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from TRUE NOBLE, a novel

 

Alice. Castelbuono. August 2005.

The day was glorious. The sun bright but not too hot. As we drove out of town and down the hill Lino was quiet. He turned on the tape player and popped in a Fabrizio tape. When we reached the plateau and entered the broad amber plain, he turned to me and said, “Alice, I have a question.” I knew exactly what it was. “You said you were married once, right? So what happened?”

I gave him the abbreviated version. “I met my husband Michael on an advertising campaign. He’s a filmmaker. I hired him. We hit it off right away and we got married one year later. And about one year after that,” I said, switching to English “we began to run out of gas.”  

Run-out-of-gas? Cosa vuol dire?”

Guidare la macchina senza benzina.”

He looked at me, expecting more of a story. “And that’s it? That’s the story?”

I said, “Well it lasted five years.”

“And no children.”

“No. Michael wanted children but I didn’t. That was a big disappointment for him and I knew it. Children would have changed things, but I didn’t want them. Not back then.”

He turned and looked at me, not comprehending.

“I used to think of children as one gigantic trap.”

Still no comprehension.

“Because you always need to put the kids first,” I said. “Like you and the falcons. You always put the falcons first. But it’s more than that with children. Much more. The work never ends. Though I will tell you, later on I felt I’d made a big, big mistake. But by then it was too late.”

I felt Lino still didn’t really understand but I didn’t want to discuss the subject any longer. We drove for awhile without talking. I’d come around to thinking, I don’t recall how long ago, that if Mom hadn’t been so damn self-sacrificing, and Dad had been less of a handful, I might have put aside my doubts about children and had one or two, and still be with Michael today.

We continued driving, through dry brown hills with spiny ridges. Past random herds of cows and sheep. The wheat had already been harvested. The fields were gold, vast and austere, covered in dry stubble. We passed an abandoned farmhouse, the roof caved in, the walls missing stones, the jagged edges upright, like jigsaw puzzle pieces against a blazing sky.

I said, “Listen, Lino, I haven’t eaten a thing since last night. Do you know of any place where we could stop?”

“Around here no. But I’ll keep my eyes open.”

I decided to turn the table on him.

 “Okay Lino,” I said. “Now you. What about you? Did you ever think of getting married?”

“Actually, yes,” he said, “believe it or not. To a girl from Castelbuono, originally. But her family moved up to Turin, when we were children. Years later she came back to visit. We spent time together. She came back again and again, always on some excuse. I thought it was all a big joke. But then one morning, I woke up and realized I was crazy about her . . . so then I flew up to visit her as much as I could. Eventually we decided to get married. And I’d move up there. She was a city person now, she used to say, and that’s where she belonged. ‘What’s there to look forward to in Castelbuono?’ she would say. ‘A new movie once a month, two towns away? The church holds a feast three times a year, I should get all dressed up? I should work every weekend in September canning tomatoes, curing olives? Why bother? You can buy all that stuff in a store anywhere!’ She worked as a technician in a lab, a good job. She said we’d find work up there for me. I said ‘Okay, I’ll give up the falcons and the land, all the horses.’ But then later, when I thought about it, I knew it was no good. Listen, Alice, all her girlfriends up there were engaged to lawyers and engineers. I don’t have a degree, what would I do? How would she introduce me? ‘My husband used to breed horses and falcons, now he sweeps the streets.’ Or ‘He’s an orderly in the hospital.’ Or ‘He works in a factory.’ And they’d look down at their shoes, or finish their drinks or whatever they had and go look for a refill. And I’d stand there feeling like a jackass. They won’t remember my name and won’t care, before I know it my own wife doesn’t know me anymore. You see what I mean? Listen, Alice, I don’t care about wealth, you already know that about me. Status? Who needs it? Besides, who wants to live in a place like that? Even if you live in the suburbs you’re still surrounded by concrete. And there’s no security. When the factory closes down where do you go? Who pays the rent? Who buys the food? So before we went too far with those wedding plans I flew up and told her it was no good. Not a happy memory but what can I say? I’m a real bastard—no? But it would have been a disaster—don’t you agree? She married a little later, had two kids. All a long long time ago. Listen, Alice—one day if you come back and I don’t have the falcons anymore, I tell you I’ve given them up, or whatever reason I give you, believe me—it won’t be Lino you’re talking to, it’ll be his ghost.”

Right then I asked if his hunting accident had happened before or after that decision. Just as fast he took a sharp turn. We’d passed an inn and a sign for a café so he drove back. In the courtyard of what was once an estate, there was a small abandoned stone chapel, round like a silo, with wide fissures in the walls and a fig tree growing right in the middle of the entrance. There was a rundown farmhouse and tools lying around. It seemed someone had started working on repairs. Somewhere a dog began to bark. We rang the bell but no one answered. 

Lino said, “It’s like this everywhere here in Sicily. People put out signs as if they have something to sell—then you show up and they’re nowhere to be found. All one big joke.”

 

“Land transaction records are stored in the regional capital, not in the municipal offices,” the archivist said from behind his desk. He was a handsome man, with long white hair swept behind his ears and tortoise-shell glasses. “I wrote that in my letter to your sister. Did she not tell you?”

“I don’t know if she ever received your letter. She died recently and I don’t—”

“—Oh I am sorry. Very sorry . . . my condolences . . .

He paused a moment, then continued.

“I consulted with a colleague in the capital. He looked into your case but he was unable to locate any records for a Gemini family between 1898 and 1900. Are you sure of those dates? . . .  If you have the time I recommend that you go to the capital to conduct a wider search . . . You should plan, in that case, on several days . . . On the question of falconry, I came across the following notice, I think of interest . . . 

IL CATTOLICO. CALTANISSETTA. 17 JUNE 1899. Following the death of the esteemed Sig. Niccolò Picardo, the publishers of this paper announce the return of Sig. Emanuele Picardo, son of the deceased, who following the bestowal of the degree of jurisprudence from the University of Rome, and his appointment to the Foreign Ministry and nine years of distinguished service in the eastern areas of the Ottoman Empire, will return to the family seat in order to assume management of said family estate. Informed by the estimable Giovanna Albanese, wife of the deceased, the publishers also take this occasion to inform our readers that Sig. Emanuele Picardo has, in addition to his knowledge of jurisprudence and agility in all matters of diplomacy, in his journeys acquired both extensive experience in the methods of agronomy practiced in those areas of his Foreign Ministry service and skill in the training and handling of raptors. 

 

The archivist gave us directions to the street where the Gemini family once had a house; when we left the Municipio Lino went off to find me something to eat, and I found the street and sat on a curb, in stifling heat. The houses were disproportionate, some large, some small, either ablaze in light or hidden in shadow. All of them rundown. It was the middle of the afternoon by then and the doors and windows were shuttered. Most of the houses had a number by the door, white ceramic tiles with blue numerals, all in the same style. It might have been that blue and white, I don’t know, but all of a sudden I saw us walking to school again: past the Esso station and Lou’s penny candy store, with all the candies in brown oblong trays in glass cabinets. Mary Janes and Squirrels. Red shoelaces. Rainbow dots on white paper scrolls. Lou sold ice cream on cake cones with paper tissues on top and had long white hair wrapped behind his ears, not unlike the archivist. Then there was the poultry shop, and Max, with his big cigar and long dark hair. His wife and daughter had red hair and freckles, remember? The shop was littered with white chicken feathers, inches deep on the floor and floating in the air, and the odor of chicken feed and feces mixed together was strangely intoxicating. In the front room was a blackboard for the prices of fryers and roasters and capons, and a refrigerator and cash register. And Max, of course, high on his stool. In the back room the birds were packed in cages stacked to the ceiling and you couldn’t hear a thing with all their squawking, so you’d point to the capon for Sunday dinner or the turkey for Thanksgiving and then return to the front. Across from Max’s was Sam’s grocery store, where Innocent went that day in October and most days before and after. And the bakery where Crazy Bill looked in the mirror all day, and piled on the after-shave, and watched all the girls walk by, all the girls he dreamed of having and never would, not in a million years. Whenever one of the neighbors said she was going on a church trip to Italy he’d always say ‘You don’t have to go over there to see the handsomest men—they’re right here!’ Remember how one day he chased Maryann around the front table where they kept all the day-old buns and loaves of bread? She told her mother she’d never go back there again and wouldn’t say why, she knew her father would kill him if he ever found out, or at least try to; run out of the house with a gun if he had one; otherwise just beat him silly. Or maybe he would never have done such a thing and it’s only what she imagined, something she projected out of fear, we all seemed to have an endless cache of it. Past the funeral home; and finally the neighborhood’s most popular restaurant, with its landmark sign, oval, blue and white, at the top of a large pole. Tall blue letters in a curvy Fifties script on bright white plastic. Cocktails. Family Dining. Good Food. Opaque and still by day, at night it glowed as it revolved in the dark: a beacon of the Good Life, a guiding light for all the souls in that ghetto still caught between two worlds, the world of Trenton, the world of Sicily. It all came to an end in the early Seventies however, after the riots and the flight to the suburbs, but not before that horrible night when we went there to celebrate Aunt Mary’s birthday, when Dad and you and Paul had that huge fight over Vietnam. I told you to avoid fights with Dad but you never listened, you always engaged with him, you charged head-on. I’d let things pass, I’d either ignore him or find a way around him, I’d already shut down, but you—no! Tell me—what was the point? He never listened to us, he was impossible, he just went on and on, reveling in his own voice. And when he felt he was really losing control of us, the fights grew worse. At first it was only about us, we couldn’t date, we couldn’t stay out late. On the one hand our friends were fast yet on the other hand we studied too much, always cooped up in the house, there was more to life than what you found in books. Later it was Feminism, which, of course, he insisted on calling Women’s Lib, refusing to understand the difference. To him it was all about bra-burning and nothing else.

Back in that restaurant, that day, the topic was Vietnam, and you found an ally in Paul. He was the first cousin to turn draft age. There was talk about draft numbers, I don’t remember what Paul’s number was, but I remember that it was a low number and that he was upset. He started talking about a demonstration he’d gone to. That’s all Dad needed to hear. Dad got up from his chair, threw his napkin down on the table, leaned over the huge platter of chicken cacciatore that the waitress had just set down, and glared at Paul. “Everybody has a turn to go and fight,” he said, steely-eyed. “Where do you think you would be today if every one of your uncles sitting here hadn’t fought in World War II?” That’s when you and Paul stood up and started shouting back at Dad. 

“Dad—Vietnam is not World War II. Can’t you understand that?” you yelled in Dad’s face, your own face flushed. Your hair was long back then, wild and wavy, streaming behind you. “All you ever want to talk about is World War II and I am sick of it!”

That’s when Uncle Pete stood up and asked everyone to calm down. 

Every table in the restaurant had hushed and turned to ours, how could they not notice? Mom and Aunt Mary put their heads in their heads, they wanted to crawl into a corner. Dad looked fierce but he sat down, to my amazement. We went back to eating but the party was ruined. 

Back at home no one spoke for the rest of the night.

The next morning, a Sunday, the doorbell rang very early. We weren’t expecting anyone. Dad went to the front door. You and I looked out the window to the porch. We could see Uncle Pete—black suit, black tie, white shirt—dressed for church. His face was solemn and composed. We thought he was alone but he wasn’t; it wasn’t until Dad opened the door that we saw that Paul was there too. We hadn’t seen him at first was because he was down on his knees. Uncle Pete had brought him to apologize. For once, Dad was speechless. I think it was the only time I’d ever seen him at a loss for words. Finally he said, “Paul, get up—for Chrissake—you don’t have to do that—Pete it’s okay, it was just talk, I don’t even remember what we said to tell you the truth.” 

Years later, one night when we were both at home, after Nixon had resigned, Dad said that you were right all along about Vietnam, and that he was the one who was wrong. And that he would never stop learning from you. 


Lino said that years ago he and the other falconer used the tower to train fledglings. They’d place the chicks in a nest, and the nest inside a box they’d built, on the balcony, so that the nest was completely sheltered. There were slits in the box so that the chicks could see outside but not the faces or the hands that brought their food. While they were still fledglings they’d open the box and let the birds fly around. The birds couldn’t yet go very far, and they always returned for their food. But once they were larger, large enough to fly some distance and begin hunting on their own, they’d take them out of that box and bring them down to the falconry, and introduce them to the fist, and to the hood. But they stopped all that awhile ago. After they built the lab in Apulia. 

“They’re wild,” Lino said, “they still want to hunt. A good falconer helps them do that. What you want, Alice, the point of it all, because I know that’s on your mind, is to help your falcon achieve the perfect flight. And then of course to return to you. You want it to fly high, as high as its kind will fly, and far. You teach it to recognize your voice—a whole subject in itself. You need to know how to read the wind. Because if you put it to flight and the wind is not right, the bird’ll fly low. If it flies low and never catches a draft, it might perch on a branch and sit there all day. 

“Then too you have to feed it enough or it won’t fly high at all. But not too much food, because then it loses the urge to hunt. I told you, it’s complicated. Like I said before, there’s so much involved, it becomes your life. Now you understand why I’ve always lived alone? But for me not a problem, every day is different, not one day like another. All my life. I do just fine.”

We were in the falconry. While I listened my mind flashed back to images of you: you sitting at your desk, researching Nonnu Fabio, writing down Nonni Innocent’s stories. So diligent and persevering.  

I walked to a paper tacked to the wall above the door. It was a list of species. Falco biarmicus. Falco jugger. Falco peregrinus. Falco femoralis. Falco tinnunculus. 

I’d read about the True Noble Falcon, Falcone gentile absolute, only the day before in Frederick’s treatise.

“Lino—why isn’t Falcone gentile absolute listed here?” 

“That’s an old name,” he said. “Not used anymore. It was a type of peregrine in medieval hierarchy. The Gyrfalcon was the falcon of the King, the True Noble was the falcon of The Prince. The True Noble Falcon was smaller, less powerful than the Gyrfalcon, but it was more highly prized. It was much, much easier to train. And as for strength and courage—it had no equal.”

 

The next day, the next lesson, Lino said, “Alice, I want to talk about feeding and the seasons. You need to understand: When the seasons change, so does the bird.

“Seasonal change is critical, the falconer really needs to pay attention here. Because if you make a mistake and feed it too much, even by one day, even by one ounce, even by one-half ounce, it may not fly. And then it may lose the urge, and become tame. That means you’ve failed. You’ve made a mess, a real pasticcio.

“If on the other hand you feed it too little, even by one day, by one ounce, even by one-half ounce, it may feel too hungry. Then it flies high and fast looking for prey. It may never return. When that happens, when you lose a bird, believe me, you lose a part of yourself. Those days are dark. You go looking everywhere. In the skies, inside yourself. You think a long time about where you went wrong.

“And I haven’t said anything yet about moulting. That’s another subject. 

He went over to the perch, to the female lanner I’d held the previous day, and took her down and brought her over to me.

“Here, put on the glove,” he said, tossing the glove to me. “I want you to take her.” 

“What do you want me to do?” I said.

 “I want you to grow more confident about holding her.”

So I put on the glove and stood up, and held out my right arm. She was hooded. I jerked the jess a tiny bit and lowered my arm and she perched.  

“Listen, Alice, when you do everything right, then comes the thrill. That first day you saw me on the hill — that was a good day, a good flight for this lanner.”

I didn’t look at Lino while he spoke, I looked only at the falcon.

“You take off the hood, you raise your fist, the falcon takes off. If you’ve done everything right—remember, it’s all a matter of equilibrium—it finds the current and it flies high. 

“When the lanner flies high it could be up three, four hundred meters, you don’t know if you’ll ever see it again. It could catch a thermal and fly off like a plane, to Trapani or Catania. Anyway when it comes back, back to the lure, you know it’s satisfied. You feel it inside yourself, that’s the thing, your own body feels it. 

“But listen, you could wait for hours for that to happen. And so you forget about hunger and thirst, I mean completely. You keep your eye on that bird and you don’t move. That’s why I don’t have a life, not really. But I’ll tell you something, and I wouldn’t say this to anyone. When I’m watching that bird, no matter how long it takes, no matter how hot or cold the air may be, I tell you I’m in another world. Time no longer exists for me, really. Nothing exists but that bird. My eyes are all of me, and my eyes are on that bird.”

The lanner ruffled her feathers; I held my breath.

“Calm her down,” Lino said.

I drew her close and ran my hand lightly over her back and wings, the way I’d seen Lino do many times. That seemed to work.

Lino said, “Okay Alice—so have you figured out what this all means to you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. ”Maybe it’s the hood. The falcons sit here all day, wearing the hood, they don’t see a thing. They don’t fly, they hardly move. What do they perceive? They live in the dark, you control what they see. You control if and when they move. They’re bound to you completely, and you to them. But you come and go as you please. And yes, to care for them takes time, and a certain frame of mind, so you deny yourself other things. And then one day one of them gets the urge to leave. It flies away and never comes back.”

“I told you before, their instincts are still intact.”

“I know, I understand that. After so much time in the dark, in captivity—gentle captivity, yes, nevertheless it is captivity—they still understand the stuff they’re made of. They take off and reclaim the sky.”

We were quiet again. After a while I said, “And then Lino, there’s you. When they leave, when they go off, what happens to you? You’re left behind, you’re alone, you’re abandoned, you’re desperate. But do you quit? No. You go back up to the lab, you get another one, you start all over again, knowing all along that some day that new bird may also leave, and again you’ll mourn, you’ll mourn all over again. You’ll be sick at heart. You’ve made an art of letting go. Other people hold on.”

 

 

The next morning I still didn’t feel like getting back to work. So I borrowed Maddalena’s car and drove to Palermo. I thought that if I’m going to continue studying falconry I should have a decent pair of binoculars. By the time I bought the binoculars it was already seven o’clock. I found a hotel room and stayed overnight. I thought I’d go see the Church of Santa Zita the next morning. I tried to see it when I first came to Palermo but it’d been closed.

It was Sunday and the streets were empty. I passed a block of Arab ruins. Stone foundations, nothing more. I found the Gangi Palace, where The Leopard was filmed, also closed. I wandered in and out of Baroque churches, one after the other. These churches soar from dark tenement blocks like white palaces. Their facades are festooned, the interiors cavernous, statued with legions of unnamed saints, the walls and ceilings the colors of the marzipan you see here in the shops and the gilding still glinting, resplendent. I walked down block after block of palazzi bombed during the war and still not restored; the walls and ceilings bomb-pocked and bullet-riddled. Salons and ballrooms, bedrooms and chapels, at one time furnished in gold and brocades and stocked with ivory and coral, malachite and mother-of-pearl, porcelain and tortoise, now ghost-like and derelict. 

I found myself disoriented on a deserted square. I didn’t have a map and I couldn’t remember where Santa Zita was located. I noticed movement a few yards away, in a café. Just inside the door a man was frying some sort of food in a large metal pot and stuffing it into wads of bread and handing it over to two other men who started eating with gusto. They were dressed in work boots, t-shirts and jeans. I walked over and asked them for directions. Their faces glistened with a light sweat. Little streaks of grease ran down their chins as they argued about what to tell me, and all at once I saw Dad and his friends. They were standing by a large outdoor grill, eating sausage sandwiches, drinking beer and laughing. It was summer and the union picnic. You and I were on the list for the three-legged and potato-sack races. 

You were missing. I asked if they’d seen you. 

They said, “She ran into the girls’ lavatory—just a minute ago.”

And that’s where I found you, alone, staring into the mirror. There was toilet paper strewn all over the floor, the place was a mess. Your face was streaked with dirt and tears. The other kids had been making fun of your shoes again. We must have been around ten. I remember your brace from the pictures, from before the operation. And those heavy shoes you couldn’t stand. Later on you’d change your hair and the way you dressed almost every other week, always over-compensating for that leg. You’d stand before the mirror and analyze your looks forever, it drove me crazy. I always told you that if you’d just forget about that leg and act as if it didn’t matter no one else would think it mattered, that it was all about attitude. But no. I don’t think you ever even tried what I said.

Then in college boys were finally interested. You loved the attention. At the same time you were just as wrapped up in your work. The Medieval epics. The troubadours. The Medieval painters. Cimabue. Giotto. Duccio. And, of course, Dante. I remember the older guy who got turned on to literature after Vietnam, he said Dante saved his life. A real stud. You leaned over your desk one night and said He’s a fabulous—in that hushed, dramatic voice of yours—poet. I still can’t believe you made dates with him to read The Inferno. In the original Tuscan no less. Such a fabulous poet but he dumped you anyway. After only two weeks. But if I remember correctly you were upset for one day and that was all. Later there was that string of European exchange students, I can’t remember any names. 

But still you went home almost every other weekend. Just at the point when you could have escaped from Dad’s grip, when you started to experiment with sex, travel, ideas, when you could have struck out for yourself, just at that point you chose instead to flit back and forth. Dad bought us a new car when we graduated from high school, thinking that way he’d get us to come home from college on weekends. And that’s just what you did. I can still see you puttering up and down Route 1 in that little yellow Ford. You always said as you packed: “Alice are you coming?” I’d say, “No—tell them I have a big paper due Monday.”

Oh you were such a loon. Almost schizophrenic. Trips with friends to New York, Boston, Montreal, once even to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Off on a Thursday afternoon, no class on Friday. Back early Monday morning. Exotic boyfriends. Madcap escapades. In your mind they grew and multiplied, mushroomed into major trespasses of the soul. All your dirty little secrets. 

Then of course, five years later, there was Cees. He was the one you should have never let go of. He was smart. He was good-looking. He was funny. You should have gone with him to India. It was years before I understood. 

 

November, 1994. 

You came to New York. 94th and Broadway, the European bakery café. Mom had died six months earlier. (Her sudden heart attack the product of forty years of aggravation? We’ll never know, will we?) We discussed Dad, how to best deal with him. That’s when you told me the story of our grandfather’s suicide. I heard it for the first time—that day—from you—not ever from Dad.

You said, “I was all packed for Amsterdam. Dad was standing by the sink. He had the picture of his father in his hands. When he finished the story he walked over to the table where I was sitting and sat down, and reached for one of my hands, and looked at me and said ‘So you see, Angela, I don’t think I could take another loss like that. If anything ever happened to you, if I lost you in any way, let’s say an accident, or you go off somewhere and decide you like it better there, I don’t think I could handle it.’”

Why did he choose to tell you just then? Why did he never tell me? But of course I know why. I’m the Bad Daughter, the Selfish One. The Daughter Who Puts Herself First, Before Family, Family, The Holiest Unit on Earth let us all bow down in reverence before that altar, that most holy of institutions. 

Did I never tell you how that took my breath away? You didn’t see it on my face? I should have known back then what I know now. That major life decisions often turn on a dime, a word, a sentence; so rarely can we see the consequences. 

 

June, 1974. 

I’d driven home from the city that morning, to pick up some summer clothes I’d left behind. Mom and Dad were at work. As far as I knew you were somewhere over the Atlantic. And then you walked through the front door. 

I said, “Angela, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you on a plane? What’s up?”

You said, “Hi, Alice. Not so much.”

You walked up the stairs and into your old bedroom and put your bags on the bed and undid the latches and began to empty them. I followed you and stood by the door.

I said, “What in hell is going on? What are you doing? Where’s Cees?”

“I told him it was senseless to continue.”

“Why?”

“Alice, listen,” you said, “it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t live in India or Europe with Cees.”

 I watched in amazement as you took out all your clothes and dreams and laid them on the bed, and re-folded them, one by one, very carefully. You were always so deliberate. Then you opened the dresser drawers and slowly laid them in. 

I said, “Well why not?” 

You continued putting clothes away, not looking at me. Your face was pale, your features set as if cast in concrete. You didn’t answer.

“Angela, did you not hear what I just asked you? Why can’t you live in India or Europe with Cees?”

And you looked at me for the first time since you’d walked in, in that way you have of indicating someone is an idiot, and you said, “Alice, listen. We’ve haven’t talked about Mom and Dad in a long time but this is what I know: I can’t leave Dad. Mom doesn’t know how to deal with him. I’d be worried about them constantly, no matter where I was.”

I stood there, dumbfounded. You continued to organize your drawers. 

I said, “Listen Angela—what makes you think you can stop them from being who they are?”

You turned and faced me again, your hands on your hips. 

“Alice I know I can’t make them into something they aren’t. But someone needs to take the temperature of this house on a regular basis, if you see what I mean.”

“No, I don’t see, I’m sorry.”

“You know how Dad flies off the handle. Mom can’t deal with it, I can. Mom only makes the situation worse. Then too I worry that someday he might hurt her or himself. And you’re not planning to stick around to keep watch, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “I want my own life. I’m tired of our lives revolving around Dad. What’s that all about anyway? Why doesn’t anyone ever ask us what we want to do with our lives? What kind of careers we might want? Why does no one ever ask us these things? No, we’re supposed stay in Trenton with them and stay close to home and work at some mediocre job until we drop dead.”

I didn’t know if you were listening anymore but I remember going on and on.

“Angela, I want my own life, I’m sorry. I’ve wanted it since I was twelve and so have you. And now you’re telling me this. What are you going to do? Marry some Trenton guy? Buy a house around the corner? Check in on them every night? Teach school at Saint Anne’s? I’m sure they could use a Medieval Studies scholar like yourself. Have a couple of kids and make the sauce every Sunday? Nice life. Better yet—Angela—don’t get married—then you’ll be better positioned to keep an eye on their every move.”

I said, “You know, it sounds to me like something right out of Chekhov. But instead of Moscow it’s Amsterdam, it’s India, and you actually got there halfway but then you turned back. I can hardly believe—”

“—Alice I am no longer listening to you. However if you’re listening to me and actually want to understand, a possibility I by no means put much faith in, if you care to understand that there are more subtle ways to solve a problem like this, you might like to know that I’m going to library school at Pratt. I’ll live here and take the train up three days a week. I phoned Dad and told him. He said he’d make a study for me in one of the rooms downstairs.”

I said, “I think you’re nuts. I think you’re positively nuts.” Then I walked away. I picked up the bundle of clothes that I’d thrown on the sofa when you walked in, and walked out the front door and into my car and drove straight back up to New York. We never talked about that afternoon again.