Scotch."
"Sure. This your place?"
"It is. Why is it that caterers drink only my best champagne?"
"I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. Karen, boss-lady, fancies Perriet-Jouets. I find them a tad sanctimonious."
Justin quite agrees. He asks the boy what he studies.
"What used to be Marxist economics. At what used to be NYU." He sticks out his hand. "Steve Blum."
"Justin Whittington. Have another glass, bring the boys their whiskey, and then look after my chatouille bouches, would you?
"At once. How did you keep the chanterelles from limping?"
"Don't wash them, keep them cold. Not too cold."
"Dirt. No fridge. Capiche."
Steve crosses the room. Justin follows the promising young man with his eyes.
Victoria's laughter splinters the night like a sideboard of Dresden china hitting the marble floor.
"Whatever possessed you to take up farming?" she asks a fellow in a bespoke one-button.
"City life," he answers, "was too quiet."
Miranda's old Volvo noses the curb. Miranda gets out and lifts her photograph, wrapped in one of Doria's bed sheets, from the hatchback. Justin sweeps forward past thirty years of Miranda's work. The passenger door opens. Doria's legs swing to the pavement. She stands, hair tumbling forward in a golden wave. The guests are still. Miranda sets the portrait on the roof and adjusts Doria's gown. Doria's lips move silently. Miranda kisses her.
Justin hastens past Victoria through the entrance. He lifts the portrait and escorts the women inside. Victoria and Miranda embrace.
"Do you know," Justin asks Doria, "that you are exactly as captivating as the day I met you?"
The crowd envelops them. The young caterer pivots and dodges, waving a platter of boutons-en-blousons. He sees Doria and stops. A tangle of hands empties his platter. Steve tilts his head gradually to larboard. Doria angles her face to starboard. They gaze into each other's eyes. Steve approaches, lifting his knees high like a sleepwalker.
"Can I be brutally honest?"
"You may be either brutal or honest."
"Let me state frankly," Steve stands an arm's length from Doria, "that you are, in every respect, the visible incarnation of absolute perfection."
"A person should say what they feel." Doria's voice is solemn.
"Yes. No. I have a boyfriend."
Justin looks from one of them to the other.
"Steve Blum," he says. "Doria Russell. Steve is a New Marxist, Doria. Doria is a New Feminist, Steve."
Justin lifts a hand slowly up and down between the pair.
"Mr. Blum, from this moment forward, your job is to keep people from touching Doria. Forget the hors d’oevres."
"Got it, jefe."
"Doria, you're going to have to be very patient with Steve, because he won't go away."
"No. I don’t suppose he will."
"I'll take that tray," Justin tells Steve.
"I've been waiting for you," Steve tells Doria a few minutes later.
"Syosset, until last July fourth. That was when we became engaged."
"I had no idea."
"Want to know how it happened?"
"It was like this." Steve takes Doria's hand and escorts her the length of the gallery.
"I loved you, but I had no idea who you were. I tried to be understanding, but I found myself angry. We had a fight--"
"It was my fault."
"No, I started it. I don't even remember what it was about. Clothes or money, or where to eat."
"It was serious, then."
"It might have been," Steve admits. "We were exhausted, me with waiting, you with my indirection. I had to make a commitment."
"After a long struggle with myself, I decided to end the matter one way or another. It was, as I might have mentioned, the fourth of July. I proposed to you at midnight on the Jones' Beach pier beneath the fireworks. I'll never forget what you said."
"No. What was it?"
"My head was spinning. I was so happy. You said you would be mine, that you always had been mine and that, when we met, you would still be mine."
"I was beside myself," Doria tells him.
Justin lifts the drape from Miranda's portrait. Doria has spent the last week in preparation for this moment. She has slept in every night and eaten only the bitterest greens. Her eyes in the photograph are shadowless. Her skin glows with last summer’s light. She has touched up the portrait's left hip with Lancôme foundation--the tattoo is the faintest outline.
The crowd sighs. Steve turns his back to the image.
"I don't believe in nudity before marriage."
"How about boyfriends? Mine's right behind you."
Steve turns and meets Breux eye to eye.
"Good evening. You will always be welcome in our home."
"Nice meeting you, too." Hypnotized by the portrait, Breux steps to Doria's side. "You are a vision."
"Try not to think about it," Doria advises.
"Let's go where we can talk."
The speaker, a tall woman with biorhythms a blind man could dance to, all but lifts Doria off the floor and carries her to the edge of the crowd. Steve stands in front of her, arms crossed.
"Put her down."
"Get out of my way. I'm an agent."
Steve drops a step back.
"Triggy Landon," the woman tells Doria. "I want you for Chanel No. 5. I've got an old scent and I need a new skin. Next month I'll double-spread you across every magazine that doesn't come in shrink wrap. I mean that you I saw lying on the sofa upstairs, but I’ll airbrush undies on. I'll give you eight out front if you sign tonight. Six tomorrow. Four the day after. Don’t go to sleep without calling me. Here's my card. This talks to my cell. I'm leaving in five minutes. Ask Justin who's Triggy."
The card is sable. The number is gold. Justin peers down from the top of the stairwell, brow raised.
i. Air Salvador
"Paris is empty this month," Victoria tells Justin. "Rome is crumbling. Milan has too many models and too many courses--either might be fine. Athens is hotter than Washington. Moscow isn't sure. I want to stay home."
"Darling, we live in New York. We must travel if only so that we can confirm the superiority of every nation’s cuisine when it is found on the Upper West Side."
"Justin," Victoria says, studying herself in the car’s cosmetic mirror. "Wherever you think I want to go, I don’t. London is the most vulgar city west of Hong Kong. Berlin is in Germany. Prague is full of Americans. That leaves Monaco and I’ve been to Monaco." The Jag approaches Kennedy. "When I said I needed to get out of town for our anniversary, I meant with Jeff."
Justin threads traffic. "Hopeless romantic."
"I don’t want another thirty-fourth birthday and I don’t want to travel. I don’t care if I don’t know our destination, if I don't have to pack, and am supposed to buy everything I need when we get there." A truck honks protest. "You call it adventure, Justin. But I know how this ends. In twelve hours I'm jet-lagged, wearing a turquoise thong, with unwaxed floss wrapped around my thumbs."
"Hush, butternut. You will never be thirty-four again again."
"It was that article I caught you reading, wasn't it? The Secret of Marriage Is Surprise." Victoria moues into the vanity. "You must be confusing me with someone giddy and spontaneious. I'm the new wife, remember?"
"I know you don’t like surprises," Justin assures her. "I’ve read your mysteries."
The Air Salvador pilot, in an olive uniform with gold braid, leads Victoria to the elevator.
"Please tell this man I don't do Central America. If that’s your surprise, forget it."
"He's taking us downstairs. Baggage comes in downstairs."
Justin exchanges a few words in Spanish with the gentleman, who nods.
"Whatever you two are talking about, stop. I can’t stand it when men reach an understanding."
The elevators open. A stewardess comes forward holding a baby in a pink flannel blanket, a tiny pink bow in her full black hair. The baby looks about with large chocolate eyes, purses strawberry lips. Holds a tiny red fist to her ear, like a princess phone.
"Happy birthday, Victoria. May I present Esmeralda Mirabella Juliana."
"Justin. What. You don't. She's not..." Victoria clutches Justin's arm. He steadies her.
"Perdon, Senior Whittington," the pilot murmurs. "This is not Esmeralda Mirabella Juliana. This is Esmeralda. Here are Mirabella and Juliana." Two more Air Salvador stewardesses step forward, each of whom bears a baby in a pink blanket. Each infant wears the same pink bow upon her head. Each has identical dark eyes and ruby lips.
"Do you mean to say Esmeralda Mirabella Juliana isn't... Mother Guttierez wrote that we would..." Now it is Justin who steadies himself on Victoria's shoulder. Victoria looks past him.
"Damn you," she whispers. "You ordered us a baby. You wonderful, horrible man. I’ve warned you about catalogues. Now we’ve got three angels." Victoria rushes forward and tries to take all the little girls in her arms. "My beautiful girls! Justin," she says, turning to him, "get the car."
ii. Whirled Peas
Doria and Steve, Victoria and Miranda, sweep toward Lincoln Center opera house. Every head in the courtyard turns. There is not a woman who hasn't seen Doria in the pages of a magazine during the last weeks.
"Where's Justin?" Miranda asks.
"Giving the baby sitter instructions," Victoria says. "He'll be here in an hour."
"You look lovely this evening," Steve tells Victoria.
"It's the sleep. Justin used to make love to me at night. He’s a father now."
"You're the world's best mother. You’re up half the night."
"Doria, don't believe a word Justin tells you. One starts crying, they all start crying. I sleep in our neighbor the shrink’s sound-proofed office."
"How can Justin take care of all three?"
"Paternity is men's strong suit. Men either raise children themselves or turn into them in their early forties."
"But Justin says you devote yourself--"
"Men give us children to save the marriage. We give them back to save the men."
"You look happier than I've ever seen you," Miranda tells her.
"Motherhood is the perfect excuse never to return phone calls, to put on twenty pounds, and to become conservative except as regards school spending. I play with the darlings when Justin has them gussied up in the morning. At night I spend time with them before I go out. Justin stays home. I've never worried less."
"Marriage is difficult, Doria. A husband out of sight is unthinkable. A husband nearby is unendurable."
"I blogged about you today," Steve confesses to Doria when they have all found their seats. He sports black jeans, hemp sandals, a green nylon belt, and a Knicks shirt.
"Everyone. My DORIA page is a multimedia representation of love's most private moments, intended for the widest possible electronic public."
"I find your public exposure of your feelings reprehensible. I myself," Doria tells him, "am saving my most intimate secrets for my screenplay. By the way, Breux is gone."
"There was really no place for him in your heart."
"I was sure that was true until yesterday. Suddenly, I feared I might be mistaken."
"You didn't break up with him?"
"No. I had prepared a truly generous goodbye. I wanted to tell Breux that I had feelings for him of a kind that were no longer the sort of feelings a woman should have for the man for whom she has feelings. But then he said he had to talk to me. We went out to dinner and he paid. He confessed that he'd met a woman at Justin's gallery and proceeded to offer me far more information about her than I asked. Svetlana Rosalyn Stokes-Warshawsky. Used to play ultimate frisbee, has bundles of red hair, and is fiction editor of the New Yorker."
"I saw Breux with her at the opening. She was striking, in all senses."
"I never had the opportunity to let Breux down gently. This leaves me oddly unable to stop wanting to hurt him. You won't ever leave me, will you, Steve?"
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"All men dream of desertion. Women dream of independence. Where's that submarine you promised? With provolone on a toasted seven-grain?" Steve pulls a Blimpie's bag from his Guatemalan purse. "You supersized it."
"I couldn’t help myself."
"Why such reckless extravagance in one so young?"
Justin arrives during the second pause. His tux is rumpled, his spats speckled, his eyes bleary. He looks like his own father.
"Mandy, those sapphires are divine. Why is it that other women inevitably show one's wife's jewels to best advantage?" Miranda works vigorously at Justin's spats with a kerchief. "Whirled peas," he explains. "Who's singing?"
"Luigi, Tomas, Marissa, and that new girl with the important figure. She's due to die in twenty minutes."
"Katerina Elisabetta Addis. I read about her," Doria tells them all. "Robertson discovered her in Padua."
"No one has yet discovered Ms. Addis," a man beside them says. "At best, she has been detected."
"Esmeralda, Mirabella, and Juliana sent you these," Justin tells Victoria, kissing her thrice.
"How are my angels?"
"Polyphonic. By the way, where's Br--" Suddenly he bends to rub his ankle. Victoria looks innocently toward the curtained stage. Steve appears at the door of the loge with a tray of champagne.
"Ah. Our left-leaning friend." Justin salutes. Steve answers with an upraised fist, then opens it to offers Victoria a crumpled wad of bills.
"Change back from your hundred."
"Boyfriend, wherefore dalliest thou?" Doria says to him. "Come hither forthwith." Steve and Doria entwine arms, and drink deeply. Justin observes.
"You two astonish me. When I was your age--"
"You were never our age."
"Young woman. What possible excuse--"
"It is all my fault," Steve breaks a kiss to say. "Doria finds me fascinating. I find that irresistible."
"Huh?" Doria says.
"Many a woman," Justin tells Vicki during mid-aria, "has fallen in love in a light so dim she would not choose a scarf by it."
"You never approved of Breux."
"Breux speaks beautifully and dresses thoughtfully. He is very, very promising."
"But for Doria?"
"I have only three requirements of any young man who would court Doria or, when the time comes, one of our own daughters. He must contradict his elders, he must use prophylactics religiously and religion prophylactically, and he must abhor musicals."
"Old men are always wrong. Ask one's opinion of last night's news and he solemnly tells you what happened in 1946, when Americans wore synthetic socks, thought Ernest Hemingway knew women, and believed in the business cycle."
"Steve doesn't have Breux' looks. He's too sincere."
"Yet Doria is his. Women dream of elegant, independent men, but they marry quite another sort."
"Sturdy honest fellows who will carry them over life's rock-strewn path."
"Justin, for once you've said something quite true."
"Nothing is ever quite true."
iii. Slumber Divine
"It's Doria. She's in trouble."
"Miranda," Justin whispers into the telephone. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Last night I had a nightmare. Doria was trapped in a cave, surrounded by clocks with mirror faces."
"Nap time, Miranda. Two-thirty in the afternoon. Hardly time for surrealist cinema."
"She can't get out. The clocks drip down the walls. The cave is filled with sighs."
"I spoke to Doria yesterday, Miranda. She's having shoe trouble, but otherwise she is well. She wanted to know where she should have her Manolo Blahniks re-chiced."
"We've got to help her. I’m going to come into the city and find her. Go to her now."
"Sleep, Bumblebees," Justin tells Esmeralda Mirabella Juliana. "Mandy, I'm in finance and early childhood education." An cry rises and is joined in close three-part dissonance. "What can I do to help Doria? What does she need that Steve can’t give her, besides a chance at unhappiness?" The cries redouble. In the din, Justin sets the phone down and dances around the room, singing "Blue Moon" in a mixture of Kentucky English and Catalan Spanish. At last, he picks up the receiver. "I apologize, but that's the only language these girls understand. Now look. What's all this about mirrors, clocks, and caves. You're not going to drive all the way up the Long Island Expressway just because you dreamt Bergman. It's time Doria took care of herself. Mandy?" Justin gently sets the phone in its cradle. He gazes at the girls in their cradles. They are all looking at him expectantly. "Perhaps Mandy’s right," he whispers. "Perhaps Doria does need me, once more. Victoria?" He walks out of the nursery.
iv. Not Whom I Seem
Through open curtains, city lights twinkle. Doria rises from bed, fetches a knife from a cupboard in her kitchenette, and proceeds to her closet. She thrusts aside her clothes. In the dimness hangs her portrait. With a blow of the knife handle, she smashes the glass from the frame. She raises the knife above her head. "Let. Everything. Change," she intones. Eyes closed, she stabs downward. Doria opens her eyes to find Steve, holding a pizza box like a shield, the knife buried in it.
"Deliverance. Well," he says, "delivery." Carefully, he takes the knife from Doria. "Where do you suppose the original Original Ray's Pizza Ray is?" Doria stares at him.
"I want... I need..." She tries to get past him, but Steve blocks her access to Miranda's photograph.
"Was the original Ray in fact Raymundo di Spelenza Tagliacozzo," Steve asks her, "a Sardinian fisherman who swore, after the death of his brother in a storm, that he would never look at another fish? This would account for the absence of anchovies in the menu, circa 1923, which hangs upon the wall of the Eighth Street establishment to this day." Doria stares at her empty hands. Steve takes her in his arms. "Or was he Delray Montgomery Prince, of Green Point, Brooklyn. Delray’s grandson still spin-tosses a mean crust. Eggplant or pepperoni? I ordered half and half."
"Doria?" Steve holds her at arms length. He looks closely at her for the first time. "Are you okay? You sound sad and really tired, but you look great. How do you stand that? When I feel bad, I don’t shave and I scowl. I want everyone to know at a glance that I’m having a hard youth. And that’s before I start whining."
"Yes. You understand. I can’t take it anymore."
“I understand you because we are soul mates. Which is not at all incompatible with your unfathomable mystery."
An hour later, Steve and Doria lie on the floor, surrounded by nibbled crusts and soda cans. "Better?" Steve asks. Doria nods. "You're trapped in your look. It's the Marilyn thing."
"Marilyn aged. She didn’t have the curse of never aging."
"She had a windy vent curse."
"When I feel terrible, I look edible. That gets old."
"Getting old gets old, too. Take Mick Jagger."
"The Dead Sea Scroll of rock 'n roll."
"Time Is On His Side."
"Dye Me Black."
"Start Him Up."
"Sympathy For The Level."
"Enough," Doria says.
"You started it. What I'm saying, Doe, is that everybody gets old and fat sooner or later."
"How do you know?"
"I made a pact with God, Time, or the fashion industry. Justin set it up for me. We did it at Mandy’s last summer."
"Damn, he is well connected. What are your terms?"
"I swapped souls with the photograph. The picture ages and gains, starts looking cunning, and generally loses that girl-next-door look. I stay young, nubile, and innocent. What I didn’t consider at the time are two things. One, I have a bad day, nobody can tell. That's why I was trying to knife the portrait. I thought maybe if I broke the contract, I could just be a normal Bryn Mawr sophomore again."
"The photograph has an exclusive on you? What’s two?"
"Two is I have to organize my life around keeping the portrait buffed and beautiful. Right now, for instance, Justin booked it into the Modern for a top contemporary photographers show. That means I have to start dieting yesterday, and sleeping in, just so my portrait will look as good as the other photographs, whose models can do whatever they want—eat, age, even develop a certain cynicism."
"Wait. That business about the picture getting old while you stay young. Sounds familiar. I saw this movie on TV. I can't remember how it ends."
"It is typical Oscar Wilde," Justin says, entering the room and reaching for one of the two remaining slices of pizza. "Entirely unlike anything else he wrote."
"Justin. We were just talking about you."
"Why doesn't everybody come right in," Doria says. "No need to knock."
"The door was open. I came to save your soul. Ray's Original, I see."
"You think so?"
"Well, there's is the Brooklyn Ray. Delray Montgomery Prince is his full name."
"Another expert," Doria says. Justin steps to the open closet, examines the broken glass.
"We weren't going to do anything dramatic, were we?"
"We mustn’t. Conventional conflict and resolution doesn’t work any more."
"I want to kill that photograph. I’m a slave to that thing."
"Darling, that portrait was wrought with love. If it were to be damaged, all would turn upside down. Things would go bump in the night. The very graves would ope and yawn."
"Ope?" Steve says, yawning.
"Tell her the truth, Justin," Miranda says, coming into the apartment.
"Miranda? What are you--"
"How nice of you to drop by," Doria says wearily.
"I had a terrible dream. You were trapped in a cave, and the clocks were dripping from the stone walls."
"I saw that one, too," Steve says.
"The portrait," Doria says.
"Yes?" Miranda asks.
"I know," Miranda tells her. "You were right. It doesn't matter." Miranda comes forward. Gently, she traces the lines of Doria's face. The girl is days older--around her eyes, in the corners of her full lips. "The spell has already been lifted."
She leads Doria to the mirror. Doria gasps and lifts a hand to her eyes. She purses her lips and sucks in her cheeks.
"How. Wait. I didn't mean..."
"In the dream," Miranda says, "You said, Let--"
"Everything," Doria whispers.
"Change," Miranda finishes. "But how did you know my dream?"
"How did you know my mantra? I’ve been saying that to myself over and over."
"I told you," Miranda says. "I hear your voice all the time. Not just when I sleep. When I'm walking the beach at night, you come to me. When I'm working..."
"I'm so sorry. I've been meaning to call," Doria says. "Steve and I—" Miranda turns away. "We've been busy and--"
"You're in love. But you must also be strong alone. Now you are. I'm so glad. Because—"
"I've missed you, Mandy," Doria says. "I'll come next week. I promise."
"Yes. Now I’ll take you home."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll keep you in my room. Safe." Miranda steps past her and extracts the portrait from the frame. She rolls it and cradles it tenderly her arms. She turns to Doria.
"I am safe now. Aren't I?"
v. Life's Trap
"Bibaís, mis queridas," Justin murmurs, distributing bottles amongst Esmeralda Mirabella Juliana. Esmeralda lies across Victoria's lap. Victoria is seated on the Mies alongside the glass brick. Miranda, by Vicki's side, holds Juliana. Steve and Doria stand beside her. Doria cradles Mirabella. The rest of the guests, balancing lattés, bear laden plates through the Whittington home.
"Thirsty when you wake up," Victoria purrs. "Aren't you?"
"This is their second breakfast, darling," Justin tells his wife. "The girls and I have been up since four-thirty."
"Oh, don't crow, Justin. A woman raises three, four kids and keeps her mouth shut about it while her self-esteem plummets. A man puts in a few weeks, changes a dozen diapers, and the next thing you know, he's writes a domestic novel. Here, she wants you." Vicki hands off Juliana.
"I wonder," Justin bears his daughter quickly from the room, "was there ever was such a thing as a dry nurse?"
"I thought this brunch was for family," Steve says.
"This brunch is for writers and opera people," Victoria says, "to see me mother."
"Everyone," a man in a deliberate tie informs a woman in bust-of-Beethoven earrings, "is separated at birth."
"Faking one orgasm is no challenge," a mezzo in cherry red tells a woman behind the bagel pyramid. "Try faking Puccini."
"Try those little white grapes," the critic tells the poet.
"I do not take wine in the form of pills."
"Join us, Richard. We'll playing Definition," Minnie says. Richard hesitates.
"What do I get if I win?"
"One of us," Minnie tells him.
"The artist," Minnie asks him.
"Every man's poor relation," Richard responds. "Marriage?"
"Risk," says Minnie’s friend Maxine, draping her arm across Richard’s shoulders, "dressed as insurance. Psychoanalyst," she says to Minnie.
"Sphinx in a lumbar-support chair."
"Well," Richard says. "It’s a draw." A white-haired fellow rushes by in the wake of a girl.
"The Charlie Chaplin exception misapplied," observes the publicist, known for his diets and his Anglomania.
"Come. Sit," a decorator motions to Bridget. "Talk to me about anything except Florentine tiles.
"How is Kareem?" Silvio stirs with his finger, asking Bill. "I haven't seen him since his initial public offering."
"Kareem takes it all back," Bill answers. He watches V-ness, screen sensation, nibble a strawberry.
"Does anyone know," V-ness asks anyone, "where I can get a kind of semi-lazy trainer?"
"Why," a man asks a man, "do my consultants look so much like your pianists?"
"Curses. Your Bloody Mary just landed on my Tony Lamas."
"Alas," Brandon sighs. "Each man spills the thing he loves."
"Doria and I want kids," Steve is saying. He, Miranda and Doria occupy a Li dynasty chair with dragon mouth arms. Behind them, a fire burns brightly beside the air conditioner vent. "Seven."
"Steve wants five," Doria says. "I want two."
"Have you chosen a date?" Miranda asks.
"We haven't June eleventh decided for sure two pm Temple Beth Israel if we're going Syosset Village to get married," Doria and Steve answer.
"Ah," Justin and Juliana arrive in a fresh jacket and frock. "A prenuptial disagreement."
"My mom says fiancé is finance with an accent," Steve says.
"Honeymoon?" Vicki asks without looking up from Mirabella.
"We'll spend our first night on the luxury sleeper Blue Train from Paris to the Riviera."
"I've been to Nîmes," a designer warns over blintzes. "It is a second rate Cézanne."
"We'll go to France." Doria turns her back on everyone but Miranda. "Whether we get married or not."
"That-a-girl," Victoria says. "Don't get hitched until you're absolutely sure you're not ready. Marriage is the second most important mistake you're ever going to make."
"What's the most important?"
"I didn't know you were even thinking about getting married," Miranda murmurs.
"Not a day passes when I don't not think about it," Doria confesses. "Vicki, what's the most important mistake?"
"I call her my intended," Steve tells Justin. "She calls me her special friend."
"The Times wedding announcements will change her mind. One evening soon you will find yourself in a tux surrounded by pastel linen tablecloths. Doria will push you to one knee. You will discover a Cartier box in your hand."
"That's what I'm hoping. I try to be mellow about the whole situation in an impetuous-lover-on-fire sort of way. I understand the psychology. Women need to be wooed at low heat after the initial searing to keep the juices in."
"I can’t marry him until he shows me his dark side," Doria says.
"What about school?" Justin asks.
"Doria wants to model until summer. Then we get married and do France and she goes back to Bryn Mawr. Bryn Mawr's coed now so I'll transfer from N.Y.U. into the combined Bryn Mawr-Haverford Historical Materialism Interdisciplinary Concentration."
"Marxism is a major now? Don’t you have to call it Economics?"
"Marxism went bye-bye around the same time as Detroit cars. Where have you been?"
"The Renaissance. Tell me, are you determined to fight the class war from within?"
"The working man sleeps well, but he does not dine well."
"Take a few finance classes along with that sociological pillow-fighting. Come see me when you graduate. I might have a place for you."
"What is it you do?" Steve asks.
"Come lend a hand with Mirabella. She requires fresh infrastructure."
"If you want me, I'll be in the nursery, wondering if you want me."
"Well, Richard?" Minnie asks.
"One more round," he says. "Then we must conspicuously depart."
"You, me and Maxine? That would be big of us."
"Artist," Maxine says.
"We did that."
"One who," Richard tells Minnie and Maxine, "despite all evidence, remains persuaded of his own importance. Scholar," he says to Maxine.
"Artist with a subject," she says. "Heaven," she says to Minnie.
"Close friends, strong coffee, no deadlines. Hell," Minnie says to Richard.
"The same, with no audience."
"I want to talk to you about something serious," Doria says.
"Come, my dear," Justin tells her. "I know where we can be alone." But they are not alone. They are in fact changing Esmeralda, whom Justin has just swapped for a newly powdered Mirabella.
"How was the spell broken?" Doria asks. "I didn't destroy the portrait. I just wished--"
"You were answered."
"Like in The Wizard of Oz," Doria says. "Look." She raises her skirt over one hip. There is the rose, pierced by the arrow, bordered by the Latin tag.
"Time is the thief of love," Justin whispers.
"I'm a regular person now," Doria tells him proudly. "I get circles under my eyes. I get moods that show. When I'm happy, I look grand. When I feel terrible, I look like someone you don’t want to tangle with. I can take the train. The strange thing is I don't usually feel or look bad."
"Life's trap is not as difficult as we make it out to be. Monogamy is a drive through splendid country, and only one station on the radio. Tell me, does your mother know?"
"We talked for two hours yesterday. Mom told me she always worried about my genes." Doria glances toward the crowded room. "She was afraid that since my grandpa was Dorian Gray I’d have that painting thing. When I quit school to model she sent me to Miranda because she knew Miranda would protect me. Everything happened just the way it had to. Miranda and you watched over me. Now the curse has been lifted forever."
"Do you think so?" Justin Velcros Esmeralda's diaper into place and lifts her to Doria's shoulder.
"I'm going to relapse?"
"No. But what about Esmeralda? What will she wish for when she turns twenty-one and stares into her own perfect eyes?"
"We'll tell your girls what happened to me."
"We'll do our best. Old stories have a way of losing their pop."
"Then everyone is doomed to--" Doria says.
"If we give children too many books to read, they become shy, refuse to attend summer camp, and finish the crossword puzzle before we do. If we don’t let them read enough they become characters they don’t recognize. Take my father's brother Walter. We call him Vanya-And-Water."
"Still, had I known Grandfather's story," Doria says, "I might have been more careful."
"Nothing would have been different." He holds up the baby. Esmeralda reaches her arms to Doria, who hugs the baby close.
"Princess!" Doria says. She turns in a gentle circle. Esmeralda giggles. "Round and round we go..."
"Sí," whispers Justin. "Veridad."