shaking bridestone

…is the story of one woman’s life that has become increasingly meaningless; and her struggle with grief and her ultimate triumph in retaining her sense of humor and self-worth, as she attempts to start over.

 

shaking bridestone

Charlotte Singer Brown is having a Midlife Crisis. All caps. And no amount of denial, cozy socks, or running around the garden with a martini and a hoe will dissolve the feeling that she has given in to a truck load of mediocrity. Not to mention the disquieting idea of moving somewhere. Anywhere. As long as it’s Scotland.

On a whim, Charlotte – or Charlie, as everyone calls her – decides to sell Bridestone, her behemoth of a Victorian, and receives an unexpected proposition from the quirky MacIntosh  family, who show up one day on her doorstep. Within the course of one pivotal year, Charlie catches raw glimpses of a past she thought she’d left behind – including the death of her father, her strained relationship with her mother, and her husband’s unsuccessful fight with colon cancer.

With the help of an arbitrary group who begin to feel like family, along with a copious amount of tea-drinking, Charlie finally comes to face a life blown open, the ugly and the sublime. The precarious and the absolute. And everything in between.

 

 

Chapter One

The day he died was a Tuesday. She remembered it was a Tuesday because her mother came to pick her up from school, plucking her like a petal from a daisy, removing her from the classroom where she’d been rehearsing for the second grade play, “Pig Hooey.” Tuesday was rehearsal day. It was also the day of his death. Death day.

“We’re going,” her mother said. All business. Nothing to suggest that there would be, in a few hours, reason to reexamine the meaning of a day to day existence; that maybe there would be a time, not so far away, when the mirror would reflect a face flooded in grief. And Charlie had seen her mother’s hand, her mother’s knuckles reddened and swollen-looking, and had placed her own smaller hand underneath the swollen knuckles, and had walked with her to the station wagon parked in the visitor’s lot in front.

The blossoms on the apple trees at the side of the road unfolded in blind conviction as they drove toward the hospital, a white and pink blur filtering through the corners of her eyes. She remembered the ride well. Pulling into the parking lot. Slamming the car door shut. The rhythmic whispering of the revolving door as they stepped through it. Walking down the hall to his room, their footsteps hollow on the cold floor. Her mother’s blue tweed jacket, scratchy to the touch when she brushed it with the back of her hand. Her mother’s sturdy beige pumps, her teal leather purse with the brass clasp snapped shut. Nurses whisked by them, carrying clipboards, the brightness of their uniforms defying the gray – gray walls, gray floor, gray wheelchairs. The mingled smell of bleach and perfume.

The moment they entered the room – that was the moment his face faded away at the edges like a dream sequence in the movies. She wanted to visualize her father – his laugh, his smell, what he had said, his nose, his mouth, the nuance of his cheek. She wanted to remember his whole face. But she had nothing more than an indistinct impression. Elusive.

Maybe the thing she had seen in his face was too painful to remember; or maybe what he said meant too much. Like a gift too precious, maybe she needed to push his words away into the back of her memory. Maybe she had to insulate herself from those words or she’d be impaled by the inevitable rush of sorrow.

Whatever he had said was significant – philosophical, perhaps. He would have been in bed, of course, with the sunlight streaking through the center of the heavy forest green curtains. Next to him would have been the machine with tubes and buttons sticking out from it, a contorted and malicious alien. On the other side would have been the television set sitting on the cart with wheels, alongside a tray of pears and half-eaten toast. The tray, a sort of mauve, sectioned off in cavities, compartmentalized food. The wallpaper striped with a faded blue, a half-hearted attempt at cordiality. She had memorized all of it.

All but his face, and what he had said. The memories she’d managed to hold onto would have to be enough. He was long gone, thirty-three years buried. If only she’d paid more attention. If only she’d kept his words with her, imbedded into her conscience like a favorite film clip, to be viewed, pored over, again and again.

But she hadn’t. And, and it turned out, it was the last time she saw him.

April, 2010

Charlotte Singer Brown’s Midlife Crisis arrived unexpectedly. It entered her home like a pushy, demanding old aunt, elbowing its way through her foyer and into her kitchen as it opened her fridge without asking and helped itself to her leftovers. One night she went to bed and the next morning it was there – an interloper sitting in the center of her bedroom, glaring at her. Midlife Crisis. All caps.

It came uninvited, as far as Charlotte (or Charlie, as most people called her) was concerned. She rested her head against the wall at Kate’s house, number 23 St. John’s Lane – the mailbox in front had assured her that’s where she was – and gazed at the wave of heads bobbing and jutting around as they drank their cocktails. The day had leaped forward in unkind delight, delivering her to the party and slowing down to a crawl on sensing her discomfort.

Time can be such a sadist, she thought, as she sipped from her pomegranate martini, her body plastered against the wall. She could have stayed in the position for hours. Or perhaps she could have dissolved, disappearing into the wall, and no one would have noticed she was there. The one visible thing would have been her hovering martini glass, bodiless and perky. It wouldn’t know of such things as Midlife Crises. Or, if it did, it wouldn’t let on.

She stirred the swizzle stick in her martini glass and stared at the cluster of heads, which seemed to move as one solitary entity. The darkened room foamed with an erratic movement of bodies, the party escalating into controlled madness. Her friend Kate had insisted she come. Had insisted that she talk to someone. As in a person. Other than herself.

“You’ll meet someone new, maybe,” Kate had pressed, her smile penetrating the darkened spaces in Charlie’s head, spaces she didn’t want illuminated. “Maybe some men. It’s been three years, Charlie. Time to get out there.”

Charlie didn’t want to get Out There. She wanted to stay in, wanted to pad around in her blue and white winter-in-Sweden slipper socks and read Harpers and sip tea and eat chocolate-dipped hazelnuts. She wanted to watch old Jerry Lewis movies with a glass of Pinot Noir and laugh aloud at the “Heeey Laaaydeeee’s” and not have to make the very-teeny-tiny-talk about her kids’ grades or the New York Times bestseller list or the weather in Belize, or toss her head back as if she were enjoying a witty remark with people she had only met five minutes ago.

“How do you know Kate?”

A tall man in a black cashmere-looking sweater stood next to her. Charlie had no idea how long he’d been standing there, waiting for her to emerge from her paralytic inner dialogue. He hadn’t noticed she was trying to be stand-offish, to be viewed but not approached. He hadn’t detected that, as in Pyramus and Thisbe, the play within a play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she wanted to act the part of The Wall, complete with crannied hole or chink to peep through – a stalwart player, broad and silent, never to be directly addressed.

He smiled at her, and shifted from one foot to the other, pulling his beer in close to his chest. He wore a clean, shimmering watch wrapped thickly around his wrist.

“What?” she said, almost yelling, the room becoming frenzied.

“I said, how do you know Kate?” he yelled back, smile unwavering.

“Oh. She was a colleague of my husband’s. Once upon a time.” She swigged back the remains of her cocktail.

His smile faded. The change was hardly perceptible.  “Ah. Is he here, too?” he asked.

Charlie looked across the room again. “No,” she said. “He’s…he died, actually. Three years ago.”

“What? Sorry, I…” He pointed to his ear, smiling, and shrugged.

“I said, he died! Three years ago!” Charlie shouted.

“Oh, God. I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.”

Charlie spotted Kate chatting it up with a couple in the corner. They looked as if they were having a lively conversation. One she could invade, if it came to that. Which it had.

“Sorry. Excuse me.” She gave the cashmere-watch man a close-lipped smile and pushed her way toward Kate and the small group comprising her audience. Kate was laughing, her drink tilted backward and in danger of spilling all over the spectacularly spotless floor.

“Kate?”

“…and he had the door completely open! Can you believe it? I mean, if he had…”

“Kate?”

She stopped, her drink in mid-spill. Charlie reached over and tilted Kate’s glass back in the opposite direction, averting certain disaster. She was a cocktail-saving heroine. Protector of clean flooring and vodka gimlets everywhere.

“Kate?”

“What?”

“Um. I’m leaving, I think. Have got to get back to…”

“But, you can’t! We haven’t even started the…”

“Yeah, oh, I’m sure it would have been tons of fun. But you see, I’ve got a lot going on tomorrow morning, so…”

Kate slid over and dangled a free hand around her shoulder. “Cut it out,” she said wetly into her ear. “I know you’ve got nothing going on tomorrow.”

“No, I do. I was planning on getting up early and doing some yoga, and having tea and a chocolate doughnut or something, and then possibly taking an extremely sharp chef’s knife and slicing my head off. You see. So I have to run.”

Kate looked at her, bemused.

“Kidding. I was kidding about the knife part.”

“Charlie.”

“Yeah,” Charlie shook Kate’s arm free from her shoulder and handed her the empty martini glass. “I’ve got to go.”

***

He called her two days later. His name was Dan, and Charlie had to shift gears from deciding what to feed her daughter for dinner from an empty fridge to a conversation with a man she barely knew, as she steadied herself against the solidity of the kitchen counter. Dan. Kate’s party. Shiny watch, black cashmere. Gotcha. She wondered how he’d acquired her number and realized Kate had been afoot, giving out Charlie’s number without a thought, as if she were the local pizza joint down the street or a reliable, well-recommended mechanic.

“Well,” Dan said, “you know, it doesn’t have to be anything serious. Let’s just go out as friends. For dinner. I can get us reservations at Pauline’s. I know some people there.”

“Oh, yeah, I hear that’s a good place, but, the thing is, you see…I mean, I…” Charlie stumbled, silently cursing Kate. “I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not ready yet for the dating scene, or whatever you want to call it, thanks so much. I’m just not ready, I guess. Is the thing. So.”

“Ah. Okay. Well.” Dan paused. “Well, let me know if you change your mind. I can give you my number.”

She wrote down his number, folding the paper and stuffing it into the junk basket near the phone, where she was sure it would live for many good years along with the paper clips and one cent stamps. There were more awkward murmurings before they hung up. She felt some regret as she put down the phone. Poor old Dan. It was puzzling, even to her, as to why she’d refused him. She hadn’t been with a man in over three years. Three years seemed like a long time. But, perhaps it wasn’t. She supposed three years could go either way, depending upon the resilience of the person – which implied she wasn’t the best in the bouncing back department. She was, apparently, more of a wallower.

Poor old Dan wouldn’t be her great romance. Still, it might have been fun. There might have been kissing, or something, she told herself. Being kissed would have been nice. It was the “or something” that got to her.

She watched the chickadees fly to and from the feeder outside the window and thought about the myriad of “or somethings” that always seemed to hang around, appearing when she least expected them to. She couldn’t think about having a relationship with anyone. But sex might have been possible, if only she could get beyond her inhibitions. Lately, she hadn’t even looked at herself naked. Her body was cumbersome, her sexuality on hold. Her mind was too removed from the physical aspect of her; she was just a big head walking around, detached from its counterpart of arms and legs and stomach and knees. She’d paid scarce attention to her toenails, let alone her vagina. She even opted for stilted words like “sexuality,” and “vagina,” as if she were a Junior High School sex-ed counselor. She wondered what she’d come up with next. Probably, “intercourse,” or “genitalia.” She wished she could use sexier words, practice rampant raunchiness, vacuum the carpet with nothing on but stiletto heels like she’d seen someone do in a movie once. She wanted to be a black suede bikini in a room full of white wedding dresses, but suspected she was more like plaid flannel pajamas flapping on a clothesline.

It was too soon. But one kiss would have been nice.

****

She ran to the elevator before the doors closed, shoving her hand in the diminishing crack between. The startled faces inside watched as she drew her hand back in alarm with a small yelp. The doors, rather than snapping shut on her hand, glided open, and she stepped in. “Sorry,” Charlie murmured. “Three, please.”

The man standing closest to the buttons pushed three, and she nodded her thanks, examining her practical low-heeled pumps. She practiced breathing, her hands cold and clammy-feeling. The elevator stopped at the second floor and three women got off, laughing at something that was, evidently, hysterical, the smell of peppermint and coffee wafting out with them. Charlie was left alone with the button-pushing-man, and as the elevator opened on three she stepped out, glancing at him as she left. He smiled at her – wolfishly, she thought – and she frowned at him as the elevator door closed. A free-standing cube with a sign imprinted on it stood facing the elevator bank.

 

Feinstein Wing of Contemporary Art, Joseph Feinstein Family Foundation

Hallway 1

Painting and Sculpture, Exhibits A – F

Hallway 2

Paper, Decorative Arts, and Design, Exhibits G – L

Hallway 3

New Media, Exhibits M – R

Hallway 4

Offices:

Public Relations, 301

Development, 302

Human Resources, 303

 

Charlie perused the map imprinted on the opposite side of the cube and discovered the Human Resources office was located to the right of the new Murakami exhibit, Hallway 4 circling around and irrepressibly becoming Hallway 1 again. She glanced at her phone to check the time, realizing she was in danger of being late, and scurried through the halls, her shoes skimming the low carpet pile, trying not to break into a full-out run. She reached Hallway 4 and slowed, scanning the room numbers as she passed them. 301, 302 – and there it was. Human Resources, 303.

She pushed open the door. A woman with a broad nose and shoulders sat at a desk in the center of the room. She glanced up as Charlie entered, and looked down again at a pile of papers in front of her. Charlie thought her somewhat rude, until she realized the woman was on the phone.

“Yes, of course, I’ll tell him. No, there’s no reason to…okay. Okay. Yes. See you soon, Doctor Jillian. No, of course not. Yes. Okay. Good bye.” She hung up and consulted the paper at the top of the pile before turning her full attention to Charlie.

“Sorry,” she said, giving an obligatory smile. “Can I help you?”

“Yes.” Charlie gripped her bag. “I’m here to see Timothy Lundgren. About the Gallery Assistant position.”

“Oh, right. Please have a seat. I’ll let him know you’re here. What’s your name?”

“Charlotte Singer Brown.”

Charlie sat, picking up a magazine and putting it back down again. She coughed in her sleeve, and glanced to her left, where another person, perhaps another candidate, was sitting, legs crossed – an older woman with combed silver-blonde hair, who looked just put together enough for Charlie to feel inadequate in her hastily pulled back bun and light brown pantsuit and old shoes. Her daughter, Fin, was right. She should have worn black – the color of power.

“Charlotte?” The woman at the desk waved her in. She stood and followed her down a hall and into a back office. Timothy Lundgren stood by the door, hand outstretched. She took it and gave what she hoped was a firm handshake.

“Shall we?” he asked, indicating two black leather chairs set away from the desk area. She sat down in one, the leather divinely soft, and he sat opposite her, his face wrinkled up in a smile. “So,” he said. “You’re interested in the Gallery Assistant position. What made you apply to this position, in particular?”

“Well, I…” she started, and stopped, staring at his shoes. They were gigantic oxfords in beige and brown, one of them extended out in front of him and waving back and forth, his legs crossed.

“You…?” he prompted. The monster shoe paused.

“I…yes. I’ve always loved art, you know. I took it, majored in it, in school – art history, that is. I’m sure that’s down there, somewhere.” She motioned toward the paper in his hands. “It was the thing that kept me out of trouble,” she went on. “You know, when I was younger. I don’t get into much trouble, these days.” She laughed briefly, wondering if she sounded as idiotic as she suspected.

“Okay,” he said, and scanned her flimsy resume. “You haven’t done much, in the way of work,” he told her. “Why should we hire you over someone else?”

Charlie paused. Why should he hire me over someone else? she thought. Why should he?

“You shouldn’t,” she said at last. “I have zero experience. But I do have something that someone else might not.”

He leaned forward. “What’s that?”

She glanced at him, then looked toward the open window, avoiding his feet. “Desperation,” she said.

****

“Moving,” she said aloud to the room. It was still early in the afternoon, and Fin hadn’t come home from school yet. The word came out unbidden, and once uttered, lingered in the air, transformed. If the word “moving” was an object, it would have been a crest on a navy blue jacket – or a glass of water after a five mile run.

“Why not?” she asked the room, the two words not holding as much weight as “moving” did, but still credible. She was free. No romantic ties. No job; at least, not yet. No reason to stay in Bridestone, a stupidly enormous house with just the two of them rolling around in it. It wasn’t the most insane idea she’d ever had, although she hadn’t had many ideas at all, lately. Like an over-protective stage-mother, the thought of moving wrapped itself around her, surrounded her in doting, simpering tones. It pushed her onto the stage, and she wasn’t sure she knew all the lines.

“Where?” she asked nobody. The room, in blank moderation, held its tongue. She raised her hands to the ceiling, an appeal to the gods of decision-making. A sign, she thought. Any kind of sign would be nice, right now.

“Well, Scotland, for example,” she offered to the poker-faced room. The answer was as startling as it was riveting. She and Max had always wanted to go to Scotland. He was three-quarters Scottish, and had ancestry going back for centuries. One day, he’d told her once, they’d find a small cottage, a place where they could retire, in the Scottish countryside. But they’d never gone. She didn’t know why. They had talked about it, whispered its name like secret bagpipe poetry as they lay in bed with their feet entwined, purchased and studied Frommer’s “Scotland’s Best Loved Driving Tours,” spoken in bad Scottish accents until their daughters begged them to please just shut up. And Max had gotten sick, and the Frommer’s was left in the bottom of the bedside table drawer underneath Simone De Beauvoir and Carl Sagan.

That was why they hadn’t gone.

She picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“Daphne?”

“Charlie?”

“Daphne.”

“Charlie. What’s wrong?” Daphne’s voice lowered an octave.

“Nothing. Well, not nothing. I told old Dan I wouldn’t go out with him, and now I’m afraid I’m moving away somewhere,” she blurted. Am I going to cry, now? she thought. What a lot of horse manure this is.

“Daphne?”

“Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but what are you doing tonight?” Daphne said. “Can you come down to the Cape? Silas and I are here for the weekend. We’d love to see you.”

“I guess so. I’ll have to see if Jamie can come and stay with Fin. I don’t want to leave her alone.”

“She’s sixteen.”

“Precisely my point.”

“See you soon?”

“Yes.”

Charlie hung up, and punched in Jamie’s number. The phone rang five times, and Jamie’s message came on.

“Hi, you’ve reached Jamie. I’m either in class or at the library or doing Jell-O shots at Sigma Phi. Leave a message and I might call you back, if you’re lucky. Have a great day.” Beep.

“Ha ha, very funny. You’d better not be doing Jell-O shots.” Charlie’s face felt hot. “I’m going to tell myself you’re at the library, because that will keep me in a happy place. Anyway, can you come home this weekend and hang out with Fin? I’m going to Falmouth, to Daphne’s, and I want to leave tonight. Please, please, say you will. If you want, you can go to the spa and do a hot tub. But promise to take Fin. She’s been moody, and a visit from her big sister might do her some good. Thanks, honey.” She paused. “Don’t ever go to Sigma Phi by yourself,” she finished. “I’m just saying.”

***

Daphne shut the refrigerator and poured Charlie some Pinot Grigio. She brought it to the island in the center of the kitchen. Silas shook the paper to straighten the folds, his face hidden behind the pages of the Globe.

“Funny how we always congregate in the kitchen, hey?” Charlie took a big sip of wine, grateful to be away from Bridestone, and to be drinking wine. They had reservations at the newest hot spot in town, a Korean spin on seafood, Bada, which everyone said was fantastic. Everyone being Daphne and Silas.

Daphne pulled off her cardigan. Wisps of curly red hair circled in a small tornado through the air and she patted down her head as if she were trying to keep it from flying away. Charlie invariably found Daphne’s hair lurking in random places after spending time with her – on her jacket, inside her bag, on top of her shoe, clinging to a stocking. Daphne’s hair was everywhere and Charlie had learned to feel a kind of affection for it; it was its own character in the charming little, puzzling little Broadway review that was turning out to be Charlie’s modus operandi.

Daphne placed a bowl of guacamole on top of the island and sat down. “So. What have you been up to?” she asked, taking a sip of wine. “I mean, besides, you know.”

“What?”

“You know. Well. I’m not sure. What have you been doing?”

“I think about gardening, sometimes. And am cleaning out my house, which is full of crap. You’re double-dipping, by the way.”

“Sorry.” A guacamole-laden celery stalk disappeared into Daphne’s mouth. “And, oh my God. Your house is hardly full of crap. It’s almost empty. What else are you doing?”

Charlie shifted on her stool, which was apparently meant for someone with a very small behind, as hers seemed to spill out all over the sides of the seat. It wasn’t the proper sort of stool if one wanted to feel like a sex kitten, which she didn’t. Still, it might have been nice being sex-kittenish without the grim reminder of a growing posterior.

“I’ve been helping Fin with her art stuff and college information, and drinking tea. Oh, and wearing cozy socks. Cozy socks, by the way, are highly underrated.”

“I love cozy socks,” Silas murmured behind an ad for “Wicked.” “Shouldn’t we be going soon?”

“Eight minutes,” Daphne said, reaching for a carrot. “Seriously, socks? Don’t you think you need something else in your life? How about getting a job? Or a man?”

“I had a job interview – remember? At the museum.”

“Oh, yeah. How did that go?”

“They’re going to call sometime this week. I don’t have much experience. As in, none.”

“I know. Something will come.”

“Oh! So, I didn’t tell you. I met a man, at a party – at Kate’s. Remember Kate?”

“Um. Yes?”

“Kate. She worked at the firm with Max. She did that building thing in Soho. Anyway,” she went on, ignoring Daphne’s perplexed expression. “His name is Dan. He seems nice. He called me after the party. And I told him…” She glanced at Silas, who wrestled with the paper, flattening it out on the top of the island. His glasses were shoved down onto the tip of his nose, making him look like a sort of edgy college professor. His hair stuck up straight like clusters of exclamation points.

“Right,” he said. “I’m going to get changed. Talk away without me, hipsters.” He hoisted himself from the stool and strolled toward the back stairs leading to the upper bedrooms.

Charlie watched him go, a hand running across the back of his head as he shuffled to the stairs, his long legs propelling him up and out of sight. She closed her eyes.

“Charlie?”

“Yes.”

“Are you okay?”

“Just thinking of…”

“Him?”

Charlie kept her eyes closed.

“You miss him so much, don’t you?”

“What do you think?”

Daphne breathed out. “Sorry,” she said. “Overstating the obvious.”

Charlie opened her eyes. “No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to sound like that. It’s just that sometimes it’s difficult being here with you and Silas. You know. It was always Silas and you, and Max and me. And now…” she stopped, shaking her head. “It’s hard. It hurts, still. Sometimes it hurts to be with you. To see Silas schlep around in his worn-out slippers and read the paper and dress for dinner. To be the third one, watching from the edge. I don’t know where I belong, anymore. I can’t…” she shrugged her shoulders. I can’t what? she thought. Visit you? Be your friend? Eat your guacamole?

“It’s okay. I understand.” Daphne reached for her hand. “I do.”

Charlie looked at Daphne’s slender fingers and put her other hand on top of them. It felt warm to sandwich Daphne’s hand between hers. It felt safe – and heartbreaking. An earnest, but insufficient stab at intimacy. Her life was like one of those puzzles in a square with the pieces moving around within it. It had become scrambled and she worked hard for everything to make sense. She was the missing piece – that inevitable empty spot in the puzzle, left over and somewhat pointless, in the end.

“…so there’s no reason not to. Go ahead.”

“What?”

“Aren’t you listening? Where are you?”

“I was…” Charlie stared at her fingers that were cupped around Daphne’s, the hand sandwich. “I was…” she said, addressing her fingernails. “And then, of course, I…” she finished.

Daphne pulled away and whisked up their wine glasses, lunging across the room. “Anyway,” she said, her head in the refrigerator. “As I was saying. I don’t think there’s any reason to refuse a man for a date. Just do it. What have you got to lose?” She walked back with their glasses and sat down again “So, he’s nice, Dan?” she asked, her nose in the glass. “What did you tell him?”

“He’s nice. I told him, no. I’m not ready. Although, I suppose kissing him would be a thing, I guess.”

“Who said anything about kissing? Just go have dinner with the man. Worry about the other stuff later. My God. You put way too much pressure on a situation. Just go and have fun.”

“That’s what he said. On the phone. He said it would be fun, like friends going out. I don’t know. Shouldn’t we be going to dinner soon?”

“Four minutes. So, what’s the real reason you’re not saying yes to him?”

“The real reason?”

“Come on. There must be another reason. Other than you’re not ready. I’m not buying that.”

Charlie sat on the too-small stool, her squished-up and egregiously enormous bottom beginning to fall asleep. “I guess death is always a good reason,” she said.

“What? Death?”

“Death. The fact that people – that Dan – could die. I could be having a nice dinner with him, and then, bam. He could be face down in the pasta bowl. I mean, come on. One minute you’re thinking about making fish tacos, or something, and the next minute you’re dead. It happens all the time.”

“I don’t like fish tacos.”

“Not the point, is it? It’s just, one day you’re here, the next day you’re ten feet under. Or whatever.”

“Well, we all do it.”

“Do what? Die?”

“Yes.” Daphne sucked down a tortilla chip. “Everyone dies. It’s a part of life, right? You need to accept it.”

“Well, I’m not going to, I’m not going to die.”

Daphne rolled her eyes. “When you work that one out, please let me know.”

“I mean it. I refuse to die. It’s not my thing.”

“Well, good luck with that.”

Charlie was silent.

“And I don’t think it’s anyone’s thing.” Daphne licked her fingers and wiped them on her pants.

The kitchen clock ticked away nervously. “Actually,” Charlie said. “Living forever might not work out, either. Who wants that? And where would you be, in the end, when the earth has rid itself of humanity? Stuck with a bunch of cockroaches, probably.” She glanced at the noisy clock, which seemed to be getting louder if that were possible. “Where’s Silas?”

“Here.” Silas was coming down the stairs, wearing all black.

Daphne smiled at him. “Beatnik.”

“Thank you.” He stooped to kiss her on the cheek and sat down next to her. “I’m trying to keep up my rock and roll appearance. What are we talking about? Men?”

“Yes.” Daphne jabbed a naked chip toward the guacamole bowl. “And death. Sex and death. And how she should try out a man. At least once.”

Charlie grimaced. “No one said anything about sex,” she said. “A minute ago you said I should take it slowly.”

“I know. But, it’s implied. Dating, at some point in time, leads to a relationship. Which leads to sex.”

“And death?” Silas asked, eyebrows raised.

“No! Not death! Dating does not lead to death,” Daphne glared at him.

Silas shrugged. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to…”

“Scotland!” Charlie blurted out.

Daphne looked at her. “What?

“I meant to say, Scotland. I mean, what do you know about Scotland? In terms of living there. I mean, have you ever?”

“Lived there?”

“Or, been there?”

“No” Daphne paused. “Why? Do you know someone who wants to move there?”

Charlie glanced at the guacamole, which sat looking back at her expectantly in an oval bowl with chunks of onion, and something red. Probably peppers. Go ahead, she imagined it saying. Tell them.

“No. Well, no. I mean, maybe,” she said. “Well, it’s pretty hilarious. I might. But, I don’t think I am. Going to, I mean. I’m doing a little research, you know. In case I might, someday.” She tried to laugh, going for the cavalier approach. How funny! How hysterical that she might be thinking of moving to Scotland! Silly Charlie, but spontaneous Charlie! Charlie, who is able to laugh at all her delicious foibles! How sophisticated of her! And how free-spirited! The laugh, though, came out more like a cough, and so she went with that, coughing a moment longer than might be considered normal.

“I mean, why not?” she said. “People do it. Live in Scotland. I mean, I know they must, because there are people there right now, as we speak.”

“I’m sure there are,” Silas said, eyeing the clock. “I’ve never been there, myself, though, so that’s just a guess.”

“Is that what you were thinking about?” Daphne asked. “I mean, before, when I was talking to you and you didn’t hear me? Moving to Scotland?”

Charlie stood up, and brought her still-full wine glass to the sink. Her ass felt like a steam roller had run over it, and she massaged it compulsively with her fingers.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Not really. Never mind. Let’s not talk about it anymore, okay? Anyway, I think it’s time we go.”

“Are you okay?” Daphne stood next to her, her hand resting on Charlie’s arm.

“I’m fine. Let’s go eat some scallion pancakes.”

###