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Cul-De-Sac

by Edith Pearlman

I.

Daphna invaded and then detonated whenever it suited her. Never on Fridays, though. Friday was Sabbath Eve, and her husband expected a proper meal; Daphna’s preparations, however slipshod, kept her busy. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons she taught Hebrew at a local synagogue. As for Mondays, when the weekend had lost its affirmative pull—Mondays were days of sapped energy even for Daphna.

So Wednesdays, by default, were likeliest for her unannounced visits. On Wednesdays her husband taught two classes at the university—an afternoon seminar for graduate students, an evening survey for adults. He took his dinner at the university cafeteria, so Daphna could forget about cooking altogether, could toss tuna fish and a plate of sliced tomatoes onto a kitchen table already burdened with homework and half-eaten apples and Israeli newspapers. That table was so littered that sometimes the children dined on the floor. The newspapers were days old. “Stale news,” said Daphna, “news that has been superseded or even proven false, lifts me to dizzy heights, like the works of magic realism. Have you read García Márquez, Ann? Saramago?” She didn’t pause for a reply; I could have slipped away.

The kids often ate the tuna right out of the can. Three smart and pretty girls—eleven, thirteen, and fifteen at the time the family moved in. They had adapted to their mother’s habits, had learned to take over from her. It was they who set up and then reminded her of parent-teacher conferences, they who organized shopping expeditions for school clothing, they who commandeered housecleaning on Sunday mornings. Sometimes they made additions to the Wednesday night cuisine—raw carrots, buckwheat kernels. While the buckwheat boiled on the back burner of the ancient stove, the oldest girl took charge of sautéing onions. I saw her doing it one night when Daphna pulled me in for a consultation about the kitchen fan—it was on strike, she said. The girl’s dark hair was bound loosely at the nape. Her lovely, long-nosed profile bent toward her task. When the telephone rang in the hall the youngest picked it up and then called the oldest’s name, and the middle girl took over the onions without a word.

“This malefactory fan?” said Daphna, never without a word.

“Call an electrician,” I advised, and fled.

And so, on late Wednesday afternoons, Daphna, not needing even to chop those onions herself, was free to call on her four resistant neighbors.

We each had a way to avoid her.

Lucienne—seventy-five or so, widowed, overweight—could duck under her kitchen counter as fast as a girl. Fat legs bent, fat arms encircling knees, the whole round self keeping company with a trash can and a bin of root vegetables, Lucienne rested in her makeshift cave until the doorbell stopped ringing. Then she crawled out and struggled to her feet, retying whichever romantic chiffon scarf she was wearing that day.

Connie, who worked mornings at a clinic, had a more deliberate Wednesday defense. At four o’clock she popped a chicken into the oven for her family’s dinner, then ran upstairs to her little alcove of an office where she could remain unseen. She unlocked her briefcase and did paperwork for two hours; sometimes the bird shriveled, but so what?

I had an easier time than either Lucienne or Connie. I am divorced and my children are out of the house. Perhaps once a week I poach a sole for my friend Rand, but otherwise the kitchen rarely claims me. (Saturday nights he takes me to the dining room at his club: long windows, long portraits, a lengthy evening.) At the real-estate agency that bears my name I can always arrange to show a property; and so on those dangerous Wednesday afternoons I was usually convincing a customer to buy some house, mostly by not talking. My height and slenderness alone can make a sale, my staff claims; my golden hair, they add, if they really crave a bonus.

But Sylvia, our street’s spinster, was easy prey. Sylvia started nipping after lunch, and a few hours later she often opened the back door in a fuddled error. Her blouse had by then crept out of her skirt. Her gray hair, which had started the day in a bun, was now a limp corkscrew hanging below its elastic band.

“Ah, Sylvia, I’m so glad to find you at home. Have you time for a cup of tea?” But Daphna didn’t say that. She didn’t say that to any of us when she succeeded in making a capture—of Lucienne, standing in plain view at the window over her sink, having forgotten it was Wednesday, fixed with a stare; or of Connie, daring to run downstairs and baste her chicken at just the wrong time, stopped by a knock on the glass door from the deck; or of me, home early, the sale accomplished, intercepted on a dash from garage to back door.

What Daphna did say was some version of this:

“Shalom, dear friend. Scandals here, scandals back in Jerusalem, and the French Minister of Tin Cans was found in bed with his biographer. All politics is local, the gentleman said. Local? Smaller yet: household, if you ask me, though who asks me. My gutters are clogged with leaves. I can’t stay long—cranberries are simmering on my stove.” Cranberries were frequently simmering on her stove, and were often forgotten there. Sometimes on trash collection day, Daphna’s pile of newspapers was topped with an aluminum pot whose interior was glazed an unscrubbable purple. “More than two million bushels of cranberries are produced each year,” she might go on. “The plant is cultivated on acid soils of peat or vegetable mold. Such scrupulous recycling of natural elements—it is as if the Talmud decreed it. The Hebrew word for cranberry is hamutsit. The French is airelle. The Linnaean term is . . .” The briefest pause here perhaps—during which opportunity, still in my backyard, I claimed to hear the telephone ringing; and, leaning against her jamb, Sylvia softly belched; and, at her window, Lucienne, adjusting her scarf, mentioned that it was time for a nap; and, sliding open the glass door to the deck, Connie indicated in her flat Wisconsin accent that the monologue might continue inside.

It continued inside anyway, whatever any of us did, as Daphna followed me into the house, cocking her head at the silent telephone; or advanced on Sylvia; or ignored Lucienne’s invented fatigue until the poor woman plodded to her back door and opened it. “. . . Vaccinium macrocarpon, the Linnaean cranberry.” By this time Daphna was seated at Sylvia’s breakfast table, Lucienne’s, Connie’s, or mine; and Sylvia, Lucienne, Connie, or I was seated opposite her, our fingers splayed on wood or cloth. We gazed at the backs of our hands. We avoided eye contact with her as we would with a rabid dog.

“Politics, you were saying?” Daphna remarked. “The things husband says to wife at breakfast, wife to husband, determine the course of the day, the year, the nation; they influence everything from some grocery clerk’s nervous mistake to the idiocy which commands our destinies.” She leaned forward. “They influence the policeman on the beat.” She leaned farther forward. “My youngest child has the highest mathematical aptitude of all eleven-year-olds in the town of Godolphin.” Another of her boastful hyperboles. “What shall I do about the leaves in my gutters?”

She had quantities of brown frizzy hair and a perfect lozenge of a face—brow narrow, chin narrow, cheekbones curved like almonds. Her large gray eyes were calm as water, her full lips about to froth. She favored ankle-length skirts and long overblouses, wore sandals in winter and no shoes at all the rest of the time. She might have stepped out of the pages of a child’s illustrated Old Testament, just as her husband might have stepped out of a photograph taken in l890 on Hester Street: an immigrant tailor, wearing black pants, black vest, white shirt, and a little beard. No skullcap, though. They were not pious, Daphna assured me—their Friday night meal was simply a reenactment of Jerusalem life. “Every family, the godless, the frum, they all sit down together Erev Shabbat. To interrogate each other. It’s our tradition.”

They were thorough Jerusalemites, she said, all born there—Avner during the Mandate, Daphna during the Suez Crisis, the older girls during the First Intifada, the third during the Madrid Conference. They had lived in a beautiful part of the city, “stones so golden they are almost pink, like very expensive face powder.” Then Avner accepted the offer of a professorship of political science at the university here, and they arrived pell-mell in August, and somebody gave them my name, and I sold them the crumbling stucco house on my own swab-shaped street. Its feeble owners, after boldly installing a new furnace, had entered a nursing home. For house and furniture they’d take a low price. A low price was what they got.

Avner was sixty years old. Daphna was forty-five. How, once upon a time, had the little scholar won the tall beauty? We didn’t have to speculate. “Ah, my Avner, his mind makes me think of a high-rise hotel, on every floor something is going on. I was twenty-six. He proposed on Mount Gilboa. We had climbed to look at the irises. I ran through the fields. He ran after me. He proposed again on Ben Maimon Street, under a eucalyptus. Again on reb Kook Street. He asked for my hand from my father, in my father’s house, in my father’s study lined with books in seven languages, no, nine, no, eleven, he speaks ten, my beloved Abba, there’s one he only reads. And that one is, you inquire?” she might demand of whichever of the neighbors was at that moment studying her own knuckles at her own breakfast table. “Persian.”

Daphna seemed to consider the four of us one woman—one ear, really—though she acknowledged certain individual attributes. Lucienne, who’d had a French mother, knew about sauces. Connie the social worker could recommend a course of action to take with a daughter’s brief defiance. (In fact Connie made no recommendations; she kept her mouth locked, like her briefcase.) When Sylvia
wasn’t drinking she was thinking. She had grown up on the campus of Swarthmore College, where her father had taught philosophy; she was acquainted with meaning. She was probably acquainted with sorrow, too.

And I? “You are American royalty,” Daphna said. “You are a direct descendant of John Adams, I know that for a fact.”

It is a fact. It is another fact that the Adams descendants number in the thousands. And there is a third, unrelated fact, an odd one: though I avoided Daphna as did my three neighbors, because, as Sylvia said, give her a sip and she’ll gulp you entire; because, as Lucienne said, she’s dérangée; because, as Connie said, her intensity makes you feel charred—an insightful remark, though it slid with no emphasis from Connie’s mouth as if it were a standard lease form on the fax . . . though I avoided her, I did half-enjoy—well, quarter—the times I got captured. Her nonstop talk included celebrity gossip— she knew something about everyone in the universe; and bits of information like the names for cranberry; and comments about her dry motherland. “We are parched, we worship water, our phlegmy consonants are the result of our nonlubricated pharynx.” A change, this dérangée stuff, from my usual conversations about mortgage rates and bridge loans and house footprints and zoning bylaws. A change from Rand’s solemn pronouncements about the decline of civility in the Western world.

“Every time we look around, Avner is being summoned to the councils of the great. He is great himself.” Certainly the little tailor traveled often. We imagined him at unworldly academic conferences. When he was away his females ate tuna fish out of the can every night. “He has embezzled my dreams,” she said. “I am his favorite,” she told me. “His favorite thorn,” she told me. “His favorite demon,” she told me, told me, told me.

Saturdays we were safe from her. Avner and Daphna disdained synagogue worship, but the family devoted Sabbath mornings to scriptural study at home and the afternoons to those shopping trips led by the daughters. Sunday mornings they all cleaned the house. But the rest of the day we were at risk. On Sunday afternoons—at other times, too—Daphna occupied herself by vigorously sweeping her seven front stairs. Sometimes she mopped them as well, and then swept them again. Depending on the season she engaged in conversation with the widower on one corner clipping his hedge or the elderly bachelor on the other corner shoveling his snow. The conversation would be conducted in a yell, woman to old man, old man to woman. Soon, though, Daphna would walk diagonally across the street to the hedge-trimmer or down to the shoveler, dragging her broom like a nightmare tail. Eventually the chosen man would go indoors, probably to pour himself a stiff drink. Then Daphna would select one of us. Maybe Lucienne in the house next to hers (“handsome Tudor,” I’d say, if I ever had to sell it). Maybe Sylvia in the neglected house directly across the street (“Victorian fixer-upper”). Maybe Connie, next to Sylvia (“Colonial with deck, mint condition”). Maybe me, located at the end of our cul-de-sac like a hostess (“split-level charmer”). But Daphna knew that Sunday was my busy day and that she was unlikely to find me at home. If I did happen to be in the house I might watch from between the slats of my upperlevel bathroom as she made her rounds—loopy rounds, for she never rang the front doorbell, always the back. Barefoot, now holding her broom upright but upside down, she would disappear and reappear, cross and recross the street. The broom’s horizontal bar of whiskers was level with the top of her head. She looked like a peasant girl who had acquired a military suitor, or maybe a constabulary one.

~

Every Thursday afternoon I meet Rand in a coffee shop in Godolphin Center. I go home first to freshen up. One Thursday in October—it was Daphna’s second year in town, so I knew her schedule—I gave the street a once-over, then left my house on foot. Of course, to be safe, I walked on the side opposite Daphna’s house, and of course I walked fast.

“Shalom!” she screamed. She was standing on her top step, broom in hand. She must have been watching from a window, waiting to pop out. “Where are you going?”

“Coffee . . . with a good friend.” I didn’t break stride. “I’m late,” I said over my shoulder.

“The Marigold Café?” she yelled.

I nodded. My head was facing forward now, my right arm behind me like a wing. I wished it really were a wing.

“I’ll walk with you!” In a moment she was by my side. Her hand clutched the upended broom around its waist. Her unshod feet kept pace with mine.

“Daphna, don’t you teach on Thursdays?”

“It’s Succoth; no class.” Of course: in various Jewish backyards leafy structures had sprung up overnight. “You are enjoying that book under your arm? My oldest reads everything she can get her hands on. She reads upon rising, she reads when she goes to bed, she reads while she’s chopping onions, she reads in the shower . . .”

“A remarkable feat.”

“She accomplishes it. The teacher of my middle one tells me that she is the best science student he has ever encountered. She will become a physician, of that I am utterly sure. She will work on a Native American reservation with victims of fetal alcohol syndrome.”

“My husband was a drunk.”

“Ojibwa?”

“Episcopalian.”

We were passing a string of double-deckers. “These houses are advised to devote two-thirds of their land to grass, or something also green,” she said. “But some are utterly blacktopped. Why? For the sake of the automobile.” Her family did not own a car; they used trolleys and an occasional taxi. They didn’t have a television either.“Did you see the sky at sunset yesterday? royal purple, like the irises on Mount Gilboa. I stood in the attic of my home. There is a window facing west. The telephone rang several times, but I refused to abandon my post. Anyway, the calls are always for Avner or the girls. My oldest is sixteen. There are boys already in love with her. That is her destiny.”

We had reached Godolphin Center. The Marigold Café is a shallow place, mirrored to provide an illusion of depth. Rand was seated at a table in the back, against the mirror, his silver hair and distinguished shoulders doubled behind him. “Goodbye, Daphna.”

“They all want to pierce their ears. What do you think? Yes, mine also are pierced, but in my youth we stopped there. I am afraid that after the lobe the lips, after the lip the belly . . .”

“Goodbye, Daphna.”

She stood glaring at me, her feet bare on the pavement, the broom bristling beside her head. “When will you come to us for dinner?” She issued this question often.

“Soon,” I falsely promised, just as often. I turned in an abrupt manner, as if she had insulted me. It was the best method of breaking away. I entered the Marigold and leaned across Rand’s table to kiss his finely honed cheek. I sank onto the chair opposite him.

“Heavens,” he said, apparently noting my exhaustion. Then: “Heavens” again, looking past my ear. “Isn’t that your neighbor outside, getting in people’s way?”

I looked past his ear into the mirror. I saw, through the window of the café, that Daphna was still standing on the sidewalk and that passersby had to swerve to get around her. Some looked annoyed. Some stopped to talk. The human knot around her grew thicker, further irritating those wanting to keep going. Dear, aren’t you going to hurt your feet? that old lady must be saying. A good-looking broom, from a wag. Would you like me to take you to the shelter? Daphna turned her head from one to another. At last a policeman joined the little crowd and offered her his arm.

I later heard from Connie’s husband that he’d seen the two of them and the broom proceeding down our street, Daphna talking and the policeman listening; and that he, Connie’s husband, couldn’t tell whether his neighbor was under arrest or whether, at last, she was getting somebody’s full attention.


II.

The policeman’s name was Sam Flanagan.

He was tall and auburn-curled, snub nosed and broad grinned; and if I had ever brought him home my father would have thrown him out. Jews Daddy could just tolerate; Irish he despised. Sam had been born twenty-five years earlier on Magazine Street in the section of town we real-estate people still call Whisky point. He was as thorough a Godolphinite as Daphna was a Jerusalemite, and he lived in his parents’ shabby house with eight of his nine brothers and sisters. The oldest, married to a man from Bhutan, had moved out.

“Can you imagine the chaos there?” Daphna said to me. “Siblings and their friends, assorted uncles and aunts, everyone drinking and watching television and utterly making a racket. They might as well be Arabs. What an atmosphere for a scholar.”

Well, Sam was a scholar, of sorts. He had graduated from the police academy and achieved a bachelor of science as well, and now he was studying law part-time. Our town pays for that sort of thing for its public employees, but of course it doesn’t provide a study house or even a carrel. “Within our family a person is able to reflect, to contemplate; and the girls have hundreds of those yellow highlighters.”

And so Sam on his red Vespa came to that dreadful house (“prewar spaciousness; new furnace”) almost every weekday, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the evening. “Sometimes in the morning,” Lucienne reported, her cheeks as pink as that day’s scarf.

“Policemen have shifting shifts,” I told her.

“He takes one of the girls for a ride before school.”

I knew that. When Sam rounded the widower’s corner, a daughter riding pillion, I was reminded of my splendid horse, Patrick. He was a Hanoverian, seventeen hands. I had stabled him at Pride’s Crossing. During my teens I rode him three afternoons a week, taking the trolley from South Godolphin to North Station, then the train to Patrick. And so I was reminded too of my parents, bravely maintaining that South Godolphin mansion (“Italianate villa on two acres; swimming pool and carriage house”)—reminded of Daddy’s bankruptcy and the taking over of his company by two well-dressed Italians. “Goddamn foreigners.” And reminded of my misguided marriage, entered into in the wake of Daddy’s ill-fortune. All those memories, occasioned by a young man and a girl on a motor scooter. Lucienne in her soft chiffon and tippling Sylvia and Connie the determined empath probably had youthful things to be reminded of too. I don’t know what those things were because around here we don’t discuss regrets or triumphs. And I certainly don’t know what Avner thought on a particular morning when he descended his front steps just as Sam rode up, Daphna behind him, arms around his leather jacket, hair streaming. I know only that he waved at them.

Daphna was now often seen at the supermarket, accompanied by the youngest daughter, who examined each item and calculated its price per ounce and chose the cheapest, and at the same time kept a running total in her head—I knew she did that; Connie’s remarkable intuition saw tumblers spinning behind the girl’s forehead. Daphna began to cook almost every night—I knew that too; Lucienne provided many of the recipes. Sam and the family could probably fit themselves around the kitchen table, especially if the debris were removed. But Sabbath dinner had always been served in the dining room, heavy with the dark furniture that came with the dark house. On Fridays, driving by, slowing up, I could see six people around the table, could see Sam’s curls brazen in the candlelight.

Wednesdays became safe. Every day was safe. Daphna had retreated into her expanded family. I wished them all good listening.


III.

It was on a Wednesday that the package came—Wednesday morning, a few days after New Year’s Eve. The postman held it out to me at arm’s length. The package was oblong and bore Israeli stamps and was addressed to Daphna in English. “Nobody’s home there, not even Flanagan.” (Postmen know everything.) “Would you sign for it?” As a proper Godolphin citizen I complied.

I forgot about it for a day. But on Thursday when I got home from the Marigold Café I noticed it on my Stephen Badlam chest, the one item of furniture I’d salvaged from Daddy’s house. I picked it up and hurried down the street, still wearing my otter coat, twelve years old now but once stunning, still wearing my high-heeled boots. The evening was misty, and warm enough for me to unbutton the coat as I walked. Rand had proposed that afternoon. I was thinking it over. I liked sailing with him off Wing’s Neck. I’d like being moneyed again. I could sell the business. And though I will never forget Patrick, I might buy another horse...

I walked up the seven moist steps. No one answered my ring. I walked down and made my way along the driveway past the red Vespa. I rang the back doorbell.

Who opened it? The youngest girl, I think, scrambling up from the floor where she and the middle one were sitting, each with a bowl of stew—one of Lucienne’s recipes, probably. One girl was eating with a spoon, the other was not. The stew proper was in a large enameled pan on the stove, and its fragrance almost banished the odor of cranberries burning in another pot. Other things cooked on other burners. Something sweet baked unseen in the oven. The fan, never fixed, did not dissipate these aromas. The room was steamy and it was illuminated only here and there, like a Rembrant tavern. Some light came from a tipsy lamp on the table; some from a butterscotch disc, circa 1930, embedded in the ceiling; some from a bulb on a pole with a shredding shade; some from a weak fluorescent bar imperfectly attached to the stove. Daphna was standing at the stove, stirring and tasting, then raising her wooden spoon like a scepter. She and the girls wore golden hoops in their ears—the daughters had apparently prevailed in the matter of lobes. Their long hair was loose and lustrous. The oldest was sitting on a high stool, reading. Avner and Sam, at the table, argued in a peaceable way, each gesturing with a wineglass. The table was littered as usual, but a few plates had been laid.

I approached Daphna. “This is yours.” Garlic and rosemary threatened to overwhelm me. The two men belatedly stood up. Sam overturned his wineglass. I handed the package to Daphna.

“From Abba!” she cried. She tore away the stiff mailing paper and unwrapped corrugated cardboard from three books. I saw that one was French and another German. The cover of the third was embossed with beautiful, curly letters. She pressed all three to her breast. I motioned to Avner to sit, and he did, and so did Sam, and they resumed their amiable dispute, which had something to do with the Bill of Rights. They spoke English, of course. The two younger daughters were speaking Hebrew. The oldest daughter, her paperback in her left hand held open by her thumb, slid off the stool and retrieved the wrapping paper and the cardboard from the floor (Daphna was already reading one of the new books) and stuffed it into an overflowing trash basket and picked up Sam’s fallen wineglass and refilled it and handed it to him, raising her eyes briefly from the page. I imagined her in the shower, one arm extending beyond the plastic curtains to keep the book dry.

In the center of this mess of a mealtime, I felt my thoughts whirl. How would I sell the place when they left? How would I ever find people as oblivious as these? The furnace might be new but the oven was as old as the house. The electricity was so faulty that no lamp could sustain more than a sixty-watt bulb. I knew that in other rooms, as in this kitchen, crown molding was separating from walls and plaster was cracking. There was a particularly deep fissure in the ceiling of the master bedroom. Avner and Daphna had probably learned to ignore it. Sam was too besotted to notice. Some day this house would defeat me.

But the family was defeating me already . . . these people occupying a chiaroscuro kitchen; these people of many languages; these people indifferent to the ordinary conventions of table manners; these people of no restraint. These people steamed in happiness.

Daphna put down her book. “Join us, Ann,” she commanded. And then: “We would like you to share our meal.”

Join them? Share their meal? Nudge the oldest off her stool and snatch her book for myself? Sit at the table with Avner and Sam and twirl a wineglass? Sink to the ruined linoleum and eat stew with a spoon, with my fingers? If I dined there just once I might move in, never leave, marry myself to the lot of them. Just what Daphna wanted.

“I have an engagement.”

“Oh,” tragically.

I edged backwards.

“Please, the front door,” said Daphna. She escorted me out of the kitchen and through the dining room used only on Fridays—there was an awful zigzag crack from ceiling to floor, as if lightning had once struck—and into the hall, all without flicking any switches, so we proceeded in semi-darkness to the front vestibule. The broom leaned against the wall like a shotgun. Daphna opened the door. We stood at the top of the glistening seven steps. “This brief seasonal warmth is called the January thaw. The gulf stream sends balloons of hot air, and the arctic winds retreat. Even the Global Warming meshuggeners don’t use the thaw as evidence, it was occurring in Eden already . . .” She flung sentence after sentence at my escaping self. But standing in her kitchen, looked up to and looked after by daughters, husband, and at last a courtier, she had said no more than a dozen words, probably fewer. I turned toward her from the bottom of the steps.

“You must come sometime!” she urged.

“Go back,” I said, and hurried down the street.


IV.

I haven’t married Rand. I couldn’t say yes to his offer. Daphna’s kitchen ruined any charm it had. I couldn’t say yes to Daphna’s offer, either. It’s too bad I didn’t marry my beloved Patrick thirty years ago. I would now be the widow of a horse, contentedly remembering that laugh of his whenever we took a fence.

So, having not disposed of my business, I must now dispose of Daphna’s house. Soon after that night, Avner accepted a position in the latest Israeli government—apparently he does move among the powerful—and within a week of his appointment the entire family decamped for Jerusalem. Never mind the contract with the university—in fact, the university trumpeted this faculty-government connection. Never mind the house they owned—luckily I found two Pakistani doctors to rent the place furnished for a few years; they work long hours at the hospital and we never see them. And never mind the girls’ interrupted schooling. The family did stay in town long enough to watch the middle daughter receive a First prize at the Science Fair.

Daphna said farewell by leaving a brief note in each of our mail slots: Off to the Cabinet. Shalom. probably she sensed that she had outworn our tolerance of her garrulity. And anyway she was returning to Jerusalem where I’m told everybody talks at once, brags all the time.

But Sylvia was home when the note popped through her slot. It was morning; her hair was still in its bun. She opened the door. She told us later what she learned. Avner had indeed taken a ministerial post, but he could have done so several times in the past; his wisdom is valued by many parties. This time he accepted, not because of the usual parliamentary crisis but because of a domestic one.

No, he had not come home to find Sam and Daphna warm under the cracked bedroom ceiling. “We Godolphinites do our share of sinning,” Sylvia pointed out, “but we do not abuse hospitality.”

“Oh,” said the disappointed Lucienne.

Sam had fallen in love, yes—with the oldest daughter. And she with him.

“They are utterly too young,” Daphna told Sylvia; but Sylvia with her fine, marinated intelligence saw through that small truth to the larger one beyond. As enlightened as Avner and Daphna wished to seem, they could not wholeheartedly welcome an Irish cop into their bloodline.

“See how you feel when we return,” Avner advised the lovers.

“Write every day,” Daphna added. "Promise to remember each other!” What cleverness; they started forgetting each other before she finished the sentence.

~

Sam Flanagan never visits our dead-end street. On the corners, in their seasons, hedge-clipping and snow-shoveling go on undisturbed. And once every few months Connie and her husband invite Lucienne, Sylvia, and me to dinner, served in a cool green dining room with a view of the deck. I’ll have no trouble selling that house.

“Do we miss Daphna?” Sylvia wondered on one of those occasions. She was well into the wine; a helix of gray hair fell over one shoulder.

“Yes, no,” said Lucienne. “She was too hungry.”

Connie said slowly, “She wanted to . . . mean so much to us. It was . . . inappropriate.”

“Also doomed,” I added.

“Indeed,” said Sylvia. “We mean so little to each other.”

 

Edith Pearlman’s fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories (including the 2006 edition), The O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Short Stories from the South, and the Pushcart Prize collection. She is the author of three story collections: Vaquita (1996), Love Among The Greats (2002), and How To Fall (2005). (4/2007)


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