Mrs. Kroplick, as everyone agreed, must not have realized that she was dying. For if she had, she would certainly have planned the funeral arrangements herself. She would have instructed her daughter Nisa to buy either the gasketed, protective, sealer casket with its cream-colored velvet interior or the mahogany with crepe de chine. She would have chosen the suit in which she wanted to be dressed and had Nisa send it to the dry-cleaners, would have gotten a manicure, would have instructed Nisa on the wording of the death notice: “in lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to Bryn Mawr College,” to remind people that she had gone there, or no in-lieu-of at all, because maybe she had wanted the flowers.
Nisa was tired and weak, unable to argue with her younger sister over these decisions. While she had been in the hospital cafeteria, a nurse had told her to donate blood for an emergency Red Cross drive. She shouldn’t have given it: she weighed a few pounds beneath the limit, was anemic, and before Mrs. Kroplick had gotten sick Nisa had spent enough time studying in England that the Red Cross still considered her at risk for a latent form of mad cow disease. And what if Mother needed her again in a few minutes? But she was O-negative. How could she not? She had been recovering on a cot, being force-fed a donut, while her mother had died, alone.
Because Mrs. Kroplick had never said what she had wanted, it made it easier for Nisa to acquiesce to her sister Natalie’s prudence, or, more accurately, to her brother-in-law’s. Judaism dictated — J. Edmund claimed with the authority of one who had read all about it in the rental car on the way over — simplicity, no bombast, nothing that would embarrass the poor. A Jewish funeral meant that they needed to bury their mother in a day, so no embalming fees, and the plainest pine coffin, one that was not even in the showroom. When Nisa touched the wood, she got a splinter. The pain shocked her. Her sister, misunderstanding the source of the tears, became embarrassed and so did not object to the granite grave liner, designed to keep the surrounding earth from caving in. “But isn’t that the point of a burial?” said J. Edmund, but no one answered.
Should Mrs. Kroplick be buried with her wig? They had bought it for $900-plus-tax in May. No tawny, 1950s bob job for her. Instead, Nisa had sent Mrs. Kroplick’s Monday-through-Thursday caretaker, Alexis, to New York, to where the Upper East Side Orthodox bought their sheitls and where cross-dressing Wall Streeters tried on, but did not buy, the Lady Godiva Wig, five feet long and real hair. Mrs. Kroplick had adored hers; fashioned from the locks of at least a dozen Korean women, it had been bleached then dyed “sunlit beige” with sprinkles of gray for authenticity’s sake. Though it had been painful for Mrs. Kroplick to have to sit so long in her wheelchair, she had insisted that Nisa take her to services at Beth-El to show it off. Nisa thought that Mother would have wanted it, in the way that Natalie had told them all — should it ever come up — that she wanted to be buried with her five-iron.
“We really ought to donate it to another cancer patient,” said Natalie. J. Edmund said, “That wig could give a lot of joy to someone who is suffering,” and although Nisa knew that he was thinking only of the tax-deduction, she agreed. She would also donate Mother’s bifocals to a charity that would send them to El Salvador. She would give the clothing to the Hadassah Thrift Shop, the books to the Friends of the Philadelphia Free Library Benefit Store. Alexis could take what she wanted, but not before Nisa had gone through and selected gifts for Monique, Nisa’s brilliant niece, her darling and her heir. She was Natalie’s daughter by her first husband, a man to whom Nisa, clandestinely, still sent unacknowledged Rosh Hashanah cards.
As for herself, Nisa wanted none of her mother’s things. She would be going back to Berkeley, her furniture still in storage there after ten years. Nisa had all she needed for the house whose renters she could now make vacate by the end of the next month. Every time she would give something of her mother’s away, cutlery and napkin rings, baking tins and tape dispensers, she would remember her own versions, still waiting for her.
Natalie said that Monique was perfectly capable of taking a cab from the train station, that it was even walking distance, and walking would certainly do the girl more good. But Nisa insisted on meeting her niece. Their disagreement, Nisa thought, hinged on a crucial difference: Natalie did not want to hug Monique in public and Nisa did. Nisa delighted in her niece’s soft corpulence, her breasts so unlike her own. Yet she was glad her sister did not recognize the girl’s beauty. She wanted to be the only one.
Nisa’s teaching assistant had hurriedly sent over a fruit basket, and this she put in the room where Monique stayed when she visited Nisa and her grandmother. Although Nisa had redecorated her father’s old basement office to suit her needs — replacing the examining table with her desk, not throwing away the thirty-year-old Smellen eye chart but at least making it less prominent — she rarely used it. She liked best to read in the over-heated, smaller room because it was Monique’s, which was how she thought of it, and not as her own childhood bedroom.
What should Monique have been told over the phone? It was finals time at her college and Nisa wondered if perhaps they shouldn’t burden her with this. Monique was e-mailing Nisa daily with drafts of essays, was sleeping little and had confessed she was living on candy bars. What if Monique couldn’t make up the work? Why couldn’t Mother have waited a week? When Nisa had called Natalie the night before and told her that Mother had passed, she had said they shouldn’t tell Monique until after exams. Natalie had said that she would think about it, which was her way of saying “no.” Monique would come that afternoon. “I really don’t think you made the right call,” Nisa said, then regretted saying. She braced herself for Natalie to say, “It wasn’t your call to make,” as Natalie had said when Nisa had argued, the year before, that Monique should be allowed to go on a spring break trip with her friends. But Natalie hadn’t said anything. Instead, Natalie said: “In a few weeks, when this is all over, I have a few really nice guy friends left in the area, you know. I could have one call you sometime,” and because Natalie had also just lost her mother, Nisa had allowed that comment to pass in return.
Nisa remembered that when her father had died, her Aunt Sarah had taken her mother’s leather phonebook and gone name by name. What had she said? “Hannah! So good to hear your voice. Oh I’m fine. Well, actually, not so fine, you see I’m calling about Harry,” ending with, “and bring your brisket.” For a month, she and Natalie had dressed up in their mother’s long skirts and played restaurant: “What would you like Madame? Might I tempt you with tuna noodle de Chez Birnbaum? Gefilte fish de Chez Goldstein?”
“Remember when we used to play restaurant?” Nisa had asked Natalie a few years before. “That was so much fun.” Natalie had rolled her eyes. “Ed, see the sort of corny things my sister made me do?” Nisa had been angry, but had left the room so as not to show it. It had been fun. They had crafted menus with markers and construction paper, crossing out each entree as it finished, until there had been nothing left but the borscht. Then Trudy had made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for — for how long? Trudy, Mother’s best friend from Bryn Mawr, had come to help take care of them from the May when Daddy had died until Christmas time of the next year. Trudy. Nisa would have to call Trudy.
She was at a facility outside of Los Angeles. Not a nursing home, Nisa could not remember, but they called it something else. Trudy had always been telling Mother to come: weekly cocktail parties with ice sculptures, French conversation tables, a UCLA lecture series. Maybe it was a little too Sarah Lawrence-ish, but there were Radcliffe women, too. Unlike other places, it had plenty of men and some of them still had drivers’ licenses. She was surprised that they let Jews in at all. It had a wonderful cancer care department. Mother could simply take Trudy’s second bedroom, no need to buy a unit.
Trudy had been telling Mother to sell the house ever since Nisa’s father had died. It was too much work, what did she need with the doctor’s office in the basement, it cost a fortune to heat, the neighborhood was becoming no good (their neighbors across the street had been colored). Come — Come to Los Angeles. She was writing television scripts. They could do it together.
Nisa walked into the kitchen, where her sister was scrubbing the inside of a refrigerator. “I don’t suppose that you called Trudy and told her, did you?” Nisa asked.
“I thought you were making all of the calls.”
“Yes, but I thought that maybe you might have called Trudy. She. Well. People usually like hearing from you more than they do from me.”
“Are you asking me to call? Because if you are I wish that you would just ask me straight out.” Natalie kept scrubbing the vegetable drawer. It looked clean to Nisa.
“No, no, I’ll call,” said Nisa.
“Thanks. Oh, when I’m done with this, is it all right if I arrange the living room furniture a little? We should get a crowd.”
“Yes, of course,” Nisa said, and she smiled as if to say: “You needn’t have asked. This isn’t any more my house than yours,” but Natalie looked at her coldly. It was of course Nisa’s house now: it had been ever since nine years before, when she had told Natalie where to stay when she came to visit. This time she made up the pullout in the living room. Nisa now slept in Natalie’s old bedroom, and Nisa’s old room was for Monique, the small single bed too narrow for two, Nisa had explained. She had, to be polite, sort of offered to move herself onto the pullout, but in a way so that Natalie would have to say, “No, no, of course, not,” which she had said, but with clenched teeth. “Of course, there’s the master bedroom,” Nisa had said. “There’s no real reason why not.” Natalie had pretended not to hear. And so J. Edmund had booked a room at the Marriott, which Natalie said was just as well: it was good for her to get away from this place if only for a few hours at night. Nisa wanted to yell, “Typical!” but controlled herself. It was a half-hour drive away, but Natalie explained that they got frequent flier miles. Natalie said Nisa was welcome to stop over and use the swimming pool. Nisa wished she had just given her sister her old bedroom and taken the pullout herself.
It was hard to sleep in the house now. The night before she had woken at two, as she always had in the past in order to help Mother to the bathroom (no fluids after eight o’clock, the doctor had advised, but when Nisa had suggested it, Mother had threatened to stop drinking altogether), but she couldn’t go back to sleep until five-forty, when Mother would usually wake up, asking over the baby monitor for breakfast. Then Natalie had arrived at eight, and there was so much to do. It had been the first time Nisa had ever slept in her childhood home alone.
Nisa found Trudy’s phone number in her mother’s book, a catalogue of the dead and nearly dead.
“This is the Belvedere Clinique; preferez-vous le francais?” said a girl with authority and an English accent. Was she expected to be impressed, Nisa wondered? Her few years at Oxford had taught her that the accent was from Birmingham, and that she shouldn’t be.
“I would like to be connected to Gertrude Moskowitz, please.”
“She’s probably at the concert like everyone else, but let me check — It’s the Yale Wiffenpoofs — Oh. Ms. Moskowitz is actually not at the facility at present. She’s traveling with an aide.”
“Is she in Philadelphia?” Nisa held her breath. Ten years before, Trudy had maintained a timeshare in St. Martin. Maybe she had gone there. Or to visit her niece’s family in Saskatchewan. Maybe she would never have to know. She could just tell Trudy that Mother was too weak to talk on the phone, too weak to see her. She could keep Mother alive until Trudy died.
“Yes, actually. Well, some suburb of it, I think. I can’t quite pronounce it. It’s — But who is calling please?” Nisa hung up.
Nisa then left a message with one of Monique’s roommates to tell her that she would meet Monique at the train station. An hour later, when Monique would have already left, Nisa realized she had not specified which one: Philadelphia’s Amtrak station, where Monique would get in from Boston, or at the Conshohocken regional rail station, a mile from the house. Monique usually switched to the regional rail on her own, but when she had last visited for Thanksgiving Nisa had met her in Philadelphia. Nisa could not bear to think of Monique arriving and looking for her and being worried. Nisa told Natalie that she needed to drive — to just be by herself for a little bit — and that she might as well pick-up Monique on the way back. Natalie rolled her eyes but did not protest.
Nisa usually bought balloons when she was going to meet Monique’s train, but that, of course, wasn’t appropriate because of Mother’s death. So she bought soft pretzels. Monique had said that there weren’t any near her campus. The station had a small bookstore, and Nisa looked to see if they had books on the Middle East. A book would be a nice gift. At Thanksgiving, Monique had said she wanted to fight terrorism. As Natalie before her had learned Vietnamese so she could aid in the rebuilding of Quang Tri, Monqiue said she wanted to learn Arabic and Farsi. Nisa thought it eminently sensible: the girl was descended, at least on Natalie’s side, from great linguists. Mrs. Kroplick’s father–a Grunblatt turned Greene — had officially known five languages, but really it had been eight: nowhere did he want proficiency in French to appear on his State Department records for fear of being sent to Africa. He had kept off Hebrew and Yiddish for obvious reasons. Nisa’s own gifts were well established, as her father’s had been. Their family maintained that Daddy had survived Dachau because of his impeccable German, although Natalie had told Nisa, the night of his funeral, that she thought it had more to do with his willingness to perform sterilizations, though there was no evidence for this. If Monique learned Arabic and Farsi, Nisa thought that perhaps she would come to Berkeley for graduate school. The rents were exorbitant; she would agree to stay with Nisa.
There were two possible entrances to the station from the tracks, and Nisa was worried that if Monique had assumed they were meeting in Conshohocken, which Nisa had decided she probably had, then there was a good chance she could miss her. For a moment, she thought about paying someone to check the other entrance, but instead she stood between the two doorways and pivoted.
“Oh. I didn’t realize you were meeting me here, Aunt Nisa.” The girl was next to her before she realized. Her hair was shorter than it had been at Thanksgiving, her coat not one Nisa had seen her wear before, her face rounder and fleshier than Nisa remembered it being a few months before. It was still perfectly symmetrical, which Nisa often told her was a cross-cultural sign of great beauty.
Nisa took hold of Monique’s shoulders and brought the girl to her.
“I just wanted to see you.”
“Are you doing OK?” It meant so much to Nisa. No one else had asked her in the day since her mother had died. Monique relaxed the grip and Nisa knew that meant she had to pull away. “I mean, I think the commuter train is faster than driving.”
“Well, I thought it would be nice to see you. I bought soft pretzels for the car.”
“Thanks. Oh, and um, thanks for the check.”
“Did you take all your roommates out?”
“Where did you go?”
“But the point was to go to a restaurant like the one I took you to.”
“But Luigi’s is where everyone wanted to go.”
“No, I didn’t mean to be, I mean, that’s nice.”
“Is my Mom around here, too?”
“No. She’s at the house.”
“She’s fine sweetheart.”
“Thanks. Is she with Ed?”
“J. Edmund’s there.”
“He doesn’t like being called that.”
“Sorry. My car’s over there. Do you have a lot of work to do?”
“Some. They’re letting me take my finals after Christmas. Which is nice but sucks in its own way, you know? But I have to write an essay on ‘L’Etranger.’ By Camus. Do you think you can help?”
“Of course. What do you have to write it on?”
“On the book.”
“I mean, on his existentialism or–“
“We have to write at least five hundred words and use the subjunctive four times.”
“I see. Just put that in the back seat. How’s Arabic?”
“Oh. I dropped it. It was, like, filled with all the Muslim kids who knew the stuff backwards and forwards.”
“It’ll just take a minute, but on the way I need to stop by my office to pick up a book. I want to read from it tomorrow. It’s by Jeremy Taylor who was the –” but the girl wasn’t listening. “I’ll just run right in. We’ll keep the heat on.” When Monqiue had been younger, Nisa had used all sorts of excuses to bring her into the college. She had done this because even after Monique would go home it had been easier for Nisa to walk through the dingy corridors, knowing that Monique had once walked them also. After eating with Monique in a campus diner, Nisa had often returned there for lunch, until after too many visits the diner evoked merely images of herself dining alone. But now that Monique just looked like all the other students, she knew that she would have to be more reserved with the girl, making sure not to put her hand on her shoulder or to use terms of endearment if anyone else was around. Nisa knew what people said about her at the school and she didn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea. She hoped Monique would just stay in the car.
“Actually, I need to use the bathroom.”
“Oh. OK.” They drove in silence. Nisa knew she was always the one to engage Monique in conversation, to ask her questions and then to ask more questions about her answers. She wanted Monique to be the one to ask. She decided she would be quiet until Monique spoke. But then Nisa realized Monique might just think that she was too sad to talk, and she didn’t want the girl to feel isolated. So she said, “Are you enjoying Boston?”
“Oh yeah. It’s awesome.”
“Do a lot of kids stick around after college?”
“Like the whole school. I don’t want to leave.”
“I talked to one of your roommates on the phone. She sounded very nice.”
“I don’t know.”
“She’s a psycho.”
“She steals my food and then goes on and on about how she hasn’t eaten anything for days because she’s worried about the freshman fifteen. And if she gained fifteen pounds she’d still only weigh, let me see, twenty pounds less than I do. And she’s always taking the cordless phone from the common room and losing it in her room.”
“What a pain. And your other roommate? Kelly?” Nisa knew that the girl’s name was Katie.
“Katie’s fine. I think she’s a dyke, though.”
“Has she done anything inappropriate? Toward you?”
“No. But I still don’t want to have to change in front of her.”
“Trudy’s coming from California. I don’t suppose you remember Trudy? Your Grandma’s best friend?”
“Well, she was quite a character when she and my mother were your age. They drove to the Panama Canal after they graduated from college.”
“Cool,” said Monique, but her voice conveyed the opposite.
“We should go there sometime,” said Nisa. “Oh! I forgot. The soft pretzels. Here.”
“Mom made me promise that I would try to cut down on carbs.”
“What your Mom doesn’t know won’t–“
“No thank you.”
The parking lot was across the street from the college. The building, barely renovated, had only a few years before been an eye-hospital, its wards rendered unnecessary by in-and-out laser surgery. “OK, the bathroom’s in the lobby. I’ll just run up and get the book and my mail. Just remember not to accidentally pull the yellow wire in the stall because it activates the security alarm.”
“I know, Aunt Nisa.”
“But if you do touch it by accident it’s not a big deal. I’ve done it once myself,” she said, even though she hadn’t, but she once almost had. The security guard did not recognize her, so Nisa had to search for her ID. She went into the building as rarely as possible. Her research she did at Penn, her writing from home. O how unlike the place from whence she fell! She had accepted the teaching job because it was a ten-minute commute from the house. Each time she had renewed her contract, her best friend from graduate school had told her to just join them at Swarthmore, but doing so would have meant a commitment to staying in the area. She had never thought it would be so long.
It was truly the great shame of Nisa’s career that she had no Greek. At Berkeley she had found a graduate student to tutor her. She had taught herself the alphabet. Then her mother had found the lump in her breast. In the ten years since she had learned Hebrew by going twice a week to the YMHA, but Greek — that her mother had stolen from her. She had once wanted it so badly that she had conceived of marrying Alistair Merkin, doubly appointed at Berkeley in English and classics. For her true fantasy was not marriage, but coalescence, to simply combine a brilliant mind with her own, and they would speak with one mouth.
It was Alistair’s phone number she had gone to her office to find. Once she found it, she had to call. It was lunchtime in California and Alistair, she remembered, took long lunches. She would have time to leave him a voice-mail. She was surprised when he answered the phone, then not surprised: the three-hour lunch with bloody Marys and a nubile undergraduate was just so ’80s.
She was returning, like Odysseus, she told him. He said it was the end of her ostracism. She didn’t know the reference. He explained: “Among others, Thucydides records” (and she smiled, because she so missed people who spoke this way) “how every spring the Athenians had the option of voting one of their fellow citizens into exile for ten years — no shame was attached, the exiled citizen’s rights and material possessions were waiting for him on his arrival, as though he had never left.” Then he paused. “But, well, ten years is a long time to be away.”
“But no one voted me off,” Nisa said, thinking of a television show her mother had liked to watch. They moved on. The old chairman had promised she could come back, but he was dead now of his own cancer. Her rehiring would come up at committee. They had since tenured another Miltonist, a man whose interpretation of the two-handed engine in Lycidas she had once attacked in PMLA with temerity. Had she really published nothing since her mother’s illness? It was too bad she wasn’t a medievalist; their star was marrying his graduate student and had accepted an offer at Harvard to escape the opprobrium. He was sorry about her mother.
What could Alistair possibly think of her now? Nisa wondered. Once, when she had been walking to the parking lot with him after a faculty meeting (he hadn’t thought to walk her to her car, even though it had been dark, for the same reason that he often forgot she couldn’t join him at the Herren Club) he had told her it was just no good tenuring women. They would start making babies as soon as they got it, then no more books. And then, when he had agreed to tenure a lesbian, thinking that would solve the problem, what had she done? Gone to China and adopted herself twin girls with muscular dystrophy, that’s what! How could he be expected to take any woman scholar seriously when so many of them turned on him? That is, no offense to Nisa, of course. She would never do that.
Only she had. She had dropped her career, laid it down like a card on a card-table for a kind word and a smile, given it up because her mother had asked her to do it, because her mother had asked her and not her sister.
Monique had come in and was playing with Nisa’s desk accessories.
“I’m so sorry, honey. I’m ready to go now.”
“Where’s the book?”
Nisa had forgotten. She showed Monique the passage she would read at the funeral: “Homer calls a man a leaf, the smallest, the weakest part of a short lived, unsteady plant. Pindar calls him the dream of a shadow. Another, the dream of the shadow of smoke. But St. James spoke by a more excellent spirit saying, our life is but a vapor. He–“
“You’re not actually going to read that.”
“Why not? Taylor was the Shakespeare of the pulpit. A lot of the people at the funeral will be Bryn Mawr alumnae. That used to mean something.”
“Well it just sort of sounds like a lecture.” Monique was looking at Nisa’s bookshelf. Copies of her school pictures were in silver frames. “What are you doing with all of these?”
“Why? I think you look nice,” said Nisa, but she knew what Monique meant. She would have put them away if she had known the girl would be up in her office. She also would have dusted the top of her desk, thrown away the dead philodendrons.
“I think that I’ll read from the 23rd Psalm, too. I wrote a more exact translation.” She wondered if Monique would notice the difference. Hers began with “the Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing,” and ended with “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years.” None of this forever business, a fantasy of the King James translating committee.
“And I think your Mom will give a speech,” Nisa said.
“No she won’t.”
“She’ll get as far as the third sentence and then she’ll cry and won’t be able to go on. And you know what? That’s going to make people feel better. Because then they’ll know my mom loved her.” Nisa understood why people thought Monique was ugly. Fat tears went down the girl’s red face. She needed to blow her nose. There were no tissues in the room, but Nisa offered her handkerchief.
Nisa took her book and motioned that Monique should switch off the light switch. Monique went toward the elevator, but followed her aunt when Nisa gestured toward the stairs. Nisa never took the college’s elevators. Its cars were so deep, so clearly designed for the gurneys they once had held. Although Nisa had parked in her usual spot, she had to ask the girl if she remembered where they had put the car.
When they got to the house, Natalie was outside, pulling the weeds that had gathered alongside the driveway. As mother and daughter embraced, Nisa took Monique’s suitcase inside, down to the basement, and began doing her niece’s laundry. The clothes were mostly black, shapeless, designed to hide the self. Nisa had forgotten to remind Monique to bring clothes appropriate to wear to the burial. She need not have worried; everything the girl wore was already funereal. From upstairs, Nisa could hear the basketball game J. Edmund was watching. From outside, Nisa could hear Monique’s crying and Natalie’s saying there, there, your Grandma was old and the end had been painless. Nisa wanted to call out, “What do you know?” Natalie hadn’t been in the hospital room as her mother had cried for her daughter, for Natalie only, not for Nisa. Nisa had taken that as license to take a break, to go to the restroom, get coffee, give her blood when the nurse had asked her for it. By the time she had come back, the room had been quiet.
Nisa wondered where Trudy was. She took out the White Pages and called The Four Seasons. At the Ritz Carleton, the clerk said that Trudy had checked in an hour before, but when Nisa connected to the room, no one answered.
Nisa washed her face, put on lipstick, but then removed it. Natalie had already cleaned the front room. There was nothing with which they could be reproached. She lit a candle that was supposed to smell like nutmeg when burned. She got out her mother’s tax forms and pretended to go through them for half an hour, until the bell rang.
She wondered who the aide would be. A small, silent Chinese man, she thought. Instead it was a girl, tall and black, her hair coifed into hundreds of braids. Nisa wondered about the origins of the hair. Was it the same group of Korean women who had made her mother’s wig?
“I’m so glad that you’re here,” said Nisa, and surprised herself by meaning it. Trudy had lost several inches in height since Nisa had seen her last, when she would take the BART train to meet Trudy in San Francisco, where Trudy would take her to the best restaurants and, in return, make Nisa share what she knew of her mother’s activities. She had loved Nisa’s mother and, when it suited her, when she had been in need, her mother had allowed herself to be loved.
“How did you know?”
“My birthday was on Sunday. When your mother didn’t call what was I supposed to think? And then when I called yesterday and that man answered, well, I knew.” What day was Sunday, Nisa wondered? Had it been one day ago, or two?
“You look terrific,” said Nisa. Trudy’s hair was radiantly white, her glasses still so stylishly oversized. Trudy nodded, but did not smile. She did not introduce her aide. Nisa extended her hand.
“I’m Tanisha,” the woman said, not with the soft island accent that Nisa had expected, but, in only four syllables, what Nisa assumed was Brooklynese, as her Grandmother had spoken, but not her Mother.
“Tanisha’s here to help.”
“I really think that I have everything under control.”
“Have you cleaned your mother’s room?” asked Trudy.
“Well, no, I–“
“It’s up the stairs, second bedroom on the right,” said Trudy. “Cleaning supplies are under the sink in the kitchen,” and she pointed to it. “I’m assuming that’s where you still keep them?”
Nisa nodded. This was Trudy. When Nisa’s father had died, Trudy had been the one to handle all of the arrangements for the year, while her mother had smoked and slept. She had driven Nisa and Natalie to school, too fast in a red convertible. When she had moved to Los Angeles, she had sent them autographed photographs of television stars, and once had had David Cassidy call to wish Natalie a happy birthday. Trudy had paid for Nisa’s boarding school and college tuition, though she had asked Nisa to pretend she believed her mother when she spoke of being grateful for Nisa’s father’s (nonexistent) life-insurance. During Nisa’s lean grad student days, Trudy would stop by unannounced, her Mercedes trunk full of groceries. Trudy did not relinquish people. She simply replaced them.
“Will you be coming back with me to California?” Trudy asked.
“Well, I don’t know. I had always thought that I would go back to Berkeley. But it would be fun to take a teaching job in Boston, keep an eye on Monique.”
Monique chose that moment to walk downstairs.
“Trudy, this is Natalie’s daughter Monique. Monique, Trudy saw you when you were just a–“
“A rather undercooked baby who wouldn’t suckle.”
“Nice glasses,” Monique said, then went into the kitchen.
“She’s not worth it, you know,” said Trudy.
“But they never are, are they?” n