Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Longing for death

Let me understand this: as far as Mohammed was concerned, the unbelievers' (specifically, the Jews') love of life is proof that they know their religion is wrong, because if they really believed their faith was correct -- in short, if they were Muslims -- they would want to die and go to paradise. From the Koran, chapter 2:94 and following.

"Say, 'if Allah's Everlasting Mansions are for you alone' " -- and when have Jews ever claimed that? -- " 'then you must long for death, if your claim be true!'

"But they will never long for death, because of what they did; for Allah knows the evil-doers. Indeed, you will find that they love this life more than other men; more than the pagans do. Each one of them would willingly live a thousand years."

Sunday, December 27, 2009


He has an odd looking face. It looks almost as if it had been split in half and then put back together again, rudely, too much flesh used to paste it together across the forehead and the bridge of the nose. Olive-dark, pockmarked, beginning to go jowly with his sixty-odd years, teeth rarely showing even in a broad smile because they are flattening and hollowing down a little with age; short, swept-back, crinkled graying hair that roughs up at his collar – all in all, with his strut and his black leather coat and his take-no-prisoners demeanor, he looks like someone whom you would not want to meet in a dark alley. Certainly you would not want to feel his grip on your arm and hear his raspy gravelly voice in your ear as he caught you shoplifting. Is he armed? It took a month’s acquaintance, and a careful study while talking to him, to notice that his small, deep set eyes are blue.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It begins

"Spring am I, too soft of heart
Much to speak ere I depart
Ask the summer-tide to prove
The abundance of my love.

"Summer looked for long am I
Much shall change or ere I die
Prithee take it not amiss
Though I weary thee with bliss.

"Laden autumn here I stand
Weak of heart and worn of hand
Speak the word that sets me free
Nought but rest seems good to me.

"Ah, shall winter mend your care
Set your teeth the wind to face
Beat the snow down, tread the frost
All is gained when all is lost

William Morris, The Lapse of The Year (1870)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

American photos

Judging by the hairstyle and clothes, my guess is the date is around 1880. This woman is young -- she may even be a girl of perhaps sixteen or seventeen. The crucifix at her throat stands out, but what is that other dark necklace? It looks almost like an actual chain. And what are the symmetrical smudges on her dress? A flaw in the photograph, or real colors in the fabric?

Imagine her in a sweatshirt and jeans, and you might see her pushing her cart in any modern day grocery store. But she probably would not appear quite so self possessed, regal even. When ordinary people circa 1880 wanted to shine for the camera, they had no helps to present to the world -- the future -- except clothes, hair, and their own, inexpensive jewels. No makeup, at least not any that wasn't on the toxic side; likely no fine, healthy teeth; no way to reproduce color. And yet they often carried themselves quite well. Perhaps, conversely, that explains something of why we moderns, in our photos, with all our aids to good health and beauty, still tend to resemble smiling, uncomfortable, underdressed shlubs.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 13

Pearls and Roses, chapter 12

Psalm 39 begins:

“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue, Lord, make me to know mine end ....”

But when a few weeks after their vote Trish and Pat asked Alice to join the crew travelling to France, first in December and then probably in the spring, this angry psalm no longer seemed an appropriate one to read. How kind, how decent of them to think of her yet again. Never mind thresholds. No doubt they had guessed her surprise at the check-canceling business and sought to make amends in a small way. “Keep me from imagined hurts,” Alice read happily in Bethany’s prayer book. A trip to France, to help interview a mysterious European man, and create a new film which might at last win a Peabody in time for Monique’s birthday next June, month of roses and pearls – how nice it would be Alice was thrilled, and said how glad she would be to go. (Glad, honestly, to go with Trish and Pat, to go under their wing. They were fearless. Alice would never have dreamed of going abroad on her own, on vacation for example. It was far easier to read about foreign things. The mere prospect of not knowing the language, not knowing what to do or what to eat, would have been too much for her. Suppose you did something stupid? Suppose you had some sort of minor emergency, and were forced to wander through a French drugstore, trying to puzzle out what French women did under the circumstances? But Trish and Pat were quite different. They would do anything, ask anything, go anywhere, buy anything, and they would no doubt have a wonderful time and return home with wonderful souvenirs.) She felt a rush of gratitude, of confidence, that could scarcely be called anything else but love. This more than made up for any thwarted autonomy of her own involving a flooded town in Missouri. No doubt they were right to abandon that. She must be fair. People with real authority sometimes had to use it quickly and that was that.

She told her parents and brothers about it and this time they were very pleased. A business trip overseas was something they understood, exciting and temporary. It was not like the responsibility of an official position, which was disturbing and might go on forever. She told her friends at Bethany about it, after giving a short talk there on Daniel. Her good mood had prompted her to begin her talk in a new way. Of course she always mouthed modesty – and frequently enough felt it – but this time she took more pains to usher them into her topic as fetchingly as possible. “You know the book of Daniel,” she said. “You’ve read, probably this week, phrases like ‘writing on the wall,’ ‘feet of clay,’ or ‘to be weighed in the balance.’” And her tiny audience was duly intrigued and flattered. Afterward she sheepishly confided she was going to France on business in December and they congratulated her heartily. “How marvelous ” someone exclaimed.

So encouraged, reveling in inclusion in such an important function also inspired Alice, one otherwise idle and rainy Sunday afternoon in October, to rummage about in her old things for a copy of the bylaws that Trish and Pat had mentioned at the last Board meeting. If she was to be included among the serious people who knew serious things, then she ought to do her homework and know what they knew. Gratitude alone told her that. Her career at Monique-Boyd had started way back, over sixteen years ago now, when everybody got a copy of the bylaws and the mission statement upon hire. She remembered that now. The odds of her having kept them seemed extremely slim, but perhaps she had.

And there they were, rough and typewritten – to think that a typescript once looked polished – folded in among important papers, along with her best schoolgirl poems and Hunter’s birth certificate. How incredible that she had saved the bylaws. But then, this was her first job. She was nineteen and divorced, and this was her baby’s livelihood. What if there was a test?

And the word had such a nice sound. ‘Bylaws.’ It sounded so select and complicated, like a secret society. Ever since she heard Pat say the word, she wanted to be able to say it meaningfully herself. Doesn’t every child, at some point in the fourth grade, form a club with his little friends? With rules? Hadn’t she? she asked herself. Yes, she had. What is it that makes that so thrilling? For Alice all these thrills returned now, only twice as potent because they were all adults. She sat in her bedroom with the rain and wind pattering on the roof of the old farmhouse, forgetting to put the other things away, rapt in her reading.

Well, well. Calling the place “Monique-Boyd” was wrong, for a start. The bylaws emphasized that the two halves of the company were to be kept separate in every way. The Foundation’s business meetings were to be held twice a month, “on the clock” – during working hours of course. Of course. What company does not hold its meetings during office hours? So the same eight elite people making decisions at Pie Night was totally irregular. What else? Robert’s Rules of Order ... the chair recognizing speakers ...non-profit corporations may not show a profit and may not spend money on themselves, therefore no parties ... good Lord. She thought of the summer picnics, of Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. How she had enjoyed them.

Page 10, elections to the Executive Board: what a mess. Now this was fascinating. You did not ‘sign up’ in a green park in July. The Nominating Committee formed, of volunteers, at a January business meeting. The committee then presented a list of officer candidates at a February meeting, and they could include potential candidates without asking their permission first, if they thought such people might serve for the good of the company. My God. Trish would never stand for that. At a March meeting the committee then took nominations for the Executive Board in writing from the entire staff. In April the committee took nominations ‘from the floor,’ for example from people who had been sick for four months and had not participated in anything, or from those who had just overcome their shyness and gotten the nerve to nominate themselves that very minute. Then the Nominating Committee drew up the ballot of officer candidates and everyone voted in May. Results were announced in June and the new Board took over in July, at the beginning of the fiscal year, naturally. Here was a whole universe of masculine government where rules mattered and things got done. Things like the creation, from nothing, of a legal entity that they all ‘loved’ and wanted to win Peabodys for. Shouldn’t it follow, then (and the thought did not so much form coherently in her mind, as it pulsed with her blood), that the Foundation did not belong to them and they had no right to tamper with it? What an extraordinary point of view. It was fascinating.

What else – she flipped through the rest – Annual Reports due in August, executive meetings closed to all but the five members of the Board themselves. So they should not be meeting – and this was new – at Connie’s house, nor at the Plush Horse and have milkshakes with Nancy and Becky and their friends. “This is distracting to the officers,” the bylaws said. And how. The treasurer to cast the deciding vote, if necessary. This last appeared to be a later amendment. Well, well. And back on page one, the Mission Statement. The Boyd Foundation and Monique Productions Incorporated were to research, preserve on film, and publicize worthy architectural restoration projects in the continental United States, with a particular emphasis on the Midwest. Where on earth had the phrase “American connection” come from, a phrase they had for years been interpreting as meaning connections to European vacation spots, to an obscure historian here or an old robber baron investment there? How do rules change? By virtue of people being human? She flipped over the pages again. The question was inevitable now. Her blood slowed down. What to do about the delicious-sounding abbey of Fontevrault, to which she herself had been invited? It really was not right to go, was it?

She sat there thinking in joy and fear. What to do? Did it matter? For once her imagination failed her. No one who had wanted a prie-dieu in her room at fifteen could fail to be impressed with order – old laws, old ways. In a way there is nothing more romantic. And she was well-meaning and conscientious besides. Here she had just learned all sorts of ways in which she could help her excellent employer, which had just promoted her, become even more true to itself, become what its great founder – and how many people go around in life founding things? – had intended. If she walked into work tomorrow trumpeting the bylaws she might also start the process of rescuing it from the arm of the law, which in the shape of the Internal Revenue Service ought to have reached out and caught the place long ago. She opened to the page which read “we are registered as a 501 (c) (3) corporation” and absorbed it all again, horrified and roused. Wouldn’t the IRS having a say in their operations be a shock to all the staff? Imagine if the place were closed down because of all the money they had spent on parties, and all the business meetings they had held at restaurants, and all the election procedures they had ignored, and all the film projects they had undertaken which were as far from the mission statement as possible? Why shouldn’t they know all this? Their safety, their jobs, the company’s reputation, most importantly their integrity, had been hanging by a thread. Alice vibrated, bled, with the thought that perhaps she could do her part to bring things back into line, simply as an act of common sense and service, and of love. All it would take would be for everyone else to be as horrified as she was. That was a given. They were all so kind.

Early that Sunday night she got ready for bed, and was just managing to fall asleep much later – much too excited to rest – when she heard Hunter return from work and go into his bedroom. We’re both going to be dead on our feet tomorrow morning, she thought. A few seconds later, her room was light and the alarm clock was beeping sickeningly. It was six o’clock, Monday.

They sat together at the breakfast table of the same old farmhouse apartment that had been their home for years, the same home they had returned to after all Hunter’s half-birthday dinners, and after summer days of swimming and winter days of sledding long ago. Alice looked at him, smiling with the professional ether of last night’s discoveries, quaking a little but ready for anything the day might bring. When Hunter was a baby she used to look at his face as he lay in her arms, his sleeping face, and try to imagine what that face would grow into to make a five-year-old boy, or a ten-year-old. She thought she could see its outline then, and she could. The small circle of personality just about the nose and eyes never entirely changes. She thought she could see it still, the baby-face, though he was eighteen. Her only baby; never again. It was wonderful and in a way terrible to have a good kid, a terrific kid. They were so little trouble that you could almost afford to ignore them, and think exclusively of yourself.

“Good Lord,” she blurted, “does your second quarter start today?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“What’s your schedule like?” Hard to believe he attended her old high school, hers and Tim’s. She wondered if any of his classmates were having babies now. Probably it was no large matter. Four full cohorts of graduates had passed through the school since her own tumultuous day.

“Not bad,” he answered. “I get out at noon. It’s all electives. I’m going back to Eads on Mondays and Wednesdays.”

“Eads?” Eads was his old elementary school.

“Child development. It’s a blow-off. You have to help out with the kindergartners.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that about schooling.”

“I want to be a CPA.”

“Then why take Child Development?”

“You can’t have less than four classes.”

“Oh. That sounds familiar. This is just this quarter?”

“One semester. I can split up the quarters so we get to see how kindergarten deals with the different holidays. I’m going again next spring.”

“Okay. And what else?”

“Accounting. All math.” He mumbled through mouthfuls of breakfast.

She smiled at him, one adult to another. “So you still want to be a CPA.”


“It’s a great profession, for security and – “ what was it great for? She could not imagine chaining herself to such boredom, but he had always liked math, and then of course Tim was a CPA. It was most fortunate that he desired a profession which was, she seemed to understand, highly remunerative.

“Can you do all this, plus your job?” She had asked that every school year since he started working at fifteen. “You got in awfully late last night.”

“Sure, Mom. I can do it all.” He got up, wiping his mouth on the back if his hand. “I gotta go.” He leaned down and tried to peck her cheek with a kiss – a far cry from the slobber kisses of his toddlerhood, which she would wipe off with great shows of gruesome disgust while he squealed with laughter – but he was so tall he missed and kissed the air. “Have a good day. Love you,” she called, and he threw back, “Okay.”

“How’s Catherine?” she shouted. “Good” – and then the door shut and the kitchen table shook with his heavy tread on the old wooden porch steps. Alice returned happily and, it must be admitted, a little selfishly to her own problem.

She took the bylaws to work with her, thinking hard as to when she could best bring them to Trish’s or Pat’s attention. Everyone really should know what she had found. Of course she was not in a position to lecture anyone. Perhaps she could just hint politely that these rules had been forgotten (as with Daniel, “You know all this”). I am at fault too, she pictured herself admitting. And she could very humbly take a sort of lead in reminding everyone of the way Mr. Boyd had wanted things done and the way, indeed, the IRS insisted things be done. Perhaps she could write something about this in the company newsletter that she was still responsible for, although, honestly, she must give up that task. That was for the Secretary to do.

There were so many things to think about. As she waited at a stoplight the thought, unwelcome for the umpteenth time, struck her. This trip to the abbey in France was really wrong. What a pity. The excuse they had been operating with, that it was the last project Mr. Boyd investigated before he died, and that an American historian was on the spot to be interviewed, held no water. They really should grit their teeth and drop it. Some of the neglected projects on the old list might prove genuinely interesting anyway. The fort in Kansas, the tycoon’s home in Iowa City, who knows what might be unearthed there? That Peabody award might still be in their grasp, and Monique could still have her retrospective film and party next June. And what about Luxor after all? Alice imagined herself loftily signing new checks.

She pulled into the parking lot and in a few minutes walked into the building in a state of great anticipation. It was not at all that she wanted to control people. Like an evangelist, she merely wanted to give them the good news. As soon as she punched in and said hello and Trish – the first person she encountered – asked her how she was, she sighed, cocked her head, and began to speak as though something really important had happened: as if she had been robbed, or diagnosed with cancer.

Trish did not care. Alice realized it almost at once but it still gave her, thus far, the shock of her life. Trish looked at her in a blank, friendly way, waiting for the real revelation to come, the cancer or the robbery, something that other women could commiserate with at Pie Night. It took her a long time to realize that all Alice was upset about was the bylaws. She had found an old copy of the bylaws, and was concerned that they, that everyone at Monique-Boyd, were not obeying them. How strange.

Alice felt like someone who has just squandered a fortune, or confided in an enemy agent, or lost control of her functions in public. She had misjudged something, had made a serious mistake. Simply backing out of this conversation gracefully now would be a challenge, never mind all her expectations being in tatters and having to repair them before she pursued anything further – for shocked though she was, she was still on her feet. Still ready to pursue.

Trish with her flaxen cap of hair and her years of experience thwarting the admissions policy of the School of the Art Institute did not care about anything that might disturb the status quo, and she was not about to give Alice the slightest help in exiting gracefully from anything. She would offer pity but that was all, and even that would be expressed in her body language and her flute-like voice, not in comradely thoughts.

“Well,” Alice tried to speak as if she was not foundering, “why don’t I go over them again before the next Exec meeting and then we can all discuss them then. I was really shocked, I have to tell you.”

Trish tilted her head, squinting in puzzlement. “What do you mean, shocked? I don’t understand. We’re all good people. This is not something you’ve done.”

“Just shocked at how much I had forgotten, I suppose. We all got copies of this, you know, a thousand years ago when we were first hired. I was just surprised at how screwy our operations are in comparison to what they should be.”

Screwy, comparison, should – all negatives, all obscenities to Trish. “I don’t think any of us are screwy,” she said.

“No, we personally are not screwy,” Alice agreed, “but we are employees of a corporation that we did not invent and that does have rules about its operation, its finances. You know the IRS might have an opinion about some of the things we do with our 501(c)(3) status. With our money. Like Pie Night for example,” she pressed on. “Is this supposed to be a real business meeting? There are so many staff who don’t come.”

“Pie Night is posted on the tech board continually. We’re very open about it. They know they can come.”

“Yes, but the same ones never do. That doesn’t strike me as very democratic. If meetings were all held during business hours, everyone could come without conflict. Those who weren’t busy with work, I mean.”

“Yeah, no kidding. At night, no one’s busy with work. Q.E.D.”

“Okay, but the workplace is for work. Those who can’t come to meetings then, okay, they’re working. I don’t think work is meant to cut into people’s leisure time.”

Trish was still smiling her puzzled smile. “Okay ....”

“And I would lay odds that those who don’t come to Pie Night won’t have a say in the trip to Europe and wouldn’t dream of signing up for it.”

“Okay, that’s their choice. Everyone is free to make choices.”

Alice had a response to this but thought she had better save it for a more congenial field of battle. Before she could speak anymore Trish sighed, “Anyway, if you want to bring this up at an Exec meeting you can. But I think we’ve pretty much solved it here.” She smiled, tightly. Alice gaped at her and was on the point of asking her what on earth they had solved. But she held her tongue again and in another minute they both went off, superficially friendly, to their workday.

Alice thought all day about what she had done. She had no wish to agitate anyone, and as she reflected on it she realized how badly she had prepared the ground. Poor Trish. Perhaps it was an error to raise the issue first thing in the morning, before they had even had coffee. And then again, when was the last time she had so much as asked Trish the time of day, or asked after her children or her mother-in-law’s health, or how she had liked her most recent play? Alice’s excitement at discovering the accoutrements of clubbiness, of thick binders full of tabbed papers and Roman-numeraled secrets, had catapulted her indeed back to fourth grade, blinding her to the understanding that adult women have other lives.
Fourth grade ... how true. Suddenly she saw that she had grown up – slowly – emotionally pummeling and being pummeled by life. Maybe it had to do with being raised by brothers. She assumed that everyone could take a comment in the chops. Even as a little girl she had more than once laughed at a friend’s mother’s new baby, and said something like, “Look at those huge ears ” assuming that everyone understood babies were adorable and that everything said about them was a compliment regardless of tone. The friend and her mother and father would look at each other in stunned hurt, and Alice would find herself curiously uninvited back to that house. Now with Trish she assumed, as usual, that everyone also understood all comments were meant, in self-abnegating style, to apply to oneself most of all.

That was a mistake. Yes, she had been hard, over-eager. When was the last time she had asked Hunter about Catherine? When had she last asked one of the elderly gentlemen at Bethany about his aches and pains and his golf? It was fine to be concerned about grand things, but she must be human too. She would try again in a better way.

But then nobody cared at the Exec meeting either. They were all women with lives. Not everyone likes the accoutrements of clubbiness, not everyone likes binders, papers, and tabs. As long as they were doing their jobs, as long as they were kind and pleasant and were there to support each other nor only for the workday, but for the hunt for expensive concert tickets, and cramps, and next week’s child-care problems, what was the matter? Alice had steeled herself to the possibility that her bringing up the bylaws at the next executive Board meeting might prove the end of their planned trip to France, to film the restoration of the abbey. She still half-expected that they would all agree, with chastened regret, not to go and do a project that was so obviously out of keeping with the Boyd Foundation’s mandate. But that was a foolish misjudgment. Everyone still wanted to go. All they ended up discussing, even by implication, or sheer avoidance of the idea, was whether she should go.

“If this trip to Chinon is what Mr. Boyd wanted to do, why wouldn’t we keep to that?” Pat asked in her big, slow, raspy drawl. Even sitting down she was capable of turning her full height on those who disagreed with her.

“Because the bylaws that he also created say we should not. That’s what bylaws are for. They are there to provide guidance in situations where new things have been suggested that may not be correct. This is not our foundation, we didn’t make it.”

“But he was interested in this project ”

“Yes, he was, but he didn’t go through with it.”

“Well, no, he got sick and died,” Pat cut in, and they all laughed with relief. “It’s hard to finish projects when you’re dead.” Alice grinned too, in growing fury.

“We know that he was interested,” she resumed when she could, “but if he had wanted this done without question, I would think it would have been done years ago, while he was still well – “

“It wasn’t happening while he was well Peter Shepstone just called me this summer. ”

“Okay, but Frank Boyd didn’t also say, ‘Do this without question as soon as you hear that it’s happening.’ Maybe he didn’t pursue it sight unseen because he knew himself that it conflicted with the bylaws.”

“He hired me to pursue it.”

“Yes, he hired you to pursue it. If he had been sure it was legal, he would have said to all of us, ‘Go do this,’ and you wouldn’t have needed to work here.”

There was a hissing intake of breath around the table. “But I do work here.” They all laughed, a little.

“I know.”

“Anyway you’re just speculating,” Trish said. “I know that this abbey restoration project was not happening when he was well, but I know he was interested after he got sick.”

“Who cares – who cares?” Mill blurted.

“Yeah, that’s not the point, when he got sick or didn’t,” Lily said.

“I agree,” Pat said.

“Okay,” Trish went on, “Peter Shepstone only called me a few months ago to tell me that it was underway if we were still interested. Frank Boyd knew this guy. That’s why he called. He cared.”

“Okay, so I would say that indicates a high level of interest on Frank Boyd’s part,” Pat said, facing Alice. “I would say it is not our mandate to ignore that.”

“Yes,” Alice said slowly, “and we also have a set of bylaws which Frank Boyd set up for his company years before that. This is the Boyd Foundation and Monique Productions. It’s not our creation, it was theirs. And it’s not ‘Monique-Boyd,’ by the way.” Alice faced Trish in her turn. “The employees really don’t have the authority to change the corporation’s name before the public eye. But the bylaws do say that this company will deal with architectural restoration projects within the continental United States, emphasizing the Midwest. Not even the pretty west, you know, California and what not. The Midwest. Iowa City. I don’t think a French abbey counts as within the United States.”

Trish was already more hurt than angry. “But we’ve always, you know, sort of expanded that to take in projects with an American connection,” she said. “That’s just the way we’ve always worked. I see no reason to open a whole can of worms now. I can recall projects with only an American connection being done while he was still alive. What about that set of houses near Niagara Falls? Weren’t half of them in Canada technically?”

“There you go. Case closed, Alice,” Mill said, not unfriendly.

Alice shook her head. “I was probably still in data entry then. I can’t help – none of us can help what may have slipped over the border one day when he was losing his grip – “

Pat groaned, and so did the others. “Oh come on, you can’t say that.”

“Can’t say what? Anything?”

There were more soft groans and Alice kept quickly on. “Look at this list of things we have not done, while we were busy in Canada and other places. Waterfront restoration in Missouri, here’s something about Fort Leavenworth, here’s something in Wyoming – “

“Yes, and all those projects were voted down democratically in committee. We do things properly.”

“They should not have been voted down very quietly in committee. That’s easy to do when we’ve seen to it that the staff are unaware of the corporation’s rules. We’re all at fault there.” Alice tried to keep her voice soft. “And I’d love to know who the committee was. Three people, over drinks one night?”

“No, it was not three people over drinks one night. We know the company’s ‘rules,’ as you call them – “

“They are them.”

“We’ve done all this We have committees, we follow procedures, we don’t drink every night.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“We are all fine. We’re fine. This is a nice group of people, we get along, we do things in a nice way, we’re providing a wonderful service to our public television audience – “

“That’s true,” Alice nodded, but it came out, to her hearers, with a smirk.

“Okay. So. Well, what do you want us to do?”

This was exactly what Trish had a gift for. She would do it again on the Saturday before New Year’s Eve, when she came to berate Alice in her home. “What change do you want?” If she could not subdue people through pre-emptive actions – such as canceling their checks for them – or through her flute-like voice, she turned to them mildly as if they wanted all power, and held a noose around her humble neck. Among women, there was no decent course to take then except to deny one wanted power, which was true of Alice in any case. She just loved binders and notebooks, and wanted to be part of a club. She thought that by talking she could infuse everybody else with her feelings. The women were not interested. She may as well have been a talking ape for all they really heard her. All they heard was criticism. And by denying she wanted power she would serve to give Trish back hers.

“I don’t have the authority to want us to do anything,” Alice said, equally humble. “All I’m saying is that this corporation is being run in a way that I found very startling when I came across the bylaws a few weeks ago. I think it could be more efficient and democratic and I think we should be worried about the IRS, too.”

“What made you look for them?” Mill asked.

“Curiosity. I wanted to have a definition of the words ‘American connection,’ which I couldn’t find at all, and I wanted to know more about my job as treasurer. The candle-lighting ceremony was very nice, but I wanted to know exactly what I’m supposed to do.” Alice knew even as these words were leaving her mouth that she had erred again. She had denigrated a pleasant ceremony and she had implied that her not knowing her responsibilities was someone else’s fault – Trish’s and Pat’s fault – because they had replaced knowledge with ceremony. She could also be construed to have said that the rest of them didn’t know their jobs either. Trish made no further eye contact with her.

Pat spoke. “Bob Boyd has been running this corporation for years. He’s their son. He has never made an issue of the projects we’ve been doing I was hired specifically to research this abbey.”

“Bingo,” Trish said, grimacing at the table.

“Monique has never made an issue of them. Why should there be a problem now?”
“Because the bylaws exist,” Alice was prepared to start all over again, but they surprised her by all bursting out laughing. “Yes, that’s why the bylaws exist, to cause problems ” someone sang out.

Alice tried to smile but lacked the heart for it. “No, they exist so that a corporation founded under them stays the same regardless of who is in charge or whether the founder gets sick, or if the widow maybe loses interest or the son maybe would rather be fishing than running a non-profit-architectural-film-restoration company. This is our responsibility. This isn’t me talking, this could be the IRS talking. What if we get audited one day?”

There was a little silence. “I wouldn’t worry about it,” Lily said gently.

“I’m not ‘worried.’”

A more difficult silence attended this. “Well, let’s get on to new business, shall we?” Pat suggested, and they all agreed. New business. That was the first time Alice had heard such formal language at one of their jocular Exec meetings. Maybe she was making progress, if only by the tiniest steps.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 14

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mr. Lincoln

One mild, windy night in February, when a breath of spring is in the air and the moon stands unseen above the lights in the parking lot, a man who looked exactly like Abraham Lincoln walked into the grocery store. He did not just resemble him; he looked exactly like him. He had the same startling height and thinness, the same sunken cheeks, the same jawline and lips. He had the same eyes and neck and hairline, and the same thick hair. He had the same expression of wisdom and patience, and did not even bother with a beard. The resemblance was not merely strong or arresting or unmistakable. It was dumbfounding. Literally: people in the grocery store were struck dumb as they looked at him.

He went to the customer service desk, and had some sort of business taken care of. No one except the clerk waiting on him could hear him speak. The store was busy, five or six checkout lanes open, and there were lines of customers two or three deep at each lane. An average night. The whole store shone brightly in reflection in the big plate glass windows shielding out the dark night: young women ringing up sales, young men bagging groceries, people fetching and pulling the big silver carts, managers in mauve smocks observing things and writing things on clipboards, signs and lights, “Deli Department” and “Produce” in the distance, racks of candies and magazines up close, all caught and trembling in the big black windows at the front of the store. The flare of headlights from cars in the parking lot occasionally swept in, as if from another dimension. There was rain on the windows.

As the man who looked like Lincoln conducted his business, more and more people noticed him. The front of the store remained busy but grew quiet. Everyone wanted to comment to his neighbor, but any comments would have seemed so ridiculously obvious that no one did. It seemed disrespectful. Cashiers looked, looked away, and scanned things and made small talk with their customers, and then looked quietly again. Baggers did the same. But no one looked at each other. No one went up to the man and said, you know, I’ll bet you’ve heard this before, but you look incredibly like Abraham Lincoln. He not only knew, but was dressed in somewhat old-fashioned clothes – a kind of frock coat and a small floppy tie – that seemed to show he must have been at some sort of historical re-enactment, or perhaps in a play at a school. He knew.

One black man especially stared at him, half-smiling in wonderment as he accepted his bag of groceries. That was the feeling that had descended over the whole front of the store. A strange happiness and wonder pervaded the hush; it was as if a father or a protector had miraculously come back.

And then the man who looked like Lincoln took up his plastic bag of groceries, and walked out of the store. His business at the customer service desk was finished. People tried to take one last look at him, tried to see him as a modern man, as somebody who must have a job and a family. It was impossible even to guess how old he might be, certainly impossible to imagine him in jeans and a t-shirt, or with a three-day growth of beard. He walked off into the mild night, probably got into a car and drove away. No one talked about him as the store got back to normal, got noisy again, because it all seemed so obvious.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 12

Pearls and Roses, chapter 11

Five days later, she attended the meeting and found that it was all too late. Pat and Trish came walking into Lily’s house together, dropping their purses down their arms, breathless with laughter, and saying “Oh well,” and “Go figure Mother Nature.”

“I don’t imagine Charlie is any too heartbroken,” Pat said.

“Are you kidding? With a new baby in the house? I don’t think so.” That’s right. Alice had forgotten Charlie’s wife had just had a baby.

Alice was accustomed to their Board meetings starting with a great deal of banter and eating, so she still waited, though she felt uneasy. But this time Trish opened the discussion as soon as she sat down. “Well, in case you hadn’t heard,” she smiled at everyone, “there’s been a little change of plan. Since the Mississippi flooded” – she said this with big gestures of her mouth, her whole face and shoulders and hands, as if she were announcing that a comet, as expected, had hit the earth and killed billions and also impinged on their plans after all – “we’re not sending anyone to film at that little town where Monique and Frank started the company or whatever.”

“Thank God,” Lily said. “I’m sure Vicki doesn’t want Charlie coming home smelling like shit, and with a nice case of malaria.”

“Exactly,” Trish answered. “It’s now a mudflat,” and they all laughed. “And we’re postponing that perspective film. We’ll have to make it some other time, maybe for next year. There’s no point filming a big wash,” she laughed –

“Literally,” Pat laughed with her.

Trish said ‘perspective’ for retrospective, the same way she mistook ‘confectioner’s oven’ for convection oven and ‘pour over’ for pore over. She also continually mispronounced the newest employee’s name, calling her ‘Piller’ to rhyme with miller, instead of the beautiful and meaningful, and religious, Pilar. Pilar was from Colombia, and was beautiful. Trish had heard the name said correctly several times, but found the accent embarrassing and quickly didn’t care. All these thoughts flashed through Alice’s mind and her annoyance grew. Annoyance – no. She felt a threshold had been crossed, small, totally unexpected, a hairline crack in the ice that only on looking back in a shaft of Himalayan sunlight revealed itself a dizzying crevasse below, always there, forever.

So that was all Trish had to say about it. It was obvious that she expected no one to mind her solitary decisions or question her pronouncements. They were all women together, who couldn’t like mud. The four of them laughed and chatted, and began to eat each other’s delicious cooking. Alice had brought snickerdoodles and had to smile stiffly at compliments to them. She sat there otherwise feeling a fool at their bidding, which was hardly fair to them, since they could not have known what she had wanted to say and do. Was there any point in broaching her ideas now? While she speculated in angry silence, her attention closed to them, they took out their notebooks and files and began discussing new things. Now she was falling behind. She thought of something.

“Trish,” she said, just anxiously seeking information, “didn’t I sign a couple of checks for Charlie and the crew’s hotel expenses in Luxor? I mean, already? And wasn’t there an appointment with the mayor scheduled, and the preservation society and everything?”

Pat answered in her slow, big-shouldered drawl. “We stopped payment on the checks over the weekend. And we cancelled the meetings. I’m sure the mayor has more important things on his mind right now.”

“He told me his own home is a total loss. And it was historic, too.”

“Oh my God, can you imagine,” the others began to murmur and exclaim.

Alice nodded. Something told her she had better save her temper for another day. Nobody cared.

And something told her she had just met Pat, met her truly for the first time, never mind awkward proto-beginnings years ago when Pat’s hair had been a thin bowl of overworked yellow straw and her gauzy clothes unflattering on her big body. Pat had clanked through life since then, as always all rods and blocks beneath her clothes, cheerfully laughing at, explaining everything. Life had taught her to laugh cheerfully at everything and then, like Trish as it turned out, to stay obeyed at all costs. She was kind to strangers, she struck up conversations happily with Salvation Army bell-ringers, or ladies working at the supermarket deli counter, but if she knew you at all intimately, as a co-worker or fellow-volunteer coach with the middle-school swim team for example, she quickly expected obedience. Her way was to stand at your side, or sit if need be, and gaze down at a short distance while you made a reasonable suggestion, or pointed out a genuinely binding problem. Then she would pause half a second, as if recalling that she had already considered that idea and found it wrong, breathe in, and say “no.” She would turn on you her full height, and the clanking metallic boxes of her body, and her ringing rusted whisky laugh, the voice which drawled an extra syllable out of every word she spoke when she was not laughing, often making polite people feel she was the teacher and they the blinking child, she would turn the full force of all this upon you, continue her explanations if need be, and usually get her way. She gave the impression of hurry, too, which helped people feel they were imposing on her and ruining her selfless commitments if they did not do what she liked. True, though, that she had a lot of selfless commitments, because she had a great heart. Unlike Alice, Pat really did volunteer as a prison tutor when her pastor asked her to, and told no one about it except Joe. “There’s no smell like the smell of a prison,” she remarked quietly. “And you’d never expect it.” It would have surprised and troubled her to learn that people found her physique threatening. She had other things to think about. She was strong.

Alice recalled herself from distant prospects. Nobody cared, not today. Until now she had so liked being among the elites. Now, already, she began to act, she began to feel compelled to act for her own safety, like a hostage, or a spy in a royal court.

Feigning unconcern, she asked, “Oh, can you stop payment on checks that I’ve signed? I think it was Mill and me, wasn’t it?” That hardly mattered. Mill was a great friend of Trish and Pat. She, too, had daughters.

“It’s done now,” Pat laughed, in that big wheezing voice that sounded like rust and whisky. She too was beginning to act. To act polite with Alice, and to act as if Alice was not a threat to everything she held dear. A woman questioning a woman on a matter of policy, an official act: women don’t do that.

“Anyway I think we have slightly more important things in the pipeline,” Trish said, smiling kindly at Alice. “We have a chance to go to France,” she announced to everyone at the table. “A couple of weeks ago I got a very bizarre phone call and, well, this has been mostly Pat’s project so I’ll let her take over and explain things.” Alice sensed that the diction of their Board meetings had turned unusually formal.

Pat spoke. “Years ago when Frank Boyd hired me, he wanted me specifically to research the restoration work of one man in particular. His name is Peter Shepstone. He is an engineer from Imperial College in London, which, okay,” she laughed, “I had never heard of, but which is apparently an extremely prestigious place.” Her loud, lilting voice came out in a rotund series of carefully enunciated nasal waves. It was her nature always to declaim.

“I’m a mom,” she continued. “All I know about England is the Teletubbies. But anyway, Frank Boyd and Peter Shepstone had met at a conference in Texas, and Peter told Frank about a project he was going to be involved with someday in France. It’s the restoration of a medieval abbey where all kinds of famous kings and queens are buried. Apparently it’s hugely important. Mr. Boyd already knew of this man’s reputation, which again, is evidently huge, and he wanted – frankly – an excuse to cover this man’s work and bring him to the attention of public television. Are we all clear on that?”

Everyone nodded. “Okay. Fast forward about a million years. I admit, I was not able to do a great job at my original job, which was to try and find an American connection to this medieval restoration project so that we could film Mr. Boyd’s friend while still keeping within Mr. Boyd’s bylaws, which said ‘do American stuff and that’s it.’ Meanwhile Mr. Boyd passed away. The whole thing gets forgotten, until, this June, Peter Shepstone calls Trish, whose name he got from our old website that Caroline never updated” – the spellbound women began to laugh – “and he tells her that the project is now underway like a house on fire, you know, after some last-minute, bureaucratic delays or whatever, and are we still interested in filming.”

“I would say we are,” Lily put in, and Mill said, “Definitely. How fabulous.”
“Does he know Mr. Boyd is dead?” Alice asked.

“Yes, that’s on the website under ‘About us.’ However, Trish and I both felt that since this idea was important to Mr. Boyd, and since this man has contacted us to say things are finally underway, that it might be nice to go after it as sort of a tribute to him and to Monique, who is not getting any younger. That’s why we cancelled the checks and changed the plans about Luxor. We felt that filming this old abbey might be a more sophisticated tribute.” Alice saw the reasonableness of this, and softened, grudgingly. Still – she had crossed a threshold.

“And – “ Trish prompted.

“And the good news is that Mr. Boyd must be looking down on us because lo and behold, I found, now, an American connection to the whole deal after all. Personally we both think that Monique-Boyd’s prestige alone, plus Mr. Boyd’s interest, is connection enough, but our bylaws do say that we have to have an American tie to whatever we do, and what I found is that there is a pretty well-known American woman historian who is writing a book on this abbey and lives right there anyway. And who should she be but Linda Spellman, who is Monique’s very own, what, step-something?”

“Step-granddaughter,” Trish said.

“Step-granddaughter,” Pat finished. “Tra-la.”

“A what?” Lily asked. “How?”

“She’s Monique’s daughter’s grown step-daughter, if you can call it that. Jamie Boyd married Chuck, our lawyer, when he was already an older divorced man with grown kids. This Dr. Spellman is one of them.”

“So it’s not like she raised them or anything.”

“Oh, no. Jamie and Linda are only, like, ten years apart, if that. But the relationship is still, legally, step-mom step-child. So she’s Monique’s step-granddaughter.”

“Well, is that the point, or is this Jamie a historian?” Mill asked, as usual scarcely listening except when it suited her.

“Linda Spellman is an American historian working there, she’s an authority on this abbey, and she’s the point.”

“She’s our connection.”


“Can’t beat it,” Mill said, and everyone laughed happily.

“Exactly. So, assuming everyone agrees to vote we do this, we can get a crew together and go to Chinon, which is the town near the abbey, and do a really nice project, interview Dr. Spellman and this old friend of Mr. Boyd’s, and maybe have a really nice perspective for a twentieth anniversary party, hopefully next spring.”

“Chatham Pointe country club has its Walnut Room available for large parties next June,” Pat sang out meaningfully, “right in time for Monique’s birthday.”

“And it’s close by,” Trish added, and everyone laughed and murmured happiness. Alice thought of the Art Institute lions in a snowfall, with the wreaths around their necks. But she knew she had simply been outrun, and voted, therefore, to film Peter Shepstone at Fontevrault with everyone else.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 13

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 11

Pearls and Roses, chapter 10

On a Sunday like that, while Monique-Boyd’s true elites went to the foundress’ birthday party, Alice would have spent part of the day in church. Bethany looked a lot like Peter’s church, bare and beige, and her thoughts as she stared around very much resembled his. She had never seen Fontevrault and so could make no comparisons there, but she had her books, and her disappointments. She was sitting here because Roger Lucas had “called” her, what – sixteen years ago? She was thirty-five. Next month Hunter would turn eighteen. And what man was likely to call her now? Where had the time gone?

She liked Bethany, although sometimes its prayers were not much more satisfying than the old jazzy psalms and enforced hand-holding she had left behind. “We are grains of sand warmed by You on the wide shore of the world.” What had happened to prayer, and to the God who drew up cathedrals out of one era, and made a man call her to prove his existence in another? Perhaps things were better this way. Better this, than thousands of eager throats pouring forth the cry “Deus le volt ” inside a glorious cathedral, and then everyone spilling out into the Poitevin heat to do savage things in the Jewish quarter. Better this, the simplicity of reformed prayers, than to lie prostrate before a monstrance as some bewimpled countess might have done. We are going even further back than that, really, Alice thought. Back to Jerome translating in the dusty heat of Bethlehem perhaps, back to the psalmist himself, born there.

Why the everlasting need to go back? Historical neediness, what could perhaps be more charitably called a rich inner life, still thrummed in her like a rushing river. Perhaps her nature was only romantic, religious and silly. Or maybe she needed to go back precisely because it could not be done, and to inform Alice that a thing could not be done was to wave a red flag in front of a (female) bull. Who else was likely to call her now? The idea of new beginnings, a new man, someday-maybe-perhaps-of-course-it-will-don’t-be-silly, was beginning to wear a bit thin. Maybe you reached a point where you were simply too old, too mature, for new beginnings, and no it wasn’t “a downer” or un-American to say so. Maybe it was the red-flagged truth, and you made the damnable best of it. As the charming, the French Andre Maurois said: once you have made your decision, no regrets!

And yet, and yet – why not? She was only thirty-five. She went to Bethany Reformed, and though it wasn’t medieval it gave her balm, with its steady invitations to join this or teach that, or found a study group about something else. It gave her a small balm even where man was concerned. Enough of them – middle-aged or elderly, married or widowed – paid enough little attentions to her to assuage her outstanding longings. It was like a drug. She suspected it blunted disappointments and appetites that would have sent a braver woman out looking for real succor, for the young and interesting, who avoid religion like the plague, but she accepted the little morsels and their inertia anyway. Maybe that was her prayer. Besides, she had been so busy.

Only once did she come alive enough to reciprocate, after a fashion, the interest of a man, and the situation was so safe and easy that it hardly counted. His name was Roy, and he had a good face and wonderful slightly crooked teeth. They were seated together at a party for the twentieth anniversary of Bethany’s pastor’s ordination, and throughout dinner and entertainment they laughed and talked. Alice had an insupportable impression that he never talked about war movies with his wife like they were doing now, and was therefore savoring a tart treat. When he turned his attention briefly to his elderly mother beside him, she took the opportunity to cross her legs and reveal the slit in her red velvet skirt. He turned back, jolted, and hastily turned away.

It was a most pleasant evening. Within two years, Roy left his wife, after twenty-nine years of marriage. Alice was not such a fool as to think it was because of her, nor did she and Roy have anything else to do with each other. It was only delightful to feel wicked, and look back on the party with a shiver of imaginary triumph. In reality it also reinforced her deepest lessons, that men are off-limits for a reason, and to reciprocate their attentions even in innocence is to play with fire. And she was so busy.

And then Trish and Pat descended on her like pagan goddesses, again, and asked her to do something new. To make a new beginning. They asked her to consider running for the position of Foundation treasurer in the summer’s elections to the new Executive Board. She was utterly delighted, hesitated for form’s sake, and then said yes. She couldn’t wait to tell the people at Bethany, but postponed the announcement, for modesty’s sake, until she had had some experience, or done something really useful in her new position. Maybe in a few months, if the subject came up naturally, she would tell them. She told her family – her mother, father, John and Pam, Dave and Claudia and Jason, and of course Hunter, but did not get, from them, quite the reaction she had wanted. Hunter was only a boy; he was vaguely respectful, but caught in his own world. Her family were also excessively respectful, but otherwise disappointingly halt about it.

They were never quite sure how to respond to each other, outside of absolute crisis. Their parents had raised them never to argue, scarcely even to talk, always to defer to the other, to anyone who was speaking at the moment. You never knew if you might say something that would show you a fool, especially an over-eager, brow-beating, opinionated fool. There was nothing so distasteful as a person holding forth, saying whatever he wanted. Besides, families didn’t disagree with each other. What was the point of getting together if you were going to debate? Skip it. But Alice had gotten a little accustomed to new people and new ways, at Bethany and at Monique-Boyd. She had gotten accustomed to men who were not afraid to say “God,” to women who enthusiastically greeted each other’s stories about childbirth or vacations, or tussles with unsympathetic salesclerks. Now one weekend at her parents’ house, her announcement “I’m going to be the Foundation’s treasurer” was received only with a smothered lurch of uncertainty.

It was not that her parents and brothers didn’t care. They were simply very careful people, and they none of them had been quite able to read Alice’s own attitude as she spoke. This was another function of their upbringing (and the daughters-in-law had learned to take their cues from it, though marveling), and not even a conscious one: just as there was no sight so distasteful as a person holding forth, so there was nothing so dangerous as revealing anything about yourself until you knew how everyone around you would take it. You had to survive. The family would have made excellent hostages. They could not tell, because Alice herself had hedged, whether she was thrilled by her news, or whether it was a chore she had been browbeaten into, and wanted to be encouraged to shed. “Lucky you,” said Mrs. McNamara, assuming the latter, and waited for details which Alice, disgusted, now did not give. Dave did his best with “Oh That’ll be interesting.” And that was all, until crisis.

Still she recovered her equilibrium and signed up, officially, at the company’s summer picnic at a beautiful park in Naperville in June 1998, a month after Monique’s early birthday party. She was now treasurer of the Boyd Foundation. Trish was president, Pat was vice president. They assured her that her new duties would not be beyond her capacities, and said how happy they were at the prospect of working with her. They also said she could still write the newsletter. She had been anxious about this. She did not want to do anything illegal, nor take the secretary’s privileges away from her (Lily didn’t care), but she also greatly enjoyed the newsletter and wanted to continue writing it if she possibly could. Her little added quotes, birthdays and almanacs of interesting historical information had earned her comments from people she had hardly spoken to in sixteen years. She tried to be informative without being threatening. Charlie was her barometer about what to include. Once she almost put in a line from Henry James about how the American woman considers herself ill-used if she cannot buy something new every day – this was after a raucous Pie Night during which they had all laughed themselves sick over their shopping misadventures – but she asked Charlie and he scowled and said, “I don’t think so.” “I didn’t think so, either,” she agreed, disappointed, and put in something else, from Plato. “Of all creatures, the boy is the most unmanageable.” They were all of them mothers, and laughed over their children too at Pie Night. She had a boy herself.

Board meetings, a voice in the company, being singled out for attention – this was all splendid. Alice had always felt a natural aristocrat with her poets and fancies and above all her mother, and the lectures on Isaiah for which her congregation paid her an honorarium that she fondly returned. Sometimes the elderly widowers embraced her afterward and she felt she could walk on the sun. Now she had been asked to join a far different group of what her ex-mother-in-law would have called more “swells.” After the picnic she got a note from Pat, to thank her for giving of her time and to welcome her to the Board, and to advise her of their next meeting. “Fondly,” she had signed it. Alice felt very important. No one in professional life had ever sent her a note signed “fondly” before. It seemed so sophisticated.

The first Board meetings were a riot, even better than Pie Night. They met one evening a month at each other’s houses. Mill was the first hostess. She had served on the Board for three years running and was full of stories of what a tedium the meetings used to be, with Jane or Kandi or Caroline in the group. “You sat there for two hours looking at each other going ‘I don’t know, what do you want to do?’ And no food.” This new group delighted in their food. They outdid each other with their goat cheese in raspberry sauce, their margaritas and French chocolate cakes in caramel cages. They laughed and gossiped sometimes for two hours before getting down to the business of planning Monique-Boyd’s next film, or deciding whether a certain issue was worth raising at Pie Night, or signing a batch of checks. The summer flew.

In early September the Mississippi flooded. It did not affect Naperville, Illinois, but it did inundate a town called Luxor, Missouri, whose name in the newspaper caused Alice to sit up and take notice. She was still basking in the novelty of being among the elites, and never failed to look over the newspapers now with, as it were, an added eye, an elite, professional eye, newly trained to spot places and things her company might now be professionally enthusiastic about, thanks to her. Luxor, Luxor Missouri – why was that familiar? She sat with the newspaper and thought. Luxor ... it was the very riverfront town where Mr. and Mrs. Boyd had walked and talked twenty years ago, the place whose decrepit grandeur had inspired them to think they could do something to publicize small-scale architectural treasures like it. Yes, that was it. She had just co-signed a check for a small crew, Charlie and some others, to go back to Luxor and shoot a little bit of film for the retrospective publicity piece they were planning for the company’s twentieth anniversary party at Christmastime. Charlie and his people had not even gone yet. And now the place was floodwaters.

Well, well. Here was a challenge. She thought long and hard about what could be done about this. Here was an opportunity, a terrific one. She sat cross-legged on her couch in her dim night living room, with one thoughtful finger to her pursed lips like some statue of Harpocrates (the Egyptian god of silence – strangely, a boy) spinning plans in her head. Hunter came in to say goodnight, and she smiled and kissed him and went back to her thinking.

Charlie and his crew should certainly keep their plans to go to Luxor and film the place even at flood stage. That was the first thing. It would make for a dramatic fillip to the retrospective – the angry, muddy Mississippi swirling around the place that the Boyds, in all their prescience, had a feeling for even twenty years ago. The Boyds had indeed helped save that quaint part of town first crack out of the box (socialite Peggy had very much liked the film), and then the company had made home-grown restoration as fashionable as it was, at least in this little corner of the world. Now, what about accommodations? Was Charlie’s hotel flooded? If it was, they must find somewhere else for him to stay. Tomorrow morning she must telephone the town and find out what the situation was, and then talk to Charlie and make sure he understood he was still going. If it was safe, of course. Perhaps she had better contact the authorities in the state of Missouri to find out whether it was safe. The next Board meeting was not for five days, and he was due to have gone the day after that. Plenty of time.

And what else? A twentieth-anniversary retrospective of an award-winning company founded in a place that just happens to be a disaster area now ... what about interviewing Monique Boyd herself for this? Was she alert enough? Alice must ask someone – Louisa perhaps – about that. And why couldn’t Charlie find some veteran residents of Luxor and ask them to go on camera with their recollections of the town twenty years ago? And the place must have archives. Perhaps if they hunted they could find something interesting about its history. George Washington slept here, or rather no – Robert E. Lee, more likely. He began his career doing flood-control projects along the Mississippi with the Army Corps of Engineers. Very interesting.

What about a party to celebrate the release of the film when it was completed? Something more than just the annual Christmas party. They could have a gala reception at the company’s headquarters perhaps, or maybe at the Art Institute, in gratitude for all the recruiting trips and all the talented employees whom Monique had hired from the museum’s Film School. Imagine the excellent publicity, and the possibility of attracting more notice and even more potential projects.

Alice’s thinking was going along wonderfully enough, when another thought, like a log of fatwood suddenly bursting into flame amid a cozy little hearth fire, flared up. You know, she told herself, I wonder if I could call a special meeting of the Board to discuss this right away. I think maybe any officer on the Board can do that. This is September. Suppose we want to send Charlie there right now, tomorrow, while the flood looks at its worst. And then suppose we want to get the retrospective filmed and finished and schedule the reception for December. Maybe it could be a Christmastime party after all. The Art Institute would look beautiful then, with the evergreen wreaths around the lions’ necks. I wonder if I could call a special meeting ... or would I seem obnoxious? These are all my ideas, I can’t very well shove them down people’s throats. Although surely no one would object to the idea of a party, or anything which would compliment Mrs. Boyd. I wonder if she knows about the flood? Dear dear ... what should I do what should I do. She thought.

No. She decided at last not to try to call a special meeting. That would be too pushy, making all the Executive Board alter their plans at her summons, and be worried and puzzled for her sake. No, she would suggest her ideas at the next meeting in the ordinary way, and do a little more research of her own in the meantime, so that she could present all her suggestions in the most calm and complete way. And then she could update Charlie before he left and make his job easier, too.

Yes, that was satisfactory. She had done quite a night’s work tonight. She had thought up a new idea, had reasoned how the company could make an artistic profit out of a natural disaster miles away, and had figured out, with a certain shushing of her own ego, how to present her views in a humble, unobtrusive way, a way that she hoped would be agreeable to everyone. And not a thing had changed on the surface. She would simply wait patiently for five days and then bring the richness of herself, of her care for the company – she loved her job – to the next fun Board meeting. What time was it now? Good Lord, eleven-thirty. Too bad she couldn’t be paid overtime for thinking.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 12

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pearls and Roses, chapter 10

Pearls and Roses, chapter 9

A half-year later Monique Boyd walked, leaning on her cane, to the door of her breathtaking apartment high up inside Lake Point Tower. The undressed windows were a wash of blazing blue from the lake and the May sky outside. A birthday sky, though her party was early this year. Inside, the home was all hardwood floors of the warmest polished orange color, glowing in the sun, and gray sofas and chairs with pink and gray plaid throws and pillows placed neatly on them. One splendid chair like a throne sat in cobalt blue majesty in a corner. It bore a perfect, brocaded orange pillow.

Monique opened the door, smiling happily. “Hi, surprise!” Trish laughed out like a bell, for obviously the visit was no surprise – we don’t want to give her a heart attack, the others agreed – and Monique let them all in, holding hands and kissing cheeks with everyone. She would soon be eighty-one.

They filed in smiling and laughing, bearing presents and decked out in their summer best, Trish and Pat and Connie, Mill and Liz and a few others. “Sit down, please, Mrs. Boyd, we’ll do everything,” Pat said, and Monique smiled, “Oh honey, that makes me feel so old. Call me Monique.” She was a delightful old lady. She painted in oils, she dressed wonderfully. Her apartment was a dwelling the likes of which they would never live in themselves. This birthday party, the “fifth annual” they called it, was a tradition they all hoped they would be able to continue for years to come, for her own sake and because they honestly wanted a reason to see this home every year. They always brought the food as well as a few little presents, while Monique had catered for them at least one remarkable item from her favorite French restaurant down the street.

For several years the party had also been a kind of executive meeting pertaining to the Boyd Foundation’s Board staff and project choices for the coming year, and this year again Trish looked forward to being ale to have a productive, leisurely chat with the center of authentic power. There was little point in not dealing directly with the top. Besides, no one really knew how much longer they would have Monique with them, and Trish felt strongly that they should have as much experience of her, personally, as possible, experience of her words, memories, moods, intentions, even of the settings of her home and style. Trish was always disappointed that few employees availed themselves of the opportunity to come and meet Monique like this, on a Sunday, in honor of her birthday for heaven’s sake.

They all sat, except for Pat and Mill and Denise. Trish sat in the cobalt chair which she loved. The three women worked in the kitchen, putting out food on the china with its old-fashioned design of ribbon and calla lilies in yellow, green, and gold. Denise talked and laughed loudly. She was out of place but always tried, a tough-featured, tense woman, effulgently friendly but wounded to the soul every day by the memory of an ex-husband who had once hit her.

“So, eighty-one years young, huh Monique,” Connie opened in her well-meaning, simple way.

“Oh yes, and feeling every minute of it,” Monique laughed.

“No,” came murmurs of laughing protest from the women gathered in the big room. “I hope I’m in as good a shape when I’m sixty, let alone eighty,” Liz said, and Becky added, “I wish I were in as good a shape now.”

They laughed and chatted about nothing, and some got up and drifted about to look politely at Monique’s artworks, her souvenirs of archaeological digs and her few books, all the same and all in the same places they were last year. All were perfectly dusted.

In a few minutes Pat and Mill bought trays out of the kitchen, loaded with canapes and sandwiches and little cakes. A tea kettle whistled. Denise shut off the gas and poured. There was wine, too. Trish had gotten up to help. She carried into the living room the big crystal punch bowl filled up with gold froth and bobbing sherbet and raspberries. She set it down on an Irish linen placemat on the table. Pat hung the little crystal punch cups in their silver hooks all around the rim of the bowl. The tea had steeped, and was brought out. The sun burned higher in the windows. There were bird-of-paradise in a glittering crystal vase. Everything looked lovely.

All the women were gathered now around the table and around Monique, smiling guest of honor in her own home. “Well, my dears, it is lovely,” she said. “I really don’t know what to say, as usual. You are all too sweet.”

“Well, it’s not every day we turn twenty-nine,” Pat said, and they all laughed. “Gracious I’d be happy to turn fifty-nine,” Monique replied. “But I am very happy anyway.”

“Many happy returns,” Trish said, and ladled punch. They helped themselves to the food, especially the elegant restaurant contribution, plump with exactly what they could not tell, certainly garlic and mushrooms, probably Gruyere at ten dollars a pound as well. They gossiped about more nothings, the harmless topics women love (the kind that Peter loved to hear wash over him in a grainy Southern accent), babies, wedding days, driving mishaps, husbands’ chores. It was an eternal, pleasing tableau: it might have been ancient Rome, or perhaps – perhaps – a salon of Ninon’s Paris, only without men. If Alice had been there, she with her current reading about Disraeli would have noticed that no one argued the beautiful Sheridan sisters’ query of the sovereign good. What is the most desirable life? But sometimes she was a smirker, and she was not there.

“So, where are we going this year, my dears?” Monique asked.

“Oh, you mean the company?” Trish answered.

Monique nodded, and Trish swallowed a mouthful and emerged from behind her napkin. “We have a lot of great plans,” she began. “I think you’ll approve. We’re finishing up work on the film of the Mexico City project, you know, the opera house that was designed partly by an American architect? And then we have two projects we’d like to concentrate on the rest of the year. We want to keep filming the Browder houses in Cape Cod and in the Carolinas. Charlie says he thinks Browder built in Quebec City, too, so we voted to investigate that.” Trish’s rich voice, very clear from the throat, her liveliness and precision in speaking entranced them all.

“Yes, I remember. And next year? Has anything been broached?”

“Well, yes, the Board noted some recommendations, but of course the incoming Board will have to approve or disapprove as they see fit. We recommend another recruiting visit to Columbia College next year, and as far as possible projects go, we recommend a base study of Portugal. Of all places. Apparently there is some American architect who has written the fundamental, absolute history of Portugal in this century. I forget his name, but he is, I guess, just incredibly well-known. We want to find out if this might be an avenue worth exploring.”

“It sounds a little far afield to me,” Monique said.

“Oh it is, definitely,” Trish said, “but I only want our research department to look into it. I read about him in an article in the Atlantic. He is supposed to be some giant whom the Portuguese worship and we don’t even know. But what else we have going on is, a robber-baron mansion falling down in San Francisco, and then there’s a project involving Mary Cassatt’s house which I really think we should not pass up. It’s being refurbished by her town. They’re bringing it back to exactly the way it looked when she lived there.”

“This is in Paris?” Monique asked.

“No, strangely enough. Apparently she had a house in some little town which was a retreat then, but is now sort of grimy and industrial. That’s why it’s such a godsend that the city fathers are fixing it up. I forget the name.” She turned to Pat, hoping – but not admitting to herself even in her depths that she hoped – that by truthfully denying the house was “in” Paris, she could avoid mention of how near it was to Paris. It might be anywhere: America perhaps. (Anyway Mary Cassatt was an American.) Pat, however, missed the subtlety.

“One of those French words that has ten vowels and an x at the end,” she said.

“And does Bob know about it?”

“Yes. All this is pending his approval and the new Board’s too, naturally,” Trish answered. “But at any rate we have a lot of ideas in the pipeline.”

“You certainly do,” Monique smiled. “And who will run for the new Board?”

“Oh. Well, that’s something else we can talk about, that is if you don’t mind all this talking shop on your birthday.”

“Hey, what better time, right Monique?” Denise laughed hoarsely. “I’ll talk shop anytime ” Denise had run her own knock-off cosmetics business for a year, was a success, and loved it like nothing else in her life. A few of the women rolled their eyes, and hoped they were not about to get an update on the fortunes and services of Domenica Fragrances, Trademark, Incorporated.

“Not at all,” Monique said.

“Well, Pat and I, and Connie, we’re all on the nominating committee – aren’t we? – hey, does this constitute a quorum?” Trish looked around at everyone cheerfully.

“Works for me,” Pat laughed.

“Well. Anyway, we thought we would ask a few new people to consider running for the Board. We try to start sounding people out before the summer picnic, so we don’t just pounce on them in the middle of a party when being an ‘officer’ – I hate that word, honestly, it sounds so evil – is the last thing on anybody’s mind.”

“And when they’re so drunk, they’ll say yes to anything,” Mill blurted.

“So we thought we would sound out maybe Charlie for a change, and maybe Louisa, although I don’t think she’d be interested, and we thought we’d try Alice.”

“Oh yes,” Monique said. She thought swiftly, but could not place either Charlie or Louisa. “She is such a nice girl. I’m sure she would do well.”

“Yes, you know sometimes it’s the quiet people who have new ideas. She’s done a good job with the newsletter so far. Some of her quotes are a bit literary for me, but then that’s just her. We thought with her experience we could ask her to run for treasurer. It wouldn’t give her a whole lot of authority, and she would have Bob Boyd overseeing her every step of the way, so it wouldn’t be too scary. And I think she’s pretty level-headed. She might be good.”

“Oh yes, that’s a very important position.”

“You sign everything but our paychecks, don’t you?” Mill asked.

Monique nodded, sipping her punch. “And you cast the deciding vote on the Executive Board.”

Trish looked up. There was the smallest silence. “You’re kidding,” she said. “I didn’t know that. I don’t see how. The treasurer? Wouldn’t it be the president?”

“My late husband was so concerned about what would be done with his money in this foundation that at one point he wrote it into our bylaws to give that power to the treasurer. I didn’t think it was necessary, myself.”

“I remember that,” Denise nodded, grinning crookedly always, her glinting pale eyes always thrusting out sideways for assurance, for inclusion. “I remember that from the bylaws we all used to get.”

“It – almost doesn’t make sense,” Trish said slowly, thinking hard how to tread softly with the widow – who perhaps didn’t need it – and still say what she wanted to say. “Why not just – “

“I’m surprised it’s legal,” Pat broke in. She did not fear the widow. “Why not just let the president have presidential powers?” Again she opened her rusted-whisky laugh, like a throttle. “Like every other organization on the planet?”

“Or let the president handle the money?” someone put in.

“Nope, can’t do that,” Mill said. “The president already co-signs the checks. Gotta have a treasurer.”

“Then why ...”

“I don’t get it,” Trish said.

“Nor did I,” Monique closed her eyes deep in her punch cup. “I think he may have been ill already, when he made this decision. And by that time, our lawyer was also our son-in-law. Bob and Chuck never got along too well. We had to – I had to – humor everyone.”

This serious conversation paused, while the light chatter that had resumed among Becky and Liz and Connie and the others continued around the perimeter of the room. “Wow,” Trish said, low to herself.

“Well anyway, we can still ask Alice if she wants to run for that position. I have no problem with her,” Pat said.

“These positions are basically interchangeable anyway. Who cares?” Denise called out from the kitchen, where she was shaking something – was it a cocktail shaker, really? Had she asked permission?

“Do you think she has the experience?” Trish asked, both there at the party in Monique’s sunlit apartment (everyone had the little cakes, and sang happy birthday, and then cleared away the dishes and left in time for Monique to go to the concert with her gentleman friend that night), and in Pat’s car on the way home. Connie and Pat drove all the friends in each of their two cars, and Trish was the last to be dropped off before Pat proceeded home.

“I don’t see why not. It’s just arithmetic, I would think,” Pat answered. “She signs the checks with the president, she comes to Board meetings, she helps balance the books. I can’t believe it’s hugely difficult. The last treasurer wasn’t a CPA or anything, was she?”

“No, that’s true.” Trish had her hand on the door handle. “That bit about the treasurer having presidential prerogatives on the Board, is that weird or what? I can’t believe that’s legal. I thought bylaws for any organization were engraved in stone, like at the United Nations or something. Isn’t a president a president?”

“Okay, well, obviously Mr. Boyd was senile in his declining years,” Pat replied with her big, rusty laugh. “I don’t think it’s legal either. Anyway I wouldn’t call it presidential prerogative. She casts the deciding vote, supposedly. How often have we needed to have anybody do that? We don’t fight.”


“Anyway I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Monique is not all there herself, lately. Did she look odd to you this afternoon?”

“Maybe tired.”

“Way tired.”

“Well, at eighty-one, I’ll be looking tired, too, I suppose,” Trish smiled. She was one of those women who especially pride themselves on the sympathy they have and the care they take of elderly women, aunts, grandmothers, neighbors. And they inherit the jewelry.

“See you tomorrow,” Pat said, and Trish said goodbye and swung out of the car. “So should we ask her?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Trish squinted down into the window. Pat waved goodbye and drove home. Trish walked up the steps into her house and let herself in.

Trish’s perfect, very individual home proved well enough the degree she had earned from the Art Institute. It was a living home, complete with big dogs and children, and children’s art on the walls. Perfect for her did not mean clean lines or open spaces, or trained color schemes of olive and chrome. There were just touches everywhere to show that this woman had education and taste, had been educated above all to trust her own taste and to accept, in an old-world way, previous decisions about the house that could not be altered, not yet. She had not altered the dark, stone-flagged entryway, and had kept the large wooden sculpture near the fireplace. The huge distressed-pine armoire and the cream leather furniture were her own. The kitchen windows, like Monique’s, she left undressed, so that sunlight poured in on the white cabinets and the little round table spread with a pretty cloth in green, pink, yellow, and blue checks run through with gold thread.

The house was big, because Dan had money and they could afford a big house, but it was still cramped into its block among its little neighbors in the ordinary way. Even this problem Trish had managed to solve with thoughtful charm. They were lucky in the great oak trees that stood all around the house and garage and even out the deep driveway. She had kept them, too – many people would not have – permitting all the undergrowth around the trees and under the jutting master bedroom loft to stay as well, and had removed more curtains from the big trapezoid windows on all the rest of the ground floor rooms. The result was a view of greenery in summer, and of tangled brown thickets and snow in winter, that made guests think not of an ordinary house at 2512 Maple Street, but of an exclusive mountain lodge screened from prying eyes by mists and woods.

Perfection and exclusivity were as much a part of her now as ever they had been when she was a student at the Art Institute – or as ever they had been when she was a young girl being driven to elocution lessons by her own lovely mother. Her daughters attended private school of course, not even riding the bus there for Trish’s fear that a school bus was “bully heaven.” They all took wonderful family vacations, to the Caribbean in the winter and to Sea World in the spring – although that trip had not been a great success, as she admitted, laughing to her friends at Pie Night when she got back. “I wanted everything to be too perfect,” she said. “That was a mistake.” They had driven all the way there, and the hair-beading kits which she had bought to keep the girls busy in the car had been used up within the first few hours of driving. “I didn’t think they would be that easy to do,” she said, as Becky commiserated with stories of her own daughter spending a morning completely beading her wispy hair and the beads falling out and bouncing all over. “I know ” Trish laughed, “I know All over the car. We pulled up at Sea World with my daughters wearing cornrows Blond cornrows. Oh God, it was a trip. And the expense Meals alone were absolutely exorbitant. Every little souvenir cup was five dollars. By the time we were packing up to go home on the last night, I was standing in the hotel lobby literally screaming ‘I hate you, Dan, I hate you, I hate you ’ How we all survived is beyond me.”

How were we to survive? she thought now, on a different topic. Maybe Pat was right. Maybe Mr. Boyd was senile in his declining years, and the thing was illegal. And Monique this afternoon: she did not look well. What would happen to the company after she died? Bob Boyd was the most morose-looking man Trish had ever met. She could just picture him selling everything the instant his mother died and he was free to do something else with his life. What must it feel like to fall heir to the family business? What else had he wanted to do? Maybe before long they might all find out, and where would that wonderful workplace, her friendships, and her income be then?

She shook off her mood. Things would work out for her. They always did. She walked into the kitchen and found a pair of notes waiting for her on the table. They were both from Dan. She smiled as she remembered how he always took telephone messages by first asking whoever it was to hold on “while he got a crayon.” This little joke had actually defused a few serious quarrels she might otherwise have had with Girl Scout troop leaders, her children’s teachers, occasionally the school’s handsome principal. The notes now, written in pen in his awful handwriting, told her that he had taken the girls out for ice cream, and that a Mr. Paul Shepstone had called, from Chinon, in France.

What on earth was this? Her feelings were twice as surreal because she knew this would be cleared up in some way, even if it was only a wrong number, but in the meantime it gave her imagination full rein. Had she inherited money from some long-lost French relative? Had a stranger, unbalanced, spotted her one day and determined to deed his villa to her because he had no heirs and she reminded him of a lost love? Was she being recruited, or tested about something? Had an old professor contacted her through a third party, had a daughter won a scholarship?

Before even considering returning the phone call she went down to the basement, switched on the lights, petted one of the dogs, and sat down at the computer. She got on the Internet and found a website for French tourism which led her to another for Chinon, a place she had never heard of. “Les annonces,” “les amusements,” “le folklore,” “les restaurants,” “le shopping.” France roman et gothique; les rois. Fontevrault.

Nothing. She scrolled down to the bottom of the page, intending to give up after this. There at the bottom – “l’archeologie” – was a small photograph of a man perhaps in his late fifties or early sixties, and there the name leaped out at her. Shepstone, Peter, not Paul. And who on earth was this? She could not understand the French caption.

She closed down the computer, leaned back in her chair, and thought. The noise of a slammed door and voices came to her from upstairs. Dan and the girls were home. At sea, she went upstairs and greeted them, and then called Pat.

“I just got the most bizarre phone message in the world,” she laughed after Pat answered. “Dan took a call from some guy in France calling me, specifically, but with no information other than to contact him.”


“Well, but here’s the thing. I went on line and I looked up the tourist site for this town he’s calling from, and his picture is there at the bottom of the page.”
“Okay,” Pat repeated, laughing. “So what’s it about?”

“I have no idea. My high school French is too far gone for me to make use of it when I need it. But it’s weird. This guy is on a website involving archaeology at this French town, and he calls me personally, at my home. I mean what is this? Do you think I should call him back?”

“Why not e-mail him first?”

“I would, but he’s got my phone number. He’s not trying to be halfway anonymous, to keep his distance, you know? This is weird.”

“He’s involved in what? Archaeology?”

“Archaeology. I at least understand that. ‘Archeologie’ with an ie instead of a y. It’s the same in French, I’m sure. In Chinon, France.”

Pat reflected a little. “Wait a minute, wait a minute ... I know what this is,” she said. “Chinon.” She pronounced it correctly. “When I was first hired, millions of years ago, one of my jobs was to do research on this old medieval church near there. I’m sure that was the name. Mr. Boyd wanted to find out if there was some kind of American connection – “

“Oh God, poor Mr. Boyd and his connections,” Trish sighed.

“Yes, remember that? It was like his mantra. Anyway I was supposed to find out if we could find any American excuse to do a film about this old cathedral that had water damage or dry rot or something.”

“But what was the point to begin with?”

“The point was that Frank Boyd knew the man who was going to be in charge of the restoration of this church.” Trish could hear Pat busily washing her dishes while she talked. “He was an English guy with a really nice name, you know, like Brougham or Fairfield?” Pat liked to joke about the luck Trish had had in her surnames, from maiden Fairfield to married Markham, while she, maiden Patrice Irene Hamm, went from married and divorced Jones to married Zurick. “Zuu-uurick ” she would laugh.

“Peter Shepstone,” Trish said.

“Yep, that’s it. So they were great pals and Mr. Boyd wanted to have an excuse to be on site and film this guy’s latest work. That’s why I was hired, to find out if that would have been legit.”

“Okay. And was it?”

Pat unloosed, again, her rusted-whisky laugh. “I don’t know. I never quite got that far.”

“What does Peter Shepstone do?”

“Helps restore old churches, I guess. I never found the big connection, and then when Mr. Boyd got really sick and we got really busy, I just kind of dropped the ball.”

“But why would this guy call me? Did you ever talk to him?”

“No. But don’t we have a website with your name on it from when you were president the first time?”

“Well, yeah, we have a website, but I shouldn’t be on it anymore. And why would he go rushing off, I mean how would he even find it unless – “

“It wouldn’t take much. Everything in the world is on-line. You found him.”

“That’s true. Aha, and you know what? I bet I am still on that website because it would have been Caroline’s job to update it and – “

“Caroline quit,” they both said together. “My God, we haven’t updated it since then? We have dropped the ball.” In the tiniest way Trish was stupidly annoyed that Caroline was still able, in her pedestrian way, to smother the fantasy of a villa deeded her by a mysterious European. It seemed her fault, somehow. “Shouldn’t Alice have updated it?”

“I guess she didn’t. Anyway there you have it.”

“Should I call him?” Trish knew Pat would say yes, and she very much wanted to call him anyway.

“Absolutely, why not?”

They hung up. Trish called Peter at seven o’clock that night, and found herself unusually flustered at this strange man’s quiet, confident voice. She identified herself, and then blurted out that Frank Boyd had died some years ago.

“Yes, I know,” Peter said. “Your web page included the little biography of him. I was sorry to learn that.”

“Had you known him well?”

“I met him,” his voice came through muffled, as if he were shifting his position in bed. Trish realized in a flood of embarrassment that seven o’clock in the evening in Naperville meant midnight in London, if not something worse, and while he went on talking about how, just for a lark, he had investigated the Boyd Foundation, to see if perhaps Mr. Boyd was still interested in filming the project that was at last underway at Fontevrault, she thought how on earth to apologize for telephoning him at this ungodly hour. In the end she decided an apology would only make things worse by drawing attention to the offense. So in a few minutes they hung up, Trish scarcely able to remember what they had said or what she had promised she might do. She seemed to remember saying she would “look into it.”

“I was so mortified,” she told Pat a few minutes later, calling her safely at Naperville’s seven-thirty. They both laughed until their cheeks ached. “He’ll just have to think I’m an idiot, that’s all.”

“Well,” Pat offered, “why don’t we pursue this project anyway? It might be good, and Mr. Boyd was interested. It may turn out to be a great thing.”

“What’s going to be the American connection?”

“I don’t know. The founder of the company was interested. This company has been so prestigious for so long that I would think that alone is enough. If Monique approves, or rather Bob, I would say we’re home free.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Trish said. The two friends said good-bye and hung up again, Trish excited and intrigued at the possibility of meeting this man who had telephoned her, and let her call him in the middle of the night without berating her for it, and spoke in a deep muffled voice as if he were shifting position in bed, and did not mind whether she guessed that.

Pearls and Roses, chapter 11

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White light

This lady has led an interesting life. She has two master’s degrees and has lived all over, including in a monastery for a while. Her husband is a minister and a therapist, and they keep ferrets and she is a successful artist and she plays the mountain dulcimer in a local folk music society. People who meet her often find themselves wishing they had more hobbies.

Anyway she says that if you are disturbed by a long-lasting negative memory -- if! -- you should think of that memory, and then imagine something positive – a white light, a flow of good energy – traveling up your spine to your brain. Because the brain can’t handle two different thoughts at once, the white light going up your spine will blot out the negative memory that you are holding in your head. Then, as you imagine the white light or the positive energy knocking the bad memory from you, you tap your clavicle five or six times, right where the neck joins the chest. That “gets rid of it,” she says.

Only one man, listening to her, asked, how do you know you’ve gotten rid of a negative memory if you can’t remember it? They didn't become friends.