Dinner Along the Amazon

  Now, Rosetta stops herself cold at the foot of the Andersons’ walk. There on the lawn, with something between its paws, is Kileys’ dog.

  “Hi, there,” says Rosetta—who knows the dog well.

  The dog returns her greeting by wagging its tail and, indeed, the entire rear end of its body. Its eyes are bright again and merry. The thing between its paws is sticking up like a butcher’s bone—all red at the top and ragged.

  “Watcha got there?” says Rosetta, stooping to bring the object into focus.

  Kileys’ dog displays its prize.

  Rosetta suddenly finds that she is sitting on the ground unable to move or to speak. The thing before her slowly conjures up its name.

  It is a human hand and the dog, at last, is complete as Rosetta and the world around her fade.

  Losers, Finders, Strangers at the Door

  Some lives

  are only seen

  through windows

  beyond which

  the appearance

  of laughter and

  of screaming

  is the same.

  …there are no beginnings, not even to stories. There are only places where you make an entrance into someone else’s life and either stay or turn and go away.

  She cursed the day she’d hung the cages—strung them so high, out of reach—cursed every time she had to pull a chair across the room to reach them—cursed every time she didn’t think to check them—cursed every time she did. They were a curse. But, then, in those moments, roars of laughter filled her—when she’d said: those cursed cages are a curse! Whenever she turned, to hear this laughter of her own, however, it was always gone: either lost, unechoed, or had never been.

  As now.

  Damn them. So high up, she said aloud, all of them so un-watered: wanting. Expecting me to do it. Me to always do it for them. Why can’t they do it for themselves? she bellowed, filling the house with sound at last. And then, as well, with laughter.

  How could geraniums possibly water themselves.

  It was perfect.


  Still he hadn’t come: arrived. No matter how long she waited. Even if she didn’t wait, he didn’t come: arrive. Perhaps he wouldn’t. Ever. And that would be a blessed relief. Or would it? No. That would be wrong. Was wrong. After all, he wasn’t arriving of his own volition. He was being delivered. Sent. Dispatched. Like a package. It was wrong to refuse him. Wrong to turn him away at the door, the way one would send something back from Simpsons or Eaton’s. No, I’ve decided against that, today. Take it back. Besides—she hadn’t ordered him herself. Her husband Arnold had. This parcel will arrive. From Arnold. C.O.D.—this package, person, parcel—in her husband’s absence.

  What would he be like?

  And where the hell is my pocketbook? I still can’t find my pocketbook. Or glove. One glove. And—oh—I loved them so: that pair. And now I’ve only one. But, where’s my pocketbook? My pocketbook? Not anywhere. Nowhere. Yes. I’ve looked. I have. I have looked.



  And now it’s—what? What is it? Four? It’s already four in the afternoon. And dark. Already dark.

  Or darkening at least.

  And she wondered what he’d be like. If he ever does arrive. Can manage to arrive. He’s probably some dumb fool, too charming to arrive on time. Or an idiot—always getting lost.

  Just like my glove. And pocketbook.

  She looked at the plants. Geraniums: gerania. Dangling, all bright and red and thirsty above her—just out of reach. On purpose, of course. In their iron cages, if they weren’t out of reach, we’d all be banging and bashing our heads against them. Every five minutes. Wouldn’t we? Even me. Why—even me—who am so very small.

  Now, there’s a laugh:

  Like me—who am so very small.

  It sounds like Christina Rossetti.

  Or some other darling of the death-set.

  Well—the point is—water the plants.

  But, I can’t do that. I can’t. I mean, it would be a scream—just simply crazy—if this person, this package from Arnold were delivered to the door and found me falling off a chair with a watering can in my hand. In one hand. And this empty glass in the other.

  No. The plants can go hang…but, of course, they’re already hanging. Hanged.

  And the laughter came again.

  Some day, I’ll hire someone special. Someone just to come and water plants. And me.

  No. What I’ll do is this: I’ll fill the glass and then I’ll put on music—just a little music. Then I’ll phone the airport—check on the plane’s arrival—see if it’s arrived or not and then…

  She filled the glass, put on the record. Walked the room. Gin and Mahler. If he comes, I’ll be a lady. Hah. A little lady—all the way.

  I’m having a little gin, she planned to say: and tonic. What will you have? Brandy? (Of course.) Of course. What else? Who does he think he is? Don’t you love it? Oh! What a scene it’s going to be. That?—she would say—oh, just a little Mahler for the afternoon. You know the one—where all the children die and go to heaven…

  Then, brandy-snifter in hand, she’d cross the room—impeccable, unparagoned, with slightly swaying hips, passing beneath impeccable, unparagoned gerania, with her Lana Turner smile, her Chanel suit and her impeccable, unparagoned hatred of this package-person drawn, revolver-like, snub-nosed and lethal. And then she’d shoot him. Right through his goddamned cod.

  Yes! She’d really let him have it!

  Politely, of course, because she is a lady. And every nuance will make him cringe.

  If he ever gets here.

  And then she imagined him arriving: Arnold’s package, already cringing. Herself looking down and saying: take it back, I can’t afford to pay for any other voyage but my own. Oh God.

  And then she knew. Exactly where the glove was. And the pocketbook. Exactly where she’d left them. Dropped. Forgotten. Lost. And when she thought of this—remembered—she was standing in the dining room, standing well beyond the shadows of the cages—even beyond the reaches of the shadows, since the light was fading faster now, the shadows leaning out to touch her and she turned away to look beyond the lovely windows, into the darkening garden, into the secret garden out behind the house…this room, these windows: this was her favourite place.

  And then she turned away and wondered what to do about the mess she’d made on the dining-room table with her paints. (This was her painting room, because the windows were so high. Much higher than the ones out front.) And the table was spread with papers—newspapers, wrapping papers, packaging papers—spread to protect the veneer beneath. And over the papers, scatters of broken brushes, seemingly moving in the moving light. Old bits of rag, as well. Even a handkerchief of Arnold’s, daubed with magenta and blue—its large embroidered A almost obliterated with a single, still-wet spasm…green. Also, there were little tubes of colours: oils, acrylics, water colours; toy pastels and children’s crayons. And a stack—a dozen high at least—of Paint-by-Number sets.

  But this was really to have been the scene about the glove; the pocketbook. She dialled.

  A glove is a glove. They fall, she thought as she waited. Sometimes they fall and even crawl across the floor. Just to get away from you. I had a glove that even climbed up trees to hide…

  Hello. Yes. Who are you? I want to know your name. Tell me. Don’t argue. Don’t talk back. Just tell me your name. Imperious son-of-a-bitch. If you don’t tell me your name I’ll have you arrested.

  A voice at the other end of the line delivers its name.

  All right. Now listen. This is Daisy McCabe: Mrs Arnold McCabe. So, I warn you—stand way back. (She pauses. Drinks—to let the name sink in—the only knife she has. And then goes on): I took a ride in one of your goddamn cabs this afternoon and lost a glove. And I want it back. Another pause. The voice attempts to reply. But Daisy interrupts:

  a brown, suede glove. A driving glove. A very important dr
iving glove. I want it and I want it now. So, while you go and check, I’ll hold…(a question from the voice: just one) McCabe. I told you that. And don’t pretend you don’t know who I am. I know you know, because you have my…


  (my pocketbook: oh God…

  she stares at the cages, with their shadows reaching down around her—dry and red and whispering

  …and, in it, me)

  So find it: FIND IT. Send it to me.


  The doorbell rings.

  The package has arrived.

  Daisy hangs up without good-bye. The doorbell rings again.

  Mrs Rosequist is out: so

  Mrs Arnold McCabe must answer the doorbell herself.

  The boy is what we call a boy in this society, but he is 25 years old and not a boy at all. Taller than Daisy by almost a foot (and she is five feet tall) he seems to hang above her, off the floor. He removes his overcoat, revealing an out-of-season suit: summer. In the hallway, sitting near a table, all of what he brought from the plane remains withdrawn and out of sight. The rest—the bulk—will be delivered later.

  His eyes, perhaps, are blue: in the present light it’s very hard to tell. But his hair is definitely pale, the shade of white, fine sand—the sort that drifts.

  Daisy is steadfast, refusing absolutely to take away or even to indicate his overcoat. There is not a single gesture of regard.

  Mrs Rosequist isn’t in the house, right now, she says: I’m drinking gin and tonic. You’ll have a brandy. Yes?

  Thank you.

  My husband has a man—a valet—who travels with him. But, of course, you know that.


  Tell me…(pouring the brandy) when you last saw Arnold.

  Yesterday evening.

  (The music is the one about the children.)

  Was he fit? Did he seem to be bearing up? These executive…(smiling) excursions can be so tiring…(turning—Lana Turnering) for a man of Arnold’s age.

  He was absolutely fine.

  (Now the impeccables, unparagonables: the swaying hips, the Chanel suit, the L.T. smile; the hatred, snub-nosed, drawn beneath the cages. And the shot. Right through the COD.)

  (holding out the brandy-snifter) I have a rather silly confession to make (he accepts the brandy: thanks her) I was at a party once and…would you mind? (she flashes a cigarette to her lips. He flashes his light, but she goes right on speaking, just as if it wasn’t there:) I was with my brother and his wife and these people came across the room. It’s quite immaterial who they were. And I started to introduce my brother, when, all of a sudden I realized…isn’t this a crazy thing to tell you?…all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t remember his name. (She laughs) My one and only brother! And I couldn’t remember his name! (And now, at last, his having held it open, flaring for her all through what she’s said—she bends toward his light and takes it in a single draught.)

  Looking up, she releases the smoke very slowly—so it throws a momentary veil across her face. When it clears toward the cages—Daisy is standing with her lips apart; with her teeth clenched; with just the vaguest hint of laughter hanging in the silence.

  Now—she says—you tell me who the hell you are. And what the hell you’re doing here in my house? Because, you see, I seem to have forgotten you already.

  They sit, not facing one another, near a table in the living room. The food Mrs Rosequist left before she left herself is almost gone; not quite completely eaten.

  Daisy sets her fork aside, sits back and stares at the flowers above her, while the young man finishes his lobster.

  Caleb, I suppose, is what you’d call a Biblical name?

  Yes, ma’am.

  She shoots him a look: servile is as servile does, she says; you needn’t rehearse in front of me. All I want is answers and information.

  Daisy stands up. She collects a cigarette and rather pointedly lights it herself. She refers, with a gesture, to the flowers, whose heads bend down toward them—scarlet and thirsty.

  Were you aware, she asks, that flowers are the genitalia of plants.

  No, ma’am—(with his mouth full of lobster)—I never heard that, Mrs McCabe.

  Well—it’s true. They are.

  She reaches up and plucks the nearest dangling head.

  I just castrated that geranium. You see? And, there’s a theory, also…(she twirls the scarlet head between her fingers, rolling it back and forth) that if we only had microphones sensitive enough—the picking and cutting of flowers would produce an unbearable scream. (She pauses.) Fascinating. Yes?

  No answer.

  Suddenly, Daisy throws the genitalia across the room, where they land—if only approximately—in Caleb’s lap.

  Quiet. Isn’t it? All at once.

  Somewhat later, Daisy stands over near the living-room windows, just before she pulls the curtains.

  I hate these windows, she says—without, for the first time, any malice toward him. I hardly ever stand here, or look out there down the Mountain. At night, I suppose one has to admit, it’s a very beautiful city—with all its curving lights and falling streets. But—not to me: by day. Never by day. And certainly not from here. It’s always from here—beyond these windows—that Arnold goes away. Either walking down the hill in his beautiful suits and overcoats—or driven away in limousines. This window always makes me think what hell it is to be rich. To have so much that it locks me in behind this glass—and—oh—a dangerous anonymity, I guess. I can’t explain. But, whatever it is that drives him down that mountain—holds me here, in all these lovely clothes with all these goddamn flowers. (She laughs: it is graceful, for once—and not a shout.) Where does he go, in all those airplanes? Where is it I don’t go? (Her neck straightens.) Well: I do get away, from time to time. In taxis. Cabs. I get a cab and go out riding. Just around. I don’t know where…forgetting who I am. (She holds—then sighs a little laughter.)…maybe I do it just for the hell of it. Or should I say—(she turns) just for the non-hell of it, Caleb?

  Daisy draws the curtains and sits in a chair that is cornered, shadowed: slightly removed from the scene.

  Caleb has been watching her back with interest, but now she’s turned around he looks away.

  Are you shy? she asks.

  He doesn’t answer right away.

  Afraid? she asks.

  At last, he shakes his head—his answer dies: I just…I guess I haven’t much to say.

  Well, tell me about yourself.

  Nothing to tell.

  Don’t be ridiculous.

  No. Really. Nothing. Nothing.

  What about your father? Tell me about your father. Is he living?

  Sort of.

  (Laughter.) There! You see. A fascinating answer. Tell about him.

  There’s nothing to say.

  Like father, like son?

  Caleb smiles at this (at least): you see—my father doesn’t know…we have nothing in common. Nothing. He doesn’t…understand.

  What? Understand? What?

  What…I do.


  He’s just a very ordinary man.

  And your mother? Tell me—(smiling) does she understand?

  She’s dead.

  Unh-hunh. And when was that?

  I think I was fourteen. Sometime. Then. Around then.

  What happened?

  An accident. An airplane that crashed.

  Like ours just did? said Daisy, smiling.

  I beg your pardon?

  Nothing: just—I guess—an intellectual joke. I never know what they mean myself. But—sometimes—someone laughs—and then I think I understand. But—you didn’t laugh: which means that neither of us, sitting here, will ever know exactly what I meant. Go on.

  She’d been away. And she was coming home to us. From Rome.

  You’re Catholic?

  Mother was. I guess I am. But—no. My mother was. I’m not. I’m nothing.


  Yes. It was Marian year. My mother?
??s name was Mary. And—among all the others—she went to be blessed by the Pope…

  Arnold. Arnold has been blessed by many Popes. By three, in fact.

  He said so. Yes, he told me that.

  How could he help it? Daisy smiled. Go on. Your mother. Mary.

  The Pope refused to bless her when she murmured she was separated from my father. And then…she begged it of him, saying she would reconcile: be reconciled. And he—it being the Marian year—gave in, I guess—

  And so she kissed his ring. I can see it. Genuflected; let him bless her; got on the plane. And was killed. I see it. Yes. I see it all. (A pause:) What happened? To the plane, I mean.

  It struck an Alp. And there were no survivors.


  Not any. No. And they still don’t know what caused the plane to crash. No storms; no calls for help; no indications either plane or pilot was in trouble; no malfunctions. Nothing. And there were 242 persons on board. Persons. People.

  Persons will do. I think of myself as a person from time to time, she smiles. And then…?

  At the graveside we stood with a lot of strangers. No one knew who anyone was—or had been. What they buried—what there was was just a lot of boxes: just a lot of half-filled boxes, all without names. And we stood together. And we stood together—all the mourners—strangers—knowing we would never know who stood by whom; who lay with whom; or what was buried. I think…


  I think that was very hard for my father. Very hard. Because he hadn’t seen her—even alive—my mother—such a long, long time. (Caleb taps his finger against the edge of his plate. His fingernails are very hard.) And then we went away. Except—I do remember one more thing.

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